Chapter no 33

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

STARED AT THE LETTER for the longest time. He left me. He left me for her. When the finality of it hit me, I was consumed by a wild rush of rage. I picked up the closest breakable thing and flung it across the room with every ounce of strength I had.

I heard Neena gasp as the glass shattered against the wall, and that brought me back. I’d completely forgotten she was there.

Through heavy breaths I shook my head. “I’m sorry.” “I’ll fix it.”

“I didn’t mean to frighten you. It’s . . . he’s gone. Ahren’s gone.” “What?”

‌“He eloped with Camille.” I ran my fingers through my hair, feeling slightly unhinged. “I can’t imagine why the queen would have authorized something like this, but she unquestionably did. Gavril said it was legal downstairs.”

“So what does that mean?”

I swallowed. “With Camille in line for her throne and Ahren as her prince consort, his primary duty is to France now. Illéa is nothing more than the country he was born in.”

“Do your parents know?”

I nodded. “But I’m not sure if he sent them letters as well. I should go to them.”

Neena came over and smoothed out my dress and my hair. She took a tissue to my face, blotting away any imperfections.

“There now. That’s how my future queen should look.”

I threw my arms around her. “You’re too good to me, Neena.” “Hush. Go to your parents. They need you.”

I stepped back and swiped at the tears that were so, so close to falling. I went down the hall, knocking on the door to Dad’s room, which they generally shared.

No one answered, so I risked a quick peek inside.

“Dad?” I stepped into the huge space. I hadn’t been here in so long— maybe since I was a child—and I couldn’t remember if it had always been this way. The room looked more like something Mom would have decorated than him. Warm colors on the walls, books everywhere. If this was his retreat,

why didn’t it feel like him at all?

Without Mom and Dad joining me, I felt like I was intruding and turned to


‌But I was stopped in my tracks by the sight behind me. Several large,

framed pictures covered the wall. There was one of Mom and Dad when they were my age, with him in his full suit and sash next to Mom in a cream- colored dress. I saw them on their wedding day, their faces covered in cake. Then there was Mom, her hair slicked back with sweat, holding two babies in her arms as Dad kissed her forehead, a tear falling down his cheek. Several candid shots, like a kiss or a smile, had been blown up and changed to black- and-white, making them seem more classic than casual.

Two things became instantly clear. First, the reason Dad’s room didn’t feel like it was completely his was because it wasn’t. He had all but turned it into a shrine to Mom. Or rather, a shrine to the two of them and how deeply they loved each other.

I saw it every day, but it was different seeing the images they both looked at before falling asleep each night. They were meant to be, even after dozens of obstacles, and they liked to be reminded of it constantly.

Second, I could see why Ahren would give me up—give all of us up—for a chance at this. If he even got a scrap of the love Mom and Dad had, it would be justified.

In that moment I knew I needed to tell them what Ahren’s letter said. They would understand—perhaps better than anyone on the planet—why he had to go. They’d certainly understand better than I could.

‌They weren’t in the dining hall, or Dad’s office, or Mom’s room. In fact, the hallways were abnormally empty. There wasn’t a single guard in sight.

“Hello?” I called into the dimly lit air. “HELLO?” Finally, a pair of guards came running around the corner.

“Thank God,” one said. “Go to the king and tell him we’ve found her.”

The second guard raced away while the first faced me and took a deep breath. “You need to come with me to the hospital wing, Your Highness. Your mother has had a heart attack.”

As quiet as it was, it sounded like he was screaming. I couldn’t think of what to say or do, but I knew I had to get to her. Even in heels, I outpaced the guard, running as fast as I could.

The only thoughts passing through my head were how wrong I’d been about so many things, how snippy I’d been with her when I’d wanted my way. And I was sure that she knew I loved her, but I needed to tell her one more time.

In front of the hospital wing, Aunt May sat next to Miss Marlee, who

appeared to be deep in prayer. Osten, mercifully, wasn’t present, but Kaden was there trying so hard to look brave. Lady Brice was there as well, pacing on the outskirts of the scene, but the true fear of the moment was summed up in Dad.

He clung to General Leger, holding on to him for dear life, his fingers digging into the back of his uniform. He was unabashedly crying, and I’d never heard such a painful sound. I hoped I never would again.

“I can’t lose her. I don’t know. . . . I don’t . . .”

‌General Leger grabbed him by the shoulders. “Don’t think about that now. We need to believe she’ll be fine. And you need to think about your children.”

Dad nodded, but I could tell he didn’t quite believe he was capable. “Daddy?” I called, my voice breaking.

He turned to me and opened his arms. I bolted right to him, squeezing him. I let myself cry, not concerned with pride at the moment.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know, honey. I think the shock of Ahren leaving was too much. Heart problems run in her family, and she’s been so anxious lately.” His voice changed, and I knew he wasn’t really talking to me anymore. “I should have made her rest more. I should have asked her for less. She did everything for me.”

General Leger grabbed his arm. “You know how stubborn she is,” he said kindly. “Do you think for one second she’d have let you make her slow down?”

They both shared a sad smile.

Dad nodded. “Okay, so now we wait.”

General Leger let him go. “I need to go home and tell Lucy and get fresh clothes. I’ll call her mother if you haven’t already.”

Dad sighed to himself. “I didn’t even think about it.”

“I got it. And I’ll be back within an hour. Whatever you need, I’m here.” Dad let me go and embraced General Leger once more. “Thank you.”

‌I walked away, going to stand by the door. I wondered if she could sense I was near. I felt so angry. At everyone, at me. If the people hadn’t asked for so much or if I had done more . . . I wasn’t ready to lose my mother.

I kept thinking that I couldn’t live my life for other people, that love was nothing but chains. And maybe it was, but so help me, I needed these chains. I let myself feel the weight of Ahren leaving, the weight of my father’s worry, and, most important, the weight of my mother’s life hanging in the balance. These things didn’t make me weaker; they held my soul to the earth. I wasn’t going to run from them anymore.

I turned at the sound of the footsteps, aware that a mass of people was

approaching. I was humbled, moved beyond words, to see each of the Selected come around the corner.

Kile looked at me. “We’ve come to pray.”

Tears filled my eyes, and I nodded. The gentlemen scattered, some leaning in a corner and others perching on benches. They bowed their heads or lifted them, all for my mother. They’d caused such an upheaval in my life .

. . and I was so glad they did.

Hale kept his fist to his mouth, rocking on his feet nervously. Ean, as I expected, was very steady, arms crossed in concentration. Henri leaned forward on his bench, his curls flopping over his eyes; and I was happy to see that, even though he didn’t need to come, Erik stood beside him.

Kile found his mother, and they held each other. Kile was actually moved to tears for Mom, and, strangely, that tenderness made me feel stronger.

‌My eyes moved from him to the other remaining boys, and I thought again of how each of them had grown on me in his own way . . . and I looked over at Dad. His face was red from crying, his suit was all rumpled, and I could see the distress in every molecule of his body, horrified at the thought of his wife dying.

It wasn’t all that long ago that he’d stood where I did, that my mom’s face was one of many in his world. And yet, despite all the impediments and all the time that had passed, they were still deeply in love.

It was obvious in everything, from their shared room to the way they fretted over each other to the way they seemed to be incapable of not flirting with each other even after being married so long.

If anyone had told me I might consider that a possibility for myself a month ago, I’d have rolled my eyes and walked away. Now? Well, it didn’t seem so far-fetched. I didn’t expect to find what my parents had or even what Ahren had found with Camille. But . . . maybe I could find something. Maybe there would be one person who’d still want to kiss me when I had a runny nose or would rub my shoulders after a long day of meetings. Maybe I could find someone who didn’t seem so scary, who made letting him past the wall seem natural. But all that still could be asking for too much.

Either way, I couldn’t slow now. I knew that for my sake—for my family’s sake—I had to finish my Selection.

And, when I did, I’d have a ring on my finger.

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