Now here it was, his eyes mere inches from my own, and he had no idea who I was.
“You’re a tracker,” Konstantin realized, and the corner of his mouth curved up into a smirk. I remembered the way that smirk had once filled me with butterflies, but now it only made me want to punch it off his face.
“So you do know her? Or not?” his companion asked.
“No, I don’t know her, Bent,” Konstantin told him, and I glanced over at his partner in crime.
His friend—Bent, apparently—I didn’t recognize, but by his features I guessed he was Omte. His skin was smooth, and he appeared to be tall, but he had the same lopsided square head and beady eyes of a hobgoblin. Not to mention he didn’t seem that bright.
“You’re a wanted man, Konstantin. What are you doing here?” I asked, instead of hitting him or spitting in his face. Despite my wish for vengeance, I needed to find out what he wanted with Linus Berling and what he was doing here.
“Same thing as you, I would guess,” Konstantin admitted.
Pressing my hands on the black leather of the seat to keep from slapping him, I asked, “What do you want with Linus? You don’t have a tribe to take him back to. What’s the point of even tracking him?”
“We were just waiting for a chance to grab him, and then we’re—” Bent began, but then Konstantin shot him a glare and he fell silent.
“Kidnapping? Really?” I shook my head. “Are you planning to hold him for ransom?”
Konstantin pressed a button in the center console, and the doors clicked as they locked. “Things are far more complicated than they seem.”
I licked my lips, and, going against my better instincts, I offered him an olive branch. “How about I make a deal with you? I won’t kill you if you let Linus leave with me.” Then I paused, recalling the last thing Konstantin had ever said to me: I am bound to something much higher than this kingdom, and I must complete my mission.
Konstantin tilted his head then, eyeing me as if he were seeing me for the first time. “Do I know you?”
Bent had apparently grown tired of me, and he turned around in the seat with a dopey, crooked smile plastered across his face. “Whatever. I’m taking care of her.”
“Bent, maybe—” Konstantin began, but Bent was already in motion.
He leaned over the front seat, reaching for me. His hands were disproportionally large, like massive bear paws, but he was slow, and I easily ducked out of the way.
I grabbed a clump of his dark curly hair, and then I yanked his head to the side, slamming it into the back passenger window. I let go of him and leaned back quickly, then I kicked his head, crashing it into the window again. The glass was shatterproof, and it instantly turned into a crackled sheet as blood streamed down the side of Bent’s head.
Konstantin reached over the seat for me—going after me for the first time—but I slid past him. Bent was now slumped unconscious on the backseat, and I climbed over him. Konstantin grabbed my leg as I pushed through the crumbled glass of the window, but thankfully I’d been wearing knee-high socks, so I wriggled out of his grasp. He was left with a sock and a shoe in his hand as I dove out.
I fell onto the sidewalk, scraping my knee on the cement, but I was up in a flash. Konstantin got out of the car, but I wanted to get to Linus before he went back to the school, so that I could take him far away from Konstantin.
He grabbed my arm, and I whirled on him and punched him hard in the stomach. It felt so good that I had to punch him again, harder this time. It wasn’t quite the same as running him through with a sword, but it would do for now.
As he doubled over in pain, I said into his ear, “That was for my father. You should’ve taken the deal.”
His grip tightened on my arm as realization dawned on him, and his eyes widened in surprise. “You’re the Chancellor’s daughter.”
“Bryn Aven,” I told him, still whispering in his ear. “Remember my name. Because I’m going to be the one that kills you.” Then I kneed him in the crotch. He let go, and I stepped back.
“This man is a child molester!” I shouted, and pointed to Konstantin. “He tried to touch me, and he’s staking out the school for more kids to molest!”
I was nineteen, but the uniform made me look younger. The sidewalks were crowded over lunch hour, and people had stopped to watch since I’d broken out of the car window. My knee was bleeding, and my clothes looked disheveled from fighting.
As people circled closer to Konstantin and several of them pulled out their cell phones to call the police, I slid back in the crowd. For a moment I stayed around, protected by a small sea of people, and I watched him.
He was looking right back at me, his eyes locked on mine. I’d expected to see anger or arrogance, but he wore neither of those. Instead, he almost seemed to look at me with remorse, and for a split second I felt my hatred of him softening, but I refused to let it.
In the investigation following Konstantin’s attempt on my dad’s life, nobody had ever been able to figure out his motive. By all accounts, Konstantin had been a good and loyal servant of the kingdom since he’d become a tracker over a decade ago. He’d never had any disagreements with my father, or the King or Queen.
But in the years following that, I’d decided that it didn’t matter what his motive was. No reason would ever be good enough for what he had done, and even if he was filled with regret and someday begged me to forgive him, I never would.
The crowd was overtaking him, so I turned and ran down the block. People called after me, and I ran faster.
Since I was only wearing one shoe, it felt awkward, so when I reached the restaurant, I stopped and pulled it and my remaining sock off. The cold cement felt better on my feet than socks did anyway.
When I looked through the window, I saw that Linus was just finishing up, and I pushed down all of the emotions that seeing Konstantin Black had brought up. I had a mission at hand, and it required my full attention.
I didn’t know how things would go with Linus. I’d only been talking with him for three days. In an ideal situation, I’d make a connection for two or three weeks, sometimes even a month, before I took a changeling back to Doldastam.
“Linus!” I shouted as I opened the door. A waitress tried to stop me, but I pushed past her and hurried over to his table.
“Bryn?” He stared up at me with confused brown eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“Do you trust me?” I asked, a little out of breath from running all the way here.