Brave, p.20
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       Brave, p.20

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

  “How do you know?” I asked, eyeing Tink.

  He met my gaze. “Because why would he lie?”

  “Oh, I don’t know. So we don’t kill him?” I offered.

  The Summer Prince snorted. “I am not easy to kill.”

  “Yeah, back to that. If you’re the perfect example of a non-homicidal fae who loves and cherishes humans, then why won’t you tell us how to weaken Drake?”

  He laughed, and the sound was too cold for a Summer Prince. “You don’t trust me. Why in the world would I trust you? You may be a halfling and he may be Boy Wonder—”

  “Boy wonder?” Ren wrinkled his nose.

  “But the Order has already betrayed us once,” Fabian continued, his stare hard. “The fact that we are working with you now to stop the Winter Prince puts me and my people at an incredible disadvantage. Do you think I chose to ride with you just because of him?” He glanced at Tink. “Someone needs to keep an eye on you two and I will not risk any of my consul in doing so.”

  Tink didn’t look at all bothered by that statement.

  “How did the Order betray the Summer Court?” Ren asked, sliding a hand over the steering wheel. “Tanner mentioned it. Now you have. We’re in the dark on what happened.”

  “You’re in the dark about a lot of things,” the Prince snarked, and then smiled when I swore I could feel steam coming out of my ears. “Do you ever think about that?” His gaze met Ren’s in the mirror. “Really think about why the Order and your precious Elite kept so much from you—from the very people willing to kill and die for them without remorse or challenge? Did any of you question that perhaps you were killing innocents? That not every fae wants to rule the mortal world? Did any of you once, in your incredibly short lives, ever ask if you were fighting on the right side?”

  Uncomfortable with all the truthiness he was speaking, I flipped around and faced the windshield. A moment passed, and I glanced at Ren. A muscle thrummed along his jaw as he stared straight ahead. What the Summer Prince questioned had struck a chord with him too.

  How could it not? He’d been right. We’d killed and died for an organization that had lied to us. And here we were, judging Fabian and his kind.

  “What did they do?” I asked quietly, unsure if I was ready to hear it or if I wanted to.

  Fabian didn’t answer for so long that I thought he might never, but then he did. “Everything you know is practically a lie.”

  Ren’s knuckles were bleached white from how tightly he was clenching the steering wheel. “You going to fill us in?”

  “We did not start this war with mortals,” he said, looking at the window while Tink watched him quietly. “We were not the ones who broke the treaty between our kinds.”

  A frown pulled at my brow. “What treaty?”

  He smiled in a way I imagined parents did right before they wished they could crate train their children. “We used to be able to travel more freely between our worlds. Some would grab humans and take them back, but trust me, when they did, it was usually people you would never miss. People who deserved their fate.”

  Tink arched a brow.

  “Others came willingly.” He raised a shoulder in an elegant shrug. “After all, we are beautiful and mortals are drawn to beautiful things. There used to be a lot more halflings.”

  I bit down on my lip. I still had no idea if it was my mother or my father who was the fae. I’d probably never know.

  “The Order has been in creation since we first crossed over, and our treaty remained in effect for hundreds of years. They hunted the ones who killed mortals in this world and left ones alone who did not, and when our world began to falter, and more fae crossed over, we worked together with the Order to ensure what was happening to our world did not happen to yours. We confided in them our weakness. We shared our secrets and helped them seal the doorways, but in the end, everything we showed and taught them, they used against us. It was not the fact that they took the Crystal from us that created the rift between our two kinds. Did Tanner tell you that? I’m sure he did. He wouldn’t want to overwhelm you with the truth.”

  The inside of the car felt icy. “And what is the truth?”

  He turned from the window. “Once we sealed the gateways, the Order slaughtered every fae that had fought beside them, took the Crystal we used to close the doors, and then killed our King, ultimately weakening the entire Summer Court and forcing us into seclusion.”

  I gasped in surprise.

  “We’d already been weakened, having lost our Queen and my brother many decades before in the fight with the Winter Court,” he continued. “The Order knew that. We trusted them.”

  “Why?” I asked after a moment. “Why did they do it?”

  Fabian tilted his head to the side. “That is a question we have waited many years to have answered. I have a feeling we’ll have that answer sooner rather than later.”

  Talking abwe reachedout cold-blooded betrayal and what was tantamount to murder sure killed the vibe in the car. The only blessing was that it shut Tink and Fabian up for the next several hours.

  I spent most of the time mulling over what Fabian had said. Initially, I wanted to deny everything, because it was hard to let go of years and years of a different history, but I knew the Order had lied. We’d seen the evidence of that. The question was how much had they lied about and why had they turned on the fae that had been helping them?

  I didn’t have the answers, but when we stopped about eight hours into the drive, somewhere in the never-ending state known as Texas, to fuel up and get something to eat, I used the brief alone time with Ren to get his thoughts while he pumped gas. Tink and Fabian were in the convenience store that was attached to a fast food joint. Our convoy had joined them with the exception of the fae named Fred. He was just staring outside the glass windows of the convenience store, obviously taking watch.

  “What do you think about everything Fabian was saying?” I leaned against the passenger door, squinting into the fading sunlight.

  “Honest?” He shifted so he was facing me. “I don’t know why he’d lie. What would the point be?”

  “I know.” I sighed as I reached up, pushing a curl out of my face. “What about the whole feeding thing?”

  “You and I both know there are people who enjoy the feeding.” He pulled the nozzle out. “It’s quite possible that they have a harem of people willing to give away a little of themselves in exchange for money and protection.”

  I snorted. Harem of people? For some reason, I pictured a bunch of people barely clothed fanning the Summer Prince with palm fronds.

  “And to be honest, I don’t even know where I stand on that. A couple of months ago? I would’ve been dead set against it, but now? Everything has changed.” Placing the nozzle back, he brushed his hands on his pants. “I think we’ve got to let go of some of our beliefs.”

  I nodded slowly. “I think you’re right.”

  “I’m always right, don’t you know?”

  I snorted. “Keep telling yourself that.”

  Grinning, he stopped in front of me. “Processing everything we’re learning about the Order isn’t easy. Makes you think about . . . about some of the stuff we’ve done.”

  My stomach shifted unsteadily. “Yeah, it does.”

  Namely it made me think about how many innocent fae I might’ve killed in the past. It wasn’t like every fae I’d hunted had been caught red-handed. Some had run from me.

  And I chased them down like . . . like an animal and killed them.

  “Hey,” Ren said softly, drawing my attention. I looked up and saw concern pooling in his gaze. “Where is your head at right now?”

  “Just thinking about who I’ve hunted. If they were innocent or not. Like I could’ve murdered—”

  “Stop.” He leaned in, eye to eye with me. “We can’t go back and change what we did. We’ve got to live with that and deal with it. Doesn’t mean it’s easier to deal with. Just means we’ve got to.”

  I found
myself nodding again, because he was right. We couldn’t change what we did or didn’t do. “We can only change what we’re going to do.”

  “Exactly,” he replied, looking over the roof of the SUV. “You want to head in with me or hang out here?”

  “Hang out here.”

  Ren dipped his chin, kissing my temple and then the corner of my mouth. “What do you want me to grab you to eat? And don’t say nothing. You haven’t eaten in hours.”

  “That’s bossy.”

  He kissed me then and when he pulled back, he nipped at my lower lip in a way that sent a jolt right to all the interesting parts. “What do you want me to get you?”

  “A burger and some fries,” I relented.

  “‘On it,” he murmured before kissing me again, and then he was off, swaggering across the parking lot.

  He did end up getting me a burger and fries, and I ate it—all of it—except the tomato, because ew. Ren had taken the limp slice from me, slapping it down on top of his burger.

  The burger and fries sat weirdly in my stomach, and afterward, a brief craving for something more hit me. It was almost like wanting a smoke after dinner, but I focused on Ren, Tink, and Fabian, who were arguing about the speed limit of all things, until the craving passed.

  Somewhere in the middle of the night, Tink fell asleep, and so did Fabian. I offered to take over driving, but Ren was insistent to keep going. I ended up dozing off with Ren’s hand resting on my thigh.

  It was the sudden pitching forward motion and Ren’s arm smacking me in the chest that woke me hours later. I grunted, my eyes flying open.

  All I saw at first was the dark road and the faint glow of red taillights. “What’s going on?”

  “Faye has stopped up ahead.” Ren reached for the cellphone as Tink and Fabian stirred to life in the back seat. “She shouldn’t be stopping.”

  I looked out the window and saw literally nothing but darkness. “Where are we?”

  “About to cross into Arizona.” He lifted the phone to his ear. “The other group is ahead of—”

  Lights flipped on several yards ahead, the glaring intensity blinding as it pierced the blackness.

  Fabian was suddenly leaning between the two front seats. “What the—?”

  The night air erupted in gunfire.

  Chapter 22

  At first all of us were frozen, so shocked by the sound ripping apart the night sky. The gunfire hadn’t reached us, but that meant nothing. Bullets could travel quite some distance.

  “Someone is shooting at them!” Tink all but flailed behind me. “Let me out. Oh my Queen Mab, let me out!” He rattled the door handle. “I am so going to kill them shooting at my new friends! I’m going to go full Tink on them!”

  “You hit the childproof locks?” I asked.

  “Damn straight.” Ren whipped around. “I need both of you to stay in this damn car until we know what the hell we are dealing with.”

  Fabian leaned forward. “I am a prince. I can—”

  Ren slammed on the gas and jerked into the left lane a second before I saw the car gunning in our direction.

  “Holy Christ,” I shouted, grabbing the handle above the window.

  The car came out of nowhere—out of the damn desert! The engine of the SUV roared as we gained speed, nearing where Faye was trapped.

  “I don’t give a fuck what you are,” Ren said. “But if we’re being shot at, then there’s a good chance they know who is in these cars. Meaning, those aren’t regular bullets in those guns.”

  Understanding hit me. “You think it’s the Order?”

  “Who else would be shooting at us in the middle of the night, in the middle of fucking nowhere?”

  “If that’s the case, then they knew we were coming.” Right now, we didn’t have time to really delve deep into that theory.

  “We need you alive,” Ren was telling Fabian. “Try to stay in this car and not get dead. Because pretty sure a bullet to the head is going to put you down long enough for them to take that big head off your shoulders.”

  “It would, but I am faster than a bullet.”

  “Can you both just stay where you are?” I demanded. “At least—”

  Our back window exploded without warning. Glass shot through the car. Spinning in my seat, I saw the strangest damn thing ever.

  Fabian had Tink pinned down on the seat, covering Tink’s body with his.

  Okay. Fabian had just earned some bonus points, but was Tink hurt?

  “Tink?”

  “I’m doing just dandy,” he called out, voice muffled.

  “Get down, Ivy.” Ren reached for me with one hand, yanking me down so I was flattened on the center console.

  “What about you?” I protested.

  “I’ll be fine.”

  “That’s so—”

  “There’s a gun in the glove compartment.” Ren rubbed my back. “Get it, but stay low.”

  Muttering under my breath, I inched over and yanked open the glove compartment. Reaching inside, I grabbed the Glock. It was heavy in my palm.

  As Order members, we were trained in guns too, but we didn’t use them often, usually preferring the more quiet stab-you-to-death method. “I can shoot.”

  “Give me that.”

  “Screw that,” I hissed. “You’re driving.”

  “I can multi-task.” He pushed down on my back just as my window shattered.

  I gasped as glass pinged off my back. “Ren.”

  His hand fisted the back of my shirt. Tires squealed as he slammed on the brakes again. “I’m fine. Hand me the gun, Ivy.”

  Cursing under my breath, I broke Ren’s hold and popped up in my seat. I whipped toward the broken window, ignoring the crunching glass. Extending my arm, I fired several shots at the sedan spinning out in front of us.

  “Dammit!” Ren shouted, grabbing ahold of my shoulder again, pushing me back down. “Are you out of your mind?”

  “Are you?” I demanded. “You can’t drive and shoot at the same time. You’re not James Bond.”

  “Let him be James Bond,” Tink said from where he was plastered to the seat. “Let him—”

  The back right-side window blew out, pelting Fabian as the shards of glass flew sideways.

  I peered up through the seats, noticing that the sedan was now behind us as we blew past the car Faye was in. Ren cut between the two, leaving the road. The ride turned bumpy as he swerved to the left. I felt the SUV go up on two wheels as we spun out.

  “They’re behind us again,” Fabian advised rather calmly. “I do believe they either intend on shooting us until we die or causing us to crash.”

  Dust poured through the shattered windows. Fabian was right. They were obviously trying to kill all of us.

  Cursing again, I rose as Ren shouted at me. “Stay down!” I yelled at Fabian.

  The fae’s eyes widened as I leveled the gun over his head and pulled the trigger. The sedan behind us suddenly veered to the left, fishtailing until it skidded to a halt yards away.

  “Holy crap,” I whispered. “I think I got the driver.”

  “That’s my girl,” Ren murmured a second before yanking me back down.

  Taking out the driver didn’t stop this. There were probably more people in the car. Faye and crew were trapped, because their cars hadn’t moved. Who knew if they were even alive? We needed to bring out the big guns. And we did have one—one we needed alive at the end of this, but one who could probably unleash the Kraken on these bastards.

  “Stop the car.”

  “What?” Ren demanded.

  I wiggled out from under his hand. “Stop the car!”

  He glanced at me, and who knew what he saw in my face, but he strung together an impressive string of f-bombs before hitting the
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