The conference room echoed with a collective exhalation of relief. Westcott fixed Amani with an arctic glare, tugging at the pressed lapels of his charcoal Gucci suit; then he considered the man beside her with a gaze that was both smug and sympathetic, as though to say, Better you than me. Closing her eyes, Amani steeled herself. She had avoided looking at the man at her side, Jason Masters, her new husband, had avoided looking at him all through the ceremony and before. Now she glanced at him sidelong.
Despite her barb at Westcott and the people who worked with him, Dr. Jason Masters was by no means little. Amani was taller than most human men, yet he was taller than she by a forehead. That irked her. Neither was he bad-looking. For a human. Okay, he was hot. She had come across the term in her cultural research of the human world and liked it. Hot. Forged from fire, her people reveled in flame. This word suggested the comfort of Jinnistan’s scorched mountains, the joy of riding Sinbad into the Bitu Valley so rife with fissures to the center of the earth that the air crackled with fire.
Her new husband’s jaw flexed, and cocking her head Amani assessed him further. The poor guy was agitated. But, who wouldn’t be? It was his wedding day and he was meeting his bride for the first time. Oh, and by the way, she was a genie. And in a bad mood.
His full lips formed a straight line—an attempt to appear stoic or munificent? No. Neither. He appeared raw and somewhat bewildered but resigned to his task. A good scientist with a difficult hypothesis. A hypothesis that was even now standing in front of him.
He turned, and the expression on his face was both wary and…surprisingly playful. “Do I get a kiss?”
His voice was smooth and deep. For an irritating moment he seemed pleased with what he saw, with Amani, then Amani’s gaze whipped back to the Covalink CEO, the main architect of this spectacle, who’d scoffed and turned away. Sudden anger at Westcott’s demeanor, her situation, and humans in general got the better of her. In one graceful flip of her hand, Amani flung back the curtain of hair from her shoulder and flourished three fingers at Westcott’s retreating back, preparing to singe his suit just enough to make her feel better.
“Whoa, there!” Her husband’s grip on her wrist was faster than she would have given him credit for, and Amani was startled to find herself staring into eyes the color of the Topaz Caves on the far side of Jinnistan. A lock of brown hair had fallen across her husband’s broad brow, and he twitched his head as though to shrug it away. The strands clung together as though damp. “Not a good idea.”
“Is any of this a good idea?” she snarled at him, consciously ignoring the tiny coterie of Covalink executives and Jinnistan ambassadors who were now beginning to mingle. With a twist of her arm, she dislodged his grasp. If not for the flower-laden pedestal at her hip, she would have moved entirely away from him.
She barely saw his lips move, but his voice was low and rueful. “Too late now.”
Their faces were close enough for a kiss, she realized. Her husband stared back, not blinking, his black eyelashes as thick as the fringe on a hand-tied carpet. The way they shadowed his amber eyes reminded Amani of a soft feather caressing her naked back, and the thought sent a shiver down her spine. Even more potent, for the second their gazes locked she felt challenged and equal at the same time. Her shiver radiated outward, wrapping around her waist and making her suddenly all too aware of his closeness. Something inside her trembled.
He quirked his lips. “Now, how about that kiss?”
Smirking like a child, she leaned into him. “Fine.” She knew her duty. Kissing a human would be no more momentous than stepping on an ant—for her. For him? Well, he would be the ant. The contact would provide a nice electrical shock on those soft, full lips. “Pucker up, pretty boy.”
Her husband settled a tentative hand on her waist and lowered his chin. Those impossibly thick lashes drooped further, and a flutter whisked through Amani’s stomach. Almost of its own accord, her head tilted toward him. Like they were lovers. Like she wanted to be kissed by him. Like she had no control over the desire flushing through—
Alarm spiked through Amani at her body’s betrayal. Needing to be back in control, she squeezed her eyes against her heightened awareness of his broad hand on her hipbone, and when his grip tightened, warm and oddly comforting, she had to resist the urge to wriggle against his palm. Instead, she purposefully stiffened and grasped his forearm as though to immobilize him. The fine woven fabric of his navy suit jacket was smooth and cool to her fingers, and beneath its softness the long cords of his flexor muscles tensed like steel cables. A vein throbbed at the side of his neck just above the starched collar of a sky blue button-down shirt. He hadn’t worn a tie, which she always found to be a strange constrictive garment that merely highlighted human ineptitude, as if they needed to be leashed into place. One point for Dr. Masters.
They moved as though in slow motion, and for an instant Amani’s eyebrows knitted. She could see that his skin was dark, the complexion of someone who labored in the sun and not the soft intellectual she’d expected. He was physically strong, too. She could feel it in the sudden set of his body. And he was alert. She could tell that he was frequently outdoors.
Parting her lips, she eased her head into the space at his shoulder. There, swirling her head in a small arc, she inhaled through her nose.
Her husband lurched back, eyes wide. “Did…did you just sniff me?”
She nodded, considering. “Interesting. You don’t smell like gravel. Most humans smell like gravel. Or dirt.” She felt her lip curl at the thought. “But not you.” There was something fascinating in the air between them. Specifically, something that emanated off him like an aura.
“I beg your pardon.” Pulling back, he shot a glance at her uncle, and from the corner of her eye Amani caught Azon’s exasperated headshake. The other witnesses seemed to realize there would be no romantic clutch to seal the deal and clustered around the tray of drinks, muttering and grinning with self-congratulations. A wheeled cart laden with canapés and shrimp cocktail pushed into the room and was immediately surrounded.
Amani returned her attention to Jason. She’d expected to be accosted by his scent, not enveloped. Lifting a finger to her lips, she closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, she wagged a finger at him. There was an honest note of amazement in her voice as she said, “You smell like thyme and wood chips.”
He ignored the comment and tugged her closer. The satin cowl of her midnight blue sheath dress brushed the pearl buttons of his shirt, and the rhythm of his heart seemed to suddenly permeate the slinky fabric of her dress. She imagined that the pounding of her own synced to his. But that was impossible.
Jason glanced down at their connection, at the mutual rising and falling of their chests. The wrinkle of a question returned to his brow, and with a jolt of amazement Amani understood that he had felt what she did.
Her new husband’s words were hushed, but his eyes glinted with a strange gratification. “Is that you or me? I can’t tell.”
Stretching her neck away in a vain attempt at detachment she said, “I’m nothing like you.”