The Burning Shadow (Origin, #2)

“Looks like it.”

Dee wasn’t flustered in the least as the senator slipped into another tirade about how Luxen were committing wholesale genocide against humans, which was an exaggeration even if a Luxen or a group of them had been responsible for the recent murders—even the recent murders Micah had been responsible for. He claimed he had nothing to do with them, but we knew better.

“She’s so young.” I brushed my hair out of my face. “I’m surprised that she’s the one doing these interviews.” Her youth was another thing I could tell irritated the senator, simply based on the way he spoke down to her. He was the definition of condescending and patronizing, and I had a feeling he probably spoke to all women like that.

“There are not many older Luxen left,” Daemon said. “Most were killed during the invasion and the fallout afterward. Dee’s kind of become our unofficial spokesperson.”

“That’s brave of her.”

“It is. Most unregistered Luxen want to lie low, not wanting people to know their face. She’s well protected, but most importantly, she’s fearless.”

“Archer?” I asked. “You?”

“All of us.” His gaze flicked to me. “An entire community protects her.”

“There’s nothing to fear from a Luxen,” Dee was saying for what had to be the millionth time. “We are no more dangerous than humans—no more evil or innocent. We are not monolithic, Senator Freeman, just like the human race isn’t. If we were to judge the entire human race based on the rather extraordinary number of serial killers, mass murderers, rapists, racists, and so forth, how would that make you feel?”

“Oh, good question.” I glanced back at Daemon. His head was tipped back, exposing his neck. “Bet he totally ignores that.”

“I would not be willing to take that bet.”

“If there’s nothing to fear from a Luxen, then why aren’t we having this conversation face-to-face?” Senator Freeman asked with a well-practiced smirk, ignoring Dee’s point like I knew he would. “Instead, you’re squirreled away in some undisclosed location.”

Dee’s steely green gaze fixed on the camera. “Because no one needs to be afraid of us, but we can’t say the same thing about you. About humans.”





5


I have a surprise for you.

Staring at the text message Luc sent while I was in history class, I volleyed back and forth between excitement and trepidation.

He had a surprise?

I glanced up at Mr. Barker. He stood in front of the chalkboard, green smoothie in one hand like always, a piece of chalk in the other. Whatever he drank every day was something that would never, ever get close to my mouth. I liked meat and carbs and sugar, and that stuff looked like a garden threw up in his cup.

The screen on my phone flashed again from where it was hidden under my desk, signaling another text.

Meet me at your car.

The corners of my lips turned down as I quickly typed back now with about five dozen question marks, along with .

A second later, I got a response. ASAP. The surprise is in a box. And it could suffocate.

I nearly knocked my phone out of my lap as I quickly typed WHAT? Then I followed it up with a reminder that I was in the middle of the class.

Come out as soon as you can, then.

As soon as I could? Like I could just come and go from school as I pleased? This was a problem when you were friends with someone who obviously had no structured education and followed absolutely no rules.

It had been two days since Officer Bromberg had shown up at Foretoken, demanding to see Luc. I had no idea what the officer had really wanted. When Luc returned and after Daemon left, Luc had brushed off my questions, claiming that the officer’s visits were rather routine. I wasn’t sure if I believed him or not. Part of me sus pected he wasn’t telling me the whole truth because he didn’t want me to worry.

Which was annoying.

Straightening in my seat, I glanced over my shoulder at Zoe. She was staring at Mr. Barker, a dreamy smile plastered across her deep brown cheeks while she tugged one tight honey-colored curl straight and then let it bounce back.

Zoe had a bit of a crush on Mr. Barker. So did half the school. Mainly because he did have an amazing smile.

My gaze traveled over the class. Most of my classmates looked half-awake, including Coop, who kept blinking to keep his eyes open. His blond head rested on a fist while the other hand hung limply off the desk. Considering how much the guy liked to party, it wasn’t entirely surprising to see him like that. I didn’t know Coop well, but I wondered how he was doing after Andy’s body was found outside his parents’ home, where he’d been hosting the party. Did Coop also know Ryan?

News of Ryan’s untimely death had been all that anyone was talking about this morning, but by the time lunch rolled around, it was like everyone had accepted it.

Until someone sneezed.

And then there were looks of fear, as if every sneeze was spraying a flu virus that had possibly killed a teenage boy. When I’d talked to Mom about it, she’d told me that the flu could kill, especially if someone had underlying health conditions, and that sadly most people didn’t even realize they did until they got sick.

The phone vibrated against my thigh again, and I looked down.

I’m vaguely afraid of pandas, just so you know.

Pandas? What in the world? I grinned. The bubble appeared, showing that another text was coming. Mr. Barker was droning on about conquistadors or something, and I got another text.

Pandas are like one of the most misleading creatures in the entire animal kingdom. They’re fluffy and cute, so you think they want to hug you, but in reality, they’ll rip you limb from limb.

I had no idea how to respond to that.

Wait. I think that’s koala bears. Those things are evil bastards.

And I had no idea how to respond to that, either, so I texted back I’ll be out in twenty minutes.

That’s a long time.

What will I do for twenty minutes?

Someone might try to take me.

I am that needed.

And wanted.

It’s hard being me.

So

Hard

Oh my God, Luc was a mess.

Shaking my head, I dropped my phone into the front pocket of my bag and tried to focus on the rest of the class, but there was a strange flutter in my stomach and an even stronger one in my chest. Like I was buzzing. I’d never felt that way with my ex, Brandon, or any random dude I’d harbored a crush on. I didn’t know what to make of the feeling, but it felt like a first of something major.

The next twenty minutes were the longest minutes of my seventeen years of life. When the bell rang, I popped out of my seat like I had springs attached to my feet.

“You’re in a hurry,” Zoe pointed out as she shoved her history textbook into her bag.

“Yeah, Luc’s been texting me.” I kept my voice down. “He said he had a surprise for me in a box, and he’s worried it’s going to suffocate or something.”

“Oh God.” Her eyes widened. “That literally could be anything he has in that box. Seriously, Evie. Anything.”

“I know. That’s why I need to hurry.” I slung my book bag over my shoulder.

“You need to text me later and tell me what he has,” she ordered.

“Will do.” I waved goodbye to her and James, who, with his red-rimmed eyes and dazed stare, looked like he’d just woken up.

James wiggled his fingers at me, yawning.

Out in the hall, I hurried through the throng of students, making my way to the back entrance. It was way too easy to leave. All I had to do was open the doors and then walk out into the early October sun.

I cut through the manicured lawn and then up the steep hill, heart thumping heavily. I really had no idea what Luc could have in a box. If it was some kind of pet, Mom would flip.

She didn’t do animal hair of any kind, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about scales or furless pets in general.

I trekked across the asphalt of the parking lot, the flutter intensifying in my chest as I spotted my car and the guy lounging against it.

Luc stood with his long legs crossed at the ankles, leaning against the driver’s door. He was wearing that gray, slouchy knit beanie that I had a thing for and his reflective silver aviators. My steps slowed as my heart sped up.

Today he wore a shirt that, ironically, featured a spaceship beaming someone up, and it said in bold, white letters, GET IN, LOSER.

He was holding a box. A small white one wrapped in red ribbon. There was definitely not a kitten or a puppy in the box. It was only big enough that maybe a very large tarantula or a lizard would fit.

I would straight-up knee him in the man parts if he had a damn furry spider in that box.

He looked up as I approached, those full lips tilting in a small smile. “There you are. I was starting to worry that maybe I was going to have to come in there, raise some holy hell, and get you.”

I eyed the box. “You do realize that I have at least two more classes?”

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