Brave, p.9
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       Brave, p.9

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

  Ren immediately stopped, his brows pinching together.

  “I mean, I don’t know if you should come near me right now.” The next part killed me to admit. “I . . . I don’t know what I’ll do.”

  Understanding flared. “I trust you.”

  “You shouldn’t.” I looked away. “You shouldn’t have trusted me before.”

  “I did, and you didn’t hurt me.”

  “Didn’t hurt you?” I gasped. “I fed on you. I saw what you looked like afterwards—”

  “I was fine—I am fine. I was just tired. That was all.”

  “But that wasn’t all I did.” My cheeks burned as the memory of ripping open his pants resurfaced.

  “What came after you fed?” His voice deepened. “I didn’t have a single problem with it. That was—”

  “It was messed up,” I said, shaking my head. “I was out of my mind. I fed on you and I—”

  “I told you to take from me what you needed and I meant that. I gave you what you needed, no matter what that was.”

  “You didn’t think it was wrong?” My voice dropped to a whisper.

  “I think how we got to that moment was wrong, but what we did on that table wasn’t. It never is between us.”

  As I watched him, I knew that he believed that, but I still felt like I’d done something wrong. I folded my arms over my waist, looking away.

  He was quiet for a moment. “I ran into Faye. She told me you’d woken up and were fine. That you went up to our room. I came as soon as I heard. Would’ve been there. I wanted to be there, but—”

  “I know. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to suck the life out of you.” My lips twisted into a gross reflection of a smile.

  “I never once believed you’d do that.” His gaze was steady as he reached to his side. That was when I realized he was carrying the thorn stake. He unhooked it, laying it on the small table by the door. I guessed the whole not carrying weapons thing was now off the table. “Not once, Ivy.”

  “Really?” I looked at him again and welcomed the same razor-sharp anger I’d felt toward Tink despite how good their intentions were. Being angry was sure as hell a lot easier than the roaring confusion and nearly overwhelming anxiety.

  “You could’ve done it, but you didn’t. You stopped.” Ren stepped forward before stopping again. “I know that you will always stop.”

  He may have believed that, but I didn’t. “You’re an idiot if you believe that. You should’ve never agreed to me feeding off you. It was too dangerous—”

  “I would risk it again.” Another step forward. “A hundred percent, I would risk all of it again to save you.”

  Disbelief thundered through me, as did fury. “You know what can happen to humans when they’ve been fed on. We’ve had to put them down. You have!”

  “Like I said, I would risk it all over again.” He held my gaze. “That was my choice.”

  “It was never your choice, Ren! It was mine, and it was taken away from me.”

  “What choice did you have?” He stopped, nostrils flaring. “You were dying, Ivy. There was no time to get a surgeon or take you to the hospital. You were bleeding out right in front of me. There was no choice, because allowing you to die was never an option.”

  “If you’d done that at least then I wouldn’t have been forced to feed on you just like the Prince made me do!” The moment those words came out of my mouth, I wished I hadn’t said them.

  Ren’s face paled. “You’d rather be dead, Ivy?”

  I sucked in a breath. “I’m not saying that.”

  “Then what are you saying exactly, and Sweetness, I need you to be real detailed, because I’m thinking the worst.”

  I turned away, thrusting my hands through my hair. I wasn’t stupid. If Tink and Ren hadn’t forced Faye to do the compulsion, I would be dead. And I didn’t want to be dead.

  But I didn’t want to be this.

  God, I just didn’t want any of this.

  “Ivy.”

  He’d spoken my name so softly that I reacted to him without thought. I faced him, lowering my hands.

  “When I found you outside, I thought I was too late. When I carried you into that damn room, I was covered in your blood. Drenched in it.” As he spoke, his gaze never left mine. “And when that fae doctor said that you were dying, it felt like a piece of me died right then and there.”

  I opened my mouth.

  “Let me get this out and you can yell at me and be pissed all you want,” he insisted, and I snapped my mouth shut. “I have never been more afraid than I was right then and there. I was going to lose you before I even got to have you. And when Tink said there may be another way, it was the only choice I had and I made that choice knowing you could hate me for it. I made that choice knowing that it could hurt me. I made that choice knowing that you may never forgive me for it.”

  Ren’s voice thickened. “I’d rather have you pissed off at me for the rest of your very long life than to allow the world’s brightest fucking star to go out. You can hate me today and tomorrow, but at least you’ll have a tomorrow, and I’ll make damn sure you have a whole bunch of them to be angry with me.”

  Oh God.

  I didn’t know how to respond to that. Emotion crawled up my throat. Tears filled my eyes. I stepped back and then to the side. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, I leaned forward, dropping my arms into my lap.

  Ren didn’t make a sound, but I felt him move closer. He dropped down to his knees in front of me, surprising me. Looking up, he placed his hands on either side of my hips, close but not touching me. “I’m sorry that I took part in making you feed. I hated doing that, knowing what you’d been through. I hated the fact that I wasn’t with you when you were attacked. Fuck,” he bit out. “I wish I hadn’t walked away from you the night you told me you were a halfling. I could’ve stopped all of this.”

  I stiffened. “Ren—”

  “Yeah, you’re going to say that wasn’t my fault, but if I hadn’t acted like a dick and gotten myself captured, the Prince would’ve never been able to masquerade as me. None of this bad shit would’ve happened.”

  That wasn’t true. Even if Ren had fully accepted what I was the moment I’d told him, Drake would’ve found another way.

  He was creepy and psychotic like that.

  “And I have to live with that for the rest of my life,” Ren added, slowly lifting his hands. He found mine, threading his fingers through them. “And I’ll have to live with the choice I made and the choice I took from you. I am more than willing to do that, but I do not regret one second making that choice to save you, even if it means that you hate me.”

  Deep down, I knew the truth and how messed up it was. If the shoes were on different feet, and Ren was a halfling and dying, I would’ve done the same to save him.

  I would’ve taken his choice from him.

  I would’ve taken his will away.

  I would’ve saved him even if it cost me his love.

  My chest squeezed and I whispered the truest thing I could say in that moment. “I don’t hate you.”

  Ren’s grip tightened on my hands as he bowed his head. His curls fell forward and when he spoke, his voice was rough. “I can’t lose you.”

  “You haven’t.”

  He brought my hands to his mouth, kissing the top of both of them. “Then why does it feel like I already have?”

  Startled, I pulled on my hands, but he held on. “Why do you think that?”

  He looked up at me, his eyes the color of dewy grass. “Do you really have to ask that, Sweetness?”

  I started to say yes, but the word died on my tongue. My thoughts raced to find a way to deny why he’d feel that way, but I came up empty. Not because he was right. Not in the way he thought.

  Because it wasn’t him losing me.

  It was me losing myself.

  Chapter 10

  Ren and I didn’t talk much after that, but he convinced me to go down with him to have dinner, and I
didn’t have it in me to make up an excuse.

  I discovered then that Ren had confiscated the iron daggers at some point, and we armed ourselves up just in case someone wanted to go for a round two with me.

  “Was there anyone else involved in the attack?” I asked as I hooked the dagger to my hip. It felt good to have it back. I tugged my shirt over the belt and dagger.

  “Not as far as I can tell.” Ren opened the door, and we started down the hall. “And trust me, I’ve been very convincing on when it comes to how important it is to tell the truth.”

  I glanced at him. His jaw was set in a hard line. “So, you think it was only those two?”

  Ren nodded as he hit the button to bring up the elevator. “I’ve interviewed nearly eighty percent of the fae here. So far, none of them were involved.”

  Eighty percent? “Damn, you’ve been busy.”

  The elevator doors slid open, and he stepped aside, allowing me to enter. “Had to keep busy since I was banned from your room. It was either that or go crazy.”

  I folded my arms over my waist, focusing on the brown paneled walls. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if Ren had been injured and I hadn’t been able to see him.

  “I do have some questions.” Ren leaned against the wall, drawing my gaze. “Did the fae say anything to you?”

  Exhaling slowly, I nodded. “They didn’t come after me because I’m an Order member.” I paused. “Or was. Who knows at this point. Anyway, they did it because I was a halfling and . . .”

  What the fae had said to me came roaring back. Holy crap, I’d forgotten that the fae had said the Prince would find me here, that he’d eventually break through the glamour.

  My stomach bottomed out just as the elevator opened on the main floor.

  “And what?” Ren stepped out.

  I followed, my skin feeling like ice. “They were just scared. That was all.” My gaze lifted to his. “They were just scared.”

  “I don’t give a fuck if they were terrified or not.” His eyes hardened. “You were supposed to be safe here. You weren’t.”

  The doors closed behind us, but neither of us moved. “And I should’ve been able to defend myself.”

  “You didn’t have a dagger, something that won’t happen again.”

  “With or without the dagger, I should’ve easily taken them down or gotten away,” I pointed out, still disgusted over how easy it had been for the fae. “I was unprepared and hadn’t been paying attention.”

  Ren stepped into me. “You took one of them down, Ivy. Without a weapon. After being stabbed. Give yourself some credit.”

  My lips twitched but it didn’t spread into a real smile. Not when the fae’s words were echoing in my head. “I need to talk to Tanner real quick. I’ll join you in the cafeteria.”

  His head cocked. “I can go with you.”

  “You don’t need to.” I quickly stepped around him. “It’s only going to take a couple of minutes. I’ll be right there.”

  Ren opened his mouth, but I didn’t give him the chance to say anything. I jogged off down the other corridor, relieved when I looked over my shoulder and didn’t see him.

  It took no amount of time for me to find Tanner. He was in his office, and when I burst into the room, he was sitting in a wingback chair across from Merle, engaging in some tea time.

  Merle had been ostracized from the Order ages ago, something that always irritated me since she had given her life and then some to them. Rumor was she’d been caught by a fae without the protection of a clover and her mind had been a few screws short since then, but who even knew if that was true? Merle may be odd, but she was sharp as a tack whenever I was around her.

  And I couldn’t help but remember her standing in the back of the room Ren had brought my bleeding body into. Her face had been void of all emotion. Could she have had something to do with it?

  She could be odd, but she always seemed to like me.

  “Ivy.” Tanner put his itty-bitty cup onto a platter and smiled even though it was obvious he was surprised to see me. “I’m so glad to see you up and moving about.”

  “Are you really?” I asked, staring pointedly at Merle’s back. She didn’t turn around.

  “Of course.” He looked and sounded surprised by the question. “What happened to you was inexcusable and you have my most sincere apologies that it occurred. I promised you sanctuary. You did not receive that.”

  Before I could respond, Merle did. “Ivy is a trained member of the Order. Two ordinary fae should not have been difficult for her to handle. Back in my heyday, I could take four out in the blink of an eye.”

  Wow.

  My eyes narrowed on her back. “Well, thank you for making it sound like getting stabbed was my fault.”

  “It was not your fault,” Tanner was quick to add. “I am glad to hear that so far Ren has not found any conspirators.” His gaze dropped to where the dagger created a slight bulge along my hip. “Though I do understand why you feel the need to arm yourselves.”

  “I’m not here to talk about getting stabbed.”

  “Then what are you here for?” Merle glanced over her shoulder at me as I stalked to where they sat. “I imagine it’s something quite urgent since you forgot that it was polite to knock.”

  As much as I liked Merle, I had to ignore her at this point. “Can the Prince find me here?”

  Tanner’s brows lifted as he leaned forward in his chair. “Outside of what happened, you’re safe here, Ivy. I can assure you—”

  “I’m not asking if I’m safe,” I cut him off. “Because no matter what you claim, that’s obviously not true. I’m asking if the Prince can sniff me out here?”

  He glanced at Merle, who calmly took a drink from her tiny tea cup, and a moment passed before he answered. “Our presence here is heavily glamoured, even from other fae. Unless they know to look and see, they will not find us.”

  I wasn’t stupid. “That doesn’t answer the question, Tanner.”

  Clasping his hands together, he tilted his head to the side. “The glamour isn’t infinite. Everything has a limit, Ivy. The Prince wasn’t looking for us before, but by now, I am sure he knows that we exist in New Orleans. He’ll be searching and he’s powerful.”

  My heart turned over in my chest. “What does that mean, exactly?”

  Merle lowered her cup. “What he’s saying, dear, is that the Prince could poke a hole through the glamour. It would not hold against his will.”

  Oh my God. “So you’re basically saying that if he somehow figured out that Hotel Good Fae was here, he could rip away the glamour and enter?”

  The smile slipped from Tanner’s face as he nodded. “He could, but we have no reason to believe that he would become aware of us.”

  “And why is that?” I demanded. “You have hundreds of fae here. Any number of them could say the wrong thing to the wrong fae.”

  “They know what is at stake,” Tanner replied. “None of them want to be found by the Prince. They know what would happen to them.”

  Even if that was the case, that still didn’t mean it was unlikely that the Prince would ever find this place. “Did it ever occur to you that he could have someone like Faye on his team playing spy?”

  Tanner’s lips thinned. Merle didn’t answer, and I seriously wondered if that had crossed their minds. If not, they were utter idiots.

  Pressure clamped down on my chest. “What would happen if the Prince got in here?”

  “Besides him taking you?” Merle lifted her chin, her unlined face hiding her true age. “The fae here, without feeding, are no match for the Prince and his warriors.” Merle’s gaze was sharp. “If he comes, they will not survive any attack he may launch.”

  I closed my eyes. So the fae who attacked me was right. “Me being here is a danger to all of them.”

  “The Prince being in this world is a danger to every living creature,” Tanner said, and when I opened my eyes, he had sat back in his chair. “The fae who consider this pl
ace a haven know this.”

  “I am thinking a few are not happy about that,” I pointed out.

 
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