Page 48

“Hey,” Ren spoke first, hopping up on the sidewalk. “Long time no see.”

Daniel and Miles looked up and over, but I knew that they had been aware of our approach before that moment. “You guys are early,” Daniel said.

“So are you,” I replied.

“Thought you were coming by yourself.” Ren’s gaze flickered over Daniel’s second in command. “How are you doing, Miles?”

Miles lifted his chin. “Can’t complain.”

If both of them were here, I wondered who was running the New Orleans branch. I was about to ask that when I stepped under the street lamp, but I didn’t get the chance.

The men saw me, like, really saw me.

Daniel’s lazy sprawl changed in an instant. He pulled his legs up and sat straight, his eyes widening. For the first time in my life, I saw a reaction in Miles. His mouth dropped open as his gaze flicked over my face.

“You should see the ears,” I said, having left my hair down.

Miles snapped his jaw shut.

“What in the hell?” Daniel exclaimed. He looked like he was about to stand, but couldn’t move.

Ren started to step in front of me, but I lifted my arm, stopping him.

“I look different. I know. It’s a long story.”

Daniel stood then and took a step toward me. I could feel Ren tensing. “How?” Daniel asked, voice gruff. “How is this possible? You couldn’t have gotten—”

“It’s more of a recent thing.” I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable with their intense scrutiny. “And I will tell you everything, but I think . . .” I glanced over at Ren, who looked like he was seconds from making sure they were staring at someone or something else. “I think we should start at the beginning.”

“Yeah.” Miles’ expression smoothed out, becoming unreadable. “I think you need to do that.”

So that’s what Ren and I did. We told them everything, starting with how I figured out I was the Halfling, how the Prince was able to capture Ren and me, and how we escaped. I even told them about the forced feedings and that it was a fae who had helped me escape. We told them how I had been attacked and how I had been healed.

It was Ren who explained that in a low voice. “I made the choice. It wasn’t Ivy’s. If it was, she would’ve never agreed to it and she wouldn’t be here right now.”

Daniel looked somewhat awed when he sat back down while Miles had no change in his expression at all.

“He saved my life—feeding saved my life.” I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. “I wasn’t okay with it. Ren was right. I wouldn’t have agreed to it, and I was pissed at him, but I would’ve done the same thing to save his life. That’s why I . . . I look the way I do now. It made the part of me that is halfling stronger, but I’m still Ivy.” I lifted my chin as I said the last words. “Who I am hasn’t changed.”

“Kind of hard to believe that when I’m looking at you, seeing that you’ve changed,” Miles said.

“Just because she looks more beautiful than she did before, doesn’t mean she isn’t still the kickass Ivy out there fighting the good fight,” Ren interjected.

There was a good chance I fell in love with him even more in that moment.

Miles tilted his head to the side, his brows snapping together.

“You all have no idea what we’ve been through to get where we are standing right now. No idea,” Ren continued, his voice hardening. “And if we were really working with the Prince or against the Order, we wouldn’t be standing here. Do not question my loyalty and you better not question hers.”

“Is that everything?” Daniel asked, sounding wary.

“It is,” Ren answered.

Kind of. We’d told them everything—everything except for where the Summer Court was and that they had come with us. I also hadn’t told them about Tink.

“Why didn’t you contact me—contact us?” Anger seeped into Daniel’s voice. “We had people out there looking for you. Both of you. For weeks, until we assumed you were both dead—”

“Or that we had betrayed the Order,” I finished for him. “We did neither of those things, but it was too risky to contact you. I was still healing and my head . . .” Drawing in a shuddering breath, I tried again. “I wasn’t ready to talk to you, or to anyone.”

Daniel’s gaze met mine for a brief moment and then he looked away.

“What about Kyle?” Miles asked. “Daniel mentioned that you ran into him on the way here. We haven’t heard from him.”

“He’s dead.” I was the one who answered. “He tried to kill us, and if he was alive, he’d have kept trying to kill us. So, he’s dead—a dead liar.”

“Bold words,” Daniel murmured.

“True words.” I waited until a young couple passed us. “Do you know how the Elite and the Order once closed the gates?”

Miles didn’t answer. Neither did Daniel.“I know that the Order once worked with the fae to close the gates. That was how you all got your hands on the Crystal, and I know that the Elite betrayed those fae—the fae who did not hunt mortals—the fae who hunted others of their kind that did.” I didn’t mistake the sharp inhale. “Kyle said it was the Elite that turned on them, but there was no way that the Order didn’t know. I know that was before all of our time and the stories have changed over the years, but I’m alive because of good fae.”

“It’s hard to think that such a creature exists,” Miles commented.

“You’d be surprised”—Ren pinned him with a stare—“by what you once thought was true. I was trained in the Elite. I know I was trained with a lot of lies.”

“And that statement is damn near treasonous.” Miles stepped around the bench. “You do realize that.”

“Still the truth.” I kept an eye on him. “The Order knew that there were good fae before—that the fae had helped us. Why were we never told that?”

“The treaty between our kinds was so long ago it no longer mattered how it used to be,” Daniel said. “If I remember correctly, it was the Summer Court who helped us once upon a time, and after the gates were closed, there was no more Summer Court. It would’ve been too dangerous for our members if they knew that maybe—just maybe—there were fae out there that didn’t want to harm them or other mortals. Each time they’d hesitate to determine if the fae they were dealing with meant them harm, they’d be vulnerable to attack.”

“I understand that, but we should’ve known.” My hands closed into fists. “They were there, always there. They could’ve been helping us this entire time.”

“They could’ve. And many more of our members would’ve died trying to decipher which fae were good and which were bad,” Daniel reasoned. “And you’re forgetting that we had no reason to believe that these Summer fae were still here. We were told that they were all killed.”

“Slaughtered would’ve been a better word.” I got what Daniel was saying. It even made sense, but it didn’t make it okay, and we were all going to have to move past it if we had any hope of defeating the Prince. “We can stand here all night and argue about who are the bigger betrayers, and while we do that, I’m guessing the Prince gets one step closer to the Halfling that’s in San Diego.”

“Because that’s why you’re still here, right? If you all had found the Halfling, you would have killed her and then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Ren lifted his chin. “We’re here to stop the Prince, just like you are.”

“We know how to send him back to the Otherworld,” I said, and that got their attention. “He has the Crystal. We know there is a ritual that will seal him back in the Otherworld. And if we can’t get the Crystal and complete the ritual, then we’ll kill him. Since we have no idea how to weaken the bastard enough to get him with the thorn stake or to, you know, decapitate him, we’re going to need the Order’s help.”