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I kept thinking that I couldn’t live my life for other people, that love was nothing but chains. And maybe it was, but so help me, I needed these chains. I let myself feel the weight of Ahren leaving, the weight of my father’s worry, and, most important, the weight of my mother’s life hanging in the balance. These things didn’t make me weaker; they held my soul to the earth. I wasn’t going to run from them anymore.

I turned at the sound of the footsteps, aware that a mass of people was approaching. I was humbled, moved beyond words, to see each of the Selected come around the corner.

Kile looked at me. “We’ve come to pray.”

Tears filled my eyes, and I nodded. The gentlemen scattered, some leaning in a corner and others perching on benches. They bowed their heads or lifted them, all for my mother. They’d caused such an upheaval in my life . . . and I was so glad they did.

Hale kept his fist to his mouth, rocking on his feet nervously. Ean, as I expected, was very steady, arms crossed in concentration. Henri leaned forward on his bench, his curls flopping over his eyes; and I was happy to see that, even though he didn’t need to come, Erik stood beside him.

Kile found his mother, and they held each other. Kile was actually moved to tears for Mom, and, strangely, that tenderness made me feel stronger.

My eyes moved from him to the other remaining boys, and I thought again of how each of them had grown on me in his own way . . . and I looked over at Dad. His face was red from crying, his suit was all rumpled, and I could see the distress in every molecule of his body, horrified at the thought of his wife dying.

It wasn’t all that long ago that he’d stood where I did, that my mom’s face was one of many in his world. And yet, despite all the impediments and all the time that had passed, they were still deeply in love.

It was obvious in everything, from their shared room to the way they fretted over each other to the way they seemed to be incapable of not flirting with each other even after being married so long.

If anyone had told me I might consider that a possibility for myself a month ago, I’d have rolled my eyes and walked away. Now? Well, it didn’t seem so far-fetched. I didn’t expect to find what my parents had or even what Ahren had found with Camille. But . . . maybe I could find something. Maybe there would be one person who’d still want to kiss me when I had a runny nose or would rub my shoulders after a long day of meetings. Maybe I could find someone who didn’t seem so scary, who made letting him past the wall seem natural. But all that still could be asking for too much.

Either way, I couldn’t slow now. I knew that for my sake—for my family’s sake—I had to finish my Selection.

And, when I did, I’d have a ring on my finger.

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