Brave, Page 19Jennifer L. Armentrout
He kissed the space below my ear. “You were amazing, Ivy.”
A small smile pulled at my lips. “So were you.”
“Yeah.” He lifted his mouth from my neck as his fingers skimmed on the most sensitive part of me. “It wasn’t my . . .”
I placed my hand over his, stilling him. “Wasn’t what?”
“Today wasn’t one of my finer moments.”
My smile started to fade. “What do you mean?”
He was quiet for a moment. “I knew what I had to do to make Marlon talk. I knew what he was. What he would’ve done to us if given the chance. But I still don’t like that I had to do it.”
My chest squeezed. “But you had to.”
Ren didn’t respond, so I started to turn to him but the hand curling around my neck stopped me. He guided my head back, turning it just the slightest, and then he kissed me, scattering my thoughts. The hand between my thighs slid up and his arm folded around my waist. He lifted me up onto the very tips of my toes.
I gasped into his mouth when he entered me from behind, thrusting so deep I thought at first I couldn’t take it, but he proved that I could, again and again. We were a slippery, soapy mess as I threw my arms out, planting my hands on the wet tile in front of me as Ren kept one arm secured around my waist and then the other went between my thighs again. He worked me with his fingers and his cock, his breath hot on my neck, his words scorching my ears. When I came, I threw my head back against his shoulder, having a near out of body experience.
Two things surprised the hell out of me in that moment. One, I hadn’t ended up on my ass, and two, even after the whole shower sex thing, Ren was ready to go again when we were getting changed.
Sometimes I wondered if Ren was even human, but I guessed we were just making up for lost time.
And we had a lot of making up to do.
We were ready with minutes to spare, and I used them, stopping at the door before we left, blocking it with my body.
Ren arched a brow, our bags in both hands. “What are you doing?”
“I want to say something and I want to have your full attention.”
One side of his mouth kicked up. “You always have my full attention, Sweetness.”
“I know, but I really want it right now.” I took a deep breath. “What you did today to get Marlon to talk couldn’t have been easy. I know that. I had a hard time watching, but I did. I watched. That’s not the same as actually doing it.”
“No.” He exhaled roughly. “It’s not.”
“But you had to do it, Ren. We needed to know where the Prince went. You did what you had to do and you shouldn’t lose a moment of yourself to that.”
His chin dipped, and for a brief moment I wasn’t sure he would respond. “I won’t.”
I wasn’t sure I believed him. “You promise?”
Ren’s gaze found mine. “I promise.”
“I’ll keep you to that promise,” I swore. Springing forward, I stretched up and kissed the corner of his mouth. His arms swept around me and he held me tight to his chest. Several moments passed before I could force myself to pull away from him. “We better get going.”
“Yeah.” His voice roughened. “If we don’t, we may never leave this room, apocalypse baby or not.”
I blushed as I turned, opening the door, knowing he’d make good on that rather pleasant warning. We arrived in the lobby to discover a rather decent size group waiting for us by the doors I’d never seen opened before. They appeared to lead out to the front of the building.
Dane and Kalen stood beside Faye, the three of them carrying black duffel bags, so I assumed they were part of our entourage. I scanned the group, relieved to see that Merle wasn’t there but a little unnerved by the fae faces I didn’t recognize.
Tink was there though, standing a little bit apart from the group. There was a rather large suitcase beside him. Slung over his shoulder was a . . . Wonder Woman backpack. I parted from Ren, walking up to him. “Where did you get that?”
“I stole it from a little fae girl.” He paused. “Hashtag thug life.”
“What?” My mouth dropped open.
“I’m kidding,” he said, and I wasn’t sure if I believed him or not. “Ordered it from Amazon a few months ago. Goes good with my leotard.”
I eyed him as Ren joined me, holding two paper cups of coffee. He handed me one with a wink. “Thanks.” Then I faced Tink again. “Why do you have your bags down here?”
“Why?” Tink wrinkled his nose. “We have no idea how long we’re going to be gone and I’m not going to wear the same clothes.”
“You’re not going, Tink. You’re staying—”
“I’m not staying here. Hell no. You’re going to San Diego, and so am I. You need me.”
Frustration snapped at me. “Tink—”
“Don’t Tink me,” he shot back. “I get that you want to keep me safe and sound, but I can handle myself.”
I knew he could handle himself, but I still didn’t want him putting himself in danger. “What about Dixon? You can’t bring him.”
“I know that. Hunting down the Prince and possibly killing him is not the place for an adorable kitten,” he said. “Brighton is watching him for me.”
My brows lifted, and then I shook my head as I stepped closer to Tink. “I don’t want you in danger.”
Tink smiled. “Ivy-divy, I know that I’m fucking cute and adorable, but I think you forget what I’m capable of. You guys need me on this trip.”
Ren lightly touched my arm, drawing my attention. “As much as this pains me to admit, Tink is right. We could use him.”
“Don’t take this from me.” Tink lowered his voice. “You all are out there risking your lives. I’ve already spent enough time watching you leave and do that. It’s time I step up.”
I wanted to argue more, but Tink and Ren were right. We could use him. I couldn’t take that from him. I sighed. “Okay.”
“Good.” Tink looked over at Ren. “Wait. Have you two stopped fighting? Oh my Queen Mab, you guys are in love again!”
My eyes widened as I glanced around, seeing that several of the strangers were watching us with detached interest. “Tink . . .”
“We were never not together,” Ren said, dropping his arm over my shoulders.
The blue and red bag slipped to the floor as he clapped his hands like an overexcited seal. “You guys are! This is amazing.”
“Tink,” I said again, this time with a little more force behind his name.
“Thank the faery lords and ladies, I will not be a product of a split home.”
“For the last time, we are not your parents, Tink.” I shook my head as I started to turn but stopped. “Pick up your bag.”
Ren leaned in as Tink snatched the bag off the floor. “You sound like his mom.”
“Shut up,” I hissed.
“There you two are.” Tanner stepped out of the huddle. He didn’t look at me like I wasn’t supposed to be there. “Let me introduce you to Fabian’s consuls.”
The strangers stepped forward, and after a blur of very fae-like sounding names except for the last dude who was introduced as Fred, I realized I would not remember a single name from this point on.
Each one smiled and nodded kindly, leagues more polite than their prince.
“We have three vehicles waiting for you outside,” Tanner said, and Faye stepped forward, carrying several packages.
“Each of us will have a phone equipped with GPS that will be tracked from here in case something happens and we must separate,” Faye explained, handing me the envelope.
Setting my coffee on the nearby table, I felt around the envelope, touching four separate phones. I figured Tink would be traveling with Ren and I. “Why are there four?”
“Because I will be joining you.”
My jaw clenched as I turned around. Fabian had arrived, looking as dashing as a doorknob. “Yeah, you’re going to need to find a different car to ride in.”
Tink whined in a low voice. “He will be riding me.”
Ren choked on his coffee and turned, wheezing softly.
I turned to Tink. “You want to maybe rethink what you just said?”
“Oh, no. I said that right.”
“If he’s going to be in the car with us, he will not be riding you while we’re in there, okay?” I couldn’t believe I actually had to speak those words. “I think I’m going to find who Faye is riding with—”
“Oh no.” Ren caught the back of my shirt. “You are not leaving me with them.”
Fabian moseyed on up to Tink, eyeing the suitcase. “What is in the suitcase? Seems rather . . . bulky for clothing.”
Come to think of it, the Summer Prince was right.
Grabbing the handle of the large suitcase, Tink looked over at Fabian. “Our last resort. Meaning this suitcase is not to be opened unless the shit has gone so far south we’re up to our necks in fuckery.”
Ren nudged me. “Uh, what do you think is in the suitcase?”
“I have no idea, but I’m thinking I probably should find out.” I started toward him, but the doors opened and sunlight poured in. Just like earlier today, I was startled for a second to know that I could just walk right out of here.
And that’s what everyone was doing. I followed Ren outside to where Faye and her crew loaded up into one of the SUVs, Fabian’s consul got in what appeared to be a fancy Porsche of some sort, which left us with an SUV that was the size of a small tank.
I didn’t even attempt to take the keys from Ren.
After loading up the back with the bags Ren and I had hurriedly packed before we left the room, I walked around to the front passenger seat. Tink trailed after me. “Do you think the Prince has already found the Halfling?”
“I hope not.” I opened up the door. “Because that sure as hell complicates things.”
“It does more than complicate things.” Fabian watched me closely. “If the Winter Prince has found her and does what we’ve feared, we’ll have to handle it.”
Ren’s fingers coasted over my waist as he walked by. “We will.”
I knew what that meant. I hated it. Because it could easily be me in that situation—it could be me being handled, just like Merle had said when I first arrived here. But if the Prince had found the Halfling and managed to do the deed, we had to stop the baby from being born, and I knew the crew we were traveling with wasn’t going to be down with having a very uncomfortable conversation with this Halfling and hoping she volunteered to do what would be the right thing in this case.
I watched Fabian walk over to the other side of the SUV and then my gaze roamed over to the other cars.
I knew what they’d do. They’d take the woman out, no questions asked.
The idea of killing an innocent woman and her child sickened me. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want any of us to do that.
So that left us with only one option.
“We better find her first,” I said, filling with steely resolve. “And make damn sure she doesn’t get pregnant.”
We hadn’t even gotten out of the state of Louisiana and I was already ready to duct tape both Tink and Fabian’s mouths shut. A few hours into the trip and I’d learned two things.
Fabian could make everything sound like he was insulting me. And Ren had this magical ability to tune everyone out and focus on driving.
Rubbing my forehead, I stared out the window as we cruised on down I-10. The outside was a blur of buildings and trees, and somehow the conversation in the back seat had moved on to me and my hair.
“I don’t think she can honestly brush it,” Tink was saying. He’d leaned forward so he was halfway between the seats. “Because when she does, it just turns into a giant poof.”
Counting to ten, I slid a glance over at Ren. A faint smile played across his lips, and if he hadn’t been driving, I might’ve punched him.
“So she doesn’t comb it all?” Fabian asked, sounding genuinely confused.
I looked over my shoulder. “I comb my hair, you assholes.”
Ren snorted. “I’ve seen her do it. When it’s wet.”
“Let’s talk about something other than my hair, okay?” I suggested before I climbed into the back seat like a rabid spider monkey and strangled all of them.
“Like what?” Tink sat back. “I’m bored.”
“You’re bored already and we have like another twenty-some hours left,” I reminded him.
Tink groaned. “I’m not going to make it.”
“I could entertain you,” Fabian suggested. “We could—”
“Yeah, no,” I jumped in, because I had a feeling his version of entertaining Tink wasn’t PG-13 and I didn’t want to witness any of that. My gaze zeroed in on the Summer Prince. He was obviously into Tink, but the fae were pretty much into anything that walked and had a hole. A wave of protectiveness seized me. “Let’s talk about you, Fabian.”
The Summer Prince stretched an arm along the back of the seat and inclined his head. “I have no problem with that.”
“Of course not,” Ren muttered under his breath.
I fought a smile. “How old are you?”
The Summer Prince raised a fair brow. He looked like he was in his late twenties, but instinct told me that wasn’t his real age. “Older than some of the trees planted along this road.”
So my suspicions were correct. I glanced at Ren and saw that he was listening. “Then that means you feed, because you sure as hell aren’t aging like Tanner.”
“I am the Prince. All of the royal court feeds.”
“Really?” I said, my hand balling in my lap. That was something else that Tanner had not disclosed.
“You don’t like hearing that.” A smirk appeared. “And yet you fed to save your life.”
“It wasn’t a choice I made,” I said.
Tink leaned forward again. “What Fabian is leaving out is that they have people who volunteer to be fed on. They’re not being forced.”
My brows lifted. “Volunteered or under a compulsion? I remember the people Drake had in that house. Some looked like they wanted to be there, but I doubt any of them knew what they were getting themselves into.”
A shadow crossed Fabian’s expression. “Those who allow us the honor of feeding from them do so under no compulsion. They know what we are. They choose to help us as we help them.”
I didn’t believe that for a second. “And how do you help them?”
“In my community, we protect the mortals who allow us to feed. They want for nothing. Money. Healthcare. Security.”
Sort of reminded me of escorts, but I figured I’d keep that part to myself. “And they know what you guys are capable of? How you can drain them to the point they turn into mindless, psychotic creatures?”
His eyes narrowed. “We never take more than we need. If any of my subjects were to, they’d be executed on the spot.”
“Really?” Ren’s gaze flicked to the rearview mirror. “That’s pretty hardcore for a race of beings that has always put themselves first.”
“As if you know anything about our race,” Fabian replied. “We have been here far longer than you know. Think about that.”
“I’m thinking about it,” he replied dryly.
“You knew nothing of the Summer Court or that our courts have taken up residency here. There is a reason for that. We do not kill. We do not abuse mortals. Believe it or not, we view them as equals.”
“I know it sounds hard to believe,” Tink chimed in. “But he’s telling the truth.”