Chapter 4 He is completely smitten with you!
My stomach sank.
This could not be good.
The crowd fell silent, as if everyone were holding their breath.
Evan, still near the stage, stepped forward.
“Susan,” he said. His voice echoed in the now eerily quiet hall. “What are you doing?”
Susan’s eyes, wide with rage, were fixed on me.
“My dear friend Yena,” she continued, her volume increasing with every word, “has a dirty little secret. She told me she had a one-night stand with a rogue wolf just last week. She’s no longer a virgin.”
All the air left my lungs.
I felt like I’d been s**ker-punched. Over and over again, by a swinging pendulum I couldn’t get out from under.
Every moment, the reality of this situation felt more and more unbearable. I began to shake. My legs felt as though they were about to go limp.
Everyone was looking at me.
Then I was hit with a wave of that specific kind of anxiety I’ve felt often in public — the shame about my weight, my appearance — and had the strange thought that if I’d have known this would happen tonight, I would have started a diet earlier in the week.
Nolan threaded my arm through his.
I felt like I would faint. I leaned on him without meaning to, and worried my weight would make him stumble sideways.
But his only reaction was to wrap a strong arm around my shoulders, steadying me.
Was he really not worried about my weight at all?
Why had he chosen me?
The chatter in the crowd was growing into an uproar.
I never wanted this. I never asked for it.
I didn’t even want to come to the ball in the first place.
I would have been sprinting for the door in that moment if I’d been able to. But Nolan had me in a vice grip, as if he knew I might try to escape.
The glares from the crowd, the angry faces, the voices starting to call out in protest — it was overwhelming. My ears started ringing.
And then I heard Lily’s whisper.
Honey, he’s completely smitten with you!
My heart was beating out of my chest.
Not possible, I thought.
He’s a prince. A Lycan. He’ll be king someday.
And I don’t belong with him. I’m just a fat girl and he’s beyond out of my league.
You’re more than that, Lily said. You’re charming and beautiful, and meant for greatness. This prince shows wisdom and vision picking you out of the crowd.
I couldn’t believe it.
Yes, Lily insisted, it’s true. You’re much more beautiful than Susan, who just revealed what a graceless b*tch she really is. And trust me — the prince loves you.
I know it to be true.
I couldn’t keep arguing with the voice in my head. The world around me was unraveling.
The prince kept hold of me and held his head up high.
Susan had turned to the crowd and was yelling something I couldn’t make out amidst the commotion below.
Evan’s voice rose above the others. He wanted to defend my honor.
“Susan,” he cried out again, “I won’t allow you to slander my sister. She would never do such a thing!”
Evan was tall and handsome, and tonight had dressed in a navy jacket that brought out the blue in his eyes. He’d coiffed his thick brown hair neatly, but as he stood there before the stage pleading my case, he ran an anxious hand through it and turned it into a big mess.
“And did you forget,” he continued, “that she gave you the very clothes on your back? She was up all night making that d*mn dress for you. What are you doing?”
My heart was breaking for Evan. He was trying to protect his little sister.
But he couldn’t protect me from this.
It’s a serious crime in our world, to claim falsely to be a virgin when entering an election for marriage to a royal.
I didn’t want to see the look on Evan’s face when he found out that what Susan had said was actually true. When he found out what I’d done.
Hot tears began to roll down my cheeks.
Never before had I actually cried in the face of a bully. But I’d never before been betrayed like this. Usually the bully was someone like Caryn.
Not someone I trusted. Someone I thought was my friend.
The prince’s voice boomed with impossible volume, sending a hush over the crowd.
Susan’s anger visibly deflated. She took one nervous step backward, down the center stage stairs.
“I would have preferred,” Nolan continued, “to keep this information private, between myself and my betrothed. But since this… person…”
He glared at Susan, who stared up at him in awe and took another hesitant step backwards down the stairs.
“…is attempting to assassinate her character, I must share, in defense of my new bride, something that will help you all understand why I have chosen her.”
He paused. The crowd was still and silent.
“It was I who spent that night with Yena,” he said, startling the crowd into a collective gasp. “She was a virgin before we met. And the fault is mine that I took her innocence before I promised her marriage.”
Nolan looked me in the eye. I didn’t see any warmth or affection there.
No love, like Lily claimed he felt for me.
His green eyes were flecked with gold and amber that glimmered in the candlelight.
I felt suddenly vulnerable every time I met this man’s gaze, like he was reading my thoughts, or could sense what I was feeling.
But looking back into his eyes, I saw only power and authority.
And some sort of darkness that scared me just a little.
And turned me on a lot.
“I didn’t come here tonight,” he said, turning back to the crowd, “to choose a concubine. I came here for one reason only: to find the girl who saved my life, and make her my queen.”
He took hold of my hand once again.
“I was attacked last week by rogue wolves who baited me into the woods. I was surrounded and badly outnumbered. We fought for hours before I managed to escape, but I was fatally wounded.”
Every person in the audience was slack-jawed, hanging onto his every word.
“I had been poisoned. My ribs were broken and my arm was nearly severed. I was alone on the mountain, but Yena saved me.”
I felt Evan’s eyes on me, but couldn’t bring myself to look at him.
“She found me,” Nolan continued, “took me to safety, treated my injuries, and somehow brought me back to life.”
I knew it.
I knew it was him.
“Without her, I would be dead. My family would be left without an heir to the throne, never even knowing what happened to me. My corpse would have been buried in the mountainside, or picked apart and eaten by whichever scavenging creature first smelled my rotting flesh.”
The crowd was stunned.
And so was I.
The pieces were all finally clicking together in my mind.
I had actually had a shameless one-night stand with a prince.
And not just any prince.
The heir to the Lycan throne.