Brave, p.34
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       Brave, p.34

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

  was ready to be awake.

  Squeezing my eyes shut, I shifted my hips as a wave of unrest swept over me. The arm around my waist tightened, drawing me back against a hard, warm chest. “You should still be asleep,” Ren’s deep voice rumbled against the skin of my neck.

  Reaching down to where his hand rested on my stomach, I threaded my fingers through his. “Shouldn’t you be asleep, too?”

  “You’re awake.” He kissed the side of my neck. “So, I’m awake.”

  Sometimes I wondered if he had an internal Ivy alarm system and if he charged himself a monthly fee for it. I squeezed his hand in return. There was a beat of silence and then he tugged me onto my back, and I found myself staring into sleepy, beautiful green eyes.

  Curly brown hair fell forward, brushing against his eyebrows as he rose onto his elbow above me. “I’m not going to ask if you’re okay.” He swept back a strand of my hair as his gaze searched mine. “Just don’t bottle all of this up. A lot has happened, and even though we may have years before we face the Queen again, a lot is still going to happen.”

  I swallowed razor blades of emotions and whispered, “I promised I wouldn’t.”

  Ren waited as he stared down at me.

  Drawing in a shaky breath, I exhaled slowly. “Do you think we really have years before the Queen comes back?”

  The tips of Ren’s fingers trailed across my cheek, avoiding the deep, purplish bruises and raw cuts that had appeared overnight. “Based on what they said, we have no reason to believe that isn’t the case.”

  “True,” I murmured. “But what if they’re wrong?”

  “What if they’re not?” He dragged his thumb under my lip. “What if we have years to live and to make sure we’re ready when she comes back? Years, Sweetness. That’s a long time. That’s a lot of living.”

  A bit of the knot resting in the pit of my stomach loosened. It didn’t go away completely, but it made it easier to breathe. Ren was right. There was no reason that the brothers were wrong. We could have years. “It’s over,” I said, because I felt like I needed to say it. “It’s over for now.”

  Ren dropped a quick kiss on the tip of my nose. “Yes, it’s over for now.”

  I closed my eyes, letting that really sink in. It still didn’t seem real. That we weren’t living second to second, day to day.

  He kissed my forehead. “You’re going to worry about this, but it’ll get easier.” This time he kissed the corner of my lips and then sighed heavily. “But you already know that.”

  I did.

  Moving on past the fact that the Queen could and most likely would come back wasn’t going to be easy. But I couldn’t live in fear. A healthy amount of dread was one thing, but we . . .

  We really didn’t fail last night.

  I opened my eyes. “When she does come back, we’re going to be ready to kill that bitch.”

  Ren grinned. “It’s so hot when you talk about killing evil fae.”

  A laugh escaped me, and for the first time in a long time, I let myself really look ahead. I practically had an entire life ahead of me—an entire life with Ren. Of course, we still had our duty. Either of us could die on our next patrol, but with the help of the Summer Court, it wasn’t just the Order anymore.

  We could have a future.

  It may be rough from time to time. Even though I hadn’t had a craving since we left California, I knew that it could come back, but if it did, I would deal with it. We had a future—one I wanted to start right now—a hopeful, bright future.

  I lifted my chin, and without words, Ren obliged what I was silently seeking. Ren kissed me, and it was deep and consuming and beautiful in all the ways that brought tears to my eyes. Everything Ren felt for me was in that kiss, in every kiss, and when he pulled the blanket out from between us, he slipped over me and slid inside me.

  The way our bodies joined was nothing like the night before when we returned to Ren’s place and immediately raced to the shower, washing off all of the blood. That had been fast and hard, as if it had been the only way to prove that we were still alive—that at the end of it all, we still had each other. This was different. Ren moved painstakingly slow, like it had been the first time for us.

  Ren’s mouth never left mine. Not as we moved together, our hips pushing and pulling apart. Not once as his hands stayed wrapped around mine, holding them down on either side of my head. Not even as I curled my legs around his waist, taking him as far as we could go. We kissed as if we were drinking from one another, taking sips and then gulping.

  There was no room for words. No space left for them as the pace of our hips picked up. There were only soft moans and deeper groans in the brief seconds our mouths were parted. Sweat dampened our bodies, glistened on our skin. Every muscle in my body seemed to tighten and unclench in never-ending waves.

  This was . . . this was making love—sweet and steady and soul-scorching. The way he dragged out every kiss, every thrust, absolutely destroyed me in the best possible ways. I never felt closer to Ren, more in love than I did right then.

  Ren broke the kiss when he came, speaking my name against my lips in this deep, guttural way that curled my toes and sent me tumbling over the edge into bliss. Tight shivers washed over me. The release flowing throughout my body blew nearly every thought out of my mind, leaving room only for the rolling pleasure.

  When it was all over, only when our hearts began to finally slow and I lay curled in his arms, my cheek resting on his chest, did either of us speak.

  “What do we do now?” Ren asked as his hand trailed lazily up and down my spine.

  That was a loaded question because I knew he wasn’t asking about what we were going to do after having mind-blowing sex. He was thinking bigger, long-term. “I don’t know,” I said after a moment. “I think . . . I think I would want to go back to school.”

  “Yeah?” His fingers tangled in my hair before slipping free.

  I took a shallow breath. “I’ve missed spring registration, but I could start in the summer or the fall.”

  “I think that’s a good idea.”

  Excitement blossomed in the center of my chest, unfurling like a rose blooming for the first time. I looked different, but not enough that the mortals would really notice anything. I could easily be in the public. No biggie. “I really would like that.”

  “I can come visit you on campus,” he suggested. “You know, just to be distracting.”

  “That’s really helpful.”

  “I try to be.”

  Grinning, I trailed my fingers over the taut planes of his stomach. “What about you?”

  He didn’t even take a second to answer. “Whatever you want to do, where you want to be, that’s what I’ll do—that’s where I’ll be.”

  “Really?” I lifted my chin so I could see his face.

  “Really,” he repeated. “I thought maybe we could take a vacation, though. I think we earned it.”

  There was no stopping the smile racing across my face. “A vacation would be awesome.”

  Those beautiful green eyes were bright. “Where do you want to go?”

  “Somewhere cold,” I answered immediately. “Somewhere where there will be snow and we can make snowmen and drink hot chocolate and . . . have sex in front of a crackling fireplace.”

  “I think I know of a few good places back home,” he replied. “And I am really loving your idea of a vacation.”

  “It was the sex part, wasn’t it?”

  “Possibly.”

  I laughed as I settled back down against him. As I lay there, surprise filled me as the realization hit me that there was going to be tomorrow, a week, a month, years to fill up. For some reason, it hadn’t struck me until this very moment that we were going to have a real future, barring we didn’t get, you know, killed on the job or run over by a speeding trolley. “I guess we really can do that now?”

  “Do what?”

  “Plan. We can really plan.” I bit down on my lip. “For a while ther
e, I really didn’t think there was going to be a future. You know? I just kind of stopped thinking about . . . tomorrow.”

  Ren’s hand stilled for a beat and then started moving again. He fell quiet.

  “What?” I lifted my head, meeting his gaze.

  “You wanted me to let go.”

  “Ren—”

  “You wanted me to let go and if I had you would’ve been gone.”

  “I didn’t want you to be dragged into the Otherworld with me, Ren. You’re angry about that?”

  An incredulous look filled his green eyes. “There’s a part of me that’s pissed about that. Probably going to be a part of me pissed off that you were willing to throw your life away—”

  “I wasn’t willing to throw my life away.” I sat up. “It happened so fast, and I realized that you were going to get sucked in, and I—”

  “To save me. I know. I understand that.” His hand fell to my bare hip. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” His gaze dropped. “But I like this right now.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Stop checking out my breasts.”

  He arched a brow as he slowly moved his gaze to mine. “Are you seriously telling me not to do that? Do you even know me?”

  A reluctant laugh escaped me.

  “They’re too distracting, Ivy.” He brushed his fingers over one breast, causing me to suck in a sharp breath. “They’re beautiful and they look so lonely right now. Beautiful breasts should never be lonely.”

  I smacked his hand away.

  A playful grin filled out his lush mouth and then faded away as if it had never been there. His hand fell to his chest, to rest above his heart. “The idea of losing you scares the shit out of me, Ivy. That shock and anger I felt—the shock and anger I still feel and probably always will to some extent was fueled by the terror of knowing you could’ve been trapped over there, with the Queen and God knows what.”

  A shudder worked its way through me. The mere thought of being trapped in the Otherworld with the Queen, even a severely wounded Queen, was horrifying because I knew from experience what that would’ve entailed.

  It wouldn’t have been pretty.

  “We’ve been through a lot,” I whispered. “We both have a lot to deal with.”

  “Yeah. We do.”

  And I knew that for years to come I’d still have nightmares. Maybe I would until the day I died. I’d still wake from sleep, full of panic that I was back there, with a chain around my neck, or that I was seconds away from being trapped in the Otherworld. Like grief, that kind of terror wasn’t going to go away easily.

  I swallowed against the sudden knot in my throat, and he folded one arm behind his head as he stared up at me. “I want you to know I’m not holding that against you. It’s not like that. For real.”

  I knew he wasn’t. That wasn’t his style. “I don’t want you to feel that way anymore.”

  “And I don’t. I really don’t.” He briefly closed his eyes. “It’s just . . . when I think about what could’ve happened—what almost did—it’s a jolt to the system. It takes me back to that very second, but it doesn’t hold me there long.”

  Tucking my hair over one shoulder, I placed my hand on his hard stomach. “I get it. I do. Like I said before, if it had been you asking me to let go, I would’ve been pissed.”

  “You would have straight-up punched me in my nuts.”

  A grin tugged at my lips. I would’ve. I would’ve done it until he couldn’t walk his fine ass into the Otherworld.

  The hand on my hip moved to my back. With the slightest pressure, he brought me back to his chest, to where I was lying before. He kissed the top of my head. “And like I said before, I get why you thought that was what needed to happen. I hate saying that, but I get it.”

  I pressed my lips to his chest and then threw my arm over his waist, squeezing him so tightly that he laughed.

  “God,” he grunted. “You’re unnecessarily strong.”

  Giggling, I squeezed him again, but this time not as hard.

  A few moments passed and then Ren said, “I know I’ve told you this before, but I need to say it again. Especially now.”

  “You think my breasts still look lonely?”

  Ren laughed. “Believe it or not, that wasn’t the direction I was going in.”

  “Well, that’s a shocker.”

  “I know.” He sat up then, bringing me with him, my hair tumbling over my shoulders, and then we were face to face. For a moment, like I did every so often, I got a little lost staring into those beautiful eyes. “I was scared out of my mind when I thought I was going to lose you, but I was also so fucking blown away by you.”

  I blinked. “What?”

  His eyes searched mine as he reached between us, catching the strands of my hair and tucking them back. “You went after her with that icicle, knowing how dangerous that was. Yet you did it anyway.”

  “You would’ve done the same thing,” I reasoned.

  “That’s not the point.” Ren cupped my cheek. “You made such a selfless choice. Part of me wants to keep you locked away and preferably chained to a bed because of it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more awed or impressed by anyone in my life.”

  Warmth started to invade my cheeks and spread down my throat.

  Ren’s hand slipped and curled around the nape of my neck. “I love you, Ivy. I think you’re beautiful and sexy as hell. You’re funny and so damn intelligent that sometimes I don’t feel worthy.”

  “Ren,” I whispered, my eyes filling with tears as I placed my hand on his chest.

  “And I admire the fuck out of you,” Ren continued, his voice thickening. “You are so many amazing things, Ivy, but most of all, you are so damn brave.”

  Brave.

  That word again.

  A word that meant so much to me, and I knew Ren was right. He was proud of me, but better yet, I was proud of myself—of what I would’ve been willing to do and what I had done.

  I smiled as I leaned in, pressing my forehead against his. I was brave, and I had my entire life to be brave. “I love you,” I whispered.

  Ren’s lips curved into a grin against mine. “Prove it.”

 
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