Rose lightly kissed Jasper’s cheek, and as soon as she did, she quickly pulled her head back.
Then, she slowly opened her eyes.
Jasper’s face, which was wearing a bewildered expression, filled her vision.
For a moment, they gazed into each other’s eyes in silence. Rose felt a tingling sensation from her toes to the top of her head as awkwardness and embarrassment flooded her. The only fortunate thing was that Jasper’s face began to flush slightly as well.
After a while, Jasper mumbled in a drowsy and low voice.
“You did it.”
“You asked me to do it….”
“No, I didn’t mean you do it now.”
Rose realized her misunderstanding and felt her cheek burning. Furthermore, her face was still too close to Jasper, making her feel dizzy.
When would she become nonchalant about doing such things with Jasper? Would the day come when she wouldn’t hesitate? At least for now, she didn’t think she would ever fully adapt.
With her face flushed red, Rose unconsciously took a step back. But before she could lift her foot, Jasper grabbed her wrist and pulled her towards him.
The wrist held by Jasper grew warm. Jasper had somehow straightened his posture, and Rose had to raise her head to look at him.
It felt like she would collide with Jasper’s chest if she leaned a little further. Just as Rose was trying to calm her pounding heart and her dizzy mind, Jasper’s voice penetrated her ear.
“But what we just did doesn’t seem like a kiss.”
“Don’t lips have to touch for it to be a kiss?”
“Whether it’s a cheek or lips… there isn’t much difference in terms of physical contact.”
Rose timidly expressed her opposing opinion in a hesitant voice. However, Jasper immediately countered her without hesitation.
“It’s different. Of course, it’s cute when you give a kiss on the cheek, but it’s not enough.”
“Wait, you mean on the lips? What if someone sees us outside?”
“There’s no one around.”
“If you’re worried, I’ll let it go for today. But kiss my other cheek too.”
Before Rose could respond, Jasper leaned down and extended his cheek to her. Despite the audacious gesture, it didn’t look arrogant but rather endearing.
Finally, Rose closed her eyes and pressed her lips to Jasper’s cheek, then quickly pulled back.
“Is that okay?”
“A little disappointing, but well… If I ask for more here, you might faint.”
Jasper looked at Rose’s flushed face and burst into laughter.
Given that Jasper rarely displayed any change in expression, every time he laughed like this, it gave her a peculiar feeling. It made her feel a sense of accomplishment as if she had tamed a wild animal.
Was it because she felt that she had this smile all to herself? Right now, Jasper’s demeanor seemed particularly gentle.
Still smiling lightly, Jasper spoke.
“This is what you’ll do to me every time I behave, isn’t it?”
“Wow, I’m suddenly inspired to do the right thing.”
“Good thing then….”
Rose quietly gazed at Jasper, who was smiling, and then she too let out a small laugh.
When they first reunited at the academy, Jasper had seemed scary and distant. But now, the time spent with him felt more peaceful than usual.
* * *
Caleb, after shaving for the first time in a while, stroked his smooth chin as he disembarked from the train.
It was Central Train Station, always bustling with crowds. He looked around and soon spotted someone whose head was a bit taller than the others.
Caleb waved his hand excitedly towards the familiar face he hadn’t seen in months.
Jasper turned to Caleb and greeted him with a nod.
“Oh, I didn’t know you’d come out first.”
Caleb’s face showed his excitement, but Jasper, as always, had a stoic expression.
“I had the carriage waiting. Let’s go.”
Caleb had decided to stay in the Conway family’s guest room for the duration of his stay in the capital. The reason for not going to the townhouse was the discomfort he expected when being with his parents after writing the renunciation letter.
Being at that house would become even more awkward in the face of the impending consequences. Caleb outwardly appeared unfazed, despite the imminent fallout.
Jasper had a more resolute expression.
Caleb nudged Jasper with his elbow.
“Why are you acting so gruff with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while?”
“What’s gruff about it? I came to the platform to meet you, didn’t I?”
“You didn’t do it because you couldn’t wait to hear the information you asked for, did you?”
“Well, at least partly.”
“Wow, you heartless guy.”
Caleb had sent a message to Jasper a few days ago. It was an urgent message that had flown in from the small city of Brittel, about an hour away by train from the capital.
The reason for Caleb’s unexpected visit to Brittel was the Redmark Summit. He had followed their trail out of curiosity after they disembarked from the train in large numbers.
What caught his attention was the sight of Redmark members heading into a rare upscale coffeehouse in the city, alongside some familiar faces from the social circuit. These were nobility or aristocrats whom Caleb had occasionally encountered in social gatherings.
Sidoor is an Earl, but he had made quite a name for himself in the social circles by independently amassing considerable wealth. He was an ideal choice for those who didn’t dare to mingle with the dukes and other high-ranking individuals.
Caleb’s father, Earl Sidoor, was a staunch and authoritative figure. Most of those trying to establish connections with him were conservatives who believed in aristocratic classism, which was the exact opposite of Caleb’s personality.
Every time he met them at the parties hosted by his family, he felt uncomfortable.
However, a few of those he had seen on that occasion were gathered in a Brittel coffeehouse. Could they be forming a new social circle? Why meet in Brittel and not in the capital? It was an intriguing and puzzling situation that piqued Caleb’s curiosity.
So, Caleb had stayed in Brittel for about two days, observing them from a distance before coming to the capital. He couldn’t wait to share this strange situation with his best friend.
Caleb got into the carriage and, just the two of them, he began to narrate the story of what happened in Brittel to Jasper.
Jasper listened in silence, his expression thoughtful.
“It’s understandable that lower nobility might gather and have fun together. But isn’t it odd that the Redmark Summit is escorting them? Not just Redmark, there’s a considerable number of escorts.”
Caleb, rather than someone else, had contacted Jasper because the Redmark Summit was involved in this situation. It was a place Caleb’s friends were associated with, and amidst the intrigue, he felt a vague unease.
Caleb scratched his cheek and continued.
“I wonder what Redmark is up to. I hope they’re not getting into something stupid again and causing trouble for Rose. Is Rose’s father still held up in Redmark?”
“He’s in the capital.”
“Hmm. Haven’t you heard anything from the conservative side? The situation is a bit strange, isn’t it? Or am I just overthinking it?”
Jasper, who had been sitting quietly with a serious expression, raised his head.
“No, it’s strange. Thanks for not just letting it slide and contacting me directly.”
Caleb was momentarily stunned when he heard Jasper’s words. He opened his mouth slightly, and with a shocked expression, he spoke in a breathless voice.
“Uh? Did you just say ‘thanks’?”
Jasper raised an eyebrow as if to ask what the problem was.
“Wow… Is it because you’re in a relationship? You’ve changed.”
“What are you talking about? I did say ‘thanks.'”
“No? The Jasper Conway I knew had no idea what that word meant.”
“You even announced your relationship in such a grand way. It’s like you wanted the whole world to know that Rose Bell is your girlfriend. So passionate.”
Caleb teased in a playful tone, but Jasper didn’t flinch and responded seriously.
“Everyone should know. That way, no one can touch her.”
Caleb let out a forced laugh at Jasper’s response.
“You say it with such a straight face… it’s a bit…”
“A bit… makes you look a bit crazy. Anyway, I hope you two are happy.”
“Of course, we will be.”
The voice was mixed with a determination that, by any means, he would remove any obstacles from his future with Rose. Caleb decided to let go of the topic of Rose Bell.
‘When I make a joke, he takes it seriously, as if it’s a life-and-death matter… Well…’
Whenever Rose was brought up, Jasper’s demeanor changed.
Deciding it was better not to touch on the topic further, Caleb redirected the conversation to the Brittel coffeehouse.
“Right. I approached someone working at the coffeehouse.”
“She’s a performer who comes occasionally, but she suddenly said she won’t be coming starting next week and didn’t give any reason.”
“Do you have any more information?”
“She was trying to seduce me quite aggressively, but I resisted. She had a nice face and body… Did I refuse her for no reason?”
“It’s not like you.”
“Yeah, these days I’m trying to behave myself.”
Caleb seemed a bit irritated, and after listening to Caleb’s story, Jasper fell into thought for a moment before speaking.
“Since you’ll figure out the Redmark side, you can stay at our house until you resolve the inheritance issue. If you’re uncomfortable with anything, let me know.”
“Why are you being so considerate?”
Of course, his tone and expression were far from considerate.
“Jasper, you’re giving me goosebumps acting like this. Is this the power of love?”
“Just do well.”
In reality, Jasper was genuinely grateful to Caleb for bringing this crucial piece of information, as if it were the final puzzle piece.