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“America!” Nicoletta hissed.

I held up a hand. “Trust me. Georgia here is a friend, but I don’t know her from Carolina. She’s one of the leaders of the Northern rebels.”

Nicoletta sat up in her seat. Georgia gave her a timid nod, confirming what I’d said.

“She came to our aid recently. And lost someone close to her in the process,” I explained.

Nicoletta placed her hand on Georgia’s. “I’m sorry.” Then she turned to me, curious as to how all this tied together.

“What we say needs to stay among us, but I thought we might be able to talk about some things that would benefit everyone here,” I explained.

“Are you trying to overthrow the king?” Nicoletta asked.

“No,” Georgia assured her. “We’re hoping to align ourselves with Maxon’s reign, and work toward eliminating the castes. Maybe within his lifetime. He seems to have more compassion for his people.”

“He does,” I added.

“Then why do you attack the palace? And all those people?” Nicoletta accused sharply.

I shook my head. “They’re not like the Southern rebels. They don’t kill people. They sometimes deliver justice that they see as fit—”

“We’ve gotten unwed mothers out of jail, things like that,” Georgia interjected.

“They have broken into the palace, but never with the intent to kill,” I added.

Nicoletta sighed. “I’m not so bothered by that, but I’m not sure why you need me to know them.”

“Neither am I,” Georgia confessed.

I took a breath. “The Southern rebels are getting more and more aggressive. In the last few months alone, their attacks have increased, not just at the palace but across the country. They’re merciless. I worry, as does Maxon, that they’re very close to making a move we won’t be able to recover from. Their idea of killing their way down the Elite’s castes is pretty drastic, and we’re all afraid those attacks are going to escalate.”

“They already have,” Georgia said, more to me than to Nicoletta. “When you invited me here, I was happy if only to be able to give you more news. The Southern rebels have moved to the Threes.”

I placed a hand over my mouth, shocked that they were progressing so quickly. “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” Georgia confirmed. “The numbers shifted yesterday.”

After a moment of quiet worry, Nicoletta spoke. “Why are they doing this?”

Georgia turned to her. “To scare the Elite into leaving, to scare the royal family in general. It seems like they think that if they can stop the Selection from finishing and isolate Maxon, they’ll only have to get rid of him in order to take over.”

“And that’s the real worry. If they come to power, there’s nothing for Maxon to offer you as king. The Southern rebels would only oppress people further.”

“So what do you propose?” Nicoletta asked.

I tried to walk lightly into the criminal territory in front of me. “Georgia and the other Northerners have a better opportunity to stop the Southern rebels than any of us in the palace. They can see their moves more easily and have had chances to confront them . . . but they’re untrained and unarmed.”

They both waited, not seeing what I was implying.

I lowered my voice. “Maxon can’t siphon money from the palace to help them buy weapons.”

“I see,” Nicoletta finally said.

“It would be under the full understanding that these weapons would only be used to stop the Southerners. Never against an officer of any government-issued position,” I said, looking at Georgia.

“That wouldn’t be a problem.” I saw in her eyes how much she meant that, and I already knew it in my own heart. If she’d wanted to, she could have taken me out when she found me in the woods or chosen not to come running into the alley after us. But that was never her goal.

Nicoletta was strumming her fingers across her lips, thinking. I knew we were asking a lot, but I wasn’t sure how to move forward otherwise.

“If anyone found out . . . ,” she said.

“I know. I’ve thought about that.” If the king ever knew, a caning wouldn’t be enough where I was concerned.

“If we could make sure there isn’t a trail.” Nicoletta kept fidgeting her fingers near her mouth.

“It would need to be cash, at least. That makes it harder,” Georgia offered.

Nicoletta nodded and dropped her hand to the table. “I said if I could do anything for you, I would. We could use a strong friend, and if your country is lost, I fear we would only gain another enemy.”

I gave her a sad smile.

She turned to Georgia. “I can get the cash today, but it would need to be converted.”

Georgia smiled. “We have means.”

Over her shoulder I saw a photographer approaching. I picked up my teacup and whispered, “Camera.”

“And I’ve always thought America was a lady. I think sometimes we miss those traits because we see Fives as performers and Sixes as housekeepers. But look at Queen Amberly. She’s so much more than a Four,” Georgia said kindly. Nicoletta and I both nodded.

“She’s an incredible woman. It’s been a privilege to live with her,” I shared.

“Maybe you’ll get to stay with her!” Nicoletta said with a wink.

“Smile, ladies!” the photographer instructed, and we all showed our brightest faces, hoping to cover our dangerous secret.

CHAPTER 18

THE DAY AFTER NICOLETTA AND Georgia left, I caught myself looking over my shoulder a lot. I was sure someone knew what I’d said, what I’d handed over to the rebels in a brief afternoon. I kept reminding myself that if anyone had overheard, I certainly would have been arrested by now. Seeing as I was still enjoying a wonderful breakfast with the other Elite and the royal family, I had to believe that everything was fine. Besides, Maxon would defend me if he had to.

After breakfast, I went back to my room to touch up my makeup. While I was in the bathroom, sweeping on another layer of lipstick, a knock sounded at the door. It was just Lucy and me, and she went to see who it was while I finished up. A minute later she popped her head around the corner.

“It’s Prince Maxon,” she whispered.

I whipped my head around. “He’s here?”

She nodded, beaming. “He remembered my name.”

“Of course he did,” I replied with a smile. I put everything down and ran my fingers through my hair. “Lead me out, then leave quietly.”

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