Brave, p.12
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       Brave, p.12

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

  the many different scars and stretch marks, but here I was.

  Why? Because I had a new life motto. It was simple.

  Get my shit together.

  Since offing myself wasn’t exactly my top choice of options and I couldn’t help find the Crystal, the only next thing for me to do was find a way to weaken the Prince.

  I was forcing myself to come to the realization that my body had changed. It was definitely a new skin tone, my features were sharper, more defined, and my ears were pointy, and yeah, my eyes were . . . well, they were kind of cool. I mean, the contrast between the irises and pupils was kind of striking. People would probably think they were fake. I could deal with this. My body had changed but it was still mine.

  My gaze dropped below my navel.

  I really needed to find a razor. Or a waxer.

  But I could deal with this, because I had to deal with this. My appearance may have changed a little. I may have gotten my ass handed to me a few days ago. I may have lost a little of myself when Drake was holding me captive. I may have lost myself along the way, but I was still Ivy.

  I twisted to the side and sighed.

  And my ass was still not the most attractive thing in the world naked. You’d think the extra fae-ness would’ve given me a nice heart-shaped bottom or something. That I wouldn’t have complained about.

  Whatever.

  Turning to the other side, I ran my hands over my sides and back, my fingers skating over the rough ridge of a new scar.

  I swallowed hard, facing the mirror once more. I kept my eyes open as I smoothed my hands over my waist and then up, over my breasts. My hands stayed there, cupping them.

  All of this was . . . it was mine.

  My body didn’t belong to the Prince. Or Ren. My body sure as hell didn’t belong to some whacked out prophecy. It was mine—silvery skin, pointy ears, and all the scars were mine.

  Realizing that I was basically fondling my own breasts, I rolled my eyes and dropped my hands. I quickly changed, leaving my hair pulled up because I didn’t care about my ears. Nope. Not at all.

  Now I was off to find Tink, which wasn’t hard. I just had to look for the largest and loudest table in the cafeteria.

  He was practically holding court. All I could see was his shockingly white hair in the center of a dozen or so fairer heads.

  Ignoring the way my stomach acids decided to get all bubbly at the scent of cooked meat, I strode into the cafeteria. I was also going to need to invest in some Tums because the not being able to eat thing was stupid. It was one of the reasons I’d gotten my ass kicked.

  Heads looked up and followed my progress. Conversations stopped. Whispers started.

  My shoulders started to curve inward under the weight of their stares, but I caught myself. Old Ivy would not bow her chin. She would not care.

  So new Ivy didn’t care.

  Fixing the kind of smirk on my face that always annoyed the piss out of Daniel, I lifted my chin and approached Tink’s table. It wasn’t until I was right there that I realized two things.

  Tink was Dixon-less.

  Aaand Ren was at the table.

  How in the world I hadn’t seen him until then showed that I also really needed to work on my observation skills, but there he was, his russet head bent over a plate of egg whites and what was probably turkey bacon and whole wheat toast.

  Because Ren was healthy like that.

  Seeing him threw me completely for a loop. He hadn’t gone back to the room when I’d been there, but he was freshly showered. His hair was still damp and he’d changed. He was wearing a black thermal, pushed up to his elbows. I had no idea where he’d showered since he hadn’t returned to the room.

  A thousand words rose to the tip of my tongue. I wanted to apologize. I wanted to tell him that he’d been right. I wanted to ask him to help me fix things.

  But I said none of those things, because those were things neither of us needed an audience for. Certainly not me, because I would probably break down in ugly, horrible tears.

  I had a feeling he knew I was there without looking up. Maybe it was the way the chatter at the table eased off, or it was his weird sixth sense kicking in, but his shoulders tensed and he stopped chewing.

  Tink, on the other hand, had no idea I was there . . . or alive, because it looked like he was eye-screwing the male fae across from him. An impressive level of eyeball fuckery that I could’ve taken lessons from. But when I saw Tink’s lips part and he looked like he was a second away from licking his bottom lip, I intervened.

  I cleared my throat. “Tink.”

  “Ivy!” Tink beamed up at me. Three empty plates were in front of him, the fae across from him forgotten. “You here to eat with us?”

  “Uh, no. I already ate.” I managed to scarf down a banana on my way downstairs, so that wasn’t a lie. Turning over a new leaf and all. “I need to talk to you.”

  He sighed heavily. “Look, the fire last night was small. I put it out before it spread, and I already apologized for it. The room needs remodeling anyway.”

  I forced my gaze from Ren. He still hadn’t acknowledged I was here. “No, it’s not—wait, there was a fire last night?”

  “Oh.” Tink sat back, crossing his arms. “Forget about that. What do you want to talk about?”

  I opened my mouth and then decided not to question the whole fire thing, because I probably didn’t want to know. “I want to talk to you.” I peeked at Ren. He’d stopped eating, fork down, hands flat on the table. “In private, Tink.”

  “Oh, secret squirrel stuff.” Tink started to rise. “I’m here for this.”

  Ren looked up just then, his gaze snagging mine. “Hey.”

  That one word was flat, emotionless. Empty. “Hi,” I managed to croak out.

  He stared at me for a moment, and I worked up the courage to ask him to join us. But then his jaw tightened. Picking up his plate, he rose and stepped away from the table. “See you guys later.”

  “Wait . . .” I trailed off, because it was no use. Ren was already halfway across the cafeteria. Watching him leave made it feel like my chest split right open.

  “What the hell?” Tink asked.

  I turned to him, blinking back the sudden rush of hot, stupid tears. I cursed myself. I hadn’t planned to exclude Ren from this conversation. I just hadn’t expected to see him so I’d wasted precious moments standing there like an idiot.

  Operation Get Your Shit Together was off to a wonderful start.

  I took a deep breath. “Can we step out into the hall?”

  “Yeah.” A frown marred Tink’s features. “Sure.”

  I took the few seconds to put myself back together. I needed to focus and not be on the verge of crying.

  “What’s up with you and Ren?” he asked the moment we were out in the hallway. “Are you the reason he nearly knocked my head off this morning when I told him he looked like shit? Because the boy did look like he was rode hard and put away wet.”

  I stopped, crossing my arms. “I don’t even want to know what that means.”

  “Well, it means getting fu—”

  “Tink,” I snapped. “I didn’t ask you to come out here to talk about Ren.”

  “But I want to talk about him. You guys barely spoke to each other in there. That’s weird.”

  I took a deep breath. “I know. We had a fight last night, but it’ll be okay. It’ll be fine.”

  “What?” Concern flashed across his face. “Like a big fight? Or a small one? Oh my God, are you two breaking up? Who will I live with?”

  “Who will you live with?” I gaped up at him. “You’re not twelve and you’re not our kid.”

  “But I need to be taken care of. Loved. I need access to Amazon Prime.”

  “Then get a job, Tink. You look human enough to do it.”

  “A job?” Absolute horror filled his face. “The loss of blood must’ve done something to your brain because you’re out of your mind.”

  “Okay. This conve
rsation has veered off into very pointless territory. Everything is fine. Moving on.” I struggled to remain patient. “Look, I have a couple of questions I want to ask you about the Prince.”

  A fae walking near us stopped and gasped. Her silvery skin turned a paler shade of gray.

  Grabbing Tink’s arm, I pulled him into a nearby room. It was small, with just a round table and two chairs. “Take a seat.”

  Tink sauntered over to the one furthest from the door and dropped down, stretching out his long legs. “Being in here with you feels naughty.”

  I shook my head as I closed the door behind me. “There’s something wrong with you.”

  He grinned. “I could say the same thing about you.”

  “Touche,” I muttered, sitting down across from him. “But let’s analyze each other later. You once told me that killing the Prince was impossible, but nothing is impossible.”

  Tink tossed an arm over the back of his chair. “Well, yeah technically it’s not impossible.”

  “Right.” I rested my arms on the table. “We know a thorn stake will weaken an Ancient—”

  “So you can chop their head off,” he finished for me. “You can do the same with the Prince, but as you know firsthand, even cutting him with a stake isn’t easy.”

  “No, it’s not.” The Prince had whipped my ass each time we’d fought, and the last time I’d had a thorn stake. “So the only way to kill the Prince is to weaken him enough to fight him.”

  Tink nodded slowly.

  “Okay, so there has to be something out there that weakens him, right? That will make it easier to kill him.”

  “Yeah. A thorn stake.” He squinted. “But you already know that.”

  I tapped my fingers on the table. “There has to be something else that doesn’t require going toe to toe with him. I need you to think about this, Tink.”

  His head tilted. “I have thought about this.”

  “Think hard,” I insisted. “I need you to really think about it. Maybe it’s something small. Maybe not. You were in the Otherworld while the Prince was there. Maybe you saw something—heard something.”

  His nose wrinkled. “The only thing I saw was him feeding and screwing. A lot. I heard a lot of moans and screams. Not pain-filled screams. You know, the Prince was always a dick, but not as big of a dick as he is now. Oh! Maybe sex is a weakness for him.”

  My brows lifted.

  He raised a shoulder. “Probably not. I mean, as much as he was doing it, I doubted it weakened him. Probably gave him strength. Like every time he came, he powered up like Mario—”

  “All right, let’s move on from the whole sex thing.” I was going to need a Brillo Pad for my brain later.

  He kicked a huge foot up on the table. “Why are you even asking about this? I thought some fae were coming that could help locate the Crystal?”

  “They are, but I’m trying to plan ahead in case they don’t find the Crystal,” I explained. “Plus, we’re going to have to get his blood. None of that is going to be easy when fighting him in combat is nearly impossible.”

  Before Tink could respond, the door swung open without warning, revealing Faye. “Our visitors are here.”

  Chapter 13

  Tink and I followed Faye down the hall, toward Tanner’s office, which I was guessing was now the official meeting place. I had no idea where Ren was, if he was already in the room, or coming. I didn’t like how separate we were, but I tabled that problem to deal with later.

  My hand brushed the dagger at my hip as Faye stopped in front of Tanner’s office. Her gaze followed my hand. “Our guest means you no harm.”

  Noting how guests went from plural to singular, I glanced at the door. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

  “Can’t blame her for that,” Tink chimed in, folding his long arms over his chest.

  Her lashes lowered. “No. I cannot.” There was a small pause. “How are you feeling, Ivy?”

  “Fine.”

  The look on her face said she didn’t quite believe me, but she didn’t push it. Turning, she opened the door, and having no idea what to expect, I slowly followed her in.

  “Holy yummy in my tummy,” Tink murmured, stopping behind me.

  I knew immediately what had provoked his reaction.

  Sitting in one of the wingback chairs was a stranger who looked like a . . . well, a Viking. Not the historically accurate kind, but like the ones that graced the old romance covers I read. He was tall and broad, his thighs wide and like tree trunks. His hair was a glorious mane of blonde waves, reaching far past shoulders that stretched the plain white T-shirt he wore.

  The stranger was stunningly beautiful and he was definitely no ordinary fae. The fae had the air of an Ancient, one of the most dangerous fae. Up until recently, we’d believed that there were no Ancient fae left in our world.

  We must have been wrong.

  I had a feeling we’d been lied to by the Order.

  But there was something uncomfortably familiar about this fae’s features—about the angular cheekbones and expressive mouth. It was the brow, too. Something about his face and his shape reminded me . . .

  A chill ran down my spine.

  He looked like Drake—a warmer version of the Winter Prince. I glanced at Faye, but she looked unperturbed as she took a seat on the couch by the window. She had to see the similarities. A warning that the stranger could pass for the cousin of Drake would’ve been nice.

  Air stirred around my left arm. My head whipped to the side. Ren was there, as quiet as a damn ghost. Our gazes met, and my heart stuttered. Breaking contact, he focused on the stranger. The only emotion he showed was the tightening of his jaw.

  Did he see what I saw?

  “Who is this?” the stranger demanded, staring at me like an insect under a microscope.

  Tanner rose from behind the desk, but before he could introduce me, Tink stepped forward, coming to stand next to me. “She’s Buffy with the bad hair.”

  Slowly, I turned and looked up at him. “Buffy with the bad hair?”

  He nodded eagerly, glancing at the stranger. “Yeah, like it’s a combination of Buffy and Beyonce, the two greatest females of all time. You’re like Buffy. Bad ass. But you’re not Becky with the good hair. You have bad hair. We all know that.”

  I stared at him. “My hair isn’t that bad.”

  “Oh, it’s bad.” Tink’s eyes glimmered. “You definitely aren’t a Becky.”

  “I think it’s a compliment to not be a Becky,” Ren chimed in, and when I looked over at him, amusement danced in his eyes. “But I’m pretty sure that being a Becky isn’t just about hair.”

  I hated all of them. Seriously.

  The stranger lifted his chin and then rose, his nostrils flaring. “You’re the one who belongs to the Winter Prince.”

  Wait.

  What?

  Ren tensed.

  Did he really just say that?

  Hearing that ranked right up there with hearing you had air cabin pressure issues while on a plane, thirty-some-thousand feet in the sky.

  “I don’t belong to him.”

  One blond eyebrow rose. “You are the Halfling.”

  “And you are a fae five seconds away from getting throat punched.”

 
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