BraveJennifer L. Armentrout
“Of course I am,” I murmured.
He dropped his hand to the curve of my waist. “No, Ivy. Stronger than you realize.”
I frowned up at him.
“When you pushed me into the pool, I wasn’t off-balance. You shouldn’t have been able to do that so easily.”
Unsure if I should be annoyed by that statement or not, my frown increased. “I’ve been training since I can remember. Knocking you over isn’t that hard.”
He grinned down at me. “And I’ve been training since I can remember. Plus, I have a good hundred pounds on you. When you pushed me, it felt like a truck was slamming into me.”
“Wow,” I muttered. “That’s not flattering.”
Chuckling under his breath, he raised his brows at me. “I want to try something, okay? I want you to hold me down.”
I stared at him. “Seriously?”
He nodded. “I want to see if you—”
Ren didn’t need to ask twice. Sitting up, I placed my hands on his shoulders and pushed him back, into the bed. I moved, straddling him.
“Okay.” He laughed. “You’re down for this.”
I grinned. “I’m always here to knock you down a peg or two.”
He blew a kiss at me, and then I felt his muscles flex under my palms. He started to rise up, but I pushed down, keeping him relatively pinned.
“That’s the best you got? Come on, Ren. Stop messing with me.”
“I’m not messing with you.” His jaw locked down as his body coiled tight under mine. He lifted his shoulders up, but I exerted more pressure, keeping him from sitting up. “Jesus,” he grunted, falling back and losing the inches he’d gained. “That’s what I’m talking about.”
I blinked and then jerked my head back. “You’re really not fooling around? You can’t sit up?”
I didn’t believe him. “Try it again.”
“Whatever.” Ren did an ab curl, and I could feel the power and strength in his body. He wasn’t holding back, but he wasn’t getting very far. His muscles trembled. “See?”
Shocked, I let go and then he shot up like a rocket, snagging an arm around my waist before I toppled off of him. “Holy crap.”
“Yeah.” Once he had me steady, he fell back onto the bed. “That’s what I’m talking about. You’re stronger than me.”
All I could do was stare at him. I’d always been fast and strong. Years and years of training did that, but Ren had more muscle mass. I shouldn’t have been able to overpower him.
The dimple appeared in his cheek. “And it’s kind of hot as hell.”
I cocked my head to the side and sighed.
“What? Remember that night when you flipped me?”
“Yeah, I remember. You had broken into my apartment,” I replied dryly.
“I didn’t break it. The balcony doors were unlocked.”
I rolled my eyes. “You still entered without permission, Ren.”
He skated right over that. “Anyway, I think you’ve got some fae strength in you.”
Sitting back, I let my hands rest on his abs. “You know, being a halfling and all? I never really got sick growing up. I never broke a bone, but I’ve never been this strong.”
“Probably the feeding.” His hands landed lightly on my hips.
I thought back to when I first woke up. “Faye did say there may be other . . . changes in me, and I . . . I broke the restraints they had on me. I’d forgotten all about that.”
“Restraints?” The grin faded from his face.
“Yeah. You didn’t know? Apparently, they were worried I’d do something terrible.” I blew out a long breath, thinking about when I was training earlier. I hadn’t gone full beast mode on the dummy, so I wouldn’t have noticed if I was stronger than before. “Maybe it’ll fade.”
“Maybe.” He tilted his head to the side. “But look at Faye or Kalen and Dane. They don’t feed and they’re strong.”
And I had changed, physically. There was no denying that. Being stronger wasn’t bad. Not at all. Considering my line of work and what we had facing us, it was a blessing.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about being okay with that change. Then I realized that I could be okay with it. I just had to let myself be okay.
Could it be that easy?
I shifted and then stilled, pulled completely out of my head. I felt him hardening under me. My brows lifted. “Really?”
A lopsided grin appeared. “I don’t know if you remember this or not, but you’re not wearing anything under my shirt and you’re straddling me.”
A sharp tingle radiated from where I could feel him straining up against me. “Good point.”
“And like I said, you overpowering me is hot as hell.”
I laughed as I tipped forward, marveling at the way his abs tightened in response and how his eyes deepened to a forest green. “It must be nice being a guy.”
His eyes became hooded as his fingers tiptoed along the edges of the shirt I was wearing. “It is when I have you sitting on my dick.”
A laugh burst out of me, and I got blessed with two dimples appearing on his face.
His fingers curled under the hem of the shirt. “I want to see you.”
My breath caught, because I knew what he meant. Immediately, my pulse pounded. I was seriously naked under his shirt.
Biting down on my lip, I nodded.
Ren lifted the shirt, sliding it up my sides and over my head. When he tossed it onto the bed beside him, I was completely bare and there was no hiding the fact that every part of me had a silvery tint to it.
And Ren was taking it all in.
His gaze locked with mine and then slid south, the intensity almost a physical caress. I felt his stare as it slipped over my shoulders. My breasts grew heavy, nipples tightening, and it was hard to sit still as his gaze continued to move, over the apex of my thighs, all the way to where my knees were bent.
“Thank you,” he said finally, his voice a husky drawl.
My mouth dried.
The very tips of his fingers dragged over my sides and hips, down my outer thighs and then back up, over my lower stomach. His hands stopped just below my breasts. “You’re beautiful, Ivy. I’ve told you that, right?”
I found my voice. “Yes.”
A half grin appeared as his fingers brushed over the swell of my breasts. “I don’t think I tell you that nearly enough.”
I drew in a shallow breath. “You can keep telling me that.” My voice hitched as his fingers grew very close to my nipples before skating away. “I don’t mind.”
He bit down on his lower lip, sucking it between his teeth. Parts of me clenched in response. His fingers circled the very center of my breasts, and the torture of him getting close and then pulling away was possibly the most wicked thing he could do.
“We’re going to have to get up early tomorrow.” His gaze followed his fingers now.
“What’s . . .” I shivered as he drew close yet again. “What’s the plan?”
“Faye is in the process of finding out where Marlon lives since I don’t think he’s staying at that hotel any longer.” His hands slipped to my ribs, and at this point, I was panting with anticipation. “And since he’s not usually at Flux until the evenings, we really don’t have the time to wait on that.”
“Agreed.” I swallowed, trying to focus. “Who’s going with us?”
Ren’s hands stayed at my waist, much to my disappointment. “Not exactly sure yet.”
I started to respond, but Ren suddenly sat up. Circling an arm around my waist, he tilted his head just the slightest as he kissed me. It was brief, too brief, and then he leaned away, his gaze snagging mine.
At first I had no idea what he was up to. I could tell he wanted to take this further. Besides the fact he stripped me naked, he was still hard under me, and there was no mistaking the intent in his gaze, but he wasn’t making any move.
And then . . .
then I realized what he was doing, and I thought I might fall apart.
Ren wasn’t just waiting.
He was handing me the reins in this, giving me complete control.
“I love you,” I whispered, and then I took it, showing him what I wanted with his hands first and then his mouth.
“Took a lot of digging, but I think I found where Marlon lives,” Faye announced the following morning while we sat around a small table in the cafeteria.
There’d been stares, but I wasn’t letting them get to me. Right now, I couldn’t afford to allow myself to get caught up in stupid distractions, and I wasn’t. The fact that Tink sat on my left and Ren on my right helped.
“Since his new house was completed about a month ago, he hasn’t been staying at the hotel,” she explained as I picked up a piece of bacon. My appetite still wasn’t back to normal, but I needed to eat. “He actually bought an older home over in Lake Vista. Renovations were complete a few weeks ago.”
“Lake Vista?” My eyes widened. Holy crap, that was one of the richest, most exclusive neighborhoods in New Orleans. Being an evil, Ancient fae must be working out well for him.
“Yep. His house is on Flamingo Street.” Turning the laptop she had in front of her around to face us, we got a view of the massive home. “Nice, isn’t it?”
“I’m jealous,” I whispered, eyeing the beautiful two-story home with a balcony. Faye had it pulled up on some real estate website.
Tink leaned over, squinting. “Why don’t we live in a place like that?”
I looked at him. “If you want to live in a place like that, you’re really going to need to get a job.”
“I don’t think there is any job I’d be qualified for that would help you afford that house.”
“Anyway.” I munched down on the piece of bacon. “Pretty sure that neighborhood is gated.”
“With security,” Faye said.
“Shouldn’t be a problem.” Ren picked up a slice of wheat bread and dropped it onto my plate.
Faye closed the laptop. “We don’t hurt humans.”
“Not planning to.” Ren glanced to where Dane and Kalen sat next to Faye. “We need to get into that neighborhood with as little trouble as possible.”
“And that means you want us to use compulsion.” Dane leaned forward, crossing his arms on the table. “I have no problem with that.”
I hid my grin as I bit into the bread and immediately regretted it. No butter. No jam. Tasted like cardboard. I dropped it onto the plate and reached for my coffee to wash the blandness away. How in the world did Ren eat that?
“I don’t either,” Kalen chimed in. “But I doubt whoever is working the gate is human. Marlon would have to be a fool if that’s the case.”
“Good point.” Ren eyed my discarded bread. “Either way, we’re going to have to be quick and hope like hell he’s home.”
“And then what?” Tink asked.
“We have transportation that won’t arise suspicions immediately,” Dane answered, tilting his dark head to the side.
“And then what?” Tink repeated.
I ignored Ren as he poked at the thing he called bread, nudging it closer to me. “Then we get inside his house.”
Tink tilted his head as I grabbed the other slice of bacon. “That’s not exactly going to be easy.”
“No.” Ren sighed heavily when he realized there was no way in hell I was putting that bread in my mouth again. He picked it up from my plate. “That’s why we need to be fast, because there’s no way they won’t know who we are.”
“But they don’t know me,” Tink pointed out. “I could blitz attack them.”
I slid him a long look. “Besides you. You are staying here where you’ll be nice and safe.”
Tink frowned. “But I—”
“You should stay and keep Prince Fabian company,” Faye suggested. “He’s not coming with us.”
The corners of Tink’s lips tipped up. “That I can do. When are you guys leaving?”
Kalen checked the time on his phone. “As soon as our wee little halfling finishes her breakfast.”
I stopped with the piece of bacon halfway to my mouth. “Wee little halfling?”
The fae grinned.
“Are you ready for this?” Dane asked, not at all smiling. “Not trying to be a dick by asking, but you’ve been out of commission for a while and—”
“And I got my ass kicked by two fae not too long ago,” I finished for him. I glanced at Ren. He’d asked the same question this morning, and it hadn’t been an easy one to answer. “I’m as ready as I will ever be.”
That response didn’t seem to satisfy Dane. “If he’s there, there’s going to be a lot of fae with him, and he’s not a normal fae—”
“He’s an Ancient. I know.” My shoulders tensed. “But I’m not the same Ivy who got jumped in the courtyard.”
“She’s ready.” Ren met Dane’s stare.
Dane was quiet and then he said, “She’d better be.”
My eyes narrowed, but then Ren draped his arm over my shoulders as he leaned over, kissing my temple, and I was thoroughly distracted. “Finish up,” he whispered, brushing his nose along the curve of my cheekbone. “And then hopefully we’ll know exactly where that bastard is before lunch.”
The mode of transportation was a surprisingly smart one. A florist van, except there weren’t any flowers. Just a bench running along one side and the other side contained chains bolted into the side.
This was a true kidnappers’ van.
Kalen and Dane were up front. Faye stayed behind out of concern for her being recognized since we didn’t know if there’d be fae working the gates or if the fae would possibly recognize her right off the bat. The thing was, if there were fae at the gate, they would sense what Kalen and Dane were immediately. The van was to not attract any attention leading up to the gate, but it wasn’t going to get us through it.
Being outside of Hotel Good Fae was . . . God, it was hard to put into words, but it hadn’t been easy for me. While Faye and the guys walked out of the opening in the wall beyond the courtyard as if it were no big deal, my stomach twisted like it was full of vipers. Everyone had been talking, but I hadn’t been listening. I’d stopped at the opening, my feet unable to move.
Ren had placed his hand on the center of my back. He hadn’t spoken, but I knew he’d sensed my wariness. It was probably etched into my face. With him by my side, I’d stepped outside the protection of the courtyard and quickly realized it was warmer than the last time I’d been outside. More normal temps for October in New Orleans.
It had been strange walking out of the courtyard, into the world that existed beyond the glamour of Hotel Good Fae. Even though I knew that Drake and his minions were far away, I half-expected them to appear out of thin air.
A part of me still waited for there to be some kind of trap, for the Prince to suddenly appear and tell us we’d been played. The other half of me wanted to run around, breathing in all the good and bad scents of the city.