Gusto, who had returned to his study, roughly hurled the decorative glass vase on the table.
The ranunculuses that Eve personally picked and sent from the greenhouse in the morning were unpleasantly scattered on the floor.
Eve, who followed behind, stopped in surprise.
Her piercing scream followed Gusto’s rough behavior.
Gusto rubbed his face in response to Eve’s screaming, simultaneously covering his own face with both hands.
“Eve, be quiet!”
It was an unfamiliar and violent side of him. Gusto always showed a smiling face whenever she was around.
Yet, he didn’t want to lose his composure in front of Eve. She was someone who held him in higher regard than anyone else in the world.
At least in front of Eve, he wanted to be a perfect man.
“Your, Your Majesty.”
Her trembling voice made his blood run cold.
Gusto turned away from Eve’s gaze.
“I’ll escort you out, Lady Eve.”
The courtier who was responsible for Gusto’s affairs approached Eve.
It seemed that Gusto’s shoulders were still heaving up and down, an indication his anger hadn’t subsided.
Despite Eve’s desperate plea, Gusto never turned his head.
Eve lowered her head, and the sight of her looking so pitiful caused a sharp pain in the hearts of those who watched her.
“I’ll be in my palace.”
After finishing her words, Eve turned her body slowly, with a trace of regret in her slow steps.
However, Gusto didn’t reach out to stop her.
Something was strange. It occurred after getting rid of Olivia, the Empress, who had been nagging by his side.
The death of his own child had been quite shocking, and even Marquess Ronae had secluded himself in the mansion.
The annoying pest-like problems disappeared in tandem, and there was no need to worry about them. He finally felt that the Empire was completely in his grip.
“It’ll never to be taken away from me.”
Gusto looked down at his own palm.
His calloused hand caught his attention. It was the price he had paid through countless training since childhood.
“If necessary, I’ll lop your head. Just like how my father struck your father’s neck.”
Gusto’s pupils glowed dangerously.
The surrounding courtiers and maids pretended not to hear, but they couldn’t stop their bodies from trembling.
The intensity emanating from Gusto’s body made the hairs on their skin stand up.
In the darkness of the night.
The moon was shining faintly above Gusto’s head.
Today, its pale radiance resembled someone’s hair.
After Gusto harshly gazed at the crescent moon, he turned his body.
It was a night that called for alcohol.
* * *
“Madam, Lady Lawrence has arrived.”
“Please guide her to the reception room.”
Briella, who was fitting winter dresses in the dressing room with Madame Blanc, stood up from her seat.
It was she who had sent a letter stating that she would visit just one day after returning from the palace.
After postponing it for about ten days, Briella had allowed her visit.
“You seem quite anxious.”
When Briella gestured from her position, Madame Blanc removed the pin from her mouth.
“I will make adjustments to the laces and come back.”
“Please make sure it’s not too tight.”
Madame Blanc nodded in response to Briella’s request.
Aside from their somewhat coercive contractual relationship, Briella was a good client.
She managed to express her opinions without undermining the designer’s dignity.
“Then, until next time.”
Madame Blanc clasped her hands and bowed her head in response to Briella’s words.
To engage in social activities in earnest, Briella needed more than just dresses.
She needed matching hats, shoes, and even jewelry.
“Even so, this is a bit excessive.”
Every time the empty dressing room was filled, Briella had to bite her lip to avoid being surprised.
Although she had lived as the Empress in the palace, Lucas’s extravagance surpassed her imagination.
She raised her head, thinking of Madame Blanc, who didn’t hide her excitement every time Lucas opened his purse.
“Oh? They said Madame Blanc was in here.”
He had just turned the corner. Lucas, who was heading towards Briella’s dressing room, hesitated when he saw her.
“I knew this would happen.”
It was obvious that he would drop everything and rush over at the news of Madame Blanc’s arrival.
“The shadows under the Baron’s eyes will grow darker.”
“I’ll take whatever comes my way.”
Lucas extended his hand in response to Briella’s words. A sigh involuntarily escaped his confident face.
“But where are you going?”
“It’s the day I scheduled to have tea time with Lady Lawrence.”
“So, it’s today,” remarked Lucas.
Briella turned her head, observing Lucas, who was lost in thought, stroking his chin.
She was contemplating what excuse she could give if he decided to follow her.
It wasn’t simply due to his interest in her. She was increasingly burdened by his deliberate involvement in her affairs.
“Your Highness, I shall take my leave.”
She was about to quickly bid farewell and turn around.
As it was, either he accompanied her to Lady Lawrence or returned to the office where Baron was chattering with Madame Blanc, it was up to him.
“Come with me,” Lucas said firmly.
“Your Highness, it’s ladies’ gossip. In case you still don’t trust me.”
Briella’s words trailed off.
Lucas’s black irises gleamed like a predator targeting its prey.
“Isn’t it natural? How could I trust you so easily after only meeting you for a short time? Trust is not something that can be built overnight.”
Briella nodded slowly.
Countless lives depended on him.
Unbeknownst to herself, Briella found herself biting her lip. She had momentarily forgotten her place, having gotten carried away by the warmth he exuded.
“But there’s no need to look so gloomy.”
As Lucas lifted Briella’s chin, their eyes met.
“For a moment, I forgot my position.”
Lucas fell silent at her words.
“I’ll escort you to the reception room.”
Yet there was no room for refusal.
The maid who had been watching the situation from a distance since Lucas appeared quickly followed them as they walked.
Being escorted within the manor became something common for her.
Rumors of possible spies had already reached Baron.
The Duke Viterpan, who had gone mad with love and carried out a secret marriage.
As if proving the rumors that abounded in the capital, Lucas treated her quite tenderly even within the manor.
But if anything, Briella who found Lucas’s actions burdensome instead.
“Do you not realize that listening ears and loose lips are present, my lady?”
Briella turned her head away from the condescending gaze.
Lucas clicked his tongue at her silence.
“If you’re going to do it, do it properly.”
Lucas, who wasn’t pleased with her evasive gaze, grabbed her chin and turned it towards him.
He seemed satisfied with her response as he smiled back at her.
The warmth entwined around her fingers felt unfamiliar.
Since her childhood, she had never held hands with anyone like this.
As Briella walked along the long corridor, she suddenly hunched her shoulders and made a strange noise.
The maid walking behind her raised her head and discreetly glanced at the Duke and Duchess.
Briella frowned at Lucas, who looked at her with a clueless expression.
He had clearly stealthily disengaged their interlocked fingers, and then grazed his palm against the hand he was holding just a moment ago.
Unknowingly, she had shrunk her body, making a strange noise in response to his cat-like movement…
Briella felt inexplicably indignant towards Lucas, who shamelessly played dumb.
“No, it’s nothing.”
As Briella turned her face forward, her expression hardened. Lucas shrugged his shoulders in response.
Around the corner awaited the reception room where Lady Lawrence, the Countess, was waiting.
This time, she endured longer than before.
Unbeknownst to Briella, her body shivered at the touch of the long fingers tapping on her palm.
“Is it necessary to writhe so much when a simple smile would suffice?”
With a mischievous expression on his face, Lucas released the hand he firmly held.
The bizarre sensation that traveled up her fingers vanished.
“It’s strange to say the least!”
Lucas smiled at Briella, who burst into an exclamation, evidently signaling her displeasure.
“Now, finally, she resembles a human being.”
At Lucas’s words, her face hardened in an instant.
Was it because of him that she had played along to an act that didn’t suit her?
“The road ahead is long. If you remain so tense, you will tire quickly.”
“I have been preparing for 16 years. It would be nice finishing in a year or two, as you said, but I’m willing to wait much longer if need be.”
“You’ve waited for so long already.”
Briella, unable to look Lucas directly in the eye, fixed her gaze on her chest and spoke in a timid voice.
Yes, he had waited for so long.
But compared to the hunger he felt as a child, while looking at her father’s dismembered head, the wait was nothing.
It was never too late if he remembered burying her mother, whose body wasn’t even intact, torn limb from limb.
If he thought about the time when he couldn’t even tell if someone was alive or dead and had to search through corpses, he could wait for another ten years or so.
‘Compared to seeing her standing next to another man, this is nothing.’
Lucas shook his head, remembering Olivia, who stood next to Gusto that day and looking down at him.
He didn’t want to experience such a thing again.
“As long as I wait, my anger will grow, regardless. I am not a helpless child who can do nothing.”
Lucas’s dark eyes flickered.
They were threatening enough when seen in the darkness of the night. But his appearance during the day was equally formidable.
“Let’s go inside.”
Lucas, who had suddenly arrived in front of the reception room, let go of her hand.
“You’re welcome, madam.”
Briella unintentionally burst into laughter at the excessive formal greeting.
Seeing her reaction, Lucas briefly made a bewildered expression, and then quickly brought his lips to her ear.
“Good. You’ve learned how to deceive.”
“To deceive others, you must deceive me first. So, you’ll have to act like you genuinely love me, all right?”
She was astonished by his smiling figure.
“It seems that you’ve misunderstood something. It’s not I who is crazy in love, but Your Grace.”
Briella bent her knee in response to Lucas’s greeting, with a picturesque smile on her face.
The afternoon sunlight cast long shadows and radiated light.
The clear autumn wind passed through the two of them as if dancing.
Lucas nodded slowly as if he had realized something.
Lucas extended his hand as if to indicate that everything was fine and lightly knocked on the reception room door instead of the maid.
A voice responded from inside, sounding dreadfully delicate.
“See you later.”
Briella saw Lucas’s frozen face as he opened the door for her to enter.
She examined his face in response to the sudden change, but she couldn’t figure out what the problem was.
‘Perhaps he’s angry because of the madly in love bit.’
He might have found it uncomfortable because the object of his love was she herself.
Unconsciously, Briella bit her lip.
“Your Grace! Lord Duke.”
As if not expecting Lucas’s appearance, Lady Lawrence showed a bewildered expression.
“Have a pleasant time.”
Interrupting Lady Lawrence, Lucas greeted her first and then closed the door.
Briella silently stared at the closed door.
They were completely separated by just one door.
‘So, this is you and I stand.’
A position where he couldn’t protest even if he was rejected unilaterally.
It was the position she had desired. The tingling sensation she felt in the palm of her hand came alive and poked her heart.
The time to indulge in reverie was fleeting. Briella turned around with an elegant smile.
Upon seeing Lucas, Lady Lawrence’s face had turned red.
“Forgive the late greeting, Lady Lawrence.”
“No, it’s not necessary. Thank you for allowing me to visit.”
Lady Lawrence, who had become deferential in just a few days, bowed her head.
“In the letter, I mentioned that I have apologized. Wasn’t it just a small misunderstanding that arose from not knowing each other?”
Before taking her seat, Briella mentioned what had happened at the funeral.
As Briella sat down, a maid approached and poured tea for her.
As golden-hued tea was poured, the reception room quickly filled with the scent of flowers, resembling the scent of a blooming garden.
“Yes, thank you.”
Between the two of them, there was nothing to be heard except for the clinking of teacups.
Lady Lawrence glanced at the maid, but Briella pretended not to notice and savored the taste of the tea.
The maid was someone personally picked by Lucas.
The maid had lost her father as a child, whom was a knight during the coup d’etat. The knight had most likely lost his life protecting Lucas.
‘Her skill in handling a sword is quite remarkable, making her suitable for guarding you.’
Briella didn’t think that she was simply guarding her. Perhaps all the conversations she would have with Lady Lawrence were meant to be conveyed to Lucas.
“She is someone in whom I entrust my life. There are no conversations that the maid won’t hear.”
The words of Briella made the maid and Lady Lawrence flinch.
Lady Lawrence, as if determined, put down her teacup.
Her face was deeply wrinkled, making it quite difficult to speak.
Briella tightly held the teacup in her hand, trying to erase the lingering touch of Lucas.
Suppressing the anticipation and disappointment felt in her hand, Briella raised her head.
“How do you know about Kali?”
Lady Lawrence’s restless, swirling red eyes were directed towards Briella.
If the awaited time we’ve been waiting for has come, would you believe it? (Speaking in Kali)
Lady Lawrence opened her mouth in surprise at Briella’s response.
She spoke in perfect Kali.