FEAR THE HEAT...
Everything in Ari’s life until this point has been borrowed. Her human life with a man who wasn't her real father. A love for a boy who needed more than her to be strong. Kisses with a Jinn who refused to do anything but lend them out in moments of weakness. And even her resolve, which seemed to fail her whenever she needed it most.
But Ari is done borrowing. She finally feels strong enough to make hunting Jinn not just a distraction to get her through her dismal situation, but to make hunting a career. Her friendship with Charlie might finally make it onto real and steady ground if only she can save him from the trial on Mount Qaf. And her love for Jai could be eternal, if only she could gain control over the darkness of the Seal within her.
Ari believes all of this is doable—that finally she will truly own the relationships in her life and, to a certain extent, have ownership over her future.
But none of that matters when it isn't up to her…
High in the emerald mountains of Mount Qaf, the Sultan Azazil has been keeping secrets. Even from the Jinn Kings. Secrets that will change everything and bring Ari to the crashing realization that once again she has borrowed something that will never truly belong to her.
Something desperate to be unleashed.
Something that could destroy them all.
Release date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 357
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Each Thread Pulled, Unravels Us
Millions of granules of glittering sand were suspended in the air all around them like a curtain of fragmented earth that enveloped them entirely. Bright sunlight shot through all the spaces in between each grain. Ari stared in awe for a moment, vaguely wondering if she would be able to create the same effect with the desert sand. It was like a fat funnel—as though a tornado had swept over the ground in a powerful, frantic dash only to have someone even more powerful hit the pause button on it. Despite the extraordinary visual impact, Ari was more impressed with its purpose. It was a cocoon of privacy allowing mother and son to talk freely without sly and eager ears overhearing their words.
Turning her attention to Lilif and her son, The White King, Ari prowled around them. She was now used to her visions, or dreams, or whatever they were, and more than eager to learn more from them. The White King towered over his beautiful mother who appeared as if she were no older than him. Her tall, graceful frame was wrapped in a white dress, like a toga, a strangely colorless garment for Lilif—the jewels in her ears and on her fingers providing the only sparkle of color. Her dark locks were pulled back in an elegant coiffure, a thin circlet of diamonds winking in the sun from its tight situation across her forehead. Entranced, as she always was by the female Jinn, it took Ari a moment to remember her real father’s presence. His curious silence drew her eyes towards him as Lilif looked up lovingly into his face. As soon as Ari took him in she stopped, transfixed by his expression. For Ari, The White King was the coldest Jinn she had ever met. Only once had she witnessed him lose his cool, and even then it was the most controlled anger she’d ever seen. White was the master of the blank expression, so it was with great surprise that Ari looked upon this younger version of the Jinn King and saw love and respect in his eyes, and a soft quirk of a smile on the corner of his lips. He was vulnerable before Lilif. Unguarded. More human, somehow.
“You know I love your theatrics, Mother, but is this really necessary?” he smirked, gesturing to the sand cocoon around them.
Lilif’s eyes narrowed, “Of course. Or have your brothers not caught your ears yet?”
Immediately White frowned. “Red and Glass are trying to cause mischief. I think father put them up to it. I assure you, I don’t believe them.”
“Good.” Lilif placed a gentle hand on his forearm. “That brings me such relief, my son. I would never hurt any of my children. How can they accuse me of such an abominable thing?”
“Father,” White answered grimly.
“That’s why I have brought you here.” Lilif stepped back from him, wringing her hands in a way that made Ari think she was lying. She frowned. This was not the Lilif Ari had come to know from her earlier dreams of her. “Azazil is trying to turn you all against me.”
“Why? What has happened?”
“We have been disagreeing often on his selfish pursuit of pleasure. He seems to be uncaring of our ways, of our purpose. I fear that soon he will even begin interfering in his sons’ purpose —that he may upset the balance by influencing you all to interfere in one another’s days, to interfere with the Importants’ destinies.
His petulance, his propensity for boredom will destroy everything. Do you fully understand what his childish irresponsibility will lead to? Over time, each destiny that is broken, each path that is turned, each road that is lost, will create cracks in the fabric of nature, of time, of space and of light. The realms will start to collide into one another, until there is nothing but a wasteland of dust. Only the strongest will survive. Only the immortal and the very powerful. We’ll have to begin anew, alone in one, smaller world…”
Ari felt the breath leave her body at Lilif’s prophecy, her stomach churning with fear. Were her words true? Is that really what would happen if Azazil lost control of it all? Is that what The Red King had meant when he told her that the consequences of her using the Seal against the Sultan could be catastrophic? She gulped, suddenly very glad she had taken his advice.
Attention drawn back to White, Ari realized he was just as aghast. “So everything will be gone, but us?”
“Almost. Azazil was the one who forewarned me of the consequences of tampering with the threads of our existence, and yet I believe, in the end, it will be your father that brings such a disaster to fruition.”
“Do the others know this?”
“If they don’t, we have to tell them,” Lilif whispered hoarsely, her eyes huge with concern. Ari narrowed her own eyes, not quite as taken in by Lilif as her son obviously was.
“Mother, we cannot let Father play these games he has been playing these last few years. Balance… the balance is our purpose.”
Lilif nodded wearily. “It is. I brought you here to make you understand the importance of us standing united against your father. Even if that means standing united against your brothers.”
The White King straightened with determination. “Gleaming will want to know of this. He is just as suspicious as I am of Red and Glass’ offensive claims of late.”
“Yes, Shadow also. Gilder and Lucky, I am not so sure of. You know they like to maintain cowardly neutrality.”
“Don’t speak so harshly of them, White. We may yet be able to appeal to their intelligent natures and their sense of honor. They do believe deeply in their purpose just as you do.”
“I shall leave now and speak with them. We need to prepare them. We need to stand strong and try to counterbalance any unwritten chaos that upsets the balance.”
“Hurry.” Lilif reached up and stroked his cheek lovingly.
“I will. It is my duty.” With a respectful bow of his head, White stepped back and the flames of the Peripatos engulfed him.
Ari’s eyes slid slowly back to Lilif and watched, somehow unsurprised, as the Ifrit’s entire demeanor changed. The prim white toga slid around her body with a life of its own, reshaping itself into a shimmering drape of a dress that clung to all her luscious curves. Two revealing slits ran up the length of the dress on either side, flashing her shapely legs from foot to thigh. Magical, invisible hands uncoiled her hair until it hung loose and wild to her waist. The manipulative, dangerous gleam that Ari had come to know was back in Lilif’s dark eyes, the familiar cruel twist returned to her full lips as she sneered at the space where White had just minutes ago been standing. “Just like your father, White. In more ways than you’ll ever realize.”
Before Ari had time to even attempt to work out Lilif’s meaning the sand exploded in a scream all around them and Lilif’s voice joined its whine. Grains sliced into Ari’s skin and eyes, and she slapped at the attacking desert with useless heavy arms.
Claustrophobia gripped her chest and Ari slammed forward reaching for air, her eyes opening into the dark of the unfamiliar bedroom suite. Heart pounding, Ari slumped with relief as pale light from the huge moon outside the balcony illuminated the iron-framed bed she was in, as well as the Moroccan iron screen and matching furniture.
The momentary relief evaporated as she remembered.
The Gleaming King.
Charlie. His trial.
Her fingers curled into the light silk comforter. Her uncle, The Red King, had put her in one of the rooms within his quarters of the palace. Despite his proximity, Ari still feared being within the Sultan Azazil’s home in Mount Qaf. Corridors away from him. Only corridors away from Lilif’s dangerous and enigmatic twin, Asmodeus.
But only a room away from Jai. Her shoulders relaxed from their position by her ears and gradually the rest of her began to unwind. She lay back down to stare at the ceiling and wondered if she should feel guilty that Jai’s presence could bring her such comfort when miles beneath the palace Charlie was locked up in a dungeon awaiting his trial tomorrow?
Awaiting the trial that would determine whether he lived or died.
Ari already knew the outcome.
There was no way in hell she was letting her best friend die. No way.
No matter what.
I’m a Mountain Against the Wind
Falling back to sleep was impossible. Ari didn’t even know how she’d managed it in the first place.
She watched, huddled on her bed, as the moon drifted further away and the sky lightened. The winter sun began to play peek-a-boo over the mountains, the emeralds waking up under its playful gaze.
Finally, Ari breathed inwardly, hopping out of bed. She hurried into the colorful bronze, blue and gold Moroccan tiled bathroom, rushing through a luxurious shower and blow-drying her hair with a hairdryer that looked surprisingly like the one she’d left back in Ohio. The Red King certainly wanted her to feel at home. Well, she never would, but she couldn’t help but feel grateful to her uncle for trying.
With adrenaline pulsing through her body, Ari rummaged through her small bag for a clean pair of jeans and a tank top. The little gremlins she’d come to know and hate played kick-ball in her stomach as she concentrated.
Red, she called through the telepathy, somehow knowing he didn’t mind her being informal with him, You there?
Two seconds later flames hissed to life at the doorway and The Red King stepped out of the Peripatos. His long, bright red hair was pulled back into a braid that brushed the bottom of his spine, and he wore black leather trousers that laced up the side. His torso was bare, his powerful build making Ari uncomfortable as the muscles of his biceps rippled under the gold circlets around them as he moved towards her. She noted the thick gold cuffs around his wrist and the ruby studs in his ears. He was dressed to impress. He was dressed for the trial.
Red’s sharp, pale blue eyes flicked across her face, checking for… what? Injury? Sorrow? Concern? “Are you alright?”
Ari shook her head. “I want to see Charlie.”
“I already told you, you can’t.”
An ugly, unexpected flare of anger burned in Ari’s chest and she gulped hard trying to hold it back down. She needed to stay calm. “I just want to make sure he’s okay.”
Her uncle had begun to circle her and Ari hated that she still felt intimidated when he did that. “You question my word? I assured you that he will not be treated poorly. Don’t you believe me?” There was an edge to the questions and just as Red obviously disliked being questioned so did Ari.
The dark knot in her chest unfurled and she whirled around to face him, eyes blazing. Didn’t he realize she could command him to his knees? How dare he try to intimidate her? How dare he deny her the right to see Charlie?
How dare he—
“Ari?” Red gripped her upper arms, shaking her out of the coiling mist of rage that had enveloped her. She shuddered, coming back to herself, her breathing uneven.
She’d let herself get lost in the power of the Seal. She’d promised them all she wouldn’t do that and Ari had been so sure she could keep that promise. It’s just—
“It’s getting stronger.” Red frowned, stepping back. “The Seal. It’s trying to push you to use it.”
Ari nodded numbly. She didn’t need this crap right now. “I’ll try harder,” she whispered.
“You better. You need to have a handle on the darkness inside you, Ari. And the Seal is darkness. Never forget it.”
Ari remembered her dream, of Lilif’s telling of what would happen if too many threads were pulled in the fabric of the universe’s entire existence. The Seal could pull a million threads and bring it all crashing down. She couldn’t let that happen. “I promise. I can handle this. I promise,” she insisted, her strange eyes blazing for a different reason now.
Watching her carefully, Red finally nodded. “Fine. The trial will begin in an hour. I’ll come get you. You should probably make sure Jai is awake and then stay with him until I return.”
Once he was gone, Ari slumped down onto the bed. The Seal had taken over her so quickly that time. There was no build up, no threat to her, no reason. She’d been angry because Red wouldn’t give her, her own way. What the hell was that about? Groaning, Ari buried her head in her hands. This was the last thing they needed right now. She had to be stronger than this.
Shaking out her hands, Ari pushed up onto her feet and straightened her shoulders.
She would be stronger than this.
Telepathing Jai, Ari let him know she was coming to his room.
Good. The deep rumble echoed around her head as she left her suite. Just that one word—the sound of his voice—and her pulse was jumping all over the place, the butterflies tickling her belly at the thought of seeing the face that went with the voice.
His door opened across the hall and Ari darted inside. His room was almost a mirror image of hers, except Jai (surprisingly) hadn’t made his bed yet. Ari felt her cheeks heat at the thought of him lying under the rumpled covers without a stitch of clothing on. She felt her insides turn to mush and mentally berated herself, willing the fire out of her cheeks as she turned to face her guardian. Jai leaned back against the closed door, staring at her with this intense smolder that re-ignited all the heat that she was trying to douse. He was wearing his usual uniform of a plain black t-shirt that sculpted his awesome upper body, and black jeans and well-worn, short biker boots. Jai was pure casual sexiness—he was hot without even trying, and all Ari wanted to do was to jump on him and let the heat set her alight.
Guilt pricked her conscience as she remembered exactly why they were here.
Good morning. Jai gave her a soft smile, his beautiful green eyes mesmerizing her. She felt dumbstruck for a moment. At her reaction, Jai’s soft smile turned into a cocky grin, bringing Ari out of her stupor.
Ari made a face at him and he laughed. She couldn’t help but smile at that. Jai rarely laughed and when he did it felt as if she’d dipped her toes into the warmest, most soothing bath ever. Morning. They’d decided that while in Mount Qaf, it would be wiser to talk to one another telepathically whenever possible.
He took a purposeful step towards her and Ari waited, her breathing growing shallow. The rich, exotic scent of him seemed to swim around her in heady waves, and she could have sworn she swayed a little just before he reached for her. There was barely space between them as she tilted her head back to meet his gaze. She felt the tentative touch of his large, strong hands on her hips, kneading softly as if testing the new ground they were on. Ari’s breath fled her body at the expression on Jai’s face. No one had ever looked at her like that before, like she was precious and extraordinary.
Like she was everything.
His hands slid slowly up her hips and around her waist. Ari couldn’t help the shivers that rippled over her—shivers that made Jai’s eyes flash and his lips part with his soft exhalation.
Vaguely, Ari remembered that she shouldn’t be doing this. That there was something important to be done…
Jai’s head dipped towards hers and Ari trembled again, thoughts on overload in her brain. Jai’s mouth, his taste, his heat, the bed, the rumpled covers, Jai’s abs, his hands, a trial, danger, Charlie.
Oh crap, Charlie.
She froze just as Jai’s lips were about to touch hers. He halted and pulled back a little, a confused furrow between his eyebrows. What?
Oh man, this wasn’t going to go over well, but surely Jai wanted her to be honest with him? I don’t feel right about us… doing anything while Charlie is in trouble. Plus, The Red King said maybe we should keep our relationship under wraps for a while. I didn’t agree at first, but the more I think about it, I think he might be right. People might try to use my feelings for you against me and vice versa.
Jai took a step back, letting go of her, and Ari immediately regretted speaking up. She wanted his lips back and his hands all over her. She wanted to pull his t-shirt off and put her hands all over him. But more than anything she wanted her possible boyfriend (oh God that word made her want to grin like an idiot!) to stop looking at her like that. Like he was pissed. So, you want us to pretend we’re not together?
Just in public.
He narrowed his eyes on her, the thick lashes almost obscuring the vivid irises. We’re not in public.
A dark cloud trembled over Jai’s face and he brushed past her, his anger trailing at the back of him like open flames. Ari winced and turned to face him. Okay, she wasn’t stupid. She knew that sounded bad. This isn’t about me and Charlie, if that’s what you’re thinking.
Jai scoffed and refused to look at her, instead standing with his hands braced on the balcony railings as he looked out over the mountains. His brooding silence filled the room until Ari felt like she couldn’t breathe.
Great. Their first day as… whatever they were, and she’d already hurt him.
It’s not because I’m in love with him and feel like I’m betraying him, she tried to explain. It’s just, he’s here facing death because he saved someone’s life, and I don’t feel like I should be allowed to be happy until I know he’s safe. And being with you… well, it makes me happy. Even with all this going on.
Jai sighed and slowly turned his head to look at her. You promise?
The question caused an ache inside of her. This was a side to Jai she’d never seen before. He really was insecure about Charlie, and he couldn’t hide it anymore. He was making himself vulnerable to her.
A rush of overwhelming love caved in on Ari’s chest and she struggled a moment to catch her breath. She had to reassure him somehow. He had to know how she felt. Taking tentative steps toward him, Ari smiled with her eyes. I told you I don’t think of Charlie that way anymore. And I also made it clear to him how I feel about you.
Surprise lit his eyes and Jai straightened to his full height, turning to face her. Just as quickly as the surprise had hit him, the spark of hope she saw in his eyes faded. He glowered at her. You told Fallon you’d die trying to save him here.
Realization dawned as she closed the distance between them. Ari had almost died to save Jai from an Haqeeqah—the essence of the emerald of Mount Qaf in its purest form, a weapon—and it was what had finally made him realize how much Ari truly cared for him. Did he now think that, because she’d die for Charlie, it somehow meant the same thing?
Shaking her head, Ari reached up to touch his face, something she’d wanted to do almost from the moment she’d met him. Her fingers gently stroked his cheek, tracing his high cheekbones and lower to the firm, hard cast of his jaw-line. Instead of leaning into her touch as she’d dreamed he would, Jai tensed. Jai, she pleaded quietly, if you hadn’t noticed, I’m a guts and glory kind of girl. I think I’d die trying to protect anyone I care about. It’s just the way I’m wired, I guess. I would die trying to protect Charlie because I love him. He’s my family, and I don’t want to lose any more family. She took another step so her body pressed flushed to him, her fingers falling to his lips. The sound of his shallow breathing emboldened her. But Jai… I would die a hundred deaths to save you… because the thought of being here without you now, the thought of losing you… is unimaginable. Their eyes locked and heat bloomed in her cheeks as Jai pressed closer to her, his hand sliding across her lower back and gently guiding her even more tightly against him. Jai, you have no idea how much I’ve fallen in love with you. I don’t think a person could fall any harder.
His eyes widened, his lips parting with unspoken surprise. Suspended anticipation sprung between them and then immediately snapped at the sound of a loud knock at the door.
He hadn’t responded to her declaration.
Ari bit back a curse. Everyone was always interrupting them!
The door banged open before Jai could answer the knock, and to Ari’s utter shock, The White King strolled casually into the room, his emerald robes billowing at the back of him. The snap of fabric barely missed the one-eyed face of his monstrous Nisnas, Vadit, who trotted awkwardly behind him with his one arm and one leg. Ari vividly remembered his attack with a wince…
She cut off into a silent scream as the monster launched into the air towards her, its mouth open wide. Ari threw her hands up to cover her face, closing her eyes tight and waiting for her subconscious to rip her out of the nightmare. Instead she felt the impact of it hit, her body slamming to the floor with a painful thud that knocked the breath right out of her. Her head smacked against the mirrored floor in eye-watering pain. A sharp streak of light shot across her eyes and then she felt wet heat clamp down on her forearm.
Agony ricocheted through her whole system as the monster’s teeth tore through her flesh.
… Stunned at his flagrant disregard for his father’s wishes, Ari stood immobile as The White King eyed Jai blankly. “This is the Ginnaye?” he asked in his flat voice.
Jai was studying him carefully; unaware who they were dealing with since he’d never actually met The White King. Ari wanted to grip his hand and tug him behind her. Instead she sighed as if she were dealing with a mere nuisance rather than a powerful and dangerous immortal. Yeah, she was going to take a leaf out of dear old dad’s book and play the game his way. “Jai, this is The White King.”
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