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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mumbled. then I shoved a whole bunch of new thoughts in place of the painful ones. I skipped that one altogether and moved on. I wouldn’t take me back if I were him. I kept my finger off the dial and listened attentively to the chastisement. . and being back in Oregon. “Maybe New Country will work. and I figured the universe was trying to send me a message anyway. Stupid me! I forgot that most country music was about breaking up. I hope your guy took yo u back . I couldn’t have picked a better song to beat myself with. I considered that he probably would find somebody new very Thank you. Brushing a tear away from my eye. I chewed my bottom lip and my vision became blurry.” I should have known better. I let myself think about him for a minute. Carrie Underwood’s “I Told Y So” was the perfect song to ou punish myself with. to try to squish and smother out the sad remnants of the broken love plant. but it was too painful. Carrie Underwood. 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. The next station said Sirius Love. The wind whipped through my hair as the words whipped my heart. 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. so why not? Bring it on. I didn’t really listen to country music much. my foster family. I thought about school. I stacked those thoughts like books. one on top of the other. so I thought it would be safe. I tucked away my memories and folded them into a tiny wedge of my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I considered the idea of running madly out of the building. I stood up. I sat on the edge and tapped my foot impatiently. Making the excuse that I needed to use the restroom. 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. As I walked by.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. 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. The movie started again. He did too and walked over to the lady at the desk. and it just felt very rude. Sighing. I pretended that I was shifting the chair out so that I could sit again. He responded by scooting his chair closer to mine and put his arm around the back of it again. I overheard him asking her to stop the movie and rewind it just a bit so we would remember where we left off. The media specialist had rewound it at least . but I actually pulled it slightly farther away from him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And. It would be nice and normal. We’d celebrate holidays with his grandparents and have all his friends and their wives over for barbeques. I couldn’t deny my feelings for him. He would be a doctor and set up a private practice in the suburbs. I didn’t understand the quote exactly because I didn’t know much about wine. but I imagined the point of it was that things had to match. A normal family.right in many ways. Ren was like the new wine. and I was like the old bottle. He was too perfect. The Bible says something like you can’t put new wine in old bottles. These were normal people. I could easily envision making a life with Li. He was supernatural and the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen. 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. He needed a Barbie. It was like matching up Ken with Strawberry Shortcake. We’d have a couple of kids and vacation in Disneyland. 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. Ren was harder to picture next to me. We didn’t look as if we belonged together. The kids would all take wushu and soccer. He’d end up breaking me because I couldn’t attain his level of perfection. And Ren was…was not. We were compatible and probably much more suited for each other than Ren and I were. at least not anymore. It was painfully obvious to me that my rebellious heart wanted Ren.

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.” I put my hand on his cheek and kissed him. He briefly touched my face and smiled at me. Now everything has changed. A drop of water next to a raging waterfall. Again. I liked Li. It was early evening when he pulled into the driveway. and smiled. I was always drawn back to him. The house was dark. “Hey. A speck of dust compared to the universe. “Y eah. 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. What am I going to do? Li drove me home. squeezed my elbow. It was safe. and maybe someday I could even love him. Li opened my car door and walked me up to my house. and Li was waiting patiently for my answer. But. but he still seemed happy about it. I turned to him and said. He’d said that if all I wanted was friendship then he would accept it. He stopped at the door. Hasn’t it? I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do about Ren. It is.pursue another. It wasn’t fair. It was nice. I definitely didn’t want to hurt Li either. I looked at the windows for a familiar shadow but didn’t see anything. Finally. it was not even close to what I felt with Ren. Not the kiss I’d been planning. 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. his touch was nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Li. So.” ou “Tell me. “I’m not really sure how to say this.” “What did he say about that?” I grimaced.” “Oh. I felt so nervous that I had to sit on my hands to stop them from shaking.” “What? What kind of a guy would…” I hurried to explain. and he wants us to date. 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. And how do you feel about that?” “I agreed to give it a try. He stretched out his long legs on the mat and propped himself up against the wall next to me. Ren thinks it would be okay for me to keep dating you too. I figured he wouldn’t stay away from you forever. and I was the complete opposite.” He grinned. “So what’s up.” “Well. He was happy and carefree. How…sporting of him.if I wanted to grab a bite to eat.” “He said that if you couldn’t handle a little honest . Taking a long drink of his water.” “Sure. Ren is in town. so I guess I’ll just spit it out. See. Kelsey?” “Umm…” What am I going to say? He’s going to hate me. “Actually. I was hoping we could talk for a bit. I wondered when he’d show up. “Y don’t want to know. “He feels that I should date both of you and then make a choice between you two. you’re breaking up with me then. not exactly. he wiped his mouth and asked.” “Ah.

” I sighed. He already has a proximity advantage then.” “Fine. “Kelsey.” . no. He continued. I’ve worked hard to become as good as I am at wushu and I’ve studied hard in school and won many awards. I’m asking if you’re ready to. So I’m just another trophy for your wall?” “Not at all. “Li. Then honest competition it is. “So is he here in town?” “Not exactly. I don’t—” He turned to me. “he’s my new neighbor. 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.competition then it’s better for me to know now.” “I see. doesn’t deserve her. But a young man who doesn’t have the foresight to seek out the girl he wants to be with and actively pursue her. you didn’t. I blinked. He and Ren must have a common ancestor.” Li was grinding his jaw. are you ready to make your choice now?” “Are you asking me to?” “No. “If he thinks I’ll just give up and walk away then he’s wrong!” I put my hand on his arm.” “Right.” “Are you joking? Y ou’re pulling my leg.” “No.” “It’s my grandparents’ pride and joy. and his hands closed into fists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

so I popped some aspirin and took a hot shower.” . Ren was in the kitchen when I came downstairs. 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.CHAPTER 7 The next day was Sunday.” “I wanted to surprise you. He’d put on my frilly apron and was scrambling eggs in a large bowl. and since he missed out on our date the night before. The bacon was crackling in a skillet ready to be taken out. Ren called to see if we could have breakfast together. My body was stiff and sore from my fall. I said yes and hung up the phone. I would ou have come down to help you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.”

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

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

You know you are in love when you see the world in her eyes. This time.copy of my two favorites with me all the time. and her eyes everywhere in the world. 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. it was a homemade invitation asking me to accompany him to the .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled at me. I usually never did my nails because I picked the paint off after a few days when it started to bother me. I opened it and gasped softly. 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 brought out a bouquet of two dozen red roses. I suddenly felt like a little girl playing dress-up compared to him. From behind his back. but I figured it was a special occasion. I applied my makeup. 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. He stepped inside and put them in a vase of water he’d already prepared. He looked like a supermodel who had just stepped off the pages of GQ. trying to be formal.Now that I had a billion lipsticks. saving my lipstick for last. “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!” . I easily found one that matched my dress. He rang the doorbell. and I still had a half hour wait for Ren. and I could imagine every girl at the dance wanting to reach up and brush it back for him. My warrior-archangel stood there waiting for me with a tuxedo jacket thrown casually over his shoulder. and even had time to paint my fingers and toes with red polish to match. and my heart dropped down into my shoes and flopped wetly around like a fish out of water. His hair fell appealingly over one eye.

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

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

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

luminous. but I’d get lipstick all over you. radiant The fiery blush of her cheek Ren He ducked his head as if embarrassed at the beautiful words.” “I’d kiss you.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. “It’s beautiful.” . burned hotter When I pulled my hand away the heat diminished Grew fainter. I twisted my way onto his lap and put my arms around his neck.” “Y ou’re beautiful.” “Y think I care?” ou I laughed. 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. He turned toward me. I stood up and walked around to his side of the table. But what would the waitress say?” “She can say whatever she wants. “Probably not.

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

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

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

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

“I thought that kind of dancing only happened in the movies. She’s an even better dancer than he is. then teach me. I’d wonder what he saw in me too. After I had recovered enough from his tantalizing onslaught against my senses to speak. Mr.” “Still. not too unlike wushu. The song changed back to a normal slow one. If you want to practice. “I don’t really like the idea of you dancing with Nilima. Some of them stared at me with jealousy and some with confusion. I said. 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.” . and then I picked a lot of moves up over the years by watching. I couldn’t blame them. who became my practice partner. 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. All of his awareness was centered solely on me. Even a few of the men were staring at Ren. My mother taught me several traditional forms of dancing. I mentally wished them luck in trying to compete with Ren’s presence. It’s a good workout actually. Kadam’s a good dancer and was happy when I expressed interest in learning modern styles. They’d lost the attention of their dates. but their expressions were unhappy.” “Nilima is like a sister to me. of course. Several women had raised eyebrows and open mouths.” I frowned. Ren was a hard act to follow. He hooked me up with Nilima.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time. we’ll do better and bring the proper offering. Unfold the hoary sacred scrolls. We’d already guessed that much. We have to go to a temple of Durga first again. Discus routs and ‘chief’s disguise Can stave off those who would pursue Four houses shall your spirit testOf birds. bats.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. 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. Teach arrant wisdom and advise Gates of Spirit he controls Paradise awaits. gourds. remain steadfast And find the navel stone.” . 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 .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

once. . I didn’t have any nightmares.

Kadam was spending most of his time trying to find Ren now. and he felt that if we began our journey . and I just knew where I needed to aim. That ability came easily for me. Since we discovered that the city we were looking for was Lhasa. Mr. I could take out a weed all the way across the field and not damage the surrounding grass. 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. the rest of the prophecy fell into place.CHAPTER 12 We kept up our schedule for another couple of weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. 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. “Did someone mention animal sacrifice? Actually. air. Now if only Kishan would follow my command to remove his heavy arm from my shoulders…” He leaned over and spoke softly. but maybe after we visit with Durga?” He bowed briefly. water. “Perhaps I will save that topic of discussion for another time. “Y wish is my command.” “Thanks. 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. Kadam had either pulled strings or used his vast pocketbook to get us in alone after closing. Kadam turned back to us with eyes brightened. but there were no doors or locks. Mr. which had .” I scowled at him. and fire. He also learned that there had been a fifth pillar. and we continued our tour. Miss our Kelsey. Kadam walked with us to the front steps and handed me a bag full of various items to be used for an offering. I…” He looked at my incredulous face and laughed. I feel …lectured out at the moment. “Deal with it. Closing was a relative term anyway.much? Ever heard of asking a girl first?” Mr. “I do want to hear about it. animal sacrifice is a very interesting topic. Each of the four pillars featured one of the four elements—earth.” I laughed. Officially. the temple was closed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelsey. Y turn. Somehow less deserving. “Kishan. He picked up his pawn and skipped over mine. and then got to roll again. Kishan and I had left Mr. Kishan’s golden eyes met mine briefly. moving the four first and then took the two. The game was over. Kadam in the dust. with all the cares of the world lifted off his shoulders. Okay.” I rolled a twelve and made it all the way home. “It’s totally impossible that you missed that. and I was only two away. Then too bad for you. which was turned up in a small smile. but at the same time feeling that he was somehow less important. He stared at the board for a moment studying it carefully. Mr. I’d never seen Kishan so animated. He could knock me out and advance toward home. He rolled a two and a four. loving and admiring him.” We played for an hour. . moved his blue pawn up right behind mine. There was only one pawn left for each of us.” our I muttered. I could easily envision this proud. which landed him in a safety zone. Kadam steepled his fingers and was tapping his upper lip. 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. handsome. then. and mine was closer to home. taciturn man as a happy. carefree boy who grew up to stand in the shadow of his older brother. He rolled doubles.“I’ll be blue. He almost seemed like a young boy again. “Huh…I must’ve missed that. By the end of the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fact. “Y teach the teacher?” ou He laughed. though slow. I just need to learn about myself. I’m a very old man. or we speak different languages. and we ask for your guidance. “As you are aware.” I nodded. We are one human family. in es.” He stood up carefully with the support of monks. Mr. We have a task to perform. and I find that all people are fundamentally alike.“I train the Dalai Lamas. our skin is of a different color.” I stared at him. Let us adjourn to a different room that offers more privacy. so that ou means you must be—” “One hundred fifteen. “Y said you taught two of the Dalai Lamas. “Y I’ve trained a couple of them. walked without assistance.” “Y ou’ve lived here all your life?” “Most of it. but that is on the surface only. We all have dreams and seek for the things that will bring true happiness. one on each side who quickly maneuvered to walk beside him should he need help. To know all the world. we have come to seek the wisdom of the Ocean Teacher.” The monk pushed back the sleeves of his robe and stood. Perhaps we have different clothes.” “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. Kadam said. “Come. but the Ocean Teacher.” “What?” “I am one hundred and fifteen years old and proud of .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry. in another he was laughing and happy. But we’re sleeping back to back.” “Right. It tickles.awkward. I will be sleeping on the ground. he didn’t know me and turned away from me. The bed shifted back and forth like a hammock. and I heard Kishan sputter. But. He pulled the gossamer cover over me. I fell asleep quickly and had vivid dreams of Ren. but just in case. and he held me close and whispered that he loved me. etc. There was something about fairy princesses and how does she expect me to sleep and Ren better appreciate . I think you better join me. I stifled a laugh and rolled to my side. I caught snippets of phrases. I dreamt of a long rope lit .” Kishan was staring at the bed like it was a mortal enemy.” I laughed. In one dream. “Not to worry. and then I felt the bed sway as he lay next to me.” I climbed in first and sunk into the soft feather bed and pillow.” He stiffened. 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.” “Deal.” I pulled my hair over my shoulder. something about more than a man can bear and shifted quietly. Kishan muttered as he stowed the backpack. We were together again. He muttered some more. “Keep your hair on your side. Kells. Kelsey. etc. He turned to me and gallantly bowed. “Fine. A breeze softly stirred my hair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

like those oracles Mr. I was sucked into a powerful vision. “Ugh! That stuff is nasty! What is it?” He held out a jar. here goes. Kells.” “But how does it feel?” “It feels…good. and everything around us. I heard a hissing sound coming from within and smelled gas fumes.” “Were you successful then? Did you see the tree?” “Y eah.” “It smells awful. and the bees became sluggish.” . 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. The fetor permeated my hair. When I woke. “I think you might have to inhale the” “When did you tell them we’d be going to a bee cave?” “When you were changing. They believed it would help. I saw shooting stars and colors.” “I guess.” “Okay.” Leaning over. “The Silvanae gave it to us when I told them we would be seeing lots of bees.” “Then I imagine you can tolerate the smell. Soothing and cool. I saw the tree and the four houses and something else too. To say it wafted a strong odor would be an understatement. I took a big whiff. his body twisted and elongated. and Kishan was dabbing my stings with a gooey substance the color of inch-worms. my clothes. They plopped to the cave floor like fat gumdrops and slept. Smoky gas began to fill the cave. we were in the jungle again. Kishan became distorted. Kadam talked about. Then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seemed like flocks of birds were slapping up against each other in the darkness. Something brushed past my arm and flapped away suddenly. Kishan? Hurry up!” I raised my light and couldn’t see anything. It sounded like he was pushing the backpack ahead of him. and with a violent.and scree noises bounced around the inside of the tree. I was lifted into the air. it was a big one. I should’ve brought the backpack with me. but the air was definitely moving. Pinching. I heard him shout. “Kelsey!” . Something or a few somethings were flapping toward me again. “Uh. and the flapping more violent. They tightened. First the backpack and then his head emerged. They seemed to be getting louder. Maybe they’re giant moths. “Kishan!” “Almost there. If it was a bird. but the creature was strong and yanked me away.” 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 shut off my light to try and deter the flapping creatures and watched as Kishan’s light grew brighter and he got closer. Kishan had quickly wormed his way out of the hole and grabbed for my leg. beating of wings and a loud SCREEEEEE. Something large startled me with frenzied flapping just over my head. He was almost through. I screamed. hooked fingers curled around my shoulders and grabbed on.

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

“Eeeeemposseeeble heeeee theeeeks.” I spoke to the bat.” several bats began clicking and flapping. 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. The longer the . I could actually feel the vibrations on my skin. he rescues me? How can he do that?” “Heee eees like weee.and smacks as they hung and watched us. which I realized was their echo sonar.” “His spirit is split? What do you mean?” “Meeean heee eeeendure grieeeeef. Halfffs neeeeeed beeeee togeeether. “It’s impossible. Heeeees speeerit eees spleeet. beat through the air and against the walls. Rhythmic smacks.” “How can his two halves be together?” “Heeee musstt leearnn. Soon. He tried several times to climb up to where I was. “Eeetts posseeeble teeegerrr. Heee musstt eeembracee teeegerrr. Heeee heeeeal heeees steeeng…heeee reeescue eyouu. Kishan progressed for a while then got stuck and had to backtrack. Kells. Heeeeere heeeem.” “If he heals his sting. “Y know that he’s a tiger?” ou “Weeeeee seeeee heeeem. Weee aree halfff bird and halfff meemalll. he stood near the hole and shouted up to me. Heee is halfff meeen and halfff teeegerr. but he was always thwarted. After the sixth try.” 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. small stones embedded in the walls began to glow.

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

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

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

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

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

If Ren wasn’t in the picture. He surely noticed my look of panic and probably recognized that it wasn’t due to losing my balance. He bridled his emotions.” “Kishan—” “Is there no possibility. I grabbed his arm and held on for dear life. “I’d never let you fall. I mean…I feel…and I have reason to believe…that we could come to mean something to each other.” “Y mean something to me now. and said quietly. I already care about you.” He let me go and got our breakfast ready. I already love you. That’s not what I mean. leaned back.” “No. “I know you wouldn’t. But—” “But” “Y ou…you’re very important to me. “Kishan.” I wasn’t handling this well. That was when he closed off from me.” ou “Right. but I’m not talking about friendship.” “Y ou’re very important to me too. I already have feelings for you. Alarms started going off in my head. and I jerked back and felt like I was falling. would you consider me? Could I be someone that you could come to care about?” I put my hand on his cheek. He steadied me and studied my face for a minute. 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. . Kells.” He smiled and leaned in a little closer. but the best I could give him was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mumbled as he lowered me.realistically. holding his belt buckle. I had a vision. The wind whipped it off the branch.” “I’m working on it!” I stretched farther and heard Kishan groan. outline of a tent behind him. then his leg. “Kelsey. and swung my body back toward the Scarf. I yelled Kishan’s name then closed my eyes for a second. “Just another few inches. I expected to hear them to snap any second. and I heard a voice. I still had my arms wrapped around his neck. Kadam? Y I can hear you!” I saw the vague es. It swirled in the air and shot past me. I grabbed the tail of it at the last second and. Frightened. “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. I let go of his neck and slowly turned my body upside down. Kelsey! Can you hear me?” “Mr. then his foot. blood pounding in my head. hanging there upside down. with Kishan barely holding on for both of us. causing us to plummet to our deaths. “I can see your tent!” . scared at what I had to do next. causing me to swing out over the green abyss. swallowed.” His grip slipped deliberately from my calf to my ankle. The green canopy dizzily swinging back and forth in front of my eyes faded to white.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I carefully peeled away a transparent green film. I turned to watch the land of Shangri-la vanish in a swirl of color. 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. My eye phobia kicked into high gear. but I managed to get the other eye clear and . I rubbed them lightly and felt something sticking to my lashes. which had slipped off my eye like a contact lens. Now my vision was strange. It felt like something was in my eyes.CHAPTER 22 After we passed through the gate. I blinked several times. I didn’t like touching my eyes. I could see clear white snow from one eye and the other one was still covered with the green film. The red light that pulsed in the handprint faded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

” Kishan took back the camera and flipped through some more. and I could just make out a pink fairy peeking around a lock of hair to see my face. returned to the table. “What is that?” I turned it different ways and laughed. Kadam chuckled and went to get his bag out of the car. Kishan closed the door. Miss Kelsey.” I wrung my hands nervously.” ou Kishan laughed. Kadam looked over my shoulder. brought up a knee. “I’m definitely getting a copy of this one. “Y look quite becoming. “Well. “In fact. and rested a hip against it. and looked at me with a serious expression. “Y should have seen her in ou person. It was the one he took of me in my gossamer gown with fairies adorning in my hair. it’s always .” He handed the camera to me. “I didn’t want to burden her with too many heavy objects. Mr. See? There’s the nest. Quite becoming is an understatement. apsaras rajkumari. “It’s one of Hugin’s eyes. Kishan grunted and said. “Why didn’t you take a camera into Kishkindha?” I shrugged but Mr. He cupped his hands. Kadam explained.Kishan showed me the camera and asked. 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.” Mr. I’d say that I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. I looked like a fairy princess with glowing skin and bright eyes. My hair hung in soft waves down my back.

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

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

He was searching for a home. He was everything I could possibly wish for wrapped up in a gorgeous package. If I had never met Ren. He needed someone to take him in and let the wandering. lost tiger rest. I could easily envision that person being me. I thought about that as I drove. if Kishan had been the one in the circus cage. How he would never cheat. The same qualities that I loved about Kishan were found in Ren as well. I think. for someone to love him. I considered Ren. He also needed someone to love him. even if it was to win the girl he loved. I loved how he got excited about reading Shakespeare and how he liked to watch movies and cheer on the good guys. He was lonely. something that would make a girl want to wrap her arms around him and keep him forever. I loved the way he called me little love nicknames. I could see myself falling in love with him and being happy with him. I could be happy with him. There was something about him. I could . But with Ren loving me and wanting to be with me. But Ren and I fit together so much more easily. He was a very attractive person both outside and in. We loved all the same things. And how he sung for me and played his guitar. to quiet the restless tiger. 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.different. There would have been potential there. like Ren. like he was made especially for me. then. But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

don’t you? ou Y think I don’t feel anything for my brother. ou Despite everything that’s happened. I…” “And before you say anything. 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. I could see that he was hurting. “Y think I don’t care. Y ou’d have Ren. He swam to the side and rested his back against the wall of the pool. “Kishan. I wish I was the one who had been taken. Ren would have you. Then are you admitting that you did like it? That there is chemistry between us? That you are attracted to 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. so I was accusing myself as much as I was him. Even from this far away. but I was more upset with my reaction to him. And I’d get what I deserved. I want to warn you that I don’t want your sympathy.” “That’s not what I was going to say. “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.easy to blame Kishan.” “Good. But I do. And the fact that I’d actually enjoyed it made me feel terrible.” “Kishan!” “I’m serious. I felt incredibly guilty about letting the kiss happen at all.

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

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

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

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

Despite Kishan’s heartfelt words and the confusion about my relationship with him. Ren A giant tear fell with a splat on the paper. there was one thing I couldn’t deny. I loved Ren.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. The truth was. I quickly moved it out of tear drop range. Wholeheartedly. if Ren had been .

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


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

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

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

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

He asked dozens of what if questions. Kadam liked to analyze the plan from several different viewpoints. Get out. Then.Find Ren. he . 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. What made it complicated was that Mr. He prepared for every contingency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kadam blushed. he said that we had plenty of time and that Ren would need a while to recover. wiser men in the tribe.had a portion. the bowls were passed around again. Musical instruments were brought out.” “My hand?” .” “They think I have two fully grown sons?” “Goddesses can remain young and beautiful forever. Well. Kadam translated. Mr. They began chanting and dancing.” “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.” “I see. The Baiga began celebrating in earnest. but I will remember this victory fine on my own. what. “They are asking if you would like a tattoo to commemorate your husband’s victory over the evil one. Just out of curiosity. Two women approached me with bowls of black liquid and spoke. I used my canteen to clean my hands and tried to be patient as the Baiga moved on to the next ritual.” “Show them your hand. thank them for me. They’ve seen you use the Golden Fruit and believe you are a goddess. Miss Kelsey. ” “I wish that were true. do they think Kishan is?” “They believe he is our son and that we are here to rescue our other son. or who. “They believe you are my wife. my mate. When I whispered to Kishan that time was of the essence. ” “Who do they think I’m married to?” Mr. This process continued until all the food was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and that he would watch over us and protect us even if it broke his heart. “I told you that’s not what happened.” . then talked about meeting myself .” he replied. but that Ren had argued with him. I spoke of how Kishan apparently wanted one of the sisters for a wife. Kishan scowled. how Lokesh got away. She rolled her eyes and commiserated with me as she sipped her nectar. “There’s nothing to forgive. bilauta. The problem was that it worked only on the guns and cars I could see. I told her I had disguised myself as the Baiga servant who was helping Lokesh. I described the gumball shower.” He smiled sadly. “Why not. 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. I stammered.” “Shall I pick up the story from here?” I asked softly. “I…apologize for doubting you. Please forgive me. which I assumed was the reason Ren punched me in the jaw.a man telling me that I could choose another. 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. 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. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.A special thanks to my brother Jared and his wife Suki. and without whose services. who patiently described. my tigers would never have seen the printed page. assistant at The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for allowing me to use quotes from the Dalai Lamas. I would also like to express appreciation for Tsultrim Dorjee. all the martial arts moves so I would have better fight scenes. and even demonstrated. .