Anne frowned a bit but nodded. “Of course.”
I spent some time taking in the fresh air, then went over the assigned reading Silvia had prepared for us. I took a short nap and played my violin for a little while. So long as I could avoid the other girls and Maxon, I really didn’t care what I was doing.
With the king away, we were allowed to take our meals in our rooms, so I did. Halfway through my lemon-and-pepper chicken, a knock came at the door. Maybe I was being paranoid, but I was sure it was Maxon. There was no way I could see him right now. I grabbed Mary and Anne and headed to the bathroom.
“Lucy,” I whispered. “Tell him I’m taking a bath.”
“Him? A bath?”
“Yes. Don’t let him in,” I instructed.
“What’s this all about?” Anne asked as I closed the door, pressing my ear up against it.
“Can you hear anything?” I asked.
They both put their ears to the door, too, waiting to see if something intelligible came through.
I heard Lucy’s muffled voice, but then I put my ear to the crack of the door and the following conversation was much clearer.
“She’s in the bath, Your Majesty,” Lucy answered calmly. It was Maxon.
“Oh. I was hoping she’d be eating still. I thought maybe I could have my dinner with her.”
“She decided to take a bath before she ate.” There was a tiny waver in her voice, uncomfortable with being dishonest.
Come on, Lucy. Hold it together.
“I see. Well, maybe you could have her send for me when she’s done. I’d like to speak with her.”
“Umm . . . it might be a very long bath, Your Majesty.”
Maxon paused. “Oh. Very well. Then could you please let her know I came by and tell her to send for me if she’d like to talk. Tell her not to worry about the hour; I’ll come.”
It was quiet for a long time, and I was starting to think he had left.
“Um, thank you,” he said finally. “Good night.”
“Good night, Your Majesty.”
I hid for a few seconds longer to make sure he was gone. When I came out, Lucy was still standing by the door. I looked at all my maids, seeing the questions in their eyes.
“I just want to be alone tonight,” I said vaguely. “In fact, I think I’m ready to wind down. If you could take my dinner tray, I’m going to get ready for bed.”
“Do you want one of us to stay?” Mary asked. “In case you decide to send for the prince?”
I could see the hope in their eyes, but I had to let them down.
“No, I just need some rest. I’ll see Maxon in the morning.”
It was strange tucking myself into bed, knowing something was hanging between Maxon and me, but I didn’t know how to talk to him right now. It didn’t make sense. We’d already been through so many ups and downs together, so many attempts to make this relationship real; but it was clear that if that was going to happen, we still had a very long way to go.
I was gruffly awoken before dawn. The light from the hallway flooded my room, and I rubbed my eyes as a guard entered.
“Lady America, wake up, please,” he said.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, yawning.
“There’s an emergency. We need you downstairs.”
At once my blood turned cold. My family was dead; I knew it. We’d sent guards; we’d warned those at home this was possible, but the rebels were too much. The same thing had happened to Natalie. She left the Selection an only child after the rebels killed her little sister. None of our families was safe anymore.
I threw off the covers and grabbed my robe and slippers. I ran down the hall and stairs as quickly as I could, nearly slipping twice on the steps.
When I got to the first floor, Maxon was there, talking intently to a guard. I ran up to him, forgetting about everything from the last two days.
“Are they all right?” I asked, trying not to cry. “How bad is it?”
“What?” he asked, taking me in for an unexpected hug.
“My parents, my brothers and sisters. Are they okay?”
Quickly Maxon held me at arm’s length and looked me in the eye. “They’re fine, America. I’m sorry; I should have realized that’s what you would have thought of first.”
I nearly started weeping I was so relieved.
Maxon seemed a bit confused as he continued. “There are rebels in the palace.”
“What?” I shrieked. “Why aren’t we hiding?”
“They’re not here to attack.”
“Then why are they here?”
He sighed. “It’s only two rebels from the Northern camp. They’re unarmed, and they’re specifically asking to speak to me . . . and to you.”
“I’m not sure; but I’m going to talk to them, so I thought I would give you the chance to speak to them as well.”
I looked down at myself and ran my hand over my hair. “I’m in my nightgown.”
He smiled. “I know, but this is very informal. It’s fine.”
“Do you want me to talk to them?”
“That is truly up to you, but I’m curious as to why they want to speak with you in particular. I’m not sure they’ll tell me if you’re not there.”
I nodded, weighing this in my head. I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk to rebels. Unarmed or not, they were probably far deadlier than I could ever be. But if Maxon thought I could do it, maybe I should. . . .
“Okay,” I said, pulling myself up. “Okay.”
“You won’t get hurt, America. I promise.” His hand was still on mine, and he gave my fingers a tiny squeeze. He turned to the guard. “Lead the way. Keep your holster unlocked, just in case.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” he answered, and escorted us around the corner into the Great Room, where two people were standing, surrounded by more guards.
It took me seconds to find Aspen in the crowd.
“Could you call off your dogs?” one of the rebels asked. He was tall and slim and blond. His boots were covered in mud, and his outfit looked like something a Seven might wear: a pair of heavy pants taken in to fit him closely and a patched-up shirt beneath a beaten leather jacket. A rusting compass on a long chain swung around his neck, moving as he shifted. He looked rugged without being terrifying, which wasn’t what I’d expected.
Even more unexpected was that his companion was a girl. She, too, wore boots; but as if she was trying to be resourceful and fashionable at the same time, she had on leggings and a skirt constructed from the same material as the male’s pants. Her hip jutted out confidently to the side despite her being surrounded by guards. Even if I hadn’t recognized her face, I would have remembered her jacket. Denim and cropped, covered with what looked like dozens of embroidered flowers.
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