Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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In the early morning, Duke Hart looked up once he sensed the presence of someone in his study.
There stood Marquis Clint with a relaxing smile.
“Are you working already?”
Duke Hart answered casually while looking through the papers.
Then, Marquis Clint walked up and snatched the paper from Duke Hart’s hand.
“You’re so cold. When you have a guest, you should at least pretend to greet them.”
“I’ve never invited someone like you over.”
Duke Hart grabbed the papers again, putting them on the desk before getting up from his seat.
“Tell me what brought you here.”
Marquis Clint was nonchalant despite the duke giving him a cold treatment.
“Yesterday was the first day for Nelia to work here.”
“So what? I’m curious about her.”
When Marquis Clint sat comfortably on the sofa, Duke Hart took a seat on the opposite side.
“Why are you curious about Nelia?”
“The head of the Dukedom of Hart Family, our Duke Hart, has an interest in her, so of course I have the right to be curious.”
Marquis Clint replied with an insidious smile.
The duke frowned upon seeing his appearance.
“I shouldn’t have told you.”
“But you already told me.”
The silver eyes of the marquis were glinting with joy.
“About what happened that day.”
The duke had a secret that he couldn’t tell anyone.
Anyone who knew about the secret was only the duke and Marquis Clint.
The secret that had been kept for a long time was very hidden and dangerous.
If others were to find out, their envious gaze would change into gazes filled with disgust.
The secret was a curse hidden deeply behind the status of the high-profile Dukedom of Hart Family.
The curse, which was only taken by the eldest son of the dukedom, transformed him into a lowly animal for some time during the day.
was only able to keep himself from transforming by consuming drugs that had been developed over a long period of time.
If he skipped the medicine for a day, he would definitely transform.
However, the duke couldn’t care less about the curse.
Either because he felt a sense of animosity to it since he was told to be careful by his mother from a young age, or because his anxious heart has worn out after a while.
Therefore, the duke wasn’t afraid to get caught by others if he transformed because of his curse.
One day, he didn’t take the medicine that he had been taking to prevent himself from transforming every day.
Marquis Clint seemed to think that he turned into a snake in the middle of the city that day because he forgot to take his medicine, but actually it was because of the sudden doubt.
Without these tiny pills, Duke Hart, who people used to look up longingly, would disappear.
His animal-transforming curse symbolized slyness and wickedness.
Knowing that such a man could transform into such an animal, everyone wouldn’t just avoid him, but also show a face full of contempt.
When they found out the truth, they would freak out and ran away, but he skipped medicine and threw himself into an obvious gambling because he thought the days of living while having to rely on medicine strivingly were in vain.
His act was impulsive.
The result was just as he expected.
When he didn’t take the medicine, his appearance changed inside the carriage.
No one saw him transformed, but the existence of the animal itself exiting the carriage and wandering in the middle of the city made people scream.
Duke Hart tried to rush out of that place with faint scream of a woman piercing his ears.
However, it was the first time he was caught by someone.
“Don’t worry. I got it!”
In an instant, his body was lifted up and put somewhere.
He was put in a place where he was surrounded by thick material which seemed to be a sack.
The man, who had caught him, sealed the bag in an instant. His view became dark.
Then he heard someone ask carefully.
“What is inside?”
He could clearly hear the voice of a concerned woman asking.
“It’s better for you not to be concerned about that. Although it’s just a superstition, there’s also some saying that if you make eye contact with it, you’ll be cursed.”
The woman was silent at the man’s stern answer.
Duke Hart, who was listening to them inside, smiled wryly.
That’s how others viewed him.
‘If you make eye contact with it, you’ll be cursed.’
It was him who got cursed, and he didn’t know who said he was able to put curse on others.
“I wonder why it was able to come all the way down to the city even though they live in the mountains. Anyway, I’ll take care of this, so you don’t have to worry about it, young lady.”
The aftermath of his disobedience was huge.
He didn’t take the medicine due to his disobedience, and he was about to be thrown away while being stuck in a sack.
Nevertheless, it seemed that he was already worn out for he didn’t even feel a sense of panic.
His mind felt numb as the exhausting days were repeated.
The man didn’t say anything after he took him and walked somewhere.
Then, he felt his body being dropped somewhere and floating at the same time.
He realized that he was being thrown into the water because underneath him felt wet.
He attempted to get out, but he basically had no chance to escape without his hands and feet because he had to open the tight-coiled sack.
‘I’m about to sink.’
He knew he wouldn’t die because of this anyway. He never attempted to, but he was certain of it.
Because he was different from the ordinary human being.
‘But I’m suffocated.’
As soon as the duke stopped struggling as if he had given up, the sack carrying him was lifted somewhere.
It was the voice of the woman who asked about the content of the sack to the man who caught him earlier.
In other words, he thought she had left, but it was surprising to know that she came all the way here.
Thanks to that woman, he didn’t have to experience drowning.
The woman, whom he knew would release him soon, walked for quite a while with the sack in her hand.
His body moved along with the woman’s pace.
They probably had gotten into a stagecoach by now as the swaying movement of the sack stopped after he heard the sound of horseshoes.
He was wondering about what the woman was thinking now.
She was following the man secretly, pulling him out of the water, and now she was taking him somewhere.
Actually, it would be more irritating if they got any further away from the city.
His body, which was currently transformed into an animal due to the curse, would return to its human form after a certain period of time.
Therefore, it would be more difficult for him to return to the mansion if they headed far away from the city.
Although, of course it would be the matter he has to deal with later.
‘Rather than that…… this woman, does she know what I am now?’
The duke didn’t get the chance to look at the woman’s face. Therefore, she must’ve not seen him earlier either.
It was fascinating that she took the sack around without knowing what was actually inside.
He naturally thought she had a soft spot for animals, but he knew well that such sympathy was usually directed only to fluffy and furry animals.
He was far from such an animal.
If she knew what kind of animal she was helping now, she would probably scream like the screaming lady from earlier.
Contrary to the duke’s cynical mind, curiosity gradually got the best of him.
He wondered about what she thought when rescuing him, the place where he was taken to, and what she was doing now.
He wasn’t sure if it was just his imagination, but he felt like the woman was looking at him through the bag.
“Wait a minute, I will release you in a moment. You can’t just die yet.”
The sound of her murmur sounded somewhat desperate.
The duke also looked at the woman from inside the sack although he didn’t know where exactly she was.
He wondered how long it had been.
The sound of horseshoes stopped, and the woman took the sack and got out of the stagecoach.
Their surroundings were quiet. They have rode the stagecoach for some time, so they were just likely at the outskirts of the capital.
The woman put the sack on the ground.
A cold night wind blew through the bag. Then, the sack shook around for a moment as if she was doing something with it, and the opening of the sack had been untied before he knew it.
“This is probably not where you used to live, but I think you will be able to adapt well.”
The voice of the woman he heard from outside the sack was warm. To the extent where he couldn’t feel the cold air for a moment.
“Don’t ever come down to the city again.”
He heard her footsteps as she walked away after finishing her last words. The duke slowly got out of the bag and looked at the woman, who gradually disappeared from his sight.
Under the moonlight, he could see her back and her fluttering light brown hair.
Somehow, the duke couldn’t take his off her.
The duke couldn’t ignore the rustling feeling as if spring breeze brushed against him after he managed to return to the mansion that day.
As time passed by, he thought this strange feeling would disappear.
However, the symptoms increased two times each passing day.
‘This is probably not where you used to live, but I think you will be able to adapt well.’
Firstly, the woman’s voice sounded like it was playing over and over again in her head.
He even had to pause like a fool when it came to his mind vividly while taking a bath.
Secondly, he began to infer about that woman on his own.
What was her name, how her face would look, and even why was she there that day.
However, he didn’t get any answer no matter how hard he thought about it.
The third symptom was suffocated chest.
As time went by, he became curious about many things about her, but he knew nothing about her.
The only thing he knew was her voice and back.
Light brown hair was also a common appearance, so it was even difficult to use it as a clue to find her.
The duke, who was thinking with a frown etched on his face, knew this idea was very dangerous.
‘What am I going to do with her if I manage to find her?’
Should he say that he was actually the wild animal she once saved?
The duke stopped assuming about the woman after thinking so.
He was so curious about her that he woke up from his slumber, but then he refused the idea of seeing her twisted face after knowing who he actually was.
So, the duke gave up on the woman.
No, he was trying to.
He eventually attended a party after a long time.
Duke Hart nonchalantly looked around the party hall.
The party venue was crowded probably because it was a party hosted by the Imperial Palace for the first time in a while.
Thanks to that, he felt even more irritated by that.
“Oh my, Duke Hart! Good evening!”
“It’s been a long time. You must be attending the party because His Majesty will attend today to make an important announcement!”
The duke was surrounded by people.
He wondered if he had to force himself to smile and greet people like this for a while.
Then the woman from the distance came into his sight.
The woman with ordinary brown hair immediately caught his eyes despite her not-so-noticeable appearance.
The woman looked around and went around the party hall.
She looked as if she was looking around for something as she turned her head in all directions.
‘…….. She’s like a squirrel.’
Her short stature and curly light brown hair made her look even more like a squirrel.
But that wasn’t the reason why she was able to capture his attention.
The duke felt an unfamiliar feeling of deja vu in the presence of the strange woman.
‘Have I ever seen her before……?’
However, no matter how many memories he tried to recall, she didn’t come up in his head.
Yet, why did it feel like he knew her?
The duke stared at her. And their eyes met.
The duke felt strange at her attitude for immediately turning her face away.
The duke ignored this feeling and tried to avert his eyes somewhere else.
However, his eyes kept flickering to the woman as if it was beyond the control of his mind.
How many times had he stared at the woman like that?
Duke Hart finally figured out why she drew his attention to her like magnets.
‘She was the woman who saved me.’
Although her common-looking brown hair and appearance were not fancy, her curly hair and small body matched the vivid appearance of the woman in his memory.
The running woman looked like a squirrel and it instantly stuck in his memory.
Duke Hart thought the answer would be clear upon hearing her voice.
But she disappeared before he realized it after she gradually moved among the crowd of people who gathered like clouds.
She was nowhere to be seen after disappearing like a mirage.
The duke’s eyebrows narrowed.
He must find her.
The duke had to find her again and hear her voice. Then it would prove that she was the one who saved him that day.
‘Where could she go?’
The duke peered into the middle of the party hall where it was crowded with nobles.
For the time being, one thing he knew for sure was her status. If she came to the party hosted by the imperial family, she would be at least a noble who resided in the capital city.
That alone wouldn’t be difficult to find.
A petite brown-haired young lady among the nobles residing in the capital city.
He could find her in the span of three days.
If he lost her now, he would have to get someone to find her.
The duke comforted his impatient heart.