Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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Nelia hurriedly denied it out of frustration.
“It’s not that…….! I’m a little surprised with this, but I’m not disgusted or despise you.”
The duke blinked slowly.
“Yes……. It amazed me because it’s my first time seeing a snake, but it was quite cute……. And if it were that kind of snake……..”
Nelia was rambling out of guilt. Expectations rose again in the duke’s eyes.
“That means……. You’re saying I’m not disgusting, right?”
“Of, of course!”
Duke Hart gave her a smile.
Nelia thought she had made a mistake at that moment upon seeing the corner of her mouth curved up in an attractive way, but the water had already been spilled.
“Then……. This is so shameless of me, but can I ask you a favor?”
“…….What is it?”
This opportunist. He never missed even the smallest chance by any means.
“I wish Nelia can stay in this mansion during the day and night.”
Nelia quickly distanced herself from him.
“What are you saying again?!”
“The situation is slightly different this time. I might have seen hope from Nelia that I have the chance to break this curse.”
Duke Hart got up from the bed and carefully approached Nelia.
His terribly gorgeous face looked particularly pathetic today, creating such a weird atmosphere in the room.
“It may be a coincidence that I return to my human form earlier, but I want to test it with Nelia by my side again this time.”
Nelia was imagining that there was a big wall behind her. There was no choice other than nodding to whatever he asked her to do.
“E, Even so…… It will be difficult as well…….”
Nelia tried to refuse, but Duke Hard suddenly fell on the floor with a painful noise coming from his lips.
“Are you alright, Your Grace?”
Nelia asked and quickly plopped down near him. The duke looked down at his feet.
“I saw Nelia earlier and I’ve moved on my own forcefully, so I think I must have put a strain on my foot.”
Even though she was grateful because he saved her just now, she didn’t expect him to mention it in this kind of situation.
‘This guy’s foot…….’
Nelia wriggled her eyebrows.
The duke rubbed his foot and spoke in a helpless voice.
“There’s nothing I can do if Nelia doesn’t want to help.”
There must have been a misunderstanding here.
Until just now, she thought Duke Hart was a fox, but he was a snake all along. He clearly knew how to move people’s hearts like a serpent of paradise that seduced Eve*.
“I’m sorry. I’ve asked you for this kind of favor…….”
When the duke tried to get up on his own while talking as if he had given up, Nelia grabbed the hem of his sleeve and deterred him from moving.
“I can’t help you for long.”
Duke Hart widened his eyes when Nelia finally spoke out her consent.
“During my stay here, let’s find out why the duke returned to your human form upon touching me.”
It happened only once and I wasn’t sure. Actually, Nelia didn’t quickly believe the duke’s words that he had returned to human form upon touching her.
But the reason why she accepted the offer was not only because she was incited by guilt after making him like a hostage due to his injured foot, but also because of the gloomy expression on the duke’s face.
It came as quite a shock to her that the duke confessed to her about the curse and showed that side of him, which was different from his usual appearance, where he would always wear a gentle smile on his face.
‘I’m also very…… very weak-hearted.’
The duke embraced Nelia.
“Nelia……! Thank you!”
Nelia pushed away Duke Hart on his chest out of surprise. Then Duke Hart obediently retracted himself from her.
“I’m sorry. I’m just so happy.”
He didn’t look like he was sorry at all. His contentedly smiling face was like a predator who had just satisfactorily devoured his prey.
Nelia looked at Duke Hart, who looked so happy, and wondered.
‘I……. I’ve made the right choice, right?”
And on that day. Nelia also learned one more shocking fact from him.
“Nelia, I have one more thing to confess to you.”
She had already reached her shock limit today, what else did he have?
The duke contemplated before he began to talk again.
“Do you remember when I thanked you for helping me at the party a while ago?”
She seemed to remember it.
After the duke rescued her from the broken necklace incident, it was when she asked him why he helped her.
The duke answered.
‘It’s the payback for helping me last time.’
At that time, she was curious about what he meant by helping him last time, but she then forgot about it because so many things happened that coincided with it.
“Yes, I remember it.”
Nelia’ answer received a light smile from the duke.
“I only get to tell Nelia now, but you saved me when I turned into a snake once.”
Nelia couldn’t help but become astonished. If she ever saw a rare silver snake before, she would have definitely remembered it……
“Have you ever helped a bagged mysterious animal in front of the bakery?”
“Right. That was me.”
Nellia held her breath.
“If it weren’t for Nelia, I would have a really hard time by myself there.”
It was such a chilling connection. The wild animal that she saved that day was the duke…….!
“Why did you turn into the snake in such a place…….”
“Well……. It just happened.”
The duke prevaricated while secretly dropping his gaze. Then he held Nelia’s hand.
“That’s not important.”
The duke met her eyes and smiled beautifully.
“That’s when our unbreakable connection began.”
“Isn’t it, Nelia?”
Oh, Nelia seemed unable to deny him at this point.
From the moment that she didn’t even realize, she was deeply involved with this man.
Duke Hart looked around the quiet room after Nelia left.
The room, which was a familiar scenery for him, became quiet enough for one to know when and what happened here.
But this familiar tranquil atmosphere has become lively in a strange way since Nelia came.
It also happened to the whole mansion. Just because of the influence of one person, he imagined this spacious mansion had become quite colorful.
Nelia brought life and energy to this dull room as well as warmth at the same time.
He felt warm at the corner of his heart while looking at Nelia.
And Duke Hart realized. That his choice was not wrong.
At first, the feeling he felt for Nelia was simply a curiosity. However, the curiosity gradually turned into interest, and then it became an anticipation.
He wondered if such a woman would be able to understand him.
Nelia responded to those shameless expectations he felt.
After all, she saw himself become a snake, and she then said would stay by his side.
His mind was overshadowed by the thought of whether she would run away while screaming, or she wouldn’t wish to look at him in disgust, and many more worries, but it all disappeared when he saw Nelia facing him so calmly.
Nelia wouldn’t know it. That truth alone was already a great comfort to him.
It’s been a long time since he felt the warmth that rose from the depth of his heart, the one he felt back when he was still very young.
The kind of feeling when his heart received warmth, and when his uptight nerves finally loosened up.
The coldness of his skin wasn’t even close to his heart, which had been frozen for as long as he could remember.
Therefore, he got greedy. The warmth he felt after a long time was so comfortable and cozy that he didn’t want to miss it.
A faint smile hung around his mouth as he looked out of darkness outside the window.
She decided to do the duke’s favor, she had to stay at the duke’s residence.
When she returned home, Nelia informed her family about her intention.
“I’m……. Going to live in the duke’s mansion.”
The spoons held by her parents hit the table and made a loud noise. Leighton also grimaced and turned his gaze.
And he opened the fiery pit, which was his mouth.
“What are you talking about? You’re going to settle down at Duke Hart’s mansion?”
“I’m not settling down there, just staying temporarily.”
“So why are you staying at the duke’s mansion even though the house is unscathed?”
Leighton asked ridiculously. Upon hearing him, Lily added.
“Right, Nelia. What are you talking about all of a sudden?”
Nelia recited the reason she prepared before.
“He said it would be nice if I stayed at the mansion because he was uncomfortable and had difficulty moving around.”
“I’ve also heard that the duke hasn’t been able to go to the imperial palace lately, but…….. Is it that serious?”
Lily picked up the spoon that she dropped a moment ago and placed it neatly beside the plate.
“It’s good to be of help for Duke Hart, but I’m a little concerned.”
“Yeah. If the rumor about it spread around, Nelia might lose the chance of getting married……”
Sean’s face was etched with much worry.
It was clearly an honor to work for Duke Hart, who earned the respect of the empire, but to stay in his mansion together with him was another story.
“What is there to be worried about, there’s a rumor spreading around that he’s a homos*xual.”
Leighton waved his hand as if it wasn’t a big deal.
“More than that, I’m afraid this b*tch will cause an accident.”
Nelia glared at Leighton.
‘Who cares about who……’
However, Nelia wasn’t concerned because she had been convinced by the duke about the rumor.
‘Nelia. Like I said, the employees of this mansion have been serving the Duke of Hart for a long time, so they can keep everything happening in the mansion as a secret. No rumor will ever occur if that’s what Nelia is concerned about, so you needn’t to worry.’
Nelia shortened the duke’s words to be recited to her family.
“As long as the employees are kept in check, no such a rumor will spread out.”
“Yeah…….. You have a point there.”
Sean nodded and accepted her daughter’s reason.
Nelia added again to reassure her parents.
“His Grace is a good man. It’s hard for me to ignore his request……. So I want to help him as much as I can.”
Lily and Sean seemed to reapeth concern for Nelia who appeared lively for the first time.
“Lily, Nelia has explained it well to us, so we have to understand what kind of situation she is in.”
“Alright then. Nelia, don’t overdo yourself too much.”
Their conversation ended in a warm atmosphere, and the dinner ended peacefully as well.
Her parents finished first since there was a party in the evening. Nelia was about to get up from her seat, but Leighton’s voice stopped her from walking.
Rather than calling out her name, Leighton often addressed her with just a ‘hey’.
Even though this was a fantasy world where people could turn into snakes, it was still similar to reality only in this kind of situation.
“I told you last time, I knew about Duke Hart’s secret.”
“I will just let you know as your older brother.”
Layton spoke as if he finally spared some mercy for his little sister.
He has been in a good mood recently. Although he seemed to be worried about the aftermath of the incident with Prince Carlos for a while, now it seemed like he had returned to his stable state.
“I’m not interested.”
“Oho, just listen when I speak.”
Nelia scowled. Leighton wagged his tongue as he pleased when she wasn’t even curious about whatever he was about to tell her.
“Duke Hart said there’s a medicine he’s taking in secret.”
Nelia coughed the unnecessary air that went into her for a moment. It was because she already found out about the identity of the medicine today.
Nelia nodded quietly to see more nonsense she would hear from Leighton.
“So, what is it?”
“I’m not sure but the identity of the medicine he takes is…….”
Leighton waved her hand as if signaling her to get closer. Nelia lowered her head.
She already knew the answer, but she still wondered how people found out.”
Nelia tilted her head. Then Leighton shouted impatiently.
“Why can’t you immediately understand what I mean? I mean energizer, the medicine that keeps you strong so you can spend hot night longer!”
She pitied Duke Hart.
There was a rumor that said he was a homos*xual, and another one said he was consuming energizer secretly.
Nelia frowned like she opposed it.
“That can’t be.”
“You don’t know whether it’s impossible or not. The duke won’t be interested in someone like you, I’m just telling you this in case, so you can thank me later.”
Nelia was dumbfounded by Leighton’s condescending remark.
“All right, I’m off to my room first.”
Again, she found out another good thing about staying in Duke Hart’s mansion.
“Hey, don’t pretend you know the duke well.”
And that was, she didn’t need to see Leighton.
The thought of not seeing that idiot made her mind feel at peace.
Nelia woke up early today. Since it was the day she moved to Duke Hart’s mansion.
‘Nelia only needs to bring yourself here.’
Obviously it was Duke Hart who said so, but how could she not bring anything?
Nelia put her luggage in the space on the back of the carriage before getting into the carriage. When she arrived at Duke Hart’s mansion, Ton, the butler, was already there to welcome her.
When the carriage came to a halt, Ton opened the door and extended his hand to her.
Nelia lowered her head and took his hand to descend the carriage. She didn’t know why, but the treatment was surely different from when she was merely a maid here.
“I was already told by His Grace the Duke. You are to stay at the mansion starting from today.”
“Come with me. I will show you the room you are going to reside in.”
Ton walked ahead of her.
“His Grace the Duke went to the palace for an urgent meeting this morning.”
But he said the medicine wasn’t working well the other day…… Nelia was suddenly worried that Duke Hart might be in trouble.
“…….Will he be okay going there?”
“That’s up to His Grace to decide.”
Ton was just like a robot today, like how he always used to be.
Nelia followed him while trying hard to find any unkempt parts in Ton’s appearance.
‘How far do we have to go?’
Ton continued to climb up the stairs. Soon after, they passed the third floor where the servants were said to reside.
From what she knew, there was only Duke Hart’s room on this floor…….
“This is Nelia’s room.”
Just to be sure, her room was beside Duke Hart’s room.
“Why is my room the only one on this floor…….? I don’t mind sharing with the servants on the third floor……..”
“It’s the order of His Grace.”
Yeah…… All right, then.
Nelia opened the door as if she gave in.
Her displeasure faded upon seeing the view of the room, which was so luxurious that her eyes opened so widely.
It was too perfect to say that the room was prepared in a day.
She thought she already led a prosperous life as the daughter of the count, but it couldn’t be compared to this.
“If you are in need of anything, don’t hesitate to tell me.”
There must not be anything else she needed here.
Vintage-style dressing table, fluffy-looking carpets, fluttering curtains, and luxurious bed with canopies on each side.
Nelia’s eyes were fixed on the bed.
‘Why is the bed so big…….?’
Is this one of life’s luxuries?
It was not a single bed as she saw back in the count house. The bed was of a king size that could be enough for three people rolling around there.
But Nelia soon came to accept the luxurious bed.
The bed was as big as the playground, which was amazing, it’s not like it was a bad thing. Where else could she live while being treated like a princess?
This time, Nelia walked to the closet and swung the door open. As expected, the closet was filled with a lot of clothes.
As if he had prepared everything ahead of time prior to her arrival.
[*For those who are wondering about the context, The Story of Adam is recounted in Genesis Chapter 3 of the Bible. He used to live piously in the Garden of Eden with his wife, who he named Eve later on, until she was seduced to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge by the serpent. As the punishment for their disobedience act, God turned them out of Paradise. -Recited from alimentarium.org]