Page 5 of Burned (Ignite #1)

“Hottie at your six. Don’t turn around,” Phina whispers conspiratorially as she takes a sip of her drink and looks over my shoulder.

“How am I supposed to confirm his hotness if I can’t turn around?”

“Damn, he’s got a great ass. Come on, pretty boy, turn around so momma can see your face,” she mutters, completely ignoring me.

I shake my head at her and signal to the waitress at the next table that we need another round of drinks.

“Oh, shit. Oh, holy f**k. Oh, my God there is no WAY that’s him,” Phina swears.

I look at her in confusion and start to turn around to see what’s got her so riled up when her hand clamps down on my arm. “NO! Don’t turn around. I repeat, do NOT turn around.”

“What the hell is your problem?”

Phina quickly ducks her head and hides her body in front of mine. “Shit. You are NOT going to believe who is at the table behind you.”

At this point I’m a little nervous that she’s going to say Jordan. The fact that he hasn’t shown up at the house is a little disconcerting. Every night, I expect him to waltz through the front door like nothing has happened and every time I leave the house I’m afraid I’m going to run into him. I’m worried that if I see him right now, some part of me will regret the decision I’ve made and forget about all of the damage he’s done.

“Will you just spit it out? Quit being such a drama queen,” I tell her with a roll of my eyes as the waitress drops off another rum and Coke for Phina and a beer for me.

“Don’t be alarmed, but Collin McDaniels is standing five feet from you,” she tells me with a huge, fake smile on her face as she speaks through her teeth.

My heart starts thumping erratically and I can feel my face heating up. I haven’t heard that name in years. Granted, I’d thought about that name several times since I was seventeen-years-old, but I never expected to be in the same room with the guy.

Collin McDaniels: my first boyfriend and the guy who broke my heart in a note. It might seem silly that I still remember so much about him when I haven’t seen him in over seventeen years, but a girl never forgets her first boyfriend, especially when she was with him for two years during a very pivotal time in her life. Granted, it was a pretty tame relationship in the beginning, filled with trips to the movies that our parents had to drive us to and some heavy petting in each other’s living rooms while our parents made themselves scarce so we could have ‘date night.’ Once Collin could drive, however, we experienced a lot of firsts together in the back seat of his car. I wasn’t really ready to give up the old V card at that point, though, and I’ve always suspected that played a big role in his breaking up with me out of the blue

Collin and I both had a strange fascination with fire and I’ve always wondered if that was one of the reasons I was drawn to him. When most people think of fire, they think of the smoldering ruins of a house or a forest decimated by wildfire. Collin and I looked at fire and saw possibilities. He saw the opportunity to save a life and I saw a chance to make something beautiful. We understood each other’s peculiarities and it was a commonality no one could take away from us. I never thought it strange that he spent many weekends sitting on the curb in front of our local fire station, just staring at the building and he never thought it was strange that I spent mine playing with gunpowder and matches. I wasn’t some freaky, teenage girl with a death wish, I was an artist. Or so I thought.

From the time I was a little girl, I always loved to draw and I would use every medium at my disposal to do it: pens, crayons, food, my mother’s make-up or my father’s shoe polish. You name it and I picked it up and created art with it. I quickly grew bored with the usual tools and one day, I saw a show on television about a Chinese artist named Cai Guo-Qiang. The man was an artistic genius who created breathtaking pictures by sprinkling gunpowder onto Japanese hemp paper, using his fingers to mold it into a picture and then lighting the whole thing on fire in one big burst of an explosion. I was fascinated by what was left behind after the fire quickly burned out. When the smoke cleared, what remained wasn’t charred ashes, but the most brilliant designs I had ever seen in any museum or book.

My parents, being the loving people that they are, gave me the freedom to try my hand at this - on Sundays, as far away from the house as possible, when the neighbors were at church and the two of them were standing by with fire extinguishers and 911 on speed dial. They quickly realized that I had talent and ‘only on Sundays’ quickly turned into ‘only when your mother and I are home and your father always lights the fuse.’ My third attempt at creating one of these pieces is how I met Collin. He lived one street over and was outside washing his dad’s car when he heard the boom created by the gunpowder. He came running over, expecting to see our house up in flames. When he found my parents and I smiling like idiots in the backyard, he asked with wide, excited eyes if I could do it again so he could watch. From that moment on, we were joined at the hip.

When I wasn’t in the backyard exploding canvases while Collin stood by cheering as the final design made itself known, I was inside, curled up on the couch in Collin’s arms sketching out new designs for my next attempt.

Collin did everything he could to encourage me while keeping me safe, even going so far as dragging me to the fire station a few times a month so that the men could look at my supplies and make sure I was taking all of the proper precautions when I created one of my masterpieces. He never complained when my nose was stuck in a sketchpad or my fingers were permanently dyed black from the powder. Even when I hated what I created, he would roll it up, stick it in the backseat of his car and take it home to hang on the wall in his room because he wanted to be the first one to own a ‘Finnley Morgan Original.’ At the end of our two years together, all four of his walls and his ceiling were completely covered in my designs.