Brave, p.8
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       Brave, p.8

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

  I couldn’t sit or lay in this bed. My thoughts were racing along with my heart.

  What did they do to me?

  Hands shaking, I broke the restraints around my ankles and swung my legs off the bed. I stood on bare feet, surprised to find that I wasn’t dizzy. Raising my left hand, I first noticed the red, angry scar on top. The same scar was on my palm. Squeezing my hand closed, I could easily remember the stabbing pain of the branch shooting through my hand.

  Now it barely even hurt.

  There was no ignoring the glimmer when I twisted my hand and caught the soft glow of light. My heart dropped. A thousand questions erupted, but I already knew what the answers were going to be.

  Had I fed too much and it had changed me?

  Who knew that was possible? No one. Or maybe everyone, and they just failed to tell me.

  A riot of emotions crept up, sealing off my throat. I squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn’t believe this. On top of everything else, I was now . . .

  I didn’t know what I was.

  Drawing in a shuddering breath, I opened my eyes. My gaze flicked over the room. The walls were bare, but there was a bathroom to my right. I hurried over to it, flipping the light on.

  I stopped in front of the oval mirror above the porcelain basin, ignoring the mess of tangled, red curls.

  “Oh God,” I whispered.

  The light was brighter in here, and as I tilted my chin up, the sheen to my skin intensified. My face looked like I’d taken one of those high-end highlighters and smeared it all over my face.

  Which was what I normally looked like when I tried to contour.

  Tink was right though. It wasn’t that noticeable, not to a stranger or a normal human who had no idea fae were a very real thing, but to me?

  I noticed.

  But that wasn’t all. My features were . . . sharper. More refined. Again, not entirely noticeable but my face was different.

  Clutching the basin, I leaned in and stared at my reflection. There were only faint bruises where I’d taken punches I should’ve been able to deflect. There was a tiny red mark on my lower lip. A barely-there purplish bruise along my jaw.

  It was almost like weeks had passed since the fight where I got my ass handed to me. A fight I should’ve been able to handle with one arm tied behind my back, but I had to be honest with myself.

  My head hadn’t been in the right place—it still wasn’t, and I hadn’t been eating or sleeping right. I’d been weak, and look at what it got me?

  Two stab wounds and more.

  Were my eyes paler? They’d always been a light blue, but they were almost . . . iridescent now, the pale blue so stark against the blackness of my pupils.

  Lifting one trembling hand, I pushed my hair back as I turned my head to the side.

  I gasped.

  The tips of my ears were definitely pointy. Nothing extreme, and again, a normal person probably wouldn’t notice it, but these were not ears.

  This was not my skin.

  Dropping my hair, I faced the mirror and bared my teeth. Normal. A sigh of relief shuddered through me. At least they didn’t look oddly sharp like most fae, so there was that I guessed.

  The door to the room opened, and I whipped around. What if it was Ren? My stomach tied up. I wasn’t ready to see him. I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready to see him, but I—

  “Ivy?” Faye’s voice rang out.

  Definitely not Ren. A wave of disappointment washed over me. I didn’t want to see him and yet there was a part of me somewhere deep inside that wanted it to be him. The same part of me that had wanted it to be Ren sitting there, waiting for me to wake up.

  Things had been weird between us before. Now, it would be hella awkward . . . if there was anything left.

  Sighing, I stepped out of the bathroom. Faye was alone, staring at the bed and probably at the broken restraints.

  The anger resurfaced. “You used a compulsion on me.”

  Faye lifted her chin. “I hadn’t wanted to. Trust me. I know what was done to you while you were with the Prince. I told them that. They didn’t want to let you die.”

  I remembered her reluctance and Tink’s threat. “Maybe letting me die was the right thing.”

  “Ivy, you can’t feel that way. Truly.”

  “You don’t know how I feel,” I shot back. “You have no freaking clue.”

  She was quiet for a moment. “You’re right. Allowing you to die would’ve been easier. It would’ve definitely solved the problem with the Prince. At least, temporarily.”

  My lip curled. “I thought you said all human life is valuable.”

  “It is.” She walked over to the chair and sat down. “But what I made you do wasn’t natural. What you’ve become isn’t natural.”

  I sucked in a sharp breath. “Well, that makes me feel so much better about everything.”

  “I’m not trying to make you feel worse.”

  “Then you should try harder,” I snapped.

  Her shoulders tensed. “I know you’re upset. I get it. I sympathize with it, but what’s done is done. You’re alive.”

  “At what cost?” I asked, stepping toward her. “You don’t even know what I am.”

  Her gaze flickered over me. “I’m guessing the feedings while you were with the Prince and this last one triggered the part of you that’s fae, making it more dominant. That must be why you have more fae-like characteristics. Whatever fae genes you have in you now are simply stronger. I don’t know what that makes you, but you’re not completely fae. You’re still Ivy.”

  Seeing my skin shimmer and having pointy ears didn’t make me feel like Ivy. “And this is something you knew would happen?”

  “I’ve never seen it, but I knew it could. I wasn’t thinking about that at the moment. I was saving you, like Ren and Tink demanded.” She paused. “How are you feeling? Hungry?”

  I ignored the question. “Where is Ren?”

  Her lashes lowered. “He’s currently interrogating every fae in this building to see if they had anything to do with the attack. He’s not here with you because we wanted to make sure it was safe for him. Something that took an absurd amount of time to convince him of.”

  Turning away, I thrust a hand through my greasy, nasty hair. “He . . .”

  “He’s okay,” she said, a lot quieter. “And it doesn’t appear like you’ll attack him, so he’ll be here the minute I tell him it’s okay.”

  I closed my eyes, sucking in a deep breath and holding it.

  Faye was quiet for a moment. “I know you’re mad at him—at all of us, but he did it because he loves you.”

  But would he still love me once he saw me? Once he realized I was turning more and more into a fae? Once he really thought about what he’d done, allowing me to feed off him like the bitch Breena had?

  “Ivy?”

  Exhaling, I opened my eyes. A knot of fear crept up my throat. “I’ve changed. That’s obvious. But you all don’t know how much. Like am I going to need to feed now?”

  “No fae needs to feed to survive, Ivy. It’s a choice. You should live a normal lifespan, but you may be stronger than before. There may be other things that have changed. The thing is, we really don’t have a precedent for this. It’s not like there has ever been a huge population of halflings in the first place. I only know of one or two who’d fed on humans and those halflings had been in the Otherworld. We only have records of their existence. They changed, like you.”

  I turned, facing her as one thing she said took center stage. “What other things?”

  Faye glanced at the empty bed and then her pale gaze met mine. “Do you remember when I talked to you about being . . . addicted?”

  Everything in me stilled. I’d planned on talking to her about that, but well, I kind of got stabbed to death. “Yes. I remember.”

  “I hope you slept off the worst of it—the craving that comes after feeding, but it’ll linger for a while. You’ll have this need.”

  I totally unders
tood what she was saying, but acid poured into my stomach nonetheless. That need had been there before I’d fed off Ren.

  “You’ll have to be careful,” she advised. “When you’re with Ren.”

  She didn’t need to elaborate with where she was going with that. Folding my arms over my waist, I paced in a small circle. “You talk like glimmering skin and pointy ears aren’t a big deal.”

  “To me, they aren’t.”

  I shot her a dark look. “Well, no shit.”

  “You can barely notice,” she added. “Things may seem overwhelming now, but it could’ve been worse.”

  For a moment, I was dumbfounded. “Yeah, I could be dead, and maybe that was meant to happen.”

  Shock splashed across Faye’s face. “You don’t mean that.”

  Did I? I wasn’t so sure. It’s not like I had a death wish, but I . . . I just didn’t feel like me anymore and I had no control. Not over my life, my fate, my purpose, or even my body.

  And I remembered that moment of disappointment when I came to out in the courtyard and realized I hadn’t died.

  The knots in my stomach expanded. I picked up my pace. “I almost died in a fight I should’ve won. I was forced to feed on my boyfriend.” My voice rose a notch as I thought about what I’d done to him afterward, what we did. “And I woke up days later to find out that my actual body has changed. Not to mention, the fact that I was held against my will by a psychotic fae prince. Don’t act like what has happened to me is just a normal Tuesday. My entire world changed the moment I found out I was a halfling. Almost everything I knew up until that part was a fucking lie, but when I looked in the mirror, I still looked like me. I was still Ivy. When I look in the mirror now, I don’t recognize myself, and that isn’t just because of the physical stuff.”

  Sympathy crept into her face, and that was possibly the worst thing to see. Taking a deep breath, I looked away and refocused. “How long do you think this whole wanting to suck people dry thing will last?”

  Faye was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know. Maybe a few days. A couple of weeks.”

  Weeks? Muscles in my shoulders tightened. I couldn’t deal with weeks. “Have you never fed?”

  “Never.”

  Stopping, I looked over my shoulder at her. “And Drake never noticed that? He didn’t think it was suspicious?”

  She twisted toward me. “Drake never really paid attention to me. Breena and Valor usually kept him occupied when he wasn’t trying to convince you to come to the dark side.”

  I frowned, thinking something about that didn’t sound right.

  “I know you’ve been through a lot, Ivy, and finding the Crystal is the last thing on your mind, but I wanted to tell you that we are expecting the fae we were waiting for to arrive tomorrow. There was a delay in them getting here. They’ve had to be careful to not arise the suspicion of the Prince.” She rose, smoothing her hands on her denim jeans. “I hope you can join us.”

  In other words, she meant she hoped I pulled my shit together long enough to be there. I nodded absently, my thoughts stuck on what Faye had just said.

  How in the world did the Prince never realize she hadn’t fed around him? Wouldn’t someone on Team Dark Prince think that was suspicious?

  Because I sure as hell thought the fact they hadn’t noticed was crazy suspicious.

  Chapter 9

  I guessed Faye deemed me not a risk, so I was allowed to leave the infirmary. She walked with me though the hotel, and I figured it wasn’t because she was worried I was going to start attacking fae. Faye was with me because I got my ass handed to me. She was like the bodyguard I didn’t want and shouldn’t need.

  Luckily, she left me at the elevator, but my steps slowed as I walked toward the room I’d been sharing with Ren. My heart was tripping over itself as I stopped in front of the door. Was he inside? Trepidation filled me as I reached for the handle.

  God, when did I become such a chicken shit? It was ridiculous. Taking a deep breath, I threw open the door and stepped inside the cool room.

  The bed was made perfectly, but empty and quiet. It looked the way I’d left it, plain and neat.

  I missed my apartment.

  I missed me.

  Exhaling roughly, I headed to the bathroom. Days’ worth of grossness had built up on my skin and hair, and I had to believe that once I showered, things would be clearer, they’d make more sense, and maybe—just maybe—I would feel like me, despite everything.

  I kept my mind purposely blank as I stripped off the clothing, avoiding the mirror as I walked past it to the shower.

  The last thing I wanted to know was if my boobs also shimmered.

  I scrubbed and scrubbed like I could somehow rub off the stupid glimmer. By the time I was done, my skin felt pristine and actually kind of hurt. I’d just finished slipping on a pair of leggings and a shirt Tink had gotten me for my birthday last year—zombie troll dolls, because of course—when the door opened. I whipped around, the air lodging firmly in my throat when I saw it was Ren.

  He came to a complete stop, his eyes widening slightly as his gaze roamed over me from head to toe, notably getting more hung up on the shirt than anything else, but still the shock was there. And I didn’t know if it was because he wasn’t expecting me to be in the room or it was due to my new glittery appearance.

  But he . . . he looked good. Healthy and beautiful in that wild way of his. Looking at him now, I could almost imagine that I hadn’t fed on him. That I hadn’t seen him with those wretched shadows under his eyes or his sunken cheekbones.

  I remembered what I’d done to him, though. That memory fueled the words that parted my lips. “Like the new look?” My voice dripped with acid. “I look like a vampire from Twilight.” Turning my head, I yanked back the wet curls. “And look! Don’t need a costume for Halloween now that I got these super awesome pointy ears.”

  His head tilted to the side as he stared at me. “You look beautiful as always.”

  A harsh laugh burst out of me. “Seriously?”

  “Seriously,” he said. “Beautiful and hot. The shirt is a little weird though.”

  “A gift from Tink,” I explained, wondering if Ren was for real. How could he think I was beautiful when I truly looked like I had fae blood in me now?

  “Figured.” A wry grin tugged at his full mouth. “God, you have no idea how I feel seeing you standing in front of me. Alive. Talking. Sexy even in a shirt that shouldn’t have ever been made.”

  I stared at him. “My skin is shimmering and my ears are pointy now.”

  “I didn’t even notice. All I was paying attention to was the fact you were standing and breathing.” His gaze flickered over me again. “But now that you mention it, I’m kind of digging it.”

  My mouth dropped open. “How in the world could you be digging that I look more like the creatures we were born to hunt and kill? That doesn’t make sense.”

  Ren looked taken aback. “You don’t get it. Your skin could be green and your ears the size of UFOs and I’d still think you’re absolutely stunning.”

  At that point, I started wondering if Ren was high.

  “I’m about to sound cheesy as fuck and I’m kind of surprised that I even have to say this, but it’s not just about how you look. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a way nice bonus, but it’s you, Ivy. What’s on the inside, Sweetness.”

  Whoa.

  That wasn’t cheesy at all. It was . . . it was actually a beautiful thing to say and something I so desperately needed to hear and wanted to believe.

  Silence stretched out between us and then Ren moved. Kicking the door shut behind him, he started toward me, intent tensing the lines of his mouth. Ren was such a shower and not a teller. He was going to prove that he still thought I was beautiful. He was going to take me in his arms. He would kiss me, and I didn’t know what I would do, what I was capable of.

  I locked up. “Don’t.”

 
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