Brave, p.31
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       Brave, p.31

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

  “I still don’t like him, but if we’re going to stop the Queen, we need him, and we need Fabian.” He squeezed my knees. “But we do have a choice.”

  “How? How do we have any other option?”

  Those stunning emerald eyes met and held mine. “We leave.”

  At first, I didn’t think I heard him right. “What?”

  “We leave, Sweetness. We get the hell out of here, don’t tell anyone what we’re doing, and we get as far away as we can. We can even bring Tink, if he wants to go.” One side of his lips kicked up. “We could travel, see the world before it inevitably goes to shit. We could live. We’ve given years of our lives to the Order, to our duties. We don’t have to give them a second more.”

  My breath caught in my throat as a wild yearning sprung to life deep inside me. Could we do that? We’d be wanted by the Order, but what was left of the Order anyway? So many were dead, and the rest we didn’t even know if we could trust. Would they even come looking for us while the shit hit the fan and splattered everywhere? Probably not. We could live—live normal lives until we had to face what was happening to the world.

  “We have a choice, Ivy.” His gaze didn’t waver. “Whatever you want to do, I am with you. A hundred percent.”

  Air lodged in my throat. It was almost too easy to say yes, because saying yes would be better. I wouldn’t have to worry about Ren getting hurt or dying, because there was no way we were going to face off with the Queen and not lose someone. It was statistically impossible. I could make Tink leave with us. We’d be safe and happy, at least for a little while.

  If I closed my eyes, I could almost see us—the three us traveling the world, visiting places we’d never get the chance to. We wouldn’t worry about stopping the Queen or if we could trust the Prince. Like Ren had said, we would live as long as we could.

  But I . . . I couldn’t say yes.

  The word wouldn’t even form on the tip of my tongue. It wasn’t about duty. It wasn’t even about living normal lives. I didn’t have it in me to walk away when I knew what was happening—what was going to happen, and I knew Ren would only do that for me, if I chose to walk away.

  “I can’t,” I whispered. “I can’t walk away. I’m sorry.”

  “I didn’t think you would.” Rising halfway, he cupped my cheeks. “You’re too brave to run and hide, but we have that choice and we’re making the choice to stay and fight and kick ass.”

  “Yeah, we are.”

  Chapter 33

  We arrived in New Orleans early Wednesday morning, having drove straight through, only stopping for gas and to grab a quick bite to eat. I didn’t know how I fell asleep in that car, sitting between Miles and Ren, but I had with half my upper body in Ren’s lap. He’d fallen asleep too, with his head against the window and his hand on my hip. When I woke up, I found Tink twisted around in his seat, staring at me.

  “Hi,” he whispered.

  “Hey.” I sat up, waking Ren as I rubbed a hand over my face. “Were you watching me sleep?”

  “Maybe.”

  Ren lifted his arm away from me as he stretched out his neck. “You’re such a freak.”

  “I am.” Tink grinned. “We’re here, by the way. Just pulling up now.”

  I glanced over at Miles and saw that he was staring at what appeared to be an abandoned building.

  “They told me this was a powerful glamour,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I can’t believe this has been here this whole time and I had no idea.”

  “Kind of how I felt.” I yawned. “Just wait until you see the inside.”

  The SUV stopped and the doors swung open. Fabian turned toward Miles before he climbed out. “You’re being trusted with something very few people have. You betray the fae here, and I will personally make it so that you wish you were dead.”

  Miles held Fabian’s gaze. “I have no desire to betray these fae if they are what you say they are.”

  “You will see that I have not lied.”

  I resisted the urge to point out that he may not be lying about this place, but the fae here were still liar-mc-liar-faces.

  Fabian studied Miles for a moment and then stepped out of the SUV. Getting out of the car and sitting after so many hours was painful as all get out as I walked the cramps in my muscles off.

  The glamour of the building was still intact as the rusted-over door opened. We hurried inside, out of the dark night. Miles had the same expression on his face that I did the first time I saw the power of the glamour fade away, revealing the luxurious hotel inside.

  “Jesus,” he muttered, rubbing a hand on his face as he took in the grand lobby.

  “It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” I turned to him. “And you had no idea that the fae worked with the Order at one time?”

  “I’d heard the stories, but I thought they were rumors. I didn’t believe there were fae that didn’t feed. Just didn’t think it . . .” He trailed off as he watched Tanner approach us.

  And I knew why he had been struck silent. Tanner was living and walking proof of a fae who didn’t feed. Behind him was Brighton and her mother.

  “Merle?” Miles lowered his hand as he stared at the woman.

  “You look like a ghost done walked over your grave.” Merle lifted her brows, and her daughter seemed to take a deep breath. Brighton’s hair was down, and it was probably the first time I’d seen her wear it like that. It fell in soft waves and loose curls, reaching the middle of her back. She gave Ren and I a little smile.

  Miles gaped at her. “You knew about this?”

  “She has known for some time.” Tanner stopped in front of Miles, extending a hand. “I am Tanner.”

  “Miles.” A moment passed and then he shook Tanner’s hand. “Uh, nice to meet you.”

  Tanner started to respond, but his gaze flicked behind us. He dropped Miles’ hand and stepped back. “Fabian? Is this . . . ?”

  “Yes.” Fabian stood beside Tink. “This is my brother.”

  Tanner paled as he stepped around Kalen and Faye, his eyes wide and full of wonder. “Our King.”

  “King?” Ren looked down at me, and I shrugged.

  The Prince showed no response as Tanner bowed in front of him. “It is an honor,” Tanner said. I was waiting for him to kiss the Prince’s hand.

  “This is weird,” I whispered to Ren.

  “Everything is weird.”

  The Prince glanced at us and then spoke. “We should begin to plan.”

  “Of course.” Tanner straightened. “Please come this way. We have refreshments set up.”

  I arched a brow as Tanner spun on his heel.

  Merle eyed the Prince with distaste and a hefty dose of distrust. “An enchantment,” she muttered. “How cliché.”

  The Prince’s cool gaze flickered over her. “Agreed.”

  Merle frowned as she eyed him.

  Following Tanner, the Prince passed Brighton. I only knew he’d looked in her direction based on how wide her eyes grew and how she stepped back, bumping into the wall.

  Poor Brighton.

  We all ended up in one of the large meeting rooms, and there were refreshments. Coffee. Juice. Bagels. Fruit. An entire damn buffet of cold cuts.

  I didn’t get that treatment when I showed up.

  Whatever.

  Plopping down on the couch, I stretched my legs out and leaned into the thick cushion. “So, you know what’s going on?” I asked as Tink sat down on the arm beside me.

  Tanner nodded as he sat in the chair across from us. “I am most sorry to hear about the betrayal of your leader.”

  Biting down on my lip, I breathed through that sting. “So were we.”

  Ren sat next to me, his leg pressing against mine. “And we were also sorry to hear that you knew that Ivy would be trapped in the Otherworld if she completed the ritual.”

  Tanner’s cheekbones deepened in color. “As I am sure Faye explained, we hoped to find a way around that.”

  “Sure,” I muttered. It wasn
t that I didn’t believe them. I just didn’t believe there was a way, and they probably knew that deep down. I was the living embodiment of sacrifice the few to the save the many. I could understand that. Didn’t mean I was okay with it.

  “Doesn’t matter now, does it?” Merle said, turning with a cup of coffee in her hands. I looked around, not seeing Brighton. “Our Prince isn’t interested in putting a seed in your belly any longer.”

  I groaned, sinking further into the couch as Tink laughed under his breath. Ren, however, didn’t find the comment nearly as amusing.

  Neither did the Prince. “No. Instead, we have a powerful Queen that will be close to impossible to kill and we don’t nearly have enough time to plan and prepare for her attempt to open the gateway.”

  Merle smiled at the Prince. “Ah yes, that is a problem, but not nearly as bad as all the gateways springing open all at once.”

  Ren sighed. “Both sound pretty terrible. We all can agree on that. When do you think she will arrive here?”

  The Prince did not sit or eat. He stood behind the chair Fabian sat in, arms folded. “She will most likely make it here by late tonight. She will not waste time, not when she knows that she will face both Fabian and I.”

  I exhaled roughly. “So, we have what? Twelve hours, give or take a few?”

  “That would be correct. It won’t be long.”

  Ren stood. “Then we need to get ready. Rest up as much as we can. All of us.”

  “And then what?” Tink asked.

  “I’ll see who is still left in the Order that we can trust,” Miles spoke from where he stood by the buffet of food no one was touching. “I’m hoping there are some that are left.”

  I remembered the look on Dylan’s face when Val betrayed us. I hoped he hadn’t crossed over to the evil side, but I didn’t even know if he was still alive. Or if Jackie was or any of the other Order members I’d known.

  “You will have our most skilled warriors,” Tanner said. “Some are already at the gateway. She has not showed yet, but they are there and they are ready.”

  “And you have me,” Tink chimed in.

  I opened my mouth, but Fabian beat me to it. “You must stay behind.”

  My brows lifted. “For once, I agree with you.”

  Tink shot from the arm of the couch. “This is bullshit. I can help.”

  “I know you can, but if the Queen was to somehow get a hold of you and was able to control you, there would be no hope.” Fabian rose. “We need you to stay as far away from her as possible. We also need you here. That is how you help us.”

  “You know I can help. You know how strong and powerful I am.” Tink’s jaw was as hard as granite, but for once I kept my mouth shut.

  “The Queen was able to control me because I had been wounded in battle. I was weakened and she took full advantage of that.” The Prince’s voice was heavy as he spoke. “And because of that, I became a monster. She would do the same to you. She knows what it would mean to have a brownie under her control. We cannot risk that. You cannot.”

  Folding his arms, Tink fell silent.

  “Tink,” I called out, leaning forward.

  He didn’t move for a moment and then he turned to me. “I know you want me to stay back.”

  “I do. We need you to.” I met his angry stare. “Because if we fail, we need someone to protect the fae here. They will be the only thing left between the Queen and her destroying the world with her army. You will be our last hope.”

  Tink stared at me. “Like Obi-Wan?”

  My lips twitched. “Yeah, like him.”

  Tanner twisted in his chair so he could see Tink. “You will defend us. We need you here.”

  His chest puffed up. “I . . . I will do that. I will make sure nothing happens to those here.” He shot to my side and kneeled so we were at eye level. “But you will come back. All of you.” He curled his lip in Ren’s direction. “Even him.”

  “We will,” I said, making a promise I was going to do every damn thing in my ability to keep. “We will come back.”

  I closed the door behind us and leaned against it as Ren walked over to the dresser, unhooking the daggers along his hip. I was quiet as I watched him, but my heart was pounding.

  I loved this man.

  I loved him because he chased when I ran. I loved him because he never gave up on me, not when I was being held captive and not when I’d closed myself off, shutting everyone out. I loved him because he was a good man, and if I wanted to say screw all of this and leave right now, he’d be right there with me. I loved him because I knew that he would be standing next to me later, ready to fight by my side.

  I just loved him.

  When he finished unloading what would have been an alarming number of weapons to anyone else, he turned to me.

  We needed to sleep the entire day.

  We had to, because we needed to be well-rested and then some for what we were going to face tonight.

  Neither of us spoke as our gazes collided and connected. There were no words. There didn’t need to be. Intent filled those moss-green eyes. My breath caught as raw emotion swelled in my throat. Pushing away from the door, I walked over to him.

  Ren gripped my hips, lifting me clean off the floor. I wrapped my legs around his lean waist. His strong hands gripped my rear as he brought my lips to his. There was a wild, out-of-control quality to the way he kissed me. It was needy and demanding, breathtaking and desperate as he rocked me against his hips. I moaned into his kiss as I grabbed at his shirt, wanting it off and wanting it off now.

  Ren put me down, bending slightly as I pulled his shirt off. I went for his pants, and he helped, kicking off his shoes and shucking off his pants and briefs in record time.

  “Naked,” he growled. “Now.”

  I shuddered and then did as he ordered, stripping out of my clothes. He grew impatient, helping with the shoes and pants, and within minutes, I was naked and on my back, and Ren’s mouth was moving over mine once more. His hard length rocked against me, and I clutched his shoulders, moaning as he nipped at my chin and the side of my neck.

  What we did in those moments . . .

  It was fast and hard and beautiful. He was over me and then inside me. I arched against him, throbbing and aching as he took complete control. Lust and something far more powerful consumed me as his hips moved against mine, deep and slow at first.

  His restraint broke and he began to thrust deeper, harder, and I’d never felt fuller, more desperate for more as our bodies moved frantically. Each deep, hard plunge drove up the intensity until it was at a feverish pace. My legs tightened around him, and then that exquisite feeling deep within me coiled and coiled. My head spun as he moved faster, grinding his hips against mine as he gripped my chin, keeping my mouth with his.

  And then I broke apart, shattering into a million little pieces as I cried into his kiss. Thrown so high by the tight, mind-numbing waves of pleasure, I didn’t think I could take any more, but I did. Over and over as he rose onto his knees and lifted me up, driving into me with such reckless abandon that I thought I would die. Snaking an arm around my waist, he lifted me onto my knees and into his lips. He thrust once more as his arms folded around me, sealing my body to his as he came, his large body shuddering.

  My muscles were limp and useless by the time he lowered me down so I was half spread across his chest, and then neither of us moved for a long time as we struggled to get our breathing under control.

  It was me who broke the silence. “That was . . .”

  His chest rose with a heavy breath. “I know.”

  I kissed the slick skin of his chest as I let my eyes drift shut, snuggling close to him.

  “Ivy?”

  “Mmm?”

  “Tonight—once the Queen is gone? I want to go back to my place. I want us to sleep in my bed. I want to wake up tomorrow in my bed
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