Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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However, his impatience didn’t subside easily, and more people gathered around him. Duke Hart felt suffocated at the spot he was standing at that moment.
When there were so many people around him, Marquis Clint would slowly appear to the rescue, but even he couldn’t see where had gone off to.
Eventually, Duke Hart left his seat and went to the corner of the party after making up an excuse that His Majesty was calling him.
Then, he found an opened door that shouldn’t have been opened in the first place.
‘The guard must not have locked this door properly.’
The place leading to the door was where the necklace made of Elena’s Tears was stored.
It was usually opened as an act of showing off when important guests from other countries came for a visit.
‘People wouldn’t be coming to this place.’
Duke Hart opened the door and entered, thinking it was a good place for him to take a little rest on his own.
And he plopped down on the chair placed in the shady spot of the terrace on the second floor.
But his peaceful rest didn’t last long.
The sound of metal hitting the marble floor reverberated.
Duke Hart slowly rose from his seat and looked down from the railing.
There was a necklace made out of Elena’s Tears sprawled on the floor. Beside it was a brown-haired man.
The man stole a glance around the room before carefully picking up the necklace. His shocked expression indicated that he knew he was in trouble.
He was panicking, but the door burst open before he could react further.
And someone ran in.
Duke Hart’s eyes widened when he saw the person who ran inside the room.
It was definitely the young lady he was looking for.
However, the woman didn’t see him in the corner and rushed down hurriedly to the first floor.
“What is it, what have you done!”
She yelled at the man.
Her high-pitched voice reverberated through the room.
The moment the duke heard that voice, he immediately knew it.
‘As I expected, that young lady was the one who helped me that day.’
‘Don’t ever come down to the city again.’
Her angry tone was very different from the concerned voice he heard that day, but he could assure that it was owned by the same person.
But he had no time to sentimentalize over this. Soon Crown Prince Carlos appeared.
‘The situation doesn’t look good.’
Carlos asked the brown-haired man.
“Who caused this?”
The man denied it sternly.
Duke Hart mentally clicked his tongue as he watched them.
He knew well that the man wanted to get away with that lie, but he was bound to get caught sooner or later.
“There’s a magic sphere that watches over this place. Maybe the records would show who broke it.”
He could see the brown-haired man got flustered by Carlos’ remark. Duke Hart watched the man as he stroked his chin.
‘Is he going to confess now?’
But things took a totally unexpected turn right after it.
Instead, the brown-haired woman beside him knelt on the floor.
She slowly looked up at Carlos.
“……I did it.”
Duke Hart’s eyes widened as he continued to watch the scene unfold.
‘Why did she…….?’
She must have thought it was unusual for such a thing to be displayed there, and she knew that the man had just made a mistake.
Duke Hart, who had been calmly watching the situation, felt his heart beat fast.
He didn’t know what exactly she was thinking about, but he considered it outstanding.
She willingly knelt down even though she didn’t do it.
Suddenly, a little curiosity bloomed inside as well as expectation.
‘Seeing how she handles the situation, would she understand me even after seeing me in my true form?’
He might have jumped a bit too fast to the conclusion because it was something he was desperately hoping for.
He wanted to know her more.
No, he had to get to know her more.
He eventually showed up and lied to Carlos that he was the culprit.
Carlos seemed to be suspicious of him for suddenly saying that he was the culprit, but he ended up leaving after the duke said that he would restore it back as it was because he was confident about it.
She seemed to think that he was weird to suddenly appear and help her.
There was a gleam of wariness on her face.
She seemed to have no idea that the animal she saved was him.
‘Well, maybe it’s better that way.’
If she were to find out who he actually was, that pair of big eyes might immediately look at him in fear.
But he was relieved. He already knew her name and face. It would be easy for him to find her wherever she would be.
Duke Hart spoke as he withdrew without an ounce of regret.
“Nelia. I’ll see you next time.”
It was much sooner than he thought.
The duke, who was going up the stairs to the second floor, turned around. The recording device installed on the ceiling was flashing.
When he flicked his hand, the monitoring device made a beeping sound and the flash turned off after that.
‘It would be perfect to destroy the evidence.’
And Duke Hart continued to walk up the stairs nonchalantly, as if nothing had happened just now.
The duke was on his way to see the emperor when he recalled Nelia’s face once again.
‘She really looks like a small animal.’
The way she crouched and stared at him looked just like a squirrel full of wariness.
Come to think of it, why did Nelia seem so wary of him?
Although his first meeting with her was nothing ordinary, he didn’t do anything to make a bad impression on her.
He helped her in the scenario like earlier.
He felt chagrined to think that way.
“Duke of Hart, welcome.”
Entering the private lounge behind the party hall, Emperor Archen welcomed Duke Hart with a wave of her hand.
The duke walked over to the emperor and bowed politely.
“Your Majesty, what matter did you call me for?”
The emperor stroked his deeply furrowed eyebrows.
“I heard another monster appeared in the eastern desert. I called you because it might be the monster you missed last time.”
Duke Hart’s expression hardened at the mention of monsters. However, he soon pulled the corners of his mouth to form a gentle smile.
“I do not think the same. People often mistake the heat haze in the desert.”
“Even so, wouldn’t it be better if we send punitive forces to the desert? A big snake might appear there.”
Duke Hart stood motionlessly and nodded.
“If His Majesty is so anxious, I will order the Knight Commander to organize a squad.”
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
The emperor frowned as if he was thinking of something. He soon shuddered.
“I hate snakes because of the monster I once saw.”
“I know. Weren’t you almost badly injured because of that monster?”
Duke Hart approached the emperor’s back and massaged his stiff shoulders.
Duke Hart’s cold gaze directed on the emperor’s neck.
Although his cold eyes seemed as if he was ready to bite the soft flesh at any moment, he managed to let out a gentle voice beyond all bounds from his mouth.
“Please do not worry. I will be more careful so that no monsters will hustle around anymore.”
The emperor dropped his hand that was rubbing his forearm as if he was finally relieved.
“I’m so glad the duke is by my side. Carlos is causing me a headache, so I cannot pay further attention to anything else.”
“I know. Your Majesty only needs to focus on the Crown Prince for the time being.”
The emperor nodded as if he was bewitched by the graceful voice that was capable of bewitching people.
“If you’re done, can I go back to the hall? I still have a lot of people to say hello to.”
“I’ll do that. You’ve got a busy man.” “If that’s all you wish to talk about, can I return to the hall? I still have to greet a lot of people there.”
“You can. I have held back such a busy man, it seems.”
The emperor chuckled. Compared to when he first called Duke Hart, he looked much more relaxed now.
“Then I’ll meet you again later, Your Majesty.”
Duke Hart bowed once more and left the private lounge located behind the party hall.
The duke’s cold expression had already disappeared when he came out of the room, only the demulcent energy remained on his face.
It was because a certain someone came to his mind almost immediately.
As soon as the duke was alone, he sought for Nelia again. Luckily, it didn’t take long for him to find Nelia.
After he knew her face, he was able to land his gaze on her right away.
The duke, who was looking at Nelia with delight, gradually bent his eyebrows in suspicion.
He sensed it earlier that her walk seemed a bit strange.
As if she was wearing uncomfortable shoes.
‘She looked like a newborn foal walking awkwardly like that.’
It definitely seemed very dangerous and unsettling.
Duke Hart continued walking, following Nelia.
For the time being, he was just going to watch her from afar.
He was planning to catch her if she tumbled down or appeared to be in danger.
Nelia arrived at the catering table.
The sight of her picking up the cookies with a lot of excitement made him smile for a bit. She seemed to be unaware how concentrated she was when she ate like that, even while wandering around.
‘She seems to be really fond of desserts.’
How long has it been since he had such a light smile on his face?
However, that smile of his didn’t remain for long.
When he saw Nelia about to tumble after her shoulder her shoulder bumped against a passerby.
He moved on his own accord and caught Nelia from behind without any thought.
Nelia seemed taken aback, but soon asked with a worried look.
“Is your foot …….all right?”
He was unlike ordinary people, so of course he wouldn’t get hurt just because of it.
Of course Nelia didn’t know about that.
If he were to take advantage of this situation……
An illustration was quickly drawn in Duke Hart’s head.
And he went to Nelia’s house a few days later.
After reminiscing about it, Duke Hart gazed at Marquis Clint.
“So what are you curious about?”
“Do you really think Lady Nelia knows and understands what you actually are?”
We were only together for the whole day yesterday, so how is he supposed to know that?
He only has faint expectations because she willingly knelt for others and even went as far as taking the blame in their stead.
That’s why he asked her to work as his handmaiden.
He wanted to know her more in detail.
“She doesn’t know, yet.”
Marquis Clint frowned at Duke Hart’s bland answer.
“Really……? Too bad.”
“But it won’t take long for her to know.”
Now he was somehow doubtful of himself for some reason, but it’s never as easy as making people loosen up and seducing them.
“Don’t be too confident. We talked a bit today, and she really looked like a herbivore when she acted vigilantly, and her light brown hair…… Doesn’t she resemble a squirrel?”
One of Duke Hart’s eyebrows rose.
It made him upset that Marquis Clint had similar thoughts with him.
“What, why are you looking at me with such a terrifying gaze?”
“…….. It’s nothing.”
When Duke Hart nonchalantly answered, Marquis Clint quickly changed the subject.
“But you know what, Shilian? Since you turned down a lot of young ladies, there has been a ridiculous rumor behind your back.”
Duke Hart replied while resting his chin on his folded hands on the armrest of the sofa. Marquis Clint asked as if it came off as a surprise to him.
“What? You know about it?”
“You’re talking about the rumor that said I’m a homosexual.”
He knew it.
Even if he didn’t wish to know about the talk among the busybodies, it just naturally reached his ears.
He planted people there so that he wouldn’t miss a single talk related to the emperor.
“You don’t really seem to pay attention to such a thing.”
“That rumor has saved me from suffering such a hassle.”
Such as refusing to marry anyone.
Fewer matchmakers had sent him letters due to that.
“Yeah…… but you know what else?”
Marquis Clint lowered his gaze and gently stroked his chin before raising his head quietly.
“They’re pairing you up with me.”
Duke Hart immediately grimaced as if he had heard something he didn’t wish to hear.
“Why do you have to show such displeasure on your face? I’m also not pleased with it.”
Marquis Clint laughed in disbelief.
He thought Duke Hart would maintain a straight face, but his expression was more than he imagined.
“We are only a beautiful couple in the eyes of those delusional young ladies.”
Now, Duke Hart was frowning and letting out an amazed laugh, but his expression didn’t really change.
“…… If Nellia misunderstands, you’re going to pay for this.”
He saw the truth in Duke Hart’s cold voice. The bewildered Marquis Clint moved away out of shock.
“I wasn’t the one who spread the rumor, you’re too much.”
But Duke Hart didn’t seem to care what he said and people who actually spread it.
“You’d better leave now. That’s how people have such an assumption about us because you come here frequently.”
“That’s because I have to bring your medicine……!”
Marquis Clint spoke as if he felt victimized, but it did not go past Duke Hart.
Duke Hart stood up and pulled the marquis on his arm. He walked toward the door while holding the marquis as if dragging him out of the mansion.
“Ah, I can walk!”
Marquis Clint managed to pull Duke Hart’s hand off him. An angry red mark was left on Marquis Clint’s wrist after he was able to free himself from the duke.
Marquis Clint opened the door while rubbing his sore wrist.
“I couldn’t believe you treated me poorly because of such a rumor. You know how much I love…….”
Marquis Clint’s voice halted. Due to the person who was standing at the door.
“Oh…….? Lady Nelia.”
Marquis Clint greeted Nelia, but Nelia seemed to be confused about what to do.
“By……. By any chance.”
Then Nelia looked at Duke Hart and Marquis Clint alternately with an uneasy face.
“Did I……. happen to interrupt you two?”
Haah. Duke Hart lowered his head and placed his hand on his forehead.