Chapter no 17

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

HOW DID JOSIE GET HER hands on another one of my tiaras? I’d just about had it with her. She was going to parade around in front of the cameras in her best dress and my tiara pretending she was royal for the millionth time in her life.

I made eye contact and smiled at people as I passed, but I didn’t stop to talk to anyone until I found Kile. He was standing with Henri again, sipping iced tea and watching a game of badminton. Henri bowed right away.

“Hello today, Your Highness,” he said, his accent making the words sound brighter.

“Hello, Henri. Kile.” “Hi, Eadlyn.”

I might have been imagining there was something different about Kile’s voice, but for maybe the first time ever, I wanted to hear him speak. I shook my head, focusing.

‌“Kile, could you please go talk to your sister?”

The contentment in his eyes quickly turned to frustration. “Why? What’d she do this time?”

“She’s taken yet another one of my tiaras.” “Don’t you have, like, a thousand of those?”

I huffed. “That’s hardly the point. It’s mine, and she shouldn’t be wearing it. When she walks around like that, she gives the impression that she’s royal when she’s not. It’s inappropriate. Could you please talk to her about her behavior?”

“When did I become the person who did all these favors for you?”

My eyes darted over to Henri and Erik, who didn’t know about the arrangement behind our kiss. They didn’t seem to catch on.

“Please?” I asked in a hushed voice.

His eyes softened, and I saw a little of the person he showed me in his room, someone sweet and engaging. “Fine. But Josie just likes attention. I don’t think she’s doing it to be mean.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m going. Be right back.”

He stomped off as Erik conveyed what was happening to Henri.

Henri cleared his throat before speaking, his words ending on strange pitches. “How are you today, Your Highness?”

I wasn’t completely sure if I should try to go through Erik or not I

went with Henri. “Very good. You?”

‌“Good, good,” he replied cheerfully. “I to enjoy umm.” He turned and

conveyed the rest of his comment to Erik.

“He thinks the party is great, and he likes the company.”

I wasn’t sure if he meant Kile or me, but either way, it was nice of him to say.

“So when did you move over from Swendway?”

Henri was nodding his head as if to confirm he was from Swendway but not actually answering the question. Erik whispered over to him quickly, and Henri gave him a lengthy reply that was translated for me.

“Henri emigrated to Illéa last year when he was seventeen. He comes from a family of cooks, which is what he does back home. They make food from their homeland and generally interact with others who also came from Swendway and only speak Finnish. He has a younger sister who is working very hard on her English, but it’s a difficult language.”

“Wow. That was a lot to keep up with,” I said to Erik. He waved his hand. “I try.”

I could guess how hard Erik’s work was, but I appreciated his modesty. I turned to Henri. “We’ll have to spend some time together soon. Where we can talk easier.”

Erik passed that on to Henri, who nodded vigorously. “Yes, yes!” I giggled. “Until then.”

‌The lawn was full of the Selected. General Leger had Miss Lucy on his arm as he spoke with a handful of boys by a fountain, and Dad was making his rounds, occasionally clapping someone on the back and saying hello before whisking off again. Mom was sitting in a chair under a parasol, and I wasn’t sure if it was charming or unsettling that several of the Selected were buzzing around her.

It was a delightful party. People were playing games, there was lots of food, and a string quartet was performing under a canopy. The cameras zoomed around capturing it all, and I hoped this would be enough to calm the people. I had no idea whether Dad was closer to having a plan for how to soothe the country permanently.

In the meantime, I had to find a way to eliminate at least one person after today, and have a good enough reason to make it seem believable.

Kile sneaked up on me. “Here you go.” He held my tiara in his hands. “I can’t believe she gave it up.”

“It took some convincing, but I reminded her that if she made a scene at this event, Mom probably wouldn’t let her come to another one. That was

enough to get her to take it off. So here.”

“I can’t take it,” I said, keeping my hands together. “But you just asked for it,” he complained.

“I don’t want it on her, but I also can’t carry it around. I have things to do.”

He shifted his weight, clearly vexed. It was kind of nice to be on this side of the irritating.

“So, what, I have to hold on to it for the rest of the day?”

‌“Not the whole day. Just until we go inside, and then I can take it.” Kile shook his head. “You’re really unbelievable.”

“Hush. Go enjoy the party. But first, wait, we have to take off this tie.” He looked down as I started tugging. “What’s wrong with my tie?”

“Everything,” I said. “Everything in the universe is wrong with this tie. I bet we could find world peace if we burned it.”

I got it unknotted and wrapped it up in my hand.

“That’s so much better.” I placed the wadded fabric in his palm, grabbed the tiara from his other hand, and placed it on his head. “That really works with your hair.”

He smirked, his eyes staring into mine with amusement. “So, since you don’t want your tiara now, maybe I could give it back to you tonight. I could come by your room, if you like.” Kile bit his lip, and all I could think about was how soft they were.

I swallowed, understanding the unspoken question. “That would be fine,” I answered, fighting a blush. “Maybe around nine?”

“Nine.” Kile nodded and backed away.

So he was just being discreet on the Report! I furrowed my brow in thought. Or maybe he was simply planning to pass his time kissing me. Or maybe he’d been deeply in love with me since he was seven and was only now finding the courage to stop teasing me and say so. Or maybe—

‌Ean walked up and laced his arm through mine. “Oh!” I gasped.

“You look upset. Whatever that little boy said to upset you, don’t give it another thought.”

“Sir Ean,” I greeted, impressed with how calm he was around me. “How can I help you?”

“By taking a walk with me, of course. I still haven’t gotten a chance to speak with you just the two of us.”

Ean’s caramel-colored hair looked almost golden in the sun, and while he didn’t have the same cutting-edge style Hale did, he looked smarter in his suit than most of the others. Some men simply didn’t look good in them.

“Well, you have me alone now. What would you like to talk about?”

He smirked. “Mostly, I’m curious about you. I’ve always thought of you as very independent, so I was surprised that you would start looking for a husband so young. Based on seeing you on the Report and all the specials on your family, I thought you’d take your time.”

He knew. He was so calm in his assessment, I was sure he knew this was all for show.

“It’s true; I’d planned to wait. But my parents are so blissfully in love, I thought this might be worth trying.”

Ean examined me. “Do you feel like any one of these candidates truly has what it takes to be your partner?”

I raised my eyebrows. “Do you think so little of yourself?”

‌He stopped walking, and we faced each other. “No, but I think very highly of you. And I can’t see you deigning to settle before you’ve really lived.”

It seemed impossible that a stranger could see so much, especially considering the lengths I took to guard my thoughts and feelings. How closely had Ean been watching me all these years?

“People can change,” I replied vaguely.

He nodded. “They can, I suppose. But if you ever find yourself feeling . . . lost in this competition, I’d be happy to help you in any way I could.”

“And how exactly would you help me?”

Ean gently escorted me back toward the crowd. “I think that’s a conversation for another day. But know that I am here for you, Your Highness.”

He stared deep into my eyes, as if he thought that all my secrets would spill out if he held my gaze long enough. I found myself needing to take some deep breaths once we finally broke eye contact.

“It’s a lovely day.”

I looked up, and one of the Selected was standing there. I was completely blanking on his name.

“Yes, it is. Are you having a good time?” Oh, please, what was his name? “I am.” He had a very friendly face and a pleasant warmth to his voice. “I

just won a round of croquet. Do you play?”

“A little.” How was I going to figure this out? “Do you play a lot back home?”

“Nah. Not really. Up in Whites, it’s mostly winter sports.” Whites! . . . Nope, still didn’t have it.

‌“If I’m honest, I’m a bit more of an indoor girl.”

“Well, then you’d love Whites,” he said with a laugh. “I only get out when I have to.”

“Excuse me.”

Whites Boy and I turned to the newcomer. This one I knew.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness, but I was hoping I could steal you away for a moment.”

“Certainly, Holden.” I took his arm. “Nice talking to you,” I said to Whites Boy, who looked a bit forlorn.

“I hope that wasn’t too rude of me,” Holden said as we wandered away. “Not at all.”

We moved slowly, and he seemed comfortable, like he’d walked with a princess dozens of times.

“I don’t want to keep you. I only wanted to tell you that I admired the way you cut people last week.”

I was taken aback. “Really?”

“Absolutely! I admire a woman who knows what she wants, and I like that you’re assertive. My mother is the head of a lab back in Bankston. I know how hard it is to run something that small, so the pressure you must be under is hard for me to imagine. But you do it well, and I like that. I just wanted you to know.”

I stepped back. “Thank you, Holden.” He nodded, and I walked away, lost in thought.

‌This entire situation only confirmed what I knew to be true: If I came in sweet and gentle, no one would take me seriously. If I had kindly tapped people on the shoulder and hugged them on their way out, would Holden have admired me less? The whole thing was—

“Oh!” I fell to the side, only missing the ground because of a pair of steady arms.

“Your Highness.” Hale clutched my arms, helping to pull me up. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.”

I heard the click of a camera nearby and pushed my cheeks up into a smile.

“Laugh,” I said through my teeth. “Huh?”

“Help me up and laugh it off.” I giggled, and after a moment Hale gave a few chuckles.

“What was that about?” He kept the smile on his face.

I straightened my dress as I explained. “The camera crews are watching.” He glanced to the side.

“Don’t,” I urged, and he faced me again.

“Yikes. Are you always on the lookout like that?” This time my laugh was genuine. “Basically.”

His smiled faded. “Is that why you ran away the other night?”

My face became serious as well. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t feeling well.” “First you run, and then you lie.” He shook his head, disappointed. “No.”

‌“Eadlyn,” he whispered. “That wasn’t easy for me. I don’t like talking about my dad dying or my mom having a hard time keeping a job or my family losing our status. That was difficult for me to share. And when we started really talking about you, you left me.”

That prickling, naked feeling came over me again. “I sincerely apologize, Hale.”

He studied my face. “I don’t think you mean that.” I swallowed, nervous. “But I like you all the same.”

I looked up at him, mesmerized by that possibility.

“When you’re ready to talk—to really talk—I’ll be here. Unless, of course, you come in and ninja eliminate me like you did those other guys.”

I laughed awkwardly. “I don’t think that’ll happen again.”

“I hope not.” Hale stared, and I didn’t like that his eyes felt like they could dig several layers beneath my skin. “Glad your dress didn’t get stained. Would have been a pity.”

He went to leave, but I grabbed his arm. “Hey. Thank you. For being reserved on the Report.”

He grinned. “Something every day, remember?”

You'll Also Like