Firelight, p.30
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       Firelight, p.30

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
 
Page 30

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  He catches my hand, squeezes the wrist tight. “Jacinda—”

  “I don’t believe you. You gave me your word. Five weeks—”

  “Five weeks was too long. I couldn’t leave you for that long without checking on you. ”

  “Because you’re a liar,” I assert.

  His expression cracks. Emotion bleeds through. He knows I’m not talking about just the five weeks. With a shake of his head, he sounds almost sorry as he admits, “Maybe I didn’t tell you everything, but it doesn’t change anything I said. I will never hurt you. I want to try to protect you. ”

  “Try,” I repeat.

  His jaw clenches. “I can. I can stop them. ”

  After several moments, I twist my hand free. He lets me go. Rubbing my wrist, I glare at him. “I have a life here now. ” My fingers stretch, curl into talons at my sides, still hungry to fight him. “Make me go, and I’ll never forgive you. ”

  He inhales deeply, his broad chest lifting high. “Well. I can’t have that. ”

  “Then you’ll go? Leave me alone?” Hope stirs.

  He shakes his head. “I didn’t say that. ”

  “Of course not,” I sneer. “What do you mean then?” Panic washes over me at the thought of him staying here and learning about Will and his family. “There’s no reason for you to stay. ”

  His dark eyes glint. “There’s you. I can give you more time. You can’t seriously fit in here. You’ll come around. ”

  “I won’t!”

  His voice cracks like thunder on the air. “I won’t leave you! Do you know how unbearable it’s been without you? You’re not like the rest of them. ” His hand swipes through air almost savagely. I stare at him, my eyes wide and aching. “You’re not some well-trained puppy content to go along with what you’re told. You have fire. ” He laughs brokenly. “I don’t mean literally, although there is that. There’s something in you, Jacinda. You’re the only thing real for me there, the only thing remotely interesting. ” He stares at me starkly and I don’t breathe. He looks ready to reach out and fold me into his arms.

  I jump hastily back. Unbelievably, he looks hurt. Dropping his immense hands, he speaks again, evenly, calmly. “I’ll give you more space. Time for you to realize that this”—he motions to the living room—”isn’t for you. You need mists and mountains and sky. Flight. How can you stay here where you have none of that? How can you hope to survive? If you haven’t figured that out yet, you will. ”

  In my mind, I see Will. Think how he has become the mist, the sky, everything, to me. I do more than survive here. I love. But Cassian can never know that.

  “What I have here beats what waits for me back home. The wing clipping you so conveniently failed to mention—”

  “Is not going to happen, Jacinda. ” He steps closer. His head dips to look into my eyes. “You have my word. If you return with me, you won’t be harmed. I’d die first. ”

  His words flow through me like a chill wind. “But your father—”

  “My father won’t be our alpha forever. Someday, I’ll lead. Everyone knows it. The pride will listen to me. I promise you’ll be safe. ”

  Can I trust him again? Even after all he said? If I do and I’m wrong, the cost is too high. My life. “You’ll wait for me to agree to go back with you?” I want to be clear on this point. “You won’t force me in any way? Or reveal yourself to anyone, no matter what?”

  “I’ll wait,” he promises. “However long you need. ”

  He’ll wait. But he’ll be lurking about. Nearby. Watching. And I won’t always know it.

  Funny how things change. In the beginning, I thought I could never stay here. Now I don’t want to leave. Mostly because of Will, but also because I’ve decided to give Mom and Tamra what they want. A chance. It can’t be all about me. If I’m strong enough, smart enough, my draki can make it. And of course, Will can help with that. A few kisses. A smile. A brush of his hand and my draki is revived. And I no longer have to hide it from him.

  I can last through high school. For Mom, for Tamra. After graduation, I can go with Will when he cuts free from his family. Just two more years. We’ll figure out the specifics. The how and where. For the first time since coming here, I feel the stirrings of hope. I won’t let Cassian ruin that.

  “You’re going to wait forever,” I vow. “I won’t change my mind. ”

  Cassian’s mouth curves enigmatically. Like he knows something I don’t. He’s eighteen, but in that moment I can believe he has several more years than that on me. “Things change all the time. People change. I’ll take my chances. ”

  I shake my head. “You’ll see. I won’t change my mind. ”

  And then he’ll go. Because he can’t wait forever. No matter what he says. He’s got a pride to lead. He’s not going to hang around here for two years. No matter how interesting I am to him.

  “We’ll see. ”

  I glance at the blinking clock on top of the TV. “You better go before my mom gets home. ”

  “Right. ” He moves to the door. “Bye, Jacinda. ”

  I don’t return the farewell. Don’t want to pretend we’ve reached a level where niceties exist between us.

  We’re not friends. Not even close. And we never will be.

  29

  At five o’clock, Mom sticks her head in the bedroom. “What do you want to do for dinner tonight, Jacinda?”

  She switched shifts with someone so she could stay home with us one Friday night for a change. I feel a flicker of guilt. For all her trouble, she’s going to be alone.

  Tamra has plans, too—no surprise. And I haven’t told either one of them about my date with Will yet. Right now, looking at me, Mom thinks she’s going to have a fun night with at least one of her girls.

  Tamra is trying on clothes. She didn’t volunteer anything more than that she’s going out with friends. And I don’t ask. Don’t expect to know these friends if she did tell me. Given recent events, I’m pretty sure they’re not cheerleaders.

  I spot a pretty eyelet blouse she’s tossed—eliminated as an option—on the bed, and think it’s perfect for my date with Will.

  Inhaling, I confess, “Um, I’m actually going out, too. ”

  Tamra swings around.

  “Really?” Mom asks, crossing her arms and stepping into the room. “With who?” A small note of hope rings her voice. That the difficult daughter might actually be coming along. Fitting in. Making friends.

  “With Will. ” I avoid calling it a date. No need to alarm her.

  “Will?” Tamra’s voice cuts in. “Isn’t that kind of…stupid?”

  Mom’s brow scrunches like she’s concentrating. “He’s the reason those girls harassed you in the bathroom, right?” Apparently, Tamra has been talking to Mom. “The boy who makes you…”

  Manifest. Like it’s something dirty, she can’t even say it anymore.

  “I can control it around him now,” I lie. Better than telling her I don’t need to.

  Mom’s eyes harden. “I don’t want you going out with him,” she says this quickly, flatly.

  “Yeah. Me too,” Tamra chimes in, like she has some kind of authority over me.

  “You don’t get a say,” I snap at her.

  Tamra’s livid now, and I’m sure it’s because I lied to her when she asked me about Will. Guess I should have told her the truth then instead of wanting to keep it a cozy little secret just between me and Will. “He’s caused us nothing but trouble—”

  I stab a finger through the air. “He’s the only reason I even want to stay here! The only reason I haven’t run away yet! You should be thankful I met him. ” Not totally true. Mom and Tamra play a part, too…but I’m too mad to admit that.

  Mom jerks, blinks. Color bleeds from her face.

  “Jacinda. ” She exhales my name in a hushed breath. Like I’ve said something horrible. Done somethin
g even worse.

  “What? You think I haven’t thought about running away?” I demand. “I was miserable until Will! I don’t think I could stand a day here without him!”

  Tamra grunts in disgust and turns back to the closet.

  Mom’s quiet. Looks pale and afraid. I can see her thinking, processing. I stare at her, try to feed her my hope. Make her understand that everything’s better, everything will be all right as long as I have Will.

  She shakes her head sadly, regretfully. “It’s too dangerous for you to be with him. ”

  If only she knew how dangerous.

  “Fine,” I say tightly, tossing my hands up. “Keep me in a bubble, why don’t you? Or homeschool me! Don’t you think any boy that I like…that I’m attracted to might make my draki come to life?” I don’t think this is true, but I say so anyway. It’s strictly Will. There’s something about him. Something in him reaches inside me. No other boy could affect me the way he does.

  Mom shakes her head. “Jacinda—”

  “Should I try going out with a guy that grosses me out just to play it safe?”

  “Of course not,” she quickly says. “But maybe you shouldn’t date anyone until your draki—”

  “Is dead?” I finish, biting out. “I know. ” I fan my hands in the air. “It’s that great event you’ve been waiting for. The day you can call me human. ”

  And this hurts. Like a wound that just won’t heal, but pulses open and bloody. The knowledge that I’m not what she wants, that I have to be someone I don’t want to be in order to have her approval….

  Tears burn in my eyes at the unfairness of it all. I pull in a deep breath. “Has it occurred to you it may not die? That my draki is not a part of me you can just kill off? That it is me. Forever. All of me. Who. I. Am. ” I splay my hand over my heart. “I know you think it will eventually wither away here, but I’m a fire-breather, remember? That makes me different from everything we’ve ever known about our kind. ”

  She shakes her head. Looks tired. Old and a little scared. “You’re not going out with him. ”

  I clench my hands until the bones ache. “You can’t do this—”

  “What? Be your mother?” she snaps, her amber eyes lively again. “That’s never going to stop, Jacinda. Get used to it. ”

  I know she’s right, of course. She loves me and will always do what she thinks is right to protect me. Even if she makes me miserable in the process. She’ll do whatever she has to do.

  I cross my arms, settle my lips in a grim line. And so will I.

  Two minutes before Will is scheduled to arrive, I sneak out the window, sliding it shut quietly.

  Mom’s in the kitchen, getting a drink and snack ready for the movie I agreed to watch with her. The buttery aroma of popcorn fills the air, the frenzied staccato of popping covering up any sounds I make.

  Tamra left half an hour ago, still angry at me. She didn’t even say good night.

  As I run around the pool, I spot Mrs. Hennessey looking out the window, the blue light of her television pulsing behind her. I wave, hoping I don’t resemble a prison escapee too much. Air crashes from my lips as I hurry.

  Will’s at the curb, just stepping out from his Land Rover. His face relaxes when he sees me. A loose smile forms on his lips. “Hey. I was coming in—”

  “That’s okay. Let’s go. ” I open the passenger door before he can reach it and hop inside. Breathless.

  He gets back in, moving slowly, sending me curious looks. My hands tap an impatient rhythm on my thighs.
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