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I wanted to yell No or, more appropriately, Are you insane? but that was Lewis, all right. His first impulse always had been to heal.

Shirl called up a two-handed fireball and slammed it straight into his chest. It hit, exploded, and spread over him like molten lava. Under normal circumstances, Lewis would have simply shaken it off—fire was one of his powers, of course, and he had a natural resistance to it—but this was demon-fueled, and a hell of a lot stronger than usual.

It dug deep into his skin. I saw him stagger, concentrate, and manage to clear it off, but it left blackened holes in his clothes and angry red marks on his skin that looked raw and painful. Before he could do more than take a breath, the other Warden called up the Earth, and I felt the ground shudder as a huge tree toppled, straight toward Lewis. Lewis managed to move, jumping forward, almost close enough to go toe-to-toe with the two fighting him.

Shirl slammed him again, a dazzling orange curtain of flames, and he staggered and fell. Vines whipped out of the underbrush and fastened around his ankles, snaking around his calves, pulling him flat. Before he could focus on fighting them, Shirl was on him again, leaping like a tiger, fireball at the ready.

I hit her with wind and tossed her a dozen feet down the road. “Do something!” I yelled at Kevin. He looked torn, and more than a little scared; I remembered that he’d already been in a dogfight with Shirl and her crew, and come out near death. Dammit. I couldn’t blame the kid.

“No, Kevin! Stay out of it!” Lewis yelled, countermanding me, and the vines holding his ankles shriveled and he rolled up to his feet…

… just in time for Shirl to throw another fireball.

This time, he caught it. One-handed, a neat, graceful capture, and he juggled the hell-ball from one hand to the other as he watched Shirl approach. The other Warden was up and moving, too. Both stalking him.

“Dammit, Lewis—” I said.

“Nag me later.”

One of the two Wardens must own the Djinn, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t Shirl. That meant the other guy—the one who had the clever, off-kilter face and Canadian accent that I remembered from back on the beach—was the proud owner.

One of Shirl’s running buddies.

One I needed to take down.

I shook free of Kevin and moved right. Shirl watched me with bright-glimmering eyes. I was more powerful than she was, and that meant the Demon would want to jump to me… but then again, Lewis was the most powerful guy in the world.

No way it would pass him up for me.

Unless, of course, it didn’t mind doing a little hopscotching. I watched her carefully as I spiraled in closer to the other Warden.

“So,” I said to him, “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. Joanne Baldwin. Weather. You are… ?”

Pissed off, apparently. Because we were on an asphalt road, he couldn’t do Marion Bearheart’s favorite trick of softening the sand beneath my feet, but he had plenty of other stuff to work with. The area wasn’t exactly denuded of life.

Sure enough, he found something. Something that sailed out of the dark and landed on the road with a raw growl, and padded into the glow of the headlights.

It was a cougar. Its long, lean body gleamed in the rain, and it had the most gorgeous green eyes I’d ever seen, large and liquid and pure animal power. It paced toward me with unnatural focus, and I could see its back legs tensing for a jump. Oh, yeah, that would keep me busy.

“Um… nice… kitty…” I took a step back, trying to figure out what I had in my arsenal, short of lightning bolts, that was likely to stop a predatory feline.

Nope. I had nothing.

There was a flare of fire, and Lewis was abruptly too busy to help—I felt the heat blaze over my skin, harsh enough to singe my hair. That left me, the cougar, and the Earth Warden.

“No fair, using endangered species,” I said, and swallowed hard as the cat began to growl. It was watching me with fixed, hungry, empty eyes. “Seriously. Not good, man.”

The cat jumped. I yelped and ducked and called for wind, which was a mistake because the intense fire being summoned up between Lewis and Shirl created updrafts and unpredictable wind shears and, instead of tossing the cat safely off to the side, it landed right on me and knocked me flat on the pavement.

Heavy as a man, warmer than one, smelling of wet fur and fury and blood, claws already digging into the soft flesh of my stomach and oh God

I sucked the air out of its lungs. Just like that, faster than thought—I admit, I wasn’t worried about doing it nicely. The cat choked, opened its mouth, and gagged for air, but it couldn’t find any. I rolled. It scrabbled for balance, digging bloody furrows in my flesh. I called another gust of wind. This time, it cooperated, and knocked the big cat off of me onto its side. It rolled up immediately, gagging, head down, shaking in confusion.

“Sorry,” I whispered, and swiped bloody hands across my face to drag my wet hair back. I didn’t dare take too close a look at my body. The bottom part of my torso felt suspiciously warm and numb. At least my guts weren’t falling out. I was counting my blessings.

I couldn’t kill the cougar—evil people, yeah, okay, but not cats who were just doing their survival job—so I only had a few minutes at most to get rid of the one controlling it.

And he already had something else lined up. I caught the blur of motion out of the corner of my eye. There was no way I could move in time, and my brain snapshotted a snake—a big, unhappy-looking snake—striking for me with enormous fangs in a flat, triangular-shaped head as big as my hand.

Rahel caught it in midstrike, thumped its head with one neon-polished fingernail, and the snake went limp in her hands. She looked perfectly well groomed. There was no sign she’d been in any kind of a fight, and I didn’t see the other Djinn anywhere.

“You should be more careful,” she said—to the snake—and set him down in the underbrush. He crawled away with fast convulsions of his body and disappeared in seconds.

Rahel turned her eerie, hawk gold eyes on the Earth Warden, and smiled. Not the kind of smile you’d want to get on your worst day, believe me.

The Earth Warden took a giant step back.

“Djinn are killing Wardens,” she said. Again, it might have been a comment to me … or not. “I don’t altogether find this distressing.”

“Good thing for me that I’m not a Warden anymore, then,” I said. “Busy?”

“Not especially.”

“Don’t need to, ah, help Lewis… ?”

Her eyes flicked briefly to the enormous fireball that surrounded the other two.

Inside of it, it looked as though Lewis had Shirl in a choke hold. “I don’t believe that will be necessary.”

“Then would you mind—?”

“Not at all.”

The Earth Warden’s nerve failed and he bolted. Rahel took him down with one neat jump, carrying him down to the shining, wet pavement, and shoved him flat with a knee in the small of his back. He flailed. It didn’t much matter.

“You can let the cougar go now,” she called back to me. “It won’t harm you.”

Oh, right, easy for her to say… I removed the vacuum from around the cat, and it choked in a fast breath, then another, and bounded up and away. Following the path of the snake. I wished them both luck.

Speaking of which… I skinned up my shirt and traced the wounds in my stomach with my fingertips. Blood sheeted wetly down, pink in the rain, but it looked pretty superficial. No guts poking out. Some prime scar material, though.

I gulped damp air and tried not to think how close I’d come to being cat chow, and then moved to where Rahel had the Warden in a position of utter helplessness.

I got down on one knee, which was painful, and he turned his head to stare at me. Yep, there was a definite component of demon-shimmer in his eyes. I didn’t know if anyone else could have seen it; I was a pretty unique case, having had the Demon Mark and Djinn experiences. It looked like he was in the early stages.