About the Author
About the Author
The Billionaire Shifter’s Virgin Mate
(Billionaire Shifters Club #2)
Publication date: October 11th 2016
Genres: Adult, Paranormal
McDermott “Derry” Stanton is an old-money playboy who sleeps his way through half the world, one willing woman at a time. A bear shifter, he never hibernates alone. Sometimes even one woman isn’t enough. But when this irresistible billionaire meets Jessica Murphy, everything changes. The man who views life as a female feast suddenly acquires more discerning tastes. The only woman who can satisfy him now…
Is Jessica Murphy. He must have her. Immediately. Frequently.
Jess, however, doesn’t want any man, least of all a spoiled playboy who’s about to become her brother-in-law. A pre-med student with deep ambitions and a past filled with painful rejection, she’s all business.
Too bad Derry Stanton is her business. A frequent customer at the Platinum Club where she waits tables, and now the best man to her maid of honor in her sister’s wedding, the guy is everywhere. And pretty soon, she finds herself everywhere, too. In his arms, on his bed, between the sheets….
But sex is the last thing she needs.
Or it was until she meets Derry and starts hearing the Beat. And feeling a connection she’d never imagined, never dreamed, never hoped for. It’s all too unbearably good.
The Billionaire Shifter’s Virgin Mate is the second book in the Billionaire Shifters Club series by Diana Seere, the paranormal pen name for two New York Times and USA Today bestselling romantic comedy authors. This book is a standalone *within* a series.
* * *
Welcome to the most exclusive club in the world. The Novo Club. Novo is Latin for “change.” Our members prefer the word “shift” though.
It’s the hottest club in town.
The price of membership is your heart and your secrecy.
All you need to do to join is to be loved beyond your wildest imagination by someone powerful with an…alpha side so primal it’s in their blood.
Are you ready?
Good. Then let’s begin.
The Billionaire Shifters Club is a new series featuring the five Stanton siblings, four brothers and one sister who are all part of an ancient shifter family living in modern America. The subterranean club-within-a-club beneath the streets of Boston, Massachusetts holds secrets only the Stantons and their fellow shifters know.
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Jess Murphy walked through the wide doors into the opulent lobby below the Platinum Club, surprised by the butterflies fluttering in her stomach. The building was more luxurious than she’d expected, every inch of glass, steel, and marble gleaming like freshly minted coins. Well-dressed men and women hurried around her over the shiny floors.
“Can I help you?” asked a man from behind a vast reception desk decorated with fruit and flowers. He wore a black suit, had gray hair, and sounded like a British butler in a classic film.
“I’m Jessica Murphy,” she said. “I’m, uh, it’s my first night working at the Platinum Club.”
The man tapped something on his screen. “You are expected on eleven,” he said. “You can take either the public or the service elevator.”
She glanced at the posh lobby, the posh people. “I’ll take the service one. Where is it?”
He gestured at a side door behind him.
“Thank you,” she said, taking a deep breath as she walked across the marble floors.
Jess had to remind herself that this was only a waitressing job. There was no reason to be nervous; this wasn’t an important career move for her, just a way to pay for medical school. Because the club’s clientele was so elite, the job paid insanely well, and incoming staff members, at all levels, were screened meticulously.
In fact, she’d been hired almost a month ago, yet this was the first time she was stepping foot in the place. Instead of working tables right away, as she’d expected, she’d had to visit a notary and sign a dozen nondisclosure agreements—and then submit to a background check, personality test, and three phone interviews.
Now, finally, she could actually begin working.
She walked through a doorway into a space that looked older than the lobby, found a vintage-elevator call button, and popped a mint into her mouth as she waited for the car to arrive.
She could imagine her sister Lilah feeling exactly how Jess was feeling now, fighting her nerves on her first day as she thought of all the famous, powerful people upstairs.
Lilah had worked at the Platinum Club until last month, when she’d shacked up with her billionaire love god, Gavin Stanton. In fact, they were already planning their wedding. No more money worries for her.
No more worries of any kind, apparently.
The changes that had come over Lilah in the past couple of months made Jess uncomfortable. She was glad Lilah was happy, but it had happened much too fast. At one point, her sister had been so sex-crazed she’d claimed her rich boyfriend had turned into an animal.
Jess sighed. Lilah had always been too lusty for her own good, too easily enchanted by a pretty face.
Gavin Stanton certainly had that. And the rest of him wasn’t bad either. Not Jess’s type, but… not bad.
Shaking her head, Jess walked into the car—a gorgeous old thing with wood paneling—and pressed the button for the eleventh floor as instructed. Time to focus on the job at hand. Love was the last thing on her agenda. And sex was second to last. If she was going to survive the long slog through med school and internships to become a doctor, she couldn’t get distracted with trivialities. She had to keep her eye on the prize. Work, school, work, school, work. And more work.
The elevator stopped, not on the eleventh floor, but the tenth. Jess looked down at herself, uneasy with the tight jeans and T-shirt she wore. They’d told her the club would provide a uniform when she arrived. Hopefully whoever joined her in the elevator was just another wage slave, not anyone important in management. She wanted to make a good impression on her first day. Her impressively curvy figure looked respectable in formal clothes, but in a T-shirt, her F-cup chest had a knack for distracting people.
Damn, I should’ve worn a jacket. But it had been so hot today. Autumn in Boston could still get steamy.
The doors slid open, revealing an extremely tall, thickly muscular man with long black hair and bright blue eyes that slid over her body so thoroughly she sucked in a breath.
Talk about steamy. Now this guy was her type. He was huge. Dark. Powerful.
She felt beads of sweat form at the small of her back, under her breasts, her arms. What had he bathed in that morning—testosterone? She could smell it. She could taste it. She couldn’t help sucking it in, breath after breath, eager for another hit.
A slow smile spread over his full, sensual lips. “Why, hello there,” he said. Was that a British accent?
Every alarm bell she had was clamoring so loudly in her head, she was amazed she’d been able to hear him speak.
“Hi,” she said, stepping aside instinctively. Getting too close to this man would be a mistake.
“I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure.” Oh, crap. It was a British accent. He held out a hand. “McDermott Stanton. My intimates call me Derry.”
Diana Seere was raised by wolves in the forests outside Boston and San Francisco. The only time she spends in packs these days is at romance writing conventions. In truth, Diana is two New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors who decided to write shifter romance and have more fun. You can find “her” on Facebook at Diana Seere’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/dianaseere. Sign up for her New Releases and Sales email newsletter here: eepurl.com/beUZnr
Publication date: October 7th 2015
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
I have a history of picking the wrong guy. Gay? Player? Momma’s boy? Check, check and check.
Now I can’t stop fantasizing about one of the customers at the coffee shop I work at between classes. It’s just a harmless crush, right? It’s not like I ever see this guy outside of the coffee shop. It’s not like I’m going to see him while attempting to get birth control at the student clinic. While wearing a paper gown. While sitting on an exam table. Because he’s the doctor. Shoot. Me.
But what if, for once, the man I’ve had the dirtiest, most scandalous fantasies about turned out to be everything but wrong?
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“Sophie, he’s going to be back for more. Trust me.”
I load a tray of cupcakes and slide them into the bakery case. “I don’t know, Everly. He’s really sophisticated and clearly lives a lifestyle a long ways from Cowbell Lane,” I say, referencing my grandparents’ home in Willow Grove.
“Bitch, please. The guy is pushing forty and you’re a hot co-ed with a brand-new tight, shiny pussy. He’ll be back.”
My eyes widen. “Everly, Jesus!”
“Just saying.” She holds her hands up in mock defense before breaking into a huge grin.
“You don’t really think he’s forty, do you?”
“He just turned thirty-six in August.”
“How do you know that?”
“You Googled him?”
“You didn’t?” Everly looks aghast.
“Uh, no.” Truthfully I thought about it, but I didn’t want to get any more invested in him than I already am.
“Well, look what the pussy dragged in.” Everly is smirking.
“Everly, that’s not the saying. It’s ‘cat.’ ‘Look what the cat dragged in.’”
“Oh, I think I’ve got the saying right. He’s here.”
My stomach explodes in nerves as I glance towards the door. Luke is here. I wondered if he’d stick to his normal Tuesday routine and stop here for coffee. I’ve figured out this Grind Me location is between his Rittenhouse Square condo and the student clinic, but it’s hardly the only route he could take or stop he could make.
My heart is beating so fast as I take him in. Is he going to speak to me or go back to just ordering coffee and leaving like he has the last several weeks?
He’s in a navy suit today, crisp white shirt and a silvery blue tie. And then my heart stops beating so fast. There’s a hand on his arm. I follow that hand to the redhead from Saturday night.
Jana Aston likes cats, big coffee cups and books about billionaires who deflower virgins. She wrote her debut novel while fielding customer service calls about electrical bills, and she’s ever grateful for the fictional gynecologist in Wrong that readers embraced so much she was able to make working in her pajamas a reality. Jana’s novels have appeared on the NYT, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists, some multiple times. She likes multiples.
The Love series is a coming of age, new adult, contemporary series with a HEA, that is not typical. This series is raw and real. It will remind you of yours or someone you knows, first love.
The Wrapped series is a single mothers love story with a younger man. It is a contemporary, rocker, second chance, sexy suspense filled series that will have you on the edge of your seat.
The Burning Souls series is a rocker and small town girls love story. It is raw, gritty, and suspense filled as well.
A snap of a twig, a rustle of leaves, her head spins around in fright.
“Who’s there?” she says. “Randy, is that you?”
Silly girl. She’s just signed her own death warrant—as if she hadn’t already when I caught her and her boyfriend smoking weed a few moments ago. I’ve been stalking these two for about half an hour, and now he’s gone off to piss somewhere and she’s about to be offed in the opening scene.
To be fair, she’s exactly the sort of girl you hate to see get killed off so early in a slasher movie. Long blonde hair pours out of a red beanie, framing a face so pretty it could sell moisturiser. A tight white puffer jacket hugs her fantastic figure, and skinny jeans accentuate her long legs and ample ass.
I think I’m in love. But rules are rules. I don’t make them; I just enforce them, and she’s going to die tonight.
“It’s not funny anymore, Randy. I mean it. Quit clowning around and get back here right now. I’m really scared.”
I fight the urge to call back, “You should be.” Instead, the rustle of the bush is her only answer as I move out from my hiding place behind a large evergreen and walk back to the well-worn hiking trail where she’s standing, flaring her flashlight in all directions for any sign of her loser boyfriend.
When she sees me, her eyes grow so wide that it’s comical. Rendered immobile by fright, we both just stand and look at each other for a moment or two—her on the verge of a nervous breakdown, me on the verge of killing her. The tension between us is so thick that you could cut it with my machete. I try. What I cut instead is her head open.
It’s like one of Thomas Savini’s finest special effects, but, oddly, less messy. Blood and brain matter abound, of course, but it’s really more like piercing a coconut than splitting an overripe melon. Either way, the blade makes a satisfyingly heavy thunk sound as it punctures the cerebrum, ensuring that she’ll never get to learn French, read another book, or do anything ever again.
When I pull the machete out of her skull, she plummets like the quality of the Friday the 13th film franchise after Part VII: The New Blood. But I don’t have time to dwell on the disappointing Jason Takes Manhattan or the frankly unwatchable Jason Goes to Hell right now; I shouldn’t have even brought them up, because I’ve got a boyfriend to kill. He’s not my boyfriend, asshole. I mean the boyfriend of the girl I just killed. He’ll be back here at any moment.
Propping the girl up against a nearby tree, I pull the hood of her coat up over her bloody beanie and the gaping wound in her head. Even in death, she’s lovely. Now it looks like she’s just having a wee rest. Well, if you’re stoned or stupid anyway.
Fortunately, the boyfriend is a potent mixture of both. I hear him tearing through the jungle and spouting inane babble and sexual innuendo long before I see him from my hiding place in the black forest, opposite the sleeping dead girl.
“Hey babe, I just saw a really big snake,” he says while he’s still out of view. “Oh wait, it was only my penis. False alarm.” He laughs at his own lame joke. “I’m really horny. We should fuck again, if you’re interested. Seriously, you don’t have a choice, let’s do it.”
Wait, didn’t she call this guy Randy a minute ago? That’s a bit on the nose, don’t you think? It’s like a guy called Bob who can’t swim well, a dick called Richard, or if the parents of that blowhard politician who wants to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out and likes wearing a bad toupee had christened him ‘Racist Asshole’.
When I finally get a visual on this walking-talking meat puppet, he’s strutting up the track like a man relieved. Dressed in a black puffer jacket and a trucker cap—in spite of the fact that it’s the middle of the Goddamn night—he proudly wears a shit-eating grin through a stubbly beard like he won it in a contest. I just can’t wait to end him.
“You sleeping babe?” he says, bending over the resting corpse of his dead girlfriend. “Come on, rise and shine sleepyhead. I’m horny.” When she doesn’t reply, he shakes her. “Come on babe, I’m not kidding around. You need to wake up right now.”
Frustrated, he gives her a short, sharp shove and she flops over.
Impatience vanishes and terror takes control now. Whimpering like a sad puppy whose owners have abandoned it next to a busy highway, he slowly peels back her hood to see exactly the sort of damage that a sharp machete will render to a person’s forehead. He lets out a prodigious scream that’ll continue to ring in my ears a number of hours later, and then flurries around in fright when he feels a soft tap on his shoulder.
It’s me, lumbering behind him in my very best Jason Voorhees impression.
Shock, horror and frank disbelief are plastered all over Randy’s terrified face; for all intents and purposes he is face to face right now with the hockey mask-wearing psycho from the Friday the 13th series. What do you do in that situation? What do you even say?
“What the actual fu—”
But I guess we’ll never know his final words, because I cut him off mid-sentence with a swing of my machete and punt his head away like a soccer ball.
It was the fourth September 10th, 2001 we had spent in New York City. And each of those Mondays discouraged us even more. Hanging around the World Trade Center for a month (real time) got us no closer to the unfettered access we needed. The possibility of being stuck in this ruthless rut forever was starting to weigh heavily on my soul. That, and the image of my mother all Mr. Hyde like, rampaging through my father’s house slashing and slicing people up. The way he told the story made me believe him even though I didn’t want to. I wanted the last image of my mother to be that woman that kissed me and Angel on the cheek before she left for the office. The one that told me to look after my little sister. The one that told me she would see us later that evening. It was hard to reconcile the sweet woman who left us with the deranged monster that my father swore ambushed him. But oddly enough, I believed him. What did he have to gain by lying to me? Which left me to wonder one very important and haunting thing. What had gotten into my mother that made her into a raving lunatic?
Because only a lunatic could harness the power of crazy and pick up a full grown (and very muscular, I might add) man and slam him into the floor. And what was up with her talking about nuclei or neutrons?
“What’s wrong?” Thena asked.
We were standing on the Observation Deck of the South Tower and I hadn’t said a word since we got there. And now, I was looking over the edge of the railing like I might just jump over it. Wouldn’t do me any good, though, considering there was a jumper’s net not far below. And even if there wasn’t, a fall from 110 stories wouldn’t do me any harm, unless you call waking up in my bed remembering absolutely nothing harm.
“What’s wrong,” she asked again.
I replied with a shake of my head but inside I said what wasn’t wrong. All the talking about what we were going to do and how it was going to go felt so foreign now that we were here.
“Is it the dream?” Thena asked.
“Look, it wasn’t a wet one if that’s what you’re thinking. It was actually more like a nightmare.”
“But one in which you kept screaming out Zoe’s name.”
I hung my head, resting it on the upside-down teepee created by my thumb, index and middle finger. In my dream, my other was attacking my father and his girlfriends, a bloody foursome of sorts. Only it was just my mother’s body. But the head was Zoe’s. And she had that same crazed look in her eyes that my father described. I watched as she stabbed my father over and over again. And then, as he lay there in a pool of his own blood, she took a Phillips head screwdriver and slowly, sinfully twisted it right left right, into my father’s temple. He screamed but the screams were my voice. Begging for Zoe to stop.
“The dream was nothing,” I said. “And everything is cool.” The lie was better than the truth. The truth was I was coming unglued. Destabilized by this loop which faithfully kept twirling us round and round. I was a moon trapped in its orbit. And its gravity was slowly tearing me apart.
I couldn’t face Thena because my eyes would surely tell her the truth. So I turned and stared at the skyline. A gray mist settled over the buildings below, like the buildings were hiding under a fluffy blanket, wary of the coming danger. The sky was gloomy like it knew that the planes were coming. It was weird that the following morning it would be clear and a beautiful blue. For a little while. Because the smoke billowing from the towers would darken the sky. Likewise, my heart was darkened because we hadn’t found our way in.
Security had tightened since the 1993 bombing. In fact, most of the building was off limits to the public. So on the occasions that we visited the inside of the towers, it was only the lobby that we were able to freely peruse and of course the observation decks on the South Tower. There was also the restaurant, Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of the North Tower. We had dinner in the restaurant—or at least tried to. Sitting there amongst a dining area filled with people who didn’t know that all of this would soon come crashing to the ground snatched away our appetites. Our food basically watched us as we stared out of the window at the beautiful, yet haunting sky line.
We had dinner there each evening of September 9th, getting there at 8pm each time. We sat at the same table and was waited on by the same waiter: a slender man from Maldonado. The staff was diverse, reminding me of staff you’ll find on cruise ships. From various countries. Various accents. A melting pot 107 stories in the sky. We ordered the same entrées. Perhaps eating the very same food over and over again. Giving brand new meaning to the idea of recycling. And each dinner I was quiet, thinking mostly about our mission. But also about my father’s story about my mother.
I was thinking about her then as we took in the cool air atop this man made mountain. On the Observation Deck, I considered telling Thena about what my father said. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it without sounding like a lunatic. Finally, when I didn’t answer she said, “I get it. You’re imagining the planes coming at us.” I looked around us. People were smiling and chit chatting, talking about the show they were going to see that evening. The trip to the Statue of Liberty. The visit to the Museum. None of them knew. My heart really broke when that one little kid asked, “Mommy, can we come back up here tomorrow morning?” And the mother replied, “Sure. Weather man says it should be clearer tomorrow.”
“We’re powerless,” I moaned.
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s been almost a month and all we’ve done is witness this building fall three times,” I whispered forcefully. “I don’t know if I can take another.”
“Did you think we’d figure this out over night? I didn’t. I knew it would take some time because of all the variables. But we will be successful. Were that not the case, we wouldn’t keep getting all these chances to make things right.”
Not far from us, a man in a dark blue work suit was waving at…well…the North Tower. His thick arms just flailing recklessly and I thought to myself, great, I’m not the only one going crazy.
“What’s up with that guy?” Thena asked.
“He’s waving at his wife.” We didn’t see the rail thin man who said that standing there until his words made me jump. “She’s in the restaurant over there, I suppose. Hank claims he can see her. But I can’t. Can you?”
The man was wearing an identical dark blue suit, though not as starched and pressed as the waving man. I saw from his tag his name was Selwyn. Selwyn tugged on the pudgy man’s shirt and said, “You had enough? You’re scaring the tourist.”
The man turned around. His pear-shaped face a light in an otherwise dreary space. He seemed to have a smile that would light up a room. Kind of like my mother—the sane version of her, at least.
“He’s just jealous of me and my Annie,” the man said. His tag read Parl. I was staring at it when he said, “If you’re wonderin’, she’s my wife, not my sister.” He laughed and his round belly bounced. “Stuff we do in the bedroom is illegal for siblings to do in this state.”
I wasn’t wondering about whoever she was. I had no idea there was a she. I was looking at his last name and wondering if letters were missing. Shouldn’t it be Parlor? Where was the O and the R?
“First time in the Big Apple?” he said.
“I’m a lifer myself. But being up this high and seeing the Manhattan skyline, still can’t get used to it.”
He had several chins and blotchy skin. Thin blonde hair attempted to cover his head. His jowls shook when he laughed and it appeared he liked to do a lot of laughing. And his lips were locked into an endless smile.
“The Misses and me come up to the top ever so often, ya know? Hold hands. Some times on our lunch break. She’ll come over.” He smiled and his face spread like it was a bean bag and some invisible person had sat on it. “Let’s settle this once and for all.” Settle what? He slapped a heavy hand on my shoulder, pointed to the North Tower and said, “Do you see her?”
“The Misses?” I said. For the first time realizing how this strange conversation even started. “Your wife is in the North Tower?”
“Yep. She works there. Maintenance same as me. That’s actually how we met. Started working for the Port Authority same year.”
“And they’re the most sickening couple you’ll ever wanna meet,” Selwyn said.
“Your wife works maintenance…just like you?”
The man removed his hand. His smile disappeared. “There’s nothing wrong with a woman working maintenance. She can outwork the best of them. Especially this lazy no count pitiful excuse for a maintenance man standing beside me.”
“Watch it, Porky!”
Thena and I looked at each other at the same time and stared at each other for a few seconds.
“What?” Hank said.
“Let’s let these good people enjoy their visit and get back to work,” Selwyn said. As he was guiding Hank away he said, “Say, you gotta work tomorrow?”
“Bright and early,” Hank replied. “Annie too.”
“Can’t catch a break, huh?”
Their words trailed off as Thena and I just stared at each other, optimistic that we had finally caught a break.
My body crumpled forward, my forehead resting on the floorboards. I would have remained this way, if I had not been roused by a shout from behind me. Rosario roared and shook his head like an enraged bull, stamping his feet and frothing between gritted teeth. He clutched his temples and shook his head, and when he had gathered enough clarity of mind, he leveled a penetrating stare at the djinni and yelled, “Enough!”
All around Rosario, the peasant men stood frozen as though they were statues, eyes on the djinni. Clenching his jaw, he staggered forward a step, inadvertently brushing against one of the men. The man instantly spilled to his knees in supplication, droning, “I adore thee, oh my lord!” in such rapid succession that the words were hardly perceptible.
Scowling with rage at this irreverence, Rosario let fly an uppercut swing with his hook. The metal flashed in the dim candlelight and caught the man in the crook of his lower mandible. The man did not so much as scream, so overawed was he by the djinni.
Rosario raised his arm aloft, lifting the man fully erect, looking like a fisherman with a prize catch. Then he tore his dagger out of his belt with his opposite hand and plunged it into the side of the man’s neck between the skull and the shoulders. The skin at the peasant’s neck pulled apart, opening his throat as though his shoulders were yawning wide, until at last the weight of his collapsing body snapped his head off his neck. The body slumped to its knees and spilled headlong, gushing blood in spurts from its severed arteries.
Something like a sigh came from the djinni. Then it said, “Man is a foolish child who calls many things gods. Man knows not the gods.”
Its skin seemed to dull, losing some of the magnificent radiance it exuded, and I found that I was no longer overawed in its presence. Rosario helped me to my feet and together we addressed the djinni. The remaining three peasants all were unconscious, seemingly asleep on the floor.
“In the name of the most high, I command you to speak your name, djinni!” I yelled, thinking it could be cowed in the same manner as a demon might.
The djinni’s eyes widened. If it had eyebrows, they would surely have bobbed at my effrontery. Its eyes narrowed into angry slits that contained all the deadly chill of a winter snowstorm. “Hadst thou instead come to visit me, I would have attended thee in the manner befitting of a guest. I would have filled thy mouth with rotten pus until thy belly were full. Thou wouldst have told me a great many wondrous things of thy life, and I, having learned such, would have sent thee home with an anus so full of scorpions the trail of blood behind thee would stretch for miles.”
The images each word represented, along with the concepts and sensations those phrases conveyed, flashed in my mind as the djinni spoke. They are as vivid now as then—by God, I still taste the pus! These images are always in the forefront of my mind, constantly playing out before my eyes, and it is hard to focus on anything else except through purposeful concentration.
“Wherefore hast thou brought me here?” it asked.
Seeing how my last attempt at communication had failed, I bowed my head and spoke in lowered tones. “Djinni, we have called you to ask a favor.”
“Indeed,” it cut me short, “it is always so when mortals call upon the djinn. Impudent humans! What boon seeketh ye? Be it pleasure? I shall show ye such pain that the greatest pleasure would be anticipating its end! I ask again: wherefore disturbest me thou?”
It was then I explained we sought to spare your daughter from the ailment that would surely take her, and requested the djinni’s succor.
The djinni sighed, if otherworldly beings can be said to sigh. “Alas, thy mortality is a concept thy limited intellect can only dimly grasp.” It looked down at the floor as it considered this, then raised its gaze to make eye contact with me. “What wouldst thou have me do? The child is already dead.”
An image of her flashed in my mind’s eye. I was there, in the room with Bernadette as she languished in her bed, delirious with fever. The eyes I saw her with were not my physical eyes, as they saw more than human eyes could ever hope to detect. Bernadette’s body was like a red-hot fireplace poker, glowing orange from her core. The glow collapsed on itself, giving way to lifeless, cold black, shriveling into her center like a bonfire shrunk to embers. I knew she was dead when the light faltered and snuffed out, leaving nothing but a dreadful stillness in its passing.
Brother, do not think for a moment that so terse an account of your daughter’s death should mean I was hard-hearted about the matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. She was my niece, and—by God!—my only living relative; that is, save for you of course, if ever you should return to read this.
Her passing crushed me. It opened wounds in me, wounds that weep much as my eyes might weep. And while time has dried my tears, it has done nothing to soothe the ache of missing her.
I was flashed back to my study with the djinni standing before me. The realization that Bernadette was dead weighted my body; I crumpled to my knees and collapsed to all fours.
All of this, for naught! Frustration churned the searing bile in my stomach. “You must be able to do something,” I pleaded.
The djinni cocked its head to one side. “Thou hast misunderstood. I can do a great many things.”
“You could not save her!”
“Thou didst not ask.”
My mouth went dry on realizing it was right—I had not asked it to save her from the disease. “Save her!” I blurted, figuring this was as good a time to ask as any.
“I cannot. She has died.”
I plunged my fingers into my hair and clawed at my scalp. “Quit speaking in circles!”
“I speak as plainly as I can. Ye men possess little aptitude for understanding.”
“If you cannot save her, then…” I stammered. At the time, I did not know why I had broken off; I was only aware that I had stopped mid-sentence. I had found that strange, especially since I had already deliberated on what it was I wanted to say before saying it. In retrospect, I think I know what halted my tongue—some combination of my conscience and divine intervention giving me one last chance before I could commit a heinous sin.
“Then… bring her back,” I finished my sentence.
“It is already done.”
I blinked, and then again, looking upon the djinni in mute shock as its words sunk into my mind. Was Bernadette alive? When had she been brought back—when I asked, or sometime prior? Had she even died? It was not lost on me that the djinni could be lying, but before I could ask any questions, it said, “Thy niece lies upon her deathbed. Lay her body down in this circle before moonrise tomorrow night, and thou shall have what thou seeketh.”
A thought occurred to me then that I wanted to give voice to, but I stopped myself. To even reflect upon it sent shivers down my spine. What might the djinni want of me in exchange?
As if it had sensed my thoughts, the djinni said, “Thou wonderest what thou must offer to uphold the bargain. Rest assured, human, thy debt is paid in advance.”