To Lennaeus, Charlotte was truly an unpleasant existence.
Throughout his life, most things went as he wished.
However, whenever ‘Princess Charlotte’ was involved, nothing ever went his way.
When exactly did things start to go this way?
‘Probably, from that damned engagement.’
The engagement with Charlotte was also something completely against his will.
Wiping the sweat dripping from his forehead, Lennaeus gritted his teeth.
Has he ever sweated and run like this since graduating from the military academy?
The ducal family’s carriage, always on standby, was inconveniently being used by his stepmother, who had gone to visit a friend for a few days.
Another carriage, kept in reserve, had also gone off after dropping Blair at the academy.
“It will take about 30 minutes to prepare a new carriage. Please wait a moment.”
Upon hearing the butler’s words, Lennaeus kicked open the gates of the ducal mansion and stormed out.
Charlotte, having forgotten her duties as a princess, was locked up in a detention center and, absurdly, asked him to come to the detention center.
He wanted to quickly see the face of that shameless woman. It seemed that would satisfy him.
But to wait for 30 minutes.
He couldn’t afford to wait such a ‘long’ time.
Eventually, Lennaeus ran out from the duke’s residence, caught a public carriage, and then started running again after getting off near the detective agency.
In the early summer weather, he ran breathlessly and, forgetting his dignity, took off his jacket while gasping for air.
As expected, Charlotte brazenly welcomed him, even in a completely disheveled state.
“Your Grace, you’ve arrived? Even drenched in sweat, you look charming.”
Charlotte’s sweet compliments flowed to his ears from beyond the iron bars.
However, the issue was that Charlotte’s face, which he hadn’t seen in a long time, thrilled his heart more than the compliments she showered on him.
Dressed without any pretense, like a common woman, her face was just freshly washed, devoid of any formality.
‘Why does this absurd woman look so adorable?’
The simple and clear face looking up at him from behind the iron bars with wide eyes was unbearably pretty.
It was certain that because he had run too much today and was out of breath, his brain was unable to think normally.
Otherwise, how could he feel such emotions upon seeing a shameless woman who, drunk and causing a disturbance, had been locked up in a detention center?
Lennaeus was displeased and didn’t know what to do with Charlotte, who made him feel ‘abnormal’.
He sighed at this strange emotion and ran his hands through his hair.
And then, due to Charlotte giving a pretty wink with her innocent face, he was once again enveloped in a strange discomfort that tickled his heart.
It was clear that he was not only mentally but also physically not in his normal state.
Ever since facing Charlotte at the detective agency, Lennaeus had been feeling uneasy.
Sitting face-to-face with Charlotte at the restaurant table, it felt as if a heavy stone was placed on his chest.
Charlotte’s charge for being locked in the detention center was ‘drunken disturbance’.
He felt utterly downcast recalling Charlotte, who even changed her hairstyle and wailed drunk in the streets.
Suddenly, his conversation with Alfred from the night before came to mind.
“Ah, so your Grace’s ‘friend’ made a mistake, and it seems their lover is disappointed?”
“Yes. The fact that the lover suddenly stopped the daily communication, does it mean they want to break up? How can one tell if a woman’s heart has changed?”
In response to Lennaeus’ serious question, Alfred’s nostrils flared.
Alfred seemed to be suppressing the urge to ask Lennaeus what mistake he had made with that ‘fiery’ lady.
“Yes… well, women tend to change their hairstyles or drink a lot of alcohol when they’re about to end a relationship.”
Yes, that was it. Charlotte wearing a wig and drinking was all his fault, because of how foolishly he had acted towards her at the debutante ball.
Charlotte was hurt. And she had tried to forget him.
“…there are times when it’s painful and unfair. That’s why I wanted to get drunk. It helps to forget a little.”
And Charlotte admitted that fact.
Seeing Charlotte, who had fallen apart like this because of her love for him, filled his heart with a heavy pain.
Lennaeus had never apologized to anyone before. There had never been a need to.
But this pain in his heart seemed like it would never end unless he apologized to Charlotte.
In the end, he gave his first apology to Charlotte.
“I regret what happened on the day of Lady Mosston’s debutante ball.”
It was his first apology in life.
But Charlotte forgave him with such compassion. It felt as if the heavy stone on his chest had disappeared.
His lightened heart fluttered.
Perhaps Charlotte was someone who could understand all of him.
Lennaeus suddenly felt an urge to confide in Charlotte about something that had been troubling him, something he had never spoken of to anyone.
“My last visit to this restaurant doesn’t hold good memories.”
Her heart pounded rapidly with this unexpected confession.
I even had the ridiculous thought that Duke Adler was about to make a confession right here. I tried to hide my anxiety and asked a question with feigned calmness.
“Two months ago, the head chef here changed how my steak was cooked, from well-done to medium. He said that the steak here should be cooked medium to be properly enjoyed.”
I gaped. The chef who interfered with the customer’s steak preference was quite meddlesome.
But even so, to change the steak from well-done to medium… Did he kill the chef?
Sensing the shock on my face, the Duke’s lips curled into a bitter smile once more.
He then fiddled with the napkin in front of him, hesitating somewhat.
“It might sound ridiculous, but… when I smell blood… I go into a state of panic.”
“What do you mean…?”
“Even the blood from the steak was overwhelming. That day, I almost made a scene in front of Blair and my stepmother who were dining with me.”
It was a voice tinged with self-mockery.
I looked at him with a confused face, without answering. Then, he let out a snicker.
“There’s no need to make such a pitiful face.”
Perhaps he thought my expression was one of pity, but he was wrong.
I was just unable to grasp how to process this contradictory information.
The fact that a serial killer who graduated from a military academy with excellent grades panics at the smell of blood was an extreme irony.
He continued speaking calmly.
“When my mother passed away vomiting blood… I was right beside her. Since that day, whenever I smell blood, that scene comes to mind, and I find it hard to breathe.”
“Then, perhaps… your decision to not join the imperial army after graduating from the military academy….”
“People say that the princess is a woman who knows nothing of the world… Seems like an exaggerated rumor, doesn’t it?”
The Duke slightly lifted one corner of his mouth in a smile. It meant that my guess was correct.
It was said that the former Duchess passed away while he was attending the military academy. Having developed a trauma to blood after his mother’s death, he must have had no choice but to give up joining the imperial army.
I said in a small voice, “I’m sorry about your mother.”
“I’ve thought that if I had stayed at the duke’s residence instead of going to the military academy, maybe my mother wouldn’t have passed away. My father wasn’t attentive enough to take proper care of my mother’s illness.”
He wore an expression filled with regret.
Recalling his mother left alone at the duke’s residence in her sick state, his furrowed eyebrows bore the marks of pain.
I cautiously continued speaking to him.
“Then… are you receiving treatment for your panic disorder…?”
“I’ve never told anyone about my symptoms.”
His strong pride led him to choose silence rather than confessing that he suffered from a condition that caused seizures from blood.
It seemed he preferred the gossip about his refusal to join the imperial army over revealing his condition.
“But… why are you telling me this fact?”
I was puzzled why he was revealing a secret he hadn’t told anyone.
The Duke gazed at me intently. I felt as though there was a warmth swirling in his blue eyes.
“Well, maybe because we are to become family?”
He said so and then smiled softly. Somehow, this made my heart feel a faint sense of settling.
Was it because there was a slight crack in my certainty that he was a serial killer?
I quickly called the waiter to change my steak to well-done, trying to calm my strangely fluttering heart.
“You don’t have to change it just for me. My sense of smell isn’t sensitive enough to detect the blood from someone else’s steak on their plate.”
His voice was normal, but his fist clenched on the table was pale white. It seemed it wasn’t easy for him to tell me this story.
I deliberately made my voice sound casual for his sake.
“I just felt like having a well-done steak today.”
“Isn’t it said that you can’t taste the true flavor of meat in a fully cooked steak?”
I rested my chin in my hand and chuckled. I thought he was a stiff man, but it seems he can make jokes too.
“Meat is delicious no matter how it’s cooked.”
Responding so, I suddenly noticed his hand, the prominent blue veins on it evoked my pity.
Witnessing the death of one’s parents is a difficult experience for anyone.
…even if he is the villain of this novel.
Somehow, I saw my past overlapping with him.
In difficult circumstances, I begged my parents to go to an amusement park, and on the way back, there was a terrible car accident. I was the only survivor in the small, crumpled car, unrecognizable in shape.
Would anything have changed if I hadn’t insisted on going to the amusement park? Countless nights of self-reproach came to mind.
Had he also spent countless nights blaming himself for not staying at the duke’s residence to be by his mother’s side?
I felt pity for the man before me.
Unintentionally, I covered his hand with mine. I could feel his cool body temperature on my palm.
He slowly closed and opened his eyes, surprised by my touch.
Suddenly, I thought I saw something welling up beyond the Duke’s eyes.
“Surely none of it is your fault, Duke. So… please don’t blame yourself.”
Comforting him was quite impulsive for me. One of the fundamental principles is not to have personal feelings for someone under investigation.
But in the end, I broke that principle and took his hand.
Perhaps it was because something indescribable, yet something I wished to never know, was rising somewhere in my heart.