The Djinn's Desire
Ophir sat down on one of the folding chairs at a table draped in a cheap red tablecloth and thrust a hand toward the woman. If she touched him, he might be able to locate the portal she was hiding. “You read palms?”
The olive-skinned beauty gave him an uncomfortable smile. “I’m afraid I have to ask for payment up front.”
Of course she did. And Ophir wasn’t the type to haggle. Digging out his wallet, he pulled several hundred dollar bills free and let them flutter to the table. “Enough?”
Her dark eyes went round, and she nodded tightly, sweeping the bills toward her. “What’s your name?” she asked.
He thrust out his hand again, laying it palm up on the table. “Ophir.”
“Ophir.” She rolled the word around on her tongue, and he was surprised to find himself wondering what that tongue might feel like tangling with his. She said, “That’s an unusual name. Ancient.”
“I know,” he growled, trying to stay focused. It had been a long time since a woman had exerted this kind of influence on him. Find the portal, then you can dally. He wriggled his fingers insistently.
Without touching him, she leaned over the table to look, her breath tickling his flesh. Above the gaping neckline of her shirt, her cleavage seemed to scream for his attention. She studied his open hand, still without touching. What was she doing? He curled his fingers into a fist, hiding his palm.
She looked up to meet his gaze, her dark eyes like vortexes in the candlelight. “I can’t read it if you don’t show me.”
He swallowed, mouth suddenly and inexplicably dry. “Don’t you need to touch me? To trace my lifeline?”
“I prefer not to influence the reading with my own aura.”
He flared his nostrils, quickly running out of patience. Slowly he uncurled his fingers, curious what line of bullshit she’d feed him about his future.
She stared down again, her gaze lingering for what felt like an eternity. When she finally looked up, her brows were furrowed. “I’m not… your lines are all there, but they read like a textbook. Like they were drawn on instead of emerging from your soul.”
Ophir jerked his hand back as if burned. He looked into her eyes, pulling threads of his magic around him like cloak, unsure if he should run away or move closer. Had he actually found a human who could touch his realm? She’d definitely seen something of the truth, but didn’t understand. And he had no idea what that meant.
She chewed one corner of her upper lip, her gaze shifting to her lap. Slowly, she brought the money he’d given her back into view. Shoving the bills across the table at him, she said, “I’m sorry.”
He stared at the money, stunned. The paper meant nothing to him. He could conjure more whenever he pleased. What surprised him was that she was giving it back. And very little about humans surprised him these days. Shaking his head, he said, “Tell you what. You let me read your palm, and you can keep the money.”
Her gaze cut to him, suspicion flickering in her eyes. “You want to pay me to read my palm? Why?”
He shrugged and held out his hand in request. “Call it a whim.”
After a moment, she lay the back of her hand against his open palm. Her face remained completely serious. “Okay. But if this is a gimmick to ask me out, the answer is no. And I’m still keeping the money.”
Chuckling, Ophir wrapped his large hand around her smaller one and drew it close. Her knuckles were slightly chapped, but the rest of her skin was soft and warm. A fresh, citrusy smell rose from her flesh, and he breathed deep, seeking the sharp anise bite of djinn magic. It was there, ingrained within her flesh, as if her very cells were infused with the power.
And he still couldn’t read her.
He caressed her wrist with his thumb, sensing the very mortal pulse beneath her skin. There was something more within her, something of his own world. Something djinn. Certainly she wasn’t the source of the magic? A portal had to be metal.
“So what’s it say?” she asked, interrupting his thoughts.
Keeping his face serious, he leaned forward over the table. He wasn’t sure what was going on here, but he knew how to find out. “Believe it or not, it says you’re going to go out with me.”
From where the stranger’s fingers wrapped around Tanika’s wrist, a shiver ran up her arm and seemed to settle in her chest. More unexpectedly, a heated longing began to pulse deep in her core. She got asked out on a regular basis, but always said no. Dating meant emotion. Attachment. A longing for family. The one thing she could never have. To allow such a thing to come true would release her djinn, and she’d sworn to do anything it took to take him to the grave for what he’d done.
At twenty-seven years old, she was still a virgin, and planned to be until the day she died. Yet this man, this strange and sexy man, gave her the urge to break her rule, just this once.
“You don’t even know my name,” she said, her heart thundering in her ears.
“Mmmm,” he said, screwing one coffee-brown eye half-closed and peering at her palm. He had lashes a supermodel would be jealous of. “I’m going to say your name is… Tanika.”
She gasped and jerked her hand away, her heartbeat turning from excited to fearful. Her mother’d had the sight much stronger than Tanika, but even she couldn’t guess a person’s name by looking at their palm. “How on Earth could you see that there?”
He grinned and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Normally, a magician doesn’t reveal his secrets. But your name is painted across the mirror out there. I took a chance that you don’t look like someone called Birdie.”
Tanika relaxed into her folding chair. He was just a player. That, she could handle. Tit for tat. Reaching out, she retrieved the bills still lying on the table and tucked them into her pocket. With these, she’d be able to stave off eviction for at least another month. Putting on her most mysterious smile, she looked at him through her lashes. “I’m afraid I don’t date. But if you’d like to come back for another reading tomorrow after my psychic energies have renewed themselves, I’d be happy to look into your fortune again.”
He leaned his broad shoulders back against his chair, folding his hands in his lap, his eyes dancing with mirth. “How do you know I have a fortune?”
Flushing, Tanika put a hand to her neck. “I didn’t mean… I was only offering…”
“Oh, now my sweet little gypsy girl’s all flustered.” The sultry depth of his voice reminded her of a tiger about to pounce, and his perfect white smile threatened to dazzle her. No one man deserved to have so much sex appeal.
“I don’t want you to think I’m after your money.”
“Well, aren’t you?”
She blinked, unsure how to answer. Of course she was after his money. Just not in an underhanded sort of way. “I’ll give you your next reading for free.”
“I’d much rather you simply went out with me.”
“I already said no.”
“I believe in second chances.”
She licked her lips, wondering what a date with this man might be like. She’d never been on a date. Not once. Although she hadn’t been able to read his fortune, she’d had a lot of experience reading people in general. Ophir seemed like the kind of guy who’d treat a girl like a princess, at least for the short duration he was playing her. Plus he was sexy as hell. She shook her head, squeezing her thighs together. Sex wouldn’t fulfill her wish, but her djinn would do anything he could to make her wish come true, even turn a player into a devoted husband. Yet… how would it feel to kiss Ophir? To even sayshe’d kissed a man like Ophir?
The bell at the entrance rang, and Birdie’s familiar mincing footsteps clicked across the linoleum, bringing Tanika back to reality. She rose and pushed the heavy velvet curtain aside. “I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
Ophir stood as well, moving closer to her than he needed to exit. His impressive height made her dizzy as much as the masculine scent surrounding him. Was that Polo? He leaned down close to whisper in her ear. “You will. I’m a patient man.”