The next day, in the compound on the edge of Razor City…
“Petra!” Lux barked. “You did what?”
“She’s kidnapped Prince Dante,” Key said matter-of-factly, frowning at Petra across the round table in his bedroom around which they all sat. It was the older kid’s typical meeting place. One of the chairs was conspicuously empty. No one mentioned Ren, but they didn’t have to. If he’d still been there, they wouldn’t even be having the conversation.
Petra lifted a shoulder. “Not kidnapped, as such. I found him in an alley. He was beaten up and he had no memory. He came with me on his own. What else was I supposed to do?”
“Not bring him here!” Lux replied, surprising her. “Are you crazy? The security of the entire compound is compromised!”
“No one has seen him,” Petra said defensively. “No one saw me take him or bring him here. We’re safe enough.”
“Until he recovers his memories and remembers who he is and calls his dad,” Jesse said, pushing his hands through his ginger blonde hair. He rose to pace the length of the room.
“That won’t happen,” Petra told him. “I have his cell phone.”
“You honestly think that’s enough to stop him?” Beth asked gently. She sat in the seat beside Petra, but she didn’t seem as supportive as her position suggested.
“Petra, this is crazy,” Lux repeated. “What are you planning to do?”
Petra lifted her chin and met Lux’s gaze squarely. “All of us have people in one of the King’s prisons. All of us want our families back. King Scarlet will want his son back, and when he does, maybe we can make a trade for our people.”
For a moment, all six of them stared at her. They didn’t all look angry. Lux didn’t look as though the argument swayed her much, but Jesse turned to peer thoughtfully at Petra. Key sighed in a long-suffering sort of way that suggested he would follow Petra, even if he thought she was completely out of her mind; he’d made it perfectly clear that he did. Rip’s face brightened. Beth still looked uncertain. As usual, Ellis’ expression was perfectly unreadable.
“That’s not such a bad idea,” Rip put in.
“What? What are you talking about?” Key snapped. “It’s a terrible idea!”
“What else have we got?”
Petra nodded. “Scarlet runs this city. He rolls over everyone who gets in his way. This is the first chance we’ve ever had. It’s the first chance anyone has ever had.”
“Yeah, but what are we going to do?” Lux demanded. “Keep him prisoner? Where is he?”
“He’s in my room. He’s sleeping. Key and I are keeping him…sedated.”
“What?” Lux snapped incredulously.
“He’s on painkillers. He’s been badly injured. He isn’t trying to get away yet. He still doesn’t know who he is.”
“He really doesn’t know he’s Prince Dante?” Beth asked.
Petra glanced at her. “He doesn’t know anything. He thinks he’s one of us.”
“For how long?” Jesse asked.
They all sighed. Lux scowled. “How do we know the people who attacked him aren’t going to come back for him?”
“We weren’t followed. No one knows he’s here. If we can keep it that way for just long enough…” When Petra looked up at them all, her dark eyes looked a little crazy. They all looked at each other uneasily. “The King hasn’t reported him missing yet. For all we know, Grey–Dante does this all the time: disappear for days and not come home. I’m not sure how long we have before Scarlet notices he’s gone. Or how long before Dante remembers Grey doesn’t exist and he doesn’t belong here.”
“That doesn’t sound like a plan, Petra,” Lux said, scowling. “It just sounds insane.”
Petra rose to pace the room. “The world is insane! Everything around us is insane. I want Ren back. I want everyone back. And if the King wants his son back, we can trade him.”
“It’s not going to be that easy,” Key told her.
“How do we even know the King isn’t the one who set him up?” Lux demanded. “Where were his bodyguards? How did he end up alone in the alley like that?”
“Why would Scarlet do that? Why would he set up his own son?”
“Why does he do anything he does? We don’t know him. Maybe he was trying to teach him a lesson. Maybe that’s why he’s still alive. We’ve all heard all sorts of things about Dante. He’s a nightmare. He’s as bad as his father. Maybe he’s worse because he doesn’t even have a reason to be a prick. He doesn’t have a city to rule. As bad as Scarlet is, he has a reason for the things he does.”
“Are you saying it’s okay?” Jesse barked.
Lux shook her long, black braids. “No. I’m just saying he started out good. He just lost sight of what he was doing. He probably still thinks what he’s doing is right. Maybe he didn’t like what his son was becoming and decided to show him the consequences of his actions. Dante doesn’t do what he does because he’s trying to keep the city together. He does it because he likes the power.”
Petra frowned. Something about this didn’t sit right. The boy she knew wasn’t the sort of person who liked power. Grey was as gentle and sweet as a child. She felt a strange surge of irritation at this.
She opened her mouth, but Key was the one who spoke. “I don’t know if Dante was really like that or if it was all just rumors, but…he doesn’t seem much like that now. He’s docile. He trusts Petra and me.”
Petra nodded slowly. “I think we could convince him…”
“What?” Lux asked. “To fight against his father?”
“Maybe not fight against him. But maybe we can convince him that what his father is doing isn’t right. He wanted to rush out into the street and save some girl from the Marshals. He’s…nice. He’s a good person, I think, on the inside.”
“So, what? You think a bump on his head changed his personality?”
“I think maybe he’s…back to who he was when he was innocent. I think he wants to do what’s right. He’s lost the part of himself that’s been corrupted.”
Key sighed. “But we’ve only known him a couple hours. We can’t know what he’ll ultimately do.”
Petra nodded reluctantly. “I think we can influence him. Enough to keep him on our side for now.”
“This is so dangerous, Petra,” Beth murmured. “It just leaves so much to chance.”
“I know, but we don’t have any other choice.”
“This is not how civilized people behave.”
“This is not a civilized world!”
“When the King reports him missing, every bounty hunter in the city will be gunning for him,” Jesse said. “They don’t follow rules. They will break down every door in the city, including this one.”
“We’ll hide him. We’ll be prepared.”
“How can we prepare for that? Just having him here puts us all in danger.”
“But letting him go would be worse! When are we going to have another chance to get our families back? To make things right?”
“There is no making things right!” Lux snarled. “This city is ruined. It’s destroyed and corrupt.”
“That means we have to be just as bad, then. We do what we have to do.”
Lux sighed. “How far are you really prepared to take this, Petra?”
Petra lifted her chin. She wasn’t as confident as she sounded when she replied, “As far as I have to.”
No one spoke for a long moment. They all looked at each other uneasily. Finally, they looked at Key. They always looked at Key. He sighed. “Petra acted rashly, and I don’t think she thought this through all the way. But she has a point. If any one of you saw the prince in the same situation, would you have done any different? Dante’s the only leverage we have against Scarlet. Scarlet rules this city. He has all the power. Now we finally have a little power of our own. Maybe we can get our people back this way. And if we can’t…”
Lux sighed. “If we can’t…if we can’t, maybe we all die or the people we love die.”
“Or maybe we can hit Scarlet where it hurts him the most.” Beth’s eyes were as cold as ice. Petra was forcibly reminded that she was one of the Uprising. There were things about her best friend even Petra wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “Maybe we can break him down a little like he breaks us all down.”
Petra’s eyes narrowed. “We aren’t going to do anything to Grey.”
Key lifted his eyebrows. “We might not have a choice, Petra. We will try to do what we can not to, but you brought him here. You might have to face the consequences. If it gets too hot, we might have to take drastic measures.”
Her stomach roiled. For the first time, Ellis spoke. “I think it might work.”
They all turned to look at him in surprise. “What?” Jesse demanded.
Ellis didn’t speak much. When he did say something, they all listened. “We might be able to make it work for us. Petra didn’t necessarily do right by bringing him here, but we can’t let him go. We can’t let the opportunity pass us by. Now that we have him, we just have to find the right way to use him to our advantage.” He looked as Petra with mild, amber colored eyes. “Maybe we can convince him to see things our way.”
“It will be difficult,” Key answered for her. Petra glanced at him. “But he seems pliable right now.”
“Now,” Lux repeated. “Now! What about when he regains his memory?”
Petra spun to her. “We’ll have to do it quickly then.” She frowned around at them. “I don’t suppose I have to remind you all to keep this a secret. We don’t want anyone to know he’s here. Not even our closest friends.” She met Beth’s green eyes. Her friend inclined her head almost imperceptibly. “If they aren’t in the inner circle, they don’t need to know about it.”
“Come on,” Lux said. “Don’t be stupid. None of us are going to be crazy enough to tell anyone. It could sign all our death warrants.”
“Right now, keep him quiet,” Ellis told Petra. “If he starts to regain his memory, keep him sedated. Do what you have to. All we can do right now is figure out how we’re going to make this work without getting anyone killed.”
Beth rose. “I’ll monitor the news, see if anyone has reported him missing.”
Lux followed her. “I’m going to check the perimeter in case anyone is lurking around looking for him. We might already be compromised.”
Petra crossed her arms over her chest. “We aren’t.”
“I want to see for myself. You and Key can take care of Dante.”
Jesse threw up his hands. “Yeah. Because the rest of us don’t want anything to do with this.”
“Fine.” Petra frowned at him. “I’ll figure it out on my own, then. Consider yourselves off the hook.”
“I don’t think it will matter,” Lux said grimly. “If anyone finds him here, it won’t matter who knew he was here and who didn’t. We’ll all be dead.”
Meanwhile, in the darkness…
A young boy’s face as he died. Blood pooled around him. Blood formed on his lips as he called his father’s name…
Grey shot up in bed. Petra was already awake, watching him sleep as though his steady, rhythmic breath might answer the questions swirling in her mind. His sudden movement startled her. She looked at him in surprise as he fell back down on the pillows beside her. She rose up on an elbow to look at him. Her long, blonde hair tickled his cheek. He brushed it aside gently and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
“Another dream?” Her voice was only a whisper.
He didn’t reply. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her against him. He didn’t know who they had been to each other before his attack. Now, she was all he had. She knew it. She tried not to think too closely about what would happen when he regained his memory. She tried not to think too closely about what she was doing. She tried to ignore the peculiar roiling in her belly.
His voice was soft and hoarse in the darkness. “I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why I keep seeing it. Is it a memory?”
She considered this a long moment. “It could be. Maybe it’s just a nightmare.”
She felt him tremble slightly. “It feels so real. It feels like it happened.”
“Who do you see? Who are the people in your dream?”
He shook his head. His dark, shoulder-length hair tickled her cheek. “I don’t know. I can’t really see them. I just see the boy.” She sighed. She leaned her cheek against his shoulder. He brushed her hair from her shoulders and rested his cheek on the top of her head. She’d started to nod off when he spoke again. “How did I get here?”
“What?” She lifted her head. “I brought you here.”
“No. I mean the first time. How did I end up living here with all of you?”
She looked up into his face. She could barely see the sculpted line of his jaw in the darkness. She thought about this. For a brief, crazy moment she considered telling him the truth, telling him everything and hoping for the best. She didn’t. Instead, she lied.
“Your parents were accused of treason by one of the Nobles.”
He was silent a moment. “Which one?”
“I…I don’t know. You never said. You tried to get them back. You tried to convince the King they were innocent, but it never does any good.”
“Are they still there? In prison?”
She didn’t say anything for a moment. “No. I’m sorry. They were executed.”
His breath caught. Suddenly, she wished she could take it back, but it was too late. His hands clenched on her arms. Her pulse leapt. “How did I find you?”
“I found you.” She smiled, but her eyes stung. “Just the same as last time. You were wandering the city alone, in a fog. You were angry. It’s the way we find most of the people who come here.”
“You take us all in?”
“When we can. The lost kids. They have nowhere else to go. We have food, shelter and comfort for them. We’re all they have.”
His voice was strange. “You’re all I have.”
She lifted her head to look at him. “Yes.”
Through the gloom, she could see his stormy eyes flash. He looked better than he had when she’d first brought him here. His bruises were still fresh, but they didn’t seem to give him as much pain. Without thinking, she lifted a hand to stroke her fingers over his sculpted cheekbone. He caught her hand. He kissed her fingertips. She shivered.
“Were we together?”
“What?” Her voice sounded dreamy.
“Were we a couple?” She looked up at him in surprise. He folded her hand into his. “I feel all these things when I look at you. Things I haven’t felt before.”
Petra’s breath caught. “How do you know you haven’t felt them? You don’t remember anything. You wouldn’t even know if you had.”
His laugh surprised her. “I don’t think that’s true. I think I would know if I’d felt this way. I think it would feel familiar. Other things feel familiar.”
This made her slightly uneasy. “Like what?”
She laughed. “Does it feel familiar when you look at me?”
“No. I feel something else.”
She lifted her head to look at him. “Like what?”
“Strange. Tingly. Warm.”
Her heart leapt, but her stomach churned uncomfortably. “I…”
“Do you feel that way when you look at me?”
She should tell him no. She’d kidnapped him. She was manipulating him and lying to him, and he was falling for her. She shouldn’t make it worse. She did. “I…yes. Sometimes.”
“But we weren’t together,” he guessed.
“No. We weren’t.”
“We just weren’t. I suppose we might have…we might have been. We might have gotten around to it sometime.”
“How about now?”
She opened and closed her mouth. She didn’t know how to reply to this. There was only one answer. She didn’t like the answer. Grey didn’t wait to hear it. He tilted her chin up and pressed his lips against hers. She caught her breath. She should have pulled away, but she didn’t. His mouth was soft and warm. His fingers traced up and down her arms. A shiver ran down her spine.
When he pulled away, she sighed. She could hear the smile in his voice when he said, “Petra? How about now?”
She leaned her head on his shoulder. Her heart thumped in her chest. It didn’t matter how much she’d liked kissing him, though. They could never be together. Even if he never regained his memory, even if he stayed Grey forever, she intended to turn him in to his father to get her brother back. She couldn’t turn back now. The effort to lie was almost painful. “Maybe. When you’re back on your feet. If you still want to be.”
“You don’t know that for sure. You’re…well, you’re vulnerable right now. Things might change when I’m not the only one you see.”
Even in the darkness, she saw his brow furrow. “That’s not why I feel this way. That’s not fair. It’s real.”
She sighed. “I know it feels like it is.”
Grey sat up abruptly. “Don’t do that, Petra. I know how I feel. Don’t dismiss it.”
“I’m not! I just…don’t want you to get too carried away before you…recover.”
He made an angry noise and turned his face from her. She sighed and rose. Before she could move away from him, he caught her arm. “Don’t go.”
“You leave me alone all the time. Why can’t I see anyone else?”
“It’s safer that way. I don’t want anyone to know what happened to you. I don’t want to scare them.”
He sighed, but he relaxed almost instantly. He didn’t release her arm. “I suppose it would be confusing for them if I didn’t remember any of them.”
It would be confusing for them if he waltzed into the common room.
She nodded. “It would be painful for everyone.”
He tugged on her hand to draw her down beside him once more. “Do you think I’ll get my memory back?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know how it works. I’m not a doctor.” She smirked. “Just a computer genius.”
His face lit up suddenly. She could see it even in the gloom. She lifted an eyebrow. “Can I look?”
She blinked. “What?”
“Can I look at your computer?”
She hesitated. “What for?”
“To learn about Razor City. About life here. What I’ve forgotten.”
She thought about this for several long moments. There was curiously little information about Prince Dante online. King Scarlet had seen to that. He kept him strictly offline and out of the limelight. Scarlet was notoriously wary of the kings and queens of neighboring cities. The cities’ monarchs battled constantly, invading others to expand their own empires. Scarlet was good at preventing invasions. He was good at hiding his weaknesses from his own people and the people outside Razor City. If Petra hadn’t seen him once on television, she might not have ever known Dante’s face.
She might have left him alone in the alley, and he would not be here with her now. He wasn’t likely to encounter his own face. He was likely to learn what his father really was. Posting information online about the King was illegal, but it did leak. The Uprising and their people still popped up, spreading propaganda and exposing his corruption. They were arrested if they were caught, and the information disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. No matter what he did, though, there was always more.
Once or twice, Petra had been responsible for tracking down the source of the information for the Nobles. Sometimes she succeeded. Sometimes she failed. When she failed, it was usually by choice. Once or twice, she’d been responsible for the information disappearing.
And once or twice, she’d been the one to put it there.
Finally, she nodded and flipped on the lamp beside the bed. Grey held up a hand to shield his eyes from the light. She smiled at him and handed him her laptop. “Go ahead.”
His mouth turned up slightly. “Is there anything on here you don’t want me to see?”
She rolled her eyes. She wasn’t stupid enough to leave important information on her computer; she had thumb drives for that. She smiled at him. “I have no secrets.”
“I don’t believe that.”
She shrugged. “Go ahead. See for yourself.”
He thought about this. “I think I would rather learn Scarlet’s secrets. I want to know what we’re up against. I want to know what he’s doing out there. If he’s terrorizing us and the rest of the city, maybe someone should stop him.”
Petra stared at him in surprise. Then she nodded. “Maybe someone should.”
He smiled and tugged her back down onto the bed beside him. Before she realized what he was doing, he caught the back of her head and pulled her in for a kiss. A jolt shot through her entire body. She pulled away and rose to her feet. He looked a little surprised. “Where are you going?”
“I’ll be back soon. I’m just going to talk to the others.”
He didn’t look suspicious, but he looked curious. “What about?”
“The usual things.”
“What are the usual things?”
She smiled. “Sometimes work, sometimes running this place, the new kids, the city.”
She nodded toward the computers. “The stuff I do for people. Computer stuff.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Do you all work?”
“No. Some of us. I work on computers. Others do other things.”
“Did I work?”
She shook her head slowly. “I don’t…think so. You haven’t been here long. Just…a few weeks, really. You didn’t do anything I knew about.”
He thought about this. “But you let me stay here anyway.”
“We do what we can for the kids who need help. They have nowhere else to go. So we take care of them. We have to keep the place running and safe for everyone.”
“You sacrifice a lot for this place.”
“Yeah. Just about everything.” She looked at him silently a moment. “I would, anyway. If I had to.”
He smiled, and a lock of dark hair fell over his eyes. He looked sweet and young. Her heart fluttered a little. She felt a stab of guilt. She couldn’t let this go on, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. She turned away from him and walked out of the room.
She nearly collided with the young man in the hallway outside her door. “Damnit, Shaw!” she complained.
Shaw smiled. He was the same age as she was, but he hadn’t been at the compound as long. He hadn’t been there very long at all. He was very good-looking with dark hair and sky blue eyes, but he had an arrogant, entitled attitude that rubbed her the wrong way. There was a shifty look in his eyes. She’d never trusted him. Most of the kids at the compound didn’t trust him.
“What are you doing outside my door?” she snapped.
He lifted his chin. He looked offended by the abrupt question. “Just looking for you.”
His brow furrowed. “I wanted to see you.”
She scowled. “What do you mean you wanted to see me? Why?”
Shaw looked a little hurt by this question. Then the look was gone so quickly, she thought she must have imagined it. He narrowed his eyes. “What are you hiding in there?”
“What? What are you talking about? That’s my room. I’m not hiding anything.”
“Why do you have that curtain, then?”
“It’s my room. It’s not anyone’s business but mine.”
He scowled, but he didn’t reply to this.
She sighed impatiently. “What do you want, Shaw?”
“Nothing. Never mind.” But the look in his eyes was strange. For a moment, she thought he almost looked…nice. “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. Not working too hard or anything. You’ve been a little stressed lately.”
She stared at him in surprise.
“Is it a job?”
She relented a little. “Yeah. It’s a job.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Shaw.”
He shrugged. “Okay. But I’ll be here if you want to.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Why? When have you ever done anything without an ulterior motive? Oh. That’s right. You wanted me to find you a buyer for your program.”
Now he did look hurt. “Is that what you think of me? That I’m only your friend because I want something?”
“No. I’m sorry. Things have been strange. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s nothing to worry about.”
He lifted a eyebrow. “I wasn’t worried about it.”
“Good. Don’t.” She spun away from him. He scowled after her, but she didn’t turn back. She paused in front of Key’s door and rapped once on the gate. “It’s Petra.”
The inner circle was already sitting around the table. Lux frowned at her as she walked in. “People are starting to talk. They’ve noticed Dante’s missing. The King hasn’t released any information because he’s not sure what’s happened to him. If he ran off, he doesn’t want anyone to know about it.” She rolled her eyes. “I don’t think he wants anyone to think there’s any discord in his own house. If he can’t keep his son on a leash, he’ll lose credibility.”
“There’s nothing on the news about it,” Beth added. “But even in the outlands, people have heard.”
“Not on the news,” Petra repeated. “That’s good.”
“Grey’s on my computer.”
“What?” Key demanded. “You’re letting him look online?”
She shrugged. “I thought he might like to learn what his father is really like. Maybe if he knows the truth, he’ll come over to our side.”
“That’s risky, Petra,” Beth scolded. “You shouldn’t have let him.”
“What do you want me to do? Tie him up?”
“It might come to that if you intend to continue this charade.” Lux’s voice was mild, but her dark eyes glinted. “You can’t keep this up forever. He’s going to figure out who he is. He’s going to be upset when he finds out. It might be all we can do.”
Petra sighed. “I know.”
“There’s not enough time to set him against his father before he regains his memory or realizes people are looking for him,” Key said.
“Not to mention the bounty hunters,” Lux continued. “They’re probably already looking for him, even if the public doesn’t know he’s missing. There will still be a reward for his return.”
“We’re running out of time. We have to decide what to do, and we need to do it quickly,” Beth said.
“I say we get him out of here.”
“Lux! We can’t just kick him to the streets in his condition,” Petra growled. “It wouldn’t be safe for him.”
“That is not my problem! We’re risking the whole compound for him.”
“You said the King isn’t looking for him.”
“No. I said the King hasn’t publicly announced he’s missing. Of course he’s looking for him.”
“So what do we do?” Jesse demanded.
“We’ve already decided,” Ellis replied. “What Petra did put us at risk, but we’re going to face the consequences and try to make it work for us. We’ll see it through.”
They all turned to look at him. “Have you got a plan, then?” Rip asked.
“Not yet. I’ve been thinking about it. I have some ideas about how we’re going to do it, but it’s delicate. We can’t make a mistake, or we’re dead.”
“We’re really going to use him.” Beth sighed in resignation.
Petra’s stomach roiled, but Ellis nodded. “Yes. It’s our only choice.”
They considered this gravely. “Are we really prepared to go this far?” Jesse’s voice sounded small. He was strong, and he was smart, but he wasn’t cut out for this. He was in over his head.
They were all in over their heads.
“It’s already gone too far,” Ellis said grimly. “We don’t have another option.”
“Petra, you shouldn’t have brought him here!” Lux repeated.
“We’ve already covered that, Lux,” Ellis told her. “You’re not helping with that.”
“I’m sorry,” Petra said. “But you said yourselves you would have done the same thing. We can’t back down now. We need him if we’re going to stop all this and bring our families back.”
“Sure. Best case scenario is they release our people, we release him,” Lux said. “But we know it’s not going to go down like that!”
Petra sighed. “It might. It might work, and if there’s a small chance it could, we have to try, don’t we?”
“Ellis, what are you thinking?” Key asked. “How are we going to do this?”
“Send an anonymous email,” Petra put in before Ellis could speak. She’d thought about it, too. “They release the prisoners, we’ll release Dante.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Lux argued. “They won’t do it. They’ll send their best people to track us, figure out where he is and kill us all.”
“They’ll just imprison us if we’re lucky,” Jesse added.
Petra rolled her eyes. “I know how to send an email without being tracked. When the prisoners are released, we’ll send him home.”
Lux scowled. “This isn’t going to work. Also, they’ll know exactly who we are when we give them the names of the prisoners we want released. They’ll kill them and then come find us.”
Petra shrugged. “Then we just demand they release all the prisoners who’ve been falsely accused.”
“Petra, what fantasy world are you living in?” Beth asked gently. “What are you thinking? That is insane and it won’t work.”
“Just get him out of here. Before it’s too late,” Lux ordered.
“No.” Petra rose to her feet. “I’m going to do it with or without you. I want my brother back!”
Beth grabbed her arm. Her expression was sad. “You’re forgetting one thing, Petra. What if Scarlet was the one who attacked him or had someone attack him? He might want him dead. He might be waiting to discover where he is to send someone to finish the job.”
Petra’s stomach sank, but she shook her head. “If Scarlet wanted to kill him, he would be dead.”
“Something is not right here, Petra. We don’t know how he ended up in that alley. It is dangerous for him to be here.”
Ellis held up his hand. “Beth is right. He is dangerous to us. We need to get him out of here as soon as we can. As long as he’s here, we’re putting all those kids in danger. Ransom is one option, but it might not be the only option. We could turn him in.”
“What?” Petra demanded.
“The bounty hunters will be looking for him. They will expect a reward when they do. Maybe we can make a trade for him in person. We could bring him in and ask for our people as the bounty.”
They all stared at him a moment. “If we do that, our faces will be all over the court,” Lux said, but she sounded as though she was seriously considering it. “They might just take the prince back and kill us.”
“Not necessarily. The bounty system is as corrupt as any of the others, but the King honors the bounties. If a bounty is offered for an outlaw, they pay it when they’re brought in. They don’t double-cross. If they did, the system would collapse. They need the bounty hunters. They won’t risk it.”
“Yes, but we wouldn’t be asking for a typical cash reward.”
“We might be able to rename the price. This isn’t a typical fugitive.”
Beth thought about this. “We could intimate around town we have information about the prince, find out what it’s worth.”
“No,” Lux replied. “That could get us killed faster than showing our faces. It’s too risky, and it isn’t worth it. We’re going to get one strike. One shot. We have to make it good.”
Petra sighed. She pressed her hand to her forehead. “So we are going to do this.”
Lux lifted an eyebrow. “It was your idea.”
“Yes, we’re going to do it,” Ellis said firmly. “But we need time to plan and think about it.”
“I’m not sure we have it,” Beth told him. “We might have to move him. We could take him somewhere else where the rest of the kids won’t be in danger.”
Lux nodded. “I can do that. I have a place. I’ll get it ready.”
“I will talk to some of my contacts. Maybe they have some ideas what to do with him,” Beth added.
Petra glared at her. “No! We can’t let the rebels know we have him. If we do, they might attack us to get to him.”
Beth frowned. “That’s not what they do. It’s not what they will want to do with him. He is too useful to them. To all of us.” She sighed and looked at the others. “The truth is, we do need him if we want to change this world. It has to change. This may be our only hope. We just have to do it right.”
“Well, the rebels aren’t the way!”
“And kidnapping and ransom is, Petra?”
Petra sighed. She dropped her head into her hands for a moment. The truth was, she wasn’t sure she could go through with it. She liked Grey. He was different than she expected. She didn’t want to use him, not anymore. But there wasn’t any other choice. She had started this, and she would have to take it all the way to the end.
“None of this is going to matter if he remembers who he is,” Lux reminded them. “If he does, he’ll figure out what we’re planning to do with him. He could bring the King down on us.”
“We can keep him sedated,” Key said grimly. “It will at least keep him quiet until we can figure this out.”
“No,” Petra said. “That’s not going to help anyone. He trusts me. He trusts us right now. We might still be able to work him to our side.”
“There isn’t enough time. We have to act quickly.”
“So what do we do with him?” Jesse demanded.
Lux considered a moment. “I have some contacts inside the King’s regime.”
They all looked at her in surprise. “What? You have spies?” Rip asked.
“Sort of. They tell me things when they can. They don’t cross the line. They’re careful.”
“Then what can they do?”
“Maybe they can tell us if the King is the one behind the attack. Maybe they can give us an idea how to use him to our advantage.”
“It’s too dangerous, Lux,” Key said. “We can’t risk letting someone even suspect he’s here or we know where he is.”
“Okay, the priority is to get him out of here where he isn’t going to put the kids at risk,” Beth said. “If we’re going to strike, we need to be ready, and we need to get our people out of danger.”
“Lux, how soon can you have the new location set?” Ellis asked in a remarkably calm voice.
“Okay. Petra, you’d better stick with him. You’re going to have to figure out a way to move him to the new place.”
She hesitated. “I think he’ll go with me, wherever I tell him to go.”
If they suspected what she meant by this, they didn’t say anything. “Okay, well, let’s hope that’s true,” Lux said. “I really don’t want to have to knock him out and drag him out of here.” She smirked. “But I will if I have to.”
Petra scowled at her. She rose and spun out of the room without replying.
Shaw was waiting outside in the hall. She nearly collided with him. “Shaw, what are you doing?”
He lifted his eyebrows. “Looking for you.”
“Again? What do you want? I don’t have time for this.”
“Why? What are you up to in your room?”
“I told you. Work. It’s not any of your business.”
He scowled at her. “If it concerns the compound, it concerns me.”
She scoffed. “Since when? All you ever cared about was yourself.”
Shaw looked affronted. “Why are you being like this with me? Why are you being such a bitch?”
Petra glared at him. “What do you mean? When have you ever given me any reason not to be?”
His dark eyes narrowed to slits. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s means you’ve never been nice. You’ve never been anything but an arrogant, selfish jerk who thinks the world owes you something. You think you’re better than the rest of us.”
Shaw looked completely shocked at this. “That isn’t true.”
She stared at him a moment. She felt suddenly guilty for being so harsh. She sighed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You’re in the same position as the rest of us.”
“You’re right. I am.”
“I’m sorry. I’ve just been…distracted. I’m working a job, and it isn’t as easy as I would like it to be.”
He didn’t look as though he believed this. “Are you sure it isn’t something else?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Is there something the rest of us should know?”
She lifted her chin coldly. “No.”
“You don’t have to leave me out of everything all the time, Petra. You can trust me.”
She frowned. “I’m not leaving you out. I’m just busy.” She pushed past him. “I have to go.”
Shaw turned and scowled after her, but he didn’t call her back.