Firelight, p.28
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       Firelight, p.28

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 28

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  His brows dip. “What do you mean?”

  “Your information wasn’t totally off. Fire-breathers were thought to be extinct, lost. Then I came along. I’m the first fire-breather in my pride in generations. ” I shrug, trying to make light of my words. “And they want more. More like me. It’s simple, really. ”

  I deliberately don’t tell him about the wing clipping. Maybe I don’t want him to think we’re barbaric creatures. Considering his family, I know it shouldn’t matter to me, but it does. It shames me that my brethren planned to misuse me so cruelly.

  He stares at me for a long moment, his eyes hard, penetrating, processing. Then, he gets it. Understands how my pride plans to get more fire-breathers like me. His hazel eyes deepen to a forest green. He utters a profanity. “Your pride expects you—”

  “Not the entire pride,” I say quickly. I can’t think that Nidia does. That’s probably why she let us escape that night. Az and my other friends wouldn’t support such abuse of me either. “Our alpha picked his son, Cassian, for me…. ” I wince at his expression, slide my fingers over the back of his hand. “It’s all right. ” I lean over and kiss the side of his mouth. “I’m here now. With you. They’re not going to find me. ” Well, except Cassian, of course. He already has. But I’ll deal with him later. I still have a few weeks until his return.

  He turns his hand over to lace his fingers with mine. “Promise me you’re not going to leave. ”

  I hold my breath, stare into his eyes, know I must decide now. Not whether I’ll return to my pride. That’s already decided. I can never go back there. But I need to figure out once and for all if I’m going to stay here in Chaparral and forget about finding another pride.

  Will could help me leave. I believe he would, if I asked, if I convinced him I needed to go. Explained to him Cassian would be coming for me soon. He cares enough to do that for me even if he doesn’t want to see me go.

  He squeezes my hand. “Promise. ”

  “I promise,” I whisper. Even if I shouldn’t. Even if a small part of me will never feel safe here and never should.

  At least I don’t need to leave anymore in order to keep my draki alive. With Will around, it will never fade. And together, we can keep what I am hidden from the world. I believe that together we can do anything. And Mom and Tamra get the lives they want. Win-win for everyone.

  Somewhere in the distance, I hear a sound. A yippy, broken ka-kaa-kaa. It’s that bird again. Or one just like it. From the night it rained. The one I thought too stupid for failing to seek shelter.

  “What is that?” I ask.

  For a moment, he looks confused, then Will hears it, too. “Desert quail. Distinctive, huh? They come into town when it starts getting hot. Looking for food and water. A mate. ”

  For some reason, I shiver once again.

  “You cold?” He chafes my arms.

  I haven’t been cold since I moved here. This is something else. “No, but you can put your arms around me anyway. ”

  That afternoon, Catherine comes over after school.

  “Miss me?” she asks with her usual wryness, tossing her backpack on the floor and dropping down on the bed beside me like she comes over all the time. “I feel like a rebel just knowing you. Everyone keeps asking me if you really lit Brooklyn on fire. ”

  I arch a brow. “On fire?”

  Catherine plumps up a pillow beneath her head. “The actual event has gotten a bit exaggerated. ” Her lips twitch. “Maybe I had something to do with that. ”

  “Nice. Thanks. ”

  “No problem. ”

  “So I guess I’m pretty much done for at school. ” For the first time, it matters to me. If I’m to stay here and make a go of it, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few friends. To not be a social outcast. Especially since it seems pretty important for Tamra’s success at school, too.

  “Are you kidding? You’re a hero. ” Her lips twist with a smile. “I think you’ve got a shot at homecoming queen next fall. ”

  I give a short laugh, and then her words sink. Next fall. Might I be here then? With Will? It’s almost too sweet to believe.

  “So,” Catherine begins, picking at the loose paper edging my spiral. “Rutledge was absent today. ”

  “Yeah?” I try for nonchalance.

  “Yeah. ” She stretches the word, her blue-green eyes cutting meaningfully into mine. “And his cousins were around, so he’s not off somewhere with them. I wonder…” She cocks her head, her long, choppy bangs, sliding low across her forehead. “Wherever could he have been?”

  I shrug and pick at the flaking tip of my pencil.

  She continues, “I know where Xander thinks he was. ”

  My gaze swings back to her face. “Xander talked to you?”

  “I know, right? Can my days as a pariah be coming to an end?”

  “Where does he think Will was?”

  “With you, of course. ”

  “Me?” I moisten my lips. “He said that?”

  “Well, practically. He expected me to confirm it when he cornered me in study hall. ”

  I swallow. There’s no help for it. Xander still thinks I know too much, and Will’s involvement with me isn’t going to change that.

  “Why’s that guy have it out for you?” Catherine asks.

  “I don’t know. ” I shrug one shoulder.

  “Yeah, well, he definitely creeps me out. He reminds me of my mom’s old boyfriend, Chad. He gets that same intense look on his face. We finally had to get a restraining order on him. ”

  “I don’t think it will come to that. ”

  Catherine shakes her head with a wisdom beyond her years. “You never know about these things, Jacinda. You never know anyone. Not really. ”

  “True,” I murmur, wishing it were anything but…wishing I could see the world and everyone in it for what they truly are. No lies, no pretense, no masks. But then I wouldn’t live a very long life without my own masks.

  Later that night, my skin still hums with warmth, glowing faintly from the day spent with Will.

  I have the house to myself. Catherine stayed for dinner, but left just before Mom went to work, and then Tamra left for a study group. I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird on my bed. I like it but haven’t turned a page in half an hour. My concentration drifts.

  The scratching at my window begins subtly. It takes a moment to penetrate. At first I think it’s nothing more than a branch. Blowing in a nonexistent breeze…

  A chill runs through my skin. I slide off the bed, stare hard at the window between my bed and Tamra’s. In the low glow of lamplight, I make out a shadowy shape behind the blinds. Immediately, I envision Xander, imagining he knows the truth and is here to claim me. Not because Will told him, of course, but because Xander figured it out on his own.

  Then, I think of the pride. Cassian. Severin.

  I draw air deeply, expand my lungs. Remember that I’m no victim. “Who’s there?” I demand.

  The sound at my window grows louder, like someone’s fighting with the screen. I hear a pop, then a vibrating jerk. The screen is off.

  “Who’s there?” I repeat, smoke filling my mouth, puffing my cheeks, rushing from my lips in a cloudy gust. My back tingles. My wings move, crawl beneath my skin like beasts seeking escape.

  The window slides open. The blinds rattle noisily, ripple with movement. My skin ripples, too. Heat rolls over my flesh in a current. I part my lips, ready to blow fire.

  The blinds shove upward, and Will’s head pops inside. Those bright eyes lock on me. “Hey,” he breathes.

  “Will!” I rush forward and hold the blinds so he can climb inside the room. “What are you doing? You gave me a heart attack. ”

  “I saw your sister leave, but figured I shouldn’t knock on the door. Is your mom here?”

  “She’s at work. ”

  He grins, moves in, an
d wraps his arms loosely around me. “So I have you to myself. ”

  I smile, squeeze him back, loving that he misses me like I miss him. Even though we saw each other earlier today, I feel stronger with him here, the world not so scary and overwhelming.

  We sit on the floor, our backs against my bed. Hands laced together, we talk. He tells me more about his family. About his cousins. All of them. Even his uncles and other cousins. But it’s Xander that worries me.

  “Xander hates my guts,” Will comments.

  “Why?”

  Will pauses, and I feel the tension tighten his body. “My dad, my uncles…they favor me. ”

  “Why?”

  He sighs, and there’s pain in the sound. “I don’t want to talk about—”

  “Tell me,” I insist, determined to figure out this thing with Xander.

  “I guess I’m better at certain stuff. ”

  “What kind of stuff?” I ask, even as a whisper winds through me, warning me to stop, to end this line of questioning. That I don’t really want to know.

  “I’m a better hunter, Jacinda. ”

  My hand stills in his. I stare down at it, marveling at my hand nestled so trustingly in his, and I feel a little sick. I try to tug it free. Because it’s just too much. How am I supposed to handle that?

  He clamps down. “I don’t want to lie to you, Jacinda. I’m the best tracker in my family. It’s like I’m tuned in to your kind…. I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling I get whenever I’m close—”

  I nod. It makes sense now. The way he reacted that day in the hall; it was like he felt me there before he even saw me. “It’s okay,” I murmur, and realize that I mean it. If this is part of the reason he’s drawn to me, I couldn’t hold it against him. Not when I crave him like oxygen for my starved lungs to keep my draki alive. “So that’s why your family needs you so much. ”

  “Yeah. ” He nods, his honey brown hair tossing forward on his forehead. “But it never felt right. I never believed dragons, uh, draki, were dangerous creatures in need of killing. Not like my father wants me to think. Ever since I saw you in the mountains, I haven’t led them to any more draki. I can’t. I won’t. ”

  I smile then and start to wonder if my coming here hadn’t been for this reason. For Will. For me. For my species everywhere.

  Eventually, we get around to the question I hoped it would never occur to him to ask. Another matter I have not let myself think upon too much. Because I can’t stand the prospect.

  “So what about life span?” His head drops back on the edge of the bed, watching me. “Is it true?” So calm. So easy. So natural. It’s always like this with him. Like he’s not asking me this. Not asking me for my expiration date. “You can live forever?”

  “We’re not immortal. ” I try to cough up a laugh. Fail. “We can’t live forever. ”

  He’s quiet for a moment. Still watching me with a calmness that doesn’t meet the bright gleam in his eyes. Because he knows. He knows that even if we’re not immortal, it’s not as simple as being mortal. “How long do you live?”

  I wet my lips. “It’s different for everyone, of course—”

  “How long?”

  “Nidia, the oldest draki in our pride, is three hundred and eighty-seven. ” For a flash of a second, he looks stricken. Then it’s gone. Cool neutrality back in its place. I quickly add, “That’s long. Really old for us. Not the norm. Two hundred…three hundred is a closer average. ”

  “Average,” he echoes.

  I keep talking, like I can stop him from thinking about it…about the gulf my words build between us. Not that we don’t already have enough obstacles. “We think sheer will alone is keeping Nidia alive. She’s special to our pride. We need her too much, so she’s hanging on for us. ” I laugh weakly, hating how quiet he is.
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