Forsaken (The Djinn Wars Book 5) (7 page)

BOOK: Forsaken (The Djinn Wars Book 5)
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Madison started to shrug, then stopped herself abruptly as a nasty twinge went through her damaged left shoulder. “I suppose I hadn’t thought a djinn would even need to cook. You could just snap your fingers or wrinkle your nose or whatever to make the food appear.”

“That is what some of my kind do,” he said. “Perhaps not the nose-wrinkling, however.”

“It seems as if it would be a lot easier to just blink your dinner into existence instead of making a big mess in the kitchen and taking hours.”

“You don’t like to cook?”

“I hate it,” she said bluntly, then reached for her wine and drank some more.

Over the course of her dating life, she’d met several men who’d been immediately put off by her admission that she couldn’t stand cooking. Qadim, on the other hand, appeared more curious than anything else. “Why?”

The inevitable question. She was beginning to wish she hadn’t said anything at all, but something about being around another person — even if that other person happened to be a djinn — seemed to have disengaged the wall she usually put up around herself.

But he was sitting there, watching her and clearly waiting for her to reply. Maybe she should give him a glib answer in the hope that it would be enough to keep him from asking more questions.

She thought he deserved more than that, though. One might argue that she would never have gotten hurt in the first place if he hadn’t pursued her, but he hadn’t wished her any harm. He’d just wanted to know who she was.

And he had patched her up. She’d always owe him for that.

Another bracing swallow of chardonnay, and Madison said, “When I was ten years old, my mother got sick. Bone cancer. Very fast, very aggressive.” She paused then and glanced over at the djinn, who absorbed this information with a quiet nod but didn’t say anything. “You know what cancer is, right?”

“Yes,” he replied. “That is, insofar as it affects humans. Djinn can be injured, but we cannot become ill. So we do not suffer from these sorts of ailments.”

Must be nice,
she thought. She filed away the information that djinn could be hurt for possible use at a later date. Not that she’d necessarily want to hurt Qadim, but…just in case.

“She was in and out of the hospital for treatments. They made her as sick as the cancer. My father was just trying to hold things together — he had a high-powered job and needed to stay focused — so I did what I could to help out. That included trying to feed everyone.”

“Even though you were just a child?”

“Kids younger than I was have suffered a lot worse.” Poverty, and starvation, abuse and neglect. At least Madison had never gone to bed hungry, had parents who loved her. Her mother’s final words had been a whispered
I’m so sorry,
as if it was her fault that the cancer had risen up out of nowhere and consumed her. A few burned fingers and botched stews couldn’t really compete with that.

And there was Qadim looking at her with compassion in his eyes. As if a djinn could possibly understand what she’d gone through. She didn’t want him pitying her.

“That was almost seventeen years ago,” she said, knowing he most likely could see right through the brittleness of her tone. “I’m over it.”

His silence was eloquent, seeming to indicate he didn’t believe her…but that he also wouldn’t contradict her. At last he said, mouth lifting slightly at one corner, “Well, you can be reassured that I will not expect you to cook.”

She offered him a tentative smile in response. With an injured shoulder and an uncertain future ahead of her, what else could she do?

Chapter Five

S
o much pain
. It seemed that Madison Reynolds had suffered a good deal in her short life, even before the Heat had come along and swept away everything.

But Qadim could tell she didn’t want to discuss the matter further, appeared sorry that it had come up at all. He let it alone, and after they had finished eating, he quietly told her that she would find any toiletries she needed in the bathroom, then left her to retire for the night. She’d looked very weary by then, her fine green eyes smudged with shadow. The day had been difficult enough for her without him bringing up unwanted memories.

She had spoken with him, though. That was something. She could have eaten in stony silence, refusing to acknowledge his conversation. Perhaps it was only that she’d been alone for so very long that any kind of interaction was its own gift, even if said interaction involved speaking with one of the race who’d been responsible for the destruction of her world.

Still, her openness was hopeful. It meant he might have a chance.

A chance for what, he wasn’t sure. His body told him that was easy enough — a chance to bed her would be a wonderful thing. He could wait until she was fully healed and see what happened.

Yet….

Something told him he wanted more than that, which was foolish. He’d always been one for casual liaisons, a few weeks or nights or even years of pleasure before moving on. If he became intimate with Madison, what would that mean, precisely?

As he’d told Hasan, he had no interest in claiming a human as his Chosen. To be tied down to one woman forever? Any of his former lovers would have laughed to hear of Qadim al-Syan ever contemplating such a thing.

Also, he might have been misinterpreting what he’d seen in her face at dinner, but before the conversation had turned deadly serious, he’d seen a flush in her cheeks, had noted the way her breasts rose and fell under the shapeless T-shirt she wore. He had enough experience of women to know that some sort of arousal had moved through her, even if she’d pushed it away. Surely she must be feeling deprived after living alone for so long. What was wrong with sharing some pleasure, even if that pleasure must eventually come to its end?

Nothing at all. And once she was fully healed and capable of such things, he would see how amenable she was to the suggestion.

* * *

T
he next morning
, Madison judged her shoulder in good enough shape that she thought she should be able to take a shower. Washing her hair one-handed would be a little tricky, but she figured she could manage. Anyway, she wanted to get cleaned up, and a quick inspection of the bathroom showed that it truly was, as Qadim had claimed, well stocked with toiletries — shampoo and soap and toothpaste and anything else she might need. There was even replacement clothing in the dresser, underwear and jeans and several T-shirts.

Nothing fancy, though, nothing frilly. Apparently the djinn wasn’t going to pull the standard movie-villain maneuver of making his captive dress in something provocative so he could thoroughly ogle her before getting down to business.

But Qadim wasn’t a villain. At least, Madison didn’t think so. Unless he was the type of villain who liked playing the long game.

If he was, she didn’t think there was too much she could do about it.

Even so, she made sure both the door to her suite and the bathroom door were securely locked. Whether that was enough to keep out a djinn, she had no idea. Probably not, but again, she was just a human female with a dislocated shoulder; her options were fairly limited at the moment.

Slipping out of the sling and then out of her T-shirt was a lengthy process, one that had her gritting her teeth in pain and wishing that she’d downed a few more ibuprofen before beginning the procedure. Once she was in the shower, though, the hot water helped to ease some of the discomfort. She wouldn’t ask how there was hot running water when the entire planet’s infrastructure was completely broken down. More djinn magic, she supposed, the same kind that conjured up all the correct ingredients for chicken korma and vegetables and rice. She’d brushed her teeth the night before, but she could still taste that meal, the first thing she’d had in a year that wasn’t made from canned or frozen or freeze-dried ingredients. It had been sublime.

Qadim hadn’t mentioned anything about breakfast, but it was early still, the sun just barely over the horizon. Normally, she didn’t get up quite this early, but she’d gone to sleep at barely nine the night before. And despite the way it still ached, she could tell her shoulder had improved that much more while she rested. A few more days, and she’d probably be as good as new.

And what then?
she thought as she awkwardly towel-dried her hair with one hand, then scrunched some gel into it.
Is Qadim just going to let you walk away?

Maybe. Hopefully. And walking was all she’d be able to do, since she was pretty sure her bike was now out of commission.

She still hadn’t quite figured out what Qadim wanted from her. He hadn’t behaved like a man who was sexually attracted to a woman. But then, how would she even begin to guess the way a djinn might act in that situation?

Frowning, she finished getting dressed before slipping her injured arm back into its sling. The toiletries supplied hadn’t included any makeup except some tinted lip balm, so Madison spread some of that over her lips. Her reflection still looked tired, but there wasn’t much she could do about that. It wasn’t as if she was trying to impress Qadim.

Tying her hiking boots with one hand also proved challenging, but eventually she had herself more or less together. What she should do next, she really didn’t know. The djinn hadn’t told her she couldn’t venture forth from her room. On the other hand, maybe he’d thought she was still banged up and sore enough that she’d want to stay in bed. Other than her shoulder, though, she was doing better than she’d thought she would. The bathroom mirror had revealed some lovely bruises beginning to show up, including a spectacular blue and purple specimen on her knee, but the aches weren’t nearly as bad as she’d feared they would be.

Besides, she wanted to see if he’d wrought any of the same alterations on the interior of the Hotel Andaluz as he had on the surrounding landscape.

Madison downed a couple of ibuprofen with the remainder of the bottled water before she stepped out into the hallway and shut the door behind her. At first glance, nothing much seemed to have changed. She’d never actually stayed at the hotel, but her friend Tory had gotten married here, and so Madison had been to one of the room parties thrown by the bridesmaids. Here were the same mirrors, the same antique sideboards, even the same little baskets of potpourri, although it had long since dried out completely and no longer gave off even a ghost of a scent.

The sconces on the walls were dark, however. Instead, candles burned on the side tables, giving enough illumination for Madison to make her way down the corridor. When she reached the elevators, she paused. There had been electric light in her room; the candles seemed to be more an affectation than anything else. Even so, she didn’t think it a very good idea to risk using the elevator.

The stairwell was well lit, though, and so it was easy enough for her to descend the eight flights of stairs to the lobby level. When she opened the door and stuck her head out, everything appeared to be deserted.

What did you expect?
she asked herself.
Qadim’s still up in his suite, probably, and it’s not as if you have any friends who’re going to drop in.

And she had to pray that Qadim didn’t have any friends, either, at least not the type who would come by unannounced. He seemed open and friendly enough, but she knew better than to expect all djinn to be like that. No, grim experience had taught her that they were the exact opposite of friendly.

The lobby appeared relatively unchanged, too. There were the casbahs along the wall, where you could sit with a date and have a drink and some tapas. The waterfall still flowed in one, and the bank of votives in the other flickered with restless light. Some part of her relaxed slightly, relieved that this one part of the old world had endured. She wondered if Qadim had preserved it in this state because it reminded him of the world he had come from.

Wandering past the little room that used to be the reception area, Madison came to the restaurant. Everything in here was immaculate, each table set with a small, healthy-looking succulent plant. She could almost imagine that the maître d’ was about to show up and show her to a table.

But there was the view out the windows, one which should have been crowded with buildings on every side. Instead, she saw that artfully laid out desert scape, every rock and plant set exactly where it should be to create an ever-changing but harmonious vista. It was the sort of work that would have made most landscapers envious.

“Good morning,” came Qadim’s voice, and she turned to see him emerging from the door into the kitchen.

“Morning,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound too startled. “I hope it was all right for me to come down here.”

“Of course, if you feel up to it.”

“I do. That is, my shoulder feels much better this morning. Thank you again for setting it.”

He offered her a smile. “I am glad you’re so improved. I was just seeing about breakfast. Would you like to come into the kitchen?”

Most of the time she did what she could to avoid kitchens, but since he was the one doing the work…. “Sure,” she replied. “Does your djinn magic include brewing up some coffee?”

“Yes. It should be about ready.”

She followed him into the kitchen, which was smaller than she’d expected but spotlessly clean, with gleaming stainless-steel counters and appliances. The air was filled with the rich scent of coffee, and she sniffed appreciatively.

“If I hadn’t gotten up early, would you have sent the smell of that coffee up through the ventilation system to wake me up?”

A glint entered his dark eyes. “Now, that is an idea I had not thought of. But since you seem to be an early riser, perhaps those sorts of extreme measures aren’t necessary.”

Madison almost protested that she wasn’t always up this early, then decided to say nothing. It didn’t really matter if they got used to each other’s rhythms or not; in a few days she’d be healed enough to go back to the shelter, and that would be the end of it.

For some reason, that idea didn’t sound nearly as appealing as she’d thought it would.

Qadim lifted the pot from the stove — no automatic coffeemakers for him, apparently — and poured a good measure of the rich brown liquid into a pair of heavy white stoneware mugs that were sitting on the counter. He handed one to her before saying, “I can get you cream or sugar if you require it.”

“No, black is fine.” She blew on the coffee, which was far too hot yet to drink. Some cream would have cooled it down, but she’d learned to drink her coffee black a long time ago, and coffee with cream and sugar just tasted strange to her now.

The djinn didn’t bother to wait to drink his own coffee, but lifted it to his lips and sipped right away. Higher tolerance for heat or pain? That made the most sense. She didn’t know if it would be rude to ask, however, and so put the question aside for the moment.

“What would you like to eat?” he said next. “I’ll admit that I am not completely familiar with all your breakfast foods, but eggs are simple enough. Or perhaps I could make that thing called a Belgian waffle.”

Something about the way he made the suggestion made her want to laugh. He looked completely serious, though, and so she said, her expression equally serious, “Eggs are fine. And toast, if you have it?”

“I can have anything you want.”

From someone else, that kind of comment might have sounded far too suggestive. But she didn’t think he was playing those kinds of games, and was merely being truthful.

“Sourdough toast, then,” she said. “And some fruit. Strawberries?”

Strawberries were completely out of season. But that sort of thing shouldn’t matter to a djinn.

Apparently it didn’t, because he only nodded and replied, “Simple enough. You can sit on that stool over there while I prepare the food.”

Where she would be safely out of the way. She didn’t mind, though. Sitting off to one side was infinitely preferable to being pressed into service.

She settled herself down on the stool. For some reason, she’d expected him to snap his fingers and have all the components of the meal magically appear on the countertops, but instead he went over to the refrigerator and pulled out a bowl of eggs, a stick of butter, and another bowl of strawberries. So maybe he had conjured them, but made them appear inside the refrigerator where they could rest comfortably until he had need of them.

He went to work, breaking an alarming number of eggs into another stainless-steel bowl, whisking them, adding an exact amount of milk. Once he had that mixture going on the stovetop, he went to one of the large pantries on the other side of the room and produced a large loaf of bread, which he set down on the counter so he could cut off some slices.

BOOK: Forsaken (The Djinn Wars Book 5)
7.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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