“Or maybe things could’ve gone much worse,” Ridley countered. “You don’t know what would’ve happened, and everything turned out okay.”
“No, it didn’t. He got away. Again.”
“That’s not your fault.”
“It is my fault! Because I should’ve been there, and not here doing nothing.” I looked away from him, staring down at my lap. “I should’ve killed him when I had the chance.”
“Bryn.” He reached out, putting his hand gently on my face and making me look at him. “It’s not your fault. You did everything you were supposed to do. Konstantin Black isn’t your fault.”
“Then why does it feel like he is?” I asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
“I don’t know.” He brushed his thumb along my cheek, and I closed my eyes, leaning into his touch.
His other hand moved, so that his fingers were no longer brushing against my thigh, and he pressed it against the small of my back. I felt the bed shifting, and even though my eyes were closed, I knew he was leaning in toward me.
“You should go,” I whispered, too afraid to open my eyes and see his face hovering next to mine.
“You sure?” Ridley asked, but he lowered his hand, and I felt the weight on the bed change as he moved away from me. I finally dared to open my eyes, and he was still sitting next to me, looking at me with an expression filled with concern.
“If Ember’s coming back in the morning, I should get some sleep.”
“But are you even gonna get any sleep tonight?” Ridley asked me honestly.
I gave a weak laugh. “I don’t know.”
“I could stay, keep you company until you fell asleep.”
I didn’t need him. Or at least I didn’t want to need him. But I didn’t want to push him away. Not tonight.
“Okay.” I nodded, giving in to my feelings for him, at least in some small way.
“Good.” He smiled, then slipped off his jacket. “When I came in, it looked like you were grabbing a book.”
“Yeah, I was just gonna read before I went to bed.”
“Perfect.” He stood up. “You go ahead, crawl into bed and get comfy.”
“Okay?” I was skeptical, but I did as he told me, sliding under the thick covers and lying back in my bed.
“Here’s what I’ll do,” Ridley explained as he grabbed The Count of Monte Cristo from where I’d tossed it on the couch. “I’ll read, you relax and fall asleep. Sound like a plan?”
I smiled up at him as he walked back toward me. “Sure.”
He sat down on the bed beside me, over the covers with his legs stretched out next to mine, and he cracked open the book and began to read. Eventually his gentle baritone lulled me to sleep. I didn’t actually remember falling asleep, but when I awoke with the early morning light spilling in through the windows, my head was on his chest and his arm was around me.
“I just can’t believe she didn’t call me,” I muttered.
The Land Rover lurched to the side, and I jerked the wheel, correcting it just in time to keep us from slamming into one of the willow hybrids. Yesterday’s early thaw had left puddles and melting snow everywhere that turned into ice today, making the road out of Doldastam more treacherous than normal.
Not that that slowed me down. Ember had texted me thirty minutes ago, letting me know that her train was almost to the station. I still wasn’t sure how badly she’d been injured, and I didn’t know if driving would be difficult or painful for her.
I’d been at Tilda’s house—that had been my excuse to escape a rather awkward morning conversation with Ridley, saying that I’d promised to have breakfast with Tilda. I hadn’t, but Tilda was who I ran to when I needed to gather my thoughts and get my wits about me. It’d worked out, because then Ember had texted me, and within minutes Tilda and I were racing to meet her at the train station.
“I’m sure she had her reasons.” Tilda pressed her hands against the dashboard to keep from sliding all over as the Land Rover bounced down the road.
“She just lectured me about not calling her after my run-in with Konstantin, and then she turns around and does the same thing.”
“Maybe Ember was afraid that you would freak out.” Tilda let out a small groan when we hit a bump and she bounced into the air. “And I haven’t the faintest idea why,” she added drolly and shot me a look.
“I’m not freaking out,” I protested, but I slowed down a bit. “She still should’ve called me.”
“But she called Ridley, and she’s safe, and that’s what counts,” Tilda reminded me.
We’d gotten far enough from Doldastam that trees were no longer crowding the path, and the road had widened and smoothed some, so she relaxed back in her seat.
“On the subject of Ridley,” Tilda began, and I groaned inwardly. In my telling her about Ember’s injury over oatmeal this morning, I’d let it slip that Ridley had spent the night, then Ember had texted me and we’d been on our way.
I tried to evade the question. “There is no subject of Ridley.”
“But he did spend the night last night,” she said carefully, making sure her words had no trace of accusation.
“He did, but nothing happened. It wasn’t like that.”
“Okay,” Tilda relented, but I wasn’t completely sure if she believed me. Hell, I wasn’t sure if I believed me.
We lapsed into silence after that, so I turned up the music. Thanks to my earlier speeding, we managed to arrive at the station just as the train was pulling in. We’d made the trek in record time.
Ember hobbled off the platform, and her coat hung on her at a haphazard angle thanks to the sling around her arm, which appeared to be made from a couple different fashion scarves. A graze on her left cheek was red and puffy, but otherwise she didn’t look that much worse for wear.
She stopped on the steps when she saw Tilda and me rushing toward her. “What are you doing here?”
“We came to give you a lift home and to make sure you’re all right,” I told her. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll live.” Ember smiled at us, then turned and gestured to a mousy girl standing just behind her, holding a massive Louis Vuitton suitcase. “This is Charlotte. She’s my charge.”
“Here, let me help you with that.” Tilda ran up the steps to take the bag from Charlotte before it tipped her over.