Chapter no 25

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

KNOCKED ON FOXS DOOR, kind of hoping he wouldn’t answer. It had been a draining night, and I wanted to go hide under my blankets.

Of course, his butler opened the door and pulled it so far back that Fox saw me before I could be announced.

He looked as bad as I’d been told. One eye was swollen and surrounded by varying shades of purple, and the opposite side of his head was covered in a bandage, as well as the knuckles across his right hand.

“Eadlyn!” he said, hopping up off his bed, then wincing and grabbing his ribs. “Sorry. I meant Your Highness.”

“You can go,” I said hurriedly to the butler as I rushed over to Fox. “Sit,” I urged. “Shouldn’t you still be in the hospital wing?”

‌He shook his head as he settled down again. “I’ve been medicated, and they thought I’d rest better in my own room.”

“How are you feeling?” I asked, though I could tell he was in pain. “Besides the bruises?” he asked. “Humiliated.”

“Can I join you?” I asked, pointing to the spot beside him on the edge of bed.

“Of course.”

I sat, not sure where to start. I didn’t want to send him home now, partly out of charity. I peeked at Burke’s and Fox’s applications before going to see Dad, and Fox had actually hinted at a lot about his home life on his form. Typically, I was looking for mutual interests or things we could talk about, so I’d missed some important details about him.

Living in Clermont, he worked as a lifeguard at the beach, which explained the sun-kissed skin and overly blond hair. I got the feeling that it wasn’t paying enough to support the rest of his family, though that situation was a little unclear on paper. His mother wasn’t living at home, but I didn’t know if that meant she had passed or not. I also could see his father was terminally ill, so I doubted he was contributing to the finances.

Furthermore, if I’d paid attention at all, I would have noticed how much fuller his cheeks looked compared to the picture on his form now that he was getting fed properly.

‌I wanted him to stay. I wanted him to keep his stipend. I wanted him to steal some of the things from his room when he left and sell them when he got


But asking him to stay meant giving him hope.

“Listen,” he started, “I understand if you have to send me home. I do. I don’t want to leave, but I know the rules. I just . . . I don’t want to leave with you thinking I’m like Burke or Jack. Try not to think poorly of me when I go, okay?”

“I won’t. I don’t.”

Fox looked over and gave me a sad grin. “I never got to tell you so many things. Like how I wish I could command a room like you. It’s so impressive. Or how your eyes sparkle when you make a joke. It’s really pretty.”

“Do they do that? Wait, do I make jokes?”

He chuckled. “Yeah. I mean, they’re mostly subtle, but you give it away with your eyes. And I can see how pleased you are when you’re teasing us. Like at the quiz the other day.”

I smiled. “That was fun. Tonight was fun, too, up until the end.” “I’ll never forget your face when you bit into that asparagus.”

I pressed my lips together, pretty sure that his expression and mine had been similar. What made it better was that I knew how hard he’d tried, and he still wasn’t upset over it. The only thing hurting him now was this worry that I’d remember him as something less than a gentleman.

‌“Fox, I’m going to ask you some questions, and I need you to be completely honest with me. If I think you’re lying at all, that’s it. You’ll be gone within the hour.”

He swallowed, the silliness of the last few moments fading from his face. “You have my word.”

I nodded, believing him. “All right. Would you tell me about your dad?” He huffed, clearly not expecting the conversation to head in this direction.

“Umm, he’s sick, which I guess you know. He’s got cancer. He’s still functioning pretty well. Like he’s working, but it’s only part-time right now. He needs a lot of sleep.

“When he got sick my mom left, so . . . I really don’t want to talk about her, if that’s okay.”

“That’s okay.”

He looked at the floor as he continued. “I’ve got a brother and a sister, and they go on and on about her like she’s coming back, but I know that’s not happening. If she did, then I’d leave.”

“We really don’t have to talk about her, Fox.”

“Sorry. You know, I thought the hardest part about coming here would be the distance, but what’s so bad it almost hurts is seeing you with your family.” He scratched at his hair with his good hand. “Your parents are still in love,

and your brothers look at you like you’re heaven on earth, and I wish I had that. I don’t have anything close.”

I put a hand on his back. “We’re not perfect. I promise. And it sounds like you and your dad have something special.”

‌“We do.” He glanced over at me. “I didn’t mean to get like that. I don’t talk about my family a lot.”

“That’s fine. I have other questions.”

He sat up straight again, and I could see the pain of the action. I pulled my hand away and rolled my eyes. “Actually, I just realized this might be a hard one, too.”

He smiled. “Go ahead anyway.”

“Okay . . . did you come here for me or to get away from them?”

Fox paused, his eyes dead set on mine. “Both. I love my dad. I can’t tell you how much he means to me, and I don’t mind taking care of him, really. But it’s also kind of tiring. It’s been like a holiday here most of the time. I also think my brother and sister are starting to appreciate what I do, which is validating in a way.

“And then, there’s you.” He shook his head. “Look, you know I live paycheck to paycheck. And I come from a broken family. I realize I’m nothing special,” he said, placing his hand on his chest. Then he suddenly got shy. “But, you know, I’ve watched you my whole life, and I’ve always thought you were so sharp and beautiful. I don’t know if I stand the smallest chance of getting to be with you . . . but I had to at least put my name in. I don’t know; I just thought if I could get here, I’d find a way to show you that I could be worth taking a chance on.

“And then I got in a fight.” He shrugged. “So I guess that’s how it ends.”

‌I hated the disappointment in his voice. I didn’t want to care. I knew that letting him get closer to me would end badly. I couldn’t explain why I knew, but I was sure that if I allowed any of these boys to cross into a certain level of intimacy, it would be disastrous. So why—why—couldn’t I keep them from getting closer?

“I have another question.” “Sure,” he replied, defeated.

“What’s it like to work on the beach all day?”

He didn’t try to fight the smile. “It’s wonderful. There’s something kind of fascinating about the ocean. It’s almost like it has different moods on different days. Like, sometimes the water is so still and other times it’s wild. And I’m so glad Angeles is warm all the time, or I don’t think I could have handled it.” “I love the weather here, too, but I don’t get to go to the beach very often.

Mom and Dad don’t like it, and people end up swarming Ahren and me if we

go just the two of us. It’s kind of a pain.”

He poked me gently. “If you ever come to Clermont, look me up. You can rent a private beach and swim and lounge to your heart’s content.”

I sighed dreamily. “That sounds perfect.” “I’m serious. It’s the least I could do.”

I looked at my hands and back to Fox’s hopeful face. “How about this? If you make it to, say, the top three, we can go out there together and rent a beach, and maybe I could meet your dad.”

His face froze in shock as he understood what that meant. “I’m not going home?”

‌“Tonight wasn’t your fault. And I appreciate you being honest about your motivations. So, how about you stay a little longer, and we’ll see how it goes?”

“I’d love that.”

“All right then.” I stood, feeling so many things. Before tonight Fox was hardly a draw for me, and now I was looking forward to seeing him around the palace. “Forgive me for dashing off, but there’s a lot to take care of before the morning.”

“I can imagine,” he said, walking beside me to the door. “Thank you, Your Highness, for giving me a chance.”

“That’s all you wanted, right?” I smiled. “And you really can call me Eadlyn.”

He grinned and used his good hand to pick up mine. He placed the gentlest kiss across the ridges of my fingers. “Goodnight, Eadlyn. And thank you again.”

I gave him a quick nod before I scurried from the room. That was one issue taken care of . . . but tomorrow there would be a thousand more.

‌The photographer had done such a remarkable job of blending into the background, I didn’t realize she was still there when the fight broke out. Burke and Fox were front-page news, and the headline proclaimed that the first was ejected while the second was spared. There were other pictures, too. Me, standing next to Kile, grinding saffron, and again beside Erik as he translated something to Henri. But they were all overshadowed by the animalistic rage on Burke’s face as he threw himself at Fox.

I bypassed that photo for the smaller ones with the others, tearing them out to save. I wasn’t sure why. I ended up tucking them into the drawer next to Kile’s catastrophe of a tie.

I walked into breakfast feeling the weight of everyone’s stares. Typically that wasn’t an issue for me, but between all the boys being overcurious about

the fight and my parents’ worried eyes, I was buried beneath all the unspoken words.

I wondered if maybe I’d said too much last night, or if it had come off as me accusing them. I meant to explain how hurtful and draining this process had been, not to blame them for it. Still, as little as I wanted to participate, I knew I’d done what I’d promised. Burke’s fists had overshadowed everything else in the country, at least for today.

“What happened?” Kaden whispered. “Nothing.”

“Liar. Mom and Dad have been messed up all morning.”

I peeked over. Dad kept rubbing the spot over his eyebrow, and Mom was trying to fool everyone by moving the food around her plate.

I sighed. “It’s grown-up stuff. You wouldn’t understand.”

He rolled his eyes. “Don’t talk to me like that, Eadlyn. I’m fourteen, not four. I read all the papers, and I pay attention at the Reports. I speak more languages than you, and I’m learning all the things you have without anyone making me do it. Don’t act like you’re better than me. I’m a prince.”

I sighed. “Yes, but I will be queen,” I corrected, sipping my coffee. I really didn’t need this right now.

‌“And your name will be in a history book one day, and some bored ten- year-old will memorize it for a test and then forget all about you. You have a job, just like everybody in the world. Stop acting like it makes you more or less than anyone else.”

I was left speechless. Was that what Kaden really thought about me? Was that what everyone thought about me?

I had intended to be strong today, to show Mom and Dad that I really was going to follow through and prove to the boys that things like last night could not break me. But Kaden’s words made me—and all my efforts—seem worthless.

I stood up to leave, trying to think of what I’d need to grab from the office. I certainly couldn’t work there today.

“Hey, Eadlyn, wait up.”

It was Kile, jogging to catch up with me. I hadn’t even looked at him when I went into the dining hall this morning. His lip was a little swollen, but he seemed okay otherwise.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

I nodded my head . . . then I shook it. “I really don’t know.” He put his hands on my shoulders. “Everything’s okay.”

I was so overwhelmed, I pressed my lips into his, knowing that would make everything else stop for a minute.

“Ow!” he cried, backing away. “Sorry! I just—”

‌He grabbed me by the wrist and swung me into the nearest room, slammed the door, and pushed me against the wall. He kissed me harder than I’d kissed him, apparently not bothered by his lip so much if he knew what was coming.

“What’s this all about?” he breathed. “I don’t want to think. Just kiss me.”

Without a word, Kile drew me to him, his hands lost in my hair. I grabbed fistfuls of his shirt, holding on to him tightly.

And it worked. As we swayed together, everything else stopped mattering for a little while. His lips moved from my mouth and onto my neck. These kisses were different than before. They were aggressive and demanding, pulling all my focus. Without thinking about it, I dragged his shirt upward.

He laughed devilishly into my cheek. “Okay, if clothes are coming off, we really ought to go to a room. And you should probably know my middle name.”

“Is it Ashton? Arthur? I feel like it starts with an A.” “Not even close.”

I sighed, letting go of his clothes. “Fine.”

He leaned back, his arms still around my waist, smirking at me. “Are you all right? I know last night was kind of scary.”

“I just didn’t expect it. It was asparagus He literally punched someone

over a vegetable.”

Kile laughed. “See, this is why you stick with butter.”

“Oh, you and your stupid butter.” I shook my head, tracing a finger down his chest. “I’m really sorry about your lip. Does anything else hurt?”

‌“My stomach. He elbowed me a few times trying to get free, but I’m surprised I didn’t get it worse. Henri’s eye looks painful. Glad he didn’t get hit an inch lower.”

I grimaced, thinking about how bad it could have been. “Kile, would you have kicked them both out? If you were in my position?”

“I think I would have even had to consider Henri and me if I were you,” he replied.

“But you both tried to stop it.”

He raised a finger. “True. You know that because you were there. But the others have seen the papers, and the pictures make it look like we were all involved.”

“So keeping Fox, Henri, and you makes it seem as if you got away with something?”

“And that maybe others could, too.”

“This day just gets worse.” I sighed, running my fingers through my hair and propping myself up against the wall.

“Is my kissing that bad?”

I started laughing, thinking back to the other night in my room. It had seemed so alien when Kile wanted to talk to me, but I wasn’t completely sure why I thought that now. I could have had a new outlet, a new perspective this whole time.

“Why haven’t we really talked before? It’s so easy.”

He shrugged. “You’re the one in charge here. What do you think?”

I looked down, embarrassed to say it. “I think I held Josie against you.

The constant imitation drives me crazy.”

‌“I think I held the palace against you. It’s our parents’ fault, not yours, but I lumped you in since you were going to be queen.”

“I can understand that.”

“And I know what you mean about Josie. But it’s hard for her, growing up in your shadow.”

I couldn’t deal with adding Josie to the growing list of things I felt guilty about. I straightened my clothes, knowing that going to work would distract me. “Let’s do something soon. Not a date, just spending some time together.”

That crooked smile spread across his face. “I’d like that.”

He started tucking his shirt back in, and I fought the blush that I could feel on my cheeks. How had I gotten so out of control?

“And, listen,” he said. “Don’t let this stuff get you down. You’re bigger than the Selection.”

“Thanks, Kile.” I kissed his cheek and left, heading to my room.

I remembered how angry I was when I saw his name come up the day of the drawing, like I was being cheated somehow. Now I didn’t care how that form ended up in the pile; I was just glad it did.

I hoped that he felt the same way.

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