Saturday, April 12, 2008

Gifts by Stella and Audra Price

Marsh was gone again. Janey knew he'd be gone even before she opened her eyes and rolled over. She yawned sleepily, checking the clock--five past seven. Whatever he was up to, he was making damn sure that she wouldn't be involved. She hated that. Squeezing her eyes shut, she reached out for his presence, feeling around with her new senses. He was definitely out there, just not close to home.

He'd been acting really odd lately--strange phone calls, long walks for no apparent reason. Marsh could be a real prick sometimes, but this was driving her insane. He looked constantly tired, too, which was not surprising considering the time he got up in the morning to avoid dealing with her. Normally with Marsh it was best not to inquire about his daily patterns, but this was beyond a joke.

She shifted her weight into the middle of the bed, stretching luxuriously. At least she got the full bed to herself. The extra space didn't quite make up for his absence, but it was a nice consolation. She pulled the soft cover up to her chin. He'd wake her up when he got back, maybe even try and pretend he'd never left. Morning sex was always fun.

She'd just started to drift off when something slammed at the edge of the room. "You're being lazy, Jane," an authoritative voice warned.

She yelped, jumping up, her heart nearly breaking through her chest. "Jesus Fucking Christ!" she cursed, glaring at the intruder.

Trent always visited for a reason. The problem was finding out what it was so she could get rid of him.

Trent Duvall was a power of his own. Cold, calculating, and dangerous. By all standards he wasn't the most powerful demon in the world, as he'd once been human. Most bargained humans were weaker than their full royal demon counterparts, but you'd never hear anyone bring that up to Trent. He'd bargained for his soul some forty-odd years ago for the power over fire, and the rest was history. Trent was a legend and always would be, tough as nails. His very name was said to make others quiver with fear. He built up his empire with his bare hands, forging alliances and paving the road for all contract killers.

To Janey he was all that and more. He was the man who took in a scared little five-year-old who barely knew her own name and taught her how to look after herself. He was all the father figure she'd ever get and really wanted. She'd always looked up to him despite the fact that he was most likely the reason she was an orphan in the first place. That was never something they talked about; at least, it was something Trent didn't want to talk about, and when he said no he meant it. It had taken seven years of begging for a horse before she came to that conclusion. He was her father in all the ways that counted. She knew he didn't really see it that way. He'd needed a partner, not a daughter, but he had raised her and a partner would have gotten that horse.

She looked up to him, always had. There was a time when she would have done anything to make him proud or at least to get a well done from him, or a smile. Growing up, she'd been determined to prove to him that he'd done the right thing by not putting a bullet in her brain. She liked to think that she'd succeeded, although getting him to admit it would be hard. Trent did not discuss feelings.

"I'm not lazy, it's Saturday," she defended once her heart stopped threatening to explode.

"It's Sunday, but that's not the point." His steely blue gaze raked over, her making her cringe slightly. She must look a mess and the room still reeked of last night's sex marathon with Marsh.

Groaning, she slumped back on the bed. "Well then, what's your problem? I don't get up 'til ten on the weekends."

"Have you gained a little weight?"

"Excuse me?" she spluttered. What was it with the men in her life being obsessed with her weight?

"I scared you, you screamed like a girl, where's your gun?" he asked, moving on quickly.

She had not put on any weight, despite Marsh's insistence of calling her tubby. She glared at him "Gun? No guns here, normally Marsh is here, he's safer than a gun. I have a few knives under the mattress."

"Marsh?" he asked, frowning before recognition flickered across his eyes. "Ah yes, Kolo mentioned a Marsh. He's your latest boyfriend."

"Latest? Well it's a little more permanent than that. We're pretty much stuck with each other. I'm his consort."

"And that means?" he asked, keeping his voice perfectly blank.

"Well, it means I'm his, you know, like forever."

"I don't see a ring on your finger." He crossed his arms, leaning back against the dresser. He was working hard on keeping his tone and posture neutral and that was never a good sign.

Her thumb automatically rubbed her ring finger. "Well no, I don't think Djinn get married. Not that they can't, I'm not sure, but it's only words and paper." She sat up, clutching the covers around her. "None of that really means anything," she lied badly. It wasn't like she expected Marsh to propose, but it would be nice. Not like there would be anyone to invite to the wedding, except maybe his family and Trent and Ko.

Trent gave her a suspicious look. She never could lie to him, even when she was sneaking off as a teenager. "When was the last time you had a good workout?"

Her thoughts immediately hit the gutter. Last night she'd been put through her paces thoroughly. "Ummm, not so long ago." She tried to remember just when she'd been to the gym. "A few weeks." Her brain struggled to come up with an example of heavy exercise since her illness. "Maybe more."

"Maybe a lot more. You're puffing up with all that crap you eat, which is fine as long as you actually do something. When was the last time you even got to do a hit?"

"Recently," she supplied.

"Sure, come on, let's go for a run, I'm not in town for long." He pushed away from the dresser and moved a few paces into the center of the room.

"I bet you're not, how'er your twilight years suiting you?" she asked, hoping to stall him. She was so not in the mood for anything other than a few more hours sleep.

"Good."

"I hear you get out a lot. You recover from Russia?"

"You're avoiding the subject. Run, now." He smiled.

"No, I have better things to do."

"Did I pose that as a question? Get up and get dressed. We're going for a run."

She wiggled herself deeper down into the nest of covers. "Not a hope in hell. Trent, I'm busy."

"Like sleep, waiting for your white knight to show up?" She nodded, happy he finally understood. He pulled a gun out of his coat training it on her. "Jane, I mean it."

She glared at him. "You wouldn't dare."

He squeezed the trigger, releasing a puff of air and sending a small pellet into her upper arm. "Try me."

She yelped, jumping out of bed, holding the cover over her. "Oh, that is so evil!"

"Could have been worse, I could have used one of the hunting pellets."

"True." She smiled despite the bubbling anger. She hated being bossed around. She could run her own life, yet here she was getting shot out of bed by her father.

"Turn around."

She grumbled.

He gave her a skeptical look. "I'll wait outside, don't go back to bed."

"No chance," she bit out sarcastically. "Why would I? Now see, I have a morning of grueling exercise and most likely pain ahead of me."

"That's the spirit," he said cheerfully.

"Just don't shoot me again." She rubbed the small dark bruise already forming on her arm.

"Don't go back to bed and I won't have any reason to." He grinned evilly and left the room, leaving her to quickly dress.