Chapter 9

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‘…What’s he doing so late at night?’

It was exactly three in the morning, but it was still so dark out.
I couldn’t sleep, so without waking Charlotte up, I came out to the garden for a short walk… but I didn’t expect to see Theodore here.

‘How odd…’

I don’t know… if it was because of the atmosphere, but his demeanor seemed to be strange.
And as I recalled a while ago, he didn’t look good.
I knew it, was he feeling sick? I hesitated a little but soon headed towards him slowly, silencing my footsteps.

Lost in thought, Theodore was standing in front of an old pagoda tree in the garden.
His empty eyes seemed so far away.
So immersed in his thoughts as he was, he didn’t even notice that I was approaching him.
Normally, like a ghost, he would have known.

“…I wish I had.”

Theodore murmured something blankly.
It was such a hushed voice that I couldn’t hear very well, but the sadness in his tone was apparent.
At first, I thought I heard the word ‘brother’.

‘If it’s his older brother… then is it Camillus Valentino, the original successor of the Valentino family?’

I’ve heard a little about him.
While trying to grasp uncertain memories, something suddenly entered my vision.

“……!”

No way.

I flinched, but I stood frozen in the same spot as I stared at Theodore.
On his cheek… transparent droplets were trickling down.

‘…Tears?’

Was he really crying?

Perplexed by the completely unexpected sight, I didn’t know I’d see him cry… His brother, I think there were some rumors about this and that… but there was nothing good about digging deep.
As he said, we were a married couple only on paper.

It would be better if I got out of here as soon as possible, so I turned back, but the moment I did, I accidentally stepped on a twig.

“……!”

Crack. The sound of the twig breaking echoed particularly louder in the tranquil garden at dawn.
Stiffened as I stepped back, Theodore paused and soon looked over this way.
And as soon as our eyes met, a chaotic light entered his clouded gaze.

“I just…”

“…What are you doing here?”

“……”

It felt… strange.
While he looked angry, there were tear streaks on his face, just as though he was a wounded beast.
Such an appearance would arouse sympathy from anyone.

Shocked as I was, my heart pounded.
Theodore strode towards me, yet I was still frozen here.
I couldn’t take my eyes off his ferocious expression.

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“I asked what you’re doing here.”

“I was just out for a walk…”

“This early in the morning? You’re on a walk and spied as I cried?”

“I didn’t spy…!”

He grabbed my arm and pulled me towards him.
Having lost my balance because of this, I fell face-first onto his chest.
It wasn’t soft at all, so my nose and forehead stung.
As I raised my head with my lips paralyzed, the face of the man with tear streaks came into view.

…My fingertips were trembling slightly.
It’s something I couldn’t understand—but, no, I think I know.
It felt like I needed to wipe off the tears on his pale cheeks.
It felt that way, but…

“It wouldn’t be a very wise choice to investigate the Valentino estate.
Nothing would come up even if you dig.”

“…It’s not like that.”

“So did you really come out for a walk at a time like this? Alone and without a maid? You want me to believe that?”

“……”

Even if I told him yes, I don’t think he’d believe me.
I quickly gave up persuading him and just answered roughly.

“Think as you please then.”

“Hah…”

Laughing in disbelief, Theodore wiped his face haphazardly with his sleeve.
Wouldn’t it hurt if he rubbed his face like that after crying? He was thinking of me suspiciously, but this was what I thought nonetheless.

“Follow me.”

“……!”

He grabbed my wrist tightly and dragged me off somewhere.
I immediately worried that he’d lock me up in an underground solitary cell, but the direction we were going towards wasn’t the dungeon.
Relieved, I followed him properly.
He was much taller, and he had longer legs and a stronger physique, so it was difficult to follow.

Finally, the place we arrived at was none other than my room.
Stopping in front of the door, he looked back at me.
I had walked faster than I was used to, so I was out of breath and gasped for air.

He clicked his tongue as he saw my appearance, and somehow my face got flushed.
I bowed my head deeply.

…It was very strange.
More than anyone in this residence, be it Missus Seymour or the others under the Everett name, this man was the most difficult to deal with.

It didn’t seem to be just out of guilt.

“Go in.
From now on, don’t even think about going around alone in the dark.”

“……”

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Concern about me… I’m sure that’s not it.
He wanted me to stay in my lane and not snoop around.

Wordlessly, I nodded and held the doorknob.
I nervously listened if he’d say anything more.
But I also wanted to talk to him more.

…Have I gone crazy? Talk to him more? Why would I want that? This isn’t right.

“Then, good night.”

I said this and quickly went inside, closing the door behind me.
I didn’t see how Theodore reacted.

 

* * *

 

I couldn’t sleep at all.
Theodore’s tear-stricken face kept popping into my head.
I happened to see that side of him… I sighed and sat up.
As soon as I got out of bed and pulled the rope, Charlotte immediately entered the room.

“Madam, did you call? Would you like to eat or wash your face first?”

“I want to wash up first.
Please prepare a simple meal, only fruits.”

“Yes, I understand.
Please wait a moment!”

Charlotte brought a basin of water.
After I washed my face thoroughly, I ate some oranges and apples for breakfast.

I originally had a small appetite, but after coming to the Valentino estate, it’s become increasingly difficult for me to keep the food down.
Maybe that’s why Charlotte seemed very worried.

“Madam, please eat more at lunch.”

“I will.”

“……”

Charlotte turned back and sighed, perhaps unconvinced by my answer.
I felt sorry towards Charlotte, but I really couldn’t force myself to eat.
It was much better to eat a little at a time rather than vomiting it all later.

“Then, Charlotte.
Can you call the merchant for me before noon? There’s something I need to buy.”

“Oh, yes! Of course!”

I lied that I wanted to buy new jewelry, so I had to push through with it.
Changing into the clothes that Charlotte had ironed, I asked Jenna to style my hair.
Unlike Laura, who still expressed her discomfort whenever she saw me, Jenna was easier to interact with because she was relatively calm—though she still seemed to hate me.

Because almost everyone in the Valentino residence would hate me anyway.

 

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* * *

 

“Now that I see it, you have terrible taste.”

“……”

The merchant’s expression was crumpled as he listened to my sarcastic remarks.
I was now in the middle of rejecting the seventeenth gem he was presenting to me.

Actually… I had no intention to buy any jewelry.
I was just pretending to buy one.
However, I didn’t feel sorry for the merchant who came here for nothing.
I paid him extra to shut his mouth, but even so, he confessed everything to Theodore.

It looked like he didn’t even have any intention to keep it a secret in the first place, regardless of the money used to keep him silent.
Anyone who had any sense would know that I was a scarecrow Duchess, so he must have thought that there would be no problem if he crossed me.
It was true, but… There are many ways to screw someone over.

That’s what I learned from living in the Everett Duchy for more than a decade.

“You said the next one will be the last, right? Show it to me.”

“…Yes, Madam.”

The merchant schooled his expression, trying hard not to hide his displeasure.
Then, he took out the last gem and placed it on the table.
It was a necklace with a pearl and peridot pendant that was the shade of a vivid green apple.

…It was the same color as my eyes.
I’m sure it would suit me.
My eyes lingered for a long time unconsciously.
However.

“This isn’t any good either.”

As if he already expected it, the merchant withdrew.

“Then I’ll buy that necklace.”

Suddenly, I heard a cold voice coming from the entrance of the drawing room.

After a moment of silence, I turned my head and looked back.
Somehow, Theodore was standing by the entrance, his arms folded over his chest.

…This drawing room had an arch-shaped entrance that didn’t have a door, so without hearing the sound of a door opening or closing, I didn’t know he was here.
Even so, killing the sound of his movements would be easy for him.

“I-I greet Your Grace, Duke Valentino.”

The merchant jumped to his feet and greeted Theodore right away.
Unlike how he treated me, he was now being very polite.
Theodore gestured roughly towards the merchant for him to stand down, then he walked to my side.

“Leave that necklace behind.
You may receive the payment from the chamberlain.”

“Y-Yes, thank you, then… I… I shall be on my way now…”

As the merchant stood before Theodore, his vocabulary seemed to have deteriorated rapidly.
His eyes showed sincere respect towards the Duke.

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…Come to think of it, did this merchant mention that he was also from the Valentino territory?

Indeed.
It was understandable.

Theodore Valentino was their dearly beloved liege.

“So, it seems like you also don’t like this necklace, Miss Everett.”

“……”

I responded with silence.
Theodore picked up one end of the necklace with both hands and held it over my neck.

As I recalled it, this necklace was in the form of a choker that was tight around the neck.

“Even if you don’t like it, just keep it.
It’s a gift from me to you, Miss Everett.
I don’t want to be misunderstood.
People might think that I’m not taking good care of the only daughter of the great Everett Duchy.”

“……”

There was something that he was misunderstanding.
But, well, all he must know was that I was Duke Everett’s biological daughter.
How would he react once he knew that I wasn’t related to them by blood at all, let alone an illegitimate child?

Moreover, since I wasn’t born a noble, would he despise me even more…?

“Your hair, keep it to the side for a moment.”

Theodore frowned as he gave this order.
He wanted to put the necklace on me himself, but the hair covering the back of my neck was annoying him.

I slowly swept my hair to the side and lifted it slightly.
Theodore leaned closer towards me.
At first, it felt like his breath passed over my ear.
At that moment, he hesitated for a while unknowingly.

As soon as we both paused, tension rose.
The sound of the clock’s second hand seemed to echo loudly, but then over my skin was a cold sensation of the accessory.

“There.”

Muttering as though he crushed the word in his pronunciation, he hurriedly stepped back.
When his eyes met mine, he furrowed his brows and turned his head.
Blankly touching the necklace, I said thank you.

And without an answer, Theodore left.

 

* * *

 

The next afternoon, the chamberlain visited me, his expression somewhat dark.

“Missus Seymour is looking for you, Madam.”

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