I didn’t feel real anymore.

“I know this is a lot for you to process. I understand, but there is one thing I need you to know and it’s the most important thing.” She scooted forward. “Your name is Evie. That is who you are. I can understand the need to find out more about your past, who you were, and I support that. But you are Evie now, and I love you. That is not a lie. None of these past four years has been a lie. You’re my daughter. I’m your mother.”

Emotion clogged my throat, and it wasn’t until that moment I realized how badly I wanted and needed to hear that, but what . . . what did it change? Nothing seemed real anymore.

Words couldn’t change that.

Words couldn’t make it easier to accept.

But she was the only mom I ever knew.

“I . . .” I cleared my throat. “I don’t know what to—”

Glass shattered from somewhere upstairs. I twisted as Mom shot to her feet. “What was that?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” Her features sharpened. “But get behind me.”

I started to do just that, but something—someone flew down the steps, a blur of light that slammed into the wall beside the door, rattling the windows. The human-shaped light toppled forward, hitting the floor. The light faded out. Blond hair. Arched cheekbones.

“Grayson,” I said with a gasp, starting toward him as he slipped in and out of his true form.

“Evie!” Mom shouted.

I skidded to a halt, but I wasn’t quick enough. Terror exploded.

The Origin stood in front of me. A dimple appeared in his right cheek as he smiled. “Hello.”

Mom reacted without question.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye. The burst of bright light powered down her right arm. Knowing what she was still hadn’t prepared me to actually see it. Static charged the air and the light crackled as it exploded from her palm.

This Origin was fast.

He spun out, and the bolt of energy crashed into the office doors, knocking out several small windows. Twisting around, he threw out his arm. The blast hit Mom in the shoulder, lifting her off her feet and throwing her over the chair.

“Mom!” I shouted, starting toward her.

The Origin appeared in front of me. No sunglasses. Him. Brown hair. Handsome features. A stranger. “Mom? Now I know that’s impossible.”

Stumbling back a step, I cursed under my breath. “Yeah, well. Welcome to my life.”

“My world surely beats your world.” The ottoman lifted up and flew across the room, slamming into the TV. The screen cracked. “Did you give Luc the message I asked you to?”

I backed up, stepping around the edge of the couch. I bumped into my bag. “Yes.”

“And what did he say?” he asked politely.

Anger was like an erupting volcano. “He said you sounded psychotic.”

“Liar,” he said, and chuckled, taking a step toward me. “I know Luc. That’s not what he said. It should’ve sparked a memory for him. An important one.”

It had, but I wasn’t telling him that. “I’m so not in the mood for this.”

He stopped, his brows flying up. “Not in the mood?”

“Yes.” Behind him, I could see Mom’s legs. One started moving. I needed to buy time. “My life has imploded. Like, for real. Did you know I’m not even real?”

He blinked. “What?”

“Yeah. My name’s not Evie. I’m a dead girl. So I have a lot to deal with, and you’re running around killing innocent people.”

I’d never seen someone so homicidal before look so confused. “I know who you are. We’ve met.”

A trickle of unease curled its way down my spine. He’d said that before, and I’d forgotten.

“You just don’t remember me.” He paused. “But I remember you. We briefly met, right after I was freed. You were so sick.”

A weird sensation unfurled in the pit of my stomach as I saw Mom draw her leg up.

“You reeked of death.” His head tilted. “What did they do to you? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

There was no warning. He moved fast, his arm and hand striking out. The impact of his fist sent me sprawling to the floor. The burst of pain stunned me and the taste of iron filled my mouth.

“I don’t like doing that,” he said. “I really don’t.”

I rolled onto my side and spat out a mouthful of blood. My teeth had cut the inside of my cheek. Heart pounding, I lifted my head as my hand dragged over my backpack.

My backpack.

The stun gun!

I ripped open the front pocket of my backpack and reached around until my finger slipped over the slim device.

“I would like to say it’s not personal.” He gripped the back of my shirt and lifted me clear off the floor with one arm. “But it is. He chose you over us—over me.”

I didn’t even have time to process that. I hit the couch and rolled as I slid the button down, turning the stun gun on. He leaned in as I pushed down on the button. The stun gun spat out electricity, sounding like a thousand little fireworks going off at once. His eyes widened with realization the second before I slammed the business end of the stun gun into his chest.

He dropped like all the bone and muscle had been sucked out of his body. He hit the floor, twitching.

Scrambling from the couch, I stumbled as I made my way to where Mom lay on floor, moaning. The room tilted weirdly as I dropped to my knees beside her.

“Mom!” I started to grab for her, but the entire shoulder of her blouse was charred and smoking. “Come on, Mom. I need you. Please. Wake up.”

Her lashes fluttered, but her eyes didn’t open. Oh God, I didn’t know what to do. I looked to the front door. Grayson was in his Luxen form and he wasn’t moving. I thought he was still alive, because he didn’t look like the others had in the club.

With my head throbbing, I leaned forward and peered over the back of the chair. The Origin was still on the floor, but he wasn’t twitching anymore.

“Mom!” Tears filled my eyes as I looked around the room. I thought about the gun I’d seen in the office, but I wasn’t sure I’d get to it in time. I had no idea how long the stun gun would keep the Origin down. I couldn’t remember what Luc had said. Minutes? More? Less?

My hand tightened on the gun. I could use it again. Wouldn’t hurt.

I was going to stun gun him into next year if that was what it took. Pushing to my feet, I whimpered as pain arced across my jaw. My stomach dropped.

“Oh shit,” I whispered.

The Origin was gone.

Chills rolled down my spine as I took a step back. The fine hair on my arms lifted in startling awareness. I turned slowly.

He was right there.

“Now that was not nice, Nadia.”

Surprise knocked me off-balance. He knew my name—my old name. Engaging the stun gun, I let out a battle cry that would have made Braveheart proud, and thrust it forward.

Those few seconds cost me.

The Origin caught my wrist and twisted. My fingers spasmed and the stun gun slipped from my grasp. My eyes widened, and he winked at me. “That is not going to happen again.”

In the moment, I knew he wasn’t just going to break my arm this time. He wouldn’t stop there. He’d go through every bone before snuffing my life out. Horror choked me. I didn’t want to die. Not like this. Not now.

I didn’t even know who I was or who I would become one day. I was just learning about myself—about friends and, oh God, Luc.

And when the Origin finished with me, he’d move on to Mom. There was no way he’d let her live, and Luc . . . he would blame himself. I had no idea where we stood with each other, but I didn’t want that for him.

I didn’t want that for any of us.

Having no training, I reacted out of the pure instinct to survive. I kicked, catching him in the leg. The move surprised him, and he stepped back. I dipped down and made a desperate reach for the gun.

A fist coiled into my hair, wrenching my head back. I cried out. The Origin dragged me toward the kitchen. Razor-sharp pain radiated down my neck as my feet slipped over the hardwood floor.

He dragged me to my feet and then let go off my hair. The moment of reprieve was over before it had started. A hand curled around my throat. I was off the floor, dangling in air.