Chapter 3

***

 

“Did you and Miss Fisher talk well?” (Bake)

 

“Yes. For now.” (Riv)

 

It was a lie.

 

Rivianna didn’t have the right mind to talk to Margaret right now.

 

She stared at him.

 

Bake’s hair was wet from not being fully dried.

 

“Did you wash up?” (Riv)

 

“I took a bath as soon as I got to my room.” (Bake)

 

“That’s unexpected.” (Riv)

 

“What?” (Bake)

 

As Bake approached, she smelled a familiar scent.

 

It was the scent of his perfume that she knew.

 

“I thought you washed up.” (Riv)

 

Outwardly she pretended to be calm, but her heart started to pound.

 

“What do you mean?” (Bake)

 

“I could smell the soap on you.” (Riv)

 

Rivianna smiled, but at the same time watched Bake’s reaction closely.

 

Fortunately or unfortunately, his reaction was the same as usual.

 

“Ah, I met Lord Hunter today.” (Bake)

 

“I heard he likes horseback riding.” (Riv)

 

“Yes. That man.” (Bake)

 

Bake sighed as if he was tired and continued with his next words.

 

“I was going to say no because it wasn’t in my plans to begin with, but he kept insisting that I couldn’t refuse. So, I went to an unscheduled horseback riding course and worked up a sweat.” (Bake)

 

“It’s been a while since you exercised, you must be tired.” (Riv)

 

“But I still have the stamina to spend a cozy time with you.” (Bake)

 

“Are you sure?” (Riv)

 

“Yes. So you should go wash up quickly too. Or do you want to have a drink first?” (Bake)

 

Bake pointed with his chin at the pre-set table.

 

He seemed to have had one drink first, and one of the two cups prepared had wine in it.

 

“By the way, I like the latter too, but don’t you hate that?” (Bake)

 

Bake’s eyes twitched, as if he misinterpreted my silence.

 

I hurriedly opened my mouth to Bake, who tried to approach me.

 

“I’ll go wash up.” (Riv)

 

“It’s too bad because I was hoping for a different answer.” (Bake)

 

“It’s been a long day so I need a bath.” (Riv)

 

Rivianna replied flatly and headed for the bath immediately.

 

And as soon as the door closed, she immediately sat down on the floor.

 

Her body was already shivering and shaking.

 

It was a lie.

 

‘Bake lied to me.’

 

“…”

 

She raised her head in a daze.

 

At the end of her gaze was a neatly tidied shelf, with some soap on it.

 

She hesitated and soon managed to get up and pick up the soap.

 

The soap smelled like Bake’s scent earlier.

 

Her body shuddered as she checked the facts again.

 

The soap provided in the mansion was made to order separately.

 

It was not distributed in the city, nor was it a scent that could be used in horseback riding courses that was mostly used by men.

 

‘Why?’ 

 

She slowly closed her eyes and opened them again.

 

There was a reason for all of this.

 

There had to be a good reason why Bake lied.

 

And the reason why he washed up right away.

 

When her thoughts reached this point, she felt nauseous.

 

All that went through her head were the worst imaginings she could pull out of her crude imagination. Her husband was a man who knew women.

 

She covered her ears with trembling hands.

 

There was no need to make any effort.

 

Once the suspicions came to mind, they spread as quickly as paint on water.

 

‘Am I really the owner of these earrings?’

 

‘If it isn’t me, who the hell is it?’

 

Rivianna reflexively frowned at the tingling sensation.

 

She must have put too much effort into holding her ears, because her thumb was streaked with blood. The earrings pricked her finger.

 

She stared at the drop of blood and bit her lip.

 

***

 

“Mother, you look so beautiful!”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yes! Mother is the most beautiful woman in the world!”

 

Mariel giggled and buried her face in Rivianna’s dress.

 

She looked into her innocent eyes and smiled.

 

She didn’t have to think too much about it.

 

She could not divorce.

 

A noble’s divorce was flawed and wrong.

 

Divorcing because of a momentary emotional reaction was only a short satisfaction in the end.

 

The label of divorce was not only for her, but also for her children to inherit.

 

There was no way she could destroy her daughter’s life with her own hands, no one else’s.

 

Also Mariel liked her father.

 

Rivianna closed her eyes helplessly.

 

It had been a perfect family until she learned the secret.

 

That was, she could cover up the secret and things could go back to normal.

 

All she had to do was to endure it.

 

“You look so beautiful today.”

 

Bake smiled and put his hands to her shoulders from behind.

 

She lifted the corner of her mouth as she stared at her husband in the mirror.

 

“Really?”

 

“I’m sure there will be no woman more beautiful than you at today’s party.”

 

Her husband laughed.

 

With the kind face she knew so well.

 

She endured the anger and laid her hand over Bake’s.

 

“Don’t give me too much credit.” (Riv)

 

“It’s true. I’m not joking, I have yet to see a woman prettier than you. The moment I saw you, I fell in love at first sight.” (Bake)

 

How many lies did he tell with his innocent face?

 

It was sweet words, but it made her feel worse instead.

 

Still, she chose to smile rather than let it show.

 

If she was having a little fun, she could tolerate it well enough.

 

Everyone was living well, so why couldn’t she do the same?

 

Even if it was hard now, if she made the effort, eventually these feelings would dull.

 

She recalled an old lesson from her father long ago.

 

A true aristocrat always smiles casually at any moment.

 

***

“Will you give me the honor of escorting the most beautiful wife in this party today?”

 

As the carriage came to a stop, Bake held out his hand to Rivianna.

 

As usual, he smiled as he stared at her, and so did she.

 

“Of course.”

 

She got out of the carriage with Bake escorting her.

 

Those who came first were already drunk in the heat of the party, and the area around the ballroom was already noisy.

 

‘It’s especially glamorous this year. Isn’t it natural?’

 

Rivianna frowned.

 

The New Year’s celebration, which marked the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, was one of the biggest annual events in the Empire, but this year it was even more significant.

 

Today’s party was the first one to be held since the Crown Prince ascended the throne after the death of the previous Emperor.

 

It was a kind of signal to mark the beginning of a new imperial family.

 

Moreover…

 

She looked at the still-open curtains and turned her head to the approaching presence. 

 

“The Marquis of Clayton and his wife are as friendly as ever today, aren’t they?” (* Bake and Rivianna Clayton)

 

“Oh, Count Narrett.” (Bake)

 

“‘It’s so sad that you call hard names between us. Also, if I’m going to ask a greeting anyway, I’d rather ask a beautiful woman instead of a stiff man, though. How are you, Lady Clayton?”

 

Count Narrett placed his hand on his chest and greeted Rivianna.

 

He was one of Bake’s best friends.

 

“I’m always well, Count.”

 

“Lady Clayton seems to get more beautiful every day, and at times like this, I really envy Bake.” (Count )

 

“As always, you’re talented in flattering people.” (Riv)

 

“I always tell the truth.” (Count)

 

Count Narrett deliberately made an exaggerated gesture to set the mood, and starting with him, familiar faces gathered one by one.

 

Even though it was a special occasion, it didn’t make much difference in the end.

 

It was usually a gathering of people who were close to each other, as usual, it was enough to respond appropriately and continue the conversation with a smile.

 

However, if there was anything else, it would be the interesting look they gave Rivianna. 

 

She hid her face with her fan in the gaze that she tried to hide but could not. She didn’t want to come because she knew it would be like this, but she had no choice.

 

Hiding or reacting in a half-hearted manner would only make her an easy prey for the luxury people who liked to talk.

 

The best thing to do was to appear as unconcerned as possible until they lost interest.

 

That was what everyone else was doing.

 

Rivianna looked at the woman smiling slyly next to Count Narrett, and smiled accordingly.

 

The woman was here as Count Narrett’s fiancée, but everyone in the room knew that title would not last long.

 

How many women has he had so far?

 

After all, love between men and women was like that.

 

 Burning easily and dying down so simply.

 

Rivianna clasped her hands tightly, and at that moment music began to play.

 

As the music echoed in her ears, she stared blankly at the open curtain.

 

Where everyone’s gaze naturally gathered, there stood the young Emperor. And next to him was…..

 

Rivianna’s heart began to pound.

 

Still she managed to smile and lean against Bake.

 

The Emperor was reading the welcome speech, but Rivianna couldn’t hear him properly.

 

Even from a distance, she could tell at a glance.

 

It was Calix Pierre.

 

He was her former fiancé, the man she was once madly in love with. And…

 

She closed her eyes and opened them again to a memory that suddenly came back to her.

 

It was an old story.

 

Not a good story to be reminiscing about.

 

She huddled a little closer to Bake.

 

She didn’t know who was responsible for the nausea, but it was certain that she smiled all the way to the end of the party.

 

***

 

“How do you feel about seeing your loved one again?”

 

“…”

 

“You’ve always wanted to see her.”

 

Luzen, the young Emperor of the empire, tipped his cup with a graceful smile on his face.

 

He found the reunion between Duke Pierre and Lady Rivianna Clayton interesting.They were once known as the “Lovers of the Century”.

 

Even though they kept it a secret, everyone knew what happened to the lovers of the century and that they had an unwanted breakup.

 

If it hadn’t been for that, the promising heir of a Duke wouldn’t have been taken to the frontier like an animal, and the much-admired flower of society wouldn’t have been sold in a hurry to a half-decent nobleman.

 

The tragic love story, as always, was good to talk about.

 

To put it a little more bluntly, more people wanted to know when the two of them were going to belly up and eat each other than pity the unfulfilled love…

 

“It’s been a long time since you’ve seen her, it wasn’t as good as you thought it would be? You know what they say. It’s beautiful to keep your first love only as a memory. It means you’ll regret it when you actually see it.” (Emperor)

 

“…”

 

“Or was she still as beautiful as ever? Surely such a beauty is so rare that it’s difficult to forget easily.” (Emperor)

 

“…”

 

“Calix. You can tell me anything you want. It’s only then that I’ll decide on a course of action.”

 

Luzen’s eyes narrowed.

 

They had known each other for a long time, but Calix was a difficult person to read.

 

Especially when it was about his old lover.

 

Luzen stroked his chin, not hiding his disappointment.

 

“There’s a lot of people starting anew these days.” (Emperor)

 

“…”

 

“I can help you if you want.” (Emperor)

 

“…”

 

“…I can do this much for my loyal subordinate who has worked so hard for me.” (Emperor)

 

Luzen stretched his arms out in a showy manner, but no response returned from Calix this time. 

 

Calix didn’t even look at Luzen, he just continued drinking his wine. 

 

Accustomed to life on the frontier, the wine felt like water. 

 

He had already drunk many glasses, but he was not getting drunk.

 

Luzen looked at Calix drinking wine nonchalantly and smiled.

Fortunately, he had one thing to say that would interest the indifferent Duke.

 

“Or how about this? It’s about women.” (Emperor)

 

“…”

 

“Make that expression later, because if you listen to me now, I’m sure you won’t regret it.” (Emperor)

 

“….”

 

“It’s true, okay? You don’t believe me?” (Emperor)

 

Luzen smiled mischievously at Calix’s glance. It was not known exactly what Calix felt for Rivianna.

 

 Calix loved Rivianna, but Rivianna betrayed him.

 

To Calix, Rivianna was his first love, and his enemy.

 

Even if Calix wanted to take a late revenge now, Luzen wasn’t going to stop him. 

 

What was important was not Rivianna’s safety.

 

 He just needed a common enemy to make the alliance stronger. 

 

“Well, it doesn’t matter if you believe me or not, because you won’t open your heavy mouth if I make a fuss about it. But I think you’ll change your mind when you hear this story.” (Emperor)

 

“…”

 

 “There was a woman.” (Emperor)

 

Calix put down his glass as if he didn’t want to hear anymore.

 

It meant he was leaving, but Luzen didn’t stop Calix as he usually did.

 

Instead, Luzen emptied his glass with a satisfied smile on his face.

 

The young emperor knew that what he said next was more than any shackles, and certainly more than a drag on a mindless man.

 

“Bake. He had a woman.” (Emperor)

 

“…”

 

“Even before he became the Marquis of Clayton. And he’s still seeing her.” (Emperor)

 

 Luzen leisurely shook his empty glass.

 

Calix’s face distorted through the glass.

 

Notes

N/A

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