Page 6

I felt the same disgust. Kyle Clare ran the group of Elite that Ren had come from, and he was a dick. A giant, flaming dickhead who had killed Ren’s best friend Noah.

Noah had turned out to be a halfling, leaving Ren torn between his duty and someone he cared about. The same exact position he found himself in with me.

“That’s the thing that keeps getting to me.” Ren tipped his head back, working his neck from side to side. “Why would they keep the fact that there were fae out there who were good a secret? That they worked side by side with them?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered. That was the question of the year it seemed.

Ren’s gaze found mine. “We’ve had Order members dying in the fucking streets every week fighting the fae. How many died the night the doorway was opened?”

“Sixteen,” I answered, a number I’d never forget.

“And the whole time there was this place full of fae that could fight by our side, who want the same thing as we do. It’s bullshit.”

It was a lot of things. Bullshit was only one of them. “I’ve been thinking about it. I just can’t believe there isn’t a reason. I’m not saying it’s a justifiable one, but why did the Order take the Crystal from these fae, and why did they hide their old alliance from all of us? It has to be something big.” I glanced down the silent aisles. “And I can’t believe it was just the Order. Especially since Tanner hasn’t been exactly forthcoming on the hows and whys of what happened.”

“Yeah, whenever I’ve brought it up, he’s dodged the question. So has Faye.” He leaned over, his arm brushing against my bent leg. “And you know what they always say. There are three sides to every story.”

“The Order. The Summer Court. And the truth,” I answered. “Do you . . . do you trust them—the fae here?”

When Ren’s gaze found mine again, I didn’t look away. “I do or I wouldn’t have given up the daggers to stay here.”

Tanner had asked that our weapons be handed over, just in case. We had, but the thorn stake remained in our room, because those things were rare and were the only weapon that could take out an Ancient.

“We’ve been vulnerable, so they’ve had plenty of chances to take us out. They haven’t. They’ve made sure we’ve been fed, have a roof over our heads, and we’re somewhere safe. Plus, they helped get you here.” He reached in, lightly touching my hand with the tips of his fingers. “Do you trust them?”

My gaze dropped to his fingers. Truthfully, there were only two people in this entire world that I trusted a hundred percent right now. Ren and, as crazy as it sounded, Tink. I’d learned the hard way that no matter how well you thought you knew someone, that didn’t mean you really did. Val was proof of that.

“I trust you,” I said.

Ren quietly slipped his hand under my palm, threading his fingers through mine. My breath caught as a knot of emotion swelled in my chest. Slowly, I closed my fingers around his. He lifted our hands to his mouth, placing a kiss to the top of my hand. A whirling cyclone of yearning and hesitation formed a tangled mess inside me. I wanted to climb into his lap and I wanted to run away.

He lowered our hands to his thigh. “Let’s go grab dinner.”

Yes was on the tip of my tongue, but that wasn’t what came out of my mouth as I pulled my hand free. “I already grabbed something to eat, but you can go ahead. I’m going to get back to men in kilts.”

A muscle flexed along his jaw and then his expression smoothed out. “What did you eat?”

Recalling the conversation with Tink, I went into exaggerated detail on what I’d consumed today. Half of it was a lie. After I’d showered, I had eaten a giant bowl of Cheerios and a peanut butter sandwich. Both had settled in my stomach like lead and there had been a few terse moments where I thought I was going to spend the rest of the afternoon praying to the porcelain god.

When I was finished, I wasn’t quite sure if Ren believed me or not. “Okay,” he drew the word out. “Then come sit with me while I eat.”

Tension seeped into my muscles. Knowing that the cafeteria would be jam packed with fae—with fae that knew exactly what I was and what the Prince had wanted from me—turned my stomach.

I pressed back into the cushion of the chair. “I think I’m just going to chill here.”

Disappointment flashed across his face, and I had to look away. “Ivy.” There was a pause as I felt his intense gaze on me. “I miss you.”

“I’ve been right here,” I said, trying to suppress the sudden surge of irritation. Being irritated with him wasn’t right. Ren was doing nothing wrong. I drew in a deep breath and forced a smile. “I have no other place to go.”

“You’re here, Sweetness.” His voice was soft, but I flinched nonetheless at the use of the nickname. I should’ve known. When the Prince was masquerading as Ren, he never called me that. “Physically, you’re here, but that’s about it.”

I opened my mouth, but I didn’t know how to respond to that because he was speaking the truth. No one had to be observant to see that.

He waited for me to respond, and when I didn’t, his shoulders lifted with a deep breath. He rose, and when he spoke, his tone made my chest ache, because there was this . . . immeasurable gulf between us and it just kept growing, expanding until I worried that there’d be no bridge big enough for either of us to cross. “I’m going to grab some food. You know where to find me.”

Pressing my lips together, I nodded.

Ren stared down at me for a moment, and I thought he might say something, but he didn’t. He turned and walked away, his back straight and stiff. And I sat there, staring at the space he’d stood in long after he’d gone.

I wanted him to stay.

I wanted him to pick me up and drag me to the cafeteria.

But I also wanted nothing more than what he’d just done, which was to leave me alone with the emptiness.

Chapter 4

As evening grew into night, I gave up on reading and left the library. I really didn’t have a plan for where I was going. Antsy, I was just roaming the halls while avoiding, well, everyone.

I knew no matter how long I avoided going back to the room, Ren would be awake. He’d just be lying there, gaze glued to the TV, whether it was nine or two in the morning. Every night he waited for me while I got changed in the bathroom like I was sixteen again. The covers on my side of the bed were pulled back. I’d climb in and lay down, and a few seconds would pass, and then he’d curl around me, holding me tight against his chest.

That contact, his chest against my back, his arm around my waist, always frazzled me. It was too much and not nearly enough all at once, but it was the only thing that helped me fall asleep.

Ren was the only reason I fell asleep.

I slept the meager hours that I managed to get every night because of him, because he waited for me. Because he’d been nothing but patient, and God, he was such a good guy. Perfect. For real. He could even fold fitted sheets, and who could do that? I was just being so . . . so freaking screwed up.

I stopped just outside the courtyard and stared up at the hundreds and hundreds of twinkling string lights.

When I first saw the old Power Plant off Peters Street, it had looked like one of the many rundown, abandoned buildings, but that was some powerful glamour. Now I saw it for what it truly was: a beautifully renovated building that rivaled any of the swanky hotels in New Orleans. Faye had said they could house hundreds of fae who were looking for a safe place to hide out. The courtyard was beautiful—peaceful. That was why I often found myself out here. I could just sit and be alone.

I could think—think about all the things I didn’t want to think about around other people.

As I walked under the paper lanterns and twinkling string lights, I wondered if this was what parts of the Otherworld looked like.

That was something I’d never thought about before.

I followed the path toward what I now considered my swing. There was an unseasonable chill to the air, and locals probably thought it was too cold. I would’ve been loving it except I knew it was because the Winter Court was spilling into New Orleans.