Chapter no 3

The One (The Selection, 3)

I DEBATED CLAIMING THE STOMACH flu. Or an incapacitating headache. Panic attack. Really, anything to get out of going to breakfast.

Then I thought of Maxon and how he always talked about putting on a brave face. That wasn’t a particular strength of mine. But if I went downstairs at least, if I could just be present, maybe he’d give me some credit.

In hopes that I could erase some of what I’d done, I asked my maids to put me in the most demure dress I had. Based on that request alone, they knew not to ask about the night before. The neckline was a bit higher than the ones we typically wore in the warm Angeles weather, and it had sleeves that went nearly to my elbows. It was flowery and cheerful, the opposite of last night’s getup.

I could barely look at Maxon when I entered the dining hall, but I walked tall at least.

When I finally peeked at him, he was watching me, grinning. As he chewed his food, he winked at me; and I ducked my head again, pretending to be very interested in my quiche.

“Glad to see you in actual clothes today,” Kriss spat. “Glad to see you in such a good mood.”

“What in the world has gotten into you?” she hissed.

Dejected, I gave up. “I’m not up for this today, Kriss. Just leave me alone.”

For a moment, she looked as if she might fight back, but I guessed I wasn’t worth it. She sat up a little straighter and continued eating. If I’d had any level of success last night, then I could justify my actions; as it was, I couldn’t even fake being proud.

I risked another glance at Maxon, and even though he wasn’t watching me, he was still suppressing a smug expression as he cut his food. That was it. I wasn’t going to suffer through a day like this. I was about to swoon or clutch my stomach or do anything to get me out of the room when a butler came in. He carried an envelope on a silver platter, and he bowed before placing it in front of King Clarkson.

The king took the letter and read it quickly. “Damn French,” he muttered. “Sorry, Amberly, it looks like I’ll be leaving within the hour.”

“Another problem with the trade agreement?” she asked quietly. “Yes. I thought we’d settled all this months ago. We need to be firm

on this one.” He stood, throwing his napkin on his plate, and made his way to the door.

“Father,” Maxon called, standing. “Don’t you want me to come?”

It had struck me as odd that the king didn’t bark out a command for his son to follow when he exited, seeing as that was his usual method of instructing. Instead he turned to Maxon, his eyes cold and his voice sharp.

“When you’re ready to behave the way a king should, you’ll get to experience what a king does.” Without saying anything more, he left us.

Maxon stood for a moment, shocked and embarrassed by his father’s choice to call him out in front of everyone. As he sat down, he turned to his mother. “Wasn’t really looking forward to that flight, if I’m being honest,” he said, joking away the tension. The queen smiled, as of course she must, and the rest of us ignored it.

The other girls finished their breakfasts and excused themselves to the Women’s Room. When it was just Maxon, Elise, and me remaining at our tables, I looked up at him. We both tugged our ears at the same time, then smiled. Elise finally left, and we met in the middle of the room, not bothered by the maids and butlers cleaning up around us.

“It’s my fault he’s not taking you,” I lamented.

“Perhaps,” he teased. “Trust me, this isn’t the first time he’s tried to put me in my place, and he has a million reasons in his head why he thinks he should. It wouldn’t surprise me if his only motive this time was spite. He doesn’t want to lose control, and the closer I am to picking a wife, the more of a likelihood that is for him. Though we both know he’ll never truly let go.”

“You might as well just send me home. He’s never going to let you pick me.” I still hadn’t told Maxon about how his father had cornered me, threatening me in the middle of the hall after Maxon talked him into letting me stay. King Clarkson had made it clear I was to keep my mouth shut about our conversation, and I didn’t want to cross him. At the same time, I hated keeping it from Maxon.

“Besides,” I added, crossing my arms, “after last night, I can’t imagine you’re that keen on keeping me anyway.”

He bit his lips. “I’m sorry I laughed, but really, what else could I do?”

“I had plenty of ideas,” I muttered, still embarrassed at my attempt to seduce him. “I feel so stupid.” I buried my head in my hands.

“Stop,” he said gently, pulling me in for an embrace. “Trust me when I say, it was very tempting. But you’re not that girl.”

“But shouldn’t I be? Shouldn’t that be part of what we are?” I whined into his chest.

“Don’t you remember the night in the safe room?” he said, his voice low.

“Yes, but that was basically us saying good-bye.” “It would have been a fantastic good-bye.”

I stepped away and swatted at him. He laughed, happy to have broken through the uneasiness.

“Let’s forget about it,” I proposed.

“Very well,” he agreed. “Besides, we have a project to work on, you and I.”

“We do?”

“Yes, and since my father is gone, this will be a convenient time to start brainstorming.”

“All right,” I said, excited to be a part of something that was just between the two of us.

He sighed, making me nervous about what he was planning. “You’re right. Father doesn’t approve of you. But he might be forced to bend if we can manage one thing.”

“Which is?”

“We have to make you the people’s favorite.”

I rolled my eyes. “That is what we’re working on? Maxon, that’s never going to happen. I saw a poll in one of Celeste’s magazines after I tried to save Marlee. People can hardly stand me.”

“Opinions change. Don’t let that one moment bring you down too much.”

I still felt hopeless, but what could I say? If this was my only option, I had to at least try.

“Fine,” I said. “But I’m telling you, this won’t work.”

With an impish grin on his face, he came very close and gave me a long, slow kiss. “And I’m telling you it will.”

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