Gale Force



"Honey!" I yelled. "Get the phone, would you?" Because it was ringing off the hook, and I was a little busy trying to put out a fire. A wildfire, actually, blazing across Alligator Alley along the coast of Florida. It had been burning for three long days, sending choking black smoke our way.

Never off duty, that was me. Joanne Baldwin: Weather Warden by first choice -- if a world-ending storm blew up without notice, I was the go-to girl. My secondary ability -- and second choice -- was to act as a Fire Warden, which was what was occupying me at the moment. Being an Earth Warden, helping living things heal and grow, and controlling things like earthquakes and volcanoes -- that was also something I could do, though not nearly as reliably or well. So far as being comfortable with the abilities, having Earth powers was still a distant, weird, cautious third.

I stood on the balcony of my apartment building, my eyes stinging from the whipping wind and drifting smoke, and worked magic. It didn't look like I was doing much of anything, and truthfully, I probably could have gone inside, picked up the phone, talked to whatever cold-calling telemarketer was on the other end ... but I was feeling frustrated, and I needed to do something positive. So I was concentrating, from a distance of several miles away, on rendering burnable underbrush less burnable -- changes that would have to be undone later, for safety, but made dandy firebreaks in the meantime.

Of course, I was interfering with Fire Wardens and Weather Wardens who were already doing their assigned jobs. Well, that was why I was the boss, right? That was what bosses did. Interfere. (My bosses always had, anyway. Although come to think of it, I hadn't liked it much when I'd been on the sticky end of the problem.)

The phone quit ringing. Good, I thought. Maybe they'd just given up.

The glass door behind me rumbled back on its track. I didn't turn away from the rail until a man's hand dangled the phone over my shoulder. I looked at the phone delivery service, eyebrows raised in silent question, and David just raised his own back in response.

David was always fantastic on the eyes, but he was especially great just now, at sunset, when the red sky picked up bronze tints in his skin and highlighted supernatural sparks in his eyes. Oh, his eyes ... currently the rich dark color of old pennies, but taking on a brighter hue as I watched. Because although David was currently wearing human form, and liked to wear it a lot, at a DNA level he was something completely different. We call them Djinn, because the old tales of those supernatural creatures able to do humans' dirty work were somewhat true.

Of course, they were also a whole lot not true as well. As I continued to learn, daily.

David was only half-dressed, in a pair of worn blue jeans riding low on his hips. There was a tempting lot of gold-dusted skin on display, and so much to admire, from broad shoulders to abs that would make a Greek statue cry with envy.

He usually had shirts on, but then, David was actually more modest than I was. At least, in public. In private ... well. Let's just say that when David played at being human, he brought his A game.

David waggled the phone again, significantly. I blinked and took it, thinking that the last thing in the world I wanted just now was to get distracted from enjoying the view. "Hello?"

I wasn't prepared for the volume -- or the tirade -- that erupted out of the phone. "Joanne, would you please butt out already? Jeez, woman, we can save the world without you! Just go relax! Do you even own a dictionary? Vacation! Look it up!"

The voice on the other end was Paul Giancarlo, one of the most powerful element-controlling Wardens in the country. He happened to specialize in weather work; he was also one of my oldest surviving friends. The tone was a strongly Jersey-accented bellow, barely contained by the phone's speaker. I held the phone farther from my ear. "Oh, hey, Paul," I said. "So. How's that