Firelight, p.13
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       Firelight, p.13

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 13

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  In hindsight, it seems such a small nuisance. Before this hell.

  12

  Eventually, I rise and head for home. Home. The word lacks any comfort.

  It’s slow going. My body aches, feels beaten and heavy with every stride. The night is still. No cars drive through the quiet neighborhood at this late hour. My soles scrape the pavement. I follow the meandering sidewalk, watching my shoes fall one after the other on sun-bleached concrete. I turn the corner of my street.

  Close now to Mrs. Hennessey’s, I look up.

  Headlights round the opposite corner, growing larger. I edge the sidewalk, distancing myself from the street. The vehicle is nearly even with Mrs. Hennessey’s house, its engine a heavy purr.

  It slows. So do I.

  I don’t need anyone spotting me out this late. Don’t need a friend of Mrs. Hennessey or another neighbor mentioning it to my mother.

  By now, I can tell it’s not a car. A truck? The windshield glints like a mirror as it rolls closer to the curb. My skin shivers and my pulse jackknifes against the flesh at my neck. I’ve seen enough crime television to feel instant apprehension. And I know enough to trust my instincts.

  I brace myself, slowing down so that I’m barely walking. I wait, watch, assess with a quick darting of my eyes. I grab hold of my apprehension before it explodes into full-scale fear and I manifest…assuming I can.

  Then I see it. There’s a light bar on top, unlit. Like it’s in stealth mode. I see that and I understand.

  They’re here. Where I live. Stalking me. Somehow they figured it out. Figured out the truth about me. Maybe Will recognized me at last and is here to revoke his act of mercy from that day in the mountains.

  They see me then. The Land Rover guns forward, straight for me.

  Turning, I run.

  Adrenaline pumps through me and overrides my sick weariness of moments ago. I’m being hunted all over again. Except this time I’m in a strange city. In a body I no longer know.

  Before, this afraid, I would have instantly manifested. It’s an instinct a draki is powerless to resist. That I’m still clinging to my human form can only mean I’m dying, weakening.

  My sneakers pound against the sidewalk, the loud slaps filling my head, mingling with the rush of blood in my ears…the accelerating roar of the Land Rover’s engine behind me. Like a great monster come to life.

  The street stretches ahead of me. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to lose myself as long as I follow its open path.

  I risk it, launch across the street and cut a hard right into a yard. Tires screech, burn on asphalt. I move, not looking back as I attack a fence, the soles of my shoes stomping upward, shuddering over the wood. I grab the top. The pointy tips of the pickets cut into my palms.

  I haul myself over the fence and through a yard of rock and cacti. Scale another fence and find myself in someone’s front yard.

  My flesh tightens, ripples with heat. The bridge of my nose pushes out, ridges rising. My lungs start to burn and smolder, chest vibrating. My draki at last. I suppose I should take comfort in this. Joy that I can feel myself responding. That I’m not completely dead inside.

  A screech of brakes attacks my ears. Headlights swing wildly in the night. I turn and hit a fence again.

  “Jacinda! Stop! Wait!”

  I can’t help it. The voice instantly reaches me, pulls me back like an invisible hand. Dangling from the fence, I look over my shoulder.

  He stands beneath a streetlight, his brown hair gleaming gold where the light strikes. His eyes seem gold, too. Glittery and burning as they stare at me, the Land Rover purring only a few feet from him. He holds out a hand, as if to pacify some wild creature he intends to tame.

  “Will. ” The name escapes me, too soft for him to hear.

  I blink long and hard, let the fear fade…and with it my draki. Opening my eyes, I drop down from the fence.

  My gaze scans the street, looking for others. Unless someone’s hiding in the car, he’s alone. I release a shaky breath.

  That hand still stretches toward me.

  “What are you doing out here this late?” A frown pulls at his mouth. “It’s one in the morning. ”

  “Me?” I walk across the lawn slowly, still not fully trusting. “What are you doing here?” And no, I don’t believe he had just been driving by. “Are you stalking me?” Hunting me? I want to add.

  He blinks. Some of the tension carving his face loosens then. Replaced with something else. He rubs at the back of his neck. The move is self-conscious. Innately human. Embarrassed.

  “I—”

  “You are,” I pronounce, an unbidden smile coming to my mouth.

  “Look,” he grumbles, his eyes angry. Defensive. “I just wanted to see where you live. ”

  I stop before him. “Why?”

  He rubs the back of his neck again, this time the motion is savage, annoyed. With me or himself, I’m not sure. To our left, a porch light flares on. I jerk, squint against the flood of unfriendly yellow light.

  “C’mon!” Will urges at the sound of a front door lock clicking free.

  Panicked, I run—don’t even hesitate as Will yanks open the passenger door for me. I jump inside, instantly assailed by the smell of leather upholstery. The door thuds shut behind me.

  For a moment, I’m alone. I glance around at all the shiny gadgets and knobs in the vast dash. I peer at the back. It’s huge and could comfortably hold several bodies. I shudder at the thought of who those bodies usually are.

  Will climbs in beside me before I can rethink where I’m sitting and pulls away from the curb just as a man in a bathrobe emerges from his house.

  Slowly, it dawns on me. I’m with a draki hunter. At one in the morning. We’re all alone.

  And no one knows where I am.

  That this could be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done crosses my mind. When Will drives in the opposite direction of my house, I’m convinced it is.

  “You do know where I live, right?” I ask.

  “Yes. ”

  “So why aren’t you taking me there?”

  “I thought we could talk. ”

  “Okay,” I say slowly, squeeze my thighs with both hands. When he doesn’t say anything, I ask, “How did you know where I live?”

  “It’s not hard to find out. Your address is on file in the school office. ”

  “You broke into the school office?”

  “No. I know one of the office aides. She got me your address that first day. ”

  My first day. He’s had my address all this time. Why? I cross my arms. Cool air blasts from the vents, I shiver a little. Only not from the cold.

  He adjusts a dial. “Cold?”

  “Why did you need my address?”

  “Just in case I wanted to find you. See you. ”

  Evidently, he did.

  “That’s funny considering you ignored me in class today. ”

  “You ripped up my note,” he accuses. A muscle feathers the flesh of his jaw.

  “It doesn’t matter. ” I shrug and roll a shoulder, rotating the joint.

  “Yes. It does. You should have read it. ”

  I resist asking what the note said, refusing to be sucked in. I decided to stay away from him. I can’t care, can’t let him get to me. “Were you planning on ringing my doorbell at one in the morning?”

  “Of course not—”

  “Then why—”

  “I don’t sleep well. I figured I could at least see where you live. ”

  He didn’t sleep well? That makes two of us. But what keeps him awake? Guilt? The blood of my kind that stains his hands? Or could it have to do with me?

  He asked me out and then changed his mind—treated me like a leper in study hall. Why? I want to know, but don’t dare ask. That’s only inviting trouble. Opening a door I had vowed to forever seal.

/>   Quiet surrounds us. So thick I can taste it. He sends me a sidelong glance, the gold of his hazel eyes sparking warmth in my chest, igniting a burn I thought was dying.

  With a single look, the embers stir. Leaves rattling, waking from a sudden wind. He does that to me. No matter how I try to believe I don’t need him to wake my draki, he proves me wrong every time. Maybe there’s no separating need from want.

  13

  He drives for a while, aimlessly. Turning down street after street. They all look alike. Middle-class homes in varying shades of white and beige stucco line the sidewalks. Tiled roofs undulate like a red sea.

  My heart races, excited at his nearness. Alive as it hasn’t felt in the days that stretch like years behind me.

  I’m aware of the promise I made to myself. The promise to avoid him. I feel its echo in my head. In my bones.

  But I recall the other promise I made to myself when I first came here. A promise to keep my draki alive whatever the cost. And around him, my draki can hardly contain itself. It definitely lives.

  I gently grip my thighs and slide my hands over my skin, chafing my goose-bumped flesh. Until I persuade Mom to take us back, getting close to him might be the only way. And letting him get close to me…My heart trips at the thought of this.

  His low voice breaks the stillness. “You didn’t say what you were doing out this late. ”

  “I couldn’t sleep either,” I reply. Not a lie.

  His mouth curves. “So we’re perfect for each other. A pair of insomniacs. ”

  Perfect for each other.

  I grin a mad, stupid smile.

  Even when his smile fades, I can’t stop grinning—can’t play down the dumb happiness tripping through me.

  “You’re bleeding,” he announces, quickly veering to the side of the street and setting the car in park.

  I follow his gaze down, to the streak of blood on the top of my thigh. Panic squeezes my heart. Flipping my hand over, I see the small tear in the plump ridge of my palm oozing blood. Please, please, please. Don’t let him notice.

  In full light, it’s easy enough to detect the purple shimmer of my blood. In this gloom, it’s surely too subtle for him to note. At least I tell myself this as I draw in a deep breath.

  “It’s nothing. I cut myself on the fence. ” Will pulls his shirt over his head. My breath locks in my throat. His chest is broad, smooth. Muscles and sinew cut his body, ripple beneath his skin. He wads up the fabric of his shirt and presses it into my palm. Like I’ve suffered a mortal wound.

  “N-no, really,” I sputter, fingers flexing, itching to touch his chest, to feel him. “You’ll ruin your shirt. ”

  “It was my fault you were on that fence. Let me do this, okay. ”

  Mutely, I nod. I can’t resist anyway. The press of his fingers on my hand feels like points of heat on my skin. I close my eyes in a slow blink. His gallantry reminds me of the first time we touched. Together in that small cave. The closeness. The way his eyes devoured me.

  This close to him, I inhale, drink in his smell. The salty warmth of his skin. Lush forest. Wet wind. I know where he’s been. Where he hunted. Instantly, I’m home.

  I open my eyes and study his face, the rapid pulse jumping against his throat. His nostrils flare, like he’s scenting me back.

  His gaze drops to the smooth stretch of my thigh and to the streak of plum-colored blood. My flesh gleams golden from the light of a nearby streetlight. At least I think it’s because of that. Please, don’t let me be manifesting, too.

  He lowers his hand. It shakes on the way down. His head bends close to mine. Our breaths merge, mingle. I quiver, tense as his hand touches my trembling thigh. Air hisses between my teeth.

  His gaze flicks to my face for a moment. Questioning. The centers of his eyes are so dark, the surrounding hazel irises luminous and glowing. He looks back down, his face stark, intent on my thigh, on the smudge of blood marring my skin.

  Again, I’m reminded that he’s a predator. In that hungry look on his face, I see him for what he is. A hunter.

  His thumb grazes the thin streak of blood, smearing it. I gasp, singed from the caress.
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