With the urgent shout of the butler, a cold-looking man soon appeared in the garden where they were. His hair, reflected in the sunlight, was a bright silver, and his eyes staring at them were redder than the roses in the garden.
The red eyes fixed on Rune for a moment before sliding towards Ria. Their gazes clashed, and in that moment, a strange emotion consumed him. Somehow, his chest felt itchy, and he shivered.
Rune called his name in a low voice through clenched teeth when he realized Eden couldn’t take his eyes off Ria. Eden snapped out of it and turned his attention back to Rune.
“Duke of Astina, it’s been a while.”
“A while? You have the audacity to trespass on someone else’s manor without permission…….”
The cold, sharp words that had been pouring out of Rune’s mouth abruptly stopped. His desperate gaze turned towards Ria, realizing that she had noticed the newcomer too, albeit belatedly. Luckily, she seemed too focused on the unexpected arrival to have heard his earlier words. It wasn’t to his liking, but it wasn’t the right time to show that. It infuriated Rune to see Eden here.
“I hope you didn’t hear my arrival because you’re having a leisurely teatime, but I was just in the mood for a cup of tea myself, so care if I join you?”
Eden’s shameless attitude only fueled Rune’s already burning anger. The two of them had developed such a relationship over time—a relationship akin to fire meeting oil, igniting into fierce clashes every time they crossed paths.
When Rune, who seemed ready to fight at any moment, emitted a fierce energy, Ria grabbed his hand, calmed him down, and soothed him. Under the touch of his master, Rune’s hostility subsided like a fiery beast tamed by a gentle hand. Eden, observing it all, raised an eyebrow.
Although Eden wasn’t pleased with Ria’s attention shifting away from him, but he also didn’t like her soothing touch on Rune. He couldn’t quite figure out why.
“Rune, who is he?”
“…A member of the Carlisle family, one of only two ducal houses here.”
“I am Eden Carlisle.”
Eden, whose gaze had been fixed on Rune’s hand as she stroked it, took this opportunity to take it in his own, kissing the back of it in a polite greeting.
This action didn’t sit well with Rune. Swiftly, he took her hand back, wiping the back of it with his handkerchief. He couldn’t help but inwardly curse Eden for his audacity.
“Could you please tell me who this lady is?”
“She is too precious to be introduced to you.”
“Then I’ll ask her directly.”
“Don’t ask, as she will become my wife.”
Eden’s eyebrows arched at the direct use of the word ‘wife’, but he quickly straightened his expression and said casually.
“That’s something we don’t know yet.”
“If you try anything this time, I won’t stay silent.”
“Well, decisions have always been made by them, haven’t they?”
“Now, wait a moment.”
Thinking that she should intervene as the two started another fierce argument, Ria went between them and mediated. Gazes naturally focused on her.
“Uh…, first of all, Eden? Carlisle?”
Ria hesitated, not knowing whether to call him by his first name or his last name. Rune answered with his last name, while Eden replied with his first name. This confusion made her blink her eyes. Her long and lush eyelashes fluttered like butterflies.
Both of them felt their attention focused on the small matter. Their throats were parched, feeling thirsty. One of them knew the reason, while the other didn’t.
Finally gathering his thoughts, Eden opened his mouth. However, his voice, still hoarse, indicated that the thirst had not been relieved.
“…Please call me Eden.”
“Sure, I’ll call you Eden. Are you here to see Rune?”
“In that case, I should leave.”
In response to Eden’s answer, Ria nodded her head. His behavior might be rude, but she was in the position of a guest, not the host. She had no right to criticize his actions, and she couldn’t interfere since she didn’t know the details of their relationship. So, she judged that leaving the place was the right thing to do.
“Where do you think you’re going with that limp? It’s okay, he pushed his way in rudely, so you can kick him out.”
Rune stopped her. In that moment, Eden caught on Rune’s words. Eden looked at her as if to ask why, and she opened her mouth. There was no reason to keep it a secret.
“I can’t move my legs right now.”
Eden felt a sudden drop in his heart. It was an unfamiliar sensation, but he didn’t have the chance to recognize it. The fact that an attending physician had examined her was filling his mind. At the same time, worry crept in.
It was also a first for him, but he didn’t have any doubts. Strangely, it felt natural to worry about her, almost like a matter of course.
In the end, another tea cup was set on the table, and a place was arranged for Eden. Rune, who was trying hard to restrain himself while facing her as usual, felt an indescribable turmoil inside. It was almost ridiculous to see Eden sitting there like it was his own seat, unable to take his eyes off of Ria.
“So, what’s going on?”
“I thought two dukes in the empire might want to establish some camaraderie.”
Rune, who had spoken in hopes of distracting Eden, chuckled inwardly at the response he received. It was the same old lie, spewed out with no change his expression, quite convincing if one might hear.
‘Camaraderie? Really? He’s just back again to steal another woman from me.’
Honestly, until now, Rune had never cared much the women who come and go, but Ria was different. It was a given that he would never give her up willingly. Even if she wanted to leave on her own, he would do everything in his power to convince her otherwise. And if all else failed, he was prepared to lock her up in his room if necessary.
If Eden hadn’t shown up, he could have heard her answer to his confession. She would have surely nodded sympathetically if he had just acted a little pitiful and pleaded with her!
The mere thought of it made Rune’s teeth grind. The muscles on his forehead, hidden under his bangs, tensed.
“When were we ever on friendly terms?”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to establish one now?”
“By the way, what’s your name?”
Reacting to the sudden surge of aggressive energy between the two, Ria, who had been quietly rolling her eyes while picking at her food, was startled and asked. Eden, appearing like a small rabbit with perked-up ears, unexpectedly displayed a soft smile, nodding gently.
“Oh, uh, it’s Rin Ah… but just call me Ria. Everyone finds that pronunciation difficult.”
“Alright, Ria. Your name is indeed new to my ears here.”
“Don’t bother showing interest.”
Rune interrupted their conversation, his tone dismissive. He reached out to wrap his arm around Ria, claiming her for himself. Eden’s brow twitched at that action.
‘Their relationship is even worse than I thought.’
Rather than settling down, their atmosphere seemed ready to start a fight at any moment. When Ria silently glanced at them, pondering internally, she found herself at a loss.
“That’s my concern.”
With that audacious response, Rune couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up abruptly, lifting Ria into his arms, and started making his way back to the mansion. Even though his actions were impolite in the presence of a guest, considering Eden’s intrusion as an unwelcome and insolent trespasser, Rune didn’t care. Eden knew very well that he didn’t belong there and just silently observe the two moving away.
With Ria in his arms, Rune strode away, leaving Eden sitting alone. The way Rune ignored him was astonishing, considering his usual temperament.
It was Ria who seemed flustered amidst the tense atmosphere. With a stern expression, she looked at Rune as he carried her, then raised her head to glance at the distance, then quietly spoke toward Eden, who was sitting alone behind them.
It was a greeting she’d given him because, unlike Rune, she couldn’t ignore Eden, but it must have come across a little differently to Eden. He found it amusing and let out a short laugh.
He had a faint inkling now. He understood why Rune was reacting so sensitively towards her, unlike before. As he suppressed his laughter, he stood up and left the mansion, his lips curled into a deep, meaningful smile.
‘My wife, my wife.’
He coveted her. And he didn’t just do it to pick on Rune, he meant it.
Eden kept thinking about Rune mentioning her as his wife in the carriage on the way back. Unconsciously, he whispered her name, the name that now shared the same surname as his.
The movement of his tongue while pronouncing it was quite satisfying.