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Authors: Rebecca Yarros

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BOOK: Ignite (Legacy)
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“Tell Knox we’ll take this one,” River said. “Do you think we have the numbers for this meeting tomorrow?”

Her smile faded. “We’ll have them, one way or another.”

The determination on her face was the same I’d seen on River’s over the years, the same Knox had shown when he’d led us on the tour of the clubhouse. There was a steel in this generation, a tenacity that I felt simply by looking at them.

I pitied anyone who stood in the way of them getting their crew back.

9
River

I
traced
the letters on her headstone, grief wrapping around my heart, uncaring that it had been eight years since we lost her.

“Man, I miss you,” I told her before looking up to where Avery stood, flowers in her arms. “She would have loved you.”

“I’m a hot mess.”

“You’re my hot mess,” I corrected her. After the handful of times I’d taken her in the last twelve hours I was pretty sure she’d have a hard time arguing that she wasn’t mine.

She placed the flowers on Mom’s grave as I stood, then stepped into my arms as I held them out to her. The cemetery was quiet, peaceful.

“I’m sorry you lost them both.”

“I’m glad they went close to each other. Losing Dad in the fire, that was brutal, but when cancer took her a couple years later…” He shook his head. “For a long time I wondered if I was cursed. If I wasn’t supposed to have anything good.”

“You deserve the best,” she said, her voice soft.

“It all changed when I saw you. Frustrated, ponytail a mess, fighting with the tire iron and rusted lug nuts.”

“Ugh. I’d been on the side of the road for a half hour.”

I brushed her hair back from her face, loving that it was down and free. “You were beautiful, and I fell in love with you in that moment.”

Her lips parted. “Because I couldn’t change a tire?” she whispered.

“Because you hadn’t given up. There was zero chance you could have gotten those bolts off, but you weren’t giving up. When I realized that you were raising Addy, caring for your dad...there wasn’t a force in this world that could have stopped me from loving you.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“You weren’t ready and I was terrified. I’d lost everyone I loved except for Bishop. When the wildfire came, when Dad died, there was a part of me that shriveled, that started to expect heartache. I couldn’t show it, of course. The whole town was in mourning, and there were sixteen of us left behind without fathers. Indigo was left without a mom. In our collective grief, we weren’t allowed to break down, not when there were so many eyes on us.”

“River…” she whispered, holding me tighter in her support.

“Then the rebuilding began, and Mom got sick. She died the summer of my junior year, and we had the new high school open by my senior year.”

“Then you and Bishop came up to Alaska.”

I rested my chin on the top of her head, loving how well she fit me. “And you know the rest.”

“I wish I knew how it ended.”

My heart sank, knowing as much as she loved pretending, she hadn’t really decided. Because as fierce as my love of this crew and my family was, hers was just as intense for hers, and she wouldn’t leave her father.

In a place that had always brought me so much loss, I couldn’t help but wonder if the biggest heartache was yet to come.

“Me, too, baby.”

* * *

T
he ceremony was somber
. Bishop and I took the wreath up for our father, and then placed it at the new memorial where it stood with seventeen others.

Ten years later, and I still missed him like hell.

He’d been larger than life, a force of nature. In so many ways Bishop was just like him, but the years of raising me had hardened him in ways Dad hadn’t been. Where Dad was optimistic, Bishop saw the pitfalls of everything. Where Dad loved Mom with the same kind of intensity I felt for Avery, Bishop held himself away from everyone who could leave.

As I looked around at the other Legacy kids, the ones who had grown up without their dads or mom, I realized that the casualties of that day were far more reaching than the firefighters laid to rest in Aspen Cemetery.

The entire town had lost. Homes, businesses, and memories were ash by the time the fire had finished with us, but it always felt like we had lost a little more. We took our seats, and the bells rang—one for each loss, each sacrifice, each choice that had been made the day they headed up Legacy Mountain with the odds and the weather against them.

Avery took my hand, steadying me like always. I concentrated on the feeling of her fingers with mine and tried to keep the memories at bay. But the harshest ones fought through—the order for evacuation, the way he’d held us, kissed our mother. The way he’d told Bishop to keep me out of trouble while he was gone.

My resolve sharpened with each bell. The council could be afraid of the liability of having another Hotshot crew. They could deny us the Legacy name, and they could claim it was to salvage the tender hearts of this town.

But the Legacy crew had been family, and damn it, we were getting it back.

As the ceremony cleared out, the sixteen of us stood in a line facing the monument, from the youngest kid, Violet, who had never met her father, to the oldest, Shane Winston, who’d been away at college when it happened.

Those who wouldn’t be joining us on the crew—the ones who were too young or who had no interest in firefighting—left, until it was just those of us who were.

“Are you sure about this?” Bash asked, Emerson by his side. Time had turned the dark-haired, reckless guy into a hell of a stubborn man.

I looked around as we all nodded.

“They’re going to fight us tooth and nail,” he warned. “They don’t want this. They’re terrified of what could happen.” He looked pointedly at our youngest members who couldn’t be older than twenty.

“We’re with you, Bash,” Bishop answered from next to me. “They’re not taking this from us.”

“We’re with you,” we all agreed.

Avery’s soft smile was forced as I looked down at her, and I sent up a fervent prayer that she would stay, because I knew in that moment there was no way I could leave.

10
Avery


S
o which one is that
?” I asked Harper as we looked over the packed clubhouse.

The Legacy crew had gotten their needed numbers, and the council had begrudgingly approved the team after Spencer—the only surviving member of the original team—showed up and agreed to lead them.

“That’s Ryker,” Harper answered. “He’s my brother.”

“Right,” I said, trying to remember names with faces. “And the one standing next to River is Bash.”

“Yup. Sebastian Vargas, but everyone’s called him Bash since he was little. And Emerson is the brunette standing next to him. She’s my best friend.”

“Too many names,” I muttered.

She laughed and took a sip of her beer. “You’ll figure it out. Don’t worry. The crew is a giant family. We’re together a lot, so you’ll learn.”

If I’m here.

The longer we were here, the more I wanted to—hell,
needed
to. I loved everything about the little town, the people, the crew…and River. All I had to do was convince Dad to come, that maybe the change would be good for him, too. River was pretty much a saint to offer for Dad to live with us, but maybe he’d get to where he could live on his own…and I could have my own life.

The texts Addy had sent me said everything was under control, so maybe it was possible.

Yes. I could do it. Maybe.

“What’s up, Avery?” Bishop asked as he walked over.

“Can we take a walk?” I asked him, needing a sounding board that wasn’t River.

His forehead puckered. “Of course.”

He helped me up and we walked out the side door of the clubhouse. I sucked in a deep lungful of air, grateful for the quiet we had outside. My lungs burned, but I was adjusting to the altitude. Kind of.

“What are you going to do?” he asked, never one to beat around the bush.

“I don’t know,” I answered.

“What do you want?” he asked. “Not what River wants, what your dad wants…what do
you
want?”

I thought about the last two days. The peace, the freedom, the pure happiness I felt at the possibility of a fresh start with River. “I want to be here.”

“Then that’s your answer.”

I scoffed. “What I want and what’s possible are almost never the same thing.”

“Avery, if you’re willing to tear up everything, move from Alaska, and build something fresh, then you’ve already jumped the biggest barrier. Well, that and chancing your life on River’s cooking.”

My lips turned up at the corners. “Okay, there’s that. Do you really think I can convince my dad to come? Adeline is all for it, but it’s not just me in this decision. I can’t leave them any more than you’d leave River.”

His face scrunched. “Eh, you know, River is a grown-ass man. If he didn’t want to come here, I would have left him in Alaska. He makes his own choices. Of course, I’m glad he’s here with me. If he’s going to be firefighting, then I want him on my crew, but don’t think for a second that I wouldn’t have come without him. He deserves his own life, and you do, too.”

“And what if I come here, and it doesn’t work out with River?” I asked, giving voice to my biggest fear. “What if I leave everything I know behind, and come here, and we have a horrid breakup and then I lose him anyway?”

He grasped both of my shoulders and ducked to look in my eyes. “That’s a risk you’re going to have to take. Nothing is guaranteed, not in life and sure as hell not in love. But I can tell you that he has loved you for as long as he’s known you. There is nothing he won’t give you—nothing he won’t do to make this work. That kind of love, the one that’s rooted in a friendship as deep as you two have…that’s not easy to come by. It’s worth the fight. I’ll tell you the same thing I told him. You guys are worth the gamble.”

“Thank you,” I said softly.

“Don’t thank me. You have a hell of a road ahead of you. I just wish that I could be there to help you with it.”

“You’re not coming back with us?” My stomach dropped.

“Nah. I boxed up my shit before I left. River is going to sell my truck and send my stuff with his. Bash needs my help here. We have a ton of relocating to do, and there’s not much up there for me anyway.”

“I guess I thought when they told us you could have until spring…” My voice drifted off because we both knew where it was going. When Bash had gotten approval for the team to be together by spring, I figured we’d been given a reprieve. Another few months to work everything out. Time to convince my dad. Time to coordinate.

“River might take it,” Bishop said. “Like I said, we make our own decisions. If he chooses to stay the winter in Alaska, then I’ll support that. He doesn’t have to be back until April.”

“I just need time.”

“I know that, and he does, too. It’s just that time might not be something we have a lot of to spare right now.”

The door opened behind us and River stepped out. “Hey, are you stealing my girl, or what?”

Bishop gave my shoulders one last squeeze. “Nope, she’s all yours.” He went for the door but turned before going in. “Remember what I said, Avery. His cooking really will kill you.” He tossed a grin at River and went inside, leaving us alone.

“Asshole,” River muttered.

“Are you going to take the time?” I asked. “Are you going to stay in Alaska until spring, or are you moving right now?”

His eyebrows shot high. “Well, I guess that’s what you two were talking about.”

“Answer, please? Because I’m kind of freaking out.”

He took two steps and enveloped me in his arms, pulling me close. I rested my head on his chest, letting his familiar scent and heartbeat surround me.

“I’ll do whatever you need,” he said, his chin resting on the top of my head. “If you want to move now, we’ll get Addy, your dad, and move. If you want to wait until spring, I’ll have to come back a few times, but we can make that happen, too.”

“You’d wait for me to get everything together?”

His arms tightened around me. “If I know that you’re coming here, making your life with me, I’ll wait forever.”

I took a stuttering breath, knowing that what I was going to say would change everything. Then I looked up at him, meeting his dark eyes in the bright moonlight. “I want to come. I want to live here with you. Well, not
here,
here, but at our house
here.
I want to make this work. I’ll do it.”

Saying the words set my heart free in a way I’d never known. Every possibility for my future was so clear, so vibrant that I could taste it, and then River was all I could taste as he kissed me.

This was what I wanted for my life. River’s kisses, his arms around me, his love. I wanted it all.

His kiss was passionate, claiming, and I found my back against the building as he pinned me between him and the wall. It didn’t matter that I’d already kissed him dozens of times in the last week. Each kiss felt new, and at the same time like coming home.

“This is yours,” he said, his lips brushing my ear as something cold and metal pressed into my palm.

“A key?” I asked, examining it in the pale light.

His smile could have lit the world. “I just signed for the house. This one is yours. No pressure. It’s just a key.”

It wasn’t just a key. “I love it,” I said, my hand closing so tight the ridges bit into my skin.

“I love you,” he said.

My heart soared, erupted, as if by saying what I wanted, I’d finally cut loose the chains I’d tightly bound myself with. “River,” I whispered, pulling him back so I could look into his eyes when I said it. “I—”

My phone sounded with Addy’s ringtone. Calling wasn’t in her nature, she was more of a text girl, so it had to be urgent.

“Ugh.” I sighed, pulling my phone from my pocket. “One second.” I swiped the phone and answered. “What’s up?”

“Avery?” she sobbed.

My stomach soured and my world narrowed to the small voice on the other end. “What’s wrong?” I asked her.

“It’s Dad. He…” Another sob came through, and I forced oxygen through my lungs. “Aunt Dawn didn’t move the meds, and he found them.”

“Oh, God.” I would have fallen if River’s arms hadn’t caught me, holding me upright. “Addy, is he…?”

“He overdosed. They have him on a ventilator and they don’t know…” Her voice faded into hiccupping sobs. “Can you come home?”

I looked up into River’s eyes and realized he’d heard her through the phone when he nodded. The earth shifted beneath my feet; the reality I’d been so certain of a few minutes ago disappearing as a new one took its place.

“I’m on my way.”

BOOK: Ignite (Legacy)
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