Forsaken (The Djinn Wars Book 5) (6 page)

BOOK: Forsaken (The Djinn Wars Book 5)
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* * *

M
adison Reynolds
. Qadim let the unfamiliar syllables roll over in his mind. He’d been speaking the truth when he’d said he’d never heard that name before, but he thought it suited her. Her name was strong and yet somehow graceful, just like the woman who bore it.

He hoped he hadn’t been too obvious in the way he had looked at her. His every impulse had been to drink her in, to study every angle and curve, but he knew she would have found such an inspection off-putting at best. She was injured, and weary. She needed time to become herself again.

And time as well to learn she had no reason to fear him.

Damn Hasan al-Abyad and all his murderous brethren. Qadim had seen the darkness in Madison’s clear eyes, could only guess at the horrors she must have witnessed. During his demolition efforts, he’d come across streets where bloodstains had been baked right into the strange black substance humans used to pave their roads. He hadn’t wanted to guess at the kind of violence that had created such a permanent marker of its aftermath…and yet Madison had seen these things for herself. He supposed he should be glad she hadn’t made another attempt to flee him, even with all her injuries.

Surely that must be a good sign.

She had said she wasn’t hungry, but he knew her body would require nourishment to assist it with the healing process. While she slept, he would make something delectable for her to eat. He would have to hope that she wouldn’t mind if he ate his evening meal at the same time she had hers. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

The djinn had always been able to summon the components for their meals from wherever they wished, and so Qadim had no need to worry about all the food that had spoiled in the hotel’s freezers and cupboards months earlier. He’d cleared all that away as soon as he’d determined the Hotel Andaluz would be his new home, then made sure everything was cleaned thoroughly. Many of his people did not care to cook, and conjured their meals already made, but Qadim had always enjoyed the process. There was something uniquely sensual about combining the ingredients to their best advantage, to experimenting and tasting and coming up with infinite variations of the same theme.

And, to be fair, he also enjoyed pouring some wine for himself to help things move along.

Because Madison was so recently injured, he wanted to make something that would be easy for her to eat and would not require any cutting. And not too heavy, either, for he wanted her to sleep easily without an over-lavish meal weighing on her stomach. A variation of an Indian dish he’d long admired would do very well, with rice and vegetables, and using chicken instead of lamb.

The ingredients he needed waited for him, either laid out on the counter or sitting in the refrigerator. While he preferred the softer, warmer glow of candlelight, he did think that electricity had its uses, especially when it came to preserving food.

As he busied himself with preparing the meal, Qadim could not prevent his thoughts from wandering upward, to the ninth floor of the hotel where Madison Reynolds slept in her borrowed bed. Just the mere image of her glorious hair spread out on the pillow was enough to send a shiver of arousal through him, but he pushed it aside. He would not deny to himself that he wanted her, but she was injured and afraid. He must be gentle and kind, and hope that she would warm to him as time passed.

Gentle and kind,
he thought with a wry twist to his mouth.
I doubt there are many who would use those words to describe me.

Certainly not Julia Innes, whom he had kidnapped to help further his sister’s twisted ends. True, Qadim had ended up assisting Julia and her friends, but at the time his motivations had been anything but pure. He’d only wished to escape the Council’s wrath. But, being the Council, they’d seen through him easily enough. And now he was here in Albuquerque.

Which had its own hidden treasures. He glanced upward, although even a djinn’s gaze couldn’t pierce through that many layers of concrete and steel to find the woman who slept nine floors above. Perhaps one day she would confide in him and tell him how she’d managed to survive more than a year all on her own, but he resolved not to prod her. If she wished to tell him, she would.

In the meantime, he had to hope that she would enjoy the dinner of chicken korma he’d prepared for her.

* * *

A
delectable smell
entered the room, and Madison’s eyes fluttered open. For just the barest second, she had a moment of panic, since she could tell those were the last dregs of sunset peeking around the blinds, and of course the bunker where she’d been living for the past year had no windows. But then memory returned, and she remembered that she was in the Hotel Andaluz, brought here by the djinn named Qadim.

And there he was, standing by the doorway, with the incongruous companion of a room service cart next to him. “Did you sleep well?”

“I did,” Madison replied, realizing with some surprise that she had. Only for a few hours, but that had been enough time for the ibuprofen to kick in and reduce the ache in her shoulder to a dull throb.

“And are you hungry now?”

“How could I not be, when you’ve brought up something that smells that good?”

His rather harsh features relaxed into a smile. “I am glad to hear that. This is chicken korma. Do you like Indian food?”

“Love it,” she said, which was only the truth. She and Jacob used to go out for Indian food several times a month. With a slight stab of surprise, she realized that was the first time she’d thought of her ex in months. Most of her time had been spent resolutely not thinking of anyone in her past, to avoid dwelling on the dreary fact that everyone she’d known and loved was now dead. Anyway, remembering Jacob only brought on a fresh round of self-recriminations. She wouldn’t go with him to Washington, and he didn’t want to stay in Albuquerque. Had he died alone? In the time they’d been apart, before the Heat struck, she hadn’t heard through the Facebook grapevine that he was dating anyone….

Qadim didn’t appear to note her distraction, and instead wheeled the room service cart into the suite so he could set it next to her bed. Forcing herself back to the present, Madison sat up a little straighter and pushed back against the pillows. Her shoulder twinged, but not as much as it had when she’d attempted a similar maneuver only a few hours ago. That couldn’t all be the ibuprofen. It felt as if the djinn had done a damn good job of resetting her shoulder.

To her surprise, she saw he’d brought up a bottle of chardonnay to go with the meal. “You’re sure that’s a good idea?” she asked, then worried that he might think she was asking about something besides basic drug interactions.

But he merely said, “You’ve only taken a low-level painkiller,” as he lifted the metal cover from one of the plates. “A bit of wine should not make a difference. In fact, it will probably help.”

“Muscle relaxant,” she commented, and he nodded.

“Precisely.”

She fell silent, watching as he finished prepping the meal. Apparently, he’d already removed the cork from the wine before he came up, because he poured it right away. Not too much, only an inch and a half or so in her glass.

“You can begin with that and see how you feel,” he told her.

Well, that seemed prudent enough. He’d placed the cart on her right side, so it wasn’t too awkward to reach over and lift the wine glass so she could drink. The wine was cool and clean on her tongue, and she could feel the alcohol the second it hit her stomach. No big surprise, she supposed, since she hadn’t had anything stronger to drink than tea since taking refuge in the shelter. Clay had wisely avoided stocking the place with anything alcoholic, and although Madison supposed she could have scooped up any of an assortment of rare and expensive wines and other liquors while she was out foraging, she’d avoided the temptation. It would have been far too easy to drink herself to death down in that bunker.

Then she realized maybe that had been rude, that she probably should have waited for Qadim to take a sip of his wine as well. “I’m sorry,” she said. “That was kind of grabby of me. It’s just — it’s been a while.”

“No need for apologies,” he replied. His gaze moved from the glass she held and to her face. Only for a second, though, before he drank some of his wine. “It is quite good.”

“Yes,” she agreed.

“You had no wine where you’ve been staying?”

It seemed an innocuous enough question, but Madison couldn’t help flicking a quick glance at him to see if there was any subtext she might be missing. After all, she thought it likely enough that he would want to find out where she’d been living for the past year, if only to satisfy his curiosity.

That wasn’t going to happen. Okay, he’d probably already guessed that her hideout must be somewhere in the neighborhood where she’d fallen from the electric bike, but there were at least thirty houses on that street. Narrowing it down would take some time, especially since the entrance to the bomb shelter was so well hidden.

“No,” she replied. “Wine isn’t necessary for survival.”

“I might have to disagree with you on that.”

There was such a wicked glint in his eyes right then that Madison could feel her mouth curving up in a smile despite herself. “All right — it isn’t necessary for subsistence.”

“I suppose that much is true.” He set down his glass and pushed the plate on her side of the serving cart as close to the edge as possible. “Can you reach that?”

It would be a bit of a stretch, but she thought she could manage. She wondered if she should try to sit more upright, but the pillows were supporting her shoulder nicely, and she didn’t want to upset the current arrangement. So she picked up the fork and speared one of the pieces of chicken on it. “Piece of cake.”

Qadim looked slightly puzzled. “Chicken,” he corrected her.

Again she had to fight the urge to smile. His English was very good, but it seemed some idioms weren’t in his vocabulary. “I just meant that it was simple enough.”

“Ah, good.” He took his own fork and scooped up some chicken and rice, then swallowed.

Madison had yet to take a bite. The food looked good and smelled even better, but what if he’d done something to it, doctored it somehow?

For what?
her mind scoffed at her.
You’re lying here with one usable arm. If he wanted to try something, he would have already.

Assuming that the djinn were even interested in humans. Well, beyond killing them, that was.

So she put the piece of chicken in her mouth. Subtle spices rolled over her tongue, bringing with them another surge of memory, of sitting in that crazy Indian place out on Menaul and feeding Jacob pieces of naan in between bites of korma. Sharing food like that had gotten them both so turned on that they’d gone back to Jake’s apartment and had sex right there on the living room rug because neither of them wanted to waste the time it took to get to the bedroom.

Heat flooded her cheeks, and she set down the fork and reached for her glass of chardonnay so she could take a big swallow.

“Is something wrong?” Qadim asked, giving her a curious glance. “Do you not care for the food?”

“Um, no — it’s fine. More than fine, actually. It’s better than anything I could have gotten in a restaurant.” She didn’t bother to add that the days of Indian restaurants — or any kind of restaurant at all — were long gone.

And she sure as hell wouldn’t mention how that unbidden memory of her and Jake screwing like a couple of crazed rabbits on the floor had sent an unwelcome flush of heat all through her. The overall loneliness had been bad enough, but the lack of any kind of physical intimacy was even worse. If she’d known, back before the Heat swept over the world, that she wasn’t ever getting laid again, she would have gone out and picked up the first promising stranger in a nightclub rather than being the good girl she’d been raised to be and waiting until the next relationship came along. Sometimes virtue was definitely not its own reward.

“I am pleased to hear that,” Qadim said formally, although a certain edge to his inflection seemed to indicate he could tell she was holding something back.

She’d have to watch that. He might be a djinn, but he looked and acted human enough, and he seemed to be better at reading humans than an otherworldly creature had any right to.

Maybe it would have been better if he’d stuck to the Arabian Nights robes she’d first seen him wearing. Because right now, in that dark T-shirt and those nicely faded Levi’s and work boots, he looked too damn human.

Shoving some more korma into her mouth seemed the best way to cover up the awkward pause that followed his last statement. She chewed, forcing herself to focus on the flavor. It really was very good; her earlier compliment hadn’t been an empty one.

“You really made all this?” she asked, once she was done chewing.

“Yes. I like to cook.”

If he’d told her he liked to put on a tutu and pirouette across the stage at the Bolshoi, she couldn’t have been more startled. “Seriously?”

One eyebrow lifted. “You sound surprised.”

BOOK: Forsaken (The Djinn Wars Book 5)
9.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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