Brave, p.10
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       Brave, p.10

         Part #3 of A Wicked Trilogy series by Jennifer L. Armentrout
 

  There was nothing Tanner could say in return to that.

  “So, let me get this straight. The fae here are basically safe as long as the Prince doesn’t catch wind of this place? But if he does, he’ll find a way to get in and he will kill every fae in here for shits and giggles?”

  Tanner paled. “That is an unlikely yes.”

  Unlikely? Yeah. Right. I felt like I knew Drake well enough to know he’d eventually, sooner than later, find this place. “I think you forgot to mention all this in your stay at Hotel Good Fae pitch when I first arrived.”

  “He didn’t fail to mention it, dear. He chose not to.” Merle held my gaze. “The safety of those here is irrelevant to the mission of keeping your belly empty of the Prince’s seed.”

  I vomited a little in my mouth. “Can you never say it like that again? Please?”

  “It’s the truth,” she replied. “These fae would be dead if the Prince discovered the location whether you were here or not. Keeping you out of his hands is the top priority.”

  That was hard to swallow. I didn’t like knowing that my life—or, well, my womb—had a higher value than other lives. “Or I could, you know, just die. That would fix the problem.”

  She held my gaze. “It would, however, it appears you’re hard to kill when you can feed and heal yourself.”

  I sucked in a sharp breath. “I didn’t choose to do that.”

  “I know.” Something flickered over her face. Sympathy? Compassion? Constipation? Who knew? “I know you would not have made that call, but there are people here who will make that call for you. And they will continue to do so, to save you.”

  She was right. “But me being here means that the unlikely chance of him discovering this place moves closer to the likely territory.”

  “It’s irrelevant, sweetie,” Merle repeated.

  I blinked at her and then turned to Tanner. “Every time someone goes out there—out in the world beyond the glamour of this building, they run the risk of being seen by one of the Prince’s minions.” My heart lurched in my chest. “Just like when Ren and Faye went out there looking for the Crystal. They could’ve been seen and followed.”

  “Faye is careful and she’s aware of the risk,” Tanner stated.

  “And what about Ren?”

  Tanner didn’t reply and a horrible thought occurred. Did Ren know about the danger of me staying here? No. There was no way he would’ve signed off on putting the fae here in danger. But then I thought about what he’d done for me. I obviously didn’t know what extent he’d go to keep me safe. “You said that me being here was no problem.”

  “And it isn’t, Ivy.” Tanner picked up his cup. “We have survived here longer than you realize without being discovered by those we wish to remain hidden to. We shall continue that way.”

  “Things are different now. That was before the Prince arrived.”

  He shook his head. “Things are just more complicated.” A faint smile appeared, one of approval. “I appreciate your concern for my brothers and sisters, more than you know, especially after what was done to you, but we are willing to shoulder the risk to make sure the Prince does not open those doors, destroying the mortal realm just like his court did to our world.”

  Not every fae here was obviously willing to shoulder that risk.

  “I don’t appreciate your concern,” Merle retorted. “It’s misguided and will lead to foolish decisions.”

  “Do you not care about the fae here?” I demanded.

  A small smile appeared, the kind that reminded me of a grandmother’s. “You wouldn’t want me to answer that question.”

  “And we wouldn’t ask her to answer that question,” Tanner added.

  I couldn’t believe they could be so dismissive of the risk involved or the fact that they thought I’d be okay with this. The inhabitants of this place were fae, but they weren’t hurting humans. Like Tink, they were just trying to scratch out some sort of life. And Tink and Ren were also here. Them staying safe was of the utmost priority to me. “I’m not okay with this.”

  “We don’t expect you to be,” Merle answered. “We just expect you to deal with it. You grew up in the Order. You know sometimes you have to sacrifice the many to protect the few. You’ve lived that life every day you’ve breathed. Get with the program, Ivy. It hasn’t changed.”

  I sucked in air and turned to Tanner. “You all have to realize that it’s only a matter of time before the Prince realizes you’re harboring me here. It’s not if he does, it’s when he does. What do you do then? How long would the glamour hold against him?”

  Tanner took a sip of his tea. “We’d hopefully have weeks.” There was a pause as his pale gaze met mine. “But if we’re lucky, we’ll have days. Hours if we aren’t.”

  Chapter 11

  Get with the program?

  Oh, I was so going to get with the program. Throwing the door shut behind me, I flipped on the light and stalked toward the narrow closet next to the dresser.

  Spying the weekender bag Tink had used to pack some of my stuff in, I grabbed it from the floor of the closet and tossed it onto the bed.

  Days? Hours? Weeks? They had no idea how long we had before the Prince found this place and broke through the glamour. It wasn’t an unlikely event. It was inevitable. There were too may fae here, too many unknown variables at play. With me here, the Prince would discover Hotel Good Fae, and there was no doubt in my mind that the very first person he’d take out was Ren.

  Panic unfurled in the pit of my stomach as I stared at the bag. With sudden clarity, I knew I couldn’t tell Ren or Tink what I was planning to do. Neither of them would want me to leave. They’d stop me, and the whole point was to keep them safe.

  That meant I had to leave without them.

  Raw pain punched my chest as I turned to the dresser. Could I do that? Could I walk out of here without saying goodbye? Without one more kiss? One more I love you?

  And what about Tink?

  He would be so pissed, and would probably annoy Ren to the point of getting himself murdered in cold blood, but Tink had to understand. He knew what the Prince was capable of.

  “Oh God,” I whispered, pressing the heel of my palm to my forehead. The back of my throat burned as I closed my eyes.

  What was I doing?

  The panic turned into the kind of hurting that sucked away at the soul. I had to leave them. I knew that. It was the only way they’d be safe until they found that damned Crystal, or I . . . found a way to weaken the Prince so he could be killed.

  Lowering my hand, I opened my eyes. They were damp as I stared at the dresser. Everyone was focused on putting the Prince back in the Otherworld because killing him was virtually impossible, but nothing was truly impossible.

  Someone out there had to know how to weaken him enough that cutting off his head was feasible.

  Steely resolve filled me as I stepped forward, opening the drawer. Since the Prince could sense me, he had to know I was still in New Orleans. If I left, then he’d follow. I’d just have to keep moving until I figured out a way to weaken the bastard long enough to kill him. While I was gone, Ren and Tink could work with Tanner to find the Crystal. They’d be safe, and that was all that mattered.

  The door opened just as I yanked several pants out of the drawer. Spinning around, I saw Ren standing in the open doorway.

  Crap.

  I guessed I wouldn’t know if I could walk out of here without seeing him or saying goodbye. This just got a hell of a lot harder.

  Nothing about him looked relaxed as his gaze moved from my hands to the open bag on the bed. “You didn’t come to the cafeteria.” There was a pause. “What are you doing, Ivy?”

  What I was doing at that exact moment was being frozen between the bed and dresser, cradling pants to my boobs. “I . . . I’m packing.”

  Stepping into the room, he closed the door behind him. “Packing to go where?”

  I opened my mouth, but I had no idea what to say. I hadn’t planned
to see him before I left.

  His brows lowered as he came closer. “What are you doing, Sweetness?”

  Swallowing, I glanced down at the bag. A huge part of me wished I could lie, but I’d already lied too many times to him. As much as this was going to suck, I had to tell the truth. “I . . . I need to leave.”

  “Leave?” He stopped beside me. “Okay. I feel like I’m missing a vital part of some story. Did something else happen?” His eyes flared a vivid green. “Did someone try to attack you again?”

  “There wasn’t an attack between the time I left you in the hallway and now.” I placed the pants in the bag and looked up at him. “Did you know that the Prince can get through the glamour here?”

  His expression smoothed out. “You’re safe here, Ivy. No matter what. I’m going to make it so—”

  “I’m not worried about me being safe!” My frustration rose. “Why does everyone keep bringing that up like I need to be taken care of? I got my ass kicked. I almost died, but I’m alive and I’m not scared.”

  Confusion filled his striking eyes. “I’m not saying that you’re scared, but it would be okay if you were, Ivy. No one could blame you for that.”

  Cursing under my breath, I spun and grabbed a handful of underwear. The thing was, I wasn’t scared. I was angry. Furious. Enraged all the time, but I wasn’t scared. Not for myself. “I’m not afraid.”

  There was a pause while I shoved my underwear into the bag. “Ivy—”

  I whirled on him. “Do you guys even realize that I’m the only one here that the Prince won’t kill? Unless he finds another halfling somewhere in the world, spoiler alert, I’m surviving this story. I can’t say the same for all of you.”

  “Yeah, and what he wants from you isn’t a walk in the park, Ivy.”

  My hands tightened. “I know exactly what he wants from me. Trust me. I got front row tickets for that.”

  Ren drew back, wincing. “I’m sorry. That was callous of me to throw that out there like that.”

  “It doesn’t matter.” I waved him off. “I can’t be here. Not when the Prince knows damn well I’m still in New Orleans. He has to be out there looking for me. It’s only a matter of time before he follows a fae here.”

  “So you’re . . . leaving the one place that could protect you from him to protect the fae here?”

  “Yep.” I moved to the dresser, searching for tops. “That sums it up quite nicely. And let’s not forget, it’s not like everyone is happy to have me here. Not that I can blame them for not wanting me here. If I go, they’re safe.”

  “That’s absurd.”

  “I don’t think you really believe that.”

  “I’m going to get real with you. I don’t give a fuck about the fae here.”

  I gasped as I faced him. “Wow, Ren.”

  “What?” His chest rose with a heavy breath as he met my wide eyes. “It’s the truth. I’m not wishing ill on them. Except for the very dead bastards who went after you, the rest seem cool, but there is no choice when it comes between you and them.”

  That kind of made me feel all warm and fuzzy in my chest for all the wrong reasons. “It’s not just the fae that are in danger because of me. Tink is. You are.” Panic spread in my stomach, reaching my chest. “The Prince would love nothing more than to kill you. You know that.”

  A muscle ticked in his jaw. “I would love nothing more than to come face to face with that fucker.”

  Horror seized me. The mere thought of Ren going toe to toe with the Prince made me want to scream until my voice gave out. “Are you serious? You know what he’s capable of. It’s not like fighting a normal fae or even an Ancient. The Prince—”

  “I know what he’s capable of,” Ren growled, eyes glimmering. “Do not underestimate the strength of my hatred for that son of a bitch.”

  “I don’t, but—”

  “I can take care of myself. So can Tink. You’re not doing us any favors by leaving.”

  Grabbing shirts, I walked them over to the bed. “I don’t think I’m doing you a favor. I’m. . . .” Squeezing my eyes shut, I shook my head and tried again. “I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you or Tink. Do you understand that? I couldn’t deal with that.”

  “And we feel the same way about you. I think you know that already.”

  I did.

  Look what they’d already done to save me. Ren would live with the guilt of forcing me to feed for the rest of his life. Tink probably didn’t feel all that bad about it, but whatever. They were already making sacrifices and horrifying choices because of me.

  It stopped now.

  His voice was closer, more even. “I get that you don’t want to put these people in danger. That you want to protect Tink and me, but Sweetness, you’re just . . . you’re reacting because of what happened to you. Knee jerk. You’re not thinking this through.”

  I dropped my shirts into the bag. “I’m reacting because I have to do something. I can’t sit around and just wait for him to storm this place or wait for one of the other twenty percent you haven’t talked to that may or may not want to kill me to protect their families. I’m not going to do that.”

  Ren placed a gentle hand on my shoulder, but I still jumped at the contact. This time, though, he didn’t pull his hand away like he normally would when I was jumpy. Instead, he carefully turned me to him.

  I drew in a deep breath. “I can’t stay here, Ren. You know that I can’t do that. I can’t be okay with putting other lives in danger, and I know you’re not okay with that either.”

  He looked like he was about to disagree with the last statement. “We have help coming. Fae that can find the Crystal. Tomorrow.”

  “But what if it doesn’t work?” I asked. “What if they can’t find the Crystal in time? And if we get this Crystal, how in the hell are we going to trap the Prince, and get his blood and my blood on it in the Otherworld?”

  His jaw tightened. “We haven’t exactly crossed that bridge—”

  “That’s the point. I don’t even think that bridge has been built yet, so what if we never cross it?”

  “We will,” he said, voice hard. “Even if I have to build that fucking bridge myself with my own two damn hands.”

  I sighed. “We should be focusing on finding a way to weaken him. There has to be something out there, someone who knows.”

  There was a pause. “And that’s what you want to do out there? Find out if it’s possible?”

  “It has to be possible. He has to have a weakness, and even as hard as killing him will be, it has to be easier than completing the ritual of blood and stone.”

  And I knew exactly where I was going to start.

  The Order and the Elite. If any two groups out there had any idea, it would be them, and it was far past time for them to start talking.

  A long moment passed. “Okay.” His shoulders squared as if he had come to some kind of conclusion. “Where would we go?”

  “I haven’t exactly thought that far ahead,” I admitted, leaving out the whole paying a visit to the Order thing. I wouldn’t be able to stay in New Orleans long. My visit with them would have to be quick and I had a feeling it would be bloody. This time I wouldn’t be unprepared. Oh hell no. “But I think I’d have to get as far away as possible. Maybe Europe? I have money saved up. I think I can get out before he realizes where I am.”

  “And then what?” he asked, cupping my cheeks in his broad hands. He brought me to him, against his chest. One arm circled my waist. “Tell me what the next step is.”

  Relaxing into his touch, I let out a little sigh. Weariness invaded my bones and muscles. I didn’t want to leave him. God, that was the last thing I truly wanted to do. “I don’t know. Keep moving until . . . we figure out how to put him back in his world or can kill him, but I’ll be wherever and you—you and Tink will be safe.”

  Everything about Ren changed in an instant. A small tremor went through him and then his entire body stiffened. “Wait. You’re planning
to leave without me?”

  A slight frown turned the corners of my lips down. “I don’t want to, but if I’m not around you, then you’re not in danger—well, you’d be in less danger. The Prince will go where I go. You’ll just be in . . . normal danger, which is a lot better than psycho Prince danger.”

  Ren pulled back, tilting my head up so our gazes met. His lips parted on a sharp inhale. “You were in here packing your stuff to leave without me. That’s what you were doing.” Understanding seeped into his features. “Holy shit. If I hadn’t walked into this room, would you have even stopped to say goodbye? Or were you planning to sneak out of here without saying a word?”

  Crap.

 
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