Chapter no 15

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

I FULLY BELIEVED MY CURRENT state was not my fault, not even in the slightest. I knew who to point the finger at, and they were all other Schreaves. I blamed Mom and Dad for not being able to get the country under control and forcing me into this situation, and I blamed Ahren for trying to get me to consider these boys in the first place.

I was going to be queen, and a queen could be many things . . . but vulnerable wasn’t one of them.

Last night’s interlude with Hale made me sure of several things. First, I was right about the Selection. There was no way I could possibly find a companion under these circumstances, and I considered it miraculous that anyone had in the past. Forced openness with scores of strangers could not be good for one’s soul.

‌Second, if I ever did get married, the chances of me having a passionate, enduring love for that person were slim. Love did nothing but break down defenses, and I could not afford that. I already gave so much affection to my family that I knew they were my weakness, Dad and Ahren in particular. It was hard to imagine doing that to myself on purpose.

Ahren knew his words could sway me, knew how much I loved him. That was why, above the others, I wanted to throttle him after my date.

I went down to breakfast, walking with determined steps as if nothing had changed. I was still in control, and a bunch of silly boys were not going to take over my world. My plan for today was to get back to work. There had been far too many distractions lately, and I needed to focus. Dad talked about me finding someone to help me do my job, but so far all they were managing to do was make it harder.

Ahren and Osten sat next to Mom, and I took my place between Dad and Kaden. Even from the opposite side of the table I could hear Osten chewing.

“You all right, sis?” Kaden asked, pausing between heaping spoonfuls of oatmeal.

“Of course.”

“You look a little stressed.”

“You would, too, if you were going to run the country,” I teased. “Sometimes I think about that,” he said, getting all serious. “Like, what if

a disease swept over all of Illéa, and you and Mom and Dad and Ahren got

‌sick and died. Then I’d be in charge and have to figure out everything on my own.”

In my periphery I saw Dad lean forward, listening to his son. “That’s a little morbid, Kaden.”

Kaden shrugged. “It’s always good to plan ahead.”

I propped my chin on my hand. “So what would be King Kaden’s first order of business?”

“Vaccinations, obviously.”

I chuckled. “Good call. And after that?”

He considered. “I think I’d try to meet people. Nonsick people, so I could know what they need me to do. It probably looks a little different out there than it does in here.”

Dad nodded. “That’s pretty smart, Kaden.”

“I know.” And Kaden went back to eating, his imaginary rule at an end.

Lucky him.

I picked at my food, surreptitiously looking over at Dad. Yes, I’d noticed him looking tired the other night, but that was a one-time thing. Sure, he needed glasses these days, and he had laugh lines surrounding his eyes, but that didn’t translate into being worn-out. What did Hale know?

I peeked around the room. The boys were speaking to one another in hushed tones. I saw Ean chatting with Baden. Burke had spilled something on his tie and was trying to remove it discreetly and failing. My eyes passed over Hale, happy he wasn’t looking in my direction at the moment.

At the back of the far table I saw Henri and Kile. Erik was translating patiently, and based on all three of their expressions, they were having a pretty good conversation.

‌I was engrossed. I tried for a minute to figure out what they were talking about but to no avail. I sat there staring at Kile, watching his hands. It was funny to see the way they gestured to others and gripped a fork when I knew how well they held a pencil for sketching. Or—even better—pulled back hair for a kiss.

Eventually Kile caught me staring and gave me a little nod and a smile. Henri noticed him looking, and he turned in his chair to give me a wave. I bowed my head in acknowledgment, hoping no one noticed my blush. Henri turned back immediately to say something to Erik, who passed it on to Kile, who raised his eyebrows and nodded. I knew they were talking about me, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Kile had shared certain details of our kiss.

Aunt May might be the only person I could spill all the little details of that kiss to without being completely horrified. I’d be lying if I said that moment in the hall hadn’t crossed my mind several times since it happened.

Ahren stood, kissing Mom on her cheek before he turned to leave. “Wait, Ahren, I need to talk to you,” I said, standing as well.

“See you in a bit, sweetie?” Dad asked, glancing at me. “I’ll be up shortly. I promise.”

Ahren held out his arm for me, and we walked together from the room. I could feel how we drew attention. It was like an energy that followed me nearly everywhere I went. I often reveled in that feeling.

“What do you want to talk about?”

‌I spoke through my smile. “I’ll tell you once we’re in the hall.” His step faltered. “Uh-oh.”

When we rounded the corner, I pulled back and whacked him on the shoulder.


“I went on a date last night, and it was awful, and I blame you personally.”

Ahren rubbed his arm. “What happened? Was he mean?” “No.”

“Did he . . .” He lowered his voice. “Did he try to take advantage of you?” “No.” I crossed my arms.

“Was he rude?”

I sighed. “Not exactly, but it was . . . awkward.”

He threw both of his arms up in exasperation. “Well, of course it was. If you saw him again, it would be better. That’s the point. It takes time to get to know someone.”

“I don’t want him to get to know me! I don’t want any of them to get to know me!”

His face fell into a confused scowl. “I always thought that you were the one person in the world I would understand no matter what. I thought you’d always understand me, too. But you tease me for being in love, and when the opportunity to find someone falls into your lap, you hate it.”

‌I pointed a finger at his chest. “Wasn’t it you who said this made no sense for me? Weren’t you looking forward to how I’d make them squirm? I thought you and I both agreed this was a joke. And now, suddenly, you’re the Selection’s biggest cheerleader.”

The hallway was painfully silent. I waited for Ahren to argue with me, or at least to explain.

“Sorry I let you down. But I think this is about more than a date. You need to figure out why you’re so scared.”

I raised myself to my full height. “I’m the next queen of Illéa. I’m scared of nothing.”

He backed away. “Keep saying that, Eadlyn. See if it fixes the problem.”

Ahren didn’t get too far down the hall though. Josie had friends over this morning, and the whole lot of them basically melted at the sight of his face. I recognized one of them from the day in the garden and only remembered her because she had addressed me correctly.

I watched as they gave shy grins and ducked their heads. Ahren, to his credit, was polite as always.

“Josie has said your mastery of literature is very impressive,” one of the girls said.

Ahren looked away. “She’s exaggerating. I do love to read, and I write a little, but nothing worth sharing.”

Another girl stepped forward. “I doubt that’s true. I bet our tutor would be happy to have you come teach us sometime. I’d love to hear your thoughts on a few of the books we’ve been reading.”

Josie clasped her hands together. “Oh, yes, please, Ahren. Won’t you come teach us?”

‌Her friends giggled at her casually using his first name, a habit from growing up beside him.

“I’m afraid I have far too much to do at the present. Perhaps another time. You ladies have a wonderful day.” He bowed kindly and continued down the hall, and the girls didn’t even wait until he was out of earshot to start giggling like idiots.

“He’s so handsome,” one said, ready to burst with adoration.

Josie sighed. “I know. He’s so sweet to me, too. We took a walk together the other day, and he was saying that he thinks I’m one of the prettiest girls he’s ever met.”

I couldn’t take it anymore. I barged past them, not slowing down. “You’re too young for him, and he has a girlfriend, Josie. Let it go.”

I rounded up the stairs to go to the office. I knew I’d feel better once I did something manageable, something I could check off a list.

“See,” Josie said, not bothering to lower her voice. “I told you she was awful.”

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