I stared at Julian, disbelieving my ears. Did he really just ask me for a solo date?
Yet everyone in the whole ballroom was looking at us. Julian still held the microphone up to his mouth.
This was definitely happening. It wasn’t a dream.
Which meant that Julian was up to something.
“Why?” I asked, before I could think better of it.
A few girls around me gasped. Only then did I realize my mistake and covered my mouth.
Julian also looked shocked, his eyes going wide for a moment. But then, just as quickly, he burst out
His good humor seemed to erase the surprise of the other onlookers. Everyone seemed to think I had
been telling a joke.
With the microphone lowered, he said to me, “I insist this request is genuine, Piper.”
I didn’t believe him.
Julian always played the angles. Asking me on a date had to be some kind of move for his benefit, but I
couldn’t begin to figure out how. I’d only scratched the surface of the inner politics of the royal family.
He waited for my answer. Everyone did.
I knew he was using me, even if I didn’t know how, but I couldn’t exactly turn him down. He was a prince,
and this was a competition. I was just a pawn in a game.
So I said, “I accept.”
He smiled. Into the microphone, he announced, “She said yes.”
The nobles cheered. Most of the girls clapped politely. A few giggled.
“Our date will be tomorrow,” he said, no longer speaking to me, but to the waiting crowd.
in the center of the dance floor, Nicholas stood. His face was an emotionless mask, but his golden eyes
blazed as he stared straight at me
My heart ached. I wanted to tell him that this didn’t mean anything. Julian was only trying to stir up
trouble again, likely just for the sake of it.
But I couldn’t reach him without publicly dismissing Julian. I had to stay where I was.
Slowly, I realized that Nicholas didn’t need an explanation anyway. We weren’t anything to each other
His fierce, hurt gaze had triggered something inside of me, like a memory response. Every impulse
inside of me screamed to soothe away his worry.
Julian meant nothing like that to me.
Yet, when I looked at Nicholas now, that look had dimmed. Now he seemed entirely blank – bored,
almost. He turned away from me and, even an hour later, had not sought me out again.
The girls, meanwhile, were positively charmed by Julian and his antics. Even after he had sauntered
away from me, they could not stop telling me how funny he was.
“He’s so mischievous, asking you on a date.”
“He had to know it would make everyone laugh!”
None of them seemed to see me as a threat in the competition, which left me feeling relieved. Between
Joseph and Lena, I had more than enough enemies as it was.
Elva, however, found no humor in what had happened.
I sat beside her on a set of chairs lining the wall. Her hands held her dress in bunches. Her bottom lin
pouted out in a frown.
I wrapped my arm around her, but she shied from my touch.
“What’s wrong, Elva?”
“Are you going to marry that prince?”
“Prince Julian?” I asked. At her nod, I added, “No, honey. We’re just going on a date. We’ll probably go to
a restaurant and have lunch. Or maybe walk around a park.”
Honestly, I had no idea what plans Julian had, but I tried my best to help Elva understand what was happening and why it wasn’t such a big deal, no matter how Julian had acted.
She only sunk further into herself. “But what about Nick–lass? Don’t you like him anymore?”
Heat rose in my face. “Of course, I do, honey, but…”