Whispers sounded around me, speculation on who was copying who. Lilliana had arrived to the banquet first, but not everyone was convinced that meant she had picked the outfit originally. Absolutely no one entertained the idea that it could have been a coincidence.
When I suggested such a thing to the girl beside me at the table, she rolled her eyes. “Nothing is a coincidence at the palace.”
“She’s not wrong.” Julian said. “It’s obvious to me that Lilliana is copying you.”
“Well, I didn’t copy her,” I said firmly.
Julian waved around his soup spoon. Think about it. By your own admission, you have now dated two of the three princes. Is it any big surprise that some of the girls are going to end up imitating you?”
That seemed like such a ridiculous notion. Lilliana especially wouldn’t have a need to copy me. She had already gone on dates with Nicholas, and she had been seated beside him for some time now.
Even if she wasn’t already favored by Nicholas, she was so regal all on her own. What use would copying me have for her, other than to bring her down?
“Lilliana has her own grace,” I said. “She doesn’t need anything from me.”
“Cute, but incorrect.” Finished with his soup, he pushed the bowl away. A servant immediately came to retrieve it. “Thanks.” Julian patted his napkin to his lip. “Lilliana is a fraud.”
The girl opposite him gasped. He shrugged.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Everything about her has been pre–planned, from the way she parts her hair, to the way she sits or stands, to the way she speaks. Have you talked to her? It’s spooky”
I couldn’t remember saying more than a few quick words to her.
“She’s acting.” Julian said. “She’ll do whatever she has to, be whoever she has to be, to win the crown. She’s been pretending so long, I’m not sure she even knows who she really is underneath it all.”
As he spoke, I couldn’t help but feel an odd sort of sympathy for Lilliana. To care so much for power, that she was willing to erase her entire true personality? How could anything be worth so much?
Had she spent her entire life living behind a shell? Did she truly not remember who she was anymore?
Julian nudged me. He must have been able to see the pity on my face. I, unlike Lilliana, was not talented
“She gave herself up willingly, Piper. Girls like her do it all the time. Anything to chase that crown.”
I kept my voice soft, not wanting the others to hear. “It’s just so sad. What will happen to her if Nicholas
doesn’t choose her?”
Julian shrugged. “She’ll probably have to find herself again.”
For her sake, I hoped that would come to pass. I understood she was desperate to be Luna, but to give up so much? Surely if she could remember herself, she would realize the fol
Or maybe that was a foolish thought. Wishful thinking from a girl who didn’t really belong here among these sharks. I had no desire for power or glory. I just wanted Elva to be okay.
Julian’s voice lowered to match mine. “Do you know why you would make a good Luna, Piper? Because you see people, even when they can’t see themselves.”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to be Luna.”
Julian smiled. “Another good quality of yours.”
With so many girls missing since the last elimination, there were a lot of empty chairs at the table. Most of the girls had been split into sections. Julian, me, and the Luna were seated at one end. The King and Joyce were on the other end. Nicholas, Lilliana, and the majority of the girls sat in the center.
A slew of empty chairs now separated those three groups.
Glancing over at Nicholas, he seemed like a whole world apart.
Suddenly a camera closed in on my face. I sat back in my chair.
“Hey,” Julian said, shoving the camera away. “Personal space is a thing that exists, you know.”
“Apologies, Your Royal Highness,” the cameraman said.
“It was my fault, sir,” said the producer behind him. “The kingdom wants to know about candidates wearing the same dress. Piper, do you have any comment?”