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After

by SJWrites2014

Category: Selection Trilogy, Kiera Cass
Genre: Drama, Romance
Language: English
Characters: America S., Marlee T., Maxon S.
Status: Completed
Published: 2014-05-12 04:24:25
Updated: 2014-07-24 11:10:02
Packaged: 2015-01-06 16:01:32
Rating: T
Chapters: 45
Words: 66,901
Publisher: www.fanfiction.net
Story URL: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10341171/1/
Author URL: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/5721363/SJWrites2014
Summary: ***SPOILER ALERT for The One . *** (Summary updated, but story is the
same.) Years have passed since the wedding... What's next for Maxon and
America? They've had their highs and lows, but always managed to protect their
family while prospering their kingdom. But what will they do when the cocoon
of security begins to crumble and threatens their way of life?

TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Chapter 1
2. Chapter 2
3. Chapter 3
4. Chapter 4
5. Chapter 5
6. Chapter 6
7. Chapter 7
8. Chapter 8
9. Chapter 9
10. Chapter 10
11. Chapter 11
12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13
14. Chapter 14
15. Chapter 15
16. Chapter 16
17. Chapter 17
18. Chapter 18
19. Chapter 19
20. Chapter 20
21. Chapter 21
22. Chapter 22
23. Chapter 23
24. Chapter 24
25. Chapter 25
26. Chapter 26
27. Chapter 27
28. Chapter 28
29. Chapter 29
30. Chapter 30
31. Chapter 31
32. Chapter 32
33. Chapter 33
34. Chapter 34
35. Chapter 35
36. Chapter 36
37. Chapter 37
38. Chapter 38
39. Chapter 39
40. Chapter 40
41. Chapter 41
42. Chapter 42

43. Chapter 43
44. Chapter 44
45. Chapter 45

1. Chapter 1
"Maxon?" My voice quavers over the rush of the shower water. I reach for the
towel hook on the wall as my vision blackens around the edges. The marble
tiles tilt swiftly to meet me as I take a step toward the door. Showering
suddenly doesn't seem as good of an idea as it did fifteen minutes ago.
"America!" Someone vigorously shakes my bare shoulder. "America, can you hear
me? Open your eyes."
I groan. I gingerly finger a growing goose egg on my forehead as the residual
headache works to split my head open. Flinching, I peek through my eyelids to
see three sets of warm brown eyes peering into my blue ones. That's not right.
I only know one person with those eyes. And he only has one pair. I blink
until I see only one concerned face inches from my own. "Maxon." Something
warm trickles down my nose, but the rest of me shivers.
"Oh, thank god, Ames," he says, as relief floods his voice.
"Maxon, what am I doing on the floor?"
"I was hoping you could answer that question, my dear," he lets a wry smile
play across his lips as moves me into a sitting position. "Did you slip?" He
stands to grab my robe from its hook, tenderly wrapping me up against the
chill. I watch him wet a cloth in the sink. He kneels back down beside me and
begins to wipe blood from my face. I recoil, sucking in air, surprised not
only by the amount of red staining the cloth, but by the splintering feeling
across my cheekbones.
"I don't think so. One minute I was rinsing shampoo out of my hair, and the
next..." I shrug. "You looked so peaceful I didn't want to wake you. You've
had so many long nights lately, and I wanted to intercept Mary and the
breakfast tray. There aren't many mornings that I beat you to the shower." I
tuck my wet hair behind my ears and let him inspect his work. He gently tilts
my face in his hands.
"You'll live, but just barely," he teases me and plants a kiss on the top of
my head, "But I do believe you've broken your nose. Do you think you can
stand? We need to take you down to the hospital wing to get you checked out
after a fall like that."
"I don't have time for this today, Maxon. The Report is tomorrow night, and I
haven't prepared my piece yet. Nicoletta is expected this week, and I have
school tours to schedule across the provinces..." I trail off as he helps me
to my feet.
"My love, even Nicoletta can wait while the doctor makes sure you didn't crack
your skull open. Now, are you walking of your own volition or am I carrying
you?" He grins, and takes a step toward me. I know which he'd prefer.

and I appreciate all the feedback. so I'm mostly trying not to make any faux pas! Anyone know how to revise a summary on this platform? ****:)** **Dan-Four-Lover**** I was feeling the same way! Thanks for reading. "Fine."Can we at least get dressed first? I'm sure the rest of the palace would prefer their monarchs clothed. Maxon turns and scoops me into his arms. and I can't help but think that's a good thing for Maxon. 2. "Yes. ** **DaughterofSea**** You're rightâ the summary was a little vague. Too bad I had to pass out to spend an extra fifteen minutes with my husband. I honestly don't know why this situation is so funny-I didn't bean myself with the door or trip up the stairs or twist my ankle on the garden path. A trickle of blood still follows the line of my nose. This is my first Fan Fic. Sometimes I forget how truly handsome my husband is. but my knees don't want to play nice with my legs and feet. I balance gingerly on the bed as he quickly covers his strong back in a sweatshirt. Maxon paces the room. so I decide to lean into his muscular chest and enjoy the trip. everyone from the stable hand to council advisor would whisper about my new facial features." He finally laughs outright and crosses his arms across his bare chest. It's my first attempt.. Without stopping for shoes.. They buckle and I almost fall again. My klutziness is notorious in the palace. though your bump grows and your eyes blacken." I carefully turn to the mirror and see that he's right-I have matching shiners and my goose egg has taken on a greenish hue and ridiculous proportions. This time. ** **prnamber3909**** Thanks!** **SelectionLoverForever**** Thanks! I hope to update daily until the story is over. I maneuver along the edge of the bed to stand." Maxon steadies me as I throw on a conservative cotton gown and replace the thick soft robe. ** **piepie1289**** I'm glad. I carefully touch the bandage on the bridge of my nose and the lump that is beginning to recede on my head. I am actually a little nervous about passing out in the shower." I grumble. ****:)** The doctor can't keep the smile out of his eyes. All had earned me appointments with Doc in the last six months." Protesting won't work at this point. Chapter 2 **A/N:** **I just wanted to mention that I am really enjoying writing this fan fic. I just can't shake this book. my Queen. So nervous to put my writing out there. that The Selection is a treasured but fading memory. Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that we've already been married five years. alternately muttering to . "Let's get you downstairs. Otherwise. but carefully holds the rest of his face blank. "But help me back into my nightgown.

. "Doc's back. :)** **lourouine**** Thanks : )** ** . I don't realize I'm holding my breath until he grabs both my hands and I exhale. looking at Doc with his serious "official" expression." I grin. "I went on instinct when ordering additional tests. I've never seen a blood draw and an EKG for a broken nose. "I hope our baby has those eyes. a crease furrowing in the middle of his brow. Vasovagal episodes are not atypical for women your age. "Maxon. Thanks!** . "Continue your report. knowing I know.." I touch his cheek as Doc quietly leaves the room.." He freezes. If I had the chance. It's endearing and irritating at the same time. I sneak a look under my eyelashes. Doc. more excited every time I say it. I press the call button as he crumples forward and has his own appointment with the floor." Doc turned to me." Doc looks at me and winks." I raise an eyebrow at that statement.. "Your Majesty?" I return his look with a discrete smile and a small nod." Maxon lands back beside me and takes my hand.himself and coming to my bedside to squeeze my hand or touch my hair." He turns those beautiful brown eyes toward me. I suddenly know what he is going to say. and since it is technically tomorrow and I haven't slept yetâ ¦** **SelectionLoverForever**** Aww. 3. "What did you say?" His eyes are wide. You know in ****_Charlotte's Web_**** when Charlotte spins the word "HUMBLE" over Wilbur's pen? Ya'll are making me want to write to deserve your great reviews! I know I haven't mentioned it before. "He probably has the test results. but it goes without saying that the characters belong to Kiera Cass. "Look at me. I would totally buy her coffee if it wouldn't seem completely stalker-ish. He hasn't put two and two together yet. Chapter 3 **A/N:** **Thanks for sticking with me." "Your Majesty. " I begin. too sweet. "Maxon. "Report. and heat flushes my cheeks. Maxon's face still reflects deep concern." I remind him. we are going to have a baby. "Ames? Can someone just please.books**** I'm going to be swamped tomorrow.

but when my beautiful wife needs me-" He helps me stand .** **Athenachild101**** So fun to write the fluff. Everything except for the little peanut growing inside me. not wanting the guard outside the door-Woodwork-or the personal assistant in my suite-also Woodwork-to hear me sob. I don't always have the energy for the evening policy meetings like I used to-and Doc is concerned with keeping the swelling down in my ankles and feet. I'm still not sure how we managed an hour without interruption. So. He takes my feet into his lap and begins to massage my ankles. Red tie loose and sleeves rolled back. During the day. as nothing sounds worse than the paparazzi surrounding the Angeles hospital for a high risk birth. Last night my the same thing." Trying to keep the had another policy lip. Blonde hair falling into his soft brown eyes. "It'll keep until morning. I reply softly. The tears began to slow as I continue to rock and allow my mind to wander to that lazy Sunday. I am determined to have an uneventful pregnancy. putting my feet up on the ottoman and leaning back into the soft green fabric of the rocker. as that kind of time seems like a luxury now. kid. I plan to use a special suite downstairs. is highly orchestrated. weighing his words carefully. "Your daddy is a wonderful man. And everyone else knows it. they all grab a little bit here and a little bit there. He looks at me. but the exhaustion that plagued me at the beginning of the pregnancy is reappearing for the sixth month. "I thought you meeting tonight. love. absentmindedly rubbing my growing belly. ringed with purple. crisp blue button down unbuttoned a little and showing his cotton undershirt." I smile as a gentle kick against my abdomen answers my voice. I am engrossed in my philanthropic work. I get a good look at his profile bent over my manicured toes. and though I had said nearly stalked out of the door letting it slam behind him." I attempt a smile and look away biting my words had been more cutting. though we are preparing for any eventuality. I hear the door crack open. I like the idea of them BOTH having broken noses. ** **candy1928**** It seemed like a response within the realm of possibilityâ plus. bitterness out of my voice. The dusky light filters through the curtains with the breeze. Maxon's schedule has spiraled out of control as the cease fire with the Southern rebels threatens to disintegrate and our peace treaty with New Asia is negotiated.**piepie1289**** Thanks for sticking with me. It's like he wants to make sure that we never have to go to a safe room again. and the quiet afternoon together six months ago. "I thought I'd find you in here. My love for Maxon and the baby engulfs my heart." One tear follows another until brushing them away seems futile. he Wordless.** **_Six months later**_ I sit. and spills out. I cover my mouth with my other hand. "Well. I sigh a little and close my eyes. looks like it's just you and me again tonight.. In my halfdreamlike state. "America?" His voice breaks my reverie and I wipe my face with the back of my hands. making room for him to sit on the ottoman.. Of course. It'll be an early morning.

he folds me into his arms and presses kisses into the crown of my hair. on to the reviews:** **IChangedForYou. but the next one is longer. Maxon. He raises an eyebrow. I shriek as he catches me and dumps me gently. "Hey! Lady with a baby here!" I tease. even with Nicoletta's support and alliances. and gets a kick for his trouble." "Does it get any easier. Karategirl537. "I thought you might be tugging your ear tonight. nothing is like family. Me. I guess I would buy you tea if you prefer? Characters are hers. I'm-" He doesn't let me finish before he covers his lips with mine in a sweet lingering kiss that intensifies and leaves me breathless. Totally respect those who do. too. we'll never be alone again. Ames." Glad you like the choice!** ." The glint in Maxon's eye is unmistakable as he chases me from the nursery through the Queen's suite and into our bedroom. "Rumor is. The rebels forever robbed me of the opportunity to learn my work with a caring mentor." Those words melt any residual bitterness I'm feeling. :)** **And. but it would be a totally different take on the "After. May. ** **zeldafanatic0555-I hope it's living up to your expectations." He touches my stomach for emphasis. and Marlee's constant companionship. it's already easier for me with you here. But." The baby obliges and I laugh. :)** **Lady Unimportant-I just couldn't let a 17-year-old just-married America get that kind of surprise." And with that. being thrown straight into all of this without Mother's direct guidance. it could be a she. Cut it out. I feel Queen Amberley's absence daily. onto the bed. my dear. ** **BeatriceMelarkHolmesEaton-This chapter is short. wanting more. "He knows my voice. rekindling the fire that always rests just below the surface. 4. "America. The story will continue. Maxon? Will I ever get used to feeling this alone surrounded by people?" Even with Mom. Kiera Cass. the offer for coffee is a standing one. he covers my mouth with his. His eyes widen with wonder. and Gerard in and out of the castle. I'm the father.PokemonLuver151.and wraps his arms around my middle. I really am overwhelmed by the support for this work so far. nuzzling his head into my shoulder and whispering his next words into my neck. & guest: Thank you all. "I know. I know it's not the life we imagined. give Daddy another high five. INFAMOUSkidBlue. Chapter 4 **A/N: Wow. If you drink coffee. "Oh. That's right. When we finally part." he grins as he hangs his head and body over mine. I appreciate it so much! I'm posting two tonight because this chapter is so short. "I know. yet unceremoniously. your 'high fives' are going to send me to the restroom. I'm so glad you're enjoying it. And. "Hey.

" After one last long look. I don't think I can keep them out much longer. groaning. And for grabbing you by your belt buckle when you tried to pace by the bed. too. We are together quietly for a few seconds more before Marlee pops her head into the room. America. another chapter on the same night. "All in a day's work." "I'm sorry I implied that your parents never married." He takes his camera from the table and snaps a few more pictures. If it helped you. With my eyes still closed. I never knew how my mother feels about me-how Queen Amberly felt about Maxon-until that very minute. And for giving you that bruise on your hand. Chapter 5 **A/N: As promised. The birth photos are just another rite of passage for us."<p> I look up from the sleeping bundle on my chest and take Maxon's hand. I love you doesn't seem strong enough. touching my cheek gently." He continues to chuckle. so we say nothing. I raise my head and open one eye. I can't even put words to it. meet your family. How about you have the next one? Because it makes me really tired. kissing his palm. trying to ignore how horrible I must look. then all is forgiven. I breathe slowly." "Yes." He pulls his chair closer to me." I close my eyes. And for threatening to dash your favorite camera against the floor. Mama!" Calix squeals. love.** **northernstar-I think that's why I'm writing." He laughs softly. and rests his head near mine. "Your family. "Maxon. Words feel inadequate.** **Now. America. "You were amazing. resting my other hand behind the baby's head. scrambling onto the bed all elbows and knees. I think I'd be obsessing if I wasn't being creative. Thanks again for reading! :)** * * * ><p>"Merry Christmas. Maxon holds up our son. And for swearing that you'll never touch me again.**candy1928-Thanks for the encouragement. and maybe even a little crabby. "One at a time. my dear. "Calix Shalom Schreave. So much. on with the story!** * * * ><p>Maxon smoothes the hair back from my forehead. Several minutes later. I let him. I add. "I have an idea. :-/ Hard lesson. gazing in awe at the new little life in my arms. :) America's learning that loneliness is part of the gig. America. first." 5. "I love you. I feel Maxon pick him . I wonder if he regrets buying them a house so close to the palace. Let's see if we survive this one. Maxon and I nod and my family floods the room. I whisper meekly.

"Well. America." I tease and squeeze Maxon's hand. Trust me?" I nod. and I was excited that the biggest expectation for today would be dinner with family and close friends. Cal?" "Daddy said the baby would like the strawberry tarts. and presses a kiss into my temple. matching the style of my ring. watching my husband four-year-old sidekick make order out of the pile of colored floor. "I have something for you. He removes my ring. He kneels in front of me on the floor as he fishes a box out of his pocket. draw his hand to my lips. and his sweet blocks on the Prince Calix. honey." I raise an eyebrow. We had excused all but a skeleton staff so that they could spend Christmas Day with their families. Calix turns his honey brown eyes to us eagerly. And I am happy they will probably sleep in. The thinner band did wrap around our stones. I say "Maxon. Maxon gently closes the door and leads me back to the couch. I smile at the reason. places the thinner band around it. "Love you. "Yes. By the time we do that. and then returns both to my ring finger. organized chaos will break out across this room. One of the changes we'd made is to have the holiday ball over New Year's. "Love you. then slip into a simple shift with room for my girth and add soft slippers for my feet. I push myself out of bed and pull on a robe. saying." I whisper back. Our trip to Italy last summer was certainly a productive one. They were very popular before our kingdom was established. and pat the warm arm around my shoulders." When the rest of my family arrives. "It's beautifulâ what is it?" "The jeweler said it is called a wrap. we're already married. Lightly." Maxon laughs. Thank you. and wonder if Calix would have a brother or sister in the spring." Maxon smiles. soon realizing that it just wasn't going to fit across the middle. I pad into the bathroom and wash up. Later that night." As he opens the box. "Mama?" "Yes. "Kiss for Mama!" they shout and they both cover my cheeks before racing out of the room. and bearing Calix's birthstone and a small teardrop diamond on the other. adding Calix to our ring. Does the baby like the strawberry tarts?" I gather him up to my hip and drop a kiss on his forehead. "How's our other one doing?" "Fine. basking in the quiet attention and the peaceful room.up. "Why don't we get dressed and then make some hot chocolate for all of us. ." We open a few simple gifts and then Maxon and I retreat to the couch. It would have been selfish to keep our staff members at work when we could do for ourselves. up beside me. watching the rhythmic breathing of our son. We share the food over the coffee table. and I can't help feeling cozy and festive." Thank god for that man. and so does Mama.<p> I make it to the common room as Maxon and Calix return. help me build a palace with my new blocks? Mama. too. we stand in the doorway of the nursery. you have the order of things right. balancing cups of cocoa and strawberry tarts on a tray. "Daddy. your job is to supervise. I watch Calix play on the floor near the tree skirt. Mama will be up and ready to open presents. Our loved ones came and went. son. I find a thin gold piece. I pull my legs and recline into the corner of the couch." "As you wish.

pictures he took of me during the Selection. and we both remember the excitement of finding out that we were adding to our family and the panic as Doc told us that there was nothing we could do. Maxon cradling my hips and resting his head on my stomach. Preschooler to student." I am pleased that he likes it so well. Candids of our honeymoon in Honduragua. Nicoletta pulled us into her circle for eight weeks. and very pregnant with the little boy in the next room. especially cold and rainy.. "How. :)** **SelectionLoverForever: So nice to see your review when I have to be up so early this morning! ** **piepie1289: I am so flattered by that statement. "Are you ready for your surprise?" He starts up. "I love it. I'm glad!** . again and again. and matched the collective mood of the palace. what does the diamond represent?" He leans forward and kisses my forehead. America?" "Are we here together?" "Yes. "Though you may need better agents. But. yes. reaching into the drawer of the table by the sofa. Puzzlement turns to joy as he opens the first page and sees pictures of a very small Maxon." "Then. Maxon. "I know this one is for Calix. and we journey through the pictures two more times before switching the lamp off and walking hand in hand to bed. Like I said. in profile. "I have agents of my own. even though we worked to improve alliances and trade agreements. And then." "Because there wasn't one. you have created some awesome characters." He looks at me quizzically. love?" "There are many in this palace loyal to their Queen. Chapter 6 **A/N: Thanks for continuing to read. That's really all I need. We left refreshed. Student to young man.** **candy1928: I really couldn't picture young Calix any other way. genuinely astonished. Me. it helps me keep writing! Kiera Cass." I say. "For me? My intel shared nothing about any shopping excursions. and carrying a special souvenir. His father's face softened with a familiar smile. I run my fingers through his hair. "The one after." I wink. The following spring was bleak. cradled in his mother's arms." 6." Tears spring to my eyes.Pointing.. Calix and May traveled with us. Our trip to Italy the following summer was a balm. he wraps an arm around my burgeoning waist and asks "Did you have a good Christmas. As he moves through the book. as I hand him a book. Maxon. Toddler to preschooler. Maxon grows from an infant to a toddler." We sit that way for a while. As I settle myself against his shoulder. Our engagement and wedding photos.

disguising our indifference to each other. feeling the stones representing us. I hate how this feels. America and Maxon experienced a miscarriage. How could they not name him after daddy and grandpa? :)** _**So. One way or another. if you leave this room right now." "What do you want from me. too. but managed to find time for each other." I hiss. In my head I scream.5 years. I surprise myself with the strength and ugliness and truth behind my own words. No." He turns. I hate how my heart breaks every day this pseudo-politeness continues. A few months later. So. tossing the closest thing to me. and rubbing my thumb across the new additions: stones for Calix and Abrielle. "Do you hate me. We play our parts so well. because the pain is so strong it is physical. eyes flashing.Let me know what you think!**_ * * * ><p>"If that's what you want. Isn't there a little love left for me at all? I want to see you FIGHT for me. He turns. Calix Shalom literally translates to Chalice of Peace. Ames?" I just stare at that question. this ends tonight. A good thing Abrielle is fast asleep. America? What do you want me to say right now?" I mimic his flat tone. In case you've forgotten. surprised at his display of anger." I twist our ring on my finger. Calix is Maxon's middle name..<p> "You know it's not what I want. they went to Italy for diplomatic reasons. and can't witness her sheep fly through the air and peg her father in the back. Not again. America came back from Italy pregnant. I once fought 34 other women for you!" I wrench myself from his grasp and collapse into the arm of the sofa. I hate the relief we share when we have a good excuse not to take our meals at the same time or when the children fill the silence with laughter. not 'if that's what you want. it'll be a cold day in Hell before I speak to you again. :)** **Issi Herondale: Thanks for the encouragement. "Maxon Schreave. I hate how we are betraying .' That's for damn sure!" He continues his path to the door of our common room. :)** **zyvl787: Glad you like it!** **zeldafanatic0555: I hope it will live up to your expectations!** ** : Me. crossing the room in three strides and grabbing my shoulders. we're skipping forward about 2. but manage to spit. how had we lost ourselves so completely along the way? My heart aches and I put a hand to my chest. "Don't you dare walk away from me right now. "Anything would be better than NO emotion. America? Is that it? Do you want to see me lose it? Do you want to see me on my knees in front of you?" I gasp. Maxon.**prnamber3909: :)** **Athenachild101: Between Calix and this current pregnancy. facing away from him. and it means "chalice" in Latin. Two tiny teardrop diamonds for the ones gone before they could be born. For Calix and Abrielle. "Do you want to see me mad. He's not escaping this discussion for the solace of his study.. "Well. I hate that the tears are running down my face faster than I can wipe them away.

pulls my robe aside to reach my neck.our promises to each other." He stiffens even more when I persist. Nicoletta's offer is for me to recharge. I want to know if you'd rather be with someone else. "And my answer to you is that if you had spent any time with me in the last six months. In one sudden motion he stands. I have been fighting off his advances since November. careful not to touch me. picking me up against his chest. I'm so lonely for us. My eyes turn flint-like as I say everything I'd held back. Dispel any nasty gossip. "Do you really want to go spend the summer with Nicoletta? Would you. can you remember the last time you kissed me good night?" "America. enunciating each word." "No. and whisper against his lips. abandons me!" I stop to catch my breath. I lace my fingers in his hair and press myself even closer to him. I'm tired of not talking about anything more important than the damn weather. they just care for us enough not to rub it in our faces. I'm tired of not letting someone love me when the one I want pushes me aside.. Do you think I'm the only one who notices you sleep in your office? The whole palace _knows_. "Ames. Wishing we could leave the little safe rooms of our own creation. Not able to bear one more instance of rejection. But I keep silent. Somewhere I can pretend we're not falling apart." That was all it took. Where's the trigger to unlock them? I turn to him. Take a break. And it inflames my rage. Insistence to undeniable hunger. and purposefully strides through our bedroom door. And you! You have implied consent by doing nothing. you're wondering if there is any truth to the rumor that the education advisor is having an affair with your wife. "Maxon. I sigh audibly as he moans. I'm tired of fighting. gathers me into his lap and kisses my face. And he is getting bolder the farther from me you remove yourself. The heat drains out of my voice as I continue. "I've missed you. when is the last time you kissed me good night?" My eyes plead with his.. to the night he saw me with Aspen. "And I'm confused. Maxon. "So. Our need for each other palpable. Did you know that Marlee runs constant interference to make sure he's never allowed access to me alone and Carter actively works to keep him off this floor? Even Nicoletta dominated my time at our holiday party so I could feign ignorance at his wholly inappropriate and persistent attention. "I have been such a-" he stops and presses his lips to mine. I'm tired of waking up with your side of the bed cold and untouched. Not knowing how much I crave his hands on my body. Putting myself on the line and willing him to close the distance. you wouldn't be asking me that question." The look on his face brought me back 12 years. I lean toward him. Maxon. and he continues. tentativeness giving way to insistence. trembling.would you rather be with someone else?" He sits down beside me on the sofa. Over New Year's she sensed how-distant we are. . Maxon. The one person who is supposed to protect me against all others. stopping short of pressing my lips to his. Bring our babies somewhere peaceful. And I'm tired. Maxon. Not that Mary's creations catch _your_ attention anymore." he breathes.

So.** **pumpkin21: Wouldn't it be nice? :)** _****We're skipping 18 months forward. I want to give another shout-out to KC. now these two.** **Athenachild101: Glad you enjoyed it. looking satisfied. Even after all these years.books: I appreciate the detailed review. Chapter 7 **A/N: Thanks for continuing to read. Abrielle. Changed. I really appreciate them. Stone cold. but afraid it may be a little much.** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Thanks-I'm having fun with it.** ** . and grabs my hand to kiss it. Griffin.** **prnamber3909: It felt great to right-so glad it was fun to read. "First.7." I maneuver back to my place at the table. Thanks for your thoughts! :)** **piepie1289: Thanks! And thanks for staying with me. Loving the candid reviews. What other vignettes would you want to see? I like the time skipping because of the ability to focus on "touchstone" events. I cradle Barrett against my shoulder. and that you shared your real thoughts. His twin. I will have my tea while it is lukewarm." Maxon grinned. who am I kidding? If I really got to hang out with her. "But don't get any ideas. I'd probably trip on my own feet and spill coffee all over her phone. Again appreciate your thoughts-looking forward to hearing what you have to say." He sips his coffee. and place him gently in the bassinet. and already back to sleep. right? And. Hmmm. and snuggles into the crook of Maxon's arm. kissing the small head crowned with bright orange fluff.. fed.. You're right that life with America and Maxon would not be all fluff-because real love sucks sometimes! Just hoping the "fish or cut bait" discussion didn't seem too forced." Maxon's exuberance is infectious. "Once or twice. Sometimes I would kill to be an infant." I smile to let him know I am teasing.<p> "Mmhmm. I stand and survey the room. That is plenty for a rousing game of just about anything." I sit. "I told Nicoletta there must be something in that water. belly full.****_ * * * ><p>"Italy's been good to us. and begin my breakfast with my customary cup of tea. sighs in his sleep. "Have I told you lately how good you look carrying a baby?" Laughing I answer.** **candy1928: I know. The dim light from dawn is enough to illuminate his white blonde hair. I think four children should be enough for you for now. "One of these days. more is explained in the next story chapter. looking up over my palm to say. I greet breakfast with special enthusiasm. Your Majesty. and dig in.** **nikitabella: Glad you enjoyed it." I intone. looking at me from his chair at the breakfast table. He puts his cup down as I walk past. maybe even hot. . And. a Starbucks gift card and a passing wave would be much safer.

" "That you do. For the first time in my life." A shiver runs down my spine. the sooner you'll be done. "Actually. it may be a little more complicated this year. what are you thinking about?" He looks at me and knows where my mind wanders. I still can't believe he cornered you in your study and described my back in detail to you. and kisses me gently. but with that loss came the fear of never having a large family. When I don't answer he whispers. and I know our time together for the morning is close to being through. Where we took time to heal and forgive. "Maxon. We had grown so far from each other. I couldn't remember how to recover this easy-going back and forth. readjusting my robe as I stand to help with his tie. despairing that he wouldn't want to touch me again. Where we decided loving each other was worth risking. and landing upright on the other side. so if we can catch her on the phone. we will." He gets up and places Griffin beside his brother. Trying to weave ourselves together again. We left nothing for each other." I tease. put on a brave face and threw ourselves into our work and our children. My eyes mist watching his gentle patience. We closed ourselves off to each other so completely. I am a morning person. this is the part of the day that is the most painful to miss. and push away those thoughts.These years. "America. if we eat early. He raises an eyebrow. "A nap?" I joke. Kriss offered to help. takes my face in his hands. ." My pregnancy and miscarriage after Abrielle hadn't even been common knowledge. It's even where we decided to take Nicoletta up on her offer to escape. "I think about it. "Well." "How could he not? And." I thought back to the night where I had given him a veiled ultimatum. Ames?" He pulls on his socks and then buttons up a crisp white shirt. Then. A year and a half ago. At this table is where we poured out all the misunderstandings of six months that led to our unraveling. and grab his suit jacket from the back of the chair." He shrugs into his jacket." "And I know Carter thinks I was a complete ass. I flush. "I inspire loyalty in all my guards. though a short week was all the time we could spare. I take another bite of toast. thinking of the kiss and everything after. too. "Of course he was on my side. Marlee and I need to work through a new school visit strategy. thinking about how closely he must have been examining me during state functions. the sooner you go. Where I got my best friend back. "I'm not sure Marlee has forgiven you yet for all the extra work it created for her. and I know he knows what I was just thinking about the end of that evening." I fix the knot on his royal blue tie. A shadow passes my eyes. "We should be able to do family dinner tonight. When either of us must be away. "What are your plans for today. we agreed we both were wrong-for letting it go so long. I don't think I told you that he overheard most of our argument that night. "Ames?" We started these early morning breakfasts after that horrible winter. but trade negotiations after are unavoidable. And you?" The sun breaks on the horizon. love. There is comfort in coming through difficulty. With the babies.

they have one now. running my hand along the wall. I whirl around to see May. The children. but his side is empty. By my standards. I'll have to think about this. so it serves as perfect procrastination! ><strong> **Athenachild101-They both profess to wanting a big family. We'll see if Maxon gets his wish!** **GavrilGirl: What a complement! Thanks so much. comforting her nephew against her body and relax. I wave him toward the nursery.** * * * ><p><em>**A little over a year later**<em> I sit straight up in bed. insist on drills. and even Maxon. Illea is infinitely safer than when Maxon toddled these hallways. _What is that noise?_ Fear courses through my body as realization sets in. too. They wanted a big family. Calix." 8. "May. Mama's here. _Where is that damn button?_ The babies struggle a little and whine in my grasp as I awkwardly hold them against my body. I turn to Maxon. that's for sure. Maxon Schreave. and even though they are always unannounced. Maxon and Aspen. I'll try!** **candy1928-I know." _Aha! _As my hand brushes up against an unevenness in the paneling of the closet and the hidden staircase is revealed. but only slightly. This fanfic is my first.** **PokemonLuver151-Thanks for the feedback. leaning against it briefly before I head to my closet to begin preparations for the day. see them as a great opportunity to play in areas of the palace that are usually off limits to them. not a bad idea to bring Kriss into a vignette. A point of consternation for the palace guard. and I'd say after 13. It's the end of the semester. There's more to the story. not understanding the seriousness. He knows the extraordinary work involved in . and I am having so much fun with this creative release. I am always forewarned. Barrett is pulled from my grasp. It's been almost fifteen years since the rebel alarms have sounded at night. they've got one. But I understand. I'm already moving for Barrett and Griffin as Carter opens the door to the hallway. but living in the palace will always carry its own special risk. I love you. Abrielle. :) Hmm. Maxon had undertaken the explanation of our tenuous position when Calix turned eight. but I appreciate you for reading. now commander of our special forces. We have worked tirelessly to keep them blissfully unaware of the possible dangers outside the palace.I close the door quietly behind him.5 years. wondering what had pulled me from my dream. I know that's a loud noise. face composed but eyes wide." He nods and I turn to the closet. I croon to them. Calix has Abrielle by the hand. The pillow untouched. Chapter 8 **A/N: I don't know if it makes it sound less true every time I say it. too. guys. "I love you. But they are always during the day. "It's okay.

The Northern rebels were satisfied. "I am so proud of how you are acting tonight. She is still easy to laugh. and I never imagined that the rebel alarms would cease." She smiles sleepily and retreats to a cot. Sis. Elise. I meet Aspen in the middle of the room. I even joked that I would wear track shoes instead of heels if I became Queen. "He's right behind me. would give even more power to the citizenry. she insists on helping us with the children. He knows the . Follow Aunt May. quietly. and I take the opportunity to take a good look at my baby sister. as if she read my mind. Mama. and ameliorate issues surrounding hunger and poverty. When she became engaged last yearâ Kriss had much to do with introducing her to the professor of history that will become her husbandâ I protested her nearly constant presence at the palace. I am standing barefoot. blue cotton nightgown. She's not such a baby any more." I nod quickly. I'll take him." I exhale. and his two little girls. I relented. I am aware that I forgot my robe. hair braided down my back. Lucy's influence. But she contended that family helps family. she is at once beautiful and strong. to establish a parliament. and several rooms on the other side of the nursery have been converted into her apartment. and survey the room. I look over my shoulder and lock eyes with Carter. but his aptitude for this sort of work only grows. loves. Celeste. I compose myself. trying to keep my voice soft. "Here. knowing how much I did not want to leave our children and how much work Maxon and I have to do. "Maxon's safe. Cal. The government coffers of both full to overflowing. I smile genuinely at him. He knows my question before I speak it. guiding Calix and Abrielle. mostly at night." It's taken us a long time to get to the point where we can look at each other and not remember past hurts. The caste system numbers are basically meaningless nowâ except as prejudicial slursâ and the country is more prosperous than ever before. "It's clear. Everyone seems to be calm. _So. I go to May. "Quickly. but both benefit from trade agreements that show how much we actually need the other. and the Southern ones all but eradicated in the same attack that took Amberly from us. At twenty-eight. and when we have to tour. placing a hand on her shoulder." I look at my son and can't believe how much he has grown in such a short time. I turn to him and hand him his little brother. Your Majesty. our jaunts to the safe rooms tense and frequent as we dodged ever-present danger. She balances Barrett on her hip." I urge. "Down the stairs. Our more recent work. They are already frightened enough. Maxon and I work so hard to make sure that drills were all we ever need. Even though she teaches art at the palace school.striking the balance that keeps these drills from being real. Abrielle has her hands over her ears. But. and we now have allies around the world as we strive to educate our entire populace. I follow them. New Asia and Illea have an uneasy peace. Your family needs you as much as mine does. _Stay safe. May brings me a blanket to wrap around my shoulders. He shuts the door and I'm grateful for the boots that are willing to run in the opposite direction." Suddenly. where she and Calix are helping Abrielle stretch out on a cot. which helps when my own temper flares. as Calix continues to comfort Griffin. barely dressed in a thin. have softened Aspen around the edges. Kriss. "Thanks." My statement isn't even complete and May is through the door. "Thank you. surrounded by my staff. Officer Woodwork. curling her body around Barrett. The European kingdoms support our changes." Adding._ During the Selection. what is the new threat? _ Our bedraggled group enters the safe room. Calix reaches for Griffin as he sees Commander Leger enter the safe room. Abrielle's eyes already flutter. She'll be asleep in the next thirty seconds. helping each other get settled until they are released. making sure to keep my fear hidden.

"Explain." I whisper back. We knew it wouldn't be easy to eliminate the castes and establish a more parliamentary form of government." I dismiss each group. She curtsies. "You might as well tell her. As the room clears. "What happened?" I ask quietly. and when I come to Mary I ask her gently to help May return my family to their rooms. receiving the kiss on my forehead with composure. I see Maxon's watch in his hands. "But his people need him alive. and I remain where I am as he checks in on each of his staff. and raise my eyebrow. He lowers his voice. and my little family exits the safe room. "At ease. He claps Cal on the back. "I don't know why you're surprised. and he performs his duties all over the world. "This conversation isn't over. He smiles at me. That wasn't the whole truth. the King refused to enter the safe room before helping clear. "Why all the urgency? We haven't had a night drill since Calix was born." Maxon says as he nods to both Aspen and Cal. He looked right back. I lean into him. It was taking longer and longer to clear the floors." I cross my arms across my chest. ." "Yes. agreeing with the logic. "How long did it take to clear the floors?" "Longer than I would like. "A drill?" I want to scream it. Maxon enters the room. or causing unnecessary worry. prepared for a contest. Aspen seems amused at the look on my face. wanting to impress his father. "What is the new threat?" Aspen looks at Maxon. but both men beside me know that I am quaking. Aspen moves to stand at attention. and narrow my eyes instead. The King and I would be having a discussion about that. Only then does he come to the middle of the room to meet with me and Aspen. I knew I couldn't command Aspen to speak if Maxon had insisted on his silence. Your Majesty." I nod. and helps to rouse May and Cal. instead of around his wrist. But. Mer. The children and staff see my calm demeanor. and demand." Precisely at that moment. He loves his people almost as much as he loves you. but I know I can't. We needed to get in a realistic drill and see where we could improve. it's a distant rumbling now. who each gingerly move their sleeping charges. No use in them losing any more sleep. You two stay here. You know better than anyone how stubborn she is. then makes his way to our family corner. And. and grins at Abrielle stretching like a starfish. he peeks at May and Barrett. pointedly. "Understand. and touches the hand of a now sleeping Griffin. something still pushed at the back of my brain. Even Calix sits up straighter. I know. Maxon and Aspen exchange a glance." "The day drills are not taken seriously. After settling Cal. I return to Aspen and Maxon. and some staff resisted leaving at all. Why now?" They stood silent before me. Mary picks up drowsy Abrielle." Hmm. Maxon sighs and puts his arm around my shoulders. but we fear it's getting stronger. America. so I focus my gaze on my husband. Instantly.safety of my family is in his hands. I am going to tell the staff they can return to their rooms.

Officer Leger. As we do." Aspen turns to me." Maxon and Aspen stand side-by-side. America. but they will be trained. looking slightly bemused. Find the best and pay them whatever they ask. we've made such progress in fifteen years. haven't we been watching them for years? Why now?" "America. "We are almost positive it is because we are trying to establish the parliament. then my whole body is . but really that doesn't matter. Marleeâ ¦ Anyone who works with the children daily trained in self-defense. and some that they never wanted. Office Leger. "We don't want to give away our intelligence. And the country is prospering. then I turn and head out of the safe room. So. _our _bench. We have several theories as to the catalyst. love. Queen Americaâ " I cut him off and continue. I will need training." "The best. And ensure their discretion. and we need to be back up to pre-treaty standards. "Already started. is that it is not as safe as it was. Abrielle. Starting tomorrow. Mer. "Of course. How her catharsis was cut short by a well-placed bullet. Calix. I don't acknowledge the greeting of the guards as I tear outside. The education system you are working so hard on is beginning to bear fruit. if that's what he chose. but it is even more important for you to be among the people. My legs both energized and spent by the sudden exertion." I refuse to be a victim or a tool to terrorize my family. some lost a great deal when we made the initial changes. May. And security. We're challenging the very fabric of what they always believed about themselves. Also. Protect my family. expression serious. and hit the doors to the garden on the first floor almost at a full run. and though everyone is better off as a whole. "Unobtrusively get more security in this palace. I walk more and more quickly. They can train alone or in a group. "I want my maids. When I reach _the_ bench." I look to Maxon." "Right. and children from all castes are benefiting." I think of Celeste. "What we know for sure. How hard it was for her to accept that I had an equal right to him. I don't care if all the maids are suddenlyâ and coincidentallyâ martial arts specialists and the stable hands can hit a bullseye at 300 yards. and how she truly believed that she deserved Maxon simply because of her station in life." My eyes widen in surprise as I blurt out. laws are being amended. I want them thoroughly vetted before allowing them through the doors of my home. The twos have borne change they never expected. "The twos loyal to your father." Aspen nods. Officer Leger. And. I nod. My heart races. But those whose parents were born fours and below show a hunger for education that the twos have already taken for grantedâ ¦ There are so many components impacting this movement. and has become an example of what releasing a stranglehold on the neck of the people can do. We have a skeleton crew now." "But some people are not happy. I center my focus on Aspen. Thankful for the blanket around my shoulders. And. I collapse onto it. Your Majesty. most of my job has been to identify and contain threats. and tell as few people as possible." Maxon adds.But. But. alone. then back to Aspen.

. Last night. and we planned to tell you after that and include you in the strategy meetings. It's still too early for breakfast. follow." He stops talking as I finally break down. and pulls me into his arms." He trails off. Our illusion of safety had crashed to the ground last night. Maxon approaches me. Maxon?" I ask quietly. making sure my tone is caring instead of accusatory. :) I think in the next few chapters. on with the story. a look of concern on his face. TheSelectionFangirl. "Maxon?" But he does place a hand over mine. whispering repeatedly. . "How long have you been dealing with this alone. after I emptied my tears. "I know. or not.** * * * ><p>I struggle to sleep.. thanks for reading. "If I hadn't figured it out. and I'd be happy to!** **prnamber3909. Instead. mourned my parents' passing. We are expecting another round of intel this week. I know. I'll try to provide more clarity without a list. When I open my eyes.. hands support his head. he had silently led me back through the palace to our room. His elbows are on the table. when were you going to tell me?" "Soon. tucked me gently into bed and then held me as I fell into a fitful sleep. My stern reaction from last night was more from needing to feel some sort of control while so much slipped from my grasp. He finally lifts his head. "All we've accomplished. joined us for holidays. even as I go quietly to him. There is really no such thing as complete security. I didn't even pay attention to how anguished and deceived he must feel. We're getting closer to the source of the unrest. piepie1289. America. now. review. He suddenly looks broken framed by the balcony doors. have I.." 9.<p> He doesn't speak. He feels miles away. he rocks me back and forth. Maybe the story is coming together? :)** **And. and celebrated our wedding are planning. whether you fav. He sits down. I see Maxon sitting at the breakfast table-still dressed in yesterday's clothes. and rest a hand on his shoulder. Chapter 9 **A/N: As always. and the people who came to my birthday parties. Feeling a little silly. and he doesn't even have a mug of coffee yet. "I haven't done such a good job of protecting you. If that doesn't do it for you-let me know. America?" His eyes focus somewhere out the window. & Maxon's Rose: Thank you all. "I need to know what they're planning. but finally doze. Another shout-out to KC for her wonderful characters! ** **Athenachild101: Got it. and maybe it is our fault for trying to create one.completely numb." The helplessness in his expression and voice scares me more than his statements. love.

He glances at me." We both stop talking. "For about six months. Kota can't handle being my big brother. I just had to feel like I was doing something. either." His eyes turn to their cribs and then back to me. Ames? I don't know how to bear it. but I think I'd do it again." I think of the other changes that have taken place over the last few months. "How did my mother handle this constant anxiousness." I look at him. I didn't want to worry you for nothing. as I suddenly understand the delays and material mis-orders and the myriad of mistakes that have plagued the project." "I'm surrounded by yours. That really is a flash of brilliance. I'll miss having them in here with us. The silent seconds turn to minutes. and even Kriss and Elise. But. Maxon. but we'll learn. Maxon. I respond quietly." He nods. and eventually Maxon stands and pulls me to him. love. The construction crew and the new kitchen help are highly trained and expressly charged with protecting you and the children. "Those odds with our children are definitely not in her favor. The familiarity of the embrace calms us both. I can't. and we've been following up. I was already thinking of moving them to the nursery." I wrap my arms even tighter around his waist. and I'm not going to start now. yet. "I don't know what I'd do without Marlee. "A good excuse to hire more help. They are my support team. Your mother was right." I smile back. but the peace is tenuous. "Have you slept at all tonight?" He shakes his head." he agrees." He doesn't need to explain. I know that you and Aspen were already thinking about increasing security. my rest will not be as easy. "One of Aspen's security teams. and as weird as it is. not able to control my surprise. He has some ideas about the training. love." I rub his neck with my other hand. We had to be sure. I'm sorry I kept it from you. Aspen isn't an ex any more. I know that until this new threat is contained. It took so long. sometimes I forget you are more than capable of protecting yourself. "It's a good thing the little boys have started to sleep through the night. but firmly. The only thing we hadn't thought of was training you and the children and the existing help in self-defense. I have never regretted one moment of our life together. They're still in and out all day. he's part of the family. and _that_ is a little disconcerting. "Don't ever say that again. "Aspen and I met after you fell asleep. Aspen stepped right in_. "The additional kitchen help?" "Yes. I never suspected I'd think we're lucky to have one of your exes hanging around." "I don't know. knowing he's not trying to hurt me and meaning every word. "the construction for May. Hard to believe I've spent nearly half my life . I think I understand your father a little more. Remember. unaware that in one night their world has irrevocably changed. and then to the cribs on my side of our bed. and is already vetting a team." I get a wry smile from him. Griffin and Barrett continue to slumber." He looks up at me. In fact." I muse_. and I needed you to continue as if nothing was out of the ordinary. "And I probably won't. We are so concerned with protecting you. "Are you sorry you married into this?" he asks sadly. Aspen's team intercepted some unusual chatter." "I'm sorry I reacted so strongly last night. I just. I can't in good conscience do that to May. "And I wouldn't have it any other way. Four on one and she doesn't have any of her own. Though. The knots of tension don't surprise me. But that means we'll need additional help there. America. flashing a weak smile.

and pushed Mother far away. "Why such a big smile?" "I just caught the most beautiful woman in the world looking at me. and it doesn't look like it will be ending anytime soon. too. too. and Griffin to know that the situation is grave. and his smile reaches his eyes this time. but that their father believes we can move through and past this latest obstacle. Four children and fifteen years have given me curves and softness in areas where I was all angles before. I open the door to Mary. 10. His profile is still slim and muscular. stirs a little. Queen of Illea. as I recognize the power in his words. but agrees to the suggestion. It's time for me. Abrielle. we will not fail. and his smile is genuine as he stifles a laugh. As he drops a kiss on the top of my head and seats himself. She quickly and quietly unloads the tray. but rule generally agrees with him. When I hear the water turn off. "Why don't you take a quick shower. My stomach rumbles loud enough for Maxon to hear it across the room. Eat your breakfast. Chapter 10 **A/N:** . but he knows I'm laughing. I fill his coffee cup and sit to enjoy my tea. I just decided that I wasn't going to let them drain the happiness from my moments with my family." I reprimand." My eyes shine with tears that I won't let fall. your coffee will be cool enough to drink. I'm surprised my teenage-self isn't looking back." He looks a little unwilling to leave. It's the only thing keeping me from crying right now. Barrett. He re-enters the room in just his robe. I have always had a special relationship with breakfast. Sometimes when I look in the mirror. to take my place beside my husband and ensure our work is not in vain. though he deeply loved her. to see if he can coax him into a deeper sleep. Together. and light laugh lines appear around his eyes. By the time you get out. placing a finger unnecessarily to my lips. I fill our plates with eggs. My father turned inward as the rebels got bolder and more active.loving this man. ever the more wakeful one. water glistening on his hair. I want Calix. there isn't any gray in the blonde. "Seriously. I ask. And." "Enough. Not push you away from it. A quiet knock at the door signals our breakfast tray has arrived. I have. It's time to put aside the mourning for the life we had just two short days ago. America Schreave. and bacon. A hint of a furrow is always between his brow. though he has filled out a bit since our wedding. Despite the pressures of running a fledgling country. waving away my thank you and closing the door behind her in less than three minutes. He tried to beat me into courageousness as the attacks became more frequent. That should be enough to make any man smile. I want _you_ to know that I'm going to pull you all closer to my heart. Pour juice from the decanter. He sees me watching him. Ames. and I'll fix your plate. honestly. Maxon goes to rub his back. blueberry muffins. Griffin.

and tries to imitate him. We'll stay at this spot for awhile. He doesn't have a true nickname. She's sweet and bubbly like May.books). He will sit and watch the activity without having to participate. "Like this one. he is also first to tease. and shows remarkable coordination for one so small. So. SJ** * * * ><p>My steely resolve from earlier in the morning is waning. He has a stubborn streak knows exactly how far he can push his mother and father. He follows Calix around whenever possible. He is just a year older than Abrielle. Marlee and I will work in the Queen's study today by Maxon's request. I need to be more . He is confident and intelligent. XOXO to you! _** **Athenachild101: Okay. I typically use a desk in the common room. here you go! I know the skips could make figuring the ages hard to follow. because they could take old photos of Calix and say. agreeable to most things but preferring story time.. His eyes are blue. He needs to be right in the middle of the activity. He is intent when he tries to solve problems. a description of the growing Schreave brood. One work to describe him: determined. and they have a love-hate friendship for the ages.5.**I've had a couple requests to slow down the story. but has strawberry blonde hair with a curl to it and blue eyes. He loves his brothers and sister. That way. She definitely favors the Schreave side of the family. but hides a razor sharp intelligence unless it proves a benefit. except for his eyes. I can be close to the children.. to those of you that repeatedly review-totally makes my day. :)** **The Selection Fangirl and MyWorld MyWords.** **Calix is 8. She is already quite the artist. She is girlyâ and loves being fussed over.5 at this point in the story. She is the only girl. and will shriek for attention. He is the most laid back of his siblings.) Even at 1. like America's. and ." Unlike Barrett. Her favorite color is green and wants to copy everything Aunt May does. While he is the first to defend them. The lack of sleep is starting to wear on me. thank you so much. Nickname? Brie** **Barrett is a little over 1. they wouldn't have to take pictures of Griffin.. He isn't truly speaking yet. He looks like Maxon and Calix. Hopefully. And he doesn't need much to be content. (Guest. he doesn't sit and watch. he has a deep belly laugh. ** **Onward and upward. and has all the boys in the family wrapped around her finger. and only take formal meetings in my study. and the family thinks he favors Gerad. He is the only red head. speaking of. He will sleep anywhere at any time. His eyes look like America's father. with the recent turn of events. However.. but is alternately called Baer by the family. I think we're at the meat now. ** **_And. He thinks Calix hung the moon. He has a knack for languages. That little bit of positive feedback motivated me to write this chapter. Marlee often brings her youngest boy Everett with her. If Maxon and America wanted to. Nickname? Cal** **Abrielle is 4. He looks like Maxon's mini-me. (The ultimate time for observation and making connections. In a twist of routine. a necessary trait of the Crown Prince of Illea. but I can't promise no more skips.** **Griffin is a little over 1. His first clear word? Cal. because Calix and Abrielle can be counted on to give him whatever he needs. you continue to enjoy it. like a puppy falling asleep wherever he drops. and I can.

I would either be accused of another affair. So many children depending on us. It is 9:30 AM and Cal has joined the other palace children for lessons in the school room. Marlee!" I collapse against her shoulder. with my heart breaking. And then my eight year old realized last night's disturbance and his new escort are connected. I thought I had cried all the tears I was going to cry. the mask I wear on my face begins to crack. "Of course. As soon as the door to the nursery closes. Carter and Cal concocted a plan where it didn't look like Cal was in trouble or danger but under escort just the same.<p> I pinch the bridge of my nose-a habit I began due to my pregnancy with Cal-and check the clock on the mantel. but she leads me to the couch and pats my hand until the emotion that floods me ebbs. "Mama. A queen must always display a calm demeanor. Mary was my only dedicated maid. Then." As she sets to work. it was hard to avoid. I will stay composed. I readied myself. "What did I do wrong?" He thought he was being punished. I take another deep breath. I breathe heavily-in and out. I return to my room to freshen up." I whisper as I take my face. But project files? I would call a She nods. still as . "Good Morning. I not here. The confusion across her face is plain. So like his father. Without the cameras following me around the palace. I think Aunt May is planning a picnic in the garden today. And. depending on her for flexibility and discretion. furrows between her brow. We'll have to find time to brief May today. however. She picked others to help her for state events and when important delegations visited. but I don't want to draw attention. So much. Why don't you run and join them?" He hugs Marlee around the knees and complies. Marlee enters. and shut the door. "Morning. now with my family at risk.accessible to Maxon and Aspen. I solemnly reminded that he could not speak of this to anyone except for Mama and Daddy. Knowing that everyone in May's apartment is trained to defend us-both with weapons and hand-to-hand-I had no qualms about sending Carter to walk him. bright blue eyes. I promise. I pulled both into the room. Even if her world is falling apart. Everett in tow.. constant visits of the Commander of Special Forces would be seen as odd in our family rooms. Lumping everyone together into a caste goes against everything I believe in. I look in the mirror as I reapply my make up. Would you please grab the most urgent runner. regardless of the circumstances. Everett. Though no one but family knew that Aspen and I had once dated. "America. The count slowly back from five.. Hair in a neat knot. was horrified." I direct my attention to the little boy. and Lucy's retirement. Brie and the boys are in the nursery. I tried not to hate all the former twos. A woman's face looks back at me. As I try to hold myself together." the offered tissues and dab at minute to straighten myself will explain. But many days. I explained to my little boy that we had several reports of civil unrest. or the loyalists would discover that we know of their existence. what is wrong?" "So much. May and Brie and the little boys are playing a game of some sort. but we will be working in my study today. as I reach one. Marlee. But." he exclaimed. "Oh. "Give me a up. "Good Morning. and preferring to have fewer invasions of privacy as my not-so-little family grows. I hear giggling from the nursery. softened by fine laugh lines. Lady Marlee. America!" Her bright smile greets me and it is too much. Cal. and only in the family rooms.

rather than my study. :)** **The Selection Fangirl. either. She is infinitely more patient than I am. but I am seriously flattered by the review. We lost track of the time." . :)_** **Anthenachild101: I'm glad it helps! Btw. a wedding picture._ I finally sit. 11.<p> Marlee has settled in to work at one end of the conference table. Mary. Fifteen years later I still think of her almost daily and hope she would be proud of all we accomplished. read the first two one-shots in your collection. "Yes. and pretend I can feel the energy of all the women who used it before me. organizing project files and making priority lists. and turn from the room. may I bring you a lunch tray?" "Thank you. I have not told her yet why we are working here. Another reason I prefer to work in our rooms. and Marlee's eyes flit in my direction. but I feel I need to say it: Thanks for continuing to read! KCâ thanks for the characters. I promised Maxon that I would at least be in my study meeting-free from 10 AM until 1:00 PM.fiery as ever. I can find support directly from Queen Amberly. Always has been. It is approaching noon. if you can spare a minute or two. but says nothing. Chapter 11 **A/N: ****_It goes without saying. Maxon pledged that loyalist threat would not damage his family connections. _So. and the woman staring back reflects a quiet confidence." "Your Majesty. and my gaze lingers on framed pictures that adorn the left hand cornerâ a formal picture of Maxon and his parents.** **vi-mcmxcviii: Thank you. PokemonLuver151. I resist the urge to pace. There. I take another deep breath. and still Maxon and Aspen have not made an appearance. I spare a glance for the clock. curtsying with the utmost formality. Princess Rose: Thanks so much for continuing to read. She looks a little woebegone. where is he?_ Mary appears at my door. I love the series and am glad my take reflects that admiration! (But ridiculously hard to respond to your review. _Dammit. Mary? Please come in. because "Squeeeee! *fistbump* didn't seem like quite enough!)** **SJ** * * * ><p>I touch the desk in the middle of the room. Maybe if I place my palm on it long enough. I always appreciate knowing you all stopped by! ** **jthornestudent: I'm glad you enjoyed itâ I'll do my best. It is so nerve-wracking to put writing out there. She knows she will know what she needs to in due time. several candids of our family taken by Maxon. And please wait in the kitchen while they prepare it. You have a really nice voiceâ I'll post the same to your story after I post. I glance across the top. I cannot lose myself in fear. I do not want to explain this myself. I smooth a tailored blue blazer over my cream-colored day dress.

" I know Mary will immediately head to our common room. I'm engrossed in my list when Maxon finally appears in the doorway. Carter a half step behind him. stopping short of crossing my arms across my chest. Please meet me before dinner in the family rooms. Please. "Of course. have a seat. it has certainly worked. as he bit into a croissant filled with chicken salad. "Thank you. As silly as it is. and helps set out the plates. and brought enough food for three times as many people. discretion is of the utmost importance. prepare the table. and sighs a little. eyes going from one face to another. If your goal is to make me incredibly nervous. Your Majesty." I said. Maxon turns a warm smile to Mary. No need to stay and serve. Better to laugh than cry. I have an idea for the dress you were speaking we me about this morning. _You're late. He wipes his mouth. my Queen." "In the palace? Confirmed informants on staff?" As Maxon nods. as he and Carter both seat themselves. I stop her with. Now. And. Mary knew I was waiting for Maxon. I feel better knowing she is there while Carter is here. "Are you ready to debrief Lady Marlee? I have kept her in suspense all morning. and the measures we have already put into place. I wave her in. Officer Woodwork. Our telepathic conversation is interrupted by Mary's arrival." His eyes are teasing me gently. She stops short. I begin to scratch a to-do list in light of the new developments." The tray was piled with croissants stuffed with savory fillings. I stand and cock my head to the side." I turn my attention to a blank piece of paper on my blotter. I didn't have a chance to ask you two gentleman if you have taken lunch yet. as if he can tell that I'm thinking. and will be arriving here shortly to update all of us. She puts her napkin on the table. it seems like our esteemed Queen America has had enough of waiting today. Marlee looks up. Maxon quickly and explains about the loyalists. He looks at both of us as he concludes. and sliced cake._ He responds by raising an eyebrow. "This must be quite the announcement. I very much want to hear what the palace staff thinks of last night's drill. And chocolate cake. Marlee rises and curtsies." Marlee's usual smile was hidden with a frown of concern. since I can only assume Commander Leger will be here shortlyâ ¦" "Well. "Commander Leger has new information." Maxon seems to be enjoying testing my hospitality skills. "Mary. "It is not every afternoon we have our luncheon with such wonderful company. "Please. a bowl of mixed cut fresh fruit. "Oh. Of course." "Thank you." She curtsies again and turns to leave. Grabbing a pen." "Yes."Of course. and the next immediate steps. my King. in and out of the palace. and quietly says. Marlee clears our files. my face betrays . _Trust me?_ I nod imperceptibly." Maxon smiles at me and takes my hand across the table. thank you Mary. Mary will hopefully bring back the kitchen gossip with our lunches.

Again. though teasing. Sorry. armed the Northern rebels. and I for one am not giving them anything they want. "Just think. who's at the door to the family rooms?" "Avery. "You can do this. And we were usually able to monitor them as much as they monitor us. . appreciate the support. and hope the butt-kicking works for you. Aspen and I have both depended on him for our lives. and I always enjoy the reviews. ** **Athenachild101: Hmmmmâ ¦interesting consideration. b/c reviews are coming in late. something that rarely occurs. Of course. more than once. I know the chapters started out especially short." 12. tracking down a loyalist uprising. and I fight to subdue the panic that threatens to reveal itself as I receive each new piece of information. They _want_ us to fall apart. not just member of our staff. :)** **The Selection Fangirl: Thanksâ and I'll try. However.my true emotions. that means a lot. Aspen is framed briefly in the doorway as he ushers in three additional people. and gave birth to four children without pain medication. the calmer we are the easier it will be to keep everyone safe. Marlee hops up to close my study door. Looking forward to your constructive critique. I stand. We'll see." His statements. Maxon and I both try to hide our surprise as August Illea extends his hand. "Carter. All I can say is it's comingâ ¦ Thanks for the encouragement." Maxon pushes his chair from the table. and turn from the table. When he releases me. and then swiftly closes the door behind him. did have a ring of truth. "Come here.)** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Thanks :)** **jthornestudent: I must have something set weird. Ames" he says. Chapter 12 **A/N: Thank you for continuing to read. But thanks. Rooting out disloyal staff. Queen America. love. as there is a sharp staccato knock at the door. "There's my girl. Maxon nods to Carter. and wraps me in a hug when I respond.** **Totalbooknerd13: Thank you." "And you trust him?" "Yes. and they got longer and longerâ ¦** . and I push my plate from me. I understand you require my assistance. I'm glad you're enjoying it. I knew that we've always had spies on staff. I know he's right. They are truly our friends. :)** **vi-mcmxcviii: Glad you're loving it. I grab the to-list from my desk. my obvious anguish encourages Carter and Marlee to drop formality. and he opens the door. turning his full attention to me. And lean against the polished wood "I was making a list of some things we might want to consider. He whispers in my ear as Carter and Marlee turn discretely away. "Your majesties. should be all in a day's work for the woman who initiated the removal of the caste system." He kisses my temple and squeezes me a little tighter." I begin." I nod and attempt a smile.

we understand that the Loyalists have managed to organize. They ultimately saved us from total destruction with the help of weapons provided by way of an Italian alliance orchestrated by me at a tea meant to show I had no connections. We are no longer considered rebels. As you know. We did not lose so many of our own only to let cronies of Clarkson regroup and rewind our progress. I know. it is so good to see you again." She takes the seat I offer her and the cake Marlee places before her and continues." August smiles at Marlee as he accepts a piece of cake. We are so proud of our connection to the direction the country is taking. _C'mon. Mer. motioning for Aspen to do the same.**Melody: Thanks for the review. "Good afternoon. we hope you will be on board. but I see there is. "I was going to say. Did everyone see _The Queen_ novella is coming out in Dec 2014? * * * ><p>As Maxon shakes August's hand." "All I've been hearing about all morning is that Commander Leger has a brilliant plan.** **_Hope you enjoy the next chapter!_** **SJ** PS. only if there's cake. they were in the palace the night the Southern rebels attacked. as well. And. "I am so looking forward to hearing it. since we are allied to a fair and forward-thinking King." "I'm flattered. I look at them both. Cousins. "To what do we owe the pleasure?" August joins his wife at the table." I smile._ Maxon sits at the table. as Commander Leger has shared with us. Blank slates. right." But his eyes speak back. we're family. I mentally pick my jaw up and fix my face into a composed smile. it means a bit more. "Cousin. "Your Majesty. a little dazzled. we are all here to keep the people of Illeaâ including its royal familyâ from coming to harm. Georgia. We all turn to . At least they decided to fish! Hope the rest of the chapters don't disappoint.<p> Georgia laughs. Would you care for anything to eat?" How long had it been since I had actually seen August and Georgia? It seems like yesterday that told Maxon they could avoid conflict with the Northern rebels by marrying me. "I know we were a surprise for you. Georgia pats my hand. both for Maxon and the country." He nods in Maxon's direction. You also know that the Northern rebels protected you with our lives. Soon after. we know that puts you in an uncomfortable position. but I'm not sureâ ¦" I look questioningly to first Maxon and then Aspen. keeping a low profile. but when you hear the plan we've developed with Commander Leger's team under the King's approval. But the peace that had enveloped the palace in the last fifteen years pushed them to the back of my mind. You can trust me. "But we are still sworn to protect your monarchy. that has meant keeping our ears to the ground and our training up-to-date. Then. and instead make me ask. "America. we had attended their wedding. over the last fifteen years. Those fish or cut bait discussions really suck in a relationship. I suppose. August and I always knew you were the right choice. tilting his head to me. They give me nothing." Aspen sees the warning in my eyes and responds. Now. though I grit my back teeth.

their informants collected mostly insignificant data that we didn't mind sharing. Your Majesty." Angry. Commander Leger. "Parliament._ I respond. I was just unaware that his side assignment was to drive a wedge between the King and Queen by whatever means possible as he gathered information for people who would rather see us dead than alive. because we know all these things already._ Everyone around the table looks at me carefully. "Were we aware of his affiliations when he worked here?" "No. "Yes. Their daughters represented their provinces for the Selection. Suddenly. The structure for the province representation started under intense debate two years ago. We discovered his loyalist bent several months after he left. They were the most prepared to take advantage of our new alliances and trade agreements. You should be angry. eyes approving my reaction. In the palace. They had access to the palace. but I know by the tension in his arm that the one in his lap is balled into a tight fist. Some were his advisors. was from a family of twos that helped to organize the university system in the provinces. they hadn't even been particularly organized. "I know that. I'm so angry. as well." "First. _That's right. noticing that his face is carefully composed. the ousting of Didasko was a catalyst. while he had both of us distracted and isolated. trying to make connections. we know that the Queen has some ideas that would help increase the security of the royal family. as we act. The Loyalists have never demanded anything or made an overt gesture. Breathe out. We believe we know the catalyst for the organization of the Loyalists.him as he speaks. _Breathe in. the knuckles white. as well as their ultimate aim._ My eyes flash. Didasko. Their businesses were flourishing. I look at Maxon." Aspen nods. Your Majesty." About the same time we had Barrett and Griffin. And it is still being amended. That doesn't mean all twos are loyalists. Didasko?" _Breathe in." Maxon finishes. former head education advisor. . but King Clarkson's special group received unimaginable perks.' I refocus. you may report. though they might not like their children schooling side-by-side the children of the kitchen help. the gold from our new Illean partnerships often flowed through their fingers. but the citizens of Illea. "So. allowing an icy edge to creep into my voice. And." I look at the table and furrow my brow. We almost allowed him to ruin our marriage. Breathe out. he collected the information he needed to begin an uprising and threaten our family." Aspen looks at me. butâ ¦" "They're planning to make sure every seat is taken by a Loyalist or a Loyalist puppet. not just our family." I remove myself mentally a little as Aspen speaks. "We have known that twos loyal to the crown have not ever been supportive of the union between their Crown Prince and a former five. I remind myself. Didasko did more than try to subvert our work. he almost succeeded in convincing my husband that I was unfaithful to him. automatic government contracts. choosing instead to let me hear _that_ name in front of a group of people. Portray calm. It will still be a few years before even the rudimentary plans can be enacted. When he says the name 'Didasko. "Commander Leger and his team have some interesting information to report. approximately a year ago. I look up. but his jaw is clenched as tightly as mine is. Until the last year. Mer. And. The hand resting on the table is flat and relaxed. I cannot believe Aspen and Maxon neglected to give me a heads up about this. "Excuse me did you say.

too. My hand unconsciously goes to the scar hidden under my blazer." I try to joke. "The only reason we know about special resentment for you. but it can be just as dangerous.Aspen looks to August. Every time I say the name. Our son Ethan has been learning tactics since he was Abrielle's age. I give her a warm smile." "So. she's one of the best in Illea. I travel back in time. you are a target. what's next?" Georgia says." August explains. Queen America. is Didasko the head of the movement?" I ask. "You helped me more than I helped you!" Georgia continues. "We gravely underestimated our opponents." as she tilts her head in my direction. defend . You asked for the best. as long as you do not mind." he nods to Aspen to finish the statement." "Easy to do when you were so used to running for your life. This way. I want to dash the stack of dessert plates against the far wall. when dismissing him from the council. but I can't place why. "So. your Majesty." "Oh. Instead I say. her face reflecting my disgust. and it has been fifteen years in the making. "I don't think I ever properly thanked you for helping me that night. I want to throw myself in Maxon's arms. Again. impatiently. and let him comfort me with kisses. I dearly hope my face is still composed." Paige explained." I nod quietly. "We believe he is one of three. Marlee catches my eye. "We've met. I will be joining your staff as one of your personal assistants. We and then the King added insult loosened his lips. thankfully." "We have been zeroing in on the sources. he had the penchant for coming to me. I shiver inwardly. Lady Marlee and Lady May to be trained. Paige will join your staff as a nanny to the children. It isn't close to finished now. She can train them and Lady May. but we have not pinpointed the other two. Commander Leger shared your wish to be trained in selfdefense tactics. Her face looks familiar. It's But it also means in no uncertain terms that I want to jump up and run from the room. Another few inches to the leftâ ¦ "Ah! That it explains why I can't remember. and should the need arise. is because he holds a believe he has taken your rejection personally. Making veiled statements aboutâ ¦I push those experiences from my brain. but they are extremely careful when it comes to this plan. maybe the world. That you wish the older children. "Paige has been working with us since you saved her from the fate of a young girl without family on the streets. We think that is an excellent idea. In this very office. So. but you'll have to remind me of your name. She remembers." "Paige. "Cousin. This race will be a little bit different. She is a highly trained informant. haven't we? I'm sorry. My eyes finally turn to the third member of the Northern group. The only reason we know about Didasko. if you agree." Didasko. Just theater used to distract. and part of the new security plan for the palace. "They aren't going to risk the ultimate goal by getting sloppy. surprising myself with my composure. I can be with you and Lady Marlee at all times of the day without drawing undue attention to myself. Your Majesty. Aspen answers. Lingering too long after kissing my hand. Cousin America.

" I feel relief when I hear Maxon dismiss the team. and watch as Carter and Marlee leave to head back to our family rooms. I'm glad you enjoyed it!** **Totalbooknerd13: Your review made me laugh out loudâ looking at me. :)** seriously. I really don't want him to extol my virtues while my motivation today was to stay alive. Today is just another example. but refuse to let any more tears roll down my cheeks today. if you're willing to debrief her. "I love you." Marlee says quietly. I feel the same wayâ can't wait to read it." Carter nods and they both head out the door. wrapping my arms around his neck and playing with his collar. The one after makes me forget what I was saying. He is not as quick as he once was to scoff at my ideas. America. btw. people were **going for the win: Doing my best. I go to him and take it. holding out his hand. including ways not to draw attention to those same necessary plans." I tease. I've been thinking about a scene with Magdaâ ¦ my stumbling block? How would an adult America with her own large family interact with the parent she was less connected with? Thanks for reading.. Chapter 13 **A/N: ** **mundane-pansycakes: Love your screen name." "Thank you. 13." I exaggerate a curtsy. He does chuckle and pulls me the rest of the way into his arms." "Better enjoy that while you can. but anyone could tell how tenderly they feel for one another just by looking at them. He cocks his head and looks at me saying. trying to lighten the mood." We spent most of the rest of the afternoon sketching out training schedules and security plans." "Of course." he tilts my chin up and places a soft kiss against my lips. "Always. We will have you reenter the palace tomorrow under your new employment. But. The Loyalists have already stolen enough of my time. The light outside the windows turns dusky and Aspen stands. then . I know re: ****_The Queen_****. commenting to Maxon and the Northern team. I participated fully in the strategy session with Maxon's encouragement. "So many people are going to be in our common rooms. "We'll wait until you and Maxon return. "Could you arrange time for May to talk to Carter? That is. "Now might be a good time to leave.them. "America. Maxon quietly shuts the study door and turns to me.. They are careful not to touch in the palace hallways." I smile genuinely. I know she is probably anxious to hear." His next kiss stops me from finishing my statement. thanks!** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Thanks for continuing to read and review. "I always knew you'd be a good queen for Illea.

If he is in my office too much during the day." Stavros is the only remaining advisor from Clarkson's council. These families are friends and confidants. Even when Clarkson was still alive. but again. but our customary tray already sits on the table. "I'm upâ ¦I'm up. but he only wears dark sweatpants for breakfast. and I am almost positive you can't count on me for dinner tonight. We'll miss breakfast. "Is the training room prepared?" "Another thing we checked on last night. love. I couldn't bear to look. but he has always been especially allied to Maxon. "I don't even know. we're dressing formally for breakfast. What do you think of the new development?** **jthornestudent: Thanksâ glad it's keeping your interest. Stavros would support Maxon's ideas in council meetings." I whine. then?" He offers me his hand and pulls me to my feet. When did you finally come to bed?" I take the tea cup Maxon offers. "Of course. taking a bite of muffin. He personally recommended Didasko for his education position. "What does Stavros think of the situation?" Maxon sighs. It's the best way to keep ." I fix my face in a frown. as I really open my eyes for the first time that morning. His hair is wet from the shower. "It was close. And.<p> Maxon just laughs at me. I can't help but comment. and I'm not ready to share details with anyone more than Stavros. as always. "All those nightgowns in your drawer and you grab my undershirt to sleep in?" I shrug. thanks for reading." A yawn catches me off guard while I stretch." I just nod and change the subject slightly. and sit up. Shirts really do not do his muscular trunk any justice." I tease. the children will train with May and Paige in the nursery at first. Ames. already full of tea. "So. Dawn has not yet broken. "He feels betrayed.what if she doesn't write any more. ** **prnamber3909 and Llol: Thanks for sticking with me. :)** * * * ><p>"No. poking at the ticklish places on my sides. "Come on. "This is your fault you know. Graciously. Then I don't want to read it because these series truly would be done. the advisory council will notice. It's hard for me to push the story aside so I can get end-of-the-semester stuff done. "Maybe I missed you last night. America. and I follow it on its trajectory almost falling off the end of the bed. I always enjoy reading your reviews. Yes. ** **As always. trying to catch a few more minutes of precious sleep. and bury my face back in the pillow. I was tired. throwing on my terry cloth robe and padding to the table. Finally I relent." His eyes roam over my nightclothes and focus on my bare legs. That meeting yesterday took everything out of me. Aspen and I are grabbing odd times to review and update each other. We had to have the meeting after the meeting. Maxon stands at the end of the bed. the light in our room was still dim. comforter in hand." He starts to pull the white down comforter from me.

I guess not. wiping sweat from my forehead with the back of my arm. I try to contain my irritation." "We're starting this morning." We're silent for a while as we focus on our food and let ourselves think. "I've been waiting for you. I believe she anticipated the work of the morning." He smiles at that but adds. I refrain from rolling my eyes because I have no desire to land on the floor again. walking everywhere we wentâ and Marlee's work in the fieldsâ kept our figures slim and even toned during prosperous seasons. guard-issue sweatpants and t-shirts. Maxon. "Love. "I think Marlee and I were just talking about that the other day. they're on _our_ side. "Mary says the staff is beginning to talk. as I grab a towel off the pile on the floor. and neither had Marlee. Georgia will work with Marlee and you in the training room." After about the fifth time of landing me on my back. feet slightly apart bouncing on the balls of her feet. but they are speculating as to why it happened at night." I grab the t-shirt. I don't like feeling helpless." I exhale. My furious blush is . pulling the fabric away from my body." "Now I have another reason to like you. is there?" "No. Lady Marlee. I insisted that she drop "Your Majesty" in informal situations. But she also shared that the kitchen staff are saying that we will not let anything happen to them. And I felt helpless when the alarms went off the other night. Especially from the floor. They realize that we had a drill. Marlee hasn't fared much better. but it is hard to be composed from a prone position on the floor. Never being able to afford seconds. See how much more trouble I have controlling you by your wrist than I do with your neck?" "Sure." * * * ><p>Dressed in loose-fitting. Marlee and I meet Georgia in the training room.Barrett and Griffin secure. But Georgia just grins at the joke and I know I'm safe. without advertising Cal and Brie's new skill." After the fifteenth time of Georgia extending her hand and helping up off the mat. So. Your Majesty. The sixteenth time that she tries to immobilize me from behind. I aim my elbow for the middle of her body and hear a satisfying grunt as she grabs my wrist. "Much better. "Ready to throw in the towel?" "Never. Maxon participates in military training. "I always say you can never underestimate a strong quick to the groin" laughs Marlee.<p> Georgia stands. I did not grow up training. Her shorts skim her knees and her t-shirt looks specially made for this type of work. it seems like the staff is still on your side. It seems like she's enjoying knocking me flat." "I guess there really isn't such a thing as a palace secret. as it sounded more and more like a taunt. An excited grin spreads across her face as we enter the room. America. even to this day Carter is his favorite sparring partner.

Some Loyalists see us as undeserving. I'd let you know if I felt differently. * * * ><p>Freshly washed and dressed. What makes you think you're keeping me away from him?" She wiggles her eyebrows to make me laugh and succeeds. "Okay. I ball up a clean towel and throw it at her. Besides. Ames. "Watch. "I don't know how I can ever thank you enough for this. And you still manage to hang on to love. the work you do with Maxon is important. something else would be. Very few people know the story of the first night I met Maxon. and the kids are certainly enamored with her. it's just what family does!" I draw a breath.already hidden by the impact of the exercise." May leaves the training mat and comes to stand with me. Barrett and Griffin. _baby_ sister. "May. I'm proud of you both. who had be diligently copying Cal's movements. Paige is teaching my children skills that are essential for someone in the public eye to know. I just want to keep them safe. America. follow Aunt May across the floor. . America. But no matter how people feel about us. Otherwise. "Up. do you think we should move Mom and Gerad here? I'm worried for them." I decide to ask May what she thinks of an idea that has been brewing in the back of my brain. Baby. <em>Breathe in. Some see us as examples of what could be with enough work and luck. I couldn't leave just when you needed me most. children are being educated. "Talked to Carter last night. Everyone knows we're you're family." She smiles and then nods to Paige. looking at my schedule and planning training sessions around meetings and appearances." I quip. May? I don't want to keep you away from Evan. If we didn't have the Loyalists looming on the horizon. She catches it and winks at me. the more of a target they'll become. Brie catches me watching and calls to me." Paige looks at me and smiles. I scoop Griffin up to eye level and smile at May. Marlee and Georgia sit in my office alcove. Griffin puts his hands up and grunts." "Oh. No details. I know now it was foolish to think otherwise. No wonder they want to throw obstacles in your way. now that Barrett and Griffin are older. Cal. Your Majesty. I stand silently and watch through the doorway as Paige works with Cal and Brie. "They're naturals. okay." "Here. We're the fives who were vaulted into fame and fortune and royalty solely because of your marriage to Maxon. May. You're doing so well! You. Some see us as hangers-on. "She's good." while Barrett is satisfied to lean on one leg. but worry that the closer they are to me. You've stopped wars with three different factions on three different fronts. Do you have any questions? Are you sure you don't want to leave. there. Evan lives ten minutes down the road. So. it would be way too easy for you two to take over the world!" "And I do it all in conservative day dresses and coordinated sensible pumps. hungry people are being fed. Breathe out<em>. too." "America. Mama! Watch what Miss Paige taught me!" "I know. Marlee mentioned the public expects you to start traveling again. I trust her already.

Up my arms." I tear off my sweater. Everyone is gone.. :)** **As always. His chest heaves. Not like this. "Don't leave me. "Dad would be proud of you. It's all over me now. Gone. too. body immobilizing Maxon's legs. so far.. But. The white fabric soaks through. "America!" I start up when the door to the hallway opens. happy reading! SJ** * * * ><p>Maxon lies on the floor of his study blood pooling around him. after I get a certain amount done on the end-of-the-semester work. Fair warning. Pleading. laughs are needed! I'm glad you enjoyed the family bonding-I worried it was awkward. "We're fine. pressing it to the wound on his chest. I open my eyes. like I told Totalbooknerd13. True to the end. Please. They took my babies. The blooms of red on his chest say that he is not just sleeping.She laughs and hugs me. There are so many. Words are useless. "America. Officer Avery. I watch the door close and see Maxon's silhouette next to me. not now. :)** **prnamber3909: Thanks for stopping in. Not just my hands." "He'd be proud of you. Aspen lies beside him unmoving. I think I'm screaming but it doesn't matter. Let them come for me.. (Plus. I know the next step-why won't it just appear page like I want?!)** **Totalbooknerd13: This time of year. my fists are clenched in the covers. this chapter is But. sobs wracking my body. my neck. Sis." I scream and scream and scream. I'll never be fine again. Drowning. . How did I get here? Tears still run in rivers down my face. I am not sure which wound to cover first. then in a flurry of movement collapse next to Maxon." I fall forward. Take me." "We're?" Not fine. Chapter 14 **A/N: short.<p> I freeze. too. covering my mouth and chin. If I scream will anyone hear me? Will anyone care? Where is Avery? Carter? August? Maxon struggles to open his eyes. I will and an on the Thanks for sticking with me. let myself write a longer piece. saturating the antique rug under his desk. twisting them in knots. I am swimming in it. It is only seconds before my hands are covered. I'm glad you like it. "America. They took my husband. Because I thought it might be awkward? Maybe not.. I see it as a bridge chapter attempt to get unstuck. I could totally see an exchange like that between an adult May and her big sis." 14. "Your Majesties?" It's Avery.

What's to keep him from throwing himself in harm's way again? His chest has the bullet wound. using the tail of it to dry the rest of my face before tossing it to the floor. I notice he's still wearing his suit pants. "It was only a dream. "What time is it?" "About 4:00 AM. but his back bears the evidence of how much he is willing to suffer to protect me. not me. "Do you want to tell me about it?" I shake my head. wild-eyed. Just gone. I got some work done. I don't know if I can sit and wait for the Loyalists to bring the fight to me. "Whenever you're ready. America. My breath gets caught in my throat. ** **mundane-pansycakes: Could probably work. :)** **Totalbooknerd13: Hopefully so. :) Thanks for continuing to read. I lean into him again. "I can't let our home become a gilded cage for our children. Especially now. "Only a dream. serious. Waking up from a dream that real is hard to ."Maxon?" I gasp. catching sight of the scar from a bullet meant for me." "You're still dressed. America. "I know. but I know he is completely alert. He pulls his t-shirt off over his head." He closes his eyes. And thinking that way becomes too much." I fear if I give a voice to the dream it might come true. love. Thanks for reading and commenting. They deserve more." 15." "We were talking about you. Breathing in his scent while I can. and rewarded myself with a little writing. I have no desire to relive it. He puts his arms around me and leans back into the pillows. Late nights are normal around here. I collapse against his chest. I turn on my side to look him in the eye. so close to my ear that his lips touch my hair. "Gone. I gingerly pull away from him and wipe my hands across my eyes." I shiver involuntarily and he pulls me closer. So do you. "Maxon?" "Yes?" He opens his eyes to look at me. Chapter 15 **A/N: So. love. feeling the warm skin of his chest against my cheek." His eyes reflect the sadness in his voice. not trusting myself to speak yet." he whispers into my hair and he holds me to him as I grip his shoulders." he comforts. And so do you. but collapsing into bed still clothed is not. "I don't know if I will ever talk about it." Eventually the silent sobs slow and then stop. confused.

"Remind me not to ever do anything where I am looking at you from the other end of one of those. "The nightmares started again. I want to shoot targets. The characters aren't being totally cooperative. and I don't answer their questioning looks. And I want to do it alone. "Okay. I exhale a breath I didn't realize I was holding. the bullets cluster around the heart of the target. I don't know much about materials and caliber and range. Instead. I hadn't even ventured to the training grounds at all. But if I had known that day.. and raise an eyebrow in reply. Letting my arms fall to my side. So much talking. I'm not sure if my target practice will ever be of much use in an actual attack. But I know which handgun feels best in my hand. Aspen never would have been so seriously injured. Everyone!**__ SJ_ * * * ><p>Daylight did not dim the uneasiness that settles over me. but the should be back on track soon. I haven't seen you down here in ages. They haven't been my favorite chapters. not expecting anyone behind me. I insisted that Maxon show me how to fire a handgun. :)** _**Thanks. A guard training rotation will be starting in 20 minutes. There have been so many words. Since my pregnancy with Barrett and Griffin." I nod and turn my back. I was a familiar sight here for a full year afterward. I reload." I rebuff his attempt to talk.shake." I start. I head to the rifle range. and am satisfied that I am alone. "Morning. and I didn't answer. I check my weapon and load the chamber. * * * .." I'm not ready for words this morning. but feeling the kickback in my arm satisfies me. It is something I never thought I'd want to know. Mer. She and Marlee let me go. I relax my stance. Mer. I turn my back to him and aim. I can't shake the feeling that for all our strategies and planning. And after my dream last night. I leave that to Maxon and Aspen. Then look around the gallery. I make a noise that could be a greeting." It wasn't a question. Possibly necessary. especially when the nightmares started. I came less and less. As our family grew. I pull the trigger five more times. alone.** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Thanks for the encouragement.** **jthornestudent: Thanks. his voice is not one I really want to hear. Guns are not my favorite weapon.. but after the Southern rebels invaded the palace.<p> After training with Georgia again. trying out several. we are missing something. "Do you want to talk about it?" "No. I choose from the case.. This time the bullets cluster in the head. killing so many we cared for.

He is used to me acknowledging the people . America. "Some girls do. I say. I cross our common room. the more we were sure that Prince Maxon would pick the best woman in the competition." "But girls wear dresses on Thursday. and turn the corner to Maxon's study. "It's not. They greet me properly." I laugh. but the suit called to me today.><p>Less than an hour later. I exchange a meaningful look with Marlee and Georgia. and take a deep breath. I motioned to the door of the nursery. And that was always you. Cal is in class. could you ever imagine when you first met me that I would be Queen of Illea?" "I hoped. "Let's do this. and someone I recognize stand at strict attention. "Mary." I mutter. "It's in twenty. I was hoping to grab a minute to read a story to Brie and the little boys. Brie." she tells Georgia. And the longer we knew you. she smiles a genuine smile. Thank you for your service. "Welcome to the team. my black patent pumps singing a staccato across the floor. Your Majesty. but I always have. I just-". Maxon allows a small smile to cross his face as he watches the expressions around the table." "I know. I suddenly feel wistful and grab her hand. Marlee and Georgia wait for me in my alcove. "Mama!" Abrielle exclaims." The men in the room behind me hear my voice and stand. "Is it Saturday?" "No. then curtsies and steps away from the dressing table. "And if I may say. They're giving my touring schedule another once over. It might raise a few eyebrows._ I take one last glance at my outfit-black dress pants. The guards on either side of the door. Mary is putting the finishing touches on my hair. Officer Riley. It's Thursday. Another strategy meeting." Mary stops at the door and turns to me." I open the door and am engulfed in hugs. this time with Stavros. I had asked Paige and May to keep the little ones close while I dressed. "Thank you. They can wait if need be. baby. sapphire blue silk blouse peeking out from the black fitted jacket. I hold out my hand to the newcomer. He wouldn't be there if Carter didn't think he was exceptional. what should we read? Let's each pick one!" * * * ><p>I straighten my blouse under my jacket and tuck a stray hair behind my ear. Avery of course. bowing at the waist. you exceed our expectations. I'm not sure I've seen him in the last twenty-four hours. And so did Anne and Lucy. "Go ahead. "I think the meeting this afternoon is going to be interesting. But today. and Marlee laughs outright. Her expression softens. Pearls. Everyone is used to my day dresses. this girl wears pants! Now." She squeezes my hand back. Checking his name badge. Breathe. Hair in a sensible knot. Georgia looks up and smiles." I nod.<p> As Mary steps away from the mirror. I sit on the floor and gather my three littlest into my lap." _Breathe.

you know some of their daughters personally. taking off his jacket and loosening his tie. Maxon pulls out the chair beside him. And it softened those with negative opinions when she brought the young princess with her. 16. we were the only ones who understood the pressure. Even in the heat of the final rounds of competition. We depended on each other." I look reproachfully at Maxon as he walks a path around his desk. As I walk confidently into the room. follow. August looks like he is exerting a Herculean effort in resisting his urge to laugh. "Commander Leger mentioned the Queen is a target. "So we're willing to sacrifice the Queen's safety to continue this uneasy peace? Because I am not. And the idea that she can build alliances with previous twos. even he looks a little surprised about the pants. "Might work. but she is also a favorite of many. We all take our seats." "It's not peace. Finding myself looking forward to your reviews! :) jthornestudent: I enjoy reading your reviews-thanks for keeping up with the story and reviewing frequently! I appreciate it. thanks for continuing to read! :) SJ Totalbooknerd13: Someone's gotta. Chapter 16 A/N: Whether you review.who help me every day." Stavros glances warily at both of us. Sire." He had long ago abandoned the illusion of calm and dignified grace. and seats me before seating himself.<p> Stavros glances at me. sushi: Thanks so much-longer chapters to come after June 7! :) * * * ><p>Maxon paces by his desk. "I don't like the idea. looking him in the eye.. and my arms across my chest. "If I may. so can I. By the end." "Explain. Kriss." I begin. "It's the calm before the . then around the table. my stony expression. It's a standoff down gender lines. Aspen and Carter hold their faces neutral. please sit. and I were friends. and Stavros looks like he plans to broker peace. Georgia and Marlee both narrow their eyes and stick out their chins. thanks for sticking with it." "Only the Selected truly know what it's like to be a Selected.. Even after Abrielle. His jaw is set and his arms mirror my own. she completed double the appearances. It is time to get to work. And she hasn't been out as much as usual. After all. Let them look. Stavros is serious. Celeste. the idea has merit. and fav or not. If they can strategize in pants." he looks at me. The public can see how much Queen America cares about the people when she spends extended time with them. And." I say smiling at them each in turn.<p> "Gentleman. Elise.

since my visits would be unannounced. The Loyalists live in the past because it favored them." "Relax tonight. and we didn't want to separate Paige from Cal. the last to leave. my education tour was planned. Marlee. because even though the schedule would be grueling. universal education. Everyone had argued against me on that point. even as they don't acknowledge how dependent we are on each other. Aspen and Carter salute Maxon and turn on their heels. "Are you sure you want to do this?" "It's not that I want to. Marlee. it needs to be done. "But I want to double the usual security detail. and I would be choosing the order of the provinces. Apology accepted. I would get to spend a little more time than usual with my little girl. We also decided my tour schedule would be unannounced in advance. and I had come at the issue from all angles already." Two hours later. "Ladies and gentlemen. protecting Maxon. "It looks like we'll have time for dinner with our families this evening. smiles at us both." He finally nods. and Aspen would be joining me. and Carter gives one short nod in agreement. and we can minimize the risk. Really. The storm that will take apart everything we have worked forâ the end to the caste system. rather. relenting. However. "I think it will work. Aspen usually travels so much. and sits back down at the table. Then he looks steadily at me. "I'll see you in the morning. Maxon uncrosses his arms and runs a hand through his hair. Marlee. along with Mary. I would attempt to meet with Selected participants. Georgia. But it could also be an opportunity to fracture Loyalist support.storm. it would be conspicuous if I didn't take at least one of the children." She curtsies and heads down the hall. Sadly. I arch my brow a little and give him a small smile. it provides a touch of added security. I don't usually strike low. . Stavros tilts his head to each of us and excuses himself. I was happy about that decision. his comings and goings wouldn't be noticed. under the guise that I didn't want to put undue stress on the schools. The next two weeks of preparations are going to be brutal. It was too risky. good work today." Aspen's quiet assent stills the argument. but I am barely containing my frustration. Would you rather invite all your father's old friends to stay with us in the palace?" Maxon answers my sarcasm with a cold look that I think I deserve. August extends his hand to Georgia and they bow slightly as they leave the room. And it won't be expected. we wouldn't be taking the twins. though I had argued valiantly for Carter instead. and a functioning parliament. our sides touching a bit. Maxon and I linger in the doorway of his study. Maxon. Security would be heightened in all provinces at the beginning of the tour. Maxon squeezes my knee discretely under the table. The only way to find the other two Loyalist leaders is for someone unassuming listening in the right places at the right times. Abrielle would be joining us. Georgia. Aspen. In each province. My education tour would be an opportunity to connect with the people and monitor system implementation throughout the provinces. I wanted Aspen back at home. Marlee." He checks his watch. So." Everyone pushes back from the table.

head on his bare chest. Being outside of the palace is a welcome change. Softly but mischievously I remind him." I sigh. Cal had insisted he should be going because he was Crown Prince. but I can't promise longer chapters until after June 7." My expression softens as I touch you. "I bet Mary won't miss bringing a morning. and he leans down and kisses my cheek. "I already told you. Chapter 17 **A/N: Thanks for continuing to read. And the sinister edge to this trip even makes me nervous to bring Brie. We appeased him with the new information that he would be learning to shoot." "I almost let May take care of it." I move away from him and turn into the room. This piece is a little longer. but I hate leaving the boys behind. but got to a point where I could reward myself with fun writing."It goes without saying that I'm still not truly in favor of this tour. I hear his heart beats increase as his hands span my back." We couldn't tell them that because Cal was the Crown Prince is one of the reasons he has to stay home. I just wish we could go together. breakfast will be lonely. and Brie had insisted in true four-year-old style that the trip was for "girls only. and I gratefully curl against him." He tone shifts. I slip my robe off and collapse into the sheets with a sigh. we walk leisurely back to spend a tray at a quarter 'til five in the the furrow in his brow. but in two weeksâ ¦" I trail off. "It's like he knows I was kissing his mother. It's about what we need to do. "Plus." He covers my hand and brings my embrace. "I think Griffin's down for the night now. His fingers tease the straps of my nightgown. "I'll miss palm to his lips."<p> "Do you want to make a wager on that?" Maxon grins at me over his book. After a lingering rare quiet evening with the kids. * * * ><p>Later that night. Maybe this chapter slows it down a bit? ** **sushi: Thanks. "It's hard to send you out like this with all the unknowns. This isn't about what we want. Maxon places his book to the side and opens his arms to me. Hope you enjoy this installment! ** **jthornestudent: Thanks! I hope CH 16 didn't disappoint! :)** **Issi Herondale: Thanks for the feedback. "I know. love. He cocks his head at me. I've been working one my end-of-semester project non-stop. Maxon. Hope you like it!** . our kissing wakes the children. and the logistics of an entourage that would have to account for his schooling and security just seemed too much to negotiate right now." In two strides we are face to face again. That. Over dinner this evening. too. "Remember." 17. preparing for an argument I think is inevitable. something he had been advocating for since he could string sentences together. Cal had pouted and Brie was ecstatic over the impending trip." I snort.

Brie breaks my train of thought by shrieking through the bedroom and into the common room with Cal on her heels and Griffin toddling after. Why would royal ones be any different? Glad I could make you laugh! :)** **oreocheesecakes: Thanks so much for your long review. Baer. wiping tears from her eyes." "That's because we did. there is a hole in our family. even as hateful as he was at the end. always enjoy your comments! :)** **_Happy reading! SJ_** * * * ><p>The two weeks before the trip flew by with trainings and meetings and wardrobe fittings. Barrett watches from a nest of pillows by the headboard. It's an obnoxious amount considering the number of changes we'll have to make depending on event. Mary. without Dad. and I plant a kiss on his head. even though I tried to simplify by only taking certain colors and accessories that will be worn multiple times. I'm not even sure where he is living now. The night before our departure all the kids tumble into our bed while I check through the luggage one last time with Mary. he's right in the middle of the action. especially since I had practically thrown him out of the family right before Maxon and I were engaged. I 'm glad to hear you don't mind the skips in time. his temper seems the most even out of the whole lot. I laugh along with Mary. The only difference is we used to pile on Daddy. "You do so well letting them be just regular children." she tells me quietly. Thankfully. Still. Barrett is in the middle of the bed now. which are necessary to his work as a sculptor.**Totalbooknerd13: Welcome back! I am looking forward to showing the dynamic between Abrielle and America.<p> Mary doesn't try to hide her grin that turns to an all-out laugh. right? They can't have King Clarkson's buddies roaming the palace with their babies! Thanks for stopping by. and his hair is proving to be quite fiery. laughing at the other three. When he returned to his apartment. "Do you want to get down or do you want to help us pack up?" . Thank goodness I don't need to explain my sudden nostalgic expression. he never came back to the family home. "I can just imagine you. too. Makes me happy to read you're enjoying it! Can't wait to see what you think of this chapter. but having another to share in the childhood memoriesâ ¦ And Mom misses him. Out of the corner of my eye. but making sure his ticklish spot-the soles of his feet-are hidden from his siblings. Lady May. too. and Mister Gerad doing the same thing back in Carolina. :)** **The Devil Wears Westwood: I know. too. Lady Kenna. I see Abrielle and Cal begin a tickle battle with Barrett and Griffin. because that's exactly why I am using them. Kids seem to have that 6th sense when their parents want to be alone. and I can tell she knows I am thinking about my long-lost brother. flat on his back laughing with his eyes squeezed shut. I still am a bit embarrassed for how I acted that day. trying to double-team his sister and shrieking with Cal. As is typical of Griffin. "I love you." I say. I stop to watch them. knowing these are the moments I'd miss most over the next few weeks. He bestows a wet kiss on my cheek and pats me. I give her a little smile. Kota wouldn't fill that emptiness any more than Aspen does. and had Kota. and tickle his feet as I pull him onto my hip. He's my only redhead. even though my anger and actions were justified." Thoughts of Kota always came with a pang of guilt. I had even threatened damage to his hands.

smile still playing across her face. He stops and surveys the common room before heading out across the rug. we didn't send them together. Georgia is going but leaving Ethan and August behind. I'll let Paige and Lady May know it is time to round the children up to change into their pajamas. I think so. I stay at my dressing table. so much so that I had ordered four additional suits for the trip. I am going to change first. if anything should happen to me. Even though Maxon and I were the only ones in the palace who know that August and Georgia are Illea's. he stands behind me and puts his hands on my shoulders. thinking that my pajamas and robe would be a better choice. already wearing light blue. Moving to the dressing table. But." Mary replies. In that case. Your Majesty. In moments like these I can forget that I am Queen and he is King and the little people in the next room are growing into similar responsibilities. we can be just Maxon and America. "Do we have our traveling clothes laid out for tomorrow?" Mary reminds me where I put my pants suit. Then I make sure Brie's clothes are laid out. I know she needs to go and make sure she is ready for the trip as well. Their son Ethan is only 14. "Unless they pass out from utter exhaustion before then. "Oh. In what seems like only moments later." I sneak one more kiss." I lift a delicate green child's evening dress from the bag. She insists on dresses right now." I look around the space." Mary curtsies. I think it simultaneously makes me look more powerful and more approachable. Barrett seems to consider the question from all angles. She won't want to take it off for bed. So serious for 15 months. Mary. the bedroom door opens again and I am amused to see Maxon awkwardly carrying in a small tea tray. Mary and I set back to work as the voices of the children playing drift back to me from the common room. And. I will leave them where they drop. I wish May or Paige could also come with us. Will you be doing the bedtime story tonight?" "Yes. so we chose a comfortable one that would show she is very much a real little girl and not a porcelain doll. I hear Paige responding to something they have said. shouldn't be in danger of losing both parents. "Very well. So. "Do you need anything else." I examine my skirt and heels. Occasionally. however. long-sleeve satin pajamas. "Down. The cuff of the pants brush the top of my bare feet. . I want May here. Mary has no direct familial attachments except for us. could you find someone to send up some chamomile tea? I have a feeling I may have difficulty calming myself for sleep tonight. "What are you smiling at?" He already knows the answer. removing the pins from my hair. Your Majesty?" Mary asks. Paige is protecting the boys and May will help with everything else. He's so easy-going that he has few strong opinions about how he spends his time.We're working on having him ask for what he wants instead of just giving it to him. and set him down by the door. "After we move these bags to the main doorway. and my fresh manicure reflects the pale color. I think through all of this while I check Abrielle's bags. Carter and Marlee. and then says deliberately. I watch his reflection in the mirror as he unloads the tray. One of the considerations we made when determining who would go and who would stay was the interconnectedness of our team." I grin. married with a family of their own. this one is truly beautiful and it fits Brie's personality perfectly. The cap-sleeved bodice had a short waist and fell into layers of green chiffon. as we move the luggage to the main door of the common room. He catches me watching him and raises an eyebrow as he begins to smile. "And. "You truly outdid yourself." "Of course. Right now.

his voice is huskier and his eyes more serious. He doesn't look up as he says. absentmindedly tapping his teaspoon and pouring over a file folder. "Hmm. "But hold that thought. A long half-hour later and I re-enter the room to find Maxon at the breakfast table. love. and brush my lips across his neck. The furrow between his brow and intent look in his eyes clues me in that this might be the latest intelligence report from Aspen. Seems like the twos there are less sympathetic to the Loyalist movement." He sits on the bench with me. It looks like a good place to start your tour." I place my hand over his and squeeze them lightly. and I let him." I wrap myself in my robe and look over my shoulder. Chapter 18 **A/N: I think this is my longest chapter yet! But. The next time he speaks. A knock at the door separates us. his lips are meeting mine and his hands are in my hair. No one paid much attention to his surprise inspection. he takes the hairbrush from the table top and works it through my hair. like he is taking a picture of this moment in his mind. 18."You. paying attention to the area underneath his ear. Ames." "Okay. "Aspen just returned from Kent." I whisper directly into his ear. and I'll get ready for bed. "Sometimes it's nice to see you work a little. resting his back against the table but leaning towards me. I respond. I know I have his full attention when he drops the spoon. They are prospering from our changes. you do. He drops the folder." I move closer. touching his cheek with the palm of my hand. After a minute or so." As I remove the last pin. but intently. A look of mock horror crosses his face before the grin returns. he stops and looks at me in the mirror." Maxon offers me a hand to help me stand. they were horrified with Marlee's public caning. "Can we possibly talk about this in the morning?" I punctuate each syllable with a kiss along his neck. Why don't you go. they're ready for their story now. wrapping my arms around him. "Be right there. love. "Promise me you'll be careful. "Would you like to read with me?" "I'll get to do that every night for the next three weeks. I'm turning over a new leaf. Plus. "America. I really need to start pulling my own weight around here. May. "Maxon. it will probably mean not . Then I kiss him quickly." I say. catching a glimpse of him shaking his head in amusement as he turns to the bathroom. "Yes. "It seems like every time I think you can't look more beautiful. wrapping my arms around his neck. No unnecessary risk?" Before I can say anything." May's voice floats into our room. "I know." I tease. This doesn't happen often. love?" He struggles to say the words." I lean myself over the back of his chair.

updating for a few days. I have to save up some time again. Every time I
finish a benchmark, I let myself write some more. Thanks for reading! SJ**
Totalbooknerd13: She is about to leave for three weeks... ;)
prnamber3909: I don't think he minds, most of the time. :)
rebecca di silva: Thanks so much. I hope you enjoyed it!
The Devil Wears Westwood: Awww, they've learned their lesson. They make time
now. :)
jthornestudent: Thanks, I hope it lives up to expectations.
sushi: I appreciate it. I am truly flattered. Hope this chapter tides you
over. Thanks again!
* * *
><p>I trace a finger up and down his arm from his shoulder to his wrist and
back again. He shivers a little at the light touch, a smile still playing at
the corners of his mouth. "Aren't you tired, Ames? Tomorrow isn't going to be
an easy day." He adjusts himself on the pillows so he holds me closer to him,
his head resting softly against mine.<p>
"I know, but if I go to sleepâ ¦" I can't bring myself to say that I'm scared
the same nightmare will play itself out again, not to mention that my trip
will no longer be something we're preparing for, but something that must be
navigated and completed. Never had two weeks passed so quickly.
He runs his hand through my hair, pulls back a little so he can look me in the
eyes. "It'll be over before you know it. And you'll be home safe with us
again." He says it as if he is convincing himself of his words as well as me.
"Won't it be nice to get away for a bit? And you'll have all that time with
Brie."
"I'm looking forward to seeing Kriss and Elise," I confess. "And I hope to see
the Newsomes. Running from place to place will be bad enough, but showing up
unannounced is so awkward and delicate to arrange. I have school schedules and
personal schedules for the next three weeks from every province. We will be
coordinating hundreds of people all at one time."
He runs a palm over my much more pronounced bicep and makes an appreciative
noise. "With these new arms, I think you can handle anything. Training with
Georgia is agreeing with you,"
I stifle a laugh and flex my arm, "I'll be able to drop anyone who awkwardly
grabs me from behind. Woe to the person who tries it." I prop myself up a
little on my elbow, let his hands run over my bare back. "Aspen asked me if I
want to conceal and carry again." I think back to Maxon training me to shoot,
and how to hide a holstered weapon. How eventually the attacks on the palace
became an unpleasant and painful memory. After the treaties were brokered, I
gradually dropped the habit. And I was happy to. Very few people even knew
that I had the skill.
He brushes my now-serious face with his palm, "What did you say?"
"I think you know. That I needed to talk with you."
"And?"

"I hate the thought, Maxon. Though, I'm almost as good of a shot as you. I can
go head-to-head with Aspen, and I'm better than Georgia. I am also truly
horrible at defending myself with my hands. It makes sense."
He cocks his head, "But?"
"A gun? On my person twenty-four hours a day. Isn't that giving in to fear?
Isn't that admitting that everything is falling apart? The last thing I want
Brie to see is me strapping a holster to my thigh." I switch to a false voice,
mocking Gavril's stage presence, "Our lovely Queen wears a black dress with
matching jacket, and in her pocket? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is a Baby
Browning .25."
Maxon's face is sympathetic as he cradles me in his arms. "I've had mine
within hands reach for the past six months. But that doesn't mean you have to
do the same. Aspen and his team, including Georgia, will be there for you and
Brie. And in the palace, your guards are everywhere. If they had to choose,
they would definitely pick protecting you over me."
That last statement brings a half-smile to my face, "That is true. I do-"
"Inspire loyalty, I know, love," he chuckles softly and kisses my forehead.
"And you certainly do."
My muscles finally release the tension in my back and I relax fully. An
involuntary yawn contradicts my assertion that I have absolutely no interest
in sleep. I doze against his chest, waking ever so often to assure myself that
he is still there.
The absence of his warmth ultimately wakes me. After a moment of confusion and
general bleariness, I see him,
>dressed except for his coat, sitting at the breakfast table. He holds his
coffee mug and works through the folders from last night. Aspen's reports are
certainly thorough. I stifle a sigh and slip into my robe. No use denying
reality. Despite my best efforts, departure day is upon us. It seems like a
lifetime ago when I enjoyed these trips. I push the melancholy feelings aside
and refuse to give them a voice. Now is the time for my brave face.<p>
I cross the room to the table, and bypass the teapot for the coffee decanter.
Maxon pretends to be focused on the file he's reading, and doesn't look up as
he jokes, "Rough night?"
Raising an eyebrow, I pour myself a cup and mix in cream and sugar until the
color bears more of a resemblance to hot chocolate. I tap my spoon on my cup
and reply in mock frustration, "Someone kept me up all night."
"Hmm. Didn't seem like you minded, love." I color a little, and he finally
makes eye contact and flashes a smile at me. My blush makes him grin wider; I
think he enjoys that I can still get a little bashful.
So, I sit and change the subject,
>"Where do you think we should go after Kent? I was thinking Columbia to see
Kriss?"<p>
"Either that or Sota. I know you're not as close to Bariel. That may be a good
thing. Just don't save Carolina for last."

I take a long sip of coffee. Hopefully, despite our preparations to the
contrary, this trip won't be that eventful. "Was the decision ever made about
whether we are doing remotes from the provinces or sending footage back to
Gavril for clips on the Report?"
"Both, sorry love. I was supposed to tell you. And, I'll do this week's with
clips. So, you're off the proverbial hook." He reaches out his hand across the
table and I take it in my own. I do find that a relief-Gavril always edits the
clips in my favor.
I take a bite of muffin and try to exude quiet confidence. But Maxon knows me
too well. Thankfully, other than a glance of concern, he says nothing about my
nervousness and returns to his reading, rubbing circles with his thumb across
the back of my hand. I find myself staring out the window, watching the dark
sky lighten with swirls of color. Wordless.
Our companionable silence is interrupted by Mary's knock at the door. The
clock on the bedside table confirms that she is punctual as always. At our
signal, she enters, followed closely by Mia and Ruby. I nod at each of them,
trying to smile warmly as they quickly curtsy, "Good morning." It's not their
fault I'm on edge.
"Ladies, if you will excuse me," Maxon shrugs into his jacket and grabs his
reading material. I stop him to adjust his tie. "I love you," he whispers as
he kisses my cheek. "I'll be back before you leave."
I whisper an "I love you, too," and watch a little longingly as he exits into
the common room. I turn to my morning helpers and stride toward my dressing
area. "Okay, ladies, we've got some work to do!"
Before I could blink, I was dressed in my black suit again, this time wearing
a red silk blouse and matching pumps. There's just something about a beautiful
pair of red shoes to make me feel a little more confident. Mary had twisted my
hair into a chignon that should make it until late this evening. I look
professional and capable, but somehow the delicate floating pearls in my ears
and around my neck soften anything that might be construed as edgy.
Mary dismisses Ruby and Mia, and asks if I need anything else.
"I think it may be time to ready Abrielle. But, I'm warning you that she is
overly excited for this trip." It's really all she would talk about for the
last two weeks. Cal was sick of her mentioning it, especially since he wasn't
allowed to come along.
"I think she'll be begging for the next time before she even makes it back to
the palace," laughs Mary. "But we'll manage. You've been busy lately, and as
much as she adores her aunt, she loves her mother more."
I nod, keeping the tears that spring to my eyes at bay. It wasn't a reproach,
just a reminder to be patient with my little girl. And one that I definitely
need with my nerves twisted so tight. Before I can say anything else, the
bedroom door springs open and Brie bounds in chased by May.
"Gotcha, little chicken," May exclaims, sweeping her charge up into her arms.
Brie crows happily from May's arms, "Mama! You're still here!" I hold out my
arms and she practically leaps into them.
"Of course I am, baby. I'd never leave without you." I nuzzle my face into her
damp strawberry blonde curls and move her to my hip. "Well, I know you had a

The high waist is accented by a flower instead of a sash." And Mary didn't disappoint. The dress is sleeveless. and weep muffin crumbs off of Brie's chin. Mary looks satisfied. Princess. I turn my attention to a very excited four-year-old. "Maybe not just like mine.bath. Cal. I shoot him a fake-serious look and reply. We tried. "Morning. she is nearly impossible to spoil because she doesn't really want anything." "Ames." I say. and it hits two inches below her knee. And then ten. Brie will be her charge for the trip." She tries to wipe the grin from her face but fails miserably. Like me. Twin French plaits tied with pale violet satin ribbons appeared as if by magic. but she hugs me back. His blonde hair flops over his brow. "Thank you for watching the boys while I'm gone. Brie doesn't really interact with her for extended periods of time. She tends to reject most of my attempts. "Of course. Mama! Like yours?" Her blue eyes shine with energy. He doesn't do well when you're gone. Pouts. "I'll take that under advisement. And before we're ready. all except for this morning. nineteen. but it shouldn't wrinkle or be uncomfortable for the plane ride. "Practice your declensions last night?" I resist straightening his hair. Are you ready to put on your dress?" Brie nods enthusiastically and Mary carefully slips it over her head. Over the last two weeks. I refuse to believe that he'll be nine soon." "You're welcome. and he runs his fingers through it. "Would you like Miss Mary to do your hair?" "Oh. taming Brie's wild-ish locks. looking slyly at me and her aunt. and though Mary has been around since long before she was born. I wonder if she and Evan would be married with their own children if not for helping with our little ones. Did you eat breakfast?" May laughs at that. ready for school. Why wouldn't I?" He hugs me quickly and takes a step back. honestly. At that moment his resemblance to Maxon makes me ache." I say breezily. May's eyes dance as she watches my daughter. Why wouldn't you? I know my son is appreciative of the education he is able to receive. "Thank you. "What's that for?" "Just because. I may have to charge extra for the especially tall one. "Too excited. her everpresent smile directed at me. She gingerly touched them as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. yes. "Oh! A twirling dress!" Brie squeals as she sees it in the mirror and immediately begins to twist in circles. I realize again I couldn't do this trip-or any other parts of my jobwithout her. Mary has been helping Brie prepare for the day." I pull him close. My exuberant hug surprises her. The color almost exactly matches her hair ribbons. I notice Mary waiting in the background. and he . How much she has given for my family. Mama. Wondering if there is another way I can thank her that she will accept. though. I see Calix haunting the bedroom door. Miss Mary. He is quickly catching up to me in height. I'm sure. While Mary and May fuss over Brie. Whines a lot." I show her the muffins left over from my breakfast and she giggles as she nibbles one. but something beautiful. I join my oldest by the door. made from a lightweight fabric and requiring a light white long sleeve sweater. "I don't know. Netting underneath the skirt helps hold it stiff.

because I am enjoying writing it. Whines from the direction of the nursery catch my attention. So.. I have no idea how Barrett and Griffin have slept through the chaos of the morning." Cal squirms a little.would _never_ squander it. I need to leave for school. say good-bye to your sister. too. headed your way soon. and I hope to update in a couple of days. Maxon walks back in through the common room door. but I am a little behind in the project! Let me know what you think." "Okay. but I really like the idea that she is a good shot? I'm not sure why. Keep sharing your evil plot bunnies! I appreciate your dedication to this story. definitely growing up. "But I'll time. It's really motivating to write more when people are enjoying what you're creating. Griffin toddles for Cal and Barrett looks around. Griffin is completely dressed and alert. that's how he'll go. "You know I'll miss you. Paige appears with one boy in each arm. Yes. Thanks for all the reviews. More interactions between America and Abrielle." And I didn't need to worry. Chapter 19 **A/N: A short update-as I am rewarding myself with fun writing as I work on a project due at the end of next week. follows. Paige gives each a little pat and sets them down on the rug." I give him a look that says "Be nice. ****_Happy reading! SJ _** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Here's your update. looking forward to your response to this installment! :)** **jthornestudent: I always appreciate your reviews! It's nice to know you are reading and enjoying my work. I change the subject. He is definitely my child. Maxon barely makes it to the couch before he collapses under a bundle of arms and legs. So Griffin _didn't _sleep through all the noise. okay?" He nods again think of you every night. He complimented her dress. Every single one of them freezes. and favs! I'm glad everyone is enjoying the story. Your reviews make me want to write more. and I make a mental note to follow up with May. I hug him quickly. and then makes a beeline for their father. And can't you just see Maxon thrilled with the "pile-on-Daddy"? Thanks for your review! :)** . "We'll try to be able to. 19. like he is trying to wake up and can't quite figure out where his jammies went. "I got my first bullseye!" "Way to go! You'll be as good as Daddy in no straighter at that. call every night.. But." "Mama. Hugged to death. and even called her Princess Abrielle before he hugged her and told her he would miss her. Just when I think the room can't get any louder. I can't believe you called me out in your story! :) Thank you for reading and commenting on every chapter. Anyway. Maybe because it's a way to combat the powerlessness they must feel cowering in those darn safe rooms. I can't promise America will shoot anyone-cause she's disappointed she has to carry again. but we can't promise we'll and looks away. :)** **Totalbooknerd13: I kinda love them." He stands a little right?" He nods. Barrett is rubbing at his eyes. "How did it go with Paige at the rifle range?" He beams.

* * * ><p>Brie chatters happily during the short drive to the air strip.. Mary entices her into a game of "I Spy" as I open my folder file. This was really it. he shuts the door as we take a moment for a private good-bye. I don't know what it is. so it is nice to know that I'm improving. and is even more excited that she gets to do something her big brother wants to do. To the casual observer. Aspen is already at the airstrip with a small team. and looking a bit lost. America. I really am at a loss for words. "I love you. too. and Mary keep Abrielle company. I'll call you when we land. :)** **Selection Fan: Wow! I am flattered by your review. thanks.<p> This uneasiness has been following me around for the last two weeks. Georgia." "We'll figure it out. too. I whisper. And. and closes the door behind me. but the pieces just aren't all falling into place for me yet. Marlee. I try to memorize how his hair falls across his forehead. Maxon takes a step back. we're missing something. As we taxi and lift off. readying the plane. but isn't allowed to do. I was hoping so. After the warmth of this morning. (I guess that's a little obvious?) Thanks-I couldn't see them not interacting with their kids. :)** * * * ><p>Maxon settles Brie into the car and quickly kisses the top of her head. Ames. Then. "Promise me. "According to me. too. I reach up and place my lips against his own. and pulls me tightly to his chest." "I love you. waves as we drive away. anything that puts you in harm's way is unnecessary. Writing every day has been fun. Thank you! :)** **Anna: Thank you for stopping by. I hate to step into the black armored vehicle. and continues even as I fasten her into her seat between Mary and me. "Maxon.. no unnecessary risks." As I nod he reminds me. and how he clasps his hands behind his back as he turns to walk back inside." He looks at me. I am a caring wife giving her husband a sweet farewell. I am glad you are enjoying it! :)** **oreocheesecakes: I heart the Schreave babies." He helps me slip into the car. :)** **KieraCass rocks: Thanks so much! I appreciate you stopping by to read. I am awash with dread. I feel like I'm missing something-forgetting something important.**prnamber3909: Thanks for sticking with me! Glad the last few lines could make you laugh. Alone. Officer Riley and August are in the front seat of the car. I have to re-read my . I wrap my arms around Maxon's neck. Maybe we don't have all the parts of the puzzle. And as to my writing. Maxon was so lonely as a kid and America was so close to her family." Smiling. still. They will return to the palace following airport detail. She loves flying. Instead. Brie grabs my hand and releases a little squeal of excitement.

_And then where to? _I open my eyes when I hear someone slip into the empty seat beside me. even as I make note of names. Georgia and Marlee are looking at the education project folders. "That's what Maxon said this morning. Maxon is credited with deescalating the tension created and preventing a mass downgrade of caste status. I smile to myself." "Our military presence is pronounced on a normal day. "I see they are planning a large receptionâ and they had a higher concentration of twos. Restlessness kicks in. and soon Georgia does." Everyone seems to be occupied with their own tasks. We'll travel after the reception. the sooner I'll be home. The sooner I get there. but was not particularly heavy with twos. Marlee is still the darling of Kent.notes on the activities for Kent and narrow down our next stop. "Your Majesty?" "Yes. Perhaps you can advise me?" One of the benefits to knowing Aspen as long as we have is the ability to communicate with few words. some sitting starkly at attention. "I don't know. When Marlee's caning was televised across the kingdom. and organizing their administrator questions. I know that Sota is not as secure as Columbia. as we had hoped. so as not to be overheard. Marlee was greeted to cheers and whoops and spent a good amount of time signing autographs. there will be secure quarters to prepare for the day. Almost as many as Clermont. Abrielle . and schedules. and I cut him off." "Thank you. I show him the briefs I have in front of me. but with the tour I think you'll see a marked difference. and cock my head to the side. Members of Aspen's team are around the cabin. and everyone will sleep on the plane. places. and run my hand over my temple and across my forehead." "Kent is prepared." I return to my notes. and the overview he provided in my notes. Abrielle has fallen asleep against Mary's arm." From his tone." Aspen begins. the province had threatened to withhold commodities from the King. "When we get to the base in Sota. keeping my voice low. others more casual but exuding alertness. Unfortunately. You should notice my plainclothes agents in addition to uniformed enlisted. The province governance understands the symbiotic relationship shared with wealthier citizenry and the workers that provide essential services. too. Kent had its share of all castes. we won't stay overnight in Kent. Commander Leger. "And if I may ask. I think Sota it is. We'll visit the school and attend a small reception at town hall. As a farming province.<p> I lean my seat back a bit. It looks like Marlee will have time to visit with her parents. And." I feel a pang at this statement. and Mary herself dozes. Marlee joins in the game." I say. "As much as I hate to say it. because I know Marlee doesn't have many chances to go home. I try and will the plane to move faster. * * * ><p>The stop in Kent was uneventful.

. everyone continues to doze except for Aspen. but important and necessary to continue the arc. and me. By the time I had finished my update and we said our "I love yous.hopefully. and the students were performing well. Abrielle shared her adventures for the day. it is short. . The school was simple but purposeful. including eating an ice cream cup in the school cafeteria with a tiny wooden spoon. Aspen whispers into his phone.<p> I lean my chair back and close my eyes. and sincerely hope for all our sakes that the next school serves ice cream as dessert. That's what I am going for. and happy reading! ****_SJ_** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Thanks for reviewing! Maybe this chapter adds enough angst? :)** **Princess Grace: Glad you enjoyed it. firm and steady no matter the circumstances. It was almost as if they had targeted each other as the one to beat. the onduty guard. curled into her fully reclined seat with a navy blue travel blanket across her body. Watching her rest reminds me why I am touring in the first place: for the safety and security of all the children of Illea. So. :)** **Selection Fan: Awww. The lights had been dimmed in the cabin.<p> Sota will not be as welcoming as Kent. From my notes.was ecstatic when a little girl about Cal's age asked to take a picture with a real. Her energy and enthusiasm had fueled me all day. 20. preparing myself mentally for a different greeting. I pass my hand over my eyes and glance around the cabin. the guards. :)** **sushi: Apparently. He nods at me in a small salute. I remove my jacket and shoes and grab the blanket Marlee had handed me earlier. I can't be depended on not to write. so they kept each other close. likely giving orders to the ground crew and triple-checking the security detail. Again. too. before I got to know anything more about her than she and Celeste had a strange alliance. I had 45 minutes of downtime today when I was waiting to pick someone up from the airport. Chapter 20 **A/N**: **So. My dreams provide no solace right now. and I were the only ones still awake.. My heart swells and a smile plays across my lips. I explained everything to Maxon over the phone on our way to Sota. :)** **Totalbooknerd13: Thanks! :)** * * * ><p>The jolt from the touch down shakes me out of my dream. live princess. thanks so much.) It is just such a great break! Thanks for your kind words. Bariel was released early in the competition. The administrators could not contain their pride. Influential individuals all pledged their continued support of the monarchy in discrete and proper ways during the reception. it turns out. Even the little boys had babbled into the receiver. Calix bragged about his ever-increasing rifle skills. :) Let me know what you think. I spare a glance at my sleeping daughter. which is a relief. I am glad you are enjoying it-and I don't plan to leave y'all without a complete story. I learned that Bariel married the Mayor of Sota who she met during a three-year stint in . and Aspen." it was a little past midnight.

I'm sure you understand. as he had an urgent issue arise this morning that only he can attend to. and offers her the picture she created." I allow a polite. She smiles broadly at the teacher. both boys. Their faces remain in politely composed." Quite a sentiment. I am sure we look like old friends. Queen America. We feel that removing them from that _element_ while they are receiving their schooling is important. Bariel sniffs." I return the smile." Disdain drips from her voice as she whispers the last few words. Some of these children come from less _refined_ homes. I prefer my children to be around our kind of people. She has two children." "Oh. "Well. I catch Aspen's eyeâ he is muttering into his ear piece and the nod he offers into return is almost imperceptible. and maintain a look of calm. and prompts the class in a "Good bye. with white blonde hair matching her own. The teacher invites her to paint with the other children. Gabriel's remote camera personnel are rolling to capture our greeting. and the older one puts a hand. A pleasure to see you. trying to find the insult within my statements." . "It's good of you to allow her to fraternize with the class. "You haven't changed a bit. "We should probably move along. "What do you mean?" She sounds surprised as she continues. we arrive at the town hall. Sota's larger concentration of past twos is also a concern. again. Lady Bariel. Princess Abrielle. Some are holding signs. During the school tour. Thank you for visiting us. flanked by what can only be her sons. I smile and wave demurely at the crowd." I quietly control the rage I feel boiling through my blood. along with a few other select students." I raise an eyebrow. King Maxon!" posters. We wouldn't want to keep these _students_ from their learning. Bariel's sons both decline. Abrielle chatters happily with Mary and is enamored with the art classroom. Queen America" banners. then with all the children. His face is stony and his eyes look hard. guarded laugh to escape my lips. and step to the side. Less than a handful share "Welcome. well Calix is schooled in conjunction with all the palace children. on his shoulder. A few hours later. "A pleasure to have you visit our province. "Rest in Peace.France. pointedly. then lead Abrielle into the building behind Bariel. To everyone else. she seems to occupy her time with traveling all over the world." "My husband sends his regrets. which she readily accepts. I scan the crowd that gathers. I am sure the Honorable Mayor wants to make sure my name is not associated with his." We pose for the cameras alone." Her tone reveals that she could care less that the children were learning anything. Mary helps Abrielle remove her smock and my little one thanks the teacher without prompting. Quite a few seem to be favoring the sign. Bariel waits on the front step to greet our entourage. The teacher curtsies back. She curtsies properly as her sons bow. King Clarkson. "Indeed I do. nine and seven. Bariel tilts her head toward mine and says conspiratorially. a beautiful building that reflects the style of the palace in Angeles. A smattering of on-lookers hold "Long live. As we feel it is important for him to associate with and appreciate those who he will one day rule. guarding my eyes from showing my wariness. The reception was chillier than I had warranted. "Thank you for having us. The younger one looks a little longingly at the easel." she finally says. "That's why Devon and Michael are privately tutored in our home. And. in what I perceive as a warning. They are tall and light-complected.

I hear the conversation come to an abrupt halt. After all. as Marlee and I prepare to change into our evening wear. 21. and she raises an eyebrow. and I hear a familiar voice." I feel a pang of jealousy that she can be anonymous anywhere. I stop short in surprise. I laugh quietly at myself. working on that province's education committee. obviously irritated and trying to hide it. We have meetings still to conduct. I hope you're still enjoying the story! :) -SJ** **Totalbooknerd13: I know. as I am no closer to bringing Bariel or Sota onto our side." I excuse myself to change when Marlee appears at the door. As I enter Bariel's office. and then a large reception in my honor this evening. I think I don't say it enough. "That does sound nice. and spare a glance at Marlee. What is Didasko doing in this building? Aspen's team had last seen him in Clermont. and she did not pretend otherwise.. and holds her hands stiffly in front of her. I nod to the bag. I haven't had a chance to overhear anything. reviews. "And I am heading to France. This day has been as miserable for her as it has been for me. She walks pointedly in the opposite direction of our ladies changing room. I join Bariel in her office to thank her for her hospitality. :)** **oreocheesecakes: Thanks. it is where he is from and we did not widely advertise why he was released from service.*cue suspenseful music* :)** **prnamber3909: Previous education advisor-and one of the heads of the Loyalist movement. I knock again. Chapter 21 **A/N:** **Thanks for sticking with me everyone. Enjoy! :)** * * * ><p>Rage. favorites. "Are you coming back from a trip or leaving on one?" "I just returned from Bonita. I really appreciate the reads. The look . I would have nothing to share with Maxon in our nightly update. surprised that I am unembarrassed. I see him. I have been kept so busy. Marlee is uncharacteristically quiet in the hallway. and follows. I am feeling discouraged. She slows near a door that adjoins what is probably the Mayor's office. Just as the door slams shut. too. Brie. and shakes her head slightly as I begin to ask where we are heading. her face pinched. Very late that afternoon. it is nice to have a place to go where we are anonymous. And. I almost trip on a leather overnight bag waiting by her door. I'm sure my hair and face are mirrors of each other. I hope you like this one. and Georgia return to the plane with two of Aspen's guards and Marlee and I return to town hall with our security detail." she smiles thinly. Trying to make conversation.. Didasko.The day marches on as Mary. With the pressures of this life. We are lucky enough to have a vacation home there. I am brimming with rage as I knock strongly on the closed door.

Your Majesty. "With all the excitement of the day. The room appears otherwise empty." Marlee laughs quietly. Then we all went silent." . "Has the mayor left his office suite at all?" I ask. and take a seat on the couch. We all knew what his presence meant without having to say anything more. But I will not back away now. I couldn't help but feel betrayed." We exchange a look." She explains how she saw him and then we saw him together." His glare is not lost on me.<p> The door cracks open and the attaché to the Mayor appears in the hallway. and Sota had been a ripe target. We had no confirmation. "I spent several months denying him access to America. "Mer. Aspen." He bows." I take the arm he offers and chatter with him down the hallway. I do hope so!" I coo. "Yes. but are actually orders." "Well. I am sure he would not miss the opportunity for the world. You're sure?" Marlee piped up. Your Majesty. We both have work to do. Could you please point us in the direction of the ladies changing area? I would so appreciate the help. The Loyalists were actively recruiting. "Yes." I say as he bows and turns to return to his work. Suddenly. reviewing a file and pretending not to notice the interruption. I thank him and add. but the mayor seems to be sticking to his office. Aides and advisors have come in and out. "I assume this has something to do with the fact that I just saw Didasko in the Mayor's office?" He turns to face me. It is not every day I am able to visit your beautiful province. I am not sure what I will do if someone actually answers the door. he takes a second to admonish me. As we arrive at the changing room. the issue from this morning is resolved satisfactorily?" The man bows again. we've had eyes here all day. but understands that my statements may sound like questions. Hopefully. I close the door. curious." He smiles wryly and heads for the door.on her face reflects horror. Marlee and I watch him walk away. Marlee follows suit." "That should give your team an opportunity?" He nods. and I can see him already planning how he was going to gain access without drawing attention. and they were a former Selection contestant and her husband. Mer. he will be leaving for the reception. Only if you tell him. But. Maxon is going to be irritated when he finds out you pounded on a door with Didasko on the other side. Before the door shuts behind him." "Only if you tell him. "America made it quite clear that she expects to see him there. Aspen. we enter the changing room to see Aspen pacing the floor. Aspen shakes his head. We had found the second leaders of the Loyalist movement. "Get dressed. We're sure it is him. "I do so hope to see his Honor the Mayor at the reception this evening. "No. When we are sure he is gone. "I am so glad to hear it. my assistant and I have gotten horribly turned around. I glimpse the Mayor sitting at a desk. I do think you're right. Your Majesty? May I be of service?" "Oh. "Of course. "One of the plain clothes teams thought they spotted him earlier in the day. "Of course.

We still hadn't given the pilot instructions on where to next. Aspen passes me the phone and I confirm that I had seen Didasko. "Nonsense. even paler than usual. Our good-bye is bittersweet. I was wishing I could do the same. responding to a ringing alarm. when I am sure I have everyone's attention. feigning dizziness. both provincial and my personal palace team were rushing in the door. I feel the tension in my body and work to keep visual confirmation of my thin temper from my face. We cannot possibly be in Bonita yet. We taxi down the runway as I end the call. My attention is drawn to the brief on Bonita. I have had a little more time with her. Much to Brie's chagrin." I begin to fan myself. Aspen joins my contingent. Polite conversation is irksome when you have it on good authority that three-quarters of the room would prefer you dead. "What's wrong?" "It's Bonita. Marlee and Georgia are upright and alert. and most of the other quarter wishes you would just go away. "The team is having a little difficulty. and lean back in my seat to rest." "It's not that far from the truth. I ask Marlee for a glass of water in an audible tone. Mer. and squeezes it a little in the guise of support. and the Northern allies still train there. He takes my arm." . I relay my conversation with Bariel. Georgia walks across the marble floor and whispers in my ear. and most of the rest of the reception creating a circle around them. perhaps I will take that as a sign to excuse myself. I fake an attempt to grasp Georgia's arm and instead crumple to the floor. I paste a weak smile across my face. and I'm suddenly not feeling so well. I open my eyes to see Bariel and her husband looking worriedly down at me. Marlee and I are awash in the intricate politics of small talk at a state function. Aspen has Maxon on the line. I would hate to cause any more disruption to this lovely affair. I settle into my seat." As I pass through the doorway. "The skirts of this gown weigh a ton. No matter how they actually feel about me. A contingent of guards. tensions tend to run high there. and I sigh a little to myself. Back on the plane. In addition. the doctor is on his way. "Good. I sigh to myself. but not as much as I had hoped." I whisper back. Aspen is soon shaking me awake. and my watch says I have only been asleep for an hour. as well as an overnight flight. Do you think you could manage a bit of a distraction?" I nod. Aspen takes my cue to direct the pilot. I gingerly sit and then stand. hundreds of Northern rebel supporters had been downgraded there. Good. "Your Majesty. as I begin to move to another spot in the room. Southern rebel mercenaries had previously called the province home. But. They got what they needed. and in much more appropriate travel clothing. and we decide together that Bonita is our next stop. In King Clarkson's time. so he sits in the spare seat beside me.A little over an hour later. I hear snatches of conversation while I go through my province file. Lady Bariel. a province that is deeply divided. Swooning would probably do it. Because the pictures would be all over the world in the next twelve hours and Nicoletta would never let me live this down. no one wants the collapse of the queen on their shoulders. With Marlee and Georgia's assistance. and directly in the middle of the reception. Brie is once again sleeping. I see Aspen appear in the doorway. Despite the eradication of the Southern rebels." Bariel says. _Only nineteen more nights of this_. we had already sent her back with Mary to get ready for bed. my lips barely moving.

Chapter 22 **A/N:** **Thanks for continuing to read-and putting up with a little longer time between chapters. It burned at a high heat and an accelerated pace. "Everyone.SJ** * * * ><p>I am completely wraps her in a hug." Georgia has tears in her eyes. Strangely calm. Hopefully." "Where were the guards? Why didn't they raise the alarm?" "Mer.. This chapter has been my breaks over the last few days. Georgia covers her face in her hands." his face is ashen. Calix and Abrielle are approaching 9 and 5." I finish for him. I appreciate it..) Hope it was worth a little wait! ** **oreocheesecakes: Sometimes. How many move to the rear of ask. we can't find any of them. on with the story. "How?"<p> awake. By the time the fire patrol arrived. Locals think it is a warehouse for obvious reasons. Aspen follows without a word. and the little boys are about 18 months old.right?! I dunno. My stomach . and Marlee Marlee's ability to comfort is one of my favorite things times she has done the exact thing for me. I "Details are still coming in. just for you! :)** **prnamber3909: I know! :)** **Selection Fan: You're so sweet. and she cannot contain them. but they have been married a little over 15 years now. the ceiling was buckling inward." 22. but the command center operates outside of town a good distance. More drama.. "They were lured inside or caused the fire. They are all dead. America. Thanks! :)** **luv2read4reading: I know! Argh. :)** **Now. the cliffhanger is a perfect place to break and get back to the "real" work I have to do. Glad you're enjoying it! :)** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Right-the bad guys can't win. (It's another short one. "And the outside doors were chained closed. Glad you're still enjoying it! :)** **waterpolo3: Thanks for the review. :)** **jthornestudent: Thanks for reading and reviewing. I stand and the cabin."Our command center has been destroyed. Thanks again! :)** **The Selection Fangirl: I'm glad you like it.. about her. the ages will be more clear over the next few chapters." he didn't have to continue. so you can see how hard I've been working on school stuff.

"You call your husband. We will definitely need his help as we decide our next steps and what we need the public to hear. However." "Ames?" Maxon's voice is tight with tension. We won't know for sure until the debris cools. Carter. America. to compose myself. and how we've been too busy to plan their party. my heart aches. "No. Gavril. and August arguing about something in the background. and almost never go to her. and then. and the footage gives a natural reason for an extended stay. It takes too much manpower for the security details and cleanup. "Have you gotten the footage of my fainting spell?" "You made that look very real. I will have time to mourn later. an end to your tour will draw more attention to Bonita. I'm sure he has abandoned his jacket and tie." "Clermont or Carolina?" _Carolina_. Even if we didn't know who did this. We see her sporadically due to our schedules. and ruined his neatly combed hair. If Mom came to visit with Kenna. And I allow myself some selfish comfort." he hands me a phone. love." "Okay. when you call. "Whatever you'd like. we would be too much of a distraction. As far as anyone knows. Right now. "We can't go to Bonita. I'm guessing Carolina was your suggestion?" It _is_ comforting to hear himâ I can picture how he is perched against the edge of his desk. it's so good to hear your voice." I turn aside. mention how close Calix and Abrielle's birthdays are. Security isn't as big of an issue. I almost can't bring myself to ask the next question "Numbers?" "At least twenty-three-alliance members and guards. and Astra. "Actually. Refuse alcohol at the next stop. I'd like to go to . "Carolina. "I'll tell the pilot. but I can hear the men in the background getting louder. rolled his sleeves up. the only casualty was a lone night watchman." I change the subject. it's being reported as an unfortunate accident due to some improperly stored incendiary materials. and we will start a royal rumor. Anything other chores I need to do?" He makes an attempt to tease. even though I hadn't thought of Carolina as home since the Selection." Relief is clear on his face." "Same here." "If you have trouble convincing them.turns as I internalize this new information. will you please invite them for an extended stay?" I hear a heavy sigh. There's probably even scruff across his jaw. one hand to his ear and the other stuffed into his pocket. And. but I have something for you to run by the team." Mom. I plan to call your mother and Kenna to warn them before they see the footage on the _Report_. And who else? Oh. it is true. my suggestion was that you immediately turn that plane around and come home. And that solves the problem I discussed with May about a month ago. Mom will want to come and visit soon. "Maxon. "Love. plus I will make sure he is rewarded with a visit from his family. and I can hear Stavros. we could make sure they are protected. I haven't done any planning yet. James.

This room is where I practiced my scales. and Aunt Mayâ ¦" "And Astra and Uncle James and Daddy?" "No sweetie. Going off on your own to make your fortune. Where I watched _The Report_ each week. butâ " I wonder if he is going to make me say that I am too concerned to have her continue to travel with me. Marlee. and I take Abrielle to see the house where I grew up. this is where she lived. The piano is at the new house in Angeles. It's going to come to blows in here." * * * ><p>Carolina is sunny and bright." "I thought she was behaving?" "She's being fabulous. but it does welcome me to my home province. I look down and take Abrielle's hand. We all manage to convince Aspen to visit his family. Even Georgia's sadness and anger is mitigated by the exchange and Abrielle bounding across the porch and into the house. But. "I'll check with the team. This room means so much to . Where I found out I was a member of the Selected. and I give her a little squeeze. I really need to go. too. I didn't know that Kota meant to be separate from us in all ways possible. As the rest of us stand in front of the house on the sidewalk." The relaxed atmosphere spread to Marlee and Mary. either. "Ready to go inside?" She nods. though the black paint on the front door is fading and peeling in spots. and warm for spring. After those two stops. It's been over fifteen years since I last set foot here. Georgia.Carolina and then Clermont. The flower beds in front are weeded. On the rare occasion that I visit Mom. His voice softens as he understands my pause. I am surrounded by friendly faces and allow Abrielle to stay for the entire party. A little older. Kota and Dad creating in the garage turned studioâ ¦ I touch the tarnished door knob and remember carrying Kota's belongings out into a friend's truck. it looks cared for. Mary. because of the sentimental value. Where I was sure I was ready to love Maxon. and a little worn. Astra wasn't born yet. "I love you. a special treat since we decide to stay overnight. but even in its current state. Uncle Gerad. and I sense an opportunity to shed some formality and truly relax for the first time in weeks. still in usable condition. "Yes. but it seemed so exciting to me. Speaking of." My voice catches in my throat. Aunt Kenna. I love you. Where I mourned Dad's passing. At the reception. With Grandma. Mama! I want to see your room!" "When Mama was your age. Everything but the piano and remained as it was before. She smiles up at me. Uncle James and Aunt Kenna met when they were grownups. I can almost picture Mom and Kenna in the kitchen with Gerad trying to sneak out into the yard to play soccer. let's take a brief break so I can bring Abrielle home. I notice how shabby the little house is getting. I instruct the guards to stay with the car.<p> The next morning. and the school is practically a model for Kriss' education vision. The weather doesn't really match my mood. It seems like the whole area turns out for my arrival. He only had a few boxes. I still play it. Where I called Kota's bluff. and Mama hadn't met Daddy. May.

"Hi. :) Here's your update. and many more people share a room this size. I really wanted to make the continuation. "Kota?" I gasp.. I am glad you're enjoying it! :)** **And the story continues. What an amazing compliment-I appreciate it so much." I'd given her something to think about. I LOVE that idea. this is smaller than my closet!" "I know. I hope you are enjoying it! Still finishing up a school project. and Mary stop short. I catch up with Brie on the stairs and show her the room that used to be mine. "And this is where Aunt May and my dad created their art.be so physically small. It really means a lot. This is how a lot of people in Illea live. It's been awhile. He shrugs. and turn into the room. whether you review or not. about ****_The Queen_****. I stand with my back to the studio and open the door saying. Sis. Marlee. Thanks for reading!** **Maxon's Rose: As you know by now. you have part of the answer to your question. which is to tell him to get the hell out of this house. so it might be a couple days until the next update. Thank you for reading! And. Thanks! :)** **kingofsuummer01: Thank you so much for your review. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing. Thanks for reading! :)** **waterpolo3: Thanks. Maxon's okay. Chapter 23 **A/N:** **Thanks for reading. :) ** **The Devil Wears Westwood: I know-they have to miss each other." Georgia. :)** **Selection Fan: I heart the name Abrielle. I look questioningly at the group. Then I remember this house is technically <em>his<em>. "There's one more place I'd like to show you before we go." 23.. Brie.** **The Selection Fangirl: Thank you for sticking with me! :)** **Dondon33: Hope you continue to enjoy the story!** **jthornestudent: Well.** **prnamber3909: Maybe. and I am . maybe not. You ready?" She nods and I lead the group downstairs and out to the garage studio. "Mama. right. I hope Kiera Cass has the same one. SJ** * * * ><p>I resist my original impulse. Ooo. Kota will be around for awhile. You know how we tell you what a lucky girl you are. too.

"Interesting statement from someone who has never met his niece. "Anything you need to say to me. He became quite wealthy and spent most of his time socializing with twos. How could kids from the same parents grow up so differently? What twisted in Kota that made his caste and his success more important than his family? I occasionally caught glimpses of him in provincial newspapers on the society pages. "You may wait in the hall. While I guess we could have used royal resources to track him down. America." He bows. both empty and full. A diminutive sculpture sits on top of a modest dresser beside the bed. The small corner shower door is wet. He shares with me how after Dad's funeral and our argument that he planned never to set foot in this house again." I cock my head at him. I was hoping you would come to I was hoping. within minutes. I was never that interested. The door to the little bathroom is open. but he watches the _Report _every week. More than seventeen years of being ignored by your older brother takes a toll. It wasn't an order. "Can we have some privacy?" He looks at Marlee and Georgia. even as they look to me for an answer. I know I don't deserve don't even deserve to be here right now. Not after the way he talked to me before the end of the Selection. And that had been enough for me. "Your Majesty. I stand a little in front of Abrielle. I see both women stiffen. I know without a doubt she is taking my little girl to the relative safety of the car. "I know. shamefaced. "I don't think so. They are like family to me. and there are some towels on the floor. And. I glance around the garage and begin to notice that the studio is rearranged. and then back at me. and takes position outside the door. the family had lost track of Kota. I But. It was a full year before he called Mom and gave her his number. the house when I heard you were in town. is everything all right?" I look from the guard to Kota. I am still taking this all in when Kota speaks again. Marlee. because he is my brother his work load exploded. and I know the word "family" had the effect I intended it to. under hushed protest. and he had the fame and life he thought he deserved. but everyone watches the . "Abrielle is really growing up. it was a true question. There are tools for sculpting. and Mary shift their bodies in unobtrusive ways to take more defensive stances. isn't she?" I can feel a flush of anger creeping up my neck and I try valiantly to keep it from my voice.the one intruding. I don't even see any raw materials. They would come from around Illea to commission pieces. Maxon and Aspen would give me a rough time if I totally dismiss him. But." Kota swallows hard. Not a bit of clay or rock." he looks at me to talk. Mary ushers Abrielle out of the garage. but no actual sculptures. And so. and cross my arms across my chest. He admits that he didn't even watch the televised version of our wedding. and looks at me. Canvases lean against the walls. A hastily made bed is in one corner. weighing my decision. Except for occasional calls back to Mom. and watch as his shoulders slump a little. Without even being asked. you may say in front of my assistants. "That we would have a chance to make a statement about anything." I look directly at him. and see Georgia. and it looks like it is in active use. He said this part hopefully. Not after the way he talked about Dad." He lowers his eyes and nods his head. I nod to the guard. an additional guard will join us in the garage." A guard appears at the door. he begins to speak. "Can we.

America. But. It's what I've been doing. but I really don't want to do it. I came here. "So. It's slow going. Now that I've got nothing that I used to value. I shrug a little." I didn't try to keep the frustration out of my voice. Kota's hands are the key to his art. You wouldn't. They wouldn't be able to bring your hand back. and Georgia shakes her head no imperceptibly. Sis. "You can't sculpt. I most certainly would. I know there is no way to make up for what I did. I notice his hair is peppered with gray and is curling over his collar. but as it wobbles he pulls his right hand." He crosses to a table that holds an electric kettle and struggles to plug it in with his left hand. We were squaring off with our bodies. even though I can barely stand to look at him. but I am relearning how to paint with my left hand._Report. try and paint a bit. "So. I've had my come-uppance. Marlee is wearing a look of concern on her face as she turns to me." . as the royal family. He looks almost as weathered as his clothing." I just raise an eyebrow as he continues. and live with the ghosts." Emotion creeps into his voice and his eyes look so much like Dad's. "Let's just say I was with the wrong woman at the very wrong time. don't worry. He turns back to me. America." His eyes look misty with tears. knowing she doesn't or I would have heard about it long before this morning. His hand. He stares at the ground and then abruptly turns from me. He sets out four mugs and adds a tea bag to each. Suddenly the messy bed and open shirt make sense. then? Go live the life you've always wanted. I know what I have to do." "No. His button-down is open and his undershirt is not tucked into his worn jeans. I know I was an ass. "And. Dad would want me to take care of Kota." I nod._ Gavril is still the only reporter with direct access to us. I know what I gave up. They rehabilitate people with lingering war injuries and have success with the most difficult cases. his sculpting hand out of his pocket to steady the carafe. but they don't fall. his dominant hand. How could he tell her without also sharing how he got the injury in the first place? "Oh. He really did lose everything. Ames. I've lost everything. "You can't stay here like this alone." "I can. but they would help you learn to live with it better. They both know what I'm going to say. I can't leave him here to subsist. For the first time. America. "What happened to your hand?" He snorts ruefully." "Does Mom know about your hand?" I ask. "I don't expect you to forgive me. His hand is horribly limp and obviously minimally functional." He picks up the kettle with his left hand and begins to pour." I close my eyes briefly and try not to sigh. but I'll get there." He shakes his head at himself. his livelihood. "I just want you to know that I'm proud of you. "There's a hospital in Angeles that specializes in delicate and complicated situations. My voice is barely above a whisper when I ask. "I'm getting there. And Calix's. why are you telling me this.

Chapter 24 **A/N:** **Thank you for continuing to read! Here's a longer chapter to make up for the wait. daring him to disagree or argue." I look directly into his face. "Remember. I needed to clear my conscience and make amends. I am. Commander Leger. is make sure you and your injury are well cared for. The grudge against Kota is my own. Kota. because I am barely camouflaging my own irritation. That's not why I wanted to see you. But. With the attack in Bonita and my tour. I can't help poking at him a little. however. I head to the back of the cabin to call Maxon. You're my brother Kota." I sigh. and I will have to put it to the side for now." "I'm not asking you to move in to the palace. I allow some of my frustration to spill through my façade. But I am going to help you. What I am going to do. I'm an only child." She half-smiles when I do the same."I'm not going with you. "Are you okay. if I go with you. royal or not. "Fine." Kota holds his hands up in surrender and sighs. too! :) * * * ><p>Aspen seems more annoyed that we are running behind schedule than concerned when we appear at the air strip with an extra passenger. and I don't like you or trust you. "You owe him. :) -SJ** The Devil Wears Westwood: Here's your update. When do we leave?" 24. "The Queen is always on time." his brow furrows and his voice has an angry edge. "If it is what you think you need to do. my eyes flashing. :) jthornestudent: Hope this chapter doesn't disappoint! Thanks for reading! :) Selection Fan: Glad you're still enjoying it. I hear Abrielle chatting away to her long-lost uncle. I know you truly . and I only have to look out for myself.<p> As we settle in to our seats." "I didn't ask for your help. I'm not strong enough for that. This one's for Dad. I know our resources are stretched too thin to send Kota to Angeles alone. We turn our backs to the others. "And I didn't ask if you wanted it. "I did the right thing?" I needed confirmation that leaving Kota there is something a good sister wouldn't do. "I know this is hard for you after how he behaved." I remind him. Now she has another experience for Calix to be jealous ofâ meeting Kota first. America. America?" "I will be. and Marlee follows me. and my air of formality dissipates quickly. I'm not even asking you to stay in Angeles. I need to know you are in the best condition you can be in before you come back home." She continues. and I don't want to send him on a commercial plane. Everyone else is just early. I'd have to face my guilt every day.

"Maybe so. and I want to register him at Angeles Memorial for rehabilitation. For instance. Sorry. or you won't get a moment's piece. and I will have to contain it to keep from spawning an argument. "Lover's quarrel?" And." "Thanks. You know that. sometimes the long history wears on us personally. "Actually. especially your poor mom when your dad died. I'm not quite sure what she wants me to do. Daphne's temper always runs high." "Right. America. I found Kota when I went to visit the house. so his exasperation shines through. France is one of our allies all the way back to the days before Illea. "Not that I am not enjoying our conversation. "Hello?" "What a reception for a phone call from your wife. yet." It's good to hear him laugh. And. I am rewarded with a small guffaw from the other end of the line. I support you. but did you need something other than to hear your darling husband's voice?" "I wanted to let you know that I found something at my parent's house. Ames." I nod back toward the cabin." "Go on." Teasing this time. My ire is up today.looked up to him and you have a right to be angry after the way he treated your family. I'm going to call Maxon. "Kota. Maxon's voice is clear as our call connects. Maybe some good will come out of it?" We look back and see Brie giggling as Kota shares a story. And she calls it regularly enough to almost become a nuisance. hi. he had so little experience with women at the time that he had no idea. Marlee takes the cue and turns toward her seat. "Oh. I say." . and it has become a running joke with us that she once was deeply in love with Maxon. I'm bringing him back with me. Especially since I am resisting my impulse to throw him off this plane while we're airborne. I have been arguing with Daphne for the last hour and a half. too. So you won't have to wait until tonight. Don't tell anyone. I thought she had called back. "I'll see if Carter is available. His right hand is practically destroyed. I need to hear that right now. even if it can't be in person. However." "Then whatever you feel you need to do. but we try to show equal attention to our allies and political friendships." I chide him quietly. and while that is helpful on a world stage." She flashes her bright smile over her shoulder as I pull my phone out of my pocket and dial. Daphne has Maxon's personal number. love. "She did mention something about unrequited love. Am I correct in assuming this is one of those brother/sister things that I won't fully understand?" "Possibly. either. but she is quite passionate about the discussion." It all comes out in a rush." "Maybe she's just upset about the fact the King of Illea no longer flies to France once a month?" King Clarkson took frequent trips. she is currently disappointed that France's importance in the world seems to be declining.

The changing area is almost as big as my common room. he just walked into the room. "Marginally. News coming in from Bonita tomorrow?" He pretends I didn't ask the question. we'll have to stay the night. it will be very close to the end of the school day." "See you soon." "Will it help if I tell you that I love you?" I'm smiling now as I say. and I am glad that I do."Is he that bad?" "No. Kenna. and she shines in it. all but ignoring the small crowd and leaving Kota on the plane with the usual guard._ We touch down and rush to the waiting car. Marlee would like to talk to Carter. I inhale deeply to slow my breathing and my heart. I can withstand almost . If everything goes well. I turn to Abrielle. James." I try and keep the flush out of my cheeks." "How about if I tell you that you're coming home for after Clermont?" "Now that is good news. "And. We'll be arriving just in time for me to visit the school. She and Kota and Mary are playing a simple card game. We have a meeting in a few minutes." "I think I might owe you one. Is he close?" "Actually. and sweeps on light coats of fresh makeup. but I wasn't important enough to him." He chuckles. I finally stop to take a breath to look around the room. Unfortunately. "I have a few ideas of how you can pay me back. A forest green evening gown accentuates my figure without drawing attention to any possible imperfections. I try not to let my impatience for home to show through to the children. and impeccably decorated. "Hmmm. He declined my offer to come visit. Brie is giggling with him right now." Marlee's smile floods her face as I pass the phone to her and take my seat next to Brie. I will be waking up in my own bed in the morning. The smile across my face is real. If our timing is off by even a little. and allow Abrielle to participate in story time in a kindergarten classroom. I know I've only been gone a few days. So that is probably a yes. I take Brie's hand. The green chiffon dress was as perfect as I thought it would be. and my upswept hair balances Mary's overall picture. and I catch a glimpse of my reflection. we can sleep on the way home. Gerad is busy being in his early twenties at University. ready to escort us down the hall. and I allow myself to relax. and I pull out my Clermont folder. Only a few more hours. and race through town to the school. Mirrors lean against one wall. and guide her into the room as we are announced. but I am more than ready. Mary's fingers are flying as she puts the finishing touches on our hair. he's being wonderful. _Home. and Astra are here. though we practically have to sprint to the town hall to change for the reception. I'll see you soon. A knock at the door reveals our guards. But if we work straight through to the reception. her hair in matching twisted knots above her ears. Marlee and Georgia make a valiant effort to conduct the administrative interviews at a normal pace. She beams the entire time. your mother. I'm just jealous that I could have had my older brother in my life all this time. eager to attend the event.

" He forces himself to smile. Newsome reenters near me. Mrs. Your Majesty. Because I refused to cooperate. as he is the parent of one of my friends. Sometimes strange allies are made in desperate circumstances." A sheen of sweat covers Newsome's forehead. just a polite older gentleman sharing a dance with his daughter's childhood friend. and we would be able to roll her quietly into bed without waking the boys. and I am forced to relinquish my partner. He looks pale pronounced lines around his mouth composed. Abrielle's eyes start to droop. I nod to him. But the song ends. it was a warning to me. "Celeste's death wasn't an accident. I wave off his look. Allies that seem as if they are bitter enemies. I make sure my smile is calm and composed. After the first hour. as I spent time with them after the funeral. Newsome bows. and Abrielle is snoring lightly in her fully reclined seat. and look around the "I am risking everything to talk to you tonight. and allow him to lead me what's wrong. We are fairly sure he supports the monarchy and the movements toward greater freedoms. Finally. But. We stay another two hours. "Do not worry. and curiously. "Your Majesty. I can't help but call him "mister. I know we are surrounded by bitterness. Newsome heads in the other direction. Within minutes. I keep my face room as we make our way across the floor. and then make our excuses." The crowd around us chuckles quietly. I send her back to the plane with Mary and a small guard. Your Honor. and can despite his darker complexion. everyone aboard is already dozing. though he could have been focusing on where he intends to go. Aspen." Mr. I am stuck instead behind screens with Marlee and Georgia trying . though I allow my eyes to occasionally wander around the room. onto the floor. and he swallows hard as he continues. and barely move my lips. and Mrs. tell me see the worry.anything for a few hours. and I lean in as he lowers his voice even more. I think I catch him nod at me. Newsome. I catch the eye of Mr. and there are and etched into his forehead. and Marlee with me. I plan on staying awake for this event. and prepare to ask another question. Our arrival home would be in the wee hours of the morning. "With whom?" "Think. the ensemble begins to play." I look into his face. a respectable amount of time. keeping Georgia. I can feel the fatigue clear through my bones and sigh in audible relief as we reach the plane. and Mr. Newsome seems to take a circuitous route to leave the ballroom via a door very close to me. and I excuse myself from the dance floor and deposit myself into a nearby chair." Calling him by his first name seems too informal. "May I have this dance?" I curtsey in reply. "They're closer than you think. She is too tired to disagree." I smile as if he had told me a pleasant joke. Mr." His words ring true. Keeping my composure is proving to be more difficult than I thought. and this is even bigger than you imagined. I make small talk with business owners and provincial politicians. Except for the guard. "Please. as he has profits personally through his family business. I always visit them when in Clermont. Mary had thought to put her in her pajamas and robe. The Mayor of Clermont tilts his head to me with some concern. Celeste's mother and father have become strangely dear to me. as they heard from Sota about my episode. I had been in such a hurry that I did not take the time to change before getting into the car.

I was able to write this concerned that prnamber3909 might make . full of empathy." "Besides equipment failure. leaving them to change. standing suddenly and then speaking urgently as he moves to the back of the plane. noticing the formality that I address him with.. palace security has been breached. "Your Majesty. installment-let me know what you think. jthornestudent: Thank you so much for your sentiment-and for being patient.) I hope you enjoy this next if you have a chance. and our strange companionship that would have been close friendship with more time. "Merâ ¦" "Commander Leger. I replace the beautiful garment with a pair of dress trousers and a soft green sweater. but I am a little good on the promise in the last review. in fifteen minute increments chapter. and I needed that! PEETAMELLARKLOVER123: Thanks for reading! :) . and that the cars will be waiting for us. Newsome shared with me.to protect my modesty and help me out of the gown. thinking about what Mr.. We are home without incident. Maybe after next week there might be a few days of more than one chapter. I cannot get the image of the gun held to the back of her head out of my mind. Your Majesty. I need him to say it and make it real. Aspen leans to me and lets me know that Maxon knows we are on our way. I realize I am getting more done by allowing myself the little writing breaks. Thanks for **T**he Devil Wears Westwood: I know. I close my eyes. .) Your review actually made me laugh out loud. I follow. what do you think has caused the disconnection?" My voice is quiet and terrible. My thoughts turn naturally to Celeste.. but not until then. I'm sure it is just equipment failure. It seems as if my eyes are barely closed when I feel the familiar bump of the landing gear touching down on the tarmac. I can't say anything about it until I talk to Maxon. I notice Aspen with his hand to his ear piece. :) prnamber3909: I am slightly frightened now. "Commander Leger. reading! -SJ** today." I say flatly." 25.. look straight into my blue ones. Chapter 25 **A/N: So. It is short. As we lift off. and I touch the cool metal hidden there and resist the retch I feel in the back of my throat." He turns and looks at me devoid of emotion. :) The Selection Fangirl: Thanks so much. "I've been unable to connect with the palace guard. what else can cause the disconnection. Aspen's green eyes. My hand drifts to my waistband. I check my watch. report. :) Glad you enjoyed it. but I cannot allow you to leave the aircraft without making positive contact. Right on time. Then I grab my emerald flats and collapse into my seat.

" And and but the just like that." . everyone is safe. They will call when the palace is secure. I can't. Your Majesty.Ames. but Georgia Marlee realize there is a problem." "I am so glad to hear your voice." "That's not acceptable. they are going to be fine. It will have to do for now. I start to tremble. we lost three troops and several others are wounded. we would switch to a secure palace-only line. This just isn't time." He was attempting to be gentle with me. but is only actually minutes. but don't speak. and relief washes over me.sushi: Good to see you back. we must follow protocol for your safety. I know how impatient that makes you. so please don't give Aspen a hard time. The boys?" "The boys. "When we had attacks in the past. Mer. We are planning to go into council meeting as soon as you get here.. "What's next then?" I push my emotions back.. but I was having none of it."<p> "Maxon's orders. "Mer. "America?" Through the static I hear his voice. "You can't keep me here. "Your Majesty. Thanks for the compliments! I hope you enjoy the update! :) waterpolo3: I'm glad you're enjoying it. We will not have their deaths mean nothing because you don't want to sit on the airplane for an extra hour or two. "And if he's dead. I hear a click come from the bud in Aspen's ear as the phone in my pocket begins to buzz. love. He's only doing what I ask. I am stuck. and Kota sleep on. "Maxon. Are you okay?" "Me? We're fine. Hope it lives up to expectations! :) * * * ><p>I ball my hands into fists at my sides and reply softly but fiercely. They sacrificed to protect us. stay seated. We stand silently for what seems like hours. They look worriedly in my direction. Abrielle. He sees my face. revealing my displeasure. the next few hours will be protocol-laden." He puts emphasis on 'Your Majesty' and I know my attitude is needling him. It is difficult to hack. it is currently keeping me from my teams. Commander Leger. are you going to follow mine?" I will not cry. Mary. Not yet." "Does this mean I'll be sitting on the tarmac until we get an all clear?" I ask sharply. "America." I nod. and his next words are softer. and keeps everyone in the palace safer while still allowing the guards to communicate. Unfortunately. frozen in a mask of determination." "I'm sorry. the family.

still snoring away." "I know. I have nothing else to do. I can't tell them for sure that August and Carter are all right." "I tended to surprise her. Maybe fifteen years isn't quite enough time." We all giggle a little. it may be the sounds wistful. Since I am not allowed to leave." I hold the phone in my hand for an extra moment or two. My biggest ally. "That's when we met Celeste for the first time. I love you." "I love you. "At need to go now. . Still is really. I pass my hand over my eyes. as well." He I could brush his honey-colored hair off his brow least we'll be in the same room. I look at my baby girl. I turn to Aspen. love. "I'm sorry. He nods slightly." Marlee grins. "I will never forget you reprimanding her for being late to the airplane." I mouth. and I wish and kiss his forehead. I didn't ask. expression serious." He tries to put a positive spin on the political implications of the aftermath of the attack. Mary is leaning back in her chair. He is right. and my brother. With any luck. I smile at the memory. Maxon. I was so sure that she would be the future queen. At the time. I wish so whole-heartedly that I could separate my memories of her from the violent end to her life. Calm. I've spent closest thing to it for the next few days." I want nothing more than to put my arms around my family and pull them close. "I don't think council and committee meetings count as spending the day together. I really too long on here already. My mood turns back to somber as I remember her murder. also still asleep." But in the end. she was so blonde and beautiful. It must be nice to sleep so soundly. the cabin of the aircraft immediately feels suffocating. take a deep breath. I think. "America. and he is having an intent conversation over the palace link. too. He has enough to deal with right now. Brie will sleep the entire time we are waiting. "America. And. We'll have breakfast waiting in the common room when you get here. but Maxon would have told me if we would have lost either of them. I seat myself beside Georgia and Marlee. She was so surprised that a five had the audacity to question her. and turns back to his conversation.His tone suggests a finality that I should not argue against. Maxon. "I just wish we were all together right now. so we wave her over and let her know what is happening. "Me. are you still there?" "I understand. I seem to remember we spent quite a while on an airplane then. do you remember the first time we met?" Marlee whispers. Newsome's behavior last night that I had yet to process the information he had tried to share. trying to distract us from waiting. I am still so surprised at Mr. she surprised me. "Yes. I can't fathom what the Newsome's had done to deserve a warning that would take their only child's life." "Well. then you and I will spend the whole day together. cognizant to keep our voices hushed. but I hate being restricted. Listen. so I return to the seats in the front of the cabin. They are both on his personal team. and slowly exhale. I say nothing more." no trace of anger remains in my voice. but her eyes are open. I place a hand on his shoulder and he turns to me. too. which is what Maxon intended. But. and quietly update them on the situation.

"I'm just glad you're safe. and don't even look towards him until I feel his arm slide shoulders. gentle." He presses his mouth to mine." 26. Happy reading! -SJ** * * * ><p>I'm drawn to the wall. but weight comforts more than anything he could say. and restrained. our common room at the breakfast table. Are you ready for breakfast?" ." "How?" He looks a little sheepish as he confesses. My expression says it all. wrapping right wrist. I draw a breath. "And I'm glad you're back. "You have three little boys upstairs who are clamoring for their mother. but they are kind enough to pretend they are not watching as they clear the glass and scrub away blemishes. and pick my way across the debris on the floor to place my hand against it. love. The wall by the grand staircase has been emptied of the usual decorations. I will save my anger for the terrorists who invaded my home.Aspen finally crosses to the door and opens it. I nod to the guards. but I need to view it before it is sanitized. I narrow my eyes at the phrase. I lean into him. Within thirty minutes we were arriving at the front of our palace. the sunny sky seems to try to erase the horror of the night before." His face shows his surprise at my subdued response. I can't relax. I can tell from the is." I cradle his hand in both of mine. still wordless. A sickening stain on the floor confirms the words are indeed made of blood.) Thanks for reading and reviewing! I'll catch your comments later today. which hasn't been touched by the violence. He cradles my face in his left palm. Abrielle is too young to see the destruction that must be waiting just inside the front entrance. allowing early morning light to flood the cabin. We'll eventually all arrive in the same place. I instruct Aspen to stay with me at the front door. Suddenly cold in the warm air. I just wanted to get this up ASAP. and scrawled across the expanse in their place are five foot tall blood-red letters: "We're back. He was a little exuberant in his protection of me. and wrap my arms around myself. sweet. I move away from him a the brace peeking out from beneath his jacket sleeve. and they pull open the double doors. "Carter and I were a ways from the safe room when the alarms went off. footfall who it across my the familiar grab his hand bit. I step back. Chapter 26 **A/N: I am writing this from an undisclosed location. "It's nothing. and notice around his He's quick to answer. I am aware that others are around me. I wonder whose. I reach up to and he starts and draws a sharp breath. Just a simple sprain. .<p> Footsteps on the stairs break the silence. Another deceptively beautiful day. due to prnamber3909's last couple of reactions. greeted by workmen replacing first story windows. and ask that the others go in the delivery entrance.

I know you were a big help to Miss Paige and Aunt May. and I was more worried about you. Carter has a bandage on his face under his eye. since I sent the rest of the traveling party to the back door. though. They look reluctant to leave Kenna's side. Because of the subdued atmosphere. Even Griffin slept we were in the safe room so long." . But the older kids are resisting. a silent reminder that we can make it through this together. He opens the door. Abrielle is in May's lap at the table. two little boys are tearing across the room. and Paige. but quickly drops his act. the only one that looks totally at ease. especially Jimmy who is six months older. Cal is trying to engage Griffin in a quiet game on the floor with Griffin." I pat his hand. and collapse on the couch with them both in my lap. "I missed you all. I murmur my greetings. Both Barrett and Griffin barrel into my waiting arms. Since Cal is occupied. After a few more silent moments. too. snuggles into my shoulder and closes his eyes. but it took Dad awhile to get to us. Griffin climbs back down after placing a slobbery kiss somewhere near my ear. Mom is deep in conversation with Kota. I cannot hear my family through the closed door. Barrett. She can barely contain her joy. "Dad told me you were coming home. He is already learning to compose his expressions. But. "Thank you for being so brave. and part of me regrets that he is getting so good at it so early. almost angry. And Uncle Carter was bleeding when they did. The guilt of inviting my whole family into danger is pressing on me. Maxon squeezes my hand. too. letting pudgy hands pat my face and work their way into my hair. and Jimmy over to the door to the nursery. I lower my voice and ask Cal. Before I can blink. "I thought it was another drill." He tries to shrug. She instantly looks ten years youngerthough her hair has long since gone completely white. while Kenna and James look on with serious. and away from their parents. Aspen is in the hallway. conferring with Avery. Cal looks like he is trying to be reserved in front of his cousins. As they stand at attention. intent on their target. Barrett is trying to pull Astra. every one turns to the door when it opens.I lean my head into his chest. I let Maxon guide me up the stairs. though still trying to be kind to the smaller boy. I am relieved to see that they all made it through the night. Mom's smile spreads and her eyes shine. remembering the young man being trained for our personal guard by Avery and Carter. He is not much for cuddling. I am almost glad I didn't see the reaction when he arrived. stealing muffin pieces from her plate. we pause before going through the door. the bags under their eyes the only tell-tale sign that something happened last night. He knows what I mean. "Who?" and gesture to the wall. "Last night?" A shadow passes his face briefly. Avery and Paige look relatively unscathed. "Officer Riley was on watch here. which is unusual for our group. as the prodigal son eats breakfast beside her. Carter. I bury my face in their sweet baby necks. I put an arm around him as he sits down close next to me. I had almost forgotten about Kota. and I take in the scene. he heads for Jimmy. whatever he is planning for his cousins apparently can wait until later." All too soon. while May is uncharacteristically quiet and trying to finish her breakfast around her." I nod. Elena. expressions.

I don't like to see Cal's face so drawn. "Kota. I know you are anxious to return to Carolina." I repeat. He shrugs almost indetectably. we'll talk about the arrangements for your hand tonight. "Love. He just got here! Don't you think a nice long visit is warranted?" Mom looks at me reproachfully and I look to Kota. Stavros and Aspen are there waiting for us. And I thought there we had an understanding. We'll be back as soon as we can. but know we will break for dinner this evening. I hate to do this. can't he stay here and have the doctor come here?" Mom looks at me expectantly." "I know. just ask. Don't worry about us. I scan the . nodding to Kenna and James. Mary is here to assist you. We have more important things to worry about then where Kota sleeps. "I was under the impression that Kota wanted to immediately begin his stay in rehabilitation for his hand. I swear she likes him better than me see you for dinner. but I'm not nine anymore. I pull out my chair. It sustained most of the damage last night. "Just let me say hello to Mom and Kenna. but the council will be here in an hour. Mama. The palace is at your disposal. "Thanks. My big sister is always in my corner. we'll flashes his smile at Mom and she is agreeable refrain from rolling my eyes."I didn't feel brave. "And that's what courage is Cal. just refrain from going in the front hall until told otherwise." Maxon again. I am not willing to argue about this right now. I hug Mom around the shoulders." Maxon's attention turns to me. I notice Kenna is also narrowing her eyes at Kota. "Of course. I she is so easily charmed by my anyway. "Of course we will. ready to guide me to our next responsibility. talking intently at the table and stopping to nod as we enter the room." I inwardly sigh. gathering my thoughts about what I need to share based on the trip. patting Kota's hand. We're needed elsewhere. Acting brave when you'd rather hide. I was thinking this would be a perfect day to plan the birthday party. The smile I give them is real. "We'll talk about the arrangements this evening. and am thankful husband. America. "I just wanted to let you all know that Maxon and I are excusing ourselves." I feel Maxon's hand on my shoulder. But I had to act like it so nobody else got scared like me. and he leans in to the quiet conversation. "We'll talk more this evening?" He nods. next to Maxon's at the head of the table. Maxon takes his seat and does the same." Kenna attempts a smile and May nods in agreement. but there is an edge to the question." "Oh. They'll really take care of everything. and I pass Barrett to him and approach the table. Please. so if you need anything. and shuffle through the agenda items. We leave the warmth of our rooms and head to Maxon's study to have the meeting before the meeting." I raise my eyebrow at him." At least all the additional company will distract the children while we are gone. Always willing to let me take a little heat for him. "It's been so long." I think of the destruction and Riley's blood smeared across the wall. At the very latest. But he says nothing. America." I feel Maxon's light touch on the small of my back.

"Did you see the last line of the condolences? Did you get a chance to see the Newsomes when you were in Clermont?" He isn't making eye contact as he pages through the reports for the meeting. Thanks! :) The Devil Wears Westwood: I know. Thanks. and I can't form the sentences I need to say. regarding Maxerica death-I don't think they'll be any reason to try and find my undisclosed location. I think you'll like the newest chapter! :) * * * ><p>"America?" Maxon asks. :) Totalbooknerd13: It looks like you're enjoying it! Thanks for the review. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. So exciting! Now. instead I am hovering somewhere in the room watching the events unfold. When I don't answer right away. There might even be a new post for you tomorrow. I really appreciate the repeated reviews and the excitement. but. Maxon looks up from his paper. All except for my head. :) Guest: I really try. too. :) theoneforever: I love that moment between Marlee and America. huh?:) Thanks for reading! sushi: Good to see your back! Thank you so much for the compliments..<p> It's as if I am not really in my body.thanks. Riley's family is listed. (I guess that's obvious. 27. along with Campbell and Stephens. :) MyWorldMyWords: I try to update regularly. I can feel the loss of good people and empathize with their families. They mean a lot to me. My breath catches in my throat as the room starts to spin. I press my palms against the table to steady . Robert and Alexandra. still. My big project is finally done. and I hope it lives up to expectations. and what a compliment. . so I will be able to write for fun. My head is completely underwater. Chapter 27 **A/N:** **Thanks for reading and reviewing! I am enjoying your comments and I hope you are enjoying the story. :) jthornestudent: Thank you for always reviewing! I appreciate it. Stavros and Aspen are discussing something having to do a lapse in security and last night's attack. :) Flam3nco: So sweet. I'm glad you like the story. Two names catch my attention at the bottom of the list: Newsome. I am using all my concentration to hear Maxon."condolences" section. -SJ** :) prnamber3909: Thanks for reading and reviewing and adding in some frightening humor. and I can.) waterpolo3: Awww.. Now it is summer. I didn't know them except by sight.

the Newsomes are killed after they warn me about danger-the same night the palace is attacked by Southern Rebels?" Stavros sees where I am going with my train of thought. I have Maxon's attention now. I open my eyes." "Why didn't you tell me?" Aspen seems offended and Maxon and Stavros have furrows deep between their brows. We know for sure that Bariel and her husband are Loyalists and they destroyed the Northern Alliance training center. looking at me approvingly." Maxon adds. I turn my head with what feels like a colossal effort. look at me. "Yes. "When we were in Sota." I insist. And then. "Yes." I look at Maxon. we're sure that Bariel just returned from Bonita?" Aspen speaks up. Mer?" Aspen presses. and take a steadying breath. He reaches for the hand closest to him. Now is truly not the time to break down. and close my eyes. but he warned me anyway. interested." "And Bonita is always a little edgy. Last night's casualties actually add up to five. The toxicology report will take a few weeks." Stavros and Aspen abandon their conversation. "I danced with Mr." I look at the men sitting at the table with me. because of the Northern Alliance members and former Southern Rebels living in the same province. "I think we've made a breakthrough." I mutter audibly. "Newsome said . focusing on my every word. "How did they die?" Stavros answers. and nods for me to continue.myself. He told me." "Not to mention undermine our current rule and the alternative information centers. It seems to be just out of reach and a wisp on an idea finally turns corporeal and appears in my mind's eye. so I do. We have confirmation she was there the day before." "We're just beginning to chip away at the surface." "What do you mean. and focus on Maxon. "He said that this is bigger than I ever could imagine. Mr. America. and thenâ ¦" I trail off. pressing the tips of my fingers into the bone of my brow. that it was a punishment for something he refused to do. with Robert." We sit in silence for a moment." I took a breath. "But we are closer than we were. but alcohol is likely a factor. "America. right before they left the party last night. "He was worried. Newsome's words and subsequent death prove to me that we are missing essential pieces to this merciless puzzle. And he tried to warn me. "Five." "It wasn't an accident. Newsome. "The Loyalists have hired the remaining fringe of Southern Rebels to both create chaos and to distract us from their goal of taking over the new government. They all lean forward. Five. He knew that they would kill him. and look at me with apprehension.' He didn't have time to explain what he meant. and that 'Allies may seem like bitter enemies." He cocks his head at me. "He told me that Celeste's death wasn't an accident. but he was definitely not drunk. and then Stavros begins to muse. concern reflecting on his face." I manage to croak. "Would someone like to share when I would have had time? I didn't want to draw attention. "Remember when I told you there are missing pieces. "A car accident after the Clermont reception.

" Maxon takes my right hand with his left and guides me away from our rooms. Avery looks discretely away as Maxon pulls me to his chest and plants a kiss on the top of my head. smiling. "Would you like some time in the gardens?" I squeeze his hand." "Sometimes we're so worried about the rattle we forget about the fangs" consoles Stavros." they're pulling off assassinations and "They still seem to be cut from the same cloth. but she was shot by a Southern Rebel. Who are we sending to Sota?" It's after 10:00 PM before we find ourselves back in front of our common room door. Walk with me?" "For a bit." Frustration pours out in his words. But. "I have been stuck inside a plane or an office or at a conference table all week. Maybe I can convince her to become an official education advisor yet." "Maybe more strategic after fifteen years. "You always seem to know what I need. then. Loyalists and Southern Rebels are two arms of the same group. other than worrying about foiling the plot against the kingdom. He is wandering . I respond. they always knew when we were most vulnerable. "I can't believe I missed it." Aspen. "This isn't their typical workâ highly technical espionage. it may never truly be a thing of the past." Aspen throws his hands up in the air and links them on top of his head. We'll have to wait for generations before that fades. They always have been. pulling off his jacket. "Let's go for the head. He walks me just as far as our bench. The prejudices are still there for some former members of the higher castes. Dinner and bedtimes have long since come and gone. "It really isn't finished. And." He pushes back from the table. and they pull the heavy doors inward. They just have more funding. love?" I shake my head.Celeste's death was a warning?" "Yes. but this is the first unscheduled time I had in the last four weeks. I have to go back out. "So. Kriss has been a great help in sustaining the education vision. "I'll let you have some time to yourself. the systems seem to be working. "High amounts of destruction and death." Stavros persists. Maxon stands. "You're not quite ready to come in are you." His kiss ends with intensity that renders me breathless. "They're working together. "but they're still using fear as their main weapon. "That's something I'll never forget. is it? After things settle." And." Maxon relents." I shiver at the memory. shaking his head. "It makes so much senseâ where would these strung-out street people get modern weapons and training good enough to make them mercenaries. We nod to the guards stationed at the door." he smiles back. how was your trip?" Sighing. I barely have a moment to stare up at the stars and appreciate the breeze on my face before I notice Kota at the far side of the garden.

Let's come to an understanding that you will be unseen around me. and it won't be possible for me to escape unseen.." "And if Ben did this to Everett?" I retort. she would have a similar scowl across her face. please sit. "He's in class. Mom wants you here. America. 28. If either of her two had pulled this stunt. :)** **jthornestudent: Thanks! I think the last chapter answered your questions. "I know this isn't what you planned. let's have an agreement.slowly seeming to take in every inch of the design. "In here! Now!"<p> Marlee hides her mirth behind her hand. . "This isn't the best time. Sis. She smiles and goes to retrieve the wayward prince from his lessons. and I only remember you are here when you appear in front of me and I am trying to do something else." I stand and don't look back as I head inside to bed. but anything my children do amuses her. Neither does the tension of the last few weeks.. Being constantly outnumbered by small people with my own disposition. Thanks for reviewing! :)** **Thanks for reading! -SJ :)** * * * ><p>"Calix Shalom Schreave!" I shriek. "Go easy on him. Having me here at the palace when your attention needs to be elsewhere. Kota smiles hesitantly as he notices me in my favorite spot. I agree with him. As much as I swore I wouldn't raise my voice when I had children. Poor Kota is learning the hard way. Remember?" "Lady Marlee. please locate Prince Calix and bring him to me. I know exactly how far I am from the door. And. Chapter 28 **A/N:** **The Devil Wears Westwood: You should never take family for granted." Unsure of what he expects me to say. Do nothing to draw attention. sometimes the hair gets the better of me. The last few drops of green-tinted bath water finally circle the drain. Kota. and I don't want any additional drama. but reprimand myself as Mom surely would. but dimples display themselves prominently on her cheeks as she continues to play. "May I join you?" I almost say no. yet very little of my restraint. So." He takes a seat beside me and clears his throat softly. "Of course. and there will be nothing to discuss. :)** **Totalbooknerd13: She's not too shabby. I resign myself to having company. Abrielle startles a little. America. but whispers. doesn't help. if you could send a runner to the king?" She composes her face as she hears my official tone.

but everything else about him is pure Maxon. "No. "Would you care to explain?" Looking back and forth between us. using his official voice . Abrielle pipes up. wrapping her back up. Maxon looks our son in the eye. You'll hear the rest of the story at dinner this evening. he added."Prince Calix. and laughs as Abrielle continues to exclaim how much she loves her green hair. Prince Calix.I'm wrapping in a fluffy white towel when her older brother saunters into the room. "D and E. even if you have to work through your lunch break. Cal. Mama? Aunt Marlee said you wanted to see me?" He grins. sigh. where you will take your Latin exam. "Your Latin exam is this morning. and say "Exhibit A" as I remove the towel from Abrielle's now-green curls and slightly-less-green body. I put my hand to my forehead. Lady Marlee will escort you back to class. Your Majesties?" Marlee's blonde hair popped around the corner so quickly. Brie. "Remove your hands from your pockets. Brie?" "It's my favorite color. "America?" Questions Maxon from the doorway. I don't suppose she would. he proudly shares how he had executed his plot to filch green food dye from the kitchens by distracting Cook and then filled Abrielle's shampoo bottle before leaving for his courses this morning. that's me. An idea formed in my mind. "Yes." Maxon coughs into his hand as Marlee re-enters the room. "We love you too much to let you get away with this one. Would you please escort Princess Abrielle and have her dressed for the day?" Marlee picks up our little girl. and then nods guiltily. Why did he have to saunter? Couldn't he at least pretend to be remorseful? He looks up at me with Dad's eyes. I turn my attention back to the boy in front of me. They are almost as green as my own. keeping my expression stern. purposefully whispering loud enough that we could hear her as they . For the next month. I knew she had been waiting for the summons." I display my newly tinged skin tone. Maxon's eyes are wide and he valiantly contains a laugh. but" she continues in a conspiratorial whisper that the whole room can hear." Softening a little. Except his attitude. And when you start to complain. remember all the time you took from your mother today. "Mama doesn't like it. Me and a life that tends to hand him whatever he wants. "Daddy. She held a hand out to Calix. showing Cal's palms." "Lady Marlee?" "Yes. Maxon spoke. I believe Aunt May is in the nursery. Lady Marlee. As much as I hate to admit it. "Exhibits B and C" I add. "is everything all right?" He's out of breath and I realize he dropped everything and ran from his delegation meeting." My hunch was correct. yes?" He hesitates. my hair is green!" "And what do you think about that. taking on my official tone. I had given him the one thing he most wanted-an out. you will be escorted anywhere you go in the palace by Miss Paige.

" Maxon tries to silence my tirade with a kiss. really love." He switches gears. I half-smile at him. "He is the Crown Prince. "You have to admit.<p> I lean back and look at him." Maxon smiles and pulls me to his chest. "See that vein on your mom's temple. brushing his hair out of his eyes. I'm not sure you want to bring that up right now. Ames. "I know a certain red head who un-did a decade's worth of work with a five-minute report because she was mad at her boyfriend. and you left a meeting with their Premier." For the last two years. Whole. but he receives a hand instead. searching my face intently. Cal? If that pops. she is absolutely thrilled to be green. He improvises and kisses my palms.. that poor little girl is going to be constantly and thoroughly harassed by the other three for the rest of her life. Maxon. love. "So. Time had smoothed over the jealousies and hurts. I mourn Celeste.left. I'm serious." but my eyes dance betraying my stern look. I impatiently wait for his merriment to subside. So. crossing my arms across my chest. If we don't reign him in now-Regicide. Every blessed thing. Did I ever tell you about the time during the Selection when⠦" I swiftly close the bathroom door and pull Maxon into our room so he can laugh. That was ingenious.. "Maxon. She will have all of them >wrapped around her finger. we'll see how it goes with the Women's Delegation. There's some superstition about gloves." "Well. "I'm sure she'll hold her own. "Not going so well?" "Just slow. but continues. And there are two more little boys in that nursery exactly like him who copy every blessed thing he does. I for one thank him for finding a way to get me out of that god awful meeting. "Touché. he single-handedly erased three months of diplomatic work because he didn't want to conjugate Latin verbs this morning." . I had to delay my meeting with the Women's Delegation from the German Federation. and the loss of what our relationship could have become." He nods in agreement. "I missed you this morning. we missed only for the birth of Barrett and Griffin. what's the rest of his punishment? Mucking out the stables alone? Rations of bread and water only? Solitary confinement?" "How about being in charge of cleaning the tub until his sister is strawberry blonde again? Maxon. I cherish my friendships with Kriss and Elise and their families. Maybe we'll get this one in through the back door. And it doesn't matter because we have two more. Just to clarify. I have to do it with _green_ hands. World. wrapping my arms around his neck. we're all in pretty serious trouble. Our sunrise breakfasts are one thing that keeps me going. And he is driving me to distraction! Has been in especially rare form since I returned from the tour. When I do meet with them this afternoon. at that time. And I hear she grew up to be one of the most revered Queen's in this. you were making it very clear that you weren't just _my _boyfriend. It will be our only option." His last three words were punctuated with kisses. Wide. And. And he does." He wipes tears from his eyes.

" I answer. I can tell you are upset. They stand and curtsy and then Gretchen introduces the two women with her as Ilda and Huette. But. "Ladies. We've pulled them out of war together. I know for sure that Gretchen. allowing them all to see how well my palms compare to a verdant field." And I share the story of the morning's excitement. There is really nothing that can be done about them. I _can't_ believe you. . Youâ ¦you introduced me to my husband in this very palace. Of the Elite. the premier's wife. She looks away from me. After all we've been to each other. I have no idea why you are so upset. Gretchen and Marlee have tears in their eyes. has five boys under the age of ten. and hurriedly stand. Something about my gesture catches Gretchen's attention. and gesture with my palms up in front of me. I take a step backward. I wasn't expecting you. Our countries are prospering. "Don't forget my charming personality. I thought we were truly friends as well as allies. "Lady Elise. One of the few people in the world who understands the experience of the Selection. Queen America?" "They certainly do. I straighten my skirt. unwilling to relent. You know I am always here for you. I had temporarily forgotten. Surely some of them have mischievous children. "In so many ways. don't they. if you will excuse me?" I don't wait for their answer as I rush to the door and step into the hall. let's sit and enjoy some tea. And you say you know nothing! Like hell you don't. I honestly have no knowledge of this situation. A disturbance in the hallway catches my attention.<p> Marlee and Georgia signal that they are also ready. "Little boys make life interesting." I say motioning us to the seating arrangement as Mary begins to serve. "I don't believe you. "Please. while Carter is assuring her that she will be doing no such thing. making sure to close it behind me. but makes sure we both know it is reluctantly as Aspen joins him in the corridor." I smile genuinely at my friend. my _Queen. "As if you don't know." _Elise's snarl is particularly surprising because of her usual calm demeanor. He does so. and prepare to meet with the Women of the German Federation."It is scary how you can accomplish so much with a cup of tea. I can't even imagine. exuding kindness and calm. "Really. At least my two best friends are backing me up. I tell the story as calmly as I can. My hands are still very green." * * * ><p>I stare at my palms. yes. America. We've forged peace together. You know everything. A woman is insisting she will come into the parlor. Whatever is the matter?" I motion for Carter to back away a few paces. Then I turn to my fellow Elite. Elise. I open the door to the small parlor. I'd like to help." I raise an eyebrow. threatening to spill over my lashes." I feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Why would you throw all we've worked for away? Why would you betray me? An unauthorized Illean camp within our borders! The Prime Minister sees this as an act of war. and so do Iâ ¦ Why are your hands green?!" "Elise. and right you should be. She laughs. I place the voice. Oh. I know I would feel the same. as well.

I add. He is so good so much of the time. We played game after game and read story after story. we have no reason to lie. and he put himself in a vulnerable position because no one knew where he was for sure this morning. "And your hands?" "It's a long story. please show Lady Elise to my study. Chapter 29 A/N jthornestudent: Thanks for continuing to read and review. until Elise pauses to look over her shoulder and asks. Breaking the peace with New Asia would hurt us more than you. but we have had a pressing week that showed us how dangerous it is to get too comfortable. I know he didn't appreciate being left out of the tour." Elise nods her agreement. "Is the whole world damned? Does everything really have to crash in simultaneously? You didn't authorize this unilaterally?" I direct my anger towards him. "You have no reason to believe us. He knew that I would not be back." I dead panned. either. knowing he can bear it. Lady Elise. diligently working to make us proud. Commander Leger will meet with you immediately. "We have authorized no additional camps in New Asia.<p> . I will find it. but sometimes he has to be reminded. When the younger children were tucked in bed." They match pace down the corridor." Nodding. But. Calix and I had a long discussion. involving a now unhappy almost-nine-year-old boy and an almost-five-year old girl who is thrilled with her resemblance to a frog. Elise. Maxon is still in meetings. 29." Elise says with very wide eyes. it was fun to write! Glad you're enjoying it. He remembers that there is danger in being the Crown Prince. Commander Leger. the worry and the wear finally getting to me. :) Totalbooknerd13: I'm happy it made you laugh! I could just see the look on Elise's face when she notices America's hands are green.I turn to Aspen. Glad you like it! :) The Devil Wears Westwood: Thanks. Thanks for reading! :) * * * ><p>I collapse into bed. I excused myself to check on the children. "Then. But Abrielle is still very green. Quietly. Lady Elise. I will join you both within the hour. he speaks. but as I almost dozed off at the conference table. "Perhaps we should find a better place to speak of this?" "If you will." Elise's guarded expression is back. but I promised that he would have his turn. And I spent the rest of my evening showing my little loves that they are so important to me. If there is some way to give him more responsibility without placing a target on his back. Can't wait for your next update. I know it sounds far-fetched. "I am happier and happier every day that I have one little girl.

"Are you all right?" I nod quietly. she convinced them to let her come to us under the guise of a friendly visit." Maxon is shaking my shoulder and I start up. Including my family. Possibly. Sometimes. including Maxon. "I am sorry. "I'm guessing it wasn't a happy one?" "I could hear you from the hallway door." My tone isn't harsh. "You were dreaming again. we need each other more than ever. and let myself drop off to sleep. Do you remember?" "No. "And yet I still blame myself." His tone alerts me that he is blaming himself for my fear. and I can't bear to wake him." He sits beside me on the bed and I fold myself against his side. I am no longer convinced they will be safe in the palaceâ only _safer_. but with the smell of breakfast . "America. intending to brush his hair from his forehead. But we will work together. Our eyes meet. Sadness reflects in his eyes. I wonder why he even wears them if he is just planning to discard them halfway through a meeting. Weak light is making its way through the blinds on the balcony door as I open my eyes. I bury my face in my pillow and let the tears comeâ I don't want anyone to see me cry. and wave after wave of terror and anguish flow out. love. thankfully. We pour out every inch of frustration. This is the best sleep either of us has had in a while. trying to untangle myself from the bedclothes. I pull the comforter up over us. just emphatic. Emptiness spreads throughout my body. The sheets are twisted around my legs and the down comforter is on the floor. standing over my side of the bed sans coat and tie. I have been pushing the anxieties and worry aside trying to be strong for everyone. I'm sure my wild hair and tear-streaked face add to the picture. We're still wrapped in each other. Wake up. I curl myself tighter around my pillow." He kisses my forehead. As he leans me back into our pillows. and hold him tighter as I close my eyes. The guilt of bringing them out of the frying pan and directly into the fire is the most difficult to bear. Elise is placated." I am trying to keep my tone light. But the tears still trickle through my eyelashes. America. still disoriented. and over my chin. The base is an old one that we vacated during the peace agreements. so friendly she was ready to rake my eyes out with her hands. I'm sticky with sweat and the salt tracks of my tears. I manage a weak smile. He embraces me gently. and soon so do our lips. His arms tighten around me. I snort to myself. and Maxon's breathing is deep and even. And that is not enough for me. doubt. Mary's entrance and exit is virtually silent. wincing at the knowledge that many are there because of me. Now that she is a part of New Asia's delegation. Marginally. down my cheeks. I reach a hand up to his face. and it is only by chance that Elise's husband noticed activity there. and my pillow is soon soaked. My shoulders shake. He's still dressed. we are left with an urgent need for each other. I am spent. I feel the old scars along his back. Hollow. "Maxon. The events of the last few months wash over me. leans his cheek against my hair. but my disheveled appearance has made Maxon uneasy. but I have put it off for too long. love.My thoughts turn to the events of this afternoon. worry. because now we know that Illea is not the only target. confident that we are not operating an unauthorized camp in New Asia. there is no conceivable way that this is your fault.

Thankfully. His love for his expands with each addition. they decided that they just want close friends and family to come and have dinner and cake. but he tends to take it in stride. I smile at the . "For you. but accept that it is truly time to get up. mine can be convincing. and I take only tea and toast. love. "These last few days have been rough ones. He is so used to this. A hot cup of tea and Cook's homemade bread with butter is all I really want this morning. I reach "I'm not closing the door on another. He barely blinks when his father leaves. Maxon." His whole face seems lighter this morning. Aspen's team made it to Sota without incident. Do you want one Auntie Nic? Mr. He spends the rest of breakfast updating me on the information I missed last evening. Things will turn around for the better. just not what hard for even little. His eyes are soon alert. are youâ ¦" He suggests excitedly. sweetheart. but not today. "Thanks.in the room. I share about the early birthday party we'll have for Calix and Abrielle. Prince Calix. Usually I am ready to eat by this time every morning." Stavros answers formally. You know that. But what a horrific thought! A would be more than inconvenient." I assure him. isn't it? It came too soon again. "You're not hungry?" The behavior is definitely not in character for me." I can't believe he's nine. the only request they made is for Nicoletta to come. and even his eyes are reflecting his ease. "It always comes at the beginning of every day. It's is happening right now. but follows Stavros from the room. Stavros?"<p> "No thank you." After a quick squeeze and a lingering kiss." He deflates a children only pregnancy now for his hand. I hadn't noticed him slip over to Maxon's side. Maxon begins to stir." Maxon's smiles and squeezes my hand back. "Absolutely not. but I respond. he pushes himself upright. "The tension is making it _me_ to eat. "Good morning. The stress and pressure of the last few days is getting to me. Mama. I pretend to pout. I focus all my attention on Calix. Maxon raises an eyebrow. Maxon nods once and looks at me apologetically. Nine and passing around pieces of cake to his guests instead of devouring one himself. A quick phone call to her last night confirmed she would attend. and I'm sad to tell him the answer. I allow myself to hope that it's a good omen. it could be dangerous. We pull on robes and seat ourselves at the table." "Love. and they are managing to keep a low profile. letting the sentence hang in the air but running his eyes over my body and coming to rest at my midsection. Besides having all the palace school children in attendance. * * * ><p>Calix smiles as he hands me a piece of double chocolate fudge cake. He knows our work legitimately gets in the way sometimes. I don't let him finish the thought. Hard to believe that the Princess of Italy would come to a children's birthday party." "It is morning. but apparently. and a smile lightens his face as he kisses me.

but not quite. As soon as he is of age. "I will snap him up." Kota leaves the ballroom to go to the designated counting spot. Marlee and Carter. I catch myself on the railing to keep from tumbling down the first flight. Kenna and James. My blood doesn't immediately boil when I see him pensively wandering the palace anymore. But leaving Nicoletta to fend for herself. Astra is talking with Ethan. I laugh and slide her my piece." I listen to her. walking Calix to the stables. It looks like hide-and-seek might be on the docket. . Nicoletta talks quietly with my immediate family. Since his doctor has no preference as to where he recovers. Mom. building block towers for the little boys to knock down. and August launch themselves out of their chairs and toward the ballroom door. but she has always been a good sport when it comes to them. Astra and Ethan are helping to settle everyone in for the wait. I'd still prefer him to leave. Carter. as their parents who work in the palace arrive and are reunited with relief. The alarm begins to ring. I notice Aspen nod quickly at the guards at the ballroom door. if no one else wants to do it. in a far corner. The palace guard spent two gut-wrenching hours looking for her and we quickly decreed the game reserved for special occasions only. Almost touching. sipping their coffee. Georgia and August's son. they have spent considerable time together. Over the last few weeks. urging everyone down the stairs. confused. Mom and May have three out of four of my children in their laps. Hide-and-seek in the palace is always an interesting game. I wonder if Kenna and James mind how close they are sitting. and hear two distinct sounds echo down the hall. "Of course. I watch the discussion that ensues. I turn back to Nicoletta. Kota has been careful not to cross my path. I think a history of peeking is to blame. Ethan and Astra have the little boys and Abrielle and are halfway down the stairs before most of the rest of the room is in motion. devising a game. allowing Abrielle and the little boys to join him. and I hear her feet moving rapidly in the opposite direction. Abrielle fell asleep under a shelf in the library. There is good reason you are supposed to be first down the stairs. They'll keep a close eye. I'll be 'IT' first. running full out to trigger the passage way door. Lucy is huddled shaking in the corner. "Go. The oddest thing that they do in their variation of the game is to send "IT" out of the home base room." That phrase is all it takes for the rest of my family and friends to scoop children up with them as they head to the relative safety deep within the palace. "Okay. No Calix. I scan the room. The last time they played. Their blonde heads are bent toward each other. I stand outside the door. She pulls the door closed. "Safe room. cake-wise. arms around her girls. Over the last couple of weeks. Lucy and Aspen. No Selection for this one. Paige reaches me and pushes me across the threshold. When I have seen him it has been in typical "uncle" moments: pushing Abrielle on her swing. I put my brave face on as I walk into the concrete room. A few minutes later. he will be a long term guest. Calix follows him out. All the children look a little bewildered. and I am slightly amused at the sight. The children and Kota are on the other side of the room from us. Even Kenna doesn't waste her time glaring at him." Cal turns bright red and hurries away to join his friends. She turns to me. I cock my head. I swear America. He's mine. taking the opportunity to look around the room. Cal! I dare you to stop me from having one. only understanding as Aspen. enjoying the cake and conversation. They look so much like Aspen's sisters I always do a double-take. May and Evan all sit around the table. Kota's voice floats to me across the room." Nicoletta teases. but Mom is still glowing. I'm on my feet in seconds.nickname my kids saddled Nicoletta with. despite my better judgment. The children are working out their hiding spots so that Kota will have to be "IT" for most of the evening.

very sweet. too. I appreciate it! Now. and consciously make myself stop. Georgia and I come to the conclusion at the same time. I absolutely will NOT think about it now. Stavros and Maxon are likely together on the third floor. Kenna's eyes follow me intently. I can't think about it now. I straighten my back and square my shoulders. I can't stand the empathy I read in her face and turn away. I appreciate it! :) dumbfrogs123: Awww. All the other children from the party are safe. An uncharacteristic moment of indecision crosses her face. She relaxes as we hear the correct tones from the security key pad. 30. too. He's not here. Marlee goes to Lucy and puts her arms around her shoulders as they whisper together. but a lot is going on. I hope Paige has found Calix and Kota. I hope you enjoy. Elena and Jimmy crowd Kenna and James. I slip my hand to my holster as Georgia unsteadily draws and trains her weapon on the door. I realize I am twisting my skirt of my dress in my fist. -SJ :)** * * * ><p>Kota stands quietly beside me. I can't spare her.. Thanks for reading. it seems to be a good breaking off point. :) Totalbooknerd13: Seems that way.. I hear footsteps running down the stair approaching the entry way in the back of the room. He has to be fine. Thanks! :) waterpolo3: Thanks-hope you like the next chapter. Your compliments are so sweet! Hope you enjoy this chapter.. :) MyWorld MyWords: Thank you. and I can't have her open the doors with all these people to keep safe. Not without . I make my way around to each group of people.. I go through the checklist of the missing. and their parents are. I freeze my serious expression. He puts a hand on my shoulder and I don't shrug it off. Aspen and Carter know the palace better than I do. and Maxerica are still alive. My eyes give him the "thank you" that I can't speak. whether you R/F/F or not. and Kota and Calix stumble into the room.. and open my arms to my son.. Everett and Ben sit silently beside her. I shake my head slightly at her.My heart is in my stomach as I look again and confirm the same answer. :) jthornestudent: Thanks! :) **This chapter is a little shorter. too. but their parents don't seem to mind. So. Chapter 30 **A/N** The Devil Wears Westwood: This chapter should satisfy your Didasko information. He's fine. on with the story. I exhale a deep breath. He's fine. :) arabellaABrose: So glad you're enjoying this.

clean up begins. I direct my attention at Kota and ask the question I really don't want an answer to. Happy birthday to them. a pensive look on his face." Georgia and Nicoletta link arms through mine. and I depend on their strength to keep my composure. Marlee is making sure my children can't see me. We turn our backs to the majority of the crowd. Especially if there are deaths. What it must have been like for him as a little boy. I reassure Nicoletta that her body guard is most likely safe. No signs of weakness. But no one is relaxed. The keypad responds. "I've waited a long time for . dressed in black from head to toe. I hear a curse and someone tries again. and manages to wrench me out into the stairway by my wrist. Ames. my back to his chest and my left armed pinned. I have to be sure. so I slip my gun into my hand and stride towards the door. "Why don't you go check on your friends?" I direct him toward Ben and Everett. the royal guard must clear the building. Abrielle crawls into his lap. We were focused on getting back to the closest safe room. Her girls look up with relief as Calix approaches. we hear footfalls on the stairs approaching. What a night to give him off. and he breathes into my neck. I block out all thoughts except repelling the intruder. She races for the door." I hiss. Before the safe rooms are released. I suddenly see Maxon in front of me. As we stand there. and Calix doesn't resist." "Maxon?" My voice is steady. and he buries his head in my arms. Then."<p> He nods his head into my arm." Kota just nods in response. gun finally drawn. You're okay now. too. forcing me to drop my weapon. I'm sure Maxon is. You were so brave.breaking down." "I understand. Georgia responds to my sudden change in demeanor and moves for her weapon. It is like my exhale was collective. "It's okay. "Very little. but there are no tears. We hid in the alcove until the hallway was clear enough to make our way back. Kota. "I didn't see anything. We could be in here for another five minutes of five hours. but the door doesn't open. Even if he tries. silently. Using a voice hard for anyone but him to hear. "Thank you. the only way back in the room is with a key. triggering the emergency response that slams the door shut behind me. I reassure him by repeating. I put my hands behind my back so that I won't wring them. All we saw were men with their heads covered. I look down at Calix. And it doesn't belong here. I stiffen. Even after the destruction is over. and huddle against the far wall behind me. I am suddenly in a headlock. We know the voice. The worst part of being in the safe room is the not knowing. and after only a minute or two stands and straightens his shirt and runs a hand through his hair. I can hear her struggling with her holster. His fingers press into my flesh. Didasko lunges for me. I straighten and face the door. I fill the doorway. I heard two shots a little after I realized that Calix was following me. Georgia and Nicoletta stoically join Kota and me in the center of the room. A quick scan of the room shows some of the tension broke when Calix arrived. because Lucy is clinging to Marlee. Kota follows. Marlee and I share a look. The children are safe. and they all move to make a circle on the floor together. because I will block him with my body if I have to. "What did you see?" He answers just as quietly as the question is asked. I smack the keypad with my fist. For helping Calix. "Get back from the door. People scramble to do as I say. I hear Georgia screech behind me. His face is drawn.

I really appreciate the positive feedback. I try to focus my breathing and think about what Georgia has been teaching me. I don't move._ I hear running behind me and don't waste any more time. He won't expect itâ he has no idea I've been training. I lower my arms and slide to my knees. "I was hoping for more of a struggle.this my Queen. He's not a guerilla. His gun drops as his hand hits the floor and I scramble to scoop it up." The sneer as he says my name makes my spine shiver. Ignore his free hand running from my hip to my waist and back again. 31.. training it on his midsection. :) waterpolo3: Hopefully not literally! . I lift my knee and drive my foot into his left kneecap. You're so kind! jthornestudent: I always look forward to your reviews. :) . covering my mouth with my left hand. Blech.." Stoically. squeezing the trigger three times. oreocheesecakes: Thank you so much for the compliments.. If he was anything else. so I can't hit him in the gut or face. and Carter and August are framed in the entrance. His head meets the concrete with a sickening thud. My America. My arms are pinned. I only have one other option. Thanks for reading! :) Ellie Parker: Thanks so much. I hope this chapter continues the excitement! :) Guest: Those darn rebels always get in the way. That is when the shaking starts. Chapter 31 **A/N** The Devil Wears Westwood: He was a little creepy. Don't think about it.. I twist and drive my knee into his groin and push him with all my strength onto the floor. I turn towards the running. Glad you so still enjoying the story! :) CrimsonQueen24: I'm glad the story seems realistic. I clench my teeth. how much more does she have to put up with? The Selection Fangirl: Thanks! :) This next chapter answers your question.. but sweat runs down my back making my dress stick to me. The running stops. pushing my back against the wall and setting my sight on the only entrance. _My arms are steady. I'd already be dead. he's just a second-rate politician playing rebel. I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint! :) Selection Fan: I am very much enjoying writing it-it just takes a bit longer as the major part is coming.. Pressing my advantage. _Don't think about it. _It is him or me. he howls and loosens the hold on my neck as he crumples in pain. Not even to brush stray hairs off my forehead.) Glad you're enjoying it! Totalbooknerd13: I know. I can't let him take me anywhere. This chapter should satisfy your questions.

" Maxon says. Shot twice. "No. As they leave. "What happened?" "Didasko. looking for the source of my wound. "Your Majesty?" Carter questions. Stavros is dead. They stop. I would like to write something original. It's over. "He had the code. Here's your update-please don't expire. and he follows my cue. Thank you so much-maybe you could be a beta? Don't worry. I hold myself removed from Maxon to keep my composure. "Nothing serious. A little more forcefully. He settles on resolved. "America?" Maxon looks confused and concerned simultaneously. I look seriously at them both." Even Maxon cannot totally keep his composure. as he steps toward me. Eventually.Ari: It's been a couple of days. Taking a deep breath to steel myself against what could have happened. a group went to the temporary detention cell where we were keeping Bariel until late this afternoon. He hesitates and stops talking. I wipe my palms against my skirt. Unable to give up control. I nod at him. "America. Hope you continue to enjoy the story! Molly: Wow. All these positive reviews are so flattering. "Didasko had the code for one. are you all right?" I stare down at my hands. :) Prnamber3909: uh huh :) **Didn't expect to be so busy these last few days. but here is your update! I am so flattered by your feedback. One day. talking intently. "All floors are clear. a little louder." I repeat. I am honored by your words. and emotions flicker across his face rapidly. I relent and give up my weapon. "He had the code. it won't be historical fiction. They are covered in my own blood. It makes writing easier. "America." "America. "It's okay. Thanks for being so sweet. Maxon and Aspen enter the space. I turn away as the guards arrive with the body bag. surprised that I am on the wrong side of the door." I finally . and his ear bud clicks. and I resist subconsciously." Carter looks at me again. "Was he working alone?" Aspen stands at attention. My knuckles are white from gripping the handle. again and again. "Are you hurt?" I just shake my head in response. Maxon and Stavros had left the room together. I even allow August to help me stand." We can talk later about how my skin crawled when he pressed himself against me."<p> Carter pales. and asks." he whispers. He turns from me and instructs someone to come and clear Didasko's body. The skin on the outside of my left pinky is in shreds from my wrist to the tip of my finger and my right wrist is bruised and swollen like I am wearing a hideous green and purple bracelet. thought it looks like he wants nothing more than to fold me into his arms. He was found locked inside a safe room." Carter and August hold their hands out and approach me cautiously. I wonder how they became separated." I am surprised at that one. The two shots seemed to initiate the attack. looking at him until he continues. Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoy this next chapter! -SJ :)** * * * ><p>"It's just us. I'd like to drop everything and write for real. He holds out his hand to remove the gun from mine.

I only like _your_ kids. but to do so safely will take some time." She nods and motions for Barrett. if we can get . Maxon follows them in. trying to steal a little time with them before they fall asleep. "We'll talk about it. "Your safe rooms are not so secure anymore. "I don't think anyone would be able to do that. For now. your mother. I will talk to Maxon about the children. she quietly strokes Barrett's back saying. It is then that Nicoletta pulls me aside. "The children aren't safe here. concentrate on the families inside. The door slides open. You know I love your babies like they are my own. Mer?" I show them my left hand. "Ames. if you can pull Gerad away from the co-eds at University.say. who she immediately cradles against her shoulder. Abrielle. and Griffin readily follow Astra and May to the nursery. as well. Nicoletta. I guide them up to the common area." Aspen's frustration is sitting just below the surface. Nicoletta." Maxon finds his voice first. and I am surrounded." Aspen examines the key pad. Barrett insists on being held close. After hugging me and examining my hands. America. as he moves from the door to put a hand on my back. Even Kota and Evan." Aspen pulls a key from his pocket and slips it into an unobtrusive lock. he very well could have the code for both. and settles herself on the couch to wait. Do you think you could stand it?" I try to tease my happily childless friend. You understand. After reassuring everyone I am fine. Did you do this with your hands. "Evan and Kota." Nicoletta smiles as she presses a kiss into Barrett's hair. Please let your family come and visit me for a while. "We'll start with this one." I nod at Maxon as he comes out of the nursery. But. "We will replace them all with another system. We can be gone by morning. but shake as if I am. It looks worse for the wear and suddenly I understand the injuries to my left hand. When I find my voice again. May." I allow a half-smile at that. Some quality time with Auntie Nic may be in order. Will you wait here for us while I clean up a bit? We'll walk you back to your rooms before our meeting. of course. We'll meet in two hours in my study to review and plan our next steps. yes?" Nicoletta pretends like she would not mind either way. But my tone comes across as nervous more than anything else. too?" I gently rock Barrett back and forth. saying nothing. Mom and Kota soon make their way to their respective rooms. I can keep them and you protected. he is welcome. "America. I hold it together just long enough to dry my hands and turn into his chest. My family does not hold back. Who knew that she had such a motherly side? "Don't look at me like that. and no one would know it is because of the attack. "So. After some reassurances and several hugs. Maxon leans against the bathroom door and watches as I hold my hands under cool water and let the remnants of my injury flow pink down the drain. The bleeding is nonexistent now. I am too far gone to cry real tears. Calix. Mom. and May would be coming along. "I'm sure they are ready to be released. what happened?" His voice is soft. "Of course. Kenna and James. I whisper. James." "I can't leave my people. both of you. and soon nods off on my shoulder. But. and the bruising has set in. He just holds me. he killed Stavros and then came for me?" "If he had the code for one. Kenna. "I couldn't let him in the room.

They sent six of their own." At least if Stavros died. August. including another leader. . but with the safe rooms compromised we feel like we have no choice. including Didasko. Georgia's eyes are pained." We change quickly into fresh clothes. Maxon guides me with his hand in the small of my back. They can't stay. Maxon. and their goal was to free Bariel. They are well aware of what happened in Bonita. We have doubled her guard. We moved her right before the party to our permanent center and she is still secure for questioning.. "Your Majesty. he broke rank and tried to settle his personal vendettas.<p> "They were focused on our temporary detention cells. I pat the seat of the empty chair beside me and she obliges while I re-focus on what Aspen is saying. He takes my hands in his. examines my bruises. but she doesn't speak. their intelligence knew she was here. It feels like we are failing by sending them away. where we were keeping Bariel.. So. are dead. Instead. we don't believe that Didasko had orders to eliminate you this evening. especially as evidence is mounting that the active camp in New Asia is Loyalist-run. Chapter 32 **A/N: A quick. "Before the attack. Thankfully.them to leave. not only did she get stuck in a safe room with only her personal guard. and damage to the palace is minimal. to recover her. 32." He nods." "Yes. Aspen and Carter." He looks at me. without breaking down again. but we waive away their formality. Maxon makes a noise deep in his throat. They have to go with Nicoletta when she leaves in the morning. "I'm glad you're okay. We have no time to lose. and I let him. Stavros is our only mortality. she never got any cake. But no Stavros. late night chapter. They start to stand as we enter. as it is obvious that the rest of the team is waiting for us for direction." Maxon delicately takes my hand under the table. Maxon included her in the meeting. It was a six-person group tonight. the third leader is still unknown. Sometimes I tire of being strong. We will not have time to mourn him before moving on. and the contact is calming. we make plans for the children to leave with her for a short stay in Italy. and the center is on high alert. When we reach the study. There is a pang in my heart. "What happened. and asks again. love?" I tell him matter-of-factly. Hope you enjoy! -SJ** * * * ><p>Elise joins us in the middle of Aspen's report. We captured one individual for questioning." Carter and August affirm. and feel guilty that I did not give her a second thought during the attack. "If nothing else. everyone else is already there around the table. On the way. we know that we have the right person in custody. Georgia. it could not be in vain. The other five. Then brings them to his lips. Stavros pulled me from the party with urgent information. and walk Nicoletta back to her room. a cross between a growl and a groan. "But. So. She received an unexpected call from her Prime Minister before she was able to make it to the party. I even forgot she was still with us.

go introduce yourselves to our new guest. "Stavros' key ring is also missing. Maxon rises from the table and begins to give orders. before the meeting. After that." Maxon shows us a small brass key. and handed me this key. nods to Maxon." "It isn't on any of the bodies of the Loyalists?" I question." I am just as irritated. it is 11:00 PM. and I can't talk now. and takes off in the direction of their next task. "Daphne. As the room clears. the children began to play hide-and-seek. curiously. He said to remember that. but my Prime Minister needs assurance of your political friendship and backing in the removal of the rogue camp. And you?" I look at Maxon. please return to America's study so we can work out an essential personnel plan. "I'm sorry. and he holds out the key." Carter adds. "But then." * * * . And. and Stavros excused himself with an assurance that we would continue our conversation later. His look of confusion turns to one of exasperation as he answers. Did you forget the time difference again? When they wake. "We haven't found it yet. "I'm apparently going on a treasure hunt. "If the key doesn't fit anything in his office or this study. and get to work on the safe room locks.He asked if I trusted him. "Yes. I ran up here to secure the key and then the alarms rang. Good bye." I'm about to speak again. Nothing in my office and we're guessing nothing in his. Maybe they overlooked something in their hurry." I offer. I know how my next hour will be spent. find Avery. August answers this time." Each person stands as their name is called. "I know this is not the best time. His look of annoyance is mirrored in every face around the table. It is pristineâ nothing out of place. what could you possibly want?" He does not bother to get up from the table. "You have really caught me at a bad time. when Maxon's phone begins to buzz." He pauses and cocks his head. as usual." He rolls his eyes as he continues. I don't need to remind you that they need to be changed immediately." "What does it open?" asks Georgia. "I checked myself. squeezing Maxon's hand. I promise. Aspen and August. I mentioned how I knew he would defend me to the end. and I know it is because he does not plan to speak long. "Carter. "Well. where do we look next? Stavros surely didn't intend to send us on a wild goose chase. the children are asleep. He shoves the phone back into his shirt pocket and mutters something about changing his number." I respond. "I don't know. Kota came upon us in the alcove. Daphne. Tomorrow. nothing is locked. And." "And his office?" I continue to press. Ethan is more than welcome to travel along. I'll have them call you so you can wish them a happy birthday. Elise addresses Maxon. we need you to make arrangements for the family to leave for Italy. Georgia. It needs to look like a friendly letter. Daphne always has impeccably bad timing.

I'll be right back. could your desk be locked?" "No. and explain. Maxon's study is closer.<p> "Mother.><p>Elise and I are surprised by a visitor in my study. waterpolo3. "This desk is never locked. "Oh." I mutter to myself. _ CrimsonQueen24." I assure Elise as I sit at my desk." I focus my breathing. I'm just trying to be helpful. but I am not sure I do such a good job of it. We freely give out the pens with the seals." I ignore my mom's hurt look. She looks up as we enter the room. Mom. I don't even have the keys to it. hold on a second. how are you!" she exclaims and crosses the room to me. I should make her come in and fix what she's broken. The Devil Wears Westwood. my mother seems to be ransacking my desk. Would you like one? I'd give you one. and my office supplies are of little value. "Now my desk is jammed." I think Elise would roll her eyes at me if the night hadn't been so difficult already." I allow the hug she so desperately wants to give me. It's been so long since we've been able to chat. "I'm sorry. and turn my attention to Elise as she leaves the room. and prnamber3909: I know. "This should only take a second. "Georgia will handle the arrangements." "About what? My desk is jammed and my stationary is in the desk. I'm going to have to get some stationary from Maxon's study. "Dammit. the last few chapters have been sad." "America. "Please sit." she patiently repeats. _but my desk is jammed_." I try and open my drawer where I keep my stationary. what are you doing in my desk?" I try to keep teenage angst out of my voice. "I have several diplomatic duties that need immediate attention. sweetheart. What is it about being with my mom that transports me fifteen years backwards in time? "Nicoletta said the family is leaving for Italy in the morning." "America?" Elise questions. Chapter 33 **A/N** _I'm taking a look at the last couple days of comments and responding. and am completely flummoxed when my pulling meets resistance. "America. I'd be happy to have the company while I write. Poor Stavros! All . I am looking for the children's passports. I have some in Maxon's study and in my room." My mumbling gets louder as I become more frustrated and pour my emotions into trying to retrieve my tools for letter-writing. I rarely work in this room." "America. Think. "Could your desk be locked?" I freeze. Totalbooknerd13. Why don't you head back to your room and start packing? That's the way that you could help us the most right now. 33.

then almost runs into me as I stop short in his doorway.) You all are great! -SJ :)** * * * ><p>Elise tries to keep up as I dart down the hallway to Maxon's study. because of my work with the former Twos. :) (Btw. arms crossed. doing some work for the Mayor and his wife. hopefully that helps? Thanks for being so interested in the story that you are requesting updates." "I was sculpting in Sota before my hand was irreparably damaged. Yeah. and a lot of traveling to other provinces. Aspen and Maxon are standing side-by side. as always. "Why are you just offering us this information now?" "I didn't realize the seriousness until this evening when I was trying to get Calix and myself to the safe room. A particular favorite seemed to be Bonita? Wasn't there a massive warehouse fire there just a few weeks ago?" The rest of us exchange a glance. an actual LOL for the last post." I narrow my eyes." "And as I was saying. whether you review or not.) Kayleigh987: Thank you for reviewing. and expressions serious. but even though he saved Calix tonight.he ever did was be loyal to Maxon. I have overhead a lot of things. Maxon raises an eyebrow. They did a lot of name dropping.. dear brother. . You all haven't been exactly forthcoming with information. you have packing to do.. Bariel.<p> I stride into the room. for reading. I wish for the constant irritation to pass when I see Kota. In front of them is Kota. I appreciate your kind words! Hope you enjoy the rest of the story! Let me know along the way. though. Thanks for reading! :) prnamber3909 & Totalbooknerd13 re: ch 32: Well.. looking earnestly and expectantly from one to another. "Then enlighten us. (It is fun to read the reviews. :) Wordforword: It was time to do away with Didasko-glad America got to do it herself! nappyninja: See reponse to guest. America's last few months have sucked. "Can my family not stay put in their rooms this evening? Kota.. Guest: I am trying to update more often." Kota says. :) The Devil Wears Westwood CH 32: Here's your update! Thanks for your dedication to the story! :) LoveTheSelection: Thank you.. So. it is midnight-ish with no end to the night in sight.. But. now that I am officially on summer break. I couldn't totally push the emotion to the side with all the others. It's amazing what people will say when they forget you're even in the room. what in heaven's name are you doing here? If I'm not mistaken. I believe she was in the Selection?" Maxon nods for him to carry on. I'm happy the story is working for ya! :) **Thanks. "They seemed to be particularly concerned about the dissolution of the castes.

brings up the rear." Finally. America. He could be of use. Then I pass the note to Maxon. "My stationary is in the large drawer to the right. Now. If I had more information. He tries the same maneuver and is met with resistance. but is there a reason you're here? Do you want me to look at the letter?" I stand stark still for a second." Kota nods. Maxon slides the key into the lock. Stavros knew he was in trouble. Elise prompts me. hurriedly written: _It has happened before. "I'm just putting the things I heard together. He tries my long center drawer. Aspen tries to lend assistance with the same result." Maxon tries to soothe me. The note is one simple line. Aspen. switching on the television. We must ask you to return to your room now. America. while Maxon palms the disc. If he's not. Maxon covers the distance from the hallway to my desk in four long strides. Aspen. Elise and I suggest. I could be of more help. I sigh and cover my face in my hand briefly. Without pausing in the doorway. I need you. "Thank you for your help. I doubt he'll truly aid us. We see the grand ballroom fill the screen on that fateful night when the Southern .Kota continues. I relent. looking a little bewildered. is a disc labeled: The End of Maxon's Selection in Gavril's script. His brow furrows. and leads the way back down the corridor without any additional chatter." "Yes. Inside. Aspen looks at me apologetically. "It's not that I trust him. I'd like to stay and be useful to you. The drawer stays shut. and it clicks quietly. what's the harm in letting him stay?" "The only thing Kota wants is to feel important. I pick up the piece of paper. It must be difficult to lose your talent and trade and self-worth all in one blow. "Whatever." "Not that I mind the visit. He is your responsibility. "An awful lot of fuss for a simple jam. Or impossibly jammed." Maxon understands that I never lock my desk. and says." I insist." I instruct." With an expert flick of his wrist the drawer is open. Hell. With it is a folded piece of scrap stationary. but had very little time to warn us. Maxon takes the disc and inserts it into the player in my office. "The key. Aspen interrupts me. "The key?" I join the two men at the desk. Either way. I hold my breath." Aspen assures me. and exits the room. The family is all he has. love. "So. we let him flex imaginary muscles. "We are grasping at straws. the furrow between his eyes gets deeper as he shows Aspen. right now I'm having trouble trusting you and your husband. It's been awhile since I've felt useful. simultaneously. and the drawer slides open. and it goes higher than you think_. I can get to my pens. and he has precious little connection left to that." "You can be the most help with the rest of the family in Italy. my desk is locked. We'll let you know our decision in the morning.

instead. I feel like I would have known then if I had been paying closer attention. the camera is panning the room. It." He turns and looks at me without any warmth and spits each word. "He killed my father. and feel tightness in the back of my throat as it is obvious that all Maxon's attention is on Kriss. and runs out of the room. I see the dais. "Why would he even keep the evidence?" I grab the remote and pause the footage." My stomach turns. Elise's hands cover her mouth. And I will make the call later today to extend my stay. "Play. but first we are friends. "No. The beginning shots are not very close up. again. as everyone else seems frozen in time. :) -SJ** * * * ><p>I look around the room. . Let's watch it again. Maxon is the first one to break the silence. and Maxon and Aspen just stare straight ahead." Aspen goes to the phone and starts to dial. but we are no longer watching. The room erupts into chaos. ending the screams and moans from the suffering of the past. As the monarch drops. Tears are running down Elise's face. Stavros carefully folds the Queen into his arms. Aspen carries Kriss out of the room. unseeing. Now!" Maxon's voice is more intense than I have ever heard it. "You don't have to watch this. I see a much younger version of myself staring off across the space. Please. Why after all this time would he confess?" Aspen mumbles. he whispers. and Elise and I clutch each other's hands.rebels attacked. Celeste is shot. I see the guards surrounding the room. Even with a long shot it is obvious they are not regulation. and I see Maxon taking the shot meant for me." Elise shakes her head. Stavros shoots the king in the head. The footage continues to run. I put a hand on his arm. and I see Stavros take off across the space. The King reaches for his vest pocket. "Get Gavril. Stavros killed my father. and even though I know they are the rebels. What hurts one of us hurts us both. Just a quick update for your Friday morning. "No. Chapter 34 **A/N:** **Thanks for sticking with me! Hope you are enjoying it. The air has been sucked from the room. feel free to return to your rooms. shaking his head and turning away from the screen. Again. and crowds of people filling the seats. 34. and I embrace her. We are allies." I nod. and the wounded Queen Amberly is at his feet. talking to no one and all of us. which he promptly shrugs off as he removes his coat and begins to pace the perimeter of the room."<p> "I don't understand. "Replay it from the beginning.

running my hands through his hair. Maxon commands.Elise takes the remote and presses the "play" button. because he doesn't want answers. of course. It is no easier the second time. Maxon falls." And. Aspen carries Kriss from the room. Where the hell is Gavril?" I don't argue as the disc is replayed. which would have been operational without a crew because it continuously rolls. "I just don't understand. I am transported back to hiding underneath the table. and Gavril's expression shifts from curious to horrified as he watches the events of that night unfold. Gavril tell us what we're seeing here. and all the footage. I find my voice. the kitchens are this way. let's see if we can find some refreshments to keep us going. He leans his forehead into my shoulder. This is from the stationary camera. Find the king. "I've heard that he cared very deeply for the Queen. If I remember correctly. I watch our confidante and advisor expertly assassinate the reigning monarch." Elise is already half-way out the door before Aspen registers that it is a command and follows her." Maxon starts the footage from the beginning. Again." "And you're sure there is no other footage?" . Aspen assures Maxon that Gavril is on his way. then silently nods and sits on the edge of the couch nearest him. An unseen rebel yells. waiting to die. Stavros was the one who told me. his eyes misting. King Clarkson takes a bullet to the head." After a slight pause he continued. "I've never seen this footage. "Okay. I watch Maxon fawn over Kriss again. "Where did you find this?" Gavril asked. Your Majesty. "I got the prince. the guard moves forward on an unseen signal. "That's what I was told as well. "Play it again. I label those pretaping." Aspen says." Gavril admitted. How could this have been kept a secret? How could he have hidden this from us for so long?" I stroke the back of his head. "And you. Gavril returns. "Commander Leger. We usually switch to this view as we get other shots together during a live broadcast." This time. I don't say anything. They didn't realize we had disabled the feed as the attack began. We lost most of our crew. the majority of our equipment. escorted by Aspen and Elise. "Enough. I am staring into space. "Play it again." He finally looks at me. and my friend is killed in front of me. wiping his face and adjusting his tie. "My handwriting is on all the cases. I hear the screams as Celeste is murdered on screen. I take the opportunity to gather Maxon in my arms. Without even pausing in his circuit around the room." "We've always heard that Queen Amberly died protecting the king from the rebels. The rebels attacked the booth in the hopes of broadcasting their propaganda that day. Maxon straightens himself quickly. Let's wait for Gavril." "Can you explain to me why your handwriting is on the case?" Gavril looks confused.

I release him and move back toward the room. Would you mind waiting for us in your suite?" Elise gives me a hug. darkening the honey tones. "Is it?" I ask. I can't believe there isn't a search party out looking for us. "Let's get some sleep. But maybe this is enough for now. and move towards him. His dress pants and shirt are clean. I know we are missing the reason that Stavros shared it with us. He says. Maxon and I always have breakfast together at sunrise. He still hasn't turned from the view as I approach. The last time I glanced at my watch it was 3:00 AM and we were watching the disc on repeat. leaning on the railing." I gesture toward the window. "It's not too late to withdraw the invitation. and I don't particularly care for it." Everyone looks at him curiously. "Okay." "What's the plan for today?" "The children will be up soon.<p> Her eyes flick around the room and she composes herself quickly. we are standing amid organized chaos outside the main entrance to the palace saying good-bye to those closest to us. Gavril and Aspen are gone. he allows it. "Not yet." in a flat voice. and as soon as we can get everyone sorted. as I give in to Griffin's . His hair is still wet from his shower." I haven't seen him like this in years." Maxon takes the remote and turns off the television." Elise responds." He just nods and lets me go. We're done. leaving us all to stare after him. "And that is long past. examining my surroundings."I didn't even know _this_ footage survived the attack. There's essential information hidden in the video. standing and looking no worse for the wear even though she's been sleeping in a chair for the last four hours. We know who the third head is. This morning is anything but. but it looks like he will forego the jacket for now. This time. as if she finally realizes what she has offered us. Maxon is standing at the balcony. I'm going to try to get ready for the day before they wake up. She reminds me she has several calls to make. and I hurry toward my room. After some time passes. "Good morning. curled in a ball. With the shock. But. We part in the hallway. I tentatively place my hand on his shoulder. and we have to find it. Nicoletta's eyes are wide. they will be leaving with Nicoletta. resting my face against his back. He tends not to listen and makes decisions unilaterally. that reflects how we both feel. I'm sure Maxon has a schedule he'd like us to follow after that. then gently rouse Elise. "I'm going to get ready for the day. "Good morning. "Did you find anything?" I shake my head and rub my hand across my eyes. as well. We'll clean this up in the morning. Avery opens the door for me as I enter our room. I stand and stretch again. I wish I could siphon the hurt and anger. Elise is asleep on the oversized armchair next to the couch. he also gets tunnel vision. Maxon has reverted to "command mode. and I slide my other arm around his waist. I am surprised Maxon hasn't come to find me yet. His sleeves are already rolled up and he isn't wearing a tie. * * * ><p>The sun pushes through the cracks in my office blinds. which is his prerogative. A few hours later. as she says she wouldn't mind at all. which also means he is probably still immersed in his emotions from last night." He stalks out of the room. I open my eyes and stretch stiffly." I mention.

but she is already gone. Carter hovers next to his wife and boys. "I am not worried. you know. as my other small son yanks at my knee. I juggle both boys." I rush back into the palace intent on making it to my office. and August at his side. "Oh. 35. Nicoletta responds. and I replay it over and over in my mind throughout the farewell. They work their hands through my hair and across my face. "Mama's going to miss you. Kota stands to the side with Maxon and Aspen. Kota. Maxon has already returned to the palace. Hopefully this chapter clears some things up. one on each hip. We're close to the end. we will schedule a grand European tour. May sans her fiancé. I hear her say." Everett's eyes are serious. Are you sure you won't come with us?" He defers and she has to be content that he is not joining them. "I have people that do that. She turns back to the two. :) . Ethan." I smile. :( The Devil Wears Westwood: The last 36 hours at the palace have been a little crazy." She rolls her eyes." I let myself take a look at the crowd that is flying out today. Evan. and I relish any time he wants me instead of Calix or Daddy. Mom goes to Kota and hugs him. locked in battle. If anything. Chapter 35 A/N fanficforever: Maybe this chapter will help clear things up. The children are beyond excited. I will even miss them pulling my hair out of its twist. but not Georgia or August though they flank their only son. As the door to the last car is closed. Mom. Marlee's statement catches my attention. you're right. "Mama. Marlee turns to me. working them through their latest scuffle. A howl breaks out across the cacophony. I nuzzle his cheek and make him giggle. she hit me!" Marlee patiently turns to the two. :) ILOVEFANFICS230: All good questionsâ it will probably resolve within the next 10 chapters. Marlee. I am so excited I get to see your French masterpiece now. I grab Georgia's hand. "There is always something that happens immediately before the action. Everett and Abrielle stand in the middle of the drive. He's not overly affectionate. Carter. Everett. "And what did you do immediately before she hit you?" "I said she is a baby and can't sit next to me. and Ben. and thankful for Marlee's statement that spawned my idea. I'll be there as soon as I can. My four with Paige. making sure that Everett can't see her. "I'm going to be late to the meeting.request to pick him up. Everyone who is over the age of twelve tries valiantly not to laugh. Kenna and James and their three. now. :) Stavros takes the Queen to the hospital. Aspen. something clicks." She winks at me. Auntie Nic can be depended upon for quite a bit of fun on a normal day.

I mute the sound. until he was removed. :) Totalbooknerd 13: The only answer to "Why?" Is "Because" or "Why not?". And that's what we have been so focused on with the footage. :) Molly: Thank you so much for continuing to read. A guard approaches him. not actually met in the story. Marlee mentioned "There is always something that happens immediately before the action" when Everett and Abrielle were fighting. to King Clarkson. But I am so distracted by the action on the screen. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. I know for sure he was not in the palace guard while I was in the Selection. too. The birthmark under his ear is evident in the profile shot.Or so I've heard.<p> As the scene opens. Clarkson pulls at the collar of his shirt. I decide that at this point. I pause the video. Guards spoke to Clarkson all the time. who we have only heard about. and he barely turns as she falls at his feet. sitting off to the side. come near. and if you feel like it. As I watch again. and soon after the shooting begins. and during the still moment. We hadn't thought of looking for the signal that the rebels responded to before starting the attack. They spare each other a glance. He sits especially straight and there is something familiar about that stance that I can't quite place.DancingReader: I know! Thanks for reading. and had Maxon convinced that he and America were having an affair. I really appreciate the feedback! Hope you enjoy this chapter. :) We only have about 10 more chapters left. The shooting begins and I resolutely return to the beginning of the video. Evan is May's fiancé. and I missed that detail the last time through. **I am so appreciative of the support. everyone.. isn't she? sushi: Didasko was their education advisor. it is hard to focus anywhere but on the dais. He is working for the Loyalists. I hope you are enjoying reading as much as I am enjoying writing! -SJ :)** * * * ><p>I gently close my study door. Amberly is caught in crossfire. reviewing. I notice something familiar about the walk of the second guard that comes soon after the first that speaks to Clarkson. then. because it already plays in my head. The action. Alec. When the terror begins. too. :) Coralsea25: Thank you so much. The official reason was they went another direction. I begin scanning the video. clearly see a much younger version of Bariel's husband. The unofficial reason is he has an unrequited love for America. My eyes are instantly drawn. Natural-born Twos did not serve.. I hope you like this chapter! :) prnamber3909: She's handy to have around. Thanks so much for reading. A second guard passes by without interaction. it is impossible to do anything else. and stands as panic ensues. Hopefully this chapter clears some things up. and cue up the video again. I won't watch Celeste's execution repeatedly. He pulls . Thanks for reading! :) Strike OOO: Thank you so much. I don't need to hear the screams through the speakers of the television. and Clarkson whispers something to him as the guard nods and walks away. and physically cover the half of the television screen where the main event is supposed to take place. I go to my desk and grab paper and tape.

Looks like we will have to withdraw that offer. I have to corroborate your story. Suddenly." "Maxon. Kota. where's yours?" she asks. Alec didn't mean to kill the king. He meant to report Maxon's demise back to the one who ordered it. nods slightly. In fact. and the prince wasn't. and my eyes tell him how urgent the matter is. and if I hadn't done it so many times myself I wouldn't have noticed. Kota. So where is it?" "Oh. I didn't think much of it at the time. It's a subtle movement. Which means the king was not surprised the attack was coming. Each viewing confirms my suspicions. You had your weapon drawn. I move frame by frame as the guards approach the king. Alec now-Mayor of Sota. I've seen Maxon and Aspen make the same move hundreds if not thousands of times. and we can't afford to be sloppy right now. "It's not that I don't believe you. Stavros was protecting us. and I slow my pace." Everyone but Kota confirms their weapon. And if the king was wearing body armor. and Maxon falls. "I am sorry to barge in." Georgia sighs. but I need to speak with you alone. the familiarity of the gesture registers. He stands just as Georgia enters the room. so many things made sense: how the palace was so accessible. I think I heard them mention they would do anything to see you out of power. The third time through. Without prompting. But we are trying to figure out who's carrying. how guards had standing orders to take the rebels alive. I have to frisk you. "Find the king!" And I know. The choice of signal was purposeful. and motions weakly with his right hand. King Clarkson was the link between the Southern rebels and the Loyalists. they would rake your reign over the coals. As I round the corner I hear Kota's voice. But it is obvious Alec's orders were to eliminate us. That's when I see it: King Clarkson tugs his ear. and always had." Kota explains. I had no doubt. but as a matter of security. The first guard steps forward and shoots Celeste." I can barely stand still. how the Southern rebels found their funding. looking from Maxon to me. Alec heads toward the dais. "And we backed them for a seat in Parliament. Finally. Two guards pass him closely. but now?" Maxon replies. as they find their places around the perimeter. Clarkson ordered the death of his only son. with utmost and complete certainty. I watch the footage completely through three more times. with my focus still on my long-dead father-inlaw. "What are you talking about? I don't have a gun. sensing the start of the attack had something to do with those two interactions. I hate to interrupt.at the collar of his shirt again as he reaches inside his vest pocket. He looks at me quizzically. "I got him. that's not my weapon. "Okay. No wonder Stavros aimed directly for the head. We have some guns missing. Aspen tackles my chair. how no one investigated the missing guards during the Selection. I picked it up on the way to the safe room." Alec shouted. "I saw you in the safe room when America was taken. I didn't attempt to use it. trying to keep from sprinting to Maxon's study. I rewind and take the paper off the screen. "When I was completing a sculpture for the Alexander's of Clermont. they couldn't say anything positive about the monarchy. All eyes turn to her as she says. I am on my feet again and in the corridor. finally waiting in the doorway. This should only take a . Luckily. The king is wearing body armor.

second."
Kota begins to protest, "I don't think this is necessary."
Aspen shrugs, "Just go ahead. It'll be easier to do it than to fight it, Kota.
Then we can get back to the meeting."
Kota's features reflect his horror as he stands and submits. Georgia tosses
the contents of his pockets on the conference table in front of him. She names
them as she goes, "Wallet. Pens. Key ring."
As the key ring hits the wood, the people around the table go completely
silent. Maxon pales as he recognizes the fob, "Where did you get these?" He
picks them off the table, and turns his full attention to Kota.
Before Kota has a chance to respond, I blurt out, "Stavros was protecting you,
Maxon. Your father was the connection between the Southern Rebels and the
Loyalists. The king planned the attack that day, and you were one of the
targets. It's all on the disc. I've been watching all morning. Stavros has
always been on your side."
Maxon blinks once, and turns his full attention back to Kota. Kota scoots back
in his chair. "Where did you get these keys?"
When Kota doesn't answer a second time, Maxon crosses the table and grabs him
by the neck, snarling, "We are putting all this uncertainty to rest. Now."
Kota's strangled cry can be heard in the hallway as Maxon drags him
downstairs. Aspen moves to follow, and I put a hand on his arm, and subtly
shake my head. I know where they're going.
Despite their head start, Aspen and I arrive at the full security detention
center only a minute or two behind Maxon and Kota. We catch up to them in the
corridor as Kota does everything he can to break Maxon's grip on him.
"Sister," Kota begs me. "I can explain." Kota's face is swollen, and blood
seeps from his nose.
Maxon stops, and without turning around barks at Aspen, "Where's Bariel,
Commander Leger?"
"The first questioning room, Your Majesty."
Maxon continues down the hallway with the Aspen and me following him,
wordlessly. I don't feel any relief being right about Kota. When Maxon reaches
the right room, he pauses. In one violent motion, he pins Kota face-first to
the wall and holds him there, "Don't move." He unlocks the door with his other
hand, and deposits Kota into a chair.
Bariel stands as we enter. She looks a little worse for the wear. Her long
white-blonde hair is pulled into a knot on the top of her head, and her
clothes are rumpled like she has been sleeping in them. She probably has. "You
cannot keep me here without cause. I demand to talk to my husband!"
Maxon doesn't even look at her when he growls, "Enough. You will sit." For the
first time, I can see Maxon as Clarkson's son. "You will both tell us
everything. Now."
They protest. "I don't know what you're talking about," Bariel insists. "Your
men picked me up at the airport as I was leaving for France. Alec is probably
worried sick."

"Please, just let me explain," whines Kota.
"Commander Leger."
"Yes, Your Majesty," Aspen replies and moves to stand beside Maxon.
"I have tired of this. I'm sure these two are familiar with where my father
kept the bodies. We're getting answers today. By any means necessary."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
Maxon holds out his arm to me, "Come." I allow him to usher me out into the
hallway, as Aspen pulls the door shut.

36. Chapter 36
A/N
emmary1444: You're so kind! Thank you so much!
prnamber3909: Always makes me smile when I see you've reviewed. Thanks for
continuing to read. :)
waterpolo3: Hmmm. Maxon did beat up his bro-in-law in the car on the way over,
so we know he boiled over at least onceâ ¦ I'm really enjoying writing this
story, so it makes me a little sad knowing that eventually it will end. It has
toâ ¦but, hopefully you will enjoy the wrap up? :)
Strike OOO: Thanks! :)
Totalbooknerd 13: Accurate emotional depiction. I totally agree!
agb1700: Wow! What a review. Thank you so much! Any ideas for a sequel that
are different than Calix having his own Selection? (There are so many good
eldest son/daughter Selection stories going on right nowâ ¦) Hope you enjoy this
chapter, too!
Theoneforever: Believable that Clarkson had that streak in him, yes? Thank
goodness for Stavros! :)
maxamericalove: Thank you for your kind words. Yes, this is from my brain, but
I feel like KC laid the perfect groundwork for itâ ¦if only she were going to do
a 4th book! I bounce ideas off my SO to make sure they follow the story lineâ ¦
The disc was left for America and Maxon by Stavros. It shows Clarkson giving
the signal that starts the carnage during the rebel attack where both
sovereigns are killed. (The end of _The One._) When the palace is attacked
during Calix and Abrielle's birthday party, they had just picked up Bariel for
questioning regarding Bonita and her involvement. The palace is attacked in a
rescue attempt. She's a Loyalist. The key ring is Stavros'. I explain that a
bit more in the next chapter. Hope it makes sense! :)
GUEST: Ummmm, maybe more than 10. They will be long enough to tie up the
story. :)
guest: All good things, right? But seriously, thanks for the compliment. See
my response to agb1700's comment. Hope you enjoy the chapter! :)

jthornestudent: So glad to see you're back! I look forward to your reviews.
Thank you so much, and I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint. :)
**Phew, long A/N, but for good reason. Your feedback makes my day! I hope you
all enjoy this next installment. Happy reading! -SJ **
* * *
><p>Maxon doesn't slow his pace, even as I take three steps to every one of
his. His head faces forward, stiff, and his shoulders are tense as he
practically drags me along. We whip by the guards, ignoring their greetings
and nods and puzzled expressions. I am grateful when he comes to a small
office at the end of the hall, currently unoccupied, and apparently used as a
conference room. He sweeps me in and lets the door slam behind him, as he
drops my elbow. He collapses into a chair, and I lean against the wall trying
to catch my breath.<p>
Stavros' keys. Kota had Stavros' keys. Stavros died in a locked safe room and
my brother had his keys. My brother killed a man in my homeâ and not just any
man. He killed the man who provided protection to my husband for god knows how
long. Protection that extended to me and our children. What else did he do?
Give the Southern rebels access? My heart drops when I think of all the time
he spent with the children, and how he might have just as easily killed Calix
as help him to a safe room.
As my pulse returns to normal, I open my mouth to speak. Before I can, Maxon
waves my words away with a hand. Instead, he opens his arms to me, pushing his
chair back from the table. I accept his invitation, sitting across his legs
and resting against his shoulder. He wraps his arms around me and leans his
head against mine. It is then that I realize how exhausted I am. I would give
anything to shut my eyes and pretend the last two days never happened.
Maxon finally speaks, "Soon, love. We'll know everything soon."
"I know," I can't help but sigh. "I didn't think Kota was dangerous, Maxon. I
would have never let him so close."
"We both put on our blinders when it comes to family." His laugh is humorless,
"I'm the one who thought my father might possibly have some fondness for his
only son."
"It was his loss," I kiss his cheek. "It was always his loss." I get restless
and stand, and then almost immediately take a seat next to him. I let myself
reflect on the truth of the statement. My emotions are raw but I keep pushing
them aside; he still hasn't seen the footage. Didn't see his father use our
signal to order our deaths. Cause the loss of so much life. And for what? To
keep a stranglehold on the necks of the people he was sworn to protect. After
a moment, I redirect my thoughts. "So, what do we do now?"
"Now we connect the dots." Maxon grabs a legal pad and pen from the middle of
the table, drawing a line down the center of the top sheet of paper and
labeling one side 'Bariel' and the other 'Kota.'
We brainstorm, filling in both sides of the sheet with people, places, and
events. The result is a very rough double timeline. "Besides that they both
preferred the company of Twos, and Bariel commissioned a sculpture, the only
other commonality is France?" I examine the paper and glance up at Maxon.
"Well, it's all we have to go on right now," shrugs Maxon, as serious as I

Brave. They believe they can help you get a confession from the top.' But Aspen ignores him. considering the request. Maxon doesn't answer. "They wish to see you both. and I don't press him. I'm not sure what we wouldn't do." "How do we know this information is accurate. reading the intricate plan that connected Bariel. before they are sentenced. the words share the fury I feel. but only in exchange for their lives. manipulating our sympathies and sense of family duty. waiting our response. actually. "How and where they met is probably less important than what they've done with their time since." "No! No. playing with our children. Kota. Your Majesty. then?" Maxon demands. The silence is broken by a sharp knock at the door." Aspen stands at attention." He hands Maxon a sheaf of paper. Hopefully." I hiss. Not a word that describes either of them. and Didasko. looking up when we finish. "Love. I just took off my jacket and unplugged the closed circuit cameras. I am not yelling. For some reason. I am beginning to pick up some of his habits. The words rush out of my mouth. You read the confession as well as I did! My own brother. I am pale and drawn.have ever seen him. I have been holding back for so long. conspired with a foreign ruler to murder those . and they've condemned themselves. "Neither one is willing to give their life to their cause." "You won't really have them killed. spilling into the air." I state. Aspen will have some additional information to add soon. and begin to pace around the table. I look quickly at my watch." Maxon and I lose ourselves in the written confessions. Hard to believe the vendetta was initiated by a school-girl crush on a handsome. no. "It was surreal. With everything at stake. blonde-haired boy. "No difficulty." I stand. The rage that flows through my body can barely be contained. and Maxon motions a quick 'no. Something so innocent and sweet can easily be twisted by the right mind and an adequate dose of bitterness." I agree with the finality of Maxon's statement. Aspen enters without waiting for a signal. It's barely been an hour since we left the questioning room. "What's the difficulty?" Maxon asks crisply. and you won't believe their tune. That one was dedicated. who was living in our home. "How dare they ask for anything more than their last meal. Maxon cocks his head to the side. Being with Maxon all this time. They were more than happy to tell me everything they knew. "Not this time. when you are willing. "No difficulty at all." "Do I want to ask how you got this information?" I look at Aspen with wide eyes. The plan that crossed years and countries and continents. They sang. even though it is more of a question. that is my breaking point. but from the reaction of two of the people that know me best. "What are they hoping to gain? Treason is punishable by death. We didn't get anything from him because we missed the pouch with his suicide pill. Unlike their friend from the attack.

I am responding to the comments at the end of the chapter. my _brother_ can _burn_ for it. Some of your questions will be answered in this chapter-some throughout the next few. Thank you for being so patient waiting for this installment. Because it might mean his power and prestige could overshadow our own. To subvert our rule. Alec. Much less grant him any sort of mercy. love. Because it might mean he would become Daphne's One. To endanger our children! To reverse our social advances. emphasizing my point by pressing my palms into the tabletop. stubbornness radiating off of my form." I lean forward. and he has yet to view for The confessions confirmed what I saw: Clarkson was the connection between the Loyalists and the Southern Rebels. "Believe me. My brother would have let Didasko have me." 37. thanks for hanging in there. and I gesture stiffly toward the stack of paper in front of my husband. In actuality. as well. I am enjoying wrapping this story up. Again. and I'm sure my cheeks are on fire. We owe His voice falters. many of the leaders of the Southern Rebels were from Loyalist families. "Don't even. and himself the signal that initiated the attack." I say nothing.<p> "I'll be right outside. and exhale the rest in one utterance. Bariel and Alec met in Franceâ where many Loyalists . And I bet he can shoot as well with his left hand as he can write with his left hand. We owe it to everyone it to Stavros. My voice is barely above a whisper as I continue. just like Georgia said. "America. The for good. appointed and paid off by the former king. Hope you are still enjoying reading! XOXO SJ** * * * ><p>Maxon looks toward Aspen and nods. we have a responsibility to our people. In front of our entire family." Aspen states. I cross my arms." My eyes are blazing. Read between the lines in the confession. I wait until the door closes behind him to say. who has fallen. Everyone. I won't ever be in the same room with him again. We owe it to the memory of my mother. and more. He deserves everything that will come to him." He shows me bruised and swollen knuckles on his right hand. "And. "My _brother_ allowed me to be pulled unarmed from a safe room in front of my four children. and looks up at me across the table. was actively involved in the attack at the end of the Selection." I draw a breath. I'd like nothing more than to give him what he deserves." He pauses." he breaks eye contact. Bariel's husband. My _brother_ was content to stand by and let me die. "Kota did have a gun. "But it's not only about what Kota deserves." My breath hitches audibly in my throat. men. daring him to say the opposite. Just don't. is tied to those two. only way to end this. Chapter 37 **A/N** **Hi. It wasn't quite as quickly as I intended. "I had to use great restraint so that he would make it here.closest to us. He is recalling the video.

" "And what about the bigger issue?" Aspen presses." "I'm not joking. this isn't funny. They feared the loss of their control and would keep it by any means possible. and the weariness returns. Kota." "I might.went when we began to implement our reforms. Everyone would still bow and scrape. But how could they know how different Maxon would be? And. He prides himself on it. Aspen steps back into the room. Kota was the darling of the rich and famous across the world. "What do you do with a wayward monarch? I guess this is an act of war. as both were bitter about their exclusion from the inner circle. But." Our laughter breaks out again. Thoroughly confused now. "Daphne's still in love with you. the current conspiracy. And. But. "What the hell is going on in here? I can hear you in the hallway. Maxon raises an eyebrow. Kota traveled to France at Daphne's behest. she is very much in love with you. Maxon responds. apparently they turned to each other. Of course. But not yet. His hand was purposefully broken to work on our sympathies. Who would leave their repentant broken brother to fend for himself? Maxon takes a deep breath and continues. Clarkson had never hesitated to take what he wanted. "Have you made your decision regarding our new prisoners?" The simple question sobers us. Soon. we are laughing so hard tears are rolling down our cheeks. Aspen responds." . that was absurd. "What strikes me about these confessions." "What are you talking about? How can it be anything else?" I sigh. And my father. despite our attempts to squelch it. a celebrity in his own right. obviously. "We will speak to them. he is so tied to his peacekeeping work. How would you like it if the entire Leger family was out to get me?" We meet each other's eyes. "Love." Maxon looks deflated." I shake my head and try to swallow a giggle. Did she really allow her fear to face her world twist her thinking this completely?" I finally sit back down across the table from him. and Maxon starts to chuckle as well. and Loyalists feared our caste dissolution plan included confiscating their assets." "Now is not the time for jokes. "You have an idea. America. the actions of my father: the foundation is cowardice." "An urgent matter of state obviously. My father and his _precious_ cast system: if he would have compromised at all. I need to talk to Lady Elise first. And it's all a false perception. Daphne is especially baffling. I believe this would be completely solved if Maxon invites Daphne into the treehouse. Aspen questions. Alec and Bariel are better off financially than before we came to power. "Maybe not. She's a psychopath. he would still be king.

<p> Aspen's warning for me to keep a low profile seems odd. "I'm sorry. Before I know it." I don't respond with words. but he doesn't move. We are working with a small staff for the next couple of the days. But it's just my mind playing tricks on me. I can't keep the tears from sliding through my lashes. but looking at Aspen. but I'm glad you liked it. Go home and keep a low profile. Mer. I'm soaking his jacket. "I love you.. pulling the pins out of the simple knot. I'll look forward to your report. I'm sorry.:)** . alone like this. too. He strokes my head. and I'll explain tonight. cradling the sides of my face with his palms. Bariel and Kota and Daphne have deprived me even of them. taking Maxon's offered arm. He pulls back a little from the kiss. and back to Aspen. Now. it seems like the activity inside the palace should match the frenetic pace of our thoughts. Glad you are liking the book-maybe this chapter meets some minor maxamerica love? :)** **AcademicGirl: Thanks so much! (Loving both of your stories. it's where they are supposed to be. "We'll convene over dinner this evening. * * * ><p><strong>waterpolo3: Thanks-hope it you enjoyed this chapter.. leaning in again to capture his lips with my own. I answer the question in his expression with a small nod. "I've been protecting you for years. and it seems like I can almost hear the children in the next room. until we make our decisions. but Maxon and I acquiesce and return to our common room.Maxon looks from Aspen to me. they are coming thick and fast. Guards nod at their appointed places throughout the corridors. choosing instead to close the short distance to his lips. Don't you trust me?" * * * ><p>It's eerie. I will do everything in my power to keep our family safe.)** **The Devil Wears Westwood: I guess the update wasn't soon. next. I can't remember the last time I sat here without a small person leaning against my side or spreading across my lap. As my crying slows." "This isn't something that's going to blow up in our face later?" I ask. He embraces me gently as I curl into his shoulder and the pain and the fear and the uncertainty flows. (Patiently waiting for your updates. With war looming in front of us. his expression soft and a little sad. I need the reassurance and safety I can only find in his arms." Maxon's pain is evident on his face as he pulls me to him. We sink into the couch. I turn my head to look up at him. and I'm sobbing and apologizing all at once. too! :)<strong> **maxamericalove: How sweet! Thanks for the compliments and dedication to the story. He's already looking down at me. The palace is so quiet when we return. alternately leaning his head against mine and pressing his lips into my hair. I can't. I just can't. and smoothing his hands over the thick strands.

.. America should have known better. worth a little wait? She'll show him what she saw soon. **Guessing you've seen the remix with the response. And Daphne-one crazy lady!** **Strike OOO: Thanks so much. I appreciate it so much! Yes. The lone surviving attacker (out of the 6 that included Didasko) took his cyanide before they could interview him.it's been hard to keep it hidden but provide clues that make sense.. But.. he's still digesting watching Stavros off his dad. The only people they can get information from are Bariel and Kota now. it is the end of the story is almost here.. So.. :)** **agb1700: Thank you so much for the compliments. but hopefully.** Start >I'mma start with this<br>Just a single thought followed by words >I hope I don't miss<br>Miss anything. :)** **Obsessed: Life has gotten in the way. :)** **prnamber3909: Again.. :)** **guest: Thank you so much-and thanks for the idea.. you make me laugh.. :) I hope . But. :)** 38. I'm still not totally sure what I'm going to do.** **AGreatBigWorld: How's this for a response? :) My apologies to One Republic. but I can't respond with the other half! :)** **Thanks again. only 24 hours since the last update! Comments at the end.. I try really hard to keep the characters true to their development.. but Kota sculpted for France. Daphne is really the third leader...)** **Guest: More will be revealed over the next couple of chapters. :)** **BlueGirl 1234: Thanks so much! :)** **jthornestudent: She'll show him what she saw exactly soon. but acknowledge they are in their thirties now.. I know .**coralsea25: Thank you. but here you go! :)** **sushi: Kota got involved with Daphne-she's the other woman he refers to when he and America meet back up. I know this post wasn't soon.. all.. Hope you liked this installment! :)** **Totalbooknerd13: . hopefully they grew up a little. I hope to post again within 36 hours. I will write a sequel! :)** **fanficlena: Wow-what a wonderfully kind review. . Kota's motive will be fully revealed by the end. Chapter 38 **A/N** **Look. Really.

you enjoy this next installment. Thanks for reading!**
**-SJ :)**
* * *
><p>A breeze plays in my hair, and I will my eyes open. Maxon is where I
expect him to be: standing on the balcony, looking out over the grounds. I
just don't expect him to be half-dressed. The muscles in his arms stand out as
he leans against the railing, and the old scars stretch across his back.
Almost as if he senses me watching him, he looks over his shoulder. When he
sees I'm awake he motions me over, and I grab his button-down from the bed
post and join him. I'm in awe, watching the moments before dusk rolls across
the landscape. The sunset overflows with orange and pink and gold, giving the
tree tops an other-worldly glow. Maxon told me once that photographers call
this the "magic hour."<p>
"It's not fair that everything is so beautiful right now," I whisper. "It
should be raining, big ugly gray drops."
He takes my hand, bringing it to his mouth. "Oh, but love. I've been standing
here, pretending. We have nothing but time and each other, and no reason to
leave this room."
"Sounds wonderful," my voice cracks a little as he reels me closer.
"No responsibilities to anyone else. Just my beautiful bride and me,
completely alone for a minute or two more," his voice is husky in the back of
his throat. He slides a hand behind my neck, and places the other gently in
the curve of my hip. "I can't think of a better way to pass the time before
dinner," his breath teases my lips.
Before, I needed to erase the feeling of Didasko's hands on my body. I needed
the reassurance that something was still right in my world. Now, both
barefoot, only his oxford separating our skin, I can block everything else
out. Almost forget and steal this time for ourselves. The headiness of the
scent that is particularly his urges me closer to him, and I run my hands up
his chest and around his neck. Intense longing overwhelms me as his lips
finally meet mine.
A sharp knock at the door breaks our reverie, and it crashes down around us as
Aspen pokes his head in the room. Maxon's face immediately hardens, and he
steps in front of me with an arm out protectively. His other hand points
directly at Aspen, as he barks, "Your fifteen seconds starts now."
Aspen puts both hands up and avoids our glares and state of obvious undress,
"I'll share the details at dinner, but if you get a call from France, she's in
a coma." The door shuts as quickly as it opened, and within the allotted time.
We both freeze, but I know that the moment will not be repaired. "Go ahead.
Follow him."
"Do you want to come with me now or wait for dinner?" Maxon asks, barely
sparing me a look as I hand him his shirt and turn my back to wrap myself in
my robe.
"No, no. Apparently, I am clinging to life," I say as I crawl back up on the
bed. "Doc gave me strict instructions to relax and recuperate. I don't think
you're quite distraught enough. You might need to turn it up a few degrees if
Daphne calls."

Within moments, he is ready. I use every ounce of restraint to avoid pouting,
the tenuous position we are in should be enough to ground me. "Could you
please have someone send up a glass of orange juice?"
He raises an eyebrow, but nods, drops a kiss on my forehead, and heads out the
door. I flop back into the pillows, deciding to catch a few more minutes of
sleep before dinner.
* * *
><p>I take my time heading back
only to make me more tired, and
on my wrist. The extra guard is
palace security, but I have yet
brought my juice.<p>

to the dinner meeting. The extra nap served
I was now feeling the soreness in the bruise
evident. Carter and Aspen have tripled the into run in to any staff besides Mary when she

I take a deep breath, and enter the room to an interesting tableau. Elise,
Georgia, August, Carter, Gavril, and Aspen sit with Maxon around the table.
All except for Aspen and Maxon are eating their dinner in complete silence.
Aspen is scribbling on scrap sheets of paper and passing them to Maxon, who is
on the phone.
"Yes, yes," Maxon says. "We are sure that New Asia is behind it. Every time we
are attacked, Elise is visiting or just visited. She made wild accusations and
confronted America at a meeting with the German Federation." Elise makes an
exaggerated and voiceless, who me?, motion, almost causing Maxon to lose his
composure. He shakes his head no, and Aspen glares at her. "Oh, that's what
your intel says, as well. And that's why you called. Thank you for looking out
for us." I take the empty seat on the other side of my husband and cross my
arms across my chest, pushing away the plate Georgia sets in front of me.
Apparently, this is part of the plan. "At least America's brother is here; he
has really helped us by stepping into Stavros' place. I don't know what we
would do without him." His voice softens, "I do need the support of our oldest
ally." He listens for a bit, and I feel my face fixing in a frown. "America?"
Aspen slips him another piece of paper. "Yes, it is sad," his voice is cold,
but his eyes are apologetic. "Yes, she is. But, maybe it is for the best."
He's quiet again for a minute or so, and then says, "I look forward to your
visit. Yes, see you soon." He hangs up the phone.
Steam. Steam must be coming out of my ears, as everyone around the table looks
at me warily and then focuses on their plates. "So, what I know of this plan
so far is that I am in a coma and my dear husband is not too broken up about
it. Would anyone care to fill me in?"
"Aspen came to me earlier this afternoon, and shared the confessions of Bariel
and Kota. I did a little more digging, and both have made several trips to New
Asia over the last few years," Elise explains.
I look at her, "So my coma and my husband flirting with another woman was your
idea?"
"No, I didn't say that, America. Aspenâ ¦"
Elise trails off as Aspen says, "Actually it was yours. Earlier this
afternoon, you mentioned this could all be solved by Maxon taking Daphne to
the treehouse. So we are. Metaphorically of course."
"And why the dramatics?"

Aspen clears his throat, "We need her to travel here without suspicion of
ulterior motives. Our problem is how to reign in a monarch who is misbehaving.
We can't arrest her or eliminate her without causing war. And war is exactly
what we are trying to avoid." Maxon nods for him to continue, and the rest of
the table looks at me expectantly. "We need to flush out if this is just
Daphne, or if her whole cabinet. And, frankly, all we have to confirm our
suspicions right now are the confessions of Bariel and Kota. Two people trying
to save their own skin. We know we're correct, but is it enough evidence to go
to war over? We need her to implicate herself in front of others."
"She underestimated your friendship with Elise, but if you were more
suspicious of each other, she would have already restarted the Illean-New
Asian war," August reminds us.
Maxon reassures me, "We have support around the world. People are horrified,
and frankly not so surprised. Our staunchest allies, Swendway, Great Britain,
Italy, the German Federation and New Asia are ready to remind France of its
place militarily if we can't find a way to contain Daphne. She is correct when
she says her power is fading. But, all of the allies would prefer not to
punish innocent citizens for her crimes."
August adds, "They are traveling our way now, to make a concrete show of
diplomatic unity. Everyone wants to be sure that international misuse of power
can be condemned and contained peacefully by the rest of the world."
"An international alliance of nations?" I question and turn to Maxon. "We've
always dreamed of that." He nods. "Maybe some good will come out of this,
after all." I sigh and sit back in my chair. I'll be glad when this is over
and I can get a good night's sleep. "Now what?"
"Now, we have to make sure that this is believable. We'll bypass your
contributions on _The Report_ tomorrow by sharing that you are ill," Gavril
says.
"Won't that cause country-wide concern?"
"After your behavior in Sota, people will just assume another member of the
royal family is on its way." In response to Georgia's comment, a smile tugs at
the corners of Maxon's lips and he winks at me, causing me to flush. Everyone
finds the statement amusing, and I just shake my head and purse my lips.
"Georgia, it sounds as if we need to schedule and assign staff, and plan the
formal meals. Elise, we would welcome your help if you'd like to join us."
"I've already begun, Your Majesty," Georgia smiles. "I'll meet you in your
study so we can confirm the arrangements."
That statement seemed to signal everyone to go their separate ways to complete
their work. Maxon, Aspen, and I are left alone again, and Aspen says, "One
more thing, Mer."
I cock my head, "Yes?"
"Once the dignitaries arrive, you need to stay in your common rooms. If Daphne
sees you, this operation will crumble. All the time and energy everyone is
putting in will be for nothing. We are tripling the guard."
"That should keep up appearances," I comment.
Maxon and Aspen share a look. And, I know without a doubt, that the guards

answering music with music is difficult.. Or so Mary tells me. sometimes laughing is the only way to go.. :) Hope you enjoy this next chapter. I'm glad you're enjoying it. :( jthornestudent: Thank you so much for riding the coaster with them. too!<p> 39..will be there as much to keep me in as to keep anyone out. I pace from one to another. . There are thirty or so in our common rooms alone. sad. :) JohnLegend: I have to say. How did you like this chapter? :) BooksAndComics: I am so glad-thanks for reading and reviewing! It makes my day to read reviews like that! :) Totalbooknerd13: I know. but it's stretching my brain. how does this work: Everything is great >Everything is grand<br>I got the whole wide world in the palm of my hand >Everything is perfect<br>It's falling into place. :) >Guest: I'm happy you're excited about a sequel-I am.. Chapter 39 **A/N** **Thanks for continuing to read! It's been fun reading and responding to your reviews. The card was exquisite and bore beautiful and characteristically Kriss-like homemade touches. reading cards from our citizens and friends. Life _is_ a Happy Song. Hmmm. but another literal LOL. I feel little twinges of guilt with each one.. Thanks for reading and reviewing! :) Strike OOO: I know. especially the one from Kriss. What do you think of this installment? :)<p> The Devil Wears Westwood: I'm glad the chapter came at a good time. Your update was great. too. including a heartfelt message penned in her own hand. And I think the last chapter explained Aspen. XOXO)** * * * ><p>Four days later and flower arrangements are beginning to cover every available surface in the palace. I promise there will be a sequel! maxamerica love: Thanks! You know when you have the choice between weeping uncontrollably and laughing.. Gavril really sold my illness on <em>The Report<em>. But. -SJ (Comments to reviews at the end. * * * ><p>agb1700: Thanks so much. too! :) prnamber3909: Maybe I sound like I'm stuck on the same track.

Marlee. "Is twentythree too young for me?" . "And he did try so hard." she smiles and changes the subject. even not drinking expresso at breakfast. and take the pins out of my hair." she says. Elise cannot visit me. They can be quite the handful. and the claustrophobia is overwhelming. My piano is off limits. I am soon laughing. America. patting my arm. because I don't want my lack of focus to make a mess of the work Georgia." "Right. At breakfast. "I'm sorry Your Majesty. "Well. Our castle has a needed little excitement and your group has provided it. again. And. we have art younger than he is! But. Now be a dear. My stack of project files sits untouched in the middle of my desk. and she laughs. and is working on securing more lines. Every book I have attempted to read is discarded and littering one half of the couch. I've been confined here for most of the morning.I prowl from room to room." Despite myself. kissing both my cheeks exuberantly. and I have already done. as the music would draw attention. She tries to engage me in card games. so⠦I think it's rested!" she exclaims." Avery protests. I can't open the balcony doors like I usually do. as she is busy settling her prime minister. He has always been a little unsure of what to do with the force that is Princess Nicoletta of Italy. "How are the children? I wasn't allowed to call the last few days. and track down some tea for us?" I nod to dismiss him and in a haze of confusion. Avery bows. making a circuit from our bedroom to the common area to the empty nursery to the common area to our bedroom and back. the children have been absolutely wonderful! They are so lively after a bit of expresso. but I can't concentrate and she wins every hand in a matter of minutes." She fans herself. I was seated by the King of Swendway. "Has it only been a week? A coma wears well on you. I glower at myself in the mirror and my reflection shows me how utterly ridiculous I look. "I do have one complaint for you." I raise an eyebrow. "Nicoletta. and I am ready to pull my hair out. "Thank you for taking them in." She winks and links her arm through mine. "And. you've never met my father. as the door to the bedroom is flung open wide and I leap to my feet. you look so. he's not going to find any tea there. he brought his grandson. "Oh thank heavens you're here! Please. and returns to his post. Nicoletta pats him on the cheek. We both know he is a horrible bore!" I can only laugh in reply. I sit at my dressing table again. sit." she teases. and then turns to me. mother?" "I can see you take after your father. And your sisters! Così prezioso! Thank you so much for sending them to us. I hear a commotion in the corridor outside the room and it continues through the common area. "I'm just kidding⠦mostly. guiding me back into the common room. "America. thank you for asking." Avery explains. Mary comes in and out. Aspen is afraid the phones are tapped. too. but I think I am driving her a bit batty as I can't sit still. "Wait! You can't go in there. "At home. I tried to stop her." I sweep the books onto the floor and we both collapse onto the couch." "I am fine." Nicoletta mutters.

and he sits taking my hand. she'll be crushed like a bug. "It's almost like being there. just like that. Staff are bustling to set up serving tables and arrange furniture around a viewing screen." I try to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. the minutes no longer seem like hours. "Nicoletta. He turns on the television. This is how ." I shrug. Even Georgia agrees. it is not the same as throwing open the windows and doors." "Well. there is absolutely no way you can leave this room until we have Daphne in custody. she is Nicoletta. how is it going?" Nicoletta knows I am dying to be involved in the proceedings. Maxon and I rule as a team. And before I know it. I do not know who directed Nicoletta to me. "Everyone is completely on your side about Daphne. I was beside myself ever since you left this morning. yes. Finally. For your own safety. Such a pleasure to see you again so soon! I'll be back when I can sneak away. "The worst part is keeping the blinds drawn. taking the television remote from the coffee table. Especially as she enters and winks at me as she lays out tea. she breezes through the door and down the corridor. love. and I hate being left out of the final phases of this plan. Maxon shuts the door behind her."For me. diplomatic conversation beginning to consume us. and he nods in understanding. The Prince of Swendway has urgent business with you?" She darts up." "In all seriousness. For me. so much is being accomplished by simply being in the same room together." he says. Please excuse me." We turn to our tea. Nicoletta. I was wondering how he would accomplish that. If this _sting_ doesn't work. I can hear their instructions to one another. For you. Nicoletta muses. including sandwiches and fruit." I respond. and I see our small receiving parlor. but meeting once a year would serve us all well." His expression softens. dear. "Please. never. and we lose ourselves in another fit of giggles." I pat the couch cushion. Besides this _France_ thing. Maxon is entering the door for the afternoon break." "Well maybe my surprise will make tomorrow more tolerable. I think Nicoletta was Mary's last ditch effort to keep hold of her own sanity. They are so aghast that she could harm you. Aspen and Carter explained this yesterday and again this morning." I respond. "How rough was it being stuck in here while everyone was arriving?" "Probably about as difficult as you think. "Apparently. "What did she do? Avery looks like he's been hit by a truck." His expression changes from excited to hurt to resolved at my response. "We discussed this last night. my friend. I don't care how much light they let in. after all your advances in Illea." And. "Oh! Avery did manage to find tea standing against the wall. "I thought I would find you here. "Remind me to thank Mary later. and leaves again." he smiles. And she's not even here yet. Would you be against being attacked once a year so we all have an excuse to meet?" "I'd rather not. twenty-three is _not_ too young. She responds. "Oh. More than just seeing them. but do not succeed. but I suspect Mary is to thank. gesturing to the mess.

.we're working together on this one.' and 'patient. and she says something about the sun shining while the world was falling apart.' Hehehe." * * * ><p><strong>ajb1700: Thank you so much! I think I am going to do a sequel. she saw the light streaming in through the windows during the rebel attack. Thanks for reading! :)** **Totalbooknerd13: I wonder how well that will work? :)** **Guest: Hmm. "Thank you for thinking of meâ I appreciate the intent. "Plus. what are you talking about? If I had three words to describe America. and refused to visit the infirmary after the attack.. Next. "Well.. I don't think America would go for that. I *heart* your stories. It seems that there are many reasons why Doc should pay you a visit. "This day keeps on getting better and better. He'll be in before dinner.they haven't made that announcement. did he? Oh. Thanks for the review! :)** **Kmerebird: So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by and reading/reviewing! :)** . you've put off your physical. :) I hope you liked the newest chapter. :) A sequel is in the works. how often are all the kids out of the way at once? . "Has Doc been in yet today?" "Doc? No.we'll see! Thanks for reading & reviewing! :)** **AcademicGirl: Thank you so much. I'm glad you're enjoying the story so far! Hope you like the resolution! :)** **Guest: Thanks! That's something to think about. We'll see if I can do both at the same time! Thanks for reading and being such an enthusiastic reviewer! :)<strong> **Strike OOO: Aww-sweet.." I relent.. :)** **jthornestudent: I'm so happy you love it! Hmm.) ** **maxamericalove: You flatter me! :) Thanks so much. It makes sense that Doc would be in and out.)** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Always good to see your review. I seriously don't know what else to say because your review left me speechless. :) Although. But.. And. . and Maxon's face brightens. too. they haven't made that announcement. . we are putting forth the story that you're in a coma and recovering in the privacy and comfort of your room. I finally smile. :) Thanks for taking time! I know. they would be 'patient." "Fine. you'll tell me you're sending the dentist up.' 'patient. why?" Confusion is evident on my face. I have an original project I'm working on with my SO. too. I was roughing out a timeline this morning." I groan. at the end of****_ The One_****.." Maxon explains." He kisses the back of my hand..) But. well... *mwah*** **BlueGirl 1234: Thank you! Is this soon enough? :)** **coralsea25: Aspen didn't really consider that part well.she's pretty particular. and asks. I'm glad you are liking the story.

so he tries again." "Well. I have a feeling she will have her hands full today. I try to figure out what's different. love. though for the last couple of weeks." "There's fresh juice. Breakfast looks a little different than usual. there are good things resulting from these circumstances. I just grunt in reply. The stress must be effecting her. Let's not bother her now. when did you get in last night? Georgia left way after the midnight guard change and you still weren't back. "Hmmm. So. that is comforting at least. and then congratulated each other on the signing. "Mary forgot your coffee this morning. too." "I think there's a reprimand in there somewhere.**_Thanks for stopping by! :)_** 40." he begins. I do wish you could have been beside me for it. Maxon is watching me. and see Maxon leaning over me. "Strawberry tarts?" Sighing. The stress and odd hours led us from taking a piece of toast on the run and calling it a morning to skipping the meal entirely.." I comment. and hands me my juice as if bestowing a first place trophy upon me. "The one with The German Federation and Great Britain?" "Yes." he tempts me." "Was it that thinly veiled?" he jokes. "People in comas sleep in. Speaking of. until I drain the glass. according to both Nicoletta and you. taking a swallow of juice. Is it in a big glass?" Maxon holds up a pilsner.. Chapter 40 **A/N** **Hi.Getting close now." I take another sip of juice and then another. I haven't felt much like partaking. and suddenly I am self- . Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy this newest chapter! -SJ :)** * * * ><p>"Love?"<p> I open one eye. and finally it strikes me that Maxon's customary carafe is missing. pulling the duvet over my head and mumble. all. three-quarters full. We signed last night. "I'll get some when I go downstairs. I prop myself up on my elbows. Your work with Gretchen helped move it forward. Nothing beats the oranges from the tree in our gardens. He smiles as I pull on my robe and take my seat at the table. "You actually had me at fresh juice. "That's not like her." "The trade agreement we thought would take another year. I turn away from him." Maxon shrugs it off. I interrupt.

And. "When is she arriving?" We both know who I'm referring to. she may have been able to cause quite a bit of destabilization in the European kingdoms." "And the schedule of the day?" "Everyone is taking breakfast in their rooms. "I wrote a silent musical scoreâ as I can't use the piano right now. The only thing I am worried about is how circumstantial our evidence is. then respond smirking. and the other countries have joined us." He shrugs. and lean over the back of his. "When I came in last night. I was so afraid I would wake you. I just wanted to be with you. "I'm just sorry I can't be there with you to . "At least I haven't dressed yet. a team will neutralize her guards. "I haven't the slightest. using their forks as puppets. "Really. "Everyone already believes you." he pats my arm absentmindedly." "She has made more than one. "She called last evening. How else did you keep busy?" he looks at me over his tea cup. When she and Frederick are safely there. I am meeting Daphne in the parlor. love. He sighs. how thoughtless of me. and show her desperation to be influential in the world. Her mistake was trying to pit Elise against you." "Of course. I am pleased I managed to give you at least one night's decent sleep. Was that completely necessary?" I snicker as I toss him an extra napkin and he mops up his lap." I return to my chair. of course. If not for her personal grudge. They seem ready to think the worst of Daphne. my initial petulance melting away. but underestimating me seems to be her perennial favorite. that I can picture Avery doing that at your request. near my palm.conscious. the games will begin. And then had Avery and Georgia perform it. shaking his head and sparing a half-smile." I get up from my chair." Maxon smiles. "It really does taste wonderful today. Her plans exceed claiming Illea's kingdom." He gives up on his undershirt and tosses in into the corner. trying to re-start a war between two prosperous countries is not the only thing she's been up to lately. I almost took Calix's bed." He gently supports my arm as he looks at the fading bruise left by Didasko's hand. and reaches for my hand. But. We have only just begun to corroborate their story with a paper trail. "Apparently. before her plane took off from Paris. You are beginning to look rested again. and I plant a kiss by his ear. He brushes his lips across the inside of my wrist. I wait until his mouth is full. Can't imagine how that happened?" I smile. She'll be here before lunch. But with what remains. "You weren't so quiet. I squirm a little from his close examination. I share." He sputters. "The problem is. What did you trip over on your way in?" "Someone moved an armchair in the path from the door to the bedroom from when I left the room before dinner to when I returned to sleep. resting my chin on his shoulder and wrapping my arms around him. Couldn't possibly be the fifth arrangement of furniture Georgia and I completed last evening.

" My grin assures him I am not resentful. I know. "Ready?" "Well. I remember the first time I saw him in his dress jacket. okay with it. "Yellow. and set my jaw. You could enjoy this a little less. apparently. "I'm not going to argue this anymore. So much. America. He returns the kiss. you inspire complete fealty with or without your lips sealing the deal. "And no matter what you see or hear." He reinforces his statement by pressing his lips to mine again. or chance." He sighs. Without thinking. "Yes." I tease him. I pluck some yellow roses from a nearby arrangement and hold them out." over his shoulder as he disappears down the corridor. I love you. and you could let me out of this beautiful cage. and my wife has been critically injured and I am. "I know. I thought he glittered. throwing out. All is forgiven. love?" His voice is hopeful that I will give him a good reason to avoid going downstairs. let's see if I remember my new mindset: my closest ally is now enemy number one. He grins back and takes them. After all. I'm a little jealous that you get to watch the whole drama play out on closed-circuit television. and his smile spreads across his face.face her. and pretend to reciprocate her twisted emotions. love. and he looks no less handsome this morning. but a few more jabs make me feel better and worse at the same time. for me. She always did like yellow." "It's because you're so amazing. meeting him at the bedroom door and taking his hand in mine. chastened. putting the final touches on his official military uniform. Maxon sighs and stands." I turn back toward my food." "Yes. I stand up and it takes everything I have not to salute. I know at this point that I have absolutely no case. as he turns to leave." "Maxon. my father was a compassionate man and dynamic ruler inspiring others at every turn." He shivers a little at the thought. I'm going to finish getting ready. and I stand of tiptoe to kiss him." I narrow my eyes. * * * ><p><strong>BlueGirl 1234: Thanks! :)<strong> **jthornestudent: Hope you enjoyed the latest chapter! :)** . "Don't forget to bring a gift for your newest dear. light and sweet. "We never even kissed. "I'm ready as ever. Minutes later he emerges from his closet." I say." His face reflects that want. "Good lord. your brother is my long-lost confidante. "I love you. The sarcasm and irritation from earlier evaporates. He looks up and sees me smiling at him. I cross the room. I straighten a medal that had gone askew. he is doing this for our family." I whisper. I actually have to be there. and then rolls his eyes.

Maxerica might not happen for your story.. We'll do our best to keep America locked upstairs.<p> I stand back and view myself in the mirror. She can be unpredictable. slim black pants pair with a light blue linen shirt. Thanks for the ideas. I brought popcorn!" She turns and switches on the television. and we view the small receiving parlor. Next chapter-in my head it is "THE DAPHNE". let me know how you like this chapter? :)** ><strong>maxamerica love: Thanks for coming back! :) And. but I consider pulling out the pins and braiding it down my back instead. What a sweet review.. as she did take the extra time." she explains. the sequel is in the works. :)** **PEETAMELLARKLOVER123: Thanks! :)** **Dominic: You are so welcome. Then I decide. and I appreciate you reading and reviewing. A typical day where the woman who is intent on my death is in my home is definitely a day to wear pants. Chairs and small sofas are arranged around a viewing screen. Mary insisted on putting my hair up. I join her on the couch.. But.. to prepare as if it were a typical day. . but if it isn't good enough. another way my husband has rubbed off on me. She smiles as I enter. you're right. it won't be posted. at Mary's urging. Chapter 41 **A/N** **And. I decide to leave it. Daphne's here! Enjoy and thanks for reading! -SJ :)** * * * ><p>Briefly. "Isn't it a little early for popcorn?" "It's not for eating. If you want.. but is just part of the status quo in mine. Light refreshments are on tables in the perimeter of the room. I was gonna say. "There you are. I consider staying in my pajamas and robe all day. Ultimately. It's empty.. and I know I am not easy to be with right now. she is just so much fun. Hope you like the update! :)** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Always like seeing your name pop up for a review! Well. I roll up the sleeves and unbutton a few buttons. "America?" I hear Georgia calling my name from the common room.**Strike OOO: Thank you so much-hope this update is soon enough for you. :)** **Thanks again for reading! XOXO SJ** 41. Thank you so much. I appreciate your comments. You'll have to let me know what you think of it!<strong> **coralsea25: Oh. :)** **Kmerebird: How sweet! I PM'd you answers to most of your questions. but ready for guests. Nicoletta.

America?" "If you touch that remote. rather than hear. my eyes fixed on the screen. Frederick is so tall he is imposing." She nudges me with her elbow. And while Maxon's hair has kept its honey color. His nervousness rubs off on me and I grab Georgia's hand as my stomach churns." He bows slightly and returns to his post. On screen. escorted by her husband Frederick. flanked by both Aspen and Carter. Maxon enters the parlor. I turn up the volume even further. and as the other men take their places. Officer. especially around his abdomen. but almost immediately softens. But his suit jacket cannot completely disguise the power of the shoulders contained within it. "Well. "I am sure you will. dear. Nice try. They have been married almost as long as Maxon and I. After a quick knock at the door. "Don't forget who _is teaching you_ those moves." "I wanted to show you how glad I am that you're here. He's still carrying the yellow roses. I will be forced to use some of my training on you. "Yellow roses are my favorite. he roams the room. The king thought you would like to know. Which. I question. and Georgia comments. ma'am. but it is clear that it is not simply a suggestion. I take a second to really look at him: Frederick is almost the direct opposite of Maxon. She calls us with what used to be amusing regularity.Cocking my head. Daphne appears at the door. I have a feeling it will be for throwing." I say. yes. I see. Dark where Maxon is light. I sit on the edge of my seat. spine straight. "You remembered!" she croons. He guides her to a small sofa toward the front of the room. I scrabble for the remote." I laugh and toss a few pieces at her. until last week. the French delegation has arrived." "Thank you. isn't it?" . and while they are both tall. he was completely surprised by and didn't handle particularly well. "What do you know about the Queen of France?" "Besides Kota's confession. being Maxon. not much more than what Maxon has told me over the years. of course." I can't tear my eyes from the screen as Frederick leaves. looking up at him through her lashes. Are you certain you want to do this." he murmurs. Georgia huffs. She professed undying love for him at his nineteenth birthday party. and Daphne takes the yellow roses then Maxon's arm. "Then what's it for?" "Throwing. Maxon greet them both and Daphne turns to Frederick. through clenched teeth." She wraps both arms around his elbow as they sit. Her expressive voice asks him to double-check on the luggage in their room. "Your Majesty. My jaw drops a little at her commanding tone. "Hard to watch is an understatement. pressing up on the volume button. as she responds. Frederick's is peppered with gray. His breadth that used to be completely muscle when he was younger has turned slightly softer. "I will always be here for you." Georgia retorts. Avery enters. I'm sure you will.

Who knows when Commander Leger will think it necessary to send me another condescending message?" I see Georgia nod in agreement. War is a decision that impacts us all. as I greet my other guests." he replies. "Is that all. if you don't mind me saying." I smile at him. Moments later Avery pokes his head into the room. please sit. It is very sad. taking the hand closest to her. they are new to the rotation."How is your wife?" Daphne asks. and quickly leaves the room again.'" He nods. Your Majesty. "Of course. Daphne looks confused. and takes a position behind the couch." "Yes. "As you wish. trying to keep the irritation out of my voice. yes. Though. "Avery. "Of course you understand. and turn his back on the crowd. "Yes. I am horribly distraught. of course. as the Premier of Germany and the delegation from Swendway follows Nicoletta into the room." Maxon says flatly. Do you have a minute before the meeting begins?" I exhale. I see Aspen raise his hand to his ear piece. He stays standing. Commander Leger would like me to let you know that the king is sorry. "Maybe I can comfort you?" She places a hand on his cheek and leans closer to him." "Then please stay. I spring from my seat. Officer Carter and I trained them ourselves for your personal guard. But Aspen explained his . Nicoletta breezes in to the room." "He also says to 'Sit back down and stay away from the door. "My wife? Oh. Instead of taking a seat beside her. and looks more than a little uncomfortable. "Well." Daphne giggles lyrically. sometimes I feel his formality is over-the-top. laughing. and Maxon says. "Please excuse me. Your Highness?" "Officer Avery. He has been my guard for so long. She's enjoying this a little too much. my dear." He stands. America is still in a coma. Officer?" "No. fists clenched taking the first two steps toward the hallway door. he turns to the back of the room and pours a cup of coffee. "Yes. then. Avery?" "Your Majesty. who else is outside there with you?" "Campbell and Pearson. "As you can tell. King Maxon! I was hoping to have a word about the Napoli Treaty." "Ah." Avery swallows." Georgia throws back her head. "Avery!" I call. I enlist the help of all my allies. when something goes awry. "Oh. And they're well trained?" I ask." she replies as Frederick reappears. continue.

and she begins to speak. She also revealed that by moving her to the detention center. That was standing procedure. "You know I would never support such a far-fetched plan! What proof is there besides this socalled confession?" As if on cue. heading to the door. Why would she say such things about me? Perhaps she was a plant by New Asia? You wouldn't believe the lies they told us. and their eyes reflect their frustration while their faces are composed. we see Aspen and Carter moving inconspicuously toward the exit. Pearson. and see the rest of our allies gather." All eyes are on Daphne as the lights come up. so we are free to people-watch while we listen again. They know they can't leave Maxon unprotected. Bariel confessed to it all. Even with the faint light. intent on something in the left hand corner of the screen. and I delivered it to Daphne from Alec. while Frederick heads off-screen. Daphne used the same network to expand her power into Illea with the hope of taking over its government through the fledgling parliament. and she arranged the attack on the training center in Bonita.loyalty reaches back to the Selection when I ran for Marlee during her caning. Bariel shares that she connected with Daphne in France. And on the screen. my friend?" Daphne begins to sputter." She grasps for Maxon's arm. and Queen Amberly was unfortunate collateral damage. The noise-level in the room increases ten-fold." Avery barks. Commander Leger. she would have died. Since he prefers not to break formality. Don't worry. you're with the queen. Li asks. I don't push him. as Li shares about the so-called "Illean" camp that speaks fluent French and was raided overnight. Having him stand behind me right now however is straining my rapidly fraying nerves. In it. "Campbell. I turn my attention back to the screen. Daphne's surprise is difficult to hide. He lists his connections and enemies within Illea. Maxon returns to the front of the room. In fact. Do we have anyone with eyes on him?" . If she had been recovered by the team of Loyalists. "Why is he patting his jacket?" "Officer. even as they whisper into their ear pieces. Georgia narrows her eyes. and even we can see the sweat on her brow as she says. he explains how he and France were continuing the war in New Asia to wreak havoc on the economy and collapse it for the gain of Illea and France. and blamed Alec and Daphne for threatening the lives of her two young boys if she refused to do as she was told. as Daphne protests and everyone begins to talk at once. Alec shot Maxon and was under orders to kill me. She wasn't to be targeted. Georgia and I have both seen and read the confession. I'm headed to intercept him now. Prime Minister Li and Elise enter the room. what?" I begin. he dims the lights and begins the recording. usually. "I considered this woman my friend. seating himself beside Daphne again. Didasko followed orders directly from Sota. The Rebels existed only to keep Clarkson in power and followed his orders. Bariel's face fills the screen." Using the small remote in the palm of his hand. He shares the plans for the murder of his son. but also shouldn't be expressly saved. "King Clarkson kept a journal. the same man who worked with Clarkson to command the Southern Rebels. I thought I would show a video of interest to all of us. and he puts a finger to his lips as he squints and then leaps into motion. Daphne introduced her to her husband Alec. Avery leans forward in his chair. "He's on the move. "Before we begin the discussion of the matter at hand today. and welcomes the group. "Please explain these lies we are telling you. her life had been saved the night of the attack on the palace. and leans forward a little but she says nothing.

" I palm my weapon. I know the men behind me won't make me shoot anyone again." Georgia follows behind me. here's it is. And. :) -SJ * * * ><p>I throw open the door. Hope you enjoy reading! I've appreciated your feedback.I sit wide-eyed. Just yes. :)<strong> **Guest: Glad you enjoyed it! :)** **The Devil Wears Westwood: Well. the new summary seems to describe the story better. "Where does Frederick think he's going?" Georgia wonders.. knocking Pearson off balance as I dart down the hallway. "The journal. I hope you have fun at camp and it's worth the wait! XOXO :)** **sushi: Thanks! :)** **Molly: Thank you for your kind words-I try to stay true to KC's world. just in case we run into Frederick before Avery does. ** **maxamericalove: Thank you so much. "America.<p> "Can't. slow down. :)** **_Thanks again for reading and reviewing!-SJ_** 42. Chapter 42 A/N Only one chapter after this one. I wonder when I will feel safe enough to not carry a gun in the palace. only I say it aloud in complete and utter disbelief. as Campbell and Pearson work to catch up to both of us. Clarkson's journal is back in the palace!" * * * ><p><strong>jthornestudent: Thanks! Hope this installment was satisfying. I always like to remember Maxon and America are truly friends.. . Hope you enjoyed the update! :)** **BlueGirl 1234: Thanks! What do you mean. We both come to the answer at the same time. pregnant? :)** **PEETAMELLARKLOVER123: Here it comes.. but they may not have that choice.. Thanks!** **fantasybookgirl: Thanks so much! How sweet!** **Totalbooknerd13: Yes. watching Avery shift modes. Hope the chapters were worth the wait! Thanks for reading! :)** **Guest: They do seem to be falling into place.

We both know exactly where the French delegates are staying. and resume their watch. and if Aspen's team did their job. justice instead of might. They don't want the obvious anarchy of the Southern Rebels to take over the entire country. I will mourn a son. "Now what?" "Maxon told me that Clarkson carried a book in his inside front suit pocket. "_I hoped against hope that the soft heart of my son would harden as he aged. what happened?" "You usually don't have such a head start!" I just snort in reply and lead the way to the guest wing. They are the farthest guest rooms from mine. but secure my power world-wide. "We don't have time for tears. The French. and I had to be at a very specific angle to see it. because we assigned their suites."_ Further in I find: "_Newsome will not agree to work within the parameters I set. It went everywhere with him. I throw open the door." I slow down just enough to let her catch up. I can't remove his caste because he has too many connections that would push against me. I slide my hand into the front pocket. But what must be done must be done. I regret that he is not strong enough to rule the country I have built for him. Pearson."America. yet. They weren't expecting any resistance."_ And. And I walk resolutely out of the ." I turn to the guards. But we are empty-handed. Lucky that his daughter is representing Clermont in the Selection. But. do not pack light."_ Tears threaten to spill down my cheeks. wordless. Something small enough to fit in a jacket pocket and somewhere in this mess of luggage. when a leather attaché case at the desk catches my attention. It is a worthy sacrifice." We begin again. It is in the seat of the chair. the final entry. Daphne had not been in the room yet. and the luggage actually sits open on the bed. "This is it." I flip to a random page and read aloud: _"Studying the strategy of Gregory Illea has served me well." I draw a purposeful breath. The pages are gilt-edged and the handwriting is Clarkson's. It's not going to help anyone if you go barging into somewhere and actually land yourself in a coma. This should silence the naysayers. Money and fear. squaring my shoulders and raising my chin. "Again. and am rewarded with a small brown moleskin book." I declare. Georgia looks at me. Georgia wraps me in a hug. I hold it up to Georgia. but I hold them back. he insists on looking for the peaceful instead of the powerful. "He was truly an evil man." They nod. I will have to find another way to show my displeasure. they are currently empty. Of course there may be collateral damageâ but such is war. "Campbell. So. And they don't need to know that I'm pulling the strings. We systematically go through each suitcase and garment bag. "You used to be faster than me. Tomorrow. apparently. that's what we are looking for. I'm using the wealth of this nation to create the fear that proves the need for the caste system and the legacy of my reign. That wasn't really hidden at all. Their personal assistants were surely unpacking as they were detained. and stand with my hands on my hips as I orient myself.

I am hardly thinking about what I am doing as I bring my fist up into her face to break her grip." He holds up the journal. everyone is listening to Kota give his confession. "We will come to agreeable terms." Maxon mumbles back. I step back. And. Frederick speaks again. . then we will all work together to eliminate all visages of France." Daphne refuses to answer. is this true? You were planning to kill me?" "We have a daughter together. Maxon is at my side again. "Here's your evidence. "Face your death honorably. Frederick inclines his head in a small bow." "I expected you long ago. But we are here to put you off of your throne. beside my husband. today. we have a responsibility even to your citizenry to avoid war. not even attempting to stop me. When I enter the room. barely moving his lips. Carter stands behind them." "Frederick. Georgia and the guards follow behind. The hands around my throat are surprisingly strong. Frederick!" Daphne's face is tear-streaked and wild. and I assure him that she did not harm me. They both stand and the guards begin to lead them out of the room." Maxon nods. and two additional sets of guards meet the group at the door." Maxon steps back to the front of the room. As Maxon brings the lights back to full strength. My adrenaline rushes as I watch her crumple to the floor. you coward. "I'm sorry. contritely. but she is off her balance." I whisper and place the journal into his hand. "We have had enough death in this palace. As an international alliance of nations. "No one will die here. "Ladies and gentlemen. if we could be excused to our quarters for a time? My wife and I have much to discuss. Now. in this country to last a lifetime. No one but Aspen and Carter gives any notice as I slip in to the back and take my place where I belong. Kota's confession echoes Bariel's. if you will not allow us to depose you. "Daphne. "I am glad I crushed his hand! Daphne. Knowing they will be confined is a relief. Dare I say. we've had enough throughout the world?" There are nods and noises of agreement around the room. But. it is like she notices me for the first time. Frederick's booming voice exclaims. they aren't in a position to do anything about it. when Maxon sees me appear and simply places an arm around my back. We do not wish war. "And that is not an answer!" His exclamation reverberates throughout the small space. but realizing this part of our history is closed is even better. a grin ghosting his mouth. As Daphne passes me. I only ask that you spare my life. and I will provide you with all the evidence you require. so everyone can see. allowing the guards to pull Daphne to her feet and keeping myself from hitting her again. down the stairs. blood streaming from her nose." Daphne hisses. He finishes with the part about being in love with Daphne and the plan to eliminate the King of France. for my child's sake. choosing instead to spit in Maxon's general direction. He pulls me tighter. and step away from power. we are not here today to put you to death. except he explains how he kills Stavros and allows the palace to be attacked on Calix and Abrielle's birthday.room. "Please allow me to go with these guards to my guest room. She cries out from the back of her throat and lunges. The guards and Frederick underestimate her desperation to get to me. She just watched fifteen years of work come down around her shoulders. Two young guards flank Frederick and Daphne. and to the receiving parlor. We humbly ask you to spare your people. a hand on Frederick's shoulder." he says.

"I need a reason to look at my beautiful wife?" "I guess I can't argue with that logic. Everyone agreed that Princess Nicoletta should help lead . but eventually succumbed while Maxon read his father's journal. Chapter 43 **A/N** **Thank you all so much for reading this story. maybe not quite. I am so glad you like it! :) agb1700: Thanks so much! Hope you like this chapter.. It means a lot! -SJ 43. *sniff* Thanks for reading and reviewing. Happy reading! -SJ :)** * * * ><p>I wake because someone is watching me.. Queen America. How dedicated you are! Welcome back!" * * * ><p>BlueGirl 1234: Thanks! Here's your update. "Really. an arm slung low across my waist. but I am going back to sleep.Nicoletta's voice carries across the room.. thanks. Let me know what you think! :)<p> PEETAMELLARKLOVER123: Thanks for reviewing! :) AcademicGirl: Aww. of course. Their daughter will be allowed to return to French society at eighteen.. been a late one. Maxon. full of meetings and paperwork. Glad you're enjoying it! :) nappyninja: Hope this chapter doesn't disappoint! Thank you for reading. too! :) The Devil Wears Westwood: So." I close my eyes. I fought sleep. :) I can't believe this book is almost finished. is this what you were expecting? :) coralsea25: Thanks! :) Totalbooknerd13: Well. Thanks for reading! :) Strike OOO: Thanks-I think they have to laugh or they can't get through the day. Feel free. I appreciate your support! I left a longer note at the end. is this going to happen every morning now?"<p> Maxon is propped on his elbow. Last night had. The former royal family of France will be under forced seclusion on a French island not far from the coast of Italy in the Tyrrhenian Sea. "Ah. It will be a beautiful house arrest. I am so happy to see that a coma couldn't keep you away from our meeting. Today promises to be just as busy. :) Kmerebird: Thanks for reviewing-you are so sweet.

He can't contain his grin.France in an advisory role. She will report directly to the Alliance. "I'm sorry I fell asleep. "I can't remember." he kisses my forehead and then each eyelid and the tip of my nose. the French cabinet is being extremely cooperative. August and Georgia will join our staff permanently. and I daresay we will never take our safety and security as a matter-of-course again. "I'll take that as a yes. He is truly numb. Tomorrow. "Are you hungry?" "No. when necessary. All those trips to Franceâ ¦" He trails off and I know he's gone back in time for a bit in his mind. I'll be here. I do not relish telling mother about Kota. and I look at him questioningly. We will continue to build our country's capacity to sustain a parliament. interrogating and detaining the rest of Clarkson's list. I look at his face. I think. his plot to kill me? He brought me close several times with his own hand and rather enjoyed it. When he's ready. and despite knowing how he spent several hours late last evening. I see the book near his pillow and gesture to it. We've been running from meeting to . with Elise to assist. Love. as will Alec and Bariel. "Good morning. "Did Mary bring the tray?" Maxon couldn't hide the surprise in his voice. But. Kota will be sentenced to life in prison. He makes his way back to me." I suck in air at his frank tone and observe his face. and he softly kisses me." For some reason that answer causes him to laugh outright. Nothing he did or planned surprises me anymore. not because I was miserable at it. Luckily. we feel there has been enough death." I hate that I left him alone. "Why is that so funny?" "Do you really not know?" He pulls me to him." There are worse ways to wake up. Aspen always did an impeccable job of eliminating threats before they reached us. but we may not always be so lucky. "And. I'm going to have some juice. His resolutely shakes his head. I change the subject." "I did no such thing. "Know what?" "America." My blue eyes meet his brown ones. you're awake now?" Maxon chuckles as I blush. when's the last time you felt like having a real breakfast with me?" "What does that have to do with anything?" I stop and look at him. Though they committed high treason. and his eyes are dancing as he looks at me. I know that my father lost his faith in me because I was too good at my job. "I can't believe _I'm_ the one telling _you_. "I'm surprisingly nonplussed. the last few years before his death make more sense. and will enlist Maxon to soften the blow. "I thought we agreed to let me sleep. the furrows that seemed to take up permanent residence across his forehead are finally smooth. and the joy he cannot contain. and relishes the idea that it will be temporary. but if you're going to wake me. Nicoletta is the best candidate simply because she abhors the thought of actually ruling. as the cabinet decides its next steps. the children will return from Italy with the rest of the family and staff. My eyebrows rise in surprise as Maxon's fingertip trace my jawline. August and Aspen are making short work of investigating and.

You challenge me and support me. "You think I'm?" He nods.meeting and place to place. _How this is our own kind of happily ever after. How one little action or question can put everything back in its place or send everything around us tumbling down. How our pride can rip our love away. but help me find my own strength. Thanks so much! :) Strike OOO: I didn't really like Daphne either-obviously." He leans over and kisses me. It was hard to post! But. :) Maxon's dearest: I know-she is just one of my favs! :) The Devil Wears Westwood: I know. I let my thoughts drift through our time together. I've suspected for the last three weeks. then folds me back against his chest.. resting his hand protectively on my stomach.." I should have known. I've really appreciated your reviews and support-it was amazing! (Or should I say.. Doc. Sometimes a little misguided. But. onward and upward. after the last few weeks we've had. did care for her.) XOXO BlueGirl 1234: I am very flattered. sometimes downright stupid. And. How intriguing that you would reject everything I stood for. I've been so tired with all the stress and worry. Frederick. sometimes magnificent. We've learned so much since that walk down the aisle. And he definitely loves their daughter." Suddenly. initially in it for the power. One day in the next year. "Maxon. you're happy?" "America. too. Read below about the sequel possibility. AMAZINGER? . SelectionLoverForever: Thank you so much-let me know if you'd like a sequel. "Doc. "Better than that. achingly sweet.. when my world is crashing around my ears you still center me. I know you are. I'm grinning. You're my catalyst. But always for you. I can't believe I've been busy enough to miss something this important. he is just going to have a breakdown. it's probably just as well. "Yes. and it will be well-deserved! :) agb1700: You are so sweet. And. our life is so much more than just happy. How we continually choose each other." He touches a hand to my abdomen and I meet his gaze. I'm already looking forward to seeing him as he meets his new son or daughter. _ * * * ><p>PEETAMELLARKLOVER123: Thank you so much! :)<p> AcademicGirl: I know. How this solace is all we need to overcome any fear and uncertainty. right? Have you ever watched Book Hangover by Epic Reads? The whole reason we all write these anyway. :) . love. And. she became weirdly obsessed with Maxon to the point of ruthlessness. But. How loneliness can become a habit." As we take comfort in each other's arms. after all. Confirmed yesterday morning. Everything I do is for you. I'll never forget that very first night in the garden.

but I can't help but become nostalgic today. The working title for now is <em>**ASSURANCE**_. he is excited to return and train side-by-side with his father and mother. and following. delaying his Selection with the blessing of his parents. Thanks for reading! :) jthornestudent: Thanks! You have been such a faithful reader. too. and was going to be complete in and of itself. I have been asked to consider a sequel.. And here you are about to graduate to a new life as an adult! Forgive me for the cliché. _**Calix has broken with royal tradition and attended university. Totalbooknerd13: And hard. either! babefangirl: *fistbump* I know. reviewing. talking.. This work was my first fanfic. requesting to attend University. Thanks again for reading_ **AFTER**!_ It has been great whether you want a sequel or not! _ _â SJ :)_ 44. We've decided to go ahead and put it out for the world on Wattpadâ ¦ So. your father and I were just bringing you into the world. and now a recent graduate. It's hard for me to believe that twenty-two years ago. If you'd like. Everyone! I have decided to include the first part of ASSURANCE here. favoriting. comment on whether the story should continue. you were walking. I can't believe it's over. In what seemed like blinks of our eyes. I hope you enjoy it. I was no older than you are now. as the country prepares for its first provincial elections ****_and_**** its first Selection in 27 years. In a quick summary.<em> _You'll have to excuse me. Chapter 44 **Hi. Kmerebird: Thanks so much for your kind words. :) As always. :) L52: *holds pages out like a peace offering* Sequel? Thanks for reading! :) * * * ><p><em>Thank you all for your support through reading. Good suggestion. but probably the beginning of August. conspiring against your poor sister with your brothers following every move. The complete first chapter will be available sometime within the next two weeks. I am really flattered. now poised to graduate . Let me know if you'd read if I continue the story. that may be incorporated into the sequel. As the crown prince. Each and everyone of your comments was anticipated and highly appreciated. and my SO has been wanting me to work on an original work with him. but it all happened so quickly.. And. thanks for reading! -SJ :)** * * * ><p><em>Dearest Calix Shalom.Prnamber3909: I so love her and her issues. :) Guest: See below.. What obstacles could keep him from fulfilling his destiny as he always planned?** _I like to update every day. I think that I may have an angle that makes sense and will be a bit different. I am thinking _**ASSURANCE **_would begin in August.

It's as if she is made to fit there. and is called THAT WHICH KNOWS. Closing my eyes. :) jthornestudent: Wow! Well. just for you. The choices you have made so far have not been easy. The original story will be on Wattpad soon. close the birthday card._ _Mama_ I run my fingers over Mom's looping script. I would have never thought to write a sequel without your support. But the choices you made have been right ones. I am so proud of the man that you will be. :) sushi: You are so sweet-thanks! :) fantasybookgirl: Wow-thanks. here you go! :) . I'll pm you a link when it comes out. The dedication to your people is honorable. my son. The main one on repeat: _My love has never felt like it has been mine to give away. made out of a deep love for Illea and respect for yourself and our family. I ease into bed. then place it gently on the bedside table.. _ _The crown is a heavy weight._ _All my love... :) Molly: LOL-thanks! :) waterpolo3: Made me giggle-thanks. :) luv2read4reading: Thanks! :) agb1700: I am updating my profile. and your belief in my ability to write a good story. she might not be so proud. * * * ><p>Responses to your comments on AFTER: First of all.with honors. and I appreciate that so much. but August is a goal I know I can reach. _ _I am so proud of the man that you have become.. Thanks so much! XOXO -SJ<p> coralsea25: Thanks! :) Strike OOO: Thanks for your suggestions! And your reviews were always so positive. and every step you have taken has prepared you to carry it. Let me know what you think! :) Bookphanatic: Thanks! Hopefully. . so many of you are repeat reviewers. What will my parents say when I tell them there will be no Selection?_ If Mom could see me right now. this chapter section does Calix justice. Thanks for all the support-it is so motivating! You're still AMAZINGER. Hope you like the chapter portion! :) SelectionLoverForever: Thanks so much-glad you enjoyed it! :) The Devil Wears Westwood: I will try to get parts of the story out sooner. I try to push away the thoughts that flood my head.) kaylie2000: Thanks! Here's the first bit. pulling the slumbering dark-haired woman back into the crook of my arm.

. How sweet! :) BlueGirl 1234: Great! Hope you like the first bit! :) Happy reading! -SJ 45. there. It may take a few hours to hit. Chapter 45 Just a quick note. Thanks again for all your support! -SJ End file. ASSURANCE is published. Thanks for all your fun reviews! Hope you like the first section of chapter 1. :) Please read and enjoy.Totalbooknerd13: Thanks! :) Prnamber3909: *pats back* There. :) Guest: Thanks so much.