David started me out with that night of incredible, unbelievable sex, and the next morning when I woke up it felt like it was still going on. I mean, senses locked wide open. Chakras at full power. Every touch, every taste, every random sensation echoed through me like a struck bell. It was fun at first.
Then it got to be painful.
"Turn it off," I groaned, and hid my head under a down pillow. David's fingers traced the bumps of my spine, dragging down the sheet in slow, cool increments. "Oh, God, please, I can't stand it!"
He made a sound, low in his throat, and let his touch glide down over my buttocks, down the backs of my thighs. "You'll need to learn how to shut off your senses," he said. "Can't walk around like this all the time, can you?"
I knotted my fists in the pillow and screamed into the mattress. Not that he was particularly trying to drive me nuts, it was just part of the overload. Everything was sexual. The sheet, sliding over the backs of my legs. His fingertips firing nerves. The smell of him, the taste of him still tingling on my lips, the sound of his breath in my ear.
"I don't know how," I whispered, when I'd stopped shaking. "Tell me how."
"You have to learn how to choose what level of sensation and perception to use," he said. "To start with, I want you to meditate and block out what's around you."
"Meditate?" I took my head out from under the pillow, shook dark hair back from my face, and rolled over on my side to look at him. "Excuse me, but the closest I ever got to having a spiritual awakening was dating a yoga instructor. Once."
David propped himself up on one elbow, looking down at me. No mistaking it; he was enjoying this a little too much. And I was enjoying the bird's-wing graceful sweep of his pecs. "You're underestimating yourself. You're highly spiritual, Joanne. You just don't know it. Just clear your mind and meditate."
Meditate. Right. I took a deep breath and tried to relax muscles I no longer actually had. Which was more than a little confusing, even in the abstract.
"Focus," David's voice said next to my ear, and of course, it was instantly impossible to stay anything like on track. His voice got inside me in places that nice girls don't mention. His breath stirred warm on my skin, and there went that potential orgasm thing again, a little earthquake of sheer pleasure that completely sabotaged any chance of achieving my center.
I didn't open my eyes, but I said, "I could focus a lot better if you were somewhere else."
"Sorry." He didn't sound sorry. That velvet-smooth tenor sounded smug. "I'll be quiet."
He was. I concentrated on visualizing something calming-in my case, it was the ocean-but the whole wave-and-surf vibe fell apart when I heard him rustling pages. I sighed and opened my eyes, propped myself up on my elbows, and looked over at him.
He was lying next to me in bed, propped up, reading the newspaper.
"You're kidding," I said. He gave me one of those What? looks and went back to the Metro section. "I'm trying to meditate, here! Give me a break. At least help."
"I am helping," he said. "I'm distracting myself so I don't distract you."
I glared. It had absolutely no effect. He sighed, put the paper at half-staff, and looked at me gravely over newsprint. "Fine. What would you like me to do?"
"I don't know! Something!"
"I can't meditate for you, Joanne."
"Well, you can . . . encourage me!"
He folded the New York Times and put it down on the side table. "Oh, I'd like to encourage you. I just don't think it would help you focus. Unless . . ."
"What?" I asked. He turned on his side and reached out, trailed a single fingertip over the curve of my shoulder and down my arm. Little earthquakes, building to a major seismic event inside . . .
"Never mind." It wasn't nothing, I could tell. He wasn't trying to distract me, he really was trying to distract himself. From me. "Meditate for another half hour, and I'll tell you."
My entire attention fixed on the square half-inch of skin his finger was touching. "Half an hour?"
"Half an hour."
"I can do that."
Sheer bravado, but now I was motivated. I flopped back flat on the pillow, closed my eyes, and concentrated hard on that ocean . . . blue-green waves rolling in from a misty horizon . . . churning to pale lace as they crashed on the shore . . . whispers of mist cool on my skin ... a fine, endless white sand beach that glittered in sunlight . . .
I felt like I was actually achieving something- clearing my mind of the idea of him lying beside me, anyway-when he blew it for me by talking again.
"Joanne," he said. "Quit hovering."
I opened my eyes and realized I was looking at the motel room ceiling. White spackled moonscape broken up by a dusty ice sculpture of a light fixture two inches from my nose.
Oh. When he said hovering, he meant hovering. As in seven feet above the bed.
"Crap," I said, and looked over my shoulder. "I went all Exorcist."
"Actually, it wasn't a bad try. I felt you go quiet for a few minutes."
"How many minutes?" I rotated myself in midair to face him. Ha! Managed it gracefully, in a controlled weightless spin, which was nice; control had been kind of a problem. Obviously. My hair spoiled the effect by flopping forward, and I tried shoving it back over my shoulders. It repeated the flopping thing.
"Let's call it... thirty." David's smile turned dangerously amused, and he reached down and pulled the sheet away from the rest of him. I stopped messing with my hair and lived for the moment, because like me, David hadn't bothered with pajamas. He patted the Joanne-shaped hollow in the bed next to him.
I tried to get down. Really. But whatever switch I'd thrown to get up here, I couldn't seem to find it again. I kept hovering. "Um, not that I'm not motivated, but . . ."
"Kind of a yes, bordering on an oh, crap." I tried to make it funny, but truth was, it scared me. All this power, none of the control I so obviously needed just to get through what was for David nothing but an autonomic function. "You forgot to tell me about the gravity-being-optional part of this exercise."
He levitated up, an inch at a time, and when he was still a foot away I felt the summer heat of his skin. He smelled like warm cinnamon and peaches, and it made my mouth water and my body go golden.
He stopped with a cool two-inch cushion of air between us.
"I didn't forget," he said. "I just didn't think you'd be able to do this for a while. Don't worry, it's normal."
"Normal? I'm halfway into the bed of the guy upstairs!"
"I'd rather you were more than halfway into the bed down here." That look on his face-naked, powerful, proprietary-sent a pulse of sheer need through me.
"Tease," I said. He made a sound in his throat that wasn't quite a laugh.
"Come back to bed and we'll see." He lowered himself by a couple of inches. I tried to follow. Failed. He drifted back up. "Want me to help you?"
"No. Yes. Hell. I don't know, what's the right answer?"
His hand touched my face and drew a slow line of fire down my neck to my collarbone. "You have to learn to stay in the body, Jo. We can't exactly do this out in public."
"News flash. You do this out in public and you draw attention for more than defying gravity." I tried to sound nonchalant, but it was tough with all the combustion inside me. God. I couldn't seem to get used to the hypersensitive nature of being a Djinn. It was the little things that got me-the sharp-edged beauty of how things looked, the intensity of how they felt, tasted, smelled, sounded. The human world was so real. Sometimes it was so real it made me weep. I couldn't decide if it was like living in a perpetual state of orgasm, or being perpetually stoned; maybe both.
The casual touch of David's fingers on my skin was enough to start chain reactions of pleasure deep inside, and I caught my breath and closed my eyes as his touch moved down, glided over the curve of my breast.
"Come back to bed," he murmured, and his lips brushed mine when he spoke.
"I can't." Literally.
"Maybe it's that you don't want to."
"Oh believe me, that's so very not the problem."
His warm lips melted against mine like silk in the sun, and his hands did things that ought to be illegal, and mandatory for every woman in the world to experience daily. Suddenly we were skin to skin, and my mind whited out.
He slowly rotated us until gravity was cradling my back. "You need to learn to stay in the body, no matter what happens. Think you can do that?"
Oh, that smile. It could melt titanium. "I intend to."
He kissed me again, and this time there was nothing sweet and nice about it; this was dark and serious and intense, full of hunger and need. Oh, yeah, this was the difference between human and Djinn.
I felt my whole body catch fire, responding, and arched against him. It felt so right, so perfect, and he held me to him with one hand on the back of my head, one in the small of my back as he dropped burning kisses on my neck, my breasts, the aching points of my nipples.
He whispered something to me in a language I didn't know, but it didn't matter; some languages are translated in the skin, not the mind. If living as a Djinn is like being in a perpetual state of orgasm, you can imagine how much better it gets when you approach the real thing.
I found the switch, and we fell back to the bed with a solid, vibrating thump that rattled the headboard.
It was a good start.
* * *
And on the fifth day of my new life, I had a lovely funeral.
Well, it wasn't really a funeral-you need a body for a funeral, preferably an open casket, and the fire hadn't left a whole lot for reconstructive purposes. The Wardens Association was too discreet to hold the service in the UN Building-the corporate offices-so they rented a nice big ballroom over at the Drake Hotel and sent out invitations to three or four hundred Wardens. I heard about it because David heard about it, through whatever arcane grapevine the Djinn had in place.
"-but you're not going," he finished, as we split a small pot of room service coffee. Some vices never go away, even after death. Coffee. Sex. Alcohol. Hell, if I was a smoker, I figure I would've still been lighting up and griping about the price of a carton.
I stirred cream into my coffee. David disapproved of cream; it was obvious from the concerned frown that formed between his eyebrows. "I'm not going?" I echoed it mildly, but his attention immediately shifted from my poor coffee etiquette to what I was saying.
"No," he said. "And we're not going to fight about that, right?" His eyebrows went up, then down.
"Of course not," I said, and smiled as I blew gentle ripples on the au lait surface. We were sitting cross-legged on the bed, sheets draped over sensitive bits more because of hot coffee prudence than modesty. "That's a classic guy mistake, by the way."
"Sleeping with me, then thinking you can tell me what to do."
Those eyebrows, so expressive. They pulled together again, threatened to close ranks across his forehead. "I didn't-"
"-sleep with you. In fact."
"Common usage. Did too."
He held up one hand, palm out. "Okay, I didn't mean it that way. I just meant that it's too dangerous for you to go out among humans right now. Especially Wardens."
"And therefore, according to you, I'm not going. Because it's too dangerous."
"Therefore," he agreed. We sipped coffee. There's something oddly relaxing about the smell-rich, nutty, the very essence of the earth-and I breathed it in and just savored the moment. Another great advantage of being Djinn-I didn't need a shower. No dead skin cells needing to be sloughed, no bacterial processes breaking them down and creating stink. Djinn are clean and whatever smells we have are something we choose, on some subconscious level. Mine, I figured, was a kind of jasmine. Something pale and fragrant, with an undertone of obsession.
David finally sighed and set down his cup with a well-bred tinkle of china. "So therefore you're going to completely blow off the warning and go anyway, no matter what I say, right?"
I tried to be sober, but my mouth wouldn't obey me; it curved into a provocative smile. "Figured that out all by yourself?"
He was frowning again. God, he was cute when he frowned. I wanted to lean over and kiss away that crease between his eyebrows. "Please listen to me. I'm serious. It's too dangerous."
"Yeah, I got that from the part where you said it was too dangerous."
"And . . . it's still my choice, unless you're planning on attempting to run my life for the rest of eternity, which I don't think either of us would like. If you don't want me to go, you'll have to be a lot more specific than 'It's too dangerous.' Everything I've done since I was born has been dangerous."
He had saved my life, and there was this very definite relationship forming between us, but I felt it was important to get the ground rules straight. I took a mouthful of rich hazelnut-flavored brew, softened with that creamy edge, and swished it around my tongue. Intense. I felt like if I concentrated, I could follow the beans all the way back to the rich Colombian ground that nurtured them-back to the plant that bore them-back through time, all the generations. Same with the hazelnuts, the water . . . Even the china cup had memories attached. Good, bad, happy, frightening. I didn't have to concentrate to sense them swirling like the cream in the coffee.
So much history in the world. So many possibilities for the future. Why was it that as a human I'd never understood any of it?
"Jo?" David. He was staring at me with those rich orange-flecked brown eyes. Had he been talking?
Yeah, probably. I'd spaced. "I'm not talking about physical danger. There's little that can hurt you now, but just being strong isn't everything. You have to learn how to use that strength. And until you do, it's not a good idea for you to put yourself in situations where you might have to . . ."
"Act like a Djinn?"
He looked relieved. "Exactly."
"What if I just act like a normal person?"
"Not a good idea."
He got up and walked over to the windows. As he eased aside the curtain, a shaft of sunlight speared in and glittered on his skin; he pulled in a deep breath that I heard all the way from the bed and stood there, staring out, for a long time.
My turn to give him a worried prompt. "David?"
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