Authors: Jenny Schwartz
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal
Only Sara’s problem refused to go away. Oh, she wasn’t aroused—not on a cold Melbourne rooftop watching for a kidnapper. But she was fascinated by Filip. If she stretched out her arm, she could touch him. She wanted to touch him.
Half an hour ago he’d been teasing her with the sexual tension between them, tormenting her in an attempt to frighten her back to heaven, and all because she’d pointed out he was afraid to love.
Lots of people were scared of love. They screwed up their relationships as they struggled to protect their hearts from the vulnerability of being fully open to another.
She should have been more subtle in pointing out his fear. She should have stayed silent.
He’s nothing to me. A passing djinni who startled me into responding to him.
She would see Jay rescued, then return to heaven. It was the little boy Todd who required her attention. She had to get hold of
and find the cure for his bone infection.
Maybe I should try now, while Filip’s distracted?
But she stayed where she was, sitting on a neighbouring roof, watching Filip study the suburban house where Baz Khan held Jay. It wouldn’t be fair to take advantage of Filip’s good deed. Besides, who knew what trickery he’d devise, trickery that could hurt Jay. She needed to stand by. Djinn couldn’t be trusted.
Her frown deepened as Filip shifted, and the muscles of his thighs flexed beneath the worn denim of his jeans.
Why did she notice? In heaven, guardian angels like Andrew were gorgeous, but she didn’t ogle their bodies. Her breath didn’t catch and her pulse speed up when their muscles rippled in fight training. They were simply friends.
“Can you hear anything in the house?” Filip’s low voice carried less than a whisper.
Sara listened, then shook her head, frustrated. She couldn’t hear anything, not the tick of a clock, the hum of a refrigerator, not a floorboard settling or a human breathing. Then again, she didn’t have super-hearing.
“It’d be nice to know how many are in the house. Khan mightn’t be alone,” Filip said absently. He stood, one knee bent to accommodate the slope of the roof. “Oh well.”
He jumped and landed on the far side of the fence, on a patch of straggly lawn at the rear of Baz Khan’s house.
The sudden action startled Sara, but she was beside him as he opened the back door. She heard the locks and bolt disengage at his command. Like her, he could simply materialise inside the house, but he’d need to carry Jay out. Humans didn’t travel well through walls.
He paused. “You’d better go invisible.”
“What about you…oh.”
A black leather jacket and boots changed his casual appearance to one of menace. The gun that appeared in his hand threatened violence.
Bullets and knives couldn’t hurt angels or djinn. Demons shared the same incorporeal immunity to physical attack. To hurt them required weapons of the spirit, such as the swords the guardian angels used.
But an angel, djinni or demon could use physical weapons against humans.
“Don’t hurt anyone.” Sara clutched a handful of Filip’s black jacket and shook it. “Promise.”
She didn’t want to see him kill.
He shrugged her off and strode in.
Filip walked silently down the short hallway of the suburban house. It had been built sometime in the 1960s and the narrowness of the passage indicated that economy had been an issue. Now it needed either a bulldozer or a thorough renovation. Inhaling the musty smell of stale cigarette smoke and mildew, Filip voted for demolition. Before he obliged, he had to get Jay out.
If Baz Khan knew anything about Vince Ablett, he’d expect an attack. Ablett hadn’t built an international criminal network by letting anyone beat him. There would be guns, maybe knives, possibly explosives. Of course, none of them could hurt him, but they could hurt Jay. The challenge would be extracting her without injury.
He paused at the doorway on his left. Dim light filtered through the room’s windows, just enough to reveal it as a kitchen. It was empty, apart from whatever vermin inhabited its sagging cupboards and stinking drains.
Beyond the kitchen the passage branched to the right. The standard house plan of the era meant the bedrooms and bathroom would be down there. Perhaps Jay was locked in one, sleeping in the exhaustion of terror. Filip doubted Baz Khan would sleep. He’d be awake, waiting for Vince.
Khan would die at dawn, along with anyone helping him. Vince was efficient at vengeance and ruthless in maintaining his reputation. There would be none of the melodrama Khan himself indulged in with Jay’s kidnapping. Vince would torture, kill and display Khan’s corpse as a warning to anyone thinking of challenging him.
Unless Filip himself killed Khan as he rescued Jay. He could give the man a clean death.
Sara would never forgive him, never forget if she watched him kill.
He halted in the living room doorway and swallowed a curse. He’d miscalculated.
Khan was alone and he hadn’t locked Jay in a separate room.
She lay on a mattress in a dark corner of the living room. She’d curled away from the door, facing the wall. Her breathing was even, relaxed in sleep.
Khan was awake, the tension of his body strung to alertness. He sat on a wooden chair and watched Jay. A rifle lay at his feet. He held a knife with loose familiarity. He was about thirty, clean-shaven, dark. In his sweater and jeans he’d have been unremarked on an Australian street, just another working-class man—if he could hide his intensity.
A small television at the other end of the room had the sound off, but its screen provided dim lighting in the curtained room. An old sitcom unwound sadly without its soundtrack of canned laughter.
Filip felt Sara’s warmth against his back, but she was still invisible, as silent as he. He pushed his hand down and back in emphatic order that she stay put.
After everything, the actual rescue would be anticlimactic. He’d strike Khan unconscious, pick up Jay and leave. Before she was properly awake, he’d have her back on her father’s property. He couldn’t carry her through solid walls, but mere geographical distance wasn’t an issue. Vince could then explain—or not explain—the swiftness of her rescue.
Enough with regrets.
Khan had brought this feud to Vince. He’d have to live, and die, with the consequences of his actions.
Filip stepped into the living room. An agony of fire shot through his bones from feet to skull. He collapsed onto the floor and, too late, with his nose against the carpet, recognised what dirt and stale odours had hidden. Magic. A Persian carpet woven for protection, woven to capture a demon.
“The stories said djinn were the children of human and demon couplings. When I heard whispers that Vince Ablett had acquired a djinni bottle, I took precautions. My grandfather was a scholar. The carpet was his, a protection and trap for demons. It’s ironic that it survived the journey to Australia when my family didn’t. But then, my family were worthless refugees. The carpet was legitimately imported as an antique.”
The words fell around Filip, pattering and sizzling against his pain like outback rain on a tin roof. The detachment in Khan’s voice was as inhuman as anything Filip had ever achieved.
“So now I have two of Ablett’s treasures. His daughter and his djinni. It only needs himself to complete the set.”
Sara curled her fingers into the doorframe as Filip contorted in agony.
She wanted to pull him free, but if she touched him, would the cursed carpet seize her? She wasn’t a demon, but nor was Filip. What if the magic held all spirits regardless of whether they trespassed for good or evil purposes? If she was trapped, as well, who would rescue them?
“Demons don’t exist.” Jay was awake. She sat up and huddled in her corner, drawing her knees up to her chest. Her blond hair was drawn back in a dishevelled ponytail and she wore jeans and a cream sweater. She stared at Filip but spoke to Khan. “Are you electrocuting him? Did Dad send him?”
“Yes, your father sent him.”
“Then he’ll send more.” Her indrawn breath shuddered. “You can’t kill them all. Please. Let him go. Turn off the electricity. You can take his gun. He won’t be able to move anyway. It’s awful.” Her voice broke. She hid her face against her knees.
On the carpet, Filip’s tendons contracted. His body spasmed.
“Physical suffering is endurable.” Khan stood between Filip and the window, with Jay in front of him to his left. “He will not die of this.”
“How do you know? How many people have you tortured?” Jay’s choked defiance was clogged with tears. She wiped her face with the back of her hand. “How can you watch him suffer?”
“I watched my wife die, my son drown.”
“And does hurting someone make you feel better?” The girl’s scorn was a whiplash. For the first time Khan flinched.
Sara released her death grip on the doorframe. Baz Khan wasn’t irredeemable. There was still a core of humanity in him. His grief had compressed into diamond sharpness, but he had loved once. He could remember compassion. He’d known honour.
Sara struggled with the realisation the room held three people needing rescue—the girl, her rescuer and her kidnapper. But, oh God, Filip was the one suffering. The one she cared about.
“The man on the carpet,” Khan said abruptly. “I can’t free him, anyway. He’s your father’s.”
“You can stop hurting him.” Jay’s was the simple logic of childhood.
“No.” Khan moved away. He looked out the window with his back to the room.
Jay cast him a scared look, then she rose to her feet, not soundlessly enough.
Khan turned. “What are you doing?”
“I’m looking for the power point. I’ll turn off the electricity.”
“There is none.” He strode back. Jay retreated. Deliberately, Khan crouched and put his hand on the carpet. Nothing happened. “See?”
Filip’s hand closed around the man’s wrist.
“God.” Khan swore. He struggled and flung words in Arabic and Latin, words of power and binding. “You can’t be—you’re bound.”
Relentlessly, despite the pain that twisted his face and body, Filip dragged Khan down, forced him to kneel and put a hand to his throat, under the chin. The intention to kill was clear. He would snap the man’s neck.
“Filip, no.” Sara reached out to him. She touched his shoulders and his pain flowed into her hands and through her body. The magic pulled at her, but couldn’t hold her. The pain wasn’t important. She couldn’t watch Filip lose his soul to murder. “Let him go. Let him live.”
She put her hand over Filip’s on Khan’s throat. “Filip.” She concentrated, feeling the sticky magic of the carpet and Filip’s determination. He would kill to be free. She wouldn’t let him.
“The billabong.” The cool image of it filled her vision and soothed her spirit with its remembered wild desert scent and scurrying night sounds. It was Filip’s refuge and a place of healing. She had to break the magic of the carpet and transport him there.
She held onto Filip and dematerialised.
There was a painful flare as if her skin were burning and tearing. Filip screamed, and then the billabong closed around them.
“Fil—” Sara choked on fear and a mouthful of cool billabong water. The water closed over her head as her feet slipped, and Filip’s weight fell on top of her.
Don’t let him be dead.
He’d suffered so much pain. She didn’t want to think what damage her own frantic intervention had done.
She pushed him up and sobbed with relief as she felt his muscles move. His thighs against her thighs, his chest heaving. He helped her steady them both to their feet, then his arms closed around her.
Wrenching shudders shook Filip, sending the water trembling away, its ripples slapping against the rock and sand banks. The water lapped them chest high. Overhead the leaves of the ghost gums rustled. A cockatoo uttered a sleepy complaint and its mate answered.
Sara pressed close, trying to still his shivers with the warmth of her body. She slid her hands under his leather jacket to the small of his back and put her face in the curve of his throat. Her lips touched his skin and she kissed him.
His pain had changed everything.
Finding a cure for young Todd’s fatal bone infection remained a serious commitment, but she was an angel. She knew death wasn’t an ending. If Todd died now, he’d go on to new challenges. His family would grieve, and the world would have lost a bright soul and all he could have grown into. Nonetheless, there would be healing and a new pattern of wholeness.
The truth was she’d become involved in finding a cure for Todd because she was bored.
The knowledge shamed her now. She could see how the challenge of defying the Archivist Guild had given her excitement and a sense of engaging in life. She cared about Todd and his family, but she’d seized the excuse of helping them in order to bring colour into her own orderly, dull life.
As Filip pointed out, she hadn’t risked much. Whatever trouble she got into, she could always yell for angelic rescue. Sure, there would be decades of boring recording duty in heaven as punishment, but she’d always be safe.
Seeing Filip suffer and not knowing how to help him had torn away that security blanket. She’d felt the price of being vividly alive, of caring. Pain was the flipside of passion.
With her lips against his throat, she felt Filip swallow.
His arms relaxed and the wet leather of his jacket squeaked. He cupped her face, tilting her head so she met his eyes. “Thank you.”
Her lips quivered and refused to smile. She was horrified to find tears so close. “Don’t make me rescue you again.” Her voice was husky.
“I promise.” He kissed her lightly on the mouth, a caress of cool wet lips. His thumb brushed away a tear mingling with the water on her face.
“You’re cold, angel. You need heaven and a hot bath.”
“I need you.”
He released her. “No, Sara. You rescued me. The least I can do is not mess up your life. And if you’re feeling sorry for me—”
His mouth quirked, but he continued. “I’ve survived worse, angel. Though Khan did surprise me. I’ll be more careful next time.”
Sara shuddered and disguised her reaction by wading out of the billabong. The water streamed from her sweater and jeans. Rather than kick off her sopping boots, she vanished them and her socks. The sandy beach was cool and rough under her feet.
She looked back at Filip, who was still in the water, alone.
“I’m not leaving,” she said.
He’d been tortured and survived it, but he needed someone with him. He needed an affirmation of life and its tenderness. He needed her to be brave.
“But you’re right about the wet clothes.” Sara stepped up onto a rock where the moonlight caught her figure. “I need to dry off.”
She grasped the bottom of her sweater and peeled it over her head.
Filip waded out of the billabong, his expression in shadow, but the set of his shoulders was stern and determined.
Hurriedly, she fumbled with her jeans and wriggled the wet stiff fabric down her thighs.
“Sara,” he admonished.
Her face was hot with colour as she bent over and forced the jeans over her knees. She stepped out of them and straightened as Filip reached her.
“White cotton bra and panties,” he said.
She glanced down at her body. The thin cotton outlined the press of her nipples and her mound. A shiver of arousal surprised her.
Filip turned away. “Cover up, Sara. I don’t have time for games tonight.”
She looked at his tall figure, still in its wet clothes. Shadow and moonlight played over the slick leather jacket. Even as she watched, he shrugged it off and it vanished before it hit the ground. Another blink of the eye and he wore dry jeans and a white shirt. He concentrated on rolling up the sleeves, staring out across the billabong, away from her.
She took a deep breath and unhooked her bra. “I’m not playing, Filip. I’ve learned that much, tonight. I know to respect what’s real.” No barriers, no games, just an offering of herself. A sharing.
It took real courage to slip off her panties.
“I’ve never been naked beside a billabong before.”
He spun around.
She wished she could read his expression, then he stalked closer and she saw the grim line of his mouth. “Filip?”
He grabbed a blanket out of thin air and wrapped it around her. “No, Sara.”
“Why not? You wanted me in the library. You teased me, here, before. You said you wanted to be inside me when I came. I want you inside me, now.”
His knuckles showed white as he held her blanket together, trapping her in its folds. “What about love? You said you wouldn’t have sex without it.”
She watched his hands and heard the harsh note in his voice. “Maybe I’ve grown up?”
“Abandoning your ideals is not adulthood.” He pulled her, blanket and all, into his arms. “God, Sara. Don’t let me destroy you.”
“You aren’t. You won’t.”
“I want you.” He parted with the words reluctantly, each syllable grating.
She rose on tiptoe and kissed his mouth. “So take me.”
Perhaps a better man could have resisted her. Filip was only a djinni and Sara was the embodiment of enchantment. He’d clung to her in the billabong, feeling the world right itself and the memory of agony ease from his body. She was warm and alive, a promise of sanity and compassion. But then she’d offered him more, offered him herself.
God would have to give him some points for trying to resist.
She was beautiful in the moonlight, every curve an incitement to desire, and she moved with a grace that begged to be seen in passion. In loving she would move against him with her own feminine power. He remembered her climax on the sofa in the library.
“…take me,” she whispered, and he dropped his hold on her blanket and felt a fierce satisfaction when it fell away and he held her naked against him. Her kiss was clumsy but urgent and eager. He parted his lips and invited her to take more.
Her tongue flicked into his mouth. He captured and suckled his prisoner, hearing her breath quicken.
She rubbed against him. He thought the movement unconscious. She simply ached and wanted his soothing. He tested the notion by changing his stance, thrusting his thigh between hers and letting a rocking friction stimulate her.
Her pelvis tilted and her thighs tightened.
She was so responsive.
He withdrew his thigh and her eyes opened in protest. She nipped his lower lip, a punishment she soothed with gentle sucking.
He ran his hands over her in blatant possession and groaned as she flowed in mindless, passionate response, reassured of his desire. He rubbed her breasts, teasing the hardened tips till she rotated her hips in unmistakeable invitation and he had to grit his teeth for control.
“Are you ready, angel?” He cupped her boldly, intimately possessive, and damn near came when she pressed into his hand.
She rubbed herself over his fingers and into his palm. He slid his fingers back, parting her folds. She moaned and rocked, intent on a stronger connection.
“Please, Filip. Now. You.”
To hell with finesse. He vanished his clothes and summoned a mattress, anything. He toppled backward, falling, with Sara over him.
“You’re naked.” She raised herself on her hands and knees over him, curious. She looked down, saw his arousal and blushed.
“You’re beautiful.” He rolled her over onto her back and kissed her, absorbing her scent and taste and giving her his own. She relaxed again, thighs parting and arms embracing him.
“Beautiful.” He kissed each swelling breast and heard her ragged inhale. So much temptation, if he had enough control.
For the first time in centuries, he realised he didn’t. He needed, urgently, to be inside Sara. Later there would be time for play. Her pretty breasts deserved kisses and he was greedy to taste them.
The thought of her response unsteadied him. He settled between her thighs and let his arousal nudge an entrance.
Sara had never felt anything as exquisitely alien as Filip’s slow thrust. He was careful of her, but inexorable. His blue eyes held hers, compelling her complete surrender but giving her his.
There was so much of him, and just when she thought there could be no more, he withdrew.
“No!” She dug her fingers into his back and wrapped her legs around him.
He resisted a moment, his grin strained but real. “Who’s in control here?”
“No one. I need—” She shivered as he returned slowly.
She arched up as he withdrew again, but this time he came back fast. Desire, defences, everything broke before the raw power of him. He thrust to the heart of her, releasing her passion as her senses crashed in overload.
When her eyes refocused, she saw the rigid muscles of his arms. He was still deep inside her, hard and full.
He let his sculpted, powerful body answer her. He held her and thrust, the rhythm of loving capturing him, and through him, taking possession of her until they moved together. Harder, faster, frenetic.
She raked her nails down his back and came, felt him pulse inside her so that she cried his name and his shout answered hers. At that moment, they owned the world.
They lay side by side, staring at the stars, to recover. The cool night wind whispered across the billabong and teased their hair.
Sara turned into the warmth of Filip’s body and he put an arm around her, caressing her skin with idle fingers. She rested her face on his chest and listened to his heartbeat slow from thundering arousal to steady reassurance.
“I have to leave soon.” He traced a pattern on her stomach. “Solomon’s curse compels me to fulfil Vince’s wish. I must rescue Jay.”
“We can’t let Baz Khan kill her, but I don’t want you hurt.”
“No argument there.”
His flippancy couldn’t hide their shared memory of his agony. Sara flattened her palm over his chest, a protective gesture. He was hers now and she’d protect him.
“The thing is…” She hesitated. “I think Khan can be saved.”
In the silence she felt Filip’s stillness. The night was suddenly cold and she shivered. Without moving, he was withdrawing from her.
“You want me to save my torturer?”
“I don’t know.” In the furious panic of Filip’s agony, she’d stopped him killing Khan, but she understood why Filip wanted him dead. Torture outraged all decency. Her protective instincts wanted Filip safe and would kill for him. Her angel instincts had compassion to spare. “There is a spark of redemption in Khan. He’s grieving.”
“Khan has free will. He had other choices.”
Sara sighed. It was true. Unlike Filip, who was bound to his djinni bottle, Khan was free to rebuild his life, free to love again. If he had courage enough, there was strength in him to survive his trauma, not deepen it. But he’d chosen revenge and torture.
“Jay is terrified,” Filip added.
And Jay was the true innocent in this tragedy, not responsible for the sins of her father, but paying their price anyway. Justice and Vince’s wish meant her safety had to come first, even if her rescue meant Khan’s death.
Sara lifted Filip’s hand, kissed it and treasured it against her breasts. If he killed, it would be because he had to and not for revenge. He was not a murderer.
But if she cared about him, it was up to her to make sure he didn’t have to kill at all.