It was like he had slapped her. One hard crack across her face. Heat bit into her cheeks and shock slammed through her body. Painful shock. Sickening shock. In all of her confusion over Charlie and Jai, not once had she considered that Jai might be in love with someone else.
How stupid did that make her?
She made a sort of disbelieving, huffing sound, wrapping her arms around herself protectively. Taking a moment, she nodded, trying to find the right words. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable… I—”
“Ari, it’s fine,” he interrupted all business-like again. She wanted to punch him.
“Yeah,” she laughed humorlessly, staring somewhere over his shoulder. “Should I ask my uncle for a replacement or something?”
“What? No.” He seemed shocked by the suggestion and Ari finally found the courage to meet his gaze. There was slight hint of anger in the flex of his jaw that made Ari almost smile. Jai was nothing if not professional. He wouldn’t want a girl’s teen crush on him messing up his ability to do his job.
Although it was so much more than just some stupid crush.
Stop thinking about it! If she didn’t, she’d end up crying right there in front of him.
“I’m still your guardian. OK. We’ll just forget about this and move on.”
Ari nodded numbly. “OK.”
“OK. I’m going to head out. I put my number in your cell but remember you can use telepathy. Don’t try anything stupid while I’m gone. I’ll be back tomorrow after I take care of some things and we can discuss your future, maybe train you in using the Peripatos and flying.”
Not able to say anything, Ari just nodded her agreement, desperate for him to leave when only five minutes ago she’d have done anything to make him stay.
“See you, Ari.”
She blinked back at him dumbly, hating him for sounding so unsure. Two seconds later he went up in flames into the Peripatos. Ari burst into tears as soon as he was gone. Sliding down the door to land on the floor with a bump Ari pressed her face into her knees and cried the million tears she’d locked inside since this had all begun. She cried for the dangerous and unknown future she had ahead of her, for a dad who may not love her anymore, for a boy who was starting to want her the way she had always wanted him just when she begun to move on and fall in love with someone new. And for that, Ari was surprised to realize, she cried the hardest — the place where her heart beat in her chest ached like mad as she relived the moment with Jai. Jai who loved someone else. Bitterly she wondered who could have caught Jai’s interest. Someone older and more sophisticated than some stupid Jinn girl who was more weapon than heart.
But that couldn’t possibly be true.
Otherwise why did hers hurt so much?
This Vengeance of Mine
Despite the Marid’s assurance he had placed an enchantment around the room that acted as a sound barrier and would deter his mom from wanting to come into his bedroom, Charlie still couldn’t help glancing anxiously at his closed door. As if coming out of some two year dream, his mom had started paying attention to him again. It was weird. It had coincided with him finding out the truth about Mikey’s death. Like his relief, his release of the guilt that had been killing him had physically and mentally changed him… so much so it had affected his mom even – she was actually acting like she cared again. She’d also mentioned something about Ari. Ari had said something. He smirked at the thought. Beautiful Ari. Couldn’t keep her nose out of his business. Now his mom called him. A lot. Made it hard for him to hang out at Rickman’s — not that he wanted to do that so much, now that all of this weirdness had gone down with Ari.
Now that he had a chance at revenge.
When The Red King came back yesterday after Jai and Ari had left for Roswell, Charlie had been shocked to discover he ‘wanted to talk’. He told him he saw how much he was suffering, feeling useless while Ari and Jai worked their voodoo magic to take down the dick that had hurt Derek. He said he knew Charlie wanted to do the same thing to the person who had killed Mike. He said he could give Charlie what he needed. All he had to do was promise not to tell Ari that The Red King was the one who handed him the key to it all and to be there when The Red King called in the debt.
Charlie wasn’t stupid. He knew it would be like making a deal with the devil.
But he was offering him a chance to destroy the bitch that killed Mikey. That’s all he wanted. He knew that this would bring him peace. He’d spent too many nights fighting his own rage, hating himself for killing his brother. No one could know what real self-hatred did to a person unless they’d been through something similar. And to discover that he wasn’t to blame, that he had been paying attention to the road, that magic – Jinn – was responsible for taking Mikey, for destroying his family’s life, left him with a new kind of rage. He needed vengeance. He needed it like he needed oxygen.
The Marid The Red King had sent stared down at him from his great height, dressed in a dark, charcoal suit that really ruined the whole ‘genie’ image for Charlie. “Do you know what you would like to wish for?” The Marid growled and Charlie felt the hum of his dark, angry energy. This guy was not cool.
Remembering the epiphany that had come to him in his dream, Charlie had jolted out of bed that morning to grab the book Jai had given him about the Jinn. Some of the wording made him frown as he looked over what he wanted but… but surely this was the only way? Plus—- he grinned inwardly, feeling warm and sure at the thought of Ari — if he did this he’d be strong enough to protect her, maybe not strong enough as a certain guardian he’d like to punch, but strong enough to be what she needed. Finally, to be what she needed.
“Yes,” he replied, clearing his throat when it came out all husky and nervous. “I wish to be a Sorcerer.”
The Marid raised a thick dark eyebrow before he nodded slowly. “I grant you this wish, Charlie Creagh.”
Kiss of Darkness
Ari hovered outside her dad’s bedroom, glancing at the hall clock again. It was noon and he still hadn’t made an appearance. For the fiftieth time she raised a fist to the door, ready to knock, ready to face him. And then the nerves caught hold of her gut again like vicious little gremlins playing with her insides, and Ari fell back, taking deep breaths, trying to pull herself together.
Just as she was sure she was ready to knock for real this time, the doorbell rang downstairs. Hoping it was no one else but Charlie, Ari almost threw herself into his arms when she swung the door open to find him there. But the memory of the night before, of crying herself to sleep over someone else, stopped her short. Charlie grinned at her, striding into the house, an electric energy seeming to buzz around him. He placed a proprietary hand on her waist, his lip curling in that sexy, arrogant way of his. “Can we talk?”
Curious, Ari nodded. “Sure.”
She headed upstairs, hearing them creak behind her as he followed her. Suddenly she was conscious of the fact that her ass was in his face and she hurried up the steps, bemoaning how easily she blushed. It was just… Charlie had been acting so differently around her lately. She wasn’t sure what it meant and right now she wasn’t sure she could deal.
Wow. She never thought she’d ever doubt wanting to be with Charlie.
Feeling inexplicably guilty again, Ari let him into her room and shut the door quietly behind them.
“Have you spoken to your dad yet?”
She shook her head, staring at him as he stood before her, his eyes warm, his hair all mussed up as usual. He stood with his hands stuck lazily in his pockets. He looked casual, relaxed.
“He’ll come around.”
“Yeah.” Ari wasn’t so sure. “So… what did you want to talk about?”
He sobered, taking a step towards her. “First, I want to apologize.”
“Apologize?” For what? What did he do?
“Yeah. Apologize. For all the times in the last two years I turned my back on you. I was messed up and I didn’t want to drag you down. I didn’t think I was good enough for you.” He took another few steps until he was standing inches from her, the lemon detergent his mother used on his clothes tickled her senses, reminding her of those two lonely years. “I’m sorry, Ari,” he whispered, leaning in and making her heart pound. “For hiding from someone so special and taking you for granted. And on that note… the second thing I wanted to talk about…” When his lips came down on hers and his strong arms pulled her close, Ari froze. Probably assuming it was surprise, Charlie grasped the back of her neck, his fingers threading through her hair. The soft pressure of his lips began to unwind her and Ari found herself holding on to him, kissing him back. Thoughts of Jai pushed in on her, screaming at her that she was acting unfairly. But Jai doesn’t want me, she argued. And Charlie does. And I love Charlie. I do. Sighing into his mouth, Ari let her lips fall open and Charlie took the invitation, his tongue teasing hers in a wet, deep kiss that flushed her cheeks rosy red.
So she didn’t feel the overwhelming, unbearable, nerve shattering heat she felt with Jai.
But this was good.
This could be so good.
This was Charlie.
Kissing him back harder, Ari almost smiled when he groaned, the vibration shooting through her body. He gripped her closer, her shirt straining against her chest as he scrunched the back of it in his fists, aiming to press as much of his body against hers.
“Ari,” he moaned, pulling back to look at her, his eyes bright with desire. He just took a moment — almost as if he couldn’t be away from her lips any longer — but that moment was all Ari needed to be reminded that his eyes were brown.
And as awareness of what she was agreeing to came down on her like a ton of concrete, so did her awareness of everything else. She felt the hum of energy above Charlie’s skin, the hum that she’d attributed to lust.
But it wasn’t lust.