Brave, p.13
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       Brave, p.13

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

  He chuckled a low, soft, almost sensual sound. “Is that how you greet someone who is here to help you?”

  “You demand to know who I am and then tell me that I belong to Drake—”

  The fae hissed—bared sharp teeth and actually hissed. My brows lifted as his lip curled in distaste. “Do not speak his name.”

  “Why? He’s not Voldemort.”

  “Voldemort?” Confusion filled his expression.

  I stared at him for a moment and then shook my head. “Never mind. Who are you?”

  The fae inclined his head. “I am Fabian.” The air around him shimmered like a hundred fireflies had taken flight. “Prince Fabian of the Summer Court.”

  My mouth dropped open. Prince Fabian? Faye and Tanner sure as hell hadn’t mentioned that one of our guests was a prince.

  A prince.

  A prince that could impregnate a halfling.

  I sucked in a sharp breath.

  Ren realized the same time I did, because he was suddenly beside me.

  “Relax,” Fabian said. “I have no interesting in impregnating you.”

  I blinked.

  Well then, that was one blunt way of putting it.

  “I am happy to hear that.” Tink’s smile reminded me of when it was Prime Day on Amazon.

  Tanner cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. I know this must come as a shock that our guest is a prince.”

  “Damn right it’s a shock,” Ren growled. “You never once mentioned that we were waiting on another damn prince.”

  “Or that our guests were really just a guest,” I added.

  “I did not travel alone,” Fabian explained, sitting down. “My consuls are not needed in this meeting. They are resting.”

  “Consuls. How fancy,” I muttered.

  The Summer Prince cocked his head.

  Faye shifted in the beam of sunlight streaming in through the window. “We did not know Fabian would come. We assumed he would send—”

  “His consul. Got it,” I cut in. “I didn’t know that there was still a prince of the Summer Court, alive and well.”

  “Up until recently, you didn’t know the Summer Court still existed,” Tanner gently reminded me, his tone level. He was right. We’d believed that the fae courts had been dismantled. Obviously, we’d been wrong or lied to. “Our Court had all been destroyed in the war with Winter. The safety and location of the remaining royals is not something we take lightly. Forgive us for not telling you such, but our Prince has no interest in fulfilling the prophecy.”

  “Even if I was, you wouldn’t be my type.” Fabian leaned back, folding one leg over the other. “Unlike the Winter Prince, my obligation to our world is not worth lowering myself to breed with a halfling.”

  Wow.

  I was relieved to hear that, but I was also kind of offended. He made it sound like I was a stinky, single-celled organism.

  “That’s good to know.” Ren leaned against the wall, appearing relaxed, but I knew better. He was coiled tight. “Forgive us for not rolling out the red carpet. We don’t exactly have the best impression of Otherworld princes, especially since you look like the Winter Prince.”

  There. Thank God I wasn’t the only one seeing it.

  Fabian frowned. “I look nothing like that bastard.”

  “Well,” I drew the word out, “yes, you kind of do. Doesn’t he, Faye?”

  She nodded. “I see a resemblance.”

  “I’ve seen the Winter Prince.” Tink frowned. “He doesn’t look like him.”

  I shook my head. “The hair color is different. Some of the face is, but yeah . . . he does.”

  “I don’t know,” Tink mused, his brow knitted together.

  The Summer Prince’s gaze landed on Tink, the look appraising. “A brownie. I haven’t seen one of your kind in over a hundred years.”

  Tink smiled widely. “And you’ve never seen a brownie like me.”

  I rolled my eyes. “You’ll have plenty of time to stroke Tink’s ego later—”

  “And hopefully other parts,” Fabian replied smoothly.

  Oh dear.

  Ren choked on what sounded like a laugh.

  “Yeah, sure. Um, okay. So, you’re a prince. How many of the royal court are here, in our world, and do all of them feel the same way as you?”

  “As in having no interest in ever seeing you naked enough to have intercourse?” he asked.

  My eyes narrowed. Jesus. “Yeah. That. Thanks for putting it so kindly.”

  “Those of the court that are still alive, and there are few, have no desire to fulfill the prophecy. Just as Tanner stated. We came here to escape Winter’s rule, to live out our lives. We understand what his presence will do to this world. He will destroy it, just like he and his Queen have done to our world.”

  “Queen?” Ren asked.

  “Mab?” I turned to Tink, recalling how he always said her name.

  Tink’s eyes widened. “Mab picked no sides. She’s neither Winter nor Summer. She’s not as petty as Titania or Morgana.”

  “Wait. I thought they were all the same person with just different names?” Ren said.

  I thought the same, because that was what the Order had taught us. Plus, I was pretty sure Morgana was completely fictional, a part of the King Arthur tales.

  Fabian snickered. “If you believe that, then who are we to correct you?”

  God, he was so helpful.

  “Their names have been interchangeable throughout the years, replacing one another in various myths.” Tanner sat down, resting one arm on the desk. “But those are myths. The truth is that they are not one and the same. Our politics have never been represented accurately in the legends mortals have spun.”

  Ren gave a little shake of his head. “Do you think a Queen is also here?”

  “We do not know if any Queen has come to this world,” Faye answered. “Let us hope that one hasn’t. That is a complication that none of us need.”

  My head was spinning. “But what if one of them has?”

  “Queen Morgana sided with Winter during the war. She became their Queen.” Fabian’s lip curled in disgust. “If she has crossed over to this world, I will personally rip the spine from her back.”

  I lifted my brows.

  “She killed my brother during the Great War and refused us the honor of burying his body.” The Prince’s eyes burned with unholy light from within. “She is, how do you humans put it? The worst?”

  “Sounds about right.” Ren unfolded his arms. “Do we have any evidence that she or any Queen is involved in this?”

  “No,” Faye answered. “I’ve been with the Prince. I have not seen Morgana or any other Queen.”

  “Would you even know what Morgana looks like?” Fabian twisted in his chair. “She is the queen of many faces and has perfected the art of treachery. It would take a royal to recognize that bitch.” He paused. “Or coincidentally, a brownie. Their ability to see through even the strongest glamour was one of the reasons the Winter Court hunted them down.”

  In her human form, a sheen of dullness settled over Faye’s dark skin and she looked down.

  “How would we kill her if she were here?” I asked.

  “The same way you would kill any of us,” the Summer Prince answered. “Decapitation.”

  The line of questioning brought me back to my earlier conversation with Tink. “But she would obviously need to be weakened. The same with Drake.” I ignored the way his lips thinned. “How do we weaken one of you enough to go toe to toe?”

  The room quieted as Fabian eyed me from where he sat. “And why would you want to know how to weaken a royal?”

  I met his burning gaze. “To kill Drake. Duh.”

  “I thought you needed help finding the Crystal?” Fabian leaned forward, placing both feet on the floor. It was then that I realized he wore no shoes. Odd. “Not with killing the Winter Prince.”

  “We do need help finding the Crystal.” Tanner’s gaze bounced between us. “Ivy was captured b
y the Prince at one point. She’s understandably a little . . . murderous when it comes to him.”

  “She’s not the only one,” Ren threw out.

  “I’m not a little murderous,” I clarified. “I’m a lot murderous.”

  “You think I would tell you how to weaken the Winter Prince? Which would mean you’d know how to weaken me?” Fabian chuckled. “You’re foolish.”

  Steel dripped into my spine as I stepped forward. “You want us to trust you blindly and yet you will not do the same? We have no reason to use this knowledge against you. I only want to kill the Prince, because I’ll be damned if I spend weeks or months or the rest of my life looking over my shoulder for him, wondering if anyone I know is safe because he’ll use them to get to me.”

  Fabian smirked as his icy gaze landed on me. “You silly little girl. You speak as if you’re a special snowflake, unique and one of a kind.”

  Ren snorted from where he stood.

  I shot Ren a death glare before glaring at Fabian. “You don’t know who Voldemort is, but you know what special snowflake means? I call bullshit on that.”

  Fabian cocked his head to the side. “One always knows when they meet a special snowflake.”

  “Yeah, and those calling others snowflakes are historically the actual snowflake.”

  “Sticks and stones,” Fabian murmured. “Or I am rubber and you are glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

  My mouth dropped open. Oh my God, it was like having a conversation with a ruder Tink.

  Who, by the way, was practically shimmying with excitement as he leaned in, whispering into my ear. “I like this guy. I really like him. Can I keep him?”

  The Summer Prince heard him, and interest sparked in his pale blue eyes. “I’ve never been kept by a brownie before, but . . . I’ve heard things. Interesting things.”

  I so needed an adult right now, but the adults were all staring at the ceiling, pretending like a live version of Fae Tinder wasn’t going down right in front of us.

  Tink straightened. “Do tell.”

  Fabian stepped toward us. “Is it true that a brownie’s co—”

  “Okay,” Ren stepped in, apparently to Tanner’s relief by the look on his face. “Let’s get back on topic. You were talking about how Ivy isn’t a special snowflake.”

  Dear mountain momma, I was two seconds from launching my dagger across the room and stabbing the Summer Prince in his eye, punching Tink, and throwing Ren out the window.

  “All right, Fabio,” I snapped. “Can you get past the insulting me part to saying something actually helpful? For once?”

  His fair brows knitted. “Are you dense? My name is not Fabio. It’s Fabian.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Whatever.” I didn’t have the patience to explain who Fabio was. “Just say what you need to say.”

  The Summer Prince’s smirk grew. “The Prince has found another halfling and he’s left New Orleans, taking the Crystal with him.”

  Chapter 14

  All hell broke loose around me while I just stood there, in the center of the room staring at the Summer Prince. Faye was standing and so was Tanner. Ren had moved forward, asking questions, but I didn’t hear what he was saying. Tink was calm, though. Sort of. He was eyeballing Fabio again, in the way Ren looked at me when he actually liked me.

  But I . . . I was just so shocked I couldn’t think past my roiling emotions. One stood out. Relief. It coursed through me in waves, leaving me dizzy.

  The Prince wouldn’t be looking for me.

  Ren was safe.

  So was Tink.

  I was safe.

  Well, as safe as any of us were, but Drake wasn’t gunning for me anymore.

  My throat thickened as tears rushed my eyes.

  All of that probably meant something was wrong with me. I mean, Drake was still out there bound and determined to knock up some poor, random halfling, but he wasn’t coming after me.

  A laugh bubbled up my throat, but I squelched it before it escaped as I blinked back tears of relief. No one would understand.

  I was such a terrible person, but I couldn’t help it. Weight lifted from my shoulders. We still had to deal with Drake, but I . . . I felt free.

  “I thought the Elite had killed all the halflings?” Tanner’s voice rose above the noise, drawing my attention.

  “The Elite has hunted down every halfling they’ve been able to discover,” Ren answered, and I flinched, knowing that I was one of them. “That doesn’t mean they got all the halflings in the whole world. The Prince is obviously better at finding them than we were.”

  “I don’t know if that’s true since you guys probably killed a whole crapton of them,” Tink pointed out.

  Ren shot him a dark glare before turning to Fabian. “How do you know this?”

  “Just as the Winter Prince has had scouts out looking for possible halflings, we’ve had our own eyes on them.” Fabian yawned, appearing bored with this whole conversation. “He and his consul left two days ago.”

  Two days ago? While I was passed out because some fae tried to murder me because they thought the Prince was here? Another near hysterical laugh started deep in my belly.

  “You had no idea that they were scouting for other halflings?” Ren asked Faye.

  “I know Valor wanted the Prince to look for another, but as far as I know, they weren’t actively seeking one.” Disbelief colored her tone. At some point, she’d lost her human form. “Where did he go?”

  Fabian stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankles. “That we don’t know.”

  “You apparently know everything else, but you don’t know this?” I demanded.

  “Yes.” His gaze flickered to me. “That is exactly what I’m saying. It was too much of a risk for my spies to follow.”

  Whatever relief I’d felt when I discovered that Drake wouldn’t be looking for me began to fade. “Then he and this Halfling could be anywhere.”

  He lifted a shoulder in an elegant shrug.

  “This changes everything,” Faye said, sitting back down heavily, lacking her normal grace. “I knew nothing of the scouts or that he’d be able to find another halfling this quickly.”

  “It doesn’t change anything.” All eyes focused on me. What I said was true. Everything changed for me, but we still had the same mission—a more urgent, desperate one now. “We need to find him, put him back where he belongs, or kill him.”

  Ren whirled on me. “Are you out of your mind?”

  “Excuse me?”

  “You don’t need to do anything but keep your pretty little ass here,” he announced like he didn’t have a death wish. “The Prince might be on the hunt for another halfling, but you’re still a halfling, Ivy.”

  “No shit,” I spat back. “But only I get to say where my ass gets to go and doesn’t go.”

  His eyes flared a deep shade of green. “If he’s not here, there’s no reason for you to go after him. The smartest and safest thing is for you to stay here.”

  “And what? You’re going to go after him?”

 
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