Chapter 1. An Accidental Encounter
Nelia was momentarily dazed.
She knew she should go along with his words now, but she wondered if the duke could be deceived by such a lame lie.
‘He even looked into the people around me behind my back…….’
That’s why he also looked into Charlotte’s background.
The duke and Janet’s eyes pressed against Nellia. The duke and Zenuit’s eyes were fixated on Nelia.
Nelia eventually nodded.
“Yes……. I’m sorry for not telling you ahead of time, Your Grace.”
Hoping that the duke wouldn’t have noticed, Nelia glanced at Zenuit.
“I was asked to do this all of a sudden. My parents are away from the county, so they can’t take the burden of taking care of him…… So I guess I have to take care of him instead.”
Nelia continued nervously.
“I was going out to pick up Zenu. He was supposed to come next week, but his journey to the capital was rushed today.”
Would the duke believe her……
The duke stared at Zenu quietly, then turned his gaze to Nelia.
“Got it. He must have been flustered.”
As of now, there was no sign of suspicion etched on Duke Hart’s expression.
The situation was a bit sudden and strange, but he seemed to believe it because she was the one saying it.
If this was his usually quick-witted side, he must have noticed that something was off.
Nelia continued with a relieved mind.
“That being said…… Is he allowed to stay in the duke’s residence for a while?”
“Of course. He’s Nelia’s cousin, so he’s like a family to me.”
She wished the duke would have refused, but he answered almost immediately with a kind smile.
Nelia suppressed her frustration and opted to pinch Zenuit’s cheek.
“Huu, our cutie Zenu. Thanks to His Grace, you can stay with me.”
When she let go of his cheek, there were red finger marks on his white cheek.
She noticed Zenuit’s displeased gaze, but Nelia pretended not to acknowledge it.
“His name is Zenu?”
Duke Hart lowered his body to match the height of the short Zenu.
“Zenu. Nice to meet you.”
Zenuit flashed a smile like an innocent kid.
“Nice to meet you, Your Grace. I’ve heard a lot about Your Grace from Noona. Please let us be in your care!”
She didn’t know about it yet.
With the appearance of Zenu, a new wind would blow through the duke’s residence.
On the same day, Nelia returned home with Zenuit, whose appearance was like a human being. The butler, Ton, seemed a little confused by the sudden appearance of Zenu.
‘That’s kinda understandable…… I’m still confused, too.’
Nelia briefly told Ton why Zenu came here and how long he would be staying.
“I’m sorry, Ton…… It just happened so suddenly.”
“It’s not. We just happen to have a clean room, so he can stay there.”
Zenu suddenly interrupted them.
“I’m going to sleep with Nelia.”
Nelia spoke with a frown.
“Zenu, no, you can’t. There’s only one bed in Noona’s room.”
“We can share the bed!”
Duke Hart, who was looking at Zenuit, also added.
“Zenu, it’s probably too small for you two to share the bed.”
“I’m fine with it! And actually…… I’m too scared to sleep alone.”
Zenu looked up at the adults who surrounded him with his doe eyes.
Even though Nelia knew that there was a black dragon form inside this kid’s body, she still sympathized with him for some reason.
“Noona…… Does Zenu have to sleep alone?”
When Zenu looked at her with a face that seemed as if he was about to burst into tears, Ton spoke with emotion he rarely showed.
“He’s certainly too young to sleep on his own. I was like that, too.”
T-Ton…….? Nelia found it hard to believe, but it wasn’t important at that moment.
Zenu whined, and Nelia answered abruptly.
“……. All right, fine.”
Zenu immediately flashed a bright smile, hiding his moist eyes.
‘Ah…… Did I just lose again?’ Nelia thought and looked at Duke Hart.
“Your Grace, I will wash Zenu’s hands a bit before coming downstairs for dinner.”
“……Yes, I got it.”
She wondered what Duke Hart was thinking that he answered belatedly.
She wondered if he belatedly became suspicious of Zenuit’s existence, but looking at his mood when they came back today, she didn’t think he suspected Zenuit, who was pretending to be her cousin.
It must be the outcome of the immense trust she built with the duke. He didn’t seem to doubt whatever she said, regardless of how ridiculous they were.
At that moment, she couldn’t figure out why he was acting that way.
However, she was pulled out of her thoughts by Zenuit, who tugged at her hand and whined to go upstairs quickly.
Once arriving upstairs inside the room, Nelia closed the door and spoke to Zenuit.
“Zenuit, do you have to share a room with me?”
“I’m bored of being alone.”
When there were just the two of them, Zenuit quickly switched his speaking tone.
The voice of a young boy didn’t really match the grandfatherly tone he was using now.
“But why do you have to be a kid?”
“I thought it would make it easier to be around and stick with you.”
Nelia narrowed her eyes.
“So, that isn’t the only form you can change yourself into?”
Zenuit flicked his hand in irritation. A tall man appeared shortly after, where did the young boy’s appearance go?
The man…… surprisingly, had an extremely handsome face. He might be comparable to Duke Hart and Carlos.
It seemed that what he said when he looked at the duke, he felt like looking at his young self wasn’t just a baseless remark.
“I don’t think the owner of this mansion will like it if you stick around me in this form.”
Well…… That’s what it is.
He wouldn’t be able to stay here as an adult man in the first place.
Zenuit flicked his hand again and he returned back to the kid’s form.
Nelia felt weird after seeing Zenuit in the form of a dashing young man.
Even though he had changed to a kid now, it was still embarrassing to sleep in the same bed with such a man…… and she felt guilty toward Duke Hart.
When Nelia stared at Zenuit with distrustful gaze, he looked at her while humming questioningly.
“Why do you look at me like that?”
“I can’t sleep in the same bed with Zenuit after seeing you change into a strong man.”
Hah, Zenuit spat out an unnecessary noise.
“Do you think I’m going to have some sneaky thoughts about you?”
“Tell me you’re just joking. To make it clear, I can never have that kind of feeling for you.”
Seeing his convincing act, she didn’t feel great this time.
He was like, ‘How dare I fall for someone like you?’
Nelia looked at Zenuit with a displeased look, and Zenuit’s expression seemed quite serious.
“I……. Can’t like anyone anymore.”
His low-voiced recitation appeared to be somewhat sad.
He appeared as a child, but she felt solitude in those small eyes between his eyelashes at first glance.
Nelia breathed out and stroked Zenuit’s head gently. He didn’t refuse the gesture.
Whether he had overcome his emotion or not, Zenuit looked at Nelia and spoke up again after a moment.
“You look ugly like that.”
“Everyone has reasons that they can’t disclose to others.”
Nelia said while sitting down on the bed.
Zenuit was staring at Nelia. Nelia, who was getting embarrassed by his intense stare.
“Is there anything on my face?”
“I think I know why I chose you.”
Choosing her for what?
Zenuit replied and looked away from Nelia.
“It’s a secret.”
Why would he say that in the first place if he didn’t want to tell her?
Nelia, who was complaining, suddenly realized that she had taken quite a while to have a conversation with Zenuit.
“Zenu, we have to eat, wash your hands quickly!”
“Hm? Can we just not go downstairs?”
“No way, you’ll get sick!”
Nelia lifted Zenuit and took him to the bathroom.
“I don’t get sick easily.”
Nelia thought inwardly while seeing Zenuit talking back to her.
‘It really feels like raising a child.’
The next day, who was fast asleep, woke up to Zenuit’s voice from the side.
“Nelia, get up. You’ll be late.”
Nellia opened her eyes in irritation.
Zenuit, who appeared neat as if he had washed his face, was within her sight when she woke up.
“What to do if such a young person spends a lot of time sleeping?”
Nelia rose up looking disheveled.
“Whose fault is this?”
“You’re asking who’s responsible for making you oversleep?”
“It’s because of Zenuit. You took all the blankets again yesterday.”
Nonetheless, he still had conscience, so Zenuit turned into a little dragon and occupied the bedside next to her.
It was obviously like that at first.
But before she knew it, Zenuit came to her side and pulled the entire blankets away from her.
“Why the h*ll does your dragon form have to be covered with a blanket?”
“I like the cozy feeling.”
Nelia got out of bed with a sigh.
After Nelia washed up and got changed, she was about to put on her outerwear when she noticed Zenuit naturally followed her around.
Nelia halted and looked at Zenuit.
“Why are you following me?”
“Why aren’t I following you? We have to go to the Imperial Palace today, right?”
“Do you think it’s some kind of playground there? Absolutely not.”
When Nelia spoke sternly, Zenuit frowned.
“Then do you want me to stay here alone?”
“You can’t go along with me as a child. I asked Ton, the butler of this mansion, to take good care of Zenuit.”
“I don’t wanna. I don’t want to be with a stranger…….”
“If you stay here with Ton, he will give you lots of delicious food.”
Zenuit hesitated at Nelia’s words.
“From what I heard, he bought a cream cake.”
“Mhm, I’ll stay here, because I think you’ll be in trouble.”
Nelia laughed internally seeing Zenuit answered with a bored expression.
At the same time, Nelia felt some kind of deja vu after seeing Zenuit, who seemed to be somewhat excited.
She soon realized the cause of it.
It was because the sight of Zenuit’s sparkling eyes at the mention of dessert were similar to her former self.
‘……I used to be like that.’
If she liked it as much as Zenuit, she understood why the duke brought dessert for her every day.
Nelia scratched her head shyly and went down to the first floor where the duke had been waiting for her.
The duke was waiting for Nelia downstairs. When she took out her pocket watch and checked the time, they would be a bit later than usual.
“Your Grace, I apologize for being late. Let’s go.”
The duke and Nelia got into the carriage.
Duke Hart asked Nelia, who sat on the chair in the carriage.
“I thought you slept late last night, Nelia.”
“Oh…… Yes. I couldn’t sleep well.”
Duke Hart immediately had a worried expression on his face.
“You said you felt cold yesterday. Did you possibly catch a cold?”
Come to think of it, she told such a lie so naturally.
Nelia shook her head.
“I think my cold is gone. I was just……. unable to go to sleep yesterday. There are days where I’d be like that.”
“Alright, it’s a relief. Nevertheless, the solarite will be installed in Nelia’s room today.”
The room would be warm, Zenuit would love it.
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
Nelia responded with a light smile.
As always, the duke stared at Nelia with a smile as warm as a sun during the spring.
But shortly after, the duke stopped smiling and seemed to contemplate about saying something.
“I didn’t know you had a cousin.”
She knew the duke would talk about Zenuit.
She was always with the duke, but she had never talked about his cousin, so he must have been a little surprised by the sudden appearance of Zenuit.
Come to think of it, she didn’t even tell Duke Hart much about other family members of hers either.
It was partly due to his personality, but it’s also because she didn’t know them properly to talk about them.
The time she spent with her family after coming into Nelia’s body was very short. Since it was just less than a year.
Leighton was the only family member she knew well enough.
‘I know for sure that he’s crazy.’
The duke said he’d investigated people around her, but fortunately, her family didn’t seem to be included.
Nelia thought about how to explain about her unexpected cousin, Zenuit, to Duke Hart.
“Uhm……. Actually, although Zenuit is my cousin, I haven’t met him a lot in my life. We weren’t even that close.”
“Yes……. As I said, my uncle suddenly asked for a favor, so I didn’t have time to tell Your Grace beforehand. Why would I have taken Zenu to the Imperial Palace, haha…….”
Nelia hoped that the duke would believe her poorly made-up story.