“Gosh, I really hope you don’t mean that, because that just sounds sad,” Ember said, staring up at me with pity in her dark eyes.
I let out an exasperated sigh. “Just never mind.” I stood up, grabbing a sweater off my bedpost, and pulled it on over my tank top.
“What are you doing?” Ember sat up straighter, alarmed.
“I should probably head out. I’m supposed to go over to my parents’ for supper.” If I left now, I’d actually be a little early, but I’d grown tired of talking about romance and Ridley.
“Oh.” Her face fell. “Okay.” She slowly pulled on her boots and got to her feet. “Sorry if I said something to offend you.”
“No, you’re okay.” I brushed it off. “You’re fine. I just have stuff to do.”
Ember left, not seeming totally convinced that I wasn’t mad at her, so tomorrow I’d probably have to spend some time making up with both her and Tilda. But for now I had other things on my mind. Once she’d gone, I moved Konstantin’s file, preferring to hide it in the bottom of my nightstand drawer, underneath odds and ends.
The dinner with my parents had actually been my idea. After I’d read the incident report, going over what had happened with Konstantin in black-and-white, I realized that I needed to talk to my dad and find out what had actually happened that night before I came into the room.
The sun had nearly set by the time I reached my parents’ cottage in the town square. It had been a rare day without a cloud in sight, and the sky was darkening from pink to amethyst as the sun dipped below the horizon.
Before I even opened the front door, I could hear my mother, singing an old Skojare seafaring hymn. I paused, peeking through the kitchen window to see her standing in the kitchen, an apron around her waist and flour everywhere. She always sang when she baked, usually Skojare songs in a mixture of heavily accented English and Swedish, or occasionally Barbra Streisand. My mom had always been a sucker for Streisand.
When I came inside, I closed the door quietly behind me, and she didn’t hear me as I took off my boots and hung up my jacket. As a tracker, I’d been trained to tread lightly, to move about without making a sound, and I’d made it all the way into the kitchen before she turned around and saw me.
“Bryn!” Mom gasped and put her hand to her chest. “You scared the daylights out of me!” She smiled and swatted me playfully with an oven mitt. “Don’t give your mother a heart attack. It’s not very nice.”
“Sorry,” I said, but couldn’t help laughing. “What are you baking?”
“Just a gooseberry pie for dessert.”
“I’m sure it’ll be delicious.” I grinned. “Where’s Dad? I wanted to talk to him before dinner.”
“He’s in his study,” Mom said, but she stopped me before I turned to go. “Listen, Bryn, I need to talk to you for a second.”
“About what?” I asked, and even though I was an adult living on my own, I still felt like a little kid about to be grounded for staying out too late.
“Well.” She took a deep breath and tucked a few errant strands of hair behind her ear, unmindful that she was getting flour in it, and her eyes were grim. “I know that Konstantin Black is the one causing all the trouble.”
I took half a step back from her and straightened my shoulders, preparing for a fight, but I waited until she’d said her piece before saying anything.
“I know that you have a job to do, but…” She pursed her lips. “He nearly took your father and you away from me already. I don’t want you messing around with him.”
“Mom, he barely hurt me before,” I tried to deflect her concern. “It was little more than a scratch, and I was just a kid then. I can handle him now. You don’t need to worry.”
“Bryn, you are my daughter, my only daughter.” She walked closer to me and put her hands on my shoulders. “I know how brave and strong you are, but I need to know that you’re safe. And I can’t know that if you’re chasing around after this madman.”
She put her hand to my cheek, forcing me to look up at her, and the aquamarine in her eyes was filled with pleading. “Bryn. Please. Promise you’ll stay away from him.”
“I’ll stay away from him if I can,” I told her honestly. “But I’m going to protect myself and this kingdom. I’ll do what I need to do, and that’s the best I can give you.”
Her shoulders slacked, but her hand lingered on my face. “Be safe. Don’t be reckless or brave. If you must go out after him, then come back safe.”
“I will,” I assured her, and she leaned forward and kissed my forehead.
“Okay.” She stepped back and smiled at me, trying to erase her earlier seriousness. “I need to finish with the pie. Go ahead and see your father.”
Dad sat at his desk, his head bowed over paperwork and his reading glasses resting precariously on the end of his nose. The only light came from a small lamp next to him, and it made the silver hair at his temples stand out more against the rest of his black hair.
“Can I talk to you for a second, Dad?” I asked, poking my head in his study.
“Bryn.” He smiled when he saw me, and pulled off his glasses. “Yeah, of course. Come in.”
I closed the door behind me, and then sat down in the chair across from his desk. The walls of his study were lined with shelves filled with old books and Kanin antiquities. On his desk, he used an old artifact—a rabbit carved out of stone—as a paperweight. I’d always felt that in another life, my dad would’ve made an excellent history professor.
“Is something wrong?” He leaned forward on the desk, and his brow furrowed in concern.
“Not exactly.” I crossed my legs and settled back in the chair. “But I need you to tell me about the day that Konstantin Black tried to kill you.”
“I’d be happy to tell you anything you want to know, but I don’t know how much there is to tell.” Dad shook his head. “I mean, you were there and witnessed most of it. What you didn’t witness, we’ve already talked about.”
And we had. Dad had been interviewed by multiple Högdragen and even the King himself, as they tried to get to the bottom of what had happened with Konstantin. Beyond that, Dad and I had talked about it after it had happened. I’d been just as confused as everyone else, if not more so.