As Nicholas asked out Lilliana, I stood in the back of the crowd of watching girls, my heart down on the
I had no right to be upset. I knew that. I had given up the right to be upset a long time ago.
Yet I couldn’t deny the feeling.
First, Nicholas had returned the handmade gift I made him, and now he was asking another girl on a solo
According to the rules of the competition, solo dates were only supposed to be awarded after a girl performed well in one of the events.
Of course, from what I’d heard, the rules also stated that a prince could ask any girl out at any time, sol supposed such a thing wasn’t unheard of.
But for it to be Nicholas who asked for the first solo date felt like the hardest pill to swallow.
I understood that the candidates were invited here to the palace to date the princes. Soon, Nicholas would pick someone to marry.
He’d already made it abundantly clear that he would never be interested in me.
Not that I wanted him to be. We’d both moved on since then. It wasn’t my business who he dated, or who he married.
But looking at him standing there in the entryway to the dining room, holding Lilliana’s hand with only the barest touch, he didn’t seem happy. That, to me, was the greatest tragedy.
The more I looked at him and his faceless expression, the more he seemed like a shell of the man I once knew. It hurt me to see. I couldn’t stand to look anymore.
Needing an escape for a minute, I turned away from the spectacle and headed into the gardens for some fresh air.
The sun was just beginning to set over the western tree line. The sky was painted in a palette of orange and purple. It was beautiful.
For a moment, I simply enjoyed the view. I wondered if Elva was looking out the window to see it. We had never gotten much time to appreciate nature back in the bustle of the city
I hoped she was looking now.
“Are you lost, miss?” a male voice said, suddenly behind me.
I jumped, startled, and turned to face the stranger.
His appearance was immaculate, with not a hair out of place or a speck of dirt on his guard uniform. His
uniform had more stripes and fringe than the other guards I’d seen.
That was because he was the head of the royal guards. Joseph,
He was not someone I had met personally, but I had noticed him when some of the other girls had
pointed him out.
He stared at me with a severe expression. I felt much like an ant under a microscope.
“I’ll ask once more,” he said, voice gruff. “Are you lost? The banquet is inside.”
1 just needed a moment to catch my breath.” I tried to offer a friendly smile. I didn’t want to make a bad first impression with the man in charge of Elva and my safety.
Yet the harder I tried to smile, the more his eyes narrowed.
“You should be able to breathe inside the palace just fine.”
“I only meant –”
“I know what you meant,” he said, cutting me off. “Perhaps if you are so uncomfortable here, you might consider bowing out of the competition.”
“I’m not uncomfortable.”
He crossed his arms and continued to stare me down. I didn’t understand his hostility, I’d never even spoken to him before now.
“This competition is no place for a woman like you, nor your child,” he said.
Oh Now I saw. He was like Lena, someone who didn’t want me here because of my background and my daughter. People who valued maintaining traditions above all else.
I stood up a bit straighter. I wouldn’t be intimidated by this bully, regardless of his position in the palace.