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Ally returned late and leaned her forehead against the cool door with a grin. Jacob was wrong about dark magic; Dylan wanted to elope right then. She needed a change of clothes and a toothbrush, and they would be off to Paris. Dylan said he would take care of the rest. Maybe it was crazy, but it was the most romantic thing she had ever heard of, a fairy tale coming true thanks to her friend the genie.
She fished in her purse for her keys. At the sound of a crack and then a grunt, she stood up straight. What was going on in her apartment? She grabbed the keys, dropped them, and broke a nail picking them up from the floor. Her hands shook as she jiggled the key in the lock.
Finally, the door gave way. A hulking red genie, the traditional sort with the devilish face, wielded a whip over Jacob’s back. Open, angry gashes criss-crossed his back. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be with that Dylan guy.”
“I needed a toothbrush,” she said in a small voice. She turned her attention to the other genie. “Who are you and what are you doing to Jacob?”
“I am Ali, and he has broken the law; he has touched a human. He must receive his punishment.”
Ali swung the whip again, his black ponytail swaying.
It took a moment for Ally to process what the devil genie said. “No, stop! He didn’t mean to! I did it. It was my fault.”
“So you would take the lashes for him?”
Ally bit her lip. Take the lashes? She would crumple like a stomped meringue puff. “Isn’t there another way? It was an accident, after all?”
“You can wish for his freedom, but you will lose everything else you wished for.” The red genie shrugged. “Or he can take his next ten licks, and you can get your toothbrush and rush off to your happily ever after. It is as you wish.” He bowed low.
Give it all up? Go back to being frumpy Ally with thick glasses, frumpy Ally who pined for Dylan Michaels from afar? But there was beautiful Jacob with welts across his back—could she be happy knowing her happiness came from his pain?
“Ally, don’t be silly,” Jacob said. “These lashes will heal. You’ve made wise wishes; you could beat the darkness of the magic.”
Could she enjoy Paris cafes, or would she think of Jacob willingly taking an unfair punishment for her happiness. She swallowed hard, shaking her head no.
“Ally, don’t do anything stupid,” Jacob said. I haven’t been touched in a hundred years, and I would gladly take these last ten licks for that one moment.”
Ally remembered the moment, remembered his strong embrace, his breath on the top of her head. She remembered how he smelled of sandalwood with just a hint of curry. And she remembered that moment when she saw Dylan in the sun, when he pinched his secretary’s behind.
“I wish.” Her mouth hung open, and both genies stared at her expectantly. No one dared breathe. She couldn’t be happy at Jacob’s expense. She couldn’t do it, even if it meant giving up Paris and Mr. Wonderful himself. If he were truly wonderful, then he would love frumpy Ally with her glasses and her thrift store wardrobe. If he really loved her, then he would still want to elope with her when she walked down the stairs as her true self. “I wish for Jacob’s freedom.”
Wind whipped through her hair and the catalog on the kitchen counter fluttered in the breeze; the world hazed without her glasses. She felt the cellulite returning to her hips and felt herself shrinking. Her fingertips danced around on the side table for her glasses, but it was Jacob who gently pushed them up her nose.
“I can’t give you anything to thank you for what you’ve done,” he said. She blinked twice. The red genie and his menacing whip were gone. The golden bracelets from Jacob’s wrists were gone.
“I couldn’t leave you like that,” she said. She took him by the arm and turned him around to look at his back. He winced at her touch. “We need to take care of you.”
“No, first you need to go downstairs and meet Dylan. And go to Paris.”
Ally laughed. “Do you really think he’s still going to want to elope? With the real me?”
Jacob ran a hand down her cheek. “If he’s smart he will. Now, you’d better hurry.”
She looked over her shoulder before she opened the door. If she went downstairs, would Jacob still be there when she got back?
Ally closed the apartment door behind her. Dylan hadn’t recognized her as the same person when she went downstairs. At the sight of her, his aunt in Poughkeepsie had keeled over and necessitated his presence at a split-second funeral.
Now, with the lights out and the apartment silent, it seemed that Jacob had abandoned her, too. Silly, but the thought he had left was far more depressing that missing out with Dylan. After all, in the back of her mind, she had always known Dylan appeared more handsome from across the cubicle farm.
Then she heard the gasp.
Her heart leapt before her feet moved in the direction of the bathroom where a sliver of light shone from under the door. Her knuckled grazed the door. “Jacob?”
“Come in,” he said. “I’m afraid I could use your help.”
She closed her eyes and exhaled in relief. She pushed open the door slowly, taking in the tableau of the six foot guy trying to twist around to reach the worst spots on his back. “You shouldn’t do this yourself.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be here with me. You should be on your way to Paris.”
Ally smiled. “Oddly enough, the sight of the real me caused his aunt to have a heart attack on the spot. He had to rush to Poughkeepsie.”
“Jerk.” Jacob hissed as she dabbed one of the worst stripes with a disinfectant laden cotton ball.
“So, how long are you going to stick around?” she asked. “I’m assuming you can’t quite fit in your lamp anymore, and you’re welcome to crash here for a while.”
He turned around to face her, and she realized his black eyes had lightened into an intriguing bluish hazel. “I’ve been thinking about that, and I hope you’ll forgive me because I was hoping your Mr. Michaels would be a jerk. I would like to stay wherever you are. Forever. In my two hundred years, I haven’t seen another woman like you.”
Ally swallowed hard. “Jacob, I’d say this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
He leaned closer. “Or the beginning of something more.” His lips touched hers, a tingling fire that sent her arms around his neck and her body next to his. Sometimes the best wishes are the ones you never think to wish.