- Crystal Kingdom
Ridley pulled me close to him and put his hand on my back—his hand warm and rough on my bare skin, thanks to the plunging back. We stayed that way for a split second—my hand in his, my body pressed against him, and him staring down at me.
I loved the darkness of his eyes. It seemed to overtake me.
And then we were moving. I let him lead me along, following his quick moves step for step. He extended his arm, twirling me out away from him and making my gown whirl out around me, before pulling me back to him again.
The crowd had definitely moved for us by then, creating a space in the center of the room where Ridley and I could show off the dancing we’d learned in school. All trackers learned it, but I had to admit that he was more proficient than most.
When he dipped me back, so low my hair brushed the floor, he smiled, and there was a glint in his eye. With one quick move, he pulled me back into his arms, holding me to him.
The song had changed, shifting to “Love Me Again” by John Newman, so we slowed. He kept his hands on my waist, and I let my hands relax on his shoulders. We were flirting, playing the way we had before, and it made my heart ache.
Because things weren’t the way they were before anymore. Not even close.
My smile must’ve fallen away, because Ridley looked concerned—his eyes darkening beneath the mask, and his steps slowing as his arms tightened around me.
“Why did you come back for me?” I asked him finally, referring to what he’d said when he first arrived in Förening. “Did you even come back for me?”
“Yes,” he said emphatically. “Of course I came back for you.”
“But why? Why, if you’re not even really here with me?”
“I am here. I can’t be with you more than I am right now.” His gazed shifted out to everyone else dancing around us. “This probably isn’t the best place to get into it.”
“There’s never a good time to talk, not with everything going on here. I just want to know what’s going on with us.” I looked up into his dark eyes. “Is there even an us?”
He took a fortifying breath. “I came back for you because you’re my first thought in the morning. Because you push yourself to be better, and in the process, you push everyone else around you to be better. You make everything better.
“You are far more courageous and stronger than anyone I’ve ever known,” he continued. “And I never thought you’d ever want anything to do with me. I was certain I’d never be good enough for you.
“But when we kissed for the first time, under the lights of the aurora borealis, everything I’d ever felt about you was proven true,” Ridley finished. “I came back for you because you’re all I’ve ever wanted or needed, because I want to be with you always.”
For a moment I was too stunned to say anything. I just stared up at him, my mouth hanging open and my heart pounding in my chest.
“You have me,” I said simply. “You’ll always have me.”
His lips turned up slowly into a smile, looking both relieved and amazed. Then he leaned in, and I wrapped my arms more tightly around him. His lips had just brushed up against mine when I heard shouting over the music.
The orchestra finally stopped, and I heard Baltsar shouting, “Ridley! KingMikko!”
“What’s going on?” Ridley pulled away from me, but kept his hand around mine. His eyes scanned the crowd, until it parted enough for us to see Mikko standing a few feet away with Linnea at his side.
Baltsar burst through the crowd, standing in the clearing between Ridley and Mikko. “There’s been an attack on our men walking the perimeter. Two were seriously injured, and one was killed. We need a medic, and we need to make sure the area’s secure.”
“Mikko, you go with Ridley and get the men together to make sure we’re safe,” Linnea said. “I’ll get the medic.”
Ridley let go of my hand and started hurrying toward Baltsar.
“Who was hurt?” I asked, and it was hard to be heard over the distraught murmurings of the ballroom. I took off my mask and started pushing my way through the crowd, but they didn’t part for me the way they had before. “Baltsar, what men were attacked?”
“A couple new recruits.” He paused long enough to look back at me. “And Konstantin Black.”
In the chaos that followed, I had to remind myself to breathe. Baltsar had said Konstantin’s name, then had run off, and I stayed where I was as everyone rushed around me. I didn’t know what to do, where I should be, and I looked around, hoping for direction.
Tilda had started commanding the Skojare guards, sending them to various posts around the palace so that any possible entrance would be protected. Marksinna Lisbet took control of the civilians who remained in the ballroom, assuring them that everything would be all right.
“Bryn.” Tilda put her hand on my shoulder, momentarily pausing from giving orders. I turned to her, and she had a knowing look in her smoky eyes. She could always see through me, even when everything had gone mad.
“We’ve got this,” she said simply. “Go.”
I dropped my mask, letting it fall to the floor, and then I was running, grabbing up the length of the gown and grateful that the fabric flowed enough to allow me to move as fast as I wanted to. I didn’t know where I was going, not at first, but I couldn’t slow down. I raced through the soldiers that crowded the halls.