The Brightest Night (Origin 3) - Page 148

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I looked to Nate as Jamal carefully wrapped Nia’s hand. “What’s up with all the bruises and stuff?”

Jamal’s hand halted for a fraction of a second, and then Nate said, “Some of them fight. We’re all like a family, though.”

“A dysfunctional one,” Nia muttered.

“Maybe you all should, I don’t know, not fight so seriously?” I suggested.

Jamal cracked a grin. “Sounds like good idea.”

“Were all of you in group homes?” I asked.

“About half of us. Some were homeless, I think. There were more, but…” answered Jamal, trailing off. He cleared his throat. “Some kids got sick, you know. Or there were accidents.”

Pressure clamped down on my chest. “There were more kids who died?”

Nia nodded. “Yeah, and there were others—”

“Shit,” Nate whispered at the same second a very deep, very male voice boomed.

“What in the hell are you doing here?”32The kids scattered.

They rushed back to the pews, all except Nate, who remained by my side as a man stepped out from the dark doorway Nia and Jamal had walked out of earlier.

And the moment my eyes locked with the man’s, I didn’t like him. It wasn’t an irrational response. There were reasons, starting with the fact that he was a grown adult, somewhere in his thirties, maybe older, and he was by far cleaner than all the kids present. Not a speck of dirt on his pink cheeks or on the ball cap that was pulled on over his head, and his flannel shirt and undershirt looked as if they were in far better condition. He also didn’t look nearly as thin as any of these kids, which caused warning bells to go off one after another for me. Most importantly, I had a feeling if I made a bet that this man didn’t do the runs for food and supplies, I’d win.

And how in the world could an adult sit by and let children run around, retrieving food and supplies?

“What in the hell do you think you’re doing being here?” he demanded again, kicking aside cots and blankets as he strode forward. The man was definitely human, that much I knew.

“She’s the one who’s been giving me food, and we needed something for Nia’s hand. I thought—”

One look from the man silenced him. “I didn’t ask you, boy.”

Nate stepped in front of me, and I didn’t think. I caught the back of his shirt and pulled him back so he was behind me. “Who are you?” I fired back, feeling the Source pulse to life in my chest.

The man threw out his arms, and I noticed several of the kids shrank back. A few even lifted their arms as if to shield themselves. Bruises and split lips appeared in my mind, and a shiver of knowing danced down my spine as his brows lifted, disappearing under the bill of his cap. “You in my house, asking who I am?”

“I am,” I replied coolly, vaguely acknowledging that I should feel some level of fear, or at least, the old Evie would have, but I didn’t. There was just cold, pounding anger.

“Name’s Morton. These are my kids, and I know damn well where you’re from. How did you get him to bring you here. Huh? Tell him you want to help? That those freaks up there in that community would welcome him? Welcome all these kids?”

Freaks?

“These kids may be a bit rough around the edges, but they aren’t dumb. Well, not all of them,” he said, and the Source pulsed once more. “They know better or should know better than to trust one of you. Bet you lied, didn’t you? That’s the only way they’d be standing here.” He stopped a few feet from me. “Bet you told them you’re human, didn’t you?”

There was no stopping the surprise that widened my eyes, and I couldn’t ignore how most of the kids backed even farther away.

Morton smirked. “You think I can’t tell? Oh yeah, I know. You came down here with no visible weapon on you. There isn’t a single human that stupid. One of them alien freaks? Different story.”

“Should I have a weapon?” I asked.

“You’d be dumber than I think if not.” He grabbed something propped against the other side of the table, lifting it—a bat.

Instinct took over, and I didn’t stop it. The Source buzzed through my veins, and as I lifted my hand, it happened like I’d willed it. The bat tore free from Morton’s hand and flew toward me, smacking against my palm. It stung, but I managed to hold on to it.

“You’re wrong,” I said. “I didn’t come without a weapon.”

Morton took a step back, and even if the kids hadn’t have gasped, I wouldn’t have felt like a badass. That took the wind right out of my awesome sails.

“What’re you going to do?” Morton asked. “Beat me?”

Man, if my blossoming suspicious were true, I wanted to, but I didn’t. Instead, I placed the bat on another table. “Why would I want to do that?”


Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout Origin Romance
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