The Heir... Or Is She?
It's a long, tense night waiting to hear how Mom is doing. Dad paces, frantic, clinging to General Leger. It's painful to see him so out of control with his worry.
Me? I sit in a daze, refusing all comfort or touch, rocking slightly forward and back. If I can get through tonight, if Mom survives, I will change. I have to.
A nurse brings out a tray and offers me a pill to calm my nerves, a sedative. I decline, but Kile's mom accepts, and so does Lucy. They soon huddle together in the corner, holding hands and murmuring prayers.
The boys of the selection have held up their silent vigil. I respect and admire them for it.
The problem is, I cannot be here with them and my family and everyone I know and love with the tremendous guilt bearing down on my soul. My shoulders hunch. I couldn't straighten them if I tried.
The Selection in shambles, my fault. Ahren gone, my fault. Our kingdom hanging on by a thread because the country doesn't trust me, my fault. How can anyone bear to look at me?
A better question, how can I look at myself? I cringe thinking of how I preen in front of the mirror, wearing, for goodness sakes!, a tiara of all things. Like it matters! When my mom is fighting for her life and my twin brother Ahren leaves the country rather than be subjected to my cynicism.
Finally, three women in scrubs come out of the double doors and approach my father. Leger stays next to him, supporting him by the waist. My younger brother Kaden approaches, but I know it is me who should be there on Dad's other side. Me, the future ruler of this monarchy, the soon-to-ascend queen. I can't do it.
People try to come over to me, but I hold up my hand and shut them out. Finally, when I realize they are waiting for me, I stand up, creaking like an old woman, and slump over to them. I cannot handle it if Mom is not okay.
Dad takes my hand. Kaden is on my other side, with May clinging to him. Osten, Kile, and some of the closer advisors are on the other. The Selection boys stay respectfully back.
The doctor steps forward, pulling off her mint green scrubs cap. She runs her fingers through her short ebony hair.
Tell us! I want to scream. I glare at the doctor, but she is meeting Dad's eyes, with a concerned, hopeful expression.
The room seems to exhale in one collective sigh.
With a slight smile Dad, the doctor continues. "I want to go over some details with you, but what the family needs to know is that, miraculously, the damage to the heart muscle was minimal. The attack was mild."
The doctor's lips pull down.
I hold my breath.
"But the arteries to the heart were significantly clogged. It's a genetic trait, made worse by stress. I only wish she'd come in sooner. Surely she had symptoms before now: headaches, pain in the chest and radiating to the arms, dizziness, trouble catching her breath..."
I drown in guilt. I thought it was The Selection causing her stress. I never asked for details or even expressed much sympathy. I thought I had it rough, and here she was consoling me.
The doctor shakes her head slightly. "That's beside the point. We put in four stents, but avoided open heart surgery."
I gasp. Kaden leans into Kile. General Leger has to stand back against the wall.
"Yes, it was that serious. But as I said, no permanent damage to the heart. That is amazing, and testifies to her lifestyle and her immediately receiving care when we determined it was a cardiac event. Now, she will rest for several hours with King Maxon by her side. In the morning, you may see her one at a time, fifteen minutes each, one per hour. By evening she should be feeling well enough to move to her rooms, but she is not to be stressed or made to hostess visitors. Healing, excellent diet, and plenty of sleep are my dictates."
"Bless you. Thank you so much." My father begins his gratitude tour: praising the doctor, the nurses who stood by her side, and then each person in the room, one by one. He speaks directly to each, gives a brief update about Mom, and then hugs or shakes their hand. He speaks to the boys of the Selection as a group, and then they leave, some with tears in their eyes and hugging each other, others solemn and serious-faced. I nod at them, but stand back near Kaden, Kile, and my youngest brother Osten. Finally it's just family in the room, or friends who are as close as family.
I swallow a plate sized lump in my throat, and hug Dad one more time. I hug Kaden too, very tightly, for too long, and then I do the same to Osten.
"You alright?" Dad asks in an exhausted voice.
I nod. "Can I see her tomorrow?"
Dad nods. "I'll send her your love, all of you," he turns to include May, Marlee, Lucy, Leger, and us kids.
Kaden ruffles Osten's hair. Osten swats his hand off, but follows him out to the hall leading to their rooms. I make one more attempt at a polite, grateful nod. I keep my strides even until I hit the door, and then I run like the dogs of Hades are at my heels.
I feel a shoe slip off and I don't care I kick off the other one and run barefoot all the way to my room, tears sliding down my cheeks, and my hair coming out from the artful arrangement Neena toiled over. I don't care. For the first time ever, or that I can remember, I don't care. How I look, who sees me, or whether my behavior is fit for a future queen or not.
Mom survived. My brother abandoned me. My father is a wreck without the love of his life by his side. And yet, before now, I could not be truly bothered to even try to find love.
I dismiss Neena with a quick explanation about my mother. She cries in relief and wants to stay and help me with a bath, hand massage, anything, but I refuse. Eventually, I have to turn her by the shoulders toward the door and say in my most firm voice, "Please, I need to be alone."
And then she leaves. I am alone and I hate it. I hate my life. My dress, I rip it off. I hate the make-up I don to be camera ready at all times, the earrings and jewelry fit for royalty. I snag off my earrings, unclasp the necklace, and toss them on the desk. I step out of my underclothes and find a shirt Ahren let me borrow once when I was trying to design a shirt for him.
I find it in the bottom of my armoire, and pull it on, running my hands through my half curled hair and using a couple tissues to wipe my face of powder, lipstick, and blush. The liner will have to wait, because I am on empty. I crawl onto my bed and slip under the covers, planning to cry myself to sleep.
But the tears do not come. Blame does, in huge portions, until I have to get up and pace, make lists of how to change, who to eliminate, how to make it up to Mom. Then I take a long hot shower, and then I finally do the thing I haven't let myself admit I want. The thing—the person—I want to see and be with when I feel so awful I don't recognize myself.
I throw on a robe and crack open my door. The hall is clear. I pad on bare feet to Kile's room.
I use my index finger to tap on his door. If he doesn't hear me, then I'll go back to my room like a proper future queen should.
The door flies open. Kile is in his boxers and a white t-shirt, much like the one I am wearing under my robe.
In one motion, he curls his hand around my waist and pulls me into his room. He shuts the door behind us with his foot.
He holds me, nestles me into his chest, and I marvel at how well we fit. He's just tall enough for me to rest my cheek on his collarbone, and the top of my head slides under his chin.
"Eady, my Eady," he murmurs into my hair. "I wanted to come to you, but I wasn't sure..."
I take a shuddering breath. His hands tighten at my waist. I snake mine around his back, inhaling the scent of him: pencil lead, a forest smell -maybe pine-, and something unique to him, a musk that never leaves his skin but infuses me with comfort and calm, because it means he is close.
He kisses my temple and says, "It was hell for me not to be able to hold you."
I never thought about that.
"All I wanted was to let you cry on my shoulder. You're wound so tightly, I thought you'd have a heart attack next. I'm sorry. That didn't come out right. I wanted to help and it felt like my hands were tied."
I lean my head back and for some reason I'm breathless when I say, "Your hands aren't tied now."
He slides one up my back to my shoulder blade and the other cups my cheek. His gray green eyes skim my face, and then land on my lips.
"Thank you for coming to me. It means you trust me. That was the one thing I never thought you'd give me."
I tip my head back and instead of ordering, I ask, "Kiss me?"
His lips find mine and I melt into him, my curves closer to him than ever before, without the normal layers between us.
His kisses are tender, but mine grow urgent, spiraling my abandon until I have nothing in my head except his touch, his lips, his whisperings, "Eady, my Eady."
He walks backwards, and I press into him, not willing to give an inch of the closeness we have. When the backs of his legs hit the edge of his bed, we tumble down together, lips interlocked, arms intertwined, and hearts beating against each other.
I draw my knee up and raise my body slightly so I can see his flushed face, angled cheekbones, wide, passionate eyes, and rosy lips frowning up at me.
"Kile?" I trace his lips with my finger, and arch a brow.
"Eadlyn, you've been through a shock, a day of shocks, and I don't want to take advantage of you in a vulnerable state."
I swallow and squeak out, "I thought you said you were glad I came to you." I pull up and start to get off him, but he holds my elbows and pleads, "No, stay with me...I just don't want to take things too far, when tomorrow you may feel totally differently. Emotions are running high. Let's not rush into anything. Just, let me hold you?"
I lean over him and press gently upward, kissing under his jaw, and then in the divot of his collarbones.
He groans, and I flush with pleasure. I tug his earlobe with my teeth and roll my hips into him.
"Eadlyn, please, I am trying to be a gentleman."
I ignore him and continue my attempt at seduction.
And then, his hands cup my backside. I gasp.
"When we go there," he says in a husky voice, directly into my ear. "It won't be about anyone but us."
He rolls me under him, in a swift and seemingly easy motion. He was only letting me play that I had him pinned.
Bracing his hands on either side of my shoulders, he leans down and rubs my nose with his. It's tender and hot, and I arch my back and shut my eyes, hoping he'll change his mind.
His palm curves down my cheek and rests against my throat, his thumb tracing lightly along my pulse. The heel of his hand grazes the upper swell of my breast.
"I don't want us to be about your relief over your mom, or you feeling abandoned by Ahren. Or for the cameras." He pauses, and then adds, "Or to make anyone jealous, or to put them off. Not anymore. It's changed for me, Eadlyn. It's not a game. Or a deal."
He tucks his palms under my armpits and scoots me up the bed in one fluid, unexpected movement. My head is against his pillows. I gaze about his messy but comfortable room.
"I really like it here," I admit. "I didn't want to be in my room staring at tiaras all night and hugging myself to sleep."
"Sounds like a job for me." He crawls up over me with a mischevious smirk on his face.
"What?" I ask. I run a hand over my face. "Never seen me like this?"
He grins, "I like you natural Eadlyn, I always have. It's only been since you started acting queenly that I began keeping my distance."
And that is true, I realize. It was me pushing him away, refusing to play tag, hide and seek. Wanting my lessons private, and my meals near Dad. We used to spend quite a bit of time together, Kile and me and Josie and my brothers. All of us were the kid gang. It was a good way to grow up.
"I'm only now realizing that. You still spend a lot of time with Osten and Kaden, don't you?"
"I've been missing out."
"Well, I don't sleep with them, so you're definitely the winner on that count."
I blush and pick at the blanket hem. "I don't have to stay."
"Oh, but you do. What I was wondering earlier, is how to get you under these covers."
"Oh? You're so sure I'm staying? Sure you can get me under these?" I pat the bed.
He pretends to think, putting his finger on his chin, and then with a loud guffaw, he tickles my underarms, and my inner elbows. "Still ticklish, Eadlyn?"
I giggle, laugh, and then lose my cool completely.
"Kile!" I huddle into a ball. He tickles my feet. I roll and splutter, kick and snort. "Kile! Oh my gosh I am going to pee my pants!'
He beams, and smugly says," Well, with that queenly admission, I will still my hands."
I'm panting, and my whole body is tingling from his attentions. I've never been tickled by a hot guy, and not at this age, of course. I am surprised how exciting it was, despite that all the areas he tickled were outside of a bathing suit.
Suddenly, I realize I am under the covers, quite neatly too, the sheet folded over the blanket, and my head nestled in the center of two piled pillows.
"Kile! How did you—"
He draws back the corner of the sheet and slides in next to me.
"You're good," I murmur, exhilarated by the feel of his hairy legs brushing my silky smooth ones, and his breath on my forehead.
"Your Highness?" he asks in a low, gruff voice.
"Yes?" I answer reflexively.
"I'm just getting started."
And with that statement, or promise, my heart starts beating triple time.
He reaches over and flips off the light.
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