The jet-black hair that fell between her fingers was like a black velvet.
The Grand Duke, who seemed awkward and cautious, slowly rested his head on Charlotte’s shoulder while letting out a slow sigh.
“Is it better than you thought?”
“Should I stop then?”
There was no response.
The Grand Duke’s height as he sat on the mattress was almost equal to Charlotte who was standing behind him.
However, because her gaze was slightly higher, she could clearly see his relaxed lips.
“Hehe, it’s good and bouncy.”
Charlotte chuckled and gently stroked the Grand Duke’s hair again. He had closed his eyes and was making a comfortable breathing sound.
“Was today very difficult for you?”
It was a thoughtless question. A man like the Grand Duke would never say it was hard in front of others. She had just thrown it out there, but the one who was taken aback was her.
Without realizing it, she stuttered, “Why is someone like you being dragged around?”
“What kind of person am I?”
“Strong, heroic, respected by the people…”
“I…” The Grand Duke stopped for a while before continuing. “I hate summer.”
“It’s the season where I can most acutely feel my powerlessness. I’m sick of it.”
Charlotte quietly blinked her eyes even though she was taken aback by the Grand Duke’s sudden words. It was because she remembered the fact that his father was killed by assassins in the summer. Although he was saved by his uncle, the current emperor, Aaron VII, that was all.
‘They said he couldn’t even see his father’s body.’
Because he died disgracefully, the funeral was held somewhere other than the imperial family’s grave, and his name could not be mentioned in politics.
Then, it explains why the Grand Duke’s mood was strangely melancholy.
That was why he wants to be with someone.
“Should I run away with you?”
“Everything’s annoying and irritating, so should we just run away?” His exhausted voice clearly reflected his depressed mood.
Charlotte had mixed feelings for the Grand Duke. She was grateful, but also think of him as annoying.
She felt sorry but was angry at him, she wanted to push him under a cliff but also wanted to hold him.
And it was also because of a family issue.
For Charlotte, who lost her parents at a young age and lived with Grace alone, family was an invincible word that shook her emotions. She stroked the Grand Duke’s hair that leaned against her.
“You’ve been doing well so far.”
“You’ve done well enough.”
As if suppressing some emotions, the Grand Duke was silent. But soon, he closed his eyes and muttered indifferently, “Should I just wag my tail under my enemy’s feet?”
“You don’t have to wag your tail from now on.”
“Haha, it’s a good solution.”
When the Grand Duke laughed, Charlotte could feel the vibrations all the way to her shoulders. Even sitting down, she felt like she was a trainer taming a large beast.
‘But my shoulders are starting to hurt, and I can’t feel my left arm…!’
Charlotte thought to herself as she struggled to bear the weight. Just when she couldn’t take it anymore and stumbled, the Grand Duke’s arm wrapped tightly around her waist and pulled her into his lap.
“Ha, I’m tired.”
“Please let go of me.”
“Shh, go to sleep.”
“Sleep like this? Don’t you have a conscience? You’re heavy!”
The Grand Duke’s muscular arms and legs flexed, making Charlotte couldn’t move at all. She twisted her body with all her might.
“Do you know why worms wriggle when they’re stepped on? You’re heavy…!”
However, before she could finish, the Grand Duke’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“I guess I can’t step on them.”
“If I make sure you can’t even think of wriggling, then there won’t be any problems, right?”
Charlotte turned her head away from the Grand Duke’s intense gaze and bit her lip.
“Oh, I see. I was just a worm to you!”
She suddenly realized, and tears filled her eyes.
The small pink worm stopped squirming and lay still.
Finally, the Duke smiled contentedly and lifted his arms off the now limp worm. The worm cushion received 5 stars for customer satisfaction.
* * *
Early in the morning, the grasshopper cried out. As soon as the Grand Duke left, Chalotte, went to Johann’s bedroom, was lost in deep thought.
“The Grand Duke currently only has two options: marrying the fourth princess to strengthen the Emperor’s power, or refusing the proposal and fighting against the Mare Federation. Either way, it won’t be easy for the Grand Duke, with his weaknesses exposed.”
‘Sigh, I guess I, as a genius, have no choice but to step in.’
Of course, she wasn’t doing this out of emotional reasons alone…
‘Whether the Grand Duke chooses one or the other, it won’t be good for my older sister.’
Charlotte continued to think.
‘His actions hold a lot of weight and affect the political balance between the first princess Cordelia and the first prince Adrian. And if the situation worsens, Ethan will have to step up, just like in the original story. I don’t want to see my future brother-in-law suffer in prison.’
She sighed. ‘Oh well, there’s no other option.’
With her plans sorted out, she headed to the dressing room. Most of the dresses hanging inside were designed to emphasize her lovely appearance. But for today, she chose a calm ivory mermaid dress. She also chose more subdued accessories like pearls and diamonds instead of her usual bright colored gems.
‘I think I’ll put my hair up. My neck looks thin.’
In the mirror, stood a delicate lady who looked like she could fly away with the slightest gust of wind. Even Johan was surprised when he saw her. Of course, it wasn’t because he was attracted to her or anything like that…
“Ew, what’s with the sudden change in attitude? Are you sick?”
Charlotte was lost in thought again as Johan said that.
“They said that the Southern delegation will attend the afternoon reception.”
They probably don’t want to attend, considering the conflict on Caligo river, but they had to show their faces diplomatically. Choosing an afternoon reception was also for that reason.
“They will probably come and go quickly, so there won’t be enough time to build a friendship.”
But she can do it, because she’s a genius.
“What, you’re scary….”
“If you’re ready, shall we go?”
Charlotte smiled confidently and reached out her hand. Johan sighed deeply and linked arms with her.
“Yes, who else would escort you?”
“What are you saying? Without me, how can you even step into the reception hall?”
“What am I supposed to do about something scary! As the saying goes, the battlefield of the social circle is like a war with knives in your mouth instead of hands!”
As they walked, Johan and Charlotte bickered, but as they approached the reception hall, Johan shut his mouth. It was because of the tension.
Anyway, Johan’s looks were relatively handsome, so if he just shut his mouth, he looked pretty good.
As they entered arm in arm, all eyes were on the two of them.
“Oh my, Lady Bravant and Lord Albrecht are here together again.”
“They always stick together, they must have a close relationship.”
“Even with their families….”
To anyone, the two looked like a prince and princess, and they received warm looks from those around them. As Charlotte greeted the faces she knew, Johan mumbled behind her back.
“Oh, the rumors will spread again.”
“That you and I…! Ugh, never mind. Nothing.”
Grumbling about the hardships of life, Johan left her behind and Charlotte looked around the spacious reception hall. The important events were usually scheduled for the evening reception, so the afternoon was relatively quiet.
She didn’t see Grace or the Marquess either.
“Are the members of the Mare Federation not here yet?”
As Charlotte smiled brightly and received greetings from those around her, something happened.
“Oh, I greet His Majesty the First Prince.”
When she turned around at the soft voice, she saw the First Prince Adrian smiling brightly.
“I heard you went on a trip, I’m glad to see you looking healthy.”
“Thank you for your concern, Your Highness. But Your Highness….”
Charlotte carefully chose her words.
It was truly tragic, but the First Prince Adrian was plagued with all kinds of illnesses to the point where he could tell her to go to the hospital. Every time the prince’s health deteriorated, she would call for a doctor, so she couldn’t relax today either.
“You need to observe closely as we don’t know what symptoms will appear.”
As Charlotte narrowed her eyes meaningfully, Adrian smiled elegantly.
“My health is fine.”
“You always say that, Your Highness.”
Then, the symptoms would appear. In front of Charlotte who was still tense, the prince politely extended his hand.
“If it’s okay, would you give me the honor of dancing the first dance with Lady Bravant?”
“It would be my great honor. But I think it would be better for me to dance the first dance with Johan…”
Unless it was a special occasion, it was a custom in the social circle for a man to escort a woman to the reception hall and dance with her.
Charlotte turned her head to look at Johan, but for some reason, he was lost in thought and kept shaking his head.
Read ahead here.