Page 43

Calvin, Hanna’s small pony, was out in the yard, running around and splashing in the puddles. Ridley turned, preferring to look out at the pony than at me.

The thatched roof of the awning had seen better days, and rain dripped in around us. It soaked the bales of straw stacked up beside us, and beneath my bare feet the ground was cold and muddy. Other than Calvin, we were alone. And Ridley wouldn’t look at me.

A shiver ran through me, but it wasn’t because I was cold.

“You’re soaking wet,” he commented, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. “You want my jacket?”

I shook my head, but he’d already started slipping it off. He walked over to me and draped his jacket over my shoulders. His hand brushed against my bare skin, and he smelled cold and crisp, the way he always did. As he adjusted the jacket, he looked down at me. For a moment we were looking into each other’s eyes, and all I could think about was the night we’d spent together.

Then he looked away and stepped back from me. I slipped my arms into the sleeves, which were still warm from his body heat. I wondered dourly if this was as close as he would get to touching me.

The distance between us felt immeasurable. The last time I’d seen him, he’d held me in his arms and kissed me deeply. He’d wanted to run away with me, but it had been dangerous, and I needed him to stay behind and make sure my parents and Tilda and Ember were okay.

Every night since, I’d had nightmares about him being ripped away from me. And as we stood here, with so much tension filling the gulf between us, I feared that all my nightmares had come true.

“Why did you come find me?” I asked. “You knew where I was. You sent me here.”

“I had to get out of Doldastam,” he said simply. “Queen Mina wants you captured and convicted, and I managed to convince her that I wanted that too. That you’d betrayed me so badly that I would go out and bring you back for her.”

I swallowed hard. “Do you think I betrayed you?”

“No, of course not.” He dismissed the idea immediately. “I just had to tell Mina that so I could get out of there.”

“What’s your plan now that you’re here?” I asked.

He let his eyes rest on me. “Honestly, I don’t have one.”

“It’s hard to know what to do when everything is falling apart.”

Ridley rubbed the back of his neck, then turned away, again watching Calvin prance through puddles. Without looking at me, he asked, “You’re working with Konstantin Black now? When did that start?”

“After I left,” I said, realizing how much I had to explain to Ridley. How much had happened while we’d been apart. “He found me. He defected from Viktor, and he thought we might help each other.”

“Have you been?”

“I think so,” I said.

“He hasn’t . . . hurt you or anything?” Ridley looked at me, and there was no jealousy in his eyes—only genuine concern.

I shook my head quickly. “No. No, nothing like that.”

“Good. It’s just . . .” He sighed. “For weeks, I didn’t know what was happening with you. I was worrying about all the terrible things that might be going on.”

“I had a run-in with a bear, but otherwise, I’m okay.” I tried to force a smile, to ease some of the tension, but it didn’t work.

“Finn told me about that,” was all Ridley said.

“I worried about you too,” I said, deciding that speaking from the heart might work better. “I thought of you every day, and I was so afraid of what might be happening to you.” His jaw clenched, and he stared down at a small stone that he kicked at absently. “What happened after I left?”

“It’s over now,” he said, almost growling. “That’s what matters.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’s getting cold out here. I think I’m gonna head back inside.” Rather abruptly, he started to walk past me.

“Ridley,” I said, but he just kept going.

I pulled his jacket more tightly around me and tried to make sense of what had just happened. This was not at all how I’d pictured my reunion with Ridley. There had been much more kissing.

I was so relieved to see him, to know that he was okay, but after that exchange, I had no idea how to feel.

From the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I quickly turned my head, but I couldn’t see anything. Then it moved again, and in the shadows between the doorway to the barn and stacks of straw, I realized that I could see a black shirt, floating disembodied thanks to the chameleonlike skin of the Kanin.

Someone was there, spying on me.



I rushed over, preparing to get the jump on whoever it was, as my mind raced with thoughts of a Kanin spy stowing away with Ridley. Someone working for Mina coming to gather information and trap us.

But just before I punched at the black shirt, I heard Konstantin’s voice. “Easy, white rabbit! It’s just me!”

He appeared to materialize out of thin air—the brown brick of the wall and the dirty yellow of the straw quickly shifting to his normal skin tone. Konstantin had his hands up defensively, but since he had been eavesdropping on me, I punched him in the arm anyway. Not very hard, but enough to let him know that I was annoyed.

He scowled at me as he rubbed his shoulder. “That was uncalled-for.”

“Why were you stalking me like that?” I demanded.