Firelight, p.31
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       Firelight, p.31

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
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Page 31

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  “You sure you’re all right? I wanted to meet your mom—”

  “Not such a good idea right now. ” I glance at the house. No sign of Mom, thankfully. “Let’s just get out of here. ”

  He nods with slow uncertainty. “All right. ”

  I can tell he’s not happy—he wants to be the proper boyfriend and everything. I wish I could let him. But I know it won’t work with my mother. Not yet.

  “I missed you,” I say, hoping that’s enough to make him feel better. “It’s been a long day. ”

  He laughs. “I missed you, too. I could have cut school, you know. You’re the one—”

  “I know. I know. ” I shake my head. “I just don’t want you doing that for me anymore. ”

  “Well, I won’t have to. You’ll be back on Monday. ”

  He starts the ignition and drives. I sigh with relief as we pull away. Finally on our date.

  I stare into the deepening night, the flashing lights of oncoming traffic mesmerize me in the clinging silence. My thoughts swing from Mom to someone else. Someone who’s in all likelihood nearby. Hopefully, not too near.

  I tell myself he’ll keep his word. Hang back. Even if he sees me with another boy. But I’m not a hundred percent convinced.

  I glance over my shoulder, at the car following close behind us. It’s impossible to see the driver. To tell if it’s Cassian. After a moment, it pulls around and passes us. I sigh.

  “Why do I get the feeling that I’m abducting you? Should I be on alert for sirens in the rearview mirror?”

  “I left willingly. ” I force a grin and tease, “I don’t think you’ll get arrested. ”

  “Great. You don’t ‘think. ’ That’s encouraging. ” He gives me a wincing smile. “But maybe not. I am eighteen, after all—”

  “You’re eighteen? But you’re a sophomore. ”

  An uneasy look passes over his face. “I missed a lot of school a few years back. Half of seventh grade and all of eighth, in fact. I was sick. ”

  “Sick?” I echo. The reminder of his mortality crashes down on me. It’ll always be there, smoke rising between us. Xander had mentioned Will being ill, but I never imagined it as anything serious.

  “How? I mean, what…”

  He shrugs like it’s nothing, but he won’t glance at me. He stares at the road. “Leukemia. But I’m better now. Completely cured. ”

  “Were you very… bad off?”

  “For about a year. The prognosis wasn’t—” He stops suddenly, like he’s said too much, and I get that sense again. The feeling that he’s not telling me something. That he’s holding back. A muscle in his jaw ripples with tension. “Look, don’t worry about it. Aren’t I a perfect male specimen now?” He sends me a wink. “Don’t I look healthy?”

  He does. Everything about him screams virile young male. But then not everything is what it appears. I know that better than anyone.

  “It’s amazing what doctors can do these days. ” He’s staring intently at the road again, and I’m convinced there’s something he’s not telling me. Maybe something he never will. But then why would he hide anything from me? After everything we know now about each other? What would be the point?

  I nod. Feel a little cold inside. I don’t like thinking he’s keeping something from me. Almost as much as I don’t like thinking I could have lost him. That we may never have met. That I would have died in that cave when his family found me.

  And then there’s the fact that he could still die. That he will. Sure, not now, but someday. Long before me. A dull throbbing gnaws at my temples. I dig my fingertips into the pain.

  But this is our first real date. I don’t want to ruin it, so I change the subject. “So. Where are we going?”

  “You like Greek food? It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s worth it. Great hummus. Our first date should be special. ” He grins, slides me a glance. “Finally, huh?”

  I smile, but my lips feel brittle, trembly. I manage to hold it in place. For a little while at least, I can pretend everything’s okay. That Cassian’s not somewhere out there…and farther away, beyond this desert, the pride isn’t waiting for me.

  Lights tattoo our rearview mirror. I twist in the seat and squint against the glare. The vehicle sticks close. Directly behind us. This time it’s no car eager to pass us.

  My heart thuds, the sound fast in my ears. I can’t help it—I think of Cassian. Or worse, the pride. Severin. I don’t imagine Cassian would be so obvious. He already confronted me. He might be following me, watching from the shadows, but he wouldn’t reveal himself like this. He promised.

  I twist my fingers in my lap and glance at Will. He lifts one of my hands from my lap, laces our fingers together and squeezes. The touch makes me feel strong. Safe.

  Strange that I should feel so safe with a draki hunter. But there it is. I can’t deny it. Don’t even try anymore. Nor can I deny the hopeful stirrings in me that make me believe I can stay here. Forever. In this desert. If maybe I couldn’t survive and flourish with him at my side.

  The vehicle behind us honks its horn. My skin contracts, snaps sharply.

  “Are they tailgating us?” I ask, hoping I’m overreacting, that I’m just paranoid because of Cassian’s visit, still so fresh.

  Will sets his mouth grimly. “Yeah. ”

  “Who are they? What do they want?”

  “It’s Xander. ”

  My heart chills above my surging lungs. “Oh. ” Cassian would have been better in my mind. At least I know what to expect with him.

  He glances at me. “We don’t have to pull over. He’ll go away. I don’t want you around him anymore. It’s too risky. ”

  “No. ” I shake my head. “We should pull over. Why wouldn’t we? It will make him more suspicious if you make a big deal about keeping me away from him—”

  “It’s our date—”

  “Let’s just get it over with. Then, we can have our night. ” I flutter a hand. “Give him what he wants—”

  Will’s harsh laughter fills the car. It’s an uneasy sound.

  “What’s so funny?”

  “You don’t get it at all, do you?”

  I stare at him, at his strong profile. “I guess I don’t. Why don’t you explain?”

  He drives, glaring straight ahead. Finally, he says in a growl, “He wants you. ”

  I jerk. “Me?” Feel his words like I’ve been slapped. “Why?”

  “Well, there’s that he thinks there’s more to you. He still suspects you know too much. That I’ve told you everything. And then there’s the constant competition between us. ” His long fingers flex over the steering wheel. “We were born three months apart, you know. ”

  I didn’t.

  Will continues, “He’s a grade behind because he hunts. Whenever he can. He’s so messed up that he even goes out alone, even leaves Angus. ”

  I arch a brow at that.

  “Crazy, I know. But he hasn’t been all that balanced since…” He stops.

  “Since?”

  “Since I got so good at tracking and became important to the family. More important than Xander. ”

  I stiffen at the reminder that he’s a tracker, the best in his family. How many draki have been killed or captured because of him? Yet I also feel empathy. Because I know what it feels like to be used, valued only for what you can do…not who you are, not who you want to be.

  “Since birth, we’ve been pitted against each other. Our fathers did it to us. Their father to them. ” He nods. “Natural, I guess. To make us stronger. Back when hunting draki was more dangerous, we didn’t have technology on our side. A lot who left on the hunt never returned. ”

  This, I know. At least I know that the draki have never been more vulnerable than now. Hunters have become wiser, deadlier adversaries against our dwindling numbers. In this day and age of net launchers and all-terrain vehicles
and communication devices that make surrounding and capturing us easier. In a time when draki are losing the dragon traits that have defended them through the generations. All except me.

  Now Will and his people hold the advantage—

  I shudder, hating this. This thinking of us as separate. Me versus him. A part of me turns cold with dread that it will always be this way.

  “Xander hates me. ” He shrugs like it’s natural.

  This is beyond my understanding. Despite everything Mom has done, despite the tension between me and Tamra, my family would never deliberately hurt me. Our bond runs too deep.

  Will looks at me as he eases his foot off the gas. “Sure you want me to pull over? He’ll steal you away at the first chance if for no reason than to bug me. ”

  I cross my arms. Lift my chin. “He can’t steal me. I’m not a toy for two boys to fight over. Pull over. ”

  And yet unease slides into the pit of my belly, rests there like a coiled snake.

  Because the creepy feeling I get around Xander is now justified. Has become more than a vague feeling. Sick dread curls around my heart as we slow down. If Xander ever finds out, he’ll do his best to destroy me, not just because of what I am but also to hurt Will. This certainty sinks slowly, deeply into my chest.

  We pull over into a diner parking lot. The smell of greasy bacon hangs in the air. We idle at the back of the lot, far from the few cars parked near the doors.

  A big four-by-four truck pulls up alongside us. Windows roll down and I look across Will. Xander and Angus sit in the front, smiling artificially. Easy and friendly in a way that makes my flesh shiver.

  “Hey, we went by your house,” Xander calls out. “Your dad said you left for the night. ”

  “Yeah. ” Will’s hand squeezes mine. “I have plans. ”

  “I see that. ” Xander nods, his gaze fixed on me. “We’re headed up to Big Rock. Want to come?”

  “We have other plans. ”

  Angus’s fleshy lips curl. “Ah, whipped already, I see. ”

  I really hate him.

  “Shut up,” Will tosses out, already moving to put the gear in drive, but then I catch a motion behind Will’s cousins. A hand emerges from the backseat and closes over the headrest behind Xander.

  “Wait—stop,” I hiss.

  Tamra’s head pops up from the backseat.

  “Tamra?” I call, practically in Will’s lap now.

  She’s hanging out with Xander? This is the guy she was talking about…the new guy she likes? No wonder she didn’t want me going out with Will tonight. She must have known there was a chance she’d run into us. My stomach churns with the knowledge that I might have put a stop to this development if I had been around and not suspended—if I had demanded more information about her life. Maybe if I had paid closer attention to my sister. If I had just told her the truth, she’d understand the danger. My fingers clench around Will’s hand.

  Tamra grins at me, an impish light glinting her eyes. She’s enjoying this. Knows that I won’t like her hanging out with these guys. “Hey, Jacinda. See you made it out tonight after all. ”

  I slide my gaze to Will, hoping he can read the message in my eyes: I can’t leave Tamra with them.

  “You sure?” he whispers, leaning his head close.

  I nod, mouth the word, “Yes. ”

  He sighs in understanding. “All right,” Will calls grimly, turning back to his cousins again. “We’ll come for a little while. ”

  Xander smiles smugly, and I know this isn’t by accident. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He set my sister up as bait. For whatever reason, he wants me and Will on Big Rock.
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