Chapter 16

She shook her head. Her heart crumbled at the sight of his face. Yet, what could she do? They had changed too much, especially Ana, who had more responsibilities now. She couldn’t abandon everything just because a past love reappeared in her life. They were no longer naive youths.

 

As Ana’s expression firmed, Siguin stood still, his piercing gaze scanning her face like a starved predator. “Too late?”

 

Siguin murmured lowly. “You don’t think so, do you?”

 

“Face reality. I am married…” She stopped mid-sentence as his hand reached her lips, casting a shadow over half her face. Ana stared into the black eyes looming over her like a dark moon.

 

Was it the surge of emotions that clouded his thoughts? Ana couldn’t fathom what he was thinking.

 

Siguin spoke curtly. “Don’t say such things with your own mouth.”

 

He already knew her painfully well. He soon stepped back, and Ana remained rigid, silently watching him. Siguin aimlessly wandered the exhibition room, wiping his face with his hand before stopping and chuckling softly.

 

“Yes, you’re right. I’m too late.”

 

“It’s not like that.”  She immediately countered his self-mocking tone.

 

Their paths had merely diverged. They had met and loved once, but practical circumstances, differences in status and environment, and most importantly, her role as a ‘noble’ made it impossible to pursue a free-spirited love like Siasen’s.

 

Ana wanted to explain, but her emotion-clouded mind wouldn’t cooperate. Normally graceful and articulate, she now felt utterly foolish. Always a fool in Siasen’s presence, it seemed.

 

She covered her hot forehead and managed to say, “We’re different. That’s why.”

 

“I know. Because you’re a noble.” His tone, devoid of any emotion, was like naming an object.

 

His expression, now composed, pierced through her with his sharp gaze. Despite extinguishing his emotions, Ana sensed he was far from letting go.

 

“I understand you.”

 

What did he understand? Even she couldn’t understand herself at this moment.

 

“Then, just one question.”

 

Their eyes met – his dark and hers like a pumpkin. Ana intuitively knew she shouldn’t hear his question, but Siguin asked with a clear voice before she could escape.

 

“Your husband. Do you love him?”

 

Her mouth froze.

 

* * *

She didn’t remember how she escaped the gallery. She should have answered him. Even if it was a lie, she should have said yes, even if she wasn’t sure. But Ana couldn’t speak and fled in panic.

 

Feeling pathetic and shameful, she was lost in self-reproach when the bright sunlight hit her forehead, providing a momentary relief. Breathing heavily, she stumbled down the stairs.

 

Oh, be careful.” A firm hand caught her arm. Dazed, she looked to the side to see a handsome man with golden hair and deep violet eyes. Her shoulder stiffened, and her back automatically arched.

 

In the capital, only one group of people had such eyes. It was the Imperial Family.  Moreover, he’s a person who has close contact with the Tudor family. There was no way Ana wouldn’t recognize this man.

 

“Your Excellency Grand Duke.”

 

Before she could formally greet him, he stopped her.

 

“Stay still. A greeting with a pale face like that isn’t welcome.”

 

“My apologies.” She straightened up, facing the smiling, handsome face of the Grand Duke, followed by his entourage.

 

Grand Duke Hereyan, known for his easygoing nature and a favorite in social circles, was surprisingly close to her husband, Garcia. Despite their opposite personalities, their friendship made sense as they both grew up among nobility.

 

Meeting the Grand Duke now was the last thing she wanted. She craved solitude to sort her emotions; even polite conversation felt burdensome.

 

Grand Duke Hereyan released her arm after ensuring she was stable. His eyes narrowed slightly with concern and curiosity. “I heard you were ill recently. Garcia wouldn’t have let you out if you were still unwell.”

 

Everyone knew Marquis Tudor as a devoted husband. Someone with a personality like that was rare in the nobility. Grand Duke Hereyan, with personal ties to the couple, was aware of his concern for Ana’s health.

 

Ana bit her tongue in frustration, knowing she’d inadvertently worried him. Grand Duke Hereyan would inevitably tell Garzia about this encounter. She tried to deflect. “I just felt dizzy for a moment. What brings you here, Your Excellency?”

 

Ah, just combining some cultural activities with…” He trailed off, glancing towards the gallery entrance, then back at Ana. His thin smile deepened.

 

Many people wondered how the Grand Duke and the Tudor family were so close when they were like complete opposites. However, as much as the two men, who are friends, have so many differences, they have at least one thing in common.

 

“Are you here to see your friend, Marchioness?”

 

Sharp intuition like an animal.

 

Ana faced him with a mask-like cool expression, aware of his quick wit. Especially in matters of love, given his reputation. Regardless, she found his piercing gaze disconcerting. “I received an invitation from an artist I support. Did you receive one as well, Your Excellency?”

 

Ah, similar reasons.” He replied leisurely, scrutinizing Ana, who appeared calm but intrigued him.

 

Was it a fleeting suspicion? But the man who had been staring at her intensely before disappearing seemed too intense for a casual onlooker. His gaze was sticky and dark, yet fiery… Perhaps a mistaken glance, but Grand Duke Hereyan knew such expressions didn’t come from ordinary emotions.

 

“I didn’t know that Your Excellency is interested in paintings. Garcia didn’t seem interested in it.”

 

It might be one-sided.

 

With her gentle and graceful smile, Ana was the epitome of an elegant lily.

 

The Grand Duke momentarily set aside the faint question that had arisen in his mind. After all, he was human and might have seen it wrong, and without certainty, there was no need to delve into it. Moreover, the Marchioness Tudor he had observed was a typical dignified lady, indifferent even to the common playful love letters or affairs that others might engage in, perfectly suited to be Garcia’s partner.

 

“Anyway, it seems I’ve unnecessarily detained someone unwell. You should go. If you’re not feeling well enough to move, shall I accompany you?”

 

“No, Your Excellency. That won’t be necessary…”

 

“Madam.”

 

The voice was familiar, but this time, it brought even more relief. After all, anyone who could end this awkward encounter would be welcome. As she turned with surprise and delight towards the voice, the one who approached and bowed respectfully was Seryam, Garcia’s aide.

 

With a composed and courteous face, she sighed and spoke. “Seryam, what brings you here?”

 

And as soon as the question was asked, she realized how desperately she wanted to see her husband. Garcia was her pillar of support. After being shaken like facing a typhoon, she missed him terribly.

 

“Where is he?”

 

She needed him. Right now.

 

***

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