Author Unknown

Man’s life is laid in the loom of time To a pattern he does not see, While the weavers work and the shuttles fly Till the dawn of eternity. Some shuttles are filled with silver threads And some with threads of gold, While often but the darker hues Are all that they may hold. But the weaver watches with skillful eye Each shuttle fly to and fro, And sees the pattern so deftly wrought As the loom moves sure and slow . God surely planned the pattern: Each thread, the dark and fair, Is chosen by His master skill And placed in the web with care. He only knows its beauty, And guides the shuttles which hold The threads so unattractive, As well as the threads of gold. Not till each loom is silent, And the shuttles cease to fly, Shall God reveal the pattern And explain the reason why

And explain the reason why The dark threads were as needful In the weaver’s skillful hand As the threads of gold and silver For the pattern which He planned.

Summary: Kelsey returns to Oregon and begins college as a freshman. She tries to forget India and Ren, the man she left behind. But all too soon her destiny catches up to her. She finds love only to have it ripped from her hands. To save the man she loves, she must embark once again on a precarious quest. But this time she travels with a different man, a man who asks her to choose him instead. The characters, places, and events portrayed in this book are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. This work is not endorsed, sanctioned, sponsored, reviewed, or approved by any of the companies which may be referenced. Any similarity to real persons either living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author. For more information on the Tiger series or the author, visit the author’s website at Copyright © 2009 Colleen Houck All rights reserved. ISBN: 1-4392-5577-6 ISBN-13: 9781439255773 Kindle ISBN: 978-1-61550-413-8 Library of Congress Control Number: 2009908839

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For my husband, Brad—proof that there really are guys like that out there


Title Page Copyright Page Prologue Going Home Chapter 1 WOU Chapter 2 Wushu Chapter 3 Dating Chapter 4 A Christmas Present Chapter 5 Return Chapter 6 Choices Chapter 7 Back to School Chapter 8 Kishan Chapter 9 Hired Guns Chapter 10 Return to India Chapter 11 Of Prophecies and Practicing Chapter 12 Vatsala Durga Temple Chapter 13 The Friendship Highway Chapter 14 Yin/Yang Chapter 15 The Ocean Teacher Chapter 16 Spirit Gates Chapter 17 Good Things Chapter 18 Bad Things Chapter 19 The Tests of the Four Houses Chapter 20 The Divine Weaver’s Scarf Chapter 21 Exit Chapter 22 Going Home Chapter 23 Confessions

Chapter 23 Confessions Chapter 24 Saving Ren Chapter 25 Baiga Chapter 26 War Games Chapter 27 Worst Birthday Ever Epilogue Unloved


I clung to the leather seat and felt my heart fall behind
me as the plane ascended into the blue sky. Usually after reaching cruising altitude, a plane stabilized, and it was safe to take off your seatbelt and walk about the cabin. The only problem for me was, if I took off my seatbelt, I was sure I would sink. I’d drop thousands of feet through the sky and fall with a splat on the Indian continent. Only then would my body feel right again. My heart was back there. I could feel it missing. I was a hollowed out shell, numb and empty. The worst part was…I did this to myself. Was it only a few minutes ago that I had said goodbye to Mr. Kadam? He hadn’t said much and just gently patted my back as I’d hugged him, hard. I’d probably come close to squeezing the life out of him.

He actually had to remove my arms from the death grip I’d locked him in, and then he’d muttered some reassurances and handed me off to Nilima. Thankfully, Nilima left me to myself. I didn’t feel like company. She brought me lunch, but I couldn’t even think about eating. I was sure it was delicious, as her meals always were, but my mouth tasted like sand, and I was sure that if I ate or drank anything, the sand would quicken and suck me down into an abyss of despair. So, I dried up. I felt spent and lifeless, like crumpled-up wrapping paper after Christmas. She came and removed the meal then tried to tempt me with some ice-cold lemon water, which was my favorite drink, but I just left it on the table. I stared at the glass for who knows how many minutes, watching the moisture bead up on the outside and slowly dribble down, pooling around the bottom. I tried to sleep, but the dark, peaceful oblivion eluded me, and I ended up staring endlessly at the features of the plane. I looked at Mr. Kadam’s empty seat across from me, I stared out the window, and I watched a blinking light on the wall. Nilima returned and brought me an MP3 player with thousands of songs. Several were Indian musicians, but most of them were American. I scrolled through and selected the saddest breakup songs I could find. Putting the plugs in my ears, I selected play. I unzipped my backpack and got out my blanket, remembering only then that I had wrapped Fanindra inside it. Pulling back the edges of the blanket, I spied her golden body and set her next to me on the armrest. She was coiled up, resting, or at least I assumed she

listening to Brian McKnight’s “One Last Cry. stroked her gleaming coils. Rubbing her smooth.was. and stared at nothing again. and the green glow comforted me until I drifted off into a deep sleep. I placed Fanindra on my lap.” Spreading out my blanket and smoothing it over my legs.” Keeping the volume soft and low. “Y ou’re all I’ve got now. . scaly head. I leaned back in the reclining chair and stared at the ceiling of the airplane. The snake’s jeweled eyes softly illuminated the cabin of the plane. I whispered.

I belonged here. . When my feet hit the tarmac. I was a part of it and it was a part of me. several mind-numbing hours later at the Portland airport. I closed my eyes and let the cool breeze blow over me. The steps were pushed up and attached to the door by the ground crew. I shifted my gaze from the terminal to the gray. It must have rained recently. enfolded me in her cool arms.CHAPTER 1 We landed. I pulled my backpack straps over my shoulders and walked down. dewy sprinkle settle on my bare arms. It was the place where I grew up. finally. overcast sky. I could smell the forest and feel a soft. It felt good to be home. My roots were here. Taking a deep breath. My parents and grandma were buried here. Oregon welcomed me like a beloved child. It wasn’t just that I loved the place. I felt Oregon centering me.

Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder. Just glad to be home. Older men cruised past us slowly too.shushed my turbulent thoughts. At least it’s a rental. and I tuned them out. She knew exactly where she was going. Reading the name on the back. They didn’t whistle. Cars full of teenage boys passed us and whistled. I closed the trunk and sank down into the two-toned blue and gray leather seat. and promised peace through her whispering pines. “Holy cow. Nilima. . Mr. I must look as awful as I feel. I shook my head and muttered. “Nothing. and Nilima followed me. which just happened to be the exact color o f You-Know-Who’s eyes. which made me feel guilty. She clicked a button on the keychain and the trunk silently popped open. She seemed happy to drive in silence. I rolled my eyes at Mr. Nilima had followed me down the steps and stood there waiting quietly while I absorbed my environment. and a cobalt blue convertible. I just leaned my head back and watched the sky and the green landscape. The man driving it got out and handed the keys to Nilima. I heard the hum of a fast engine. They were whistling at either Nilima or the nice car. so I didn’t even bother giving her directions. but they definitely admired the view. I’m not sure which. pulled around the corner. She just ignored them. but I knew it wasn’t at me.” She got in the driver’s seat.” “What was that?” Nilima asked. I would have been just as happy to take the shuttle back to Salem. Kadam’s expensive taste in cars. Kadam. I walked to the trunk.

When we drove into downtown Salem. Nilima was driving toward a large hill that was covered with forest. which would take us over the Willamette River and onto Highway 22 heading for Monmouth and Dallas. Most of the Dallas/Monmouth area was farmland. I was surprised that the city hadn’t annexed it and started building there. Nilima turned onto one of the private roads and followed it even higher up. “what’s another few minutes on a trip that lasts for days?” She just smiled at me and kept driving. turned off onto Liberty. maneuvering in traffic heading for South Salem. but no other .” I said sarcastically. but the area was largely untouched. I knew there were neighbors nearby because we’d passed several driveways. I’d never been this way before. It was definitely the long way to Dallas. We reached the end of the road and stopped at a cute duplex. We wound our way slowly up the beautiful treelined road for several miles. I knew there was another bridge that crossed the river somewhere in Independence. It was quite lovely. She drove up Commercial Street. “Sure. but it was bigger than your average hill too. The home was nestled in the middle of a forest of pine. and the Willamette River effectively divided Salem from that area. I saw dirt roads leading into the trees with houses peeking through here and there. Slowing down. but she shrugged and said we were taking a short cut. I tried to tell her she missed her turn. It wasn’t really big enough to be called a mountain. she passed the Marion Street Bridge. and then onto Skyline.

“Okay. A large bay window looked out over the trees.houses could be seen. Grabbing a couple of bottles of Diet Coke. She pushed the button on the garage door opener attached to the visor on the driver’s side. walked into a laundry room.” She ignored my question and went to the refrigerator. parked right in the middle of the garage.” “My house? What are you talking about? I live in Dallas. Sighing.” and she told me to follow her. and then into the kitchen. “Where are we?” “We’re home. I was instructed to take you to your house. like mirror images. It was definitely the style home you would expect to see in the mountains. Nilima. Both sides of the home looked identical. Wood siding was painted cedar brown and midnight green. she offered one to me. We entered through the garage. thanks.” “Home? What do you mean? Aren’t you taking me to my foster parents’ house?” “No. I said. Come inside and I’ll explain. and stopped the car.” ou She popped the trunk. In fact. and I grabbed my bag. I slipped off my tennis shoes so I wouldn’t . though this area wasn’t high enough to really get snow more than a couple of times a year. now tell me what’s going on. Who lives here?” “Y do. “No. and the roof was covered with grayishgreen shingles. it looked more like a ski cabin. Each had two floors with a garage and a small shared courtyard. I plopped my backpack down and said.

It will make him happy. Really . “What do you mean catch the bus?” “We aren’t exactly close to any bus routes.” “Oh…well. This is too much. He bought me a house? That’s way too much! It’s much more than we agreed on.” “Well. I can’t accept this.” “No. it’s impractical! How does he expect me to catch the bus to school from here?” She looked at me puzzled.” “Drive down to the bus station? That doesn’t make any sense.” She sighed and looked at my set face.” “Well. I guess if you really want to ride the bus. I sat down next to her on the couch as she began rifling through papers left on a coffee table.mess up the nice carpeting and followed her to a living room. “He really wants you to have it. “Wait. you aren’t making any sense.” “Kelsey.” “Well. “Kelsey. I just wanted some money to pay for books for school. you said part of my payment? You mean there’s more?” “Y es. Kelsey. he insisted. of course.” My mouth dropped open in shock. It’s part of your payment for your work this summer. This house is yours. It was small and cute with beautiful furniture. you could drive down to the bus station. Nilima. he will have to un-insist.” . Don’t you want to take your car?” “My car? What car?” “The one in the garage. He shouldn’t do this.

In fact.” She .” “Oh.“The one in the…oh no! No way! Y have got to be ou kidding me!” “No. it’s not! Do you know how much that car is worth? No way!” I pulled out my cell phone and searched for Mr. Of course. “Well…he also took the liberty of signing you up for school and getting your classes and books paid for. Here is your new bank card. no. Y start classes next week.” I swallowed. Right before I pressed the call button. but it will be unnecessary. Kadam’s phone number.” “He signed me up for WOU?” “Y es. Y books are on the counter next to our your list of classes and a map of Western Oregon University. you won’t have any bills here anyway. “Before I call. I’m not kidding. and the house and car are paid for as well as are all of your college expenses. All of the bills are sent to an accountant. “I have no idea. Don’t forget to endorse it on the back. I stopped. that reminds me. you may if you wish.” “I’d been planning on attending the community college and working. That car is for you.” “He must have thought a university would be more to your liking. He has also set up a bank account for you. is there anything else I should know about?” She winced. As far as ou working goes. but I’m sure it’s enough to cover your living expenses. “And…uh…how much money exactly is in that bank account?” She shrugged.

” I closed my phone. no matter what. “Y fine. Kadam.” There was a honk outside. “Y I would say he does. There’s no point in trying to give it back.” “Fine?” I grumbled. I’ll just explain to him that community college is more than adequate for me and that I really don’t mind staying in the dorm and taking the bus. anyway. Nilima rose and said. Kadam who arranged these things for you.” “Well. Oh! And I almost forgot. Mr. There was no way I was going to call him. This is for you too. then wh…oh. defeated.” She leaned forward. “Fine. “Well. “So he feels strongly about this. . I sat there in shock for a minute and then remembered my resolve to call Mr. He’ll just figure out a way to force it on me. Miss Kelsey? I know that he feels very strongly about you having these things. I opened my phone and searched for his number again. Kadam. that’s my ride back to the airport. “But. Everything will be fine. Kelsey…it wasn’t Mr. “Are you sure you want to give it all back. “But. wait! Nilima!” “Don’t worry. Kadam should know that I don’t need charity. He always gets what he wants es.” es. Nilima said. does he?” Her arched eyebrows drew together in pretty confusion.” “What? If it wasn’t Mr.slid a whole bunch of paperwork my way then sat back and sipped her Diet Coke. Miss Kelsey.” She pressed a cell phone in my hand and hugged me quickly before walking to the front door.

and all of your belongings are upstairs. The kitchen was small but had brand new stainless steel appliances. Opening the fridge. grabbed a bottle of Diet Cherry Coke. There were glasses and plates in the cupboards as well as cooking utensils. and saw that the fridge was stocked. On a hunch. and waved gaily from the passenger seat. and pots and pans.” She turned. I opened the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and confirmed a suspicion when I found it full of lemons. This was Mr. Kadam’s doing. Y can take the car and visit ou your foster family later today if you wish. Everything will be fine. The paperwork you need for school is on the kitchen counter. Twisting the bottle cap off. I closed the door and decided to explore the house before I looked through any paperwork. Suddenly. I decided I was thirsty after all. there’s food in the fridge. climbed into the airport shuttle. The curtains were lemon yellow. silverware. I was all alone in a strange house surrounded by quiet forest.“Don’t worry. It was kind of a cute country kitchen design. I waved back morosely and watched her until the shuttle drove out of sight. The room where Nilima and I had been sitting had a lovely chestnut leather living room set with a tall library cabinet full of classic hardbound books that must have . and there were lemons stenciled on the walls and a beautiful picture of lemon trees being harvested. Miss Kelsey. He knew my favorite drink was lemon water. I took a sip of my soda and peeked in the cupboards. They are expecting your call.

. A large flat-screen television with built-in surround sound was mounted above a polished cabinet that hid a variety of movies. a brand new front-loading sage-green washer and dryer set waited for laundry day. file drawers. and an old wooden trunk sat at the foot. Cozy peach-colored reading chairs sat in the corner facing the window overlooking the forest. The soap in the dispenser was even lemon scented. The office was complete with leather chair. A leather recliner faced the sunny window and matched the couch. but it had been organized into a small office. and a shelf with paper and other supplies that might come in handy. A downstairs half bath was decorated in sage green and lemon. I moved my shoes there. and shuffled in my socks to the other room downstairs. My old computer sat in the space of honor in the middle of my desk. but right next to it was a brand new laptop. placed them in a wicker basket on the tiled floor of the laundry room. It could have been another bedroom. Grabbing my backpack. I headed upstairs to my bedroom. A lovely queen bed with a thick ivory down comforter and peach accent pillows was nestled against the wall. In the garage entryway. There was a note on the bed: Hi Kelsey! Welcome home. Call us ASAP! We want to hear all about your trip! All of your things are stored away.cost a fortune.

He must have done this. When I opened the other side of the closet. I felt the burn in my chest as I fingered the soft cloth for a minute and then resolutely shut the drawer and moved on. How on earth did he get this stuff here before me? I left all this in my closet back in India. I found all the new clothes that had been purchased for me in India as well as several new items still in garment bags. Opening the next drawer wiped the smile off my face. I fingered through some things I hadn’t seen in a few months. it suddenly hit me. Mike and Sarah I opened my closet and saw that all my clothes had indeed been moved over here. It was small but very bright and airy.We love your new home! Love. I pulled open my top drawer and grinned because my foster mom had arranged my socks the way I like with black. Turning around to walk back into my pretty bedroom. and assorted colors all wound in balls and placed in a row. I found the silky pajamas I had left in India on purpose. My face flushed a bright red. determined not to open that side of the closet anymore. The bedroom was peaches and cream. white. I closed the door on those. The bathroom was white and soft powdery blue with glistening tiles. It could’ve been just a . Moving to the dresser.

It said Prada on the top. I threw my backpack on the bed. I stroked her golden head for a minute and then set to work putting away my clothes. He’s the only person I know that would need to have a designer cell phone. then I was puzzled. but I was happy to sit through one of their health food meals as long as I got a chance to visit. Ha. Figures he’d find a way to make his presence felt even from another continent away. Kadam’s and my foster parents’. that I was too tired from the flight to come over today. I picked up a white pillow with peach embroidery and set it on the side table then I placed her on top. wondering what kind of tofu surprise they would have in store for me. the only numbers stored on the phone were Mr. but nothing that’s happened to me since I met him has been coincidental. It would have been nice of him to at least call me.coincidence. then I was disappointed. I called my foster parents and told them I would come over for dinner the next night. He’d once said that I smelled like peaches and cream. In fact. At first I was relieved. I wandered downstairs and made myself a snack of . Hanging up. but there weren’t any. I grimaced. Taking her carefully out and apologizing. Just to see if I arrived okay. Annoyed with my thoughts. I turned it on and expected his number to show up first maybe with messages. When that was done. I lay back on the bed and pulled my new cell phone out of my jeans pocket. wincing after I realized that Fanindra was still in the bag.

I thought. Kadam had arranged to book my classes for both the fall and the winter terms. I was sure the date to sign up for classes hadn’t come around yet for the winter term.and 400-level classes. Sitting down on a kitchen slices with peanut butter. Somehow. I started rifling through the college papers that had been left for me. Writing and Latin were typical. Smirking to myself. Not only that. I’m not sure how they managed to pull off a winter schedule already. a major was chosen for me —international studies. The classes sounded interesting. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new building going up on campus this year. I looked through my schedule. though. he had also managed to get a freshman into 300. The college probably got a good donation. but the other course descriptions captured my interest: . Mr. I read through the catalog info on my fall classes. with a minor in art history. Apparently.

Latin was in the HSS building. I guess I need to find only the one building. mysticism. and linguistic diversity of its people historic and modern. and challenges specifically related to geography. study patterns. I’d never been too good with languages. ANTH 476—Religion and Ritual—A study of the religious practices of peoples and cultures around the world. It would be nice to learn some of that. Delineates religious observance as seen through anthropology. except Latin. The religion and magic seemed right up my alley. and magic. animism. The emphasis will be on India. I set aside my schedule and the catalog and thumbed through my books. while focusing on particular topics including: spirit possession. sorcery. but I thought it might be a good idea to look around campus.GEOG 315—The Indian Subcontinent—An examination of South Asia and its geography. That’s convenient. I still had a week until classes started. and explore the ethnic. ancestor worship. issues. Too bad WOU didn’t offer an Indian language. witchcraft. religious. so was geography. but Latin would be good for me too. I wrinkled my nose. We will evaluate the economic relationship between India and other nations. My anthropology and writing classes were too. I pulled out a map of the campus and found the Humanities and Social . Examines the blending of major worldreligions with local beliefs and traditions. They all sounded good and were probably the subjects I would be studying on my own anyway.

I could envision him coming out and doing it himself as long as he could admire the vehicle while he worked. which was right next to it. so I backed out carefully and drove like a grandma down the hill. wincing every time I passed a tree branch that came too close. I made a mental note for myself to borrow some hedge clippers from my foster dad and clip back the tree growth to protect the paint job on the Porsche. and also another one that looked like a mailbox key for a post office box. It wound around for a couple of miles and then led down to River Road. it’s probably on the bank statement. With his love for cars. I pushed the garage door button and waited for the door to stop moving. which took me over the Willamette River and into Independence. I wonder what my new address is. Ah. Knowing where I was now.campus and found the Humanities and Social Sciences building. I crept slowly down the lane and turned left on the main road. It looked like I could park in Lot F. I drove with confidence to WOU. I frowned and looked at the front. Picking up the car keys. I signed the back and placed it in my wallet. Scooping it up. There was a house key on the keychain too. My plan was to eventually return it or convince them to sell it. Sighing deeply. I felt paranoid about the car. I knew it was terribly expensive. I’d been on campus a few times before to watch football . I absentmindedly jingled them in my hand. Sliding into the convertible. My name was stamped in gold block letters —Kelsey Hayes. My hand brushed against the bank card and it fell to the floor.

On a hunch. of course. I decided that if I put it on the glass. I got in line and waited with them. on the front and asked the cashier about parking. Mariah Carey’s voice echoed out in the love song. She instructed me to go to the administration building and ask for the cashier’s office. and Justin Timberlake was singing a breakup song. I debated about where to put it. After thanking her. This kind of vehicle was not made to stick parking passes on. When I got to the front. I told the lady my name. After my shiny new card came out of the machine. Driving home. I easily found my building and walked to the bookstore. I bought myself a red hooded WOU sweatshirt with the school mascot. There was a line of new students waiting to get their ID cards. It was a satellite radio. I walked over and waited in line again. The next station said Sirius Love. even though I wasn’t really interested in sports. “I Don’t Wanna Cry. “Thank you for your help. Peeling off the little sticker. so I turned the button until I found Sirius Lite Pop. a western with my foster family. I skipped that . Still. I wandered through the bookstore. Of course there was. I popped open the glove box and found the parking pass. I could always use some of that adhesive removal stuff to get all the sticky glue off later. it just felt wrong.” I left and headed back to my car. Parking in a visitor spot.” My hand was on the dial in an instant. and she said that there was already a parking pass issued in my name. I switched to Top 40. I decided to play with the stereo system.

Would he laugh and say “I told you so” or would he send her packing? Would he admit he’d been lonely without her or would he have moved on? Perfect. so I thought it would be safe. Carrie Underwood. I wouldn’t take me back if I were him.” I should have known better. I stacked those thoughts like The wind whipped through my hair as the words whipped my heart. then I shoved a whole bunch of new thoughts in place of the painful ones. I mumbled. one on top of the other. The song was about a girl who realized she made a mistake leaving the man she loved and asked what he would do if she returned to him. I skipped that one altogether and moved on. I couldn’t have picked a better song to beat myself with. . my foster family. I let myself think about him for a minute. Thank you. The next station said Sirius Love. Carrie Underwood’s “I Told Y So” was the perfect song to ou punish myself with. I didn’t really listen to country music much. and I figured the universe was trying to send me a message anyway. so why not? Bring it on. I thought about school. Brushing a tear away from my eye. I tucked away my memories and folded them into a tiny wedge of my heart. but it was too painful. I kept my finger off the dial and listened attentively to the chastisement. and being back in Oregon. I considered that he probably would find somebody new very soon. to try to squish and smother out the sad remnants of the broken love plant. I chewed my bottom lip and my vision became blurry. “Maybe New Country will work. Stupid me! I forgot that most country music was about breaking up. I hope your guy took yo u back .

As I headed toward the checkout counter. I’ll study like mad and visit people and …and date other guys. Yes! That’s what I can do. I forced myself to start memorizing words and phrases and kept at it for several hours. By the time I headed for bed. I slipped into bed and slept. I bought two stuffed orange and black tigers since that was the only thing I could think of that would seem appropriate. my eye drifted . it was late and I was tired. When I got hungry. I just wanted to window-shop. I could effectively distract myself by being mentally active and thinking about other things and other people. It was as if he was just waiting for me to be lonely. Then I’ll just have to stay busy. I’ll go out with other people and stay active and then I’ll be too tired to think about him. a comedy—not usually my favorite type—but I was purposely avoiding any serious romance or drama. Stopping at a kid’s toy store. I fixed a sandwich and put on a movie. I tackled my Latin book as soon as I got home. but then I remembered that I didn’t have anything to bring to my foster brother and sister. The next day. it worked.For now. That will be my salvation. or to let my guard down. Patting Fanindra. But I could still feel the ghost of him hovering in the quiet. I didn’t need to purchase anything. To spur myself on. I studied my new text books for five hours and then took a break by going shopping in Salem. so that he could surface and fill my mind again with thoughts of him. dark recess of my heart.

” She acquired a small step stool from somewhere and pulled the tiger down from the shelf. she held out the white tiger and pressed it into my arms. It’s made to look lifelike.” She smiled again and encouraged me to come back soon. She placed my two orange tigers in a bag and then began looking around for something big enough to hold the white tiger. She set it on the counter. It looks almost real. let me get it down for you. and I mumbled. It was .” es. Its bright blue eyes stared down at me. “Would you like to add it to your purchase today?” I grimaced and nodded slightly while she grinned and began packaging it up. “Don’t bother. “Would you like to see it?” “Umm…” “Here. don’t you think?” “Y it’s pretty real looking. Hanging over the shelf was a large stuffed white tiger. they had arranged large stuffed animals that were upscale and much more expensive than the ones sold on the floor. Up on the top shelf of the store. alright. Placing the small bag over my wrist. I grabbed it around the middle and buried my face in the fur. I’ll carry it out. “How much?” “Two hundred forty dollars. but this is a high-end product. She smiled at me.upward to something white and black. It was half as big as she was. The saleslady saw me looking. or I guess gaping at it would be more accurate. I held up a hand.

The stuffed animal was just a sad disparate replica. It was just going to make forgetting him that much harder. I thanked the woman and walked out to my car. I just wanted to avoid more painful memories. I looked over at my new passenger. “We’re so glad to see you! Both of us are!” She yelled at Mike and frowned as he waved happily while backing out of the driveway. What on earth is wrong with me? I shouldn’t have bought it. I drove home. He smelled wonderful like sandalwood and waterfalls.” I tossed him the keys so he could drive himself around the block a few times. When I pulled up in front of Mike and Sarah’s house. the door opened widely. And the stripes were wrong. It wasn’t the same blue. This poor thing’s eyes were an imitation. Peeking out from the side. and Mike hurried out to shake my hand and then ran past me to the car. “We were worried when you first left because we didn’t get too many calls from .soft but didn’t smell right. I went the long way around so I could skip the Polk County Fairgrounds. who was staring at me with glassy blue eyes. “Kelsey! May I?” “Knock yourself out. Back in the driver’s seat. dragged my stuffed tiger up to my bedroom. and threw it on the bed then I pulled out a change of clothes and got ready to visit my foster family. Sarah put her arm around my waist and guided me towards the house. a lifeless. His eyes were a bright cobalt blue. As I drove through town. dull blue.

He also insists that you are…how did he say it…an investment that will have a big payoff in the future. and that he’s come to depend on you. I hope he’s right about that. “Y Mr. Kadam’s great. you can begin working for his company full time. but that he doesn’t have any children of his own. and he spoils me terribly. it’s all very exciting. Very fascinating. He treats me more like a granddaughter than an employee. It was probably a big relief to them. It’s a fantastic opportunity!” I smiled at her. He also said that when you graduate. That is a great major by the way. . isn’t it? Let’s see. Though I know nothing will ever take the place of them. I mean. He’s a very nice man. Maybe this is the universe’s way of balancing the loss of your parents. Kelsey.” “Oh? And what did he say.” I grimaced. but Mr. I had no idea that you were interested in international studies. He talked about your new job and about how you will be interning every summer and working with him on various projects from time to time. “Well. knowing that I would be financially secure enough to live comfortably on my own. and then there’s school too. She was happy for me.” She laughed then sobered.” “He did speak very fondly of you over the phone.” I nodded. exactly?” “Well. Kadam called us every other day and explained what you were doing and talked about how busy you were. “We know you’re special. ask for a better boss. He even admitted to us that he knows it’s a I couldn’t es. And you deserve great things. you saw the house and the car.

sure. showcase the beautiful woman sitting my side. I hugged them both and directed them to the table.She hugged me. I asked. Mike. be right there. my dear.” The kids ran into the room and bounced up and down trying to get my attention. I scooped up a wedge of lasagna for each of them and took a tiny piece for myself. I opened the door. “Umm. He had just pulled up in the Porsche and was walking backward to the front door so he could still stare at the car.” Sitting between the kids. and I rationalized by saying that I’d had a big lunch. then I went to the window to see if Mike was back yet. I’ll even come over and babysit for you. “So…what’s for dinner?” “Tofu and spinach whole wheat organic lasagna with soy cheese and flax seed. . I can’t wait. time for dinner. “Now. keeping his eyes on the car. Mike finally came in and started chatting animatedly about the car. Sarah raised her eyebrow. Mike. “Sure.” I wrestled a half smile to my face. “Good one.” He talked back over his shoulder. “Sure. “Yum.” Sarah and I looked at each other and snickered.” He beamed while Sarah rolled her eyes. “Y of course. “Are you planning on taking me out or the car?” she asked. how about some dinner!” She pulled a strange-smelling dish out of the oven and placed it on the table. He asked if he could take Sarah on a date and borrow the car some Friday night.” I said. Feigning enthusiasm. The car is just a vehicle to ou.

Sarah and Mike asked me all kinds of questions about India. Thankfully. They squealed in delight and ran around growling at each other. It also explained why I was going to minor in art history. and take notes. but they didn’t need to know that.” I said. When I got home. but the tag still said Made in India. and I talked about the ruins of Hampi and Mr. and told them that he was doing fine and that he seemed very happy there. Climbing into bed in my dark room. Kadam had explained that we were often out exploring Indian ruins and cataloging artifacts. He’d said my job was to be his assistant. and they didn’t seem to mind.“Good one. Mr. but only for an instant. keep records of his findings. I spent a couple of more hours studying and then took a hot shower. After dinner. I hugged them all goodbye and promised to visit again next week. Technically. but it also wore me out because I had to make sure I didn’t slip up and tell them anything they didn’t need to know. Being with them was fun. we retired to the living room where I gave the kids their orange tigers. I felt bad about buying them here. They asked about how the tiger was adapting to his new home. which wasn’t too far from the truth. I gathered my things and said good night. it wasn’t his. I felt like I was playing whack-a-mole with my . Knowing they went to bed early. Then I remembered my purchase and shoved the stuffed tiger to the edge of the bed and tucked my hand under my cheek. Mike. I froze. Kadam’s house. I gasped quietly as my hand brushed against fur.

thoughts. another one would surface in a different place. I wondered what he was doing right now and if he was thinking of me or even missed me at all. they kept coming. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Sighing. and pulled it close. Wrapping my arms around its middle. I couldn’t win. I buried my nose in its fur and fell asleep on its paw. . I reached over. grabbed the leg of the stuffed tiger. Every time I punched one thought down.

and then it was time to start school. When I got home from the first few classes. the longest and hardest. I collected my term assignments from each class. about one every two weeks.CHAPTER 2 The next few days spun past quickly and uneventfully. the teacher expected me to keep a daily journal. which was an easy assignment because I already did. In the writing class. would be graded on proper footnote and bibliography techniques. The final one. . Five papers were due. and the only one that seemed like it would be challenging for me was Latin. Languages didn’t come naturally for me based on my past experiences with them. I circled all the important due dates for the term in my calendar. I’d just have to be careful to edit out any …oddities.

The geography class assignments also included reading several articles and books and writing reports on them. so it didn’t seem hard for me. I brought my new laptop with me to class every day. My mind was so full of assignments that I had very little time to worry about anything else. and in my spare time between classes or during breaks I pulled it out and worked. I read through the paper requirements—Students will write a twenty-page research paper on the history of a major Indian metropolis—I already knew which one I’d choose: Hampi. Having had some up-close and personal experience with the city should make the assignment easy. I liked writing. For the final. I wrote down the worship of Durga. For the anthropology class we’d be creating a PowerPoint presentation for the midterm depicting our analysis of an uncommon religious symbol. it was a ten-page paper on a world religion. By the first week of school. and we had to include an interview with a believer. There’d also be a major map test covering the Indian continent. For the religion. I already had my midterm for anthropology completed and had a good start on the final. a lotus flower. I was the only one besides the teacher who had actually spent time in India. and the teacher found my insights fascinating. I was something of a wonder in my geography class.Geography had a major paper due too that would take the place of the geography final. I figured I’d be studying those things anyway. so the assignments could serve double duty. For the midterm. He liked my report on the SUV . I penciled in my religious symbol.

If I needed any help with homework. Kadam. I described the traffic of India and told the students about how only a tiny percent of the population actually owned a car. He never mentioned either of the boys. I will send you an e-mail with some information soon.” “Of course.” “Great! Thanks. It’s good to hear your voice. He kept much of what he was doing quiet too. Mr. One week. It was nice to stay in touch with him.” . I’ll need to pick your brain about the weather patterns in the Himalayas pretty soon. but there was a big something we were avoiding talking about. But.versus the Nano. I sent a mental thanks to Mr. he called me. which created some very uncomfortable pauses in the conversation. “Hi. other than homework. who was always a good source of information. and I never asked. It’s been…uneventful. I used to be able to talk to him about anything. I didn’t really have much to report to him. How are your classes going?” “Fine. how was your week?” “Hello. The teacher laughed at my description of Mumbai traffic and nodded his head as I described the differences in how each culture viewed owning a vehicle. He always responded quickly and with great enthusiasm. early on a Friday evening. E-mail was easier. More…impersonal. Kadam. I’d shoot an email off to him. though. which was our normal calling time because I never went out. In my presentation. Miss Kelsey. Talking to him on the phone felt awkward. He called me or I called him about once a week.

one that I think you will enjoy. and Thursdays from 6:30–8:00 p. I’m running out of things to keep me busy. What is it?” “I’ve signed you up for another class. and Thursdays. wushu is a type of martial arts. I anticipated that you would say yes.” “Actually. so something else would probably be a good idea. Y mentioned once ou that you were interested in taking a class. there is nothing I could ever do that would come even close to paying the debt . and I have a package coming tomorrow with the necessary materials.” “Miss Kelsey…there’s something I wanted to discuss with you.” “Y really don’t have to do all this for me. Wednesdays. I’ll understand. Okay.” He chided. like fun. correct?” I breathed out a sigh of relief. you know. I don’t think I could handle that right now. so Mondays.“Great! Thanks. schedule. “Oh. I was worried for a minute there that I’d be adding another foreign language. Y ou need to restrain yourself from piling on more or I’ll never be able to pay back this debt.” “Wushu? What’s that? Some kind of Indian language?” He laughed. No. ou I still feel supremely guilty about the other things. Y I can fit it into my es.” “Wonderful! What I’ve signed you up for is a wushu class in Salem.m. but it may take up more of your time. “Miss Kelsey. I do miss having you around. The class is on Mondays. When do classes start?” “Next Monday. Wednesdays. “Oh! Y that sounds es. If you are too busy.” “Sure.

It makes a very old man’s heart very happy. Mr.I owe you. Maybe I will have some tea and do some light reading on the Himalayas for you. If it makes you happy. If I were honest with myself.” “Good night.” I laughed.” “Perhaps you are right. there’s always a gloomy feeling of loss. All that anticipation builds up inside for the whole month. at least for me. don’t get all sad about it. the jury’s still out on the car. It was the same kind of feeling I got after Christmas. Make yourself some chamomile tea and go rest for a while. He .” I felt the depression kick in as soon as I hung up the phone. Kadam. “Okay.” “I will.” “And get some sleep.” “Is it really hard this time?” “It’s very…challenging. I’d admit that the real reason I was sad was because there was only one present that I wished for: I wished he would call. and the people leave and go their separate ways. the food is eaten.” ou “I miss you too. The geographical markers that I have translated are not found on the Indian continent.” “Y do that. then when the presents are opened. I think I’ll go back and work a bit more on my translations. Good night. I anticipated our weekly phone calls and always felt sad when they were over. Miss Kelsey.” “Did you stay up all night again? Y need your ou sleep. Now. But. Please accept these things. Either that or my brain is too tired.” “We’ll see about that. I miss you.

it looked like regular canvas lace-up shoes. I should have been happy for him. but the padding inside was thick and cushiony. Big time. and the rubber sole had much . and I’d blown it. though. There were four Tshirts with the company symbol on the front. in a way. one black with white stripes down the leg. I was. The name logo—a picture of two men fighting. The black pair was different. Saturday.never did. I was the one who asked him to basically get a life with someone other than me. One of the men was throwing a punch to the face. I set it on the living room floor and grabbed my office scissors to cut through the tape. It was large and heavy. And each week that passed without word from him destroyed my hope. It was like winning backstage passes to meet the rock star of your dreams and giving the tickets away to charity. one white. but I was very unhappy for myself. It sucked. I found three sets of workout pants. One was a soft white pair that felt like ballerina slippers without the hard toes. and the last one was red. I’d given him away. He was my ultimate Christmas present. I had the-holidaysare-over-now-it’s-time-to-go-back-to-work blues. Each week that went by was like another year that Santa Claus didn’t bring me a pony. my own personal miracle. and the Easter Bunny didn’t bring me a baby chick. Inside. my mysterious martial arts package arrived via courier. I knew I was the one who left. I also pulled out two pairs of shoes. while the other one was kicking a foot toward his opponent’s abdomen.

What made the box heavy was the assortment of weapons I found inside. I’d seen him a couple of times but never needed his . I had no idea when or how I would ever have need to wear this. he’ll be very disappointed. That night. but it was pretty. and they happened to be spotlighting tigers. was worn like a belt. The jacket had black frog clasps in the front with a black sash that. remote in hand. Apparently. I watched it. Mike and Sarah came back from their date windblown but laughing and happy. The kids went to bed early as usual. I muttered to myself. I babysat Rebecca and Sam while my foster parents went out on a date in my Porsche. After one part.better traction. it kept the smaller critters away. but it was fascinating. A silky red jacket and pants set came out next. and I was glad that I could do something nice for them. even though it was Saturday night. Monday. I meant to change the channel. so I spent most of the evening watching television. a three-section staff. If he’s trying to turn me into a ninja. I walked into my Latin class early and the teacher’s lab assistant approached me. There were a couple of swords. and several other things that I’d never seen before. I assumed. and my finger hovered over the button. Sunday was all about homework. some hooks. “Huh…that explains a lot. chains.” I always wondered why he’d rub his body up against trees when we were camping. I put the clothes in my room and then slid the box full of weapons into the laundry room and scooted it under the shelf by the wall. I turned to the Discovery Channel.

“Hi. “Umm…sure. Arriving at my desk. Does the teacher need to see me for something?” He scratched busily in his planner.I’d seen him a couple of times but never needed his help in lab. I cleared my throat. “So. Brown watery eyes bore into mine as he waited expectantly for my reply.m. I looked up at him hoping to finish the conversation quickly so he would move out of my personal space. he stood very close to me too close. I pulled my books out of my bag and arranged them on the table. He had to keep pulling it down over his rather large stomach. is there a lab that night that I have to be at?” He closed his planner with a pop and tucked it under . ignoring my question. The sad thing was the sweater-vest was too small. I’m not so sure that was something I would admit. shifting some things and erasing others. Artie. “Hey. and his double chin tucked up against his neck. I remembered that he’d introduced himself to our lab group and said he was a junior. What was his name? Oh yeah. Then he went on to explain that this was his tenth year at the university because he’d changed his major so many times. Artie. He was the only guy I’d seen in a long time brave enough to wear a sweater-vest with a bow tie. How are you?” He pushed his thick glasses up the bridge of his nose with his middle finger and popped open his dayplanner then got right to the point. are you free at 5:00 p. on Wednesday?” He stood there with his pencil raised. but he was the type of guy who looked like he belonged in a musty old college. I guess.

but I thought I’d try. wait. I plopped down in my seat and puzzled through our cryptic conversation.” He stepped around me and started heading toward the door.his arm. and the comfortable white slippers. He wasn’t there the rest of the day. a T-shirt. I reasoned. Better check to make sure. I wasn’t sure if I would catch him in lab. That’s when I will be picking you up for our date. “Y our classes are all paid for. He smiled weakly at me. “Not at all. The sun was just setting. though. then he yanked his brown sweater-vest down to his belt buckle. so I made a mental note to stop by again on Tuesday. petite Asian girl punched in my information on the computer. and orange. and the clouds were purple. and my whole body relaxed.” . I left the top down on the convertible as I drove through the forest into Salem. The cool breeze felt wonderful. Maybe his definition and mine are different. pink. Go ahead and proceed into the studio. That night was my first wushu class. Y are in the beginner’s ou wushu class. and he turned the corner and was gone. and a pretty. Did I hear him right? “Artie. I introduced myself at the front desk. What do you mean?” The class was getting started. I tried not to notice when the material inched back up. Maybe he doesn’t mean a date-date. The martial arts studio was large and probably took up half of the building. That must be it. I dressed in the black pants.

stretching. Y know about the ou Shaolin monks? They do wushu. It just means you have skill. The white-haired instructor seemed old but very spry and tough. “Kung fu means skill. but he said we should call him Chuck. Y will all have a chance ou to feel victory as you master the wushu. A huge open area was surrounded by mirrors and large blue mats that covered the floor. The grandson. and weapons. and he had a tall. muscular frame. but she also had a determined gleam in her eye. which means victory. His smile was nice. Then he introduced the young man next to him as his grandson. Wushu is a style. Three young men and one fit young woman were warming up off to one side. Maybe the skill is riding horses or swimming. Sitting on the floor in another corner. but I couldn’t catch his name because his accent was so strong. smiled at us and nodded his head. Do you know the name kung fu?” We all nodded. There were five other people already there. She smiled up at me. who . His name was Chu…something. My studio’s name is Shing. He introduced himself. was a middle-aged not-sofit woman who reminded me of my mom. stretching. Kung fu is not a style of martial arts. Our teacher wandered in the studio with another young man. His black hair was cropped short. wiry. Wushu is kicks.I wandered into the back. Chuck started out his lesson with a short speech: “Wushu is the Chinese martial art. gymnastics. Li looked a lot like a younger version of his grandfather. and I could tell she was a little scared. Now. Li. I sat down by her and bent over my legs.

class! Now let’s start with some stretching. but I felt bad for the middle-aged woman. She was already huffing and puffing just from the stretching. Then he had us do splits.” He guided us through calf and arm stretching and then encouraged us to sit on the floor and reach out to touch our toes. Four of my classmates were doing fine. Basically. Both hands become fists. which was easy to remember. he brought his grandson forward to demonstrate the first stance he wanted us to work on. you crouch with feet wide apart like you’re sitting on a horse. but you bring your bent elbows tight to your side. and she was making a very determined effort to sink down into splits. It was called a horse stance. Bruce Lee. Jackie Chan all use wushu. and you rest them on your hips.” “Wo hen hao. He said he wanted us to stretch several times a day to increase our flexibility. This means—How are you? And—I am fine. I say—Ni hao ma? And you say —Wo hen hao. “Very good. “Woo hena how. I will teach you greetings. First.” “Ni hao ma?” We responded with a stuttered.are famous people that use wushu?” Nobody answered. “Jet Li.” “Wo…hen…hao. Then. encouraging her on. The teacher smiled at all of us. . This is how you greet your teacher each class.” He grinned at us. including his struggling student.

It killed my back calf. his toes pointed down to the floor. stopped to help me position my feet properly and spent some time demonstrating the flat stance. was red-faced but seemed very happy with herself by the time our session was finished. and he turned his head the same direction his legs were pointing. In my class on Tuesday. The rest stance was the last one. The time flew by very quickly. but this time one of his legs was stretched out in front. The flat stance was the hardest. but I still couldn’t get it. The feet stay parallel. directly behind you. but the body has to twist awkwardly away. Li. His back was straight and his arms were bent slightly behind. the teacher passed me a folded note from . He was very encouraging and smiled at me often. The other foot is stretched out long. we practiced our five different stances while our teacher and his grandson demonstrated over and over and then walked over to help us. The poor middle-aged woman. where you take a large step and bend the front knee at a fortyfive-degree angle. The cat stance was next. Li crouched down again. and your back is straight with both heels flat on the ground. and I felt excited to attend my next class on Wednesday night. we moved into bow stance. but he wasn’t there. I went to the language lab three times on Tuesday trying to catch Artie. He crossed his legs and crouched down to the ground with the bottom knee slightly touching the mat. the grandson. but his fists still rested on his hips. For the remainder of the class. whose name I found out was Jennifer. his arms were tucked behind him again with fists on hips.From there.

He might end up being a nice guy I could be friends with. when my classes were done.” “Okay. “Hi. which were starting to sound very lame. I see…” He pulled out his day-planner and erased my name then flipped the page to the next week. I tried to seek him out again several times but never found him. Are you ready?” “Umm. Kelsey. We were . “Okay.” He flipped another week and another. I was quickly running out of excuses. Y see. Then how about next week on Wednesday?” “My wushu class is every Wednesday. The next couple of weeks flew by quickly.m. He was already standing there in his blue sweater-vest watching for me.m. He penciled me in. He didn’t even stay to try to talk to me.” “Oh. Wednesday afternoon. no. Babysitting. Friday then?” “Can’t. I decided the easiest thing to do would be to just meet him there and explain. Not exactly. in a couple of weeks. in front of the language lab Wednesday afternoon.Artie. So weird. I started to feel guilty and decided that it wouldn’t kill me to go out with the guy just once. smiled weakly. then picked up his backpack and walked away. so I accepted an invitation for a Friday at 5:00 p. It said I should meet him at 5:00 p. and he was not giving up. I can’t go out with ou you tonight because I have to be at my wushu class by six o’clock. I headed to the language lab to wait for him.

” ep. I have to get over him someday . Nobody could compete with that. and the guy sitting next to me asked me if we could team up. he asked me if I’d like to go to the homecoming football game with him. But.assigned to work with partners in my anthropology class. My mind started making a list.” “Y name’s Kelsey. He was about the same height as me and blond. I knew that wasn’t fair to him. I looked up at him. and he was sitting pretty close to me. I just didn’t care. We met together a couple of times after class. I wasn’t nervous. I’d been looking at the world through a film of plastic wrap. Surprised. My heart didn’t race with anticipation. “That’s okay. Jason was a polite guy. Something snapped in my brain and I realized he liked me.” We made plans to get together to talk about our assignment. I contemplated my gut reaction. My mind was so focused on work that I’d assumed he just wanted to work too. an average college student type. I didn’t feel excited or scared. There was no reaction. out of the blue. I was comparing him to YouKnow-Who. Mine’s Jason. right?” our “Y I’m sorry I don’t know your name. They seemed so obvious now. Just…average. “Sure. He seemed like a nice guy. I felt numb. His expression was eager. As I considered his offer. Then. and Jason was found sadly lacking. That’s not right. I focused on his face and realized that I’d missed all the clues that he had been sending.

The outside one was the same thing in reverse. doing about ten minutes of each one.and try to date again. Li demonstrated by standing up tall with his arms straight out for balance. I wasn’t limber enough to reach my hand with my foot. Toe-fist-kick was kicking forward with pointed toes and punching with the fist. He seemed delighted at the prospect. knowing that he probably mistook my enthusiasm to forget You-Know-Who with enthusiasm for him. we teamed up in . only I kicked out with my heel and punched with a flat hand. The side stretch-kick was a kick to the left ear while moving my arms in a fancy way. The front stretch-kick was just a regular kick but up to your forehead. It made me finally feel like I could punch something. then he did a big circle with his leg and slapped his hand. but with all the stretching we had to do. I told Jason I would love to go with him to homecoming. We made plans to meet in the parking lot because I didn’t want to have to draw a map to my house. We practiced our kicks all evening. Inside and outside circle-kicks were fun. and I winced. I’m never going to be able to like other men because they cannot possibly compare with him. That’s when I got angry. During the last part of the class. I loved that one. we began to learn kicks. The heel-palmkick was exactly the same. He’s probably ruined me forever. I was sure I would get there in no time. then Chuck started randomly calling out kicks to see how fast we could remember them. That night in wushu class. There were several types. if possible.

When he was done.pairs. but I never thought of him that way. He demonstrated for me a couple of times and then stood behind me and moved my arms for me in slow motion. gave her some pointers. but…it’s obvious. Li came over. and then encouraged her to stretch every day. he announced that class was over. I thanked him and practiced some more on my own. who was working with another person. Then he turned to me and asked me to run through all the kicks and name them.” My eyes opened wide in shock. if possible. I don’t really…” . “Li. Several times per day. Y should ask him out. but she complained that she just wasn’t flexible enough to make it to her hands. He seems like a polite young man and he’s handsome. I ran through them pretty well and got stuck only on the side stretchkick with the arm rolling part. “Ee ikke uu. He likes you. Jennifer looked grateful for the rest. He’s a nice guy. He watches you all the time.” ou “I umm…don’t think so.” “How do you feel about him?” “I don’t have any feelings about him. and I worked with Jennifer.” “Hmm…well. She had the footwork idea right.” “What.” “He does? I never noticed. “What?” I quickly looked over at Li. I don’t know if he’ll muster up the courage to do anything about it. Jennifer?” I straightened from my stance and turned around to face her. She finished wiping her face with a towel and whispered to me. “Are you sure?” “Of course I am. I’d hate to see the poor boy suffer.

She watched me closely as I thought about what she’d said. But how do you change your heart? She smiled sympathetically. I stared out at the black. If anyone was an expert on love. One night. This pattern repeated almost every night of class. empty street for a few minutes. honey. “See you next week. you can’t just let life pass you by while you nurse a broken heart. He’d told her that she looked amazing and was getting so thin that he couldn’t see her from the side anymore. He waved at me through the studio window. He’d taken their three children out for ice cream and then stopped by the studio afterward to pick her up. He was a sweet. sweaty face even redder. lost in thought. Then he kissed her damp curly brown hair and opened the car door for her. I waved back and watched them drive off. Y have to get back up on ou that horse and try again. she introduced me to him and their kids.” “Oh.” I winced. “No. balding man who obviously adored her. Life is too short not to have love in it. When I turned back to gather my things. Not anymore.” Waving goodbye. which turned her red. I’d even met her husband once. it was probably Jennifer. and squeezed my shoulder. There’s someone else. she headed out to the SUV where her husband faithfully waited for her to finish class.“Oh.” I knew she’d been happily married for fifteen years. She blushed. Kelsey. I knew she was right. I noticed that everyone . gathered her things.

waiting patiently for me to go so he could lock up. Going over to Mike and Sarah’s didn’t seem like a good option either. All the lights were shut off except for the one by the front door.” I didn’t have any plans for Halloween. They’re longer. Li called out. “I wanted to ask you if you like board games. that sort of thing. ” “I don’t know. Kelsey. My only game experience has been with the old ones. I knew kids wouldn’t come up to my house because it was way too far off the beaten path. “Nah. Do you like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride? Games like that?” “I’ve never even heard of those.” “Board games? Like Monopoly ?” He grinned again.” He ran over to my door.” He grinned at me. Just as I got in the car. I guess I just lost track of time. “Sorry. “Hey. Part luck. Several of my friends will be getting together on Halloween to play games and eat candy. “No problem.” I scooped up my towel. I’ve never tried those. Well…I wanted to invite you to a game night. Are they new?” “Sort of. and I rolled down the window. Li. but part strategy too.” “Oh. Sorry and Parcheesi.had left already. More like build-up-yourempire types of games. and water bottle and headed for the door. not old ones like that. All the . and Li was standing there with the keys.” “Umm. Wait. car keys. Would you like to come? I can teach you to play.

Li was still standing there waiting for my answer. Three dates. Something was definitely wrong with me. I went upstairs. When I walked in the door. “Sure. opened the door to the walkway between the two houses. I stared up at the stars. and you can follow me over.” I smiled back at him. sounds great. it sounds like fun. “Okay. Leaning my head back.” He smiled at me. . I had three dates in the next two weeks and wasn’t looking forward to any of them. and sat on a deck chair.neighborhood kids avoided their house because they gave out sugarless treats and lectured the parents on the evils of too many sweets. Oh. She loves to cook. “Great! Meet me here at the studio at six o’clock.” I drove home feeling weird. and don’t eat because my grandmother always makes a big feast on Halloween. I threw my bag on the couch and pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge.

This was one case where his persistence paid off for him. parked. I really didn’t want to go out with Artie. and I suspected it wasn’t the first time. My hair was in a French braid with a blue ribbon tied around the tail. and sat in the car for a minute.” . Resigned. Artie. I wandered over to him and slid my hands into my jean pockets. and I was wearing my trusty sneakers.CHAPTER 3 Date 1 I drove to campus. He had given me no clue as to what we would be doing. so I dressed normally for me: jeans and a nice shirt. “Hey. He was standing there staring at his watch with a brown package tucked under his arm. I made my way to the language lab.

We’re running late. Then. turned onto a sidewalk.” Good thing I wore my tennis shoes.” He started telling me all about her and about how they were so in love in high school. Kelsey. He was walking silently and stiffly ahead. okay. Come on. He wasn’t only big. So you date lots of people?” . “Where are we going?” “I have to drop a package off for an old friend at the post office first.” “I see. and I like to keep in touch. Girls really seem to like me.“Hi. no. “So you don’t want to take your car?” “Oh. They’re much too expensive. She’s away at another school. “Oh. I don’t own a car.” “Uh-huh. I had to almost jog to keep up with him. That’s…nice of you. and started heading for town.” “Oh. I date lots of girls.” He started walking briskly down the hall. I knew the post office in town was about a mile and a half away from campus. but he kept on walking.” “Oh. “So…who’s the package for?” “It’s for my old high school girlfriend. I decided it was probably up to me to get the conversation going. is she dating anyone else now?” “She dates lots of people on and off the same as I do.” I followed him out to the parking lot where I assumed his car was parked. and his stride was much longer than mine. he was tall. he said that when they went their separate ways they broke up so they could date other people.

Pretty dumb of me. I would have brought gloves. and he went inside to mail his package. Fortunately. . I slipped my jacket on and spent my time admiring all the houses we passed that were decorated for Halloween. So you date lots of people?” “Oh yeah. Heck. It’s pretty cold out. I was starving. We finally got to the post office. Y should see my day planner.” “I see.” It was the longest walk of my life. I’d forgotten to eat lunch because I was too wrapped up in studying. but it was too cold. If I had known we’d be outside this long. The smell of Chinese food coming from next door was mouthwatering. He looked down at my frozen red chapped hands.“Uh-huh. and a stiff wind was blowing. My glutton-for-punishment brain insisted that he would have given me his gloves. I was clapping my hands and rubbing them together. eh?” He shrugged. “Too bad you didn’t think to bring gloves.” “Y eah. I tuned him out and tried to pretend I was walking in the jungle. I’m like the campus bachelor of the year. I wouldn’t normally walk outside in this weather. By the time he finally stepped outside. he never asked me any questions. He actually slipped some leather gloves out of his pocket and put them on. He just kept on bragging about how many women he dated. The sky was dark and overcast. I looked around at the different tiny restaurants on Main Street and wondered which one we would be eating at. I’ve got dates lined up ou for years.

He spoke about his childhood and family. he continued to talk about himself. and I felt a balmy Indian summer breeze blow softly through my hair. The tree where I’d last gazed into his cobalt blue eyes. I have a real treat in store for you.he would have given me the shirt off his back if he thought I might have need of it. Suddenly. The cold. I would have been shocked if he even knew my last name. the fact is…I’m in love with you. including the chess club. I heard his warm.” I tried to plaster an enthusiastic smile on my face. And I have been for some time. frankly. Instead.” On the walk back to campus. “Kelsey. my mind wandered as I replayed a conversation with a very different type of man in my mind. I got tired of listening. He never asked one question about me. I was standing under the tree. The tree where I’d said goodbye. and I was looking up at twinkling stars in a night sky. “So.” He was so beautiful. where to next?” My eyes darted hopefully over to the Chinese restaurant. I don’t want you to leave. “Back to campus. “That’s… great. chafing wind of Oregon dropped far away. like a warrior-angel sent down . I let him talk about himself the entire way back. The gray overcast evening faded. He touched my face and spoke. and. He described all the great awards he had gotten and about how he was president of five clubs. hypnotic voice very clearly. Please …please…please…tell me you’ll stay with me. I asked.

They’re very popular here. He would have pursued me. and I struggled for a minute to contain the strong emotions that surfaced when I allowed myself to think about him. he hadn’t called. Maybe now I could start healing and let him go. He just kept rambling on and on without even bothering to check and see if I was paying attention. especially when all he wanted was me? “I want to give you something. The fact was. He would have come after me. Artie was still droning on about how he’d won the debate championship single-handedly. It was a dangerous place to go. I was right to leave him and give him space. I was right. That right there proved that I made the right decision. I need you. I asked him some questions and made brief comments. I was grateful that I didn’t have to feign enthusiasm. It’s an anklet. even if I was having second thoughts about my choice to leave.” How could I leave him? My mind snapped back to the present.from heaven.” My ankle tingled as I remembered his fingers brushing against it. and I got this one so we’d never have to search for a bell again. he would have called me. I considered where my thoughts had just taken me. He actually seemed annoyed that I was disturbing his . So. How could I have denied him anything. If he really loved me as much as he said he did. I wrenched my attention back to Artie and made a real effort to listen to his conversation. “Kells…please. He didn’t even notice my mental lapse.

I still had a date with Jason tomorrow and one with Li next week. I’m taking you to a movie. “Um.dialogue. It’s very clever of me. Okay. what is this big surprise you have planned for me? A picnic on the grounds maybe?” He laughed. Don’t you think?” . Come on. Grateful for the warmth of the building. Artie? What exactly are we doing here?” His eyes twinkled. so there was absolutely no way Artie could be the right guy. “No. and gave the lady a paper. my stomach was actually growling loudly enough that it could be heard within a threeblock radius. “Not many guys have figured out how to have a date with spending absolutely no money at all. and I don’t have to spend a dime!” He grinned at me while my mouth dropped open. Artie looked down at me and clucked like a disapproving parent. asked for two headsets. I have something much better planned. I asked.” He led me to the Hamersly Library. I rubbed my stiff hands together. so I gave up and went back to passive listening mode. isn’t it? We can watch a es! movie. Then. but that didn’t mean there were no other options. Oh. I’ll just tell you.” “A movie? In the library media center?” “Y It’s a great idea. “Guess. Artie. I was seriously hoping that we would be heading to the campus café and eating there. When we arrived back on campus. He led me to the media center. he pushed two wooden chairs in front of a six inch black and white television in the corner of the media section. “So.

and he slipped giant old gray earphones over his ears and pointed to mine. I felt disgusted and hungry. Not only were his dates not important enough to listen to. He had a slight smirk on his face. He was still staring straight ahead at the tiny movie screen when he picked up his heavy arm and settled it on the back of my wooden chair. . I pursed my lips. my stomach gave up growling. Did he think girls actually liked to be treated this way? It wasn’t that a date had to be expensive or that you even had to spend money at all. I peeked at him out of the corner of my eye. He was actually smug about everything.He was waiting for my reply. I dusted mine off with my shirt then plugged the cord into the television and slammed them over my head. What annoyed me was that he was smug about it. An hour into the movie. The movie started. when Artie made a move. very irritated that I would be sitting here for two…more …hours. and I was mentally sending messages to Gene Kelly to dance faster. “Oh. The opening credits of the movie Brigadoon flashed across the screen. That wasn’t what bothered me about this.” I quickly shut my mouth after that and bit back my scathing sarcastic reply. This was just the icing on the cake. it’s clever alright. but they weren’t even worth spending a dime on. I imagined he was mentally checking off a task in his planner.

I pretended that I was shifting the chair out so that I could sit again. Sighing. I stood up. As I walked by. but I actually pulled it slightly farther away from him. The media specialist had rewound it at least . He did too and walked over to the lady at the desk. I sat on the edge and tapped my foot impatiently. He responded by scooting his chair closer to mine and put his arm around the back of it again. Making the excuse that I needed to use the restroom. The movie started again. I overheard him asking her to stop the movie and rewind it just a bit so we would remember where we left off. His arm was still resting on the back of my chair when I returned. I was determined to just suffer through the last part of the movie then run for home.I leaned forward and sat uncomfortably on the edge of my seat for the entire second half of the movie. but he could see the bathroom door from where we were sitting. Great! That adds five more minutes to this fantastic experience! I hurried as fast as I could because I was worried that he might try to start the whole thing over again. and it just felt very rude. I considered the idea of running madly out of the building.

I’ll walk you to your car. so I’ll see you on Monday. Finally. even though we are . Well.fifteen minutes back from where we left off. “I must say I’m surprised. using it like a shield. I plopped mine down on her desk too. Y made a very ou bad decision in purchasing it. heaven forbid. Too slow. this was great. finally the movie was over. and I made a beeline for it. I didn’t buy it. and started to briskly walk out of the library. Now he walks slowly? After I had to jog for several miles just to keep up with him! He better not be entertaining an idea that there will be a second date or.” He slowly rolled up his headset and gave it to the lady. okay? Thanks for the date. a good night kiss! Luckily. I knew the car was extravagant. so I lashed out at him. My car is parked just outside. He was walking slow. there are many better things you could have done with that money. but then his expression became disapproving. I wouldn’t have even gotten up. for your information. Artie. “Okay. Kelsey! This kind of car is a discredit to you. I pulled out the keys and stood behind the open door. and I jumped up like someone had just pulled the fire alarm. “I happen to like this car! And. but he was being very judgmental about something he didn’t know anything about. I shook my head in disbelief. No more bathroom breaks for me. my car was parked in the lot nearby. My old boyfriend gave it to me.” I got angry. Kelsey. If I’d known this was going to happen. Surely. His face registered shock at first when he saw my car.” “Wait.

the night wasn’t over yet. He put his hand on my car door and leaned his corpulent body toward me. I had a great time with you and want to go out with you again next week. “Can’ dating other people. “Look. He looked awkward.” My mouth dropped open.” I nodded and slipped into my car and shut the door. so I don’t know my schedule that far ahead. he was entertaining the idea that I would happily go out with him again. I’ll see you in lab next week. “Uh…I didn’t bring my planner with me. sure. but then again. I have another date planned already. and said.” He nodded as if that made perfect sense to him. “So. I’ll call you later. “what about Saturday?” I searched my brain frantically for an escape. like smiling was something unnatural for him. Artie. Better nip this one in the bud. His bow tie was a few inches from my nose. because I knew I’d never given him my phone .” he didn’t even blink. I felt momentarily grateful that his checklist did not include a good night kiss on the first date. “Y know it really ou hurts when you talk about old boyfriends buying you things while on a date with someone else.” He pressed forward undeterred.” He frowned at me nonplussed. I honestly couldn’t think of a thing to say. Grinning. Kelsey. I have a terrible headache. He forced a smile to his face. It’s very rude. How about next Friday?” Apparently. okay?” “Okay. “Oh.

We shuffled into the crowd of people heading over to the football field. Leaning up against his old Corolla.” “Are you ready?” “Y Lead the way. I rationalized that they matched my sweatshirt color perfectly. Normally. so I didn’t have a set of my own. I drove through the quiet streets of Monmouth and up the mountain to my peaceful home. Kelsey! Nice wheels!” “Thanks. I met Jason in the parking lot and immediately began cataloging his good qualities. but he dressed decently and was smart. Being outdoors in the fall and winter for extended periods of time was something I hadn’t done since my parents had died. he raised his eyebrows in shock when he saw it was me emerging from the Porsche. Plus. He was a cute guy with sandy blond hair and brown eyes. but there were also the navy . but I also didn’t want to use his money to go out and buy new ones.” ep. I would have shunned anything he had bought for me. Date 2 The next date. I was better prepared for the weather and wore my red WOU sweatshirt and also brought a thicker coat and a red cashmere scarf and gloves that I had found tucked in a drawer. Most people were wearing red or the Western Wolf shirts. “Wow.number. He was a little on the skinny side and shorter than average.

Sitting down. A tiny grill was full of smoking sausages and hamburgers. “Hi.” and “Nice to meet yous. eh. What is it with me? Am I purposely looking for things that annoy me about other guys? Most guys chew with their mouths open.” He handed me an icy Diet Coke. and pointed to two empty lawn chairs. just a little less bloody. He led me to a truck surrounded by couples having a tailgate party. please.” I heard a couple of “Hey. theres. “So. you aren’t a drinker. Jason filled up a plate for me and then popped open a cooler. I’m going to miss out on life if I keep doing this to myself. We met in our anthro class. grabbed a beer for and white colors of Western Washington University scattered here and there. So what! It’s what guys do at football games.” Several faces peered over and around their neighbors to get a good glimpse. if you have it. guys! I want to introduce you to Kelsey. I waved shyly back at them. forgetting we were there. “Hey. It was almost as bad as watching a tiger eat. Ugh.” and then they went back to their conversations. Diet. “Hey. he immediately rammed half his hot dog in his mouth and chewed loudly while grinning at me. Kelsey. I looked away from him and started picking at my food. Even a couple of Viking hats were bobbing up and down in the crowd. I really have to chill out or Jennifer’s right. want a beer?” I shook my head. Kelsey?” . “Soda.

“Umm. Or maybe it was because he was just…perfect. I will . I mentally groaned. What am I doing? Immediately. much older. ” “No problem. priyatama. but…I knew that he would have reacted very differently than Jason did. Secondly. “Shh. The fact that he at least fed me on the date already moved him way ahead of Artie in my estimation. I flashed back to a time when I woke up from a nightmare featuring my parents and death.” He grimaced and scooted his beer out of sight under the chair. alcohol lost all appeal for me when my parents were killed by a drunk driver a few years back. The problem was that I did give it a second thought. Don’t give it a second thought. I could still feel his hand wiping the tears from my cheeks as he pulled me onto his lap. Sorry . “It’s okay. I tried to shut it down. I guess not. Kelsey. Maybe it was because he was older. I’m here. I apologized. I promise I’ll be much more perky at the game. Jason. Or maybe it was because he wasn’t American. I’m underage first of all. watch over you. Hush now Mein aapka raksha karunga.” He went back to scarfing down his food and laughing with his friends. Mein aagaya. Sorry to be such a downer. I knew it wasn’t something you should normally bring up on a first date. and he was there to comfort me. ” “Oh.” He’d stroked my hair and . but I couldn’t help myself. I’m not leaving you. but his reaction to my parents’ deaths bothered me.

and I threw an expression of interest on my face and tried to involve myself in the conversation. I had to figure out what was going on from the scoreboard. He would have stroked my back and understood how I felt. Maybe the beer helped with that. He and his friends were really into the game. The games went on forever. They stood up and cheered a lot. I thought it was rather dull. he would’ve pulled me into a hug or onto his lap. The cold didn’t seem to bother any of them. No. even if . I shook myself. My sweetheart. Maybe it was because they were jumping around so much. I know the fundamentals of football. he wouldn’t. we got up and headed to the football field. Half an hour later. My beloved. If he were here with me now. Since then. I’m with you. It’s over. I’d had time to look up those words I didn’t understand then. He might have once. It was nice being outside in the crisp fall air. and we would have been sad together. though it provided relief to my cold backside. I never knew what I was cheering about.whispered soothing words to me until I felt the dream fade. but now he’s moved on. but I’d never had much interest in it. He’s gone now and it . but the benches were cold and my nose was frozen. I’ll take care of you. and there were so many games in a season that. I stood up and tried to jump around a bit too. doesn’t matter anymore what he would have done or how he would have reacted. Jason was filling another plate. No. The ball was too far away and too small for me to see much.

and several antique cars rolled out and drove around the outside of the field. I glanced up at the scoreboard. Now I’m hallucinating. Jason and his friends booed and then finally sat back down. I slumped back in my seat. and the second half of the game started. but he . By the time the game was over. When the girls left the field. Jason was still standing up and screaming with his friends. Jason walked me back to my car and awkwardly put an arm around my shoulder to try to warm me followed only one team. but no one was there. Twenty seconds. One minute. The football players came out. I had no interest in devoting that much time to a sport. I stopped trying to feign enthusiasm and just let my body slowly freeze to the bench. hoping the pressure would shove him back to the recesses of my mind. I pressed my knuckles to my head and pushed. my teeth were chattering. I much preferred movies and books. “You are more beautiful than any of the woman out there. Two minutes. BZZZZ! The timer sounded. The first half clock was running down. Great. it would keep you watching television longer than the full season of any drama or sitcom. and both teams ran off the field.” I whipped my head around and looked behind me and to the side. Beautiful girls dressed in chiffon and silk were perched up on the top of the backseats and waved at the crowd. The homecoming parade started. A silky soft voice whispered in my ear. Jason joined all the other guys in wolf whistles and screamed out his appreciation with the frenzied crowd.

“Hey. My midterm stuff was done already. so I decided to give him another shot. I bit my lip. He headed back to his wild group of friends. “Right. and I managed to avoid Artie. Y know where you can find me. First dates were usually awkward anyway. but I did set up another date with Jason after midterms were over. he was just a typical guy. Catch ya in anthro on Monday.” “So. It was much easier being with him than with Artie for sure.” ep. Jason wasn’t a bad guy. It was very possible that I felt more comfortable around Li because he looked more and acted more like YouKnow-Who.” “Y see ya. and I wondered for a minute if he was headed to a keg party. I had a great time tonight getting to know you better.” I ou gave him a halfhearted smile. “Y eah.” Did he get to know me at all? “Y eah. except for a test in Latin class. and he was even more comfortable to be around than Jason. Before I knew it. . it was Thursday. He needed to study. can I call you later?” I considered that for a minute. me too. Kelsey. There was something about Li that made me feel more comfortable. and Li reminded me about our date the next night. See ya.rubbed too hard and left my shoulder sore. sure. Date 3 The next week sped by very quickly.

Dabbing on some apricot lip gloss. Kelsey! Y look great!” ou “Thanks. I saw a flash of orange in one and chose that one. which was also not my norm. The outfit made me look tall and chic and well …stylish. I opened the closet that I vowed never to open and started peeking in the garment bags. “Wow. To go with it was a pair of dark blue stretch denim jeans. burnt-orange top designed to look like a short trench coat. I’m sure it’s a big change from sweaty gym clothes. I had to get out and knock on his window to get his attention. “Thanks. They fit me perfectly. I mean…you always look great. like they’d been tailored. being careful to drive slower than usual to avoid hitting any wandering trick-ortreaters.I wonder if I show him preferential treatment because of that. and I wasn’t sure what to wear. Unzipping the heavy bag. It’s very nice of you to say that. Reluctantly. I drove out to meet Li at the studio. It was accented with a tie belt and wooden buttons. Li was sitting in his car listening to music and bobbing his head up and down. slipping those on. It cascaded down my back in curly waves. which was not my norm.” I laughed easily with him. A dark pair of boots sat in the bottom of the bag and. He grinned at me. The next evening was Halloween. Li. He immediately turned off the radio and got out of his car. When I arrived at the studio. right?” . I twirled in front of the mirror. So I’m going to follow you. I found a long-sleeved.” “Y eah! I mean no. I left my hair down.

no. and then opened my door for me again. thank you. I still know how to open my own door. her glasses . But. Plus. I laughed at his expression.” I walked back to my car. Well.” He took my hand and pulled me into a cute kitchen that smelled better than any Chinese restaurant I’d ever been to.” “Oh.” He led me into the foyer where we slipped off our shoes. and that is what I do. My grandfather always taught me to open doors for ladies. and he parked his car. I almost didn’t make it!” He grinned at me again. but before I reached the door. “Let’s stop in the kitchen first so you can meet my grandmother. my grandma makes us great food. When she looked up. “Even if you didn’t. He jumped out to indicate where I could park.“Right. He drove slowly too. “This is my grandparents’ house.” He bowed his head slightly and laughed then walked back to his car and pulled out onto the street. “Whew. and checked his rearview mirror often to make sure I made it through the intersections. Come on. Li raced past me and opened the door for me.” “Oh. A tiny white-haired woman was checking the rice in a rice cooker. We stopped in a nice older neighborhood. The sound of several young men laughing and joking was coming from the back of the house. he taught you properly. We always meet here for game night because they have the biggest table. Y are the perfect ou gentleman. and he led me in that direction.

Grandma Zhi. Huddled around the ten-foot table was a group of Asian boys having a heated discussion about the placement of tiles on the game board.” One guy waggled his eyebrows. Li walked in first.” There were other various mutterings and some chair-shifting. Grandma. What kept you so long?” At that moment.” “Hey. “Li!” “Hey.” Li dipped his finger into a simmering pot. “Hey. and pulled me through the door and over to the group. I thought I caught one quiet comment . She’s going to be playing with us tonight. and all their attention turned to him. “Kelsey. Li. I followed him to a back room. this is Grandma Zhi. and she picked up a wooden spoon and smacked him lightly across the knuckles. man. He laughed while she clucked her tongue at him. Then she spoke to him in what I guessed was Mandarin. Li reached over.” “Y ou’re lucky Wen bought the expansion kit. took my hand. huó Kelsey. guys. Li!” “No wonder he took so long.were steamy. “See you later.” I caught her smiling proudly at him as we turned the corner. This is Kelsey. Nice to meet you. which had all the furniture shoved to the side so that a large dining room table with probably four leaves stood in a position of prominence. “Nice to meet you too.” I smiled back. “Hello. About time you showed up.” She smiled and nodded at me and grasped my fingers in hers. “Alright.

and he dragged a side table over to . After a few turns. Near the end of the game. My stomach growled to remind me. vegetable stir fry. Li grabbed a soda for me and nodded his head toward the living room. and all the boys groaned. everybody settled down and the game began. Li sat next to me and guided me through the game process. I put down a sheep. I was surprised that hours had gone by. the last one of the game. “I win!” Several of the boys grumbled about beginner’s luck and made a big show of counting all my points one more time just to make sure my count was accurate. The boys headed for the big table again and began noisily eating and clearing away the game. It was a bonus point. I started to feel more confident and held my own without his help. steamed pork dumplings. but I could always look to Li for help. I never knew if it was a wise decision to trade wheat for brick or ore for sheep. Li stood up and stretched. He ribbed me good-naturedly about how he was so close that I’d never make it. but I couldn’t tell who was talking. I changed two of my settlements for cities. an ore. “Time to eat. After a few moments. pot stickers.” His grandmother had set out a delicious buffet for us.about bringing a girl to the party. and a wheat and bought a development card. and miniature shrimp egg rolls. The boys piled their plates full of fried rice. Li and I sat down in the living room. it was obvious that the final game point was going to be a race between me and a boy named Shen.

Something new that I haven’t heard before. “So tell me more about you. Kelsey. “Twenty-two. I’m trying to save up for medical school. I umm…worked in India as an intern. I just took a lot of classes and went to summer school too. What about you? What did you do this summer?” “I worked for Grandfather in the studio mostly. did you graduate early?” “Not really. “Y our grandparents have a really nice home. historical stuff. that. art. said.” ep.” I took a sip of soda. Meii is majoring in chemistry.” “Wow. I dipped a pot sticker in warm soy the living room. Shen is studying computer engineering.” “Medical school? So you already have a BA?” “Y From PSU in biology.” “Y guys sure are…goal oriented. Li?” He grinned.” “Wow! That’s amazing! What did you do?” “Mostly cataloging and keeping records. “What do you want to know?” “Well.” He nodded and while picking up his pork dumpling expertly with chopsticks.” ou . and he dragged a side table over to set our food on and then scooted another chair close so he could sit with me and eat. “How old are you. how about…what did you do this summer?” “Oh.” “What kinds of things did you catalog?” “Ruins. Wen has graduated and is working on his master’s in statistical analysis.” “What about your friends? Are they all in college?” “Y eah. and then there’s me in medicine.

” I followed him back to the kitchen. The guys had set up a new game with tiny train cars. I’m going to have to work extra hard in wushu to get rid of all the calories already. he’ll give you all the details.” I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “No. though. I found one of Li and his grandfather Chuck holding about three trophies each. he was. Right now I’m studying India. Thanks. I stopped to look at some framed pictures. Those are all mine. When we passed the fireplace. He got us two more sodas. Want some more?” “No. your grandfather must have been very proud. Come on.” “Oh. . If you ask him. “Oh. Grandma Zhi?” He pecked her on the cheek and she fluttered her hands to shoo him away from her dishwater.“What about you? What’s your major?” “International studies with a minor in art history. We just had to collect colored cards and build up trains to get points.” “That would be cool. and we wandered back to the game room.” He laughed and took my plate.” “Excellent! Do you plan on doing any studies of China?” “I don’t know. That’s quite an accomplishment. but perhaps I’ll get around to China as well.” “Oh. Isn’t that right. This game was much easier to learn. that was when I competed in a martial arts tournament. so the studio won all of those?” He flushed. “What are these for?” Li peered at the picture. “There’s nothing my grandparents like to do more than talk up their posterity. “I knew you were good… but I didn’t know you were that good.

” or “Don’t get lost on the way back. Sounds like fun. “Remind me to lose next time. They all grumbled and complained. by cutting off their routes. my strategy didn’t work so well. but it was really fun. When you win.This time. By the time the game was done.” “Does me winning the first game mean you’re going to go easy on me in wushu class?” “Nuh-uh. And our tell Grandma Zhi that she’s a wonderful hostess!” “I will. Grandma Zhi brought in a bowlful of Halloween treats. What happens when you win?” He grinned.” . Y friends are great. Kelsey. Li walked me out to the car while the other guys shot comments at his back like.” “Thanks for inviting me.” He cheerfully ignored them and closed the door behind us as we walked out into the cold starry evening.” I laughed. Every time I tried to go one direction. I go harder on you. see you on Monday in wushu. “Okay. so I focused on thwarting everybody else instead. and we made quick work of that. I had a lot more fun with you here. “Thanks for coming. “I’ll be giving that question some serious thought.” He opened my car door for me. I knew I’d never make my destinations. I climbed in. and I still lost.” “Sure. “Try not to take too long. “So. I got cut off. and he closed it and leaned in the window.” He grinned. it was past midnight. you think you’d like to come over and play again? We get together every two weeks.

and accidentally knocked my white stuffed tiger off the bed and onto the floor. mustering the strength to do it. but maybe that could change in the future. cuddled under my grandmother’s quilt. I considered leaving it there or putting it in the closet. and I berated myself for being weak. I didn’t really feel anything for him other than friendship. Leaning over the bed. I might actually learn to like someone else. My resolve lasted only five minutes. For a minute. I climbed wearily into bed thinking that. I rolled on my side. and I lay there quietly staring at the ceiling. apologizing profusely for even thinking about it. . I picked up my stuffed tiger and cuddled him to my chest.He backed away and stood under the porch light watching me drive off. Li was fun and sweet. given enough time.

Sometimes. He laughed his head off the entire time while I nibbled on popcorn and sipped my soda. I just let the voicemail get it and erased his messages. he figured out my cell phone number and started calling me at exactly 5:00 every evening. It was one of those stupid comedies. I wasn’t fond of bodily humor jokes. I learned he was from Eugene and was . He seemed determined to get me to go out with him again. and I made excuses about being late for study groups. he waited for me after class. Somehow. Jason asked me out to a movie.CHAPTER 4 Now that Halloween was over. my focus became preparing for finals and avoiding Artie. Jason did talk to me more this time. and the movie was riddled with them. though. The guy would not take a hint.

and Comedy Central. “No problem. but I felt like we were communicating on two different wavelengths. He liked sports. he was in heaven.roommates with his old high school friends.” He grinned and opened his car door. He put his arm around my shoulders in the theater and wanted to hold my hand as we walked to the car. I had a good time. food. and I couldn’t appreciate the subtle differences between college teams and pro teams. I told him a little bit about myself. Kells. “I’ll see ya later.” He was already off and heading back to his car. I decided that. “Oh. I could tell that he wanted to prolong the date and maybe come inside. He walked me to the door and stood there expectantly. and if he could combine two or more at the same time. babe. When he dropped me off. I often found myself not speaking at all because I had nothing to say about his chosen topic of conversation. Not being on the same wavelength bothered me.” I knew that Jason and I were not heading anywhere with this dating thing. but I still liked to partner with him in class. He was bored talking about Shakespeare. I didn’t think he cared much that we weren’t compatible. and he listened. just for the time being. poetry. “Umm…Jason? Do you mind if I ask you in another time? I stayed up late studying last night and need to catch some sleep before tomorrow.” He slouched.” He lightly punched me on my arm and said. Sure. and books. obviously disappointed. I’d play it . Jason. “Thanks though.

As ear and see what his intentions were. but I sometimes did it to spare their feelings like I did tonight. Maybe someday the cords would wear and finally break. I noticed that my arms and legs were getting some more definition. I hated lying to people. If someone attacked me. I might actually be able to fend them off. got my blanket and some lemon water. even an ocean away. which was a very empowering thought. but not lonely enough to have Jason here. and its relentless pull kept trying to tug me back. An invisible tether that was wrapped tightly around my heart connected me to him. Jennifer was really struggling to maintain her balance. Nighttime was the hardest because I felt him. It was like…my soul felt lonely. In wushu class. I just didn’t want to deal with the multitude of possible challenges that appeared when you invited a guy into your house. but I figured most people didn’t actually have to face enemies that wanted to eat them or immortal . and she fell often but kept trying. and made myself cozy in the recliner by the window. though not as much. Sweeps were hard because they required excellent balance. I changed into pajamas. I wasn’t really feeling tired. It wasn’t the kind of loneliness you could cure by being around other people. I felt lonely. we weren’t supposed to have thoughts like that. so you had to have a very strong core. and I felt much stronger as well. Who needed tiger protection? I’d just kick them in the face. I decided that I’d read for a while before going to bed. we started learning front and back sweeps and side-kicks. I fell too.

it felt nice. in face enemies that wanted to eat them or immortal monkeys that bit your knee. Sometimes. One time. I tried to wave her off so she wasn’t too obvious in front of the class. Jennifer often smiled when she watched us together and gave me long. “I think they’re doing As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet this year. I wasn’t sure if it would be okay with them if their teacher was giving a student preferential treatment. I could see what Jennifer meant about Li watching me. like I did. . but he seemed interested and open to learning more. Now that I was aware of it. He didn’t know much about literature. if I didn’t have any homework. but still nice. You-Know-Who and I had studied that play together. Sometimes after class. meaningful looks and winked at me a lot. He knew a lot about wushu and several other styles of martial arts. he squeezed my elbow or my shoulder as he guided me through different moves. I allowed myself to visualize my many possible opponents and kicked with intensity. Li even made a comment that my kicks were getting stronger. “How about going with me to Ashland to see the Shakespeare Festival next spring?” Apparently he’d done some research since the last time we talked. He smiled often in my direction and took more opportunities to work with me than with the others. Not goosebumpy nice. I’d hang out in the studio and talk with Li. It didn’t really bother me. So. Would you like to see those?” My heart stopped when he said Romeo and Juliet. we were sitting side by side on the mat after class and he said.

but do you like me like me or do you just like me?” I thought for a minute about what to say next. ” “Oh. so I couldn’t see his expression.and I knew I couldn’t watch it and not think of him.” “Oh. to be honest with you. I like hanging out with you. Umm…yeah. Finally.” ep. sure. So. It’s hard to get over things like that. Y ou’re a lot of fun and easy to talk to.” “What do you mean? I’m seeing you alone right now. I’ll check it out on the Internet when I get home. I’m not sure about the dates. “Right. are you coming over for Saturday’s game night?” “Y Wouldn’t miss it.” “No…I mean seeing me. Can I get back to you on that?” “Sure. Like…if we were dating or something. I just sort of broke up with someone recently and it still hurts. We were chatting in the studio. I don’t know if I can be serious with anyone right now.” He grimaced. but I’d want to skip Romeo and Juliet this time. Maybe we can pick a different one instead. He became quiet and rolled his water bottle back and forth nervously between his palms. he spoke. and I just agreed to see a play with you. “Kelsey…I wanted to ask you if you’d like to see me. “Well. you’re at the top of my like list. I . and I like you a lot. Alone. But. “As You Like It would be fun. which was dark because he’d left only the entry light on. In fact. I think you’re great. Without the other guys.

We went into an old one-screen movie theater that had only one working employee. We shared popcorn and kicked our feet up on the seats in front of us. popcorn.understand. Want to go?” “Okay. That Friday night. I’d still like to see you. so I dressed comfortably and left my hair in a ponytail. and drinks at a decent price for movie theaters. “Okay. We booed at the bad guy and . Li led me up the steps and picked seats in the middle. “Y ou’ve got a deal. He sold us the tickets then walked to the refreshment stand and served us there too.m. Only three other people were seated in the theater. he picked me up at 11:00 p.” He reached out a hand to pull me up and stood close to me for a second or two then smiled and walked me out to my car. The credits rolled for a Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon. I mean. Li whispered that Bruce Lee’s kicks were faster than cameras could record at that time and that the scene with hundreds of mirrors at the end was genius. and we wandered into the dark room.” “So.” I considered a moment. but only if you promise to teach me one of the cool moves from the movie. I didn’t know if I’d even have the energy to stay awake through the whole movie. how about we start with a martial arts movie? There’s a place that shows old movies at midnight on Friday nights.” Grinning at me. he said. lady. if you think you’d like to go out with me and if you’re ready to. Li bought us candy. though. I’d like that. for our date.

grabbed my hand. After making sure I was stable enough to make it up to my bed.” “M’kay.seats in front of us. it’s alright. I started feeling sleepy and leaned my head back on the chair. “Kelsey. and I was surprised when I felt the cold breeze rush in as Li opened my car door. I could tell when we started driving up the mountain because my body angled back in the seat more and the lights disappeared. I’ve seen this movie like a thousand times. Come on. Let’s get you home. The next week in wushu class. Let’s go. Y gotta see the ou ou hundreds of mirrors thing. “Kelsey.” Letting me lean on his arm. Y watch.” Lolling my head in his direction.” “Nah. and I fell into a light sleep where I was still aware of my environment but couldn’t open my eyes. Street lights passed over my closed eyelids like bright little suns. Jennifer invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner with her family. he led me up to the door and fished my key out of my bag. Let’s get you in the house. I mumbled with slurred speech. and walked me out to his car. no.” He tossed our empty popcorn bucket and soda cups. you’re home. I’ll just take a little nap. he said good night and quietly closed the door behind him. “No. He gently shook my shoulder. My energy lasted only half the movie. I groaned and told her I couldn’t because my foster family was . you’re getting tired. We booed at the bad guy and cheered on the hero. He was quiet on the drive home. The darkness caused me to slip more deeply into sleep.

the happy light atmosphere blew away and was replaced by a thick. I froze and felt a wave of sadness wash over me. “Kelsey. Then she proposed that she could make her dinner later so that I could still come. if I wasn’t “full from the tofurky. but he hesitated.” He taught me a move where you grab on to your opponent from behind and twist his body so he falls down and you can pin him there.” “Then I will definitely be there!” She grinned back at me and asked if I would mind if she invited Li too. Li said. It took me some time to stifle the giggles. that is. Great move. He leaned over me still laughing. I’m fine. expectant tension. He showed me how to do it a few times then let me practice on him. watching my reaction. That’s fine with me.expecting me. his face close to mine. and he reached over and twisted both of us so we fell to the mat in a tangle. “Not a bad move at all. but I was eventually successful and wiped a tear from my eye.” All of a sudden. I closed my eyes and turned . “No. bring it on. She scrunched up her face as I described the tofu feast awaiting me. are you alright? Did I hurt you?” For some reason. I’ve got you right where I want you. huh?” He was leaning over me. “Umm…sure. I kept messing it up by twisting him the wrong way. He leaned his face a little closer to mine. We both started laughing. I found his question hysterical. “So are you ready to learn your new move?” “Sure.” After class.

” He chucked me lightly under my chin. “I’m…sorry. but other than that.slightly away. I explained that it was nothing serious and that I had just gone out on a few dates. She had pilgrim hats that she insisted everybody wear and Thanksgiving decorations all over her home. Thanksgiving Day was rainy and cold. It was very festive. it looked good. and I found I was able to enjoy some of the vegetable dishes. It just didn’t feel right. I’d let the meringue toast just a little too long. . Li chatted animatedly with everyone. and I was proud of the result. but he seemed determined to keep things lighthearted between us and quickly diverted my attention to other things. She lived in a nice house in West Salem. They asked how I was doing. and I told them that I was sort of dating. I just couldn’t do the sugar-free. what do ya say?” His eyes were a little sad. “Don’t worry about it. though. Let’s go get a milkshake. I managed to get out of there in plenty of time to head over to Jennifer’s. gluten-free pie. They seemed thrilled by the idea and pestered me with a lot of questions that I didn’t really want to answer. I felt awful. then he sat up and tugged me up with him. It just seemed wrong. I brought a lemon meringue pie with me. I enjoyed being at Jennifer’s. but my foster family lit their fireplace. I could feel him watching me for a minute. Li. He confided to me that he’d already stuffed himself at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner but that he’d saved his dessert stomach for my pie. It was my first attempt to make one myself. but I couldn’t kiss him.

They all moved over to me and hopped up and down. I like him. together?” “It’s hard to say. fighting over whose room I would sleep in.” She shrunk a little and frowned at the dishwater. right?” “Sure. complaining that his stomach was so full he’d have to sleep over. a marionberry pie. Feeling a little squeamish when he brought up dissections. “Li?” “Umm…it’s going fine. He got out of their attempts to wrap him in a sleeping bag by explaining that if he was going to sleep over then I should too. I took a little sample from each and was in heaven. Jennifer shooed them away and put on A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD.” . Jennifer’s kids thought that would be a great idea.” “So are you guys. “So…” “Sooo…what?” “So…how’s it going with. He ate half of my pie in one sitting. I was helping her clean up. Jennifer also had made a pumpkin pie. she washed while I dried.” she whispered conspiratorially. I moved to the kitchen to chat with Jennifer. when she asked.He was true to his word. “But you like him. which settled them all down immediately. I think it’s too early in our relationship to call us together. then another thought occurred to her that brightened her mood. you know. He’s a good guy. and a cheesecake. Li groaned. Li sat down in the living room and started up a conversation with Jennifer’s husband about biology and medical school.

” “Then I don’t understand. “Because…” I whispered. And we aren’t together because…” She encouraged me softly.” “He didn’t want you to leave?” “No. Nothing like that.” She picked up another plate. “It’s . He was…perfect.” “Didn’t he want to come with you?” The corner of my mouth quirked up in a small smile. “So. It almost seems second nature to you to push that topic out of your mind. I don’t remember you ever asking me about him. “I’ve never talked about him to you?” “No.“Oh.” “Hmm.” She was disappointed again. right?” I paused with my damp towel in midswipe of her nice turkey platter. “I had to beg him to stay behind. Why did you leave him?” “He was too…I was too…” I sighed. “Well. Y always act like you ou don’t hear me or you deflect the question or ask about my kids. “Because…I left him. it’s still that other one. “I’m sorry if I was rude. repeatedly . Honestly. washed it. the one you never talk about that’s holding you back. will you tell me about him now?” “What do you want to know?” “Who is he? Where is he? Why aren’t you together?” “Well…he’s in India. and dipped it in the rinse water.” I started slowly wiping the platter again. And don’t think I haven’t asked you because I have.” “Was he mean to you?” “No. no. I must be blocking it out or something. you haven’t.

but this time it wasn’t only me and Jennifer in the reflection. “Ren. He turned and walked out of the room. Quietly.complicated. It’s better to discuss things quickly. pulsing red tissue that I thought was healing. I headed out the door and found him leaning up . but she was right. I answered. Jennifer strolled out of the kitchen and waved me on. and I could see myself reflected with my slumped shoulders and dead eyes.” She nodded and washed a few more dishes. As I gathered up my things and said thanks. His name is Ren. “Go talk to him. He had left the house already. but not before I saw his expression. The silverware clinked softly in the bubbly water. She angled her head slightly. “Y es. I needed to talk to Li. “What’s his name?” I stared dully at the kitchen window. Otherwise.” Saying his name stabbed my heart.” “Did you love him?” I set down the platter that I’d been wiping dry for at least five minutes and twisted the towel in my hands. like someone had ripped through my carefully stitched up world and exposed the infected. Jennifer reached over and squeezed my arm.” “And now?” “And now…when I’m alone…I feel like I can’t breathe sometimes. It was dark outside. I’d hurt him. mountains are made of molehills. Li was standing behind me.” This situation already felt like a mountain to me. I felt a tear slip down my cheek and looked up at the window again.

” He sighed deeply. “Li?” “Y es. Li. Y deserve to date someone who doesn’t ou have this kind of baggage. in fact. I want to be able to. “I like you and I want you to like me. I guess it doesn’t matter now. He’s not here.” “Okay. He’s gone.” He kicked the tire of his car. we’ll take it slow. “It’s okay. Y warned me before ou we started this that it was going to be hard. He hasn’t even called me.” “Kelsey. “It’s not fair to you. he could be.” “Okay. I’m sorry you had to hear that. I just… need time.” “I’m sorry.” He turned to face me and looked deeply into my eyes. If he wanted to be with me that badly. “Oops.against his car with his arms folded across his chest. “But. “Are you still in love with him?” “I…I think so.” He visibly deflated. everyone has baggage of some kind. and that’s not a good option for me. it doesn’t matter. Well.” He grimaced.” I reached out and took his hand. I was going to ask you if you wanted to go . I guess I only have one question. then. Maybe it will work out if we just take it slow.” “What? What is it?” “Umm. He’s on another continent. Learn to be friends for a while first. and he’s not. I forgot. I don’t have any other options except not seeing you. I know.” “Is that enough for you?” “It’ll have to be. A little bit more time to…to put aside these feelings.

but it’s okay if you want to say no. During the last two weeks. because marrying on the half-hour is considered good luck. there would also be some Chinese elements. “Wow. Y look great!” ou I had dipped into my forbidden closet again and come out with a peach princess dress made of satin and organza. “Y ou’re worth waiting for. which flowed into a peach organza calflength petal skirt.” He added that. “The couple will marry at exactly 5:30 p. the guy was crazy to let you leave. which was the best day for the couple. he explained that. In the middle of December. He looked very handsome when he picked me up. I’d been telling myself repeatedly that I really wanted things to work out with Li. .with me as my date to my cousin’s wedding. for more luck. I’ll go with you. Bright Christmas displays could be seen in all the neighborhoods and all the store windows. though it was mostly a traditional wedding with tuxes and a bridal gown. Kelsey. And just for the record. He was wearing a dark suit.” “A wedding? Sure. On the drive. according to their combined Chinese zodiac charts. Li picked me up for the wedding. that it would be alright if I opened my heart to him.” He smiled at me and leaned down to kiss my cheek. Kelsey. Maybe not with love. they’d chosen December 15. but at least with happiness to be with him. and my heart stirred when I saw him.” Thanksgiving led quickly into the Christmas season.” “Are you sure?” “I can handle it if you can. The top had a fitted corset look.m.

including elaborate paper origami depicting swans. The ceremony was very short. and we followed them parade-style to the reception area. and flowers.” “That’s okay.” . but flowers were on display and circled the entire room. The musicians settled themselves in a corner. it’s given in a red envelope to wish the couple good luck. There were no chairs set up. “Normally. When I asked Li if it was red and gold because of Christmas. money is given instead of presents. When the ceremony was over. The wedding was being held at a country club.their combined Chinese zodiac charts. the boys have us all covered. One of the musicians played a mandolin. Parasols and hand-painted Chinese fans were mixed in with the more traditional wedding decorations. he whispered that red and gold were the traditional wedding colors for Chinese weddings and that often the bride would wear a red and gold dress instead of the customary white gown. Most of the guests were handing the couple red envelopes. The bridal party stood in front of a greeting area while the guests passed by to greet them and extend their congratulations. The tables were covered with beautiful red and gold decorations. In fact.” “Oops…we didn’t bring a present. “What are those?” I asked Li. Traditionally. Kadam’s music room. it was so short that everyone stood in a large gazebo to watch. parasols. lion dancers and musicians appeared. It looked similar to the guitar that had been hanging on the wall in Mr.

After that.” “Money?” “Y eah. They grinned and waved at me. One of them had a large briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.He gestured toward a group of boys all wearing black suits with sunglasses. “Don’t worry.” “Oh. why?…I don’t get it. He’ll be perfectly happy when he sees what’s inside the briefcase. we found our seats at the dinner table and were soon joined by all of Li’s friends. “Why are they dressed like that?” He laughed. and Li introduced me to his cousin and his new bride. Kelsey. “But. crisp one dollar bills.” We made our way through the line. A thousand bucks. We all used to hang out together. My eyes widened. The boys had handcuffed the briefcase to the groom! “What did you guys do?” They all snickered and guffawed. I looked over at the bride and groom and gasped. “Y eah…what are they doing?” “They came up with a brilliant plan and want to present their gift to my cousin in a special way.” This set them all off laughing.” “Why? What’s in there?” “Money. I can’t wait to see what they do. All in brand new. She was very beautiful and petite and seemed a little shy. My cousin used to be a part of our game group until he got too busy at his job.” . They teased him about not wearing his shades too. and I had to stifle a giggle when I realized it was our game group. “Y mean like the Chinese mafia?” ou I giggled.

and the shark fin soup meant wealth. I was just dipping my spoon into my soup when he said that. Finally.Li explained. He said that they were sweet lotus seeds. the sea cucumbers were for harmony.” “Oh.” He laughed. the parents joined in.” He spun me around the dance floor and then had to . Li squeezed my hand. and the boys made jokes through the rest of the meal. a Peking duck. “Umm…I’ll pass for now. and a sea cucumber salad. and I decided that it wasn’t as delicious as I thought it was. After picking through the buffet and sitting down again. which symbolized a hope for many children. Among the regular hors d’oeuvres and buffet choices. After dinner and good wishes from both sides of the family. a whole lobster. I asked Li about the special platters. and he told me that the whole fish symbolized abundance. “Would you like to dance?” “Sure. Then. the duck meant joy and happiness. the lobster represented completeness.” When the guests were all seated. the bride and groom performed an elaborate candle lighting ceremony to honor their ancestors. “It’s a game thing. they announced that dinner was served at the buffet table. the couple danced their first dance as a married couple. I noticed some interesting items—a large whole fish. An old bet. He laughed at my reaction and slid over a dish of what looked like green grape soup.

I’d already made up my mind that if he didn’t try to kiss me by the end of the date that I would kiss him. His present was sitting on my coffee table in the living room.suffer with his friends cutting in all the time. Christmas was around the corner. I had this whole mistletoe thing arranged to motivate me further. I knew it probably wouldn’t be . The kids got me some gloves and a scarf. and he smiled at me like he’d just won a worldwide martial arts title. which I told them I desperately needed. I felt happy. When Li dropped me off that night. I’d really enjoyed being a part of his world. A handful of dances later. and I struggled with what to get him. Spending more time at the mall than I liked. He was picking me up for an afternoon date at 2:00. Christmas Day I spent with my foster family. My foster parents had given me a jogging outfit. It was three tiered. the inside was orange. I never got more than one full dance with Li. I ended up choosing a collection of old martial arts movies. I planned to hang out with them that morning and then spend the afternoon with Li. I watched the kids open their presents. An irrational part of my mind said that maybe kissing him was the key to breaking the bond between me and You-Know-Who. Sipping hot chocolate. I hugged him and pecked him good night on the cheek. They were always trying to get me to embrace the highs of running. and the outside was decorated with pearly almond flavored icing and beautiful sugar orchids. the cake was brought out and we all took our seats again.

The kids were playing with their new toys. the warrior-angel smiled softly. “Kelsey. Puzzled for a moment. Now content. and reached out tentatively to touch my cheek. “No. Anxious cobalt blue eyes explored every feature of my face. she said.that easy. yes. listening to Christmas music. drawing us closer. He said it was supposed to be a surprise. Wrapping his arms around me hesitantly at first. he touched his forehead to mine and then crushed my body to his. he whispered only one word. I asked Sarah. Kadam said he was sending you. It’s probably the package that Mr. Standing on the other side of the door was the most beautiful man on the planet. That’s nice of him.” “Oh. but it was the first step. Lines of tension and stress faded from his expression. and he breathed deeply like a man who had been underwater too long. Kadam does have connections. Oh. I felt the link between us wrap its fingers solidly around my heart in a death grip and tighten. My heart literally stopped and then started galloping thunderously in my chest. My thoughts drifted to my date later. “Are you expecting anyone?” I got up to answer it.” . He rocked me back and forth gently and stroked my hair. Sighing. but Mr. sweetly. and we were sitting by the Christmas tree. I twisted the deadbolt and opened the door.” Strange that a package would be delivered on Christmas Day. and talking quietly when the doorbell rang.


The long dormant feelings poured through my driedup limbs and wound through me. When he touched me. The dried up dead little plant inside me burst into pulsing . He was the sun. and the tenderness he showed me was life-giving water. standing there with him holding me. and I realized that during the last few months my heart had shrunk. and. I felt it swell up and pound in my chest just like in the movie. Like an irrigated field. The Grinch’s heart became so big that it broke the measuring contraption. That’s what happened to me. I felt myself blossom and grow with new vigor. slowly filling the emptiness. The beats were strong.CHAPTER 5 Wrapped in his arms. Like the Grinch’s. it had been two sizes too small. I listened to the beat of my heart. my measuring contraption broke and emotions spilled out and flooded through my body.

Huh?” I looked up at Ren and hooked my thumb at him. yeah. My mouth was open to answer her. Kadam’s grandson. Kelsey? Wasn’t that tiger…” I rushed forward. His given name is… Al. She shook his hand. He smiled his devastating smile and extended his hand. “ He let me go. Ren. but I couldn’t form any words. then laced his fingers through mine. Hey. Mike said.” He turned to Mike and Sarah again.” I punched him on the arm. I’m Mr. and when he turned that smile on her. pulling me along behind him. That’s a coincidence. opened thick green leaves. and shot curling tendrils out to wrap around the two of us. He said. and Mrs. “Uh. Knowing that it wasn’t only me that was affected by him like that was reassuring somehow. she flushed. Ren. Funny thing. “Mr. but you can call me Ren. I heard a voice from a great distance. stretched deep. Kelsey. but he slid his hand down my arm until he reached my fingertips. “Hello. Neilson?” They came out of the room and both stopped in midstride when they saw him. “Right? Al?” His eyebrows drew together in amused puzzlement. Ren is actually just his nickname. “Kelsey? Kelsey? Who is it?” Snapping back to reality. rooty fingers. “Huh. “It’s actually Alagan. It actually made me feel better. drawing us closer together. nervous as a schoolgirl.” He shook hands warmly with Mike and then extended a hand to Sarah. Everyone . I was mute. I stepped away. “Right. He sensed my plight and stepped around me.

Mike’s feet slipped a couple of times while walking across the icy driveway. Ren gave Mike two small packages to carry while he grabbed several large ones. Sarah whispered. “Well…Ren. I thought I was finally meeting Li. “How did you…” I snapped my mouth shut quickly. Ren walked behind him smoothly and confidently. “Here. and they made their way back to the front door. My mouth dropped open. I have a few packages to bring in first. They walked toward a giant white vehicle. “That’s what I’d like to know. let me help you.” Sarah had regained her composure.” I sank onto the couch and teetered on the edge while watching the two of them through the window.” .does. “I would love to. and his hand shot out to support Mike every time his feet slid too far. and Ren removed his charcoal herringbone trench coat and draped it over a chair.” She stifled a girlish giggle by clearing her throat and patting her hair. “Li is… umm…a guy…that I know. I’d forgotten his tiger hearing. “Who’s Li?” he asked.” Mike stepped into his slippers. when did you two meet? For a minute there. “Kelsey . “Wait.” The men entered the living room.” He smiled at her again. What’s going on?” I mumbled while staring at the Christmas tree. Please come inside and meet the children. Ren said.

“Do you think you could take me for a ride some time? I mean. and hung it in their hall closet. “Y I do. The coat was probably worth more than their dining room table. I see you have a Hummer out there. but he treated it as if he’d gotten it at a yard sale. I whispered to him. “Y got first edition books! For ou kids? Those are worth probably thousands of dollars! Each!” He tucked some hair behind my ear and leaned over to whisper.” Ren looked up at Mike.” My face turned bright red. smoothed it out. I took one out of the set and figured out quickly that they were first editions. Mike kept stealing glances out the window at Ren’s car.Sarah raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything. Can you open it together?” Samuel and Rebecca nodded their heads seriously. They frantically opened it and pulled out a collector’s set of Dr. “I do have one for the two of you.” He laughed and bent over to pick up the next gift. I’ve always wanted to ride in one of . The books looked strange to me at first. He watched me closely and then sat down on the couch next to me. the kids were all over him asking if he had brought any presents for them. Don’t be jealous. Seuss books.” es. “So. and he laughed and shoved a large box over to them. “That’s not what I mean. so I picked it up. “I got you a set just like it at home. I stood up nervously and walked to the table. Ren. The minute he sat.

those.” Mike helped Sarah open it.” Mike turned his attention to the car again with a big smile on his face.” Ren rubbed his jaw. I’ve signed up to take a few classes at Western Oregon University.” “Oh…you’ll be staying here for a while?” “That’s the plan. “Y that’s right. inside. Sarah was very excited.” “Well. I was a mass of questions. Kadam. Perhaps we’ll bump es. but. “This is from Mr. Y ou’ll be going to school with Kelsey. at least for the term. and they pulled out a brand new red Kitchen Aid mixer with every attachment known to mankind. and The Tale of Genji translated into English. What is he thinking? Staying here? Where? Going to school with me? What am I going to do? Why is he here? Ren bent over and slid a large gift over to Sarah and Mike.” Ren grinned. so I tried to put an unaffected neutral expression on my face. I wouldn’t be surprised if she could create an ice sculpture with the thing. “Sure. that’s great. but I can’t do it today. There was also a short letter included asking after me and wishing . Ren picked up a smaller package and handed it to me. and she began talking about all the organic wheat-free baked goods she would now be making.” I opened it and found leather-bound copies of Mahābhārata. Romance of the Three Kingdoms. into each other there. Sarah was watching me closely. “This is for you two. I have to get settled in at my new residence.

Inside was a thin. white gold. “This one’s from Kishan. The Tale of Genji was from Japan. Kishan . and made a mental note to call him and thank him later. of course. The card was very carefully handwritten. “Who’s Kishan?” Ren replied. just in case you need a Merry Christmas. I stroked my hand over the leather covers. I’d be wondering too. set them carefully on the table next to me.” Sarah looked up from her Kitchen Aid and asked. from India. Ren handed me another gift. chain-link necklace. He said the Romance of the Three Kingdoms was a Chinese novel from the 1600s.” Sarah’s look of concern was back on her face. and the Mahābhārata was. Come home soon. I’d never mentioned Ren or Kishan to her. There’s also an extra gift in the box. Miss you. and she was probably wondering how I could fail to remember someone like him. “Kishan is my younger brother.” “Oh. I figured you’d like something more girlish to wear with my amulet. I opened the box and found a small jewelry case from Tiffany’s. Hey Kells.

I closed my eyes for a second. and then written “Tiger Repellant” in big black letters.” His words immediately sobered me. Reaching my hand inside.” I ran my hand nervously across the top. I carefully tilted open the lid. “This one’s from me. It was a hand-carved jewelry box. I slipped my fingers under the heavy wrapping paper and opened the packaging. Unrolling it. and Ren reached out and took it from me. He took a minute to read the words then frowned and tossed the can back in the box. Mike seemed happily ignorant of the tension I felt. Ren leaned toward me. but Sarah was more in tune and was considering me carefully. The kids helped me by yanking the box off while I held onto the object inside. he picked up another package. polished wood. drawn a picture of a tiger with a circle and a slash across its face. Reaching down. A small cylinder was wrapped in tissue paper. I glanced up quickly to measure Mike and Sarah’s expression. a cold. I felt smooth. I started giggling. It was a can of pepper-spray. “Open it. metal canister fell into my palm. but he had taped paper around it.I set the necklace aside and dug through the box. Inside were tiny drawers lined with velvet. Setting it on my lap. and inside each little drawer . praying that whatever was in the box wouldn’t raise a billion questions that I’d have to answer.

no two colors are the same. The box was still on my lap. There were five sections with about forty ribbons per section. dear. See?” He lifted the top section and the next one. but I do need to leave within the hour. It seems you know Kelsey pretty well. and I was absentmindedly fingering a ribbon when they ran out . “Every ribbon is different. “Of course. “Mike…I think everyone might like some hot chocolate. we only allow ourselves one hot chocolate on Christmas. and we already had that. Her suspicious and concerned expressions were gone. Sarah was looking at Ren with new eyes. “Ren…I…” I looked up. With a small approving smile on her face. He probably thought something like this happened every day.” Mike and Sarah brought out two mugs of steaming hot chocolate for Ren and me and then disappeared upstairs to change into jogging clothes. and there’s at least one from every major country in the world. what do you think?” “But. “Well… Ren.” Stunned. She does love hair ribbons. I said. she said. I think we can make some more and perhaps go on a quick run this morning.” Ren spoke up first.” I saw Ren look at Sarah and nod slightly as if the two of them were communicating nonverbally. Mike saw nothing wrong at all.was a coiled-up hair ribbon. She scooted back in her chair and announced. if Kelsey and Ren would watch the kids.” “This is a special occasion. “The segments come out.

Turning to the kids.” He smiled brilliantly.the door and waved at us. Mr. Now that Ren’s hand was free. and pulled. Do you like green eggs and ham?” The only word he got stuck on was “anywhere. wanting me closer. He reasoned that. He wrapped an arm around each one of them and was still able to turn pages.” but the kids helped him sound it out. I was impressed. and he got it every time after that. he had a big responsibility to help take care of it. Sam I am. Kadam must have been teaching him and Kishan how to read English. He put his arm around me and trailed his fingers teasingly up and down my arm. He had just . Sammy soberly agreed with him and held the book carefully. and pressed a soft kiss on my fingers. since it was Sam’s name in the book. “I am Sam. I bolted up and started gathering my things. picked up my hand. When I saw Mike and Sarah coming back. he asked. Ren reached over and touched my hand. I set my box carefully on the floor and scooted over. “It’s the best present I’ve ever been given. he reached out took my hand. He tugged me up against his body so that my head rested on his shoulder. “Y don’t ou like it?” I looked up into his blue eyes and said huskily. “Now who would like a story?” Rebecca and Samuel picked out a book and climbed up on Ren’s lap. He asked Sammy to help him hold one side of the book and turn the pages because his arm was getting tired. He read in an animated voice.

finished the second book. I averted my gaze and told the kids that it was time for us to go. our eyes locked and held.” I did what he asked because I couldn’t figure out what else to do. He stood at my open door a minute then slipped off a glove and traced my face with his warm fingertips. Quickly. The road was still a little icy. Thousands of questions pummeled my brain. I’ll meet you there. and I ran through the list the entire drive up the mountain. Sarah gave me a look that clearly meant I had some explaining to do.” He slipped his glove back on and walked over to the Hummer. I glanced at him nervously. and the kids were asking for another. This isn’t the right place. Don’t ask me questions now. It’s cold. Mike and Sarah thanked us and helped me pack my things into my car. Kelsey. We’ll have plenty of time later. Whenever we hit freezing temperatures.” “But…” “Later. a private contractor showed up to . “Go home. He set both children on the floor and promised that he would come back another time and read. then he walked to the hall closet and took out his coat. Rajkumari. Ren walked to my car door and opened the door for me. When did he learn how to drive ? I turned my car around and watched the Hummer in the rear view mirror until I turned off on a side street and it fell out of view. “Get in and turn on your heater. and then they went inside and left us alone in the cold December weather. He was watching me. Kells.

A huge swinging door had been cut into the bottom half of it. I walked through the kitchen and found the pantry and refrigerator empty. I noticed something was different. closing the door behind me. a private contractor showed up to remove the ice or snow and put down sand on the mountain roads. The back door leading out into the forest had been altered. more masculine colors. It took me a minute to figure out what it was. Ren was moving in. and it was held on by well-oiled hinges. Someone had moved in. but I still liked to pay special attention. There were curtains in the window of the connecting duplex. When I passed the curve and saw the house. and then it came to me. the whole door frame moved. My nagging suspicions were confirmed when I saw the old mandolin resting on the leather couch.temperatures. The burning questions filling my mind were set aside so I could focus on the drive. I found it unlocked. But. I touched it. There was no doubt in my mind that Ren was my new . I parked in the garage and walked to the front door of the other home. It was safe enough that I felt I could drive. I hurried back to my house. and the whole bottom half of the door swung in and out. I didn’t even bother looking upstairs or checking his closet for the designer labels I knew were there. I guess they’d get a surprise if they tried to steal something here. The home was furnished almost the same as mine but in darker. I knocked but nobody answered. Twisting the knob. When I opened it using the knob. Hmm…won’t keep burglars out. They can crawl right in.

His hair was longer.neighbor. and hang it in the hall closet. Opening it. He was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved gray zip polo shirt that clung to his chest and arms. but I didn’t care.” . In fact. and he brushed them back in annoyance. sat down in my recliner with my feet tucked under me. he walked into the living room. and folded my arms across my chest. I knew that body language specialists said it was a classic sign of being defensive. Finally. He looked bigger. I heard him close the door. I watched him from the window.” I couldn’t think of anything to say except. brawnier than I remembered. He must be eating better than he used to. I’d just slipped out of my shoes and coat when I heard what could only be the Hummer making its way up the path. shrug out of his coat. He parked the Hummer in the other garage. “Why?” He sighed softly. “So…you’re my new neighbor. We looked at each other silently for several minutes. “I couldn’t stay away from you anymore. and I heard the crunch of his footsteps on the frozen path as he made his way to my front door.” “Y es. I said. I walked to the living room. Turning the corner. He somehow managed to maneuver the giant vehicle between the protruding branches that might’ve scratched the paint. He searched my face for a brief moment then ran a hand through his hair and sat down across from me. Silky black strands fell over his forehead. slip off his shoes. He was a good driver.

“Kelsey . And regarding my heart…I haven’t listened to my heart since I woke up next to Ren in Kishkindha. He ran a hand through his hair and leaned forward. Fighting with him was probably the only thing that kept me sane. To clear your head. I would have been on a plane the next week. Clarity is an object my mind hasn’t been able to grasp since I left India. still…I could . exhausted.anymore. I wore a path on my bedroom rug from pacing hour after hour. I was trying to honor your wishes.” “I didn’t think you were trying to stay away. and drained. So then. We fought constantly as both men and beasts. I couldn’t be appeased. I sat patiently through his instruction every day. He almost got out a safari rifle to shoot me with a tranquilizer.” I’d definitely had time to think. but I was only a man for six hours. as far as my head went. It drove me crazy. We trained with weapons. “I told Kishan I needed to train to get my fighting skills back up to par. I ou wanted to give you time to think.” His blue eyes studied my face. claws. I shut myself off from my heart months ago.” I fidgeted and shifted in the chair. teeth. “Oh. Kadam hadn’t kept me busy every minute. every day you were away from me was agonizing. As a tiger. my thoughts were about as confused as they possibly could be. your feelings haven’t… changed?” “My feelings are stronger than they ever were. But. To …listen to your heart. and bare hands. a wild animal without…without his mate. Unfortunately. I’d fall onto my rug every night bloody.” “Y asked me to. If Mr. I was restless.

feel you. rubbed his jaw. It tortured me to hear your voice every week when you called Kadam. I didn’t want to pressure you. hoping that you would ask to speak to me. but you were always just out of reach. Kells. pulled back his fist. and he was beating me as usual. but I often ou woke with the scent of you surrounding me. So what…changed? Why come here now?” He laughed ironically. It helped. I’d dream of you and reach out to touch you. No matter how much Kishan thrashed me. He walked around me and looked me up and down. I wanted him to hurt me. Suddenly. but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. he stopped. “Y were on the other side of the world. He was probably right. We were sparring one day. “Y listened in on our phone conversations?” ou “Y Excellent hearing. I wanted to respect your wishes. but you never did. Kadam kept telling me it was for the best and that I had things to learn first before I could come. He stopped in front of me again. it couldn’t diminish the pain of losing you. I didn’t even compete much with him anymore. “Right. By that point. remember?” es. .” “But if you wanted to be with me then…why didn’t you call?” “I wanted to. I ached for you. but I didn’t want to hear it. and punched me as hard as he could. “It’s Kishan’s doing.” There were so many times I wanted to ask for him. I just stood there and folded my arms across my chest waiting for him to resume the fight. I wanted it to be your decision. I waited nearby each time.

“At that point. Kelsey.“He hit me square in the jaw. most of which I’d rather not repeat. throw myself at your feet. was felled by a young girl. Nothing he said fazed me until quietly.” Ren got up. decided that. They didn’t raise a coward. “I decided to find you. the Heir to the Throne. he murmured. Because…I can’t.” “Y I decided that I needed to be near you. knelt at my feet. I es.” How could I remain unyielding? His words . I’ll accept whatever you choose. I didn’t even bother to defend myself. The gist of it was that I needed to snap out of it and that if I was so damn miserable…why didn’t I get up and do something about it. the High Protector of the People.” “He mocked me. I just stood there and took it. and took my hand.” “The decision to come here. He growled at me and started shouting in my face. Just don’t ask me to live apart from you again. and stood in front of him again. He pulled his arm back again and punched me as hard as he could in the gut. ‘Our parents would be ashamed.’ That’s when I made a decision. He said there was nothing more pathetic than a cowering tiger licking his wounds. Honestly. not even caring. I bent over.” “Oh. I turned to leave.” “What did he say?” “A lot of things. even if all you wanted was friendship. the Champion at the Battle of the Hundred Horses. I would be happier here than I was in India without you. saying that the mighty Prince of the Mujulaain Empire. to my turned back. and beg you to have mercy on me. recovered.

Y can stay. He slipped through my defenses easily.” He walked to the door that connected both our houses. lifted the lid. hugged him. He gave me the big one first. He came back in with two packages. and my marshmallow heart melted. He touched his forehead to my hand. . and whispered in his ear. Inside was a white belted three-quarter length coat with fur trim around the collar and white leather accents. “After all. “A prince of India should never have to get down on his knees and beg for anything. I’d meant to set up a barbed wire fence.” He laughed softly. “Can I give you your other presents now?” “Y ou’ve got more? The ribbon box was more than enough.” “Wait right here. I noticed that the buttons were white opals shaped as intricately carved tigers. I wouldn’t want PETA to come after me for tiger abuse. I popped the tape.How could I remain unyielding? His words penetrated the flimsy barriers I’d set up around my heart. On closer inspection. I wasn’t surprised to see that it was now unlocked and had the same type of swinging door that led to the backyard. but the barbs ended up being covered with marshmallows. “Alright.” I wrapped my arms around his neck. then brushed aside the delicate tissue paper. I grinned wryly.” ou He sighed and hugged me close. one was a large white box tied with a red ribbon and one was small and looked like a jewelry box.

” He sighed. They were both of Ren. Stroking the fur collar. “Is the fur real?” Teasing me.Pulling the coat out.” He grimaced.” “How can you be jealous of yourself?” “That version of me is very…limited. “There. I picked up a white cashmere scarf. And he gets to spend much more time with you than I do.” I tied the belt and twirled. him. and black without any name brands. “Y knew I’d want to remember the tiger ou too. “Will you help me put it . I smiled. “Maybe you need to have your tiger vision checked. I’ll help you try it on. hat. you’ll get to see plenty of him in the coming weeks. Inside were two pictures. “Kelsey! I’m shocked! Y of ou all people should realize that I would be the last person to use real fur. thin. Well.” “My tiger vision is just fine. a soft bundle fell in my lap. but one was the blue-eyed tiger version of him.” “Hmm. what do you think?” He smiled and sighed. I said. he replied. “Here. “Y Even though I’m slightly jealous of es. not as much as he used to.” I laughed.” He stood behind me and slid the coat up my arms. “I think…you’re beautiful. I cracked it open and found a white gold oval locket on a thin chain. I picked it up and opened the locket. Now open your other one.” I pulled off my coat and set it carefully to the side.” I held out my arm and said. I miss him. “Believe me. and gloves and set them to the side. This box was long.

“Pretty poor wrapping job I did then.” “What do you mean you didn’t get me anything? Y ou got me the best present of all. he carried my struggling self over to the recliner and sat down.” I laughed.” He grabbed my blanket that was hanging over the back of the recliner then chased me around the house. His eyes twinkled with mischief as he said. Then. Each present was very thoughtful. did I get you?” He tugged me close and wrapped his arms around my waist.” I put my hands on my hips and said. “Of course.” His warm fingers brushed my arm. Better wrap you up properly. Concerned. he asked. he pulled my arm up to his eye level as if inspecting the charm and then grinned and pressed a kiss on the inside of my wrist.” “Hmm…you’re right. pray tell. he wrapped me up like a mummy and scooped me up in his arms while I squealed and kicked. “So do you like it?” “Y Thank you. m’lady. It’s the best present I ou could have wished for.on?” He inclined his head in a brief bow and said. and my pulse started hammering. “What? What is it?” “I didn’t get you anything. I settled down mostly because my arms were still trapped. I es. “Y gave me today.” My face suddenly fell. . placing me on his lap. love each and every one. “Really? And what. and he had me locked in a vise anyway. When he caught me. Hooking the tiny clasp on the bracelet.

I’m ready for another Shakespearean play. “Y ou have a date?” “Y I need to go.” Sighing with relief. but I had a hard time sounding out the words. “We have a… a date. and he repeated quietly. “As you can see. there are definite bonuses to leaving you this way too. Perhaps I should at least free your arms.he had me locked in a vise anyway. There’s sandwich es. stuff in the fridge for dinner. stay here. then suddenly stiffened. I’ll be back as . Kells.” He folded his arms across his chest and narrowed his eyes. I’ll be back later. My arms appear to be trapped. “Thank you. “I was distracted.” At that minute the doorbell rang. Please be patient. “Let’s read something. “If that’s what you want me to do. And don’t…get…mad. but then again. “Hmm …that’s an interesting dilemma. Ren. considering. “Li!” “Li?” “Y I grimaced.” He leaned over and began nuzzling my ear. Kells. I will.” es. set me on my feet. and then I flushed in embarrassment. my captor. I don’t currently have the ability to read right now.” He tilted his handsome head.” His eyes darkened. Y can ou hardly blame me. “What happened to your tiger hearing?” He grinned at me. I hissed. “Someone is here. and spun me out of the blanket before I could blink. I stood there for a moment dizzy and confused. Are you expecting someone?” I knew I was forgetting something…but what? It suddenly hit me.” I cleared my throat noisily. I tried to read one on my own. I said. Ren jumped up.

I was planning on calling Mr. I just need to make some calls when I get home. He was leaning back against the counter with his arms crossed over his chest trying very hard to control himself. Tight-lipped. Kadam later. That’s not a problem. I gave him a last weak pleading smile and left. to say Merry Christmas to ou friends. Still. I opened the door as if nothing strange was happening. It’s not that. Sure. My date with Li did not go as originally planned. Oops. Are you not feeling well?” “No.” ou “Li. I tried to ignore Ren’s raised eyebrow as he watched me from the kitchen. the boys . Li. Li. Y know. When we got there. Let me grab my coat.” “Oh. “Just a minute. would you mind if we skipped the movie and just had the early dinner at Grandma Zhi’s?” “Sure. I felt a twinge of guilt at having a gift for Li but not for Ren.” I slipped on my shoes. I was sure he was disappointed to lose our alone time. Kelsey? Y seem very quiet. but he took it in stride and was as patient as he always was.” I ran back to the living room and picked up the wrapped set of DVD’s I had bought for Li.” I ran to the door and shouted. Ren helped me into my new white coat and then stalked into the kitchen.soon as I can. be right back. “Hey. wait right there. I was somber. and my thoughts kept drifting back to the man in my home. “What’s wrong.” It wasn’t exactly a lie.

Li.were there having an all-day game marathon. we both like martial arts DVDs. “What’s up with you tonight. and I played robotically while thinking about what he’d said. “I don’t know.” I said thoughtfully. so Li grabbed my hand and said.” “I’m sorry. Kelsey? Y never let me get away with a move like that.” He was still laughing. He laughed. “Don’t worry about it. “I guess it does. Kelsey.” We went back to the game after eating.” “Y eah. Finish opening your gift. Come on. He saw his present first and started laughing. He was . It’s a good sign. probably very good luck in Chinese culture. It means we’re compatible. Christmas blues maybe.” I knew the guys would make lots of jokes about presents or gifts or whatever after we left. I played one.” I pulled the paper off and exclaimed. but I didn’t even bother to give them a warning or threaten them to keep it to themselves like I normally did. Li and I handed our gifts to each other and opened them at the same time.” ou I smiled at him. “What’s wrong? What’s so funny?” “Y ou’ll see. “Oh no!” It was the exact same present. but I was distracted and made bad strategic decisions. Let’s go open our presents. Wen asked. “We forfeit.” I was losing badly. “Apparently. I should have put some more thought into it.

These were normal people. I didn’t understand the quote exactly because I didn’t know much about wine. I could easily envision making a life with Li. We’d celebrate holidays with his grandparents and have all his friends and their wives over for barbeques. Would he get a regular job? If so…doing what? Can he even put High Protector and former Prince of India on his résumé? Would we purchase a time-share in a wild animal theme park where he could be the main attraction on weekends? Despite these questions. A normal family. He needed a Barbie. It would be nice and normal. Ren was like the new wine. We didn’t look as if we belonged together. And Ren was…was not. at least not anymore. It was like matching up Ken with Strawberry Shortcake. He’d end up breaking me because I couldn’t attain his level of perfection. He was supernatural and the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen. The kids would all take wushu and soccer. And. no matter what logic or rationalizations I used to try to convince myself to . which was one of the reasons why I’d left him. He would be a doctor and set up a private practice in the suburbs. The Bible says something like you can’t put new wine in old bottles. Ren was harder to picture next to me. He was too perfect. We were compatible and probably much more suited for each other than Ren and I were. We’d have a couple of kids and vacation in Disneyland. and I was like the old bottle.right in many ways. but I imagined the point of it was that things had to match. It was painfully obvious to me that my rebellious heart wanted Ren. I couldn’t deny my feelings for him.

his touch was nice. A speck of dust compared to the universe. It was safe. It was nice. I was always drawn back to him. It wasn’t fair. He briefly touched my face and smiled at me. I liked Li. Not the kiss I’d been planning.pursue another. What am I going to do? Li drove me home. it was not even close to what I felt with Ren. Li opened my car door and walked me up to my house. Hasn’t it? I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do about Ren. I definitely didn’t want to hurt Li either. Now everything has changed. It is. Again. A drop of water next to a raging waterfall. “Y eah. Finally. He stopped at the door. But could he really do that? Should I risk everything on Ren or should I take a sure thing with Li? How do I choose? I’d been quiet a long time. He’d said that if all I wanted was friendship then he would accept it. “Hey. But. and Li was waiting patiently for my answer. It was early evening when he pulled into the driveway. squeezed my elbow. How do you live with something so mediocre when you’ve had something so . I looked at Li as he laughed at something one of the guys said. but he still seemed happy about it. I turned to him and said. I looked at the windows for a familiar shadow but didn’t see anything. and smiled. The house was dark.” I put my hand on his cheek and kissed him. and maybe someday I could even love him. are my eyes deceiving me or is that mistletoe you have hanging up there?” I glanced up at the mistletoe and remembered my resolve to kiss Li tonight.

exceptional? I guess you just do and learn to treasure your memories. Li hollered happily. . I twisted the key in the lock and cracked the door open. Kelsey.” I watched him drive off and stepped inside the house to face the man I knew was waiting for me within. “Night. See you Monday.

fully expecting him to be sitting there in the darkness waiting for me. He had raised his head and was watching me. I hung my soft new coat in the closet. and my hand brushed against the cashmere scarf and hat. He must have put them away for me.CHAPTER 6 When I stepped through the entryway and closed the door behind me. I knelt . my friend. I hadn’t realized that I’d missed this part of him. Slipping off my shoes. I stepped into the living room. I wondered if he was over in his house or not and if I should try to talk with him tonight. so much. I gasped softly when I spotted the familiar form of my blue-eyed white tiger sprawled out on the leather couch. I stood quietly for a moment letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. Now that I could see enough to walk. Tears came to my eyes.

He was here. It’s just that I didn’t want to take away your choices. I want to ask you something. I choked back a sob. And I understand your reasons for leaving. I…I missed you so much. “Y do?” ou “Y But I want you to understand something too. Can you understand that?” My arms were still wrapped tightly around his neck when I felt him change. His white shirt was damp from my tears. He was finally with me. Y kissed him?” ou I nodded mutely against his chest. “I missed you too. Y are my ou ou choice. I wanted to talk to you. I want you to tell ou . I petted his head and stroked his back. he said.” I sniffed wetly. Y ou’re my best friend. “But. Suddenly. “Y said you had a date with him. “Shh.down in front of the couch. and cried big alligator tears. Kells.” “Okay. iadala. Y don’t take away my choices.” I mumbled against his shirt. Ren…” He pulled my head back to his shoulder. I wasn’t alone anymore. I knew he must have heard it through the door. Li. threw my arms around his neck. Hugging me close. “Ren. There was no point denying it. es. being without me all these months. letting them spill down my cheeks and into his soft white fur. His body morphed and soon his arms were around me and I was sitting in his lap.” “This man. More than you know. I understood that he must have felt this way too.

and wiped my eyes. yeah. but I wouldn’t say that I’m head over heels about him. sat up. He was warming to the topic.” “Well.” “And why did you kiss him? Do you feel love for him?” “I feel friendship and respect for him. “Well. To explore how I really felt about him. I guess so.” I sighed.” He picked me up and set me on the couch next to him. “Why do you want to know that?” “Humor me. we opened our Christmas gifts for each other.” “How many?” “Three altogether—Li. Then. “S o dating someone is how you learn if you like them or not. He seemed excited about this when I expected him to be angry. he dropped me off at home. es. If you can count Artie.” “Did you have other dates or is this the first one?” “Y mean with Li?” ou He raised an eyebrow.” “Then why did you kiss him?” “I kissed him to…compare. we went over to his grandmother’s house and ate dinner and played games with his what you did on your date.” “How many times did you date each one?” . and Artie. I guess. At least not yet. and I like him a lot.” I lifted red-rimmed eyes to his. Jason. “Were there others?” “Y I grimaced. and…I kissed him good night. and I couldn’t figure out why.

Turning to face me. I want you to keep dating.” “Did you kiss all these men?” “No! I’ve only kissed Li. I went out to dinner.” “Ren…why the questions? What are you getting at?” “I’m just curious about modern courtship rituals. Date Li or Jason or whoever you want to. I saw the festival of lights parade with Jason.” . I went with Li to a wedding. Even though I’ve been dating both Li and Jason. I want you to date me too.” He started mumbling to himself something about Li and rivals. Y talked about giving me choices. but I also want to be given a fair chance. and Li maybe fifteen times. “What?” “I’m serious. Ren. “Kelsey.” “So Li is the one you prefer. but you still haven’t made yours. this is crazy! What are you talking about?” “I want you to keep dating.” “Ren. The point of dating is that you end up becoming exclusive with someone you’re compatible with. it’s not usually done that way. he took my hands in his. “Precisely!” “I don’t think you understand how dating works exactly. and this was the first time. I can’t just date three or four men forever.” “Wait a minute. Jason four or five times. I’ve been thinking about it while you were gone. What else did you do on these dates?” “I’ve been out to see a couple of movies. I’ve ou made mine.“Artie once. Y ou’re saying you want me to keep dating Li and Jason and that it’s fine with you?” He smiled at me.” My mouth dropped open.

Y don’t belong. Presuming I wanted to. “Y date to find the person you ou love. By the way. hey. With Jason. and then I see Li in wushu class three times a week and go over to his grandmother’s to play games every so often. Besides.” “Uh…I don’t think so.” “Hmm. Ren is back and he thought it would be great if I could date you both?’” He shrugged.” He clapped his hands together. what exactly do you expect me to say to Li? ‘Oh. Kelsey. I’m sure he’ll be as eager to size up the competition as I am. Ren.” I sputtered. pleased with his plan. Even I know that. then it’s better for you to know that now. Li.” ou “I’ll be a perfect gentleman. do you have any dates set up for next week?” “Actually…yeah.” He rubbed his jaw. huh? I could use a good workout. “If he can’t handle a little honest competition.He shook his head. “I’m more afraid you’d squash him like a bug!” “I wouldn’t do that. It’s a beginner’s class.” . “Even so.” I replied angrily. “Wushu. Kelsey. and I don’t want you fighting with Li. We’re going to see a play next Friday.” “So?” “So…what?” “So will you date me?” “Dating you would be…hard. that wouldn’t be the way to win your affections. “Now.” “Afraid that I’d be the obvious choice?” “No.” “I’d really rather you didn’t go.

” He leaned back against the sofa very pleased with himself. I was wondering if I could call you sometime. he looked intently into my eyes and said. Give me a chance. hold on a minute. . you will never lose me. An idea . I’ll always be near you. who happens to be an ancient prince of India that was cursed to be a tiger. I could survive.” I continued quietly. and I wrote my number on his palm. average guy. “Iadala.” “But you live here.” I laughed despite my misgivings. Kells. No problem there.” “Thank you. I said. “So. “My number.” Right. “Give me your hand. Just treat the most perfect and beautiful man on earth. It’s ridiculous.” He held out his hand. We’ll try it. like he’s just a regular. I pulled out a black Sharpie. “Okay. “Ren! Are you asking me for my number?” “Y es. Please.“Why? Why won’t you consider me? And don’t give me the radish explanation again. Why is it easier to date other men than me?” “Because.” Rummaging through my bag.” Kissing my fingers. Grinning slyly.” I sighed and looked at his beautiful face. No girl in her right mind could look at him. huh? Okay. even without knowing everything I know and think he was average. “Because if I lost those other men. came to me. Just treat me like all the other guys.” “I want to do this the right way.

at least in the movies. hoping the smell would entice him over early. he knocked on my front door. but I’ll cut you a break this time…I know a place. I even made some chocolate chip cookies. “I wanted to call you. “It’s cold.” “I’ll see you at five thirty. Kells. “Alright. the phone rang way too early. He sounded offended as he said.” I ou said. “Y could have just come over and asked me. Kells.” The next morning. But you can come over and visit earlier if you like. where do you want to go eat?” “I have no idea. At exactly five thirty. the average guy has a place in mind before he calls. He’d called me up to ask me out to dinner. “Good night. he handed me a pink rose and offered me his arm. I’ll call you tomorrow. Rajkumari. now that you’ve got me on the phone.” I laughed sleepily.” ou . but it didn’t work. When I opened it.“Normal.” I puttered around the house most of the day watching our connecting door.” He laughed and leaned over to peck me on the cheek. Pick me up at five thirty. What do you suggest?” “Usually. but he stayed stubbornly on his side. Y need your coat. average guys who ask for a girl’s number often get them written on their hand. He was dressed ridiculously nice as usual. especially for a casual date. Dress casual. wearing a dark gray long-sleeved striped shirt with a designer down jacket vest.

” He slipped my coat on. He has established contacts all over the world who supply him with information. “Mr. “Wait. then opened the door to the Hummer.” On the drive. “Allow me. but he stopped me. he lifted me up into my seat and made sure I was buckled in properly. We are quite wealthy. world history. he told me all about the things he’d been learning in the last few months. Y ou’ll have to give me directions. finance. “Where to? ” “I’m introducing you to the pride of the Northwest. He said. I stretched up my foot to climb in. Coat first. Apparently. “He prefers to deal with the investors remotely because fewer questions are asked. He’d had the car heater running for a while.” My mouth fell open. including driving. Kadam has been tutoring me in every subject imaginable. Ren went on nonchalantly. tied the belt. Kadam’s wise investing.” “No problem. I’ve been studying modern politics. and business. and then said.” “How wealthy?” “Wealthy enough to run our own country. living for centuries. Turn left at our driveway and keep going. has paid off. plus Mr.” Sliding his hands around my waist. I’m taking you to Burgerville. He took us on a business trip to meet with a group of investors who have been managing our money for the last twenty years or so.” “Okay.He grabbed my coat and locked the door behind him. They are quite .

Also.” He stopped. Y ou’re drawn together as a family. That is ou . I said. royalty. his voice rings with pride. as you know. Even if I were a man all day and spent every waking hour with him. It’s something the three of you share. CEOs of billiondollar corporations. and as we walked to the restaurant. He offered me his arm. and you’d be surprised at how many important people owe him favors. Kadam. and even religious leaders. being immortal has its price. “Y are a very wise woman. but what he’s become now is nothing short of a genius. “I think he thinks of you and Kishan as sons.” “Important people like who?” “Generals in military organizations. No one can understand what you’ve been through more than Kishan and Mr. Rajkumari. politicians from every major country in the world. He was already a brilliant adviser under my father in my century. Be the kind of man that would make him proud. I only wish there were a way to express our thanks aptly. I couldn’t come close to amassing the amount of knowledge he’s gained over the years. There is no reward on earth to compensate such a man for the loyalty he’s shown to us. smiled. He is very well connected.” He pulled into the parking lot and parked the Hummer in the back because it took up two parking spaces. I think the best thing you can do to repay him is to give him that level of loyalty in return. Every time he talks of you.valuable resources. and leaned over to kiss my cheek. He’s very lonely. He got out and came around to open the door for me.

That is ou excellent advice. he shook his head. “Are you full. I filled up my soda at the fountain and found a table while he tasted several flavors and ended up going with root beer. three orders of fries. I laughed. Kadam’s fervent demand that Kishan not be allowed near the Rolls.“Y are a very wise woman. Ren politely waited for me to choose what I wanted. He joined me at our table and asked me about school. When we ordered. “And he gets a lot of dates?” “I imagine that he kind of tricks girls into dating him. and I never even gave him my phone number.” While we stood in line. and one large blackberry milkshake.” “Hmm…” He opened the last sandwich package and stared at it. he shared a funny story about Kishan crashing the Jeep into the water fountain and of Mr. Tiger? It would be a shame to skip your blackberry milkshake. That’s why I haven’t gone out with him again. He frowned. When the lady asked if it was to go. Rajkumari. He still calls me all the time. At least he doesn’t go that far. He’s just super judgmental and self-involved. then proceeded to order seven huge sandwiches. though. like he did me. considering. I laughed and told the lady he was very hungry. It could be worse. That led to Latin and Artie. Some guys are just like that. Either that or pressures them relentlessly. confused. I told him a little bit about my date with Artie. There are date predators out there too. They are the best in . I explained that in one of my classes I’d been partners with Jason. which was how we started dating. and told her we’d be dining in.

” ou “But not on a date. and he asked me lots of questions about America and its history and culture. “It’s cold.” I took a sip.” He wrapped the blanket around me and sat with his . he drove to a nearby park and asked if we could walk. share it with me.” I teased him with mock dismay. he just smiled at me and pulled me off through the trees. and he wanted to sit and watch the water. We strolled in the park for a while. and he leaned over and sucked down about a third of it in one big slurp then grinned at me. it doesn’t count. no! Y ou’re right! Well.the country. “Oh. So my promise is still valid. Everything was new and fascinating for him. “Here. And the question of my other half being my better half just gives me more incentive to prove you wrong.” “That’s why I brought the blanket. Come here. “Am I allowed to hold your hand on a first date?” “Y always hold my hand. and I’ll get my white coat dirty.” “No. “And you said you’d never share a milkshake with me again. I did say that. I would say you definitely reneged on your promise. but it was aimed at your other half…or should I say your better half.” He retrieved another straw and popped it in the top of the shake. He was easy to talk to.” When we left the restaurant. He grabbed a blanket from the back seat. When I asked him what it was for. We stopped at a pond.” I rolled my eyes at him but held out my hand.

pulled me back up against his chest. He wanted to know about everything I’d done since I’d left India. sitting close to him did keep me warm. talking.” I sniggered. “It will help keep you warm. When I asked him why balloons. He said the strings were fine and that . and wrapped his arms around me. watching the moonlit water.” He laughed warmly and brushed his lips against my ear. “Is it? Would you like to tell me about some more classic moves I should try out on you? I could use the practice. and he wanted me to list all of the things we could do together. He was very interested in the dates I’d been on. Aquariums were fine. the beach was good.” “Somehow. I crouched down next to him. Mister. I don’t think you’ll have a problem figuring that out all by yourself.” Despite my teasing him. and try every restaurant in town. Warm enough that we spent several hours sitting by the tree. he told me he was afraid of them. He said he wanted nothing to do with any place that sold cotton candy and balloons. He didn’t have any interest in seeing the zoo or attending the circus. He picked me up and sat me in front of him. “Needing to keep the girl warm is the oldest trick in the book.back against a tree. but he wouldn’t have that. but he didn’t even want to go to the Enchanted Forest. He wanted to see Silver Falls. go to the Shakespeare Festival. go out to movies. It’s a classic get-yourhands-on-thegirl move. which was Oregon’s only theme park.

” “I missed you too. He growled in my ear and said I just didn’t understand what it felt like to be a cat.” “Nothing was the same when you left. I’d hoped to make things easier. the conversation changed.he liked to play with them like he did with my hair ribbons. the bang when children popped them accidentally.” I giggled. “Okay. When ou ou . scared him. The spark of life was gone from the house. But. “Right. Everyone felt it. I wasn’t the only one who missed you.” “I didn’t mean to make your lives more difficult. But.” After he’d finished grilling me about things to do and places to go in Oregon. “I missed you. I laughed and teased him about being a big strong tiger afraid of a little balloon.” “Y don’t complicate my life. Make your acclimation back into the world a little less complicated.” “Maybe a little later. the actual balloon.” es. He squeezed me tighter and said. Now imagine that…but all over your body. He looks older since you left. “Really? Did that happen often?” “No…but once is enough to make me very cautious. then why cotton candy?” “Have you ever had gum get stuck in your hair?” “Y It hurts. I caught him on more than one occasion eavesdropping on your phone calls too. Kishan kept saying that there was nothing the modern world had to offer him and often threatened to leave. Y simplify it. Even Kadam was subdued. the squeaky sound of them. ” “Now that’s a story I want to hear.

” ou “Y but—” es. Out of focus. My life was unbalanced. “Y ou’re not even going to kiss me good night?” “Y didn’t kiss Li until the fifteenth date. I just ran around in confused circles like a tiger with a neurological disorder. he drove with one hand so he could keep holding mine. On the ride home. I felt good. scooped me up in his arms.” He stood up. “Zubharaatri. When you were gone. he opened my door and helped me down.“Y don’t complicate my life.” “What does that mean?” He flashed me a brilliant weak-in-the-knees kind of . Y simplify it. huh?” “What’s that?” “It’s a medicine that helps people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder be able to concentrate better.” “That sounds about right. When ou ou you’re near. “Do you normally invite a man in when you finish a first date?” “No. For the first time in months I felt… whole and happy.” I laughed and pecked him on the cheek. I invited him in when we got to the house.” I stopped him and said. After stopping the car.” “So I’m your Ritalin. “Don’t forget. Kells. He set me on my feet. I know exactly where I should be—by your side. and we walked back to the Hummer with his arm around my shoulders. but—” “Then I will leave you here. I need frequent doses. and said.

Confused and slightly frustrated. It had nothing to do with Iago. “Othello destroyed it. I missed my tiger.” He got back in the Hummer. I was making a point about Iago destroying their love when Ren contradicted me. and closed the and pressed a lingering kiss on the palm of my hand. “It doesn’t matter. and I didn’t catch a glimpse of his striped self the rest of the day. This meant leaving me to my own devices unless we had a planned date.” “What do you mean it had nothing to do with Iago? Iago is the one planning all the deceptions. He also refused to kiss me.” He shrugged.” . but he seemed determined to go through what he called customary dating practices. he’d call to see if I was available. Confused and slightly frustrated was the standard theme while dating Ren. just like Romeo did. he’d ask me out to a movie or to dinner or to go get a hot chocolate and check out a bookstore. “It means good night. He really liked Othello’s character until he was deceived by Iago. He didn’t ask her. Every day. he left. Then. We started reading Othello together. Othello didn’t trust his wife. I wanted him to be around much more often than he was. but I was frustrated. saying he had a lot of catching up to do first. I went to bed. and then when he determined the date to be over. He managed to get a date with me almost every day. He wouldn’t even let me see him as a tiger. He completely disappeared. pulled it into his garage.

“Good. The only ones I could remember were eagle’s claw and monkey.” He was lying with his head on my lap. I might add. Maybe they weren’t really in love in the first place.’ Maybe their only real bond was through his being such a good storyteller and for having such exciting adventures. I couldn’t keep the names straight anyway. On the Monday after Christmas.“Othello probably knew and trusted his man Iago more than his wife. Not much unlike you. Remember he said. and I loved her that she did pity them. He pulled my hand down and played with my fingers thoughtfully for a minute. I made only a halfhearted effort in learning the hand forms. After class. and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say to Li. then he asked hesitantly. ‘She loved me for the dangers I had past. Li threw me a bottle of water and asked . Kelsey? For the adventure? Are you bored sitting here reading with me when we could be hiking in India searching for magical objects and fighting demons?” I considered that for a moment. but he jumped up and dragged me into the kitchen with a sudden urge to learn how to make microwave popcorn. Othello and Desdemona hadn’t known each other very long.” He grunted and kissed my fingers. even if all we do is eat popcorn and read.” I started reading again. Ren agreed to bow out this time so I could talk to Li after class. I just like being with you. “No. wushu classes started again. “Is that why you’re with me.

“Y don’t want to know. and I was the complete opposite. He stretched out his long legs on the mat and propped himself up against the wall next to me.if I wanted to grab a bite to eat. So. How…sporting of him.” “What? What kind of a guy would…” I hurried to explain.” “What did he say about that?” I grimaced. but I told him that dating two guys at the same time isn’t the way things usually go and that you’d never agree to it. so I guess I’ll just spit it out.” “Well.” ou “Tell me.” “He said that if you couldn’t handle a little honest . “Actually. I was hoping we could talk for a bit.” “Oh. And how do you feel about that?” “I agreed to give it a try. I figured he wouldn’t stay away from you forever. he wiped his mouth and asked. I wondered when he’d show up.” He grinned. Taking a long drink of his water.” “Ah. you’re breaking up with me then. Ren thinks it would be okay for me to keep dating you too. “I’m not really sure how to say this. Li. not exactly. See. “He feels that I should date both of you and then make a choice between you two. “So what’s up.” “Sure. and he wants us to date. I felt so nervous that I had to sit on my hands to stop them from shaking. Kelsey?” “Umm…” What am I going to say? He’s going to hate me. He was happy and carefree. Ren is in town.

” “Are you joking? Y ou’re pulling my leg. I blinked. Then honest competition it is. He and Ren must have a common ancestor.” “Fine. “Kelsey. “So is he here in town?” “Not exactly. aren’t you? Y ou’re actually wanting to play this game of his?” “Did I not show you my trophy wall?” “Uh. My grandfather taught me from the time I was a very young boy to set goals and then fight for what I want and there’s no way I’m letting you go without fighting for you.” “No.” “I see. I’m asking if you’re ready to. But a young man who doesn’t have the foresight to seek out the girl he wants to be with and actively pursue her.competition then it’s better for me to know now. “he’s my new neighbor. I’ve worked hard to become as good as I am at wushu and I’ve studied hard in school and won many awards.” Li was grinding his jaw. “If he thinks I’ll just give up and walk away then he’s wrong!” I put my hand on his arm. “Li. doesn’t deserve her.” “Right. and his hands closed into fists.” I sighed. He already has a proximity advantage then. So I’m just another trophy for your wall?” “Not at all. are you ready to make your choice now?” “Are you asking me to?” “No.” . He continued. you didn’t. no. I don’t—” He turned to me.” “It’s my grandparents’ pride and joy.

“Excellent! We’ll see exactly what the man’s made of then.” “Discuss terms? Are you serious?” “Will he meet with me?” I groaned. I’ll even waive the class fee. Waving me off. he went back inside the studio and disappeared into the darkness.I mumbled wryly. “Sounds like you guys are planning to storm the castle. caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness. Li. . which effectively shut me up. he’s not at my level. anyway. “Alright. I want to meet with him to discuss terms. Bring him tomorrow! Tell him as a special courtesy. “Y He wants to come to a wushu class es. and closed my car door before I could finish my reply. The next morning. it said… Of all forms of caution. grinned at me. Carefully handwritten.” He pulled me along to my car and opened the door for me.” He either ignored my comment or didn’t hear it and pulled me up distractedly and walked me out to my car. He’s…” He kissed me ou hard on the lips.” “But. “Even better! The beginner needs to learn a thing or two!” “No. Y misunderstood. I found a note inside the refrigerator taped to the orange juice.” Li barked a laugh and clapped his hands together.

“Great. I happened to be wearing white and red too. really didn’t want to be in the same room with Li and Ren. He wore white cotton pants rolled at the ankles and a lightweight white jacket over a red shirt. and later that afternoon pressed it into my journal. He shrugged off my reaction and declared that Li would be an excellent rival and that he was looking forward to meeting him. and told him that he was invited to wushu to meet Li and “discuss terms.” He rushed me out to the car and helped me in. I really. but I ignored the phone and took a long bubble bath. Bad enough you have to go. and he . “Sorry. I called Ren. Don’t want to be late on my first day. peeled it off the bottle of orange juice. really. I felt grateful that we hadn’t advanced enough yet in wushu to use weapons. but now Li’s going to think I’m your cheerleader wearing your colors. since he didn’t like to see me other than planned dates. That evening. we don’t have time. Ren pulled the Hummer out of the garage and came over to pick me up.Bertrand Russell I sighed.” Then I told him flat out what I thought about that idea. Exasperated. My sullen silence didn’t seem to faze him at all. He called back several times that day.” He grinned. I should go change. I gave up trying to talk him out of it and hung up on him abruptly.

Li’s eyes were boring over my head. “For heaven’s sake. Ren took off his jacket.talked the entire drive about starting at WOU next week. He was staring back at Li casually as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “Sorry to interrupt the class. and shrugged out of my coat. everybody. I glanced over at Jennifer. “Never mind. Ren walked behind me but was at least a head taller so he could see everyone’s reactions as well as I could. then he . plopped my bag on the floor. ” I cleared my throat. “Oh!” Li’s eyes burned into mine for a moment. Ren. I hurried in. He’s visiting from India.” I saw Jennifer’s mouth drop open with a big silent. Ren! Y ou’re going to give the women heart palpitations!” He drew his eyebrows up in confusion. who was on the floor stretching her legs. and class had already begun. this is my guest. Li. “Kells. and I heard a squeak come from Jennifer. She’d paused in midstretch and was staring at Ren with her eyes popping out of their sockets. I glanced up at Ren. what are you talking about?” “Y Y ou! ou’re too…” I gave up in disgust. We arrived a few minutes late. Keeping my eyes down. I hissed at him quietly. I followed her eyes over to Ren’s golden-bronze biceps. Jennifer was running through the warmups in our corner. Hey. His red shirt was actually a perfectly-fitted muscle shirt that showed off his extremely well-developed arms and chest.

“Ren! I’m fine! Li didn’t hurt me. Ren turned toward Jennifer good-naturedly while Jennifer blushed from her feet to the roots of her hair. I was happy that he was being nice to my friend. “Did he hurt you. and Ren was kneeling over me. Did I hurt you? I didn’t mean to…” All of a sudden. Li wanted us to practice take-downs. he fell dramatically and rubbed his neck like he was sore. I smiled and thought. He was angry. Somehow. Yeah. he has that effect on me too. he’d quickly put her completely at ease and was being very gentle with her. He ordered us to form up in pairs. Kells? Are you alright?” Now I was angry and embarrassed. He was very charming and sweet. I just wasn’t paying enough . but the anger quickly faded from his eyes and changed to regret. Li quickly decided that Ren needed to work with Jennifer while he worked with me. but I wasn’t really hurt. Li was gone. causing her to erupt in giggles. One minute I was grinning at Ren and Jennifer and the next minute I was thrown down hard on my back. Kelsey. He demonstrated one on me and then asked us all to practice. I heard his body thump on the floor a few feet away from me on the mat. He ran us through kicks and forms and seemed thoroughly irritated when he saw that Ren knew what he was doing. When she tried to take him down. just shocked. and Ren turned to me.quickly got back to business. Ren was already talking comfortably with Jennifer. I hissed. Li had flipped me over hard. guiding her through the move and giving her tips and pointers. “Sorry.

“Promise?” I nodded. It happens. I could see the wheels turning in that brain of hers while she listened carefully to every remark and categorized every look and casual touch. and then abruptly dismissed class. Kelsey?” I put my hand on his arm. but I’d like to see you try to do that again. but I didn’t think I should leave Li and Ren alone very long.attention. Don’t worry about it.” “Yes. then I promise I’ll tell you what’s going on. “Good throw. She opened her mouth to ask the first of what I was sure were hundreds of questions. “Later. “Are you okay. The rest of the hour she spent watching me. then. Distracted.” His eyes shifted to Ren briefly. “I’m fine. “Hold that thought. Li came back over. I just want to get through class. they seemed to be locked in a staring . And really ! Did you have to throw him halfway across the room?” He grunted and helped me stand up.” She mouthed. Jennifer wanted me to walk her to her car. pointedly ignoring Ren. and Li very vigilantly.” I stood by Jennifer. “Anytime. who was quivering with excitement.” He growled. Li guided us through simple hand forms for the rest of the hour. Ren. “I’m fine. For the moment.” I whispered quietly.” Ren grinned widely at him. It was my fault for being distracted. and I stuck a finger in the air.” Li smiled back malevolently and narrowed his eyes. “He should have been more careful.

And our absolutely yummy. She squeezed my arm.contest.” “Oh. Please let me know what happens. I decided to risk it briefly and walked Jen to the door. In fact. “I’m sure I will. but that he gets equal…what did he call it…face time.” “Anything else?” “Y Games with his friends don’t count as dates es. Kelsey. So. I asked. Good luck. Li invited Ren here tonight to discuss ‘terms’ for dating. coldly assessing one another. . “Where’s Li?” “He left out the back entrance.” “This is so exciting! It’s better than my favorite soap opera. I’ll tell you about it in the car. What are you going to do?” “Ren wants me to date both of them and make a choice. I’d lock him up with me and swallow the key. “What did you two say to each other?” “Li and I agreed that you could date us both. Both of them had their arms folded across their chests. I can’t wait. I turned around to find Ren behind me and the studio behind him dark.” I grimaced. what happened?” “Come on.” “No kidding?” “No kidding.” After she left. “Y Ren is wonderful. If I were a couple of years younger and wasn’t happily married.” Jennifer’s mouth fell open. “This is definitely something you should write in that journal of yours. I can see why you had a hard time letting him go.” When we were driving home. See you Thursday. For every date that we go on. he gets one.

” “A what?” “A no-kissing rule. that is absolutely ridiculous! Are you going to decide what I will wear on each date too?” He stared at my clothes thoughtfully for a minute.” “I see.” “Uh-huh. I’ll bring it up with Li on Thursday.” “I don’t like this.“Y Games with his friends don’t count as dates es. “Ah. but I have to pay his fee.” “Really . Right.” “Ren. “I’d risk it. then the other one has to accept it. and I’ll be able to attend wushu classes. and us being in school or driving to school together doesn’t count either. And what happens if one of you interferes?” “The one that interferes gets no dates for a week while the other guy has exclusive access. Exclusive access.” “Y will NOT bring it up with Li on Thursday!” ou He shrugged. I hadn’t considered that. But if I see you drive off with him in something provocative…” I stopped him quickly.” . thinking that I couldn’t afford it. “Hmm. Good point. if you should choose to kiss one of us. We also have a strict noninterference policy so we don’t interrupt the other person’s date. “Fine.” He set his mouth in a firm line. Meaning that neither one of us will initiate a kiss.” “We also set a no-kissing rule. I feel like the child in a hostile joint custody battle. but that would be inter ference. which he purposely set at an exorbitant amount. But.” “The studio will be neutral territory.

like in Hamlet. I could choose the winner. The good news was that it would buy me some time. though. then bring it on. If they wanted to joust for the girl’s favor. helped me out. Li’s reaction shocked me. but eventually they settled down when . This dating thing they’d organized was absolutely ridiculous. Maybe they’d both kill each other in the process and everybody would die in the end. and surely a tiger’s instinct told him to drive off the other males. Let them dress up in their battle armor. But after all this planning you should give Li at least a week. the loser. Fine. and I thought about it quietly as we drove home. I could understand it from Ren’s point of view. “Y can always make a choice ou now. when we walked into wushu. I was actually surprised that he cared this much. at least a little. there seemed to be an unspoken agreement between the two men not to look at each other. Thursday. I still had a choice at the end of the day. During his century they probably did battle for females. He dropped me off.He replied softly. and sharpen their lances. is. “Y I think he es. The class warily watched them. mount their horses.” “Ha! What makes you think I’d choose you? Li’s a good guy too!” Ren rubbed his jaw and said quietly. and disappeared as usual. or neither of them. I’d expected Li to just breakup with me. which would have made my part in this little production much easier.” That comment surprised me.

When I came down the stairs in a dark blue dress with strappy shoes and my hair straightened. he said. Ren stood up abruptly and dropped his bowl of popcorn on . I had a date planned with one or the other of them every night for the rest of the week. He’d convinced the guys that we needed to have game night every week instead of every two weeks. He also cheated.nothing happened. He seemed content to come over and read with me or watch movies indoors. Ren was definitely the knight-inshining-armor type of hero. We watched old movies while he asked hundreds of questions. He decided that kettle corn was his favorite snack and was an expert at making it now. He liked a variety of films. Ren was a play-by-the-rules kind of guy. Star Wars was probably his favorite. Ren grumbled about why this couldn’t happen on Li’s night instead of his. I told him he could still watch the movie without me and said that I’d seen it hundreds of times. remembering I had a date with Jason. Not worthy of Princes Leia. Jennifer worked with me while the two of them worked with other students. though. He liked Luke. and the pace was exhausting me. Neither of them paired up with me anymore either. Li was going out of his way to take me to nice dinners and plan elaborate picnics. Han Solo was too much of a bad boy for him. Then we’d only stick around a short time and he’d take me out for ice cream or we’d go out on a walk to sneak in extra time. I was planning to spend Friday night watching a movie with Ren when I jumped up. then picked up his bag of popcorn and headed to the microwave.

Sure thing. “Uh-huh. and when I opened it. He’s visiting from India. In fact. this is my friend Ren. I didn’t feel the intense pressure that I felt with Li and Ren. Jason took me to see The Lion King in Portland. “Take good care of my girl .” “That only applies to Li. The costumes and props were amazing.” The doorbell rang. “Uh…Jason. Jason just stood there shifting back and forth very uncomfortably. Not that Ren was pressuring me.” I pushed Ren back in the house and shut the door in his face. I can interfere all I want with Jason. It was actually a relief being with Jason. . Jason. I made a mental note to rent the movie for him.” There was a very definite implied “or else” attached to the end of the sentence. so dressing up is standard.” Ren stuck out his hand and smiled abrasively. he seemed to have infinite patience. though I thought he’d appreciate the play more. He’d love to see how all the animals were portrayed. Ren suddenly moved up behind me to help me into my coat. His eyes kept darting up to Ren. I guess that came from his tiger half. Poor Jason gulped. And I thought you had a noninterference policy anyway. I found myself wishing that Ren were here to see this.the floor. “Why are you dressed like that? Where are you going with him?” “Jason’s taking me to a play in Portland.

Jason talked excitedly about the accident and thought my picture had a good chance of getting into the man’s magazine. other than that. They’d gotten caught on something as I tried to back up and then. there happened to be a photographer nearby doing a piece on the theater. I fell over. I started making my way to the car. I really wasn’t hurt much. he gave my name to the photographer saying that I was a hero for saving the old lady. I ran up in front of the woman and turned to look at the driver. ever heard of it?” . people were walking every which way across the street and cars were edging forward in dangerous spurts trying to nudge the patrons along. Jason ran over to help me. Jason told the photographer an embellished tale of heroism while I hobbled away in disgust. “What’s his magazine called?” “Modern Theater Magazine . but. Willingly. there were only a few scrapes and bruises. Waving my hands in the air seemed to work. but I fell. He ended up hitting me…not hard. strappy shoe. A very old lady dropped her playbill in the street and was bending over to pick it up when a car turned the corner. when the car bumped me slightly. Without thinking. Jason thought it was great and posed with me and my torn dress and smudged face. and the driver got out. and he ran over and snapped some pictures. but not fast enough. It wasn’t even really so much the driver’s fault as it was my strappy shoes.When we stepped outside. My dress and my pride were damaged. Pulling off my broken. Unfortunately.

He was probably terrified that Ren would come after him for not taking care of me. I turned in my seat to face him. you’re a great guy. and he drove off still in a pretty good mood. Well. “Sort of. babe.” A little gutless. “Jason.” “Oh. if you change your mind. But.” “Y ep. When he pulled up to the house. I need to talk with you about something. That was easy.” “Thanks. I know I won’t get off so easy next time. He was probably better off not seeing me to the door. Well. I’d like to be friends still. I kissed him goodbye on the cheek. I’ll be around.” “Is there someone else?” His eyes darted to the front door again. “it sure was.” “Sure.” I sighed.” “Oh? Why?” “I don’t think we’re compatible enough. Chivalry is mostly dead in this generation. but still nice. I stepped into my dark house and found another note lying on the kitchen counter next to a small bowl . it was still exciting. He kept looking at my torn dress and then at the windows. Jason. what’s up?” “I think we should stop dating.” He chatted the whole way home about the next term and about the last party he’d gone to. he sat there waiting for me to get out. anyway.” “Uh-huh.“No. Sighing.

Grabbing a bottle of Diet Coke and the bowl of popcorn. And one to go . I slowly climbed up the stairs carrying my broken. Barbara DeAngelis I’m sensing a theme here. .full of popped kettle corn. You always lose by holding back. strappy shoes with me and thought. You never lose by loving. One down.

” “I wanted to surprise you.CHAPTER 7 The next day was Sunday. The bacon was crackling in a skillet ready to be taken out. I said yes and hung up the phone. and since he missed out on our date the night before. I would ou have come down to help you. I could hear something sizzling on the stove and smell something burning. The pancake he’d been making was burned on one side and underdone on the other. “Y didn’t say you wanted to cook at home. so I popped some aspirin and took a hot shower. Ren was in the kitchen when I came downstairs. He’d put on my frilly apron and was scrambling eggs in a large bowl. My body was stiff and sore from my fall. Ren called to see if we could have breakfast together.” .

I asked him to get out the syrup and orange juice. but you have to try some of the pancakes my way. When I had a stack of pancakes sufficiently high enough to please Ren. “What’s this? What happened to you?” “What? Oh…that.” He was looking at a long purple bruise on my arm.” I laughed.” ou I removed his burnt pancake and reduced the heat. . let me help. But they would be even better with peanut butter and banana.” “Okay. and Ren stopped me and took hold of my arm. with chocolate chips added. “Really? And how did you discover that?” “Trial and error.“Y did.” “Deal. and he pulled out peanut butter too. Uh…Kells? Y better make another ou batch.” I reached out to get the syrup. put a glob of butter in to melt. “What are you doing with the peanut butter?” “I like peanut butter and banana pancakes. those are pretty small pancakes.” I made another bowl of batter and added a heaping handful of chocolate chips. after rewhipping his lumpy batter. He watched everything I did very carefully. I set it on a plate covered with paper towels to drain. poured out four silver dollar-sized pancakes. and then. “Well? What do you think?” “Excellent. Removing the bacon. I sat down next to him with my plate and cut through my stack of chocolate chip pancakes. Here. He took a big bite of his. then I cleaned out the pan and started cooking the eggs.

” “Did he get hit by a car too?” “No. “And where was Jason during all this?” I slapped him away. the boy needs to learn a few things. he’s going to get some matching bumps and bruises so that he can truly empathize. And it doesn’t matter anyway because I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. carefully feeling my bones. Just some cuts and scrapes.” He grunted and went back to his pancakes. you are not the man that needs to teach him. “Do you have to leave right after breakfast or can you stay to watch a movie?” He mumbled something about rules. Next time I see him. and rotating my joints. “What was that?” .” “You what?” “I was trying to stop an old lady from getting hit. Ren! Y aren’t my ou doctor. “Good.” He cracked a self-satisfied smile. Jason was right there with me. stop making threats.” He immediately jumped off his stool and started checking my limbs and neck. “Where does it hurt?” “Ren! Really. Still. “Cut it out.” “Then he wasn’t right there with you.” “Ren. rivals.“I got hit by a car last night. and bruises. I twirled my fork in the syrup.” “Well. The car bumped me instead. Ow! Don’t push on that!” He poked and prodded me. I told you it’s only some simple bumps and bruises. and I fell down. I’m fine.

I blinked open my eyes and found him watching me. and felt the music take me on a journey. bleak. He brought back his mandolin and started picking through the song “Edelweiss. but only for the movie. It was the only cat-like thing he did as a man. The end was melancholy and sad. I’ve just always been able to hear the notes and know how to play them. and my mother often asked me to play for her. And that’s where he stopped. and lonely then moved to something hopeful and sweet. but Ren loved it.” He helped me clean up.” The mandolin had a more exotic sound than the guitar in the movie. “It’s beautiful! How long have you played?” “I picked it up again after you left. I could feel emotions sweep over and through me as the song told its story. He started humming along to one of the songs then asked me to pause while he went to get something. leaned my head against the couch.” He started playing “My Favorite Things” and then the song changed and became a sad but lovely tune. I closed my eyes.” “But you picked up that song very quickly.“Nothing. . then I popped in The Sound of Music. I’ll stay. He liked wrapping it around his fingers. My heart felt like it was beating along with the song. I always had a good ear for music. I felt like my heart was breaking. Have you heard it before?” “No. He put his arm around my shoulders and toyed with the ribbon at the end of my braid. Most guys would say it was a chick flick. The song started out somber.

I mean. My heart began to beat faster. “No. pressed his face against my neck.” I brushed his hair away from his forehead and said quietly. Why won’t he kiss me? Stubborn man! Was he made of steel? Wasn’t his blood blistering his skin like mine was? I felt like I was on fire. It’s definitely not over yet. but something was wrong with my detonator.” “Y wrote that?” ou “Y It’s called ‘Kelsey. Well. like I was a heatseeking missile that had zeroed in on the target. It’s our story together. ” He sighed and set the mandolin carefully down on the table. and whispered my name. Was I .” “Oh. our story isn’t quite over yet now.” “But it ended sadly. “That’s the way I felt when you left.” He held me very close. is it?” I slid closer to him and wrapped my arms around his neck. He squeezed me close.“What was that? I’ve never heard anything like it before.’” es. He studied my expression and raised an eyebrow. I looked into his vivid blue eyes. “I wrote it after you left.” He ran a hand through his hair. It is you. then at his perfectly sculpted lips. “It’s beautiful. and willed him to kiss me. it’s about you…us. Then. he smiled at me brilliantly and suggested that we keep watching our movie. He dipped his head closer but stopped just short of contact. Ren. “Y named it after me?” ou “No.

I held his hand and traced little circles on the back of it. but he wasn’t willing to let go of my hand or move farther away. Well. Even though Li was cheating and doing everything in his power to win this stupid battle. From that point on. I would get Ren to kiss me first. He wanted to play the game fair. He probably didn’t want to break the rules. After the movie.operating under false assumptions? Did I misinterpret his signals? No. “Ren…do you realize you’re taking fifteen credits? One of your international classes alone is six credits. I figured it out. I also leaned in close to make comments from time to time. my lips were always just inches from his. he wanted to compare schedules. He kept nervously twitching and shifting his position. Ren would stick to his code of chivalry. “Do you think you’ll be able to do that much? Y only get to be a man for six hours a ou day. Boys and their war games! I hated this ridiculous little competition. they’re not the only ones who can play games. he quickly got up and said that.” Just to . I pulled his arm around me and tucked my head against his shoulder. I immediately put my plan into action. I decided that I would test his resistance. He wanted me to make the first move. since school started the next day. I read through my catalog descriptions.” I squeezed his arm and began trailing my fingers over his muscular bicep. then Ren’s. remember? Y wouldn’t have time for anything ou else except homework on the weekends. We finished the movie with me sitting as close to him as possible.

” “The dean is arranging your schedule?” “Y He’s extremely motivated to keep me happy. This time. waiting for me to make a move. I was determined that he would kiss me first. on Friday. I grinned at him and . but I wasn’t having it. “Unbelievable. I traced little hearts on his forearm.” I put my hands on my hips.” He ignored my shocked expression and compared our schedules. His schedule now looked much better. I will definitely need to be saving time for…” his eyes flickered from my fingers on his arm to my lips. “Don’t you want to save some time to…be with me?” He watched me curiously. “How did you get them to do that for you? Normal students don’t get to have their schedules immediately arranged for them like that. “Hmm. you can drive in by yourself.illustrate my point. “Not… what I want…the most.” He called in to drop everything except international studies and got those times switched to earlier classes so he could ride in with me. I hadn’t thought of that. “Ren. “I talked with the dean.” He shrugged. “other things. do you always get everything you want?” He snuck his hands around my waist and pulled me against his chest then ducked his lips to within inches of mine. “It looks like we can ride in together almost every day.” He hesitated for a minute.” es. I’ll go in early with you on Tuesdays and Thursdays and do homework.

hoping to push him over to my side. It wasn’t so . He seemed to be going through an internal dispute. and. Anyway. Finally. I heard him hitch a breath.” I put my hand on his muscular arm and bit the corner of my lip in a hopefully appealing way. locked in a silent struggle of wills. he broke away. I had no idea he reacted this way to me. and.waited. Disneyland and a seductive woman—what’s the common denominator? High expectations. maybe that was Walt Disney. Leaning in closer. diamonds. Disney marketed itself so well that kids knew that the minute they walked through the gates. flowers. only spurred them on to come back for more. turned my head. Didn’t a famous vaudeville actress once say. The early Hollywood starlets had men falling at their feet sending them pearls. they would have the most thrilling experience of their lives. Teasing his palm with my lips. “Always leave them wanting more”? Hmm. and pressed a warm kiss on his palm. I placed my hand on top of his. somehow. The tension was luscious as we stood there. “Y ou’re killing me. arms wrapped around each other. and furs—diamonds are a girl’s best friend after all—and the men were often rejected and sent packing which. I batted my eyes innocently. Same thing with a seductive woman. in the most seductive voice I could manage. Kells. asked coyly. This will be easier than I thought. Date’s over. “Are you absolutely sure you have to leave?” I felt his arm tighten and his pulse quicken. He cupped my cheek with his hand.

“Can we kiss her? Huh? Can we? Please? Can we?” With my plan solidly formed. I’d been hoping for a Rhett Butler kind of thing. “Well …Tiger. Doing my best Marilyn Monroe impersonation. Dad?” His lips would be pressuring his brain. All by my lonesome. adding quietly. I’d envisioned Ren not being able to help himself because I was so seductive.” I trailed my fingers along the railing and continued up the stairs. I would simply market my lips. Dad? Can we go? Please? Can we go. even though I spoke softly. What are Ren’s weaknesses? Food? He was already resisting that .much about the delivery as it was about the build-up. It was just a minor setback. I turned one last time and said. Unfortunately. It didn’t matter.” I knew he heard me. I heard the door downstairs close quietly. you know where to find me. All day long . Just like a kid pressuring his parents to take him to Disneyland saying. I’d make him want to kiss me so badly that he couldn’t think of anything else. and carrying me up the stairs dramatically like Scarlett. I spent the rest of that day brainstorming for my lip marketing plan. I could feel him watching me. “Can we go. the anticipation. I squeezed his arm lightly and walked toward the stairs. Drat! He has more self-control than I thought. But he left. he didn’t follow me up the stairs in a dramatic show of passion like I thought he would. if you change your mind. very alert tiger by surprise? Use his weaknesses. How do you catch a very old. sweeping me up into his arms. “It’ll just be little ole me over here.

I put my plan into action. I straightened my hair and paid special attention to my makeup. That was the feminine wiles part. and a printed skirt. I slipped a note inside—the poetry part. The second part of my plan was to make him a giant Dagwood sandwich for a snack. picked out a navy cable cardigan. The first part of my strategy was to make myself so utterly kissable that he couldn’t pretty well. Because his other weakness? Overprotectiveness. Gustavo Adolfo Becquer I’d found a Web site with lots of famous kissing quotes and planned to stick them everywhere. Third. I opened the once forbidden side of the closet. especially the peach lip gloss I’d chosen. which was the food temptation. The note said. The next morning. The soul that can speak through the eyes can also kiss with a gaze. It came with a thin belt and tall brown boots. he looked me up . The bonus part of my plan was that I would flirt with him and everyone else around us until he snapped. When he came over to pick me up. Feminine wiles? Maybe. Poetry? But how could I use that against him? Ah-ha! The poor guy didn’t stand a chance.

Keep your secrets. it looks like someone named . “A girl shouldn’t be expected to give away all her secrets now. But I’m watching you. and he headed off with his brownbag sandwich in hand.” I hadn’t thought of that.” “Y ou’re not?” “No.” He helped me into my coat. Y ou’re trying to get me to kiss you so that you won’t have to date me for a month. I grinned as I headed to class. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Kells. “Y look beautiful. Ren. I’m not trying to get out of dating you. “No.” “Then what are you doing?” I smiled up at him and said demurely. He was tight-lipped when he returned to the Hummer and held my note up. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve too. “Fine. Did you write it?” I laughed. “What’s this?” “Looks like a note. Kells. and whispered in a velvety voice. “Not true. I’m on to you. pressed his lips to my ear.and down. What’s not going to work?” “Y ou’re trying to seduce me. and I replied innocently. should she?” He leaned in close. but it’s ou not going to work.” “It is. He’d forgotten to mention the penalty for kissing me. Whatever it is you think you’re trying to do isn’t going to work. We got to school.” We’ll see about that. and said.

instead of helping me out. Shall we go home?” He dropped me off and left me alone all afternoon. I’ll take it back. What’s wrong? Y don’t like it? I ou thought you appreciated poetry. I’m just trying to figure out your motive in giving it to me. Soul meets soul on lovers’ lips.” “I do appreciate poetry. Kelsey. he leaned over and growled softly. dangerous.” He held it away from me. “I warn you.” “If you don’t like it. that I’m an extremely patient . I hurried and put another note in his gym bag as he was getting out of the car to open my door before wushu. But.” “Fine. When we got home later and he’d parked the car in the garage. He read through it a couple of times then looked up and caught my attention. “I’m keeping it. I met his hot gaze with an innocent grin and waved happily to Jennifer as she came in the room. His voice was seductive. he came around to my side and opened the door for me.Gustavo wrote it. Percy Bysshe Shelley I was sitting on the floor stretching when I glanced over and saw him pull the note out of his bag. but my plan was still in effect. His lips brushed against the sensitive skin under my ear.

Y haven’t been all here. When I entered mine. I leaned over to ask a question. I wasn’t sure when Li began to notice. My life as a tiger has taught me that attentive persistence and focused diligence always pay off. you’ve just been going through the motions for the last week.” ou “Well…I’m back in school now and homework is distracting. not me. It’s him. I’ve had extensive practice in waiting out the enemy. but I refused to give in.” He stepped away and extended a hand to help me out. He was driving me crazy. I was tempted to break down the door and throw myself at him. and he responded abruptly. I walked to our connecting door and stood against it with my hands pressed against the wood. Kelsey. “So you’re going to acknowledge my existence now?” “What do you mean?” “Kelsey. priyatama. I heard his soft laugh on the breeze as he disappeared into his own part of the house. I’m on the hunt. Consider yourself forewarned. my mind was far away planning ways to seduce” . and I won’t be thwarted in my course.” “It’s not your homework that’s distracting you. Soon. I’ve caught your scent. I was going to entice him this time. He would be the one begging for mercy. I ignored it and walked to my house with a stiff back and wobbly legs. I found that during every date with Li. but one time when we were out watching a martial arts movie.

Now. but I felt guilty about Li. I’ll do better. Ren had resisted kissing me for three weeks.” He studied my face for a minute and then began explaining about Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow.Kelsey. I wasn’t giving him the attention he deserved. Alfred Lord Tennyson By now. When I got home late that night from my date. and I thought I was weakening more than he was. I really was interested. Li. Once he drew With one long kiss my whole soul thro’ My lips. I had nothing to show for my weeks of effort.” “I’m sorry. tell me why this martial arts movie is a classic. What was worse was that I wished Ren were here watching the movie with us. He told me that it showed a new style of martial arts that combined fighting with slapstick comedy and that the rice bowl scene was the best scene in the movie. I didn’t realize that I’ve been ignoring you. as sunlight drinketh dew. Jackie Chan’s debut movie. and he seemed appeased by that. I taped a note onto his side of our connecting door. The rest of the evening went fine. I now owned an . It’s him. I’d tried everything I could think of and still hadn’t gotten so much as a nibble on my baited lip.

Suddenly. It connected us and burned a hole through my middle even when we were on opposite sides of the room. Li announced that we were going to be doing takedowns again. and to that kiss a score. It was my last-ditch effort. read through it. but he looked at me with smoldering. This time. In wushu. it was getting tense between the two of us. and raised an eyebrow in my direction. he pulled another note out of his bag. sizzling link sparkle up between us. His face was always set in tight determination now. it would be Li and Ren demonstrating for the rest of us. Physically. Then to that twenty. Treble that million. as when we first begun. Li instructed . To make that thousand up a million. This one was the most over-the-top one that I’d done.entire collection of lipsticks and glosses and had tried every single one of them to no effect. Robert Herrick Ren didn’t say anything. and when that is done. which he had avoided since our first experience with them. and he appeared to be suffering with the same affliction. Let’s kiss afresh. I boldly returned his gaze and felt a hot. and I’d purposely saved it for last. intense eyes. add a hundred more: A thousand to that hundred: so kiss on. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him. Give me a kiss.

” He grinned. if I were a betting man. Ren grabbed his heel and said. He shifted his weight to one leg and swept behind Ren’s knee then threw a punch at Ren’s chest. He did a kick-up and stood up to face Ren. Li used an elaborate corkscrew maneuver. They circled again. and even backward. and Li fell to the mat again. effectively neutralizing Li’s attacks. Ren pulled him off balance. “She hasn’t decided yet whose girl she is. placed one hand on the floor. Ren reluctantly broke eye contact with me and moved up to face his opponent. Li rolled away angrily and returned to begin a series of punches. Ren shifted to the right so Li’s sweep missed and used his palm to block the punch. flipping him upside down. causing Li to land hard on his stomach. “Do you really want to continue this?” Ren said. “But. “I just wanted to stop you from ogling my girl.” “I’m not trying to prove anything.” He shot off a quick double punch to Ren’s chest. Ren simply grabbed Li’s wrists and twisted them outward. Li realized he was getting nowhere.” He lifted his arms and threw Li. He faked a punch to grab Ren’s arm and yanked hard so he could do a backward kick to the face. Ren blocked him to all move out of the way and sit back against the wall. Ren grabbed Li’s foot and twisted. Li made the first move. The two men circled each other. Li howled and stepped away. I . a backward roundhouse to show off and move in closer. He came back with a front kick to Ren’s face. low. and attacked with a scissor kick. “Y ou’ve proved you’re a good fighter.

Li spun out and tried sweeping Ren’s legs again. Jennifer looked at me nervously and grabbed my hand. At one point.” The moves were too fast for me to discern now. he was enraged. and pinned Li easily. I saw punches. Ren quickly let him go. When Li got up this time. a move that immobilized most people with pain. “Y let me worry ou about my odds. double twisted. he flicked his wrists and was now holding Li’s arms. twisted in the air. As he was coming down. Li’s elbows were pointed in the air while Ren pushed down slightly. armblocks. Li wiped his mouth and spat out. Li grabbed Ren’s arms from behind and pushed up. turned. and ran up a wall with Li still holding his arms. and kick-blocks.” I gasped in outrage and embarrassment. Ren grinned. The guys were all grinning like wolves circling a lamb and commented on the different styles of offense and defense. but Li gasped in pain. The guys sitting up against the wall started clapping and . Li taunted. Jennifer and I appeared to be the only ones concerned.wouldn’t be giving you very good odds. foot play. Ren ran at Li and did a complicated aerial somersault in tucked position. Ren turned to look at me. but Ren leapt over them. When he landed. and flipped over Li entirely in the air. side-kicks. He flipped over Li in the air. step-back twists. he placed his hand on Li’s back and used his momentum to push Li flat on his face on the mat. I glanced at the other students. The impact caused both of them to take a few steps back. Ren grunted. “At least I didn’t give her up and walk away. making contact with Ren’s chest. Seeing he was distracted.” He spun and kicked.

and her hand twitched .guys sitting up against the wall started clapping and cheering. at the same time. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I was furious that he had the audacity to claim me as his in front of everyone. But you will. holding him immobile. In fact. Each move was a beautiful study in form. I was et. and he was breathing hard. and Jennifer had a look of rapture on her face. My warrior-angel . secretly thrilled that he wanted me that fiercely. Ren pressed his hand against Li’s back. Li was finally getting in some punches. He was obviously highly skilled. and growled quietly. He knew what he was doing.” Ren let him up. It was almost like they were moving at two different speeds. He attacked even more viciously than he had before. However. The guys were now taking bets. He really was a warrior-angel. But. I found myself entranced by the calculated control and power he displayed. Y at the same time. Sweat was pouring down his face. It was laughable. the difference between him and Ren was like the difference between Mel Gibson and Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4. I watched Ren fight. She’s mine. Li was a force to be reckoned with. going after Ren with everything he had. He was simply magnificent. and Li became a raging bull after that. Publicly . it would have been impossible for me to look away. I was mortified that they were fighting over me. “No. and Ren stepped up his game a little too. I thought possessively. A fighter worthy of the tiger he often was.

” “Okay.” “Try. Kelsey. “There are a couple of reasons. After about fifteen minutes of fighting hard and getting nowhere. He was fully recovered already. dismissed class. but he waved me off and grabbed a towel to cover his head.” “Why did you leave him?” I shifted uncomfortably. I didn’t say a word to him the whole way home. then replied. and I want you to answer honestly. I guess I’ll talk with you tomorrow. Tomorrow. After wushu class on Friday. and . “it’s difficult to explain. Li.nervously at her throat and mouth. Li didn’t call me or ask me out on any dates the next week.” “Well. he’s gorgeous and fashionable.” I followed Ren to the car. to be fair. Li asked to speak with me and told Ren he would drive me home. “Sure. Li sat down and patted the mat next to him. Ren nodded and left quietly. Kelsey.” “Okay. But the main one is that…” I sighed. Li. I tried to talk with him. panting forcefully. I need to ask you something. “Kelsey. They’d been oddly civil to each other since the fight. first of all. which meant Ren avoided me too.” He scrubbed his head with the towel and mumbled. “I left him because…we don’t fit together.” “What do you mean?” I stayed silent for a moment. “Not now.

yes. the two of us are also from different cultures and backgrounds. During our fight. He would have trapped himself with me and not been happy. and that didn’t bother you. His brother likes me. and he hasn’t dated much and—” “But.I’m… not.” Li turned toward me.” He probably did. “Kelsey…as much as it kills me to say this…Ren strikes me as a very careful. “I guess it boils down to me thinking that he’s going to wake up any day now and figure out I’m not a princess in disguise. “But. He’s from a different culture and background. I think he’ll be disappointed if he chooses me. “So you’re telling me that the reason you left him was because you thought he was too good for you?” “Basically. In fact. It’s like he studied with all of the old masters. Does his family not like you?” “No. So. his face incredulous. He’s also very wealthy and comes from an upper-class family. I was using every dirty trick and skill at my disposal. That shows not only incredible skill.” I twisted my hands in my lap.” “Does he ever act unhappy around you?” “No. . it’s just a matter of time before he realizes that and leaves me for someone more his level. thoughtful person. he comes from royalty. he actually took hits so that I wouldn’t get hurt. and he barely hit me back. during the fight. He clearly had the advantage. His parents are gone.” He said reflectively. Kelsey. His skills are beyond anything I’ve seen before.

” I shrugged. Y ou’re amazing and sweet and pretty and he’d be lucky to have you.” He laughed ironically. It’s obvious to me and to everyone else. To hone skill like that. you have to tell him. to fight like that. “Half the time.” “Li. “I already knew he was a good fighter.” “What are you trying to say.” “No. “Kelsey .” “No. but he didn’t. “And as far as you not being good enough for him. He isn’t good enough for you. ” “Y ou’re just saying that. I’m not. concerned about your reaction. you don’t understand my point. Your fears about him leaving you for another or walking away from you don’t fit with his personality.” “But…” He took my hands in his and looked into my eyes. And if you love him. And because I can see that your feelings for him are . He could have smashed me into the floor. I respect him. he wasn’t even watching me! He was watching you. why are you doing this?” “Because…I genuinely like the guy. He wasn’t even paying attention to the guy who was seriously trying to kill him. No. Li?” “I’m trying to say that the man is desperately in love with you. There’s nothing about him that makes me think he’s anything less than sincere in his motives. it’s actually the opposite.but amazing forethought. he’s the type of man who makes decisions and sticks by them. He only sees you. Like I said.” I looked down at my hands. takes discipline.

“Let’s get you home. “I’ll miss you too.” “Sure thing. Y ou’ve been good to me and good for me. “But don’t forget to tell him that I was the bigger man who walked away.” Something in me clicked. Kelsey. tell him I’ll come looking for him. I hugged him back. I’d been using him as an emotional crutch.” “Y but it’s not the same. Give him a ou chance. “I’m sorry I put you through this.” He reached over and wrapped me in a bear hug. Tell him that. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I’d forced your hand when he showed up. you would have chosen him . I won’t forget you.” He sniggered quietly. Emotional. I knew this had to be the end for me and Li. I’d known that for a while. deep down. It was time to let Li go.much stronger than your feelings for me. It wasn’t fair to continue to put him through this. kissing my cheek softly.” I laughed forlornly. My heart would never belong to him. Kelsey?” “Y es?” “If he ever does leave you. “I’ll miss you.” “I’m happy with you too. Y obviously love him. ” He shrugged. Li. Come on. And. Whether I ended up with Ren or not. Go home to him. Tell the guys thanks for teaching me to play. and my perspective suddenly changed. Kelsey. es. My whole relationship with him had become an excuse so I could postpone facing Ren. “I made the choice to go through it. It was time to face the music. Y ou’re happier with him.” He stood and helped me up.

And I hope that someday finds you soon. And. What should I say? When he stopped the car.” “Well if you happen to have a twin sister somewhere. I stood outside the door for too many minutes thinking . I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. At least this way. Li let me out and encouraged me earnestly one more time. We drove in silence. “Y ou’re going to make some woman very happy someday.” “It wasn’t fair to you. I felt suddenly vulnerable. “Tell him.anyway. I should tell him. He was right. he wanted me. and now that I was finally going to get what I wanted…I was nervous. My feelings for him were never in question. He’d had centuries to think about what he wanted. Li was right.” I took his hand in both of mine and squeezed. he would’ve always been around to take care of me if I needed him.” I laughed but I felt like crying. I’d been deliberately trying to seduce the man for several weeks. Ren was a careful. send her my way. for some reason. thoughtful person.” He hugged me briefly and then drove off. Li. My resolve wobbled. and I thought more about what Li had said. Tell him that I’d made my choice. I also knew that if I had chosen someone else. Kelsey.” “Didn’t somebody say that all’s fair in love and war? This was a little bit of love mixed in with a little bit of war. fragile. I got to hang around a little bit longer. I knew deep down that he loved me and would never leave me. My thoughts were incoherent and scattered.

“I choose you. I stood up on my tiptoes to get closer. “So then. He looked earnestly at my face and sighed unhappily. “So then we—” “Can be together. I suddenly realized that he thought I was going to choose Li. He held my body snugly against his rock-solid chest while my feet hovered several inches in the air. melty.about what I was going to say. sweet kiss. There are many different types of kisses.” I pulled his head closer and kissed him softly. The door opened. did you?” “Y es. “What would you like to tell me?” “I’d like to tell you that I’ve made my choice. “Tell me what. There was .” I reached up and wrapped my arms around his neck.” “I figured that.” He froze…then drew his head back to look at my face. cautious. But. and Ren came out to stand beside me in the cold in his bare feet. I said.” He flashed me a brilliant smile that lit up the dark night. reached down to put his arms around me.” His face was tight. and picked me up. He ran a hand through his hair. smoldering one. Kells?” In a stilted voice. I spoke softly in his ear. “Heard that. but he remained stiff and unyielding. He sighed. This was a hot. this was no soft. He was still wearing his muscle shirt and white pants from wushu. He broke away surprised and studied my face then locked me tightly in his arms and kissed me back. Li—” “Is out of the picture.

beyond desire.” . “It’s about bloody time. all tiger lilies. And he made sure I knew it. need. I would have happily died in his clutches. My heart burst with a thousand beautiful blooms.a passionate kiss of farewell—like the kind Rhett gave Scarlett when he went off to war. warm and vulnerable. And then there’s the kiss of possession—which was how Ren kissed me now. woman. There was no escape. He finally lifted his head and murmured against my lips. And I knew with a certainty more powerful than anything I’d ever felt before that we belonged together. Staking a claim. It went beyond passion. He seized me as boldly as the tiger captured his prey. and love. But. There’s the first kiss—one that is gentle and hesitant. it was also filled with promises and pledges. And I didn’t want to. The kiss of I-can’treally-be-with-you-but-I-want-to-be—like with Superman and Lois Lane. some of which seemed sweet and tender while others seemed dangerous and exciting. He was taking me over. like all those other kisses. His kiss was full of longing. I was his.

CHAPTER 8 He kissed me again and slid an arm under my knees. He kept kissing me everywhere—my hair. kisses that lasted a mere second. my cheeks…but always returned to my lips like they were the center of his universe. my forehead. I sighed softly against his lips and basked in the barrage of Ren’s kisses—drowning kisses. sultry kisses. He lowered himself into the recliner. snuggled me on his lap. He managed to carry me into the house and kick the door closed without ever taking his lips off mine. It was easy to believe that my warriorangel had captured me and had flown me up to heaven because being with him like this was heavenly. grabbed my blanket. and kisses that lasted an eternity. soft kisses. my neck. and tucked it around me. I’d finally gotten my Rhett Butler moment. .

Temptation. which drove me absolutely crazy. moving his lips against my throat. “Are you growling at me?” He laughed softly. loosening my braid.” “That was regretfully necessary. but then I would ultimately lose you. “But you did.” “Oh. twisted my hair ribbon around his fingers. Then. when you started purposefully tempting me. so I stayed away.” He trailed slow kisses down my neck. It was all I could do not . I didn’t want to pressure you. “You have been driving me crazy for three weeks. but I was always near. “Every minute of the day. “I would never avoid you on purpose. I wouldn’t let myself see you unless you agreed to a date. So…you weren’t just avoiding me then?” He put his finger under my chin and turned my face to his. distracting me. I thought I’d go insane.A deep rumble echoed in his chest. Even before the agreement with Li. I was playing the whole absence-makes-the-heart-growfonder card. “And does this mean you’ll be over here more often?” He spoke.” He stroked the side of my neck and collarbone with his fingertips. Y ou’re lucky all I’m doing is growling.” he pressed his face into my now cascading hair and sighed. I pulled back. I would have had you for a moment. laughing. and whispered threateningly. I could hear you.” “Y ours was the worst kind of pralobhana. and pulled gently. Kells. Part of the gettingyou-to-date-me plan. “and smell your tantalizing peaches and cream scent. He bit my ear lightly.” “Ah-hah! So you were tempted. But.

” It was strange. and my heart leapt. I like that you’re honorable. and said softly. beautiful cobalt blue eyes locked with my brown ones. He smiled. knowing he. Ren.” I stroked his hair away from his face. in all his perfection. “Y ou’re probably right. “I love you.” “What does kamana mean?” “It means the beautiful wish I desire above all others. ” “Hmm. But. Kells. “A man can’t be too grab you up and carry you off.” “Y could have kissed me and not told Li. my kamana. maybe you’re a little too honorable. I couldn’t risk not seeing you for a month. We looked at each other for a long moment. brushed it away from his brow. I didn’t feel shy or hesitant at all. I felt…liberated.” I pressed my lips against his neck and inhaled the warm sandalwood scent of him.” He frowned at me. I slid my hands from his shoulders up into his hair.” I grinned at him.” ou “That wouldn’t have been very honorable. “Hmm. “Ren?” . I always have. “I love you. Joyful. Now that I’d admitted out loud that I wanted to be with him. If I had known that you were the prize I’d get after being captive for centuries. belonged to me. I planted dozens of kisses across his brow.” His smile widened. He sat immobile while I traced his face with my fingertips. He snuggled me tighter in his arms and whispered my name. I would’ve endured it thankfully.

“Hmm?” He twisted his fingers through my hair. “I’m sorry I was such an idiot. It’s all my fault. I wasted so much of our time together. I was foolish. Can you forgive me?” His fingers paused. “There’s nothing to forgive. I pushed you too fast. I didn’t court you. I didn’t give you time to consider. I didn’t say the right things.” “No. Believe me. Y said all the right things. I just ou think I wasn’t prepared to hear them, to believe them.” “I should have known not to rush you. I wasn’t patient enough, and a tiger without patience doesn’t get his dinner.” I laughed. “Did you know that I started to have feelings for you before you even knew I was a man? Do you remember when I ran around frantic during a performance at the circus?” “Y es.” “I thought you were gone. Matt had been talking with his father and had said that one of the new girls had left. I thought they’d meant you. I had to know if you were still there. Y didn’t come by my cage that day, ou and I became distraught, despondent. I couldn’t settle down until I saw you in the audience.” “Well, I’m here now, and I won’t leave you, Tiger.” He growled, squeezed me, and teased, “No, you won’t. I won’t ever let you out of my sight again. Now, about all those poems you gave me…I think some of those deserve to be studied in great depth.” “I definitely agree.” He kissed me again. It was lingering and sweet. His hands cupped my face, and I think my heart actually

flipped over in my chest. He pulled back, kissed the sides of my mouth, and sighed deeply. “Unfortunately, my time is almost gone for today, so we’ll have to save our poem study for tomorrow.” I clutched his hand. “Will you still stay with me anyway?” “Of course, chittaharini.” “Y never told me what that word means either.” ou He smiled and kissed my fingers. “It means—one who captivates my mind.” And, iadala?” “Dear one.” “Then you’re my iadala too. How do you say, I love you?” “Mujhe tumse pyarhai.” “How do you say, I’m in love?” He laughed. “Y can either say, asakta, which ou means you are becoming fond of or attached to. Or you can say you’re kaamaart, which means you’re a young woman intoxicated with love or love-stricken. I prefer the second.” I smirked. “Y I’m sure you’d like to advertise that es. I’m drunk with love for you. How do you say my boyfriend is handsome?” “Mera sakha sundara.” “Sundara…that sounds like sundari, which means beautiful, right?” “Sundari is for a woman and sundara is for a man.” “Oh. We’ll have to practice.” “It’s time for me to change, Kells.” I felt a slight tremor go through his arm. He set me

on my feet, kissed me sweetly one more time, then morphed into his tiger form. He walked over to the stairs, leapt up in two strides, and headed for my bedroom. I wasn’t surprised that he knew where my bedroom was. He made himself comfortable on the throw rug near my bed. I changed into my pajamas in the bathroom and brushed my teeth then knelt beside him on the floor. Putting my arms around his neck, I whispered, “Mujhe tumse pyarhai, Ren.” He started purring while I pulled my blanket over me. I hadn’t seen the tiger half of him since he showed up on Christmas day and I’d missed him. I wrapped my arms around him and stroked his soft fur. I snuggled next to him on the floor, using his soft paws as a pillow and drifted off feeling at peace for the first time since I’d left India. A sloppy wet tiger kiss woke me up before my alarm. “Eww! Ren! Tiger kisses are not the way to get on my good side.” I stomped into the bathroom and washed my face. He snuck in behind me while I was scrubbing it dry with a towel, wrapped his arms around my waist, and pulled me back into his chest. “How about regular ones then?” He nuzzled my ear and kissed my cheek, but I was still unhappy with him and tried to twist out of his arms. He laughed and let me go. “I’m going to my house to take a shower and get dressed. Join me for breakfast?”

I nodded and pushed him out the door so I could shower too. I found out peanut butter was something Ren liked on everything. When I came downstairs, he’d made me peanut butter toast and shoved a glass of orange juice toward me. “Eat up…we’re gonna be late.” When we got home from school, he parked the Hummer and immediately came over to spend time with me. We did our homework together. He provided lots of insight into the plight of women in India, and I helped him with his English assignment. He was doing very well in school. In fact, he was getting better grades than I was. His reading had advanced considerably, and he seemed able to sound out almost everything now. In the afternoon, he dozed as a tiger with his head on my lap while I studied. When I got tired of reading, I wandered into the kitchen to start making dinner. He followed me and lay down on the floor with his head nestled on his paws, watching me while yawning sleepily. I waved him off. “Go finish your nap. I can handle cooking by myself.” He didn’t budge. I didn’t really expect him to. He was a very stubborn tiger. I’d convinced him to stop at the market on the way home so I could grab a few things. I wanted to make him a special dinner. I pulled out everything I needed to make my mom’s famous stuffed shells. I put the salted water on to boil and sprinkled fresh sage and oregano into the sizzling sausage. Ren watched me, his tiger nose twitching. After I was done

stuffing the shells with the cheese, sausage, and egg mixture, I covered the shells with marinara sauce and popped the pan in the oven to bake. I made a small green salad and sprinkled parmesan cheese on top of some premade breadsticks and slid that pan in the oven too. I set my little dining room table and lit a candle, then I pulled a cold bottle of sparkling apple cider out of the refrigerator. Ren was sitting up now. When the food came out of the oven, I turned to him and said, “Dinner’s ready. Er…how would you like to be served?” He changed to a man and kissed me on the cheek. “I’ll be right back.” He disappeared for a few minutes through our connecting door that now stood open all the time. I took the food to the table and pulled out a couple of bottles of salad dressing. He came back dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. His hair was slicked back. He pulled out my chair then sat down across from me. He scooped up a giant portion of stuffed shells. Bubbling cheese trailed from the pan to his plate, and he twirled his fork around the loose strands so as not to miss any of it. He speared a shell and chewed happily. He swallowed and said, “This is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. In fact, it’s only second to peanut butter.” “Ha! Then you’re going to love dessert.” “Why? What do you have in mind?” “It’s a surprise. I’m glad you like the dinner. It was one of my mom’s recipes.”

“Y mom was a great cook.” our “She was.” “Does she have any other recipes you’d like to try out on me?” I laughed. “Sure. But we’ll have to shop at the store again, especially with the quantities of food you consume.” He was already scooping up more stuffed shells and was on his fifth breadstick. “Just order the food to be delivered. Mr. Kadam set up a grocery delivery service so I wouldn’t starve while trying to get you to date me.” “Y mean you weren’t really eating when you were ou staying in your house?” He shrugged. “I only know how to make popcorn and sandwiches.” “Ren! That’s not good enough. Y need more ou calories than the average person. If I would’ve known you weren’t eating, I would have cooked for you more often.” He reached for my hand and kissed it. His eyes twinkled. “I don’t want you cooking all the time, Kells. I can think of a couple of better ways to keep you occupied.” I snorted. “I bet you can, but I like cooking. And, you might change your mind when you taste dessert.” “Hmm…” he trailed kisses up my arm all the way to my neck and whispered, “then let’s clean up quickly so I can have my…dessert.” I shivered, and goose bumps rose on my arms. He pulled back my chair and helped me clear the table and wash the dishes. He kept finding reasons to touch

me. When he passed me to put away the salad dressing, he stroked my arm. When he reached around me to put away a plate, he nuzzled my neck. It got to the point where I started dropping things. “Ren, you’re driving me to distraction. Give me a little space so I can finish making the dough.” He did but stayed close enough that I had to brush up against him a few times to put away the sugar and flour. He grinned triumphantly each time. I shaped the cookies, dropped them onto the pan, and placed it in the oven. “We now have fifteen minutes until they’re done.” He grabbed my arm and yanked me up against him. The next thing I knew, the timer went off and I jumped. Somehow, I’d ended up sitting on the kitchen counter locked in a passionate embrace. One of my hands was in his hair; his silky locks were twisted around my fingers presumably for the purpose of tilting his head to a better angle while my other hand had apparently grabbed a fistful of designer shirt and was slowly mangling it. His freshly pressed shirt was now crumpled terribly. Mortified, I released my unruly grip and stammered, “Uh…sorry about your shirt.” He snatched a hand back, pressed a kiss on my palm, and smiled wickedly. “I’m not.” I shoved him away and hopped down. Pushing my finger against his chest, I said, “Y ou’re dangerous, pal.” He grinned. “It’s not my fault that you’re intoxicated by me.” I gave him a look, but it didn’t faze him at all; he was too pleased with himself. I took the hot cookies out of the oven, scooped them up with a spatula, and set

them on a wire rack to cool. Pouring two glasses of milk, I turned to find Ren had already downed one cookie and was on his second. “Ren! Aren’t those burning your mouth? They’re still hot!” He mumbled, “Dnt cr, tyr dlicis!” “What?” He swallowed. “Don’t care, they’re delicious! What are they?” “Double chocolate chip with peanut butter filling.” “They’re the second best thing I’ve ever tasted.” I laughed. “Y said the same thing at dinner.” ou “I recently readjusted the ranking.” “So what ranks first now? Is it still peanut butter?” “Nope, you. But it’s close.” On Saturday, I woke up in my bed snuggled up with my stuffed white tiger. Ren had spun a chair around so the back of it faced the bed. He’d straddled it and was resting his head on his arms while watching me. I groaned and threw the blanket over my head. He laughed. “Good morning, sleepyhead. Y know, ou if you wanted to sleep with a tiger, all you had to do was ask.” “I think I was sleeping with a tiger on the floor. Why did you move me to the bed?” “Y ou’ve been hurting your back on the floor. The bed is much more comfortable.” He picked up the stuffed white tiger. “When did you buy this?” “The first week I got here.”

He grinned. “So you missed me?” I sighed and smiled. “Like a fish misses water.” “It’s nice to know I’m so necessary to your survival.” He knelt by the bed and brushed the hair away from my face. “Did I ever tell you, you’re the most beautiful in the mornings?” I laughed. “No. And you’re wrong, by the way. My hair is a mess and I’m in my pajamas.” “I like watching you wake up. Y sigh and start ou wiggling. Y roll back and forth a few times and ou usually mumble something, which nine out of ten times is about me.” He grinned. I leaned up on my elbow. “So I talk about you, huh? Well, that’s embarrassing.” “I like it. Then you open your eyes and smile at me, even when I’m a tiger.” “What girl wouldn’t smile when you’re the first thing she sees? It’s like waking up on Christmas morning to the best present ever, but it happens every day.” He laughed and kissed my cheek. I pushed my covers back and sat up. “Now, why are you awake, dressed, and so chipper?” “I want to go see Silver Falls today, so get your lazy bones out of bed, woman. I’ll wait for you downstairs.” I dragged myself out of bed, showered, and threw on some clothes. I French-braided my hair and selected a beautiful multicolored ribbon from my ribbon box to tie around the tail. When I came downstairs, he kissed my forehead and slipped my light jacket over my arms. “Come on, we’ll get breakfast on the way.” We stopped at White’s in Salem, a little diner that

has been in business for decades. I’d been there before, but this was his first time. He ordered a large mess, which was their specialty. It had all types of breakfast foods scrambled together in a big pile. It included hash browns, eggs, sausage, bacon, and gravy. I’d never seen anybody order the large mess and be able to finish it, but Ren polished it off and then stole my toast as well. We drove the winding road up to Silver Falls, and Ren asked about the little trees all around us. “They’re Christmas trees.” “Farms?” “Y Oregon’s the main supplier for Christmas trees es. in the United States. Did you know that one acre of Christmas trees provides oxygen for eighteen people? ” He laughed. “How do you know that?” “I read an article on it somewhere.” The drive was beautiful. Miles and miles of Christmas tree farms on both sides of the road led up into hilly forested country. We pulled into the park office where he paid the daily use fee and picked up a brochure. He wanted to hike for a while. We parked and walked a short distance to see the South Falls first. There were ten waterfalls in the area, but he didn’t think we’d have enough time to see them all today. We drove over to Winter Falls, parked the car there, and then hiked the winter trail so we could see the Middle North Falls. Another half mile past that, we were able to see three more. We held hands. I’d forgotten my gloves, and, even

We held hands. I’d forgotten my gloves, and, even though his hand was warm, my hands quickly became cold. He immediately pulled a pair of gloves out of his jacket pocket and slipped them over my hands. They were too big, but they were lined and warm. I thought back to my date with Artie and compared him with Ren. Artie had noticed me suffering without gloves and didn’t care except to criticize. Ren was so different. He gave of himself willingly and not just to me. He was generous. All his classmates liked talking to him. He was a good listener, and he cared about people. We’d been discussing the difference between the forests of India and the forests of Oregon when I interrupted, “Y ou’re too perfect. Don’t you have any faults? Seriously, it would be much easier on me if you could tell me about something you don’t do well. Just give me something. A tiny weakness.” He laughed. “Y want to know my weakness? Let’s ou see. Okay. Y Y are my weakness.” ou. ou “I’m serious.” “So am I. I’m extremely jealous. I see red anytime someone else comes near you. I go ballistic. I can’t think straight. I just want to rip the other guy apart with my claws. Even if I like him—like Li. And especially if I don’t—like Jason.” “Abnormally jealous, huh? I guess that will have to do.” “Who said anything about abnormal? I think it’s perfectly normal.” “Not when there’s nothing to be jealous of. How could I ever look at another guy when I’m dating

Superman? There’s no reason for you to be jealous.” “I’m not, now. Jason backed off, and I owe a debt of gratitude to Li for finally getting you to admit your feelings.” “Y you do owe him for that. By the way, he said if es, you ever left me, he’d come looking for you.” He smiled. “It’ll never happen.” Passing a clearing, I noticed him stick his nose in the air. “What do you smell?” “Bear.” “Is it nearby?” “No. It was recently, but it’s gone now.” “Can you smell other things? Other animals?” “Sure.” “Like what? What do you smell now?” “Hmm…I smell bear, mountain lion, deer, several dogs, lots of squirrels, horses, fish, water, plants, trees, flowers, and you.” “Doesn’t it bother you to smell everything so powerfully?” “No. Y learn to tune it out and focus on what you ou want to smell. It’s the same with hearing. If I concentrate, I can hear little creatures digging underground, but I just tune it out.” We arrived at the Double Falls, and he led me over to a mossy rock that served as a lookout point. It was cold now that we weren’t hiking anymore. I shivered, and my teeth started chattering, even in my jacket and gloves. He quickly whipped off his jacket and secured it around my body, then he pulled me back against his chest and wrapped his arms around me. He leaned his

head down next to my cheek, and I felt his silky hair brush against my face. “It’s almost as beautiful as you, priya. It’s nice being able to enjoy walking through a forest with you and not worrying about needle trees puncturing my skin or kappa chasing us.” I turned my head and kissed his cheek. “There is one thing I miss about Kishkindha.” “Really? What’s that? Let me guess. Y miss the ou fighting.” “Fighting with you is fun, but making up is better. That’s not what I miss though. I miss having you around as a man all the time. Don’t get me wrong. I love the tiger part of you too but it would be nice to have a normal relationship.” He sighed and squeezed my waist. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be at the point where we can call our relationship normal.” He was quiet for a minute and then confessed, “As much as I enjoy being a man, there’s a part of me that wants to run free in the forest here.” I laughed from inside the deep layers of his jacket. “I can just picture the look on the park official’s face when hikers tell him they’ve seen a white tiger swimming by the waterfalls. Of course, you shouldn’t swim here anyway, at least until the summer. Oregon water will freeze your tail off, literally.” He smiled against my cheek. “I’ll try to remember that. Let’s go home. Y ou’re cold.” “Aren’t you?” I fingered the material of his sweater. “This is pretty thin.”

he said that he couldn’t cuddle with me when I was in the kitchen.“Not really. “Keep it on. By mutual decision. but when he sang.” “Y should take your jacket back. His accent was more pronounced when he sang. Kells. which I found very hypnotic. he sang for me. lilting resonance. He liked to lay his head in my lap or stretch out along my legs when I sat on the floor and studied. The tiger in me must keep me warmer than normal. and we ordered in sometimes too. we decided to put wushu on hold.” “Okay. When I protested that he could be with me even if I was cooking. Sometimes.” I started to take it off. I’ll be warmer now ou that we’re hiking again. His voice was quiet and deep with a warm.” Over the next few weeks. In the evenings. he played his mandolin or practiced on the new guitar he’d bought. . we fell into a routine. and I had to spend a half hour on the phone consoling Jennifer and encouraging her to keep going without me. He wanted me to be near him all the time. He loved having dinner delivered so he could try new foods. He always laughed at my reaction to him when he sang. it put me in a trance. I cooked new dishes for Ren to try a couple of times a week.” But then softened it with a “Please. He also said it freed up more of my time. His voice alone was potent enough. making jokes about the beast soothing the savage girl with music. and he growled quietly. even when he was a tiger.

For me. but with him. He was off school on Fridays. I was overcome with a desire to be with him. It was just part of who he was. I quickly became an expert on reading tiger expressions. It was frustrating. We did homework together. and I was comfortable with it. and every night he picked me up and put me back in my own bed after I fell asleep. I snuggled with him on the floor every night. and lay my cheek against his chest while he read to me. We were together. I stroked his white fur and felt his chest rise and fall under my hand. I could talk to him. I was starving for him. feel his hand in mine. He said it was feast or famine—feast on the weekends and famine during the weekdays. Ren started writing little poems and notes and placing them in my bag for me to find during the school day. We tried to make the most out of every minute together. But. I pressed them in my journal and kept a . and moved on to Hamlet. Some of them were famous poems and some were his own. finished Othello.Sometimes. I lived for the weekends. watched movies. I wanted to listen to his voice. Not with the tiger. so he hurried through his homework and saved up the rest of his time for the evening. but he couldn’t reply. it was all famine. Most of his human hours we were at school. which left little time for us to develop our relationship. but we weren’t together. I just sat with his head in my lap and watched him sleep. Being with him as a tiger had never bothered me before. I wanted to share my every moment with him. now that I’d finally accepted that he loved me.

David Levesque If a king owned a pearl without price A gem he cherished above all Would he hide it away Bury it from sight Afraid others would take it Or would he display it proudly Set it in a ring or crown So that all the world could behold its beauty And see what richness it brings to his life You are my pearl without price Ren I opened my notebook in art history class and another note fell out. This time.copy of my two favorites with me all the time. and her eyes everywhere in the world. You know you are in love when you see the world in her eyes. it was a homemade invitation asking me to accompany him to the .

but I pushed him away.” “It’s on a Saturday. Oops.” “So what’s your answer?” “To what question?” He frowned. I’m sure. the dance. When I walked out of class. “Didn’t you get your invitation?” “Oh.Valentine’s dance next week. “Right. wait. gloating about something.” I shoved him lightly and blushed furiously. The one I found under the couch. . I’ll go with you. The answer is yes. He would have caught me. slung it over his shoulder. I’d leaned over to kiss him good night and had been so wrapped up in the kiss that I actually lost my balance and fell off the couch. He’d laughed uproariously at my shocked expression and tried to help me up. grumbling and complaining about my bruised posterior.” He took my book bag. if he hadn’t had his arms locked behind his head.” I laughed. I need to drop off an old video at the language lab. Under the couch. you promised to make for me later. and grinned. so I thought we could go out to dinner first and then the dance. I need to return it. I forgot. That’s when I discovered the video. remembering how I’d discovered the missing video. “How did you know where my class was?” “I got out early today and tracked you.” “Okay. huh?” “Y Easy as peach pie with whipped cream. I’ll save up all my hours that day.” “Tracked me. which ep. Of course. “I remember. he surprised me by falling into step behind me.

and I felt a real connection. How could he ignore the very large man behind me? “Look. Kelsey. Just returning a video. I said. “By all means. I’m seeing someone else now. It’s going to be hard to fit you in. “Ah. “Hey. Sorry about that. See ya around. no harm done. It’s very late. so I’m not really available to date anymore. ou so I assume your answering machine is not working.” He glanced at Ren Artie. The date we had was very special. “I am clearly the best option. I’d wondered where that video was. “Well.” He picked up his pencil and his planner and was already scribbling my name down.” Exasperated. “Artie!” He shoved his glasses up again and stared me . Now. I’m full of integrity. Let’s return the video. if Wednesday isn’t good.” He shoved his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and got up to walk around the desk. Kelsey.” “Y eah. I’m glad you had the integrity to return it at least. then perhaps the Valentine’s dance. Artie.” “I don’t think you’ve thought this out clearly. Artie. yes. Kelsey. but I believe I have next Wednesday available. Y haven’t returned my phone calls.” “Right. It fell under the couch. I’m sure if you reconsidered it you would see that you should be going out with me. Kells.” “Wait.” We walked into the language lab and sitting at the desk was Artie.” He slipped it into an empty spot that I imagined he’d probably been staring at week after week as it drove him slowly crazy.

but Ren cut me off. He could easily grind Artie into the ground. I’m very disappointed with you. “Y would rather date this…barbarian than me? ou Perhaps I’ve misjudged your character. A goldenbronze Adonis come to life. Literally . They were about the same height. and paunchy in the middle. And. He boldly stood his ground. but Ren was too. Artie droned nasally. Artie was tall.” “Really. “And who might you be?” “I am the man Kelsey’s dating. Y obviously ou make questionable choices based purely on lustful impulses. Artie reluctantly dragged his eyes away from me and looked at Ren with distaste. I must say. Artie was pasty white and hairy-armed with a red nose and watery eyes. The two men were such a contrast that I couldn’t help comparing them. He was striking. but where Artie was soft. as well. He peered down at me around Ren’s shoulder and said snidely. I’d frequently seen girls trip over the sidewalk and bump into trees when he walked by. completely uncowed by Ren’s awesomeness.” Artie’s expression was incredulous. having seen his incredible torso without a shirt on. Artie…” I started. Kelsey. And had. I thought you were of a higher moral caliber. At that point.down. Ren stepped around me and nudged me behind him. He was supremely self-confident. . And Ren? Ren wasn’t just handsome. willing me to give in with his eyes. I could also vouch for him having fantastically chiseled abs. Exotic. None of these qualities fazed Artie. jowly. Ren was lean and big in the chest and arms. He could stop traffic.

But. and slid a hand on top of mine. I will come back and make your life very uncomfortable. He was ready to pounce.” . We walked silently for a while. relaxed his stance. Let’s go. “It would be better for you if you never crossed Kelsey’s path again.” “Y es…I did. as if memorizing his features. If I ever hear that you are hounding her or any other young woman again. His eyes were fixed on his target. To kill.He stuck his face very close to Artie’s and threatened quietly. To mangle. you really didn’t have to ou threaten him. then I said. The young lady has made her position clear. you definitely proved you weren’t kidding about that jealousy thing. Artie was oblivious to everything except himself. Ren’s nostrils were flared. “Perhaps you’d better write that down so you don’t forget. He let out a tense breath. I would be shaking in my shoes if I were Artie. His muscles were taut. and the change was instantaneous.” I’d never seen Ren from this perspective before. He didn’t see the dangerous predator lurking behind Ren’s eyes. and said. “Come on. “Do not insult her again. He was lethal. covering it with his. I put my hand on his arm. Ren looked Artie up and down once.” I squeezed his hand. ” He stabbed Artie’s day planner with his finger. “Well. as usual. Y should also make a note to yourself that ou Kelsey will not be available again. Ever. Y know.” He finally turned and came with me.

“Hey. After making sure I was buckled in. Later that week. He was quiet on our drive home.” “Jason.” ou He grinned.” “Don’t you want to soothe the savage beast?” “No. Kells. I felt a hand on my shoulder. Kelsey.” He sighed unhappily. but you do. give me a kiss.” I laughed and punched him on the arm. “No. Y don’t deserve a kiss after that. “Trouble in paradise. Ren seemed a little perturbed. I didn’t want to interrupt. so I sat down on the stone steps. He needs to learn that it’s not right to intimidate women into doing what he wants. So what’s up with you?” .” He took advantage of my buckled-in state and kissed me until I changed my mind.” “Well. “Now. “I’m thinking that maybe I should buy a bow tie and a sweater-vest since you seem to like them so much.” We reached the car. waiting for her to leave. and he’s arrogant.“Why?” “I know the type. I still don’t like you threatening him. “Ah. I was walking back to the car to meet Ren when I saw him engaged in a serious conversation with a pretty Indian girl. “What’s done is done. He’s a bully. Hi!” He sat down on the steps and followed my gaze. he leaned in and said. huh?” I laughed.” “No. “What are you thinking?” I asked. and he opened my door for me.

It had ou your picture in it. and Jason suddenly stood up. did you ever see that magazine article?” “What are you talking about?” “Y know.” “And you’ve done absolutely nothing to encourage . Ren reached out his hand and pulled me to my feet.” “So just like that she wants to marry you?” He shrugged. Hey. “She’s in my class.” He was off like a shot.” “Come on. I was about to ask you the same question.” My mouth fell open. “Uh.” After he pulled out of the parking lot. Catch ya later. Let’s talk about it in the car.” I waited.” He dug through his backpack and pulled out a folded magazine article.” That threw me. “And…what did she want?” “She wanted my parents’ phone number. Here. My hand was on the old lady’s arm as she thanked me. I folded my arms across my chest and said. Kelsey. I looked awful. “What was that about?” “Funny. you can keep it.” “What for?” “To arrange marriage. the magazine article about you. He stared after Jason. “Well. “Her name is Amara. and she likes me.“Not much. On the top was a picture of me and Jason standing next to the car. “Why?” “So her parents could call my parents. but he didn’t add anything else. “Are you serious?” “Y es. Like I’d been hit by a car. Ren was approaching us now. who is she?” He winced at my tone.

I mean. How can she want to propose marriage when you don’t even know each other?” “She didn’t exactly propose marriage.” “Is that normal?” “For the woman? Not really.” “That’s just weird.” “Sounds like the dating game. Ren. she proposed the idea of marriage or the idea of us becoming a couple. in America. and you get to pick from their choices. Did you want to marry her? Y parents picked her out especially for our you.” “Ha! Y just remember that statement when the ou shoe’s on the other foot. “I told her that I’m already taken. things have changed slightly. Y belong to me!” ou He kissed my fingers.” “But would you have picked her for a wife?” . Usually. Kells. you were engaged to marry Y esubai. and I looked forward to having a wife. right?” He grinned.” He frowned at that. “I…accepted the match. you’ve been through it once already. Now.” “Well. so don’t worry. my prema.“And you’ve done absolutely nothing to encourage her. I’m jealous. it’s more like the parents screen potential mates. “I like you being jealous. I can’t imagine my life without you. right?” He hesitated and spoke carefully. Are you jealous?” “Darn right. the parents handle it. but. Would you…consider it? I mean if I wasn’t in the picture?” “I don’t like to think that way. “Kelsey . I hoped to have a happy marriage like my parents had.

“I never thought of picking anyone. It wasn’t up to me. religion.” “Why?” “His parents were very strict and had certain ideas about keeping yourself untainted in preparation for your marriage.” . wealth. if it makes you feel better. That means you find someone who fits in. “So you would have gone through with it. I did pick you. “Sort of. he would’ve been disowned. and who will help preserve your heritage.” “Parents today don’t really approve based on like or dislike.” He smiled.” “Do you mean staying a virgin?” “That too. even though I wasn’t really looking for someone. One of the boys in my class told me he dated American girls secretly in high school. who shares your cultural background. trying to appease me. someone who embraces and keeps the traditions and customs important to your family. “Marriage was and still is different in Indian culture. but that if his parents had ever found out.” “What if this girl’s parents didn’t like you? She’d be pretty put out if she likes you that much. It’s just that when you do choose someone you also try to make your family happy. and where you come from.” I still didn’t feel like letting this go.” “So it’s like screening applications for college?” He laughed. caste. It’s not so much that you don’t have a choice. They approve based on education. even though you didn’t know her from… Eve?” He sighed. “But.

” I groused.” “Kelsey. What would your parents have said about us?” “My parents lived in a very different time. but he would have liked you too. Kadam is like a parent in a way.” “Now you know how I felt.” “Would your parents have liked me?” “My mother would have adored you.“So you mean just dating an American girl taints you?” “To a lot of people.” I groaned. He would’ve had a hard time letting me go. and she wasn’t Indian. If anyone from that time would have understood us…it would have been them. “I don’t like the idea that you have other girls chasing after you.” “Still…they wouldn’t approve. and they were happy. Speaking of which. My father never thought any man would be good enough for me. heartily approved of Ren.” “Mr. and he approves of you. she would’ve baked you chocolate peanut butter cookies every week and giggled every time she saw you like Sarah does. what did Jason have to say?” .” “I’ve ruined you then.” I had a sudden vision of the four of us sitting in my parents’ library talking about favorite books. “It’s not the same thing. They were culturally from different backgrounds and had to merge different traditions. Y they would have es. I smiled for a moment then frowned. yes. my father loved my mother. “It’s easy to say that now when they aren’t around.

so we might get lucky.” “What are you saying?” “We’re afraid that Lokesh can trace your name to your picture. I said.” “What? Y falsified my records? How did you do ou that?” He shrugged. and Ren looked very worried. and he sat down and read it quietly while I made us a snack. Why? What’s wrong?” “Maybe nothing. They were both talking fast.“Oh. We walked in the house. “Mr. our It’s a pretty obscure publication. “But.” He got on the phone and spoke quickly in Hindi. like my student ID or my driver’s license?” “He could normally. “Oh. Did you really think he could arrange a passport for you to go to India last summer in a week?” I grimaced. “Ren. and there are records of me in . but we had them all changed. The last thing he mentioned before he hung up was something about Kishan. Kadam has connections. “Kelsey. He’s changed your records so that your name doesn’t match your photo.” I handed him the article just as we pulled up at home.” I responded. “I guess I didn’t really think about it. when was this taken?” “About a month ago. I’m registered at school under my name. tell me.” Suddenly worried. What’s going on?” “Y name appears with your picture in the article. He gave me this. I sat on the couch and held his hand. But can’t he trace it through my picture in other places too. Ren. I need to call Kadam. confused. He came into the kitchen with an expression of worry on his face.

just in case.” “So. “I won’t let anything happen to you. I’ve sent for Kishan. Kelsey Hayes officially goes to WOU. We wanted you to live as normal a life as possible.” “So.the foster care system that lead back to Sarah and Mike. and I’m registered under a different name. but.” . He’d also be less distracted than I am. but the odds of that happening aren’t likely.” “Why didn’t you two tell me all this before?” “We didn’t want to worry you unnecessarily. and this house and all of the bills for it go to a hidden account.” He pulled me close and rubbed my back.” “Kishan’s coming here?” “He’s a good hunter and can help me keep a watch on things.” “Oh. assuming they knew which country to look in. but your picture was switched out so he couldn’t find you. We wiped you out of the official records. you think this article means—” “That there is a record he could find you with. They would have to check every high school in the country. I promise.” “What about my high school yearbook?” “Taken care of. We left no records of your name tied to your picture. What if he finds them?” “No. If somebody contacted an old high school classmate with an old yearbook they could match you up. he changed those too. The state records officially say you were emancipated at fifteen. Even my driver’s license is a fake. what are we going to do now?” “Hopefully finish out the term.

It was a wrapdress style that tied at the side of my waist. and I picked it out for you especially. huh?” “I like you in anything you wear. I found a claret-red chiffon dress with a trumpet skirt and double flutter sleeves. Don’t make me wait too long. “But…I’ve wanted to see you in this dress. and I want tonight to be only about us.” “I won’t. “What’s this.” The Valentine’s dance was that Saturday.” I took a hot shower.” He added softly. Unzipping the garment bag. wrapped a towel around my head and a robe around my body. Y can’t ou stand the peach dress now because you say it smells like Li even after it’s been dry-cleaned. “I’ll pick you up for dinner in two hours.” “The peach dress is lovely on you.“But what if something happens to you? What can I do about it?” “Kishan will watch my back so I can watch yours. “I hate to be apart from you. I sighed. you’re right.” He kissed my cheek. and Ren pulled a garment bag out of my closet and hung it on the bathroom door. “Y probably want me to wear it because ou I haven’t worn it on a date with anyone else. Mister? Y think you can choose what ou I’m going to wear now.” He pulled me into a tight hug. Will you wear it tonight?” I snorted. it reminds me of Li. What is the obsession that men have with strappy shoes? . A box on the floor contained strappy red shoes. But.

He looked like a supermodel who had just stepped off the pages of GQ. saving my lipstick for last. He wore a brilliant white shirt with a gray vest and a red satin tie with a four-in-hand knot that matched my dress under a black designer tuxedo. I usually never did my nails because I picked the paint off after a few days when it started to bother me. I decided to curl my hair and spent a long time with a curling iron twisting my hair into long ringlets then swept up the sides with jewelstudded combs. He smiled at me. He rang the doorbell. I applied my makeup. His hair fell appealingly over one eye. and I could imagine every girl at the dance wanting to reach up and brush it back for him. From behind his back.Now that I had a billion lipsticks. trying to be formal. He stepped inside and put them in a vase of water he’d already prepared. I easily found one that matched my dress. and even had time to paint my fingers and toes with red polish to match. I opened it and gasped softly. “Ren! Y can’t expect me to go to a dance with you ou looking like that! Y ou’re bad enough when you dress normal!” . but I figured it was a special occasion. and my heart dropped down into my shoes and flopped wetly around like a fish out of water. and I still had a half hour wait for Ren. he brought out a bouquet of two dozen red roses. I suddenly felt like a little girl playing dress-up compared to him. My warrior-archangel stood there waiting for me with a tuxedo jacket thrown casually over his shoulder.

next time you get me something. Will you wear them tonight?” I nodded. Dangling just underneath was a teardrop ruby that was surrounded by more tiny diamonds.” He reached up and pulled lightly on one of my spiral curls.” He pulled a jewelry box out of his pocket and cracked open the box for me.” He cupped my chin and lifted my face for his perusal. ou Believe me. heaven forbid. much more than cubic zirconia. A round ruby was encircled with brilliant diamonds and set in a gold starburst. I liked the feel of them dangling from my ears and tapping against my face when I turned my head. you are present enough.“I have no idea what you’re talking about. cubic zirconia. Inside was a pair of diamond and ruby drop style earrings. “Thank you.” He murmured in my ear. Well. Like. I want . I stood on my tiptoes and kissed him. tucking it delicately behind my ear. “They’re beautiful!” “They’re nothing compared to you. “Nobody will even notice me when I’m standing next to you. “Y ou look absolutely lovely. I’m perfectly happy with normal. I love them.” “Hmm. He helped me get them out of the box. I whispered. Ren. average things. Kelsey. you are worth much. “Now can I give you your Valentine’s present?” “Y didn’t need to get me anything else. “My love.” “Why do I see a ‘but’ in your expression?” “The ‘but’ is that you really don’t need to buy me expensive things.” He leaned down to kiss my cheek.

and there was my lame present. And…I love my earrings.” “ to be something practical like…socks. wrapped my arms around his neck. it’s kind of unimpressive. “I love you. I like those. a book. “Now let’s get you in your coat so I can take you out to dinner.” I picked up his gift from the desk and handed it to him. I explained. .” I reached up. which you know I appreciate. Don’t spoil my night. This is a special occasion. Just tell me that you love me and that you love the earrings. “Socks…are hardly a romantic present. It’s about a man who was falsely accused and left in prison for a long time and then escapes and seeks revenge against his accusers. Kells.” “It’s a perfect gift. actually.” “No.” He tore through the paper.” He scoffed. “It’s pretty lousy when you compare it with earrings and roses. then give me a massage or write me a poem. It’s a very good story.” “But I write you poems every week. First let me give you your present. Because not only are you offering me a new piece of literature. and my heart skipped again.” “No…it isn’t. ” His face lit up in an achingly beautiful smile. and smiled at him. “It’s called The Count of Monte Cristo . I thought we could take a break from Shakespeare and maybe read it together. It turns out rich tigers are hard to shop for. and it made me think of you being in captivity for hundreds of years.” “Wait.

kissed my cheek. “A normal restaurant would have been perfectly fine for me. I whispered.” es. “I did. and I felt the timbre of his voice warm me. “Y wrote me a poem after all. He read… I lit a candle and watched the flame . which is the best gift you could give me. Once he got me in the Hummer. He grinned at me. he took a long time to get my seatbelt on because he got distracted kissing my ear.” ou He grinned. He captured my hand and kissed it.” “A normal restaurant is where hundreds of men are taking their hundreds of dates tonight. I wanted to have you all to myself tonight.but you’re also offering me hours and hours of reading with you. I wanted to see you sparkle in the candlelight. “What’s this?” I opened it and recognized his handwriting. It’s not special or private. “It’s my first Valentine’s date with the girl I love.” I got the scissors and clipped a red rosebud from the bouquet and tucked it into his lapel. After we were seated and waited on by no less than three personal wait staff. He began speaking. then helped me into my coat and offered me his arm. We drove to a nice hotel where we were escorted to a private dining room.” “Don’t you have me all to yourself every night?” “Y But not on Valentine’s. Speaking of which…” He pulled a sheet of paper from the lapel of his jacket and handed it to me.” “Will you read it to me?” He nodded and took the page.

It danced and twisted Wild and unfettered It captured me and flickered in my eyes When I passed my hand over it It stirred The flame rose higher. body and soul It was glimmering. but I’d get lipstick all over you.” “Y ou’re beautiful. He turned toward me. I stood up and walked around to his side of the table. and extinguished I stretched out my hand again to savor the burn Would it singe and scald? Blister and blaze? No! It tingled and warmed Smoldered and glowed Setting me ablaze. I twisted my way onto his lap and put my arms around his neck. luminous. radiant The fiery blush of her cheek Ren He ducked his head as if embarrassed at the beautiful words.” “Y think I care?” ou I laughed.” . burned hotter When I pulled my hand away the heat diminished Grew fainter. “Probably not.” “I’d kiss you. “It’s beautiful. But what would the waitress say?” “She can say whatever she wants.

I’ll leave her a es. and I hissed in his ear. He didn’t care at all. To my horror. I asked where the restroom was. Ren had gotten all the lipstick off his face without stepping away from the table. “Don’t feel selfconscious. I could only imagine what my face looked like. and they . “How did you get cleaned up so quickly?” “Our wait staff kindly brought me a mirror and some towels. I overheard the wait staff talking.” The waitress approached our table as I awkwardly removed myself from Ren’s lap. and Ren spoke up.” I sped off to the restroom and asked him to order dinner for me while I repaired my makeup. the bottom half of his face was smeared with red lipstick. before this night is es. By the time I returned.” I didn’t hear the waitress come back in. Somehow. “Why didn’t you tell me she was back in the room? ” “She’s come back to the room three times. Wouldn’t you say?” “I would definitely say you should.” “Are you serious?” He laughed quietly.” He rose to help me sit and leaned over to press his cheek against mine.” “I see. big tip. dinner was waiting. aren’t I?” “Y I plan on kissing you…a lot. So I might as well get on with it then. “Y Don’t worry.“I’m fighting a losing battle. over. “There’s a private restroom behind that door. The only reason I even looked up was because Ren started laughing. My face burned bright red.

think it’s the most romantic gesture they’ve seen in a long time. Holding me close.” After dinner. we drove to the dance. Maybe they’ll let you just pay a rental fee.” “We’ll talk about it later. I said. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. “Y don’t like them.” I laughed.” I played with my earrings during dinner. he stared in my eyes while we spun to the music. I plan on doing it frequently.” He sat back in his chair delighted. but…” “But…” “I feel really guilty about you spending this kind of money on me. “Fine. He was so . you can help me decide which shades to keep.” He looked offended. In fact. “Really? I guess I’d better switch to glosses then and throw out all the lipstick. after our date. I think you should take them back to the store tomorrow. and he swept me out on the floor and twirled me around the museum displays that had been set up to showcase the museum’s pieces.” ou “I think they’re lovely. I just want to enjoy seeing you wear them. For now. and he noticed.” As he sat. “I would be more than happy to help you test out how each one looks on me after you thoroughly kiss me. We checked our coats at the door. All the proceeds from the dance would go toward funding the Jensen Arctic Museum.” “Okay. we’ll talk more about it tomorrow. “Not all the lipstick.” “I’m sure you would be.

distractingly handsome that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him even to look at the interesting exhibits as we passed by.” “Why do you say that?” “Because it took a long time for me to confess how I felt about you.” He listened more carefully to the words then smiled. Why were you mad about that?” “Partly because you seduced me so thoroughly that I dropped all my defenses.” He laughed.” “Knew what?” “Knew that you felt as strongly about me as I did about you. mostly. The one you got really mad about. like you were scoring me. Kells. He’s very talented. “I wasn’t scoring you. And if I was.” “Why did you say that then?” “It was enlightening because that’s when I knew. “This song describes how I feel about you. It was called “My Confession. even to myself. the one you thought was enlightening?” “It was.” “Since when?” “Since that kiss before we left Kishkindha. Y can’t kiss a man like that and not love ou him. I was mad because you said it was enlightening. who is he?” “Josh Groban. “I like this singer.” . I would’ve given you a ten.” I listened to the song for a minute. He hummed along to a song. “I always knew how you felt about me. But.” “Oh.” Smiling. I admitted.

I’ll never leave you again. pressed my hand to his chest. “I promise. Then. maneuvering me smoothly along with the Latin rhythm. he smiled mischievously and twirled me out. “So that’s why you were so cocky and selfassured after that. happy with my reaction. He laughed and nuzzled my neck. orchestrating the perfect seduction. he lowered me slowly. He kissed my fingers. Kelsey. I didn’t care.” “Y But that all bluster went away after you left. at that point.I reached up to play with the hair at the nape of his neck. and I was quickly overwhelmed by him and the cadence of the melody. When the song was over. Then. swinging me in a circular dip. He snapped me back up quickly and began moving to the tango music. holding it firmly in place. suddenly. He was able to sweep through the moves expertly. even though I didn’t know what I was doing. he slid his left arm behind my back.” His lips brushed against mine roughly. “Promise me you’ll never leave me like that again. His expression became serious. and said intently. and pressed it against mine at his neck.” I looked up into his cobalt blue eyes and said. he had to hold me up for a few minutes so that I didn’t fall down. He wrapped me up in a blanket of mental and physical sensations. then yanked me back up tight against his chest.” es. but. To support me. The dance was fiery and passionate. I knew people were probably watching us. gradually. trailed his other hand up my arm. I became aware of my surroundings again and saw .

not too unlike wushu.” “Still. If you want to practice. They’d lost the attention of their dates. He hooked me up with Nilima.” . Even a few of the men were staring at Ren. Some of them stared at me with jealousy and some with confusion. I’d wonder what he saw in me too. but their expressions were unhappy. Mr. She’s an even better dancer than he is. All of his awareness was centered solely on me. Where did you learn to dance like that? And why do you know how to dance and Kishan doesn’t? Didn’t your parents teach you both?” “Kishan was never interested.” “Nilima is like a sister to me. I couldn’t blame them. “I don’t really like the idea of you dancing with Nilima. Several women had raised eyebrows and open mouths. Ren was a hard act to follow. who became my practice partner. After I had recovered enough from his tantalizing onslaught against my senses to speak. “I thought that kind of dancing only happened in the movies. The song changed back to a normal slow one. I mentally wished them luck in trying to compete with Ren’s presence. Kadam’s a good dancer and was happy when I expressed interest in learning modern styles. Ren was oblivious to the effect he had on everyone around him.I became aware of my surroundings again and saw other couples had stopped to stare at us. I said.” I frowned. then teach me. My mother taught me several traditional forms of dancing. It’s a good workout actually. of course. and then I picked a lot of moves up over the years by watching.

and I put my head on his shoulder. We started slow dancing again.” I grabbed him up in a big hug.” He smiled. I still like it when you’re jealous. I believe this is my dance. “Well…well…well. “Kishan! I’m so happy to see you.” I spun around. I promise to never dance with another woman again. The shoe’s on the other foot this time. and just let myself enjoy the feeling of being held by him. “I’m happy to see you too. closed my eyes. “Though. bilauta.” We got some drinks. The song was only halfway over when I felt him stiffen and look at something behind me.” . and he led me to a quieter place with fewer people.“Alright.

I asked him to take them back to the store tomorrow. “These.” . And what did he give you?” I reached up to finger an earring. He doesn’t deserve one anyway. Has my idiot brother been treating you well?” In a stage whisper.” Kishan reached out a hand and touched an earring lightly.” “Ah. But. “Ren’s been treating me very well despite my giving him a pretty lame Valentine’s gift. His expression changed. he asked. “Did you have to use the tiger repellant?” I laughed. He said quietly. They’re too extravagant for me. and a smile turned up the corner of his mouth. “Mother would have approved.CHAPTER 9 Kishan pulled back to have a good look at me. “I missed you.

” Ren growled softly. did a little snooping.” ou “Y but I didn’t invite you here. How did you find es. This is just sickening. So. and I drove out to the house. we’re kind of in the middle of a date and. “Anytime. Romance. ” Kishan held out a hand. I think I preferred him whiny and despondent. They’re a bit out of date now. I should be here. In my sweetest voice. I said. “Thank you for giving me something so precious to you. “Ugh. .” Ren hugged me close and kissed my cheek. “Ren.Puzzled. I said. and found the invitation for the dance sitting on the kitchen counter.” Intervention time. and he nodded briefly. bro. but Ren stepped in front of me and growled. I heard a dramatic sigh behind us.” I ou slipped my arms around his neck and kissed him softly. I thought if there was a party. Let’s see what you got. Mr. I drove to campus and then sniffed you out. “Do you mean these belonged to your mother?” I turned to Ren. us?” “We flew the plane into Salem. Perhaps…I can borrow yours.” Kishan pushed up the sleeves of his sweater. why didn’t you tell me?” He responded lightly. “Over my dead body. “Kishan. “Who invited you here anyway?” “Y did. Figures that all the pretty girls would already be taken. “I didn’t want you to feel pressured to wear them if you didn’t like them.” “Y should have told me they were your mother’s.

We won’t be gone long. Except…” “Except?” “Except you. But only because you’re asking.” I put my hands on the sides of his face so he would look at me. Well. I tried to pull his attention back to me.” “Oh. Maybe it was a mistake to ask him here. “I want you to understand something. Kelsey.” “Depends on what?” “I trust him with most things.” “Do you trust him?” “It depends.” He scoffed. Y ou just have to trust me.” I had a very strong feeling that my hand on his arm was the only thing holding Ren back from going after his brother. and there’s sandwich stuff and a giant plate of cookies back home. but I chose . “And you’re asking for it. See ya. “Ren. it’s not so much a party as it is a couple’s thing. “That’s right. I wonder if you’d mind heading home for now. And we’ll see if you can bring it to me later. “Kells…” “I’m serious. He watched until Kishan disappeared from the museum. he still couldn’t relax.though I’m very happy to see you. you don’t have to trust him with me. I’ll go.” Kishan flicked Ren on the ear and mocked. but even afterward.” “He takes too many liberties.” Ren retorted. Perhaps Y esubai chose him. but he was distracted. Do you mind? Please?” “Fine. As you can see.

That’s why we should make the most of our time together. “But I had to fight off three guys to win your affection. knowing that I was no longer talking about Kishan. “What can I do . You are the one I want. I was a lonely tiger for too long.” “I know what you meant.” I pressed my hand against his heart.” He Y didn’t ou really have to fight off anyone.” I smiled halfheartedly. I’m immortal.” He kissed my fingers and smiled.” “Still.” He smiled. “That’s not what I meant. He lost the person that he loved.” I sighed. And I won’t let anyone take her from me. such as yourself. “That won’t happen to us. I won’t leave you. It was all posturing. I consider myself an extremely blessed man. “Y ou’re exaggerating. Tarzan. “Y ou’re right. well. I deserve to be happy with the girl I love. remember?” “I just sometimes worry that us being together is too good to be true. actually. Y never know when ou someone you love will be taken from you. deserves someone who is no less than one hundred percent dedicated to him.” I laughed. least of all Kishan. Y had my ou heart all along anyway. “How did I get to be so lucky?” “A handsome prince. except Li and it wasn’t evenly matched. Y ou are too good to be true. Not Kishan.” He held me close for a minute and pressed his cheek to mine as we slow danced. and I’ll be damned before I have to fight my brother off too.” “Me knowing it and you knowing it are two different things. and you probably knew it. “I feel great pity for Kishan.

It’s extremely difficult to control myself around him.” “Do I deserve a kiss for it?” . ‘I am constant as the northern star. “Y didn’t say it back. There is nothing in this world more important to me than you are. I’m only content when you’re near. all bets are off. Shakespeare. you know.” He sighed and swirled me around. I’d undergo excruciating torture. All I ask is that you try not to beat each other up while he’s here…no cat fights. of whose true-fix’d and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament. “What can I do to comfort the jealous beast?” “Say you love me.” “I was hoping you didn’t know that one.I pressed my hand against his heart. “I’ll try to be more patient with him. Will that do?” I smiled lopsidedly. but I can’t tolerate him flirting with you. It’s not poetry.” “Please try. remember?” “Fine. For my sake?” “For your sake. My whole purpose is to be what you need me to be.” “Kelsey.’” “Caesar died. Don’t forget you need him here.” After a moment.” “I know them all. then I’ll just say I love you.” ou “Say what back?” “That you love me too. but he knows how to push all my buttons and he does so often. I said softly. “I think so.” “I love you.” “I’ll tell him to knock it off.” “Okay. but it’s from my heart. but if he continues to throw himself at your feet.

He ripped his lips away from mine and growled quietly. muttering something in Hindi. he got out and helped me out of the car. From the other room he called out. When he pulled up the drive. After a few minutes.“Hmm. the lights were on in my house. Before we went in. “Just sickening. but his mind was elsewhere. “This is not exactly the ending to our romantic date that I had planned. yes. he didn’t protest.” “Y still have another hour.” He kissed me again. but that’s not going to happen with Kishan in the room. But just a little one. He danced with me. “Actually.” I grinned and put my ou arms around his neck. he enfolded me in a soft embrace and kissed me tenderly. I was planning to ad lib the rest. more than a little one.” He laughed. “What did you have in mind?” He laughed softly. He stared at the window for a few minutes.” “A little one?!” “Fine. He put his forehead against mine and said. We didn’t stay at the dance much longer because Ren’s mood had changed despite my teasing. Kishan was watching television while scarfing snacks. Could you guys at least have finished your make-out session at the dance so I didn’t have to hear . then opened the door with a scowl. and when I told him I’d like to head home. and we heard a muffled comment from the house that was too faint for me to understand. I sat patiently. waiting for him to decide when we should go in.

so the soft curls cascaded down my back. I finished changing into the silky pajamas Ren had bought for me in India and scrubbed off the makeup. “You ate all of my peanut…butter…cookies!” I shook my head. and then I headed upstairs. I left it loose. When I came back into my room. Ren continued. I took the jeweled combs out of my hair and. instead of putting it up into my habitual ponytail. I told him that I was going to go change and go to bed. “All of them!” Not hearing Kishan’s reply. but I nodded. I was slipping my pajama top over my head when I heard a tremendous bellow from Ren downstairs. His tuxedo jacket was thrown across a chair and his tie was undone and hanging around his neck. I carefully nestled the ruby earrings in the bottom of my ribbon box for safekeeping and wondered for a moment about the woman they’d belonged to. His arms wrapped around me. . He said he’d be up as soon as he got Kishan settled in. He’d scooted against the headboard. His hands were tucked behind his head and his eyes were closed. but he kept his eyes closed. and he pulled me close. Ren was sitting on my” Ren helped me out of my coat with an irritated growl. Two tigers living this close to one another were going to be a major headache. hopeful that they would at least attempt to be civil to each other. I decided to ignore the two of them and let them work it out for themselves. I climbed onto his lap and kissed his cheek. The settled in part sounded ominous to me.

Kells. “About…you know. Like I always do. Us being together?” “We are together. don’t you think that Kishan will…make assumptions?” “About what?” He brushed his hand through the loose curls of my hair. I mean about us being…together. Are you blushing?” I laughed. “Don’t misunderstand me.” “How does he know? Did you talk about it?” “Not exactly. but we aren’t going to.” “Ren. Prince ou Charming.” “Oh.” “No.” “I know. It’s kind of an important conversation to have.” “Y are definitely from a different time. stopping to twist the soft strands between his fingers. At least not until the curse is gone. Would it bother you if he thought we were?” “I…don’t know. but it’s going to be very. I’m more than ready to have that conversation.” “Umm…Ren. I just didn’t expect this topic of conversation. “Here. “No. Where’s he going to sleep?” “In my bed.” “And where are you going to sleep?” He opened his eyes.” .“I’m trying. Kelsey. With you.” “What if I’m not ready to have this conversation yet?” “Really? Three-hundred and fifty years go by and you aren’t ready to have that conversation?” He growled softly. Don’t worry.” “Well. in the other house. He knows we’re not. very hard.

That’s what I’m saying. Mr.” “Fantastic! So I am going to be an old maid living with two very large cats!” “Y ou’re not going to be an old maid. I’ll go crazy. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” “What do you think I’m saying?” “I think you’re saying we can’t be together physically until we get chased by immortal monkeys and demons at least three more times.” “Y talked with him about us?” ou “No. but he told us both that it might be best if we weren’t to take any …unnecessary chances.” “By the time you decide to be with me. It’s just something he warned us about a while ago. I will be. We don’t know how it worked . Kells. and the amulets saved us by changing us into tigers. We know that Lokesh was trying to kill us. which could take years!” “I’m really hoping it doesn’t take that long. He discovered that his descendants live exceptionally long lives. you know.” “Mr.” “And you aren’t going to budge on this. not specifically. but what about a year from now? Or two years? Eventually. Kadam knows about this?” “Y es.My mouth dropped open. yes.” “Kelsey .” “It won’t be easy for me either. Kadam agrees with me. It was an awkward conversation. He feels the amulet is responsible for that. But. are you?” “No. are you saying you’re ready for all that now?” “Probably not.

“Don’t even joke about that. “Kelsey! Y aren’t taking this seriously. “Are you in a hurry?” “No. Kadam killed his wife. complete and whole.” He mumbled against my throat.” he pressed his lips against my neck.” I sighed. I don’t know how the curse will affect us. And I don’t want to risk you. Mom’s sarcastic humor made an appearance.” He was acting way too serious. around you. I don’t want to risk anything happening to you. Ren. “Well then.” “Afraid we’d have kittens?” I teased. and I usually respond to nerves with humor and sarcasm. Ren. But he wasn’t a tiger. what are you afraid of?” I couldn’t help it. “I guess a lot of very cold showers loom in my future.” “No. “That doesn’t help by the way. I just happen to be talking about something that makes me nervous. either. I laughed.” I sighed.” “Hmm.” ou “Sure I am. and. until we’re men again. “Y es. you’re talking about years when I am almost to the point of attacking your rather attractive self now.” I remarked dryly. Seriously.or what happened exactly. “It’s not like Mr. “Do you want to take a class?” “No! “ he said with great consternation. “Do you really think it would be dangerous?” “The truth is I don’t know. “Y and me both. Y I have a…a difficult time thinking straight es.” He laughed. So can we delay having this conversation…at least for a while?” I grumbled. ou .

She and Dad really hoped that I would wait until marriage like they did. “Just for the record. Li was a good friend with potential. Kells. They were people who were interesting and who I wanted to know better. But not boyfriends.” He gathered my hair over my shoulder and pressed kisses along the arch of my neck. “so you think our relationship is casual?” “No. “not like this.” I teased.” He trailed kisses along the line of my jaw.” “Ah. casual relationships didn’t exist. my mother talked with me about this ou right before she died.” He tilted his head and watched my expression carefully.” I shivered. I didn’t love them like you and they didn’t make me feel this way. Mmm…that feels nice.Did you have difficulty thinking straight around your other boyfriends?” “What boyfriends?” “Jason or Li?” “I don’t really think of Jason as more than a friend.” “For me. he kissed me sweetly and snuggled me against his chest. “I am exceptionally delighted and deliriously happy to hear you say that. Sighing. “What about before them?” “No. ou ” He lifted his head and smiled his devastating smile. you’re my first everything too.” I groaned softly. in my country. There was no one. I played with the buttons on his shirt and spoke quietly. it isn’t. In my time. Not for me. Y are my first…everything. “What about you?” . “Y know. it was assumed.

“Me neither.” I was enjoying snuggling with him when a dormant thought popped in my head and I sat up. “I would wait for you forever.” He reached over. He grinned even wider. “Until… what?” I bit my lip nervously. Maybe tomorrow. Kadam once told me that he broke into the Queen’s Bath in Hampi and that it was a rite of passage for young men to go. “But seriously. looked into my eyes. until.” “No. Then we can kiss and make up afterward.” A smile lit his handsome face.” “Good. huh? That’s not exactly our true.” I sighed. if I wanted to wait. you know. grabbed my blanket. and said simply. “Ren…” “Hmm?” “What would you say if I said I wanted to wait. it wouldn’t …bother you?” He put his hands on both sides of my face. Kelsey. “Y wish. “Until… you know” . and tucked it around us. “Y always have to say the right thing.” “That’s good to know. Kadam’s phone number so you can ask for his approval?” I snorted. No arguments tonight. Romeo!” ou He laughed quietly. “Is this a proposal? Do you want Mr. is it? Mr. ou don’t you?” “Would you rather have an argument? Y are cute ou when you’re frustrated. Ren. “Wait a minute! Y first everything. Didn’t you accompany .

“Nice line. he will. one hundred percent.” He mumbled quietly.” “I heard that. “Yes. Lancelot?” “I am absolutely. ” I grunted. technically speaking. Y better be telling me the truth. We didn’t see a thing. I have never looked at anyone but you since the day you first read to me by my circus cage. so don’t give him grief over that. “Are you telling me the truth.him to Hampi on several occasions?” Ren froze. Kadam. and I broke in. I’ll punch him in the face. “As far as Kishan goes.” “So. Kells. “Well.” “I’ll make you more tomorrow. Ren. telling you the truth. technically speaking …” I smiled and raised an eyebrow mockingly. Kishan. yes. ou And you will not punch Kishan in the face. he deserves to be punched for eating my cookies anyway.” “I’m just teasing you. if I ask Kishan tomorrow.” “Does that count as an argument? Can we kiss and make up now?” .” He frowned at me and ignored my comment. Y ou’re a swan among swallows.” I poked him in the chest. “And if he doesn’t. but I think you should consult your field guide again. he will corroborate your story?” “Of course. I promise. Ren? My love? Y were saying?” ou “I was saying that. But we only made it to the front door and everyone was sleeping.

“Good. and he grabbed an arm and swung up behind him.” “Fine then.” I laughed until he effectively shut me up with his lips. If the attacker knows more martial arts than you do. They didn’t teach me any fancy moves or forms. so he did instead. bend your knees and wait for him to get closer. then pull up into the top of his throat under the jaw. I threw my arms around his neck in a brief stranglehold but then pecked him on the cheek before hopping down. Ren wouldn’t let Kishan run at me. He ran toward me. you kiss and I’ll make up. attacking him from behind.” Kishan ran at Ren. I was making a third omelet for Ren and a fourth one for Kishan when Ren told me he’d like us to start practicing wushu again. grab his arm. Then. swing yourself around him. and lock your arms around his throat. Then it was my turn. They rented a small studio where we could be alone. If he’s a big guy. and then Ren began his lessons using Kishan as a test subject. Just try to disable him. and he and Ren started tutoring me.“It was only half an argument. don’t fight him. At breakfast. We all stretched out for a few minutes. Go for the stomach or the groin and punch or kick as hard as you can. just gave me a crash course in Disabling-Y our-Opponent101.” . If your attacker is running toward you. and I grabbed his arm and jumped on his back. Lesson two. Kishan clapped his hands together and expressed great eagerness to have the opportunity to clobber Ren. “Lesson one.

as hard as you can. he fought harder and threw Ren to the ground. Kishan growled and got up. which was when Ren punched upward. It’s okay. Y ou’ll hurt her. chose the groin. It’s much more effective. but he also did a lot of complicated moves I’d never seen done before.” “What do you think they’ll do to her?” I put my arm on Ren’s. “He’s right.Kishan attacked again and started a complicated martial arts assault. For the ears—use both hands and thump against both ears at once. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.” Ren reluctantly agreed and stood back against the wall.” “No. the Adam’s apple. “She’s never going to learn like this. Lesson three. These are the eyes. the ears. you’re too rough. the temple. Everything else is a flat hand and a hard chop. I recognized a jump-kick to the face with his knee bent and a roundhouse. For the eyes —gouge with two fingers.” He demonstrated each one then asked me to practice on him again. and the nose. He wanted me to actually hurt him because he wanted it to be realistic. “If you have to pick one or the other. She needs to feel a real attack. This time. Go for the sweet spots. pushing Ren out of the way. moving out of Kishan’s range until he found an opening and punched Kishan hard in the stomach. . Let him try. like this. Ren kept backing away. Kishan got up right away and came back at him again. stopping just shy of debilitating his brother.

He was too strong. “Don’t think.I stood there nervously with my back to Kishan.” “Ren. I heard a vicious growl. Let him try again.” He stroked my neck softly and looked at me undecided. wrestled. I listened hard for his footsteps but heard nothing. grabbed my arm hard. All of a sudden. he nodded and moved out of the way again. He was choking me. his arms were wrapped tightly around me from behind. I stood up suddenly. waiting for the attack. and he was dragging me away. Ren stood in front of me tenderly touching the red fingerprints on my throat. It hurt. He came up behind me. Kishan ran to the other side and hollered back. and stomped against his feet. rammed my shoulder into his groin. Then.” I turned around again and waited for the attack. Kishan was quiet. . But. She needs to be ready. I sucked in a breath and popped my head up against his chin. Desperate. I’m okay. and twisted me around. Y might ou need me to save you someday. “I told you! Y ou’re too rough! She’s going to have bruises on her neck!” “It needs to be rough to be realistic. he loosened his grip enough that I slipped out of his grasp and down to the floor. Eventually. Just react. all to no avail. His hands went around my throat. I wiggled. I need to prepare myself so I can think clearly in an attack. he was strangling me. and punched him as hard as I could in the stomach. and Kishan was thrown against the wall. Bad. He yelled at Kishan.

I did it. punched Kishan hard in the gut just to make a point. “Y asked for it! Don’t think. making sure that nobody could come upon us by surprise. He insisted on carrying me to the car. and found a big lump forming. man! I ou wish I had a camera!” I was shaking from my effort. Just give him a minute. felt my head. When we got home. Kelsey. guys? Can we stop for today? My head is spinning. Kishan fell to the floor and rolled over.” Ren was thrilled with my small victory.” I felt a little dizzy. Remember. I think I need some Tylenol. How would I be able to protect Ren if I could barely hold my own? “Is he going to be okay?” “He’ll be fine. but I seriously didn’t think I could handle more than one opponent. Oh. Ren barked out loud laughter and thumped his brother on the back before returning to me. Kishan and Ren also started taking turns circling the grounds at I could in the stomach. They parked Kishan’s jet black GMC truck about a mile down the main road. Pushing it back into the trees.” Ren sobered. even though I could walk perfectly well. I don’t recover as quickly as you two. and I started to feel confident that I could maintain my composure during an attack. he settled me on the couch. and went to the kitchen to get a bag full of ice. Just react. We kept practicing for the next two weeks. they covered it with branches so it couldn’t . “That was good. If I was a normal man. I would have been down for at least twenty minutes. “Uh. Kishan stood up grimacing.

Ren and Kishan filled it with currency from several different countries and added a bag of clothing for themselves as well. irritated him. along with several other personal items that I wanted safe. On a Saturday in March. The weather was supposed to be unseasonably warm and sunny. The minute I promised chocolate . The Safeway delivery guy probably thought we were running a bed and breakfast with the amount of food we had delivered each week. the ruby earrings. but I was worried about my ribbon box. I suggested a trip to Tillamook and the beach. We tried to keep the mood light. and any books that I knew were irreplaceable. even in the rain. They had me stow an emergency backpack under the seat with clothes and other items I would need in a hurry. including my family pictures. I agreed. plus the fact that Kishan usually ate all the kettle corn. He liked us to be alone during that time. We stayed home most nights and I cooked. The likelihood of it actually being that way and staying that way was minimal. and Fanindra in the bag. Ren suggested we mail a package to Mr. I put my blanket. Kadam for safekeeping. and we shipped my white coat and my ribbon box. Kishan joined us now for movie nights. I always wore my amulet and my bracelet that Ren had given me for Christmas. Kishan easily ate twice as much as Ren. If something happened and we had to leave quickly. I didn’t want anything to happen to it. but the beaches of Oregon were seen from the street. traveling papers. So that. but we all felt that something was coming. my journals. which annoyed Ren.

okay?” He harrumphed and closed his eyes to nap. I bought Josh Groban’s entire CD . would we?” I started driving down the hill. you’ll have to change really quickly. nipping at backs and feet. passersby might spot you. “Boring drive for me I guess. huh?” I popped in a Josh Groban CD. Ren leapt on top of him anyway. “Guys. A few minutes later. Y ou’re lucky the Hummer’s probably the tallest car out there. I just shut the door on them and said. and Ren hopped over the seat. lay down by me. “Okay. boys. Ren exhaled loudly and wedged his head against my hip.” I climbed into the driver’s seat and adjusted it the best I could so I could reach the pedals. Hmm…I’ll have to be careful of trucks. They sat patiently at my feet while I opened the back door. They packed a change of clothes in the back of the Hummer then went back in the house to lock up. If we pass a truck or a truck passes us. but keep your head and tail down. and we wouldn’t want that now. They were still wrestling each other in the backseat. Kishan jumped in first and sprawled across the seat so there wasn’t any room for Ren. After the Valentine’s dance. “Cut it out. and rested a paw on my leg. a white tiger emerged from the side of the house followed closely by a slightly larger black tiger. or you won’t get any ice cream. though. if you don’t settle down. Kishan napped too. which caused Kishan to snap at his leg. They started growling and shoving each other. The front windows aren’t tinted.peanut butter ice cream Ren became very supportive of the idea.

He even taught himself to play several of the songs and sometimes sang them quietly for me in the evenings. “Off the Internet. I like it. I walked into the store and started looking through the variety of cheeses on display. I pulled in to the Tillamook Cheese Factory Visitor’s Center and parked in the spot farthest away from the crowds. Those were some of my favorites now. He wore an ice blue hooded sweater with some kind of Asian dragon pattern running from shoulder to shoulder. I drove Highway 22 out to Lincoln City and then turned right on Highway 101. Despite the warm weather forecast. Ren walked up behind me and slid his fingers through mine.” He raised an eyebrow. “Meet you guys inside. I’ve become an expert Internet shopper. and he translated a couple of those songs for me into English. He loved them. I reached up to trace a dragon. “Do you?” . “Where did you get this?” He shrugged. which ran along the Oregon coast.” I slipped on a light jacket and walked to the store. It was a bit windy. but it didn’t look like it would rain until later that evening. but the sunshine peeked through the gray clouds occasionally.” “Hmm. and both tigers stuck their noses up to smell the ocean when I cracked the windows. I found out that he also knew Italian and a smattering of French. It was a pretty drive.collection for Ren. it was a little overcast.

and then Kishan would cry. I ended up getting five bag lunches. “it makes your shoulders look even wider.” He laughed. I chose one of each kind of sandwich—turkey. corned beef. and I added several bottles of pop on the side.” He looked offended. a Pacific shrimp. “He probably just wants to make sure we aren’t stealing too many free samples. one for me and two for each of the guys. I left them to peruse the ice cream selection while I ordered a picnic lunch from the Farmhouse Café. ham.” “Y ou’re lying. and he was watching us.” “Nuh-uh. The ice cream girls are checking you out already. and the clubhouse. Hmm…we’d better keep you away from the ice cream.” “I don’t think so. Each lunch came with chips and a pickle.“Y ep. He was very disgruntled when I walked over here. every one of which featured Tillamook cheese.” We decided to skip the tour because we wanted more time at the beach.” I peeked at the guy behind the register. They offered all kinds of sandwiches. and your eyes can probably be seen from across the building.” “Well. “Why would you keep me away from the ice cream?” “Because you’re hot enough to melt it. I paid for everything using my card and had the guy box . Kelsey.” I sighed. “Y ou’re the only one who thinks so.” “No…I’m not. perhaps you failed to notice the young gentleman behind the counter.

and Ren had just polished off his and was eyeing mine. Ren was up next. true.” he leaned down to whisper. I added a large square of chocolate peanut butter fudge to the order then paid the bill.” He kissed me on the cheek and ordered a double scoop of peaches and cream.” “Between what?” “Chocolate peanut butter and peaches and cream. but he seemed to be having trouble.” “Ah. chocolate orange. Tillamook mudslide.” “Y love chocolate peanut butter.” He grinned at me over his giant cone and took a huge bite of root beer float ice cream. Kishan was already down to his last flavor. “but I love peaches and cream more. Ren beamed at me and followed me back to the cafe to help carry the lunches. We set the lunches in the back of the Hummer and sat on the open tailgate finishing our cones. on top and promised him he could eat the second half of my cone. It should be an ou easy choice.paid for everything using my card and had the guy box it up and hold it for me till I came back with Ren. Kishan had already ordered a triple cone with blueberry cheesecake. I ordered a double with chocolate peanut butter on the bottom and my favorite. and root beer float on the top. I stood next to Ren and inhaled the scent of freshly made waffle-cones. “That’s an interesting assortment. “I’m torn. Kishan. I handed him the rest of my cone and told them I wanted to stop at the . Wandering back to the ice cream counter.

store to get stuff for s’mores and grab some wood to build a fire on the beach. He said that karate came from Okinawa and Japan and was developed by the Japanese samurai. and the roar of the cold ocean. The nippy rock-blue water crested. He soon had a crackling fire going and joined me on the blanket. laughed when a seagull ripped half of Kishan’s sandwich out of his hand. Ninjutsu was the form the ninjas used. Kadam had been drilling them in the more modern styles and techniques. and talked about various styles of martial arts. and aikido came from Japan. and dark. spilled over the pumicegray sand. It was just the three of us. and many of the styles were adaptations or philosophies that were named for their teachers. there weren’t any people out. Ren spread out the large blanket and started building a fire while I set out the lunches. cool. . and sprayed the large black rocks. We ate our lunches. Kishan said that all the different forms came from different places. This was the ocean of the Northwest: beautiful. a fishing boat drifted slowly by. Mr. Far out on the water. The guys waited for me in the car while I ran into a convenience store and found the items I was looking for. kendo was a form of Japanese swordplay and literally meant—the way of the sword. Apparently. I asked them what the difference was between karate and wushu. Wushu was from China. it was just a short drive to the beach. From there. Very different from the beaches of California or Florida. Because it was overcast and still fairly cool. the seagulls.

Sharks. and Moby Dick . Kempo was the style they’d recently been studying. but just the fact that I can’t see anything in the water freaks me out.” “I do. but swimming in it scares me.Ren added that Shaolin was famous for using animal forms. There are some great books about the sea —Robinson Crusoe.” “Then why are you afraid?” “One word. statistically speaking. and Ren invited me to walk along the beach with him. that most beach swimmers don’t get eaten by sharks. but I’ve seen too many . Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. but that’s about it. I need to introduce you to the es. “Do you like the ocean?” he asked. I tuned them out and cleaned up our lunch stuff. which was basically the style of Bruce Lee. Wading is fine. and let the cold water lap over our bare feet as we walked all the way to the large black rocks about a half a mile away.” “But swimming pools are fine?” “Y es.” I sighed.” “Why? I thought you loved stories about the ocean. Treasure Island. so we kicked off our shoes. Muay Thai was a form of kickboxing from Southern Asia—Thailand. held hands. Tae Kwon Do came from Korea and originally emphasized high kicks for the purpose of de-horsing cavalry. to be specific. “I like to look at it or cruise on it. Eventually they stopped. “I know.” “Sharks?” “Y Apparently. I love swimming. movie Jaws. That was when they started arguing about which form to use in which situation.

televised Shark Week specials to feel comfortable in the ocean.” “Maybe you’d feel differently about diving.” “Maybe, but I doubt it.” “I’d like to try it sometime.” “Be my guest.” “Y know, statistically speaking…you are much ou more likely to get eaten by a tiger.” He tried to grab my arms, but I darted out of his range and laughed. “Not if the tiger can’t catch me.” I took off running as fast as I could, and he laughed and chased me back across the sand trying to grab my heels. He let me elude him for a while, even though I knew he could have overtaken me any time. Eventually, he scooped me up and threw me over his shoulder. “Ren! Put me down!” He ran over to the water and into the waves up to his knees. “Okay! Y asked for it!” ou I squealed, “No! Na na na na nooo! Please don’t!” “Y ou’ll have to convince me.” “How?” “A kiss.” I pounded on his back. “I can’t kiss you from here.” He spun me around so he was holding me in front of him, careful to keep me above the water. I drew his face down to mine for a quick peck. “Sorry, Kells. That wasn’t quite convincing enough.” He dropped me lower to the water so it lapped at my feet. “No! Okay! Okay! Let me try again? Pleeeaase.”

He stood up again and waited for me to make my move. This time, I took longer and pressed light butterfly kisses across his face and ended at his perfectly sculpted lips. He stood completely still with his eyes closed as I kissed him. The only reaction I felt was the increase of his heart rate where my fingers pressed lightly against his neck. I pulled back and laughed. “Y liked that, didn’t ou you?” He kept his eyes closed and said noncommittally, “Maybe. Maybe you need to try it again.” I slid my hands from his neck to his face and tilted it down toward me again. This time, I kissed him with much more intensity and finally got a growl and a response from him as he kissed me back. “Ah, the tiger at last awakens.” He moved down to my neck and bit me a little roughly then soothed it with soft kisses, oblivious to the fact that the water was getting higher and pounding harder against him. It stung a little, but I liked it. “Hmm…apparently I woke the savage beast.” He mumbled against my ear, “No…you tamed the savage beast.” “Does that mean you’ll do tricks for me?” He kissed my ear. “Depends.” “Depends on what?” “Depends on what treat you’re offering.” I laughed. “Come on, Tiger, the water’s getting higher, and we’ve left Kishan to his own devices for too long.” He carried me back to the blanket and set me down.

I got out the marshmallows to toast. Ren challenged Kishan to a race, going from the blanket to the rocks and back. “Come on, Kishan, first one back wins.” “What do I win?” I suggested, “How about you get the first s’more.” Kishan shook his head. “How about first one back gets a kiss from Kelsey?” Ren’s face darkened. I ventured, “Uh, Kishan. I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Kishan persisted, “It’s fine, Kelsey. It’ll give him real motivation to try. Unless he thinks he’s going to lose.” Ren growled. “I won’t lose.” Kishan poked Ren’s chest. “On your best day, you wouldn’t even see my tail.” “Fine. Let’s do this.” “Guys, I don’t think—” “Go!” They both took off running so fast they became almost a blur on the sand. My marshmallows forgotten, I stood up and watched them run. Kishan was lightning fast, but Ren was quick too. He was right behind Kishan. When they turned at the rock, Ren turned tighter, got a couple of feet ahead of Kishan, and was able to maintain his advantage on the run back. At the halfway mark, Kishan reached out and grabbed the blue hood on Ren’s sweater, yanked it hard, and pushed him into the sand. Ren spun and fell, but quickly got back up and surged ahead, running with a vengeance. His legs pumped faster, and sand flew out from behind him

several feet. He came up neck and neck with Kishan. The race ended with Kishan the winner by a foot. Ren was angry. Kishan was laughing and nudged Ren aside so he could claim his prize. He reached out to grab me, and I could tell Ren was ready to knock him down. I put my hand on Kishan’s chest, “Now wait a minute. Y said the winner gets a kiss from Kelsey. That ou means I get to choose, and I choose a kiss on the cheek.” I stood up on my tiptoes and pecked Kishan on the cheek. Ren seemed appeased and started to relax. He picked up a rock and threw it out into the ocean. He grumbled, “Y only won because you cheated.” ou I leaned down and picked up the skewer of marshmallows. Kishan said, “I won because I know how to win. Cheating is irrelevant. You have to learn to do whatever it takes to win. Speaking of which, that was not the prize I had in mind.” He reached over and grabbed my elbow, then he spun me around and dipped me over in a dramatic kiss. It was much more drama than substance, but Ren went ballistic. “Let. Her. Go.” After Kishan stood me up and I had moved back a step, Ren barreled into Kishan’s stomach, effectively cutting off his peals of laughter, and shoved him into the sand. They rolled across the sand wrestling and growling at each other for the next ten minutes. I decided not to intervene. It seemed like fighting and wrestling with each other was a favorite pastime of

theirs. I toasted several marshmallows and was able to make a plateful of s’mores before they eased up. I was halfway through eating mine when they finally broke off fighting. They got up, shook themselves to get the sand off, and headed back to the blanket. Ren grabbed a s’more and sunk down on the blanket, putting his head in my lap. I held out the plate to Kishan, and he took the entire plate from me and went over to a rock to eat by himself. Smoothing Ren’s hair back from his forehead, I said, “Y know he didn’t really mean anything by it. ou He’s just trying to bother you on purpose.” “Oh, he meant it alright. I told you, if he keeps making plays for you, then all bets are off. These are really good.” “Y ou’re avoiding the subject, but they are good! They’re good when made in a microwave too, but the fire-toasted marshmallow makes them great.” “Hmm, they could use…” “Peanut butter?” we both said at the same time. He laughed and pulled my face down for a kiss. “Ren! Y fingers are still sticky! And so are your our lips!” “Are they?” He started kissing me all over my face, and I laughed, rolled him off my lap, and jumped up. He’d just sprung to his feet to catch me when my phone rang. I slid it out of my pocket with my non-sticky hand and put it up to my ear. “Hello?” “Hey, Kelsey. It’s me, Jason.”

“Hey, Jason. What’s up?” “I just thought you’d like to know that there were a couple of guys on campus yesterday asking about you. They said they represent a legal firm, and they have news about your parents’ will.” “I see. What did they look like?” “Tall guys, expensive suits. They seemed legitimate, but I didn’t tell them anything. I figured I’d talk with you first.” “Okay. Thanks for telling me, Jason. Y were right ou not to tell them anything.” “Are you in some kind of trouble, Kelsey? Is everything alright?” “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry.” “Okay, see ya.” “See ya.” I closed my phone and looked at Ren. He stared back, and we both knew. Lokesh had found me. I heard Kishan speaking quietly and turned to see he was on the phone with, I assumed, Mr. Kadam. We started packing up. Suddenly, the atmosphere at the beach had changed. It now seemed somber, dark, and sinister, and I shivered in the cool breeze. The sky appeared foreboding and ominous where it once had felt friendly and safe. Ren and Kishan agreed that if Jason hadn’t told the men where I lived, it was unlikely that they had found our home yet, so we decided to drive home, tie up a few loose ends, and leave. On the drive home, I called Sarah and Mike and told them I needed to return to India. “Mr. Kadam has made an important discovery and needs my immediate

an important discovery and needs my immediate assistance. Ren will be going with me. I’ll call as soon as I land.” I called Jennifer and told her the same thing. She kept hinting that if I was eloping with Ren, I should just flat out tell her. Eventually, she believed the story and said she’d pass along the info to Li. I was careful not to mention the city or how long I’d be away. I was trying to keep the information as vague as possible. When I hung up, Ren assured me that they had prepared for this. He said that Mr. Kadam was arranging a surprise vacation for Sarah and Mike’s family. They were getting a three week, all-expensespaid trip to Hawaii, but only if they left immediately. They would have no idea the vacation had come from Mr. Kadam. They were being told that the trip was a prize from their favorite running shoe company. I was nervous the entire drive home and kept looking in the mirrors expecting black sedans to come barreling down on me with shady men shooting at us. To say I was scared was an understatement. I’d faced scary demons and immortal monkeys, but, somehow, it felt totally different to face modern-world bad guys. I could rationalize that demons weren’t real; therefore, even though they were chasing me, they weren’t really a threat, but real men who wanted to kidnap and torture or kill seemed much more menacing to me. When we got home, the guys had me pull into the garage, and we waited in the car until the garage door had closed. They made me stay there while they went in the house to check it out. Returning to the garage about ten minutes later, Ren put his fingers to his lips and quietly opened my door. He had changed into dark

clothing with heavy boots and a black jacket. “What’s going on?” I whispered. Ren whispered back, “Someone’s been in the house, both houses actually. Their scents were everywhere, but nothing’s been taken. No one’s here now, so we want you to go upstairs and quickly change into dark clothing and good running shoes, then meet us downstairs. Kishan is watching the doors. We’ll go out the back of the house and take the long way to Kishan’s truck and head for the plane.” I nodded and hurried into the house and up the stairs. I washed my face, pulled on dark jeans and a long-sleeved black sweater, and my sneakers. I grabbed my jacket and met them downstairs. Creeping through my house and into Ren’s, Kishan led the way while Ren held my hand. Kishan opened the door, and we followed him outside and into the trees. He stopped often to smell the air and look at the ground. We had about a mile to hike to the truck. Every noise, every pop and crack in the forest startled me, and I whipped around often, expecting an attack. I felt an itch between my shoulder blades like we were being watched. After about five minutes, Kishan froze. He gestured for us to get down, and we sunk behind some ferns. There were men in the trees moving quietly, following our tracks. Kishan whispered, “We need to get out of here! Now!” He led us deeper in the forest at a faster pace. I was trying to move as silently as I could, but I was afraid they could hear me. My feet couldn’t seem to find the

right places to step, and I often cracked branches and skidded on wet spots as I ran. We came upon a clearing, and Kishan hissed back, “Ambush!” We turned and ran the other direction. The man who was following us blocked our path. Kishan ran at him, closing the distance quickly. When he reached the man, Kishan punched him under the chin, and the man’s body lifted off the ground, traveled a distance of about five feet, and fell over a log. He didn’t get up. Ren grabbed my hand and yanked me behind him as he ran. Stopping at a copse of trees, he pushed me behind a fallen log and told me not to move, then he ran back to join Kishan. The other men had caught up to us. What happened next was no fight in a dojo. This was battle. War. Ren and Kishan looked like two ubersoldiers. Their faces showed no emotion. They moved sharply, efficiently. They wasted no energy. They moved in harmony like a pair of lethal dancers. Between them, they took down at least a dozen men, but dozens more shot out from the trees. Ren punched one man in the neck, probably crushing his windpipe. When the man bent over, Ren cart-wheeled over his back, flipped around, and kicked the next guy in the face. Kishan was brutal. He broke a guy’s arm and then kicked another guy’s knee at the same time. I could hear the sickening snap and the scream as both of his opponents slumped to the ground. It was like being in the middle of one of Li’s martial arts films. When none of the men could stand up any longer, they ran back to me. “More are coming,” Kishan said flatly. We ran. Ren picked me up and threw me over his

We ran. Ren picked me up and threw me over his shoulder. Even with my weight slowing him down, he was still moving faster than I had been. The brothers were running fast now. Fast, but silent. Somehow, they knew where to step to avoid making noise. Kishan slowed and started running behind us, taking up a flank position. We ran for at least ten minutes. I figured we were far away from the men, but, suddenly, I heard something ping and pop, hitting the trunks of the trees around us. Immediately, Ren and Kishan doubled their speed, leapt behind a fallen log, and took cover. “Are they shooting at us?” I asked. “No,” Kishan whispered. “Not bullets anyway. Bullets sound different.” We sat quietly. I was breathing harder than they were, even though they were the ones that had been running. We waited. The brothers were both listening very carefully. I was about to ask a question, but Ren pressed a finger to his lips indicating that I should keep silent. They used some kind of hand signals to communicate with each other. I watched carefully, but I couldn’t figure out what they meant. Ren rolled his finger in a circle and Kishan slunk off into the trees. I pointed toward where Kishan had left. Ren pressed his mouth next to my ear and whispered in a barely audible voice, “He’s drawing them off.” He positioned me in the hollow of the tree and moved so that his body covered mine. I sat there, tense, my face pressed against Ren’s chest for a long time. I heard a terrible roar. Ren wrapped his arms around me and whispered, “He’s

found them. They’re about a half mile away. Let’s go.” He took my hand and began leading me toward the hidden truck again. I tried to be as quiet as I could. After several minutes, a dark shape leapt in front of us. It was Kishan. He’d switched back to a man again. “They’re everywhere. I led them as far off as I could, but it looks like a whole regiment was sent after us.” Ten minutes later, Kishan froze and sniffed the air. Ren did too. Men jumped down on us from the trees; several of them descended from harness and rope. Two men grabbed me, pulled me away from Ren, and held me tightly, while five men attacked him. He roared in fury and switched to a tiger. The men didn’t seem surprised by this. Kishan was already a tiger now and had taken down several of his opponents. Ren stood on his hind legs, thrust his paws on a man’s shoulders, and roared in his face. He bit the man’s neck and shoulder, pushed him to the ground, and used his body as a jumping off point. He leapt in the air, claws extended, and swiped two men across the chest. His ears lay flat against his head, his fur bristled, and blood dripped from his jaws. His tail raised and lowered like a lever just before he hurtled himself into the air again. He landed on the back of a man attacking Kishan, and the weight of his body alone disabled the attacker. I struggled but couldn’t even move because they held me so tightly. Kishan roared. One of the men had used a pronged weapon that had some kind of electric Taser attached at the end. Kishan whirled, knocked the weapon to the ground with a paw, and snapped it in half with the weight of his body.

He jumped on the man who fell to the ground and bit into his shoulder. He jerked his head violently, dragged the limp body several feet, then flung his head and threw the body. Then, he raised himself up on his haunches and swiped at any man who came near. He snarled viciously, and his muzzle dripped blood. Ren kept trying to get back to me, but men always stepped between us. I took advantage of the momentary distraction when Ren dropped a man at our feet. I kicked one of my attackers in the groin as hard as I could. I elbowed the other one in the stomach. He doubled over but kept a tight grip on my arm. Then, he cuffed me at my temple, and my vision got blurry. I heard Ren’s terrible roar. I kept struggling, but I felt dizzy. The man held me in front of him as if I was bait. They were taunting the tigers by handling me roughly. Other men arrived. Apparently, they’d called in for reinforcements, and these men had weapons. One of the men pulled out a gun and fired at Ren. A dart hit him in the neck, and he briefly staggered. I saw red and suddenly my vision cleared. I felt power sizzle through my limbs. I popped the back of my head into my captor’s nose and felt the cartilage break. The man screamed and let me go. I ran to Ren. He changed into a man. Another dart hit. He was still on his feet, but he was moving much slower. I yanked the darts from his body. He tried to push me behind him, “Kelsey! Move back! Now!” “No!” Another dart hit him, and it stuck in his thigh. He staggered once more and fell to one knee. Men

surrounded him, and he began fighting again. Kishan was enraged, mauling man after man, but more kept coming. He was too busy to help me with Ren. He was barely holding his own ground. I tried to pull the men off, but they were big. They were also professional fighters, maybe military, so they mostly ignored me and focused on the two more dangerous targets. I was just an annoying fly they swatted away. I felt desperate. There had to be something I could do to protect Ren. He was panting forcefully and had just finished Hired Guns off the last man near us. Bodies were piled in groups around us. Some dead, some wounded. But, more men were coming. There were so many! I stood in front of him and held out my hand in a pathetic attempt to stop the men from advancing, from shooting at him, but there were at least a dozen men stalking toward us, most of whom had guns. A fire burned in me, a need to protect the man I loved. My frame shook with energy, with power. I faced the man closest to me and stared at him darkly. He raised his weapon. My body burned hot, and I felt a red molten inferno travel down my arm and into my hand. The flames ignited, and the symbols on my hand blazed crimson. A lightning bolt exploded from my hand and into the body of the first man. It lifted his body into the air and smacked him into a tree. Upon impact, the tree shook, and he fell in a crumpled mass at the base. I turned the power on the next man and the next. I was overcome with rage; a furious wrath bubbled through me. My mind screamed that no more would these men hurt those that I loved. I took them down one

I heard him roar with outrage and pain. and my eyes were closing. He was still fighting. but Ren wasn’t following. and I heard him yell. .these men hurt those that I loved.” I mumbled incoherently. I pleaded hazily. “Ren! No!” And fell into darkness. instead of burning. ripping pain was because I had been taken from him. still fighting. The fire in my hand sputtered and went out. “Kishan! Take her!” “No. I reached out a hand and gripped at the air feebly. Ren picked me up. because I felt it too. euphoric in my power. and then I felt iron arms lock around my body. It couldn’t have been. The horrible. and I stumbled to the ground in front of Ren. it felt numb. Ren shouted. He switched to a tiger again. but. The whisper of his lips brushed against my cheek. I knew in the soft fuzziness of my mind that it wasn’t the physical pain that caused him to cry out. and they were closing in on him. “Go! Now!” I was being carried swiftly through the trees. He shoved an attacker back. My vision was getting dark. It felt like a bee sting. I took them down one by one. though he had been shot with darts several times. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. A pinprick struck my arm and another one hit my shoulder.

. and there was a funny taste in my mouth. A furry head butted against my fingers. and hovered there. I felt the soft sheets and stretched out my hand hesitantly. Ren. but I knew that on the other side of consciousness. a kind of horror awaited me. He was here. Something was very wrong. but my mind was still fuzzy.CHAPTER 10 The deep thrum of an engine stirred me. I was lying on a bed. like a coward. so I allowed myself to sink back a little deeper into the murky blackness. My head throbbed. I wanted to wake up. I needed something to hold on to. He was the motivation I needed to rise above the darkness and step into the light. a crutch that I could lean on to give me enough strength to face what lay ahead.

” I swallowed the tablets gratefully and tried to open my eyes again. I feel better already. “Ren? Where am I?” It hurt. I whispered. Don’t ever send me away from you like that again. “Kelsey? How are you feeling?” “Nilima? Oh. “We got away.” I slid my fingers into his fur. “Ren? Are you here? Ren? Ren?” The black tiger just watched me with sad golden . “No! Kishan? Where?” I pleaded in a raspy voice. I’d rather be captured with you than be separated. Nilima returned with some water. Kelsey. pressing my hand against my throbbing forehead. and I took a long drink then mashed the wet towel over my eyes and my face. Right?” I looked over at the tiger. She helped me sit up. “Here…I brought you some aspirin. I looked into Nilima’s concerned face and smiled. No! I started gasping for air. and Nilima looked at the tiger next to me briefly and then nodded.” She left. No. That’s the important thing.I cracked open my eyes. “Where is he? Tell me we didn’t leave him behind! Ren?” I yelled. “Let me get you some water. “Thanks.” She pressed a cold wet cloth to my forehead. we’re on the plane. I’m so glad. A face looked down at me. and I closed my eyes again. I guess it doesn’t matter now. “I was so afraid you weren’t going to make it. We were very lucky. I mumbled. My lungs locked. At least we all made it.” I stroked Ren’s head.

we wouldn’t have made it. I only got hit once. “Kishan! This isn’t right! He wouldn’t leave you. He spoke quietly and held my hand. She left us alone. It appeared their instructions were to take us alive. and her eyes filled with tears. “Is he…” I sobbed.” “No. He fought bravely and well and bought us time to get away. If he hadn’t stayed. We can’t just leave him there! We can’t!” Nilima just looked at me.eyes. He’d been hit at least six times. “…did they kill him?” “I don’t think so. We have to try to . They shot me with tranquilizers too. “Nilima! Tell me! Is he here?” She shook her head sadly. I looked at Nilima and grabbed her hand. I desperately clutched her hand. there was no choice. They’ll torture him. and I realized that I was crying too. and I barely made it to the plane.” “We can’t let them do this. “No! We could have waited for him. I turned to the tiger.” I grabbed his hand and tears dripped off my chin. “No! We have to go back! Tell them to turn the plane around. we couldn’t. They’ll kill him! We have to do something! We can’t let this happen!” Kishan changed to a man and sat on the side of my bed. He looked at Nilima and nodded.” I shook my head in denial. I was amazed that he could still stand. “Kelsey. My vision became blurry. None of them had weapons other than the tranquilizer darts. Kishan.

that I will do everything in my power to save him. He looked in my eyes.” “I was asleep that long?” “Y were hit twice and were knocked out for about ou fifteen hours. Kadam is already working on locating him. He’s been searching for Lokesh for centuries.” “Fine. Luckily. “I’m sorry. Ren doesn’t have the amulet. We’ll find a way. He’s still alive. We’ll be in India in a few hours.” I thought about Ren being engulfed by enemies while we ran away. and I choked on a sob. For now. Jason probably saved our lives. wrapped me in a hug. we had the plane ready to take off. so Lokesh may be willing to offer a trade: the amulet for Ren. We’ll give him the amulet if we can get Ren back.” “We’ll worry about that when the time comes. There is one thing in our favor. Kishan leaned over. I can feel it. not him. and the man has hidden well. you should rest. Kelsey.” “We will. If you hadn’t been there. Kelsey. sniffed. and wiped my eyes on my sleeve.” “Did they follow you to the plane?” “They tried. Mr. though.” . “It’s not your fault. I wish I’d had the strength to carry you both out of there. we both would have been captured.” I sat up. and patted my back.” My tears dripped on his shirt. Kelsey. and we will defeat him. I wish it had been me. “I promise you. It won’t be easy.

Could Ren still be alive? Since the day I first saw Ren at the circus. Kishan had changed back to his tiger form and rested at my feet. It was still strong. He asked if I’d like to eat something. I would fight. I felt his absence. in the last few months as we became closer.” I wished I felt as sure as Kishan that we could save him. His golden eyes watched me. Now that I knew I had this …this lightning bolt power inside me. I would practice it.Lokesh. I knew it. Tentative and wispy at first. forming a steel link. The next time something like this happened. the connection solidified and tightened. and. the link stretched and pulled like a rubber band. Nodding. and I sipped it slowly and thought about what I could do to help Ren. My heart was still tied to his. He seemed relieved and went to talk with Nilima. there was a strange connection between us. She set out a dinner with a glass of lemon water. but I knew that I would never let myself be so unprepared again. By the time we landed. it grew and became stronger. It tugged me and tried to draw me back to him. at any cost. but the bond was still there. I would also ask Kishan to continue to train me in . I said yes. reassuring him that I would be okay. I resolved that I would find him. It gave me hope. I squeezed his hand and said that I’d be alright. When I went back to Oregon. He was alive. We were part of each other. even though I felt knots twisting my stomach. I wondered if he was right. I still didn’t have a clue how I would find him. Nilima invited me to eat something. And. and I leaned down to pet his head.

Miss Kelsey. whenever Kishan was a tiger. I’d been searching for a certain mountain and didn’t realize that it was a mountain range I needed to find.” “I missed you too. but I refused to let them spill over. There’s even a chance he may be able to escape on his own . All this time. Kadam met us at the private airport that belonged to them. it’s thanks to you that I’m as close as I am. “Have you figured out the second prophecy?” “I’m close. Regardless. Books were piled high on his beautiful mahogany desk. I was able to open my mind to that possibility. I missed you. and it led to new discoveries for me.” “Glad to be of help. “What are we going to do? How are we going to find him?” “We’ll find him. I would never let someone I loved be taken again. “Miss Kelsey. Actually. “Come. The landmark that puzzled me ended up being the Himalayas.” My eyes stung with unshed tears. I picked up a few papers and examined the notes written in his elegant script.” I set the papers down and asked quietly. Mr. Kishan took my bag upstairs for me and left me alone with Mr.” When we got home. Don’t worry. He wrapped me in a hug. Let’s get you home. Kadam in the peacock room. Not while I was still alive. Thanks to your report on the Himalayas and their weather patterns. Perhaps Mr. There is much we need to discuss. and its normally organized and clean top was covered with papers and notes. Kadam would teach me too.martial arts and maybe even in weapons.

but I will make time to train with you every day.” He looked at me thoughtfully for a minute. “Will he be able to change into a man if he’s captured?” “I don’t know. I can also give you routines to practice on your own as well as some things you can learn with Kishan. many hours of practice to become competent. I’d like to help you with your research too. Miss Kelsey. “Mr. and the tiger within each of them makes them stronger. but now you’ve broken part of the curse. I can take notes. He wasn’t able to before. I want you to work with me on weapons and martial arts. Kadam. That may make a difference.” He nodded. I want you to train me.” “We can start today. It will take discipline and many. and he gestured to the leather furniture and we sat down to talk. Not only will you learn new skills. Y taught both of the boys. I plan to ask Kishan to continue working with me too.” I squared my shoulders. and I want you ou to coach me too.” “Thank you. Don’t expect to be able to do what Ren and Kishan can do.” I nodded. They have been trained all their lives. I can learn faster if I can practice with both of you. I still need to focus much of my attention on research. “Perhaps it is for the best. “Now. tell me about this new power you seem to . I’m prepared for that. and a new set of eyes can’t hurt.” “That’s okay. “Alright.” A thought occurred to me. but sometimes it helps to keep your hands busy when they are tied.and call us.

and I was really desperate. and my heart burned. The man that hit the tree was pretty hurt. Then. My stomach tightened. and the symbols on my hand glowed red.” “I’d be curious to see if you can reproduce the effect when you aren’t in danger.” “Well. but I want to hear what happened from your perspective. weakening. I needed to protect Ren and got really mad. He was my first target. the power sort of fizzled out. It . the power rose and spilled out of me. Roiling. I saw red and faced down the attackers. and there were so many.” “Did the lightning bolts kill them or just stun them?” “I think it just stunned them.” “What did it feel like?” “It felt like…a whoosh of power. Kishan explained it to me. but it didn’t hurt. we didn’t stick around long enough to find out. I was furious. and there was no place for the fire to go. I stepped in front of him and was enraged. and popping. I imagine.“Now. I felt a bubbling sensation as it traveled down my arm. To be honest. I knew that he wouldn’t last much longer. A kind of fire burned in me.” “And this power worked several times?” “Y I was able to take down several men until I was es. It moved up into my chest. like a pilot light in a water heater that suddenly burst into flame. He’d been hit with darts. though. shot with the tranquilizers. Perhaps we can practice. My blood boiled in my veins. It picked one guy up in the air and slammed him into a tree. tell me about this new power you seem to have. steaming. The fire condensed into a lightning bolt that shot out of my hand. and he was staggering.

Vishnu.” “Really? Tell me. Durga’s made of light and you think that’s why I have this power in me?” “Y There are also several references that say she es. I’d prefer not to kill people.” “Where do you think it came from?” “I have…a theory.would also be interesting to see if you can widen the band to encompass more than one person at a time and also to test you to see how long you can maintain the burst.” “One of the ancient stories of India says that when the gods. they could not defeat him. “Mr. Mahishasur. “Y do know that he loves you.” “Of course. and the goddess Durga emerged from that light. wears a necklace that flashes like lightning. She was born to fight him. I guess I could just sum es.” “I imagine it must feel disconcerting. as well. Brahma.” “So.” He ventured. ou . I don’t think I can do this without him.” ou I paused for a moment and twisted my hands together. They combined their energies. I…I’m worried about him. and Shiva.” He smiled.” “I’d also like to practice the intensity. it up by saying I love him. which took the form of light.” “That’s…I don’t even know how to feel about that. Well. Kadam.” “Y can say that again. “Have the two of you become…closer then?” “Y He’s…I’ve…We. Perhaps that stream of power resides in you. faced the demon king.

” I couldn’t help but grin. it’s a custom that’s still followed.” “There was a girl. Kadam. an Indian girl. If he chooses to be with you. “Miss Kelsey . Remember. I don’t want Ren’s people to ostracize him. “So he was miserable. He said he’d made his choice.” “Ah.” “Mr. “Desperately so.” Mr.” “But. no one will object. Ren hardly needs anyone’s approval.Don’t you? He didn’t think of anything but you for the months you were apart.” “Ren is well aware of all the possible cultural ramifications. what if being with me makes his life more difficult?” He chided softly. who was interested in Ren and wanted her parents to match them up.” “Maybe not to his face.” “Did he express concern about this?” “No. His life before you . Kishan and I never found a moment’s peace until he left. Kadam stroked his short beard. I can guarantee that being with you has been the only thing in his long life that gives him a modicum of peace. but there might be…cultural ramifications that haven’t occurred to him yet. “Miss Kelsey. He didn’t seem to care. Does this bother you?” “Kind of. Even in modern times. Ren told me that dating outside of his culture is considered inappropriate. What he told you is accurate. he was a prince who was highly trained in political protocol. can I ask you a question?” “Of course. huh?” Mr. Kadam smiled.

That day was considered a national holiday. Though his territory was the largest and his armies were the most renowned. he sent word to several other warlords governing over smaller territories and invited them to a summit. one of the rulers who signed the pact roused the others. I’d have to tell you about Ren and Kishan’s grandfather. Their plan was to first take Ren’s ancestral lands. They agreed. from there. and the king brought his armies home and prepared a grand feast in celebration. He was a great warlord who wanted to live in peace in his later years. “He offered each one a portion of his land if they would sign a nonaggression pact and cut back their armies.” He sat back in the leather recliner and steepled his fingers to his chin. . they could conquer all of the other smaller kingdoms easily.” “What happened?” “About a month later. ” “I’d love to learn more about his family. as the contract would bring each of them great wealth and properties. The country rejoiced. and I would venture to say that getting the approval of others has dropped very low on his priority list.was fraught with difficulty.” “He told me that his parents were from different cultures. To tell it properly. He’d grown tired of the infighting between kingdoms. then. that’s an interesting story. they could rule all of India. telling them that now was the time to strike. Why were they allowed to marry and be together?” “Hmm. “Ren’s grandfather was named Tarak. and that between them.

” “Genghis Khan? I don’t really know much about him. and trade between the two countries was commonplace. Tarak especially had a good relationship with the Dalai Lama of the time. The Indian/Chinese borders of that time were not as defined as they are today. it was a large empire with vast lands until Genghis Khan came along. . the Dalai Lama is a religious leader. and Genghis Khan went to Tibet. but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have any influence over the military.” “Wait a minute. Y es.” “China?” “Y es.” “Where did they go for help?” “China. As far as Tibet goes. The rumors turned out to be true. they couldn’t defeat the combined armies of the other warlords.“They broke their oath and came upon Tarak in fierce battle. and isn’t Tibet a pretty small place? Was the military large enough to help?” “So many questions. Specifically they went to Tibet. Fortunately. and the Ukraine. What did he have to do with Tibet?” “By the early thirteenth century. Many of the king’s soldiers had retired from active duty and had been given parcels of land in exchange for their years of service. He enlisted the aid of the Dalai Lama? Isn’t the Dalai Lama supposed to be a religious leader. laying siege to his city. and Tibet soon heard rumors that he was turning his attention to them. Central Asia. Russia. Tarak was able to send runners out to enlist aid. With the armies at half strength. Genghis Khan had taken over most of Northern China.

offered up precious jewels and gold to take back to Tibet. virtually all of the Mongols had become Buddhist. Ren’s father. by the early 1600s. aren’t Buddhists peaceful?” “Y However.” Nilima came into the library and brought us two lemon waters. satisfied. A couple of decades later. Overpowering the country. Rajaram. The combined Mongol armies in addition to King Tarak’s military were able to defeat the upstarts. and Genghis Khan went to Tibet. he pulled Tibet back into the Mongol empire. “Then what happened? They won. and Batu Khan offered his young daughter to be married to Tarak’s son when the time was right. all the military. Ren’s mother is related to Genghis Khan?” “I haven’t researched the genealogy. and his mother had just been born. right?” “Indeed.turned out to be true. would have been around ten years old at the time.” “So. made an appearance. they stopped paying tribute. the grandson of Genghis Khan. “Three hundred years later. and he was sent by the Dalai Lama to help Ren’s grandfather. named Ögedei Khan. and. Buddhist ideology became widespread. When he died in 1227. again. Tarak. and he left. He invaded. Altan Khan invited Buddhist monks to teach the people and built a monastery. He thanked her and continued. but the Tibetans agreed to pay tribute to him. Tarak and Batu Khan were of the same age. but I would . and they became friends. it would have been foolish to disband es. in gratitude.” I sipped my lemon water.” “But. A man named Batu Khan was put in charge of the Mongol armies.

There are no assigned marriage vows. At the commencement of the marriage. I wasn’t a participant. The new bride ou wears this necklace every day for the rest of her life. The wedding itself takes place a few days later. She was very beautiful. “What was his mother’s name?” “Deschen. Batu Khan himself brought his daughter to meet with Tarak and Rajaram and stayed to oversee the wedding. Y might compare it to a wedding ring. which is a marriage necklace. there is typically an engagement ceremony and then a feast. Only a few people are invited. a Buddhist wedding is simple.” “Did they have a Hindu or a Buddhist wedding?” “I believe it was a combination of the two.” I sat back in my chair shocked. “By comparison. and her hair was long and dark. the groom gives his bride a mangalsutra. Chanting may or may not be done. and the whole process takes about a week. not a religious one. She had the same blue eyes. Gifts are given back and forth between the two families.” “What did she look like?” “She looked a lot like Ren. Monks or priests are not required because Buddhists maintain that marriage is a personal commitment. I imagine in the case of Rajaram and Deschen. When the time was right. but flowers are often offered at a shrine. Candles and incense are burned. in a Hindu wedding. so all I can tell you is that. including jewelry and clothing.assume there is some relation. Rajaram was never even allowed to see his bride until they were married. they .

” “How long did it take for them to realize they loved each other?” “That is a question I cannot answer. I changed the subject.” “And that is exactly what makes you so special. probably to deflect attention from himself.probably followed the customs of a Hindu wedding. A father ou to them. and perhaps also added offerings to the Buddha. They raised their sons to be open-minded and accepting of other cultures and ideas. Kadam smiled and stood to refill my water glass.” Mr. Ren told me he could never repay you for all you’ve done for him. which was highly irregular at the time. . Her sons. When I knew them. “That is neither here nor there. “I held Deschen when King Rajaram passed out of this world and then held her hand when she closed her eyes forever. and King Rajaram often consulted with his wife on important matters of state. Kadam shifted uncomfortably.” Mr.” Mr. They were good people and very wise leaders. they were very much in love. Kadam’s eyes stared off into the distance and glazed over.” He cleared his throat. “That’s when she entrusted me with the care of her most precious possessions. Did Ren tell you of them?” “He told me you watched over them for him until they died.” “And you have done more for them than any mother could ever ask. though I can tell you that their love and respect for one another was truly unique. I miss them.” “That is true. He does not need to repay me for what I would have given him freely. Y are a truly wonderful man.

When Ren and Kishan were placed under the spell. watching. They entered my house and sat on my rug. At first. I thought I was dreaming. They both ate and then lay down to sleep. “Did Ren and Kishan’s parents ever know they were changed into tigers?” “As you know. telling the servant that I felt ill. I grabbed my sword. I begged off. Several minutes passed. and Ren and Kishan would have been killed on sight. careful to avoid detection. they snuck back into the palace at night as tigers. Y can imagine my ou surprise when I opened the door to find a black and a white tiger sitting there staring at me. Instead. I opened my door wider and moved back. I was the king’s military advisor. As such. Military instinct is strong. For a time. I prepared a meal and offered meat to the animals. but they didn’t react to me. They seemed to be waiting for something. I had a small house near the palace where I could be summoned at any time.” “What did you do when you saw them?” “They scratched at my door. I lifted my sword above my head ready to strike. they came to me. I sat in my chair all day and watched the tigers. but they both sat there calmly. Even tigers as rare as they were would not have been allowed to enter the palace grounds. “We watched each other for hours. There was no way they could have gotten to their parents because they were too well guarded. waiting. keeping my sword at the ready.the subject. I was put in charge of the armies. I stayed awake all night. When evening came. . When I was summoned to attend training.

” I sipped my lemon water. the two brothers rose to stand before their parents as men. I begged them to enter and told them the tigers meant them no harm. “I led them back to my home. They gave me a special charge to take the boys and leave. and I immediately requested audience with their parents. When I opened the door. reminding him that Lokesh may be the only way to save the boys. The white tiger shifted and changed into Prince Dhiren. They had very little time left and quickly changed back and allowed me to relate the story. Deschen let out a small scream when she saw the tigers. “Then what happened?” “Early in the morning. and I remained vigilant. Runners came to say that a vast army led by Lokesh was approaching and that he had already destroyed several villages and was on his way to the palace. Their private guard took a lot of convincing. the black one followed suit and became Kishan. Rajaram moved in front of his wife to protect her. Deschen couldn’t . “After I’d finally convinced them to close the door.watching them. and only the king’s absolute trust in me led him to comply with my wish. He was very upset with me. The five of us stayed in counsel all day in my little home.” “What did you all decide to do?” “Rajaram wanted to destroy Lokesh. something changed. I explained that it was imperative that Rajaram and Deschen accompany me to my home without guards. but Deschen held him back. Ren quickly explained what had happened to them. just before the sun came up. though they slept as harmless as kittens. I had trained my body to go several days without sleep.

Deschen and Rajaram lived several more years. The boys hunted and brought us food. he couldn’t capture Lokesh. and her beloved husband was far away. Actually. Reunited. He had told his people the false story of Ren and Kishan’s deaths and explained that his wife had fled to China to find solace. Deschen also had become despondent. Reluctantly. we snuck away to a small summer home near the waterfall where you found Kishan. Rajaram no longer had the will to be the king. He never returned. I became the caretaker for the family. There seemed to be no hope for her sons. he stepped down from the throne and turned over the affairs of the kingdom to a quorum of military advisors. The armies were pushed back for a while. He said that he needed to leave for a time and bring her back. “Is that when Deschen died?” “No. bringing along some of their wealth and most precious things so that the boys would be able to keep their inheritance. Despite Rajaram’s best efforts.bear to part with her sons. so arrangements were made for her to come with me under the pretense that she would be visiting her homeland. “In reality. He joined us in the wilderness. Without his wife and sons. “I sent a missive to Rajaram explaining that Deschen was suffering. I was the intermediary between them and the outside world. but Lokesh seemed to gather strength while Rajaram lost it. A few years passed. they were happy and cherished every minute they had with the boys. It soon became obvious that Ren and Kishan weren’t aging.” I asked. taking care of the kingdom. and Deschen gardened and grew .

Ren’s father became ill with what I now suspect was nephritis or kidney disease. We only knew that it was powerful and important. Despite Kishan’s and my best efforts. The story I told you when I met you at the circus is the story as it is told today. He told me to take the money and jewels. “After several years. I was not able to rescue Ren.vegetables. He was afraid that if a hunter caught him it would be gone forever. Ren’s capture was the final blow to his father. Perhaps it was a premonition because he was captured soon after that. I studied every myth and story about tigers and about the amulets that I could find. “Kishan would not be consoled after his mother’s death. “As you know. Great legends were being told about the royal family. Over the years. I told him that it was time I began my search for Ren. and he died within the week. and he often stayed in the forest. “Kishan tracked him. A few months later. not a month after her husband. At the time. she too died. I often ventured into town to purchase items and to listen to news. To take whatever I needed to find him. “Ren eventually asked me to wear his amulet. and I learned that he had been sold to a collector in another part of the country. They had passed on into myth. we didn’t know what it would do to me. We heard that Lokesh was still fighting with the military. I returned disheartened. I took some. leaving the most precious family heirlooms there for Kishan to watch over. Deschen lapsed into deep despair and stopped eating. I invested their . but that the Mujulaain people continued to fight back. and began my quest.

after failing to hold the Mujulaain Empire. but they just can’t let the old wounds heal. buying and selling companies until the boys became wealthy. and Deschen would have wept at your feet for giving her sons’ lives back. but my hands fisted in determination. In fact. I invested their money. though I suspected he was still alive. Don’t let yourself doubt for a moment that you are right for this family or right for Ren. Over the years. I began with the spice trade and then moved on. Even thinking about him hurt. Lokesh. why did they never make up?” “They tolerated each other for their parents’ sake. That leads us to you. I never saw them as men together again until you came along. It was a tremendous breakthrough to get Kishan to return and be a part of the family again. I followed Ren from place to place and spent many hours in research. It’s weird. but they tried to avoid becoming men at the same time. Ren doesn’t exactly make it easy on him.” “Well. mysteriously disappeared and never resurfaced. I get the sense that they respect and even love each other.” My mangled heart thumped hollowly in my chest.amulets that I could find.” “Y have gone a long way toward healing all of us. After I left them. I married and had a family. Rajaram would have been delighted by you. if Ren and Kishan lived in the jungle with their parents. and it grew. and you know the rest of the story.” “So. “So what should we start with? Research or swordfighting?” . I spent decades searching for Lokesh and a way to break the curse. ou Miss Kelsey. like I was. “During those years.

and then set off for his room.“Are you able to begin with some physical training?” “Y es. My blanket rested on the foot of my bed. “These are called shinais and are used in the practice of kendo. Mr. and watched sleepily. Kadam. Mr. The two of us would be better prepared next time. apologizing for leaving her out of the battle. Kadam? It’s nice to be home. get your things put away and then join me in the gym downstairs in half an hour.” “I will.” “Alright. Kadam was already there. I headed upstairs and found that all the precious things I’d shipped had been set out for me. Grip it with . winked. I set her on the new library shelf on top of a round. Kishan heard me bustling around and trotted down the stairs behind me. The wall was flipped open to showcase his collection of swords. I want to use these first to practice forms with you before moving on to the steel weapons.” He smiled at me. The pictures of my family were newly framed and set on top of the shelf along with a vase of fresh pink tiger lilies. And. which is the Japanese form of fencing. My ribbon box was in the bathroom and my books and journals had been moved to a new waist-high library shelf. He walked over and picked up two wooden sticks. put his head on his paws. I quickly changed into my wushu clothes and headed downstairs to meet Mr. He curled up in a corner of the room on the gym mat. and my stuffed white tiger sat among the mound of plumcolored pillows. I unzipped my bag and pulled out Fanindra. silkcovered pillow.

and he was right. the flexibility is limited. He continued.” “Why not grip it with my thumbs too?” “Because when you tighten your hand.” He had me do footwork drills for an hour while he gave me sword fighting tips. then wrap your three bottom fingers around the weapon and leave your thumb and forefinger loose. “Now lunge.both hands. walk heel-step. back up ball-step. When someone attacks. like this. we’ll move on to heavier swords to build up your arms and shoulders. If they come from the other side.” I spun the weapon in an arc. Keep this hand at the top and the other on the bottom. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart to maintain balance. move back this way. but for now. This was complicated. Don’t overextend yourself on a lunge or you won’t be able to recover. you swing this leg back and move your body out of the way and bring your sword up to defend yourself. heelstep. See? Go ahead and rotate with a tight fist and then without. A tight fist limited my movement. My arms already hurt. For retreating. and you tend to lock your wrist in place. For advancing. and the footwork was hard to remember. Take a wide stance. This way you are always ready and won’t distribute your weight wrong. Miss Kelsey. I began to move in a .” “Like this?” “Y Very good. the footwork is what I want you to practice. Reach out as if you are shaking hands with someone. “Eventually.” es. “Y reach can be much farther if you keep your our thumb loose.

and began citing sword fighting instructions. 2. Then. heavier swords. 8. Sword Fighting Tips 1. Though it’s good to practice with bigger. Keep your elbows bent and close to your body. Don’t overextend yourself. It’s better to get out of the way than block someone. lighter swords can do just as much damage. 6. Kadam watched. crossed the floor back and forth doing lunges. like lightning power. maintain a distance where he cannot easily reach you. Blocking saps your strength. moving out of the way requires less energy. Fight to win. correcting my form from time to time. 9. 4. Don’t be afraid to use other techniques if they will help you. I wrote them down as best I could remember later. for example. While I worked. Make sure your feet always stay grounded and balanced. Know the length of your sword and estimate the length of your opponent’s weapon. The big ones tire you out . 3. It takes too much time to do it once you’re in a fight. 7. Search for weaknesses and exploit them. and deflecting moves. Draw your sword before you engage an opponent. advance-retreat. Mr.rhythm. 5.

A paperback copy of Romeo and Juliet in Hindi was dog-eared and worn. and my arms were getting tired. A thick carpet covered the floor. including a couple of the first edition Dr. Books sat on top of the dresser. It was so different from the first time I’d entered his room. He practiced wushu kicks and sweeps with me for another two hours. Finding it unlocked. I stepped inside. my shoulders were burning. Kadam that said if I’d like to help him do research to meet him in the library the next morning. I was sweaty. By the time I climbed the stairs to my room. I’d been holding the shinai up the whole time I was practicing footwork. . Kishan changed to a man after I’d sufficiently rested. even though it was lightweight. I finished my dinner and went outside to sit on the veranda. So many changes had been made. I lifted the lid and found grilled chicken and vegetables with a note from Mr. but I decided to shower first. And. By the time I was done. Clean and in my pajamas.faster in a fight. He encouraged me to work on the footwork for an hour every day and said that he would teach me again tomorrow. A hot dinner was left under a warm cover for me in my room. I saw the door to Ren’s room. Seuss books that he’d mentioned buying. I was exhausted.

” “Wonder what he thought of that. I’d just climbed into bed and snuggled under my blanket with the white tiger and the sweatshirt when I heard a knock at my door. “I just wanted to say good night. “Can I come in. Kelsey? It’s Kishan.” Kishan stuck his head in the door. When I returned to my room. One of my old hair ribbons was tied around rolled up parchment. good night. I threw it over my arm to bring back to my room. The last time I was here it hung empty.” “Okay. Rolling up the pages and retying them.” “Sure. He grinned lopsidedly and flicked the tiger on the nose. Most of them hadn’t even been worn. and tucked it under my arm.I found his Valentine’s present. I set the parchment on my desk and brought the sweatshirt with me. I untied the ribbon and found several poems written in Ren’s hand but in a language I couldn’t read. A state-of-the-art CD player was set up in the corner with several CDs.” He spied my white tiger and came in closer to inspect it. It smelled like him —waterfalls and sandalwood trees. his copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. I decided I would bring them back to my room and work on translating them. I opened up his closet. but now it was full of designer clothes. I found a blue sweatshirt that was similar to the one he’d worn to the beach. “Hey! Leave him alone. A laptop and writing materials sat on his desk.” .

you’ve got to be the kitten. Kells. .” He laughed for a moment and then grew serious. don’t say it around Ren anymore. I promise.” He grinned at me. bilauta. I figured if we are the cats. he was flattered. “We’ll find him.” He turned off the light and closed the door.“If you must know. “What does that mean.” I propped myself up on my elbow. It makes him mad. “Well. good night. well. That night.” “Hmm. Kishan? Y never told me.” I nodded. “Why do you think I do it? See you in the morning. I dreamed of Ren.” ou “It means kitten.

CHAPTER 11 It was the same horrible dream I’d had before. “Kelsey. It was dark. Then. I could only crumple to the floor. He whispered to me. run! Get out of here! I’m doing this for you!” But I couldn’t run. I couldn’t do anything to save him. He raised the knife and cut into Ren’s heart. I entered a room and found Ren tied to an altar with a man in purple robes standing over him. Now I knew this man was Lokesh. I jumped on Lokesh and tried to take the knife away. but it was too late. knowing life without Ren was meaningless. the dream changed. Ren was dying. and I was seeking something desperately. Now it .

he always pushed me away either to protect me or to get rid of me. “Ren!” He walked away with the girl and pushed me aside as if I was just a useless obstacle. He laughed and put his arm around a pretty girl’s shoulder. If I do. I stood in front of him and waved. Not when you were in love with somebody.was dark. A bird singing outside woke me up. I touched his arm. Five weeks. It was not enough. Kelsey. “No. I started crying. Please go. It was always taking away the people I loved. “Go!” He thrust me away from him and disappeared. “Ren? Ren!” I saw a figure through the fog. but I didn’t feel rested. He was healthy. “Come on. I turned in circles. and he was sitting in a cage in his tiger form. but he couldn’t feel my touch. He was laughing as he talked with someone. captured. I’d slept deeply. Y can’t be here. calling out for him. Not enough time. It was Ren. I grabbed his lapel and shook him. a prisoner. Even if I counted the time he was there but avoided me except for dates. He couldn’t see me. And.” He changed to a man and touched my face. Bloody lacerations ran down his back. Let’s get you out of here. I’d dreamed of Ren all night. whatever situation we were in. blissful weeks was all we had together. Five short. and I can’t let that happen. he’ll catch you. How would . I knelt down. I can’t leave. it was only about two months. How cruel life was. and unhurt.” ou He kissed me briefly. Ren. strong. “Ren?” He didn’t hear me.

I got dressed and went downstairs to help Mr.” He set out a giant map of India and slid over a paper with the translation of the prophecy. If you’re ready. Kishan. Already eat breakfast? I’ll make you some cookies later if Mr. A sablefurred head bumped against my leg. the reality would be much worse.I keep on going without him? And yet…he was here.” “Sure. My parents too. . What else could possibly happen to me? I didn’t even want to consider anything else because I was sure that whatever I imagined. I could feel them so close I could almost touch them sometimes. “Ah. Kadam. “Good morning.” He huffed and settled at our feet. I had a pet snake that also functioned as a fashion accessory. and I leaned over to pet the tiger’s head. I was almost eaten by a sea-horse vampire monkey. I was so overcome by Ren’s abduction that I couldn’t even begin to process my Thor-like power. Miss Kelsey. Kadam has all the ingredients. It was the same with Ren only…stronger. He was busy working on the computer. Good morning. but I couldn’t help wishing it was a white tiger sitting next to me. I had a boyfriend who was a tiger most of the time. I picked up the prophecy and read through it. So many weird things had happened to me. and apparently I could shoot lightning from my hand. I was happy Kishan was here. I have some maps I’d like you to check over for me.

remain steadfast And find the navel stone. we’ll do better and bring the proper offering. We’d already guessed that much.Seek her gifts before all else For Durga’s blessing waits anew The place of gods begins your quest ‘Neath Noe’s glacial mountain blue Let ocean teacher ‘noint your eyes.” . Unfold the hoary sacred scrolls. We have to go to a temple of Durga first again. and siren’s nest And last of all look to the sky As iron guardians round you fly India’s masses shall be robed And rise in strength across the globe “Hmm…well. Discus routs and ‘chief’s disguise Can stave off those who would pursue Four houses shall your spirit testOf birds. gourds. bats. the first two lines are obvious. Which leads you to the heart of all Ancient history’s leafy throne Atop the world-tree is your airy prize Grasp bow and arrow let fly true . Teach arrant wisdom and advise Gates of Spirit he controls Paradise awaits. This time.

Ararat. so I focused on the prophecy again. Ararat is in modern Turkey. but Mt. I don’t believe the next item would be hidden in a place that far off the Indian continent. remind me to wear my bell anklet.” “Okay …but what led you to the Himalayas?” “A couple of things led me to that assumption. This line of thinking would only lead to sorrow. Ararat?” “Y have a good memory.” “As in Noah’s ark?” “Y es. I would have given anything to turn back time and make a different choice. What a waste. and there was a good possibility that I’d never set eyes on him again.“Y I have compiled a list of Durga’s temples all es. all those months we could have had together if I just hadn’t been so stubborn. I bit my lip and thought about when Ren had given me the anklet. over India.” “Umm…wasn’t Noah’s ark supposed to have landed on Mt. “The second thing is that the Bible story is not the . and its being the actual location of the ark has been hotly debated. Now he was gone. that’s the Himalayan mountain range? How do you figure?” “Noe is short for Noah. so it doesn’t make sense that it would be hidden on or near Mt. but I’d left. kidnapped. That’s what I thought at ou first. “Noe’s mountain. He’d begged me to stay with him. First.” Mr.” “Kishan. The prophecy mentions that the item would help the people of India. Kadam nodded and bent over his notes. and some that are in nearby countries as well.

sometimes a new set of eyes can help. the people were led to dry ground.“The second thing is that the Bible story is not the only one that describes a great flood. and the fish pulled him up to the mountains. “One similarity among all of them is that.” “It sounds like you’ve already given this a lot of thought. I’m hoping that you might be able to make a list of possible cities for me and perhaps think of a place I haven’t yet. He built a boat. Everest. Several locations have been suggested as a possible landing site. Climbing Mt. Everest is something only a brave handful of people have ever done.” “But you don’t think Kishan and I would have to…” “No. There’s Deucalion and Pyrrha of Greece. entire earth was flooded. a city with a wise teacher.” “I have.’ The mountain that makes the most sense to me is…” “Mt. what we are searching for is a city at its base. No. I wouldn’t think of having you attempt that.” .” “Y If you take the account literally and assume the es. Tapi of the Aztecs. In fact. et cetera. then the land that would appear first would be the Himalayan Mountains. but I omitted many of them for not being ‘of glacial mountain blue. The Epic Flood story of Gilgamesh. there is a myth that Manu saved the life of a fish who. In India. as you mentioned before. when the rains abated. many dozens of cultures have stories of a great flood that covered the earth. in turn. But. told him the flood was coming. et cetera. no. I researched and cross-referenced all of the flood myths.

“That’s it! Y ou’ve done it. maybe the teacher lives there on the other side of the Himalayas. “That’s called Lhasa. “A place of the gods…” He flipped open a book and looked in the index. Fingering through pages quickly. eyes twinkling.” “No. do you already have a list that you’ve come up with?” “Y Here. because it’s in Tibet.” es. The verse doesn’t mean the ocean literally. “Mr.” “Well. “Ocean teacher…spirit gates…yes… yes!” He slammed the book and grabbed me in a brief hug.” He ran to get a book on Tibet. not India.” “I don’t see it on your list. Possibly even the Dalai Lama himself!” “What? Lhasa is nowhere near the ocean.” Mr. He handed me a list. “Wait just a moment. he had already crossed off city after city within a severalhundred-mile radius of Everest. he began muttering to himself. Kadam froze.” “Ah.“Okay. Miss Kelsey!” “What did I do?” “Lhasa is the city ‘neath Noe’s mountain! Its name translated means city of the gods !” “What about the teacher who is supposed to show us things?” “That’s the best part! The ocean teacher is probably one of the lamas. and I went through one by one and checked each one off the map. Sure enough. Kadam…what’s this city?” It was north of Everest and written in Chinese. It . but the item we’re seeking is still hidden in India.

That might be a problem. unfold sacred scrolls.” “Are there any spirit gates in Tibet?” “None that I’m familiar with. “Sounds pretty easy to me. “Y es. Perhaps there is a different meaning in the prophecy.” “Okay …so we go to Lhasa and ask to meet with the Dalai Lama. I do know what the navel stone is.” “Okay …what about this navel stone?” “Ah. And the current Dalai Lama is living in exile in India. teach wisdom. and possibly lead you to the spirit gates. It’s possible that he would be the Ocean Teacher mentioned and yet the prophecy clearly indicates we need to go to the city ‘neath Noah’s mountain and begin our quest there. They are said to be the doorways between the secular world and the spiritual world. right. I believe it means that you are seeking an omphalos stone. Mr.means his wisdom is as deep as the ocean.” “Y don’t happen to have a good relationship with ou the current Dalai Lama.” I chucked the black tiger on the shoulder. right? Kind of like Ren’s grandfather did?” “No.” “What are those?” “Spirit gates mark entryways into shrines in Japan. Kishan?” He huffed and lifted his head. they cleanse themselves and prepare for the spiritual journey that will take place beyond. When people pass underneath them. It says here that the Ocean Teacher will anoint your eyes. Kadam mumbled. They are stones to represent the center of the world or the .

“It was supposed to be a way for humankind to communicate with the gods. “In my studies of the Golden Fruit. he or she would have a vision. and several were placed in the area of the Mediterranean. one in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. you can see into the future. the most famous of which is housed at the oracle of Delphi. It’s a mango tree that bears four kinds of mangoes believed to represent the four vedas or .” “So we find this omphalos stone and sniff its fumes or hold it. Some scholars have submitted that gaseous fumes were directed up through the opening of the stone. There’s a stone in Thailand. It’s also said that when you hold the stone. It flourished when the people were wise and good.are stones to represent the center of the world or the navel of the world. and it will show us to a world tree?” “Correct. but.” “What does it look like?” “It’s shaped somewhat like an egg standing on end with a hole in the top and carved webbing along the outside. the tree dimmed. I found a record of a special tree at the Kamakshi temple in southern India. There is a wish-fulfilling tree that took care of the needs of the people of India called the Kalpavriksha. and one is the foundation stone for the Jewish temple in the Dome of the Rock.” “And the tree?” “A world tree is another very common theme in many cultures and myths. when the nature of humankind changed. and when a seer stood over it and breathed in the gas.

with birds resting in the branches. Greece…you get the idea. Some even mention a giant serpent at the base. I get the idea. Miss Kelsey. These tests that are mentioned seem like they would fit that theme. So. right?” He laughed. but most of the myths refer to something very large. Do we at least know what type?” “No. Mesoamerica. we don’t eat the fruit.” “Now as for these…tests. In Hindu culture. in fact. I’ll just need to keep an eye out for the iron guardians. “Not all of the myths have fruit. “I sincerely hope not. So we’re looking for a special tree. yes. In Norse mythology. The stories all use examples of trees common to their lands. there is a test associated with most of them. these tests will be more mental exercise than physical. Hungary.castes. Do you think there’s anything scary that will try to eat me like the Kappa?” He sobered instantly. Do you think it means clothes?” . it’s a fig tree called Ashvastha.” “Gotcha. I’m encouraged by the word paradise. they selected an oak tree to represent the sacred world tree. but you’re right.” “Right.” “Hmm. Lithuania. I hope. and the roots are supposed to sink into the underworld. Mongolia. In Slavic and Finnish mythology. The leaves tie earth to heaven. Y might think of it as the Tree of Life. there is a tale of a world tree named Yggdrasil. I wonder what it means that India’s masses may be robed. ou There are such trees mentioned in the cultures of Korea. Bottom line. it says we have to ascend to the top to find the prize and pass through four tests. Siberia.

or at least as much as you can. Kishan?” The black tiger huffed in response.” “Exactly. Is that correct?” “Y es. Y said that Ren had to be in ou tiger form before Durga accepted your offering. I suppose.” “Do you think that will work? Will he agree to meet with us?” “I have no idea. Honestly.” “Then it would be wise to have a tiger accompany you. We will use Kishan instead of Ren. I don’t think Ren would want us to wait. it sounds like you’ve got this pretty figured out. you are amenable. Do you think it will work without Ren?” “It won’t hurt to try. if.” “But shouldn’t we wait for Ren? Shouldn’t we be seeking him first before we head off looking for the next item?” “Miss Kelsey.“It could be a symbol for royalty.” “Well. I’ll make some discreet calls and see if I can arrange for someone to meet with us in Tibet. which we assumed meant yes. It seems the next thing to do is go back to Durga’s temple.” “Meanwhile. I haven’t been successful in locating him. I glanced down and petted his head. of course. or perhaps even with the Dalai Lama. and I was hoping that when you discover the second item… ” “That we would be caught up in a vision again. She specifically noted the relationship between me and Ren.” “And that we might be able to figure out where . “Let’s just hope she’s color blind.

“Kishan. but it may be the only es. He worked with me on throwing someone much larger than myself. he chucked me under my chin and said he was proud of me. I’ll go.” I met Kishan in the dojo after changing into workout clothes.” “Alright. and that is exactly what I plan to do.” “I didn’t want to assume. Thank you. but that doesn’t mean you are obligated. Ren charged me with taking care of you.” I put my hand over his. Miss Kelsey. I’ve never considered you a coward. “Good. I’m willing to take the risk.Lokesh is. and then he put me through a stretching and strengthening workout. Kadam waved us off. I’ll be ou going with you. Now that that’s settled. “I’ll work with you a bit this afternoon. It’s going to be a little scary by myself. would you like to train for a few hours?” “That’s probably a good idea. ” Kishan growled and surged up in his man form.” His tight face relaxed and he said. which could lead us to Ren. We’ll see you later. clue we get. When he finally decided our session was complete.” “Y I know it’s a long shot. I’ll feel much safer with a tiger around.” “Okay. I’m obligated. Kelsey.” “Of course. Y can’t possibly believe I’d let you do ou this by yourself. .” Mr. I had to practice on him several times. “Y will not be going by yourself. He hissed. Y think I’m going to cower at home when you need ou my help? I’ll be going with you. perhaps after lunch.

like the kind in archery tournaments.” es. I just hope I don’t end up zapping you. and if that is successful. Let’s try practicing your lightning ability. Now. Kishan really put me through my paces this morning. Kadam. “What if it was just a fluke? Maybe it was a onetime thing.” I grimaced. Kadam. I’ll try. “If you aren’t prepared to throw off your attacker. Miss Kelsey. “I want to try stationary targets first. Patio steps led down to a cleared open area of ground the size of a football field that was surrounded on all sides by jungle. I’d never been out on the grounds before. “I don’t think I’m going to have the energy for another workout in sword fighting today. We finished lunch and headed back to the dojo and outside.” “Okay. He laughed and said. Y mentioned that it felt like a burning fire ou .” He deposited me in the chair across from Mr. He had set up bales of hay with target boards at different lengths. I was sore and tired.” “Y Do try to avoid that. We can try a different kind of workout instead. Kadam and grabbed some lunch for himself. you will have to suffer the consequences. He ran up the stairs two at a time while I pounded on his back. I’d also like to attempt moving targets.” He countered. Mr. you had said that you were angry and needed to protect Ren.” “That’s okay. Kishan ran up behind me and tossed me over his shoulder.Just as I was about to head upstairs to have lunch with Mr. “Maybe you’ve had the power all along and just never had the motive to use it.

Tiny black curls of smoke lifted. Kadam grunted and stroked his beard. Go for the next target and the next. Mr. pulsing light surged from my palm toward the first target and hit. I’d like you to set them farther back and side by side. and Mr. leaving only fragments of smoking hay. which burned themselves out as they floated. and then slowly dissipated. will you be so good as to set out more targets? This time. Thick.” I closed my eyes and pictured myself in front of Ren as he faltered behind me. white. and shot out my hand.” “Y eah…but I don’t want to do that to a person.” I blasted both of those targets in succession without any waning of the power. “Very effective weapon. I focused on it and encouraged it to expand. There was a hot spark that started nibbling at my stomach. It didn’t seem as destructive as that on the people. I let the feelings rush over and through me again and created a mental image of his captors approaching me. “I’d like you to try to expand your range to . flew up through my body. “Kishan. let’s practice the distance. rising into the sky. peppering the air. and a black blast mark where the target had been.” Kishan headed down the field.” “Let’s not worry about that quite yet. Kadam explained. It burst like a lava bubble. The entire target exploded like a fiery bomb. First.that started in your stomach and moved out to your hand. I want you to think back and try to capture that feeling again.

Try again. Not only did I obliterate the targets but also the trees on both sides of the field. I fired off a shot and only hit the far left target. It worked…too well. “Try again. Close your eyes for a moment and envision a Chinese fan. I held out my hand and let the fire travel up my arm. Kishan had to leap to the ground so it wouldn’t hit him.” “Al right. and. and you have to hit the whole length of it. I hollered out. As it traveled…I spread my fingers out like a fan. letting the bolt hit each of the targets. The thick white light shot out slower this time. willing the power to spread. “Very .” I focused on the targets at the other end of the field and waited for Kishan to move out of the way. Try to imagine something large like an elephant or a dinosaur. Miss Kelsey.” “Okay. okay?” He nodded and moved slightly behind. focus on widening it. Mr.” He rolled a finger in the air in a giant circle signaling Kishan to set them up again. “It’s okay. Kadam signaled Kishan in and said. as it leaves your hand. but stand behind me. Squinting into the sun. “Hmm…interesting adaptation. This time. I focused on sustaining the burst longer and moved my hand in an arc. Y hold the edge.encompass all three targets. I imagined holding the edge and lifted my palm toward the targets. spread ou it out in front of you so the blast spreads like a fan’s edges. Now we know you can maintain it. “Sorry!” He waved that he was alright.” This time. I’ll try.

He’d told them that he’d found a rare artifact that he needed my help to catalog and promised them that I’d write a paper about it. The dean seemed very understanding and willing to do anything he could to help. Kadam with notes in the morning and then worked out . “Very good! With a little more practice. After my school work was complete. hopes that you will be able to master this. Before I knew it. Kadam also made excuses at the college for Ren. I finished my finals. a month and a half had passed. Kadam’s explanation. Think only of targeting and widening your strike. Miss Kelsey. though. I couldn’t wait to hear what I’d be writing about. we will practice degrees and see if we can lower the strength of the bolt to incapacitate rather than …umm…” “Obliterate?” He laughed.” “Okay. ” “I hope your hopes are right. I will work with you tomorrow on focusing your power levels. I think you will be able to hit exactly what you want when you need to. Mr. I completed my term online.” The weeks flew by. I helped Mr. saying he’d had a family emergency and had to return to India. “Y It’s all about control. Thanks. I have high es.” “I would like you to practice a bit more with Kishan on this for the next few days.Mr. Kadam signaled Kishan in and said. which gave me something to focus on other than Ren. My teachers were fascinated by Mr. Tomorrow. and we fell into a routine.

I could hit them all at the same time and knock them over. “Oh. and I really didn’t want to be either one. The house felt different without Ren. for a minute. All I really wanted to do was help Ren and Kishan break the curse and be with Ren. It was very empowering but also very scary. and I learned several ways to incapacitate stronger opponents. In the evenings. Or. The afternoon was set aside for weapons practice. I worked with Mr. He was always trapped. Every time I tried to pull him out or rescue him.with Kishan until lunch. A dark head rested against the rocking loveseat. I could shoot a black hole through the bull’s-eye like an arrow. I could totally obliterate all or just the one I chose. One night. I dreamed about him every night. he stopped me and sent me away. I slid open the door and stepped out onto the veranda. He also kept teaching me hand-to-hand combat. The head moved. I kept to myself and read or wrote in my journal. I grabbed my blanket and headed out to the veranda. I woke up from one of my Ren nightmares and got out of bed. and. Kishan was teaching me how to take care of the weapons and which to choose in different types of battles. I was now able to control the level so I didn’t destroy my targets anymore. . Kadam in the early evenings on my lightning power. I could be a superhero or a bad guy. my heart stopped. I kept expecting to see him standing outside on the balcony. Or. “Kelsey? What are you doing up?” My poor heart fell back into a dormant state. either tied to the table or in a cage. With this kind of power.

If I would have left Y esubai alone. Kelsey.” I put my other hand over his. “I’m not going to let anything get to you. What are you doing out here? ” “I sleep out here often. “I never learn.” “No. I asked. pressed his eyes closed. The truth is…I was probably more distracted. It’s my fault it happened.” He moved over and invited me to sit beside him. and rubbed his temples. My parents ou would have lived normal lives. It would have been better if I’d never gone to America.” ou He leaned his head back against the cushion. everyone around me suffered. . and muttered to himself. He turned his over and clutched my fingers. I like being in the open air. Golden eyes pierced mine as if searching for the answer to a question he hadn’t asked. Ren thought I would be less distracted than he was. He tore his eyes away brusquely. cradling it between mine. and she wouldn’t have died. growled.” Confused. I doubt you need to keep watch over me while we’re here. “I should have been more vigilant.” I picked up his hand. Y wouldn’t be in danger now. “What do you mean? Why do you say that?” He looked at me. Nightmare.Hey. it’s not. “Everything that’s happened to us has been my fault. “What’s the matter?” He reluctantly met my gaze again. nothing would have changed. Because I couldn’t control myself. and it’s easier to keep watch on you. Kishan.” “I think I’m pretty safe here. She would have been Ren’s princess. Y couldn’t have stopped it.

I think that if I was sure of that. Lokesh is the one who did these things. and I would be dishonest if I said that I haven’t suspected her of acting as a pawn in her father’s game. When you do that. Our secret meetings were very brief. didn’t she?” He nodded. He turned his over and clutched my fingers. and Y esubai and I barely knew each other. Kelsey. there are prices to pay. I don’t really know if she loved me. Somehow.” “She tried to save the two of you. “It also makes sense because in my mind the only way she could have possibly refused Ren was if she loved you.” . He probably would have come after your amulets even if Y esubai hadn’t been a part of your lives. Y ou’re as good looking as your brother.” I squeezed his fingers. Besides.mine. I don’t see how she could have resisted you anyway. not you.” “I made a deal with the devil. Y esubai wanted be with you despite all of the negative ramifications. she was crazy. “She wouldn’t have gone against her father if she didn’t at least care for you. I’ve had a long time to think it over. I bet that even if she knew her life would be cut short. If she didn’t love you.” “I’m not entirely sure of that. you loved her. and you’re very charming when Ren’s not around. “It’s not your fault that these things happened. you’re sweet. which I have learned was a very rare thing to have happen during that time. then it would have all been worth it. “Kishan. she’d most likely go through it all over again. my life would have been much sadder without Ren and you in it. Love makes you do crazy things.

“Kishan. agreeing to go behind your brother’s back was the bad choice. Y ou’re obviously fixating too much on the past. Did you date anyone while you were home last fall? Did you go out or take some classes?” He looked away. Y chose to protect and stand by Ren and help him ou escape.” We sat and rocked quietly for a moment. am I in danger of repeating history? Y es. But. “Making mistakes is what makes us human.” I sighed. without hesitation. I whispered. But.” He leaned over and put his head in his hands. I mean.” “I don’t think you’re likely to betray your brother again. “It’s not the past I’m fixating on. it’s how we learn. anyway. “Right. you always have to face the consequences. I don’t want you spending all your free time watching over me. “Been in contact with Lokesh. I shouldn’t have trusted Lokesh.” “No. what’s bad is refusing to learn from it so you don’t repeat it. but.“Y ou’re right. He spoke quietly as if mocking himself. Y ou’d think I’d learn.” “Are you in danger of repeating history?” I teased.” He laughed self-depreciatingly. Y should be enjoying your new ou life. “For me it is. falling in love is not a bad choice. Not to repeat history. have you?” “I’d kill Lokesh if we crossed paths again. in the end.” He .” “It was still a mistake.” “Not in the way you’re thinking. When you make wrong choices or bad decisions. My mom always said that making a mistake isn’t bad. you chose your family.

yes. his expression vulnerable and solemn. It took me a long time to decide if I should even say anything. Softly. And. If Ren wasn’t with you. you’re as beautiful as Y esubai was. I’m a fairly candid.” I stared at his back surprised. He turned around and leaned a hip against the railing. “And it seems that the only girls I’m ever interested in…always belong to Ren.” “But I don’t get it. I know you love him. I feel…” He looked away from me as if embarrassed. kind of guy. he said.” He folded his arms across his chest.” He smiled dryly. Look. straightforward es. stop right there. “What kind of a man am I? How could this happen to me? Twice! It . but surely you…” “Kells. despite what you may think. what with her violet eyes and long black hair. “Are you serious? “Y I’m serious. To win you for myself. “But. I don’t joke about this kind of thing. He leaned over and stared at the lit pool below. He watched my reaction cautiously. “Kishan. At least not when I know there’s absolutely no chance you’d have me anyway. Kelsey. “Classes don’t interest me much. Y esubai I understand.” I sat back on the bench. Y heal ou what’s broken and give me hope that I can have a life again. I’m not teasing you or playing any games. Hear me out. I’d do everything in my power to keep you in my life. and I’d never think about trying to take you away from him. shocked.” He stood and walked over to the rail. I—” “Wait. Y ou…calm me. “I don’t handle rejection well. and growled.sighed. I stammered.

I didn’t mean to burden you with this. Kells. “Well. It saddened me. I knew he was speaking sincerely.” He turned back to me. “No such thing in India. I said.” He was different when Ren wasn’t around. I decided to try to lighten the mood. you know. and we sat down.” “Hmm.” He scoffed. I knew that he needed to recover from the past as much as Ren did. He let his vulnerability show and didn’t cover it up with the arrogance and bluster that he always produced to bother Ren. We’ve come full circle now.serves me right. His heartfelt words affected me deeply. I’d date you in a heartbeat. I meant it to be brief. believe me. Y have a lot to ou offer. Speaking of that. but he held on as if I was his only anchor to humanity. I never said thank you for punching Ren and making him come after me in Oregon. you’re probably right. Dating isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be. if Ren wasn’t around. Mr. They want to match you up for marriage too quickly. which is why you should be looking around. She always said that the best thing you can do to support someone is be their friend and be honest. I would have never been brave enough to go . Kishan. just forget I even said anything. “Please forgive me. I know. for the record. I adopted my mother’s no-nonsense approach to difficult situations. I patted his back and broke away. Ren wins. I stood and hugged him. This time. Look. okay? It’s a moot point anyway. It’s fair. Kadam could probably arrange a few blind dates for you. I pulled him back to the seat.

I have a grouchy side you haven’t even seen yet. It’s probably just my cooking you love anyway.” I heard him mumble softly. I would’ve gone after you to get you for myself. and we might be having an entirely different discussion right now.” He just raised an eyebrow and said nothing. I have a friend and a hero. I punched him lightly in the arm. Good night. Despite my assurances that I would be fine without him watching over me. I’m here now.” “Don’t make me out to be the hero. Kells. I let myself imagine what would have happened if Kishan had come for me at Christmas instead of Ren. Y feelings our are probably just temporary. the more annoying I’ll become. Sleep came upon me. “Don’t worry. Kishan. I make a mean double chocolate chip peanut butter cookie. If he hadn’t gone.” “Good night. I might not even be with Ren if it wasn’t for you. bilauta.” “Good.” I turned at the door. “Right…cooking.” For a minute.” “Can we agree to be friends?” “I was always your friend.” “Don’t remind me. brought on by the stress of losing Ren mixed in with maybe some transference issues left over from your past. I’m sure the more you get to know me. “And don’t worry.” “But you were my hero. it felt nice knowing there was a tiger sleeping on the deck. For . The truth is…I wanted you back probably as much as he did.back to him.

once. I didn’t have any nightmares. .

Since we discovered that the city we were looking for was Lhasa. It was like I had some inner ability to auto-focus. I was getting stronger and felt confident that I could hold my own in a fight…not because of my physical strength but because of the lightning power. and I just knew where I needed to aim. I could take out a weed all the way across the field and not damage the surrounding grass. That ability came easily for me.CHAPTER 12 We kept up our schedule for another couple of weeks. Kadam was spending most of his time trying to find Ren now. and he felt that if we began our journey . Mr. the rest of the prophecy fell into place.

” He handed me a book. I’ve never even heard of it. Have you ever read it?” “No. and gloves. I found a connection between this book and our quest. After the latest package had arrived. I headed downstairs and said. yes. “What’s this? ” “It’s called Lost Horizon by James Hilton. we’d find what we were looking for. and assorted hats soon filled a corner of my closet. Before we left. and other various toiletries. which included sunglasses. pants. As in special nightclubs in old Hollywood movies? I think there might even be a casino in Vegas by that name.” “Ah. Kadam.” “What is it? A special new jacket that will keep me warm in an avalanche. I have something interesting to show you. anyway?” He chuckled. Mr. Kadam had purchased new clothes for me. come in. “Mr. “Come in. maybe?” “No. no. we had to make another trip to a temple of Durga. a dozen pair of wool socks. wool and fleece sweaters. thick. long-sleeved T-shirts. Several pairs of hiking boots. Boxes started arriving in preparation for our trip. Do you have some time now to discuss it?” . yeah. insulated snow boots.” “Have you heard the term Shangri-la?” “Well. insulated pants in a variety of styles. it looks like you’re having me climb Everest after all. GORE-TEX jackets. Miss Kelsey. a pair of white. though. sunscreen. Here. well.there. Just how many bags do you expect me to take.

“What’s truly interesting. but it has many hidden secrets. Many have searched for such places and have never found them. The city was set in the Kunlun Mountains. When I returned. though. Do you know this book draws upon several famous cities and their stories? There are ties to The Holy Grail. the term Shangri-la has come to mean a place of happiness. Maybe it would be better not to know all . In the modern world. “Lost Horizon is a book written in 1933 describing a utopian society where the inhabitants live exceptionally long lives in perfect harmony with one another.” “Y that’s what I’ve come to believe. fantastic. a paradise. the people are searching for something that will grant immortality or a land that holds a perfect society. and Hyperborea of the Greeks. The City of Enoch. fascinating. The Fountain of Youth. The more I learn. or a paradise. is that Mr.” es. which is part of the Himalayas. This myth is es. All of those accounts are similar to the story of Shangri-la. the harder the task seems to be. Even the Garden of Eden has many comparable themes—the tree. beautiful gardens. Hilton based his story on the ancient Tibetan Buddhist myth of Shambhala.” “So we’ll be searching for Shangri-la through the spirit gates.discuss it?” “Y Let me just tell Kishan to come listen too. “In every story. and Kishan came in and settled himself on the floor in front of me. El Dorado.” “Well. the snake. a utopia. a mystical city that is isolated from the rest of the world. I made myself comfortable in the chair.

The only thing that kept me going was knowing that I was doing this for him. nobody has ever come close to finding Shangri-la?” “No. So they were unsuccessful?” “That is correct.” “Would you rather I didn’t tell you?” I sighed.” “Hmm. In fact. It seems that Adolf Hitler believed that Shangri-la held the key to the perfect ancient master race. It might seem less daunting. . I always felt safe. but I felt nervous. that is interesting. It helps to have a frame of reference. I wouldn’t even allow myself to think that he might not live through the next few weeks. but despite all the emotional turmoil associated with that. but I’d always had Ren with me.this stuff. Now. He had to. scary adventure loomed before me. He even sent a group led by a man named Ernst Schäfer on an expedition to Tibet to find it in 1938. I knew he’d protect me from the evil monkeys and the Kappa. I fought with him half the time and kissed him the other half. I would still go through to the end for Kishan’s sake. We went back to our normal routine for the next few days. I’d been through some scary experiences the last time we did this. I need to know. “No. So. Not that people haven’t tried.” Mr. Kadam gave me Lost Horizon to read and warned me that we would most likely leave by the end of the week. I came across an interesting piece of information. and I wanted him with me so desperately that a hollow ache filled my insides. Life without him would be meaningless. a new.

I couldn’t abandon him. His voice sounded the same. but his thoughts were always insightful. I even forgot who I was speaking to and called him Ren accidentally. Kishan was melancholy enough on his own. And if I talked to Mr. Tension floated through the house the entire week. Kishan seemed more careful than Ren. It wasn’t in my nature. There were definite similarities between the brothers. He was easy to talk to like his brother. but there were several differences too. but it wouldn’t be the same without Ren. there were things he said. He was hard on himself and felt immense shame and selfrecrimination over our situation. and I felt even more confident of my own abilities. and I found that I genuinely liked him. I knew he would protect me the best he could. Kishan and I didn’t speak again about his feelings for me. . Sometimes. but I knew it hurt him. Though willing to discuss any subject. Kadam about it. he always looked guilty. and stopped sleeping whenever I mentioned how hard it was for me without Ren. But. he was slow to answer. buried himself in research. Each hour that passed produced no leads for finding him. He practiced with me every day. He said it was understandable. It was a little awkward at first between us. It was awkward to talk about Ren with Kishan anyway since his confession. but we both doggedly ignored the subject and our relationship became easier. though. so I didn’t bother talking to him about it. words he chose.I would still go through to the end for Kishan’s sake. that reminded me of Ren. For example.

a city called Bhaktapur. we headed off on our trip. then we agreed to pay fines and taxes to the government of Nepal. it meant we had to promise to take our vehicle back out after a certain time. It took two days just to traverse India. Talk about a bad hair day. Khan and featured an older picture of me from high school. Kadam took me out in a rickshaw to see the Birganj clock tower. and Mr. When we got back to our rooms. It also ensured that we’d agree to obey the laws and policies of the country while visiting. and Mr.Finally. the day arrived for us to leave. After we got settled. and we crossed into Nepal at the Birganj-Raxaul border. Kadam had to go through a long process of paperwork at the border and said we had to show proof of The Carnet De Passage En Douanes—a customs document that allowed us to temporarily import our vehicle into Nepal. Kadam paid for our rooms. sculpted tower with a clock on each of the four sides. Kadam had traveling papers for each of us and explained that we would actually be driving through three different countries. We stopped at the hotel Juhar. H. With Kishan settled in Ren’s spot. The Jeep was loaded with our bags. We also stopped at a local vegetable market and picked up some breakfast for the next day. I peeked in a bag and saw that my passports and papers now said K. and if we didn’t. It was a tall. we left Kishan to nap at the hotel. Kishan . Our destination was Nepal. It had been constructed next to a sun temple resting in the middle of a large circular pool. Mr. Basically. Mr.

and food carts lured us closer. He picked chicken. and Mr. Jewelry and metalwork shop owners were also kept busy with the many customers who passed by. It was full of nuts. and peaceful. Vegetables. “This is called Durbar Square. Kadam explained. but with cumin and turmeric added. we got up early and drove to Bhaktapur. Kadam checked us into our hotel. and cinnamon. This building is a palace built by King Bhupatindra Malla. No rickshaws or taxis were allowed in the area. a curried meat with rice dish. We bought some of the famous honeyed yogurt. gods. fruits. and thuckpa. but it was also available in mutton or buffalo. As we walked. Kadam ordered chatamari for me.accompanied us to dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. He ordered masu. clean. . We left the market area and entered the main square. a fried rice dish. He said that it kept the square quiet. Kadam told me it was made from buffalo milk. Mr. called kuju dhau. Many of the pottery pieces were colorfully painted and were made of black clay. raisins. but the dough was made of rice flour. Kishan got vegetable pulao. I picked a few toppings that I was familiar with. animals. mutton masu. which I didn’t know they had in Nepal. It’s now a national museum. We passed a large market featuring dozens of different kinds of pottery. which seemed to be a common material. The next day. and then we walked over to the main square. and goddesses. for himself. Mr. Stands displayed masks of demons. a kind of Nepalese pizza. Mr. a stir fried egg noodle dish.

“I wonder if it works on were-tigers.but it was occupied by the royal family until roughly the mid-eighteenth century. Such was the power of his dream. and it rests on the temple’s plinth. The peal of the bell was so loud and so strong that the creatures left them alone. but in his dream. It’s made of bronze.” “That is very possible. When the king awoke. There’s a giant bell up there. Many people still say that dogs will bark and whine each time that bell is rung. As long as the townspeople followed the signal of the bell. The stories vary.” “Y It’s called the Taleju Bell.” “In his dream.” . there’s what we’re looking for—the Vatsala Durga Temple. dog-like creatures attacked the people during the night. he immediately ordered a special bell to be made.” “Its nickname is the Barking Bell. The bell was cast and used to signal curfew for the townsfolk.” “Dog-creatures? Sounds like werewolves. nightmarish. the only way to frighten the creatures away and save the people was to ring a bell.” I elbowed Kishan. Kadam. I didn’t need to wear my bell anklet after all. Mr. but it had a brick patio surrounding all sides. Would you like to hear the story of the bell?” “Sure. es. It was cone-shaped like the Virupaksha Temple in Hampi. One of the ancient kings who lived here had a dream. they were believed to be safe. Ah.” Two stone lions guarded the entrance to the temple. “Hey.” “That’s a good story. Two large posts supported a giant bell on the side of the building.

They’re part of the national dress here.” Something told me he wasn’t speaking of the same thing I was. “Sorry if I bored you. Muslim men wear taqiyahs. Some churches require you to wear hats while others require you to remove your hat. Though men covering their heads is a common enough religious practice. Miss . It’s a reminder to them that God is always present and that your head should be covered to show respect.” He looked at my open-mouthed expression and laughed. and teased. Gentlemen tip their hats as a greeting. “Don’t bet on it. Military dress often requires a hat as a sign of solidarity and uniformity. I desperately searched for something I could say to change the subject. also consider that royals wear a crown or a tiara to show power. I don’t believe they have to wear a certain style of hat here. really. I asked Mr.” Kishan caught my elbow. “In many cases. you won’t be able to easily frighten him off. Tigers are very focused creatures. The style is not as important as the symbol. Consider the Jewish yarmulke or kippa. I believe. But. works on were-tigers. “What kind of hats are they wearing?” “It’s called a Bhaad-gaaule topi. Hats are a fascinating subject. Most of the men walking around wore tall caps on their heads.” “Is it a religious thing?” “It is a cultural choice to wear it more than a religious one. pulled me closer. Y would also see them in ou Afghanistan and Indonesia. wearing a hat is a way to show humility before God. If a tiger comes after you.

please.” “I would hope so.” He smiled. It’s one of my personal foibles. es. Religious travelers. All of es. and then there is a smattering of Muslims and Christians. But.” “So there obviously are. “Thank you. Y ou ou’re very handy to have around and more interesting to listen to than any other teacher I’ve ever had. Durga worshipers here at one time or there wouldn’t be a temple here.” “Was this town on the major trade route?” “Y It was a very rich and prosperous town. Are there Buddhist temples here as well?” He answered. you are like a walking encyclopedia on every subject imaginable.Kelsey. and India. about 10 percent are Buddhist.” I said with a laugh.” “Mr. and traders came. “I’ll let you know.” “If I ever become bored. Y never bore me.” “Why were animals needed on the holidays? For .” “So missionaries have been here. merchants. Kadam. as well as some of the old indigenous religions still around. Nepal. are Hindu. “Y roughly 80 percent of Nepalese es. the towns on the caravan route became affluent and flourished from the spices and goods traded between the lands of India and China.” “Y When trade was more frequent between Tibet. or were. several Buddhist monks entered Nepal and brought their canonical texts. The roads were congested with herds of sheep and other animals brought in for the Hindu holidays. feel free to let me know if I ever get carried away on a particular subject.

But you’re right about the respect thing. It’s pretty obvious. “I don’t have to look to know you and Ren are above average. too nice.” He teased back. “I’m not that fond. Kadam stopped to speak with someone about the temple. squirmed under his heavy arm. But. To think. you of all people being jealous of a goddess. so in response. Kells. and teased. “It’s nice to know you’ve been looking.” Kishan grinned and took my comment as an excuse to put his arm around my shoulders and rub my bare arm. I just can’t imagine doing it. gave him a long look. “And we’re fond of you too.” “I know. especially since I happen to be very fond of two male animals in particular.” It felt nice. I guiltily overreacted.” “I wonder why she was only interested in the male animals. Sheesh! Take liberties . I elbowed Kishan again. male animals were sold and sacrificed to Durga on certain days of the year. She is helping us after all.” Kishan laughed. It’s just that animal sacrifice bothers me. “Y could be a little more ou respectful.” I blushed. specifically.” “I’m only teasing you. I’d say she would need to look no further. She does have a thing for tigers. If she’s looking for flawless male specimens.” I mumbled as Mr. and tried to push it off. “Maybe it would be better to keep you and Ren away from her. Kelsey. and you two are in the well-above-average category. Even though I was raised Christian and the Bible talked about animal sacrifice too.feasting?” “In part.

Kadam turned back to us with eyes brightened. He’d gone back to the other temple of Durga during my time in Oregon and taken pictures of the pillars I couldn’t remember. I feel …lectured out at the moment. and we continued our tour. but there were no doors or locks.much? Ever heard of asking a girl first?” Mr. Kadam walked with us to the front steps and handed me a bag full of various items to be used for an offering. “Y wish is my command. Each of the four pillars featured one of the four elements—earth. “Perhaps I will save that topic of discussion for another time.” I scowled at him. water. Miss our Kelsey. Kadam had either pulled strings or used his vast pocketbook to get us in alone after closing. We spent all afternoon walking the area and getting familiar with it and made plans to go into the temple at dusk the next evening. Now if only Kishan would follow my command to remove his heavy arm from my shoulders…” He leaned over and spoke softly.” I laughed. Officially. which had . the temple was closed.” “Thanks. and fire. air. Closing was a relative term anyway. He also learned that there had been a fifth pillar. “Did someone mention animal sacrifice? Actually. “I do want to hear about it. but maybe after we visit with Durga?” He bowed briefly. I…” He looked at my incredulous face and laughed. Mr. animal sacrifice is a very interesting topic. “Deal with it. Mr.

I was worried that if she came to life like the last time. a helium-filled balloon. The statue of Durga could be seen from the street in an alcove high above us. a kite’s tail. it had been destroyed years ago. a Chinese fan. which was common in the Hindu faith. We walked behind the building. which I took to be a sign she wanted to come along. Unfortunately. Mr. and I slid her up my arm. someone walking on the brick streets would see her. After much study. The third reason was that the object we were seeking was called an airy prize . around the stone porch surrounded by pillars. we decided that this object was related to air—one reason being that the Himalayas were the highest thing in the sky. and found the circular . We had chosen the pillar related to the earth the first time. Included were various types of bird feathers. So my backpack held different types of objects related to the air.once stood representing the element of space. We’d also included a couple of fruits for good luck. She had twisted up in armband position so I could wear her. and Kishkindha had been underground. so it fit. and a small prism that transformed light into rainbows. We passed between the stone elephant guardians and then the pair of lions. Kadam handed me Fanindra. a plastic airplane that flew on rubber band power. Another reason was that birds and other flying creatures were featured heavily in the prophecy. I wanted to be prepared. a toy sailboat. a tiny barometer. a wooden flute. Kishan and I climbed the stone steps that led up to the center of the temple.

and we could stand beside her on either side and still be hidden in the shadows. and then Ren changed to a tiger. It was dark and cool inside. I was nervous. I lifted my ankle.” “I’ll follow your lead. ask for wisdom and guidance. but I missed the light and warmth that always seemed to surround Ren. what we did last time was make an offering. and I took it. we come seeking your help once again. I was grateful for his steadiness. dark. . Will you grant us your aid and share your wisdom?” I turned to Kishan and nodded my head. The statue was set back about two feet from the outer wall of the temple. We moved back from the wall. Kishan walked beside me as quiet. I liked Kishan a lot. I ask your blessing as we go in search of the next prize that will help these two princes. That’s what seemed to work. ring a bell. then we moved back into the shadows. brushed my fingers across the tinkling bells.stairs leading to the top of the temple. We entered a small room and stood before a stone wall. “Great Goddess Durga.” He nodded and squeezed my hand. I knew the statue of Durga was on the other side. and cool as the temple surrounding us. “I’ll say something first and then it’ll be your turn. lit up from the streetlights below. He reached out for my hand. “Okay. and Kishan reached for my hand again. and smiled as I thought of Ren.” We pulled out all of our air offerings and placed them at the feet of the statue. The street lanterns from the square eerily lit the hallway leading to the statue.

He pressed his body against me.I turned to Kishan and nodded my head. I was trapped between him and wall. burying my face in his fur. but I ask you to help my brother.” He changed into his tiger form and almost disappeared in the dark room. “I …don’t deserve a blessing. “What happened is my fault. I leaned up on my tiptoes. Help me to protect her on this journey and keep her out of harm’s way. My longsleeved shirt that I’d worn over my T-shirt billowed around me. I squinted and covered my mouth and nose with my sleeve.” “Now change into a tiger. Keep him safe…for her. I shouted over the noise of the wind. I dug my hand into the scruff of Kishan’s neck. cold wind ripped through the building and rushed up the stairs. “This is the scary part!” The wind swirled dust around us in a cyclone and years of grit blew out of cracks and off the floors.” He looked at me for acceptance. which was good because he had to dig his claws in the floor to remain standing. I knelt down and wrapped my arms around Kishan’s neck. A stiff. kissed his cheek. “Thank you. Kishan nudged me back to a corner of the room to get me out of the powerful gusts of wind near the open windows of the temple.” “Y ou’re welcome. and whispered. He stood quietly for a moment and then spoke.” He glanced at me and sighed unhappily as he censured himself. Carvings that had been muted and dust covered began to appear. I put one . The floor changed—the wind and sand polished it until it looked like marble.

and a small breeze drifted through the building and blew all the dust away from her. She shivered delicately. it was beautiful and glistening. There was no boar this time. The stone flew away from its form like dust. Kishan was captivated by the goddess. It rotated until it had spun 180° and we were facing the statue of Durga. the wind died down. After about ten minutes. illuminating it. A rumbling shook the wall. He asked. I heard the sweet tinkling of bells and a beautiful voice said. It sneezed and sat at her feet. a familiar handprint had appeared. and let the energy crackle down my arm and into the wall. young one. The moon had risen and cast its light into the room.” I pulled him after me. Stone lips became ruby red and smiled at us. On the back wall behind the statue. The wall started moving. The tiger growled and shook itself. so that it appeared ethereal and dreamlike. placed my hand into the handprint. and the arms started to sway in the air. “Greetings. The room looked dramatically different. .” All of the items we had placed at her feet shimmered and then disappeared. Stripped of grime and years of dust. The sand-colored stone began to breathe. and we both stepped away. and I opened my eyes.arm around a pillar to support myself and the other around Kishan. Kishan changed to a man and stood beside me. It looked similar to the other statue with her many arms spread out in a fan around her and her tiger at her feet. your offerings have been accepted. “What happens next?” “Come on and watch.

Lifting a delicate. my dear one. With a tinkling voice. She relaxed her arms and reached up with an empty hand to take off her golden cap.uncovering her like a luminous gem buried beneath the sand. I’m so glad you were successful in finding the Golden Fruit. Durga turned her attention to me. and raised an eyebrow in beautiful confusion. She laughed. “Ah…Fanindra. my daughter. I need you to stay with Kelsey for a little while longer.” . her skin was soft and pale pink. I am also a tiger. pink limb. “Dear lady. “But who is this? Where is your tiger. and she stretched her body out to the goddess’s hand. Instead of gold. she said. she gestured to Kishan.” The snake hissed quietly and then relaxed on my arm and became inanimate again. a tinkling and happy sound that echoed in the room. daughter. and I took a few steps forward. “Kelsey. but its green jeweled eyes glowed softly while we spoke. Kishan smiled at her. “There is more work for you to do yet.” She turned to look at Kishan. Luxurious black hair tumbled down her back and over her shoulders. my pet. Kelsey?” Kishan boldly took a step forward and bowed deeply over her outstretched hand.” She gestured that I should come closer. “I sense you are sad and troubled. Fanindra’s top half came alive.” He changed to his black tiger form and back. She patted the snake’s head fondly. She looked back at me and noticed the snake wrapped around my arm. Tell me what causes you pain. tilted her head.

it is to help you on your journey.” She stretched out a soft hand and caught a glistening teardrop. It helps all of India. there is someone I want you to meet.“Ren. “Don’t fret. Kelsey. and don’t let it or the Golden Fruit fall into the wrong hands. Take it with you and use it wisely.” She smiled at me sadly.” “What should we do with the Golden Fruit?” “For now. She gave it to Kishan. Guard the object well. but I have little time for anything else.” A tear dropped off my cheek.” I sniffed and wiped my eyes on my sleeve. We were hoping you could help us locate him.” She blinked and stared straight ahead as if she could see something we couldn’t.” “What is the airy prize we seek?” “To answer that question. She smiled at me sweetly. I can counsel you on finding the next object. finding the objects would hold no meaning for me. I watched as it hardened and became a twinkling diamond sitting on top of her fingertip. I heard a rhythmic click-clacking . has been taken prisoner and we can’t find him. who was delighted with the gift. the white tiger. I promise you that I will watch over your white tiger for you and keep him from harm and…oh…I see. that the quest I send ou you on doesn’t help only your tigers. “But. “My power is…limited. “Y must remember. without him.” She raised a pink limb and pointed behind us to the back of the room. It is vital that you retrieve the sacred objects. dear one. “Y es…the path you take now will help you save your tiger.

rainbows to make it iridescent. I’ve never seen colors our like those before.” “Y threads are beautiful. Grandmother?” “These long threads are called the warp and these colorful ones are called the weft. “Grandmother. A small loom was set in front of her. I heard a rhythmic click-clacking noise. Wisps of her gray hair stuck out of a faded red handkerchief. In the moonlit corner of the room sat an old. they our . “The world. I asked. After a moment. fairy wings to give it sparkle. and Kishan and I turned around. strong. gnarled woman on a wooden stool. The warp threads are thick. Here. She wore a simple homespun brown dress with a white apron. Come and feel the fabric. but. without them.” She cackled. but I must teach you es. I weave the world.” I grasped Kishan’s hand and stepped closer. and I watched quietly for a moment as she pulled beautiful threads out of a large woven basket and twisted them around the shuttle as she wove the threads back and forth through the loom. the weft have nothing to cling to. I stretched out my fingers to touch the material. two things about weaving. and often plain. “It has power!” “Y There is great power here. It tingled and crackled. my young one. and clouds to make it soft.back of the room.” “What is it. Y tigers cling to you. “I use gossamer to make it light. what are you weaving?” She replied in a kind but weary voice.

you will begin to understand. A good piece of cloth must be versatile.” es. I watched her as the rhythmic click-clacking noise began again. She slowly faded from sight. and I have woven great threads of power in this piece. Grandmother?” She leaned closer to me and whispered conspiratorially. ou “Don’t allow yourself to become disheartened when the thread doesn’t suit or seems unsightly to you. This one can collect. Y must trust her.” “There is one more thing.need you. we could hear only the sounds of the loom and then nothing at all. As the threads twist and turn. “What else do you need to teach me. wizened cheek and thanked her again. soon. Kelsey?” “Y I will. If you focus only on the thread given to you. Be patient and devoted. We turned to face Durga again.” I nodded in understanding. I kissed her on her soft. Grandmother. who was petting her tiger’s head and smiling at us. and you will see the pattern finally materialize in all its splendor. Y must learn to take a ou step back and visualize the whole piece. craft. you lose sight of what it can become. “Masterful weaving makes exceptional cloth. “Will you trust that I will look after your tiger. Without you. Durga has the ability to see the piece from beginning to end. and cloak. Her eyes twinkled. they would blow away in the winds of the world. and the shuttle started moving again. Guard it well. . Fulfill many purposes.” “Thank you.” I let go of Kishan’s hand and stepped close to the old woman. Wait and watch.

and he seemed delighted by it. “Patience. “Now. She handed Kishan a golden discus. It even made him bold enough to press a warm kiss on the back of her hand. “Thank you. I guess she likes him. . my beautiful goddess. Kadam about that when we get back. I’ll have to ask Mr.” I rolled my eyes at him. He was very handsome. “Wonderful! Now. Huh. and Kishan stepped forward.” She began rotating the weapons in her arms and came to the bow and arrow set. bewitched by Durga. She raised the bow. Goddess. “I will gladly accept anything you offer me. and I couldn’t be sure. Overstep boundaries much? I wasn’t jealous. I will choose something for you. I have a gift for you as well. Sheesh. who was grinning goofily. but I thought I saw a little dimple where she twitched her mouth up in a small smile.She beamed. Didn’t Zeus have affairs with mortals? Hmm. I looked at Kishan. She nodded her head slightly in acknowledgement. before I send you on your way. I need to give you something to take with you.” She turned to Kishan and smiled. my ebony one.” He bowed deeply and grinned rakishly at her. I curtsied. I was more shocked that he would act that way with a goddess. but this…is for my daughter. I just hope she doesn’t expect me to sacrifice him to her.” She handed me a medium-sized golden bow with a quiver of gold-tipped arrows.

” He smiled and held out his hand. The soft skin hardened into stone. you’re my warp and I’m your weft. He grimaced. I’ve still got you. Remember. Use it to….” He laughed at himself.” She turned to me again and got back to business. When you obtain the object. so I cleared my throat. Y ou know. Her tinkling voice echoed.” She froze up again. “Drat! I have to ask her questions first the next time we do this!” Wind blew through the room. “Hello. “Don’t worry about it.The two of them were just staring at each other. They will test you. So is there anything else we need to know before we head off? We were thinking Lhasa and the Himalayas. “Beware of the four houses. ou’re right. That wasn’t very nice of me to say. Use what you’ve learned.” . Kells. Kishan. “Y esss…” her voice started fading. and he visibly withdrew into himself.” He’d stood watching until Durga was gone from sight. Kelsey. “Maybe I can find a support group. “Y eah. and the statue began to move and was soon facing the street outside. “She is…exceptional. and her limbs returned to their former position. “Ah-hem. Earth to Kishan.” I snickered.” I giggled but then became sad. it will help you escape and help you find the one you love. “I’m sorry. searching for Noah’s ark and Shangri-la. “Y Y es. So what is it with you and unattainable women anyway?” The light faded from his eyes.

” The moon had disappeared behind the clouds. knock it off. He took my .” I teased.” “A trekkie?” “I’ve got to introduce you to Star Trek . I don’t think my warp drive is operating within normal parameters. Y ou may like it.” He grinned. “Too bad Scotty can’t beam us out of this crazy life.“Y eah. ebony one . We’ll start easy. “Didn’t get enough flirt time in with the goddess. Maybe with E. huh?” His brows knit together in confusion. “Sorry. anyway. Kells. “Just ignore me.” “Hmm. It doesn’t work on me.” “Who’s Casanova?” “Never mind. when we’re not fighting demons. huh? Well. Someday. my lovely.T. “Then I’ll keep trying until I find something that does.” He laughed and followed me downstairs. It’s a television series and not one but several movies. confused.” He tilted his head. “Come on.” I mumbled. Let’s go find Mr. Casanova.” “Don’t hold your breath. I couldn’t resist.” I rolled my eyes at him again and headed down the stairs. “Whatever you say. I’ll teach you all about science fiction. Not too flattering for me. Dad was a trekkie.” He shrugged his shoulders. Kadam. and the temple walls and floors were covered with the same grime and dust as when we entered. eh?” “Y ou’re a beautiful warp. “What’s a warp drive?” I winced. “After you.

hand again and together we stepped out into the dark night. .

When we asked if he’d noticed the statue moving. He always took the look-out position and said he had assumed that Durga would appear only for me and the tigers.” Kishan scowled at me while Mr. Kadam outside the temple. Kadam’s face lit up . I told him that he should come with us next time. He hadn’t felt the wind either. and then I’d have to bring both of you out of your love stupor. He thought that his presence might deter us from our course.CHAPTER 13 We met Mr. I teased. he said that he hadn’t. “Of course. you’d probably fall under Durga’s spell the same as Kishan. if you did come along.

please! Exaggerate much? Ren never reacted that way. Kadam the attention I normally did. but Kishan couldn’t stop praising Durga and her lovely feminine features.with delight.” I scoffed. Kadam our weapons. and rebirth. We’ll buy you a . Her ruby lips. Kadam talking about how the discus represented the sun. “She’s…okay .” “It can’t hurt to try. soft limbs. “Are you going to yell like Xena when you throw it? No! Even better.” Kishan began gushing. “Her beauty surpasses all other women. which was the source of all life and that the circle was a symbol of the cycle of life. Kishan was going on and on about the goddess this and the goddess that and was twisting his discus in the light so the gleaming gold reflected on the walls of the hotel room. Kadam laughed.” Mr. I did try.” When we got back to the hotel. I stood in the door frame between their connecting rooms and mocked. and long dark hair would be enough to cause any man to lose control of his faculties. “Oh. then?” I responded. “The goddess is beautiful. “Perhaps Ren had a reason to look else-where. and then you could always leave and we’d try it again. “I would very much like to meet her if it will work. The worst that could happen is nothing.” Kishan glared at me. we showed Mr. death. I was too annoyed to give Mr. I listened for a while and heard Mr.

” “Of course it is. but he just picked me up and moved me to the side. Well. anyway. “I am not jealous.” “Hmm. Without the . I blocked his way. Y want him to ou ou find happiness.leather kilt. the fabric couldn’t be completed. “What do you mean?” “Y ou’re protecting him. “No. At least not in the way he might hope. Leaving his hands on my arms for a moment. all of your maternal instincts are focused on Kishan. bilauta. Ren’s and Kishan’s threads weave around you. Without your strength. Flustered.” “A male lion cannot hunt for himself. “Exactly. “Perhaps you are jealous. I sat in the chair next to him and muttered.” He closed the connecting door behind him.” He got up and walked toward me.” “Protecting him from what? His own delusions?” He laughed. leaving me alone with Mr. Kadam. And because Ren isn’t here. Not really.” “Miss Kelsey. a part of it is. “I hope your arrows are as sharp as your tongue.” “I don’t think what I feel for Ren is maternal. Do you remember what the weaver told you about the different threads?” “Y She said I’m the warp.” I sat up straighter.” es. Y care for him.” Mr. he leaned over and whispered.” His golden eyes turned to me. “No you’re not. do you know much about lions?” “No. Kelsey. Kadam looked at me thoughtfully.

Miss Kelsey.” “But isn’t that what you’ve done for him all these years?” He chuckled. which warns away predators and other lions. but the odor is so strong that it also scares off prey. Something to hold onto. Not a crusty old man. I’m just saying that he needs …hope. oily musk from their manes.” “I’m not asking you to. “Crusty and old are two words I’d never use to describe you.“A male lion cannot hunt for himself.” He patted my hand.” “I can be his friend. I love Ren. and Lokesh screamed in my ear that I needed to choose. I won’t give up on him. But a young man needs a young woman who believes in him. That’s why the females hunt. But. Of course. “Oh. both brothers were standing in front of me. is what Kishan needs. His mane also makes it more difficult for him to hide.” I got up and hugged him. We leave early in the morning. yes.” “My point is that a lion without a lioness dies.” “Why can’t he hunt?” “Male lions emit a strong. Kishan needs you.” “Good night. Perhaps even more than Ren does. “A friend…someone who cares about him and loves him and won’t let him give up on himself. Choose which one would . I’ll even hunt for him.” “But I can’t be all things to both brothers.” “I’m not sure I’m getting the point. Without the female he would die. so get some rest.” When I dreamed that night. Good night.

I only praised her beauties so much to get a rise out of you. by all means. If you want to fall in love with a goddess then. Kishan was quiet and asked if he could carry my bag. Y don’t have to remind me. “Women don’t like hearing men talk about other women. I wasn’t being very sensitive.” I turned around in my seat.” . Kishan and I sat in the Jeep while Mr.” He snorted. Kells. and when you weren’t. Don’t worry about me. Honestly. you know I still feel…” “I know. I know. and we climbed in the Jeep. We drove about ten miles to Kathmandu. It was rude of me to go on like that. go for it.” He shrugged. I packed up my bags and met Mr. Kadam went into a building to finalize paperwork for our trip through the Himalayas. Kishan. I was still pondering my choice when the courtesy wake-up call rung me awake. “ and which one would die.” “Well. Kishan’s face tightened and he looked away from me knowing that I wouldn’t pick him. the largest city and capital of Nepal. “I’m not falling in love with a goddess. it …bothered me. Kishan? I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for acting like a jerk yesterday. Ren smiled sadly and nodded toward Kishan.” “Oh. I handed it over. Kadam and Kishan in the lobby. “What? Why would you do that?” “I wanted you to be jealous. Y still ou ou love Ren. still.

” I muttered as I turned back into my seat. “That’s true. the happy endings would sort of take care of themselves. and he held it in both of his and grinned. es.” “Good. Kelsey . He changed to a tiger before I could verbally chastise him.” “Y do that. The best I could come up with was finishing the four tasks so they didn’t have to be tigers anymore. I seriously racked my brain for the next few minutes trying to find a happy ending for Kishan. I’ll hold you to that.” “Fine. “Promise?” I smiled back at him.” ou He kissed my fingers brazenly. “Kishan!” He laughed and finally let me go. I heard him growl softly but ignored him. “We’ve received permission to take the Friendship Highway tour route . I will create a mental list of what constitutes a happy ending and get back to you. At this point. “Promise. Maybe I should get it in writing. Mr. I.” “Good.“Y But it doesn’t mean that I don’t care about you. promise Kishan that he will get the happy ending he seeks. Meanwhile. holding them tightly while I struggled to pull my hand out of his grip. “Coward. my own happy ending wasn’t even a guarantee. I hoped that by the time we finished them. okay?” I reached a hand back to him. Remember?” His face brightened. Should I define the parameters for you now?” “Uh…no. Kadam returned and said. I’m your warp too. We’re all going to have happy endings. don’t forget that. I’d like to keep it vague for the time being.

Stark rocky glaciers rose up before us. only tour groups on buses are able to travel the Friendship Highway currently. The ground was . Kadam chuckled. but comparing the Himalayas with the Rockies was like comparing the Rockies with the Appalachians. and brochures so I could follow along and help him navigate.” “The emperor? Of China !” “Y Still. and Mr. It should take us about five hours just to hit the Chinese/Nepal border. map.” “Why did we have to get permission?” “The routes from Nepal to Tibet have been closed by the Chinese for decades. which is about 153 kilometers from here. Our first stop is Neyalam.” “Wow. So obtaining permission to travel on our own is something of a miracle. We leave immediately. Why does it take so long?” Mr.permission to take the Friendship Highway tour route to Tibet. I thought the Rockies were huge. we have to stick to the tour stops and es. The peaks were thick with snow. literally mountains to molehills. That’s only eighteen miles per hour.” He handed me the tour guide. How did you manage it?” “The emperor owes me a favor. 150 kilometers…that’s roughly ninety miles. check in at each place along the way so they can keep tabs on us. even though it was early May.” “Five hours? Wait a minute. “Y ou’ll see. Kadam told me the rocky landscape becomes tundra and then permanent ice and snow as you go farther up. In fact. Trees were small and scattered.

. He said there were some conifer forests in other parts of the Himalayas. and opium. They came in mostly black. indigo. I asked Mr. It was definitely slow going. spices. but we would be passing mostly through the grasslands. We were climbing at about ten miles per hour into the mountains. “Mr. When he said “you’ll see. The road wasn’t exactly up to standard.mostly covered with grasses. When that happened. but I did transport the drug in the beginning. They ep. but I also spotted some brown and even pure white ones.” “What kinds of things did you trade?” “Oh. looked like a cross between a camel and a cow. Kadam! Y were a drug dealer?” ou He winced. dwarf shrubs. It was started before I was born in the early 1600s. and moss. Herds of sheep also crossed our path. but it became a very big business by the mid eighteenth century. I owned several ships and funded large caravans.” I teased him. Kadam about the first company he bought into. silk mostly. “Not in the current definition of the word. Tea. To pass the time. “That would be the East India Trading Company. opium was touted as medicinal then. only with long fur. I stopped shipping it. But when China banned the opium trade. Cloth. Remember. no.” he wasn’t kidding. Kadam confirmed that they were yaks. and we bumped and weaved around potholes and sometimes herds of… “Are those yaks?” Y Mr. lots of things. we just had to wait the herd out. and opium was usually part of the cargo. saltpeter.

” We stopped near the China/Nepal border in a city called Zhangmu where we had to fill out paperwork at the border. saltpeter is also known as potassium nitrate. I never really thought about it that way.” “Okay.” “Huh.” “Ah. I began to focus most of my business in the spice trade. On this .“Others who were less scrupulous began to smuggle it into China.” “So you’ve always been in the cargo business then. but do you still have a ship? Because that would be so cool. ironically. Those were sold off with the company and have long since vanished.” “Oh. I have two questions for you. Is that why you like grinding your own spices so much?” He smiled. That action began the Opium Wars. The brochure said we’d be over thirteen thousand feet. Then. At that point. after a full day of driving and traveling only a total of ninety-six miles. but not one of my original shipping boats. What kind of a boat?” “A small yacht. “Y I still like to look for the best quality es. And. I should’ve guessed. products and enjoy using them in my cooking. Do you still have a ship? I know you kept a plane from that company. a food preservative. It was used to make gunpowder and is also. The Chinese responded by killing anyone found running opium into their country. The next day we climbed even higher. The second question is what’s saltpeter?” “The boys do own a boat.” “I guess I have. in answer to your other question. we drove into Neyalam and checked into a small overnight guesthouse.

“Where’d you find a straw? Where’d you find lemon for that matter?” He shrugged. We drove to Xigatse.” “No problem. Day three. Kadam left. Kells. “I don’t like seeing you sick. I don’t think there’s anything you can do. and he and Kishan saw the Tashilumpo Monastery while I stayed in the small hotel. Everest. He explained that it was common when traveling over twelve thousand feet. “We found a store that had some. Xixapangma. Mr. and Mr. I rolled over and waved them away. but for some it can take several days for their body to acclimate to the elevation. Mr. and he pressed a damp cloth to my forehead. I heard him come back. “It should pass.” He forced me to drink the entire glass and then . Kadam said he thought I had altitude sickness. Well…thanks. and stopped to take in the magnificent view of Mt. I brought you some lemon water. The rest of the day went by in a blur.” I groaned and tilted my chair back to rest my dizzy head. I started feeling a little sick.” He helped me sit up a little so I could drink.said we’d be over thirteen thousand feet. Most people adjust on their own within a few hours.” “Oh. When they returned with dinner for me. Kadam said it helps to hydrate. including Mt. “Here. On this section of the drive. I was disappointed that I couldn’t appreciate the scenery.” He left me alone for a minute. we saw six of the major mountains in the Himalayas. What can I do?” “Uh. but Kishan stayed.

It was something she’d been trained in. I asked. and massaged my temples with my fingers. placed my elbows on my knees. He watched me quietly for a moment and then said. “How are you feeling now?” “Better.poured another glassful from the bottled water they’d bought. “I didn’t know Ren had given you a massage. thanks. He placed his large warm hands on the sides of my head and started massaging my temples. After a few minutes. I’m going to do your arms and feet.” Kishan sat behind me and scooted me forward a little. I’m feeling better now. He finally let me stop after my third glass. Well.” “Oh. Y hands are so warm our they feel like heating pads.” “Good.” ou “Just relax. Close your eyes and let your mind drift. let me help. Do we have any aspirin?” He disappeared through the connecting door and came back with a small bottle. My headache’s almost gone now.” He stopped for a moment and then slowly began again as he spoke. it feels fantastic. “Here. Except my head is pounding. Mother taught us that massage can take away the . kneading away the stiffness that came from sitting immobile in a car for three days. Lie down and relax. Mother taught us. I downed two and then sat forward. When he got to my shoulders. he moved into my hair and down the back of my neck. “Where did you and Ren learn to give massages? Y ou’re both very good at it.” “Y really don’t have to.

and Mr. being on his own. “Quit peeking. and it’s extremely difficult to maintain a balance. It was almost like I was watching the tiger from a distance. His golden eyes flicked over to my face. I let the tiger take over.” “I was running. and I didn’t care.pains of the body and the spirit. especially when you’re a tiger for most of the day. but then I let out a deep sigh as he worked on my toes.” “Ren told me once that being away from me. I’m thinking.” He started working on my left arm and spent a long time on my hand. hunting…doing everything by instinct. After my parents died. He was focusing on the space between my thumb and forefinger. Kadam left searching for him. I cracked open an eye and looked at him.” I obediently closed my eyes again and waited patiently for his answer. Ren had been kidnapped. My mind doesn’t relax.” “That’s true. I felt completely detached from my surroundings.” “What is it?” “What was it like being a tiger for all those years?” He didn’t respond for a long moment.” “I can’t help it. Kells.” He moved to my feet. “It must have been terribly lonely. made him feel more like a beast than a man. The tiger’s strong. “It’s like the tiger and the man are always battling each other. I’m surprised I didn’t lose my humanity altogether. which tickled at first. there was no reason to be a man at all.” . The beast ruled. “Kishan?” “Y ou’re not relaxing.

I’ll try to change my attitude about it. and find a way to deal with my past. He was a captive. are you satisfied?” “For now. but I was sitting in a trap of my own design. Y need to ou ou stop thinking that way.” . and had to perform in the circus.” “How?” “I’m reclaiming my humanity piece by piece. at least in a limited way. I mean. I want you to tell yourself you’re a good man and you deserve some happiness. being a tiger is easy. There. Ren was more fortunate than you even though you were free. learn about the world. But.” He laughed wryly. I could have ou ended my solitude at any time and chose not to.” “If it makes you happy. Y have so much to offer to the world. he was trapped. “Why do you think that?” “Because he was always with people. I have to interact with people.” He tilted his head and moved to my other foot. “Alright. “I deserved to be punished. Kelsey. he was hurt.” ou He sighed. He never felt alone like you did.” He grinned at me.“Does it feel different now?” “Y es. “Y forget. I’m a good man and I deserve some happiness. being a man is difficult.” “Y did not deserve to be punished.” “In a way. He still had the opportunity to learn. but he was still a part of human life.” “I don’t understand how you could do that to yourself.

” “Y ou’re welcome. Kells. “Shh. I looked up into his sincere golden eyes and opened my mouth to explain to him again that I loved Ren.” “It wasn’t?” “No. turned off the light. He set his face and said. no matter what else happens…I want her to know that I will be eternally grateful for that. and shut the door softly.” “She’s the one who rescued me from my tiger skin and pulled me back to the surface.” He moved over to my other arm and began massaging my palm. “So what changed for you? Did getting six hours back as a man make enough difference for you to want to live again?” “No. I promise you. His expression changed. Don’t say it. okay?” “Okay. He smiled charmingly and placed my arm back on the bed. stepped through the connecting door. And.” “Good night.“Thank you. .” “Oh. that I will do everything I can to reunite the two of you and try to be happy for you. No words of protest tonight.” He lifted my hand and pressed a warm kiss on my palm. but that doesn’t mean I can easily set aside my feelings. What changed my perspective was meeting a beautiful girl by a waterfall who said she knew who I was and knew what I was. Kelsey.” He pressed a kiss to my forehead. It wasn’t that at all.

which was a school of Tibetan Buddhism. Kadam had disconnected all our phones and got us new cell phones and numbers right after we arrived in India. I never gave them a return address . so we had to as well. Mr. After he quickly beat me a third time. I wondered if Li ever tried to contact me. I’ll teach you how to play Settlers of Catan . I wrote to my foster parents and told them we were out of cell phone range. Once every two weeks or so. but Kishan spent most of his time as a tiger while Mr.” I smiled and thought about Li and his friends and Grandma Zhi. which was only two hours away but was on the route. One of these days. Mr. We stopped to see the Kumbum Chörten. We stayed in a hotel again that night. I said. and it was nice to get out of the car and walk for a while. Kadam had it mailed from faraway locations so that there was no way to trace where the letters had come from. Mr. Kadam said that he’d been here before. and had a Szechuan-style lunch at a local restaurant. and tourists were expected to spend the day there. He said it was safer not to contact anyone back home. that it used to be a major city on the spice trade route. I felt better the next day and seemed to be recovered from my altitude sickness. I guess I’m more of a reactionary player than a thinkahead kind of girl. We stopped in Gyantse. The city was beautiful. I couldn’t bend my brain around the game. “Sorry. Kadam tried to teach me how to play chess.door softly.

English. Mr. They’d returned from their Hawaiian vacation with nice memories and nicer tans and found nothing amiss at home. We left Gyantse on day five of the Friendship Highway tour and stopped off to see Yamdrok Lake. and it was obvious why. I asked. “Mr. When we got back in the car. know nothing of . it would mean the end of the Tibetan people. Kadam. Fortunately. Kadam said that it was considered sacred by the Tibetan people and that they often made pilgrimages to the lake. Kadam engaged in an animated conversation with some local fishermen who seemed to be trying to sell him the catch of the day. exactly how many languages do you know. anyway?” “Hmm. They believed that if it did. He also had people discreetly keeping an eye on my foster family. Mr. I’m not really sure. French.because I told them we were always moving. I can converse well in most of the languages of Asia. I know the main ones needed for trade with Europe—Spanish. They used a post office box to write me back. They believed it was the home of protective deities. Kishan and I waited patiently while Mr. Portuguese. It sparkled like a bright jewel set against the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains that fed it. and German. it seemed that Lokesh hadn’t found them. and Nilima picked up our mail and read the letters to me over the phone. Its nickname was the Turquoise Lake. The lake was watched to make sure it didn’t dry up. Kadam dictated what things would be appropriate for me to include in the letters. I’m a bit weak on the languages of Russia and the Norse.

Its doctrine is not as structured as many of the other world religions. Mr. “14.” I stared at him in amazement. Though only around thirty are officially recognized by the Indian government. The most commonly used language is Hindi.” We wound our way up through two more mountain passes and finally began our descent toward the Tibetan plateau. I was feeling carsick. It’s the third least populated place in the world.500 meters. and I only know about half of the languages of India. Kadam talked to keep my mind busy during the drive down the mountain. It averages around 4. “The Tibetan Plateau is sometimes called the Roof of the World due to its high elevation. and there are definitely traditions that are a part of it that would be considered more cultural than spiritual. “Of course. but no. About 80 percent of the population is Hindu. “Half? Just how many languages are there in India?” “There are literally hundreds of languages in India both modern and classic.” “Are there as many religions as there are languages in India?” “India probably boasts more religions than most countries. most of those I only know a smattering of. not quite that many.” Puzzled.750 feet.” “Is being Hindu more religious or cultural?” “It’s both.the islands or Africa. Antarctica .” he worked out some calculations in his mind. Many are local dialects that I picked up over the years. I asked. or roughly….

I felt much better. you are cruel. saline or salt. Unfortunately. brackish or brack. We drove another couple of hours and entered the city of Lhasa. flat.” Kishan growled softly.” He was right. . I’ll be on my best behavior. get him. “Then I guess this would also not be a good time to continue our animal sacrifice discussion either.” I groaned and closed my eyes. and Mr. Kadam. “What’s a brackish lake?” “Ah. but that didn’t help.being first and Northern Greenland being second.” I clutched my stomach. I blurted out. many unique species are found in brackish lakes. See? We’re almost at the bottom.” “That’s interesting.” He chuckled. “Kishan. and brine. The largest lake of water considered brackish is also the largest lake in the world. the Caspian Sea. famous for sturgeon and caviar. “I’m sorry. Miss Kelsey. there are four classifications of salinity in bodies of water—fresh.” I waved toward the back of the Jeep. In fact. Kadam laughed. and after a few minutes on a normal. and it’s home to several large brackish water lakes.” “So a brackish lake is somewhere between salt and fresh?” “Exactly. only somewhat bumpy road.” “Can fish survive there?” “Of course. it’s not really helping with the car sickness because now I’m imagining rolling on the ocean. Most brackish water is found in estuaries where the saltwater ocean meets a freshwater river or stream. “Mr.


Kadam had been unable to secure a meeting with the Dalai Lama himself but had scheduled a meeting with his Tibetan office. Kadam took us on a whirlwind tour of Tibet. “Mr.CHAPTER 14 Mr. Our appointment with the office staff was set for Monday. and also shopped at the Barkhor market. I noticed that several of the monks had small dogs with them. what’s with the dogs? Are the monks . the Jokhang temple. which gave us three days to cool our heels. Meanwhile. Mr. the Sera and Drepung monasteries. Kadam. We saw the Rongphu Monastery. and his vagueness didn’t seem urgent enough for them to bother His Holiness. He was frustrated because he didn’t want to reveal more details than were necessary with the staff. At one of the monasteries. the Potala Palace.

” I snorted.” As we passed by. sentinels for the monasteries. Kadam stopped to speak with him. Not their dog family. resonant bark and to be alert and wary of strangers. They have excellent hearing and thus will make good sentinels. “They were originally bred to be guard dogs. that these are specially bred to have a deep. “He told me these are being bred for another monastery. “They’re brave.” “No. Look. it’s driving them crazy!” Several of the little dogs ran up to him. “They’re not exactly pit bulls or Dobermans. “They’re bred here. I get it. Mr. Y ou’ve gotta give them that much.” We passed a monk who was walking a group of the dogs. and nipped at his heels while the monks tried to pull back their charges.” “Oh. “They probably smell your tiger half. and he said no. they aren’t. but they are fiercely protective of their family. Mr. but their human family.” Mr. several of the doggie protectors showed off their skills by growling and barking at us.” . Mr. Kadam said. Kells. I elbowed him. After we left. If they’re willing to take on a tiger that says a lot about them. Kadam explained. especially at Kishan. but so…?” Kishan spoke up. Okay.supporting the local humane society?” “No. Lhasa apsos come from Lhasa. They’re cute. I asked him if they were to serve as pets. Kadam. The dogs are Lhasa apsos.” “And? I’m probably being thick headed. growled. for they prefer not to be around other dogs.

He taught me how to string the bow first. Kishan tried and was able to string it easily. They remind me of someone. but I really wanted to be with him myself. I enjoyed seeing the tourist attractions and being with Kishan and Mr.” He tried to string my bow and found he couldn’t. but seemed light to both Kishan and me. so Mr. there was an undercurrent of sorrow. Perhaps I should call you apso rather than bilauta. He started with Kishan and the discus. Kadam stared at it for a minute and had Kishan take over teaching me.” I laughed and punched him on the arm. I trusted Durga and knew she would keep her promise and watch over him for me. Mr.” Kishan replied. “Why are the arrows so small? I thought longer arrows were more powerful. Kishan had used the weapon before. and I still dreamed of Ren every night. “The force you need to use to pull back the string is what determines the power of the bow. I felt the dull ache of loneliness sweep over me in the evenings. Kadam. “Arrow length is determined by the . Kadam took us out of the city limits on Saturday to practice with our new weapons. Kadam just gave him some tips. Kadam turned his attention to me. Mr. The discus was heavy for Mr. just like the gada had been.Kishan leaned over. “Y es. I was ready. It’s called the draw weight. which is normally determined by the strength of the archer. underneath. When Mr. Kadam. I asked him. but.

This is your arrow shelf. “Hold it here. “Good. An archer doesn’t want a bow that’s too unwieldy. so these arrows should fit you perfectly. Place the loop around here. Let the body of the arrow rest between your thumb and forefinger as you aim.” He demonstrated the entire process for me a few times and sunk two arrows into a distant tree. Now take your shooting stance by placing your non-dominant foot about five to ten inches ahead. Nock your arrow and rest it on your thumb with the single fletching pointing out.” “Okay. Keep your legs shoulder width apart. I copied . often. Though it was more difficult for me than Kishan. Like this?” “Y That’s right. It’s called a draw length. and yours is pretty small. Kadam wasn’t. Draw back until your thumb touches your ear and your fingertip touches the corner of your mouth. then bend the bow until you can fit the other loop over the bottom notch. Longer limbs usually mean you have a longer draw length. Lock your bow arm and look at es.” I stepped into the position he wanted. your target. I was still successful where Mr.” I followed his instructions.” I nodded.size of the archer. These two parts of the bow are called the limbs. Then release your arrow. the length of the bow is also determined by your height. It’s where you rest the arrow and draw it back. “This is called the string notch. Hold the bowstring with your first three fingers and tuck the arrow between your first and middle finger.

” I let go and felt a snap back as the bow shot my arrow off with a twang. I nodded toward Kishan. That will sure come in handy. he said.” . you’re ready. What Kishan is holding is called a chakram. “So how’s he doing with the discus thing?” Mr. In fact. and Kishan. I watched Kishan practice and sipped some bottled water. A discus is used in the Olympics. He thought it was probably thanks to all my training with the lightning power. “That was very good. Miss Kelsey. I quickly built up enough skill to hit the tree trunk like Kishan. Kadam laughed. but if you look carefully. “Technically. Kishan was working on his discus again when I broke off. It’s shaped like a discus. “Okay. When I got to the drawing part. though he hasn’t practiced in a long time.his moves. has been trained in its use. He stood behind me and guided my hand as I drew back. my hand shook a little. When I was in the right position. It’s a throwing weapon. it’s not a discus. We quickly noticed that the arrows never ran out and that they also eventually disappeared from the target. the outer edge is razor sharp. Now aim and shoot. although not in the exact center. it’s the weapon of choice for the Indian god Vishnu. fortunately. Mr. Kadam exclaimed. It’s a very valuable weapon when wielded by someone with skill. It sunk into the soft dirt at the foot of the tree. Miss Kelsey! A wonderful first attempt!” Kishan made me practice again and again. Kadam was amazed at my progress. Mr.

“I believe you are correct. Kadam stroked his beard thoughtfully. Normally it can be wielded like a blade in close combat or it can be thrown over a distance to disable an enemy. The outer edge was about two inches thick and razor sharp.” “It looks like it slows down when it approaches him too. and he never caught it on the razor edge. It’s technically Pachisi. when we returned to our hotel.” Later that evening. He either caught it on the handgrip or on the inside of the circle. .” We watched him throw a few more times.” I perused the English side of the instructions for a few minutes.Kishan’s weapon was made of gold and had diamonds embedded in the metal like the gada.” “Huh. Can I see the rules?” “Sure. It slows on approach to make it easier for him to catch it. “It looks like the rules are the same as the American version. I watched as he practiced. It had a curved leather handgrip similar to a yin/yang symbol. but it will remain imbedded in the target until it’s retrieved. Kishan placed a board game on the table after dinner. “Y got Parcheesi?” ou Kishan smiled. “Not exactly. Quite a weapon. I laughed. They don’t.” Mr. “Do they normally return like that? Like a boomerang?” “No. Mr. “Watch…you see? Even if he targets a tree it makes a good jagged slash in the trunk and then spins back to him. I’ve never seen that before. Miss Kelsey.” We took out the pieces and set up the board.

” “And where was Ren?” Kishan picked up a piece and twirled it thoughtfully. Kadam. my favorite game. what color would you like?” “I’ll take…your yellow if you don’t mind. I would prefer to be red again. We played the live version. as the color brought me luck last time I played. but when you beat Mom at the last roll of the dice. She es. It was fun. and I was yellow. If the two of you don’t mind.” That gesture brought a smile to his face. The players would wear our color.” “People? How?” “We constructed a giant game board and set up a home base that everyone had to get to. “Ah Kishan. I thought he’d have you beheaded.” Kishan spun the board so the red color was in front of Mr. Kadam stroked his beard. Father preferred blue and Mother green.” Mr. was rather put out.” “Do you mean you guys played this game way back when?” Kishan chuckled. Kadam cleared his throat. which he ou handled fine. “Kells.” “What do you mean the live version?” “Instead of pawns we used people. “Y Indeed. . “He was off on a diplomatic trip that time. Kadam.Kadam came in and saw the game.” Mr. Do you remember when we played with your parents?” “How could I forget? Y beat Dad. “A-hem. yes. He clapped his hands together and his eyes twinkled with a competitive gleam. I think you were red that day. “Not like this exactly. so Kadam subbed for him.

” We played for an hour. handsome. Kadam in the dust. He picked up his pawn and skipped over mine. Kelsey. carefree boy who grew up to stand in the shadow of his older brother. “Huh…I must’ve missed that. He rolled doubles.” our I muttered. “It’s totally impossible that you missed that. with all the cares of the world lifted off his shoulders. and mine was closer to home.” I rolled a twelve and made it all the way home. loving and admiring him. Mr. then. He stared at the board for a moment studying it carefully. He could knock me out and advance toward home.“I’ll be blue. The game was over. moved his blue pawn up right behind mine. I could easily envision this proud. He almost seemed like a young boy again. Y turn. By the end of the game. and I was only two away. . There was only one pawn left for each of us. Somehow less deserving. I’d never seen Kishan so animated. Kadam steepled his fingers and was tapping his upper lip. which was turned up in a small smile. which landed him in a safety zone. taciturn man as a happy. He rolled a two and a four. but at the same time feeling that he was somehow less important. what are you doing? Y could have gotten ou me out and won the game! Didn’t you see that?” He sat back in his chair and shrugged. Kishan and I had left Mr. Kishan’s golden eyes met mine briefly. Then too bad for you. Okay. “Kishan. and then got to roll again. moving the four first and then took the two.

” I laughed. What happened to doing whatever it takes to win?” “I still do whatever it takes to win. so fess up. for you. then. “What do you mean? I’m happy. Kadam laughed. I haven’t seen you really happy in these last few months.” He let go of my hand reluctantly and stood . Mr. “Okay. Weren’t you paying attention?” He gestured dismissively. I said.” “Good.” “I both smiled and laughed tonight. ou laugh.” Kishan helped me clean up the game. I won something better.” “Good night. I’ll try. Why’d you throw the game?” “What makes you think I threw the game?” “Y ou’re not a good bluffer. Miss Kelsey. “Won something better? What do you think you won?” He pushed the game to the side of the table and stretched his hand across to hold mine. “Indeed you did. see your smile come back. “It’s hard. I want to es.” “Y but you’re not happy like you were. is willing to throw a game.” I squeezed his hand. But. “What I won was seeing you happy. but it never reaches your eyes. if Kishan. Y smile and es. Kadam.” I laughed.“Ha! I beat the two infamous live version players!” Mr. Good night. the ultimate competitor. Y saw the move and deliberately ou skipped over me. “Y yes. I could read your expression. Perhaps by losing the game. Y know ou I like being here with the two of you.

” “I’ve been dreaming of Ren as well. I keep having nightmares about Ren. “Thanks for letting me win.” The next day at breakfast. “Kishan. he pushes me away as if I’m the one in danger. Kadam’s . “Then it’s a rematch. The war is far from over. bilauta.” He turned to leave. this is just one battle. Kishan.” He let go of my hand reluctantly and stood up to stretch.” I pressed my hands on top of the game. I picked Mr. “I look forward to the challenge. I think Lokesh is torturing him. but you forget.” “Ah. In any arena. It feels real. but how do we know?” Kishan wrapped his arms around me from behind and hugged me. Tomorrow. Do you think it’s a dream or a true vision?” He shook his head.” “I feel the same.” “He’d definitely be saying that. “Kishan?” “Y es?” I grinned. “I don’t know.“Good. and you will find that I make a formidable opponent. “I’m not sure.” He bowed slightly.” I offered. I’ve dreamed that he begs me to keep you safe. Good night.” He grinned. And for keeping your hands to yourself.” “Fine. Mostly. “Every time I try to save him or help him escape.” “Good night. “He also threatens me to keep my hands to myself. I set the game on the shelf and said. but I do feel he’s still alive.

“I suppose that is an accurate statement. karma is the belief that ou everything you do. Kishan quietly listened while curled up at my feet as the black tiger.” “So if you follow your dharma. and performing one’s duties and obligations in both civil and religious customs. every choice that you make. affects you somehow. I think I’ve got it. no. you’ll have good karma?” Mr.” “Dharma is order. everything you say.” “What’s the other one again? Moksha?” “Moksha is the state of nirvana. When you have . Whether it affects your present or your future is unknown. Dharma focuses more on laws governing behaviors. that certainly falls under the laws of the universe. The laws of the universe. Kadam laughed. not nature. Miss Kelsey. “I still don’t think I understand the karma and reincarnation part.” “Y see.” “Does it include scientific laws like the law of gravity?” “Hmm.” “Okay. obeying. Those who believe in reincarnation live with the hope that if they make good choices and sacrifice in life now. But. the rules that govern all mankind. It also means accepting. they will someday have a brighter future or a better position in the next life. Now explain dharma one more time. these constitute dharma.brain about the Dalai Lama and Buddhism.

and you become one with the eternal. but I like waterfalls and books.passed the tests the mortal world offers and you rise above it to a state of higher consciousness. I guess the thing about it that bothers me the most is that I like many worldly things. “I would have to say that.” “Y ou’re kind of an eternal being now. Then there are the people that I love. I have not experienced total spiritual enlightenment. you reach enlightenment or moksha. my blanket and a cozy chair. Do you think you have experienced moksha? Do you think it’s possible to attain it while you’re alive?” “That’s an interesting question. but…I don’t think the passions of the flesh are meaningless. I don’t mean dark passions like lust or greed but rather the strong connections you feel for your family and friends. The passions of the flesh become meaningless. Y become a spiritual being. Miss Kelsey. I don’t think those things should be lost in your quest for spiritual enlightenment. despite my many years on this planet…no. What of you? What do you think of all this?” “I think…seeking for spiritual enlightenment is a noble quest. I wouldn’t trade .” “Okay.” He sat back in his chair and thought for a moment. and the temporal ou worldly things are no longer of import. For this person. I have not truly sought after it either. however. there is no rebirth. “Not that I mean possessions are necessary.” “But…” I laughed. “How did you know there was a but?” “I can see it on your face.

Umm. “Me too. but what about your relationship with the divine?” “Well. postcards. Y ou’ve probably noticed. Miss Kelsey. incense. and malas—similar in purpose to Catholic prayer beads.” “Hmm. That would be nice. I hope I haven’t offended you. I enjoy my discussions with you. My relationships with my parents and you and Kishan and Ren are something I cherish.” “Hmm.” The market was full of interesting products. I quite enjoy your directness. As always. My mom and dad taught me that God was a like a parent. books. “Always speak your mind to me. jewelry.them for anything. Other interesting items we saw for sale were singing bowls and bells —which were used to produce sounds that helped . I have to admit that I haven’t given religion much thought since my parents died. you have given me much to ponder. If nirvana means being alone…then I’d rather be part of the world and let the divine sort itself out. clothing. In that case. Someone who loved you and watched over you. I would say that a relationship with a deity or with the divine needs to be nurtured much the same as a relationship with a parent.” I smiled at him. A father you could depend on when you needed help. I would agree with you.” He laughed and patted my hand. We passed stands selling statues of Buddha. a very interesting perspective. Shall we walk to the marketplace before our meeting?” “Sure. I would never willingly let them go. I can be a little too outspoken at times.

He asked several questions about our purpose.focus energies and were also used in certain religious ceremonies and during meditation. Kadam wade through the interview. Mr. austere man dressed in a typical business suit who indicated that he would do an initial screening and that if our case proved urgent enough. Kadam. showed important historical events. . We were met by a dignified. Mr. It was a testament to Mr. Kadam answered vaguely. The interview ended at that point. That afternoon. When he said that. which Mr. we were met by a woman who continued the same line of questioning. The man was intrigued and pressed harder for answers. He invited us to sit. and I was content to let Mr. and I were ushered into the business office of the Dalai Lama. and we were led into another room. Kadam said were woven or painted banners that taught myth. Mr. He responded politely without giving away too much information. Kadam kept to the same answers as before. or depicted the life of Buddha. Kishan. he would refer us to an upper office. Kadam’s reply was that the information we needed to share must be heard only by the Ocean Teacher. We were told that only dignitaries made it into this office. This time. This room was older and the furnishings more affluent. Mr. I saw prayer flags and thangkas. I noticed a slight shift in the man’s eyes. hinting that the answers to his questions were not meant for just anyone’s ears. Kadam’s resources that we’d even gotten this far.

when Mr. The accommodations were more humble than the last two rooms.” “Money? Treasure? These are not our purpose. “I see. Then I am sorry. Half an hour later. “The words I would give you would be the same words I gave to the others. A reticent monk dressed in red robes entered.“We are pilgrims seeking an audience on a matter of great import to the people of India. Kadam mentioned Ocean Teacher our interviewer abruptly paused. we were guided into an inner sanctum. Only within its borders can we find what we are seeking.” Again. She stood and asked us to wait. We are a humble people and have nothing of worth. “Y have not shared your reasons with the others. “I understand you wish to speak with the Ocean Teacher.” “Are you seeking riches? For you won’t find any here. Kadam bowed his head in silent acknowledgement. “We are on a quest that has led us to the great country of Tibet. What exactly is of great import?” He smiled and leaned forward. wobbly wooden chairs. We seek the knowledge that only the Ocean Teacher possesses. Kadam spoke.” The monk nodded brusquely. ou Would you share them with me?” Mr. especially as you have been unforthcoming as to your . but the Ocean Teacher has no time to meet with you. “Please explain. He looked down on us from his beaked nose for a long moment then sat across from us. We sat upon old.” She waved her hand.” Mr.

each chasing the other’s tail. His expression was closed. I knew he was going to dismiss us.” I spoke up. Kadam nodded. “But it’s very important that we speak with him. represents the male. “Perhaps you would answer one last question.purpose.” Mr. The medallion was similar to a yin-yang symbol. then Kishan.” The monk nodded as if he expected that answer and stretched out a hand. Kishan turned the medallion back and forth for a moment and whispered. I quickly glanced at Mr. “I see a design similar in nature to the yin-yang symbol. and he looked at Kishan. He handed it to Mr. The yin or dark side represents the female and the yang. “May we look at the medallion?” His hand arrested in midair.” The monk looked thoughtfully at each of us. your message will be conveyed.” The monk pressed his hands on the desk as I took the medallion and nodded with interest. The two sides are in perfect balance and harmony with one another. Kadam replied. Kadam and said. “Tell me…what do you see?” Mr. but . I hurried to interject. and handed the medallion to Kishan. The monk reached behind his neck and pulled out a medallion. “I see two tigers…one black and one white. If the matter you wish to discuss is deemed important enough. Kadam. then at the monk. but it’s a matter of trusting the right people. who was now leaning forward waiting for me to speak. then at me. We would share our reasons. which is the light side.

” After he left. but the dots served as an eye for each tiger. The outline of white and black could be identified as cats. “Will you excuse me for a moment?” Mr. there was a white dot on the black and a black dot on the white. Kadam nodded.” “What does this thangka represent?” “The thangka is the whole world. Not if I read his body language right. and he took it and looked at it thoughtfully for a moment then placed it around his neck. I looked up at the monk. In a normal yin-yang.” He sat back in his chair and ran a hand over his bald head. A long. “Did I say the wrong thing?” Mr. serves as the warp and the white and black tigers are both male and wrap around her. He rose. This medallion had that too. They are the weft and complete the fabric. “No. The young woman who had interviewed us earlier instructed us to follow her. The tails curled around the center and twisted together around the bisecting line. “I see part of a thangka.” The monk inched closer. central thread. Kadam’s eyes twinkled. which is female. I would say you said exactly the right thing. We .The medallion was similar to a yin-yang symbol. “Of course. “And how is this thangka woven?” “With a divine shuttle. Miss Kelsey. I handed him back the medallion.” We didn’t wait long. I asked. so I could easily see why Kishan had said they were tigers. The fabric is the story of the world. but a line divided the medallion in half.

and he needed me to be as far away from him as possible. Monks shuffled in and out of the room. “I understand you wish to speak to me. Kishan soon joined me.did and were given accommodations in a comfortable suite of rooms. He kept saying Lokesh was getting closer. The next morning after showering and getting ready for the day. began digging for another piece. and I woke up crying. There was nothing I could do other than what I was doing. stepped in line behind me. and without even looking at us began to speak. Kadam immediately clasped his hands together. Kadam and Kishan retired early to their room. and I soon drifted off to sleep. I tried to comfort myself with Durga’s promise to watch over him. He dropped it onto his plate with a splat. I was already at the end of the buffet spooning some yogurt into a bowl when Mr. he was becoming desperate. .” Mr. Our bags were packed at the hotel and brought to us. Having nothing better to do. I noticed his hand shook as he lifted a small piece of mango from the bowl. and asked me how I slept. I was led into a room with a breakfast set out buffet-style. but I dreamed fitfully of Ren again. Kadam entered. We took an early dinner together after which Mr. arranging trays and seating. I went to mine also. It was an effective soporific. In my dream. The dreams felt real. The monks brought me some orange blossom tea. I was waiting patiently for the monk in front of me to finish putting fruit on his plate. He was fiercely protective of me and demanded that I leave him immediately.

wise one.” My hand spooning the yogurt froze in midair. and said. .bowed. and I slowly turned and looked into the smiling face of the Ocean Teacher. “Namaste.

CHAPTER 15 He stood there grinning at me while I stared at him like an open-mouthed idiot.” He took the bowl of yogurt and the dripping spoon out of my hand and gently guided me to the table. “Here. Kishan was sitting there eating. he sat down across from me and smiled as he dug into his eggs. . The tigers only think of two things—food and girls. Figures. He was happily humming as he continued to fill his plate one small item at a time. Kadam helped me out. Usually in that order. I sat down and stirred my yogurt while surreptitiously glancing at the wizened old man. not caring that I’d caused a scene. let me get that for you. Mr. Kadam set my bowl down and pulled out a chair for me. Miss Kelsey. Mr. Fortunately. When he was finished.

My parents were es poor farmers who grew enough food to sustain themselves and sell a bit at market. He usually has a vision showing him where to find the new incarnation of a certain person and sends out a search party. I kept quiet and sipped my juice. I asked. Kishan grunted. Finally finished with his meal. I always think of my mother when I eat breakfast. and Kishan was already filling his plate again. Kadam sagely nodded. My mother was a weaver and could make beautiful cloth but only when we had the money to buy the threads. . my favorite ou memories of my mother is winding the threads for her weaving and helping her stir the breakfast porridge. taking one bite at a time and chewing methodically. climbing rosebush growing next to our water well. In my case. I was too nervous to eat and had no idea if it was proper to ask questions. he carefully wiped his mouth and said. Kadam’s lead. Mr. Long finished with our meal. I had to be found. “Y know.” He cocked his head at me and happily answered. so I just followed Mr. My parents named me Jigme Karpo. Hoping it was okay to speak. Kadam ate quietly. “Did you grow up on a farm then? I thought Lamas were born to be Lamas.” Mr. they knew to look for a farmhouse resting on a hill with a tall.” “Y had to be found? Found by who?” ou “The regent is always searching for reincarnations of former Lamas. The Ocean Teacher looked at me and grinned.eggs. They didn’t know who I was at the time. we watched him eat slowly. “Y is the answer to both questions.

the search party felt confident that I was the reincarnation of that past Lama. they found my home and knew it was the right place. but perhaps he has only a short time to spend with us. “A mind with questions is a mind open to understanding.” “I imagine yours is just as interesting. Items from previous Lamas were brought in and shown to me. and we should focus on other matters. “It generated several more. At that point. and I received a wonderful education in all subjects including art. culture. “I can spare a few minutes to answer your question. I was two years old. all of which fashioned me into the man sitting here with you. My mother wove the material for my first maroon robe. My name was changed.” The Ocean Teacher leaned forward and thanked the monks who cleared the table. medicine.” “Good!” He laughed. Kadam interrupted and patted my hand. “I began training as a novice monk and had my head shaved. and philosophy. I let my curiosity carry me away. “I am curious as well. Did that answer your question or did my explanation generate several more questions?” I laughed.” “Right. To sum it up. I picked one that belonged to the previous Ocean Teacher. Miss Kelsey.” “Y childhood and background is so different from our mine. I was taken from my family and began my training with a kind old monk.“After asking around. sorry. young lady.” “What happened to you then?” Mr.” “What do you do here?” .

” I nodded. but that is on the surface only. one on each side who quickly maneuvered to walk beside him should he need help. To know all the world. fact. “Y I’ve trained a couple of them.” The monk pushed back the sleeves of his robe and stood.” He stood up carefully with the support of monks. our skin is of a different color. “As you are aware. “Come. walked without assistance.“I train the Dalai Lamas. I’m a very old man. We have a task to perform. Kadam said. so that ou means you must be—” “One hundred fifteen. We are one human family. but the Ocean Teacher. we have come to seek the wisdom of the Ocean Teacher. We all have dreams and seek for the things that will bring true happiness.” “Don’t you wish you could get out and see the world?” “I’ve had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. and we ask for your guidance.” “Y ou’ve lived here all your life?” “Most of it. Perhaps we have different clothes. “Y teach the teacher?” ou He laughed. Let us adjourn to a different room that offers more privacy. I just need to learn about myself. or we speak different languages. though slow.” I stared at him. “Y said you taught two of the Dalai Lamas. in es.” “What?” “I am one hundred and fifteen years old and proud of . Mr. and I find that all people are fundamentally alike.

Perhaps it was my destiny all .” Mr. I’ve been curious if the tiger’s quest would happen in this lifetime. “I too. Mr. We followed him through winding gray corridors and came into a large room with a smooth stone floor and a large polished desk. I am humbled by you. Kadam began. means roaring tiger. “It’s being around monks and monasteries that does that.” The two men laughed. The Ocean Teacher didn’t notice my strange expression and went on. am older than I seem. “If a man wishes to do a thing and has enough passion to find a way…he will achieve it. “I must admit.” He turned and clasped Mr. which. sir. Kadam’s hand.” I quickly realized that I indeed knew three men who had lived that long and looked at Mr. translated. He indicated we should sit as we passed a comfortable lounging area. We all sank into soft upholstered chairs as the Ocean Teacher pulled up a plain wooden chair that had been hidden behind his desk and sat to talk with us. It keeps me humble too. I ou was born near the city of Taktser. His eyes twinkled with mirth.” He leaned forward conspiratorially. now that I think of it. and said. Y know. Kadam who smiled and winked at me. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Kadam stared thoughtfully at the monk for a moment. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with us.” “I’ve never met someone who lived that long.” The monk grinned.“I am one hundred and fifteen years old and proud of it.

“Is this room secure?” “Y of course. I have one request of you. Mr. es. The black tiger blinked his golden eyes at the monk and growled softly then sat on the floor beside me. I leaned over to scratch his sooty . Kadam. Is this something you know of?” Kishan. and their place in the quest was held in deepest secret. we knew you were likely the right ones. Kadam leaned forward. Others have seen the cats and often identify the white tiger.” es. most definitely. Kadam smiled magnanimously. That’s how we knew it was you. one black and one white. what may we do for you?” “Can you tell me about the tigers? I know of the place you seek and how to advise you. but no one has identified the black cat as a tiger. but…the tigers were never explained. When this young man said that he saw two tigers. The strange medallion is the key.” Mr. Kadam asked. the story of two tigers has been handed down in secret. and certainly no one has spoken of the line down the middle being linked to the divine weaver. and morphed into tiger form. “Of course. He looked at me then shrugged his shoulders. “Y know of our quest?” ou “Y From before the time of the first Dalai Lama. Mr. stood up. Kishan raised an eyebrow when Mr. “So you can help us then?” “Oh. Mr. Kadam slightly nodded.along to be the one to meet those who are to journey on this quest. and I looked at each other for a moment. but first.” Mr. Kadam and I both looked at Kishan.” I ventured.

you should perhaps consider why this has happened to you. Ren.” Kishan changed back into a man and sat down in the chair again. who has been captured by an enemy. “Instead of wondering why this has happened to you. The bloom glowed for just a moment before disappearing in a soft puff of ash that lightly rained down upon the wooden desk.” “Ah…what would you call it?” “I’d call it a tragedy.” “There is a saying in Tibet. “I am the central line of the tiger medallion. my dear? How do you fit into this quest?” I raised my hand.ears. and a pinpoint of white light surged toward the flower. and let the power bubble up inside me.” He tilted his head. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a gift. . It flowed through my hand. My hand sparkled. “One’s enemy is often the best teacher of tolerance. The Ocean Teacher sat back in the chair and stared at Kishan then rubbed his bald head and grinned. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. “Thank you for trusting me with this amazing gift. the warp. “The white tiger is Kishan’s brother. “And what of the white tiger?” I spoke. ” He turned his attention hopefully to me. turned. considering. and I aimed for the flower sitting in a vase on his desk.’” The monk sat back in his chair and touched a finger to his temple. ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. And what of you.

Kadam showed him the translation of the prophecy. anoint your eyes. let me help you with what I can. All of these are based on eternal truths. Happy as a little boy on Christmas morning. and some of those . Kadam is our guide and mentor. and he took out an ancient scroll preserved in glass and a vial filled with a green. “This scroll has existed for centuries and lists the signs associated with the tiger medallion and those who come to claim it. he carefully turned the glass containing the ancient scroll to display what was inside. yes. As we circled his desk. A narrow cupboard opened. and lead you to the spirit gates. what do you know of your quest already?” Mr.” I indicated the quiet man on my right. and these I will do. “Good! Wonderful! Now. I am to unfold the scrolls of wisdom. oily substance. He took the tiger medallion from around his neck. The beginning of this scroll contains more of the same with only a few differences.” He rose and went to his desk. he clapped his hands together. He indicated we should step closer. Tell me. where it had laid hidden in his voluminous robe and pushed it into a slot near his bookshelf.My role is to help free the tigers. stories of mankind’s origin. myth. This ancient document you see before you is the scroll that is said to hold the wisdom of the world. “Ah.” I asked. “What does that mean?” “Legend.” The Ocean Teacher did not seem shocked by my power. “And Mr. Y prophecy our says I am to do three things for you.

They were held in safekeeping to be given to you when the time is right. They were not meant for us.” .” Mr. The Dalai Lama doesn’t know who the next Dalai Lama will be. When his teacher dies.” “Haven’t you read it?” “No. then how was it passed to you?” “The scrolls and the secret must be held by two men. the teacher shares the secret with the next Dalai Lama so that the scroll was never lost. “If the scroll was handed down and held in secret by the Dalai Lamas. the duty falls to me. I was told the scroll was not to be ou read until the fifth sacrifice was complete. “Amazing! I yearn to examine this. In my philosophy. the instructions detailing how we would find the ones to give this to. not at all. Part of the process of enlightenment is to discover truth for yourself through self-introspection.” Mr. so he entrusts his teacher.truths are contained here. it is unnecessary to know all truths.” “Y must not. he entrusts that teacher’s reincarnation. None of the former Dalai Lamas have read these scrolls either. Kadam asked. Kadam bent to examine the scroll in the glass. With the current Dalai Lama in exile. “Do you mean to say that these scrolls were held for centuries for…us?” “Y We have passed down the secret as well as es. When the Dalai Lama dies. It’s even been suggested that to open it early would cause a catastrophe of the gravest kind.” I said. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

they have no words for warfare. “I confess…no. Kadam. “All we know of so far are the four sacrifices and the four gifts. They feel it’s dangerous and wrong to eat alone. Come. nonviolent.” He pulled a chair over for me. Kadam not knowing something? Is it even possible? “The Chewong are from Malaysia…fascinating people. or punishment in their language. They have many interesting beliefs. My duty is to place this in your care and fulfill my other two obligations. But. There is tremendous pressure on them now to convert to Islam and mainstream into Malaysian society. Mr. One noteworthy ideal relates to communal property. have you come across a people called the Chewong?” Mr. I have not. Mr. however. in your studies. there are several who fight for their rights to keep their language and culture. In fact. the belief that applies to you concerns the eyes. and let me anoint your eyes. what exactly do .” I muttered.catastrophe of the gravest kind. “Umm. Sit here. conflict. “It is not for me to know. young lady. Are you sure we can be successful in our quest without reading the scroll?” The monk shrugged.” I sniggered softly. They are a peaceful people. so they always share their meals with one another.” I turned to the Ocean Teacher. approached me with the green vial. That’s an amazing fact in and of itself. Kadam took a seat. Kadam. Mr. “Tell me. corruption. “The fifth sacrifice? But. we still don’t even know what that will be. and addressed us.” I licked my lips nervously. We won’t know the fifth until much later.

and smelled sharp and medicinal. nothing like that. Kadam was intrigued and began asking many questions while my eyes darted to the green.” “Not to worry. “No. when you need guidance. Also. It puts the mind at ease. young one. papery fingers. the greater is our own sense of well-being. but it was thicker. as we care for others. I have to warn you that I have an eye phobia. In my own limited experience.they do to the eyes? Serve them for supper?” He laughed.” Mr. I will anoint your closed eyelids and share a few words of wisdom with you. “My advice for you.” I relaxed considerably and obediently closed my eyes. I felt his warm fingers stroke across my closed lids. My parents had to hold me down to get drops in my eye when I had pinkeye as a child. “Uh. I expected the gooey stuff to drip down my cheeks. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. I have found that. meditate. I have often found answers . is to tell you that the very purpose of life is to be happy. I kept them closed while he spoke softly. They say their shamans or religious leaders have cool eyes while the average person is considered to have hot eyes. more like a lotion. The smell tickled my nose and reminded me of the menthol rub my mother used to put on my chest to help me breathe easier when I was sick. A person with cool eyes can see different worlds and can discern things that may be hidden from ordinary view. oily liquid that the monk was dripping onto his dry. My eyelids tingled and turned icy cold.

and the monk dipped his fingertips once more. the mind of a judicious man is steady. meditate. As you give love. remember the old saying that love conquers all is true. Now it was Kishan’s turn.” I carefully cracked open my eyes. This includes your immediate family as well as your global family. As you take part and become actively engaged. no matter what sort of difficulties you must endure. answers to your questions will appear. The green substance had disappeared from his lids. He exists as a stanchion. He stood up. Lastly. and Kishan blinked his eyes open. We switched places. Losing your faith is the only thing that can truly destroy you. sat by me. for he will not falter. I have often found answers through meditation. to conquer yourself and your weaknesses are a greater triumph than to conquer thousands in battle. you will find it returns to you magnified.need guidance. Good intentions are not sufficient to create a positive outcome. no matter how painful your experience is. Others can cling to him. a stalwart support. but they were slightly sensitive. like a great rock is not disturbed by the buffetings of the wind. Remember. you must not lose your hope. and I watched as the substance was swiped across his closed eyelids.” The Ocean Teacher put the stopper back in the vial. I felt no pain or discomfort. Kishan closed his eyes. Y are young of body but ou old of soul. and stretched out his hand to touch my arm. “Y have a responsibility to help lead your family in ou the right direction. you must act. The lamas say. . black tiger. Lastly. “Now for you.

and that is to guide you to the spirit gates. The gate is marked with the simple prayer flags of the nomads. The journey will not be easy. I would like to know how this journey ends. “Spirit gates mark the boundary between the physical world and the spirit world. who brought in a map of Tibet. The known gates are in China and Japan. I leave this scroll in your hands and ask that you come and visit with me from time to time.” our He showed us a path where we could begin the ascent.The man who was the Ocean Teacher. held out his hand to shake Mr. Do not touch the gate until you are ready to enter. “The gate you seek is a simple.” Mr. Now only one thing remains on my agenda. I gulped as I recognized the location despite my inability to decipher the language. for that is forbidden. it seemed that the spirit gate was not .” “Good.” He rang for a fellow monk. Y mentor will have to stay behind. Y ou must travel there on foot and take only basic provisions. I will show you on the map. a great lama of Tibet. Mt. humble one. Kadam bowed gallantly. I sense that your eyes have already been opened and you have seen more things that I can imagine. wise one. As you pass through them. Fortunately. Everest. but there is one in Tibet that is not commonly known. Kadam’s. and only the two of you may access the gate.” He turned toward me and Kishan. He said. “I would consider it a great honor. “My friend. you cleanse yourself of weighty earthy matters and focus on the spiritual. for to find the gate you must prove that you walk by faith.

A warm hand picked up mine. Kishan and I packed lightly. The scroll was given to Mr. anyway.” “Do you have it?” Kishan considered. Kadam spent the rest of the day preparing for our trip. Is that good enough?” “I think it is. winked. Ren needed me. but it was. He told me that he had tested the limitations of the Fruit and said that it seemed to work from as far away as one hundred feet and though it could not produce water. But. He left flanked by his escorts. “Me too.” es. Mr. and nothing would keep me from doing that. are you alright?” “Y I’m just a little scared about the trip. A monk led us to our room so we could gather our belongings. Mr. Kadam determined that we would bring no food or water. it could make a . he said it requires faith.” Mr. More than I did es. Kadam approached us. remembering the warning to take little with us. in fact. What about you?” “I have hope. to the spirit gate. including directions. remember. “Kelsey. not even altitude sickness or a freezing cold mountain. Mr. knowing that the Golden Fruit would sustain us.located at its peak. “Y I think I do. Finding this new place and object was what would help me find Ren. Kadam as well as the maps and a detailed explanation. and the old monk shook our hands warmly. and excused himself. How was I going to be able to do this? I’d have to. Kadam and the Ocean Teacher spoke animatedly about the best route to take while Kishan listened intently. only a short distance past the snow line.

Take care of yourself. Kadam far below.” “I have no doubt that you did. Maybe time will stop like it did in Kishkindha. so he would need the warm clothes. then turned. and set my feet on the path ahead. We debated the merits of a tent for a long time and decided on a large sleeping bag instead. I waved at the small figure of Mr. After arriving. Hopefully. Miss Kelsey. I hope that I’ve remembered everything. Go off now.variety of other beverages. Mr. Miss Kelsey. He told us that he would set up a camp at the base and wait for us. The next day. and we started up the mountain. we’ll be back before you know it. Kishan would have to change to tiger form and back. climbed between two rocks. . I turned to see how far we’d come. Half an hour later. will you tell Ren—” “You will come back. and I needed room in my backpack for Kishan’s clothing. We’ll be okay. Don’t worry. I thanked him and wrapped it carefully in my blanket then placed the bundle in my backpack. “Be very careful. we drove out to the base of the mountain. Fanindra. Kadam walked with us for a while and then hugged us both briefly.” Kishan changed to a black tiger. I’ve put all my notes in your bag. The Tibetan plain swept out before us as far as the eye could see. He recommended hot herbal teas and sugar-free drinks to stay hydrated. They didn’t feel I could carry a tent up the mountain. Of that I have no doubt. and I will see you soon. and all the weapons. And if for some reason we don’t come back.

. despite the noise of the wind. I was so exhausted that. Kishan nudged his head in the opening and crawled in after me. We’d hiked up the mountain most of the first day and set up camp near some rocks that blocked the wind. but after an hour I felt extremely grateful for the warm fur that stopped my shivering. I searched the area for a while. I was able to sleep. When we stopped.CHAPTER 16 I shivered and yanked my GORE-TEX gloves up my wrists a little higher. gathering wood to start a fire. for warmth. It was awkward at first. After a hot dinner. I had kicked off my boots but decided to remain fully clothed as I slept. I snuggled deep in my king-sized sleeping bag. I gratefully shrugged off my backpack and stretched my back. thanks to the Golden Fruit.

maybe there are other . using the Golden Fruit. I wonder if polar bears live here. I rolled up our belongings and stowed them in the bag before we set off on our journey again. I supplied meals via the Golden Fruit and built the fires.The next morning. polar bears live at the poles. Hmm. I wouldn’t have been prepared for it. Kadam. He wanted to stay in tiger form to keep warm. He started with the meat but finished off the oatmeal too by lapping it up quickly. We settled into a routine for the next four days. so I gave him the option of a large platter full of rare venison steaks or a giant dish of the same oatmeal I ate and a large bowl of water. but it was no stroll through the park either. in the large sleeping bag at night while the wind howled around us. Kishan was easy to see now. He was lucky he was probably one of the biggest animals out here. Kishan led. there was snow on Mt. and if I hadn’t been working out with Kishan and Mr. We hit the snow line on the fifth day. The upward climb was challenging. so we stopped frequently for water and rested often. No. I thought that Kishan would be a bit more complicated. even from a distance. The ascent wasn’t bad enough that I would need climbing gear. then we slept snuggly together. Anything smaller and we’d be hunted by predators. Everest. Even in the summer. tiger and human. A black animal on the white snow drifts would not go undetected. Breathing got harder the higher we went because there was less oxygen. I wished up some steaming hot chocolate and warm oatmeal with maple syrup and brown sugar mixed in.

Day seven was when we ran into the bear. Round ears were laid back against its head. He was actually due back soon as he never left me for longer than thirty minutes at a time. A large brown bear was galloping toward me in attack mode. Its mouth hung open . I played a game by figuring out what they could be. and it became increasingly difficult to breathe. I giggled as I imagined a puppet-like Kishan attacking the Bumble and hummed the Misfit song from the movie. when I heard a rumbling bellow behind me. I didn’t really think it would take us this long to find the spirit gate. I started to get nervous. The snow drifts were deeper. maybe there are other bears out here. Some were obviously birds. When I spied small animal tracks in the snow. Kishan had taken off about a half hour before to search for wood and a likely place for us to camp. Hmm. I figured Kishan had circled around and was trying to get my attention. Sasquatch? The yeti? What was the snow monster in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer called…ah the Bumble. or possibly mountain lions. I was to follow his tracks and he’d circle back and sniff me out. I relaxed and let my mind drift as I followed Kishan.bears live at the poles. I turned to ask him what he wanted and stopped in my tracks. I followed Kishan’s tiger tracks and started keeping an eye out for animal footprints. Not seeing anything bigger and getting bored with my game. gasping in horror. but the others I thought might be rabbits or small rodents. I was trudging slowly along stepping in his tracks. The trees were getting sparse and the terrain more rocky.

baring an impressive display of teeth that could rip me to shreds. and it was coming at me fast. and bawled at me again. dirt. I screamed. He actually smelled like wet grass. I’d heard that the best thing to do during a bear attack is to lie on the ground. The pressure was intense. and pretend you’re dead. Tiny black eyes watched me over a long snout as it assessed my ability to fight back. fold yourself into the fetal position. stood on his hind legs. It ran faster than I could. the weight of the bear’s leg was just pushing me deeper into the snow. I rolled into a ball and covered my head with my hands. its paws crunching in the snow as he tried to incite me to move so he could attack. He bit the backpack and pressed his foreleg on the back of my thigh to hold me still. I could smell him. I didn’t know if he . and I heard the fabric rip as he hit the backpack. It probably would have if I was on bare ground. Its shaggy fur was wet with snow.revealing sharp teeth. tearing the outer compartment. Being this close to the bear. Lucky for me. His warm breath smelled slightly fishy. The skin of the mouth pulled back as its jaw quivered. swiping the air with his paws. I was sure my thigh bone was going to break. He came to a stop five feet away. and lake water. He swiped at my back. I quickly dropped to the ground remembering a story I’d heard about mountain men surviving in the wilderness. The bear dropped down on all fours and bounced up and down a bit. I whimpered and rolled a little.

Kishan moved closer. the good news was that the bear hadn’t really intended to claw me. Just a—hey. I’ll be right back. My legs burned with fiery pain. giving me a new . I’ve just gotta go take care of the intruder first before I eat you. This was a love tap. Kishan circled the animal for a moment then rushed in to attack. Kishan met the bear standing on his hind legs too. but I’ll be back before you know it—kind of injury. I couldn’t really twist my head enough to see the wounds. I’d be dead soon. Imagine Freddy Kruger claws with about six hundred pounds behind it. The bear thrust his front paws out toward Kishan two or three times as if trying to scare him off. and the bear wrapped his arms around Kishan’s body. defending its dinner. and the bear charged. but I stayed as quiet as I could. The bear stood on his hind legs and bellowed then dropped to all fours ran a couple of steps closer and stood on his hind legs again. tearing at his back. But. but great drops of carmine blood reddened the snowdrift like a macabre snow cone. Kishan paced in a semicircle out of the bear’s reach.was defending his territory or if he wanted to have me for lunch. The black tiger bit the bear’s arm while the bear clawed at his back. I heard Kishan’s roar. They collided. The bear looked up and hollered back. honey. The fighting beasts moved off enough that I chanced a peek at my legs. He turned to face the tiger and raked his claws down the back of my thigh on one leg and across the calf of my other. Either way. and tears rolled down my cheeks. Just then.

He’d . They slashed at each other in a fury of teeth and claws. I cried out and couldn’t help squirming to try to relieve the pain. I recovered my senses enough to realize that I had a weapon of my own. It was not enough to wound him. raised my hand. I took advantage of the distance between them. The blood was already freezing in the snow. The bear bit Kishan’s ear viciously and almost tore it off. I woke up on my stomach next to a warm fire with Kishan carefully examining my wounds. Despite his tenderness. Some kind of fighter I turned out to be. Kishan was circling around the animal now trying to confuse it and tire it out. I pressed my face against his chest and gritted my teeth. I guess it didn’t matter which. He ambled off at a fast pace. but enough to turn him away from his potential dinner. He slid the backpack off my shoulders and donned his winter gear in a few seconds then bent over my legs.perspective on the term bear hug . I drifted off. I wasn’t sure if I had been sleeping or if I had passed out. They fell and rolled a few times. The scent of your blood could bring the bear back. and hit the bear right on the nose with a small lightning jolt. Kishan changed to a man quickly and began to assess the damage to my legs. “I’m sorry if this hurts. my legs burned. Kishan twisted his head away. What an idiot I was. a jumble of black on brown fur. causing them to lose balance. bellowing in pain and frustration.” He bent over me and picked me up carefully in his arms. I have to move you.

” I whimpered. What’s in it?” “Cinnamon.” ou I sucked in a breath and began asking him questions to take my mind off the pain. I know a little bit about how to take care of wounds like this.” “It hurts!” “I imagine it does. They had become notorious in a certain area where trading . They were murderers. raped women. I sucked in a breath. “Y es. yarrow. and some other things I don’t know the English words for.” He dipped his cloth and started working on my calf. “Mr. Kadam took me out with him and a group of his elite infantry to help stop some bandits.” “No. They robbed caravans. goldenseal. “Will you…tell me about it? It will help me focus on something else. garlic. echinacea.” “Alright. I gasped as he cleaned my calf. Y need some stitches. “How did you…know how to make it?” “I’ve fought in many battles before. and then killed everyone. Kells. “It stings! What is that stuff?” “It’s an herbal remedy to stop pain and infection and to help your blood clot. The pain should lessen soon.” “Y ou’ve treated wounds before?” I sucked in a breath.” “It doesn’t smell very good.ripped up a shirt and was carefully cleaning my legs with some kind of smelly hot liquid he’d summoned via the Golden Fruit.” “Were they like Robin Hood types?” “Who is Robin Hood?” “He steals from the rich to give to the poor.

” “How old were you?” “Sixteen. Those of us who were able followed the surgeon and helped him tend to the wounds of the soldiers. “That’s when I learned battle triage. After that. I carried a medicinal bag with me to give aid where I could.” “We had a large group of them holed up in some caves and were trying to figure out a way to flush them out when we were attacked.” “It’s okay.” He grunted and continued his ablutions carefully. He taught me a bit about plants and their healing properties.happened often.” I groaned.” “It feels a little bit better now. wrapping the thigh and calf with an ace bandage Mr. Our men fought bravely and overcame the rabble. Their riches attracted many to join their group. Kadam had included in a little first aid kit.” “Ouch!” “Sorry. Kadam popped it back in for me. They’d built a secret door into their hideout and had circled around us. several of which were used in medicines. My arm had been dislocated. but several of our best soldiers had been killed and many gravely wounded. Kadam how to strategize and engage in guerilla warfare. whenever I went into battle. I was being trained in military theory and was learning from Mr. but Mr. The throbbing is less. and their large numbers caused great concern. quietly taking out our sentries. My mother also was something of an herbalist and had a greenhouse full of plants. “Please go on. and we helped as many as we could. He gave me two aspirin tablets and angled my head to help me .

and through a languid daze. I don’t think you can walk. “Y es?” “Thank you for taking care of me. I was snug in my sleeping bag lying on my stomach.” He squeezed my hand.” I dozed on and off. “I’ve stopped the bleeding. “Kishan?” He turned his golden eyes to my face and scrutinized it.” I stretched out a hand and placed it over his. Kishan—” “Don’t worry about it now. He was lashed to a post with his hands tied over his head. I watched the flames lick the bottom of the pot. I wasn’t sure how he found wood that was dry enough to burn. He didn’t move a limb or twitch a muscle. waking as Kishan put more wood on the fire. He spoke in another language and tapped a whip against his hand.drink. I’ll have to carry you. but his eyes stirred. Get some sleep. The herbal smell of the liquid suffused the air. Y wounds might break our open and begin to bleed again.” “But. Why don’t you rest for a while and we’ll see how you feel in the morning. We’ll rest tonight and start back tomorrow. Ren opened his eyes and saw me. They . but I didn’t care enough to ask. “I only wish I could do more. I must have slept because I dreamed of Ren. Only one of the wounds is deep enough to make me worry. Kells. and I drifted in and out. I stood against a wall behind another post and Lokesh didn’t see me. assessing for pain. He placed the pan of liquid he’d bathed my wounds with near the flames to keep it warm. At some point.

I’m so sorry. It was as futile a gesture as a bird attacking a tree. keep looking for the spirit gate. I touched one gently. Ren gasped in pain. but his eyes stirred. and attacked a surprised Lokesh. Kishan. screamed. “Kishan?” “Y were dreaming again. I grabbed the whip. I wept partly . and I grabbed his shirt and raked my fingernails across his throat and chest. I cried out in pain. I want to keep moving. Does it hurt badly?” “It’s okay.” ou He was zipped into the sleeping bag with me. I know it. “Oh. crinkly lines appeared on the sides.or twitch a muscle. They brightened. then brought his whip down across the back of my legs three times. I …I don’t want to go back. He shook me. I was dreaming of Lokesh again. A roar behind me stole his attention. I looked at his chest and throat and saw vicious. I heard the crack of the whip and froze. Kishan. but I couldn’t tear it from his grasp. and tiny. “Kelsey. He grabbed my hands and twisted them together above my head. I thrashed and struggled and saw the unmitigated thrill of delight as he recognized me. I smiled at him and took a step toward him. Ren is suffering.” “I didn’t mean to. bloody scratches.” To my great dismay. He was extremely strong. Kelsey! Wake up!” I woke with a start. I started weeping. I burst from my hiding place. He shook his head slightly. They’re healing as we speak. Fevered excitement reached his glittering black eyes. He gently pried my fingers from his shirt.

because of the pain in my legs, partly because of the stress of the journey, but the biggest reason I wept was because I knew that Ren was hurting. Kishan shifted and wrapped his arms around me. “Shh, Kelsey. It’s going to be alright.” “Y don’t know that. Lokesh may kill him before we ou find the stupid spirit gate.” I cried while Kishan rubbed my back. “Remember Durga said she’d watch over him. Don’t forget about that.” I sobbed. “I know but—” “Y safety is more important than the quest, and our Ren would agree with that.” I laughed wetly. “He probably would, but—” “No buts. We need to head back, Kells. Once you heal, we can come back and try again. Agreed?” “I guess so.” “Good.” After I was cried out, I sniffed and moved back a little. “Kishan? I have a weird question…can you purr?” “I don’t know. I’ve never tried.” “Ren can purr. Mr. Kadam said it’s very rare, but that a tiger’s purr can stop nightmares.” “Do you want me to try it and see if it works?” I considered for a minute. “No. It’s worth the pain to see him, even if it’s just a dream.” Kishan stiffened slightly. “Ren is…lucky to hold the heart of a woman such as you, Kelsey.” I turned on my side to look at him. The fire was still going, and I watched the flames dance in his troubled, golden eyes. We stared at each other. I touched his now healed neck and said softly, “And

I’m lucky to have such wonderful men in my life.” He brought my hand to his lips and pressed a warm kiss on my fingers. “He wouldn’t want you to suffer for him, you know.” “He wouldn’t like you being the one to comfort me, either.” He grinned at that. “No. Indeed he wouldn’t.” “But you do. Comfort me, I mean. Thank you for being here.” “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Get some sleep, bilauta.” He pulled me close and nestled me against his chest. I felt guilty for feeling comforted lying in Kishan’s arms, but I fell asleep quickly without further incident. The next two days of travel were short by necessity. I tried to walk on my own, but the pain was too much so Kishan carried me. We walked back down the mountain slowly, stopping to rest from time to time, saving the last hour for Kishan to set up camp and tend to me. Most of my wounds were healing, but the deep one had started to fester. The skin around it became ruddy, swollen, and maculated. The wound was obviously getting worse. I began running a fever, and Kishan started to feel desperate. He cursed the fact that he could only travel with me for six hours of the day. He used every herbal remedy he could think of, but, unfortunately, the Golden Fruit could not produce antibiotics. A storm hit, and I was vaguely aware of Kishan carrying me through icy sleet. Not moving on my own

made me more susceptible to the cold. I was freezing and drifted in and out, unaware of how many days passed. At one point, the thought occurred to me that Fanindra might heal me as she did in Kishkindha, but she remained stiff and frozen. I knew the weather wasn’t exactly snake friendly, but, perhaps she knew I wasn’t quite at death’s door yet either, despite all outward appearances. We became lost in the storm. Kishan constantly worried about me falling asleep, so he talked to me as we walked. I didn’t remember much of what he said. He did lecture me about survival in the wilderness and said that it was important that we stay warm, eat, and keep hydrated. He had those three things pretty much covered. When we stopped for the day, he would wrap me in the sleeping bag and crawl in next to me so his tiger body could keep me warm, and the Golden Fruit provided as much food and drink as we could handle. I lost my appetite when I became sick. Kishan forced me to eat and drink, but I was shaky, and the fever made me feel like I was either freezing or too hot. He had to change to a man often to keep me covered with the sleeping bag because, in my fever, I constantly tried to push it off. I was weak now and spent my time either staring at the sky or at Kishan’s face as he spoke of various things. Bushman’s rice was one topic I remembered because it was disgusting. He talked about how he had managed to live when he’d been the only survivor of a battle deep in enemy territory. He said that there was no food to be found, so he ate Bushman’s rice, which was not rice at all but the white pupa of termites.

I grunted softly in reaction but was too sleepy to move my lips to form a comment. I wanted to ask him how he learned about Australian Bushmen back in his time, but I couldn’t speak. He looked down at me worried and drew my hood closer over my face so the snow wouldn’t fall directly on me. He leaned over and whispered, “I promise I’ll get you out of this, Kelsey. I won’t let you die.” Die? Who said anything about dying? I had no intention of dying, but I couldn’t exactly tell him that. My lips felt like they were frozen. I can’t die. I have to find

the next three items and save my tigers. I have to rescue Ren from Lokesh. I have to finish school. I have to…I fell asleep.
I dreamed of tracing my finger down an icy window and made a heart with a Ren+Kelsey in the middle then drew a second heart and got as far as Kishan+ when someone shook me awake. “Kells. Kells! I think this is it!” I peeked out of my hood and looked up at an amethyst-gray sky. Painful, icy sleet pummeled us, and I had to squint my eyes to see what Kishan was pointing at. In the middle of a barren white stretch of snow stood two wooden posts about the size of telephone phones. Wrapped around each one were long ropes of material that flapped wildly in the storm like homemade kite tails. A line of colorful flags were attached at different sections of the posts. Some of the ropes were tied to the opposite pole, some were attached to rings in the ground, and others just flapped loose in the wind.

I licked my lips, but my tongue was dry too, and quietly asked, “Are you sure?” Fortunately, his tiger hearing was extremely good. He bent over close to my ear and shouted over the wind, “It could be a monument or a memorial created by nomads, but there’s just something different about this. I want to check it out.” I nodded weakly, and he set me down in the sleeping bag near one of the poles. He’d taken to carrying me in the sleeping bag to keep me warmer. I slipped into a deep sleep. When he woke me, I wasn’t sure if it had been hours or seconds. “This is the right place, Kelsey. I found a handprint. Now, should we go through it or turn back? I feel we should turn back and return later.” I reached a gloved hand out and touched his chest. I whispered, feeling the wind gobble up my words and tear them away just as they passed my lips. Fortunately, he heard them. I said, “No…we won’t be able…find it…again…too hard. Ocean Teacher said …prove our…f…faith. It’s…a test. We…must…tr…try.” “But, Kells—” “Take me…the…handprint.” He looked at me awhile and then slid his arms under me and carried me to the wooden post. “Here it is. On the left of the pole, under the blue fabric.” I saw it and tried to get my glove off. Kishan stood me up and supported all my weight on one arm. He pulled off my glove with the other hand and dropped it into the snow, then he guided my hand into the cold depression carved into the bark of the wooden marker.

Now that I was closer, I could see intricate carvings hiding under the snow. They covered the wood. If I’d felt better, I would have loved to examine them, but I couldn’t even stay upright without Kishan. I kept my hand pressed against the wood but nothing happened. I tried to summon the fire in my belly, the spark that made my hand glow, but I felt deadened. “Kishan…I…c…can’t. I’m too…c…cold.” I felt like crying. He took off his gloves, unzipped his jacket, tore his shirt underneath, and put my frozen hand against his bare chest, covering the back of it with his own warm hand. His chest was hot. He pressed his warm cheek against my cold one and rubbed the back of my hand with his palm for a few minutes. He spoke, but I didn’t understand his words. He shifted to protect me from the wind, and I almost fell asleep like that as he held me in the warm cocoon he’d created. Finally, he pulled back a little and said, “There, that’s better. Now, try again.” He helped me angle my hand. I felt a small spark of tingly warmth and urged it to build. The power was slow and lethargic, but it did build until the handprint glowed. The pole shook and began to glow too. Something happened to my eyes. A green sheen fell across my vision like I’d put on a pair of green-tinted sunglasses. It made the glow from my hand look bright orange, and the orange traveled from one pole across the fabric tail to the other pole. The ground shook, and we were enveloped in a bubble of warmth. Too weak to continue, my hand

slipped out, and I fell back against Kishan, who scooped me up in his arms again. A little bubble of static formed between the two poles and grew larger. Colors shifted inside the bubble, which were too vague and fuzzy to make out at first, but they grew bigger and started to come into focus. I heard a boom, and the picture snapped into place. I saw green grass and a warm yellow sun. Herds of animals grazed lazily beneath leafy summer trees. Where we stood I could smell the scent of flowers and feel the sun warm my face, yet the wintry sleet still fell across my cheek. Kishan took a step forward, and another. He carried me into the warm paradise. My head lolled against his arm as I listened to the sound of the storm fade. The cold air grew more distant and then left with a pop. That’s when I fainted.


I woke

near a crackling fire at dawn. Kishan was warming his hands. I shifted and groaned, “Hey.” “Hey, yourself. How do you feel?” “Umm…I’m feeling better actually.” He grunted. “Y started healing when we entered ou this place.” “How long have I been asleep?” “About twelve hours. Y healed almost as fast as ou we do.” “That’s fortunate.” “Y es.” I stretched my legs and was relieved. The pain was bad, but an infection was worse. I had been sort of counting on Kishan’s amulet to fix me, and it wasn’t

working like Mr. Kadam had said. Maybe Kishan’s piece did something different. I’d gotten lucky. “I’m starving. What’s for breakfast?” “What would you like?” “Hmm…how about some chocolate chip pancakes with a tall glass of milk.” “Sounds good. I’ll have the same thing.” Kishan ordered our meal, and he hunkered down next to me to eat. I was still feeling weak so when he pulled me closer so I could lean against him, I didn’t protest but dug happily into my pancakes. “So, Kishan …where are we?” “Not sure. About a mile past the spirit gate.” “Y carried me through?” ou “Y es.” He set down his plate and put his arm around me. “I was afraid you would die.” “Apparently me coming back from the dead is becoming a common theme in these mythical cities.” “I hope this is the last time you come close.” “Me too. Thanks. For everything.” “Y ou’re welcome. By the way…it seems I can maintain human form here like Ren did in Kishkindha.” “Really? How does it feel?” “Strange. I’m not used to it. I keep waiting for the tiger to take over. I can still become a tiger if I wish but I don’t have to take that form.” “The same thing happened to Ren. Well, enjoy it while it lasts. Ren changed back the minute we left Kishkindha.” He mumbled something and started going through the backpack. “Can you hand me the prophecy and Mr. Kadam’s

notes?” I asked. “Y Here.” ep. “Thanks. Okay, the first order of business is to find the omphalos stone.” “What’s that again?” he asked. “It’s a stone of prophecy. We look into it, and it shows us where to find the tree. Would you like me to read you the prophecy again?” “Y Ren has picked up reading English better than es. I have.” I read the prophecy, and Kishan listened carefully. “So the omphalos stone is the navel stone. What does it look like?” “Like a football standing on end with a hole in the top.” “And what does a football look like?” “Hmm…I guess you’d say it’s oblong shaped, but more pointy on the ends.” I stood up on shaky legs. “Don’t you think you should rest a little bit longer?” “I feel pretty well rested, besides, the faster we can find the object, the sooner we can rescue Ren.” “Alright, but we’ll go slowly. It’s pretty warm here. Wouldn’t you like to change out of your snow gear first? ” I looked down at my ripped pants. “Right.” Kishan had removed my coat, but I was already sweating in my insulated pants. He’d already changed and was now wearing jeans, hiking boots, and a black T-shirt. “Don’t you get sick of black?” He shrugged. “It just feels right.” “Hmm.” “I’ll scope out the area and see if I can find a trail for

us to follow while you change.” “Uh…okay.” He grinned. “And don’t worry. I won’t be peeking.” “Y better not be.” ou He laughed and walked off through the grass toward the tree line. As I changed, I marveled at my torn pants. That bear really did a number on me. I checked my leg and calf. There was no wound. Not even a scar. The skin was healthy and pink, as if it had never been damaged. By the time Kishan came back, I’d washed using a pot of warm rose water I’d had the Golden Fruit make and the other half of the shirt Kishan had torn. I poured the rest of the rosewater through my hair, brushed it out, and braided it into a long tail that hung down my back. I’d just changed into a long-sleeved Tshirt, jeans, and hiking boots to match him, when Kishan hollered out a warning, then strode into the camp. He looked me up and down with masculine approval, and smiled. “What are you grinning at?” “Y Y look much better.” ou. ou “Ha! What I wouldn’t give for a shower. But I do feel better.” “I found a creek that runs near the tree line with a game trail. I think that might be a good place to start. Shall we?” I nodded while he shouldered the backpack and headed for the trees. When we got to the creek, I marveled at how beautiful it was. Gorgeous flowers sprung up near rocks and tree trunks. I recognized narcissus flowers growing by the creek

and told Kishan the story of the handsome man from Greek mythology that fell in love with his own reflection. He listened with rapt attention, and we were both so involved with the story that we didn’t notice the animals. We were being followed by forest creatures. We stopped, and a pair of rabbits hopped up to look at us curiously. Squirrels leapt from tree to tree to get nearer, as if to listen to the story. They jumped to a branch that bent with their weight and brought them just a few feet from us. The woods were full of creatures. I saw foxes, deer, and birds of all kinds. I held out my hand, and a beautiful red cardinal flew down and perched delicately on my finger. Kishan held out an arm and a golden eyed hawk flew from the top of the tree and balanced on his forearm. I walked up to a fox, who fearlessly watched my approach. Stretching out a hand, I stroked its soft, furry head. “I feel like Snow White! This is amazing! What is this place?” He laughed. “Paradise. Remember?” We walked all day, escorted at times by a variety of animal companions. In the afternoon, we emerged from the forest to find horses grazing in a meadow full of wildflowers. I plucked stems to make a bouquet as we walked. The horses turned to look at us and trotted over to investigate. Kishan fed them apples from a nearby tree while I braided flowers in the mane of a beautiful white mare. They ran alongside us for a while as we left. In the early evening, we saw a structure of some kind at the base of a large hill. Kishan wanted to make camp for the

night and explore it the next day. That night, I lay on my side in the sleeping bag with a hand tucked under my cheek and said to Kishan, “It’s like the Garden of Eden. I never imagined such a place existed.” “Ah, but if I recall, there was a snake in the garden.” “Well, if there wasn’t one here before, there’s one here now.” I peeked at Fanindra. Her golden coils were still hard and unmoving where she rested near my head. I looked over at Kishan again; he was poking the fire with a stick. “Hey, aren’t you tired? We walked pretty far today. Don’t you want to go to sleep yet?” He glanced over at me. “I’ll sleep soon.” “Oh. Okay. I’ll save you some room.” “Umm…Kelsey, I think it would be wise for me to sleep on the other side of the fire. Y should be warm ou enough here by yourself.” I looked at him curiously. “That’s true, but there’s plenty of room, and I promise not to snore.” He laughed nervously. “It’s not that. It’s that I’m a man all the time now, and it would be hard for me to sleep with you and not…hold you.” “Oh.” “Sleeping near you as a tiger is fine, but being a man is different.” “Ah, I once said the same thing to Ren. Y ou’re right. I should’ve considered that myself and not put you in an uncomfortable position.” He snorted wryly. “I wasn’t worried about being

I was worried about getting a little too comfortable.” “Right. Her lips were puckered and pink like peonies and her cheeks—soft blushing orchids.uncomfortable. I’ll be fine. A man stepped into her meadow and stood admiring her garden. and she watched him from a leafy bower as he walked among the flowers.” After a few minutes. “Tell me another Greek story.” Now I was nervous. He was handsome with dark. . Her skin was as soft as flower petals. The lilies quivered delicately at his touch. and it unfurled its petals and bloomed in his palms. Her long blonde hair smelled like roses and was always adorned with a halo of flowers.” “No. and the tulips bent toward him on their long stems. a man that could appreciate her passion for flowers and would give her life deeper meaning. yet she longed for a companion. Kishan settled himself on the other side of the fire. windswept hair and wore a purple cloak. The daffodils raised their heads at his approach. “So. “There was once a beautiful nymph named Chloris who cared for flowers and nurtured the spring by willing the buds of trees to blossom.” I thought for a moment. she was working with the calla lilies and felt a warm breeze blow through her hair. He cushioned his hands behind his head and said. “One afternoon.” “Okay. He didn’t see her at first. bilauta. He cupped a rosebud between his hands to inhale its fragrance. She was beloved by all who knew her. umm…do you want to take the sleeping bag then? I can use my blanket.

took his hand. and kissed her. ‘Y ou all behave yourselves!’ The man turned and spied her hiding among the leaves. She beseeched him to stand. She laughed. Her flowers usually responded only to her. but then he twirled his finger and the rose petals swirled around them in a tunnel of wind. When she placed her hand in his.’ he said. She gasped softly when she saw the creeping phlox try to uproot itself. The spears of lavender tried to twine themselves about his legs as he passed by. He did. “She was upset at first. and stepped barefooted into the sunshine. He immediately fell in love with her and fell to his knees before her. and offered him a silver rose blossom.’ He offered her his hand. pulled her close. pressing her toes into the grass. She clapped her hands in delight and watched the petals dance. tossing them in the air. opened it.“Chloris was surprised.’ he beckoned.’ She sighed. She folded her arms and frowned at them. ‘I have traveled the . lifted it. ‘I am the west wind. “A small breeze blew through the garden as he sucked in a soft breath. ‘Come out. ‘My name is Zephryus. She was more beautiful than any of the flowers he’d come to admire. ‘Who are you?’ she asked. The gladiolas all opened at once instead of taking turns like they were supposed to. He smiled and twisted off the petals. he smiled. and enfolded both of them in its purple billows. and the warm wind shuffled his cloak. He stroked her soft cheek with his fingertips. pushed aside the gardenia plants. and the sweet peas danced back and forth trying to get his attention. ‘I’ll not harm you. “‘That’s enough!’ she said.

the flowers happier. and I thought my story was pretty good.” I paused.’ Chloris nodded shyly. Whenever she thought of him. I wondered when he’d fallen asleep. she answered. and people came from all over the world to admire them. They had a happy marriage. which means fruit. “She prepared for his arrival all year. and they wed surrounded by thousands of blossoms.’ He folded her small hands in his and made a vow. She tended the gardens while her husband’s west winds gently scattered the pollen every spring. If you’ll have for centuries. ‘Chloris. the most renowned. Good night. What is your name?’ “Blushing. . he returned to find his beautiful bride waiting for him. tell me. They had a child together and named him Carpus. she felt the kiss of his breeze brush her cheek.” The next morning. I looked up at a tall. “Huh. Her garden was more beautiful than it had ever been. They delighted in each other. ‘Until we meet next year then…my Flora. and the purple cloak swirled around him. He kissed her again. The next spring. I wish to take you for my bride. Please. I whispered. and their love was bounteous. yellow body with black circles. “Kishan?” I heard a light snore come from the other side of the fire.’ The wind blew him quickly away. “Their gardens were the most beautiful. yet you are the loveliest maiden I have ever seen. ‘I will return next spring. I woke to a munching sound above my head. Kishan.

They looked at him and chattered amongst themselves then went back to their breakfast. Y ou’re back in black. I’ll be back. Very interesting.” I got up and started breaking camp.” I quietly shifted and saw a family of gorillas pulling fruit out of a tree. “Will they attack?” “They aren’t responding like normal gorillas. Don’t be afraid. It was huge. but there’s one way to find out. Kells. When he moved toward the gorillas. I left them back there in the trees. and I saw him emerge a moment later in tiger form. “Hmm. It’s too big to be a boat.” “It’s a giraffe!” “Y And there are some gorillas moving in the es. Kishan shifted back to a man and stared at the animals. It won’t hurt you. the same thing happened. “Y lost your ou hiking clothes. I exclaimed. It blinked long-lashed eyes at him then calmly went back to plucking leaves off the tree tops with its tongue. I didn’t. made of wood. even when he approached one of the babies. He walked to the giraffe. I think it’s the ark!” “The what?” . Wake up!” “I’m already awake and watching.” After breakfast. trees over there. we hiked to the large structure we’d seen the day before. They’re not afraid of me at all. “It’s a boat!” “I don’t think so. Kells.I hissed. “Kishan. A large wooden incline led up into it. and obviously very old.” He disappeared in the trees.” “No. Kishan. Stay here.” “It is. Mister. As we got nearer.

“Wait.” I waved my hand . Later. It was dark. can be overwhelming. I pulled out a camera and snapped a few pictures for Mr. Kells. but Kishan cautioned me. but where the wood had fallen out of the ceiling. but Kishan thought the stairs would be too dangerous. The wood’s rotting. I said.“The ark—as in Noah’s ark.” “Just because an animal lives in paradise doesn’t mean they don’t have any instincts. I think that Noah’s ark did land here and the animals we’ve seen are descendents from those original animals. if this really is the mountain where Noah landed. then that must be the ruins of his boat! Come on!” We made our way up to the massive wooden structure and peeked inside. I had expected to see stalls of some kind to keep the animals contained. to hunt for food. They haven’t lived anywhere but here. “find a mate.” I cleared my throat. jagged gaps let the sunshine through. “Kishan…I have a theory.” I followed him in. Instincts are very powerful. “I think it will be safe enough if you stay right behind me. as we left the wooden relic. and I’m sure there are plenty of. and to…” he looked at me pointedly. “Right. Kadam.” He disappeared into the gaping maw of the edifice and emerged a few minutes later. But. The instinct to protect your territory. It did have a few levels with wooden steps. Let me go first and test it out. I wanted to climb in and look around. but there were none to be found. food’s abundant here. That’s why they act differently. Remember when Mr. Kadam talked about all the flood myths? Well.

I couldn’t see anything resembling a weed. and grass hung in the air. The bird parents sat chirping happily. The place really was like a paradise. and even kangaroos. and from all appearances. Kishan and I seemed to be the only two people here. apples. The air was warm. But how do you know it’s always like this? Maybe the winter comes at a different time here.” “Y but we haven’t seen any predators yet. It seemed like a well-kept garden.” I took out a notebook and started categorizing the things we’d seen. It would be impossible for this type of landscape to maintain itself naturally. Kishan had smelled them a mile from their lands. The fresh fragrance of flowers. “Perhaps. It’s strange. camels. “That’s true. We found a perfect bird nest with speckled blue eggs. a perfect temperature—not too hot and not too cold. By the early afternoon. not upset at all as we came closer to inspect their eggs. citrus. Late afternoon was when we saw our first predators —a pride of the air. but I don’t think so. I thought. I’ve seen flowers growing that bloom in the spring. It’s almost like the best of everything. I also made a list of every animal we came in contact with. We’ll keep an eye out.” He raised an eyebrow.” “Maybe. we’d seen hundreds of different animals that I knew shouldn’t be living in this kind of environment—elephants. “mates to go around. but I’ve also seen flowers that bloom in the fall. and we decided to go in for a closer . The animals are all perfect and well fed.” es.

look. He made me climb a tree while he investigated. Finally, he came back with a look of astonishment. “There’s a large herd of antelope near the pride but they graze right next to the cats! I saw a lioness eating something red that I assumed was meat but it turns out that it was fruit. The lions were eating apples.” I started to climb down. Kishan caught me around my waist and lowered me the rest of the way. “Ah ha! So my theory was correct. This really is like the Garden of Eden. The animals don’t hunt.” “It appears you were right.” “Hmm…still, just to be safe, I’d like to put some distance between us and the lions before we camp.” Later, we saw other predators—wolves, panthers, bears, and even another tiger. They made no moves against us. In fact, the wolves were as friendly as dogs and approached us to be petted. He grunted, “This is strange. It’s unnerving.” “I know what you mean, but…I like it. I wish Ren could see this place.” Kishan didn’t respond except to urge me to leave the wolf pack and move on. At dusk, we stumbled into a clearing in the middle of a forest that was full of daffodils. We’d just started to set up camp when I heard the soft, haunting music of a flute. We both froze. This was the first evidence of people. “What should we do?” “Let me go look.” “I think we should both go.” He shrugged, and I followed him. We followed the lingering notes of the mysterious sound and found the

lingering notes of the mysterious sound and found the source of the music sitting on a raised stone near a brook playing a reed pipe. He held his pipes gently between two hands and blew air softly between pursed lips. As we hesitantly approached, he stopped playing and smiled at us. His eyes were bright green and set in a handsome face. His silver hair was just past shoulder length and hung loosely down his back. Two small, brown, velvety horns peeped out of the top of his silvery tresses, reminding me of young deer just growing antlers. He was slightly smaller than an average human, and his skin was white with a slight lilac tint. He was barefoot and wore pants that looked like they were made from doeskin. His shirt was long-sleeved and the color of a pomegranate. He hung his pipes around his neck and looked at us. “Hello.” Kishan replied warily, “Hello.” “I’ve been waiting for you to come. We’ve all been waiting.” I asked, “Who’s we?” “Well, me for one. Then there’s the Silvanae and the fairies.” Puzzled, Kishan asked, “Y ou’ve been expecting us?” “Oh, yes. For a long time, in fact. Y must be tired. ou Come with me and we’ll provide you with some refreshment.” Kishan stood rooted to the ground. I stepped around him. “Hi. I’m Kelsey.” “Nice to meet you. My name’s Faunus.”

“Faunus? I’ve heard that name before…” “Have you?” “Y Y es! ou’re Pan!” “Pan? No. I’m definitely Faunus. At least, that’s what my family tells me. Come along.” He stood up, hopped over a rock, and disappeared through the woods on a stone path. I turned around and took Kishan’s hand. “Come on. I trust him.” “I don’t.” I squeezed his hand and whispered, “It’s okay. I think you could take him.” Kishan tightened his grip on my hand and allowed me to lead him after our guide. We followed Faunus through the trees and soon heard the tinkling laughter of many people. As we neared the settlement, I realized that the sound was nothing I’d ever heard people make before. It was unearthly. “Faunus…what are Silvanae?” “They are the tree people, the tree nymphs.” “Tree nymphs?” “Y Y have no tree people where you come es. ou from?” “No. We have no fairies either.” He seemed confused. “What kind of people emerge from a tree when it splits?” “No one emerges as far as I know. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tree split unless lightning hit it or someone chopped it down.” He stopped in midstride. “Y people chop down our trees?” “In my land? Y they do.” es,

He shook his head sadly. “I’m very glad I live here. Those poor trees. What would happen to all the future generations, I wonder.” I looked at Kishan, who shook his head imperceptibly and then led us on. It was getting dark now. We stepped under a wide arch full of hundreds of miniature climbing roses in all varieties of color and entered the village of the Silvanae. Lanterns hung from ropy vines that draped down from the largest trees I’d ever seen. The small lights inside the lanterns bobbed up and down in their glass houses, each one a different vivid color—pink, silver, turquoise, orange, yellow, and violet. On closer inspection, I saw the lights were living creatures. They were fairies! “Kishan! Look! They glow like lightning bugs!” They looked like large butterflies, but the glow wasn’t coming from the fairies’ bodies, it was coming from their wings. The colorful wings opened and closed lazily as the creatures sat perched on a wooden mount inside. I pointed at one. “Are those…” “Fairy lights? Y es. They have two-hour shifts on lantern duty in the evenings. They like to read on duty. Keeps ’em awake. If they fall asleep, their lights go out. ” I mumbled, “Right. Of course.” He led us farther into the settlement. The small cottages were made of fibrous woven plants and were set in a circular fashion around a grassy space. The center area had been set up for a banquet. A giant tree stood behind each hut; the towering limbs reached

stood behind each hut; the towering limbs reached over and across, twining their branches together with their neighboring trees, creating a beautiful green bower overhead. Faunus raised his pipe and blew a happy melody. Slight framed, willowy people streamed out of their cottages and hopped down from foliar hiding places. “Come. Come and meet those we have been waiting for. This is Kelsey and this is Kishan. Let us bid them welcome.” Shining faces came closer. They were all silverhaired and green-eyed like Faunus. Beautiful males and females were dressed in shimmering gossamer clothing in the bright colors of the flowers that grew everywhere. Faunus turned to me. “Would you like to eat first or bathe first?” Surprised, I said, “Bathe first. If that’s alright.” He bowed. “Of course. Anthracia, Phiale, and Deiopea, will you take Kelsey to the women’s bathing shallows?” Three lovely Silvanae approached me shyly from the group. Two took my hands while the third led me out of the clearing and into the forest. Kishan was scowling at me, obviously unhappy about us being separated, but I noticed he was soon escorted away too, in a different direction. The women were slightly smaller than Faunus, about a head shorter than me. My escorts followed a path colorfully lit by helpful fairies, and we came upon a round, sunken pool fed by a small brook. The water dropped down from larger stones to smaller, then

dropped to the pool, creating a diminutive, hidden spray of water. It worked like a wide faucet that was always running. They removed my backpack and disappeared while I took off the rest of my clothing and stepped into the pool. I was surprised that it was warm. A long, submerged stone, too convenient to be natural, ran along the arch inside the pool, serving as a stepping stone and then as a seating stone once I was in the water. After I’d wet my hair, the three nymphs returned and brought bowls of fragrant liquids. They let me pick the fragrance I liked and handed me a mossy ball that functioned like a loofah. I scrubbed the dirt from my skin with the fragrant soap while Phiale soaped through my hair with three different products, having me rinse under the small waterfall each time. The fairy lights glowed warmly. By the time I stepped out of the pool and the women wrapped my body and hair with soft cloth, my skin and scalp were tingling and I felt relaxed and refreshed. Anthracia massaged perfumed lotion into my skin while Phiale worked on my hair. Deiopea disappeared briefly and returned with a beautiful celadon green gossamer dress embroidered with shimmering flowers. I reached out to touch the dress. “It’s lovely! The embroidery is so fine, the flowers look real.” She giggled. “They are real.” “They can’t be! How did you sew them in?” “We didn’t sew them. We grew them in. We asked them to be a part of this dress, and they agreed.” Anthracia asked, “Do you not like it?”

“No. I love it! I would be very happy to wear it.” They all smiled and hummed contentedly as they worked on me. When they were finished, they brought out a silvered mirror set in an oval frame that had been carved with looping flowers. “What do you think, Kelsey? Is your appearance satisfactory?” I stared at the person in the mirror. “Is that me?” They erupted in tinkling giggles. “Y of course, it’s es, you.” I stood transfixed. The barefoot woman staring back at me had large brown doe’s eyes and soft creamy white skin that glowed with health. Sparkling green eye shadow enhanced my eyes, and my lashes were long and dark. My lips shone with apple red gloss, and my cheeks were a becoming pink. The green gossamer dress was in the Grecian style and made me look curvier than I was. It was draped over my shoulders, wrapped around my waist, and fell to the ground in long folds from my waist down. My hair hung loose and wavy down my back and ended just above my waist. I hadn’t realized that my hair was so long now. It was adorned with flowers and butterfly wings. No! The wings moved slightly. They were fairies holding my hair in wavy twists. “Oh! They don’t need to stay in my hair. I’m sure there are other things they would rather be doing.” Phiale shook her head. “Nonsense. They are honored to hold the tresses of one as fair as you. They say your hair is beautiful and soft, and it’s like resting in a cloud. They are happiest when they serve. Please let them stay.”

them stay.” I smiled. “Alright, but just through the dinner.” The three Silvanae women fussed and primped over me for several more minutes and then declared me presentable. We started back to the village. Just before we reached the banquet area, Deiopea handed me a fragrant bunch of flowers to carry in with me. “Uh…I’m not getting married or anything like that, right?” “Married? Why no.” Phiale said, “Do you want to get married?” I waved my hand. “Oh no, I just thought of it because of the beautiful dress and the bouquet of flowers.” “Those are the marriage customs of your land?” “Y es.” Deiopea tittered, “Well, if you did want to marry, your man does look very handsome.” The three ladies fell into giggles again and pointed to the banquet table where Kishan sat, obviously frustrated. They bounced to the table and disappeared in the silver-haired group. I had to admit, Deiopea was right. Kishan did look very handsome. They’d dressed him in white pants and a blue gossamer shirt made of the same material as mine. He had bathed too. I laughed as he looked around at the Silvanae, obviously feeling out of place. He must have heard me because he looked up and scanned the crowd. His eyes lit on me and flew past, still searching. He didn’t recognize me! I laughed again; this time, his eyes darted back to me and stayed. Slowly rising, he made his way to me. He looked me up and down with a big grin on his face and

let out a whoop of laughter. Annoyed, I said, “What about my attire makes you laugh?” He took both of my hands in his and looked in my eyes. “Nothing at all, Kelsey. Y are the most ou enchanting creature I’ve ever seen in my life.” “Oh. Thanks. But why did you laugh?” “I laughed because I’m the lucky one who gets to see you like this, to be with you in this paradise while Ren had to be chased by monkeys and fight needle trees. Obviously, I got the better quest.” “Undeniably you did, at least, so far. But, I forbid you to tease him about this.” “Are you kidding? I plan on taking your picture and explaining everything to him in great detail. In fact, stay right there.” He disappeared and came back with a camera. I frowned. “Kishan…” “Ren would want a picture. Believe me. Now smile and hold your flowers.” He took several shots then slipped the small camera in his pocket and took my hand. “Y ou’re beautiful, Kelsey.” I blushed at the compliment, but a feeling of melancholy stole over me. I thought about Ren. He would have loved this place. It was a scene right out of Midsummer Night’s Dream . He would have been the handsome Oberon to my Titania. Kishan touched my face. “The sadness is back again. It breaks my heart, Kells.” He leaned over and kissed my cheek softly. “Will you do me the honor of accompanying me to dinner, apsaras rajkumari?”

I tried to snap out of it and smiled at him. “Y If you es. tell me what you just called me.” His golden eyes twinkled. “I called you princess, fairy princess to be exact.” I laughed. “Then what would you call yourself?” “I am the handsome prince, naturally.” He tucked my arm through his and helped me sit. Faunus took a chair across from us, sitting next to a lovely Silvanae. “May I introduce our sovereign?” “Of course,” I said. “Kelsey and Kishan, meet Dryope, titular queen of the Silvanae.” She nodded delicately at us and smiled, then announced, “It is time for the feasting! Enjoy!” I didn’t know where to begin. Plates of delicate lace cookies and honey cakes were placed next to fluffy lemon meringue tarts, platters of stewed fruits in sugary syrups, baby quiches, and cinnamon crepes. I scooped up a helping of dandelion salad with dried fruits and lime dressing and a portion of an apple, onion, and mushroom galette with baked stilton cheese. Other dishes of sugar plum pudding, blueberry scones, pumpkin cups with cream cheese filling, soft rolls with creamy butter, and fruited jams and jellies were also brought out. We drank honeyed flower nectar and watermelon spritzys. Kishan handed me a fruit appetizer. It was a tiny nutty pastry cup filled with raspberries and topped with fresh cream. All the food was small except for the final pastry—a gigantic strawberry shortcake. Red glaze dripped down the sides of the white cake, which was filled with sweet red berries and fluffy custard. It

was topped with mounds of whipped cream, had a dusting of sugar on top, and was served with milk. When we were finished, I leaned over to Kishan and said, “I had no idea vegetarians ate this well.” He laughed and scooped up another helping of the shortcake. I dabbed my lips with my napkin. “Faunus. May I ask you a question?” He nodded. “We found the ruins of the ark. Do you know about Noah and the animals here?” “Oh! Do you mean the boat? Y we saw the boat es, settle in the hills, and all manner of creatures emerged. Many of them left our realm and entered your world, including the people who were in it. Some of the creatures decided to stay. Others had generations of descendents and then returned to us. We agreed to let all of them remain if they followed the law of our land —that no one creature may hurt another.” “That’s…amazing.” “Y it’s wonderful to have had so many of the es, animals return to us. They find peace here.” “So do we. Faunus…we are here seeking something called the omphalos stone or the navel stone. Have you ever seen it?” All the Silvanae shook their heads as Faunus answered, “No. I’m afraid we don’t know of such a stone.” “What about a giant tree thousands of feet tall?” He considered for a moment, and then shook his head. “No. If there is such a tree or such a stone, they reside outside of our realm.” “Y mean back in my world?” ou

“Not necessarily. There are other parts of this world that we have no control over. As long as you walk our lands beneath our trees you are safe, but once you leave their shelter we can no longer protect you.” “I see.” I sank back in disappointment. He brightened, “However, you may find your answer if you sleep in the Grove of Dreams. It’s a special place to us. If we have a difficult question that needs to be answered or if we need direction, we sleep in there and can find the answer or see a dream of the future and realize the question wasn’t so important after all.” “We could give it a try.” “Wonderful! We will take you.” A group of excited Silvanae began chattering at the other end of the table. I asked Faunus, “What’s going on?” “How momentous that you came at this time! One of the trees is splitting!” “What? How do you know? What does that mean?” “Come and see, Kelsey and Kishan. Come see the birth of a tree nymph.” Kishan held my hand while Faunus guided us behind one of the cottages to the tree behind it. The whole town waited at the base of the tree and hummed quietly. Faunus whispered, “These trees antedate your Noah and his boat of animals. They have given birth to many generations of Silvanae. Each cottage that you see is set before the family tree. This means that all who live in the cottage were born from the mother tree behind it. It’s getting close to time. Look up. See how the other trees offer their support?”

the other trees offer their support?” I glanced up at the leafy bower overhead, and it did look like the branches were squeezing the leafy fingers of the tree that was straining nearby. It made wooden groaning popping sounds, and the leaves trembled above us. The tree nymphs seemed to be focused on a large, knobby mound that bulged near a low branch. The tree shuddered as the long branch quivered. After several intense moments of listening to the deep rumbles of the tree, and watching the trunk expand and contract, so slowly that I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t paying attention, the bottom branch broke off from the enormous trunk with a terrible crack. The nymphs stopped singing and a hush fell over the assembly. The branch hung loosely, touching the ground near us, held on by only the bark of the tree. A small silver head was tucked in the space where the base of the branch met the trunk. A small group of Silvanae approached and cooed, speaking softly to the small being resting in the tree. They gently lifted it out and wrapped it in a blanket. One member of the group lifted the small Silvanae baby in the air and announced, “It’s a boy!” They disappeared into the cottage while everyone cheered. Another group of Silvanae carefully removed the quivering limb from the tree and spread a creamy salve over the broken oval in the trunk where the branch had been. Silvanae began to dance around the tree, and tiny fairies flew up into the top and lit up all the branches with their fluttering wings. When the celebration was

here we are. When the bloom is spent. and his memories become a part of future generations. “So now we know where the Silvanae come from. Ah. As Faunus walked us to the Grove of Dreams. Fairies are born of roses. and fairies had followed us in and took their places in the lanterns. Baskets of fragrant flowers hung from each corner. “The four large trees that support the bower stand one in each direction—north. and west. south. taking two fairies with him. but what about the fairies? Are they born from trees too?” He laughed. his body is laid to rest in the roots of the mother tree. A bud swells. “Umm. Tall trees supported a leafy bed that hung from vines. Gossamer pillows and bedding were embroidered with swirling vines and leaves. a fairy is born with wings the color of the bloom. During the day. Fairies die only if their rose plant does.over. When a Silvanae dies.” He’d led us into a secluded area. At night. I asked him. and when the time is right. it was late. east. I shifted uncomfortably. Not immortal. It looked like a fairy honeymoon suite. we leave it to seed. they turn back into fairies again. The best dreams are had when the head points west so you wake with the sun in the east. but we do live a long time. Good luck to you and sweet dreams. the Grove of Dreams. this is a little . but they are awake only in the evenings.” “Are you immortal? Do you live forever?” “No. “No.” He smiled and was off. they find a flower to rest on and their bodies change into morning dew. so they can live a long time.

Kelsey. “Keep your hair on your side. I dreamt of a long rope lit . In one dream. uh…what if you’re the one who has the dream?” “Do you think it matters if I’m in the bed or not?” “I have no idea.awkward.” He stiffened.” Kishan was staring at the bed like it was a mortal enemy. It tickles. He muttered some more. “Fine.” I pulled my hair over my shoulder. He pulled the gossamer cover over me. There was something about fairy princesses and how does she expect me to sleep and Ren better appreciate . in another he was laughing and happy.” “Deal. he didn’t know me and turned away from me. I stifled a laugh and rolled to my side. and I heard Kishan sputter.” “Right. A breeze softly stirred my hair. and he held me close and whispered that he loved me. I will be sleeping on the ground. Kishan muttered as he stowed the backpack. He turned to me and gallantly bowed. and then I felt the bed sway as he lay next to me. But. etc. The bed shifted back and forth like a hammock.” I climbed in first and sunk into the soft feather bed and pillow. We were together again. “Sorry. Kells. I caught snippets of phrases.” I laughed. I think you better join me. something about more than a man can bear and shifted quietly. etc. But we’re sleeping back to back. “Not to worry. but just in case. I fell asleep quickly and had vivid dreams of Ren.

” “Okay. and we were surrounded by schools of colorful fish. honey.” “Perhaps you went to bed last night with different .” “That kind of motivation keeps a man in bed. “Y eah. to wake up. I woke disappointed. “Kishan. “Shh.” I pushed against his ribs. Kishan had his arm draped over me. Come on!” “Okay. I did dream about the omphalos stone.” He woke with a start. go back to sleep. I’m not kissing you. “Kelsey?” “Y Kelsey. he groaned and rubbed his eyes. I wonder why you dreamt of the omphalos stone and not me. pinning me to the bed. right. there was no hint of the omphalos stone. Kishan watched me and commented. Confused. But. Despite dreaming very clearly. A man needs some motivation to get out of bed.” “Y did? Where is it?” ou “I can’t really describe it.” I laughed. Durga?” He froze and blinked a couple of times. Now get up. I’ll have to show you. It’s not morning yet. “That’s none of your business.” I hopped out of the bed and adjusted my dress. I was underwater swimming alongside Ren. and his face was buried in my hair. In another dream.with fire and a black pearl necklace. Kishan! Wake up!” He woke only halfway and pulled me closer. for your information. I shoved him. but give me a kiss first. “Y ou’re prettier now than you were last night. “Time es. Who’ve you been dreaming about? es.” “Y it is morning.

I hadn’t thought about the stone at all before I slept. Kells?” “That’s none of your business either.” When he returned. “Be right back.” Kishan took the lead in walking back to the Silvanae village. I couldn’t get him to tell me what had made him so happy. He was right. I forgot something. . “Forget it.“Perhaps you went to bed last night with different questions in your mind. He watched me curiously. “And what did you dream about last night. but no matter how hard I tried. he stopped and ran back to the Grove of Dreams.” My mouth fell open. He narrowed his eyes and scowled. My thoughts were entirely focused on Ren. A short distance away. I think I can figure it out on my own. he was grinning from ear to ear.

Both of us were given lightweight shirts. I agreed with them. the wonderful thing about fairy material was that if you hung it on the limb of a tree at night. khaki pants with a subtle sheen. the fairies would clean and repair the material while you were sleeping. while journeying in Silvanae. they seemed shocked and said that no animals were ever harmed in Silvanae.CHAPTER 18 We breakfasted with the Silvanae again and were gifted with new clothing. We thanked them for their gifts and enjoyed our repast. When I explained. They told us that. and plush-lined boots. As we lounged at . and they didn’t know what I was talking about. They said that the fairies weaved all their cloth and that there was no material on earth as fine or as soft and beautiful. I asked if they were leather.

The family who had the new baby come last night has asked if you will name their child before you leave. the Silvanae cheered. if you don’t mind. “Are you sure? What if I name it something they don’t like?” “They would be honored at any name you give him. Kelsey. “I’d like to name him after your grandfather. He reached out to touch the baby’s hand. Faunus appeared carrying a small infant and said. He was beautiful. “Y ou’ll be a good mother.” “Right now. The little baby. “I think he’d like to have a namesake. much more active than a newborn human baby would be. I bounced him softly in my arms and cooed at him. reached a hand out to grab a lock of my hair and tugged. He laughed.breakfast. I’m more of an auntie. Tarak. I reached in a finger to lightly tap his nose and touch his downy soft silver hair. and it grabbed onto his finger.” I looked up at Kishan. Kishan put his arm around my shoulders and leaned over to whisper.” Kishan’s golden eyes sparkled. Here. and started sucking his thumb. he laid the tiny infant in my arms.” Before I could mouth another word of protest. Y turn.” “He does. unimpressed with his new moniker. “Before you go.” When I told Faunus that I’d like the baby’s name to be Tarak. Tarak yawned sleepily.” our .” I sputtered. “He’s got a strong grip. A small pair of green eyes looked up at me from the soft blanket. we have a favor to ask. Kishan leaned over and gently removed my hair from the baby’s grasp then brushed the rest of my hair over my shoulder.

and he set the small creature in the crook of his arm and spoke quietly to it in his native language.” “Am I?” “Y Care to share?” es. we said our goodbyes and picked up our pack. I asked. “What’s wrong with you today? Y ou’re acting differently. When I came back. Y held a ou dark-haired newborn baby boy in your arms. he was rocking the sleeping baby in his arms and staring thoughtfully at its little face. “One of my dreams was about you. Before he left. Y were propped ou up in bed. so he led the way. When he came back. Y called ou him Anik. and then sighed. I went off to change my clothes and braid my hair. and started to the east. Just let me change too. tired. Kishan seemed to know where he was going. several honey cakes. “Ready to go?” He looked up at me with a tender expression.” “Oh. he brushed a finger across my cheek and smiled at me. “Was there…anyone else there with me?” . His touch was hesitant and sweet. staring at me with a strange sort of smile on his face.” He handed off the baby to its family then stopped to take the clothes I held out to him. “I think so. and a flagon of flower nectar. but happy and beautiful.I handed Kishan the baby. He hesitated for a long moment. which now held my gossamer dress. After an hour or so of walking. I often caught him watching me. He was your son. ” That explains why he was acting differently toward me.

I want…you. Kelsey. I want the life that I saw in my dream more than just a little. but seeing you like that in my dream. with that little baby…yeah.” “I see. This was not good. He was sleeping. I bit my lip nervously. . “Y once ou asked me if I wanted a home and a family. I saw him.” I mutely nodded and fidgeted while he watched me. but I couldn’t fathom any future where I’d choose him over Ren. He asked. not really. I mean…he’s either Dhiren’s or… he’s mine. “No. the eyes changed color and became as golden as an Arizona desert.” What? Is he saying what I think he’s saying? I conjured up in my mind a sweet baby boy with Ren’s vivid blue eyes. “Is there anything you dreamed about that you’d like to share with me?” I shook my head and played with the fairy hem of my shirt. but I couldn’t see who. His eyes were closed.” I started walking ahead again.“There was. and I felt …possessive and proud.” “He looked like us. He stopped me and touched my arm.” “Oh. I want it. “No. I want him. I had to know! “And did you uh…see the baby’s eyes?” He paused and looked intently at my face before saying. Kells. Maybe I wouldn’t have the option. in a flash. I thought you should know that.” He grunted and walked ahead again. I didn’t think that I’d ever want one without Y esubai. Was it possible that Ren wouldn’t survive? That somehow I’d end up with Kishan? I knew that Kishan had feelings for me.

doesn’t survive…no. stopping for breaks along the way. but my mind reminded me that we didn’t always get what we wanted.” He replied. for some reason. Kells. “It’ll be okay. If that puts me in danger. but I’d never imagined that I’d have two men —brothers. I was extremely bothered by Kishan’s confession. and that was impossible. Relating to Kishan felt different now. We walked all afternoon. look out for that log . Another cave. There were so many unresolved questions. My experiences with them have not been good thus far.A baby ? I’d always wanted to be a mom and have a family. Please lead on. something more than I could give him. My thoughts roiled like boiling water with ideas and thoughts bursting into steamy nothingness when they reached the surface. then so be it. awkward. I wanted my parents back too. We didn’t talk much except to say.” “Whatever you say. I felt like he expected something from me. I peered into its murky depth. I formed words in my mind and thought I might broach the subject. Trust me. but I couldn’t find the courage. everything I can to find Lokesh. or. He led us to a range of hills and made for a small cave at the base of one.” . This was bad! My heart screamed that it wanted Ren. I didn’t want to hurt him. I don’t like caves. When we arrived. watch out for the water puddle. I’ll stop that line of thinking right now He will survive! I’ll do . nonetheless—vying for my attention. I didn’t want to deal with this. “Great. If Ren.

It was dark. in fact. “Nothing’s happening. “Ow!” I smacked the insect with my hand. then bright . It was like we’d stepped into a giant beehive.” Bees swarmed angrily around us. Light broke through the ground above in several places. sat a stone object with a hole on top that looked not unlike a beehive.” Kishan had been stung several times on the face. I approached the stone and looked inside. spotlighting the rocks and ground in thin pillars. on a pedestal. then orange. but it seemed the stingers couldn’t penetrate the fairy cloth. I pulled out my flashlight and swung it around. In the middle of the cave. Bees! The cave was full of bees. They’ll bother us less if we move slowly and quietly and get done with what we came to do. Something brushed my face. his eyebrow was swelling up. A felt a sting on my wrist and pulled my hands into my long sleeves. Fiery warmth shot down my arms and into the stone. I shook my hands out of my sleeves and winced as a bee took the opportunity to crawl up my arm.” I said. Kells. “Shh. The stone turned yellow.” “I’ll try. The walls were dripping with honeycomb. “The omphalos stone!” A bee crawled down the neck of my shirt and stung me. holding the opening closed. Several had landed on my clothing.I heard a buzzing noise that got louder the deeper we went. It took all my resolve not to violently bat them away from my body. I put both hands on the sides of the stone and willed the heat to move up from my belly. Keep quiet. “Try using your power.

They believed it would help. his body twisted and elongated. Kadam talked about.” “Were you successful then? Did you see the tree?” “Y eah. They plopped to the cave floor like fat gumdrops and slept. I was sucked into a powerful vision.” . here goes. my clothes. Then.” “Okay.” “I guess. like those oracles I took a big whiff. and the bees became sluggish. I heard a hissing sound coming from within and smelled gas fumes. Kells.” “When did you tell them we’d be going to a bee cave?” “When you were changing.” “But how does it feel?” “It feels…good. “I think you might have to inhale the fumes. I saw shooting stars and colors. “The Silvanae gave it to us when I told them we would be seeing lots of bees. “Ugh! That stuff is nasty! What is it?” He held out a jar.” “Then I imagine you can tolerate the smell. The fetor permeated my hair. To say it wafted a strong odor would be an understatement.” Leaning over. I saw the tree and the four houses and something else too. and Kishan was dabbing my stings with a gooey substance the color of inch-worms. Smoky gas began to fill the cave.” “It smells awful. They’ve never heard of bees that sting but they use this salve on the trees to repair damage when a limb is blown off by the wind. Soothing and cool. and everything around us. Kishan became distorted. When I woke. we were in the jungle again.

It’s just an exceptionally large snake with a job to do. keeping my back to him as he put on his shirt. I know how to get there. He was looking at me in a way that made me blush. When I circled around him. it’s a very large snake wrapped around the base of the tree preventing anyone from accessing it. so I said nothing. I touched it lightly. “Let’s get a move on then.” “Right. there’s snake in the garden. I could feel the warmth of his perusal on my face as I quickly finished his lip and chin. Though I tried not to linger. To be specific. es. he swept his hair back away from his face and I dabbed the green slime over his cheeks and forehead. “No.” “Is it a demon?” I considered. I couldn’t help but notice his bronze skin was smooth and warm. shall we?” I began walking and he caught up matching my . would you mind?” He held out the salve and I began dabbing the substance on his neck. and we’ll figure out what to do on the way. He removed his shirt so I could reach the raised red stings on his upper chest and back and I quickly moved behind him to hide my red face. “Y he responded quietly.” It was obvious to me that he was not talking about the sting. There was a large sting near his upper lip. I stepped away as soon as possible and put the top back on the jar. Follow me. Before we get underway though. “Does it hurt?” My gaze moved from his lips up to his eyes.“What else?” “Like you said before.

On the fifth evening. Gilgamesh was so tired he had to lay down to rest. in fact. Kishan wanted another story so I told him one of the stories of Gilgamesh. the snake swallowed the entire bag whole. Through cunning questioning. When the gods found out the plant had been stolen. That night. perhaps it was like an herb or maybe even a drug like opium. The next morning. It came upon the fragrant plant. but the point is that he stole it. all Gilgamesh found was a snake skin. they were angry and announced that there would be a reward for anyone who could stop Gilgamesh. a common snake passed by out on its evening hunt. From then on. Or.” “What is the plant of eternity?” “I’m not sure. “While he was sleeping. Thinking it was getting an easy rabbit dinner.I began walking and he caught up matching my pace. So clever. We hiked another hour or two then made camp as the sun went down. “Gilgamesh was a very clever man. that he found a way to sneak into the realm of the gods. which Gilgamesh had placed in a small rabbit skin bag. people would say that snakes have an eternal . even if it was to be for only a few moments. He did this by wearing a disguise and pretending he was on an errand of great import. he discovered the hiding place of the plant of eternity. It could’ve been tea leaves or something they put in their salad or food. For four days and nights he ran without stopping to rest so that he could escape the wrath of the gods. This was the first time a snake had ever shed its skin.

there was only one tree with an enormous trunk. When a snake sheds its skin. Despite the fact that the trees seemed wrong. the clouds dissipated and I was shocked to realize that what I was looking at was not a forest of trees at all but the branches of one gigantic tree. bilauta. I knew the tree was in a large valley and that if we climbed between the twin peaks we would see it. we started down into the valley. We found the peaks the first day and took almost all of the second day climbing. We were so high that clouds obscured my view.” ou But I couldn’t sleep. “Did you stay awake this time?” “Y I liked your story. “He said it’s a giant world tree with roots . it dies and is born anew. we stared down into the valley. When we got to a lookout spot. I fished the papers out of the backpack and read as we hiked into the valley. “Y too. In the vision I’d had. I became confused. Thoughts of a golden-eyed baby kept me awake for a long time. About halfway down. It took us two days to reach the valley I was looking for. Kadam had given us. It looked like the valley was covered with forest trees. he reminded me of the research on the tree Mr. Sleep well.” I paused. Kishan was quiet.nature. When I pointed this out to Kishan. trees so tall that they disappeared above us into the clouds.” es. a tree whose limbs stretched taller than the mountains. When the wind finally started to break up the clouds.

I imagined strange creatures were watching us from above. the wind found ways to blow over and through the mighty limbs making it seem like we were walking through a haunted forest. strange noises assaulted our ears. leaves as long as my body. The wind blew through the large leaves.” I’d meant it to be funny. Maybe we can find a lower branch or a way to climb it. Kishan said. we picked a giant branch and began following it back to the trunk. It extended like a giant wooden wall as far as we could see. cold. The only plants growing under the tree were thin grasses. We finally found the trunk. it felt dark. “It appears so.” He replied dryly. I’m guessing this is it. Eerie. but the possibility that it could be true caused both of us to look up warily. Kishan moved closer to me and held out his hand as if he knew I was frightened. The nearest limb was hundreds of feet high. and still under the leafy roof. Too high for us to reach. Because the sun couldn’t penetrate the massive limbs overhead. and we had no rock climbing gear with us.” .descending to the underworld and leaves touching heaven.” When we stepped onto the valley floor. “Imagine the size of the tree nymphs that would be born out of this tree. “I suggest we make camp here at the base and start hiking around one side early in the morning. Creaking and moaning. I tried to laugh. They slapped against the branches like stiff clothes on a clothesline. It’s supposed to be a thousand feet wide and thousands of feet tall.

After that the people stopped believing in the gods. and both birds disappeared. Kadam had given me.” ou “Exactly. and they come back to him in the evening. that’s the interesting thing. Hugin flew away. “Odin is one of the gods of the Norse people. and these two pet ravens were sent out all over the world to steal for Odin.“Sounds good to me. The legend of Odin’s . and no one could ever overthrow him because he was always aware of everyone’s thoughts and intentions. When he asked for a story that night. Y could know what moves the enemy is planning. Ravens are notorious thieves. Hugin takes thoughts and Munin takes memories. He has two ravens named Hugin and Munin. One day. This way. but I chose not to voice my concerns to Kishan.” I heard a flapping noise and was surprised to see a black raven settle on the ground near our camp. Odin sends them out early in the morning. he can know all that happens. I couldn’t help but feel this might be a bad omen. He cawed at us and beat his wings stridently as he flew away. When Hugin returned to whisper thoughts in Odin’s mind. And that is what Odin did. I’m exhausted. Munin was caught by a traitor. he immediately forgot them without Munin to help him remember.” “What did they take?” “Ah. I told him one I’d read in a book that Mr.” “They would be convenient to have during a battle. They perch on his shoulders and whisper the thoughts and memories they have stolen into his ears. An enemy snuck in that night and overthrew Odin.

Have you seen my bracelet? The one Ren gave me for Christmas?” “No. as we packed up for the day.” Kishan asked. The camera is missing too. but it’s a part of who we are. I would do anything to protect them. and all the honey cakes. my hand drifted over to my wrist to the bracelet Ren had given me. “Are you afraid the raven will steal your memories.” “For a long time I would’ve given anything to have my memories wiped clean. I’m not afraid of the raven. Good night. I had a habit now of looking at his picture every day. you wouldn’t want to forget Y esubai. It’s sad to remember.” We looked everywhere and couldn’t locate it. .” “Good night.” “Umm. Kishan. Kells?” “Right now. “Kishan. I thought that if I could forget what happened I might be able to get on with my life.” “But. Kelsey. Why?” “It’s missing! Please help me find it. but to answer your question.” “Oh no! What else?” He pointedly looked at my throat. “I know I had it on last night.” The next morning. just like I wouldn’t want to forget Ren or my parents.ravens is one of the reasons that seeing a raven is a bad omen. It was missing. Kells. no.” “Hmm. my memories are the most precious things that I possess.

” “But it’s not real! It’s just a myth!” “Y said yourself that myths are often based on ou truths or partial truths. A bird I ignore when I sleep. Y didn’t have your only ou picture of Y esubai taken from you.” “Y but the amulet!” es. you’re right.” “What are we going to do now?” “The only thing we can do. Don’t worry so much about the picture. The trunk was so huge that I could .” He looked at me silently for a moment. “The only picture I ever had of Y esubai is the one in my mind. I know.” We chose the left side of the trunk and began walking around it. Maybe the bird took them. Keep going.” “What happened? How did we get robbed in the middle of nowhere? How could I not feel someone taking things from off my body as I slept?” “I have a suspicion that the raven has acquired our precious things. Let’s get going then. “Y have a chance to get the ou man back.“What? What is it?” “The amulet is gone. Kells. but…” He slid a finger under my chin and raised it so I’d look him in the face.” “Y think the raven took them?” ou “Y es. We still have our weapons and the Golden Fruit. Have a little faith. remember? Like the Ocean Teacher said.” “I know. I would have known if it was a person.” “Easy for you to say. “It’ll be okay.” “Y ou’re right.

Kishan looked up and froze.” A section of the trunk about two meters wide began to move. hot bellows. like seeing the giant tree and mistaking it for an entire forest. “Kishan! Did you see that?” “See what?” “The trunk moved!” He walked up to the trunk and touched it. Feel right…here. Kelsey. A giant suction of air followed by a hot wind disturbed the short grass and caused prickly goose bumps to rise on my arms.” The air began moving harder. If the snake feels that we have a legitimate reason to pass. like the bellows were pumping faster. but I couldn’t put it together.barely see it curve in the distance. Kells?” “It’s not a vicious snake. Can you feel it now?” “Y es. I was trailing my finger along the trunk while we walked when I saw something. Y see? The ou texture changes.” “Hmm. If not.” “Put your hand here. “What happens when we see the snake. A rush of air swirled around us like we were being targeted by a deep. “What is it. There! It’s another shift! Put your hand on top of mine. Another segment above that shifted in the opposite direction. Kishan?” . it will allow it. The patterns seemed familiar. It was confusing. it will try to stop us.” An hour or two later. At least that’s the way it looked from the omphalos stone’s view. I hissed. “Don’t move. It simply guards the tree. “I don’t see anything.

Twigs cracked. Why are you presssssenttt?” I looked up and up and up. leaves shuddered. Well. “Why isss ittt you are comminngg to my foressssttt?” I slowly turned and looked into a giant.” “Why sssshould I let you passssssss? Why do you neeeeddd the ssssscarffff?” “The airy prize is a scarf?” “Y essssssssss. “We’re here to claim the airy prize that rests at the top of the tree. I heard a deep. In fact. sibilant voice.” “Huh. His brother Ren has been kidnapped.” “Who areee thesssseeee princccccccesss?” “This is Kishan. and the two meter segments were the snake’s body. Kishan stepped up beside me and took my hand. It was perfectly camouflaged. horned eye. and it will also help to save the people of their country.I hissed. Now I knew what I’d been looking at before. its body shifted color to match its environment like a chameleon. It sounded like someone was dragging a bag with a dead body in it through a pile of leaves. I noticed he held the chakram loosely in his other. and there was no way to know just how long its body was. The giant snake was coiled around the tree. we need it because it will help break the curse placed on two princes of India. unblinking. “What is it.” . Kishan?” A rustling noise stirred behind me. and branches groaned. “Are you the guardian of the world tree?” “Y essssss. Its head was as big as Ren’s Hummer. as I watched.

Thissss ssssnakeee is herssss?” “Y Fanindra is here to help us on our quest.” “Durgaaaaa. . Who knowssssssss? Y ou will passsss through four houssssseeesssss. Perhapssssss it issss your dessssstiny. who withstood the inspection bravely. She raised her head toward the giant eye and flicked out her tongue several times.” The huge head began to turn as heavy coils slid over the ground.” The guardian peered at Fanindra for a long moment as if pondering our fate. I have heard of this godddeessssssss. And the houssssse of battsssssss. The snakes seemed to be communicating silently with one another. “Wait!” The snake turned back toward me and lowered its head to see me better. Y may ou notttt passsssssssss. “Whooo isssss sssssheeee?” “Her name is Fanindra. The houssssse of birdsssssss. “Y ouuu may crossssss. I felt a similar movement on my arm and shouted. I would’ve run in the other direction. She belongs to the goddess Durga. The housssse of gourdssssss. The es. Fanindra stretched out her coils and slid around the back of my neck. goddess Durga sent us and gave us weapons. I ssseennsse your purposssssse is not malicccioussssss. “I know not thesssssseee brothersssssss. The housssse of sssssirenssssssss.The giant snake flicked its tongue out toward Kishan several times.” “I sssssseeeeeeeee. Perhapsssssss you will be succccessssssful.

sealing us into the black root of the giant world tree.” Kishan and I bowed. when the snake moved. . you musssst make the besssstt of choiccccessssssss. Fanindra wound her body around my upper arm and settled into her dormant state again. Guardian. The coils wrapped around the trunk began to move and separate to reveal a secret passage into the trunk and a hidden stairway.” The large snake swung its heavy body. I had enough time to recognize the floor was covered with sawdust.” “Bessssst wisssssheesssss. Its body dropped over the passage. “Thank you. Kishan stepped through the passage and held out a hand. and the great tree rumbled.Beee cautioussssssss. To move on. I grasped his fingers and stepped inside the trunk with him.

After several . The stairs were wide enough that we could walk side by side and deep enough that we could stop and rest or even sleep if we needed to. He took my hand.CHAPTER 19 Fanindra’s emerald eyes began to glow and gave enough light that Kishan could find a flashlight. Five feet beyond us was another trunk that appeared as solid as the one outside—a trunk within a trunk. and we began to climb. It was hard to tell how high we’d climbed. We climbed at a slow pace and rested frequently. creating a spiral stairway. Kishan moved around a bit and found a set of stairs that seemed to be connected to both the inside and outside trunks.

but the carvings were far beyond anything I’d ever seen done to a jack-o’lantern. Kishan reached out to touch one. and pulled open the door slowly while I nudged in my foot and scanned for attackers. It was yelloworange and bumpy. “Wait! Don’t touch anything yet. No one was there. Some were pumpkins. woody stem was at the exact place where a knob should have been. I can’t see how that could apply. which guided American slaves to freedom as they journeyed on the Underground Railroad. This is one of the tests. Kadam’s notes. We need to figure out what to do. A rough. Kishan and I sat on the polished wood floor and read through them. The room was full of shelves that had been carved inside the walls of the tree. and he’s listed facts about . Kadam had written three pages of notes on gourds.hours. the Big Dipper specifically. It refers to the stars. Some were painted and oiled until they shone like a carved gem. We walked past shelf after shelf admiring the designs.” I flipped a page. “I don’t think they have anything to do with the first one about the American slave song “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd”. “There’s a lot of stuff about where certain gourds originated. He stood to the side. took the handle. Hold on a sec while I get Mr. Many of them were elaborately carved in beautiful designs and lit from within by flickering candles. we came upon a door of sorts.” Mr. and covering the shelves and the floors were hundreds of gourds of all shapes and sizes. I strung my bow and nocked an arrow while Kishan readied his chakram.

He dismissed my warning and said it tasted fine.” Kishan picked up a plain bell-shaped gourd. Huh.” He snatched up the fruit and took a bite before I could warn him there might be something wrong with it. “Hey! I got some lunch.” Kishan laughed. . I’ll go first. Definitely skipping that one. I don’t think that’s it either. It says that a young boy coming of age chooses the gourd that will guide his life. “Ha! In your dreams maybe. He shook it. Kells? I’m willing to make the sacrifice if you are. Keep your hand aimed at whatever comes out. When he finally paid attention to me. threw it in the air. “This one says throw a gourd on the water to call up sea monsters and sea serpents. some dangerous. Each one contained something different.” I skimmed through the myth and narrowed my eyes at him while he laughed. and a pear rolled out.” “I think picking one is probably the right thing to do. There’s a myth about gourd boats. The broken gourd dissolved and melted into the floor. the fruit was almost gone. One even had the elixir of eternal youth. Maybe we’ll get lucky. “I’m going to try breaking it. some not. “How about that one? The one about gourds and fertility? Want to give that one a try. not really needing one of those. Perhaps we should just pick one. I guess we just need to try.” “What about this one? The Chinese myth. Nothing happened.” I turned to another page. and thumped it against the wall…still sailors sought out seeds to grow certain types. but how do we know which one?” “Not sure.” He smashed it on the ground.

Before I could raise my hand.“Okay.” . I breathed it in and began coughing and my vision blurred. your turn. I chose a huge white gourd and got moonlight. but it followed and moved toward my mouth and nose. A tall thin one made beautiful music. He agreed. I told him not to drink it because it might not be what it seemed. but we found that if we didn’t drink it. and Kishan’s chakram sank into the wooden floor at my feet. The snake’s head had been severed from its body. I darted away. hissing snake emerged from the broken pieces. He gulped down the milk and we went on. The snake’s body and the broken gourd melted into the floor. I felt dizzy and started to fall. and the broken one with the milk inside wouldn’t dissolve. which produced something that looked like milk. thick. Maybe it’s a good idea to go with plain gourds. raised it above my head.” I picked up a round gourd painted with flowers. a black mist emerged and headed for me. A small warty gourd produced sand.” He chose a bottle-shaped gourd. It coiled to strike and spat at my leg. I heard a metallic whirring. A black. Kishan caught me. the next gourd wouldn’t break. gray gourd that looked like a bottlenosed dolphin splashed seawater on Kishan’s leg. my turn. “Umm. My next choice was a spoon-shaped one. A long. There was nothing Kishan could do. I think that one was disease. “Kelsey! Y ou’re turning pale! How do you feel?” “Not good. When I broke it. and smashed it to the floor.

and a ruby. which he kicked to the corner of the room. The next gourd he chose had some kind of pill. I’d die. and Kishan was getting desperate. He was nervous. regular water. It didn’t make me feel better. and we debated over if I should take it or not. I briefly wondered if it was the same drink the Aztecs made. Breathing was hard. I think that one was disease. His next three contained clouds.” “Here. He ate the cheese and slipped the ring on his finger. and I refused to drink one that smelled like rubbing alcohol but I dabbed it on my skin and the gourd disappeared. one with a fish. which he pocketed. a scorpion came out of the next one and he stomped on it with his boot. my heart was racing. Maybe I can find a cure. It could be a poison that killed me outright or it could be my cure or it could be the elixir of eternal youth for all we . I shivered and started to sweat. He found a gourd with wind. I drank some kind of nectar. Lie down and rest. It tasted like a kid’s vitamin.“Not good. Every time he found a liquid. feverish and sweaty. a giant tarantula.” He began frantically breaking gourds while I watched. I was really dizzy and weak. My vision was going black at this point. The next one had a white liquid. and one that contained a small star that glowed so brightly we had to close our eyes until the light diminished and it sunk into the floor. I chewed the pill and swallowed. and some kind of bitter dark chocolate drink. I started to panic and felt sure that if we couldn’t find something soon. Two more gourds had some cheese and a ring. he rushed it over to me and made me drink.

Wrapping both hands around the bowl shape. Kishan. pale lips. I laughed. It tasted delicious. Immediately.” “Y eah. .” “Hey. “Y look much better.” “The hidden vessel? Maybe it means a hidden gourd.knew. Invincible. I had enough strength now to take the gourd from him. Help me.” “Good. How do you feel?” ou I stood up. Try this one. I gulped down the rest in two big swallows.” He took it from my hands and smashed it on the floor.” We collected a group of smaller-sized gourds.” “Pretty easy to hide a gourd in a room full of gourds. even. Kells. What’s that?” I pushed a few gourds out of the way and grabbed the handle of a large round gourd with a long top stem. The liquid trickled down my throat as I swallowed weakly. I waved him over. then a little more. “It has a tiger carved on the outside. Inside was a folded paper. I felt stronger than I had before we’d come in the room.” He dribbled a few more drops.” He lifted my head and tilted the gourd’s contents between my dry. Let’s look for out-of-the-way gourds that are in the back of the room or hidden in corners. “I’ll drink it. I began to feel strength return to my limbs. Kells. “I feel good! Strong. “More. “It’s like a fortune cookie! What does it say?” “It says—The hidden vessel shows the way .

shaped like a small apple. Disappointed. the third held a vanilla scent. It’s air! There’s a slight difference in the air.” It was a tiny gourd that seemed to be growing out of . which left only bare shelves. a feather. snow. “Well? Do you hear anything?” “Y There’s something different about the room.” Kishan crept around the room examining shelves. “Is that it? Do you see anything?” “No. a lily. and I had about half that number. which contained—rice. He opened his group first. had nothing. so something had happened. a mouse. He placed his hand on one of the walls and leaned in closer. and gourds. and the fourth. Let me listen. but better to be safe than sorry—and an earthworm.” We cleared the entire section of wall. but I can’t tell what. The broken gourd disappeared like the others. Kishan had about ten. can you sense it?” “No. We waited for a minute and started to get nervous thinking one of us was going to get sick again. the second contained drum sounds.We collected a group of smaller-sized gourds. es. I think it’s a door. another snake. I said. which he got rid of—it could have been harmless. “I can’t move this one. It’s stuck.” After a minute. bumping gourds that rolled and shifted. a hot pepper. a butterfly. Shh. Help me move these gourds.” “Give me a minute. walls. a cotton ball. Wait. The first had thread. we turned to my group. “There’s air coming through here.

I was still yanking on the small gourd. Kishan stepped back to get a better look and started laughing. It won’t move.the wall. On the other side. “Now you know how I feel trying to keep pace with you tigers all the time. sitting on a large step. “I don’t know what you’re trying to prove.” His laughter echoed through the tree trunk. Y know I’m never going to look at ou pumpkin pie the same way again. then grinned and asked for some kind of food in his native language. and he reached out. placing his hand on the gourd. “It’s a knob. A plate . “What is it? What are you laughing about?” “Stand back a second. Kells. Kells. After a few hours of climbing. Kishan called a halt. He held out his hand.” He grunted and slung the backpack off his shoulders. I can’t keep up with you. “Let’s stop and eat something. I wonder how long your special energy drink is going to last. Kelsey. “Shall we?” “I think so. but it wouldn’t budge. I pulled and pushed.” He twisted and pushed. We made ourselves comfortable. He unzipped the bag and took out the Golden Fruit and rolled it between his palms.” I moved out of the way. He thought for a moment.” He laughed and pushed open the section of wall that was now obviously a door. we found more steps that led higher into the tree.” I halted about ten steps ahead of him and waited for him to catch up.

“Ready. They ignored our weapons as if they made no difference and bid us welcome to their home. I whispered. When he returned I was writing in my journal. “Ready?” I replied. Kishan eyed my plate.” I wished for scalloped potatoes. I wrinkled my nose. Another hour of stairs and my power juice wore off. My turn.” He nodded and untied the chakram from his belt while I nocked an arrow.shimmered and solidified. It might be better to rest there. Let’s be careful.” The circular steps inside the trunk of the world tree led us to a cottage overgrown with thick ivy and flowers. and rolls with honey butter. The steam coming from the vegetables smelled familiar. A gorgeous woman with thick waves of long brown . Kishan let me rest while he went up a bit farther to see if he could find the next house. “There are people in there. “I found the next doorway. and he left me alone after that. green beans almandine. Come on. When my dinner appeared.” He finished off his meal quickly. I started feeling drained. and we were greeted by the most beautiful women I’d ever seen.” He carefully opened the door. I ended up just giving him half. Not a curry fan. Kells. cherry glazed ham. Tinkling laughter could be heard inside. then he kept trying to get me to look at imaginary monsters so he could steal bites from my plate. “How about we share?” “No thanks. “Curry? Ugh.

muscular. The women remained standing where they were and looked only at Kishan. “Y come. This one was even better looking than the first. Y must be tired after your long ou ou trip.” Kishan frowned at the guy.” “A bath sounds great to me. She was stroking his arm and murmuring to him of soft pillows. that’s very generous of you. and I couldn’t help but blush. “Y poor things. Kishan. “Umm. blond male turned all of his attention on me. He was .” said Kishan. Her eyes were locked on Kishan. I don’t think…” Another man came out from behind a curtain. Another woman joined the first one. and refreshments. He turned to me and was about to come back when another person came toward us. green eyes. “Y will find comfort here. I stammered.” They started to lead Kishan away when I protested. shimmering. welcome to our home. She completely ignored me. like I wasn’t even a presence in the room. Come inside.” He smiled at me. blue-eyed. and cherry lips dressed in a long. “Hello. blush-colored gown took Kishan’s arm. downy soft ivory “Uh. es. This time it was a man. She was blonde and blue-eyed and wore a gown of sparkling silver. but the girls turned their long-lashed fluttery charm on and distracted him again. Y can bathe and rest from your ou travels. bare chest. My sisters and I rarely get any visitors. Six feet of tanned. ou Please follow us. hot water.” she said. We would love to have you stay with us for a while.

It’s behind the curtain over there. and I took the opportunity to shower and change clothes.” “Y have a book collection?” ou “Y es. on closer inspection. They are amazing. Our sisters are excellent cooks. “Are you sure you can’t stay with us? Just for a while. “The only thing we have to keep us occupied is our book collection. Umm…no thanks. perhaps you would like to freshen up?” “Y have a bathroom?” ou “We do. My original clothes were . and water will rain down from the leaves of the tree. We will arrange some refreshment and a comfortable place for you to rest.” He smiled. thankfully.” “Ah then. He pouted and said. I figured I could always blast the guys with lightning if they tried something. Apparently. so I decided to check out the book collection until he returned. and his mouth riveted my attention. I found a long golden gown had been left hanging for me.” “Thank you. In fact. “Here. We’d love to have some company.” He sighed dramatically. They did indeed have a book collection and happened to have many of the books that I loved. Kishan and I just ate. I found I knew every title. When I emerged from the shower. Kishan had wandered off during this exchange. taste one of these tarts.” “Oh. Their bathroom was real.” We were obviously in the House of Sirens. It was similar to the gowns the two women had been wearing. There’s also a shower. Pull on the long vine. They offered me refreshment.dark-haired with dark eyes. “Will you allow me to show you some of them?” He held out an arm like a gentleman.

but he also added information on sea nymphs. and mermen.” I quickly glanced through the rest of my notes and slipped the papers in my backpack. Quietly. walked to the other side of the room. excuse me. Extremely long life…sometimes invisible…special times are noon and midnight. who were sometimes called sirens as well. one on each side. so I put on the golden dress and hung out my fairy clothes to see if the fairies would still clean them here in the world tree. Hmm…midnight should be soon. blah. “Umm. cause madness.” I slipped between them. They could ride through the air. My original clothes were still torn and bloody. stroke. and besotted infatuation. “Y es?” “Are you ready to come out. The two men were standing directly outside the door and stared at me like a pair of snakes watching a bird’s nest. that’s a new one.” . Lie back and relax. I skimmed through the sirens of the Odyssey and the story of Jason and the Argonauts . They could be dangerous. and turned toward me. Miss?” “Almost. “Y ou’re too stiff. A soft knock startled me from my study. and sat on what looked like a giant bean bag sofa covered in soft fur. I read through Mr. blah. dumbness. They retained beauty until they died…blah. slip through small holes. mermaids. The men sat next to me. The chair molds itself to your body. Kadam’s notes on sirens. I already knew those tales. One of the men nudged my shoulder.women had been wearing. These people were probably more tree nymphs than water nymphs. Hmm.

I murmured. One of the men kissed my lips. Kishan. and he pushed me back gently. Something was wrong. I’m not hungry quite yet. where’s es. ou’re quite lovely. and my senses focused on lips kissing my throat and warm hands massaging my shoulders. “Sparkling elderberry juice. It didn’t taste right.” The man massaging my shoulders began kissing the back of my neck.” the other man said.” The other one handed me a fluted glass with bubbling red liquid. They indicated a table in front of us laden with treats. We’re here to please you. picked up my other hand. “Y it is comfortable. ” “No.They wouldn’t take no for an answer. Pleasure wound through my body. but insistently. One of the men began stroking my arm while the other started massaging my shoulders. Y es. Umm. “Y I agree. and I greedily wanted more. “Would you like to try some candied fruit? It’s delicious. and began kissing my fingers.” He handed me the glass. “Relax.” weakly and tried to shake the men .” ou I tried to sit up.” “It was impossible to notice anything after you stepped into the room.” “Who’s Kishan?” “The man I came here with. Thank you. A foggy dimness clouded my vision.” said his brother. “No.” “I didn’t notice a man. but he pressed me back in the chair. “Y have the most delicate skin. Thank you. I closed my eyes for a moment.

iadala. about how he chose the peaches and cream ice cream because it reminded him of me. but they wouldn’t leave me alone. I insisted that we needed to be on . They began humming and sang softly. Ren. my eyes. how he held my hand all the time. his love for peanut butter and pancakes.” Something popped. I hummed the song Ren wrote for me and quoted one of his poems. He moved to my neck and moved his thumb in little circles. They tried to tug me over to a soft bed. Ren. I heard him say. That’s when the something I was trying to remember snapped into my conscious mind. I thought about his hair. “Mein tumse mohabbat karta hoon. “Mujhe tumse pyarhai. I stood my ground while they pulled and begged and cajoled. something I was trying to grab onto. and I abruptly sat up. In my mind. Refusing again. I thought about him lying his head on my lap while I read to him. He’d massaged my neck like that. and my beautiful dress and cried that I’d been their only visitor in millennia and that they just wanted to spend some time in my company.” I whispered. I stood up. They complimented my hair. The men were now insisting that I eat something again or sip some juice. There was something tickling the back of my mind. I refused. something that would help me focus. The men pouted and tried to pull me back. It was out of focus at first. how he got jealous. his I pictured his face. My vision started to shift out of focus again. but I started to list the things I loved about him in my mind and the picture became clearer. The massage on my shoulders felt so good.

” “We are lonely. “Well.” I replied sarcastically. “Y we loved her. Our last companion died several centuries ago. sorry boys. “I love another. They looked at each other in silent communion. They persisted and took my hand. and besides.” “What about Kishan?” “He must make his own choice.” With that. The two men backed away and one raised his hand in a gesture of defeat. She es. Y would have ou forgotten all of your troubles.” “Y would have treasured us over time. and . then turned to me and shook their heads sadly. never knew sorrow for even a day in her life with us. ” I shook my head. I strung it and nocked an arrow. We loved her.” “Y We must find a replacement. I twisted away and grabbed my bow.” The other one interjected.our way. then aimed at whichever male chest was closest. “I’ll bet.” “But we are immortal and her life was over too quickly.” They studied me for a long moment.” es. I don’t want to forget everything or everyone. “So be it. We would have loved you. Y ou are free to go. threatening them. they spun into a thin wisp of smoke. “We would have made you happy. “I have no interest in being your…love slave. Quickly. but I don’t want that.” I said. entered a knot on the wall of the tree. pulling me toward the bed. We have ou the ability to take away all thoughts and replace them with only feelings of passion and pleasure.

and ended up back on the circular stairway that wound around inside the trunk of the world tree. “Kishan? Took you long enough. I chuckled wryly to myself. The doorway closed behind me. That soft bed would have made a much better place to sleep than the hard wooden steps. “Hey. I don’t think I would’ve been getting a lot of sleep. Picking up the bag. Kishan nudged my shoulder. I’m tired. I’d offer . I’m surprised you got out as quickly as you did.” “I know what you mean. empty room with a door.” “Okay.” I mentally thanked Ren for saving me from the tree nymphs or man-sirens or whatever they were. Here. I had to think of Ren to purge their influence from my mind. Good night. left the house. Sometime in the middle of the night.disappeared. I stepped back into the room and instead of the seductive boudoir. “If I’d stayed in that bed. I had to threaten to shoot them to get them to leave me alone. I found a simple. Kells.” “Y eah.” I leaned up on an elbow and yawned. I curled up in the sleeping bag and fell asleep. It wasn’t exactly easy to shake off those women. In fact. Take my blanket. I changed back into the soft pants and shirt the fairies had woven for us and wondered when or if Kishan would exit. What did you think of?” “Talk to you about it later. I was exhausted. I opened it. and I was left alone on the stairs. I went back into the bathroom to retrieve my fairy clothes and was delighted to see that they had been cleaned and repaired.

and started up the steps of the world tree. packed up. Giant branches extended out from the tree. Kishan ran down a couple of them from time to time to explore. There seemed to be a large gap in the tree. like it had been hollowed out. I waited for Kishan to catch up from one of his branch side trips. He couldn’t even see the bottom. like it’s been damaged. They were so large we could have walked across one together side by side without any danger of falling off. This part of the trunk was darker and moist. I appreciated the sunshine.” When we woke. A hole in the trunk opened. dripping and plopping from somewhere above. was fascinated by how high we were. Kells. we ate. on the other hand. After several hours at our slow pace. Good night. and we entered together. I said. I stayed as close to the trunk as possible. I stopped in front of a dark hole that led back inside the trunk. “This part of the tree feels dead. but I’ve had enough of men for the moment. and we stepped through to the outside. he heard nothing. Bright light shone up ahead. Water trickled down inside. Stay as es. and when he dropped a chunk of wood below to test the height. I hugged the trunk and refused to look share the sleeping bag.” “Y The wood under our feet is rotting too. Thanks. Our voices echoed.” “I understand completely. but the steps were no longer attached to something on both sides. . Kishan. The walls changed from smooth to splintered and peeling.

The wood felt like rock. Should we climb in?” “It’s going to be a tight fit. I’ll just back out.close to the trunk wall as you can. At first. I crouched over and was soon down on my hands and knees. then Kishan boosted me up. A big chunk of it hung down and blocked the top half of the passage. turn to the side. and the stairs stopped at a black hole just big enough to crawl through. and we’ll figure out another way to the top. “If it’s blocked ahead. I noticed the floor felt spongy. must be a nest up there. but then the passage started to narrow. Huh. I had to stand. He wouldn’t be too comfortable. there’s no need for you to climb through. but it was probably more like twenty-five. and shimmy my way through. As I stood there waiting for him. I heard a bird flapping overhead and a soft screeing sound.” “Then let me go first and look around. and the space opened up into a large cavern. “There’s nowhere else to go.” Kishan agreed and put the neon light around my neck. Probably rotting wood. but I hollered back. The walls were coated with something resembling dried and crusty brown deli mustard.” It took him a bit longer.” I volunteered. More flapping . I shrugged out of the backpack. like it was petrified. I thought Kishan would fit but just barely. I squirmed on my stomach for a few feet to wiggle under it. “Give it a try.” Another few minutes passed. I wiggled into the hole and was able to crawl through it on my hands and knees for a while. It felt like I’d traveled a hundred feet. Then the passageway shortened again.

It sounded like he was pushing the backpack ahead of him.” I could hear him sliding along on his stomach. I’m sure it’s hard enough for him to maneuver in there without it. I should’ve brought the backpack with me. beating of wings and a loud SCREEEEEE. but the creature was strong and yanked me away. “Kelsey!” . I heard him shout.and scree noises bounced around the inside of the tree. First the backpack and then his head emerged. hooked fingers curled around my shoulders and grabbed on. I screamed. and the flapping more violent. and with a violent. They seemed to be getting louder. Pinching. but the air was definitely moving. Something or a few somethings were flapping toward me again. Something brushed past my arm and flapped away suddenly. “Uh. Something large startled me with frenzied flapping just over my head. Kishan? Hurry up!” I raised my light and couldn’t see anything. Kishan had quickly wormed his way out of the hole and grabbed for my leg. They tightened. I was lifted into the air. It seemed like flocks of birds were slapping up against each other in the darkness. Maybe they’re giant moths. He was almost through. I shut off my light to try and deter the flapping creatures and watched as Kishan’s light grew brighter and he got closer. it was a big one. “Kishan!” “Almost there. If it was a bird.

Before I could scream. and I was enfolded in a screeching. pops. much higher than Kishan was. I was also standing on a ledge that dropped hundreds of feet below. and. The mass of bodies was constantly in motion. sometimes a leathery membrane. but I could still make out his light below. All I could see were masses of brown and black bodies. At first. I quickly scooted back against the wall. . They were noisy. I was high up. scratching talons. Others rocked back and forth. I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. The thing slowed and hovered then let go. Some were spider-walking over their peers to find a better hanging position. I flipped the switch and looked up. Then. “I’m okay! They haven’t hurt me! I’m up here on a ledge!” “Hang on. fluttering. I felt fur brush against my skin. The creature was soon surrounded by others of its kind. Kishan was yelling my name from several hundred feet below and trying to make his way toward me. I landed with a thud on my backside. quivering mass of warm bodies. Sometimes.I shouted back. Scared to see what I was surrounded by but determined to find out. They chattered with clicks. I realized they were bats. Kells! I’m coming!” The bats were hanging upside down and watching Kishan’s progress with large black blinking eyes. once in a while. Giant bats. Some were flapping their wings before tightly folding them around their bodies. but my voice echoed off the walls. Some ate and some slept. I reached for the neon light hanging around my neck.

Heee musstt eeembracee teeegerrr. beat through the air and against the walls. The longer the .” I was about to ask another question when several of the bats dropped into the air and began flying to different places in the womb-like cavern. I could actually feel the vibrations on my skin. small stones embedded in the walls began to glow.” I spoke to the bat. He tried several times to climb up to where I was. Kells. Heeeees speeerit eees spleeet. I can’t get up there!” I’d just opened my mouth to answer him when a giant bat hanging near me began to speak. “Y know that he’s a tiger?” ou “Weeeeee seeeee heeeem. Heee is halfff meeen and halfff teeegerr.and smacks as they hung and watched us. Heeeeere heeeem. Halfffs neeeeeed beeeee togeeether. he rescues me? How can he do that?” “Heee eees like weee. Kishan progressed for a while then got stuck and had to backtrack. Soon. “Eeetts posseeeble teeegerrr. but he was always thwarted. After the sixth try. Weee aree halfff bird and halfff meemalll. Rhythmic smacks. Heeee heeeeal heeees steeeng…heeee reeescue eyouu. “It’s impossible.” “His spirit is split? What do you mean?” “Meeean heee eeeendure grieeeeef. which I realized was their echo sonar. he stood near the hole and shouted up to me. “Eeeeemposseeeble heeeee theeeeks.” “How can his two halves be together?” “Heeee musstt leearnn.” “If he heals his sting.” several bats began clicking and flapping.

I held my breath and watched him quickly leap from one thin formation to another without even stopping to balance himself. the cavern was well lit. a dangerous path became obvious. Kishan looked up at me. Nothing was close enough. barely big enough for his paws. “Theeeee lightsss weeell failee wheeeen heeees time esssss outtt.” “Okay.” Now that the lights were on. “The bats say that you have to use both halves of yourself to reach me before the light turns dim again. he overshot and gripped the petrified wood with his claws. the brighter the lights became. rose up in the cavern. When he reached the last one. but with flat tops. They were too far apart for a human to jump. He went fast. When the bats stopped. Heee musstt euse heees meeen and heees teeegerrr. changed into the black tiger. Teeeell heeeem. I gasped in horror knowing each leap could mean his death. I knew that Kishan could see in the dark better than I . and leapt. twisting his tail around for balance. The bats blinked and stared at him wide-eyed from their upside down perches. the more dangerous it would be.” I hollered down to Kishan. The light started to dim. even for a tiger. The darker it was. There was no ledge to jump to from there. but a tiger might be able to. figuring out his next move. The perch was tiny.embedded in the walls began to glow. He looked around for a moment. A series of formations similar to stalagmites. Heeee musstt heelpp eyouu beeforeeee. The longer the bats kept up their noise. They say you have to embrace the tiger part of you.

and grabbed another vine.could. aiming for me. but he was still too far away. which spun in the cavern. swinging out again. twisting in the air and stretching his claws out to my ledge. He swung widely out into the cavern and pushed off from the other side. pushing off with his feet. His claws sank into the wood near my feet. when his feet touched the wall. but it was still very treacherous. I saw the man change to tiger and back at least three times. He made a decision and leapt into the air. There was nothing for him to land on. “Kishan! No!” He switched to a man in midair and fell. He was slowly climbing up hand over hand. I wanted to close my eyes. he threw the chakram. but I felt the least I could do was watch him as he risked his life to reach me. This time. I screamed. he quickly changed to the black tiger again and pushed off with his powerful hind legs. he grabbed the vine and jumped. He swung closer. and flew back to a tiger paw that suddenly became a hand and caught it. sliced a vine. After assessing his situation. I saw that the vine wouldn’t stretch any farther and realized he would still be at least ten feet away. At one point. He did a complicated acrobatic stunt that I couldn’t really follow because it happened so fast. “Kishan!” . I leaned down on my belly to peer over the edge of my small shelf and began breathing again when I saw him dangling from a long vine. He climbed higher and rested for a minute on a tiny outcropping. He started swinging back and forth. and he hung there suspended in midair.

” “Y He did.” He grinned. “Thank you. “Weeee mussstt tesssttt heeeem. “In fact.” I murmured sarcastically.” I touched Kishan’s arm.” es. “Are you alright?” “I’m fine. He held me close for a minute then reluctantly let me go. Kishan sat up. don’t you?” He grunted noncommittally. and hovered . “I think once was enough. He dropped it into my waiting hands. “Where do we go from here?” One of the bats spoke.” I punched his arm lightly.” “It’s okay. He rolled over onto the ledge and lay there panting for several minutes.” They heard me.” “Weeee weeeell geeet eeeet. ” Two of the bats released their grip on the ceiling and fell several feet before snapping open their wings. Heeee hasss succeeeeeedeedd.” One of the bats flew down and retrieved the backpack for us. They beat them hard. The light had dimmed again. and I grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked as hard as I could. “Eyouu seeeee? Heee deeeed eeett. “I’m sorry I couldn’t bring the backpack. “Too bad they couldn’t bring you up here too. I could be convinced to do it again for another kiss. and I grabbed him in a fierce hug and kissed his cheek.He changed back to a man again. There was no way you could bring it with all you had to do. “Weee weeell takeee eyouu. gaining altitude.

With frenzied flapping. ammonia.” I threw him the backpack and turned around so he could change. but were still strong enough for both of us to walk on easily. “Hey. I want to change out of these black clothes and put some shoes on. With a final warning of. flapping loudly. Kadam insisted on a couple of pairs of shoes for you. but. They’ve disappeared into the tiger ether. but I also recognized that this would save us several hours of climbing. ascending slowly and steadily. throw me the backpack. instead.” . I heard the admonition. just in case.” “Umm…Kells…the fairy clothes are in the bag. Our winged companions flew out of the opening and.” they flew back into the tree and left us on our own. carrying us higher and higher into the tree. and burnt citrus. They were handy to have around.” and decided it was good advice to follow. I noticed our surroundings were increasingly brighter. then descended slowly. I felt a cool breeze waft over my skin and smelled fresh living tree instead of the rotting musty smell of fungus. I thought we’d be flying straight up vertically. Too bad your fairy clothes are gone now.above us. Eventually. “Y eah. carefully set us on a branch. “Beeee veeeggeleeent. It was not a fun ride. the bats took a circuitous route. Taloned feet gripped my shoulders again and tightened. and I made out an opening. Lucky Mr. The branches were thinner here. the bats took off. a crevice that let in dappled orange sunlight that moved on the walls. “Reeeemaineee steeelll. Kells.

and my head was still resting on his other arm. fairy magic I guess. Come here. and found Kishan watching me.” Kishan put his arm around me and cushioned my head on his other arm.” Red-faced. Y won’t fall. even if it was double the width of a king-size mattress. “It’s too narrow. I’m afraid I’ll fall off.” ou “What if you fall?” “Cats don’t fall out of trees unless they want to. The next morning. He had an arm wrapped around my waist. we decided to eat and rest. Y need the rest.” He stared at me for a minute. “What is .” “How long have you been awake?” “For an hour or so.” “What?” I turned around to find Kishan stripped to the waist and averted my eyes. I spun around quickly. “Kells? I want to say something.“Umm…Kells…the fairy clothes are in the bag.” ou “Oh. Well…thanks for making sure I didn’t fall. “How did that happen?” “Not sure.” ou “I won’t be able to. I was worn-out but afraid to sleep on a branch. I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep. “Didn’t you sleep?” “I catnapped. It was sunset. and by mutual decision.” “I’ll hold you. Now turn around unless you wanna watch me change. but I did.” “What?” I turned on my side to see his face.” “Y ou’re tired. rubbed my sleepy eyes. I yawned.” “Why didn’t you wake me?” “Y needed the rest.

not even the smallest chance that you could ever let yourself love me? Don’t you feel anything for me at all?” “Of course I do.” He let me go and got our breakfast ready. Alarms started going off in my head.” “No. I already have feelings for you. I already care about you. He surely noticed my look of panic and probably recognized that it wasn’t due to losing my balance.” ou “Right. and said” “Y ou…you’re very important to me. He steadied me and studied my face for a minute.” “Y ou’re very important to me too. But—” “But nothing. and I jerked back and felt like I was falling. “I know you wouldn’t. but the best I could give him was. If Ren wasn’t in the picture.” “Kishan—” “Is there no possibility.” He smiled and leaned in a little closer. Kells. He bridled his emotions. “Kishan. . I mean…I feel…and I have reason to believe…that we could come to mean something to each other. leaned back. I grabbed his arm and held on for dear life.” “Y mean something to me now. “I’d never let you fall.” I wasn’t handling this well. would you consider me? Could I be someone that you could come to care about?” I put my hand on his cheek. but I’m not talking about friendship. That was when he closed off from me. That’s not what I mean. I already love you.

” “Don’t worry about that. we came across a woven rope that dangled from what looked like a tree house. I’m very ticklish. not five minutes later. He agreed to go up the stairs with me for another half hour. and. but Kishan wanted to climb the rope.” When we got back to the rope. the stairs became just knobby bumps on the side of the tree trunk and then disappeared altogether. but don’t try anything funny. then beckoned me forward. “What are you going to make me do?” “Y ou’re going to wrap your arms around my neck and twist your wrists into the top loop of the backpack. “What?” He pointed at the ground in front of him.” He lifted my looped arms around his neck and . I said.We started up the stairs again. It took us only about thirty minutes to circumnavigate it now. They were narrow now and wound around the outside of the tree. Kishan took the backpack from me and put it on.” “What exactly do you have in mind?” “Y ou’ll see. The trunk was much smaller here. It was a moot discussion anyway because. As we started back to the rope. “I don’t think I have the arm strength to climb up that high. we’d come back down to the rope. I wanted to continue up the stairs. After a few frightening hours of stairs that got smaller and smaller the higher we went.” “Okay. if we couldn’t find anything. I’ve got enough arm strength for both of us.

and the stomach dropping leaps from branches. for heaven’s sake. Y should be happy that I restrained ou myself as much as I did. I can promise you. “Stop showing off. but his face was intense. Other than the bouncing. he climbed up the rope a little higher and hung there while I carefully disengaged myself.” “Y eah. “Okay. When we got to the tree house door. apparently. Do you realize . He raised an eyebrow. Besides. sometimes keeping one hand on the rope and one on a branch for balance. “Kishan. he leapt in the air. “If I did try something. and he ducked his head and pressed a warm. then he kicked off and swung into the tree house landing with a flourish.” I felt his muscles tense as he prepared to leap but he looked down at me again. it wouldn’t be to get a laugh. soft kiss on the side of my mouth. which brought his face very close to mine. Let’s go already. Tarzan-like men are my weakness. He climbed hand over hand and stepped onto limbs. I couldn’t resist. He was having fun. and started climbing up the rope. right.” With that.” “Sorry. serious. while I let out a squeal. Y were trapped and for ou once you couldn’t turn away from me. the swinging hundreds or maybe thousands of feet in the air. He was always careful not to injure me. it wasn’t uncomfortable. his gaze drifted to my lips. you’re very kissable. it was a little too comfortable being pressed up against him.” I laughed nervously. In fact.picked me up.

We were being observed. Up in the corner of the tree house. but still nothing was happening in the tree house. But. I couldn’t blame him for the being-human part and didn’t know what to say about the being-with-me part. Kadam’s notes. however. we saw a hidden nest with two black ravens peeping over the edge watching us covertly. They left their perch and began circling the tree house. They started calling to each other with a thumping sound.” He wrapped his hands around my waist and drew me closer. “I have no idea how far up we are.” . so I said nothing. What I didn’t notice was that each pass brought them closer to us. performing acrobatics in the air. I like being a man all the time. We sat down on the wooden floor of the tree house and searched through Mr. Kishan noticed.” I extricated myself as quickly as possible. I put my hand on his and shook my head slightly. I’m having far up we are and that you could fall to a grisly death at any moment? Y ou’re acting like this is a great. And I like being with you. We read through them twice and waited. I started to get antsy. This was supposed to be the house of birds. a sort of knocking coming from deep in their throats. unlatched his chakram. They did somersaults and even flew upside down. yes. And I don’t care.” He replied. “Hello? Is anybody here?” A flapping and hoarse croaking rrronk answered me. fun adventure. and raised it like a knife. but I didn’t see any. “Let’s wait and see what they do. “Hmm. Maybe we were in the wrong place.

stopping occasionally to preen feathers. snapped their beaks loudly. “Well. scratchy voice say. Kishan was immediately concerned. They hopped a little closer. “If they are Hugin and Munin. “Wantfrumus?” “Do you understand me?” The two birds started bobbing their heads up and down. A bird twisted his head and stared at me with one black eye. they whispered thoughts and memories into Odin’s ears.” ou They hoarsely squawked. I touched his arm.” and I could have sworn the other said “Muunann”.“Let’s wait and see what they do. and one hopped onto my knee. making the birds look much bigger than they were. “Hughhn. I folded my arms across my chest. “What are we doing here? Who are you?” The birds hopped a little closer. I marveled incredulously. Y can keep the honey ou cakes. One said. Ruffled feathers puffed up. anyway.” “What do you want from us?” I asked. A black tongue tasted the air from the beak’s rictus as the bird moved closer.” The birds hesitantly danced closer. we want them back. and flapped their wings at us. Y probably already ate them. huh? We’ll see about that. “Did you steal my bracelet?” “And the amulet?” Kishan added. Heads bobbed. “Y ou’re Hugin and Munin?” The black heads bobbed up and down again. They landed a few feet away. . “Not going to give them back. I heard a rough.

mouth gaping wide in horror. I . it’s just…” My words fell away as something shifted in my mind. wondering what had been done to me. The bird acted like it was tugging gently on something in my ear. Kishan touched my hand.” I felt another gentle tug. “Are you okay? How do you feel?” “I feel fine. If he did steal a memory. ” It appeared I was right because. I felt a curious pulling sensation. I had no idea what it could be. a snap. I sat there staring at him. Searching for some gap.They may want to sit on our shoulders and speak to us. but. Something was happening. the minute I tilted my head to one side.” “What?” “Thoughtsrstuck. web-like strand hanging from his beak. “What did you do? Did you steal part of my brain? Do I have brain damage?” “Thoughtsrstuck!” “What does that mean?” The strand hanging from the beak slowly dissipated as the bird clacked it’s beak. the bird flapped his wings and settled on my shoulder. but I felt no pain. instead. and I waited to hear him speak either physically or in my mind. Something was dragging across the surface of my mind like a squeegee over soapy glass. “What are you doing?” “Thoughtsrstuck. I covered my ear with my hand. and then Hugin hopped away with a filmy. Did he steal a memory? I racked my brain trying to remember everything important to me. He stuck his beak near my ear. some emptiness.

Kishan? What happened? Are you okay?” . In that moment. Trust me. I could see everything I needed to do with perfect clarity. Kishan! Go ahead. I spoke to Hugin. “Well. “Uh…that looked different. I watched with fascination as Munin flapped his wings and landed on Kishan’s shoulder. “Is Munin doing the same thing to Kishan?” The bird shook his head while shifting from foot to foot. He started preening his feathers. and dirt. He kept his wings open. flapping them up and down lazily as he worked on Kishan’s ear. Munin was hopping back and forth in front of Kishan. Munin hopped down to the floor and held a wispy black strand in his mouth about the size of an earthworm. but he cocked his head to one side anyway.” “Waitforit?” The bird nodded.” He looked at me doubtfully. For a moment. mental clutter. Let him sit on your shoulder. I knew there would be fierce protectors guarding the Scarf. what’s the difference? What will he do?” “Waitforit. worries. peeling away like dead skin after a sunburn. I knew we were almost at our goal. waiting for his turn. for lack of a better word. and I knew what the Scarf could do. It was like random fears. and dismal thoughts had been clogging the pores of my consciousness. “It’s okay. He won’t hurt you. He opened his beak and swallowed it. I knew how to save Ren.could feel a layer of confusion.

infatuated.” “What about you? What did you see?” “I sort of got my brain hoovered. as it really happened. I should have recognized him for what he was all along. I was seeing everything as it really was. I now know how to get the Scarf and what comes next.” “What does hoovered mean?” “A Hoover is a vacuum. She was afraid of her father. But with one major difference. I saw everything that happened to me. Kadam.” “Is the memory different now?” “It’s not different…it’s clear. Dhiren…all of it.” . I saw my parents. How did I overlook her fear. In fact. It wasn’t just from my perception anymore. but she was encouraged to seek me out. My thoughts are clear. like your memories are clear. He…he showed me. “She hid it well. “I’m fine. but I was blind. She obeyed him completely.” I took his hand in mine. but she was also desperate to leave him. I saw Y esubai and me all over again. “What is it? What’s the difference?” “That black thing you saw…it’s hard to explain. her anxiety?” He rubbed his jaw. I could see very obviously that Y esubai was a sweet girl who cared for me. It was like I was an outside observer.He responded quietly. ” “Showed you what?” “He showed me my memories…in full detail. How could I not see this before?” “Love makes you do crazy things sometimes. He took advantage of my feelings for her. but it’s like I took off a dark pair of sunglasses. She didn’t love me the same way.

and the amulet out of the nest. and tucked the camera in the bag. After I put the nest back. a neon light. you know. The birds looked at me sulkily.” I said. Kishan hunted up a fishhook. but first…” I jumped up and lifted the nest tucked into the corner of the tree house down for inspection. but it’s your own faults. these belong to us. Y ou’re the ones who cleared my mind. “I’m sorry. Follow me. Besides. then the chain around my neck. and a compass and placed them in nest. the birds flew up to inspect their new treasures. Kishan.” I took the camera. We need them. “Maybe we can give you something else instead as compensation for losing your prizes.” . my bracelet.the Scarf and what comes next. squawking in irritation. The two birds hopped up and down. “Thank you both! Come on. Kishan helped me attach the bracelet. They flew over to me and flapped their wings in my face.” “What comes next?” “I’ll tell you on the way.

es. “The next part will be the hardest. Hold on a second. Kadam’s . This ladder leads to the outside branches. then a panel opened and a ladder descended and struck the wooden floor.” “Iron birds?” “Y and we’ll have to fight them to get the Scarf. I wrapped my hand around it and pulled. A simple rope hung from the ceiling. which we now have to climb until we hit the top where we find a giant bird’s nest.” I rifled quickly through Mr. A rattling noise could be heard above the tree house. I explained to Kishan. The Scarf will be there. but so will the iron birds.CHAPTER 20 I stood up and walked to a corner of the tree house.

gummy. I noticed some damage on the limb I was seated on.” I grinned. chartreuse paste was splattered on the end of my limb and had apparently eaten through half of it like acid. “Kishan.” I remarked wryly. Kells. we can’t be sure you heal here. My foot slipped on some wet wood. shoe and all. either. Kishan read. in his palm and pushed me upward again. and toxic droppings. take a look at this. “Terrible flesh-eating birds with iron beaks. and Kishan caught it.” A thick.” The picture of the mythological stymphalian bird was frightening enough without the description he’d included below. bronze claws. That only happened once.” “For that matter. which I drained in long gulps. Kishan insisted that I climb first while he stayed under me to catch me if I fell.” We climbed the ladder and found ourselves in a cluster of branches set tightly enough together that it reminded me of a children’s jungle gym. “but I’ll try not to leave you alone too long. We can’t be sure that you heal here. After you. “I think we’re looking at the toxic droppings. After a good climb. aren’t they?” “Keep close to me. “Here. me higher and Kishan lower. sitting on a branch with our backs against the trunk. This is what we’re fighting.” “Swell.research and found what I was looking for. we rested. They usually live in large colonies. When he tossed me up a bottle of water. It was easy enough to climb if you didn’t think about falling. .” “Funny.

The nest was the size of a large swimming pool and made of dead tree limbs the thickness of my arm all woven together like a giant Easter basket. that’s huge! Bigger than Big Bird’s. . Ren got the Kappa and immortal monkeys. but the smell is everywhere. It took another hour of climbing. It’s got a sharp. weakening them.Kishan wrinkled his nose. We climbed up and peeked into the nest.” “It’s only fair you get to fight nasty smelling birds. maybe as long as two weeks ago. bitter aroma that’s burning my nostrils.” He grunted and kept moving toward the giant nest. We crept closer and depended on Kishan’s hearing to steer clear of any birds. huh?” Now that he had the smell of the birds. I don’t think I’ll ever get this smell out of my mind. “Wow. The smell is nasty. we could follow his nose to the nest. Remember. I can’t really smell anything. “And this is old.” “Huh.” “I guess we’ll really have to watch out for toxic bombs. the branch’s surface crumbled into white powder and sometimes broke off altogether.” “Who’s Big Bird?” “A giant yellow puppet bird on kid’s television. If I stepped too close. Y ou think any of the birds are close by?” “I don’t hear anything.” “Count your blessings. Old droppings bleached the surface of the tree branches. lucky I have a tiger nose nearby. but we finally saw a giant nest resting on a trio of tree limbs.

which twisted into soft green and gold. Let’s start with this one. Colors shifted and swirled in geometric patterns on the surface. We found a feather near the second egg. How it could have seen us from that distance. This one was longer than my arm. Normal bird feathers were lightweight. Kells. They’re heavy. The cloth looked alive. “We’ll have to roll them off one by one. and the edge was as sharp as a circular saw. and then slid into blue-black raven billows. The eggs were resting on top of the most beautiful diaphanous material I’d ever seen. The Divine Weaver’s Scarf.” “Alright. hollow. heavy. Kishan scanned the sky and assured me the coast was clear.Five massive eggs rested in the middle. Kishan could barely move it.” We gripped a gleaming egg and rolled it carefully to the side of the nest then went back for the second.” Kishan agreed. It was mesmerizing. “Uh. they reflected the sunlight in our eyes. I had no . A kaleidoscope of pale blue shifted into hot pink and yellow. Kishan lightly tapped on one and we heard a hollow metallic echo.” es. each one would have filled a Jacuzzi. then crouched down next to me to examine the Scarf. A far-off bird was making its way toward the nest. and metallic. this isn’t good. “Y We’d better hurry. and flexible. Bronze and gleaming. We were on the third egg when we heard a loud screech. I circled the egg and gasped.

high-pitched shriek vibrated through my limbs. Thump. I shaded my eyes to get a better look. The sun hit the metallic body of the giant bird and reflected into my eyes. It moved like a raptor. but my opinion of its size quickly changed as it sped closer.idea. and we moved backward. Kishan stepped in front of me. but it didn’t sound happy. The wingtips were tapered and widely separated. The mighty wings held the creature in the air as it rode the thermals. It had now come much closer and seemed to have doubled in size. It beat its wings and spread its tail feathers to help it brake and swoop into the sky again. A quieter screech echoed an answer as the bird was joined by another. Thump. Rows of dense. keeping the trunk behind us. A bird flew over us. Thump. Thump. It was more monster than bird. I missed. Thump. It screeched out a harsh wailing call. Thump. I strung my bow. The tree moved up and down as something landed on a nearby branch. My hand shook. The body of the creature was like a giant eagle. Kadam’s plane. It looked small at first. drew back an arrow. It screamed at us and started making its way toward the nest. Powerful. and shivered as its shrill. and its eye fixed on us. and I let the arrow go. overlapping feathers covered the torso and grew larger along the long. I estimated the wingspan to be around forty feet or about half the length of Mr. so it only had to flap the giant wings every so often. muscular legs with . I got a good look at it as it swooped overhead. broad wings and ended with huge feathers about the size of a surfboard. Its head was tilted.

The arrow struck the bird right in the chest. I shouted. and I heard a metallic shear as the sharp edges of the beak snapped together like a pair of giant scissors. creating a double-edged sword effect.razor sharp talons stretched out to grab us on its second pass. “Watch it. The head looked something like a gull with a stout. “Kishan! How do you miss something that big?” “Wait for it!” The chakram completed its arc and was spinning back to Kishan. Kishan pushed me face down in the nest. but there was an extra hook resting on the upper mandible of the beak. It hurled through the air in a wide arc past the bird. and the bird missed us by inches. When one of the birds came closer. It curved over the top of the first one. The tree shook wildly as it crashed. he nipped at us. Three more birds circled overhead trying to grab us with knife-like talons or beaks. tearing off limbs as it went. The bird screamed and fell down thousands of feet to the ground below. making a terrible sound like a drill on sheet metal. The energy hit the bird on its chest and bounced off. longish hooked bill. “My lightning bolts just bounce off!” “Let me try!” He threw the chakram. and I hit it with a lightning bolt. scorching the nest not a foot from where Kishan was standing. I nocked another arrow and aimed for the nearest one. but all it did was make him . It hit the bird on the way back and sliced through a metallic wing. Kells!” This was not looking good. One came too close.

They seemed intelligent and resourceful. The bird flew off and then fell. and he was bleeding freely. Get ready. a second bird reached out and grabbed him with its talons. This time. “Kishan!” I reached up my hand and aimed for its eye. One nipped at Kishan. I did the same thing to the other bird. He panted.” He sucked in a breath when I touched the skin.” Kishan grunted and stood while I took a position behind the remaining eggs. They’re communicating with each other. dropping him with a thud into the nest. Now they were mad. “It’s okay. calling madly to his flock mates. “I think their talons are coated with the acid too. the lightning bolt worked.” . Don’t let them get near you. It feels like blistering hot knives. “All things considered. “I’ll be fine. I’d rather have monkeys.” He froze. but it’s healing. More birds had arrived. I raced over to Kishan. It hurts. and it took off. It shrieked and let him go. “Are you alright?” His shirt was torn and bloody. While he was busy there. “Aim for the neck or the eyes. “Listen. Kelsey!” I shot off another arrow into the neck and a third into the eye.” The skin around the slices was blistered and angry red. backing him to the edge of the nest. Kishan ducked between some eggs as a bird tried to shishka-bob him with a talon. The talons had raked across both sides of his chest. They’re coming back. spinning like an out-of-control airplane before crashing to the ground.angry.

” He ran across the nest. These. I got rid of two . I’d once seen a colony of seagulls display mobbing behavior. “Are you asking me on a date? Because if you are. More than half of them dove for Kishan. and flipped over in the air. were one hundred times worse! They ripped limbs off the tree to get at us. I shivered. they attacked. cutting off the leg of one bird and slicing the belly of a second before the weapon returned to his hand.” “Whatever works. and aggressive. landing on his feet on a tree limb that jutted out into the air. I felt like I was caught in a whirlwind.” “Y ou’re on. they dove for us. All at once. determined. Then you can decide. The sun glinted off the golden disc as it whirled around the tree and sliced through the dozen or so birds circled the top. I’d rather have monkeys.” He grinned and yelled back. They all pecked and harassed a man with a sandwich at the beach until he ran away screaming. however. They split off in every direction then regrouped. Frenzied flapping around the nest blew air in every direction. and it soared into the sky. We’ll rent King Kong and The Birds. He threw the chakram. jumped off the edge. who agilely leapt from branch to branch until he was back with me behind the eggs. They seemed violent. “Tell you what. Shrieking and screaming. I could almost see them calculating their next maneuver. it will definitely give me more incentive to come out of this alive.“All things considered. Kishan threw his chakram again and again.” Kishan shouted.

” “Good. He grabbed one arm then the other and yanked until I had landed on top of him. I didn’t fall to a horrible death. infused it with lightning power. He righted himself quickly and headed towards me. I’m fine.” He grinned and had just wrapped his arms around me when he saw something overhead. I dug my fingers in and rammed my feet between the branches to get a foothold. Blood trickled down my arm. At least. not yet. smoking. It hit the bird in the eye and blew its head off. but started slipping. but it was worth it. I tore several fingernails and scratched up my legs and arms. “Hold on. and unfortunately the momentum dropped me over the edge of the nest. Roughly. Kishan shouted. I successfully threw my arms over the side. The charred. “Can you keep them off me for a minute. lay on his stomach. “Are you okay? ” he asked. and stretched out a hand. Kells?” “I think so! Why?” “I’m going to move the last two eggs!” “Hurry!” I experimented and drew back an arrow. He put . “Y eah. and let loose. The impact shot me into the air as if I’d been on a trampoline.with arrows through the eyes and blinded two more with lightning shots. The nest cracked and tilted precariously before settling. Kells!” Kishan ran over to the edge. I desperately stretched out to grab the edge. Kishan had held on better. headless torso landed with a boom half on the nest and half dangling over the side.

The weight of the dead bird hanging off the edge of the nest was too heavy. It was falling and taking the nest with it. Half of the nest fell with the dead bird and the other half. We ended up with his body sprawled on top of mine. hung precariously from two almost sheared off limbs. then hit the other one with lightning. “Hold on!” he shouted. “Thanks!” I grinned. . Three of the eggs fell out of the nest and broke on the branches below. I picked up a broken branch nearby and shoved it into the bird’s eye just before it eviscerated Kishan.a hand behind my head and another around my waist and rolled several times until we bumped against the back of the nest.” The nest shifted. trying to snap us in half with their metallic beaks. “There!” The Scarf had blown out of the nest and draped itself loosely on a broken limb several feet below. It fluttered in the breeze and would probably fly away at any moment. My stomach lurched as we suddenly dropped about three feet and hit with a bone-jarring bang. “Look out!” I screamed. I wrapped my arms around his neck. and we clung to the side as the nest tilted several feet into the air and snapped in half. the half we were in. “Anytime. Two of the birds were leaning in. Kishan grabbed branches on both sides of my head. feeling proud of my accomplishment. “Where’s the Scarf?” I yelled.

wondering what insane things I’d be expected to do in the next two tasks. I couldn’t believe he had the strength to do it. Next. But. “Just do it!” I swung back and forth for a minute then managed to hook my leg around his waist. just long enough for me to grab the Scarf. I’d rather be standing on Ren’s shoulders like in Kishkindha.“Kells. I’ll lower you down so you can reach the Scarf. I trusted that he was strong enough to hold both of us with only one arm. throwing me into the air as if I was a sack of groceries. hurry! Grab my hand. I gasped and grabbed his neck again. I expected to hear them to snap any . He grunted and pulled me up. then caught me around the waist as I began to fall. Again.” “Are you sure?” “I’m sure! Go!” He gripped my arm and lowered me. “Now wrap your left leg around my waist. It still wasn’t good enough. If I had to choose. realistically.” I gave him a look. “What do I do?” “First…” he ducked his head and kissed me hard. Compared to this.” es. I grimaced. I experienced an extremely scary moment when he let go of my waist and grabbed my leg. I mentally willed the branches holding the nest to support us a little bit longer. “I’ll have to go lower! Can you hold my leg instead?” “Y Come back up for a minute. but he wrapped his other hand around a branch and held the weight of both our bodies with one arm. standing on Ren’s shoulders was child’s play.

It swirled in the air and shot past me.realistically. then his foot. “I can see your tent!” .” “I’m working on it!” I stretched farther and heard Kishan groan. The green canopy dizzily swinging back and forth in front of my eyes faded to white. hanging there upside down. Frightened. I grabbed the tail of it at the last second and. “Kelsey.” His grip slipped deliberately from my calf to my ankle. I had a vision. outline of a tent behind him. “Why couldn’t they pick a girl from Cirque du Soleil to do these tasks? Hanging upside down from a broken branch thousands of feet in the air is just too much to ask from a girl in beginning wushu!” “Kells…” “What?” “Shut up and get the Scarf. the tips of my fingers desperately grasping the Scarf. scared at what I had to do next. causing us to plummet to our deaths. holding his belt buckle. swallowed. I expected to hear them to snap any second. Kadam? Y I can hear you!” I saw the vague es. causing me to swing out over the green abyss. I let go of his neck and slowly turned my body upside down. I still had my arms wrapped around his neck. The wind whipped it off the branch. and swung my body back toward the Scarf. Kelsey! Can you hear me?” “Mr. with Kishan barely holding on for both of us. then his leg. blood pounding in my head. and I heard a voice. “Just another few inches. I yelled Kishan’s name then closed my eyes for a second. I mumbled as he lowered me.

Kadam’s medallion was glowing red. If you don’t.” he took a knife out of his pocket and tested its . and saw a blurred image of Kishan clutching the leg of my upside down limp body.” I watched him and said nothing. my dear. and his deceitful eyes glittered. I flinched as he appraised me in a disturbing way.” Mr. He was dressed in a business suit. “Ah! I’ve been wondering when I’d see you again. “Don’t say anything. He smiled. and was much larger than ours. He spoke quietly.“And I can see you and Kishan. I want the medallion you’re wearing. I will let your tiger live. his dark hair was slicked back.” He spoke politely as if we were getting reacquainted at an afternoon tea party. “Y have cost me a great deal in ou time and resources. looked behind me. Kadam instructed. The Scarf dangled precariously from a hooked finger. and I noticed that he wore several rings. menacingly. His medallion was glowing red too. When I looked back up. so I’ll be blunt. Lokesh. “Kelsey! Hold on!” The vague outline of another person was coming into view.” “What?” I spun around. Y will bring ou it to me. I heard him shouting as if from a great distance. “We’ve not the time for the niceties of the game I would prefer. If you do. I glanced down at mine and saw it was bright red too.” “Okay. Don’t let him provoke you into speaking. the image of the other person solidified. Mr.

he had a line of black tattoos that looked like the Sanskrit words from the prophecy. Bare-chested. If you wish to negotiate. “Leave the young lady out of this. His ears were pierced in several places with golden hoops. so I memorized as many details as I could. The servant speaking to Lokesh had black hair that was swept forward into a bun that rested at his hairline just above his forehead. “I do not recognize you. A man was speaking to him. slit your throat. you will let the tiger go free. I will meet you and give you what you want. The second man stood farther back with his head hanging down.” he looked directly into my eyes. “and take it from your bloody neck. Kadam had said we might be able to figure out where Ren was based on clues during the vision. I studied the hazy scene that had appeared behind Lokesh. Kadam nodded as Lokesh continued to give instructions.” “And which office would that be. . He was supporting another man and gestured to him. but Lokesh paid him no heed. filthy black hair hung in his face. he wore loops of handmade bead necklaces. I am interested to know how you acquired the amulet.he took a knife out of his pocket and tested its sharpness on a thumb.” Mr. “I will find you. Across the length of his forehead. you may contact my business office in Mumbai. my office is in the penthouse.” Mr. Matted. As they talked. In exchange. my friend ?” “Find the tallest building in Mumbai.” Lokesh turned to Mr. my friend . Kadam and smiled unpleasantly. Kadam countered. Mr.

“What’s funny is that it’s become . for the first time.” He chuckled. He continued. and I gazed into piercing cobalt blue eyes. I started crying. “He won’t even tell me your first name. though—Lokesh. He whipped around and narrowed his eyes at the images shown behind him. he ou screams out for you when I torture him. studied the wispy images behind my shoulder. He tried to speak to his servants. clucked his tongue. I took a step forward and shouted.Bleeding and bruised. Someone did hear me. he struggled against the hands of the man holding him. He gestured to Ren and. The injured man looked up. The servant yanked the man forward until he staggered and fell to his knees. but they didn’t hear him. “How terribly painful it must be for you to see him like this. He turned back to me and. Unfortunately for him. They were already fading. I couldn’t tell if he recognized Kishan or not. He must have dismissed the scene behind me because he soon focused his attention on me. I froze and mentally willed him to see only me and not Kishan. Y know. the servant slapped him across the faced and yanked his shoulders back. he’s been quite unforthcoming as to your whereabouts. His head drooped down to his chest again. isn’t it?” He watched my expression carefully. Y elling at him. with false sympathy. between you and me. “Ren!” He didn’t hear me. Its Kelsey. His voice dripped with acid as he mocked me. his hair fell to the side. though I already know what it is. Overcome.

is it not?” I kept my eyes focused on Ren. ease his anguish? No? Perhaps I was mistaken in your affections. More tears? How sad. if you care for him. I must say I expected as much. I assure you. He can’t hold out forever. I am making every effort. you would wish to spare him some pain. And the exquisite lengths I can go to are unheard of. It’s the best of both worlds seeing him suffer both as a man and as an animal. his body seems quite resilient. He became angry. you know. He won’t speak of you at all except to call out in his dreams for his beloved.” I bit my trembling hand to stifle a sob and glanced at Mr.” He watched me out of the corner of his eyes while he cleaned microscopic dirt from under his fingernails. He shook his head discretely. It is Kelsey Hayes. I am relatively sure that I am not mistaken in his.something of a sticking point between us. though. I’ve quite enjoyed torturing him. Lokesh smiled sardonically. He heals so quickly that even I have been unable to test his limits. The pain alone should have killed him by now.” His voice started to fade. “I have to admit. “Fortunately for me. indicating that he wanted me to keep quiet. Perhaps you are not the one he begs for. . He’s so tight-lipped he won’t even confirm your given name. “Certainly. I might give him a brief… reprieve? A simple nod would suffice. Kadam. “Perhaps if you would just confirm your name. I didn’t move or even look at Lokesh. He’s always been quite stubborn.

and held on for dear life. locking my arms at his waist and . Mr. The two brothers were not always lucky in love. Kishan swung me. Kishan!” “Kelsey! Watch out!” A bird screeched. well. Kadam as he faded to white. but I ignored him and focused on Mr. I blinked and white turned to green. were they? Perhaps it is time to put him out of his misery. I shot a bolt of lightning into its beak. I wiped away my tears while he smiled sympathetically and then winked at me just before he disappeared. smoke trailing out its mouth. I wrapped my arms around him and grabbed my wrists. Lokesh was watching us and gesturing with his hands. grabbed his waist. “Kelsey! Kelsey! Snap out of it!” Fortunately I was still holding the Scarf. It seems to me as if I’d be doing him a favor. With a mighty grunt. He let go of me. “Got it! Pull me up. I screamed. I twisted so I could look up and saw the gaping black maw of a metallic bird and got an up close and personal view of the double-edged scissor beak. Kadam turned and looked at me. and I flipped right side up.“Ah. Blood pounded in my head. Kishan was yelling at me.” I couldn’t help it. When the three of us could no longer hear one another. and it took off. I shouted. “No!” He raised his eyebrows and spoke again. The edges of the beak were coated with green verdigris. trusting I’d have the muscle to cling to him. but his words were too quiet to hear.

” I used the Golden Fruit to make something quick for us to eat and drink. Come on.” “Really? Why do you say that?” “We scratch trees to mark territory. “This will hurt. He seemed fine. “Are you okay? What happened to you?” “Vision.” We descended until we had sufficient cover that the birds could no longer see or have access to us. I picked up our backpack and stowed the bow and quiver. “Kells.clutching the Scarf in my hands. which had magically refilled with golden arrows. but I had some wicked gashes on my arms and legs. the quieter the noises were until we couldn’t hear them anymore. I’ve had quills stuck in my paws before. I saw his arms shake with fatigue.” We ducked as a bird called out nearby. stop. “Okay. A smart tiger attacks it from the front.” I breathed. He sat up and inspected my limbs. but occasionally they whirl on you. Several of my nails were torn and bloody. and we occasionally snack on porcupines. and I had a long splinter under one nail that Kishan worked out carefully. His cuts had healed already.” “Okay. We need to rest for a while. We could still hear them circling the tree and shrieking to each other. “Now we make our escape. but the farther we went. He pulled himself over the edge of the broken nest and helped me over. Now what?” he said. and they . “Tell you about it later. Kishan insisted on inspecting me for injuries. Splinters and quills are the tiger’s worst enemies.

“Kells. They won’t dissolve either. There. it took us days to get up here.” “Well.” “No it won’t. so I’d have to wait until I was a man and pull them all out. “Ow!” “Almost got it. We just need to get out to the edge of a branch. We made our way to the edge of a long . It’s out now. They can stay in a tiger’s body their whole lives. I could tell. I’ve even come across a couple of tigers who had died from starvation because they’d been injured by porcupines. They can’t hunt fast prey anymore with an impairment like that. I saw what the Scarf can do.” He cleaned the worst of my scrapes with alcohol wipes from our first aid kit and bandaged up what he could.” “We’ll rest when we get down. “But they’re delicious.” “Don’t they eventually work themselves out?” “No. It’s what makes some become man-eaters.” “Ugh. “I think you’ll heal here quicker than normal. They break off as you walk.” “Thanks. Splinters can. but he followed me anyway.” He grinned. but quills won’t. the commonsense thing would be not to eat them. There’s no way for a tiger to get them out.” I sucked in a breath. but not as fast as me. It will take days to get back down. When the ravens cleared my mind. We should rest.hurt and fester.” Kishan was wary. They actually bend into a circle and stay in the skin. I have a shortcut.” He sighed and rubbed his forehead.

like the Ocean Teacher said. then folded over and over.” “Ah. “Watch. come on. forming belts. and risers. snapped taut. it stopped moving. They wove and twisted together. trust me. Finally.” The Scarf twisted.” “Y said parachute. I’ll tell you about it on the way back. threads pulled out and lengthened.” “Have faith. please.” “Well. “Two person parachute. Kelsey?” “Y ou’ll see.” I held the Scarf on top of my palms and said.” “I trust you. “Now what?” he asked. The Scarf does other cool stuff too. Kishan. “What did you do.” “I don’t think so. Put it on.” “Kelsey .” “It is and it will work. and ropes. Tigers aren’t afraid of heights. This is about being extremely high up in a tree and hurtling our bodies into oblivion based on a strange fabric that you now claim is a parachute. are they?” “This isn’t about heights.branch. Y think we’re going to ou ou parachute out of here?” “Y ep. From all four corners. I just don’t trust the fabric. so are you coming with me or not?” . and lengthened. and I held a double harness with a large backpack. He stared at it incredulously. I’m going to jump.

He snuggled me next to his chest and held me in place while I buckled myself into the other part of the harness. At least I hope that’s how it works.” “Stolen kisses are better than none.” “Don’t worry.” “Easy. “Er…thanks. If you insist on doing this. but Kishan wrapped his hands around my waist from behind and picked me up. clear the tree. Fine.” “True.” He strapped himself in while I put on our backpack that we’d recovered when we left the nest. “Are you just starting an argument with me to chicken out?” “No. “Umm…you’re too tall for me. jump. I put it on backward so I hugged the pack to my chest. We strap ourselves in.” ou “Not voluntary ones. Maybe I can stand on a taller branch. I know we’ll make it. “Kelsey . pull the ripcord. but at least he got some kissing for his effort.” I raised my eyebrow.” “Right. so consider yourself lucky. I’m not chickening out. you stole them.” “Y eah. then I approached Kishan. please explain to me how it works. since my feet are dangling a few . It’s the way we’re supposed to get down.” I mumbled softly.” I looked around for something to stand on.” “Y got a few kisses yourself. Now.“Did anyone ever tell you you’re stubborn? Were you this stubborn with Ren?” “Ren had to deal with stubbornness and sarcasm.

and leap off the branch. you’re going to have to carry me. since my feet are dangling a few inches above the ground.” He squeezed me close. Are you ready?” “Y es. “Okay. . Can you manage that?” “I’m sure I can handle it. Kells.” he responded dryly. run. Now.“Er…thanks. “One…Two…Three!” Kishan ran five steps and hurled his body into the void.

spinning like Dorothy’s house in the tornado. Kishan used his powerful sense of equilibrium to stabilize us. Not a moment after we stabilized. and we dramatically veered to the right and picked up speed. and he turned us in face down position. “Hold on. The bird folded its wings and plummeted with us.CHAPTER 21 The wind screamed past us as we plummeted through the sky in freefall. The bird was right on top of us. The bird followed. Kells!” He pulled our arms back and to our sides and tilted our heads down. He lifted our right arms. and we swung left. A bird was on our tail. He took hold of my wrists and drew our arms out in arc position. Soon. Kishan lifted my left arm in the air. . We burst forward like a bullet. Kishan screamed. we heard a screech overhead.

“Aim for the pass between the two mountains!” A terrible screech overhead meant the birds had found us. I shouted. so instead. and I heard the slither of material as it was fed out into the wind and a snap as it opened to catch the air. I opened the backpack and got out my bow. He didn’t like that and flapped off screeching angrily. gave the bird a shock. then let go to grip the toggles and direct the steering lines. but I managed to irritate it enough that it soon left. My second one hit the neck and. Kishan kept his arms around my waist and tightened them as the parachute opened and slowed our descent. It whizzed right over the head of a bird.“I’m going to flip us! Try to hit him with a lightning bolt! Ready?” I nodded. . It fell to the ground injured. I shot off a quick succession of bolts and managed to irritate the bird enough to get rid of him. I missed his eye but hit the edge of his mouth. “Hold on!” He flipped us back over again and steadied us once more. and Kishan flipped us backward in the air so our backs were facing the ground. I tried to use my lightning power. but it was too hard to hit their eyes from this distance. imbued with lightning power. trying to grab us with talons and beaks. The second bird hit us with a wing and sent us into a spin. Kishan pulled the ripcord. Kishan banked left. and I drew back and let an arrow fly. Three of them began circling. I had a great view of the bird’s belly.

but the wind bucked us wildly. I shot off several more arrows. We were almost there. We’d be lucky if we survived long enough to hit the ground. Kells!” At least a dozen birds were making their way toward us. if we could just hold out for a few more seconds. but I missed. Kishan ran a few steps. It circled out of my line of vision and stayed behind us as much as possible. It caught the air again. “We’ve got to land!” “Almost there. Threads wove in and out. They circled us screaming and flapping and snapping their beaks. it hit the parachute with a talon. The chute collapsed. and Kishan yanked on the toggle to head us in the right direction. He was fast. A bird was coming right as us. Then something amazing happened. Kishan maneuvered the chute. He screeched loudly and was answered by others. When it attacked. He was going to snap us in two! I could almost hear the crunch of my bones as I imagined the metal bird cutting me in half. and there was nothing I could do from my current position. ripping a large hole in it. up and through the material until it looked as if it had never been damaged.The third one was wily. The angry bird came at us again and managed to avoid my arrows. then he pushed me flat to . Kishan tried to guide us. piloting the canopy into a dangerous swoop and a hook turn. I closed my eyes and felt a jolt as our feet touched ground. The wind suddenly turned us. The chute began to repair itself. and we started to fall.

“Keep them back for a minute. the wind died so that I could feel not even a . Twisting up and over itself. I winced listening to the horrible rip of the special material. I know what to do!” I held the material and said. it swelled and stretched to create a large bag that fanned out in the breeze. “Gather the winds. It grabbed a beakful of parachute and yanked. Kells!” The bird was right on us. Soon. and the Scarf grew. tearing it in half. “Keep your head down. A strong gust of wind hit my face and filled the bag.the ground and lay on top of me while he frantically unhooked us from the rigging. “Please knit back together. It began weaving itself back together slowly at first and then faster and faster. colors changed. winds from every direction were pummeling me. Kells!” I shot off a few arrows and saw the material move from the corner of my eye. When it waned. I felt whipped from every direction and could barely hold the bag with the powerful winds struggling inside. Frustrated. dug his weapon from the backpack.” Nothing happened. “Little help here. Kishan threw the chakram again. Kishan. another wind whipped around my body from behind and began filling the bag as well. It shrunk down to a Scarf size again. and threw his chakram while I crouched down and gathered the folds of the parachute. Finally. the bird dropped the material and circled around for another pass.” The patterns shifted. Kishan freed himself.

As it spun through the air. He’d told me a story of a Japanese god called Fūjin who controlled the winds and had a bag to carry them in. the empty bag hung limp between us and Kishan stared at me. Kadam had speculated about. “Scarf. I raised an eyebrow while he grinned. I recalled things the Divine Weaver told us and also things that Mr. two. “Okay. . I wrapped it around my neck and tossed the end over my shoulder. but the bag was bucking violently. I also knew that this material was special. selected a soft blue and gold color. I looked at Kishan. “Kishan! Run over here! Get behind me!” He drew back his arm and. grabbed the bag on the other side. How did you…” he trailed off.Finally. with a powerful thrust.” The bag shifted and twisted. the wind died so that I could feel not even a wisp of a breeze. you ready? One. like the Golden Fruit. He was being circled by ten birds and barely keeping them off with the chakram. I started to remember things I had learned before. Three of the birds were slammed against the mountain while the others spun off toward the world tree trying desperately to escape the tumult. After the winds died down. and caught the hurtling chakram just before it took off my head. three! We opened the bag and let loose all the winds of Shangrila in the bird’s direction. When Hugin and Munin cleared our minds. please. then shrunk into a Scarf again. I don’t know. he ran to me. “The answer is. let loose the chakram. I yelled. “Kelsey . Stories and myths made sense.

Thoroughly. but first.” He yanked me up against his body and kissed me. “Don’t be upset.” He grinned. “Y don’t need to make a big ou deal out of it. with an utter abandon that I could no more put a halt to than I could stop an avalanche.” “What next time?” He frowned slightly. and wild. It happened too fast for me to even react.” “Alright. But I do know it can do something that will help us save Ren. roll with it. But keep your lips to yourself next time. The kiss was fast. and let out a jubilant whoop of victory that echoed in the surrounding hills. He held me tightly. he lifted his head. I’m…I’m not sure what I think about it. I rolled with it. “I promise to slow it down next time. or you can give in. He kissed me fiercely.” “I’m not upset. I panted and said. I had to catch my breath. fine. turbulent.” “What’s that?” “This. It’s just a natural reaction to narrowly . So. Kells. “What was that for?” “I’m just happy to be alive!” “Okay. I’ll show you then. with one hand cradling my head while the other held me firmly at my waist. spun me around.“Maybe the knowledge was in my mind all along or maybe Hugin whispered it in my thoughts. His mouth moved against mine passionately. Finally. there’s something I need to do. When you’re caught in an avalanche you have two choices—you can either stand there and try to block it. When he finally set me down.” He grinned. I’m not sure. but we should get out of here before the birds come back. and hope you come out alive at the base.

Y ou’re right. but this girl is hands off.” “Well. “If my hands were on you at all…they were there to push you away!” “Whatever you have to tell yourself to have a clear conscience at the end of the day.” He folded his arms across his chest. I did like it. Feel free to grab any girl you like when we get back to the mainland. After it was over!” He shook his head. We . Y just won’t admit ou that you liked it. but the difference is. “I can wait for that.” es.” “Kissing Bandit. No wonder ou Ren had so many problems.escaping death.” I muttered.” “How dare you even mention your brother!” “When are you going to face the facts. Like when soldiers come back from war and grab a girl to kiss right after they get off the boat. “Y eah. this girl was on the boat with you. bilauta. sailor. anyway. “Y are stubborn. let me see.” “Hmm.” I sputtered in outrage. He smirked wickedly and lifted an eyebrow. And you have now officially spent more time with me than you have with him. Casanova. After you. Kells? Y ou like me. “Really? It felt more like your hands were on if you ask me. I’m not liking you so much right now! Can we just head back to the spirit gate and drop this conversation?” “Y But we will continue this discussion later. maybe so.” He took the backpack and grinned.” I retorted wryly. “Maybe when Shangri-la freezes over.

who already admittedly had feelings for me. When I kissed Li. I felt in control. a lightglinting-off-the-water kind of guy. and un-navigable to even the most skilled thrill-seekers. Kishan didn’t feel wrong. The problem with what happened between us was…he wasn’t wrong. It was not surprising that Kishan. I had spent more time with him now than I had with Ren. . unpredictable. The thing was…it didn’t bother me as much as it should have. Kishan was like a raging whitewater river. shimmering. it was like I’d literally caught a tiger by the tail. Kishan was different. And not dangerous like the man-sirens. It wasn’t like kissing Ren. If I was being honest with myself. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant notion. With Kishan. We’d been hiking through Shangri-la and spent day and night together for weeks. but I stubbornly refused to acknowledge his existence. a grade six—dangerous. The brothers were both magnificent and fascinating and powerful. That day to day contact creates a level of intimacy between two people. And that was the part that disturbed me. and he was ready to turn on me and drag me off. was beginning to feel comfortable expressing them. and we’d been living under the same roof for months. I felt safe. Ren was like a fantastic waterfall—sparkling.hiked for several hours. they just felt wrong. Kishan kissing me was not like Artie or Jason or even Li. Kishan kept trying to talk to me. like a wilder and fiercer version of Ren. kissing him actually felt good. but kissing Kishan was dangerous.

please. Kishan had me answering his questions about life in America. but Kishan didn’t have a change of He decided we should camp for the night at dusk. Once the cords were tied and secure. effectively diverting my attention away from being upset with him. “Come on. a sleeping bag. Instead of a zipper.” ou “Don’t need it. Kishan’s just the next best thing. they created a roof. I ducked my head inside. I was exhausted. The tent was suspended from two lines twined about the tree overhead. Watch this. threads began weaving in and out.” The Scarf shifted and moved. I’ve been separated from my boyfriend too long. and we . and a change of clothes for each of us. which shot out in several directions and wrapped around the thick branches of nearby trees. They twisted together to create thick cords. Kishan. the opening flaps could tie together. I’m sure that’s all it is. walls. and I had only the green dress and wasn’t about to wear that after our kissing problem. “Y take the sleeping bag. Clearly.” He followed me into the spacious tent.” I took the Scarf from around my neck and said. I let those thoughts comfort me as we walked. We wanted to change and hang out our fairy clothes for cleaning and repair. and a tent floor. “A large tent. Another thing they have in common is that Ren and Kishan both have a knack for charming their way out of difficult problems. Before long. Kells. two soft pillows. and I’m just missing my tiger.

“Otherwise. “Well. It kind of reminds me of a mood ring.” He left and changed in the jungle while I changed in the tent and hung my fairy clothes on a branch outside. Finally.watched as colorful threads continued to weave a thick sleeping bag and two soft pillows. He climbed in his sleeping bag. ” . I do remember that black always meant stressed or angry and blue and green are good colors. and pillows are all the standard colors you would see them commonly produced in. “How does it choose the color?” “I think it depends on its mood or perhaps on what you ask for. By the time he came back.” I held out the object of our discussion. When it was finished. Kells. Kishan spread the old sleeping bag out next to me while I fluffed a pillow. I was snuggled deep into my sleeping bag and had turned on my side to avoid conversation.” “What’s a mood ring?” “It’s a ring with a type of stone that changes color depending on the heat of your hand or maybe it’s the moisture. and I could feel him staring at my back for several tense moments. We’ll have to ask Mr. I noticed it as I walked all day. the Scarf shifts colors in its natural form. He asked. good night. sleeping bag. Kadam. I’m not sure exactly. ” “Huh. I had a green sleeping bag and two white king-sized pillows with a change of clothes for each of us resting on top of them. he grunted and said. The tent. which was now shifting in shades of neon pink and green.

“Is that better?” “Y es. I gasped in shock and tears filled my eyes.” He slid a bit closer and wrapped his hands around mine. I was struck with horror thinking Lokesh had blinded him. staring like a desperate sailor watches a lighthouse on a stormy black night. “He didn’t get the information he wanted from you . “I can’t see you. “Oh.” I was exhausted and fell asleep quickly. “Kells?” I wrapped my fingers around the bars wishing I was strong enough to break them. I wasn’t sure it was him at first until he opened his eyes and looked at me.“Good night. His voice cracked like a man thirsty for water. Clouds parted and moonlight shimmered through a tiny window. and a deep gash ran from his forehead down to his cheek. When I got to the cage. I knelt in front of the cage.” For a minute. but I saw the broken version of him I’d seen standing behind Lokesh with the filthy. letting his eyes guide me. I dreamed of Ren. I focused my attention on him. “Y It’s me. I crept closer. Ren! What did he do to you?” His face was swollen and purple. Kishan. Blood trickled out of the sides of his mouth. I reached out a finger and touched his temple gently.” es. but something strange happened in my sleep. casting its soft glow on his face. They gleamed steadily in the dark like bright sapphires. I’d recognize those blue eyes anywhere. matted hair. He was sitting in the back corner of a cage in a dark room. he blinked as if seeing me for the first time.

” “I’m so…so…sorry.” He lowered his gaze as if ashamed. I know what to do. prema. He’s tricking me.” I sobbed. “I can’t bear to see you like this. We’re coming for you. He inhaled deeply. Every second he has me you’re at risk. Kells. He won’t stop.” My voice shook.” “I’m always with you. Please. Causing hallucinations.and decided to take out his anger on me. My thoughts are of you. “I don’t think I can. I know how to rescue you. Y have to stay ou alive. Every waking moment. “Ren. “All the time. He won’t give up.” “Don’t give up! Not when we’re so close!” His eyes shifted. “There is an option I could consider. No matter what! Promise me!” He sighed painfully. I think I could endure it. I can’t lose you. Tell him what he wants to know and maybe he’ll leave you alone. he uses every tool at his disposal to extract information about you from my mind. Y are his ou obsession.” “What is it? What option?” . hold on a little longer. “Then tell him. “He’s too close. but he’s using magic.” “Don’t say that! Never say that! I’m coming.” My tears splashed his hand. If it was just the physical torture.” He captured a lock of my hair brought it to his lips. And I’m just so…tired. He’s…he’s going to break me. please. Soon.” He pressed his hand to my cheek. and I turned and kissed his palm. “Priyatama.” “I will never tell him. don’t cry.

I turned to go. “I don’t want to cause you more pain. but she asks a heavy price. Kelsey.” He knelt in front of me. His hands slid up to cup the sides of my head.” “And I don’t want you to leave. Before you go…will you kiss me?” I put my hand through the bars and lightly touched his face. He will return ou soon. and our lips met through the bars of his cage. he smiled a sweet. crooked smile despite his cracked lip and winced as he withdrew his hands. It was then that I noticed that several of his fingers were broken. “has offered her protection. When he drew back.“Durga. Y can trust Durga. But you need to. “Wait. it doesn’t matter as long as you survive. He wiped a tear from my cheek with his thumb and quoted a poem by Richard Lovelace: .” “It doesn’t matter. “Just survive. His kiss was warm and soft and too brief.” “But. “Y must go.” “Anything is worth your life! Take it! Don’t think twice about it.” “Shh.” Resigned.” I pressed a fingertip lightly against his swollen lips. then gently put shaking hands through the bars and drew me closer. gasping as he put weight on his knee. Do it! Whatever the price ou is. Kiss me before you go. Kelsey . desperate eyes. It’s not worth it. I began crying anew. Please. Okay?” He let out a ragged breath and looked at me with bright. I tasted the salt of my tears.” “I don’t want to leave you.” he paused.

Minds innocent and quiet take That for an hermitage.When Love with unconfined wings Hovers within my gates. If I have freedom in my love And in my soul am free. Angels alone. Don’t worry.” He moved back to rest his broken body against the wall of the cage. iadala. “It’s time to go. Kelsey. When I lie tangled in her hair And fetter’d to her eye. Stone walls do not a prison make. “Kelsey?” I turned. I won’t allow it. And my divine Althea brings To whisper at the grates. The birds that wanton in the air Know no such liberty. “Nothing. please remember that I . I won’t let him find you. “No matter what happens. “The only thing I couldn’t bear is if he hurt you. He pressed his forehead to the bars.” I got up to leave but paused at the door when he said. my sweet. Enjoy such liberty. No matter what has to happen. that soar above. Nor iron bars a cage.” “What do you mean?” He smiled.

then his eyes changed.” “I’ll remember. Mujhe tumse pyarhai. The strong connection I felt between us was almost tangible. connected me to him like a telephone line. I took a hesitant step back. “Kelsey! Kelsey! Wake up!” I opened my eyes and began crying fresh tears that . and it wasn’t alright. The closer we’d become. I promise. and the tether retracted back inside me violently. the stronger the connection was. and lifeless. Something was very wrong. For the first time since I’d lain eyes on my white tiger. its sharp. It rooted me.” “Ren?” “Goodbye. ” “Go now. like a metal tether. Perhaps it was a trick of the light. flat. but something had severed the cable.” “Ren!” Something was happening. my love . Promise me that you’ll remember. Ren. I started gasping for air. and they seemed gray. I screamed. hridaya patni.” He smiled weakly. jagged ends ripping and tearing through my heart like hot knives through warm butter. The blue leeched out. I screamed and you. I was alone. but it almost looked as if he had died. “Please go. Kishan shook me until I woke from the fog of my dream. I felt something snap. I felt the ugly break in our wire. Everything will be alright. “Ren?” His soft voice replied. Kelsey.

” “Are you okay?” My hand lifted involuntarily to the hollow. “Kelsey?” I mumbled. I must have slept at some point because I woke tangled in my sleeping bag with Kishan’s arms around me.” . pressed me close. like the fight we had with the birds. and stroked my back. Something’s happened. a very disturbing one. we can’t be sure. while I wept inconsolably for his brother. and a tear leaked out from the corner of my eye. but just a dream.” “I remember. raw pit I felt in my chest.” “Even so. But I didn’t dream about the birds.I opened my eyes and began crying fresh tears that spilled onto my cheeks and followed the old trails left behind from my dream. I buried my head in the pillow and took deep breaths to calm myself. It’s not uncommon to have violent dreams if you have recently experienced something traumatic. Kishan whispered.” “What happened? Why do you think that?” I explained my dream and tried to describe my broken connection to Ren.” “Maybe.” I said dully. “No. it’s possible that this is all just a dream. “I’m awake. Remember that Durga said she would protect him. But it was so real. I think…I think Ren may be dead. My fist was pressed into my cheek. and my eyes were swollen shut and crusty. “He’s…gone. “Kelsey. He pulled me onto his lap. I wrapped my arms around Kishan’s neck and cried and cried.

Let’s try. Let’s find Faunus.” It took a long day of hiking to reach the Silvanae village again. Faunus assured me that everything they had was at our disposal. “In my dream. When I asked if we could sleep in the Grove of Dreams again.“I remember.” He got up and walked outside the tent. Kishan. Ren said it to me before we parted.” “What are you thinking?” “I think we should visit the Silvanae again. Kishan understood I wanted to . Please. What does hridaya patni mean?” “Where did you hear that?” he asked softly. His arm was propped up against a tree limb. Maybe we can sleep in the Grove of Dreams. “It’s a pet name our father used to call our mother. It means…wife of my heart.” Kishan looked at me a moment then wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb. But it was so real. he said.” “There’s no way to know for sure.” “Kishan. They brought me a small dinner and left me alone in one of their cottages until nightfall. and I can see the future. Maybe I’ll see if we can save him or not. I followed and found him staring into the distance.” “Maybe there is.” “Do you think it will work?” “The Silvanae said if they had a desperate problem to work out. they went there for answers. Kells. They were overjoyed to see us and wanted to have a celebration. one more thing. I didn’t feel like celebrating. Without turning around. “Okay.

“Who’s this?” Kishan addressed the toddler. returned to fetch me and brought along a visitor. divided. come here and see me.” I held out my arms.” He held the hand of a small Silvanae toddler with a cap of beautiful silvery curls. his name is Tarak. and began making dozens of stuffed animals of every kind. “I brought someone to meet you. “Can you tell the pretty lady your name?” “Rock. “That’s impossible! He looks like he’s almost two!” Kishan shrugged.” “Y name is Rock?” I asked. When the baby touched it. and we watched the kaleidoscope of colors shift and change. Kishan.” “Amazing! Tarak. setting up an . and we played with Tarak. “Stuffed animals. “Apparently.” The fabric shifted. Kishan sat beside me. who had obviously bathed and now wore fresh clothes. please. When evening came. He took a few clumsy steps toward me and fell into my alone too. and Kishan let go of his hand and encouraged him forward. our The sweet baby face grinned at me. Would you like to play? Watch this. Kells.” I took the Scarf from around my neck. “Actually. “Y ou’re such a big boy now! And so handsome too. Kishan said. and he ate with the Silvanae. the Silvanae mature quickly.” “Tarak?” I gasped. a tiny handprint of hot pink showed on the fabric for a moment before disappearing in a swirl of yellow.

I’ll meet you in the Grove. The sting in my heart lessened as I enjoyed playing with the young Silvanae child. cupped my chin. “I’ll be right back. “Aunt Kelsey needs to get some sleep. smiled.” I gathered the stuffed animals and told the Scarf we didn’t need them anymore. Kishan returned. I grabbed his hand. Threads began spinning in the air and wove themselves back into the Scarf I held in my lap. and said. Just as they finished. and he winked. When Kishan picked up the stuffed tiger and taught Tarak the proper way to growl.” His back was turned toward me as he tested a knot . They were quiet this time and left me to my thoughts as they gently soaped through my hair and rubbed scented lotion into my skin. and tilted my face up for his perusal. It’s time to take you back to your family. and said quietly. okay?” I nodded and let the same three Silvanae women who had helped me before lead me to the bathing area. squeezed it. He crouched down. Our eyes met. Kishan was there and had taken the liberty of creating a hammock with the Divine Scarf.” He scooped up Tarak. “Thank you. you’re exhausted. he looked up at me. and mouthed. I mocked gently. “Kelsey. placed him on his shoulders. Go soak for a while before you sleep.animal parade. The Silvanae have prepared a bath for you.” He kissed my fingers. “Not interested in sharing the honeymoon suite again. Little Man. I see. They dressed me in a spun-silk robe and had an orange-winged fairy guide me to the Grove of Dreams.

“Thank you. I could feel his eyes on me as I tucked a hand under my cheek and finally drifted to sleep.of the hammock. no depth.” I shrugged. not of Kishan or Mr. as empty as a plastic Easter egg. He cleared his throat. and no happiness. A space with no shape. but there was nothing in my center. perhaps even elaborately decorated on the outside. His golden eyes widened.” He got into his hammock and lay back with his hands behind his head. Kadam…I dreamed of nothing. Perhaps I did look beautiful. not of myself. I lay awake staring at the stars for a long time. It was . by ou the way. I was drained to the core. “Suit yourself. “I just thought it would be better to…” he turned around and looked at me. I dreamt of nothing. A great blackness filled my mind. no richness. “It’s definitely better for you to sleep by yourself this time. I heard him say softly. I woke before Kishan. and looked at the blue silk robe with long fairy sleeves. I’ll be comfortable over here.” I said mechanically as I climbed into the soft bed. Not of Ren. my life meant nothing. My hair was soft and clean and hung down my back in supple waves.” I turned toward him. Without Ren. My pale skin gleamed from a vigorous scrubbing and the sparkling lotions of the Silvanae. Kells. a void. He watched me as I pulled back the sheets. Colorfully. lifted an arm. “Y look really…beautiful. but I felt hollow. There was nothing for me without my tiger. and he busied himself with knots again.

And right in the center. and roses. Talk to me. lovely sandalwood trees. hollow. the lilies uprooted. But the fountain was shattered. desolate. climbing jasmine. A deracinated desert incapable of sustaining life. a beautiful place where I could sit and feel warmth and peace and love. and the shock of it . “Kelsey?” I didn’t respond. in a place of prominence. “Kelsey. please say something. That was what the Grove of Dreams was trying to tell me. “Kells?” He slid his hands under my body and picked me up. I could hear him and respond to him in my mind. I didn’t hear Kishan get up. Too much was gone. and worthless. I just felt his fingertips brush against my face as he lifted the strands from my cheek and tucked them behind an ear.empty. I can’t stand to see you like this. I didn’t bother pushing them aside. was a water fountain surrounded by tiger lilies. from my body. When my parents died.” He rocked me for a while. I felt a raindrop hit my cheek. but I felt detached from my environment. it was like two mighty trees had been uprooted. Ren had come into my life and had filled the empty landscape of my heart. My heart had healed. and there just wasn’t enough soil left to grow anything else. then he sat on the bed and hugged me to his chest. and the dry ground had been replaced by soft grass. A soft breeze stirred my hair and blew strands of it across my face. My unblinking eyes stared at the brightening dawn sky. the trees toppled. I was barren.

Punctuating each kiss with a—“Thank Y Thank Y ou! ou! Thank Y ou!” “Wait. I think it means he’s dead. “Is it raining? I didn’t think it rained here. Puzzled. we were arguing about…” I laughed. .” es. I lifted a hand to his cheek. What did you see to take you so far away from me? Did you see Ren?” “No. Kells. “Are you sure it wasn’t a dream of the past?” “I’m sure. My dreams were filled with cold blackness.” He didn’t answer.” “Tell me. In fact. I don’t think so. Kells. brought me to the surface. His golden eyes were full of watery tears.” “No. Kells. “You saw him? Are you sure?” “Y We were arguing on a boat. in the dream. “I thought you were lost.” I sat up straighter. I saw Ren in my dreams. “Are you absolutely one hundred percent certain that this happens in the future?” “I’m sure.” I hugged him and kissed his cheeks and forehead. I think it’s the yacht that belongs to us. The thing is.” Vitality surged back into my limbs.woke me. I lifted a hand and brushed the drop away.” “Oh. “Kishan? Why are you crying?” He smiled weakly. grabbed his shirt. I saw nothing. actually. We were on a modern yacht. and shook him lightly. “Kishan?” I looked at him and realized it wasn’t rain but tears. Another drop splashed on my forehead.

and I was too wrapped up in thoughts of finding Ren to find out why. A desperate. It took two days of fast hiking to get to the gate following the directions the Silvanae had given us. gathering our things. “Tell me later.” ou “But I think I should tell you…” I hopped off his lap and began moving quickly. I summoned my lightning power and placed my hand in the carved depression on the side of the gate. Y two always argue. There’s no time now. fevered determination filled my mind. We looked at each other. hurried through goodbyes. Every minute we delayed meant more pain for the one I loved. especially an endearment his father has used for his mother. but we took it to go. Upon reaching the gate. He was alive! “I don’t care what you were arguing about. and after changing. Kishan said very little on the trip. I had been with him somehow. The dream of Ren had been real. Let’s get going. My skin glowed. becoming translucent and pink as the gateway shimmered and opened. kissed him. Something had broken our connection. he would be saved! Kishan had seen the future! The Silvanae had prepared a sumptuous breakfast. I wouldn’t have thought up new words in Hindi by myself. What are we waiting for? A tiger needs to be rescued. Come on!” I darted around with crazed energy. I had touched him. In fact. I smiled at . I asked the Divine Scarf to create new winter gear for us. and headed back toward the spirit gates.crazed with giddy relief. Come on. Kishan removed his glove and pressed a warm palm to my cheek as he studied my face soberly. but he was still alive! He could be saved.

I disentangled myself ungracefully. as if he’d never see me again. and stepped through the gate into a sunny day on my cheek as he studied my face soberly. My winter boots crunched into the sparkling snow as Kishan stepped through and changed into the black tiger. replaced my glove. I’d meant it to be brief. but he wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tightly. I smiled at him and hugged him. Everest. .

which had slipped off my eye like a contact lens. My eye phobia kicked into high gear. I didn’t like touching my eyes. but I managed to get the other eye clear and .CHAPTER 22 After we passed through the gate. I carefully peeled away a transparent green film. I blinked several times. I rubbed them lightly and felt something sticking to my lashes. It felt like something was in my eyes. and the spirit gate looked as it did before—two tall wooden poles with long strings of prayer flags blowing in the breeze resting on top of its snow crusted plinth. I turned to watch the land of Shangri-la vanish in a swirl of color. I could see clear white snow from one eye and the other one was still covered with the green film. Now my vision was strange. The red light that pulsed in the handprint faded.

I was also hoping that the time we’d spent in Shangri-la was not equal to the time we’d been gone from Mr. “Hold very still. my mind had become limpid. clear. I knew how to save Ren. Since Hugin had helped me get my thoughts unstuck. I encouraged him to keep going and stopped only when it was too dark to see the landscape. It took a long time. I’ve got to get this out or it will bother you the whole way. I hoped the physical features were enough to go on and that he could figure out where to begin searching. He blinked his eyes at me. I adjusted the backpack over my shoulders and began the vertiginous descent back to Mr. I felt the same burning energy pushing me forward. but it was still cold. I calculated and devised a plan. Kadam’s camp. Kadam knew something about the culture or the whereabouts of the people we had seen in the vision. I didn’t expect his words would end up being this literal.” I touched the far side and lifted the film off one eye and then the other one. though Kishan clearly wanted me to. The only thing I didn’t know was where to find him. Kishan appeared to be stuck in tiger form and probably would be for a while like Ren had been after Kishkindha. but I was proud I could do it at all. I wouldn’t stop to rest. The sun was shining. The Ocean Teacher had said that as we exited Shangri-la the scales would fall from our eyes and we could see the real world again. Kadam’s perspective.turned to Kishan. Every moment that Ren was in . I was hoping that Mr. and I could see the green film peeling away from one eye.

I actually had the Scarf create a rust colored base-layer shirt that fit tightly under a waterproof jacket in black with rust stripes across the shoulders. I quickly had snow gear made for him. and he dressed in the tent while I got some breakfast together. thick wool socks. I lay awake in our tent that night for a long while thinking about my plan. Black pants with pockets and elastic cuffs. I appraised his appearance and congratulated myself on doing a good job. Kishan reminded me that it would take us at least two full days to get down the mountain. warm insulated gloves. He soon joined me dressed in his new clothes. I decided it was time to talk to him about my plan and show him what else the Scarf could do. It was unbearable thinking of him being in pain at all. Kishan woke and changed to a man. Though I was in a hurry. There would be no trades for Ren. He seemed to be happy with it. analyzing it from as many angles as I could.Kadam’s perspective. The next morning. Every moment that Ren was in Lokesh’s hands he would be tormented. After teasing him that I would make it in pink. When we made camp the second night. . We were going to save him and lose no one else. The tigers could now be men for twelve hours of the day. let alone for the many days we’d spent in the world beyond the spirit gate. We were now halfway finished with our quest. and snow boots completed his outfit. We discovered that recovering the Scarf had given Kishan another six hours. I would not allow Lokesh to take anyone else.

The third thing it can be used for is…changing appearance. It’s an illusion.” I said. I picked up the Scarf. you have to be specific and capture in your mind exactly who you want to look like. conveniently made by the Scarf.” “How does that work?” “Remember the Divine Weaver said there was power in the weaving? It not only creates the clothes of that person. but it can also leave the thing behind. It glittered as if embellished with jeweled sequins that surfaced briefly then disappeared. Light . I’m going to try it. The key is. sort of. One of them changed a mouse to a dog. how do I describe it? Have you ever seen a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat or change a bird into just a feather?” “We did have magicians come to court occasionally.” The Scarf grew into a long piece of sparkly black fabric with colors swirling quickly through the entire piece.” “Changing appearance? What do you mean?” “Umm. the Scarf can do several things.After we’d settled down in our tent. Watch and tell me if it works. A trick done es! with light and mirrors. please—Nilima.” “Y It’s similar to that. It can. It doesn’t have to reabsorb what it creates. It can become or create anything made of fabric or natural fibers. It can also be shaped to gather the winds like in the story of the Japanese god Fūjin’s bag. and it loses the magic of the cloth. but it can make you look like them as well. “Okay. I encouraged him to sit down across from me. I unzipped my sleeping bag and spread it on the floor. “Disguise.

I want to see how accurate it is. Y ou’re dressed like her. I’m freezing!” Kishan wrapped his coat around me then picked up my hand and examined it. It was like watching my own personal laser light show. “Now you try.” I wrapped the fabric around me again and said. When the glow diminished. “Well?” His mouth was open in shock. I wrapped the fabric around my body and covered my entire frame including my hair and my face.” He took the Scarf from me and said.” The colors began swirling again and after a long minute I removed the material and returned to looking like myself. My skin became warm and tingly. “Disguise—Mr. Kadam.” I looked down and found I was wearing a powder blue silk dress that came only to my knees and my legs were bare. I didn’t have a mirror. “Kells?” “Y ep. The swirling colors were iridescent and lit the dark small space where I sat wrapped inside the warm blanket the Scarf had become. “Back to myself.” He wrapped it around his entire body. our Y even have her long painted nails. “Y skin looks like hers.” “Okay. Kishan. “I just realized that. When he took . “Okay.” “Y ou…you even sound like Nilima. demonstration done. I am seriously freezing. I unwrapped myself and looked at Kishan.reflected and moved around the tent like thousands of prisms shooting rainbows in every direction. please. Unbelievable!” ou I shivered.

it off a minute later.” “Maybe it’s something only you tigers can feel since you’re so closely associated with it. and when I gave you mine to wear. if you wore it for as many years as I did. “Wow! Y really look like him!” ou I felt the hem of his pants.” “What do you mean?” “I wore an amulet for most of my life. “Wait a minute! Y ou’ve even got his amulet on! Does it feel real?” He touched the amulet and felt the chain. Y really can’t feel the amulet’s ou power?” “No. I could feel its absence. I stretched out a finger and touched his short beard. Also it’s lighter in weight and surface is slightly different. It’s like a perfect replica! He touched his face and rubbed a hand over his close cropped hair. I don’t know that I can really feel its power yet. Kadam about it. I said. We’ll have to ask Mr. I found myself sitting across from Mr. The pants feel real. “So what exactly . “Perhaps you’re right. This one doesn’t feel real to me. “I think this one is made of some kind of fabric.” “Maybe. Well.” “Really?” He rubbed it between his fingers. “It looks real.” He changed back to himself again. It doesn’t feel powerful. but it’s not.” “Hmm.” “Hmm. Kadam.” I reached over and touched the amulet around his neck and then compared it to mine. that’s interesting. He looked exactly like I had last seen him. you would feel it.

but it’s all we have to go on. I tried to remind him that twelve hours was much better than your plan. “Y don’t plan to make a trade then? An amulet for ou Ren?” “Not if we can avoid it. he craved it desperately. Identifying where the servant is from doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s where Lokesh is holding Ren. Kells?” “Well. Like Ren.” “Right. The big problem with the plan is that I don’t know where Ren is being held. He could sleep as a tiger and spend most of his waking hours as a man . He said that he felt stifled being forced back into the tiger form again. so we have a how.” “It’s a long shot. Kishan had slept as a tiger so he walked with me as a man for most of the day. but I also saw a person holding him that I’m hoping Mr.” “Identify him how?” “His hair and tattoos were unique. I’d like it to be a last resort. which gave us the opportunity to talk.” “I know.” “Okay. now that he’d gotten a taste of being human. We just need a where. but I was thinking that maybe we could impersonate Lokesh’s guards and sneak in to wherever they’re holding Ren. we were out of the snow line and moving quickly downhill. Kadam can identify. Kells. I told you I saw Ren in the vision. I’ve never seen something like that before. I haven’t hammered out all the details yet.” The next day.

” “Okay. When the king died unexpectedly without any progeny. probably an interesting story there. That kingdom had always been very peaceful and we’d never had a problem with them until Lokesh took power.” “What do you mean? I thought he was a king. To start off. he didn’t come from a royal bloodline. his wife.” “He was. Where did you meet him? What is he like? Tell me about his family. he stepped into the king’s position. “Kishan?” He grunted as he slid downhill a bit on loose gravel. he quickly snuffed out any malcontents and went about building up a powerful army. Did everyone just accept him as the new king? Weren’t there any protests?” “If there were. During a lull in the conversation. All that he was a royal advisor. He had moved up quickly to a position of authority. which he always claimed he had no knowledge of. he was always very careful around my family. We think now that he was gathering intelligence because the skirmishes always occurred in key military areas. I would have loved to hear the tale of his ascent to power.” “Huh. “There began to be minor skirmishes between our armies. his background. The first time I met him. but he didn’t start off that way. I said. “Y eah?” “I want you to tell me everything you know about Lokesh. but he still complained about it. He dismissed them as minor misunderstandings and assured us that he would . Even then.

He was head of the military at the time. no posterity.” “Does he have any weaknesses?” “I think he knows more of my weaknesses than I of his. but all the while he was coldly calculating our downfall. I imagine he abused Y esubai. and he felt that there was more going on than soldiers misunderstanding their orders. but I wouldn’t trust him. He always assumed a humble demeanor around my father. and I never thought to ask. Y esubai never spoke of her mother. He commanded their ultimate obedience. As far as I know. He could care less about jewels or gold. his wife had died long before we met him. he has no family left. Lokesh appeared to be very charming when he visited. He used his soldiers like they were disposable tools. it was Mr. He’s an ambitious man. He craves power. He uses money only as a means to get more power. According to him. though. Nobody else suspected him. That could be a weakness.” “Do we know anything about the other pieces of the amulet? . unless he took another wife. He might say differently.” “Survivors? What do you mean?” “The skirmishes often resulted in the deaths of his soldiers. Kelsey. Kadam.” “And nobody in your family ever suspected anything?” “If anyone suspected him.reprimand the survivors. and they gave it.” “Does he crave money? Could we offer to buy Ren’s freedom?” “No.

amulet? Like where he got them from?” “The only thing I know about the amulets is what my parents told us.” “How so?” I asked. My mother’s family had one piece. But I’ve never heard of such a list.” “Maybe Lokesh found a list of the families who had been entrusted with them. That’s how Ren and I each got one. but the life span then was considerably shorter than it is today.” “Maybe. Since he is pursuing the amulet at all costs. I’d never heard of any other amulet pieces until Lokesh mentioned them. Not until we were changed to tigers. Our family was prolific on both sides. Our ancestors had longer lives than normal.” “Perhaps it does.” “Did your parents know the amulets were powerful?” “No. none of this information gives us an inkling as to any of his weaknesses. Kadam?” “No. There was always a young king to pass the amulet to. and in our family. The one you wear was Mother’s. then the amulet is his .” “Unfortunately. Ren and I wore our pieces under our clothing. They said that the amulets were carried by five warlords and were handed down over the centuries. and it was a carefully protected family heirloom. Kadam wears Father’s. “He craves power above all else. I have no idea how Lokesh acquired the other three pieces. tradition was to pass on the amulet when the boy turned eighteen.” “Y didn’t have an ancestor who lived a long time ou like Mr. and Mr. and my father’s family had one piece.

” “Sorry. “We’re almost there. I just want to say thank you for everything you did in Shangri-la.” He shrugged and said.” “It’s a good idea. Even if it could be.” He sighed dramatically. If he takes the replica version. “Y didn’t think I’d ou let you go alone. but I’m grateful that I had you with me.” He let me go and took the backpack from my shoulders. Can you keep going or do you need to rest?” he asked intently. Kadam’s form.weakness.” “But we don’t know if the replica can be removed from the person or not. affection.” He threw the backpack over one shoulder and stood there considering me for a minute. or just plain finding me irresistible. smiled at me.” “Hmm. “Kishan. he’ll think that he’s won. devotion. Y ou’ll have to live with my undying gratitude. and brushed the hair out of my face. isn’t it?” “What else were you hoping for?” “Adoration. I wouldn’t have made it without you. He held me for just a moment. “We’ll test it when we get back. Grateful is all I’m going to get. did you?” “No. “I guess that’s as good a .” I stumbled over a rock. infatuation. “I can keep going. Don Juan. and Kishan caught me.” “What do you mean?” “We just saw the Scarf create a replica when I assumed Mr. we don’t know how long it will last.

place to start as any. Apparently. At dusk. Kadam’s shadow inside the tent. . we could make out a small fire at the base of the mountain. Kadam stepped outside and grabbed me in a big hug then turned to clap Kishan on the back. “It’s a deal. How about we just call it even. Knock. “I wonder if we’ll come across that old bear again. Any room in there for a couple of wandering strangers?” The shadow moved. I’m not much of a warrior.” He grinned. I could just make out Mr. When we got closer. I never actually thanked you for convincing me to come home. I’ve…found a lot of things about being home that I like.” He put his arm across my shoulders and we continued our hike. Let me tell you about the time I went into battle and left my sword at home.” “If so.” “Y fought the birds really well. He said he could smell him on the breeze. and I watched the zipper slide down. “Miss Kelsey? Kishan?” Mr. “I’d ride ou into battle with you any time. I said. I should be able to keep him away this time.” He kissed my forehead and started talking about the first battle he’d fought in. I didn’t think to use my power. “Knock. He held my hand the last half mile because it became too dark for me to see.” I smiled at him. Kadam’s camp. Kishan assured me that it was Mr.

“Does it work like the Golden Fruit except it creates woven things?” “Sort of. Kadam mumbled. and could you make the tent just a bit larger?” I asked.” I took the amethyst colored Scarf from around my neck. I’ll make some ou hot tea. Kadam rummaged through some papers and came up with a copy of the prophecy.” “Mr. Kadam had been quietly watching the action of the threads. “India’s masses shall be robed. Kadam asked. remember?” “Ah.” “Huh. but Kishan helped. After a few moments. Let me just get a kettle to put on the fire. “Y It says here. we were able to sit comfortably on large cushions in a tent that had doubled in size. Several of them began weaving large cushions of various colors and another piece broke off and began looping through the end of the tent. I struggled briefly to get out of my coat. Didn’t the prophecy say something about ‘chief’s disguise too?” Mr. Mr. “Soft cushions please. ‘Discus routs and ‘chief’s disguise es.” Mr. you don’t have to do that. Funny that that hadn’t occurred to me before.“Y must be freezing! Come inside. Wait a minute. I forget. yeah. Mr. We have the Golden Fruit. Kadam. I guess we could clothe India’s people with this thing. in fascination. yes. The turquoise threads immediately shifted and stretched.” “And we have something else too. . which caused it to shift to turquoise.

Kadam exclaimed. “Show me what. When he took the Scarf away from his face. . “Sure. “Could you two speak English.” and twisted it around his body. “Y that makes sense then.” “Do you want to show him now. It can gather the winds like the god Fūjin’s bag.” “Perhaps sent by one of the gods of wind? Vayu? Striborg? Njord? Pazuzu?” “Don’t forget Boreas and Zephyrus. “Sorry. I got carried away for a minute. “I want to see if it will work without me saying a name out loud like the Golden Fruit does.” Mr. I mean other than making clothes and weaving things. Kishan?” I asked. Miss Kelsey?” “Y ou’ll see.can stave off those who would pursue’. mumbled. Silver cord would work. ou Divine Scarf can do a couple of other things too. though. It was Ren. Kadam laughed. He must have seen my stricken face. es. It lengthened and turned black with the swirling colors like before. Y see. Kadam leaned forward.” Kishan interrupted. “Disguise. I was unprepared for what I’d see. He’d taken Ren’s form. “Similar to the bag of winds Odysseus received from Aiolos? Ulysses’ leather bag tied with a silver cord?” “Y but it’s not leather. Just watch.” Kishan took the Divine Scarf. es.” Mr.” I responded. Is that what you’re referring to?” I laughed. the ep. please?” Mr.” “Y That’s a good idea.

Kadam. I teased. So many people suffer from want of food and warm clothes. Just change back quickly. well…imagine the possibilities. Kelsey changed to look like Nilima. please. Kadam sat there dumbfounded. so he got a hot chocolate with cinnamon and whipped cream instead. It changed to olive green where his fingertips stroked the fabric. I had to tamp down all the emotions that surfaced.” He did. Kishan quickly took over for me and explained. Kishan wasn’t especially fond of tea. “I think it likes you. Seeing Ren sitting there even knowing it was really Kishan was extremely difficult for me. These are truly divine gifts. I couldn’t speak. “How long were we gone?” . Kishan. we can take the form of other people. and Mr.Ren’s form. “I’m sorry. We need to test its range and try different forms so we can figure out the limitations. I didn’t want to shock Mr.” He tossed the Scarf to Mr.” “Simply…amazing!” Mr.” “It’s okay. He must have seen my stricken face. Kadam sputtered.” “Y es. I asked. Kadam by showing him his own face.” I let him examine the Scarf while I had the Golden Fruit make us some chamomile tea with cream and sugar. and not just in India. The many people the Golden Fruit and this glorious fabric could help. may I?” “Sure. “Uh. Mr. Kadam. who watched as the colors changed when his fingers touched the fabric. “With the Scarf. and I became you. It was now a brown mustard color.

Kadam sipped his tea and looked at me thoughtfully. perhaps a few days. Kadam.” “Okay. “Miss Kelsey.“A bit over a week.” I quickly calculated in my mind how many days we were up on the mountain. you have not been sleeping well.” I finished my tea. but I think it was almost two weeks.” “I agree.” “I want to get home as soon as possible. how soon can we get going?” “We can leave at dawn. Miss Kelsey? ” “I’m not sure exactly.” “We can go across the border entering India from the Sikkim province. “I think we should let you sleep. “It would seem that I’m . “These last few days have been hard on you. Is that about right?” I looked at Kishan. He nodded silently and sipped his cocoa. “Good.” Mr. “Mr. Get some rest. bilauta. Y eyes are tired.” “How long were you two in Shangri-la. So much to discuss. If there’s no trouble.” our He looked at Kishan for a moment then sipped his tea again. We need to get ready to save Ren. We have a long journey ahead and much can be discussed on the road. We have so much to tell you. Our time in Shangrila didn’t count.” “How long?” “It depends on how fast we get through the border. It will be much faster than going through the Himalayas again.” Kishan interjected.

outnumbered. Kadam kept an eye on him. he took copious notes. we told Mr. and he listened carefully and wrote page after page in his refined style of penmanship. and Mr. Let’s all get some sleep then. still smarting about the wreck with the Jeep that happened before. we sat around a small table and got out the camera to show him the pictures Kishan took of the ark of Noah. Kishan got a turn. and we can leave that much earlier in the morning. and the four houses. He wanted to keep a detailed record of our journey. but Mr. we began our journey home. When I drove. Kadam and Kishan speaking softly in their native language. the World Tree. Kadam pulled out his notebook again and began scribbling. We made it past customs and then drove about halfway home before stopping at a hotel in Gaya. He asked many specific questions about the tests of the four houses and about the bird guardians. Everest and the bear then Kishan talked about carrying me through the spirit gates and hiking through paradise. The visual record helped us remember more details. Kadam all about our journey. I fell asleep to the quiet sound of Mr. .” I used the Scarf to make another bedroll and pillows for all of us. the Silvanae. Fine. Kadam was fascinated by the Silvanae and asked dozens of questions. At the hotel. While we drove. The next day. He kept nodding as if he had expected this or that to occur. We took turns driving and napping in the back. I started with Mt. Mr.

He cupped his hands. Kadam looked over my shoulder. “What is that?” I turned it different ways and laughed.” He handed the camera to me. “Y look quite becoming. She needed water and food and I also had no idea she would be gone that long or that they would go on through after finding the opening. It was the one he took of me in my gossamer gown with fairies adorning in my hair. “It’s one of Hugin’s eyes. Kishan closed the door. “Why didn’t you take a camera into Kishkindha?” I shrugged but Mr. “In fact. Kishan grunted and said.Kishan showed me the camera and asked. “Y should have seen her in ou person. Mr. Miss Kelsey. I’d say that I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. Quite becoming is an understatement. “I’m definitely getting a copy of this one. and rested a hip against it. I looked like a fairy princess with glowing skin and bright eyes. brought up a knee. See? There’s the nest.” ou Kishan laughed. and I could just make out a pink fairy peeking around a lock of hair to see my face. Kadam chuckled and went to get his bag out of the car. and looked at me with a serious expression.” I wrung my hands nervously. it’s always . My hair hung in soft waves down my back. returned to the table. Kadam explained. “Well.” Kishan took back the camera and flipped through some more. apsaras rajkumari.” Mr. “I didn’t want to burden her with too many heavy objects.

“Y eah. Me too. I deliberately pressed my hands against his chest and admonished. I began busying myself gathering my toiletries and pajamas. sighed. rubbed his cheek. lucky man. I said. Kelsey.” My mouth opened in shock. He brought his lips to within inches of mine.” He stood took my elbow. “Would you like to go first?” “No.startling when someone gets a makeover.” He lifted his head. “Kishan. “I think I need a makeover too. and said softly.” Still nervous with him watching me. “The makeover is not what made you beautiful. A fairy makeover would be all the rage at the salons.” He raised an eyebrow. The makeover just accentuated what was already there. and turned me around. A hot shower is calling my name. Y ou were always beautiful.” He put his warm hands on my bare arms and rubbed them lightly. Kishan watched me quietly for a minute. “Ren…is a lucky.” He lifted my chin with a finger. “It would be more heavenly if you told me you wanted to conserve water. and announced.” He reluctantly let me go then stepped over to the window. “Kishan!” .” His eyes twinkled as he regarded me. “Y ou’re a lovely woman. A hot shower is going to feel heavenly.” “Please let me go. you go ahead. He tugged me closer. and looked into my eyes. and his eyes darted down to my mouth.” “I like the way you say my name.

but it seemed to have the opposite effect. but I was in love with his brother. In fact. and I didn’t quite know what to do about him. He apparently felt it was time to start making serious overtures. He had noticed the servant helping Lokesh too. If I had gotten to know Kishan before Ren. but all I could think about was getting back to Ren. drove over swollen rivers. I thought the more he got to know me the less he might like me. Mr.He winked at me. Spending all those weeks with him didn’t help. He’d become a good friend. By the second day. I had hoped that he would lose interest. and through flooded roads. but not in the same way. Something had changed between us in Shangri-la. and he thought the appearance was distinct enough to be able to descry the man’s people without too much trouble. I’d learned to rely on and trust him. He would also begin discretely investigating Lokesh’s office in Mumbai. people working in their fields. I did love him. Can’t blame a guy for trying. Kadam’s return.” I was saved from responding by Mr. We passed temples with golden cupolas. then things may have been . As we drove we kept the air conditioner on because the air was so muggy outside—we probably could have filled our water bottles just by hanging them out the window. Kadam and I had compared notes on the vision of Lokesh. the only thing that barged in on my thoughts of Ren was Kishan. He was going beyond flirting. “I didn’t think so.

He needed someone to take him in and let the wandering. I think.different. I thought about that as I drove. like he was made especially for me. He was everything I could possibly wish for wrapped up in a gorgeous package. And how he sung for me and played his guitar. something that would make a girl want to wrap her arms around him and keep him forever. He also needed someone to love him. Was it just luck that I met Ren first? That we had the opportunity to fall in love? What if Kishan had followed me to America and not Ren? Would I have made a different choice? The truth was that I didn’t know. But. lost tiger rest. But Ren and I fit together so much more easily. The same qualities that I loved about Kishan were found in Ren as well. He was lonely. for someone to love him. then. We loved all the same things. like Ren. I could easily envision that person being me. He was a very attractive person both outside and in. I loved how he got excited about reading Shakespeare and how he liked to watch movies and cheer on the good guys. How he would never cheat. to quiet the restless tiger. I could be happy with him. But with Ren loving me and wanting to be with me. If I had never met Ren. I could see myself falling in love with him and being happy with him. if Kishan had been the one in the circus cage. I could . even if it was to win the girl he loved. He was searching for a home. I loved the way he called me little love nicknames. There was something about him. I considered Ren. There would have been potential there.

Ren saw things in black and white.never be persuaded to look in Kishan’s direction.” I blushed and said.” then turned in my seat and napped. I never told Ren that Princess Leia ended up with Han Solo and not Luke. Ren filled my vision even when he wasn’t here. “We’re home. Would he have grown to like Han Solo or feel like Luke had been ripped off? Kishan was driving now and glanced in the rearview mirror from time to time.” . “Just thinking about saving Ren. he gently shook me awake. Kishan was a hero too. watching me. when he said. bilauta. literally. The problem was that I just didn’t see Kishan in the same way Ren did. And Kishan really did deserve a happy ending just as much as Ren did. They’d both been hurt. When the car finally pulled into the driveway. They’d both suffered. “Penny for your thoughts. I wondered how he’d have felt about that. deep in thought. I was biting my lip. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Leia was Luke’s sister and Darth Vader was his father. He was the white hat and Kishan was the black.

CHAPTER 23 I was so happy to be back home I could’ve cried. “Y Of course. He glanced at me and pulled out a chair so I could sit beside him. Contact me as soon as possible. Kadam also excused himself to check with some of his contacts. Left alone. then walked through the house to see what everyone else was up to. Mr. es. I wasn’t sure what to do with the fairy clothes. Kishan carried our bags inside. then disappeared. Kadam was in the library on the phone. I heard only half of the conversation. hot shower and do some laundry. just to see if there were any fairies in the real world. I decided to take a long. I kept them out and decided to hang them on the veranda overnight. Mr. I padded into the laundry room in my slippers and pajamas. With my wet hair tied back with a ribbon. I threw in a load. .

That is correct.” “Y aren’t planning on going there yourself.” “Well. es. Did you notice his suit?” “His suit? It looked like a regular suit to me. I’ve sent men to investigate to try and hunt down an address. I’m impressed! I didn’t even think to look at his clothes. did anyone ever tell you that you are extremely observant?” He smiled. Based on the beads. Contact me as soon as possible. Only two businesses in the entire country specialize in expensive suits such as that one. “Perhaps once or twice. “Mr. We’ll be in touch. What about the servant?” “I have a few ideas about where he might have come from.” He hung up the phone and turned to me.“Y Of course. are ou you? Lokesh would capture you too!” “No.” . but a snack sounds good. Why don’t you have a snack and head to bed?” “I took a long nap in the car. Kadam.” I shook my head and grinned. and the tattoo.” “It isn’t. I’ll add on that I’m very glad you’re on our side. His suits are custom made in India. the hair. Lokesh gave away more about himself than he learned of us. I should be able to narrow it down by tomorrow. I asked.” “What’s he going to do?” “He will begin investigating who works in the penthouse office in the tallest building of Mumbai. Send in as many as necessary. One of which is infiltrating large organizations. Will you join me?” “I believe I might. “Who was that?” “A man of my employ who has many remarkable talents.

A tall gourd held some of the delicious nectar. The only item that was unsalvageable was a small pack of lace cookies dusted with powdered sugar. But. then carefully picked up and tasted a mushroom galette and a tiny raspberry tart as I explained that the Silvanae were vegetarians and that they loved sweet things. marveling at the artistry involved. Kadam then unzipped the backpack. We drained every drop of the nectar and were thrilled to see that . cheese. and onion stuffed pies. “I don’t know if the pastry is still edible. got a couple of glasses from the kitchen and two small plates. but the nectar should be. I slid my plate to Kishan and went to get another glass. I popped the stopper and poured the sweet golden liquid into his cup.” He leaned forward. He appraised the tiny appetizers from several angles. “Oh! I almost forgot! I brought something for you!” I found the backpack at the foot of the stairs. and mini apple. I placed several dainty delicacies on his plate. Opening the delicious packages we’d been given by the Silvanae. Sadly. Kishan walked in and pulled up a chair next to me.I stood quickly. curious. “Hey! Why wasn’t I invited to the Silvanae tea party? ” He grinned. We laughed and enjoyed a peaceful respite as we savored pumpkin rolls with walnut butter. I set out the plate and glass in front of Mr. they were now just a pack of crumbs. the other items still looked as fresh and delectable as they had been in Shangri-la.

“Mr. es. One is found in Madhya Pradesh in central India.” He scanned through several shelves until he found the text he was looking for. Come look at this.the Golden Fruit could produce more.” He got up from his desk and came over to sit down on the leather chair across from me. I believe I have a book that has more details of their culture. “It’s about the Adivasis. There are two groups of them currently. We stayed awake until late that night. which is in Eastern India. I promised myself that I would write down each delicious food we’d had in Shangri-la in my journal so I could taste them all again with Ren using the Golden Fruit after he was rescued. I turned a page in the fifth book I’d picked up and found a picture of a woman with tattooing across her forehead. There should be more about the Baiga in here. I handed him the book.” “What do you know about them? Where are they?” “They are a mostly nomadic indigenous tribe who avoid association outside of their communities. then he sat down next to me and opened the book. Kadam and I read books on the rural tribes of India.m. preferring not to till the ground.. The only thing that could have made this moment better would have been to share it with Ren. feeling that it harms Mother Earth.” . and he studied the woman. “Y This is one of the groups I was thinking of. The other is in Jharkhand. At about 3:00 a. They hunt and gather for food. Kishan changed into a tiger and slept at my feet as Mr. They’re called the Baiga. Kadam.

“What are the Adivasis?” “Adivasis is a term to describe the indigenous tribes of India similar to the term Aborigines as it is used in Australia. but it doesn’t differentiate among them. Employ ancient medicines and magic. Though the confusing thing is.should be more about the Baiga in here.” he flipped another page.” He found the section he was looking for and ran his finger down the page as he read and thought out loud. and the Cree. the Navajo.” “Oh. and. together. Depend on jungle for sustenance. Baiga men grow their hair long and wear it in a jura or bun. There would be no reason for him to leave his people.” “Even if he paid the man well?” “It wouldn’t matter. Not at all the type you would imagine as a thugee. That fellow holding Ren fits that description. Here. Miss Kelsey. There are several cultures that fall under the heading Adivasis. “the Baiga. It’s not within their cultural norm. “They practice bewar cultivation. Aha! Here is what we’re looking for. They are a simple. Oraon. Their life style is centered in their tribe. Slash and burn agriculture. we have the Irulas. Famous for tattooing. straightforward people. Is it like saying someone is a Native American? ” “Y It’s a term that classifies all of the native tribes es.” I leaned down to scratch Kishan’s ear.” “A thugee?” . Santals. a Baiga leaving his tribe to serve someone like Lokesh would almost never happen. Bamboo handicrafts. Like in America you have the Cherokee.

the more joy you can contain. Y get some sleep too. pirates who preyed on travelers. The modern term for thug is a derivative of the word thugee. “Don’t fret. Many years ago in India. Still. it’s time to rest. “Thanks for keeping me company. Kahlil Gibran said. Kishan padded along behind me and followed me into my room.” ou We said good night. A person of the Baiga would be unlikely to join the ranks of Lokesh. ‘The deeper that sorrow carves into your being. “Thank you. He studied me for a moment then put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I insist.’ I know that you’ve had many great sorrows.” I hugged him and whispered against his shirt. patting him on his back.” I nodded and replaced the books I’d taken from his library shelves. it warrants investigation.” He hopped up on the swinging love seat and promptly fell asleep. I feel it. there were wandering groups of bandits and murderers. For now. Miss Kelsey. I slid open the door and knelt beside him. and Mr. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. We’ve made great progress. All things will work out in the end. and we both need fresh minds.“A thug. I will begin my study of the Baiga tribes tomorrow. He walked over to the glass door and stood there waiting for me to let him out onto the veranda. They were called thugees.” I smiled at him. I climbed into bed and hugged my . Miss Kelsey. Kadam disappeared into his room while I climbed the stairs to mine. but I also feel that your life will hold many great joys. It’s very late.

but this is the longest they have gone without contacting the locals.” “What do you mean missing?” “There are usually small villages near the Baiga tribes who deal with them from time to time. The tribe in Eastern India. This tribe appears to have relocated recently and hasn’t been found. Y two have had quite an ordeal the last few ou weeks. I will do some more research today. so I want you to rest. “If it warrants more attention. In my investigation of the Baiga. Kadam was on the phone again and hung up as I sat down with my breakfast across from him. Go for a swim. and got ready for the day then headed downstairs. Such meetings are often due to controversies over deforestation or other various small disputes. or go out to eat. I woke around 11 a.m. Y two deserve a ou . I have some connections than can take satellite photos of the area and find the tribe at its current location. watch a movie. “I think we’ve had a lucky break. I’ve found nothing out of the ordinary in regards to the tribe located in Madhya Pradesh. There is nothing you can do until I have found out some more. Mr. They are nomadic and do move from time to time.white tiger tightly. Miss Kelsey. “The Baiga are limited by officials now and cannot move about as freely as they have in the past. I will inform you and Kishan. seems to be missing. however. hoping to fill the empty space inside my chest with thoughts of my real white tiger.

“Y General. “See to it. and I don’t want to see you or Kishan until this evening.” I laughed and went in search of Kishan. Having time to just be a normal person is very important to the mental well-being of all soldiers. Be off with you. and she’s not interested. Miss Kelsey. including you. if you and Ren entered the Olympics you ou could both win several gold medals. track and field. you name it. Gymnastics.” “Y worrying about him won’t make him suffer less.” I smiled at him and saluted. He did a complicated set of aerial leaps and twists that would have been impossible if he didn’t have the tiger’s strength then landed two feet away from me and faced me with a playful grin. convey your instructions to Kishan. We will find him soon. Y ou’d both get millions of dollars of endorsements. “I only need one pretty girl fawning all over me. Now what brings you down here? Want to work out?” .” “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do? I can’t really relax when I know Ren is suffering. I found him in the dojo working on some form of martial arts.” He laughed. our He would want you to rest too.” He saluted me back.break. Don’t forget that I have led soldiers into battle many times over. I sat on the bottom step and watched him work for a few moments. and if there is one thing I’ve learned.” “Y ou’d have pretty girls fawning all over you. “Y know. it’s that all war-hardened troops need R & R. I will es. wrestling.” “I don’t need millions of dollars of endorsements.

” By the time he got the ball and a couple of towels out of the storage locker. Y need sunscreen. slipped on a robe. I squeezed lotion into my hand and started rubbing it into my arms and a down my legs. “Mores the pity. I’m not a bikini kind of girl. huh? It might cool me off.” He efficiently coated my back and neck with the white stuff and started on my arms when I stopped him. ” He affected a deep. Alright. dramatic sigh. meet you at the pool.” he peeked from around his towel. Kishan grinned. and winked. thanks.” while holding out my hand for the bottle. “I don’t think so.“No. “Take your time. Mr. I was done.” I headed upstairs and changed into my red onepiece swimsuit. Kadam has ordered us to relax today.” I laughed. I’d just tossed my robe onto a deck chair and tested the water with my foot when I felt something cold on my back. “I can take it from here. “A swim. glanced at my legs. It smelled like coconuts. and stepped out onto the veranda. Y skin is so white ou our you’ll burn. “Yikes! What are you doing?” “Hold still. I said. I wondered if you wanted to go for a swim. He’d changed into a pair of board shorts and was setting up the net for water volleyball. “Care for a game of volleyball?” .” He grabbed a towel and scrubbed his face and head. He came back and threw the towels on top of the robe. He said. “unless you’re planning to wear a bikini.

He stepped a little closer. “Here. A hand grabbed my ankle and tugged me under.” “Hold on a sec.” “What?” He grinned mischievously. It’ll slow me down. “let me. The touch was friendly at first. which turned into a water-splash fight.” I let my hands drop down to my sides while his fingers lightly brushed the lotion over my nose and cheeks. I didn’t see him. I shrieked and swam underwater to the other side of the net. “Y troublemaker!” I ou reached up to try and blend it in better.“Y ou’ll beat me down. I took a few steps and cannonballed into the deep end of the pool.” he said. Kishan sprung up next to me. It soon became painfully obvious that I was losing.” “Okay.” ou “Where?” “Right here. effectively splashing him and everything else nearby. When I popped my head above water. golden eyes watching my face. He didn’t budge. After I surfaced again coughing and pushing the hair out of my eyes. I guess we can try.” “I’ll take the deep end. so I splashed water at him instead. I sucked in a deep breath and ran. of course. He laughed and dove in after me. His .” He dabbed a giant blob of sunscreen on my nose and laughed. I punched him and smiled. flipped his hair back with a toss of his head. but then his mood changed. “Y missed a spot. and laughed as I tried to shove him.

He lifted it and swam under. Did you guys play sports?” “We didn’t really have time for sports. but nothing like team sports. Kishan asked.” Kishan grabbed the ball out of the air and fell into the water. even though you’re in the deep end and have never played before. I almost joined the team. but it’s still my favorite game. We started playing. I called a time out. wrestling. but he was taller. leaving only my face above water. “Where did you learn to play? Y ou’re pretty good!” “I’ve never played in the water before. winning another point. pushed himself up and out of the pool to grab the volleyball. but that was the year my parents died. using his arms. but I was pretty good in high school.soon became painfully obvious that I was losing. and I was delighted to see that I’d finally found a game where I seemed to have an advantage. We had competitions in archery. He was still a good three feet away. My feet were barely touching the bottom of the pool. but I was never tall enough to be competitive. He happily stopped the bombardment and. I wasn’t as interested the next year. He was slightly deeper than I was. you can see I’m barely winning against you. When he surfaced. and some games like Parcheesi. and when wave after wave of water drowned out my pathetic splashing. His arms never seemed to get tired. and I narrowed my eyes wondering . which brought our heads to about the same level.” “Still. After I spiked the ball for a third time. he was right across from me on the other side of the net. I did okay at basketball too.

bleached out. I broke off the kiss and drew slightly away. nonkiss turned into a very real kiss from a very potent man who was very much not Ren. I prepared for another water fight and raised my arms to splashing position. But. For the briefest of moments. while his other hand slid up my bare back to cup the back of my head. His skin was smooth and warm from the sun. “What can I say? I’m very competitive. Instead of making me happy or blissful as kisses should. All of a sudden. it made me sad. He responded with enthusiasm and wrapped one arm around my waist. My hands stopped pushing against him. then. But. I remembered. I let myself delight in his embrace. Our lips were wet from the water. yanked me close. so I could have been kissing the cool tile on the side of the pool for all I knew. pleasant enough that I forgot that I didn’t want to kiss him and felt myself responding. he squeezed my waist. then. The chlorine taste was strong. He watched my expression quietly for a moment. His lips warmed and moved against mine in a pleasant way. and my eyes filled . He snaked his arms around my waist. and I gripped his strong upper arms. crushing me against his chest. and he didn’t move at first. and tilted his head. He kept his arm around my waist and placed a finger under my chin. the clean. He kicked his legs and was next to me in an instant. titling my face so I’d look at him. grinned roguishly. and said. slid his hands up to caress my bare back.” Then he kissed me. I froze. wet.what he was up to. He watched me for a moment and smiled mischievously.

” I replied bitingly. Kishan looked vulnerable.” I kicked away from him. but—” “But what?” I looked up. Big mistake. That maybe you were meant to be with me all along. Wanting to believe but not daring to. and he reluctantly let me go. “No. “I never claimed to be an expert kisser. Without looking at him. I asked quietly. “Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for. He seemed angry. and my eyes filled with tears.” “I’m not talking about the kiss. His despairing golden eyes were full of longing. “But…I can’t help thinking that maybe Ren was taken for a reason. if that’s what you mean. I swam away and sat on a step of the pool. Sort of hopeless and hopeful at the same time. “The only reason that Ren was taken was because he volunteered himself to save our lives. “Have I ever given you a reason to hope for more?” He sighed and swept his hair back ruefully.” “Then what are you referring to?” He didn’t say anything. and unfulfilled. It was . He smiled tenuously. I spread my fingers and placed my hand on the surface of the water. but they also glittered with determination.expression quietly for a moment. One rolled down my cheek and dropped to his hand. letting it tickle my palm. That maybe fate intervened. frustrated. Is this is how you repay him?” I watched the sting of my words wound him.

Even from this far away.easy to blame Kishan. don’t you? ou Y think I don’t feel anything for my brother. ou Despite everything that’s happened. Then are you admitting that you did like it? That there is chemistry between us? That you are attracted to me?” . so I was accusing myself as much as I was him. And the fact that I’d actually enjoyed it made me feel terrible. But I do. Ren would have you.” “That’s not what I was going to say. I could see that he was hurting.” “Kishan!” “I’m serious. It would be better if you said nothing than if you tried to tell me you didn’t like it or that you feel only friendship for me. Do you think a day goes by that I don’t hate myself for what I’ve done? For what I feel?” I winced. I…” “And before you say anything. I wish I was the one who had been taken.” “Good. “Kishan. I felt incredibly guilty about letting the kiss happen at all. “Y think I wanted to fall for you? I stayed away from ou you! I gave him the chance to be with you! But there’s another part of me that asks what if ? What if you’re not supposed to be with Ren? What if you were supposed to be the answer to my prayers? Not his!” He watched me from the other side of the pool. but I was more upset with my reaction to him. He swam to the side and rested his back against the wall of the pool. “Y think I don’t care. Y ou’d have Ren. I want to warn you that I don’t want your sympathy. And I’d get what I deserved.

and he wore a very self-satisfied-male type of grin. “Y es. I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind.“Do you need me to admit it?” He folded his arms across his chest. and I said softly. and the spell of the sirens went away. I’m not. I escaped because I thought of you.” “And you said you escaped because you thought of Ren?” I nodded.” I threw my hands up in the air. “I’m sorry for all that’s happened. I’ve thought about you for a long time. “Fine! I admit it. I’m sorry for all that you’ve . Don’t you think that means anything? Couldn’t it mean that maybe we were meant to be together? The truth is. it was so nice that it actually made me forget Ren for all of about five seconds. Kells. His arms were still crossed over his chest. We have chemistry. huh?” “Honestly. I sighed unhappily. Since I first met you. It was es! nice. “Y I think I es.” “Well.” He assessed me from across the pool. “Kishan. “So all I got was five seconds. I—” “Do you remember when we escaped the House of Sirens in Shangri-la?” he asked.” A tear fell down my cheek. I liked it.” He grunted. “Well. it was probably more like thirty. do.” “I can see that. Are you happy now?” “Y es. In fact. Y filled ou my thoughts. Y I’m attracted to you.

Kishan. I’d probably still be over there kissing you. Y ou’re a wonderful guy. Any girl would be lucky to have a guy like him. I felt like running. “I’m not…I can’t…” I sighed sadly. and he ducked under the water and swam over to me. escaping to my room. I love him.” I got out of the pool and wrapped a towel around my body. “Y need to know that this is not about me ou competing with him. And I’m especially sorry for any suffering I’m causing you.” I stood my ground and waited for his reply.” He brushed his thumbs across my cheeks and cupped the sides of my face. “If you really love me. “Look. “I love you. I heard him stand and looked up at his face. but we needed to settle this between us. He really was a gorgeous man. then don’t kiss me again. Water sluiced off his bronze torso.” He took a step closer. I don’t know what to say. Please don’t ask me to. He held out a hand.” I put my head in my hands.been through. It’s not a crush. Too wonderful. as tempting as you are. is not something I can do. It wasn’t easy. I can’t turn away from him. Kelsey. And being with you. If the situation were different. It’s not about some hidden agenda. I placed my hand on his warm chest and said. I heard a splash as he lifted his body out of the pool and felt his nearness as he picked up a towel and started drying off. “Then come back over here and kiss me.” I shook my head. and I reluctantly met his eyes. . He turned me to face him. all I know is.

I’m a fighter. I don’t see any reason why Ren deserves to get the girl of his dreams and I don’t. but I’m not doing it for him and definitely not doing it for me.” I was about to protest when he continued. When something needs to be done. either. It’s not fair that you’ve had to be with me night and day for the past few weeks. It’s not fair to ask. “Y ou’re right.” I put my hand on his arm. But. Kells. I act on it. I need you to let me go.” I nodded silently and watched him stalk off to the . writing love poems. When I feel something. I wouldn’t have survived in Shangri-la without you. Then he raised his eyes to mine again. and it will take all my selfcontrol not to fight for this. It’s not fair. I need your support. but I will promise not to kiss you unless I’m sure that you and Ren are through. I don’t think I can rescue Ren without you. I’m not a dreamer. He touched my face lightly. It’s not fair to ask you to set aside your feelings. Remember that. And. I’ll back off. “Alright. but I’m asking. He acquiesced and said. I especially need your friendship. the fact is. then at me again. I’m a man of action. It doesn’t seem fair that this happens to me twice.” He looked at the house. “I won’t promise that I’ll never kiss you again. brooding for a moment. Please. It’s not fair to ask you to be my friend when you feel this way. I need your help. I need you. I do it.He stood there breathing deeply. He looked down. He touched my wet hair and discontentedly said. I’m doing it for you. “I’m not the kind of man to bottle up my feelings. I don’t sit up in my room pining away. and I could see flashes of emotion cross his face.

This wasn’t like breaking up with Li or Jason. I spent the rest of the day in my room studying texts on the Baiga. and I sat down hard on the pool chair. It was one of the poems he’d written while we were apart after I’d returned to Oregon. My happiness was irrelevant. no answer that would appease both of them. Ren needed me. it was about choosing suffering. Which one would I make suffer? I didn’t want either of them to suffer. My knees buckled. I felt like someone had asked me to pick which parent would live and which would die. I pushed the books aside. I felt divided. but it was worth it. But Kishan did too. I would feel responsible for the death of the other one. Whatever choice I made. picked up one of Ren’s poems and a Hindi/English dictionary.I nodded silently and watched him stalk off to the veranda. Am I alive? I can breathe I can feel I can taste But the air doesn’t fill my lungs All textures are rough All tastes are muted Am I alive? . loved me. It took me a long time to translate it. I was confused. It wasn’t about choosing happiness. There was no easy choice. torn. I kept rereading sections.

Ren A giant tear fell with a splat on the paper. I loved Ren. if Ren had been . Despite Kishan’s heartfelt words and the confusion about my relationship with him. I quickly moved it out of tear drop range. The truth was.I can see I can hear I can sense But the world is black and white Voices sound tinny and small What I sense is confusing and out of place When you’re with me Air rushes into my being Fills me with light And happiness I am alive! The world is full of color and sound Tastes tantalize my palate Everything is soft and fragrant I sense the warmth of your presence I know who I am and what I want I want you. there was one thing I couldn’t deny. Wholeheartedly.

When I thought of Kishan. Mr. I also knew who I was and what I wanted. sitting at his desk and writing them. this wouldn’t be an issue. As Kishan had said. Kadam. I could picture him saying them. Free and desperately happy. I was familiar with heartbreak. If I needed an answer. I felt open and light. But. I felt better. He turned back to his dinner. I felt too. I felt confusion and It beat only because he cherished it. With Ren. It was natural when you spent so much time together to confuse your feelings.” . Mr. I determined to be kind to Kishan. and said.” He waved a hand in dismissal. mixed with a dollop of guilt. Reading Ren’s poem grounded me. That I could be anything he needed me to be with the exception of a sweetheart. “I’m glad you’re here. been with me. who raised an eyebrow when I smiled at him. leaned forward. When he was with me. Kadam. Even without the strong connection. I have news. I just needed to be firm with him and let him know he was my friend. It wasn’t surprising that we’d become closer. I could feel my heart swell at his words. The fact was. Kelsey. and I ignored him and picked up my fork. Ren held my heart in his hands. I’d been with him longer now than with Ren. I did love Kishan. it did happen. Thank you. “The fish looks delicious. Miss. I tucked the poem into my journal and went downstairs for dinner with Kishan and Mr. I took a seat next to Kishan. Kadam was right that Kishan needed me too. it was here—in my heart. The feelings he spoke of. How it happened was irrelevant. but I was in love with Ren.


Farther than they’ve been in the last hundred years. A sizeable structure has been spotted near the village as well.CHAPTER 24 My mouth went dry as I was swallowing the fish. “What news?” “We’ve found the Baiga tribe. in fact. I coughed. I sipped the cold liquid. than the law allows them to travel. The tribe is located in a jungle area far away from other villages. But what’s more strange is that the satellite images show technology nearby. and the Baiga don’t use cars. and something is wrong. “What kinds of technology?” “They have some large vehicles parked near the settlement. Farther. and said nervously. cleared my throat. It’s much larger than anything the Baiga have traditionally . and Kishan slid a glass of water in my direction.” Kishan asked.

Kadam pulled out some papers. He has studied the Baiga in great detail and has shared some interesting facts with me. They believe that anything bad happening—a sickness. If Lokesh had demonstrated magic of some kind. they are extremely afraid of evil spirits and witches. Kadam replied. We’ve had many a great discussion on the kingdoms of ancient India. He is always fascinated by my …insights. “Why not keep him in the city or in a regular military compound?” Mr.” he looked at Kishan. “a tiger. “I think I may know. a death—are all caused by evil spirits. it is likely the people would do anything he asked. above all others. “Who indeed? There are no skirmishes happening between the Baiga and any other group. a lost crop. It looks as if they are defending the Baiga from attack.built. I placed a call to a friend of mine who is a professor of ancient history at Bangalore University. or medicine man. They consider themselves guardians or caretakers of the forests. It’s . “Sounds like you found something alright.” Kishan grunted.” “But why the Baiga?” I asked. “They believe in magic and honor their gunia. “There are also guards with weapons watching the forest. I believe it is a military compound. Unless they expect it to come in the form of.” He pushed aside his plate. There is no reason for them to fear attack. First.” “But who would attack the Baiga from the jungle?” I asked. Mr. The Baiga have no warriors and own nothing of value to the outside world.

” “Do you mean they’re dead?” He replied dryly. “They aren’t the type of men to allow themselves to be taken alive. From now on. the fact that I found most interesting.possible that Lokesh persuaded them to move by convincing them that the forest was in danger and that he has placed guards there to protect it. The other thing he mentioned.” . The men I’ve sent to investigate the penthouse office of the tallest building in Mumbai are gone. and I fear the worst. Our goal is to get everyone out of there alive. Perhaps Lokesh has found truth in the myth. but it seems it would be worth our time to investigate or perhaps infiltrate would be a better word. Miss Kelsey. I feel I should share with you two that my informants have disappeared. They haven’t contacted me. I won’t allow any more men to die in this cause. “We’re at war with Lokesh again in a new century.” “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go!” “I need a little time to come up with a plan. He looked at Kishan. but they are somehow able to protect their villages from tiger attacks.” “Y think they’re using some kind of magic to keep ou Ren there?” “I don’t know. we’re on our own. “What? How is that possible?” “I’m not entirely sure.” I gulped. is that the gunia of the Baiga are rumored to be able to control tigers. Speaking of which.” I gasped.

“Shall we get started?” First.” “If there is one thing I’ve learned in my many years.Kishan clenched his fist. “Y ou’re as fine a warrior as any I’ve fought with. Some of the ideas were silly and some had merit. “And don’t forget. “This time.” He pulled out a satellite photo and a red pen and began circling items of interest then handed me a piece of paper and a pen. Kells. What made it complicated was that .” “So does Lokesh. he had me make a column of our assets. Braver even than many I’ve known. Kadam has been known to come up with battle strategies when we’ve been outnumbered before and won with ease. “That’s great for you two. Get out. Mr. How can we possibly win? Especially when it’s just the three of us against all of his men?” Kishan put his hand over mine.” “Indeed. so our plan was pretty straightforward.” Mr. not knowing what might come in handy. Miss Kelsey. I recorded everything we came up with. “We have more. Find Ren. and we began brainstorming how they could be used. Sneak in.” Clearing my throat. Kadam patted my hand.” Kishan interjected. b ut I’m not a warrior. I said. it’s that careful planning can almost always create a positive outcome. we have many weapons at our disposal. Mr. He felt the simplest plans were the easiest to follow. Kadam circled all the points of interest and made a star on the map where he thought Ren might be found. we won’t run away with our tails between our legs.

Kadam liked to analyze the plan from several different viewpoints. he . He asked dozens of what if questions. What made it complicated was that Mr.Find Ren. He prepared for every contingency. Then. What if Kishan can’t enter the compound because he’s a tiger? What if there are tiger traps in the jungle? What if there are more soldiers than we thought? What if we can’t enter from the jungle? What if Ren isn’t there? He made a separate plan to overcome each problem and still have a successful outcome. Get out.

I threw them in my hamper and stepped into the hot shower. Kadam had a plan for her. When I said good night. Mr. They still seemed solid enough. It relaxed my sore muscles. but I was going to bring her along anyway. my brain was tired. Something fluttered outside the window. and I was covered in maple syrup and cotton fluff—a Fruit and Scarf combo test that backfired. but she didn’t move when he’d explained it. Every muscle hurt. I felt like I was memorizing every possible ending in a Choose-YourOwn-Adventure book. We had to test the limits of the Golden Fruit and the Divine Scarf as well as practice several complicated moves using our weapons. He made us train most of the day in hand-tohand fighting and practiced several techniques simultaneously. He also required practice. I was exhausted. Apparently there weren’t. By the time he let us quit the first day. We had to remember how our roles would switch depending on what problems came up. I wearily climbed the stairs and turned on the shower. We didn’t know if she would do anything or not. but they needed to be cleaned the regular way now. Her emerald eyes gleamed for a moment then went dark. I watched her golden coils shift and twist until she settled in a circular position with her head resting on the top coil. I took Fanindra off my arm and set her on the pillow. I let my .combined problems and drilled Kishan and me on our roles. She’d saved my life enough times to deserve to be in on the action if nothing else. My fairy clothes! I’d forgotten I left them outside to be cleaned just to see if there were any fairies left in our world.

such as washing the fairy clothes in cold or hot water. His steps were quiet. My assignment was to take out the two watchtowers surrounding the camp and the floodlights.” ou I wrapped the Divine Scarf around his neck. I pulled out the Golden Fruit and murmured directions. The three of us stood at the base of a large tree in the dark jungle. “Y know what to do. Lights first. I let my thoughts dwell on trivial things. We’d studied the satellite images until all of us had the layout memorized. Soon. I made my way through the trees toward the encampment about a quarter mile away. I strung my bow and slid Fanindra up my arm as I waited for the signal. “Don’t get caught in a trap. Mr. I scanned the area and recognized the various buildings. Right before Mr. he whispered. Kadam changed. We passed around the Divine Scarf and assumed the appearance we had each been assigned to mimic. When I shower. and I almost fell asleep on my feet. Kishan hugged me briefly and departed as well. The Baiga huts were arranged in a semicircle closer to the edge of the jungle. They were behind the military bunkers and an . Good luck. Kadam drilled us for a week before he felt we were ready to seek out the Baiga village. and whispered. I was left in the dark jungle by myself.” He quietly slipped off toward the jungle. It relaxed my sore muscles. That was the signal I’d been waiting for. A loud roar echoed through the jungle followed by the shouts of several men. tied it.

but nothing I could see looked like one. Actually. Two watchtowers stood. he said that it stood for MRAP. Fortunately. I saw a tall post with a large satellite dish at the top. Perhaps it was hidden in one of the Baiga huts. They looked sturdy. which meant that they were awfully difficult to take out. and my hand glowed red in the dark. I decided I’d just have to take out the lights one by one. Kadam had informed me that they were likely M-ATVs. The command center had four compartments. I didn’t want to hit those. Warmth flooded down my arm. The Baiga huts were made of woven grasses and were big enough for only one or possibly two families to live in. I held up my hand and aimed. then the other three floodlights popped and exploded when my lightning power hit. Energy shot out in a long white burst. First one. one on each side of the camp. They’d go up in a ball of fire easily. a little gunk in the gas tank would do the trick…thanks to the Golden Fruit. I counted four floodlights. Mr. I was supposed to find the generator. Someone got into one of the vehicles and turned on . Three guards watched the area from the top of each tower. while two men stood guard below. which was code for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected. When I asked if the “M” meant military. They were attached in pairs and were made of some type of alloy. not including the two spotlights attached to the watchtowers. Next to the southern tower.assortment of ATVs that were lined up on the side of the dirt road that disappeared into the jungle. each about the length of a semitrailer but twice as tall.

landing with a screeching of twisted metal. giving me just enough light to get to my next location. fiery bomb that lit up the area. Next. though. By now. I shot another one with a blast. It exploded in a giant. and sent a thick pulse of energy through my palm. The electricity still worked. I summoned my lightning power again and took out the closest tower. I needed to take out the two towers.the lights. I turned my power on the vehicle full blast because I knew they’d be hard to destroy. Flashlights were bobbing in my direction. I let loose a few golden arrows and heard a grunt and a thud as a body hit the ground. one level taller than the command post. this time. Fanindra’s eyes glowed softly. The towers were simply made compared to the other constructs. and slammed down on top of another one. and powerful headlights and spotlights scanned the trees for me. I heard a ping as darts flew through the bushes I was hiding in. It hit the car with a thunderous boom. were topped with a boxy structure armed with the three men holding weapons and a spotlight. The ATV sputtered and choked. probably created by the Baiga. soldiers had located my position. Apparently. and the ATV shot up in the air thirty feet. . I had to move. It flipped over three times and landed on its side against a huge tree. the vehicle rolled. exploded in a fiery ball. The only way up was a simple wooden ladder. Four wooden supports. they had instructions to take us alive. Crouching behind a bush. I ran in the darkness. seeking me out. The gas had probably all been absorbed by the sponge cake I’d filled the tanks with. Frightened people were running in every direction.

Mr. I leapt behind some boxes as they turned their weapons on me. and as the explosion rocked the complex. and let it fly. rallying them.I made my way to the other tower. . Back to business. Heavy wood chunks rained down and several scalded fragments hit me as I stood up and gingerly touched the back of my skull. A soldier jumped out and attacked me. the blast lifted me into the air and I bumped my head against the building on the landing. It was bleeding. infused it with lighting power. running openly amidst the other people now. I hid between two buildings as a group of soldiers ran past and took out a couple of them from behind. My heart pounded with fear. It thunked into the satellite and fizzed and crackled with electricity before it exploded. I gathered my courage and nocked another arrow. Kadam was there now shouting at the people. I planted the gada where he would find it and moved on. By this time. His theatrics made me smile briefly. I was too close. I decided I needed to destroy the satellite too. I heard the thwap. the soldiers in the second tower figured out that I was their target. We rolled across the dirt. I slunk around the shadowed part of a building and scoped out the other tower. I’d be done. This time. I wouldn’t be able to help Kishan or find Ren. I nocked an arrow. If they hit me with a dart. thwap of several darts plugging the area where I had just been. asking for their aid in the battle. Hearing shouts of men searching for me. I punched him in the gut then leapt up. The golden arrow twinkled in the moonlight and shimmered as I infused it with lightning power.

Now I had to find Ren. and bloody. figuring I’d just zap my way out later. and. The soldier got up. My head throbbed at my temple. When I approached. when another soldier came after me. I ignored the problem. dizzy. and slumped to the ground in a sitting position. exhausted. a major bump . narrowed my eyes at his sootblackened face. I raised my hand. I cracked my head sharply and felt a wet trickle of blood drip from my temple down my cheek. I ran unsteadily between some huts. and took him out with a quick jolt.across the dirt. and they hadn’t seen me in action. I had several wicked cuts and scrapes on my limbs. He flew back several feet. He started to get up too. I punched him in the gut then leapt up. and one of them used his key to let me in. grinned. He struggled only briefly then twisted and slammed me down against a rock. I stepped between them and quietly slipped inside. and stretched out his hands to strangle me. Unfortunately. The door to the main building was being guarded by two soldiers standing at battle alert. dropped and rolled when he shot a tranquilizer weapon. and I jumped on his back as Ren had taught me and tried to cut off his air. I ducked to the side. I lay against the rock panting. I looked just like them. with his head drooping heavily on his chest. I got off easily that time. but other than that I’d been lucky. and shot him in the chest with a lightning bolt. I nodded briefly. hit the command center. came up on one knee. they spoke several words in a different language. the door shut behind me and locked itself automatically.

and the individual sunk to the floor. An awkward moment came when I turned a corner and ran into the person I was imitating. If I had taken out the generator. A brief burst of light lit the room. Kadam were faring as well. Reluctantly. I hoped Kishan and Mr. I was in a storage area full of boxes and supplies. instead. Fanindra’s green eyes began to glow again so I could see my environment more clearly. and I could make out nearly everything. I had to take out the lights one by one and fight off more soldiers than I’d expected. but nothing life threatening. but. According to our drills. Mr. Stacks of metal shelves held weapons and supplies of . I could hear Lokesh and Kishan in another room. Time was running out.on the head. and I would be bruised all over my body. I crept through another section and found the barracks for the soldiers. I needed to get to Kishan first. Despite the building being sparsely furnished. almost as big as a warehouse. I stumbled over boxes in the dark while checking room after room. Luckily. The plan needed to be modified. I left off my search for Ren and went to find Kishan instead. I should have found Ren by now. The area lit up with her special night vision. The amazed expression quickly changed as I struck. I could have saved time. The situation there was escalating. Kadam had prepared us for this contingency. The inside of the command center was dark. I made my way into the rear part of the command center and climbed several boxes until I was perched high in the top and could see what was going on below. It was a large room.

And having you here is a special treat I’ve been waiting for. I . A glass case near the desk held several gleaming weapons. One wall was full of electronic equipment and gadgets. now. Three hanging lights buzzed overhead and blinked on and off occasionally as if the compound was losing its power. I noticed he wore rings on each finger and twisted them casually as he spoke. An invidious remark caught my attention. He looked younger than Mr. It looked like the inside of a submarine. Lokesh kept on. Lokesh wasn’t wearing fatigues like his soldiers. Kishan was playing his part well. It was luxurious by military standards. The wall was covered with switches and monitors. “I can rip you apart with a mere word. for a long time. I nocked an arrow and waited for Kishan to move back so I’d have a clear shot. some from every era of battle. An opulent desk sat in the corner. But. Several red lights were blinking quietly. A heap of soldiers’ bodies on the floor indicated that Kishan had been successful in disabling Lokesh’s special guard. but his hair was graying at the temples and was slickly combed away from his face in a modern mob boss style. Thick carpet covered the floor. which I imagined were alarms of some kind.every kind. trying to intimidate Kishan into doing what he wanted. He wore a black suit with a blue silk shirt underneath. Supercilious and overconfident. Lokesh had him cornered in an area that appeared to be Lokesh’s private office. and on one wall several television monitors flashed scenes of the chaos going on outside the compound. but I enjoy watching people suffer. Kadam.

I think I’ll kill you and take yours as well. But. He smiled as a line of crimson trickled from his mouth.can’t imagine what you think you were trying to accomplish. He actually seemed to enjoy the pain. licked it. but enough of this banter. Lokesh spat blood. I should also warn you that I mortally punish those who defy me. Wiping it delicately with a finger. ” “I think I’ll leave with the tiger and the amulet.” Kishan grinned wickedly as they circled. I must say. and roundhouse kicked him across the face. but I’ll give you a sporting chance anyway.” “I’m not looking for a job right now. Y are obviously resourceful. Give it to me. flipped in the air. I’m impressed with the way you dealt with my special guard.” Kishan ran at Lokesh. I shivered with revulsion. They were highly trained. ou In fact. and something tells me your employee satisfaction rating is pretty low. “This has been a pleasant enough diversion. you’ll soon regret snubbing my generous offer.” Lokesh cackled madly. he rubbed it across his bottom lip. Y have one ou amulet. and laughed. Not that I’ll let you get far. I hold the power of the other three.” “Y es. mind you. and you can take the tiger and leave. . “Not highly trained enough. ou and I am a man who well rewards those who serve me. “Y will give me what I want. it seems. He continued. Of course. It will make the hunt that much more enjoyable.” He chuckled warmly. And while I’m at it. There’s no way for you to win. “Perhaps I could interest you in working for me.

. and pens.” He clapped his hands together and rubbed them. Or do you just leave all the fighting to other people now…Old Man?” The smile fell away from Lokesh’s mouth. “Why don’t you try to take it from my dead body?” he shouted. but he began to heal immediately. but he was stopped by an invisible barrier. and lifted his arms.” “If you want the amulet that badly. The ground started shaking. opened his palms. Loose materials in the room rose in the air and began swirling in a whirlwind. Kishan leapt toward Lokesh again. moving faster and faster. A pair of scissors ripped open a gash in his forehead. Objects revolved around him and began to hit him. Kishan had fallen to the ground and was being bombarded with a hail of objects. and the whirlwind moved closer to Kishan. Lokesh laughed…a terrible sound of sheer delight. including lethal items like staplers. Lokesh saw him heal and stared at the amulet greedily. Electricity sparkled between his fingers. then why don’t you come over here and try to take it? Let’s see if you can fight as well as you threaten. you’ll offer me anything I want just to stop the pain. The boxes I was sitting on swayed precariously. Lokesh slowly brought his hands together. Lokesh began muttering enchantments. “As you wish. and he raised his hands. “Give it to me! It’s my destiny to unite all the pieces!” Kishan began capturing the larger items and crushing them between his palms.In a matter of moments. scissors.

He did notice the impact of it on his weapon display case and probably assumed it was his earthquake that had done it. seeking me out to strangle the life from my body. I shook with fear. and computer monitors. I can do this! I’ve got to get a grip! Kishan needs me! I lifted the arrow and aimed for Lokesh’s heart. Blood streamed down his arm and joined the spinning miasma of the whirlwind. I felt like black. I was mortally afraid. I heard many people shouting outside. His darkness choked me. then Kishan and I were in for trouble and well as larger things like loose file drawers. The glass exploded outward. It missed him by about a foot. If not. misty fingers were making their way toward me. I knew it was Mr. A large piece flew into Kishan’s arm. My hands shook. I raised my trembling hand and shot out a bolt of lightning. Lokesh laughed in delight as he watched Kishan get torn apart by sharp glass and then heal. Even though he wasn’t aware of me yet. He yanked it out. It blackened everything around him. Kadam. This man frightened me more than anything else I’d faced. Meanwhile. and he was so intent on Kishan that he didn’t even see the streak of light pass behind his body. A huge bang sounded and I smiled in relief. Evil dripped off him in waves. and the pieces joined the whirlwind and began slicing Kishan. I assumed it was the villagers and things were going according to plan. books. They were soon joined by a lethal barrage of weapons. I’d rather be running from a horde of Kappa than look into this man’s eyes. Nothing could pound .

and his breath froze the air. The whirlwind surrounding Kishan suddenly halted. Electricity shot out of his fingertips. that meant the soldiers had all been rounded up and taken care the gada. He clapped his hands together again and rubbed viciously. The arrow suddenly flew back at me. and all the items dropped to the floor in a treacherous shower. If they were attacking the building. Time was of the essence. he yanked out the bloody arrow and began chanting. I covered my face. Mr. Spitting castigating commands in what he assumed was my language. Either that or Lokesh had abused these poor people sufficiently enough that they were on the verge of rebellion already. Kadam was indeed efficient. “Y ou!” My skin broke out in goose bumps. I was sure his foot was broken. A heavy metal safe landed on Kishan’s foot. and he grunted and shoved off the bulky object. sending an icy gust up toward me. painfully hitting several sharp corners along the journey. I held out my hand. I shot my arrow straight at Lokesh’s heart. but the arrow stopped in midair inches from my nose. The building shook on its foundation. I groaned and shoved boxes off my body. Lokesh spun with thunderous rage and found me. and it dropped slowly into my palm. more terrified than I’ve ever been in my life. I panted. The box I was on teetered and I tumbled to the floor. My ankle was twisted . but he turned at the last moment as he finally heard the bang of the gada and the arrow sunk deeply into his shoulder instead. I froze and felt the blood congeal in my body thickly.

The room sunk into blackness as I heard the metallic whir of the weapon move through the room. and trickles of blood streamed down the blade and dripped on the blue silk shirt. Lokesh shouted to his soldiers. which he had hidden in his shirt. and flung it toward the overhead lights. No one came to his rescue. like the fire inside me had been tamped out. In an instant. It shoved Kishan back until Lokesh could stand again. I became stiff. The gleaming blade slid into the tender flesh of his neck. He laughed at my pathetic self and began muttering anew. Lokesh mumbled some words. . but all his soldiers were now contained. Lokesh flicked his head instantly when he saw my gesture. Kishan took advantage of Lokesh’s distraction and grabbed an arm. the winds whip-ping through the room caused it to change direction. He threw the chakram a few more times but for some reason he couldn’t hit Lokesh with it. his voice was loud and augmented as if carried by the wind to the outside camp. I couldn’t move. I crawled with difficulty to a new hiding place. and my shoulder hurt badly. My gut felt cold. The two men fell to the floor in a mighty struggle. twisting it behind him. Kishan caught the chakram and leapt on Lokesh. I stood and raised my hand.sharply under a box. My entire arm shook as I tried to gather the courage. The two men rolled toward me. he had the chakram pressed against Lokesh’s throat. A tear rolled down my cheek and froze. I could hear it amplified as if he was speaking into a microphone. Kishan took out his chakram. The fire wouldn’t come. and a cushion of air bubbled between the men.

and Kishan was soon held in the same immovable grip as I was. a smoldering fire that could never be quenched. “There now. I will kill him. isn’t it? Do you see how feeble and useless it is for you to grapple with me? Perhaps I slightly underestimated you. Now we were at the mercy of a monster. but he paused. I look forward to the challenge of breaking your spirit. Lokesh straightened and ceremoniously dusted off his jacket lapels. “If you don’t unhand me. and patted his cheek fondly. “Do you wish him to die? I can kill him in an instant. A deep thump and the walls shook as Mr. Lokesh quickly murmured again.” . I groaned inwardly since I couldn’t move. We had almost won.” Kishan looked at me and stopped. Lokesh threatened again. and I saw emotions cross his face. then he laughed. Kadam and the villagers continued to beat on the building. approached Kishan. breathing heavily at his exertions. It’s always better to cooperate. Lokesh cackled in a rasping voice. Choose now!” The glint of anger burned in his eyes. He could have decapitated Lokesh with the flick of a wrist. I can freeze his blood so his heart stops beating. Kishan let him go. Y certainly put up a better fight than I’ve had in ou centuries. trying to knock it off its foundation.Lokesh grunted and muttered softly. He pressed a clean white handkerchief to his bleeding throat. He was holding back for my sake.

I would have been scared stiff anyway. I’ve waited so long for this piece. He moved closer and trailed the blunt edge down Kishan’s cheek. he will appreciate my handiwork. I’ve been secretly hoping that I’d get to use it again and finish what I’d begun many years ago. I’ve seen how it heals you. wouldn’t it? Of course. The only thing that would give me more pleasure than running my knife across your skin would be to disfigure you in front of your prince. “Now. See how I’ve kept it in such good condition for all of these years? Y could call me a sentimental old fool. wicked-looking knife from inside his jacket and waved it almost lovingly in Kishan’s face. Fighting someone who was truly evil was not an easy thing to do.” He pouted briefly. Still. Y ou have no idea how I’ve yearned to feel the power it possesses. “This blade is the same one I used so many years ago on your prince. Isn’t it fitting that I should also use it on you? Perhaps it was saved for just that purpose. the monkeys. They protected the magical gifts. I’ll have to remove the amulet first.He pulled a very old. regardless. I ou suppose. facing Lokesh. It’s sad that you won’t be around to appreciate what it does for me. I would so enjoy teaching you some lessons in discipline. If I wasn’t already stiff. where should I begin? A nice scar would make your face a bit less attractive. and I was okay with that.” I was afraid. watching him brandish that knife against . “Too bad I don’t have time to take you to my experimental surgery . The birds. It didn’t matter how prepared you were. and the Kappa were all just doing their jobs. But.

I was sure Kishan got hurt. Kishan had said it was an accident at first. If I could have vomited. was horrifying. the Golden Fruit would still work. I wished that I could have covered my ears. he’d heal quickly. It was nauseating. I would have. My backpack was what saved me from breaking my neck. I couldn’t bear it. We both fell over like living statues. I’d decided to wish for jawbreakers. He gripped Kishan’s chin and was just about to cut his face when I realized that. They broke monitors and one of the glass windows. I wished for the first thing that crossed my mind. Luckily. I tuned him out when he started speaking of dismembering Kishan piece by piece. but when I pressed him for details.Kishan’s throat. My heart broke at the thought. He craved power at any price like Lord Voldemort and he displayed the pitiless brutality of Ming the Merciless—he’d killed his own daughter and so had Lokesh. he admitted that Lokesh had thrown her viciously…hard enough to cause her neck to break. I didn’t think it through long enough because it affected Kishan and me as well. A storm of them. Lokesh had the conniving persona of Emperor Palpatine mixed with the sadistic cruelty of Hannibal Lecter. My frame shook with terror. It sounded like thousands of marbles were being dropped in a lake of glass. I couldn’t watch him hurt Kishan. and everything . and jawbreakers I got. I just couldn’t conceive of someone that cruel. My poor Ren had been abused by this psychotic fiend for months. The booming roar of them buffeted my eardrums as they fell in the command center. even if I couldn’t move.

leaving a trail of blood that would terribly scar but not kill. and he slipped inside and disappeared. and yanked until the chain broke. He spat out several expletives in his language as he tried to regain his footing and figure out where the storm was coming from. Kishan and I were almost buried up to this point. but his . the building shook again and a segment of wall crashed in the partition next to us. Then. leaving a red welt behind. he wrenched himself away.” He trailed the knife from Kishan’s cheek down to his throat. Kishan was already healing. One hit Lokesh just above his eye. Kadam into our room. A panel opened. He bent over him briefly and touched his face with the knife. Just then. especially as several hit my head in the same place. and he lost his balance and went down. grabbed the amulet around Kishan’s neck. and everything shattered and broke around us. Lokesh scrambled to his feet after finding his knife. Lokesh waded through the jawbreakers and pressed a hidden button in the wall. Soon. We were pelted with a hail of the hard. he realized the knife was missing and began combing through the candy to find it. and they hurried to help us into standing positions again.” he smiled horribly. Still. It hurt. I would have bumps all over my head in addition to the other aches and pains.were being dropped in a lake of glass. Several of them spilled into the two connecting sections. round candy. every inch of the floor was covered with the colorful candy about a foot deep. I’d be grateful if we got out of this alive. A few villagers accompanied Mr. Then with a pained noise. “soon. “We’ll meet again.

That was all. I was ashamed. We rubbed our stiff limbs awake. I heard the roar of an engine and a ripping sound as whatever vehicle it was tore itself from under the building and sped off on the dirt road leading away from the village. I never wanted to see him again. I couldn’t sleep afterward. I knew Kishan and Mr. we waded through the jawbreakers to the next room. Fanindra decided . He was a monster. I’d be whimpering in the corner of the room. The best thing we could hope for would be to avoid him. Mr. When Kishan had recovered enough. Kadam would be disappointed with me. Monkeys? A few bites and bruises wouldn’t kill me. It seemed worse somehow. the spell Lokesh had used on Kishan and me faded. If I could have moved. Just another thing for me to fight. I wanted him to escape.shirt was spattered with blood. blocking out everything that was happy. I’d never been one who could watch scary movies. I could have used the Golden Fruit to stop up his engine. this monster had a human face. I stood there stiffly berating myself for being a coward. The cut had been deep. But. But Lokesh? I turned tail and ran in the face of the enemy. hiding from him. After a few moments. I wished I could understand why I was reacting this way. but I chose not to. Giant iron birds? No problem. I was weak. Kadam began instructing the villagers again while Kishan helped me search for Ren. He was too powerful. and the horrible images filled my mind. but I didn’t want to face him again. Some warrior I turned out to be. We couldn’t win. Kappa? I had Fanindra and Ren.

I rubbed the handle of a large mallet and began to shiver as I imagined it breaking Ren’s bones. I lowered my arm so she could slide to the floor. Modern surgical tools were spread out upon the utility trays while the older items were stacked in corners and hung on pegs. and Kishan’s nostrils widened. I reached out and touched the frayed ends Saving Ren of a whip. I knew where I was. Inside. I froze in horror as I looked at all the instruments and imagined the suffering and pain Lokesh had brought upon the man I loved. We were just in time to glimpse Fanindra’s golden tail disappearing under it. It took me several seconds to build up the capacity to use it again. It was the torture chamber where Lokesh punished Ren. Kishan struggled to pry it open. She smoothly slid under some boxes and Kishan inspected the arrangement more closely. I ended up using my lightning power to blow the lock off. and she wound her way between boxes of weapons and bags of supplies. Fanindra decided to wake and help in the search. the dank. I’d been here before. Next. Behind it was a locked door. He found they were a fake display and shoved them aside. She stopped and tasted the air near a section that looked like a dead end.Kishan helped me search for Ren. Thinking of Ren suffering was what finally got me past my internal freeze. I couldn’t help myself. The door swung open. sweet smell of blood and human sweat permeated everything. Various knives of different lengths and sizes . Terrible tools hung on the walls and were laid out on gleaming surgical tables. She shifted and grew.

“Ren? Are you… awake?” The form moved slightly. screws. It would be ou better for you to wait outside. then I approached and swung open the door. His fingers were newly . After retrieving Fanindra and thanking her. and even a blow torch.hung in a row. I need to do this. then he looked at Kishan. Kishan beckoned him and reached out a hand to help. and he shifted closer to the opening. I saw wood. a vice that could be used to crush whatever limb was placed in it. touching them was the only thing I could do to truly empathize and try to understand what this experience must have been like for him. Just look at me or keep your eyes down and look at the floor. Somehow. and I could just make out a broken form inside with a gleaming snake coiled nearby.” “No. a modern drill. Y don’t have to do this. “Ren?” He didn’t respond. “Don’t look at them. I stood back and blew the lock off. Kishan gently took my arm. ice picks. wan face turned to look at me. His eyes widened. We’re going to walk to the cage now. Can you follow me?” “Y es. an iron muzzle. nails. Kelsey.” The cage stood around the corner. I need to be here for him. I touched the items briefly as I passed and wept bitterly. pliers. leather straps. Carefully. I called softly. His blue eyes narrowed. and a pale.” “Okay. he stretched out a shaky hand to grasp the bar on the edge of the cage. nail-studded collars.

and swung with a burst of energy I didn’t expect he had. I gasped. Kishan stepped forward to assist him. Lokesh had been starving him. He was likely dehydrated too. He’d recently been beaten. I felt a sharp pain in my jaw then nothing as my body slumped to the ground. He took a step closer to me. I’d expected that. His bright blue eyes were circled with dark hollows. His strong frame was thin. . My eyes filled with tears. He was already healing from his wounds. in fact. clenched his fist. What shocked me was that he was so gaunt. and his silky dark hair hung lifeless and dank. He narrowed his eyes at me.broken and bloody. thinner than I’d imagined he would be. His cheekbones were sharp and pronounced. When he finally stood. and my vision blurred as I took a step backward to give him room. “Ren?” I said and held out a hand.

” “How long have I been out?” “About three hours. Relax. “Like a bear punched me. “Kishan? Where are we going?” “Shh. and Kishan was carrying me.” . We have to get as far away from the encampment as possible. The Baiga are carrying him on a makeshift gurney. which I have to admit was a relief. How do you feel?” I touched my jaw lightly. He looked like himself again. We were moving through the jungle.CHAPTER 25 I felt movement and woke to find myself staring up at a dark green canopy. I’d been uncomfortable staring at him in his disguise. Is he… okay ?” “He’s out of it. We’re following the Baiga deeper into the jungle.

I couldn’t even hear their footsteps. Bruises covered my arms. as they moved silently like ghosts through the dark jungle. his expression unreadable. We were part of a long procession moving deep into the jungle.“He’s safe though?” “Safe enough. and I drank slowly. He lifted a canteen to my lips. When we came to a clearing. Kishan fell into step behind the litter so I could watch Ren’s inert form. an older Baiga man approached Mr. I craned my neck to see him. Dozens of people passed and nodded in a show of respect as they stepped around us. trying to regain my equilibrium. Kishan? I think I can walk. “Can you lower me. Ren slept the entire time. He adjusted his grip easily and hugged me a little tighter to his chest.” He carefully lowered my legs to the ground and steadied me as I swayed. lean on me if you need to. swallowing painfully as I worked my jaw as little as possible. Kadam and humbly prostrated . but Kishan growled and soon picked me up again. We walked for another hour.” “Okay. and Mr. Baiga moved between the trees quietly. Kadam quickly approached and examined my face. not a whisper of sound. Four large men passed by carrying a litter with a slumped form on top.” He spoke softly in another language. and I could barely move my jaw. I settled back against his chest and could feel my whole body aching. I hobbled for a while on my twisted ankle. Even the women and children didn’t make a noise. As it passed.

Kadam took pity on them and used the Divine Scarf to create tents for each family. Kadam called me over. He was the military strategist. Kadam. Kishan. Actually. and if he thought it was safe. They needed to be fed. I wondered if it might be better for us to keep moving and head toward our rendezvous point. Mr. it probably was. set me down carefully near Mr. Kadam turned to us and said that the Baiga would camp for the night here and that we were invited to their celebratory feast. Lokesh had forced them to stay in camp and use their magic to keep Ren safely contained. We stood and watched the Baiga set up camp. Kadam’s lead. and headed toward the tent. After he left. seeing I was torn. They hadn’t been able to hunt in a long time. They were extremely efficient. it was refreshing to let someone else take the lead for once. but I decided to follow Mr.himself before him. He mentioned that it would be better for me to stay with Mr. Kadam asked me if I would use the Golden Fruit to create a feast for the Baiga. My attention diverted to Ren. Mr. Mr. Kadam anyway. Several of them were starving too. I also thought Ren might need to sleep a bit more before we traveled farther. Mr. told me he go would check on Ren for me. He gave me instructions and then used the Divine Scarf to create a large thick rug that the entire tribe could sit on. but they were missing most of their supplies. He didn’t feel the need to explain why. The men carried him into a tent. I took the Golden Fruit out of my bag and began creating the dishes he’d requested. Rice with fragrant .

Kishan soon came back and sat beside me. and for good measure. Rice with fragrant steaming mushrooms. the huge bowls of food were passed around. roasted fish. Mr. so I stayed. I waited patiently for him to finish his speech and kept looking at the tent. but Mr. I wasn’t very hungry. When the food made a full circle and everyone had . chopped mango mixed with other local fruits that I hoped I pronounced right. Kadam raised an eyebrow but said nothing. like we’d had in Shangri-la. He seemed earnest about it.creating the dishes he’d requested. There were no plates or utensils. two Baiga women walked the center of the circle. Kadam began speaking in their language. then passed the dish on to the next person. He invited the Baiga to sit and partake of the feast. but Kishan wrapped a hand around my arm and whispered that I should sit near Mr. I added on a giant strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream and Bavarian filling. wild salad greens. We took a few handfuls. When he was finished. When they’d washed the hands of every person. ate. As everyone took their places. hoping for a glimpse of Ren. Kadam and emphasized again that Ren would be fine. Mr. He whispered that the Baiga were caring for Ren and that they were taking good care of him. bathing each person’s hands in fragrant orange blossom water. Kadam wanted to feast after the fashion of the Baiga. The Golden Fruit could have created them. but Kishan wouldn’t take the bowl until I’d had at least a bite of the food. grilled vegetables. I tried to excuse myself and figure out which tent Ren was resting in.

” “Don’t they think I’m a little young for you?” “It’s a normal practice for them to have very young women married to older. the bowls were passed around again. I used my canteen to clean my hands and tried to be patient as the Baiga moved on to the next ritual. Musical instruments were brought out.” “My hand?” . my mate. When I whispered to Kishan that time was of the essence. what. ” “I wish that were true. thank them for me. This process continued until all the food was gone. ” “Who do they think I’m married to?” Mr.” “I see. Kadam translated. “They believe you are my wife. Kadam blushed. Miss Kelsey. They began chanting and dancing. Two women approached me with bowls of black liquid and spoke. Just out of curiosity. Mr. “They are asking if you would like a tattoo to commemorate your husband’s victory over the evil one. or who. They’ve seen you use the Golden Fruit and believe you are a goddess. wiser men in the tribe. The Baiga began celebrating in earnest.” “Show them your hand.had a portion. but I will remember this victory fine on my own. do they think Kishan is?” “They believe he is our son and that we are here to rescue our other son. he said that we had plenty of time and that Ren would need a while to recover.” “They think I have two fully grown sons?” “Goddesses can remain young and beautiful forever. Well.

The skin became translucent. his gaze shot past . Kadam quickly spoke to the two women and thankfully they bowed and left me alone. and the henna drawing surfaced—red on a white background.” I raised my hand and summoned my lightning power. accompanied by a Baiga man on each side. I leaned on Kishan. One of the men was a fireeater. but they were better than they’d been. His wounds were still severe.” The Baiga danced and celebrated. All Baiga men desire a wife with intricate tattooing. They believe that tattooing their women makes them more beautiful. impressed with his skill. Mr. “What did you say to them?” “I told them I’ve already given you a tattoo of fire to remember this by. Ren emerged. Make it glow so they can see the marks.“My hand?” “The one with the henna drawing. They wouldn’t have understood if I’d said I didn’t want your skin to be tattooed. I watched his performance. My hand glowed. Quickly. who put his arm around me to support me. but I was in pain and exhausted. I must have slept for a while because when I woke the fire-eater was done. Everyone was watching movement at the tent. His eyes took in his surroundings and settled on the three of us. They’d bathed his wounds and dressed him in one of their wrap-around linen skirts. He limped but he looked much better. His hair had been washed and was slicked back from his face. I became immediately alert. lit from inside. He was bare-chested and walked between the two men.

better anyway. “Thank you for saving me and sending in the food. then pulled a knife from his shirt. Mr. I cleared my throat and asked. Unless you can restore my honor. There is nothing left for me. “Not right now. I fought against the demon as long as I could. A Baiga man stood in front of Ren and bowed. Kadam translated. I will leave the tribe and die alone in the wilderness. Kadam patted my hand as the Baiga’s gunia approached. I couldn’t eat much yet but I feel…well. the man carefully unwound his jura.Mr. Finally. but he hurt my family. Mr.” he said politely and turned back to Kishan. He was the same man who I’d seen in the vision of Lokesh. Ren hugged his brother and patted his back weakly. who stood up to greet him and offer his support. and he moved toward Kishan. A lopsided grin lit his face. noble one. thank you.” Reaching up a hand. Kadam and myself and fixed on Kishan.” He took a seat next to Kishan and began speaking in his native language. spoke several words. My wife and children are now dead. The man who’d hurt Ren. Kadam and spoke quickly then stood and clapped his hands. My heart began thumping wildly. I tried to make eye contact. Ren narrowed his eyes at the man who quickly lowered his gaze. He knelt in front of Mr. Long black hair fell from the top of his head and . but he didn’t appear interested in talking to me. “Would you like more to eat?” His eyes glanced at me briefly. “Please forgive me.

bowed his head to the ground. ringlets. and held out his hands. . They knelt in front of Ren and Kishan. Whirls. He picked up the shorn hair reverently. This tattooing was tiny. the gunia had two beautiful Baiga maids brought out before us. Go your way with your tribe and find peace. setting dainty hands in their laps while looking demurely at the ground.” The man placed the hair in Ren’s hands and backed away. “I accept your offering. and with open hands. beautiful. Kadam translated for me again. Next. curlicues. They were curvy in a way I would never be. beautiful ponytail. With two more words. glossy black hair and fine. I could see why the tattooing was considered attractive. delicate features. including the unforgiveable act of depriving you of your family. Their trim waists were accented by thin belts made of polished stone. nodded. Ren looked at the man for a long time. He spoke a few words.piled on his lap. Your actions against me are forgiven. There were no giant eagles or I-Love-Mom in a heart. I wondered how much of their bodies were tattooed. palms up to accept the shorn hair. he swept the knife up and through the ties. offered it to Ren. The women had long. shearing off his long. We will punish him for his crimes. Both had delicate tattooing running down their arms and legs. This wasn’t the kind you’d see in America. We have all suffered at the hands of the demon. which disappeared under the hem of the thin skirts they wore. which Mr. I return your honor.

I stared at him hungrily. and Mr. Ren rose awkwardly and smiled widely. otherworldly creature. She looked up at him and smiled shyly. kissed it. The tattoos highlighted the features of the beautiful woman within its margins and accentuated her. I don’t believe so. “No.” Kishan stood and spoke quietly to Ren. flowers.” Mr. Miss Kelsey. Kadam as if asking for help. around both girls then picked up the hand of one girl. “Are those girls planning to cut off their hair too? I asked. Kadam looked grim. then turned his back to Ren and sat down . said a few words. He looked over at me and then at Mr. All I wanted to do was wrap my arms around him and get him out of here. In response. “What is it? What’s going on?” “Wait just a moment. we all had roles to play. I raised my eyebrow in confusion. Ren seemed more confused than angry. and said something to her that made her laugh. The gunia spoke. limping but dignified. Ren folded his arms across his chest and indicated the two women again. Kishan began arguing quietly with his brother. Kishan gestured adamantly and pointed to the gunia. I whispered. He said something that sounded like a question.coils. leaves. Sadly.” Kishan bowed to the gunia and the two women. making her into an exquisite. Kishan wore a shocked expression. Kadam frowned. rubbed it between his fingers. pointing to first one girl and then the second. Ren laughed. touched the hair of the girl. and butterflies trailed down their limbs like the fine border of a picture frame or the scrollwork of a medieval book. and smiled at her. He walked.

Kadam. it’s okay.” He growled at me quietly. if you want a Baiga wife. I’ll explain later. shrugged his shoulders.” “Uh-huh. . I mean. By the time the celebration was over. Ren smiled at the girl.” I whispered. but I shook it off remembering that different cultures interpreted gestures in different ways. I decided to drop it and watch the festivities.” “Oh.” I furrowed my brow in confusion. yes…it would appear that the Baiga wish to offer our two sons permanent membership in the tribe. What just happened?” He cleared his throat. “Ah. “Mr. “They’re both very pretty. Kells. my head was drooping sleepily on Mr.” Mr.” Now I was more confused and slightly jealous. “Kishan.” “So they’re asking them to join the Baiga club? Okay. then go for it. so they join. Then why was Ren touching that woman’s hair?” “I…really couldn’t me again. Kadam turned aside. and sat back down near Kishan. “I don’t want a Baiga wife. Kadam’s shoulder. These two sisters have offered themselves to our noble sons. obviously unwilling to continue the conversation. “Then what were Kishan and Ren arguing about?” “They were arguing about…whether they should agree or not. What’s the harm in that?” “The way they join is to take wives of the Baiga women. if that will make you happy. I thought about what I had seen and then elbowed Kishan.

Kishan quickly put himself between us. Kishan said that it would help him heal faster. and made me elevate it. Ren changed to a tiger.” ou . Kadam said his goodbyes to the Baiga. Kadam wrapped it with an ace bandage before we ate.” “It’s like he doesn’t know me. Perfectly natural. Kadam turned on his fancy new military gadget. Time to go. but I needed ice. Neither of you tried to hurt me or attack me. I took care of you. Y always knew who I was. It showed our current longitude and latitude and kept a record of how many miles or kilometers we had to go to reach our destination. and I reached out a hand to touch his head. Mr. Ren seemed happy to do whatever Kishan told him to. Kells. It still throbbed.” Kishan tried to comfort me and said.” “But when you two were injured in the jungle before. It was a watch with a video screen about the size of a deck of cards that uploaded satellite imagery as we walked. He growled at me softly. “Kells? Come on. gave me some ibuprofen to reduce the swelling. “He’s probably responding to you just as any injured animal does. I tried to walk again. He trotted along behind us. It’s a protection thing. who all settled in for the night while we made our way toward our rendezvous.” He pulled me to my feet and slid my backpack onto his own shoulders then gave Ren instructions.Kishan shook me awake. Mr. Mr. but my ankle was swollen to the size of a grapefruit. Ren passed near me. “Kishan? What’s wrong with him?” “He’s…not himself.

Mr. Our transportation should be arriving soon. helping me get in. and Kishan’s arm around my shoulders was the only thing keeping me upright. The water was cool and actually felt good on my ankle. looking at the white tiger. He leaned down and grabbed my hand. Kishan started in too. Kadam was already standing on the foot of the plane. we heard the drone of propellers as a small plane passed over us on its way to the lake. I slept in his arms as we hiked through the jungle. but I hesitated. He can swim. Nilima smiled at me from the pilot’s seat and patted the space next to her. As the plane drifted closer to shore. “Don’t worry. When we stopped. moonlit water. “I don’t want to cause him any more pain than he’s already in. he set me down gently.” Kishan picked me up again. Kadam waved a neon light and waded into the dark lake. I protested that I’d tire him out.” He waited for me to go first.” Not a moment later. He scoffed and said he could carry me for days and not get tired. We hurried to the pebbly shore and watched the plane land on the smooth.“We don’t know yet what Lokesh did to him. I sunk down to my neck and started swimming. I want you to always stay near to me or Mr. Apologizing briefly for getting her wet.” I agreed reluctantly. “Mr. I wobbled.” “Okay. holding onto the door. I’m sure he’ll snap out of it as his wounds heal. A wounded tiger is a very dangerous creature. Kells. For now. Kadam. I settled . Kadam? What is this place?” “It’s a man-made reservoir called the Maithan dam. Mr.

he changed to man-form and lifted himself up. When he approached the plane. I rested my head against his wet shoulder and drifted off to the droning sound of our seaplane. Kadam secured the door and buckled himself in next to me.” A surge of motion pushed us forward as the propellers revved loudly. He’d closed his eyes and was resting his head in Kishan’s lap. Mr.myself as Kishan climbed aboard and then watched the white tiger swimming through the water. Kadam covered the two of us with a blanket. Ren had changed back into a tiger again. “Hold on everybody. Briefly. I smiled at Kishan. He returned my gaze quietly then looked out the window. bounced on the water a few times. Mr. Nilima said. swinging into the seat next to Kishan in the back. We picked up speed. . then climbed upward into the night sky.

Kadam drove while the boys sat in the back and Nilima squeezed in with me in the front seat. Mr. Nilima cut the engines. By now. which was apparently owned by Ren and Kishan and just adjacent to their property. The Jeep was parked nearby. Kadam offered me the opportunity to change. but it was . When we finally got home. saying he could create new clothes with the Divine Scarf. Ren was still a tiger and seemed content only when Kishan was nearby. Mr. my clothes were half dried and very uncomfortable. Kadam suggested I take a hot shower and sleep. but I declined when he mentioned that we were only ten minutes from home. and Kishan leapt onto the pier and tied off ropes to secure the plane.CHAPTER 26 I woke as the plane bounced on the water of a small lake. Mr.

much of my body was turning purple now. and removed the ace bandage. He’d been through so much. Ren seemed to be healing.suggested I take a hot shower and sleep. they said. I don’t know how he survived. My body hurt. I agreed to shower. but I knew his wounds were not just physical. and it was better if he was a tiger for now. Quickly. We beat Lokesh and didn’t lose anyone. The thought occurred to me that I should have felt pain in Kishkindha and Shangri-la. I’d have to thank Durga for helping him. As I stepped into the hot water. but I told them I would come right back down to see how he was doing. The only thing that convinced me to leave him was the pressure both he and Kishan put on me. then he left me in the bathroom. It had been scraped by a heavy box and was now turning purple. I wanted to be faster. I hadn’t noticed. I’d healed in those places. Kishan carried me to my room. He was here! He was safe! We’d won. My shoulder stung. I should have been bruised up pretty badly after the fight with the birds. but I was extremely grateful he did. helped me take off my shoes. quietly closing the door behind him. He still needed time to heal. but I’d healed there. Rolling around and tumbling in the dirt wasn’t for me. My hands were shaky. I had so many things to tell him. I wondered what I should say to him first. I wanted to be with Ren. She kept my tiger . but every move I made was agonizing. I hobbled to the shower and turned on the hot spray. She definitely fulfilled her promise. I wasn’t cut out for this stuff. Except for the Kappa bite. I felt nervous. but it was dawn. and though I was exhausted. In fact.

I stepped out of the shower and slowly dressed in my old flannel pajamas. He’d showered and changed too. I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that he wasn’t sitting near me. Ren was still in tiger form lying at Nilima’s feet as they quietly conversed. Turning off the water. Kadam patted my arm and said. It’s alright. I hastily braided it and shuffled at a snail’s pace across my room to the door. He’d looked up briefly when I came in the room then set his head back on his paws and closed his eyes. Mr. Without a word. I found Kishan on the other side waiting patiently for me with his back resting against the wall and his eyes closed. He settled me in the leather chair next to Mr.” “Okay. “He hasn’t changed back yet. Kadam and took a seat opposite me near Nilima. Nilima wanted to know what happened with the Baiga. but then I berated Miss Kelsey. he swept me up and carried me downstairs to the peacock room. The least I could do was not pressure him. Perhaps he’d been a man for too long.” I watched my white tiger. and Mr. I’m not the one who had been tortured for months. I should be more worried about him than about myself. Kadam felt it would be a good idea for all of us to share our stories so we could hear the . Just touching his fur would have been reassuring. I wanted to hurry. The important thing is he’s here now. but even brushing my hair hurt.

Kishan wanted to stay with Ren. Kadam showered. “What about you.” “Oh. Nilima. “I’m okay. He loves you. I’m not as fragile as Kishan makes me out to be. Y don’t have to worry ou about me. Nilima? Is this crazy life what you want for yourself too? Do you ever wish for a life free of espionage and intrigue?” She smiled as she buttered the skillet and set four . “What do you mean?” “Y really are the center. He carried me to the kitchen and set me on a stool. Kadam is much more in the habit of saving me. In fact.different parts of our adventure together. it’s not that. Though there is danger. I don’t think you’re fragile at all.” ou “I think Mr. They all love you. Grandfather was in such…despair before you came. Y are what holds this ou ou family together. We worked quietly for a while. he’s never been as fulfilled or as happy as when you are around. He said that it was best to let leeping tigers lie for the time being. but I noticed her watching me.” Embarrassed. who appeared to be sleeping. I said.” “Then why are you watching me so closely?” “Y are…special.” ou I laughed. Kelsey. We became a family when you became part of our lives. Y have saved him. really.” “No. Nilima pulled out ingredients to make omelets and French toast and set me about the task of grating cheese and chopping onions and green peppers. I think you are a very courageous person. Nilima agreed to prepare food and asked for my assistance while Mr.

” She scrambled the eggs. There was something comforting and homey about being in the kitchen with another woman and cooking. . Kishan returned to retrieve me. I’m very proud to have such a selfless ancestor. He may be able to finally set aside his worry. She said. They don’t really understand it. I have my family too. The white tiger lifted his head and sniffed. My parents wonder why I haven’t married yet and why I’m so focused on my career. of course. placed them on a large tray. his great responsibility for the princes. added cream. How could I abandon him? I couldn’t leave him alone and companionless. I summoned honeyed flower nectar for our beverages and sliced up some melon. I would have been proud to have him as mine too. I wouldn’t share it without his knowledge.” “He’s a very noble person.” “Do they know they’re related to him?” “No. I see that he might find his rest at last. Nilima finished preparing the plates. and I feel humbled that I have the opportunity to know him. but they accept it.pieces of French toast to cook. I never knew either of my grandfathers. I tell them I am happy to serve.” We became quiet as we finished preparing our repast. and carried it to the peacock room. Kadam joined us a moment later. I set a giant plate of eggs on the floor in front of him. and Mr. It took him a long time to trust me with his secret. “Now that you are here. I have kept that from them. They are able to live comfortably because of Grandfather’s assistance. and began making the first omelet. “Grandfather needed me.

but his actions stung. It hurt. please. I just wanted to say hello and give you your breakfast. I’m sure Ren would like to know as well. He won’t hurt me.” “I’ll be alright. He turned toward Nilima.He immediately began licking the plate. Ren. as if he was a family pet that had turned on me and snapped at my hand.” Kishan leaned forward and said. “We parachuted into a clearing a few kilometers from the Baiga camp and hiked in. He set a paw on either side of the plate and stared at me until I lowered my eyes. pushing the eggs back and forth until they somehow made it into his mouth.” I nodded and began pushing my food back and forth on my plate. He flew us in on one of those old World War II troop planes that he keeps in good condition. “Perhaps we should enjoy our meal and share what happened with Nilima. I couldn’t help but feel betrayed. Mr.” . I knew I was being irrational. “Kells. I suddenly didn’t feel very hungry. Kadam at Flying Tiger Airlines agreed to drop us off.” My white tiger got up and moved closer to Kishan. I took a chance and patted his head. He turned back to his breakfast. Then I must’ve hit a sore spot because his chest rumbled softly. scratching him behind his ears. An old pilot who used to work for Mr. I tried to reassure him. Kadam patted my hand and said. I’m sorry if I hurt you. “It’s okay. Move back. Kishan began. He didn’t growl this time and leaned into it.

“As I said. It was daytime then. “Y knew all you had to do ou was ask. Kadam went first. Many were new.” “It wasn’t the same as in training. “The guy must’ve been at least ninety years old.” He turned to me. I was doubtful at first that the old man still had the ability to fly. “During practice.” He explained. Kishan rubbed his jaw. “Y jumped three times during practice and also ou with me in Shangri-la. and then I had to force Kelsey out before we missed .” “Well. but he definitely proved his skill. Kelsey almost didn’t jump in time. Kadam had a hangar full of planes. and you were always fine. if you weren’t so…hands on in tandem—” “And if you weren’t so paranoid about me touching you—” “It would’ve been fine!” We both shouted at the same time. we’d jumped in tandem.” “That was different. and I didn’t have to…to drive. I would’ve jumped with you.” I interjected. He and Nilima both had their pilot’s licenses. The drop was smooth and effortless despite the fact that Kelsey almost didn’t jump. I’d had no idea that Mr. but you stubbornly insisted you needed to do it by yourself. My voice squeaked in panicked alarm as I glared at Kishan. defending myself. He’d told me that he’d been fascinated by them since the first time he’d heard of man taking flight. but several were very old and kept in mint condition out at their private airport.Nilima nodded. “Can we please move on?” Kishan narrowed his eyes and gave me a look that said he’d continue this discussion later.

“Forcing me is about right. Kadam interrupted. and run away with him instead.” Kishan said. and jumped out of the hatch. so I hid behind a building until I heard the signal—a tiger’s roar. but I was able to disable several of them with the chakram and took out the lights before they even noticed me.our jump window. we assumed our disguises and went our separate ways. It was either that or leap out of an airplane by myself. My job was to seek out Lokesh and keep him busy. They were highly trained.” “It was equally uncomfortable being you. I disguised myself as a tiger and ran off into the jungle to spring a few traps and draw off some of the soldiers. Y dragged ou me behind you. “Y gave me no other ou option. wearing a replica of her amulet. I opened my mouth to lecture him on maintaining an appropriate distance.” Mr. forget about Ren. After .” “Exactly. grabbed my hand. I had to take out his ring of guards who never leave him. when he growled angrily. Finding Lokesh was another matter. The option to drop the whole thing.” He pointedly stared at me.” “I took the form of the Baiga servant. “Kelsey began blowing stuff up. which drew off any stragglers. by the way. “That would have been me. “After we made it to the clearing.” He’d offered me another option alright. He continued. so I met virtually no resistance getting into the camp. It was very uncomfortable watching you be me. I took the form of Kelsey.” I muttered.

I inquired.” Suspiciously. . Kadam interrupted. “Perhaps we should move past the disabling of the guards. I stumbled into the room. Y ou know. But.” I crossed my arms and stared Kishan down. but not when you’re using mine!” “Fine! Next time I’ll go as Nilima!” Nilima said. and asked all the big. because I know what you’re thinking. Women stuff. he began muttering about women in a military operation and that next time he’d go by himself.that.” I folded my arms across my chest.” Mr. “Before you get all huffy. I was just playing the hand I was given and trying to use all my assets!” “That’s fine when you’re using your own assets. “I acted female. “Hey! Nobody’s using my assets either. Kells. feigned shock and fear. “It’s not like that’s what I think you’re like. “How exactly did you use my appearance to your advantage?” Kishan smiled widely. Please go on.” He threw up his hands in exasperation. I batted my eyes and flirted. “Uhhuh. saying that there was a crazy guy trying to kill me with a golden disc. just stop. “Oh. strong men to protect me.” Kishan glowered and said fine. which is your standard reaction to me.” Kishan sighed and ran a hand through his hair. really? And what am I thinking?” “Y ou’re thinking that I’m trying to stereotype women and you in particular. then. I used my appearance to my advantage.

I’d sprung them in their own trap. The villagers were running in every direction. which set off alarms. I sprung two of them. but I was faster than they were. but no other animals. “I ran through the jungle and found several baited traps. “By the time I reached the camp. in fact. so we’d tested changing to an animal. Shots were fired. which gave me a moment to spring the trap. We weren’t sure if the Divine Scarf worked only with human disguise. It seems we can change to either Kishan’s or Ren’s tiger forms. I left them dangling from the treetops then ran back to the camp for phase two of my plan.” Mr.” I smirked. “I will move on to my part.“I heard that.” He sat back and folded his arms across his chest. “Indeed. “The power of the tiger is beyond anything I’d imagined. “Fine by me. a group of them thought they’d cornered me. I pulled on a rope attached to a haunch of meat. At one point. Miss Kelsey had already destroyed one of the two watchtowers. Kishan. Every person was vital to our success. Then Miss Kelsey wrapped the Scarf around my neck right before we parted.” Mr. Kadam said. Kadam started by telling Nilima how liberating it was to be a tiger. “They were about to fire when I changed to a man. and soon heard the tread of soldiers’ feet chasing me. I assumed the form of Kishan’s black tiger. frightened for . and you can finish later. and the soldiers were lifted into the air in a large net. When we arrived. but. Y would have been carved up by ou Lokesh without me. the sight of which shocked them.

and his rather nice torso and face were covered in tattoos. so I interrupted.” Nilima asked. especially. He was bare-chested wearing heavy beaded necklaces and a wrap-around skirt. who they believe helps to avert disease and accident. and Nilima was laughing.” When I finished my description. They were more than happy to help me tear down the house of the evil one. So. It’s normally heavy for me. “Okay. “He was muscular.their families. “He was definitely nicelooking. “What?” I said. but when I wielded it as Dulha Dao. but in a good way. With the villagers’ help. I rallied the people to me and told them I was here to help them overcome the stranger. embarrassed. I knocked down the wall and the people helped me to incapacitate Lokesh’s men. “What did you become this time?” “I took on the form of a local Baiga god named Dulha Dao. it felt comfortable in my hand. I stood behind a tree and changed my appearance again. I imagine.” Nilima leaned forward. except he was taller with a much larger frame and more handsome. when he was wielding the gada. He looked very alarming. His feet were bare. everyone was staring at me. His hair was long and heavy. apparently . “What did you look like?” He blushed. He looked similar to the tribesmen. Miss Kelsey left the gada in a discreet location for me to use. and part of it was wrapped in a jura at the top of his head with the other part flowing down his back.

It seemed to work well.” “It wouldn’t have worked for long.” ou . and we tied up all the guards. and Nilima soon joined me. Kadam cleared his throat. regardless. and Nilima giggled.” “Jawbreakers. then moved in on the command center. We searched the men for a key but couldn’t find one. Y and the Baiga saved the day. Miss Kelsey.” “That was very clever. “Nothing at all. We never practiced that one. Mr. What’s wrong with that?” Kishan was frowning.” she said. es.I find burly Indian men attractive. Mr. I’m sure I would have thought the same thing. When we’d finally composed ourselves. Kadam asked. I finally broke into the complex to find Kelsey and Kishan prostrate on the floor and Lokesh nowhere in sight. the people rallied to me. and the Golden Fruit was the only weapon I could access.” I added. so I wished for a hailstorm of jawbreakers.” I started giggling. It’s been a long time since a woman found me…burly. The room was full of some kind of candy. It was easier for me to knock a hole in the wall than to break into those doors. “How did that come about?” “I had to do something. Kadam seemed …pleased. “Are you ready to continue?” “Y we voiced in unison. The doors were heavily fortified and locked. “Y es…well…I appreciate the flattering description. The only thing that drove him off was you.” “As I was saying. Mr. Lokesh bounces back quickly.

loaded everything they could carry. “Did they really have the magic to hold Ren there?” “When I spoke to them about it.” I leaned forward. We accompanied them partly because I felt responsible to get them as far away from Lokesh as I could and partly because it was in the direction we needed to go anyway. had a meal with them.” “Very good. “We journeyed with the Baiga. I would believe we were deities too. Continuing on. it seems they believed all four of us were es. Ren picked up a knife and pierced the skin of his arm. ou “Y Well. the Baiga wanted to get away from the camp as quickly as possible. Nilima.” I teased. but his ears were flicking back and forth. “What was he doing?” “Removing a tracking device Lokesh had put in. I’ll write down everything that happened while it’s fresh. If I’d seen the things they had.” “Y played deity very well. and left right after I signaled you.” I asked. Just before we left.” “Okay. deities.” “Did you note any of his other powers?” “Y es. He was listening to us. We will discuss them later. a feast actually. They disassembled their homes in just a few moments. His eyes were closed.“So Lokesh had the power to freeze you?” “Y es. and filed into the jungle.” I looked down at my white tiger with sympathy. the gunia claimed . after Kishan and Kelsey found Ren.” “Good.

“He’s horrible. And because you beat him. he said that about a week ago they switched their spell and attracted tigers to the village instead. However. Ren was his ultimate prize. but Lokesh does seem to have power of his own as well.” Kishan interjected. He never would have let himself be distracted enough to let Ren go. They can create a magic barrier of sorts around their encampment. “Y It’s better that you es. “That wasn’t me. his trophy.he did have the power to repel tigers from the village and that their magic was used to hold Ren there.” Kishan grinned.” Mr. so that’s why Kishan could get in?” “Apparently. Kadam shook his head softly. .” I spoke softly.” “Y But he didn’t know that. Kishan leaned forward. The one he’s waited for and hunted for centuries. “Who?” I asked. He said nothing.” “Ah.” “Why? I mean…why is he after me?” “Because he knows how important you are to us. know so you can be prepared. isn’t it?” I said.” “Does that mean Ren could have gotten out?” “Possibly. That was you. He’s after someone else now. I presume that using the Baiga to contain Ren was just a backup plan in case Lokesh was too distracted to incapacitate Ren himself. “It’s me. It seems the soldiers have been plagued by tiger attacks all week. “He’s lost interest in Ren.” es.

I did the same with the other one. He frowned and started speaking again. He said I’ll kill him. not kill her. Kishan had fallen quiet. I used my fork to pick up a thick slice. When he got to the part about Lokesh threatening to kill me and stop my heart. concerned about me in my Baiga servant disguise? He said kill him. stop his heart. Cautiously. were. and began licking sticky syrup from his paws. I offered comments only when Kishan forgot something. He watched me curiously then stood up and came a few steps closer. but he wasn’t .” “Y but why would you. and when I looked up. “Lokesh wasn’t talking about me.” “Y he was. I found him watching me. I set my uneaten plate of food on the floor hoping he might be interested.” “But Lokesh threatening to kill you was why I stopped. I looked away.I groaned softly and only half listened as Kishan began describing our fight with Lokesh. I interrupted him and clarified. He must have known who you es. Kells. disguised as Kelsey . lay down near Kishan again. He ate the eggs then pushed the French toast back and forth. After he licked the plate clean. then delicately pulled it off the fork and swallowed it in one gulp. Ren was watching us now and listening to what we were saying. He looked at me again. He merely thought I was betraying him. His eyes crinkled at the corners with just a touch of sadness. he turned.” “That may be why you let him go. be es. keeping his eyes on me.

Don’t think less of him. “Kelsey . “It would not have been an easy decision for him. “Well. Y Maybe. Miss Kelsey.” The subject of our discussion perked up his ears and looked at me. Kadam shifted in his chair. sometimes sacrifices for the good of all must be made. I have trained both boys that. He leaned forward.” “No! It’s nice to know you would have been willing to sacrifice him!” Mr.” “Then who was he threatening?” I looked down at the white tiger and felt my face flame red. done. I don’t know what I would have es.” Kishan sighed. “He was threatening him. The fact that he stayed his hand at all speaks to the depth of emotion he felt at the time. though each individual is of great importance. pressed his . Otherwise. then I’m glad you misunderstood. I wish I would have known that at the time.threatening me. Ren might not be here right now.” I looked at Kishan. If he had the opportunity to rid the world of Lokesh. He knew I wouldn’t do es. “Oh. I can’t predict how I would have reacted.” “Right. anything to harm him.” he said dully.” “What does that mean? And what do you mean you wish you would have known that at the time? Do you mean you wouldn’t have stopped?” “No. Of course you wouldn’t.” “Y he was threatening Ren. his first reaction would have been to end the tyrant’s life.

sullen. for a purpose. Here was a man telling me that I could choose another. I was asking Kishan if he would knowingly let his brother die to secure the life he wanted to have. He was a man fighting for his family. Here was a man who acknowledged his weaknesses and worked to overcome them. I could rely upon him for anything. until the end of my days. For the first time since I met him. He stared at me thoughtfully for a few seconds and then.fingertips together. Kadam and Nilima were aware of. and that . and we stared at each other in silent communication. and stared at the floor. Staring into his eyes. said. Kelsey. with utter sincerity.” “Are you sure about that?” He raised his eyes to mine. It would be easy for him to step in and fill Ren’s shoes if Ren wasn’t around any longer. He’d never make the same mistake he’d made with Y esubai again. He’d lost the cynical.” His golden eyes glittered and pierced mine. I’m certain I would have made the same decision if I had known Lokesh was speaking of Ren and not of you. Here was a man who would do his duty. “I promise you. Here was a man who would sacrifice for others. I saw the mantle of a prince fall about his shoulders. He knew what I was asking. that I will protect him with my life. He meant it and I suddenly realized that he had changed. I was asking him if that’s the kind of man he was. woebegone attitude. “I know how much he means to you. He wasn’t the same man I’d met in the forest a year before. There was more to my question than Mr. I knew that no matter what happened in our future.

I went into great detail about the Baiga feast and told Nilima about the two women offered to my sons as wives. and about how Fanindra led us to Ren. The problem was that it worked only on the guns and cars I could see. then talked about meeting myself . Please forgive me. “I told you that’s not what happened.” he replied. how Lokesh got away.” .a man telling me that I could choose another. I stammered. I told her how the servant had been forced to work with Lokesh and how he had shorn his hair as a sign of contrition and offered it to Ren while begging for his forgiveness. but that Ren had argued with him. which I assumed was the reason Ren punched me in the jaw. “There’s nothing to forgive. I described the gumball shower.” He smiled sadly. That’s why Lokesh had been able to escape in his hidden car and the men I couldn’t see still had weapons that worked. and that he would watch over us and protect us even if it broke his heart. “Why not. “I…apologize for doubting you. The first thing I told Nilima was about how I used the Golden Fruit to stop up the gas tanks with sponge cake and the guns by filling them all up with beeswax.” “Shall I pick up the story from here?” I asked softly. Kishan scowled. She rolled her eyes and commiserated with me as she sipped her nectar. bilauta. I spoke of how Kishan apparently wanted one of the sisters for a wife. I told her I had disguised myself as the Baiga servant who was helping Lokesh.

It’s just that.“Then what did happen?” I caught Mr. Kadam very carefully. She was watching Mr.” he paused uncomfortably. who seemed confused. We all stared at him expectantly. “May I help you with that?” he asked. Kishan turned away with an expression of distaste. then smiled at Nilima. Something was going on that I was not privy to and I was too tired to really figure out what it was. Kadam shaking his head discretely out of the corner of my eye and quickly turned to him. I didn’t really care about the two women anyway.” Mr. We had Ren back. and was taking the tray to the kitchen to wash them. slightly nodding her head. Nilima got up. I glanced at Nilima. Kadam and Kishan locked eyes. Everyone in the room froze. She said . waiting for him to speak to us. and that’s all that really mattered. but.” “Oh. Miss Kelsey. when Ren decided to become a man again. gathered the dishes. “it was considered very rude of us to reject the women. he quietly helped Nilima take everything to the kitchen. Actually. and the boys were trying to demonstrate their reluctance to appease the tribal leaders. We heard him asking her if she would like some help with the dishes. Kadam quickly tried to reassure me. Kishan was now acting extremely annoyed and impatient. He looked at each one of us in turn. It was over and done with. instead. She paused and smiled. “What now? What aren’t you two telling me?” Mr. “Nothing.

He said. He entered the room hesitantly and evaluated the expressions of all three of us. and he wasn’t sure if he should eat me or bat me around with his claws. Kadam said. .” Mr. “Tell her.she would like some help with the dishes. meaning us. I could’ve saved you. We shouldn’t have left you there. He openly considered me and wrinkled his nose as if he smelled something distasteful then began speaking to Mr. “I don’t remember it exactly the same way. He pushed you toward me. Kadam.” Ren narrowed his eyes and studied me.” He looked at Ren.” Ren looked at his brother as if he wasn’t making sense. I ventured. ou Kells. but if you say so. He wanted you to be safe. It was my fault. He sat down next to Kishan and said quietly. She said she would take care of it and indicated that the others. “Why do I feel like I’m standing before the Spanish Inquisition?” “We just want to assure ourselves that you are alright. “Y had nothing to do with it. It was as if I was a strange new creature he’d found in the jungle.” His words hung in the air. and I imagined the rest of his sentence to be for a man who has been tortured for months.” He let his words trail off and looked at me curiously. would probably like some time to talk with him. but not in a good way. If I had known about the fire power I have. It was all his decision. “Ren? I’m so…sorry . Kishan contradicted. “I’m well enough.

” Mr.” “Actually. There was definitely an elephant in the room.“Thank you for saving me. Without the Divine Scarf she and Kishan retrieved. Thick tension radiated between all of us. I suddenly found myself envying Nilima in the kitchen. then once we were okay. I had no idea where to find you. Kadam smiled. distant. First. Kishan can stay. would you mind helping me move something in my room? It’s much too heavy for me to move on my own.” Something was wrong. Kishan was looking at Ren like he was out of his mind. Kadam. “Kishan. we wouldn’t have been able to rescue you at all. it was Miss Kelsey who came up with the idea for me to impersonate a deity. “I don’t mind helping you. I should have known you would have come up with a plan to liberate me. We all sat quietly watching each other.” Ren stood and said. His demeanor toward me was cold. He cleared his throat and announced. and it wasn’t helping that all three men were staring at me with questions in their eyes. I’d move on to Kishan. Kishan and I can handle it on our own.” Ren nodded and smiled at me. Thank you for your efforts. “It would appear I owe you a debt of gratitude. And only through the weapons given to us by Durga were we able to subdue the guards. and he finally got my unspoken message. He didn’t seem like the Ren I knew. Only through the vision and seeing the Baiga man did we come to figure out where Lokesh was holding you. “Please sit and rest for a while longer. and I believe Miss Kelsey would like some time to talk with . I raised my eyebrows meaningfully at Mr. I needed to talk with Ren.

I searched his handsome face and finally spoke. I don’t even know where to alone.” Kishan spoke. “I…I missed you so much. I’m here whenever you need me. I’ll be listening.” He turned to Ren and warned. so I’ll be I wanted to say that I know you need time to heal. Kishan? Could you…” He sighed and lifted me carefully. Before he left.” “Y will not be listening. ou “I will be listening. With that. He won’t injure me. His cobalt blue eyes measured me as if I was a strange bird who’d suddenly perched on his arm.” I said. he said. “If you like. and I understand if you need some alone time.” “Uh. the two of them left the room. “There’s so much to tell you. But.” I tucked my leg gingerly on the cushion so I could face him. but I ignored it. I’d like to talk with you for a minute. just shout. who nodded and said. I’ll bring you chicken .” He shrugged. “I’ll be close by. I didn’t know how to act.” I frowned.” Kishan looked at Ren.” He raised a beautiful eyebrow. “Do not hurt her. settling me in his seat on the couch near Ren. I was finally alone with Ren. “I really don’t think it’s safe yet to…” I locked eyes with Ren. I know you’re tired and probably still in pain. If you need me. “I won’t harm her. I can be a good nurse even if you want to be cranky. “It’s okay. “If you’re not too tired. Kishan. I had so many things to say to him. Kishan tossed a look at me over his shoulder.

I leaned forward and kissed him. I love you. One of his arms was stretched out on the couch behind us.” He gently extracted his hand from mine and rubbed his cheek with his finger. and I quickly shifted off his lap. “Y ou’re my home. “That’s very kind of you.” I took his hand in both of mine. He sucked in a breath as I said.” “Kind has nothing to do with it. I pulled back and dropped my arms awkwardly in my lap. He touched his lip then grinned. His confused expression remained. “Now that’s the kind of welcome home a man likes to get. He wasn’t holding me or kissing me back. and I felt the wetness of tears on my cheeks. We could start on the Monte Cristo book and go from there. We’d been apart for so long.” I laughed. inhaling the warm sandalwood scent of him. “Please just tell me what you need.” I moved closer and put both hands on the sides of his face. “I’ll read you Shakespeare or poems or whatever you like. He seemed much more comfortable after I’d moved back . but I needed him. and his other hand rested on his thigh.” I didn’t mean to push him so fast. at last. he was here and I could touch him. I kissed his cheek and buried my face in his neck. I shrugged off my doubts and worries. I’ll make sure you get it. and. deliriously happy that he was back. I wrapped my arms around his neck and slid nearer until I was sitting on his lap. My lips clung to his. He seemed distant.soup and chocolate peanut butter cookies. realizing that he just probably needed some time to feel like a normal person before he could be part of a relationship again. He stiffened in surprise. He grunted in pain.

a little. tugged my braid lightly. and twisted the ribbon in his fingers. “Can I ask you a question?” he said. I took his hand in mine and kissed his palm. “Who are you?” . He reached out a hand. “Of course you may. He watched my actions intrigued then pulled his hand out of mine.” I said.

“That’s not funny.” “How can you express love for me when I’ve never laid eyes on you before?” I touched his forehead. I don’t think so. searching for a .CHAPTER 27 With a pathetic giggle of nervous shock. “Right. Ren. “Are you feverish? Is something wrong? Did you get hit in the head?” I probed his skull with my fingers.” “Confused with someone else? No. I said. Y are Ren.” es. aren’t you?” ou “Y My name is Ren. What do you mean who am I?” “As much as I appreciated your proclamations of undying devotion. The guy I’m crazy in love with. I think you might have me confused with someone else. I think you may have hit your head while fighting Lokesh.

No.” No. Kadam! Kishan!” I yelled. “We both knew. “I’ve never seen the young lady until she. “Y still can’t remember ou her?” Ren shrugged. He pushed Ren away and inserted his frame between us. No. Kadam entered the room. Lokesh must’ve done something! Mr. and I don’t have a fever. “What is it. No. We thought it was only a temporary problem that would resolve itself when he healed. Y ou’re my …my boyfriend. is it? There’s nothing wrong with my mind.bump.” “What? Why didn’t you tell me? ” “We didn’t want to alarm you. uh…Kelsey. He gently removed my hands from his head. I squeezed Kishan’s arm. It all makes sense now.” “Of course. No! This can’t be happening! “We’ve known each other for almost a year. “I’m fine. “You knew! Y knew about this and you hid it from ou me?” Mr. Kadam sat near Ren. No.” Mr. Kishan ran into the room as if his tail was on fire. no. Kells? Did he hurt you?” “No. Nothing like that. “So with the Baiga women…” “He wanted to take them as wives. Kadam explained.” Mr.” “Then why don’t you remember me?” “Possibly because I’ve never met you before. He doesn’t know me! He can’t remember me!” Kishan looked away. He scooped me up and deposited me in the chair across from Ren. or I guess Kishan. stood outside my cage and .

Y were a ou ou performing tiger.” Upset and emotional. I helped free you. I said. college classes.” “What about the Valentine’s dance. but I don’t . Y didn’t want ou me to waste my time. Remember? Y were at the circus. but not about her. Y couldn’t. and Oregon. I recall freeing myself. ou why didn’t you do it centuries before?” He furrowed his handsome brow. ou Kadam? Kishan? Nilima?” “Y es. Tillamook. “I don’t know. I remember fighting with Li. movies.” “I remember being at the circus. calling Kadam. Kadam interrupted. All I remember is stepping out of the cage. making popcorn.” Mr. A cage is where I first met you. I was arguing about going to see Phet. “What about Kishkindha? I was with you there too. watching movies.” “Right! A cage. the fight with Li. eating cookies. Oregon.” “No. but I felt there was no other way. “Do you remember going to Phet in the jungle? Arguing with me about taking Miss Kelsey with you?” “I remember arguing with you. going to Tillamook? Is all of that just… gone?” “Not exactly. and I drew your picture and read to you.” “I remember being alone. but you were never there. If you could have freed yourself.rescued me. “Y remember Mr. chocolate peanut butter cookies.” “How can this be?” I asked.” “So it’s just me?” “It would seem so. and then him coming back to take me home to India.

“It’s too specific.” “What were you fighting about?” “I can’t remember.” and hobbled to the stairs.” “Do you remember fighting with Kishan?” “Y es.” “And what were you doing in your free time? Who were you with?” He frowned as if concentrating. I stammered. Kadam stood and patted my back. How could this have happened?” Mr. Perhaps it is just a temporary memory loss.” I snuffled angrily. Let’s give him enough time to recover from his injuries before we become too worried. We fought over cookies. It’s only me he doesn’t remember. I’d just like to have a little time to myself. then I was with Kishan. “I think I’d like a little time alone too.” Tears filled my eyes. Lokesh did this. after painfully slow progress. he left the room.” “I don’t think so. He needs to rest. I paused.” Ren held up a hand. I will contact Phet and see if he might have an herbal remedy to help with this. “Before you all subject me to tests and herbs and trips down memory lane.” With that. I was going to college.” “I suspect you are right. I gripped . “No one at first.” “So you just happened to go to Oregon for no reason?” “No. More tears came to my eyes. and we’ll try to expose him to things that will jar his memory. Oh wait! Cookies. When I made it to the stairs.remember you. “This is a cruel joke. but let’s not lose hope. “I’m not sure. Meanwhile.

and set it on the nightstand. He’s back. smoothed the hair back from my face. I paused. Late that afternoon. Miss Kelsey. cradled me close.” “Y didn’t eat your breakfast either. I’d spent the morning crying then slept for several hours. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned and buried my wet face in Kishan’s chest. I’ve brought you a ou snack.” ou I looked at her with watery eyes. He put his arm under my knees and picked me up. and left me alone. he is es. he went to the bathroom and came back with a box of tissues. “Y must give him time. I was sitting in my room in the white chair.” She stood and went into my bathroom and came back out with my hairbrush. sobbing. “He doesn’t know me. “I just don’t think I can eat. and carried me up the stairs. He murmured a few words in Hindi. . pressed a kiss on my brow. It comforted me and reminded me of my mother. Here. after painfully slow progress. clutching my stuffed tiger. Nilima came to see me. smooth strokes. and he will remember you.” “I’m not hungry.” She unbraided my hair and began brushing it out in long. She hugged me and sat down on the couch.” “Alright. my vision blurred with tears. “Y really think he will?” ou “Y Even if he doesn’t get his memory back.stairs. “Everything will be fine.” I whispered. After he laid me on my bed. I gripped the banister hard.

sighed. and kissed my forehead. “Y eah. It’s not the reunion I’d hoped for.” “Are you okay?” he asked. His feelings for you are too deep to ever disappear completely. but I put my arms around him instead and hugged him. He wrapped his arms around me.” She left me alone after that. expecting him to react to Kishan touching me.” “Perhaps you shall. such as this. “Y ankle looks better. He expected me to push him away like I had a habit of doing lately. and if helping me reunite with Ren would make me happy. Kishan was pacing in the kitchen. Kadam had me ice it and elevate it all morning. I stiffened as he looked at us. placing them in the refrigerator. I knew he would.” I hobbled a step closer and almost fell. He caught me and drew me hesitantly into his arms. I appreciate it. “I’d like to meet your mom sometime.” It must have killed him to say that. He stopped when I entered and watched me as I hobbled in and wrapped the dishes of uneaten food that Nilima had brought me. grabbed a bottle of water. He wanted me to be happy.bound to fall for you again. feeling better. but it’s better than finding him dead. and. and left without . My mother has a saying: a deep well never runs dry.” our “Mr. I headed slowly downstairs.” I laughed wetly. I’ll be fine. though. he’d do it. Right then. We can work with him together. “Thank you.” “I’ll help you. but he dismissed us completely. Ren walked into the kitchen. even in a dry season.

His bruises were almost gone. “No.” He rose and helped me sit down across from him. Would you like to sit down?” “Okay. “He broke them over and over until they felt like swollen bean . grabbed a bottle of water. I gasped when I saw his feet. Kishan lifted my chin with his finger. But something with action. I slid open the door and stepped outside. “He’ll come around. Kells. His hair was clean and had been cut.” “Right.completely.” “Do you want to watch a movie?” “That sounds good. wondering if he wanted to be alone. huh. and left without saying a word. which meant they’d been terribly hurt. then decided if he did.” He put an arm around my waist and helped me over to the indoor theater. He was sitting on the veranda watching the moon. “Am I bothering you?” I asked. I studied his face. I paused. he could always tell me and I’d leave.” “Okay. “Action. He was dressed in casual designer clothes. He tilted his head but didn’t move.” I laughed. Something tells me you’d like Indiana Jones. They were still purple and distended. None of your musical stuff. “What did he do to your feet?” His eyes followed my gaze and shrugged. I didn’t see Ren again until late that evening.

Kadam explained the whole thing to me. they looked undamaged. The good news is I did.” He leaned forward. Mr. “May I see your hands?” He held out his hands. He was rather put out about getting his clothes all bloody. and that if I hadn’t stayed behind to fight. Tracing the gash lightly. he would have gotten all three of us. “Y don’t need to apologize to ou me. At the very least.” He pulled his hands out of mine abruptly and stretched out both arms along the back of the love seat. I asked. and his fingers were long and straight. the repaired knuckles would have been swollen and inflexible. that he wanted Kishan’s amulet that you now wear. A normal person who’d had their hands broken in so many places would likely have lost the use of them. and I took them gently in mine and studied them carefully.” I said uneasily.bags. His golden skin was unmarred. “Ren. I turned his hands over and looked at the palms.” “He did? What did he say?” “He told me that Lokesh was actually after you. “I’m glad that he took me instead .” “I see. Kelsey. Except for a gash on the inside of his arm ending at his wrist. It’s not your fault. I…” He held up a hand. Nails that had been torn and bloodied earlier were now healthy and filled in.” “Oh. “What about this?” “This is from an experiment when he tried to drain all the blood out of my body to see if I’d survive.

He touched the purple bruises lightly and tucked a pillow under it. It’s unfortunate that you don’t heal quickly like we do. Y ou’re too…pure too innocent to hear of those things. I’ve offended you.” “When I do feel ready to talk about it.” “Some things in this world shouldn’t be uttered.” “I’m sorry. I’ll tell Kishan or Kadam. He lifted my leg gently and placed it on his lap.” “But everything you experienced was to protect me. It’s bad enough that one person must know of them. “Ren.of you. what did he…do to you?” He turned back to me and lowered his gaze to my swollen ankle. “I’m not that fragile. Fragile is the wrong word.” “It helps to talk.” I crossed my arms. “Y No. They’ve seen many terrible things.” He laughed. “I’m sorry you’ve been injured. Y would have been killed in a horrible way.” “Y you were very chivalrous. He shrugged and looked at the pool lights.” “I’m battle-hardened too.” “Y ou’re avoiding my question. you are far too fragile to hear ou? of the things I’ve experienced.” “But it might help. “May I?” I nodded. They’re battle-hardened. ou Nobody deserves to die like that.” .” es. I won’t contaminate your mind with thoughts of what Lokesh has done. though.” “Y ou’ve sacrificed enough for me already. Better me or Kishan being captured than you.

“I don’t remember that. He even quoted it to me. “Do you feel well enough to revisit some memories? ” “We can try. but I thought I knew what I was doing at the time. I rejected you initially.” He raised an eyebrow. How he escaped his cage and slept on the hay. Where do you want to begin?” “Why don’t we start at the beginning?” He nodded. “We didn’t exactly get off to a smooth start romantically. I’m sure I would still refuse to tell you about it. It might trigger something. “The course of true love never did run smooth. I told him about the cat poem and about the picture I drew of him in my journal.” “Probably. then changed my mind. There are some of your poems in there. and I told him of seeing him for the first time at the circus and working with him. I twitched uncomfortably. He’d listened attentively and nodded. but if I could remember.” . “May I read it?” he asked.” He smiled.” es. When I was finished. He seemed the most interested in my journal.” ou “Y Some things never change. Just prepare yourself for lots of girl emotions. and I blamed myself for not locking the door. an hour had gone by. then rejected you again. The weird thing was that he remembered the cat poem. It wasn’t the best of decisions. Y can be pretty stubborn. “I guess it could help. and it is a good record of almost everything we did. I quickly explained.

Y had pictures and stories of this man and woman. kind girlfriend that I can’t remember. He dropped my hand. They had dreams for your future. I studied a book of famous Shakespeare quotes in school. They had memories of you doing things that you couldn’t remember and they had expectations of you. “This situation is very confusing for me.” “Exactly. Especially if you had been mentally and physically tortured for several months.” I nodded mutely. There are a lot of worse things I can imagine than being told I have a sweet. ou but they were strangers to you. I apologize if I’ve hurt you. I just need time to wrap my mind around this. is that right?” I nodded.“When did you read Midsummer Night’s Dream ?” “I haven’t. different dreams than what you might imagine for yourself. . He touched my hand as I passed. at last something I know that you don’t.” He sighed.” “Y never told me that.” “Ren? Do you think? I mean. It isn’t my intention.” “I understand. Mr. “I’ll try. is there any possibility? Could you learn to…to love me again?” He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and said. “Imagine if you couldn’t remember your real parents. Kadam told me your parents are gone. and I shut myself in my room. I might even doubt what I was being told. hurting.” “It would be very hard.” I stood. “I don’t mean to hurt you.” ou “Ah.

Kishan took advantage of his reluctance and polished off every batch I made singlehandedly. “My birthday? I totally forgot!” “How old are you now. Kadam. He’ll try. He didn’t want me to be disappointed when he ate them. I came down to dinner one night and found everyone staring eagerly at me from the dining room. Ren became irritated by our expectations of him. including my chocolate peanut butter cookies. Miss Kelsey!” Mr.myself in my room. which had been decorated with peach and ivory streamers. A week went by with little to no improvement. She didn’t know me as well as the others and spoke of things both of them remembered. who he liked to visit with. and it didn’t trigger his memory. “Umm…nineteen. but then I explained the significance of the cookies. and the second time he was less enthusiastic. The first time he ate them he seemed to enjoy them. He couldn’t remember anything about me despite the efforts of Kishan. Mr. “Happy Birthday. Kadam exclaimed. and Nilima. I’d made him every dish he’d liked while in Oregon. I figured she bothered him much less about it. Kells?” asked Kishan. A large cake rested in a position of prominence as the centerpiece of a beautifully decorated table.” . He began to lose patience with everyone except Nilima. I stopped cooking after the fourth day.

Mr. She gave me an expensive bottle of French perfume.” Kishan pulled out my chair and helped me sit. “Her natural scent is much better. Kishan smelled it and grunted. Next was Mr. and a chocolate malt.” “I don’t need a new car. Kadam had used the Golden Fruit to summon my favorite dinner—a cheeseburger. so I’ve covered our tracks. then left to gather gifts from somewhere else in the house. “Here. she’s still a baby. He winked at me as I slipped my finger under the edge to open it. Kishan announced it was present time.” When it got to Ren. Everyone else got to pick their favorite meals as well. Kadam’s present. I have the Boxster at home. I’ve sold it and the house through another organization. Inside was a picture of a car. Kishan grabbed me in a hug. and said. Have a seat while I get your presents. “It’s gone. Eh. French fries. He pushed an envelope across the table.“Well. I opened Nilima’s first. he smiled at Nilima. “I like it. and we all laughed and remarked on our neighbors’ selections. which I passed around. I held it up. Lokesh knew about it and could have traced it to us. It was the first time I’d laughed in quite a while.” He shook his head sadly. “What’s this?” “It’s a new car.” . Ren?” Ren nodded and smiled politely.” The easy smile slipped off my face. After we finished dinner.

” I folded my hands across my chest. “Y need more training.” Kishan clapped his hands.I waved the picture around and grinned. “How much more?” “Much more. I know it’s extravagant. We’ll get you a nice sedan.” “I’m a good driver!” Kishan protested. but when you drive it.000 more. “Mr.” Mr.000?” He squirmed and hedged.” ou .” He looked offended. perhaps we can share it.” My mouth dropped open. Used. “And what type of car did you decide I needed this time?” “It’s nothing really. “I won’t drive it.” “How big is it?” “It’s a convertible. but the boys are men half the day now. “If it will appease you. I’ll drive the Jeep. “I can’t wait. Just something to get you from here to there.” “What’s it called?” “It’s a McLaren SLR 722 Roadster. It seats only two. “Oh. “That car was meant to be driven. you will see it’s worth every cent.” “Is it more than $30.” “How much more?” “About $400. no! Not you. “Y but—” es. Kadam wagged a finger at him.” “Then you drive it.” “Will a tiger fit?” “No.” He looked tempted. Kadam!” “Miss Kelsey.

.” “The car is already here. and touched silky blue material. and his golden eyes sparkled with pleasure.” His eyes twinkled with excitement. It’s definitely not as interesting as any of those.” Delicate blue cornflowers with soft green stems and leaves ran around the hem and up the side of the robe to the waist. there’s still my gift. Thank you for my wonderfully extravagant. When the car arrives. He handed me a large white box wrapped with a blue velvet ribbon. It’s in the garage as we speak. “Oh. we’ll talk about it some more. I opened it. brushed aside the delicate tissue.I stopped them.” Ren pushed a hastily wrapped gift toward me and missed my shy smile when he stared at his hands. over-the-top present. “Okay. laughing. I stood up and took the soft gift from the box.” Kishan said. Perhaps we can go for a drive later.” He nodded happily. but they embroidered flowers instead. They obviously couldn’t replicate the real flowers woven through the material. just you and me. Kishan! It’s lovely!” “I had it specially made in China to match the robe you wore in the Grove of Dreams. “Okay. then continued on the other side to the shoulder. “Thank you! I love it!” I hugged him and pecked him on the cheek. “Okay. “Thank you everyone!” “Uh.” I smiled. Miss Kelsey.” “That’s me. Purple and orange winged fairies perched jauntily on the leaves. “I’m ready for my next present.

“Open it so we can see.” I tore open the present and blinked my eyes a few times.” I announced.” I took another bite of cake. Nilima sensed something was wrong and squeezed my arm. Mr.” Ren nodded and pushed some uneaten food around on his plate.” I turned to Ren. “Thank you. “What is it. Who made it? The Golden Fruit?” Mr. It is my favorite brand of ice cream. “What is it? Let me guess. “It’s peach! I’ve never had peach cake before. “Actually. Kadam was busy making the next perfect scoop.” “The ice cream. I thanked them and took a bite of my cake. “I knew I recognized the taste. Tillamook. I wouldn’t need that in India. trying to lighten the mood. “it’s peaches and cream too?” Mr. A new cashmere hat and gloves? No. “Y It’s actually from that dairy es. Miss Kelsey?” A tear plopped onto my cheek. I know. a silk scarf?” Nilima said. you love. Ah. Kadam leaned forward. then said. Y must have known I ou needed a new pair. I quickly dashed it away with the back of my hand and smiled. “It’s a very lovely pair of socks. Kadam added giant scoops of ice cream.The package held something soft and squishy. I believe it is. Nilima cut the cake while Mr.” . Thank you for thinking of me. “Who’s ready for cake?” I smiled brightly. Nilima and I made it. Kadam laughed.

Kadam tell him it was in the freezer. then watched him push aside his peach dessert and head out of the room. My eyes welled with tears. Ren pushed the peach ice cream around on his plate. I felt the overwhelming wave of hurt rush through me. I sipped some water to clear it. This is something that was all planned a long…” his words trailed off as he realized his error. In the midst of heaven.” “Oh. Kadam if we could take that drive tomorrow. Trying vainly to infuse my voice with enthusiasm. Kadam sat down to enjoy his piece and said. I asked Mr. I was experiencing my own private hell. trying to distract me from figuring out that my old Ren had planned a peaches and cream birthday party for me months in advance. Soon. confused. I excused myself.Mr. Kishan got up also. stood. I heard Mr. I waited. suffice it to say. and turned away quickly. I tuned him out. surrounded by the people I loved. “Do we have any of that chocolate peanut butter ice cream left? I’m not a big fan of the peaches and cream.” I raised my head and looked at him with shock and disappointment. He started telling me about how the peach was a symbol of long life in China and that it was good luck. it wasn’t my idea.” He went on awkwardly.” he said quietly. He coughed uncomfortably and stammered. “Well. celebrating the day of my birth. “Oh. well. The cake suddenly stuck in my throat. I sat immovable. My fork was raised halfway to my mouth when I’d paused. . “Of course. it wasn’t me at all.

“What did you do?” I heard Ren’s soft reply.” . he asked. “I don’t know. I heard Kishan threatening Ren.As I went upstairs. Suspiciously.

or how I smelled to him. He didn’t remember about the socks. Kadam and tried to be happy as he went over its features with me. I despaired. I went for a ride in the fancy new convertible with Mr. . It’s just stupid ice cream! Who cares? No one remembered those things. Except me. I felt like I was interacting with a stunt double Ren. He didn’t know what he did or why it hurt so much. but I was numb inside.EPILOGUE The next day. I woke determined to try to make the best of things. Something was off. It wasn’t Ren’s fault. I went through the motions. but there was a spark missing. or about choosing peaches and cream ice cream instead of peanut butter chocolate. He looked like my Ren and could even talk like him. No one knew now.

It’s just when I’m near her …I can’t wait to get away. “Nilima! She’s like a sister to us! Y ou’ve never expressed any feelings for her before!” “She’s easier to be around. so I went to change into workout clothes and headed through the laundry room and down the stairs to the dojo.” Kishan responded with outrage. but she’s a bit young. I stopped when I heard voices arguing.” Ren let out an exasperated sigh. there’s something… off-putting about her. but I heard my name mentioned and couldn’t leave.” Kishan said. “I can’t imagine feeling that for her.” “I’ve seen you give more attention to ice cream than you do to her. It’s a relief when she’s not around.I’d planned to workout with Kishan when we got home.” “How can you say that? Y loved her! Y were ou ou more passionate about her than you’ve ever been about anything in your entire life!” Ren spoke softly.” “Can’t you at least try?” “I have been. Too bad it wasn’t Nilima I was in love with. ou but I won’t be coerced into feeling something that I don’t. “Y ou’re hurting her. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. “Y think I don’t know that? I don’t want to hurt her.” Ren replied quietly. She’s nice and cute.” “What do you mean?” “I can’t really describe it. “She doesn’t look at me with big brown eyes full of hurt. “Look. ” .

She’s sweet and loving and warm and beautiful and would make you immeasurably happy. almost so I couldn’t hear it.” ou Kishan didn’t answer right away. Y wore a hole in ou ou the carpet with your pacing. She waited months for you to come after her. and she has risked her life repeatedly to save your mangy white hide.” ou “I don’t know! Maybe it was being tortured over and over again that did this. Y loved her. Kishan spoke intently. but the pain didn’t affect me. Y pined for her for months. She’s perfect for you. go up to your room and read them for yourself.” “Then what’s your problem? I’ve never seen you happier in your miserable excuse for an existence than when you were with her. Y wrote thousands of ou love poems describing her beauty and how miserable you were when she was gone.” There was a pause. Gratitude was not the emotion you felt for her. “Y love her. but I don’t feel that way about her now.” “I have read them. “Maybe I was grateful to her and allowed her to believe I loved her once. which proves you aren’t in your right mind. I’d bitten my lip deeply and tasted blood. but then said softly. and it was real. Then I heard Ren say incredulously. She loves poetry and sits endlessly content while listening to you sing and play your guitar. “No man in his right mind wouldn’t.” Ren said thoughtfully. Maybe Lokesh planted . If you don’t believe me. “Kelsey is all that a man could ask for.” “Believe me.” Both brothers were silent for a minute.

I see Lokesh questioning. No amount of coaxing. or cutting . Slamming the laundry room door behind me. One by one. some insistent and harsh. I expect pain. I can’t do it. I knew if I didn’t hurry. The connection between us was gone. Eventually. I ran up the other flight of stairs. trimming. Even if I could learn to love her. The beautiful bouquet of tiger lilies that I’d nourished and cared for since Ren’s absence dried up. one of them would catch me. I ran up the steps. “No.” I bit my hand to hold back a sob and gasped. into my bathroom. I guess I don’t.something in my brain that ruined her forever in my mind. Everyone seemed to take a turn.” There was a long pause. The love plant was broken. Even Ren. always questioning. She doesn’t deserve to be lied to. When I hear her name spoken or hear her voice. fragrant petals turned brown and fell off the stem. and locked the door. the torture is still there in the back of my mind. “Kells! Wait!” I heard Kishan following me and ran up the stairs as fast as I could. I don’t want that. “Kells?” Kishan said. Kishan. I clutched my heart. An assortment of knocks fell upon the door—some gentle. watering. the soft. My heart was devastated by merciless drought. they left me alone. I crawled into the dry tub and pulled my knees up to my chest. They heard me. It’s not fair to either of us.” “Then…you don’t deserve her. some barely audible. there’s something in me that cringes. Every time I look at her.

but I could rest assured that it still shone brightly somewhere. What was its other name? Ah. Old. I had no center. It might be hidden from view for a while. He had been my Polaris. Then a voice inside me. It never deviated. Polaris.was going to save them. It was always there. The blooms were spent. Now. He said there was no star similar to it in the Southern Hemisphere. with a similar sarcastic wit to my mother’s. no guide. and grabbed the keys to my new car. I remembered Dad said it worked only in the Northern Hemisphere. reminded me. looked up at the stars. Reclining the seat. I quietly left the house and slipped into the smooth leather seat. He said that mariners could always rely on it. Late that night. I felt despair sneaking through me again. Ren had said once that he was as constant as the North Star. I searched for the Big Dipper. Speeding down the road with the top down. and thought about constellations. that it was a unique celestial phenomenon. Unnoticed. Just because I couldn’t see the star didn’t mean it wasn’t there. broken petals were crushed into dust and were being blown away by a stiff wind. My dad had once told me about the North Star. . It was winter. always dependable. put on my sneakers. I couldn’t find it. All that remained were a few brown stumps —a sad memoriam to a once precious and priceless arrangement. The stems shriveled. I lay back. I emerged from my room. I drove until I found myself at a lookout point atop a hill overlooking the wide forested valley below.

I still had things to accomplish. There’s no denying that I loved him and still do. A mariner without a star to follow. I once told Ren that our story wasn’t over. I can do is hold on to my faith. I’d experienced loss. The threads of my life are all tangled and jumbled up. If I couldn’t. Ren was…gone. The Divine Weaver told me not to become disheartened when the pattern doesn’t suit. but I’d survive. I don’t know if I’ll ever get them straightened out. but I would do my best to attain a measure of happiness despite the pain. and I’d suffer now. The fabric of my existence is pretty ugly right now All . She said I should wait and watch and be patient and devoted. The Ocean Teacher said that the purpose of life is to be happy. . I had a job to do. And it’s not. My parents were gone. and I could do it again. I’d suffered when Ren was gone before. Not yet.Maybe someday that spark could be found again. Push through the pain and move on with life. I’d done this before. Could I be happy without him? I didn’t even want to consider it. then so be it. believing that someday I’ll see the light of that bright star again. But I was still here. I was adrift on an ocean of loneliness. then I would do my best to be happy by myself. Maybe I’d waste my life seeking it. If I could find love with someone along the way.

and Suki. no one else would understand the material. Linda. He’s my biggest fan and my biggest critic which is usually how the best marriages go. Megan. I’d like to thank my early reading group. . Sudha Seshadri.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS As always. A warm expression of gratitude for my editor/adviser/counselor from India. who has faithfully read each chapter out loud as I write them. Jerry. Jared. Heidi. Without his punctuation edits. Josh. Wendy. Cindy. and Linda. My family—Kathy. Heidi Jo. He’s always eager to read the next chapter and even admits to liking the kissing scenes. Bill. Nancy. And my friends —Rachelle. I am eternally thankful for my husband. who has also become my friend and who I think loves my tigers as much as I do. Alyssa. Tonnie. Shara.

and without whose services. and even demonstrated. assistant at The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for allowing me to use quotes from the Dalai Lamas.A special thanks to my brother Jared and his wife Suki. who patiently described. all the martial arts moves so I would have better fight scenes. I would also like to express appreciation for Tsultrim Dorjee. Thanks to my editors Rhadamanthus and Gail Cato for their hard work and a hearty thank you to all the people at Booksurge who have answered my myriad of questions in timely fashion. . my tigers would never have seen the printed page.

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