I sat at the side of the room, trying to hide in the shadows as I sipped my sparkling wine and watched the dance floor. Since Tilda and Kasper had invited so few people, it left the floor rather sparse, even when most couples were dancing together.
Unfortunately, that made it all too easy for me to see through them to Ridley at the other side of the room. He was standing near the buffet, absently picking at the vegetable skewers on his plate, and when he looked up at me I quickly looked away.
Tilda had been slow dancing with Kasper, their arms around each other as they talked and laughed, but she stepped aside so Kasper could dance with his little sister. As she walked across the dance floor toward me, Kasper spun Naima around, making her giggle uncontrollably.
“Is your plan to hide in the corner all night?” Tilda asked with a crooked smile, as she sat down in the chair next to me.
“I’m not hiding,” I lied and took another sip of my wine.
“Mmm-hmm,” she intoned knowingly.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” I said, changing the subject.
Her smile turned wistful as she watched her new husband. Naima had taken to standing on Kasper’s feet, and he held her hands as they waltzed around the room, both of them smiling and laughing.
“It really was,” she agreed.
“I’ve never seen Kasper happier.”
Watching him now, so relaxed and beaming, reminded me of what he’d said the day before. Work was important to him, but it wasn’t his life. It wasn’t what defined him, and it wasn’t who he really was. This—the guy dancing with his kid sister, smiling at his wife—was Kasper.
His words had stuck with me, and as I watched him I couldn’t help but wonder—if the balance of working a job that mattered and having a life outside of it was possible for him, could it be possible for me too? Had I been wrong in assuming I had to choose one over the other?
“You’ll have to talk to him eventually,” Tilda said, pulling me from my thoughts, and I looked over to see her gazing at me seriously.
I thought about playing dumb and asking who, but I knew Tilda would see through that, the way she always saw through my acts.
So instead I simply said, “I know.”
“I don’t know why you’re avoiding him, but I know you are,” Tilda said, and she raised her hand to silence me before I could stutter out some kind of excuse. “It doesn’t matter right now. I just think you should go talk to him before it gets even harder to.”
Ridley was still standing on the other side of the room. Kasper’s dad had been talking to him, but the conversation appeared to be finishing up, leaving Ridley alone again.
“The bride is always right on her wedding day,” Tilda added. “So you know I’m right when I say that you need to do this.”
I took a fortifying breath then finished my glass of wine in one large gulp. “Okay.” I stood up, smoothing out my bridesmaid dress, and looked down at Tilda. “Will you be okay here by yourself, or do you want me to wait?”
“No, go!” She shooed me away with a smile. “I just wanna sit here another minute, and then I’m sure Kasper will have me out dancing again.”
My heart was pounding so hard as I walked across the dance floor, I could hardly hear the music over it. I kept reminding myself that it was only Ridley, that I’d talked to him a thousand times before and this wasn’t a big deal.
Of course, I’d never talked to him after having a one-night stand with him.
He smiled thinly at me as I approached, and I wished I’d had another glass of wine before making my way over.
“Hey,” I said when I reached him.
“Hey,” he replied, and then I realized in terror that I couldn’t think of anything more to say. I’d thought as far as saying hey, and now I was trapped in an awful moment where I could only stare at him.
“The wedding was great,” I blurted out suddenly, because it was something to say.
“It was.” He nodded, then motioned to me. “You looked beautiful.”
I lowered my eyes. “You don’t have to say that.”
“I know.” He paused. “I wanted to.”
“Well, thanks.” I offered him a small smile.
I wasn’t sure if I should tell him he looked good too, because he definitely did. His dark hair was just slightly disheveled, as if he couldn’t completely tame it. He was clean shaven, which he rarely was, and his tan skin looked so smooth. The vest he wore over his dress shirt was fitted perfectly across his broad shoulders, and the first few buttons of his shirt were undone, showing off just enough flesh to make me crazy.
“So, listen,” Ridley said, filling the awkward silence that had fallen between us. “I’ve been looking for the right time to talk to you since you got back, and now seems as good as any.”
“Yeah?” I asked, lifting my eyes to meet his.
“I ended things with Juni.”
My heart skipped a beat, and I hoped I didn’t look as excited as I felt.
“It wasn’t fair to her,” he elaborated. “The way I was treating her. Juni is fantastic, and I did like her. But the truth is, I didn’t like her enough.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” I said, just to say something.
He took a deep breath. “And there’s no point in dancing around things anymore. I have feelings for you, Bryn, very strong feelings, and I think you feel the same way.”
“I … you know … I…” I was too stunned to properly form a sentence, and I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to say.
Of course I had feelings for Ridley, and while part of me was thrilled to hear he felt the same way, nothing had changed. He was still my boss, the Överste, actually, which meant that we would both be in serious trouble if we were to get involved.
So what could I say to him? That I loved him, but it didn’t matter because we couldn’t be together? What would even be the point of admitting how I felt?
Through my shock and confusion, I realized something in the room had changed. Everyone had stopped dancing, and as I looked around the room the musicians stopped playing. Ilsa had been singing “Why Don’t You Do Right?” but just stopped mid-word.
Most of the light in the room came from fairy lights and candles, but someone flipped on the overhead light, blinding everyone. I lifted up my arm to shield my face, and I finally saw the reason for the change.
Reid Kasten, King Evert’s personal guard, stood at the entrance.