I knew why I had problems with Josie. She was bratty and juvenile and tried so hard to be me that I felt like I had to be overly guarded when she was near. But it was more complicated with Camille. Even her perfection was a quiet thing, as if she hardly noticed it at all. So though I really, really wanted to hate her, I knew that would look much worse for me than for the sweet, unassuming French girl.
“How is your mother?” Mom asked Camille, and something about her tone made it seem like she felt obligated to inquire about Queen Daphne. It was the one subject that seemed to take any effort between them.
Mom handed her a cup of tea, and Camille happily took it, pausing as she thought through her answer.
“Very well. She wanted me to send you her love.”
“I’ve been seeing pictures of her lately, and she looks the most content I’ve ever seen her.” Mom placed her hands in her lap, smiling kindly. This comment felt more genuine.
“She is,” Camille agreed. “I don’t know what’s come over her, but she has never been more joyful. And her happiness only makes me happier.” Her eyes grew soft at the thought of her mother, and again I was forced to wonder exactly what was going on in the French palace.
“So,” Josie said, crossing her legs quite dramatically and taking over the conversation. “Any chance we’ll be hearing wedding bells in your future?”
Camille bashfully looked away, and everyone laughed.
“Perhaps,” she hedged. “I know Ahren is the one, but we both want to find the proper time.”
Miss Marlee sighed. “So I suppose in the middle of the Selection is not at the top of the list.”
“Never!” Camille laid a hand on my lap. “I wouldn’t take this moment from such a dear friend!”
Miss Marlee and Miss Lucy clutched their hands together at the thought.
“Which reminds me.” Camille straightened up. “Eadlyn, you have told me nothing. What are these boys like?”
I chuckled. “More trouble than they’re worth.”
“Oh, stop,” Mom teased.
“Please don’t tell me anything about Kile! Ick!” Josie protested. Her mother swatted her leg.
“I need an update, too!” Aunt May insisted. “I missed a lot. I saw there was a fight!”
“There was.” I rolled my eyes, remembering. “The truth is, I’m still getting to know most of them,” I admitted. “There are a few standouts, but things change from day to day, so it’s hard to measure who might be better than anyone else.”
“Measure?” Camille sounded sad. “There is no measure. Isn’t there one person who fills your heart and takes up all your thoughts?”
As she said it, a name popped into my head. And I was so surprised that anyone came to mind at all that I didn’t have time to absorb exactly who it was.
I forced myself to concentrate on the conversation. “I guess I’m just not as romantically inclined as some people.”
“Obviously,” Josie muttered under her breath.
Either Camille didn’t hear her or she dismissed it. “I believe you will find a wonderful husband. I cannot wait to see!”
The conversation drifted away, and I listened quietly. I wasn’t sure if I needed to stay in the room all day or if I was supposed to go work with Dad. It seemed like I’d been doing everything wrong lately, and I didn’t want to add to my running list of mistakes.
And I liked girl talk, but I needed a little break. I excused myself and made my way into the hall, not sure of where I would go. Fifteen minutes. I promised myself after that I’d go back and be vibrant and engaging.
By pure luck I caught Hale on his way out to the gardens, holding a tray with carafes of water on it. He saw me and broke into a giant smile.
“Where are you off to?” he asked.
“Nowhere really. Taking a break from the Women’s Room.”
“Some of the guys are playing baseball outside, if you want to come.”
I went over to the window and, sure enough, maybe eight of the boys were out there tossing a ball.
“Where did they even get that stuff?”
Of course. Osten had everything. I watched the boys roll up their pant legs and slide off their dress shoes, pushing one another jovially.
“I’ve never played baseball,” I admitted.
“All the more reason to join us.”
“Can you play?”
“I’m more of a pitcher than a hitter, but I do all right. And I’ll teach you.” Hale’s face was so genuine, I really believed he’d take care of me out there.
“Okay. But I’ll probably be rotten.”
“Since when are you rotten at anything?” he said, leading us out the doorway.
Kile was there, as were Apsel, Tavish, and Harrison. Alex was there, too, and I hated to admit that I’d been very tempted to send him back to Calgary ever since Milla blabbed to the papers. I was still considering it.
Henri was stretching next to Linde, so I instinctively looked for Erik. He was there, sitting on one of the stone benches.
“Your Highness!” Edwin called, getting my attention. “Are you here to watch?”
“No, sir. I’m here to play.”
Several of the boys clapped or cheered, though I seriously doubted any of them considered me a positive addition.
“Okay, okay,” I said loudly, raising my arms. “Just keep in mind that I need to be back inside in a few minutes, and I’ve never played before. At all. But I thought I’d give it a quick go before I get to work again.”
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