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“Why such sudden worries? Hmm?”
The firm Chase now used a softer tone, tilting his head slightly to meet her gaze.
“…It was just a thought. Don’t worry about it.”
“How can I not worry about you?”
Iva silently looked away, avoiding his gaze. Chase observed her quietly for a moment, then playfully tousled her hair.
“Hey! Why are you doing that?”
“Do you remember what you used to tell me every day when we were kids?”
“When we were kids?”
When she entered the story, she was already an adult, so she tilted her head in unfamiliarity with the tale.
“When we were kids, I was often scared. You’d always tell me that if I worried or feared in advance, misfortunes would cling tighter. You said to always act confidently, and then the things I worried about would turn into joy.”
“Did I say that?”
“You did. Stand tall and face it. That’s so like you. Fearing and running away in advance isn’t like you at all.”
Chase’s voice seemed to overlap with Iva’s childhood voice.
Though I’ve never heard that voice, it felt as if the original Iva was encouraging me from within.
“Running away isn’t like me, huh?”
The dark gloom gradually lifted from Iva’s contemplative face, replaced by a determined smile.
Seeing her return to her usual self, Chase too smiled.
“Now that you’re energized, should we go report to His Highness? He’s waiting in his office.”
“Yes, let’s go right away.”
The two entered the palace.
“Your Highness, Lady Blanche is here for the final report.”
Chase opened the door, and Iva entered, bowing gracefully.
“Greetings, Your Highness.”
Sitting at the office desk, Claude set down his fountain pen to acknowledge her.
“Welcome. It seems this is the first time you’re reporting in person.”
“I felt it was only right that I personally deliver the final report.”
She handed over the documents she had compiled to Claude.
“I’ve restored the western hall garden to its original state. As for the fountain, it couldn’t be removed, so I made sure no water flows from it.”
“It’s better for the water to flow rather than stagnate. Let it continue running.”
“I’ve also handed over the surplus of the gifts we had prepared to the chief aide.”
While going through the documents, Claude discovered a list of individuals who were mobilized for the party.
“What’s this list?”
“These are the people who helped with the party.”
“I see. But such a list is not usually included in reports.”
Up until now, there hadn’t been a single report submitted that listed all the names of the people involved.
Being summoned by the royal palace was an honor, something naturally expected of them.
“The reason I included their names in the report isn’t to request rewards for them from Your Highness.”
“Just remember them.”
While looking at the list, Claude’s blue eyes shifted to Iva.
“They’re content with just the fact that they prepared for a party commissioned by Your Highness.”
Although she always felt fear when facing Claude, she made an effort to speak without trembling this time.
“But if Your Highness remembers even one of their names, they could be loyal to you for a lifetime. They might not belong to illustrious families, but they are many. Winning them over can benefit you.”
Claude looked back at the list, taking note of each name.
“You might fit into the royal family better than I do.”
“Your Highness… Someone could accuse me of treason for that comment.”
She lowered her voice and hunched her shoulders, hiding her neck in precaution.
“Haha. I’m joking. I’m truly grateful you took charge of this party.”
Claude expressed his gratitude with a warm smile.
“I’ll bestow a small reward to Blanche family and everyone on this list. I hope you’ll accept.”
“Huh? A reward?”
“You taught me how to win hearts. It’s time I put it into practice.”
He gently waved the list in emphasis.
“Please just look after those on the list. I’m fine.”
“I want to capture your heart the most, you know?”
Iva blinked in surprise.
“The party was a success, but is the marriage proposal still valid? I’d like you to accept that offer too.”
“No! The deadline has clearly passed! Completely!”
“Haha, that’s a real pity.”
Claude continued to tease Iva to the end, and she could only muster a superficial smile in return.
“You’ve worked hard. We’ll meet again soon.”
“Do you dislike the idea?”
“Not at all. Hahaha. I look forward to our next meeting.”
“Alright. You can leave now.”
Wary that he might tease her again, Iva bowed quickly and hurried out of the office.
“Ugh! Every conversation with him feels like it ages me a decade. But at least I don’t have to come to the palace anymore. I’m free now!”
She was happily heading back to her residence, already planning her independence party.
Startled by the voice calling her name, she turned around.
“Wh-Who are you?”
A maidservant she didn’t recognize had called out to her.
“Please follow me for a moment.”
“I just finished my work, actually, I’ve left work.”
She had just completed her final report, so why was she being asked to follow? Iva stood still, indicating her reluctance.
“It’ll only take a moment.”
“Who is asking for me? If you don’t tell me, I’m not moving.”
Seeing Iva’s demanding gaze, the maidservant revealed an unexpected name.
“Princess Julian has summoned you.”
Iva’s expression instantly hardened.
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