In the middle of the night, the carriage stopped in front of Malik House. Marcus, who had been waiting for Ian, sprang to his feet.
‘That is another strange expression. I wonder if something happened.’
Ian returned faster than Marcus thought.
But his expression was subtle as he stepped out of the carriage. Unlike the the gleeful look on his face as he left the princess’s garden.
Marcus, who had followed Ian wordlessly, took note and asked.
“Your Highness, has something happened?”
“…Humperwood and the Baroness?”
“Humperwood has been dealt with, so he won’t be running his mouth. Lady Warfield and Miss Dorothy were escorted straight to the common room. When the commotion died down, they were sent back to their hotel.”
“There was an uproar about who the hell the young lady was who walked out with Your Highness’s hand in hers. I’m going to have to stay up all night to prevent a big story in tomorrow’s papers…. More than that, Your Highness.”
This is not it.
Marcus snapped out of his tirade. There were more important matters at hand.
“You are sure it was Miss Natalie Dowse who was hiding in the garden? What did you do?”
The prince finally stopped pacing and looked back at Marcus. At the look on his face that asked the obvious, Marcus sighed.
“What can I do? She heard everything.”
“Did she really hear everything?”
“Oh well. I will meet her right away.”
“You are being too aggressive.”
“Your Highness is too calm. If you say that, what does that make me? Anyone who hears might think I’m planning to assassinate her.”
Ian was thinking of a little intimidation. Getting her to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and getting her to set foot in Duan.
At Marcus’s protests, Ian shrugged.
“She’s not a dangerous person, rather….”
Ian’s mouth twisted subtly.
He’d thought she’d stayed the same, but she wasn’t the same as she’d been three years ago. She seemed to have decided to do nothing.
The woman who had been so terrified, who had been unable to keep the anger out of her face, who had forced her thoughts out of her mouth, must have died three years ago.
He was faced with a woman who was pushing her emotions, thoughts, and instincts over and over again.
“…I’m frustrated beyond words. I was a little mean.”
Until he left Charlotte’s garden, he had planned to be kind.
But her dark eyes flickered uncontrollably, her heart beating uncomfortably.
“You can’t say it has nothing to do with the royal family.”
Charlotte’s words buzzed in his ears.
He didn’t know if it’s the pitiful look on her face or Charlotte’s words that’s making him feel so bad now.
“Sympathy. And a little bit of responsibility.’
The prince quickly defined the unknown emotion.
“It was a gentlemanly gesture, so there’s no need for that look. I’ll be nicer next time.”
…Next time. Anxiety flashed across Marcus’s face.
“Uh…. So, she’s good at keeping things under wraps, right?”
“Yeah. That woman can’t do anything about it. She has no choice but to marry me.”
“She’s heard it all, so there’s no choice.”
Marcus rated himself as a fairly competent aide who didn’t panic at the drop of a hat.
But lately, he seemed to be reacting more and more stupidly. All he had to do was get involved with a young lady named Natalie Dowse.
“Who’s marrying who?”
As the two of them stood there, a voice emerged from behind. It was Charlotte, who had been left alone, tormented by the guests at the ball due to Ian’s sudden disappearance.
Leaning against the window sill, Ian swirled his glass wordlessly.
“I like Natalie Dowse.”
“As my bride. The more I think about it, the more perfect she is.”
Marcus, who was about to ask what he meant by like, calmed down when he heard the latter part.
“In what way?”
Charlotte, who had been silent, asked.
“For a personal scandal, she is unrivalled in the kingdom.”
The baron lady’s name was a living disgrace to the older members of the nobility.
“And she, I’m sure, wants it.”
It was an arranged marriage that would leave her a divorcee in a year. Even a child knew that divorced men and women were treated particularly badly in the kingdom.
It would be a dream to become a princess, as her parents wanted her to, but how could such young women accept a divorce a year later?
Ian needed a lady to marry and divorce of her own volition.
Judging by the way she gritted her teeth and stepped into the ball for her sister’s sake, all the lady wants is for her family to get back to their normal lives.
“First things first… find her sister a partner. Everything else will come later….”
The baron lady’s wishes were ones he could fulfil.
It would be a cleaner deal than anyone else’s.
“Even if she doesn’t fit the criteria, I can’t blame her for listening. I can’t erase her memories, and it’s a hassle to keep an eye on her until she dies.”
I could just assassinate her, Charlotte thought, but didn’t say it out loud.
“It’s better this way. Doing something, anything, will make this frustration disappear.”
Ian muttered, looking out the window as he picked up the crystal goblet he’d been swirling and downed it in one gulp.
He looked strangely excited and, decidedly more talkative than usual. Marcus was momentarily speechless.
He looked back at Charlotte, his eyes pleading her to do something, only to find her staring back at him, mesmerised.
Silently studying Ian’s expression, Charlotte regained her composure and spoke.
“…Yeah. Listening to everything you said, you’re right.”
Marcus couldn’t understand why his trusted princess was encouraging such an impulsive and reckless decision.
“Ian has no choice but to marry Miss Natalie Dowse. Well, now that she’s heard it, we can’t help it. It’s also because we were carelessly talking in public, isn’t it?”
Ian, still gazing out of the window, nodded slowly in agreement.
Charlotte changed the subject subtly.
“Hmm, well. Catherine caught me whinging, and she was worried that the candidates she’d chosen weren’t to your liking, and that she’d earned your dislike.”
“Of course, they were all wonderful.”
“I’ll tell her that.”
Marcus suddenly wondered if being the best of a bunch of troubled girls was indeed a good word.
Then Charlotte turned to him abruptly and asked.
“But why did you invite Natalie Dowse?”
“Didn’t you ask me to send an invitation to Baron Warfield before?”
“I meant Lady Dorothy. If you were Natalie, would you want to step foot in Duan again? Not every woman wants to be invited to a ball just to find a groom.”
Marcus’s second mistake.
Marcus let out a faint sigh. The princess’s words meant that this whole fiasco had happened because of his mistake. His face paled instantly.
“That’s why men are like this. You made a very foolish mistake. Thanks to you, Baron Warfield must have been in a very difficult situation.”
“I apologise, Your Highness.”
“But… well done. I like it.”
Marcus bowed deeply, and Charlotte whispered, almost as if only he could hear.
‘Did I hear it wrong?’
Marcus lifted his eyes awkwardly, puzzled, and looked at the princess.
Then, for some reason, she flashed him a smile out of the corner of her eye, and he couldn’t make out the meaning.
“It’s not a dream.”
In the mirror, I stared blankly at my gaunt face, and when I looked down, I saw that the hem of my old scarlet dress was stained with dirt. My hair, which I’d put up in a bun, was half undone and a mess, and the few flowers I’d worn in my hair as a decoration were gone.
I had stood in front of this mirror hours ago, praying and praying and praying that nothing would happen. There must be no God in the world.
“Otherwise, it can’t just be me every time….”
Completely exhausted, Natalie slumped back into her seat and thought back to the prince’s last words in the carriage.
“Duchess Horace’s ball is in three days. They say it’s the highlight of the social season.”
“If you intend to make a deal with me, you can ride the carriage I’ll send. Your mother and sister can come along too.”
“Being invited to Duchess Horace’s ball is just the beginning. Your sister’s life will change a lot.”
The prince seemed to know everything about her. She was so embarrassed and ashamed that she couldn’t answer anything the whole time.
“It’s a bad idea.”
“Choose wisely. I look forward to seeing you in three days at the ducal residence.”
“What a jerk.”
The prince gave her a three-day grace period, but there was no point in dithering. The answer was long overdue.
“If you do nothing, nothing will change, but you look like you want to be better.”
In the moment the prince whispered that.
I’ve heard it said that the devil can sometimes look more beautiful than an angel and speak with a sweeter voice. So I must be more careful.
Prince Ian, Duke of Baldoma, was just that.
Just then, she heard a commotion at the end of the corridor.
Her mother and Dorothy must have returned from the ball a little earlier, and the commotion would have made it hard for them to enjoy themselves.
Natalie bit her lower lip hard and sat up.
“Natalie? Is Natalie there?”
Bang bang. The Baroness knocked urgently on Natalie’s door. Natalie hurriedly opened the door.
“What happened, why did Prince Ian….”
“I need to extend my stay at the hotel.”
“I’ve been invited to Lady Horace’s ball in three days.”
The Baroness was too stunned to speak. Dorothy, who stood behind her with a disgruntled look on her face, was also wide-eyed and speechless.
“You will need a new dress, Dorothy.”
At Natalie’s words, thick tears began to fall from Dorothy’s eyes. They were tears of joy, and Natalie gulped for a moment, sensing the pain in her heart.
“Let’s go to the dressmaker early tomorrow.”
Smiling faintly, Natalie whispered in a low voice.