Quickly, I exited the car, Julian sighed, threw the car into park, and got out too.
“Over here, Piper,” Nicholas said, motioning to the space beside him. Obediently, I went where he
Softly, he asked me, “Are you alright?”
The question startled me a moment. I wasn’t sure why he cared. But I assuaged his concerns. “I’m not
Nicholas nodded at me, then rounded on Julian. His voice was thick with fury.
“How could you do something like this? You broke all the rules. Do you not care at all that you’ve potentially endangered Piper’s candidacy for the games?”
Julian rolled his eyes. “It was just a bit of fun, Nicholas.”
“At her expense. You have nothing to lose. She could be punished for your little act of rebellion.”
My y stomach twisted uncomfortably. I hadn’t thought of the consequences like this. I’d just followed
Julian. Was I truly at risk of being expelled?
“It’s not that big of a deal. I doubt anyone noticed.”
“Everyone noticed you zoom out of here first thing in the morning. They even caught your act on
camera.” He waved toward the front gate, where I remembered seeing the camera crew earlier.
Julian glanced from Nicholas to me, and then back again. His smile turned cat–like.
“Just a short while ago, Piper was telling me that you didn’t care about her anymore. Yet here you are,
coming to her rescue like a perfect knight in shining armor.”
Nicholas stiffened. “I don’t care.”
I lowered my head.
“Then why so serious, dear brother?” Julian asked.
“It wouldn’t be right for any candidate to be disqualified because of your careless actions.”
“Any candidate, huh? So if it was Lilliana I had out here, you’d still come running?”
Julian shook his head. “You are such a liar.”
A felt a crackle in my chest. I knew I wasn’t special to Nicholas anymore, but to have him confirm it
hurt no less each time.
again and again
“Just let it go, Julian,” I said. “Please.”
Nicholas glanced at me, but his expression was unreadable. When had he begun to shield his true self so defensively? He hadn’t been like this when we’d dated.
“Fine. For you, Piper,” Julian said. “And Nicholas, if Piper gets into any trouble for this, I’ll take the blame,
alright? So you can relax.”
Looking between Nicholas and me, Julian laughed again, like everything was a big joke.
When his Beta Brian approached us, Julian tossed him the keys to the car and started walking toward
Nicholas ushered me to the side of the driveway, and Brian drove the car back to the garage.
With Nicholas and I alone, I began to feel nervous. I rubbed a hand up and down my arm.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Don’t thank me.” He kept his gaze at something over my shoulder, refusing to meet my eyes. “I would
have done the same for any of the girls.”
“Oh…” The words cut me more than I should have allowed. I tried to hide my hurt reaction, but I wasn’t as trained at concealing my emotions as he was.
The only thing I could do was escape. “If you’ll excuse me…
Only when I was walking away did I noticed I had addressed Julian without his title again. Sometimes, with the way he acted, it was so difficult to think of him as a prince.
But neither Julian nor Nicholas had corrected me, so maybe they hadn’t noticed…
I really hoped they hadn’t noticed,
Inside the palace, I hurried toward my room, but I was waylaid by Lena, who walked directly into my path and stopped, hands on her hips
There you are. Finally. There won’t be an escape this time.”
When do you mean?” asked
She smiled, smug. “You’ve been summoned to speak with the Luna. Follow me. She is in the gardens.”
1 should check on Elva first.” I hadn’t seen her since she was sleeping. Reasonable or not, I always
worried about her health. Mornings were sometimes difficult.
One of Lena’s brows rose high on her forehead. “You intend to keep your Queen waiting?”
When she put it like that, I supposed I didn’t have a choice. I would have to trust the nanny to alert the
physician if something was wrong.
“No.” I corrected. T’ll follow you.”
Lena led me through the palace toward the grand glass double–doors that led out into the gardens. Ast
we weaved through the flowers and bushes, I noticed she was taking me closer to the stables.
The Queen and her entourage had arranged a tea party in the flower field near the horse paddock.
Servants had brought out cushioned chairs and a table. Even a table cloth.
In front of the stables, Nicholas was meeting a girl. Was this another solo date? When had that been
And why would the Queen choose to meet with me here? It felt like a trap somehow, though I was fairly
certain she wasn’t aware of my past relationship with her son. She never brought it up before, if she was.
Regardless, being in line of sight of Nicholas on another date felt like punishment on its own. I braced
myself for whatever further hurt the Luna would now unleash.
The Queen made me wait, standing there in the grass, while she sipped at her tea. When she finally
lowered her teacup, she just stared at me for some time.
In the distance, I heard the sharp, forced giggles of a girl attempting to be cute on her date.
“Do you know why I called you out here today, girl?” the Luna asked me.
kept my gaze down respectfully. “No, Your Majesty.”
“So that wasn’t you in the passenger seat of Julian’s car this morning, while he was off doing who knows
Nicholas hadn’t been lying then. Everyone really did know.
That was me, I admitted.
The Queen lutied as she shook her head. “You allowed yourself to be caught in one of Julian’s reckless
ne should know how to guide her partner out of trouble, not follow him into it
She lifted her teacup and took another long sip. She let the words hang between us for another long
moment before proceeding.
“Julian is still in his wild phase. He will need a strong woman to help keep him on track.”
I had no interest in being the strong woman Julian apparently needed, but I decided not to say so. Let her think whatever she wants. She would anyway, regardless of what I said.
I’d met people like her before, at the restaurant. People who had never in their lives been told no did not understand that their opinions could be wrong. To have it pointed out only ever upset them.
“This is the second time you’ve come before me,” the Queen said. “If there is a third time, then-”
Elva! Elva, hold on!”
That was Nicholas’s voice!
I looked over to where he was rushing toward the palace wall. Up above, in the window of my room, Elva was hanging over the edge, holding on for dear life with her thin little arms
My heart stopped.
I screamed. “Elva!”
She was slipping.