The Favorite (The Selection 3.5) - Page 3

Maybe it shouldn’t have made me so happy to lose, but I couldn’t help it. They were too good together. He was control to her chaos; she was levity to his seriousness.

I kept watching, thinking that it wasn’t so long ago that she and I were in that same spot, and I had nearly made a confession of my own. But I had held my tongue. Confused as I was, I knew I shouldn’t say anything.

“Lovely day.”

I jumped a little at the words, but as my brain registered his voice, a dozen other reactions followed. I blushed, my heart started racing, and I felt absolutely foolish at how pleased I was to see him.

One side of his lips quirked up in a half smile, and I melted.

“It is,” I said. “How are you?”

“All right,” he answered. But his smile fell a little and his eyebrows furrowed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked quietly.

He swallowed as he thought. Then, checking behind us to make sure we were alone, he leaned in close. “Is there a time today when your maids will all be gone?” he whispered. “When I could maybe come talk to you?”

It was embarrassingly loud, the rhythm my heart was making as I thought of being alone with him.

“Yes. They leave for lunch together around one.”

“I’ll see you a little after one then.” His smile still seemed sad as he walked away. Perhaps I should have been more concerned, more worried about whatever he was going through. But all I could think of was how happy I was that I would see him again so soon.

I gazed out the window, watching America with Maxon. They were walking side by side now, and she held a flower loosely in her hand, swinging it back and forth. Maxon tentatively released one of his arms and went to put it around her, then, pausing, brought it back.

I sighed. Sooner or later they’d figure it out. And I didn’t know whether to wish for it or not. I wasn’t ready to leave the palace. Not just yet.

I barely touched my lunch. I was too nervous. And while I didn’t go to the same extremes as I had for Maxon a few weeks ago, I caught myself glancing in every reflective surface I passed, checking to make sure I still looked put together.

I didn’t. This Marlee’s eyes were wider, and her skin glowed brighter. She even stood differently. She was different. I was different.

I thought my maids leaving would help me relax, but it only made me more aware of the time. What did he need to say? Why did he need to say it to me? Was it about me?

I left my door open as I waited, which was silly, because I was sure he had watched me pace for a bit before clearing his throat.

“Officer Woodwork,” I said, a little too brightly, turning into a bird again.

“Hello, Miss Marlee. Is now an okay time?” He walked in, his steps unsure.

“Yes. My maids just left and will be gone for about an hour. Please sit,” I offered, gesturing to my table.

“I don’t think so, miss. I feel like I need to say this quickly and go.”

“Oh.” I’d built up a fragile kind of hope around this meeting, as stupid as it was, and now . . . Well, now I didn’t know what to expect.

I saw how uneasy he was, and I hated it. I couldn’t stand the feeling that I somehow contributed to it.

“Officer Woodwork,” I started quietly. “You can tell me anything you want to. You don’t need to be so anxious.”

He let out a breath. “See, it’s things like that.”

“I’m sorry?”

Shaking his head, he began again. “That’s not fair. I’m not blaming you for anything. In fact, I wanted to come here to take some ownership of it, and to ask your forgiveness.”

I frowned. “I still don’t understand.”

He bit his lip, watching me. “I think I owe you an apology. Ever since I met you, I’ve been going out of my way, hoping to catch you in a hall or get to say hello to you.”

I tried to hide my smile. I’d been doing the same thing.

“The times we get to speak are some of the best times I’ve had in the palace. Listening to you laugh or hearing about your day or going over a subject with you that I’m not sure either of us understands, well, I’ve loved it all.”

His lip hitched up into that sideways smile, and I chuckled, thinking of those conversations. They were always too short or too quiet. I didn’t enjoy talking to anyone as much as to him.

“I love them, too,” I admitted.

His smile faltered. “I think that’s why they need to stop.”

Did someone actually punch me in the stomach, or was that just my imagination?

“I think I’m crossing a line. I only ever meant to be friendly with you, but the more I see you, the more I feel like I have to hide it. And if I’m hiding it, then I must be too close to you.”

I blinked back tears. From the very first day, I’d done the same thing, telling myself it was nothing while knowing it wasn’t.

“You’re his,” he said, talking to the floor. “I know that you’re the people’s favorite. Of course you are. The royal family will take that into account for sure before the prince makes his final choice. If I keep whispering things to you in hallways, am I committing treason? I must be.”

He shook his head again, trying to figure out his feelings.

“You’re right,” I whispered. “I came here for him, and I promised to be faithful; and if anything between you and me could be considered more than platonic, then it should stop.”

We stood there, staring at the floor. I was having a hard time catching my breath. Clearly, I’d been hoping this conversation would take the opposite direction—but I hadn’t even been aware of that until it didn’t.

“This shouldn’t hurt this much,” I mumbled.

“No, it shouldn’t,” he agreed.

I ducked my head, rubbing the heel of my hand into an aching spot on my chest. My eyes flitted up, and I saw that Carter was doing the exact same thing.

I knew at that moment. I knew he felt whatever I felt. It may not have been wha

t was supposed to happen, but how could we deny it now? What if Maxon did choose me? Did I have to say yes? What if I was stuck here married to one man while watching the person I truly wanted walking around my home every day?


I would not do this to myself.

Abandoning every ladylike notion in my head, I darted to the door, shutting it. I ran back to Carter, placed my hand behind his neck, and kissed him.

There was a split second of hesitation before his arms went around me, then he held me to him as if I was something he needed to live.

When we pulled apart, he shook his head, scolding himself. “Lost that war. No hope for retreat now.” But while his words were filled with remorse, the little smirk on his face gave away that he was as happy as I was.

“I can’t be without you, Carter,” I said, using the name he’d only recently shared with me for the first time.

“This is dangerous. You understand that, right? This could kill us both.”

I closed my eyes and nodded, the tears falling on my cheeks. With his love or without it, either way I was inviting death.

I woke up to the sound of moans. For a second I couldn’t think of where I was. Then it came rushing back to me. The Halloween party. The caning. Carter . . .

The room was poorly lit, and, looking around, I saw it was only big enough for the cots that he and I were sprawled out on. I tried to push myself up and immediately shrieked. I wondered how long my hands would be useless.


I turned to Carter, propping myself on my elbows. “I’m here. I’m okay. I tried to use my hands.”

“Oh, sweetheart, I’m sorry.” He sounded like he had rocks in his throat.

“How are you?”

“Alive,” he joked. He was lying on his stomach, but I could see the smile on his face. “It hurts to move at all.”

“Can I help you?” I slowly got to my feet and peered over at him. The bottom half of his body was covered in a sheet, and I had no idea what if anything I could do to ease his pain. I saw a table in the corner with jars and bandages on it, as well as a piece of paper, and hobbled over to it.

Tags: Kiera Cass The Selection Science Fiction
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