A Game of Hearts

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Chapter 9- Not with my heart

"Do what you think is right, not what people think is right. In the end, it's you who goes through it, not them."

-Unknown

As much as I hated cutting people and having the awkward conversation that came with it, I knew it needed to be done.

I found him in one of the small libraries in the upper section of the palace. One of the staff had seen him wandering around a couple of hours before and was all too happy to let me know his location. It seemed the staff had their favorites of the remaining four participants. She stated it was a heated debate amongst the evening staff on whom I'd end up with. They went so far as to name their favorite relationship. A mixture of my name with their favorite participant. There was Calope, Tonelope, Rowope, and lastly, Thomnelope.

Cane was hunched over a pile of books. I picked one up and startled him out of his thoughts.

"Penelope," he smiled.

I peeked in the book I held in my hands, Alternate uses of wind power and prospective designs.

I raised my brow. "A bit of light reading?" I asked him.

His lips quirked up in amusement. "You could say that. I'm trying to find a way to change the way we generate electricity. My father controls the biggest creite mine in all three territories. He plans the buy out his competitors to monopolize the market. I'm trying to find a way to make creite pointless. No man should solely own the only resource that can generate electricity in the known world."

"Wow," I replied. It was all I could think of to say. I hardly knew Cane but his want to contribute to society was inspiring.

"So, ready for that date?" he asked with a grin on his face.

I looked away.

His grin fell from his face, no doubt in reaction to the bad news look had plastered to mine.

"What is it?" he asked. "Do we need to reschedule?"

I struggled not to shuffle my feet or to pull at my clothes.

"Actually, I've decided to shorten the remaining participants further and"

"And I didn't make the cut?" he continued for me.

His dark eyes never left my face.

I nodded. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. If you know what you want and it isn't me then how can I blame you for that?"

"So, you're not upset?"

"Well, I wouldn't go that far," he said as he piled the books on the table. "But I understand."

I nodded, unsure of how to respond.

"Can I have the rest of the day and leave tomorrow?"

"That's fine. Take your time," I said, attempting to smile.

I turned to walk away and left him with his books.

"They're lucky, you know?"

I turned around. "Who?"

"Tobias, Thomas, and Rowan."

"Why? Because I'm Queen?" I asked raising a brow.

"No, because they've been given a chance. I'm not saying we could have worked. We hardly know each other, but it would have been nice to find out." His eyebrows smoothed out and he smiled. "Long may you reign."

He turned his back and continued to sort through his books. I walked away feeling lighter knowing there was one less person I was giving false hope to.

I went to the next person I would be saying goodbye to. There was no point in putting it off. One after the other was the way to do it before I lost my nerve. I walked towards the one room I knew he would possibly be in.

The White Guard sentries watched me through the corners of their eyes as I walked through the marbled hallways. Having them in the palace put me on edge but Opal and Viktorya were right. We did not want a repeat of that night. Losing George and the attack on the palace had taken a heavy toll on us all.

A squeak of a shoe on marble alerted me to the presence behind me. The quick footsteps told me the distance. They were close. Where was the White Guard when I needed them and why was this person following me? I thought I had caught a shadow earlier in the day but I'd dismissed it for paranoia.

I rushed around the nearest corner and readied myself. As soon as the person's arm crossed the edge, I grabbed hold and yanked as hard as I could manage. I flipped his body and thrust my knee into his back while I twisted his arm.

"Why are you following me?" I hissed before fully noticing who I had pinned against the floor.

"I just wanted to talk," he grunted.

I gasped. "Rowan?" I asked, quickly letting go of him.

"I gotta say you've improved in your combat skills," he grinned as he massaged the joint in his shoulder.

"Trixie forced me to keep up with my training," I grimaced.

"That's good," he muttered.

I looked down both passageways before looking back at Rowan. He smiled hesitantly. I took a deep breath and pushed past the awkward silence.

"Would you like to go for a walk?" I decided to ask.

Rowan's brows raised an inch. "Sure."

I motioned for him to follow. We walked outside, the uncomfortable silence between us only seemed to grow. The crunch of the gravel beneath our feet was the only sound we made. The sun burned my skin but I"d endure it, not wanting to be in an enclosed space inside with Rowan. Being alone with him in a quiet room was too intimate and he deserved no intimacy from me.

I sat on the next stone bench in our path. My jeans soaked in the warmth of the stone, heating my already hot skin. Rowan moved to sit next to me but stopped midway and decided to lean against the tree to my right.

He watched me quietly until I was ready to speak. His gray speckled eyes held acceptance.

"Rowan," I began. He cocked his head to the side. "I was wondering if you'd train the new Trinity for me. You and your sisters, I mean."

His raised eyebrows suggested he hadn't known this was what I wanted to discuss with him.

"Why?"

I looked around to make sure no one else was within listening distance. "Because I don't trust the Terran Trinity."

I filled him in on some minimal details of the rumors flying around about a possible coup.

"I'll do it," he quickly responded after hearing the information.

I sighed and pinched the top portion of the bridge of my nose. "Tell me your answer after you hear what else I have to say."

He nodded stiffly and stuffed his hands into his pockets. He was a beautiful man. I had to give him that.

"I think your time here as a participant is over."

He inhaled sharply but said nothing.

I continued, "I will always care for you, Rowan, but as a friend. Too much has happened between us for it to be any different."

"Penelope, I," he started, but I held up a hand, stopping him from continuing.

"I forgive you, Rowan, but I will never be able to fully trust you again. At least not with my heart."

His face contorted into one of pain. It pulled at a heartstring, but I did not regret the decision. I knew this was right for me.

He turned away, leaving me watching his tense shoulders. After a moment, Rowan spoke. "I'll stay and train the new Trinity."

He released his clenched fists and walked away.

Another weight fell off my shoulders. Things between Rowan and I had been put to rest. We weren't on the best of terms but I had to hope that someday we could truly be friends again.

I sat on the bench for another half hour, soaking in the warms rays and playing with a daisy I'd picked from the ground. I was pulled out of my thoughts by a staff member. They came running up to me, gasping for air. They stopped in front of me and hunched over, holding their knees as they gasped for breath.

I jumped up. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Your parents," she gulped heavily, "are here. In your office."

My eyes instantly filled with unshed tears. I dropped the half-plucked daisy and ran as quickly as my legs could carry me.


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