Brave

By: 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.”

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