I don’t know how long I’ve been out when Henry shakes me awake. He points to his tablet. On it is the world map, tracking our flight’s progress. It doesn’t look like we’re headed to Basheart, and if we are, Malcolm is taking a very strange and roundabout route.
“Where are we going?” I ask, my voice dry and hoarse.
“I don’t know.” Henry places the device on the seat between us, leans forward, and hits the communication button. When the light doesn’t go on, he tries again.
I stare at him, frozen as I begin to feel panic rising in my gut. I force myself to take deep breaths. Henry must realize I’m having trouble accepting the situation, because he catches my gaze and holds it while I pull myself together.
Trying to keep my voice steady, I ask, “What do we do?”
He doesn’t answer me verbally, instead holding a finger to his lips and motioning me to stay seated. When I nod in understanding, he turns and keys a six-digit code into the panel that separates us from the cockpit. The buttons flash red and without missing a beat, Henry punches in a different code. This time, a green light flashes and the door begins to open before screeching to a halt.
“Let me in, Malcolm,” Henry commands, his tone low.
The door opens to reveal our driver standing in the cockpit with a gun in his hand. “Don’t step any closer.”
“Put the weapon down,” Henry says, remaining surprisingly calm. I stand up and Malcolm suddenly points the gun at me. I put my hands up and freeze, suddenly wishing I had stayed where I was.
Henry immediately moves to shield me, his eyes never straying from the gun.
Behind both men, I see the control board flying us on autopilot to some unknown destination. “Can we talk about this?” I ask.
“Rosemary,” Henry snaps, sounding so much like my father when he gets impatient.
“Listen to your Match,” Malcolm says, practically spitting out the last word.
I latch onto it and ask, “Why do you say it like that? If you have a family, you obviously have a Match of your own.”
“Not by choice,” he grinds out.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not good.”
He laughs, but it’s a hollow and frightening sound. “At least your sister knows what I’m talking about.”
I stand straighter. “What do you know about her?”
“That she’s like me. Too bad she isn’t the one in your place,” he says, pointing to Henry with the gun. “Maybe she’d influence some change.”
“Enough,” Henry snaps. Before I can react, he charges Malcolm from a side angle. They both fall onto the panel behind them. The craft suddenly tips and I yelp, latching onto a handle on the wall. Apparently, the safety gravity isn’t working anymore. And with that realization, my panic rises to the next level.
“Grab the gun,” Henry says after wrestling it from Malcolm’s grip and pushing it away.
Hastily, I find my footing, pick up the weapon, and point it upwards, not wanting to accidentally fire and hit Henry.
He changes his mind and holds his hand out for the weapon. I hand it to him. Henry brings the butt of the gun down hard, knocking Malcolm out cold. “There,” he sighs, looking up at me.
As if on cue, the entire compartment pitches to the side again and I stumble into the door, accidentally opening it, causing a large draft to enter.
“Rosemary!” Henry exclaims, grabbing and pulling me away from the exit before I can fall over the edge. Hastily, he hits the button again and it closes. “Be careful.”
The cabin tips again, this time the other way. “Can you fly this thing?” I gasp, tired of constantly waiting for the next gravity shift.
“I’ve been taking lessons for the past two years.” Henry walks over Malcolm’s body to enter the cockpit. I begin to follow, but he shakes his head at me. “Stay here and make sure he doesn’t wake up.”
I look down at our incapacitated driver and gulp. “Okay.”
He begins manipulating the controls. The vehicle levels out after a moment and I feel us begin to turn. I breathe a sigh of relief and begin counting to ten, in hopes of getting rid of the giant knot in my stomach.
A pile of rope lands in my lap. I look up at Henry, but he’s looking ahead. I’m about to ask when his voice comes over the intercom. “Tie hands together behind his back. And bind his legs to the seat across from you.”
“Done,” I confirm after I’ve tied two square knots.
“Good. How are you doing?”
“Better,” I sigh. “I’ll be normal once we’re on land again.”
“Give it half an hour. I’ll put us at top speed. One last thing,” he says, his voice tight. “Contact my parents—and yours, too. They should know what happened.”
“What will we do with Malcolm?”
“I’m sure our allies in Basheart will want him for questioning. He’ll probably be Relocated after that.”
My nausea returns at the thought. “I’ll call your parents first,” I say, simultaneously pulling up the First Lady’s information on my personal communicator.
She answers immediately. “Where are you? Our contacts say you haven’t arrived yet. You were supposed to be there thirty minutes ago.”
I look out the window and only see water. “I’m not sure, but Henry said we’d be getting to Basheart in half-an-hour.”
“Our driver hijacked our route.”
Her hands rise to her mouth as she shakes her head back and forth before saying to her right, “Harold, come here.”
I see the President materialize on the hologram and sit up straighter. “Mr. Clark,” I greet.
“Rosemary,” he answers somewhat gruffly. He addresses his wife, “Call all the staff to a meeting.”
“If it’s any consolation, we’re okay.”
He ignores me and walks away, disappearing from the hologram. Helen smiles apologetically and says, “Please stay safe and keep an eye on Henry. Sometimes I fear he’s too stubborn for his own good—just like his father.”
I nod. “Of course.”
“Contact me again when you’ve landed. And let your parents know what’s happening if you haven’t already.”
“I will. Goodbye, Helen.”
The hologram disappears and I quickly open one to my father, knowing he will be more likely to answer.
Both my parents appear and my mother speaks first. “Oh, thank goodness you’re safe! When the First Lady called asking if you had contacted us, I got so worried. Why aren’t you in Basheart yet? What’s happened?”
I quickly run through the same story.
“There won’t be a trial,” my mother says with deafening finality after I’ve finished. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s executed upon arrival.”
“Mother! He has to go through the justice system.”
“There’s a different policy for crimes against the First Family,” she says.
I shake my head, knowing it’s better not to argue with her about her own area of expertise. “What about Barlow?”
“He still hasn’t been captured,” my father cuts in.
“Though not for lack of trying,” my mother mutters.
I clear my throat. “Well, I’m going to say goodbye now.” My father nods and I turn off the connection before my mother can start a lecture about being safe and suspicious—her mantra in life. My dad blames her lawyer profession, and I have to agree, but I’m beginning to see why it works.
True to Henry’s word, I feel the bumpiness as the wheels touch the ground half an hour later. Henry opens the doors and helps me out. Four men wearing the Clark family purple uniforms with the Matchmakers’ crest approach and take our bags from the luggage compartment.
A woman wearing a sunset orange blazer and skirt approaches. “Where is the driver?”
Henry points to a disoriented Malcolm. The woman makes a signal and two men wearing lapis suits appear and haul Malcolm out of the vehicle.
When they are gone, she addresses us. “My name is Janet Ackerman. I’ll show you to your accommodations.”
Henry takes my hand and starts forward. I try to ignore the blush I feel beginning to form at the contact and force myself to walk faster to keep pace with him.
The atmosphere here was surprisingly similar to the one at home. The only differences were that these buildings all had at least a dome, spire, or columns. Some of the more important edifices, like their Matching Hall and the Matchmakers’ homes had multiple architectural accents. Each continent has their own set of Matchmakers so no single one has to bear the burden of the whole world.
We reach possibly the grandest building we had yet seen and stop on the marble steps underneath the painted overhang which is supported by large pillars.
“This is the Embassy. You’ll be staying on the top floor with the staff provided by us. The President has personally approved each and every person who will be serving you,” Janet adds when she notes my unease.
“Are our bags upstairs?” Henry asks, changing the subject.
“I think we’ll go upstairs now,” he interrupts, taking my hand and pulling me towards the elevator.
“You’ve been here before,” I say, unable to think of anything else.
He waits until the doors close before answering. “My father insisted I start accompanying him on his routine business trips to the other continents.”
“And did you enjoy it?” I feel like I’m fishing for information here. Surely, I shouldn’t be working this hard to get to know my Match?
“I was never allowed outside of the Embassies or into the actual meetings. I think it was more of an excuse to show people that there was someone next in line for the Presidency than to really teach me anything.”
The revealing words fall between us leaving an awkward barrier and we stand in silence for a few moments before I clear my throat and say, “We should contact our parents. Let them know we’re safe.”
“I’m sure my dad has already tracked us and told them.”
“Your mom still wants to hear from you,” I say.
“I’ll talk to her later,” Henry announces, his tone leaving no room for argument.
The doors slide open and we walk into a large, open room. On one side is a sofa facing what looks like an ancient fireplace. The only modern part of it is the Matchmaker insignia carved in the center. On the other side of the room, there is an equally archaic light fixture from the early twenty-first century. It resembles a metal squid, flaring out into multiple “tentacles” that hang over a table set for two.
“My father always had guests over.” Henry says, leading us farther into the space towards a door in the far corner.
“You sound like it was terrible.”
He motions me into the bedroom ahead of him and the first thing I notice is the giant bed in the center. I quickly turn around to face him and wait for his answer.
“It’s hard when you know everyone expects something of you,” he says after a beat.
“Everyone will always expect something, that doesn’t mean they’re right or that you have to jump to make them happy.”
“It does when you’re the President’s son.” He looks pointedly over my shoulder at the bed and I suddenly realize I’ve been blocking his entrance farther into the room. He sighs, “Can we not talk about this now?”
I step aside immediately and ask, “How am I supposed to get to know you?”
“With time,” he mutters, bending over to take off his shoes. “Are you always this talkative?”
“Are you always this unfriendly?” I know it’s mean to say, but it’s true. When he doesn’t answer, I say, “Just take your nap, already. I’m going to contact my parents and let them personally know how I’m doing.”
“You do that,” he replies, lying down and throwing an arm over his eyes.
I don’t answer him and stalk out of the bedroom, being sure to slam the door behind me despite how childish a gesture it is. Once I’m settled on the couch, I pull up my connection to my father only to get the unavailable static. I try my mother, earning the same response. I give up and, rather than reenter the bedroom, lie down on the couch and close my eyes.
Someone is shaking me. I open my eyes to see a man in a purple livery uniform standing over me. I sit up immediately.
“Apologies, Mrs. Clark. I did not mean to frighten you. I am Godfrey, the head of staff. Dinner is ready.”
Henry appears, his hair sticking up at odd angles. He glances at me, then asks Godfrey, “Where were you earlier?”
“Your father wanted a meeting with the entire staff before your arrival. We were all briefed on what happened during your flight and were charged with preventing such an event from happening again.”
“Were any of you dismissed?” Henry asks, his posture now ramrod straight.
“Three, sir.” Godfrey clears his throat. “They have been Relocated and replaced with people of your father’s approval.”
Henry nods and strides toward the table. I join him and a girl only a few years younger than me serves us before following Godfrey out.
We eat in silence. After twenty minutes have passed, we’re both finished. As if waiting for the cue, the same server reenters and silently clears our dishes.
Before she disappears again, I ask, “What is your name?”
“Dalia, Mrs. Clark.” She bobs once before exiting the room.
I turn to see Henry watching me curiously. It’s the same expression he wore when I began talking to Malcolm before everything went wrong. Not giving him a chance to make a comment I say, “Before you tell me it’s not normal for me to know the names of our employees, I’ve heard it before—many times, actually—from my mother.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything. And besides, you can treat our staff however you want. You’re in charge here.” He stands up and pushes his chair in, not letting go of the back as he stares over my shoulder.
I turn to see he’s looking at the bedroom again and this time I don’t turn fast enough to avoid him seeing the blush that detonates on my cheeks.
“Shall we?” he asks after a pregnant pause.
I don’t answer and walk in first, mentally steeling myself for the moment we’ve been taught about since we turned twelve. But books and diagrams about human reproduction are nothing compared to the real thing. A fact that does nothing for my nerves because if all that preparation isn’t enough, what is?
I hear his footsteps behind me and spin around when I reach the bed. “Henry—”
“It’s okay, Rosemary,” he says, taking my hands in his. “I’m nervous too.”
I know he’s trying to comfort me, but the use of my full name in what is supposed to be such an intimate experience rattles me. The door closes and I hear the lock click into place. Feeling uncharacteristically claustrophobic, I take a deep breath and feel light-headed for the second time today. It feels just like it did after I got Marked. I sit on the edge of the bed and look up at Henry.
He steps closer and I tense. “Relax,” he murmurs, rubbing his right thumb over my knuckles. “I will never hurt you.”
I swallow past the lump in my throat. “Not intentionally.”
“Then you’ll have to tell me and I’ll do better next time.” He says it with such certainty that I envy his confidence in this relationship—in us.
Before I can reply, he’s closed the distance and pressed his lips to mine. I feel his arms encase me, one going around my waist, the other to the back of my neck, pulling me closer to him as he continues to kiss me.
It’s much more confusing than I expected. Nowhere in my tutor’s explanations did it include how it would feel to be kissed by my Match. I like it—his tenderness and warmth—but I not only don’t know how to appropriately react, I also can’t stop thinking about how sudden this is.
Probably sensing my inner turmoil, or just to come up for air, Henry pulls away and regards me with a heated stare, his green eyes slightly darker than usual.
“If…” I trail off. He raises his eyebrow as a silent query for me to continue and I finish my thought in one, quick breath. “If I didn’t want to do this tonight, what would you say?”
He takes a deep breath and steps back, releasing me. “That I wanted to hear your reasons, but I wouldn’t force you to do anything. I promised to be your partner and respect you when we were Matched. I don’t plan on breaking that vow.”
My shoulders slump in relief. “Thank you.”
“Can you tell me why, though?”
I look at the floor, unable to face him as I answer. “It’s nothing against you. I just don’t feel… comfortable getting that intimate without getting to know you better.”
“You trusted me with your life earlier.”
“That was different.”
“Is it?” he prods. “Isn’t that the most important type of trust there is?”
“Maybe, but it’s still not enough for me.”
I look up. “Okay?” I echo, searching his face for any indication of what he’s thinking. “What does that mean?”
“We don’t have to do anything tonight. But we should sleep in the same room or the staff may start talking.”
“Okay,” I say, trying to contain the flare of shyness I feel about sharing a bed with Henry, even if it’s not in a sexual way—yet.“Rosemary,” he says, drawing my attention back to him, “I’m glad you told me.”