Sneak Peeks

Read an Extended Excerpt of The Burning Shadow by Jennifer L. Armentrout!

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When Evelyn Dasher crossed paths with Luc, she was thrown headfirst into the world of the Lux—only to discover that she was already far more involved in their world than she ever suspected.

Because the Luxen aren’t the only ones with a hidden past. There’s a gap in Evie’s memory, lost months of her life and a lingering sense that something happened, something she can’t remember and nobody is willing to tell her. She needs to find out the truth about who she is—and who she was. But every answer she finds only brings up more questions.

Her search for the truth brings her ever closer to Luc, the Origin at the center of it all. He’s powerful, arrogant, inhumanly beautiful, extremely dangerous…and possibly in love with her. But even as Evie falls for him, she can’t help but wonder if his attraction is to her, or to the memory of a girl who no longer exists.

And all the while, a new threat looms: reports of a flu-like, fatal virus that the government insists is being spread by Luxen. A horrifying illness that changes whoever it touches, spreading panic across a country already at its breaking point.

The Burning Shadow by Jennifer L. Armentrout will be available on October 8, but you can read the first three chapters below!

1

Just put it in your mouth already.”

Blinking rapidly, I lifted my gaze from the steaming bowl of tomato soup to where my mom stood.

That was a string of words I sort of never wanted to hear come out of her mouth ever again.

Her blond hair was smoothed back into a short, neat ponytail, and her white blouse was impressively wrinkle-free. She wasn’t so much staring as she was glaring from where she stood on the other side of the island.

“Well,” came the deep voice from beside me. “Now I feel super uncomfortable.”

The woman I’d believed to be my birth mother up until a few days ago appeared remarkably calm despite the fact that the dining room was still in shambles from the epic death match that had taken place less than twenty-four hours ago. This woman did not tolerate disorganization of any kind. However, the taut corners of her lips told me she was seconds from becoming Colonel Sylvia Dasher, and it had nothing to do with the broken dining room table or the shattered window upstairs.

“You wanted grilled cheese and tomato soup,” she said, punctuating each food item as if they were a newly discovered disease. “I made them for you, and all you’ve done is sit and stare at them.”

That was true.

“I was thinking.” He gave an elaborate pause. “That getting you to make me grilled cheese and tomato soup was too easy.”

She smiled tightly, but it didn’t reach her eyes. Eyes that were brown only because she wore specially designed contacts that blocked the Retinal Alien Check—RAC—drones. Her real eyes were a vibrant blue. I’d only seen them once. “Are you worried that the soup is poisoned?”

My eyes widened as I lowered the perfectly toasted buttered bread and melted cheesy goodness to my plate.

“Now that you mention it, I’m worried there’s arsenic or maybe some random leftover Daedalus serum in it. I mean, I feel like you can never be too sure.”

Slowly, I looked at the boy sitting next to me on a stool. Boy wasn’t exactly the right word to use to describe him. Neither was human. He was an Origin, something other than Luxen and human.

Luc.

Three letters, no last name, and pronounced like Luke, he was an utter enigma to me, and he was . . . well, he was special and he knew it.

“Your food is not poisoned,” I told him, inhaling deeply as I tried to interject some common sense into this rapidly deteriorating conversation. The nearby candle, one that reminded me of pumpkin spice, almost overwhelmed his unique, outdoorsy scent that reminded me of pine needles and fresh air.

“I don’t know about that, Peaches.” Luc’s full lips curved into a half smile. These were lips that I had recently become well familiar with. Lips that were as completely distracting as the rest of him. “I think Sylvia would love nothing more than to get rid of me.”

“Is it that obvious?” she replied, her thin, fake smile narrowing even further. “I always thought I had a rather good poker face.”

“I doubt you could ever successfully hide your rampant dislike of me.” Luc leaned back, crossing his arms over his broad chest. “I mean, the first time I came here, all those years ago, you pointed a pistol at me, and the last time I came here, you threatened me with a shotgun. So, I think you’ve made it pretty clear.”

“We could always go for a third time,” she snapped, her fingers splaying across the cool granite. “Third time’s a charm, right?”

Luc’s chin dipped and those thick lashes lowered, shielding astonishingly jewel-tone eyes. Amethyst. The color wasn’t the only thing that gave away the fact that he was rocking more than Homo sapiens DNA. The fuzzy black line surrounding his irises was also a good indication that there was only a little bit of human in him. “There won’t be a third time, Sylvia.”

Oh dear.

Things were . . . well, awkward between her and Luc.

They had a messy history that had everything to do with who I used to be, but I’d thought the whole grilled-cheese-and-tomato- soup thing was her waving a white flag—a weird offering of truce, but an offering nonetheless. Obviously, I’d been wrong. From the moment Luc and I had walked into the kitchen, things had gone downhill fast between the two of them.

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” she remarked, picking up a dishcloth. “You know what they say about the arrogant man.”

“No, I don’t.” Luc dropped his elbow to the island and propped his chin onto his fist. “But please enlighten me.”

“An arrogant man will still feel immortal.” She lifted her gaze, meeting his. “Even on his deathbed.”

“Okay,” I jumped in when I saw Luc’s head tilt to the side. “Can you two stop trying to out-snark each other so we can eat our sandwiches and soup like normal human beings? That would be great.”

“But we’re not normal human beings.” Luc sent me a long side look. “And I cannot be out-snarked, Peaches.”

I rolled my eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“He’s right, though.” She scrubbed at a spot on the island only she could see. “None of this is normal. It’s not going to be.”

Frowning at her, I had to admit she had a point. Nothing was the same from the moment Luc entered—actually, reentered—my life. Everything had changed. My entire world had imploded the moment I realized just about everything about me was a total lie. “But I need normal right now. Like, really badly need normal right now.”

Luc’s jaw clamped shut as he returned to staring at his sandwich, his shoulders unnaturally tense.

“There’s only one way you’re going to get normal back in your life, honey,” she said, and I flinched at the endearment.

It was something she always called me. Honey. But now knowing she’d only been in my life these last four years made the simple, sweet word seem wrong. Unreal, even.

“You want normal? Cut this one out of your life.”

I dropped my sandwich, shocked that she would say that—not just in front of Luc but that she would say it in general.

Luc’s head shot up. “You already took her from me once. That’s not going to happen again.”

“I didn’t take her from you,” she fired back. “I saved her.”

“And for what, Colonel Dasher?” Luc’s smile was razor sharp. “To give yourself the daughter you lost? To have something you knew you could hold over my head?”

My heart squeezed painfully in my chest. “Luc—”

The dishcloth wrinkled under Mom’s fingers as her hand balled into a fist. “You think you know everything—”

“I know enough.” His voice was too soft, too even. “And it’s best you don’t forget that.”

A muscle thrummed along her temple, and I briefly wondered if Luxen could have strokes. “You don’t know her. You knew Nadia. This is Evie.”

The gulp of air I inhaled got stuck in my throat. She was right and she was wrong. I wasn’t Nadia. I also wasn’t Evie. I had no idea who I really was.

“They are not the same,” she continued. “And if you really do care for her—for Evie—you’d walk out of her life and let her go.”

I jolted. “That’s not—”

“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.”

In my bedroom later that evening, I found myself sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the corkboard tacked full of pictures of my friends and me. I didn’t even know when I started looking at them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Luc had left shortly after #grilledcheesegate, which was for the best. Even if they sort of smoothed things over, it was best if they got some space between them. Probably a whole zip code worth of space. I wanted to be hopeful that they could get along, but I also knew that may be expecting too much from both of them.

I sighed, my gaze crawling over the photos. Some of them were photos of us just chilling or goofing off. Others showed us in Halloween costumes or dressed up in fancy dresses, hair and makeup on point. Me. Heidi. James. Zoe.

Zoe.

She’d been the first friend I’d made at Centennial High four years ago. We’d hit it off immediately, both of us having suffered—or at least thinking we had—unimaginable loss after the invasion. Our little party of two quickly expanded to include Heidi and then, eventually, James. The four of us had been thick as thieves, but Zoe had been lying, too. Just like Luc. Just like Mom. Zoe had been ordered to be my friend, to watch over me because Luc couldn’t, and maybe Luc had been right earlier. Maybe she was made to become my friend, but we’d become best friends all on our own. Who knew? I didn’t. And we’d never know.

My stomach grumbled once more, and I knew it was time to go downstairs, because my stomach felt like it wanted to eat itself. Part of me hoped Mom had holed herself up in her bedroom. I felt terrible for thinking that, but things were always super-uncomfortable after a fight, and I didn’t have the brain space to deal with it. The moment I hit the foyer and heard the TV on, I knew I wasn’t that lucky.

Taking a deep breath, I squared my shoulders and entered the living room. An episode of Hoarders was playing on the TV, and I shook my head as I continued into the living room.

She was at the island, a bottle of mustard, loaf of bread, and a packet of deli meat spread out before her. There was even a bag of sour cream and cheddar chips, my favorite. Roast beef. She was making roast beef sandwiches, and it was apparent, based on the fact there was only mustard on the bread, that she’d just started.

Mom looked up as she picked up the packet of meat. “Hoping you’re hungry.”

My steps slowed. “How did you know I was coming down? Were you listening for sounds of life outside my bedroom door?”

“Maybe.” A sheepish look crossed her face. “I was planning to coax you out with this if you didn’t.”

I stopped to stand behind the barstool that I’d knocked over earlier. “I am hungry.”

“Perfect.” She motioned at the barstool. “It’ll be ready in a few moments.”

“Thanks.” I sat down, letting my hands fall to my lap as I watched her drape a slice of roast beef over the bread and then another. I had no idea what to say as the silence stretched out between us. Luckily or unluckily, she knew exactly what to say.

“If you’re still upset with me, I completely understand,” she said, cutting right to the point in typical Colonel Dasher fashion. Another slice of roast beef went onto the sandwich. “I apologized, but I know I said things today to Luc that I shouldn’t have, and you were right. After everything, you didn’t need that today.”

I loosely folded my arms in my lap as I looked around the kitchen. “Luc . . . he did sort of start it. I mean, he didn’t need to bring up the whole pulling-a-gun-on-him thing, and I know you two are probably never going to get along, but—”

“You need him,” she answered for me, placing the bread on the meat.

Warmth hit my cheeks. “Well, I wouldn’t say that.”

A faint smile tugged at her lips as she looked up at me. “You are as much a part of him as he is a part of you.” Her smile faded as she shook her head. “Luc thinks he knows everything. He doesn’t.”

Thank God Luc wasn’t here to hear her say that.

“And he especially thinks he knows why I did what I did when I decided to . . . help you become Evie, but he doesn’t. He’s not in my head,” she said, and I wondered if she realized that Luc could read thoughts. She had to. “And I know he doesn’t trust me. I can’t blame him for that.”

“But you stopped my fath—you stopped Jason from trying to shoot him,” I pointed out. “And you weren’t the only one keeping secrets. So was he. It’s not like you’ve given him any other reason to not trust you. The same goes for him.”

She nodded as she reached for the bag of chips. “You’re right. Maybe we’ll try it again, and next time, we’ll have better results.”

“Maybe,” I murmured.

“You don’t sound too certain.”

“I’m not,” I admitted with a laugh.

A wry grin appeared as she dumped some chips onto the paper plate, next to the sandwich. “But something you can be certain of is that I am your mother. I may not be her by blood or by certificate, and I may have only been in your life for these last four years, but you are my daughter and I love you. I would do anything to make sure you’re safe and happy, just like any mother out there would.”

My lower lip trembled as my chest and throat burned. Daughter. Mother. Simple words. Powerful ones. Words I wanted to own.

“I know you’re mad about how I kept everything from you, and I understand that. I suspect it will take a long time for you to get over that. I don’t blame you. I wish I were more up front with you about him and who you were. The first time he showed up here, I should’ve told you the truth.”

“Yeah, you should have, but you didn’t. We can’t change any of that, right? It is what it is.”

Mom looked away then, smoothing her hand over the front of her shirt. She’d changed out of the blouse and into a pale blue cotton shirt. “I just wish I’d made different choices so that you could have made different ones.”

I lifted my gaze and looked at her—really saw her. Something about her seemed off. Mom looked at least a decade or so younger than her age, but she seemed paler than normal. Her features were drawn, and there were faint lines around the corners of her eyes and deeper grooves in her forehead that I’d sworn hadn’t been there two weeks before.

Despite all the lies and all the million things I still didn’t understand, concern blossomed. “Are you okay? You look tired.”

“I am a little tired.” She reached up, lightly touching her shoulder. “It’s been a while since I tapped into the Source.”

A tremor coursed through my entire body. She’d used the Source when fighting Micah. “Is that normal?”

“It can be when you haven’t used the Source in a while, but I’ll be fine.” She smiled then, a faint but real one. “Eat up.”

Feeling a little bit better about everything and almost normal, I scarfed down the sandwich and chips so fast it was amazing I didn’t choke. Once I was done, I was still hungry. Dumping my paper plate in the garbage, I went to the fridge and stared inside, debating if I wanted to go to the trouble of cutting up the strawberries I spotted and smothering them in sugar or if I wanted something easier.

“When you’re done cooling yourself off standing in front of the fridge, there’s something I wanted to show you,” Mom announced. I snorted as I grabbed a packet of string cheese. Walking over to the trash can, I pulled off the wrapper and tossed it into the trash.

“What?”

“Follow me.” She turned, and I followed her to the front of the house, to the French doors that led to her office. She opened the doors, and my steps slowed.

A tiny part of me didn’t want to go into the office.

I’d found pictures of her in there, the real Evie, hidden away in a photo album. I’d always been told that we didn’t have any old photo albums. That Mom hadn’t had the chance to grab any of them during the invasion. I’d blindly believed in that, but now I knew the truth, and I knew why there could be no photo albums.

I wouldn’t have been in them. The real Evie would’ve been.

“You remember the night you called me while I was at work because you thought someone was in the house?” she asked.

The question caught me off guard. She was talking about the night I’d been here alone and had heard someone downstairs. “Yeah, I’m probably not going to forget that until I’m eighty. You thought I imagined it.”

“You didn’t.” She turned to her desk. “Someone was in here, and they did take something.”

I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t get any of the words out. That was probably a good thing, because most of the words building on my tongue were curses. Finally, I found my voice. “You said nothing was taken.”

“I was wrong. I wasn’t hiding anything from you. I just didn’t realize until this afternoon. I was organizing my office when I discovered it,” she said.

I had no idea how she could organize her office any more than she normally had it. For Pete’s sake, her office was already more organized than a monthly planner.

Unease surfaced as I stared at her. “What was taken?”

She reached into the desk drawer and pulled out that damn photo album, placing it down on the desk. She opened it to the blank pages. “When I was in here straightening up, I happened to open up the album. I hadn’t looked through it in a while, but I noticed it then. There were pictures of Jason’s daughter here. Other birthday pictures and a few candid ones.” Her fingers lingered on the blank pages. “Those were taken.”

Confused, I lifted my gaze to hers as my thoughts whirled. “It had to be Micah. He’d been . . .”

“He’d been what?”

He’d been in this house before, while I’d been sleeping. He’d scratched me—choked me. I’d thought it had been a nightmare until he’d admitted to me what he’d done. A shudder rolled through me. Mom didn’t know about that. Crossing my arms, I stared down at my bare feet. The purple nail polish had begun to chip on my big toe.

Micah hadn’t admitted to taking the photos, and he also claimed that he hadn’t killed Andy, one of my classmates, or that poor family in the city. He’d owned up to Colleen’s and Amanda’s deaths, and Luc and I had just assumed he’d been lying.

What if he wasn’t?

And why would he take pictures of the real Evie? He knew who I was from the beginning. He didn’t need picture proof. Knots twisted up my stomach as I lifted my gaze to hers. “What if it wasn’t Micah? Why would someone take them.”

The line of her mouth thinned until the upper lip was nearly gone. “I don’t know.”

2

“We will not be silenced! We will not live in fear!” April Collins’s voice carried from the front of the school Monday morning, the sound like rusted nails on my nerve endings. “No more Luxen! No more fear!”

My steps slowed as I squinted against the glare of the sun. April was lifting a bright pink poster, shaking it as the small group of classmates behind her continued to chant, “No more Luxen! No more fear!”

A teacher was trying to usher April and the others in through the front door, but the young woman wasn’t having much luck. She looked like she needed about two more large cups of coffee to deal with this.

It was way too early for this nonsense.

I should’ve stayed home like Mom had wanted, just to avoid seeing April riling up the students. Then again, I would’ve been bored out of my mind, and Mom would’ve stayed home. If I wanted to see my friends and if I wanted to see Luc, like I planned to later, that meant I had to go to school.

And apparently deal with April.

Good news was I hadn’t had any more dizzy spells even though I hadn’t gotten a whole lot of sleep the night before. First, I couldn’t stop thinking about the missing pictures even though it had to have been Micah who had taken them, and when I did finally fall asleep, a nightmare had woken me hours later.

I’d been back in the woods with Micah and Luc . . . he had been hurt badly and—

Cutting those thoughts off as a chill swept down my spine, I powered forward. April had taken to protesting outside, at the front entrance in the mornings and the parking lot after school let out, both places where she was bound to be seen by the registered Luxen who attended our school.

Looking around, I didn’t see Connor or any of the other Luxen, and I hoped that meant they’d made it into the school before April started. Most people were ignoring them. Only a few others stood around, watching. A girl I didn’t recognize, possibly a freshman or sophomore, was yelling back at them, but whatever she was saying was drowned out by April and her group’s chants.

My grip tightened as I picked up my pace, hurrying down the steps that led into the front of Centennial High. As I neared the group, April spun toward me, her long, blond hair reminding me of a tail as it whipped along with her. She lowered her stupid poster that literally had no luxen written in large block letters with an actual glitter pen.

Shaking my head, I focused on the RAC drone hovering by the doors, scanning the eyes of the students to ensure that no unregistered Luxen were present. What the creators of the drone didn’t realize was that Luxen and Origins had figured out a way around them with the contacts they wore. Sometimes I wondered how long it would last, the safety the contacts afforded. The government would have to figure it out eventually, but then again, look at how long most of the Luxen had been here without a lot of the branches of the government or the general populace knowing they were here. Decades and decades, if not longer.

“Hey, Evie!” April called out. “Want to join us?”

Without even looking at her, I extended my right hand and my middle finger as I kept walking toward the glass doors.

“That’s not nice.” April fell into step beside me. “You shouldn’t treat friends like that, but I’ll forgive you. Because I’m nice like that.” I stopped, facing her. Things were tense between us. April and I had never been all that close, but she was someone I’d once considered a friend even though she’d always been abrasive.

“We’re not friends, April. Not anymore.”

Her brows lifted. “How are we not friends?”

“Are you serious right now?” I demanded.

The poster tapped off her thigh. “Do I look like I’m joking?”

“You look like a bigot who’s pulled her hair back a little too tightly,” I snapped, and her cheeks flushed pink. Maybe it was the almost dying thing this weekend, but I had absolutely no filter. “I’ve tried talking to you about the horrible stuff you’re saying and doing, but that was like talking to a brick wall. I don’t know what’s happened to you, April, who didn’t hug you enough as a child, but whatever it is, it’s no excuse for this crap.”

Her eyes narrowed. “And I don’t know how you can stand there and defend Luxen—”

“We’ve already had this conversation.” I cut her off before she could bring up my supposed father. “I’m not having it again, April.” She gave a small shake of her head and then inhaled deeply through her nose. Determination pinched her features.

“They can kill us, Evie. With a snap of their fingers, you and I both could be dead before we took our next breath. They’re dangerous.”

“They’re wearing Disablers,” I told her even though I knew that only registered Luxen wore them. “And while you’re right, they can be dangerous and they could kill us, so could any person around us. We’re just as dangerous, and yet you don’t see anyone out here protesting us.”

“Not the same thing,” she argued. “This is our planet—”

“Oh, come on, we don’t own this planet, April. It’s a freaking planet, with more than enough room for all the aliens in the world. The Luxen here have done nothing to you—”

“How do you know that? You don’t know what has or hasn’t been done to me,” she fired back, and my brows lifted. I doubted she’d been dragged through the woods recently. “Look, I get we have different opinions, but you don’t have to be rude to me just because we don’t agree on this. You just need to respect how I feel.”

“Respect how you feel?” I laughed dryly.

“Yeah, that’s what I said. Don’t know what’s so funny about that.”

“What’s so funny is that you’re wrong, April. This isn’t just about having different opinions and respecting that. I don’t like pizza. You think pizza is great. We can agree to disagree, but this is about right and wrong, and what you’re doing is wrong.” I took a step back from her, having no idea how she couldn’t understand what I was saying. April had always been difficult to deal with and often had opinions that made me want to throat punch her, but this? “I hope you see that someday.”

April’s chest rose with a deep breath. “You think I’m going to be on the wrong side of history, don’t you? That’s where you’re wrong, Evie.”

_________

“Is it true?” Zoe demanded the moment she appeared by my locker, her tight, honey-colored curls pulled back in an impeccably neat bun I could never master.

Opening the door, I looked over at her. I had no idea what she was talking about. “Is what true?”

“What?” She stared at me. Cocking her arm back, she punched me on the arm. “Are you serious?”

“Ouch.” I rubbed at the spot. That wasn’t a light punch, but I was grateful for it, because things had been a little weird between Zoe and me this morning. Not bad or anything like that, but just like we both were walking on eggshells around each other. Not exactly a huge surprise there. I was still processing the fact that we hadn’t organically become friends or that not only was Zoe an Origin—like Luc—but that she had also known me when I’d been Nadia.

Zoe was obviously worried that I was holding things against her, but I really wasn’t. Things were weird, but she was still my friend— one of my best friends, and I wasn’t going to let how our friendship started destroy what we made of it.

Plus, almost dying made me realize how pointless grudges were while driving home the whole you-never-know-if-you’ll-have-a- tomorrow kind of thing. Unless holding a grudge involved April. With her, I was going to cuddle and feed and water that grudge.

Zoe cocked her head. “You got into it with April this morning?”

“Oh. Yeah. That.” Shaking out my arm, I pulled my English text out and shoved it onto the shelf.

Zoe looked like she was going to hit me again, so I leaned away. “You had all morning to mention you got into it with April. I just heard some girl I’m not even convinced goes to school here talking about it while I was in the bathroom.”

I grinned. “It wasn’t a big deal. She tried to talk to me, and I wasn’t having it.”

Zoe caught my locker door as it started to close on its own. The orange and tan bangles around her slim wrist clattered softly. “Not a big deal? I need to know exactly what you said to her that apparently caused her to throw her poster at Brandon.”

My brows shot up. “She did that?”

She nodded. “Yep.”

An evil little giggle rose in the back of my throat. I told her what I’d said to April as I grabbed my history text and shut the door. “I guess I got under her skin.”

“Sounds like it. God, she’s the worst.”

I nodded as we edged around a slow-moving younger student. “So, what did you do yesterday?”

“Nothing much. Just watched this really sad documentary about coma patients.”

Zoe watched the weirdest things.

“What about you?” she asked.

“Luc came over,” I said in a low voice. “Mom made him grilled cheese and tomato soup.”

“Wow.” She nudged my side. “That’s awesome.”

“Well . . .”

“It wasn’t?”

“At first it was. He and I sort of hung out for a while first and talked.” I could feel my stupid cheeks warming. “But things went south between them pretty fast. They argued and it got ugly. Both ended up apologizing.”

“Even Luc?” She sounded surprised.

“Yep. I guess things are okay now, but they’re never going to be fans of each other.”

“Really can’t blame them,” Zoe said. “They have a . . .”

“Messed-up history? Yeah.” We entered the cafeteria. It smelled like burned pizza. “But I think it’s big that they both apologized. I think they’re going to try the best they can.”

“I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall when you yelled at both of them,” Zoe said as we went through the line. “You’re scary when you get mad.”

I laughed at that, because when I got mad, all I could do was yell. If Zoe or Luc got mad, they could burn down entire houses with a flick of their wrists. The idea of Zoe thinking I was scary was laughable.

After I loaded my plate up with what I thought might be roast beef but sort of looked like stew, Zoe grabbed a pizza, and I tried not to puke over her poor life choice.

James was already at the table, munching from a bag of chips. His size was super-intimidating to most, but he was a big cuddly teddy bear who hated confrontation . . . and Foretoken. Couldn’t quite blame him considering the one and only time he’d been there, he’d met the meanest Luxen ever.

Grayson.

Ugh.

The Luxen had basically told James he’d reminded him of one of the victims in the old movie Hostel, and how creepy was that?
As soon as we sat down, James demanded, “So, what is the best Taken movie? One. Two. Or three?”

I stared at him.

“There are three of them?” Zoe asked.

His mouth gaped, and a chip fell out, causing me to giggle. “How do you not know there are three of them?”

“I haven’t seen any of them,” I admitted.

He blinked at me. “If I were wearing pearls, I’d be clutching them right now.”

Heidi dropped into the seat next to James, her crimson-colored waves brushing against cheeks that were way paler than normal. Im- mediately, my stomach twisted as instinct blared a warning.

Zoe must’ve picked up on it. “What’s wrong?”

“Do you guys know Ryan Hoar?” she asked, and my stomach sank. The last couple of weeks, when someone asked that, good news did not follow.

Chip halfway to his mouth, James looked over at Heidi. “Yeah, he’s in my art class. Why?”

“I don’t know who that is,” Zoe said.

“He’s kind of tall and skinny. Usually changes his hair color a lot. I think the last time I saw it, it was green,” Heidi explained, and that sounded vaguely familiar.

“Actually, it was blue on Friday,” James corrected. “I haven’t seen him yet. Art is my last class.”

“You’re not going to see him,” Heidi said, placing her hands on the table. “I just heard from his cousin that he died over the weekend.”

“What?” James dropped the bag of chips. “He was at Coop’s party Friday night.”

Immediately, I thought of Micah. It couldn’t be, could it? Micah was dead, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t done it before Luc ended it. “Was he . . . killed?”

“No.” Heidi shook her head. “He caught the flu or something and died from that.”

“The flu?” James repeated as if he couldn’t quite believe what he’d heard. “Like the sneezing and coughing flu?”

Heidi nodded. “Yeah.”

“Wow,” I murmured, unable to think of anyone I knew that had actually died from the flu.

Zoe stared down at her plate. “That’s sad.”

“Yeah,” Heidi agreed.

James said nothing as he sat back, hands falling to his lap. A hush fell over us, and just like that, I learned . . . or I remembered that a natural death, an unexpected one, was just as heavy as an unnatural one.

And death was a constant companion, with or without dangerous aliens.

3

“Touch it.”

“Nope,” I said, focusing on the open textbook as I lay curled on my side. I’d been at Luc’s apartment for about an hour, and I needed to study because I had a feeling I was going to have a quiz in history, but within that hour’s time, I’d probably managed to read about one paragraph.

If that.

Not only was Luc incredibly distracting, I kept thinking about Ryan. I didn’t know him at all, but he still lingered in my thoughts. To die from the flu at such a young age? That was scary—scary and sad, and I could almost hear my mom’s voice in the back of my head, lecturing about the importance of flu shots.

The school had already suffered too many losses.

“Come on, Evie, touch it,” Luc cajoled, and I fought the way my lips twitched in response to his deep voice as I traced idle circles along the soft blanket.

“No, thank you.”

“I’m far more interesting than whatever you’re reading.”

That statement was annoyingly true. Reading about the Gettysburg Address, something I was confident was covered every single year in school, wasn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat reading.

“Touch it,” he persisted. “Just a little. You know you want to, Peaches.”

I lost the battle to ignore him and my gaze flicked from the textbook to the long, lean body stretched out beside me. He smiled, and a flutter picked up in my chest. That smile of his was as dangerous as the Source.

“Touch it.” Luc let his head fall to the side.

I shouldn’t be touching any part of Luc, because things with him had a tendency to spin spectacularly out of control in the best and worst possible way.

“Peaches,” he murmured.

“What do you . . . ?” I trailed off as I saw what he wanted me to touch.

The tip of one finger glowed bright white like a mini lightbulb. I sucked in a shallow breath, torn between wanting to pull away and inch closer. “Are you ET?”

Luc chuckled. “I’m way hotter than ET.”

“That’s not saying much, you realize that, right? ET is like this lumpy thing of Play-Doh,” I said, staring at his finger. What I saw was no light. It was the Source, a power not from this Earth but brought here by the aliens. Only the Luxen, hybrids, and Origins could harness the energy to varying degrees. Some could heal with it. Some could move objects. All could kill with it.

And Luc was adeptly skilled at all uses of the Source.

“Why do you want me to touch it?” I asked.

“It’s a surprise, Peaches,” he said. “Because I know you missed me while you were at school.”

“I didn’t miss you while I was at school.”

“You shouldn’t tell lies, Peaches.”

I shot him a look, but truth was, he did randomly pop up in my thoughts throughout the day, and it was always followed by a dipping motion in my stomach. I had no idea what that meant, if it was something good or bad, but it was weird. I’d spent a decent amount of time with him, so how could I miss him already? I used to go entire weekends without seeing my ex, Brandon, and not really miss him. Actually, if I was being honest, I hadn’t missed him at all.

“Okay,” I said after a moment. “I did miss you.”

“A lot.”

“A little,” I corrected, fighting a grin as I stared at the white glow around his finger and then lifted my gaze to those stunning eyes. “Why do you want me to touch it?”

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 was it 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 magni- fies 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 kind of do 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 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 onto 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—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 expectation 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.

“I always want that,” he whispered against my lips.

Startled, I jerked back and broke contact. The lit atoms flickered and then fizzled out in a series of crackles. My gaze swung to Luc’s face.

One side of his mouth kicked up as his gaze collided with mine. “All you have to do is ask, Peaches. All you have to do is tell me what you want, and it’s yours.”

I opened my mouth as my cheeks warmed. At a loss, I reached for the soda on the nightstand, taking a huge gulp. A slight tremble rattled the can as I placed it back on the nightstand that was bare except for a silver lamp.

“So . . .” I cleared my throat, searching for something to say. “How did you meet Paris?”

“It’s kind of a funny story,” he replied after a moment. “He tried to kill me.”

“What?” My head whipped toward him. I had not been expecting that. “How is that funny?”

He grinned. “It was shortly after I’d escaped the Daedalus. I was around five, I think?”

I stared at him. “He tried to kill you when you were five?”

“Well, me at five was like a normal human at sixteen for all intents and purposes, but yeah, he’d been blackmailed into hunting me down with this other group of Luxen. They were supposed to capture and bring me back. That’s not how it went down, though.”

I had a feeling I could guess what happened.

“They, of course, weren’t as prepared as they should’ve been when they found me. All of them except Paris had no issue with what was being done. I could tell.” He tapped his finger off the side of his head. “So, I saved Paris.”

In other words, he’d killed the rest of them . . . at five years old. I blinked slowly. “How were they blackmailing him?”

“They had his siblings,” he answered. “A brother and a sister.”

Oh God. “What happened to them?”

Luc looked away then. “We tried to find and free them, but they were killed once the Daedalus figured out Paris had teamed up with me instead of killing me.”

“God,” I whispered, thinking there were a lot of moments like this for him. People trying to kill him or control him, experiment on him and use him. “Are you sure you had good memories?”

“Many.”

I wasn’t so sure about that, and I was thinking that maybe it was a little bit of a blessing that I couldn’t remember my childhood. And I wished I could . . . change that for him.

I looked away from him, my gaze landing on where my camera sat on my backpack. I’d brought it with me, planning to finally go through the pictures, but it sat untouched.

There was something I wanted to do, but it was kind of weird. Like, super-weird.

“Nothing is weird to me.”

I sighed. “You’re in my head again.”

“Guilty as charged.” When I looked at him, he arched a brow, utterly unrepentant. “What is it that you want to do, Peaches?”

“I want to take your picture.” My face felt as if it were on fire.

“And I know that sounds creepy—”

Interest filled his expression. “That sounds hot.”

“Not that kind of picture!” Now my entire body was burning.

“I just . . . you have such interesting lines. Your face, I mean. I want to capture them on film.” I rose, wiping my suddenly damp palms as I turned away from him. “God, saying that out loud does sound creepy as hell. Just forget—”

“You can take as many pictures as you want.”

“Really?” I faced him, clasping my hands together. Excitement thrummed to life. “You don’t think it’s weird?”

Luc shook his head, sending messy waves tumbling in every direction.

I glanced at my camera and then back at Luc. The question came out before I could stop myself. “You said Nadia—you said I was always interested in taking pictures?”

He nodded this time. “You liked to take a lot of the outdoors. Fall was your favorite. Then winter, but only when it had snowed. Otherwise, you didn’t like taking those pictures, because—”

“Everything looks dead in the middle of the winter,” I whispered, and when he nodded again, I felt a little dizzy. “It’s weird. You know? That there are pieces of Nadia in me. I guess they’ve always been there.” I walked to my bag and picked up the camera, wrapping the strap around my arm. “Do you think there’s any of Evie in me?”

Luc was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know. I didn’t know her.”

I fiddled with the buttons on the camera. “I was thinking last night that it seemed wrong to replace her, you know? Like it’s an insult to her memory. It makes me feel gross.”

“It wasn’t of your choosing, though. You didn’t wake up one day and decide to take over her life. Sylvia—” He cut himself off when I looked over at him. His shoulders were tense, the line of his jaw harsh, turning the beauty of all those lines more brutal than warm.

I lifted the camera then, snapping a picture before I lost my nerve. He didn’t seem to mind.

“Don’t put that kind of guilt on yourself,” he said. “You didn’t make that choice.”

I knew what he was saying. Mom had made that choice, to replace the real Evie with me. She hadn’t needed to do that. A part of me thought it wasn’t wise to talk about Mom with him, especially after what happened the day before, but the words, the truth of it all, bubbled up. “She could’ve given me any other identity.”

“Yeah, she could’ve.” Luc held still as I slowly approached him. “Kind of makes you wonder why she did that.”

My fingers halted several inches from his face. “It does.” I drew in a shallow breath and then touched his chin. His entire body gave the slightest jerk, and I pulled my hand back. “Sorry. I was just going to—”

“No, it’s okay.” His eyes were a brighter shade of violet as he caught my hand and brought my fingers back to his chin.

Throat inexplicably dry, I tilted his head back and to the left so the sunlight caught the side of his face again. “I think she did it because she missed the real Evie.”

“People do the strangest things for love.”

Carefully, I brushed a thick lock of hair back from his face. His eyes closed as the tips of my fingers grazed his forehead. Warmth crept into my cheeks as I stepped back. “Don’t move.”

“Your wish is my command.”

My lips twitched as I lifted my camera, adjusting the focus until I snapped a picture of him. I took several as I moved toward the foot of the bed, attempting to capture all the striking angles while feeling incredibly self-conscious.

Lowering the camera, I walked back to him, turning his chin so he was looking straight at me. I wanted to ask him to smile, but I was too embarrassed to do so.

“Are you going to look at the ones you just took?” he asked.

I shook my head. “Not until I’m done.”

“That’s different.”

My gaze lifted to his, and I saw that he was smiling. Not a big one. That kind was rare for Luc, but this was a lopsided grin, and when those strands of hair flopped back onto his forehead, there was this adorable rakish look to him.

I snapped a pic.

“From before, I mean,” he clarified. “You’d look at every picture after you took it. But you never took portraits. Do you take a lot of them now?”

“Not a lot, but I’ve taken photos of Zoe and Heidi, even James. But more candid shots, you know? Like when they’re not paying attention to me.” I switched the mode to black and white. “I guess that’s something that is all me.”

“It is.”

Smiling, I lifted the camera and took another shot of him in black and white, and then I went over to him to readjust his angle.

Luc caught my fingers as he snagged my gaze, and my entire body locked up. He dragged them over the line of his jaw, to his parted lips. His warm breath danced over the tips of my fingers. He pressed a kiss to one finger. A tight, hot shiver curled low.

“I like this,” he said, kissing my next finger.

“Like what?” Did I sound as breathless as I felt?

“You taking pictures.” Another kiss on another finger. “I like that you’re involving me in something you like to do.”
An incredible whooshing sensation swept through my chest, more than a flutter, like an impossibly sweet swelling. “I like . . .”

He stared up at me through thick lashes, his mouth centimeters from my last finger. “What?”

I felt warm and dizzy as he held my gaze. “I like you . . . being involved.”

One side of his mouth kicked up. “I know,” he said, and then before I could respond, he nipped at my pinkie, a quick bite that sent a bolt of awareness through me.

My stomach hollowed as I sucked in air that seemed to do nothing to alleviate the sudden, intense throbbing.

Luc’s smile turned downright wicked as he lowered my hand. His gaze flicked over my shoulder. “We’ll have to take more later.”

I opened my mouth, but a knock at the door silenced me. I stared at him dumbly as he rose, still holding on to my hand. “How do you do that? Know when someone is about to knock?”

“I’m that special.” Luc led me down the step and into his living room. “Like a snowflake, unique and pure.”

I snickered as he let go of my hand and went to the door. From where I stood, I saw Kent’s blue mohawk when Luc opened the door.

“What’s up?” Luc asked, dragging a hand through his hair.

“We got a problem.”

Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer L. Armentrout

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