“Emma is an innocent girl. I won’t let him hurt her, and there is no way I’d stand by and let you face Konstantin alone.” Ridley reached over, taking my hand in his, and the intensity in his eyes made it hard for me to breathe. “I already told you that I’m in this with you.”
The house looked like it came straight from a fairy tale. It was a majestic Victorian mansion surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. Trees surrounded the property, all fresh and green thanks to the early warmth of spring, and a few of them had white and pink blossoms. Amid the bustle of a downtown metropolis, this was a slice of another world.
Since we planned on sneaking in, we wouldn’t be going in through the front gate, which left us scoping it out near the back. Through the fence and the trees, I could barely see the end of the long, curved driveway, which seemed oddly crowded, with several cars parked in it. I leaned against the fence, trying to get a better look, but Ridley spoke, so I turned back to face him.
“She’s not home,” Ridley said matter-of-factly.
He stood a few feet behind me, the collar of his thin jacket popped to ward off the icy chill in the air. The wind came up, ruffling his hair. It was so rare to see his thick, wavy hair unstyled, and I realized that it was getting long.
After traveling all night to get here and sleeping on the train, neither of us had had a chance to shower yet, and Ridley hadn’t shaved. We’d rented a car, parked it two blocks away from Emma Costar’s house, then walked down to stake it out.
“Can you sense her?” I asked.
Ridley stared up at her house with one hand in his pocket, where he kept her lock of hair. His lips were parted just slightly, and his eyes darkened in concentration, then he shook his head once.
“No,” he said finally, his voice nearly lost in the wind. “But it’s ten in the morning. She should be at school.”
“So you’re still not getting anything on her?”
“Not yet.” He glanced away from me, watching a car that sped by. “I’m probably not close enough. Or maybe it’s just harder because I’m out of practice.” He turned back to me, trying to give me a reassuring grin, but it faltered. “I haven’t really done this in four years.”
“Well, we should figure out which school she’s in,” I suggested.
“The file had listed two or three private schools in the area they thought she might be in,” Ridley said. “Why don’t we check into the hotel, then grab something to eat and start making a plan to get to her?”
“I need to get to a school, so I can get to know her.”
“No offense, Bryn, but I don’t think enrollment is gonna be an option this time.” Ridley smirked at me. “You can pass for seventeen, sure, but I sincerely doubt that anyone would take you for grade nine, and that’s what grade Emma’s in. We’re gonna have to approach this a different way.”
“Do you wanna break into her house?” I suggested. “Check out her room, see if we can find anything on her?”
He seemed to consider this, staring at her house with a furrow in his brow. “No. It just doesn’t … feel right.”
“What do you mean? Is this her house?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” He sighed. “Maybe. Let’s just get out of here and regroup.”
Ridley started to walk backward, away from me and away from the house. I stayed behind a few beats, glancing back at the house. He paused, waiting, so reluctantly I went after him. As we walked the few blocks down to our car, a police car sped by with its lights off, and Ridley regarded it warily.
We reached our hotel and checked in quickly, and Ridley spoke little. When I tried to press him about what was going on, he just said that he needed to get something to eat, and then hopefully he could think more clearly.
The diner we stopped at had an expansive organic vegan menu, which was nice and gave Ridley plenty of options to pig out if that would help him. I’d grabbed Emma’s file, and I spread it open on the table beside me, leafing through it as I picked absently at a salad. When I glanced over at him, Ridley had his head bowed over his sandwich, his fingers in his thick hair.
“I still think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check out her school,” I said.
He sighed. “We just need to find her and get out of here.”
“What is going on with you?” I closed the file and rested my elbows on the table, so I could lean in closer to him. “You’ve been acting strange ever since we got here. Are you just freaking out ’cause you can’t sense her? It’s not a big deal, and we can still find—”
“It’s not that I can’t sense her,” Ridley quietly interrupted me, staring emptily at his plate. “It’s that it feels like there’s nothing to sense.” He looked at me then, the fear in his eyes conveying the gravity of the situation. “She just feels … cold.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’ve never felt anything like this before. But it can’t be good.”
“So…” I tried to take in what he was saying. “What do you want to do?”
“I think we should do an Internet search to make sure that’s her house. I know her file says that’s her last known address, but I’m not completely sure when that was updated,” Ridley said. “And then we go to her house, and we wait there until she comes home—if she comes home—and as soon as she does, we basically grab her and get out of here.”
I glanced around, making sure nobody was nearby, and when I whispered, my words were nearly drowned out by the Laura DiStasi song playing on the diner’s stereo. “You want to kidnap her?”
“If we have to, yeah,” he said without remorse. “Something bad’s going on.”
I leaned back in my chair, considering his idea, and then I nodded. “Okay. If it’s what you think we should do, then let’s do it.”
He pulled out his smartphone and took the file from me, double-checking the spelling of the host family’s name and the address. I dug into my pocket to pull out my wallet so we could pay for our lunch and then get out of here.
“Shit,” Ridley said, and his whole body sagged. Under the dark stubble on his cheeks, his face had gone ashen.
Instead of answering, he turned and held his phone out toward me, so I could see the ominous headline that had shown up during his search for Emma’s address.