I stared at him, brows raised.
He drifted a few feet closer, and his chin rose, nostrils flaring. "I smell your blood."
"This just keeps getting better and better," I muttered.
The prince cocked his head to the side. "I can think of many ways to make this evening so much better."
Val moved closer to the prince, and I stiffened. "Don't get near him," I warned.
She raised a brow. "Babe, I've already been near him. Like, really near him if you get my drift."
I totally got her drift.
And I totally wanted to barf.
I also totally didn't get why I was trying to protect her at this point.
"Why are you bleeding?" the prince asked. When I didn't answer, he looked at Val. "Explain."
"We were fighting," she immediately answered, her tone timid. I'd never heard her like that before. Val was the opposite of a quiet, little mouse. "She attacked me. I had to defend myself."
The prince raised an eyebrow. "You were to bring her to me. Not beat her."
"I wouldn't say she 'beat' me," I muttered.
They both ignored me, and there was no mistaking the nervousness in the way Val fidgeted with her fingers. "I wasn't planning for her to see me tonight. You know what I was doing in the Quarter. It was what you asked."
"What were you doing in the Quarter?" I asked, and was ignored, yet again.
The prince angled his body toward Val, which worked to my benefit. I slowly kneeled and reached under my pant leg.
Val shifted her weight from one foot to another. "I told you we needed to give her time, but I promised-"
I unhooked the thorn stake as the prince said, "You promised to bring her over. I do not see how involving fists would accomplish that."
I also didn't understand how Val could promise anything that involved me, but I kept my mouth shut as I stood up.
"I will. I just need time. Ivy is difficult, Drake." Her eyes were wide. "I just need more time."
Drake? That was the prince's name? I stowed away that little piece of knowledge for later, then kicked off, bum-rushing the prince.
He lifted a hand without even looking at me. I hit an invisible wall and was gently shoved back, my booted feet slipping over the pavement as he said, "You do not have permission to address me so directly."
"I'm sorry," Val quickly whispered. "You're right. I overstepped."
I stopped sliding, and I couldn't stay quiet any longer. "Did you just apologize for overstepping? Overstepping? Are you on crack? And she isn't going to woo me to the dark side. I'm un-woo-able. So I don't know what she's been promising you, but it's a whole lot of nothing." I started forward, relieved to see I wasn't blocked again. "You can't use her to get to me, Drake."
He turned his head in my direction and smiled. My stomach flipped, and not in a good way. "I didn't give you permission either."
I spread my arms wide. "Look at all the fucks I have to give. I give zero. Zero fucks."
"Ivy," whispered Val. "You need to stop."
That cold smile of his increased. "Oh, my little bird doesn't know when to stop. She's lucky that she's necessary, but you . . ." He focused on Val. "You are not so lucky."
It happened so fast that I didn't see the prince move. One second Val was standing next to him, and the next, he was by the ledge and Val was gone, and noise was streaming up from the street below.
Horns blew. Tires squealed. The whipping wind sounded like screams as I stood there, frozen for several seconds in panic. "You . . ."
"She was a problem for you, wasn't she?" Drake queried, his voice without emotion. "I took care of her."
Took care of her? My horrified gaze swung in his direction. "How? She was helping you."
"As you said, I couldn't use her to get to you." One broad shoulder rose. "She was expendable. You are not."
Oh my God.
"She betrayed you. I served retribution for you."
Oh. My. God.
Drake stepped toward me, and I raised the thorn stake. "Don't get near me."
His gaze dropped and he sighed. "Remember what happened the last time you pulled a weapon on me?"
A shiver coursed down my spine, because oh yeah, I remembered, but I held my ground. "Do you really think that's going to stop me from fighting you?"
"No," he replied. "Apparently, you do not learn from previous experience."
My hand tightened on the stake as I glanced toward the ledge. "Maybe not, but I don't have to worry about you hurting anyone else right now either. We're alone."
"And that should make you much more wise." He lifted his chin, the dark strands of his hair brushing his shoulders. "I could do anything I wanted to you and there would be no one, including you, to stop me." Those words sent chills down my spine. Several seconds passed and then his icy smile returned. "Goodbye. For now."
The air around him seemed to distort, and in a heartbeat the large raven was back. Spreading its long and broad wings, it swooped back over the ledge and disappeared from sight.
I drew in a shaky breath as I slowly lowered the stake.
Rushing to the ledge, I placed a hand on the cool stone and leaned over. The roar of wind caught the loose strands of my hair and blew them back from my face. I don't even know why I tried to look. I already knew what I was going to see.