Chapter 15 - The Conversation

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The luxury suites were aptly named. Mine was a giant, ornately decorated room with a fireplace, a settee and matching chaise lounge, and an enormous TV. Sadly, the TV had been disconnected as per the no outside entertainment rule. Huge white windows lined the walls, decorated by damask curtain panels. A door opened out to a balcony, with a view of the back garden and the sea. The bathroom was spacious and housed a large corner tub with pulsing jets.

I took a bath in before going to bed and though the mini hot tub sensation was heavenly, my thoughts distracted me all evening. The familiar despondent feelings from the beginning of the competition came back, preventing me from enjoying myself. How could I, when I was here against my will? Not to mention my utterly confusing, conflicting feelings for the man who put me in this position.

He was intriguing, yet infuriating. Smart, yet senseless. He ruined my life and then saved it. He saw something in me I couldn't fathom. He was a puzzle of contradictions, one that I was just beginning to unravel. His captivating blue-green eyes lingered in my thoughts as I sunk into the soft red and gold sheets of my new giant four poster bed and waited for sleep to take me.

The dining hall felt uncomfortably empty at breakfast. I had gotten used to sharing it with twenty four other girls over the course of the week. Now there were only ten of us, and the absence of the eliminated fifteen filled me with remorse. They actually wanted to be here. They deserved to be here. Yet the king had kept me instead.

Once breakfast ended and the speculations about the upcoming challenge died down, Melanie popped in to inform us that the Red team had a surprise waiting in our rooms. The Black team would get theirs tomorrow. Curious to find out what she meant, the five of us eagerly rushed back to our rooms.

One of the king's guards stood waiting inside my suite. He had graying hair and the face of an angry Rottweiler. He carried a laptop and I instantly perked up at the sight of it.

"Miss Crawford," he grumbled, his voice deep and intimidating.

"Yes?" I replied nervously.

"His Majesty has arranged a video conference for the contestants and their families. I am here to administer yours," he said.

"Okay," I said, my voice coming out much squeakier than I intended.

The guard walked over to the chaise lounge and set the laptop on the dark oak coffee table in front of it. I followed him and sat on the settee, waiting as he opened the laptop and set the program up. After a minute, he turned the laptop over to me and I was looking at my parents' faces.

They sat in the living room, beaming at me and I couldn't help but smile back. Regardless of how things were between us when I left, I missed them.

"How are you doing honey?" Dad asked. The light bounced against the lenses of his glasses, obscuring his eyes from view. I was always glad I inherited my mom's good eyesight.

I shrugged and gave them a smile. "I'm good. The palace is nice. I've made it pretty far."

"I know, we're so proud of you!" Mom exclaimed. "Have you made any friends? Are any of the girls giving you trouble?"

I smiled and rolled my eyes. "Yes, but don't worry about me. I have it under control!" I tried not to laugh at the irony of that statement, but I didn't want my parents to fret.

Mom tsked. "How could anyone not like you?"

"It's a competition. Some of these girls are in it to win it," I shrugged.

"Why are you surprised Val? You should know how women get," Dad said. Mom shot him a glare and I laughed.

"So what's he like? The king, I mean," Mom asked.

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