Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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Nelia blinked slowly, unable to comprehend the duke’s words.
‘……He wants me to feed him now?’
Nelia, who was puzzled for a moment, pulled her upper body back as she slowly realized what he meant.
“W……Why! Putting aside your foot, your hands are alright!”
“I was injured.”
His monotonous voice didn’t sound like an injured person at all.
Nelia scowled at Duke Hart in disbelief. Then he dropped his long eyelashes and started his explanation.
“I’m serious. I fell down the stairs last night and…… twisted my right hand.”
If my foot hadn’t been injured, nothing would have happened…… Duke Hart spoke his last sentence in a mumble.
Nelia looked at Duke Hart’s right hand with displeasure.
‘Is he serious……?’
He had asked to hold her hand or lean on her whenever he had to move around, but it was the first time he asked her to feed him.
She didn’t know if it’s true or not, but she did it without much opposition for she was the culprit who made his foot in that state, and she had to take some responsibility for the other accidents resulting from that.
The same thing happened again this time.
‘Okay, it’s not difficult to feed him anyway.’
Instead, she was going to confirm if he would be able to use his right hand today.
Nelia took the pie and put it in front of his mouth. When he took one bite, half of the tart disappeared in an instant.
The duke chewed it thoroughly. It suddenly came to her mind that the movement of his chin moving little by little was somehow an elegant sight to watch.
“Is it delicious…….?”
Even so, looking at the sight of him eating was so visually wonderful.
‘How can he look so elegant when eating?’
Nelia thought that Duke Hart was a real noble.
It seemed as if he had been trained with proper etiquette because his gestures were sophisticated and full of dignity.
She has always been under his watchful gaze whenever she ate, but it was the first time she was on the other side of the table.
Nelia watched him savor the pie for a moment.
That’s when their eyes met.
He showed a pretty smile like a fox seducing others, meanwhile she was dumbfounded like a stray cat.
Duke Hart was probably the only person who could appear so elegant even if he smiled in the middle of chewing his food.
The previously palm-sized apple pie disappeared quickly.
‘I can’t believe I’m sharing food with the villain.’
It was also true that she felt a little confused by him.
Although her negative thought of him has been reduced by a lot, it’s not that they were already close.
While thinking about her relationship with the duke lately, Nelia realized there was something wrong.
……No but, are they close?
Come to think of it, didn’t it seem more like he was raising me here…….?
She was grateful that he brought delicious food each day, but she wasn’t sure about the reason why he kept on treating her dessert was, it might be because he wanted her to gain weight.
Even so, the part she was so grateful for is that Nelia’s body, which she got possessed into, wouldn’t gain weight no matter how much she ate. That meant she could put aside a hint of fear of getting fat if he fed her continuously like this.
Nelia exhaled, thinking it was just her ridiculous imagination.
“What are you thinking about, Nelia?”
When he asked curiously, Nelia shook her head.
Nelia’s eyes landed on his face. His white skin looked paler than usual today.
“I don’t think you are in a good condition today.”
“It’s because I slept a bit late last night due to the pile of work, so I think I’m just understandably tired.”
Duke Hart’s workload, which could be seen from the side, was truly enormous.
The amount of papers on his desk alone was already enormous, and even the daily guests had taken up most of his time.
“It doesn’t matter. I can deal with them anytime.”
Duke Hart smiled. However, even that appearance of him felt somewhat pitiful.
‘Cheer up……. The cogwheel of the empire……!’
Nelia felt like she should do her best to help him as much as possible today.
Time passed silently as usual.
If she had to mention one thing that was different from usual today, it was the sound of rain hitting the window.
The Andrian Empire mostly experienced sunny weather, but the rain was falling little by little since afternoon.
And just like the gradually darkening weather, Duke Hart’s complexion gradually became worse as well.
“This won’t do.”
It wasn’t until the afternoon that Duke Hart eventually told her that he couldn’t keep up with work anymore.
Nelia approached Duke Hart. His complexion was pale when she looked at him up close.
“Do you need my help on anything……?”
Duke Hart rummaged the drawer under his desk.
He took out a small glass bottle containing pills. There were pills inside.
‘I remembered I saw Marquis Clint deliver these pills to His Grace when I came here for the first time……’
Nelia was staring at the pill when Duke Hart talked to her.
“Can you bring me some water?”
Nelia got her body to move hurriedly. She picked up the water from the table and handed it to Duke Hart.
Duke Hart gulped down the pill along with water.
After he took the medicine, he remained still in his spot while holding an empty glass like a computer that got caught in error.
‘I’ve never seen him like this before.’
He has always been the type of relaxed and composed person.
“……. Nelia, I’m afraid I will have to take a little nap.”
“Yes, I think that would be good for you.”
In his current state, his head wouldn’t be able to properly recognize a single letter.
“May I take you to your room?”
“No. I will take a nap on my desk for about ten minutes.”
“I’ll have you woken up in ten minutes.”
“Thank you, Nelia.”
Duke Hart smiled weakly. The duke closed his eyes and laid his face on the desk.
She could tell he was already asleep just by the sound of his breath.
‘He seemed really tired.”’
His hair, which had always been arranged nicely, was wandering loosely in all directions today.
Nelia involuntarily reached out and stroked Duke Hart’s hair.
The silver hair looked like a thin cobweb, so she wanted to touch it.
It was as soft and smooth as silk just like she thought.
Nelia, who sat still beside him for a while, looked down at Duke’s calm face while resting her chin on her palm.
The duke asked her to wake him up in ten minutes, but Nelia didn’t wake the duke even after the promised time.
Looking at his peacefully sleeping face, she felt like she ought to do so.
However, soon the duke’s eyelashes fluttered, and his hoarse voice reached her.
Nellia got up from her seat.
“Duke, have you woken up?”
The duke was still half-asleep when he smiled.
‘This is cheating……’
His appearance was innocuous enough that she started to doubt if Duke Hart really had an evil and cunning mind.
He usually looked like a fox that mesmerized people, but at that moment he looked like a meek puppy.
“I didn’t sleep for a long time, did I?”
He seemed to have no idea that he had slept well in such a short time and she stroked her head while he was asleep.
Nelia answered calmly after mentally swallowing a sigh of relief.
“Yes, for about fifteen minutes?”
“Although it’s just for a moment, I think I slept well. It’s been a while since the last time I was able to sleep well and woke up in a refreshed state like this……”
True to the duke’s words, his face looked much better after he took some sleep.
The duke got up from his seat.
“I guess it’s because there is Nelia beside me.”
The puppy had become a fox again.
Seducing people was natural and became his routine like breathing.
‘So, he does that to Marquis Clint, too…….’
Nellia shook her head.
She shouldn’t be interested in the personal matters of others.
“Actually, I can’t sleep well because of insomnia.”
Duke said as he looked out the window.
His voice sounded rather low as it echoed through the sound of rain outside.
“Especially on rainy days such as today. My body feels like losing its strength.”
Nelia thought it came off as a surprise to her that Duke Hart told about his personal matters more than she thought.
“Then, what do you usually do when it’s raining?”
“I finish my work early, stay in my room and wait until the rain stops.”
Is it because of the cloudy weather? The back view of Duke Hart, who was looking at the window, seemed somehow lonely.
Come to think of it, the duke lived alone in this large mansion with no family as the companion.
‘His father died under the emperor’s hands, meanwhile his mother settled in the dukedom.’
How did Duke Hart’s father die at the hands of the emperor……?
Knowing that the Emperor favored Duke Hart, he seemed to be unaware that he killed Duke Hart’s father in the past.
Nelia didn’t know everything that happened because she didn’t read the original book until the end.
“Shall we continue working now?”
Duke Hart smiled softly. His lonely appearance disappeared in a flash.
Nelia smiled awkwardly and cleared up his complicated situation from her mind.
Things went smoothly after Duke Hart completely awakened his senses.
Next thing she knew, the hands of the clock stood at six o’clock in the evening.
‘No guests came again today.’
As if they considered Duke Hart’s bad physical condition.
But right after she thought so, someone knocked on the door.
A voice was heard from outside the door.
“It’s me, Clint.”
Oh, Marquis of Clint……
Thinking that she had to leave, Nelia quickly arranged her belongings.
Actually, Duke Hart frowned slightly upon hearing Marquis Clint drop by to pay a visit.
Soon the door to the room opened without permission.
“Why don’t you answer me even though you’re inside…… Oh, Lady Nelia. Good evening.”
Marquis Clint immediately spoke in a gentle tone once he spotted Nelia, contrary to his tone when spatting out complaints a moment ago.
“I told you not to come around this time.”
“I couldn’t postpone it because I was in a hurry.”
True to his words, Marquis Clint really did seem to be in a hurry.
Nelia got up from her seat again and bowed.
“I would like to take my leave first.”
“Be careful on your way home, Nelia.”
“See you next time, Lady Nelia!”
Phew, thank god.
Marquis Clint has never visited the duke’s mansion since the moment she heard their peculiar conversation last time.
Just by listening to their conversation, it seemed that they had a separately arranged meeting time.
‘Perhaps, are they…… seeing each other secretly…….’
Ah…… No, it’s not my concern.
Nelia shook her head and looked up at the sky.
When she came out, the rain was still pouring down.
As if it was going to drown everything.
In the meantime, in Duke Hart’s study, Duke Hart supported his chin with his hands as if he was fatigued after Nelia’s departure.
“What caused you to come?”
“You said the medicine was starting to lose its effectiveness on you. The full lunar eclipse will be due soon. Is it worse than before?”
“It’s not completely out of control, but I will have to take the double dose.”
Marquis Clint’s eyes landed on Duke Hart’s foot.
“Fortunately, you had made an excuse for hurting your foot. It would be dangerous to enter and leave the imperial palace around this time of the year.”
“Even so, I can’t just keep staying in the mansion like this. We have to find a way by any means.”
Duke Hart’s blank face was as dark as a shadow.
“I will hurry up to find a way for you, so for now you just have to be careful to not let anyone find out about your true form.”
Marquis Clint handed over a glass bottle full of pills.
“Especially to Lady Nelia. I know you’re hoping for her to find out, but this is a matter related to the family. You have to be careful.”
Duke Hart’s eyes turned to the night sky covered in dark clouds.
The duke’s silver eyes naturally grained with a deep sigh.