Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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Only then did Nelia figure out the possible cause of the marriage cancellation was for preparing his things.
When she thought about it, her puzzled mood quickly sank.
She realized once again that the world she lived in was unusual.
Duke Hart…… was trying to kill not just anyone else, but the emperor. In the end, he would end up aiming the sword at the crown prince.
‘Why is the duke so desperate for revenge?’
It’s not that she doesn’t understand his sorrow, but his life was just too dark and miserable with the goal of killing enemies.
At least that’s what Nelia thought.
Nelia forcefully undid his knitted eyebrows. Then, the duke stopped mumbling. His expression soon became relaxed.
Nelia laid down again and straightened her body with more relief after checking his appearance once again.
Nelia had thought for a moment about how to respond if the duke earnestly proposed to her.
It didn’t take long for her to come to a conclusion.
As she expected, the duke is not someone she can manage. How can someone who has the purpose of killing others be welcomed as a spouse?
She wanted to stop him from carrying on his revenge because she felt sorry for him once, but it would be hard to pretend to know unless he brought it up first.
Nelia closed her eyes.
‘I don’t know.’
She wondered if the duke would listen to her when she attempted to stop him, or how long would she continue this relationship with him?
Nelia had a dream that day.
Another big snake appeared in her dream. The snake was still Duke Hart.
The duke is only a small snake, but she had no idea why he always appeared as a horrible creature in her dream.
Moreover, this time Duke Hart tried to devour her.
She was terrified out of her senses that she ran away immediately, but somehow her pace was too slow.
When she looked down at her feet, she saw a set of small feet. At first glance, it’s not similar to the human feet.
His hands were small, and his body was covered with hairs.
‘What is this!’
Nelia groped her face in shock.
There was a snout slightly protruding and her pricked-ears were rising up. And even a full tail.
Nelia took refuge in the nearby pond and looked down at reflection of herself on the water. There was a reflection of a small face. She had turned into a squirrel.
‘Oh, my……. So this is why the duke ran after her and wanted to eat me?’
Nelia was scared.
Sometimes when she was in front of him, she felt like turning into a small animal in front of a beast, but it was simply her feeling.
But now she really has become a small animal in front of a beast.
The huge snake approached the flustered squirrel as soon as he spotted her.
The duke looked down at Nelia who looked at him with fearful eyes.
‘Your Grace, it’s me……!’
I beg you. Nelia pleaded earnestly that it was her, but she wasn’t sure if the snake and squirrel could communicate with each other.
The snake opened its mouth wide.
……She assumed he didn’t hear her earnest plead.
Nelia, who saw into the duke’s mouth that approached her, decided to close her eyes tightly.
But, oh Gosh,
The snake was licking her.
Thanks to him, her fur became wet as if her whole body had been hit by the rain.
Nelia was bewildered, and his action gradually tickled her.
Chup. As if he was actually kissing her.
She could feel the soft touch all over her face.
Nelia woke up from that horrific dream and opened her eyes slowly. And she was caught off guard by the silver eyes right in front of her.
The duke, who was smooching her cheek, laughed with closed eyes.
“Nelia, you’re awake.”
How dare he calmly ask her if she had woken up after kissing her face like that. Nelia spoke while pushing the duke’s face away as it was too close for her liking.
“W-What are you doing just now…….!”
The duke moved away with a wistful expression on his face.
“It’s Nelia’s fault. You looked so lovely in the morning.”
Nelia couldn’t come up with any remark, only her lips were moving slightly. Why has this person become more shameless lately…….?
Then a question came to her mind.
‘Is he really like her or up to something?’
Otherwise, there’s no way he would be saying such a cringe remark.
Though, she didn’t have the courage to spit out questions such as, ‘Your Grace……. Do you like me?’
Because she was scared of the answer that would come out of his mouth.
If he said yes, she would drown in confusion, and if he said no, she would feel uncomfortable. Then, it meant he spent the night with her without having any feelings.
Both of the parties didn’t gain anything from such a question.
Nelia gave up her intention to ask him.
If the day when the duke confesses his feelings, even if she thought about it seriously for once, it’s not the time yet.
“Thanks to Nelia, I had a really good sleep.”
She heard the duke’s joyful voice beside her. Looking at him stretching his body, he seemed to have a really good sleep.
“I had a brief nightmare yesterday, but I quickly escaped it.”
Nelia stared at the duke in surprise. She wondered if the duke’s words saying that he slept well just by staying beside her were indeed true.
Nelia, who actually had a ridiculous imagination that she might possess a sleeping ability that she wasn’t unaware of, suddenly stopped her wandering thoughts.
It was because she realized that he didn’t turn into a snake at all yesterday.
“Your Grace, you didn’t take any medicine when you returned to your room yesterday, did you?”
The duke blinked and nodded.
“Yes……. I didn’t.”
Nelia smiled enthusiastically and held the duke’s hand.
“Wow……..! You really didn’t turn into a snake!”
She didn’t know why the duke didn’t turn into a snake last night, but they might be a step closer to lifting the curse.
Thinking so, she immediately felt happy.
The duke might have attempted to cling to her with his curse as an excuse in the future, but she was more delighted at that moment. Nevertheless, it looks like she had grown attached to him after all this time. Seeing her happy for something like this.
But the duke barely responded and she realized that he had been staring at her face.
When Nelia loosened her hold, the duke held her hand back and strengthened their hold again.
Then he pulled her hand and landed a kiss on the back of her hand. She felt the warm touch fall on her hand.
His lips were the only warm part on his body.
“This is all thanks to Delia.”
Nelia’s heart beat faster at the sight of the duke slowly raising his gaze and approaching her in an unexpected wonderful gesture.
“Nelia had an effect on the curse.”
‘Is he doing this on purpose?’
Or he was just a natural at seducing people as if it was his passive skill.
Nelia had to calm down to prevent herself from falling for this charming snake.
Then she slipped out of his hold. The duke let go of her hand gently.
Nelia spoke after clearing her throat.
“Ehem, I hope for the same thing, however I can’t be sure yet.”
“No. It’s the first time I didn’t turn into a snake without taking medicine. It’s definitely affected by Nelia.”
The duke replied with a relaxed smile. Watching the sight, the corner of her mouth, which she had tried hard to suppress, twitched again.
Nelia and the duke smiled at each other for a while.
Nelia was the first one who shook the excited feeling in her mind.
“Even so, try not to take medicine without me today. Maybe I wasn’t the one who brought such an effect to the curse, but it might be completely lifted.”
“I don’t think the curse was lifted, but I’ll do it.”
The duke answered without an ounce of hesitation. On this occasion, Nelia thought she should go home.
“Your Grace, can I sleep at my house tonight?”
She didn’t want to return for Leighton, but her parents. Nonetheless, she was the only daughter in the family, so they must be worried thinking that she lived outside on her own. It didn’t matter even if she stayed at the duke’s residence.
After all, she had to go home again because there would be a total lunar eclipse in about a month, but there was a lot of time if she waited for a month to pass.
Soon he spoke slowly. When the duke didn’t say anything, Nelia tilted her head.
“Alright……… I think it’s a good idea.”
Nelia looked at his face, which showed an obvious look of sorrow, but she quickly nodded before her heart melted at the sight.
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
During the day, she did her duty as his handmaiden as usual. Although her work mostly consists of simple tasks.
“Your Grace, here it is.”
“Thank you, Nelia.”
After finishing her task, Nelia looked at the duke with her chin supported by her hand. He seemed busy.
It must be because the duchess suddenly paid a visit here yesterday, so he couldn’t get anything done.
She would love to help him more if possible, but she knew she couldn’t because the important jobs required him to finish it.
Therefore, Nelia wanted to walk to the door and pay a slight bow in order not to distract him. Since she was going to sleep at home as she told the duke earlier in the day.
She woke up quietly on purpose, but the clumsy chair rattled and scratched the floor.
The duke looked up.
“Huh? Is it already time for you to go?”
“……Yes, it’s already six o’clock.”
Her plan to walk up to the door and pay a slight bow was shattered.
Nelia answered with an awkward face, the duke put down his pen and slowly initiated eye contact with her.
“You weren’t going to leave without saying it to me, were you?”
“It’s not that, I only wanted to talk to Your Grace briefly since Your Grace looked so busy.”
Duke Hart rose from his seat and walked up to her.
“What are you talking about, a brief talk……. I’m not going to see you for a day.”
“Not for a day, but 12 hours to be precise…… Ukh.”
Nelia couldn’t finish her speech because the duke suddenly pulled her into his arms.
“Twelve hours is too long…….”
His whining voice was heard on top of her head. Raising her head slightly, his sorrowful silver eyes came into her sight.
When he faced her with those eyes, it was impossible to resist him. In that brief moment, the duke looked like a fragile animal and someone who was caught in the rain.
‘The duke is a fragile animal……. It’s so unlike him.’
On the other hand, she wondered once again how the duke thought of her.
How did he feel when he hugged her, held hands with her, and kissed her like this?
However, those worries didn’t last long in her head. Because nothing would be solved even if she thought about it. It would only become a burden in her mind.
Trying to know inside his mind was no different from opening Pandora’s box.
Nelia pressed her heart again to confine her desire.
Being hugged in an awkward manner, the duke’s body dropped. The duke didn’t seem upset at the fact that he didn’t respond to his gesture.
In return, Nelia reached out and stroked his head. Duke Hart was too tall for her height, so the sight of them was a little strange, but she wanted to repay him even only this much.
Duke Hart raised his gaze and looked blankly at Nelia’s hand.
Nelia hurriedly spoke out of embarrassment.
“Make sure you eat well and try to fall asleep even if you can’t.”
Duke Hart smiled softly at her awkward expression.
“I understand. I will do it.”
Nelia pulled away. The duke was having a happy smile on his face.
“And if you don’t take the medicine today, you have to wait and see if you turn into a snake.”
“Yes, I won’t forget.”
Nelia also showed the duke a smile when he calmly complied with her words. Nelia exchanged farewell for the last time and left the duke’s study.
She mentally prayed that Duke Hart didn’t turn into a snake tonight.