Firelight, p.27
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       Firelight, p.27

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 27

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  “No. ” I tremble. From dread or pleasure, I don’t know. Maybe both. He really shouldn’t be this close to me. “None of this has been what I’d call amusing. ”

  “I guess not. You know, you could have told me—”

  “Could I?” I rub a hand over my forehead, directly at the center where it’s starting to throb. “Like you were so open with me. ” At least my voice is strong, even as my insides quiver.

  His expression hardens to stone. “What did you expect me to do? Tell the girl I can’t get out of my head that my family hunts mythical creatures? That they’re obsessed with the chase? The kill, making money by butchering up—”

  “Stop!” I hold up a hand, working my lips, trying to chase down the bad taste from my mouth, stop the churn of my stomach. Because I don’t want to know all the details. Can’t bear hearing about what his family does to my kind. What he’s witnessed them do…maybe even had a hand in it. Standing in that shop of horrors he calls home is a memory I’ve yet to erase from my head.

  “But you knew,” he says. “You saw me before. ” His eyes are fierce, his words a savage rush—each one like the sharp dig of a knife. “You knew me from the mountains. That first day in the hallway, you recognized me. ” His eyes feast on my face, dropping to my neck, down my body. Again, like he’s seeing me as he did in that cave. In the bathroom. Seeing through my human skin to the draki underneath. “You had to know I could never hurt you. I didn’t then. How could I now?”

  I get up and move into the kitchen, desperate for distance from him just then. But he’s not about to grant me that.

  He follows close on my heels, announcing, “I knew it was you all this time. Don’t kid yourself. ” His gaze burns feverishly bright. He reaches for my face with both hands, like he’s going to pull me close for a kiss.

  “What do you mean?” I jerk away, and move around the small island, comforted to have something between us.

  Frowning, he stares at me and continues, “Before I could understand it, I…remembered you. Sensed you. ”

  Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me. Standing at my locker with Tamra, there had been something in his eyes, his face.

  He lifts a hand again, and this time I let him touch my face. I turn into his hand. My skin sighs against the cup of his palm. I move my mouth, taste the salty musk of his flesh.

  His voice stokes the fire within me.

  “I remember you. You were like burning firelight in that cave, all shimmery, dancing color. ” I lean closer over the island, mesmerized by his words, his hand on my face. If he keeps talking this way, he’s going to see me like that again. “Tell me you thought about me. That you think about me now. ”

  My lips move, but I can’t speak.

  His hand drops, and I feel suddenly cold. Bereft. The way I’ve felt for so long now. Even before arriving in Chaparral. Since I manifested at age eleven and lost myself. Became simply the fire-breather to everyone who knew me. My parents. My sister. Cassian. They saw me as that first and foremost. I guess even I’m guilty of that. Of seeing myself as nothing beyond the last draki fire-breather.

  Only now, here with Will, I realize I’m something more. Someone not bound by the rules of her pride, her race, her family. Someone who can be loved for herself, draki or not.

  “I thought about you,” I whisper, my voice not my own. It belongs to someone else. Someone brave, someone about to risk everything and follow her heart. “I’ve never stopped thinking about you. ” Somehow, I doubt I ever will.

  Then, I’m rewarded with his hands on my face again. His lips on my mouth, brushing so softly, so tenderly, but the hunger is there, held in check. I feel it like a storm rising on the air. My breath shudders against his lips and he kisses me harder, his hands on my face tightening. For a moment, I let myself forget the rumbling winds. As his hands angle my head, I grip the hard curve of his biceps and enjoy the press of his body against mine.

  His lips start to feel cold, icy moving against mine, and I realize it’s not him. It’s me, growing hotter. Too hot. With a gasp, I break from him, round the island, and grip the hard edge of the counter in both hands. The storm winds settle. He still doesn’t know about my particular talent, and I’d rather him not learn this way.

  His chest lifts and falls with ragged breaths. He says my name with such need that I take a long blink. When I reopen my eyes, he looks calmer, steadier. I don’t feel quite the same need to bolt when he holds out his hand. His eyes promise the refuge I crave. Placing my hand in his, he guides me back into the living room.

  “Tell me now,” he urges, the glitter in his eyes desperate and hungry for the truth. “I want to know everything about you. ”

  He already knows. At least the biggest secret of all. And while logically I know I should keep as much as I can to myself—for the sake of my pride, my species—I can’t. Not anymore.

  Not with him. I can hold nothing back. Not with the boy who protected me countless times. In the mountains. In his house. Even that day at school. If he wanted to harm me, he would have done so long ago. If he wanted to hurt me, he would not look at me the way he does. He couldn’t fake that. I don’t want anything coming between us again. It’s time for the truth.

  “My mother, Tamra…they’re not like me. Not…draki. ”

  He looks at me, confused as he takes my other hand in his. I plunge in, explain the pride to him, how we live, manifest and demanifest. How our evolution has provided us with the greatest means of protection—allowing us to shift into human form. “You see, it’s impossible to maintain human form while we’re afraid and threatened. It’s a defense mechanism of our species…to revert back to our true form where we’re stronger and can use our talents. That’s why I started to manifest in the bathroom when Brooklyn and her crew jumped me. ”

  We’re quiet for a few moments, then Will asks, “You mentioned talents. What’s yours?”

  I look away. “You might have noticed mine already. ”

  This is the hard part. It shouldn’t be. He already knows I’m draki, after all, but this takes it to another level. I’m not just a draki. I’m a draki that’s freakish even among my own kind.

  Drawing a deep breath, I face him. “I’m a fire-breather. ”

  He looks confused, and I yearn to smooth the wrinkle from his forehead.

  “There’s no such thing. Not anymore,” he says. “There are no reports of any fire-breathing—”

  “Guess I pulled some lucky recessive genes. ”

  He doesn’t smile. His hand flutters over my face, hovering. But this time he doesn’t touch me. Gradually, understanding fills his eyes. “In the stairwell…your skin got so hot. Your lips…just now…”

  My face burns even as his words make me feel bitter cold inside. I nod. “Yeah, I kinda…heat up when you kiss me. ”

  “So…what does that mean? When we kiss I might catch on fire or something?” His eyes widen then. “That’s why you’ve avoided me. Why you ran away when we kissed that night. ”

  I resist pointing out that’s why I ran away every time, not just that night.

  His hands touch his lips as if remembering the warmth of my lips moments ago. I laugh. A miserable sound. Can this be any more mortifying?

  “I can only hurt someone if I release fire or steam,” I confess. At least I think that’s true.

  As I speak, his fingers trail down my arm. I’m just so relieved he’s willing to touch me after I’ve told him this. He turns my hand over and traces the fine lines on my palm. “And?” He looks up beneath heavy lids. “What else should I know about you?”

  “My skin—” I stop, swallow.

  He leans down, presses his lips to my wrist in a feathery kiss. “What about your skin?”

  “You know. You’ve seen it,” I rasp. “It changes. The color becomes—”

  “Like fire. ” His gaze lifts from my wrist and he says that word he
said so long ago surrounded in cold mists, tucked on a ledge above a whispering pool of water. “Beautiful. ”

  “You said that before. In the mountains. ”

  “I meant it. Still do. ”

  I laugh weakly. “I guess this means you’re not mad at me. ”

  “I would be mad, if I could. ” He frowns. “I should be. ” He inches closer to me on the couch. We sink deeper into the tired cushions. “This is impossible. ”

  “This what?” I clutch the collar of his shirt in my fingers. His face is so close I study the varying color of his eyes.

  For a long time, he says nothing. Stares at me in that way that makes me want to squirm. For a moment, it seems that his irises glow and the pupils shrink to slits. Then, he mutters, “A hunter in love with his prey. ”

  My chest squeezes. I suck in a breath. Pretty wonderful, I think, but am too embarrassed to say it. Even after what he just admitted.

  He loves me?

  Studying him, I let myself consider this and whether he can possibly mean it. But what else could it be? What else could drive him to this moment with me? To turn his back on his family’s way of life?

  As he looks at me in that desperate, devouring way, I’m reminded of those moments in his car when he tended the cut on my palm and ran his hand over my leg. My belly twists.

  I glance around, see how seriously, dangerously alone we are. More alone than in the stairwell. Or even the first time together, on that ledge. I lick my lips. Now we’re alone with no school bell ready to rip us apart. Even more alarming, no more secrets stand between us. No barriers. Nothing to stop us at all.

  I hold my breath until I feel the first press of his lips, certain I’ve never been this close to another soul, this vulnerable. We kiss until we’re both breathless, warm and flushed, twisting against each other on the couch. His hands brush my bare back beneath my shirt, trace every bump of my spine. My back tingles, wings vibrating just beneath the surface. I drink the cooler air from his lips, drawing it into my fiery lungs.

  I don’t even mind when he stops and watches my skin change colors, or touches my face as it blurs in and out. He kisses my changing face. Cheeks, nose, the corners of my eyes, sighing my name like a benediction between each caress. His lips slide to my neck and I moan, arch, lost to everything but him. In this, with him…I’m as close to the sky as I’ve ever been.

  I make grilled cheeses for lunch, one for me, two for Will. We don’t have any chips, but I find a jar of pickles in the pantry.

  “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten. ” He pauses for a drink, staring at me over the rim of his glass of juice.

  “It’s the provolone,” I say, swallowing my last bite.

  “It’s the chef. ”

  I smile and look away.

  We listen to music. Talk. Kiss until my flesh glimmers gold-red. Warms to the touch from the deep scald at my core. He stops to watch. Leans his face close to my neck and smells my skin. Like I’m something he might taste. He sweeps his hands along my arms…making me burn hotter.

  “Is this what it’s like for other fire-breathers?” he asks, winks, holding my hand up in his broad palm. “Or is it just me and my magic hands?”

  I shake my head. “I don’t know. I’m the only one in my pride. ”

  His gaze snaps to mine, laughter gone. “Seriously?”

  I nod. “That’s why we left the pride. Mom says it isn’t safe for me there anymore. ”

  His hand on my arm tightens. “They would hurt you?”

  I shiver, thinking of the wing clipping they planned for me. I close my hand over his, force his fingers to loosen their grip. “No. Not like you think. They just want to plan out my life for me. ” I think of Cassian and shiver again. “Own me. ”
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