Ridley occasionally hummed along to whatever song was playing on the stereo, but that was it. I stared out the passenger window, watching the barren landscape change from snow-covered plains and lakes to green tree-covered forests the farther south we went.
“It’s getting dark,” I said finally and turned to look at him.
Ridley’s hand tightened on the steering wheel, and he kept his eyes locked on the empty stretch of highway before us. “So it is.”
“We can switch. I can drive through the night,” I offered.
“No need.” He tilted his head, cracking his neck. “You haven’t slept this whole time, so it doesn’t matter if I drive or not. We’ll be in the same boat.”
“Do you want to stop for the night?” I asked, even though I thought I already knew the answer.
“We’re expected in the morning. We don’t have time to stop.”
I sighed, and then gave up on talking. I slumped lower in my seat and pulled my knees up, resting my bare feet against the dashboard. But now the silence somehow felt even more unbearable, so I looked over at him.
His jaw tensed, and he waited a beat before asking, “For what?”
“Whatever it is that has you so pissed off at me,” I said, because I really didn’t know why he was mad. Something to do with us kissing, obviously, but I didn’t know what, exactly.
“I’m not mad at you,” Ridley said, but he sounded exasperated. “I just…” His shoulders sagged, and his hand loosened on the steering wheel. “I don’t know what to say to you.”
“Things are … awkward,” I agreed. “But maybe if we talk, it’ll be less awkward.”
“All right.” He rubbed the back of his head and took a deep breath. “That kiss last night was a mistake.”
I knew it was. Deep down, I knew it was a mistake. But still, after hearing him say it, my heart felt like it had been torn in half. The pain in my chest was so great, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to speak. But I did, and I did it while keeping my voice and my expression blank.
“It was,” I said, sounding astonishingly normal, and I pushed the heartache down.
He was right, so I had no reason to feel bad about it. And if he hadn’t said it was a mistake, I would have. Because we both knew it was. We both knew it was something that could never happen again.
“It happened…” He trailed off, like he didn’t remember what he wanted to say for a second. “I don’t know why it happened, I guess, but it did.”
“It did,” I said, unsure of what else to say. “But it’s over now, and it’s probably for the best if we just pretend it never happened.”
“Right,” he said under his breath. “That’ll make everything okay again.”
“Do you have any better suggestions?” I asked him pointedly.
He pressed his lips together in a line, and his eyes darkened. “Nope. Your plan will work great.”
I ran both my hands through my hair, pushing it back from my face, and I wished he wasn’t being so difficult. “Did you tell Juni about it?”
“No. I haven’t yet.”
I rested my head against the seat and watched as the first stars began to shine in the darkening sky. “Maybe you shouldn’t.”
“Why not?” Ridley asked.
“I just think maybe it’d be better if nobody knew about it.”
“Okay,” he said after a pregnant pause. “I mean, if that’s what you want.”
“With me being the liaison for the King and Queen, and you coming with and being my boss, I just don’t think it would look good. Especially now that I’m getting more responsibility.”
“Right. Of course,” he said, and the edge to his voice was unmistakable.
“How about some music?” I suggested, since the conversation hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped.
Instead of waiting for him to answer, I leaned over and turned up the stereo. It was Bastille’s song “Pompeii,” one that I normally loved to sing along to, but now I just wanted it to blanket the silence between us, so I could go back to staring out the window and pretending that it didn’t kill me to be this close to Ridley.
We drove all night, and with the aid of energy drinks that Ridley really hated the taste of, he managed to stay awake. I slept some in the very early morning hours, with my head resting against the cold glass of the window, but he refused to let me drive, so I didn’t feel guilty about it.
The name Storvatten when translated roughly meant “great water,” which was fitting, since the Skojare capital was located on the northern coast of Lake Superior, not far from where the province of Ontario met Minnesota.
When we were about twenty minutes away, Ridley pulled over to the side of the road so we could freshen up. It wouldn’t be proper for us to meet with the royalty looking all disheveled and unkempt. He stood to the side of the Land Rover, changing from his jeans into a sharp suit, while I crawled into the way-back of the SUV.
I’d debated whether to wear a pantsuit or a dress before finally deciding that a dress would probably be more fitting, and then hurriedly applied makeup and fixed my hair. Ridley had already gotten back in the driver’s seat when I climbed into the front, carefully so he wouldn’t get a look up my skirt. With dresses, I never wore anything with a hem that went past my knees, so it wouldn’t restrict my movement if I needed to fight.
The Skojare palace was supposed to be quite beautiful, and as we approached it, with the rising sun backlighting it with pinks and yellows on the lake, it did not disappoint. The palace was half submerged in water, with the top half sitting on the lake like an island. The entrance was on land, a docklike walkway made of rocks and wood that led to the front door.
Ridley stopped at the end of the dock, where a footman told us he’d alert the King to our arrival, before taking our SUV to park in a nearby garage. As we walked out on the dock—stretching nearly a mile out to the palace—I raised my hand over my eyes, shielding them from the sun, so I could get a better look at the palace.
It was astounding, unlike the palace in Doldastam or the Trylle palace in Förening that I had visited once. Those were beautiful, but they looked like mansions or castles. This was otherworldly, with glass walls shaped into swirls and spirals that pierced the heavens.
When we reached the doors—made of heavy iron—Ridley knocked loudly, and I stared up at the fantastic structure that towered above us. The Skojare must’ve had a very strong power of persuasion, so they could convince locals around here that they weren’t seeing this majestic castle. It was translucent blue, which helped camouflage it with the lake, but the only real way to get humans from interfering was to trick them with psychokinesis.