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For all the mental time I spent debating how much he honestly believed in me as a leader, that statement made it all a waste. Of course he saw me as a leader.

“And this might also sound trivial, but I don’t think you’d make attractive children.”

“Daddy!” I yelled, causing a bit of a stir. I buried my head in my hand as Dad doubled over in laughter.

“I’m just saying!”

“All right. I’m leaving. Thanks for the insight.”

I practically bolted from the hall, though I made sure my pace was only slightly faster than what might be considered ladylike. Once I was alone it turned into an all-out sprint. In my room, I filed through the remaining applications, looking for anything that might make one person more exciting than another. I paused on Julian’s picture. Dad was right. No matter how I combined his nose and my eyes or my mouth and his cheeks, every variation looked awful in my head.

Not that it mattered.

I’d send him home soon enough, but probably only once a few dates went bad and he had company. The solo eliminations had all been rather awful. For now I had to make a plan. Ten dates. That was the goal before I had to face another Report. And I’d need to get at least three of them in the papers. How could I make them look magnificent?

Mom was in the Women’s Room with Miss Lucy, meeting with a mayor. There weren’t very many ladies holding down those positions, so I knew them by heart. This was Milla Warren from Calgary gracing our home today. I hadn’t planned on making this an official visit, but now I had no choice.

I curtsied, greeting Mom and her guest.

“Your Highness!” Ms. Warren sang, standing to give me a deep curtsy. “It’s a pleasure to see you, and during such an exciting time!”

“We’re very happy to have you as well, ma’am. Please sit.”

“How are you, Eadlyn?” Mom asked.

“Good. I have some questions for you later,” I added quietly.

“No doubt a little boy talk, eh?” Ms. Warren asked with a wink. Mom and Miss Lucy indulged her with a laugh, but while I smiled, I thought she should know the truth.

“I don’t think the Selection is quite what you imagine.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Please, give me thirty-five men fighting over me any day!”

“Honestly, it’s more work than anything,” I promised. “We make it look exciting, but it’s challenging.”

“I can back that up,” Mom said. “No matter what side of the situation you’re on, it’s hard. There are long hours of nothing happening followed by bursts of events.” She shook her head. “Even now, just thinking back on it, I feel tired.”

Mom rested her head on her hand and flicked her eyes toward me. There was something in her expression, that motherly, accepting look, that made me feel understood and comforted.

But there was the same worry there, the hint of stress that Dad was wearing this morning. She brushed off the moment and focused on Ms. Warren. “So, Milla, the last I heard, things were going well in Calgary.”

“Oh, yes, well, we’re a quiet bunch.”

She’d stopped by on little more than a social call, and I sat there holding my perfect posture until she decided to leave. Which only happened because I slipped a note to the maid asking that she come in and tell Mom she was needed urgently.

The second Ms. Warren was out the door, Mom straightened her dress. “Let me go see what this is all about.”

“Relax, it’s just me.” I studied my nails. They needed some work.

Mom and Miss Lucy stared.

“I wanted to talk to you and she wouldn’t stop, so I made an appointment. Sort of.” I flashed a cheeky smile.

Mom shook her head. “Eadlyn, sometimes you can be a little manipulative.” She sighed. “And sometimes it’s a gift. Ugh, I didn’t think I could take much more.”

I giggled conspiratorially with her and Miss Lucy, glad I wasn’t alone.

“I feel bad for her,” Mom said guiltily. “She doesn’t get out much, and it’s hard to do her job alone. But I didn’t appreciate how she spoke to you.”

I made a face. “I’ve had worse.”

“True.” She swallowed. “What did you need?”

I glanced at Miss Lucy. “Of course,” she answered to my unspoken request. “I’m around all day if you need me.” She curtsied to Mom, kissed me on my head, and left. It was such a tender gesture.

“She’s so good to me,” I said. “The boys, too. Sometimes I feel like I ended up with several mothers.”

I smiled at Mom, and she nodded. “I kept the people I love close, and they have fawned over you since the moment they knew you were coming.”

“I really wish she had children,” I said sadly.

“Me, too.” Mom swallowed. “I guess by now it’s common knowledge that she’s faced a long struggle with no success. I’d do nearly anything to be able to help her.”

“Have you tried?” I felt like there was little the Schreaves couldn’t accomplish.

Mom blinked a few times, trying not to cry. “I shouldn’t tell you this; it’s private. But, yes, I’ve done everything I could. I even went so far as to offer to be a surrogate and carry a baby for her.” She pressed her lips together. “It was the one time I regretted being queen. It appears my body isn’t always mine, and there are certain things I’m not allowed to do.”

“Says who?” I demanded.

“Everyone, Eadlyn. It’s not exactly a traditional thing to do, and our advisers thought the people would be upset by it. Some even argued that any baby I carried would have to be in line for the throne. It was ridiculous, so I had to let it go.”

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