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The thought of rushing or even eating didn’t sound appealing, but I thought it was wisest to get back into a normal routine. It was becoming clear just how much we’d risked last night, and I didn’t want to give anyone a reason to suspect anything at all had happened.

I gave Mary a nod, and we both stood. My legs weren’t quite as reliable as I’d have liked, but I moved toward the bathroom anyway. Anne was just outside the door, cleaning, as Lucy sat in a wide chair sewing sleeves onto a dress that had probably been designed for simple straps.

She looked up from her handiwork. “Are you all right, miss? You gave us quite a scare.”

“I’m sorry. I think I’m as good as I can be.”

She smiled at me. “We’re ready to do what we can to help you, miss. You only need to ask.”

I wasn’t completely sure what she was offering, but I would take her up on any help that might get me through the next few days.

“Oh, Officer Leger stopped by, as well as the prince. They both hoped you would let them know how you were feeling once you were up to it.”

I nodded. “After lunch, I’ll take care of that.”

With no warning, my arm was in someone’s hands. Anne was looking closely at the wound, gingerly peeking under the bandages to check my progress.

“It doesn’t look infected. As long as we keep it clean, I think it will heal nicely. I wish I could have done something better. I know it’ll leave a mark,” she lamented.

“Don’t worry. The best people all have some kind of scar.” I thought of Marlee’s hands and Maxon’s back. They both held permanent marks of their bravery. I was honored to join them.

“Lady America, your bath is ready,” Mary said from around the bathroom door.

I took in her face, then Lucy’s, then Anne’s. I’d always been close to my maids, had always trusted them. But something changed last night. It was the first time those bonds were tested; and in the light of day, they were still there, strong and holding.

I wasn’t sure there was a way to prove that I was as loyal to them as they were to me. But I hoped an opportunity would show itself.

If I focused, I could lift my fork to my mouth without grimacing. It took an extraordinary amount of effort, to the point where I started sweating in the middle of the meal. I decided to stick to nibbling on bread. I didn’t need my right arm to hold that.

Kriss asked how my headache was—which I guessed was the story circulating—and I told her I was fine now, though my head and arm were impossible to ignore. That was the extent of the questioning, and it looked as if no one had guessed that anything was out of the ordinary.

As I chewed a bite of bread, I debated how well the other girls would have done if they had gone in my place last night. I decided the only person who would have fared better was Celeste. Without a doubt, she’d have found a way to fight back, and I was a little jealous for a minute that I wasn’t more like her.

Once our trays were carted out of the Women’s Room, Silvia came in and asked for our attention.

“It’s time for you ladies to shine again. In a week, we’ll be having a small tea party, and you all, of course, are invited!” I sighed to myself, worried about who we were meant to entertain this time. “You won’t be in charge of any preparations for this particular party, but you must be on your best behavior, because this will be filmed for the public.”

I perked up a bit. I could handle that.

“You will each invite two people to be your personal guests at this tea party, and that will be your only responsibility. Choose wisely, and let me know your two contacts by Friday.”

She walked away, leaving us all mentally scrambling. This was a test, and we knew it. Who in the room had the most impressive connections, the most valuable ones?

Maybe I was being paranoid, but it felt as if this task specifically targeted me. The king must be searching for ways to remind everyone I was useless.

“Who are you picking, Celeste?” Kriss asked.

She shrugged. “Not sure yet. But I promise they’ll be spectacular.”

If I had Celeste’s list of friends at my disposal, I wouldn’t be nervous either. Who was I going to invite? My mom?

Celeste turned to me, her voice warm. “Who do you think you’ll bring, America?”

I tried to hide my shock. Even though we’d had a little breakthrough in the library, this was the first time she’d addressed me the same way she would a friend. I cleared my throat. “I have no idea. I’m not sure I know anyone who would be appropriate to invite. It might be better if I bring no one.” I probably shouldn’t have been so open about how disadvantaged I was, but it wasn’t as if the others weren’t aware.

“Well, if you really can’t find anyone, let me know,” Celeste said. “I’m positive I have more than two friends who would like to visit the palace, and I could make sure you at least have an idea of who they are. If you want to, that is.”

I stared at her, tempted to ask her what the catch was; but, looking into her eyes, I didn’t think there was one. Then I was sure of it when she winked at me with the eye that Elise and Kriss couldn’t see. Celeste, the consummate fighter, was pulling for me.

“Thank you,” I said, feeling truly humbled.

She shrugged. “No problem. If we’re going to have a party, might as well make it a good one.” She leaned back in her chair, smiling to herself, and I was sure she was picturing this event as her last hurrah. Part of me wanted to tell her not to give up, but I couldn’t. Only one of us could have Maxon in the end.

By the afternoon, I had the rough outline of a plan, but it was dependent upon one big thing: I’d have to get Maxon’s help.

I was sure we would find each other before the end of the day, so I didn’t let myself worry about it too much. For the time being, I needed to rest again, so I headed back up to my room.

Anne was there, waiting with more pills and water. I couldn’t believe how calm she was about it all.

“I owe you one,” I said, downing the medicine.

“No,” Anne protested.

“Yes! Things would have been a lot different last night if you hadn’t been there.”

She gently took the glass from me. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”

She started walking to the bathroom to dispose of the water, and I followed her. “Isn’t there anything I could do for you? Anything at all?”

She stood there at the counter, something clearly on her mind.


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