Ari pressed a hand to her temple to stem a gathering knot of tension. “He told me about your war. That you each trespassed upon one another’s duty.”
“Then he only told you part of the truth.”
“What more is there? And what do I have to do with it?”
“My brother lives for power. Nothing else. He wishes to dethrone Azazil and he will do anything to attain that goal. He’s divided my brothers in this war, destroyed the order he claims to want to uphold.” He shook his head disgusted, seeming more Jinn now than he had five minutes ago. “He’s gathering an army, Ari. And you… you’re conception was merely to create another soldier for his cause.”
It literally felt as if her stomach had dropped to the floor at her feet. She stared at the carpet numbly, noting her bare feet still looked red and cold from their time in Mount Qaf. Her toe nails sparkled with the blue glitter nail polish Rachel had forced on her at school last week when she was wearing flip flops. She smiled humorlessly, thinking how funny it was that her feet seemed to sum up her life before and after she discovered the unbelievable truth. “Why? Why would he want me?”
“You were born. You are his. That is enough reason for him. My brother doesn’t like losing what he considers his.”
“Is that why he trapped Sala in a bottle?”
The Red King nodded. “Unfortunately Sala is one of many Jinn who walk the fine line between good and evil, only to discover when faced with true evil that they are not at all prepared to cross the line. She is being punished for her naivety.”
Ari gulped, clenching her hand into a fist, wishing she didn’t care if a mother who had abandoned her was being abused at the hands of the monster who called himself her father. “Will she ever be free?”
He sighed heavily, drawing her eyes up to his kind face. It was amazing that this man was related to The White King. In a weird way it made her feel better about being related to the psychopath. “Ari, you cannot worry for Sala. You have enough to worry about for yourself.”
Her heart did this weird little jump in her chest, a jump that vibrated, causing a wave of nausea to rise up and over her. She felt her skin prickle into a cold sweat and knew the color must have leached from her face. “Why?”
“For two reasons. One: my brother will not give up his attempts to lure you back to Mount Qaf to be with him. And two: your bloodline is significant. You may not have tapped into your magical abilities as Jinn but you emit an aura, an aura that only the very powerful emit. It comes from you being the daughter of a Jinn King and a powerful Ifrit. This aura attracts Jinn. It’s already attracted Jinn.”
Head whirling at this new information, Ari narrowed her eyes at his last comment. “What do you mean?”
He shook his head, seeming to marvel at the fact that she hadn’t put two and two together. “The Ifrit living in your home for a start.”
She frowned. “The Ifrit? There’s no If—” she gasped, her eyes flying wide to the open hallway. “Ms. Maggie? My poltergeist?”
“Not a poltergeist,” Jai replied from the doorway. “Ifrit. A solid, living being. She’s just invisible. She’s been using the Cloak to stay hidden.”
Crushed, Ari tried to hide her upset. “I thought she was my friend. I mean she’s been nice to me. She’s been my friend.”
Jai grunted. “Ifrits are rarely friendly.”
Hugging her arms around her body, Ari tried to remind herself that she wasn’t alone just because Ms. Maggie turned out to be Jinn. She had her dad. And Charlie. Charlie who was probably going crazy wondering where the hell she was. Oh God... Charlie. She needed Charlie. “I should call Charlie.”
“About that…” The Red King had that sympathetic look on his face again and Ari felt her heart flip. “The brother. The kid that died… your Ifrit tells me that was a Labartu.”
“You’ve spoken to Ms. Maggie? Wait… what… Mike? What’s a Labartu?”
“Yes. I questioned the Ifrit for answers. I also sent her on from here while you were searching the house like a hellion with a baseball bat. I also cleaned up the mess from your party btw. You’re welcome.”
Ari blinked, looking around the living room, only now realizing in all the craziness that she hadn’t noticed the house had been completely cleaned of any evidence of a party. She nodded wearily. “I appreciate it.”
He shrugged. “It’s cool. Anyway, according to the Ifrit, your friend Nick is possessed by a young Jinn attracted to you, and your friend Charlie… His little brother was killed by a Labartu; it’s one of the Jinn that specifically gets off on the destruction of young children. The cyclist that apparently came out of nowhere wasn’t human. It was a she. A Labartu. And she killed Mike.”
Like someone had snapped their fingers everything that she’d been told, her father, her mother, her uncle… it all fell away. She stood up, her eyes wide. She had something she could fix. Something she could focus on. Something that she could make sense of. Something good out of all of this. She had to tell Charlie the truth. She had to tell him that he wasn’t responsible for his brother’s death. Of course there was the small matter of convincing him that she wasn’t a complete head case. Ari glanced sharply at Jai. He might prove useful after all.
“And this guy.” She nodded in his direction. “He’s my bodyguard or something?”
Jai seemed to take offence at her tone but The Red King shushed any snarly retort by standing to his feet. “My brother wants to use you, make you learn your magic. Azazil would rather keep you hidden and protected.”
There was something missing here. Why would some ancient, all powerful Sultan Jinn guy care about her? She shook her head. “Why does Azazil care what happens to me?”
Her uncle’s eyes flashed and he cocked his head in a way that reminded Ari of The White King. She shivered and tried to cover her flinch, her reaction. The Red King wasn’t looking at her as if she were a specimen to be examined. He actually looked impressed. He nodded at her after a moment, a small dry smile curving his lips. “He doesn’t.” He shrugged. “My father doesn’t care about you. He cares that The White King cares. And Azazil will do anything to thwart my brother for his betrayal and attempt at usurpation.”
Now that Ari could believe. “Fine.” She nodded, the glint in her eye telling him she was grateful for his honesty. She crossed her arms over her chest and ran her eyes down Jai, wondering how the hell she was going to explain his presence to everyone. “So this guy is to protect me?”
“Yup. Jai will provide twenty four hour protection from Jinn that may become a nuisance and from any signs of my brother’s threat. He will contact me if you are ever in need of my help.”
Ari blinked. “Wait. A twenty-four hour guard?” She shook her head. There was definitely no way she could explain his presence if he was hanging around all the time. Plus, she didn’t want him hanging around all the time. She couldn’t go from being a relatively solitary person to having some monosyllabic Jinn guy attached to her hip. “I don’t think so.”
“Yeah, uh, I do think so,” The Red King argued back in a comically immature fashion that Ari would have laughed at under any other circumstance.
“No,” Ari replied adamantly, and then smirked when something occurred to her. “It’s not like the dude can keep a twenty-four hour watch on me anyway. I have a car you know and I can leave his ass in the dust.”
The Red King raised an eyebrow at her remark and sighed, turning to Jai. “That reminds me. Put the mark on her. That’s why you were chosen.”
Jai glowered before giving The Red King a hesitant but deferential nod. He then stood up from slouching against the door and strode towards her determinedly. Her eyes widened at his approach, only now fully measuring the broad width of his shoulders. He was bigger than she’d thought. Ari tried to back away from him. His hands shot out, taking hold of her upper arms with a firm grip.
“Hey!” she cried out, ignoring the heat of his body and the familiar delicious scent of his spicy cologne as she tried to pull away. His grip intensified until she was standing still. “Stop it!” she snapped. Up close his eyes were a vivid green. Not a blue-green or a hazel-green but green-green. They were darkly lashed and unbelievably hypnotic. She shivered under them, tugging away from him again. “What are you doing?”
“Jai has a rare gift courtesy of his mixed-blood. While his father is a high-ranking Ginnaye, his mother is a Lilif — succubus Jinn. The two objectives drew together when Jai was born and his kiss can be used to place a mark upon those he seeks to guard. It means he can sense when you feel threatened in the trace.”
Ari’s eyes widened as she looked from The Red King to Jai. “No!” She tried to get loose. “You are not kissing me, you big l—”
And quite abruptly her insult was swallowed in his kiss. His hot, deep kiss that shut down her brain and made her legs go like Jell-O. She felt a furious heat rush into her cheeks and swim downwards into the pit of her belly and she unconsciously gripped Jai’s t-shirt, feeling his heart beat steadily beneath her palm. As if he were waiting for her to soften, Jai took advantage of her momentary daze to flick his tongue against her own, deepening the kiss. Shocked and excited at the same time, Ari had to find the strength to pull back from this stranger who had accosted her.
“Hey! Whoa, you are done!” she staggered back from him.
To her utter annoyance his expression remained the same. Arrogant and serious. He turned around to her uncle and nodded. “It’s done.”
“You mean you were telling the truth? You can like…sense me now?”
“Yes. Just yes. Just like that.”
“Well.” The Red King smiled. “I see you two will get along just fine. Remember, kid, call me if you need me.” And in eruption of flames that was growing way too familiar to her, The Red King was gone.