The Favorite (The Selection 3.5) - Page 4

He hadn’t signed it, but I knew Maxon’s handwriting.

When you wake up, change your bandages. Use the salve in the jar. Apply it with the cotton swabs to avoid infection and try not to wrap the gauze too tight. The pills will help as well. Then rest. Do not attempt to leave this room.

“Carter, I have some medicine for us.” I gingerly unscrewed the cap using only the tips of my fingers. The smell of the slightly thick substance was reminiscent of aloe.

“What?” He turned his face toward me.

“There are bandages and instructions.”

I looked at my wrapped hands and tried to think of how I was going to manage this.

“I’ll help you,” Carter offered, reading my mind.

I smiled. “This is going to be hard.”

“Absolutely,” he murmured. “This isn’t exactly how I imagined you would be seeing me naked for the first time.”

I couldn’t fight the laugh that came out. And I fell in love all over again. In less than a day I’d been beaten and made an Eight, and was waiting to be exiled to who knew where. Still, I was laughing.

What princess could have more?

It was impossible to judge how much time had passed, but we didn’t try to call out or knock on the door.

“Have you thought about where they’ll send us?” Carter asked. I was on the floor beside him, running the tips of my fingers across his short hair.

“If I got a choice, I’d pick someplace hot over someplace cold.”

“I have a feeling it will be one of the extremes, too.”

I sighed. “I’m scared not to have a home.”

“Don’t be. I might be a little worthless at the moment, but I can take care of us. I even know how to build an igloo if we end up somewhere cold.”

I smiled. “Do you really?”

He nodded. “I’ll build you the prettiest igloo, Marlee. Everyone will be so jealous.”

I kissed his head over and over. “You’re not worthless, by the way. It’s not like—”

The door made a ratcheting sound, then opened. Three people walked in wearing brown hooded cloaks, and I felt a wave of fear.

Then the first person pulled off his hood, revealing himself. I gasped and leaped to my feet to embrace Maxon, forgetting again about my hands and gasping at the pain.

“It will be all right,” Maxon promised as I drew back my hands. “The salve takes a few days to get everything back to normal, but, Carter, even you should be walking on your own soon. You’ll heal much faster than most.”

Maxon turned to the two other hooded figures. “This is Juan Diego and Abril. Until today they have worked in the palace. Now you will be trading places with them. Marlee, if you and Abril will go into the corner, the gentlemen and I will avert our eyes while you trade clothes. Here,” he said, handing me a cloak similar to hers. “This will help with some privacy.”

I looked at Abril’s timid face. “Of course.”

We moved to one corner, and she pulled off her skirt, then helped me put it on. I slipped off my dress and handed it to her.

“Carter, we’re going to have to put pants back on you. We’ll help you stand.”

I kept my face turned, trying not to get anxious over the sounds Carter made.

“Thank you,” I whispered to Abril.

“It was the prince’s idea,” she replied quietly. “He must have spent the entire day going through records and searching for anyone who came from Panama when he found out where you were going. We sold ourselves into service at the palace to provide for our family. Today we’re going home to them.”

“Panama. We were curious where we’d end up.”

“It was cruel of the king to send you there on top of everything else,” she murmured.

“What do you mean?”

Abril looked over her shoulder at the prince, making sure he wasn’t listening. “I grew up as a Six there, and it wasn’t pretty. Eights? They end up being killed for sport sometimes.”

I gaped at her in disbelief. “What?”

“Every few months we’d find someone who’d been begging on a corner for ages dead in the middle of the road. No one knows who does it. Other Eights maybe? The rich Twos and Threes? Rebels? But it happens. There’s a very good chance you would have died.”

“Now just hold on to my arm,” Maxon coaxed, and I turned to see Carter hunched into the prince, a hood already covering his head.

“All right. Abril, Juan Diego, the guards should be coming to this room. Use the bandages and walk like you’re hurt. I think they plan to put you on a bus and ship you off. Just keep your heads down. No one’s going to look at you too closely. You’re supposed to be Eights. No one will care.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Juan Diego said. “I never thought we’d see our mother again.”

“Thank you,” Maxon replied. “Your willingness to leave the palace is saving their lives. I won’t forget what you’ve done for them.”

I looked at Abril one last time.

“Okay.” Maxon pulled on his hood. “Let’s go.”

With Carter limping and leaning into him, Maxon led us into the hall.

“Won’t people be suspicious?” I whispered.

“No,” Maxon answered, checking around each corner all the same. “Lower-level staff, like kitchen workers or general cleaners, aren’t supposed to show their faces upstairs. If they absolutely must come up, they’re covered like this. Anyone who sees us will think we’re done with a task and heading back to our rooms.”

Maxon took us down a long stairwell that opened to a narrow hallway lined with doors. “In here.”

We followed him into a small room. There was a bed shoved into one corner and a tiny stand next to it. It looked like a carafe of milk and some bread was waiting, and my stomach roared just from seeing food. A thin rug had been placed neatly in the middle of the floor, and a few shelves lined the door-side wall.

“I know it’s not much, but you’ll be safe here. I’m sorry I can’t do better.”

Carter shook his head. “How can you be apologizing to us? Our lives were supposed to end hours ago; but we’re alive, together, and we have a home.” He and Maxon shared a look. “I know that what I did was technically treason, but it had nothing to do with a lack of respect for you.”

“I know.”

“Good. So when I say that no one in this kingdom will ever be as loyal to you as me, I hope you believe it.” Carter winced as he finished speaking and fell into the prince.

“Let’s get you to the bed.” I moved under his other shoulder, and Maxon and I laid him on his stomach. He took up most of the bed, and I knew I’d need to sleep on the rug tonight.

“A nurse will come check on you in the morning,” Maxon explained. “You can have a few days of rest, and you should stay in here as much as you can during that time. In three or four days, I’ll have you put on the official work orders, and someone from the kitchen will give you something to do. I don’t know what your exact jobs will be, but just do your best at whatever you’re asked.

“I’ll check on you as often as I can. For now, no one will know you’re here. Not the guards, not the Elite, not even your families. You will interact with a small group of people on the palace staff, and the chances of them recognizing you are slim. Still, from now on your names are Mallory and Carson. This is the only way I can protect you.”

I looked up at him, thinking that if I could hand choose a husband for my best friend, it’d be him.

“You’ve done so much for us. Thank you.”

“I wish it was more. I am going to try to get some of your personal items if I can. Beyond that, is there anything I can give you? If it’s within reason, I promise I’ll try.”

“One thing,” Carter said tiredly. “When you get a chance, can you find us a preacher?”

It took a second for me to understand the intention behind that request, and the moment I did, my eyes filled with happy tears.


he added. “I know that’s not the most romantic proposal.”

“Yes, all the same,” I murmured.

I watched his eyes get wet, and I temporarily forgot Maxon was even in the room until he spoke up.

“It’d be my pleasure. I’m not sure how long that will take, but I’ll make it happen.” He pulled the medicines from upstairs out of his pocket, setting them beside the food. “Use the salve again tonight, and rest as much as you can. The nurse will see to anything else tomorrow.”

I nodded. “I’ll take care of us.”

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