ISBN# 9781402241901

Sourcebooks, Inc.

November, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orange smoke surrounded her, bursting from the lantern’s spout like from a boiling psychedelic tea kettle on hyper speed, and while Samantha’s troubles weren’t disappearing, the office was. And the desk and the chair and the safe and everything else around her.

Everything except the lantern.

The cloud grew thicker, and Samantha didn’t know what to do except grab that lantern and hold on tight.

Her body tingled as if grains of sand were bombarding her, and an odd sense of speed surrounded her as if the world were rushing by while the wind swirled such thick orange smoke all over her that she should be choking… but wasn’t.

While she was pondering that, the wind and the world died down, and the orange smoke dissipated as quickly as it had appeared—and this time Samantha did know what to think.

First, the half-naked guy in front of her wearing only an orange vest and baggy white pants was way underdressed for a funeral. 

Second, she was no longer at a funeral, and third…

“Where am I?” Highly unoriginal, but clichés were overused for a reason and she really didn’t have a clue where she was.

The guy settled his fists on his hips and his orange vest gaped open, showing off a six-pack that had nothing to do with beer.

“Izaaz,” he answered, his voice sliding across her nerve endings like a sip of smooth wine after a bite of fine chocolate—or maybe that was because his eyes were the color of said chocolate and, oh my, were they fine. Warm and bone-meltingly delicious.

“Is what?” Knees a tad wobbly, Samantha reached around for the desk chair she’d just been sitting in. Except that the chair wasn’t there. Neither was the desk. Or the office.

“Izaaz,” said a high-pitched voice by her ankles.

Samantha looked down. A bat-eared Chihuahua was smiling up at her.

So many things were wrong with that sentence that Samantha didn’t even bother trying to analyze it.

She looked back at the guy in the vest. Six-two with a set of shoulders that would make a linebacker proud, he looked like he’d walked right off a playing field. Or, in that outfit, a Hollywood movie set. Especially since he had the dark good looks of a leading man, a killer smile, eyes that made her think of hot desert nights, and thick, rich, mink-brown hair women would beg to run their fingers through.

And half naked, to boot.

Which still didn’t explain who he was, where she was, and what the hell had happened to Dad’s memorial service.

“I wish I had that chair,” she muttered, trying to still her jittery legs and the butterflies in her stomach.

Those butterflies turned into helicopters when a chair poofed into existence beside her in a cloud of orange glitter.

“What’s that?” Samantha squeaked, jumping backward.

“A chair,” said the Chihuahua—which would have freaked her out except that when she’d jumped back, she’d hit something solid. And furry. And when she glanced over her shoulder, the furry thing there put the talking dog to shame.

Cousin Itt’s cousin stood behind her. With dreadlocks.

“Hello,” it said-mumbled-rumbled.

Samantha sidestepped away, her feet tripping over themselves. What the hell had happened to her sanity?

Half-Naked Hottie gripped her arm when she stumbled. “I think you better sit down,” he said, motioning with his hand.

The chair slid next to her.

He didn’t have to ask her twice. Samantha plunked her butt in the chair, then put her hands and the lantern in her lap.

“Are you all right?” Hottie asked.

Samantha nodded. Then she shook her head. Then she shrugged.

She didn’t know what she was. Or where. She’d thought she was at Dad’s Casablanca-inspired memorial service, with its large Moroccan tents and food and entertainment and costumes. Dad had specifically requested each of those items in his will since the city was where he and Mom had honeymooned.

That had been one of his happiest memories, and Samantha had gone all out honoring his wishes. And contrary to Albert’s opinion of her competence—or lack thereof—if there was one thing she was good at, it was throwing a party. Even a funeral, if everyone’s comments could be believed. Though, seriously, what defined a good funeral?

But this… This looked nothing like what David, the event organizer, had set up in the estate’s backyard. She'd been standing under one of the luxurious blue tents, draped in silks and brass lanterns, before going in search of Albert and that fateful conversation, but now she was looking at white paint peeling like shaved coconut off the oddest-shaped buildings she had ever seen.

A cross between Antoni Gaudi’s buildings in Barcelona and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” the multi-arched façades looked like a bunch of stone tepees that drooped to the left, all honeycombed on top of each other. Pockmarks dotted every surface as if the place was a shooting gallery.

Dead plants draped over rusted balconies. Shutters hung lopsidedly off other abandoned-looking buildings, their gray-and-white-striped awnings torn with frayed edges, and the median running down the middle of the deserted, dusty street had a long trough with what looked like fountain heads inside it but not a drop of water.

“Hey, look!” said the dog with a bounce. “She’s got your lantern.”

He… said? The dog talked?

And she’d thought being congratulated for throwing a good funeral party was odd.

Then she looked around and knew what odd really was.

Aside from the dog, the furball, and the Hottie, there was nothing but white everywhere. Hard-packed sand beneath her feet, drab white buildings with dusty windows, the sky pale to the point of colorless above them… Even the palm trees lined up like bowling pins along the main thoroughfare and about three sizes bigger than any palm trees she’d ever seen were white. And instead of the dark night sky that’d been above her L.A. home, here was broad daylight.

Then the dog’s words registered.

Your lantern?” She looked up at the Hottie. Then she looked him down. Oh, not in a check-him-out kind of way, though she obviously wasn’t dead (she hoped), but yeah, she did check him out, and man-oh-man-oh-man… There definitely hadn’t been anyone like him at the party tonight.

The sword swallower she’d hired had worn a similar outfit, but it hadn’t looked anywhere near as good on him as it did on this guy. The long curved swords on their hips were the same, but other than that, there was no similarity. This guy’s gaping vest had no chance of ever closing across that chest, and the gold sash wrapped around the top of his pants highlighted the sexy lines by his hips.

And while the baggy pants that covered his long legs, the silver bracelets on his wrists, and the orange curled-toe slippers should have done serious damage to his masculinity, they actually enhanced it. Just like real men could wear pink, real hunks could pull off curled-toe slippers.

Though, honestly? Who did that?

The dog’s next bounce jostled the lantern.

Samantha looked at it. Then back at the guy.

No. He couldn’t be.

Could he?

She looked at the talking dog. What other possible explanation could there be?

She swallowed and forced the words out. “Please tell me your name isn’t Aladdin.”

One side of Hottie’s mouth kicked back into a smile. If she’d thought he was hot before, now he was sizzling.

“Hardly.”

Samantha blew out a breath.

So did the solid, furry thing behind her. “Ha!” it said, though the sound came out more as a smoker’s hack than a laugh.

Then the dog piped up. “Aladdin? Of course that’s not his name. After all, Aladdin wasn’t a genie.”

Which meant that the guy in front of her… was.

 

 

   

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