The Luna audibly gasped. Some of the girls around me started screaming. Guards quickly moved in to usher them from the room. I was urged forward.
“End the program,” the King shouted. “Now.”
The cameras immediately shut off.
Before I could reach the staircase and earn my favor from the prince of my choice, my path was blocked
with a very angry King and Queen,
“Nicholas!” the King shouted.
“What have you done?” the Luna cried.
Nicholas quickly came down the staircase to join me at my side. I stared at him, bewildered.
“You heard the public,” he said. “This is what they wanted, even if you were too bullheaded to see it.”
“Careful,” the King said.
“Piper won the people’s favor. More, she won the game by the rules we’d assigned.”
“I can do one better than that, even,” Julian said, jumping down from the stage. He carried
bow in his hands. Where had he gotten it? Had his Beta kept it hidden for him?
He threw it down into the space between the King and Queen, and me and Nicholas.
“She excelled even when our own staff tried to have her killed,” Julian said.
“Our staff?” the Luna gasped.
“Who?” the King demanded.
Julian and Nicholas both shifted their gazes to where Lena was tucked in the Queen’s shadow.
Her face went pale.
Julian smirked, “Anything to say, Lena?”
She seemed set, like she had no intention of moving. The Queen herself motioned her forward.
“Is this true?” The Luna motioned to the broken bow. “Is this your doing?”
Lena lowered her head. She did not answer. It seemed even she couldn’t lie to her queen.
This servant humbly asks for your forgiveness,” she said. “I only ever wished to preserve the sanctity of
the royal throne.”
“But trying to kill someone?” Nicholas said. “Piper could have died had her wolf not stepped in.”
“I did not intend her physical harm. I only wished to keep her from finishing the contest. I had no reason to believe that this girl would wander alone into the forest without the protection of a prince.”
“Yet that is exactly what happened,” Nicholas said.
The King and Queen looked at each other. Neither seemed pleased by this revelation, or truly by anything
that had happened tonight.
“This is an evening of supposed celebration,” the King said. “We will handle this matter privately later.”
“But she will be reprimanded?” Nicholas pressed.
“Yes,” the King said. All eyes looked to the Queen.
Begrudgingly, she uttered, “Yes. Lena, see yourself out and send in your successor. I will not see your
face the rest of this evening.”
“Yes, my Queen.” Lena scurried to obey the Luna’s command, scrambling from the room.
The King rubbed his forehead. “What an absolute mess.”
“Your Majesty,” called the publicist as he hurried closer. “Great news! The public has now approved of
your selection. They applaud you for making the choosing of Piper so dramatic.”
Yes, yes, that’s fine.” The King pushed him away.
The producer quickly filled the new open space. “We need to move into the second area now, Your Majesty, if you’d allow.”
“Second area?” I whispered to Nicholas.
“We are holding a small party for those that remain,” Nicholas replied, voice just as soft. “You’ll get more camers time and a personal audience with the King.”
Hone of that sounded very appealing at the moment, knowing the King and Queen specifically had
ted to send me home
tain what i was doing here, Nicholas should have sent me home, Hedert vn
Yet here I was, one of the 15 remaining girls, with Nicholas himself having stuck his neck out to save me. I didn’t begin to know how to thank him, or why he’d done it.
“I think maybe I should duck out for the night,” I said. If I was there, I would certainly bring down the
Nicholas shook his head. “Stay.”
He… wanted me to stay?
I was so confused. But I found that now, just like three years ago, I had trouble denying him, especially
such a simple request.
“Very well,” I said.
Nicholas and I were separated as we were led into the ballroom. The servants directed me to join the line of remaining girls. The cameramen were setting up to record a long shot, moving one by one through the fifteen, until every girls‘ name and face was shown.
When that was completed, we waited as a group while hors d’oeuvres were served, as the King’s servants pulled each girl one by one for her personal meeting.
In the corner of the room, an orchestra was setting up. In the other corner, a water station was prepared beside a table of champagne bottles and glasses.
Twice Nicholas tried to come over to speak with me, twice he got no farther than, “Piper, if we could…”
before he was escorted away by Nathan,
“The girls will be available to talk after the King has had his time to speak with each,” Nathan said both
Times, more forcefully on the second.
Before long, it was my turn to face the King. The servants guided me to a familiar sitting room where I
had once been reprimanded by the Queen for my unfashionable glove length. This time, my gloves had
been perfect, Charlotte had assured me.
The King was seated alone, and I was made to stand before him.
“Leave us,” the King said.
The servant bowed and made his escape. He shut the door behind him, leaving me alone with the King and one sole guard, likely there if I tried anything.
I had no intention of harming the King I didn’t even want to be near him
The King rested his fingers together, forming a pyramid in front of his mouth.
I had leamed my lesson in the past, and waited to be addressed. Royalty, it seemed, really loved to
make people wait. Probably because it was so unnerving.
I knew he didn’t like me. He most likely enjoyed watch me sweat with nervousness.
“You have come to us as a stranger, Piper, but I know you are not one.”
1 am very aware that you and Nicholas used to date.”
My body ran cold. Of all the things I had imagined him to say, this had not made my list. If he’d known… why hadn’t he said anything before? Why hadn’t Nicholas?
“Nicholas does not know that I recognize you. He believes that he had kept you secret from me, all those years ago. He is a foolish boy. I am King. I know everything.”
He tapped his fingers together one by one. “He thinks I gave him room to grow when he was in school. That I allowed a measure of freedom. He is mistaken. His every moment, his every choice, I watched
under a microscope.”
The King had Nicholas followed then. He’d likely had me followed too.
Did that mean he knew about my downfall? About the taking of my wolf? About my adoption of Elva as
I shivered, a hint of fear staking within me.
Why was he telling me this now?
I swallowed down my fear, forcing my voice forward. “What do you want from me?”
“What I want from you is simple, Piper.”
I braced myself, expecting the worst. Did he want me to drop out of the competition? Or something even
Then he spoke, “You will leave Nicholas alone.”
Today’s Bonus Offer