I am so excited to share these INCREDIBLE new covers for Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Origin series, but I’m even more excited to share the whole first chapter of The Brightest Night!
There is so much to be excited about for fans of JLA. With From Blood and Ash‘s surprise release this week, to the upcoming Rage and Ruin to look forward to this summer, there are so many insanely good books to look forward to in 2020, even if the world is falling down around us.
But I know that nothing can temper the excitement we’re all feeling for the release of The Brightest Night this fall. The third installment of the Origin series is ready to bring the next chapter of Luc and Evie’s adventure, and after that ending to The Burning Shadow, I know we’re all anxious to keep reading.
So, until the time arrives, how about some awesome goodies to tide you over, huh?
Let’s start with an awesome makeover for the published books in the series
Check out the brand new covers for The Darkest Star and The Burning Shadow, designed by the talented Danielle Mazzella di Bosco:
Here’s the first look at the cover for The Brightest Night!
They are STUNNING. And I can’t wait to get my hands on a set. They’re going to look great next to, well, all my other Jennifer L. Armentrout books.
And now, for those that are dying to dig into the pages of The Brightest Night…
We have an exclusive excerpt! Who’s ready to read chapter one? Read on, Luc and Evie fans!
Oh, and don’t forget to check out the awesome pre-order incentive after the excerpt! You won’t want to wait to get your pre-order in ASAP!
The name thundered through the room as I stared at the broken shards of glass from the bottle General Eaton had thrown.
I stood there, stuck in absolute disbelief, watching the amber liquid seep over papers littering the floor.
Some looked like junk mail from when Houston was a bustling city. A brightly colored advertisement for a new furniture store opening downtown. A blue pack of coupons never opened. White envelopes with the words URGENT in red written on them. All were evidence of a life left behind by whoever had once called this building home before the electromagnetic pulse bombs were dropped, rendering the city habitable only by those desperate enough to remain hidden in a dead zone.
Had the owners evacuated or were they lost in the chaos that followed the EMPs like so many hundreds of thousands?
Why was I even thinking about any of that? Someone’s mail wasn’t the most pressing concern. It was like my brain shorted out at the mention of his name.
Sergeant Jason Dasher.
The masses knew him as the fallen war hero, a patriotic icon lost in the war protecting mankind against the invading Luxen. I’d once been a part of those masses, but I’d since learned the truth. Dasher was an evil man responsible for horrific experiments on both humans and aliens, all in the name of the ‘greater good.’
But he was an evil, dead man.
Nothing more than a ghost I couldn’t remember, because his wife had shot him. The same woman I’d believed to be my mother up until I learned I wasn’t really Evelyn Dasher, but a girl named Nadia Holliday. Which was roughly around the same time I got smacked upside the head with the knowledge mother dearest was also a Luxen.
Sylvia had married a man responsible for forced pregnancies between Luxen and humans, nonconsensual mutations, kidnappings, murders, and the subjugation of her own people. Not only that, she had worked for the institution responsible.
A secret organization that existed within the Department of Defense, one which had started out with the task of assimilating the Luxen into the human populace long before the public knew the aliens even existed.
They’d studied the Luxen’s unique biological attributes that not only made them resistant to every human illness but also enabled them to heal any number of physical injuries a human could suffer. The Daedalus sought use the knowledge gained to better the life of millions, but all of that had gone sideways fast.
I still had no idea how to come to terms with any of that. I didn’t think I’d ever truly be able to, but the fact it had been her who’d ended his life had helped.
She’d shot Dasher when he’d attempted to renege on the deal— the bargain that saved my life and robbed me of it in the same breath. The Andromeda Serum had cured the cancer that had been killing me, but it had stolen my memories of who I used to be.
And it had turned me into… well, a thing I had learned was called a Trojan. Something that couldn’t exactly be classified as just human.
Right now, that little factoid was taking a backseat to the latest are you freaking kidding me breaking news.
Jason Dasher was alive.
A dull ache flared in the pit of my stomach as I shook my head. I tried to take the next logical step that said Eaton wasn’t the type of person to have misspoken, but my brain was so overloaded with all that had happened. And holy drama llama, a lot had happened in the last couple of months.
Jason Dasher was alive, and that wasn’t even the most messed up part of it all. I was coded to answer to him like I was nothing more than a computer responding to commands. A dead man who was now alive. A man who was a monster and could seize control of me at any moment.
“Impossible.” A low voice growled.
Heart turning over heavily, I looked to my right. He stood beside me, not just any Origin, a child of a Luxen and hybrid, but one who was more powerful than even the strongest Luxen.
He had a last name now, one that he picked after I argued that just because the Daedalus never gave him a last name, didn’t mean he couldn’t have one. He’d chosen the surname King, because of course he would, but Luc King sounded good—sounded right. And I’d just been happy that he’d given himself one, because the lack of a last name had been one of the many ways the Daedalus made sure their creations remembered they were things and not living, breathing entities that thought, felt and wanted like anyone else.
The last name made him… more human, but at the moment, Luc didn’t look remotely human.
Not when the irises of his eyes were the color of jeweled amethyst and his pupils burned like bright diamonds. A white glow surrounded the taut shape of his body. The angles of his cheekbones appeared sharper and faint, tense lines bracketed his full lips.
What surrounded him was the Source, a pure energy that was at the very core of the Luxen, making them so dangerous, so fascinating. The breathtaking power could give life and it could end it in a nanosecond.
More times than I cared to admit, I’d found myself staring at him in a sort of astonished fixation, attempting to figure out what it was about the lines and angles of his face or how his features were pieced together that made him so beautiful. Everyone got a little lost staring at him when they first saw them, so I didn’t feel too shallow. Male. Female. Young. Old. Those interested. Those not. All were affected to some degree, and right now, when he no longer hid what he was, there was a wildness to his beauty, primitive and raw.
Luc was as lethal as he was awe-inspiring, and I loved him—I was in love with him, and I knew deep down that I’d felt the same when I’d been Nadia. Everything about him fit everything about me, and what I felt for him now had nothing to do with his appearance or because there were residue emotions left behind from a different life. It was because of him. Love took root with his cheesy, horrible pickup lines and silly gifts that really weren’t gifts at all. Love grew each time he looked at me like I was the most precious and cherished being in the entire universe. Love spread with his enduring patience that came with no ties or stimulations. He was there for me, always had been, with no expectation that I would feel anything for him. And I fell in love with him all over again when I realized that when he sincerely believed I’d never return to him, he still hadn’t stopped loving me.
Until Luc, I didn’t even know it was possible to love this deeply, this endlessly, and it was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. The mere idea of losing him….
A shudder took me even as I reminded myself that very few things could gain an upper hand on Luc. I’d seen what Luc was capable of firsthand. Turning human and Luxen alike to nothing more than scattered ashes with just a touch. Tossing people like frisbees with just a wave of his hand. Human or not, people didn’t just fear Luc’s strength. They respected it. He wasn’t the alpha. He was the omega, and I didn’t doubt for a second that one of the only reasons the world wasn’t already under the control of the Daedalus was because Luc had turned on his creators.
But now one of them was somehow alive—the one who had made sure my life as Nadia, my life with Luc, had ended.
“I saw it.” Luc’s voice was thick and ragged with absolute power churning inside him. “I saw it with my own two, fully functioning eyes. Sylvia shot Jason Dasher.”
“Just like you believed the Daedalus was truly gone?” the General countered, facing us. He was an older man, maybe in his sixties, with silver hair cropped close to his skull and a face lined with experience. A man who’d spent his life serving his country and should be enjoying his days in blissful retirement in some place like Arizona or Florida. Instead, he was here, in what was now referred to as Zone 3, hidden among humans the government had decided weren’t worth the stress of evacuating and unregistered Luxens, humans that Luxen had mutated, known as hybrids, and other Origins who’d escape the Daedalus.
“That with the destruction of the Origin Project, the Daedalus was simply no more?” Eaton said.
Luc went utterly still, and my skin pebbled in response. “Do you think I’m foolish?”
General Eaton’s jaw flexed.
“Or naive?” Luc’s voice was soft now, scarily so, and when he spoke again, I really hoped that Eaton answered and did so wisely. “Well, do you?”
“No,” Eaton clipped out. “I don’t think that.”
“Good to hear that. I’d hate to have to change your mind.” Luc had moved forward a foot or two… or three, and I hadn’t even seen him move. “I never believed they were completely eradicated, nor did I think their goals would end with them. Humans will always want to be on the top of the food chain, and they will never stop seeking power.”
The way Luc said humans made it clear that even though the mother he never met was human, he didn’t view himself as one and a last name hadn’t changed that.
The gnawing ache in my stomach pulsed as he said, “But every facility I could find is nothing but ash now, along with a vast number of those who ran the Daedalus. I knew the Daedalus was still alive and well the moment that girl Evie went to school with did the impossible and we found those serums at her house.”
He was talking about April Collins, a frenemy who hated on the Luxen so much she’d rallied together like-minded classmates and held daily protests. The irony of it all was that April wasn’t even human.
She was like me.
Her hatefulness was engineered by the Daedalus and had the sole purpose of sowing fear and distrust of the Luxen into the human populace.
When Heidi and I had somewhat accidentally exposed her as something other, April nearly killed Heidi by
putting her entire hand through my friend’s body.
Luc and I had found a stash of serums at her place, but we had no idea what they were for and we’d lost them when Luc’s club was raided. The serums weren’t the only thing we’d discovered at her place. We’d also found her handler, who I’d… shot… in the head like it was something I’d done before.
For all I knew, it could be something I’d done countless times before, and I just had no memory of it.
“And the Daedalus survived only to grow stronger, to grow smarter,” Eaton said.
“That doesn’t explain how a dead man is supposedly alive,” Luc shot back.
That was a damn good question, one I couldn’t wait to hear explained, but I suddenly felt… weird. Wired, almost. Like I’d downed three of those expresso shots Zoe liked to drink. Had to be the fact I was hungry, and unused to not having at least several tablespoons worth of sugary snacks by this point in the day. I pushed the odd jittery feeling aside and focused.
“Did you see Dasher die, Luc?” Eaton asked, shoulders sunken and weathered face tired. “No. All you saw was that he was shot and that he bled.”
“He was shot in the damn chest, man.” Luc’s hands curled into fists. “He went down and didn’t get back up. It was a mortal wound.”
“Did you hang around afterward?” The worn leather couch shuddered when Eaton sat, his long legs stretched and boneless as he met Luc’s stare fearlessly.
Luc didn’t answer for a long moment and a ripple of power flared around him, causing the air to thicken.
“I wanted to destroy everything that he was, erase him from this earth, but I couldn’t.” His chin dipped, head tilting to the side. “Jason had contacted members of the damn alien task force when I arrived. Officers were on their way. I feared my presence would….” He trailed off as the veins under his skin began to glow as white as his pupils.
“You feared if you lingered, your presence would jeopardize her.” Eaton jerked his head in my direction.
We were made for one another.
That was what Eaton had told us. That the Daedalus had a hand in us meeting the first time, when I’d been Nadia. That they were counting on him to form some kind of bond with her—with me—and through that bond, they thought to control him.
Like they’d tried with Dawson and Beth, Daemon and Kat, and most likely, countless others.
If that was true, it made sense they’d anticipate Luc doing anything to make sure I was safe. Even if that meant taking the risk to leave before being a hundred percent sure Jason Dasher was truly dead.
He wouldn’t do anything that would ever hurt me. That was the one thing in this world I knew for certain. He would rip himself apart cell by cell before he harmed a single hair on my head.
Sudden clarity sliced through me like a icy wind. My next breath threatened to choke me. I could hurt Luc. Badly. In fact, I already had. If he hadn’t gotten through to me, reached through to me, when I went all psycho Trojan, taking out the Sons of Liberty, a group that had been activated to take out the Trojans before it was too late, I would’ve killed Daemon.
I would’ve killed Luc, who I loved with every fiber of my being.
But in those woods, he was not the boy I loved before and the man I loved now. In those moments Luc had become nothing more than a challenge to me—a threat this alien part of me saw and had been trained to take out. I….
I had peeled his flesh from his bones with just a thought.
Sickened, I squeezed my eyes shut but that did nothing to stop the images of Luc going down on his knees as his skin tore, as he begged me to remember who he was.
I had believed in my heart of hearts that if I became what I had in those woods outside the safe house, Luc would be able to stop me. He’d find a way to get to me before I hurt anyone. But we’d been missing an important piece of information.
That I was coded to answer to Jason Dasher.
I had an idea of what that meant thanks to April’s reaction to me after she’d used the Cassio Wave, a device that had awoken whatever training I had. She’d expected me to go with her without question, to return to him, a man nameless at the time but I now knew to be Jason Dasher.
My heart pounded against my ribs as panic seeded like a noxious weed. What if he or another Trojan used the Cassio Wave again? Or what if what happened in those woods occurred again?
What if Luc couldn’t reach me next time?
Then I’d turn into a mindless minion, and not even one of the cute yellow ones.
A laugh bubbled up, but it got stuck in my throat, where I felt like I was being choked, and it was probably a good thing, because it was the scary kind of laughter that ended in tears or blood.
Jason Dasher could take it all away from me again. Memories. Sense of self. Free will. Autonomy. My friends. Luc.
The mere idea of losing myself all over again burst open a door deep inside me, and out came a mess of emotions. A cyclone of fear and anger rose up, drenching every fiber of my being.
I would destroy myself before I allowed everything to be taken from me again.
My gaze jerked to Luc. Energy spit into the air, hissing and crackling as Luc picked up on my thoughts, something that annoyed the living crap out of me even though he couldn’t always control it. According to him, my thoughts were often… loud.
“Never will you have to make that choice,” he vowed, the surge of power emanating from him pulsing brightly and then easing off until there was no glow around him. The air in the room lightened, becoming easier to breathe. “He will never have control of you. No one will.”
But I hadn’t had control of myself in those woods, not when I attacked him and Daemon. That hadn’t even been me—
“It doesn’t matter.” Luc was suddenly directly in front of me, his warm palms cupping my cheeks. Skin against skin. Like always, the contact sent a muted charge of electricity dancing over my skin and coursing through my veins. The brightness of his pupils receded until they were normal. Well, normal by Luc’s standards. The fuzzy black line around his irises and pupils was now visible. “That was you in the woods. Just another part of you that I haven’t quite made friends with yet, but I will.”
“I don’t know about that.” That power that was in me, the Source that had been twisted by all the serums and the alien DNA, wouldn’t make friends with anything other than maybe a honey badger.
“Honey badgers are extremely intelligent creatures, did you know?”
He gave me a lopsided grin. “To be honest, I think the honey badger part of you thought I was the bee’s knees.”
A strangled laugh broke free. “Bee’s knees?”
“Yeah. Isn’t that what all the cool kids are saying?”
“Maybe in the 1920s.”
“I would swear I heard someone say it recently.” He lowered his head, stopping when the bridge of his nose brushed mine. “I’m not worried, Peaches.”
In the beginning, I thought that was such a weird nickname, but now? Hearing him say that made my heart feel like it was being squeezed in the best possible way.
Genuinely curious and disbelieving, I asked, “How can you not be?”
“Because I have faith.”
I stared at him.
“In me.” His head tilted, and I felt his cheek against mine, curving up in a bigger grin. The next breath I took was full of pine and fresh air and so very full of Luc. “I have faith in you. In us. You’re not going to turn into some mindless minion.” A pause. “Unless it’s Halloween.”
He was referencing my last costume. “I thought you said I looked like Big Bird.”
“My sexy little Big Bird,” Luc corrected, and I wrinkled my noise. He slid a hand back, curling his fingers through my hair as he gently guided my head util our eyes connected and held. “You’re Evie. You will not lose control. I won’t allow that. You won’t allow that. Do you know why?”
“Why?” I whispered.
“Because we didn’t come all this way, survive all we have, only to lose one another again,” he said. “You won’t allow that. I know you won’t, but if you can’t believe in that yet, then believe in me until you can. How about that?”
Emotion swelled so acutely that when I blinked, my lashes were damp. His words broke my heart and also soothed the sting. I nodded as some of the panic died.
For a heartbeat, Luc rested his forehead against mine. The simple comfort released the rest of the panic.
“Together,” he murmured. “We’re in this together.”
The shaky breath I took felt clean. “Together.”
Lifting his head, he stopped to press a kiss against my temple before pulling away. His hand dropped from my hair but stayed against my lower back.
“I thought you two forgot I was even here,” Eaton remarked dryly, but when I looked over at him, his lined features had softened. “The Daedalus still haven’t taken it into consideration.”
“Taken what into consideration?” Luc asked.
“Love.” A brief chuckle followed that one word as Eaton leaned back against the couch. “No matter what they do, they never take love into consideration. It’s like none of them has ever experienced its power.”
“You have?” I asked, not knowing much about the man.
“He has.” Luc’s hand moved in a slow slide, traveling up the length of my spine. “He was married once. Had a son.”
I had a bad feeling none of that had ended with a happily ever after.
Eaton’s smile was more of a grimace. “Why am I not surprised you know that even though I haven’t spoken about Amy and Brent to Daemon or Archer?”
Luc didn’t respond as his palm made another pass down my back. He didn’t need to.
General Eaton didn’t appear to need the answer either as his rheumy gaze met mine. I was sure that when he’d been younger, those blue eyes were as brilliant as the summer sky. “Sylvia healed him.”
I already suspected as much, but hearing it confirmed knotted up my insides. Sylvia… would, God, she would always be mother, no matter what she’d done. I couldn’t change the way I saw her or how I thought about her, but she had… she had lied so much, and those lies hid terrible things and ugly truths.
She had been so convincing when she told me about what my ‘father’ and the Daedalus had been involved in. She’d been so convincing, so seemingly horrified by how the Daedalus had begun to exploit the Luxen in the pursuit of using the alien DNA to create weapons of destruction and by what Dasher had attempted to do to Luc.
How could she be that skilled of a liar? Convincing me wasn’t an Olympic level feat, as I hadn’t known any better at the time, but to lie to my face like that?
“I listened in on their thoughts but didn’t pick up on any of this.” Anger vibrated in Luc’s voice. “I knew they were using deflection, thinking about inane crap, but to be able to block all of this?” Bronze waves toppled over his forehead as he shook his head. “I should’ve known something else had to be going on there.”
“It’s not often you’ve had to come up against those who knew exactly how to be prepared when it came to an Origin’s ability to read minds,” Eaton reasoned. “They knew how to deflect your ability, because they had a hand in creating the Origins. It wasn’t a failure on your part.”
My heart pounded against my ribs as I opened my mouth, about to tell Luc that this truly wasn’t his fault. I thought… I thought about when April had attacked Heidi. It took nothing for me to see Emery cradling Heidi against her as the Luxen had slipped from her human skin to her true form, a beautiful human-shaped light so intense that it had hurt my eyes to look upon her. Even though Emery hadn’t been as skilled as other Luxen when it came to healing humans, she’d saved Heidi’s life by placing her hands on her and summoning the Source.
You do not get between a Luxen and who they love, no matter what.
That’s what Luc had said when Emery had taken Heidi, and within hours, there’d been nothing but a faint scar where April had put her hand through Heidi, destroying tissue, muscles and organs.
So either my mom was skilled at healing or she… she still loved that man.
The world seemed to shift under my feet. Feeling sick, like I might actually projectile vomit all over the floor, I took a step back. I needed distance from Eaton’s words—from further evidence of the fact I never really knew my mother and I would never know what about her, if anything, was ever real.
Because she too was now gone, taking with her all her lies and whatever, if any, truths.
Luc’s hand was a warm presence along the center of my back, stopping my retreat. His hand was just there, not holding me in place, but even if it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have bounced out of the room like a rubber ball.
Denial was a luxury I could no longer afford.
I needed to deal with this, and it didn’t matter how much it hurt to realize that everything about her had been a lie. Yes, my mother could’ve had a change of heart at some point after I’d been returned to her with no memory of being Nadia or any of the training I’d obviously received. That much could be true—could be real. She had died making sure I escaped before the Daedalus could capture me, but none of that changed what she’d done, and I had to face that.
I had to deal with that.
Swallowing hard, I lifted my chin and squared my shoulders. I could do this. I’d already dealt with so much—the kind of stuff that would send most to the nearest corner where they’d do nothing but stare at empty space. I’d accepted that there had been a real Evie Dasher who’d died in a car accident. I’d processed that my actual name was Nadia Holliday and then come to the understanding that I was neither Nadia or Evie, but a mixture of both and someone completely different. I’d handled the truth that Sylvia and Jason Dasher weren’t my parents. I’d survived an attack by an Origin who had one hell of a grudge/obsession with Luc. I stumbled across dead classmates and it had been me—as a stealth assassin and sort of unaware of what I was doing but whatever—that had taken out April. I was working on the knowledge that I was capable of doing some real harm and that there was someone out there that could seize control of me.
Sure, I had some messy baggage, a whole lot of missing memories, and I was possibly a psychotic alien hybrid that may or may not one day go completely banana pants on everyone, but I was still here. I was still standing on my own two feet.
Luc dipped his head and murmured into my ear, “That’s because you’re a badass.”
“Stop reading my mind,” I said, and he tilted his head up, winking. I sighed. “But thank you,” I tacked on, because I… I needed to be reminded of that fact.
A half grin appeared a second later when my stomach grumbled, empty. The energy bars Luc and I had grabbed before meeting obviously hadn’t been enough.
Cheeks flushing, I dragged my gaze from Luc’s. Only I’d be hungry after learning such traumatic news. “Did she…. Do you think she still loved Dasher?”
“I can’t answer that.” Eaton dragged a thumb along his chin.
“A Luxen doesn’t always have to love the person they’re healing.” Luc’s hand curled into the back of my shirt. “Remember, some are just extraordinarily good at it. Sylvia could’ve been or she could’ve been properly motivated, something the Daedalus became very skilled at doing. Loving someone means they have a higher chance of being successful, especially for those who aren’t adept or don’t have the experience.”
“And it also means it’s more likely that the mutation would take hold without the human dying in the process,” Eaton added. “That’s the part the Daedalus could never figure out. There’s degrees of science to the process, but there’s a mysticism to it that hasn’t been fully explained or understood.”
Pressing my lips together, I briefly squeezed my eyes shut. What if she had loved him?
“She could’ve, Evie.” Luc’s voice was quiet. “Maybe she was feeling a lot more hate than love. Emotions are… complicated.” His eyes searched mine. “But it—”
“It doesn’t matter.” Eaton tipped his head back against the bare wall that once had been the color of butter.
Luc’s gaze sharpened on Eaton.
“You’re right. It really doesn’t.” And that was the truth and that hit me with the speed of a racing freight train. There were more important things—stuff that mattered in the here and now. Placing a hand over my still grumbling stomach, I considered the one thing that could make this situation so much worse.
“Do you think she….” Throat dry, I tried again. “Do you think Dasher was mutated?”
Used with permission from Tor Teen, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, a trade division of Macmillan Publishers. Copyright (c) Jennifer L. Armentrout, October 2020.
Tor Teen is offering an exclusive hardcover edition of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s next book in the Origin series, The Brightest Night. The entire first edition will be signed by the author, and feature a bonus short story. So make sure to pre-order your hardcover copy today to secure this special edition!