I sighed. “I’d rather not get into it, if that’s okay.”
“All right,” he relented, but only for a second. “But you can tell me stuff. We’re friends now.”
“Thanks, and I appreciate the sentiment, but … we can’t be friends,” I told him gently.
“What are you talking about? We are friends,” Linus insisted, and this time I didn’t have the heart to argue with him.
The fire crackled in my wood-burning stove, and I slipped out of my jeans—muddy and wet from the walk around town with Linus. Wearing only my panties, I pulled on an oversized sweatshirt and went over to my bookshelf. After a long day, the only thing that sounded good to me was curling up in bed with a book.
I’d finally caved and texted Ember a few hours ago, but she hadn’t replied. So I needed a good distraction. Most of the books I owned were old and worn, but I tried to pick up a few new ones every time I went out on a mission. I’d hoped to restock my shelves while I was in Chicago, but that trip had been cut too short.
Since I didn’t have anything new, I decided to reread one of my favorites—a battered hardcover of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It was wedged stubbornly between several other books, and I’d just finally managed to pull it free when I heard the creak of my front door opening.
I whirled around, brandishing the book with the intention of bludgeoning an intruder with it, but it was only Ridley, his black jacket hanging open and his hands held palm-up toward me.
“Easy, Bryn. It’s just me.”
“Why are you sneaking up on me?” I demanded, refusing to lower my book.
“I’m not sneaking. I just step lightly.” He stayed in my doorway, letting a cold draft in around him. “Can I come in?”
I was acutely aware of the way I was dressed—no pants, with the hem of the sweatshirt hitting my midthigh, and the stretched-out neck left it hanging at an angle, revealing my left shoulder and bra strap, along with the jagged scar that ran below it. But I didn’t want to seem aware of this, tried to act as if it didn’t feel like a big deal to be standing half naked in my small apartment alone with Ridley.
So instead of rushing over to put on pants or hiding underneath a blanket, I shrugged and said, “I guess.”
“Thanks.” He came inside and closed the door behind him.
And then we stayed that way for a moment, neither of us saying anything. The only light in the loft came from the dim fire and my bedside lamp, casting most of the room in shadows. His eyes bounced around the room, never lingering on anything, and he licked his lips but didn’t speak.
“Why are you here?” I asked finally, since it appeared he might never say anything. “You never come to my apartment.”
“I’ve been here before,” he corrected me. He shoved a hand in the back pocket of his jeans and shifted his weight.
I folded my arms over my chest. “You don’t usually come here. Why are you here now?”
“Do you wanna sit down?” He motioned to the couch to the side of me, but I didn’t move toward it.
“Why would I want to sit down? What’s going on?” My blood pressure had been steadily rising since Ridley had opened the door, and my whole body began to tense up. “What happened?”
“It’s nothing bad.” He exhaled deeply and brushed his dark curls back from his forehead. “I mean, it’s not as bad as it sounds.”
“Just spit it out, Ridley.”
“Ember ran into Konstantin Black on her mission.”
For a moment I couldn’t breathe, and I barely managed to get out the word, “What?”
“There was a small altercation, and she was hurt, but—”
That was all I heard, and all I needed to hear, and then I was scrambling to get out of there. I tossed my book down on the couch and ran over to my dirty jeans in the hamper.
“Bryn.” Ridley walked over to me, but I ignored him.
“I need to get to her, Ridley,” I said, nearly shouting by then, in a quavering voice.
“No, listen to me, Bryn.” He put his hands on my arms, and I suppressed the urge to push him off and hit him. His grip felt solid and strangely comforting, so I looked up at him and tried to slow my ragged breaths.
“Ember is okay.” Ridley spoke slowly, his words clear and calm. “She was injured, but it’s nothing critical, and she managed to get out with the changeling. She’s on her way home, and she’ll be here tomorrow morning. You don’t need to go after her.”
I breathed deeply, letting his words sink in, and then I nodded. “She’s okay?”
“Yes, I talked to her on the phone, and she sounded good.” He smiled crookedly, trying to reassure me.
“What about Konstantin?”
Ridley didn’t answer immediately, but he didn’t look away, so I searched his eyes, looking for a glimmer of hope, but found none. His smile fell away, and I knew the answer.
“He got away,” I surmised.
“The important thing is that both Ember and the changeling are safe,” Ridley reminded me.
I pulled away from him, and at first he tried to hang on, but then he let his hands fall to his sides. I ran a hand through my hair and sat back on the bed behind me. My legs felt weak, and my shoulders ached. The sudden surge of anxiety and adrenaline, followed by the news of Ember’s injury and Konstantin’s escape, left me feeling sore and out of sorts.
“I should’ve been there,” I said softly.
“No.” Ridley shook his head and came over to sit down next to me.
My legs dangled over the edge of the bed as I stared emptily at the wall in front of me, but Ridley sat so he was facing me. He rested one hand on the bed, supporting himself, and his fingers brushed against the bare skin of my thigh.
“Why did you send her and not me?” I turned to look at him, and he was so close, I could see my own reflection in his eyes.
“I knew she could handle it, and she did,” Ridley said.
“But you didn’t think I could.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Then why didn’t you send me?” I asked thickly.
He swallowed, but his dark eyes never wavered from mine. “You know why.”
“I could’ve gone with. I could’ve helped her. If I had been there, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Konstantin wouldn’t have gotten away.”