from Dangerous Devotion, the fourth book in the 101 Nights series of Romantisodes from Boroughs Publishing Group
Amani felt strong arms hard under her breasts. For the first time in almost three months, she felt safe. But then it all came back to her and she knew. She wasn’t safe. Twisting her body, she tried to wrench free of Sumer’s grasp. Her strength was gone from her. She felt as limp as the netted eels she once pulled from the phosphor streams in the Cobalt Mountains. The memory of that place pressed solace into her mind. Her home. She could almost smell it.
With the clean scent of juniper and sun-fired rock blanketing her mind, she opened her eyes. The scent prevailed. And another aroma bloomed. It was that of the orchids in the fire forests of Jinnistan. Blinking, she looked around. Veins of lapis ribboned the wall she looked upon. It was the uneven topography of a cave wall. And growing from a moisture-slick crevice was a single lavender orchid. She inhaled. Warm spice, cardamom and pepper swam with a draft across her face. Home?
“Let me go,” she demanded, wriggling her torso against her captor.
“Not so fast, Ani. I think you’ll find that your legs won’t hold you.” Sumer turned her to face him. “So I will.” His lips, full and shining where he licked them, were slightly open as his gaze coursed over her face, down her front. She saw the glint of white teeth behind his lips, like sharp sun-bleached coral glimpsed in the water, waiting to shred flesh. She tugged the white linen shirt she wore unbuttoned over a white camisole tight against her chest. It was Jason’s shirt. She flinched when Sumer ran his hands down her back.
“Hold still,” he muttered. “I’m checking for fractures.”
She stilled, remembering. They had traveled from one dimension to another, with nothing more than the energy of the stolen Heart of Bitu around his neck. Transmorphic migration done in tandem had been known to break the bones of a passenger.
Sumer’s hands were hot as he pressed them in a trail down the knots of her spine. His fingers were long and broad. When he reached the waistband of her black yoga pants—pulled on that morning after a wild night of lovemaking with Jason—he pushed past the elastic border. Her breath caught in her throat as he slid his fingers side to side on her bottom.
Unsummoned and unappreciated, tingles shuddered down the backs of her thighs. “I think you’re enjoying this,” she growled.
He ignored her. A first for Sumer. He never seemed to miss an opportunity to raise her ire. When his hand spanned the hard ridge of her hip, she winced. A bolt of pain dizzied her. Her forehead fell forward against his shoulder. She felt disembodied, vaguely aware that for a millisecond Sumer’s touch grew gentle.
“Ani.” Sumer’s voice was a plea. There was a tone of concern she’d never heard from him. “Ani.” His arms swept under her legs and he carried her to a corner of the cave. A cushion of white camel fur cradled her when he set her down. He crouched next to her, seeming uncomfortable with seeing her so vulnerable. They had been lovers and adversaries. But she had never been at his mercy. She couldn’t help but think that had Jason been here, he would smooth the hair back from her face. Patience and concern would light his features like a beacon. Sumer simply seemed puzzled.
“Move your legs.” Sumer’s voice was stern.
Amani’s brow furrowed.
“I think your pelvis is fractured.”
She was suddenly aware that she had to concentrate on moving her legs. Pain shot down her left side. Sumer pressed two fingers against her left hip and an azure glow radiated from the touch into her body. Tension buzzed across her midsection.
“Move your legs,” he repeated.
Slowly, she stretched one long limb alongside Sumer’s bent thigh. Needles of pain shot up her legs from the soles of her feet.
“There,” she said, triumphant.
“Now the other one.”
His tone was so intent that she didn’t question. She straightened the second leg. Sumer ran his hand along one of her thighs to the knee and then did the same on her other leg, massaging as he went. Without lifting his hand, he shifted his body so that he crouched between her legs. The firm pulse of his fingers felt good against her stiff muscles. She sighed.
Sumer’s eyes flashed briefly with something like amusement. “Good. Bend them at the knees.”
She did as commanded, pleased with her body’s response. Sumer had risked her health but also his own when he dragged her from New Jersey. The jinn were expected to travel solo. There was precious little energy left in Jinnistan. Their safe arrival was a testament to Sumer’s unusual molecular strength. Amani shook her head. No time to dwell on how well endowed—biologically or otherwise—Sumer was.
Sumer hovered on his knees in front of her, between her legs. She was suddenly aware of his large hands gripping the soft flesh of her inner thighs. His voice husky, he said, “Now, wrap those remarkable legs around my waist and I’ll show you how to generate some energy.”
Kicking one leg free of him, she cursed. “Damn you, Sumer. Move away from me now or I swear I will—”
“Will what?” Sumer’s gaze narrowed and he leaned in. “You’re as weak as a foal. Not even fit to ride.” She could smell his skin. It was the smell of cinders and green reeds. Violence and promise. But a promise of what?
“Back off.” She pushed against his chest and drew herself to a sitting position. He sat back on one bent leg, a thick forearm draped across his knee as he continued to watch her. His skin was as tight and smooth over his muscles as polished granite. She dropped her gaze. Water trickled somewhere behind her as though an underground spring ran through the floor of an unseen passage. The catacombs of the Cobalts. They were, indeed, in a cave beneath the fire forests.
After his insurrection against the ruling Tribal Council at the Silver Citadel, Sumer had absconded to the mountains with his army of loyal Marid jinn, the warrior class, the fiercest of the jinn. “Happy to see me?”
She glanced up at him. His black eyes assessed her. One fine eyebrow arched sardonically.
“You stole my stone.” She swiped again at the glimmering green gem around his neck, but he twitched back and out of reach.
He laughed. “You buried it in the dirt.”
“I was trying to remove it as a resource for you. Since you had already interrupted my mission—”
“Don’t you mean sweet moon?” Sumer’s top lip curled in disgust.
“Honeymoon,” Amani corrected. She remembered the intrusion of Sumer, appearing to her in the kitchen of Jason’s home on a chill April morning, not long after she had committed herself to work with the humans to find a remedy for her nation’s fading power. At any cost. Even at the cost of her pride, her freedom, and her body.
Uncle Azon had discovered that the integration of jinni and human auras generated electrical energy that fed the proton cycles within Jinnistan. Cycles that were desperately needed to keep Jinnistan alive. A scourge of inexplicable energy shortages had stripped Jinnistan of its reserves and of many of its citizens. Amani’s parents had been among the first to die. A type of fear—an emotion that was virtually unknown to the jinn—gripped her world. No longer could the jinn alter their molecules to travel with the wind through space and time.
Transmorphic migration had been outlawed. Marid jinn, ifrit, and ghul castes alike were encouraged to leave their homes across the broad expanse of Jinnistan’s Bitu Valley, Cobalt Mountains, and lava plains to gather at the Silver Citadel. These were the warrior caste, the ruling caste, and the farmers and crafts jinn. The protonic scourge did not discriminate.
While Azon Zarin imagined an alliance with humans to help create a generator to renew Jinnistan’s resources, Sumer Rafsi envisioned conquest. His claim that the humans were not to be trusted and that what nuclear power they had should be taken forcibly was the more aggressive option. The burden of deciding which route would rescue her doomed homeland had fallen to Amani.
“I think you were removing it as a resource for yourself.” His chin dropped and his tone grew more grave. “You know that my plan would be the quickest way to save our homeland. Don’t you?” Those black eyes were so intent upon her that Amani could see why other Marid jinn trembled in his presence. But not her. Never her. She would die before she would show fear. Before she would allow him to think that there was the slightest chance she would align herself to him.
“Why did you come, Sumer?”
“You were taking too long.” He pounced to his feet and stretched his arms over his head. The tattoos that marked his as Marid wound around his triceps like barbed wire. Lowering his arms, he tore open his light blue cotton shirt. Buttons scattered on the cave floor with little pearlized clicks. He dropped it in a heap. He spat on it.
“I stink of human!” His black gaze settled on her face. Rolling back the massive mounds of his shoulders—the Heart of Bitu glittering between the shelves of his pectorals—he said, “And so do you.”
Amani pushed up on the cave floor and struggled to her feet. “You have to take me back there, Sumer.”
His grunt became laughter that echoed down the dark corridors of the cave. “Do you command me, Ambassador?”
Straightening to her full height, Amani cranked her neck from left to right and inhaled. “I do.”
Sumer’s jaw tensed. “You like to say that, don’t you?” He mocked her tone. “I do. How easy it was for you to marry a human. I told you from the beginning that it wasn’t necessary. It was just another way that we allow the humans to control us. We could have taken what we needed. I have the army and the means to trespass in their world.”
“What you sought to do, Sumer, would have meant the deaths of thousands, and the enslavement of millions. Even if we wanted to, we don’t have the energy to take the human world.”
“Your Uncle Azon did. He found the portal directly into one of their energy generators and could easily have navigated the power of their reactors into our world. Instead, he sought alliances with men like Jason Masters and that vermin, Warren Westcott who runs Covalink as though it were his empire. He was a fool.”
There was determination and vengeance in Sumer’s voice. “We are the jinn, Amani. We have been free and conscious beings since before those creatures of dirt hauled themselves from the primordial effluent.”
Fisting his hands at his sides, he took first one step and then another toward her. It seemed that fury gripped him. A struggle was apparent in the creases around his onyx eyes. “I tell myself that you didn’t know you were betraying us. But it is hard to believe, Amani. Hard to believe when you lay with one of them. When you call them ‘friends.’”
Amani blinked. “What are you talking about, Sumer? You’ve known all along about the treaty. About my role as an emissary to work with the human scientist. Approaching it this way offers a quick solution and a long-term plan for the rejuvenation of Jinnistan, without any loss of life.”
She moved close enough to touch him, laying her fingers gently on his forearm. His gaze was troubled. She had known him long enough to know that he was not being idly cavalier. Something had happened.
He stared down at her. His broad, rugged face was without emotion, but his gaze probed her, assessing, judging. “Then you have been betrayed, too.”
A slim coil of dread wormed its way from her stomach to her throat. She could only whisper. “Tell me what’s happened, Sumer.”
His words were so simply stated that she didn’t comprehend at first.
“They’ve taken Persha.”
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