Sultry. Alluring. Tempting.
The woman in the New Orleans bar was pure sin and sex in a stunning package. And for once, hardworking, practical-minded Jack Montgomery let himself be charmed. He had sworn he would not let magic hold sway over him again, yet passion was another matter. But no sooner had he taken the beautiful stranger in his arms than he discovered his mistake: Lovely, dark-haired Leila was far more than exotic; she was a genie. When he kissed her, heat lightning flashed around them, the air sparkled with color and a whirlwind transported him out of this world. Literally. Trapped with Leila in the land of the Djinn, Jack would have to choose between the principles of science that had defined his life and something dangerously unpredictable and unsettling...
Two years, twenty nine days, three hours, and fourteen minutes after he faced the horrifying truth that magic existed, biomedical engineer Jack Montgomery finally found a way to negate it. In his deserted lab, Jack held up the intricate chain forged from titanium and copper wires, and the sweet familiar thrill of discovery, of a problem solved, coursed through him. A rainbow-faceted crystal gleamed from the center of the metal network, and
attached to the crystal was a switch, a tiny, powerful battery and a computer chip. Energy flow, that was the key. Disrupt the flow of energy and the magic failed.
At least, that was the theory. The computer simulations worked to perfection, but he hadn't had an opportunity to do an actual field test.
"Dr. Montgomery? Are you still here?" Maggie, the cleaning woman, poked her head into the lab. A rubber band pulled her graying red hair off her scrubbed,
"Yeah, Maggie, I've got a project at critical." Hastily, he slipped the chain around his neck and tucked it beneath his collar. He'd done the research on his own time, used his own financial resources, but if it got out he'd been researching magic . . . A shudder coursed him. The ridicule would ruin his professional career and taint all his other work.
Maggie pushed in her cart loaded with a mop, broom, and cleaning supplies. "You work too much. I see you in here too many nights." She dumped the mop into
a bucket of water, then began to swab the floor of the lab. "Gotta admit, though, it's nice to see someone live when I come in here. All them legs and hands
give me the creeps.."
"They're only models and prostheses, Maggie. Polymers and silicon and computer chips."
Maggie gave a snort. "Big words don't make 'em easier to mop beside. I know you folks do good work here--ain't the fact my man's walking about proof of
it?-- but I saw this movie once about a hand creeping around, strangling folks. I keep expecting one to get me right here." She clutched her throat.
He laughed, sticking his hands into the pocket of his jeans. "I promise, no malevolent limbs here."
Only ones that might one day give a child a chance to walk or a computer chip that might restore function to a useless limb. Yet, to ease her mind, he waited with
Maggie until she finished, then followed her out of the lab, turning off the lights and locking up behind him.
"Thanks, Dr. Montgomery."
Waving at him, she pushed her bucket and cart down the narrow hall to the pharmacology labs, while Jack took the stairs out of the Tulane Medical School
building. Heat slammed against him with the subtlety of a brick. Though the hour was past ten, New Orleans had not cooled with sunset, and the humidity warred
with heat to claim discomfort bragging rights in a record hot May. Every night solemn-faced newscasters intoned the facts of daily heat index and inches of
rainfall below average.
He retrieved his car from the lot, then headed to his small Uptown house. The engine gave a jerk, reminding him he hadn't taken it in for scheduled maintenance. The past two years, he'd had neither time nor finances for anything but necessities. Research didn't pay what private practice did, and his savings had been depleted by his secret research into magic.
The weight of the device pressed against his chest, and the tingling reminder reassured him.
The sacrifices were worth it. His sister, Isis, had married a genie--or djinni as he was told they preferred--and Jack could not forget his first hand experiences with the power that Darius wielded. Minor annoyances, true, but Jack had been unable to stop the djinni's telepathic speech inside his skull, nor had he been able to avoid sharing private matters when the djinni used a Truthspeak spell. The whims of a worker of magic had controlled him, and for a scientist dedicated to logic, equations, and combating the ravages of nature and disease, it was a shattering experience.
Never again, he swore, would Jack Montgomery remain powerless in the face of such a threat.
Inside the house, he tossed his keys onto the hall table, then froze, seized by a strange, compelling restlessness. It whispered through him, faint and alluring, an invitation not to let the night end. Was it the aftermath of achieving a goal long sought? The eagerness to test his theories? The faint discontent with the silence and plainness of his rooms? Whatever, he only knew he couldn't stay inside, not tonight. He tugged off his tie, exchanged the button shirt for a plain white T-shirt and loafers for athletic shoes. After a moment's indecision he shrugged and left the device around his neck. Wouldn't hurt to get used to wearing it. He ran a comb through his blond hair--a trip to the barber had also been postponed-- before heading to Brigand's, a tavern around the corner.
The bar interior was familiar: dark and cool and overlaid with the hum of conversation and the flicker of televisions set to ESPN and whatever channels carried a sporting event. Tonight it was Stanley Cup hockey, Arabian League soccer, and figure skating. Nobody watched the figure skating.
Jack found an empty chair at the end of the polished wood bar.
"Evening, Dr. Montgomery," the bartender greeted him.
"Haven't seen you in a while. What'll you have? A
"Sure. How's your daughter?"
"Her artificial leg's working good, and she's excited about going to that camp you told us about." The bartender handed him beer in a chilled mug Jack took a long swallow, enjoying the cold and the faintly bitter taste, "A lot of my patients have been there; she'll have a good time."
"Can you believe this heat? Hope you're getting out the city this summer."
"I have a race in Canada in August."
"Another one of them adventure races?" The bartender shook his head. "Sliding across ravines, climbing up mountains, tromping through jungles, can't say as I
see the fun in that."
He didn't answer, unable to explain the thrill of the challenge and unwilling to discuss the need to master self and environment. He'd been reclusive and frail
as a child. Now he recognized the symptoms of post traumatic stress, but then he'd only recognized the fear. It had made him the victim of schoolyard
bullies, until Beau, his twin, had badgered him into a tae kwon do class. The martial arts discipline had restored his confidence and his health.
Since then, he never took either one for granted. While the bartender turned to another customer, Jack drank his beer, feeling weariness settle across him at
last. He rotated on his stool to survey the room. At once his gaze lit on the lone woman sitting in the corner. How had he missed seeing her when he'd come
Sultry. Alluring. Tempting. The adjectives chased through his mind, but none were adequate. Delicate cheeks, full lips, exotic-tilted eyes, and straight, black hair. He couldn't tell how long, only that it reached well past her shoulders and shone like polished obsidian. The V of her ruby-colored dress revealed some very feminine curves.
She was as out of place here as a wizard at an AMA convention.
And she was looking straight at him. When his gaze met hers, her lips tilted in invitation. He looked around, unable to believe the invitation was meant for him, but no other likely candidates emerged. When he glanced back, she smiled again with the barest hint of seduction and leaned back. Shadows created a mystery of her face, but her body was an open invitation.
Pure sin and sex in a stunning package. The odd restlessness reappeared. It tugged his muscles, urged him to get off the chair, set his nerves--and other body parts--to stinging attention. He dragged in a deep breath, hoping for air, getting only heat.
He downed a slug of the beer, resisting her. His plans included a quick drink, nothing more. He was tired--or had been until one minute ago--and he'd never gone in for the singles bar pick up scene. Tonight, though this woman tempted him to take a chance, to lose himself in the pleasures of
Determined to maintain his control, Jack gave her a regretful smile and turned around, away from the temptation.
He had turned his back on her! Leila gaped at Jack Montgomery before she remembered that a mouth hanging open was not attractive. She closed it with a snap.
What call had he for such arrogance?
If only her power was stronger, the attraction spell would have worked.
But no, she was the weak one, the one who'd been forced, from necessity, to develop other talents in a world where individual skill with magic secured both
rank and comfort.
She would have to think of something else; all the portents said this was a night of auspicious change. Maybe one of the other patrons of this establishment?
She glanced around, her insides shriveling at the thought. Like that man staring at her? He looked more like a troll than a human. With a practiced
haughty glance, she dismissed him. She would give her chosen . . . donor a night of delights he would long remember. Was she not entitled to a little pleasure
in the act as well?
None of these others appealed to her like Jack Montgomery had from the first moment she'd seen him in the picture Isis kept in her work room. She liked the
light colored hair, so different from most of the djinn, especially now that he had grown it longer. She liked the well-formed body, the strong nose, the
serious mouth. From the picture, she had not realized he had a thin scar that ran from his brow to his jaw. It did not lessen his appeal.
But what she had liked most were his eyes. They were blue, the deep blue of the precious wells on her home world of Kaf, and Leila thought she saw kindness
hidden in them.
He had other attractions as well. Isis said her brother was a near genius who had earned p-h-d and m-d in record speed. Leila had no idea what p-h-d or m-d
was, but she knew what genius was, and if she could not have a man of power, she would take one of intelligence.
Moreover, he looked not only virile, but fertile. He was a good choice. It would be Jack Montgomery and no other. Her stomach clenched in anticipation
and for the first time in many cycles, she felt the stirrings of true desire.
By Solomon's shield, if only the man would cooperate! Instead, he was downing the last of his brew, handing the tavern keeper his barter, and leaving. Jack
glanced once in her direction, and Leila gave him her most enticing smile.
He paused, took a step toward her. Surreptitiously, she sprinkled a tiny amount of red powder on the candle at her table. The rich scents of frankincense and juniper eased through the room. Leila rose, murmuring the words needed to draw her chosen lover to her side. Every bit of her small store of power enticed him to depart with her. He took another step closer.
Until a man entered and clapped Jack on the back with a hearty thwap. Jack blinked and turned away again. The spell was broken. At least on Jack Montgomery.
Not so with the troll eyeing her from the tall wooden table.
Jack greeted his adventure racing teammate absently, still bemused by the scent that lingered in his memory, almost as if he could smell the perfume of the mysterious lady. So, too, did the sudden erotic images of her persist. Spreading her dark, silky hair over him. Touching him in ways that raised urgent
needs. Smiling as he entered her.
He shook his head, trying to clear the arousal that sent blood rushing low and fast. When had he started to think in poetic words and pornographic images? The
strange urge to join with her was dissipating when she slid from the room, silent and smooth.
"So, I hear Beau's thinking about a run for district attorney." His teammate's hearty comment intruded. "You going to campaign for him?"
"Beau's the speechmaker. Not me." Jack frowned when he noticed the hulk at the bar throw down a bill and leave after her.
"How you two can look so alike, but act so different I never have figured out."
"Look, I gotta run. Talk to you later." Not bothering with an excuse to his friend, Jack abruptly followed the bully out.
His gut burned when he saw the man, his hand over the lady's mouth, crowding her into a shabby car. She wasn't making it easy for him, but her delicate
strength was no match for brutish power.
"Let her go," he commanded, his voice clear in the thick night.
The brute scowled at him. "Who's gonna make me?"
"You've lost the element of surprise here, pal. The lady's clearly unwilling and she's no longer alone. You're talking more effort than it's worth now." As
he talked, he closed the distance between them, trying to see if the attacker kept a gun or knife handy. None visible, but it didn't mean there wasn't
something concealed in his lumpy pockets. Always try calm intellect and reason first was Jack's motto, especially if the enemy was twitchy and maybe packing
a weapon. Keep your enemy off balance.
"I say she'll be interested enough once I get started."
"Everyone in the bar saw what was happening when I came out. I'm sure they've called the police. Now, we can stand here and discuss the matter until they
come, or you might take this opportunity to get the hell away from here." He lifted his brows, and, as if on cue, a distant siren wailed.
The would-be-rapist took off at a run.
"Are you not going to chase him? Apprehend him for your protectors?" The woman's voice was soft, melodious, tremulous. She had a faint accent, a quaint inflection to her words.
"Despite recent actions to the contrary, lady, I'm not that stupid." Jack clenched his fist against a primitive desire to chase after the jerk and wipe his face on the sidewalk.
"But your protectors--"
"Protectors?" He'd bet English wasn't her first language. "You mean, the police? That was a bluff. Nobody paid any attention to my leaving."
"Oh." She drew the sound out, and Jack wasn't sure if she was disappointed or relieved. "My name is Leila, not Lady."
"Leila. It's a pretty name. I'm Jack."
He held out a hand to shake, but instead she clasped his hands between hers, then leaned forward and gave him delicate kisses, one on each cheek, one on the
tips of his fingers. "Thank you."
She was soft and oh, so warm, and trembling. "Are you all right?"
"I--" Her legs seemed to lose substance for she swayed against him. His arm came around her for support, and her perfume, exotic and spicy, wafted
across him. Jack fought the instinctive arousal it stimulated. After that scare, the last thing she needed was another horny male.
"Let me take you back to the bar. You can sit, have a drink. The bartender may know that jerk and we'll call the police--"
"No." She gripped his hand. Her nails were perfect, glossy ovals. "I cannot go back there. Where he was. Is there some place private and quiet? Where I can
"My home is around the corner, if you'd feel safer--"
"Your home would be fine."
As they walked the short distance, she leaned against him, a silent request for his strength. She couldn't be aware of the way her breast pressed against his
side, for when he tried to shift away, she only murmured an incoherent protest and settled closer. Yet, he was well aware of the generous silk-covered
contour rubbing against his bare arm.
Leila didn't wear a bra. Obvious by feel. Obvious by the gap in her gown.
Dragging his gaze upward, he cleared his throat and began a mental recitation of the periodic table of elements, from hydrogen to ununhexium. Leila hummed,
or chanted, under her breath, strange words he couldn't understand and could barely hear. Her fingers toyed with the turquoise tablet she wore on a
delicate gold chain. The world around him narrowed to only her voice, her scent, her touch. Blood raced from head to heart to groin, filling him with heat
beyond heat indexes and drought.
Number twenty-six. Iron. Symbol Fe. Atomic weight of fifty-six. Number twenty- seven. Cobalt. Symbol Co. Atomic weight of fifty-nine.
Her hair brushed against his cheek, soft as a kitten's tail. Every step brought the massage of muscle and curves. Her breast still rested against his arm, and he saw the protruding nipple. Touch me, it seemed to call. His body stiffened in masculine counterpoint. Taste me. The elements faded away behind a confusing whirlwind of desire that caught him by surprise with its intensity and its demand for relief.
Jack was breathing hard, and sweat dampened his back by the time he gestured her into his home. He'd thought rampant hormone surges were left behind with
acne and high school proms. Inside he didn't bother with a light, just gestured her to a chair while he backed toward the kitchen.
"I'll get you something to drink."
He had to get away from her before he embarrassed himself or frightened her.
Apparently, Leila had other plans. Instead of letting him go, she laced her arms behind his neck and reached on tiptoe to kiss him. "Do not go," she whispered,
her voice husky. She strung kisses along his jaw.
"Do not. I need you."
She claimed his lips with a kiss both soft and lush, and he was lost in the maelstrom of need. He pulled her against him, surrounded her with arms and thighs,
and slanted his head to deepen the kiss. Leila accepted it all, her body begging for more.
Heat lightning sparked around them, brilliant in red and blue and yellow.
Heat lighting? Inside? Red and blue? Jack opened his eyes, stilling at the sparkle of colors dancing
Djinn emotions show as colors in the air. Isis had told him that once.
His gaze fastened on the turquoise tablet at Leila's neck. A turquoise tablet akin to the one Darius wore, to the one all djinn wore as a symbol of their magic.
She was a djinni! It wasn't attraction, it was a bloody spell!
He jerked away from the kiss, though his body protested with a sharp pain. "Stop it," he rasped. "Goddamit, stop that magic. I will not be your
"Noooo," Leila moaned. "Not now!" She wrapped her clutched his hand, her fingers digging into the flesh.
"Come with me."
She was stronger than she looked. A whirlwind whipped about them, blinding him. He felt himself lifted, spun around as easily as Dorothy's house in
She was transporting them to her world. To Kaf! No! He fumbled at his neck. The chain. Dammit, it was stuck beneath his shirt.
The room faded from view. He felt himself sliding, though nothing of substance touched him. There, he had it!
All that was familiar vanished.
He clutched at the chain and thumbed the switch. The battery powered on; metal vibrated and the crystal scorched his palm with electricity, but he held onto
his lifeline. Noise filled his ears. The whoosh of the roller coaster. The whine of vibrations. Light sucked into his hand, rushing like the Mississippi at
flood stage, then vanished leaving only darkness, utter and absolute.
An explosion erupted from his palm. Brilliant lights of red and white blinded him, while a roaring, dizzying tumble stole all hearing, all sensation.
Jack had one final thought before unconsciousness overtook him.
The computer simulations had missed a few relevant possibilities.
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