The One (The Selection, #3)(9)

In spite of himself, Maxon smiled at her enthusiasm and turned behind him to get a guard’s attention. “Could you have one of the maids bring some coffee, please? For goodness’ sake, make sure it’s strong.” Then he focused again on August.

“I can’t begin to imagine what you want from me. It seems you made a point to come while the palace was asleep, and I’m guessing you’d like to keep this visit as secretive as possible. Say what you must. I can’t promise to give you what you want, but I will listen.”

August nodded and leaned forward. “We’ve been looking for Gregory’s diaries for decades. We knew they existed long ago and had a recent confirmation from a source I cannot reveal.” August looked at me. “It wasn’t your presentation on the Report that gave it away, just so you know.”

I sighed in relief. The second he mentioned the diaries, I began silently cursing myself and bracing for later when Maxon would add this to the list of stupid things I’d done.

“We have never desired to take down the monarchy,” he said to Maxon. “Even though it came about in a very corrupt way, we have no problem with having a sovereign leader, particularly if that leader is you.”

Maxon was still, but I could sense his pride. “Thank you.”

“What we would like are other things, specific freedoms. We want nominated officials, and we want to end the castes.” August said all this as if it was easy. If he’d seen my presentation get cut off on the Report, he ought to know better.

“You act like I’m already the king,” Maxon answered in frustration. “Even if it was possible, I can’t simply give you what you’re asking for.”

“But you’re open to the idea?”

Maxon raised his hands and dropped them to the table. “What I’m open to is irrelevant at the moment. I am not king.”

August sighed, looking over to Georgia. They seemed to communicate wordlessly, and I was impressed at their easy intimacy. Here they were, in a very tense situation—one they’d entered maybe suspecting they wouldn’t be able to get out of—and their feelings for each other were so close to the surface.

“Speaking of kings,” Maxon added, “why don’t you explain to America who you are. I’m sure you’d do a better job than I would.”

I knew this was a way for Maxon to stall, to think of a way to get control of this situation, but I didn’t mind. I was dying to understand.

August smiled humorlessly. “That is an interesting story,” he promised, the vibrancy in his voice hinting at how exciting his tale would be. “As you know, Gregory had three children: Katherine, Spencer, and Damon. Katherine was married off to a prince, Spencer died, and Damon was the one who inherited the throne. Then when Damon’s son, Justin, died, his cousin Porter Schreave became prince, marrying Justin’s young widow, who had won the Selection barely three years earlier. And now the Schreaves are the royal family. No more Illéas ought to exist. But we do.”

“We?” Maxon asked, his tone calculated, like he was hoping for numbers.

August only nodded. The click of heels announced that the maid was coming. Maxon put a finger to his lips, like August would dare to say more with her in hearing distance. The maid set down the tray and poured coffee for all of us. Georgia’s hands were on her cup immediately, waiting for it to be filled. I didn’t really care for coffee—it was too bitter for my tastes—but I knew it would help me wake up, so I braced myself to take a drink.

Before I could even sip, Maxon slid the bowl of sugar in front of me. Like he knew.

“You were saying?” Maxon prompted, taking his coffee black.

“Spencer didn’t die,” August said flatly. “He knew what his father had done to take over the country, he knew his older sister had basically been sold into marriage, and he knew the same was expected of him. He couldn’t do it, so he ran.”

“Where did he go?” I asked, speaking for the first time.

“He hid with relatives and friends, eventually making a camp with some like-minded people in the north. It’s colder up there, wetter, and so hard to navigate that no one tries. We live there quietly most of the time.”

Georgia nudged him, her face a little shocked.

August came to his senses. “I suppose I’ve now given you directions to invade us yourself. I want to remind you that we’ve never killed any of your officers or staff, and we avoid injuring them at all costs. All we ever wanted was to put an end to the castes. To do that we needed proof that Gregory was the man we’d always been told he was. We have that now, and America hinted at it enough that we feel we could exploit that if we wanted to. We really don’t though. Not if we don’t have to.”

Maxon took a deep swig and set down his cup. “I’m honestly not sure what I’m supposed to do with this information. You’re a direct descendant of Gregory Illéa, but you don’t want the crown. You’ve come looking for things only the king could provide, but you asked for an audience with me and one of the Elite. My father isn’t even here.”

“We know,” August said. “This was deliberate timing.”

Maxon huffed. “If you don’t want the crown and only want things I can’t give you, why are you here?”

August and Georgia looked at each other, perhaps preparing themselves for their biggest request yet.

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