It hurts to repeat myself. Your grace, your charm is endless.
I parroted my answer to the duke who seemed to doubt me again, not forgetting to shoot a bright, sincere gaze, with not a hint of falsehood.
The duke tilted his head slightly at my answer and crossed his legs slowly, a hint of pleasure on his face.
Then, as if by chance, my leg hidden under the full skirt of my dress brushed against his long leg.
I pressed my hips back against the chair as much as possible to avoid the duke’s leg.
However, the duke’s long leg kept inching closer to me, and with each move, I folded my legs more and more.
I let out a low groan.
Before I knew it, I was crouched tightly in the carriage, while he stretched out his legs comfortably.
Is this some new form of qi battle? Or is he protesting because I talked him down?
Annoyed, I glared at the duke with burning eyes.
In response to my gaze, he stretched his lips in a mocking smile.
“Do you have something to say?”
There was a lot to say. But I couldn’t bring myself to say it, and just smiled faintly instead.
“No, Your Grace. Just because I like it.”
The duke flashed a meaningful smile and then turned his head away from me, closing his eyes.
Count Mosston was a noble who had made a great career in the Imperial Army. Count Mosston’s estate was as grand as his influence.
Naturally, the debutante ball for his esteemed daughter, the young lady of Count Mosston, was held on a grand scale as well.
Members of the imperial family, as well as the Northern Grand Duke Killian, who seldom appeared in the capital unless it was a significant event, were on the guest list.
When Duke Adler and I entered the grand ballroom where the debutante’s ball was being held, arm in arm, the once noisy party hall fell silent for a moment.
Then the hall was soon filled with murmuring. Probably everyone was buzzing about our two people’s faltering engagement.
‘The empire’s most eligible bachelor and the wayward princess.’
It was indeed a juicy topic for gossip.
I’ve never particularly cared about such things, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant to feel the scrutinizing glances of strangers.
Suddenly looking beside me, I noticed the duke’s expression had turned slightly stern.
The gazes he had received in such parties were usually filled with admiration, so it would be uncomfortable for him. He was a man who valued his dignity.
Looking around the banquet hall, the ladies fluttered their splendid fans while greeting each other, and the gentlemen were sipping cocktails and making small talk.
In this place, where I hardly knew anyone, I had no idea what to do.
I glanced at Duke Adler. Thinking he was more experienced in such social events, perhaps he would be of help.
However, he remained silent, seemingly lost in thought.
At that moment, a young man, overly adorned in luxury, approached with a friendly greeting.
“Duke Adler! I didn’t expect to see you at the debutante ball. It’s been a while.”
Duke Adler simply nodded his head haughtily in response.
I stared intently at the one called Viscount Breguet.
A man with a shiny face, not particularly pleasing to the eye. I had seen him in the nobility directory.
He had graduated from the military academy and made a name for himself in the Imperial Army, and now he was serving as the commander in Cortina, wasn’t he?
“Ah, what a surprise. It’s Princess Charlotte. I almost didn’t recognize you today. It’s not the appearance I’m accustomed to seeing at balls. I didn’t know you fancied such demure attire.”
Breguet jestingly spoke with a natural ease, his words tinged with mockery.
The duke’s jaw tightened slightly.
“I’m looking to broaden my dress preferences from now on. Thank you for your concern, Viscount Breguet.”
I replied composedly. Given the attitudes I’ve encountered so far, Viscount Breguet’s behavior was not so surprising.
“Speaking of which, this fellow isn’t one to bring a partner to such parties… Have you changed since getting engaged to the princess? Oh, please don’t think I’m too informal. Duke Adler and I were classmates at the military academy.”
“Yes, the Duke is a very considerate person, so he would understand such informality. Even if it comes from someone of a lesser status who dares to be so bold.”
I replied with veiled sharpness and a faint smile.
Breguet’s face hardened slightly, and then he spoke in a whiny voice.
“Then, I shall borrow Duke Adler for a bit. Since he rarely makes an appearance in social circles, everyone’s quite interested in him. You understand, right?”
He winked one eye. A group of young nobles in the distance was paying attention to this direction. They looked at me with disdain and whispered among themselves.
It would be acceptable to accompany a partner at a greeting event, but it was ridiculous to insist on taking only the Duke. Perhaps it was an intentional attempt to separate Duke Adler and me.
I let out a shallow sigh. The Duke’s acquaintances probably disliked that he was forced to be engaged to a villain like me. But I simply nodded. Even if I said no, it’s not like the Duke would stay by my side. I didn’t want to cause a pointless fuss.
“Yes, if you wish.”
“Oh, if I had known earlier that the princess was such a soft-hearted person, I would have proposed to you myself when His Majesty the Emperor was seeking a nobleman to engage you willingly. Hahahah.”
That meant ‘voluntarily,’ no one had proposed to me. It was a clever way of speaking, disguising mockery as compliment.
If the original Charlotte had been angered by this mockery, it would have added one more bad reputation to Princess Charlotte, known for her wickedness even upon receiving ‘compliments’. Perhaps others had turned Charlotte into a villain.
“It’s a shame you’re a step too late.”
I replied with just a lift of the corner of my mouth. For some reason, the Duke’s eyebrows twitched at my answer. He seemed about to say something, his lips parting slightly.
“Haha! Then, I’ll take my leave.”
But before the Duke could speak, Breguet, feigning familiarity, slung his arm around the Duke’s shoulder and took him away.
After the two left, I looked around the banquet hall. The vast hall was bustling with no room to spare. Nobles, each smartly dressed and glamorous, gathered, laughing and chatting.
‘Everyone is together.’
In the center of the banquet hall, Camilla was showing off her presence. People swirled around her, each eager to make an impression.
People constantly flocked around Mary Mosston, the star of the day.
Even the vicinity of Duke Adler was teeming with noble ladies. It hadn’t even been five minutes since we’d parted. Those who wouldn’t dare come close when I was with him.
His tall stature, brilliant blond hair, and handsome features made him stand out easily. Beneath his towering shoulders, the elaborate hair adornments of noble ladies sparkled diversely.
In this vast party hall, I was the only one alone. No one in the hall paid any attention to me.
I wonder if Charlotte’s situation, having grown up with indifference, loneliness, and disregard, remains the same even now.
Perhaps Charlotte wore dresses that attracted more attention because of this?
Even the man she liked enough to stake her life on for marriage treated Charlotte as if she were invisible.
A wry, self-mocking laugh escaped my lips.
Having lived in Charlotte’s body for a few weeks, it seemed I had already grown fond of her.
Taking a deep breath amidst this strange feeling, a dense fragrance mixed with various perfumes filled my lungs. Somehow, the air in the banquet hall felt heavy, and I shook off the creeping melancholy.
On second thought, it was a relief that no one paid me any attention. After all, I had my own matters to attend to here.
I quietly exited the hall.
Leaving the bright lights of the grand ballroom behind, I walked quickly through the dim corridors of the Count’s estate.
But shortly after I started walking, I heard the sound of heavy footsteps approaching from the other direction.
Suddenly, a large silhouette loomed over me. I slowly raised my eyes to the huge shadow that had fallen over my head.
Upon recognizing the figure, I took a sharp breath.
“Grand Duke Killian…?”
It was the first time I had come face to face with the man I had only heard about. He seemed to have arrived at the Count’s estate a bit late from the north.
Grand Duke Killian, with his black hair and red eyes, was much more strikingly handsome in person.
His masculine, strong jawline and thick eyebrows that highlighted a three-dimensional side profile were striking.
So this is why Charlotte had a crush on him in the past?
I found myself gazing intently, almost inadvertently, at Killian, whom Charlotte was said to have liked so much.
Killian’s red eyes registered displeasure upon catching my gaze. He scrunched up his face as if displeased to see me in the empty corridor of the banquet hall.
He muttered a curse under his breath, like a low chant, and abruptly turned away.
It wasn’t unexpected, but it still felt somewhat unfair to be cursed at to my face.
I hadn’t done anything to him yet. Has Charlotte always been treated this way?
When it comes down to it, Killian played a big part in Charlotte becoming the subject of people’s ridicule.
This was a fact I had learned after combining the information from Martha and the various situations I had experienced since being possessed into this place.
Even though she was powerless, Charlotte’s status as a princess meant that no one openly disregarded or insulted her. However, the situation changed after Charlotte fell for Killian.
Killian, the Grand Duke of the North, who had nothing to desire from the royal family, did not hesitate to publicly humiliate Charlotte, who was obsessed with him.
At social events, Charlotte’s greetings were ignored, her offered gifts were discarded, and cold words were hurled at her.
Yet, Charlotte still yearned for Killian’s love.
Of course, the Emperor also did not impose any sanctions on Killian, the power holder of the North.
Such an atmosphere quickly spread throughout the entire social sphere.
The nobles, like Viscount Breguet’s earlier behavior, cunningly mocked Charlotte and made her the butt of their jokes.
Even Charlotte’s outbursts of temper in response to their subtle mockery became a source of ridicule.
A quiet flame stirred within me.
Up until now, I had dismissed the people’s attitude towards Charlotte as if it were someone else’s affair.
But now, I no longer separated Charlotte from myself, accepting that she was, in fact, ‘me’.
That’s why I somehow wanted to restore Charlotte’s, no, my honor, at least to this man.
After all, the real Charlotte had starved herself in a hunger strike out of love for him, meeting her death.
But is this man truly worth such a sacrifice?
“Grand Duke Killian, that is quite a rude attitude towards the princess of the empire.”
I spoke in a cold voice to his turned back.
For a moment, the air that enveloped the two of us became taut.