Chapter 14 - Two Of Hearts

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The next morning I awoke to find small white envelope slipped under the door. Skyler was still in bed, stirring restlessly. I picked it up and turned it over, finding the letters A.C. written on the front. Inside was a white card. My hands shook as I opened it.

Avery,

I apologize for the harshness of my words last night, but not for my disappointment. I know you're better than what you showed me yesterday and I want to see it. That is why you are staying in the competition, not because I wish to spite you.

- Nathaniel

P.S. I trust you to be discreet about our interactions, for your sake as well as mine.

I sighed heavily and pocketed the note. The king was the most frustrating man I have ever met. Still, I had to admit I was a little touched by the gesture. I didn't expect him to apologize for his anger. It was comforting to know I wasn't on his bad side.

Though his insistence on keeping me in the competition remained a problem. The king was clearly a man who enjoyed the chase and I was giving him a damn good run for it. I'd have to adjust my strategy. Or have one to begin with, really. I'd need to know details about the next challenge before I could formulate a plan.

Across the room Skyler groaned, no doubt awake now. I took the note out of my pocket, glancing over the words one more time. Then I tore the paper into tiny pieces and discarded them in the wastebasket by my desk.

Lydia and Shelby sat together at breakfast again. This time, I joined them. Lydia smiled when she saw me coming over.

"Hey Avery. You've been a stranger the last few days," she said.

It occurred to me that I'd have to think of a convincing story to tell Lydia about what happened. The king asked me to be discreet, and while I had no intention of blabbing, I understood why. He didn't want to come off like he was playing favorites, and I shouldn't do anything to make the girls jealous of me. Even though I trusted Lydia, it was best to keep her in the dark.

"I've just been busy with my project. It needed a lot of work before presentations," I replied.

She frowned. "Presentations were two days ago."

"I just needed some time alone," I shrugged casually, hoping she bought it. "I'm just worried about eliminations, that's all."

Lydia gave me a suspicious glance. "So you suddenly want to be here?"

Oh right. I told her I didn't care about the competition when we first met. It would be strange for me to suddenly fret about my place in it.

"I'm worried for your sake," I corrected hastily, patting her on the shoulder. "I know how much you want this." It wasn't a complete lie. Lydia was my only friend here. Her presence made the competition bearable. It was for this reason that I hated lying to her.

"Aw, thank you," she said sweetly. "I'd be really sad to see you go."

I smiled at Lydia. Shelby was looking at me coldly out of the corner of her eye. I ignored her, hoping she wouldn't be a problem for very long. Though if she was leaving, I'd gladly trade places with her.

Once breakfast was over and the tables were cleared away, Melanie Caldwell strode into the room. It was time for eliminations again. This time, she didn't have her tablet. In her hands she held a deck of cards, and was shuffling it absently.

The room quieted as she took her place on the dais, right across from the king's velvet seat. She scanned the room, her face not betraying a single emotion.

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