Brian Burk rubbed his bleary eyes as he drove through the near whiteout the county had been mired in for the last two weeks. Blustering winds had plagued the town, encasing it in blizzard-like conditions. The light snow falls called for in weather reports turned into full blown storms that had people holed up in their homes. Meteorologists didn’t have any explanations for it.
He and his men had spent the last four days plowing roads, removing fallen trees, and simply trying to keep passages open for emergency vehicles. Having the biggest construction company and the equipment to handle the snow meant they were on call for every disaster that came along. Not that he minded, in fact he loved it most of the time. But four days of freezing his ass off and twelve hours of sleep did not make for a happy Brian. His crew kept tossing out subtle hints for him to take some time off. That alone spoke of his edgy, nasty temperament.
A hard gust of wind slammed his large plow truck, rocking it like a plastic toy. Gripping the wheel he eased off the throttle. It could be him and his sluggish brain, but it sure seemed like every passing day got worse. Prying his hand from the steering wheel he rubbed his jaw. He had a pretty good idea where all this destructive weather originated from. One long-legged, sexy as hell woman who kept him awake at night.
Tempest Proctor. The guardian of the winds. She thought he didn’t have a clue about who or what she was. Little did she know. Some research in the right area, a little digging into history, and then add it all up and you had the elemental guardians.
Okay, he’d admit he didn’t have a clue when his buddy Beach hooked up with Tempest’s sister, Flanna, guardian of fire. Only when his friend Chuck latched onto Avani, another Proctor sister, who protected the earth, did he begin to put all the pieces together. They always thought of him as fun loving, good time Brian. No one knew of his love of solving mysteries, and the Proctors were a mystery.
Now, he had a new mystery. If Tempest controlled the wind, why the hell would she allow it to devastate their town, their county, like this? It didn’t make sense. Brian ran several scenarios through his mind as he watched the white wall of snow in front of him. He had another eight miles before he reached town and at the slow crawl he had to drive, it would take forever.
Okay, so he didn’t completely understand the mechanics of how this guardian business worked; some things couldn’t be found on the internet, believe it or not. But, if Tempest was supposed to command the wind why hadn’t she commanded it to take a fucking break? Unless, and he really didn’t want to believe this, Tempest was causing the storm.
Brian grunted, Tempest may be stubborn and suffer from a quick temper but she would never cause harm to anyone and this hellacious storm had been whipping up harm by the butt load.
Then again? Brian frowned as he thought back to the last few run ins he had with her. She seemed jittery, off kilter, and just plain out of sorts. Her multicolored eyes always seemed distant. She couldn’t keep still, always moving even when she sat. Even his witty jabs at her didn’t seem to affect her anymore. And that bothered him more than anything because if Tempest Proctor wasn’t flinging a witty come back, then something definitely had to be wrong.
Oh, how he loved to torment her with zingers. He learned as a kid it was the only way to get her attention. Granted it wasn’t the typical sweet flirting like the rest of the girls her age but, hell, he’d take it. Besides, there always seemed to be a glint in her eye and a genuine smile on her full pink lips for him.
Yeah, he’d wanted her attention. Her long legs, tiny, tight ass and flowing locks of blonde, red, brown, and black hair rioting around her pretty face caught his eye at the age of sixteen. Fourteen years he admired the woman’s body but, as time passed, he also began to admire her other qualities. Quick temper aside, she was devoted to her friends and family, loved volunteering in the community, and if she caught the slightest whiff of someone in need, she was there.
He caught her delivering bags of groceries to a local family late one night, setting them on the porch before ringing the doorbell and disappearing. The father had been laid off, the mother was ill, and they were riding out some tough times. Apparently Tempest found out through the grape vine and anonymously supplied them with a month’s worth of food. When he questioned her about it she filled him in on their plight and he couldn’t help but be moved by her generosity. Naturally, he had to do one better and gave the man a job in his construction company; the guy had turned out to be one of his best employees.
Tempest groused about him having to outdo everyone, but then she smiled and said, “Maybe you aren’t the biggest dumbass after all.”
He would have jabbed back, should have, but who could think when the most beautiful woman on the planet smiled at you? He was only human after all. Another gust of wind jostled the truck, dragging him back to the here and now.
A movement caught his eye through the thick curtain of snow. He leaned forward, squinted and saw something move again. Before he could process what he’d seen, he'd driven up on and damn near hit a person standing in the middle of the fucking road. Brian slammed on the brakes, praying the tires didn’t skid. The large truck jolted to a stop, his head bounced off the steering wheel, and his seat belt cut into his shoulder.
Blinking a few times to clear his vision, he saw her. There, in the middle of the road, caught in his headlights wearing nothing but a pair of jeans, thigh high boots and a sweater stood Tempest with her arms outstretched her face pointed to the sky and her hair whipping in the wind. Raw fury and fear flashed through his system. He could have killed her. He could have run her over and never known it.
Bailing from the truck he slammed the door closed and stomped through the wind and snow. That woman needed a good spanking. Where in her mind was it a good idea to be standing in the road in the middle of a blinding fucking storm? She needed some common sense spanked into her and he would be the man to do it.
“Are you trying to kill yourself?” he snapped as he approached.
Tempest didn’t move, simply stood there like she’d been stretched out on an invisible cross. The blank look on her pale face made his blood crystallize in his veins. Even her eyes seemed empty.
“Tempest!” he shouted over the howling wind. Still, she didn’t move or even blink. Hypothermia. The word rang loud and clear in his head. Grabbing her waist he shook her hard twice. “Tempest!”
“I can’t stop it,” she shouted over the roaring storm. “I can’t stop it.”
“Fuck.” Ice already coated her face and hung from her eyelashes. Her body felt stiff as a board. Scooping her up in his arms he headed back to the truck. Tempest huddled into him, her arms looping around his neck. He could hear her muttering but couldn’t make out the words.
“What’s the matter, an icy heart isn’t enough for you? You gotta go for the whole package?” he grumbled releasing her upper body and reaching for the door handle. She clung to him like a life line as he lifted her trembling body up onto the seat. “You have to let go,” he told her gently trying to scoot her over so he could get behind the wheel. Tugging, he lowered her arms from his neck and pushed her over.
Safely inside the cab of the truck, he removed his coat and laid it over her and then cranked the heat and aimed the vents directly at her frozen body. She continued mumbling incoherent words. Inside the truck he could see an empty, terrified glaze in her eyes.
“What were you doing out there, Tempest,” he asked putting the truck in gear and pulling away. “Where’s your coat?”
“I don’t know.”
Her voice sounded so small and weak it made his heart clench. “I’m taking you back to my place.” Once he got her warm he’d press for answers.
To his amazement the wind seemed to die down, giving him a clear road ahead. Brian wasted no time speeding into town. As he maneuvered the streets the colored Christmas lights strung on houses reflected on the windshield, glittering as if all was right with the world. Next to him, his world sat shivering so violently he feared she’d shake apart.
He curled his arm around her and she buried her face in his side. “Any more stunts like that and you’ll have earned the title Ice Queen,” he grumbled still shaking from the thought of nearly hitting her with his truck.
“I can’t stop it,” she repeated. Her words slurred together as if she’d been drinking. Hell, maybe she had been. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“We’ll figure it out, babe.” He didn’t like seeing or hearing her like this. It wasn’t right.
Brian parked the truck in front of his small rented house, ran to the door and unlocked it before returning for Tempest. It seemed the wind had eased to a manageable level since he’d found her. Coincidence? Right now he didn’t have time to think about it.
Tucking his large coat around her, he lifted her limp body from the truck and ran for the house. Once inside he carefully set her on his couch, piled several blankets on her and then headed for the bathroom where he ran a warm bath. When he returned to the living room he found her shaking so hard her teeth were clicking together.
“We’ll get you warmed up soon,” he told her as he tugged her boots from her feet. She didn’t have any socks on and her toes felt like perfectly manicured ice cubes. “We need to get your clothes off. Can you do it or do I have to?”
“I don’t understand,” she muttered. “This has never happened before.”
Okay, he’d have to do it. Her jeans were soaked and clung to her skin as he tugged them down her thighs. Her flesh blazed bright red from the freezing temperatures. Opting to leave her panties on, he removed the blankets and began working her soaked sweater up her body.
Tempest sat up, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears in the dim light of the room. “Brian,” she spoke with surprise in her voice.
“It’s me, babe. I’m right here.” Damn he didn’t like seeing her this way. It scared the living hell out of him.
“I have to talk to my sisters,” she insisted sinking her fingers into his arms. “I have to tell them I tried to stop it.”
“We’ll call them later. Right now, you need to get warm. Help me out here, Tempest.” He lifted her arms and she held them there as he tugged the wet material up over her breasts and head. He had a brief brain lapse as the sight of her perfect round breasts cupped in black lace filled his vision.
Swallowing hard, he reminded himself now wasn’t the time to get lost in her beauty. Yeah, it would be good to leave her bra on. The material was soaked anyway. What would it hurt?
Again, he lifted her into his arms and felt a chill run through his veins from her cold flesh. Even as cold as she was, he couldn’t stop his body’s response to her pressed so tightly against him, just where he’d always wanted her.
“So cold,” she whimpered burying her face in his neck.
“I’ll warm you up.” He lowered her into the tub, soaking his shirt sleeves as he did. Tempest gave a small gasp as the lukewarm water hit her skin. “We’ll add more warm water in a few minutes,” he told her as she sank down into the tub. “I don’t want to burn your skin.”
Her jaw clenched, her muscles quivered beneath her flesh, and in the stark bright light of the bathroom he saw her lips were a dark blue. Sinking down onto his knees, he sat beside her and used a wash cloth to dab warm water onto her face. Tempest stared ahead blindly.
“How’d you lose control of the wind?” he asked not really expecting an answer.
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “It simply won’t respond.”
“Did you cause this storm, Tempest?” He had to ask. He had to know what they were dealing with.
She bolted upright. Water splashed all over him and the floor. “No!” she shouted shaking her head. “I didn’t do it.” Turning toward him their eyes met and he could see the fear, the need to be believed staring back at him. “I swear I didn’t do it.”
His heart fluttered inside his chest and his gut clenched. Cupping her face in his hands he smoothed the pad of his thumb over her blue lips. “I believe you.”
The torment in her voice shredded his heart. “Yeah. I’m used to your brutal honesty.”
She blinked several times, her multicolored eyes filling with tears. God, he loved her eyes. Flecks of green, brown, blue, gray, every shade imaginable was there. The storm of color reflected her colorful personality. She had to be the most unique woman he’d ever laid eyes on.
“You ask for it,” she whispered, slowly sinking back into the water and continuing to stare at the wall.
Minutes passed without a word passing between them. Brian continued to warm the water and Tempest’s violent shivering eased. When he felt sure she’d be okay, he decided maybe something warm in her body would help.
“I’m going to make you some soup. I’ll see if I can find some dry clothes, too.”
“Okay.” She didn’t look at him as she wrapped her arms around herself and rested her head against the wall.
Before heading to the kitchen, Brian stopped in his room and removed his wet clothing and pulled on a pair of sweat pants. After rummaging through his drawers he found a sweatshirt and an old pair of sweat pants he knew would too big for her, but they’d do. When he stepped back into the bathroom she hadn’t moved a muscle.
“Something’s wrong with me, Brian,” she said, the sound of her voice so tortured it made his soul flinch.
She had to be the strongest woman he’d ever met in his life. Tempest Proctor didn’t back down in a fight and laughed in the face of danger, and now here she sat balled up in his tub like a frightened child. He didn’t like it, not one damn bit.
“Do I need to take you to the hospital?”
She shook her head. “They can’t fix this.”
So, it had something to do with her gift. Well then, they’d have to figure it out together and fix it.
“We’ll figure it out.” It’s all he could say for the moment. He doubted she’d listen to anything he had to say anyway. “I’ll go make you something warm to eat.”
Padding to the kitchen in his bare feet, he pulled out a container of homemade chicken noodle soup, dumped it in a pot and turned on the flame. Watching the fire burn he realized he may not be able to help her the way she needed. Her sisters would though.
Grabbing his cell phone he hit speed dial for his friend Beach and then cursed when nothing happened. The screen showed no signal. Tossing it aside he picked up his land line. Nothing. No phones at all. Peering out the window he debated jumping in his truck and driving over there. Beach and Flanna lived the closest, only a few blocks away. The other two sisters lived outside of town in fairly secluded areas on a large piece of property. As he studied the night landscape he saw something odd.
They sat in the middle of a complete and total white out. If he didn’t know any better he’d swear someone painted his windows except every once in a while a break opened up and he could see the calmness beyond his yard. Watching carefully, he realized the storm centered directly over his house.