Veterinarian Douglas McCandliss considered himself an ordinary kinda guy with an ordinary kinda life. He had no idea why he'd bought the old silver teapot, and when a young woman appeared before him claiming to be a genie, he almost wished he hadn't. If only she wasn't so damned cute.
Ebullient and cheerful, Jacinth loved granting wishes and helping people. So she was thrilled when her teapot's new owner, a single father with custody of two young children, asked her to stay until he could find a nanny. The problem was, the longer she stayed, the more she was attracted to Douglas, and she was certainly not willing to turn over care of Ben and little Molly to just anybody. But she was a 900-year-old Djinn, and had no intention of falling in love with a mortal man. None whatsoever.
A Gift of Jacinth by Allie McCormack
©2019 by Allie McCormack
It wasn’t going to be all that easy, after all, he thought as he looked at Benny’s scared, apprehensive face a few hours later.
“Benny.” He squatted down to the boy’s level, holding his gaze reassuringly. “It’s very safe. Planes don’t usually crash, or fly into buildings, I promise. Those were accidents.”
“Mom said they did,” Benny told him, fear in his voice. “She was always watching plane crashes on the news. She watched them over and over.”
Was that how Lilian had planned to keep him from taking the kids if he found them? Douglas had to wonder. Certainly, she’d always had a taste for the morbid and the sensational, but to deliberately implant a fear of flying in a young child when she had taken the children the width of the continent away from him, was going too far. Molly looked scared too, even abandoning Jacinth to cling to her brother’s hand. Tears welled up in those bottomless blue eyes, and her lower lip trembled ominously. If he was going to put these two on the plane, it was going to have to be by brute force.
Exchanging a glance with Jacinth, he saw his opinion mirrored in her face. They had two choices. They could find another mode of travel to New York, or carry two screaming, terrified children onto the airplane. Douglas had never considered himself lacking in courage, but his nerves quailed at the graphic image that conjured up.
“Okay, okay, don’t panic,” he told them. “Give me a couple of minutes here and I’ll think of something.”
He moved a few feet away from the car where they all stood, still in the parking lot at the zoo. Jacinth followed, and he lowered his voice to consult with her.
“What am I supposed to do? Dammit, we’re three thousand miles from home! Did Lilian do this on purpose?”
Jacinth gnawed on her lower lip, feeling her brows pull together as she pondered.
“Probably,” she agreed. “I think you’re going to have to rent the car all the way to New York, Douglas.”
His grimace was rueful. “That distressing possibility occurred to me. At least that would be better than taking the bus or the train, which are our only other options. Four days in a car with two young children, though, is my idea of a nightmare. They’re so little, and it’s been so long since we’ve been together, we’re complete strangers to each other. This is definitely not how I’d choose to get to know each other again.”
Jacinth twinkled at him. “You have a nanny,” she reminded him. “And once you’re home, you have your job to go to. This might turn out for the best for both you and the children. By the time we get to New York you’ll have established a rapport with them.
Enthusiasm fired in her, and she felt a burst of excitement. “It’ll be fun, Douglas. We can play car games, and I can read them stories, and we’ll buy some of those children’s sing-along CD’s. We can eat at truck stops and roadside diners along the way, then stop at motels in the afternoon. The children can nap, then we can go to dinner, and maybe swim in the motel pool in the evening. We can buy postcards and a camera and take lots of pictures.”
She watched Douglas hopefully as he thought this over. Driving across America wasn't something she'd ever have thought of doing, or even wanting to do, but now she was seized with a great longing. Perhaps it was because of the presence of Douglas and the children, having someone to share this great new adventure with.
“It doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, when you put it that way,” Douglas admitted. “Maybe this could work after all.”
Hope sprang up in her breast as another thought occurred to her. “If we’re not going to fly out from here tonight, could we stay one more day and go to Disneyland tomorrow?”
Douglas broke into laughter. “Okay, yes, we’ll go to Disneyland.”
Hearing him, Benny let out a whoop of excitement, and Molly’s eyes shone like stars. Douglas held up a hand for silence.
“But we’re not staying late,” he warned them. “I’m not fighting this kind of traffic on a Monday morning. We’ll leave Disneyland before it gets dark so we'll be well out of the city before we find a motel for the night. No arguments when I say it's time to leave. Agreed?”
He noted with amusement that Jacinth joined in with Benny in assuring him that was fine, while Molly nodded her head vigorously, the curly blond bangs flopping in her eyes. She was so adorable, he wanted to scoop her in his arms and hold her tight. His chest constricted, and his eyes stung a little as he looked at his kids. He loved them both so much.
“I owe you,” he told Jacinth, his voice hoarse with the emotion he couldn’t suppress. “I owe you a lot. There’s nothing in the world that means as much as my kids.”
After getting the children seat belted into the car, Molly in the booster seat he’d requested from the car rental agency, Douglas’ brain began to clear and to plan. He’d had so little time to think through all of this, he felt like he was being thrust inexorably forward, with no chance to catch his breath or figure out what was happening to him. One way or another, he’d been racing since the moment last night when a woman’s voice had announced his steak was burning. It was time, he decided, to regain a little control over the situation.
Getting into the car, he looked around before turning the key in the ignition, holding up a hand for attention.
“First things first,” he announced. “We have to get you kids some clothes.”
There was a groan from the back seat, and Benny rolled his eyes expressively.
“Clooothes,” he whined, drawing the vowel out plaintively. His daughter seemed equally unmoved, regarding Douglas with an unwavering stare.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Jacinth told Benny, clearly trying to be conciliating. “You can’t wear those same clothes for days on end.”
Benny’s brow clouded in something close to a pout.
“I like these clothes,” he insisted.
“Yes, and they’re very nice.” Jacinth managed to infuse more admiration in her voice than Douglas would have been able to, and he stared at her in appreciation for her tactics. “Have you had them for long?”
“That lady brought them for us this morning,” Benny told them proudly. “She said the ones we had on were un... un... un-something.”
Probably unspeakable, Douglas thought grimly, if Lilian had still been spending every available dollar on her liquor and neglecting the kids’ well-being the way she had before he’d gotten custody.
Unenthusiastic silence emanated from the back seat of the car during the short drive to a nearby mall Douglas had seen off the freeway on their way to the zoo. Once inside the mall, however, Benny gripped Douglas’ hand tightly, staring around in awe.
“New clothes?” the boy asked, as if it were something wonderful. “You’re going to buy us new clothes?”
At Douglas’ nod, Benny let out a whoop of ecstasy. “Molly, did you hear that? Dad’s going to buy us new clothes!”
Molly just looked, her eyes even bigger as she stared about her at the myriad of shops, the bustling people. Douglas noticed that her clutch on Isabel tightened, and she looked more than a little scared. It was pretty clear, Douglas thought, biting back a rising fury, that they’d never... or at least, rarely... seen the inside of a mall. Much less had anything bought for them there. Beside him, he noticed that Jacinth was blinking away faint moisture from the corners of her eyes.
An hour later, trudging from the mall under the burden of dozens of bags and various assorted items... not all of them clothing... they were almost to the parking lot when Benny came to a sudden halt.
“Dad! We didn’t get any clothes for Miss Jas.”
Benny had struggled so hard with Jacinth’s name, she’d told him earlier just to call him Jas.
“Oh, no,” Jacinth replied sunnily. “I don’t need any. I have plenty of clothes in my suitcase in the car.”
Caught off guard, Douglas responded instinctively. “You do?”
Benny gave him a questioning look, but Jacinth’s eyes twinkled responsively.
“I do now,” she told Douglas sotto voce a few minutes later. “It’s a good thing he hadn’t had a look in the trunk before he mentioned it, though.”
“A very good thing.” Douglas’ response was heartfelt.
This page was created on 5/14/2019