Chapter Five

"No, I like it." He wrapped a curl around his finger and brushed it with his thumb. "Think of it as an unexpected appointment at the salon. Look, we'll get into the finer points of personal grooming later. I need to find out more about what's going on up there."

"With the sparklies. Yeah, they looked real dangerous."

He frowned at me. "They shouldn't even exist. That's dangerous enough for me."

"So? What's the plan, Sherlock? We stick them in a test tube and start experimenting?"

He stepped away from me and turned to pace the room restlessly. He was no longer entirely comfortable, I could see that; in addition to the change in body language, he'd put on a pair of blue jeans and a loose, worn gray T-shirt with the logo of some university faded almost to invisibility. As I watched, he formed a blue-and-white checked shirt, buttoned halfway.

No shoes, yet. He wasn't quite ready to go. "I have to talk to someone," he said. "Can I trust you to stay here for a while?"

"Can't I go with you?"

He focused on me for a second, then moved his gaze away. "No. That wouldn't be-a good idea."

"Who are you going to see?"

"You don't need to know."

Okay, this was starting to piss me off. "Sorry, is my new Djinn name Mushroom? Because I don't like being kept in the dark and fed bullshit, David. Just so you know."

I expected him to snap a comeback, but instead he smiled and paused in his pacing. "Are we having our first quarrel?"

"No, I recall a hotel room back in Oklahoma where you tried to make me claim you as a Djinn slave. That was our first quarrel." It had been a doozy. The apology sex had been even better.

"Right." He locked his hands behind his back and wandered to the windows to look out. "Something's wrong up there. I don't know what it is, or what caused it. I don't even know if it's dangerous, but. . . it doesn't feel right. And that's as much as I know, Jo. I need to ask around, see if anybody else has noticed anything. This could be very important."

"Or it could be leftovers from the big New Year's Eve party up on the aetheric."

He shrugged and folded his arms across his chest as he stared out. "As party favors go, those are pretty persistent."

He really was worried. I sat down on the bed and pulled a sheet over myself, kind of a wrinkled toga, nothing elegant but at least a covering. "So go, then," I said. "If it's that important."

He turned to look at me, and I read a flash of gratitude, just before the phone rang.

We froze. His copper eyes swirled darker.

"Wrong number?" I asked.

"Let's find out." He crossed to it, picked up the elegant little handset, and angled to watch me. "Hello?"

Not a wrong number. His expression went blank and stiff.

"Not over the phone," he said. "We need to do this in person. Where do you want to meet?" Another pause. "Yes," he said. Pause. "I know where it is. Yes."

He hung up. In the same motion, his favorite olive drab wool coat formed around him, long and deceptively elegant. When he turned to look down at me, he'd also added the round disguising glasses that I remembered so well from the first time we'd met. They made his angular face look gentle, and behind them his eyes had gone a warm brown instead of Djinn copper.

"We've got to go."

I didn't like the way he said it. I didn't like the sudden tension in his shoulders, either. "Trouble?" I asked.

He smiled slightly. "It's still your middle name, isn't it?"

"Who was on the phone?"

"Later."

"Come on, remember the whole mushroom thing? Who called?"

He gave me a long, unhappy look, but he must have known he couldn't just drag me around like a suitcase. "Lewis."

"Lewis?"

"He wants to meet you."

"Oh. Right. He . . . mentioned that, back there-you know, at the funeral." I gestured vaguely over my shoulder in a direction that probably didn't indicate the Drake Hotel. "Something on his mind."

He didn't look any happier at that revelation. "Joanne, you have to-"

"-leave my mortal life behind, yeah, I know, but it's Lewis. You know?"

He did. And once again, no spikes on the happiness meter. I let the sheet fall away, looked down at myself, and frowned. Oh, the skin looked okay; evidently, I had the knack, just not the expertise yet to do it fast. No, I was thinking about clothes. As in the lack thereof.

"Um ..." I pointed at my breasts. "Don't think they let me go out in public like this."

David crossed his arms across his chest and looked, well, obstinate. Cute, but obstinate. "You expect me to do everything for you?"

"No. Just dress me. Please."

"And what if I don't?"

Ah, he'd figured out a way to keep me out of trouble. Or so he thought. I gave him a warm, evil smile. "Then you'd better hope I can master that not-being-noticed thing really quickly, because otherwise me and the NYPD are going to have a beautiful friendship." I swung my legs out and stood up, and started walking for the door. He stepped back, looked down at his crossed arms, then up and over the top of his glasses. Effective. He must have known how gorgeous he looked doing that.

"Seriously," I said, and clicked back the privacy lock. The hotel air-conditioning whispered cold over my skin in places that didn't normally get to experience a breeze; I shivered and felt goosebumps texturing me all over. "Going outside now. Clothes would be a plus, but whatever . . ."

Okay, I was bluffing, but it was a really, really good bluff. I swung the door open, hoping there wouldn't be some society matron with her poodle-dog in the hall, and stepped out with my naked feet on the plush carpet. Expecting clothes to materialize around me.

They didn't.

It wasn't that good a bluff, apparently. David raised the stakes.

The door slammed shut behind me, slapping me like a barely friendly smack on my bare butt. I yelped, crossed my arms over my breasts, then dropped one hand down to make a totally inadequate privacy panel. Shifted from one foot to another and pressed my back against the wood and said, "Funny, David! Come on, help me out here."

He didn't sound amused. "You need to learn how to dress yourself."

"I will. I swear. Just-not right now, okay?"

"Not okay. Either you admit you're not ready and come back inside, or put your own clothes on. Out there." Not a drop of sympathy in David's disembodied voice. I pulled in a breath, leaned against the door, and struggled to concentrate. Clothes are tricky, when you have to create them out of air and energy and make them look, well, good. Although frankly at the moment, I figured I'd better settle for fast and ugly. Wal-Mart was okay by me.

I squeezed my eyes shut and focused. Seconds ticked away. I started to feel the burn of panic because my mind was completely, utterly-

"Any time," David advised. His voice didn't come from behind the door, it was in front of me. I peeked and saw him leaning against the opposite hall wall. No way to classify that particular smile except as sadistic-cute, but sadistic. He checked his watch. "It's a high-traffic area. I give you . . . two, maybe three minutes, if you're lucky, before someone comes along."

"Bastard," I muttered, and went back to concentrating. When I had the image in my head, I opened my eyes wide and stared at him as I started building my new wardrobe. And yeah, okay, I was trying to get back at him.

But still, it was so cool.

I added pieces the same way I'd constructed my body, from the inside out: boy-cut panties first (lacy), bra (sheer), stockings (thigh high), knee-length leather skirt (black), lime green midriff-baring shirt (polyester). David leaned against the wall and watched this striptease-in-reverse with fabulously expressive eyebrows slowly climbing toward heaven. I finished it off with a pair of strappy lime green three-inch heels, something from the Manolo Blahnik spring collection that I'd seen two months ago in Vogue.

He looked me over, blinked behind the glasses, and asked, "You're done?"

I took offense. "Yeah. You with the fashion police?"

"I don't think I'd pass the entrance exam." The eyebrows didn't come down. "I never knew you were so . . ."

"Fashionable?"

"Not really the word I was thinking."

I struck a pose and looked at him from under my supernaturally lustrous eyelashes. "Come on, you know it's sexy."

"And that's sort of my point."

Oh yeah. We were going to see Lewis. I chose not to think too much on what that revealed about my motives. Too late now. I walked past him, head high, heading for the elevators.

"Coming?" I asked. He fell in step with me.

"Considering I'm the only one of us who knows where he said to meet him, you'd better hope."

"I'm surprised you're so eager." Not that he and Lewis didn't get along, or hadn't, anyway . . . "Oh. You're hoping he's got some idea about your little sparkly things."

I got another frown for that one. "I hope that's what they are."

"Instead of ... ?"

"Something else. I just get nervous when the universe doesn't obey its own laws."

"Welcome to my world," I said. "Having kind of a weird life experience these days."

I hadn't been out of the room except to travel the aetheric-and that somewhat queasy trip to the Drake Hotel-since we'd checked in; the elegance came as a shock. First, the carpet-a blue-and-gold riot of French Provincialism. Next, the genuine Louis-the-whatever gilt tables with chunky glass vases of silk flowers.

No, I definitely hadn't dressed to fit the room.

I stopped in the full force of a patch of sunlight in the lobby window and let my skin soak up the energy. I hadn't realized I needed it until it reached inside and stilled me in a way that only David's touch had been able to achieve.

David didn't speak for a moment, just stood with me in that hot golden patch of warmth. When I looked over at him, his eyes were closed, his face rapt in a kind of worship. I took his hand. He looked over at me, smiled, and pushed the down button on the panel for the elevator.

"Why does that feel so good?" I asked. "And don't tell me it's because we've been shut in a room for days."

"Like calls to like," he said. "You're made of fire now."

"So I'm going to feel like this every time I pass an open flame? Great. Firegasm."

"Remember that focus thing we were talking about? Learn to practice it."

The elevator dinged and yawned open. Nobody inside. We entered and David touched the button for l.

"You haven't told me where we're heading."

"No," he agreed.

"And you're not going to?"

"Right."

"So much for the partnership."

He was still facing the control panel, deliberating not looking at me. "I'm responsible for your safety, Jo. You have to let me make the decisions about what's too dangerous."

"What's dangerous about letting me know where we're going?"

"Nothing. But you need to keep in mind that whatever Lewis is going to talk about, it's to do with the mortal world. You need to be very, very careful right now about keeping separate from it."

"So whatever Lewis wants, we're going to say no, unless it has to do with the Djinn."

"Yes."

"Does he know about that? Because if he does, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't bother wasting the-"

The elevator hadn't stopped, and I was sure it had been empty when we'd gotten inside, but all of a sudden a third voice behind me said, "Ah, there you are."

I yelped and went south until I collided with an elevator wall; my body threatened to break up into mist, but I held it together. There was another Djinn in the elevator with us, leaning casually against the back wall. I knew her instantly, if nothing else for her neon-bright wardrobe. Today's was a kind of electric eye-popping blue: flared pants, low-cut vest with no shirt beneath, beautifully tailored jacket. Blue was a good color on her. It accented the rich dark-chocolate shade of her skin. Her elegantly tiny shoulder-length braids were plaited with matching neon blue beads, which clicked like dry bones when she tilted her head.

Rahel had always known how to accessorize.

Djinn, I was coming to understand, had a flare for the dramatic, so popping in unannounced wasn't necessarily threatening. Rahel had done this to me before, in the days when I still had a pulse and a human lifespan. The first time I'd met her, she'd blipped into existence in the passenger seat of my car, which had been doing seventy at the time. I'd barely kept it on the road.

She'd enjoyed the joke then, and she was clearly enjoying it now. She crossed her arms, leaned back against the elevator wall, and took in the reaction with a smile.

Unlike me, David didn't seem surprised at her sudden appearance. He slowly turned to face her, and his expression was a closed book. "Rahel."

"David."

"Not that I'm not happy to see you, but . . ."

"Business," she said crisply.

"Yours or mine?"

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