Authors: Jenny Schwartz
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal
“I believe knowledge should be free, valued for its own sake.”
“How admirable.” Her prissy statement grated. “People who have everything can afford generosity.”
Her head bowed, but when she looked up, her clear eyes saw too much. “You use information to survive.”
“To manipulate people and circumstances,” he corrected. “I’d survive anyway, but I prefer to be comfortable.”
working for Vince Ablett?”
“No.” She couldn’t accept it. Vince was an evil bastard by anyone’s definition.
The thing about evil bastards was their predictability. Filip had learned to appreciate and exploit that fact over the centuries. Slaves did whatever it took to survive. He owed no loyalty to humanity. If he offered his compassion it was a rare and free gift. Few humans deserved it, and never one who had owned his bottle and commanded him.
As for evil bastards, they deserved every manipulation he used to protect himself and win precious time free of his prison—the djinni bottle.
“I made sure he got my bottle. I knew he collected rarities. They’re the passion in his life. It was a given he’d wish for me to guard his collection.”
Sara sighed. “And in guarding it, you’d be free of your bottle.” Between wishes, djinn were trapped in their bottle prisons. “Oh, Filip.” She swayed toward him.
Pity was an exploitable emotion. Given the slightest encouragement, she would accept his touch, a hug, allow him the opening for intimacy.
He didn’t do intimacy. Fun and games, kisses and sex, though not for decades now. He didn’t want a red-haired angel to understand him and offer compassion. Passion, yes. But light-hearted, exchanging no more than pleasure and laughter. Intimacy only opened the door to old dreams of castles in the air where he was free to love and be loved and build a life. Solomon’s curse denied him that freedom. He was never free, only occasionally on parole.
“Jay’s being held in Melbourne,” he said. “Are you accompanying me, or do I have your promise not to trespass? I’ve heard heaven’s stiflingly nice this time of year.”
Her chin came up at the challenge. “I’ve never visited Melbourne.”
“It’s not as romantic as Venice.” He took her hand, controlling the breath of relief that wanted to rush out and puncture his pose of cool, amused detachment. He wanted her. Trouble or not, he wanted her. “I’ll make it up to you.”
“Don’t bother. I’m not going because of you.”
“Aren’t you?” He smiled down at her cross face. “We all act out of self-interest, angel. You want me. And that’s okay.” He forestalled her furious outburst. “Because I want you too.”
“I don’t want you.” Sara uttered the lie a second time, as if repetition might make up for conviction.
Filip wasn’t listening anyhow.
She looked down at her hand clasped in his. She’d never travelled like this. Angels could move instantaneously through space and she’d thought djinn could too. But Filip was strolling a few feet off the ground, covering distance as if wearing seventy-league boots. She could smell the dust and menthol of the outback, see the headlights of long-distance truckers, watch towns grow, surround them and fade into the background. They were walking to Melbourne, djinn-style.
Something twisted in her heart as she understood what he was doing. For Filip, so long trapped in his bottle, the journey was as important as the destination. He had so little freedom. He stole moments like these.
Their swift passage woke a raven, and its startled and indignant caw brought a smile to Filip’s mouth. “Ruffled feathers. How are your feathers, angel?”
He confused her. He was complicated, a hedonist who planned for his pleasure. Yet he’d tumbled her into a whirlpool of passion without a pause for thought. She hadn’t known her body could overrule her mind, could surrender and demand completion from a stranger.
And she held his hand like a safety line. She sighed. What was the point of saying she didn’t want him when she wouldn’t let him go?
“I had a simple plan when I popped into Vince’s library. Borrow
, copy and return it. It was only a minor infraction of the rules, just copying a living text so I could study it.”
“You don’t strike me as a natural rule-breaker.”
“Don’t I?” She thought of her life as an archivist and how she stretched the Guild rules to add excitement to her day. But then, copying a living text wouldn’t strike Filip as exciting or particularly rebellious. Would he understand how discovering forgotten knowledge made her breath catch and her heart sing?
“So what was so important?”
She watched a truck’s rear lights disappear into the distance. Filip used information to manipulate his world and she still needed a copy of
, something Vince’s wish forced Filip to refuse her. Whatever information she gave him, he would have to use it to guard against her and her need.
Nonetheless, she gave him the truth. “Todd Lee is nine years old. He’s dying. An infection in his pelvic bones. Andrew is his guardian angel.” She half smiled. “Poor Andrew. Usually his charges are violently active people, the type who live life large. They are the great sinners and potentially the great saints. He presents them with challenges and rejoices in their triumph. But Todd is just a little boy dying of a bone infection, and Andrew is helpless.”
“He sounds the hero type.”
“He is.” Sara liked Andrew and admired him. He was strong, active and ruthlessly decisive—he made his own decisions and lived with the consequences. He saved people, while she lived life second-hand through the manuscripts in the heavenly library.
“Huh.” Filip kicked the top of a river gum tree.
“Todd is special. He was hit by a car two years ago. He ran out in front of it after his friend kicked the ball into the road. They’d been arguing. The first thing Todd said when he woke up was ‘It’s not Keith’s fault.’ He cares about people. He worries about his mom and dad being sad and his younger sister growing up without him. They’ve tried so many treatments, but nothing clears the infection. Todd is only nine and he’s already faced death. He says he’s going to look at the sunrise from the other side.”
Her eyes were wet and she opened them wide to let the night wind dry her tears. She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Todd has courage. He could grow up to change the world just by being decent.”
“Sometimes courage isn’t enough,” Filip said. “To survive you need luck and cunning.”
“You need friends,” Sara said passionately. “You need people to care.”
He shook his head.
“I care.” She swung their joined hands in an emphatic, non-verbal insistence that he understand and share her compassion. “I found a hint in a medieval text of an ancient treatment for bone infection, one that always worked. I’ve been tracking it down.
That’s why I broke into Vince’s library. I have to find a cure for Todd.”
The outer suburbs of Melbourne stretched beneath them. The houses were dark, the street lights dim. Their journey and time together was nearly over.
“Does Andrew know you’re doing this?”
“No. This is my quest.”
“Don Quixote. Sara, you can’t heal humanity. Most of them don’t even want to be healed. They’re happy to hurt and be hurt, to scrabble their way up a bigger dunghill and crow. They abuse their free will.”
“Todd is an innocent. And what sort of person would I be if I didn’t care?”
“You’d be me.” Filip watched her face fall. He’d nailed his colours to the mast of cynicism. He had to. If you cared, you became vulnerable. The teenagers had it right with their drawled
The bottom line was that you had to protect yourself—no one else would.
“Acedia,” Sara said unexpectedly. “Sloth of the soul. To drown in triviality and idle curiosity. To refuse joy. To live superficially. Unless your problem is fear, Filip.”
“What would I be scared of?”
She frowned at the city lights. “You’re a djinni. People have made demands of you for centuries. Maybe you’ve protected yourself by tucking your heart away. The humans can compel you to act, but not to share yourself. Maybe you’re scared that someone might invite you to love.”
He let go of her hand and, too late, recognised it for a starkly revealing gesture. Even worse, Sara’s tears were back, threatening to spill from her green eyes.
“I have to find Jay,” he said roughly. She looked so damn vulnerable and saw too much. She was too dangerous to be a night’s playmate. “Go back to heaven, Sara.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“Are you?” If she wouldn’t leave voluntarily, he could chase her off. He read into her words innuendo she’d never meant. “Will you come with me? A shared climax is stunning. I watched you come, angel. I felt every tiny shudder and I wanted to be inside you. Next time I will be, and your satisfaction will milk me dry.”
Embarrassed colour stormed her fair skin.
“But I won’t let you come straight away.” He watched her mouth compress and remembered its soft eagerness, the warm depths he’d penetrated. “Angel, you’re made for loving. Your breasts fill my hands. Your hips cradle me. You respond to my voice, my touch. You feed the tension between us with your own desires. What do you desire, Sara? Do you want to come on top? Beneath me? How do you see us?”
Her mouth parted.
He placed a finger against her lips. “And don’t lie, angel. I know you have a fantasy of us together. Your body is responding to it. I can see your nipples, and it’s not from the cold night air. Are you wet between your legs, slick at some vision of me?”
He cupped her boldly, sliding his hand into the heated
at the junction of her legs. Smooth denim teased him to trace the seam.
She gasped and moved away.
She’d run, now. Retreat to her safe heaven. He felt the heavy satisfaction of what he’d done. She was an innocent. Her innocence had let him capture her the first time. He’d flooded her body with sensation, pushed and shocked her beyond the point of thought and moral objections. She’d come alive to her sensual nature, but this time she had a warning. She’d run.
“You’re trying to chase me off. It won’t work.” Sara folded her arms across her betraying nipples.
“I’m asking about your fantasies, angel.”
“You’re trying to embarrass me.” She scowled at him. “Just because I’m a virgin doesn’t make me naive. I know some people use sex as a weapon.”
Although that was precisely what he’d been doing, he found the accusation offensive.
“I did not kiss you as a punishment. You climaxed beneath me because I pleasured you. Because we found pleasure together.”
“I was off balance.” It was a rotten defence. Sara tipped her chin, as if an increase in haughtiness would make up for her weak argument. “Besides, I was talking about now. You suddenly decided you didn’t want me with you when you rescue Jay, so you tried to frighten me away with sensual threats. Well, it hasn’t worked. I’m not scared or you, or of my own body, and my sexual fantasies are private.”
“I don’t scare you?” He closed the distance between them. She stood her ground and her folded arms pressed against his chest. “If your body doesn’t scare you, why hide your arousal?”
If her eyes could have flashed physical fire, he’d have been cinders.
“Scared?” he taunted.
“Some men mistake arousal for invitation. I don’t want you making that mistake.”
He admired her spirit even as he winced at the strike. This close, he could smell the scent of her arousal and it called him. He hardened in the trap of light feminine musk. If he followed his instincts, he’d replace the arms covering her breasts with his hands and then his mouth. He’d feast on her till she dragged him over her and arched in ageless invitation.
She’d be hot and slick and tight.
If Sara wanted to see arousal, she’d only to look down. He was pressed hard against his jeans zipper. His clever strategy for driving Sara away had definitely backfired.
“I get the message.” He wondered if Sara recognised the roughness in his voice as another sign of arousal. “You’re turned on by me, but I’m not to touch you. You intend to supervise Jay’s rescue before returning unsullied to heaven.”
“Why would I do anything else, Filip? You’ve made it clear you don’t want love in your life. I won’t have sex without it.”
He looked down into her defiant eyes. There were questions glimmering in them, the beginnings of uncertainty, the first flicker of understanding that in the real world moral principles weren’t black and white, and lines in the sand got blown this way by desert storms.
He could be Sara’s desert storm.
“Angel.” He stepped back from her. “You’ve won. Let’s rescue Jay and get this over with. You’ll return to heaven and I to my bottle.”
“Your billabong,” Sara corrected. “You’re still guarding Vince. You’re still free.”
“For a limited definition of free.” He raised his hand, halting any continued argument. “I have to concentrate on finding Jay.”
Her folded arms dropping, she turned away. She hunched her shoulders and slid her hands into the pockets of her jeans, staring at the city beneath them.
Filip tipped his head back and looked at the stars. The tight feeling in his chest made him uncomfortable. He shouldn’t care that Sara felt rejected, confused.
He rubbed his chest. He didn’t need a computer to tap the internet. He evaded electronic security defences with the ease of experience and called up records of Baz Khan’s life, property and associates. The information chase absorbed him. He cross-checked the data with Khan’s cell phone activities. The patterns and conclusions were obvious.
“I’ve found Jay. Are you ready, Sara?”
“Around you I’m always ready.” Her wry smile acknowledged his shock.
She’d turned innuendo against him and admitted her desire. His innocent angel was stepping into a dangerous world. His world.
Sara shrugged. “That’s my problem. Let’s go solve Jay’s.”