Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
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Carlos sat motionlessly on his chair like a corpse while thinking in silence.
One day, his arm became paralyzed again accompanied by the burning pain, he thought it had recovered completely.
He had never shown to others when his arm became paralyzed and couldn’t be moved around, but it occurred when he was having an audience with the handmaiden.
He remembered the pain in his right arm, the tea that was spilled due to it, and the feeling of her small hand touching it.
It was the first warm touch he had ever felt.
Even if the reason wasn’t related to any personal feelings, he just couldn’t forget the moment when the pain subsided.
Strange enough, the pain had disappeared after the handmaiden massaged his arm for a bit.
That’s when he thought the maid might be a clue to escape his suffering, to get rid of the curse descended on him.
But there was a big wall for actualizing this thought.
Whenever he brought up the handmaiden, Duke Hart seemed as if blinded and became hostile without hesitation.
The relationship between them was very strange.
Duke Hart harbored a special feeling for the handmaiden.
It seemed that way earlier when he saw the mask that he was always wearing came off. It looked as if he was revealing the handmaiden was his weakness even if he couldn’t control himself at all.
‘But, that handmaiden looked a little different.’
She seemed to care about the duke, but she was somewhat dense compared to the blatant attitude of the duke.
And if they were already close, they would have been married or engaged at least, but the two still keep their status as the maid and the master.
From there, Carlos gathered hope.
It would be hard if they’re already close, but if they weren’t, he would have a chance to approach her.
But before approaching her seriously, he needed to check if the curse could really be relieved by the handmaiden.
That’s why he set up dinner with her.
At first, he planned to only call the handmaiden, but he thought it wouldn’t matter if Duke Hart were to come along with her.
Duke Hart increased the pain in his right arm, but the handmaiden could relieve the pain, so he would know for sure when they came together. But it was totally a mistake on his part.
As a result, he couldn’t even get close to the handmaiden.
Carlos looked down at his arm with a nonchalant look, got up from his seat and walked to the desk.
And he opened the drawer.
There was Elena Tears, sparkling in its beauty.
‘…… Should I count on this one now?’
He had never been interested in it, but one day, an explosion occurred with a loud noise in the exhibition hall.
When he found it through the report, the necklace was said to be shattered and only the gemstone remained unscathed.
He asked the guard about the incident, but he said he suddenly heard an explosion. He searched through the place to see if someone was perhaps trying to steal it, but he couldn’t find any suspicious person.
At that time, the gemstone shone as if it wanted to catch his attention.
It definitely shone by itself, not illuminating other light.
As if calling for him.
He immediately picked up Elena Tears.
He reported it to his father and brought it to his room under the pretext of protection, but nothing particular happened after that.
However, he decided to wait a little longer.
Because the feeling that this gemstone was attracted to him didn’t seem to be his imagination.
Carlos’ eyes turned to the book ‘Legend of Sigrid’ which was slipped in the bookshelf of his desk.
He had a hunch that this gemstone might have something to do with Sigrid’s heart.
Nelia replayed the scene she saw earlier in her mind on the way back.
It seemed that there was a tough fight during her absence, but this person had nothing in his hand.
Nelia, who was still looking at the duke, eventually opened her mouth.
“Are you really not going to tell me what happened?”
Duke Hart replied in his usual voice.
“I told you. We’ve done a sparring session there.”
“At the Imperial Sala?”
Nelia asked in bewilderment, and the duke smiled and stroked Nelia’s head.
“Nelia won’t let this slide adequately.”
“I’m just worried, that’s it. If you have a dangerous fight with His Highness, you could get in trouble.”
Concern along with thought, ‘Will Duke Hart receive a punishment?’ as soon as she saw the raw scratches on Carlos’ face.
Even if it was a reasonable fight, the person he went against was the Crown Prince.
According to the results alone, the duke could be misunderstood.
“That won’t happen. I know the Crown Prince with great self-respect would never tell that he lost.”
Nelia opened her eyes wide at the duke’s words.
“…….. Your Grace really won the fight?”
Based on the atmosphere, that seemed to be the case, but it was surprising to hear the duke won directly from his mouth.
How could a man with long, delicate fingers who had never held a sword once was able to beat Carlos, the swordmaster?
“So Nelia wanted me to lose.”
His tone was very playful.
Nevertheless, Nelia urgently shook her head.
“No way………! I’m just wondering how you won against him.”
“Bare hands are enough to win against that immature crown prince.”
Duke Hart said with a shrug. And he squinted his eyes at Nelia.
Nelia asked nervously when Duke Hart acted so seriously all of a sudden.
“Was the dessert you ate earlier that delicious?”
Nelia took time to comprehend the duke’s question. He even asked about dessert with a serious face.
“……Does that really matter now?”
“Yes, it really matters.”
The duke still spoke in a serious tone. So Nelia had to answer earnestly.
“……It was delicious. Besides the taste, each of them was pretty like a piece of art.”
The duke was still staring at Nelia, narrowing his eyes as if he were looking at her sharply.
“What about dinner?”
Nelia had to think back to the food she ate earlier. This was because the atmosphere was fierce and she couldn’t enjoy it really well.
Now that she recalled it, the main dish, the veal steak, was more delicious than the appetizer, the shrimp dish.
“As the duke said, it was okay except for the strong seasoning.”
“Did you like it better than the food in the ducal residence?”
Nelia frowned at the bizarre question.
“Why suddenly bring up the food in the ducal residence…….?”
“It’s an important question, so please answer it.”
She thought he was just playing around, but somehow the duke’s gaze seemed to be tense.
“…The food in the ducal residence tastes better.”
Only then did the duke’s stiff expression fall off. And he murmured something along the lines, ‘Glad to know I’m at least one step ahead.’
Nelia asked with a tilt of her head.
“But why are you asking this?”
The duke looked at Nelia with tender gaze as he regained his smile.
“Nelia likes delicious food. Therefore, I was worried if you think the food in the Imperial Palace tasted better. I try harder to bring more desserts. Even if it means I have to search all over the world for it…….”
“No, I’m not an animal that would follow them around if I’m lured with food, you think I would leave the ducal residence just because of the delicious food!”
The duke didn’t disaffirm. From the silence, she assumed it was an affirmation.
Nelia was furious.
“Who do you think I am?”
“But it’s true that Nelia is weak to food.”
She didn’t have anything to say for a brief moment. Because it’s a fact.
But it’s not like that…….!
“You’re afraid I will leave you simply for food! I would never.”
And as she said before, the seasoning of the food in the Imperial Palace was too strong for her liking…….!
It’s designed to match the Emperor’s preference, so it would never change for the rest of his life.
Nelia was fuming, so the duke asked cautiously.
“Are you telling the truth……?”
“Yes, of course!”
The duke threw his arms around Nelia excitedly. The duke’s joyful voice was heard after a moment.
“I’m touched. Nelia won’t leave me for that.”
Duke Hart sometimes looked like a companion animal with lack of affection. Why did he feel touched and happy for such small things?
Or was he usually too cold…….? It didn’t seem like that either…….
While she was getting lost in her thoughts, Duke Hart kissed her lightly on the forehead.
And the kisses she has gotten accustomed to receive were peppered all over her face again. Nelia pushed the duke after blinking several times.
They were still in the carriage. Even though there wasn’t anyone who watched them, it was still outside, not at the residence, so this affectionate behavior really bothered her.
And more than that, she knew that the duke’s gentle attitude was the prelude that would lead to ‘that’.
Because this was how it always started, and she would eventually fall into temptation.
When she saw the duke halted for a while despite the firm subjectless words, she thought he understood what she meant.
The duke stared at Nelia and spoke slowly.
The duke leaned his body to press his lips on Nelia’s hair when she looked up.
The silver eyes under his eyelashes were so captivating that she was bewitched.
Nelia was barely in her right mind when she answered.
The duke pulled away the body he was leaning to.
As soon as she breathed a sigh of relief, the duke spoke again.
“So that was the problem. Then, I will try to be patient.”
There was a snake hiding behind that angelic smile, trying to devour people.
“Because the mansion is not far from here.”
The duke looked at Nelia, who was fast asleep beside him after putting up a desperate struggle to escape.
‘You’re really cute.’
Although she seemed to be quite firm in refusing, her eyes would eventually lit up like a squirrel lured by food when he seduced her even just a little.
But that’s why she became cuter in his eyes.
Duke Hart stared at Nelia, who was sleeping beautifully beside him.
On the other hand, he was worried because Nelia seemed to easily fall into temptation. That’s why he asked Nelia about the taste of the food in the Imperial Palace earlier.
He thought she would be saying, ‘I think the food here is more delicious’ and decided to leave him.
That’s why he was so touched when Nelia said she wouldn’t leave him just because the food was delicious.
Of course, he knew that Nelia cherished her specially. That’s why she didn’t leave and offered to help even after knowing about the curse.
But that feeling was completely different from being enamored with him. It might be more similar to a sense of responsibility.
That’s why he became greedy for her, apart from the adorable self-fulfillment he felt when looking at her.
If only she could have loved him a bit more.
Duke Hart looked at Nelia, who was sleeping, and kissed her gently.
“Nelia, please love me a bit more.”
It was then.
Nelia wriggled her eyebrows.
He wanted to curse when thinking that Nelia had been awoken because of him. He didn’t mean to wake her up.
But Nelia still kept her eyes shut. Her eyelashes trembled.
She seemed to be dreaming.
“Please calm down……. The burning smell…….”
The duke carefully patted Nelia’s head, Nelia murmured lowly.
‘The burning smell…….’
The duke knew that when he used his powers or turned into a monster, there would be a burning smell around.
He had no idea why. He just thought of it as the unpleasant effect of the curse.
However, he has been a bit bothered by that now.
If he appeared as a monster in Nelia’s dream, it could be a nightmare.
Fortunately, Nelia’s expression loosened shortly after.
The duke recalled his previous dream while putting on a gentle smile on his face and touching Nelia’s cheek.
Now that he remembered it, Nelia also appeared in his dreams often.
Nelia always appeared in dreams that he could completely remember even after waking up in the morning. That’s why he jokingly told Nelia last time that she was the lead character in his dreams.
But the weird thing about his dreams was that he always faced Nelia in the form of monster.
It happened for a long time before Nelia found out about his monster form.
He once dreamed of running after Nelia, who turned into a squirrel, and on another occasion……
‘Your Grace…… Do you think you have to avenge the Emperor?’
He has talked about the revenge in his dreams that he never told to Nelia in reality.
The dream on that day was affecting him greatly.
He was afraid that Nelia might decide to leave because it was around the time after Nelia found out about his monster form.
The reason why he confessed his plan for revenge to Nelia was due to that dream.
‘I don’t want Your Grace to inflict harm on anyone.’
Because what Nelia said in her dream really hit him as vivid as it was.
After that day, although his stomach would still churn when seeing the emperor, at least he didn’t feel like killing him anymore.
His cold and hard heart felt warm as the spring wind passed by.
Who knows, abandoning the revenge plan might be the beginning of change in his life.
Duke Hart looked down at Nelia with a small smile on his face.
And the one who made that change was her adorable savior.
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