Chapter no 19

The Crown (The Selection, 5)

I STOOD STILL AS NEENA placed pins down the back of my coronation gown. It was a showstopper, with a sweetheart neckline and a full skirt all in gold. The cape was a little heavy, but I only had to wear that in the church. While I had chosen this gown out of the three that had been offered to me, it probably wasn’t what I’d have worn if I’d had time to design the dress myself. Still, everyone sighed when they saw it, so I bit my tongue and was grateful.

“You look beautiful, darling,” Mom said as I stood on a raised platform in front of huge mirrors that had been brought to my room especially for this fitting.

“Thanks, Mom. How do you think it compares with yours?”

She chuckled. “My coronation dress was also my wedding dress, so there’s no comparison. Your gown is perfect for the occasion.”

Neena chuckled as I touched the embroidery on the bodice. “It’s definitely the most ostentatious dress I’ve ever worn.”

“And just think, you’ll have to one-up yourself when you get married,” Neena joked.

My smile faded. “True. That’ll be a challenge, huh?” “You okay?” she asked, looking at me in the mirror. “Yes. A little tired is all.”

“I don’t care what else happens this week, you need to rest,” Mom ordered. “Saturday is going to be long, and you’ll be at the center of it all.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I watched her fiddling with her necklace. “Mom? What do you think you would have done if you couldn’t have married Dad? Like, if it got to the end and he chose someone else?”

She shook her head. “He very nearly did. You know about the massacre.” She swallowed, pausing for a minute. After all this time it was still hard for her to go back there. “That day he might have gone down an entirely different path, which meant I would have, too.”

“Would you have been okay though?”

“Eventually,” she said slowly. “I don’t think either of us would have lived a life that was bad necessarily. It just might not have been the best it could have been.”

“But you wouldn’t have been completely miserable the rest of your life?”

She studied my face in the mirror. “If you’re worried about letting your suitors down, you can’t focus on that.”

I pressed my hands to my stomach, holding the dress tight as Neena worked. “I know. It’s just harder than I thought it would be by this point.”

“It’ll become clear. Trust me. And your father and I will support you in whatever choice you make.”

“Thank you.”

“I think this is finally coming together,” Neena commented, stepping back to appraise her work. “If you’re happy, you can take it off, and I’ll have the courier send it back to Allmond.”

Mom nibbled on some apple slices. “I don’t understand why he wouldn’t let you do the sewing. He trusts you to fit it.”

She shrugged. “I just follow orders.”

A quiet knock on the door drew our attention. “Come in,” Neena called, falling into her old role. I wished she could just run my entire life for me. Everything felt easier with her around.

A butler entered and bowed. “Pardon me, Your Highness. There’s some confusion about the suit for one of the gentlemen.”

“Which one?” “Erik, miss.”

“The translator?” Mom asked. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

“I’m coming,” I said, following him out the door. “Don’t you want to take off the gown?” Neena asked. “It’ll give me a chance to practice walking in it.”

And it did. It was incredibly heavy, and a little hard to navigate down the stairs. I’d need sturdier heels.

As I approached Erik’s room, I could hear him imploring someone to reconsider. “I am not an Elite. It would be inappropriate.”

I pushed the door open wider, finding him in a suit with chalk lines down the sides and pins in the hem.

“Your Highness,” the tailor said, immediately dropping into a bow. Erik, however, stared and stared, unable to look away from the dress.

“We’re having a problem coming to terms with his suit, miss.” The tailor motioned to the chalked-up suit.

Erik regained his composure. “I don’t want to confuse anyone by wearing a suit that matches what the Elite are wearing.”

“But you will be walking in the procession, and there will be scores of pictures,” the tailor insisted. “Uniformity is best.”

Erik looked at me, his eyes pleading.

I pressed my fingers to my lips, considering. “Could you give us a moment, please?”

The tailor bowed again and exited, and I crossed to stand in front of Erik. “It does look rather sharp,” I said with a grin.

“It does,” he admitted. “I’m just not sure it’s proper.” “What? To look nice for a day?”

“I’m not an Elite. It’s . . . confusing to have me standing with them, looking like them, when I can’t . . . I’m not . . .”

I put a hand on his chest. “The tailor is right. You will want to blend in. A different color of suit wouldn’t help your case here.”

He sighed. “But I’m—”

“What if your tie was a slightly different color?” I offered quickly. “Is that my only option?”

“Yes. Besides, think of how much your mother will love this.” He rolled his eyes. “That’s so unfair. You win.”

I clapped my hands. “See? That wasn’t so hard.”

“Of course it was easy for you. You were the one giving the command.” “I didn’t mean to command you, not really.”

He smirked. “Of course you did. You’re made for it.”

I couldn’t tell if that was a critique or a compliment. “What do you think?” I asked, holding out my arms. “I mean, you have to try to imagine it without all the pins.”

He paused. “You look breathtaking, Eadlyn. I couldn’t even remember what I was so worked up about when you first walked in.”

I fought the blush. “I’ve been wondering if it was too much.”

“It’s perfect. I can see it’s a little different from your usual style, but then again, your typical look isn’t meant to be coronation-day ready.”

I turned around and looked in the mirror. That one sentence made the whole thing so much better.

“Thank you. I think I’ve been overanalyzing it.”

He stood beside me. It was comical, these beautiful clothes, some of the best we’d ever wear, marked in chalk and held by pins. We looked like dolls. “That seems to be a talent of yours.”

I grimaced but nodded. He was right.

“I realize I’m in no position to tell you what to do,” he said, “but you seem to handle things much better when you think about them less. Get out of your head. Trust your gut. Trust your heart.”

“I’m terrified of my heart.” I didn’t mean to say those words out loud, but there was something about him that made this room, and this moment, the only place I could ever admit to the truth.

He leaned down by my ear and whispered, “There’s nothing there to fear.” He cleared his throat, then turned back to face our reflections. “Maybe what you need is a little luck. You see this ring?” he asked, holding out his pinkie.

I did. I’d noticed it a dozen times. Why would someone who dulled himself down and refused to put on a suit wear a piece of jewelry?

“This was my great-great-grandmother’s wedding ring. The weaving design is a traditional Swendish thing. You see it everywhere in Swendway.” He slipped off the ring and held it between two fingers. “This has survived everything from wars to famine, even my family’s move to Illéa. I’m supposed to give it to the girl I marry. Mom’s orders.”

I smiled, charmed by his excitement. I wondered if there was someone back home hoping to wear it someday.

“But it seems to have a lot of good luck,” he continued. “I think you could use some right now.”

He held out the ring to me, but I shook my head. “I can’t take that! It’s an heirloom.”

“Yes, but it’s a very fortunate heirloom. It’s guided several people to their soul mates. And it’s only temporary. Until you get to the end of the Selection, or Henri and I leave. Whichever happens first.”

Hesitantly, I slid the ring onto my finger, noting how smooth it was. “Thank you, Erik.”

I looked into his blue eyes. It only took one charged second to hear the heart that I’d had so little faith in. It was taking in that piercing stare and the warm scent of his skin . . . and it was shouting.

Without considering the repercussions or the complications, without knowing if he felt anything similar to what I did, I leaned into him. And I was thrilled to find he wasn’t pulling away. We were so close I could feel his breath across my lips.

“Have we made a decision?” the tailor asked, springing back in. I jerked away from Erik. “Yes. Please finish the suit for us, sir.”

Without looking back, I hurried into the hallway. My heart was racing as I found an empty guest room and darted inside, slamming the door behind me.

I had felt it growing, this feeling that had been hiding beneath the surface for some time now. I’d seen him, this person who never intended to be seen, and my faulty, silly, useless heart kept whispering his name. I clutched my chest, feeling my heart racing. “You treacherous, treacherous thing. What have you done?”

I’d wondered how it was possible to magically find a soul mate in a random group of boys.

But now I couldn’t question it.

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