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

He shut the door and came in, his eyes locked on my curves. “I wanted to tell you that you look fantastic tonight.”

I flicked my hair over my shoulder. “Oh, this thing? It was just sitting in the back of the closet.”

“I’m glad you pulled it out.”

I laced my fingers through his. “Come sit with me. I haven’t seen you much lately.”

He sighed and followed. “I’m sorry about that. Things have been a bit tense since we lost so many people in that rebel attack, and you know how my father is. We sent several guards to protect your families, and our forces are stretched thin, so he’s worse than usual. And he’s pressuring me to end the Selection, but I’m holding my ground. I want to have some time to think this through.”

We sat on the edge of the bed, and I settled close to him. “Of course. You should be in charge of this.”

He nodded. “Exactly. I know I’ve said it a thousand times, but when people push me, it makes me crazy.”

I gave him a little pout. “I know.”

He paused, and I couldn’t read his face. I was trying to figure out how to move this forward without being pushy, but I wasn’t sure how to manufacture a romantic moment.

“I know this is silly, but my maids put this new perfume on me today. Is it too strong?” I asked, tilting my neck so he could lean in and breathe.

He came near, his nose hitting a soft patch of skin. “No, dear, it’s lovely,” he said into the curve that led to my shoulder. Then he kissed me there. I swallowed, trying to focus. I needed to have some level of control.

“I’m glad you like it. I’ve really missed you.”

I felt his hand snake around my back, and I brought my face down. There he was, eyes looking into mine, our lips millimeters apart.

“How much have you missed me?” he breathed.

His stare, combined with his voice being so low, was doing funny things to my heartbeat. “So much,” I whispered back. “So, so much.”

I leaned forward, aching to be kissed. Maxon was confident, pulling me closer with one hand and stringing the other through my hair. My body wanted to melt into the kiss, but the dress stopped me. Then, suddenly nervous again, I remembered my plan.

Sliding my hands down Maxon’s arms, I guided his fingers to the zipper on the back of my dress, hoping that would be enough.

His hands lingered there for a moment, and I was seconds away from just asking him to unzip it when he burst out laughing.

The sound sobered me up pretty quickly.

“What’s so funny?” I asked, horrified, trying to think of an inconspicuous way to check my breath.

“Of everything you’ve done, this is by far the most entertaining!” Maxon bent over, hitting his knee as he laughed.

“Excuse me?”

He kissed me hard on my forehead. “I always wondered what it would be like to see you try.” He started laughing again. “I’m sorry; I have to go.” Even the way he stood held a sense of amusement. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

And then he left. He just left!

I sat there, completely mortified. Why in the world did I think I could pull that off? Maxon may not know everything about me, but at the very least he knew my character—and this? It wasn’t me.

I looked down at the ridiculous dress. It was way too much. Even Celeste wouldn’t have gone this far. My hair was too perfect, my makeup too heavy. He knew what I was trying to do from the second he walked through the doorway. Sighing, I went around the room, blowing out candles and wondering how I was supposed to face him tomorrow.


I DEBATED CLAIMING THE STOMACH flu. Or an incapacitating headache. Panic attack. Really, anything to get out of going to breakfast.

Then I thought of Maxon and how he always talked about putting on a brave face. That wasn’t a particular strength of mine. But if I went downstairs at least, if I could just be present, maybe he’d give me some credit.

In hopes that I could erase some of what I’d done, I asked my maids to put me in the most demure dress I had. Based on that request alone, they knew not to ask about the night before. The neckline was a bit higher than the ones we typically wore in the warm Angeles weather, and it had sleeves that went nearly to my elbows. It was flowery and cheerful, the opposite of last night’s getup.

I could barely look at Maxon when I entered the dining hall, but I walked tall at least.

When I finally peeked at him, he was watching me, grinning. As he chewed his food, he winked at me; and I ducked my head again, pretending to be very interested in my quiche.

“Glad to see you in actual clothes today,” Kriss spat.

“Glad to see you in such a good mood.”

“What in the world has gotten into you?” she hissed.

Dejected, I gave up. “I’m not up for this today, Kriss. Just leave me alone.”

For a moment, she looked as if she might fight back, but I guessed I wasn’t worth it. She sat up a little straighter and continued eating. If I’d had any level of success last night, then I could justify my actions; as it was, I couldn’t even fake being proud.

I risked another glance at Maxon, and even though he wasn’t watching me, he was still suppressing a smug expression as he cut his food. That was it. I wasn’t going to suffer through a day like this. I was about to swoon or clutch my stomach or do anything to get me out of the room when a butler came in. He carried an envelope on a silver platter, and he bowed before placing it in front of King Clarkson.

Kiera Cass's Books