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    Of course...as interfering with Fire Wardens and Weather Wardens who were already doing their assigned jobs. Well, that was wh...as the boss, right? That was what bosses did. Interfere. (My bosses always had, anyway. Although, come to think of it...adn't liked it much.)

    The glass door behind me rumbled back on its track, an...an's hand dangled the phone over my shoulder...urned, eyebrows raised in silent question, and David just shrugged his own shoulders in response.

    David was always lovely to look at, but he was especially pleasing at sunset, when the red sky picked up bronze tints in his skin and highlighted the supernatural sparks in his eyes. Which were currently the color of old pennies, but taking o...righter hue a...atched.

    He waggled the phone again, significantly...ighed and took it. "Hello?"

    I wasn't prepared for the volume 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!"

    The voice on the other end was Paul Giancarlo, and the tone wa...ersey bellow, barely contained by the phone's speaker...eld the phone farther from my ear. "Oh, hi, Paul,"...aid. "So, how's the fire going?"

    "The fire is going fine, and you need to quit screwing around. You are not on duty...ave coverage on the damn fire, and you need to stop-"

    "Helping you? Because three days is kind o...ong-"

    "Kid. Stop already. We're on top of it!"

    "Let me talk to Lewis." Lewis being the only guy in the entire Wardens organization who had the right to tell me what to do...act that had made m...ittle smug and-yes...ould admit it-a little insufferable.

    "Lewis doesn't want to talk to you. Lewis wants me to tell you to butt out. Get it? You're on vacation. Vacate."

    He hung up on me...tared at the phone, surprised an...ittle wounded. David took it from my fingers, put it on the patio table behind me, and said, "I assume he told you your assistance isn't required. No, actuall...on't assume that...verheard."

    "Eavesdropper."

    "People three doors down heard it," he said. "No...reat feat of supernatural detection."

    Busted...lared at him fo...econd, but honestly...ouldn't stay angry at David. Especially when he gave me that look.

    Bu...lanced toward the fire again, anyway, an...eard him sigh. "Jo. Let go...now how hard it is for you, but you need to let other people handle their jobs."

    "Three days!"...aid, pointing an accusing finger toward the smoke. "Come on, you don't think they could have bee...ittle more aggressive about it?"

    "You know as well a...o that sometimes managin...ire is more important than putting it out," he said, and stepped between me and my view of the conflagration. Not that he wasn't, you know, burning hot. Because he definitely was, an...elt myself inevitably getting distracted.

    "Stop that,"...aid. Not wit...ot of strength.

    "Stop what?" He reached for my hands, an...hivered a...reeze moved across my back, which was left mostly bare by the sky blue halter to...ad on. Florida had been kind to me, fo...hange; lots of sun, lots of untroubled cloud-free beaches. It was as if the Wardens themselves had conspired to make my vacation uneventful, at least on the weather front.

    And that had been okay, for the first couple of days. And then I'd gotte...ittle bit...bored.

    Not that David couldn't make that go away; he was promising to, just with the gentle pressure of his fingers moving up my bare arms.

    "Stop making me want you,"...aid. That got the eyebrows again, an...lightly wounded frown.

    "Making you?"

    "You know wha...ean."

    "No...on't, actually. You think I'm manipulating you?"

    "You're Djinn,"...aid. "Manipulating people is basically built into your DNA. But-I didn't mean that. I'm just-I'm sorry...on't know what I'm thinking...ust-"

    "You want to be taking action," he said. "Yes...now."

    "Wha...on't need i...acation."...tepped back from David and dropped grumpily int...eck chair, stretching my long, bare legs out in front of me. The tan was coming along nicely. Great accomplishment. Everybody else is saving the world, you're golden-browning.

    "Oh...hink you definitely do," David said, and draped himself over the other chair, curled toward me, chin propped on his fist. "I have never met anyone who needed to learn to relax more than you."

    And that was sayin...ot...till didn't have any clear idea of how old David really was, only that his birth date was so far back in history that the idea of calendars had been newfangled. He'd been around, my lover.

    The fact that he was hanging around here, letting me be bitchy to him, was kind of amazing, now tha...hought about it.

    Befor...ould apologize to him, the phone rang again...icked up the cordless extension, pressed the button and said, "Yes?"

    A businesslike voice on the other end said, "Ma...peak with Joanne Baldwin?"

    "Speaking."...olled my eyes at David. Another attempt to sell me flood insurance or steel hurricane shutters...eadied the I'm in an apartment speech, which usually served to pu...top to these things.

    "Ms. Baldwin, hello, my name is Phil Garrett. I'm an investigative reporter with The New York Times. I'd like to speak with you about the organization known as the Wardens."

    I blinked, and my expression must have been something to behold, because David slowly straightened up in his chair, leaning forward. "You-sorry, what? What did you say?"

    "Phil Garrett. The New York Times. Calling about the Wardens...ave some questions for you."

    "I-" My voice locked tight in my throat. "Got another call, hold on." I...anic...it the END button and put the phone down on the table, staring at it like it had grown eight legs and was about to scuttle. "Oh my God."

    "What?" David asked. He looked interested, not alarmed. Apparently...as amusing when panicked.

    The phone rang again...idn't move to pick it up. David took it and said, pleasantly, "Yes?"...ause while he listened. "I see. Mr. Garrett, I'm very sorry, but Miss Baldwin can't speak to you right now. What's your deadline?" His mouth compressed int...hin line, clearly trying not to smile at whatever my face was doing now...ould hardly breathe...elt so cold. "I see. That's fairly soon. Miss Baldwin is actually on vacation right now-maybe there's someone else you can-" Another pause, and his eyes darted to mine. "You were referred by the New York office of the Wardens."

    I mouthed, blankly, What? David lifted one shoulder i...alf shrug.

    This could not be happening.

    "I'll have her call you back," David said, hung up, and put the phone back on the table. He leaned forward, hands folded, watching me. "You're scared."

    I nodded, with way too much emphasis. "Reporters...ate reporters...ate reporters from little weekly papers in One Horse, Wyoming. How much do you thin...ate somebody from The New York Times?"

    "You don't even know him. Maybe this i...ood thing."

    


    "Are you on crack? Of course it's no...ood thing!"

    I grabbed for the phone and dialed Lewis's cell. It rang to voice mail. "Lewis, call me back...on't know who stuck me out as the sacrificial goat for the media, bu...m not-"

    David took the phone and hung it up, very calmly. "You don't need to flail around. You know what to say," he said. "Deny everything. They won't have proof. They never do. And even if they do, refer them to the government and the UN. It'll go away."

    "What if it doesn't?"...hewed my lip in agitation, tasting tangerine gloss. "Look, it's the Times. It's not the Weekly World News-jeez, those people practically have us on speed dial. This is different. I'm worried."

    David cocked his head, looking bemused now. "I've seen you face down monsters, hurricanes, and tornadoes, and you're scared o...hone call?"

    "It's bigger than that."...elt it in my guts. "There wa...eporte...ew months ago-whe...as on my way to Sedona with Venna. She knew things. It was jus...atter of time...uess...hould have known this was coming."

    He leaned forward and took my hands. His felt warm, strong, calming. There was love in his eyes, deeper than the sunset.

    "I hav...uestion that will scare you even more."

    I frowned at him. "No games."

    "No...erious question." He slipped off the deck chair, and one knee touched the concrete balcony floor. He never looked away from my face as he did. "One that's going to nee...erious answer."

    My heart froze, then skipped to catch up on its beats. "I-"...ouldn't begin to think of what to say...ust waited.

    "Will you marry me?" he asked.

    My lips parted, and nothing, absolutely nothing, came out. Was he serious? He couldn't be serious. We were comfortable together, we had love, we had partnership, we had-everything.

    Everything except this.

    It didn't even seem possible. He wa...upernatural Djinn, only partly tied to the mortal world...as jus...arden...uman with extra powers over wind, water, air, earth, living things...well, okay...as supernatural, too. That evened out.

    But he was immortal.

    I wasn't.

    An...as achingly aware of that, every day that passed between us.

    "David,"...egan, stricken, and came up against an absolute blank wall. "I-can we talk about this later?"

    "Why? So you can come up with reasons to justify your fears?" He wasn't angry; he didn't mean it to hurt. It was matter-of-fact and, strangely, even gentle. "Jo...eed to know that you feel a...o...eed to have you with me. And...it's mortal custom."

    "Have you been married before?" There, I'd asked it. We didn't go into his pas...ot, bu...new it was ancient, and there had been plenty of relationships. Djinn as well as human.

    He gave m...light, aching smile, and raised my hands to his lips. "Yes," he said. "Ages ago. Befor...new wha...as waiting to feel."

    I stared at him, frozen. "And now you know."

    "I was waiting for you."

    The phone rang. My eyes cut to it, startled, bu...idn't move to get it. One ring, and it cut off...asn't sure if the caller had thought better of it, or David had cut the connection.

    "If you say no, it's all right...ill stay with you as long as you want me to stay," he said. "You won't lose me. You don't have to agree if it's not right."

    "But it's important to you."

    "O...ouldn't have brought it up." David looked troubled fo...econd, as if he was unsure of how much-or little-to say. Then he plunged ahead. "When humans make their vows to each other, it's the closest they can come to the depth of commitment fro...jinn. You see...ust want-I'm afraid of losing you."

    "It's just...big."

    He nodded slowly. "It is."

    And it had taken hi...ot to risk the question-I knew that. David's feelings for me were fierce and constant; it was part of who the Djinn were. But human feelings were changeable, an...ad no doubt he lived with fear that one day I'd wake up and b...ifferent person, one he couldn't reach.

    Being married wouldn't lessen that risk, but it wa...ymbol...rust.

    It all came down to trust. His, and mine.

    "This is crazy,"...reathed. "What the hell are the Djinn going to say?"

    "Nothing, if they know what's good for them." There wa...limmer of coldness to his tone. David was the leader of about half of the Djinn-the good half, in my opinion, although there were exceptions. The other half was led b...jinn named Ashan, an icy bastard who didn't like me very much, and wasn't especially warm toward David, either. "You're worrying what it will do to my standing. Don't."

    Bu...ad to think about that, didn't I? It wasn't just the two of us. The Wardens might hav...hing or two to say abou...uman marryin...jinn. And what minister was going to bless the two of us, anyway? Most of them didn't believe in the supernatural, at least in any good kind of way. An...new David. He'd want complete honesty in this, no matter how hard that would be.

    The day was getting darker, the sky sliding from denim to indigo. On the horizon, the sun was nearly down, pulling its glorious trailing rays with it.

    "Jo," he said. "Please. Give me an answer. Either way...till love you."

    I ought to say no...new that...ust knew.

    "Yes,"...aid, and something in me broke wit...ild, silent cry...as off the cliff now, an...ealized, wit...ierce joy, tha...asn't falling-I was soaring.

    His eyes ignited into the color of melting copper. "Yes?"

    "Yes, already. I'll marry you. Yes. Hell, yes."

    The phone rang again. David let go of my hands, picked up the extension, and thumbed it on without looking away from my face. "Mr. Garrett, I'm taking my lover to bed," he said. "If you know what's good for you, you'll reschedule your deadline."

    And he crushed the phone as if it were made of marshmallow crème, and dropped the smashed pieces on the patio table.

    "Oh,"...aid faintly. "Problem solved."

    On the horizon, the fire in Alligator Alley continued to glow...iscovered tha...idn't care at all.

    Bu...id whe...oke up, hours later, to the sound of sirens screaming, and David telling me that it was time to go, because my apartment complex was on fire.

    ......
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