Page 38

“How did the Order betray the Summer Court?” Ren asked, sliding a hand over the steering wheel. “Tanner mentioned it. Now you have. We’re in the dark on what happened.”

“You’re in the dark about a lot of things,” the Prince snarked, and then smiled when I swore I could feel steam coming out of my ears. “Do you ever think about that?” His gaze met Ren’s in the mirror. “Really think about why the Order and your precious Elite kept so much from you—from the very people willing to kill and die for them without remorse or challenge? Did any of you question that perhaps you were killing innocents? That not every fae wants to rule the mortal world? Did any of you once, in your incredibly short lives, ever ask if you were fighting on the right side?”

Uncomfortable with all the truthiness he was speaking, I flipped around and faced the windshield. A moment passed, and I glanced at Ren. A muscle thrummed along his jaw as he stared straight ahead. What the Summer Prince questioned had struck a chord with him too.

How could it not? He’d been right. We’d killed and died for an organization that had lied to us. And here we were, judging Fabian and his kind.

“What did they do?” I asked quietly, unsure if I was ready to hear it or if I wanted to.

Fabian didn’t answer for so long that I thought he might never, but then he did. “Everything you know is practically a lie.”

Ren’s knuckles were bleached white from how tightly he was clenching the steering wheel. “You going to fill us in?”

“We did not start this war with mortals,” he said, looking at the window while Tink watched him quietly. “We were not the ones who broke the treaty between our kinds.”

A frown pulled at my brow. “What treaty?”

He smiled in a way I imagined parents did right before they wished they could crate train their children. “We used to be able to travel more freely between our worlds. Some would grab humans and take them back, but trust me, when they did, it was usually people you would never miss. People who deserved their fate.”

Tink arched a brow.

“Others came willingly.” He raised a shoulder in an elegant shrug. “After all, we are beautiful and mortals are drawn to beautiful things. There used to be a lot more halflings.”

I bit down on my lip. I still had no idea if it was my mother or my father who was the fae. I’d probably never know.

“The Order has been in creation since we first crossed over, and our treaty remained in effect for hundreds of years. They hunted the ones who killed mortals in this world and left ones alone who did not, and when our world began to falter, and more fae crossed over, we worked together with the Order to ensure what was happening to our world did not happen to yours. We confided in them our weakness. We shared our secrets and helped them seal the doorways, but in the end, everything we showed and taught them, they used against us. It was not the fact that they took the Crystal from us that created the rift between our two kinds. Did Tanner tell you that? I’m sure he did. He wouldn’t want to overwhelm you with the truth.”

The inside of the car felt icy. “And what is the truth?”

He turned from the window. “Once we sealed the gateways, the Order slaughtered every fae that had fought beside them, took the Crystal we used to close the doors, and then killed our King, ultimately weakening the entire Summer Court and forcing us into seclusion.”

I gasped in surprise.

“We’d already been weakened, having lost our Queen and my brother many decades before in the fight with the Winter Court,” he continued. “The Order knew that. We trusted them.”

“Why?” I asked after a moment. “Why did they do it?”

Fabian tilted his head to the side. “That is a question we have waited many years to have answered. I have a feeling we’ll have that answer sooner rather than later.”

Talking abwe reachedout cold-blooded betrayal and what was tantamount to murder sure killed the vibe in the car. The only blessing was that it shut Tink and Fabian up for the next several hours.

I spent most of the time mulling over what Fabian had said. Initially, I wanted to deny everything, because it was hard to let go of years and years of a different history, but I knew the Order had lied. We’d seen the evidence of that. The question was how much had they lied about and why had they turned on the fae that had been helping them?

I didn’t have the answers, but when we stopped about eight hours into the drive, somewhere in the never-ending state known as Texas, to fuel up and get something to eat, I used the brief alone time with Ren to get his thoughts while he pumped gas. Tink and Fabian were in the convenience store that was attached to a fast food joint. Our convoy had joined them with the exception of the fae named Fred. He was just staring outside the glass windows of the convenience store, obviously taking watch.

“What do you think about everything Fabian was saying?” I leaned against the passenger door, squinting into the fading sunlight.

“Honest?” He shifted so he was facing me. “I don’t know why he’d lie. What would the point be?”

“I know.” I sighed as I reached up, pushing a curl out of my face. “What about the whole feeding thing?”

“You and I both know there are people who enjoy the feeding.” He pulled the nozzle out. “It’s quite possible that they have a harem of people willing to give away a little of themselves in exchange for money and protection.”

I snorted. Harem of people? For some reason, I pictured a bunch of people barely clothed fanning the Summer Prince with palm fronds.

“And to be honest, I don’t even know where I stand on that. A couple of months ago? I would’ve been dead set against it, but now? Everything has changed.” Placing the nozzle back, he brushed his hands on his pants. “I think we’ve got to let go of some of our beliefs.”

I nodded slowly. “I think you’re right.”

“I’m always right, don’t you know?”

I snorted. “Keep telling yourself that.”

Grinning, he stopped in front of me. “Processing everything we’re learning about the Order isn’t easy. Makes you think about . . . about some of the stuff we’ve done.”

My stomach shifted unsteadily. “Yeah, it does.”

Namely it made me think about how many innocent fae I might’ve killed in the past. It wasn’t like every fae I’d hunted had been caught red-handed. Some had run from me.

And I chased them down like . . . like an animal and killed them.

“Hey,” Ren said softly, drawing my attention. I looked up and saw concern pooling in his gaze. “Where is your head at right now?”

“Just thinking about who I’ve hunted. If they were innocent or not. Like I could’ve murdered—”

“Stop.” He leaned in, eye to eye with me. “We can’t go back and change what we did. We’ve got to live with that and deal with it. Doesn’t mean it’s easier to deal with. Just means we’ve got to.”

I found myself nodding again, because he was right. We couldn’t change what we did or didn’t do. “We can only change what we’re going to do.”

“Exactly,” he replied, looking over the roof of the SUV. “You want to head in with me or hang out here?”

“Hang out here.”

Ren dipped his chin, kissing my temple and then the corner of my mouth. “What do you want me to grab you to eat? And don’t say nothing. You haven’t eaten in hours.”

“That’s bossy.”

He kissed me then and when he pulled back, he nipped at my lower lip in a way that sent a jolt right to all the interesting parts. “What do you want me to get you?”

“A burger and some fries,” I relented.

“‘On it,” he murmured before kissing me again, and then he was off, swaggering across the parking lot.

He did end up getting me a burger and fries, and I ate it—all of it—except the tomato, because ew. Ren had taken the limp slice from me, slapping it down on top of his burger.

The burger and fries sat weirdly in my stomach, and afterward, a brief craving for something more hit me. It was almost like wanting a smoke after dinner, but I focused on Ren, Tink, and Fabian, who were arguing about the speed limit of all things, until the craving passed.