“That does create a dilemma, doesn’t it?”
Julian picked up where I left off. The disappointed look had vanished now, replaced with an almost… pride? Impossible. He most likely just wanted more mischief.
If we let Piper go now, wouldn’t the public have questions?”
“What do we care for their questions?” The Queen tapped her spoon on the edge of her teacup. “When the final selections are chosen, Piper’s shortcomings will become obvious in comparison. No one will be
able to deny it.”
“Well said, dear.” The King turned in his chair to watch the television, dismissing the conversation totally.
Fury burned in my blood. Yet I was powerless. Ultimately, despite what everyone was told about this first elimination ceremony, the King and Queen made the final choices about who would go and who would
Rankings were arbitrary numbers that they would raise and lower to fit their vision.
The deck was stacked against Piper, no matter how well she had done in the actual events. And she had
done exceedingly well.
Beside me, Julian’s usual smile seemed tighter somehow. I still didn’t understand the relationship between Piper and him, or what he hoped to gain from it. Yet, in this instance, I could see him plotting. and I was grateful that it was likely in an effort to get Piper to stay.
Regardless of his reasoning, if he could discover a way to allow her to remain, I would be grateful.
We ate the rest of our breakfast in silence, before we set out to go our separate ways for the day. No sooner had I stepped out of my father’s room, than my phone buzzed in my pocket.
It alerted of an incoming call from Mark. Quickly, I accepted and brought the phone to my ear.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, as I struggled to maintain my rested heartrate. He would only call if there was a problem.
Since he was assigned solely to guard Elva, any problem could be dire.
“Elva ran away
My grip tightened on the phone. It creaked in my hand.
have eyes on her,” Mark added quickly. “But I thought you would want to know of her attempt to slip
“Return her to her mother at once.”
“Prince Nicholas,” Mark said in a calm way that requested patience. “She is looking for you.”
My heart twisted in my chest. “Give me the location.”
Elva had only escaped so far as the garage. I found her peeking around the many cars.
When she saw me, she shouted, “Nick–lass!” and ran toward me at top speed.
I dropped to one knee and opened my arms. I braced myself as she tackled into me, catching her in at
She had tears in her eyes and sniffled when she talked. “… finally… found you…”
“I heard you were looking for me.” I gently combed my fingers through her hair, hoping to bring her some comfort. “What’s the matter, princess?”
“Mommy said…” She sniffed. “Mommy said we were leaving and that…” Another sniff. “We might not say goodbye. Is… Is it true?”
Chest tight, I squeezed her in a solid hug. I hated to hurt her like this. “Your mom’s not wrong. You might be going home. But I would have said goodbye, I promise.”
Her arms wrapped around my neck. “I don’t want to say goodbye.”
“I’m sorry,” I told her, meaning it with all my heart.
It never ceased to amaze me how quickly I had come to care for this little girl, and how easily she had learned to trust me. Even that first day, when she’d been running from that woman who had pushed her, she came to me without hesitation.
“But we’ll always be friends, okay?” I told her. “No matter how far apart we are.”
I couldn’t promise that as readily. Things between Piper and I were messy at best. Hurtful at worse.
But then Elva leaned back. She looked at me. And she said, “Mommy has your picture.
opened my mouth. Closed it “What?”
In her purse, With her money. Mommy keeps your picture with her. All the time.”