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Jennifer L. Armentrout

  I didn’t get to do the last part. There wasn’t a lot of time to process that I was . . . free.

  “We’re nearing the gate.” Kalen peered through the open window separating the front of the van.

  Sitting beside me on the bench, Ren nodded. “Got it.”

  Kalen closed the door, and I exhaled roughly as I ran my hands over the knees of my tactical pants.

  “You nervous?” Ren asked quietly.

  I started to say no, but then nodded. “A little. Been a while since I even wore a pair of pants like this.”

  His gaze flickered over me. “You look damn good in them.”

  “Thanks.” I shot him a grin. Truth be told, they were looser than they should’ve been this morning, but it felt good pulling them on.

  I quieted when the van eased to a stop, hating that I couldn’t see anything, but both Ren and I tensed. His hand went to the iron dagger at his waist and mine went to where I had one secured to my thigh. Ren had the thorn stake on the inside of his boot.

  “Hi there,” we heard Dane speak. “We have an order for—”

  “What the hell?” exclaimed an unfamiliar voice. Crap.

  Ren unhooked his dagger just as we heard a car door open, followed by a grunt of pain. Someone cursed and then there was silence.

  We looked at each other, knowing it could mean one thing or a really bad thing.

  We had our answer quickly.

  The back door swung open, revealing Kalen with a man slung over his shoulder. Ren shot off the bench, reaching for him.

  “One fae and this human,” Kalen said as he and Ren laid the human male down in the back of the van. “He’s out, but not dead. Glamoured. Figured we’d keep him in here just in case anyone comes along and sees him passed out in the building.”

  “Good call.” Ren rolled the human onto his back. “And the fae?”

  “Recognized us immediately.” Kalen’s jaw hardened. “Took him out.” He looked over to where I sat. “We’re heading up to the house now. You guys ready?”

  I nodded. “Yeppers.”

  Kalen tilted his head and then shook it. Closing the door, the van rumbled to life once more as Ren took his seat beside me while I stared at the unconscious man.

  He was lucky to be alive.

  “You know what?” I said, blowing out a long breath. “If it were the Order conducting this mission, would they have knocked him out or killed him?”

  Ren didn’t answer for a long moment. “Guess it would depend on who it was.”

  “Yeah.” That didn’t sit well, because even though I knew we weren’t supposed to kill humans, it happened. A lot. “I suppose.”

  As the van slowed to a stop once more, Ren reached over and curved his hand around the nape of my neck. “Hey.”

  I let him turn my gaze to his. “Yeah?”

  “I love you.” He kissed me then, moving his lips over mine in a way that had my toes curling inside my boots. “You’re going to be careful?”

  I rested my forehead against his. “Are you?”

  “Yeah, because I want to get you in bed at least one more time before we have to hit the road.” He nipped at my lower lip. “You like the sound of that?”

  I did, so I kissed him back. “Then you better make sure you don’t get yourself hurt.”

  He grinned against my mouth. “We got this.”

  “We do,” I whispered, pulling away from him when I heard the driver’s side door open and close.

  Moving off the bench, we were careful not to step on the poor dude on the floor as we crouched at the back door. Seconds later, the door slid open and we hopped out into the sunlight.

  There wasn’t any time to waste or to think about what I had to do and what was going to be needed from me, because I knew already. It was ingrained in my bones and muscles. I’d fought and hunted a thousand times.

  Today was no different.

  I had this.

  Ren and I rounded the back of the van, right behind Kalen, just in time to see a tall female fae run down the wide, stone steps. Dane met her there. I barely saw him move, but he got her. She stumbled back, shock registering on her face for a moment before her features crumpled into themselves.

  I shot up the steps, my heart pounding with . . . actual anticipation for battle. It had been so long, but that mixture of fear and excitement could be a heady, dangerous mix. Or it could sharpen the senses.

  And my senses were sharp.

  Curling my hand into a fist, I banged it off the double bronze doors and then stepped back. I knew without looking behind me that the guys were right there.

  The door inched open, and there was a glimpse of silvery skin. All I needed to see. I planted my booted foot into the center of the door, kicking it wide open. The fae behind the door slid back, losing his balance. He went down as Ren flew past me. The fae was dead before he could sound the alarm.

  But the alarm didn’t need to be sounded.

  As I scanned the wide open foyer, I saw several fae—at least a dozen of them lounging about, standing and talking in the atrium style room, or watching TV from the rec room behind the spiral staircase.

  With this many fae, Marlon had to be here.

  “Oh, look.” Ren rose with fluid grace. “A welcome party.”

  “Yay.” Dane flipped a dagger—an iron dagger—in his fae hands. He, like Kalen, was wearing gloves since the mere touch of iron singed their skin.

  The welcome party did that creepy hiss thing really pissed off fae were known for. Then they charged.

  There was a tiny part of me that wondered if maybe I wasn’t ready, but pure adrenaline coursed through my veins, years of training kicking in. Instinct took over.

  Striding across the Spanish tile, I unsheathed the daggers at my thighs and spun, slamming the very sharp end into the chest of the fae on my right. Yanking the dagger out, I whirled and took out the fae on my left before the first one finished collapsing into itself.

  Another charged me, and I dipped low, kicking out and knocking the fae’s legs out from underneath them. I shifted, stabbing the fae in his stomach. Popping up, I darted to the right, just missing what would’ve been a mean uppercut. I caught that fae in the back, right between the shoulder blades. Then I spun, not even out of breath.

  Ren caught a fae with his hand around its neck. Those bright green eyes of his were focused on me as I shoved the dagger deep into the gut of the fae he was holding. “So freaking hot.”

  Flushing, I grinned.

  “If you guys are done screwing each other with your eyes, head up here,” Kalen called from halfway up the stairs.

  “Give us one more second.” Ren winked at me as he pivoted, slamming his shoulder into the fae rushing him from behind.

  Rolling my eyes, I took off for the steps, taking them two at a time. Kalen reached the second floor, coming face to face with a very tall, very bald fae. Unease powered down my spine. The fae looked like one of the Knights—

  “Shit,” he muttered, and a second later, the fae lifted a hand. The dagger ripped free from Kalen’s grasp and slammed into the nearby wall, where the blade trembled from the impact.

  An Ancient.

  Yep. He was one of the Knights that had come through the gateway the night the Prince had entered our world.

  “You picked the wrong side as usual, Summer fae.” The Ancient stalked forward just as footsteps pounded up the stairs behind me. “And you will die for it.”

  The Ancient swung his arm to the side, and without even touching Kalen, he threw him into the wall. Drywall cracked and plumes of plaster flew into the air. Kalen dropped to his knees, obviously stunned.

  The Ancient turned to me, cocking his head to the side. Curiosity marked his features at first, and then, understanding. “Halfling?”

  “Hi!” I chirped, launching into the air. I spun, kicking out and catching the Ancient in his stomach. I landed in a crouch as the Ancient stumbled and lost his balance, going down on one knee. The surprise that filled his gaze m
irrored what I felt.

  A normal kick like that would’ve taken down a human for hours. It would have stunned a normal fae, maybe knocked it to the ground, but an Ancient? It would’ve made them stumble.

  It had knocked the Ancient down.

  I was stronger.

  Rising, I smiled widely as my grip tightened on the daggers. “Surprise. I’m not your normal halfling.”

  “You’ll be a dead halfling soon.” He shot to his feet.

  “Oh, I don’t know about that.” Catching Ren’s gaze out of the corner of my eye, I nodded. We had to get past the Ancient before Marlon escaped. “Sort of already did that. It didn’t stick.”

  The Ancient started to lift his arm, and I knew what he was capable of. I shot forward, spinning as Ren darted past us. I caught sight of Dane grabbing Kalen by the arm, lifting him up as the Ancient caught my leg. He threw me to the side. I rolled, bracing myself for the impact. I hit the floor hard, but I held on to the daggers and breathed through the jarring pain.

  “Not going to fall for that again.” The Ancient started toward me.

  I sprang up. “But you already did.”

  He drew up short and then whipped around, but it was too late. Ren shot forward, and the Ancient let out a guttural groan. Yanking the thorn stake out of the Ancient’s chest, Ren smirked. “Guess you’re going to do the dying thing.”

  The Ancient’s mouth dropped open as he stared down at his chest. I shot past him, flipping him off as we joined the Summer fae at the end of the hall. All the doors were open, the rooms empty. One remained shut at the end. Double doors. Obviously, the master bedroom.

  Dane slammed his shoulder into the doors, and they gave way, flying open. I saw Marlon at once, standing before a large bed. He lifted his arm, and his hand wasn’t empty. It held a gun.

  A gun that was pointed directly at Ren.

  “Shit.” My heart lodged in my throat. I darted to my left, knocking Ren to the side as the gunshot echoed in the hall.

  Ren caught himself and me, throwing an arm around my waist as his eyes widened slightly. He straightened as his gaze met mine. “Thanks, Sweetness.”

  Nodding, I pulled away as I heard the gun fire again. Dane and Kalen were on Marlon. The bullet had fired harmlessly into the ceiling.

  “A gun?” Kalen chopped down on Marlon’s arm. The gun fell to the floor as Dane twisted Marlon’s other arm. “That’s kind of tacky.”

  “I guess you’ve been relying too heavily on your guards, because this was far too easy.” Dane smile slightly. “Pathetic.”

  Marlon sneered as Dane moved behind him. “You’re going to regret this. When the Prince—”

  “The Prince isn’t here, now is he?” I walked into the bedroom. “So, he’s not going to do shit.”

  Marlon’s gaze narrowed on me as Dane clicked iron handcuffs around his wrist and Kalen forced Marlon’s other arm back. “You’re that fucking halfling.”

  “That’s me.” I smiled, sheathing the one dagger.

  “Sit,” Dane ordered, and then made sure the Ancient did just that, forcing him down onto the bench with a heavy push on his shoulder.

  “Looking less like a halfling and more like a fae,” Marlon spit out. “That’s interesting.”

  “I am. That’s a long story, but I’m not here to tell you all about that.” I hooked the other dagger to my thigh. “Because frankly, I don’t care enough to tell you.”

  Marlon smiled, baring his teeth. “He should’ve killed you. He should have went ahead and fucked you and then killed you.”

  I didn’t get a chance to respond to that.

  Ren moved like a cobra striking. His fist slammed into the side of Marlon’s jaw, knocking him to the side. Kalen caught the Ancient as Ren knelt, getting his face right in Marlon’s. “You really need to think wisely about what you say to her.”

  “I remember you.” Marlon laughed, and bluish-red blood trickled out of the corner of his month. “You were her pet.”

  I stiffened. “I cannot wait to kill that bitch.”

  Marlon lifted a dark brow as his gaze flickered to me. “You think you’re going to kill her?” He laughed again. “You’re an idiot.”

  “I nearly gouged her eyes out once.” Anger flowed as I stepped forward. “I’m going to do it again. Slowly.”

  “Is that so? She’ll gouge yours out and dine on them as a snack.”

  I rolled said eyes. “Why would anyone want to eat eyeballs? That’s gross.”

  Kalen grinned as he fisted Marlon’s hair, yanking the Ancient’s head back. “Where did the Prince go?”

  “He left?” Marlon replied.

  “Don’t play like you don’t know.” I folded my arms. “You know damn well he’s not in the city. He left because he found another halfling. And you’re going to tell us where he went.”

  “Is that why you’ve reappeared after your daring escape?” Marlon snorted. “You’re so brave.”

  I smirked. “We’re going to find out just how brave you are.”

  “I’m not going to tell you shit,” Marlon said, growling when Kalen yanked on his hair. “You may as well kill me now.”

  “Oh, you’re going to talk.” Tilting his head to the side, Ren straightened, thorn stake in hand. “Do you know what this is?”

  Marlon’s gaze flickered over the stake. There was a tightening around his mouth. “I do.”

  “And you know what it can do to you? It can hurt you.” Ren smiled as he placed the stake directly above the fae’s heart. “It can kill you.”

  “So will the Prince if he knows I talked to you. I’ll die either way.” Marlon swallowed. “Killing me is not a threat.”

  I could see the cold smile grace Ren’s lips as he drew the stake up over the center of the Ancient’s throat. “Dying is the easy part. I’m not going to make this easy for you.”

  And Ren didn’t.

  It wasn’t easy or clean. It was bloody and messy, and Marlon held out far longer than many would have. Hundreds of thin slits covered every inch of exposed skin, and a few times, I wanted to look away, but I forced myself not to. Not when Ren wielded the stake and didn’t have the luxury of closing his eyes. So I made myself watch, and I didn’t flinch when blood sprayed from a vital artery along the Ancient’s throat, dotting Ren’s face and the front of my shirt. I didn’t look away once, and that’s how I knew deep in my bones that when Marlon uttered the words we’d been waiting for, it was the truth.

  “San Diego,” Marlon gasped. “The Prince left for San Diego.”

  Those were his last words.

  Chapter 20

  We didn’t have a lot of time alone once we returned to Hotel Good Fae and met with Tanner and crew.

  San Diego.

  It would take well over a day to get there, roughly twenty-seven hours, and we had to drive since we were carrying weapons and that would require way too many humans to be glamoured for us to travel by air.

  Both Ren and I needed to shower since neither of us wanted to hit the road with blood on us, and we probably didn’t get ready as quick as we could have, because it was someone’s idea—Ren’s—to shower together, not that I was complaining.

  How could I when it was Ren who washed the smudges of blood off my face? Or when I did the same for him as we stood under the steady stream of water? I was thinking about how we needed to get on the road when he found his way behind me in the shower. And when he got his hand involved, and other parts of his body, complaining and strategizing and thinking in general was the furthest thing from my mind.

  “We did good today,” he whispered against the side of my neck.

  “We did.”