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“Ladies first,” he said, gesturing to the cart.

I couldn’t stop smiling as I approached. We were alone. He’d done this for me. It was every dream I’d had as a girl coming true.

I tried to focus on what was in front of me. I saw chocolates, but they were all shaped differently, so I couldn’t guess what was inside. Miniature pies with whipped cream that smelled lemony were piled in the back, while right in front of me were puffed pastries that had something drizzled over them.

“I don’t know how to choose,” I confessed.

“Then don’t,” he said, picking up a plate and putting one of everything on it. He set it on the table and pulled out the chair. I walked over, sat down, and let him push the chair in for me, and I waited for him to fix his own plate.

When he did, I found myself laughing again.

“Did you get enough?” I teased.

“I like strawberry tarts,” he defended. He probably had about five piled in front of him. “So, you’re a Four. What do you do?” He carved off a piece of one of his desserts and chewed.

“I farm.” I toyed with a chocolate.

“You mean, you own a farm.”

“Kind of.”

He put down his fork and studied me.

“My grandpa owned a coffee plantation. He left it to my uncle, because he’s the oldest, so my dad and mom and me and my siblings all work on it,” I confessed.

He was silent for a moment.

“So . . . you do what exactly?”

I dropped the chocolate back onto my plate and put my hands in my lap. “I pick the berries, mostly. And I help roast them in our factory.”

He was quiet.

“It used to be buried in the mountains—the plantation, I mean—but there are lots of roads through there now. Which makes it easier to transport things, but it adds to the smog. My family and I live in—”


I looked at my lap. I couldn’t help what I did for a living.

“You’re a Four, but you do the work of a Seven?” he asked quietly.

I nodded.

“Have you mentioned this to anyone?”

I thought over my conversations with the other girls. I tended to let them talk about themselves. I’d told stories about my siblings and really enjoyed getting into some of the TV shows the others watched, but I didn’t think I’d ever spoken about my work.

“No, I don’t think so.”

He looked to the ceiling and back to me. “You are never to tell anyone what you do. If anyone asks, your family owns a coffee plantation, and you help run it. Be vague and never, ever let on that you do manual labor. Are we clear?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

He eyed me a moment longer, as if to reinforce the point. But his command was all I needed. I’d never not do anything he asked me to.

He went back to eating, stabbing his desserts a bit more aggressively than he had before. I was too nervous even to touch my food.

“Have I offended you, Your Highness?”

He sat up a little taller and tilted his head. “Why in the world would you think that?”

“You seem . . . upset.”

“Girls are so silly,” he muttered to himself. “No, you haven’t offended me. I like you. Why do you think we’re here?”

“So you can measure me against the Twos and Threes and validate your choice to send me home.” I didn’t mean to let that all come out. It was as if my biggest worries were battling for space in my head, and one finally escaped. I ducked my head again.

“Amberly,” he murmured. I looked up at him from under my lashes. There was a half smile on his face as he reached across the table. Cautiously, as if the bubble would burst the second he touched my coarse skin, I placed my hand in his. “I’m not sending you home. Not today.”

My eyes watered, but I blinked away the tears.

“I’m in a very unique position,” he explained. “I’m just trying to understand the pros and cons of each of my options.”

“Me doing the work of a Seven is a con, I suppose?”

“Absolutely,” he answered, but with no trace of malice in his tone. “So, for my sake, that stays between us.” I gave a tiny nod. “Any other secrets you want to share?”

He pulled back his hand slowly and started cutting into his food again. I tried to do the same.

“Well, you already know I get sick from time to time.”

He paused. “Yes. What’s that all about, exactly?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve always had a problem with headaches, and sometimes I get tired. The conditions in Honduragua aren’t the best.”

He nodded. “Tomorrow after breakfast, instead of going to the Women’s Room, go to the hospital wing. I want Dr. Mission to give you a physical. If you need anything at all, I’m sure he’ll be able to help.”

“Of course.” I finally managed to take a bite of the puffed pastry and wanted to sigh it tasted so good. Dessert was a rarity at home.

“And you have siblings?”

“Yes, one older brother and two older sisters.”

He made a face. “That sounds . . . crowded.”

I laughed. “Sometimes. I shared a bed with Adele at home. She’s two years older than me. It’s been so strange sleeping without her, I sometimes pile a bunch of pillows beside me to trick myself.”

He shook his head. “But you have all that space to yourself now.”

“Yes, but I’m not used to it. I’m not used to any of this. The food is strange. The clothes are strange. It even smells different here, but I can’t quite pinpoint what it is.”


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