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"Bayard won't be back for at least two hours," Emilie said, glancing at her watch. "We will probably need to tweak his talking points based on his discussions with the Jervan president. Wesson, take the lead on that."
He nodded and scribbled in his book.
"Aruna," Emilie said, nodding at a younger girl I'd seen in a few meetings. She paled at being called on, but held her pen ready. "Find Cannon and tail him. Make sure he stays on message and doesn't dally in anything…embarrassing." She paused, a disgusted look crossing her face. "And if he does, make sure nobody knows. Talk to Wesson for crowns if you need it."
She nodded with a small smile. She might take that mission a little too seriously.
"And 'neechai," Emilie said, grabbing my attention. "You and I will spend the afternoon working on your speech. I trust that you've resolved whatever…issues you were having."
I dipped my head, even as dread coiled in my stomach. Emilie moved on to someone else, so I pulled the speech out from the calf-pocket of my jumpsuit. I'd practiced it once or twice while sitting in the pool, reading quietly to myself and envisioning what it would be like to speak in front of the Madion nation leadership.
But even in my head, I still stumbled through the parts about Mael. Stumbling wouldn't cut it for Emilie, so I prayed for a miracle.
"What's going on out there?" Emilie said, squinting to her left. I followed her gaze and saw a crowd of people standing at the hotel's entrance, craning over each other to get a look at whatever was outside.
I stood with the rest of the Ravens and walked into the lobby. The crowd grew more frenzied and then the front doors of the hotel opened.
The crowd pushed in then parted, and in strolled the last person I'd ever expected to see again.
He was beautiful, a wide smile on his face and his gait confident. His brown hair was clipped shorter and he no longer wore the beard I'd grown accustomed to seeing on our island. He paused in the middle of the lobby to talk to two journalists who'd approached him, then threw his head back and laughed.
Then his eyes locked with mine.
It was as if everything and everyone disappeared. The corners of his mouth turned up and I suddenly forgot how to breathe. Electricity crackled in the hundred steps that lay between us, and I could've sworn I knew exactly what he was thinking. If I'd had any doubt about his reason for arriving in this city, in this hotel, on this day, it vanished in that moment.
As desperately as I wanted to run to him, for some reason, my legs wouldn't move. Something was keeping me from going to him, but for the life of me I couldn't remember what it was…
"What in the world is the princeling doing here?" Cannon's voice pierced my bubble, and I wrenched my eyes away from Galian's. Where I was, who I was with, and my purpose rushed back to me like waking from the best dream into a nightmare.
I found my voice. "I have no idea."
"I doubt he's meddling in the summit. He'd be stupid to disobey his father." Cannon shrugged mightily. "Then again, the princeling's never been too smart."
"Right, he's an idiot," I said.
Stupid, stupid princeling. How could he be so irresponsible as to come to Jervan? Especially after his father had forbidden anyone from Kylae to attend, or so Emilie had told us in a meeting earlier that week. And he just walked through the front door, announcing to the entire world that he was there.
I realized I was still watching him when Cannon's voice again interrupted my thoughts. "Come now, kallistrate, don't be star struck. He's just a prince."
I nodded hastily and turned away from him so I wouldn't be tempted to stare. "Just a prince, right."
And my amichai.
I drank in the sight of her: the way her velvet lips parted, how her big brown eyes widened slightly. Her hair pulled back into a bun, her Raven uniform immaculate. The shape of her body. How her dark skin had grown pale.
"If you're trying to pretend you don't know her, perhaps you shouldn't stare," Martin snickered beside me. "I'll stare at her for you. She's a lot cuter than I remembered."
"Right," I said, turning away. "So do you think it worked?"
I had just finished talking to a reporter, feigning ignorance about any sort of summit or why the leaders from three of the four Madion nations were in this city. I'd made sure to talk about my plans to drink heavily and meet some hot Jervanian girls, just to play the part.
I attempted to keep the giddy smile off of my face as I checked into the hotel. When I snuck another glance at her, she'd turned away from me, but the rest of the Ravens kept staring at me, pointing and discussing amongst themselves. I wondered what they were saying.
"I apologize, Your Highness," the clerk said with all the sincerity of a wet mop. "All of our suites have been reserved by delegations to the summit. The only rooms I have are the basic rooms."
"I doubt I'll be sleeping in my own room anyway," I said with an overly confident grin.
The clerk, predictably, rolled his eyes in disgust.
I caught Martin's eye, and he snorted.
"Your keys, Your Highness," he said, sliding over two access cards. "Please be advised that there is a two hundred crown cleaning fee for any…destruction."
I winked at him then motioned for Martin to grab our bags. I would've carried my own, but it would've been contrary to the part I was playing.
"You sure faked that well," Martin said, tossing my bag to me once we were safely in the elevator.
"I wish I could say I've never been that much of an asshole before," I said with a small grimace.