The Reluctant Prince

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Chapter 21

Jet followed Macek’s sedan down the mountain and into Darcy. Doll’s school was right in the heart of the city, not far from where Jet had spent the day. She had a small room on the third floor of her housing unit, which Jet discovered by flowing up the stairs right behind her. Macek, he noted with satisfaction, had remained in the car which was already winding its way back towards Arden.

Jet materialized on Doll’s bed, eliciting a scream from the girl as she turned from the door to find him there. She recovered quickly, sliding the locks on her door to keep others out, not him. Doll knew he could get in—or out—wherever he chose. “What are you doing here?” she whispered, drawing the curtains closed on the small window behind him. “You’re going to get me in trouble!”

“Nobody saw me,” Jet said reasonably, reaching up to pull her into his lap. “I told you I was coming.”

“You told me—“ Doll repeated slowly, staring at him. “Jet!”

Jet stopped what she was going to say with a kiss, but Doll pushed him away, her eyes wide. Jet let her go with a sigh. “What?”

“You should have told me you were a Prince,” she said, twisting around in his lap so that she could see him better. At least she remained in his lap. “Macek explained it all to me in the car. I can’t see you any more.”

Jet laughed harshly. “I’m right here. Of course you can see me,” he said, deliberately misunderstanding. “What else did Macek say?”

“Jet, you’re royal. I’m not. I can’t be with you.”

“Why not? I’m the same person I was the last time we met.”

“No, you’re not. You’re one of the royal Family, the King’s son! You can do things that the rest of us can’t. I always knew you were more than you seemed. Macek explained you are now with your real family and have responsibilities. I’m truly glad you found them, Jet. You deserve to be where you belong.”

Jet frowned. This wasn’t going the way he had thought. He had thought Doll would be happy to see him and fall into his arms, and they would continue where they had left off in his room. Well, technically she was still in his arms. He tried kissing her again, tentatively, and Doll kissed him back, softly, her eyes filled with regret. “I won’t stop coming to see you,” he murmured, kissing her a third time. “Macek can’t stop me; none of them can.”

Not the right thing to say. Doll got up. “They can stop me. Jet, your uncle is the Enforcer! He can make me leave this school, he can threaten my family! I—I really like you, Jet—but you belong with them, not with someone like me.”

What exactly had Macek said to her? Jet wasn’t worried so much about Macek as he was about Merrell. “So what if I’m Roderick Estee? It’s not like I knew it.” For sure.

“But you know it now. You believe it.” This, flatly.

“Yeah.”

Doll shook her head. “We don’t belong together, Jet—Roderick. You should go.”

“Don’t call me that,” Jet said, coming closer. “All right, I’ll go.” But he made no move to leave. He gazed searchingly into Doll’s eyes, looking for the spark of fire that dwelled within her. “Call your element,” Jet urged softly, clasping her hands in his own. He called fire to his hands, smiling encouragingly when Doll did the same. Their flames merged.

Doll sucked in a sharp breath as Jet’s flame became indistinguishable from her own. It was still her underneath, but . . . Jet’s whole body turned to flame and he melted into her! Doll shivered at the sensation. It didn’t burn. Her core was pure fire and it met his gladly.

But a lifetime and more of conditioning made Doll draw back. She was this form, not that. She believed it in her bones.

‘Let go,’ Jet urged her wordlessly.

But she wouldn’t. Jet would not believe couldn’t. Carefully he withdrew his essence from hers.

“What was that?” Doll breathed, once they were both safely in their bodies.

Jet was wondering the same thing. It had been—exhilarating. And something more. His fire had called to hers, and she responded! This was how it should be between two of the Family. “Better than—“ Jet realized she wouldn’t have a reference. “—kissing, though that’s nice too.” He kissed the tip of her nose to prove his point.

“Yeah,” Doll agreed a little unsteadily. For a moment while Jet’s flame moved in her and through her, she’d felt an overwhelming urge to meet his flame with her own. But that was not possible, was it? She didn’t have Jet’s powers. She wasn’t even royal. “Yeah,” she said again, smiling.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jet promised before turning to smoke and fading out of the room. After that, not Merrell or any other Family would be able to keep him away. What’s more, he saw it in her eyes—Doll felt the same way.

With a little luck, Jet would be able to make it back to Arden before Macek did. Then all he’d have to do would be to appease Merrell—no easy task. For Doll’s sake, he’d try.

When Jet flowed silently back through the gap in his window, Merrell was waiting for him. The Enforcer had never left Jet’s rooms. He sat grimly on the small sofa staring at the window so when Jet materialized, Merrell sprang to his feet and grabbed Jet by the neck. “Let’s see if you can get out of this before I tear your throat out,” the older man growled in fury.

Jet could, easily, but he didn’t think it wise to demonstrate just yet. He let himself go limp in Merrell’s grasp.

“Promise you won’t flee,” Merrell said ominously, keeping a tight hold on Jet’s throat. Jet couldn’t breathe, but he managed to nod his head. Merrell flung him down to the sofa, breathing heavily as if he’d been the one who had just been choked. “Don’t ever, ever flaunt my authority again,” Merrell threatened. “You won’t always be vigilant, and I can still hurt you.” That, said with some satisfaction, as if tonight proved a theory Merrell had been wanting to try.

Jet tried a few breaths and rubbed his throat. He imagined he could feel the bruises starting to form. “I never said you couldn’t,” he croaked. Let Merrell believe he had caught Jet off guard. It might make him overconfident the next time Jet was really vulnerable, giving Jet just enough edge to escape real harm. In this, Jet was a master, having survived a lifetime of trying to outwit predators. He waited.

“You’re proving to be more of a liability than you’re worth,” Merrell said, calmer now that Jet hadn’t argued with him. “We don’t need this now, not while everything else is so unstable. We need Family with power who know how to listen.” Merrell ground his teeth in frustration.

“I’ll listen,” Jet said. That’s all he committed to—listening. He would still make his own decisions after he’d heard what they had to say, these Family, his family. “But not about Doll. She stays with me.”

“Fine,” Merrell snapped, surprising Jet. Merrell must have done his share of thinking while he sat in Jet’s apartments waiting for Jet to return. “As long as you know your duty to the royal Family.”

What duty? Jet wondered. But he let it pass. “I’ll go back to Salter tomorrow,” he said, but Merrell shook his head.

“Forget Salter,” Merrell said. “Either they will survive or they won’t. The King is on his way back. He wants to see you in the afternoon. I expect it will be to talk about what happened.”

“What happened? You mean when I called the rain and he left so suddenly? Or did something else happen?” Merrell was so cryptic. What duty?

Merrell scowled. “A lot of things happened, have been happening for a while now. Roy can tell you himself. I want to be there when he does. He thinks he’s going to get you, but I’m warning you, Jet. You’re mine. I may not be as powerful in the elements as you and Roy are, but I have my strengths. You’d do well to remember that.”

Was that a threat? Jet frowned, but Merrell was already leaving. Jet bolted the door after him and went into his bedroom to lie down. Merrell had been in here. Jet’s things were moved around just enough to let him know Merrell had been checking up on him. Good thing Jet kept his important belongings hidden. He waved his hand by the headboard just to be certain Merrell hadn’t stumbled over his hidden shelf the same as that earlier grandfather had accidentally discovered the hidden books at the royal library. But no, his important things hadn’t been touched. Jet drifted off to sleep holding onto his favorite storybook, the one about the star who fell from the sky and wanted nothing more than to get back home again.

Daniel woke him up the next morning, cheerful as if nothing had happened and asking all kinds of questions about Doll. Jet shut him up by telling him the King was coming home. Jet wasn’t sure he was looking forward to that eventual meeting. Was the King ready to recognize him as his long-lost son? Was this to be some sort of official acknowledgment? Why had the King run from him the minute he was sure Jet was his son? Or maybe he hadn’t. Merrell had alluded to problems elsewhere in Attania. Maybe it was all just a big coincidence.

“He’s coming to see you, I suppose,” Daniel said with a touch of bitterness which he hid with a bright grin. “Sephira will love that.”

“What’s he like? King Roy. I didn’t really talk much to him. I’m not sure what he wants to see me about,” Jet said, confirming Daniel’s suspicions.

Daniel shrugged. “He’s the King. The All-Powerful, Ruler of Attania, Head of the Family, though you wouldn’t know it. He’s always off gallivanting somewhere for some lost cause or other. Maybe when he was younger, he paid attention to his offspring, but lately? Lately he avoids us as much as possible, unless it’s in an official capacity. In public, he’s the perfect King.” Daniel slanted a glance at Jet. “Is that blunt enough for you?”

Jet smiled. “Yes it is, thanks. He’s a stranger to me anyway, so I have no expectations.”

“Everybody has expectations.” Daniel paused before they went into the dining room. “Do me a favor when you talk to him. Remind him that I’m supposed to be tested for my grays.”

Merrell said Daniel wasn’t ready. “He’s your father. Shouldn’t you ask him? All right, I’ll ask if I have the chance.”

Macek interrupted. “Jet, I need you to take over my class this morning. I’ve been called away unexpectedly. Actually,” Merrell glanced at Daniel who was listening avidly, “I want you to take over until I get back. It might be a while.”

“Me? I don’t know anything about teaching. Why ask me?”

Daniel answered before Macek could. “Because you wear the grays. It means you’re qualified.”

“Just don’t let them hurt themselves or teach them things they’re not ready for,” Macek advised. “Basically I just want you to keep them occupied with simple things until I get back. You can do that, right?”

Daniel laughed, and went on ahead to get breakfast. Jet realized he was being controlled. If he was teaching the little kids, he couldn’t be out gallivanting. He thought of what Daniel had said about the King. Maybe they had something in common after all. “I’ll do it,” he said, “but I’m supposed to meet with King Roy this afternoon.”

“No problem—you only need to take over the morning session. My father has made arrangements for the afternoons already.”

“Where are you going?”

Macek hesitated. “There’s been a discovery in one of the outlying areas. I have—something to do there. Ask Merrell about it if you want to know more. Jet? Thanks.”

So maybe it wasn’t entirely to control him. Jet felt marginally better. He grabbed something quick to eat so he could get to the practice room before his ‘students.’ Macek shouldn’t have left him in charge. Jet had definite ideas about what these little kids ought to know.

A few minutes later Charles, Mattie, Tommy and John tumbled through the practice room door, laughing and talking until they spotted Jet in the middle of the room. Mattie ran right up to Jet and hugged him around the legs. “You came back!” he said with a pleased smile.

Jet sent a gust of wind to close the door behind the last boy and then secured it with shadow. He called up light from the floor and let it rise up to about knee level. He gathered the shadows from the corners of the room and strung them together to hang down the walls like dark curtains which would muffle sound as well as sight.

“Macek had to go away for a little while,” he told the boys. “So now we play by my rules.” He softened the ominous sounding words with a quick grin. “I don’t have too many rules.”

Tommy and Charles exchanged worried glances, but the other two boys nodded eagerly. Jet called fire to his hands as he had done with Doll. Macek had practiced controlling fire with these boys for weeks. All of them had a kernel of fire inside them in order to be able to manipulate it. Tommy had been burned by his own fire, which Jet still couldn’t understand. It was time these boys learned that fire could never hurt them unless they let it. Mattie was the youngest and the most impressionable. He hadn’t learned to be afraid yet.

Jet darted forward, his intentions obscured by the light that wrapped around his lower legs, and plunged his flaming hands into Mattie’s chest. He let his hands become pure flame, which the boys didn’t realize. They screamed, but Mattie’s face lit up in wonder. “It tingles!” he said in surprise.

Jet let flame engulf his entire being and he moved his self of fire through Mattie.

“Oh!” the little boy cried out, his face suffusing with joy. “Oh!”

Jet smiled. “Who wants to try next?” he asked, taking back his regular shape so he could talk.

Surprisingly, Tommy raised his hand.

“Call flame,” Jet said softly, waiting while the boy called a lick of flame to his cupped hands. “Now, let it coat your fingers.” A few feet away, Mattie was already happily coating his arms and legs with flame. Tommy gulped. He’d been the one to get burned a few weeks ago when he lost control of his own flame. “It can’t hurt you—it’s a part of you,” Jet murmured. It wasn’t long before Tommy’s hands were gloved in living flame. “Now . . .” he put his own fiery hands on top of Tommy’s and waited while Tommy got used to the sensation. “Are you ready?” Tommy nodded, excitement building in his eyes. Jet turned to flame and moved through Tommy.

Laughing, Tommy clutched his belly. “That tickled! Can you do it again?”

“My turn! My turn!” Charles and Johnny Graves both had their hands up. Jet didn’t bother transforming back to his human self—he moved in sequence through first one boy and then the other. It felt as incredible as it had when he merged his flame with Doll’s. Her only element was flame, and it had responded eagerly to his touch. These boys, like Jet, controlled multiple elements, including flame. Now they understood that fire was theirs, just as Jet knew fire was his—he was fire. So were they, inside. Today they had begun to learn that.


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