The Burning Shadow (Origin, #2)

“You think you know her better than I do?” Luc’s laugh could’ve frozen the Alaskan wildlands. “If you think she’s your dead daughter, then you’re living in a fantasy world. And if you think that me walking out of here is what’s best, then you don’t know shit.”

My gaze darted between them. “Just FYI, I’m sitting right here. Totally present for this argument that is about me.”

Both ignored me.

“And just to be really, painfully clear,” Luc went on, “if you think I’d walk away again, then you’ve obviously forgotten who I am.”

Was the dishcloth starting to smoke? “I haven’t forgotten what you are.”

“And that is?” Luc challenged.

“Nothing more than a killer.”

Holy crap.

Luc smirked. “Then you and I should get along famously.”

Oh my God!

“It’s best that you remember you’re only a part of her life now because I’m allowing it,” she retorted.

Luc kept his arms crossed. “I would sincerely love to see you try to keep me away from her now.”

“Don’t push me, Luc.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been pushing.”

Bluish-white energy flickered over Mom’s knuckles, and I just lost it. All the violent, raw emotions swirled inside me like a cyclone, lashing through every part of my being. This was too much—just too much.

“Stop it! Both of you!” I shot to my feet, and the barstool toppled over, cracking off the floor and startling both her and Luc. “Do you guys really think any of this is helping right now? At all?”

Luc whipped around on the stool, his odd eyes slightly wide while Mom stepped back from the island, dropping the dish towel.

“Have you guys forgotten that I almost died last night because a psychotic and slightly suicidal Origin had a T. rex–sized bone to pick with you?” I pointed at Luc, and his jaw hardened in response. “And have you forgotten that you’ve spent the last four years pretending to be my mom? Which is scientifically impossible because you’re a Luxen, something else you’ve lied about?”

Mom’s face paled. “I’m still your mother—”

“You convinced me that I was some dead girl!” I shouted, throwing my hands up. “You didn’t even adopt me. How is that even legal?”

“That’s a really damn good question.” Luc smirked.

“Shut up!” I swung on him, my heart racing and my temples beginning to throb. “You’ve also done nothing but lie to me. You even made my best friend become friends with me!”

“Well, I didn’t exactly make her become your best friend,” he replied, slowly unfolding his arms. “That happened organically, I’d like to think.”

“Don’t bring logic into this,” I snapped, my hands tightening into fists when the lines of his mouth softened. “You two are driving me out of my mind, and I barely have any of it left. Do I need to remind you of what happened in the last freaking forty-eight hours? I learned that everything I knew about myself was a lie and that I was pumped full of alien DNA courtesy of a serum I can barely pronounce, let alone spell. And if that’s not messed up enough, I found a classmate super-duper dead. Andy’s eyes were legit burned out of his face, and then I was literally just dragged through the woods and had to listen to the bizarre ranting of an Origin who had hard-core abandonment issues!”

Both stared at me.

I stepped back, breathing heavily. “All I wanted to do is eat a damn grilled cheese sandwich, eat some freaking soup, and be normal for five seconds, but both of you ruined it and—” Without warning, a wave of dizziness swept over me, making my chest suddenly feel hollow. “Whoa.”

Mom’s face blurred as my knees went weak. “Evie—”

Luc moved so fast I couldn’t have tracked him even if I were not weirdly seeing double at the moment. Within what felt like half a second, he had a strong, steady arm around my waist. “Evie,” he said, cupping my cheek and lifting my head. I hadn’t even realized it had lowered. “Are you okay?”

My heart was pounding too fast, and my head felt like it was weighed down with cotton. Pressure settled on my chest as my legs trembled. I was alive and standing, so that meant I was okay. I had to be. I just couldn’t get the words out at the moment.

“What’s wrong?” Worry threaded every syllable of Mom’s voice as she drew closer.

“Dizzy,” I gasped, squeezing my eyes shut. I hadn’t eaten anything since sometime the day before, and I’d only managed to get one bite of food in before they had started to argue, so being dizzy wasn’t all that surprising. Plus, the last week … or month had been a bit much.

“Just breathe.” Luc’s thumb dragged over my jawline, making long, soothing strokes. “Take a few moments and just breathe.” There was a pause. “She’s okay. It’s just that she was … she was hurt pretty badly last night. It’s going to take a bit for her to be 100 percent.”

I thought that was weird, because this morning I’d felt like I could’ve run a marathon, and I didn’t normally feel like running unless a horde of zombies was chasing me.

But slowly, the weight lifted from my head and chest, and the dizziness faded. I opened my eyes, and the next breath I took got stuck in my throat. I didn’t realize he was so close, that he was hunched over so we were eye level, his face only inches from mine.

A thoroughly perplexing mix of emotions woke deep inside me, fighting to get to the surface—to get me to pay attention to them, to make sense of them.

His bright gaze met mine as a lock of wavy bronze hair toppled forward, shielding one of those stunning, abnormal purple eyes. I took in the features that were pieced together in an inhumanly perfect way we mere mortals truly couldn’t accomplish without a skilled surgical hand.

Luc was beautiful in a way that a panther in the wild was, and that was what he often reminded me of. A sleek, captivating predator that distracted with its beauty or lured its prey in with it.

There was a daring twist to the corners of his full lips, tilting them up. Early October sunlight streamed in through the kitchen window, glancing off sharp cheekbones, highlighting them and creating alluring shadows under them.

I was staring at his lips again.

When I looked at him, I wanted to touch him, and as I stared at him wanting that, that teasing grin of his kicked up a notch.

My eyes narrowed.

Only a few Origins could read thoughts as easily as it was for me to read a book. Luc was, of course, one of them. He’d promised to stay out of my head, and I think he did most of the time, but he always seemed to be peeping when I was thinking the absolute most embarrassing thing possible.

Like right now.

His grin became a smile, and a flutter picked up in my chest. That smile of his was as dangerous as the Source. “I think she’s feeling better.”

I jerked away from him, breaking the embrace as warmth crept into my cheeks. I couldn’t look at her. Sylvia. Mom. Whatever. I didn’t want to look at him, either. “I’m okay.”

“I think you should eat something,” she said. “I can warm up the soup—”

“I don’t really want to eat anything,” I interrupted, my appetite nonexistent at this point. “I just don’t want you two to fight.”

Mom looked away, her small chin jutting out as she folded her arms over her chest.

“I don’t want that, either,” Luc said, his voice so quiet I wasn’t sure Mom heard him.

My chest squeezed as I met his gaze. “Really? Seemed like you were more than willing to fight.”

“You’re right,” he said, surprising me. “I was being antagonistic. I shouldn’t have been.”

For a moment, all I could do was stare at him, and then I nodded. “There’s something I need to say, and both of you need to hear it.” My hands curled into loose fists. “She can’t keep me away from you.”

His eyes deepened to a violet hue, and when he spoke, his voice was rougher. “Good to hear.”

“Only because I can’t be kept or forced to do anything I don’t want to do,” I added. “That goes for you, too.”

“Never would imagine it didn’t.” He was closer, moving toward me as silently as a ghost.

Drawing in a shallow breath, I faced Mom. Her face was pale, but beyond that, I couldn’t read anything in her expression. “And I know you don’t want to try to force Luc and me apart, not now and not after everything. You were mad. You guys have a messy history. I get that, and I know you two may never like each other, but I really need you guys to pretend that you do. Just a little.”

“I’m sorry,” Mom said, clearing her throat. “He might’ve been willing to argue with me, but this was on me. I invited him for lunch, and then I was unnecessarily rude. He obviously has reasons to not trust me or accept any of my actions in good faith. If it were the other way around, I would feel the same as he does.” She drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Luc.”

Shock splashed through me as my eyes widened, and I wasn’t the only one staring at her like I didn’t understand the words coming out of her mouth.

“I know you and I are never going to like each other,” Mom continued. “But we need to try to get along. For Evie.”

Luc was as still as a statue in one of the few museums that had survived the alien invasion. Then he nodded. “For her.”

* * *

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