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Chapter 4

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My face flushed at Dellacov's words and I had to swallow down the bile in my throat. I looked away from him and focused on pushing my ability down, forcing it away from my skin. The room was a million degrees—I was a million degrees.

Although my mother had never spoken of the Culling, I had known what it meant. I'd been entirely too aware of what would happen to me if my ability were discovered. And yet, I was surprised by the casual way it was discussed. As if this were the weather, this morning's catch, or the state of the economy, and not my life.

I forced out a quick, "Thank you for telling me."

He nodded and stood up. "Don't mention it."

The click of heels announced the presence of someone new. A willowy girl rounded the back corner of the platform. At a glance, she looked like the queen. They shared the same thin frame, the same sharp facial features, and stiff posture, but this girl was younger and carried weight in different places. Like Uri, she was curvy, something her grey dress accentuated.

She was halfway through adjusting the belt at her waist when she caught sight of Dellacov. He stood from the chair and hurried down the steps, walking to meet the girl. As he reached her, he bowed, the motion quick and practiced. She waved him off and smiled warmly. This action, more than the thick dark curls or perfect posture, linked her to Uri.

She had to be a sister or cousin.

Her voice was low, the tone pointed as she asked, "Are we on schedule?"

She glanced over his shoulder to me and I stiffened. I wanted to move, to tug at my dress, to run my hand over the mess of my hair, but I forced myself to stay still. The girl's smile grew, it made her cheeks turn rosy and her blue eyes burn bright. "You must be Monroe." She bypassed Dellacov and walked to the edge of the stage. "It's wonderful to finally meet you."

I didn't know what to do.

Meeting Uri had been so abrupt and strange that I didn't really know what was supposed to happen when you met royalty. Like Dellacov had said, Uri seemed to be the exception to all the rules.

I looked at him, waiting for him to tell me what to do. When Dellacov said nothing, I stood and did what I assumed you were supposed to do when in the presence of royalty—I curtsied, badly.

To her credit, the girl tried to hide her amused smile. "Oh no, don't do that. You should never curtsy to me, I'm only a princess. We're more or less equals. The only person you should bow to is the queen and that would only be on the fanciest of occasions."

Dellacov walked to stand next to her. "We're on schedule, but no one else has arrived yet."

Her smile faltered and she shot a look in Dellacov's direction, a question in her eyes. "Did you and Uri get separated on the trip back?"

"No, she was with me the whole time. She was on the train with us and got off shortly before we did."

She blinked at him. "Then where is she now?"

He shrugged.

"You left her alone, by herself?"

He gestured to me. "I was a little busy."

"If you give her an inch, she'll take a mile." The girl shook her head, but humor danced in her eyes as she said, "Now that Uri's free, we might never see her again." She climbed the steps of the dais. "I'm Britta, by the way." She lowered herself in the chair next to me and crossed her legs at the ankles. "You'll be meeting my younger sister Uriel, and my parents, the queen and king. And, of course, Cohen will be here as well."

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