I shook my head. “How rude, I didn’t even think about that. Um, here, follow me.”
I escorted Erik to the stage manager, and we placed Henri in the back row of the stadium-style chairs. Erik was given a seat behind him that was low enough so he wouldn’t be seen but close enough that Henri would be able to hear him.
I stayed by them until they were settled. Henri gave a thumbs-up, and Erik turned to thank me.
“I’ll make sure to go to the stage manager next time so I won’t bother you. I apologize.”
“It’s fine, really. I want you to be comfortable, the both of you.”
Erik bowed his head and smiled shyly. “You don’t need to worry about my comfort, Your Highness. I’m no suitor.”
“Eadlyn! Eadlyn, where are you?” Mom called.
I turned from Erik, running around to the front. “Here, Mom.”
She placed a hand on her heart like it had been racing. “I couldn’t find you. I thought maybe you were backing out on us,” she said quietly as I approached.
“Calm down, Mom,” I replied, grabbing her hand. “I’m not perfect, but I’m no coward.”
Tonight’s Report centered around the women. Mom gave an update on province-run aid systems, encouraging others to follow the example set by three northern provinces that were helping the homeless by donating food as well as free classes on topics like managing finances and interviewing skills. Lady Brice spoke about a drilling proposal that would affect a large chunk of central Illéa. It would benefit the country as a whole, but those six provinces would have to approve it by a vote first. And then, of course, all eyes went to the boys.
Gavril stepped onto the stage, looking as dashing as ever, and I could see a bit of a spring in his step. This was the fifth Selection Illéa had witnessed, and he had overseen three of them. We all knew he’d find a replacement once this was over, but he seemed so pleased that this would be his final role for the royal family.
“Of course, ladies and gentlemen, we will be dedicating a lot of airtime to the charming young men of the Selection. For now, how about we say hello to a few of them?”
Gavril strode across the floor, looking for someone in particular. I wondered if he was having as hard a time memorizing their names as I was.
“Sir Harrison,” he began, stopping in front of a sweet-faced boy with dirty-blond hair and dimples.
“A pleasure,” Harrison greeted.
“How are you enjoying the palace?”
He beamed. “It’s beautiful here. I’ve always wanted to come up to Angeles, so that alone has been a real treat.”
“Any challenges so far?” Gavril prodded.
Harrison shrugged. “I was worried that it would be all-out fistfights from dawn till dusk with the princess on the line,” he said, gesturing over to me. I instantly arranged a smile on my face, knowing a camera would zoom in on me at any second. “But the other guys have been great.”
Gavril slid the microphone to the boy next to him. “What about you? And can you remind us of your name?”
“It’s Fox. Fox Wesley,” he answered. Fox had a bit of a tan, but, unlike me, I could see that he wasn’t born with it. He must spend a lot of time outside. “Honestly, and I hope I’m not alone here, so far the biggest challenge is mealtimes. They set out at least a dozen forks for each of us.”
A few people chuckled, and Gavril nodded. “You have to wonder where we could possibly store so much cutlery.”
“It’s crazy,” mumbled the boy behind Fox.
“Oh, Sir Ivan, yes?” Gavril stretched to put the mic in front of him.
“Yes, sir. Happy to meet you.”
“And you as well. How are you managing at mealtimes?”
Ivan held both hands in front of him as if this was very serious. “My current approach is using one fork for each bite and then making a pile of them in the middle of the table. It’s working so far.”
The room laughed even more at Ivan’s ridiculous answer, and Gavril stepped away from the group, turning to the cameras.
“Clearly, we have an extremely entertaining pool of candidates here. So why don’t we take a moment to speak with the young lady who somehow has to narrow it down to only one? Ladies and gentlemen, Her Royal Highness, Princess Eadlyn Schreave.”
“Go get ’em,” Ahren whispered as I pushed myself out of my seat and crossed the floor, embracing dear Gavril.
“Always nice to see you, Your Highness,” he said as I sat in the chair opposite him center stage.
“And you, Gavril.”
“So here we are, one week into the first-ever female-led Selection. How would you say it’s going?”
I gave an award-winning smile. “I think it’s going well. Of course, I still have work to do each day, so we’re off to a fairly slow start.”
Gavril glanced back over his shoulder. “Judging by the thinning crowd, I wouldn’t say it’s that slow.”
Batting my eyes, I giggled. “Yes, about a third of the gentlemen invited to the palace have been eliminated. I have to trust my gut, and between our initial meetings and the information I’ve been given, I feel very confident about my choices.”
Gavril inclined his head. “It sounds like you’re using more of your head than your heart at the moment.”
I fought the blush. I couldn’t tell how well I’d done, but I refused to touch my face to check.
“Would you suggest that I fall in love with thirty-five young men at once?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Well, when you put it that way . . .”
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