Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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‘There’s no way it’s possible.’
After going through all sorts of things lately, she had become too wary. She shook her head and closed the closet door.
Nelia scanned the room a little more before sitting down on the bed.
The spring bed bounced gently. As expected, there was nothing disappointing here.
The reason for this bragging of overwhelming wealth was due to the fact that the Hart Family Dukedom was a historic family that has been established for a long time.
Since the intelligent and gifted people have led the family for generations, their achievements in the empire were so much so that it was beyond words.
But if she were to mention one peculiar thing, it was the fact that not even a single family remained even though it was one of the important and large families in the empire.
As far as she knew, the duke’s mother was the only one remaining in the family who also managed the duchy at the moment.
Nelia only learned yesterday that the reason behind all of that was due to the curse that descended the Dukedom of Hart.
Her heart sank when she discovered that secret.
Nelia proceeded to lay down on the bed as her head felt heavy.
‘How did Dukedom of Hart get cursed?’
The Dukedom of Hart was such a distinguished family. What on earth did they do wrong?
Even though he was a villain, he had such an unfortunate fate in life.
His father died at the hands of the present emperor, and even carried the curse that turned him into a snake.
And not just the villain, there was one more pitiful person here.
‘And that is, me.’
Why did she, the supporting character, get involved with the villain?
According to her humanely principle, she would like to help him solve his curse, but in all honesty, she felt uncomfortable because it seemed that Duke Hart put too many vain expectations on her.
She didn’t know why he returned to his human form this time, but it must have been just a coincidence.
There was no way she would have had that kind of ability.
‘I don’t need anything, I just want his foot to be healed soon.’
But when on earth will his foot be healed?
The duke said that the injured foot got better faster than he expected, and that he would arrange an appointment with the doctor soon. Therefore he might stop by the clinic today or tomorrow.
The doctor would definitely say it’s time to take off the bandages. The duke has been walking fine on his own recently.
According to what she saw yesterday, it seemed that the duke’s body was far too sturdy……. to be overlooked.
She said she would stay at the duke’s residence for now to find out why the duke was able to return to his human form, therefore she couldn’t return back home if it was just because his foot has been healed. However, he would be much more comfortable walking on his own if his foot was fully healed.
There would be less chances for them to make unnecessary contact with each other.
‘But…….. This pillow is so cozy.’
As she placed her head on the soft pillow, her eyes slowly closed on their own. It was the side effect of being in an extremely pleasant bed.
Her body felt like sinking slowly as if it was wrapped in a swamp of coziness.
‘I shouldn’t be asleep…….’
As she thought so, her eyes were shut helplessly.
Nelia was eventually led by deluge and drawn into a deep sleep.
Nelia was in a dream.
She opened her eyes and stood in the vast field.
She saw a snake in front of her. It was a huge snake several times larger than human beings. The snake has a magical appearance with silver scales and silver eyes like Duke Hart.
Nellia immediately felt it.
The snake was a mythical beast. The tremendous amount of overwhelming feeling with magic flowing out along with his appearance.
She heard that there were monsters in this world, but she didn’t know mythical beasts existed too.
‘This is the world where dragons also exist…….’
She had a completely different feeling about the mythical beast.
The snake raised its upper body gracefully and looked down at her.
She knew that the snake could just swallow her in an instant if it intended to attack her, but strangely enough, she wasn’t afraid of it.
The snake called her name.
That voice was familiar in her ears.
She couldn’t read his countenance because he was in his snake form, but she felt like he was smiling softly at her.
Nellia blinked before finally opening her mouth to talk.
‘Is this mythical beast Duke Hart?’
Duke Hart was definitely just a small, sloppy snake…….!
[You know it.]
Duke Hart crept slowly around Nelia.
[Somehow, I feel calm in your presence.]
Nelia reached out to stroke Duke Hart.
She wondered why. This moment felt so comfortable yet sad at the same time. She had no idea why she was able to feel two emotions at the same time.
Was it because of the sadness inside the tranquil eyes of the duke?
It was then.
The loud roar was flashing in the clear sky.
Nelia retrieved her hand and looked around. Dark clouds were hanging on the clear sky.
The sky darkened in an instant. It looked like the rain was about to pour along with the flashing lightning.
‘Duke Hart doesn’t like rain.’
She looked at Duke Hart who has unusual energy. Duke Hart looked as if in a daze.
She called out to him quietly, and the quiet snake suddenly let out a loud cry.
As if it was in pain.
The snake’s upper body shook from side to side. The giant snake was very threatening because it moved violently.
As a mere human being, she felt like she was about to fly away from him. Nelia hurriedly grasped the part around his neck in order to calm him down.
“Your Grace…….! Please get yourself together!”
However, Duke Hart didn’t stop shaking around as if he had lost control of himself.
Nelia held on to the snake’s head as she flew around.
If this was a reality, she would have blown away already, but she was still clinging on him because this was a dream.
Then a soft voice reached her ears.
Has the uncontrollable Duke Hart finally taken a hold of himself?
“If you hug me so tightly like that……. It would be difficult for me to bear it.”
What does it mean?
Nelia somehow felt his voice was far away from her dream.
Then, the vast field disappeared before she knew it and she saw the man, Duke Hart.
“Is this really Your Grace……..?”
“I’m always real.”
Duke Hart laughed. Then, she could see the duke’s eyelashes fluttering slightly. She only realized it after that.
She was too close to him.
Moreover, her own hands were wrapped around Duke Hart’s neck.
As if pulling him into her.
She must have been actually holding Duke Hart’s neck when she was holding onto the snake tightly by its neck and not letting it go with all her might.
Heat rose up to her face.
‘What kind of disgrace had I done?’
Nelia unwrapped her arms and tried to put distance between her and Duke Hart.
“Sorry, I was just dreaming and it stopped………”
However, Duke Hart’s hand was still wrapped tightly around her waist, therefore she couldn’t move away.
“Your, Your Grace………?”
“Nelia’s body is warm, so I don’t want to let go.”
The duke rubbed his face against her nape like a child. Nelia’s heart pounded at the intense skinship.
“It would be cold if Nelia slipped away from me.”
“The, then, I’ll talk to Ton and ask him to light up the heater.”
It was raining, so the weather was colder than usual, but it wasn’t that cold. But she thought Duke Hart might be telling the truth because his body temperature was naturally low.
The cool energy emanated from the duke.
Due to that, her heated skin felt cool as if she was clinging to the marble.
The more she tried to move away, Duke Hart hugged her even tighter. Therefore, she couldn’t move.
“I don’t need Ton. If we just stay like this, my body will be warm.”
He sounded like whining.
But soon Nelia snapped out of it.
This wasn’t it, though.
The fact that a man and a woman without any relationship were attached together like this!
Nelia gently pushed away the duke by his chest. Eventually, there was a gap between Duke Hart and her body.
Thanks to that, she could see Duke Hart’s face more clearly. There was a glint of dissatisfaction on his face.
“If you’re cold, cover yourself with more clothes or light up the heater.”
Nelia persuaded the duke in an assertive tone. Then the duke got up as if he had no choice other than complying to her.
“Huft, Nelia is really cold.”
The duke’s whine made Nelia throw a fit.
“What do you mean cold! I feel uncomfortable being too close to Your Grace………!”
“But Nelia was the one who hugged me first.”
Nelia was flustered.
“That, That’s because I had a dream………!”
“What kind of dream? There’s no other guy appearing in your dream, right?”
Duke Hart’s voice became low.
“No, it was about Your Grace. But you appeared as a giant snake.”
The duke’s eyes stiffened.
“……. A giant snake?
“Yes. You were gentle at first, but you suddenly trashed around as if in pain.”
Nelia continued her explanation while looking at Duke Hart, who seemed serious.
“So……… I just clung onto your neck and swung around following your movement.”
Even though it was just a dream, Duke Hart seemed serious as if it actually happened.
Duke Hart smiled awkwardly only after Nelia called out his name carefully.
“I’m sorry. I was just thinking about something else.”
There seemed to be a reason, but Nelia didn’t ask him anymore.
She had not enough confidence to learn more of Duke Hart’s secrets.
She should know when to get involved, and when to back off.
Nelia hurriedly attempted to change the subject again.
“Your Grace, I heard you’ve been at the imperial palace.”
“Yes, I have to go once in a while since I’ve been away for quite a while.”
“At the imperial palace……… everything was fine, wasn’t it?”
Nelia asked while checking his complexion. The duke replied with a nonchalant look on his face.
“If I take the medicine, I will be fine.”
“Oh, I see……. I was asking just in case.”
Nelia only realized that he was on the bed in her room when she was about to wake up.
Nellia almost let out an exclamation.
‘…….I, I’m not working now, and I’m sleeping on the bed in this room.’
She obviously neglected her duty. Although the owner of this mansion was away, she slept in the room without getting any work done.
“It reminds me, Nelia.”
The stern voice of the duke was heard at that.
Nelia looked up, preparing her mind, thinking it was her turn to be scolded. Nelia looked up and prepared her mind, thinking it was her turn to get scolded.
The duke frowned before he began to speak again.
“It seems this bed is too hard. I told them to prepare the best one.”
The duke pressed the mattress of the bed with a disapproving look on his face.
“That must be why Nelia woke up so quickly.”
Nellia was wondering what he was talking about.
“No. Your Grace, the mattress doesn’t matter right now.”
“What? You don’t know how important a mattress is. If Nelia had a good sleep, I will be a little more…….”
Duke Hart’s words came to a halt.
‘A little more………?’
Duke Hart looked away while humming.
Nelia was curious about what he was going to say just now, but she decided to not ask. She had to finish what she was about to say anyway.
“Your Grace, as a handmaid, I didn’t work and just fell asleep in my room, you can’t just let it slide.”
“The world wouldn’t change just because Nelia took a break and sleep for a while.”
Rather, Duke Hart’s attitude made her more uncomfortable even though his intention was to comfort her who had slacked off.
The role of the owner and the employee somehow seemed to have changed here.
“You can take a break whenever you feel tired.”
His gentle voice loosened her up as if they were massaging her shoulders.
Sometimes, she thought there was hidden magic in his voice to deceive people.
When he whispered quietly like that, she would unknowingly nod.
“And……… the bandage on my foot has been taken off by now.”
Nelia widened her eyes after she escaped his hypnosis.
“You took off your bandage?”
“Take a look here.”
When Duke Hart pulled up the hem of his trouser, she could finally see the skin that hadn’t seen light for quite a while because it was covered with bandage.
It was truly a touching moment.
Finally, she has been released from one of the shackles……..
“My instep has been fully healed, but it was said that it will leave a minor aftereffect.”
“What is it………?”
The aftereffects, it was a word that made her hair stand up just by hearing it.
“There’s no problem with walking or exercising anymore, but the damaged nerves can often hurt, so I was told to bear it in mind.”
The duke said while casually touching his foot.
Nelia felt like tearing her hair out.
If she had known this would happen, she would’ve never worn high-heeled shoes………! And she shouldn’t have been distracted by the desserts at the party………!
Fortunately, the duke didn’t make a big deal out of this incident and treated her negatively.
Nelia asked while looking at the duke’s feet with eyes full of guilt.
“What should I do?”
The duke shrugged.
“Well, there’s nothing you can do.”
Then he grinned.
“There’s nothing Nelia can do other than staying by my side for the rest of your life to pay for the sins you’ve committed.”