The Wicked

By: Thea Harrison

To the wonderful women who helped me by beta reading this story: Kristin, Anne, Andrea, Rene and Holly. And to Heather and Amy.

Chapter One

“You need me to stay home from school today, you know,” Chloe mumbled around her last mouthful of homemade blueberry muffin before giving Olivia a sly, sidelong smile. Olivia smiled back at the little girl. Chloe was a tempestuous, high maintenance child, and Olivia adored her.

Olivia might be childless, but not because she didn’t like children. She loved them. Besides, even if she hadn’t liked children, she would have found it hard to resist Chloe’s wily charm.

After Olivia and Chloe shared a smile, they turned to regard one of the most Powerful Djinn in the world. Khalil lounged at the head of the breakfast table like a Pasha reigning over a court of nobles.

Early morning sunlight slanted in the French doors behind him, glinting bright silver sparks off the ocean just on the other side of a wide, sandy beach. The sunlight touched Khalil’s raven-black hair with a knifelike edge of white that gleamed as brightly as his strange, diamond-like eyes.

As the five-year-old squirmed impatiently in her chair, Khalil regarded her, genuine curiosity on his pale, regal features. “Please, do explain. Why do we need for you to stay home from school this time?”

Chloe opened her eyes wide. “Well, obviously, because Olivia has to leave today. It’s the very last day of her week. You need someone to play with Max, so you can visit with her while you can.” Her expression turned calculating. “I’d be doing you a favor, you know.”

After having spent a week’s vacation witnessing her friend Grace’s eccentric lifestyle, Olivia had grown quite educated in the dynamics of the household. She sensed a tactical error in Chloe’s last statement, and her gaze swiveled back to the Djinn expectantly.

Khalil raised a sleek back eyebrow at Chloe. “I believe it would be most unwise to become indebted to you. You have picked up the Djinn’s love for bargaining all too well. Grace and I will somehow contrive to manage both Max and a final visit with Olivia. You will go to school as planned.”

Storm clouds gathered in sky-blue eyes. “Max doesn’t have to go to school when company is here.”

With perfect, and yet, perhaps regrettable logic, Khalil replied, “Max doesn’t have to go to school at all, but you do.”

Olivia coughed and pretended to take interest in the contents of her breakfast plate, which held half of a blueberry muffin and a partial slice of bacon.

Her discretion went unnoticed. The storm broke. Chloe shouted, “Horrible! It’s not fair that I have to go to school and he doesn’t!”

The massive Djinn cocked his head as he regarded the small human girl in front of him. He asked gently, “Do you really wish to raise your voice to me?”

Olivia couldn’t control her grin any longer. She picked up her coffee cup to hide behind it. Khalil was completely protective, unfailingly steady and truly loving with her friend Grace’s niece and nephew, Chloe and Max. Otherwise his question might sound ominous, and she could see that it had thrown even Chloe off her stride.

The girl fell silent, frowning as she thought things over. Then she straightened her slender spine, tilted up her chin and said in a firm voice, “Yes.”

“I believe you should take a few minutes to think about that, alone in your room,” Khalil said. “Although I do admire your ability to pick a stance and stand by it. After ten minutes has passed, you will go to school as usual.”

Chloe’s mouth dropped open. She was the very picture of outrage. “Are you giving me a time out?”

Khalil snapped his fingers. “Ah yes, that is what it is called. A time out. I never remember, because it makes no sense. There is no such thing as a ‘time out’. The time is the same in your bedroom as it is everywhere else in Florida.”

A snort exploded out of Olivia before she could stop it. She clapped a hand over her mouth and managed to settle her coffee cup into the saucer before she spilled any of the hot liquid on herself.

Chloe wailed, her mouth open wide and delicate complexion turning pink. Blonde curly hair floating around her head like a halo, she turned to stomp down the hallway of Khalil and Grace’s spacious, sprawling ranch home.

While Olivia watched her dramatic exit, Chloe almost ran into her aunt Grace, who limped toward the dining area with Max settled on her hip. Another Djinn, Khalil’s daughter Phaedra, followed on Grace’s heels.

As soon as Chloe saw the others, she wailed louder, dashed around them and disappeared, presumably to actually go to her room as she had been told. For such a strong-willed child, she was remarkably well behaved.

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