Two Hearts Asunder

 

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COMING SOON

One Wish Away 

 

Can one love destroy the world?

The evil Djinn has been banished, but Marielle’s supposedly happy days are still filled with fear. She feigns a settled appearance but is continually on edge because of Akeelah’s threats of a painful revenge.

When Akeelah does reappear, Marielle’s notions of the creature’s cruelty are surpassed. The Djinn is worse than Marielle ever imagined. Akeelah is crazed, ready to cause a deadly chaos, and willing to so whatever it takes to unveil the secrets which will give her power over human souls.

During her quest, Akeelah captures Faris, Marielle’s one and only love. They are torn asunder, leaving Marielle on her knees, brokenhearted. Without him, she is not whole. Anger brews slowly within her. The situation is personal now, and she’s not about to sit idle and let her grief win. She will do whatever it takes to get her one love back—even if it means putting the entire human race at risk.



Release Dates  

One Wish Away — February 7, 2017
Two Hearts Asunder — April 4 , 2017
Three Words Promised — May 30, 2017


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Chapter 2

“WHY ARE WE STOPPING IN THE middle of nowhere?” my best friend Abby asked.
     Faris put the car in park and we exchanged a knowing smile. We were taking advantage of the long weekend to make this excursion, a birthday surprise for Abby and a welcome break from class for all of us. For Abby, a much-deserved rest from her finicky facial massage instructors at cosmetology school. For Maven, a hiatus from his biology class, which “made zero sense for a business major,” his words. For me, an escape from Math 1115 which “made less than zero sense for a romance languages major,” my words. We had left with little more than the clothes on our backs and a sense of adventure.
     “You’ll see,” I said, undoing my seatbelt and turning toward the backseat to face Abby and Maven. “Hey, you. Wake up! We’re here.” I leaned over and poked Maven in the belly. He blinked his eyes open and swatted my hand away.
     Abby looked out of the window into the night. “Here where? We’re in the middle of the road.” She squinted. “No, we’re in the middle of a freakin’ bridge. What the hell, y’all? Why did we stop in the middle of a bridge?”
     Maven sat up and rubbed his eyes. “What bridge?” He looked around, dazed.
     “The New River Gorge Bridge,” Faris announced, stepping out of the Range Rover.
     “No way!” Abby exclaimed.
     “C’mon.” I hopped out, joined Faris by the railing and peered down, trying to catch a glimpse of the bottom. I couldn’t. It was too dark and too far down. From pictures, I knew the arched bridge was suspended eight hundred feet above the river, stretching between two beautiful, tree-covered mountains, of which, at the moment, I could only distinguish a dark outline against the sky. The chilly January air was invigorating and smelled of fresh, green things. Crickets chirped at the starry night.
     It was beautiful.
     “Wow,” I whispered.
     Faris put a hand around my waist and pulled me close. “It’s quite a sight during the day,” he said, after planting a small kiss on my forehead. Abby rushed out of the car and circled around it. When she looked out into the dark depths of the gorge, she was breathless. “Oh, my God.”
     Maven stretched out of the car like a lazy lion. He shook his blond mane and stepped beside Abby. He looked down at the gorge with indifference. “Cool,” he said with as much enthusiasm as if we’d brought him to see a sleeping cat, and not an awesome wonder of nature. “Sooo, what’s this place?”
     “This is, like, one of the coolest places ever.” Abby stared at Maven, looking insulted by his ignorance. “It’s one of only two places in the U.S. where it’s still legal to BASE jump!”
     “Excuse me.” Maven rolled his eyes. “I left my Extreme Sport Map of the United States at home.” He pushed away from the railing and leaned casually against the SUV, arms crossed against his chest.
     At a loss, I gave Faris “rescue me” eyes. He shrugged. Not for the first time since we left New Orleans—eighteen hours and 875 miles ago—I regretted inviting Maven on our road trip. So far, all he’d done was complain, make sarcastic remarks and find fault in everything. He’d been behaving so out of character, I’d started wondering if he’d switched places with his grouchy twin brother, Samuel.
     “So we drove a thousand miles just to . . .” He pretended to peer over the bridge’s railing from under raised eyebrows, “. . . come look at a dark hole in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night?”
     Abby growled. “Why are you acting like such an asshole?”
     Maven pushed away from the car, hands rigid at his sides and a deep scowl across his forehead.
     Oh, no. Just what I’d feared. A fight.
     I was actually surprised it’d taken Abby this long to say something. True, my petite friend was interested in Maven, and she’d already shown more patience than I thought her capable of. But now it seemed her endurance had come to an end.
     Acting faster than me, Faris intervened, clapping his hands and rubbing them together with glee. “Come, I’ll show you why we’re here.” His tone was both conciliatory and full of excitement.
     As he walked by Abby, he placed a hand on her shoulder and motioned toward the back of the SUV. For a second, she stood her ground, drilling Maven’s blue eyes with her own. After a couple of beats, however, she relented and went with Faris. She dragged her feet at first, but every step seemed to help her relax.
     Crisis averted! I breathed a sigh of relief.
     As Faris popped open the back of the SUV, I hurried into the back seat, ignoring Maven. I knelt, facing the rear, and found myself face to face with Faris and Abby, who were peering at a tarp-covered lump.
     “Pull it!” I told Faris, my excitement building.
     He grabbed the edge of the tarp and, in one swift motion, yanked it out of the SUV.
     “Happy birthday, Abby!” Faris and I exclaimed, as we’d agreed. Our enthusiastic shout resonated inside the SUV and was followed by the chirp of crickets and the whistling of the wind traversing across the gorge.
     “Um.” Abby’s eyes danced across the equipment that filled the space. “Thanks?”
     Huh? Not the reaction I’d hoped for. Puzzled, I climbed out of the car and joined them in the back.
     “You’re not surprised?” I asked, picking up a small backpack.
     Off to the side, Maven scoffed at the question.
     Abby scratched her head, then ruffled her brown hair, making the pixie cut go wild and in weird directions. “Well, I’m . . . not sure if this is what I think it is.”
     I blinked in slow motion. “Um, they’re parachutes, Abby.”
     She had started skydiving with her older brother a couple of months ago and already had five jumps under her belt. I thought she’d be able to recognize the equipment.
     “Yeah, I thought so,” she said.
     If I’d given her socks for a birthday gift, she couldn’t have sounded more disapproving.
     Really?!
     “I don’t get it,” I said. “All you’ve been talking about since you started skydiving is how you’d like to BASE jump one day. Well, one day is here. I thought you’d be a little more excited about your present.” I couldn’t stop the disappointment from drifting out of my mouth.
     “Oh, Elle. This would be an awesome present, if I could, you know, actually do it. But I can’t, so it’s kinda of a bummer, to tell you the truth.”
     My jaw dropped. I looked at Faris for help, but his body language—fake whistling, dark eyes looking up at the stars—told me he was staying out of this one. The idea that Abby would turn down this chance hadn’t even crossed my mind.
     “I see,” I said. “You’re too chicken to do it.”
     “No, it’s not that. Elle, you don’t just . . . start BASE jumping. I’ve only skydived five times and mostly in tandem with my brother. You have to have at least one hundred parachute jumps to be considered qualified to BASE jump. It would be suicide otherwise. I mean, thank you, but what were you thinking?”
     “Not really thinking, it looks like,” Maven put in, peeking around the edge of the Range Rover.
     Abby had been talking about BASE jumping with such insistence and excitement that I figured she would totally go for it. I hadn’t really stopped to think anything through and neither had Faris. And why would we? We knew nothing bad could happen. We could all jump into the night, parachute or not, and no one would get hurt. Faris would make sure of that with his powers. But of course, Abby and Maven didn’t know that.
     I’d never told them my boyfriend was a Djinn.
     “All right.” I shrugged. “I’ll do it, then.” I picked up a parachute.
     “What?!” Both Maven and Abby cried out in unison.
     “Are you nuts?” Abby took hold of a shoulder strap and yanked the pack out of my hands. “That’s insane. And y’all say I’m crazy.” She threw the parachute back into the SUV.
     Maven frowned, his gaze going from Faris to me. “They’re just pulling our leg, Abby. I think this is their idea of a joke.”
     Abby stopped the pacing she’d begun after snatching the backpack. Her face went through several expressions before it settled on something that looked like understanding. “Ha, ha. Not funny guys.”
     “Hey, I would never joke about something y’all are passionate about,” I protested. “I know how much you want to do this, Abby. I just . . . wanted you to have fun on your birthday. I wanted to do something nice for you. I’ve been going over the basics with Faris. We walked through the whole procedure several times.” I hated the whiny tone in my voice, but this was frustrating. None of this would be an issue if I told them the truth about Faris. “I promise it’ll be okay,” I began. “Faris will—”
     “Look,” Faris’s voice cut off my desire to spill every single bean.
     I know we’d agreed it would be best to let everyone believe he was nothing but a rich, eccentric guy, not a Djinn. But was that really the right choice? At times like this—when it would be way easier to tell Abby not to worry and to enjoy her birthday to the fullest—I wasn’t so sure.
     “We don’t have to do this,” Faris continued. “We could drive a few more hours and visit Charleston. It’s a cool city. I’m sure we can find a few fun things to do there.”
     “No. We’re not doing that,” I protested. “If Abby won’t jump, I will. I studied hard and I came all this way.”
     Faris put both hands up and shrugged. “Your decision.” He backed off.
     “Really?!” Maven blurted out. “You mean you’re just gonna let her jump?” He glared at Faris, his voice far too possessive for my liking.
     I bristled. “It’s not up to him to decide what I do. Or you, for that matter. I’m doing this.”
     “No. No. No!” Abby’s words were a strong punch to the chest. “You can’t. You’ve never even done a regular jump from a plane, and you don’t know if this equipment is safe.” Her arm jerked toward the stack of gear piled inside the SUV. “Besides, it’s night time. Only really insane, I-have-a-death-wish people BASE jump during the night. Even if you don’t tumble and splat like a frog into the river, you could get a tree branch through the eye. Talk about getting your eggs scrambled. Brains anyone?”
     “Gross, Abby,” I said, picking up the parachute again. I did it calmly to show that I wasn’t the least bit afraid. Slowly, I began the process of strapping into the parachute, helmet and goggles. Faris gave me a hand by snapping everything into place while Abby and Maven watched in utter disbelief. A smile started forming across my mouth, and I did my best to suppress it.
     “No freakin’ way. If he’s not going to stop you, I will.” Maven stepped in front of me.
     “Look,” I explained in a rational tone, “Faris had his people mark the bottom, so it’s clear where we should land, and in,” I looked at my watch, then suggestively at Faris, “five minutes—right at midnight, in commemoration of the moment of Abby’s actual birthday—floodlights will come on, so it won’t be too dark to jump. Right, Faris?”
     “Right,” he said with a wink and a smile.
     “Nice,” Maven said sarcastically. “So you are going to let her jump? How about you? Huh? Are you gonna jump? Or you’re just gonna watch like a coward?” Maven was beside himself.
     Faris took a deep, calming breath and said, “Sure, I’ll jump, too. I’ve done this before. It’s a lot of fun. Marielle knows what she needs to do, and I trust she can do it with no problems.” Faris snatched a parachute for himself and gave Maven a raised eyebrow.
     “You’ve done this before?” Abby asked. “Marielle never said anything about you being into BASE jumping.”
     “I have. Quite a few times. I did it from a hot air balloon once. That was neat. Wingsuits are awesome, too.”
     I smiled at Faris and thanked him inwardly for playing the part for my friends. “Neat” and “awesome” weren’t normal words in his old-fashioned vocabulary. I stepped closer and helped him with the straps, the way he’d helped me with mine, then looked straight into his chestnut eyes with a smile. His gaze twinkled with mischief. I mouthed a “thank you” and gave him a small peck on the cheek.
     “Holy crap!” Abby had moved closer to the railing and was now looking down into the gorge. “Your friends really went all out, Faris.”
     We all walked closer to the edge and peered at the huge flood lights that now illuminated the gorge, lending luminosity to the trees and a sparkle to the river’s surface. A bull’s-eye was painted on the bank, surrounded by more lights that demarcated a clearing big enough for landing. In addition, laser lights aimed upward, dancing against the dark sky.
     “Wow,” Abby exclaimed. “It must suck to be a multimillionaire.”
     The sight made my head spin with vertigo, but I had to admit it was awe inspiring.
     “Tempted yet?” I asked.
     “I mean, it’s pretty rad, but seriously, you can’t take that leap. It’s not smart, Elle. You see that huge rock down there? You could end up smeared all over it like strawberry jam.”
     “Would you quit with the gruesome imagery!”
     “Nope. I want you to picture it. You, looking like fresh ground meat, because that’s what will happen if one tiny little thing goes wrong.”
     “Abby, trust me.” I put both hands on her shoulders. “Nothing’s going to happen. Faris knows what he’s doing. Professionals got the equipment ready and inspected. It’ll be fine and fun. I’ll show you.”
     “What if someone sees us and calls the cops? A few cars have driven by already.”
     “No one cares what we’re doing, but if you’re worried about that, then we’d better hurry.” The truth was, we were as good as invisible to anyone. Faris had seen to that.
     “Elle.” The way Abby said my name sounded like a begging-please.
     “Let’s have some fun.”
     I took Faris’s hand. He climbed over the railing onto the small ledge beyond and helped me do the same. A gust of wind blew a few strands of hair free of my ponytail. I stared at my sneakers perched on a wide metal strut, then beyond to the wide open space in front of me. A giant butterfly stirred inside my stomach at the sight of the sheer drop. The river rushed below us, foaming white, battering the large boulders that stood in its path. I gulped.
     Faris squeezed my hand and smiled reassuringly. The cool breeze teased his silky, black hair which he now wore a little longer, styled in a careless way. He looked so handsome it made my heart beat faster still, even if it already felt at the brink of jackhammering right out of my chest.
     “Guys, please don’t do this,” Abby begged.
     “Remember to pull the ripcord—” Faris said.
     I interrupted him. “After counting to three. I remember.”
     “Good.”
     I gathered my courage, looked ahead, then took a deep breath. I could sense Maven and Abby off to the side, watching. Maven was muttering something over and over, but I ignored him. This would be a thrilling experience. Faris had said he’d let things happen naturally, that only if there was a problem he would intervene. It would be as real a jump as possible, though he would help with the landing.
     “One.”
     Nothing bad will happen. There’s no real danger.
     The river splashed against the rocks, constant and powerful.
     “Two.”
     Faris won’t let anything go wrong.
     The ground seemed to stretch further away. My lungs started pumping as if someone had sucked all the oxygen out of the air.
     “Three.”
     God, what am I doing?!
     Faris pulled gently on my hand, tipping my balance, then let go.
     Abby gasped.
     Maven cursed.
     Suddenly, I was airborne, my stomach like a balloon, falling at a slower speed than the rest of me. Gushing air pushed against my face with a biting chill. In spite of the goggles, I fought to keep my eyes open, not to miss anything. Our clothes flapped in the wind.
     My body both shrank and reveled in the immensity of the act. I was flying, soaring between two mountains, gliding across the wind like a bird.
     “Woohooo!” Faris cried out. He sounded happy, exhilarated and faraway.
     The same emotions bubbled inside me. They rose to my throat like carbonation in a drink, until they exploded out of my mouth.
     “Yessss!” I cried out, followed by, “I love you, Faris!” That’s when I realized my love for him was as exhilarating as free falling, an unstoppable rush of emotion.
     Like a fool, I waited for his answer as I always did. None came. He couldn’t give it, even if he wanted to. If he told me he loved me, he would become human. His curse would be broken for good, and he would stop being a Djinn. And if that happened, there would be no one to protect us from Akeelah, when she came . . . if she came.
     Still, I yearned to hear the words. Perhaps more so because he couldn’t say them.
     “Pull,” Faris spoke softly in my ear as if he was right there.
     I pulled the cord and released the parachute. There was a loud snap. The sound of the wind crashing against the chute drowned the last echoes of my words, which still rang in my ears. Straps tugged at my body, tightening around me and feeling as constrictive as the lack of answer from Faris.
     Every time I told him I loved him and he didn’t respond, my chest felt the same way, tight and ready to implode. My brain understood why he couldn’t say it back, but my heart didn’t. It was ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter. Not when I knew he loved me.
     Words weren’t, shouldn’t be, needed.
     Struggling to focus on the moment, I reached for the steering toggles above my head. Faris yelled instructions that helped me aim for the bull’s-eye. I watched my feet dangle as the river rushed beneath them. My body felt light, and I tried to transfer the same feeling inwardly. I wasn’t going to spoil today or any day with thoughts of what I couldn’t have. Not when what I did have was more than anyone could ask for.
     “This is awesome! Woohoo!” I yelled. And then I was laughing, like a lunatic. A very happy lunatic.
     Faris landed first, smooth as a falcon. His parachute flattened itself to the ground in a split second. He freed himself from its burden and turned to wait for me, smiling from ear to ear. The spotlights bathed him with a warm glow. He radiated like a bronzed angel, arms wide open, ready to receive me.
     I alighted into his arms like an autumn leaf falling through the air. Before I knew it, my parachute was gone, out of the way, and Faris had me in a tight embrace. He lowered his mouth to mine and kissed me. His lips felt wild and hot. They moved desperately, driving forward then pulling away in a sort of tug-of-war. Heat rose up to my neck.
     Every time he drew back, I craved for more, even if his kiss only halted for a second, just to start again more intensely than before.
     “Hey, lovebirds,” a faint cry carried by the wind.
     Faris stopped kissing me. He spun me around a couple of times before depositing me on the ground. He was laughing like I’d never seen him do before. I laughed too, sharing the same excitement. Everything was perfect. He was perfect. How could anything ever get between us? He wouldn’t allow it. I wouldn’t allow it. Curse or not. Akeelah or not. We were meant to be together.



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