Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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Having shown such an embarrassing sight to his mother, now she had to greet and explain to her.
Before going out, Nelia adjusted her attire and proceeded to leave.
On her way downstairs, she met Ton and he kindly informed her about the whereabouts of Duke Hart and his mother, who was in the study.
In front of the study, Nelia took a deep breath before knocking on the door.
The sound of footsteps were heard and soon enough, the door was opened. It was the duke.
The duke’s eyes grew slightly as a confirmation that it was Nelia who knocked on the door.
“You woke up early, Nelia.”
It’s not early, but…….
Nelia spoke hesitantly.
“Yes, I thought I would have to greet Her Grace the Duchess.”
The main character appeared from inside the room with a series of loud noises and greeted her.
“Who is on the way, oh, is this Lady Nelia? Shilian, step aside.”
The duchess pushed the duke away and showed a bright face.
“Nice to meet you, Lady Nelia.”
The duchess extended her silk gloves-covered hand.
Nelia held her hand with a puzzled look, and the duchess moved them up and down repeatedly. She thought the woman was just pretending to shake hands or clenching her hand tightly to trouble her, but she discovered no sign of such attempts. Although she held them a little tightly, she only thought the silk gloves were so soft that it felt pleasant to the touch.
After doing the handshake, the duchess gave an apologetic face to Nelia.
“I didn’t think I was being reasonable earlier.”
Nelia answered while avoiding eye contact, embarrassed because she brought up the incident from earlier.
The duchess led their clasped hands, not paying attention to Nelia’s attitude.
“We shouldn’t stay here like this, shall we sit down and talk?”
Nelia unconsciously nodded.
However, Duke Hart stopped the duchess, who was dragging Nelia excitedly.
The duchess asked with a sulky face.
“Please stop and go back today. I’m just about to tell you.”
He had a frown on his face, which occurred as unusual to her.
What are you thinking in this broad daylight? No, he also frowned so much yesterday as if to hold himself back…… Nelia hurriedly cleared up her thoughts.
“Does Lady Nelia also prefer that…….?”
The duchess asked while staring at Nelia. Her face was as pitiful as someone who had been bullied.
How can she agree with him when seeing her face?
“No, I…… I want to talk to Her Grace as well.”
“Ohoho, Shilian, did you hear that? Lady Nelia wants to have a talk with me.”
The duchess casted a glare at Duke Hart while smiling delightfully as if nothing ever happened.
Then she led Nelia to sit on the couch she sat on earlier.
“Mother, please shape up a bit.”
The duke frowned inquisitively. Only then did the duchess clear her throat and fixed her posture.
“Oh, what is wrong with me? I kindly seek your understanding. I’m just so happy to meet Lady Nelia.”
The duchess smiled courteously. She was completely different from her previous self who acted rashly earlier.
Nelia looked at the duchess and thought she was similar to a wizard, because she could change her expression as she pleased.
The duchess spoke, her long eyelashes fluttered.
“Actually, I came here after hearing about Lady Nelia.”
“Pardon me? From whom…….?”
Judging from the duke’s reaction, he didn’t seem to be the one who would talk about such a thing.
The duchess smiled elegantly like a magnolia flower.
The duke’s concern came true.
‘I was a bit concerned that the marquis might have said nonsense to my mother.’
“I’m glad the marquis told me about Lady Nelia, I almost missed such great news.”
Nelia, who was a little dumbfounded, asked out of curiosity.
“Pardon me……? Great news?”
“It’s great news! My Shilian’s finally going to get married, if it’s not great news, then what?”
Nelia attempted to swallow her saliva out of anxiousness but it ended up going down the wrong pipe.
“Oh my, are you alright? Lady Nelia?”
The duchess hurriedly gave Nelia pats on her back.
However, the word ‘marriage’ was hovering in Nelia’s head.
Nelia reproached herself.
‘What is this mother-child pair doing to me?’
The duke intervened upon seeing Nelia’s dumbfounded face, which looked similar to a lost squirrel.
“Stop it, Mother.”
At the duke’s dissuasion, the duchess hit his chest with her small hands.
“It’s because you’re so annoying! You hid this pretty young lady from me and pretended to be clueless!”
“I didn’t tell you because I was afraid you would do this, Mother.”
“What do you think I am…….!”
The duchess showed a dumbfounded expression.
“Then, you’re not going to marry Lady Nelia?”
“I mean do not interfere. This is our matter that we have to take care of.”
The duke said while running his hand through his hair. His voice was mixed with irritation. Nelia felt strange at his temperamental attitude. However, the duchess replied with a click of a tongue, as if she didn’t care.
“Don’t make me laugh. Of course, I am supposed to interfere because I’m the elder in the family. Also, isn’t there another tea here?”
“This is the highest quality I’ve ever served.”
“It must be the highest quality only in your mouth. How could you treat your mother this way, Shilian? Lady Nelia must be disappointed by this.”
The duchess even being picky at the tea and making a complaint out of it.
“What are you doing? Don’t just stand still and serve me another tea.”
The duke glowered at the duchess. But Duke Hart knew more than anyone he couldn’t even put an end to her stubbornness.
He eventually let out a sigh and spoke to Nelia.
“Nelia, please wait for a bit. I will be back in no time.”
“Please go ahead, Your Grace. I will be talking to the duchess.”
Nelia spoke calmly, and the duke finally looked relieved after that.
When the duke left the room, Nelia was left alone with the duchess. Even though she said she was fine with it, she still felt a little awkward when there were just two of them in the room.
But the woman didn’t seem to feel the same way at all.
“Nelia, you don’t need to be so nervous.”
When Duke Hart left, the duchess looked more collected than earlier.
She was drinking the tea gracefully even though she said she didn’t like it just now. Nelia thought that she could see a glance of Duke Hart in her elegant appearance.
When their eyes met, Nelia answered in a hurry.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
The duchess smiled lightly.
“I apologized again for acting rude in our first meeting. I was simply too curious that I forget to act gracefully after hearing about Lady Nelia from Marquis Clint.”
Nelia wished she would stop talking about the situation earlier. She felt embarrassed and heated up every time she brought it up.
“I heard you are working as a handmaiden of Shilian.”
Nelia spoke up, thinking that she hasn’t adjusted well to the way she addressed him as Shilian.
“Yes, I said I would like to serve him since I’ve caused him trouble.”
“May I ask what kind of trouble you have caused…….”
Nelia answered slowly while concealing her embarrassment.
“I stepped on His Grace’s……. foot.”
The duchess tilted her head as if she was totally unable to comprehend it.
“Shilian was injured because Lady Nelia stepped on his foot?”
“Yes…… the heels of my shoes I wore were quite pointed.”
So she stepped hard on him……
But the duchess still seemed unconvinced. She just spat out a silly laugh as if it sounded ridiculous.
“Oh my, that is so ridiculous.”
The duchess, who was surprised at the cynical response, explained in a haste.
“Oh, I’m talking about Shilian, Lady Nelia.”
It probably was not enough since the duchess even wrinkled her forehead and muttered, ‘That fox-like man…….’
The duchess then drew slightly forward after controlling her expression.
“Anyway, so…….. Lady Nelia became Shilian’s handmaiden?”
“Yes, he said that the duke’s attendant returned to his hometown only recently.”
The duchess let out a second silly laugh. However, she soon realized that her attitude was rude, so she shut her mouth in a hurry.
“Oh, the timing of the servant’s return to his hometown was so miraculous that it made me laugh without realizing it.”
Although she was confused by the attitude of the duchess, she didn’t feel the woman meant bad because there was no sarcasm or teasing in her voice.
She was simply curious about why she kept laughing as if she was bemused.
But Nelia didn’t say anything more. She was Duke Hart’s mother. The duchess was endlessly kind to her so far, but she should still remain on her toes.
“He didn’t treat you like a maid, did he?”
“Yes……… he’s always kind to me.”
Although sometimes the duke crossed the line……. He never treated her rudely or disrespectfully just because she was his handmaiden. Rather, he was too polite and generous.
“It’s such a relief to hear that.”
The duchess laughed with her eyes closed.
At that moment, she looked like Duke Hart. If there was a slight difference, it would be the old age that has become a factor. It was fascinating to see they didn’t look like yet resemble each other closely.
“Actually, I heard that Lady Nelia knew about the curse of the Hart Family.”
The duchess’ attitude became cautious when she brought up the curse.
“That is the reason why I became more interested in Lady Nelia. It’s not easy to continue to stay beside someone whom you know is cursed.”
The duchess slowly dropped her gaze.
“I was surprised and scared when I discovered my husband’s secret.”
Different from her words, a bitter smile was drawn across the duchess’ lips. But she said it in a joking manner as if trying to lighten up the mood.
“If I discovered it earlier, I would have divorced him and married another man.”
And yet, Nelia’s heart sank at that.
‘Duke Hart’s father died at an early age. Moreover, in the hand of the emperor…….’
The story was so tragic.
“What about Nelia?”
Nelia, who had lowered her head for a moment, looked up at the duchess again with a serious expression.
“Actually, regardless of getting married or what, it’s not easy to accept a man who lives with a curse as a spouse. And I’m not sure what happens, but he’s not completely in control because the medication hasn’t been as effective lately.”
Nellia opened her heart without hiding anything. The duchess ended up revealing Duke Hart’s weakness by herself. Even though she already knew that.
Nelia revealed what was on her mind without attempting to hide anything.
“Honestly, I don’t know. Everything happened so abruptly. Therefore, I am currently unable to give you a certain answer to anything.”
The duchess acknowledged her answer calmly.
“However, I have one piece of good news to tell……. the duke returned to his human form shortly after turning into a snake.”
“……Is that right?”
The duchess opened her eyes wide upon receiving Nelia’s words.
“Yes, it was only twice, but……..”
“Even so, it never happened before…….! How did he return?”
“We haven’t figured out the exact reason yet.”
Nelia continued while fiddling with the teacup.
“If we keep looking for a solution, I think one day the duke’s curse will eventually be lifted.”