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Threw several vases against the stonework of the fireplace.

Tore the curtains.

Meanwhile, I pressed my body against the wall by the door, trying to make myself invisible. Maybe I should’ve run or gone for help. But I didn’t think I could leave him alone, not like that.

When it looked as if he’d gotten most of his anger out of his system, Clarkson remembered I was there. He stormed across the room and stopped in front of me, a finger pointing at my face. “If you ever tell anyone what you heard, or what I did, so help me, God . . .”

But I was shaking my head before he finished. “Clarkson . . .”

The angry tears glistened in his eyes as he continued. “You never let on, you understand?”

I raised my hands to his face, and he flinched. I paused and tried again, moving even slower this time. His cheeks were warm, slightly tinged with sweat.

“There’s nothing for me to tell,” I vowed.

His breathing was so fast.

“Please, sit,” I urged. He hesitated. “Just for a moment.”

He nodded.

I pulled him to a chair and settled on the floor beside him. “Put your head between your knees and breathe.”

He looked at me questioningly but obeyed. I put my hand on the back of his head, running my fingers over his hair and down his neck.

“I hate them,” he whispered. “I hate them.”

“Shhh. Try and calm down.”

He looked up. “I mean it. I hate them. When I’m king, I’m sending them away.”

“Hopefully not to the same place,” I muttered.

He took a breath. And then he laughed. It was a deep, genuine laugh, the kind you can’t stop even if you want to. So he could laugh. It was buried, that was all, hidden behind all the other things he had to feel and think and manage. He made much more sense now, and I’d never take one of his smiles for granted again. Those must be so much work for him.

“It’s a miracle they haven’t torn down the palace.” He sighed, finally calming down.

Risking his flying off the handle again, I dared a question. “Has it always been like that?”

He nodded. “Well, not so much when I was little. They can’t stand each other now, though. I’ve never figured out where it came from. They’re both faithful. Or, if they’re having affairs, they’re doing an excellent job of hiding them. They have everything they need, and my grandma told me they used to be very much in love. It makes no sense.”

“It’s a hard position to be in. Theirs. Yours. Maybe it just wore on them,” I offered.

“So that’s it, then? I’m going to be him, my wife will be her, and we’ll eventually implode?”

I reached up and put my hand on his face again. He didn’t flinch this time. Instead, he leaned into my touch. Though his eyes were still marked with worry, he did seem to be soothed by it.

“No. You don’t have to be anything you don’t want to be. You like order? Then plan, prepare. Imagine the king, husband, and father you want to be, and do whatever it takes to get there.”

He looked at me, almost with pity. “It’s adorable that you think that’s all it takes.”

CHAPTER 5

I’D NEVER HAD A PHYSICAL before. I realized that if I did become princess, they would probably become a regular part of my life, and that horrified me.

Dr. Mission was kind and patient, but I was still uncomfortable letting a stranger see me naked. He took my blood, did numerous X-rays, and poked at me all over, looking for anything that might be amiss.

I felt exhausted when I left. Of course, I hadn’t slept well, and that didn’t help. Prince Clarkson had left me at my door with a kiss on my hand. And between being elated over the touch and worried about how he was feeling, it took me forever to fall asleep.

I walked into the Women’s Room, a little nervous to look Queen Abby in the eye. I worried that she might have a visible mark on her somewhere. Of course, she could have been the one who hit the king. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

But I was positive I didn’t want anyone else to.

She wasn’t there, so I moved to sit with Madeline and Bianca.

“Hey, Amberly. Where were you this morning?” Bianca asked.

“Sick again?” Madeline followed.

“Yes, but I’m doing much better now.” I wasn’t sure if the physical was a secret or not, but I decided discretion was best for now.

“Good, because you’ve missed everything!” Madeline leaned in and whispered. “There are rumors that Tia slept with Clarkson last night.”

My heart sank. “What?”

“Look at her.” Bianca glanced over her shoulder to where Tia was sitting with Pesha and Marcy by the window. “See how smug she looks.”

“That’s against the rules,” I said. “It’s against the law.”

“Hardly the point,” Bianca whispered. “Would you turn him down?”

I thought about the way he’d looked at me last night, the way his fingers had glided on the surface of the table. Bianca was right; I wouldn’t have said no.

“Is it true, though? Or just a rumor?” After all, he’d been with me for part of the night. Not all of it, though. There were plenty of empty hours between him leaving me and showing up for breakfast.

“She’s being very coy about the whole thing,” Madeline griped.

“Well, it’s really none of our business.” I picked up the playing cards they’d haphazardly slung around the table and started to shuffle.

Bianca threw back her head and sighed loudly, and Madeline placed her hand on mine. “It is our business. It changes the entire game.”

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