Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
Thank you for the Kofi, Yona ! (3/8) 💖
Carlos stared nonchalantly at the fast-moving scenery outside.
The beautiful and well-managed streets of the capital were the pride of the Andrian Empire, but they failed to catch Carlos’ attention.
Because his head was full of the event that unfolded earlier.
How dare that man mention his right arm.
His intention was to hit his weakness, but he wrapped it with smooth speech and friendly tone.
The duke has always been like that.
He’s overly polite, but his eyes look down on people.
The frustrating thing is that no one notices Duke Hart’s attitude other than him.
More than that, Duke Hart blinded both of his father’s eyes, the emperor. To the extent where he thinks everything the duke said is correct.
In return, he observed Duke Hart keenly, but he didn’t find anything unusual.
‘That makes it even more obvious.’
It felt rather strange that someone could be so clean.
That was the reason why he finally stormed into Duke Hart’s mansion today. He was the one who showed up at the imperial palace until he got tired and sick of seeing him, but one day he abruptly stopped visiting.
His father said it was because Duke Hart’s foot was injured.
However, Carlos didn’t believe it.
He didn’t go to work for several weeks because his foot was injured? After all, he was someone who occupied the position of prime minister.
Even so, he was given too much privilege. If it were anyone else, would it be a fair thing to say?
And when he knew when meeting him in person. He didn’t suffer from an injured foot.
If he had to guess why he was living in the mansion……
Nelia was her name.
The thought of Nelia made Carlos loosened his hard mouth.
When he spotted her at the duke’s house, he thought he was imagining things for a moment.
However, no matter how much she thought about it, it was definitely the woman who knelt down and confessed that she dropped the necklace on the day of the party.
The face that peeked out from the stairs was clearly her.
He has taken interest in her since then.
Carlos actually knew it. The whole story of the ruined necklace on the day of the party.
Carlos, as the crown prince, had a master key that could open every room in the imperial palace. It was Carlos who opened the originally locked door of the exhibition room where the necklace was stored.
Carlos opened the door to the exhibition room as he intended to have some time away from the crowded party.
Entering the exhibition room, Carlos took a seat in the corner of the room.
However, a suspicious brown-haired man entered the room.
He grumbled, before opening his eyes wide and found the necklace.
“Wow, what’s this?”
He dared to enter and touched the necklace, even dropped it to the floor.
‘Does he even know how much it cost?’
He was still watching to see how the guy would react and that was when a woman, who strangely resembled him, rushed in.
“What, what have you just done!”
Carlos then rose from his seat because he couldn’t let the culprit go away just like that.
They were in such a panic state that they didn’t even notice as he approached them.
“Who caused this?”
He deliberately asked even though he already knew. Carlos liked to test people.
“Was it you?”
“What if I wasn’t? No, I mean, you speak informally to me as if we had met before!”
It’s better to act foolish.
The man naturally didn’t recognize him as the crown prince.
‘No one knows my face.’
Carlos clicked his tongue at the way he spoke to him [Carlos]. And the man’s sin was engraved in his mind.
“Are you sure about that?”
When he threw a glance at her, her face was ashen.
Tsk. It seemed that they were siblings from the similarities of their hair and eye colors, but she got into the wrong family.
Carlos felt pity at her so he decided to show his last generosity.
“I will give you one last chance. If you tell me the truth now, I won’t be asking you to pay it back.”
But the man missed the chance.
Carlos was trying to think about the way to make him speechless when suddenly,
She knelt on the floor.
A sense of desperation was reflected in those transparent brown eyes.
“……I did it.”
Carlos knew the woman was not the real culprit. He was sure of it because he clearly saw the one who dropped the necklace was the man beside her.
Nonetheless, he wondered what kind of thought that woman had that she willingly knelt down and falsely accused herself instead.
“So you did, not this guy.”
“Yes, it was really pretty that I stopped by and touched it……”
Carlos deliberately pressuring Nelia. Hoping that she would regret it and tell the truth.
“Do you know how much is the price of that necklace? It’s not worth the price even if you sell all the imperial stuff.”
“……I apologize about that.”
But the woman shifted the blame to herself and only continued apologizing.
When he looked at her figure, he was quite moved.
Carlos frowned when he suddenly felt that kind of impression.
He felt like laughing. Since when did he become the emotional type?
Is he about to let go of someone who had damaged the imperial treasure just because a woman was kneeling down before him?
“Oh my. I dropped the necklace earlier, and the number of witnesses has increased.”
Then an unwelcome voice reached their ears.
Turning around, he saw Duke Hart smiling leisurely.
Carlos revealed a smirk.
The real culprit kept his mouth shut until now and others said they were the ones who dropped the necklace.
‘This must be a joke.’
However, when Duke Hart said by himself that he was the culprit, Carlos could no longer argue over it.
Seeing that, he turned around and walked away, thinking that he would find out the culprit after the recording of the sphere would be passed to him later.
But then he received news that the monitoring sphere was broken that day.
He knew who was the real culprit, but there was no evidence.
He recited the incident from that day, wondering if Duke Hart had anything to do with the broken device, but it seemed that he had no idea about it.
It was unbelievable how good he was at lying, but he decided to let it slide.
‘That day has passed anyway.’
Instead, Carlos turned his attention to the woman named Nelia.
He originally took an interest in her because of her actions, which was kneeling down on the day of the party, but it was crucial to read the reluctant expression on Duke Hart’s face when he said he would like to go to the study earlier.
Carlos was just asking because he thought he could find something in his working space.
When he discovered the small desk beside the duke’s desk, she thought it might be because of that woman named Nelia.
“Did you say your name was Nelia?”
“Come and take a seat.”
His prediction was right.
When he mentioned the handmaiden, the calm expression on the duke’s face cracked for the first time.
“Your Highness, there is a lot of work that Nelia has to get done with. I kindly seek your understanding………”
“Are you so busy that you have to turn down my offer?”
The duke’s handmaiden eventually sat with them.
If I’m given a chance, I would like to hire the young lady as my handmaiden.
The duke’s expression hardened upon hearing his words.
‘How unbelievable of him to make that kind of expression.’
Carlos felt a little sense of triumph, but he stepped back thinking it was enough.
It was only enough to catch his weakness, which wasn’t his weak point.
On the other hand, he wondered.
Why was Duke Hart speaking up for that handmaiden?
He thought the duke fell in love with her at the first sight, but she wasn’t quite a beauty who would capture Duke Hart’s attention.
Therefore, he was curious. He wondered if the handmaiden had a different charm that attracted the duke.
Carlos chuckled dryly.
‘I’ll find out when I check on him again next time.’
Meanwhile, in the Duke Hart’s residence. It was the first time for Nelia to stay in the duke’s mansion after six o-clock.
The duke’s mansion was dark and gloomy. It could be because the mansion was unusually large and the employees’ voices couldn’t be heard very well.
“Shall we go eat, Delia?”
It reminded her, does a handmaiden usually eat together with her master?
From the look of it, a handmaiden has a lot of work to do depending on their ranks, but her position was actually very vague.
She’s like a handmaiden, but not a handmaiden either…….
Of course, she usually had lunch with the duke in his study. The servants brought them meals during lunchtime.
Then she would eat lunch with the duke on the table in his study while sitting down face-to-face with him.
However, it was her first time to go down to the dining room to have a meal, so she was suddenly suspicious of him.
“Did Your Grace originally eat together with the servants?”
“No. I like to eat on my own.”
She realized while they were talking that Duke Hart was shrouded with contradiction. Somehow, all of his words put up question marks in her head.
“Then why are you eating together with me?”
“It’s fun to watch Nelia eat.”
Duke Hart grinned while covering his mouth with his hands. His light white eyes seemed to be genuinely enjoying the sight before him.
“Nelia eats very well.”
…… She was eating so comfortably. Nelia was embarrassed when she came to realize it.
She had been busy devouring the desserts Duke Hart bought for her each time, and enjoying how delicious the meals here…… If she thought back about it, she had been busy eating everything by herself.
Luckily, it didn’t seem to give Duke Hart a bad impression seeing her like that.
Nevertheless, she was planning to eat virtuously today.
When she made a promise in her heart, she heard the duke’s voice.
“This is the dining room.”
There was a long table under the sparkling chandelier and a dark red carpet laid under it.
Such a scene was only seen in medieval movies.
She used to think that they wouldn’t be able to hear each other if they ate on such a long table, but I never thought she would get to eat in such a place.
Where should she sit?
It seemed there were at least ten seats.
The sensible Duke Hart seemed to have read Nelia’s concerns, so he walked first and pulled out a chair for her.
“Nelia, you can sit here.”
Nelia bowed slightly at the gentlemanly manner presented by Duke Hart.
“There’s no need to.”
Duke Hart smiled softly and sat on the opposite of him.
“Do you always act this kindly to other people?”
“That’s how I am. My mother has said so since I was young. I have to treat others with kindness.”
The duke gave her a light smile. It felt quite dark compared to his usual bright smile.
“Because of the serpent curse.”
What does it have to do with acting kindly to others……?
“I think the reason why I was caught in this curse was due to the karma of my family.”
So, he thinks his karma would decrease bit by bit if he treats others with kindness?
“Obviously, I don’t think that way. The curse would have disappeared if being nice to people around me is the way to solve it.”
The duke sighed with his chin supported by his hand.
“Nonetheless, I’ve been brainwashed by my mother since I was young to be like this, therefore I feel comfortable being nice to others.”
After hearing him, she wondered what kind of person the mother of Duke Hart was. She was said to be the only one and only family of Duke Hart.
“Your Grace’s mother still willingly got married even though…… she knew that the head of Hart Duchy would become a snake……?”
It mustn’t have been easy to accept the fact that her husband could turn into a snake. Even so, he has a wife who is so understanding toward him……
“She was tricked into getting married.”
Nelia’s admiration was shattered upon hearing Duke Hart’s nonchalant reply.
“So…… He lied about the curse to the one who would have to be his wife?”
“Yes, that’s how the head of Hart Ducy married all the time. It’s such an indecent act.”
Nelia’s mouth opened slightly. She couldn’t believe this was the secret that had gone on for generations inside the reputable Hart Family.
“There were stories that one of the duchess left the house because the head of the family was discovered in the middle of it, and there were times when they had lived together for years, and she didn’t have any choice other than continuing to live with her husband after it.”
The duke said calmly, but it was not something that could be taken lightly.
“My mother was the latter. She was upset at my father for deceiving her all these times, but she didn’t leave the duchy because she loves him.”
Duke Hart grinned as if he almost burst out laughing.
“My mother urged me not to deceive anyone who would be my spouse. At the same time, it can’t be more ironic since I will have to get married soon.”
Self-mocking voice came out of the duke’s mouth.
“Who would want to marry a horrible man who can turn into a snake?”
Nelia thought his circumstance was unfortunate, but she was also surprised to find out the different side of him during that moment.
Seeing his cynical sarcastic side, it seemed that she had taken a step closer to see the true appearance of the duke without his usual mask.
“I’ve been talking too much about myself.”
However, he soon wore his mask again.
The Duke was drawing a pretty smile again as usual, as if he had ever told such a dark story. The duke was smiling beautifully again as usual, as if he had never told such a dark story of his life.