Chapter no 13

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

“SO, I THINK MANAGED to distract everyone for a while.” I held on to Ahren’s arm as we walked through the garden.

“I’ll say.” Ahren made a smart little face at me, and I fought the urge to hit him. “How was it?”

At that I really did hit him. “You pig! A lady never tells.”

“Well, is a real lady meant to be photographed kissing her suitor in the dark?”

I shrugged. “Either way, it worked.”

The pictures of Kile and me were gobbled up like food, just as predicted. It felt a little strange that this was what people were hungry for, but it didn’t really matter as long as they were satisfied. The reactions to the kiss ranged though. A handful of the papers thought it was sweet, but the majority of them were displeased that I was so willing to give up a kiss this early in the competition.

‌One of the gossip magazines even had a back and forth with two of their biggest reporters over whether I was loose for giving such a kiss or if it was sweet because I’d known Kile since birth. I tried to shrug it off. There would be other things to talk about soon enough.

“I dug a few pages in,” I said, turning back to Ahren. “Not a single report of post-caste discrimination.”

“So, what are your plans for today? Going to make the boys cry again?”

I rolled my eyes. “It was only one. And, I don’t know. Maybe I won’t visit them today.”

“Nope,” Ahren blurted, moving us to a new path. “So help me, Eadlyn, if I have to drag you by your hair through this I will, but you’ve actually got to participate in the Selection.”

I let my arm slip away from his. “I can’t help feeling there’s no way it was this hard for Dad.”

“Have you asked him?”

“No, and I don’t think I can. Just recently both he and Mom have been giving me more details, thinking it might be helpful. I feel like they must have held those things close to them for a reason, and it seems rude to ask. Besides, I don’t know that any two people in this situation would handle it the exact same way, and I really don’t want to know if Dad cared about anyone besides


“Isn’t that a strange thought?” He sat on a nearby stone bench. “Some other woman could have been our mother!”

‌“No,” I countered, joining him. “We only exist because they found each other. Any other combination would not have created the two of us.”

“You’re messing with my head, Eady.”

“Sorry. This situation is throwing me off.” I traced my finger around the stone. “I mean, I get why the concept sounds appealing. That somewhere out there, my perfect match could be waiting for me, and by chance I could pull his name and meet him and fall madly in love. But then there’s the feeling of being a prize horse, that I’m being judged more so than usual. And when I look at all these boys, they seem foreign in comparison to the type of people I generally encounter, and I don’t think I like it. The whole thing makes me feel unsettled.”

Ahren was quiet for a while, and I could see he was carefully choosing words, which made me nervous.

I wasn’t sure if that was a twin thing or a bond exclusive to Ahren and me, but it was almost physical when we were at odds. It felt like a rubber band pulling tight between us.

“Listen, Eady, I know this might have been the wrong way to go about it, but I do think it’s good for you to have someone in your life. I’ve been with Camille a long time, and even if everything ended tomorrow, I’d be a better person because of her. There are some things you don’t learn about yourself until you let someone else into the most intimate places of your heart.”

“How can you two even manage to do that? You spend almost all of your time apart.”

He grinned. “She’s my soul mate. I know it.”

‌“I don’t think soul mates are real,” I said, examining my shoes. “You happened to meet a French princess because you only ever meet royalty, and you like her more than anyone else. Your true soul mate could be milking a cow right now, and you’d never know.”

“You’re always so down on her.” His tone made the invisible rubber band stretch again.

“I’m simply discussing possibilities.”

“In the meantime, you have dozens of possibilities in front of you and refuse to look at them.”

I snorted. “Did Dad put you up to this?”

“No! I think you should look at this with an open mind. You’re one of the most isolated people in the country, but that doesn’t mean your walls have to be up all the time. You need to experience a romantic relationship at least

once in your life.”

“Hey! I’ve experienced romantic relationships!”

“A picture in the paper does not count as a relationship,” he said heatedly. “Neither does making out with Leron Troyes at that Christmas ball in Paris.”

I gasped. “How do you know about that?” “Everyone knows about that.”

“Even Mom and Dad?”

“Dad doesn’t know. Well, unless Mom told him, because I’m positive she does.”

I buried my face and made some screechy sound that encapsulated my complete humiliation.

“All I’m saying is, this could be good for you.”

‌That line pushed all the shame out of my body and replaced it with rage. “Everyone keeps saying that: it might be good for me. What does that

even mean? I’m smart and beautiful and strong. I don’t need to be rescued.”

Ahren shrugged. “Maybe not. But you never know if one of them might need to be.”

I stared at the grass, considering that. I shook my head. “What are you doing, Ahren? What’s with the sudden change of heart? I thought you were on my side.”

I saw a flicker of something in his eyes before he pushed it away and put an arm around me. “I am, Eadlyn. You, Mom, and Camille are the most important women in my life. So please understand me when I say that sometimes I wonder how happy you are.”

“I’m happy, Ahren. I’m the princess. I have everything.” “I think you’re mistaking comfort for joy.”

His words vaguely reminded me of my recent chat with Mom.

Ahren rubbed my arm and stood, brushing off his suit. “I promised Kaden I’d help with his French lesson. Just think about all this, okay? Maybe I’m wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.” We shared a smile.

I nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

He gave me a wink. “Go on a date or something. You need to get a life.”

‌I stood outside the door to the Men’s Parlor pacing, worrying I was wasting time. After my talk with Ahren, I really should have gone straight to the office. Truthfully, I was looking forward to getting back to the normal monotony of shuffling papers. But his words, above anyone else’s, made me wonder if I should at least try. And not the fake trying I was planning for the cameras, but genuine effort.

I told myself that I would have to date them eventually anyway. It was the

bare minimum of what I’d need to do. It didn’t mean I was choosing anyone; I was just keeping my promise to Dad and doing what the people expected.

Sighing, I handed the envelope to the butler. “Okay, go ahead.” He bowed before he left, and I waited outside.

I’d decided I wasn’t going to barge into the Men’s Parlor again. I wanted the Selected to be on their toes, but everyone needed a retreat now and then. I knew that better than anybody.

A moment later the butler returned, holding the door as Hale stepped out. Two things passed through my head as he approached. First, I wondered what Kile would think, which, admittedly, was odd. Second, it was obvious Hale still didn’t know what to make of me, because he was very cautious as he came to a stop about two feet away and bowed. “Your Highness.”

I clasped my hands in front of me. “You may call me Eadlyn.” There was a hint of a smile in his eyes. “Eadlyn.”

No one in the world is as powerful as you.

“I was wondering if you’d like to join me for dessert tonight after dinner.” “Just you and me?”

‌I sighed. “Was there someone else you wanted to invite? Do you need a translator as well?”

“No, no!” he said, a real smile coming across his face. “I’m just . . . pleasantly surprised, I guess.”

“Oh.” It was a pathetic response to such a sweet admission, but I simply wasn’t prepared.

Hale stood there, his hands jammed in his pockets, beaming, and it was hard to think of him as another person I’d just send home.

“Umm, anyway, I’ll come by your room about twenty minutes after dinner, and we’ll go to one of the parlors upstairs.”

“Sounds great. See you tonight.”

I started walking. “See you tonight.”

I was a little bothered because I was looking forward to it now. His anticipation was kind of cute. But worse than the feeling that the Selection was getting to me was the triumphant look on Hale’s face when he caught me peeking back at him.‌

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