The Brightest Night (Origin 3) - Page 146

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“Are you okay?” Nate’s voice broke into my thoughts.

“Yeah.” I cleared my throat. “Why?”

“You look like you’re about to, I don’t know, cry or something.”

“Would that make you uncomfortable?” I teased.

“Uh, yeah.”

I grinned. “Then I won’t do it.”

He tugged on the hem of his shirt as he glanced over at me. “But you’re sad?”

“A little,” I admitted. “I used to live in a city. Not as big as this, but it just made me think of home.”

“Why aren’t you there now?”

That would take all night to try to explain. “People were trying to hurt me and my friends. My mom was killed, and this was the only place we could go.”

“Sorry about your mom.” He looked away. “Why were they trying to hurt you and your friends?”

Unable to get too deep into why, I said, “Do people need a reason?”

“No.” He sighed. “So, you’re hiding.”

“Yeah, I am.” I paused. “Like you, I guess.”

He nodded as he came to a stop, and I looked across the street at a square, one-story building that seemed out of place in between the taller, larger buildings. “Used to be a church. Like one of those small ones, but it had been converted into a place for people whose homes were destroyed in the invasion. Had a lot of beds,” he explained. “It’s one of the places we stay in.”

“There are others?” I asked as we crossed the street.

“We have a couple of places.” He walked ahead, stopping at the door. “They’ve probably already seen you out here.” He nodded at one of the dark windows. “And they’re probably hiding, so just don’t say anything at first. Okay? Let me do the talking.”

Heart rate picking up, I nodded and nearly held my breath when the door creaked open and Nate stepped in, motioning for me to follow. It was almost pitch-black inside the small reception room. Even with new extra-special Trojan eyes, I had a hard time making out what the shadows were stacked up against the wall, and it smelled like musk, people, and burned wood.

Nate walked down a narrow hall that opened up into a wide space that once had to be used for religious services. The altar at the back of the room was a dead giveaway, and so were the few remaining pews pushed along the sides of the room. Candles glowed from the altar and the makeshift tables scattered about the rumpled cots. Blankets and old newspapers covered the windows. There was a steel barrel in the center of the room with some kind of wire grille over the top of it. Beside it was a stack of pots and opened cans. I spotted what might’ve been creamed corn, and I caught the scent of burned wood. This was how they were heating their food.

I wasn’t sure if burning wood in here was healthy, but they were probably too afraid to light a fire outside.

“It’s okay,” Nate spoke out loud, walking forward. “She’s a friend who has been giving us some food and stuff. She brought some stuff with her now. Her name is Evie, and she’s safe.”

As he spoke, my gaze zeroed in on the pews against the wall. There was maybe a two- or three-foot gap between the seat and floor. The space was black, but …

“You all can come out. I promise you.” Nate stopped, scratching his fingers through his hair. “She’s not going to do anything.”

There was a soft scratching from under the pews, but no movement.

Nate turned to me, sighing. “Show them what you’ve got.”

Nodding, I slid the backpack off a shoulder and unzipped it. I started pulling stuff out—peroxide, cotton, food, water. I placed them on one of the tables.

“Jamal? Nia?” Nate called. “Come on. We don’t have forever.”

There was silence, and then from the darkness of one of the doorways behind the altar, a boy stepped out. He was a little taller than Nate, but as he drew closer, I pegged his age to be around Nate’s. There was either dirt or a bruise near his eye that darkened the rich brown skin. A second later, another one stepped out of the door, and this one was a girl, holding a hand to her thin pink shirt. Tiny wisps of hair had escaped her braid. Her light brown skin looked a little flushed as she inched forward, coming to stand behind the boy named Jamal. She, too, looked no older than Nate.

“What are you doing?” asked Jamal in a hushed voice. “You brought her here?”

“I know, but she wanted to help, and she’s cool. She’s not like them,” Nate answered, and I kept my face blank. “She brought some stuff for your hand, Nia.”

The little girl glanced at the table, but she didn’t move.

I took a step back from the table but remained quiet. Three sets of eyes tracked my movement, and I believed many more had done the same.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout Origin Romance