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Copyright

© 2005 Shiloh Walker, Inc

Reissue 2018

Cover Image © coka I Bigstockphotos


This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

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Prologue

Centuries Past…

 

His name was Tamric. Young, arrogant and headstrong, Tam wanted nothing more than the excitement of walking the mortal realms, the Djinn Magic that would let him grant wishes, and the prestige that came when he returned to the land of Jinari.

Eying the rich, carved wooden urn with envy, he closed his eyes, trying to picture the mortal realms. They had mountains there. Mountains, rivers, oceans…

The dry hot winds of the desert blew in through the window, stirring his thick hair, bringing with it the ripe scent of gesan trees and vandri, the plump purple fruits that grew from those trees.

Tam ran a hand down the outer curve of the urn, feeling the hum of residual Magic. This had been his mother’s vessel once. For three hundred years, she had been gifted with the chance to walk among mortals—three centuries. Lucky lady, he mused, shaking his head as he rubbed his thumb over the raised carving of the egasi, the symbol of Djinn Magic.

Nearing the end of her third century, she had met the mortal who had returned the urn to her, without claiming his wish, giving her leave to come back to Jinari, where she was adored and revered by all.

His lip curled in a scowl.

That was what he wanted. But when he had been all of fourteen, she had conscripted him into service. Sentenced—that was more like it. Enslaved for five decades.

Bleeding sands, I don’t want to be a priest. Spinning away from the urn, he paced the room, the loose material of his pants rippling around the strong muscles in his legs, his jewel-adorned belt winking in the light that emanated from the walls.

A priest… “I’d rather freeze in the lowest levels of hell for fifty years.”

He wanted the power of Djinn, wanted to experience life in the mortal world, experience mortal women…and come back here a free man, out from under the shadow of his mother. Wanted to see people look at him with awe.

He spun around, reached out his hand and cupped the urn’s curve. The urn pulsed under his touch, oddly warm. Narrowing his eyes, he stepped closer and touched it with both hands. The throb of life seemed to course through his hands as they lay against the urn. Unusual…

He never saw the blue mist that seemed to flow up out of the floor behind him. As he ran his hands along the surface of the urn, he never realized he was being watched.

It was the gentle clearing of a throat behind him that had him whirling around to stare into the unfathomable eyes of one of the Guardians. His jaw dropped as he sank to one knee, mouth going dry with fear, his heart slamming against his chest.

So, young Tamric. You wish to be Djinn?”

A female voice cried out and Tam flinched as his mother came rushing into the sacred peace room, her amethyst eyes flashing with fury, glinting with tears. “No!” she shouted, flinging out her hand at the Guardian. “He will not be Djinn.

The Guardian smiled and Tam thought he looked kind of sad. “Isma, he wishes it. He has wished it for a long time.”

“He is a fool! A child. He doesn’t know what he wants,” she insisted, shaking her head so that her long black braids danced around her shoulders.

The Guardian slid Tamric a glance and he felt as though the being could see straight through him. “He does not wish to go into service to the temple,” the Guardian murmured, shaking his head. “Bound forever to a life of loneliness. Such a burden to place upon one who doesn’t feel that calling.”

Isma shook her head. “No. The Temple is a fine calling. He must learn to appreciate what I can give him,” she snarled.

“I do not want it.”

Both of them stilled, turning to look at him. Deep black eyes and pale purple eyes stared at him with varying degrees of surprise. “You are a boy!” Isma said. “You do not know what you want.”

Tamric glared at her, enraged. “I am not a boy. I’m twenty years old. Next year, I would have been able to leave this household and set up my own. Except you gave away my freedom. For fifty years!” he snarled, his voice dropping to a low growl as he fought to contain his fury. Damn it, he knew she loved him, wanted what was best… But it had to be her definition of best.

“I do not want a sexless existence where I do nothing but live in silence and ponder the meaning of the universe and pray until my knees bleed from kneeling so long on the floor,” Tam said coldly, shaking his head. “You see only what the priests become after servitude. I know what I must endure to ever attain what you wish for me to have. Fifty years of slaving for the priests, fifty years without the touch of a woman, fifty years of living on little more than bread and water.”

Those fifty years teach you control, discipline,” Isma said, her voice level, her eyes unreadable. “After that, you will have everything, your pick of lands, of brides, of everything you could ever want.”

Tam shouted, “I do not want it!” Slashing at the empty air with his hand, he gritted out, “That is what you want for me. I’ve always done what you wanted. Now, I am doing what I want.”

Turning his eyes to the Guardian, he said, “What must I do?”

The sound of his mother’s denial echoed in his ears as a funnel of blue smoke enshrouded him.

Chapter One

 

Trapped in the dream, Kat shifted restlessly on the bed, shaking her head, muttering under her breath.

The roads didn’t seem that slick. Her eyes tracked the gentle snowflakes as they fell from the sky. Their flight left in two hours. She wondered idly if the snowfall would stop their flight to New York. She’d been so looking forward to this trip. But she couldn’t care less about the snow falling, whether the flight would be delayed—cancelled. After all, what did it matter?

Nothing mattered anymore.

She was living a lie. With a man who claimed he loved her. But he was fucking her best friend.

Flipping down the visor, she looked into the lighted mirror on the reverse side, staring into her own eyes for a long moment. She couldn’t believe this was happening.

Feeling somebody watching her, Kat shifted her eyes in the mirror and met Jenise’s reflected gaze. That dark, chocolate-brown gaze jumped away from Kat’s with a nervousness that made her belly roil. Damn it. How could they do this? But she never doubted it was less than the truth.

Mara wouldn’t lie.

In her mind’s eye, she could see it. The lush, textured ivory wallpaper, the gold trim, the rich, plush burgundy of the carpet. The luxurious colors made a perfect backdrop for Jenise’s dark beauty, her coffee-colored skin, her thick curls that she wore hanging loose down her back.

And Brian—her gut clenched as she pictured them together. Not just in the hotel hallway, where Mara had seen them.

But in the bed beyond that door. Brian’s chestnut hair—thick and wavy—secured in a tail at his neck. Those broad, strong shoulders and the muscles in his back flexing as he drove his dick inside Jenise’s toned body.

Damn it!

The pain inside her gut exploded into a supernova, tightening her throat, her belly clenching, the tears blinding her. Pressing her temple to the frigid glass of the window, she fought to breathe past the pain.

Slowly, she closed her eyes against the tears that burned so badly. Forcing air past her constricted throat was agony. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t.

With rapid blinks of her eyes, Kat cleared the tears away. She cleared her throat gently and her voice was just slightly husky as she spoke.

Lifting her gaze, she again met Jenise’s in the mirror. Jenise licked her lips, her rich, ruby lipstick gleaming faintly. Behind her, she heard the soft whisper of silk over leather as Jenise shifted her position. With a cool, brittle smile, she shifted also, turning so she could stare at Brian.

He flicked her a glance and smiled—that slow, warm smile that always heated her blood. Now it made her cold. That smile wasn’t for her. Wasn’t all hers.

So…honey,” she purred, batting her lashes as he looked at her again, a longer, lingering glance. “How long have you two been fucking each other behind my back?”

Jenise closed her eyes. Kat saw her from the corner of her eye, but she was still focused on Brian. His eyes stared into hers for a long, unblinking second, jaw dropped in shock. “Kat…sweetie—”

Kat turned away from him, staring out the window. The tears were back. Stinging her eyes, blinding her, so that for a long moment she couldn’t see. Brian’s startled voice was loud in her ears. She reached up, dashing away the tears.

Just in time to see the car go flying off the road.

Scenery flew past her eyes. Everything was spinning.

And then there was pain, sharp, vicious pain that stole her breath.

Kat woke up screaming from the dream. She sat up in the bed, pressing her hands to her eyes, feeling the wet tracks of tears.

She shuddered, sobs racking her body. Distantly, she heard a soft whine and she opened her arms, unable to speak past the sobs that choked her. A warm, furred body leaped into her arms and she closed them around Zeb’s body, feeling a gentle lick on her face as he nuzzled her, trying to comfort her. She held him tighter as she gasped in air, trying to quit crying, trying to move past the dream.

She couldn’t. Damn it, she couldn’t keep doing this.

 

Long hours later, she had finally pushed the dregs of the dream aside.

A smile lit her face as she stroked her hands down the frame of the mirror, listening to Mara talk.

“It’s beautiful,” Mara murmured.

Kat smiled tremulously. “I know. But where did it come from? Who sent it?”

Bemused, Mara said, “Honey, I don’t know. There’s no card…no return address. Just this mirror.”

* * * * *

Djinn, with the power of granting wishes. But only to women, and only if they shared a kiss. Needless to say, Tam had been kissed by a lot of women. Once they discovered him, hiding in the shadows of the mirror, they summoned him out, kissed him well and good, and then he was gone.

As he strolled down the crowded street in New York City, he stared at nobody, met nobody’s eyes, looked at nothing, except what was directly in front of him.

He wasn’t imprisoned within his vessel, which was good. Some awful people had owned that mirror, and he was glad he wasn’t trapped there with nothing more to do than stare out at the activities of some the degenerates his mirror had belonged to over the years.

No, Tam was able to walk among people, live among humans, and had for quite some time. When the mirror was activated, he was pulled back to it, but other than that, he was free.

Since he couldn’t claim his mirror unless its bearer gave it to him, though, he preferred to stay as far away from it as possible when he could. For more than three decades, it had been stored in some vault in England and hadn’t been activated. Now, it was back in the States, in a small tourist town in Tennessee, in the hands of a woman who had the power to summon him to grant her a wish.

After she wished, she’d try for another, although he could only grant one. Sooner or later, she’d sell it or give it away. But until she called him, he was free.

Tam scowled. Not free. Never free. How could you be free when every time a woman kissed you, you knew it was because she wanted something? Damn it. Maybe his mother had been right. Century after century had passed, and long ago Tam had given up the hope that someday he would have his freedom, as his mother had been given hers so long ago.

Maybe service to the Temple would have been the wiser choice.

But the idea of five decades of servitude, of kneeling on bloody knees and praying, of serving the Elders in silence… Damn it. At least here he lived in relative comfort.

But he was trapped in a life of servitude, nonetheless. Damned forever to grant wishes, give kisses to women he had no feelings for. And wish that someday he’d be free.

“That’s why you never kiss them anymore,” a laughing voice said beside him.

Tam barely glanced at Jaydie, the impish Djinn he had known for years. Her kiss granted wishes to men—and she loved every moment of it. After several centuries, many of the Djinn tired of their lives, bound in the mortal world, except for that brief time between masters and mistresses. For brief moments in time, they could return to Jinari. Or roam the mortal world unencumbered. Whatever they chose, for those hours, they had no mistress, no master. Tamric loved every moment of it.

Jaydie, on the other hand, hated being without a man to entice, to tease, to tempt. In fact, the moment she granted his wish, she often used her Magic to find her next master and took herself there, before the old master realized she was gone.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, one brow winging up as he sidestepped somebody trying to sell him a Rolex rip-off.

Oh, nothing. Just in the city, sensed you were near. I’ve been looking for you for a few days,” she told him, her ink black hair floating around her shoulders as she spun around and started to walk backward in front of him, so that he could actually look at her when he talked. “I saw your mirror.”

He arched a brow. “And?”

She shrugged. “Pretty lady, that one. Quiet. Different.”

“None of them are different,” Tam said flatly.

“Really? Then why didn’t I feel a wish?” she asked, her dark green eyes wide and innocent.

Tam slowed to a stop, moving out of the middle of the crowded sidewalk, dragging Jaydie away from the flow of traffic. “She doesn’t seem to realize what she did,” he said, with a shrug. “I stood there, waiting, wanting to get back to my life, but she never even looked at me. So I left.”

You left? You can’t leave when you’ve been summoned,” Jaydie said, her jaw dropping, shock in her eyes.

“Well, I did,” he said levelly, shrugging. “I went to her. As required. If she chose not to try to claim her wish, that’s her choice.”

He moved back to the sidewalk, walking on, intent on reaching his destination. Jaydie trailed along behind him, silent, thoughtful.

Heaven help me, he thought, sending a glance skyward. Jay is trying to think.

The steps of the museum loomed in front of him and he jogged up them, sliding inside the door and then leaning back against it for one brief moment, smiling in pleasure. He could feel the age around him, in the masterpieces of the past, and the energy from some of the more modern pieces, their power all but crying out to him.

“You didn’t go home this last time. Not for even a moment,” Jaydie whispered. “Don’t you miss it?”

He slid her a narrow glance. “No. I didn’t go home. I have no desire to go there.” Jinari hadn’t been home to him in ages. Realistically, he knew that. Even though he was forced to remain in the mortal world for long stretches of time, he didn’t hate it. He wanted to be here.

The only thing he hated was not being completely free to roam this wondrous world with no one to answer to. No master but himself.

Staring at the brush strokes of the masterpieces he knew as well as he knew his own hand, Tam let the silence and peace soak into his soul, quieting his rioting mind.

“You have an obsession with this place,” Jay said quietly.

He shrugged. “We all have them.” He pushed away from the door and paid for himself and Jay, narrowing his eyes at her when she made a move to just go through without paying. Of course, since Djinn were only seen when they wanted to be, nobody would have raised an alarm. The pretty lady with green eyes would have just faded out of sight, and Djinn Magic kept people from thinking about it, wondering what they’d seen.

As they moved inside, he said quietly, “They have cameras here, pet. Your Magic works well on humans but do we want to test it against electronic security equipment?”

She wrinkled her nose at him, sighing. “Modern civilization can take all the fun out of being Djinn,” she said melodramatically as she slowed to a stop in front of a canvas that was almost as tall she. Cocking her head, she studied it, and then shrugged. “I don’t understand what you see in this place.”

Glancing up at her, he smiled a little. “I see everything,” he murmured.

* * * * *

Nothing. Katlin could have screamed as she repeated to the doctor, “I see nothing.”

Literally. For the past three years of her life, everything had been darkness. The wreck that had killed her husband and her best friend had taken her vision as well.

The last thing she could remember seeing was the spinning landscape as Brian’s car went flying off the road. Now she saw nothing but darkness.

“Ms. Dixon,” Dr. Merkin said softly from just in front of her. “There is simply no anatomical reason I can find for your blindness.” He sat too close. She could smell the garlic on his breath, feel the hot wash of it on her face.

“I’ve heard that line before,” she said tiredly. Her guide dog, Zeb, whined in his throat, laying his head on her leg. She smiled down at him and said, “It’s okay, boy.”

It wasn’t, though. Not really.

Damn it. She had hoped— Merkin was the best in the state, one of the best in the country. She had hoped… Shaking her head, she stood, cane in one hand, holding the other out for him to shake. “Thank you.”

She ignored his comment about a possible hospital in Sweden as she slowly and steadily walked out of the room, tapping her cane back and forth in front of her. No more hospitals. She wasn’t going to endure another CT scan, another MRI. No more. Especially when the doctors couldn’t even tell her a reason for her lost eyesight.

Mara met her at the door—Katlin smelled the soft vanilla of her body lotion and the faint scent of Vanilla Musk even before Mara said, “Hey. Anything?”

Before the doctor could try to interrupt, Katlin shrugged. “Same old, same old.” She reached out, and Mara was there, her arm out for guidance, as it had been nearly every day since the accident. “You know, you didn’t have to bring me here. You do have a life,” she said as they started out of the office.

“Yes, and you are a very important part of it. Besides, I wasn’t going to subject some stranger from the taxi company to your tongue,” she said teasingly. “Want to go get a bite to eat?”

“No,” Kat said softly. “I want to go home, just home.”

A soft sigh drifted from Mara and Kat fought the urge to hunch her shoulders in defense. “Baby, when are you going to start living again?”

A bitter smile curved Kat’s mouth. “Why bother? There’s little left to live for—except you.”

 

Late that night, Kat stood in front of the unfinished canvas. With gentle, searching fingers, she ran her hand over its surface, feeling the familiar ridges where she had made her brushstrokes, years earlier.

“Why can’t I throw this away?” she whispered to herself, her throat tight, her sightless eyes burning with tears. From his spot under the window, Zeb woofed softly. She ran a hand through her hair, muttering to herself. She had to stop this. Seriously had to stop this.

She was blind—face the facts, girl. She would be blind for the rest of her life and the colors and textures that had filled her world for years were now nothing more than memory.

She had been trying to finish the painting the day of the wreck. The day she’d discovered the truth…

Her husband and her best friend were lovers. Mara had called, tears in her voice, as she’d told Kat that she had seen them together at the Regents Hotel. They had been kissing—not a friendly little peck on the cheek but a torrid clinch. Mara had been there to pick up a business colleague and she had seen them.

They hadn’t realized they had an audience as they’d broken apart to step inside the elevator.

Now Kat wished she hadn’t answered Mara’s phone call, hadn’t listened to her, hadn’t even gotten out of bed.

“Why was I so blind?” she murmured, closing her eyes as a tear rolled down her cheek.

Brian had said that he had to work for a while that day. “Pick me up on the way to the airport,” she’d whispered, thinking back. He’d said he could pick up Jenise since her condo was on the way, and then they’d come get Katlin. She hadn’t thought anything of it.

Tears poured down her cheeks. Not a thing.

The silence in the car had wrapped around her like a fist. Though Brian hadn’t realized anything was wrong, Jenise had. Kat had seen the tension in her eyes. Maybe it was the other woman’s guilty conscience, but there had been a look there. Fear. As Kat had studied her from the car’s vanity mirror, she’d tried to figure out what to say. Whether to say anything at all.

Of course she said something. The pain was burning a hole in her stomach. There was no way she could say nothing. That incapacity to remain quiet had destroyed her life.

Blinded her. Cost her everything. For one tiny moment, Brian had focused on her, taking his eyes off the road. And when he hit the ice, he’d lost control.

Her words had killed them.

Kat’s mind rebelled at the thought. Logically, she knew the wreck had been an accident. But the guilt was eating her alive. Guilt, hurt, dismay… She still didn’t understand how they could have done that to her.

Turning away from the canvas, she walked out of the studio, walking the fifteen steps from the studio’s doorway to the front door, checking to make sure it was locked. Tired, exhausted, she wanted to go to bed, but something besides her painting and her wrecked life, was calling her.

The mirror. Ever since she had first touched it, she had been drawn to it. It seemed to whisper to her, summoning her near, asking that she touch it, speak to it.

The mirror was old. Mara had described it to her in vivid detail and Katlin had run her questing hands over it, searching it. There had been no return address.


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