I mean, it was a chilly night in a foreign city, and an incredibly hot guy was smiling at me through the soft glow of sparkly lights! The absolute last thing I wanted to remember was the last time I'd seen Zach - the screeching tires or the masked men. Seriously, forgetting would have come in so incredibly handy at that particular moment. But I'm a Gallagher Girl. We don't forget anything.
"Why do I get the feeling you aren't here on vacation?" I asked.
I heard Bex laughing. I sensed Zach's hand inching down the rail, closer and closer to mine. For just one second, I thought he might say me - that he was here to see me.
"I'm looking for Joe Solomon." He glanced around the Tower grounds. "Thought maybe he was with you?"
And just that quickly the pounding of my heart took on an entirely different meaning.
Sure, it sounded like an easy question, but nothing about my Covert Operations instructor has even been easy. Ever.
"What's wrong?" I asked, my mind reeling with at least a dozen reasons why Mr.
Solomon might follow me to London - and not one of them was good.
"Nothing, Gallagher Girl. It's probably noth-"
"Tell me or I'll yell for Mr. and Mrs. Baxter, and you can find out how Bex became Bex."
He kicked the hard-packed snow gathered at the edge of the rink.
"We were supposed to meet up a few days ago, but he didn't show." Zach stared at me.
"And he didn't call."
Okay, I know when most teenagers talk about someone not calling, they're usually complaining. Or whining. But Zach isn't exactly the whining type.
I felt cold for the first time in the ice.
"He's not on my protection detail."
"Your mom's off looking for leads on the Circle, right?" Zach asked. "Could he be with her?"
"I don't know," I said, "I guess so, but . . . I don't know."
"Has he checked in with the Baxters?"
"I don't know."
"Has he -"
"No one ever tells me anything, remember?" I searched his face, and despite everything, I couldn't help but savor the face that there was finally something Zach didn't know.
"Being out of the loop isn't fun, is it?"
"Rebecca!" Bex's mother's voice echoed through the cold air.
"You've got to go," Zach said with a nod in the Baxter's direction.
"If Mr. Solomon is missing call-ins, then we have to look for him. We've got to tell Bex's Parents . . . we've got to call my mom so she can -"
"No," Zach snapped, then shook his head and forced a smile. "It's probably nothing, Gallagher Girl. Go on. Have fun," he said, as if that were possible.
"Cameron," Bex's father called. "Say good-bye to the young man now."
"We've got to tell them, Zach. It Mr. Solomon is missing . . ."
"They'd know," Zach reminded me. His voice softened. "Whatever is going on, I promise you they know a whole lot more than me do.
Zach eased away from the rail while, behind us, Mr. Baxter's voice grew louder. "Let's go, Cammie!
I looked over my shoulder at my best friend's father, her mother, and the guards that had surrounded me for weeks. "I'll be right there!"
When I turned back to the rail, Zach was already gone.
Bex's dad is one of England's top spies (not to mention the man who taught his daughter how to use a Barbie as a weapon when she was seven), so I didn't run after Zach. I didn't yell. I just kept pace beside Abe Baxter, skating slowly across the ice.
"The Tower of London is the oldest royal building still in official use today, Cammie."
"She knows, Dad," Bex said, even though A) I actually didn't know, and B) at that point, I had far more covert facts on my mind.
"Mr. Baxter -" I started to say, but Bex's father was already pointing at the Tower's tall stone walls and saying, "The Jewel House alone is a Grade AA target -"
"She knows, Dad," Bex said again, rolling her eyes. But she didn't really seem annoyed when she stared up at her father listening for him to go on.
"It has reinforced titanium security gates and a nine-hundred-and-eighty-point self-modifying laser grid." Then he stopped. "I'm sorry, Cammie, you were saying?"
But something in the way he looked at me made me forget about Zach and Mr. Solomon and even the Circle of Caven. Something reminded me that dads tell corny jokes. Dads drone on and on about history facts that don't really matter to ninety-nine percent of the world's population. Dads sometimes look at daughters like they're more precious than all the diamonds in England. I remembered that - once upon a time - someone had looked like that at me.
"I . . . I just wanted to thank you again for letting me spend winter break with you," I managed to mutter.
He squeezed my shoulder. "It's our pleasure, Cameron."
And just like that, I told myself that Zach was right - it was probably nothing. Everything was probably fine. After all, Mr. Solomon was careful. Mr. Solomon was good.
"Ooh . . . ravens!" Mr. Baxter said, easing onto the bench beside me. He pointed to a blackbird that was scavenging for crumbs near the base of the tall stone wall. "Now, there's an interesting piece of history, Cammie. According to legend, England will fall if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London."
Still, as I glided to one of the benches and started loosening the laces on my skates, my fingers didn't want to work. It was like I'd forgotten how to breathe.
I looked at the bird but didn't say anything. It was so black against the white ice.
Mr. Baxter sighed. "They clip their wings so they can't fly away."