16.1 | Questions Without Answers

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"How—"

"I saw you."

Damn it. When she'd snuck into the base with Jade and Elliot, she'd tried to be careful. No one had uttered a word, and she thought they'd gone undetected. Until now.

"And Ren," Misha added. "He seemed pissed."

"Oh."

Relief washed through her. He'd seen her get dragged out. Of course.

"Yes," she said, unable to resist a smirk. "It would appear I have that effect on him."

Misha didn't seem amused. "Why were you there?"

"It was nothing."

He leaned forward, elbows bracing his knees. "Had you been visiting someone?"

She squinted. "Why are you interested?"

"Just answer the question, Nika."

She went stiff, and her pulse ticked up steadily. This was starting to feel like an interrogation.

"Yes, I was visiting someone. I had...business to sort out."

"What kind of business? And who were you meeting?"

Definitely an interrogation.

"I don't think that's any of your concern," Nika snapped.

"If it has anything to do with Luiza Lazarov being kidnapped, then it's completely my concern."

Misha wasn't just curious. He was meddling. Investigating.

Did he believe that she was involved with the attack at the school? After all, he'd attended the Ministry interview, heard what Prime Minister Rostova had accused her of. But so had his father. And Emil had defended her. Something wasn't right.

"Be straight with me," Misha said. "Were you going to the base to meet with my father?"

"Your—" She broke into a mocking laugh. "Why would I have any reason to speak with the High Keeper?"

"That's what I want to know."

Nika willed herself to collect her wits and breathe. She hadn't learned much from Markos, but she could mimic his politician's composure unlike any other.

"I didn't have business with Emil Kovac."

"Then what were you doing there?"

His voice was strained. What, exactly, was Misha trying to accomplish, and why was he so desperate for these answers?

"Research," she said slowly, trying to discern how much to reveal. "In the archives."

His gray-green eyes bulged. "With who?"

And now that she knew how much he wanted this information—how personal it seemed to have been—she avoided a direct answer with the slick-tongued ease that was all but inked into Dimitrovich blood.

"Friends."

Misha's eyes flickered, and she knew he'd noticed that her demeanor had shifted. But when he stood up and paced in front of the hearth, he wasn't a highly trained keeper whose expertise and judgment were vital in solving the mystery of Lu's abduction. A raving lunatic might've had more in common with Misha in this moment.

So much for insouciance.

"Researching what?" he demanded.

Nika rose to her feet. "The same thing you should be researching."

He was almost a head taller than her, but she didn't back down.

"The Volkari, Konstantin's journal. Anything to connect them to each other and to Lu."

After taking a deep breath, Misha closed his eyes and said in a surprisingly calm voice, "Did you find anything?"

Nika didn't hesitate to reply, "No."

There would be no mention of the companion diary, no indication that she and her accomplices were closer to finding Lu than Misha was.

He might have detected the lie, but Nika wouldn't find out. Because Ren's characteristically heavy footsteps traveled toward them.

She considered calling for him, revealing everything that had passed between her and his so-called friend, but Misha gave her an urgent look.

"Not a word," he said. Was it a threat or a plea? "Ren needs to stay out of this."

He moved away from her, leaning against the sofa in an oh-so-casual way, and Nika did her best to feign the same nonchalance. Out of bewilderment or the instinct to survive, she truly didn't know. She just stood still and silent as a familiar frown emerged from the main corridor. 

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