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
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
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
he answered, his voice
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
“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.
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.
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
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
“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.
Itt’s cousin stood behind her. With
“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,
thenput her hands and the lantern in her lap.
“Are you all right?” Hottie
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
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
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.”
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 abovethem…
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
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
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
Though, honestly? Who did that?
The dog’s next bounce jostled
Samantha looked at it. Then back
at the guy.
No. He couldn’t be.
She looked at the talking dog.
What other possible explanation could there
She swallowed and forced the
words out. “Please tell me your name isn’t
One side of Hottie’s mouth
kicked back into a smile. If she’d thought
he was hot before, now he was sizzling.
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
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.