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Jack & Djinn
copyright © 2012 Amber Sweetapple edited by Alexis Arendt formatting by Jason G Anderson This is a work of fiction. All persons, events, and locales are either fictitious or used fictitiously. References to any real people, places or events are meant solely to provide a sense of authenticity and reality.
Thank you to my wonderful husband and kids, my parents, and my fabulous beta readers. You rock!
Chapter 1: Now
The body was completely immolated, burned beyond recognition into a charred pile of bones and teeth. Detective Carson Hale knelt beside the pitiful remains of what had once been a person, prodding a femur with the tip of his pen. “Damn, Jenn,” he said, “There’s just nothing left. I mean, nothing.” They were at MGM Grand Detroit, in the lowest level of the parking garage. A janitor had found the body, if you could call it that. Carson stood up and wiped the pen on his pants leg, wishing he hadn’t just poked a dead body with it. He had a tendency to chew on his pens. “I know,” Jenn answered. A twenty-year veteran of the Detroit PD, Jenn Lawrence was a thin, athletic woman of forty-three, ten years older than Carson. She glanced down at the skeleton in disgust and confusion. “What I can’t figure out is what could do this to a body? I mean, I’m not even sure how we’ll get a positive ID on it.” “Not only that, but there’s no other evidence of fire.
Look around, Jenn. For a fire to get hot enough to do this to a body, there would have to be some kind of evidence of the fire, right? But there’s nothing. No scorch marks on the floors, the walls, or even the ceiling, which isn’t that far above my head.” “Maybe the body was torched intentionally? Like with accelerant or something?” Carson could tell Jenn was prodding him to think it through. She had probably come to her own conclusions, but she wanted Carson to figure it out for himself, since she still considered him a rookie, even though this was his sixth year on homicide. “I don’t know, though,” Carson said. “If that was the case, wouldn’t there be burn marks on the floors, where lit accelerant splashed off the body to the floor? A person lit on fire panics, you know? It takes time for them to die, so they run around, knock into things. There should be smears on the walls where the victim slammed into it, but there’s not. It’s like the victim was lit on fire where they stood, and then burned down to this little pile almost instantly.” “Okay, let’s forget the body for a second.” Jenn glanced around at the taped-off crime scene. It was in a distant corner of the garage, a dead end where
there’s a pool of blood over there. “What else do we know? Anything?” “Well. “I don’t know. I’m guessing we have a doublehomicide. I’d say this is definitely from a second person. The pistol and the casings are near the burned victim. trying to piece together a scenario based on the few immediate facts they had. “We’re probably looking for a second body. I don’t think they’ll be setting anyone on . based on the amount of blood that’s here. “You’re right about that.” “There’re four shell casings over there and a nine millimeter pistol near the body. nearer where the burned skeleton was.few cars were ever parked. “It’s a big pool of blood. “If someone is shot four times. though. It was dried and tacky. I don’t think it’s from this guy here.” Jenn examined the blood. but less than a day. so several hours old. as if it was dropped when the victim was torched.” Carson pointed to a third spot. however that happened.” Jenn objected.” Carson pointed to a spot a few feet away from the skeleton. which makes me think he or she was the shooter.” Carson was conjecturing out loud.
not to mention trackin’ ‘em all down. officer. Gettin’ any of ‘em to tell you a straight story. you know that. and see where that leads us. I wasn’t here till mebbe five o’clock this evenin’. “I don’t know nothin’. and you’re tellin’ me this all happened late last night or early this mornin’. The shifts’ve all changed since then. Carson didn’t like the manager. the next step is to print the gun and the casings. I think we’re looking for another body and a third person. Mr. But we got dozens of waitresses and security and janitors. He even had a squeaky voice. Rat claimed.” Mr. agitated little man. Carson thought of him. “I swear it. Ratty. dictating his report to a patrol officer. We got a staff that runs in the hundreds. Rat.” They went back into the casino and found the manager in his office. even if they saw somethin’ is gonna be quite a chore. and nervous fingers. shuffled his feet as if he’d like to run away if he could. This place is huge. the killer. He was a short.” “Either way. shifting eyes. I’ll tell you what I can do is I’ll put the word . beady. I can’t tell you nothin’ but who was on schedule last night and when they’ll be on again. with a sharp nose.fire. Wouldn’t look you in the eye.
and got nowhere. Carson had a feeling that this was going to be a tricky case. like any parking garage. The thing is.” Carson hated to admit it. but Mr. Some were like that. six-foot-three frame into the unmarked Impala. As he swung his muscular. There was simply no way they could spend the time hunting down all the possible people who could have seen something. the body wasn’t dumped. No matter which way he looked at it. Ratty was right. There were boxes full of unsolved cold cases back at the precinct. it had . he couldn’t make sense of it. There was something about the way the body was burned that kept turning over in Carson’s head. so anyone could’ve wandered in and my staff wouldn’t’ve seen nothin’ anyway. You started out with very little to go on. that one’s open to the street.out to the staff that if anyone knows anythin’ to tell me and I’ll pass it along to you. especially when there was no evidence the victim or victims had ever been in the casino in the first place. Had the body been burned somewhere else and dumped in the garage? That made no sense whatsoever.
The prints belonged to Benjamin Omar: 29. Rented an apartment in downtown Royal Oak. They had to ID the body first. Carson tried to dismiss the mystery for the moment. Besides. served two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U. If it had been dumped.fallen. So now they had a positive . why would someone dump a dead. but until they had a positive ID on the body.S. No priors except for a few parking tickets and a speeding ticket. but there was no footage of the crime itself. They went back to the precinct and had the pistol and the casings tested for fingerprints. A subsequent search of Omar’s military records resulted in dental records matching that of the body found in the MGM Grand parking garage. or they’d be dead in the water. burnt-to-a-crisp body in a casino parking garage? A gambling debt? That was one possibility. some bones still touching where they had been joined by tissue. Marine Corps. the bones would be disarranged into a jumbled pile. it was still just conjecture. The security cameras had a few images that might be connected to the crime. LebaneseAmerican. The way the bones were arranged suggested the body had toppled over dead on the spot.
the one time I saw her with it down. when he signed the lease. “Not well. when I see him in the hallway. a portly older man with yellow. nicotine-stained teeth and long. but some. you know. “Miriam. that Miriam. Yeah. I guess. unkempt hair and grizzled beard. and there was only one neighbor home to interview. “Er. The next day. glancing at Jenn and shifting tactics.” “Does he have a girlfriend?” Carson asked. Carson and Jenn drove up to his apartment complex in Royal Oak and spoke to the apartment manager.ID on the body and place to start.” “Did she and Ben get along?” Carson asked. Matthew Hackett. Spent two years fightin’ that war in Afghanistan.” Matt answered. She’s real purty. Beautiful girl. real long brown hair. Mebbe five-five. “Yeah. I know Ben a little.” Matt claimed in a rough drawl. He’s nice enough to me. Had a real nice set of–” Matt trailed off with his hands cupped in front of his chest. Nice girl. “Anyone who comes over on a regular basis?” “Oh yeah. I hear ‘em arguin’ a . The apartment manager claimed he’d only met Ben once. Matt was a retiree. “Most of the time. nearly down to her waist.
“Well…” Matt shifted uncomfortably. Why she stays with Ben.” This got Carson’s attention. “I ain’t done nothing’. “So yeah.” “So you watch your neighbors?” Jenn interjected. anyways? He finally went too far. flushing red. but I ain’t seen him in a while. I just watch her go. mostly him yellin’ at her. she usually leaves late at night. She don’t stay over though. Mister Hackett? Does Ben mistreat her?” “Well. but I ain’t tryin’ to listen in. is that it? Ben’s usually home long before now. a bit. “He’s dead?” Matt was shocked. you know?” The more agitated he got. “What does that mean.good bit.” “We are currently investigating Mister Omar’s death. I don’t sleep much you know. Is there anything else you can tell me?” . make sure she gets out to the street okay. what’s this about.” Carson said. I feel bad for her. I’ve heard him smack her a few times. they ain’t too thick. These walls. you know? So I hear. I don’t know. the thicker his Southern drawl became. she’s had a black eye every now and again. Mister Hackett. Say. “How’d he die? You think Miriam did it?” “I can’t divulge the details of the case.
“Well. the burning question was if he would find her dead or alive.Matt thought before answering. a huge flat screen TV. An expensive but faded leather couch and loveseat. with a box of 9mm shells and spare clips next to them. if it wasn’t already. . Try the bar. except a picture of Ben’s Marine unit on a side table. no artwork or decorations of any kind. Other than that. There were a few bills lying on the dining room table. I think Miriam lives right near the bar. I heard ‘em talkin’ about that a few times. they both worked at the Taproom down the street. Miriam. Ben’s apartment had yielded little new evidence. Made that connection obvious. there was nothing else.” They checked Ben’s apartment and found it fairly spartan. Carson needed to find Miriam. you might find something useful there. the real lead was the interview with the neighbor regarding Ben’s girlfriend. Ben’s apartment seemed like somewhere he slept and that was about it.
She felt a hand grab her backside as she passed. but Ben’s hand flashed out and latched on with crushing force. wearing a green John Deere trucker hat and a flannel shirt. “Keep your filthy hands to yourself. knowing exactly how painful Ben’s grip was.” Ben growled. hefted it to her shoulder and moved out into the bustle of the bar. She placed the last high-ball onto the round black tray. and reached for her again. and she halted in her tracks. full of drunks watching the Tigers play. “If I see you touch my waitress again. Miriam winced in sympathy. holding the tray above her head at times. She had to navigate carefully. cursing at the owner of the hand. He seemed calm enough. I’ll throw you out on your ass.Chapter 2: Then Miriam watched Ben pour the tequila into the shaker. round-faced man of about forty. but it was always hard to tell. you understand me?” . The Taproom was bustling. winked. He just leered. asshole. leaning down over the customer. trying to gauge his mood. a sweaty.
” the man said. Not my girlfriend. Ben clamped down harder. Ben bellowed out the last call and cashed Miriam and the others out. baby?” Ben snatched a ticket from the printer. “He just copped a feel.“Yeah.” “It is a big deal. coming and going like clouds drifting across the sun. Not in my bar.” “Ben. you don’t have to do that. “Just tell me if he does it again. until the man squirmed. Ben released him and sauntered back to the bar. “If he does it again. pal. Miriam thought. I getcha. The rest of the night passed without incident.” Great. You okay.” Ben glared at her. trying to tug his hand free. sure. I’ll be fine. but a bad mood would linger and very little could lift him out of it. He’d be in a bad mood the rest of the night. A good mood in Ben was mercurial. and closing time finally arrived. I’ll beat the shit out of him. “Thanks Ben.” He mixed the drinks and slid them to her. “Yeah. By the . tell me. A bad mood for Ben meant a bad night for Miriam. Miriam dropped off the rest of her drinks and went back to the service bar with her new orders. no big deal. With one last glare.” she said.
” Miriam hoped he would take the hint.” Ben grabbed her hand and rubbed her knuckles. Ben had shooed the last stubborn drinker out and counted the drawers. leaving Ben and Miriam standing in a pool of dull. but she knew better. They shut off the lights and left out the back.time they were done with their sidework. He knew how to manipulate her. He was kissing her neck as he unlocked his door. “Are you going to be nice?” “I’m always nice. “Just come over for a little bit. “You coming over?” Ben asked. The other waitresses scattered to their cars and drove off. His hand rubbed her thigh the whole way back to his apartment. because that would piss him off. I’m tired and I work a double tomorrow. She sighed and let him lead her to his battered S-10. She didn’t though. “I don’t know. and by the time they got to his bedroom. his palm moving in circles around the same spot until she wanted to bat his hand away in irritation. knowing what he wanted. he had her . Ben.” He stepped closer and looked down into her eyes. Miriam sighed. and she hated that. flickering orange light.
Ben didn’t notice. she would sometimes lay awake for hours. flushed. This wasn’t Ben’s doing. anytime. when her skin tightened and turned warm. he rolled over and went to sleep. She envied him that. and confused. then. she sat propped up with sheet around her chest. waiting for sleep to come. Miriam was surprised. Ben was as self-centered in bed as he was elsewhere: as soon as he finished. and this was the last thing she wanted. This time. There was another wave of heat and contraction. almost as if a circuit breaker had surged in her soul. something internal. Miriam was left breathless.shirt off and her pants unbuttoned. nonphysical. and then something popped inside of her. wondering about the odd sensation she’d just experienced. This was something else. but it was easier than trying to put him off. a brief. something told her. Eventually she shrugged it off and dressed as quietly . her muscles contracting and pulsing as a rush of adrenaline crashed through her. then hot. snoring as soon as his head hit the pillow. miniature explosion. anywhere. he was already unconscious. He could fall asleep instantly. She was tired and her feet hurt.
and he had had a different phone. she thought. puzzled. thinking she must be mistaken. but he was a light sleeper. visualizing him standing behind the bar. but they were empty. a next-gen iPhone. was brand new. Something odd had happened tonight. She knew his phone all too well. this is where he always puts his phone. keys on the microwave. shoes in the front closet. she noticed Ben’s cell phone sitting on the bedside table.as she could. then. saying he couldn’t wait to upgrade because his was already obsolete. leaning back and tapping on the keys of his Blackberry with one thumb. even when he was drunk. She thought back. phone on the bedside table. Miriam shook her head. It never varied. She couldn’t get rid of the idea as she walked back to the bar. as he was always on it. He was always complaining about his phone too. however. As she slipped her shoes on. She went over and picked it up. Ben was snoring. She was sure she had seen him sending a text earlier in the night. The phone sitting by his bed. just released. sending a text or checking sports scores. but she . She knew his routine: walk in. No. She checked his pants pockets.
vulnerable and unconscious…No way. She didn’t drive it much anymore since she lived above the bar where she worked.” Miriam stood up from the table and stretched. The idea of sleeping next to Ben. She’d learned that the hard way. it’s Ben. which only frustrated him more. and had over two hundred thousand miles on it. rapping on the screen door. It was old. trying to delay letting him in. no matter what time it was. and ugly. Asleep. He never understood why she insisted on going home to her own apartment. Her ex-boyfriend. Miriam! Open up. but it had been her home and her only possession for over a year. If she was awake. but sleeping together? That was totally different. The parking lot of the bar was abandoned. She didn’t know how to explain it either. except for Miriam’s ancient Volvo. He’d be pissed she left last night. “Hey.couldn’t figure out what. . *** Ben showed up the next morning. she was helpless. Sex was one thing. She smiled at the rusted gray sedan. she had some kind of control over what happened. remembering how long she’d lived in it after her Mom had left.
had had a psychotic break in the middle of the night. all were unpredictable. She couldn’t seem to find guys who were stable. inside and out. She’d grabbed hold of the lamp on the bedside stand and brained him with it.Nick. “Chill out. . “I don’t get it. really. She had woken up with a hand over her mouth. Ben. Typical. They weren’t bad. saying. They were just difficult and abusive. She wanted to love them. but it was the easiest way. just took. and his voice was harsh and angry. All of them were moody. Never asked. Every time.” A lie. called her fat. his mad eyes wide and staring at her. Miri. she’d never slept over at a boyfriend’s house. but they only left her aching and bruised. “Why do you always leave?” There it was. a bitch. Some just called her names when they got mad. a whore…all the names they could think of just to hurt her. helping himself. Ben’s fist pounded on the screen now. a kitchen knife to her throat. “Let me in! Come on!” She pulled open the door and let him in. a slut. I was in the bathroom. He brushed past her and went straight for the cabinet and grabbed a coffee mug. cursed at her. Since then. dangerous—some were violent.
“I don’t want to argue. please. you’ll respect it. Ben.” Ben said. I don’t want to. His brown eyes were focused on her. He loomed over her.” “Respect it? How about you respect me for once. That touched a nerve.” “I’ve told you a hundred times. Miriam refilled her mug. Get out now.” “If you’re gonna be like this.” “I’m not trying to argue. then leave. stood up. Miriam clutched the coffee in her . I’m not ready for that. his muscular. set down his coffee mug. Ben. but you can’t sleep with me? That’s messed up. but that’s my decision. “So you can fuck me.” Ben lit a cigarette. and Miriam felt anger welling up inside her. “Get out. I’ll stay when I’m ready.” He narrowed his eyes. Just…let it go.” Miriam pointed to the door. and do what I ask. “Maybe it is.I’d really like it if you stayed sometimes. A vein in his forehead throbbed beneath his closecropped black hair. If you care about me. six-foot two-inch frame blocking her in.” His fingers tightened on the mug. I’m just trying to figure your crazy ass out. angry and dangerous. standing with her back to the counter.
smoking. then. grateful for the cool night air after the heat of the bar. ready to throw it at him if he lifted his fist. “I didn’t give it to .” he muttered. “Fuck you. At least he was sober this time. Ben was sitting on the stairs to her apartment. his new phone in his hand.” he said. horns honked as he peeled out in front of traffic. and by the time her shift ended at 11pm Miriam was thoroughly exhausted. That was nice gesture. waved to the manager on duty and left through the back. *** The double shift dragged by slowly. Tires squealed and his engine roared. I just wanted to say thanks for the phone. “Hey baby. She simply didn’t have the energy to fend him off— all she wanted was to collapse in bed. stomping out and slamming the door so hard it rattled the windows. It was a good thing Ben was off tonight. and turned on a heel. She hurried through her sidework. Miriam breathed a sigh of relief and locked the front door. Miriam gave him a quizzical look. He’d come back after he cooled off and want to make up.hands.
“Hmm. “Have you?” “A little. I had my old one when we left work the other night.” “Then I don’t want to come over. Miriam cursed under her breath. staggering slightly. You’re mean when you’ve been drinking. I thought you’d left it before you went home. Miriam. I’m sorry. just came out last month. Please? Just watch a movie with me. That’s odd. “I really don’t.” “Have you been drinking?” “What the hell does that have to with anything?” He stood up.” . slipped his phone in his pocket and tossed the butt of his cigarette to the ground.” Ben glanced at the phone and then to Miriam. I know I did. Just come over for a little bit.” he said.you. dismissing the subject. “Look Ben. Coupla beers. I thought you might wanna come over for a bit. “Anyway. These are brand new.” he said. I’ve been on my feet since eleven this morning.” He shrugged. I just want to go to bed.” she began.” “I’ve been waiting here for you for almost an hour. I’m really tired. I thought you’d bought it yourself. “I didn’t buy it.
Shit. When she didn’t immediately get out. yanked her out. This is going to be bad. threw the door open and lurched out. I promise. swerving on the road in the process. They pulled into the apartment and Ben swung his truck into his designated spot. It was so hard to tell with him. and if she resisted he would pitch a fit. Shit. He turned to glance at her. “Less go. Miriam thought. trying to hide against the door.” He stepped towards her. but there was a couple getting out of their car nearby.“I’ll be nice.” Ben slurred. She took his hand in hers and moved it lower down. His hand wandered over and clutched her leg. Miriam thought. shit. She got in his truck. He grabbed her arm and pulled her to the car. Rap buzzed from the speakers. Miriam sat in the cab. he lumbered over to her door and wrenched it open. wandered up to her crotch and fumbled there. wavering on his feet. the bass cranked loud enough to rumble in her gut. He was hammered. shit. not wanting to get out. . cause a scene. and she backed away. She wanted to pull free. he’s been drinking more than I thought. She fell to the ground.
A handprint was seared into his skin through his shirt.” she warned. pushing Ben away despite his greater strength. A lance of heat washed through her gut and set her blood alight. “Don’ tell me what to fuckin’ do. Ben was standing over her. fist cocked to strike again. He took another step towards her. a blackened palm-shaped brand burned several layers deep. Ben. nostrils flaring like a bull’s. He grabbed for her. He was cursing. she was burning up. pulling at the shirt tatters to keep it away from the open . slammed into the ground. backing away from him. beer–breath sour and overwhelming. NO. her skin was on fire. “Leave me alone. She struck Ben in the chest with a flattened palm and he stumbled backwards. bruising her tailbone and smacking her head against the ground. Stars exploded in her head and she fell backwards. hard fist cracking against her cheekbone. bitch. shoving Ben away. eyes rage-blurred and booze-hazed. not again. She straightened and snatched her arm free.scraped her hand on the grit of the asphalt. one hand bunched up in her shirtfront.” He lunged at her. her mind was an inferno of rage. “Ben! Stop!” She was yelling now. She was standing up somehow.
She struck back. saw a man wearing a motorcycle helmet pulling Ben away and punching him in the gut. she was sure. helped her to her feet. Ben was across the intervening space and his fists were pummeling her face and ribs. glancing up at Miriam in shock and fear. Ribs were broken. and the stranger rushed over to Miriam. she laid her head against his back. shoving him to the ground and kicking him. asshole!” Miriam looked up.wound. helped her on. Gentle hands guided her to a motorcycle. Ben curled up and covered his head. distant and muffled. the fire gone. “Hey! Leave her alone. and at least one eye was going to be black within minutes. pulled her arms around his waist. ducked and blocked as best she could. Her savior twisted the throttle . but he was unstoppable and she was sobbing. his voice kind and deep and musical. breathing through the throbbing pain. “Come on!” the stranger said. replaced by agony. Before she could register what had just happened. begging. The beating stopped abruptly and she heard a voice. His abs were rock hard through his thin Tshirt.
really seeing him for the first time. should I take you to a hospital?” Miriam shook her head. put one hand on her shoulder. “I didn’t know where to take you. vivid blue eyes. “I guess that’s a stupid question. He guided the motorcycle out of the parking lot and onto the main road. messy light brown hair and liquid. He was six feet tall. Miriam closed her eyes and focused on pushing down the tears of pain and anger. angular features.” Miriam breathed. so I figured here would do. She looked at the man who had rescued her. “Are you hurt?” He laughed out loud. zipping around slower-moving cars and trucks. “I’ll be fine. the broken ribs making it hard to talk. a gentle touch. strangely comforting. He pulled into an empty parking lot and skidded to a stop.and the back tire squealed. not wanting be alone in an empty apartment.” “It’s fine. then?” Miriam shook her head again. “Am I bleeding?” He shook his head. She realized she had worked through her lunch break and was starving.” “Do you want me to take you home. He wasn’t brawny or . What I mean is. helping Miriam off the bike. with attractive.
Are you sure you’re okay?” . no sense of violence or selfishness. and I don’t want to go home. “I’m hungry. not physically imposing or scary. He exuded confidence and kindness. which made him all the more attractive to her: there wasn’t a hint of arrogance about him. “Thanks for stopping Ben.” she told him. by the way.muscular like Ben. setting her heart to thudding. He didn’t crush her hand like Ben had the first time she met him. “I’m Jack. “How about food?” Miriam asked. to sit on the bike behind him with her arms around his hard stomach again. He was unlike anyone she’d ever met before. He’ll look for me there.” “I couldn’t let him keep hitting you.” He thrust his hand at her. “Miriam. but there was still something about him that was intensely masculine.” She shook his hand. I have two little sisters. He was really beating the shit outta you. saying. feeling his body tense and shift as they rode the motorcycle.” He nodded. “There’s a National Coney Island not far away. Jack Byrne. His grip was firm but gentle. but rather toned and wiry. She felt herself wanting to be near him. not toughlooking or intimidating.
But it wasn’t as simple as just leaving Ben.” “Why don’t you leave him?” Jack asked. won’t be the last. and she wasn’t about to explain her whole life to him.” “Well. “Okay.” she said. “Wasn’t the first time. She expected him to push the issue. I would just like to go on record as saying that there are guys out there that won’t treat you like shit. He looks like he’s a beast. swung a leg over his bike and held his . treated her nicely. “It’s complicated. “He was wasted tonight.” Inwardly. do you wanna go?” He gave her his helmet to put on. He’d bolt in a split second if he knew the half of it. It would be nice. I’m not that stupid. didn’t pound on her when he was drunk or yell at her and call her horrible names. Miriam wondered what it would be like to date a guy who actually took care of her.” “You have no idea. which was good for you. “Oh.She wasn’t. Your business. but he just nodded and said. it’s complicated.” Jack laughed. but next time it won’t be that easy. not mine. I have no intention of tangling with him sober.” She had just met this guy. Like I said. but she didn’t want to let on. “You’d better be careful.” “I know.
. making her all but forget her injuries. They got a table in a corner. felt a thrill run through her at his touch. it’s just that I saw your boyfriend hit you in the face. but she’d never experienced it. tightening for balance as they peeled out of the parking lot. a couple times. National was crowded. looking at her curiously. She took his hand in hers. “Well. As she sugared her coffee. Not even a mark. “What?” She asked. He was right. It was strange. Nothin’ at all. and nerve-wracking. she’d never felt this way.hand out for Miriam. She prodded her face. You should have a black eye by now. and thrilling. ordered coffee and chili-cheese fries. Jack tilted his head and leaned forward. her stomach in her throat. like. Even when she first started dating Ben. even at twelve-thirty in the morning. She’d always heard about getting butterflies in your stomach when you met a guy.” Miriam pulled a compact out of her purse. Her heart pounded crazily when she wrapped her arms around him. she didn’t have a mark on her.” “I don’t?” “Nope.
which was crazy. She half-hoped he would. The last thing she needed was complications. I feel fine. Before she could second-guess herself. but she didn’t want to ask. “Thanks for…you know.” she said. She stretched her torso. She felt an attraction to . She was standing a step up so she was level with Jack’s eyes.” “He walloped the hell out of you. She wanted to kiss him. and felt no pain there either. Miriam. Jack was watching her wistfully. but it’s… weird. Jack took Miriam back to her apartment. I mean. and they lingered on the steps. They chatted idly over chili cheese fries and coffee.” Miriam thought about the handprint on Ben’s chest. “Odd. not looking back until she was at her door. Had Jack seen that? She didn’t think so. saving me and all. You shouldn’t be fine. and kissing Jack would definitely complicate things. one foot on the first step as if he was about to follow her up. she waved and ascended the steps.expecting to feel the twinge of bruised tissue. the rush of heat she’d felt. Nothing. the black of night tinged with gray. I’m glad you are. Miriam careful to keep the conversation neutral.
though: “Miriam. the day was mostly gone and she was tired. and by the time she got off at 8 or 9. She’d known him for a matter of hours. That was the last thing she needed. She’d rather just close and be done with it. even doubles were okay. She shook herself. She let the door slam shut. kiss his lips and tangle her fingers in his hair. Miriam worked a midshift. *** The next day came all too early.him that was dangerous in its intensity. Opening was fine. No way. She did listen to one of the voicemails. threw herself on her couch and listened to the roar of his motorcycle recede. which she hated. but she couldn’t make herself answer. Closing meant she could avoid Ben. Showing up at 1pm meant there wasn’t enough time to really get a lot done before work. But god… did she want it. but mids were the worst.” Ben’s voice said. He’d been texting her and calling her nonstop. gentle hands on her body. “I’m sorry if . dreaming of impossible things. thinking of his eyes on hers. closing was fine. and she wanted to feel his strong. it’s me. who tended to work dayshifts.
Her car . telling herself to go home and catch up on Grey’s Anatomy .things…got out of hand. Larry. I’m not entirely sure. She’d spent the entire morning trying to come up with an explanation. her thoughts returning to Jack more than they should have. She was trying to convince herself. ‘accidentally. which would make things a lot easier. and how she could arrange to see him. staring at Jack’s scrawled name and phone number. Miriam sat on the stainless steel counter in the kitchen. since the bar was dead.” Miriam felt a rush of hope when heard that. Call me when you get off work. She found herself waiting for drinks at the service bar. was cutting her a few minutes before six. staring at the liquor bottles and wondering where he was. her manager. Maybe now she didn’t have to. behind the order pad. and she was losing the argument. so he might not remember Jack at all. cashing out. I hope I didn’t do anything…bad. He thought he’d blacked out.’ He’d given her a business card for the auto garage where he worked. I must’ve had too much to drink and blacked out or something. She had the card in her server book. Bye. Miriam dragged herself through the day.
It couldn’t hurt anything to just see him. She Googled the address of Jack’s garage on her phone as she pulled away in her rattling old Volvo. Just don’t. She pocketed her tips and went upstairs to change. she’d gone out with him once and here she was pining over him. the feel of his hard abs through his thin T-shirt. she reasoned. Go watch Grey’s. There was no reason for her to wear a low-cut top. his strong back against her face as she held on to him for balance. or to put on makeup. but she did. It was crazy. She thought of how close she had come to kissing him. girl.did need brake work. even now. You’ll end up going somewhere with him. it could. after all. and she knew it. She’d just met him. You won’t just see him. remembering the warm pierce of his eyes on her. the logical side of herself answered. and how much she wanted to. and he’ll be charming and perfect and you’ll be screwed. Logic lost the argument when she thought of Jack. his hands rough and strong in hers. could it? Yes. Don’t go down that road. . still telling herself to be sensible and stay home. or to redo her hair. She should just go home.
Sure.finally having given up the pretense. but she didn’t really have the money for it. a few cracked plastic chairs around a cheap coffee pot and a couple of Auto Trader magazines on a coffee table. a fifteen minute drive away. hoping for a glimpse of Jack. There was a pile of tires in one corner. The front office smelled like oil and old coffee. “Can I help you. her car did need work. “They’re squealing when I stop. what’s wrong with ‘em?” Doyle tossed the rag onto the counter. and she knew it. A thickset. A patch on his coveralls read Doyle. digging in his ear with a pudgy forefinger. She was going to see Jack.” Miriam said. “Okay. He looked up when the little bell attached to the door tinkled. “Well. and shuddering . wiping his hands on a rag and staring at a computer monitor. trying to peer past him into the garage. I need my brakes looked at. balding man in blue mechanics coveralls sat behind the counter. She found the garage without problem. It was just an excuse. well. darlin’?” He had a slight Irish accent and brown eyes.
“Miriam! I wasn’t expecting to see you…I mean. do I? A girl! A pretty one!” Jack entered the office. “Why sure he is! Why didn’t you ask in the first place? I ain’t gonna bite you. as if she had said something hysterical. She shifted to one side.” She heard Jack’s voice call out. but now that she was here. Doyle glanced behind himself and back to Miriam. tipping over so far Miriam was sure he’d fall over. but–” he cut himself off. I’m glad you’re here. “Is Jack here?” Doyle laughed. wiping his hands on his pants leg. .” She didn’t really care about the brakes. an uproarious belly laugh. she was finding it hard to come out and ask for Jack. seeing a flash of blond hair from underneath a car. “Jackie!” He bellowed. nodded.when I get off the freeway. “A girl? Who is it?” “Well I don’t know. Jackie-boy! There’s a girl here to see you. I’ll get him. “Hey. then?” Miriam blushed. “Are you lookin’ for someone. you know. unsure how to respond.” He leaned backward in the chair. Hang on a tick. Miriam just stared at him. loud enough that Miriam flinched.
she wasn’t sure what to do next. hoping he’d see through it. “Well. “I really do need my brakes fixed. And sexy…” Miriam heard the words come out of her mouth. If only he knew how true that was.” “There’s only like a hundred garages closer to you than this one. And the mechanics at those other garages are all ugly. coming around the counter and walking her out into the early evening sunlight. “but I was hoping you’d cut me a deal. “No.” Miriam gave the excuse. smearing grease across his forehead and eliciting a laugh from Miriam. .grabbed the rag and wiped his face with it.” she protested. “You know you just came to see me. Now that she was here with him. And rude. but they never seemed to get any cleaner.” Jack was rubbing his hands on his coveralls. sure.” Jack said. “Yeah.” “And that makes me…what?” “Nice. She wouldn’t have minded a little grease.” he teased. “Yeah. but she hadn’t meant to say them. I needed brake work….” Miriam said. if she could feel his hands on her.
emerging twenty minutes later. a little awkwardly. There was a guy walking out to his car. “Thanks?” Miriam went for broke: “But you’re right. “Not everyone. sounds good. I can’t thank you enough for what you did the other night. I’m off in like twenty minutes. just like that.” she told him. Do you wanna grab a burger or something?” Miriam told herself she shouldn’t. revealing a white tank-top and hard. toned arms. “Listen. I just have to finish this car real quick. It’s happened before. a Celtic knot tattooed on his left bicep with what she guessed was Gaelic script underneath .Jack laughed.” Jack shook his head. Jack was as good as his word. I really did come to see you. “Sure. the top of his coveralls unzipped and thrown back.” Miriam shook her head. and he started to say something.” Jack’s eyes hardened. Just go home. “Anyone in their right mind would’ve done the same thing. feeling butterflies in her stomach.” “Fuckin’ coward. but Ben just glared at him and the guy left.
sitting behind Jack on his bike. “Make yourself at home. she realized.” He swept an arm at the apartment. pulling his shirt off on the way. though. It smelled of oil paint and turpentine. shrugged. but nothing Miriam could identify. “I’ve gotta clean up real quick. but the painting is where my heart really is. and she flipped through them carefully. where a TV might usually go.it. I’ll be quick. although her thoughts followed him into the bathroom. Miriam turned away. There were landscapes. A canvas sat on an easel in a corner of the living room. He was talented. still-lifes. an aging red brick two-story building. Jack followed her gaze. so I don’t quit my day-job.” He stepped into the bathroom. a neat and sparselyfurnished one-bedroom. “I love to paint. Making money as an artist is nearly impossible. Miriam left her car at the garage. He took her to his apartment. The garage pays the bills. There were faint pencil sketches on the canvas. portraits. Okay?” Miriam just nodded and followed him to a second-floor apartment. One painting in . although she was no artist herself. A stack of canvasses leaned against the wall near the galley kitchen.
Miriam felt some coiled energy deep in her core expand and unleash. and at the moment of contact the painting began to dance and waver. the candle and wick just barely visible at the bottom of the canvass. became impossibly real. She . his voice at her ear. she had to release it somehow. Staring at the painted flame. so hot she thought it might scorch her skin and catch her clothes on fire. The push of power was consuming her. gasping. sending waves of heat from her in distorted shimmers. see it wavering and dancing in the darkness. Jack spoke up from behind her. she jumped. Miriam extended a finger to touch the image of the flame. burning her. She could feel the heat radiating from his body. the wax caught mid-drip and pooling near the wick. as if she could feel its heat. “Like it?” he asked. pressing on her chest so hard she couldn’t breathe. she had to get it out. It looked as if it could resume flickering any moment. She felt heat coming from the painting.particular caught her eye. When her hand left the surface of the canvas the dancing candle flame went still. a depiction of a candle flame seen from close up. returning to dead paint. The flame seemed hypnotic to Miriam.
knowing she shouldn’t. a flutter . but where her fingers brushed his skin she felt an electric tingling. loosening it. She took a deep breath and turned to face him. Her fingers followed the rolled rim of the towel. She was almost thirty. looking like it might fall of at the slightest touch. forced her hands to stay at her sides. “Really? I would love it.didn’t have to turn around to know he would be still wet. and blushing. She hadn’t blushed since high school. not certain whether she was talking about him or the painting anymore. hair mussed and damp. It would go great in my room. “You can have it. returning it in the tone of his words and the smile in his eyes. looking down at her. then.” He was inches away. She forced her gaze upward.” she said. tracing the lines of his abdominal muscles. He seemed to have caught her accidental double entendre.” he said. She hadn’t meant to touch him. if you like it that much. What was wrong with her? “I’ll bring it over sometime.” She was sure she was blushing. “It’s amazing. Miriam’s hands were lifting on their own. inching it farther downward. drifting toward the V where his torso met his hips and groin. a thin towel wrapped around angular hips.
pushing him towards his bedroom. and Jack dismissed it. I’ve never bought a candle in my life. Did you bring it?” Miriam just shook her head. It was a plain white candle. “That’s weird. “I’m hungry. Jack stopped in his tracks. confused.” Jack complied. thick and round. with wax pooled near the wick and spilling over to drip in clumps down the length of the candle. or tried to.of wings in her belly. Miriam noticed a candle flickering on the counter in the kitchen.” she told him. “Should I blow out the candle?” Miriam asked. She stepped away before her hands helped the towel fall off. The drips had not yet reached the countertop. “Go get dressed. As they walked out. but she pushed the thought from her head. No . “What candle?” Miriam shrugged and crossed the room to blow out the candle. Miriam dismissed it from her mind. but the image of the dancing candle flame on the canvas stuck in the back of her mind. Miriam had an idea where it may have come from. a little reluctantly. She was sure it hadn’t been there before. although he glanced back at it before he shut his door.
” Jack said. waiting for Miriam to order before he did.” He paused for a split second before he . his cell phone rang and he answered it. Jack took her to Mr. “Yeah. Hey. Right? It was just her imagination. We’re having a get-together next weekend. She’d just imagined the painting coming to life. and he was finalizing plans.way. got them a pitcher of Killian’s and a plate of cheese sticks. “That was my older brother. Jack laughed. Halfway through the meal. He kept the conversation light. not needing to fill it with endless chatter. and Miriam was grateful. just to fill the silence. She was used to Ben ordering for her. able to sit and peruse the menu in companionable silence. I have…two brothers and two sisters. Maybe one of Jack’s sisters had brought him a candle and he’d just forgotten. freaking out about every little thing she said. you should come. getting offended. Jack was calm and confident. having been an only child. spoke briefly and ended the call. That was it. was always curious about people with siblings. B’s. “Sorry. always talking talking talking.” “You have a brother?” Miriam. taking her to fancy restaurants and buying bottles of expensive wine.
I have three brothers. It had been…just so real. strung up by a noose around his neck. Joe…” Jack hesitated. She tilted her head in a silent question. almost crying. Jack. wishing she could comfort him somehow. exactly like I’d dreamed. I guess. I’m so sorry! I had no idea. “I cut the rest of school and ran all the way home. “Oh god.” she said.’—a slight thing. and Miriam wished she hadn’t pushed the subject. I woke up halfway through class. “Joe hung himself when I was fifteen. but Miriam noticed it. I fell asleep during history class and had this intense dream.” “Technically?” There was a sadness in his eyes. So now I only have two brothers. as if dismissing the memory.” He waved his hand. It felt like…like a memory that hadn’t happened yet. a chair kicked over beneath him. sweating. technically. It was weird though. knowing what I’d find. as if wishing she had missed it. “My oldest brother. Jack shook his head. And I did find him. It didn’t feel like a dream. It . “Well. where I came home from school and found Joe in the garage.said ‘two. drank from his beer.
I was an only child. My family is a riot at parties.” A hint of Irish crept into his voice. Well. My sisters always wanted an extra girl in the family anyhow. She couldn’t wrap her brain around it.was still a raw.” Jack took a drink and changed the subject. “Dozens of drunk Irishmen? We’ll all be your siblings. It’ll be fun. wondering what he was thinking. “What about you? Any siblings?” Miriam shook her head.” He took her home well past midnight. staring into his wide blue eyes. They were at that awkward distance. There was a lot there that she didn’t want to explain.” “Oh it will be.” She tried to imagine what it would be like to have that much family. “Ah. lemme tell ya. Apparently he felt her unspoken desire to talk about something else. How could you? It was a long time ago. It sounds like fun. These family get-togethers are always a right crazy ruckus. his eyes searching her for something. apparently. “Of course you didn’t. “I’d like that. He nodded. painful memory. you should come to the party next weekend. Not yet. “No.” She hoped he didn’t ask for details. as my grandpa says. . Once again she found herself standing a step up from him.
hesitantly. and this endeared him to her all the more. not pulling away. he was as nervous as she was. but it was far too late. his fingers found this gap. not moving closer. feeling her resistance and giving her the chance to pull away. kissed him back. making her scalp tighten and every sense heighten so she could . Miriam froze with hands at her sides. Jack broke the tension by kissing her. His arms were around her waist. warm palms sliding up her spine and she couldn’t resist anymore. Time slowed and stilled.not quite close enough to kiss. at the small of her back. but almost. exposing a strip of skin above the waistband of her pants. She hesitated. and Miriam felt the same odd rush of warmth in her gut. Her shirt was hiked up in the back. pressed her body against his. heat spreading throughout her. her eyes locked on his. trying to keep things simple. setting her skin alight. She could feel his heart hammering wildly. His lips were soft. exploring tentatively. leaned in against him and tangled her fingers in his hair. felt his exploring hands tremble against the flesh of her back near her bra strap. trying to resist. and he kissed her gently.
but she couldn’t help it: Ben had never. had never kissed her so passionately. visible desire. aftershave and paint and leather. had never touched her the way Jack was touching her now. not drowning.” Miriam laughed. ever looked at her like Jack was looking at her now. hissing between his teeth. suddenly. like physically hot to the touch. she was drowning. He looked at her…Miriam tried to categorize how Ben looked at . you’re hot too. She knew it wasn’t fair to compare them. she was being consumed by the fires within her… Jack was the first to pull away. or singe Jack. beautiful. She had thought for a moment that she might actually burst into flame. He was looking at her with obvious hunger. Miriam was breathless.hear Jack’s heart beating and felt every brush of his hands on her skin like arcing electricity and she could smell him. “God. glad he wasn’t bolting in fear. Ben touched her as if he owned her. his hands resting on the swell of her hips. as if he had a right to her. but burning up. He grinned at her. so he could sleep with her.” He looked at his palms as if expecting so see the skin melted. He kissed her as part of foreplay. “I mean. you’re…you’re hot. in the other sense–like. no.
” Jack said. “You’re trying to . I can’t do this with you. “Did I do something wrong?” he asked. but he was coming up the steps toward her. I shouldn’t have–I’m sorry. He was perceptive. and I’m thankful for that. and couldn’t. I mean. turning around but not descending. She couldn’t let him think this was his fault. You stopped Ben. She didn’t trust herself to get near him again. or whatever.” She turned and ran up the stairs. you didn’t do anything. and that would only get him hurt. You’ve been so nice to me…too nice.” she said. “You didn’t do anything. Jack. “I know what it is. and the desire in his eyes washed away her logic. “Just that I’m sorry. I can’t do this. Bad. Or wrong. I just met you. “I promise. Ownership. and…” She tried to think of a better reason. Miriam paused halfway up the steps. leaving Jack there.her. “What are you thinking?” Jack asked. He’d want to continue this–this whatever this was. I mean. again? Contempt? Smug possession seemed to be the most apt term. Her face must have betrayed her thoughts. She could hear the hurt and confusion in his voice. “Just…” she couldn’t tell Jack what she feeling.
I just know Ben. and what he’ll do to me. I don’t want to see you get hurt. You just met me. “Listen Jack. I’d be pissing myself. You’re his girl and he’d kill me for even looking at you. saying exactly what she had always wanted to hear. I get it. “He looks like he could rip my arm off and beat me with it. “I–no. a wry edge to his voice. She took a deep breath. He had burrowed under her walls somehow and found her vulnerable heart. Jack. and it scared the hell out of her.” Jack said.” She wasn’t making any sense. Not for me.” “I’m sure he’s a badass. yeah. You’re afraid of him finding out about us. But what if I don’t care? What if I’m willing to take that risk?” “Don’t be stupid. two or three of them at a time. A little.” She backed up a step. “You’re amazing. tried again. I mean. But it’s not that I don’t think you can take care of yourself. I mean that. You’re right.” He was two steps below her now. I guess.protect me. I’ve watched him take a beating most men couldn’t survive and get back up. Miriam. .” He was getting too close. He’s…you don’t want to mess with him. and she felt her will to turn away weakening. You don’t know me. I’ve seen him take down guys twice his size. I’m sure if I knew him. Jack.
desperately.“Yes I do. I’m sorry. Not because she didn’t trust him. then?” “You’re trying to start an argument so you can be . You may be his girl. but you don’t belong with him. and that was dangerous for both of them. but didn’t turn around. right.” Jack actually laughed at that. and she felt her walls rising up.” She turned and ascended the steps. Assuming Ben didn’t literally kill him. “Yeah. You should forget you met me.” “And you can give me better. he’d change. I know what you’re doing and it won’t work. Miriam.” She stopped. or believe he could and would treat her better. She wanted to. I suppose?” She was getting defensive now. She wanted him more than anything. but because she did. of course. the walls were up. bang. “You can’t push me away that easily. but if she left Ben for him. “Yes! I can. refusing to look back.” he said. but she knew how it would go. gates closed. “It won’t work Jack. “What am I doing. He’d be all nice and charming now. I will. You deserve better.
” Miriam wanted to. only insistent. No matter how perfect they may seem at first. Miriam didn’t believe herself. but she refused to let herself. All men are assholes. This was stupid. and you can’t push me away. not desperate. He didn’t know what he was talking about. leaned against it and trying not to sob. She unlocked her door and closed it behind it her. I can feel it. The trouble was.” She was walking away. And god knows I like you. More than I should for having just met you. She just met him. .mad at me. “You can’t scare me off. She wanted to rush back down to him. Just give me a chance. Among other things. not yelling. and he was raising his voice. she reminded herself. she told herself. you like me. more than anything. Listen.
briefly. Perfect posture. That’s about it. sipping coffee. Urdu. did two tours in Afghanistan. . Wounded once. He sat in a plush red chair. We’re meeting him at Starbucks in twenty. He stood when Jenn and Carson approached and shook their hands with a strong. Born Farid ibn Omar. confident. returned to active duty. and English. “Twenty-nine years old. She set a chipped white porcelain mug down on their shared desk and flipped open her manila file folder. moved to Dearborn with his parents when he was ten. changed his name to Benjamin when he was eighteen.” “Have we talked to anyone he knew?” “I spoke with a friend of his from the Corps.Chapter 3: Now “So what do we know about Benjamin Omar?” Jenn asked. Joined the Corps at nineteen. crushing grip.” Carson said. Fluent in Arabic.” *** John Douglas looked every inch a Marine. “Born in Beirut. muscular.
“Well. He got fucked up. people who hated him. He handled it. we’re still investigating that. Especially after he got back. All I can say is that we suspect it was a homicide. “So what do you need from me?” “Did he have any enemies? Anyone who would want him dead?” Carson had a small notebook.” John glanced up and away. wanted him dead? No. “I mean.“So. “Not that I’m aware of. He liked to scrap.” Carson answered. but maybe not as well as he could have. He got in a few bar fights here and there. over there. the prerequisite of all detectives. how did he die? Was he shot? Hit by a car?” “We can’t discuss details of the investigation at this time. Drank a lot. I don’t think so. You get to miss the . I’m sure you understand. “Well. A lot of guys did. he wasn’t the easiest person to know.” Carson spoke the standard do-not-discuss lines with practiced ease. thinking. but I don’t think they were anything that would lead to him getting murdered. So did he have enemies? Like. what happened to Ben?” John asked.
” John leaned forward. “I’d heard that he would get a little nasty. you know? Maybe you don’t. John shifted. But that’s different. I don’t hit girls. Not real easy to get to know. “I didn’t hang out with him all that much…” “Did he?” Jenn was pressing the issue. “What does that have to do with his murder?” Carson decided to change tracks a bit.” “He liked to knock girls around. after a while. Ben. Miriam. I don’t know. Always had a couple girls he talked to. a little odd though. drinking off-base. I guess you could say. Beautiful girl. after he’d had a few. you know? I don’t do that shit. Like I said. Carson wasn’t sure where she was going with it. but he let it go. but he tried to hide it. huh?” Jenn spoke up for the first time. Lately he’d been seeing a girl named…god what was it?… Mary? Miriam? That’s it. “Do you know anything about any of his girlfriends?” “Well. he got messed up in the head pretty good. Ben was…a player.rush of a fight. uncomfortable. Ben and I didn’t hang . I know he went after me a few times. from the few times I met her.
give us a call. that kind of thing. but neither of them could say much about her. Miriam I just couldn’t figure out. “No. whether I’d like them. closed the notebook.” “What’s that mean?” Two people who had met Miriam more than once. maybe? I only met her a couple of times. whether I instinctively trust them. The Taproom. self-contained person. If that makes any sense. “I’m a pretty good judge of people.” John said. She seemed like a really quiet. Closed off. Carson found that interesting.” Carson handed John a card and the detectives left.out all that much. You know.” Carson nodded. “I can usually get a feeling for what a person is like the first time I meet them. Carson’s instincts were telling him that Miriam would be the best place to look for clues.” “What can you tell us about Miriam?” “Not a whole lot. stood up. almost. I get what you mean. I think he knew her from the bar he worked at. and I couldn’t get a good sense of her.” “Well I think we’ve got what we need from you. He couldn’t have explained . Something about her raised his suspicions. Like she didn’t want to be known. If you think of anything else.
why. . but he knew he had to talk to her.
but he’d brushed it off. if not two. wearing a dress and wishing she was at home in yoga pants. buttoned-down servers and the fancy atmosphere. She liked things simple. He’d splurge like crazy on himself. She didn’t mind expensive dinners every once in awhile. She hated steak.Chapter 4: Then It was Ben and Miriam’s three-year anniversary. but he never asked her what she liked. She’d told Ben this of course. she hated expensive wine and the stuffy. Ben had reservations at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Troy. which was where he always took her for special occasions. Special occasions equaled Ruth’s Chris. Didn’t consult her on the wine. So she sat in the passenger seat of his rattling truck. but something about that place just set her on edge. always and no matter what. She hated it. She was supposed to just go along and keep her . She knew how it would go: he’d order the most expensive wine on the menu and drink at least one bottle. for the most part. didn’t ask her where she wanted to go.
had made Ben seem like a decent guy. she wouldn’t remember anything the next day. It was okay. Usually she kept herself in her shell. “Hey. refilling her glass. But the longer she dated him. When Ben poured the wine–$120 per bottle–she drank it as fast as he did. and she was feeling loose and unafraid. at first: he was better than Nick. Maybe if she got drunk enough. Ben would want to have sex. when they first started dating. that. Miriam decided to go a different route. Better than Nick. and she just couldn’t make herself do it anymore. right away. She could pretend that he loved her. for reasons she couldn’t have explained. at least. and she was grateful for it.” The words were falling from her without thought. . Tonight. And sleep with him when they got home. sometimes.mouth shut. sipped one glass of wine and nodded in all the right places. more than anything. He didn’t seem to notice. She’d finished her third glass before the entrees had come. Something to celebrate. three years is a long time. of course. “Good to see you finally relaxing a little. for once. that he cared about her.” Ben remarked.
take her out for dinner. or . charm her into bed. She chewed her steak slowly. hating every bite. She’d tried her best to keep him calm. or complained about it. If she refused to eat it. Then one night he got really drunk with his buddies from the Corps and showed up at her door with anger in his eyes. A misunderstood question. Of course.the more she came to realize that his drunken rages were going from an occasional explosion to a regular part of their relationship. He wasn’t sober much anymore. It was always the little things that would set him off. but he had memories of the war in his thoughts and when that happened there was no avoiding the hurt. he was the man she’d known when they first started dating. He’d cracked her with a fist that night and nearly broken her jaw. The next time he wasn’t as drunk but he still slugged her in the stomach for no good reason. Eventually he’d pass out and that would be it. He used to just slap her every now and then. curse her out. a reply too long in coming. becoming ever more frequent and ever more violent. he’d feel bad the next day. yell at her. Eventually he didn’t need a reason. buy her flowers or jewelry. Sober.
She found herself hoping he was. Ben was across the table from her. and she was wondering if Jack was all he seemed to be. There was another reason she was getting drunk. So. “I said I’m sorry about the other night. chattering about some basketball game. his lips on hers. getting dizzier by the moment. She washed it down with more pungent red wine. so she ate the steak. he’d fly into a rage and blame her for making him mad and making a scene. She felt his hands on the skin of her back. She was hearing Jack tell her she deserved better. You were staring off into la-la land or something. Ben?” She tried to focus on him. but she heard nothing. “What. more wine to try and drown out the images of Jack. but found his face wavering and splitting into two.ordered something different.” . “Miriam!” Ben’s voice cut through her reverie. though. She kept seeing his face every time she closed her eyes. and trying to think of innocent reasons to see him. Jack.” “You did?” “I said it like three times.
She was looking at him. the ire apparent in his voice. You gonna make it to the bathroom on your own?” . I may have had a bit too much wine. apparently. she was more interested in just getting home. kind blue eyes. wishing Ben’s face would resolve into one.” She didn’t want to talk about that night. “I meant it. How do you like your steak?” He always asked that. barring that. “Oh god. sorry.” Oh shit. “It’s…just…don’t let it happen again. okay?” “I won’t. “You’re drunk!” He seemed to think this was funny. his wide. she thought. and she always told him she didn’t like it.” Miriam set down her fork and wobbled to her feet. it’s great.” “Yeah. “He?” Ben asked. you’re wasted.” Words were getting slippery Ben burst into laughter. the cow. Then we can go?” Ben chuckled again. stay Ben’s face. “Ladies room. but somehow kept seeing Jack’s face. Or. He’d catch that slip. I promise.“Oh. “Yeah. He. Tonight. The steak. Too much shiraz. “So. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this drunk.” Ben said. “He’s great–I mean. She forced another bite down. is what I meant. The cow. sure.
if you need. Now. or didn’t care. He didn’t hear her. It was three miles from his place to the bar. his lips on her neck. wishing she’d worn flats instead of heels. so she ended up stranded at his place without a ride home. It was too small.” she said. Ben. Ben always drove. and his lips . peeling his shirt off. swallowing her saliva in an attempt to fight back the sudden rush of nausea in her throat. She just shook her head and focused on one step at a time. he said.” “You sure? I can help you. He swayed across the room to where she sat on the couch. and Miriam had walked those three miles more times than she could count. of course. under the hem of her dress. I’ll be fine. and he didn’t like being right above where he worked. they were back at his place and both of them were tipsy. Ben was fumbling to untie his shoes. He hated her apartment. “I’m not feeling good right now. tossing his keys on the microwave. His hand slid farther up her thigh. and it smelled like cologne and old coffee. Miriam felt his hand on her knee.” He waggled his eyebrows and winked. They’d gone back to his place.“Yeah. Ben’s apartment was always too hot.
She lurched to her feet. Maybe he’d take her home now. All she could do was keep her eyes closed and push the urge to vomit down. “God. She rinsed her mouth and brushed her teeth with the extra toothbrush Ben kept for her. she thought. it’s our anniversary. Maybe she could vomit again. setting the phone down. She felt Ben’s hands holding her hair back. heaved into the toilet. stripped down to his boxers.” Maybe it would have been better to stay sick. I just threw up. kicking her heels off as she ran to the bathroom. Finally the nausea passed and she felt better. He kissed her .” He stood up and took her by the hand. She hated throwing up. “Don’t you feel better though? Anyway.found hers. Three years. Strange how that worked. give it a rest. Ben.” he said. “Come on baby. sending a text. come lay down with me. heard his voice murmuring something meant to be comforting. but she always felt better afterward. He was waiting for her in his bedroom. Nope. Too late. She couldn’t kiss him back. pulling her to the bed.
Her dress was on the floor now and he was unhooking her bra and kissing her throat. She wanted to love him. not quite against her will. She was laying down on her back. playing with her nipples. had he? He must love her. and that was a complication she didn’t need. She had to get through this somehow. stood unmoving. It wasn’t long before Jack’s face erupted in her thoughts. and he was kissing her breasts. She closed her eyes and let go. and his fingers continued their upwards exploration. She didn’t believe it. but . his fingers clumsy and rough. but she tried to convince herself of it anyway. after all. eyes closed. She was still drunk. and she couldn’t help but dream.chest between her breasts. the other exploring upwards from her knees. and she let that stand in for actual love. kissing her thighs and between them. her body was responding. let herself pretend she was enjoying it. in her thoughts. pulled them down. He was gazing at her. unzipping her dress with one hand. and all she wanted was to push his head away. He hadn’t hit her tonight. but she didn’t dare. His fingers looped through the hem of her panties. moving downward. and she couldn’t summon the energy to resist him.
muzzy thoughts mixing reality with imagination. warm skin to warm skin. She felt someone push inside her and move above her. Time stopped for a . It wasn’t sex. She had to release it. didn’t know what this was that she was feeling. painful in its intensity and it was growing hotter by the moment. Her body was with Ben. his hands tender and gentle on her body. something new. She imagined an explosion in her mind. feeling a pool of power grow within her. but her heart was with Jack. It was a fire in her blood.wonder how he would feel pressed up against her. She felt her blood begin to boil. and this time it didn’t build up slowly. visualized a bomb going off. his eyes watching her with real love. She lost herself in the dream. this time it was abrupt and fullforce. burgeoning into a well of magma that had to be released but she didn’t know how. put all of the heat in her blood into the detonation. it was something else. She knew it was Ben but she just couldn’t help wishing wishing wishing it was Jack and she had to keep herself from crying out for fear she’d say Jack’s name by mistake. She was alight all at once.
I burned you?” She peered blearily at him and noticed his skin was reddened. “What’s wrong. “What the fuck is wrong with you?!” She felt drained. now. cursing in three languages. it was…hot. you crazy bitch. she was fire. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you. You sick or something?” “I don’t know. Ben. Ben rolled off of her. “Shit.” He was angry. as if he’d been sunburned. I don’t know what happened. or scalded by boiling water. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Maybe I am. Ben? What did I do?” “You burned me!” “What? What do you mean. is what happened.fraction of a second.” “You’re goddamn freak. I don’t know what else you want from me. now. but it hurts like a bitch. she was heat. “Well I said I’m sorry. Miriam!” he said in English. I’m sorry. “I don’t know! Your skin. He hated showing pain.” “Sorry isn’t gonna make it hurt less.” He . and she was no longer Miriam. and then she felt a rush of unsustainable nova-hot flame run through her. like burning hot.
watched him leave. put on a pair of gym shorts and a tank top. Rage filled his face. Miriam wanted to run. She sat up straighter on the bed. though. She refused to show him fear. He took a half-step toward her and she tensed. He turned away with a growled string of curses. Miriam turned to the window above his bed. Nearly to his parking space. He was looking down at his phone. and his truck was nowhere . anything but get hit by him anymore. but she also knew that he would keep this pent up. She wanted to scramble away from him. That was unusual. and it would come out later. grabbed his keys and left. flushing his tan skin darker. texting as he walked. twice as bad. pulled the sheet up to her chest and glared back at him. and she hit him back with a closed fist. Ben stumbled backward clutching his jaw in surprise.lashed out and slapped her. Something inside her snapped. his fists clenching at his sides. but refused. An expensive red sports car sat in his designated parking spot. She felt relief. jump through the window stark naked and flee. he looked up and stopped. as hard as she could. open-palm across her face. It never came. almost dropping his phone. waiting for the blow.
a calculating expression on his face. without explanation. Ben’s beat-up S-10 was truly gone. tires shrieked. and Ben was gone. Miriam scanned the parking lot.to be seen. He sorted through his keys and seemed stunned to find not the Chevy key but a different one. He rested his hand on the door handle. and the headlights flashed. he slid down into the driver’s seat and turned the ignition. then with one more glance at Miriam. and both times she felt as if she were going to catch on fire. Ben had looked at her as if thinking she had something to do with it. accompanied by a brief horn blast. but all was still and silent. Twice now something odd had happened. as if . rubbing his hands together with glee as the engine rumbled to life. a loving gesture. Without logical explanation at least. stroking the lines of the car. literally and physically combust. Ben turned to look at Miriam through the window. either during or after sex. both times it had been something she knew Ben wanted. hesitated. Ben trailed his fingers across the hood. and Miriam found herself wondering the same thing. and back at the car. The door closed. the engine roared. He pressed the button on the key.
betrothed to . Her mother was a difficult person. Again Miriam found herself trying to convince her own mind of something she didn’t believe.something inside her needed release. refusing to entertain the idea. Magic wasn’t real. her rock. maybe. This was starting to get problematic. Freak coincidences. Coincidences. *** Miriam tried not to think about the strange business with the car or the cell phone as she walked home. She also tried not to think about Ben. Hot flashes. Her memory wandered back in time to before her dad had died. A prank by one of Ben’s Corps buddies? None of his friends could afford a car like the one Ben had driven off in.’ It was all nonsense. Her dad had been her hero. She didn’t. That was the last time she’d felt truly loved. And certainly not in any way connected to her. There was no such thing as magic. Which didn’t leave much to think about besides herself. She didn’t know how it had gotten there. Was it her making those things happen? Miriam shook her head. She didn’t even know why she had thought the word ‘magic. Or Jack.
Khadeeja hadn’t screamed or cried. wrinkled eyes. She heard her father grunt. and Miriam was alone. much less love him. She had treated Miriam like a nuisance her entire life. eyes wide and frightened. She had only been eleven when he had died of a heart attack. and then when Miriam’s father died. things only got worse. forced to clean and stay silent. Khadeeja al-Mansur was a cold and distant woman who hadn’t wanted children. to hold her father’s hand as he leaked tears from fearful. but found it difficult. curling her hair before school. Miriam suspected that her mother had never accepted the match or even tried to like her husband. lest her mother’s short temper explode. and then the thud of a body hitting the floor. gasping for breath. Miriam tried to push that memory away as well.Miriam’s father when barely more than a girl herself. Miriam tried to remember her father’s face. By the time the ambulance came. Miriam had been the one to dial 911. but it was stubborn. only watched with a detached dispassion as her husband had clutched his chest. Her mother had sat on the front step of . Aziz had gone still. Miriam had been in the bathroom. Miriam had been relegated to little more than a servant.
smoking a Virginia Ultra Slim. halfexpecting to find her mother’s body in the bathroom. her mother never cried. Miriam had come home to a silent house. but a tension in her belly told her something had changed. wrong. something had felt…off. or with neighbors. No signature. two thousand dollars in twenties and fifties. Six years had passed. Then. a week before her seventeenth birthday. no I love you. uncomfortably and slowly. Miriam stayed at school longer and longer. She never talked to her daughter about death. joined clubs and teams simply for an excuse not to go home. This was not unusual: her mother spent much of her time at her sister’s house across town. The house had foreclosed and been . conversing desultorily on the phone in Arabic to her sister. Just two thousand bucks and four words. along with a curled yellow Post-it note in her mother’s crabbed scrawl: you’re on your own. even at the funeral.their Dearborn home. Miriam had wept alone in her room. Miriam hadn’t been able to put her finger on what it was. She searched the house carefully. or tried to console Miriam. Instead she had found a stack of money on the kitchen table.
and then refused to answer the door when Miriam knocked after that. no family. The day she moved into her own apartment had changed Miriam’s outlook on life. and her mother’s sister claimed that she couldn’t take in another mouth. and found Miriam a job waiting tables at a Coney Island. not with her own four children to feed. When Miriam laid her head to the pillow that first night.repossessed after six months. Yanira . she realized that she hadn’t done anything wrong. Yanira’s father had agreed. had begged her father to let Miriam stay with them for a few weeks. Miriam’s only real friend from school. and couldn’t . she had just been trying to survive. what she could have done differently. given her a couple hundred dollars. Up until then. That had been the start of Miriam’s independence. one day at a time. Miriam’s aunt had let her stay for one night. leaving Miriam with no home. She saved enough money while living in Yanira’s basement to buy a car. Her father’s family was still in Iraq. and no income. wondering what she had done to make her mother abandon her. She had spent nights lying awake. and that beat up old Volvo had been her home until she could afford the down payment on an apartment.
Jack?” She wanted her voice to sound harder than it did. and his hands on her body lit her up in a way she’d never felt before. She didn’t want to sound so glad to see him. That was a truth Miriam had learned the hard way. “Sorry. “What are you doing here.” He was outside her apartment. and things had changed on her again… Miriam shook herself. or Jack would change. but she couldn’t let herself have him. That. The pain of it didn’t go away. sitting on the bottom step.have done anything different. If she got too close. I didn’t mean to scare you. Ben would find out and hurt him. the nastier they got later. They always seemed nice at first. refusing to think about Nick. And the nicer they were at the start. Jack just laughed. but it was a start. waiting for her. She didn’t trust herself around Jack. Down that road a world of bad memories waited… “Miriam. His eyes saw too deeply into her. She wanted him.” Jack’s voice startled her so much she yelped. and the hole in her heart hadn’t vanished. through black eyes and broken ribs and ‘I fell down the stairs’ excuses . Then she met Nick.
then yes. The words wouldn’t come out. “If by ‘fine’ you mean upset. “You didn’t even see . past her walls to the soft core of her soul. Jack.” he said. How the hell could he know how she was feeling just by looking at her? She had always thought she had a pretty good poker face. He was making it hard on her. he’d ask what was wrong. but Jack just saw straight past her façade to the real emotions she tried to keep hidden. “I wanted to see you. “I’m fine Jack.” She didn’t even believe herself as she said it. He made it sound so natural. “You’re upset.” she said. Oh lord. “Well. I don’t want to see you. here I am. there they were. If she let him see her eyes.” Her only defense was anger. Leave me alone. Damn it.” he said.” Jack said. “I’m fine. Jack rolled his eyes. tilting her head up. Jack didn’t seem bothered. but not by much. and she’d tell him… His fingers were at her chin. those bright blue eyes that seemed to see into her heart.that no one ever believed. It was better than throwing herself into his arms. She kept her eyes down.
Too many questions she couldn’t answer lay that way. Each answer would lead to more questions. and you couldn’t get rid of them. And where the hell are you coming from at one-thirty in the morning. He was protective too? “Jack. and then she’d kiss him. Once they get into your pants. you can call me. I’ve been . Miriam. It was for his own good. on foot? Is something wrong with your car again?” Questions…so many questions. but that was the only way to get Jack away from her. Or they stick around just to get back into your pants. just go. they’d leave. She didn’t want to think about Ben. That’s not fine.” “You don’t have to worry about me. “What does it matter to you?” She knew she sounded bitchy. and then he’d get all understanding and she’d let him in to her kitchen to talk. and once they got tired of you. they’re as good as gone. and then she’d wake up and he’d be gone. I’m just worried about you. We can’t do this.” Oh hell.” “Do what? Talk? I’m not even touching you. You shouldn’t be walking around alone in the middle of the night. “If you need a ride.me until I said something.
An innocent touch. She only managed to lean in closer. and you’re not getting it. and his eyes were fixed on hers. I know you deserve love. She couldn’t. You’re getting the opposite. he’s . She hated that she didn’t mind his possessive hands. but his hands on her skin ignited sparks in her blood. He’d just met her. “And maybe you shouldn’t have to take care of yourself.” “Yes I do. but he knew how to touch her. His hands were at the small of her back. “So? Maybe I did just meet you.” His lips were close.taking care of myself my whole life. how to make her feel like she was his. “You just met me.” Jack finally stood up. how to hold her. or why you’re so sad all the time. if anything. That Ben guy. She tried to exert the will to move out of his embrace. “You don’t know me. lit fires in her heart. He held her against him. or who your parents are. trying again to break free.” he said. She wanted to belong to him. I don’t need to know where you went to school. gentle and unrelenting. there on her back. put his hands on her waist. but I know you. brushing up the hem of her shirt again and seeking the warmth of her flesh.” she said. I may not know much about you. but I know you.
and her . He was right. stomped up the steps and fumbled with her keys. and that didn’t help her efforts to resist him. “I know you know that. midway between her ear and her chin. As if that’s all you deserve. Most of all. and she knew it. He tasted like spearmint gum. You’ve resigned yourself to being with Ben. You won’t even consider anything else. You’re scared of being alone. his scent was familiar. comforting. but couldn’t. her breasts crushed against his chest and her hands were on his shoulders and in his hair.an asshole. and he grabbed her shoulders. and you’re scared of yourself. under her shirt. you’re scared of me. and it’ll only get worse. smelled like paint and leather. He wasn’t violent or rough about it. and beginning to mean ‘Jack’ in her mind.” Jack kissed her jaw. Miriam wrenched herself free.” Miriam opened her mouth to argue. turning her around. She was pressed up against him. and you’re hiding behind how much of a bad-ass he is. Jack was right behind her. his lips pressed against hers. he was right. slipping the key into the lock. His hand slid up her back. Damn it. A bit of her resistance melted.
fingers brushing her stiffened nipples. and his hands were unhooking the eyelets of her bra one by one. their hips were pressed together and she felt his hard length against her. under the elastic band of his underwear. Miriam leaning against the kitchen counter. where thought never really stopped. slipped her hand against his stomach. his palms caressing the line of her ribs from back to front and pressing up against her loosed breasts. slipping Jack’s motorcycle jacket off and running her hands over his chest. with her head in her . she unbuckled his pants. The back of her mind. She felt herself growing hot again. and– Miriam ripped herself free and put the counter between them. and oh god she wanted him. Jack was unlocking the door and they were inside.thoughts were burned away by the catalyzing fire of his touch. she couldn’t help it. was making a connection between the fact that all Jack had to do was kiss her and she would be lit on fire. Her will to resist fluttered away in the midnight wind. Her shirt was on the floor somehow. Ben had to get her to orgasm before she felt anything. leaning over it.
I do. it’s so hard to explain. not looking up. tender arms. And if I am those things then why don’t you want–” Miriam cut him off.” she said. as if he could see every crack and crumbled shard of her oft-broken heart. “God. Her shirt and bra were on the other side of the counter. then?” For the first time. Jack. She was stuck somewhere between a sob and half-crazed laughter. a bark of disbelief. She didn’t blame him. kind.” “Then what? What is it. believe me. and she knew if she got too close to Jack. “You’re everything I could want. You’re sexy. and he had every right to be angry. so bad.” “Try. It’s not that.arms. Miriam took a deep breath and stood up with her arms crossed over her chest. “Let me finish. She was yanking him around. I want . she’d be right back in his strong. and you obviously like me–” Jack laughed. please.” He was staring into her. Miriam. “I’m sorry. I want you. She heard Jack hiss in frustration and buckle his pants. “I know it’s not fair. “I more than like you. a tinge of anger crept into his voice.
and you’ll help me figure out a way to break up with Ben. We can’t do this. then you’ll wait. We can’t be together behind Ben’s back. I mean that literally. it’s all over with. I can’t and won’t do that.you. but Miriam skittered back to thump against the cold surface of the fridge. and that’s a hereditary thing. His dad knocked his mom around. Just listen. or you do the complete opposite. What . I won’t do it. I’ll have you in my bed within seconds. The drinking and hitting me. with the counter between us? If I get too close to you.” Jack tried to round the corner of the counter. her hands not quite touching his chest as he stood a few inches away. If Ben catches a whiff of this. so bad. even if he came back physically okay. he’ll kill you. and he just didn’t come back the same. and it’ll probably piss you off. if Ben sees you with me. I’ve been cheated on more times than I can count. all that…he was like that before. “No. and I hate it. just not so bad. He did two tours in Afghanistan. Something inside just…didn’t survive the war. If you want to be with me. I know you don’t want to hear this. please. I think: if you see your dad hit your mom. you either do the same thing. but it’s just facts. not this way. God…why do you think I’m over here.
There’s literally nothing I want more in the whole world than to be with you. I . So put your shirt on. “Yeah. They went outside and sat on the bottom step. Jack. You don’t see it. A cold kind of craziness. Please believe that. drinking as they talked. then turned around to face away from her. It’s how they have to be. if this is how you want things. but he was frustrated. “It’s not how I want things. “Why are you turned around? You’ve already seen me.” he said.” Miriam said.I’m talking about with Ben.” He wasn’t angry anymore. I don’t know. it’ll make it harder to keep my hands to myself. I can’t get you out of my head.” Jack handed Miriam her bra and shirt. in the worst moments. and she could see the evidence of his frustration still bulged against the zipper of his jeans. it’s hidden deep inside. for right now at least. but it’s there. opened them and gave one to Jack. He turned around when Miriam gave the okay. She forced herself to look away. but if I look at you now. I’ve seen glimpses of it. “I guess that makes sense. She took a pair of Bud Light bottles from the fridge.
A relationship? “Well. not in secret.want you. all of you. She wanted him. and I don’t want it like this either.” She laughed. The thing that scared Miriam about that line of thinking was how inevitable it seemed.” Jack seemed perfect in every way. and it… it sucks. and she would have him. I’ve been cheated on too. and she didn’t want that to change. but that’s not what I meant. It was just life as Miriam knew it. Jack. You’re absolutely right. she realized. But not like this. resignation in his voice. “I meant I’m sorry for leaving you…frustrated. as she knew it would the second she slept with him. He was quiet for a long moment. and took a long drink. All men change after they get what they want. . I don’t want to start a relationship on the wrong foot. She examined herself with ruthless honesty: it was inevitable. I have before.” she said. As if she had no intention of not sleeping with Jack. yeah. She just hoped she wasn’t setting herself up for worse hurt. “I’m really sorry.” Jack glanced at her quizzically. shrugging. a little nervously. “You’re right.” Jack laughed. “For what?” he asked.
“No fair. But I’ll try. then froze.” Jack put the lie to his own words by kissing her. so lightly it was almost a breath of wind against her face. It was Ben. “Until we can be together. straddling his motorcycle. “I’ll be fine. Just go.” he said. it sucks. “Maybe we should just confront him.” Miriam said. because promises are sacred to me. She left her unfinished beer .” She watched him reluctantly put on his helmet and ride away. That’s not the way to do this. “Go! He’s coming. He can’t see you here. helmet in hand. she could feel it in her belly and in her bones.“Oh. But I’ll try. She jumped up and pushed at Jack. But I’ll live. listening. panic in her eyes. “No. that. I mean. I’ll think of something. Jack.” Jack suggested.” Promises made only led to promises broken. “Hey. She started to say something.” Jack drained the beer and set it down.” “I hate making promises.” she whispered. waving once as he pulled out onto the road. Just promise me one thing. let’s not let things go that far. you started it.” She heard the revving of a powerful engine and the squealing of tires. “And I won’t promise. yeah.
growling curses when she didn’t answer. feeling uneasy for some reason. He roared out of the parking lot. a still-popping layer of foam at the bottom. *** . he lit a cigarette. As he smoked. He pulled his phone out and sent a text message: I’m coming over. “Fucking bitch. The other was empty. Hurry. Ben stood up. There was more than one fish in the sea. he noticed a pair of beer bottles sitting on the ground near the bottom step. flicking the butt of his Marlboro Light away with an angry snap of his fingers. Ben smiled to himself. Eventually he gave up and descended the stairs. locking the door and thinking of Jack.next to Jack’s and went back inside. sexy. He stopped and looked back up at Miriam’s door. One of them was less than half-finished. Waiting for u. *** Ben pounded on the door. the way a beer looks after it’s been hurriedly chugged.” he muttered. His phone vibrated: Okay. and it had the sheen of Miriam’s lip gloss coating the mouth. While he waited for a response. after all.
stomach churning.After Ben drove away. . Miriam closed the blinds and turned away. This was getting complicated.
No one knew much about Miriam. Carson considered yet again the manner of Ben’s death. No one could think of any compelling reason that anyone would want to kill him. As if he’d been nearly cremated alive. but that fire had been localized to him. He’d been set on fire. waiting for the manager to arrive.Chapter 5: Now Carson stood outside the Taproom. His bones had been charred to a crisp. and had no explanation. The manager of the Taproom showed up. Even bodies who’d been recovered from house fires weren’t that burned. and all of them had said the same thing. nearly turned to ash. and only him. but the war had scarred him. basically: Ben was a good guy. Not even singed. The fillings in his teeth had melted. No one knew where Miriam was. Nothing else was damaged. The ME had said the fire that killed Ben had been unnaturally hot and intense. The ME said she’d never seen anything like it. He had talked to a few other people Ben had known. a .
Ben. I’m worried about her. But you know her?” “Well yeah. until she disappeared. “I haven’t seen her in a while.pudgy. of course. “Oh. Yeah. excuse me. Never missed a day in six years. always. at least she did. Not like her.” “I see. She always shows up for work. “Well. almost bumping into Carson. “Larry Genosi?” Carson asked. “Yes. honestly. Benjamin Omar. shook his keyring.” . Great waitress. I have a few questions for you about Miriam al-Mansur. flashing his badge.” he pointed at the apartment above the bar. Is she okay?” “We’d like to ask her a few questions with regard to another employee of yours.” Larry shifted uncomfortably. can I help you?” “Detective Carson Hale. Then she just vanishes without a word. “Uh well… she lives up there.” “Do you know where she lives?” Larry licked his lips. I haven’t heard from him in a few days either. She works for me.” “Oh.” he said. Detroit PD. Don’t know where she is. balding man sorting through his keys.
but who. Genosi.” “Why. but no one believed it. She has a way of attracting the wrong guys. off the books. you want to tell me the truth. I’m sure. Where is she?” “I don’t know. I know what a beat-up girl looks like. The man was hiding something. but Miriam ain’t the sort to do nothin’. I paid her under the table. okay? And I rented her the apartment up there for cheap. He died under rather strange circumstances. detective. okay? She claimed it was nothing. She started working for me on the books about six years ago. I swear!” Larry lit a cigarette and puffed on it rapidly. She had some stupid story. Larry? What was she hiding from?” “Not what. too. “Then why are you so nervous?” “I…listen. Are you sure you don’t know where she is?” “Yeah. Mr. and then she came to work one day with a black eye and broken ribs. How’d he die? He was a rough guy.” Carson stepped closer to the bar manager. and we’d like to talk to Miriam.“That’s because he’s dead. and I know he and Miriam had their issues. And then the . and I let it go. “Larry.
She had the little chain locked. making sure that Nick fella didn’t come back. let her stay there. you know? . and he was pacing. and she wouldn’t let me in. after closing. I emptied it out and got her a bed and stuff. and Ben lit into him. and he was getting angry. Only now Ben’s the one knocking her around. but I could tell she was scared shitless. She kept finding reasons to stay in the bar. My wife helped her get cleaned up. She didn’t come to work the next day. Finally. and asked her if she wanted me to walk her out. and waited for her outside. I was watching him through the back door. I had to lock up. just used it for storage and stuff. I’ve had that apartment up there for years. but I could see enough to know that he’d beaten her up good.guy showed up here late one night. He wasn’t the same when he came from deployment. She wouldn’t let me. “Well. he did come back. Me and some of the guys would take turns keeping an eye on her. Miriam felt she owed Ben something I guess. I visited her at her apartment. I convinced her to come with me. Took her to my place. and she’s been with him off and on ever since. I had to pull Ben off to keep him from killing Nick.
that I know of. but if he’s dead and she ain’t there. That provided motive. Carson could see it going too far. I swear. If Miriam had gotten fed up and finally snapped. To stop people like his dad. She’s a sweet girl. Larry shook his head. He felt for Miriam. anything could have happened. I hope she ain’t in no trouble. “I dunno. Carson shook his head. she tends to stick around this place. refusing to think of his Dad. work and home. then I dunno where she’d go. Like I said.” Carson was starting to get a larger picture. and put his notebook in his pocket. but it still didn’t answer the two biggest questions: what had caused the fire? And where was Miriam? . detective. “So where would Miriam go?” he asked. Sometimes Ben’s place. He’d become a cop to stop shit like that from happening. She don’t have any family around here. He’d watched his own mom get knocked around as a kid.Used to be a decent guy. He had no patience for wifebeaters. Just has shitty taste in men.” If that shitty taste in men had led to an argument.
Actually. and she was right. and he knew it. What she’d told him was true enough. There were times when his eyes went . See you at 7 then. Pick u up @ 7? Miriam had already agreed. even to her. then she was cheating every five seconds. Like. to kiss her. He’d keep it kosher. She took the pair of Coors to the two businessmen at table 45 and then retreated to the kitchen to check it. Some vague sense told her it was Jack. Ben would flip if he knew. Are u still coming to the party tonight? I’ll keep it kosher i promise. The part that worried her was that she didn’t want him to keep it kosher. she’d cheated on him when she kissed Jack. which meant she was now technically cheating on Ben. she texted back. she wanted him to touch her. hadn’t she? She couldn’t very well ditch him at the last second. It was confusing. Did thinking about Jack count as cheating? If so. This was a second date.Chapter 6: Then Miriam’s phone buzzed in her apron. actually kill them both. but it wasn’t what she wanted.
unused to compliments. when the Ben that was still in Afghanistan hunting down insurgents showed up. She just wouldn’t tell him. She would find a way to break things off. What should she wear to a family party? She’d never been to one before. It’s gonna make this whole keeping-itkosher thing even harder. “Like.” Jack remarked. thinking as she locked the door that a dress might be tough to manage on a motorcycle. The thought of telling Ben. “You look amazing. “you look great too. but she wanted to leave a good impression… Eventually she decided on an arabesquepatterned maxi-dress.dark and evil. She went out to meet him. It wasn’t a one-on-one date. Right. and he would never have to know. and that Ben scared her shitless. “Thanks. and went upstairs to change. so nothing too sexy.” she said. “I’ve been seeing someone. not too low-cut. said goodbye to Larry. but still clingy in all the right places. totally stunning.” Miriam ducked her head. She cashed out.” He did look . then. She was finishing her make-up when Jack knocked on the door.” actually made her blood run cold.
his hair tousled in its usual brown tangle. too? He needed to stop being so amazing. right? Ben never told her she looked nice. Not that she minded.hot. Miriam was contemplating suggesting she change when she realized his bike wasn’t in the parking lot. and Miriam could hear voices laughing and talking from the backyard. His way of complimenting her was slapping her ass or squeezing her tits. I figured you might do your hair or whatever. Jack’s parents house was a modest two-story Colonial not far from Jack’s apartment. You were supposed to return compliments. “Where’s your bike?” “Oh. right?” Considerate. there were already several cars lining the street. His hand was warm and dry. He opened the door for her and lifted her up. in a pair of khakis and tight black sweater that hugged his muscular torso. When they pulled up to the curb. and he left it in hers for a moment longer than strictly necessary. I thought an actual car might be more appropriate in this case. He followed her down the stairs to an older but well-cared for black Jeep Wrangler with oversized tires. She was . Not exactly the same thing. and a bike would mess it all up.
maybe two if the first night at National counted as a date. There were. as Jack had .suddenly nervous.” She wasn’t even really his girlfriend. Inside was a madhouse. It’s no big deal. Oh god. but that’s between us. She had a boyfriend. she was outright terrified. Why was she here? She stopped and pulled back. she was meeting his parents. “Look. okay? Just relax. okay? There’s more than that. like. This is. you’re my friend. It’s just a party.” “I don’t know. Jack pushed open the door and led her in. Jack…I don’t know about this…” He stopped with her. “What? Are you nervous or something? Don’t be. This was more than a family party. What had she gotten herself into? She’d been on one date with the guy. your family. Jack seemed to understand her trepidation. My brothers and sisters bring friends to these parties all the time. twining his fingers in hers.” Miriam nodded. your parents. she squeezed his hand. I don’t know if I’m ready for this. a little reassured. for god’s sake. realizing that she was more than nervous. sure. Jack took her by the hand. but not completely. “Wait.
Miriam went rigid. dozens of people. uncles and aunts. friends. asking. he led her through the crowd. most of whom greeted him with a hug and a slap on the back. past the kitchen and living room. Everyone was drinking. going straight through the house.promised. Holidays when she was growing up were quiet affairs. milling and chatting. Not letting go of Miriam’s hand. all of them with drinks in their hands. and there seemed to be conversations going on between people across the yard from each other. He sat her down on a rocking swing on the back porch and disappeared. An elderly man tottered up to Miriam and . We’re a big family. staring around at her. This isn’t even the half of ‘em. both of which were packed as well. Cousins. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. just loose and genial. but no one seemed to be drunk. Jack led her outside to the backyard. to say the least. You should see this place on the holidays!” Miriam tried to imagine double the amount of people. and just simply couldn’t. “Who are all these people? Is this all your family?” “Most of ‘em. She leaned in close to his ear.
“I saw Jackie sit you down here. Just promise me one thing. “Oh. Jackie’s grandfather. my boy Jackie?” “Hi. not looking at her so much as into her. sipping from a red plastic cup of beer. he knows better. yeah I’m a friend of Jack’s. no ma’am. You’ll do.” “Miriam. exactly as Jack had done before. you say. girlie. You don’t gotta hide the truth from me. He’s a good boy. then. aye.” Séan tapped the side of his nose. “Hello there. then. my Jack. ain’t that a pretty name. hey? I’m Séan. “Aye. He seemed to be searching Miriam for something. a gesture Miriam didn’t quite know how to interpret.” Séan leaned in close and peered at Miriam with bright blue eyes set deep in a tanned.” he said.” he said in a thick Irish accent. you say? Why. He treatin’ you well. “I’ll…do?” Miriam had no idea what to make of his words. you’ll do. I’m Miriam. wrinkled face. will you?” . He’ll take good care of you. “You’re Jackie’s friend.sat down next to her. but old Séan. He nodded. and thought ya might need some company. cryptically. then.
“Ah. the mean one? He’s trouble.” Jack laughed.” Séan nodded sagely. “Oh yeah? So what’s an interesting secret. You aren’t scaring her are you. clipped it and lit it. Gramps?” Séan moved over and Jack sat between them. Had Jack talked to him? Jack returned with two bottles of Molson. or you won’t make it a’tall.” “I don’t have any secrets. Miriam’s head was spinning. then?” Séan pulled a cigar from his shirt pocket. handing Miriam the beer. I see. We just chatted a wee bit. patting Miriam on the knee. Gramps.” “Everyone’s got secrets. he is. Don’t be weird. “Yours are just more boring than most. The other one.” Séan glanced sideways at Miriam as he said this. Best make your move quick. At length he answered. sipped his beer and turned away. “I’ll tell . that boy. a bag of tortilla chips and a bowl of salsa.“I’ll…I’ll try. I guess. winking at her. and hard. you met Gramps. He had seemed to know exactly what was going on. puffed on it. crunching a chip. Didn’t tell her none of your secrets. boy-o.” “He loves quick. “Oh no.
you a secret. and that’s what we did. Well. Mass was over.’ and threw my pole to . right enough. ‘I’ll take your dare. even at sixteen. or whether it was good thing or not. Just ‘cause you’re my favorite grandson. ‘cause you know whenever there’s two girls as friends.’ This was a serious thing. ‘we’re fishin’ ain’t we?’ and the prettier of the two. so I says. the prettier of the two lasses says to me. pretty as you please. she says ‘well I’ve got a dare for one of you. to when I was sixteen or so. strollin’ down the road. and this here Miriam of yours seems a right corker. and they come over to us and ask us what we’re doin’. on about noon come these two girls. Anyway. “This goes back. oh. One of my very own. They sees us. So I puffed up me chest and said. You didn’t never back down from a dare. there’s always one who’s the prettier. Well.” Miriam didn’t know what that meant. Before the war. and we had nothin’ to do but laze about all the day. Jackie. but she didn’t interrupt. fishin’ on a Sunday mornin’. I dunno know why. but there it is. Me and me two mates were off to the river. if you’re brave enough. you know. this was. we thought it were fairly obvious what we was doin’. me and my mates.
why this girl pulls ups with her dress and shows me her bubbies. can I? “So I run with her. and I says.’ And I tell her of course I’ll do it. ‘Well I took a dare from Emily that I wouldn’t get married still a virgin. away from my mates and her friend and the fish. ain’t I?’ And with that. just yanks me into a run. and she takes me right over the hill and down the other side and around a corner so we’re alone as can be.my mate Bill. And it were my first time. too. The girl takes me by the hand and starts pullin’ me back up the road. that was. ‘are you sure you want to take the dare? No backin’ out if you promise. whose name I don’t know. ‘what’s the dare. now. and she says. So she pushes me down to the ground and starts tuggin’ at me pants. the girl. I say so. I ask her ‘what the bloody hell are you doin’ girl?’ And she just says. didn’t I? And I’m gettin’ married tomorrow. then? Where’re we goin’?’ and the girl she don’t answer. even though I got no idea what the silly girl has in mind. and she comes to a stop behind a bush. . and I’m wonderin’ if the girl has gone and lost her silly damn mind. who I’ve never met. I can’t back down. and away we go.
having aspirated his beer. though it happened ‘fore I ever met her.right there in the grass behind a bush. every word. did it?” “Why of course it did! Would I lie about that?” Séan grinned.” “Gramps.” Jack was coughing. nods. and Miriam saw a glint of roguish humor in his eyes. And you know what? I still don’t know her name. “Gramps! You can’t go around tellin’ stories like that!” “Why ever not. just married. She’d skin me alive if she knew. and she smiles at me. “Gramps. Damndest thing ever. as if we had only spoken in the pub or somethin’. and I’ll thank you not to repeat it. ridin’ in wagon with a strapping young lad. sittin’ next to her new husband. Jackie? It’s all true. “that never happened. I saw her next day. She passed right by me on that wagon. to this very day. that was. ‘Specially not your grandmother. with a girl I ain’t never met in my life.” . you tell the biggest fish stories of anyone I know. and she were dressed all in white with flowers and the whole bit. and don’t no one know that that’s livin.” Jack said.
stood up to get another. roundest bubbies I ever saw. her name was. mostly. though. his . But I really was fishin’ with my mates on a Sunday after mornin’ mass.” Séan muttered into his beer. “Oh. And she had a big old freckle. right near her nose. she had red hair. and it sounded as if he was angry about something. to prove it? The girl. with black shoes. and she came up and took my pole from me and dragged me off and we…you know…without so much as her sayin’ nary a word. I knew her though. Kate O’Hara. all braided up.“This ain’t a fish story. “Was that story really true. When he was gone. I’d been tryin’ to get up the nerve just to kiss her for weeks. Séan?” Séan nodded. I believe you. and she wore a gray gingham dress. aye. big–” “Gramps! Okay. just below her great. And we’d been flirtin’ all summer.” Miriam heard Jack just inside the kitchen. I guess she got tired of me hemmin’ and hawin’ about it. and another one on her ribs. Jack just shook his head and finished his beer. You need more details.” “She did have the biggest. Miriam asked. Miriam actually laughed out loud at that.
Jack threw the screen door open and stormed out.voice raised. what was I supposed to do?” They were out in the middle of the yard now. followed by a younger man who looked enough like Jack that she guessed it was his brother. fists clenched. wearing a wife-beater tank top and black jeans. shouting. “Well I did. didn’t I? She was a slut! She was sleepin’ around on you the whole time you were with her.” Jack was saying. “You were supposed to say NO! You were supposed to NOT sleep with my fiance!” Jack was furious. “There’s nothing to discuss. did you know that? And I slept with her . He was an inch or two shorter than Jack.” John yelled. his massive arms covered in tattoos. okay? Just let it go. the muscles in his arms corded and bulging. too. She slept with your friend Brian. Jack pushed John. though. the veins in his neck standing out. “I said I don’t want to talk about it. You were just too damn stupid to see it. John. but wider and more muscular. hard. “She came onto me! She was throwin’ herself at me. John shoved Jack back. standing face to face.” “You’ve never let me explain.
but the other missed. A crowd had formed around them. You can relax. then bull-rushed him.” John was poking Jack in the chest. bouncing on his heels. Best for them to get it out rather than stay angry. goading Jack. is it? Oh I know you’re worried for your boy. Jackie can take care of himself.again. but Séan pulled her back to the rocking chair. Séan shook his head. “Nah. Jack took one to the gut. lass. let ‘em go. after you broke up. The day you dumped her she came back here and I fucked her in my car. then whirled and hit John in the jaw. staring at Jack with anger in his eyes. swinging both fists. “It ain’t a family party without a scrap. He’d struck so fast Miriam wasn’t even sure what had happened until John stumbled backward. John following. who half-turned away. waving a hand at the fighting brothers. and then Jack was dancing away. fists low.” “So no one’s going stop it?” Miriam was horrified. cheering them on. rubbing his forehead. And those two have had this comin’ for a while now. They’re Irish boys. girlie. . spitting his words. head down between his shoulders. that’s how they solve it. Miriam stood up to stop it.
not bouncing as much as he had been at first. Don’t look it. what do you call it. THERE! Get him! Use your LEFT. but he didn’t seem much slowed. fights smart. if you ask me. Johnny does. See how he don’t let Johnny in close? He’s seen John fight. now. so he stays back. Jack was bleeding from his mouth and nose. fightin’ for money like that. but he is. and Miriam looked from Séan to the crowd. “Watch him now. he only fights if he has to. not quite understanding. and back. but Jackie’s got the longer reach. now. John charged again. he’s a scrapper. and he is. tearin’ apart people you don’t know. and this time Jack swiveled out of the way and hit John on the cheekbone with a hard right and John went down. cage-matches. But Jackie. just for show. he knows he can’t go in close. and he fights to get it over with.I know John’s a rough lookin’ sort. Disgraceful. and Miriam . Jack ain’t that way. Jack slumped back against the fence. he is. John loves the fight. and John was shaking his head like a confused bear. He’s got the warrior in him. Jackie!” Séan was standing up and shouting. He fights in those. Johnny will tear him like paper if he lets him get his arms on him.
rushed over to him, a napkin in her hand, dabbing at his face. Jack stripped off his shirt, pressing a palm to his ribs. Miriam couldn’t help admiring his physique, shining with sweat and still heaving from exertion. “What the hell was that, Jack?” she demanded. Jack shook his head, too winded to speak. He leaned over and held a hand out for John, who took it and let Jack pull him upright. The brothers exchanged a glance, and Miriam could tell it was fraught with unspoken meaning, though she couldn’t tell what it meant. John nodded, dabbing at his lips with a wrist, and went in the house. When he had caught his breath, Jack said, “That’s just my asshole brother being an asshole. It’s an old story that’s not worth telling. It happened a long time ago, and now it’s over.” “But you had to fight him over it?” Miriam asked. “Well yeah. He’d have hit me, so I hit him first.” Jack said this as if it were obvious, like two plus two equals four. Miriam pressed the napkin to his nose, standing closer to him than she should, if they were supposed to be just friends. “Are you okay?”
Jack nodded, straightening. He hissed, though, and put his palm back to his ribs. “I think he cracked one of my ribs, but I’ll be fine.” Miriam watched him trying to ignore the pain, and she felt the coil of power in her belly unfurl, a feeling that was becoming familiar. The energy rushed through her body to her palm, and she pressed her hand against Jack’s side. She felt the heat buzz from her hand to his ribs, felt the break under her palm knit back together, the bruise fading and vanishing. His nose stopped bleeding, and his split lip healed. Jack looked from Miriam to his side, pressed a finger to his nose and lip, and back to Miriam. His eyes held a thousand questions, and Miriam didn’t have answers to any of them. “I don’t know,” she whispered to him, although he hadn’t said a word. Walking back into the house, Jack finally asked a question, although it wasn’t the one she had been expecting: “Did Gramps say anything…odd…to you? Anything that…didn’t make any sense at all, but yet made perfect sense?” “Actually, he did. He came over and sat down next to me, and said I didn’t have to hide the truth. He told
me you love quick and hard, and that the mean one was trouble, and that I should make my move soon or I wouldn’t be able to.” She turned and caught Jack’s arm, searching his eyes. “You didn’t say anything to him?” Jack sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Of course not. Gramps…sometimes he just knows stuff. He calls it ‘the Second Sight’ and don’t ask me what that means. Some old Irish legend, I think. But he really does know things that he shouldn’t be able to know. He had the look on his face that he gets when he’s had the Second Sight. Did you know what he was talking about?” “Well, yeah. He was talking about Ben.” “However he knew it,” Jack said, “he was right. You need to do something soon, or it’ll just get worse.” Miriam knew it too, but she wasn’t sure what she could do. Thinking about it only made her feel even more fully how trapped she was, and how much she was risking just by being at this party with Jack. He must have felt it from her, because he introduced her briefly to his parents and the rest of his family, and
then took her home. He was as good as his word, dropping her off at her apartment and giving her an awkward goodbye hug, brushing her face with his hand.
Chapter 7: Now
Carson was floundering. There was just no evidence to go on. No witnesses, no weapon, no clear motive. A girl getting knocked around didn’t mean she’d murder him. Maybe it should, but that was a different story. Carson blew out a long breath, stretching his back, sore from sitting at his desk for too long. He closed the file, shut down his computer and left the precinct, intending to go home. His thoughts wandered over the case as he drove, however, and he found himself pulling into the parking lot of his favorite watering hole, The Old Shillelagh. He hesitated in the car, knowing he should just go home. But he was here, and he might as well have a drink. Just one or two, to loosen up his thoughts. He sat down at the bar, scrolling through his email on his phone, and ordered a gin and tonic without looking up. The bartender mixed it, set it in front of Carson, but didn’t leave. “Thanks,” he muttered. He wasn’t in the mood for a chatty bartender. He wanted to be left alone to drink
and think. “No problem,” the bartender’s voice was smooth and feminine and sultry; something about her voice piqued Carson’s curiosity. He glanced up into a pair of smoky black eyes, friendly and expressive. “You must be new here,” Carson remarked. He’d remember a bartender as beautiful as this one. “Yeah, just started yesterday, actually,” she said. “I just moved here from Chicago.” “Chicago, huh? I’ve got friends on the force down there. What prompted the move?” The bartender glanced away, hesitating before answering, just a beat of silence, but enough for Carson to notice. There was a long story hidden in that brief pause. “I needed a fresh start, I guess. I grew up in Chicago, and just…needed a change. I have a cousin up here, and she’s letting me live with her for awhile.” She chewed on a nail, took a ticket from the printer and mixed the order for the service bar. “So the force, huh? You’re a cop?” Carson nodded, set his badge on the counter. “Yep. Nine years tomorrow, actually.” He offered his hand, and she shook it gently. Her hand was trembling slightly, he noticed, and she seemed
uncomfortable, somehow. “I’m Carson, by the way.” “Leila. Nice to meet you.” She turned away, another service ticket in her hands. Carson watched her mix the drinks, wondering what her story was. You don’t just up and leave the city you grew up in for no reason. There was a depth to her eyes when she looked at him, a tiredness, the heaviness of old memories buried beneath the skin. Carson recognized that look: he saw it every time he looked in the mirror. He finished his gin and tonic, ordered another, and he found himself bantering inanities with Leila, light, meaningless bar talk. The rest of his mind, the critical part, was running through the case, a constant process for him. The detective in him never rested, was always turning the case over in his head, seeking cracks in the smooth facade of the wall between himself and the truth. He’d pick away at the wall, circle it, examining it endlessly, over and over again, until the surface of it was as familiar as the wrinkles in his palm, until he could recite every piece of information by memory. It was then, when the facts were automatic, that he began to make progress, to catch the irregularities, the inconsistencies, the slight
This brought him back around to Miriam. No family. and Carson’s thoughts wandered to his own childhood. to a small ranchstyle house in Ferndale. A third gin and tonic. and that blinded him to the reality of the case. from his cursing. She was an enigma. and battered girlfriend with little presence. She didn’t just take it. this Miriam. Carson wondered what kind of victim she was. Did she suffer in silence. no known friends or relatives. and that’s what had always bothered Carson. to bring it on herself. a cracked sidewalk out front where Carson had spent most of his time as a boy. away from the constant tension in the house. She never defended herself.breaks in the mortar. applying foundation to cover bruises and offering thin excuses? Or did she strike back and curse and scream and invite it on herself because she knew it was coming? Had she pent up years of pain into a ball of rage and finally snapped? He had no sense of her. quick-fisted father and his shrill. she seemed to invite it. . somehow. nagging mother. A burned body. away from the raised voices. Outside was a refuge. the yard out front uncut and scraggled with crabgrass and rioting dandelions.
dark eyes that seemed to whisper familiar secrets to him.very few people who’d even heard of her. nursing a considerable hangover. Carson decided to dig into Miriam’s past. Almost a non-entity. He rode to his apartment a few blocks away. . Dearborn home repossessed in 1999. Parents were Aziz and Khadeeja al-Mansur. The only picture he had was a driver’s license from when she was sixteen. still living in Dearborn. it seemed. No records after that of any kind.Leila. Iraqi immigrants who moved to Dearborn in 1982. Carson stumbled from the bar after more gin and tonics than he could remember. cardiac arrest. that was her name…she had called him a cab. Only known relative was Fatima Afridi. and then there was Leila’s face with her deep. The bartender with the black eyes…. Her father died in 1994. just a blank. Joseph Mercy Medical Hospital in Ann Arbor in 1983. *** The next day. dizzy memories of his father’s belt and fists coalescing with thoughts of a Miriam cloaked in shadows. State records showed that she was born in St.
” Jenn scrawled something on her pad. I think. Doted on his .Fatima was a stout woman with sharp brown eyes. attractive face. a yellow legal pad balanced on one slim knee. Too kind. “What is this about. associates with men all night long. She’s your niece. please. Aziz. and refused to shake Carson’s hand but did shake Jenn’s. Afridi. Mrs.” “At this time we’re merely pursuing all possible avenues. At least ten years. is that correct?” “Oh yes. detectives?” Fatima’s voice matched her eyes: sharp and piercing. she is my niece. That sounds about right. She was devastated. Carson let Jenn do the talking. red curly hair drifting across her angular. Awful time for my sister. correct?” Jenn sat on the edge of the tan microfiber couch. Why do you want to know about Miriam? Did she commit a crime? It wouldn’t surprise me. More than anyone knew. Such a kind man. “We’re looking for information on Miriam al-Mansur. wearing a black hijab. “Yes. Serves her right. I haven’t seen her in many years. She let Carson and Jenn into her house. “Miriam’s father passed away in…1994. She doesn’t wear the hijab.
He would take care of her. Never disciplined her. “I–no. then? Can we speak to them?” Fatima wouldn’t look at Jenn. wasn’t it?” Fatima shifted uncomfortably. Very sad. Staying out till all hours. They had a falling out. it was. but Jenn beat him to it. Didn’t hold her to the faith. plucked at the trailing edge of her hijab. The girl was too wild. Aziz spent all his time in his store. a good man. worrying her poor mother. He opened his mouth to speak. obviously not wanting to answer. She calls me sometimes. ignored his poor lonely wife. Khadeeja…she met a man. out of control. but I don’t know where she lives. she said. I think. I always said no good would come of that girl.” “Then where is Miriam? You’re her aunt.daughter.” “What happened after Mr. “Yes. “So she remarried. My sister couldn’t control her daughter. I don’t actually know where they are. wouldn’t she come to you. gave her everything. if she was in trouble?” Jenn let a little edge slip into her voice. . al-Mansur passed away? Their house was repossessed.” Carson heard something hidden in the way she said that.
I gave her what I could. but I just couldn’t take her in. but…” “Wait. her brows furrowed. but didn’t take Miriam with her? When was this?” Jenn was scribbling furiously. go back. that sounds about right. she left?” “Oh. my husband barely brings in enough for six of us. I couldn’t do anything for her. and I gave her some money. Your sister left? What does that mean.” “So your sister vanished.” “And you haven’t seen or spoken to Miriam since?” “Well I’ve thought about sending her a card. Afridi. “Miriam was…sixteen? Seventeen? So maybe… nineteen-ninety-nine? Yes. hesitating. truly. and then the words tumbled out in a rush. well…I mean–” Fatima chewed her lip. and Miriam showed up so upset.“Well. as I said. and I have children of my own. you know. Mrs. four mouths to feed and clothe…another would have been too much. “I had no idea she was planning to leave. She didn’t tell me her plans. or . I wanted to help. she just vanished with that Peter character. she was a very headstrong girl. I just couldn’t. Khadeeja left so suddenly. poor girl.
.” Carson just nodded.” Jenn shook her head. “But she knows she doesn’t wear a hijab?” “Yeah. indeed. curls bouncing.” Carson said as they drove away. but I wouldn’t know where to begin looking–” “I see. “So she wouldn’t know where to look for her niece to send her a card.” Jenn freighted those two words with disapproval. “Can you imagine being abandoned by your mom at sixteen? Poor girl. Poor girl. I caught that.something.
a little before noon on Saturday. actually. He held up two tickets.” “I haven’t.” “Have you ever been to a game? It’s a lot of fun.” “Tigers?” “Yeah. but no matter how she tugged it. so she was wearing an extra-large Red Wings T-shirt and little else. I thought we could grab .Chapter 8: Then Jack showed up at her door a few days after the party. like. the shirt still barely covered her thighs. “I’ve got a pair of tickets to tonight’s Tigers game. “Jack! What–what are doing here?” She pulled the edge of the shirt down. “I know what the Tigers are. stupid. baseball?” Miriam slapped his arm. “Do you work tonight?” he asked. Thought maybe you’d like to go with me. having closed the night before. looking her up and down with an admiring grin. She had just woken up. When is it?” “The game starts at four.
grease permanently caked into the creases. grabbing the remote for her little TV.” He hopped down and plopped himself on her couch.” Jack hopped up on the counter. She felt Jack’s eyes on her for the split second she was visible in between the two. tangling Miriam’s hair. with the wind blowing between them. “That sounds fun. peeling his jacket off and setting it beside him. Jack’s hand rested on the gear shifter. He didn’t. and she slipped from the bathroom to the bedroom. Miriam fought the urge to run her hands over his chest. his toned physique visible through his thin gray skin-tight Led Zepplin shirt. a towel wrapped loosely around her torso. and wondered if he’d been waiting for that one glimpse. this time with the top off. and the radio blaring. He had his Jeep again. She didn’t mind the silence. a couple of knuckles still split from his fight .” “Okay. They didn’t talk much on the way down. You’ll have to wait while I get ready though. paintsplattered. trying not to hope that he’d let himself into the bathroom. trying not to think about Jack sitting just a few feet away. Miriam showered quickly.some lunch in Greektown before the game.
I’ve never met .with his brother. I don’t want to be anything like him. Jack. Jack?” The question just popped out. When I’m out with friends. He took her to the New Parthenon. At all. Okay? If you want to ask me something. Miriam hadn’t even been aware she was thinking it. Jack seemed unsurprised. “You’re nothing like him.” “It’s not like I’m comparing the two of you–” “You should. I want you to understand how much I’m not him. feeling the electric brush of excitement thrill through her. or maybe with Doyle after work sometimes. you should drop me like a bad habit. Compare me to him. I’ll have a few beers. where they had saganaki and gyros and shared a pitcher of Killian’s. Seriously. And if there’s ever the slightest similarity between me and him. Miriam. even at so innocent a touch. just ask.” He leaned forward and took her hand in his. his eyes fixed on her. I won’t get offended. Miriam slipped her hand in his. she was glad she’d asked. “Listen. though. not really. “No. and twined their fingers together. but once it was out. okay?” He was exuding intensity. “Do you drink a lot.
listen to me. Kate. You don’t think you’re worth a real man. though. from anyone I’ve ever dated…It’s kind of scary. but I just seem to attract the assholes. Called her all sortsa names. kicked her out when she was eighteen.” Jack said with a smirk. and you attracted me. You’re so different from him. I have this cousin. palms out. he’s an alcoholic. Her dad. a good man. “I don’t know…it’s–I’m used to one kind of thing. “But seriously.” Miriam felt kind of insulted by that. I guess so. “No.anyone like you. She was always dating these guys that were just…god. in a pacifying gesture.” “Well I’m not an asshole. you know?” Miriam said. Used to beat her up pretty good. “Yeah. I don’t think it’s a matter of you attracting them so much as you choosing them. you mean?” Jack interjected around a swig of beer. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Jack raised his hands.” “Scary? What do you mean?” Jack asked. “All the guys I’ve dated have been similar–” “Assholes. how different you are. my uncle. . I don’t know why. honestly.
Treated her like I wouldn’t treat a dog. and where her nail dragged across the surface there was an almost inaudible hissing noise and thin trickle of . if he was like that or not. She dug at the tabletop with a fingernail. god knows why. and that will never work. And if that’s all you know. the worst thing he could think of calling them. just like Uncle Danny.assholes–” he said the word like it was the ultimate epithet. tipping her head up to look at him. It’s what she’d grown up with. Stayed with these guys no matter how bad they treated her. but I think it’s something similar. I think she just didn’t understand that there was any other kind of guy. but she wrenched her face away. staring at the table. If your dad didn’t love you. One even pimped her out to his friend. I don’t know about your dad. called her names. real douchebags. not with the welter of emotions boiling inside her. if he didn’t treat you right.” Jack touched her chin with a finger. She couldn’t look at him. “I mean. you stick with it. you know? All she knew. and she just went along with it. then you keep trying to fill that hole where his love should’ve been. You fill it with men that are like him. Hit her.
smoke, a line of burned black incised in the table. Jack noticed it, lifted an eyebrow, but said nothing. There was silence between them, tense for once. “It’s not like that, Jack,” Miriam said, trying not to sound sullen and angry. She knew the anger was surfacing because he was right. “Well, there is a reason, Miriam. You know there is, you just won’t admit it. I’m telling you the truth as I see, and I’m not gonna apologize for it, although I will say I’m sorry if I hurt you.” Miriam didn’t know how to respond, just nodded. Jack brushed her hair out of her eyes, lowering his face so that he could see her eyes. He looked so worried that she had to laugh. Damn him and his puppy-dog eyes. “It really wasn’t like that, exactly,” she said eventually. “My dad did love me, just not… not for long enough. I don’t want to talk about it right now. I want to have fun.” “Fair enough.” Jack poured the last of the pitcher into their glasses and drank, letting the subject go. He really did seem to respect her privacy, and that was hard to resist by itself. She wished he didn’t understand her so well. It made her feel vulnerable, and that set her walls to rising. She didn’t want walls
between her and Jack, but it was so easy to just let them be, purely from habit. He just had a way of getting around them. Miriam enjoyed the baseball game, even though she had expected not to. She had agreed to go just because it was Jack she was going with. The fans were energetic and excited, and their ebullience was infectious. She didn’t really know the finer details of the game, but it didn’t matter; the actual baseball wasn’t as important as the experience itself: swilling overpriced beer from clear plastic cups, eating toobuttery popcorn, standing to cheer whenever the crowds around them did. There was a camaraderie to the atmosphere, a kinship shared by everyone in the stadium, and that was a new feeling for Miriam. She clutched Jack’s arm, watching him get excited as the game progressed. He held her hand, sat with his arm around her shoulders, showed her affection for which she was starved. She felt something burgeoning inside her, a sense of contentment, strong and warm and all-enveloping, threatening to overwhelm her, filling her heart to bursting in her chest. Her instinct, when faced by such strong, positive feelings, was to shut down, to
run away: such things never lasted. Jack would turn on her. There would be a moment of frustration, and he would scream at her, or raise his hand, maybe not actually hitting her, but the threat would be there. She fought the urge to create a situation where it would happen, just to get it out of the way. Once he turned, she could go back to her life as it was, painful and difficult, but familiar. She knew what to expect and how to deal with what came. Jack never responded the way she expected, never treated her in a way she understood. It scared her. The unfamiliar scared her; not knowing where things stood or where they were going was terrifying. Jack must have sensed her introspective mood, for he sat down despite the standing, cheering crowd around him. “What’s up, buttercup?” His tone was light but his eyes conveyed a serious concern. “Nothing.” He smirked and rolled his eyes. She should have known better than to think he’d buy that. He leaned close, his arm around her shoulders. “If you don’t want to talk about it, then say so. If you want to go, we can go. But don’t feed me the ‘it’s nothing’ B.S. when I can clearly see it’s not nothing.” She searched him for signs of frustration or
irritation. The crowd around them was going crazy, but Jack seemed to have forgotten the game entirely. “You’ll laugh. You’ll tell me I’m being ridiculous.” “You probably are, but that’s no reason to discount how you’re feeling.” He finished his beer, tugging her hand to lead her up the steps and out to the concourse. The roar of the crowd was still loud, but distant. Clumps of people came and went through the concourse, buying snacks and beer, balancing cups and bags, laughing and talking and oblivious to Miriam and Jack. She watched the people come and go, trying to sort out what she was feeling and how to communicate it. “I’m not used to having a good time, I guess. I mean, I’ve had fun. It’s not like I live every day hating my life and moping around. And it’s not like Ben is always horrible all the time, either. He can be charming. It’s just getting less and less frequent, these days. He’s changing. The good times used to outweigh the bad, which is why I’ve stayed with him for three years. But recently he’s been drinking more, and that always leads to things getting bad.
“Listen to me. I’m sure this is the last thing you want to hear about. I’m sorry.” Jack shook his head, squeezed her hand. “No, please, keep talking. This is important to you. It’s part of you. Do I like hearing about Ben? No, of course not. I wish I could just…snap my fingers and make him go away so I can have you all to myself. But listen, you have to make your own decisions, for yourself. I’m not just assuming you’ll dump Ben and be with me. Obviously, I’m hoping you will, but even that is complicated. I want you to leave him for you, not just because I want to be with you.” Well there was transparency for you. Miriam pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling the hooks of affection and desire dig deeper into her heart. “I don’t know what to do, Jack. I honestly don’t. You’re so…I don’t know…so much more than I know how to deal with. I never know what to expect with you. You never act like any guy I’ve ever dated, and it’s confusing.” “Well I’ll take that as a compliment, then. But I’m not trying to confuse you, I promise.” “I know. And it is a compliment. I can’t just break up with Ben, though. It’s more complex than that. He
won’t let it go. I’m honestly afraid of what he’d do. I’ve said all this before. I want to be with you, too, please know that. But I can’t just wave a magic wand and make it happen all easy and simple.” Miriam watched Jack process this, thinking about it before responding. “Okay, listen. Lemme put it this way. I’m here for you. No matter what. I want you to be happy. If you decide to stay with Ben,” this was hard for him to say, clear in the way he bit the words off as if they tasted bitter, “then I’ll respect that. But if you need time to figure things out, I’ll wait. I want as much time with you as I can get, in any way I can get it. And if you decide to leave him, I promise you, I will protect you, no matter what.” This worked the hooks even deeper, pulling her to him, into his arms. “You’ll protect me?” His hands went around her waist, resting with familiar affection on the swell of her hips. “Yes, Miriam, I will protect you. You don’t have to be afraid of him.” This brought a hard knot of emotion into her throat and set her eyes to burning. Tears welled up, stinging salt running down her cheeks, brought by a simple statement, said as if it
were obvious, like she should have known he would protect her. Like it was the most obvious thing in the world, rather than a foreign concept. Jack pulled her close to him, standing with his legs spread wide and his arms wrapped tight around her, her body pressed against him. She wanted to believe him. She nearly did. It would be so wonderful to just pretend that Jack really could protect her from Ben, if she were to do the unthinkable and leave him. She laid her head against Jack’s chest, imagining it: telling Ben, I don’t want to be with you anymore, please leave me alone. Oh god, the thought was frightening. He would be confused at first, then disbelieve her, thinking she was joking. Then when he realized she was serious, he’d get angry. So angry. So violent. And Jack wouldn’t be there, would he? He couldn’t just stand next to her as she broke up with Ben. How could he protect her, then? He would find a way, something told her. She looked up at Jack, her chin on his chest, her arms on the back of his shoulders. He smiled at her, a reassuring, tender smile that broke down her walls, one brick at a time. He leaned down and brushed his lips against hers, a hesitant, questioning touch,
She wrapped her legs around his hips. trickling along her skin and setting the fine hairs to stand on end. this seemed to impassion him. the welling pool of energy demanding to be vented. He slid his hand down to cup her backside and lift her up. roiling and billowing in the . She clutched him with her thighs. holding her aloft against him.asking permission. easily and effortlessly. She was on the verge of detonation. turn him wild with desire. the blaze of power expanded and burned hotter with every second that he kissed her. The featherlight tingle of his lips against hers sent butterflies trembling down her spine to flutter in her stomach. she pulled her lips from him and breathed out. fanning the flames buried within her into life. Through half-open eyes she saw a stream of glowing golden particles flow from her mouth and spread out into a cloud. putting her hands in his hair at the back of his head. feeling eyes on them but not caring. She lifted up on her toes to deepen the kiss. filling her with a pressure needing release. let the power slip from her with an exhaled breath. felt a rush of magic torch through her.
it seemed. beer taps opened and frothy beer scudded and splashed. it’s fine. Where the fragments of magic touched. The cloud hovered in place for a moment. “No shit. still expanding. pop machines sent floods of soda pouring out of nozzles. darting here and there as if sentient. actually giggle. People walked straight through it. maybe we should get out of here?” Miriam nodded again.” Miriam felt guilty. Miriam nodded her head. then burst apart and scattered throughout the stadium. Well. lightbulbs burst with a machine-gun poppoppop. “Eh. We were losing anyway.” She heard herself giggle. “Did you do that?” Jack whispered.air around them. odd things happened: cups of beer split apart to spill over their owners. knowing she had probably just caused several thousand dollars worth of damage with that little . “I think I did. and the stadium floodlights exploded with a shower of sparks and flying glass. People screamed and scattered as the stadium went dark.” she said as they exited Comerica Park just ahead of the crowd. “Sorry about the game. cigarettes illicitly smoked flared into sudden torches. not seeing anything.
the better. Jack drove her home. giving her his jacket to wear against the chill of the night wind. and calling in sick a couple times. She was beginning to be afraid of herself. She wanted to let the kiss ignite again.display. he would be prudent to be afraid of her. if she was honest. brushing her cheek with a thumb. okay?” Was that a hint of fear in his eyes? She couldn’t be sure. Jack kissed her goodbye. He’d probably try to convince her not to. but he pulled away first. too quick and then gone. But then. “I’ll see you soon. for which she was grateful. Larry understood what Miriam wanted without her having to spell it out. a brief brush of lips. toying with the zipper of his jacket. wondering what other chaos she would cause with the magic that seemed to be waiting just beneath the surface all the time now. but the longer she could put it off. She left it there. and if . his hand on her knee rather than the gear shifter. and didn’t want it to be there. *** Miriam managed to avoid Ben for a while longer by ignoring his calls. switching shifts. Ben wouldn’t take being broken up with very well. She knew she’d have to face him eventually.
I’m a freak. “You ignore my calls. “Where the fuck have you been. now?” He had the grace to look chagrined. nearly bashing her head on the side in the process. my skin is still sore from the other night. He finally showed up at her apartment late one night and pounded on her door so hard she thought he was going to break it down. but livid. anyway?” . a bad combination. But you’ve been acting a little strange lately. at least.” She moved to get out. How loving and supportive of you. She went out rather than letting him inside. if not more painful. Ben. and besides that. shoved her in the passenger side. remember?” “Wow. It’d be easier if he was drunk. it would be that much harder. What the hell is up with that. when you turned all hot. but he locked the door and gunned the engine so she couldn’t get out without hurting herself. Ben. “I needed space.he was sober. I still do. okay? That part was uncalled for. Miriam?” he demanded. He grabbed her arm and dragged her to his car. Awesome. “I’m sorry. “Space? What the fuck do you need space for? You’re the freak. avoid me at work? What the hell?” He was sober.
would I? And you being a pissy little bitch about it isn’t helping.” She found herself not caring what he did or said. somewhat. Ben. Miriam was enjoying the sense of freedom she got from letting him know how she felt. If I knew. That. all you seem to care about is yourself. squealing the tires. He was also taking corners at high speed. Miri. she’d never talked back like that.” she said. In all the time he’d known her. no matter what.” Ben was getting worried now. okay? It’s scary for me and it would be nice if you could act like my boyfriend for once. she could tell. Ben.“I don’t know. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Instead. She had decided to break it off with him. and she expected to get hit at least once. He never called her Miri unless he was trying to be all lovey-dovey. and support me through it. I wouldn’t need space. “Whoa! Where’s this coming from?” He genuinely seemed surprised at her outburst. and that freed her tongue. You drive around in this stupid goddamn car like you earned it or something.” “What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense. “It’s the truth. .
“You think YOU caused this?” “I don’t know. like a ton of bricks. You’ve finally lost your actual damn mind. It’s shitty. She felt . didn’t it? Who do you think made that happen?” She knew she shouldn’t make the connection for him.” “So you’re a fucking genie now? And you know when it happens? When we’re in bed. But it’s the only thing that makes sense.” “You know what Ben? Fuck you. but her mouth was going faster than her good sense. Her head snapped back and slammed into the car window. cars honking and flashing their lights as they swerved around him.“I’m talking about your new phone and this stupid car. She didn’t even see his fist move. Where the hell do you think they came from? Stuff like this doesn’t just magically appear. You have to get me drunk for me to even enjoy it. Ben. Ben jammed the brakes. okay? I don’t know. expensive shit just magically appears? Nice.” Crack. if I do you real good. Except it did. So what you’re saying is. skidding to a stop in the middle of the street. Miriam. And the sex? It’s not real good. She felt it though.
an ocean of pain rolling over her. His fist bunched in her shirtfront and held her up. over and over and over. locked the core of her soul away and allowed the pain to scorch away what remained. She retreated into herself. He jerked the car around corners. but he was driving again. He pulled the car into a deserted parking lot. and the fires within her burst open and set . but it was too late. crashing into her cheekbone and toppling her backwards. and this time she saw his left fist flying at her too fast to duck. threw open his door and circled around to the passenger side. One last blow struck her head. Madness burned in his eyes. face and chest and stomach. the other fist crashing and bashing into her.sticky warmth gushing from her nose and trickling down the back of her head. Miriam knew what was coming and tried to lock the door. drowning her. subsuming her. She pinched her nose and peered at Ben through throbbing eyes. He had her door open and yanked her out. knuckles white on the steering wheel. burying her beneath its suffocating weight. an unseeing haze of hatred and violence seething within him. driving suicidally fast through the ever-busy streets of downtown Royal Oak.
Miriam looked up through the flames erupting from her skin and saw Ben. maybe. a living torch kneeling collapsed on the gravel of the parking lot. The sea of pain. She was unrecognizable. Ben stared at her. no bones. no blood. so fast that she wasn’t sure it was real. frantically patting out a flicker of fire on his shirt. shaking his head as if in denial. She was flame. or what he’d just seen. she wasn’t sure. Miriam took another step forward toward the street. It was only a moment. Both. Whether he was denying what he’d done. She stood up and lurched toward him. her face pummeled into a bloody pulp. Ben was stumbling away. his arms and hair singed and smoking. She sobbed. only fire. cursing and shielding his face with his arms. an instant of flame gone as quickly as it had come. Ben threw himself into his car and tore out of the parking lot. sideswiping several other cars in the process. glimpsing herself in the window of his car. Miriam held up a hand in front of her. watching his taillights weaving through traffic. her hand carved out of flame. and she was extinguished.her alight. momentarily pushed away by the . marveling at what she saw: there was no skin. she was burning.
and there were bandages on her face and wrapped around her skull. Hospital. in her arm. Feet crunched in the gravel and hands lifted her. “How are you here?” “I went to see you at your apartment. and you . She saw headlights sweep over her. so this would ruin her financially.V. heard voices speaking far away. She felt an I.” a familiar and welcome voice said. She had no health insurance. and she slumped back to the bed. She pried her eyes open. The attempt sent knives of pain throughout her body. washed back through her. She felt relief course through her at the sound of his voice. She moaned and tried to sit up. Jack. Shit. “Is it really you?” “Of course it’s me. He brushed her arm with his fingers. Miriam hated hospitals. The motion sent a lance of agony through her. worry etched on his features.” he said.ignition of flames. *** She woke up to the smell of antiseptic. a touch gentle as a breath of wind. and she collapsed. saw his face next to hers. “Don’t try to move. and darkness devoured her.
He said you’d been in an ‘accident. Jack? We were arguing about the whole weird-stuffhappening thing. an intimate gesture that she found deeply comforting. What the hell. rage in his eyes. so I talked to Larry.” “Did you? Break up with him?” Jack was holding her hand.’ “ Jack made air quotes on the last word. it’s okay–” “The hell it is! It’s not okay! He nearly killed you. she thought. we didn’t actually get to that. and then I got mad back at him. so the hospital called him when you were brought here. Miriam. Apparently you have him listed as your emergency contact. and said something that made him snap.weren’t there. Might as well have it all out there. “You want the truth. fingers twined in hers. looking down at the sheet .” Jack looked puzzled for a moment. twisted a strand of her hair as she spoke.” “What the hell could you say that would make him snap like this?” Miriam hesitated. “Jack. and she withdrew her hand. He got pissed off before I could bring it up. “Well. What’s it going to take?” “I was trying to break up with him and this is what happened.
Well. after you left my place the other day. He was too angry for it to be just about me avoiding him. And I kind of snapped. as if he’d always had it. It all just…started. specifically. and I don’t know what’s causing it. He was saying awful things. and Ben’s old one vanished. Then. “Well. and he called me a freak. but that there’s someone. we started talking about that…skin thing. “He is my boyfriend. a Maserati appeared.covering her. the last time. my skin got so hot it burned him. Anyway. as if he’d always owned it. if you can believe it. All of his info was in it. it was registered to him. together. And that’s when he . and he didn’t like it. Things…appear. The first time it was a cell phone. It’s all just so weird. and I had to be drunk to enjoy it with him. legally. I also think he knows about us. You felt what happens when I get… excited. whatever you want to call it. the last time we were. Strange things have been happening when my skin does that. somehow. It just appeared. And like the phone. I told him he was shitty in bed. you know. you know. badly. so we. sleep together. I avoided Ben for a while. all of a sudden. Like. after the game. Not about you. with insurance and all that.
almost too gently to feel. never to return? How could he still care for her? His hand curled around the back of her neck. “I mean. She felt lips touch hers. and Miriam felt him withdrawing. wasn’t he? Hadn’t he walked out. full of understanding and something frighteningly like love. and explained. “Good for you. There was hurt in his eyes. She hesitated. wanting to believe what she felt but unable to. it was probably not the smartest thing to say to him. He laughed. Jack broke away after a moment and his eyes pierced hers.” he said. She should’ve just lied to him. and she couldn’t help but kiss him back. holding back tears. Knowing she slept with Ben was one thing. confused. feeling the walls wavering. just below the bandage. considering you’re in the hospital. but to have her talk about it like that…apparently it was too much. and she knew she’d put it there. He was gone.snapped. She closed her eyes. rebuilding. . Not what she was expecting him to say. She felt a finger brush away a tear she didn’t know had escaped. Miriam felt her walls clanking into place. pulled her to him.” Jack didn’t seem to know how to respond. He looked away.
telling him I’m breaking up with him doesn’t mean he’ll just go away. She didn’t know how to deal with that. and…” “So…” Jack searched for an answer.” She’d seen the flash of love in Jack’s eyes. “He’s going to come here.But still. Move. Then he’ll just be even more upset. if that. “I don’t know. And besides.” “It’s not over. I’ve looked into it. good for you. but felt terrified by it at the same time. Jack. I have to leave the hospital. when it comes to actual protection. Jack.” .” “It’s not that simple. And besides all that. And he’ll find me. or something. She wanted it. And PPOs aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.” “So have him arrested! Tell the hospital he’s the one who beat the shit out of you and you don’t want him in here. I don’t have health insurance. Like. now. It’s not that easy. Her fear spoke through her. and every moment I sit here is costing me thousands of dollars I don’t have. and will never have. He’ll apologize and be all charming. I know. He’ll spend one night in jail. and it scared her to death. found none.
I know. And he’ll always be in the way. I can. frustration eating away at him. the doctors say. “I know. and I will. Jack. It seemed to panic him a little too. You think I like getting the shit beat out of me? You think I don’t want. believe me. he’ll find me.” He avoided her use of the word ‘love’ but she knew he’d heard it.” Jack slumped to the chair and took her hands in his. It’s only a matter of time. . god. I have no family. Miriam. I can take care of Ben. He’ll follow me. Jack. Jack. and you…you deserve someone who can love you back.“I don’t have anywhere to go. The beating he gave you last night should have killed you. If I move. or could. and it’ll start all over again. more than anything to just run away with you? You’re this amazing guy. I wish I had the answers. “So let me protect you. no friends anywhere except here. I don’t doubt that you would. “No. Not with Ben in the way. I don’t know if I can. But it’s not that simple.” “So you’re just gonna stay with him? Just like that? You’ll just let him beat the shit out of you? He’s going to kill you.” Jack was pacing.
Tears dripped from her chin. If you’d just give me a chance…” He was nearly pleading. She looked away from Jack’s gaze. There’s a way for this to work. aren’t you? You’re afraid of what we could have. cursing in a stream of hissed words under his breath. Jack did it for her. resigned and troubled. but silently.” He hung his head. I’m not giving up. He met her gaze. but Jack wouldn’t have that. took her face in both hands. “You’re determined to make this impossible. Miriam tried. She was already healing. so you won’t even try. wiped the tears with his thumbs. and she couldn’t deal with him being hurt for her sake. kissed her lips with a trembling intensity. but all she could see was Jack in this hospital bed. squeezed her hands. she could feel it.But I won’t have you getting hurt for me. bruised and bloody and broken. His eyes were begging her to give him the answer he wanted. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.” The last was a statement. Her cracked heart broke further when he walked away without looking . struggling to be gentle but wanting to crush her with passion. kissed her lightly. and she refused to wipe them away. shook her head. I know there is. Miriam.
She opened her eyes. and was puzzled by how fast her bruises were fading. “Is everything okay. calling for security. you bastard!” The nurse. but she refused to stay. still watching. ma’am?” one of them said. Miriam took a deep breath.back. looking on disapprovingly. If she tried to have them remove Ben. and Jack was gone. *** Ben came as she was pulling out the IV. Miriam had explained that she couldn’t afford to stay. is what happened. “It’s . Her ribs were still cracked and sending lances of pain through her at every breath. Two overweight security guards appeared at the door. and that she felt better. I’m–I don’t know what happened–” She whirled on him. Her doctor had come and examined her after Jack left. Miriam wept until there was nothing left inside. eyes blazing. gasped and scurried away. A nurse was standing at the doorway.” Ben started. “Miriam. “You don’t know what happened? You fucking snapped. he’d flip out. waved them away. and Miriam was too tired and sore to deal with that. “Look. Alone.
You were half-dead. honey. and you can’t try and tell me otherwise. gaped in disbelief. sooner or later. and Miriam grabbed his arm. wanting nothing more than to stay and make them take Ben away. following behind him. Perhaps she’d seen more than her share of battered women come through the hospital and leave with the men who’d put them there.” Miriam said. lady. She didn’t seem surprised.” Miriam knew it was lie.” The nurse. I saw you when you came in. a middle-aged black woman. neither.” Ben rounded on the nurse. denying the whole thing. and it wasn’t no accident. “Foolish girl! He’s gonna kill you. and you know it. following them. “That’s a bunch of bull. though. This A-hole here worked you over but good. Miriam . It’s not what it looks like. sweetheart.” “I’ll be fine.” the nurse said. “It’s none of your business. pushed him out of the hospital room. “Your funeral.fine. Once out of the hospital and in Ben’s car. if you go with him. “Your funeral.” the nurse repeated.
“I don’t want steak. “Be that way. It didn’t matter. Miri.felt the reality of what she was doing rush in on her. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. going 95 in the fast lane. I overreacted. deep down. You don’t have to talk to me. He was here because he felt bad on the surface. I promise. Ben rolled his eyes. Ben. please?” . But she didn’t care. but otherwise stayed silent. “Fine.” He was heading up I-75 towards Troy. and checked his phone. Can we go somewhere else. This was easiest.” she said. Miriam felt a wave of disgust as she realized where he was taking her. “Okay. fine then. didn’t I?” “Like that fixes it?” Miriam knew better than to expect true contrition from him. but she could sense his anger. Are you hungry?” Miriam just shrugged. I said I’m sorry. She was being stupid. Ben was still seething. “Whatever. She was back to what she knew.” he said. “Well what do you want from me? I said I’m sorry. This was familiar. Really. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am.” Miriam huffed a laugh. and she knew it.
It’d be so easy. Free. Whatever you want is fine. This was not the conversation she wanted to have. feeling the wind buffeting at her. pushed the door open. Jack was gone. but his words were buzzed and muddled and distant. Her fingers found the cool silver of the handle. “Whatever Ben. helpless to stop it. and her eyes were still purple from his fists.“You love Ruth’s Chris. Blacktop and yellow lines blurred in the crack between door and handle. and never would.” The sense of entrapment washed over her. snatching and . Free. All she had to do was jump. making her want to jump out of the car. wouldn’t it? She watched her hand inching towards the door handle. she heard Ben yelling next to her. That was one way out of this. don’t you?” Miriam wanted to laugh and cry. Miriam pushed the door open wider and leaned out. She was still fighting the agony of bruised ribs. but all he could think about was steakhouses. She just shook her head. Nothing had changed. choking back a sob. There was nothing between her and the freeway. The freeway. and she would be free.
tangling her hair. Freedom would come quickly. .
He said she just about collapsed in front of his car. honestly. The styrofoam cup of black coffee was hot in his hands. He thought she was gonna die in his car. man. She was bruised all over. bleedin’ all over the place. “She was beat senseless. both eyes black. I seen a lot in my . I was just startin’ a double shift when she was brought in. back of her head busted open.Chapter 9: Now Carson sat across from Rhonda Grimes in the Detroit Mercy Hospital cafeteria. he said. Most of her ribs were broke. Well.” “Who brought her in?” Carson asked. but she had to okay the procedure since she had no next of kin and no insurance. No one she knew. Detective. “Some guy. whoever done this to her hated her. She had a concussion. she shoulda died. I remember thinkin’ when I first saw her. cheekbones cracked. and he listened carefully as Rhonda spoke. We were gonna do an MRI once she woke up. I ain’t kiddin’. and I mean all over. for sure.
thirty years at this hospital. He’d had a full-ride to Michigan State. The worst thing he’d seen. long before he ever joined the DPD. Most days it ended with a backhand and . Mom. He’d heard his mom yelling. Two o’clock in the afternoon. and Don Hale was hammered. Don’t piss him off. He’d seen his share of awful things. He’d seen a woman beaten to death by a jealous boyfriend before. and the image was one he couldn’t banish.” he’d whispered. you’re a cop. Judith Hale knew how to piss Don off. and if she was drunk. of course. She’d pissed him off. only she didn’t die. and he’d thought. however—the one memory he still had nightmares about had had happened when he was eighteen. This girl was beat to death. you know what happens. car ready.” Carson nodded. Bags packed. It was the day before he left for college. so Don Hale stayed home drinking all day. “Shut up. football and wrestling. He’d been All-State twice in high school in both sports. He was drunk. Disability had run out. not again. but his Navy retirement package hadn’t. I seen boys gang-beat and curb-stomped and hit with bats and shot…shit. she found amusement in pushing his buttons. Just shut up.
“Detective? You okay?” Rhonda’s voice shook Carson out of the grip of memory. the day before Carson escaped it all. clumsy thrusts. heard a body hit the floor. threw Carson away. heard his father cursing. head wagging. yelling. The policemen weren’t gentle with Donald Hale. taken the knife away. This day. a bloody knife in his hands. Sometimes it went further. eyes confused. Donald Hale was kneeling over his wife. and again across his chest. half a dozen stab-wounds in her chest. lifted a fist. and he was grateful. Then sirens sounded outside and Carson felt strong hands pulling him away. and Don stumbled backward. Carson had scrambled down the stairs and into the kitchen. Carson heard screams. Carson had screamed. it went further than ever. EMS kneeling by his mother.Judith retreating to her sister’s house. Don screamed. but Carson slashed at him with the knife. opening a gash in Don’s shoulder. Don had looked up at Carson. men in blue uniforms handcuffing his father. rushed his dad. but he’d been too late to pull his dad away. . Judith was choking on her own blood. kicked him in the ribs. struck his father with it.
but his father’s face in the patrol car still filled his mind. Big blue eyes. Maybe six-foot tall. I’m sorry. “Ben? Or someone else?” “Ben? No he came later.“Yes. “Did anyone visit her while she was here?” Rhonda nodded. What were you saying?” He saw Rhonda. “Did they have an argument? Did she leave with Jack?” . “Mmm-hmmm. but they didn’t want to believe it. I think she called him. Just that no one understood how she’d been able to walk out on her own feet like that.” Carson shook himself.” This was new. nurse. Never left her side until she woke up. This was a different guy. That boy loved her something fierce. nothing. although I’m not sure either of ‘em knew it yet. lookin’ at that girl like he couldn’t get enough of her. fitting a lid to his coffee cup. brown hair. Handsome too. cleared away the ruins of memory and focused on the job at hand. He had a motorcycle jacket and helmet. Jack. “Oh.” Rhonda wiped her fingers on a napkin and stood up. Or maybe they did. Nice boy. Carson followed her.
I think he was tryin’ to convince her to leave the other guy. ‘cause they’ll just do it again. and wasn’t none too happy about it. but she didn’t believe him none. They come to you with puppy dog eyes. sitting behind the nurse’s station. not like they were mad at each other. that Ben was tellin’ her how sorry he was. buyin’ you flowers and tellin’ you how much they love you. poor girl. lost . She was healin’ faster than anyone understood. She cried for hours after he was gone.” Rhonda shook her head sadly at this. mind. and she wasn’t havin’ none of it. She didn’t have insurance. and she was determined to leave. like he was Arabic? Yeah. like I said. he came as she was gettin’ ready to leave. “They didn’t argue.” “So then Ben showed up?” “Ben’s the big one. I been in her shoes.” Rhonda fell silent for a moment. you can’t believe ‘em none. but shit. years past. Don’t blame her. I didn’t neither. Hospitals are awful expensive. this is just what I could see from across the hall. any way you slice it. Of course. but eventually he did leave alone. I couldn’t hear too well. right? Dark. Well. actin’ all sorry.“Oh. next time they get drunk.
. Thanks for your time. Carson knew all about memories best left forgotten. handed it to the nurse.” Rhonda seemed lost in her thoughts still. That’s as much of it as anything. but she didn’t want a scene. Grimes. and Carson felt bad that he’d brought up memories she’d obviously worked hard to forget. I think I’ve got what I need. she did. “But she left with him? Voluntarily?” Carson pulled a business card from his wallet. Mrs.” “Well. because they’ll blame you for it when you’re home. you know. You don’t want ‘em to get mad in public. I don’t think she wanted to. honey. and that’ll make it even worse for you.” “Oh sure.in bad memories of days gone by. “Yeah. You don’t want attention.
She heard Ben speaking. for once. He looked utterly baffled. . trying to get her attention.Chapter 10: Then Ben’s fingers grabbed her by the hair and yanked her back in the car. strip her clothes off and cover her with a blanket. get in and continue driving. knelt in front of her. “What the hell was that?” He was whispering. leaped out and circled around. no emotion left. felt him lay her down. The car swerved and Ben was cursing trying to hold Miriam and drive at the same time. shaking her shoulders. His home. but he took her home. the car door swinging open. held her screaming and thrashing. inches from the ground. She wouldn’t fight. He got back on the freeway. She felt Ben latch the seatbelt across her. The exit appeared and Ben pulled off the interstate. Ben yanked the car over to the shoulder. close the door. She followed him blindly. not hers. cold and rigid. Miriam’s leg dangling out. She didn’t care. Miriam was numb. she had no energy to respond. couldn’t.
her neck. Nothing mattered.Miriam was empty. She wanted to scream. Miriam was a little startled by the violence of that thought. speaking her mind to Ben. and for that she was relieved. her ear. She slept deeply and without dreams. Dim gray light filtered through the blinds. She thought of how free she had felt. Part of her wanted to bash his skull. mulled it over in her mind. she realized. She was woken by Ben’s hands exploring her body. It excited her a little. It didn’t scare her the way it should. slid up her belly and tender ribcage to the swell of her breasts. His fingers caressed the curve of her hip. and Ben’s lips kissed her shoulder. but she let herself taste the idea. for that brief moment of freedom. This was his way of apologizing. She’d sent Jack away. It was more the idea of fighting back that excited her. than the actual violence itself. and she let him do what he . and that was it. The fires within remained banked and cold. crushing them with unthinking strength. It had almost been worth it. cupping them. watch him bleed out onto the pillow. His fingers were down between her legs and his mouth was on hers. wanted to roll away and run.
She fought against it. Jack’s face filled her thoughts. hands by her shoulders. the sooner she could go back to sleep. . she wasn’t ready to face him yet. She retreated into the numb center of herself. He didn’t notice the difference.wanted. and she did what he wanted. blew a breath of catalyzing wind on the banked fires inside her. grunting. If she let herself respond. filled her with fear. his kindness the only positive memory she could summon to blanket the pain. The thought of a fight. every thrust bruising her pelvic bones with blind force. No. He neared climax and the pain of his exuberance sent Miriam deeper into herself. even to the memories of Jack. She refused to think of Jack when Ben was above her. weight pressing her down painfully. but not engaging. He grabbed her hand and guided it to his semi-rigid manhood. crushing her still-sore ribs. Memory of his hands on her skin filled her. The sooner he finished. She turned her head to the side and stared at the dented white expanse of the wall. it would encourage Ben. and she tried to push it away. let the coldness wash over her as Ben straddled her. Her only escape was Jack. so soon again. his face. not resisting.
latch onto him and vanish. imagined herself as a spirit. her body’s desires tamped and cold and unresponsive to Ben’s selfish. felt it reach out and snake from her into Ben. She followed the magic on its journey. took the fire inside her from cold coals to burning inferno in less than a second. She felt power shuddering in her soul.Then Ben pressed a palm against her broken ribs. animalistic humping. incorporeal and ethereal. caught a fragmentary glimpse of a roiling ocean of energy inside her. She felt it leap from her to Ben. felt it wrap around him. Miriam tried to understand exactly what she was feeling within herself when the power–she forced herself to think the word out loud: magic–when the magic burst out of her soul. a now-familiar feeling. heat washed through her. She closed her eyes and delved down. She’d been confusing the rush of orgasm with the flux of power within her. She shoved him away with sudden strength. and the agony of his weight ignited her rage. and what she saw took her . The glimpse was the briefest of glances. a sea of magic boiling and raging like fire and magma. leaning on her as he climaxed. She’d never paid close attention to what happened in that moment before. but now.
but she was not Miriam in that moment.breath away. expanded and turned it physical. a jetstream of gold and silver sparks and coiling explosions of color spanning the spectrum. when Miriam was still seeing the burst of magic like a shower of sparks from a kicked bonfire. nonphysical observer following the flow of magic. into his heart. she was an invisible. dug into the core of his deepest desires. The current of magic arced from out of her and into Ben. Ben was next to her. complaining. There was a moment of disorientation. a woman physical and exhausted and hurting. There was a flash of light and Miriam was thrown back into herself. and then she was herself again. trying to hold on to the sense of power she’d felt within herself. like stars falling in silver lines. took the image it found and wove into it. or it would have. like shafts from the sun refracting through a prism into shimmering rainbow light. but Miriam ignored him. wrapped around the strongest element it found there within him. “Wh-where am I?” A confused feminine voice .
She heard the anger in her voice. Ben?” Miriam demanded. Miriam started. Miriam struggled to contain herself. clad in black lace lingerie. pale breasts spilling out of the bustier. And this is your bedroom. is that you?” The girl asked. who was sitting up groggily.spoke from the corner of the bedroom. blond hair teased out. drew confidence from it. She obviously knew Ben. full lips caked with bright red lipstick. whom Ben had named Rachel. . “What’re you doing here?” He rubbed his eyes. The other girl. “Ben. What am I doing here? What time is it? How did I get here?” She scrunched her face up. She turned to see a woman standing by the door. The woman crossed her arms over her chest. the image it had woven itself around had been this girl dressed in this lingerie. eyes mascaraed. She took hesitant steps toward Ben. gasping. “Rachel?” Ben mumbled. looked to the bed and saw Ben. When the magic had latched onto Ben’s deepest desire. The clock on the bedside table said 1:59am. “Who is this. as if to make what he was seeing disappear. peered at him. “It is you. looking from Miriam to the other girl. thinking.
Now that she’d felt it. threatening to reignite the magic. despite Miriam next to him. and she saw him searching for answers. and seen it. What is she doing in our bed?” Rachel’s high-pitched. did you do this?” Miriam got off the bed. “We both know I did.echoed Miriam’s words. standing in front of him in sheer negligee. “A friend? I’m a friend now? What the hell. huh?” she said. Ben flushed. Ben?” Ben looked from Miriam. pressed herself against the wall with the bedsheet in front of her. and she felt the anger burning ever hotter. I know. uh…shit. Uh. naked and clutching the sheet to her body. Ben?” She repeated the question. yelling it this time. “I–this. Ben. “This is…this is Rachel. whining voice grated on Miriam’s nerves. I’m a freak. so let’s not play games. she’s–she’s a friend of mine. “Who is this. Who is this. “I guess I did. Ben’s eyes. revealed his desire for Rachel. He struggled for words. Rach? Miriam. Ben? I’m your girlfriend. and his body. I don’t know. to Rachel. letting her disgust and anger bleed through. How did you get here. angry.” Rachel planted a hand on a hip. Miriam could sense the power within .
“I–It’s not quite like that. Ben? He’s mentioned you before. burst through her and consume this irritating girl and Ben along with her. “That’s what you told me. aren’t you?” Rachel smirked. Ben? Then what am I?” Ben opened his mouth to answer. put them on. she wanted to grasp it. He wouldn’t look at either girl. “Your girlfriend?” Miriam stalked around the bed and picked up her clothes. You’re who he goes to for a little extra somethin’ somethin’. for once at loss for words. You . isn’t she. isn’t that right?” Rachel turned away and pulled open the bottom drawer of Ben’s dresser. let the anger set fire to her. cruelty and amusement glittering in her eyes as she pronounced the next words. “It’s not. but Rachel cut him off. stung by the apparent truth in Rachel’s words. but instead edged to the dresser and put on a pair of shorts. You’re Miriam. rummaged around and produced a change of clothes. Rachel…” he said. She had a drawer? Miriam’s anger went cold for a moment. “You’re his booty call. poked a finger in his chest. huh?” Rachel stalked up to Ben. “Your girlfriend. Ben’s mouth was flapping. “Oh.more clearly. I know who you are.
It was the only way he knew how to deal with situations he couldn’t control.said Miriam was just a side-fuck. Ben? Am I just something on the side?” Miriam asked. grasping desperately for anger to strengthen herself. Miriam hadn’t known anything about this Rachel. Come on. “I don’t owe either of you shit. but that girl knew about Miriam. now. “I’m . She was fighting tears. Miriam watched him struggle for answers. Sure enough.” he said.” “Why doesn’t she go home?” Rachel whined. Ben? Something more serious? Should I be worried by her?” Miriam found something disturbing in the idea Rachel was presenting. his eyes glazed over and the vein in his forehead started throbbing. Not only did Ben obviously have another girlfriend. caught between the two. Rachel. “Back off. as long as it wasn’t serious. He would retreat into anger. and found nothing wrong with the idea of Ben having sex with someone else. both of you. Is it something else. voice low and dangerous. I’m taking you home. “So what is it. Ben looked from one woman to the other.
drops of rain pelted Miriam. Ben never held the door for her. snatching up his keys and phone with a string of curses in Arabic. Let’s go. “Come on. She barely noticed. A side-fuck? Everything she put up with. Urdu. So she was just “something extra on the side?” Miriam felt anger rush back with tidal force. She can leave. and English. never even slept in his bed if she could help .already here. followed by a torrential downpour that soaked her to the skin in moments. slamming the door behind her so hard it shook the entryway windows. and he was screwing someone else? And she had a drawer in Ben’s apartment? The drawer itself was beside the point. or laughed with her. I might as well stay. Miriam hadn’t ever wanted a drawer. consumed by rage. kissing her as he started the car. Never kissed her. but changed his mind. Rachel. laughing at something she said. Now. lost in thought.” He turned back to Miriam and started to say something. She stuffed her feet into her shoes and stormed out of Ben’s apartment. Thunder rumbled and a flash of lightning lit the night sky. Miriam watched as Ben held the car door open for Rachel.” Ben growled and pushed Rachel out the door.
in Ben’s bed. What had Miriam’s breath coming in ragged. making fun of stupid. his betrayal of her on top of everything else. ready to burst. people yelling.it. Did he hit Rachel. Why were cars driving on the sidewalk? The thought flitted through her briefly. despite the rain. The anger was hot inside Miriam. a river of fire in place of blood. too? Or was that just Miriam? The way he’d held the door for Rachel—even when he’d pushed her out the door he’d done it more gently than he’d ever treated Miriam. clueless Miriam. but so lost was Miriam in her rage-fueled thoughts that she gave no notice to it. He’d probably told Rachel all about her. but Miriam had no thought for anything except Ben. She heard cars passing by. Cars were swerving around her. There was a blinding light coming from somewhere. raging gasps was the fact that Rachel knew about Miriam. but he’d never offered. They probably laughed at Miriam together. The magic was boiling. but . despite the curtains of windblown rain. but ignored that too. She paid no attention to the fact that she was dry. The night was turning bright. Ben had talked about her to Rachel. honking. everything Miriam had said in confidence.
lit up from within. The glow of her skin hadn’t subsided. skidding on the grass and disappearing into the rain-soaked night. The rider fought for control. turned to steam on contact. turned aside. but the rear tire bounced and hydroplaned on the wet asphalt and the motorcycle tipped over and slammed into the ground. the sound of water hitting a frying pan. merely set aside for a moment. and . a red Suzuki like Jack’s. too. and for the first time realized that the blinding light was her. The headlight wobbled. She noticed an odd hissing noise. and here came another car. because her burning rage at Ben was still coursing through her. sliding and tumbling. A single headlight poked through the gloom and rain. but she declined to move. the rider rolling like a rag doll across the ground. She was walking down the middle of the street. Miriam stopped. The helmeted figure skidding the bike to the side looked like Jack. and the rain was hitting her superheated skin and evaporating.was burned away almost instantly. and then Miriam saw it was a motorcycle. and somehow that pierced through her daze. approaching her like a freight train. honking and swerving around her. she was glowing like the sun.
No. tried to focus on her.” She was pleading and begging. Not again. holding her daddy’s head in her lap. I’m so sorry. No. No. holding him in her arms. plucking at her sleeve with weak fingers. I’m sorry. No. feeling the magic burst open within her. not like this. Not Jack. Not again. limp in her arms. She refused to let it happen again. She ran to him. She was suddenly eleven again. clutching his chest. tendrils of magic licking at Jack’s broken fingers. pulled his helmet off. The magic was flushing through her. again. And now. the crush of horror in her gut told her it was him. knelt beside him where he’d crashed to a stop against the curb. a man she loved was gasping for breath. watching him fight for breath. Jack. He moaned softly. gasping. trying to reassure her. heavy and limp. sobbed at the blood spurting from his nose and ears and mouth. feeling the rage shift to desperation. turning the heat to power. but his gaze wavered and he went slack in her arms. burgeoning like an explosion in a closed room.Miriam knew it was Jack. “Oh. at his eyes .
. kissed his lips. the bone showing white through torn leather. curling about her essence like a cat brushing against her legs. cracking his head against the pavement. She jerked away. toppling Jack to the ground. Tires squealed and footsteps pounded the pavement. She saw the anger in his eyes. healed like an injury in reverse. and she didn’t care. She felt the magic obey her. back through Jack.and bleeding nose. She saw his fists clenched. sought out with her essence-sight any cut. and she sent it back out. Miriam sobbed and dove back into herself. any scrape. filtering through his ears into his brain. the possessive jealousy at the sight of her with another man. stood up and turned to face Ben. and Miriam felt laughter bubbling up in her. eliciting a moan from him. The flow of blood slowed and his broken arm. Miriam?” and she felt his hands grasp her shoulder and yank her. That sent Miriam over the edge. and Ben’s voice boomed out. a kind of wild joy at the power blazing in her. any hurt on him and commanded the magic to heal it. closing her eyes and feeling the magic swirl around her. put Jack’s coat under his head. “What the hell are you doing.
She had the magic within her grasp.“Who is that. There was a whoompf. makes me hot like you never could in your wildest dreams. she squeezed it. Ben. compared to him. from you. felt the heat subsume her and turn white-hot. Do you remember when you were drunk and beating on me in your parking lot? Jack’s the one who rescued me. like gas-soaked wood catching fire. Kissed me better than you ever have. He rescued me. she had the rage in her grip. “He kissed me that night. Only this time. it is. He stepped toward her. Miriam? Is that who you’ve been with. the crazed blindness that had almost killed her just the other day. like a backdraft. and she wanted him to see her like this. and she didn’t care what happened anymore. His eyes were full of the madness again. she was ready. like a bull ready to charge. One kiss from him is better than a thousand from you. behind my back?” Ben had the gall to act outraged. moaning and coming to consciousness. and she was lit up . You’re pathetic. “Yes. She wanted no secrets.” That got Ben’s attention. to know who–what–he thought he loved.” She was full of magic and rage and bravado. Jack was at her feet. He turns me on.
stepping toward him. and she saw the terror still stark in his eyes as he looked . her body was a woman’s body carved from living flame. I’ll kill you. to tell Ben to leave. burning with sunfire. and her foot shook the earth as if she were a giant looming a hundred feet high. Ben. “What the fuck are you?” She heard him say. but not moving away. She smiled. Ben was transfixed. but a gout of flame burst from her like dragon breath. She opened her mouth to speak. no. and she laughed. climbed into his car and drove away. as clearly defined as if she were naked. forcing Ben to throw himself backward to the ground and scramble away. Miriam took a step forward. her female form writ in tongues of fire hotter than the sun itself. mouth agape. that wasn’t right: she looked down and knew that she was fire. fear for once etched in his eyes. “I’m over you. She saw her curves. I’ll burn you to a crisp. “If I see you again. that’s what I am.” she answered. Jack was shielding his face with an arm. and the sound of her voice was the tolling of a thousand bells.” He fled.from within. unburned somehow despite being mere inches from the inferno of her body.
His palms explored her body.” came his answer. where he always put his hands. if that was possible. saw it flowing around him. “You’re you. It was cryptic. she felt his touch as soft and familiar and desire-inflaming as ever. She felt her magic arcing between them. but what she saw in his eyes nearly extinguished her. He lifted a hand. and he was gasping for breath.” Jack said. she was kissing him. eyes shining with wonder. Jack?” She was prepared for him to run as well. His hands rested on her waist. but he remained unburned. “No. but she . He stepped closer to her. looking into her soul.in the rearview mirror. glowing and flickering. then. but he wasn’t. The flames were licking at him. pushing her even hotter. whispered. as if testing the heat. protecting him. Miriam turned to face Jack. A step forward. She saw her own eyes reflected in his. hesitant. who was standing now. “Are you afraid. and he was close enough that he should have been consumed. where they fit so perfectly. feeling the fire that was her essence washing through him.
Love. but even more love. You’re Miriam. but they were there. He was waiting. “I don’t know what I am. “But I know who you are. for fear.heard the meaning beneath the words. *** Somehow they were at her apartment. She didn’t know how. Jack kissed her neck.” She wrapped her arms around him. Jack was standing in front of her. reveling in the joy of belonging. the fires no longer burning. slipped his hands under the . leather jacket tossed over a shoulder.” she whispered. just flickering low and dull. Miriam breathed deep. had no memory of walking or riding or driving there. and a little fear. staring at her with a smile. thumb in a jeans pocket.” Jack said. closed her eyes and searched her heart for reservations. And you belong to me. for hesitation. She knew what he was waiting for: permission. she found none. that didn’t scare her quite as much. and his eyes showed curiosity. but not quite banked either. and she was back to flesh now. only desire. though. “Me neither. ready to burst alight once more. It was true.
a habit of his she was growing to anticipate every time he put his hands on her waist. Her heart was pounding against her ribs: she had never. led him by the hand to her bedroom. but if you don’t–” “No! It’s not that. Maybe she was still afraid. Miriam wasn’t sure how to answer. Now here was Jack. laughing in embarrassment. I do. where she could let down her walls and just be herself. “You’re trembling. at least not in words. or anyone. Not Nick. closed the door. What’s wrong?” Jack seemed to be attuned to every least detail. you know. He had gotten inside her walls. “I–oh it’s nothing. It’s just that–” she cut herself off. “It’s stupid. I . I do. Her bedroom was a sanctum. ever let anyone into her bedroom. I thought you wanted to. or Ben. She pulled away from him. I’ve never let anyone in my room before. it’s not. and she wasn’t sure how. Are you nervous? We don’t have to do this.bottom hem of her shirt again. God. in her bedroom.” “No. Miriam didn’t answer. both physical and metaphorical. every change in her mood.
She didn’t have to explain her past to him.” Miriam said.mean. she just disappeared one day. but it reminded Miriam that Jack knew nothing about her. I never looked for . left?” “I mean…” Miriam hated that it was still raw enough to make her angry and sad.” “Not even your parents?” It seemed like an innocent question. I’m sorry! I had no idea. and my mom left when I was sixteen. The one thing about Ben was that he knew it all. Jack.” “Left? What do you mean. like no one. even now. or who with. Ever. “I mean. I don’t know where she went. That may have been part of why Miriam was so hesitant to start anything with Jack: she didn’t want to have to explain her life story. It’s a long story. switching from passion to empathy with a speed that amazed her. Back to Iraq. “The short version is this. He knew all about her parents. “Oh god. My dad died of a heart attack when I was eleven. maybe? I don’t know. “My parents are both gone.” Miriam hated how much of a non-answer that was. Left me a couple thousand bucks on the kitchen table and vanished.” Jack sat down on the bed next to her.
That’s–god. I really did bring you in here to…with other intentions…but I might as well give you the quick and dirty rundown of the mess that has been my life. It was an arranged .” “You’re her family. “I don’t know. Jack. Mom was married to him when she was barely sixteen I think. like. basically. Then…she just stopped answering the door. So you’re. let me crash on her couch the night after the house got repo’d. as if facing a question he’d never even considered before. but she doesn’t want to see me. where’d you live? On the streets?” “God. Daddy died when I was eleven. “I…I don’t know how to respond to that. alone? Completely?” “Yeah.” “Your house got repo’d? So. not now. I didn’t want to get into all this. I’ve got an aunt on my mom’s side in Dearborn. When Mom first left. that’s shitty. and I haven’t bothered with her since.her. stunned.” Jack was silent for a long time. how can she not want to see you?” Jack was completely at a loss. Aunt Fatima gave me some money. Daddy…he was the one who loved me.
and it was just me and Mom. but it just…felt different. unless she had to.” Jack was quiet. did my laundry. Then I started school and I would go with him to the store after school. listening . so I was used to coming home to an empty house. Felt different. all that old world stuff. And then. one day. telling me she was gone. my dishes. Every day. basically. That’s where I did my homework. Then he died. somehow. and she…I swear she hated me. shut up–and he would let me have candy. Never talked to me. I knew it when I walked in the door. I came home from school and she was gone. on the little black and white portable. and we would listen to music and he let me ask as many questions as I wanted. or just out. She was always gone. I raised myself. Daddy adored me. he owned a liquor store. Took me everywhere. I don’t know where. and she showed it. made my dinners. Spent most of her time with her sister. Did my homework. She never wanted him. Like the silence was heavy. where I watched TV.marriage. I would sit behind him in the liquor store–yes. never wanted me. and soda. you know? Have you ever just known something? The house was different. I’ve been taking care of myself since I was eleven.
” “You don’t have to tell me all this. but nothing I could take with me besides clothes and a few movies and my iPod. that first night in my own place. Then I got an apartment. you know. but somehow he made her feel . and I promise you. head on his shoulder. And let me tell you. thumpthump-thumpthump.” Miriam continued. and by then I had enough money saved to buy a used car. feeling it beat. My friend Yanira convinced her dad to let me stay with them.” Miriam laid down next to him. She expected pity from him. I’ll listen. god bless him. and he wasn’t a hardass like Ben.” Jack said. got me my first job. She felt safe. but she saw none. nothing you tell me will change how I feel. I had a few things. I stayed with them for about a month. waiting tables at Kerby’s Coney Island. earned with my own money…that was special. “until it got repo’d. I mean. The lights and water and all that shut off about a week before the bank took it. hand on his chest over his heart.intently. was prepared to hate him for it. and Yanira’s dad. “I was able to stay in the house for six months. Jack wasn’t as big or strong as Ben. and I lived in that. “It’s your business.
Just have it out of the way. and she was glad. searching her face. She felt desire stirring in her stomach. and Miriam cradled her head against his chest again. “I’d rather tell you all this now. Jack let the issue drop. “I threatened to kill him if I saw him again. so I’d say yeah. and he propped up on an elbow. for the comfort of his presence. touching the skin of his chest. I’m done with him. I like honesty. “I don’t know. and it never went well. She wasn’t ready to talk about that yet. are we?” She craned her neck to look at him. “Are you done with Ben? Like for good?” His tone was serious. and she slipped her hand under his shirt. .” “Are we dating now?” Jack had his face buried in her hair.” “That was awesome.” “What? The threatening to kill Ben. muffling his voice.” Jack laid back down. by the way. I’ve tried not telling guys I was dating. greedy for his warmth.safer than she’d ever felt in her life. or the thing with the fire?” “Both. tracing circles in the light coating of hair on his chest.
but as I got closer I realized it was you. Well. and then I saw this glow. I knew it in my gut. wanting nothing . and I lost control…” Jack trailed off. Something bad was going to happen if I didn’t stop it. too.” Miriam said. I knew I should’ve taken my Jeep. I assume that’s Ben’s apartment. right? Well. I saw you walking in the rain. “You know Gramps’ Second Sight? He says I have it. There were several minutes of comfortable silence. yeah. which is how I had that dream about Joe. “Jack? I have a question. but I was going too fast. it seems like a a crazy coincidence. shrugging.” Jack didn’t answer right away. It started raining.” “What’s that?” “How is it you were there. at my cousin’s apartment complex. Miriam traced lines on the skin of his chest. but I was in too much of a hurry. then Miriam said. I was going to go to your apartment. or something. on that road at that time? I mean. it was real. so I turned around and headed back to where I first met you. At first I thought a building was on fire. and I saw Ben show up in his car…and it wasn’t just a dream. I had a dream about you. but that just didn’t feel right.“So I guess we are dating.
a thousand unasked questions glittering in his gaze. and as she did so she had a momentary vision of Jack before she had healed him. his lips soft and gentle and questing. She knew exactly where that would lead. he hadn’t crashed his bike. She couldn’t help pressing up into the kiss to deepen it. though. That was something she wanted. She tried to resist. but . Not yet. but wasn’t ready to let that happen.more than to kiss him and never stop. pulled away from the kiss. she couldn’t help that his strong arms around her fanned the coals of passion into burning flames. her other hand on the hard muscles of his stomach. dipped his head down and kissed her. so wonderful. only affectionate and considerate. so hot she was worried she might burst alight once more. She forced the fire down. and god. He rolled slightly so he was leaning over her. Miriam couldn’t help her reaction. so alien to her. but her body wouldn’t obey. desperately. tangling her fingers in his hair at the back of his head. and her thoughts were brushed away by the tenderness in his kiss. Jack looked down at her. lying broken and bleeding on the road. a gentility that was not at all unmasculine. but in this vision.
not answering. okay? I don’t want to do this if you’re not ready. I’m not.” Miriam buried her face between his neck and shoulder. The brief vision doused her passion. Just tell me why. finding comfort in his hand wandering up to rub her back. shaking. gently but firmly. look at me. merciless fists. I want you. so turned on by you. Jack pulled her back toward him. you’re so beautiful. I’m…god. eyes stinging with tears she didn’t understand. Jack. “I’m so sorry. Not yet. “I thought…I thought this is what you wanted?” Miriam covered her face with her hands. and she turned away.” “No. if you’re not ready. I just…I can’t. not knowing how. I really did. I know I told you–I know you must be so frustrated. And it’s not that I don’t want . pulled her hands away and brushed the tears from her cheek. How could I not be? Look at you.rather had been pummeled into a pulp by Ben’s quick. please?” Jack tipped her chin up. “What’s wrong?” Jack asked. I understand. and she finally met his eyes. I’m sorry. “If you don’t want to.” “Miriam. “I–I did. I’m not. I keep doing this to you. yes. so attracted to you.
He won’t let go that easily.to. But I just…I don’t think he’s done with me. So please. I–I had this vision of you all bloody and beaten up. brushing her hair out of the way and massaging the muscles of her neck. and Ben had had too much to drink again. but close. not actually kill a man. jumped you as you were coming out? He would kill you. please. I’ve seen him do that before. “It’s Ben. I promise. I know I told you I was done with him.” Miriam shook her head. I want you. I do. I healed you back there. and I knew Ben had done it. only relaxing and comforting. . trying to banish the memory. “We were out having dinner. but unable to. He moved aside so that she was lying on her stomach. It’s crazy how badly I want this. but what if…what if he followed you to work and waited for you. Jack. and I am. With his bare hands.” “Then what is it?” Jack’s fingers were rubbing up and down her back. moving her shirt up and rubbing her skin with a sensuality and affection that was in no way sexual. and that it was my fault. I want to do this with you more than I–more than I should for how short a time I’ve known you. and he kneaded the muscles of her shoulder and back. don’t think it’s that.
talking on his cell phone outside his car.and this guy was in the parking lot. “You deserve better than me. Miriam…god. Jack. And that was just a random guy that had ticked Ben off.” Jack stopped massaging her and looked at her with incredulity.” Her voice went quiet. If he knew we were doing this. almost inaudible. I just can’t. If anything happened to you. talking. because of me…I’d–I couldn’t deal with that. I’m sure you can take care of yourself. You deserve better than this. going out together…I don’t know what he’d do. it was awful. Ben lost it. I know I’ve said this before. but it’d be bad. Attacked the guy and beat him into hamburger. He was unrecognizable before I could pull Ben away from him. and the guy just ignored Ben asking him to please move. Jack. He’d parked so close to Ben’s truck that Ben couldn’t get in. I’m just…I can’t–I can’t go there with you. I can’t believe you’d say that. I’m not trying to insult you. “I can’t put you at risk like that. and I know you think you can handle him. It was…god. “I know I didn’t just hear that.” “Isn’t that my decision?” Jack asked. You . Just snapped.
and I won’t be scared off by anything. You’re smart. and strong…Miriam. Listen.” Jack ran his fingers through her hair as he spoke. you can’t get rid of me. Let’s start with that. I mean…gorgeous. “I’ll be honest here. Everything else is an obstacle. It doesn’t scare me. Unless you tell me that you aren’t attracted to me. and kind. I like you. The important thing is that you can’t scare me away with stories of Ben beating people up. okay? I like you a lot. “It’s not stupid. Her thick brown hair had come loose from its braid. so I can be with you. but it doesn’t. . and she used the fingers of one hand to untangle it the rest of the way before grabbing a brush from the bedside table to brush it out.are…how do I even say this so you’ll believe me? You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Maybe it should. that’s stupid. Let’s not talk about who does or doesn’t deserve what. you’ve got that backwards. It’s the way I feel. You’re beautiful. and you don’t want to be with me. his eyes intense on hers.” “Jack. It’s me who doesn’t deserve you. I want you broken up with Ben for myself.” Miriam rolled to prop herself up on an elbow.
You deserve better than him. because I think I can take care of you.But it’s more than that. “I believe you. rolled away from him. admiring her. but she wanted it. wanted the comfort . I swear it. In every way.” That kind of answer from Jack didn’t help her efforts to resist him. I want you to be with me. watching his liquid blue eyes drinking her in.” Jack cupped her face. She fought her desire. a smile on his face that was so…complicatedly wonderful…that she almost lost her determination. She knew it wasn’t fair of her to ask him to lay this close to her. I can protect you. “I can wait as long as you need. “That’s okay.” she said. She laid down. no matter what. Ben will kill me before he hurts you ever again.” Miriam felt the confidence with which he said this. “And I want to be with you. I just can’t… yet. I want to be your girlfriend. She had to look away from him before she kissed him. I will protect you. and she didn’t doubt him. I know I can. reached behind her for his hand and pulled him close to her. and make love to you.” Jack said. pressed up against her. and treat you right. Jack. I can treat you like you deserve. I want to kiss you.
of his presence. holding her tightly. his breath soft on her hair. trying not to imagine what it would be like to be loved. She lay awake for a long time. . It might feel something like this. and he cradled up against her in his sleep. protecting her. actually loved. even if she couldn’t have him the way she truly wanted. His arm slipped over her waist. gently. Jack’s breathing evened out to a soft snore. his hand on her stomach.
perhaps. She’d obviously heard about . There: Rachel Korolivycz. The problem was. a job. An apartment. He scanned the file again. So he had another girlfriend? That would create a motive: jealousy. trying to connect the dots. waiting for that one detail to jump out at him. 4555 Gardenia Avenue. not reading so much as staring. Royal Oak. Jenn and Carson drove up to Royal Oak.Chapter 11: Now Carson sat at his desk. flipping through the file. Frequently seen with Benjamin Omar at Woody’s Diner. there weren’t that many dots. but not the only one. an ex with a temper and a penchant for beating up girls. Ben was my boyfriend. But that didn’t necessarily make Miriam the primary person of interest. seeing the names and dates and phone numbers he’d seen a thousand times so far. 248-555-6545. The most likely candidate. letting his mind wander. eyes red from crying. “Yeah.” Rachel told them.
“Not from me.” Rachel sat at the bar at Woody’s. at both Rachel’s . She was nothing. That other girl. “And yeah. I was. so you knew your boyfriend had another girlfriend. He didn’t care about her. Rachel shrugged. not dating her. not quite believing what she was hearing. “She wasn’t his girlfriend.” Jenn shook her head. She was just pussy for him.” Jenn’s face crinkled in disgust. “So you knew. “She was just a booty call. He loved me. and you didn’t care?” Rachel gave Jenn a look of petulant angst.Ben. a sweating bottle of Michelob Lite in her hand. trying to push a response out of Rachel. There is a difference. “Wait. He was fucking her. I knew he was sleeping with–what was her name? Mary? Miri? Mara? What the hell ever. and it didn’t bother you?” Outright disbelief bled through Jenn’s normally emotionless voice.” “So there was no jealousy at all?” Jenn was pressing the point. Someone to take care of his urges when I’m working. He told me all the time.
” . “It was probably Miriam. She liked things by the book.language and her ideas. honestly. traditional. yes. but fell silent. Carson decided to rescue Jenn from Rachel before she had a nervous breakdown. He watched Jenn carefully: she was rubbing her palm on her pants leg. but it worked for her. Girls like Rachel were enough to send Jenn into paroxysms of disgust. crisp and organized and polished and formal. Stupid slut. “But–” Rachel started. calling Carson “detective” and wearing suits all the time. Jenn would be bitching all the way back to the precinct. The men Jenn dated were all buttoned-up sorts.” Carson used the TV phrasing just to mess with her. “So you have no idea who would want to kill Ben?” Rachel looked at Carson in surprise. “I kind of thought it was an accident. scribing the pen on the legal pad in dark circles. They made Carson want to vomit. and would probably put on a metric shit-ton of hand sanitizer. or something? You mean someone…murdered him?” “We suspect foul play. Jenn was straight-laced. She was angry at being used.
to her credit.” Rachel cringed a little.” She seemed genuinely shocked. did you know that Ben put Miriam in the hospital? He beat her nearly to death. I’d probably shoot him. I know Ben has a temper. back in the car. “No. He’s gotten angry. watching as Jenn dug her bottle of Purell out of the glovebox and rubbed it into her hands.” Jenn said. that’s terrible. Carson didn’t get the sense that this girl had had anything to do with Ben’s death. so.Carson wanted to let his contempt for Rachel show but forced himself to remain blank-faced and professional. “Wow. “How messed up was she? I mean. but…god. and then again. and maybe screamed at me a few times.” Jenn said. but he’s never hit me. tomorrow is Saturday. “So. And then break up with him. I didn’t know that. Is she okay? I mean. “Hey. and just not care? I don’t get it. how could you know your boyfriend was sleeping with someone else. god help the guy who gets on your bad side. If Greg ever cheated on me. however much he may have personally disliked her.” Carson said. Carson cracked a window to let the alcohol smell out of the car. “You know I have those reservations at the B and B up .” “Yeah.
Maybe she found out that Ben had another girlfriend. I’ve got a few leads to work on. “I mean. I remember you saying something about it. I’ll call you. right?” Carson nodded. “Yeah.” “You sure? I could see if Greg can reschedule…” Jenn obviously hoped Carson wouldn’t pursue this option.” Carson said. her mind already on vacation. you know? I don’t know when we’ll get another weekend together. “I’m sure. you know. Jenn. but Greg doesn’t take too much time off. I can handle this case on my own. That .” Carson waved his hand. It could still be jealousy on Miriam’s part. “Nah. I’m not actually a rookie. and Jenn waved a hasty goodbye to Carson.” Jenn said.” “Will you be okay if I still go?” Jenn asked. If anything comes up. I hate leaving you in the middle of a case. “No problem. It’s fine.” “Thanks. “I’ll be okay.” he said. it’s fine. Carson sat at his desk far into the evening. facts and theories doing their endless tumble in his head. They drove back to the precinct.north with Greg.
combined with his penchant for hitting her might equal a breakdown bad enough to kill. Betsy Willis. A woman would have had to be pretty damn pissed off to douse a man with fire propellant and torch him. a motorcycle licensed to Jack Byrne found abandoned on the side of 11 Mile Road near Crooks. I saw this…oh how would you describe it…it was like a glow. “Oh my. And anyways. But that still didn’t quite work. “I was watching my shows--this was quite late you know. not murder by arson. It didn’t make any sense. a 74 year-old widow living alone in the second-floor apartment across the street. I can’t sleep much these days. scratched and damaged as if the rider had laid it down. there would be other evidence. that was quite a show!” Betsy exclaimed with unabashed excitement. If Miriam had poured lighter fluid on Ben. like . *** The next break came in the form of an abandoned vehicle report. A canvass of the houses in the immediate area where the bike was found produced one witness. But crimes of jealousy usually took the form of gunshots or stab wounds.
and that wasn’t the smartest thing . When I first saw her. So I went to look and see what it was. “Of course. Well. Well I’m sure you don’t want to know about Mister Wiggles. because if it was a fire I would have to find Mister Wiggles. I may be old. and he doesn’t move around so good. my cat. she was just strolling down the middle of the road. but I know what I saw. she was just…glowing. I would have caught pneumonia. It was a girl.something was on fire outside. but at my age. And. my goodness. but he swerved at the last second. a motorcycle comes zipping down the street and almost hits her. I swear I’m telling you the truth. wouldn’t you know that’s just my luck. like me. But she wasn’t walking on the sidewalk. and I was worried about her. this one right here. and would you believe what I saw? It was a girl. it lit up the whole street. as I was watching. detective. I went to the window. I mean. He’s old too. you know. and she was on fire. and cars were going around her. Or no. no one stopped to see if the poor girl was alright. it was so bright. Her skin. and you know I would have gone out there. honking their horns and such. It was raining something fierce that night. that came later.
And wouldn’t you know. and it’s all God’s truth. Now. but you wouldn’t be interested in that. God rest his soul. and I wouldn’t believe what happened next if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. so bright I had to look away. I think she loved that boy. detective. if it wasn’t for that girl. like she had the sun inside her. and I think it must have healed him. it made me so angry to watch how he treated that poor girl. what with the pouring rain. so help me. but I saw what I saw. She bent over him. would have gone out there and given that boy a piece of his . and I’m sure you won’t believe me. She must have known the boy on the motorcycle. that strange glow moved from her into him and spread out. And then a fancy red sport car comes squealing to a stop and this big guy with dark hair gets out and starts yelling. His back tire went out from under him and he lost control. and I think he would have. and I could see her shaking her head. My Frank. and I was sure he was going to die. this is where things get exciting.to do. because she ran up to him and took him in her arms. as odd as that sounds. that’s my feeling. He was hurt badly. that poor boy. like…oh. “Oh. and the glowing of her skin got brighter.
but Frank has been gone these ten years. Well. The other boy. you could see that from the way they were standing. rest him. She shoved him away. you know. She must have said something that made the boy with the dark hair upset. that’s what it looked like to me. and her whole body was on fire. at any rate. But she wasn’t burning. it was like…oh goodness. and then. Well that seemed to scare the angry one. oh she didn’t like that one bit. detectives. I swear. She just went poof. I swear on my very soul. That’s what I saw. He grabbed that girl by the arm and yanked her away so that boy who was hurt hit his head on the street. because he got into his car and drove away. the one who crashed his motorcycle. detective. and they were arguing. because I’ve seen wrecks like that before and people die . and the girl. if you’ll believe it. She was acting like she’d had just about enough of that guy with the fancy car. the girl burst into flames.mind. if that makes any sense. I don’t know. because he started after her like he was going to hit her. like the fire was part of her. which he shouldn’t have been. he was just fine. I’ll tell you. like someone had put a match to her. I’ll tell you.
what’s his name from the book…David Copperfield. “This is the weirdest part. Another piece of the puzzle rattled around in his brain with the others. because she never seemed to pause to breathe. he and the girl were standing together in the rain and they kissed. And of course. The pieces were going to fall into place before long. I watched out the window for a long time. and oh my. however unbelievable it may have sounded. a few more witnesses. but nothing else happened. they were really gone. He just needed a few more facts. because then the fire that was coming from the girl got really bright and then they both just vanished.from injuries like he must’ve had. though. But her story. and that motorcycle stayed there by the side of the road for awhile until someone came and took it away. I swear. something told him. was that ever romantic. It was no trick. he had to find Miriam and get her side of the story. just like that handsome magician. They were just gone. struck Carson as making a very strange kind of sense. Only.” Carson felt out of breath just listening to the old woman talk. . Well.
” Jack whispered in her ear. “I look like a skank. and was cut the same in the back. She had bought it because Jack had liked it the best. showing a strip of skin nearly to her navel. His hungry. The dress barely came to mid-thigh. trying to get it closer to her knees. Miriam. that was one thing.” she whispered back. She was comfortable in her waitress uniform. She wasn’t used to wearing dresses. especially not ones this…skimpy. and he’d spent half the drive to the church telling her how lovely she looked. and the filmy coralcolored material was cut low between her breasts. admiring gaze had made her feel sexy and beautiful. You look amazing. a pair of black jeans and a bar T-shirt. Modeling it for him in the dressing room and her apartment before they left. But that hadn’t prepared her for the looks she’d gotten from Jack’s family when they’d walked in to take their seats on the hard wooden pews of the . “Stop fidgeting.Chapter 12: Then Miriam tugged the hem of her dress.
“She is a skank. and he nodded behind them.” Jack said. yeah.church. but then. and Jack sputtered. She’s my cousin. It’s how we . and we laugh. now she looks likes a skank.” Miriam slapped his arm. and I love her. trying to contain his laughter. She was wearing a pale red dress even shorter than Miriam’s. and pushed her large breasts up to nearly overflowing. a little too loudly. It’s how we are. She goes through men faster than she does outfits. so he lifted his hands in a defensive gesture. Miriam’s eyes widened a little. but that guy she’s dragging with her is the third boyfriend she’s had in the last six months. We tease each other. She tried to spot who he was talking about.” Miriam was giving him a disapproving glare. she is one. “I tell her she’s a skank to her face and she calls me a fancynancy bastard. voluptuous girl with elaborately-coiffured black hair coming down the aisle to take her seat on the bride’s side.” “You insult each other?” “Well. Miriam. “My cousin Shannon. shocked that he’d talk about his own cousin like that. at a short. “You do not.
” Mary was a beautiful girl.” “I don’t get it. could see the bride swallowing. She took her place beside her fiance. no. clasped his hands in hers and fixed her eyes on him. and we know it. Will they tease me?” They were whispering now. and they expect you to rib ‘em back. but it’s just the way we are. because the priest was rising from his seat and approaching the lectern. fighting back tears .” Jack shrugged. “Not right away. It’ll probably be either Gramps or my cousin Joe. Miriam. now that I think about it.show love in our family. The better you can tease and be teased in our family. the better you fit in. But the more time you spend with us. Jack answered without taking his eyes off his sister. measured steps down the aisle. just to see how you take it. resplendent in a simple but stunning A-line dress and long veil covering her shimmering auburn hair. The organist played the “Wedding March” and everyone stood to watch Jack’s younger sister Mary stride with slow. “I guess it’s weird. Just remember they don’t mean nothin’ by it. We don’t mean any harm by it. everyone’ll know you belong. yeah. only a few rows back. someone will probably tease you about something. If you can keep up with Joey.
to stand there. followed her to . Miriam wondered what it would be like. told her his sister was getting married the next weekend. “I thought we could go shopping. and their eyes met. He took her to breakfast. Miriam couldn’t help picturing Jack in a tuxedo. early on a Sunday morning.” He wanted to take her shopping? What guy voluntarily did that? Of course. unannounced as always. that little knowing smile of his that both irritated her and made her smile back. watching her walk down the aisle to him– Miriam clamped down on that image with a ruthless ferocity. so we could make a day out of it. promising to stay with him forever. who was watching his soon-to-be brother-in-law with an odd expression on his face. “I don’t really have a suit either. like that. She stole a glance at Jack.already. and Jack had just smirked. she’d agreed. and Jack had taken her to Somerset. and he wanted Miriam to come with him as his date. She objected that she didn’t really have any wedding-appropriate clothes. He’d shown up at her door. Jack turned to look at Miriam at the same moment.” he’d said. facing a man she loved. She just couldn’t picture it. in a white dress.
Of course. “Get this one.a dozen stores and watched her try on a thousand dresses. Then. he’d browsed through the racks at the first store they’d entered. not quite actually dropping open. but to draw the attention of every guy within a twenty foot radius was something different. just because guys were so irritating.” he’d told her. and that was uncomfortable. telling her he liked them all. whispering in her ear as he kissed the bare skin of her shoulder where it met her neck. and bought it. his jaw had loosened. for he told . Eventually she’d tried a dress on at Forever 21. tried on one suit. making him look like a model with his messy hair and limpid blue eyes. but she also felt the eyes of other men. it fit perfectly. that was one thing. Now they were at the wedding itself and she was wishing she’d gotten a dress that wasn’t quite so… revealing. She loved Jack’s reaction to it. and he’d approached her with adventurous hands. Jack seemed to sense her discomfort. tickling her. just for his reaction. and when she’d come out to show him. A grab here and there by drunk customers at the bar. She’d gotten that one.
I’ll fight ‘em off. The service finally ended.” He didn’t seem to want to tell her about it. Jack. unfamiliar Catholic service. Just keep them from stealing you. holding Jack’s arm. He laughed and rolled his eyes. They all do it just because they know it drives . That thing with John. She offered her congratulations to the bride and groom. It’s you. and she didn’t pry. “I hate being called Jackie. “Not literally fight them.” He seemed to have an endless supply of cousins.” When they were in his car following the caravan to the reception. shook hands with an endless bevy of cousins and aunts and uncles. “Don’t worry. he remarked. most of whom referred to him as “Jackie. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of my cousins hit on you. You’re absolutely stunning. Miriam.her. stretching her legs after the hours-long ceremony. halfway through the long. and Miriam gladly followed Jack out into the sunlight. “It’s not just the dress that’s making everyone look.” She was worried what she would do if there was another fight. although she was curious.” “No! No fighting. having gleaned the basics from the argument itself. that was…an old argument a long time in the making.
dancing straight through from cocktail hour to the dinner itself. though. but if you really want to…” She pretended to consider. “I’d rather you not. “God.” She pinched his cheek. Jackie. Jackie. It’s cute. no problem. I think I like it. and even during dinner there were people dancing.” The reception was enormous. Jack escorted her to their table near the wedding party where they were sitting with his brothers John and William. and the groom’s brother and sister.” “So I shouldn’t call you. He sat her down and vanished. reappearing with drinks in moments. “How do you want me to introduce you? My friend? Just Miriam?” She shook her head.me nuts. Introduce me as that. .” If only he knew how much trust it was taking for her to say that. He leaned in and whispered. it seemed. There were at least 500 people between Jack’s family and the groom’s. “Hmmm. and all of them were Irish. you’ll fit in. I never should’ve said anything. Jack. “I’m your girlfriend.” he laughed. and he batted her hand away. then?” Miriam teased. and they all had drinks in their hands. “Yeah.
She felt her wariness increasing as the night progressed and Jack got sloppier. telling herself to stop comparing them. never introducing her. and that in itself was disconcerting. and he had seemed almost ashamed of her. letting himself get tipsy. to a Marine Corps unit reunion dinner.” He seemed proud of the fact that Miriam was with him. introduced . and he would be no exception. Jack was a world away from Ben. “I was hoping you’d say that. She was waiting for the shift. but I didn’t want to assume. But he didn’t. not quite but almost emphasizing the words “this is my girlfriend.He grinned. She had broken up with Ben for good. she realized. who seemed to unwind a bit. barely touching her. He’d get drunk. giddy as a schoolboy. keeping up with Jack. do or say something to ruin the whole thing. She pushed away the thoughts. He stayed at her side. She drank freely. and things were going to change. Ben had never taken her anywhere important except once. flirting with the other men’s girls in a way that had pissed nearly everyone off and embarrassed Miriam to tears.” He made the rounds of introductions. It always happened.
no one was fooled by that line. but not uncomfortable. I did. I’m here as Jack’s girlfriend. “Did Jackie tell you about my Second Sight?” Gramps asked. wrinkled hand in hers.” . yes. calloused. dancing with such abandon. miss Miriam. felt herself led away from Jack. that she couldn’t help but relax and join him. I’m old fashioned that way.her to his family. Halfway through the first slow dance song. dragged her onto the dance floor.” “I like you too…Gramps. not just a friend. then?” “Yes Mister Byrne.” “Och. please.” It sounded odd. She had never known her own grandparents. And call me Gramps. “He did mention something. and I like you. You may have been foolin’ yourself. girlie. What is it? He couldn’t explain it very well. to call this kind old man Gramps. this time. Jack’s grandfather tapped him on the shoulder. Jackie-boy?” Miriam took Séan’s huge. “So. letting her own buzz take over. “Can I steal a dance with your lovely date. if not skill. actually. did you take my advice. but not us. He acted ridiculous.
he just won’t believe it. and she stood still when it ended. Second Sight is like prophecy. his whiskers scratching her face. like. child. not sure how to respond. but you’re something’ special. “I’m just me. whiskey on his breath. “I look at you. Gramps. darlin’. You don’t know yourself.” Miriam was strangely shaken by his words.” she whispered. He knows damned well what is. and I see a girl who ain’t just what she seems. and that’s God’s own truth. Miriam shook her head. “What’d Gramps say this time?” Jack wanted to know. He handed her back to Jack. You can’t shy away from what y’are. and kissed her cheek. he was. I ain’t sayin’ I know what you are. You’re more.” He looked down at Miriam. He don’t believe what he can’t see. and that’ll get you into trouble. He’s got it himself. Gettin’ a glimpse of the future. still holding his hand. . dear.” He smiled. Comes from havin’ the Blood of the Niall. “Oh. and his gaze was penetrating and serious.Gramps guffawed and shook his head. and took a seat. They danced through the end of the song. he was being coy. “No.
” Miriam felt something cold strike her chest. He just told me about the Second Sight a bit. And as for your threat? You won’t do anything. Jack. Ben? Do you remember what I told you. There’s nothing you hate so much as making a . Miriam is my girlfriend. The truth.” “Which. he sounded just like his grandfather. Ben flashed a humorless. “You think you can sneak around behind my back without me finding out? You’re not so hard to follow. Jack’s face was hard. last time I saw you?” She put every ounce of steel and threat she had into her voice. then?” Sometimes.“He…nothing. arrogant grin. when his accent showed through. “That’s insulting.” Miriam wanted to take a step back. Not here. after all. “What are you doing here. “I wasn’t invited?” Ben’s voice was low and heavy with threat. away from his jealousy-maddened eyes. suddenly. She turned around to see Ben in his full dress uniform standing less than a foot away. and angry. you know. a sense of dread creeping through her. “Don’t worry about it.
pal. She felt Gramps and John and William all floating up to stand by Jack. “You think I’m afraid of you? A bunch of drunk micks?” There were growls and grumbles and curses from behind Miriam at the slur. others still oblivious. Trust me. “I know what you done to this girl. “Come on. he was still a large man.” Jack stepped in front of Miriam. boy-o. and that he had once been a powerful figure. you’ll get the fuck out of here before I kick your teeth straight down your goddamn bloody . man. shielding her.” Jack said. his voice calm but hard. if you know what’s good for you. “I know you.” Gramps said.scene. Ben didn’t seem fazed. Miriam realized that even though Séan Byrne was stooped with age. would you?” He gestured to the crowd of people around them. “You should be. lad. Ben. And boy. son.” came Gramps’ voice.” Gramps stepped forward to stand nose to nose with Ben. some watching the unfolding drama. And you wouldn’t want to be embarrassed in front of all these people. “Not here. Not at my sister’s wedding. “you’re outnumbered by a quite a fair margin. this isn’t the wedding you want to crash.
Ben spat blood and scrambled .” Ben said. John and William darted forward. he scrambled back up. “Don’t let that stop you. boy-o. grabbed Ben by the arms and legs and carried him out of the banquet hall. sagging muscles gaining firmness. his fists moving faster than Miriam would have thought an old man capable of.” Jack. hate seething with every breath.” Gramps’ accent thickened as he spoke. y’fucking pig. leathery fists turning to chunks of granite. “Get ‘im. and rushed the three Byrnes. slapping Ben’s initial fist away and sent a thundering right into Ben’s face.” he said. Miriam watched as Jack ducked to the side. William and John stepped aside and let Jack take the rush.throat. and he seemed to straighten up. spinning him around. “or I’d kill you for that. and when the brothers launched him head-first to the ground. mumbled a curse that Miriam didn’t quite catch. then rocketed a one-two punch combination that sent Ben to the ground. boys. “I don’t hit old men.” Gramps huffed. Ben stared into Gramp’s eyes. Ben was screaming and thrashing. nose bleeding.
They’ll handle him just fine. but you don’t know my boys. “Darlin’. fists up. I’m worried about them.” She realized he thought she was worried about Ben. His nose was bleeding now as well and an eye was purpling. He’s a big’un. Jack was bouncing on the balls of his feet. sure. who grabbed for her.” she pleaded. too late. draining a tumbler of whiskey. Miriam recognized the look in Ben’s eyes. If it were anyone besides Ben. and it terrified her.” The old man. Call the police. please. girlie. The boys won’t damage him too much. realizing Jack wouldn’t be an easy target.backward. he’d be right. and she wanted Jack to be no part of it. “No. Gramps and Jack’s mom calling after her. She’d seen him do horrible things when he was like this. waved a hand in dismissal. the boy’ll be fine. “Oh. She pushed between John and William.” He wasn’t going to do anything but watch.” Gramps looked at her with incredulity. you don’t understand. “don’t let them do this. Ben wasn’t faring . he ain’t that scary. She ran out of the banquet hall. body turned sideways. don’tcha worry none. “Gramps.
she’d watched him bounce enough drunks out of the bar that she knew his style. and she had to fight herself just to keep it in. waiting for the right moment. and then he’d explode in a fury of fists and feet. He’d stand his ground. but John had her held tight. He didn’t just toss them out.” Miriam tried to thrash free. She felt the fires burning. he followed them into the parking lot and wrecked them.much better so far. Ben also had a taste for snapping bones. Just as Miriam reached Jack and caught at his sleeve. Jackie can take him easy. tore them apart. let them hit him a few times. “You’re gonna get hit. . let them think they were winning. knowing she might accidentally hurt John or someone else. catching a punch in one hand and using the heel of his palm to crush his opponent’s elbow. saying. not to mention the spectacle of it all. unwilling to let the magic free in this moment. you daft girl. Ben was biding his time. She watched. keep it down. seeking release. helpless. not content to just break a nose or black an eye. John wrapped his burly arms around her midsection and pulled her away.
Miriam was at Jack’s side. her fears came true. she screamed. but he brushed her off until he realized who it was. She heard someone in the doorway gasp. twisted and thrashed with renewed desperation. A slow smile spread across Ben’s face as he kicked Jack aside and turned to deal with John. William waited until Ben was tangled up with John and then he joined the fray. and flashed his opposite palm into Jack’s elbow like a lightning strike. watching. William was a stocky man with a barrel chest and buzzed hair the same color as Jack’s. John let her go and rushed in. Miriam heard the bone snap and Jack bellowed in pain. bending backwards to get the proper leverage. caught it. trying to get her inside. holding the larger Ben nearly aloft. Jack threw a quick right jab and Ben blocked it. and then he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her away. “Help him!” she shrieked. Other family members were crowded around the door at this point.Then. and she whirled to see that Ben had thrown William over his shoulder and was lighting into John . He wrapped a thick arm around Ben’s neck and squeezed. John backed away and slugged Ben repeatedly in the stomach.
pushing Ben away with her hands on his chest. “please stop. “Jack. Ben. these people had welcomed her as family. Miriam put her hands around Jack’s broken elbow and channeled the magic. Jack. He looked at her. struggling to his feet. Before Jack could stop her. bleeding from his nose and cuts to his . I’ll–I’ll go with you. pain fading from his eyes to be replaced by fear for her. Just stop.” she said to him. she kicked off her heels and darted in between Ben and John.with a wicked barrage of blows. and John staggered away. feeling something inside her tear open. She couldn’t just stand by and watch as Ben tore them apart. felt it respond to her call and rush into Jack. William was on his back. healing him instantly. and turned to rejoin the fight. “Stop. Miriam felt desperation run through her. She wasn’t worth it. Not over her. He could tell what she was planning.” she whispered. “I…” she shook her head and turned away from him. growled.” Ben backed off. moaning. cradling his arm. Leave him alone. meeting his crazed eyes with her own. treated her kindly and with affection.
These people would gang up on Ben if she asked them to. the bride. I shouldn’t have–” Miriam saw Mary. it’s okay. I’ll go. shaking his head. talk to me! You can’t! Don’t do this!” She only shook her head. John looked down at her. and they’d win. He was battered and enraged.” Miriam pleaded. “No. turned away. reaching for Miriam. but Miriam stopped him. all of you. “I’m so sorry…I caused this. If she looked at Jack. and William was still gasping for breath and rubbing his neck where Ben had wrenched it nearly to breaking. “No.forehead and cheekbones. John was gushing blood from a dozen places and clutching his ribs. “What are you doing? Miriam. Jack’s arm was broken. her voice catching. John.” She couldn’t let anyone get hurt because of her. the hem of her beautiful dress dragging through the dirt of the . brushed the blood away and charged back at Ben. “Stop. you can’t–” Jack was beside him. I shouldn’t have come here. but the cost…too many people would get hurt. her resolve would weaken. eventually. standing next to Jack.
not to be with him. and she turned to Ben. seeking its reassurance. son. “Let her go. Miriam slid into the leather seat. Let her go.” he said. She had nothing to say. It’s her choice. still pleading with her. pushed him to his car.parking lot. but she didn’t know what else to do. “I’m glad you came to your senses. reach for her. She would die before letting Ben touch her again. Miri. She wasn’t sure this was coming to her senses. wiping blood from his chin. son. “if she loves you. . *** Ben was silent all the way back to his apartment.” Jack seemed close to sobbing. She heard Jack behind her.” Oh. and that suited Miriam just fine. felt it brush against her. “Mary. She delved inside herself for the coiled heat of the magic. She had gone with him to stop the violence. after what she’d experienced with Jack…no way. The thought of him touching her. I’m so sorry I ruined your wedding…” Miriam’s voice broke then. hearing Ben’s ragged breathing beside her. Not again. Jack. but she heard Gramps’ voice raised over his. and she heard Gramps say. she’ll find a way.
blackened feet. sad-looking donkey on the front. Ben glanced up and saw what she was wearing. staring at his phone.She followed Ben into his apartment. “What the hell Miriam? You can’t just go around wearing other people’s clothes. She stood in the entry to the kitchen. Ben. “I don’t care what you like. Like everything was normal.” She wanted to let the fire . She padded on silent feet into Ben’s room. sat down on the couch and rubbed her aching. letting her disgust and hate for him show in her eyes. She had kicked off her heels and was now shoeless. She desperately wanted to change out of the dress. an icepack against his cheek. dug in the bottom drawer of the dresser and found a pair of gray U of M sweat pants and long T-shirt with a picture of a long-eared. When she came out. Besides. understand that. letting her anger boil just beneath the surface. Except…she glanced at Ben.” He acted like nothing had happened. Eeyore? Really? She hated the thought of wearing her clothes. I’m not here for you. but anything was better than being on display for Ben. leaning against a counter in the kitchen. Nothing has changed. I liked you in that dress. but she had no clothes here.
“I’m not your girlfriend anymore. Don’t you lay a goddamned finger on me. heard a resounding crack and Ben flew backwards against the wall. and she’d walked away from him. She felt her fist connect with his jaw. clenched her fist and swung it at him with all her strength. spat a tooth out into his palm. “What the fuck. Her anger was roused. put his hands on her arms. She’d had an amazing man. He could do what he wanted. Not for me” Ben shifted forward. No one. send it out to consume him. She didn’t care anymore. . along with gobbet of blood and saliva. “D o not touch me.burst through her skin. I only came with you because those people didn’t deserve that. acting as if he cared. and that’s what counts. “But you came. As if he had a single kind bone in his body. and she jerked herself out of his grasp. but she reigned it in.” He leaned in as if to kiss her. He stared at her with shock. I’m nothing to you. Miriam?” He probed the gap where his tooth had been with his tongue. letting a bit of magic into her arm.” Miriam said. Ben. say what he wanted. I fucking hate you. her adrenaline pumping.
Miriam. “I’ll let that one go. I’ll–” “You’ll what?” Miriam interrupted. saying. What’s left. you’ve done all that too.” he mumbled. I wasn’t ever your girlfriend. was I? I was just a…what did Rachel call me? A side-fuck? A piece of ass on the side?” Ben slapped her hand away. “Or maybe I should drop to my knees and suck you off. Ben? Or should I even ask that? Are you going to actually rape me. ripped a strip of paper towel from a roll hanging under a cabinet. but if you ever do that to me again. what the hell has gotten into you?” Ben pushed her away from him and retreated to the living room.He threw the tooth away. “It wasn’t like that. you already did that. “Beat me half to death? Oh wait. placed a piece of ice in it and held it against his gum. massaging himself gingerly. Break my ribs? Crack my cheekbones? Force me to sleep with you? Yep. . this time? Bring Rachel over here and screw her in front of me? Or the other way around? Or maybe you want a threesome? Is that it? Want us both at the same time?” She grabbed his balls in one hand and squeezed as hard as she could. “Seriously. like a good little girlfriend? But then.
past all the bullshit and the PTSD. but she didn’t care.“What’s gotten into me? I’m finally past caring what you do or say. like any sane person would? No! I stayed with you. deep down maybe. somehow. She knew he’d snap eventually. you hit me and talk down to me. seething and feeling half-crazed. trying to dismiss her. Ben was speechless at her outburst. “Don’t tell me to calm down! You’ve treated me like shit for three years.” he finally said.” She followed him. Ben!” She grabbed the top of it and pulled it over. and what do I do? Do I leave you. She grabbed the remote from him and hurled it through the TV screen. the whole time? And she knew about me?” Miriam was pacing in front of Ben. “look what you did to my TV! That thing cost me two-thousand dollars!” “I don’t give two shits about your TV. because I thought you cared about me. “You need to calm down.” Ben sat down and turned on the TV. “You crazy bitch. threw it to the . and that was all that mattered. She’d lost Jack. staring with comical sadness at his ruined flat-screen. But then I find out that you’ve had another girlfriend. that’s what. feeling invincible.
I don’t hit old men.” “Gramps? What are they. hadn’t realized she loved Jack.ground. Miriam. haven’t you?” He shoved her out of the way. Miriam. I walked away from the man I love to keep you from hurting him or his family any worse. and she could feel his anger starting to rise. “I’m sick of you! I hate you!” “God. I promised myself I was done hitting you. your family now? And he hit me. . As if she’d just come crawling back to him like a little puppy dog. they’re like family to me. “Yes! I’ve finally lost it. but you’re making it hard to keep that promise. Nothing matters anymore. you’ve really lost it.” “You’re starting to piss me off. You crashed Jack’s sister’s wedding. “You think I care if you hit me? I’m used to it.” “Yes. righting the TV. Ben. but it had popped out. He’d actually thought he’d won her back. and you probably would’ve hit Gramps if he hadn’t hit you first.” Ben turned away from her. Go ahead. and she realized how deeply she meant it. You hurt Jack and John and William.” She hadn’t meant to say that. And Gramps is more of a man than you could ever hope to be.
better man than you in every single way. “Say what you want. He knows what I want and how to give it to me. Nothing you say matters. but she wanted to hurt Ben. slapped her across the face. And then I met Jack and he showed me how a real man loves. and succeeding. Rage filled Ben’s eyes. Miriam barely felt it. Ben. Miriam didn’t flinch. Miriam threw another punch at him. I thought you loved me. “Sex with Jack was the best thing I’ve ever felt. or at least cared about me. and his fists clenched. Miriam tilted her head back. kept her hands at her . fist raised. aren’t you?” He was trying to hurt her back now. a harsh cough of sarcasm. wanting them to dig deep. but he saw this one coming. She chose her next words with care. He’s a bigger. lifted. blocked it lazily.” That one hurt him.” She wanted to hurt him. two weeks? Three? What about me?” Miriam laughed.” She hadn’t slept with Jack yet. “You slept with him? You are a slut.“The man you love?” Ben whirled back to her. and that was the quickest way. “You? You think I’ve ever loved you? I was afraid of you. “You’ve known him for what.
and she refused to use her magic to protect herself. or why it hadn’t protected her before. She didn’t care. expecting a blow that never came. though. and that was a set of questions that needed answering. Some instinct in Miriam’s gut told her this wasn’t over. but why bother? She’d brought what was coming on herself with her words.sides.” The rage in his eyes was murderous. “Get out of here. not this easily. He wrenched open his door and threw her out. Ben grabbed Miriam by the shoulders. hearing the door slam behind her. She didn’t question it. Chest heaving with anger. his fingers digging into her arms. Ben wouldn’t let this go. but he seemed in better control of it than she’d ever seen him. or how she had gotten it. Get out before I kill you. then. She had magic. She could use the fire inside to protect herself. The walk home was long. She turned and fled. Miriam almost laughed out loud. She was a creature of fire. Let him do it. thinking how easily the word ‘magic’ came to her now. Not after the things she’d said. She didn’t know where it had come from. hard enough to slam against the far wall. and by the time she . She waited.
her feet were bleeding. She let them bleed.reached her door. .
Mister Byrne. Ornery old people. “I’m Detective Hale and this is Detective Lawrence. . She did have his parent’s address. We’re investigating the death of Benjamin Omar. is he here?” Carson and Jenn both showed him their badges. “No. and the manager had no idea where he was or how long he’d been gone. “We just have a few questions for you. and an old man answered it.” Carson answered. What do you want with Jackie?” “Can we come in. “Yes. though. And you can tell me what you want. They knocked on the door. I’m Jackie’s grandfather.” “Don’t know him. but the old man didn’t even glance at them. Mister…” “Séan Byrne. We’re looking for Jack Byrne.” Carson pulled a folded sheet of printer paper with Ben’s Marine Corps photo.” Carson stifled a sigh. “Can I help you?” he asked.Chapter 13: Now Jack Byrne’s apartment was empty. Carson and Jenn went there next.
that Miriam. and poor Jackie didn’t come out of it none too well. and I’ll tell you what I can. Took on all three of my boys and dealt with ‘em handy. but he didn’t do nothing to him.” “So Jack hated Ben?” Carson tried an obvious. Oh. “Oh. He hated the way Ben treated Miriam.” When they were sitting down in the living room. Jack brought Miriam with him.” “At the wedding? When was this?” “Oh. He got it too. Carson asked. It was my granddaughter Mary’s wedding.showed it to Séan. I’d say. but it ain’t much. and wanted nothing more than an excuse to rip into the bastard. ‘bout two weeks ago now. Well. back in my prime. . They tangled at the wedding. Ben you called him? He was a rough customer. That boy. “Did Jack have any reason to dislike Mister Omar. she and Jack make quite a pair. I’m sorry to say. I’ll tell you that for free. “Well sure. That’s a lovely girl. leading question. he is. that one. too. that you know of?” “Well of course he did. Jackie’s a good boy. Right bastard. come on in then. I coulda taken the boy down. only it turned out to be a bit more than he could chew. Quite lovely.
that did me in. and believe you me. Gave a left and a right. He says. and there ain’t a man alive who can stay up when I’ve hit ‘em. Back in my day. a damn fine woman. if I was younger. I did. partway through the dancin’ Ben shows up in a fancy uniform. They came from miles around to try their luck against Séan Byrne.they do. they tried. . poor Miriam was. and by god. dancin’ together. Jack kept her calm though. I took ‘em all on.’ and o’course. She don’t have much family. boy-o. I don’t think. and boy. I’m the patriarch of this family. I may be old. and I told him what for. and she even danced with me. I hit that boy. but I still got a right hook what’ll make your granddad feel it. so I stepped in. I tell you. I might give young Jackie a run for his money. ‘I don’t hit old men. She was right nervous. that girl don’t deserve the treatment that animal gives her. “Well. Well. there wasn’t a man in Ireland who could stand against me. Started talkin’ lippy. That Miriam is a fine woman. so bein’ around a ruckus bunch like the Byrne’s at a wedding…I can see how it’d make her a bit nervous. and it’s a duty I take seriously. just walks in like he was invited and starts arguin’ with Miriam.
Her poor sweet heart was breakin’ I think. She stopped the fight. he was doin’ a number on my boys. speaking for the first time. I suppose when Ben broke my Jackie’s arm. and was talking a bunch of shite. “Only. “Well. I could see that. She knew. She left with him. she just couldn’t take it any more. but Miriam. Well. “Wait. and she was still all confused by everythin’. I showed him how to behave.one-two. I’ll give him that. tryin’ to scare Miriam into leavin’ with him. Everything he was finding out about Benjamin Omar led Carson to realize knocking him down was no easy feat. and walked away with that Ben. She didn’t know what she wanted. We’d have taken him. and he went tumblin’ arse over teakettle. she wasn’t havin’ none of it. and so could poor Jackie. he proved to be a damn fine fighter. “Well sure! He’d shown up uninvited at my granddaughter’s wedding. She didn’t want to. Miriam did.” .” Séan’s face darkened. So. you punched Ben?” That impressed him. no.” Carson laughed.” “So what happened?” asked Jenn. that ain’t true neither. she just didn’t believe herself worth it. bless her heart.
Mister Byrne? So I can ask him for his side of the story?” Séan shook his head. “Oh. You’d not be here if you didn’t.” Séan cocked his head. I probably shouldn’t say this.” “But you suspect Jackie?” “We’re pursuing every angle. or she wouldn’t ever be free of him. he’s got too kind a heart for his own good. he wanted to go after her. She needed to face Ben. If Jackie kept rescuing her. “You said you were investigating Ben’s death? How’d he die. son.“What did Jack do?” Carson asked. yes. He would be an accomplice. thinking. at most. sometimes. “I’d tell .” “We think he may have something do with it. I don’t personally think Jack killed Ben himself. she’d always be a slave to what she was afraid of. “Don’t bullshite me. but I will. “I can’t divulge that at this time. grunting a negative. but I wouldn’t let him. Can you tell me where he’d be. take her back. Jackie. then?” Carson shook his head.” Séan huffed. sir. she needed to make her own choice.
and that you’ll find ‘em when you’re meant to. and my own mum. Grew up in County Cork. and if he did have aught to do with it. My . “I like you. weighing him. but you gotta listen and not interrupt. probing him. “I get a good sense from you. Detective. it was only to protect Miriam. but it never happens. My Sight tells me they’re both still alive. God rest her. He had the look of man who could do murder. It’s visions of the future. That Ben was a dangerous sort. Jackie went to work the next day. who felt as if the old man was staring into his soul. I’ll tell you that much. lad. “Your sight? What do you mean. Don’t no one know what that is no more. But it’s more than that.” “Have you seen her since the wedding incident?” Carson asked. at length. so I’ll tell you.” Séan said. I’m afraid not. to be honest with you. but I ain’t seen him since. had the Blood of the Niall. I’ll tell you somethin’ I shouldn’t. the Second Sight.” Séan looked as if he hadn’t meant to say that last part. neither. I keep hopin’ Jackie will show up with Miriam. Mister Byrne?” Séan didn’t answer right away.you if I knew. I’m old Irish. He peered at Carson. Jackie’s a good boy. I’m worried for him. “No.
She had obviously made . though. he had to either find Jack and Miriam. He was starting to exhaust his leads. please. He was getting a picture of Miriam. though he ain’t accepted it yet.grandson Jackie has it too. He didn’t say this to the old man. Carson was starting to worry it’d be the latter. he found himself liking her. have them call me right away. though I can’t see what.” Carson wasn’t sure what to say to this. not a damned Séance. and despite his best efforts to keep a professional distance from her. You’re closin’ your mind. and that was supposed to mean something to Carson? This was a murder investigation. and he was sure he was going to find their bodies somewhere. The old man had a vision of some kind. You’re all tangled up together in somethin’ and this is just the start of it. No one he’d spoken to had seen Jack or Miriam. At this point. What he ended up saying was. You ain’t gonna figure this out till you accept certain things.” He handed Séan his card and left. He wanted her to be innocent. “If you hear from either of them. and that’s gonna slow you down and keep you blinded to the truth. or find their remains.
.an impression on Jack’s grandfather. Any 80-year old who was capable of knocking down a 30-year old ex-Marine was okay in Carson’s book. and he seemed like a hard man to impress.
He wouldn’t know where to start. if she was honest. though. I just…need to figure some things out. and she had answers to none of them. call me if you need anything. I’ll be fine. Neither did she. Who was she? If she had all this magic inside her. “Thanks Larry. He didn’t like it. But seriously.Chapter 14: Then Miriam called Larry the next morning and told him she needed some time off. You know I’m here for you. and liked even less that she wouldn’t explain why. “Hey. if there’s anything I can do…” Larry said. before hanging up. but he knew her well enough to grant it.” Miriam knew he meant well.” “Okay. where did it come from? Her parents had never . She’d worked for him for a long time and never taken a single day off. but he wouldn’t be able to handle the trouble she was in. so to ask for two weeks meant something was up. A million questions were banging around in her head like moths trapped in a lampshade.
from men. Besides. from magic. Ben would show up eventually. asking questions that had no answers. She needed space from everything. or his family. Unless they had adopted her and never told her? But no. got her dark brown eyes from him. but she knew he wasn’t done yet. or something. He didn’t forget. somewhere deep inside. She was hoping. Then where was this fire inside coming from? She was going in circles. she’d seen the certificate of birth from the hospital in Beirut with her parent’s signatures on it. She’d seen pictures of herself as an infant in her father’s arms. He’d let her go. her thin nose and full lips from him. She couldn’t stay in her dinky little apartment any longer. she looked just like him. got in her car and drove. and then it would start all over again. Maybe the magic would . She had to get out. not really going anywhere in particular. from her own fears and desires. And if Jack showed up. Ben would do something else.seemed to be anything but normal. she’d go back to him. that she’d find answers to her questions somehow. Or Jack would. She stuffed some clothes in her tattered Jansport backpack. just driving to get away. hurt Jack again.
did have. couldn’t have any contact with him. Maybe Jack would find her anyway. he’d forget about her. but she didn’t care. speeding faster than her car could really handle. She wiped them away.provide answers on its own. let herself grieve for what she could have had. and he was… Jack was perfect. going north. to tell him she was okay. her . It was gone now. to talk to him. There would be a dozen messages from Jack. She had her cell phone. but she didn’t care. all of them probably pleading with her to answer. She passed Great Lakes Crossing without noticing. Find a girl to love who didn’t come with so much baggage. away from the city. She was on I-75. and she’d heard it buzz a number of times. The thought of him with another girl sent pangs of pain knifing through her heart. but she refused to look at it. though. She felt tears dripping from her chin. Maybe if she stayed away. She was driving too fast. She was damaged goods. if only for a moment. He deserved better than she could give him. The only way to protect him was to keep away. She didn’t want him to worry. but she knew he deserved that. but she couldn’t talk to him. let herself cry.
away from everything. If she stopped driving.thoughts spinning in circles. she might have noticed the red Maserati two cars back. going from questions about the fire and magic in her blood. Hunger gnawed at her stomach and thirst scratched at her throat. It didn’t matter. she might just curl up in the back seat and cry until she slept. If she had. She kept driving. and then she would sleep forever. but she didn’t stop. to thoughts of Ben and the man he had been before he went to Afghanistan. So consumed was she in her own thoughts that she never even glanced in her rearview mirror. she might never start again. She didn’t care where she was or where she was going. paying no attention to mile markers or exits or landmarks. mile after mile humming under her tires. At some point she passed the Birch Run Outlets and she realized she had driven a lot farther than she’d realized. She had no . She was forced to stop when the gas gauge needle buried itself in the ‘E’. to Jack and how tender he was. away from the temptation of Jack. Miriam kept driving. as long as it was away from Ben. and she might have noticed that it had been following her since she left her apartment.
cursing under her breath as the engine sputtered. She wasn’t sure she’d make it another 3 miles. waiting for one that indicated a gas station. way out here in the boonies. She’d learned that the hard way. She really didn’t want to have to walk to a gas station and back. and Miriam decided to throw caution out the window and gun it. After another twenty minutes she passed a sign advertising a Tubby’s and a Sunoco. hoping to get as far as possible before it died on her. and the trees were beginning to fade from deciduous to conifer. She glanced around her. 3. The exits were few and far between. left. It coughed. Farmland . realizing how far out in the middle of exactly nowhere she was. it quit running without warning. alone.idea where she was.3 miles. oaks and birches and elms becoming pine and spruce and fir. lost in her whirling thoughts. Miriam pulled off the expressway and turned left. caught and kept going. When this beat up old Volvo hit empty. honestly. How far had she gone? She started watching the road signs as they passed. she hadn’t been paying attention to anything but the road in front of her. here. driving on autopilot.
With a sigh and a curse. She got out. She pulled her phone out of her purse. and 3 voice mails. Jack consumed her thoughts. in so many words. all from Jack. not surprised to see 13 text messages. reminding her how far 3. Miriam set out down the road. She coasted it to the shoulder and turned the ignition. He didn’t deserve this kind of jerking around. She had to at least tell him it was over. despite knowing it wouldn’t start. He had been so kind to her. grateful that at least the weather was warm and dry. the sprawling farms lined by distant walls of trees and dirt roads. dotted with farmhouses and barns. and then went silent. filling her stomach with a heavy pit of sadness. The road she was on plowed in a perfectly straight line out of sight. 10 missed calls. she’d run out of gas enough times that she always kept one in her trunk. . when you had no idea where you were. Awesome. guttered and sputtered. row after row of corn and other crops she didn’t recognize.spread out in every direction.3 miles was. so understanding. The engine turned over. locked the door and opened the trunk with her key to get the red gas can. but stayed dead. The Volvo coughed again.
looking up from her phone to realize the sun was setting and darkness was falling around her. seeking her out. It was Ben. Miriam! call me before i flip out. She turned to watch the car drive by. so she couldn’t listen to voicemails. She’d have to wait to talk to him. rolling . filling her with guilt. He’d always just. She desperately wanted to hear his voice. telling she was outside signal range.. to reassure him that she was okay.She scrolled through the texts first. as she had continued to ignore her phone. and she moved farther over to the side of the shoulder. they started to get ever more desperate: im going crazy. He was worried sick. pulling next to her. been there. She had no cell signal. They started out simple enough: Miriam plz call me…at least lemme know ur ok…im getting worried now .shown up. and felt her stomach clench. something she’d never actually done before. She dialed his number. She heard a car approaching from behind her. or call him. she realized. just send me a text so i know ur not hurt or anything…Then. Her phone beeped. plz!…i swear to god if he hurts you i’ll f-ing kill him… Miriam’s heart contracted.
I’ll take you home.” “I don’t want to go home. Nothing has ever .” “You’ve said all this before. “Look at me. I’m a freak. It’s sunset. I’m sorry. Just stop for a second. fine. remember?” “I’m sorry I called you a freak. I’ll stop drinking.” “I’m not your baby. I can take care of myself. and I’ll treat you right.” “Okay. please. please. How had he found her? He must’ve followed her. Miriam ignored him.” She refused to look at him. “What are you doing out here. baby. Just–just let me take you home. Just get in the car. “Don’t ignore me. you’ll be walking for hours. He was looking at her with puppy-dog eyes. and calm. Miriam. I can change.down his window. let me take you home. Come on. Miriam. I’ve been an asshole. I’m fine. I promise.” “I’ve walked home alone in the dark plenty of times. she realized. She turned away from him and kept walking. Anything could happen out here. okay? I apologize. pacing her. Miriam?” He sounded sober. Ben. pleading silently. I know I have.
” “Yeah. and you trying to grope me. “Go away. But was she ready to get in a car with Ben again? Even just to get home? And how would she get her car back.” She pushed him out of the way as she said this. You’re wasting your time. refusing to meet his eyes. got out to stand in front of her. Just get in.changed. though he didn’t move. “Get out of my way. You never know what kind of freaks live out here in the boonies. Sure. She stared at his chest. Ben.” Ben hissed. You’re gonna end up dead. This is totally stupid.” “Miriam. right home. I don’t want your help. She stiffened her resolve and quickened her pace. this is stupid!” Ben said. “Come on. I’ll take you right home.” . The adventure of ‘just driving’ had worn off. Miri. No thanks. not quite touching her. Or tried to. Ben. gunned the car and pulled it over in front of her.” She really didn’t want to be walking alone. Miriam. frustration bleeding into his voice. Funny how ‘right home’ always turns into your house. if she went with Ben? What was she thinking? She’d sworn to never talk to or listen to Ben again. “No.
watching. She wrenched her arm free and slapped him. You looked scared of everything. and you had a ton of eyeshadow on. hard. something secretive about you. I was crushing on you from that first day. Do you remember how we met?” Ben was walking beside her. making your eyes look big and even darker than they are. or out at the customers. God. “Don’t touch me. and you thought no one knew. that first day. You didn’t say one word the entire first day. just listen. don’t walk away. You refused to even look at me. on the side of the road. There’s this sense of…I don’t know…mystique. You were living in your car. There was something mysterious about you.” Miriam darted around him.” “Listen. aside from your looks. Your hair was braided down to your waist. and that’s part of what makes you so attractive. and he grabbed her arm. please. actually. there always has been. You wouldn’t . “You had just started at the Taproom. You’d come up to the service bar. and you’d just stare at the liquor bottles.“The only one bothering me right now is you. door open. just followed Beth around on your shadow shift. his car still running. No. standing behind Beth.
look at me, and it drove me nuts. I thought you were so hot, and I just wanted to say hi, but you wouldn’t cooperate. You barely glanced at Larry during your interview. Everyone wanted to know what your deal was, who you were, why you lived in your car, but you wouldn’t talk to anyone. It was months before you even looked at me.” Miriam remembered. She had tried to leave Nick. When she woke up with Nick holding a knife to her throat, she’d finally gotten desperate enough to run, but Nick had come after her, found her at The Taproom, tried to scare her into going with him. Ben had hospitalized Nick, protecting her, and after that, he had acted like a protector to Miriam, going out of his way to talk to her, make her laugh. She had still been wary, keeping her distance from him for several months, putting him off at every turn. That had only made him want her more, though, made him chase her all the harder. Eventually she had given in, let Ben take her to his apartment, let him kiss her, let him touch her, let him sleep with her. He was nicer than Nick, at first. He seemed normal, sane. Things had been fine for about six months, and then he told her had enlisted with Marines. She had
just started to get attached to him, so it hadn’t been welcome news. He had always shown a quick temper lurking just beneath the surface, and that had worried her. The ease with which he had ripped into Nick had sent warning flags waving in her head, but she ignored them. He was big, and tough, and promised to protect her, which was exactly what she wanted after Nick. Ben made her feel safe, or at least provided the illusion of safety. She allowed herself to ignore the warning signs, one after the other. He got drunk the day he had received his orders sending him to Afghanistan, and he’d been rough with her that night. He hadn’t been violent, just rough in the way he threw her to the bed and stripped her clothes off, rough in the way he had slammed himself into her, ignoring her whimper of pain. That should’ve been warning enough, but she’d ignored it. Then he shipped out, and his letters and Skype calls got more and more infrequent, and the times he did call or write, it was in short, terse sentences. He came back after two tours, voluntarily signing up for the second one, not even coming home in between. She met him at the Detroit Metro
Airport, and she had seen the difference right away. It was in his eyes, in the way he assessed her, the way he hugged her. There was a distance, somehow, a gap of a million years between them, a chasm ripped in his soul by whatever he’d seen or done over there, things he refused to talk about, which gave him nightmares, even still. Miriam stopped walking, finally, and looked up into Ben’s eyes. She saw glimpses of the Ben she had first met, and that decided her. “Fine, Ben. You can take me to the gas station. But if you lay a hand on me, or yell at me, I swear…” “I won’t, I promise.” He was grinning happily, and she wondered if maybe he had changed after all. He opened the passenger side door for her and closed it behind her, slid behind the wheel and pushed the manual gear shifter into 1st, but didn’t release the clutch, just stared at her with a strange look on his face. She never saw it coming. There was a flash of silver and a brief burst of pain at her temple, and the gaping maw of unconsciousness swallowed her whole. ***
Jack sat in his apartment, idly flicking channels on the TV, a nearly empty bottle of Jameson next to him. Empty, like his heart. The thought was melodramatic, but he didn’t care. He had tried convincing himself there were other women in the world, but it hadn’t worked. There weren’t other women in the world, not like Miriam. Not because of the thing with the fire and the healing and all that, but because she was…amazing. Jack lifted the bottle to his lips and drained the rest of the Jameson in a long gulp, relishing the burn in his throat. A burning throat, a wild, dizzy drunk, those were feelings he could deal with. The cracking of his heart he couldn’t. She had just…walked away, gone with that pig, Ben. He didn’t deserve her. She was so kind and so sweet and so beautiful, and Ben was…god, so awful. Jack had trouble understanding what she’d ever seen in Ben besides his looks. Sure he was like 6’4” and 250 pounds of solid muscle and rugged good looks, and he wore the uniform like he was born in it. Women loved men in uniforms. Stupid. Nothing that special about a uniform. It didn’t make the guy wearing it any less of a giant dick, did it? Jack worked himself into a rage.
He wanted to get on his bike and go to Ben’s apartment and lay into him, maybe bring Doyle and Johnny with him and teach Ben a lesson. Jack stood up, wavered on his feet and realized that maybe getting on his bike wouldn’t be the best plan just yet. And besides, his bike was still MIA anyway. He shut off the TV and stumbled to his bed, fell across it sideways, wanting to crawl the rest of the way in, but somehow he just couldn’t, his limbs wouldn’t work and the room was spinning in crazy circles. He passed out, managing to roll over on his side, just in case. Jack didn’t often dream. Or at least, he didn’t usually remember them. This night, however, was different. At first he thought he’d woken up. He was standing in his the doorway of his room looking out into the living room; in real life his stack of paintings was by the counter of his kitchen, turned so he could see them. That was the first hint that he was dreaming: the paintings were on the adjacent wall. The next odd thing was that the painting he’d done of the candle flame was in front, when he knew for a fact it was near the back of the stack. Jack felt drawn to the painting, pulled toward the candle flame as if
he were a moth. His feet didn’t move, the flame tugging him to itself with irresistible magic, and then he was standing in front of it and he could swear the flame was flickering and giving off heat. He stretched a hand out and felt a breath of hot air brush his knuckles, and yes, the flame was moving, twisting and dancing on the canvas, jumping and bending in hypnotic gyration, sucking him in to it, closer and closer, the form of the flame looking ever more like a woman dancing, graceful curves undulating, long hair waving and skirling, like Miriam’s hair; the flame turned and grew and stood before him, took on shoulders and legs, hands and breasts, hips and eyes, limpid glowing brilliant fiery brown eyes exactly like Miriam’s…no, not exactly like, but actually hers, boring into him with the tender affection so unique to her that melted him every time. He wanted to touch her, the fire-girl, the fire-Miriam; he tried to step closer to her but his feet were frozen, his hand was fixed half-stretched and she shook her head, curled a finger at him, beckoning. Jack would follow her anywhere, felt his spirit drifting after her as she floated away, the canvas now empty as the Miriam-
flame coruscated in the midnight dark, blowing through the window and out over the silent suburbs, Jack pulled behind as if connected to her by a string. The image of a string refused to leave Jack’s dreaming mind, and suddenly there was a string between him and Miriam, a rope of luminous golden particles of sand stretching from his chest to hers, each speck brilliant as a miniature sun, shifting like billowing flames and radiating power. The skein of magic was a tangible thing: Jack wrapped his hands around it where it entered his chest, felt its familiar catalytic energy, brushing his soul with shades of Miriam. The magic was Miriam, and he followed it even after she was out of sight over rooftops. His hands were coated with the magic, and lifted his fingers to his lips, licked the magic from them, and he tasted Miriam, saw her face burst into his mind and fill his thoughts, not the fire-carved creature but the real, physical person, the flesh-and-blood woman. She wasn’t looking at him, in this vision; she was asleep, her face pressed against a car window, her neck contorted in an obviously uncomfortable position. Jack focused on her and realized she wasn’t asleep, she was unconscious, a thin trickle of
his head throbbing.blood weeping from a scabbed gouge at her temple. hard. He was outside. the flat. a string of curses tumbling from his mouth. his eyes crusted shut. looking for . the air around him chilled by silence. Jack reached for her. Jack woke with a start. He stretched his stiff muscles and went to the edge of the roof. his face pressed against a cold. He was shivering. He rolled over to his back. picking bits of rock free from where it was embedded in his face. black shadows of clouds illuminated by a crescent moon. twisting barrels of air-conditioning fans sprouting from the roof and cable TV satellites angling at the sky. somehow. He pried his eyes open to see the night sky above him. His hands neared her skin. He was lying down. needing to wipe the blood away. thick strands of brown hair escaping from her braid and sticking to the blood. Where was he? Jack struggled to a sitting position and looked around. He stood up and brushed his knees and backside and elbows clean of gravel. needing to cradle her in his arms. gritty surface. and the vision broke. He was on a rooftop. gravel-strewn surface of an office building of some sort.
but he refused to answer it yet. It was quite a view. He may have wished they were real. except to the east. whatever it was that he had experienced after he passed out in his . The dream hadn’t been entirely a dream. Jack cursed again. but those dreams had been…different. somehow. way up here. He was downtown. recognizing a few buildings. Dozens of stories below him was an empty street. Those dreams were nothing more than lovesick wet dreams. The obvious question of how he had gotten there was nagging at him. Other office buildings rose up around him as far as he could see. Miriam had demonstrated more than once that she possessed some rather unique abilities. yellow lines stretching in either direction. but they’d always happened when he was with her. He suspected the truth. examining the skyline.landmarks to tell him where he was. and sat down with his back against the half-wall at the building’s edge. but they hadn’t been. He turned in place. but wasn’t ready to face that weirdness yet. where he could just make out the Detroit River sparkling fragments of moonlight. actually. then. He’d dreamed about her before. it seemed. a few parked cars on the side.
He’d been unconscious for most of it. the skein of magic. she’d healed him. . Something nagging and familiar. a coating of dust that led from him. her body alight. and he realized with a rush of excitement what it was nagging at him: beneath the flames. thinking of the stream of glowing dust that had connected him to the dreamMiriam. when he’d laid his bike down to avoid hitting her. covering his whole body as if he’d bathed in it. to Miriam. subsumed by the heat and the flickering fire and the glimpses he’d gotten of Miraim’s glorious body. There was something else. too.apartment had been far more. But why? He pushed aside his obviously-mistaken ideas of real versus impossible and tried to reason through this conundrum with an open mind. subtle and just beneath the surface of the obvious. and trailing from her to him. beneath all that was that same golden magic-sand. He’d seen it even before that night. What was it? Jack’s mind wandered to the dream that had landed him here. but when he first came to consciousness he’d cracked his eyelids open to see Miriam facing Ben.
paint-splattered. disappointed to see just himself. stretching out across Detroit. though. skirting buildings and spearing through others. Some instinct in Jack told him she was hurting. present but not always visible? Jack’s eyes popped open. like sunlit dust floating in an afternoon window. plain old Jack in ratty. needing him. envisioned it floating from across the city to plunge into him. maybe it was the connection that bound them. Maybe it wasn’t instinct. He lifted a hand and waved it through the amorphous stream of particles.Maybe there was a connection between them all the time. but with a river of glowing gold stretching out from his body. and he pictured that stream of gold reaching out over the city and through the suburbs to wherever Miriam was. and he looked down at himself. showing him Miriam. as in his dream. . He summoned the image of her magic again. his hand came away coated with it again. the as-yet unspoken love between them. He opened his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief: the skein was there at the center of his chest. He closed his eyes again. grease-stained jeans and an Irish Football Association T-shirt. and this time visualized himself as he was at that moment.
Jack never wanted to believe in Gramps’ visions of the future. and that he could use it. in his mind.and he touched his fingers to his tongue. and over that he saw Miriam. tasted Miriam. Jack saw a male hand on a gear shifter. he simply couldn’t pretend everything was totally normal anymore. Now. though. although his eyes were open. silent streets like a maze. Gramps had always told Jack that he had the Second Sight too. trickle of blood now dried and crusted. Something told Jack he was seeing Miriam in real-time. a few streetlights flickering. He saw her again. Jack closed his eyes yet again. and that he had it. the only way he’d be able to do that is if he allowed himself to believe in the Second Sight. and Jack would rather just deal with what he could understand. It was freaky and unnatural. now. It was disorienting: he saw the city beyond him. with all that had occurred with Miriam. still slumped against the car window. and focused on . He had to find Miriam and help her. perhaps that’s the reason he could see the magic. caught glimpses of a neighborhood passing in the window.
Miriam’s face. .
He was still missing a couple of major pieces. although a farmer had reported seeing a girl walking down the road near dusk. Carson set that odd detail aside . but some thing told him he was closing in on those too. He owned a car he hadn’t bought. licensed to Miriam al-Mansur. Carson crosschecked his files and discovered that Benjamin Omar was the registered owner of a red Maserati. and pieces were falling into place to create an image of a possible truth. She’d gotten into a red sports car. There were no witnesses.Chapter 15: Now Carson was close. the farmer said. He had an abandoned vehicle way up near Grayling. and a background check on Omar showed no connections that would suggest it was black market. there were no stolen car reports. the strange part was that none of the high-end sports car dealerships in the Metro-Detroit area had any record of Benjamin Omar having purchased one. A few further phone calls and emails turned up more nothing. He could feel it. The tumbling of facts and theories had slowed.
back to staring at the file. Carson ended up working most Saturdays just to fight off the loneliness. Brokaw from NARC had invited him to a barbecue. What was she doing up there? Séan Byrne had reported that Miriam had left the wedding reception with Ben to stop the fight.as not immediately relevant. and . With no family and no girlfriend. but Carson had been to one of Brokaw’s weekend cook-outs before. once again looking for something he’d missed. and set his suspicions to quivering. Carson hunted down the facts and put them together. for the connection from one item to another. but it didn’t feel as if it fit into the larger scheme of Ben’s death. Carson pinched the bridge of his nose. that was Jenn’s territory. Jenn wasn’t here. so they hadn’t gone there. he chased the bad guys and collared them. however. it was interesting. Miriam’s car was found way up by North Branch. Where would they have gone? Ben’s neighbors report not having seen or heard from him since the day before his death. Carson was back at his desk. a long drive from her apartment in Royal Oak. He hated playing ‘what if’ with cases. so Carson was on his own. turning the case over in his head.
Carson wasn’t.he’d ended up getting hammered and passing out in the backyard. If he was an alcoholic. but only to get him . but it sounded like she had found someone who would treat her better than Ben. as old Séan had said. he’d be drinking all the time. she leaves with Ben. Miriam might have gone with him just to keep the peace. reruns of Matlock playing to an empty house. that didn’t mean anything. Carson brushed that memory away. Getting wasted once in a while. wouldn’t it? If Ben showed up angry and causing trouble. she wouldn’t have gone with him to be with him. off duty. it reminded him all to vividly of his dad passing out in his easy chair. What if Miriam had gone with Ben. and that wasn’t the case. and if the fight got nasty enough to where people were getting arms broken. But that would make Ben jealous. He wasn’t clear on the status of Miriam’s relationship with Jack. not when Séan had spoken of Miriam and Jack as dancing together. So then. then it just might send Miriam over the edge. She’d know how mean Ben could get. Don Hale was an alcoholic. just to stop the fight. drowning in a pile of empty Busch Light cans.
Out in the boonies. It would have gotten ugly eventually. out in the middle of nowhere. just hops in her car and drives anywhere. She runs out of gas. as odd as some parts of Betsy’s story may have been. she must have been pretty well done with Ben. He’d be upset that she was at a wedding with another man. and the farmer had reported seeing her walking about sundown.away. and Miriam tries to really get away from Ben. heads north. Willis had described lent strength to the idea that Miriam was done with Ben. at night. alone. The incident Mrs. The nurse’s testimony confirmed that. Maybe they argue. her own temper might flare. Carson figured. So Miriam is in a car with an ex-boyfriend who’d put her in the hospital. Once she’s alone with him. But then what? This is where Carson hit a wall. . Her car was found on a country road. and Ben might convince her to let him take her home. Of course. Ben would follow her. being the jealous type. If Miriam was going to family weddings with Jack. which meant he’d definitely knocked her around before. out of gas and upset? Even an angry Ben might seem like the lesser of two evils.
cigar shops…and a room rental at the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel. Carson grabbed his keys and went back to the casino. He had Ben’s credit card purchase history. pulled when looking for a record of the Maserati.Carson flipped through the file. but ready to try anything other than more ‘what if. not really knowing why.’ Ben had expensive taste: upper-end steakhouses. . now Carson looked through it again.
She stood up just as carefully and realized she . an expensive flatscreen TV hung on the opposite wall and floor-toceiling windows ran the length of the adjacent wall. cracked her eyes open. Thick carpeting. that much was clear: she was lying on a wide bed. He’d hit her. Her head was throbbing. Miriam sat up. and knocked her out. Miriam stretched. She wasn’t at her apartment or his. When the dizziness faded. accompanied by a wave of confusion and nausea and pain. something silver in his hand. The last thing she remembered was getting in Ben’s car. apparently. a leather couch and chair in a sitting area near the windows. then nothing. Miriam sat up again. her head swam and she lay back down. a fully stocked minibar…she was in a hotel room. and she had no idea where she was. First came the sensation of consciousness. or tried to. much more gingerly this time.Chapter 16: Then Miriam woke up slowly. and then…what? She had a vision of Ben’s hand flashing out.
She had left the house in an old pair of jeans and a hoodie. she knew she had to get away before he came back. gave him a $20 and shoved him out the door. scooped low in the front. Ben took the cart from him. but he’d seemed stone-cold sober when he showed up next to her on the side of the road. She had her hand on the doorknob.wasn’t wearing her clothes. and she had no desire to find out what. not just back. “Miriam. He had something planned. She was barefoot. He sounded . followed by a hotel employee pushing a room service cart. the hem barely brushing her knees. Seeing her with Jack must have pushed him. and the thought of running away on bare feet didn’t appeal to her. Either way. He’d always been good at hiding it unless he was drunk. but it was better than still being here when Ben came back. In the forefront of her mind was the question of Ben himself: where was he? She’d seen the madness back in his eyes just before he knocked her out. but worse than ever. but before she could leave the door opened and Ben entered. she was now wearing an expensive silver cocktail dress. you’re awake!” he said.
” he said.” He pushed the cart over to the sitting area. laid the food out on the table. I really have changed. hissing at the burn. pushed her back away from the door. We’re done. As if he hadn’t knocked her out and kidnapped her. Miriam moved to brush past him. “Ben. even excited. “It’s not craziness.” Miriam tried to get up. Ben! I don’t want to talk to you. There was a bottle of Johnny Walker Black on the cart. I know I promised I wouldn’t.” Ben crossed the room in two quick strides. Ben picked up the bottle and drank from it. thinking it was worth trying to just walk out. but he held her down. That’s all. held a chair out and gestured to it. open and a quarter-empty.cheerful. but it’s not going to work. Ben?” she asked. “I don’t know what craziness you have planned.” Miriam said. yanked her by the arm and shoved her down into the seat. he grabbed her. “What do I want? I want to spend time with you. He was wearing a threepiece suit with a pale blue tie. and I won’t. “I just want to talk to you. “Let me go. you knocked me out. I’m sorry I hit you. “What do you want. You haven’t . I promise.
” he repeated. the situation was suddenly much more precarious.” Ben’s voice hardened and she caught a glimpse of the rage behind the mask of calm. “Sure. that bottle of Johnny may not have been his first. We’re going to have a nice dinner together. don’t you realize that? I don’t want to be here. and we’ll talk.” He said this in a tone that almost begged her to see how much he’d changed. see? You don’t like steak. “I got you a salad. unbuttoning his suit coat and taking a long swig from the bottle of Johnny Walker still in his fist. That’s fine. Miriam realized he was past being merely drunk. the process.” Miriam slid her chair in. that he could listen. with that little detail. He pulled the tops off the plates with a flourish. Ben. so I got you a salad instead. the trappings of niceness.changed! This is kidnapping. “You’ll stay. Ben nodded. realizing she’d seen the gun. Watching him. I want to go home. . and you’ll listen to me. “You’ll stay here. approving. opened the cloth napkin roll and spread it on her lap: she knew Ben wanted the ceremony. The butt of a handgun peeked above his waistline. Ben smirked. do you understand?” Ben sat down unsteadily.
but she had to pretend. He spoke. “You’re mine! That’s why! Because you can’t just–just walk away from me like that.” This was said quietly. watched his veins throb as the rage boiled the surface. I promise.” Ben said between bites. and when you had to go to the hospital. “It wasn’t how I wanted to do this. That was very considerate of you. almost under his breath. You deserve better. You’re mine.” “Why are you doing this? This isn’t you. When that…thing with Rachel happened. I know. I’ve been an asshole. You don’t need to do this. Miriam. it made me realize how special you are. “Thank you. “I’m really sorry I brought you here under these circumstances. but didn’t look up. keep Ben happy until she could escape. hands in the process of cutting steak. This is a new start. Ben.” . and I’m sorry.Miriam nodded.” Ben froze. Ben. “I don’t know.” She was too terrified to be able to eat. picked at the salad with a trembling fork. I’ll give you better. Then Miriam watched his fingers tighten around the steak knife. Just let me go. Miri. I haven’t been treating you very well.
Ben. He came around the table and knelt next to Miriam. There are therapists–” “I don’t need help! I don’t need therapy!” he shouted. A therapist would just talk to you. I don’t need no damned psychiatrist. I really do love you. I don’t want to. Ben. Reckless honesty was flooding through her. clearly dismissing the subject. she goes to one.“I’m not an object. “I’m not crazy.” He took a drink from the nearlyempty bottle. really sorry about the way I’ve been recently. Ben. I–I’m really. You belong to me. and she was telling me about how much it helped her–” “I’m not going to a therapist. But then he subsided. taking her hands in his. I think. slid his chair back and tossed his napkin on his plate. Beth from work. and only you. and listen to you. It’s just a way of learning to deal with what’s inside. but she couldn’t stop them.” Miriam chose her words with care. and said more quietly. “Listen. “You can get help. We belong . and I don’t need to. Miri. I don’t belong to you.” Miriam heard the words rolling off of her lips. I think. knowing she was treading on dangerous ground. “A therapist is different than a psychiatrist.
“Miriam. couldn’t even blink her eyelids.together. savage strength. calming her breath and steadying her trembling hands. The bubble of fear trapping her in place popped. realizing what he was about to do. I can’t. throbbing knot of vomit in her throat. I don’t love you. pulled out a small black box.” she met his eyes. Miriam’s heart seized. I love you. the butt poking out of his jacket. and I . but I’ll change that. “Ben…. “Ben. kneeling in the classic proposal position. I–” she could barely choke the words past the coiled. please don’t. “Just listen. revealing a diamond ring gleaming against the black velvet. will you marry me?” He said this with a pistol in his waistband. He was serious. no. I want to be with you forever. I really do. ragged gasps of panic. I know I haven’t been the easiest to be around. just inches away from her. waiting. I won’t. I promise. and she rose to her feet. She couldn’t speak. Miriam was frozen.” He opened the box. Ben squeezed her hand with sudden.” He reached into his blazer pocket. and she silenced as he continued. her breath coming in panting. let the fires blaze up hot in her belly as she spoke: “No.
” Ben was shaking his head in denial. mad fury. not ever. but…I don’t. And you don’t love me. not because you really care about me. His hand didn’t quite reach for his gun. Ben. “Miriam. and convinced myself that I did. I may have wanted to. Ben. “No. not now. You kidnap me…and then you propose? Can you see how that might be just a bit… I don’t know…contradictory?” Ben closed the ring box and slipped it into the inside pocket of his jacket. I don’t think you did think. I didn’t kidnap you–” “Shut up. you’re just doing this to keep me. but I never. edging slowly toward the door behind her. with reckless. with the baking heat of her anger. “What? What are you saying Miriam? I thought…” Miriam backed away. What I’m saying is that I will not marry you. but it wasn’t. ever loved you. Ben!” Miriam was breathless with panic. I needed you to protect me from Nick. but almost. Or you thought wrong. He had a gun and a unhealthy dose of .” A few more feet… just keep him shocked a bit longer… “I don’t know what had you convinced that this was a good idea.don’t think I ever have. and tried to.
I can’t stand you. now she had to play it through. She’d made her gambit. and ran out. and you always have. but the last time she’d let her . turned it. You only care about you. and she grasped the handle in leaf-shaking fingers. “I don’t want to ever see you again. She was running aimlessly.craziness. Goodbye. noting with something like horror that she was on the 10th floor. so she threw herself against the crash-bar to the stairs. following the endless hallway until she came to a bank of elevators. Ben was close behind. She heard him bellow curses and fumble with the doorknob. running after her. bare feet slapping against the carpeted floor. You’re selfish and abusive and arrogant. yet Miriam chose this moment to tell him the deepest truths inside her. Ben. Apparently that didn’t sink in. when I told you I’d kill you if I saw you again. you just disguised it when we first met. heard the door slam open and he was behind her. Ben. Miriam ran. I’m done. gave Ben one last glance.” The door bumped against her back. We’re done! I broke up with you that day on the road. She could have stopped and let her magic burn Ben to a crisp.
slowed her flight. growling and cursing. but every instinct inside her screamed for her to run. run. Miriam finally burst out into a hallway filled with people coming and going. Stairs flew under her feet with reckless speed. so she darted in among the crowd. she’d seen the mask of calm on Ben’s face slip. After what seemed like a lifetime of descending stairs. She had to deal with Ben without it. the facade of sanity crumbling to show the pounding rage and thundering madness that lay beneath. And a fight would mean destruction she wasn’t ready to allow. A stitch in her side stole her breath. run. with the flurry of emotions running through her. Most were heading in the same direction. No. If she did it here.magic out she’d nearly destroyed Comerica Park. Miriam refused. and Miriam was . hoping to lose Ben in the crush of people. she might very well make the entire hotel go up in flames. not without a fight. bruising her heels and sending lances of pain up her legs and into her back. She heard Ben on the stairs above her. He wouldn’t let her go. The crowd dispersed around her into the main floor of the casino. Just before she fled.
She wasn’t as willing as he was to push and shove people out of the way. overwhelmed by jangling slot machines and people chattering. and set out after her. milling and chatting and drinking and smoking. She’d hoped the bustle of people milling around her would be a hindrance to Ben. People were everywhere. spilling drinks and earning hateful looks. The crowd was a source of both comfort and hindrance in another way as well: she knew Ben wouldn’t try anything too crazy surrounded by crowds and watched by cameras and security officers. shoving people aside. He saw her. his suit coat buttoned now. Her dress made her stand out. she was choked by a thick haze of cigarette smoke. Miriam glanced behind her to see Ben standing on his tiptoes. the cloud of nicotine rolling in a visible fog. concealing the weapon. but she could still see the . but it was proving as much so to her as to him. playing slot machines and hunched over card tables. scanning the crowd. she realized. but rather was trying to duck around and slip between. card dealers jabbering their patter. Ben was closing in.inundated with sound. the silver standing out in stark contrast to the street clothes of the rest of the crowd.
He hated her now. Beady brown eyes glanced down at her and he said in a gasping voice so deep it made her bones rattle. sweating. Her hair was loose around her shoulders. “you in trouble. He was striding with bullish purpose through the crowd. dragging an oxygen tank with cannulas inserted in his nose. she wasn’t sure he wouldn’t use it.butt distorting the line of his blazer. Miriam. eyes fixed on her. . jealousy and hurt and confusion stamped on his face. little miss? She saw Ben a few feet away. a break in the crowd. A rush of panic shot through her. and that enraged Ben even more. she broke into a run. She heard him stop Ben. even here. shook her head and pushed past the man. heard the man grunt in surprise as Ben shoved him to the side. There was a clear area ahead of Miriam. rage burning. and he wouldn’t stop until he had her. ran smack into a huge. not caring about the stares she drew. It was enough of a distraction to let Miriam get farther ahead. God knows what he would do if he caught her. a pumpkin-round face covered in a thick beard that hung over his broad chest. turned back to glance back at Ben. pear-shaped man in overalls.
beckoning. She was running blindly. row after row of slot machines all lined up and marching away into the distance. He curled a finger at her. people swilling booze from highballs. but she was afraid of running into someone again and losing her momentum. panic blinding her from seeing directional signs. She wanted to glance behind her to see if she was getting any farther away. He saw her glance at him. there was a smirk on his lips. not meaning to respond. holding the pistol most likely. She rounded a corner. Miriam realized she had no idea where she was going. trying to get away from Ben. She shook her head in denial automatically. this time a .flowing in brown waves behind her as she ran. his hand in the pocket of his suit coat. She passed by a darkened lounge with blue low-lights. a quirky smile of hunger complementing the glittering anger in his eyes. striding confidently. oblivious to her plight. and his grin widened. glancing back as she did to see Ben less than ten feet away. The casino was mammoth and expansive and maze-like. She slammed into yet another body.
softer one. The waitress touched Miriam’s forehead with a finger. an empty tray in one hand and a pile of foaming beer bottles on the ground. and an apron covering her thighs. a connection she couldn’t explain. her skimpy black waitress uniform soaked. Miriam was doused in wetness. Miriam felt a strange kinship to the woman. reaching out for the similar magic stretching in a silvery tendril toward Miriam’s. a kind of familiarity. and Miriam felt a bolt of electricity rush through her. The waitress was a little taller than Miriam. The waitress was wearing a bodice that did little but prop her breasts up. curiosity written plain on her face. Despite the fear gripping her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ben stalking after her. felt her magic respond to the girl’s touch. “Do I know you?” The waitress asked. beautiful in an exotic way. but little else.smaller. just a shirt and the apron. slewed around to see an attractive. even though Miriam was sure she’d never seen her before in her life. Miriam wasn’t sure she was actually wearing a skirt at all. the pistol in his hand now. and black tights. Arabic-looking girl about Miriam’s own age standing in shock and outrage. held .
not running. not hurrying. hurtled around another . bounced off another man. Slipping on the spilled beer. a clean. Alone now. an employee’s-only section of white walls. barely hearing his yells of surprise. white linoleum floors and white droptile ceilings. arbitrarily.against his leg. She was in the back area of the casino. A bank of doors appeared in the distance. fragments of casino-noise and shouts of “you can’t go in there!” following Ben as he pursued Miriam. Miriam stumbled into a run. He had the gun out now. Ben hot on her heels now. smelled the pungent aroma of Pine-sol from the freshly-mopped floor. She heard the doors behind her bang open. Miriam heard her own panting breath mix with whimpers. still stalking with long spaceeating strides after her. Miriam shoved an overweight older black woman out of the way and slammed into the door. too-bright hallways startlingly silent after the clanging bustle of the casino. The hallway ended in a T-intersection and Miriam crashed into the wall and turned left. her feet slapping loud. and he lifted it to point it at her. her breathing ragged. and Miriam headed for them. Miriam sprinted flat-out. felt it bounce off of her as she caromed into a wall.
She saw an exit sign bathing the hallway red and reflecting off the floor. Ben was already blocking the up-ramp. She heard Ben’s feet pounding now as he ran to catch up. If Ben caught her. each time at random. He also stood by the the only stairwell. and beyond that the dead-end of the very bottom of the parking garage. cars scattered between yellow lines. . she’d use her powers. ramps leading away up and down. By the time Miriam realized she’d trapped herself. Behind was a concrete wall. At least she was alone out here. spurring her on. No one besides Ben. and she knew Ben had found her. Lower and lower she ran. hoping it would lead her outside. pistol out and held against his leg. The door banged open behind her again. She might destroy a few cars. the cars fewer down here. and Miraim bolted through it to emerge in the low gray darkness of a parking garage. Miriam headed for the downward ramp. hoping to lose him. but no one would die. blank and damp. she heard the unmistakable ratcheting click of the pistol slide being pulled back and released. that is.corner and another. a battered green Cadillac sat a few feet to her right.
his heel slipped behind her leg so she tripped to the ground. He shoved her backward. Ben was within arm’s reach and Miriam ran. buried by pain . as if clutching her throat. There was a dull glimmering spark of heat in her gut. made the fire sputter. bashing her head against the concrete floor.” she pleaded. fingers curling at his pants leg as if around her body. now that she finally truly needed it. and she struggled to remain conscious. She knew it was futile. Terror made her fumble. I’m sorry…. He was hungry for her. clutching for the magic within her. reached for the guttering fleck of magic. don’t. felt it recede. His eyes betrayed him. She was desperate. only to feel his fingers close around her arm and yank her toward him. She saw stars spinning above her. “Ben. Miriam. Miriam backed away from him. as they so often did.” Ben was gliding toward her like a lion stepping with careful paws through tall grass toward an unsuspecting gazelle. “I’m sorry. only to find it elusive.” Ben didn’t answer. reaching for it. felt warmth spread out beneath her head. but she pled with him anyway.“Nowhere else to run. Ben.
You made that happen. Ben was straddling her. She believed all sort of crazy things. Miriam. the car. She was old school. So I was thinking about. “You made this all a lot easier.” he said in a conversational tone. There was no Ben left in his eyes. djinn and . the blade was between her breasts and slicing down her belly. ripping open her dress. but Ben just laughed and rode it out. I don’t think you meant to. only madness now. She wanted to scream with frustration. My sito used to tell me stories as a kid. “I figured something out. Ben cut the dress off her arms and wadded it in his hand.” Miriam thrashed and kicked and bucked.and drowned by terror. trying to figure out how it had happened. Rachel? That was all you. Her vision was wavering. and it started to make sense. only desire and hate and anger. “The phone. a black folding knife in his hands. my sito. but you did.” Ben said. somehow. and a lot more fun. spinning. Miri. before my dad brought us over here. seeming to enjoy the fight. demons and angels. Then you went all Human Torch on me. “I’m glad you ran. choking her. but the sound trapped in her throat in a hard lump. pocketing the knife.
prying it open painfully wide. screaming and kicking. According to sito. and she prayed five times a day facing Mecca. and she went still. What if you don’t grant wishes. Ben shoved the wadded dress into her mouth. You know what djinni are? Genies. which is really fuckin’ cool. When did those things happen? While we’re having sex. just maybe sito wasn’t so crazy after all. but maybe somehow you make what I want deep down come true? Like. like I just ask you for what I want. you know? Maybe there’s some truth to the old legends. powerful. Some of those stories had djinni in them. He shoved the cold mouth of the pistol against her forehead.ifrit and all that. then I kept thinking. So. Maybe there is stuff we don’t see. djinni were tricky. Something about sex makes the magic happen. you know? So now here . I thought.” Miriam tried again to buck him off. the magic just works on its own. She would spit and make hand signs against evil. Ben continued: “Once I got my head around the fact that I really did see you turn to flame. Maybe. but their powers varied from legend to legend. and dangerous creatures. it was easier to think about how you made that other stuff happen.
Ben rolled away and Jack followed him. missing as Jack threw himself to the side. You could’ve just…let go of all that other shit and realized that you belong with me.we are. just a few feet away.” Miriam tried to scream a warning: the pistol was hidden by Ben’s body and Jack didn’t see it. A pair explosions filled the parking garage. Miriam seemed to watch in slow motion as Ben twisted. Of course. absorbed Jack’s hurtling weight. Jack may not have seen what Miriam saw. turn his head slightly to get Jack into his line of vision. He didn’t see Ben smile slowly. Ben. Jack. He didn’t see Ben shift his weight.” came a voice from behind them. but he wasn’t stupid. Ben toppled away from Miriam to roll across the ground. as if he’d hoped Jack would show up. “Get off her. she doesn’t.” “No. you’ve got to do this the hard way. He lunged with sudden speed. Jack disentangled himself from Ben and scrambled to his feet. We could’ve done this all nice and comfortable up in the hotel room. fists first. throwing himself at Ben. planted a kick into Ben’s face and another. which is just like you. Jack .
knew it was her. Jack lay on his back. Ben fired twice more. froth bubbling at his lips as he struggled for breath. . Jack gasped in surprise and flopped to the ground. This time.stood up and charged yet again. Miriam heard someone screaming. twin blossoms of blood spreading on his chest.
His friend might be able to pull some strings. He pictured Ben bringing Miriam to the casino. He knew people here. get people to ignore anything unusual. his territory.Chapter 17: Now The crime scene had been cleaned up and the garage re-opened. Carson had discovered. A buddy of Ben’s from the Corps was a dealer at a blackjack table. a waitress who had left work by the time the body was discovered and reported. with Miriam and the case as a whole in mind. This was his turf. Like a terrified girl running through the casino. The connection itself was enough: Ben would be comfortable here. so the location itself offered no new clues up to Carson. looking at it again. He stood there anyway. and thus had been unavailable for questioning then. . The buddy hadn’t been forthcoming. perhaps as an attempt to woo her back. There was a waitress whom Carson had interviewed before coming down here. protecting his friend.
no windows. she said. a cocktail waitress on the casino floor had seen Miriam. really. Carson had prowled the Casino. And if you were a scared girl. doors meant away. and that had seemed an obvious choice. silent after the chaos…Carson found himself . flashing his badge to employees protesting his presence. you’d have no way to know where to go. Nadira had claimed. It was designed to keep you in: the confusion and chaos was intentional. almost by default. angry-looking guy following Miriam. Maybe things had gotten… tense. So he went through the doors. Miriam had actually knocked into her and spilled an entire tray of drinks. no clear exits. It was clever and almost diabolical. trying to think like a fleeing. no evidence of passing time. Nadira said. the exits distant and not clearly marked. The casino was huge and sprawling. If Miriam had tried to leave and Ben had chased her. That was all she knew. no clocks. they’d end up in the casino. Doors meant out. Then he’d seen the bay of employees-only doors in the distance. White hallways like an illusion stretching out in a further maze.Nadira Nasri. terrified girl. That had made sense. or rather she’d seen a tall. She’d seen Ben too.
The body had been burned.disoriented. maybe there would have been a different outcome. of who Ben was. but that was it. No footage of Ben’s death. so Miriam’s state was easily understandable. The cameras had caught them in the casino and the back hallways. where something truly unusual had taken place. He’d looked at the security tapes again. He had a clear picture of how things had led to the parking garage. So how had Ben died? What had caused the fire? Had Miriam done it? And again the question: where the hell was Miriam? Back at his desk. a sequence of events that were still a mystery to Carson. One direction would have led her to a break room. and Miriam. and there was a clear image of Miriam pushing through the crowd. Carson stared at the casings. trying to piece the rest together. One random turn after another and suddenly he was in the parking garage. obviously terrified. or a cleaning supply room. and entering the parking garage. chased by Ben. whereas she’d ended up cornered in the garage. If she had gone left instead of right. which meant it was likely that someone else .
He hoped Miriam was still alive to tell him. which suggested that the fire wasn’t natural. or been found? But then. but it still left him stuck in the same place he’d been at the start: a charred skeleton. Carson sat staring at the file. a missing girl who may or may not have been responsible for the burned body. Maybe she had torched him. He needed to solve this case. not even where the body had fallen. and the sequence of events.had been shot. in selfdefense. . Maybe she had been shot in the process and run. somehow? That would explain the mysterious nature of the burned body. He needed to know if Miriam had killed Ben. But there were no burn marks. At his desk. a missing girl who may or may not be alive. no scorch marks. If Miriam was able to…what? Manipulate fire. and how. somehow. none of the hospitals had reported any gunshot victims that fit Miriam’s description. He had a pretty good idea of the people involved.
and the vision slipped. his need to check her pulse and cradle her in his arms. Then colors swirled in his head as if he’d stared too long at the sun.Chapter 18: Then At first Jack saw nothing but the inside of his eyelids. could sense the black aura of Ben’s presence although Jack couldn’t see him. He slowed his breathing and pushed his worry away. Now the colors came back and this time they congealed without pause into her face. held a memory of Miriam’s face in his mind. Miriam was pressed against a car window. rushing and fusing into not a mere memory but a kind of physical presence. Jack tried to focus on it. and . Jack could smell her. seemed to be Miriam. Sharp spires of a church passed by. perhaps he was trying to hard. shadows and shades of yellow and blue coalescing into something that seemed to make sense. could hear the hum of tires. he focused his attention beyond her to the world passing by out the window. possibly. asleep or unconscious. instead. Jack did his best to ignore his need to touch her.
He wasn’t seeing in actual real-time he realized. Jack wanted to sprint. and the rope of magic stretched out from his chest across the city. and Jack realized he needed to simply follow it. then the view was obscured by rising freeway sides and Jack saw signs for Gratiot Road. The elevator ride was endless. a street sign told him. a landmark he recognized. Jefferson road. ignoring the jangling alarm. Apparently they did. drawing closer: the tall. He found the door. Third Street…Jack felt disoriented as the landmarks jumped from one to other. but forced himself to a pace . neon-lit face of the MGM Grand Hotel. I-375 keep right. Did elevators work when the rest of the building was dark? He pressed the button and heard the hum. He descended the stairs two at a time and emerged in the darkened corridor of a top-floor office building. too quick. Or if he was. relieved to find it unlocked. against all probability.Jack thought he recognized those steeples. Woodward. He was on Beaubien. his vision was faltering. Michigan. Then. and it would lead him to Miriam. at least. Jack’s eyes popped open. This one. but couldn’t be sure. but eventually he exited the building through an emergency exit.
or people. He was nearly hit more than once. or cars. past drunk gamblers and wavering smokers. The city was quiet this late at night. following the magic around corners and down straightaways. Miriam thrashing against Ben’s weight.he could maintain. he drew honks and curses as he crossed in front of passing cars against the lights. Worry turned to panic. but his worry pulled him ever onward. following Miriam through white hallways. He was panting. The golden particles led him through the casino. Miriam tumbling to the ground with Ben on top of her. the visions in his head cycling with maddened. He was in a parking . sweating. his legs burning. following the glowing skein of magic. felt bumpers knock against his knees. panic into unreasoning fear. through white hallways. Ben cutting her dress away and pawing at her. disorienting speed. tires squealing. Jack felt a body bounce off him and hands clutch at his sleeve: he was entering the casino somehow. Visions were colliding in his head. not paying attention to his actual location or other signs. Ben with a gun. but not deserted. Miriam crashing into people in what might have been the casino. though he had no memory of approaching it.
Jack stumbled to his feet. and then again. a distant concussion in Jack’s ears. suddenly falling and unable to make himself move. Jack threw himself to the side. The gun went off. . following the magic downward and around. feeling a thrill of satisfaction at the blood on Ben’s face. Jack’s vision swam red with rage. his fists pummeling in close-quarters rabbit-punches. Jack’s knees convulsing into Ben as they rolled. Ben was in front of him. and Jack felt snake fangs bite his chest. He was airborne. two quick punctures in his lungs. and they were rolling across the concrete floor. and Jack kicked out viciously. and he was suddenly weak. colliding with him. Then Ben was upright and pointing a silver handgun. Ben still struggling to right himself. but the words were lost in the thundering of his pulse. an instinctual move that occurred without thought or volition. who was lying on the cold cement floor clad in only her bra and panties. flying at Ben. the rope of magic dissipated in the gale force of his protective anger. sitting astride Miriam. Another roll of thunder filled the small space.garage now. Ben’s weight collided with Jack’s. He heard himself speak.
The tips of her hair flickered into flame first. side by side in her stomach. unaware that she had relinquished even the slightest vestige of human form to become a pillar of raging blue-white fire . Jack saw two holes. saw with horror that the first shots hadn’t missed. *** Miriam flashed from cold terror into full-flame in a heartbeat. Then he knew no more. leaking trails of lava instead of blood. then her fingers turned molten and the glow of molten stone spread up her body like flame eating paper. screaming in rage. unaware that her feet weren’t touching the ground.He looked over at Miriam. moved toward Ben. She was oblivious. then her eyes went from glowing brown to gouts of fire. They’d hit Miriam. Jack saw it happen in stop-motion sequence: first the tips of her hair floating around her waist turning yelloworange and flicking like snake tails. But in the instant of that transition. Jack saw her woman’s form vanish into a pillar. Just before the maw of darkness swallowed him. not pain.
remembering the movies and the power of true love’s kiss. His breath was coming in gasps. then. She reached for him. She saw nothing but Ben. He backed away. his voice a horrified shriek. Jack was dying. stumbling over his feet and falling to the ground. scrambling away as she approached. mere weak flesh and blood and Ben was a pile of charred skeleton bones on the floor behind her. There a brief thud of a heartbeat under her hand. no physical body. aware vaguely of Jack behind her. She heard him scream. screaming. pleading. but it was faint. She was a woman again suddenly. Then he was silent. seeking to grasp him with hating hands. He was wailing. heard herself weeping. and she swallowed him. childish in its helplessness. dying. and slow. forgotten. whistling past the holes in his chest. She shook him. his eyes slack and rolled up in his head. . but she had no form.pulsing and shifting and reaching out for Ben. She was reaching for Ben. but he stayed cold and limp and lifeless. the column that was Miriam splitting apart like jaws and clashing with a splash of fire and a juddering echo around Ben. She kissed him.
He couldn’t die. forced it into her hands. into anger. She couldn’t live without him. She refused to let Jack go. turned warm and then hot. She plunged her white-glowing hands into Jack’s chest. The anger built. it seemed. aching with sorrow. now that he was dying. Rage fueled the magic. became the magic itself. dove willingly into the magic flooding from herself into him. She needed Jack. She felt no desire in that moment. and the cells and the mitochondria and electrons. felt it in her mental grasp. Ben had killed him. so Miriam morphed that into hate. into the smallest spaces of his body. but she forced the magic to her will. Her whole form wanted to turn alight. only desperation and pain. then. not for herself. She reached for the heat inside. She spread herself out. forced it into heat. though he was dead. rage. She let the rage at Ben come back. and desire. and then burst into full and furious life in her hands. but for Jack. through the skin and bone. needing it for him. needing the anger to blow life into the magic. through the blood.Her stomach hurt. seeking out what was split and torn by the lead bullets and . and she pulled on it.
Had she been shot too? Maybe. absorbed them. He scrambled over to her. sought Jack and found him.” She knew she was hurt. Miriam. He saw her. what did you do?” She struggled to speak. She sought to erase all evidence of pain. “Oh god. no blood on his shirt. took the wounds into herself. spanning with her own essence places where flesh had been not merely torn apart but dissolved and removed. she could do no more. bridging the gaps with bits of herself. sitting up and healed. She fell to the cold concrete. tears dripping from his nose. took the pain into herself. chilled in her very bones. Jack was . hurting in every pore. looked back to Miriam. no blood pooled on the ground beneath him. she found the bullet holes and spread across them. From you. found nothing. “I…took it.knitting the breaks back together. There was no mark on him. molecule by molecule. to answer him. knelt beside her. all memory of hurt from him. She forced her eyes open. devoured them. sucked at them with all the force of magic she had. Then. clutched his chest as if remembering the wounds. with fragments of magic. thought was difficult.
spinning in circles. please. That was all that mattered. “Please. His hands were in her hair. “No. . or was it fear? She didn’t know. no. no. whatever he could think of. just sputtering prayers. Et nomini Patri. mother of Jesus.” This was a prayer. had sensation only for Jack.” He wasn’t arguing. but a plea. There was only Jack. That was what mattered. “Holy Mary. Miriam didn’t feel any of this. on his features so etched with desperation and looking down at her. picking her up and stumbling into a run with her. and faint. He stripped his shirt off. She felt cold. things he hadn’t attended in years. He was looking at her. looking for an exit.alive. caressing her cheek. not an epithet. eyes welling with love. She pushed those away so she could focus on Jack. wrapped it around her torso. holding her. “Stay with me. Why did she hurt so bad? She couldn’t remember.” He wasn’t making any sense. Miri. et Fili. he was denying. et Spiritus Sancti. God. not a casual profanity. Miri. pressed it against her aching chest and stomach.” she heard him whisper. remembered from boyhood catechism and mass.
and she realized he thought something was wrong with her. She thought of his words: stay with me. oddly seeming to be exactly where the holes in Jack’s chest had been. One.Only Ben had called her that. and she wished it would go away. and that’s where she belonged. Miriam tried to focus her eyes on the figure above . in her chest. red and sopping with blood. Then the fear in his eyes and the worry in the lines around his mouth poked into her awareness. She felt the shortening of her name to be a kind of verbal caress. She saw Jack’s shirt wrapped around her midsection. there was another next to it…so two…and then two more above those. She heard a whistling noise. it was different. But when Jack said it. and she’d hated it from him. She saw the blood welling from little holes in her body…where had those come from? She tried to count them. She heard a female voice. pooling between his arms and her flesh where his arms pressed against her. a familiar voice nearby. Where would she go? She was in his arms. though the dizziness made it hard. She tore her eyes away from Jack and looked down at herself.
The bullet wounds remained. seeking out the wounds and filling them. tell him it would be okay. eyes brimming with worry. It was the woman from the casino. spread palms over bullet holes. a sharp order that Jack obeyed. Warm hands pulled the shirt away. But she didn’t really . He followed the dark haired woman to her car. her eyes erupting into a silver-blue glow. and though the pain was less. still pleading with Miriam to stay with him. but it’s only temporary. saw a halo of black hair. flooding Miriam with heat that cooled into blessed relief from pain.” the woman said. she was fine. it was still there blazing through her in dizzying waves. the waitress. Miriam felt a humming vibration emanate from the woman’s hands. piercing black eyes pinned on her. and she wanted to reassure him. The warmth spread. but the flow of blood was stanched and Miriam felt less faint. “We have to get her to my place. Miriam heard her tell Jack to put her on the ground. saw a luminous pool the same silver-blue of her eyes spread from her hands to sink into Miriam’s flesh. “That will save her for now.” Jack picked her up again. and Miriam looked down at the hands. the color of a moonlit-ocean. Follow me.her.
with Jack. pressed against her front where the little bleeding holes were. That made sense. smeared against his chest and heaving stomach. Where had he gotten so much red paint? It was all over him. not paint.feel fine. swaying this way and that. really. It was her blood. and Jack was okay. a faint but piercing ache. though. She was here. and she was cold. It didn’t matter. She had healed him. Some faint logical voice told her it was blood. they kind of hurt a bit. he was looking down at her. unconsciousness . pressed too hard. and he brushed the tears away with a hand. Those little holes. tears on his face carving lines down his cheeks. but his hand was all red. really. the other pressing a coat or a sweatshirt against her chest and stomach. and she wondered if he was okay. then. only she didn’t remember what had caused it. Jack above her bracing one hand against a leather seat headrest. There was a waft of blessed warmth as something was thrown over her. She wanted to stay with him. as if he’d been painting. and weakness was tugging at her. so cold. So where was the blood coming from? Those little holes in her chest and stomach. she knew she had. but the warmth was nice. They were moving.
and she tried to remember how to use it. but the words faded in her throat before they could come out. She forced her eyes to stay open because if they closed she might drift away into the waiting black. his ocean-blue eyes. “I’m…staying here with you. just a little. She felt the magic in her belly. Jack. She didn’t want him to be afraid. and tried with every shred of strength she had left to pull on the magic. fixing into her mind his straight nose and thin lips and faint blond stubble on his chin.” she whispered. just this once. his tangled mess of hair. so she had to keep looking at him. not yet. So she batted away the weakness. and that was not staying with him. He had asked her so many times now to please please stay with him. the urge to sleep. So she focused on Jack. If she let Jack out of her sight. Maybe the magic would help her. So she could stay with Jack. It was a trickle of . for herself. and she would do anything for him. The magic responded. She focused on him. She couldn’t sleep. without needing rage or passion to fuel it. I’m listening to you.pulling at the edges of her sight. she tried to say. he might go away again.
Then she was set down and there was pressure and cold and warmth and hands doing things to her and Jack’s face above her. or maybe screamed. She was still cold. but the magic coiled like a serpent and lashed out. Lucidity was coming and going. she couldn’t hear very well. For Jack. really. It was for Jack. he would be wrought with agony. but then it grew. just a little bit at a time. so afraid for her. They were . and weak. He would…he would be so sad. for some reason. she told the magic. but she kept the idea fixed in her mind. It wasn’t for herself. and banished it. she knew he would. a smile of offered bravery. and she may have whimpered a bit. filling her. sent pangs of pain bolting through her body. She felt the magic respond. smiling through tears. so he wouldn’t weep anymore.warmth. the hungry darkness. Hands picked her up and moved her. Keep me here with him. If she let the crouched beast of sleep any closer. She wasn’t really making sense to herself. She didn’t know. He was so worried. like a breath of air felt against a palm in a darkened room. striking the beast of blackness. she told the magic. please? So he wouldn’t be alone. and that hurt. if she let it take her.
a coffee table next to her. “I’m here. She knew he wouldn’t but she was so afraid of being alone. please. not quite touching. the dark-haired woman was kneeling beside her. Don’t leave me. Miri. The woman knelt next to Miriam for what might have been hours. Every word the woman whispered sent bolts of cool relief coursing through Miriam’s body. though? Or was it in her mind? Jack…stay with me. or minutes. of sleep coming for her before she was ready. so she sent them to him across the bond of magic that connected them. Time was flowing past Miriam without touching her. Did he say it. moving her hands over Miriam’s body. or days. looking down at her. .inside somewhere. She used his words. or seconds. a wood ceiling high above her with a spinning fan. She was lying on a couch. but a home. the woman’s hands glowing in pulsing blue luminescence with the words and the waves of coolth. not a hospital. all she saw was Jack’s face. worried and tender. her eyes closed and lips whispering silent words in a strange language. walls with paintings and posters.” she heard him say. tried to say them but they wouldn’t come out.
snatches of memory flashing in her mind. despite her efforts to stave it off. saw the apartment that she had caught fragmentary glimpses of earlier. “You’re awake. I promise. looked around her. staring at her. You’re going to be okay. Had he heard her? He was silent. Jack. Miriam.” She needed to tell him something. It was a large loft. so he knew. felt for the holes. cool and smooth and strong.” He said it back.” he said. . I love you. She felt sleep coming anyway. Miriam. and the woman was sitting in a deep purple chair that matched the couch Miriam lay on. the way she had been before. found nothing. He’d heard her. but she had to tell him. *** Miriam awoke. “I…I love you too. She was still on the couch. Miriam opened her eyes. She slept. He loved her. “I won’t go anywhere. simply but tastefully furnished and decorated.“I’m here.” A woman’s voice. the wounds. She pressed her hands to her stomach. She wasn’t afraid of this sleepiness. and this time it came both audibly and in her mind.
I don’t really know. “I wasn’t sure I would wake up. but I think I ended up taking the wounds into myself somehow.” Miriam admitted.” She was wearing a long black T-shirt that fell nearly to her knees The woman nodded. by the way. Healing isn’t exactly my specialty.Miriam struggled to a sitting position. “Thank you for saving me. by the way. He’s out getting us breakfast. I wouldn’t move around too much. He–he saved me from Ben. And you’re welcome. I’ve healed you for the most part.” .” “Oh. but you’ll still be sore for a while. “Oh.” “How do you know who I am?” Miriam asked. “That was going to be my next question. and I…I tried to heal him.” Miriam said. why wouldn’t he be?” “Well he was shot first. I’m sorry. Is he–is Jack okay?” The woman gave Miriam a questioning look. that must’ve sounded kinda mysterious. Nadira laughed. but he was shot. “Of course. I’m Miriam. I know who you are. found it painful and difficult. I’m Nadira. “yes. huh? I just meant Jack told me about you while you were sleeping.
I was just so desperate. and so did I. where you found us. I don’t really know what happened. air.” Nadira shook her head. thank god–and in the process he got shot. but he did. you and I. You’re a healer? What’s your element?” “What? My what? What do you mean?” “Your element. “So you healed him. confused.” Miriam shook her head. then I saw Jack lying on the ground and he was bleeding…I couldn’t–couldn’t watch him die. but you ended up with his wounds? I didn’t even know that was possible.” “What form do your powers take? Earth. My element is water. “Well. I didn’t realize it at first. I’d gone all…fiery.Nadira was shocked. and I didn’t feel anything until after I’d gone back to normal. “I–I’m not sure what you mean. Jack showed up in the nick of time–I’m not really sure how he found me. though. “Wait. my element. but never anything that bad. . what? Tell me what happened. I’d healed him before. from the beginning. fire. the short version is that Ben cornered me in the garage. and I think the magic went too far. We’re elemental djinni.” Miriam ran her fingers through tangled hair.
You poor thing. Nadira brought her a mug of coffee. hugging her in sympathy. thinking of the Tigers game.or water?” “Fire. It all just started happening a few weeks ago. and I thought I was…I don’t know…” Nadira laughed. I’ve heard about people who didn’t know. an elemental djinn. . When she was dressed. handed her a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. you don’t…” Nadira tilted her head at Miriam. then.” “Weird stuff? Wait. to be precise. as if coming to a realization. “You are a djinn. it’s always fire. well let’s start at the beginning. which Miriam drank gratefully. Apparently it can be pretty dangerous. “Okay.” Miriam muttered. even if they didn’t fit.” “Yeah. “You weren’t raised in your powers? You don’t know what you are?” Miriam shook her head and stammered.” Nadira stood up and pulled Miriam to her feet. When all the weird stuff happens. Nadira led her to the kitchen and sat her down at a small round table. “No–I– no. “Oh. honey. which Miriam gladly put on. but came over to sit next to Miriam. I don’t. you could say that.
but this isn’t your home-realm. When my father…when Daddy died. huh? Okay. have no idea. but…the passage between realms is difficult and dangerous. it doesn’t work like that. but that’s a different story for another time. her head spinning. you. .” “So I’m half? Half-djinn?” Nadira laughed. Elemental djinn use one of the four elements as the basis of their powers. “Yes. I’m guessing one of your parents was either absent or very difficult to be around?” Miriam nodded. plus the magic that is our birthright. You were probably born here in this realm to a human mother or father. There are hundreds. And even before then. if not thousands of djinni on Earth. like you. I’m probably just confusing.There’s a lot of different kinds. she just…just left. You may have been born here. She was just…secretive. I never really knew her. but they prefer to remain incognito. and only a few people even know how to make the transition. with a djinn as the other parent. Most are aware of who and what they are. “No.” “So she was where you got your djinni powers. Some. my…my mother. There’s an entire world full of people like you and I. scattered around the world. go back.
if you’re not in complete control.You’re either djinn or not. There’s no half. and I’d always lose my temper and he’d end up soaking wet and crying to Mom. when I was…excited. my brother used to make me so mad. I remember. like a a river splashing. Miriam realized. when I was kid. I almost destroyed Comerica Park because my powers got away with me. but it’s not actually your native form. There was actual magic in the way she laughed. You were raised as a human. so this flesh-and-blood form is the most natural one for you to stay in.” Nadira laughed again. “Yeah. extreme emotions tend to make our powers go a bit haywire. “Yeah. Her laugh sounded like music. and felt a pang of jealousy that this woman had so much control over her powers. You’ve gone full elemental?” Miriam nodded. but it’s scary because I have no real idea how to control anything. a few times. It’s scary and wonderful. that’s just the way it is. and he still gets a good soaking. He still does that. I feel so powerful. actually.” “You have a brother? And he’s…he’s a djinn too?” Miriam tried and failed to fathom what it would be . I don’t know why.
“Miriam. and I’ve been in control my whole life. but he was a slow learner.” “What about the other stuff…the magic?” “Well that’s the easy part. and then you’ll be able to control them both a lot better. I’ll warn you. He’s a water elemental too. so the elemental powers and the magic are like separate entities inside you.like to have a brother at all. Everything wants to revert back to elemental form. Even for me. you’re up!” Jack set the bags down on . but I can teach you the basics. He was twelve before he could use his powers at will. much less one who shared her powers. it’s still hard. You’re probably split right now. almost.” “Can you teach me about mine?” “To some degree. “You’ve just got to learn to bind them together.” At that moment Jack walked in with two big brown paper bags full of styrofoam carryout containers. You’ve got to weave them together. I was in full control by the time I was six. “Yeah.” Nadira said. Keeping this form and using the magic and the element can be tricky. Every elemental is different in the way the powers work.
sipped another cup of coffee and related to Jack what Nadira had told her. I’m okay. She hadn’t eaten in longer than she could remember. “Yeah. at least. and had to force herself to not retreat away from him. “How do you feel?” Miriam was overwhelmed by the joy and affection he showed. she sat back. After she’d stuffed herself. She wanted to forget him. “So. “I’m okay. But. put him in the past and never think of him again. it turns out Ben was right. let the emotions have their run through her.” Jack brought the food over and unwrapped a spread of food from a local Coney Island diner that made Miriam’s mouth water. and that was something she’d have to get used to. openly and passionately.the coffee table and rushed over to her.” A shudder ran through Miriam as she said his name. you’re a djinn?” Jack asked. “Who is Ben?” Nadira asked. in one sense. . He loved her. Jack. kissed her cheeks and lips. She wasn’t used to such overt displays. so she was ravenous. he had been right about her. wrapped his arms around her. Thanks to Nadira. She put her arms around him and closed her eyes.
“You’ve had quite a life. but Miriam put her hand over his to silence him.” Nadira glanced from Jack to Miriam.” “So…what happened? If you don’t mind me asking. couldn’t slow or control. Nadira didn’t interrupt. Miriam found it cathartic to unload everything that way. and when the flood of words finally stopped. It was what it was. Jack. haven’t you? You poor thing.” Miriam glanced at Jack. Don’t you dare pity me. going back to her childhood. It was my life. “Don’t look at me like that.Jack answered for Miriam. “Ben was that pile of bones. He was her ex-boyfriend. telling her more and more as she went. who’d been silent while Miriam told her story. Nadira said. and she realized much of it was new to him. Well. He was looking at her with something suspiciously like pity. It was a rush of words flooding out of her that she couldn’t stop. now you know what you are. It was her story to tell. telling someone who would understand. to her first boyfriend and then Nick and Ben and up to the present. She had intended to only tell the basics. but found herself opening up to Nadira. and you’ve got Jack.” Jack started to answer again. got up from the table and retreated to the .
her mother’s abandonment. the fear of herself and the confusion over her identity…it was so . “What I can promise you is that this is me. not quite able to look at him. “I can’t promise you I won’t change at all. Jack. giving them privacy to talk. and she had to blink back tears and swallow past the knot to say.” Jack said. Miriam. I wish I could go back and love you through all of it. because life changes you. I’m not going to suddenly turn into somebody else.” Miriam couldn’t contain the emotions any longer. the loneliness. I love you. “It was… sympathy.” Miriam nodded. It was me wishing I could’ve been there for it all. She felt herself break open inside.” That put a knot of emotion in Miriam’s throat. it was her father’s death. Promise me things won’t change?” Jack took her hand in his.bathroom. You’re afraid I’ll end up being just like Ben. and said. “It wasn’t pity. It wasn’t just Ben. “Just love me now. pressure from years of being strong and keeping everything bottled in bursting out in a river of tears that she couldn’t stop.
I’ll admit it. “Stop. when she could speak again. working in my cousin’s garage. it’s not. His presence both comforted her and made the weeping all the more embarrassing. “I’m sorry Jack. I hate being weak–” Jack cut her off. A month ago. but it was no use. listen to me. I swear I’ve cried more around you in the last few weeks than in all the rest of my life. crying isn’t weakness. and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. and that was about it.” she said. hating the feeling of vulnerability. I have you. It’s okay to let me see what you’re feeling. Now. the embarrassment. Miriam tried to stop it. and I can’t imagine life without you.” Miriam said.” Jack shook his head. “It’s not how I am. Miri.” “No. “I’m not…not usually like this. Stop. I was alone. So much has changed so fast. Since I met . “Miriam. For one thing. I hate crying. You don’t have to be strong all the time. Jack handed her a box of Kleenex and held her against his chest.many things all bound up into a tangled mess of emotions that had no way of being expressed except through this explosion of sobbing. I am. It’s okay to be emotional.
When I come back.” She’d just met him. but–whatever happens. showered and dressed in her waitress uniform. I will. but from myself. I wasn’t sure love existed. I’ll be here with you.you…I swear I can’t remember what it was like when I didn’t know you.” She put her hand on his cheek. “Jack. Now. “I’ve got to go to work. Not just from Ben. so many times. No matter what.” Nadira came back. I’ll mess up. . but their actions never match what they say. “You’ve saved me. relatively speaking. like Jack had said. “God. I swear to you I’ll love you as best I can. she couldn’t imagine a day that didn’t contain Jack. but it felt like a lifetime had passed since Jack showed up to defend her from Ben in that parking lot. I don’t know how to love you. I’ll–make you mad. Jack. Your handiwork in that parking garage won’t go unnoticed for long. and do stupid shit. I’m not perfect. Men have told me they love me. and there’ll be cops looking for you. but you two are welcome to stay here as long as you want. Miri. are you two done yet? You’re making me sick. we’ll talk about the best way to proceed. Oh.” She was laughing as she said it. kissed his lips. but I’ll try. but something made Miriam think she wasn’t entirely kidding. honestly.
and just wait for me. Jack and Miriam lay down on the couch.” he admitted. after the wedding. I’m scheduled till 7 tonight. Miriam snorted a laugh. listening to Jack’s heart beat under her ear. “Well…it’s a bit strange. But there was one question burning in her mind: “How did you find me?” Miriam asked.” After Nadira had left. That’s her way of saying don’t feel bad. Just stay here. This is me you’re talking to. Mary doesn’t blame you. don’t make any calls. she just wished you could’ve stayed. Stay inside. I just haven’t had a chance till now. “Stranger than everything else that’s happened? Come on.because explanations in cases like this can be… tricky. Jack. things were weird–don’t apologize. I was pissed off and still half-drunk from the wedding. She wanted me to tell you that. so I’ll be back not too long after that. it’s not your fault. She wants you to know that her wedding was wonderful. and make yourselves at home. After you left. Miriam felt a sense of peace steal over her.” . Jack didn’t answer right away. I promise.” “I was at home. actually. holding each other.
neither .” Jack lifted up on his elbow and stared down at her. and I–I just couldn’t let anyone else get hurt because of me. and that you felt going with Ben was the only way to solve the problem. But too many of you would’ve gotten hurt in the process. I know. you have to hear me now. and you would’ve won. You are worth it.“She’s sweet. You’re worth everything. but she kept it to herself. anyway. that sounds like a stupid self-motivational tape or something. but it’s true. no matter what–” “But it’s not your family’s battle to fight. eventually. Jack. okay? This is important. “Yeah she is. I was never mad at you. don’t be stupid.” She hadn’t meant to say that last part out loud. If you don’t think you’re worth the best. his eyes intense. Okay? You hear me? I was hurt that you had to make that choice. She knew how Jack would respond. You have to believe in yourself.” Jack agreed. “Well. Miriam. I know they would have kept fighting Ben. I might’ve kept drinking after I got home. “Miriam. My family would’ve defended you.” Miriam couldn’t help feeling bad. I’m not worth it. “Miriam.
“I know. Jack. but letting him all the way in. “It’s not that easy. She never believed in me. I’m not going to argue with . Jack. You have to start by telling yourself you have worth. even if you don’t believe it. My dad may have. This was getting too close. Trusting Jack was fine. He was inside her walls.will anyone else. And I know that I can’t just make you feel your worth just by saying so. wanting to retreat behind her walls. to where her most secret doubts and fears were…that was too hard. but couldn’t. but I lost him.” interrupted Jack. I need you to believe in yourself. “Jack…” she didn’t even know where to start. You can’t just undo a lifetime of conditioning in one conversation. I can’t believe in you for the both of us. My mom never loved me.” Miriam looked away from Jack. ‘fake it till you make it?’ It’s like that. what to say. any man I’ve ever been with has treated me the same–” “As a piece of meat. too deep. I need you to see the worth in yourself. It doesn’t matter if I think you’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever met if you don’t think you’re worth anything.” “That’s stupid. Miriam. And after that. Have you ever heard the phrase.
at least I thought it was a dream. I’m not saying you have to try to convince yourself. Miriam. He told me you have it too. ‘You were there. Miriam. She wasn’t ready for that kind of vulnerability. he does say that to anyone who’ll listen. high-pitched. “Yeah. Miriam looked at him blankly. she didn’t think. but she had to get him off this subject. Jack nodded. sing-song voice. if you treat me like you have been. that’s not what I meant. I had a dream. “Yeah. “You still haven’t told me how you found me. and you. “No? Wizard of Oz? Nothing? Okay. After I passed out. but you don’t believe in it. It was making her insides churn.” He wasn’t acquiescing.” Miriam cut him off. “If you believe in me. listen. “No. Or.” Jack laughed. But I may believe him now. just realizing that she wasn’t ready for this conversation yet. and you. “Okay.” She wasn’t sure that was true. eventually I’ll start believing it.myself–” Jack shook his head. whatever.’ “ Jack said in a strange. I woke up. You have to–” “Jack. in . Not yet. Anyway. That won’t work.” “You know Gramps’ Second Sight?” Miriam nodded. and keep telling me I’m worth it.
” Miriam said. and I saw that painting of the candle flame. you know? Well. and then the flame left the canvas entirely. I was staring at it.hypnotizing about it. I was looking at your paintings. like you said. and that one stood out to me.the dream. now. still in my apartment. I could see it moving and flickering. and the magic seemed to kind of reach out to the flame on the canvas. residual magic. when you’re all…” Jack waved his hands vaguely. started to look like a woman…like you do. “What?” Jack asked. and I could feel heat from it. There was something….” “I believe you. If you used your magic on the painting. in the dream. And that makes all the more sense. as weird as that sounds.” Miriam had a strange look on her face. Maybe because you’ve used it on me so much? I don’t know. and it turned real. I swear it did. “Oh. Then it started to change shapes. maybe there was still some left on it. “When we were at your apartment that one time. But it gets weirder. I think something about your magic connects us. like it was real. the flame turned real. searching for the right . and there was something about it. it’s nothing.
“made out of fire. Jack . in real life. like…the real you. During the dream. in the dream. I guess I tapped into Gramps’ Second Sight or something. I followed you. He didn’t see it. I don’t know how to describe it. because I was suddenly able to see that magical connection again. and then I woke up. in my gut. But when I woke up. of magic. somehow. I’d seen you. pulling me with you. “Can you see it now?” Jack tilted his head. Or whatever that is.words. The point is. the candle flame from the painting turned into you. he sought for the presence in his mind and found it. You floated out the window and beckoned me. awake. It was you. something waiting to be grasped. I was on a rooftop in the middle of downtown Detroit.” Miriam was intrigued. thinking. and it was coming from my chest and went to you. like a veil between realities. felt it like a skin covering him. somehow. the non-dream you. but he felt a presence in his mind. And you flew away. It was made out of little golden specks. I had to find you. that you were in trouble. He closed his eyes and visualized Miriam surrounded by the glow of magic. I knew. like glowing dust. There was this… rope. I knew it.
darting through the back of his head and out the front. but the movement of something almost alive. a finger gently seeking him. present in the room like a third person. even just sitting still and not drawing on it or using it. exuding from Miriam in pulsing waves. causing Jack to spasm and laugh. rushing around his torso and then through him. watching the magic playing with him. Miriam was . the way a bird swoops and soars. There was also the magic. Miriam was still a woman. sending chills running down his spine. flooding her body in place of blood. darting around Miriam’s body like a golden-glowing ghost. When he opened his eyes. wrapped around him. It found him. the luminous cloud narrowed and congealed. not random motions. The magic was a roiling cloud. Jack lifted his hand. As if it sensed Jack looking at it. but he could see fire rushing just beneath the surface of her skin. coiled around his arm and tangled in his fingers like a serpent. turned it this way and that. pushed through his chest.imagined himself grabbing the veil and pulling it away to reveal the world around him without filters. or a dragonfly buzzing and darting. reached for Jack like a tendril. animal-like.
watching him. something gets destroyed. The magic does what it wants.” Miriam shook her head. “Can you see this?” he asked. and he could feel her concentrating. a hesitant negative. her eyes closed. but try it. If you can move the curtain.” Jack seemed stumped for a moment. When I use it on purpose. Then.” Jack suggested. voice filled with wonder. “Use your magic to see your magic.” Miriam was silent.” Jack instructed. hoping the contact would let her see what he saw. “I don’t feel anything.” Miriam said. “Close your eyes. Then he . “Use your magic. imagine there’s a curtain in front of your eyes. curious. and it’s stopping you from seeing the world as it really is. “See it now?” “No. you’ll see the magic. frustrated. “Now. picture us as we are right now. “See what?” Jack reached out and took her hand in his. Every time I use my magic.” she said. Sounds ridiculous. it’s always destructive. “I’m afraid to.
“But maybe it’s just that you weren’t being specific enough. and when she did so. Maybe you’re being too vague. exactly. And I don’t think it’s wishes. but he was serious as well. You’re a genie…a djinn. we have to find out how you can use your magic without blowing up sports stadiums. She felt the magic there. a familiar sensation of waiting power. closed her eyes. Miriam calmed her frustration. but it was slippery. It didn’t want to be held.said. Be specific about what you want the magic to do.” “I can’t use my magic on myself. It doesn’t work that way.” Miriam took a deep breath. It had had freedom for . she felt something invisible pop inside her and suddenly she was holding a writhing snake of burnished gold. and delved down inside herself. elusive. or the wish would turn against you. well we can work on terminology another time. “Just try.” Jack was teasing her. a constant presence now. didn’t want to be controlled. Everything I’ve ever heard about those legends say that you have to be specific.” “Okay. glowing with power and struggling in her grip. For now. imagined herself to have mental fingers. grasped the magic with a firm grip.
if not in the organic sense then in some way Miriam couldn’t quite describe even to herself. guttering in her belly. a being. it was separate somehow. she realized she felt herself to be broken up into three distinct parts: the magic. doing what it liked. Until then. It was part of her. as well. It had never known control. When it reached critical mass. Miriam felt its presence. Miriam pulled up the fire. built it higher. Miriam felt the fire within her. so it was bucking like a mustang trying to shake off the unfamiliar bridle. It wasn’t supposed to be. the fire. Miriam seized it and held it. As she thought of the fire. the heat poised beneath her skin. she would never have control. The magic was a thing. let it rise up inside her like a flood of flames. but it wasn’t synonymous with her identity. Miriam held the serpent of magic in a tighter grip. called on it and drew it to herself. now trying to keep under . They should all be one. If it were to have a voice. and the person. watching it thrash furiously. definitely alive. and that was the problem. it dwelt within her. nearly sentient. a single entity.too long. it would be shrieking. seeking escape. she didn’t think.
no Ben. they were supposed to be braided strands of a single entity. and magic. out of time and space. no past or present. Miriam wrapped the fire and the magic together. but couldn’t. These elements within her. sending pain bubbling throughout her. every shred of control that she could summon. The fire was threatening to burst her alight. something greater. no Jack. for they were both part of her. so intense she wanted to cry out. They resisted. they weren’t meant to be disparate creatures. She wasn’t just a cocktail waitress. jerked out of reality. Using every ounce of her mental strength. She needed both.control both the fire seeking vent and the serpent of magic seeking escape. joining them so they formed a helix around the core of her soul. and power. There was no Miriam. She was not just Miriam. to spread from within . straining against her. she was heat. forcing them to her will. but she refused them freedom. both present and tangled up into her identity. The fire burned her and the magic bit her. She was flame. only the struggle of wills. She was unaware of anything around her. she was something else. any longer. all of it internal. tangled one around the other.
usually buried beneath a mountain of fear. her anger at Ben. but . though it had always been inside her. and she’d spent so long fearing Nick. at her father.to devour all at that stood beyond her. she knew. She didn’t know which. or it would break free whenever it wanted and destroy everything around her. She hated being afraid. She was afraid of what would happen if she let her anger out. fearing herself. that was the most potent. Maybe it had been hiding. and she knew she could control it. She’d just realized it was there. The magic was a different story. the fire was her anger personified. She knew what she could do. and she’d killed Ben with it. she was no longer afraid of herself. The fear fed the anger. She’d let her anger out. It was an alien within her. and she hadn’t even known it was there until she tried to identify the nature of her own anger. burning the hottest within her. That last thread of anger. or waiting. She had to. But now. she’d found out. Miriam realized. anger at her mother for failing to love her and for abandoning her. even anger at her father for leaving her too soon. It was always there. in a way. in a strange way. fearing Ben. a pooled ocean of it inside her.
deepening from a pool into an ocean. not exactly pain. pushing her adrenaline into full flood. let it percolate throughout her. the flame and the magic became something new. let it mingle with the flames. felt it. she wasn’t going to let it free. becoming even more intense. the flames changing color. The flames formed a veil across her mind. dancing like an aurora borealis across her internal vision. She absorbed the pain.now that she had it in her grasp. stinging touch of magic. a bottomless void filled with energy waiting to be used. . and she dipped herself into it. she took that as well and consumed it. turning from yellow and orange to blue and purple and red. and Miriam felt the power within growing. needing to be given expression. tasted it. allowed herself to fully experience the cold. shifting and morphing and coiling about itself like a serpent eating its tail in a constant ouroboros. She’d felt pain before. and she could take it. The fire burning her insides was a familiar feeling. like venom spreading in her blood. Miriam saw the stain spreading. but distraction. The biting of the magicserpent was a different pain. a new kind of agony. Together. let it spread.
kissed his lips. kiss him as he woke and let him show her what love really was. She looked down and saw that she had assumed the fire-form. still. right then. one thing leading to another as had happened in the past with others. She smiled at Jack. felt the surge of passion take the place of flames. but not yet. but flickering bolts of many-colored lightning. She reached for Jack. as to be alone with him. to hold him. sleep in his arms. dancing with ethereal grace. recoiling at first. Something held Miriam back. and that was a large part of the hesitation. She wanted nothing so much. took his hand. Soon. Jack was different. They were in Nadira’s apartment. She . holding his arms in front of his face as if to shield his eyes. Jack was pressed flat against the far wall. she didn’t want making love to Jack to just happen. Not here. He deserved more. watched him tentatively allow her to touch him. and then with confidence as he realized the magic was protecting him still. the flames no longer mere natural bonfire flames.Miriam opened her eyes. blazing into nova brightness and subsiding.
She wanted to say this to him. when the moment was perfect.wanted to be with him intentionally. pulled her next to him. his arm across her belly. his breath on her neck. his chest against her back. . Jack placed a finger across her lips. curled together. but the words stuck.
There was no evidence of accelerant anywhere on the scene or the body. With a body that burned.Chapter 19: Now Carson was at The Old Shillelagh. He was skirting around the edges of the most crucial element. almost. It was always on his mind. He didn’t get it. No matter which way he looked at it. there just was no rational explanation that made any damn sense to him. It was turning into an obsession. accidental blaze. the case on his mind. He’d spoken to an expert on burn patterns and had been informed that for a human to have been so thoroughly consumed as Ben’s was. evidence of the extreme. It just wasn’t natural. The only way it could . There was so much to it. a gin and tonic in hand. so many factors to consider. the manner of Ben’s death. driving. Just…nothing. eating. destructive heat. the fire would have had to be more than just a casual. Only the body. He thought about it all the time now. It didn’t make any sense. showering. there should’ve been evidence of fire.
to his grandpa’s…. But no. “Bad case. but it’s what I’ve noticed. “Well. highballs and shot glasses into a dishwasher behind the bar. with no luck. This one is different. He’d gone back to her apartment and Jack’s. And no matter where he looked. I’ve looked into every angle. but it still just… doesn’t add up.have been destroyed any further was if it had been cremated. “Bad day?” Leila asked. I can’t crack it. detecting and all that. It just…doesn’t make any sense.” Carson said.” Detecting. Carson sighed in frustration. She was stacking pint glasses. slammed his drink back and crashed the glass onto the bar. thought of every possibility. sometimes. no Miriam. we overlook the most obvious answers simply because they’re so obvious. that’s often how it is in cases. “Sorry. “No. he’d gone to Jack’s parents’. there wasn’t any such evidence. Carson laughed at that. I don’t know if that works the same way in your line of work.” Leila shrugged. There . cracking the glass. Neither Jack nor Miriam were anywhere to be found.
” Carson had no response to that.” “If it happened then it’s not impossible. What was the answer that was impossible? His mind just didn’t work outside the boundaries of possibility. but when people say something is impossible they usually mean they just can’t accept the actual answer. forcing himself to leave before he ended up drunk again. Imagination wasn’t his strong suit. he just couldn’t make himself think of impossible scenarios. the last time he had seen her. thousand times. I don’t even know anything about this case. and he didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of her any more than he already had. What else made people burn? Carson’s mind kept feeding him the logical solutions that he already gone through a hundred. right. it just…didn’t help him. Maybe Ben had spontaneously combusted? Miriam had attacked him with a flamethrower? Yeah.is no obvious answer. He liked Leila. . It just seems…impossible. right? I mean. It was true. and you probably can’t tell me. you just don’t know how it happened. and logical. He paid his tab. Everything he even approached sounded ludicrous and silly. Leila had hit on his problem exactly.
Carson. at his desk. Hope you figure your case out.” Carson laughed. sarcastic laugh. me too. that she had caused Ben’s death somehow.” Leila smiled at him. I’ll see you around. staring at the folder and wishing he was still at The Old Shillelagh.“Thanks. Leila. about not being able to accept the impossible answer. but he found himself back at the precinct. a bitter. waved a hand. “Sure thing. But how had she done it? Carson eventually went home and dreamed of impossible things that he only half-remembered upon waking.” He had meant to go home. . His gut told him Miriam had something to do with it. “Yeah. He heard Leila’s words again. and that it had been in self-defense.
” “I know. too. There was a detective sniffing around tonight. “But I’ve also learned that these feelings about particular people are never wrong. He’s tied to you. but I think he’ll believe you. kids. “Listen.” Nadira said. Carson is . He’d arrest me on the spot if I told him the truth. “We have a problem. somehow.. and you need to tell him the truth. She waved a hello to Jack and Miriam. You need to go in and talk to him.p.m. and to me. heading straight back to the bathroom for a rinse-off. I get…not really visions so much as gut feelings.” Miriam shook her head. I know that doesn’t make any sense. in some way. but I think you should go in and talk to him. She re-emerged in men’s boxer shorts and a tank top. her hair tied up in a sloppy bun. “No way.” she said. stinking of cigarettes and beer.Chapter 20: Merging Nadira came home around 8. I don’t know…he’s…I got a sense about him. I didn’t tell him anything. It sounds crazy. He’s part of this. but just trust me. that’s what my instincts tell me.
some purpose. You’ve been through things most people can’t fathom. somehow. touching his shoulder. ever.important to us. But…we need to stick together. staring down at the carpet. I like you. they don’t know about each other. “Well. Authorities. hospitals. alright? I have my own issues. or if there is more than one. Djinni aren’t really social creatures. What did ‘us’ mean? Nadira just shrugged. you need me to teach you how to use your powers. Jack hadn’t said anything. “Jack?” Miriam said. She’d just gotten free of Ben. “Are you okay?” Jack shook himself. but when he met her eyes. right? So…us. she wasn’t about to put herself into the hands of the police. We don’t often gather together in groups. There’s rarely more than one djinn in a particular city.” Miriam said. Like. So for you and I to encounter each other like we did… there’s something to that. I know what that’s like. and he was sitting on the edge of the couch. he .” “I still don’t know. I have a feeling that detective will have something to do with it.” “Us?” Miriam asked. they all made her wary. still as a statue.
and I guess he’s seeing something with it. But I feel like the cop will listen. Jack has it too.” Miriam said. “I just…I had this image of us talking to that cop. or vision. right? Brown hair. “I think we should go.” “His grandfather has what he calls the Second Sight. or whatever. a frown on his face. distant look in his eyes. a tall guy with blue eyes. “He sees things.still had a strange. “Yeah. and I’m not sure I like it.” “I guess if both of you are having the same idea. And I think we should talk to him. “But I don’t like it.” “I’ll go with you. *** Jack and Miriam met with Detective Carson Hale .” Jack shrugged uncomfortably.” Jack said.” Miriam explained to Nadira. It’s weird. then I should do it. “No.” he said. It feels like a memory of something that hasn’t happened yet. I just…I can see him. taking the detective’s business card from Nadira. “You know him?” Jack shook his head. blue eyes?” Nadira stared at Jack with suspicion.
He rummaged through the papers in the case file and clicked his pen several times. He opened his mouth to speak. okay. lemme just…uh. Miriam.” Carson said. .” “Well I’m glad you did. “I’m honestly not sure where to start. honestly. “Yes?” He sounded tired. “Yes. uh. I have so many questions. holding out her hand. towering over Miriam.” Carson sipped his coffee. “I’ve got a few questions for you. shook her hand gently. The detective stood up. I have to admit I wasn’t sure you’d show up.” “No.” “I’m sure you do. and then started again. “So. an open file folder in front of him and a frustrated expression on his face. detective. yeah. When I got your call I couldn’t quite believe it. I wondered if you might have a few moments to talk?” The detective looked shocked.” Miriam said. and closed it again. I hadn’t planned on coming in.at a Starbucks not far from the precinct and found the detective sitting with a mug of coffee. “Detective Hale?” Miriam approached him. “I’m Miriam al-Mansur. but…I was convinced.
trailing off. if it . “And that’s the thing. “So please. The crime scene. She should be scared stiff. detective.” “At this point. “I don’t know anything about police work. Miriam scratched the tabletop with a fingernail. and I’m not sure anyone that’s looked at it can either. “Let’s start there. he’d called it. I can’t make heads or tails of the crime scene.” Miriam winced. Why don’t you tell me what happened to Ben. just try telling me your version of events. miss al-Mansur. about to tell a complete stranger the truth of what had happened to Ben. not sure what she was looking for. and I’m not sure you’ll believe me.but…” he waved his hand. Carson continued. She wouldn’t believe it herself.” Miriam searched Carson’s eyes. I’m ready to believe just about anything.” Miriam took a deep breath.” Miriam began. It’s a bit of difficult story. and let me worry about what to believe or not. watching Carson closely. “but I imagine you’ve had quite a time trying to figure out what happened to Ben–” That appeared to help Carson get his feet back under him.
only took a few notes here and there. Jack was silent next to her. and Jack picked up the tale. listening intently. and their difficult relationship. though. Then Miriam came to the incident in the parking garage. When Jack told of being shot. her fear of him. and that was when she began to falter. Miriam wasn’t afraid. “Wait. and the odd occurrences that had started not too very long ago. you have superpowers too. She didn’t get a sense of threat from this detective. or cause her trouble. realizing how harsh that had . the constant and escalating abuse. now?” Carson asked. skepticism. Carson asked his first question. Strangely. exhaustion. holding her hand under the table.” Jack answered. Ben shot you. necessarily. “I had a feeling that she was in trouble–” “What. Carson didn’t interrupt. He winced. those were all at war on Carson’s face. Byrne? You were there?” “Yeah. She took another deep breath and prepared to tell her story yet again. Mr.hadn’t happened to her. She started with how she’d met Ben. Curiosity. but she didn’t feel as if he wanted to arrest her.
” Jack said. I did. How I found them doesn’t matter.” Carson didn’t give any of his thoughts. “So yeah. inviting Carson to believe what he wanted. The point is. “Sorry. Ben shot me.sounded. skeptical. by accident I think. “The identity of the person who healed her isn’t relevant. out of the moment. “So Miriam healed me.” Miriam interrupted.” “You don’t look shot.” “No. she–” “I defended him. realizing how absurd it all sounded. and I stopped him from hurting her. “It’s a crazy story and I don’t blame you for not believing it. He meant to shoot me.” Jack shrugged his shoulders.” “That’s because someone else healed her. just that I’m having a hard time accepting it.” “I get that. But Ben had shot her too.” “I didn’t say I don’t believe it. it’s fine. “Go on. when Miriam realized I’d been shot.” Jack said. “And I burned . and he hit her.” Jack said.” “She doesn’t look shot either. “That’s because Miriam healed me. I’m just having trouble with all of this.” Carson said. but he shot me in the process. but missed.
You said you burned him. He wanted to believe. something told her. if it weren’t for–” “If it weren’t for your superpowers. and for everything he’d done to me. pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned forward to look Miriam in the eye. Just tell me what happened. She needed him to understand. She had to show him. detective.” Miriam could tell Carson wasn’t convinced. for some reason she couldn’t as yet fathom. I killed him for what he’d done to Jack. Yeah. He needed proof. Ben had gone crazy. leaning back in his chair. We’d both be dead now.” Miriam said. And I can turn into…I don’t know what to call it…a fire elemental. I look like me. letting an edge of frustration into her voice. but fire. arms crossed. But how? What did you use?” “It’s not superpowers. Are you? Really?” Carson sighed.Ben.” “I’m a djinn. I can see that. because that’s the part I don’t get. That’s how I killed Ben. but he couldn’t. “Look. just explain to me how you killed Ben. . He was completely out of control.” Carson was openly skeptical now. I guess. spinning his pen around a finger. “You said you were ready to believe anything. “I don’t know.
She had succeeded. his hand trembling. fell into herself and grasped at the woven column of magic and fire within her. Miriam touched the table with a finger. who was transfixed. and saw the world through a distorted filter. his mouth agape. “What…? What is this?” Carson’s voice was an . fear and wonder in his eyes. She visualized herself opening her eyes to show not the brown irises of a human. Miriam cracked her eyelids open. letting the tiniest trickle of flame escape from within her core to travel up the length of her body and down her arm to crawl from out of her fingertip along the table. Carson was frozen in his chair. a dancing candleflame figure waltzing in graceful.Miriam closed her eyes. holding it in her invisible hands. she could tell. the pen dropped from his fingers. but the fiery orbs of a djinn. saw whorls of magic skirling around her body. flickering steps toward Carson. living a brief life of its own before leaping from the table onto Carson’s hand where it stood stock still as if staring at Carson. slowly. streaming from her to Jack and back in a constant flux. The flame jumped and gyrated. his eyes wide.
Miriam was starting to wonder if he’d heard her. . then shot the man I loved in the chest. Carson. I’m a djinn.” Carson said. kidnapped me. and died. gasped. beat me physically. chased me through a casino. “Against my better judgment. Miriam felt triumphant. “that’s the truth. abused me emotionally. fluttered. staring at his hand where the dancing candle flame had been. and me in the stomach. overjoyed at having made her powers follow her commands. detective. What do I do with you? According to your own story. and that’s the problem I’m facing now. I think I believe you.” Miriam said. cornered me in a parking garage and tried to rape me. cheated on me.amazed whisper. but eventually he said in a whisper. That’s just the smallest example of my powers that I could show you. I got…angry. “Well. “I…I can see how that might not have gone well for Mr.” Carson was silent for a long time. I’m not sure anyone else would believe me if I told them. Miriam. “I told you. however. Omar. Ben had tormented me for three years.” Carson shook his head as the miniature flame figure twisted on his palm.
I just don’t know what to do about any of this. “I told you. there’s nothing connecting anything. He drew the flame that had been on his hand. there’s no evidence tying you to Ben’s death. but…there’s just no evidence for anything.you’re guilty of manslaughter. Neither you nor Jack show any signs of having been shot. “You have my card. Miriam. And thank you for showing me…for showing me the truth. “he’s going to be coming . thinking. He picked up his pen and doodled. just call me. You might be able to classify it as self-defense. Jack and Miriam stared at each other for a moment.” Carson said.” He stuck out his hand. yes? If you ever need anything. He gathered his things and left. Nadira didn’t seem surprised that Carson had let them go. and at the same time. “Thank you for meeting me. pleading with him. Can’t you just…let us go?” Carson didn’t answer. then returned to Nadira’s apartment.” Miriam met Carson’s eyes. stunned. however justified it may have been. I know it couldn’t have been easy. and Jack and Miriam shook it in turn. Like you said.” she said. “Just let us go. not looking back.
“They create more questions than they do answers.back into our lives. the three of us and Carson. That’s my experience at least. but they’re just…shadows.” Jack had that faraway look in his eyes that Miriam knew meant Second Sight. And soon.” Nadira said. “Oh. “More what?” Jack shook himself. I can see us. “I don’t know. and Miriam didn’t push it. and visions are like that. after they’d had dinner. Prophecies are a pain in the ass. It’s…hazy. Nadira sat down with Miriam. and more. and asked her if she knew how to . Just…the past. Nadira shook her head.” Jack said. I don’t know what it means. his voice deep and echoing with preternatural energy. nothing. “This is the beginning of something. you don’t know if they’ve come true or not until afterward. Don’t worry about it.” Nadira wouldn’t say anything else. and often. “There are more coming. I think.” “Prophecies. to complete the circle. her eyes staring into middle distance.” “What circle?” Miriam asked.” “Your experience?” Miriam asked. *** Later that night. shrugging.
“You look more balanced. Try to do this. glowing as if lit by the sun. cupped in the dip of her palm. looped and bent. other djinni. “Guess that means no. Right?” Miriam nodded. wavering like liquid. it’s more focused. I guess you could call it. “Shift what?” Miriam asked. . you were all out of balance and disturbed. Her dark eyes turned the blue of the ocean. Anyway. Your energy. “Yeah. and that’s what I’ve always heard it called. just focus on learning to control yourself.” “We?” Miriam asked. Now that you’ve done that. stretched up and lengthened. your… aura.shift. but then it grew. We’re taught parent to child. Before. you should be able to do some basic manipulations. A pool of water formed in her hand.” Nadira said. It was flat at first. For now.” Nadira held up her palm and focused on it. twisted into a helix. “Yeah. but it all seemed normal. “I can tell just by looking at you that you’ve managed to bind your element to your magic. How can you tell?” She looked at her hands and touched her face. That’s what we call it when we use our powers: manipulation.
She didn’t think there was any way she’d be able to duplicate that. “That’s kind of like what I did to convince Carson. even breaths. mimicking what Nadira had done. Her lower torso seemed to waver and distort and then become less solid somehow. and her eyes once again assumed the liquid.” Miriam said. incredulous. shifting light. just to test your limits. but .” Nadira said. Let’s try something hard. “so if you can do that one easily. animated as if given life.” Nadira steadied her breathing into long. amazed to see someone else do what she’d thought only she was capable of. She hovered in place for a moment and then the jet of liquid that was her body from the waist down coiled to spring her forward in a serpentine motion. Miriam held out her palm. as if melting from ice into water. then you’re well on the way. like meditation. Nadira was only an upper torso that faded into a column of storming ocean-water. pulled on the magic within her and summoned the trickle of flame to dance on her palm. within moments.spun and bounced. only with a fragment of fire. Miriam was hypnotized. “That’s the most basic manipulation I could think of.
very good. “Good. so don’t go around using magic for everything. the harder it will be to retain your human form. focused her mind on breathing while delving down within herself and grasping the fire-magic. You can be hurt and killed in your elemental form. Miriam realized she did know how. and then suddenly she was floating several feet off the floor. braiding with the elemental power to obey the djinn’s will. even more than the accomplishment itself. “One other thing—the more of your magic you’ve used. We’re particularly susceptible to magic. so if you find yourself around other djinni you’d best be on your guard. his approval filled Miriam with pride. Miriam did as Nadira had. returning her lower half to human legs. it just takes a lot more to do it. The . “One thing you have to remember is that you’re not omnipotent.” Nadira said. supported by a gout of roaring flame. A quick visualized command and Miriam felt her legs buzzing and humming and growing hot.even as the thought crossed her mind. She’d watched the way the magic shifted around Nadira. Jack was laughing in amazement and clapping.
” Nadira stood up and took Jack and Miriam’s hands in her own. I’m glad things worked out for you. But I want my apartment back. the magic made Ben’s desire’s real. I mean things inside. namely. Both of us ended up here without using . thinking. and I’m glad I could help you.” “Yeah. By desire. That’s how the old legends got started you know. and never use your powers around normals if you can possibly help it. I don’t know the specifics of how your magic works because everyone is different. “When all this first started. the desire of the person you were with.” “That’s what’s weird. and it reached max capacity.” Nadira bit her lip. unspoken. “We have no way back home. It had been building up your whole life. but…I think that was your magic needing to get out. you know? It needed to be used. “Listen. so it reached out for the first thing it found. Our magic has a tendency to work not so much on what is spoken but on what’s inside. about that.key to staying under the radar and fitting in is to act human as much as possible.” Miriam said. because there can be side-effects if you’re not in complete control of your magic. “Well.” Jack said.
you’re just ripping open a hole in the fabric of reality between where you are and where you want to be. suddenly serious. and careful. which is why you can’t just do it whenever you want. It takes a huge amount of power to accomplish. and if you try it with a normal. when we have to. you have to be intentional. you can kill him. “Yeah. and easily manipulated.” “Location-shift?” Miriam asked. so pay attention. We can location-shift. “This is hard. you’ll probably be in elemental form. Again. but that’s as much a danger as anything else. or things can go seriously wrong. This realm is fragile and delicate. I guess. like teleporting.” She faced Miriam.” Nadira laughed. and you don’t keep your destination clearly in your mind. Location-shifting is something I only . If you don’t do it right. so it only really works if your destination is somewhere private.our cars. “Alright. you can end up literally anywhere. Basically. so when you arrive. well I guess I have to teach you one last trick. and dangerous. You won’t have any control over your form until you’ve rested a bit. like Jack here.
use if I have no other option. in the moments before her lunge. studying Nadira’s movements and the way she performed the manipulation. The moment her body was through. Miriam was watching carefully. for he was squinting and shielding his eyes.” Nadira took a few steps back. she spread her palms apart to enlarge the rip enough to allow her to step through. just because explaining it is damn near impossible. the magic had ripped a hole in reality itself. the hole closed silently behind her and Nadira was gone. as Nadira had explained. When she lunged. Nadira had gathered the magic together into a single column grasped between her palms to make a kind of spear in truth. Nadira placed her palms together in front of her chest to form a knife and lunged forward as if spearing the air with her hands. so that when Nadira’s hands followed the magic into the created gap. it seemed. . or in the fabric of this realm. pulling until she was all but obscured by the blinding glow of magic roiling around her. the magic pierced the air and vanished.” Miriam watched Nadira summon her magic. Jack seemed able to see the magic glow as well. “I’ll show you how it works.
” Nadira said. again mimicking the way she’d seen Nadira do it. you wouldn’t want to vaporize the new boyfriend. She felt the magic respond. “You can go anywhere you can visualize. and holding her hands as she’d seen Nadira do. each motion sending ripples throughout her body. a woman made from living water. little-used TV. the half-counter separating the living . “Should I try it on my own before trying to bring Jack with me?” Nadira nodded. Nadira had made it look easy. Miriam?” “I think so. pulled deeply from the magic boiling ever just beneath the surface. Miriam brought the raw power together into her hands. the small. and then held an image of her apartment in her mind. “Yeah. but Miriam had a feeling it wasn’t. “But you have to have a mental image of your destination and you can’t let it go.” Miriam answered. Did you catch how I did that. her living room with the faded couch.The bathroom door opened and Nadira reappeared in full elemental form.” Miriam took a deep breath and closed her eyes. billowing out of her in a cloud around her body. no matter what.
room from the kitchen. She felt a resistance. Miriam was through and grabbing the edges of the hole she had made. When she had the image firmly centered in her mind. Jack with mixed amounts of pride and a kind of absurd sadness that she was gone. She saw her apartment beyond the gap. and she had to shove her hands apart using all her strength. Nadira with approval. Miriam stabbed forward with her hands and the magic simultaneously. Jack and Nadira were watching her. picturing the magic as a sword slicing open a curtain. holding in her hands something invisible yet tangible. and empty apartment. and she contorted her body through the hole and found her self in her dark. she couldn’t . it was a strange sensation. With one last push. The gap wanted to close. Miriam’s body burst into flame. slippery and hard and flexible and cold. a tiny speck of darkness and distortion a few feet in front of her face. which dissipated as she thrust forward even harder. saw it in front of her. She felt the gap widen. When the portal closed. and no matter how she tried. cold. realizing how much force it took to fully pierce through.
Miriam reopened the portal to Nadira’s apartment and stepped through. It was stupid. but for now. her phone and charger and some make-up. but she had no intention of spending another night alone in her bed. It was several minutes before she had enough control over her power to reassume her human form. waiting to fall asleep.force herself back into human form. sitting by herself in her living room. waiting to go to work. finding it much easier the second time. didn’t want to be alone in her apartment. She wanted to be with Jack. She would return eventually to pack up properly. But telling herself to be reasonable didn’t get rid of the feeling. She’d spent so long alone. It might be presumptuous. Miriam felt a pang of jealousy at the sight of them talking together. Jack and Nadira were waiting. Miriam didn’t want to be here. sitting side by side on the couch. she told herself. She didn’t want to be alone. As she stepped through. and packed a backpack with a few changes of clothes. Miriam forced the emotion away. chatting. Miriam decided to make use of the fact that she was home. the unreasoning desire to tell Nadira that Jack was hers. .
“But once I was there. but I just don’t want to relive them. to trust him. I’ve got so many memories of that apartment. When I saw you in the casino. wanted to snatch it back. Miriam turned to Nadira and hugged her. I just had this feeling.forced herself to be logical. now. “I couldn’t not help you. “Thank you so much…for everything. “I went to my apartment because it was the first place that I could see clearly in my head. It started in the little things. “I don’t want to think what would’ve happened if you hadn’t have helped us. taking her hand and helping her step through. The moment the rip opened and Jack saw Miriam appear.” Jack said. I…I just didn’t want to be there.” he remarked.” Miriam said. taking it from her and slinging it on his shoulder. She felt possessive. “You packed a bag. and not all of them are bad.” Miriam said.” Nadira waved her hand dismissively. but she forced herself to let him have it. I totally understand. Miriam let him take it from her. Our lives are joined. They were just talking.” . terrified and running for your life. he jumped up and went to her. you know?” “Yeah.
He carried her to his bed. holding it in. The weight of memory crashed down on her. calling up a memory of Jack’s apartment: stacks of paintings. Sleep stole over her. She felt herself swaying in place. and she let it take her. protecting him from the flames. the smell of paint and turpentine and engine grease.“Good.” Miriam had always wanted a sister. keeping it down. . Miriam felt the flames escaping to consume her and felt suddenly exhausted. Nadira seemed as flushed with suppressed emotion as Miriam. a canvas on an easel. Nadira squeezed Miriam’s hand and hugged her again. Miriam felt peace mixing with the exhaustion. set her down and covered her with a blanket. felt Jack’s arms around her. She opened the portal and pushed it wide as it would go. wrapped her arm around Jack’s waist and ducked through. unable to stand. felt the magic reaching out to Jack and enveloping him. Miriam gathered the magic one more time. feeling Jack’s arms wrap around her and pull her close. When the rip closed and Nadira was gone from sight. and now she had one. under control.
Then she remembered Jack. and he’d saved her. She smiled as she looked at him. too. all too well. She remembered the fear and helplessness. his mouth slack. showing up in the nick of time. the sun streaming in. shot twice in the chest.” Jack had said. an arm flung across his face. an image of Ben above her. and in that parking garage. fearless in the face of Ben’s violent rage. without hesitation. A memory thrust itself into her mind. “Ben will kill me before he ever hurts you again. peeking above the window sill to limn everything in the room with a soft yellow glow. a . madness in his eyes.Chapter 21: Ending She woke fully clothed. the stubble on his face. To the letter. Jack would have died. The light fell across Jack. admiring the planes of his face. and his oft-broken nose. He’d kept his vow. who lay on his back. brief and sharp. He’d come for her. He’d faced Ben down without flinching. but it had been an emotional thing. She’d always felt safe with him. his knife cutting away her dress.
He would protect her. She’d never felt safe before. They’d never be truly gone. She’d resisted him for so long. she didn’t know what to do with them all. Miriam snuggled close to him. having seen him literally risk his life to protect her…that changed things. and love her. He held her close. the whisper of wings inside her. it seemed. In terms of actual time. She knew she was safe with him. not completely but Miriam discovered that at some point she’d let Jack in to the innermost places of her soul. She felt a butterfly in her stomach. So many new feelings. it was only a matter .feeling of security that she got from being in his presence. But now. That was the feather that tipped the scales. But Jack…she trusted him. not really. the breath of desire stirring within her. She searched herself. at least in terms of Jack. and he automatically wrapped his arm around her. of someone out there being able to hurt her. and found her walls completely gone. There’d always been the threat of danger. which was also a new feeling for her. which struck her as funny. even in his sleep. somehow. and that was a new feeling. and she wasn’t afraid of his presence there.
and Miriam’s hunger for him ignited as she watched him.of weeks. then her chin. along her arm to her elbow and fingers. but to her. his hands between her thighs. but he was stirring a little. his arms that had held her as she slept and had never let her go. his powerful arms stretching and descending to pull her against him. featherlight. his lips were brushing her cheek. his arms that had carried her bleeding to a hospital. then the corner of her mouth and her neck and just above her breasts. waking up. finally giving herself permission to have what she’d wanted since the moment she met him. then her forehead. it felt like a lifetime. stretching. sliding up her side along the soft curve of her hip. The fluttering of desire in her belly was quickening. He cracked an eyelid. running from her shoulders down her back to cup her backside. He groaned. Jack was awake now. with all that had occurred. his hands exploring her body. no longer the gentle beat . glanced at her sideways through slitted eyes. and smiled groggily. He was still sleeping. She wanted to feel his lips on her breasts. She pressed herself against the length of his body.
Miriam lay back. Jack responded with fervor. breathing in quick panting breaths as he . her belly. She kissed Jack’s jaw. Her nipples hardened. Miriam guided his fingers to slip inside her. lifting it over her head. and last his lips. watching Jack with glittering eyes as he unbuttoned her pants and rolled them off. looping his fingers through the band of her panties and pulling them off. touching his teeth with her tongue. her hips. the heat of his skin igniting sparks in her soul and fire in her belly. unclasping her bra and slipped the straps off her shoulders. brushing her breasts with eager hands. ran his lips down her body. a predator hungry for him. making her delirious with hunger for all of him. She was bare against him then. pushing up his shirt and pressing her palms against his soft skin and hard muscles. Jack was kissing her with desperate desire. ripping his shirt off and tugging at hers. leaving her breathless. this man that had somehow become so important to her.of sparrow wings but a wild winging and soaring of something more powerful. his cheekbone. his neck. and she arched her back to press her breast into his hands. kissed her ribs.
cupping her breasts. slipped them off and tossed them aside. slowly. savoring the hardness of him inside her. Jack’s hands were all over her. Miriam had waited so long for him. wanted him. felt him hard and throbbing against her. Jack moved his hips in slowly at first. needed him. . gasping against his panting mouth. kissing him all the way down as she went. slid his length deep inside her. so slowly. and now she had him and couldn’t get enough. She matched his rhythm. reveling in the delirium of being at last naked against him.stirred the fires even hotter with his touch. scraping her nails against his shoulders. and tracing the knobs of her spine. Miriam writhed her body against his. she lifted up and pressed herself down onto him. pressed her face against the flesh of his shoulder. She pressed her hips against his. pulled her up and crushed his lips against hers with an intensity of passion that stole her breath. then rocked her hips to push him deeper. Miriam needed to feel him inside her. Jack gasped at her touch. She reached down and unbuttoned his pants. the curves of her ass. She wrapped her fingers around his hard silken length.
He didn’t put his weight . burning. Jack seemed unafraid. synced in a rhythm of passion. pronouncing each syllable with a clarity of affection that bound her heart a little closer to his. and then more tongues of fire arced from Miriam to Jack until they were both torches of living fire. rushing through them both. kissing gently with trembling mouths. his hands in her hair and on her hips. all of him. She felt the magic within her exploding and roiling around them. a crazed passion awoken within her that she hadn’t known was there. pulling her against him harder and harder as their passion rose to a climax. and then she was beneath him. Her own desperation surprised her. feeling a driving hunger. consuming them. runnels of flame licked out from her skin and ran up Jack’s arms and down his chest and across his legs and back to her. She loved the way he said it. He rolled over. Jack whispered her name. holding her against him. becoming fire. needing more of him. a breath in the stillness. She felt her skin heating up. as if the taste of it was sweet in his mouth. enveloping them.pulled him against her. breath coming in quick gasps. They were moving together now.
on her. not hemmed in. pulled back and pushed himself back in. felt that bit of her heart. eliciting a gasp from her. rocked with him. moaning and gasping his name. into the secret core of him. delve into him. They exploded together. They were both afire but unconsumed. as they neared orgasm together. the fire that was the combined entity of Jack and Miriam roared hotter and higher with every motion. Miriam. that fragment of her identity collide with Jack. not trapped. She felt secure there with Jack above her. clutched him with shaking hands. but held tight and close exactly where she wanted to be. eyes closed and mind merging with her magic. and the flames didn’t spread. Miriam wrapped her legs around his back. stayed contained to them. In that moment Miriam felt a portion of her soul reach out and span the molecules between them. tracing along the path of magic binding her to Jack. bit his shoulder. watched the detached part of herself . and time stopped. billowed stronger with every wave of ecstasy washing through them. but held himself aloft. pulled him down and writhed her hips up against his to press him deeper.
but in her head. not out loud with her physical voice. their merged brilliance going nova. as foolish as she felt thinking about it. flitting and flicking. Jack? Do you hear me? She focused the thought at Jack. She spoke Jack’s name. her fire was still wrapped around Jack like snakes. She decided to try something. “Try it. she and Jack were laying on her bed twined together. . deafening. who seemed startled. watching the fire play on his arm.” Miriam said. jumping and tangling together. Miriam found that odd. Try it. like a star. confused. ringing in her ears and in her mind. sweat mingling. brightening in exponential increments until Miriam had to retreat back into her physical self.glowing like an ember. making Miriam cringe again. Jack seemed to feel the same strange. “This is so cool. When she opened her eyes. “What the hell was that?” He said. His voice was strangely loud. painful volume and confusing echo of mental and physical words. out loud. as it neared the sun of Jack’s soul and combined with him. Miriam said. breath still coming in long gasps.” Jack said. the way she could hear his words in her mind.
Miriam ran her toes up and down his leg. Like a second orgasm. I can’t explain it any better than that. rubbed his chest with her hands. I felt–I actually watched a part of myself become part of you. for a moment. frowning as he focused on her. I don’t know . I think I felt that too. That’s not right either. I think it’s the connection between us. When we made love. Jack nodded. Miriam? Can you hear me now? Jack was grinning as if he’d told a joke. not satisfied with that explanation. loving the feel of his muscles. but between us? Jack shook his head. Miriam said. but inside both of us…or not inside both of us. but he tried it anyway. and Miriam seemed to remember seeing a commercial for cellphones with that tagline. What is this? How is this happening? Jack asked. the desire for . Think the words at me.mentally. It was…we were one entity. the comfort of his presence. the way the magic reaches out for you and protects you from the fire. Jack seemed skeptical. She rolled her eyes at him. I don’t know.
I felt the magic reach for you. tangling his fingers in her hair. They were silent for a while. Miriam’s passion for Jack was roused even hotter . Why didn’t I make your wishes come true? Always with–Miriam cut herself off. drowsing in the quiet and the stillness of the morning. I saw it wrapping all around you. The magic can’t give me something I already have. kissed her gently. watching for his response. not willing to even speak the name in this sacred place–always before. My only wish has always been for you. You did make my wish come true: my heart’s desire is for YOU. so it should have granted your wishes… Jack smiled. But just now . she said. he said. I think what it means is that we belong together.him now as much a presence just beneath her skin as the magic was. and said. the magic didn’t make your wish come true. just you. the magic granted the wish at climax. That’s because we do. She twisted her head to look into Jack’s eyes. with you. as long as we both understand it. I don’t think the explanation matters.
feeling him tangled skin to skin with her. and that made all the difference. not ever. by the sweetness inherent in it. all comparisons of Jack to him. because he would always provide a reminder of how perfect Jack was. then: she pushed Ben from her mind. She breathed deep of Jack’s presence. Late-afternoon sunlight streamed through the window above her bed. snoring lightly. and by the obvious truth of it. erased all thoughts of him. one arm thrown across her stomach. turning the dusting of stubble across Jack’s jaw to flecks of gold. She knew he wasn’t actually perfect. . Ben hadn’t truly wanted her. She knew there would be times he would make her mad. and Jack was next to her. smelling him. his eyes drooping and his lips pressed against her shoulder as he drifted off to sleep. She wouldn’t forget him. *** An infinite time later. and he would annoy her in some way. Miriam made a decision. but even those worst of times with Jack would be minuscule in comparison to the best moments with Ben. not entirely. But Jack did.by that answer. buried him completely in the past.
You dreamed about me? Really?” Miriam said. Should it not have been real?” “No. She couldn’t remember anything. I always woke up afterwards. admiring the hard lines and soft contours of his face.Miriam smiled. relaxed in sleep. “Yes. Jack stirred.” “Oh. running her fingers on his jawline. feeling an almost overwhelming contentment in the moment. rubbed an eye with his palm and glanced at Miriam. suddenly. Her entire life up until that moment in bed with Jack was a haze and distant memory. She closed her eyes and brought up a memory of the night before. and it was real. She didn’t want to move. That’s what I mean. where it came to rest.” Jack slipped his knee between her legs. feeling the sparrow wings of desire flutter in her stomach. Miriam laughed and burrowed closer to him. and it was always a dream. I mean. it was real. This time I woke up. . it was real?” He mumbled. a few times. ran a hand along the line of her body from knee to breast and back down to her hip. yes—argh! I don’t make sense without coffee. “Mmmm. “I may have dreamed about you.
“Uh-huh. “What kind of dreams?” she asked. . Miriam arched her back. first one and then the other. pressed herself against him. and showed her. his fingers splaying across her nipples as they hardened. the length of him. He rolled over on top of her. luxuriating in his lips against her flesh. Jack didn’t answer. kissing in quick soft pecks the skin underneath her breast. kissing her neck where it met her breastbone and slipped downward to her breasts. delighting in the way he gasped softly and pressed himself into her hand. rubbing his legs against hers. not with words.” Jack grunted his answer. reaching down to caress the tip of him.
Turn the page for a sneak preview of Djinn and Tonic the second book in The Houri Legends Series by Amber Sweetapple coming soon .
Djinn and Tonic (sample chapter)
Chapter 1: A Breath of Wind
Detective Carson Hale wasn’t sure how he ended up at The Old Shillelagh, a highball of gin and tonic in his hand, watching replays of the Tigers beating the Rockies. He had left the station, but hadn’t gone home. He was watching the game, but not really seeing. The game was on, and it provided a distraction. He was trying not to think about the case. Or, as Carson thought of it in his own mind, The Case. It was one he’d not forget any time soon. Miriam stuck in his head, somehow. Not like he was attracted to her in a sexual way, it wasn’t that. She was beautiful, sure, but it just wasn’t there, and she was with Jack, anyway. There was something about her that kept Carson thinking. How could he just let it all go? Just write off the murder of a man as…what? It wasn’t self-defense, Miriam had admitted that herself. Defense of Jack. Or, more accurately,
revenge. She’d killed Ben because he’d shot Jack. Two to the chest, she’d said. You didn’t survive that kind of injury, you just didn’t. A sucking chest wound was, by all accounts, one of the most painful ways to die, next to being gutshot. Miriam had been both. But that wasn’t really right either. According to their account, Miriam had been shot in the stomach, and then somehow taken Jack’s wounds into herself. Which, if that was at all believable–or rather, true, since Carson wasn’t sure he believed any of this– meant that she had had four gunshot wounds, chest and stomach, and she’d survived. Either she was inhumanly tough, or she healed like Wolverine. There was no other explanation. Carson finished his first drink, raised the glass and clinked the ice at the bartender–what was her name? Leila? Yes, Leila. That was it. There she came, highball half-filled with ice, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire tipping to pour a generous two fingersworth. She smiled at Carson, a quick, flirting glance. “Start a tab?” She asked. “Yeah, sure,” Carson answered. “Thanks.” “You seem preoccupied,” she said, by way of making conversation. She leaned on the bar in front
of Carson, toying with a book of matches. Her T-shirt was a low-cut V-neck, and when she leaned over, Carson found it hard to keep his gaze from straying to her spilling cleavage. Carson had spent enough time in bars and on patrol to know the various ways women leaned over. He’d categorized them: there was the absent-minded lean, in which the woman was simply assuming a natural, comfortable position, not realizing or not caring about how she was displaying herself; then there was the flirt-lean, where she was more aware of the spillage, but not necessarily trying to accentuate it; last was the overt seduction-lean, where she squeezed her arms underneath her breasts to prop them up and leaned over so they all but spilled out. Carson was pretty sure Leila was somewhere between the first two. They way she was looking at him and her body language hinted at flirtation, but certainly not seduction. He was kind of glad for that, actually. He’d been seduced on any number of occasions, mostly women trying to get out of a ticket or DUI arrest, the occasional witness hoping to sway the outcome of an investigation, and sometimes just a drunk badgechaser. The ones who seduced, he’d found, were not
the kind of girls he was interested in, at least not long-term. He’d like to say that he’d turned them all down, but he hadn’t. Not all of them. He never took favors on the job, he drew the line at that, but if a girl threw herself at him off the job, what was the harm? Carson realized he’d never answered Leila. “Sorry, yeah,” he said. “I guess I am a bit preoccupied, at that.” Leila laughed at him. “Delayed reaction, much? I’d started to wonder if you hadn’t heard me.” “No, I heard you, I was just…” “Lost in la-la land?” Leila teased. “It’s okay. I imagine your job takes up a lot of brain space.” “You have no idea,” Carson said. “Today especially though.” The bar was dead, Carson one of only three patrons in the place, so Leila had time to chat. Carson didn’t mind. She was a beautiful girl, tall and willowy with thick black hair tied back in a neat ponytail and wide, dark eyes that held a world of expression. She seemed to like him, and that made it even better. Carson could use a distraction. Leila grimaced, somehow making the expression look attractive. “You must see a lot of unpleasant stuff, huh?”
Carson finished his drink, and Leila poured him a third without asking. “Yeah,” Carson said. “Part of the job, I guess. Most of it I can forget, some I can’t. Some things people just aren’t meant to see.” “I bet. So is that what’s preoccupying you? A bad case or whatever? I hope I’m not being too nosy.” “Not at all. And yeah, sort of. It’s not one of those gruesome ones that’ll give you nightmares, just a… confusing one. I’m not sure what to believe, you know?” Leila just nodded, her attention fully focused on him. She had her chin propped on a palm, listening, watching him. Carson found himself talking about the case out loud, which he knew he shouldn’t do with a random bartender, but Leila seemed different somehow, trustworthy. And the gin was clouding his judgment enough that he didn’t care, at the moment. She was pouring them stiff, more gin than tonic or ice, and Carson wasn’t protesting. He heard himself telling her about Miriam, how odd things were, how so many elements to the case seemed unbelievable, if not impossible. “Unlikely, sure,” Leila said, “but impossible? Didn’t
we talk about impossibilities before? From what you’re telling me, this isn’t one or two odd little things. It’s several big things, almost too big too ignore, or to pretend it’s not what it looks like.” Carson nodded and drank. “Yeah, that’s what part of me says too. And I shouldn’t be talking about this with you.” “I won’t tell anyone. Promise.” Leila said, smiling. “Better not. But if something goes against everything you know to be true? What then?” Carson felt himself slurring a little. He should slow down on the drinks, but he didn’t want to. He liked the warm muzziness, the gentle floating of his mind. He didn’t feel as uptight about the whole business. Leila was easy to talk to, and easy on the eyes. It was past 2 in the morning at this point, and the last customer was walking out the door. Leila considered before answering. “Well, it depends, I guess. If you can’t deny it, if it’s just there and obvious, despite the apparent ‘truth’ of things, then you can’t really keep insisting on what you think is true, can you? I mean, isn’t that just being obstinate? There’s so much about this world and about life that we can’t see, you know? Just because
“But that doesn’t make it any easier to accept what you’ve always thought was impossible. The idea seemed odd. wiping bottles with a rag. Carson thought.” Carson said. Carson watched her move. every step smooth. She moved as if blown by a secret wind. turning off the TV. She was . She had a dancer’s body. the feeling of her touching him electric. sending thrills through him. Carson stood up to help her. admiring the easy grace of her motions. but she moved away to finish putting up the chairs. She was light on her feet. “Yeah. he realized.we haven’t seen something before doesn’t make it impossible. you’re right. Leila rolled her eyes. like she was a leaf. pushed him back to his stool and sat him down.” Leila was back behind the bar. every twist of her body as she performed the closing ritual flowing into the next. There was something airy about her. but it stuck with him as true. He wanted her to keep her hands on him. a little more unstable on his feet than he’d expected to be. does it?” Leila came around from behind the bar and started lifting chairs onto tables. Maybe that explained it. Her hands on his back were warm. even to Carson as he thought it.
but the words wouldn’t coalesce in a way that didn’t sound stupid. There may have been one or two that he’d drank so . handed his credit card to Leila and signed the slip with a sloppy signature. sure motions that spoke of years of practice. her hands peeling bills in quick. all this talking about the case and Miriam and the strange facts. but your hair is being blown by a wind that doesn’t exist?’ That was…stupid. accepting one last drink. no windows. But being a dancer didn’t explain the way her hair floated and fluttered as if blown by a breeze. no fans. mesmerized. and he couldn’t deny what he was seeing. She was standing at the bar counting the register drawer. He’d lost count again. too. Carson felt himself repeating his thoughts. Carson thought. and now Leila was part of the mystery. Carson finished his drink. There were no open doors.a dancer. She’d taken her hair out of its pony tail and was shaking it out to fall in glinting waves around her shoulders. but her hair was definitely fluttering. He considered asking her about her hair. That was the word. Fluttering. It was weird. Leila. ‘Excuse me. but he couldn’t help it. He was watching her. she was standing still. but her hair was moving.
the room was wobbling a little as Leila shut off the lights in the kitchen and locked the drawer in the office. Legally. toying with a matchbook. by the time she did that. her shoulder brushing his. there’s no telling where he would’ve gone. in some indefinable way. and honestly. her thigh nudging his as she bounced her knee absently. But. watched it burn down toward her fingertips. She lit a match. “So.quickly he didn’t remember. it puffed out as if blown by a wind. He was aware of every point of contact between them. “I don’t know. Before it could burn her fingers. She should’ve reported Ben to the authorities and let them deal with him. Either way. She was sitting close to him. Carson could smell rum in the Coke and on her breath. technically. kept the spinning world centered. what she did was manslaughter. He might’ve disappeared before we could catch him. what are you going to do?” She asked. her presence grounded him. as one of the authorities. sitting down next to Carson with a styrofoam cup of Coke. there’s too many other cases to investigate that I doubt we’d spend much time .
though. or one that looked like it was going to get messy or anything. “Hey. “I know what I should do. according the most correct definition of my job. “Yeah. It wasn’t a hard investigation. There were other reasons. but I just don’t think I can. Miriam did the only thing she could do in those circumstances. I told her to go. and I just can’t make myself arrest her for it. actually. and I’ve been investigating alone. I think you’re making the right choice. chewing an ice cube as he spoke. That does help. but that was one of them.chasing him. you know?” Leila nodded.” “She left you in the middle of an investigation?” Leila asked. you know? For what it’s worth. surprised. bumped her shoulder against his. It’s like…ethics versus morals. all you can do is what you think is right. My partner took the weekend off to go up to Traverse City with her boyfriend.” Carson drained the last of his drink. She had this trip planned for . but along the way he turned out to be an asshole who deserved what he got. I became a cop to get justice for people. I investigated his death.” “Thanks.
and the less I was inclined to bring anyone else in. Besides. There’s no physical evidence tying Miriam to Ben’s death.weeks. you know? I couldn’t make her stay when I was pretty sure I’d be able to handle it alone. “Yeah. the weirder it got. the way she’d paused before answering. had reservations and everything. and just cause more trouble for Miriam. that there’s not enough to go on. But then. It would waste everyone’s time and money. and even if there might be plenty of motive. It looked like something had emotional value to Leila. there’s no way to make a charge stick. It looked like a keepsake of some kind. the further in I got with this case.” “So you’re gonna close the case?” Leila had a ring on her right hand that she twisted absently. Her boyfriend is an executive with Chrysler. and how much of a story he’d sensed there. so he doesn’t take many weekends away. And technically. . there’s other detectives I could’ve called if I’d needed help. there’s not. I’ll tell the Captain it’s a cold case. He remembered the first time he’d met her. I don’t think. I guess I am. and Carson found himself wondering what the story was.
“So…what’s your story? You said you needed a fresh start. “I’m interested in you. Not very interesting. an awkward chuckle. curiosity.” Carson hesitated for a moment. said. Leila had turned on her stool. he hadn’t meant to say that. “Oh.” “Good.” “A Freudian slip? What else are you thinking about me that you’re not saying?” She had inched . grabbed the soda gun and filled his glass with water. “Yeah. “You are. Carson laughed. if you weren’t there.” Oh god. for example. apparently.And she’s had enough of that.” Leila. so you came here. embarrassment. But it’s true enough. Curiosity was winning.” Carson reached over the counter. huh?” She said. chewing on her straw. He drank his water to cover his flush of embarrassment. a slight smile on her lips. “I’m glad. regarding him with several emotions written plainly on her face: surprise. took a deep breath. it’s a long story. What’s all that about?” Leila glanced at him. you never know what I’d be interested in.” “Oh. then asked. that just kind of slipped out. maybe a little fear. as if wishing he hadn’t asked that.
ever so slightly? “I’ve always believed in saying what you mean.” he said. “Filters are a nuisance anyway. Leila arched an eyebrow. That didn’t come out right. he thought. “Um…” there were a lot of things going through his mind. or was she leaning in to him.” he said. He’d just met her.” Shit. making him wonder what her lips tasted like. “Is that right? Keep going. Leila laughed. an infectious. suddenly. “I’m wondering what flavor lip gloss you have on. I have no filters. a slight glimmer of lip gloss on them. “Oh…I don’t know. He wanted to believe she was expressing interest back.” Carson heard himself speaking the words as they entered his mind.” She crossed one leg over the other.” she said. What your lips taste like. Was it Carson’s imagination.over on her stool so she was just at the edge of his personal space. facing him. “God. thinking how .” Carson was tipping toward her. Her lips looked soft. “You’re hot. of course. Carson hoped he was reading her body language right. It would be reckless to say that. musical sound that made him not feel less stupid.
Leila was sitting facing him. and something he wanted to believe was desire. I’m thinking…you’re cute. Okay.” Leila admitted with a mischievous tip of lips. “Keep going.” “You’re avoiding my question. touching someone’s hair was a strangely intimate thing. “You caught me. Her wide eyes were inches from his.ridiculous it was to be considering kissing a girl he’d met a handful of times. It was an odd intrusion into personal comfort zone. “I’m thinking…I like you.” “Oh. I’m not arguing yet. “You haven’t embarrassed yourself at all. so it’s my turn?” Leila was definitely closer than she had been a moment ago. sparkling with amusement. in a rugged sort of way.” Carson said. her feet on the rungs of his stool between his legs. and I’m hoping . “Yeah? So what are you thinking? Now that I’ve embarrassed myself. and she wasn’t pulling away.” Carson nodded. He didn’t mind. I’m thinking you’re a little drunk.” Leila’s fingers were plucking at a loose string on the collar of Carson’s shirt. and secrets. and then they were playing with a lock of his hair at his neck. I’m glad you can say what you’re thinking. so what am I thinking? Hmmm. His hands were on her knees. “That’s true.
” Carson said. I’m a homicide cop. talking to you like this if I did?” “You’d be surprised what some guys will do. “Well that’s good. but the moment seemed to have passed with the turn in the conversation. “Or a wife?” Carson shook his head. Would I be here. but…I don’t want to talk about that just yet. “Fair enough.” Carson had been about to kiss her.” Carson shrugged. remember? I’ve seen just about everything. “I know I’m avoiding your original question. That’s part of the reason I moved up here. if I was with anyone else. even though they’re with someone.” Carson nodded. “You’d be surprised how much it takes to surprise me. What I should’ve said was. How’s that for embarrassing yourself? Admitting that to the guy you’re interested in goes against every rule of the dating game I know.” “Do you have a girlfriend?” Leila asked.you’ll ask me out. “Nah. I wouldn’t be here like this. with you. There. “Me neither.” Leila said. I wouldn’t like to have any .” “I’ve never been too interested in the dating game anyway.
I guess I missed the boat on that one. She didn’t. Carson. an invitation in her eyes. scratched at a stain on the leg of her jeans. “Yeah.surprises come up later on. “Sorry. Is it too late?” “You’ll never know until you try. would you like to have dinner with me?” Leila shook her head and rolled her eyes. I left you a pretty big opening to ask me out. Leila. but you didn’t. chewed on it. she moved her hand from her leg . “You’re funny. He took a drink of water and tried to clear his head. giving her every chance to pull away. that didn’t come out right. to tell him he’d misinterpreted.” She was slipping forward again.” She glanced down. Carson cursed himself for being so dense. saying.” “Why wouldn’t there be?” “Well. “If there is a ‘later on’. Lemme try again. I would. He swallowed his nerves and let himself fall forward. touching her lips with her tongue. slowly and hesitantly.” Leila said. a teasing grin on her face. “So…do you want to go out with me? For dinner? Sometime?” Carson was fumbling. I’m off this Tuesday. Or at least Carson hoped it was an invitation.” Leila bit her lip. Instead. “Yes.” she said. touching his lips to hers.
he felt a quick. As he faded into unwilling unconsciousness. but it was no use. He felt a rush of excitement run through him at her response. sharp pang of pain blast through the back of his skull and darkness leaped up to swallow him. His eyes were closed as he kissed her. like a winter wind. and her lips tasted like cherry chapstick with a hint of rum and Coke. so he didn’t see it. . pulled him closer to deepen the kiss. The world went black and silent. Her breath was cold. and he fought to keep his eyes open. an absurd joy that she was kissing him back.to his. but that’s what his senses told him. he heard Leila shrieking and cursing. ruffling his shirt and skirling Leila’s long raven-black hair to tickle his face. the other on his shoulder and moving toward his neck. Carson would have sworn that a breeze had kicked up to blow through his hair. Then.
She also likes belly dancing.About the Author Amber Sweetapple is a sassy mama to 5 wild and wonderful kids. good wine. watching Real Housewives (don’t judge!) . and writing her hunky husband into her stories. She enjoys long evening walks in her suburban Detroit neighborhood with her writer husband Jack Sheppard. chocolate. Her other favorite things are singing.
. and cupcakes. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AmberSweetapple. or find me on Facebook: www.facebook. I love to chat with my fans. Please feel free to contact her at AmberSweetapple@gmail.com/AmberSweetapple. Emails from readers are always welcome.and cooking dinner for her family in her crockpot.com. If you enjoyed this book. please consider leaving a review. Oh.
Table of Contents Chapter 1: Now Chapter 2: Then Chapter 3: Now Chapter 4: Then Chapter 5: Now Chapter 6: Then Chapter 7: Now Chapter 8: Then Chapter 9: Now Chapter 10: Then Chapter 11: Now Chapter 12: Then Chapter 13: Now Chapter 14: Then Chapter 15: Now Chapter 16: Then Chapter 17: Now Chapter 18: Then Chapter 19: Now Chapter 20: Merging .
Chapter 21: Ending Djinn and Tonic (sample chapter) About the Author .
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