The Brightest Night (Origin 3) - Page 48

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I glanced at one of the cans. “Creamed corn? Not my food of choice.”

There was a twitch of the boy’s lips, a hint of a grin. “It’s gross, but my…”

“But what?” I asked when he trailed off.

His gaze fell to the can, where it lay just at the corner of the island. “What’s the catch?” he asked instead. “There has to be a catch.”

Heaviness settled in my chest. “There’s no catch, Nate. You need the food, right?”

His cheeks pinkened under the dirt, and I realized I’d said the wrong thing, but before I could slap myself, he said, “I do.”

Relieved he hadn’t denied that to his own demise, I moved backward until I was against the sink. “Take what you want. No catch.”

Nate stared at me for several moments. “What about the peanut butter?”

“You can’t have that.”

Those lips twitched again, and then he didn’t waste time, snatching a bag from the pantry and gathering up the cans and small pack of bread. I would’ve helped, but I sensed he wouldn’t be comfortable if I got close to him. So many questions rose to the surface as I watched him. Like how did he get out of the city and move about without being seen? How many others were in the city? How old was he? Were there more kids? Adults? Others too afraid of the Luxen to reach out for help? I kept quiet, though. Nate may be taking the food, but that didn’t mean he trusted me.

I waited until his bag was in hand before I spoke. “If you need more food or anything, you can come here. Or if you, you know, just want to hang out?”

He didn’t respond.

Maybe the last offer was a bit much, but I wanted him to know that it was okay if he came back.

Cradling his bag to his chest, he inched his way toward the back door. He opened it as he looked over his shoulder at me. “Please don’t tell anyone you saw me. You might think they’re different and they’re safe, but if you tell them, they’ll come looking for us. The others—they’ll run.” His lower lip trembled. “They can’t make it out there alone if they do. Please.”

“There are more kids?” I asked.

He looked down at the bag he carried and nodded.

“How many?”

“That doesn’t matter. Just don’t say anything. Please.”

It didn’t matter, because I couldn’t fathom how one kid survived, let alone more. I couldn’t promise my silence. Even if I wanted to, because Luc would likely overhear my thoughts, and Nate was right. I had a feeling if Cekiah or anyone else learned of these kids, they’d go for them, and if they were afraid enough to run, they had a large enough city to hide in. I wouldn’t hide this from Luc, but that didn’t mean the others needed to know.

Lying was a necessity here. At least that’s what I told myself, because Nate didn’t need to know any of that. “Promise me if you need more food or anything, you’ll come back here, and I won’t tell the others.”

His eyes narrowed. “You blackmailing me?”

“I wouldn’t call it that,” I reasoned.

“What would you call it, then?”

“Graymailing you?”

A surprised giggle burst from him. “You are weird.”

“True,” I murmured. “Do we have a deal?”

Nate was slow to nod. “Deal.”

“Good.”

Nate left then, without another word, and it was hard not to follow him. I released a ragged breath, hoping that wouldn’t be the first and only time I saw him.* * *Finishing off the peanut butter, I roamed the backyard, looking for any sign of which way Nate had gone. There was none. Thoughts jumping from my conversation with Cekiah, Kat, and Dee, and Nate’s appearance, I sat under the large oak with leaves of burnt gold. Looking up as I screwed the lid back onto the jar, I saw a tiny blackbird staring down at me.

Huh. That was the first bird I’d seen here.

Lying back, I watched the little guy hop along the branch. I didn’t let myself dwell on what Kat or Cekiah had said. I couldn’t. I was already afraid of losing control, and stressing over what would happen wouldn’t help keep my panic at bay or whatever was inside me calm. My mind made its way back to Nate and the questions I couldn’t ask.

How I dozed off after everything, I had no idea, but I must’ve, because the next thing I felt was the touch of fingertips against my cheek, and the hum of electricity skittering over my skin. When I opened my eyes, I saw impossibly long, thick lashes and slivers of violet tanzanite.

“Hi there,” Luc murmured, a small smile playing across lips that were decadently full.

“Hi.”

“I’m wondering something.” Luc was stretched out beside me, lying on his side with his cheek resting against his hand.


Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout Origin Romance
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