When the knights of the Grand Duchy rushed in, the assassins had already disappeared without a trace.
As if vanishing like magic, they were eventually deemed to be nothing more than cats or birds.
These assassins were highly skilled individuals.
They were on a different level compared to those who had been targeting Nikolai until now.
Combined with the Duke’s keen senses, power, and the protection of his knights, the attempts had failed like fallen leaves in the wind. But this time, there was a strong conviction that things would be different.
Due to the utmost secrecy surrounding their marriage, little was known about the news of their wedding. But it was evident that Nikolai was in a romantic relationship.
When his guard was down, he could be pushed by those with expertise, they stood a chance.
Unaware that this peace was the calm before the storm, Duke Smirnov laughed from within.
“Your Highness, did you dislocate your jaw?”
Boris asked with a chuckle as he finished carrying gifts and came to look at the Grand Duchess’s wedding dress.
Nikolai stood there like a statue, seemingly unable to close his mouth, as if his jaw had indeed dislocated.
Katya, appearing in her wedding dress, glanced at the silent Grand Duke with embarrassment, scratching her lips.
“Is it not to your liking?”
“…….I was praying.”
“I had impure thoughts.”
Bianca covered her blushing cheeks with her hair at that.
But Katya knew what he meant.
Nikolai was genuinely trying to figure out how to blind the other men.
“Grand Duke, you should only have good and righteous thoughts.”
“You shouldn’t say that when you’re the one who caused it.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I don’t know what’s okay. It feels like my heart was ripped out of my chest and rolled all the way over there.”
Nikolai traced his fingers over my sternum, pointed to the other side of the parlor, and replied in a serious tone.
“Do you have to be so creepy to say you have a crush?”
“I was just describing how I felt.”
In fact, Nikolai was not exaggerating.
As soon as she appeared, everyone in the reception room stood up and gave her a standing ovation.
The staff had worked tirelessly on their grand duchess, not only trying on her clothes, but trimming her hair and applying fresh makeup.
Normally, her hair was only half-tied while the rest flowed freely, or tightly bound like the end of a horse’s tail. But today, it was elegantly twisted and pinned up.
Revealing the graceful and delicate nape of her neck, adding to her beauty.
Her smooth, white flesh was accentuated by the ivory dress.
The silhouette, which tightly embraces the upper body and elegantly fans out below, adorned the slender waist-to-hip curve, thanks to its ample volume.
“I am a very lucky man to have you as my bride.”
Nikolai took her hand and kissed the back of her soft hand briefly.
It was filled with the sweet scent from Katya’s refreshing morning bath.
“I always smell this fragrance from you.”
“I’ve been wondering, what kind of perfume are you wearing?”
“I don’t wear perfume.”
As they stared at each other as if they were the only two people in the world, Bianca interrupted the conversation.
“If what you’re smelling is strawberry, it’s soap.”
“The soap my sister uses, I make it myself.”
“Soap. It was soap……”
Nikolai grinned with delight, having finally figured out the source of the strawberry scent.
As far as he knew, there were no strawberry scented perfumes on the market.
That’s why he hadn’t been able to find one no matter how hard he tried.
“Do you mind if I ask for the same soap?”
He asked innocently, wanting to smell like her, like the night they’d spent together at the inn.
“Does Your Highness like the scent of…….. strawberries?”
Bianca asked, rolling her eyes in confusion.
She was so flustered that she blurted out ‘Your Highness’ instead of ‘Brother-in-law.’
It was truly an incompatible combination.
“I will find and create a fragrance that suits you, Your Highness.”
“If it’s different from Tia, it’s meaningless. I wish Tia would always have the same scent. Remember the time we bathed togethe — ugh!”
Before any more unpleasant sounds could come out, Katya raised on tiptoe and blocked his mouth with her hand.
‘There’s no sound this man can’t make, dammit!’
Bianca looked back and forth between the two in disbelief, then raised her index finger as if she had found a solution.
“Ah! Then, I will make a new combination of fragrances that His Highness and sister can use together.”
“No, there’s no need for that! His Highness already smells delightful.”
“No, Sis, I’m suddenly very eager to make one. Why haven’t I tried a unisex scent before? I’ll do my best to find one so you can start using it on your honeymoon!”
Katya couldn’t help but smile at her sister’s enthusiasm.
She throws a glance over Bianca’s shoulder, and Nikolai and Pavtisky, who have now made eye contact, are quiet again.
The wedding was just around the corner.
Deciding that she couldn’t wait any longer, Katya parted her lips.
“Father, why don’t we all go fishing tomorrow?”
“Father love to fish. Grand Duke, are you skilled in fishing?”
“Have I told you before. It’s faster to find something I’m not good at.”
Nikolai ruffled his hair with a haughty look.
“My dad’s a good fisherman too, so why don’t you two make a bet on which of you will win?”
“Bet? I don’t know…….”
Pavtisky stammered, as if he was embarrassed to dare make a bet with a monarch.
She knew he was quick to say no, but this was not a Katya who would back down.
If one lacks determination, all that’s needed is to provoke the opponent, who would then grab them by the collar and drag them up to the confrontation site.
“Eyy, father. Are you sorry if the Grand Duke orders you to withdraw?”
Those words gently touched the man’s pride.
“If I lose?”
“Well, father isn’t usually good at it.”
“Is that so? It makes me curious. Nikolai, if there’s nothing important tomorrow, you’ll play against me.”
Nikolai, driven by his competitive spirit, looked back at his father-in-law and spoke.
It was an offer that Pavtisky couldn’t refuse, an offer that sounded more like a command than an order.
The next day, a showdown was organized on the shore of the lake where Pavtisky usually fishes.
They all packed a picnic and went to the lake together.
The only people who bet on Nikolai to win were the Duke’s butler and Alyona.
They had other engagements, so they couldn’t participate at the venue.
Aside from that, Pavtisky placed a bet on the Grand Duke’s victory.
“Do you pity me?”
Nikolai asked, a hint of discomfort on his face.
Everyone but Pavtisky himself had bet on him to win.
“Not at all, Your Highness. This man’s skills are so paltry as to be an embarrassment to the Grand Duke. I wouldn’t dare stand a chance against you.”
“I would be very angry if you made any attempt to lose on purpose.”
“Your Highness, how dare I……!”
“Ey, stop fighting and start now!”
As soon as Katya gave the signal, the two excited fishermen simultaneously cast their lines into the lake.
From then on, they were both in a trance and focused on fishing.
Katya gestured to Bianca and Luka, as they had previously arranged.
The three of them often walked away from the field of play.
This would give them some alone time, some time to confide in each other.
They were walking through the woods, talking.
Laika, who has been following them, stopped, stuck her nose in the ground, and started sniffing.
“What’s wrong, Laika?”
The dog couldn’t get her nose off the ground.
Laika was familiar with the place, as she often followed Pavtisky to the fishing spot.
But today, she seemed to smell something out of the ordinary.
Katya crouched down and grabbed Laika’s forehead, lifting her head slightly.
There were faint, half-erased shoe prints on the ground, which had been dampened by the morning’s brief drizzle and made slightly squishy.
As if an attempt had been made to erase the traces.
Interrupted by her sister, Laika grunted and began to shallowly scratch the ground with her claws.
“What the hell is that?”
She grabbed a small handful of the dirt she’d dug up and held it up to her nose.
Katya’s eyes widened at the smell.
A faint but unmistakable scent of gunpowder lingered.
Not for hunting purposes. This was the estate of the Smirnovs, and hunting was forbidden in accordance with the Duke’s respect for nature.
Even though the mountain led to the cultivated fields below, the peasants were not the kind of people to trespass without permission.
Besides, peasants usually couldn’t afford or learn to use guns, so the chances of it being them dropped significantly.
Katya slowly rose from her seat and looked around, searching for the trail of footprints.
But after only a few steps, they stopped in front of a tree.
Katya pulled the musket she’d been carrying in case of a wild animal attack out of her bag.
As she loaded it, Bianca approached.
“Sis, what’s wrong?”
“I have to go check on something.”
“I should come with you, in case you get lost.”
“I’ve been in this forest many times, I know it best.”
She’d been out hunting boars at the request from the young lords to go hunting wild boars, so she knew the geography of the land better than anyone.
“There are servants and knights guarding the area, so I’ll stay within the boundaries. Got it?”
“What if there’s a boar or something, isn’t that dangerous?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be with the knights, so rest assured, okay?”
Katya left her sister and Luka behind and disappeared into the green forest of spruce trees.