The Burning Shadow (Origin, #2)

He was quiet for a moment, and the teasing eased from his features. “Because this is something you used to love doing.”

My heart lodged itself in my throat. He meant it was something Nadia loved to do.

When I first learned of who I was, hearing that name—Nadia—made me sick to my stomach, but now I was thirsty for the knowledge, to know what she liked and disliked, what her dreams were, what she had wanted to be when she got older. If she was like me, scared of nearly everything, or if she was brave.

I wanted to know what it was about her that had captured the heart of someone like Luc.

Drawing in a short breath, I lifted my hand, trusting that Luc wouldn’t let the Source harm me. The warm glow was pleasant, like basking in the sun, and it sent a trill of electricity dancing up my arm. The moment I pressed my finger against his, the room exploded with light. I gasped, starting to jerk back.

“Look,” he urged softly. “Look around us.”

Eyes wide, I tugged my gaze from where our fingers had disappeared under the glow, and when I saw his room, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Luc’s apartment was one large, open space with the exception of a bathroom and closet. From where we were on the bed, I could see straight into the living room and the kitchen that appeared rarely used.

But every square inch—the large sectional couch and television, the end tables, and even the guitar displayed by the floor-to-ceiling windows—looked like it was covered with twinkling, floating, warm white Christmas lights.

“What is this?” I watched as one of the dazzling lights drifted past my face. It was so tiny, the size of a needle point.

“It’s the molecules in the air lit up.” His breath coasted over my cheek. “The Source can bond and interact with those molecules and the atoms that create the molecules. Normally you wouldn’t be able to see them since they’re too small, but the source magnifies them, and when you see one, you’re actually seeing thousands of them.”

Everywhere I looked, I saw the dancing little balls of light. “Is that how you can use the Source to move things?”

“Yes.”

“It’s beautiful.” Awed, I took in the stunning sight before me. I wanted to reach out and touch one of the dazzling lights, but I didn’t want to disturb them. “I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s not the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.” His voice was different now, deeper and thicker. As if I had no control over myself, I turned my head toward him.

Luc’s gaze snagged mine, and a shivery feeling spread over my skin. Every inch of my body became aware of his.

My heart sped up. “I used to do this with you?”

He didn’t nod or move, but somehow, he seemed closer. I inhaled the unique pine-and-spice scent of him. “You used to make me do this at least once every day.”

“Once every day? That seems excessive.”

“It was in the beginning,” he admitted, and there was no mistaking the fondness that had crept into his tone. “When you were really small—really young, I’d get annoyed because you’d followed me around for hours until I made the fireflies come.”

“Fireflies?”

“Yeah.” Thick lashes lowered, shielding his eyes. “That’s what you called the lights. Fireflies.”

“They do kind of look like fireflies in a jar.” With those intense eyes not focused on mine, it was easier to concentrate on what he was sharing with me. “Did you get mad at me when I’d ask you to do this?”

“I was always annoyed with you when we were younger.” He chuckled as he pressed the palm of his hand flat against mine. The contact sent another ripple of electricity through me, causing the tips of my fingers to tingle and the dancing lights around us to pulse. “When I wouldn’t do this for you, you’d go to Paris, and then he’d guilt me into doing it even though he could’ve done the same thing.”

“I wish I remembered Paris.” Especially since Luc spoke of him as if he were like an older brother or father to him and to me.

“I can help you remember.” His thumb slid along the side of my hand. “Because a lot of my memories were yours.”

You were all my good memories.

Pressure clamped down on my chest, threatening to seal off my throat with emotion. That’s what Luc had said to me when I asked if I’d been a part of his rare good memories, and I believed him. I just couldn’t find those memories.

Sometimes I couldn’t reconcile the two very different worlds—different lives. The Nadia that Luc claimed was bold and brave, kind and strong. The Evie that thought of Sylvia as her mother and had no idea what she was doing half the time. The monster known as Jason Dasher and the hero celebrated all around the States who had never been my father. I had memories of the man, mourned his death, and I actually never met him.

How messed up was that?

Worse yet, sometimes I didn’t even feel real.

Like, did I really love taking photographs, or was that just because it was something Nadia liked? And if that were the case, did it matter because, at the end of the day, I was Nadia? Did I not know what I wanted to do with my life because I had no idea who I really was, my likes or dislikes? Could I trust anything I wanted when I didn’t know if they were my desires, or the real Evie’s, or Nadia’s?

Did Luc call Nadia Peaches, too?

“Come back to me,” Luc whispered against my cheek, and I sucked in a sharp breath.

Blinking, I focused on features that were both painfully familiar and heartbreakingly not. “I’m here.”

“You went someplace else.” Lifting his other hand, he caught a loose strand of my pale hair and tucked it back behind my ear. His hand lingered, slipping to the nape of my neck. “Do you see these lights?”

My brow furrowed in confusion. “Yes.”

“Do you feel my hand against yours?”

“I do.”

“And do you feel this?” He slid his hand around the side of my neck, gently pressing his thumb to where my pulse started to pound as his eyes searched mine.

“I feel that.” I’d have to be dead to not feel that.

“You’re real, Evie. It doesn’t matter who you used to be or who you thought you were. You are real, and I see you.”

Air caught in my throat, and my lungs felt like they might burst.

“And I never once called Nadia Peaches.”

He’d been reading my thoughts. “Luc—”

“I couldn’t help it. You were broadcasting your thoughts loudly.” His thumb moved, smoothing over the skin just below my ear.

It would be wise to pull away and put some distance between us, but I didn’t move. I couldn’t. A thrill lit up my veins, and a ridiculous amount of warmth poured into my chest. “So, it’s … it’s all mine, then?”

The question might’ve sounded ridiculous to anyone else, but I thought Luc understood. “Yeah.” His voice was rough as he drew his hand up, dragging his thumb under my jaw. “It’s all you.”

A heavy exhalation left me. I couldn’t describe how it felt. It was just a nickname based on the lotion I loved to wear, but still, it wasn’t something that belonged to the Evie before me or to Nadia. It was me, right here and right now, and I latched on to that desperately.

Luc’s hand tilted my chin to the side. Heat climbed down my throat, flushing my skin. Luc had lips that were as soft as satin and hard as steel. I had no idea how one thing could be both, but his lips were, and I knew this, because I’d touched them, tasted them. Those lips were so close to mine—the closest they had been since we’d last kissed, and that seemed like an eternity ago even though it had only been a few days.

I’d been his first kiss—well, Nadia had been his first kiss—and I was confident that I had been his last.

“Evie.” Luc said my name as if it were a prayer and a curse.

I took a breath, but it went nowhere. His forehead touched mine, and I swore my heart stopped right then and there. Low in my stomach, muscles clenched once more.

Luc was so close that I felt his lips curve into a smile near my mouth, and if I turned my head just the scantest inch, our lips would touch.

Would he want that?

Would I want that?

I wasn’t sure. The night we’d kissed, we’d done more. We’d been chest to chest, our bodies tangled and moving together, but Luc had stopped before it had gone that far, and we weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend. There’d been no labels, no definitions to speak of. Not that we needed to be together to be together. There was just this expec tation that there could be more, there could be everything if I’d just reach out and take it.

I wanted to reach, but I …

I was afraid.

Afraid of Luc realizing what I feared I already knew. That he was in love with a girl who no longer existed, and ultimately, wouldn’t he be disappointed? I was terrified of letting myself feel those kinds of emotions that could lead to a broken heart. Scared that I would always be second best, or worse yet, a cheap imitation of the real thing.

Did Luc even see me when he stared into my eyes, or did he see the ghost of Nadia and didn’t realize it yet? I wasn’t sure if he even knew what he wanted, if he really wanted this with me, whoever I was.

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