Jayden’s sudden declaration took us all by surprise.
The astonished Marquis turned to his son and asked,
“Are you feeling alright?”
Jayden simply shook his head in calm denial.
“I’m perfectly normal. There’s no rule against having a brother as a partner, is there?”
“Well, that’s true but…”
“Then, there’s no need to bother Sir Rehman. I’ll do it, sister.”
Suddenly, I was the target.
“Do you dislike the idea of me as your partner?”
“No, it’s not that… But you are busy with the heir training and social meetings.”
“When’s the date?”
I hurriedly looked at the invitation carefully.
“In four days.”
“I’m free that day. Even if I have plans, I would cancel them.”
Good heavens, why is he doing this all of a sudden?
Because Jayden was so adamant, it was decided that he would be my partner, regardless of my own feelings.
After dinner was over.
“Wait, hold on!”
I called Jayden back as he was heading to his quarters and pulled him into a secluded spot.
“What on earth are you thinking?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why insist on being my partner?”
“Wasn’t that settled earlier?”
I hadn’t pressed the issue in front of the family, but it didn’t mean I was convinced.
“Don’t beat around the bush, just tell me straight.”
“There’s nothing to be straightforward about.”
Jayden was as elegant as ever.
“I simply want to be of help to you. That’s all.”
“Suddenly, why? You… you used to dislike me.”
His expression dimmed slightly.
“I can’t answer no to that question. Indeed, I didn’t particularly like you.”
“But, having seen you change, I’ve thought perhaps I was the one harboring a misunderstanding.”
“So, I intend to make an effort to improve our relationship.”
“No, there’s no need for all that.”
“…Do you dislike me so much that you don’t even wish to try?”
Jayden’s eyebrows lowered ever so slightly.
But even such a subtle change struck me oddly because it was so unlike him, making me feel as though I had somehow become the villain.
I closed my eyes tightly. No matter how harmless Jayden seemed, I couldn’t let my guard down.
‘He’s the one who always ignored Charlotte! Who knows what he’s scheming!’
I mustn’t fall for it, no, no, no, no… Yes, yes, yes, yes.
When I came to my senses, I was in a carriage, and there was Jayden, fully well-dressed, sitting opposite me.
Days had passed, and we were now on our way to Count Mosella’s estate to attend a tea party.
It was then I remembered an important fact I’d somehow forgotten.
‘Right, I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty face!’
Even before my current situation, I had this chronic condition where I just couldn’t say no to beautiful people, regardless of age or gender.
Because of this, I ended up doing group assignments alone in college, and I almost got recruited by street preachers.
To be honest, the reason I agreed to Reynard and Eugen’s request to share my bed also wasn’t just out of fear or guilt.
‘He really is ridiculously handsome.’
Today, Jayden’s beauty was especially radiant, and I couldn’t help but admire it.
I knew he was attractive, but seeing him dressed up for the event made me realize it all over again.
As I struggled to suppress a smile, our eyes met.
“…Is there something on my face?”
“You just look really handsome.”
Oh no, my sincerity about his looks just slipped out without a filter.
“Ah, thank you for the compliment.”
Jayden, who hadn’t always been on good terms with his sister, showed a faint, complicated smile at the unexpected praise of his looks.
His expression was a mix of shyness and embarrassment.
The atmosphere in the carriage grew tense. I hoped we would arrive at the Mosella estate sooner rather than later.
* * *
In the Count Mosella’s garden.
Even though the tea party hadn’t started yet, the guests gathered in small groups, chatting away happily.
“Ah, did you hear the news?”
“Well, they say Lady Charlotte Lindsay is coming here today, can you believe it?”
“My goodness. Is that true?”
“Absolutely. I heard it straight from Lady Mosella, the hostess herself. She sent an invitation to the Lindsay estate out of curiosity, and they actually replied!”
Faces around me took on that all-too-familiar pretentious sneer.
One by one, other attendees leaned in, their ears perking up at the mention of Charlotte.
Charlotte Lindsay was, undeniably, one of the juiciest topics of gossip in the social circle – and not in a good way.
“To show her face in public after such a scandal, it’s so… very much like Lady Charlotte, isn’t it?”
“But, considering she’s kept to herself for half a year, maybe the lady is trying to make an effort?”
“Huh, but it’s strange, isn’t it? The Archduke Hyclide isn’t even here today.”
“Yes, too odd. She used to follow him around everywhere. It’s quite out of character for her.”
A lady began, her gaze drifting to a pair hidden away beneath a gazebo.
There, Lady Mosella was practically glued to a man with soft silver hair and eyes like amethysts.
His name was Kirie, the greatest disciple of the current Lord of the Mage Tower and the leading candidate to be the next one.
The tale of how the Emperor himself had invited him to be an imperial consultant for magic to foster ties with the Tower was well-known.
Almost every noble in the Empire wanted a connection with this promising magician, but the attention on Kirie wasn’t just for his potential.
“He might be the reason she’s come. The Archduke has his charms, but Lord Kirie… he’s quite a different sort of magnet, isn’t he?”
The lady continued to speak, her cheeks a rosy hue as she watched the talking pair.
The title of Archmage alone lent an air of mysterious allure, and his looks were mesmerizing enough to captivate hearts.
Some even likened him to a spirit of the snow-capped mountains.
Someone shook their head at her speculation.
“Oh, come on. Lady Lindsay has only ever had eyes for the Archduke.”
A chorus of agreement followed.
“Exactly. Say what you will about Lady Lindsay’s temperament or background, but she’s always been steadfast in her affections.”
At that moment, a gentleman broached a particularly juicy topic concerning Charlotte Lindsay.
“I wonder who Lady Lindsay’s partner is? You must have one to attend this gathering.”
“Indeed. Especially when she claimed she’d rather die than be with a man other than the Archduke.”
“I doubt there’s anyone who could actually endure her character.”
Their laughter burst forth at the thought.
“No doubt some poor soul from the Lindsay household would have been sacrificed.”
“Or perhaps just some vain fool who cares for nothing more than a pretty face.”
Just then, a maid from the Mosella household announced the arrival of the Lindsay family carriage.
Truly, Charlotte Lindsay was the talk of the town, drawing even Lady Mosella, who had been so engrossed with the Archmage, out from the gazebo to see.
Following her, Kirie’s eyes gleamed as he watched the pathway leading from the mansion’s main gate to the gardens.
A pair, guided by a servant, made their entrance into the garden where the party was in full swing.
The woman was Charlotte Lindsay, her wavy orange hair and cat-like eyes making a striking impression, and the man escorting her was…
Someone exclaimed in surprise.
Jayden Lindsay, the eldest son and heir of the Lindsay Marquis.
Belonging to the same family but carrying a starkly different reputation from his sister Charlotte.
Talented in both the literary and martial arts, with handsome looks and impeccable manners to boot. It’s no fluke he’s dubbed the empire’s most eligible bachelor.
But why Jayden? Why with Charlotte, with whom he’s known to have no good relationship?
The only plausible reason that sprang to mind was that Charlotte, unable to find a partner, had thrown a tantrum until their father had foisted her upon his son.
In the midst of these whispers…
Charlotte stumbled over a stone, her balance wavering, under the watchful eyes of everyone.
Jayden swiftly caught her, preventing her from falling.
“Please watch where you’re walking.”
“Sorry, am I being too clumsy?”
“…I didn’t mean to scold. Are you hurt?”
“Then that’s a relief.”
The sight of the two, seemingly in good spirits, left the attendees with their jaws agape.
No matter how you looked at it, the only conclusion was that Jayden had lost his mind.
While the others just gawked, Evelyn Mosella, the hostess of the party, stepped forward.
“Welcome, Lord Jayden Lindsay, and Lady Charlotte Lindsay.”
Evelyn called out both their names, but her greeting was really only aimed at Jayden.
“Thank you for the invitation.”
But Jayden remained silent, and it was Charlotte who responded.
“Please enjoy your time here.”
Evelyn, feeling a bit awkward, excused herself.
The actual invitee to this tea party was Charlotte, and Jayden was merely her companion, her partner by qualification.
Evelyn should have greeted Charlotte first. Jayden’s silence pointed out her breach of etiquette.
Just as the atmosphere began to turn a tad awkward, another unexpected twist occurred.
“Good day, my beautiful lady.”
Out of nowhere, like a pop, an orange tulip was extended towards Charlotte.
“I’d like to present this flower to you as a gift.”
It was Evelyn’s partner, Kirie, who had offered Charlotte the flower, causing Evelyn to bite her lip in displeasure.
In many minds, the image of Charlotte coldly rejecting Kirie was already taking shape.
Perhaps to prove that no one but Archduke Hyclide mattered, Charlotte usually dismissed any man who showed interest in her with a cold shoulder.
“Thank you. The tulip is really lovely.”
But, contrary to all expectations, Charlotte graciously accepted the flower with a simple thanks.