Chapter Nineteen

"Something about it being important to him. You know. Dauid." He gave the name a contemptuous twist of his lips. "She's had a hard-on for him for years. Tried to get him before, but Bad Bob wouldn't let her have him for more than a couple of hours. Said she might break him."

Too much information ... I tried not to think about what it meant. "What now?" I asked.

Another horizontally muted shrug. "Don't know. Not like she tells me shit." Definitely more than a little resentment there. This kid was turning out to be interesting. Maybe there was a way to use him . . .

I stopped the thought train with a squeal of brakes when he suddenly shifted his gaze to stare directly at me. "I like the other outfit better."

Crap. I tried not to let him see how much that alarmed me. "Which one?"

"The one you had on before. With the, you know-" He mimed breasts. "And the stockings. The one with the apron."

He still hadn't told me to put it on. "Wouldn't you like something a little classier?" Dumb question. I was surrounded by glossy photos of women wearing stupid smiles and strips of cloth no bigger than Band-Aids. Classy didn't enter into it.

His dark eyes went hard. "I don't give a shit if you like it or not. Just put it on."

Well, that was direct. I had no room to maneuver. The peachskin pantsuit vanished, replaced with the Frederick's of Hollywood French Maid Nightmare. Truthfully, I kind of liked the shoes, in a trashy, over-the-top kind of way, and I might not have minded putting the thing on to see the look in David's eyes, but to see it in this kid's . . . worthy of a shudder. Or two.

The corset top definitely lifted and didn't separate.

I looked down at my bulging d�colletage and saw I'd been given something new. A classy-looking upside-down pentagram tattoo, just over my left breast Unsettlingly close to where there'd once been the black stain of a Demon Mark.

I looked up. Kevin was sitting up in bed, watching me. He licked his lips and said, "Turn around."

I did. All the way, back to face him.

"I thought you said I only had three wishes?"

I kept quiet. He wasn't stupid. He knew I'd lied.

"You got any idea what my mom's doing out there to your friend? He is your friend, right?" Kevin studied me with too-intelligent eyes, looking for sore spots. "More than a friend? You fucking him?"

"You're way too young to ask that question," I said primly. The Julie Andrews tone didn't go with the blow-up doll outfit.

"You'll tell me. You have to."

"Why do you want to know?" I asked. Which threw him, a bit. "And anyway, how do you know how many wishes you get? Maybe it's ten. Maybe it's twenty. Maybe the next one is your last, and then I get to rip you into little screaming shreds. Care to try your luck?"

I smiled when I said it. Friendly. Warm. Inviting.

He pressed himself back against the headboard, where Miss July of 2003 was squashing her bare breasts together for his inspection.

"What's the use of having you if I can't do anything with you?" he asked. Petulant little jerk. "I mean, maybe I'll just do it anyway. Wish for what I want most."

"And what's that?"

He hadn't really thought about it. I hoped he wasn't going to pop off with something stupid, like world peace, but I needn't have worried; Kevin would never think about anyone or anything larger than the confines of his little self-centered universe. He finally came out with, "I want never to have to work for a living."

I blinked slowly, thinking that over. Teenage thought processes were so different from adults . . . An adult would have asked for truckloads of cash, under the assumption that truckloads of money meant no more work. Which wasn't unreasonable, as assumptions go. But Kevin had asked for something completely different.

"So, hypothetically, if you asked for that, you wouldn't be disappointed if I made you a quadriplegic breathing through a tube?" His turn to blink. His mouth opened, produced silence, and closed again. "I mean, you wouldn't ever have to work for a living, would you? Or I could just kill you. You'd never have to work for a living that way, either. Or, let's see, I could kill everyone else in the world. Never have to work for a living that way, either. Or I could turn you into a big slobbering dog that your mom can feed every day-"

"Stop it!" He looked appalled. "You're making it all-"

"-complicated?" I finished. "It is. You want a Djinn, you got one. But we're not fuck-toys, Kevin. We're older than you-" Even me. "-we're smarter than you, and we have absolutely no problem in finding the wrong interpretations of every single wish you are stupid enough to utter in our presence. We're dangerous. Get that through your head. You can dress me up like a doll if you want to, but you'll never control me. I'm going to control you. So the best thing you can do is take that bottle and smash it, right now, before I get the opportunity to really hurt you. Because I will, Kevin. I'll hurt you so bad it'll make your mom at her worst look like Mary Poppins."

I had him. I so had him. It was all I could do not to gloat. He looked about to vomit with fright.

And then he calmed down, swallowed, and said, "I know what I want. It's what you want, too. I want you to kill my mother."

Not that I couldn't understand it, but I felt like it was one of those cartoon moments, the one where you have to smack the side of your head to make sure there's nothing stuck in your ear. I stood there in my ridiculously sexy French Maid outfit and said, "Excuse me?"

"Yvette," he clarified hastily. "My real mom's already dead. My dad, too. I guess what I mean is that I want you to kill my stepmom. Yvette Prentiss."

I wanted to grin and say, "Done!" and rush out there and put the big Djinn smackdown on her, but truth is I wasn't all that eager to be killing anybody. Not even a top-rated bitch like Yvette. I was all too aware of how much power there was, flowing from Kevin to me, and how awesomely easy it was to use it. The compulsion was clicking in, but not strongly; there were, I sensed, still gray areas to exploit. I went for them. "There are all kinds of meanings to kill, you know . . ."

"Dead," he said. "Kill her dead. Slowly. Make her suffer."

He was getting into it now. Which was not my intention. "Okay, let's just-calm down." Because the compulsion was getting stronger, the power flow cresting like the tide. "I will. I swear. But let's talk about it first." Because, luckily, he hadn't specified now, the way he had when he'd sent me to Seacasket to commit arson and homicide. "Why?"

He gave me a dark look. "What do you care?"

I didn't, really. I was too busy thinking about Yvette putting her hands all over the bottle that held David trapped, seducing Lewis so that innocent little Kevin could sneak up and hit him from behind. "Yeah, well, what do you care? I'm just curious."

Long silence. He flopped back down on the bed, sounding depressed. "She's a bitch."

"You're going to run into them. Get used to it. In fact, pretty much all of us can be bitchy from time to time. Goes with the double-X chromosomes." Just like Kevin was never going to win any Y-chromosome personality contests, either. "You can't go around having me snuff out every life that annoys you."

"Why not?"

Ah, great, a sociopath in training. Again, not the conversational path I was eager to follow. "What's she done to you, other than be a bitchy stepmom?"

He stared up at the pouting centerfold over his bed, put his hands under his head, and said, "She makes me do things."

I had a bad feeling. "Like?" I was really, really hoping he'd say clean up the room, take out the trash . . .but one look around convinced me that couldn't be true.

He sat up, grabbed the first thing that came to hand-a CD player-and threw it across the room hard enough to smash it to bits against the far wall. "What the fuck do you think I mean, say my prayers? Brush my teeth?" His flare of rage was sudden, violent, and totally untelegraphed. I had no reason to be afraid, but if I'd still been human I'd have felt utterly exposed. "She makes me do things, you stupid bimbo! Bad things!" He was blazing in Oversight, white-hot, as if some door had opened into hell. "I want it to stop!"

Oh, God. Not what I'd expected, not at all. Nor what I was even vaguely equipped to handle. I pitched my voice low. "Kevin, you can make that stop without killing her."

"You don't know shit about it." Tears quivered in his eyes, jeweled his long, lush eyelashes. "God, you don't understand ... I can't even tell you . . ."

"I know this. You have the power to make her stop, Kevin." I edged over slowly, walking around the piles of wrinkled filthy clothes and discarded trash, to perch on the edge of the bed next to him. "You're going to be a Warden. You have the power to control things around you. I don't know if it's weather, or fire, or earth-"

"Fire," he said, and shut his eyes. "It's fire." Which explained the fury of the power that poured into me from him-it had the quality of fire to it. Out of nowhere, I remembered Rahel once telling me, Fire burns the hand it serves. Kevin was unstable, volatile, and he had way too much power at his disposal. I couldn't believe the Wardens hadn't already spotted him and started the process to neutralize or control him. If ever there was a reason for neutering someone, taking away their power ... "I burned the house down. That's how my dad died."

I didn't want to believe it, but I could sense the truth of it in him. God, such a burden for a sixteen-year-old boy. His father's death, the crushing load of a developing talent of this magnitude, and if he was telling me the truth, some kind of sexual abuse . . . no wonder he was screwed up.

I wasn't qualified for this. I wasn't sure anybody was.

Kevin kept talking over my silence. "Bad Bob told me they'd come for me, take me away, but he said he'd protect me." Yet another public service from Bad Bob Biringanine. Probably as a favor to Yvette, which meant he was banging Mrs. Prentiss before the late Mr. Prentiss had gone to smoke inhalation heaven. "Guess he won't protect me now."

Since I killed him. Right. I studied the frilly lace on my tiny, entirely useless apron. Prodded it with a fingernail, which was painted in hooker red. "So now you have me to protect you. Is that the general theory?"

"Sure. Nobody's going to come after me if I have a kick-ass Djinn." He favored me with a look. I didn't have the heart to break it to him that if the Wardens found out some underage, untrained kid with a penchant for firestarting had a Djinn, they'd trash the continent looking for him. "You got me distracted. I said I want you to kill my mother."

"And I think you should think about that a while."

He rolled up on one elbow to stare at me. "Oh, I have. I've thought about it for years. I lay awake at night thinking about it. So you just go-"

"I should find out what she's doing," I blurted out. "You want me to kill her- What makes you think that she's not ordering her new Djinn to do the same thing to you? I mean, that's why she wanted you, right? To get me? And through me, to get him?"

He was listening. Not talking, but I could feel him hanging on every word.

"Wouldn't you like to know what she's doing? I could find out. It wouldn't be that hard. She'd never even know I was looking."

No teenager could resist an opening like that. And a kid who'd been deprived of control his whole life ... I was faintly ashamed of myself for feeding his paranoia, but not enough to stop myself.

Kevin wavered, frowned, and said, "You can do that?"

"If you order me to. I can be invisible. I can go anywhere for you." And do anything, but it was best not to bring that up. I looked at him from under my eyelashes, pitched my voice low, and said, "It would be easier if I didn't look quite so-unique. May I change my clothes?"

He sighed and flopped back in a boneless heap of surrender. "Whatever."

I put the peachskin suit back on again, covered my eyes with sunglasses, and stood up. "So I can go?" I asked.

"Whatever." He sounded hurt, and stubbornly put-upon. "Just come back. Tell me what she's doing." He snorted. "Like I don't already know. She's playing with her new toy."

I paused, stricken, with one hand on the doorknob. I couldn't get the images out of my head. Kevin threw an arm over his eyes. "I'm gonna sleep," he said, grunted, and turned over with his back to me. "I'll call you when I want you."

I escaped out into the hall, found my way back to the living room. Yvette was nowhere in sight. Neither was the blue bottle. Playing with her new toy . . . God, no. I had no idea what he meant, but it definitely didn't sound good.

When I moved, I saw a definite fairy-dust afterglow. The coldlight infestation was growing in the real world, just like the aetheric. Of course, so far it didn't seem to be doing anything inimical to me- just decorative. David didn't seem to be suffering ill effects, either.

But then there was the storm, out in the Atlantic, powering up like some unstoppable juggernaut. It was still there, still growing, and it had to be the coldlight at the heart of it, didn't it? Nothing else made sense.

One problem at a time. This second's had to be Yvette, and getting David out of her well-manicured clutches.

First I had to make sure I couldn't be noticed. I remembered the buzzing sensation that Rahel had used to conceal me at the Empire State Building . . . a certain frequency, a kind of invisible hum . . .

I felt it come into tune. When I opened my eyes again I could see a slight blur around me, like shimmer from hot pavement. Couldn't be sure I had it right, but there was no test like the present.

I checked the kitchen. It was clean, modern, neatly organized. Even the salt and pepper shakers were in their places. I opened the refrigerator, just out of curiosity, and found regimental model-home organization. All the labels were turned outward. Vegetables in the lettuce crisper wouldn't have dared to be less than perky.

Creepy.

The one interesting thing about it was that she had a secret stock of mint chocolate chip ice cream stuffed in the back of the freezer. Premium stuff, not the skim low-fat artificial sweetener crap. I took the carton out and weighed it. Half-empty. It wasn't Kevin's. He wouldn't have cared whether or not anybody saw it, and I suspected the kid had never left an ice cream carton half-empty in his life.

I put everything back and proceeded down the hallway. An extra bedroom turned out to be an office. Everything was in files and folders, neat as an office supply store. No photos. In fact, she had no photos anywhere in the house that I'd seen. The art was all generic, carefully chosen to make absolutely no impression on anybody. I left the office. Three doors left-one was a bathroom, and as much as I'd hated Patrick's trashy Wal-Mart happy faces in his loo, this one was worse. Ducks. Why did it have to be ducks?

The room it opened into was the master bedroom. I admit it, I was scared to go, but I couldn't mist;

Kevin had specifically forbidden me to do it. I eased the door open slowly, one inch at a time, alert for giveaway creaks.

I needn't have bothered. She wasn't in there. The bedroom was clean and soulless as a hotel room. Didn't look like a place to let loose unrestrained passion, or any passion at all, come to think of it.

That left the last room. I took hold of the doorknob and felt something. A kind of vibration, a warning . . .

I eased open the door and stepped inside.

The room had started life as a converted garage, then been gentrified with faux wood paneling and plush carpeting. Nothing much in it, but there was an aura to this place like nothing I'd ever felt before. Inanimate objects soak up energy, and that energy becomes visible in Oversight. The place looked dead normal, down here in the real world, but when I blinked and shifted into Oversight the real story came out. Red, rancid glows from the walls. Rotting greens. Pus-dull yellows. This place had seen suffering, and horror. It reminded me of Luminol, the stuff the police use to bring out old bloodstains . . . the ghost of evil, shining out of the darkness. Pain never dies completely, and this room was suffering.

David stood in the center of it, motionless, blank as a snowfield. He still retained his dark-copper hair, but it was shorter now, revealing the hard lines of his cheekbones, the strength of his face. The round glasses were gone. His eyes had gone dark. Very, very dark.

He was wearing black leather-pants, jacket, all of it looking butter soft and more than a little sexy. More than a little dangerous, too. Frightening. I wondered if she hadn't actually expressed something essentially true about him that I'd never really quite grasped before . . . because David now looked like a predator.

Yvette walked a slow circle around him. There was something feline about the way she moved, both in the graceful sway of it and the predatory fascination.

Over the pulsing, thread-thin silver cord, I whispered his name. The dark eyes shifted and focused on me. I'd moved out of the doorway into a corner, shutting the door behind me; Yvette glanced toward me but saw nothing. David continued to stare.

Get out, he whispered to me over the silvery thread connecting us. I felt the warmth wrapping around me like an embrace. Please. You can't help me.

I'm not going anywhere. An echo of the pledge he'd made to me. I said it even though I was terrified to watch this, terrified that I couldn't do anything to help.

Yvette was holding the bottle in one hand, swinging it carelessly. Taunting him. Even if she dropped it, the carpet would break the fall; she'd have to throw it hard at the wall to even crack it. Still. If I could catch it on the upswing, it was possible I could help that along . . .

She froze in midstep. Her head snapped around, searching corners. She'd sensed something. How? I was sure I'd done it right . . .

"David?" she asked in that sweet, purring voice. "Someone here?" No answer. She understood why, unlike Kevin, and kept going without a pause. "Someone here? Someone here?"

I felt the compulsion click in, even across the room. David said, "Yes."

"Show me where."

He pointed. Right back at her. Yvette smiled. "Clever boy. Are we going to play these same tired games again? I thought you knew by now that I don't tolerate that kind of thing."

He lowered his hand to his side. She leaned forward and kissed him. Long, hard, hot. The same sultry, meaningless dance she'd done at Patrick's apartment, with Lewis. She was professional at it, I had to give her that much. "I still think there's somebody here," she said when she pulled back for air. David remained still, blank-faced, unresponsive as a store mannequin. "Maybe that little silver-eyed friend of yours? Well. I've never minded an audience, I have to say, and you always seemed to perform better in front of one."

Bitch.

There had to be something I could do.

She unzipped the black leather jacket, slowly, sliding her hands inside on the warm gold skin. I gritted my teeth. You can't hurt my mother. Kevin had given me that command. Since he hadn't been specific enough about his command to kill her, the two orders were floating around in limbo, the first one still applying. I wanted to wrap my hand around her throat and squeeze until she came apart, but I wasn't sure I should even try it. And trying and failing would be far worse, just now.

"Take that off," she told him. He stripped off the jacket and let it fall in a glistening heap to the floor. "You know what I want, David. What I always want."

Oh, I had a pretty good idea, too. Or thought I did.

He proved me wrong.

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