Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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What? Such vague words.
Actually, if Nelia had to be honest, she didn’t want to be entangled with Charlotte.
She already had enough with Duke Hart, the villain, encountering Carlos, the male lead, and now plus the female lead?
It wasn’t just because it was troublesome to be involved with the main characters.
This was because they were rivals when it came to finding Sigrid’s heart.
These three main characters were trying to find Sigrid’s heart for their own interests. She didn’t have an interest in it, but she just decided to help Duke Hart find the heart so he could lift off the curse.
So in terms of seeking Sigrid’s heart, they were rivals to her except for Duke Hart.
“So I can’t…….?”
But for what reason? She couldn’t refuse Charlotte, who asked for something so pitifully.
Charlotte continued with her lowly opened eyes.
“Actually, I don’t know anyone in the capital……”
Nelia couldn’t endure these kinds of requests. It was because she knew better than anyone else how strange it must have felt in such an unfamiliar environment.
For the same reason, she saved the sack without knowing there was the duke, who had turned into a snake at that time.
“Then I must have asked too much from Nelia. You can refuse it if you don’t want to……”
On the other hand, she had a thought while seeing Charlotte murmuring quietly.
On the other way around, wouldn’t she possibly get a hint about Sigrid’s heart if she were to be entangled with her? After all, she was the female lead of this world, and she would inevitably be a step closer to the heart.
Of course, the guilt was a little more bigger than that kind of practical reason.
Nelia eventually nodded.
Charlotte gave a charming smile in response. The charming smile was as great as Duke Hart.
Not enough with that, Charlotte even held Nelia’s hands tightly with both hands.
“Thank you. I…… I want to know Nelia better.”
Charlotte seemed to have taken interest in her rather than being thankful for her kindness.
Was it because the unfamiliar place made it easier to get attached to someone who did a good deed to her?
Nelia told Charlotte to write the letter and send it to the address of the duke’s residence if she (Charlotte) wished to meet her.
Charlotte seemed to be struggling to remember the address.
“Take care, Shalott.”
“Yes…….. You too, Nelia.”
After that short meeting, Nelia parted ways with Charlotte.
Charlotte, who was left alone, murmured to herself.
“As expected, she looks like Popo……”
Upon returning to the duke’s residence, Nelia went to the duke’s room. The inside was chilly and she felt no energy of a human being.
As she approached the bed, a silver snake was laying down, its body curled up.
The snake blinked slowly, sensing the movement. The snake spoke up when their eyes met.
Nelia wrapped the snake in a blanket and caressed its head before its form completely turned into the duke.
The thin blanket thickened. Duke Hart has returned to his human form.
She wrapped his body ahead of time so she didn’t have to see his naked body again.
“That’s too much.”
The duke must have been suffocated because he furtively unwrapped the blanket around him. His upper body was visible, but Nelia decided to pay no attention to it.
“Why did you come back so late, Nelia? I even fell asleep while waiting for you.”
Glancing at the clock, it was already quite late for sure.
Nelia was staring at the clock when the duke asked with a worried expression.
“What’s the matter?”
For a moment, Nelia thought about hiding her encounter with Charlotte from the duke.
She didn’t know why she felt that way. She just…… felt like doing it.
But soon she gave up the thought to try hiding it. She had no reason to hide the fact that she just met Charlotte.
“I stopped by the monastery on the way.”
Nelia revealed what had happened earlier in a baffled voice.
The duke seemed rigid after hearing the whole story.
“Nelia, you can’t just usher a stranger into a carriage. What are you going to do if they do you any harm?”
She was reminded by the scolding she gave to Charlotte earlier, saying what if she climbed into the carriage with some stranger.
Nelia felt weird again.
The stranger was the female lead whom Duke Hart would fall in love with in the original story.
Perhaps, the duke would change his mind when they met later on.
“What is it, Nelia?”
The duke asked, feeling the unusual ambience in Nelia’s current expression. Nelia shook her hand in a hurry.
However, despite the explanation, the duke’s expression got even worse. Then his low voice came out.
“Was the person whom you led into the carriage a man?”
The duke sighed in relief at Nelia’s firm answer.
“I’m glad to hear that. I wondered who else would be flirting with you.”
Of course even a woman can’t make me feel at ease, Duke Hart murmured quietly.
Nelia averted her eyes out of embarrassment that nobody would do that.
“That’s not going to happen…….”
The duke was always very concerned about her.
‘Does he think everyone likes me…….’
But the duke’s voice was still as serious as ever.
“Does Nelia feel nothing even after receiving an invitation to dinner from the Crown Prince?”
“I’m not sure, the reason His Highness Carlos invited me was not like what you thought.”
Nelia thought she should explain to the duke about the reason why the Crown Prince had taken an interest in her.
If there is a misunderstanding, it would be better to clear it up beforehand.
Nelia heaved out a sigh and began to talk.
“The reason His Highness Carlos is interested in me was because of you. It’s the mentality of desiring other people’s possession. He thinks it would be more satisfying to snatch something from the person who is not in his favor.”
The duke smirked. There was a slight sense of sarcasm mixed in his gaze which looked cute.
“As Nelia said, I’m probably the reason why the Crown Prince became interested in you. But, it’s not the case now.”
The duke caressed Nelia’s cheek.
“Just as I’ve fallen for Nelia’s charm, so is His Highness.”
Nelia held the duke’s hand, which was softly caressing her cheek.
She wasn’t intending to say this, but she now felt the need to do it in order to clear up the misunderstanding.
“Actually, there’s something I didn’t tell the duke.”
“What is it?”
Nelia said after swallowing through her dry mouth.
“It was on the day His Highness Carlos treated me to tea.”
She wasn’t going to say this out of consideration to Carlos. But she thought it would be better to reveal it rather than just piling up the misunderstanding.
“His right arm was paralyzed for a moment. He seemed stunned, so I helped him a little.”
“…….How did you help him?”
The duke’s voice sank quite significantly.
“There was no other thing I could do at that moment, so I just gave him a massage on his arm.”
Nelia’s voice gradually grew smaller as she watched the duke’s expression become menacing.
Fortunately, the duke loosened his expression shortly after.
“His arm must have been paralyzed again. His Highness must be uncomfortable.”
Yeah. Nonetheless, Duke Hart must not be so vicious as to aim a bad intention to a sickly man…….
“Then he’d rather not have arms. I’d better completely get rid of that uncomfortable arm of his.”
The duke said with a cold smile.
Nelia was worried upon hearing his vicious remark.
‘By any chance……. There would be no fight at the dinner table, right?’
Why did she even meet Carlos that day?
She knew there was nothing she could do when Leighton showed up, but she couldn’t help the sigh that escaped her lips.
Much to her dismay, the appointed time for dinner came quickly.
When she realized it, she was walking through the hallway of the luxurious imperial palace.
The walls of the hallway with long red carpets were adorned with gold lights at every particular distance, illuminating the path.
Although it was the day before yesterday when the duke was unusually excited at the thought of cutting off Carlos’ arm, she could barely calm him down.
Fortunately, his circumstances seemed pretty peaceful at the moment. Of course she didn’t know about his emotions.
“Why did Your Grace go here?”
Nelia asked as if she had a bad hunch about it.
Looking at the extravagant hallway, it didn’t seem like a place to serve ordinary guests.
Carlos said the duke would know his way here, so he must already know which way they should take.
“Yes, I come here from time to time. His Majesty would gather the officials here and have dinner with them.”
“Is the meal delicious………?”
“The meal in the ducal residence is far more delicious.”
The duke answered Nelia with a smile.
Even the meal should at least be delicious even in the uncomfortable place, but it seemed difficult to have an expectation.
Standing in front of the big wooden door, the employees who stood on either side opened it for them.
When the grand door opened, the first thing she caught was a round table placed in the center of the large room inside.
She expected it to be as long as the duke’s, but it turned out to be completely different.
Carlos was already sitting at the center of the table.
Even that alone was unexpected.
She thought he would come lazily after about ten minutes from the appointed time.
“Good evening, Your Highness. Thank you for inviting me.”
The Duke took his seat and greeted him. Nelia thus greeted with courtesy. The duke took his seat and greeted him. Thus, Nelia greeted him with a polite bow.
Carlos nodded nonchalantly.
“Take a seat.”
She thought he had changed a little since he came earlier and waited for them, but it wasn’t the case when she saw the brief words without a word of greeting.
Nelia sat down as well all the while thinking people didn’t change easily.
The dish was served. It was luxurious and appetizing.
The seat felt odd and uncomfortable, so she didn’t know if she could enjoy this properly.
Carlos picked up the tableware, remarking the beginning of the full-scale meal. The cluttering sound of the tableware resonated quietly.
Nelia also cut the plump shrimp and took it into her mouth. It might be because she was nervous, but she didn’t know what it tasted like even though she chewed it.
“Do you like the food I’ve prepared?”
The shrimp was fresh. She was nervous and didn’t know how to describe the taste of the shrimp, but it looked shiny, a clear indication that they had just been caught from the sea.
Carlos’ eyes were directed on Duke Hart this time.
“How about you, duke?”
“The dish at the Imperial Palace is always great.”
The duke replied while looking down at his face.
Carlos, who was staring at the duke quietly, took a sip of water beside him and put down the glass afterwards.
“You said the meal was great, but why are you avoiding dining with His Majesty in the Imperial Palace lately?”
When Carlos asked a pointed question, Nelia almost spat out the shrimp she was chewing.
Because it was true that the duke avoided the emperor.
He still hated the emperor until now, and he just recently gave up his goal for revenge.
But based on its nature, the hatred didn’t just disappear immediately, so the duke needed time to sort his emotions.
That was the reason why he avoided the emperor.
She thought no one would notice because he was someone who handled things cheekily.
She didn’t know whether he was just feeling him (Duke Hart) out, but Carlos was able to point out the change of the duke keenly.
“Your Highness has a misunderstanding. I’ve never avoided His Majesty.”
The duke said while flashing a smile.
He was a professional liar. How could he lie so smoothly without batting his eyelashes?
“Then why did you refuse to have dinner with His Majesty lately? I heard you even missed the monthly dinner with the officials.”
“I’ve had a lot of work that needed to be done. I’ve been working at the mansion for a month, and I’ve had a pile of business I couldn’t get my hands on.”
“I’m glad when you said you were busy. I thought you were His Majesty again.”
“I have no reason to avoid His Majesty that I’ve been serving for my entire life.”
“You don’t know things about people. There are times when one hates their family all of a sudden.”
“You worry too much.”
It was like a battle between a spear and a shield.
Carlos attacked keenly, but Duke Hart blocked it without letting a single gap for him.
The parties involved remained composed, but it was Nelia who seemed to be conscious, even if she was just watching the scene from the corner.
She even forgot to swallow the shrimp she was chewing, so it stayed inside her mouth for quite a while.
“Seems like I’ve paid too much attention to Duke Hart.”
Carlos’ gaze shifted to Nelia upon uttering such a foreboding remark.
“You were the one who I originally wanted to invite for dinner.”
Neia ultimately coughed out. It was a relief that her mouth wasn’t full anymore by then.
“Actually, the reason I prepared a meal for you today was to express my gratitude because you helped me then.”
“What kind of…….”
“You helped me when my right arm was paralyzed.”
When Carlos nonchalantly brought up the talk about that day, Nelia’s eyes grew slightly larger.
She didn’t know he would mention his right arm himself, considering it was his weakness. Not to mention in front of the duke himself.
Nelia answered after controlling her thoughts.
“I simply did what I had to do at that time……. And I would have acted the same way even if it wasn’t Your Highness.”
Carlos stared at Nelia with his chin propped up on the back of his hand.
“You’re talking about it like it’s not necessary.”
But you tickle my fancy even more because you’re that kind of person, Carlos muttered and put down the tableware.
“How about this, you still don’t think about being my handmaiden.”
“I will make sure to give you the best treatment. No one can think of you as my handmaiden.”
The corner of Carlos’ mouth curved upward. He has an expression of a naughtly little boy on his face.
“Third offer, are you thinking of turning it down again this time?”
Nelia thought Carlos has a wicked sense of humor. Is this why he invited the duke along?
Huft. Nelia breathed calmly.
And it was the moment when she was about to spit out a word of refusal.
She heard the duke’s voice.
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