Firelight, p.29
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       Firelight, p.29

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 29

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  “So you won’t start looking old until…when?”

  I shrug uneasily. “Well, we never really look…old. ” Not “human” old, anyway.

  “How old does this Nidia look?”

  I bite my lip and lie. “Maybe fifty-five. Sixty. ”

  Not quite the truth. She looks closer to mid-forties, and that’s as old as I’ve seen any draki ever look. We simply don’t age the way a human does. My mom is only starting to age because she’s suppressed her draki for so long.

  “So when I’m a silver-haired sixty-year-old you’ll look…?”

  “Younger,” I say, my throat tight and aching. And not because he’ll look older or less beautiful. But because if I’m around, I will be able to do nothing. Nothing but watch him decay, weaken, and ultimately die.

  “Can we talk about something else?” I tear my hand from his to drag it through the impenetrable mass of my hair, hoping he doesn’t notice when I sneak in a rub at my eyes.

  Right then, I hear the front door open and shut.

  We scramble to our feet in a mad rush. Will’s out the window minutes before Tamra enters the room.

  Sitting on my bed, I try to look casual, try not to glance at the window he disappeared through. Try not to think about our last words, the look on his face…the chill in my heart knowing he will die long before me.

  I never let myself think about it before, never mulled over the distant prospect. But knowing what I do now—that he loves me, that I’ll never leave here, that I want us to be together forever—it’s impossible to stop the dread from sinking its teeth into me.

  Forever won’t last that long for him.

  27

  I wake to the smell of coffee and bacon. I sniff deeper. No. Sausage. Definitely. And frying eggs.

  I glance at Tamra’s empty bed across from me and then the clock. Eight fifteen AM. The aroma swims around me. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I prop up on my elbows, wondering if Mom forgot to turn the coffee off. My stomach growls. But that didn’t explain the food smell.

  “Well, I guess that answers my question. ” The deep velvet voice startles me.

  I jump, grab my pillow like I’m going to use it as a weapon.

  Will stands in the doorway, sipping from a metallic travel mug. His gray T-shirt stretches across his shoulders and chest in a way that makes my throat close up.

  “What question?” I ask, breathless.

  “Whether you’re as beautiful in the morning as you are during the rest of the day. ”

  “Oh,” I say dumbly, pushing the tangle of hair back off my shoulders, certain I don’t look good right now, just rolling out of bed. Not that I take pains with my appearance on the average day, but still…who looks their best fresh out of bed? “You’re here again,” I murmur.

  “Apparently. ”

  “Can’t stay away?”

  “Apparently not. ”

  I’m okay with that. Great, in fact.

  “I made you breakfast,” he adds.

  “You can cook?” I’m impressed.

  He grins. “I live in a bachelor household, remember? My mom died when I was a kid. I hardly remember her. I kind of had to learn to cook. ”

  “Oh,” I murmur, then sit up straighter. “Wait a minute. How’d you get in here?”

  “Opened the front door. ” He takes another sip from his mug and looks at me like I’m in trouble. “Your mom really should lock the door when she leaves. ”

  I arch a brow. “Would that have kept you out?”

  He smiles a little. “You know me well. ”

  And I guess I do. I understand the whole not-being-what-your-family-wants thing. Understand what it feels like to be a constant disappointment. Together, in this, we are the same.

  His smile fades. “But there are other threats—”

  “And a locked door would keep them out, right?”

  Instantly, I regret reminding him of that fact. Regret the shadow that falls over his face and darkens his eyes to green.

  “Hey,” I say, rising from bed, determined to make him forget that sinister forces exist, ready to harm me…and tear us apart. That he lives side by side with some of them. Probably the worst of them. The pride doesn’t want me dead, after all. Even the enkros aren’t an immediate danger. They’re faceless, misty-figured demons to me, a hidden boogeyman, a threat only if hunters catch me and turn me over to them.

  “Let’s not go there,” I say, wrapping my arms around his waist.

  He squeezes me so hard air gusts from my lips. “I don’t want you hurt. Ever. ”

  There’s something in his voice, in the way he holds me—a starkness, an intensity that makes my skin tremble and my stomach clench.

  And I wonder if he knows something more. If he hasn’t told me everything.

  What else could there be?

  I ignore the feeling and bury my face in his warm chest. The soft cool cotton of his shirt feels pleasant on my skin. “Then you might want to relax your hold ’cause you’re crushing me,” I tease.

  “C’mon,” he says, taking my hand and leading me into the kitchen. “I’m starved. Let’s eat. ”

  His voice is normal now. Velvet deep. Smoothly even. Whatever I heard is gone. Later, I wonder if I imagined it.

  “Will hasn’t been at school lately. ”

  I look up from my book at my sister’s nonchalant comment. Tamra works on the floor beside her bed. She watches me carefully, pen poised over her paper.

  “Oh?” I say, proud at the calmness of my voice, that I don’t bite the baited hook. “Maybe he went out of town again. ”

  “No. His cousins are in school. ” Evidently she’s aware of their fishing expeditions, although not their true prey.

  I shrug and look back at my book. After a moment, I hear the scratch of her pen resume, and I breathe again…hoping I passed her test. Fortunately, Mrs. Hennessey hasn’t mentioned Will’s visits, and I don’t think she will. Somehow we’ve formed an alliance.

  “Have you heard from him?”

  Apparently, she’s not finished. And this is where it gets hard. Lying to my sister has never been easy, but telling her the truth may lead to other truths that she’s not ready to hear…and I’m not ready to confess.

  “Nope. ”

  “Huh. Guess he’s not such a prince after all. ” She looks at me directly. I resist insisting that Will is everything. A prince and more. “You okay?” she asks.

  “Yeah. Never much believed in princes. ”

  “No kidding. ” She shrugs, and I can’t help think about Cassian. She used to believe he was a prince. I’m not sure she still doesn’t. “This running into frogs is new for you, that’s all. ”

  I grunt. Hoping to redirect her thoughts, I ask, “How’s Ben?”

  “Fine. I guess. ”

  Meaning that Tamra isn’t into him. He’s not Cassian, after all. No matter how she had determined to move on, I’m certain Cassian is still there, larger than life in her head. Too bad. A boyfriend would distract her from worrying about me—from worrying over whether or not I’m going to blow it for her here. That is, more than I already have. A boyfriend would also give her that taste of normalcy she wants so badly.

  Maybe I should tell her about Will. Explain to her that I want to stay here now, that I want to make it work. That I like Will that much…that I more than like him. That because of him, I can stay here. I sigh. That would be a big conversation. Bigger than I want to have. She’ll find out tomorrow night anyway when he shows up for our date.

  “I kind of like someone else now,” she says before I can say anything.

  I look up. “Yeah? You found your prince?”

  “Hmm. Maybe. ” She nods, not elaborating, and I don’t push. Tamra won’t tell more than she wants to. We’re alike in that way, I guess. For too long, we’ve lived together, but separately, holding the deepest
parts of our hearts hidden because the other won’t like what’s there. Problem is, we know each other well enough that it’s hard to hide much of anything.

  I watch her for a moment, my lips parted, ready to break that trend. But no words materialize. Some habits are hard to break. I’m not ready to tell her about Will yet. Right now it’s a warm little secret hugged close to my heart. A beautiful butterfly I’ve managed to capture and hold carefully in my cupped hands.

  She’ll know soon enough. For now, I’ll hold my lovely butterfly close and try not to crush it.

  The following day, Will doesn’t put in his usual appearance.

  Not surprising. He told me he would go to school today…. I harassed him until he promised. I don’t want him to get in trouble or flunk out because of me, and I don’t want to draw any more attention to myself with his family.

  But since he’s promised me that before and always showed up anyway, I can’t help feel disappointed when the day wanes with no sight of him. Even with our date tonight, it’s a long stretch of hours without him.

  I visit Mrs. Hennessey for a while. We watch a little television together before her nap, then I head home and spread out on my bed to catch up on schoolwork. I breeze through chemistry and start on my geometry—the quadratic formula. I learned it two years ago, so I’m working through the problems in an easy rhythm when I hear it.

  A soft click.

  A creaky floorboard.

  My skin pops, dances, shivers with excitement. Will. I lower my pencil and sit up, brushing anxiously at my hair.

  “Hello? Mom?” I’m convinced it’s not Mom but ask anyway. Just in case.

  Nothing. Silence.

  “Mrs. Hennessey?”

  Rising, I move to my door and stare into the living room. The front door is open. Light streams in and tiny motes of dust dance inside the beams of sunshine. Just beyond, the pool gleams a blue so bright it hurts my eyes.

  “Will?” I risk calling. My voice rings hopefully.

  I stride forward, shooting a quick glance at the empty kitchen. Just in case he’s there, making us a snack. Nothing. At the front door, I peer outside, see nothing.

  My lips twist in disappointment. No Will.

  I close the door slowly, make sure it shuts solidly this time. My skin still ripples, snapping with energy. The kind of energy I feel around Will. Except Will would answer me.

  Staring at the door, I chafe my arms, puckered to gooseflesh despite my body’s warmth. For what it’s worth, I go ahead and lock the door. The quiet feels thick and oppressive. Far too still.

  My skin swims in heat, uncomfortably warm. A dip in the pool might help. With a hand on the hem of my shirt, I turn to get my suit. And scream.

  28

  I bite back my cry, cut it short before it can wake Mrs. Hennessey and bring her running.

  “Hello, Jacinda. ”

  Dread strikes deep in the well of my heart at that voice. I knew this moment would eventually arrive, but that didn’t make me ready. He promised five weeks, after all. I swallow hard, knowing that persuading him to leave a second time will be harder.

  My lungs smolder. My windpipe widens, swells with heat, ready to defend myself. The fire inside me intensifies when I think about the wing clipping that awaits me…that he wants to take me back to endure. “Get out,” I rasp.

  His eyes flare wide, the pupils thinning to vertical slits. “Your mother told you,” he states flatly.

  “Yeah,” I snap. “She told me. ”

  “She doesn’t know everything. She doesn’t know me…or how I feel. I would never force you to do anything against your will, and I would never, ever let anyone harm you. ”

  His words enrage me. Lies, I’m convinced. My hand shoots out, ready to slap that earnest look off his face. The same earnest look he’d given me the first time he lied to my face.
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