Chapter 7 - The Interview

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I stood outside the doors to an unfamiliar room. One of the gray suited royal guards hovered like a menacing shadow behind me. It was time for my interview, and I was not prepared.

Not that I had much of an opportunity to rehearse my answers. None of the other girls before me had either, which I suppose should have comforted me. But it was difficult to feel anything but dread.

The confrontation with Sabine had shaken me. Why did she insist on making me miserable? I understood that she wanted to win, but why single me out? I didn't choose to enter, and I certainly didn't choose to stay.

Then there was the matter of the king and our fateful meeting on the cliff side. There was no doubt that once I was alone with him, he would ask me why I tried to jump. I had no idea how to answer him. If I told the truth — that my suicide attempt was his fault — things would no doubt end badly for me. But how badly? Would he merely eject me from the competition? Or worse? The thought made me queasy.

The doors burst open, making me jump. The girl in the orange dress from earlier walked through, giving me a strange glance. I couldn't blame her. I must have looked like a frightened animal caught in a trap.

The guardsman bid me to go inside and I reluctantly obeyed. The doors slammed shut behind me and I flinched.

I found myself standing in an elegant lounge. Two antique white sofas stood facing each other on an ornate rug, a polished mahogany coffee table between them.

"Have a seat, Miss Crawford," came a silky, smooth voice that sent chills down my spine.

I turned to see the King at a well-stocked bar, pouring himself a glass of wine from an ancient looking bottle. At least, I hoped it was wine.

I reluctantly obeyed, gathering my skirts and sitting down on one of the sofas. I folded my hands over my lap and straightened my back in an attempt to look casual and confident but I doubt I was succeeding. The king followed me. He had more confidence in his stride than I could ever muster. He sat down across from me and took a sip of the wine.

A camera man appeared behind him and trained his lens on me. I almost jumped. I had forgotten the fact that we would be recorded.

"Don't mind Mr. Wells," the king chuckled, as if reading my thoughts. "Pretend he isn't even here."

I averted my gaze, focusing on my hands instead. I could feel the king watching me, but I wouldn't meet his gaze. I couldn't.

"So," he began. I steeled myself for the worst. "Are you enjoying yourself here?"

I looked up. He wasn't asking about my suicide attempt?

"Uh, the hotel is lovely, thank you," I stammered.

He nodded. His brows tensed as he searched for his next question. I recoiled preemptively.

"What's your favorite part of the competition so far?" he asked.

I frowned. Really? More banal small talk?

"I can't decide," I lied, hoping to buy myself some time to think of an answer because I didn't have one. I've hated every moment in the competition to date, starting from that day Melanie Caldwell showed up at my house with the news. But I doubt he'd find that answer acceptable.

"The food," I laughed. It wasn't a lie, and I probably sounded like an idiot, but it was true. For all his faults at least he fed us well.

"It's so much fancier than what I have at home," I elaborated, hoping he bought it.

He gave me a polite smile that did't reach his eyes. "Do you miss home, Miss Crawford?"

"Of course," I replied. Why the sudden change of subject?

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