In front of a charming table on the second floor of a dignified cake shop.
There, a fierce match was unfolding, ill-suited to the lovely scenery.
“What kind of acquaintance do you all have with Miss Mosston…”
My preemptive strike hit the goalpost and bounced off.
“Ah! So, what Miss Rene said was….”
“Oh my, you’re saying you and young master Henry were in such a relationship?”
I attempted another flank maneuver.
“So, the four of you met at the academy…”
But it was nothing more than futile footwork blocked by an ironclad defense.
“If it’s Viscount Ian, he can be trusted.”
“If it’s the Fragronard family, they’re a famous house of perfumers. Of course, you should invest.”
The three young ladies, excluding Blaire, were daughters of houses supporting Princess Camilla, following her like maidservants. Hence, they put up a solid defense whenever I initiated conversation.
They couldn’t outright refuse the tea I, as a princess, offered, but they wouldn’t engage with me further, lest they upset Camilla’s mood.
Ultimately, I gave up trying to join their conversation.
“The minimum is from five hundred million gold. They say it’s information exclusively for us.”
“If this goes well, I want to open a salon with the profits.”
“Kyah! That’s a good idea.”
However, as I sat with my arms crossed listening to their conversation, I felt a nagging discomfort.
I couldn’t just watch, so I cautiously made one last attempt.
“By the way, the business you’re talking about…”
“Oh my, look at the time already.”
“Oh dear, my mother said we should have dinner together tonight.”
Time was called before I could even take my shot. The game was over just like that.
I pouted my lips. I was just about to say something nice.
Frustration swelled, but I kept silent, thinking it was my own doing.
“By the way, Lady Blaire will naturally participate, won’t she?”
Christina, about to rise from her seat, turned her gaze towards Blaire.
“Ah, that, of course.”
Blaire answered in a whisper.
Since arriving at the cake shop, she had been restless, constantly watching me.
She seemed to feel guilty about the way the three young ladies subtly ignored and excluded me.
Honestly, I doubted whether Blaire really got along well with the three young ladies.
It seemed apparent that they were barely maintaining their acquaintance simply because they were peers at the academy.
The Adler Ducal family didn’t even support Camilla, and with the Duke engaged to me, they were probably just keeping up appearances.
“Then I must be going now. Your Highness, I will not forget the kindness you have shown me.”
“Your Highness, I had a delightful time today. Thank you for making the time.”
“It was an honor to meet you. Please return safely.”
The young ladies, not mincing their words, bid me elaborate farewells filled with lies and left one by one.
“Well, then. Your Highness, next time… I’m sorry about today….”
Blaire, who had been watching me hesitantly until the end, awkwardly offered her farewell.
“Lady Blaire, let’s talk for a moment.”
At my call, Blaire lowered her head, unable to look me in the face. She was a beautiful young lady with dazzling blond hair and blue eyes, just like the Duke Adler.
Unlike the Duke’s haughty and cold impression, she still had an innocent and pure appearance.
No matter that she was the sister of the man who would kill me, I felt a pang of conscience at the thought of Blaire, who seemed to have a gentle nature, being unaware of what she was getting into.
“I won’t be long. Do not consider investing in the perfume business that Miss Christina proposed earlier. It’s clearly a scam.”
At my assertion, Blaire’s delicate eyes widened in surprise.
“What, what do you mean by that?”
“How can you guarantee such a rate of return when the business hasn’t even started? Moreover, you’re gathering investments without a clear entity in place.”
The perfume business they touted as a good venture was a typical scam.
As someone who has dealt with swindlers, ‘guaranteed constant high return’ is synonymous with ‘fraud.’
“It might be hard to believe me, but please don’t invest this time. If it turns out not to be a scam and actually a good business, I will compensate you for the profit you would have made.”
Blaire’s eyes shook violently. I even mentioned something that would not happen in order to instill trust in her.
“Please remember my words. I’m telling you this especially because you’re going to be family.”
“Th-thank you, Your Highness.”
Blaire was dumbfounded.
It was understandable since I, who usually had no close relationship with her, suddenly intervened in her affairs under the guise of family.
“If my advice proves to be effective, please tell me about your brother, the duke, next time we meet. I am very curious about him.”
I gave Blaire a wry smile. Flustered, she blushed and then left the shop.
As my conversation with Blaire ended, John and Martha, who were waiting for me downstairs, approached.
“Your Highness, was everything all right? Those young ladies from earlier are infamous for blindly trusting Princess Camilla and being graceless!”
Martha was needlessly spirited. I shrugged my shoulders as if it was no big deal.
There was no reason for me to get heated since those young ladies would soon be scammed and lose a lot of money without my intervention.
“Well… they say that if you sit by the river long enough, you’ll eventually see the bodies of your enemies float by.”
“What? Where did you hear such a terrifying saying?”
It’s from ‘Laozi’s Tao Te Ching.’
I was about to leave the cake shop with a coolly delivered famous quote when the clear voice of the employee called out from behind me.
“Customer! You need to pay for your order!”
I frowned and turned around.
“Yes, the cake for five and the tea set together come to two hundred thousand gold.”
Not only did they ignore me throughout the conversation, but they also ran away without paying the bill?
In the end, I made the payment with trembling hands, seething with anger.
A few days later, the arrival of a dress at the Princess’s palace was quite the surprise.
“Your Highness, it seems that the fitted dress has arrived.”
Martha entered my room with a large box beautifully wrapped with pink ribbons.
Martha seemed excited about dressing me up, humming a tune as she unwrapped the box.
“Oh my goodness!”
“This dress. It’s not the one we bought, is it?”
Martha lifted the dress out of the box with a flourish.
It was an elegant and chic lilac-colored organza silk dress with a ruffled, wavelike shoulder line.
“Could it be a wrong delivery? It looks quite expensive.”
I rolled my eyes at the dress, feeling the rich texture of the luxurious, billowing silk layers.
“Oh! It’s sent by Duke Adler!”
Martha, making a fuss, handed me the message that was enclosed in the box.
“I shall come to escort you to the Countess Mosston’s debutante at 6 o’clock. – Irenaeus von dem Adler”
Aha. It was then that I squinted my eyes as if I finally understood.
The Duke must have hated the thought of being embarrassed by me wearing an atrocious dress.
Upon closer inspection of the dress, it was clear that the design would never allow a glimpse of the chest.
Martha examined the dress from every angle, her expression one of ecstasy.
“Organza silk would have sold out quickly, how did he manage to get it? The Duke must surely be smitten with you, Your Highness. This time, he’s even escorting you personally.”
Knowing his true intentions, I responded nonchalantly.
He must be coming to the princess’s palace to make sure I wear the proper dress he sent.
He was truly thorough, like a serial killer who leaves no evidence behind.
I shook my head.
Before I knew it, it was the day of Countess Mosston’s debutante ball.
Martha was busy from morning, taking charge of my grooming – kneading, tapping, pulling, and tightening.
After a day of hustle, by the time to meet Duke Adler, I had transformed into a beauty that could make one’s mouth fall open in awe.
My elegantly made-up face shone, and the pink curls that fell gracefully over the light lilac dress were lovely.
Seeing me like this, John frowned with one eyebrow.
“That’s not the dress we saw last time, is it?”
“It’s a gift from Duke Adler! How kind of him. How lucky is the princess to have the Duke as her fiancé?”
Martha boasted to John on my behalf. Disagreeing, I pouted my lips secretly, away from Martha’s view.
Affectionate, my foot! If she knew how coldly he behaves when we’re alone, she wouldn’t say such things.
Moreover, if Martha knew that this fiancé of mine is planning to kill me soon, she would faint.
I whispered to John discreetly.
“You come to the Countess Mosston’s estate using the princess’s carriage. Just in case, wait nearby until the party’s over.”
It was from the thought that I might need an escort on the off chance. John frowned for a moment then nodded.
Soon, the ducal carriage glittered to a stop in front of the princess’s palace.
The carriage door opened and a man as handsome as a sculpture stepped out with elegant strides.
I held my breath for a moment at that sight.
Duke Adler, dressed in a well-fitted black tailcoat and neatly combed blonde hair, boasted his tremendous beauty even today.
His lips seemed to lift slightly as he looked at me, then settled back into place. It seemed he was satisfied with how I looked in the dress he chose.
“It seems you like the dress.”
Sure enough, he started talking about the dress as soon as we met.
Regardless, I had received something, so I decided to give him the lip service he was due. Too lazy to come up with anything myself, I borrowed what Martha had just said.
“You even sent a dress, truly, you are so kind, Duke! How fortunate I am to have you as my fiancé!”
The Duke looked at me with an indifferent face.
“It’s nothing special. It’s only fitting that my partner’s dress should be presentable.”
Just as I thought. How noble of you.
I barely concealed my grimace and accepted his escort to board the ducal carriage.
In the space just for the two of us, an awkward silence prevailed. It was Duke Adler who broke the silence first.
“Don’t you have any thoughts about my evening wear?”
I quickly racked my brain to grasp the meaning behind his question.
Could he be hinting that it was stingy of me to not reciprocate the dress with a gift of evening wear?
Honestly, Duke Adler, who monopolizes various imperial business rights, must be much richer than I am, who only gets to use a tiny part of the imperial budget.
Out of sheer stubbornness, I decided to make up for the cost of the dress with words.
“Of course, I do. Elegant, dignified, sophisticated, and refined – I can’t stop admiring. Surely, there will be no one more splendid than you at the ball tonight.”
As soon as I put my soul aside, the insincere compliments just rolled off my tongue.
Soon a curious light crossed the Duke’s face.
“So, have you fallen for me again?”