He hadn’t actually heard what Theodore had said to Angelica. He only remembered her crying and then laughing in the setting sun, a radiant image.
But now, Rahil could only think of Theodore’s actions, which he had later cursed as sly and cunning.
‘Wait, His Majesty is…?!’
‘Wasn’t this a strategic choice?’
The newspapers had reported that the Emperor had fallen for Lady Ruol at first sight and proposed, but no noble believed it. Most thought the Emperor was using this as a smokescreen to meet with Duchess Calix openly.
So, everyone was watching them with keen interest.
Receiving Rahil’s kiss on her hand, Anais nearly punched him in the face in surprise. Francis, holding her other hand, noticed his sister bristling like a cat.
‘What’s going on between them?’
Rahil’s gaze, attitude, and expressions seemed to be seducing Anais. She suppressed the urge to shake him off, aware of the watchful eyes around them.
Why this, why now!
She had wanted to prevent him from dancing with Angelica but not to receive such flirtations. Especially not with everyone watching!
‘This man, he really can’t pay attention to his surroundings when he’s focused.’
Recalling Rahil’s characteristics from the original story, Anais desperately tried to cool her flushed face. Thinking about taxes or complex survey formulas usually helped to dampen any excitement.
“Brother, now’s not the time…”
Francis silently released her hand. Anais, with a lot on her mind, took Rahil’s arm.
“Let’s go, Your Majesty.”
Her look was better than before but still seemed ready to scold him. Rahil swallowed nervously, being led out of the ballroom by Anais like a boy being dragged by his mother.
As the imperial couple left the ballroom, the stifled nobles’ voices grew louder.
“Did you see that? Haha…”
There were murmurs of ‘His Majesty is really under her thumb.’ Meanwhile, Theodore was leading Angelica to the edge of the ballroom. It wasn’t wise to draw more attention now. He instructed a servant to guard the door and took her out to the balcony.
“Angelica, are you okay?”
It was a moment of embarrassment and discomfort for Angelica. She had thought that even if he went to his wife for a moment, Rahil would eventually return and speak to her. However, before she knew it, the Empress had whisked Rahil away from the ballroom.
‘She’s no ordinary woman.’
“You know Rahil. He must have been so preoccupied with the Empress that he didn’t notice anything else. It wasn’t intentional.”
They stood away from the door, near the railing, to avoid being overheard. It was a celebration for a friend’s wedding, and Angelica had dressed elaborately for the occasion, shining beautifully in the balcony’s light and the moonlight. In every way, Angelica Calix was a radiant figure, thought Theodore.
“I understand you’re concerned about him, but you need to be careful. He’s the Emperor now.”
“I know that! Do you think I don’t know? I’m a duchess now!”
Angelica’s outburst made Theodore want to ask why she was acting like that. Even if her feelings were just friendly, Rahil’s were of love.
Theodore sometimes wondered if Angelica acted this way truly for Rahil’s sake or because she didn’t want to lose a friend.
“I just wanted to say hello. That’s something we can do as friends. It would be weirder if we didn’t talk at all!”
But if Rahil had seen her, would it have just been a greeting? He might have asked her to dance, seeking more conversation.
‘Didn’t you expect Rahil to react this way?’
“The Empress went too far. She made Rahil look like the bad one!”
Theodore knew Rahil hadn’t acted deliberately. Sion’s calling him at that moment was intentional, but even he wouldn’t have expected Rahil to rush to the Empress.
‘It seems Rahil really likes the Empress. I’m not sure how much he realizes it.’
“Still, we should support him. He’s fallen for someone.”
Theodore’s words seemed to complicate Angelica’s feelings further.
“He could have liked someone better. Rahil will surely be led around by the Empress.”
“Being led around by someone you like is inevitable.”
Whether Rahil would enjoy or resent that was something to be seen. But Angelica seemed unconvinced.
“Your Majesty is pitiable. As a friend of Your Majesty, it might be a biased opinion, but I am on Your Majesty’s side.”
I wonder. Does he himself think that he is pitiable?
* * *
Despite just being led out of the ballroom by Anais, hand in hand, Rahil’s heart was racing. It had been a short day, but so much had happened.
‘Am I… going to be scolded again?’
Though Rahil had never actually been scolded by Anais, he couldn’t help but think this way. His heart pounded fiercely, partly because he feared her anger.
‘I can’t believe I’m such a coward. It’s because… Anais cunningly cried. I’ve never made a woman cry before!’
While Rahil anxiously observed Anais, she actually felt her mood improving. Rahil’s touch hadn’t stirred her as much as she had feared.
‘So much for liking Rahil.’
Even when he kissed her hand and looked at her so prettily, she didn’t feel her heart racing significantly. There was a slight flutter, but that was it.
‘That’s not love. I was just overreacting.’
The feeling was similar to the excitement she had experienced with other men. Of course, this was more intense, but Anais was certain it wasn’t love.
Relieved by the realization that it was just a strange dream that had scared her, Anais relaxed. If she had actually been in love with Rahil, everything would have been miserably complicated.
There will never be a time when I fall in love with this man.
Friendship or camaraderie, maybe, but the scene like in that dream would never happen. That dream was not born out of affection for Rahil but out of a desire for a complete family.
‘I do feel a bit sorry for the child.’