The One (The Selection, #3)(2)

I wasn’t though.

I was here. And sometimes I didn’t understand why. Maxon was still spending time with Kriss, even after all he’d done to get me to stay. The rebels unrelentingly attacked our safety from the outside, and inside, the king’s icy words did just as much damage to my confidence. All the while, Aspen orbited me, a secret I had to keep. And the cameras came and went, stealing pieces of our lives to entertain the people. I was being pushed into a corner from every angle, and I was missing out on all the things that had always mattered to me.

I choked back angry tears. I was so tired of crying.

Instead I went into planning mode. The only way to set things right was to end the Selection.

Though I still occasionally questioned my desire to be the princess, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be Maxon’s. If that was going to happen, I couldn’t sit back and wait for it. Remembering my last conversation with the king, I paced as I waited for my maids.

I could hardly breathe, so I knew eating would be a waste. But it would be worth the sacrifice. I needed to make some progress, and I needed to do it fast. According to the king, the other girls were making advances toward Maxon—physical advances—and he’d said I was far too plain to have a chance of matching them in that department.

As if my relationship with Maxon wasn’t complicated enough, there was a whole new issue of rebuilding trust. And I wasn’t sure if that meant I wasn’t supposed to ask questions or not. While I felt pretty sure he hadn’t gone that far physically with the other girls, I couldn’t help but wonder. I’d never tried to be seductive before—pretty much every intimate moment I’d had with Maxon came about without intention—but I had to hope that if I was deliberate, I could make it clear that I was just as interested in him as the others.

I took a deep breath, raised my chin, and walked into the dining hall. I was purposely a minute or two late, hoping everyone would already be seated. I was right on that count. But the reaction was better than I’d hoped.

I curtsied, swinging my leg around so the slit in the dress fell open, leading nearly all the way up my thigh. The dress was a deep red, strapless and practically backless, and I was almost positive my maids had used magic to make it stay up at all. I rose, locking eyes with Maxon, who I noticed had stopped chewing. Someone dropped a fork.

Lowering my gaze, I walked to my seat, settling in next to Kriss.

“Seriously, America?” she whispered.

I tilted my head in her direction. “I’m sorry?” I replied, feigning confusion.

She put her silverware down, and we stared at each other. “You look trashy.”

“Well, you look jealous.”

I’d hit pretty close to the mark, because she flushed a bit before returning to her food. I took limited bites of my own, already miserably constricted. As dessert was being set in front of me, I chose to stop ignoring Maxon, and as I had hoped, his eyes were on me. He reached up and grabbed his ear immediately, and I demurely did the same. My gaze flickered quickly toward King Clarkson, and I tried not to smile. He was irritated, another trick I’d managed to get away with.

I excused myself first, giving Maxon a chance to admire the back of the dress, and scurried to my room. I closed the door to my room behind me and unzipped the gown immediately, desperate for a breath.

“How’d it go?” Mary asked, rushing over.

“He seemed stunned. They all did.”

Lucy squealed, and Anne came to help Mary. “We’ll hold it up. Just walk,” she ordered. I did as I was told. “Is he coming tonight?”

“Yes. I’m not sure when, but he’ll definitely be here.” I perched on the edge of my bed, arms folded around my stomach to keep the open dress from falling down.

Anne gave me a sad face. “I’m sorry you’ll have to be uncomfortable for a few more hours. I’m sure it’ll be worth it though.”

I smiled, trying to look like I was fine dealing with the pain. I’d told my maids I wanted to get Maxon’s attention. I’d left out my hope that, with any luck, this dress would be on the floor pretty soon.

“Do you want us to stay until he arrives?” Lucy asked, her enthusiasm bubbling over.

“No, just help me zip this thing back up. I need to think some things through,” I answered, standing so they could help me.

Mary took hold of the zipper. “Suck it in, miss.” I obeyed, and as the dress cinched me in again, I thought of a soldier going to war. Different armor but the same idea.

Tonight I was taking down a man.


I OPENED THE BALCONY DOORS, letting the air sweeten my room. Even though it was December, the breeze was light and tickled my skin. We weren’t allowed to go outside at all anymore, not without guards by our sides, so this would have to do.

I scurried around the room, lighting candles, trying to make the space inviting. The knock came at the door, and I blew out the match, bolted over to the bed, picked up a book, and fanned out my dress. Why yes, Maxon, this is how I always look when I read.

“Come in,” I offered, barely loud enough to be heard.

Maxon entered, and I lifted my head delicately, catching the wonder in his eyes as he surveyed my dimly lit room. Finally he focused on me, his gaze traveling up my exposed leg.

“There you are,” I said, closing the book and standing to greet him.

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