Chapter no 30

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

TWO DAYS LATER I WAS standing on the tarmac next to my giddy brother, who was holding an obnoxiously large bouquet in his hands.

“Why don’t you get me flowers like that?” “Because I’m not trying to impress you.”

“You’re worse than those boys back at the palace,” I said, shaking my head. “She’s going to be the queen of France. Girls like us are hard to amaze.”

“I know.” He looked idiotically happy. “Guess I’m just lucky.”

The stairs lowered from the plane, and two guards came down before Camille. She was a willowy thing, blond and petite, with a face that looked eternally well rested and excited. In person and in print, I’d never seen her wearing anything that remotely resembled a frown.

‌There was protocol to follow, but Ahren and Camille bypassed it, running into each other’s arms. He held her tightly and kissed every corner of her face, ruining half of his flowers in the process. Camille laughed as he peppered her with affection, and I felt a little awkward standing there, waiting for it to end so I could say hello.

“I have missed you so!” she cried, her accent making each word sound like a surprise.

“I have so much to show you. I asked Mom and Dad to make you a permanent suite so you will always have the best room when you come.”

“Oh, Ahren! So generous for me!”

He turned, grinning from ear to ear, suddenly recalling my presence. “You remember my sister, of course.”

We curtsied to each other, and she rose elegantly. “Your Highness, so nice to see you again. I bring gifts for you.”

“For me?”

“Yes. Here is a secret,” she said, leaning in. “You can wear all of them.”

I perked up. “Wonderful! Maybe I’ll have to use some of it at the party I’m throwing for you tonight.”

She gasped and placed both hands on her chest. “For me?” She turned her blue eyes on Ahren. “Really?”


It was strange to see him with this look in his eyes, like maybe he was in the middle of an act of worship, prepared to sacrifice anything to please


“Your family is so good to me. Let’s go. I’m dying to see your mother.”

‌I tried to keep up with them on the ride back to the palace, but Ahren spoke mostly in French for her benefit, and since I had chosen to master Spanish, I was completely in the dark. Once we got home, Mom, Dad, Kaden, and Osten were all waiting on the front stairs for us. Positioned on the edges of the steps, trying to be inconspicuous, were several photographers.

Ahren exited first, holding out his hand to help Camille. When I scooted over and reached for him, it turned out he’d already run off with Camille, who was rushing into my mother’s arms.

Mom, Dad, and Kaden all knew French and were greeting her warmly. I walked over to Osten, who looked like he was itching to climb on something.

“What are you up to today?” I asked. “I don’t know.”

“Go find the Selected guys and ask them awkward questions. Report back.”

He laughed and went running. “Where’s he off to?” Dad asked quietly. “Nowhere.”

“Let’s all go inside,” Mom announced. “You should nap before tonight.

Eadlyn’s been working so hard on this party, it’s going to be wonderful.”

I’d thought of everything. The music was live—suitable for slow dancing— and there was a mix of foods, both from Illéa and France, as well as some of those delicious apple fritters Henri had made for me. I couldn’t wait for him to see.

‌Mom looked radiant as always, and Dad didn’t seem quite so worn-out. Josie was right at home, and I was pleased because for once she hadn’t stolen a tiara. Kaden was like a little ambassador, walking around the room and shaking hands.

I was, of course, staying close to the happy couple, which was both captivating and draining. Ahren looked at Camille like she hung the sun in the sky every morning. It was beautiful, the way he watched her, enchanted by every breath that came out of her mouth. But I felt strangely detached from it all because no one had ever done that for me, and I’d never done that for anyone else.

I found myself jealous of Camille. Not for having the unwavering love of my brother—which I knew to be one of the steadiest forces in the world—but because everything about her came so effortlessly.

What had the French queen done to raise her like this? Camille was

delicate and sweet, and yet no one would think to try and walk all over her. I kept up with international affairs, and I knew her people cherished her. Last year on her birthday an impromptu party started in the streets in her honor and lasted for three days. Three days!

I thought my education was fair and well-rounded, which meant one thing: my shortcomings had nothing to do with how or what I was taught but with me alone.

The realization forced me to step away from her and Ahren. Standing near her only made me feel worse. Before I could get too far, Ean was in front of me, holding out his arm.

‌“Long time, no see.”

I rolled my eyes. “I see you every day.” I laced my arm through his all the same.

“But we don’t get to speak. I’ve been wondering how you’re doing.” “Excellent. Can’t you tell? I’m running around like a crazy person trying

to date while being accused of faking it all, and my brother is in love with a perfect girl, and I know eventually she’s going to steal him away.”

“Steal him?”

I nodded. “When they finally do get married, which will require her mother’s express approval and a lengthy engagement to plan what will surely be the most ostentatious wedding anyone has ever seen, he’ll have to live in France with her.”

“Hmm,” he said, leading me to the dance floor and placing a hand on my waist. “I can’t do much about your brother, but, if he does end up leaving, you still have someone you can always depend on.”

“Would you happen to be speaking about yourself?” I teased, swaying to the music.

“Of course,” he replied. “My offer still stands.” “I haven’t forgotten it.”

As I took in the room with all its trappings and important guests, it was hard to deny just how well he fit in with the crowd. Ever since Ean had arrived, he’d carried himself with a kind of poise that few people possessed. If I hadn’t known better, I would have guessed that he grew up in a palace as well.

‌“If there’s any truth to that article, you don’t have to torture yourself with these little boys. I will be everything you could ask for in a husband. I will be faithful, kind, and a true helper. I will never demand love from you. And I will be more than happy simply to live by your side.”

I still couldn’t understand his motivation. In some ways he could do so much better.

“I thank you again for your offer. But I haven’t given up on the Selection yet.”

Ean cocked his head to the side, smiling slyly. “Oh, but I think you have.” “And why is that?” I tried to match his know-it-all attitude as best as I


“Because I’m still here. And if you were really hoping to find love, I can’t see why you would keep me around.”

We were both grinning at the audacity of his statement as I stopped dancing, pulling my hands away slowly. “I could send you home right now, you know.”

“But you won’t,” he assumed, that impish grin still plastered to his face. “You know I can give you the one thing you really want, and you’re the only one who can give me what I want.”

“Which is?”

“Comfort. Comfort in exchange for freedom.” He shrugged. “I think that’s a pretty good deal.” He bowed. “See you tomorrow, Your Highness.”

‌I couldn’t stand that he was probably the only person here more calculating than I was. He knew exactly what I wanted and how far I was willing to go to get it, which was irritating.

I was close to the side door of the Great Room and slipped into the hallway for a moment to be by myself. I rubbed my cheeks, so tired of smiling. It was cooler out here and much easier to think.

“Your Highness?”

Erik came down the hall in the smartest suit I’d seen him in to date. His hair was neater than usual, slightly slicked back. He looked taller, prouder. My jaw fell open at the change. He looked positively gorgeous.

“You clean up nice,” I said, trying to get my expression somewhere close to normal again.

“Oh.” He looked down. “I was aiming for appropriate.”

“You did much better than that.” I pushed myself off the wall to face him. “You think? Hale told me I should consider thinner ties.”

I giggled. “Well, Hale is pretty gifted when it comes to style, but you look very good.”

He stood there, clearly ill at ease with the praise. “So, are you enjoying the party?”

I peeked back into the room. “It’s a success, don’t you think? Good food, excellent music, a wide range of company . . . it might be the best party I’ve ever thrown.”

“So diplomatic,” he said.

I turned back to Erik and smiled. “I feel like I’m the one competing


“With who?” he asked, shocked.

‌“Camille, of course.” I looked back into the room, trying to hide behind the door as I watched. Erik came beside me, and we both followed her as she danced with Ahren across the floor.

“That’s ridiculous.”

“That’s kind of you, but I know better. She’s everything I try to be.” I’d thought this to myself before, but I’d never admitted it to anyone. I wasn’t sure how Erik managed to make me want to confide this in him.

“But why would you try to be her when Eadlyn is more than enough?”

I whipped my head back to him, as if the concept was unimaginable. I was in a constant state of striving; I was never enough.

Erik’s words nearly brought tears to my eyes, and I reached down to take his hand as I’d done in my bedroom not that long ago.

“I’m so glad I got to meet you. However this whole thing ends, I think I’ve been enlightened just by crossing paths with some of you.”

He smiled. “And I’ll never be able to express what a privilege it’s been to know you.”

I think I meant to shake his hand, but we ended up standing there, connected in silence for a while.

“Did you put your name in?” I asked suddenly. “For the Selection, I mean?”

He smiled and shook his head. “No.” “Why not?”

‌He shrugged, searching for an answer. “Because . . . who am I?” “You’re Eikko.”

He stood there, slightly dazed at the sound of his given name. Finally, he smiled again.

“Yes, I’m Eikko. But you barely know me.”

“I know Eikko as well as he knows Eadlyn. And I can tell you, you are enough as well.”

He rubbed his thumb against the back of my hand, the tiniest movement. And I could sense we were both wondering what would have happened if his name had been in one of those baskets. Maybe he’d be one of the contenders, maybe he wouldn’t have been picked at all . . . it was hard to say if the risk would have been worth it in the end.

“I should get back in there.” I pointed over my shoulder to the party. “Of course. See you.”

I focused on my posture and stood as tall as I could, which was much more impressive in these heels Camille brought me. I walked into the room,

graciously greeting everyone with a bow of my head. I could have stopped a dozen times, but I pushed on until I found Henri.

“Hello,” he greeted.

‌I meant to go see him a dozen times this week. But between dating at top speed, doing damage control, and planning for Camille, I hadn’t gotten to speak to Henri at all. I could see that he was anxious, and though I was sure Erik conveyed everything I’d said, I think we both knew we needed to actually speak, just the two of us.

“Okay?” I asked.

He nodded. “And you okay?” I nodded.

With that he let out a massive sigh, and the bright face I’d come to expect was back again. I tried to think of all the disagreements and misunderstandings I’d had in my life. There was no way any of them was ended with less than five words. But that was genuinely all I needed from Henri to know his regret at possibly offending me without wishing at all that he could take back that kiss.

Maybe Erik had nothing to worry about. Maybe Henri and I could communicate just fine.

“Dance?” I asked, pointing to the floor. “Please!”

I was nearly as tall as him in these shoes, and he wasn’t much of a dancer, but what he lacked in grace he made up for with enthusiasm. He spun me several times and even dipped me twice. When I came up the second time, laughing, I spotted Erik over his shoulder.

I could have been wrong, but his shy smile looked a little sad.

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