The Reluctant Prince

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Chapter 20

Doll broke away from the kiss and stared at Jet wide-eyed.

“What’s the matter? I thought you liked me.” Jet asked.

“I do.” Doll blushed. “But we’re in your room. Alone.”

Is that all that was bothering her? Jet let some of the tension seep out of his shoulders. He led Doll to the small sofa by the window. “I promise I won’t hurt you,” he murmured, stroking the hair away from her face.

Doll gave him a strange look. “Hurt me? Why would I think that? Jet, are you sure it’s okay for us to be alone in here?”

“It’s my room,” Jet said stubbornly, the beginnings of a pout on his lips. He was confused. Did Doll want to kiss him or not? He leaned forward and kissed her lips gently. “I should have done this back in Low City.”

Doll laughed, startled. “Maybe you should have,” she agreed, meeting him for another kiss.

Jet kept it gentle. He didn’t want to scare her. Doll liked kissing him, he could tell. He had to remind himself she was innocent. He wanted to taste more of her.

Noise outside in the inner courtyard signaled the arrival of the other cousins. Jet kept his door closed, hoping that they would get the hint that he didn’t want to be disturbed. But he wasn’t that lucky.

“Jet!” A quick thump on his door accompanied the call. Jet was seriously contemplating a permanent name change when the doorknob began to turn.

“Wait here,” he said to Doll, jumping up so he could intercept whoever had undone his shadow locks to open his door. Only a handful of people were capable of that level of skill.

“Daniel,” Jet said flatly, blocking the boy from entering with his body. Daniel tried to peek past him.

“Uncle T is looking for you,” Daniel said unapologetically. “What did you do this time? Is it about Sephira? Who’s in there with you?”

Unbelievably, Daniel tried to edge inside again.

“Stop it.” Jet placed a flow of air between Daniel and his room, to Daniel’s astonishment. “It’s a friend, okay?” Relenting, he released the air and stepped back so Daniel could see into his room. “Daniel, this is Doll Spencer. Doll, Daniel.”

Daniel immediately grinned and strode forward, hand outstretched. “Glad to meet you, Doll. Any friend of Jet’s . . .” He trailed off as he noticed the stricken expression on Doll’s face as she stood to shake his hand. “Oh? Jet didn’t tell you? I see you recognize me. It’s Prince Daniel, actually. Prince Daniel Estee, at your service.”

Jet put his arms around Doll and glared at Daniel. “Enough,” he said.

“Jet?” Doll’s voice was shaky. “Is this the royal Family school?”

“He didn’t mention that either?” Daniel said brightly. “This is Arden, where the royals are schooled. Jet did tell you he’s a royal, didn’t he? In fact, he’s my brother.”

“Leave her alone,” Jet growled, as Doll began to shake. He’d forgotten that his door was now wide open and he had a gathering of cousins watching with mingled horror and curiosity. Lorra pushed her way through.

“Who’s she?” Lorra demanded.

Jet didn’t have a chance to answer. Merrell arrived, scattering the cousins like water drops. He stopped short in the doorway, taking in the scene with one glance. “Daniel, Lorra, go,” he said.

Daniel went, pulling Lorra, who was still shooting daggers at Doll with her eyes, after him. They passed Macek on the way out. Macek rushed into Jet’s room and shut the outer door firmly behind him.

“Now,” Merrell said, stalking forward. “Explain why I sent you home with the Queen and you came back with—I should have known—are you the girl from Low City? I remember you.”

“She’s Doll Spencer, the girl from the library,” Macek supplied, coming to stand next to his father. The four of them stood facing each other, Jet’s arms still protectively around Doll, who couldn’t stop trembling. She hadn’t said another word since meeting Daniel.

“So you were involved,” Merrell said, narrowing his eyes. Doll shrank back against Jet.

“Leave her alone. She didn’t do anything.”

Merrell flicked a predatory glance at Doll, but he addressed his son. “Macek, take this young lady home. Jet and I need to talk.”

“No!” Jet pulled Doll closer. “I’ll bring her home. What do you need to talk to me about now? Can’t it wait?”

“No, it can’t,” Merrell said implacably.

Doll pushed against Jet’s side. “It’s all right, Jet. I should go home. You have things to do, and so do I. It was good seeing you again, Jet.”

She spoke so formally, Jet was thrown off for a minute. Was she mad at him? No. Jet watched Doll’s face carefully. She was scared, really scared, although she tried to hide it. Scared of him, or . . . Jet glared at Merrell.

Macek stepped forward. “Just tell me where you live, Miss Spencer, and I’ll have the car drop you there. I assume you’re staying in Darcy now?”

Jet turned his glare on Macek. Why was he being so nice all of a sudden?

Doll nodded. “Yes, I’m attending Pathways University. Jet and I,” she glanced at Jet, swallowed, then continued, “met at the library and he invited me to see his school. I didn’t realize—“ She swallowed again and started over. “I’m sorry if I broke any rules. If I had known which school it was, I wouldn’t have come.”

“That’s quite all right, Miss Spencer,” Macek replied. “You didn’t know.”

Merrell said, “You’re not in trouble. Doll, was it? You’re not in trouble, Doll. Jet, on the other hand . . . .”

Jet could tell by now when Merrell was joking. Doll, apparently, could not. “Oh, please don’t punish him!” she said quickly. “Jet didn’t mean to do anything wrong.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Jet muttered.

“Come with me, Doll,” Macek said, holding out his hand. “I’ll see you safely home.” He didn’t ask how Jet had brought her here in the first place, which was probably best. Family, even royals, were not supposed to use their abilities for frivolous things. But even Macek knew better now than to expect Jet to obey Family rules. Lucky for Jet, he wore the grays, which gave him a lot of leeway. How much remained to be seen.

“I’ll come for you,” Jet promised, as Doll followed Macek out the door. She glanced back once, but Jet couldn’t read her expression.

“I sent you to bring the Queen home,” Merrell said mildly after Macek and Doll had left.

“And I did,” Jet said evenly.

“You didn’t want to stay? Queen Sephira didn’t ask you?”

“Oh, she asked me,” Jet replied, suddenly realizing what this was all about. Merrell had known the Queen would expect more than just an escort home from him. But had Merrell wanted Jet to accept the Queen’s advances or was this another test? If it was, then he’d passed, hadn’t he? Daniel was welcome to the Queen. So was Merrell. “I said no.”

“Jet.” With a sigh, Merrell lowered himself onto the sofa Doll had recently vacated. “You don’t understand, do you? Your blood is the most powerful we’ve seen in generations. More powerful than Roy’s, possibly. Certainly more powerful than mine.”

Roy was more powerful in the elements than Merrell? Daniel had said as much once, but It was hard to believe. Roy seemed so kind-hearted, while Merrell was, well, the Enforcer. “Because my father can work weather?”

“That’s part of it,” Merrell agreed.

“I don’t want to be King,” Jet said.

“I know. I don’t want you to be King either. But perhaps your offspring would prove to be more pliable. My brother has refused to give Sephira any more children. He’s refused to have any more children, period. It’s too soon to tell if any of the children he has already will have blood as powerful as yours.”

“So what are you saying? You want me to have children?”

“It crossed my mind,” Merrell said dryly.

It had more than crossed Sephira’s mind, obviously. Oh, Daniel must be furious!

“No thanks,” Jet replied, just as dryly. “My father told me to call her ‘mother,’ so that’s what I’m going to do. If I ever have children, it will be because I want to, and with someone I like.”

“You mean Doll? You can’t.”

“Why not—she’s Family.”

Merrell laughed. “As if you could ever have a child with someone not of the Family. No, that’s not what I meant. Doll is sweet, but her blood mixed with yours is not nearly powerful enough to produce strong offspring. I told you before, Jet, we are few, and we are dying out. It is not just whim that makes us choose our partners. It is dire need. You are too powerful to disregard that need, Roderick Estee. I’m sorry, but that is the truth.”

Merrell’s speech was so ludicrous that Jet disregarded it. “Is that all you wanted to tell me?” he asked. “Don’t ever do that to me again.”

“Roy is coming back in three days.” Merrell sounded resigned. “You’ll see what I mean then. I was hoping to have the Salter problem resolved by then, and possibly the other matter as well, but I see it’s not going to happen. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Jet had no idea what Merrell was talking about. “Are we done now?”

Merrell’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

Jet grinned, taking that for a ‘yes.’ He dissolved into a wisp of shadow and oozed underneath the windowpane. If he hurried, he could probably beat Macek back to Darcy.

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