Page 39

“Grace, are you okay?” Megan asks, tilting her head.

I don’t need Megan’s worry.

I do not want her pity.

I only have so much “care” inside of me and right now I can’t waste an ounce of it on her.

“I hope you liked the show,” I say, then storm off before she can say another word.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

If the South Koreans are concerned the next morning, they don’t show it. There are no extra guards. No new cameras. Probably the trapdoor in the basement will be firmly sealed after my visit, but that doesn’t impact me at all. Not anymore. What I need isn’t inside their embassy. It’s around it. Somewhere.

I don’t know where I was.

For at least an hour, I stand across the street, staring at the South Korean embassy. No one stares back, though, I’m happy to see. The guards don’t even glance in my direction. I am young, small. Inconsequential. The people who do happen to notice me see someone who isn’t a threat.

I don’t know where I was.

The Scarred Man was meeting someone, but I don’t know who. I don’t know where. If I had just one piece of the puzzle then I might be able to figure out the rest. And then … what? Stop an assassination by an international hit man? Throw my body between the Scarred Man and another victim?

Keep it from happening again.

Yes. That is what I’m going to do. But I don’t stop to worry about how. How is tomorrow’s problem. Today my mission is simple.

I don’t know where I was.

Today I have to fix that.

I push off the wall of the Egyptian embassy and start down the street that winds and climbs to the city center, all the time keeping my eyes glued to the stones beneath my feet, searching for any irregularities in the pattern, for the symbol that marked the entrance that I found last night.

Four hours later, I’ve seen three tunnel entrances, and I highly suspect I know about one more. The city is no doubt lousy with them, and they could lead anywhere. But I don’t care how many there are. I only know that if I can find enough of them then maybe I can figure out where else the passageway that opened into South Korea might go.

I don’t know where I was.

In the bright daylight, I’m not afraid. Not anymore. I have a purpose, a cause. A mission.

A shadow.

“What do you want, Alexei?” I ask, spinning on the sidewalk.

The sun is high and Alexei squints against the glare, staring up at me. The sidewalks are steep here, climbing toward the palace, and I’m glad for it. I like being taller than him even if it is just temporary. An illusion.

He doesn’t even say hello.

“Are you okay?” he asks instead.

“I was fine until about thirty seconds ago,” I tell him.

“I heard about …” he starts, then trails off, probably because I’m so fragile. He thinks I don’t want to be reminded about what happened the night before. What I really want to do is push him down the hill. “Are you okay, Grace?”

“Yes! I’m fine. Do you hear me? I’m okay. Perfectly normal. Absolutely average. How do you say hunky-dory in Russian?”

“This isn’t a joke.”

I step closer, and now I can feel his chest against mine. I’m staring right into his eyes. “Do I look like I’m laughing?”

“You break into one embassy, and then you show up in the basement of another? If you’re trying to start a war, you’re doing a good job.”

“I got lost, Alexei. I was out in the rain and I fell into one of the tunnels. It was an accident.”

As soon as I say the word, I want to gag on it. I’ve heard it too frequently and for far too long. I don’t want to say it now. Or ever. But I have to. So I say it again.

“It was an accident, Alexei. I’m fine.”

“Are you? Are you really?” The way Alexei is looking at me makes me want to run — not to my mother’s room or my grandfather’s embassy. Not to any place that anyone would ever think to look. I want to disappear and never, ever come back.

Alexei inches even closer. When he inhales, his chest brushes against mine. He stares at me with eyes that are bluer than the sea and reaches for my hand. “If you need me —”

“I don’t.”

“But if you do —”

“I don’t need you, Alexei. Okay?” I can’t take being so close to him. He has always been golden. Like the sun. His touch burns, so I jerk my hand away and retreat to higher ground. “Now you can go call Jamie and tell him that I’m fine. That you have done your duty and you can be released from your obligation or whatever blood oath the two of you have sworn. I’m fine. Do you hear me?”

I expect him to lash back. Or, worse, to laugh.

But he just shakes his head. “You think I care because you’re Jamie’s sister? Maybe I care about you, Gracie. Maybe I’m worried about you.”

It’s the worst possible thing he could tell me. Because now I have to lose what little respect I had for him. He really should know better.

I force out a laugh. “If I wanted to start a war, we’d be in one by now.”

This, at last, makes him smile. “That’s true.”

“I’m okay.”

“You’re not okay, Grace. But I want you to be.”

When Alexei turns and goes back the way he came, I watch him walk away. I don’t let myself think about how easily the Scarred Man could have caught me last night, how no one would have found me — maybe ever. Rosie once said that the tunnels are full of skeletons, but I don’t let myself think about how easily I could have become one of them.

I woke up this morning intending to scour the streets around Embassy Row, the shops and alleys. I woke up intending to look for tunnel entrances and maybe use them to make a map and try to figure out where I’d been. To be smart. To be safe.

But Alexei has changed all that.

Smart and safe are the furthest things from my mind, and now there’s only one thing left to do. There’s only one place left to go.

And that place, I know, is down.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

The tunnel looks different through the beam of a military-grade flashlight. I know I should be in a hurry, but I have to marvel at the walls, the ancient torches that are lined up by the entrance. This time I can shine a light up onto the clockwork gears and wheels that open and close the door that covers the shaft. It’s genius, really. Hundreds of years old and still working.

Source: www_Novel12_Com