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Soon after Chloe and Leila withdrew from the Empress’ tent, rain began to fall. Autumn rains fell on the hunting grounds, the Imperial Palace, and the Capital.
The hunting contest was called off because of safety concerns for the participants. The cold rain wouldn’t just make them more likely to catch a cold, but it also made the ground slippery and the probability of falling was higher.
“Let’s stop the hunting contest for this year. Everyone has worked hard, even during such bad weather.”
The Emperor, who returned from the forest, spoke solemnly. When he finished speaking, a trumpet sounded two times.
The hunting contest had quickly come to an end. The ceremony where participants offered prey to their respective ladies and the awarding of the winner had to be cancelled.
Disappointment was evident on the young men and women’s faces, they must have been looking forward to the hunting festival. However, those who lingered had no choice but to scatter to get away from the rain.
Chloe and Leila followed the others and got into a carriage which would bring them to the Imperial Palace.
On the other hand, Gerard and the Imperial Knights still remained on the hunting ground.
“How many people are still in the forest?”
“Two people, young Master Burtman and Sir Russell.”
“Two? Are you sure?”
“Then, we should split into two teams and look for them. Simon, you check Areas 1 and 2, and Anton, check on Areas 3 and 4.”
The Imperial Knights headed back to the forest after being divided. Gerard returned to the Emperor’s side after giving orders. His mind was preoccupied by the thought of escorting the Emperor and the Empress to the Imperial Palace before he had to return to the hunting ground again.
Their clothes were wet and cold because of the rain and felt heavy. They couldn’t wait to get changed. Chloe and Leila trotted to the private lounge granted by the Imperial Family for the Blanchett Family.
Maids quickly changed their clothes, dried their hair and reapplied makeup. After finishing the process, they returned to the lounge and took a short rest.
Chloe was sitting on the sofa, looking out the window without saying anything. When she was outside, she panicked because of the heavy rain, but it looked quite picturesque from the inside.
The pouring rain was cold as if it was about to wash everything away. She hoped that the rain would wash away her complicated thoughts, along with this situation.
Chloe, who had been looking out the window for a while, called Leila, who was sitting across from her.
Leila replied after Chloe brought her back from her thoughts.
“You should return to the lounge provided for the Anata Family.”
Chloe continued in a low voice.
“The Grand Duke will arrive by the time the banquet begins, so you’d better go.”
“Oh… Do I have to go there? Can’t I stay here until Derick arrives?”
Chloe turned her eyes away from her friend’s desperate gaze. She put on the act that she had been internally practicing since earlier.
“And I’ve been thinking that we need to keep our distance.”
“I can’t believe you think that we have to keep our distance… What do you mean by that?”
“We need to reduce the number of times we have contact and see each other.”
Chloe noticed how Leila’s breathing became rougher. However, she still hadn’t looked at her friend’s face.
“From now on, let’s address each other properly. It’ll be awkward at first, but it’ll gradually get better for us.”
“Why? Why should I do that?”
Leila’s voice trembled violently.
“….We can’t act like little girls forever.”
“It’s not that… Chloe, it must be because of the letter! You’re trying to keep your distance from me because of that letter, aren’t you?”
Chloe was silent at Leila’s assumption. Leila was, indeed, right.
“Chloe, it’s my fault…”
“Don’t apologize, Leila. I don’t want you to apologize to me.”
Chloe cut off Leila’s attempt at an apology.
“And it’s true that I made this decision because of the letter, but it’s not just because of that.”
“If it’s not only because of the letter, then what?”
Leila asked, her expression communicating that she couldn’t understand her friend.
“You’ve always been rude to my husband, haven’t you? You call his name thoughtlessly, and talk about him as if you know him better than I do.”
Leila frowned as Chloe explained.
“I’m very uncomfortable with that.”
“Chloe, I couldn’t help but to be like that because Gerard and I used to spend a lot of time together…”
“Yes, I understand. But my heart couldn’t.”
“You could have said that, couldn’t you? I didn’t know what you were thinking, so I just acted comfortably!”
“Yes, I could’ve said that, but I couldn’t. It’s my fault.”
“…No, it’s mine.”
Leila was embarrassed when Chloe calmly admitted it was her fault. She didn’t want to blame her friend.
“I know very well that you treat each other like family after spending your childhood together.”
“That’s why I felt disgusted with myself when I realized that I was jealous of your relationship, and I found it hard to put into words. Perhaps I would still be in that state if the letter incident didn’t happen.”
“But, Chloe… Gerard, I mean, the Marquis of Blanchett and I haven’t even contacted each other since you got married. We were just old friends when we met you.”
“I know, but it’s just…”
Chloe paused for a moment to control her rising emotions.
‘He liked you too much.’
She held back the words. She didn’t need to make her friend confused with such an ambiguous remark when she was trying to clear up their relationship.
“I must have hated you so much.”
The friend whom she hated as much as Gerard loved her. She still couldn’t quite explain that ridiculous feeling.
“I know how much he loved you. I know how bright you were back then. It was difficult for me to endure.”
“I think it’s better for us not to see each other from now on.”
Chloe finally told Leila she was ending it. Would this relationship have lasted if Leila walked the line a little more or Chloe didn’t feel inferior to her? It was a meaningless question.
Leila became desperate after listening to Chloe quietly. Her friend wasn’t the type who talked thoughtlessly. Having said so, it was clear that she was determined to cut her off completely.
Leila realized that regardless of how much she tried, there was no way she would be able to change her friend’s mind. Her heart ached and filled with anger.
“So… You just wanted to cut me off. And this letter gave you a good excuse for that!”
In the end, Leila exploded after trying to hold back.
“Why… Why are you so one-sided? Do I just have to follow your decision because you decided to break up the relationship like this?”
Huge tears rolled down Leila’s cheeks.
“You know, Chloe, I’m tired now. Do you have to do this?”
“Friends can make mistakes, can’t they?”
Despite Leila’s sorrowful pleading, Chloe kept avoiding her eyes. It was suffocating.
Leila’s head dropped helplessly. The light went out of her eyes. The hope that she invested into Chloe after being helped in front of the Empress vanished.
“I wouldn’t have done it if I knew it would be like this.”
Chloe thought Leila’s murmur was the regret that she belatedly felt. However, Leila’s words were completely different from what she expected.
“If I’d known that I would lose both of you, I wouldn’t have brought you together.”
“I would have married Gerard instead!”
Leila shouted and raised her head in anger. Her brown eyes were damp with tears, filled with malice and spite.
Just like Chloe, Leila had been agonizing about the past lately. She wondered how it would have been if she married Gerard and not Frederick. Gerard wouldn’t have prevented her from sparring at least. More than that, she wouldn’t have lost both of them in the end.
However, there was a difference between what she thought and what was spat out.
A strange silence engulfed the lounge along with Leila’s intensified breathing. As if it was calm before the storm.
Chloe felt like her hair was about to turn white out of anger. She was so angry that she couldn’t bring herself to say anything. She just picked up her teacup with a trembling hand.
And poured everything in it onto Leila.
Leila, who was drenched with tea, looked at her in surprise.
“This is my answer to your insult.”
It was also true that she was so shaken up by Leila’s words after talking to her for a while. When she went to the North, she noticed a change in her friend. Leila, who used to be shining and gorgeous, seemed exhausted.
However, it was her choice. No one had ever asked her to marry Frederick instead of Gerard.
“Get a grip, Leila de Anata. The world that revolved around you ended nine years ago.”
“Don’t take back the choice that you made and lie to others.”
Chloe said while staring coldly at Leila.
However, what she said to Leila came back to her like a boomerang. Could Leila really be the only one who was lied to nine years ago?
Just as Leila chose Frederick over Gerard, Chloe chose Gerard over Herace. The result of the choice she made was this situation.
“Get out! Now!”
It was at that moment.
The tightly closed door opened, revealing Gerard and Frederick. They stood stock still while trying to take in the scene in front of them.
Leila, who was soaked with tea, and Chloe, who was holding a teacup. Even if they wanted to think differently, the scene that they saw must have made it difficult to think the other way.
It was clear that Chloe Blanchett had poured tea on Leila de Anata.
In the midst of the stifling silence, it was Frederick who spoke first. At that moment, Chloe dropped the glass in her hand.
Chloe, who was startled by the sound of glass breaking, suddenly lifted her eyes. When she made eye contact with her husband, she felt an uncontrollable surge of emotion rushing inside her.
Hate, shame, and despair. She felt as if she had been caught in a wicked act.
With that, Chloe ran away from the scene. Just as Abel had done in the North.
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