Home > The Heir (The Selection #4)(8)

The Heir (The Selection #4)(8)
Author: Kiera Cass


I gave a small curtsy and retreated to my seat. Mom and Dad were beaming proudly at me, and I tried to tell myself that their reaction was enough, though I felt like my blood was trembling in my veins. I couldn’t help but think I’d missed something, that there was a gaping hole in the net I’d set up to catch myself.

But there was nothing I could do. I’d just thrown myself off the ledge.

 

 

CHAPTER 5


I KNEW WE HAD AN arsenal of staff working at the palace, but I was convinced the majority of them had been in hiding until today. As the announcement of this unexpected Selection spread, it wasn’t simply the maids and butlers running around in preparation, but people I’d never even seen before.

My daily workload of reading reports and sitting in on meetings shifted as I became the focal point of the Selection preparations.

“This is slightly less expensive, Your Highness, but it is still incredibly comfortable and would work well with the existing decor.” A man held out a very large swatch of fabric, which he draped over the previous two options.

I touched it, enchanted by the texture of cloth as I usually was, though this was clearly not intended to be worn.

“I’m not sure I understand why we’re doing this,” I confessed.

The man, one of the palace decorators, pressed his lips together. “It has been suggested that some of the guest rooms are a bit feminine and that your suitors might be more comfortable in something like this,” he said, pulling out yet another option. “We can make a room look entirely different with a simple bedspread,” he assured me.

“Fine,” I said, thinking it was a little unnecessary to get this worked up over some sheets. “But do I need to make this decision?”

He smiled kindly. “Your fingerprints will be all over this Selection, miss. Even if you don’t choose, people will assume you did. We might as well get your authority on all things.”

I stared at the fabric, more than a little exhausted thinking about how all these silly details would point back to me. “This one.” I chose the least-expensive option. It was a deep green and would be perfectly acceptable for a three-month stay.

“Very wise, Your Highness,” the decorator complimented. “Now, should we consider adding new art as well?” He clapped his hands, and a stream of maids walked in carrying paintings. I sighed, knowing my afternoon was lost.

The following morning I was summoned to the dining hall. Mom came with me, but Dad couldn’t be pulled away from his work.

A man I assumed was our head chef bowed to us, not able to go very low because of his wide stomach. His face was closer to red than white, but he didn’t sweat, which made me think that all the years in the kitchen had simply steamed him.

“Thank you for joining us, Your Majesty, Your Highness. The kitchen staff has been working day and night to find appropriate options for the first dinner once your suitors arrive. We want to serve seven courses, obviously.”

“Of course!” Mom replied.

The chef smiled at her. “Naturally, we would like your approval for the final menu.”

I groaned internally. A true seven-course meal could take six hours from the first sip of a cocktail to the final bite of chocolate. How long would it take to sample several different options for each course?

About eight hours, it turned out, and I had a dreadful stomachache for the rest of the day, which made me less than enthusiastic when someone came asking about music selections for the evening of the first dinner.

The hallways were like crowded streets, and every corner of the palace was noisy with speedy preparations. I endured it as best I could until Dad stopped me in passing one day.

“We were thinking about making a special room for the Selected. What do you think about—”

“Enough!” I sighed, exasperated. “I don’t care. I have no idea what a boy would like in a recreational space, so I suggest you ask someone with some testosterone. And as for me, I’ll be in the garden.”

Dad could tell I was near a breaking point, and he let me pass without a fight. I was thankful for the momentary respite.

I lay on my stomach in my bikini on a blanket in the open stretch of grass that spread out just before the forest. I wished, as I had so many times before, that we had a pool. I was pretty good at getting my way, but Dad never budged on the pool issue. When the palace was mine, that was the first thing on the agenda.

I sketched dresses in my book, trying to relax. As the sun warmed me, the quick scratch of my pencil blended with the sound of rustling leaves, making a lovely, tranquil song. I mourned the loss of peace in my life. Three months, I recited. Three months, and then everything goes back to normal.

A piercing laugh polluted the stillness of the garden. “Josie,” I muttered to myself. Shading my eyes, I turned and saw her walking toward me. She was with one of her friends, an upper-class girl she’d chosen to associate with specifically because the company in the palace wasn’t enough for her.

I closed my book, hiding my designs, and turned onto my back simply to take in the sun.

“It will be a good experience for everyone,” I heard Josie remark to her friend. “I don’t get to interact with boys very often, so it’ll be nice to have an opportunity to talk to some. One day, when my wedding is arranged, I’d like to be able to carry on a conversation.”

I rolled my eyes. If I thought I’d have the slightest attachment to these boys, it would have bothered me that she thought they were here for her. Then again, Josie thought everything existed for her. And the idea that she was so important that her marriage would need to be arranged on her behalf was comical. She could marry anyone off the street and no one would care one way or the other.

“I hope I’ll be able to visit during the Selection,” her friend replied. “It’ll be so fun!”

“Of course, Shannon! I’ll make sure all my friends get to come often. It’ll be valuable for you as well.”

How kind of her to offer up my home and events as learning opportunities for her little buddies. I took a deep breath. I needed to focus on relaxing.

“Eadlyn!” Josie cried, spotting me.

I groaned, then raised a hand to acknowledge her, hoping the silence would convey my wish for privacy.

“How excited are you for the Selection?” she yelled, continuing over.

I wasn’t going to holler like a farmhand, so I said nothing. Eventually, Josie and her friend were standing above me, blocking the sun.

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