Home > The Heir (The Selection #4)(5)

The Heir (The Selection #4)(5)
Author: Kiera Cass


“And what is that supposed to mean?”

The warm touch I’d been hoping for finally came as he reached for my hand. “Come on, Eady. You’ve always been independent. It’s the queen in you. You like to be in charge, do things on your own. I didn’t think you’d partner up with anyone until you at least got to reign for a while.”

“Not like I really had a choice in the first place,” I mumbled, tilting my head to the floor but still looking to my brother.

He gave me a little pout. “Poor little princess. Don’t want to rule the world?”

I swatted his hand away. “Seven minutes. It should have been you. I’d much rather sit alone and scribble away instead of do all that stupid paperwork. And this ridiculous Selection nonsense! Can’t you see how dreadful this is?”

“How did you get roped into this anyway? I thought they’d done away with it.”

I rolled my eyes again. “It has absolutely nothing to do with me. That’s the worst part. Dad’s facing public opposition, so he’s trying to distract them.” I shook my head. “It’s getting really bad, Ahren. People are destroying homes and businesses. Some have died. Dad isn’t completely sure where it’s coming from, but he thinks it’s people our age, the generation that grew up without castes, causing most of it.”

He made a face. “That doesn’t make sense. How could growing up without those restrictions make you upset?”

I paused, thinking. How could I explain what we could only really guess at? “Well, I grew up being told I was going to be queen one day. That was it. No choice. You grew up knowing you had options. You could go into the military, you could become an ambassador, you could do plenty of things. But what if that wasn’t really happening? What if you didn’t have all the opportunities you thought you would?”

“Huh,” he said, following. “So they’re being denied jobs?”

“Jobs, education, money. I’ve heard of people refusing to let their kids get married because of old castes. Nothing is happening the way Dad thought it would, and it’s nearly impossible to control. Can we force people to be fair?”

“And that’s what Dad’s trying to figure out now?” he asked, skeptical.

“Yes, and I’m the smoke-and-mirror act diverting their attention while he comes up with a plan.”

He chuckled. “That makes much more sense than you suddenly being romantically inclined.”

I cocked my head. “Let it go, Ahren. So I’m not interested in marriage. Why does that matter? Other women can stay single.”

“But other women aren’t expected to produce an heir.”

I hit him again. “Help me! What do I do?”

His eyes searched mine, and I knew, as easily as I could read any emotion in him, that he saw I was terrified. Not irritated or angry. Not outraged or repulsed.

I was scared.

It was one thing to be expected to rule, to hold the weight of millions of people in my hands. That was a job, a task. I could check things off lists, delegate. But this was much more personal, one more piece of my life that ought to be mine but wasn’t.

His playful smile disappeared, and he pulled his chair closer to mine. “If they’re looking to distract people, maybe you could suggest other . . . opportunities. A possible marriage isn’t the only choice. That said, if Mom and Dad came to this conclusion, they might have already exhausted every other option.”

I buried my head in my hands. I didn’t want to tell him I tried to offer up him as an alternative or that I thought Kaden might even be acceptable. I sensed he was right, that the Selection was their last hope.

“Here’s the thing, Eady. You’ll be the first girl to hold the throne fully in her own right. And people expect a lot from you.”

“Like I don’t already know that.”

“But,” he continued, “that also gives you a lot of bargaining power.”

I raised my head marginally. “What do you mean?”

“If they really need you to do this, then negotiate.”

I sat up straight, my mind running around in circles, trying to think of what I could ask for. There might be a way to get through this quickly, without it even ending in a proposal.

Without a proposal!

If I spoke fast enough, I could probably get Dad to agree to practically anything so long as he got his Selection out of it.

“Negotiate!” I whispered.

“Exactly.”

I stood up, grabbed Ahren by his ears, and planted a kiss on his forehead. “You are my absolute hero!”

He smiled. “Anything for you, my queen.”

I giggled, shoving him. “Thanks, Ahren.”

“Get to work.” He waved me toward the door, and I suspected he was actually more eager to get back to his letter than he was for me to come up with a plan.

I dashed from the room, heading to my own to fetch some paper. I needed to think.

As I rounded the corner, I ran smack into someone, falling backward onto the carpet.

“Ow!” I complained, looking up to see Kile Woodwork, Miss Marlee’s son.

Kile and the rest of the Woodworks had rooms on the same floor as our family, a singularly huge honor. Or irritation, depending on how one felt about the Woodworks.

“Do you mind?” I snapped.

“I wasn’t the one running,” he answered, picking up the books he’d dropped. “You ought to be looking where you’re going.”

“A gentleman would offer his hand right now,” I reminded him.

Kile’s hair flopped across his eyes as he looked over at me. He was in desperate need of a cut and a shave, and his shirt was too big for him. I didn’t know who I was more embarrassed for: him for looking so sloppy or my family for having to be seen with such a disaster.

What was especially irritating was that he wasn’t always so scruffy, and he didn’t have to be now. How hard would it be to run a brush through his hair?

“Eadlyn, you’ve never thought I was a gentleman.”

“True.” I pulled myself up without help and brushed off my robe.

For the last six months I had been spared Kile’s less-than-thrilling company. He’d gone to Fennley to enroll in some accelerated course, and his mother had been lamenting his absence ever since the day he left. I didn’t know what he was studying, and I didn’t particularly care. But he was back now, and his presence was another stressor on an ever-growing list.

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