Can one love destroy the world?
Marielle Iris used to believe her grandpa when he said she’d inherit his wish-granting Djinn.
That was a while ago, though, when she was little, naïve and happy. Now she believes in completely different things like lousy ex-boyfriends, dead mothers, and alcoholic fathers who abandon you.
But everything changes when Grandpa dies and her mourning tears conjure Faris Nasser, a sensual creature she’s been warned never to trust. She’s desperate to dismiss the fiend but agonizes over the right wishes. Meanwhile, he tries to prolong his freedom by seducing her with his magic and sexy looks. However, she knows better than to trust romantic advances, much less from arrogant mythical beings. What she doesn’t know is that she’s become part of a mortal conflict between two spell-bound Djinn, each seeking to regain freedom by breaking their curse. Though Zet, Faris’s Djinn brother, also wants revenge, which involves killing Marielle.
Determined to stay alive, she devises a plan to defeat Zet. But when Zet kidnaps her best friend, she’s faced with the difficult choice: save Faris from eternal imprisonment or save her best friend from certain death.
I IMAGINED THE CEMENT GARGOYLES on the lower shelf coming to life, digging their claws into the woman’s shoulders and dumping her in a bayou or the woods next door. Anywhere would do, as long as it was far away from here. The witch—she had to be a witch—was probably looking for ingredients to make a deadly poison, not a homeopathic remedy like she always said. And today, she was doing it on my time.
As I glared at her, wishing she’d leave, her attention shifted, and she peered at me with one eye. Caught in the act, I snapped my gaze to the half-dead herbs in their ceramic pots.
The witch—I was supposed to refer to her as Mrs. Chapiteau, but whatever—was the only customer left, and she’d been rooting around different shelves for over an hour, looking for who knows what. I’d offered my help to get her out of here, but she’d waved me off, muttering in another language.
I checked my watch again. Five minutes past closing time. She seriously needed to hurry. I was tired of being behind the counter, and I had to meet my friends after work. Abby would kill me if I turned up late. Not that I could blame her. I hadn’t been a very good friend since senior prom, which had been over three months ago.
On the verge of giving the woman a nice kick in the butt, I snatched the retractable hose and began watering the poor herbs. Clearly, the August heat didn’t forgive anybody, not even innocent little plants. I looked up. The sun was shining over the mesh canopy with a weird, yellowish tinge, giving everything a more sinister look than usual. Just how Grandpa liked his exotic plant nursery to look. He said Jardin Noir had to match its customers’ level of creepiness, and it did.
Checking on the witch again, I found her sniffing an aloe plant. After cursing at it, she set it down and picked up another. God, she was infuriating! I walked behind the counter again and examined the Band-Aids on my fingers. My hands looked hideous, cut and callused—all anyone could expect after a full summer of hard labor. Enough with the work therapy, though. I didn’t need it anymore. Not since the tenth bag of manure busted in my hands anyway, which was about the same time when Jeremy, my vile ex-boyfriend, became just a regrettable memory. So no more hiding. It was Friday night and I was going to rejoin the living, if the witch ever left.
I peered in her direction again. She was now petting one of the gargoyles at her feet. When she finished with that, she took dirt out of one of the potted plants and threw it over her shoulder. Yep, a witch—just like most of our customers.
Sure, they bought all the weird plants, but some of these people were total creeps. Like the “medicine man” who came in every Tuesday and still made me want to hide behind the shed. The guy looked ancient, with grooves on his face deep enough for entire ant colonies. I always started ringing up his items before he made it to the register, punching the keys at super speed and avoiding his clouded eyes. He never talked, just grunted, smelled and—I swear—licked all of his purchases, even the red, fleshy mushroom he bought last week. Gross!
I sighed. The store needed normal customers. If Grandpa meant for us to stay afloat, he had to agree to sell more roses, fertilizer, and mulch—instead of all the esoteric crap that barely sold anymore. Carnivorous plants that looked like they’d sprung out of a sci-fi movie weren’t all that popular with housewives.
I tapped my foot. The witch huffed and left suddenly without buying anything.
Trundling after her, I checked the aisles to make sure they were empty. Javier and Grandpa were nowhere in sight. Heat rippled in waves from the concrete floor, and not a plant stirred, including the trees beyond the chain-link fence. All was quiet and still. Too still. Some instinct tingled in the back of my mind. I looked around and couldn’t stop my eyes from drifting to the cement gargoyles and sneering garden gnomes.
“Ugly little bastards,” I said under my breath. They always made me queasy.
Out of nowhere, a frozen gust of wind grazed my neck. I shivered. What the heck was that? A sudden ice age? Anything was possible in New Orleans, but in August, heat and humidity reigned. Maybe a curse from the witch? I chuckled. Apparently, Grandpa’s efforts to make me a believer weren’t wasted.
“If wish-granting Djinn are possible, why not witches and voodoo?” he always said. Too bad I was too old to buy his Djinn stories—even if he swore by them.
Ignoring the twist in my gut, I walked to the entrance, clicked a padlock through the metal-grate doors, then turned on my iPod and began restocking and organizing. I started with the rosebushes, moving them from a wheelbarrow onto a shelf. Their stems brimmed with lovely pink buds, rolled tightly into petal cocoons.
After I set down the last pot, I dusted my hands and looked up to check my work. My heart knocked against my chest, and my eyes grew wide with a double take. What the . . . ?
Every single rosebud had bloomed!
I looked around, the hairs in the back of my neck standing on end. I hadn’t imagined the closed buds, had I? I tried to remember and decided that I must have. There was no way they had opened that fast. No freakin’ way.
One of the flowers glimmered with water from the mister, its pink petals vibrant and stunningly beautiful. I reached out and, grabbing one of the stems, leaned in, inhaling. An intoxicating sweetness filled my senses. My head swam.
“Ow!” I exclaimed, snatching my hand back. A thorn. I pulled it out. A drop of blood beaded up. I sucked my fingertip, and—as my mouth filled with a nauseating, coppery taste—the shelves, the plants, the gargoyles, everything started to spin. The large, leathery leaves of the black magic plants swayed to the rhythm of the music in my earbuds. Their tall stalks leaned into each other, their leaves touching like kissing couples.
My heart thumped faster. I shook my head and squeezed my eyes.
Not there. Not there.
I opened my eyes. Everything snapped back into place.
I swallowed. A cold breeze in August? Insta-bloom roses and romantic plants?
Grandpa’s wish-granting Djinn entered my mind again. Twice in one day? That couldn’t be good, could it? Maybe my blood sugar was low. Yeah, that had to be it. Low blood sugar could cause hallucinations, right?
The sound of a ceramic pot crashing to the ground slipped through the music and brought me back to the moment. I spun around and took out the earbuds.
“Grandpa, is that you?”
“I’m fine,” he said from behind the tool shed.
I exhaled and felt my heart slow down a touch. “You need help?” I circled the shed. “Grandpa! Are you all right?” I rushed to his side.
He was leaning on the wall, face strained as he dabbed a red bandana on his wrinkled forehead. Beads of sweat shone on his bald head. Big decorative pots lay at his feet.
“What in the world?! Were you stacking those?” I demanded.
“Don’t make a fuss. It’s just the heat.” He swatted my hand away.
“Well, go inside and cool off, you stubborn old man.”
Normally, Grandpa Arthur would have argued, but this time, he shuffled obediently toward the office. I rushed ahead to open the door. The old window unit hummed and rattled, but it managed to cool the place down some ten or twelve degrees. He collapsed on an old vinyl chair by the desk and swiveled to face the AC.
Old pictures of his earlier years hung in dusty frames, alongside a collection of colorful Mardi Gras masks. The place needed a good cleaning, but he’d warned me to keep my hands off his property. For a moment, I eyed the old army trunk that rested next to the rusty file cabinet. I was reminded of Grandpa’s Djinn story. Yet again.
Shaking my head, I took a bottle of water out of our small fridge. “Drink this.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Grandpa unscrewed the top and drank big gulps.
“Why don’t you let Javier help you?”
“Don’t you have somewhere to be? Someone else to pester?”
The redness in his face subsided. I relaxed a little and checked my watch. “Yeah, I need to take a shower.”
“Then go. Shoo!” He made sweeping motions with his hand, picked up a clipboard and started reviewing orders.
God, he needed to take it easy, but the man just didn’t know how. I was about to remind him about the doctor’s orders when Javier walked in.
“I’m done in the back. Anythin’ more before I go?” Javier asked in a singsong Spanish accent, his tan face gleaming with sweat.
“No,” Grandpa said.
“Yes,” I said.
Javier laughed and ran a hand through his brown hair. “Miss Mariella, you tell me what needs doin’.”
“Bah, outranked in my own place!” Grandpa huffed and went back to his clipboard.
“Terco,” I told Javier, hitching my thumb toward my stubborn Grandpa.
Javier stifled a giggle. I beamed. The Spanish lessons seemed to be paying off. Hell, maybe my dreams of becoming a linguist and traveling had a chance of coming true one day. New Orleans was fine, but I wanted to see the world. Although, for now, I needed to help Grandpa with the nursery. Even if my friends were getting on with their lives, going off to college, it wasn’t my time. Not yet.
“Could you finish stacking the ceramic pots by the shed?” I asked Javier.
“I was almost done,” Grandpa mumbled, eyes on his piece of paper.
“Yes, Miss Mariella. No problem,” Javier said.
“Thank you. You’re a star. And Javier,” I added, “just call me Marielle.”
“Maybe tomorrow, Señorita,” Javier laughed at his own joke and left.
I shook my head, then glared at Grandpa.
He ticked orders off with a yellow pencil and made a big show of ignoring me. “Hmm, I like your revisions. I think you may be ready to run this place.”
“Then take a day off here and there.”
“I said may.” He emphasized with air quotes.
I put my hands on my hips and gave him an angry look. He returned it right back as if saying, “You’re not the boss of me, young lady.”
“Fine,” I said.
“Fine,” he huffed.
“I’m going to shower.”
“You do that.”
Shouldering my backpack, I stomped toward the small bathroom in the back of “the shack”, as we liked to call the shabby, prefab office.
I turned on the old shower and endured its sputtering, lukewarm water. Since Grandma Eloise died when I was twelve, everything had started going to shit: Grandpa’s health, the house, but especially the business. I’d been helping around the clock all summer, but it hadn’t seemed to make a difference. The stress was getting to Grandpa, too. I couldn’t abandon him. Postponing college for a year was a small sacrifice compared to saving his livelihood.
I leaned my head on the fiberglass wall, letting water slide down my back. To my surprise, the temperature evened out to perfection. Thanking my lucky stars for the rare treat, I closed my eyes and groaned as warm water hit my tired shoulders. The shower sputtered, feeling like expert fingers on my back. I quivered. Heat built up in my chest and rose to my face. My breath caught. The kneading sensation traveled upward, igniting something desperate inside of me. I bit my lower lip, enjoying it.
Suddenly, the touch grew heavier and something wrapped around my neck. My eyes sprang open. Heart lodged in my throat, I whirled, expecting who knows what, but there was nothing. Panic crept up within me. I shut the water off and wrapped myself in a towel.
Okay, something weird was definitely going on. The heaviness in the air and my stomach couldn’t be lying. Either Grandpa’s view of the supernatural was true or he’d finally driven me crazy. My meager weekly salary was on the latter.
Damn Grandpa and his Djinn stories!
Ignoring my pounding heart and the distinct possibility that I needed a shrink, I rubbed my head with the towel. My dark hair shone under the fluorescent light, drying quickly into loose curls. I was about to slip into my dress when a loud thump startled me.
“Señorita Mariella! Señorita Mariella! Hurry, is your Grandpa!”