Lila dropped her teaspoon as she and Michael sipped their tea.
“Now… what did you say?”
She spent her northern summers relaxed and carefree. She went on picnics and mines with Michael and Lucas and went boating on a nearby lake.
She had tea with Michael every day until the hydrangeas faded, and went horseback riding and shopping with Lucas.
Lucas and Michael sent her gifts every day. Their changes affected their employees.
The servants who had dismissed Lila as ugly were more polite and had a different attitude.
Though that was partly due to rumors of the cosmetics she gave to Jessie and Henry.
Then Michael, who had been hesitating, spoke up.
“I’m starting school soon, Lila.”
Lila’s eyes widened in disbelief. She hadn’t realized how quickly summer was flying by.
The end of summer meant Michael was getting an early start at the Academy.
The wistfulness in her tone made him smile wryly. A few months ago, no one would have been sorry to see him go.
But just one person feeling sorry for him and showering him with affection had changed him.
“Why are you sad?”
Still, a tsundere’s personality wouldn’t change. Apparently, it was in his nature.
“Don’t you feel sad, Michael-nim? I’m already upset.”
Lila realized that Michael’s tone was driven by a need for affirmation.
It resonated with her, because she was no different. So she continued to express it.
“Well, of course I’m disappointed.”
As he clenched his jaw, Michael’s tone was already somber.
“I shouldn’t have accepted the early admission if I knew this would happen.”
“Is it still possible to cancel now?”
“Umm… should I ask my uncle?”
Lucas, who had approached the whispering pair, replied.
“Oh, you scared me!”
Lila jumped in place, startled.
“Can’t you come in with a little notice?”
“I knocked and you two didn’t answer.”
The two people, who were drinking tea on Lila’s balcony, hadn’t realized Lucas had entered.
Lucas was pleased to see them so harmoniously together, but he couldn’t hide his rising jealousy.
So he decided to surprise them.
He smirked as he watched her cobalt eyes widen in surprise, just as he’d intended.
“But is it really not possible? Originally, it wasn’t even official admission, so isn’t it possible to cancel it now?”
He’d do anything she asked, but this wasn’t it.
Not impossible, but no. Lila shook her head in frustration.
“I can’t help it. We can’t change the promise we already made just because circumstances have changed.”
Before he inherited the dukedom, he was already a business lord. He had used the money his father had left him to attend the academy and improve in his spare time.
The most important thing to him in business was promise. If you don’t keep your word, trust is quickly destroyed.
When trust is broken, people can’t trust each other, and then there’s no point in entrusting them with a job.
Of course, his beliefs made it impossible, but there was another reason.
Lila likes and cares for Michael so, so much, that the amount of time they can spend together is very limited.
Honestly, that was the biggest reason.
As if he already knew what Lucas was thinking, Michael leaned his upper body back against the couch.
“It’s okay, Lila. You’re right, a man of his word is a man of his word. I’ll work hard and graduate early.”
Knowing that Lila had accepted them, but wanting to get a more solid promise, Michael spoke up, his eyes shining.
“So, will you stay at the Duke’s until I return, and even then, we can go on picnics and have tea together?”
One of Lucas’s eyebrows shot up at the very proposal-like statement.
Lila remembered the contract. Still unable to tell Michael about the contract, she fidgeted with a darkened complexion.
“That, Michael, I…”
She opened her mouth to say something, but as if on cue, Michael pulled something out of his jacket pocket.
“That’s right, I was going to give you this.”
I pulled a rectangular, transparent gem out of his pocket.
“What is this?”
She asked, taking the transparent gem from his hand. He pulled out an identical rectangular gem and shook it gently.
“It’s a communications device. Here, look.”
He pressed a circular button on the bottom of the rectangle, and the gadget in Lila’s hand glowed and emitted a clear sound.
Lila pressed the round button-shaped gem, feeling very familiar.
Michael’s face appeared in the center of the rectangle.
The voice beside her could also be heard through the communication tool.
“This is amazing!”
–This is amazing!
“Okay, press this little button again.”
–Okay, press this little button again.
Lila pressed the button on the communication device she was holding, and Michael’s face disappeared.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? I invented it. It’s called a video communications tool. I made it out of the finest magic crystals and infused it with my own mana. How do you like it?”
Lila’s mouth dropped open and she shuddered, wondering why it looked so familiar, but it was because it resembled the smartphone she’d always carried with her when she was Yoon Seol.
The familiarity of an object she hadn’t seen in so long triggered memories she had forgotten.
“Really… I really really like it!”
Lila couldn’t hide her excitement, turning the communication gadget up and down.
“How did you come up with the idea to make something like this, aren’t you a genius, it’s amazing!”
Blushing at her praise, Michael turned his head. He scratched the bridge of his nose and replied with a shrug.
“What… This is easy.”
“It’s not easy! This is a great invention!”
“No, it’s just that…”
Michael was both pleased and falsely modest. Lucas, who had been watching the two of them, took Lila’s hand and spoke.
“I don’t know why you asked me to get you some of the highest-grade magic crystals, but I’m guessing you were thinking of making a tool like this. It’s worth all the trouble I went through to get them.”
In other words, he didn’t just want to praise Michael, he wanted to praise himself.
“The Duke is great, too! Is this the highest grade magic stone? I’ve never seen it before, and it’s transparent.”
“It’s not something that circulates in the Empire, it’s something that can only be found in the Duchy of Montefeltra.”
Respect and admiration flashed in Lila’s eyes at his boast, and Michael, who had been robbed of his turn at the table, pouted his lips in displeasure before speaking up.
A complaint was a complaint, but family pride had to be shown.
“Uncle, you need to be more specific.”
Turning to Lucas, Michael explained to Lila.
“A top-grade magic stone can’t be bought with money. It’s said that it can only be obtained in the Duchy, but to be precise, it can only be used by members of our family. Even a size this large… Uncle and I, and you too?”
Lucas chimed in, enthusiastically agreeing with Michael.
“To be exact, he is the successor of the duke and duchess of the duchy.”
Taken together, their words meant that Lila, as the Duchess, could use the highest grade of magic crystals.
Lila pursed her lips and looked at Michael with a wistful gaze. He trusted her and cared for her, and she couldn’t hide the lie any longer.
“Michael, the truth is… The Duke and I were a contracted couple!”
With the words finally out of her mouth, Lila’s frustration eased a bit. But she kept her head down, afraid that Michael would be disappointed.
She cautiously lifted her head to look at him, who didn’t say anything.
He was glaring at Lucas.
“Is this still not resolved?”
“Hmm… I thought I made my point clear…”
Lucas said to Michael, unaware that Lila was watching the two of them.
“But listen to me. It’s in the past tense, this ‘were’ part.”
“Don’t you think we should be hearing something definite, not just some flimsy answer?”
“Whatever. The contract is already off the table.”
As she listened, she realized that their conversation was strange. Lila lifted her head fully from its hanging position and looked at Lucas.
Her expression demanded an answer, and he lengthened the corners of his mouth.
“Nothing to worry about. Michael wants us to get married.”
“No, that’s not it. The conversation between the two of you right now…”
“Lila, what if we were a contract couple? We’re happy now, aren’t we?”
Lila nodded at Michael’s words. She wondered if he really was a child on the outside and an adult on the inside.
She wondered if he was possessed, just like her.