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Authors: Emma Holly

Tags: #paranormal romance, #magic, #erotic romance, #djinn, #contemporary romance, #manhattan, #genie, #brownstone

Tales of the Djinn: The Guardian (5 page)

BOOK: Tales of the Djinn: The Guardian
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“Sweetie!” cried the new arrival, wrapping
Elyse in a tight embrace. From what Arcadius could tell, Elyse
returned the hug with affection. “How are you? I was in the
neighborhood. I thought I’d make sure you were eating. You’ve been
looking so tired lately.”

Elyse released her cousin. Her relative was
taller by a few inches. Though their features shared a family
resemblance, Cara’s long straight hair was a beautiful honey
blonde—not its natural color, he didn’t think, but a flattering dye
job. Her voluptuous figure was more his usual preference. Around
its hourglass curves, her flaring red coat hung open. Multiple
handle bags dangled from her hold. Her manicured nails were shiny
with bold color.

“I’ve been eating,” Elyse told her. “But
thanks for your concern. I’ve cooked for guests tonight.”

She stepped aside so her cousin could see.
Minding their manners, Joseph and Arcadius pushed back their chairs
and rose.

“Oh,” Cara said, her face comically dismayed.
“My bad! No wonder it smells so good.”

“You’re welcome to join us,” Elyse said.
“We’ll have sushi and spaghetti.”

“I shouldn’t horn in on your evening.”

“Please do,” Arcadius said politely. “We’re
all new acquaintances.”

Cara looked at Elyse. “Is it okay? I wouldn’t
mind taking a load off.”

“You’re always welcome,” Elyse assured her.
“You know where the closet is. Hang your coat and I’ll set another
place.”

Before she went to do it, Cara gave Arcadius
and Joseph a onceover with her eyes. The swiftness of the survey
didn’t keep Arcadius from feeling like he’d been stripped. This
woman was a smart cookie, not to mention more confident with men
than her relative.

When she returned, sans coat and packages,
her stride put her considerable charms in fascinating motion. Not
even to fit in could Joseph watch her knee-length knit dress cling
and shift around her hips. Arcadius wasn’t shy. The garment’s
fawn-brown color set off Cara’s hair perfectly, as did three long
amber-studded, antiqued gold chains that draped her lush bosom. The
polished stones were good quality: honey-clear with sparkling
inclusions.

“So,” she said, smoothing the dress around
her bottom before she sat. “How do you two know my cousin?”

“We’ve rented the basement unit,” Arcadius
said, doubting his aide would be able to speak just yet.

“Really?” Cara flipped a cloth napkin across
her lap. “I’d begun to doubt anyone would take that place.”

“Cara,” Elyse scolded. As nimbly as a
magician, she set her cousin’s offering on the table, each sort of
sushi arranged on a separate attractive plate. “People want
different things out of apartments.”

“Of course they do. Most just avoid
habitations with curses attached to them.”

Joseph coughed and Elyse rolled her eyes. To
Arcadius’s surprise, Joseph leaped up to pull out Elyse’s chair. He
hadn’t performed the courtesy for her cousin . . . not that he’d
have had the nerve to get close to her.

“May I?” Arcadius asked their hostess,
indicating the open wine. She nodded and he poured for everyone. He
timed his next question for when he reached Cara’s glass. “Why do
you say our living space is cursed?”

He looked straight into her eyes, which were
green like her cousin’s. Suddenly, she jumped but not on his
account. From the sound of it, Elyse had just kicked her under the
table. Arcadius was curious to see if Cara would obey the
warning.

She flicked a wary glance at her cousin
before answering. “Oh, you know, it didn’t rent for a long, long
time. That’s as good as a curse in this neighborhood.”

Finished pouring and not fooled, Arcadius sat
back and smiled. Cara fiddled with one of her necklace’s amber
beads. He couldn’t decide if she truly was prettier than her cousin
or just had a different style. Her cosmetics were as skillfully
applied as a concubine’s.

“Arcadius and Joseph are from Turkey,” Elyse
said conversationally.

“Ah,” Cara said, possibly not recovered from
being kicked.

Elyse turned to him and Joseph. “Our family
firm does business there.”

“Your family firm?” Joseph asked.

“Solomon Brothers Imports,” Cara answered.
“Our fathers started it together. I work there too. We specialize
in Mediterranean and Near Eastern goods.” She lifted one of her
neck chains to demonstrate. “Elyse’s father was our main buyer
until he fell into a volcano.”

Elyse wrapped one hand across her eyes and
sighed. She seemed not to like this topic any better than
curses.

“He fell into a volcano?” Arcadius was
startled enough to ask. This struck him as an exotic end for a
human being.

Cara forked a delicate bite of salad into her
mouth. “In Sicily. Mount Etna. My dad tried to warn him he was too
old for daredevil tourist stunts.”

“He wasn’t a daredevil!” Elyse burst out. “He
hired a professional guide. It was an accident.”

Elyse’s lovely green eyes welled up with
emotion. Seeing this, Cara was instantly penitent.

“Sorry!” she exclaimed, quickly squeezing
Elyse’s hand. “Me and my big mouth. I shouldn’t have said that,
especially when I’m trying to cheer you up.”

Elyse drew her hand back and shook her head.
“It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean to upset me. Why don’t we talk
about something else?”

“Sure, but—” Cara turned on her chair, facing
her cousin more directly. “Maybe you should accept Dad’s offer to
help you out. He’d be happy to take over here until you feel more
yourself.”

Elyse choked out a little laugh. “I know
Uncle Vince means well, but I don’t need that kind of help. I’ve
managed this place myself ever since Dad died. I could do it in my
sleep.”

“You weren’t by yourself all that time,” Cara
pointed out.

“For that I was. David didn’t run the
brownstone. He just built the new apartment.”

Cara opened her mouth.

“Eat your sushi,” Elyse ordered, pushing a
fish roll between her cousin’s lips.

Cara laughed and brought up her hand to keep
the sushi from falling out. Arcadius guessed this sort of interplay
was normal for the women.

“Sorry,” Cara said to him and Joseph once she
swallowed. “Elyse and I are kind of impossible.”

“Family has its foibles,” Arcadius
agreed.

A cell phone rang not too far away.

“Crap,” Cara said, hopping up. “That’s my
ringtone.”

She dug the phone from a purse she’d dropped
on an end table. The device was bright yellow and glossy. Though he
didn’t have a clear idea how to operate it, Arcadius found himself
coveting one. Surely he and Joseph could afford a pair. They might
come in handy for their mission.


Dad
,” Cara said, obviously annoyed.
“I’m at Elyse’s, eating dinner.”

She walked to the living room’s two front
windows to continue her conversation in privacy. To judge by her
body language, Elyse wasn’t the only family member she squabbled
with. She returned to them shortly.

“Ugh, my dad can be such a noodge. I’m afraid
I have to leave. There’s an emergency at our warehouse.”

“Really?” Elyse said. Arcadius
thought
she sounded disappointed but couldn’t tell for sure.

“Unfortunately, yes. You all enjoy the rest
of your evening. No, don’t get up. I can tell you’re gentlemen, but
I’m not that big of a lady.” She made the words an amusing tease,
her brilliant smile for both men bringing a blush to Joseph’s
cheeks. She addressed her cousin more seriously. “Elyse, if you
find the thing . . .”

“Oh, God,” their hostess groaned. “I told
you, I don’t have it.”

“Right,” Cara said. “But if you stumble
across it, please let me know.”

Elyse got up to hug her goodbye.

Arcadius found it all very interesting.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

EVEN without Cara helping liven up the
conversation, Elyse and her guests shared an enjoyable meal. The
men had good appetites, though neither ate Cara’s sushi—claiming
they were allergic to raw seafood. They didn’t bat an eye at her
mix-and-match pasta, which she’d resorted for fear of having too
little spaghetti. Their manners were excellent, their compliments
for the food so flowery they were slightly embarrassing. The wine
disappeared with no trouble. The Turkish delight sweets—whose brand
she didn’t recognize—were easily the most delicious she’d ever had.
She guessed her father’s favorite maxim was accurate: nobody beat
locals for knowing where to shop. Nobody beat these guests for
courteousness. Joseph refused to allow her to make the coffee,
taking charge of her stove with easy efficiency.

Once he dropped his formality, Joseph was an
amusing man. He had an endless supply of fish-out-of-water stories
from his and Arcadius’s time in New York. Many of the tales were
accounts of dickering, for it seemed they were gem dealers. Elyse
liked seeing Arcadius throw off his seriousness, laughing along
with her even when the joke was on him. She concluded the part of
Turkey they came from must be Old World. A lot of things she
wouldn’t have expected were new to them.

While Joseph bustled at the stove, Arcadius
requested she show him how to use her cell phone. He pulled his
chair next to hers for the lesson. Elyse tried to hide the flush
inspired by his nearness, but he smelled very good—like sandalwood
and frangipani and big warm man.

She reminded herself she wasn’t remotely
ready to move on from David. Her husband had only been gone two
months, and he’d been her everything. Arcadius wasn’t flirting—not
that she could tell anyway. Once or twice tonight, she’d thought
she saw a spark in his eyes, but each time it had disappeared. He
didn’t touch her as they bent together over her phone, careful not
to knock her shoulder with his broad one.

Elyse wished she were as self-controlled. She
couldn’t help noticing the shine and luxuriance of his hair. The
dark locks hung an inch below his shirt collar. His neck was nice
too: tanned and muscular. The grace of his fingers as he pushed
buttons per her instructions caused her thighs to go sweaty.

She didn’t want to think about what he’d done
to her nipples.

“Is this right?” he asked, turning the phone
to show her his results.

Elyse could barely tear her eyes from his
face to check. His closely shaved skin was nearly as smooth as
Joseph’s and, gosh, his mouth was pretty.

“Sure,” she said, trying not to sound
breathy. “That’s how you add contacts. At least on this style of
phone.”

“Ah.” He looked at the cell, dwarfed by the
cup of his relaxed palm. “Could Joseph and I purchase these devices
in not-black?”

Elyse smiled at his hopeful tone. “Probably.
I use that one for business. You can also buy skins to dress them
up.”


Skins
,” Arcadius said, nodding like
he’d filed the word away.

Joseph set steaming cups on the table in
front of them.

Relieved by the excuse to lean back again in
her chair, Elyse picked hers up and sipped. Her eyes went wide at
the strong sweet taste. “How did you make this? This is authentic
Turkish coffee! I don’t have the equipment.”

Joseph’s smile was both pleased and sly. “I’m
magic,” he teased her.

Arcadius’s chuckle set nerves tingling
between her legs. No mere sound should have been able to arouse
that strong a reaction. Elyse struggled not to squirm. Her dinner
guest probably didn’t mean to have the effect. Not that she was an
expert, but she hadn’t one hundred percent ruled him out as gay—nor
could she swear if she wanted him to be.

Him and Joseph being lovers would make things
too simple for her illogical psyche.

Despite her inappropriately eager hormones,
this was the most pleasant evening she’d spent in a while. She’d
almost
forgot her troubles, and she
did
feel like her
old self.

The glow lasted a whole minute after she said
goodbye to her new tenants.

Without them in it, the apartment was very
quiet. Maybe Joseph was magic. He’d put the dirty dishes in the
dishwasher when she wasn’t looking . . . and cleaned the
countertops. This was nice of him, but straightening up would have
settled her. Instead, she was left with her loneliness.

She let out a long slow sigh, the sound no
use whatsoever for drowning out silence. It was too early to go to
bed, on top of which her ability to sleep had been crap lately.

“Pull yourself together,” she told
herself.

With nothing particular to keep her busy, her
restless feet took her the last place she should have gone. She and
David had converted the second bedroom into his “man” room. His
desk and computer took up one wall, furniture from his bachelor
days scattered across the rest. The room smelled of him as she
stepped inside. Unable to bear seeing so many reminders of her
loss, she’d boxed up his things and stowed them here. She didn’t
know when she’d want to give them to Goodwill. As of yet, she
hadn’t taped the boxes closed. Probably the little book Cara had
been bugging her about was in one. Elyse simply didn’t have the
heart to search.

David and her cousin had known each other at
college, both members of a group of undergrads who’d rented a house
together. They’d stayed friends, though David claimed Cara’s
bossiness kept them from hooking up. He liked to say the best thing
Cara ever did was introduce him to Elyse.

You made my life complete
, he
swore.

Idly opening the desk’s left drawer, Elyse
found a legal pad with one of his tidy lists.
Find door
,
he’d jotted and
Buy flowers for Elyse
. Her throat closed as
she shoved the drawer shut again. He must have written the note
while he was working on the cellar. He was always doing sweet
things for her.

Sadness threatened to swallow her. She’d
never be loved like that again. David had been her first and last,
and now he was gone. Just like her father. And her mother, who
hadn’t lived long enough for Elyse to remember her. No one she
needed stuck around. Probably she’d end up like Mrs. Goldberg,
shuffling around alone in her bedroom slippers, calling handsome
but ultimately uninterested men like Arcadius
galoots
.

BOOK: Tales of the Djinn: The Guardian
3.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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