The One (The Selection, #3)(8)

He smiled. “I know, but this is very informal. It’s fine.”

“Do you want me to talk to them?”

“That is truly up to you, but I’m curious as to why they want to speak with you in particular. I’m not sure they’ll tell me if you’re not there.”

I nodded, weighing this in my head. I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk to rebels. Unarmed or not, they were probably far deadlier than I could ever be. But if Maxon thought I could do it, maybe I should. . . .

“Okay,” I said, pulling myself up. “Okay.”

“You won’t get hurt, America. I promise.” His hand was still on mine, and he gave my fingers a tiny squeeze. He turned to the guard. “Lead the way. Keep your holster unlocked, just in case.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” he answered, and escorted us around the corner into the Great Room, where two people were standing, surrounded by more guards.

It took me seconds to find Aspen in the crowd.

“Could you call off your dogs?” one of the rebels asked. He was tall and slim and blond. His boots were covered in mud, and his outfit looked like something a Seven might wear: a pair of heavy pants taken in to fit him closely and a patched-up shirt beneath a beaten leather jacket. A rusting compass on a long chain swung around his neck, moving as he shifted. He looked rugged without being terrifying, which wasn’t what I’d expected.

Even more unexpected was that his companion was a girl. She, too, wore boots; but as if she was trying to be resourceful and fashionable at the same time, she had on leggings and a skirt constructed from the same material as the male’s pants. Her hip jutted out confidently to the side despite her being surrounded by guards. Even if I hadn’t recognized her face, I would have remembered her jacket. Denim and cropped, covered with what looked like dozens of embroidered flowers.

Making sure I remembered who she was, she gave me a little curtsy. I made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a gasp.

“What’s wrong?” Maxon asked.

“Later,” I whispered.

Confused but calm, he gave me a comforting squeeze and focused again on our guests.

“We’ve come to speak to you in peace,” the man said. “We are unarmed, and your guards have searched us. I know asking for privacy would be inappropriate, but we have things to discuss with you that no one else should hear.”

“What about America?” Maxon asked.

“We want to speak with her as well.”

“To what end?”

“Again,” the young man said, almost cockily, “we need to be out of earshot of these guys.” He playfully gestured around the room.

“If you think you can harm her—”

“I know you’re skeptical of us, and for good reason, but we have no cause to hurt either of you. We want to talk.”

Maxon deliberated for a minute. “You,” he said, looking toward one of the guards, “pull down one of the tables and four chairs. Then all of you, please stay back to give our guests some room.”

The guards obeyed, and we were all silent for a few uncomfortable minutes. When the table was finally down from the stack and in the corner with two chairs on either side, Maxon gestured that the pair should join us over there.

As we walked, the guards stepped back, wordlessly forming a perimeter around the room and focusing their eyes on the two rebels as if they were prepared to fire at a second’s notice.

As we reached the table, the male stuck out his hand. “Don’t you think introductions are in order?”

Maxon eyed him warily but then relented. “Maxon Schreave, your sovereign.”

The young man chuckled. “Honored, sir.”

“And you are?”

“Mr. August Illéa, at your service.”


MAXON AND I LOOKED AT each other, then back to the rebels.

“You heard me right. I’m an Illéa. And by birth, too. This one will be by marriage sooner or later,” August said, nodding to the girl.

“Georgia Whitaker,” she said. “And of course, we know all about you, America.”

She gave me another smile, and I returned it. I wasn’t sure I trusted her, but I certainly didn’t hate her.

“So Father was right.” Maxon sighed. I looked over to him, confused. Maxon knew there were direct descendants of Gregory Illéa walking around? “He said you’d come for the crown one day.”

“I don’t want your crown,” August assured us.

“Good, because I intend to lead this country,” Maxon shot back. “I’ve been raised for it, and if you think you can come in here claiming to be Gregory’s great-great-grandson—”

“I don’t want your crown, Maxon! Destroying the monarchy is more up the Southern rebels’ alley. We have other goals.” August sat at the table, leaning back in his seat. Then as if it was his home we’d stepped into, he swept his arm across the chairs, inviting us to sit.

Maxon and I eyed each other again and joined him, Georgia following quickly. August looked at us awhile, either studying us or trying to decide where to start.

Maxon, perhaps reminding us who was in charge, broke the tension. “Would you like some tea or coffee?”

Georgia lit up. “Coffee?”

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