Chapter no 12

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

PACED AS WAITED for the knock to come. Kile was really the only person I could trust with this task, though I was loath to ask him. I was prepared to strike a bargain, but I wasn’t sure what I could offer him yet. I felt confident he’d have his own ideas.

The raps on the door were quiet, and I could almost hear the question in them: What am I doing here?

I pulled the door open and there, right on time, was Kile.

“Your Highness,” he said with a comical bow. “I’ve come to sweep you off your feet.”

“Hardy har. Get in here.”

Kile walked in and surveyed my shelves. “Last time I was in your room, you had a collection of wooden ponies.”

“Outgrew that.”

“But not being a bossy tyrant?”

‌“Nope. Just like you didn’t outgrow being an insufferable bookworm.” “Is this how you win over all your dates?”

I smirked. “More or less. Sit down. I have a proposition for you.”

He spotted the wine I’d provided and wasted no time in pouring himself a glass. “You want some?”

I sighed. “Please. We’ll both need it.”

He paused, eyeing me before continuing. “Now I’m nervous. What do you want?”

I took my glass, trying to remember how I wanted to explain this to him. “You know me, Kile. You’ve known me my whole life.”

“True. In fact, I was thinking yesterday that I have a vague recollection of you running around in nothing but a diaper. It was a good look.”

I rolled my eyes and tried not to laugh. “Anyway. You, to some degree, understand my personality, who I am when the cameras aren’t rolling.”

He sipped, contemplating my words. “I think I understand you when they’re on as well, but please continue.”

I hadn’t thought about that, how he’d seen me go through the many phases of growing up, both on and off screen. There was a switch I had to flip when I was on display, and he knew it. “The Selection wasn’t my idea, but it’s something I need to put my best effort into. I think I am, personally. But the

public expects me to be a giddy little girl next to all of you, and I don’t think I can do that. I can’t act stupid.”

‌“Actually—” “Don’t!”

He smiled wickedly and took another sip of his wine. “You’re such a pain. Why am I even bothering?”

“No, go on, you don’t want to act stupid.” He set down his glass and leaned forward.

I took a breath, hunting for the words again. “They want romance, but I’m not prepared to behave like that publicly, at least not when I haven’t truly connected with someone. Still, I need to give them something.”

I ducked my head and peeked up at him from under my lashes. “Like what exactly?”

“A kiss.”

“A kiss?”

“Just a little one. And you’re the only person I can ask, because you’d know it wasn’t real and things wouldn’t get complicated. And I’m willing to give you something in return.”

He raised his eyebrows. “What?”

I shrugged. “Whatever you want, really. Within reason. I can’t offer you a country or anything.”

“Could you talk to my mom? Help get me out of here?” “And go where, exactly?”

‌“Anywhere.” He sighed desperately. “My mom . . . I don’t know what happened that made her so crazy loyal to your parents, but she’s got it in her head that this is our home forever. Do you know how much work it took for me to get out of here and take that one accelerated course?

“I want to travel, I want to build, I want to do more than read about things.

Sometimes I think one more day behind these walls might kill me.”

“I get that,” I whispered, not thinking. I straightened up. “I can make it happen. As soon as an opportunity becomes available, I will help convince your parents that you need to leave the palace.”

He paused a second, then threw back the rest of his wine. “One kiss?” “Just one.”


“Tonight. There will be a photographer waiting down the hall at nine.

Hopefully very well hidden, because I’d like to pretend he isn’t there.” Kile nodded. “Fine. One kiss.”

“Thank you.”

We sat in silence, watching the hands on the clock. After three minutes I

couldn’t take it anymore.

“What do you mean you want to build things?”

He lit up. “That’s what I study. Architecture and design. I like dreaming up structures, figuring out how to make them and, sometimes, how to make them particularly beautiful.”

“That’s . . . actually really interesting, Kile.”

“I know.” He gave one of his crooked smiles, just like his dad’s, and it was fun to see how excited he was about it. “Do you want to see?”

“See what?”

‌“Some of my designs. I have them in my room. My old one, not my Selected one, so they’re just down the hall.”

“Sure.” I took one last sip of wine and followed him out. Except for a guard or two, the hallway was empty as Kile and I made our way to his room.

He opened the door and flicked on the lights, and I had to stop myself from gasping.

He. Was. A. Mess!

His bed wasn’t made, there were clothes amassed in a corner, and several dirty plates were piled on his side table.

“I know what you’re thinking. How does he keep it so immaculate?”

“You read my mind,” I said, trying not to appear completely repulsed. At least it didn’t smell bad.

“About a year ago I asked the staff to stop cleaning for me. I do it myself.

But the Selection kind of caught me off guard, so I just left it how it was.”

He started kicking objects under his bed and trying to pull the things within his reach a little straighter.

“Why don’t you let them clean?”

“I’m a grown man. I can take care of myself.”

I didn’t think he meant that as a dig at me, but it stung all the same. “Anyway, this is my work space.”

In the far corner of the room the walls were covered in pictures and posters of everything from skyscrapers to mud huts. His desk was overflowing with prints he’d drawn up, and models built from wooden scraps and thin strips of metal.

‌“Did you make all these?” I asked, gently touching a structure that slightly twisted as it went upward.

“Yep. Concept, design. I’d love to create real buildings one day. I’m studying, but there’s only so much I can learn without getting my hands on things, you know?”

“Kile . . .” I took in all of it: the colors and lines, the amount of time and thought that must have gone into each of them. “This is amazing.”

“It’s just me fooling around.”

“No, don’t do that. Don’t make it seem like less than it is. I could never do something like this.”

“Sure you could.” He went over and pulled out a ruler shaped like a and laid it over something he was already working on. “See, it’s just a matter of looking at the lines and doing the math.”

“Ugh, more math. I do enough of that as it is.” He laughed. “But this is fun math.”

“Fun math is an oxymoron.”

Kile and I moved to his couch, and we went through a few books of his favorite architects, studying their styles. He seemed particularly interested in how some worked with the land around them and others worked against it. “I mean, look at that!” he said enthusiastically after nearly every page.

I couldn’t believe it had taken me all these years to see this side of him. He tucked himself inside a shell, shutting himself away from others here because the palace had trapped him. Behind the books and the snippy remarks there was a curious, engaging, and sometimes very charming person.

‌I felt like I’d been lied to. Was someone going to pop around the corner and tell me Josie was really a saint?

Eventually Kile looked down to his watch. “It’s ten after nine.”

“Oh. We should go then.” But I didn’t want to get up. Kile’s messy room was one of the most comfortable places I’d ever been.

“Yeah.” Kile closed the book and put it back on the shelf. Even though that corner was as haphazard as the rest of the room, I could see the care he took with it.

I waited for him by the door, suddenly nervous.

“Here,” he said, offering his hand. “It’s the end of a date, right?”

I placed my hand in his. “Thanks. For showing me your work, and for doing this. I promise to pay you back.”

“I know.”

He opened the door and walked me down the hall. “When do you think we last held hands?” I wondered out loud.

“Probably a game of red rover or something.” “Probably.”

We were quiet as we headed toward my room. When we reached it, I turned back to Kile and watched as he swallowed.

“Nervous?” I whispered.

“Nah.” He smiled, but he also fidgeted. “So . . . goodnight.”

‌Kile leaned down, lips meeting mine, holding them there. Then his lips parted and closed and parted again. I drew a breath in the moment between

kisses, sensing he would come back again. He did, and thank goodness, because I hadn’t been kissed like this before and I needed more.

The few times I’d kissed boys were rushed, sloppy moments hiding in a coatroom or behind a statue. But this, with so much air around us and no one coming to check on me . . . it was different.

I leaned into Kile, still holding him, and he brought up his free hand and cupped my cheek. He held my lips to his for what felt like forever before pulling back.

And even when he did pull away, his nose stayed right against mine, so close that when he whispered, I could smell what was left of the wine on his breath.

“Do you think that was enough?” “I . . . um . . . I don’t know.” “Just to be sure.”

He pressed his mouth to mine again, and I was so surprised to get another kiss like that, it felt like my bones were turning into mush. I wrapped my fingers up into his hair, shocked at myself for having the urge to hold him in that pose all night.

He pulled back again, looking into my eyes, and there was something different. Was he feeling that funny warmth creep into his arms and chest and head, too?

“Thank you,” I murmured.

“Any time. I mean”—he shook his head, laughing at himself—“you know what I mean.”

“Goodnight, Kile.”

‌“Goodnight, Eadlyn.” He gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before heading toward the stairs that led back to his temporary quarters.

I watched him go and told myself that the only reason I was smiling like that was because the cameras were hidden somewhere, not because of anything Kile Woodwork had done.

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