Amelia Swenson's plans for the weekend didn't include a sexy djinni or saving the world from demons, but plans change. Her whole life changes when Amelia discovers the ring to which the handsome djinni is enslaved, and at the same time accidentally unleashes a demon into the world. The djinni, Al-Marid has been alone for three thousand years -- is it any wonder he falls for the woman who frees him? But who ever heard of a lilit? Lilits prey on men, drive them to madness, kill children, and cause miscarriages. And now Amelia has let one loose on her city.
Brilliant light and a crash of sound erupted around her.
“Holy crap!” Amelia’s chair went down asshe scrambled back, heart thumping wildly. She could hardly to see anythingthrough the thick haze boiling around her, or hear for the ringing in her ears.The hairs on her arms and back of her neck stood erect, tingling as the airaround her crackled with energy. She took another step back, away from a darkshape in the haze. She held her breath, waving a scent like hot peppers andcinnamon from her face, groping frantically to understand what was happening.The air cleared as swiftly as it had filled, revealing a huge man standingsmack in front of her.
He loomed between her and the kitchen. He must have come inthrough the back, throwing in some kind of flash bomb or smoke bomb…Amelia stumbled farther back, banging into a bookshelf. The edge of aprotruding volume jabbed her thigh. She felt oddly light, poised for action.She still had the small file she’d used to free the ring. If she neededa weapon she could use that, and her wits. Where were her wits? Her heartdrummed double-time in her ears.
“Who the hell are you and what do you thinkyou’re doing here?” she snapped, surprising herself with her ownferocity.
The strange man looked around as if he’d never seen
anordinary—though cluttered—dining room before. He looked like
across between a Greek god and Mr. Clean, standing well over six feet in
height,clad only in loose white pantaloons, his head shaved bald, olive skin,
broadshoulders, a remarkably well-defined bare chest. His mustache framed a
stern,beautifully shaped mouth, and his cheekbones jutted, prominent, below
eagleeyes turning now to meet her own.
Meeting his eyes brought an electric jolt of recognition in which her everysense sprang to sudden life. Amelia might have just wakened to realize that along night of wandering through strange streets running senselessly togetherwas only a dream. Surely she knew him? But in some way she couldn’texplain and refused to believe. Those keen, dark eyes looked all too admiring,all too sure. With not so much as a twitch of his lips, she could swear helaughed at her.
“I am the slave of the ring,” he announced.
~ * ~
Strangely, once my initial rage and despair had passed, myservitude came as a new beginning. It was as the slave of the sorcerer, Bahram,that I learned what it meant to have a purpose and a goal. Until then I hadbeen as pure will, moving as the winds move, as fire moves, with no aim but tocontinue. It was as a slave I learned the extent of my powers. Whatever taskset me, I found the knowledge and abilities, somehow woven into the fabric ofmy being, to enable its fulfillment. I found it within me to know the workingsof time and space and matter, and to shape them to the purposes set by mymaster. What Bahram conceived, I did. As I was constrained, my power grew, andso, too, did his.
Bahram’s Nahid was a city of baked mud brick, itswalls glazed in bright colors to depict gryphons rampant, lions, and horses andmen at arms with their beards and hair tightly curled. The wealthy men of thecity wore bright-colored robes sewn with sequins of gold, and they oiled theirhair and beards. My master, Bahram, wore many rings, among which mine lookedsmall and plain, a mere blackened thing of iron, hardly to be noticed.
At his command, I brought him baskets full of gold and gemsin every hue. I carried his enemies off to distant lands. In a single night Ibuilt him a palace using bricks of marble and lapis lazuli. I built it in anight. I could have built it in an instant. Matter comprised my set of buildingblocks, Time, to me, might be a branching river in which to sport as dolphinsdo at sea. My master’s new home shone, more magnificent than the greathouse belonging to the king of the land. Bahram sent me with trays of fabulousjewels to the king, and in time the king’s daughter becameBahram’s new wife.
In the course of years my master ruled the land, and my powermade the city so prosperous that none went hungry or homeless or unclad. Nocrime went undetected, but little crime existed there in the absence ofdesperation. Through Bahram I came to care something for the good of mortalmen. I came to care for the city of Nahid as if such caring were a contagioncaught from the ruler who made his people his chief concern.
I assumed the city of Nahid would prosper forever and neverbe forgotten, that the rule of Bahram the Good must last forever. I hadforgotten how short are the lives of men. If he had commanded it, surely Icould have kept him from the ravages of age. But he never set himself to defyhis own mortality. And death did come to him, all too soon. Then began mycenturies of darkness and dreams. Though, of late, I had heard the voices ofmen…
And now I stood again in the light of day and the light castby a strange device overhead, unlike any work of man I had seen in the past.Before me stood a human woman unlike any I had seen, taller, paler, with skinlike cream and roses, and hair like wild honey streaked with sunlight and fire.Her eyes shone blue as an evening sky in which the first shadows of darknesshad begun, though they now snapped with defiance, and something else. It seemedas if I knew her already. She wore the ring—my mistress then—anddemanded of me my reason for being there. Could she not know?
“I am the slave of the ring,” I informed her.
~ * ~
“I want some straight answers,” Amelia spoke again, still poised for defense, metal file clutched in one hand. “What are you doing here? Who are you?”
“As I said. I am the slave of the ring, called Al-Marid.
What do you command, mistress?”
Amelia muttered a few words she’d never use under ordinary circumstances. Her heart thumped in her ears like the hoof beats of a run-away horse. Her thoughts raced. Could she get to the phone before he could stop her? Memories of news stories sprang to mind, accounts of home invasions, homeowners robbed, raped, beaten, killed. She edged to put the bulk of the table between her and the stranger, kept the sharp end of the file turned toward him. He was so big. She’d never outrun or out-fight him. If only she’d found time for those kung fu lessons… She had to bluff, act tougher than she was.
“Are you nuts? I’m not here to play along with your weird fantasies. I’m not into bondage games. Nobody keeps slaves these days, and I don’t have time for this!” She drew a deep, steadying breath. “That’s a hint, buster. Get. Out. Of. Here.”
“Where would you have me go?” He looked so lost, so totally out of place.
“Wherever you like, just out of here.” The sharp edge in her voice shocked her. She never took such a tone. She hadn’t known herself capable of it.
The imposing stranger vanished before her eyes.
Amelia blinked. What? How? She shook her head,and blinked again. First a remarkably large man stood right in front of her.Now… not. She had told him to go, but she hadn’texpected such instantaneous cooperation. For a moment she stood frozen,listening to the quiet hum of the refrigerator and the sounds of distanttraffic penetrating from the street, before she dared to look carefullyaround.
For all the sound and fury of the man’sappearance, not a thing seemed out of place.
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