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Heat Stroke

By´╝ÜRachel Caine

One

There was a storm brewing over Church Falls, Oklahoma. Blue-black clouds, churning and boiling in lazy slow motion, stitched through with lightning the color of butane flames. It had a certain instinctual menace, but it was really just a baby, all attitude and no experience. I watched it on the aetheric plane as the rain inside of it was tossed violently up into the mesosphere, frozen by the extreme cold, fell back down to gather more moisture on the way. Rinse and repeat. The classic recipe for hail.

Circular motion inside the thing. It was more of a feeling I had than anything I could see, but I didn’t doubt it for a second; after years of overseeing the weather, I vibrated on frequencies that didn’t require seeing to believe.

I gathered power around me like a glittering warm cloak, and reached out for—

“Stop.”

My power slammed into an invisible wall and bounced off. I yelped, dropped back into human reality with a heavy thud and realized I’d almost driven Mona off the road. Mona was a 1997 Dodge Viper GTS, midnight blue, and I was driving her well the hell in excess of the speed limit, which was just the way I liked it. I controlled the swerve, glanced down at the speedometer and edged another five miles an hour out of the accelerator. Mona’s purr changed to an interested, low-throated growl.

“Don’t ever do that when I’m breaking a century on the interstate,” I snapped at the guy who’d put up that wall I’d just slammed into. “And jeez, sensitive much? I was just giving things a little push. For the better.”

The guy’s name was David. He settled himself more comfortably against the passenger side window, and said without opening his eyes, “You’re meddling. You got bored.”

“Well, yeah.” Because driving in Oklahoma is not exactly the world’s most exciting occupation. “And?”

“And you can’t do that anymore.” That meaning adjust the weather to suit myself, apparently.

“Why not?”

His lips twitched and pressed a smile into submission. “Because you’ll attract attention.”

“And the fact I’m barreling down the freeway at over a hundred…?”

“You know what I mean. And by the way, you should slow down.”

I sighed. “You’re kidding me. This is coasting. This is little old lady speed.”

“NASCAR drivers would have heart attacks. Slow down before we get a ticket.”

“Chicken.”

“Yes,” he agreed solemnly. “You frighten me.”

I downshifted, slipped Mona in behind an eighteen-wheeler grinding hell-for-leather east toward Okmulgee and parts beyond, and watched the RPMs fall. Mona grumbled. She didn’t like speed limits. Neither did I. Hell, the truth is that I’d never met any kind of limit I liked. Back in the good old times before, well, yesterday, when my name was still Joanne Baldwin and I was human, I’d been a Weather Warden. A card-carrying member of the Wardens Association, the international brotherhood of people in charge of keeping Mother Nature from exterminating the human race. I’d been in the business of controlling wind, waves, and storms. Being an adrenaline junkie goes with the territory.

The fact that I was still an adrenaline junkie was surprising, because strictly speaking, I no longer had a real human body, or real human adrenaline to go with it. So how did it work that I still felt all the same human impulses as before? I didn’t want to think about it too much, but I kept coining back to the fact that I’d died. Last mortal thing I remembered, I’d been a battleground for two demons tearing me apart, and then I’d—metaphorically speaking—opened my eyes on a whole new world, with whole new rules. Because David had made me a Djinn. You know, Arabian Nights, lamp, granter of wishes? That kind. Only I wasn’t imprisoned in a lamp, or (more appropriately) a bottle; I was free-range. Masterless.

Cool, but scary. Masterless, I was vulnerable, and I knew it.

“Hey,” I said out loud, and glanced away from the road to look at my traveling companion. Dear God, he was gorgeous. When I’d first met him he’d been masquerading as a regular guy, but even then he’d been damn skippy fine. In what I’d come to realize was his natural Djinn form, he was damn skippy fine to the power of ten. Soft auburn hair worn just a little too long for the current military-short styles. Eyes like molten bronze. Warm golden skin that stretched velvet soft over a strong chest, perfectly sculpted biceps, a flat stomach… My hands had a Braille memory that made me warm and melty inside.

Without opening those magical eyes, he asked, “Hey, what?” I’d forgotten I’d said anything. I scrambled to drag my brain back to more intellectual pursuits.

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