Chapter no 16

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

WORK DIDN’T MAKE ME FEEL better. I was still very unsettled about last night with Hale, and any time Ahren and I fought, it was like I lost my equilibrium. The whole planet was off its axis. Adding Josie’s ridiculous comments to the mix was the cherry on top.

My head was swarming with other people’s words and my own questions, and I was positive the day was going to end up being a waste.

“You know,” Dad said, peeking up from his work. “I got distracted early on, too. It gets easier to manage as the group gets smaller.”

I smiled. Fine, let him think I had a crush. “Sorry, Dad.”

“Not at all. Do you need me to cover your work for you today? Take the afternoon off?”

I straightened my papers. “No, that’s not happening. I’m perfectly capable.”

‌“I wasn’t doubting you, love. I just—”

“I’ve already taken so much time away from work for this. I don’t want to neglect my duties. I’m fine.”

I didn’t mean to sound so snippy with him.

“All right.” He adjusted his glasses and started reading again. I tried to do the same.

What did Ahren mean, it was more than the date that upset me? I knew why I was mad. And since when had I given him a hard time about Camille? Sure, I didn’t talk to her very much, but that was because we didn’t have a lot in common. I didn’t dislike the girl.

I shook my head, focusing on the papers.

“It would be fine if you needed to clear your head,” Dad offered again. “You could go spend some time with one of the Selected and come back after lunch. Besides, you’ll want to have something to talk about on the Report.”

I felt a flurry of emotions, trying to figure out how I would discuss how exposed I’d felt after my date with Hale . . . or how stunned I felt after my kiss with Kile. Trying to balance the conflicting feelings around those two moments was dizzying without adding anything else.

“I went on a date last night, Dad. Isn’t that enough?”

He swallowed as he thought. “Eventually you need to start alerting us when you have dates. A few pictures from some of them would be good for

everyone. And I think you need at least one more date before Friday.” “Really?” I whined.

“Do something you enjoy. You’re treating it like work.” “That’s because it is!” I protested with an incredulous laugh.

‌“It can be fun, Eadlyn. Give it a chance.” He looked at me over his glasses, almost like he was daring me.

“Fine. One date. That’s all you get, old man,” I teased. He chuckled. “Old man is right.”

Dad went back to his papers, satisfied. I sat there, peeking furtively at him from my desk. He stretched often, rubbing the back of his neck, and even though there weren’t any urgent tasks today, he ran his hands through his hair as if he was troubled.

Now that Hale had put it in my head, I was going to be watching him often.

I decided to make Baden my next target. Maybe Aunt May knew something, because Baden didn’t come in brashly or, conversely, like he was trying to hide. When someone else stole a moment that should have been solely his at the tea party, he didn’t make a fuss. And when I approached him for time alone, he turned the focus back to me.

“You play the piano, right?” Baden asked when I invited him on a date. “I do. Not as well as my mother, but I’m pretty proficient.”

“I play the guitar. Maybe we could make some music.”

It wasn’t anything I would have thought of. Perhaps music would mean less talking, though, and I was all up for that.

“Sure. I’ll secure the Women’s Room for us.”

“Am I even allowed in there?” he asked skeptically.

‌“When you’re with me, yes. And I’ll make sure it’s empty. My favorite piano in the palace is there. Do you need a guitar?”

He smirked. “Nah. I brought my own.”

Baden ran a hand over his cropped hair, seeming very relaxed. I was still attempting to come across as distant and impenetrable, but I could tell there were a handful of guys who weren’t bothered by my attitude at all, and Baden was one of them.

“What are the chances of the room being empty now?” he asked.

I smiled at his enthusiasm. “High, actually, but I have work to do.”

He bent down, his eyes devilish. “But don’t you always have work to do?

I bet you could stay up till three in the morning if you had to.” “True, but—”

“And it’ll all still be there when you get back.”

I clasped my hands and considered it. “I’m really not supposed to . . .” He started chanting slowly. “Skip it, skip it, skip it!”

My lips were pressed together, trying to hide my smile. Really, I ought to tell someone. I was going to have yet another undocumented date . . . but maybe I deserved one more. Next week, I bargained with myself. After this Report, I’ll worry about the cameras.

“Go get your guitar,” I said, caving.

“Two minutes!” He bolted down the hall, and I shook my head. I hoped he wouldn’t tell everyone I was an utter pushover.

‌I walked to the Women’s Room, expecting to find it empty. Except for Miss Marlee sitting alone in a corner reading, I was right.

“Your Highness,” she greeted. It was one of those funny things. Plenty of people called me that, but when Mom’s friends said it, they might as well have been calling me pumpkin or kiddo or baby. I didn’t mind it, but it was always kind of strange.

“Where’s Mom?”

She closed her book. “Migraine. I went to see her, and she made me leave.

Any sound was excruciating.”

“Oh. I was supposed to be having a date right now, but maybe I should go check on her.”

“No,” she insisted. “She needed rest, and both your parents would be pleased for you to have a date.”

I considered. If she was really feeling that bad, maybe it would be better to wait.

“Umm, all right. Well, would it be okay if I used the room? Baden and I are going to make music.” I squinted. “I mean that literally, by the way.”

She giggled and stood. “That’s no problem at all.”

“Is it weird for you?” I asked suddenly. “That Kile is a part of this? That you know I’m about to go on a date with someone who isn’t him? Is it, you know, okay?”

‌“It was quite a shock to see you two on the front page of every paper,” she said, shaking her head like she couldn’t fathom how it had happened. Then she came close, as if we were trying to keep a secret. “But you forget your parents aren’t the only ones here who’ve been through a Selection.”

I felt like a downright idiot. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

“I remember watching your father scramble to find time for everyone, trying to please those around him while searching for someone who’d be a good partner. And it’s even harder for you, because it’s bigger than that. You’re making history while trying to divert attention. Saying it’s tough is an understatement.”

“True,” I admitted, my shoulders sagging under the weight of it all.

“I don’t know how you and Kile ended up . . . umm . . . in that position, but I’d be surprised if he made it to the top of your list. All the same, I’m thankful to you.”

I was taken aback. “Why? I haven’t done anything.”

“You have,” she contradicted. “You’re giving your parents time, which is very generous of you. But you’re giving me time, too. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep him here.”

A knock came at the door.

I turned. “That’ll be Baden.”

She placed a hand on my shoulder. “You stay put. I’ll let him in.” “Oh!” Baden exclaimed when Miss Marlee opened the door for him.

She chuckled. “Don’t worry, I’m on my way out. She’s waiting for you.”

Baden looked past her to find me, smiling the entire time. He looked so triumphant, so pleased to be alone together.

‌“Is that it?” he asked, pointing just behind me.

I spun, taking in the piano. “Yes. The tone on this one is wonderful, and this room has great acoustics.”

He followed me, and I could hear his guitar case bump into his leg or a couch as he navigated through the maze of seats.

Without asking, he found an armless chair and pulled it up beside the piano. I trilled my fingers over the keys, doing a quick scale.

Baden tuned his guitar, which was dark and worn. “How long have you been playing?”

“As long as I can remember. I think Mom sat me down next to her as a toddler, and I just went along with whatever she did.”

“People have always said your mother was a fantastic musician. I think I heard her play on TV once, for a Christmas program or something.”

“She always plays a lot at Christmastime.” “Her favorite time of the year?” he guessed.

“In a way, sure, but in others, no. And she usually plays when she’s worried or sad.”

“How do you mean?” He tightened a string, finishing his preparations. “Oh, you know,” I hedged. “Holidays can be stressful.” I didn’t feel right

exposing Mom’s memories, losing her father and sister during the same time of year, not to mention a horrific attack that nearly stole my father.

‌“I can’t imagine being sad at Christmastime here. If she was poor, I could see why she’d be anxious.”


He smiled to himself. “Because it’s hard to watch all your friends getting

piles of gifts when you don’t get any.” “Oh.”

He took the stab at our social differences in stride, not getting mad or calling me a snob, which some might have done. I examined Baden, trying to learn more. The guitar was old, but it was hard to make a call about his financial status while he wore palace-issued clothes. I remembered what Aunt May said about his last name.

“You’re in college, right?” I asked.

He nodded. “Well, it’s on hold for now. Some of my professors were thrown off, but most of them are letting me send assignments back to finish the semester from here.”

“That’s really impressive.”

He shrugged. “I know what I want. So I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get it.”

I gave him a curious smirk. “How does the Selection fit into that?”

“Wow, no holding back there.” Again, no anger. He almost treated it as a joke.

“It’s a fair question, I think.” I started playing one of the classics Mom had taught me. Baden knew the song and joined in. I’d never considered how it would sound with strings.

‌The music won, and we dropped the conversation. But we didn’t stop communicating. He watched my eyes, and I studied his fingers. I’d never played with anyone before other than Mom, and I was engaged in a way I didn’t know I could be.

We played on with no more than two or three missteps across the entire song. Baden was beaming as we finished.

“I only know a handful of classics. Some Beethoven and Debussy, mostly.”

“You’re so talented! I’ve never imagined songs like that on a guitar.” “Thanks.” He was only the slightest bit bashful. “To answer your

question, I’m here because I want to get married. I haven’t dated much, but when this opportunity came up, I thought it might be worth a try. Am I in love with you? Well, not today. I’d like to know if I could be though.”

Something about his tone made me trust he was being completely transparent. He was trying to find a mate, and I was someone he would never have met if he hadn’t put his name in for the drawing.

“I’d like to make you a promise, if that’s okay,” he offered. “What kind of promise?”

He plucked at a few strings. “A promise about us.”

“If you’re vowing to give me your unwavering devotion, it’s still too


Baden shook his head. “No, that’s not in my plan.”

“Okay, then. I’m listening.” His fingers outlined a slightly familiar melody, not a classic, but something I knew I couldn’t pinpoint it.

‌“If you found that I wasn’t a reasonable choice for you, you’d send me home so you could focus on your other options. What I want to promise you is this: if I can tell that you’re not the right one for me, I’ll tell you. I don’t want either of us to waste our time.”

I nodded. “I’d appreciate that.”

“Good,” he said smartly, then began bellowing: “Well she walks up in the room with that smile, smile, smile and those legs that go on for a mile, mile, mile! Eyes searching the room for a little fun!”

I laughed, finally recognizing the tune he was playing. It was a Choosing Yesterday song that I sang in the bath more often than I cared to admit.

“I can’t look away from her face, face, face until she starts dancing to that bass, bass, bass! I can’t help it, that girl is number one!”

I joined in on the piano, giggling a little too hard to get all the notes right for the chorus. But we both sang along, botching up the melody and having too much fun to care.

“Oh, she can’t be more than seventeen, but she’s all grown up if you know what I mean. She’s the prettiest thing that I’ve ever seen, yeah, she’s my”—BAM BAM!—“she’s my, she’s my queen!”

I kept up with Baden through most of the song, even though I really only had experience with classical music.

“Why are you bothering with college? You should be touring,” I cheered. “That’s my backup plan if the prince thing doesn’t pan out.” He was so

candid, so real. “Thanks for playing hooky for me.” “No problem. I should get back to work though.”

‌“That was the shortest date in history!” he complained.

I shrugged. “You would have had more time if you waited until tonight.” He huffed. “Fine. Lesson learned.”

I pulled the cover back over the keys as he placed his guitar in its case. “You should take that to the others,” I said. “I bet they’d get a kick out of trying to play.”

“What, my guitar? No, no, no. This is my baby!” I watched as he gently petted the shabby case. “If someone broke this, I’d be devastated. My dad got it for me, and it was hard earned. I try to take good care of it.”

“I’m like that with my tiaras.”

Pffff!” Baden laughed outright at me. “What?”

He took his time, covering his eyes and shaking his head. “Tiaras!” he finally said. “You really are a princess, huh?”

“Did you think the last eighteen years were a clever trick?”

“I like that, you know? That you protect your tiaras like I do my guitar. I like that that’s your thing.”

I pushed the door open, leading us into the hallway. “Good. Because they’re beautiful.”

He smiled. “Thanks for spending some time with me.” “Thank you. It was a pleasure.”

There was a pause. “So do we shake or hug or what?” “You may kiss my hand,” I replied, extending an arm. He took it. “Until next time.”

Baden kissed me quickly, bowed, and headed toward his room. I walked away thinking of how Aunt May would say she told me so as soon as I saw her again.

‌I knew I’d be the focal point of the Report. Typically, I didn’t mind giving speeches or updates. But tonight was going to be different. One, this would be the first time I faced the public since the parade, and two, I knew they’d want to hear about Kile.

I wore red. I felt strong in red. And I pulled my hair up, hoping I’d come across as mature.

Aunt May hovered in the background, winking at me, while Mom helped Dad with his tie. I heard one of the boys yelp and turned to see Alex holding something sharp in his hand. He was rubbing his backside like he’d sat on it. I hunted, finding Osten in a corner trying desperately not to laugh aloud.

With all the company, the room felt crowded, adding to my discomfort, which was why I jumped when someone called my name, even though it was hardly above a whisper.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness,” Erik said.

“No, I’m just a little on edge. How can I help you?”

“I hate to bother you, but I wasn’t sure who to ask. Where is it most convenient for me to sit so I can translate for Henri?”

I shook my head. “How rude, I didn’t even think about that. Um, here, follow me.”

I escorted Erik to the stage manager, and we placed Henri in the back row of the stadium-style chairs. Erik was given a seat behind him that was low enough so he wouldn’t be seen but close enough that Henri would be able to hear him.

‌I stayed by them until they were settled. Henri gave a thumbs-up, and Erik

turned to thank me.

“I’ll make sure to go to the stage manager next time so I won’t bother you. I apologize.”

“It’s fine, really. I want you to be comfortable, the both of you.”

Erik bowed his head and smiled shyly. “You don’t need to worry about my comfort, Your Highness. I’m no suitor.”

“Eadlyn! Eadlyn, where are you?” Mom called.

I turned from Erik, running around to the front. “Here, Mom.”

She placed a hand on her heart like it had been racing. “I couldn’t find you. I thought maybe you were backing out on us,” she said quietly as I approached.

“Calm down, Mom,” I replied, grabbing her hand. “I’m not perfect, but I’m no coward.”

Tonight’s Report centered around the women. Mom gave an update on province-run aid systems, encouraging others to follow the example set by three northern provinces that were helping the homeless by donating food as well as free classes on topics like managing finances and interviewing skills. Lady Brice spoke about a drilling proposal that would affect a large chunk of central Illéa. It would benefit the country as a whole, but those six provinces would have to approve it by a vote first. And then, of course, all eyes went to the boys.

‌Gavril stepped onto the stage, looking as dashing as ever, and I could see a bit of a spring in his step. This was the fifth Selection Illéa had witnessed, and he had overseen three of them. We all knew he’d find a replacement once this was over, but he seemed so pleased that this would be his final role for the royal family.

“Of course, ladies and gentlemen, we will be dedicating a lot of airtime to the charming young men of the Selection. For now, how about we say hello to a few of them?”

Gavril strode across the floor, looking for someone in particular. I wondered if he was having as hard a time memorizing their names as I was.

“Sir Harrison,” he began, stopping in front of a sweet-faced boy with dirty-blond hair and dimples.

“A pleasure,” Harrison greeted. “How are you enjoying the palace?”

He beamed. “It’s beautiful here. I’ve always wanted to come up to Angeles, so that alone has been a real treat.”

“Any challenges so far?” Gavril prodded.

Harrison shrugged. “I was worried that it would be all-out fistfights from dawn till dusk with the princess on the line,” he said, gesturing over to me. I

instantly arranged a smile on my face, knowing a camera would zoom in on me at any second. “But the other guys have been great.”

Gavril slid the microphone to the boy next to him. “What about you? And can you remind us of your name?”

“It’s Fox. Fox Wesley,” he answered. Fox had a bit of a tan, but, unlike me, I could see that he wasn’t born with it. He must spend a lot of time outside. “Honestly, and I hope I’m not alone here, so far the biggest challenge is mealtimes. They set out at least a dozen forks for each of us.”

‌A few people chuckled, and Gavril nodded. “You have to wonder where we could possibly store so much cutlery.”

“It’s crazy,” mumbled the boy behind Fox.

“Oh, Sir Ivan, yes?” Gavril stretched to put the mic in front of him. “Yes, sir. Happy to meet you.”

“And you as well. How are you managing at mealtimes?”

Ivan held both hands in front of him as if this was very serious. “My current approach is using one fork for each bite and then making a pile of them in the middle of the table. It’s working so far.”

The room laughed even more at Ivan’s ridiculous answer, and Gavril stepped away from the group, turning to the cameras.

“Clearly, we have an extremely entertaining pool of candidates here. So why don’t we take a moment to speak with the young lady who somehow has to narrow it down to only one? Ladies and gentlemen, Her Royal Highness, Princess Eadlyn Schreave.”

“Go get ’em,” Ahren whispered as I pushed myself out of my seat and crossed the floor, embracing dear Gavril.

“Always nice to see you, Your Highness,” he said as I sat in the chair opposite him center stage.

“And you, Gavril.”

“So here we are, one week into the first-ever female-led Selection. How would you say it’s going?”

I gave an award-winning smile. “I think it’s going well. Of course, I still have work to do each day, so we’re off to a fairly slow start.”

‌Gavril glanced back over his shoulder. “Judging by the thinning crowd, I wouldn’t say it’s that slow.”

Batting my eyes, I giggled. “Yes, about a third of the gentlemen invited to the palace have been eliminated. I have to trust my gut, and between our initial meetings and the information I’ve been given, I feel very confident about my choices.”

Gavril inclined his head. “It sounds like you’re using more of your head than your heart at the moment.”

I fought the blush. I couldn’t tell how well I’d done, but I refused to touch my face to check.

“Would you suggest that I fall in love with thirty-five young men at once?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Well, when you put it that way . . .” “Exactly. I only have one heart, and I’m saving it.”

I heard sighs around the room, and I felt I’d gotten away with something. How many more lines could I dream up over the following months to keep everyone entertained and at bay? Then I realized, I hadn’t planned those words. I really felt them, and they escaped under pressure.

“It seems you may have let your heart lead the way at least once,” he said knowingly. “I have a picture to prove it.”

I watched as a huge picture of me and Kile was displayed, and the room erupted with hoots and claps.

“Could we get him down here for a moment? Where’s Sir Kile?” He hopped up from his place and sat on a chair next to me.

‌“Now, this is a very unique position for me,” Gavril began, “because I’ve known both of you your entire lives.”

Kile laughed. “I was thinking about this the other day. My mom said I crawled on set once as a baby, and you held me for the closing of the Report.”

Gavril’s eyes widened. “That’s true! I’d forgotten all about that!”

I looked at Kile, giggling at this new story. That must have happened before I was born.

“So, from the pictures, it looks like perhaps a childhood friendship is growing into something more?”

Kile stared at me, and I shook my head. No way was I going first on this.

He finally caved. “Honestly, I don’t think either of us ever thought about the other as a possibility until we were forced to.”

Our families laughed boisterously.

“Although, if he had gotten a haircut years ago, I might have considered it,” I teased.

Gavril shook his head at us. “Everyone’s dying to know: how was this infamous kiss?”

I knew it was coming, but I was mortified. This was much worse than I imagined it would be, having my private life on display.

Mercifully, Kile addressed it. “I think I can speak for both of us when I say it was a surprise. And while it was special, I don’t think we’re going to put too much stock in it. I mean, I’ve been spending time with these other guys, and so many of them would make a wonderful prince.”

‌“Really? And would you agree with that, Princess? Have you had one-on-

one time with anyone else this week?”

It felt like Gavril’s words were on a delay. I didn’t hear them until I’d processed everything Kile had just said. Did he mean that? Did he not feel anything at all? Or was he only saying that to maintain some level of privacy? I snapped back into the moment and nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, a few.”

Gavril eyed me. “And?”

“And they were very nice.” I wasn’t really in the mood for this in the first place, and Kile had made me doubt sharing anything at all.

“Hmm,” Gavril said, turning to the group of the Selected. “Maybe we’ll get some more information out of the gentlemen in question. Sir Kile, you may head back to your seat. Now, who were the lucky men?”

Baden raised his hand, followed by Hale. “Come on down, gentlemen.”

Gavril started applauding and the room joined in as Hale and Baden approached and yet another chair was brought in. I considered myself pretty intelligent, but I could not think of a way to beg them to keep their mouths shut without actually using words.

Only then did I realize how easily Kile managed to do just that. I supposed there was something to be said for knowing each other forever.

“Now, what’s your name again, sir?” Gavril asked.

‌“Hale Garner.” He pressed down his tie, though it was already in place. “Oh, yes. So, what can you tell us about your date with the princess?”

Hale gave me a shy smile, then turned back to Gavril. “Well, I can tell you that our princess is as smart and gracious as I always believed she was. Umm, and that we do have a few things in common. We’re both the oldest children in our families, and it was fun to talk about my work as a tailor with such a well-dressed young lady. I mean, she looks like a million bucks.”

I ducked my head, trying to take the compliment playfully while staying on my toes.

“But beyond that, I hope you’ll forgive me if I keep most of the details to myself,” Hale added.

Gavril made a face. “You’re not going to tell us anything?”

“Well, dating and falling in love are typically private things. It’s kind of weird to talk about at this stage.”

“Perhaps we’ll get more out of the next gentleman,” Gavril said impishly to the cameras. “Remind us of your name again?”

“Baden Trains.”

“And what did you and the princess do?”

“We played music. Princess Eadlyn is as talented as her mother.” I heard Mom’s “aww” in the background.


“And she’s a lovely dancer, even when she’s sitting down. Just so everyone knows, the princess is very up-to-date on current music.” Baden laughed and a few people joined in.

‌“And?” Gavril pressed.

“And I kissed her hand . . . and I’m hoping for more kisses in the future.”

I wanted to die. For some reason Baden’s request for a kiss was much more embarrassing than talking about one that had already happened with Kile.

The room made encouraging noises again, and I could see Gavril was trying to milk this. Unfortunately for him, there really weren’t any more juicy details. Kile was the only one with anything remotely shocking to share, and that had already been soaked up.

“You look so disappointed, Gavril,” I remarked quickly.

He made a little pout. “I’m simply excited for you, Your Highness, and want to know everything that’s happening. And if we could ask our millions of viewers, I’m sure they’d agree.”

“Well, don’t worry. You, and all of Illéa, will be happy to know that tomorrow I will be hosting a small party for the Selected and members of the palace household. Cameras will be there for the entire event, so everyone will get to peek inside the Selection process.”

The room burst into applause again. I could see Josie practically floating out of her chair, she was so excited.

Gavril sent Hale and Baden back to their seats with the others before launching into questions again.

“What kind of party can we expect tomorrow, Your Highness?”

‌“We’ll be out in the gardens, enjoying the sun and spending time getting to know one another.”

“That sounds like a wonderful plan. Very relaxing.”

“Well, it will be, except for one tiny detail,” I added, pinching my fingers in the air.

“And what is that?”

“After the party there will be an elimination.”

Murmurs filled the room, and I knew, regardless of how the public felt about me, meeting the boys tonight would make them curious about who stayed and who left.

I continued, hushing the crowd with my words. “It could be one person, it could be three. . . . I don’t know. So, gentlemen,” I said, turning back to the Selected, “come prepared.”

“I can’t wait to see how this all turns out, and I’m positive it will be a

wonderful event. Now, one final question before we call it a night.” I sat up taller. “Go for it.”

“What are you looking for in a husband?”

What was I looking for? My independence. Peace, freedom . . . a happiness I thought I had until Ahren questioned it.

I shrugged. “I’m not sure anyone knows what they’re looking for until they find it.”

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