“Yeah, I’m sure,” I insisted. “Besides, I think we’re getting close.”
He waited a beat before adding, “Because sometimes you say you’re sure, and you’re not.”
“What are you talking about?” I gave him a sidelong glance, since I didn’t want to take my eyes completely off the road. “I never say I’m sure unless I am.”
He laughed dryly. “Whatever you say.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“It means…” He ran a hand through his wavy, sleep-tousled hair. “Nothing. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“But you did.”
Ridley let out a long breath. “It’s just … you sure kissed me like you meant it, and then you told me that you didn’t.”
At first I was too stunned to say anything. I couldn’t believe he was even bringing it up. Finally, I managed a plaintive “That’s not fair.”
“Life isn’t fair, Bryn,” he muttered dryly, and for some reason that set me off.
“You kissed me like you meant it too,” I shot back. “And you have a girlfriend!”
“Juni’s not my girlfriend,” he nearly shouted, shifting in his seat. “We’ve gone on a few dates is all.”
I scoffed. “That’s bullshit, Ridley.”
“And it doesn’t matter,” he said, instead of arguing my point. “You’ve made it perfectly and repeatedly clear that you have no interest in dating anyone ever, so I don’t know why it bothers you if I’m seeing someone or not.”
“It doesn’t bother me. Do whatever you want.”
He mumbled something, but I didn’t ask what. I just let him lapse into silence and stare out the window, not that there was much to see. The sleet was coming down so heavily that visibility was completely shot.
That’s how the tree appeared out of nowhere. It had been uprooted by the excessive weight of the snow-sleet mixture, and it tipped across the road, angling upward with branches sticking out haphazardly.
I jerked the wheel, attempting to swerve around the tree, but there was nowhere to swerve to. This was a narrow road, barely wider than a lane, and the tree had it blocked entirely. The tires slipped on the icy mixture, and we careened off the road.
Ridley cried out in surprise as the SUV spun ninety degrees, and bounced down the shallow embankment next to the road before slamming into a tree and coming to a hard stop.
We both sat there panting, neither of us saying anything. The dashboard console began to beep angrily, letting us know that we’d collided with something—as if we couldn’t figure that out already.
“You okay?” Ridley asked.
He nodded. “You should’ve let me drive.”
“There was a tree in the road!” I gestured back toward the road several yards behind us. “That wasn’t my fault.”
“Right.” Ridley rolled his eyes. “Of course. Nothing is ever your fault.”
I didn’t want to argue with him, so I got out of the SUV under the ruse of inspecting it for damage. Fortunately, the Land Rover had hit a massive pine tree, and its long branches covered with thick needles helped to keep back the sting of the sleet.
We’d been going relatively slowly when I swerved on the road, so thankfully the SUV hadn’t been going that fast when it hit the tree. Other than some minor bumper damage, it didn’t seem like the Land Rover was any worse for wear.
Ridley got out of the vehicle and walked over to where I was standing near the tree. The branches mostly sheltered us, but it was warm enough that when the sleet rested on the pine needles they eventually began to melt, dripping through the branches in a light shower that sprinkled down on me.
“I’ve never said nothing is my fault,” I said. The adrenaline from the accident left me feeling sharper, pricklier, and I know that my words came out harsher than I meant them, but I didn’t care. “I’ve never even thought that.”
“You sure as hell act like that,” Ridley snapped back, matching my intensity, and I turned to glare up at him.
“If you think I don’t constantly blame myself for letting Viktor get away—”
“I don’t blame you!” he shouted, then he stopped. As quickly as that, the fight had gone out of him, and his whole frame seemed to sag. The icy mask he’d been wearing melted away, and he just looked hurt and a little lost. “Why can’t you just tell me things?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about him.” I was surprised that my voice quivered with my sincerity, and I hastily steadied it. “I just had to be certain about what I saw. After all you’ve been through with Viktor, I didn’t want to get you upset for nothing. But now I realize it would’ve been better if I had told you sooner, and I’m sorry. I can never tell you how sorry I am.”
“I don’t need your apologies.” He shook his head. “And I’m not even really mad at you.”
He shrugged. “I mean, you should’ve gotten me before you went down to talk to Konstantin.”
“I thought he would be more likely to open up if it was just me.” I tried to explain my reasoning, and I couldn’t tell if he accepted it or not.
Hesitantly, Ridley said, “I know that makes sense.”
“But?” I prompted, since he’d left that statement hanging in the air.
“But Viktor almost killed you, Bryn.” He looked at me for the first time since he’d gotten out of the SUV, and the heat had returned to his eyes, burning darkly within him. “I was asleep a few floors above you, and the man who killed my father came back after being gone for years and nearly killed the person…”
Ridley trailed off, and I didn’t push him to finish. Whatever he was going to say, I didn’t think I wanted to know. The pounding of my heart would argue with that, but I knew logically it was better for us if he didn’t finish that sentence, if I don’t know what I really meant to him.
“I don’t know what’s going on between us,” he said finally. “But I do know that I don’t want to lose you.”
I swallowed hard. “I don’t want to lose you either.”
“Then you need to confide in me, okay?” Ridley asked. “You can’t go running off without letting me know. I told you before that we’re in this together, and with Viktor back, I mean that now more than ever.”