FEAR THE HEAT...
The White King has crossed the line, sounded the horn, sent out the wolves.
When blood is shed and life is lost, the reality of Ari’s position as both hunter and prey finally sets in. It seems her father will stop at nothing to force her will to his own, and distracted by Charlie’s latest mistake and her seemingly misguided attraction to Jai, Ari never thought to fear anyone else but the Jinn King.
Blindsided and attacked, Ari learns a new wolf has joined the hunt. A dark sorcerer believes he knows a way to bleed the power of the Seal and wield it as his own, and he is even less patient than The White King.
The War for the Seal has only just begun and it’s time for Ari to take a stand. The time of being prey is over.
Now Ari must become the hunter.
Release date: March 9, 2012
Publisher: Samantha Young
Print pages: 351
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A Dance of Giants
Rusted earth trembled beneath Ari’s feet, cracks in the thirsty ground glowing ember in the pervading darkness. The air burned against her cheeks as though she were stuck within a circle of invisible fire — her lungs oxygen deprived, her tongue thick and teeth dry. She blinked, disorientated, wondering where she was and how she had gotten there. Her arid and pained eyes found nothing to snag upon as they swept the vast emptiness around her. The arching, deep darkness of the starry night above her folded over on her in its infinite black.
“Hello!” she choked out, her voice hoarse and small as it echoed into the nothingness.
Where am I?
The thought had barely launched into the alien night, when a foreboding rumbling sang out from a great distance. It grew louder and more ominous as it was joined by crashing and crunching that shook the very ground beneath Ari’s feet.
“AAAAAARRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!” A war cry split the world into two as a mass of giant limbs flew past Ari and thundered to the ground, their impact blasting Ari off her feet. She took a minute to suck back in the breath that had been knocked out of her. She winced at the stinging pain as skin scraped off of her elbow, and as rocks bruised the back of her bare thighs. The shrieking, pounding, and uproarious explosions of violence that was met by rough, guttural eruptions of rage that she heard beyond, made Ari’s heart slam against her chest. The terrifying sounds made her forget to question where she was or why she was still in her pajama shorts and t-shirt.
“Holy fu-macaroons,” she caught herself, breathing the words of frightened awe under her breath as she scrambled to her feet. “Aah!” she squeaked, dodging a piece of flying earth that had been pounded out by the largest fist she’d ever seen. Before her, two Jinn fought. Two over-sized, forty feet tall Jinn. Even from the distance she’d been thrown, her neck craned back to watch the Jinn’s fight. Ari forgot to run, to find safety, to listen to her adrenaline. The sight was mesmerizing in its ferocity. Ari studied them. Bursting in and out of flames, the fire seeming to be physical evidence of both Jinn’s attempt at control as they fought manically. One was female, her long dark hair abused and bloodied near the forehead, her beautiful face, for the most part, unmarred. The male Jinn was worse off. Blood streamed from cuts on his face as the female made new ones every time the old ones began to heal. His own long dark hair was falling from its midnight braid as the female attempted to rip it from its hold. It occurred to Ari that the beautiful male Jinn was not trying to hurt the female, rather he was trying to hold her off.
The female lunged onto the male and the two collided to the ground, knocking Ari off her feet once more. Blood trickled down Ari’s arm but she barely noticed as she shakily hurried to stand. Her heart raced at the sight of the female Jinn’s sharp-nailed hand she’d wrapped around the male Jinn’s throat. He reached up, tugging at her grip. Ari’s breathing grew shallow with fear at the sight of the stunning gold circlet around his bicep. It was smeared with blood so fresh it matched the ruby inset in the middle. Afraid (but for whom Ari did not know) she let her gaze drift back to his face, and she watched as his dark eyes looked into the female’s eyes in mute sadness. The female froze, her hand still wrapped tightly around his neck.
Without thinking Ari took a step towards them, her heart tugging at the sight of the male and his hurt showing in his eyes. She wanted to ease his pain, to wrap her tiny self around him. She felt as if she knew him somehow. At the same time she was drawn to the female Jinn. To her desperate need. Her want. But for what? What?
“I’m sorry, brother,” the female Jinn whispered, a tear dripping from her luxurious eyes - eyes that matched his. “I must.”
Before she could execute whatever she ‘must’ the female was thrown by invisible hands and landed with an earth-cracking thump. This time, having expected it, Ari had braced her legs and only stumbled on impact. Her eyes widened at the massive female foot that rested before her; so large she could have climbed upon it as if it were a tiny boat. She gulped, mesmerized by the gold ankle bracelet that could have chained the boat to dock and the pretty gold toe ring that Ari would have been able to put her head through.
The shift of air and the unbearable heat that kissed at Ari’s cheeks like burning pieces of paper, alerted her to his advancing presence. The thunderous roar of giant footsteps vibrated through the ground as Ari turned and watched him approach. Her eyes travelled the enormous feet, the gigantic legs in the bluest of watery silk, to the tightly roped abdomen and upper body, and thick bulging arms with matching gold armlets…
… Ari squinted, the features of his face shadowed by the night as his head reached into the stars.
Swallowing hard Ari took a few steps back, her feet staggering on the moving earth as he kept walking until he stood braced over the male Jinn’s prone body.
“YOU WILL NEVER HAVE HIM, MOTHER OF MINE,” His voice boomed into the world and even the stars dimmed in awe at his words.
The female gazed up at him as she pulled herself into a sitting position. She was so beautiful that Ari was transfixed, not wanting to acknowledge the viciousness in the pretty turn of her mouth, and the madness in those velvety eyes. Ari had never known such wicked beauty.
“YOU WOULD PROTECT HIM FROM ME, MASTER?” Her painted words sang out in glittering ethereality and Ari found herself sighing along with the earth.
“I WOULD PROTECT YOU FROM YOURSELF.”
“NO!” Her shriek sliced the ether, shattering the stars into pieces. Ari’s hands flew to her ears as she was blown back off her feet for what felt like the fifteenth time, her mind trying to play catch up. What had she missed? What had HE said? What did it mean? Why did she feel such despair?
Her body slammed into softness and Ari’s eyes flew open.
“Holy…” she breathed as her eyes adjusted to the dark of her bedroom. Her heart still raced inside her chest and she shifted uncomfortably. If she had a normal body temperature like normal people she would probably be soaked in sweat after that dream. A wonderful breeze whispered into the room from the crack of the open window and Ari turned onto her side to catch its cooling balm on her face. Well, it would have been a cooling balm if she could actually feel more than a tickle of its presence. This whole temperate thing was getting to her.
Temperate thing? she snorted inwardly. What about that dream?
What the hell had the dream been about? Was she finally losing it?
It was the stress of everything. Of her dad, Derek. Of Charlie. Of Jai. Not to mention the evil biological father that waited patiently in the darkness. Ari buried her head in her pillow, willing herself back to sleep so she didn’t have to deal with all that crap until morning. She only hoped she didn’t dream about the strange giant Jinn again. Why couldn’t she dream like normal people and have stress-related dreams that involved losing teeth?
“Because I’m not normal.”
A Raincloud of Stolen Wishes
Sleep eluded Ari and she rolled out of bed early, slumping around the house like a zombie as she showered and readied herself for another day in limbo. As had been typical since Derek returned from the hospital after the demon Jinn, Pazuzu, had put him in a coma (not that Sandford Ridge was aware of that; as far as they knew Derek’s coma had been a medical mystery), the calls started pretty quickly and once more she found herself telling well-wishers and her dad’s work colleagues that he was still resting and she’d get him to call back as soon as possible. Finally, at around eleven in the morning, when it became apparent Derek had no intention of coming out of his room (again), Ari headed up with a tray of cold toast, eggs and some coffee. She knocked on his bedroom door awaiting the sound of movement. She hadn’t seen his face in a while now. Not even when Jai and Charlie had had a shouting match the other day. He’d slept through the entire thing. For the last few days Ari had been leaving food trays at his door and collecting the empty ones. It was perhaps time to begin a stakeout. She’d wait for him to open the door and then launch herself at him.
“Dad?” she asked softly. “You awake?”
No answer. A shuffle from beyond the door told her he was there though.
“I have some breakfast here.”
Feeling impatience burn in her veins, Ari struggled to keep her voice even. “Mr Zellman called from your office again.” As if she didn’t have enough problems to deal with.
“I’ll call him later,” Derek replied softly, sounding pretty close.
“That’s what you said yesterday.”
“I’ll call him, Ari. Just… I’m tired, sweetheart. We’ll talk later.”
Each bite of rejection was getting bigger, and frankly, Ari was getting tired of standing there like an unmoving, idiotic target. Letting the tray drop with a petulant clatter, she turned away muttering under her breath, “You said that yesterday, too.”
Beyond annoyed, Ari fled the unbearable loneliness of the house, slamming out of the kitchen door and into the backyard. The sun smirked down at her and she felt like flipping it off. Everything was a mess. She hadn’t spoken to Charlie since she’d asked Jai to throw him out that fateful morning they’d discovered he was a sorcerer. Ari had been too enraged to be in the same room with him. She couldn’t look at Charlie, never mind talk to him, and her cell was switched off because he wouldn’t stop calling.
A sorcerer? According to Jai and his stupid book, a sorcerer was such an ambiguous status. It could send normal half-breeds off the deep end, never mind humans imbued with Jinn power. Who knew what this would do to Charlie? And why had he done it? Her heart literally ached thinking about it. Ari just couldn’t understand why he would wish to become a part of this world when she had told him how much she wanted to be free of it. The pressure on her chest increased, and she glowered up into the bright sky. No. She wasn’t stupid or clueless enough to think Charlie’s decision had anything to do with her. It was all about revenge. He was going to get himself killed. Matters were not helped between them when he refused to tell her and Jai who had granted the wish. Jai reckoned it had to be a Marid or a Shaitan. Ari couldn’t discount that perhaps her real father, The White King, and all-around swell piece of crap was behind the wish. She hated to even think her uncle, The Red King, had something to do with it. In fact, right now she had to believe otherwise; no matter what. She needed at least one powerful ally in all this craziness.
The ache flared across her chest in a jagged shot of lightning and Ari gasped, a release of anger pouring out of her in heartbreak. Everything had changed with Charlie. She couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was or what it meant, but everything had changed. Whatever it did mean, Ari knew there was no going back for them. Willing the pain out of her, Ari concentrated on the patch of sky above her and forced the clouds to grow dark and heavy with water until they burst, pounding into the ground and slapping against her skin in symphony with her hurt.
Wincing at the commanding voice echoing around in her mind, Ari twisted around to find Jai standing tense in the doorway, his fists curled tightly together, his vivid gaze burning through her. His jaw was taut and she knew he was annoyed. Yeah, well, she was annoyed too. He’d been kind of A.W.O.L after throwing Charlie out for her and he’d been unable to meet her gaze whenever he did decide to grace her with his presence. She felt her cheeks stain red as she remembered the night at her front door when he’d rejected her. She wasn’t stupid. He was completely uncomfortable around her now. Yay.
Disappointed in him, but not wanting to analyze anything else, Ari shrugged nonchalantly and turned to look back up at the sky. It’s making me feel better.
Stop it. Now.
What is it? she sighed wearily. What’s wrong?
A growl rumbled behind her, “I said stop it now, Ari.”
She turned around at his agitation, her own eyes flashing angrily in response to his commanding tone. Taking a second, Ari drew in a deep breath, letting the rain run in rivulets down her cheeks and onto her lips. Noting Jai’s increasing impatience, Ari concentrated, willing the rain off and the clouds to return to normal. The shadows bled from the garden and once again the sun beamed down upon them. “What is your problem?” she snapped.
He exhaled heavily and Ari felt a prickle of worry when she spotted the dark circles under his eyes. Watching him rub his hand familiarly over his short hair, she let her eyes wander before she could stop them, drinking in his gorgeous face, strong forearm, and the tiny diamond in his right ear that was winking in the sun. Her eyes focused in on it. That was new.
Jai cleared his throat and she drew her gaze back to his. He rubbed the ear stud self-consciously between his index finger and thumb. “My friend, Trey. A gift. I didn’t want to say no. He means well.”
His crooked, uncertain smile hit her in the gut with a bolt of pure lust, and right then she hated him for making her all gooey inside. She sighed, shifting her feet uneasily. That wasn’t really his fault though. “It looks good.” She smiled despite herself. The stud was so small, it was barely even noticeable. It was tasteful. Still, she felt like teasing him a little. “Very genie of you.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of.”
“I promise, it looks good,” she reassured him and immediately wished the words hadn’t come out like that. Had her voice gone all low and… flirty? She felt blood rush into her cheeks again as his eyes darkened on her, a strange tension springing up between them as they stared wordlessly at one another. Yes, her voice had gotten flirty. Yes, Jai was once again reminded she was hot for him. She couldn’t break away from his gaze. It was like his eyes were a fish hook. All he needed to do now was reel her in.
Reel me in. Please reel me in.
Realizing her thoughts could so easily have echoed into his mind, Ari bit her lip, wishing someone would just throw something at the space between them so it would get shocked by the electricity sparking there and break the damn tension.
What was she doing? Deliberately setting herself up to be rejected again? He was in love with someone else. Shaking her head, Ari let her eyes drop. “What’s with the attitude? The rain?”
Jai’s face instantly changed, becoming blank again as she reminded him why he’d come out here in the first place. “It’s time we talked about the magic,” his voice was surprisingly quiet and unsure. “Honestly, this time.”
Ari frowned at the word choice. “Honestly?”
“Will you come inside?”
Her heart picking up speed, Ari nodded, not liking the sound of this one bit. She followed him into the house, taking great care not to check out his butt in his worn blue jeans. Her eyes travelled the width of his shoulders, however, feeling a pang of longing at the sight of his physical strength. She wondered what it would be like to hug him. She bet it felt wonderful. Safe. She wondered what it would be like to nuzzle her face into the crook of his warm neck and inhale him, his arms holding her so tight against him. When Jai turned around to take a seat in the sitting room, Ari dropped her gaze again, not wanting him to read what so clearly must have shown in her eyes. Letting the longing ease out from her limbs (a much harder feat than she’d assumed), Ari sank down into the chair opposite and once she was sure she could stare at him blankly, she lifted her eyes. “What’s going on?”
“There are consequences to magic.”
His blunt response made her blink a few times in confusion. “Uh… what?”
Jai sighed, looking uncomfortable again. He couldn’t meet her eyes. Great. “Before… when I was teaching you, The Red King ordered me not to tell you everything there was to know about magic. In case you decided not to attempt to use it. We needed you to use it. Your dad needed you to use it.”
Her pulse throbbed. “Consequences? What consequences, Jai?”
“When you made it rain… you caused a drought somewhere else.”
Ari’s jaw dropped. “OK. What are you talking about?”
“Jinn magic — like everything about us — has a balance. The only magic truly our own, is that which helps us defend ourselves or aids others in their destiny. We can create enchantments to protect us and anyone who happens to be with us when we need protecting. The Peripatos, like the defense, is part of us, as is flying and the telepathy. Granting wishes, and creating paths for life journeys is something that’s also natural to Marids, Shaitans, and even some Ifrits. And as you know, Ifrits tend to have something individual within their magic that makes them special. It’s all the genetic make-up stuff so it’s free. It’s who we are. The other stuff — well, it can be powered by charms and talismans; that’s why sorcerers use them.”
“The other stuff?” Ari asked between clenched teeth, suddenly hating where this was going.
“The unnecessary stuff — food, clothes, money — it all comes from somewhere else. It already exists, it doesn’t just appear out of thin air. It was in someone’s wallet or it was in a store…”
Ari’s eyes widened. “The leather jacket I conjured? I basically stole it from the store?”
Clearly ignoring the rising annoyance in her tone Jai nodded calmly, “Yeah.”
Her mind was whirling with the news. She’d stolen something! She glared at him. “What about everything you conjure?”
“I own what I conjure…. For the most part. Clean clothes come from my wardrobe. Money from my bank account. But stupid things like pineapple juice for the Aissawa Brotherhood… well, that came from somewhere else.”
“Someone’s fridge probably. A neighbor’s. It usually comes from somewhere as close as possible in location.”
“Essentially, you stole it then,” Ari snapped.
He shrugged at her again and she wanted to throw the remote at him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” an ugly knot was forming in her gut. Not Jai. He might not return her feelings but she at least thought she could count on him. “You had me thinking that the cool magic trick part of this nightmare was a little bright spot in a very crappy and dark situation.”
“Your uncle commanded me not to, Ari. I told you, he knew you wouldn’t use your magic if you thought it was unethical and he needed you to in order to trigger your heritage as the Seal.”
“But couldn’t you have told me and I would have just conjured stuff I already owned?”
He shook his head at her impatiently. “You needed to stretch your magical muscles and do things that required an almost full scope of power.”
The knot was sprinkled with a heavy dose of bitterness and she felt the emotion bleeding into her words. “You should have told me. I thought you were my friend.”
If she wasn’t mistaken she saw his eyes flash with an unnamed emotion before he quickly blinked, vivid but flat, green eyes staring back at her once again. “An assignment from The Red King is a huge deal. I didn’t want to mess it up.”
“You gave me that book when you weren’t supposed to,” she argued.
“That was different. That was to educate you about important things you really needed to know.”
“This is important! I needed to know this.”
“All I can say is I’m sorry. I had to follow those orders.”
He did sound sorry but Ari was too mad to care. “Good to know where your priorities lie.”
“Ari, come on—”
“What else are you hiding from me?” she cut him off, her eyes narrowed on him in suspicion. Before he could answer, the sound of her father’s heavy footsteps pounding down the stairs shot her off the couch in surprise. She whirled around to see him storming across the hall, grabbing up his car keys. He looked like hell. “Dad?” she rushed toward him, the blood whooshing in her ears.
“I need to get out,” he muttered without looking at her, not even aware of Jai’s presence behind Ari.
“No, Dad, we need to talk.”
“Not now, Ari.” And before she could even blink he was outside, the door slamming shut behind him. Utter shock and pent up fury held her immobilized for a second as she listened to his car door open and shut and the engine flare to life. That familiar growl finally knocked her back to reality and she spun around to glare at Jai who didn’t have time to mask his soft, sympathetic eyes. “No.” She shook her head, her teeth grinding together. “I don’t think so.” She thought of her car keys and the metal dropped heavily into her open palm.
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