Chapter 10

It had been a long time, but she still recognized Siasen’s handwriting. The curvy, scribble-like handwriting reflected his personality. She hesitantly looked at it before forcing herself to calm down and read it.

 

[I invite you to my first exhibition. May the Pearl of the Sunset grace this occasion. From your sincere friend.]

 

The invitation resembled those commonly sent in high society and would seem unremarkable to anyone else. But at the words “Pearl of the Sunset,” Ana momentarily forgot to breathe. Siasen often told her that she resembled a pearl. Like a pearl drenched in the hues of sunset, he had said, praising her beautiful eyes. His serious, penetrating gaze made her feel like the most beautiful woman on earth.

 

Pearl of the Sunset. Those words were their secret signal.

 

I miss you. I long for you. And… I love you. Such sweet, intense feelings were embedded in that letter. A faint dizziness arose, and she closed her eyes deeply before opening them again. She wanted to hide this letter deep in a drawer where no one could find it or burn it in the fireplace, leaving no trace.

 

Her heart raced. His scent lingered on the letter. The beautiful meadow, the sunset that dyed the entire world red, their first kiss beneath it. All the emotions and sensations from that time still lingered in a corner of her heart. Even if the colors oxidized to sepia, they were valuable relics of time. 

 

Ah. Why haven’t you changed at all? Why do you appear before me just as you were in the past?

 

Returning to a habit from her girlhood, Ana looked down and followed his scent before suddenly coming to her senses.

 

There were many maids in the room. She calmly composed her expression and put the letter back in the envelope. She pondered what to do.

 

But she knew she had to meet him at least once and have a conversation. There were unresolved past issues and debts that needed to be settled. A heavy fatigue suddenly overwhelmed her.

 

* * *

Days passed quickly. Ana had been busy attending gatherings with noble ladies, joining Garcia at banquets, checking on family affairs, and acquiring a few paintings. Keeping busy helped keep intrusive thoughts at bay.

 

During dinner, Garcia gently suggested she drink tea to take care of herself, making her realize she might have been overdoing things. He seemed concerned that his wife, who had been ill not long ago, was pushing herself too hard.

 

On the night before Siguin Noel’s exhibition, the couple enjoyed a fine wine sent by the Duke of Arsen, their business partner, and naturally ended up in bed together.

 

After a tender and gentle moment of intimacy, they talked leisurely and drank tea. When Ana returned after briefly leaving the room, Garcia was standing by the table, looking at something.

 

He gave off a distinctly masculine and languid feeling, with his usually neat silver hair disheveled and a loosely draped wine-colored nightgown. Maybe it was even more so because they had just been intimate. Ana approached him with a smile and asked, “What are you looking at?”

 

Oh, Wife.”

 

Garcia turned to her nonchalantly, but Ana couldn’t help her face hardening for a moment upon seeing the invitation in his hand. She quickly feigned calmness and smiled. He was looking at her.

 

Oh, the exhibition is tomorrow.”

 

She pretended to have forgotten. All while having been keenly aware of each day passing since receiving the invitation. Ana felt a little disgusted with herself. That feeling became even stronger when Garcia kissed her hair.

 

“You seem to really enjoy paintings.”

 

“Yes.” She answered briefly, then added, almost as an excuse, “I’ve loved them since I was a maiden. They’re enjoyable and exciting.”

 

“Is that so?”

 

She wished he wouldn’t look at her with such gentle eyes.

 

Anais’s love for paintings started in her childhood. Still, her passion for collecting them began after falling in love with Siasen.

 

She wanted to understand and know his world. And eventually, she collected fine art as if to substitute for him, whom she could never have.

 

Even after growing up and marrying someone else, the world she shared with him was wholly hers, even if just a memory.

 

It was only after Ana reunited with Siasen that she realized her secret desire. It was a greed she wanted to keep to herself until death. Though she no longer collected art with him in mind, it was undeniable that he was the reason for her hobby.

 

“Shall we have another glass of wine? The cheese seems good.” She changed the subject, not wanting to delve deeper.

 

Usually, Garcia didn’t dwell much on her art collection since their hobbies differed. His way of caring was to provide an ample budget for art purchases or build a new private gallery for her collection. He wasn’t much interested in art himself.

 

But today was different.

 

“What kind of art do you like best?”

 

Surprised by the unexpected question, Ana turned to look at him. Garcia, seated in a dark green armchair with his chin resting on his hand, gazed intently at her. His eyes, fixed solely on her, resembled a predator hiding in the bushes, watching its prey.

 

Feeling exposed by his gaze, Ana shook her head, dismissing her silly thoughts. He always had a kind face. She walked over and sat opposite him, smiling. “I didn’t expect you to ask that.”

 

Now, it was Garcia’s turn to be puzzled. He frowned and tilted his head. “Why not?”

 

“You’ve always respected what I do but never seemed interested.”

 

Her tone was playful, and while she meant it, Garcia remained silent. The prolonged gaze made Ana feel awkward. She broke the silence.

 

“Garcia?”

 

“Have I…  been that indifferent?”

 

“No!” Her vehement denial was immediate. She had forgotten his strong sense of responsibility. She shook her head and reached out to hold his hand.

 

“It was a joke. Where else can I find a husband as caring as you?”

 

“No, it’s not that…” His voice was fundamentally soft and pleasant, but it now sounded deep and somewhat melancholic. Garcia lowered his gaze for a moment before looking at her. “I don’t think what you said is wrong.”

 

“Yes?”

 

 “Nothing.” He shook his head, a cool smile briefly crossing his face.

 

His large hand reversed their positions, now holding her hand. Garcia continued the conversation as if nothing had happened. “So, what is my wife’s taste in art?”

 

“I like… classicism, but I especially love Joya’s painting style with its rich contrast. And the works of Phaedram. He painted the sea all his life, but each time, the light changed it into thousands of colors. And his disciple, Langsen, is also a painter…”

 

As she talked about her favorite subject, Ana became talkative without realizing it. She was genuinely excited. No matter how much time was given, it would never be enough to discuss her favorite subjects: painting and art.

 

Garcia’s golden eyes watched her face flush like a girl’s as she excitedly talked. Only after a while did Ana realize she had been talking too much and shyly trailed off. Garcia glanced at her reddening ears and slightly lifted the corners of his mouth.

 

“I knew you liked it but didn’t realize you were so passionate.”

 

“Sorry, I talked too much about my interests.”

 

“No, it was enjoyable.”

 

Especially the eyes. He lightly touched the tips of her delicate fingers, his gesture almost caressing. Feeling a sudden thrill, Ana smiled back, wondering if it was the sensitivity after their intimacy.

 

“Madam Armendi from the gallery also said I was like a child. She never saw a noblewoman so excited.”

 

“Yes, it’s my first time seeing that too.”

 

“Don’t tease me.”

 

“I’m serious.”

 

His laughter reached her fingertips. Ana left his habitual gesture during their private conversations unchecked. Still, when his lips that had brushed her knuckles moved down to her palm, she shivered. Unlike the back of the hand, her palm was more sensitive, like touching bare skin. When she stopped talking and was taken aback, Garcia nonchalantly withdrew his lips and kindly asked.

 

“Why? Is there a problem?”

 

“No…”

***

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Notes

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