Rebel Grey

Rebel Grey, A Dystopian Teen Fantasy Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Meanwhile, at King Scarlet’s luxurious palace…

Prince Dante’s bedroom was as large as an apartment. The King’s palace was an enormous, lavish affair. The ceilings above were tall and vaulted. The stars barely twinkled through stained glass skylights. A four poster bed with black silk sheets stood in the center of the room. Dante had slept late. He always slept late. The thick, blood red counterpane was still rumpled. He frowned slightly at it. He jabbed a button on the wall beside the double oak doors.

“Sir?” The young woman’s voice was soft and hesitant.

Dante smirked. “Get up here, Claire. My room needs cleaning.” There was a moment’s pause. He scowled. “Now!”

Claire didn’t reply, but seconds later there was a quiet rap on the door. He yanked it open. The maid was younger than he by a few years, no older than sixteen. She had been the daughter of one of Scarlet’s favorite Nobles until the King’s closest friend and advisor, Warin Scanlan, had fingered them for treason. When her parents had been imprisoned, Scarlet had offered the girl a home in his mansion in exchange for her servitude. It was the best Scarlet offered to the displaced children of Razor City. He’d been fond of her.

“What took so long?” Dante barked.

Claire stared at him in surprise. He relished the frightened look in her pale blue eyes. She looked thinner than he remembered. Her short, red maid’s uniform hung off her meager frame. He recalled that her father’s sentencing was in a few days. She was probably worried about him. She had a very good reason. Dante already knew his father intended to execute the traitor. He almost always executed treacherous Nobles; it wouldn’t do to allow the others to believe they could cross the King and live to tell about it.

King Scarlet liked to send strong messages.

Claire bobbed her head. “Sorry, sir.”

“Well? This room isn’t going to clean itself.”

She spun and hurried toward the bed. He watched her straighten the sheets for a moment with narrowed eyes, then nodded in satisfaction. The girl would make the bed perfectly. She always made it perfectly. She had learned long ago not to annoy him. He turned back to the large, wrought iron vanity mirror on the north wall.

He looked good. He never looked anything else. He tucked the tight, black, long-sleeved tee shirt into his black jeans and tossed his dark, shoulder-length hair. It fell perfectly back into place. It always fell perfectly back into place. He smirked at his reflection.

He wanted a drink, and he wanted a woman. He would have both. The city gave him exactly what he wanted. He glanced over his shoulder at Claire. She leaned over his bed, tucking the sheets tightly under the mattress–exactly the way he liked them. He considered her a moment. No. She was too thin. She was too young. He liked women with curves and experience.

She didn’t know that, though, and it had been a boring day. He strode up behind her. She straightened in surprise. “Sir–”

He chuckled in her ear as she bumped backward into his lean chest. “Claire.” His voice was a low purr. He felt her trembling against him. “That sheet is a little crooked.”

Her body quaked. Her voice came out in a squeak. “I’ll fix it, sir. Please let me fix it. Please.”

He laughed and stepped back. “Don’t worry, Claire. You’re a little scrawny for my taste.” He spun away and grabbed his black leather jacket from the hook beside the door. When he looked back at her, she was staring at him with huge, watery blue eyes. He smiled. “It had better be perfect when I get home.”

Her reply was a terrified yelp. He didn’t wait to listen to it. He strode out of the room. He ignored the two Marshals in red suits standing guard outside the door. When they followed him, he gave them no indication that he noticed them at all. They might as well have been invisible. He was accustomed to the bodyguards his father insisted accompany him wherever he went.

They did not speak to him. He didn’t like them to speak to him. In fact, he didn’t like anyone to speak to him unless he spoke to them first.

“Dante.”

He spun to face Warin Scanlan on the stairs. He frowned. His father’s friend was still dressed in the black suit he’d worn earlier in the day for the children’s home dedication. His face was lined, and he was thin. He looked ten years older than Scarlet, though they were the same age. They’d been friends since childhood, since before the war and the inception of Razor City. His sandy hair was receding. He almost never smiled.

Dante lifted an insolent eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. “What do you want, Warin?”

“Where are you going?”

“Out.”

“Out where?”

“None of your business.”

Warin’s deeply lined face scrunched into a frown. “Your father does not wish for you to leave the house. There have been a number of rebel uprisings and outlaws crossing into the city limits.”

Dante laughed. “I can take care of myself.” He pushed aside his jacket to reveal the long-barreled pistol on his belt. He smiled smugly.

Warn scowled. “It is dangerous for you out there, Dante. Your father is not going to be happy about this.”

Dante shrugged. “Then don’t tell him.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“Why? Because you’re his little errand boy? His lap dog?”

The older man took a step toward him. His eyes narrowed into a furious glare. “I am his partner.”

“His partner.” Dante laughed. “Right. You’re equal to my father like a dog is equal to his master.”

Warin’s eyes flared. “You know nothing about it! You’re nothing but a spoiled brat! Your father and I started this city. We’re the ones who made order from chaos when the war destroyed everything, when there was no one to help the people.”

“No. You followed him and rode his coattails while he built this city. When the government fell, he was the one who had the power and influence to stop the looting and the chaos and bring the city back together again. You had nothing. It’s under his rule. Not yours.” Dante lifted his eyebrows. “Are you suggesting you would prefer to take over for him?”

Warin’s expression changed abruptly. He looked suddenly frightened. “No! No. I am simply reminding you that I have been beside him from the beginning. I have helped him.”

Dante snorted. He turned away from Warin and flicked his fingers in dismissal. “Then go on. Go back to him. Kneel at his feet. And leave me alone. I have things to do.”

“You will not always be the King’s son, Dante,” Warin called after him as he started back down the stairs. “You will not always be the prince. There might come a time when you have to stand on your own, to be responsible and behave like an adult. You’ll have to live on your own merit instead of riding his coattails and getting away with anything you want.”

Dante lifted his head from the bottom floor to glance back up at Warin. His father’s advisor glared down at him from the second floor loft. Dante looked back at him with an expression so cold, the air might have turned to ice around him. “When? When you take over? Please. No one can touch my father. He’s the king. And I am the prince. I do what I want when I want, and no lapdog is going to tell me what to do.”

“Fine. Just remember, Dante. Things change.”

“And you’re going to be the one to change them?”

“No. I’m happy. But there are whispers in the wind, and the word on the streets is some people might be looking to make some changes. It might not always be like this.”

Dante shrugged. “Whatever. Nothing’s changed lately, so I don’t see it happening any time soon.”

“You better enjoy it while it lasts.”

The prince lifted his chin and grinned at him. “Oh,. I think I will.” He was still laughing as the heavy front door closed behind him.

***

At a seedy bar in the city…

The Edge was noisy. Dante liked it noisy. The beautiful blonde girl under his arm was talking, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying. He liked it that way. She was probably telling him what she intended to do to him that night. She was probably telling him what she thought he wanted to hear. She didn’t know anything about what he wanted to hear. He laughed. For a moment, she looked taken aback, but then she stretched her full, red lips into a sensual smile. Her teeth were pearly white. Her dark eyes, though, still looked confused.

He leaned down and kissed her. When he pulled back, she looked a lot happier. Her smile was genuine. “You want to be with the prince tonight?” he asked.

The girl smiled and ran a long, red fingernail down his chest. Her voice was a low, husky purr. “Yes.” She was probably a couple years older than him. She was the best-looking girl in the club, but there was something empty about her. Her eyes didn’t flash or gleam. She smiled when he smiled. She laughed when he laughed. He didn’t even remember her name.

He caught her finger abruptly, pushing it away from him. “Why?”

She blinked in confusion. “What?”

“Why do you want to be with me tonight? Because I’m the prince?”

She looked as though she wasn’t sure how to answer this. Then she smiled and pressed her body against him. “You’re also very hot.”

Dante scowled and pushed her away from him. “Leave me alone.”

“What?” She looked completely shocked.

“I said go! Leave me alone.”

Her beautiful face twisted into a snarl. “You crazy son of a bitch.” She glared at him and reached for her glass as though she intended to toss the amber liquid into his face.

One of Dante’s bodyguards stepped forward and caught her arm. She looked up at him in surprise. She’d almost forgotten they were there, too. The large, bald bodyguard with a scar down his cheek shook his head. She vaulted out of her seat as though she’d sat on a pin. She glared over her shoulder at Dante, but he wasn’t paying attention. He sipped his drink and slammed the empty glass down on the table.

She was the third girl he’d chased off that night. “You know, sir,” Sean, the bald bodyguard said in a low, toneless voice, “you might have better luck if you stopped running them off.”

Dante slammed his hand abruptly on the table and glared at him. “Did I ask your opinion? When I want it, I will ask. And I can’t think of any reason why I would.” He glared petulantly around though the flashing lights of the club. “I’m tired of these women. They just want my money and my title. Their eyes glaze over. They don’t even hear what I’m saying. I might as well be speaking a foreign language. I just see dollar signs in their eyes.” His head spun. He felt woozy. His vision blurred, but he blinked suddenly in surprise, squinting across the room.

“Sir, are you all right?”

“What’s Cage doing?”

“Sir?”

Dante lifted his hand to point at the pale-haired Noble. “Cage.” Even to his own ears, his voice sounded slow and slurred. “What’s he doing?”

“He’s speaking to someone, sir.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know him, sir. I don’t recognize him.”

Dante squinted through the gloom, but he couldn’t see the man to whom Cage Spears was speaking. He seemed to blur around the edges. “I don’t trust him.”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

Dante waved his hand dismissively, and his vision cleared a little. He slammed his hand down on the table again. “Another drink!”

Sean and his partner glanced at each other. “You have had several, sir,” Errol, the shorter, squatter guard with short, black hair said. He sounded almost nervous.

“When I want you to give me suggestions, I will ask!” Dante snapped. “I’m the goddamn prince. Get me another drink!”

Errol and Sean glanced at each other again, but Sean lifted his hand to gesture at the young, pretty waitress who lingered nearby, awaiting the prince’s orders. She brought him another drink in seconds. He leered at her as she leaned over him and winked. He seemed not to remember he’d already seen her several times that night. “Thanks, doll.”

He slapped a hundred dollar bill on the table. She looked at it hesitantly for a moment. He looked at her expectantly. She glanced over her shoulder at Sean and Errol. Sean nodded to her and gestured her away. She snatched up the bill and fled the table before Dante could call her back. He forgot her as quickly as she’d gone. He sipped his drink and smirked imperiously around the club.

A short man in a tattered suit staggered up to Dante’s table. He looked as though he’d had a lot to drink. His small, dark eyes were blood-shot and watery. “You!” he snarled, lifting a hand to point at Dante.

Sean and Errol stepped forward, but Dante gestured them. He looked at the man in interest. “What?”

“Prince Dante, you son of a bitch!”

Dante pointed a finger at himself. “What? Me? What did I do?” The man lurched forward. Sean and Errol moved as though to stop him, but Dante waved his hand again. “No, no. Let him talk. I want to hear what his problem is. I haven’t heard a good one in a while.”

“Your men took my son from his bed! You accused him of treason!” Spittle flew from the drunk man’s mouth. Dante wiped at his chin and sneered.

“He was probably guilty, then.”

“He was innocent! He was just a boy! He did not even know what the paper was!”

“Ah, he was reading Uprising propaganda, then. You know the penalty. If you kept a better eye on him, you would not have lost him to the rebels.”

“He was just a boy!” In the blink of his eye, he was holding a knife. He lunged toward Dante, but Sean and Errol leapt upon him and wrestled him to the ground. He continued to shriek.

Dante curled his lip. “Pathetic.” He flicked his fingers dismissively. “Get him out of here.”

Sean glanced at Dante as he lifted the sobbing, drunken man to his feet. The prince didn’t like the look in his eyes.

“What?” Dante snapped imperiously. “You feel bad for him? He attacked me!”

“He lost his son.” Sean’s voice was so quiet, it barely carried over the music.

Dante slapped his hand on the table. “What did you say?”

Sean’s jaw was rigid. “Nothing, sir. I am sure the boy was guilty.”

The prince lifted his chin. He glanced around the club. His vision spun and blurred. He blinked to focus his gaze. “Where’s Cage?”

“He’s gone, sir. He left.”

“I don’t trust him.”

“As you said, sir.”

Dante surged abruptly to his feet. “This isn’t any fun anymore.” He wobbled slightly. Sean leaned forward to catch his arm. Dante glared at him and shrugged him off. “I can walk. I’m not a kid.”

“I am sorry, sir. I only meant to help.”

“Then take me home. This place is boring.”

“Yes, sir.”

Errol lifted a hand to speak quietly into the microphone on his sleeve. “This way, sir. The car is waiting outside.”

Dante lifted his chin, but he didn’t argue. He allowed the two bodyguards to lead him through the flashing club into a long, narrow hallway. A black, unmarked door led out into the dark alley outside. Dante’s car wasn’t there. It was quiet, but there was a soft, relentless buzz from the broken neon sign above the building across the way. Most of the bulbs had been shattered. Only the large red O still glowed.

“…this is the new one?”

Dante thought he recognized the voice murmuring in the shadows down the alley. He spun slowly toward it.

“…just out.” He didn’t recognize the second man, but he was sure he knew the first, even if he could not place it.

“Let me see it…it’s good. It will inspire many to join the cause.”

Dante frowned and lurched toward the two men. Sean and Errol weren’t paying attention to him. They spoke into their radios and stepped toward the entrance to the alley to watch for the large, black car that would take the prince home. They didn’t notice when he wandered away, into the shadows of the alley.

When the first man spoke again, Dante recognized him instantly. “How soon will they be available?” Cage Spears asked. He held something up, but Dante couldn’t see it in the dim light. Cage stood just on the edge of the halo of the red neon light. Dante couldn’t see the other man. He frowned and staggered forward. His mind was sluggish and slow, but he knew something wasn’t right. These people shouldn’t be here.

“Prince Dante! Your car is here.”

Cage and the man with him jumped as headlights flashed in their faces. They split apart instantly and streaked into the shadows. Dante started after Cage, but he had disappeared into the darkness. The prince couldn’t even be sure he’d seen him at all.

“Prince Dante.”

He spun back toward the car. “Yeah. Okay. I’m coming.”

***

The same night at the King’s palace…

Cage Spears stepped out of the shadows of the grand foyer of King Scarlet’s mansion. Dante stumbled backward to avoid colliding with him. His eyes narrowed. “How did you get here so fast?” Dante barked.

Cage did not reply. His dark eyes were curiously watchful and uncannily alert. He watched the prince as he swayed in place. Dante lifted a hand to point at him. “Hello, Dante.”

“You. I know what you are up to. You’re working with the Uprising.”

Cage lifted an eyebrow. He looked completely unfazed by the accusation. “You’re drunk, Dante. That’s ridiculous.”

“I saw you in that alley. I know you had rebel papers.”

“You don’t know what you saw. You can barely stand up.”

“I am not that drunk. I know you were there. In the alley with that rebel.”

“So what? I was gathering information about the Uprising for your father. I do work for your father. You know that.”

He didn’t look worried, but he should have. Dante narrowed his eyes. He lurched toward Cage and reached out so quickly, the older man barely saw him move. Dante snatched the corner of glossy black paper from his pocket. He held it up to his eyes. His vision was blurry, but he could see the large, blood red letters emblazoned on the black cover: Scarlet’s City of Blood. He waved it in Cage’s face.

“Then what is this?”

Cage grabbed at the paper, though his face remained as cold and serene as before. “I have to show that to your father.”

“Oh. I’m sure that’s what you were going to do with it. What do you think my father would say if he knew you were hiding it?”

“I’m not hiding it. I’m just gathering information. We have to know what we are up against. We have to know how the Uprising are recruiting so we can counter it.”

Dante scoffed. “You’re lying. You’re one of them, aren’t you?”

Cage frowned. “Dante, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re drunk.”

“I’m not that drunk.”

“You’re imagining things. Go to bed. Sleep it off.”

“I am the prince! I won’t be spoken to like a child.” He glared at Cage. “I am the prince. And you will do what I say, not the other way around.”

Cage lifted his chin. “I am your father’s man, Dante. Not yours.”

Dante smirked. “Not anymore. What do you think my father would say? What do you think he would do to you if I told him I caught you conspiring with a rebel at the Edge?”

“I was not conspiring.”

“That’s not what it looked like to me. I’m sure I saw you planning something. You might have even given him money to fund the rebellion.” He was warming up to the idea. He didn’t care if Cage was guilty of working with the Uprising or not. He probably wasn’t. It didn’t mean he couldn’t take advantage of the situation. He wanted to see Cage break. He’d never seen the Noble so much as raise his voice. Dante didn’t like a man whose buttons he couldn’t push. He held up the pamphlet between his fingers. “And then I found this on you.”

Cage narrowed his eyes. Dante was enjoying himself. “What do you want, Dante?”

The prince lifted his chin. “I’m not sure. Not yet. But I will think of something. And you will do it.” He tucked the pamphlet into his jacket pocket. “Because I still have this.”

“Scarlet will never believe you.”

“No? Why not? I’m his son. Besides, you know as well as I that it doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or not. You know what he does to anyone he thinks might turn on him. You know what this will mean for you.” He smirked. “You know where you will end up. You’ll do what I say. When the time comes, you’ll do exactly what I saw. Like my little lapdog. You’re mine now, Cage. I own you.”

Cage did not reply to this. His expression did not change as he watched Dante stagger up the stairs. Cage could hear the prince’s low, cold laughter echoing even as he disappeared up the stairs.

***

Another day in Razor City…

The King’s Ransom was quieter than the Blade club. There were no rebels or outlaws lurking in the darker corners exchanging papers or envelopes stuffed with bills. There were no dancers in masks. There was no one dancing at all. Quiet, bluesy jazz music played just over the voices of the small groups of men and women sitting at the bar or in blood red velvet covered booths around the room.

The place was swarming with Marshals. They lounged about the room in groups or alone with young, beautiful women. Some of them stood around, eyeing the patrons with narrow, watchful eyes.

Petra shouldn’t be there. She really shouldn’t be there alone. It was too dangerous.

Her heart thumped nervously. It wasn’t safe in the city for her or any of the other lost children. It wasn’t safe for anyone who wasn’t one of Scarlet’s men. It wasn’t even safe for the bounty hunters, but they didn’t look worried or afraid. A small group of them strode into the club. They looked as though they’d just come in off a hunt. Their clothes were ripped, and a few of them were bruised, limping or nursing broken fingers or arms.

Petra eyed them warily. They wore guns on their belts. Even the Marshals didn’t seem interested in approaching them. Petra ducked her head as she sipped her drink. Her face wasn’t on any WANTED posters yet, but she knew the King would be happy to get his hands on her. She didn’t work for anyone in particular, but she suspected she’d done enough jobs to have drawn his attention. She was lucky neither the King nor the Marshals had ever seen her face.

Tonight wasn’t the night she intended to show it to them.

A tall, thin woman with a short, platinum blonde Mohawk glanced toward Petra. Petra’s stomach flipped. The blonde woman didn’t wear a badge or carry a gun like the other bounty hunters with her. She had a knife strapped to her thigh. It was huge and sharp. There was a scar on one side of her face, from her white hairline to the bottom of her lip. Despite it, despite the patch that covered the scarred eye, she was beautiful.

She met Petra’s gaze. Petra held her breath as the woman approached her.

She didn’t speak to her, not at first. She paused beside Petra at the bar and motioned the publican for a drink. He brought her a beer. For a moment, she sipped it pensively, then she turned her head and looked at Petra. “Hi.”

Petra stared at her. She didn’t know what the hunter wanted, but she didn’t want to give the woman any reason to look too closely at her. “Hey.”

The bounty hunter lifted an eyebrow, but her voice was low and almost gentle. “You look a little young to be in here.”

Petra lifted her chin in irritation. “I’m old enough.”

The blonde woman didn’t smile. She looked at Petra seriously. “Listen, you still have a chance, kid. You still have the opportunity not to have to spend the rest of your life hanging out in places like this.”

Petra blinked at her in surprise. “What do you care?”

“I was like you once. I’d given up. I thought there was nothing I could do but give in.” She sighed and glanced around. “Look at me now. I spend my life lurking around places like this, going fight to fight. Hunting bounties. It’s all I can do. It’s too late for me. You still have a chance. Get out of here while you still can.”

Petra stared at her. She opened and closed her mouth. Then she scowled. “Maybe I like places like this.”

The blonde bounty hunter chuckled dryly. “Fine. I’m just trying to help. You think there’s no point now? You think you’ve given up now, just wait. Wait until there’s no hope left. You still have some now. I can see it in your eyes.” She reached up to flip the black patch up onto her forehead. The eye underneath was milky white. “See mine? There’s nothing there anymore but pain and death.”

Petra shivered. The blonde woman turned away from her as quickly as she came and strode back toward her partners at a table in the corner. Petra didn’t feel any better when she’d gone. Her stomach roiled. She considered getting up and leaving, forgetting about her meeting and the client.

It was too late. Petra’s client was already striding over to her on unsteady high heels. She was a haggard-looking woman in her late thirties. She wore too much makeup, and her dress was too tight. Her bleached blonde hair fell around her shoulders. Some grey showed through the dark roots on top. She looked like the kind of woman who hadn’t accepted that her prime had ended years ago. Petra felt a stab of pity for the woman. At least the blonde bounty hunter knew what she was.

The woman sat down next to Petra. Petra didn’t know her name. Her client didn’t know hers, either. It was safer that way. Her client eyed her doubtfully for a long moment. “You’re a bit young, aren’t you?”

Petra rolled her eyes. She heard this a lot. “How old was Steve Jobs when he invented the Apple computer?”

Her client stared at her blankly.

“Oh, just because the government fell and the world is in chaos doesn’t mean the past never happened.” Petra could see this meant nothing to the woman. “Anyway, I’m old enough to know what I’m doing. What is it you need me to do?’

The woman sighed. She tapped a long, red fingernail on the bar. “My husband. I think he’s been cheating on me.”

Petra stared at her. “Why don’t you hire a private detective? That’s not exactly what I do.”

The woman looked offended. “I tried to hire someone. They couldn’t find anything. I think he’s been talking to someone on the computer.”

Petra sighed. “All right. Have you got his passwords?”

“No. The other guy I hired couldn’t find them, either. That’s why I called you.”

“Do you at least have his email address?”

The woman nodded. She fumbled through her handbag for a moment and drew out a pen. She scribbled an email address on a napkin and slid it across the bar toward Petra. Petra stared down at the napkin for several seconds. Finally, she laid her hand on the napkin and slid it back to the woman. She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t take this job.”

“What? What do you mean? You said you would take any job. You came highly recommended!” She sounded as though she might become hysterical.

“I’m sorry.” Petra’s eyes drifted over her client’s shoulder. The blonde bounty hunter with the eye patch sat in a small group with a few other hunters. They looked as mean and dangerous as she. They were taking shots and laughing raucously. The blonde woman’s good eye, though, looked as dead and empty and cold as her blind one. Petra looked back at her client. “This isn’t the sort of job I do.”

Her client opened her mouth in a sort of angry snarl. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Why don’t you talk to your husband? Or better yet, find someone to talk to yourself. Maybe it would be good for you.”

The woman shot out of her seat so quickly, Petra grabbed her drink to keep it from overturning. The compound could use the money. Maybe she shouldn’t turn her away. If she was angry enough, she could bring the Marshals or the bounty hunters down on her. They might not know her name or her face, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t pounce on the chance to bring her to King Scarlet.

If the woman had been a Noble, Petra wouldn’t have turned her away. It was never a good idea to turn away a Noble, no matter what they asked. Petra sighed. “I’m sorry,” she told her. “I hope you find what you’re looking for. I just can’t be the one to do it for you.” She rose from her own seat. The woman opened her mouth as though she intended to reply, but Petra strode quickly away before she could raise an alarm to the Marshals or the hunters.

She wouldn’t, though, not unless she wanted them to start looking at her. No one was innocent in Razor City. Petra didn’t turn back around to see what the woman intended to do. She hurried toward an exit in the back. She would feel better once she was in the shadows of the alley on her way back to the compound.

She pushed open the back door. No one tried to stop her or call her back. No one seemed to notice her at all. When she stepped out into the dark alley, she breathed a sigh of relief. She wished Key was with her. The walk back to the compound wasn’t long, but it was dangerous. She shouldn’t have snuck out without him. She would have liked to have him here with her now. She would have to do it on her own.

She didn’t get far.

She heard a moan from the shadows. It sounded pitiful. There was an odd sort of rustling, as though someone was crawling through the debris on the ground. She hesitated. Key would have looked to see if the person needed help. She would have argued with him and forced him to leave them behind.

For some reason, she didn’t turn away. She dug into the satchel on her hip and pulled out a small, glowing red light. She held it away from her body. She gripped her gun and crept toward the sound several feet away. She knew she shouldn’t do it. It could be a trap or a trick. It could get her killed.

“Hello? Is someone there? I can’t see you. Please help me.”

She jumped when he spoke. She stepped closer. The red light suddenly illuminated the body lying on the ground. It was a man. A young man. He was curled into the fetal position, and he looked as though he had taken a beating. Even in the red light, she could see spatters of blood around him. His black shirt and pants were slick.

She bent down cautiously several feet away from him. He lifted his head to look around for her. Even through the curtain of his dark, shoulder-length hair, she recognized his gorgeous, sculpted features and storm cloud grey eyes. She opened and closed her mouth in shock.

Prince Dante?

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