The worst thing about being dead? Low blood pressure. Getting a hard-on is just about impossible.
But I’ve sure as hell got one now. Squeezing a smug murdering asshole’s throat between my thighs does it for me every time. I jam my pistol harder into his forehead, banging his blond head into the metal floor, and I can’t deny that adds a certain something, too.
Spit leaks in my mouth, thick and tasty, and I savor it. He can’t move his arms, and his cool sweat soaks into my jeans. Bitch of a chafe there tonight. I remember to breathe, and the warm nightclub air tastes good, gritty with smoke and fear. “Tell me what you did wrong, bug guts.”
My friend Gavain giggles. He’s still lounging in the corner, shirt off, dark hair in tangles, blood-tinged fae sweat glistening on muscles stretched tight like wire. Gavain thinks all kinds of weird shit is funny. That’s why he helped me lure this dog to his death. But I don’t want to think about Gavain right now. I’m having too much fun.
The gangster grits broken teeth, his hair plastering in splashes of his own blood. “Don’t know what you’re on about.”
Bzzt! Wrong answer. First rule of dealing with a reanimated psycho bent on revenge: tell him what he wants to hear.
I squeeze tighter, lean closer. My oily breath wets his face. “You killed me, motherfucker. You blew my goddamn brains out in front of my little girl. I’m still picking out bone splinters. Ringing any bells?”
Vertebrae pop as I twist my neck to show him the hole, black and sticky with rot beneath my long hair. I was going for a haircut that day, too, before the ambush. If they’d waited half an hour, kids would be running from me in the street. As it is, I can pass for living, just, so long as no one gets too close.
He chokes, either the smell or the pressure, and struggles, bare skin sticking on the metal floor. But he can’t shift me. Not with the added weight of anticipation. I’ve waited a long time for this.
“Jesus, Tam. Joey pulled the goddamn trigger, you know that, I never knew he was gonna—”
“Do I look like I give a shit?” My finger jerks tighter on the trigger, and my teeth clamp together, gums crunching. Joey DiLuca’s already top of my face-down-in-a-garbage-skip list. This asshole was just easier to catch. Fury dizzies me, and now my dick’s so hard, it hurts. “Blood on my little girl’s dress. Bits of my brains in her hair, you shit-eating little worm.”
I’m trying to be cool and bad-ass, but my vision smears, black blood staining my tears.
Dying’s nothing like they say. I remember everything, and I didn’t see white light, or my grandmother strumming a harp, or any shit like that. Everything just stops, like you’ve pulled the plug on a movie projector. Hell’s nothing like people say, either, except for one thing: it’s full of snot-faced bureaucrats. Deals with demons take time, and I slammed back into my body too late. My daughter’s corpse, flowering scarlet in her dead mother’s arms, her murderers long gone. I hadn’t spoken to my ex for eighteen months, and I wasn’t allowed to see Katie, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t my sunshine.
My enemies kidnapped her to get to me, and when they had me, they killed her anyway, just for spite. She died because I was too slow. I can’t bring her back. But I’ll make this slick pretty-boy gangbanger regret ever laying his sleazy hands on her.
His chest heaves under my ass as he struggles to breathe. “Jesus, don’t shoot. Crazy asshole, get off me—”
“Shut the fuck up.” I drag his head back, and my fingers smear his hair. His wet blue eyes lock with mine. He sees his death, and pisses himself. I breathe again, and the warm salt tweaks my sluggish sense of smell. Jesus. The stink feels so good, a shudder rips through me, my balls tight and burning. Sensation plays hard to get when you’re dead. If I come when I shoot him, I’m not responsible.
Mouth or jugular? I tap my pistol against his teeth, but he squirms and squeezes his lips shut. I trace the barrel down to his throat, where his pulse flutters, and shove it in tight. “See you in hell.”
And that’s when she walks in, and everything turns to shit.
You might ask what a newly escaped djinni like me was doing in the ladies’ room of a wild fairy nightclub at one in the morning. Surely the sensible thing to do was hide, right? Make myself inconspicuous, boring, unwantable?
Unfortunately, sensible wasn’t high on my list right now. Believe me, when you’ve just spent half a century trapped inside a tiny brass lamp, the last thing you want is a quiet night in.
I rinsed my hands. The hot water tingled, glorious on my new-formed skin. The steel tap sparkled, and I stared, enraptured, as my optic nerves sizzled with sensation. I’d missed this. Just the feel of air passing over my skin, in my lungs; the taste of cigarettes and sweat, the rich, intimate flavor of people. Wild, reckless music shuddered the floor beneath my feet, and I longed to drown myself. To taste food again, to run, dance, laugh, touch someone, come back to life.
But I’d have to do something about these clothes first.
I glanced at the girl next to me, who wore a tight black shiny number that pushed her boobs up and ended only a few inches shy of her knickers, with a studded leather collar and high boots with cruel fanglike heels.
Clearly, things had changed since the fifties. The white satin party dress I’d reappeared in glared like an iced wedding cake under the buzzing purple lights, and my choker of plastic pearls looked like what they were, cheap and old-fashioned now. Apparently, my hair was all wrong, too, soft and curled where hers was stiff and spiky with some kind of goo.
I twisted the water off, the metal smooth and warm on my palm. “That’s a cool outfit.”
She bent towards the cracked mirror, plastering on sparkly blueberry lipstick. Her nails were painted the same color. “Thanks.”
I unfurled my compulsion, a sweet silvery shimmer that laced my words with do-as-I-say. Damn, it felt good to use my magic for myself for once. “Give it to me.”
She rolled her lips together and popped the makeup away. “Okay.”
Yes. My blood thrummed, the sensation snatching my breath away. For a instant, cool air feathered my body. Then the warm embrace of nylon, tight on my torso like a glove, and a sharp stab in my ankles where leather cinched too tight.
The girl smoothed her new white satin skirts, and walked out, oblivious.
This is all I’m good for, really. I’m just a collector, a wheedler, a fetcher of baubles. I swap one thing for another when people aren’t looking. Creating something out of nothing? Can’t be done, on the whole. But try telling people that. They get hold of my lamp and they start thinking three wishes, untold wealth, cosmic power. Fetch me the moon, Jewel, and french fries on the side while you’re at it. They’re always disappointed when I tell them I can’t.
Well, probably I could do the french fries. But no more taking orders for me. I’m my own djinni now.
I pushed my boobs up a little higher, and adjusted the dog collar at my throat. A swipe of that blue lippy, and I couldn’t help the satisfied grin that plastered itself on my face. I dropped the makeup back in my new bag. Perfume in there, too, amber liquid in a cute glass bottle. I squirted it on and staggered, blood gushing to my brain. Whoa. The rich fragrance dizzied me like opium, my nostrils orgasming, and I fumbled as I searched further. Tissues, condoms, a couple of pink pills—medicine?—in a transparent bag, some crumpled rainbow slips of plastic that from the numbers on them I figured must be money, and a shining steel switchblade knife.
Too tempting. I popped the blade and with a couple of satisfying slashes, piles of long black hair dropped limp to the tiles. I tugged jagged ends around my chin, and grinned again. Too cool for school, baby.
I picked up the shiny clear plastic bag I’d brought with me, glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one watched. It was a police evidence bag, tagged with serial numbers. My master was murdered—so sad; no doubt the crazy asshole was asking for it—and along with everything else in his apartment, the cops had collected me.
Inside, my lamp gleamed, the etched brass warm and smooth, tarnish-free. My home. My prison, dark and empty, endless decades with no light, no sound, no sensation to remind me I was alive. Nothing but nightmares and tears, the hungry darkness swallowing my screams.
I swallowed. My master was dead at last, and I’d escaped before anyone new could claim me. What if I squashed the lamp flat? Welded the lid on tight, so no one could ever open it and enslave me? Dropped it deep in the ocean, buried it in some skyscraper’s concrete foundations?
I didn’t know. To tell the truth, I’d always been too scared to find out.
The girl’s handbag was just big enough. I stuffed the lamp inside and forced the metal clip shut. I clutched the bag close over my shoulder. The creep who imprisoned me was dead. The lamp was mine. I was free. And I was never letting it out of my sight again.
I pushed the swing door open, stumbling on my new heels, and sensation washed over me like a burning tide. Flashing lights, so dazzling my eyes watered, the glorious stink of sweat and spit and breath. Glowing snapshots of movement, muscles, limbs, sweat-slick skin, glinting metal, shining leather, bright rainbow hair. Sound assaulted me, throbbing deep inside my body, thuds and electric screeches and a voice stretched raw with pain and rage. Music, so wild and free and gorgeous it stabbed a sweet ache through my guts.
Things had definitely improved while I’d been gone.
I laughed, and my blood sang with the feel of muscles working in my guts, air buzzing in my larynx, freshly made sound rolling over my tongue. Magnificent.
“Dance, smoky girl?”
I nearly walked into him before I realized he was talking to me, and when I recovered I started wishing I had. Glistening silvery skin, inky blue dreadlocks, translucent fairy wings frosty with glitter. Hard grey eyes, insistent, definitely not shy. The hint of razor teeth behind supple white lips that begged to be sucked on. And oh my, muscles everywhere, fragrant silver sweat shining in smoky rainbow lights. He twitched his wings, and sinew rippled across his perfect chest.
I goggled, transfixed. Men were a lot . . . umm . . . bigger than I remembered. And they wore a whole lot less. Shirts were apparently optional, and the only thing stopping those pants from sliding off his oh-so-lickable hips was surface tension. I hadn’t seen that much of a man who wasn’t naked since . . . well, since forever.
My pulse thudded, heat swelling my veins. Something about the sharp steel spike through his earlobe and the barbed chain circling his neck in tiny beads of blood suggested he wasn’t all that nice, and I chewed my lip, wicked delight prickling my spine.
Bad men are my weakness. I’ve got fifty-odd years spent crammed inside my lamp to show for that. I should know better.
But my gaze draped itself over him, and I swallowed a mouthful of greedy spit. Gimme, oh yes. I want one.
Jewel, are you mad? Inconspicuous, remember? Keep it in your pants, for heaven’s sake.
Oh, yeah. Sure. After all these years with nothing else to think about. Just you try.
Bits of me I’d forgotten I had sprang to life, urging and aching. What was freedom for, if not this? I smiled. “Beautiful, you can do whatever you want to me.”
He pulled me close, crushing his hips into mine with long bony fingers, and my knees weakened so fast I thought I’d dissolved by accident. His body burned me, hard, slick with fragrant sweat. I savored every gorgeous curve and . . . umm . . . bulge. Blood rushed to my sex, swelling my flesh until it hurt. I hadn’t touched anyone for half a century, so it wasn’t understating things to say that rubbing up against Mr. Bad-gorgeous-and-so-clearly-in-the-mood was a bit more than I could handle. And he smelled amazing, too, male skin and leather and sex, pine-scented glitter from his wings tingling over my face.
I slid my arms around his neck, skin rasping on skin. His knotted blue hair slithered on my wrists, and a delicious shudder wracked me. I inhaled, dizzy, his raw fae scent sparkling on my tongue. Angry tension twisted me deep inside. I wanted to taste him, swallow his sweat, drag my tongue over his satiny white lips, delve inside and remember what it felt like to be touched, ravished, hurt.
He bunched my newly cropped hair in his fist, sharp knuckles grazing my scalp. “Sweet cherry girl. So hot.”
His voice caressed inside my ear, throaty with promise. I was still picking up on modern phraseology: I’m really into that, or bitchin!, or it’s so, like, awesome. Somehow, I didn’t think he meant the opposite of cool. “Baby, you’re hot enough to eat.”
“Love to.” I wasn’t sure why we needed to go anywhere to make out, though. People seemed more daring in public these days. The two guys next to us were kissing and no one cared. Couples and threesomes were all over each other everywhere, limbs entwining, lips shining wet, clothing tugged awry by grasping fingers. Over on the couches, a green-haired banshee and her boyfriend were actually at it in front of everyone, her sinewy thighs clutched around his naked hips. God, I loved this place.
My fairy sex god wrapped sinfully flexible fingers around my wrist and dragged me away, fluttering up a few metal steps into the dark. My senses crackled, electric. Sighs and cries of pain or pleasure brushed my ears, haunting, and I strained to see but the limpid green glow was too dim.
In the rich stink of flesh he pushed me into a wall, face first. My bag bumped on a doorframe beside me. The cold steel bruised my hipbones, torturing my breasts until my nipples swelled and ached to be twisted. Pain, pleasure, I didn’t care. I couldn’t restrain a groan of delight as he rubbed against me, big and hard and ready. Apparently, horny fae boys hadn’t changed too much there. Heat welled between my legs, and it felt so damn good I whimpered. I didn’t know what kind of underwear I had on, but I hoped it came off easily. I wanted him on me, all over me, inside me, and I didn’t think anyone would care if he did me right here and now.
Something heavy crashed into the opposite side of my wall, cracking my teeth together. But I wasn’t in any shape to care, not with this guy’s fingers spidering deftly up my thigh, his exquisitely sharp teeth tantalizing my shoulder, his warm breath sugary like apples.
My nerves stretched taut, tension flavoring my skin so his every movement was sweet agony. God, it felt so good to be touched. I kind of wished he’d slow up a little, let me savor it, but if he was in a hurry I wasn’t about to tell him to stop.
Then someone yelled from just beyond the doorway, and I had to take notice.
—Don’t shoot, crazy asshole, get off me.
A man’s voice, brittle with fear. Was he being attacked?
“Wait.” I gasped as the fairy pierced me, his sharp nail grazing. It stung, but any sensation was sexual after so long. My muscles jerked around him, already quivering for release. “What was that?”
“Cherries and smoke,” he whispered, and tasted my ear with his sharp tongue. Another claw, digging, probing, his fingers impossibly, gloriously long, sinking effortlessly into me and he knew exactly where to stroke to make me shudder. My breath shortened, spasms building deep inside me. Oh, my God, yes. Touch me. More. Harder . . .
—Shut the fuck up. A different voice, determined. Shaking with emotion.
Damn it. So close. But I couldn’t ignore this. I wriggled, panting. “Stop it. We can’t just—”
The crisp, unmistakable click of a bullet in the chamber. —See you in hell.
The fairy stiffened—the rest of him, I mean—and snarled, razor teeth nipping my ear. His fingers curled inside me, claws teasing, but it wasn’t enough. “Bullets. Taste like landfill. Later, sundae girl.” And in a rain of sweet silver glitter, he was gone.
I stumbled, off balance, wrenching my ankle. Before I could right myself, I’d fallen into the open doorway.
A dark-haired fairy with reddish skin, slouching in the corner, his ruby eyes glinting. A blond guy, half-naked, pinned to the floor by something that looked like a quivering chunk of fury brandishing a pistol.
I’m still not too sure what happened then.
The madman with the pistol looked up. The blond one under him flexed like a whiplash, breaking free, and next thing I knew a fist dragged my hair back and an icy steel blade stung my throat. Holy cow, Blondie was fast.
“Go on, shoot me, you fucking psycho.” Blondie’s wet jeans stuck to the backs of my legs. His hot breath hissed in my ear. “Put it down or this pretty girl bleeds. You want that?”
The fucking psycho twisted to his feet. Lank dark hair fell in his face. His up-tilted eyes glinted black, his bare arms slick with dirty sweat as he sighted down the barrel at the guy’s head.
Which happened to be directly behind my right eyeball.