Copyright © 2013 Thea Harrison
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Olivia had already packed her bags, so when the time came to leave she only needed to collect her luggage from the guest bedroom. She had packed as her temporary employer, Carling Severan, had instructed, bringing one full-sized suitcase that could be left behind at either a hotel in San Francisco or a yacht in the Bay, and one water resistant pack that would carry all her essentials and clothing for the length of her stay on the island.
Taking the instructions as her cue, she had packed sensible, sturdy clothing that would be suitable for field work—jeans, T-shirts, sweaters, a wind-resistant raincoat, hiking boots and sneakers—along with a leather-bound journal for taking notes.
Mindful of the limited space in her pack, she kept her toiletries focused on the essentials, shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and sunscreen, and she didn’t bother to pack any makeup. That morning she wore jeans, a light blue, form-fitting T-shirt and sneakers.
Slinging the pack onto one shoulder, she wheeled the suitcase to the living room where Grace and Khalil stood with Max and Phaedra.
As Olivia appeared, Khalil was speaking to his daughter. “It is nonsensical to summon a taxi for Olivia when you are both traveling to the same place. You will transport Olivia and her luggage with you.”
Phaedra appeared to have no problem whatsoever in facing down her formidable father. She said in a cold voice, “The only reason to transport a human anywhere is to use it as a means to acquire a favor.”
Khalil said, “You have been away too long, either as a pariah with a bent spirit or resting in an incorporeal state. You are supposed to use this job as a means to reacquaint yourself with the world. Do not attempt to bargain with anyone on this trip. Listen to how people interact with each other, and learn from it. Do as Grace suggested. Make small talk. Don’t kill anyone who does not deserve it.”
Olivia raised her eyebrows. If ever there was an order based on too much subjectivity, that one was it.
Grace must have felt the same, because she murmured, “Khalil.”
Khalil and Phaedra turned to Grace at the same time, their heads tilted in exactly the same way, imperious and inquiring. Grace said to Phaedra, “Don’t kill anybody unless it is in self-defense. Period. Don’t risk making a fatal mistake and possibly becoming a pariah again. You do not have the right to decide if someone else may live or die.”
“I’ll take that under advisement,” Phaedra said, eyes narrowed.
Grace scowled and looked as if she would reply, but Olivia took that moment to step forward. “Excuse me,” she said. “I need to call for a taxi if I’m going to make it to the agency offices in time for the meeting.”
Khalil folded his arms and looked at his daughter. Phaedra’s eyes narrowed further as she considered his expression. “Fine,” she said between her teeth. “But only for the duration of this job.” The younger Djinn turned to Olivia and gave her a razor sharp smile. “Come, human. We have a meeting to attend.”
“Really, I don’t mind calling a taxi,” said Olivia. She would rather take a cab than get on Phaedra’s bad side. She set her pack on the floor next to her suitcase and walked toward Grace, intending to hug her goodbye.
Phaedra’s corporeal form dissolved into a whirlwind of Power that engulfed Olivia and yanked her away from the world.
A maelstrom surrounded her. There wasn’t anything solid or stable anywhere. She wanted to scream, but some stubborn sense of pride made her swallow it down. She would not give the ornery Djinn the satisfaction of knowing that she had rattled her.
When the world re-formed, the details of her surroundings were completely different. Olivia stood in a polished hallway, outside double doors made from carved oak and propped open to reveal a conference room filled with several people.
Phaedra materialized beside her, long blood-red hair whipping around regal white features that were filled with subtle, smug amusement.
Everyone in the room turned to stare. They all wore different versions of the same kind of outfit Olivia wore, along with varying expressions of surprise.
Details blurred in the moment, except for a few standouts. Carling Severan, former Queen of the Nightkind, stood at the head of the conference table. She was a dark-haired, beautiful woman, with honey-colored skin and long, almond-shaped dark eyes.
Despite the fact that Olivia knew that Carling was one of the most Powerful witches in the world, and she was also one of the oldest and most Powerful Vampyres in the world, Olivia sensed no evidence whatsoever of the other woman’s Power. The fact that Carling could cloak her Power to that extent was more than a little unsettling.
The Vampyre stood beside a man Olivia had never seen before. Both Carling and the man were the same height, which meant he could not be very tall, perhaps only a few inches taller than Olivia herself. He wore a plain gray T-shirt, jeans and boots, and he was extraordinarily striking, with a hard, boldly planed face half-hidden by sunglasses, short, dark brown hair speckled with flecks of white, and a palpable aura of power that was both physical and magical.
Along with everybody else, he seemed to be staring at Olivia and Phaedra. With his sunglasses, it was hard to tell where his eyes were trained, but at least his face was turned in their direction.
Olivia jerked her gaze away. She knew exactly what everybody was thinking. No one in her right mind would bargain away a costly, potentially dangerous favor in return for transportation from a Djinn, not for a trip that could be completed so easily by mundane means. Everyone present would think she was either insane, or insanely important.
Actually, scratch that thought. Nobody would believe she was insanely important.
There was probably a worse way to meet the people she would be working with for the next few weeks, but at the moment, she couldn’t think of what it would be.
Olivia took a deep breath to try to calm her rioting nerves. Then she looked at the empty floor around her feet. Irritation took control of her mouth. She said to Phaedra, “You forgot my luggage, dimwit.”
Realization transformed Phaedra’s features, wiping the smugness away. The Djinn crossed her arms with a scowl. Then she blew into the whirlwind again. A moment later she reappeared, and Olivia’s luggage landed with a thump at her feet.
The room was so silent, one could have heard a pin drop.
Let’s be sensible, shall we? Let’s not make an enemy of the whackadoodle Djinn.
“Thank you,” she said, in as polite and dignified a tone as she could muster. Phaedra twitched a shoulder in impatient reply and stalked into the room to lean against a wall.
The tips of Olivia’s ears felt as if they were burning, and so did her cheeks. She refused to look around at anybody. She especially did not look at the striking, powerful man who stood at the head of the room.
Instead, she picked up her suitcase and pack, carried them into the large conference room, set the pieces along the wall with the heaps of other luggage, and then sat at the large conference table, several seats away from anybody else.
The floor never did open up and swallow you, no matter how badly you might wish it.