The Seven Kings of Jinn
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New York Times Bestselling author Samantha Young writing as S. Young
(Previously published in 2011 under the title Smokeless Fire (A Fire Spirits Novel)
A week ago, Ari Johnson had two worries—how she would tell her dad she didn’t want to go to college and how she’d mend her broken friendship with Charlie, who she’s secretly loved since they were kids. But when she’s transported from her bedroom into the chilling realm of the jinn, Ari soon has much bigger problems to deal with. Not only does she discover she’s not human, but Ari’s a lost princess and a pawn in a war between a terrifyingly powerful sultan and his sons, the Seven Kings of Jinn. To make matters worse, she’s been assigned a brooding bodyguard, Jai Bitar, a too-sexy-for-his-own-good jinn who shadows her every step and only complicates an already complex situation.
While Ari tries to make sense of her new reality, she’ll have to battle ancient deadly creatures, epic family drama, and heart-wrenching romantic entanglements. And that's merely the beginning...
Release date: October 30, 2021
Publisher: Samantha Young
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The Seven Kings of Jinn
Chapter 1Ghost in the Soul
Ari followed the swipe of Mr. Dillon’s eraser across the board, wiping out the poor chalk-figure hangman who had met his complete death — a head, torso, limbs and all — when the senior class had failed to figure out the blanks equated to accumulated depreciation. The last week of school. Business class.
Ari hid a yawn behind her hand and stared out of the window at the trees behind the parking lot. She wondered if he was out there already.
“God, I thought this class couldn’t get any more boring,” Nick Melua whispered at her side. Ari made a sympathetic noise and nodded in agreement. Waiting for graduation was a slow torture in hell. That the waiting room was Mr. Dillon’s Business Studies class only increased the banality.
She better get used to it, Ari thought with a wince. She would major in business at Penn after summer break. Pushing the future and the host of angry butterflies the thought of it created in her belly out of her mind, Ari concentrated on worrying about Charlie. Was he out behind the parking lot? Again?
She groaned into her wrist and flicked her eyes up at the board. “W,” she guessed without thinking and felt the heat of the glares from her classmates.
“Nope.” Mr. Dillon shook his head. “Nick?”
“E,” he threw across the room belligerently and was rewarded with grateful smiles as the word became clearer.
“Entrepreneur!” Staci Pike shouted out with such enthusiasm it could fool you into thinking she cared. Ari smirked over at her and rolled her eyes at Staci’s sheepish shrug. Staci hated making anyone feel bad and the perspiration rolling down Mr. Dillon’s face told them he knew he was failing miserably at keeping them entertained.
Mr. Dillon smiled gratefully. “Correct. Do you want to come up, Staci, and choose a word?”
Ari grinned at her. See, that’s what happens when you’re nice.
Staci narrowed her eyes as she swept by Ari’s table. “Meanie,” she murmured loud enough to make Ari snort.
Fifteen minutes later, the class grew more fervent in their irritation as they struggled to figure out Staci’s word. Finally, Mr. Dillon sighed. “I’m afraid the hangman is definitely… dead. You’ll have to tell us your word, Staci.”
Her dark eyes were wide with disbelief. “You guys are terrible at this game.”
“Aw come on, Staci.” Nick beat his fist against the table, his voice climbing to a whine. “Just tell us.”
“Fine,” she huffed. “The word or words, rather, are ‘Bill Gates.’”
Ari laughed as the class exploded into an uproar.
“I still don’t see what the big deal was.” Staci shrugged as they walked toward their lockers.
“You were supposed to use a business term.” Ari chuckled, plucking a spit ball out of Staci’s hair and flicking it to the ground. She grimaced, wiping her hand against her T-shirt.
“Bill Gates is a businessman, hello!”
“Hello to you too,” a warm voice purred before Staci was pulled back into the solid embrace of her boyfriend A.J. Half Japanese (on her mom’s side) Staci’s slight frame was swallowed up in the stocky shadow of A.J.’s wrestler’s body. Her eyes widened before she relaxed into him, tilting her mouth up to his for a kiss.
Ari sighed and turned from them, yanking her locker open with more force than she’d intended.
“Is someone in a bad mood?” A.J. asked, grinning at the glare Ari threw him over her shoulder.
Staci shook her head. “Nah, I think she’s just bummed out after the longest class in the history of classes.”
“What’s there to be bummed about?” Rachel’s voice entered the fray. Ari craned her neck around her locker to smile at her best friend. Rachel returned her smile, her blond hair swinging against her chin as she jerked her gaze back and forth between her friends with the excitement of a puppy. “We’re officially free in a few days and then, drum roll, please.” She gestured to A.J. who supplied the request with his imaginary drum sticks. “It’s Ari’s 18th birthday slash graduation party!”
As her friends talked enthusiastically about their plans for the 18th birthday party her dad, Derek, was letting her throw in their house at the end of the week, Ari tried to smile with sufficient animation. Not that she hated birthdays, or graduation even. It was more the promise of the future. A future she wasn’t so sure about.
“Oh, guys, I have to bring the stethoscope Mom and Dad bought me to the party… it’s awesome,” Rachel chirped, her eyes glittering at the prospect of leaving for Dartmouth to start her pre-medical studies. After Dartmouth, she planned on applying to John Hopkins, and Ari knew that whatever Rachel wanted, Rachel would eventually get.
“They bought you a stethoscope already?” A.J. snorted. “Dude, you’re not even going to med school for another three years.”
“Seven years of college. You are so insane.” Staci shuddered. “I can’t even imagine.”
A.J. shrugged. “I don’t know. Seven years making movies sounds kind of fun.”
Staci rolled her eyes at him. “Anything sounds like fun to you as long as it gets you off that farm.”
Ari felt like sinking into the floor. Her friends were so clear about who they were and what they wanted… it terrified her. It made her feel like a freak. She glanced around at them as they started yammering on about college sweatshirts, roommates, the freshman ten, wondering what on earth happened to her. She didn’t know what she wanted out of life like they did. Staci and A.J. were heading off to RISD together to study film and animation, something they had talked about doing nearly the whole three years they had been dating. Ari shut her locker, trying not to have a panic attack. Never in her life had she suffered from anxiety, but she’d had three attacks this last month. She closed her eyes, her back to her friends. When her dad suggested she studied business at college, Ari hadn’t argued. What else was she going to do, right? Unlike her friends, there wasn’t anything she’d ever felt brilliant at, or drawn to. How could they possibly understand that? She needed someone to understand.
She needed Charlie.
“Hey,” Rachel murmured, resting her hand on Ari’s shoulder. “You okay? You’ve been so quiet lately.”
How could she not talk to Rachel about this? Rachel was her best friend. But then… Rachel hadn’t always been her best friend.
Growing up, Charlie had been Ari’s closest friend. Her family, really. He’d been there when her dad forgot her ninth birthday, and the time she couldn’t stop crying after the lie she told when she was ten years old caused her dad and his girlfriend to break up. There was also that time she’d gotten her first period, and she’d completely freaked out. She’d run from school during lunch and Charlie had chased her into Vickers' Woods behind the interstate. When she’d confessed what was wrong, he had silently taken her hand and walked her all the way to his house and stammered through a blushing explanation to his mom. Mrs. Creagh had hugged her close and called the school and her dad to explain where she’d disappeared to and why. A trip to the pharmacy followed the phone call and a lot more hugging.
Anything good, bad, small or huge that had happened to her, Charlie was the one who had been there. And then something huge— too huge—happened to him and suddenly Charlie wasn’t really there to be there.
“Are you worrying about Charlie again?” Rachel huffed.
Ari threw her a 'don't start' look.
“Let’s go to lunch,” A.J. interrupted, dodging any discussion about Charlie. He thought Charlie was a loser and hated that Ari ‘wasted’ so much time and energy over him.
Stemming a wave of anger at her friends, Ari pulled away from them. “I’ll catch up in a minute, save me a seat.”
A frown appeared between Rachel’s smooth brows. “You’re not going over there?”
Clenching her jaw, Ari turned her back on them. “Just save me a seat,” she called over her shoulder, dodging students in her path.
“You need to give her a break about him,” she heard Staci say, but A.J.’s response was indistinct as Ari moved farther through the throng of teenagers.
Bursting out of the front entrance, Ari inhaled a lungful of warm summer air, shaking her hands out as if the gesture could shake out all her worries. She scanned the parking lot for Charlie, but she couldn’t see him, which meant he was out behind the lot in the trees where the teachers couldn’t see. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to get kicked out. They had already held him back a year. Not that he cared. A rush of angry wasps awoke in her stomach, as they always did when she was about to face him. That hadn’t been the case in the past. In the past, just the thought of him used to relax her. Pulling her shoulders back, Ari started off across the lot with a determined stride. She just had to know he was alright. They hadn’t spoken in two weeks, which was officially the longest they had gone without speaking.
As if coerced onto the scene by a sad Fate, a little boy of nine or ten years old, with dark brown hair and eyes, shot toward her.
“Have you seen my sister?” he asked, out of breath.
Concerned by his appearance at the high school during the day, Ari stopped, grabbing his arm before he could shoot off without an answer. “Who’s your sister?”
Ari frowned. Gemma was a junior. “I’ll—”
“Bobby!” They both spun to see Gemma rushing down the school steps toward them. “Did you bring them?”
“Yeah, but you owe me, like, twenty bucks…”
Satisfied there was nothing dramatic going down between the siblings, Ari left them to it, only glancing back once at the kid. He looked so much like Michael.
Michael Creagh. Charlie’s kid brother. And the reason Charlie was so screwed up. Two years ago, on Ari’s 16th birthday, Charlie had taken his parent’s SUV out to pick up his little brother from Little League. He was hurrying, trying to get Mike home so he could pick up Ari and take her out to celebrate. The cyclist came out of nowhere. Charlie had swerved into oncoming traffic and the passenger side took the full impact of the collision. When Charlie had come to, Mike was already dead. Everything changed that day. The happy Creaghs stopped being parents to Charlie and Charlie stopped being… Charlie. He blamed himself for his brother’s death and Ari wasn’t so sure his parents didn’t either.
Ari felt a rip of pain across her chest at the thought of how much agony her best friend was in. How did you live with that kind of guilt? Ari stopped hanging out at the Creagh’s because Charlie didn’t want her to. He told her his dad had started drinking and his mom had gotten her old job as a manager at FoodLand back to keep them afloat financially and to avoid her husband and the son who hadn’t died. Eventually, Charlie started hanging with a new crowd: slackers, potheads. He started skipping school, dropping grades. She’d even, occasionally, found him wasted in Vickers' Woods. She’d hoped he’d snap out of it eventually, that it was just his way of grieving. But it had been two years.
Before Mike’s death, Ari had been psyching herself up to talk to Charlie the night of her sixteenth. After confiding in Rachel, her new Chem lab partner, she had been persuaded it was time. She’d been moping after Charlie for three years. Ari didn’t know when her feelings for him stopped being platonic. There wasn’t a precise moment when everything shifted and suddenly she loved him. It was more that she turned thirteen and suddenly boys were cute and gave her butterflies. Charlie gave her butterflies. Not raging wasps like he did now. She’d been sixteen years old and in love.
And Ari still loved him.
Even though he wasn’t her Charlie anymore.
Ari’s skin cooled as she stepped into the trees, winding her way over the worn path that took her into the clearing that was popular with stoners. Surely the faculty knew about this place, but they were too lazy to do something about it or just didn’t care. Taking in the gathering, Ari saw mostly sophomores and juniors. She only knew a few people by name, and she nodded at them warily. They were lounging around on the grass, leaning against one another and on rocks, their pupils dilated, their features slack. Drifting through them, Ari walked toward a guy she recognized. He was tall, his long legs stretched out before him in dirty, ripped jeans, his Nirvana T-shirt wrinkled and worn. His expression was blank as he gazed up at her. He brushed his unkempt dark brown hair out of his deep brown eyes. He had a pleasant face, handsome in that boy next door kind of way. As she stopped before him, he tilted his head back and the corner of his mouth quirked up. A flash of emotion sparked in his eyes, transforming him from cute guy next door to sexy and dangerous ‘anything is possible with me’ guy. Before her was a boy who could hurt her more than anybody else.
“Charlie.” She nodded, trying to act casual, which was difficult considering the stares burning into her back.
“What’s up?” he asked, reaching for the joint Mel Rickman handed him. Ari kept her attention on Charlie. Mel was older than everyone else, in his early twenties. The guy gave her the creeps, and not because he was hanging out getting sophomores stoned, but because when he looked at her, it was as if he were imagining her naked. The lascivious sleaze made her uneasy.
She glanced around to make sure no one was paying attention, suddenly feeling foolish standing there in her washed, unripped jeans and plain T-shirt. The grass tickled her feet in her flip-flops and she looked down at the biker boots Mel wore. She fingered the tennis bracelet on her wrist, trying not to flush. Most of the kids Charlie hung out with came from the east, the low income side of Sandford Ridge. It was a medium-sized town in the southeast of Butler County, not small enough for everyone to know everyone’s business, but not big enough for people not to know if you lived on the east side or the west side. “I wondered if you’re still coming to my birthday party on Friday?”
Charlie gave her an inscrutable look, the silence between them stretching into irritating. Ari was very close to throwing the folder in her arms at him.
“I’ll come to your party, babe.” Mel winked at her. “Give me a private showing sometime and I might even buy you a present.”
“Watch it.” Charlie whipped his head around at him, his dark eyes glittering with fury. “Don’t talk to her.”
“Just shut it.” Charlie pinned him in place with a look of warning that would have made a smarter man pee in his pants. Ari shivered, unsettled, even though her old friend was only defending her. Charlie glanced back at her, the anger still etched in his features. “Of course I’ll be there,” he told her. “I’ll see you Friday.”
Not wanting to leave him, Ari jerked her head in the direction of the parking lot. “Do you want to have lunch with me?”
He shook his head, his features losing expression again. “Go back to school, Ari, I’ll see you later.”
Feeling that familiar ache in her chest, Ari nodded and spun around, hurrying out of the clearing, wishing like hell her car wasn’t in the garage and she could just go home.
She stopped on the hot asphalt, staring blankly at the Ohio plates of the Buick Lacrosse Rachel’s parents had bought her as a graduation gift. I can go home. I am going home. Ari turned and strode toward the gate. It was a half-hour walk; it was nothing. She could do with the exercise.
Closing her eyes in disbelief, Ari huffed and slowly turned around to see Rachel running across the lot toward her. “Rache.”
“Where are you going?”
“For a walk.”
“Were you going home?”
“I thought about it.”
Rachel shook her head, her eyes narrowing. “He bummed you out again.”
“It’s not his fault.”
“Stop making excuses for him. And you’re not going home.” Rachel tugged on her arm, dragging her back toward the school.
“You’re not the boss of me,” Ari grunted, tripping on her flip-flops.
“I am not letting Charlie ruin graduation for you. You think I don’t know why you’ve been so sullen and quiet every time we mention college and graduation? It’s Charlie! It’s always Charlie. You’re going to have to leave him to swim in his self-destructive soup and, frankly, I think it’s a good thing. He is such a loser. You are so much better than that.”
“Hey!” Ari yanked her arm away and shot her best friend a look so livid it was amazing waves of burning smoke didn’t start weeping from Rachel’s body. “You don’t get to call him that. He’s been through hell and I’m sorry if he isn’t perfect, but he’s my friend, and I don’t abandon my friends.”
Holding her hands up in a surrender gesture, Rachel nodded, her eyes wide. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called him that.”
Ari shook her head, sighing heavily. “Whatever. Let’s just get you back to the cafeteria before A.J. eats whatever you left on your tray.”
Her eyes almost popped out of her head. “My Snickers!”
Ari gave a bark of annoyed laughter, watching Rachel lope up the concrete stairs two at a time. Watching her friend, who knew herself inside out, Ari wished she was more like Rachel… or that she had more time, at least; time to discover who she was supposed to be before college.
For once, Ari was glad to step into the airy house she called home, waving behind her to Rachel, who drove her back and forth to school while her car was in the garage. She shut the door, dropped her bag and pulled off her light summer jacket. She hung it up on the coat peg on the wall, using the label to loop it securely. When it slid up and off, falling to the ground, Ari groaned and bent down to pick it up. She secured it again and strolled toward the kitchen, only to hear the pinging of the metal buttons hitting the wooden floor. Exhaling heavily, she spun back on her heel and picked it back up, jamming the jacket down on the peg.
Her poltergeist was such a pain in the ass.
“I’m not in the mood, Ms. Maggie!” she called out, scanning the hall.
Two years ago, after her 16th birthday actually, a poltergeist took up residence in her house. When she tried to tell her dad about furniture moving, an invisible person using her laptop, books taken down from the shelf and left around and open, he’d told her to stop being childish. For the last four or five years he’d been gone a lot, traveling the country and wining and dining doctors and hospital execs as a pharmaceutical sales rep. Her dad was good at his job and she never wanted for anything — except maybe for more time with him. Anyway, her theory about the poltergeist didn’t really hit home until they got into an argument one day a year and a half ago. He’d raised his voice at her because she made the mistake of whining about him being gone so much and a book flew off a shelf and cracked him across the head. He hadn’t imagined it and was now sufficiently freaked out by their house. Ari had stopped whining at her dad in the hopes the situation would make him want to be home more and had gotten used to the company of the poltergeist. She was pretty sure the poltergeist was a woman because she seemed to take offence to sexist, anti-feminist jokes. Sure, she was mischievous, like with the whole jacket thing, but once Ari told her to stop doing something, she would. Ari had named her Ms. Maggie after the dog her dad had bought when she was eight and then promptly gotten rid of when he realized how much work it involved for him.
Ari breathed a sigh of relief when the jacket stayed in place. “Thanks, Ms. Maggie. I appreciate it. It’s been a rough day.” She wandered out of the cold hallway into the even colder, empty kitchen. Their house seemed to lack the cozy warmth of her friends’ houses. She didn’t know if that was to do with the minimalist furniture or the lack of any actual family living in it. There could have been a family. But Ari had ruined that for her dad.
All of her life, Ari had lived knowing that her mother, some mysterious woman named Sala, had broken her father’s heart after a passionate and brief affair. Then she returned to him nine months after the fact with a baby she said was his. She’d left Ari with him and disappeared, never to be seen again. Her father had done the best he could, Ari knew that. And she knew he loved her more than anything. He had tried. He’d read to her every night before bed. He’d taught her to swim, to play baseball, to throw a punch without breaking her thumb. But as she’d gotten older, they had grown apart. Over the years, there had only been a few girlfriends, for which Ari was grateful. Unlike other kids with no moms, Ari hadn’t wanted one. To her, a mom was this creature who had stolen her daddy’s heart and ripped it out, leaving them both in the cold, lost and alone. So when Derek had gotten serious with this one woman when Ari was ten, she’d panicked. If her father married this woman, she’d be Ari’s mom. What if she left too? She’d just break their hearts as well. And to be honest, Ari didn’t want to share her dad with anyone. The lie she’d told that broke up the relationship still ate at her conscience eight years later. In a moment of pure childish stupidity, with no real clue to the consequences of her actions, Ari had lied and told her dad that his girlfriend (Michelle) had slapped her during an argument. Derek was furious. He believed his daughter over his four-month-old relationship and had swiftly ended things. There had been no one serious since. Ari blanched every time she thought about it. Her dad would probably never forgive her if he knew the truth. Poor Michelle.
Ari’s cell rang in the pocket of her jeans and she jumped, startled. Pulling her phone out, she smiled at the caller ID and pressed the answer call button. “Dad.”
“Hey, sweetheart,” his warm, deep voice reminded her of Christmas Day on the couch watching Home Alone and eating chocolates for breakfast. “How’s things?”
“Okay. Graduation in a couple of days,” she reminded him.
“I know, sweetheart,” he replied wearily. “I’ve asked Rachel’s mom to take care of you and to take lots of pictures of you in your cap and gown. I’m so sorry I can’t be there. You know I would if I could, but I can’t miss this meeting. It could be my biggest sale this year.”
She nodded, feeling a little numb to the distance between them now. “I know. Don’t worry about it, Dad. It’s not a big deal.”
“It is a big deal. That’s why I want you to take the emergency credit card and buy whatever you need for your birthday party, okay?”
“Thanks, that’s great.”
“I’ve also got a fantastic birthday present for you and I’ll be home in three weeks. I can’t wait to see your face when you open it.”
She smiled. Admittedly, her dad always bought her the most thoughtful presents. “I hope you didn’t do anything extravagant.”
Derek laughed. “It’s your 18th, of course I did. I love you, kid.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
Their conversation was short and sweet, like always, and Ari spent the rest of the evening cooking pasta, watching cartoons, worrying about Charlie, and stalking his social media accounts to see if there was any recent activity. There never was. She talked to Rache and Staci for a while and then slid back from her desk, falling, emotionally exhausted, onto her bed.
“Ms. Maggie… can you hit the lights?” Two seconds later, the click of the switch echoed around the room and the bedroom plunged into darkness. “Thanks, you’re a doll.”
Two minutes later, a flash of light across her closed lids broke her fall into sleep and she groaned, prying her eyes open to see her phone screen glowing as it hovered in the air across the room.
“Ms. Maggie,” Ari groaned, flopping back against her pillows. “Can you Tweet in the morning? Please…”
The phone moved slowly through the air and landed gently on her bedside table.
“Thank you,” she breathed. “Today was already depressing enough without the reminder that my poltergeist has more followers on social media than I do.”
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