Chapter 9

 

“I’m fine…….”

 

I replied dazedly and then looked at him as I set the cup down.

 

“Good.”

 

Stephen took a sip of his tea with a nonchalant face.

 

‘Yes. I knew that look. It’s too cold to be glad. Talking with that look on your face sounds like a threat.’

 

I grumbled inwardly.

 

However, his current attitude gave me hope that maybe we could improve this awkward relationship. Stephen was stubborn, but Roxana wasn’t well behaved either, so their relationship was a conflict, like water and oil.

 

But Stephen had never said anything wrong. His words were far from the sweetest compliments like the nannies and maids of honor had ever said to Roxana, but when I thought about it, they were all for Roxana’s sake.

 

Roxana didn’t really hate him, either. I didn’t hate him either, he was so straightforward but sincere.

 

“Thank you for your concern.”

 

“…!”

 

Stephen was silent for a moment, but after a few seconds he replied in an awkward voice .

 

“You thank me a lot today.”

 

I chuckled.

 

“Is that so?”

 

Actually, Roxana had never thanked Stephen before because of her pride. But then again, I wasn’t her.

 

”’Thank you’ is not that difficult to say, so why should I refrain from saying it?”

 

“…”

 

Stephen looked at me with a complicated face.

 

Lacking the courage to meet his gaze head on, I purposely ignored him and brought the teacup to my lips. When there was no more tea left, I set the cup down on the table and finally spoke.

 

“I would like to reinstate the head maid, is that possible?”

 

Stephen’s face hardened again at my words. He stared at me with a look of profound uncertainty on his face.

 

“Are you serious?”

 

“Yes.”

 

My answer caused Stephen’s eyes to widen.

 

He looked at me with even more astonishment than before.

 

I stared at the front of the room with an unconcerned look on my face. But that didn’t stop Stephen’s gaze from leaving me.

 

“I heard you sent Viscount William’s daughter away.”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“May I ask why?

 

Stephen still looked astonished.

 

His inquiring gaze seemed to gauge my intentions.

 

“It wasn’t enough that she went out without permission, she underestimated her master, so I kicked her out. I have no need for a servant who takes their masters lightly.”

 

“……!”

 

I answered as I always did, but my voice sounded surprisingly cold and arrogant, even to myself. Perhaps that was why Stephen’s face went stiff.

 

“It is in the same vein that I want to bring the head maid again. It seems that the rules of the house have been loosened recently.”

 

Stephen was silent.

 

I looked back at what I had just said and regretted it, wondering if perhaps I made a mistake.

 

Come to think of it, it was Stephen who was in charge of the mansion.

 

I couldn’t believe I talked about the loosening of discipline in that mansion in front of him… This was as good as a blatant reprimand to him. So, what I had just said probably sounded unpleasant for him.

 

Besides, it was Roxana who caused all of this, so he must be frustrated. I could almost hear his sarcastic speech.

 

 “You’ve become quite the role model, haven’t you?”

 

“…”

 

For some reason, Stephen’s face was softened. He said, smiling faintly.

 

“…It’s time for a change. I’ve been feeling it a lot this time, too.”

 

Surprisingly, he wasn’t offended by my words. 

 

“I will handle the matter of the head maid’s reinstatement as soon as possible, as you requested.”

 

I responded with relief that he wasn’t in a bad mood.

 

 “I understand. I’ll wait.”

 

I finished my tea and was about to get up, when I saw Stephen’s lips pursing.

 

He seemed to have something to say, but couldn’t get it out easily. I think the mood had eased a bit, and I was both sorry and grateful to him, so I sat quietly and waited for him to say something. The wait was not very long. After a few minutes, he managed to open his mouth.

 

“There’s one last thing I want to ask you… …May I?”

 

With a serious look on his face, I had a rough idea of what questions he would ask me.

 

I sighed inwardly and nodded.

 

“What the hell happened at the Imperial Palace that day?”

 

It was a question I was expecting, but this time it was not so easy to answer. He was the Duke’s confidant, even if his attitude toward me was a little more friendly. The Duke must have heard about my accident, because it was not something that he would just overlook.

 

And what I say to Stephen now will be heard by the Duke as well.

 

That’s why I couldn’t give a hasty answer. The longer the silence lasted, the more uncomfortable the air flowed between us.

 

I could see the tension in his gaze.

 

“People say……”

 

“What happened that day was simply an accident.”

 

I cut him off in the middle and answered because I couldn’t let Stephen have any more strange misunderstandings.

 

“Accident?”

 

Stephen’s brow wrinkled. He narrowed his eyes and looked at me.

 

There was a hint of suspicion in his gaze.

 

But even with a visible lie, this was the best I could do for now.

 

“I went out on the terrace to cool my head, but I leaned against the railing and lost my balance, and fell off.”

 

“…”

 

I spoke as calmly as I could, but I knew it was a lame excuse. There was no way he would believe me, because he knew the situation between me and the Crown Prince wasn’t good even before the accident.

 

Come to think of it, someone must have seen me stepping on the railing that day.

 

Also there was the man who tried to help me. They might be talking about me. 

 

I don’t know how the rumors about me spread outside.

 

But….

 

Stephen knew.

 

He stared at me in frustration.

 

It was clear from his reaction that he didn’t believe me.

 

But I didn’t want to explain.

 

I couldn’t give him a proper excuse yet, and I didn’t have the eloquence to deceive him in a tactful way.

 

But I couldn’t tell the truth.

 

I knew that the more I tried to explain, the crazier it would get.

 

Besides, what I said wasn’t wrong. What happened that day was definitely an accident.

 

I swear to the heavens, I was not trying to make an extreme choice that day because of the wounds I received from the Crown Prince, as Stephen seemed to think.

 

I didn’t know exactly what had happened to me that day. I was just bewildered and frightened and trying to escape.

 

I thought I was dreaming at the time.

 

“…”

 

An awkward silence washed over me.

 

I kept clenching and unclenching my fists. The palms of my hands were quickly getting hot from nervousness.

 

“Okay….., if that’s what you say, then that’s what it is.”

 

“….?”

 

I was a little taken aback by Stephen’s words. There were certainly many weaknesses in my words. There was no way that the perceptive Stephen could not have known that. Nonetheless, he let it slide just like that. It seemed I wasn’t the only one who had changed from before. I left my seat before I would get into trouble with a complicated look on my face.

 

“Thank you for the tea.”

 

Fortunately, Stephen didn’t ask anymore. I was about to leave the room, but stopped at the door and asked him.

 

“Have you ever heard from the royal family about me?”

 

“Of course I have, many times.”

 

Stephen’s reply made me realize that I had asked a ridiculous question. Roxana is the Crown Prince’s fiancée, and since the accident in which I was injured occurred in the Imperial palace, I’m sure the Imperial Family had launched an investigation.

 

“Speaking of which, how did they handle what happened that day?”

 

“It’s still being investigated by the Imperial Family, but for now, it was treated as an accident.”

 

The ‘for now’ in Stephen’s words bothered me, but I didn’t ask further.

 

“Have you informed the Imperial Family of my whereabouts recently?

 

“No, I have not. What happens in the Duke’s residence is kept secret from the outside world.”

 

Stephen replied firmly.

 

But I smiled at his assurance.

 

Despite his imposing manner, what he had said was wrong. If what happened inside the Duke’s mansion had not leaked to the outside world, there was no way the Crown Prince would have known about my recovery.

 

If it was Stephen who told the Crown Prince, I wouldn’t be so anxious, but he did not….

 

The thought that there might be an imperial spy in this mansion made me shudder somewhat.

 

“Then how could His Highness the Crown Prince know that I am awake?

 

“Huh?” 

 

I asked with a frown, and Stephen looked at me with a look of disbelief.

 

Looking at his surprised face, it seemed like he really didn’t know anything about it. I looked at him quietly with a frown.

 

“It can’t be. I’ve made sure that the servants are kept in the dark.”

 

Stephen quickly countered.

 

I’m sure it was unforgivable for a man who takes such pride in his work and does everything to the best of his ability. It’s not something I can easily admit and accept, of course. But no matter how much I liked Stephen, his suspicion of me now was not a pretty sight.

 

“This wouldn’t have happened if it was really thorough.”

 

When I looked at him with unpleasantness, he seemed somewhat sorry and asked more politely.

 

“Is it true what you say?”

 

“Yes.”

 

I nodded.

 

I held out the Crown Prince’s letter in front of him.

 

“You can see for yourself if you don’t believe me.”

 

His eyes fluttered as he saw the letter.

 

“How dare I….”

 

Stephen was hesitant to accept my letter.

 

He was only a servant, but to read his master’s letter, a letter was sent by the Crown Prince, it was certainly something worth hesitating about.

 

In the end, however, he accepted the letter I gave him and read the content. While he was reading the letter, Stephen’s face hardened.

 

“I’m ashamed of myself. I didn’t mean to doubt your words. I was just so surprised… I’m sorry if it was offensive.”

 

As if he had finished reading the letter, Stephen held it out to me and apologized profusely. I stared at him with a frown. The shocked expression on his face didn’t look like he was faking it. 

 

But did Stephen really have nothing to do with this?

 

I stared at him in silence for a moment, then quickly said, 

 

“You can stop apologizing.”

 

Stephen slowly raised his head.

 

He still had a confused look on his face. I still didn’t have enough evidence to prove that Stephen had nothing to do with this, but I didn’t want to doubt him.

 

As far as I know, Stephen was a man of rare honesty.

 

It was the same in Roxana’s memory, and what I had seen and felt firsthand. I decided to trust the Duke’s eyes and my own eyes for once.

 

That’s why the Duke entrusted him with a lot of the work.

 

“Please continue to keep as much of what is going on in the mansion from leaking out to the outside world. And the Crown Prince is scheduled to visit in the near future. I do not know the exact date. Get ready in advance so we don’t get blamed.”

 

“Yes.”

 

I turned away, leaving him with a still shocked look on his face, but I stopped.

 

Come to think of it, besides the maidservants, I still had many problems to solve.

 

“I don’t think I’ve seen her since yesterday. Where is the nanny?”