The Guard
Page 12

 Kiera Cass

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From that, I deduced two important things. First, America wasn’t spending time alone with Maxon anymore. Second, our meetings were still going undetected, even by those closest to her.
Both of those details caused the hope in my heart to swell.
“Is there anything else we should be doing?” Anne asked. I smiled because it was the kind of question I would have asked if I were her, trying to figure out how to get ahead of a problem.
“I don’t think so. Pay attention to things you’re seeing and hearing, as always, and feel free to contact me directly if you think anything is off.”
Their faces were all eager, so ready to please.
“You’re a wonderful soldier, Officer Leger,” Anne said.
I shook my head. “Just doing my job. And, as you know, Lady America is from my province, and I want to look out for her.”
Mary turned to me. “I think it’s so funny that you’re from the same province and you’re basically her personal guard now. Did you live near her in Carolina?”
“Sort of.” I tried to keep our closeness vague.
Lucy smiled brightly. “Did you ever see her when she was younger? What was she like growing up?”
I couldn’t help but grin. “I ran across her a few times. She was a tomboy. Always outside with her brother. Stubborn as a mule, and as I remember, very, very talented.”
Lucy giggled. “So basically the same as ever,” she said, and they all laughed.
“Pretty much,” I confirmed.
Those words made the feeling in my chest grow even more. America was a thousand familiar things, and beneath the ball gowns and jewelry, they were all still there.
“I should get downstairs. I want to make sure to catch the Report.” I reached across the girls to pick up my hat.
“Maybe we should come with you,” Mary suggested. “It’s almost time.”
“Certainly.” For the staff, the Report was the one time television was permitted, and there were only three places to watch: the kitchen, the workroom where the maids did their sewing, and a large common room that generally turned into another workspace instead of a place to commune. I preferred the kitchen. Anne led the way there, while Mary and Lucy stayed back with me.
“I did hear something about visitors, Officer Leger,” Anne said, pausing for a moment to share. “But that might only be a rumor.”
“No, it’s true,” I answered. “I don’t know any details, but I hear we have two different parties coming.”
“Yay,” Mary said sarcastically, “I know I’m gonna get stuck with tablecloth steaming again. Hey, Anne, whatever you get assigned with, can we trade?” she asked, scurrying up to Anne as they got in a debate over their yet-to-be-determined tasks.
I held out my arm for Lucy. “Madam.”
She smiled and looped her hand through, sticking her nose in the air. “Good sir.”
We moved down the hallway. As they chatted about errands that needed to be done and dresses that needed hemming, I realized why I was almost always happiest when I spent time with America’s maids.
I could be a Six with them.
I sat on a counter with Lucy on one side and Mary on the other. Anne hovered, shushing people as the Report began.
Each time the cameras got a shot of the girls, I could tell something was wrong. America looked dejected. What was worse, I could tell she was trying not to look that way and failing spectacularly.
What was she so worried about?
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lucy wringing her hands.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
“Something isn’t right with my lady. I can see it in her face.” Lucy pulled one hand up to her mouth and started chewing away on a nail. “What’s happened to her? Lady Celeste looks like a cat on the prowl. What will we do if she wins?”
I put my hand on the one in her lap, and miraculously, she stilled, looking bewilderedly into my eyes. I got the feeling that people ignored Lucy’s nerves.
“Lady America will be fine.”
She nodded, comforted by the words. “But I like her,” she whispered. “I want her to stay. It seems like everyone leaves when I need them to stay.”
So Lucy had lost somebody. Maybe a lot of somebodies. I felt like I understood her anxiety problems a little better.
“Well, you’re stuck with me for four years.” I gently elbowed her and she smiled, holding the tears in her eyes at bay.
“You’re so nice, Officer Leger. We all think so.” She dabbed at her lashes.
“Well, I think you ladies are nice, too. I’m always happy to see you.”
“We’re not ladies,” she answered, looking down.
I shook my head. “If Marlee can still be a lady because she sacrificed herself for someone who mattered to her, then you certainly can. The way I see it, you sacrifice your life every day. You give your time and energy to someone else, and that’s the exact same thing.”
I saw Mary peek over before focusing on the television again. Anne might have noticed my words as well. She looked like she was leaning in to hear.
“You’re the best one we have, Officer Leger.”
I smiled. “When we’re down here, you three can call me Aspen.”
STARING AT THE WALL LOST its excitement about thirty minutes in to standing watch. It was well past midnight now, and all I could do was count the hours until sunrise. But at least my boredom meant that America was safe.
The day had been uneventful except for the final confirmation of the coming visitors.
Women. So many women.
Part of me felt encouraged by that news. The ladies who came to the palace tended to be less aggressive physically. But their words could probably start wars if said in the wrong tone.
The members of the German Federation were old friends, so we had that working in our favor securitywise. The Italians were wild cards.
I’d thought of America all night, wondering what her appearance on the Report meant. I wasn’t sure I wanted to question her about it, though. I’d leave it to her. If she got the chance to share, I’d listen. For now, she needed to focus on what was coming. The longer she stayed at the palace, the longer I had her with me.
I rolled my shoulders, listening to my bones pop. Just a few more hours to go. I straightened and caught a set of blue eyes peeking around the edge of the hallway. “Lucy?”
“Hello,” she answered, coming around the corner. Just behind her, Mary followed holding a small basket in her arm, the contents wrapped with cloth.