Brave, p.1Part #3 of A Wicked Trilogy series by Jennifer L. Armentrout
The room was so dark I couldn’t make out anything beyond the faint, silvery moonlight seeping between the crack in the thick curtains. The air was still and stale.
But I knew I wasn’t alone.
I was never alone here.
Straining forward, I peered into the darkness. The cool metal of the collar bit into my neck as I willed my heart to slow down, but the pounding against my ribs increased until pressure clamped down on my chest.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe in this—
Something moved closer to the bed.
I didn’t see anything, but I felt the slight stirring of air. My heart lurched into my throat as every muscle in my body tensed. There. A shadow blotted out the thin strip of moonlight.
He was here.
Oh God, he was here and there was no way out of this. There was nothing I could do. This was my future, my fate.
My swollen stomach ached as I shifted, pressing my back against the headboard. The chain jerked suddenly, throwing me to the side. My hands flew out. I grabbed onto the bed, but it was no use. A scream erupted, quickly lost in the shadows of the room. Yanked forward, I was dragged across the bed, toward him. Toward the—
My eyes flew open as I jackknifed upward and over, nearly tumbling off the bed. I caught myself at the last moment, dragging in mouthfuls of air—fresh air that was slightly scented and reminded me of autumns in the north.
Immediately, I pushed the mess of curls out of my face and scanned the room, stopping at the window. The curtains were pulled back, just as I’d left them before I’d gone to sleep. Moonlight streamed in, flowing over the small couch and sitting area. The surroundings and the smell were familiar. Sweet relief pounded through my veins at the sight of them.
But I had to be sure that what I’d just experienced had been a nightmare and not my reality. That I wasn’t still held captive by the Prince, who was hell-bent on impregnating me to fulfill some unbelievable prophecy that would throw open all the doorways to the Otherworld.
Slowly, I placed my hand on my stomach.
Definitely not swollen.
Definitely not pregnant.
So that meant I was definitely not in that house with the Prince.
I lifted a shaky hand, dragging it through my hair. It was just a nightmare—a stupid nightmare. At some point I had to get used to them. I would eventually stop waking up in a panic.
I had to.
My stomach churned, gnawing at me as I took a deep, even breath. Hungry. I was hungry, but I could ignore the hunger, because ignoring the burning emptiness in my gut had worked so far.
Exhaling roughly, I dropped my hands to the bed and swallowed hard. I was wide awake now. Just like the night before . . . and the night before that.
Behind me, the bed shifted and then a deep, sleepy voice rasped out, “Ivy?”
Muscles in my back locked up. I didn’t look behind me as I wrestled my legs free from the blanket. Heat crept into my cheeks. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Don’t apologize.” The sleep cleared from his voice and the bed moved once more, and I knew without looking that Ren was sitting up. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat. He’d asked me that a million times. Is everything okay? And the second most popular question—are you okay? “Yes. I just . . . woke up.”
A moment passed. “I thought I heard you scream.”
The warmth creeping along my face intensified. “I . . . I don’t think that was me.”
He didn’t immediately respond. “Were you having a nightmare?”
I was sure he already knew the answer to that, which meant it should’ve been easy to admit. Plus, a nightmare was no big deal. Hell, Ren of all people would understand if I was experiencing a side order of PTSD to go along with the main dish of Things Were Kind of Screwed Up Right Now. Especially since he’d also spent some R&R time with the Prince and his merry band of psychotic fae.
But for some reason I couldn’t admit to him that I was having nightmares, that sometimes when I woke up I thought I was still in that house, chained to a bed.
Ren thought I was brave, and I was brave, but in moments like these, I . . . I didn’t feel very brave at all.
“I was just sleeping,” I whispered, letting out a shallow breath. “You should go back to sleep. You have stuff to do tomorrow.”
Ren was leaving what I was now calling Hotel Good Fae to see if he could help locate the super special Crystal. Originally, this Crystal belonged to the Good Fae—the Summer fae. The Order had taken it from them and then Val had stolen it from the Order, and now the Prince had it. Without the Crystal, we couldn’t lock the Prince back up in the Otherworld.
“Ivy. Sweetness.” Ren’s voice softened as he placed a hand on my arm. The contact shook me. “Talk to me.”
“I’m talking to you.” I pulled away, slipping off the bed. The minute my feet hit the floor, I started moving. The gnawing emptiness in my stomach grew. “I think I’m going to go work out.”
“At three in the morning?” He sounded incredulous, and I couldn’t blame him for that. Working out in the middle of the night did seem odd.
“Yeah. Feeling restless.” Laying back down next to Ren right now, when my stomach felt the way that it did and with my head where it was, wasn’t an option.
Faye’s words from the night she helped me escape the Prince took the opportune moment to cycle through my thoughts. And if you keep feeding you’re going to get addicted. You probably already are.
Ren knew about the feedings, about the fact that I might’ve killed someone, but he didn’t blame me. He even believed that I wouldn’t hurt him. That I wouldn’t cave to the part of me that had awakened while being held captive—the part of me that was fae and now knew how to feed and how it could make me feel.
And how easy it was.
Ren trusted in me, but I didn’t.
I couldn’t afford belief right now, because I would never, ever forgive myself if I hurt Ren like I knew I’d hurt others. My mouth dried up as my hands opened and closed uselessly.
Realizing I’d got lost in my head, I blinked rapidly and refocused. “Have you seen the gym they have in the basement? It’s motivating even me to get on a treadmill.”
Of course he’d seen the gym.
Ren didn’t have the body he had without getting all up, close and personal with the inside of a gym.
“Instead of going to the gym at three in the morning, why don’t you come back to bed?” he asked. “We can watch some shows. Pretty sure you’ve missed some episodes of The Walking Dead.”
I had missed a lot of episodes of my favorite zombie show, which sucked, because every time I saw Tink, he was seconds away from spoiling everything. The same with Supernatural.
A sweet, almost bitter wave of yearning sucker punched me in the stomach, temporarily overriding the shadows lingering in the back of my mind. I wanted to dive-bomb back into that bed, cuddle up with Ren, and fall asleep in his arms, listening to Rick Grimes turn back into the Rick-tator we all know and love. That would be the normal thing to do, and God knows I wanted normal so badly, for so long.
It was why I had enrolled in college even though I already had a career. Well, did have a career in the Order. Who knew now? But I longed to know what it was like to wake up and go to school or work without worrying about dying on the job or discovering that my coworkers had been killed. Normal meant going out to restaurants and the movies. Staying in and marathoning shows without worrying at the possible, impending end of the world. Normal meant that my best friend hadn’t ended up being a traitoro
Normal was so underrated.
The bedside lamp flipped on without warning. Light flooded the room, reaching to where I stood. Some bizarre instinct roared to life. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t want to be seen right now. I backed away from the light, but the moment my gaze met those leaf-green eyes, I froze.
Ren Owens was . . . goodness, he was beautiful in a wild sort of way. He reminded me of autumns in northern Virginia, all golden and copper. His hair was a tumbling russet mess, falling over his forehead and begging to be brushed back. Thick, heavy lashes I was admittedly envious of framed his stunning eyes. His cheekbones were broad and they were matched by a hard, chiseled jaw. Ren’s nose was crooked, and somehow that added to the beauty of his face. He had a lush pair of lips that were usually tilted in a grin, and when he smiled, there were matching, deep dimples.
Those corners were straight now, forming a somber line, and there were definitely no dimples.
Before everything with the Prince happened, Ren had slept shirtless or nude and we hadn’t been able to keep our hands off each other. Seriously. Even when we were injured with our bodies aching, we couldn’t ignore the chemistry sparking between us. But since I came back—since we were reunited—he wore a shirt to bed, along with boxers or sleep pants.
All we’d done was kiss.
Three times to be exact, and they were chaste, sweet kisses that tasted of a deeper, restrained need.
I think the nightmares were why Ren was sleeping in clothes, because those nightmares started the first night and had occurred every night after that.
And those nightmares felt like premonitions. A warning of what was to come, and I couldn’t shake that feeling, not even when the sun rose and I was surrounded by people who hadn’t given up on me—who cared enough to go back into hell and drag me out.
I suppressed a shudder.
“Please.” He extended a hand toward me. My eyes tracked up the vibrant vines tattooed onto his arm that disappeared under the white shirt he wore. “Come back to me and stay with me.”
My breath caught around the expanding knot in my throat. I wanted to be there with him. Desperately. But I . . . I needed space and I needed . . . I don’t know what I needed. I just couldn’t be here.
“Maybe later,” I said, finally moving. I made my way to the small dresser where some of my clothes had been stashed away. Guilt crawled up my throat like bile. “If you’re still awake when I get back, we can watch something.”
“You didn’t come back last night.”
I pulled out a pair of leggings. “I wasn’t able to fall back asleep, so I didn’t want to bother you.”
“You know you’re never a bother to me. Ever.” There was a pause. “And I didn’t go back to sleep. I waited for you.” The kind of patience I didn’t have kept his voice level. “I can go with you to the gym. Just give me—”
Whipping around, I saw that he already had his legs off the bed. “No!”
Ren froze, his eyes widening slightly. “No?”
I clenched the pants in my hands. “I mean, I don’t want you to get up and feel like you have to keep me company. I’ve already woke you. You should go back to sleep.”
His shoulders rose on a deep breath. “It’s not a big deal. I can go with you.” He stood, lifting his arms above his head and stretching. “We can have a race on the treadmills.” He dropped his arms. “Whoever loses has to go to the kitchen and steal the box of beignets they have shipped in every morning.”
My heart was pounding as he took a step toward me and then another. The room wasn’t very large, so it took no time for him to be right in front of me.
“I just need to get changed. Or I could go like this? What do you think?” he teased with a small grin. “Might not be the most comfortable run.”
Blood buzzed in my ears as my gaze dropped to his mouth. My stomach dipped as Ren reached for one of my curls. He’d pull it straight and let go. It was a favorite pastime of his, and then, if things were normal, he’d lower his lips to mine. Anticipation swirled as a tight shiver curled its way down my spine. Pleasant warmth invaded my veins.
But did I want to kiss him? Or did I . . . did I want to feed from him?
The fact that I had to even ask myself was terrifying.
I took a step back and bumped into the dresser, rattling it.
Ren went still as a statue. Terse silence filled the space between us as I stared up at him with wide eyes. “I’m not going to hurt you, Ivy. You know that, right? You’re safe with me. Always.”
Oh God, did he think I was worried he’d hurt me? Of course he would. How could I blame him for thinking that when I was as jittery as a coffee fiend when he was around me?
My face burned as I looked away. “I know you wouldn’t hurt me. I’m sorry—”
“Stop apologizing, Ivy. Dammit. Just stop saying you’re sorry.”
I opened my mouth and closed it when I realized I was about to apologize again.
Ren stepped back, giving me space. “You have nothing to apologize for.”
Didn’t I, though? It sort of felt like there was a list as long as my arm to apologize for, starting with the fact that I hadn’t recognized the Prince masquerading as Ren right off the bat. And there was more—God, there was so much more, and when my head was running in a million different places, it was hard to remember that Ren wasn’t holding any of this against me.
But how could he not? How could he sleep like he did at night? I wanted to ask him how he was moving on from this, because he’d been captured too. He’d been fed on—fed on in the worst way, and there had been this female fae. Breena. She’d claimed that her and Ren . . . She claimed a lot of things, but I knew if any of it were true, Ren hadn’t been a willing participant.
Rage replaced the warmth. I wanted to gouge her eyes out again, and I planned to. Right before I killed her. Slowly. Painfully.
Ren was watching me in a way that made me feel like he saw right into my head, and if that was the case, then he probably wouldn’t like what he saw. His shoulders tensed and then he exhaled roughly. “Okay.”
Relief swept through me.
His gaze flickered over me, and I thought that he may have seen the way my stance loosened in response to him backing off. His jaw tightened. “I’ll be waiting up for you.”
I knew he would be.
And I knew that deep down he realized there was no point.
My sneakers pounded off the treadmill, shaking the whole thing like a herd of cows were trampling on the contraption, but I ignored the sound. My hands balled into tight fists pumped at my sides. The curls that had escaped my twist now clung to the nape of my neck and temples. Sweat ran down my throat and pooled in areas I didn’t want to even acknowledge.
I hated running—hell, loathed all physical activity on most days, but being a member of the Order, destined at birth to hunt down the fae who were feeding off mankind, I kind of had to be in shape.
But I wasn’t on this treadmill at the moment because I was some kind of predestined protector of mankind. I was just running, because there was nothing else for me to do. I was stuck here, basically on house arrest at Hotel Good Fae. Since the Prince of the freaking Otherworld could sniff me out like some kind of bloodhound, it was too risky for me to be out roaming the narrow streets of New Orleans.
My nails dug into my palms.
Faye, who had been working undercover at the Prince’s mansion, had explained that the glamour surrounding Hotel Good Fae would hide my presence from the Prince. That was the kind of power the fae who had descended from the Summer Court had.
A court that the Order had told us didn’t exist any longer.
My lips thinned as I picked up speed, literally going nowhere. The Order had lied about so much. They knew that there were good fae out there—fae who chose not to feed off humans, who lived normal lives, and aged and died
Had Daniel known?
Brave by Jennifer L. Armentrout / Romance & Love / Fantasy have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes