“Lady McGregor, you’ve waited a long time.”
A considerable amount of time had passed after changing into a dress and fixing my makeup and hair. Adelia, who had been sitting on the sofa biting her nails, stood up with a forced smile, concealing her annoyance.
“No, madam. Please forgive my rudeness of coming without any notice at such a late hour.”
“It was indeed unexpected.”
As I smiled and pointed out the obvious, Adelia’s expression turned cold in an instant. Earlier that day in the ballroom, I’d been so flustered by her unexpected dual personality that I hadn’t been able to get a word in, but not anymore; there was no point in backing down to someone who didn’t look kindly upon me regardless of my attitude.
I glanced at Lily and sat in front of Adelia, erasing any trace of expression on my face.
“I sent several letters, but since there was no response, I had no choice but to come despite the inconvenience.”
Letters? I had received letters from various places, but I had never seen one sent by Adelia. Lily, who seemed flustered, bit her lip and discreetly watched my reaction.
Ah, I smiled at Adelia, guessing the situation roughly.
“I’ve been receiving invitations from various places lately, so I haven’t had a chance to contact you. So, what brings you here?”
“It’s an important matter. Can we talk privately?”
Lily looked at me and shook her head. She seemed to have some idea of what had happened between Adelia and me, which made her uneasy.
“The tea is a bit bitter. Could you bring some milk?”
Lily hesitated as if her feet were glued to the ground, but eventually left. Adelia’s demeanor changed, she leaned against the back of the sofa and glared at me.
It was the same malicious expression that had shocked me at the banquet hall, but it didn’t seem as menacing now. Perhaps it was because I could sense her uneasiness behind her face. I thought she had come to find out if the rumors about Diart and me were true like everyone else, but it was clear that there was more to it than that.
“It’s your doing, isn’t it?”
“Speak clearly so I can understand.”
Leaning back on the sofa just like her, I stared back at Adelia. She bit her lower lip tightly, a stark contrast to the woman who had easily manipulated people at the banquet.
“If it’s not your doing, then why would all the business partners suddenly…”
Adelia trailed off, and she suddenly glanced at me. Her lips trembled as she scrutinized me from head to toe. It seemed like she had figured something out.
“It seems that the rumors are not entirely false.”
I felt a sense of satisfaction in choosing the most elegant dress from Madame Veronica’s collection. I held up the hem of the dress confidently.
“Isn’t it beautiful? I received an unexpected gift from the Duke.”
It was a big issue in high society that I had exclusive rights to Madame Veronica’s dress for a year. It was natural for those who were sensitive to fashion and trends. It would have a different meaning for Adelia.
Adelia had risen from commoner to noble and even became the adopted daughter of Marquis McGregor, the Empress’s brother. Looking back at what she said at the banquet hall, I could guess how thirsty she was for social status and ambition.
It was no wonder, then, that her stomach was in knots at the thought of me being the center of attention at a time when she should be the center of attention in social circles. Twisted judgment was clearly visible on her face. Adelia, who chewed her lips, glared at me with jealousy-filled eyes.
“What trick did you pull?”
“A trick, you say?”
“It’s a well-known fact even among commoners that you don’t get along with Duke Wheaton. Wasn’t it you who actually contracted that dress?”
“Oh, Adelia, it seems you haven’t been a noble for long enough to know.”
Adelia’s face flushed with insult at my sneering remark. It was a gesture she would not normally have made. But an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; so when dealing with someone who’s rude and arrogant, it was only fair to respond in kind.
“Even if you’re a noble, it’s difficult to get hold of Madame Veronica’s dress. So, if the rumors are true, how could I, the troublemaker of high society who supposedly can’t even receive love from my husband, have contracted her dress for a whole year?”
Adelia, who had her mouth shut, twisted her lips in frustration.
“So you pretended to faint to gain sympathy?”
“It seems like it worked, right?”
I casually brushed off her remark with an innocent gesture and raised my teacup. Adelia, feeling frustrated that she was being pushed back in this verbal battle, tightly clenched her dress in her hand.
“Then are you saying that it wasn’t your doing when all of Arnold’s business partners terminated their contracts overnight?”
If it was Arnold Company’s business partners, it meant they were the ones operated by Marquis McGregor. It was the core of the McGregor family, as they had reached their current Marquis status through that business. Furthermore, as the oldest trading house in the empire, it had strong relationships with its clients.
To hear that all those business partners terminated their contracts overnight?
Only one person came to mind as the one who could cause such a thing. It was only then that I could understand the reason behind Adelia’s seemingly indifferent expression.
“Is Marquis McGregor blaming you?”
Marquis McGregor was someone who loved his family excessively. He may have treated Adelia well as a foster daughter in place of his lost daughter, but it wasn’t to the extent of sacrificing the glory of the family that had been built up until now.
Adelia bit her lower lip as the truth hit home. I see, so that’s why you came to see me in such a hurry, you shouldn’t be treating me like this, should you?
At the ballroom, she revealed her true colors, assuming I was at odds with Diart, but now, even if she’s civil to me, it seems insufficient. It appears she thought that because I seemed naive back then, she could manipulate me as she pleased as soon as we met.
“Adelia, I am actually more forgiving than you think.”
I gently tapped the teacup as I spoke kindly.
“If you apologize now, I will speak to the Duke on your behalf.”
I smiled faintly as she looked at me, trying to gauge if my words were sincere. After hesitating, Adelia finally lowered her head.
“I am truly sorry for my behavior at the banquet, madam. Please, find it in your heart to forgive me.”
“You believe me?”
Surprised by my words, Adelia looked up.
“Did you really think I would accept such an insincere apology?”
I covered my mouth with my hand and spoke in a teasing voice, hinting that she had been deceived. Adelia’s face turned red with embarrassment.
“I am not foolish enough to accept an apology that lacks any sincerity.”
Releasing all the pent-up frustration I had from being called stupid five times at the banquet, I felt a sense of relief. Adelia could only glare at me, biting her lips in frustration.
“Anyway, I have accepted your apology. And as a token of my gratitude, I will let you know what awaits you in the future.”
I glanced briefly at the door, indicating that it was time. As if on cue, a knock was heard before I even had a chance to invite them in. The door swung open and Diart entered.
As expected, Lily must have brought Diart. I quickly covered my mouth and pretended to cough. Diart’s slow footsteps became urgent.
I looked at Adelia, who was staring at me in disbelief, and gave her a subtle smile.
‘You’re not the only one who knows how to act.’
If last time I actually fainted due to a curse, this time I decided to pretend to collapse from shock.
I stumbled and rose from my seat, pretending to be weak, and Diart reached out his hand to catch me. I looked up at him, appearing confused. His usually expressionless face seemed slightly distorted with concern and surprise, making me feel guilty. But now that I couldn’t stop the act, I closed my eyes as if I had lost consciousness.
I could feel Diart lifting me in his arms.
His voice was as cold as an icy blade, and without realizing it, I trembled. Diart, who gave the command with a firm tone, swiftly left the room.
* * *