- Crystal Kingdom
Until I see you again—
The meeting with Lisbet, Baltsar, Konstantin, Ridley, and I had gone on rather late into the night, and I’d been very relieved when I was finally able to go to my room. I had fantasies about falling asleep the second my head hit the pillow.
But, even as exhausted as I was, sleep could be a cruel mistress, and it eluded me. I tossed and turned, and spent most of the night staring up at the water spot on the ceiling above my bed.
The grandeur of the exterior of the Skojare palace was misleading. Even though the guest rooms had an air of luxury to them—fine linens, elegant furnishings, even the exterior glass wall that bowed out in the lake—the reality inside was quite different.
A bedroom underwater was cold and smelled musty. The wallpaper in the halls was peeling, the tiles were warped, and I spotted a tuft of mold growing in the corner.
The dark water of the lake kept out most of the sunlight during the day, but somehow, even with the waning moon in the night sky, it managed to create an odd glowing sensation in the room. Like being in an aquarium, with the shadows of the moving water dancing across the ceiling.
Eventually I decided that I couldn’t be the only one having trouble sleeping. I slid out of bed, and the tiles felt like ice on my bare feet.
Since I was still traveling with my thrift shop clothing, I didn’t have much in the way of pajamas. I’d gone to bed in an oversized T-shirt with a kraken attacking a ship on it. The neck hole had been stretched out, so it kept slipping off my shoulder, exposing more of my skin to the cold.
I stuck my head out into the hall, and when I saw no guards in the vicinity, I crept out. Tilda’s room was directly on the other side of mine, but I figured that between the pregnancy and brutally attacking a guy today, she probably needed her rest.
Instead, I made a beeline for Ridley’s room farther down the hall. We’d hardly had a moment alone together since he’d arrived in Förening, and we needed to talk. There was something strange going on with him, and I had to find out what it was.
Slowly, I opened the door and peered around it. Ridley’s room was a mirror image of mine, with the glass wall casting that bluish glow through it. Even though it was dim, I could easily see that the bed was messy, like it had been slept in, but it was empty.
I stepped farther into the room, scanning for Ridley, when suddenly someone grabbed me and threw me roughly against the wall, slamming my back into it. Within a second of me entering his room, Ridley had jumped out from behind the door, thrown me into the wall, and pinned me there with his body and his hand around my throat.
“Dammit, Bryn,” he whispered when he realized it was me, and let go. “You scared the hell out of me.”
“You’re the one that attacked me,” I said in a hushed voice.
“Sorry.” He stepped back from me. “I heard someone sneaking around outside, and I thought it might be one of Viktor’s men tracking me or something. I’m just jumpy.”
“Viktor’s men usually sneak into your room wearing oversized T-shirts?” I asked, attempting to lighten the mood.
“I don’t know how they’ll come for me.” Ridley’s voice was low and somber, and his expression was a dark mask, hiding his normally handsome, playful face.
He stood shirtless across from me, wearing loose black pajama pants. They hung low on his waist, revealing the sharp ridges of muscles just above his hips and a thin trail of hair that started just above his pelvis and ran downward.
Part of me was aware of how sexy Ridley looked and how badly I wanted to pull him close to me. But the other part was all too aware of the gulf between us, and how it only seemed to grow wider and darker with each passing moment.
I rubbed my neck where he’d grabbed me and looked away from him.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked and moved closer to me. His hand was on my wrist, angling my arm back so he could get a better look at my throat. And his face tilted down, so close to mine, as he studied me.
I watched him—the way his hair fell over his forehead, his heavy lashes, his wonderful lips, the stubble on his cheek—as he touched me gingerly, and all I wanted was to be with him. To kiss him and feel him close to me again.
Instead, I whispered, “I’m fine.”
He lifted his eyes to meet mine. “You sure?”
I nodded, and that was when I realized his neck had fully healed. The skin had been torn raw by the chain, and he’d been left with awful, thick bruises. But now it all looked normal.
“Your neck is better,” I said in surprise.
“Lisbet had a healer fix it up. She wants me in top condition for the impending war.”
He hadn’t moved back from me, and his hand lingered on my wrist. His fingers were strong and warm on my skin, and I loved the way it felt when he touched me.
A heat burned in the pit of my stomach, a longing so intense it made my heart ache. Being so close to him, being able to touch him, but not really, not really hold him close to me, was killing me.
I looked down, really looking at him up close for the first time, and I noticed ridges on his chest and arms. They were perfectly straight raised bumps, half an inch thick and several inches long.
Without thinking, I reached out to touch one, and Ridley flinched and pulled back from me.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
He turned his back to me and shook his head. “It didn’t hurt. When the healer fixed my neck, she healed those up too.”