Brave, p.7
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       Brave, p.7

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

  “And I’m still traumatized by the fact you were about to become a live-action porno right in front of me.” Tink stepped into the room. “I forgot how that happens after—”

  “I don’t feel good,” I whispered as my stomach cramped. I placed my hand against it, drawing in a shallow breath.

  “To be honest, you don’t look good.”

  I tried to step to the side, but my legs gave out. Tink moved quick as lightning, catching me. Somehow we ended up on the floor, Tink holding on to my chin. His eyes were wide with worry.

  “Ivy, what’s wrong?” he asked.

  Everything was wrong.

  The numbness in my skin spread, seeping into my bones and organs. “I can’t . . . I can’t feel myself.”

  His brows knitted. “That doesn’t make sense.”

  “I can’t—” The numbness suddenly turned on me. It started as a humming feeling, but then it began to burn. “My skin—it hurts.”

  Tink stared, and I thought I saw understanding creeping into his face, but the burn intensified. I lifted my hand, half expecting to see it on fire as a scream burst out of me.

  “Shit,” Tink muttered. “Shit. Shit.”

  My entire body jerked against his as the fire spread all over my skin, starting from the base of my spine and rolling down my legs, then up my torso and over my arms. Screaming, my muscles turned rigid as my back bowed.

  “Ivy.” A weak, rough voice broke through the haze of pain.

  Wide eyed, my gaze swung to the right. Ren was sliding off the table. He took one step but fell to his knees, crawling the rest of the distance. His shadowed eyes widened with surprise. “Ivy—”

  Pain I’d never experienced or knew was possible consumed every part of my body. I jerked away from Tink, but he caught me around the waist as Ren grabbed the sides of my face. His lips were moving, but I couldn’t hear a single thing he was saying. Nothing made sense beyond the way my body was tearing itself apart from the inside.

  A screeching noise erupted from me, the kind that would’ve normally raised the hairs all over my body, because it sounded so fae-like. The stiffness went out of me and I curled my legs up, panting as some of the burn eased off.

  Then, just as I thought it was over, the most intense craving exploded in my gut. It was almost as bad as the fire. My gaze moved from Tink to Ren.

  Need filled me.

  Baring my teeth, I jerked toward him, but Tink caught me as Ren fell back on his ass.

  “What is happening to her?” Panic filled his voice. “I thought we’d healed her?”

  “We did,” Tink groaned, twisting as I railed against him—against Ren. “Now she’s paying the consequences.”

  Hours blurred together, a twisted kaleidoscope of razor sharp need and all-consuming desire—lust for Ren and for what was inside him. Then the pain would return, burning through the cravings, turning me inside out.

  The world around me faded in and out. There was Tink holding me to him as I felt Ren holding sweat-soaked hair back from my face. He was whispering to me, but there was nothing other than the cool, pleasant abyss where I floated.

  Then it happened.

  Without warning, intense cold washed over me. So brutally cold, my skin felt like it was set afire. A prickling sensation hit each inch of my body, as if every part of my skin was being pierced to the marrow. Pain enveloped me once more, becoming my world, but this time it was an icy fire.

  “What’s . . . what’s happening?” I gasped, unable to see through the pain. The room—the world was white.

  “You took too much.” Tink’s voice was strained. “You went too far. I’m sorry, Ivy. I’m sorry.”

  His words made no sense. Words in general were of no use to me as the icy fire heightened. Screams tore from my throat, a far different sound from the screeching.

  I became aware of being moved, and I only knew that Tink was no longer holding me. I recognized Ren’s scent. He held me throughout, wrapping trembling arms around my waist, his shaking legs hooked over mine. My back bowed and I stretched his embrace until it almost broke.

  Then . . . then it was like a raging fire being doused with water. The pain barely eased in the beginning, but slowly, after time, it disappeared like smoke in the wind. After the burn, I fell into a familiar deep sleep. I wasn’t sure how long I was out, but waking up was difficult. My eyelids felt like they’d been sewed together, and it was a struggle to pry them open.

  The first thing I saw was the low ceiling. Infirmary. I was in the infirmary. Why? I searched my memories but they were cloudy and I was too tired to wade through the dark and shadowy pieces to figure out what the hell was going on.

  But I knew I wasn’t alone.

  It took effort, but I managed to turn my head to the left.

  Tink sat beside my bed in one of those metal chairs. He had an ankle resting on a knee. Curled in his lap was Dixon. The little kitten was doing what it always did. Napping. That kitten had the best life ever.

  The last time I’d seen Tink, he hadn’t had Dixon with him. And he hadn’t been alone. Ren had been with him—Ren had been holding me.

  “Ren,” I croaked out.

  Tink’s gaze lifted to mine. He didn’t say anything as he stared at me, and the first kernels of unease stirred.

  I tried to speak again, but my mouth rivaled the Sahara Desert. I cleared my throat. “What . . . what’s going on?”

  Tink looked back at me, stare solemn. “‘The night is dark and full of terror.’”

  I frowned. “What?”

  He lifted a shoulder. “I’ve always wanted to say that to someone. All I’m missing is my Lady Melisandre red gown and hood.”

  I stared at him.

  “You know,” he said, leaning back in his chair, “there’s another thing I’ve wanted to say. Like when people have bad news? My car just broke down, and I’ll be like, bam! ‘The Lannisters send their regards,’ or I just got fired from my job and bam! ‘The North remembers.’ That probably makes me a shitty brownie, but I don’t care.”

  Having no idea why he was so stuck on Game of Thrones references at the moment, I tried to sit and realized right then that I couldn’t move. Confused, I peered down at my body. There was a thin white blanket tucked in at my waist, but that wasn’t what was keeping me in place.

  White bands, some kind of cloth, circled my wrists and ankles. My stomach dropped. I was tied down. “T-Tink, why . . . am I—”

  “Tied up like you’re engaged in some freaking BDSM shit?” He leaned forward, mindful of Dixon. “‘The Lannisters send their regards.’”

  “Tink!” Panic sparked.

  His gaze flickered away and then settled on me. “You don’t remember?”

  I had the sinking suspicion I didn’t want to remember.

  “You were attacked,” he supplied.

  Yes. I remember that. Walking in the courtyard, minding my own business. Two fae had attacked me. “They stabbed me,” I whispered, filled with anger and horror. “They actually stabbed me.”

  “Yeah, they did. Put some decent sized holes in you, too. You also had a hole in your hand, and let me tell you, that was gnarly. I could look right through it and see the other side of the room.”

  I tried to see my hand.

  “You’re all healed up now.” Reaching over, he tapped my left hand. “No gaping hole. No fatal stab wounds. You’re good as new.” He paused. “Better.”

  “How . . . ?” I trailed off. More memories surfaced. I’d been dying. Like legit bleeding out with internal wounds dying, but I hadn’t.

  I suddenly remembered Ren leaning over me. He’d been telling me that he loved me and that there had only been me, only would be me, and he . . .

  I’m sorry, Sweetness. Forgive me.

  Forgive him?

  My heart started thundering in my chest. Pieces of the night started to fall together.

  “You’ve actually been asleep for like forever,” Tink continued. “Well, not forever, but like four days.”
>
  Four days? Holy shit.

  “I was kind of worried that you were dead and you’d start stinking soon.”

  Images flashed of me on top of Ren, moving against him in a bloody, wild joining of our bodies. Had we . . . ?

  “Where is Ren?” I demanded, trying to sit up. “And why am I tied up?”

  “Well, you see, that’s kind of a long story full of plot twists and probably a plot hole or two.”

  “Tink!”

  His gaze met mine, and I remembered him yelling at Ren, because—oh, God, I’d been feeding on Ren. I’d fed on him.

  The unease unexploded into full-blown dread. “Where is Ren?” I shouted. “Where is he, Tink?”

  Little Dixon stirred in Tink’s lap. He folded his hand over the kitten’s head. “Calm down. Dixon needs his fifth nap of the day.”

  My eyes narrowed. “I swear to God, Tink, if you do not answer me, I will straight-up murder you.”

  “See, that’s the problem, and why you’re tried up. It’s just precautionary. Now that you’re awake, Tanner will be up here—”

  “Why is it precautionary?”

  He didn’t answer for a moment. “You’ve changed, Ivy. We didn’t think that would happen. We had no way of knowing.”

  My pulse skyrocketed. “What in the hell does that mean, Tink?”

  The brownie cringed. “Well, let’s just say your skin kind of shimmers now.”

  My mouth dropped open.

  “Like a fae,” he added.

  Chapter 8

  It took several moments for me to process what Tink was saying because there was no way I had heard him correctly. “My skin is shimmering?”

  “Yes. Like a fae,” he repeated. “You’re not full on silver or anything like that, it just looks like you’ve used the same kind of lotion I imagine strippers use.”

  I stared at him and then my gaze darted to what I could see of my skin. I was wearing long sleeves—a shirt that wasn’t mine, but I wasn’t going to focus on that fuckery at this moment—and with my damn wrists secured, all I could glimpse was the top of my hand. The skin looked normal. I squinted as I managed to lift my hand an inch. The light caught—

  “Holy fuck!” I gasped, eyes widening. My skin did shimmer like I’d lubed myself up with glittery lotion. “Holy shit, my skin is—”

  “Kind of shimmery, yes, but hey, it could be worse. You could look like Edward in the sunlight, all glittery and shit.”

  My gaze shot to him.

  “It’s barely noticeable. So is the thing with the ears.”

  “My ears?” I shrieked.

  “Yeah.” He drew the word out. “They’re a little pointy now. Like mine.” He tiled his head to the side, showing off his ears. “Nothing anyone would really bat an eye at. Plus, you have all that hair to cover them if you’re feeling insecure.”

  Oh my God, I couldn’t even process what he was saying. I liked my normal, rounded human ears and he was now telling me I had pointy, fae-like ears?

  And my skin was shimmering?

  Tink snapped his fingers, getting my attention. “Look, there is more good news. Since you’ve been out for a couple of days, you’ve slept off the worst effects.”

  I took a deep, even breath but it did nothing to stamp out the building panic. “What are the worst effects that somehow don’t include my skin shimmering or my ears becoming pointy?”

  Dixon took that moment to stretch his little legs out in front of him. Tink reached down, scratching him behind the ear. “Well, while you were asleep, you weren’t always asleep. Sometimes you were awake.”

  Vague memories surfaced, flashes of rage and desire, of the need to—

  I sucked in a sharp breath, squeezing my eyes tight.

  “There were times when you were hungry, like zombie craving brains kind of hungry,” Tink said softly. “That’s why you’re tied down. Faye seems to think the worst has passed. Sort of like you’ve done the detox part and now you’re just having to deal with a few cravings.”

  I remembered.

  Knots formed in my stomach. I remembered Faye whispering her compulsion. Feed. That one word had echoed over and over and I had fed.

  My eyes flew open. “Is Ren okay?”

  “Well, you know—”

  “Is Ren okay?” I demanded, breathing heavy.

  Tink lifted his hand from Dixon’s head. “Ren is fine. He’s alive. He’d be here, but Tanner and Faye were worried that you being around a human right now wouldn’t help with the getting over the whole wanting to suck them dry thing.”

  Relief crashed through me, but a raw emotion built behind it when what happened truly processed. “You . . . you all made me feed on Ren.”

  “We didn’t have a choice, Ivy. You were dying and there was nothing else we could—”

  “You should’ve let me die!” I shouted, and Dixon jerked in Tink’s lap. I tried to calm down, but my heart was lodged somewhere in my throat.

  His brows furrowed. “That’s a fucked up thing to say, Ivy.”

  “It’s fucked up that you made me feed on Ren!”

  “He was down for it, Ivy. Ren would do anything to save you.”

  “Even force me to do something so horrible?” I asked, eyes blurring. “Ren volunteering for this doesn’t make it right. He could’ve been killed.”

  His expression smoothed out. “But he’s okay and you’re going to be okay.”

  “Except apparently my skin and ears have changed. I’m not okay.” And that wasn’t all. I’d fed on Ren and then we had sex—bloody, crazy sex.

  “Well, there is that. We didn’t know that would happen, but—”

  “The Prince did that to me. He made me—” My voice caught. Anger burned through my bone and tissue. “What have you all done to me?”

  “We saved you—”

  “What have you done to me?” I screamed.

  His eyes widened. “We don’t . . . we don’t know, Ivy.”

  I couldn’t believe it. Dying sucked. Yeah. Duh. But they forced me to feed against my will—feed on Ren, and it changed me into God knows what? Nausea crept up my throat. How would I ever look at Ren again?

  How would I ever look at myself again? Dealing with being the Halfling wasn’t something I’d fully accepted and now this? I couldn’t. I couldn’t deal with this.

  “It’ll be okay.”

  “Get away from me,” I whispered.

  “Ivy,” he gasped.

  Violent rage and bitter fear swirled like a storm inside me, feeding strength I didn’t realize I had. I lifted my left arm, tearing the binding in half.

  “Whoa.” Tink shot up, holding Dixon close to his chest as he stepped back from the bed. “Ivy . . .”

  Snapping the cloth around my other wrist, I sat up and turned to Tink. “You need to get the fuck out of my face right now.”

  Tink was still for only a moment, and then he got out of my face and left the room.

 
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