Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Prologue

“Malik, this is not your decision.  She must return.”

Malik pounds his fist on the table, his normally calm and restrained demeanor slipping.  “No!  You sent her into exile and now you want her to sacrifice herself at your feet?  I will not bring her back until she has manifested all of her power.”

“You say that as if you have a choice.”  His uncle’s expression is unnerving in its complete lack of emotion.  “You do not.  The power she holds now is sufficient for our needs.”

Malik’s face is far from lacking emotion.  “If you truly feel she must return, you will get her yourself.”  With a simpering smile, he adds, “Unless you fear her righteous flames.”

“Malik,” a quiet voice says from beside him.  “No one in this room is without sin.”  She lays a soft hand on his.  “Not even you.”  Malik stares at his aunt.  He is not fooled by her gentle facade.  In her heart, she is as hard and cold as his uncle. 

The council agreed to wait to ask Skye to return.  A decision based on Malik’s testimony as to Skye’s fragile state of mind and complete lack of control over her power.  As Premier, his uncle does hold the right to overrule the council if a situation becomes dire, but this is a blatant abuse of that power.  Pulling his hand from under his aunt’s, he says, “No, I am not without sin.  I have done what I must to protect our world and my sins pile high.  Now you will have me compound my sins by betraying my own sister.  How could my soul survive the tarnish such a sin would leave?”

“You would rather commit treason against your entire race then?” his uncle asks, his voice inflectionless. 

Malik leans back in his chair and meets unflinching the ire now simmering in his uncle’s eyes.  The first outward sign he is losing control of his temper.  “If wanting my sister alive is treason, then I will readily admit to it.”

Stony mask crumbling, his uncle can no longer hold back his true feelings.  “You will throw your life away and rot in prison for a silly little girl who couldn’t keep her legs together?”

The level of menace on Malik’s face makes even the guards in the room flinch.  “No, Uncle.  If I am to rot in a cell, it will be for a much greater crime than loving my sister.”

Malik is beyond reason, beyond control.  The rebel faction has wanted him to do this for a very long time and he is finally ready.  The energy gathers in his palm faster than his uncle can react.  The older djinni is wrested from his chair, desperately gasping for air as Malik’s power wraps around his throat and squeezes.  Malik does not relent when his uncle’s pallor turns ashen.  He does not relent when his uncle’s lips turn a sickening shade of blue.   

Malik’s aunt has retreated behind a guard.  “Stop him!” she shrieks.  “He will kill him!”

“I already have.”  Malik pulls his energy back and his uncle’s lifeless body crumples to the floor.


Chapter 1

The roundhouse kick hits my cheek hard enough to send me staggering back several feet but I don’t go down.  She comes at me again but I’m ready for her this time.  I block her jabs and manage to snake a right hook between her arms and hit her square in the jaw.  She’s lucky she has a mouth guard in or she might have lost a tooth or two. 

“Nice, now do it again,” Zane says from across the room where he’s doing weight training.  His sister glares at him.

Taking advantage of her being distracted, I sweep Brielle’s legs out from under her and she goes down on the mat.  Hard.  I expect her to be mad, especially when she takes her mouth guard out and tosses it.  I ready myself for retaliation.

To my surprise, she grins up at me while rubbing her jaw.  “Damn, you’re getting pretty good.”  She pushes herself to a sitting position.  Her breathing as labored as mine, she says, “What happened to the delicate flower I met a month ago?”

“She died,” I reply.  She died in a glade with the devil watching.  She died when she used her fire to reap justice on his son. 

I hold a hand out to her.  When she grabs it, I pull her up.  “Another round?” I ask.

Brielle rubs her jaw again.  “Maybe later, I’m starving.”

“What’s the matter, Lil’ Sis, can’t take it?” Zane asks from the weight bench, a sparkle in his dark eyes.

In response, Brielle makes a rude hand gesture which makes him laugh.  “I don’t see you stepping up,” she says.

It’s true.  He hasn’t sparred with me at all.  He says he can’t stand the thought of hitting me. 
While I appreciate the sentiment, it doesn’t help my training.  “Just this once?” I ask.

He shakes his head.  “You’re too good for me.  I’m afraid of getting hurt.”

I’ve seen him fight.  He and Roman tried to kill each other a few times.  They’re both fast and mean when they fight, which is how I need to be.  Unfortunately, Roman won’t spar with me, either, claiming the same excuse as Zane.  Frustrated, I take off my sparring gloves and huff, “I’ll go for a run then.” 

“Skye…”

I’m being bitchy and he doesn’t deserve it.  He’s been great over the last month.  Most of the time, I believe he’s the only thing keeping me sane.  I force my lips into a small smile.  “I won’t be gone long.”  I give him a quick kiss on my way to the door.  He knows I’m still sulking but he doesn’t say anything.

Outside, I revel in the cool breeze.  The air in the training room gets hot and sticky so my runs are a nice escape.  I’m good at this, I don’t need to train.  Considering how weak I feel compared to everyone else in the house, running may turn out to be what saves my life when the djinn finally catch up to me again.  I sigh.  Okay, enough of the pity party.
I would normally do a few stretches before taking off, but after sparring with Brielle I don’t really need to.  I’m already moving at a good clip when I hit the tree line.  The large house is in the middle of several acres, most of it forest.  Zane and Brielle both train hard for their encounters with the djinn and keep in excellent physical shape.  They created a nice jogging path that’s mostly clear of roots and other hazards of running in the woods.

I’m not long into my run when I hear the pounding of feet on the path behind me.  I’m expecting Zane and am surprised when I look over my shoulder and see Roman catching up to me.  Seemingly at the same time, my heart quickens with excitement and my mind groans in annoyance.  This is how I always am around Roman.  My heart remembers I once loved him with the passion of the young.  My more logical mind remembers he betrayed my love by putting a controlling mark on my neck and by not telling me he had a wife.  Has a wife.  He is still married in the djinn realm and his wife made it clear she wants him back.  She also made it clear my relationship with him meant nothing to either her or Roman.
I want to believe it meant something, that Roman did love me as I loved him.  I’m not sure if it’s wisdom or cynicism that holds me back.  Even when he looks at me like I’m the only woman in his heart, which he does several times a day.

Roman is grinning when he catches up to me.  “Perfect day for a run,” he says, looking up at the overcast sky barely visible through the tall tree branches.

“So it is.”  I take in his sweat drenched clothes.  “This isn’t your first lap?” 

He shakes his head.  “Third.”

“Show off,” I mutter and he grins.  He has slowed his pace to match mine now.

“I’m impressed how hard you’ve been training.”  His eyes scan my body from my trainers, up my bare legs to my exercise shorts, over my bare torso and my exercise bra, and finally, my face.  “You were always beautiful, but I must say, you are now absolutely irresistible.”

I shake my head.  “Roman, don’t.”

“I’m simply a man who speaks the truth.”

I turn my head to glare at him and I swear a new tree root suddenly appears in the path.  My right foot catches it and my ankle twists as I’m thrown off balance and falling rapidly towards the hard ground.  Roman reaches out to me, grasping my arm and tugging me to him, keeping me from hitting the dirt.  His other arm slips around my waist to steady me.

The feeling I try so hard to avoid comes over me.  The one I get when I’m this close to him and can’t resist the pull of his mark.  My breath catches and I inhale deeply to take in his rich, musky scent.  Every inch of my skin touching his tingles and I’m paralyzed by the pull his body has over mine.  My pulse races and I can’t tear my eyes from his, even when his mouth moves ever closer to mine.

A sharp pain in my ankle when I move my leg brings me back to my senses.  “Damn it,” I breathe and push against his chest.  Roman releases me only to catch me again when my ankle tries to give out on me. 

“You need to sit down so I can take a look.”  His tone even despite what I see in his eyes, he shifts from seducer to physician in a heartbeat.

Damning my ankle, I let Roman help me down to the dirt path.  His expert hands begin to assess my rapidly swelling joint.  His touch is clinical as he moves my ankle this way and that.  “I don’t think it’s broken but you do have a nasty sprain.”  He glances up at me.  “You won’t be jogging again for a good week or two.”

“I need to train,” I argue.

“Skye, your body has limits.  How effective do you think you would be against a djinni at the moment?”

I glare at him hating him, my traitorous limbs and my life.  “I guess I need to step up my firearm training then.”

Roman chuckles.  He puts my arm around his shoulders and his arm snakes around my waist.  Slowly, he gets me back to a standing position.  Being the stubborn woman I am, I shake off his help and take an unsteady step forward, wincing as pain shoots up my leg.  I’m able to stay upright, though.

I hobble several feet before Roman says, “You are being ridiculous.”

I don’t look back.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I snipe.

Before I can take another step, I find myself being lifted in the air and held snuggly against his chest.  “The more you walk on it, the longer it will take to heal.  You need ibuprofen and ice to help with the swelling and you will use crutches for at least a week.  Considering how often Brielle has been banged up, I’m sure she has a pair lying around somewhere.”

“Skye?”  Zane’s worried call echoes through the trees.  He must have sensed my pain, a side effect of our binding, and has come to find me. 

“I’m here,” I call.  To Roman, I hiss, “Put me down.”

He stops walking and his mutinous stare makes me think he’s not going to do it.  After a tense moment, he lets go of my legs and slides me gently down his hard body until my feet are once again touching the ground.  I give his stony face a grateful smile.

It only takes a minute for Zane to catch up to us.  His eyes zero in on Roman’s hand on my arm but he doesn’t comment.  “What happened?” he asks me, concern surpassing jealousy for the moment.

Grimacing, I say, “I fell and twisted my ankle. So much for being graceful.”

Moving to my side, he nudges Roman away from me and wraps his arm around my waist.  “Can you walk?”

I glance at Roman before saying, “No.  Roman was carrying me back to the house when you called out.”  Despite my desperate plea to Roman a moment ago, I won’t keep secrets from Zane.  I simply thought it best he not actually see it happening.

To my surprise, he gives Roman a grateful look.  “Thanks, man.” 

He gets a terse nod in response.  “I will see you both back at the house.”

“How lucky you are to have two knights in shining armor to rescue you,” Zane teases as Roman jogs ahead.  He lifts me as easily as Roman had.

I wrap my arms around his neck and smile.  “I only have one.”

He kisses me softly then leans back with raised brows.  “You did mean me, right?”

The glint in his eyes tells me he’s still teasing.  I shake my head and give him my best innocent smile.  “No, there’s this really hot guy who lives down the street.  Would you mind taking me to him?”

He growls low in his throat.  “Over my dead body.”

I laugh and lay my head against his shoulder.  “Thank you for coming for me.”

No longer teasing, he says, “I will always find you when you need me.”

“I know.”  We spend the rest of the way to the house in a comfortable silence.

Roman must have talked to Brielle already because we are greeted at the back door by her and a pair of crutches.  Shaking her head, she says, “You are one high maintenance chick.”

“Thanks for your concern; I’m all warm and fuzzy inside now.”

My sarcasm doesn’t faze her.  “If you didn’t run like a girl you wouldn’t need these.”  She taps the crutches.

“Zane,” my voice is pure saccharine, “will you please move me closer to your sister.  I would like to punch her in the face again.”

Brielle laughs.  “He knows better.”  To her brother, she says, “Bring her to Gram’s sitting room.  The doc’s going to wrap her ankle.”

“She alright?” a deep, gruff voice says from down the hall.  A man the size of a small giant is taking up most of the available width between the walls.  Hank is a tank of a man despite his fast approaching seventy-third birthday.

“Her ankle’s a little swollen but she’ll probably live.  The rest of us are going to suffer more from her whining,” Brielle tells him.  

“Seriously, move closer to her,” I urge Zane but he just laughs.

“She’s only a bitch to the ones she loves.”  The hand gesture Brielle does over her shoulder must mean she really loves her brother.

Zane brings me into Mrs. Gregori’s favorite room in the house.  I’m not sure why it’s her favorite.  The ultra-feminine d├ęcor is in direct contrast to the damage a hard life has left on her soul.  Who knows, maybe the room helps her forget the past for a little while.  Or maybe it makes her feel closer to the daughter who decorated the room. 

Her daughter ran away to escape the life of a djinn hunter, searching for a normal life.  Only to die many years later at their hands anyway.  It was the death of their mother and father which eventually led Zane and Brielle to their grandmother.  They weren’t aware she existed before then.

Zane sets me down on the floral print sofa and grabs a footstool from in front of one of the chairs.  He carefully lifts my leg to it, trying not to cause me more pain.  His concern over such a slight injury is nice, but I know for a fact he has sustained much worse.  I was forced to watch it.  “It’s only sprained,” I tell him.  “It’ll be fine in a day or two.”  Brielle snorts but doesn’t comment.

Roman comes into the room with an ice pack, a bottle of ibuprofen, a water bottle and an ace wrap.  He shakes out four pills for me and hands me the water.  While I swallow, he begins wrapping my ankle.  When he’s finished, he lays the ice pack on it.  He does all this without saying a word to me. 

I look up to find Mrs. Gregori’s eyes narrowed in my direction.  I try not to squirm in my seat as she studies me.  Finally, she says, “It’s a good thing Roman was with you when it happened.”  There’s an implication in her words that affects both me and Zane, our bodies tensing in discomfort.  I try not to notice Roman’s smirk.  Or Brielle’s.

“Roman caught up with me on the path,” I say, hating that my voice sounds defensive.

Suspicion running rampant in her words, she asks Zane, “How did you know she was hurt?”

Zane shrugs.  “Female intuition, I guess.  I must be ovulating or something.”

My cheeks flush as his pert words rankle under his grandmother’s skin.  “You aren’t too old to take over my knee,” she threatens.

Zane laughs.  “A sweet old woman like you would never think of harming her grandson.”  

Mrs. Gregori snorts but Zane’s right.  She’s all talk.  At least, where he and Brielle are concerned she is.  Roman and me?  She wouldn’t hesitate to shoot us if she felt it necessary.  That thought comes to me a lot in the middle of the night. 

“Lily, where’s my fishing hat?” Hank calls from the foyer.  Grumbling, Mrs. Gregori motors her wheelchair out of the room and a weight lifts from my chest.

“As fun as this has been, I’m out,” Brielle says. 

“Stay off it,” Roman tells me coolly and then follows Brielle out of the room.

“He’s a bucket of charm like usual,” Zane says.

“He’s mad I made him put me down when you called out,” I admit.

“Why did you do that?”

Feeling foolish now, I admit, “I didn’t want you to see us like that.”

Zane shakes his head.  “Skye, you need to give me a little more credit.  You’re injured.”
I think about the flash of jealousy in his eyes when he saw Roman’s hand on me, but I let it go.  “I didn’t mean to interrupt your work out.  If you grab me a book, I’ll be fine here alone.”
I can tell he’s torn.  He does want to get back to his workout but he doesn’t want me to think he doesn’t care about my injury.  I smile and kiss him softly.  “Go.  I’m fine.”

He dips his head for another kiss and then stands up.  “Any book in particular?”

The room could pass for a library with its rows of books, most of them leather bound and ancient.  “I started reading the book Malik gave to Brielle.  The one about djinn lore.”  Malik hasn’t spoken to either Brielle or me since the incident in the glade when I killed a djinni with my flames.  A pang touches my heart.  Perhaps he can’t bring himself to face what I’ve become.

Zane hands me the book and after another lingering kiss, he goes back to his workout.  I read for an hour or so until my eyelids grow heavy in the warm, dimly lit room.  Wanting to wake up a bit, I decide to ignore Roman’s advice to rest and give my crutches a try.  I’m not the steadiest using them, but I find I can get to where I want to go.  I don’t see myself using them for a week, though.  I think Roman forgot about the superior healing abilities of the djinn.  If I could recover from a major car accident in a couple of weeks, a sprained ankle isn’t going to keep me down long.

I set my crutches towards the workout room.  No way am I going to waste any training time.  There are plenty of things I can do without using my legs.  Besides, my ankle already feels a lot better.

Zane’s surprised when I open the door.  “What are you doing back?” he asks, his tone a little too mother hennish for my liking.  “You’re supposed to be resting your ankle.”

“My ankle is fine,” I inform him.  I face my crutches towards the weights but Zane cuts me off.

“Skye, really, you need to rest.  Injuring yourself more isn’t going to help anybody.”

With raised brows and a sharp voice, I ask, “Aren’t you the same guy who was tortured almost to death but was right back down here the next day?”

“Yes, but I’m used to training,” he says, and then realizes his mistake.  “Skye, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply you aren’t.  I know you’ve been working hard.”

Instead of answering him, I turn my crutches in a different direction and go around him.  I do my best impression of stalking away that the crutches will allow.  I probably look stupid, but I don’t care.

Suddenly feeling the need to hit something, I hobble to the corner of the room where a punching bag hangs from the ceiling.  I lean my crutches against the wall and try out several standing positions looking for one that doesn’t cause excruciating pain to shoot up my leg.  After several attempts, it becomes obvious my ankle doesn’t like any position that requires my injured foot to be on the ground.  Screw it.  I’ll deal with the pain.  I start hitting the bag, the sting of my knuckles making impact enough to distract me from the pain in my leg.
I become so engrossed in what I’m doing, I don’t hear Zane come up behind me.  Startled when he touches me, I whirl around catching him in the ribs with my elbow.  He stumbles back with an audible, “ooph.” 

Guilt stricken, I cry, “Zane, I’m so sorry.” 

Holding his ribs as if one might be broken, he says, “That’s okay, I always wondered what a punctured lung would feel like.”  The twinkle in his eye belies his words.

I wrinkle my nose at him, my sympathy waning.  “I didn’t hit you that hard.”

“Are you sure?” he asks, moving closer, still holding his ribs.  His hard body is glistening from his workout and all I can think about is running my hands over his sleek, hard muscles.  “Maybe you should check it out.”

I smile but it’s a little forced as I try not to give in to my desires.  “That won’t help me learn to fight.”

Zane forgets about his ribs and puts his hands on my shoulders.  He pushes me gently until my back is against the wall.  “I don’t want to fight with you,” he says.  His lips kiss a trail along my jaw until he finds the mark on my neck.  His tongue glides over it causing my knees to buckle but all of my pain is gone in an instant.  Zane presses his body against mine so I don’t fall.  Another movement of his tongue across the sensitive mark sends so much heat to my core, I can’t focus on anything except his mouth and his body pressed against me.  My arms snake around his neck and I moan his name softly in his ear.  He smiles against my skin.  He knows exactly what reactions he’s causing in me.  He feels what I feel.
Zane slides his hand up my bare midriff until he’s cupping my breast over my sports bra, teasing my nipple with his thumb.  My hips jut forward and I can feel his body’s reaction.  He presses me against the wall harder, his erection teasing me as he moves his lips to mine.  Placing his hands on my thighs, he lifts me until my legs are wrapped around him and he’s exactly where he needs to be.  I gasp as he moves rhythmically, making me squirm against him.  He chuckles softly and moves one of his hands now cupping my ass to the waistband of my exercise shorts, tugging them lower until he can slip his hand in far enough to discover how hot and wet I am.  His thumb finds my clit and swirls around it.  He has to kiss me harder to keep me from crying out in desperation.  I want him.  All of him.  Right now.
“Sorry to interrupt,” a deep voice says dryly from the door.

My face turns a hundred different shades of red.  I let my legs go from around Zane and he’s forced to remove his hand from my shorts.  He mutters something under his breath that sounds an awful lot like a death threat.  One I think he’s more than willing to carry out.
“You could’ve left when you saw we wanted privacy,” Zane says, not turning around yet as he labors to get his heavy breathing and his arousal under control.  I’m hiding my face against his chest.  I can’t believe we almost had sex here, in this room everyone in the house uses.  What if it had been Hank or Zane’s grandmother?  I’m going to die of embarrassment.

Roman’s voice is hard now.  “This is a training room, not a motel room.”

“Zane, he’s right,” I mutter to his chest.

Zane growls deep in his throat in frustration, but he manages to sound smug when he turns around and says, “You’re right, Roman.  Feel free to exercise to your heart’s content.  We’ll find another room for what we were doing.”

I peek around Zane at the murderous look on Roman’s face and the betrayal in his eyes when they meet mine.  I shouldn’t feel guilty.  He has a wife, for god’s sake.  Yes, he says he loves me.  I know I loved him at some point, but I’ve made it clear I will not be with him.  I remember a lot more betrayal than I do love.  I remember his wife very clearly.  Hard to forget someone who stabbed me in the side when she found out I was the ‘other woman.’  I had no idea she even existed before that.  Roman never told me.  Remembering this helps me shake off the guilt.  Sort of.  I still hate the pain in Roman’s eyes every time Zane touches me.

Zane’s body tenses when he senses my internal struggle regarding my feelings for Roman.  He and I still haven’t told anyone our forced binding didn’t go as planned.  He ended up being bound to me instead of the other way around.  Because of this, he is able to sense my emotions, even when I’m behind the veil, or talking to the devil.  Two things I never want to do again.

“Sorry, Roman, Zane and I were just leaving.  The room is all yours,” I say, trying to sound cheerful but instead my voice sounds higher than usual and nervous.  

“Don’t leave on my account,” Roman drawls, leaning against the door jamb with his arms crossed over his chest. 

How Zane manages to appear laid back and cocky when I can feel the tension roiling through him, I’ll never know.  “Somehow, I doubt you’d enjoy the show.”

Anger flashes across Roman’s face but it’s gone in a second.  A smile touches his lips that could be described as menacing.  “Skye will get her memory back soon.”

It seems like an innocuous statement.  I will, hopefully, get my memory back soon.  The spell used to erase my memory is slowly crumbling.  What makes his words anything but innocent is the inference that when I do remember everything, I’ll want him instead of Zane. 
Zane’s eyes narrow to slits and he takes a step forward before I grab his arm and stop him from doing something stupid.  “The sooner she remembers what you did to her the better.  It’ll make it easier for her to kill you and remove the mark.”  Cocky once more, he says, “Though, I will admit I like what happens when I touch it.” 

That was a direct hit.  Roman’s arms drop to his sides and his hands roll into fists.  Because of his betrayal, when he touches the mark he gave me, I am wracked with pain to the point of passing out.  The direct opposite of what I feel when Zane puts his lips to it.

I shake my head.  I am tired of being treated like a chew toy two dogs are fighting over.  Not to mention, if I stay in this testosterone filled environment any longer, I’ll start growing hair on my chest.  Dropping my hand from Zane’s arm, I say, “Why don’t you both stay and finish your workouts.  I’ll leave.”

Zane reaches out to grasp my arm but I shake his hand off.  “I’m going to get cleaned up.”  My tone is clear that I plan to do so alone.  My exit isn’t the most graceful due to the crutches, but I’m too annoyed to care.  When I get to the door, I wait for Roman to move out of my way.  After a second’s hesitation, he moves aside.  “Skye…” he starts, but I keep going without a word.  Neither man follows me. 

I run into Brielle near the elevator.  She has a sandwich in one hand and a water bottle in the other.  Her jaw is still red where I hit her.  “You look happy,” she says.

“Ecstatic,” I reply.  That one word carries enough sarcasm to fuel an entire class of teenagers for a year.

“Those boys giving you trouble?”

Startled, I put my hand over my heart to make sure it’s still in my chest.  I turn to find Hank coming out of the library.  I’ve grown to like Hank over the last month, but he’s still one of the most intimidating people I have ever met.  Except for his wife.  “Not any more than usual.”

Brielle winks at him.  “I think we need his and hers hours in the training room.”  Sometimes, she is too damn smart.

“Nah,” Mrs. Gregori says, her 
motorized wheelchair bringing her close enough to participate in the conversation.  “Hank, go knock some sense into those knuckleheads before they manage to kill each other.” 

I shake my head.  “No, just let them be.  They didn’t ask for any of this.”

Brielle snorts.  “I don’t remember volunteering, either.”

“Brielle, go on outta here with your food.  You’ll get crumbs all over the floor.  You,” she says to me, “this way.”  She turns her chair around, no doubt whether I will follow her.
I feel like a kid being sent to the principal’s office as I trail behind her and her chair.  She leads me to the library and I close the door behind us.  I doubt this will be a conversation for everyone to hear.

Mrs. Gregori stops in the middle of the room and motions for me to sit in one of the leather chairs.  When I’m seated, she says, “You’ve been training hard.  I’m proud of you.”  She doesn’t give compliments lightly, so I smile.  I’m not stupid, though.  There was a ‘but’ in her praise.  “Now it’s time to get your head out of your ass.  Do you really think pitting those boys against each other is going to be good for anyone?”

My mouth drops open.  “Pitting them against each other?  I’m not.  I’m with Zane and Roman understands that.”

Her eyes become slits.  “Does he now?  You mean he doesn’t see those longing stares you send in his direction every once in a while, or the way you turn a blush when he reacts to seeing you with my dunderhead of a grandson?”

“I don’t…” I start, but she’s right.  I do.  I just did in the training room.  I sigh and sit back in my chair.  “I don’t like hurting Roman, or Zane.”

“Those boys have you all tied up in knots.  You’d be better off kicking both of them to the curb until you get your head on straight.  There’s too much at stake for you to wrap yourself up in sex and jealousy.”

I’ve never had a grandparent, but over the last month I’ve had an inkling of what it would be like.  Mrs. Gregori is rough around the edges, but she has a good heart.  She has taken both Roman and me into her house regardless of the fact we’re wanted by the authorities as suspected serial killers and hunted by all of the djinn.  That still doesn’t mean I’m comfortable talking to her about my sex life.

“I care for Zane, deeply.  I want to be with him.”

“He ain’t going anywhere.  We’re all stuck in this house for the time being, which is my point.  Every time my grandson touches you, it’s another match against the kindling.  I like Roman, though god knows I shouldn’t.  I believe he never meant you any harm.”

“He has a wife…” I begin but Mrs. Gregori holds up a hand.

“I ain’t saying you should forget about that.  I’m saying things are hard enough around here for him, no sense in you rubbing salt in his wounds all the time.”

“So, your answer is dumping Zane?  Don’t you think that would cause more trouble?”  Zane would be pissed and hurt.  So would I.  I’ve come to care a great deal for him over the last month and I’m happy when I’m with him.  It’s the only time I’m happy.

“You don’t need to dump the boy, just try on a little discretion and see how it fits.”

My cheeks are flaming again.  I feel like a randy teenager being balled out for making out in the hallway at school.  Good thing she didn’t catch the show in the training room.  “Okay,” is all I can manage.  My face is too heavy with the blood of my blush for me to move my lips any more. 

Taking pity on me, Mrs. Gregori points her wheelchair towards the door.  “I better see what Hank’s up to.  You look like you could use a shower.”

Subtle.  I don’t get up when she leaves the room.  My mind and body are too exhausted to lift from the chair.  She’s right about everything.  I never should have started anything with Zane; deep down, I knew what would happen.  I lean forward until my elbows are on my knees and put my face in my hands.  My life is such a mess.  I’m supposed to be this great Protector according to the djinn, but I can barely protect myself.  Half the time, I think Brielle lets me win when we spar just to build my confidence.  I’d be no match for anyone else in the house.  Yet, I’m supposed to save an entire race of beings I can hardly even remember.
I ignore the knock on the door.  The tears streaking down my cheeks and between my fingers make me crave solitude at the moment.  Something an unlocked door isn’t going to grant me, unfortunately.

“Hey,” Zane says, peeking around the door.  When he sees me, he closes the door behind him and walks across the plush, rust colored carpet to kneel in front of me.  “Skye, what is it?”  He can sense my emotions, but not the cause of them.

I sit back with a sniffle and use the heels of my palm to wipe away the tears I’m trying desperately to stop shedding.  “I’m just having a bad moment,” I say, wishing for a Kleenex.  “I’m okay.”

“Bullshit.”

Another rush of tears assaults me and Zane leans forward to pull me close, enveloping me with his arms.  He lets me cry without saying another word.  His poor t-shirt is ruined by the time I’m done.

When I finally stop crying, Zane asks, “What did my grandmother say to you?”  There’s an edge to his voice as if he already knows the answer. 

I lean back from him and swipe at my tears again.  “Nothing that isn’t true.”

“Such as?”

I straighten up in the chair and wipe my eyes for the last time.  “I need to focus more on my training.”

Zane’s brow crinkles into two vertical lines over his nose.  “Skye, you already train from the time you get up until the time you go to bed.  What more could you do?”

“I need to focus my mind as well as my body.  The djinn are coming for me and god knows who else.  I can’t let distractions come between me and my destiny.”  Destiny.  If someone asked me a month ago about my destiny, I would’ve laughed at them.  I never believed in fate, or kismet or anything along those lines.  I intended to make my own destiny.  What a fool I was.

“Is that what I am, a distraction?”  His words are sharp and angry.

I steel myself for the lie I’m about to tell.  “Yes.”

“Is that all I am?”

Lie number two.  “Yes.” 

Pushing away from me, he stands and crosses his arms over his chest.  “Wow, my grandmother can really do a number on you.”  The words are not spoken in anger like the previous ones.  They sound amused. 

“Zane, I…”

He shakes his head.  “I’m going to grab some lunch.  Why don’t you take a quick shower and I’ll fix you a sandwich.”

“After what I said…” I begin but I’m once again cut off.

“Skye, you can’t lie to someone who knows exactly how you feel.”  He holds a hand out to me and pulls me from the chair.  He kisses me lightly on the cheek and then leaves the library, presumably to make us sandwiches.  I smile after him.  I just may be falling in love with that man.