When his fingertips pressed on the black torch mark on my back, we both gasped. He spread his whole left hand over it, and the heat spread, increased to an agonizing burn that felt as if it should come with the sound of sizzling. His right arm went around me, holding me up, keeping me from fighting him to get away from the pain.
With shocking suddenness, the fire turned to ice, a chill that ripped all the way through me, and I shuddered. When I exhaled, my breath frosted the air in delicate feathers that vanished in seconds.
I couldn’t feel the mark on my back anymore, and that was a huge relief. But, as David trailed his fingers over it, I realized that I could feel less of the area around it, too. The numb spot was growing.
I turned to look at him, and caught the unguarded pain in his face before he could hide it from me. He was tired, and he was anguished. Worse, he was despairing.
“Stop that,” I said. “What’s happening?”
“It’s getting larger,” he said. “I had to expand the containment to keep it within the boundaries. You can’t push yourself this hard.”
“I know that, and yet I’m not seeing I have much of a choice. How’s Lewis?”
He didn’t want to tell me, but I think he knew I wasn’t about to let him slip away without an explanation.“Fighting his guilt,” David finally said. “He blames himself for the deaths. He feels he made a tactical error.”
That wasn’t unexpected. “He made the right choices at the time. We had to give it a try.”
“I know. He’s afraid that he rushed into it. He’s afraid that he allowed personal issues to color the decision.”
“That’ll be the day,” I said, and then wondered what that meant. “Personal, how?” Please, let it not be about me.
“Rahel,” David said softly. “He can feel her suffering, just as I can. Bad Bob is making sure we can feel it.”
Bad Bob had a Djinn named Rahel in his clutches—one of David’s New Djinn, and someone I could almost call a friend. He could do whatever he wanted to her—the curse of a Djinn being bound to a bottle, of having her will taken away. And she couldn’t fight back. The nightmare dimensions of that stretched on and on into the darkness, because I knew how sick Bad Bob’s imagination had been even years back. God only knew how much worse he was these days, with so much Demon in his body that I wasn’t even sure the old Bad Bob was still around in any form I would recognize.
Rahel had done me some very kind favors in the past. She was never to be trifled with, or underestimated, but unlike a lot of the Djinn, she did care, however remotely, about the fate of individual humans—and the fate of the human race.
David, as her connection to the power source of Mother Earth, would feel every injury done to her. I wasn’t sure, but I thought that her connection to Lewis was more about personal feelings than old-fashioned lines of fealty. She liked him. He liked her. Maybe it went deeper than that. He’d never felt the need to tell me, and I didn’t ask. I had thought their relationship was more of a hookup than love, but I could have been wrong.
I put my hand on David’s cheek and looked him full in the face for a long, long moment. “How bad is it with her?” I asked him. I didn’t want a kind evasion. I didn’t want anything but the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and he could sense that from me. “Is he going to destroy her?”
“Eventually,” he said, and gently took my wrist. “There’s nothing more I can do for Rahel just now. She would want me to focus on those I can help.”
“You’ve done all you can for me, too.”
“Yes,” he said, and I could see he hated to admit that. “I’m slowing it down, but that’s all I can do. It’s deep, and it’s still growing. But I intend to keep trying. I’m not giving up, not on either of you.”
He wasn’t saying anything we didn’t both know, but I could hear the frustration in his voice, and the anguish. I slipped my arms around his neck and the two of us cuddled close for a moment. His lips found mine, long and lingering.
“You’re tired,” he murmured. Like the gentleman he was at heart, David slipped the bra back up my arms, turned me around, and fastened it for me. He even buttoned up my camisole. “I want you to rest.”
I was more used to him undressing me. This felt . . . warm. Intimate in a way that seemed more personal than unbridled passion. It was the kind of thing a husband did for a wife—an everyday kind of gentleness.
It made me crave him so badly.
“David?” My voice came out very small. “I can’t sleep. Will you stay with me? Just for now?”
His arms wrapped around me and his head rested on my shoulder. I felt a shudder go through him, some emotion I couldn’t name. When he looked up, the intensity of it was enough to shatter my heart.
“I’ll stay,” he said, and eased me down onto the bed. “I’ll stay as long as you’re awake.”
“Big promises, Mister Big Shot,” I said. “What if a cat gets stuck up a tree in Peoria? I bet you’d go running off to the rescue.”
“You know how seriously I take a vow. Unless I made one to the cat, you’re my priority.” He tapped me gently on the nose, and there was humor in his face now. “Clothes off or on?”
“Oh God, off. Off off off.”
We were naked before our backs hit the mattress, thanks to David’s wondrous Djinn fabric-vanishing powers. The duvet settled over us like snowfall, but it was warm beneath it, so warm, and when his lips touched mine it was a dreamlike kiss, damp and gentle and sweet. I rested my head on the pillow of his arm and moved in closer, drawn without a word being spoken. His fingers brushed hair from my face and feathered it back, then lingered on my cheek, drawing heat down to my chin.
“Please,” I whispered. “Please make all this go away. Just for a while. Can you do that?”
“I’m only a Djinn,” he said. “Not God Himself. But I’ll do what I can.”
His lips brushed their heat down, taking all the time in the world, pausing in unexpected and vulnerable places. The inner aspect of my forearms. My wrists. The delicate skin just beneath my breasts. He began to suck, drawing my blood to the skin with slow deliberation. He left a map of visible kisses down my body, a slow and thorough awakening of my entire body that made me writhe silently, sheets fisted in my hands.
Oh, I forgot. I forgot
Gradually, his mouth became demanding. Challenging. Nips of his teeth, strokes of his tongue. My control slipped, and I made a tortured sound in the back of my throat, rising up to meet him. I didn’t want seduction right now. I wanted to be ravished, and he could feel it echoing out of me like a ringing bell.
I could tell the exact second that his control slipped gears. His body language shifted, tensed, and he raised his head and looked at me. My already quickened pulse jumped, because the look in those Djinn-bronze eyes was feral.
I sat up and met him halfway through the space and devoured his mouth, hungry and desperate, full of feverish need and frantic energy. It fed back through the link between us, striking like lightning through a grounded circuit, shorting out whatever defenses we’d kept built between us.
When I pulled back, David’s eyes were no longer bronze. They were fire, with pupils of absolute darkness.
I thought incoherently.
I didn’t know if that came from me or from him. It had the force of a Djinn emotion, something vastly more complex than simple human possessiveness.
David growled and put a hand on my chest and pushed me all the way back full length on the bed. He followed, not quite putting his weight on me. Brushes of his hot skin teased and tortured us both. He ran his palm lightly over the rising tilt of my left nipple and flicked his tongue over the right, and the difference in sensations made me gasp. His hand was light, delicate, and burning hot; his mouth was heavy, demanding, and deliciously wet. I bit my lip and felt my whole body shudder in response. I heard an answering sound from David—need, lust, love, wordless reassurance.
We were both on the knife-edge of control. David had never fully let his Djinn instincts out to play before, not like this. I think he’d been too afraid—afraid of hurting me, afraid that I’d be shocked by the depths of his needs and desires.
I knew better. I put my hands around his face and held him still for a moment, staring deep into those inhuman eyes.
And then I nodded. No words, and none necessary.
His skin took on a dusting of gold, and then darker shades, until he seemed more metal than flesh—but it was flesh to the touch, warm and soft and firm. He tasted like exotic spices—cardamom, saffron, wild honey from the rocks. Everything about him was different, and yet everything was exactly the same.
His hand slipped lower down my body, into the slick folds between my thighs. The sensation was overwhelming—burning and cooling at the same time. His thumb pressed and stroked while his long, lovely fingers slipped within. His mouth closed over mine, cinnamon-hot, and I sucked his tongue and tasted fire.
Ecstasy to the power of infinity.
The old, wild magic spiraled up inside of me, exultant, slow pulses that built on each other.
Yes, God, yes . . .
When I came I did it silently, rigidly, holding the awesome force of it inside and giving it to David through the link between us.
It drove him beyond human disguises, and light exploded in the room. I heard him gasping, struggling to stay with me in flesh, because flesh was what we both needed just now.
He solidified again into skin, hot and firm against me. I rolled over and up to my hands and knees, and felt the fiery stroke of his hands over my back, down my hips, between my thighs . . .
I gasped and dropped my head to the pillow as the relentless pleasure of him filled me. Nothing mattered in that moment—only the need, the all-encompassing need to
Every thrust traveled through my body in shattering waves, as intense as any sensation I’d ever known. I heard David whispering in that liquid, sibilant language that I knew must have been his native tongue, the language of fire, of Djinn. I didn’t know the words, but I heard the music—dark, delicious, and utterly abandoned.
He knew just the right spot to hit to shatter me completely. I screamed as another orgasm flooded me like boiling light. It spilled into him, triggering a matching explosion that rocked us both to the core.
The room was full of light.
I caught my breath to hold on to the pure, silvery perfection of that moment, riding the waves, feeling them slowly and gently diminish.
We hadn’t said a word, not in English. David still didn’t. He continued to move inside me—slow, gentle strokes—and kissed the small of my back. It was the gentlest gesture after such an aggressive, passionate coupling, and it promised me, without the luxury of words, that whatever boundaries we found ourselves crossing, he would always lead me back.
David eased down next to me on the bed, flushed and glowing and triumphant. Human, and not.
So much power and control, made vulnerable through me.
I felt a tingle of heat in my back.
No. Not now.
It faded, more like a warning than an attack.
I curled into David’s body and recovered my breath. Despite everything the past few hours flooded back, bringing guilt and regret.
What right do I have to be happy?
I had none. Maybe I never would.
That wasn’t safe.
I couldn’t surrender control like that, not with Bad Bob’s mark on my back. What if he’d taken advantage of that moment to strike? What if he’d taken control?
“Jo.” David’s voice was rough, not quite steady. When I looked up into his eyes, I recognized the expression. “I see I can’t make the world stop for long. And you think too much.”
“I was just thinking what a terrible risk that was,” I said. “Because—”
“Because of the mark.”
I nodded. He lifted himself up on one elbow and looked down at me, golden skin still shimmering in the light, flushed in all the right places.
“I know,” he said, and trailed his fingertips over the line of my collarbone. “But you’re my wife, and no matter what the risks might be, that matters more to me.”
“I love you,” I whispered. “But you need to be careful. Especially with me.”
His smile was warm enough to light every candle in the world. “I was, at first. But I fell in love with you instead. Now there is no safety from you.”
I burrowed close to him, and his arms wrapped around me, and for the moment it was all quiet. All peace.
“For as long as we live,” he said, and kissed the top of my head. “Which means forever, if I have any say in it.”
It wasn’t heaven, but it was damn close. For the next couple of hours I slept, curled in David’s protective arms, feeling safe for the first time I could remember. The motion of the ship was rhythmic and soothing, and for a little while the world did go away, after all.
I could almost—
—believe it was a honeymoon cruise.