Phoenix Rising (Lick of Fire Book 8)

By: Bianca D Arc

CHAPTER ONE




Lance didn’t know what was going on with him lately. Fire itched under his skin, and the desert called as never before. He wanted to just go out into it and… What? Self-immolate? Fly like sparks up into the blazing sun? Lay down and die, only to be reborn in the burning heat?

And where the hell were these thoughts coming from?

He’d always been a little…odd. He’d had a hard time growing up and in school. He’d been one of the bad kids. The kind who grew up to ride a motorcycle and live on the outskirts of town in what was basically an industrial area. It wasn’t that he was stupid. Far from it. He’d hidden his intelligence from the other kids and tried to fit in at first, when he was little, but he’d soon tired of it all and just started acting out. He’d become the loner. The recluse. The kid everyone thought was a mental case.

Everyone except maybe Tina. The girl with the sad eyes who watched him almost constantly. Her gaze had made his shoulders itch all through senior year, though they’d never said more than a few words to each other.

She wasn’t one of the popular girls, but she had a group of quiet friends with whom she hung out. They didn’t mix with him, and he stayed well clear of them, but he noticed her watching hm. A lot. And he couldn’t help but be intrigued by the fact that the pretty, shy girl seemed to be attracted to the bad boy biker.

He hadn’t acted on it. No, he wouldn’t do that to her. The idea of contaminating her with his inner turmoil didn’t sit well with him. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy, after all.

But thinking about high school and the girl he hadn’t seen in years was getting him nowhere. Lance got on his bike and set out across the desert, riding the lonely highway to god-only-knew-where. He had an itch under his skin that only the sun and wind might cure.



*



Tina couldn’t believe her luck—all of it bad, lately. She’d been enduring one minor calamity after another for a while now. The latest was being broken down on the side of a lonely stretch of highway in the middle of the desert. Great. Just great.

She got out and opened the hood of the car, wondering if there was some sort of magic that might help her get the mechanical beast going again. She was staring at the metallic innards of the engine when it roared.

Okay, it wasn’t her engine that roared, but she definitely heard an engine roaring. She looked up to find a motorcycle headed her way. She wondered if the driver would stop. Then, she wondered if she wanted him to stop. She was way out here all alone, after all. Taking help from a stranger—one who drove a motorcycle that roared like the devil—might not be the wisest move.

Regardless of her feelings, the bike started slowing, coming to an eventual stop behind her recalcitrant vehicle. Something about the rider’s aura seemed familiar, but that was ridiculous. He was still a good ten yards away when she thought she recognized his walk. She remembered that walk…

Holy crap. It was him. Lance Fiori. Her high school crush. And, damn, he’d filled out really well over the intervening years. Tall, with golden blond hair and a smile that could set girls’ hearts aflutter, he was even more handsome now, if that were possible. Now, if he smiled, she figured she might just melt into a little puddle at his feet.

The chiseled jaw was the same. The determined set of his shoulders as she remembered. The magic she had always sensed in him was a little closer to the surface now. She wondered how that had played out for him. She hoped he’d come to terms with the wild energy inside him and was stronger for it. He’d always seemed a little lost to her in high school, though they’d never really interacted. The large size of their graduating class had made it easy enough to avoid him, and he’d never sought her out—much to her secret disappointment.

But, now, here he was, her knight in shining armor, as it were. He even had the trusty steed, albeit a mechanical one. She wondered if he’d recognize her.

Tina took off her sunglasses and tried not to squint as he drew closer. She got her answer when his step faltered a bit. He had recognized her! His next words proved it.

“Tina Bradbury?” He made it sound like a question, but she knew he was just as certain as she was.

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