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

The Crown (The Selection #5)(4)
Kiera Cass

Stopping across from him, I continued. “I have two younger brothers to keep calm in the wake of all this, a country to run, and six boys downstairs waiting for me to offer one of them my hand.” Coddly swallowed, and I felt only the tiniest bit of guilt for the satisfaction it brought me. “So, yes, I am emotional right now. Anyone in my position with a soul would be. And you, sir, are an idiot. How dare you try to force my hand on something so monumental on the grounds of something so small? For all intents and purposes, I am queen, and you will not coerce me into anything.”

I walked back to the head of the table. “Officer Leger?”

“Yes, Your Highness?”

“Is there anything on this agenda that can’t wait until tomorrow?”

“No, Your Highness.”

“Good. You’re all dismissed. And I suggest you all remember who’s in charge here before we meet again.”

As soon as I finished speaking, everyone other than Lady Brice and General Leger rose and bowed—rather deeply, I noted.

“You were wonderful, Your Highness,” Lady Brice insisted once the three of us were alone.

“I was? Look at my hand.” I held it up.

“You’re trembling.”

I pulled my fingers into a fist, determined to stop shaking. “Everything I said was true, right? They can’t force me to sign a declaration of war, can they?”

“No,” General Leger assured me. “As you know, there have always been a few members of the board who have thought we should colonize in Europe. I think they saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of your limited experience, but you did everything right.”

“Dad wouldn’t want to go to war. The banner of his reign has been peace.”

“Exactly.” General Leger smiled. “He’d be proud of how you stood your ground. In fact, I think I might just go tell him.”

“Should I go, too?” I asked, suddenly desperate to hear the little monitor announcing that Mom’s heart was still there, still trying.

“You have a country to run. I’ll bring you an update as soon as I can.”

“Thank you,” I called as he exited the room.

Lady Brice crossed her arms on the table. “Feeling better?”

I shook my head. “I knew this role would be a lot of work. I’ve done my share of it and watched my dad do ten times what I did. But I was supposed to have more time to get ready. To start the job now, because my mom might die, is too much. And within five minutes of being responsible, I have to make a decision about war? I’m not prepared for this.”

“Okay, first things first. You don’t have to be perfect yet. This is temporary. Your mom will get better, your dad will come back to work, and you will go back to learning with this great experience under your belt. Think of this time as an opportunity.”

I let out a long breath. Temporary. Opportunity. Okay.

“Besides, it’s not all completely up to you. This is what your advisers are for. Granted, they weren’t much help today, but we’re here so you aren’t navigating without a map.”

I bit my lip, thinking. “Okay. So, what do I do now?”

“First, follow through and fire Coddly. It will show the others you mean what you say. I do feel somewhat bad for him, but I think your father only kept him around to play devil’s advocate and help him see all sides of an issue. Trust me, he won’t be sorely missed,” she confessed dryly. “Second, consider this time a period of hands-on training for your reign. Start surrounding yourself with people you know you can trust.”

I sighed. “I feel like they’ve all just left me.”

She shook her head. “Look closer. You probably have friends in places you never expected.”

Again, I found myself seeing her in a new light. She’d stayed in her role longer than anyone; she knew what Dad would decide in most situations; and she was, at the very least, another woman in the room.

Lady Brice stared into my eyes, forcing me to focus. “Who do you know will always be honest with you? Who will be by your side, not because you’re royal, but because you’re you?”

I smiled, absolutely positive of where I was going once I left this room.

“ME?”

“You.”

“Are you sure?”

I grabbed Neena by the shoulders. “You always tell me the truth, even if I’m not excited to hear it. You’ve put up with the worst of me, and you’re too clever to spend your days folding my laundry.”

She beamed, blinking to quell her tears. “A lady-in-waiting … what does that even mean?”

“Well, it’s a mix of being a companion, which you already are, and then helping with the less glamorous side of my job, like scheduling appointments and making sure I remember to eat.”

“I think I can handle that,” she said, smiling.

“Oh, oh, oh, and”—I held up my hands, preparing her for probably the most exciting part of the job—“it means you don’t have to wear that uniform anymore. So go change.”

Neena chuckled. “I don’t know that I have anything appropriate. But I’ll make sure to get something together for tomorrow.”

“Nonsense. Just go through my closet.”

She gaped at me. “I can’t.”

“Umm, you can and you must.” I pointed to the wide doors. “Get dressed, meet me in the office, and we’ll make it through whatever comes one day at a time.”

She nodded, and, as if we’d done it a thousand times, she threw her arms around me.

“Thank you.”

“Thank you,” I insisted.

“I won’t let you down.”

I pulled back, watching her. “I know. By the way, your first job is to pick a new maid for me.”

“Not a problem.”

“Excellent. I’ll see you soon.”

I swept from the room, feeling better knowing I had people on my side. General Leger would be my line to Mom and Dad, Lady Brice would be my chief adviser, and Neena would help me shoulder the workload.

It had been less than a day, and I already understood why Mom thought I’d need a partner. And I still intended to find one. I just needed a little time to figure out how.

That afternoon I paced worriedly as I waited for Kile outside the Men’s Parlor. Of all my relationships with the Selected, ours felt the most complicated and yet the easiest place to start.

“Hey,” he said, coming to embrace me. I couldn’t help smiling thinking about how if he’d tried that a month ago, I’d have called the guards on him. “How are you doing?”

I paused. “It’s funny—you’re the only one who’s asked.” We stepped apart. “I’m okay, I think. At least I am as long as I’m busy. The second things slow down, I’m a ball of nerves. Dad’s a wreck. And it’s killing me that Ahren hasn’t come back. I thought he would for Mom, but he hasn’t even called. Shouldn’t he at least have done that?”

I swallowed, knowing I was getting too worked up.

Kile took my hand. “Okay, let’s think about this. He flew to France and got married in one day. There has to be a ton of official paperwork and other stuff to sort through. And there’s a chance he hasn’t even heard what happened.”

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