Aspen catches me when I stumble down the hall, unable to see through my tears. "Mer?" he asks softly. "What's wrong?"
"Maxon- he saw us kissing-" I choke out.
Aspen's entire body goes rigid, his face frozen in shock. "What?" he says, sounding strangled.
"Maxon saw us kissing and he has dismissed me to leave. There will be no punishment," I add quickly.
His grip on me loosens in relief. He pulls me tight into a hug, but I shrug him off and head for my room.
My maids are there, cleaning up, and Lucy senses that something is wrong.
"Miss? Is everything alright?" she asks softly.
"The Prince has dismissed me to leave," I say, willing my voice not to crack. "I have come to collect my things."
Anne comes over to me. "No, not you, miss. Not you!"
All three of them hug me, and I lean back and smile. "It's quite alright," I say, and reach for my clothes, but Mary picks them up for me and puts them in a suitcase.
Suddenly, the alarm goes off and I freeze in terror.
"Run," I say, pulling them behind me, and I dash out into the hall. Aspen is standing there, guarding one of the doors.
"Officer Leger," I ask him, "please take my maids to a safe place."
He turns his head to look at me, horror and fear on his face. "I'm sorry, Mer," he says as he clamps his hand over my mouth.
When I wake up, all I can see are blurry shapes. My hands are tied behind my back and I am gagged with a fabric that smells strongly of alcohol.
"Hello, princess," says a blurry shape, his voice think with sarcasm and coated like honey. "Nice of you to join us." He moves closer and removes my gag.
"Why don't you just kill me?" I choke out. "Why this? You are Southern rebels."
The blurry shape laughs. "What a nice introduction. I'm Chuck, by the way. And no, we are not going to kill you just yet."
"What do you need me for?" I snap.
"W-" His voice abruptly stops. "Well, speak of the devil. Here is the reason we needed you, right here on time."
I blink heavily and look around.
No. No. No. I know that voice.
I can see him clearly now. His face is bruised badly, and his noise is bleeding. I watch the blood hit his shirt. His hands are bound, and there is a gun pressed to his back.
My whole world crashes.
"America!" he says, "Are you alright? Did they hurt you?"
"NO!" I scream at him. "What are you doing here?"
"How did you get here? I thought you were guarded. You should be safe, in hiding!"
"You were missing," he says quietly, breathing heavily. "They told me the rebels had gotten you. I got away while my bodyguards were distracted. They said if you were captured, then you might as well be dead." His voice was flat. "I was still searching for you when he-" he jerks his head towards the man behind him "found me and told me you would be safe if I cooperated."
Emotion chokes my words.
"You- you're a complete idiot," I say. "They are going to kill me anyway, and now you'll just die, too-"
"Don't cry, darling," he whispers.
"Well," says Chuck loudly, interrupting us. "As much as I would hate to interrupt this touching conversation, no really, I felt tears coming on there, it is getting tiring and really boring."
He turns to me. "America, sweetheart, you are so stunningly beautiful. And as much as I would love to play with you a little longer, you have fulfilled your purpose and are now just taking up space. So-" he pulls out a gun,
"I must say, goodbye."
He shoots me in the chest.
To be continued next Friday.......