Firelight, p.17
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       Firelight, p.17

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 17

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  I try to step around him. “We should go—”

  He says my name sharply, blocking me. There’s no way of getting around him, no way of avoiding this. Cornered like a rabbit, my pulse skitters at my throat as if it might burst from my burning skin.

  I can’t explain it away. He knows too much, understands too much…I can’t come up with a reasonable explanation.

  So I do the only thing I can to stop his questions.

  I grab his face with both hands and pull his head down to mine. He’s still for the barest moment when my lips touch his. His skin feels like warm, sunbaked rock beneath my palms. And then he’s kissing me back.

  With a ragged breath, he pulls me flush against him. His hands flatten over my back. I fit against him, settling my softness into all his hard lines and angles. Like we’re two pieces of a puzzle that just click together.

  I fight the rising heat, the swelling vibrations from deep in my center. Then I hear it, the purr in the back of my throat, the sound inherently draki. Definitely not human.

  I risk a little more of him, steal a few moments more, forgetting why I initiated this kiss, forgetting everything but the sensation of his mouth on mine, the taste of him, as sweet as a misty wind on my lips. The hard press of his palms at my back push me against him as if he wants to weld us together, fuse us permanently.

  Then I can risk no more.

  Not when I’m like this, lungs fully expanded with steam, the flesh of my face pulling and tingling even in this room of death.

  I break away, gasping.

  He’s shaking, too. His hands grope the air, reaching for me. His expression is a bit dazed, hazel eyes so dark it’s nearly impossible to detect the green. I hold my breath, convinced he means to haul me back to him, and hoping he will. Hoping he’ll take the choice from me. Then his hand drops to his side. He looks at me starkly, like I’m something lost to him, stolen.

  “Let’s go have dessert,” I say breathlessly, my lips tingly, all of me itchy hot, alive like last night in the front seat of his car, exhilarated like when I dive through air and mist, wind rushing over my face.

  I hurry from the room before I break down and kiss him again…or before he thinks to resume his interrogation. He still holds the shirt, but I figure the damage is done now.

  As we descend the stairs, I can’t shake off the words, There’s only one way a human can have blood this color.

  How? How can draki blood run through a human? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Does it have something to do with the enkros and their terrible practices? It seems the only possibility, but I just don’t know.

  It dawns on me that as much as Will’s in the dark about my species, I know even less of his world…and I’m hungry to know more. Everything. The knowledge could mean my life.

  16

  Monday I walk down an empty hall, bathroom pass in hand, glad for any moment free of the boisterous crowd. Posters flutter along the walls, like moths with their wings pinned, unable to escape. The air conditioner purrs like a sleeping beast in the belly of the school. Muted sounds spill from the classrooms as my footsteps echo flatly on aged tile.

  It’s a nice break. Ferret Eyes Ken talks to me in English despite Mrs. Schulz’s threats for him to face the front. She never follows through and everyone knows it. The class is a zoo.

  Back home, we never dared disrespect our teachers. Not when your science teacher is one of the oldest onyx in the pride. Or your music teacher is a lark draki that can break glass with the power of her voice.

  I stop at the water fountain and drink deep, loving the salving coolness running over my lips and tongue, down my throat. At the end of the hall a locker slams and I jump. Straightening, I catch the water dribbling down my chin with the back of my hand, watching as a girl walks away from her locker with textbook in hand.

  I sigh shakily. I’ve been on edge all day, all weekend really—ever since Will’s house. It’s almost like I expect a troop of hunters to descend on me at any moment.

  Natural, I guess. I was caught in that room…holding that shirt…and miraculously avoided giving any real explanation to Xander or Will.

  Xander’s suspicious, but nowhere close to figuring out the truth. At least that’s what I’ve convinced myself. If he thought I was draki—or even could be—I would never have left that house alive.

  Will is another story. He can connect the shirt directly to me. If he ever considers the possibility that draki can alter themselves, he’ll have the truth.

  I pause at the door to the girls’ bathroom, at the sound of soft, hurried voices and muffled laughter. A girl stumbles out, face flushed, eyes glassy bright as she tries to smooth out her mussed hair.

  “Oh,” she chirps, seeing me. She dabs at her mouth like she’s afraid her lipstick is smeared. Only she’s not wearing lipstick. At least not anymore.

  One step behind her, familiar dark eyes settle on me. Apprehension seizes my gut.

  I quickly step aside, eager for them to pass.

  The girl clings to Xander’s hand, tugging him along like it’s no big deal that she was in the girls’ bathroom with a boy. “C’mon, Xander. ” She giggles. “Let’s get back to class. ”

  “Hey, Jacinda. ” He moves past me, slowly. Brushes against me. Air hisses between my teeth.

  My throat tightens, my mind leaping to the memory of a shirt stained with my blood in Xander’s hands. He held the proof of what I am and doesn’t even know it.

  My nod hello is hard to manage. Fear and panic war inside me. The fear I fight off even as my fingers curl at my sides, ready to defend. Smoke rises in my lungs, eats up my throat, widening my windpipe.

  “Come on, Xander. ” The girl tugs harder on his hand, turning a savage glare on me, clearly not appreciating losing his attention.

  “See you in study hall, Jacinda. ” He says my name like he’s tasting it. “You going to sit with us today?”

  I shake my head. “I’ll sit with Catherine. ”

  He laughs. “You too scared to sit with us?”

  The girl laughs, too, but I can tell she’s confused, feels left out of the joke.

  “I’m not scared of anything,” I snap, the brave words only marginally true.

  “No?” He leans close. I resist stepping back, resist the rising burn in the back of my throat, the urge to manifest. Wouldn’t that be just perfect? “Maybe you should be. ”

  Draping an arm over the girl’s shoulder, he turns and leaves me standing outside the bathroom.

  Dull dread eddies through me as I watch him saunter arrogantly down the hall. The memory of my desperate flight through snow-capped mountains flashes through my mind. My muscles burn as I recall the wild, hopeless run through the woods—the stinging panic.

  For a moment, I’m there again, hunters in fast pursuit. Wet cold hugs my body. Agony lances my wing, tearing the membrane. It took days for that to heal, for the pain to fade. I drag that memory close, hold it tight, determined to remember. Xander is part of that memory. But then, so is Will.

  Maybe that’s something I’ve let myself forget.

  I shouldn’t have. I can’t. Even with the taste of him still lingering sweetly on my lips, I vow never to forget again.

  In seventh period, I perch on my stool and wait for them to enter the room, bracing myself. Catherine is beside me, talking about a band coming to town next weekend that she and Brendan are going to see and would I like to go with them. I think of the crowds, the overwhelming odors and sounds, and murmur an excuse. After that, I don’t say anything else because I feel Will’s arrival.

  He enters the room, sees me. My heart flutters treacherously as he walks straight for my table.

  He looks at Catherine, asks kindly, “Mind if I sit with Jacinda?”

  “Yes. She does,” I volunteer before Catherine can agree. “We need to study. ”

  I can read no
thing in his eyes. The dark centers are flat, a motionless black as he gazes at me. Then his voice rolls across the air, anything but flat. The rough rumble puckers my skin to gooseflesh. “We’ll talk later,” he says, a promise. A threat.

  I smile innocently and hold my breath until he walks away, grateful that I’ve avoided him and any more unanswerable questions. For now anyway.

  “What’s up with that?” Catherine’s drawl comforts as she leans sideways into me. Her shoulder brushes mine.

  I open a book. “Nothing. ”

  Lowering my gaze, I pretend to read. Pretend not to care that he wants to talk to me, that we sat together in his car last Friday and kissed so intensely that I began to manifest. That he touched my leg, cared for my wound. That he protected me from his cousin in that nightmarish room where I kissed him again.

  I can forget him. Turn off everything I’m feeling. I can. I will. He’s too dangerous for me to be around. I can do this. For Mom and Tamra, I can.

  After dinner, I find Mom in her room, kneeling beside her bed, a steel lockbox before her. A car chase blasts on the television in the living room.

  From outside the doorway, I watch her unlock the box and open it. Even from where I stand, I feel it. Them. The contents of that box rush over me. My blood pumps with a surge of life. The air changes. A subtle shift. A lilting whisper. To my ears, it seems like countless tiny voices saying my name over and over again. Jacinda. Jacinda. Jacinda.

  Unable to stop, I step closer, lean forward, drawn to the beguiling voices, the soft, crooning melody of my name.

  To anyone else, gems are cold, lifeless. Noiseless. Only draki can hear their voices, feel their energy. They are our fuel. Our life force.

  I’ve searched Mom’s room for the gems since we moved in. With no luck. Eager for anything other than Will that might fortify me and keep my draki going.

  Apparently, she hid the lockbox well. Mom lifts a stone in her hand. A piece of amber that barely fits in the pocket of her palm. She brushes her fingers over it. The gesture is almost loving, which seems odd. Wrong coming from her because she shouldn’t be affected.

  A glow radiates from the box. Colors the air in shades of red, gold, and green. Calling my draki. These gems are connected to me, to my blood, the blood of all my draki family, as far back as my dragon forefathers.

  I sigh, air tremoring from my lips. Mom hears me and looks over her shoulder, snapping the lid shut at the same time.

  No sense hiding anymore. I step inside the room. “What are you doing?”

  With a tight expression, she locks the box. Slips the key in her pocket. I watch as she rises to her feet and slides open the door to her closet. My heart thumps with need. I stare after the box hungrily as she puts it on the top shelf of her closet, glancing back slyly. And I know instantly. It won’t be there when I look later.

  “Nothing,” she replies, removing her work clothes from the closet. “Just getting ready for work. ”

  She’s going to sell a stone.

  My throat tightens, aches with this certainty. Even though I suggested she sell a gem before—as a way for the pride to track us down—I can’t bear the thought now.

  “You can’t do it,” I say, watching as she removes her shirt and lifts her sequined halter top off the hanger.

  She doesn’t even bother with denial. “We need the money, Jacinda. ”

  “Those gems are a part of us. ”

  Her lips pull tight as she dresses. “Not anymore. ”

  I try a different approach, one that will affect her. “The pride will find us. Track us down. They’ll know the minute—”

  “I’m not going to sell them here. ”

  “Where then?”

  She turns to her dresser mirror. Applies lipstick that looks raw and bleeding against her pale face. “I’m going to ask for a few days off. I’ll sell them someplace else. Far from here. We’ll be safe. ”

  Mom always has the answers, only never the ones I want.

  I knot my hands together, trying to still their shaking. “You. Can’t. ”
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