EXCERPT OF THE BROTHERS DJINN
Because Darius stayed close to Val as they walked toward the door, he spotted the look exchanged between his heedless youngest brother and the woman at the castle doors. Yep, Val was — as always — steered by his nethers.
He almost couldn’t blame Val. But the magic they’d already seen made him more than wary of the woman.
No, not just a woman; a sorceress.
She had a look of power, a confidence that needed no man’s help to set her porcelain skin glowing. Her kohl-rimmed, exotic eyes were a startling blue, deeper than the oddly sunlit sky above them, and the faintest hint of rose accentuated her cheeks. With hair as dark as a moonless night, she was striking indeed. And that was even before considering the fine net of jewels — sparkling rubies, emeralds and diamonds — winking all over her hair, or the drape of gossamer fabric that clung to tantalizing curves.
“What is this place, my lady?” Darius began as they neared her, to forestall Val as long as possible. “It isn’t on our map.”
“Indeed not.” Close now, her voice was melodious beyond words, as if every harmony he’d ever heard was there, just beyond his hearing. “It is not on any map.”
“Then how did it come to be here? Or how did we, for that matter?”
She gave a nonchalant shrug. “It was meant to be.”
Darius noted she did not say who had meant it. He had his suspicions, and they began with her.
“You are wet and cold, travelers,” she said. “The rooms here are warm, with a fire in each that can heat you back to comfort, and baths of crystalline waters that will soothe any ache.” She gave a coquettish look at each of them, lingering on Val. “Well, almost any.”
She made a small gesture with her fingers that drew all of them through the doorway into a gilded entrance hall, yet Darius wasn’t sure his feet had even moved.
The keep door shut behind them with a low thump.
“Lady,” Darius spoke again, his pulse thudding, “we are indeed travelers, and not those used to high style. We cannot pay for such luxuries as you describe.”
She lowered her eyelashes and gave a seductive half-smile. “I offer you the hospitality of my house. But if you wish it, you’ll be well able to repay me in other ways.”
“Any debt to you, beautiful lady,” said Val, “would be my privilege to pay.”
Her smile toward Val dazzled in its whiteness.
Gods above, be careful with your offers, my brother, Darius begged silently, all the while knowing it was of no use. Val was an incorrigible womanizer, and his favorite appendage was always willing and able.
Even Jas seemed a goner — his mistrust seemed to have dissolved as soon as the sorceress spoke. Though silent as usual, Jasper’s eyes followed the lady with an intensity that chilled Darius’s blood.
Darius eyed the sorceress warily, wondering if he was the only brother whose wits hadn’t turned. As highly as he thought of his own skill at arms, two brothers against one weren’t ideal odds. Add in the lady, and whatever powers she possessed, and things were looking grim.
“Come with me,” she said, “and enjoy the best of my hospitality.” As she swiveled away, she once again made a small gesture with her fingers, and then Darius was following her before he realized it, along with his two brothers. Valerian and Jas looked equally surprised, though also besotted rather than appropriately alarmed.
She glided across the marble floor before them and then into a smaller hall and gestured toward three doors along one side. “Here are your rooms.”
Three doors. Darius gave an internal sigh. Three problems, once again.
“Valerian is my name, my lady.” Val gave a deep bow.
“I’m Jasper.” The roughness in Jas’s voice belied carnal thoughts.
“My lady,” Darius began, pointedly not giving his name, “three rooms is too many for us. As brothers, we shall share.” Whatever this night would bring, he wanted his siblings nearby so he could keep an eye on them. And restrain them bodily, if necessary.
“But Darius,” Val said, and the use of the name forced another internal sigh. “Where are your manners? The lady has offered us three rooms, and we will be honored to take them.”
Then Val sidled closer, and his low voice hummed with intensity: “Three is too much company tonight, if you know what I mean.”
I know what you mean, Darius thought, but I’d rather not have to pull your balls through your throat.
“May we ask your name, Lady?” Jasper said.
Darius nearly choked at Jasper’s sudden display of gentlemanliness.
“In this place,” she said, “you may call me Lady Ina.”
Darius quirked a brow. “You have other names in other places?”
“Indeed.” She flashed a smile as if she not only accepted his skepticism, but expected it. Yet she explained no more and waved her hand toward the doors. “These rooms contain all you require. Choose yours, settle in, and then come to the main hall to dine with me when the bell rings. Enjoy your stay, my guests.” And she floated off with a last, flirtatious glance at Val before disappearing around a corner. Jas seemed too besotted to notice her preference. Darius felt like punching them both.
I’m standing in a sorceress’s lair and they’re lovesick pups seeking her milk. How can I get them safely away from here? He’d practically raised his brothers, kept them fed and clothed, and this was how they were repaying him.
He grabbed Val and Jasper’s tunics and twisted until the cloth tightened about their necks, then yanked them toward the first room. Jas remained stoic while Val gave a mild yelp.
“Keep your heads about you,” Darius growled. “That woman is a sorceress and we are now her pawns, thanks to you two morons. Do not touch anything — or anyone, do you hear me, Val? — without my leave.”
His brothers looked both ashamed and deeply offended. Darius hoped this meant they were listening for a change.