An excerpt from Drowning in Fire

Wherein Griffin finally catches Keko...

Hiking on three hours' sleep. What rest Keko didn't get was counterbalanced by the constant reminder that Griffin Aames was on her tail.

Griffin. Who had come to the Big Island to stop her.

Another shudder passed through her body, and it was like food or water, giving her energy. Nothing like a good, angry chase to push her onward.

Her pace was slower than it had been yesterday, but it was still a good one. She was still moving. When she'd left him, Griffin had been absolutely wiped. Even in the darkness, even though he was trying his best to hide it, she'd seen the steep slant of his shoulders, and heard the wheeze and fatigue in his voice. He'd probably passed out on that ridge last night. But as soon as he woke up, he'd cross the ravine and hunt her all over again. She would be stupid to discount someone of his determination and focus.

She had to keep moving.

She ate the last of her granola bars as she trudged on. She was desperate for water, but she didn't want to backtrack to the stream she'd crossed a few hours ago. Although backtracking could possibly throw Griffin off, her time and resources were running out. She would press on. She was fire, after all, and fire didn't need water.

She hadn't been fooled by anything Griffin said to her—did he really think she believed he was here for any reason other than the Senatus? For anyone but himself?

The ground was soft from rainfall this close to Hilo. It was pointless to try to keep dry. The damp just kept coming. She was starting to miss the scent of the air within the valley, the smoke and smell of the erupting Klauea volcano that occasionally drifted to them.

Thick clouds pushed quickly inland, a line of clarity drawn just off the coast where it was tauntingly sunny and dry. She changed her route, finally angling toward the water. There, a little farther northwest on the Hamakua Coast, she would start to look for the geographical markers the Queen's lover had described. She tried not to worry that the landscape had changed too much.

Movement behind her. A shuffle of leaves, a crack of branches. Small but noticeable, odd and out of place. She whirled.

A flash of dark in the distance. A man sliding behind a tree. Griffin.

She ran.

Didn't matter how tired she was. Didn't matter her tongue was sticking to the roof of her mouth. She ran, sprinting through the underbrush and around the hills. She ran, away from the man who would stop her from doing the one good thing in her life she was meant to do. She could hear him pursuing fast. He called her name more than once, and then all she heard was the pound of her bare feet on the uneven earth and the slap of her pack against her back.

She zigzagged, trying to throw him off. The curves around the hills were wide and she followed them left and right instead of taking a straight line that would show Griffin her path. It seemed to be working, because the sound of his pursuit died off. Her breath sawed in and out of her lungs. If she was tired, then she must have seriously worn down the Ofarian.

A few more sprinted steps to prove she'd lost him, and then she finally slowed down. Finally let herself jog. A dormant volcano rose straight ahead, its cone shape now covered in green. She'd head that way and not stop running until night. It was in the opposite direction from where she needed to be, but tomorrow she'd veer back to the water and get her bearings. Tomorrow she'd—

A hard, giant something slammed into her from the right side.

She had no time to react. Just barely enough seconds to whip her head around to make out Griffin's snarl so close to her face. Then his arms and legs clamped around her, snatching her feet from the ground and tossing her up and over his body. Together they sailed through the damp air.

She hit the dirt and bounced, rolling a little uphill, hitting a massive root, then tumbling back down. The momentum let her find her feet again, and she whirled to see Griffin also recovering from the impact, transforming his fall into a shoulder roll, and then popping into a crouch.

Keko dug deep, drew a Chimeran breath, and spit fire into her hand. Let it burn and crackle and glow with its own life. As he eyed her weapon, she scanned the desolate, windy surroundings, searching for other Secondaries—his backup. No one visible, but she could make out his path, tracing how he'd managed to cut her off. She'd zigged and zagged too much and he'd merely taken the shortest distance between points A and B. A dumb mistake.

Returning her focus to the Ofarian, she noticed with satisfaction the heaving of his chest. He wore no shirt, just a lightweight vest with pockets and zippers.

At his side, one of his hands flexed and curled. Like he was getting ready to arm himself with his own magic.

"I'm ready," she said, finding a firm stance, giving the fire a good burst of flame. "And I won't miss."

He didn't flinch. "I'm not here to fight you."

She nudged her chin in the direction from which he'd attacked her. "Where are the rest of them? Are they on their way, now that you've found me?"

He started to raise his hands, but she snapped out a sword of flame in warning and he lowered them.

"I told you," he said. "There are no others."

"I can think and run at the same time, and I came to the conclusion that you're lying. The only reason you'd be here is for the Senatus."

"Or you." His response came so quickly.

"Or the Senatus," she repeated.

He shook his head at the ground, his hands resting on his hips. His body was the complete opposite of hers: loose and unafraid. Unaffected. She refused to be taken in by that. He wasn't going to get her to lower her guard.

"Three years," he said to the dirt. His dark hair was shiny with sweat and rain.

Then those brown eyes flipped up to hers under the canopy of his furrowed brow. That look—the way he looked—made her suck in a breath. Made her fire actually falter on her fingers.

"Three years you had my phone number and you never called. I thought you hated me, and when I first saw you in that garage in Colorado I thought I'd been right. And then there was something else. I saw the truth deep in your eyes. I saw in your eyes what I heard in your voice when you finally did call me days ago. That, Keko, that is why I'm here."

For a split second she was tempted to let the fire go. Instead she touched her palms together as if in Primary prayer, spreading the flame between her hands.

Griffin watched her, but not in fear. Respect maybe, but not fear. She didn't know which she wanted more.

He said, "You think all you're worth is what you can prove to others. I came after you to tell you that I think you're worth much more."

"This is all I have left."

"Bullshit." Griffin lifted his arms, let them slap to his sides. "Do I look like I came from the Senatus? Wouldn't I have an army behind me?"

She peered over his shoulder again. Still no movement among the trees. No shapes of soldiers.

"If they wanted you," he said, "they'd come for you. Make no mistake about that. They wouldn't send just me. Think about it."

She did, and then she lowered one arm, letting the flame on it die a green death.

"I'm thirsty," he added with more than a little exasperation. "Can I have a drink?"

Her throat tightened in a similar want. She licked her lips.

"I'll need magic," he said, then waited for her to give a shallow nod of permission.

The Ofarian language was still as gorgeous as she remembered, all flowing words that ended too soon. She cringed, hating this reaction. Despising even more how she watched with wonder him using his magic.

The air around his head start to dim and shimmer and coalesce. He was taking moisture from it. Whipping it together to form droplets, churning it into a little spout high above the ground and aiming it toward his mouth. Dropping back his head and opening his mouth, the floating funnel of glistening water poured itself inside. It trickled out of the seam of his lips and trailed down his chin. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"I'm worried about you," he said. "I'm already tired of this chase. I'm tired of being scared for you."

"You're not scared."

She stared hungrily at the empty space in the air where the water had been.

"I'm not?" His thick eyebrows lifted. "I left my people for the first time ever and crossed an ocean to talk you down from the ledge, knowing I'm the only one who could do it. There's a tad bit of fear there, yeah."

That didn't affect her. Nope. Not at all. "You can't stop me. You'll try, but it won't work."

He threw a pointed glance at her hand. The one she thought still owned fire. The one that no longer did.

Her lips parted, ready to take in another Chimeran breath.

Griffin came closer, his shoes silent on the ground, his presence consuming. "Are you thirsty?"

She narrowed her eyes in suspicion, forgetting to rekindle the fire at the mention of a drink.

"It's a simple question, Keko. No underlying objective."

So why was he staring at her mouth?

"There's a stream—" she began, but Ofarian words overlapped hers. That beautiful water language drowning her out. Pulling her under.

Griffin's image went blurry as the air in front of her swirled, then shifted to a sheet of undulating water hovering at eye level. It rolled into itself, forming a long, liquid thread that danced and glistened before her. The sight of it made her stomach tighten and her throat clench in need.

"Open wide," he murmured.

(c) 2014 Hanna Martine