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“Who just went to the party?”

“Oh, the Duke Olivier Dampierre…”

The servant was no longer embarrassed by the sudden turn of the journalists’ eyes. Some of them even threw their cards away and leaned in towards him, their eyes shining.

“Olivier Dampierre is there, too? What’s wrong?”

“Well, I am well.”

“Isn’t this the first time the Duke of Dampierre has been to a party? I’ve heard that he rarely attends social events.”

“That’s what I’ve been told.”

The valet hesitated to answer. Is this okay? It felt uncomfortable how the situation was spiraling out of control, but his job was to take the journalists and go.

“If Olivier Dampierre went to Biché’s party, I’m sure there’d be some kind of picture.”

Sure enough, the journalists’ eyes glowed greedily, like crows coveting a jewel, the marquis’s restraint forgotten.

“He’s never been caught in the act before, has he?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

Despite all the gossip, Olivier Dampierre’s flamboyant love affair had no substance.

It was just a bunch of excited eyewitnesses saying they saw this and that, and that’s all there was to it.

Even if the stories were unreliable and embellished, there was nothing like a good story to boost sales.

But what if, for once, they could cover Olivier Dampierre’s love life in front of their eyes…?

The five reporters jumped to their feet, unable to contain their excitement.

“Let’s go! Do you have a seat in the carriage?”

“What? You’re all going?”

Someone had brought out a bunch of waiter and servant uniforms from the press room of the Weekly Ezon. They had been saved by the editor in chief, who thought they might come in handy someday for an undercover story.

The five reporters, each from a different newspaper, clung to the marquis’s valet, who was anxious to get his master’s story buried, and climbed into the carriage together.

Tonight, the carriage sped through the centre of Ezon, carrying those who were sure to get the scoop.

* * *

“Let’s go…”

He muttered softly, squeezing Amélie’s hand. She didn’t hear him exactly, but his steps were already turning toward the annex.

The she got closer to the men and women out for the night air, the slower Amélie’s pace became. Suddenly, a very real fear came over her. Katarina Biché’s terrifying screams seemed to echo in her ears.

“Are you nervous?”

Instead of answering, Amélie stared down the path. The path was damp from the night’s dew, and the dirt caked the soles of her worn shoes.

If she went into the annex, she’d leave a messy trail. Tomorrow morning, after the men had gone home, the other maids would begin their day by bending down and scrubbing the marks.

She wouldn’t be there, but…

The burden and the fear squeezed Amélie tightly. Now, once she was led in by Olivier, she would really be saying goodbye to this house.

What could she do when she comes back after a year away from Ezon, Amélie wondered. Even if she could get a job as a maid again, it wouldn’t be anything like the Biché mansion…

When she looked distressed, Olivier spoke up.

“Your master is Katarina Biché, isn’t it?”

“…Yes, sir.”

“Well, I’ll speak to Lady Biché appropriately. I’ve paid you to borrow your time, and that’s that, and you’ll soon be quitting your job at the mansion.”

He emphasised again, as if to say not to worry about anything. He even spoke in a soothing, even sisterly, tone. His optimism, so characteristic of a well-bred man, made Amélie’s breath catch in her throat.

“Maybe I…”

Amélie hesitantly opened her mouth.

“Will my name be in the paper? My uncle sometimes reads the Ezon newspaper…”

An ordinary farmer, her uncle was thirsty for knowledge. And now that Amélie was in Ezon, his uncle, who lived in the south of the country, would deliberately look for and read the newspaper published in Ezon whenever he was in town.

“Your name? I’ll try to make it anonymous. I can do that.”


Amélie tugged at the corner of her mouth and forced a smile. Olivier stiffened, a little nervously, but he was smiling the whole time.

Amélie wondered, for the first time, what the meaning of that pleasant smile was. For a moment, she wondered what the hell was wrong with him that he was willing to put his life in the mud.

The smile made Amélie realise that his problems were fundamentally different from hers…

With a faint sigh, Amélie rolled up the hem of her apron tightly with her free hand, the one that wasn’t being held by Olivier. The cheque, tucked away deep inside, rustled.

Let’s do our work well. The end was in sight.

* * *

“Uh, the Duke of Dampierre.”

A man and a woman, staggering around in a drunken stupor, glanced over.

Judging from the loose cravat hanging around the nape of his neck and the disheveled dress, it seemed that they had been playing around somewhere.

“Next to him, isn’t that a maid?”

Her dazed eyes flicked to Olivier, then back to Amélie, who had bowed her head, as if she hadn’t quite figured out what was going on yet.

Olivier didn’t even look at them, just straightened the collar of his overcoat, a little stiffly, and escorted the half-hidden Amélie inside.

The touch was not rough, but rather gentle, as one would treat a young noblewoman. But Amélie’s face grew increasingly fearful. Her head sank lower and lower as she lost confidence.

“Amélie, relax.”

She didn’t realise she was shaking like a leaf. Olivier’s hand on Amélie’s wrist slowly moved back to her back, and he wrapped an affectionate arm around her trembling little shoulders.

“We’ll be quick.”

With a faint smile on his face, Olivier, who knew Amélie as well as she knew him, entered the banquet hall. One by one, people began to pay attention.

“He has all these strange hobbies. Even holding hands.”

A few people laughed merrily, as if they found the Duke of Dampierre’s unusual hobbies amusing, but then they stopped paying attention and returned to their tables.

Could they pull the wool over their eyes with this? Amélie suddenly wondered.

As far as she could tell, the other nobles didn’t think of them as lovers.

The women oohed and aahed, but seemed to dismiss it as an aberration of their dashing master, and the men looked strangely relieved to see that Olivier was one of their own kind.

There was no assurance of love in all those glances.

Amélie was merely an anonymous presence to satisfy the Master’s lusts, an object of no one’s curiosity.

But Olivier took it easy. He continued to support her, quickly putting a hand on her arm when she stumbled under the strain.

It’s okay, Amélie, it’s okay.

Olivier whispered low, his lips brushing against her hair. Slow down, relax, Amélie. A low, soft voice pierced her ears, making her dizzy.

“Isn’t that the Duke of Dampierre?”

“What is he doing with a maid?”

“What do you mean?”

As if by instinct, Amélie’s gaze sought the lowest, darkest corner. Her breath caught in her throat at the piercing stares of the nobles.

A certain baron with a reputation for bad manners. A marquis who was known for feeding his servants rotten food. There were even a few men with a reputation for using their maids’ bodies as tissues.

And a whole bunch of them were gathered together, looking at Amélie in astonishment.

Amélie buried her face in the collar of her frock coat, which only slightly concealed her face. She smelled a faint perfume, not strong, and the smell of a cheap cigar.

“Amélie, look up. Look ahead.”

Olivier whispered. Eventually, Amélie did as she was told and lifted her chin a little. So that people could see her better…

And so, at last, they saw the face of Biché’s maid. They saw Olivier Dampierre standing beside her, protectively guarding her small shoulders as she swayed, they saw their hands clasped closely together, and they saw the expensive coat draped over her shoulders.

“Let’s keep going.”

Half dazed, Amélie followed Olivier’s lead. No matter how deeply she bowed her head, she could feel people’s eyes flying at her like arrows.

Every time the piercing stares cut into her heart, she remembered the cheque in her pocket.

She had 2,000 francs.

She would pay off her father’s debt and not have to worry about money while she was away from Ezon. It was nothing compared to the possibility of almost dying in a musty, damp prison.

When she’s older, she’ll look back on this night as a giddy anecdote. Laughing at the memory of strolling along the lakeshore with a dashing aristocratic beauty, and being briefly caught up in his devious plans.

It was then that the unexpected happened.

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