Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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Yes……. I know.
But instead of giving an agreement response, Nelia bowed her head.
“I apologize for the fuss, Your Highness.”
“You apologize so often for the wrongdoing of your family.”
Often……? Not this time, but when……
“It was your brother who dropped the necklace, but didn’t you apologize in his stead?”
Nelia’s eyes grew bigger.
He knew Leighton was the culprit for that incident.
When Nelia opened her eyes widely like a frightened rabbit, Carlos shook his hand.
“Well…… It’s already in the past, so I don’t intend to find fault with the necklace incident.”
Carlos stepped closer to Nelia and lowered his head to match their height.
“More than that……”
His black pupils bore right into her.
“Were you hurt somewhere?”
There was a moment of emotion in his cold expression and low voice.
Nelia, who stared blankly at him for a moment, realized why Carlos was asking this question.
‘I’m here to see my sister. She collapsed on the street the day before yesterday and didn’t return home.’
Is it because of what Leighton said earlier?
Nelia slowly opened her mouth.
“Yes……. I collapsed a few days ago, but I’m fine now.”
Tsk. Carlos clicked his tongue.
“If you’re this thin, you’ll fall down. You appeared so weak.”
She ate a lot of sweets while staying by the duke’s side, and she still looked skinny. Nelia’s body definitely didn’t gain any weight but…….
Nelia stood awkwardly while wondering internally, ‘Is that so……?’, looking elsewhere when Carlos said so.
“I’ll invite you to have dinner with me.”
He’s not treating her with tea this time, but a dinner? Nelia didn’t quite understand what Carlos was saying.
“I owe you something, and the high-quality dinner of the Imperial Palace will definitely help that fragile body of yours……”
At that moment, she heard the duke’s voice from behind.
“You needn’t worry about that.”
The person who interrupted Carlos’ words was Duke Hart. Duke Hart was approaching them with a smile and held Nelia by the shoulder.
“Nelia is my handmaiden.”
Lifting her head slightly and looking at his face, he just wore a smile on his mouth, a stark contrast to his terribly cold eyes.
Carlos loosened his expression after it stiffened for a while.
“Yes, she’s your handmaiden as you said. Does that mean you have the right to make a puppet of her as you pleased?”
The duke could not immediately respond to Carlos’ remark.
And Carlos smirked, he took off the duke’s hand on Nelia’s shoulder.
“Have you never thought that this kind of attitude could bother your handmaiden?”
“This young lady would suffer the consequences if she is tied up with the duke for no reason…… that’s unlike you, duke.”
Carlos sharply pointed out the bizarre relationship between the duke and Nelia.
Actually, Nelia agreed with Carlos’ remark to some extent.
The guards at the back entrance from earlier even knew about her. The fact that they never met her before but have knowledge of her existence probably meant there were a lot of circulating rumors about her.
Until now, even though it seemed that there have been no strange rumors because people knew she worked as a handmaiden like the duke had intended, but it wouldn’t be strange if people began to misunderstand when they often appeared strange.
Nelia didn’t want to attract any more attention.
She didn’t think of herself, but for the duke. To be more precise, she was concerned about his curse.
The duke was someone who had something up his sleeve, so getting excessive attention from others would come back as a poison for him.
“Tell me one thing, young lady, do you have to get permission from the duke to have dinner with someone?”
When the arrow was flying her way, Nelia looked at the duke and Carlos in turn.
It was a very difficult question.
If she affirmed his question, it would be no different than admitting her personal relationship with the duke, but if she didn’t, she would have to eat with Carlos.
Nelia contemplated what she had to say inside her head and moved slowly her lips.
“I needn’t His Grace’s permission to do that. He’s not the type to be controlling.”
“However, I would also like to turn down your offer for treating me to dinner. I think it would cause a misunderstanding if I had dinner alone with you.”
Carlos’ eyebrows twitched at Nelia’s refusal. Nelia’s heart was racing while watching him.
“I’m sorry if my answer came out as rude. But Your Highness, I mean it…….”
“Then what if we invite the duke to have dinner with us?”
Carlos interrupted Nelia, giving a suggestion. There was a bitter silence at the end of his words.
‘What is he saying again now.’
When Nelia didn’t answer, Carlos’ gaze shifted to the duke.
“What do you think, Duke?”
“I don’t think it’d be a bad idea to have dinner with you for the first time in a while.”
The duke seemed to agonize. But soon he answered calmly.
“I’d like to.”
Carlos lifted the corners of his mouth. The smile on his perfect features was such a nice sight, but not from Nelia’s perspective.
‘What is he up to?’
She became suspicious of Carlos and guilty for the duke at the same time.
Although he was pretending to be fine with it on the surface, she was certain he internally didn’t like the idea……
But it would be the same for Carlos. Carlos also hated Duke Hart so much that it was obvious.
Nelia stared at Carlos, she had no clue what he was thinking. He cleared off his smile before she knew it and kept his usual nonchalant expression.
“Come to the Imperial Sala the day after tomorrow in the evening. Duke Hart, you’ve been there a lot, so I assume you know the way.”
“Yes, I do. We’ll expect to meet you there.”
The duke replied and Carlos turned around with a swish. The man disappeared without muttering another greeting.
Nelia and the duke also stepped ahead. On their way back to the office, Nelia delivered an apology.
“……I apologize, Your Grace.”
The duke looked at Nelia.
“Why is Nelia apologizing?”
“I uttered an incorrect answer, and made His Highness come up with such a suggestion.”
“No, I thought it’s going to happen one day.”
The duke was smiling in a way she couldn’t fathom.
“I knew he was taking an interest in Nelia, but I guess he’s more interested than I thought.”
Nelia thought a little differently from the duke’s guess.
The duke didn’t know, but she helped Carlos, whose arm had gotten stiff for a moment the other day.
Perhaps, that was the reason why he wanted to invite her to dinner, and Carlos was simply trying to express his gratitude. That made more sense.
Nelia indirectly expressed her opinion that Carlos did that wasn’t because he had taken an interest in her.
“It might be that His Highness doesn’t despise you anymore. Therefore, he’s asking you to join.”
The duke shook his head.
“It would rather make more sense if he were planning to kill me right then and there.”
Nelia’s visage darkened at the cynical remark.
Regardless of how much he hated the duke, there’s no way he would summon her to do any harm.
In the meantime, Nelia thought she should pray from today that the dinner which they’re going to attend would pass safely.
That evening, Nelia asked the duke for his understanding and returned home.
She knew the duke would turn into a snake when she parted from him, but she just couldn’t help it. This was because she was perturbed by Leighton, who suddenly came to see her in the Imperial Palace during the day.
‘If His Grace is staying in the bedroom quietly, it wouldn’t be a problem if he turns into a snake…….’
Or he could just take medicine to keep his human form.
Arriving at home, Nelia greeted her parents briefly and looked for Leighton.
Fortunately, Leighton was in the room. She was worried thinking he wouldn’t be there as he has been everywhere lately.
When she opened the door of the room where Leighton was staying, the first thing she spotted was a pile of books on the desk.
‘This brat is reading a book……’
Nelia couldn’t contain her amazement while entering the room.
It took a while for Leighton to sense another presence in the room and lifted his head.
That must be how much he was concentrating on the book…… she wasn’t able to keep up with him any more.
“Oh, Nelia. You’re here.”
“Why did you come to the Imperial Palace this afternoon?”
Nelia went straight to the point. She thought the duke must be waiting for her, so she was going to finish this talk quickly and return.
“I told you. I want to take a look at the necklace I dropped again.”
“So why do you want to see it?”
Didn’t he remember that he was the one who caused the accident? They could have gotten into a huge trouble for what he had caused.
Nelia felt the urge to grab Leighton by the collar and shook him.
“You know I’ve been interested in the duke lately, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I know.”
Until only a few days ago, Leighton had made speculations about the duke. Actually, the speculation was pretty acute that made her sweat.
“I was just wondering what the lofty duke had up his sleeve, but of course nothing much happened.”
Nelia internally heaved out a sigh of relief.
She was extremely concerned at the thought that Leighton might find out about the curse, but he didn’t seem to find anything.
“Instead, I found something more amusing.”
“……What is it?”
Nelia became anxious again. Leighton’s brown eyes held a strange glint of excitement in them.
“The duke has been investigating Sigrid’s heart.”
Leighton continued with a smug look.
“You don’t know, but Sigrid’s heart is really something. It’s known to grant the wishes of those who find it.”
“That’s really something.”
Nelia, who already knew about it, replied apathetically. And she asked Leighton as if pulling words out of him.
“Do you really think Sigrid’s heart exists?”
Nonetheless, the public still regarded SIgrid’s heart as a legend. Only some nobles who have information about it or the Imperial family knew that Sigrid’s heart existed because they tried to find it as well.
“Of course! Or else, would the duke try to find the heart if he thinks it doesn’t exist?”
Nelia hid her growing frustration inside. Leighton seemed to already believe that Sigrid’s heart actually existed.
“Actually, that’s the reason I came over to the duke’s residence on the day of the total lunar eclipse. I would like to talk to the duke about Sigrid’s heart.”
Leighton must have stopped by under the pretext of visiting her, who worked at the duke’s residence and attempting to gather information from the duke.
Nelia frowned upon learning the truth.
“The duke is investigating Sigrid’s heart due to His Majesty’s order. But, keep this secret information I told you to yourself.”
Even though it’s mixed with lies, the mention of the emperor would be enough to baffle Leighton.
Leighton shrugged and spoke again.
“That’s fine. I don’t need to talk to the duke anymore.”
“I’ve been looking through all the books about Sigrid’s heart in the past several days. I’ve also gone to the back street of the capital.”
She could tell that he had read a lot from the desk there, but he had gone to the back street of the capital?
The backstreet of the capital was a night avenue.
The backstreet, which would be illuminated at night, was a place where all sorts of rumors come up, and she knew it well because it was mentioned in the original book.
The rumor about the duke being a homos*xual could be affirmed to start from there.
As if regarding the fact that he had gone to the backstreet of the capital was not a big deal, Leighton was excited.
Moreover, a surprising remark soon escaped his lips.
“Combining the information I have gathered so far, the answer to Sigrid’s heart lies in the necklace owned by the Imperial Family.”
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