Chapter Thirty-One


Jaewon let Junseh snuggle into a comfortable position. He kissed her hair. "Tired?"

She nodded. "It's been a long day."

"Do you feel better now?"

She shook her head. "I'm still nervous. I'm afraid one screw up will cost us everything."

"Of the two of us, I'm more likely to screw up."

She shook her head. "I don't think so. You've changed a lot, Jaewon."

Happiness filled his chest. "Thanks, Minduelle." She pecked a kiss on his chest. He scratched her shoulder. She cooed and leaned into him. He lightly scratched her back as he worked up the nerve to ask. "Can I ask you something?"

"You don't need permission."

"Who was your mother, really?"

She sat up. "What do you mean?"

"You said she didn't enter the sex industry until your father left."

Junseh nodded. "Yeah."

"What happened before she met your father?"

Junseh's face became sad. A part of him hurt seeing her face like that, but he had to know. She sighed heavily. "I don't know. I tried asking her once, what her childhood was like. She became upset, to the point she had a nervous breakdown. I never asked her again after that. And I don't think she wanted me to pry into her past."

"Then how did you meet Father?"

"Minuh was looking for my mother when he found me. He was a little erratic. Not like he is now, but more…" She paused and looked up at the ceiling. "Like he was lost. Desperate. He practically begged me to become your fiancée."

And that was right after I became a prince candidate. "And you told him what you thought of the tiers."

She gave him a sheepish smile. "I've never been one to hold back on my opinion."

He laughed. "That's right. What about your father?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. He left when I was young. That's about it. I haven't seen him since. What's with the questions?"

"Just curious, that's all."

She frowned. "Minuh erased everything of my past when I came to the summer palace. No one will believe a person a thousand tiers down if they claim to know me, and no one would believe a single man claiming to be my father."

He cringed. She obviously thought he was worried about her past getting out. "No, that wasn't it."

"Then what was it?"

"It's what I said. I was curious."

She had that look on her face she got whenever she didn't believe him, but thankfully she didn't press and returned to his arms, where she belonged. He squeezed her.

"Do you think Minuh will let me call my mother now?"

He arched an eyebrow. "He hasn't let you?"

She shook her head. "He won't even give me her number."

"I'll talk to him for you."

"No, don't." She put her arm around him. "I don't want you to do that. I'll convince him myself."

"It's okay to rely on me," he whispered.

"I will. But not with this. It won't help my case."

He sighed. "If you say so."

"Thanks, Jaewon."

He pulled her closer to him. She never wanted to rely on him for anything. Part of it was the way she was; she was fiercely independent from the moment he met her, and he fell in love with her because of that, but it also made him feel like she could leave him at any moment. Outside of becoming queen, did she have a reason to stay with him?

She had goals. She was driven. He acted more responsible now, but in the end he managed the company his father gave him. And he would spend the rest of his life doing that. While she lived by her passions, he lived by a script. A script he couldn't escape.

He stroked her hair and listened to her soft breaths as she slept. No matter what he did, he couldn't shake the feeling that she wouldn't be in his arms for the rest of his life, and he needed to cherish the moments she was.

But though he closed his eyes, sleep would not come. Why does Father know Junseh's mother? He painstakingly ran through the conversation earlier that evening in his mind. The only time Father became secretive was when he asked about Mother. His blood ran cold, numbing his body. Did Junseh's mother know mine?

He swallowed and gently pushed her off of him. She groaned a bit, but continued sleeping. He slipped into the office area and turned on his tablet. He tapped the search option. His finger shook above the keyboard.

I'm sorry, Mother. He tapped Cha and stopped. Not once in his life did he search his mother's name. He took a deep breath and tapped e. His chest tightened. Once, as a child, he saw a picture. Then Minuh destroyed it. Even in the age of information he couldn't bring up the courage to look. The child in him protested. The child in him saw Minuh's face every time even something so much as her name came up. He tapped sun. The autocomplete changed. The first suggestion read Chaesun suicide.

Tears filled his eyes. His hand shook as he tapped it. The results page brought up news articles, an online encyclopedia entry on her, and her photo.

He stared at the photo. She had his nose. His wavy hair. And his smile. Hot tears ran down his cheeks. She was a beautiful woman. She seemed kind, like the type that would have coddled their child all their life. He rubbed his eyes and put down the tablet. I don't know if I can do anymore tonight.

He leaned back in the chair and stared into the darkness. Tomorrow the blitz started. Introducing Junseh in the morning, interviews all day, meeting donors in the evening in an endless cycle until the final election day. Would he even have time to look again?

He glanced at the glaringly bright screen. He exhaled slowly and tapped the first link, an encyclopedia entry.

Chaesun Jeong, tier fourteen. Died at 29 years old. Survived by Minuh Kim, husband and Jaewon Kim, son and current prince candidate.

The words blurred. He wiped the tears from his eyes. The cold words pained him. Every sentence had a matter-of-fact feel to it. She was born, she fathered the current prince candidate, she died by suicide.

Chaesun's suicide note reads as follows:

He stopped scrolling and hit the back button. "I can't," he whispered. "I can't." He scrolled down the links until an odd one caught his eye.

Chaesun's suicide and Seonhwa's Death – Is the Gong family responsible?

Seonhwa? He tapped the link. Seonhwa was the oldest daughter of Yeongki Gong. He wrinkled his brow. I thought she died from an accident. This claims she was murdered. He skimmed the paragraph. Most of it sounded like conspiracy theory hogwash, but knowing the Gong family he didn't think it was too much of a stretch.

Seonhwa attended the funeral. The only Royal to do so, according to this. He leaned back in his chair and stroked his chin. Chaesun's family disowned her on death. In the eyes of a traditionalist family, Seonhwa attending the funeral of a banished noble brought shame. Orchestrating a death afterwards sounded both outrageous and reasonable. The Gong family were directly related to the queen, after all.

Then again, the same site claimed the queen used the blood of babies to keep herself alive. He turned off the tablet and trudged to the bedroom.

"Jaewon?"

His heart throbbed hearing her voice. He tried to compose himself and barely managed a normal "Hey."

"Couldn't sleep either?"

"Yeah."

He heard her hit the bed. "Come on, we have a long day tomorrow."

He climbed in beside her. She put her arms around him and leaned on his chest. "It's hard sleeping without you around."

"Guess you can't leave me unless you want sleepless nights."

Junseh giggled. "Why would I ever leave you?"

You say that now, but will you in the future?


"Afternoon, Lovelies! I have a huge surprise for you. How many Jaewon Kim fans do we have here?"

The studio became a roar of female screams. Junseh cringed and glanced at an amused Jaewon.

"Nervous?" he mouthed.

Oddly, she wasn't. Or rather, the day so far had been surreal to the point that nothing could make her nervous anymore.

"I'm sure you've heard that our lovely Prince announced his intention to campaign this morning." More screams. It was like he was an idol instead of a Prince Candidate. She smoothed the front of her dress. Unlike all the other functions, she was finally allowed to wear a normal clothes instead of a hanbok.

"And we have him here, with the Dandelion Princess for their first all-access interview!"

The screams turned to exclamations of surprise. The stage manager nodded to them. "Royals entering at three, two, one."

Jaewon put his hand on the small of her back and they walked to the stage. She put on a relaxed smile and scanned the crowd. Some were girls around her age, some were older women, and some seemed to think she was the scum of the earth. Well, those girls would think any woman at Jaewon's side the scum of the earth. She sat next to him on a love seat and came face to face with Hwajeong Dan, host of the popular morning show, Morning Coffee. They were filming this segment in the late afternoon, but everyone in the studio acted as though it was first thing in the morning.

"Jaewon, it's so nice to see you again."

He flashed his movie-star smile. "I'm always happy to your smiling face first thing in the morning."

Hwajeong giggled and snapped her wrist in the air. "Ever a flirt, I see." She placed her hands on her lap and smiled. "And you are the mysterious Dandelion Princess. I am honored to meet the girl that managed to snare our playboy prince."

Junseh smiled. "And I'm happy to finally meet everyone. Thank you for supporting my fiancé."

"So, first, we're all dying to know your real name."

"Junseh Lee." Relief washed over her. Now she had a real name to be called. Dandelion Princess would probably follow her until she became queen, but at least, for now, she wasn't something cutesy. For the campaign she had to be taken as seriously as Chisun. A cute face and nickname wouldn't accomplish that.

"Junseh? What a beautiful name. What do you think?"

The audience cheered. Junseh winked at them and gave a small wave.

"I think I'm going to play things a little different and let the audience ask questions. What do you think? Do you have things you want to ask the prince and princess?"

Those screams could make a person deaf if they heard them too long. The first few questions were the standard fare. How they met. When they knew it was love. How he proposed. How did her hair grow so long and how she took care of it. What were her favorite foods, what were her hobbies, what movies she liked. She answered every question with the same flair she did a thousand times that day. Fluff questions, Jaewon called it.

A small girl with thick glasses took the microphone. "Chisun has scholarship for girls. What are your thoughts on it, as a fellow student?"

"It's not enough." The audience gasped. She held back a smile of satisfaction and continued calmly, "What does one girl going to school change anything? What of the other girls who want to go an accomplished school, who have the mental capacity to go, and can't enter because a number says they're not worthy? What of them? What of the men who don't have a scholarship at all?"

"What are you saying?" Hwajeong asked with a hint of hesitation to her voice. Of course, Morning Coffee was a fluff show, meant to be happy. Junseh changed the mood of the studio in a second, and a certain electricity buzzed in the air. Jaewon squeezed her hand, signaling her to stop.

Sorry, Jaewon. She took a slow breath and looked the girl straight in the eye. "I think tier numbers aren't indicative of a person's worth. And we're going to change that."

"Y-you mean that we could enter any school we wanted?" the questioner asked with wide eyes.

"So long as you pass their entrance exam, yes. Your tier number should not be held against you."

The voices became a din of chaos. Hwajeong cleared her throat and clapped. "What a wonderful notion. I take it that's something you're passionate about?"

Junseh nodded. "I am. Well, I'm passionate about many things, as you'll see in the future."

"I better be included in those things," Jaewon interjected with a smile.

She giggled and winked.

The next girl to take the mic asked a fluff question. The woman who followed looked older, and had a serious countenance. "My question is for Jaewon."

He smiled. "Yes?"

"How do you feel about the circumstances surrounding your mother's death?"

Junseh's heart stopped. She whipped her head to the side to look at Jaewon. His face was frozen in a smile. It was almost like he was a robot and his CPU shut down. She rubbed her fingers over his in an attempt to revive him. He stared into space, ignoring her.

Hwajeong jumped up. Her red lips twisted into a scowl. "Cut!" she yelled. "Who let that question through?"

"It wasn't what she wrote on the card," the stage manager chimed in. "Get her out of here!"

"Wait!"

Junseh sucked in a breath. The entire room became silent.

Jaewon stood up and ran to the edge of the stage. "What circumstances are you talking about?"

Hwajeong put her hand on his shoulder. "You don't have to entertain that question, Prince Candidate."

"She didn't commit suicide! Believe me! I have evidence!"

"That's enough out of you," a muscular man replied, grabbing the woman and dragging her away.

When Jaewon turned around to walk back to the stage, he seemed as through his very soul died. The fire she associated with him turned to ash. Everything inside screamed to stand up and embrace him, comfort him, but she knew they couldn't entertain this game. Anything said and done would give credence to that woman's words. The members of the audience probably already tweeted about the incident.

But each step he took sent a painful bolt to her heart. One of the first things she learned about him was that anything related to his mother was a very sensitive subject. Why was she indulging in their games, anyway? If she loved him, shouldn't she comfort him? She stood and walked across the stage to meet him. He looked down at her with a stoic face. She reached up, cupped his cheek, and kissed him.

Whatever aura the woman brought dissipated in a second. The studio filled with the squeals of the audience.

"Run it!" Hwajeong called.

His lips were dead on her lips. She stroked his cheek with her thumb, prodding him to respond. Come on, Jaewon, snap out of it. Don't let her lies get you down. As their lips broke apart, he stared into her eyes for a heartbeat. In the next, she watched his countenance morph into the persona he used onstage all day long.

"You two are perfect together," Hwajeong gushed. "What do you think?"

The audience roared.

They walked back to the seat hand-in-hand. Jaewon played the part of Jaewon well, but she knew the lady's words still lurked in the back of his head. But she couldn't ask about it until the day was over, whenever that was. Until then, the show went on, and as the leads they had roles to fulfill.


A/N: I'm going to try and squeeze in another chapter before NaNoWriMo starts in November... Sorry about the long updates. :(