But when Ridley finally answered—shirtless, with his brown curls even more untamed than normal—I realized that maybe I should’ve sent him a text first, letting him know that I’d be video-chatting with him.
“Bryn?” he asked, and behind him I saw movement as someone got up, wrapping themselves in a dark comforter. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes. And no,” I said, keeping my voice low so people walking by on the street wouldn’t hear. “Sorry if I’m disturbing you.”
“No, it’s okay.” He sat up straighter, and the rabbit amulet he wore on a leather strap around his neck slid across his bare chest. I heard a girl’s voice in the background, but I couldn’t understand her. “One second.” He held his hand over the phone, covering both the camera and the mic, but I could still hear him promising to call her later. “Sorry. I’m back.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be working right now?” I asked, raising a disapproving eyebrow.
“I’m on a lunch break. It’s called a nooner,” Ridley said, meeting my gaze with a devilish gleam in his eye.
The year I graduated from the tracker program was the year Ridley became the Rektor. I hadn’t really known him before that, but his reputation had preceded him. Everyone regarded him as one of the finest trackers, but though he was only twenty-four, he’d been forced to retire three years ago. He was still youthful looking, especially for a guy in his mid-twenties, but thanks in part to his persistent stubble, he couldn’t pass for a teenager any longer.
But that was the only bit of his reputation that I’d heard about. He had a long history of being a serial dater, and this wasn’t the first time I’d accidentally caught him in a compromising situation.
But over the years he’d proved himself to be an excellent Rektor and a loyal friend. So I tried not to fault him too much for his escapades.
“But anyway, what’s going on with you?” Ridley asked. The glint in his dark eyes was quickly replaced by concern.
“Do you know anything about someone else following Linus Berling?” I asked.
His brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“Is there any reason for someone else to be tracking him?” I clarified. “Anyone else from Doldastam, or another Kanin tracker? Maybe even from another tribe?”
“Why would anyone else be following him?” Ridley shook his head. “You’re his tracker. You’re the only one that should be on him. Did you see someone?”
“Not exactly.” I chewed the inside of my cheek and looked up from the phone at the dark sedan, which hadn’t moved. “I haven’t seen anyone, but this car has been following him.” I turned the phone around to show it to Ridley.
“Which one?” Ridley asked, and I tilted the phone to show him more directly.
“The black one with the windows tinted. Do you recognize it?”
Ridley was quiet for a moment, considering. “No, I can’t say that I do.”
“I was afraid of that.” I leaned back against the brick wall and turned the phone back around to me. Ridley had leaned forward, like he’d been inspecting the image of the car closely.
“You haven’t seen anyone get in or out of it yet?” Ridley asked.
“No.” I shook my head.
“It could just be a human thing,” Ridley suggested, but he didn’t sound like he believed it.
“I don’t think so.” I sighed. “I’m gonna go check it out.”
“Okay.” Ridley pressed his lips into a thin line and nodded once, reluctant to agree that I should put myself in a possibly dangerous situation. “Just don’t do anything stupid, Bryn.”
“I never do,” I assured him with a smile, but that just caused him to roll his eyes.
“I mean it,” he insisted. “Investigate, but do not interact with them until you figure out who we’re dealing with. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can run the plates or find out anything on that car. I’ll check in with you later today, okay?”
“Okay. And I’ll let you know if I find anything out.”
“Stay safe, Bryn,” Ridley said, and before he could say anything else, I ended the call.
According to the clock on the phone, I only had twenty minutes left of lunch and then afternoon class began. My options were limited, but I knew I didn’t want to wait outside all day, hoping the passengers would make a move so I could see them. If somebody was after Linus, I needed to find out who it was before something bad happened.
So I walked out of the alley and straight to the car. Ridley might consider what I was doing stupid, but it was my best option. Out of the past twelve changelings I’d tracked, I’d brought twelve of them back home. I wasn’t about to let Linus be the first one I lost.
I grabbed the handle of the back door, half expecting it to be locked, but it opened, so I got in. Two men were sitting in front, and they both turned around to look at me as I slid across the seat.
“What the hell?” the driver snarled.
When I saw who it was—his steel-gray eyes meeting mine—my heart clenched, and all the air went out of my lungs. For that moment everything felt frozen as he glared at me, then the rage and horror surged through me in a nauseating mixture.
I recovered as quickly as I could, holding back my anger, and smiled at him. Somehow in an even voice, I said his name. “Konstantin Black.”
His eyes narrowed, and his lip twitched ever so slightly. “Do I know you?”
“Not exactly,” I admitted, not surprised that he didn’t remember me.
The only time I’d spoken to him had been one of the most important and traumatic nights of my life, but that night he’d clearly had his mind on something else. Before that, I had only been one adoring fan out of thousands that he’d met in his tenure at Doldastam.
Konstantin had changed some in the four years since I’d last seen him—four long years since he’d attacked my father and disappeared into the night. His eyes seemed harder, and there were lines etched in the once-smooth skin around them. He’d grown a beard, and his hair was a bit longer and wilder than I remembered him wearing it.
But he was still unmistakably him. I’d spent years nursing a schoolgirl crush on him, picturing that face in my daydreams, and then I’d spent years plotting my revenge against him, picturing that face in my nightmares.