002. Garden Party (2)
As Owen stepped into the mansion, he soon encountered the sight of the servants near the entrance, all of them gasping in disbelief.
Everyone wore expressions of disbelief, causing Owen’s forehead to involuntarily furrow. By now, he began to wonder if there was something wrong with his presence itself.
Well, there was something wrong, indeed. After all, he was inhabiting someone else’s body. Could they have possibly noticed?
It seemed unlikely.
During Owen’s moment of self-confusion, the servants managed to gather their wits and spoke to him.
“Are you… His Excellency attending the Goddess Garden Party?”
Though still seeming incredulous, one of the servants stammered out the words.
As Owen nodded, another round of surprised gasps echoed among the servants. Fortunately, this time they quickly suppressed their expressions and sounds, pretending to be nonchalant.
“I-I will guide you.”
One of the servants stepped forward to guide him. Judging by her attire, she appeared to be the head maid of the mansion.
Following the head maid, Owen made his way towards the garden where the party was being held. It seemed the garden was alive with conversation, indicating that the garden party was already in full swing.
“Lady, His Excellency Duke Verdant has arrived.”
However, those voices disappeared as soon as the head maid spoke. Instead, a heavy silence filled the air.
Amidst the thick silence, Owen stepped into the garden. He smoothly walked, making no sound, scanning the garden as he went.
His slow gaze caused everyone to tense up. Encountering an unexpected figure in an unexpected place was already surprising, but it was even more astonishing when that figure happened to be the Duke Verdant, renowned as the most distinguished among the nobility of the Empire.
As everyone remained on edge, Lucia calmly broke the silence.
“Welcome to the Garden Party, Your Excellency Duke Verdant.”
At the sound of her voice, Owen’s gaze, which had been casually sweeping the surroundings, immediately focused on her.
He silently called out her name within himself. Despite his efforts to suppress the rising breathlessness, his heart couldn’t help but beat loudly.
Ruby-red eyes deeper and more sparkling than rubies, elegantly flowing long auburn hair, a well-defined nose, and distinctive facial features—all accompanied by a haughty and enchanting aura.
Lucia was perfect.
She couldn’t be captured fully in any fan art Owen had drawn, nor in the descriptions written in the novel.
While the webtoon depiction of her was undoubtedly beautiful, seeing her in reality revealed a level of perfection beyond imagination.
Nothing could truly capture her in its entirety.
She was truly, utterly perfect.
“Would you like to sit here?”
Although Owen couldn’t answer due to looking at Lucia, she remained composed.
She gracefully smiled and instructed a maid to set up another chair at the table.
After responding, Owen quickly took his seat. Since Lucia herself recommended it, there was no reason to refuse.
His seat was directly across from Lucia.
As Owen took his place, the twins, Yeongae and Yeongsik, who were seated on either side, stiffened. Unfortunately, Owen was oblivious to their discomfort, as his attention was entirely taken by Lucia, and he paid no heed to others.
“We have green tea, black tea, and lemon tea.”
In the silence that fell upon the garden due to Owen’s arrival, Lucia’s voice alone resonated quietly.
Whether it was due to Lucia being the sole focus or not, Owen couldn’t care less about the quietness surrounding him. He only opened his mouth, engraving Lucia’s voice in his mind.
“Green tea, then.”
“Here, shall I bring you a cup of green tea?”
Upon Owen’s reply, Lucia called a maid and gave the order. The maid swiftly brought a teapot filled with green tea and poured it into an empty cup before placing it in front of Owen.
The maid’s hands trembled a bit, perhaps due to nervousness from facing Owen as the guest. Owen, however, didn’t notice this until he looked away from Lucia.
It was due to confusion.
‘Why is everyone so tense and frightened when they see Owen?’
Certainly, within “Imperial Flower,” Owen was the male lead, and he wasn’t particularly portrayed as an evil character. Why did everyone seem to quake and tremble in fear upon seeing him?
‘Is it because of Owen’s personality?’
Owen pondered on the details of “Owen’s” setting.
Until he met the female lead, Bella, Owen was essentially a fierce and savage beast. He was more akin to the head of a predatory pack, overseeing everything from the top, rather than a crazed, biting, and rushing wildcat.
Not a lunatic that would bite and tear indiscriminately, but rather a formidable creature ruling over all. He was extremely indifferent and businesslike.
He spent his time focused solely on work until meeting the female protagonist, and his personality was cold and resolute. Therefore, although he appeared uncomfortable to deal with on a regular basis, if something hindered or caused damage, he would cut it off without hesitation.
He didn’t attempt to build human relationships and didn’t bother to deal with people unless necessary.
In that context, it was natural for those who either saw Owen for the first time or had only seen him from afar to be afraid of him.
‘So that’s why.’
As Owen was contemplating this connection to his personality, Lucia raised her voice.
“Considering the arrival of spring, how about taking a boat ride on the lake? Shall we all move to another location?”
It seemed that the subdued atmosphere bothered her. As she spoke, the quiet garden regained its vitality.
It appeared that, rather than fear towards Owen, everyone had more curiosity about the boat ride.
“Yes, sounds good.”
“Boat ride on the lake… I’m really looking forward to it.”
“As expected of the Lady.”
While witnessing Lucia easily handling the noble sons and daughters around the table, Owen inwardly admired.
‘I never expected to witness this scene in reality.’
It was something described only in the novel and depicted in the webtoon. Seeing it in reality, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Lucia.
Therefore, even when everyone got up from their seats to head towards the lake, Owen remained absent-mindedly watching Lucia.
Seeing Owen sitting in place, Lucia addressed him with a title. Only after hearing Lucia’s voice did Owen finally come to his senses.
“Are you not enjoying the boat ride?”
Lucia asked Owen, noticing his attitude. From her perspective, it was the most plausible suspicion.
Originally, Owen wasn’t particularly interested in such amusements.
Owen slowly stood up, lips curling slightly. As he rose, Lucia’s head involuntarily lifted, even though she was considerably tall compared to him, despite wearing high heels.
When Owen answered Lucia’s question, it seemed to confirm her most reasonable suspicion.
Since Owen typically had little interest in such pastimes.
“…I just have something to think about. My apologies for the rudeness.”
Owen spoke slowly, and as he rose, Lucia’s gaze naturally followed him. Despite Lucia’s considerable height, there was only about a head’s difference between her and Owen, even with her high heels.
While she was acutely aware of the height difference between herself and Owen, even with the heels, Owen spoke again.
“I just have something to think about. My apologies for the rudeness.”
Standing in front of her, looking into her eyes, Owen’s voice seemed like a whisper. Lucia stiffened at the sound, experiencing a situation she had never encountered before.
Although she had long desired Owen, he had always built a wall, and opportunities to be this close or have a conversation were almost nonexistent.
But here, at such a close distance, it felt like he was whispering.
When she remained stiff in her place for quite some time, Owen called her.
Lucia managed to respond only after hearing his voice.
Owen, with a slightly different attitude than he had read about her, slyly narrowed his eyes and soon reached out his hand.
“Excuse me for a moment.”
He then placed his hand on her forehead.
Lucia’s body stiffened even more at the warmth emanating from his large hand.
Without any reaction from her, Owen, with a smirk, brought his hand to her forehead.
“It doesn’t seem like you have a fever.”
As Lucia remained silent, Owen quickly added an excuse as if covering up.
“I was just worried… If it made you uncomfortable, I apologize. I didn’t intend to make you feel uneasy.”
It was indeed a remarkably awkward behavior.
To treat that as something painful just because it deviated from the usual.
If it were someone else, they might have demanded a heavy price for insulting a lady…
“…Not at all.”
The other party was Owen.
The person Lucia so desperately desired.
The one who appeared most perfect in her eyes.
“It’s an honor that you cared for me.”
To think that such a person cared for her.
Lucia didn’t have the slightest intention of blaming him.
No, she felt rather pleased.
He, who had always built walls and acted coldly, was the one who approached her first.
Though it felt a bit awkward with his hand touching her and her body stiffening excessively, it was something she could endure for the price of his tenderness.
“If it’s an honor…”
As Lucia replied, Owen, who seemed somewhat embarrassed, looked directly at her.
The noble sons and daughters heading towards the lakeside were now turning their ears in this direction.
Although they couldn’t openly eavesdrop, they seemed curious about the conversation.
Well, the fact that Lucia wanted Owen was a public secret.
Everyone knew, but they pretended not to in public.
After a brief hesitation, Owen reached out his hand.
“Everyone seems to be waiting already.”
Facing the large hand extended before her, Lucia hesitated for a moment.
‘Is this an escort?’
She seemed unable to believe it and stared at his hand several times before gathering the courage to place her hand on Owen’s when he reached out. When her hand touched Owen’s, he gently held it.
There was warmth transmitted from their joined hands, even with gloves in between.
‘I shouldn’t have worn gloves.’
Lucia looked down at their clasped hands and thought.
While she was lost in thought, the two of them had arrived at the lakeside.
As they did, Owen smoothly let go of her hand.
Lucia glanced briefly at Owen’s dropped hand.
It was regrettable, but if she tried to hold it again, both Owen and the noble sons and daughters at the party would be surprised.
She forcibly tore her gaze away and continued the party smoothly.
It was because she thought ruining the party due to her private emotions was unacceptable.
“A rowboat can accommodate two people excluding the boatman. Since we have exactly ten people, let’s pair up and get on the boats.”
After Lucia finished explaining, the noble sons and daughters each chose a partner and boarded the rowboats.
The last remaining person among the noble daughters was Lucia, who was hosting the party.
And, naturally, the person left besides her was Owen.
As those who had feared him did not approach, the two of them faced each other and stepped onto the rowboat.
Like everyone else, they sat facing each other with the boatman in between.
As soon as the two of them got on the boat, the boatman slowly began rowing.
In the silent atmosphere, only the occasional sound of oars echoed.
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