It was the last breath I took. Just gone like that. Every cell was shocked and screamed out as precious oxygen was suddenly cut off. My heart stuttered in my chest and the panic made everything worse.

“Let go of my daughter.”

The Origin tilted his head just as my vision started to darken. “I can do that.”

Flying. I was suddenly flying backward and breathing again. The breathing didn’t help, though. Just as soon as I got any amount of oxygen in my lungs, my lower back slammed into the dining table. The impact jarred me all the way down to the tips of my toes. My head smacked into the hanging light fixture, knocking it back. I fell forward, my knees cracking off the floor. Doubling over, I struggled to breathe through the waves of pain.

A scream of pure rage erupted from Mom as blood trickled down the side of my head. I lifted my chin and saw her go full Luxen. She was swathed in intense, beautiful white light.

The air crackled with power. I could feel it in my bones and tissue. She let loose, striking out—

He was too fast.

Shooting forward, he lashed out, swinging his arm. He caught her in the shoulder, and the bolt of pure energy smacked into the wall. Dust plumed, and Mom slammed into the couch, knocking it up into the air.

I cried out as she went down, the couch flipping and landing on her. God, that couldn’t be good. I had to get up. I had to—

He was there, his hand curling around my throat again. He lifted my head, forcing my gaze to his. This was it. This was—

“No, I’m not going to kill you.” The ever-present, charming smile appeared. “But unfortunately, I am going to hurt you.”


Shivering in the cooler air, I forced my eyes to stay open. I couldn’t let them close. He got . . . impatient when I closed them. He’d think I wasn’t paying attention, and he . . . had problems with that. Issues.

This guy had a lot of . . . issues.

He was sitting on the grass a few feet from me, cross-legged, and I was where he’d deposited me, against a tree. He’d dragged me out of the house, and it had been a blur because he moved so incredibly fast, but I didn’t think we went that far. I was sure we were in the woods that surrounded the subdivision.

I’d lost my shoes somewhere. I think on the road outside my house. One entire pant leg had been torn off all the way to my upper thigh, having snagged on a branch. Some of my skin had snagged too. That hadn’t stopped him. Neither did the moment the edge of my shirt got caught. My trembling hands held the shredded material together.

I was trying not to think of my mom and what kind of condition she was in, because if I did, I’d lose whatever precious control I had, and I couldn’t afford that right now if I wanted to survive this.

“He really has no idea who I am?” he asked, nose pinched. “At all?”

“No,” I whispered, wincing. Talking made my face throb.

The Origin exhaled loudly. “Well, that’s a blow to the ego. I shouldn’t be surprised, though.” He tilted his head back and stared up at the stars peeking through the bare branches. “He forgot about us more than once, but he won’t forget again.”

My head had taken a few knocks. Probably a few too many, because sometimes it felt like the ground was swaying under me, but I was starting to put things together.

“Why . . . why are you doing this?” I ignored the lancing pain along my jaw. “Why did you kill those people?”

“I already told you why.”

“But that family . . . and Andy—”

He frowned. “I didn’t kill them. I’m kind of offended that you think I run around aimlessly killing people.”

I opened my mouth, but I was unsure of how to respond to that, but why would he lie? He’d easily admitted to Colleen’s and Amanda’s murders.

“By the way, what should I call you? Evie? Nadia? Evelyn?” He paused, and I saw he pupils of his eyes burn white. “Peaches?”

I swallowed hard and croaked out, “Evie.”

“Hmm. Interesting.”

A tremor coursed down my arms. “You met me when I was—”

“When you were a young girl, dying of a disease? Yes. I met you very briefly. You came into the room I was placed in—we all were placed in—and you read to us.”

“I don’t—”

“Remember? I see.” He leaned forward, and I tensed. He could be soft-spoken and friendly, charming, even, but he was like a cobra striking. “I’ll remember for the both of us. You read Where the Wild Things Are after the world began to fall apart. We liked you.”

“It . . . it doesn’t make sense.”

His placed on hand on the ground by my foot. “What doesn’t, Evie?”

“You’re . . . one of them. One of those kids—” I gasped as his hand shot out and wrapped around my ankle.

“So, he did talk about us?” Interest filled his voice. He squeezed hard. “Evie?”

“Yes,” I said breathlessly, hands spasming around the ragged material of my shirt.

His hand slid up, fingers digging into the raw skin of my calf. “Tell me what he said?”

“It’s not possible,” I repeated, trembling as the pain arced up my leg. “You can’t be one of them.”

“Why? Because he killed us all?” He laughed. “Or because I don’t look like you’d expect a ten-year-old to look?”

I stared at him.

That smile didn’t fade. “We were all dark stars, but Luc . . . he was the darkest. Do you know what I mean?”

I didn’t.

But then he looked to the side. His lips parted. “Finally. Told you.” His gaze swung back to me. “He’d find us. After all, eventually that blond Luxen wouldn’t check in, and Luc . . . Well, he’s not stupid.”

Slowly, he lifted his hand from my leg and then rose with a fluid grace that was shockingly familiar. He turned, standing in front of me.

There was a weird part of me that knew when Luc drew close. I have no idea how I knew, but I did. There was relief. There was also stark terror.

I saw Luc prowl through the cluster of trees, catching a glimpse of him before the Origin in front of me shifted, blocking my view. My heart stuttered in my chest as I glanced around for a weapon of some sort. There were rocks. They wouldn’t do much, but they would be something.

The Origin’s hands moved to his sides, and I swore he trembled.

“Let me see her,” Luc demanded, his voice barely recognizable. It was coldly furious.

The Origin stiffened as if steel had been poured down his spine. “It’s always, always been about her. Some things never change. Fine.” He stepped aside. “Whatever. She’s still alive.”

I saw him, and I couldn’t explain the raw emotion expanding in my chest. There’d been many, many moments I thought I’d never see him again. Or my mother. Or my friends, but he stood there, shoulders straight and legs spread wide as if he were some kind of avenging angel about to lay waste to a world of sinners and saints.

Luc’s gaze flickered over me, from my dirt-caked feet to the mess that was my face. There was a tightening to his jaw, a hardening to his churning eyes. He took a step toward me.

“Don’t,” the Origin said. “Don’t make me do something you’ll regret.”

Luc halted, but he didn’t take his eyes off me. “I already regret so much.” The black shirt he wore strained at the shoulders. “I should’ve known.”

“You know?” the Origin asked, turning sideway. Open wonder, as well as a measure of satisfaction, filled the Origin’s face.

“Part of me did, I think. I just couldn’t believe it.” Luc’s gaze held mine. “The Daedalus obviously didn’t give you the same serum they gave me. You’re not aging well. What did they give you?”

“What didn’t they give us? Maybe if you stayed around long enough, you would’ve noticed that we were different than you—than Archer and the rest. That what they gave us was aging us rapidly,” the Origin explained. “A souped-up version that included more than a dash of growth hormones. After all, if we aged more quickly, we would’ve been more useful, wouldn’t we? Imagine going through years of puberty in months. It’ll make you slightly moody.”