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Tempest (Destroyers) by Holly Hook - Romance>Young AdultSixteen-year-old Janelle never thought the gray spiral birthmark on her arm meant anything special. That is, until she meets Gary, a boy her age with a birthmark exactly like hers. Gary’s attractive, brooding, and perfectly normal…except for the fact that he materialized out of a dangerous hurricane right in front of her. Janelle’s certain of only one thing. Gary’s mark—and hers, too—mean something, but he’s reluctant to tell her what.
At last she squeezes the truth from Gary about their markings. And the truth is utterly terrifying: Janelle and Gary are more connected to the destructive power of nature than she ever dreamed possible. And learning the truth about herself is only the start of her nightmare.
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Janelle froze in front of the bay window as the breath caught in her throat. Mountains of black clouds lumbered through the sky and the glass buckled against the screaming wind. This was it; she was dead. “Dad, get away from the window. We’ve gotta get out of here!”
Her father faced her. Smiling. “Isn’t this exciting? I want you to see this.”
Every palm tree in their yard bent over as if pointing them back to Michigan, to the sanity she’d left behind. Rain beat against the house, adding to the roar that filled the world. The roof creaked like it wanted to peel off and fly away. It probably would, with her luck.
Janelle bit her lip, hugging herself. It was all a dream. It had to be. It was one of those nightmares where only she could see the danger, but no one would listen to her. She’d wake up soon and go to school and attend her Math Whiz meeting and order a pizza with her friends. Any minute now she’d—
Snap. A tree fell across the street with a sound like gunfire.
Her heart thudded as she moved behind the couch. “Please. I want to go to the shelter!” She’d turned into a bubblehead, but what else would make him listen? She’d cry, and scream, and throw a tantrum if she had to.
Footsteps approached. Eyes shining, her dad spoke in an even voice, the one he’d used on her bedtime stories so long ago. “We’re completely safe, Janelle. I’ve been through this before. Just enjoy it. You’d never have this experience back up north. This is nature’s most powerful storm.”
Behind him, a piece of sheet metal cut through the rain and somersaulted its way down the street.
“Exactly! What’s your problem?” Tears blurred her vision. Something was way, way wrong here. Her dad was always Mr. Careful. He never acted like this. Turning, she let loose the loudest shriek she could, digging her hands into her hair for good measure.
She fell silent, waiting for his response. Nothing except for the roar of the storm. God, he still didn’t care. That left one last thing. Sucking in a breath, she dodged through a canyon of moving boxes to the TV. “Look! We’re running out of time. We have two hours before we’re totally screwed.”
A weatherman pointed to a green and yellow radar mess behind him, rambling on about storm surges and wind speeds. The eye of Hurricane Gary twisted closer to shore, and Janelle’s new home, Palm Grove, stood right in its path.
“See?” A dry lump formed in her throat as Hurricane Gary vanished and an angry red border appeared on the coast. When that eye hit, she’d be gulping down seawater. “What if this ends up like Hurricane Andrina where like, nine hundred people drowned? We’ll die if we stay here!”
Click. Her dad had turned off the TV. “Honey, please listen. They’ll only tell you the bad stuff on TV. Hurricanes are actually really cool. They play an important role in—”
“I don’t want to hear it!” Janelle ran into the kitchen and swept an avalanche of papers off the table in search of the car keys. If she had to drive to the shelter with her learner’s permit, so be it. “Where’re the keys?”
“I’ve got them.” Her dad fiddled with his shirt sleeve like it was more important than staying the hell alive. He opened his mouth, probably to say something else stupid, but closed it.
A car alarm went off somewhere across the street. So much for the tantrum. So much for the TV. Janelle sucked in a breath and kept her voice level. “Please. Why are you acting so weird?”
Her father’s gaze slowly dropped to the floor. He sunk to the couch like an old man, patting the cushion next to him. “O…okay. Come sit down, Janelle. We’re not in danger, and I’ll tell you why.”
A loud rap on the door made her jump back against the fridge. Now what—had a branch hit it? But the banging came again, louder than before. “Open up! Police!” a gruff voice called from the other side.
“Thank god,” Janelle said, running for the door. Someone with some sanity was going to get them out of here.
She tripped over a box and sent her collection of stuffed sea animals sprawling across the floor. The storm blasted in as she yanked the door open, tossing the papers off the table and swirling them in the air. A man in a dripping yellow rain slicker stood on the porch, bracing himself against the wind, and a black police car had parked next to her father’s truck. It looked like a chariot sent from the heavens.
“What are you still doing here?” he asked her father, eyes dark and narrow. “You’re under a mandatory order to evacuate. This could all flood when the surge comes in. There’s no way you’re safe here, and we can’t come out and help you once it gets too bad. There’s a shelter five miles inland at the high school. You need to follow me there.”
“I’m in. Thanks,” Janelle said.
“We’re fine, sir—” her dad started.
Janelle reached out and took his arm. It was time to be bossy somewhere outside her Math Whiz meetings for once. “No, we’re not.”
“Mister,” the cop spoke with the voice that could have stopped a rhinoceros in its tracks. “Do you care about your daughter’s life?”
A pause. He still wanted to stay put. Fine. She’d decide for him. Tugging his arm, she made for the door. Rain battered her skin and the wind sucked the air from her lungs. “Obviously not.”
“Sir,” the officer said. “We’re taking your daughter whether or not you decide to come.”
Sighing, her father said, “All right. Let’s go.”
The officer waved them out into the curtains of rain.
Her dad’s truck blinked its headlights as he jabbed the remote to unlock it. “Now!” he said.
Freedom. Safety. She wasn’t going to die. Head down against the stinging rain, she charged for the silver truck. Wind whipped her hair into her face and mouth as if trying to push her back into that nightmare. Her feet came out from under her—her tiny frame was no match for the gust—but her father seized her arm, yanking her back up.
He yanked the door open, staring hard at her through the watery beads on his glasses. “In!”
Janelle seized the door and pulled herself into the truck. Dripping,
she spat out strands of blond hair.
A blur in the rain, her father struggled against the wind as he made his way to the driver’s side door. He climbed in, bringing half a lake with him. Maybe now he’d realize what a bad idea staying home would have been.
“You okay?” Janelle asked, fighting back a sarcastic comment and soaking the cool rain off her arms with her shirt. But getting drenched running to the truck beat the alternative.
He wiped off his glasses. “Of course. Just got a little wet.”
You could’ve gotten killed, she wanted to say.
The police car backed out of the driveway. Her father revved the truck up as a palm frond flew off a thrashing tree and plastered itself to the windshield. Streetlights blinked out, casting the street in an even more darkness. They’d finally lost power.
Janelle let out a slow breath. “We should’ve left hours ago.”
The police car led the way past a row of houses and the fallen tree. The truck swayed against the wind as it followed. A metal piece of something blew across the street ahead. If it took more than five minutes to get to the shelter, Janelle was going to scream—again.
She swallowed, studying the streams of rain marching across her window and the slogans on plywood-covered windows. Get lost, Gary. Gary was here. Get out of town, Gary. She couldn’t agree with them more.
The rain managed to beat down harder, until Janelle could only make out red and blue lights ahead. Her father braked twice to avoid trash cans in the street, clicking his tongue in annoyance the second time. Annoyance? In this?
Janelle glanced at him, but not so much as one stress wrinkle had appeared at the corner of his mouth. “How can you not be scared right now?”
His gaze flickered down to her bare arm. “You shouldn’t have worn a tank top. Here. Cover up your birthmark.” He reached over and took their cheap first aid kit out of the glove compartment. “People might think you’ve got a rotten sense of humor if you don’t.”
“We’re driving in a hurricane, and you’re worried about this?” Janelle held up her arm to show her birthmark. The two-inch-wide spiral had been there since the day she was born. Her father had always told her it was special for some reason. To her, it looked weird and gave people something to stare at. And now the sight of it sent a little shudder over her skin. It didn’t look that different from the hurricane diagrams she’d seen on TV earlier, and it even had a dark spot in the middle that someone could mistake for an eye. Okay. Maybe he did have a point. She dug through the kit for the biggest bandage she could find and slapped it over the mark as if it were a badge of shame. Yeah, this’ll go over great in Florida.
“The school should be coming up.” He turned down a side street. “I’m sure they’re still using the same building since I went there.”
“Good,” she breathed.
A curtain of rain moved aside, leaving the road ahead clear for a second. One of the telephone poles ahead of them listed slowly towards the pavement.
The cruiser passed it safely, but her father started to hum as he drove after it and closer to the descending pole. He hadn’t noticed it.
Janelle grabbed the sides of her seat. “Um…”
With a great roar of wind, the pole lurched down, wires whipping overhead like hungry snakes. Her father slammed the brakes, but the truck screeched and went into a skid.
“Dad!” Janelle broke her paralysis and raised her hands as the pole descended. It was all over. Done. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing for the impact.
It never came.
She lowered her hands. What the? The telephone pole had stopped falling feet above them and now trembled against a burst of wind…a burst going in the opposite direction as the rest of the hurricane.
“Go!” Janelle slapped the dashboard so hard her palms stung.
With the squealing of tires, the truck lurched forward. Janelle twisted around in time to see the pole fall to the street as if released by a tired giant, dragging its wires with it. Sparks shot up from the ground and died.
“That was way too close.” She folded her arms to keep from shuddering. “Yeah, we’re completely safe.”
Her father turned up the air conditioning and smiled, of all things. “I told you, honey. We’ll be fine. I know these storms.”
“Know these storms? What’s wrong with you, Dad? This isn’t making any sense.”
He said nothing to this.
Janelle leaned against the window to get as far as she could from him. Cold air rushed over her skin, sending a tingle down her spine. Later would be a better time to question all this weirdness. She just wanted to get inside that shelter, now.
The cruiser led them down a third street, one free of telephone poles. A yellow sign emerged from the rain. Palm Grove High School. They’d made it.
Another soaking later, Janelle burst through the double doors of what would be her school in a couple of weeks. A string of emergency lamps lined one wall, casting an eerie light on all the huddled families around them. Her father pulled her to his side as they walked down a crowded hall and around blankets. She thought about ducking out of his grasp and getting away from him. Like other side of the school away.
“You can sit over here.” An old man in a brimmed garden hat rolled a blanket across the floor as they approached. “But maybe you should dry off first.”
Janelle shook off her dad’s arm, taking a towel the old man was holding out. It hung down to her feet as she dried off. Shooting the man the most grateful look she could, she took a seat on the blanket and leaned against the wall. She’d never dreamt her first week in Florida would be anything near this lousy.
* * * * *
An hour passed and the howling outside increased. Children started to shift on their blankets while their parents held them close. One little boy asked for some cheese puffs and kicked the blanket when his mother said she’d left them out in the van.
Janelle plucked her silver dolphin necklace from under her tank top, rolling it in her fingers as she focused on its tiny smile. Her mom had left it to her when she was two, sometime before a patch of black ice and a tree had taken her life as she drove home from work one night. She couldn’t remember her mom at all. If only she were here to explain why her dad had turned into such a weirdo.
The dolphin’s fins poked into her fingers after a while, so she let the necklace fall against her chest as a fresh wave of worry swept through her. Their new house wasn’t going to look good when they went back. She could remember the news stories on Hurricane Andrina six years ago. The pictures of roofs peeking up from floodwater and bodies under sheets had plagued her ten-year-old nightmares. For weeks. But Andrina had been a Category Five, and this storm was a Two. It wasn’t the same, right? The sinking feeling in her stomach didn’t agree.
“So, just moved to Florida? I saw you taking stuff out of a moving truck yesterday.”
Flinching, she faced the old man who’d lent her the towel. “Yeah.” Then she added, loud enough for her father to hear, “We could have hung out at a motel for a couple more days, though.”
“Yes. Now wasn’t the best time to move in.” The man removed his hat and addressed her father. “So, what brings you here?”
“No jobs up in Michigan,” he said. “I grew up here in Palm Grove, but when she was a baby—” he pointed to Janelle—“my wife wanted to move north to help her parents. But I got a job offer down here last month.”
“Where at?” the old man asked.
“I’m starting at an insurance place next month. They need a programmer.”
“Sounds like a good job. Say, I never caught your name.”
“Lucas Duvall. This is my daughter, Janelle.” Her father shook hands with the old man.
“Name’s Ed. I think I live across from you.”
The wind outside stopped as if choked off. The battering rain on the roof ebbed away. Heads perked up and the drips from the ceiling came down with a little less intensity than before. Janelle expected another gust to hit the building, but it never came. The storm couldn’t be done already.
“Is it over?” The six-year-old boy who had asked for the cheese puffs stood and peered at the doors.
A sliver of sunlight hit the brick wall near a trophy case, only to disappear a second later. Cheese Puff Boy looked and down the hall for his mom, who’d walked past Janelle to the bathroom a minute before.
The weather radio droned away. “Gary has made landfall in the Palm Grove area and has weakened to a Category One storm with estimated winds of up to eighty miles per hour. It is expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm very soon. As of now, it is headed west at ten miles per hour.”
Murmurs flowed up and down the crowded hall. The boy ran for the door. “Junie, I’ll go get the cheese puffs.”
“Um…” Ed raised a finger.
Janelle’s stomach lurched. Crap. This wasn’t good. “No!” She shot up and bolted for the doors as Ed and her father joined her. “It’s not over. It’s the e—”
Other voices rose up through the hallway, drowning her out.
“Boy, come back and sit down!”
“It isn’t safe yet.”
“Where’s his mother?”
Janelle jumped over one of the lamps with an arm outstretched, but too late. The kid pushed open one of the doors and went outside. Great. Now someone else wouldn’t listen to her. Taking a deep breath, she rammed her body into it as it closed. The door flew open so fast that it banged against the wall of the school. Footfalls echoed behind her as others finally caught on to the danger.
Ponds had replaced parking spaces. The boy stopped at the edge of one and faced her, eyes huge.
“Come back in.” Janelle grabbed his wrist. “The storm’s coming back in a minute.”
“Ow!” He thrashed against her grip, red-faced. “You’re hurting my arm! Let go!”
Janelle let go, jaw falling open. What the hell was his problem?
The boy rubbed his arm, staring up at her with wet eyes. An eternity later, he skulked back into the building with a sniffle.
“You okay?” she called.
The kid ran inside and vanished into the school. Another sniffle.
A sick feeling grabbed at her insides. Her? Hurt anyone? She couldn’t have broken a midget’s arm if she tried.
“Let’s get back in.” Her father emerged from the small crowd around them. “Be a bit more careful with your strength next time.”
“What strength?” Janelle held up her bony arms. Nothing like that had happened before. She turned to go back inside, but sudden movement in the middle of the parking lot caught her eye.
A vortex of mist and water spun between an SUV and her father’s silver truck. Janelle leapt back as her heart stopped. A tornado. That’s what it was. She’d read that hurricanes could spawn them. But this one was eight feet high and the sky was still a calm gray. And it wasn’t making any sound. It was all so…
“By golly. What is that?” Ed appeared at her side and stood with his mouth dropping open.
“Dad?” She backed right into him.
“Janelle, inside. Now.” All the carefree tone had left his voice as he pulled her back. “I said go!”
She couldn’t move or look away. Now he was all protective?
The vortex tightened and spun faster, spraying droplets on the surrounding cars like a sprinkler in July. Maybe a water main had blown loose or something. Or maybe her brain had blown loose instead.
The vortex exploded, sending water to the ground in all directions. Gasps shot up from the crowd. An army of droplets flew right at her, splattering over her skin and re-soaking her clothes. She blinked them away to look for the cause.
A teenage boy of fifteen or sixteen was standing right where the vortex had spun a moment before.
If Janelle was soaked, this guy was drowned. Stringy black hair stuck to the back of his scalp and his purple T-shirt clung to his skin as he wobbled in place like a newborn calf. He raised a dripping arm, reaching for something to hold onto. His palm flopped down on the windshield of the truck, but to no avail. He let out a sound like a dying horse, tumbling to the pavement with a thud.
“Oh, my god,” a woman cried out from the doorway.
Janelle looked back at the people gathered behind her. Nobody moved. Ed stared with huge eyes while her father swallowed.
“What are you waiting for? Someone else to help him?” Janelle rushed towards the body on the ground. Feet thudded behind her.
She’d try to figure out what she’d seen later. Now they needed to get this kid inside before the other side of the hurricane hit.
Janelle squatted down in a puddle of water and seized his limp left arm, curling her fingers into his wrist. A strong, steady pulse beat underneath his skin. Thank God. She let out a huge sigh of relief.
“He’s alive. Help me get him up.” Janelle made to hook her hand under his armpit while a reedy man kneeled down to get his other arm.
The drenched guy coughed; his purple sleeve crept up as she helped tug him to his feet. Janelle froze in place and stared at the arm just inches from her face. No, it couldn’t be. But it was.
He had a familiar grayish birthmark just below his shoulder. A birthmark in the shape of a spiral.
TempestBy: Holly Hook