Firelight, p.32
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       Firelight, p.32

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
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Page 32

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  30

  Several other vehicles converge at the bottom of Big Rock at the same time we do.

  Bodies climb out of cars. Shadowy figures against a smoky night. Doors slam. I search for Tamra as we start out, hoping to pull her aside and tell her everything. Anything to get her to leave with Will and me.

  Electric lanterns swing from hands, lighting the way as we ascend Big Rock. I spot her flaming hair. Even in the darkness, it holds light. She avoids me, moving neatly amid the group as we climb, never looking at me.

  “Hey, you okay?” Will says close to my ear.

  “What is this place?” I mumble.

  “Just a place people like to party. ”

  I shake my head, glance into the pressing blackness, where the light does not reach. “What’s she doing here?” I mutter.

  “Looking for some fun. Same as everyone else here. ”

  Yes, being a normal kid, I think. Stirring up trouble. Except she couldn’t have chosen worse company.

  Again, I wonder what she’s been up to this week. Has she been studying with Xander those nights she went out? I feel sick at the thought of her in his house, no doubt near a room of horrors like the one in Will’s house.

  I glance around the group of people climbing to the top with us, recognizing a few as older cousins of Will. Others I don’t know. Their faces are hard-edged. The eyes dissolute, flat, and dark in the night. Dark and motionless as black space. When we reach the top, Will nods and greets several of them in a quiet, muted way, keeping me close to his side, almost behind him.

  My skin crawls, muscles tense, and my back tingles prickly hot and itchy, readying for flight. Escape.

  Will’s gaze darts. Uneasy, watchful—full predator mode.

  I tug my hand free to face him. My heart slows, stills in my too-tight chest as I search his face. “Is this a…” I glance around, notice a few of the guys look in their twenties or early thirties. Xander, one arm draped around Tamra, greets them jovially, slapping their backs. I drop my voice and lean in to Will. “Is this some kind of gathering for hunters?”

  His gaze is overly bright, apologetic. He nods only once, but I have my answer.

  So many wolves. And I’ve walked right into their den.

  We mill around the top of Big Rock, a smooth stretch of hilltop that crouches above one end of Chaparral. I stare down at the town sitting deep inside the desert basin. The view is beautiful.

  An hour passes, but it feels like forever. I’m supposed to be on a date right now, in a restaurant somewhere down in that glowing city. Instead, I’m here with a crowd consisting of mostly hunters. The lanterns form a small jagged circle. A stereo sits in the middle, throbbing music into the night.

  I’m glad for the dark. Glad that no one can see my skin glimmer, flash and dim with amber light, my body’s warning for me to flee. And I would if I could…but not without Tamra.

  “We can leave whenever you want,” Will says beside me. He holds my arm, his thumb tracing over my erratic skin, and I know he’s aware of its constant shifting.

  I follow the smooth fall of Tamra’s red hair as she steps up to the keg. In the back of my mind, I wonder how they lugged a keg all the way up here. “Just give me a minute. ”

  Walking away from Will, I approach her, determination tightening my shoulders. Closing my hand around her arm, I drag her away from the rowdy group and out of the circle of light.

  Xander starts to follow, but Will stops him. The two loom nearby, exchanging heated words as I pull her deeper into shadow.

  Tamra clutches an empty cup. I glare from the cup to her. “You don’t even like the taste of beer. ”

  In the near dark, I make out her smile. Her eyes gleam brightly in the night. “Just assimilating. One of us has to. ”

  I ignore the jibe and shake my head. “This isn’t you. ”

  “Careful, Jacinda,” she warns in mocking tones. “You’re glowing a bit. But then, I guess you could just tell your date you’re into body glitter. ”

  “What are you doing here?” I demand.

  “What are you doing here?”

  “I’m here because of you. Xander Rutledge? C’mon, Tamra. You have to know his reputation. The girls who go out with him—”

  “Ah, big sister. Really making those eleven minutes count, huh?” She leans in. “I’ll let you in on a little secret. I already have a mother. Hey,” she says with a laugh, “same mother as yours actually. ”

  Is she drunk? “I know you’re mad at me, but you shouldn’t be here with these—”

  “And you should?” Tamra flings a hand toward the group, toward Will standing at the edge, waiting for me. “You’re supposed to be home. Mom said you couldn’t go out with him. What are you doing here?”

  I glance pointedly at the empty plastic cup in her hand. “It’s safe to say Mom wouldn’t be happy with either one of us right now. ”

  Tamra shrugs, scuffs her shoe. Pebbles pop, roll down the slope into the black night. “Yeah, well. What are you going to do about it, Jace? Call her?”

  “Tamra, please. Come with me—”

  “And what? Crash your date?” She laughs shortly. “I don’t think so. ”

  “Will won’t mind. ”

  “No. ” She cocks her head and makes an ugly sound in her throat. “But I mind. I’ve lived in your shadow long enough. Xander’s into me. And I’m into him. ” Her voice cracks here a bit, and I don’t believe it. Not for one moment. She’s not into Xander. She’s into doing whatever it takes to fit in, and if it happens to piss me off in the process that’s just an added bonus. “Just go away and leave me alone. ” Turning, she walks back to the party.

  “Jacinda?” Will approaches me in the dark.

  Shaking, I turn into his arms. He smooths a hand over the side of my face, brushes the hair behind my ear, holds me close. “Are you all right? Do you want to go?”

  Leave? Yes. Leave Tamra? A chill chases over my skin.

  I suck in a breath, say against his chest, “I hate to leave her with…”

  “Xander,” he supplies grimly.

  I nod. After everything Will’s told me of his cousin, I’m convinced he’ll use Tamra. Hurt her. He can’t get to me or Will, but he can get to her. If he thinks there’s more to me, that I might be an enkros, he must assume Tamra’s hiding something, too. In her state, she’ll make an easy target for him. Because she’s that mad at me—that fed up with the life forced on her.

  “You can’t get her to come with us?” he asks.

  “She’s so mad at me,” I whisper, choke a little.

  “Ah, Jacinda. ” He pulls my face from his chest and rests his forehead to mine, kisses me with dry, cool lips. “You can’t beat yourself up about this. You can’t help what you are. ”

  I nod, but I’m not too sure about that.

  I haven’t exactly tried to be what Mom and Tamra want. I’ve fought it—them—every step of the way. I’ve clung to my draki when it would have been safer for all of us if I just let it go. Even stayed here when Cassian tracked me down. Maybe that does make me selfish.

  And now, no matter what I try to tell myself, the only reason I’ve decided to stay, the only reason I’m even here, is because of Will. He’s an addictive drug to me that I can’t quit. Again, selfish.

  He kisses me a second time and I let it distract me. Let the kiss grow hotter between us. Happy to forget where I am.

  Crazy as it sounds, Will’s my refuge. Someone who knows everything about me. And likes me anyway. Loves me. Understands me. Isn’t out to change me. He’s the only one I can say that about.

  I pull back to gaze at him, sliding my hands over his hard shoulders, palms down. Our breaths merge, mingle. Grow fast and hard. His eyes glitter, tiny gold torches in the dark. My fingers tighten. Clutch his shirt. Our mouths brush again. Once. Twice. Savoring the taste of each other.

&n
bsp; Abruptly, his lips change. Feel cold. Icy. With dull dread, I know it’s me. He’s not cold. My temperature has changed. My skin snaps. Too hot, it hisses like the drop of water on a hot stove.

  The pounding beat of music fades. Voices and laughter disappear as the burn builds, twists up through my center in a writhing lick of flame.

  I sigh. Feel the release of steam from my lips. It escapes before I can catch it.

  He winces against my lips, pulls back sharply. “Jacinda…”

  Before I can lean away and force coldness back in so that I don’t singe my boyfriend—a voice rings out and does it for me. The smolder dies in my lungs. Dropping my hands from Will, I slowly turn.

  “So this is why you want to stay here. ”

  My gaze finds Cassian immediately, a large, dark shape rising out of the night. His hair swings, brushing his broad shoulders as he walks. “So much for your promise,” I spit out.

  Will tenses, pulls me close to his side, the stance protective.

  Cassian. My every pore vibrates with fury, pulses wide.

  He doesn’t even look my way. It’s like he’s not even aware of me. He glares at Will, lips pulled back in a snarl. “Don’t touch her. ”

  “Cassian, don’t. ” I stop, cringing, blinking tight, wishing I had not just spoken his name.

  Now Will knows.

  His gaze swerves to me. The flesh ticks near his eye. “Cassian?” he demands.

  I don’t answer. Don’t breathe. Don’t risk freeing the steam that’s risen to my throat. The steam that I want to release full blast on Cassian. I turn and stare unblinking at him. Warning him with my eyes to behave himself.

  “This is Cassian?” Will repeats, really hung up on that point, and how can I blame him?

  “Will, let me handle this. ”

  “You knew he was here?” Will demands, his lips pulling tight. “And didn’t tell me?”

  I wince, admitting, “He promised to keep his distance. ”

  “But I didn’t promise,” Cassian interjects, “to sit by in silence while you make out with some—”

  “Shut up!” I spin around. Steam wafts from my nose.

  Cassian’s gaze follows the tendrils of smoke. He smiles in satisfaction. Laughs low and deep, menacing. His voice falls on the air, a sneaking whisper. “Look at you, Jacinda. You can’t stop what you are. ” He glances at Will and his smile slips, remembering we have an audience…and assuming Will knows nothing of my true self. “Now come with me before you do something we’ll both regret. ”

  And I do look. Glance down at my arms to see my flesh wink back at me, glistening fire gold in the shadows.

  “You’re like me,” he adds. “You don’t belong here, not with him. ”

  Beside me, Will growls low in his throat. His hand tightens on my arm.

  Cassian’s flesh flashes in and out, blurs a glimmering charcoal. He lifts his hand toward me. “End this game. Come with me now. ”

  I part my lips to speak. To refuse. A dry little croak escapes. I swallow, wet my lips to try again. But never get the chance.

  Will flies past me in a blur. In a diving arc, he takes Cassian down. They strike the ground with a heavy crack. A cloud of red dust rises, consuming them both. I stare, shaking, my eyes wide and aching in my face. What have I done?

  31

  Instantly, they’re lost in a tangle—a great mess of flailing limbs. Grunts. Curses. Tearing flesh. The smack of skin on skin fills the air.

  “Stop! Stop it!” I dance out of the way.

  They roll, writhing across the ground. Pebbles and rocks shake loose and tumble down the slope into the greedy, grasping dark.

  “Jacinda!” Tamra’s at my side. Xander beside her. Gratefully, the rest of the group are lost in their own little world of drunken revelry in the distance, unaware of the fight. “Is that Cassian?”
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