“I can’t help it,” Ridley said, then waited a beat before adding, “It’s my job.”
I pulled open a cabinet drawer and flitted through the files, looking for the one with my name on it, and dropped the passports inside of it.
“It must’ve taken all your restraint not to kill him,” Ridley went on when I didn’t say anything.
“On the subject of your job, have you figured out why they were after Linus?” I bent over and dug through my bag, refusing to talk about it. I wouldn’t even say Konstantin’s name aloud.
“No. So far we’ve come up empty. I’ve scheduled a phone call with the Queen of Omte first thing in the morning, and I have a meeting at ten in the morning tomorrow with the King, Queen, and the Chancellor.” He paused. “I’d like you to be there too.”
“I’m no good at meetings.” That wasn’t a lie, exactly, but it also wasn’t the reason I didn’t want to go to the meeting.
As the Chancellor, my dad would be at the meeting, and I didn’t want to talk about letting his attempted murderer get away. I knew he would never hold it against me, but that didn’t make me feel any less guilty.
I grabbed stacks of American and Canadian cash out of my bag. Ridley pulled his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the safe at the end of the cabinets. My own set of keys were buried somewhere in my bag, and it was a bit quicker to let him unlock it.
“You know more about this than we do,” Ridley reasoned. “For the sake of Linus and the other changelings, we need you at this meeting.”
“I’ll be there,” I said reluctantly. I crouched back down over my bag and dug out what was left of my tracker supplies—a knife, a cell phone, a mileage log, and a few other odds and ends—and began putting them in the cabinets.
“What are you doing out here, anyway?” I asked. “Aren’t you off for the night?” His job was much more of a nine-to-five gig than mine.
“I saw you pull in.” He leaned back against an SUV parked next to me and watched me. “I wanted to see that everything went okay.”
“Other than the dustup, everything was fine.” I shrugged. “I got Linus back, and he’s getting settled in with his parents. I did a quicker intro than I normally do, but Linus seems to be taking this all really well, and I needed to get out and get some sleep.”
His dark eyes lingered on me. “When was the last time you slept?”
“What day is it?”
He arched an eyebrow. “Wednesday.”
“Then…” I paused, thinking. “Monday.”
“Bryn.” Ridley stepped over to me. “Let me do this. Go get some sleep.”
“I’m almost done, and if I don’t log it myself, then my jerk of a boss will have my head,” I teased, and he sighed.
“Well, whatever. I’m helping you even if you don’t want me to.” He grabbed the logbook and started filling it out.
With his help, everything was put away and accounted for within a matter of minutes, leaving only my clothing and laptop in my bag. I started to pull on my heavy winter boots and jacket, and Ridley told me to wait there for a second. He came back wearing his charcoal-gray peacoat and slick black boots.
“I’ll walk you home,” he said.
He nodded. “I’m done for the night, and you don’t live that far anyhow.”
That was an understatement. My place was a two-minute walk from the garage. Ridley lived farther than that, but honestly, most people in Doldastam did.
The night had grown even colder, and Ridley popped up the collar of his jacket and shoved his hands in his pockets as he walked. I was smart enough to wear a hat, so I didn’t mind it so much. The snow crunched beneath our boots as we slowly walked down the cobblestone road toward my loft.
I turned to him and couldn’t help but admire him in the moonlight—tall and strong with the beginnings of a light scruff. Ridley’s looks could be a distraction if I allowed them to be. Fortunately, I was a master at reining in useless, dangerous feelings like attraction, and I looked away from him.
“I’m not gonna be in trouble, am I?” I asked.
Ridley looked over at me like I was insane. “Why would you be in trouble?”
“Because I’m not sure that the Berlings will be able to get Linus’s money now. He’s a few days shy of eighteen, and there’s no telling what’ll happen to his trust fund.”
“You got him home safely. That’s the most important thing,” he said. “Everything after that is icing.”
“So you think I did the right thing by taking him home early?”
“Absolutely.” Ridley stopped walking, so I did too, and he looked down at me. Our path was lit by lanterns and the moonlight, and I could see the sincerity in his chestnut eyes. “You have great instincts, Bryn. If you thought that Linus was in real danger, then he was. And who knows what Konstantin Black would’ve done with him?”
“I know.” I sighed. “I mean, I do. But what if his parents don’t feel the same way?”
“The Berlings aren’t like that, and if they are…” He shrugged. “Screw ’em. You protected their son, and that’s all that should matter.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” He smiled back at me, then motioned to the barn just up the road. “Now go up and get some sleep, and don’t forget about the meeting in the morning.”
“See you tomorrow, Ridley.”
I turned and jogged toward the barn, but he stayed where he was in the street, waiting until I’d made it inside safely. The lower level of the barn was a stable, but the stairway along the side of the building led up to a small loft apartment, and that was where I lived.
It was chilly inside, since I’d turned down the heat because I’d planned on being in Chicago for a month or more. Before I took my coat off, I threw a couple logs in the wood-burning stove and got it going. I had a furnace, of course, but the natural heat always seemed to feel better.
I could hear the Tralla horses downstairs, their large hooves stomping on the concrete of the barn, and their neighing and rustling as they settled in for the night. The Tralla horses were huge workhorses the Kanin had brought over from Scandinavia centuries ago, and they stood even larger than Clydesdales, with broad shoulders, long manes, and thick tufts of fur around their hooves.