Firelight, p.7
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       Firelight, p.7
 

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
Page 7

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  The only thing I need to know about him is that his family hunts. I must not forget that. Ever. They kill my kind or sell us to the enkros. In their foul hands, we’re either enslaved or butchered. My skin shrinks, and I remind myself he is part of that dark world. Even if he helped me escape, I should avoid him. And not because Tamra told me to. I should gather up my stuff and move to another table.

  Instead, I stay where I am, balancing so carefully on my stool, making certain our bodies don’t brush.

  “So,” he says, like we’re in the middle of a conversation. Like we know each other so well. A nerve ticks, jumps near my eye at the sound of his voice. “You’re new. ”

  I summon the strength to strangle something out. “Yeah. ”

  “I saw you earlier. ”

  I nod and say, “Earlier in the hall. Yeah. I saw you, too. ”

  His eyes warm, slide over me. “Right. And in PE. ”

  I frown. I don’t remember seeing him during fourth period, don’t remember feeling him.

  “You were running around the track,” he explained. “We were up in the natatorium. I saw you through the windows. ”

  “Oh. ” I don’t know why, but it thrills me to know he was watching me.

  “You looked pretty fast. ”

  I smile. He smiles back, the grooves along his cheek deepening. My heart squeezes tighter.

  “I like to run. ” When I run really fast, the wind hits my face and I can almost pretend I’m flying.

  “Sometimes,” he continues, “the guys and girls run together during PE. Although I’m not sure I could keep up with you. ” His voice is low, flirty. Heat licks through me, curls low in my belly.

  I imagine this scenario, imagine running side by side with him. Is that what he’s saying he wants to do? Air shivers past my lips. Of course, I’d love running with him. But I shouldn’t. I can’t. That wouldn’t be a good idea.

  Two guys drag in late as the final bell rings. They look our way. At Will, not at me. I’m beneath their notice.

  One with raven-dark hair shaved close to his head walks ahead of the other. His face is elegant, narrow, and beautiful with dark, liquid eyes. Apprehension curls through me. His eyes are dead cold, calculating.

  His bulky friend swaggers behind him—his hair so red it makes me squint.

  “Hey. ” The dark one nods at Will, stopping at our table. I shrink, feeling oddly threatened.

  Will leans back on his stool. “What’s up, Xander?”

  Xander looks almost…confused. Arching his brow, his attention drifts to me. And then I get it. He doesn’t understand why Will is sitting here. With me.

  I don’t understand either. Maybe on some level, Will remembers, recognizes me. Sweat dampens my palms. I squeeze my thighs under the table.

  Red gets to the point. “You’re not sitting with us?”

  Will shrugs one shoulder. “Nah. ”

  “You pissed or something?” This from Red.

  Xander doesn’t speak. He continues to watch me. That ink black gaze makes me queasy. One word fills my head. Evil. A bizarre thought. Melodramatic. But I’m draki. I know evil exists. It hunts us.

  I shift uneasily on my stool. Clearly Xander understands what his friend hasn’t grasped. For whatever reason, Will wants to sit with me. I consider moving to another table, but that would just draw more attention to me.

  Natural. Just act natural, Jacinda.

  “I’m Xander,” he says to me.

  “Jacinda,” I offer, feeling Will’s stare on the side of my face.

  Xander smiles at me. Darkly beguiling, I’m sure it works on most girls. “Nice to meet you. ”

  I manage a brittle smile. “You too. ”

  “I think you’re in my health class. ” His voice is smooth, silky.

  “You must mean my sister, Tamra. ”

  “Ah. Twins?”

  He says “twins” like it’s something rich and decadent, chocolate in his mouth. I can only nod.

  “Cool. ” His gaze lingers on my face in a way that makes me feel exposed. Finally, he looks away, claps a hand on Red’s back. “This is my brother, Angus. ”

  I blink. They are nothing alike. Except in the menace they emit.

  He continues, “And I guess you’ve already met Will. ”

  I nod, even though we haven’t actually met.

  “We’re cousins. ”

  Cousins. Hunters. Only not like Will.

  My lungs expand with smoldering heat. I hold my breath. Suppress the surge of heat at my core, the rumbling vibration inside me. Strangely though, I feel no surprise. Prickly hot alarm has been there since the pair walked into the room. They are different from the other humans surrounding me. They are a threat. Instinct tells me this.

  Xander and Angus would never let me escape. They would relish the chance to kill me. I don’t know where to look. Awareness of them, these cruel hunters, crushes down on me. I worry they will see the truth in my eyes. My gaze darts around, looking for a safe place to rest.

  “Really,” I say with a muted voice, unable to stop myself from looking at them again. “Cousins. Cool. ”

  Angus’s lip curls, lifts over his teeth, and I know I sound stupid. A vapid girl.

  With a smirk at Will, he shrugs and walks to the back of the room, dismissing me. Relief washes over me, but only a fraction. Xander lingers. With his cunning eyes he is the greater threat. The smarter of the two.

  He looks back and forth from me to Will. “Are you coming tonight?” Xander asks.

  “I don’t know. ”

  Xander’s demon-dark eyes flash with annoyance. “Why not?”

  “I have homework. ”

  “Homework. ” Xander drops the word like it’s something foreign he never heard before. For a moment, he looks on the verge of laughter. Then, he’s all business, his voice a hard bite as he says, “We’ve got stuff to do. Our dads expect you there. ”

  Will’s hand curls into a fist on the table. “We’ll see. ”

  His cousin glares at him. “Yes. We will. ” Then, he looks at me. His inky eyes soften. “See you around, Jacinda. ” With an idle tap on our table, he strolls away.

  Once he’s gone, I breathe easier. “So,” I say to Will, “your cousins seem…nice. ”

  He smiles a moment but his eyes are grave. “You should stay away from them. ” Will’s voice is low, a stroke of warm air that reaches across the distance to my skin.

  I already plan on doing that, but I ask anyway. Anything to better pick him apart. “Why?”

  “They’re not the kind of guys a nice girl should hang out with. ” The tendons on his forearm flex as he opens and shuts his hand. “They’re jerks. Most anyone will tell you that. ”

  I try for a flirty tone to lighten the dark mood. “And what will most anyone tell me about you? Are you a good guy?”

  He turns and faces me. Those changeable eyes pull me in, remind me of the lush greens and browns of the home I left behind. His face isn’t soft. The angles are hard, chiseled.

  “No. I’m not. ” He swings his face forward again.

  Mr. Henke ignores the class, tapping a staccato rhythm at his computer.

  My chest feels tight and prickly. Smoldering warm. “Why are you sitting with me?”

  The silence stretches so long I begin to wonder if he’s going to answer when he finally admits, “I don’t know. Still trying to figure that out. ”

  I don’t know what I expected him to say. That on some level he knows me? Neither of us cracks a book. I barely breathe, too afraid that the heat mounting inside me might find a way out through my lips or nose. I take small sips of air and wait for the bell.

  Conversation buzzes at a steady drone throughout the room. Mr. Henke’s typing stops. I watch his eyes drift shut and his head bob to his nonexistent neck. His glasses slip on his nose.

  I jump a
t a burst of shrill laughter behind me. I look over my shoulder and see a girl in the back, her chair squeezed between Will’s cousins. Angus tickles her side and she jumps, her long blond hair flying like streamers in the air. She clings to Xander’s arm as if he might save her from the delightful torture.

  Xander wears a lazy smile—looks bored. As if he senses me watching, his gaze cuts to me, the smile vanishing from his face. His dark eyes seize hold of me.

  “Turn around. ”

  My pulse jackknifes against my throat at the deep voice. I look back at Will.

  His lips barely move as he speaks. “Trust me. You don’t want to be one of the girls Xander notices. It never goes well for them. ”

  “I’ve hardly spoken to him. I don’t think he—”

  “I noticed you. ”

  A dark thrill races through me. I wipe damp palms on my jeans.

  He laughs then. Low and soft. An unhappy sound. “So, yeah. He noticed you. ” His lips twist. “Sorry about that. ”

  The bell rings, its unnatural peal jarring me as it has all day.

  And he’s gone. Out the door before I can even grab my things or say good-bye.

  7

  I’m fighting with my locker again, the steel lock a cold kiss on my fingers. Bodies bump and rush past me. Strangely, my eyes burn. Tears want to spill. Which is stupid. Just because I can’t get my locker open is no reason to wimp out.

  But it’s more than this. I know that. It’s everything. I scan to the left, hoping Tamra will get here soon, so we can get out of this wretched place.

  “Will Rutledge. Impressive. ” At the droll voice, I turn and recognize a girl from fourth-period PE. She was faster than most of the other girls. I remember lapping her only once around the track today. Her sleek brown hair reminds me a little of Az, but her eyes are large and blue-green, staring widely from beneath a choppy fringe of bangs. The bangs are a little too long, slightly uneven as though she takes scissors to them herself.

  “Excuse me?” I say.

  “Will and his cousins. They’re the show around here. ” Her voice is low, guttural, dragging each word.

  “Really,” I murmur.

  “Rich, hot, and they’ve got that bad-boy edge going for them. ” She nods. “Xander and Angus are users. Been through half the girls in this school. Not Will though. He’s…”

  I lean forward, eager for anything she will impart about him.

  “Well. Will…” A wistful smile curves her mouth. “He’s elusive. None of the girls here interest him. ” She rolls her magnificent eyes and sighs dramatically. “Course that just makes us want him harder. ”

  Stupid delight flutters inside my chest.

  “I’m Catherine,” she announces.

  “Hi, I’m—”

  “Jacinda. I know. ”

  “How do—”

  “Everyone knows your name. And your sister’s. Trust me. It’s not that big of a school. ” She steps forward and brushes my hands off my lock. “What’s the number?”

  I toss out the six digits, vaguely wondering if I should be giving out my combination to a stranger and how I’m ever going to learn to open the thing myself. Catherine’s fingers fly. She lifts the handle and frees the door.

  “Thanks. ”

  “No problem. ” She leans a shoulder against the lockers, looking content and natural. Like we do this every day. “Word of advice. You might want to stay away from him. ”

  “Will Rutledge?” I ask, getting a thrill from just saying his name.

  She nods. For a moment, I feel like I’m talking to Tamra again. Frustration seeps through me. My whole life I’ve been given advice that I’m expected to follow.

  I hold on to my chemistry book and slide my lit book down from its shelf. “Why is that?”

  “Because Brooklyn Davis will pulverize you or any girl who goes after him. ”

  I thought maybe she had been warning me off Will because he’s trouble. Like he told me himself. This, I could believe. This, I already know. I’m reminded of it every time he’s near in the tightening of my flesh.
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