Home > Brave (A Wicked Trilogy #3)

Brave (A Wicked Trilogy #3)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

Chapter 1

The room was so dark I couldn’t make out anything beyond the faint, silvery moonlight seeping between the crack in the thick curtains. The air was still and stale.

But I knew I wasn’t alone.

I was never alone here.

Straining forward, I peered into the darkness. The cool metal of the collar bit into my neck as I willed my heart to slow down, but the pounding against my ribs increased until pressure clamped down on my chest.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe in this—

Something moved closer to the bed.

I didn’t see anything, but I felt the slight stirring of air. My heart lurched into my throat as every muscle in my body tensed. There. A shadow blotted out the thin strip of moonlight.

He was here.

Oh God, he was here and there was no way out of this. There was nothing I could do. This was my future, my fate.

My swollen stomach ached as I shifted, pressing my back against the headboard. The chain jerked suddenly, throwing me to the side. My hands flew out. I grabbed onto the bed, but it was no use. A scream erupted, quickly lost in the shadows of the room. Yanked forward, I was dragged across the bed, toward him. Toward the—

My eyes flew open as I jackknifed upward and over, nearly tumbling off the bed. I caught myself at the last moment, dragging in mouthfuls of air—fresh air that was slightly scented and reminded me of autumns in the north.

Immediately, I pushed the mess of curls out of my face and scanned the room, stopping at the window. The curtains were pulled back, just as I’d left them before I’d gone to sleep. Moonlight streamed in, flowing over the small couch and sitting area. The surroundings and the smell were familiar. Sweet relief pounded through my veins at the sight of them.

But I had to be sure that what I’d just experienced had been a nightmare and not my reality. That I wasn’t still held captive by the Prince, who was hell-bent on impregnating me to fulfill some unbelievable prophecy that would throw open all the doorways to the Otherworld.

Slowly, I placed my hand on my stomach.

Definitely not swollen.

Definitely not pregnant.

So that meant I was definitely not in that house with the Prince.

I lifted a shaky hand, dragging it through my hair. It was just a nightmare—a stupid nightmare. At some point I had to get used to them. I would eventually stop waking up in a panic.

I had to.

My stomach churned, gnawing at me as I took a deep, even breath. Hungry. I was hungry, but I could ignore the hunger, because ignoring the burning emptiness in my gut had worked so far.

Exhaling roughly, I dropped my hands to the bed and swallowed hard. I was wide awake now. Just like the night before . . . and the night before that.

Behind me, the bed shifted and then a deep, sleepy voice rasped out, “Ivy?”

Muscles in my back locked up. I didn’t look behind me as I wrestled my legs free from the blanket. Heat crept into my cheeks. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Don’t apologize.” The sleep cleared from his voice and the bed moved once more, and I knew without looking that Ren was sitting up. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah.” I cleared my throat. He’d asked me that a million times. Is everything okay? And the second most popular question—are you okay? “Yes. I just . . . woke up.”

A moment passed. “I thought I heard you scream.”

Dammit.

The warmth creeping along my face intensified. “I . . . I don’t think that was me.”

He didn’t immediately respond. “Were you having a nightmare?”

I was sure he already knew the answer to that, which meant it should’ve been easy to admit. Plus, a nightmare was no big deal. Hell, Ren of all people would understand if I was experiencing a side order of PTSD to go along with the main dish of Things Were Kind of Screwed Up Right Now. Especially since he’d also spent some R&R time with the Prince and his merry band of psychotic fae.

But for some reason I couldn’t admit to him that I was having nightmares, that sometimes when I woke up I thought I was still in that house, chained to a bed.

Ren thought I was brave, and I was brave, but in moments like these, I . . . I didn’t feel very brave at all.

“I was just sleeping,” I whispered, letting out a shallow breath. “You should go back to sleep. You have stuff to do tomorrow.”

Ren was leaving what I was now calling Hotel Good Fae to see if he could help locate the super special Crystal. Originally, this Crystal belonged to the Good Fae—the Summer fae. The Order had taken it from them and then Val had stolen it from the Order, and now the Prince had it. Without the Crystal, we couldn’t lock the Prince back up in the Otherworld.

“Ivy. Sweetness.” Ren’s voice softened as he placed a hand on my arm. The contact shook me. “Talk to me.”

“I’m talking to you.” I pulled away, slipping off the bed. The minute my feet hit the floor, I started moving. The gnawing emptiness in my stomach grew. “I think I’m going to go work out.”

“At three in the morning?” He sounded incredulous, and I couldn’t blame him for that. Working out in the middle of the night did seem odd.

“Yeah. Feeling restless.” Laying back down next to Ren right now, when my stomach felt the way that it did and with my head where it was, wasn’t an option.

Faye’s words from the night she helped me escape the Prince took the opportune moment to cycle through my thoughts. And if you keep feeding you’re going to get addicted. You probably already are.

Ren knew about the feedings, about the fact that I might’ve killed someone, but he didn’t blame me. He even believed that I wouldn’t hurt him. That I wouldn’t cave to the part of me that had awakened while being held captive—the part of me that was fae and now knew how to feed and how it could make me feel.

And how easy it was.

Ren trusted in me, but I didn’t.

I couldn’t afford belief right now, because I would never, ever forgive myself if I hurt Ren like I knew I’d hurt others. My mouth dried up as my hands opened and closed uselessly.

“Ivy?”

Realizing I’d got lost in my head, I blinked rapidly and refocused. “Have you seen the gym they have in the basement? It’s motivating even me to get on a treadmill.”

Of course he’d seen the gym.

Ren didn’t have the body he had without getting all up, close and personal with the inside of a gym.

“Instead of going to the gym at three in the morning, why don’t you come back to bed?” he asked. “We can watch some shows. Pretty sure you’ve missed some episodes of The Walking Dead.”

I had missed a lot of episodes of my favorite zombie show, which sucked, because every time I saw Tink, he was seconds away from spoiling everything. The same with Supernatural.

A sweet, almost bitter wave of yearning sucker punched me in the stomach, temporarily overriding the shadows lingering in the back of my mind. I wanted to dive-bomb back into that bed, cuddle up with Ren, and fall asleep in his arms, listening to Rick Grimes turn back into the Rick-tator we all know and love. That would be the normal thing to do, and God knows I wanted normal so badly, for so long.

It was why I had enrolled in college even though I already had a career. Well, did have a career in the Order. Who knew now? But I longed to know what it was like to wake up and go to school or work without worrying about dying on the job or discovering that my coworkers had been killed. Normal meant going out to restaurants and the movies. Staying in and marathoning shows without worrying at the possible, impending end of the world. Normal meant that my best friend hadn’t ended up being a traitorous bitch and dying because of her actions and choices.

Normal was so underrated.

The bedside lamp flipped on without warning. Light flooded the room, reaching to where I stood. Some bizarre instinct roared to life. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t want to be seen right now. I backed away from the light, but the moment my gaze met those leaf-green eyes, I froze.

Ren Owens was . . . goodness, he was beautiful in a wild sort of way. He reminded me of autumns in northern Virginia, all golden and copper. His hair was a tumbling russet mess, falling over his forehead and begging to be brushed back. Thick, heavy lashes I was admittedly envious of framed his stunning eyes. His cheekbones were broad and they were matched by a hard, chiseled jaw. Ren’s nose was crooked, and somehow that added to the beauty of his face. He had a lush pair of lips that were usually tilted in a grin, and when he smiled, there were matching, deep dimples.

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