Page 30

It was like the sharp edge of a dagger taken to an overinflated balloon. I burst wide open, every thought and feeling on the outside of me, drenching my skin and threatening to pull me back under.

There was no hiding, no pretending. There was no room left to lie. I closed my eyes. “I don’t . . . I don’t know who I am anymore.”

Chapter 17


I’d said it.

I’d said it out loud and I’d said it to Ren. There was no taking it back, not when it was out there in the open like that. No way.

“Ivy.” He said my name like it broke him. Like he was a balloon that had burst, too.

I kept my eyes closed because I didn’t want to see his face. “Ever since the . . . the Prince, I haven’t felt like myself. I did things and I know—I know he made me do those things, but it made me feel like I wasn’t me.” I lifted my hands from the water, squeezing them into fists. “Now I don’t even look like me, and I have this thing inside me—this need that was never there before—this hunger. I just . . .”

Pressing my lips together, I inhaled roughly through my nose and opened my eyes. Ren hadn’t come any closer. He was as still as a statue, but he was watching me, and I knew he hadn’t looked away. Not once. “And I’ve been stuck in my head, you know? Just trying to make sense of every damn thing that happened so it’s hard to get out of my head. That’s why I got my ass kicked by those fae. I wasn’t paying attention, and I haven’t been eating right, and—and that night I told myself I’d finally talk to you. I would tell you what’s going on, but you . . . I saw you with Tink and Faye in one of the common rooms, and you looked so relaxed. So relaxed and normal that I didn’t want to ruin that. I didn’t want to take that from you.”

Ren closed his eyes, face tensing.

“I really did plan on talking to you that night, but then . . . then the whole stabbing thing happened.” I drew in a shuddering breath. “Then I fed and we—you know what happened. Then I learned about the Prince being able to get through the glamour, and I just panicked. I flipped out and yes—yes! My plan was stupid. It was a knee-jerk reaction. You’re right. And Tink is right, because it was also cruel. And I’m sorry for not telling you. I was running, and it was wrong, but I just wanted to make sure you two were safe, because you and Tink are all I have. I wanted to be in control, but I just didn’t think it through.”

His eyes were open again, his expression strained. Pale. It was hard looking at him, because he looked like how I felt.

“And I . . . I woke up this morning and told myself that I was going to be okay. I was going to get my shit together. That I was in control of me. I could ignore the hunger. That my body was mine, my thoughts were mine. That I could be okay with having slightly silvery skin and pointy ears. I even wore my hair up to prove that.” I was rambling now and I couldn’t seem to stop myself. “I woke up this morning telling myself I was in control, and then I . . . I really wasn’t.”

A tremor coursed through me as I stepped back, bumping into the pool wall. “You telling me I had to stay here, then Merle trying to handcuff me to God knows what, and all I want is for things to be the way they were before.”

Ren’s jaw tensed, and a too-long moment passed. “I’m sorry.”

Not expecting that response, I blinked.

His chest rose with what appeared to be a heavy breath. “I didn’t mean to take that from you today. Fuck.” He lifted a hand, running it over his head, pushing locks of wet hair back. “I just wanted you safe, and if the Prince had left New Orleans, then you would be safe here.”

“I know,” I whispered, wiping at the tears on my cheek. “But I have to be there when you go to find Marlon. I have to . . .”

“Take back control. I know.” He dropped his hand as he stepped forward, stirring the water. “I’ve made this harder for you while I’m thinking I’m making it easier, doing the right thing.”

“We both have,” I admitted quietly, and that was the truth. We both thought we were doing what was best for each other, but in the end, we were doing more harm than good.

Ren looked away, his jaw flexing. “Yeah, but I gave you shit for planning to leave without me, and then I turned around and planned to do the same thing.”

“But you probably meant to actually tell me first,” I pointed out.

“That doesn’t matter.” The muscles in his shoulders tensed. “We fucked up, didn’t we?”

My breath hitched again. He wasn’t looking at me, and I felt my stomach drop like I was on a roller coaster. “I know you probably don’t want to do this with me anymore. I know I hurt you and—hell, you were right when you said I’ve always been running. You don’t have to keep chasing me. That’s not right.” I swallowed hard when his head swiveled toward me. “We never even got the chance to have a normal relationship. Can’t be surprised that this isn’t working out. We can’t—”

“What?” Ren cut through the water like he was born in it. Within a heartbeat, he was right in front of me and then his hands were touching my cheeks, cupping them. “Let’s hit pause for a second, because I want to make something real clear.”

Our gazes locked, and I couldn’t even formulate a response.

“I was pissed at you. You’re probably still pissed at me. We’re fighting and we got some shit to work through, but that’s normal. What we’re dealing with outside of us isn’t, but we are still an us.” His gaze searched mine. “I still love you. I’m still right here with you. Has that changed for you?”

My heart all but exploded in my chest. I didn’t know until this very moment how badly I needed to hear that—to remember that this was normal. Couples fought. Sometimes they said things they wish they hadn’t. Sometimes they didn’t agree and did things that could hurt each other. It wasn’t like Shaun and I never argued. There’d been calls that ended abruptly. Doors slammed in faces. I’d just . . . I’d just forgotten that.

I’d forgotten that there could still be an us through the storm.

And that’s what made this different, made this special, because I knew out there in the normal world, there were people who never made it past the first hurdle, who gave up the moment it got hard or required them to admit they’d been wrong. And our hurdles had been high. They were still there, the size of skyscrapers, looming over us like the shadow of winter when you’re desperately clinging to summer.

“I’m still here,” I said, my voice shaky, my entire body trembling. “I’m still with you. I still love you. I never stopped. I can’t.”

I don’t know who made the first move. It could’ve been me. Maybe Ren. But whatever distance that was between us evaporated and I don’t know if it was him who kissed me or me who kissed him. We were both grabbing at one another. Ren holding my cheeks. Me clutching at his shoulders, rising up onto the tips of my toes.

And when our lips met, it was the sweetest, softest kiss. A touch of our mouths that turned into a slow exploration as if we were getting reacquainted with each other, and . . . we really were.

His bare skin against my hands was hot and wet as one of his hands slipped back, his fingers brushing my ear and tangling in my hair. My lips parted as I whispered his name, and the kiss deepened as he shuddered against me.

God, I missed this—the closeness, the intimacy. What had happened between us after I fed wasn’t intimate. It was just ferocious need driving both of us. This was different.

My hands slid down his chest, to where his heart beat as wildly as mine.

Ren pulled away to ask, “Is this okay?”

Was it? We were in the pool and we’d been fighting minutes ago. Anyone could walk in on us, but there was still an us, and I didn’t care. I wanted him. I needed him in a way that was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, and we were kissing without me trying to suck out his essence.

I needed this.

“Yes,” I told him, and I thought I ought to show him too.

Hooking an arm over his neck and leaning in, I brought my mouth to his. This kiss was nothing like the one before it. It didn’t start off sweet and slow.