The Reluctant Prince

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Chapter 3

The library didn’t close until nine. Jet waited outside until the last stragglers had left the building. Doll wasn’t there. Jet had noted several of the Family nearby, however. It would be extremely foolish of him to attempt to go back to the room which held the forbidden books.

That decided, Jet let his corporeal form slip away and melded with the shadows. No riding on moonbeams this night. They were inside, too. Jet slouched against the wall in the upstairs hallway, hands in pockets as he let the shadows fade from around him. He had tried to move directly into the locked room, but two men were sitting quietly in the dark, waiting. One of them, a shadow-user probably, looked directly at Jet as he gathered himself at the edge of the high window. Jet had immediately changed direction, finding an opening a little farther down.

If they wanted to meet him so badly, Jet was half-tempted to let them. He wasn’t getting in to see what the big deal was with the books anyway. Jet wasn’t worried that the Family would overpower him. He chuckled at the thought. Overpower. None of the Family he had ever met had enough power to do that. That’s why Jet was pretty sure he wasn’t really one of them. He wasn’t sure what he was, exactly, but not one of them.

When the doorknob to the locked room jiggled, Jet changed his mind. Let them chase him till they got tired of it. He had better things to do, like find out why Doll wasn’t at work tonight. He let his form dissolve again and followed the shadows outside, where he caught the wind and rode it across town. Let’s see the Family try that, he thought with satisfaction.

Doll was in her room when he tapped on her window, figuring he ought to at least ask before barging in. She wore a soft white dress that barely covered her thighs and she was reading a book—big surprise there—on her bed. Belatedly, Jet realized it must be her sleeping clothes. For someone who slept in whatever he had been wearing that day, Jet really didn’t see the need, but he had to admit it looked quite nice.

Dropping the book with a little gasp, Doll ran to the window and opened it wide. “What are you doing here?” she hissed, pulling him inside and closing the window and the curtain both.

“Why weren’t you at work?” Jet liked the way her little white dress fluttered around her bare legs. He called the wind to him softly, grinning when she glared at him and held her dress down with both hands.

“Stop that!” Doll hurried to her bed and pulled the covers over her lap.

While Jet waited for her reply to his question, he walked over and picked up the book Doll had been reading. It was a romance novel. He raised his eyebrows.

“Jet, why did you come here? If anyone saw you---“

“Why weren’t you at work?”

“I got fired.” Doll snapped.

Jet sat down next to her on the bed. “Because of me?”

Doll plucked at the covers with her fingers, avoiding Jet’s gaze. “They asked me a bunch of questions about you and then they told me to go home and not come back. My parents would have been furious, except the Family paid them a visit too. So not only am I fired, I’m also grounded. My parents are scared, Jet. Why are they scared?”

“Doll!” A worried voice called out from the hallway outside Doll’s room.

Immediately Jet melded with the shadows in the corner. Just in time, too, as Doll’s—father?—a dark-haired, middle-aged man who was quite a bit shorter than Jet, opened the door and came into the bedroom. He looked around but did not see Jet standing in the shadows. He was most likely a fire-user, like Doll.

“I heard voices.”

Her father sounded accusing. He had every right to be. Jet waited to see what Doll would do.

Doll gestured angrily around the empty room. “Do you see anybody?” she asked. “I was reading out loud, since I can’t do anything else!”

Her father backed down. “I’m sorry, honey,” he said, coming to sit next to her in the same spot Jet had recently vacated. “It’s just that this fugitive is so dangerous, and he’s had contact with you at the library. The Family is concerned. We are, too.”

Fugitive? Jet let himself come out of the shadows partially, but Doll caught a glimpse of his white face and blanched. Jet faded back.

“Dad, I didn’t do anything! There’s nothing to tell those men who came here asking all kinds of questions.” She was speaking as much to Jet as to her father, Jet realized. “He’s just a kid who came into the library sometimes. That’s all.”

“But the Family said you let him stay after closing hours.”

“I didn’t let anyone do anything!” Doll protested. “I didn’t see him!”

“I believe you, honey,” her father said, patting her hand. Doll’s cheeks reddened and she kept her head down. “But it’s best we stay quiet for a while, or at least until they catch this thief. We don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention. Maybe now you can forget about working and go to school again like we planned.”

Doll shot her father a sullen glare as he tucked her in like she was a child.

“Get some sleep.” He turned off the lights as he left, closing the door softly behind him.

Jet came out of the shadows and knelt down next to Doll’s bed in the dark. His eyes gleamed, the only spot of brightness left in the room. “I didn’t steal anything,” he whispered softly to put Doll’s mind at ease.

“I know,” she whispered back, turning on her side to face him.

“You lied for me.”

Doll smiled in the dark. Jet saw it. He kindled a tiny flame at the tip of his finger, a reminder that she could do this too if she wished. The tiny light illuminated the tears streaking Doll’s cheeks. It brought to mind the last time Jet had seen Janna all those years ago, when everything had ended and begun. As he did back then, he reached out to trace the tears.

“What do they say I stole?” Jet was curious.

Doll shrugged. “They didn’t. But they were very unhappy that you had been in that room. Jet, I didn’t tell them your name, but they asked a lot of questions about you. Who you were, where you lived, how long I had known you. They even asked me what your gifts were.”

“Did you tell them?”

“How could I? I don’t even know all of them myself.”

“You know enough.” Enough to incriminate him, enough to mark him as one of the Family, and then some.

“I didn’t say anything. Jet, they think I let you into that room. I don’t even have a key! They don’t know that you can—you know.”

That he could let go of his physical form and move through the tiniest crack as shadow. That’s as much as Doll knew, anyway. Jet could do much more. He had learned about it from some of those books in the locked room. Maybe that’s what the Families were upset about. “Don’t other Family do—you know?” he asked, using Doll’s words.

“If any do, it’s not common knowledge,” Doll answered, which was pretty much what Jet had concluded also. “Since I’ve been working at the library, only one other person besides you ever went into that room. He had his own key.”

“Who was he?”

“I don’t know. Some higher-up Family, certainly. I was never told his name. He only came a few times while I was there. He never spoke to me, never even looked at me.”

Jet wondered if that other man had paid attention to Doll if she would have still taken such an interest in Jet at all. “What did he look like?” Jet asked.

“Young. Older than you. He looked like Family.”

Didn’t they all? Jet smiled wryly. “I don’t want to get you in trouble, Doll. I’ll just—you know.” He grinned when he saw her lips twitch. “Are you going to go back to school like your father said?”

Doll shook her head. “No. I’m done with school.” Her face, in the flickering light, seemed flushed.

Doll wasn’t that old; she had told him so herself. Granted, she did work in a library and so was probably very smart. Jet knew she was smart. If he had the chance, he would have gone to school, though. Maybe she just didn’t want to leave Low City. “I’m going now. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”

“Jet!” Doll’s urgent whisper caught him off guard. “Will you come back again?”

He grinned. “I wouldn’t mind having another bath one of these days,” he said, pulling aside the curtain before he turned to shadow once more. It didn’t have to be a large opening. Just a hairline crack would do. In this form he could feel the outer air straining to get in and sent insubstantial fingers to meet it. Yes, he planned to come back before too long. Doll was sweet. He’d known she was attracted to him soon after he started visiting the library. In fact, he’d taken advantage of that fact to remain at the library after hours, which was why she was currently under such scrutiny from the Families. He would have to remedy that, if he could.

As he suspected, two Family guards sat in a parked vehicle outside Doll’s house. One looked up as Jet passed by far overhead, but Jet was still incorporeal so the Family guard did not see him. Jet planned to confront the Family head on, but not here, near Doll’s house. He didn’t want her associated in any way with his problems.

He let himself in a department store and shopped for some nicer clothes, something befitting the Family. He picked up a pair of sleeping clothes, too, so he wouldn’t have to wrinkle these before using them. That done, he rode the wind back to the subway, necessarily corporeal due to his bundle of new clothes, and deposited the bundle in the stairwell Ben used for deliveries. Shifting substance, he sifted through an opening and then, using Ben’s keys, he brought his treasures into the shop and went back to do as Ben had suggested, and have a peaceful night’s sleep.

Tomorrow should be fun.

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