Torn – Jennifer L. Armentrout

My blood, red as a freshly picked rose, bubbled up from the center of my palm like my hand was some kind of volcano of freaking doom. I was the halfling. It had been me—it had always been me. And Ren—oh my God—Ren was here to find and kill me, because the prince of the mother freaking Otherworld was free in the mortal realm. The Prince was here to knock up a halfling, to make an apocalypse baby . with me. Me. I was going to vomit. Like all over the hardwood floors of my bedroom. I was having trouble breathing as I lifted my gaze. “Why? Why didn’t you tell me?” Tink’s gossamer wings fluttered silently as he drifted closer. The damn brownie. The damn brownie I’d found in Saint Louis Cemetery.

The brownie I’d made a Popsicle leg brace for and whose torn wing I had carefully wrapped gauze around. The damn brownie I let live in my apartment for the last two and a half years and hadn’t killed yet for spending a fortune of my money on Amazon like he belonged on an episode of Hoarders. The damn brownie was about to get punt kicked into another dimension. He clasped his hands together in front of his shirt, which was covered with powdered sugar. Sprinkles of white covered his face like he’d face-planted into a pile of coke. “I didn’t think it would ever come to this,” he said. I lifted my hand, feeling wet warmth cascade down my arm. “Well, it did come to this, like right now.” Tink floated to the left. “I thought we’d closed all the gates, Ivy. We had no idea there was a second gate here. We believed that there was no chance of any of the royal court or the prince or princess coming through.

It was a non-issue.” Lowering my hand, I shook my head. “Guess what, Tink. It’s not a non-issue. It’s a huge, Godzilla-sized issue!” “I can see that now.” He flew over to the bed and landed on my comforter. “I never meant to lie to you.” I frowned as I turned around. “I hate to break it to you, Tink, but if you don’t mean to lie to someone, you simply don’t lie to them.” “I knooow.

” He drew the word out as he walked to the edge of the bed, his bare feet digging into the purple, chenille bedspread and most likely spreading powdered sugar everywhere. “But you wouldn’t have believed me if I had told you, would you? Not like I had a thorn stake lying around.” Okay. He had a point there. “But when I first brought it up to you, you could’ve said something.” Tink lowered his chin. I took a deep breath. “Did you know what I was when you saw me?” “Yes,” he said, and continued in a rush, “but it wasn’t on purpose. You finding me was a fluke. A coincidence.

Or it was fate. I like to think it was our destiny.” “You can stop there.” It hurt, knowing that he hadn’t been upfront with me this entire time, and it burned deep in my gut and chest. I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know who I was anymore. “I didn’t know until you got near and I sensed the weak fae blood in you. But you’re right. I should’ve told you, Ivy-divy. You’re right, but I was afraid .

I was afraid of what you’d do.” Tink suddenly threw himself backward onto the bedspread, little arms and legs spread out. “I didn’t want to upset you, because you helped me out, and I didn’t want you to do something rash if I did tell you.” “What could I have done?” A ball of emotion knotted in my throat. “What can I do?” He raised limp noodle arms. “You could’ve, I don’t know, hurt yourself.” My mouth dropped open, causing me to wince as the bruised and swollen skin along the left side of my face pulled taut. Hurt myself? I looked down at the thorn stake lying on the floor. “No,” I whispered, bending down and picking up the stake. Using my shirt, I wiped the blood off the tip.

“I don’t want to die.” “That’s good to hear.” Tink was sitting up, arms still at his sides. I placed the stake on the dresser, next to my iron ones and the daggers. “I wouldn’t hurt myself, Tink.” “But you would try to leave.” Tink was closer, in the air behind me. I drew in a deep breath that did nothing to help me. Leave? Was that the next course of action? I stepped away from the dresser, avoiding Tink, which was harder than it should’ve been for someone that was only the size of a Barbie doll. Weary to the core, I walked to the edge of the bed and sat down.

The weariness wasn’t just due to the numerous injuries that were slowly healing. My thoughts were spinning too fast. I closed my eyes and eased onto my back, letting my legs dangle off the bed as panic sliced through my belly. The very idea of leaving had my heart jumping all over the place. Leaving New Orleans meant leaving the Order, and that was huge. One simply couldn’t just up and leave the Order. It was tantamount to going AWOL from the military. There’d be APB put out on me. Other Order members would be on the lookout, and there were sects in every state. I’d only be able to hide for so long.

If I up and left, David would suspect I was a traitor like . like Val, and he’d contact other sect leaders. But it was more than my duty to the Order that made me hesitant to leave—way more. Hell, my duty to the Order dictated that I turn myself over to them, and it wasn’t even that. For the first time in my life, the sudden reluctance to do the right thing had nothing to do with my duty. It had everything to do with Ren. Leaving meant walking away from him, and the mere thought of doing that caused my heart to end up somewhere down near my dangling feet. I loved him. God, I loved him more than I loved pralines and beignets, and that was hardcore, because my love of sugary, sweet things rivaled the most epic love stories known to man. Thinking of never seeing him again made me want to curl into a ball, and that would be incredibly stupid, because I’m pretty sure, with my busted ribs, it would hurt like hell.

I should’ve never gotten close to him. This whole entire time I’d been petrified that he’d die on me like everyone else had. Never once had it crossed my mind that I’d lose him because I would have to walk away. Or run away, fast. But what could I do? There was no way I could let the prince carry out his plans. A child created from a union of the prince and a halfling would literally throw open all the doors to the Otherworld. They would stay permanently open, and all the fae would come through. Mankind would turn into an all-you-can-eat fae buffet. “You’re thinking it now,” Tink announced. I was thinking a lot of things right now.

He landed on my bent knee, and the only reason why I didn’t throw him off me was because I was sure I’d end up hurting myself more in the process. “You think the only thing you can do is leave, but that won’t help you. You’re forgetting something very important. Actually, you’re forgetting two very important things.” He paused. “Come to think of it, you’re probably forgetting a lot, because you got your head knocked—” “Tink,” I warned. He stomped up my leg, which felt like a cat was walking on me. “You have to consent.” I pried my eyes open. The left one was still pretty swollen, so Tink was a blurry form where he stood by my hip.

He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Sex. Consent to sex with the prince. That’s the only way a child can be conceived. No glamour. No magic or compulsion. No tricks. You know, you have to actually want—“ “I know what consent to sex means,” I snapped. “Apparently, you don’t.” Tink jumped off my hip and landed on the bed next to me.

“Because he can’t make you do it. Well, he could make you, and that’s just gross and wrong and not completely out of character for the prince, but a child won’t be conceived.” “Oh, great to know. He could force himself on me, but hey, at least there’s no apocalypse baby. No harm, no foul.” Tink’s little nose scrunched. “You know that’s not what I meant.” He lifted himself up in the air and flew so he was directly above my head. “But there’s a bigger problem, Ivy.” I laughed, and it sounded a little crazed.

Not even drunken crazed. More like hitting the asylum crazed. “What could be worse than me being a halfling?” Panic lit up my chest. Just saying that out loud made me want to vomit. “You said the prince tasted your blood, right?” Tink asked. “After you two fought?” My nose wrinkled. “Yeah. I mean, I’m pretty sure he did after he . smelled me.” “Then there is nowhere you can go that he cannot find you.

” I opened my mouth, closed it, and then tried again. “Come again?” Tink zipped down to the bedspread. “He will be able to sense you anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you went to Zimbabwe, and I’m not even sure where Zimbabwe is, but I just like saying Zimbabwe, but he’d find you eventually, because you’re now a part of him.” I couldn’t even think for a moment, couldn’t even form a coherent thought that did not involve what in the actual fuck. “Are you for real?” Tink nodded and plopped down cross-legged beside my arm. He lowered his voice as if he’d be overheard. “When an ancient, like the prince, takes a part of someone into them, he is forever connected to that person. You’re bonded, in a way.” “Oh my God.

” Unable to deal, I placed my hands over my face. A new horror surfaced. “Then he knows where I am right now?” “Most definitely.” “And he’ll know everywhere I go.” Holy crap, I couldn’t even process the implications. My mere presence would be putting everyone in danger. But what I didn’t understand was, if the prince could sniff me out like some kind of halfling bloodhound, then why hadn’t he showed yet? It had been a week since we fought. What was he waiting for? “It’s really creepy, isn’t it?” Tink said. Creepy wasn’t even the word for it. I couldn’t think of an appropriate word for all of that.

“Do you know how to kill him?” “You kill him like you would kill any ancient. You cut off his head, but that’s not going to be easy.” No shit. Taking out normal fae wasn’t particularly easy. Stabbing them with an iron stake only sent them back to the Otherworld. Chopping off their heads killed them. “But that’s not the most important thing.” Tink grabbed my right hand. My wrist had stopped throbbing, another sure sign that the prince had truly patched up some of the damage he’d inflicted upon me. I eyed the brownie.

“You cannot let anyone know what you are.” “Gee. Really? I was thinking about updating my Facebook to halfling status.” He cocked his blondish-white head to the side. “You don’t have a Facebook, Ivy.” I sighed. Tink continued, because of course. “I looked for you. Wanted to add you as my friend so I could poke you, and I know people don’t poke anymore, but I think poking is a great way to express how one—” “I know I can’t tell anyone, but what’s stopping the fae from outing me?” I asked. “The fae will know if you’re outed, because the Order would kill you.

” He said this like we were talking about Harry Potter, and not about me, you know, being put down like a rabid dog. “The prince won’t want to risk that, even if there are other female halflings out there. He won’t want to risk the time it would take to find another one.” “Well, I guess that’s one good thing,” I said dryly. He let go of my hand. “You can’t even tell Ren. Especially not him.” My gaze shifted to Tink. “I know what he is. I overheard you two talking the morning you left to guard the gate.

He’s an Elite, and while I think that is as lame of a name as the Order, I’ve heard of them.” “How have you heard of them?” He buzzed down until he was standing next to my head. He bent over, whispering in my ear, “I’m omnipresent.” “What?” I frowned at him. “That doesn’t even make sense.” He straightened. “It makes perfect sense.” “I think you mean omniscient.” He glanced up at the ceiling. “Huh.

” “You’re not omniscient,” I told him, and then said, “Are you?” Tink grinned devilishly. “No.” Annoyance flared. “I need you to be up front with me. No more lies. No more bullshit, Tink. I’m serious. I need to be able to trust you, and I’m not sure I do right now.” His eyes widened slightly and then he dropped down to his knees. “I deserve that.

” Yeah, he did, because I took him in and he’d lied to me a lot. It didn’t matter that he had good reasons. He’d still lied. And then it hit me like a smack in the face. I was going to have to do the same thing. Lie for a good reason to Ren and to . to everyone, so I was really no better. “I know about the ancients, because I lived in the Otherworld. We had to learn everything about them to survive,” he said. “The prince and the princess, and the king and queen, are the most powerful, but there has always been talk of the Elite.

Many fae have fallen to them when they used to come and go into this realm as they pleased, before the gateways were closed.” That sounded believable. I guessed. Tink screwed up his face. “Though I am surprised to hear that Ren is one. He doesn’t seem smart or cool enough for that level of badassery.” “Ren is cool and awesome enough,” I corrected Tink. “He’s a total badass.” “Whatever.” He folded his arms across his chest.

“We’re going to have to agree to disagree. Moving on. You cannot tell him. It is his duty to end you.” My breath caught. Like it had been his duty to allow his best friend Noah to walk away, knowing that it would be the last time he’d see him. God, Ren had even said he couldn’t go through that again, and I couldn’t do that to him. I couldn’t put that kind of knowledge on him. “I won’t,” I whispered. Tink nudged my arm with his foot.

“You have to pull it together, Ivy. Like right now.” I looked over at him. “I think I’m owed a pity party for the next couple of minutes.” “Save your tears for the pillow.” I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “This isn’t an episode of Dance Moms.” But Tink was right. Not like I was going to tell him that, especially when I was still considering doing minor bodily harm to him. I needed to pull it together.

I had no other choice. Leaving wasn’t an option. I controlled the whole baby-making aspect and there was no way I was willingly going to knock boots with that freak. I needed to get it together, because the only choice I had now was to stop the prince. Stop the prince and make sure no that one, including Ren, found out what I was. I shivered. A question floated through my crowded thoughts, pushing everything out of my mind. “I don’t get it.” “What?” Tink asked. “How .

how am I a halfling?” I stared at the ceiling. “I don’t remember my parents, but Ren said he checked into them. He said they were in love. How could this have happened?” Tink didn’t answer. He didn’t know. Probably no one would ever know the truth. Anything was possible. My mother might’ve slept with a fae. Or maybe it was like Noah’s father. He’d met a fae woman and had gotten her pregnant before he met the woman he ended up marrying.

I just couldn’t imagine how anyone who knew what the fae were could knowingly sleep with one. I exhaled shakily and thought that maybe I would expel all my tears onto my pillow. I sort of just wanted to roll over and let it all out. Actually, I honestly didn’t want to think about any of it, but that was impossible. “You need to let him go,” Tink said quietly. I turned my head to him. “What?” “Ren. You need to let him go. Push him away. Break up with him.

Whatever. You need to get as far away from him as possible.” I stiffened and my response was immediate. “No.” “Ivy—” “No,” I repeated, waving my left hand. “End of discussion.” Tink stared at me mutinously, but he shut up. I knew that letting Ren go and pushing him away would be the smart and right thing to do in case things went south, but I couldn’t bring myself to even consider that. That probably said really bad things about me. Okay.

It definitely said really bad things about me. But I had just found Ren. I’d fallen underwater, completely over my head, for him, with him, and I couldn’t do it. I was too selfish. He was . he was mine, and I’d be damned if I lost that too due to things completely out of my control. It wasn’t fair. I . I deserved him. “Fine,” Tink muttered finally.

Lying there for a few moments, I gathered what remained of my composure like it was a tattered blanket, wrapped it around me, and sat up, wincing. “I need to shower.” “Thank Queen Mab!” Tink buzzed to the foot of the bed, giving me room. “You were starting to get a bit rank.” I shot him a dark look as I rose. “And your hair looks like I could cook French fries in it.” He twirled in the air and what was left of the powdered sugar hit my face. “It’s that greasy.” My shoulders slumped as I shuffled to the bathroom. “Thanks,” I said, pushing open the door.

Suddenly Tink was right in front of my face, causing me to jerk back. “I know you’re mad at me and you probably want to slice and dice me up and wear my skin as a new bracelet.” I glanced around. “Um. That’s not exactly what I want to do.” Hope widened his eyes. “But I kind of want to flush you down a toilet,” I amended.

.

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