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Carise wasn’t running. She’d learned a long time ago that running was useless. They caught you quicker if you ran.
They caught you no matter what.
But if she could get far enough away from the godforsaken palace, maybe this time she’d have her freedom.
She’d been so unbelievably happy to see Kenzie that at first she’d known it had to be a hallucination. Good things didn’t happen to her. Not anymore.
What about Jaek?
She banished the thought. She couldn’t think about him right now. Not if she wanted to keep her sanity. She clutched the note in her pocket, kept her head down, and kept walking.
If she’d stayed, Kenzie would have taken control of her life. She’d already been making plans and didn’t pause to consider whether or not Carise wanted it. She couldn’t go back to Earth. Kenzie didn’t know what it was like, not really. She’d always carved a path for herself.
Carise took whatever path she could find.
She ducked into the shadows between two buildings and read the note again, just to reassure herself it was real. It didn’t say much, just gave her the words to say to get out of the palace and an address she needed to go to.
It was signed a friend.
Was it Jaek?
Her heart started beating a little faster at the thought. But it wasn’t like him, at least not as she’d gotten to know him over the last few weeks.
Was she being stupid?
She’d just been freed, and now she was running off because a note she’d found shoved under her pillow told her there was another path? She almost turned around right then and walked back to the palace.
Kenzie would forgive her. Eventually.
But she’d probably lock Carise up for her own safety for another two years.
Was she being uncharitable? Maybe. But Kenzie hadn’t even asked if Carise wanted to go back to Earth. If Carise went back, Kenzie would insist that she leave. She wouldn’t understand why Carise wanted to stay.
Carise wasn’t sure that she understood why she wanted to stay. But she had to. For now.
She checked the directions again and took off before her nerves could fail her. They brought her to a small cafe where a human woman was waiting at a table in the front of the room. She stood and smiled when Carise arrived.
“You got my note,” she said.
Carise tried not to be disappointed that Jaek hadn’t left the note, even though that was impossible.
“How?” That had been another thing. Clearly the palace wasn’t safe if someone could just slip into a room and put notes under a person’s bed. Carise wanted to know if there was any trouble.
The woman’s smile got even wider. “I have my ways. My name is Layala. I know your sister. I helped her find you.”
Layala motioned for her to sit and poured tea from a teapot sitting on the table. “Please, have a seat, and some tea.”
Carise sat. Layala had a way of speaking that made Carise want to do whatever she said. She took the tea and sipped.
Layala poured her own tea from the same pot and sipped, savoring it. “I’m glad you came to see me.”
“Why?” Carise didn’t like it when people wanted her. That never turned out well.
But Layala said something she didn’t expect.
“I’d like to offer you a job.”
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