I lifted my head, taking my eyes off Konstantin only for a moment, and I expected to see Bent lurking in the shadows somewhere. But there was nothing, and that moment of distraction was all Konstantin needed.
He grabbed my shoulders and flipped me over so I was lying on my back on the bed, and he rolled on top of me. He grabbed my wrists, pinning them against the white comforter. My legs were trapped underneath him, and when I fought against his grip, he didn’t budge.
“What do you want?” I asked, staring up at him in the dim light of the bedroom. “Why were you here waiting for me? If you have Emma, what’s the point?”
“I remember you.” Konstantin’s eyes were searching mine, and they seemed to soften. “I’m sorry I didn’t right away, but I remembered you as soon as you punched me in the stomach in Chicago. You were the plucky tracker, trying to claw your way up to be a guard. Nobody wanted you there, but you didn’t care. You wanted to be there.”
My heart pounded in my chest, and I swallowed back my anger, which was easier since he’d thrown me off my guard by remembering far more about me than I’d thought he’d ever known.
“How did you…” I narrowed my eyes at him. “How would you even know that? You didn’t know who I was.”
“Of course I did. You were that little blond girl, and that alone made you stand out, but you were always fighting twice as hard as anybody else.” He paused, grinning down at me. “And I’d always catch you staring at me.”
“You were on the guard,” I replied coolly. “I was watching the Högdragen.”
“No, you were watching me. You looked at me like … like I could do no wrong.” Konstantin sounded wistful.
“I was young and stupid.” I looked away.
“I’m sorry,” Konstantin said softly. “For what happened with your father.”
I snapped my head back to glare up at him. “What happened with my father? You tried to kill him,” I snarled, and I tried to fight him off, but he had me pinned.
“Bryn!” Konstantin was calm and firm. “Stop fighting.”
“What do you want with me?” I shouted. “If you’re gonna kill me, then just kill me.”
“I’m not gonna kill you,” Konstantin said with an annoyed sigh. “I want you to…” He hung his head for a moment.
“Do you even know what you want with me?” I asked.
“I’m trying to protect you!” he yelled in exasperation.
I laughed darkly. “Protect me? Why in hell would you do that? I want to kill you, and you want to kill me. You even told Ember you’re coming after me.”
“What? I never told anyone I was coming after you.”
“You told her to ‘tell that white rabbit to watch out,’” I said, repeating what Ember had told me.
“That wasn’t a threat.” He shook his head. “I was warning you. You need to stop this.”
“Stop what?” I asked, incredulous.
“Dammit,” he muttered.
Konstantin pulled the knife from my grip, then he let go of me. I stayed where I was, lying on my back on the bed, because I wanted to get a read on what was happening before I made a move. He sat on the edge of the bed, his back to me with the knife in his hand, and he ran a hand through his dark tangles of hair.
“I feel terrible about what happened with your father. And now everything that’s happening here.” He shook his head. “I made a choice a long time ago, and I’m still trying to make things right.” He looked back at me over his shoulder. “But things are in motion, and there’s going to be a lot of casualties, and I don’t want you to be one of them.”
“Why?” I asked in disbelief. I moved so I was sitting on my knees. “Why would you even care what happens to me?”
“Because you saw good in me that wasn’t there.” He turned away and stood up. “Forget about me. Forget about everything here. Just go back to Doldastam … No, don’t go there. Just go. Forget about the Kanin and everything.”
“I’m not forgetting about my family or friends or my people,” I told him. “I can’t just run off, like you did. And I’m not leaving without Emma Costar.”
He rubbed his forehead. “It’s better for you if you leave without her.”
“Where is she, Konstantin?” I asked.
“Bent just doesn’t know his own strength,” Konstantin replied, almost sadly.
“What happened to her? If you hurt her, I’ll—”
He groaned. “This was going so well. Can we stop with the threats?”
“Not if you won’t tell me where she is.”
“I don’t know where he left her, but it won’t do you any good to find her,” Konstantin said in a way that made my blood run cold.
“You killed her,” I said, my voice trembling with barely contained rage. “You son of a bitch.”
I dove at him and punched him in the face, and I think he let me at first, allowing me to hit him in the face and chest a few times before he tried to grab my wrists. Then I kicked him in the stomach, and he grabbed me and twisted my arm behind my back. I tried to buck him off, but he pushed me forward, slamming me against the wall.
“Let me go,” I growled, but I was trapped between him and the wall.
“Stop, Bryn. I can’t undo what’s already been done.”
“I’m going to kill you,” I warned him.
“I’m trying to make things right. I know you don’t believe me, but I’m trying.” His words were low and filled with regret, and his beard brushed against my cheek. He let go of my arm, and I pressed my palms against the wall, but I didn’t turn around. I didn’t fight him. “I know you have no reason to trust me, but please, trust me on this.”
I closed my eyes, wishing I didn’t trust him, but I did. I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the sincerity in his voice, or the fact that he could kill me but didn’t, or maybe it was just the memory of the good I thought I’d seen in him when I was younger.
His breath felt warm and ragged on my cheek, and his hand was on my arm. He didn’t have me pinned, exactly, but his body was pressed against me, holding me in place. I could push him off, but I didn’t.
“I can’t let you go,” I told him.
“I can’t let you follow me,” he said softly.