Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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It eventually continued to pour the next day.
Much heavier than yesterday.
Before leaving the house, Nelia stood on the porch and watched as the rain fell.
It’s not that she hated rainy days, but she was just concerned by what Duke Hart said the other day.
‘Especially on rainy days such as today. My body feels like losing its strength.’
He needed lots of care more than she thought.
Didn’t he ask her to hold hands whenever he had to go somewhere because his foot was injured, or was it because he didn’t have strength when it poured?
He said he had insomnia. The villain must have been so weak.
Nelia got into the carriage with a click of her tongue.
While having her back leaned against the wall of the wobbly carriage, Nelia fell into a deep thought for a moment.
It’s been two weeks and several days since she worked as a handmaid of the villain. She felt like there was a long way to go until a month passed.
‘His foot ought to get better soon.’
Only then her work as his handmaid would come to an end.
The carriage arrived in front of Duke Hart’s mansion when Nelia was still lost in thought.
Was it because it’s pouring? For today, his large mansion felt so huge and lonely.
Nelia stepped through the familiar way and managed to arrive at his study. When she opened the door, Duke Hart was already there.
However, he didn’t know she had arrived so he didn’t greet her. He usually would have raised his hand and greeted her first.
“Nelia, you’ve come.”
Duke Hart finally looked up when Nelia called him out.
He was obviously in a bad condition.
He looked very languid yesterday, but today he looked like a drunken man.
“Are you alright?”
“You look like…… you’re besotted.”
She roughly guessed that he caught a cold due to the slight redness under his eyes.
Nelia walked up to Duke Hart. Then she reached out to touch his forehead.
“It seems that you don’t suffer from a fever…….”
On the contrary, the temperature on his forehead was low. Just like how she felt it each time, his skin seemed to be on the cold side.
Nelia was going to take her hand off his forehead when her eyes met Duke Hart’s.
“……Oh, I apologize for my rudeness, I was only wondering if you have a a fever…….”
I must have gone crazy. I couldn’t believe I touched Duke Hart first.
She has grown so close to him lately, therefore the boundaries between them have grown hazy.
Nelia looked at Duke Hart with an anxious gaze, but instead he smiled at her.
“It’s fine. I feel a little bit better because your hand is warm.”
His silver eyes shone gently through his hooded eyes. Then the duke put up a face as if he just realized something at that moment.
“I’m sorry, Nelia. I’m not feeling well today, so I couldn’t buy you any dessert.”
……Do I even look like a dessert freak? That’s not important now.
“About the dessert, it’s fine. Rather than that, will you be able to work today?”
“I must be able to. But I think I’m going to finish it earlier than usual today to take a rest.”
Nellia nodded in concern.
“Yes, I think it would be great for you.”
Nelia withdrew and settled down at her desk. The seat felt uncomfortable at first, but now it felt cozy because she already got used to it.
It was said that humans are able to adapt well like animals, but she never thought she would get used to the seat beside Duke Hart.
“We have too much work today.”
Duke Hart handed over a pile of paper with an apologetic look on his face.
“I like being occupied with work.”
Duke Hart chuckled lightly at the energetic answer. Unlike usual, he had no energy to laugh today.
Nelia worked hard to get her work done as fast as possible.
It seemed that Duke Hart was doing the same thing.
It seemed that he was not able to pull himself together until now, but he was already absorbed in his work before he knew it.
One, two, and three hours passed. Time flew by quickly.
Nelia looked at Duke Hart from time to time, she examined his condition.
His face looked elegant as it used to be, but his unusually pale skin indicated that his condition was slowly deteriorating.
Nelia eventually rose from her seat when a slight frown etched on his face.
Nelia suddenly jumped up to her feet and Duke Hart’s gaze followed her movement.
“What’s the matter, Nelia?”
“I think you’d better stop working and rest.” Nelia walked up to the duke again without saying anything. She then grabbed him by the wrist.
“I still have work to do…….”
“Do it tomorrow, it’s not like the empire is going to fall apart.”
Even so, the cogwheel of the empire is a human too, so it’s their right to take a day off even just for once.
“If you continue working in this condition, you might actually make a mistake.”
Nelia was definitely adamant in her attitude Duke Hart looked at the papers and Nelia in turn, and soon he put down the pen in his grip.
“…… If Nelia says so, I think it’s not bad to take a rest.”
Duke Hart showed her a pale smile.
When she saw Duke Hart still managed to smile even though he wasn’t in a good condition, Nelia thought he might not actually be a human.
Like a cheerful female lead in the bright cartoon who used to laugh under any circumstances.
She wondered what made Duke Hart live in a mask so much.
He could be hiding who he actually is, or to make people stay on his side, although it would be nice if he could put it down for a bit when he’s having a hard time or in pain.
“Go. I’ll give you a ride.” “Come on. I will take you there.”
Nelia reached out and touched Duke Hart’s cool hand.
“Where is your room?”
She had never gone into Duke Hart’s room before. She always stayed in his study.
“It’s on the fourth floor.”
It was the highest floor of this mansion.
When she heard that it was on the fourth floor, she immediately landed her gaze on his foot, which was wrapped with bandage.
‘Around this time…… It must have been hard for him to move around.’
She wasn’t sure if he was getting help from others after finishing his work, but it wouldn’t have been easy to walk up the fourth floor with an injured foot.
There was no elevator here either.
Nelia followed and assisted Duke Hart who was leading them to his room out of guilt.
“My room is at the end of the fourth floor.”
It came off as a surprise to Nelia that he used the room at the corner of the fourth floor.
The corridor on the fourth-floor was completely quiet, as if Duke Hart was using the entire floor by himself.
“I have insomnia, so I’m sensitive to noise. Therefore, the servants usually don’t come to the fourth floor.”
Duke Hart provided an explanation, as if he was reading Nelia’s thoughts.
They finally arrived at the duke’s room.
As Nelia dropped the pressure on her hands to let go of his hands, Duke Hart tightened their hands.
Nelia carefully called Duke Hart, and Duke Hart immediately let go of her hand out of surprise.
“I’m sorry…… I was just thinking about something else.”
She wondered if he was in a daze for a while due to his poor condition.
“Please hurry up and come in. Don’t worry about your work today and take a rest in bed.”
Nelia spoke to Duke Hart as if persuading a child.
Duke Hart blinked and nodded his head.
“Alright, I’ll do that for the sake of Nelia.”
Nelia smiled upon the complying answer.
“I will go back to the study and continue working.”
“You needn’t to do that. You should go home early today as well, Nelia.”
“No. Your Grace should take a rest, and I have to work.”
It was too early to go home.
She was tempted by Duke Hart’s suggestion to return early, but she has a conscience and it would be weird if she immediately said ‘Yes!’.
“Then……. I wish you to do me a favor.”
“Yes, if it hurts a lot, make sure to call for Ton.”
Nelia turned around after pleading with him.
“I will pray that it doesn’t rain tomorrow, so you don’t have to worry.”
Nelia left Duke Hart and returned downstairs to the study.
It was still raining heavily.
There were not a lot of people who were ecstatic about the rain.
The good thing for him was that the weather in Andrian was usually sunny, what if it rains often?
His body relied on the weather. Duke Hart was a very strange man.
When she was thinking about the duke being peculiar, she suddenly remembered what Leighton said a while ago.
‘I know one of the duke’s secrets.’
She refused it because she didn’t want to hear other people’s secrets, but she was a little curious when she thought about it.
It was something she felt after she got close to Duke Hart only recently, but had a lot of peculiar things about him.
Whether his body temperature was lower than that of ordinary people, acting overly kind to others, or his surreal appearance.
Another thing to add to the oddity was the employees who worked here. They all were capable of holding their tongues and doing their work fairly well.
Of course most people could, but she felt like it was a bit unnatural.
‘Why did he recently clear up other maids and servants who previously worked here?’
Was it because they weren’t capable of working like robots, just like the butler, Ton?
If that was the case, she should have been fired a long time ago, too……
The most suspicious thing in her list was the suspicious ‘medicine’ that Duke Hart ought to consume on a daily basis.
He took an unknown white pill during breakfast and lunch. She didn’t ask because she thought it would be rude, but actually she was curious about the medicine.
Duke Hart in the original story was a perfectly healthy man who didn’t suffer from any diseases.
“Or is it like a vitamin?”
She speculated that the secret that Leighton talked about might be related to that medicine.
Nelia realized that quite a lot of time had passed, which meant she had been pondering for quite a while.
‘No, let’s stop thinking about unnecessary things and start working.’
Nelia buried her head in her task for a while. She wanted to finish her work quickly and then went home.
The sound of the pen moving diligently could be heard among the rain as it hit against the window.
She wondered how long she had been focusing on her work.
She finally met her quotas for today.
‘I should hurry up and leave.’
Nelia jumped out of her seat to get off work, and that was when she discovered a glass bottle that had dropped near Duke Hart’s desk.
“Uh……. that thing.”
The glass bottle was full with white pills. It was the medicine that Duke Hart usually took.
‘He must have left it behind.’
Since he seemed so out of his mind earlier.
Nelia thought she should stop by Duke Hart’s room and handed him the medicine before finally returning home.
‘But it would be a bother.’
He took it every day, so it must have been important.
Nelia picked up the medicine glass bottle that fell on the floor and headed to Duke Hart’s room.
It was tough walking up to the fourth floor even if her feet weren’t injured and uncomfortable.
By the time Nelia thought she should have done a lot more exercises, she had already approached the door to the duke’s room.
She knocked, but couldn’t hear anything inside as if he was asleep.
Nelia knocked on the door again. However, there was still no sound coming from inside.
‘Is he asleep?’
If it’s unlocked, I would just leave this inside.
Nelia put her hand on the doorknob to see if the door was unlocked, just in case.
When she pulled down, the clicking sound was heard as the door opened.
The lights in the room were turned off. Nelia carefully walked inside.
She crept in and headed toward the bed, hoping that Duke Hart wouldn’t wake up from his sleep.
However, Duke Hart was not on the bed.
Nelia was looking down at the bed while wondering where he had gone off to for a moment when the blanket rose up and down slightly. As if something was breathing under it.
There was nothing in it, but the blanket was moving.
Nellia was a little crept out.
‘Was I mistaken……?’
When she doubted her eyes, the blanket moved again.
The movement was a bit too big if she thought there was a bug under the blanket.
She guessed that the duke has been away for a while, did he know about this?
What if he just lied down without knowing there was something underneath because he was so out of it today…….
Nellia frowned in dread.
‘Right……. I will confirm what it is exactly.’
She was very concerned about the thing inside the blanket, thinking that it might be somehow related to Duke Hart, but she also didn’t want to leave it lying around here, whatever it might be.
Nelia reached out and grabbed the edge of the blanket. Then she slowly pulled away the blanket.
‘I can do this, I can do this!’
Nelia moved her hand while hypnotizing herself.
When the blanket was eventually half-lifted, she could see the thing underneath.
Nelia stuttered in shock.
“…….What, what is this?”