The Prince

Page 5


His face was tired. “How many times do I have to tell you? The Selection is about making a solid, rational choice, not another opportunity for you to daydream.”
An advisor walked into the room, handing a letter to Father as I straightened the stack of papers, tapping them against the desk. “Yes, sir.”
He read the paper, and I looked at him one last time.
At the end of the day, no. He wanted to make me a man, not a machine.
With a grunt, he crumpled the paper and threw it in the trash. “Damn rebels.”
I spent the better part of the next morning working in my room, away from prying eyes. I felt much more productive when I was alone, and if I wasn’t productive, at least I wasn’t being chastised. I guessed that wouldn’t last all day, based on the invitation I received.
“You called for me?” I asked, stepping into my father’s private office.
“There you are,” Father said, his eyes wide. He rubbed his hands together. “Tomorrow’s the day.”
I drew in a breath. “Yes. Do we need to go over the format for the Report?”
“No, no.” He put a hand on my back to move me forward, and I straightened instantly, following his lead. “It’ll be simple enough. Introduction, a little chat with Gavril, and then we’ll broadcast the names and faces of the girls.”
I nodded. “Sounds . . . easy.”
When we reached the edge of his desk, he placed his hand on a thick stack of folders. “These are them.”
I looked down. Stared. Swallowed.
“Now, about twenty-five or so have rather obvious qualities that would be perfect for a new princess. Excellent families, ties to other countries that might be very valuable. Some of them are just extraordinarily beautiful.” Uncharacteristically, he playfully elbowed my rib, and I stepped to the side. None of this was a game. “Sadly, not all of the provinces offered up anyone worth note. So, to make it all appear a bit more random, we used those areas to add in a bit more diversity. You’ll see we got a few Fives in the mix. Nothing below that, though. We have to have some standards.”
I played his words in my head again. All this time, I thought it would be fate or destiny . . . but it was just him.
He ran his thumb down the stack, and the edges of the papers smacked together.
“Do you want a peek?” he asked.
I looked at the pile again. Names, photos, and lists of accomplishments. All the essential details were there. Still, I knew for a fact the form didn’t ask anything about what made them laugh or urge them to spill their darkest secret. Here sat a compilation of attributes, not people. And based on those statistics, they were my only choices.
“You chose them?” I pulled my eyes from the papers and looked to him.
“All of them?”
“Essentially,” he said with a smile. “Like I said, there are a few there for the sake of the show, but I think you’ve got a very promising lot. Far better than mine.”
“Did your father choose for you?”
“Some. But it was different then. Why do you ask?”
I thought back. “This is what you meant, wasn’t it? When you said it was years of work on your end?”
“Well, we had to make sure certain girls would be of age, and in some provinces we had several options. But, trust me, you’re going to love them.”
“Am I?”
Love them? As if he cared. As if this wasn’t just another way to push the crown, the palace, and himself ahead.
Suddenly, his offhand comment about Daphne being a waste made sense. He didn’t care if I was close to her because she was charming or good company; he cared that she was France. Not even a person to him. And since he basically had what he needed from France, she was useless in his eyes. Had she proven valuable, I had no doubt that he would have been willing to throw a beloved tradition out this window.
He sighed. “Don’t mope. I thought you’d be excited. Don’t you even want to look?”
I straightened my suit coat. “As you’ve said, this is nothing to daydream over. I’ll see them when everyone else does. If you’ll excuse me, I need to finish reading the amendment you drafted.”
I walked away without waiting for approval, but I felt certain my answer would be a sufficient enough excuse to let me leave.
Maybe it wasn’t exactly sabotage, but it certainly felt like a trap. To find one girl I liked out of dozens he handpicked? How was that supposed to happen?
I told myself to calm down. He picked Mom, after all, and she was a wonderful, beautiful, intelligent person. But that happened without this level of interference, it seemed. And things were different now, or so he claimed.
Between Daphne’s words, Father’s interloping, and my own growing fears, I was dreading the Selection like never before.
WITH JUST FIVE MINUTES TO go before my entire future unfolded in front of me, I found myself prepared to vomit at a moment’s notice.
A very kind makeup woman was dabbing sweat off my brow.
“Are you all right, sir?” she asked, moving the cloth.
“I was just lamenting that with all the lipstick you have over there, not a one appears to be my shade.” Mom said that sometimes: not my shade. Not really sure what it meant.
She giggled, as did Mom and her makeup woman.
“I think I’m good,” I told the girl, looking in the mirrors set up in the back of the studio. “Thank you.”
“Me, too,” Mom said, and the two young women walked away.
I toyed with a container, trying not to think about the passing seconds.
“Maxon, sweetie, are you really okay?” Mom asked, looking not at me but at my reflection. I looked back at hers.
“It’s just . . . it’s . . .”
“I know. It’s nerve-racking for everyone involved, but at the end of the day, it’s just hearing the names of a few girls. That’s all.”
I inhaled slowly and nodded. That was one way to look at it. Names. That was all that was happening. Just a list of names and nothing more.
I drew in another breath.
It was a good thing I hadn’t eaten much today.
I turned and walked to my seat on the set, where Father was already waiting.
He shook his head. “Get it together. You look like hell.”
“How did you do this?” I begged.
“I faced it with confidence because I was the prince. As will you. Need I remind you that you’re the prize?” His face looked tired again, like I ought to have already grasped this. “They’re competing for you, not the other way around. Your life isn’t changing at all, except you’ll have to deal with a couple of overly excited females for a few weeks.”