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Her Elemental Dragons: Stroke the Flame: Chapter 35


After a long, exhausting day of riding up and down mountains on the way to the volcano, Slade found us a cave to hide in for the night. We’d seen no sign of the Onyx Army behind us so far, but that didn’t mean they weren’t following. Our only hope was to get to the Fire Temple and hope we would be safe there—or that we’d unlock Jasin’s dragon form and be able to blast our way out.

We ate the leftover pasta Ilya had packed for us, but instead of sitting around a campfire and chatting, all the men retreated to different corners of the cave or slipped outside to be alone with their thoughts. I was surprised to find that I wanted the opposite of solitude and missed their company. After nearly two weeks with these men, I’d started to grow accustomed to having them by my side at all times.

“Can I sit here?” I asked Slade, who was sharpening his axe.

“Of course.” He set down his axe and patted the spot on the blanket beside him.

I sank down beside him with a weary sigh. “Thanks. It’s been a long day.”

“Been a long week.”

“True. But between fighting off soldiers, helping prisoners escape, and running up and down mountains, I’m feeling especially weary.” I leaned back on my hands, stretching my legs out. “Do you think the Resistance members got away safely?”

“I hope so. Our escape this morning might have helped distract the soldiers who would have followed them.”

I hadn’t thought of that, but I nodded. “How did you know about that Resistance hideout?”

He ran a hand along his dark beard. “I used to be part of the Resistance.”

“You were?” I blinked at him. “Did you fight against the Onyx Army with them?”

“No, nothing like that. I made weapons and hid some of them when they were in trouble. That was all.”

“How did you get involved with them?”

“A friend convinced me to help them, but I tried to keep my involvement as minimal as possible. I didn’t want to bring trouble to my town or to my family and friends.” He frowned as he glanced at his axe. “Trouble found me anyway though.”

“I know what you mean,” I said with a sigh. “At some point we might want to find the Resistance and convince them to help us. It could be good to have some allies.”

“We can try, although the Resistance survives by staying hidden. They might not be interested in helping us.”

I thought of my parents, wondering again if they were also members of the Resistance, or if they were truly killed because of me. Or both.

“I suppose we’ll worry about that later.” I rested my hand on his arm. “But thank you for everything you did in Ashbury.”

“It was nothing.” He met my eyes and something stirred inside me as I admired his rugged, handsome face. I wanted to run my fingers through that beard and see if it was as soft as it looked. I wanted to kiss those sensual dark lips. As he looked back at me, I thought I sensed a similar desire smoldering inside him, but then he turned away and went back to sharpening his axe.

Sensing that our moment was over, I got up and walked over to Auric, who was studying a map he’d laid flat on a wide rock.

“How are you feeling?” I asked him. “Any problems with your shoulder?”

“None.” He stretched his back and arms. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think I’d never been injured.”

“Good.” I leaned against his side and peered at the map. “How close are we?”

“I think we’re about here,” he said, pointing to a spot in the mountain range cutting through the Fire Realm. He traced his finger across to a large black peak. “The Fire God’s temple is here, near the Valefire volcano, on the edge of the Eastern Sea. I estimate we should reach it by tomorrow afternoon.”

I nodded and wrapped my arms around myself. A confusing mix of emotions swirled inside me at the thought of reaching the end of this journey tomorrow. I was torn between feeling nervous, anxious, excited, and worried. I had no idea what to expect at the Temple, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for what we would face there.

Auric must have sensed my unease, because he gave me a warm smile. “Don’t worry. There should be priests at the Temple to guide you through what you need to do. Hopefully they can give us more information too.”

“That would be good,” I said, although I wasn’t very enthusiastic.

“Are you hesitant about sleeping with Jasin?”

“A little.” I glanced over at Jasin, who sat alone, staring into the fire he’d made. “Not because I don’t want to do it. But it’s my first time, and there’s a lot of pressure riding on this.”

“I understand.” He took my hands in his. “For what it’s worth, I think Jasin will take good care of you.”

“Does it bother you, knowing you have to share me with him?”

“No, but it’s common for people in the Air Realm to have multiple partners.” He shrugged. “Obviously I would have liked to be first, and Jasin wouldn’t be my choice to share you with, but he’s loyal. Whatever he might have done in his past, he cares about you a lot. Everyone can see it.”

“Thanks. I should probably go talk to him.”

“Yes, you should.” He gave me a quick kiss, then released my hands and went back to studying his map.

I joined Jasin by the fire and sat beside him, trying not to let my fear of the flames show. “I’m so sorry about what happened this morning.”

He nodded, his face solemn. “I never thought my father would do something like that. I can only hope that one day my parents will forgive me and understand why I chose this path. Seems unlikely though.”

I leaned against him, resting my head on his shoulder. “You did what you thought was best. I’m proud of you, even if they’re not.”

He pressed a kiss to the top of my head. “That’s all I need to hear.”

We sat in companionable silence as the flames crackled and popped in front of us, until I said, “Auric told me we’ll reach the temple tomorrow.”

“Good. I’m ready.” He pulled back to look into my eyes. “Are you?”

“I think so. I’m still nervous about a lot of things, but I want to do this.”

He arched an eyebrow. “Nervous about being with me?”

“Yes, and about all the fire.” I swallowed. “I couldn’t handle that burning house. What am I going to do in the Fire Temple? Or once you’re a Dragon or I have fire magic of my own?”

He wrapped an arm around me. “I won’t let any harm come to you, I promise. And once you have this magic, I’ll train you. Reven would never admit it, but I’ve gotten a lot better over the last few days thanks to our training.”

“Yes, you have. I was suitably impressed by the wall of flame earlier.”

His cocky smile returned, and some of the melancholy lifted from his eyes. “Were you scared?”

“No, I wasn’t,” I said, surprised by my answer.

He let out a long breath. “I know you haven’t always trusted me—both with my fire and with your heart, so that means a lot to me.”

“I do trust you,” I said, and meant it. Although his past reputation with women had worried me at first, I sensed his passion for me more than from any of the other men. Jasin wasn’t the type to hold back—he said what he felt, often without thinking first, and that was one of the things I loved about him. You never had to worry about where you stood with him.

He brushed his lips against mine. “I’m ready for tomorrow. I want to be yours, and I want you to be mine.”

“Me too.”

He pulled me close and kissed me with all that pent-up passion, until I had to pull away to stop from dragging him down to the blanket to continue what we started last night, even with the other guys watching. Although I wouldn’t mind if the guys watched, actually. Or joined in. I glanced over at Auric and Slade at that thought, but they were both pointedly not looking at us, as if trying to give us some privacy. But the fourth member of our group was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Reven?” I asked, as I pulled away from Jasin.

Jasin shrugged. “Outside maybe?”

I sighed. “I should go check on him.”

I slipped through the low entrance of the cave and into the small valley outside. Under the tiny sliver of a moon, Reven stood beside his horse, unpacking something from one of his bags. No, not unpacking—he was putting something in them.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

He turned his black-haired head toward me. “I’m leaving.”

My stomach fell out from under me so fast I was nearly dizzy. “What? Why?”

“I never planned to be part of this team. Last night reminded me of that.”

“Last night you helped those people. You saved my life. And after that…” I took a step toward him. “I started to think you cared about me. About our mission. What changed?”

“What changed is that you risked your life for me.”

“I don’t understand…why is that bad?”

“You nearly got yourself killed in the process. And today General Voor recognized me because of it, putting the entire group at risk.” He shook his head, his voice dripping with disgust. “Caring for people makes you weak. I should have left a long time ago.”

My throat tightened and I found it hard to speak. He was really leaving, just when I’d thought he was starting to truly be part of the group—and had started to have feelings for me. “What about the Water God?”

He shrugged as he closed up his pack. “He can find someone else to be his Dragon. Maybe he’ll let you choose someone better this time.”

The thought of having anyone else as the Azure Dragon and the fourth member of my team was too horrible to even consider. My entire soul rejected the very idea. “What if I choose you?”

He gave me a sharp glance. “That isn’t an option.”

“But we need you.” I stepped closer, placing a hand on his chest. “I need you.”

He gazed into my eyes and I saw a hint of something like desire there, which made me think he might stay after all. That all of this was just his way of trying to protect his heart and he didn’t mean any of it, not really. When he took my hand my hope grew, but all he did was drop it.

“You’ll have to find someone who gives a damn,” he growled. “I have no desire to be an enemy of the Onyx Army. I get a lot of business from them.”

I stumbled back, shocked and hurt by his words. “Is that all you care about? Business?”

“I care about surviving. And I need to look out for myself and no one else. You should do the same.”

“But you know what we’re fighting for. How can you walk away?” I wanted to shout and cry and beg him to stay. “Whose side are you even on?”

He pulled the hood over his head. “I’m on no one’s side but my own. Thought you’d realized that by now.”

“Reven, this isn’t you. You’re a good man. I know you are.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” He swung up onto his black horse and look down at me. “You keep trying to make me into a hero, but you need to get this through your pretty head: there are no heroes in this world, and if there were, I wouldn’t be one of them.”

“Then go,” I said, practically shaking with anger and disbelief. “If that’s how you feel, then I don’t want you here anyway.”

“Trust me, you’re better off without me.”

And with that, he rode into the darkness, while I stared after him too shocked and heartbroken to even say goodbye.


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