Contemporary

Trouble With Air And Magic By Patricia Rice

Monday, February 18, 2013

Standing in the downpour that inundated the coast, Dorothea Jai-Li Franklin watched another piece of her garden crash into the Pacific. A yew swayed at an angle over the cliff before it, too, descended in a mudslide to the roaring surf.

Once the house followed the yard, all trace of her mother would be gone. Until his helicopter disappeared, she'd had her brother to remind her of their heritage, but now Bo, too was lost to her. She wiped her tears with her sleeve and bit back a sob before carrying the last of her mother’s prized porcelains to the car.

She tucked the vases in with a few books, her laptop, and Toto, her aging cairn terrier, all she’d been able to rescue before the yard had begun crumbling. With every trace of her mother gone, she would be entirely her father's daughter. Perhaps the Universe was speaking to her. Perhaps it was time to submerge the dangerous gift she'd inherited from her mother and pretend she was the rational, businesslike daughter her father wanted.

Pulling the hood of her billowing rain cape over her hair, she let the wind and rain gust around her. A raindrop slid down her nose, and she wiped it while watching the crumbling cliff. Tilting and swaying, the pepper tree looked to be the next victim of the mudslide. Perhaps, if she got rid of the evidence at last...

Holding her temples, concentrating, she located the earth’s energy and shoved at the weakening tree roots with her mind.

Before she could completely grasp the tree’s chi, an irritatingly self-confident voice crawled up her spine, breaking her concentration.

“Shouldn’t you be retreating to safer grounds?”

Dorrie scrambled to hold the tree with her mind before it revealed its roots. But she had tilted it to an angle she couldn’t correct.

Cursing, she didn’t turn around until she could analyze the intruder’s vibrations and knew whether to welcome him or be wary.

She shivered at the visceral effect of a man she couldn’t see.

Sexy was her first response to his energy. But that could just be her hormones appreciating the resonance of his voice. His overconfidence could be a hazard, and his lack of sensitivity had destroyed her concentration. She was prepared to be irritated.

Mostly, she was terrified of what he would see as the rain ravaged her garden.

As he approached, she sensed the earth force shifting from left to right. Most people produced straightforward energy. Was he pacing back and forth?

The stranger’s chi possessed a creative, intriguing layer of energy. Like her brother, he exhibited no-nonsense technical vibrations.

She detected nothing overtly dangerous. Powerful, yes, but curiosity seemed to be his driving force.

“There goes ten thousand in dirt,” the newcomer commented, apparently determined to be tactless. He stood beside her and watched a clump of sod slide away.

Dorrie turned, half expecting to see a policeman condemning the property.

Instead, she met the dark gaze of a sun-bronzed surfer. She barely reached his shoulder. With heels, she might look him in the…nose.

Quite a formidable nose, she observed, fighting a twitch of her lips. “And you are?”

Instead of answering, he was looking over her shoulder. “Is that a skull?”

Succumbing to fatalism, Dorrie watched the pepper tree give up its fight and tumble into the ocean. In a single fading ray of sunlight, glimpses of filthy white could be seen mixed with the roots. He must have amazingly good eyesight.

“You want to go out there and find out?” she asked defiantly.

“You’re not curious?”

“Not curious enough to send a policeman out on that crumbling cliff to look for old graveyards.”

She didn’t know where she would go, but she couldn’t stay here any longer. Now that the tree was gone, she turned back to her car and her dog.

The stranger didn’t move. Dorrie donned her officious business face and glared up at him. “Did you want something?”

“Conan Oswin, of Oz Technology,” he said, not precisely answering her question.

“Oz, as in Wizard of?” The automatic quip showed how tired she was. She knew who he was. Her father had bragged about the brilliant computer genius he’d hired to protect the Foundation’s operating systems.

“Oz as in Oswin,” he said. “We installed your company’s computer security.”

Her father’s company. Hers, now, she supposed, with Bo gone. The horror threatened to overwhelm her. “Dorothea Franklin, but I prefer to be called Dorrie.”

The earth groaned and shuddered, and Oswin caught her elbow, tugging her from the front walk of her crumbling home, back toward the road. Dorrie followed reluctantly. Her deteriorating real estate wasn’t the reason he was here, she was sure.

“I don’t know that you are who you say you are. You could be a thief waiting to steal from empty houses for all I know.” Although, she had been on the verge of calling the company he represented to uncover the problem at the office.

She knew from his chi that he wasn’t lying, but a normal person would be suspicious. She was used to pretending to be normal. She shoved thick hanks of wind-blown curls out of her face.

He flipped open an expensively thin leather folder and produced his ID. On his government security photo, he looked like a nerd with dark-framed glasses and a serious expression. The sexiness was all in her reaction to his chi apparently.

“I’m here because I believe we have something in common. Your brother crashed on the same mission that took out mine.”

“Bo?” Damn. She gazed at him with wariness. Could he suspect what she knew about Bo’s energy? Could she trust him?

Oswin’s expression revealed nothing, but his restless energy said her response was important. Now she was suspicious for real. “You’re wondering why they never found their bodies, too?” she demanded.

“I have reason to question the incident,” he admitted.

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