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Copyright Â© 2016 by Patricia AR Esden
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First Kensington Electronic Edition: September 2016
Bury the truth in robes of marble and ivy,
In halls of learned books and tomes ripe with
false beliefs. But it still breathes, still whispers and waits.
Devils and Djinn
By Samuel Freemont
is neck tasted like strawberry jelly. Well, actually like jelly and powdered sugarâwhich was no surprise since we'd spent the last hour wreaking havoc on his freshly washed sheets, first by having a jelly doughnut fight, and then by making love in said newly created mess. Chase was no slouch when it came to lovemaking, far from it. But the doughnut fight had made me laugh until I cried. In all honesty, I'm not sure which I enjoyed more, the fight or the sexâor seeing him laugh, his mind and body off-duty for a change, just there in the moment with me.
Chase rolled me onto my back and straddled me, his forehead resting against mine, his soft blue aura soaking my skin with warmth. We kissed again, gently this time, lips moving in a slow, delicious waltz. I broke away and wiggled a bit lower, trailing kisses down his neck and licking a lingering dab of jelly off his collarbone. He flinched when the tip of my tongue brushed the scarred skin just below his left shoulder, a fist-size mark created so many years ago by Malphic's branding iron.
It was hard to even begin to think about how different Chase's childhood and mine had been: me traveling and dealing antiques with my dad, blissfully unaware that the stories he told me about magic and his family were realâand Chase kidnapped from his human mother, taken to the djinn realm, branded and enslaved by his genie father, and raised to be a Death Warrior until my family rescued him five years ago. It was crazy. Almost unbelievably so, but it was the truth.
The phone on the floor beside his bed jangled, and our private world evaporated as Chase climbed over me and sat on the edge of the bed to read the text.
“Damn. I was supposed to go see your grandfather this morning.” He was up, grabbing his briefs and jeans, his aura fading with each step.
In less than a dozen strides, he was across his attic bedroom and into the tiny half bath. It wasn't like Chase's and my growing relationship was a secret, something banned because I was a Freemont and he worked for my family. But finding any semblance of privacy had proven impossible with both of us living on my family's estate of Moonhill. It had been a month since I'd first come here with Dad and things had started to sizzle with Chase. Still, we'd only managed to spend the whole night together a couple of times. Mostly we stole our alone time when and where we could, like this morning.
I retrieved my jeans and shirt from the floor, then glanced out the window. It had been foggy and barely dawn when I'd driven the ATV up from the main house to
have doughnuts and coffee
at the cottage with Chase. Now the fog had lifted and sunshine brightened everything. It had to be close to eight or nine o'clock.
My eye caught the movement of a dozen black sheep drifting under Chase's clothesline and headed around the corner of the cottage toward the estate's front gate.
“Chase?” I turned toward the bathroom. “I'm guessing the sheep aren't supposed to be wandering around in your yard?”
“Crap!” He flew out of the bathroom and dashed down the stairs. His footsteps stopped and he called back up to me. “Don't worry about the mess. I'm doing laundry later. And Annie, I'm sorry about running off like this.”
“Don't worry. I'll be right down to help.” I made my own quick trip to the bathroom and headed down the narrow stairs to find him. I didn't know a thing about sheep, but I was sure he could use an extra hand with rounding them up or something.
Once downstairs, I started across Chase's tiny living room. There wasn't much in it: a secondhand couch, a chair, some exercise equipment, a coffee table, and an ivy plant he'd picked up after I started visiting. Through the front windows, I had a view across the sheep-covered lawn to where a black Jaguar had stopped on its way out the gate. Chase stood with one hand on its roof, hunched over, talking to the person riding shotgun. My grandfather. It looked like my uncle David was driving and someone was in the backseat. My dad.
My shoulders tensed. Last night, Dad hadn't mentioned going anywhere. He hadn't texted or left a voice-mail message, either. For that matter, I'd never seen all three of them go anywhere together. What the heck was going on?
I found my cardigan on the coffee table next to our empty coffee mugs and Chase's blue yarn and knitting needles. Snagging it, I shoved my arms into the sleeves and launched myself out the front door.
Undoubtedly my early-morning presence at the cottage would confirm Uncle David's conviction that I had the morals of a sewer rat. Well, to hell with him. I was twenty, after all. Chase and me hanging out together shouldn't get anyone's panties in a bunch. But David would hassle my dad, who in turn would tell me to be more discreet and to not forget to use protectionâand remind me that Chase was half genie as if that might call for some kind of magical contraceptive. Which would make me blush and worry Dad might be right.
A knowing smile tugged at the corner of my grandfather's mouth as I jogged between the sheep and up to the car. I put my hands on my hips and glared through the open front-passenger window. “So, what's going on?” I asked.
“Apparently, they're going to Slovenia,” Chase said, folding his arms across his chest.
I let my glare dart past Grandfather and to my dad in the backseat. “Slovenia? Don't you think you might have said something? What the heck's in Slovenia?”
Dad's eyes sparkled with excitement. “A bone flute, a twin to the Divje Babe. But more recently discovered and still in private hands at this moment. If our theory's correct, it can be used to open the veil between realms, and more specifically to break through even a warded veil. Interesting, wouldn't you say?”
My pulse jumped at the possibilities and I nodded my agreement. My mother had been Malphic's prisoner in the djinn realm since before Chase had been kidnapped and enslaved. The family had tried to rescue her, but failed when Malphic used a warding spell to seal the veil before everyone could escape. If this flute could do what they thought, then we'd be able to attempt another rescueâlike as soon as they got back.
I tilted my head, studying Dad intently. “Are you sure it'll work?”
“Fairly sure, but that's where we need yours and Selena's help,” he said.
Grandfather patted my hand. “Talk to your aunt Kate, she'll tell you all about it.”
“We need to get going,” Uncle David grumbled.
The car rolled forward a few inches, but I held on to the window's edge a moment longer. Acquiring a flute in Slovenia had to be safer than fighting a vengeful genie and his shadow-henchmen, and we'd all survived that. Still I didn't believe for a second I was hearing the whole story. “Be careful,” I said.
Dad gave me a quick air-kiss and a wave good-bye. “Don't worry. This is going to be easy.” His tone was light, but there was a catch in his voice.
I waved back, then hugged myself as the Jaguar glided through the open gateway and disappeared down the road beyond.
An uneasy feeling twitched in my stomach. Dad hadn't sounded that confident, not at all.
I pushed my worry down deeper, locking it away. Everything would be fine. Of course it would. It had to be.