Upon his return to the Duke of Carlisle’s residence, Eden summoned his aide, Hardin, and his head butler, Sebastian, to his office.
“You called, sir.”
“I heard that there are excellent herbs from our territory that work wonders for moving paralyzed legs.”
“Fetch them for me. Also, procure anything else that is said to be good for the legs.”
With vague instructions and no proper explanation, Hardin was bewildered. But Eden’s orders didn’t end there.
“Also, buy gifts that women would like. And butler, redecorate the room next to my bedroom. I don’t care about the cost; make sure it’s done without any deficiencies.”
“Duke, did you mean all these preparations are for Duke of Astina’s newly acquired woman?”
“Uh……, then the bedroom next door…, huh?”
Hardin, who usually grasp words right away, seemed even more confused today. Eden’s eyebrows twitched in annoyance at Hardin’s apparent incompetence. Sensing the fierce gaze, Hardin quickly averted his gaze, ignoring the cold sweat running down his back.
It was, in fact, a perfectly natural reaction for Hardin. After all, Eden was a man who had wooed the ladies of the Duke of Astina and never offered them a room in his mansion. Moreover, he had abandoned them the moment they changed their mind about him. One night was the maximum, no matter how.
But to prepare a room? Moreover, right next to the Duke’s room? Even if the heavens split into two, it would never happen. That was the situation he considered, but this was the Duke’s command.
At that moment, Sebastian, who had been quietly listening to Eden’s orders, spoke up.
“Do you find her to your liking, sir?”
Sebastian, who had devoted so many years to the ducal household and had known Eden since he was a child, was quick to recognize the change in him. A subtle change, though it was still too soon to be certain.
“…She’s different. I can see why Rune is so fond of her.”
Eden’s eyes dropped for a moment at Sebastian’s question, and he paused, then began to speak slowly. His voice, which had become unexpectedly gentle, surprised Hardin and Sebastian. One of the parties involved seemed to be drawing the one who caused the change.
“It had to be her.”
Sebastian, who returned to his usual expression, mentioned the worry that came to mind.
“If that’s the case, I doubt the Duke of Astina will stand idly by.”
“Of course not. Well, her liking is my priority, so have the herbs and gifts ready by morning. I will visit her first thing tomorrow morning.”
Even as he bowed his head to follow Sebastian as he accepted his master’s orders, Hardin still didn’t understand this situation. As he walked out of the office and down the hall, he thought about it.
‘Is it love? Or possessiveness? Hmm, it can’t be love. Neither the Duke of Astina nor his lord are in love with her, for sure, so perhaps he is simply acting on a whim, and there is no other explanation for this situation.’
“It seems that spring will come to the Duke’s mansion soon.”
Just as he was coming to that conclusion, Sebastian, who was walking with him, said with a smile. Hardin shook his head.
“Isn’t it spring already?”
Upon hearing this, Sebastian glanced at him with a slightly pitiful look, much like Eden had earlier, and sighed along with a mumble.
“If only you weren’t so tactless…”
Hardin, feeling unjustly criticized for being called tactless, frowned. He caught up to Sebastian, who was walking away with a quick teasing glance at his stony body, and demanded to know why, but was told that he needed to get busy so that he could be ready by tomorrow morning, and turned away in a huff.
The next morning, Eden visited the Astina’s mansion as he had said, bringing a roomful of gifts. Upon hearing of his visit from the butler, Rune, who had descended to the reception room, had an uncomfortable expression on his face.
Ria was still deep in sleep due to the considerable torment he had inflicted on her the previous day. Rune, who had been looking at her while tightly holding her in his arms, had a satisfied expression evident on his face. His uplifted corners of the mouth showed no signs of coming down, and the careful touch caressing her face as she breathed peacefully was more delicate than handling a precious craft.
It was something he had only been able to do once or twice every two months, and now that he was spending every morning like this, he couldn’t help but feel more precious and happier than ever. However, such a cozy time was disrupted. It was only natural that Rune felt uncomfortable, especially with Carlisle right in front of him.
Taking the liberty of letting his scowl show, Rune plopped down on the couch across from him and spoke in a low voice.
“Don’t you realize it’s impolite to visit so early in the morning? Should I teach you some basic manners?”
“Since when have we shown courtesy to each other?”
Laughing at Eden’s impudence, Rune swiped a hand across his face.
“Get to the point.”
Eden asked, and Rune’s tendons in the back of his hand gripping the armrest stood out at the outright question of Ria’s whereabouts. How dare he mention her. Gritting his teeth as if they would bite into the back of his neck at any moment, Rune let out a long breath as his eyes slowly closed and opened. He reminded himself that the more emotionally he reacted, the worse it was for him.
Leaning back against the couch, Rune crossed his legs and tilted his head at an angle. A meaningful smile, like that of a victorious winner, filled his face as he spoke meaningfully.
“Since our return from the garden yesterday until early this morning, I bothered her quite a bit. She’s still in a deep sleep.”
This time, Eden was the one to grind his teeth. He wasn’t so naive or foolish to not understand the implications of those words. Rune had held her all night, and until a moment ago, they were lying together on the same bed. Thinking about it made his blood boil. Eden consciously suppressed the feeling of hitting the ground.
“…These are for Ria, so give them to her.”
He gestured to the pile of gifts in the reception room. Rune glanced at the gifts, checked them, and then turned his gaze back to Eden. Sharp eyes were directed at him.
“Eden Carlisle. I’m not going to play along with your little prank this time. I mean it. I’ve worked hard to bring her here.”
But Eden didn’t let that stop him.
“Her ignorance of the common Imperial custom of addressing people by their first names, and her resemblance to the first Duchess from another world. She must be from another world after all.”
Rune bit his lip hard, realizing his slip of the tongue. With that, Eden changed his guess into certainty, and Rune suppressed the urge to lash out. He could easily lose his cool in the presence of others, but with Eden, emotion overrode reason. It’s probably because Eden knows how to manipulate Rune into being emotional. When they were younger, they were pretty close, even the crown prince.
“I’ve noticed. Black hair is a rare color in the Empire. More precisely, there never has been, except for the first Duchess, and her descendants have been blessed with the characteristic blond hair of Astina bloodline for generations now.”
“Rune Astina. I am sincere this time. I admit that until now, it was just a usual pranks. But this time, it’s not.”