Brave, p.14
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       Brave, p.14

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

  His jaw tightened. “That is my job.”

  “And it’s my job too!”

  Tink lightly touched my arm. “He has a point, Ivy.” He narrowed his eyes at Ren. “He’s really bad at making said point, but he does have a point.”

  “Thanks,” Ren bit out before taking a deep breath. “Look, I get that it’s your duty too, but you’re still at risk. He could turn his attention back to you.”

  Folding my arms, I cocked my hip out, moving into the standard pissed off stance. “And I get it’s your duty, but you do realize the only way the Prince controls me is through your ass, right?”

  Ren stepped back, his spine going rigid.

  “Yeah. Let that sink in, buddy.” I was on a roll. No stopping now. “You go out there, and if he doesn’t kill you, he’ll capture you. Using you to get me to agree to things is probably a lot easier than convincing some random halfling to have sex with him.”

  “Actually,” Faye cut in, “if the Halfling doesn’t know what she is and what he is, it wouldn’t be hard at all. One-night stands happen all the time.”

  Tanner sat down heavily. “This is bad.”

  “It’s still too risky for you to go.” Ren ignored them. “Not trying to be an ass about it, but the further away you are, the better.”

  “So, I’m supposed to sit around and do what exactly? Tend to the garden outside? Maybe take up knitting classes?”

  “At least then you’re doing something.” One side of his lips kicked up. “Idle hands are the devil’s playground, or so they say.”

  I was going to hit him.

  Seriously.

  “I’m about to shove these idle hands so far up your ass, you’ll think you’ve become a puppet.”

  “You know what?” Ren leaned forward, lowering his voice. “I might actually enjoy that.”

  My body flushed out of anger and something totally different. I ignored the latter, getting right up in Ren’s face. “I’m not staying behind, Ren. Not going to happen.”

  “You’re impossible to reason with.” Shaking his head, he thrust his hand through his hair. “I swear to God.”

  “Stop fighting,” Tink said, dancing back and forth between us. “It makes me anxious.”

  “It makes me wish I had popcorn,” Fabian added.

  I spun on the Summer Prince. “Why are you even here? You came from who knows where—”

  “Florida,” he supplied.

  “Figures,” Ren muttered under his breath.

  “You came here just to tell us that Drake had left? You couldn’t, I don’t know, phone that piece of knowledge in?”

  Tanner sighed from behind the desk.

  “You still need me.” He threaded his fingers together. “After all, how do you plan to find the Crystal? Or the Winter Prince when we don’t know where he’s gone? Even if we do discover that, he will be smarter, hiding his presence. We will be able to sense one another, but he will not know I’m working with you.”

  “Would he truly think that a prince of a court he’s helped eradicate is in the same city as him to join him for dinner?” Ren demanded, bringing up a good point.

  A muscle thrummed along Fabian’s jaw. “The Winter Prince will not see me as a threat. If anything, he’ll just be curious.” His gaze slid to me. “That will be his weakness.”

  Meeting the Summer Prince’s gaze head-on, I had a feeling that wasn’t the only weakness to learn.

  “None of that truly matters if we don’t know where the Prince has gone.” Faye lifted her hands. “We can sit here and argue over who is leaving and who is staying, but none of that matters. We have no idea where he went.”

  “That’s another good point,” Tink chimed in.

  Those around me started speculating, but that was all they could do. Speculate. Which meant nothing. We couldn’t chase false leads or suspicions. We didn’t have the time. We needed to find someone who’d know—

  Then it hit me.

  “I know who would probably know where Drake has gone,” I said, and all eyes turned to me. “Marlon—Marlon St. Cyers. The developer in the city?” I added when everyone continued to stare at me. “He’s an Ancient who was working closely with Drake. He may know where he went.”

  Tanner turned to Faye. “Do you think that’s possible? That Drake would’ve trusted him enough with that information?”

  “They were close, so it’s possible.” Excitement sparked in her pale eyes. “It’s worth checking out.”

  “Then that’s what we’ll do.” Resolve filled me. “We’ll find Marlon and we’ll make sure he talks.”

  Chapter 15

  The meeting sort of fell apart after that. Tanner wanted everyone to ‘calm down and gain perspective’ before we spoke of leaving to search down Marlon. Ren shot me a look that told me our conversation—er, argument—wasn’t over before he stalked out of the room. Prince Fabian rose fluidly, and when I saw he’d zeroed in on Tink, I made my way out into the hallway. Ren had already disappeared.

  Faye followed, and when I glanced over at her, there was no missing the tension lining her face. “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah.” Faye nodded, but she still looked a little ill. “It’s just something Fabian said about Queen Morgana. How I wouldn’t recognize her if I’d seen her.” Drawing in a deep breath, she reached up, tucking her hair behind an ear. “Just the possibility of being near her without knowing makes me feel as if someone has walked over my grave.”

  My brows lifted. “She’s that bad?”

  Faye stopped, facing me. “What has been told about her spun in tales to entertain children are just that. Tales.” She gave a little shake of her head. “Stories of her brutality are only whispered among the oldest of our kind, her cruelty most horrendous. She has committed such grievous crimes, her ability to create life was stripped from her. In a way, she’s our boogeyman, something we all fear. Her hatred of the Summer Court is only surpassed by her hatred of humans.” Faye looked away, swallowing hard. “If she is involved, the doorways to the Otherworld opening would be the least of our worries.”

  After the somewhat creepy conversation with Faye, I tried to find Ren because I was more than ready for round two of our argument. I knew I’d hurt him the night before, but that didn’t change the fact he had absolutely no right to try to tell me what I could do.

  Unfortunately, he was missing in action, which was disappointing because it made me want to yell at him more.

  I liked yelling at him, actually. It made me feel . . . normal. And that was kind of messed up, but whatever.

  Since he was nowhere to be found, I did the next best thing. I headed to the gym, but I didn’t go into the room with the treadmills. I went for the smaller room, the one with thick mats covering the floor and a punching bag.

  That’s where I spent the rest of the day, going through old training sessions with myself, like I was sixteen again. A few months ago, I would’ve balked at the notion that I needed to practice evasive techniques or groundwork, but I knew better now. I needed all the practice I could get, especially if I planned on facing the Winter Prince again.

  It would’ve been nice to have a partner though.

  I moved on to the punching bag, working with the iron dagger. I didn’t jab as hard as I could, because I doubted the fae here would’ve appreciated a bag full of cuts, but I picked up speed as the now too familiar sensation simmered to life in my stomach. It reminded me of gnawing hunger, but it was a craving, the same kind I imagined an addict went through. It was nowhere near as bad as it had been before, but it was still there, a shadow inside me.

  Sweat was dripping into my eyes when the door opened and a burst of fresh air entered the room. Yanking the blade out of the bag, I spun around and saw Brighton.

  She was standing just inside the door, one hand curled around the ends of her ponytail. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

  “It’s okay.” Swiping an arm over my forehead, I sheathed the dagger. “What’s up?”

  “I
was just roaming around. Saw that you were in here.” She nodded at the small window in the door. “I haven’t seen you since . . . well, since you were attacked. You seem to be doing well.”

  “I am. I would say I’m lucky, but I guess being part fae is why I’m okay.” Those words rolled off my tongue easier than I thought they ever would. “The whole feeding thing saved my life.”

  “That’s what I heard. Mind if I sit or is it a distraction?”

  “Sit.” I shrugged. “I’m done anyway.”

  She pulled out one of the middle chairs and unfolded it. “How are you handling everything? The whole feeding thing?”

  I started to tell her that I was doing fine, but that’s not what I said. “I honestly don’t know.” I walked over to where she sat. “I mean, I’m happy to be alive, but knowing what I did to be here doesn’t sit right.”

  She looked up at me. “I can understand that.”

  Looking away, I bit down on my lip. “Do you know what Ren and Tink did?”

  There was a beat of silence. “I heard they made Faye use a compulsion on you.”

  “They did. I was so angry with them, but. . . .”

  “You’re not anymore?”

  “I still am.” Exhaling roughly, I sat down on the mat in front of her. “And I’m also not. I get why they did it. I appreciate it, but I’m not okay with it.”

  She folded her arms in her lap. “I guess the question is, can you forgive them?”

  “I already have,” I said, and that was the God’s honest truth. “I kind of had to, you know? Because I would’ve done the same thing to save them.”

  A faint smile pulled at Brighton’s lips. “Well, I’m glad you’re still alive.”

  I wondered if her mom truly felt the same. Then again, it really didn’t matter. “Me too. Anyway.” I leaned back on my hands. “Did you hear anything about our visitors?”

  Brighton widened her eyes as she nodded. “Yeah. Freaking unbelievable. Another prince? And halfling?” Her shoulders tightened. “The fucking Order has lied to us from day one.”

  I couldn’t help it. I squelched a laugh, but she cursed, and I couldn’t remember hearing her curse before.

  “I mean, nearly everything we thought to be true turned out not to be.” Her lips thinned. “What else do we think we know that isn’t true?”

  “God. It could be anything. But there has to be a reason why they didn’t tell us about the Summer fae or the royal courts.” I stretched out my legs. “And does the Order even know the Prince has left?”

  “I have no clue, and at this point, it’s a risk to even reach out to them and find out.” She sat back. “But we’re going to have to. Once we get the Crystal, we’ll need their help opening the gates.”

  “Or we kill the Prince.” I ignored her gasp of surprise. “We’d probably need the Order for that too, considering we’d need all the help we can get.”

  Brighton then pointed out the obvious. “Killing the Prince is almost impossible.”

  “Almost impossible,” I stressed. “He has to have a weakness other than having an ego, and the Summer Prince knows what weakens them.” I wrinkled my nose. “I kind of understand why he wouldn’t be so forthcoming with that info, but if we can weaken him, we can probably kill him.”

  She appeared to consider that. ‘Then we just have the other princes and princesses to worry about, right? Because who knows how many from the Summer Court are here?”

  I snorted. “Right? We’re just supposed to believe that all of them are live and let live hippie fae?” Something occurred to me. “And I seriously doubt the Summer Prince isn’t feeding. The power practically dripped off him.”

  “I think—” The door to the room opened, revealing Tink. He had company.

  “Merle and crew were looking for you.” He stepped aside. “Told them you were probably here or the library, so I decided to be their escort because I’m cool like that.” He glanced at Brighton and then waved at her. “Hi!”

  Brighton seemed to sink into the chair as she murmured, “Hello.”

  He turned away from us. “I also found your daughter. I am so helpful.”

  I arched a brow as I looked around him. Standing behind Merle was Tanner. Neither looked happy.

  I pushed off my hands, sitting up straight. I figured they were ready to discuss the plans to find and question Marlon. “What’s up?”

  Merle stormed into the room. Something metal dangled from her hand. Wait. Were those . . . handcuffs? “Ren told us.”

  A chill swept through me.

  “Told you what?” Tink frowned as his gaze swept over us.

  Merle’s eyes were like glaciers of ice. “Ivy’s planning to run.”

  Chapter 16

  For a good, long second, I was too shocked by the fact that Ren had actually ratted me out to have much of a reaction.

  Holy crap, he’d actually gone to Merle and Tanner?

  I was going to punt kick him into next week!

  “What?” Tink shouted, his voice echoing off the walls of the small room. “You’re going to run?”

  “Not anymore.” Merle lifted the handcuffs.

  The purpose of the handcuffs registered with sudden clarity. I launched off the floor. “You’re going to handcuff me? Are you out of your mind?”

  Merle’s grip tightened on the handcuffs. “My mind is as sharp as a fiddle, girl.”

  Sharp as a fiddle? That didn’t even make sense. Whatever. She took a step toward me, and my hand flew to my dagger. “If you come one inch closer to me, you’ll find out that this dagger is sharper than a fiddle.”

  “Ivy,” Brighton gasped, rising from her chair.

  Merle held still. “You were planning to run off—”

  “I was planning to leave when I thought the Prince was still here, which is totally my choice.” My fingers tightened around the handle of the dagger. “But all of that is a moot point now, isn’t it?”

  “That’s what I tried to explain to Merle.” Tanner, ever the mediator, stood to my right.

  “It’s still dangerous. Doesn’t matter if he’s found another halfling to impregnate or not.” Merle lifted her chin. “We don’t need Ivy running around out there, too. Like Ren said earlier, she needs to stay here, where the Prince isn’t.”

  I struggled to keep my voice even. “First off, if I want to leave here, I will. No one is going to keep me here against my will. I’ve already been down that road and have the baggage to prove it. I’m not going for a round two.”

  Merle opened her mouth, but Tanner placed a hand on her arm, silencing her. “That is true. We are not holding her against her will. She can walk out of here whenever she pleases.”

  I appreciated his support, but I wasn’t done. “Secondly, you’re seriously overreacting at this point.” Muscles in my neck tensed up. “When I learned that the Prince could get through the glamour here, I did plan on leaving. My presence here was too much of a risk for me to live with, and I don’t give a fuck if you agree with that or not.”

  Merle’s eyes widened slightly.

  “But I agreed to stay until the guests got here. None of that matters now. Drake has found another halfling, and while that’s a hell of a relief, that doesn’t mean my duty has ceased to exist.” When she started to speak again, I cut her off. “You really do not want to have that argument with me. Seriously. Because you aren’t going to win.”

  She clamped her jaw shut.

  “Mom,” Brighton began quietly. “You cannot seriously handcuff Ivy. That’s not right.”

  “Sometimes what is necessary isn’t always what is right,” she replied coldly.

  I ignored that deep statement of the day, because boy did I ever have bigger fish to fry at the moment. I zeroed in on Tanner.
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