“Wha, what did you just say?”
Katya asked in disbelief.
‘Have I suddenly gone deaf without my knowledge?’
I thought my ears were ringing from all the target practice I’d been doing lately, so my hearing must be failing me.
Otherwise, the man across the table wouldn’t have said that to me.
The man who had said those words, which sounded like thunder, was actually smiling broadly.
“I said I wanted to marry you.”
The man kindly reminded her of what he had said earlier.
“Why would I want to marry you? Because I’m in love with you.”
“No, I mean, why did you fall in love with me?”
Katya asked in disbelief.
She couldn’t believe that her beautiful, gentle little sister, Bianca, had fallen in love with him.
And after all that, he still wanted to marry her?
He looked at her as if he really couldn’t stand how lovely she was.
“The way you looked at me just now, it took my breath away.”
“That’s such a big deal that I almost stopped breathing. So why don’t you go to the doctor, okay?”
“I’ve been to the doctor. They said there’s nothing wrong with my respiratory system or my heart. Only you can heal me. It’s the case of lovesickness.”
The words didn’t make sense, even though they were clearly speaking the same language.
He was making a series of confessions to Katya.
Normally, other men who had been hounding her for a hefty dowry would have withdrawn their proposals at this point and walked away.
But this was Grand Duke Nikolai de Vasily, monarch of the Grand Duchy of Hersen. He always boasted a wealth that placed him at the top when compared to the rulers of neighboring countries, so naturally, he had an abundance of money.
He was also infamous in the north for being a mad tyrant who killed several people as soon as he became Grand Duke.
‘I may have a bad temper, but at least I haven’t killed anyone!’
Of course, I often threatened to do so.
I didn’t know before, but now that I know his true identity, I couldn’t afford to behave rudely like earlier.
If I offended him any further, I’m certain I would be sent to the other side.
To think that I, a woman of significant standing, would be the first to face the ‘Bloody Duke.’ Surviving until now has actually been advantageous.
“I am the infamous madman in this region… No, I mean a tomboy. Do you think I am suited to be a Grand Duchess?”
Katya asked as politely as she could while keeping her frustration and temper in check.
“Well, if we’re talking about that aspect, I wouldn’t mind being the second half. The madman of the North and the villainess of the South, wouldn’t we make quite a fitting pair?”
No, you’re trying to get at me? The Grand Duke has killed people!
I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.
“You know from experience, a madman like me can only be controlled by someone of your stature. I want to be gentle in your presence.”
“Are you looking for… a bride or a caretaker?”
“With you, I think both are possible.”
This man did not intend to listen to her words at all, and was even exploring her very nature.
“But why haven’t you taken a sip since earlier? It’s a black tea from the north, and it tastes good.”
Nikolai said, offering her tea.
Katya looked at the teacup in front of her and got goosebumps.
She liked black tea. Nothing made her happier than a cup of it with milk and baked goods.
The black tea was innocent. The man who brought it was the problem.
It was rumoured that he sent poisoned tea to his enemies, or to those who offended him.
“Do you think it’s poisoned?”
Nikolai asked with a straight face.
“No! It’s not like that – cough cough!”
He burst out laughing as Katya coughed in surprise.
“Oh, I see. Why would I kill you if I came to ask you to marry me?”
“You might get mad and kill me for refusing.”
His one eyebrow rose in displeasure.
Katya was scared, but if this went on, she might actually end up marrying him, so she decided to make her position clear.
Whether to now or later, death was all the same.
“Suppose the Grand Duke and I were to marry. We might not be compatible, and if I ask for a divorce, you’ll kill me.”
“What do I have to gain by doing that?”
“I don’t know… A sense of conquest?”
“I’d like you to conquer me a little.”
This dreadful fellow was as good as his word.
“My lord. Humans can’t fix people.”
“Isn’t that why I’ve come to see you as soon as possible?”
“No, I mean me, you can’t fix me.”
“Why should I? Is there something wrong with you.”
“Are you sure you don’t know? Obedient wife, doting mother, that sort of thing, I’ve had enough of that in this life.”
Katya had no intention of coming back from the dead to be what others wanted her to be.
She wasn’t cut out for it.
But somehow, Nikolai seemed satisfied with her answer.
“I’d rather you didn’t change. I don’t need an obedient wife or a doting mother, because I like you just the way you are.”
“I like you just the way you are. Does that answer your question?”
Nikolai smiled brightly.
Nikolai and Katya, a real combination of madness.
After twelve years of being the ‘crazy X of the district’ or tomboy, Katya’s unmarried life took a turn for the worse.
How did Katya become a tomboy?
The story goes back 12 years.
Padovangrad, a large city in the south of the Grand Duchy of Hersen.
Duke Pavtiski Smirnov, the most powerful man in the southern provinces, had two famous daughters.
Unlike the beautiful second daughter, Bianca, the eldest, Katya, made a name for herself in a different way.
The event that led to her being dubbed the ‘Wicked Woman of the South’ happened when she was nine years old.
It was a day when a group of northern nobles came to the Duke’s house to ask Smirnov for an investment.
“Greetings to His Highness the Duke.”
“It took a lot of work to get here.”
“The Duchess seems to be getting more beautiful every day.”
Before they even had a chance to take out the business proposal, the nobles began flattering in haste.
“Haha, that’s exactly what I meant! That’s why the young ladies are so beautiful too.”
“Isn’t that right. Even in the north, all the families with sons are already lining up?”
“My children have seen the young ladies before. What are you doing, children, not paying your respects to His Highness?”
The noblewomen who had followed their husbands called to their young sons, who were fussing in the garden.
Boys around Katya’s age stood in front of their parents with disgruntled expressions.
“Ah, come to think of it, I’ve seen you before, when we were on holiday in the north.”
Duchess Smirnov smiled at the children.
“I’m afraid the ladies are too young to remember.”
Just then, the Duke’s daughters came running down the stairs.
Strawberry blonde Katya and platinum-haired Bianca were small and pretty as dolls.
The children’s puffy, pouty-lipped faces visibly brightened at the sisters’ arrival.
“Katya, Bianca. Your father told you that you shouldn’t run.”
The Duke turned to his daughters with a stern look on his face.
The northern nobles assumed the sisters were about to be scolded.
The Duke said he loved his daughters, but it wasn’t proper for them to run around the room.
“You get hurt when you run.”
Contrary to the nobles’ expectations, the Duke added, his eyes dripping with honey.
The daughter was indeed as terrible as rumoured.
“Father, Mother, Laika1apparently, the name Laika is derived from the Russian-language word for “bark.” has had a litter!”
Katya looked up at her parents, her eyes sparkling. Laika was the Duke’s hunting dog, a Borzoi.
To be on the safe side, the Duke and Duchess kept the newborn puppies to themselves until they were older.
She was thrilled to see the cute puppies.
“Say hello to our guests.”
At the Duchess’s words, Katya curtsied, clasping the hem of her skirt in both hands.
Bianca, trailing behind her quick-witted sister down the stairs, saw the boys and ducked behind the Duchess.
“My, Lady Bianca, you seem to be quite shy.”
“It’s a virtue for a girl to be shy, hahaha!”
Under the laughing nobles, Katya looked back and forth between the boys and her sister.
Whereas the boys took care to dress well to impress their sister, Bianca was more reserved.
Something was off about her.
Katya took her sister’s hand and pushed past the boys to head outside.
The ignored boys quickly turned grumpy. The tallest of them turned to the Duke and asked.
“Where is the Laika? We want to see it too.”
This was Ivan, the second son of Count Petrozky. When the Duke gave him the answer he wanted, Ivan giggled, as if mischief had struck.
“I knew it.”
Katya nodded, having heard Bianca’s confession.
“Sis, I don’t want to play with them…….”
“Don’t worry, I’m back so they can’t chase you.”
It would have been a shame to get lost in the wide duchy.
“Duchess, I’ve been looking for you for ages!”
The Duchess’s ladies’ maid, Alyona, carried the coat of her sister in a hurry and chased after her.
She knew her sister’s movements, and it was impossible for a boy to catch her like this.
Naughty little bastards. Katya swallowed the words down to preserve her sanity.
Arriving late, Katya was appalled and regretful.
She regretted calling them just a bunch of mean little bastards. They were demons.
The boys, led by Ivan, had cornered Laika, the mother dog, and were shooting at her.
Laika stood silently by. She thought that if she waited until it was over, they wouldn’t hurt her puppies.
As soon as Bianca saw the carnage, she burst into tears.
Katya snapped out of it and lunged at the young demons.
Her elbow knocked them down like dominoes.
- 1apparently, the name Laika is derived from the Russian-language word for “bark.”