Page 34 of Burned (Ignite #1)

“Why didn’t you do it, Lee? Why didn’t you go to art school and pursue this?”

He’s asked me a few times about my art during the phone conversations we’ve had, but I always changed the subject. I wasn’t ready to look that deeply inside of myself and tell him how much of a coward I was back then. I also didn’t want him to feel bad that he was one of the reasons I let that dream fade away.

“Because some jerk broke my heart when I was seventeen,” I joke.

Collin stands up and takes the last piece of paper out of my hands and lets it flutter back down inside the tote. “That guy was a total ass**le and had no idea what he was letting go. But that shouldn’t have had any bearing on your dreams.”

He rests his hands on my hips and I place my palms against his chest. “Well, it kind of did. You were my fire, Collin. I lost the desire to play with it when you left.”

He closes his eyes and sighs and I can tell he’s going to start blaming himself. He needs to know that there were so many other factors that contributed to my not pursing a career in art.

“I took a few art classes in college and quickly realized that my unusual skill would never pay the bills as an adult. When I took an internship at a marketing firm, I really enjoyed the work. Not as much as art, but enough. I switched majors and when I graduated, I was offered a good job with the firm in town as a marketing manager. Jordan and I were already living together by then and the bills were starting to pile up. It was good money and I couldn’t turn that down regardless of the fact that I knew I wanted to be doing something else.”

Collin shakes his head sadly. “You were so talented, Finnley. Didn’t Jordan see that? Didn’t he encourage you to do what you’d always dreamed of doing?”

“I tried to talk to him about it a few times, but he wasn’t really interested in my work. He was too busy trying to become an artist himself. He always told me that he wanted one of us to have steady employment and when he was established in his own tattoo shop, it would be my turn. Since his dream never came true, he probably thought mine shouldn’t either. Now that I look back on it, I think he was jealous. He’d heard my parents mention how talented I was several times and I don’t think he wanted to compete with me.”

Collin pulls me into his body and wraps his arms around my waist, holding me tight.

“I would have sacrificed everything to make your dreams come true, Lee,” he tells me softly.

Another tear slides down my cheek as I rest my head against his chest, so overcome with emotion that I can’t find the words to tell him how much it all means to me.

With one last tight squeeze, Collin steps back and smiles down at me. “Don’t be mad, but I have one other surprise. Although, after what you just told me, you might not like it very much.”

Before I can tell him that I don’t need anything else from him, he grasps my shoulders and turns me around to face the backyard.

When I see the set-up at the back of his property line, my hand flies to my mouth and I let out a gasp.

There in the grass is a large sheet of blank hemp paper, held down by rocks at each corner and a few scattered through the middle. Next to the paper is the largest bucket of gunpowder I’ve ever seen.

“Watching you work on one of your designs was always the most amazing thing to witness,” he speaks softly behind me. “You’d get this fierce look of concentration on your face and everything else around you would disappear. Considering my current profession and the way I was so obsessed with fire back then, you would think lighting the fuse and watching the explosion would have been the best part. You had so much talent, Finnley. It should never, ever have been stifled.”

I look back over my shoulder at him and he uses his thumb to wipe away my tears. “Will you make something for me? I want a new Finnley Morgan original to hang in my living room.”

I shake my head at him and turn back around to face him. “What am I going to do with you, Collin McDaniels? You make me want things I haven’t thought about in years. You make me dream things I never thought possible.”

He shrugs and uses the tips of his fingers to brush my bangs out of my eyes. “It’s never too late to live your dreams. You just have to want them enough to make them come true.”

Collin takes my hand and pulls me to the edge of his yard, lifting the top off of the gunpowder and sliding the bucket closer to me before silently moving away to give me time to myself. I can feel him watching me from the other side of the yard as an image immediately takes hold in my mind and I can picture exactly what I need to do to make it come to life.

Slipping off my shoes, I sink down into the soft grass and dip my hand into the bucket, letting the soft black powder coat my hands and slide through my fingers. Dipping my fingers back inside, I bring out a handful of powder and begin sprinkling it all over the paper, working quickly as I allow the image in my mind to take shape. Art must truly be instinctual, as I feel every single trick I used seventeen years ago come back to me while I run my palms and my fingers through the black powder on the paper so fast that my hands are a blur of movement.

I have no idea how much time has lapsed and I’m too caught up in my vision to care. I move the powder around until the design is exactly how I pictured it in my mind. When I finally finish, I stand up to admire my work, wiping a bead of sweat off my brow with the back of my wrist, careful not to get black powder all over my face.

I’m almost overcome with excitement and pride as I look down at the paper. I sense Collin’s presence and a spark of desire shoots through me when I feel the heat of his body. Collin being directly responsible for the release of the creative juices I’ve kept bottled up for so long is almost enough to make me want to forget about finishing the project and just take him inside the house and strip hip naked.

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