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A New Flame - Chapter Seven - Playing With Fire
 By Moose   •   11th Jul 2014   •   1,236 views   •   0 comments
A New Flame

The ride back was quiet, but peaceful. She enjoyed Elijah’s company, even without speaking his presence was calming and comforting to her. She was glad that he was with her to revisit Noah’s tree. A part of her felt that she had found closure with her past and another part of her felt like she was just opening a door to something new. Jane glanced back at Elijah, who rode peacefully alongside her, taking in the surroundings. She couldn’t help but smile. Without speaking, Elijah smiled back at her.

When they entered the crescent shaped clearing near the east pasture, Jane felt something strange stirring in the woods. She turned to face Elijah who, by the expression on his face, knew something was wrong too. He lifted his head and glanced back.

“Do you smell smoke?” Jane asked hesitantly.’

“Stay there,” Elijah nudged Aquillo’s sides, spun him around, and headed back the way they had came. She fought the urge to follow him and waited. A few long minutes passed before she heard the thundering of hooves and Elijah appeared again. He slowed the gelding to a stop and cussed under his breath.

“What’s going on?” Jane asked, suddenly panicked. “Tell me!”

Elijah looked back, “There’s a fire.”

“What?!” Jane asked frantically.

“There’s a fire and the horses got out of the east pasture, they are headed for the river.” Elijah went on.

“How can that happen?”

“It could have come from miles away, it’s so dry this time of year that nothing would stop it from spreading once it starts.” Elijah explained as quickly as he could. “We have to go back and tell your father.”

Jane’s heart began to race. “You go back and tell them, if there are horses out there I need to do something.”

Elijah reached forward and grabbed Jane’s arm, “Jane stop, your father can take care of that. You will just get yourself hurt.”

Jane jerked her arm out of Elijah’s grip and bumped Flora’s sides. The mare quickly broke into a canter towards the river. Elijah groaned and kicked Aquillo, urging him into a full gallop. His stomach began to churn.

The snapping of a branch caught Jane’s attention. Her head spun to find a stray mare trotting down the trail towards Noah’s tree. Jane changed directions and followed her without hesitation.

As she rounded the next corner, the mare was gone. Jane’s wide blue eyes reflected vivid colors of orange and yellow as she stared at the burning forest. The drumming of her heart was almost louder than the raucous crackling of the flames. A wave of intense, scalding heat drew closer making her cheeks boil. Her head spun as she watched branches be absorbed in raging fire and collapse to the ground. Flames snapped and clawed incessantly at Flora’s hooves like a hungry animal.

“Jane!” Elijah shouted, his deep voice barely audible above the deafening crashing of tree limbs to the ground. “Get away from there!” he demanded, slamming his legs into Aquillo’s sides. The gelding tossed his head in refusal, the whites of his eyes flashing wildly. Jane searched his face, lit by the orange glow. His eyes were swallowed in fear; fear of losing her. She turned away to see the wildfire creep farther up the trunk of the tall oak tree, so full of memories. She watched in horror as Noah’s tree was engulfed in flames. She felt a burning in her chest, as the carvings in the bark were destroyed in flames.

Jane could see Noah sitting there, swinging his long legs and teasing her playfully. Her heart was breaking with no way of stopping it. The flamed just climbed higher and higher, burning deeper and deeper. Flora reacted suddenly to the violent crash of a flaming branch to the ground. She slid onto her hocks, backing away as quickly as possible and maneuvering through the mess of fire and collapsing forest. Flora reared, rolled back onto her haunches and spun, sending Jane flying off her back and landing in the dirt. The tree creaked and moaned as wild flames overtook it.

“JANE!”

The frantic, traumatized mare thundered away in the opposite direction as Elijah watched Jane roll onto her side, holding her back and writhing in pain. Without hesitating, he threw the reins over Aquillo’s neck and vaulted from his back, landing in a sprint. With a loud crack, the entire tree gave way to the fire and tumbled to the ground. The branches encased Jane, trapping her in a cage of flames. With columns of fire surrounding her, Jane shrieked and desperately tried to escape through the tiny opening between the ground and the branches. The flames stung her face and eyes, threatening to grab her.

Elijah’s heart skipped a beat. Without thinking, he stumbled through the uneven brush until he reached Jane. Ignoring the excruciating heat, Elijah stuck his hand through the branches. Heat radiated off the flames and pried into his skin, making him sweat. He grabbed the branch like a hot pan, snapped it in half and threw it aside. He shook his hand and winced in pain, before reaching for another flaming branch. At last her terrified face was revealed and he could reach her. Jane felt Elijah’s hands around her waist. She watched him lean closer and wrapped her thin arms around his neck. He slipped his hand under her legs and lifted her out of the fire. She clung to him with trembling hands. As he forced himself to his feet, Jane was overwhelmed with relief.

“Thank you,” she breathed as she studied at the beads of sweat on his face, lit by the intense orange flames.

A squeal arose from behind them. Elijah spun around to find Aquillo, tangled in his reins, wide-eyed and terrified. “Shhh, whoa,” Elijah breathed between loud, labored breaths. “Whoa....”

Aquillo stopped struggling and watched Elijah with ears forward. He lifted Jane into the saddle carefully and then began untangling the reins from Aquillo’s legs. Overcome by fear, Aquillo threw his head into the air violently, snapping the reins as Elijah attempted to free him. Jane lunged forward, grabbing his bridle and the end of the broken reins. She held one in each hand.

“What about Flora?” Jane asked frantically.

“She went that way,” Elijah said, glancing down the trail towards home. “She’s a smart horse, she’ll make it back home.”

Elijah slid his foot into the stirrup and grabbed the horn with one hand. In seconds, he jumped and swung himself into the saddle behind Jane. He gave the gelding a quick jab with his boot, spinning the horse on his hindquarters.

The gelding broke into a gallop down the trail they had come from. Elijah’s arm was secured around Jane like a seatbelt and his free hand took the reins from her hand. Her heart beat faster when she felt his chest on her back. She could feel his every heartbeat.

Elijah’s fist pressed against her stomach as he pulled Aquillo around the bend of the trail. Her mind was racing a mile a minute. She could hardly wrap her mind around what was happening. Jane could see every muscle on his well-built arms as he used all of his strength to slow Aquillo into a soft canter.

Then Jane noticed the burns. She reached down and touched Elijah’s hand gingerly and turned her head towards him. “You’re-”

“I’m fine,” Elijah reassured her.

The sound of hooves clattering over the cement startled Elise and Gale as Elijah and Jane approached the back entrance of the barn.

“Oh thank god,” Elise was at their side, helping Jane off the horse. Jane glanced up with relief to find Flora in Gale’s hands. “We sent Liam to go looking for you when we saw your horse return without you.”

“Where have you been?!” Gale scolded Elijah as Elise wiped dirt from Jane’s
face.

Elijah slid down from the saddle. As his feet hit the ground, his legs suddenly felt weak and flimsy. “Jane went after the horses, I couldn’t let her go alone.” He explained, tired and out of breath.

“Jane, your father and the ranch hands are taking care of the herd.” Elise told her.

“How do you know about the fire?” Jane asked quickly.

“Jane the entire county knows about the fire.” Her mother answered.

“Elijah, you could have gotten killed.” Gale said firmly.

Jane struggled to free herself from her mother’s grip. “No,” Jane argued, spinning around to face Gale, “Elijah saved my life.”

There was a silence following Jane’s statement. Elise pulled pieces of burnt leaves from Jane’s hair and stroked her daughter’s dirty face. “Thank you,” Elise said softly as she turned to Elijah, “again,” she added inaudibly before wrapping an arm around Jane and directing her towards the house.

Elijah paused momentarily before he led Aquillo into his stall, uncinching him with one hand and dropping the saddle in the barn aisle. He couldn’t find the strength to carry it any further. Gale picked up the beaten saddle and took the bridle from Elijah’s blistered hands.

“Wait,” Jane said, wiggling out of her mother’s arms. “Elijah has burns, I need to help him.”

Elise turned around but before she could answer, headlights shot through the trees and lit up the yard.

The truck creaked to a stop and the door opened and Will stepped out. “Where’s Liam?” he asked abruptly.

“Where are the horses?” Jane interrupted assertively.

“The herd is in the west pasture, they’re fine.” Will replied. “Where’s Liam?”

Elise lifted her hand to her chest, “He’s not with you?” her shaky voice choked out.

“All of them?” Jane butted in again.

“Yes all of them. We made sure. You sent him to find me?” Will ran his hand across his forehead and turned towards the truck in frustration.

“We sent him to find Jane and Elijah,” Elise shot back. “We thought he would have gone with you.”

Panic set in. Will stormed back to the truck and opened the door before Gale spoke up. “I’ll come with you.” He said, heading for the passenger side.

Elise pulled her sweater over her shoulders and went after her husband. She grabbed his forearm, pulling him to a halt. “Will, I’m coming too.” He stared back at her,letting out a long, sigh. “It’s dark. You’ll need more people with flashlights.” Elise said coaxingly.

Will nodded hesitantly, “Fine.” He answered.

Elise glanced back at Elijah and Jane, “Take care of Elijah.” She instructed, “We will be back.”

Each door shut with the passengers inside. The dirty blue truck bounced along the rutted road, though to call it a road was a stretch. Once the truck had disappeared between the two pastures and headlights had become small, dim glows, Jane turned to Elijah.

She led the tall, young man into the house and sat him at the dining room table while she rummaged in the kitchen. She returned to him with a bag of ice and a wet washcloth. Elijah watched Jane drag the wooden chair across the floor and place it in front of his. She sat down and shot him a soft smile.

Elijah stared back at Jane’s soft face and whispered, “You know, tonight wasn’t the first time I’ve saved your life.” Jane’s eyes widened with confusion. Elijah paused before allowing himself to continue on. “When you were in the truck after the accident, I pulled you out and stopped the bleeding.” He explained. “They said that if I had waited until the ambulance arrived, you would have bled out.” Her heart skipped a beat. Elijah went on, “I am truly sorry that I couldn’t have saved Andrew.”

Jane nodded softly, her eyes filling with tears. “I know,” She whispered.

Elijah leaned forward, drawing Jane into a tight hug. She let herself cry into his shoulder. Her body shook as she sobbed uncontrollably. Her heart ached, but she found a flicker of hope. An overwhelming feeling of acceptance swelled in her heart, like there was a reason for Andrew’s death. Maybe this was how Elijah was supposed to find her.

Elijah released Jane and glanced down into her soft blue eyes, filled with tears. Taking Elijah’s hand gently and without speaking, Jane began washing the dirt from his burns with the wash cloth. Her movements were ever so gentle and cautious. A long, blonde tress of hair escaped from behind Jane’s ear and landed in front of her soft face, acting as a veil as she looked gingerly down at Elijah’s hand. He continued to contemplate her as she lightly took his other hand and repeated the process. Her face was so content and focused on his hand. Her eyes, hidden by a line of dark eyelashes, were fixed attentively on his burns.

Elijah’s eyes followed her hand as she delicately reached for the ice on the table and held it on the palm of his hand on the blisters. Her startlingly blue eyes flicked up to meet his, nearly inches away. “Thank you,” Elijah breathed with a faint smile.

“You’re welcome,” she whispered serenely.

Elijah studied her face. He felt drawn to and captured by her magnetic eyes as she stared so alluringly back at him.

Jane let herself lean a few inches nearer and her heart began to pound as she was now only inches from his face. Elijah reached even closer to her until the bridge of his nose brushed her cheek. He felt the graze of her eyelashes as she let her eyes slip shut. Elijah exhaled softly, his warm breath tickling her skin.

The loud thudding of boots on the porch startled them both. Elijah pulled back quickly, avoiding eye contact as the screen door opened with a creak and Liam walked in.

“Jane, I looked all over for you.” He blurted out.

Jane’s face flushed with red as she looked up at her brother, “I’m sorry.” She mumbled. “Mom and dad were looking for you.”

“I found them.” He answered quickly, “It’s dangerous out there. Don’t you know that? Wildfires are uncontrollable. You could have been killed.” Liam reprimanded. She sunk lower in her chair as her brother finished scolding her and stormed up the stairs.

After hearing Liam’s door shut, Jane stood, releasing Elijah’s hand. “I think maybe...” her voice trailed as she looked down at him, “I think maybe you should go home. Your dad is going to come in any minute.”

Elijah nodded and got up reluctantly. “Thank you again,” he mumbled, “for the ice.” He lifted the ice and smiled faintly before turning and heading out the door.

Jane nodded and looked down, listening for the latch of the door before turning away. She closed her eyes and slid back into the chair. The only sound in the kitchen was the repetitive, echoing clicks of crickets, rising in pitch at the end of each chirp. The open window carried in a chilling breeze that brushed her skin and gave her bare arms goose bumps. She slowly brought her knees to her chest let her head collapse into her hands. What am I doing? She asked herself.
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