We arrived in the estate countryside in the early evening.
Fearlessly, Lizzy and the estate workers rushed down the steep path like tumbling rocks.
Lizzy’s speed, in particular, was overwhelming. She thrust her head into my chest like an excited bull. Startled, I tightly closed my eyes, feeling only her arms squeezing my waist, my chest unharmed.
When I opened my eyes, Leonel was blocking Lizzy’s head with his palm.
‘Thank goodness. I nearly broke a rib.’
My back felt like it had already been broken!
Before I could make a sound of pain, Leonel removed Lizzy’s arms from me.
“Gah! I’m sorry, Miss Nelly. I got too excited…”
Lizzy exclaimed in a soft crow-like voice and backed away. S
I nodded to indicate that everything was fine, but in reality, my back was hurting, and I leaned on Leonel.
Sophie came over to me and gripped my shoulder.
“You were kidnapped. Are you injured anywhere?”
I just hurt my back a moment ago.
“We were worried after hearing it from Mr. Faust.”
“That’s right. Mr. Carlson cried.”
Gerald and Tom expressed their concerns one after another. Mr. Carlson cried. How far did this news spread?
Faust must have loudly announced it in the square again. Fortunately, we moved the workplace to the study. If I had been working in the estate office, I would have had to endure the excessive concern of the estate folk the moment I arrived.
“Thank you, everyone. But Mary suffered more than I did.”
Leonel wrapped his arms around my shoulders and started walking, and people made way for us. As I half leaned on Leonel and looked back, I asked.
“By the way, is Mary alright?”
“You can see her when we get inside, Nelly.”
Leonel whispered in my ear.
Ticklish, I shrugged, and he quickened his pace. He waved to the people left behind and led me inside.
The butler was waiting at the entrance. I inquired about Mary’s condition, and he informed me that she was in her room.
“Leonel, I’ll go check on Mary.”
“I’ll go with you.”
Wouldn’t it be uncomfortable for everyone in the maids’ room if the Duke suddenly appeared? It’s a completely natural concern. Someone might even faint.
“I’ll go by myself.”
Leonel didn’t respond. He simply raised his left eyebrow and looked at me. His hand on my shoulder remained as it was.
I turned my body to face him.
“No, it’s not okay. Imagine if the Queen shows up in your room without warning!”
Leonel’s expression distorted instantly.
“Right? I’ll go alone. See you later.”
Contrary to my expectation that he would nod, Leonel shook his head.
“I’ll wait outside.”
Would it be okay to be together for a little while longer? Perhaps due to the time we spent apart, he seemed to want to stay close. In truth, I felt the same way.
I started to nod as if I was mesmerized by his face but stopped myself, grabbing my cheeks and shaking my head.
It doesn’t matter, does it? Yes, it doesn’t! There would probably be many maids in the hallway leading to the maids’ room.
“It’ll only take a moment.”
“Summon Mary to the study.”
“But she’s not fully recovered yet?”
I took his hand off my body.
His beautiful face displayed reluctance. He stared at me for a long moment and then, with his long and strong arm, he swept me into his embrace.
It seemed like he wouldn’t let go even if I spoke.
Why was he doing this all of a sudden? I tilted my head in an attempt to understand, but I couldn’t guess his intentions.
There’s nothing I can do. For now, let’s go with it.
“Alright, let’s go together.”
Finally, Leonel released me from his embrace and held my hand. I headed towards the maid’s room.
Every maid we met on the way had a surprised expression upon seeing Leonel. Feeling apologetic, I quickened my pace. When I knocked on the door, a voice came from inside.
I opened the door and let go of Leonel’s hand. He let go of my hand with an unwilling look on his face.
As I entered, I saw Mary sitting on the bed.
“Mary! How’s your health?”
“I’ve improved a lot.”
I approached her in a few steps, taking her uninjured hand.
“Thank you, Mary. It’s thanks to you that I’m alive.”
“I’m the one who should be thankful, Miss Nelly.”
Mary held my hand tightly and then cautiously spoke.
“If I recover completely, could I go back to my hometown?”
After going through such a traumatic experience, it’s only natural to want to see your family. Getting Leonel’s permission won’t be easy, but I vigorously nodded my head.
“I’ll do my best.”
Mary nodded with a smile.
“And please take me to eat something delicious.”
I was taken aback by the unexpected request. Then, Mary added a few familiar names to it.
“Include Lizzy and Sophie as well.”
“…Yes. We’ll go together!”
Mary nodded with a smiling face. It made me feel excited to think that Mary considered me a friend.
Feeling like I might be overreacting, I told her to relax and got up from my seat. Then, I hurriedly walked toward the door.
I noticed that the door was slightly ajar.
‘Did I not close it properly when I entered?’
That’s not the most important thing! I rushed to Leonel and held his hand.
“Leonel, I’ve decided to go with Mary for some leisure.”
Leonel smiled and squeezed my hand. When I looked up, he seemed as pleased as I was. Right now, he might even grant Mary’s vacation.
“It’s about Mary. She mentioned wanting to visit her hometown for a while…”
“If she wants to go, then she should.”
Huh? Is it really that simple? I blinked, and Leonel called the butler.
“Prepare for Mary to visit her hometown as soon as she’s recovered.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Then he looked at me. It was a look that said, “See? It’s done.” I nodded firmly and went up to the study with Leonel.
There, there was a lone zombie.
“Have you come?”
Levance greeted us with a voice that seemed to be on the brink of death.
Arette, who had been working at an empty desk, got up. He bowed to Leonel and quickly left the study.
Lizzy had met us outside and seemed to have left for home immediately.
“Thank you for your hard work.”
At Leonel’s words, Levance stood as if he might burst into tears, but he cleared his throat and adjusted his collar.
Then he handed Leonel a pile of letters.
“They were sent by your relatives and those who hadn’t been in touch.”
People who hadn’t contacted suddenly sent these? I had a feeling I knew why without even looking. I gave the letters a wary look.
Levance added another rolled-up scroll on top of the letters. Unable to resist my curiosity, I looked closely.
“It’s a list of gifts that came with the letters.”
Leonel didn’t even consider looking at the letters and scrolling. He walked to the desk, pulled out a chair, and seated me next to him.
‘If I sit down, it feels like I’m about to receive a report.’
I wasn’t even Levance’s superior, so I couldn’t sit next to Leonel and receive a report. Besides, I wanted to see Guadang, so I should take a short break.
I tried to get up discreetly, but Leonel, without looking at the letters, accepted Levance’s report and spoke.
“You don’t need to explain, go home.”
Levance, with his zombie-like expression, didn’t seem to have the energy to feel surprised. He bowed his head as if Leonel might grab him and quickly left the study.
Still, I got up from my seat. Leonel accepted the report from Levance and looked at me with a questioning gaze.
“I’ll go and see Guadang for a bit.”
“I’ll come with you. I’ll read it quickly.”
There was no reason to separate from Leonel, so I sat back down.
As I became quiet, Leonel began reading the report.
I turned and lay on the armrest, my head comfortably positioned on Leonel’s bicep. I gazed at his face.
His previously expressionless face suddenly creased with noticeable emotion.
‘What is he reading that’s making him react like this?’
I rested my cheek against his arm and noticed the document he was reading. Leonel was going through a fire damage report, and it included a list of casualties.
He seemed to be holding back his emotions, taking deep breaths while his gaze remained fixed on the casualty list.
‘So, that’s why…’
Now that I thought about it, even before I had died once, Leonel had always been deeply affected when people in the estate were injured.
When Roman, the ranch keeper, injured someone with his strange folk remedies, Leonel’s nerves had been on edge. When the cultist ranch keeper tried to kidnap a resident to offer as a sacrifice, Leonel nearly stopped eating.
I reached out and flipped through the papers.
As the list of casualties disappeared, Leonel looked at me.
“Let’s go see Guadang quickly.”
“But I haven’t—”
“Read it after we return.”
I got up from my seat. When I’m in a bad mood, seeing something cute is the best remedy. I especially needed to show Leonel a cutie from the stable.
Before heading to the stable, I grabbed an apple and applied syrup. I carried the plate as I walked toward the stable, and as I stepped out for a walk, I met Guadang.
Guadang, who had been wandering around the garden, spotted me, or more precisely, the plate in my hand.
He seemed to have already picked up the scent. I offered him the plate, and he gobbled up the apple as if he was hiding his eyes.
Sitting down, I scratched behind Guadang’s ears with both hands and looked back at Leonel.
“Isn’t he cute? Isn’t he?”
A smile spread across Leonel’s face as he looked at me, and he nodded.
“Indeed. It seems to help when you look at something cute when you’re feeling down.”
“That’s right. It seems like that.”
Alright, it worked. I smiled broadly, nodded my head, and got up.
Guadang, who had also gotten up, wandered around me, sniffing the air. It felt like he was looking for another apple with syrup.
I ran my hands through Guadang’s fur one after the other. His slightly stiff hair tickled my palm.
“Petting like this makes you feel more at ease.”
Leonel nodded his head. But why is he petting me instead of Guadang? I’m not a donkey; I’m his lover!
I took his hand and placed it on Guadang’s head. When Guadang looked at Leonel, he ruffled his hair.
Leonel let out a rare laugh, then he pulled me into a hug. I patted his back in silence.