Brave, p.24
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       Brave, p.24

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

  Ren touched my cheek, drawing my attention. His gaze searched mine. “You got this.”

  “I do.” I tried to smile, but it felt weird. “Daniel’s like . . .”

  “What?”

  I gave a little shake of my head. “He’s like a father to me. I know that sounds stupid—”

  “It doesn’t.” He smoothed his thumb over my cheek. “Not at all.”

  The smile came easier this time. “It’s just that when Kyle said that Daniel didn’t believe that I’d betrayed the Order, it really meant something to me, but what if he does think that? I mean, Daniel can be a big prick, but it would be . . . it would hurt.”

  Ren leaned toward me, kissing the center of my forehead. “I wish I could say something that would make it better if that’s the case, but there isn’t anything I can say except if he thinks that about you then he doesn’t know you at all.”

  Shifting my head, I kissed his lips, and when I pulled back, I had to swallow the sudden knot in my throat. “I need to call him.”

  “You do.”

  And that’s what I did. Punching in his number, I hit the speaker button and then waited. It rang once, twice, and by the fourth ring, I started to worry that he wasn’t going to answer.

  But then he did, on the fifth ring. “What?”

  My stomach dropped as I stared at the phone. That was definitely Daniel. Only he would answer an unknown number like that.

  I glanced at Ren, and he nodded.

  “Daniel?” I said, wincing when my voice cracked. “It’s Ivy.”

  My introduction was met with a long beat of silence and then, “You’re alive.”

  I blinked. “Yeah, I am. So is Ren.”

  “You gonna tell me where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing?” he asked.

  “I want to. That’s why I’m calling you. Hoping you’re where I am.”

  “And where is that?”

  “San Diego.” The phone was going to crack from how tight I was clutching it.

  There was another stretch of silence. “Funny. That’s where I am.”

  Well, at least that was good news. I guessed. “I know you probably don’t trust me, because God only knows what you think, but I didn’t betray the Order. I’m here to stop the Prince. So is Ren.”

  “You don’t know what I’m thinking. That’s probably a good thing, but you better start talking and telling me where in the hell you’ve been.” Daniel paused. “I’m figuring there’s a lot of things you need to tell me, girl.”

  There were a lot of things that I needed to tell him, but I started with the most obvious. “I’m the Halfling.”

  Daniel was quiet.

  “You probably already know that,” I continued, a little breathless. “But I didn’t know, not until the Prince came—well, I actually figured it out right before that. I cut myself with the thorn stake, but I didn’t know until then. I had no idea. Neither did Ren.”

  I closed my eyes, hating to say what I had to. “The Prince kidnapped Ren and then me. He held me for a while, but I escaped—we escaped. And if you followed the Prince here then you have to know he didn’t get what he wanted from me.”

  “Maybe I know that.” There was a pause. “Maybe not.”

  Instinct told me that Daniel knew that the Prince was after another Halfling. “I want to meet with you—just Ren and I. We need to talk.”

  “That we do.”

  “And by talk I mean we don’t want to walk into a trap, Daniel. We’re on the same side.”

  “Why would you think there’d be a trap?”

  “Oh, I don’t know.” I opened my eyes and stared at the leafy palms moving in the breeze. “Maybe because an entire convoy of Order and Elite members tried to kill us in Arizona.”

  “What?” he exclaimed.

  I looked at Ren, unsure if his reaction was genuine. That was when Ren spoke up. “You didn’t know about that, Daniel?”

  “Well, hello, Mr. Owens. Glad to know I’m on a speaker. Anyone else there that wants to say hi?”

  “No one else is with us right now,” I stressed that last part. “But we didn’t come alone. We came with backup.”

  “For what?”

  “To take out the Prince, what the hell else?”

  “Girl, you and that tone. Watch it,” Daniel warned.

  For some reason, the scolding made me grin, because it was so . . . so Daniel. “Sorry.”

  There was a heavy sigh on the other end. “I didn’t know about the Arizona thing. I’m guessing that was Kyle. And I’m guessing that’s why I haven’t heard from him.”

  I could feel Ren’s stare on me. “We want to meet and talk.”

  “Why should I think this isn’t a trap on your end?”

  “Because if I was working for the Prince, I wouldn’t be worried about trapping the Order. I’d be pregnant and staying as far away from you people as possible.”

  “You people?” He barked out a laugh. “Thought you were one of us?”

  “I will always be a part of the Order, but I figured after everything, that wasn’t an option anymore,” I admitted. “We’re on the same side, Daniel. It doesn’t matter that I’m a halfling. That, I swear.”

  Daniel was quiet for so long that I started to worry that he’d hung up, but then he said, “Fine. We’ll meet at eleven tonight, down in the Gaslamp Quarter, across from the Convention Center. I’ll be by the sign.”

  He hung up then, and I stared at the phone for several seconds before I spoke. “Well, I guess that went okay?”

  The house in Del Mar wasn’t really a house.

  It was a freaking mansion—a sandstone, palatial mansion that sat on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, smack dab in the Torrey Pines State Reserve.

  I’d never seen anything like it. Ever.

  “Why don’t we live in something like this?” Tink asked, lugging his suitcase up the wide steps.

  Before I could answer, Fabian was by Tink’s side. “Where I live, it would put this place to shame.”

  Tink’s eyes widened. “Do you have Amazon Prime?”

  “Of course.” Fabian smiled.

  Tink looked over at me. “I’m moving.”

  “Uh-huh,” I murmured, way too distracted by the house and the upcoming meeting.

  Faye was up ahead, opening the double doors. The inside was just as stunning. A large atrium and an elegant spiral staircase greeted us.

  “I’m calling dibs on the bedroom!” Tink raced past us, carrying his luggage against his chest. His Wonder Woman backpack thumped off his side.

  “Is he always like that?” Fabian asked, staring up at where Tink was already disappearing down the hall.

  Kalen snorted as he walked by with his black duffel bag in hand. It was the first noise he’d made since we’d gotten in the car.

  “Pretty much,” I said to the Summer Prince.

  “I like it.” He tilted his head to the side. “His thirst for life is . . . infectious.”

  “You call it a thirst for life, I call it a hyperactivity disorder.” Ren stepped in, carrying our bags.

  Fabian lifted a shoulder in response.

  I eyed him closely. “Are you into Tink—like, really into him?”

  The Summer Prince twisted at the waist, facing me. “If you are worried that I will somehow harm or hurt him, you have nothing to fear.”

  That wasn’t exactly the answer I was looking for. “Tink is like a brother to me—a really weird, often annoying, brother. I know you said you won’t hurt him, but if you do, I will find a way to end you. And it won’t be pleasant.”

  Fabian grinned. “Oddly, I am starting to like you.”

  I frowned, thinking that was a weird response. “All righty then.”

  Ren was smiling when I turned to him. I had no idea what to say about Fabian, who was climbing the staircase, in search of a room or Tink or both.

  Walking over to us, Faye worked a key off the ring and handed it over to me. “You have a few hours before you have to leave fo
r your meeting.”

  Ren nodded. “I need a shower and a power nap.”

  “I still don’t like the idea of you guys going there by yourselves,” Faye said, crossing her arms. “I don’t like it at all.”

  “We’re not going by ourselves,” I reminded her. “You and Kalen are going to come, but you’re not going to be seen.”

  Ren and I were not foolish enough to go without any backup. Just like I knew Daniel wouldn’t.

  “I know, but not being seen means we may not have a lot of time to react,” she argued.

  Kalen joined us, his eyes shadowed. “If any Order member even looks at you two in a way I don’t like, they’re done for.”

  “Well, Daniel is probably going to look at me in a way you don’t like. He looks at everyone in a bad kind of way,” I explained. “I really don’t think Daniel is going to do anything.”

  At least, I hoped not.

  “He better not,” Kalen said.

  Maybe Kalen should stay behind, but he’d pivoted around and stalked off, disappearing into the massive house.

  “You think he’s going to be okay with this?” Ren asked, thinking along the same lines as me. “This is going to be risky enough without either side jumping the gun.”

  Faye sighed as she pushed her hair back from her face. “He will be.”

  “He was really close to Dane, wasn’t he?” I asked.

  She nodded. “He was, but we . . . we all knew what we were signing up for when we left.” She lifted her chin, but her lower lip trembled. “There is no greater honor than dying for what is right, for the Summer Court, and for mankind.” Her voice cracked a little. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”

  “Yeah,” I whispered, wishing there was more I could say.

  Ren nudged me with his arm. “Let’s go find a room.”

  That’s what we did, and it was a nice room at the end of the hall on the second floor. One whole wall was glass and faced the ocean. In an hour, the sun would set over the ocean, and I . . . I wanted to see that.

  I needed to see that.

  “Wow.” Ren dropped our bags on the bench in front of the bed. “This room is insane—the house is insane.”

  “It is.” My gaze got snagged on the huge king size bed. “Do you think Tanner knows who lives here?”

  “I would have to think so. I mean, renting a place like this would cost a fortune.” Ren eyed the huge TV mounted directly across from the bed. “Did Fabian say he had a place like this? I might try to move in with him, too.”

  “Shut up.” I actually missed my apartment. Tink had told me the rent had been paid, so my place was still there. Thank God.

  “I’m going to hop in the shower.” Ren grinned. “Want to join me?”

  I’d love nothing more than to do that, but my head was in way too many places. “I think I’m going to check out the beach.”

  One side of his lips kicked up. “I’ll miss you.”

  I laughed. “Well, at least I won’t be hogging all the water.”

  “True.” He extended a hand toward me. “Come here for a sec.”

  I went to him, putting my hand into his. He pulled me to his chest, folding his arms around me as he held me tight to his chest. Ren didn’t say anything as he tilted his head down and I lifted mine up. He didn’t need to. Everything he felt was in that kiss, and it was probably a good thing that I wasn’t joining him for the shower, because he would definitely not be getting any rest afterward.

  “I won’t be long,” I promised him.

  He brushed his lips over my forehead. “Be careful.”

  “Always.”

  Leaving the room, I backtracked my way downstairs and managed to find the back door that led out onto a veranda . . . that led to a massive pool. Like bigger than the one at Hotel Good Fae.

  My cheeks flushed, because I immediately thought about what Ren and I had done in that pool.

  I was probably never going to be able to look at a pool the same again.

  Reaching the end of the patio, I saw the path that led down to the beach. I toed my boots and socks off and then rolled up my pant legs. It didn’t take very long to make my way down the steep trail. I stopped, exhaling roughly as my toes sank into the cool sand.

  The temps were chillier than I expected and it probably had to do with the Winter Prince being here, but the golden tipped waves and sand were still absolutely beautiful.

  I walked out across the beach, nearing the lapping shoreline as I reached up and tugged my hair down, letting the wind sift through the curls.

  The cool water teased my toes, and for a moment, I let my head empty of all the stresses, the worries, and the fears. I didn’t want to think about or feel anything other than what I was witnessing.

  The water turned a fiery orange as the sun kissed the ocean. There was a moment where it looked like the world was about to be set ablaze, where the water and sky was a stunning array of reds and blues, and then the sun was gone, slipping far beyond where the eye could see.

  The breath I took was shaky and the back of my eyes burned. I never thought I’d see the sun set on the Pacific Coast, and it was truly a sight.

  I stepped back, making my way until I was sure the waves wouldn’t touch me, and then I sat down in the sand, mindful of the daggers still attached to my thighs.

  I had no idea how much time had passed as I sat there, but stars blanketed the sky and it was so quiet, so peaceful with the only sound the crashing waves and distant traffic.

  Tonight could go well. Daniel could believe us, and together we could find the Prince, hopefully stopping him before he got ahold of the Halfling, and then we would either kill Drake or send him back to the Otherworld. Or tonight could go extraordinarily bad. Ren and I could be walking into a trap, one that no matter how fast Kalen and Faye moved, they wouldn’t be able to stop.

  But tonight had to happen.

  A sharp swirl of tingles danced along the nape of my neck. I twisted at the waist, not surprised to see Ren’s tall form making his way across the sand.

  “You should be resting.”

  “I was.” He neared me. “For about fifteen minutes, and then I looked out the windows and saw you sitting out here.”

  I’d forgotten there was a view from the bedroom. “Ren, we have a long night ahead of us. I got to sleep on and off on the road.”

  “I know.” He sat behind me, spreading his legs on either side of me. Circling his arms around my waist, he pulled me back against his chest. “When I saw you out here, I thought to myself, I could leave her alone, but then I was like, I don’t want to.”

  I laughed as I relaxed into his embrace.

  Ren was quiet for a few moments. “It’s beautiful out here.”

  “It is. You should’ve seen the sun set. It was . . . amazing.”

  “Would you live out here?”

  I started to respond like I would’ve a handful of months ago, but I realized that mine, that our, circumstances weren’t the same. “I really like New Orleans, but there’s something about this that’s just as good. I could live out here.”

  “Me too,” he replied. “Then again, I’d be willing to live wherever you went, even if it was Alaska.”

  “Really? Alaska?”

  “Even Alaska.”

 
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