In recent days, a strange atmosphere started to envelop the Valentino Castle.
This was because of how Theodore’s attitude towards me had changed.

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All over the castle, rumors had spread about how Missus Seymour had slapped me, and also about how Theodore was absolutely enraged because of this.

The ones who spread this probably were the people who sneaked in and peeked that day.
I’m sure they’re the ones responsible for these rumors.

Ayla was promptly fired and kicked out of the residence, and Serena was kept under probation.
Theodore felt pity for Serena because of her situation, that’s why he didn’t impose that heavy of a punishment for her.
Besides, Serena had only been tricked by Ayla.

“Madam, will you be replying to Princess Alvinith’s letter?”

Charlotte hesitated to ask me this.
I thought about it for a moment, but I shook my head.

Unexpectedly, a letter from Adeline Alvinith arrived this morning.
There’s no need to reply though.

We’re going to meet again soon anyway.

I stood in front of the mirror and straightened my clothes.

“Bring me one more feather accessory.
A pink one.”

“Yes, Madam.”

Charlotte moved swiftly and brought me the pink feather accessory.
I adorned my ivory-colored hat with it.

There were already other white feathers on this hat, but it felt so drab with just white.

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I needed to lighten my appearance at least.
As it was, I looked as pale as an invalid on her deathbed.

“Is there anything else you need, Madam?”

“…Mm, I think this will do.
Let’s get going.”

When I went down to the first floor with Charlotte, the servants waiting at the foyer greeted and bowed towards me.

This show of discipline was a 180-degree shift from how they treated me before.

Back then, although they regarded me with courtesy, there was a nuance to their behavior that still made it obvious how they were disregarding me.

Rather than this change being pleasant, it was just laughable.

People were always like this, so easily swayed by public opinion instead of sticking to their own thoughts and principles.
The moment Theodore would revert his attitude towards me, so would they.

Of course, I don’t believe for one second that Theodore’s kindness towards me would last.

A cold smile naturally formed on my lips.

As I crossed the threshold, Missus Seymour and I met gazes, but neither of us extended a greeting towards the other.

At the sight, the servants clearly lit up and whispered amongst themselves.
It was only a matter of course.

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‘I’m so sick of this.’

With the familiar feeling of displeasure, I walked towards the front yard, where a carriage was parked before the front steps.
Next to the carriage, House Valentino’s mage bowed towards me.

This man was as eccentric as anyone could be, but compared to the other people who constantly cursed at me, he had no particular interest in my business, and he often kept to himself while muttering some unfamiliar words to himself.

Even now, his gaze soon left me as he stared blankly in the air, just as he was doing before he bowed to me.

Being able to live in your own world was also some type of ability, I guess.

“My dear.”

I heard Theodore’s voice behind me.
I would never get used to being called ‘my dear’.

Just the sound of it almost made my face distort, but I quickly schooled my features into an expressionless mask.

Theodore smiled at me and offered one outstretched hand.

“I’m late.
I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”

“……”

I didn’t want to talk to him, but I instead just shook my head and took his hand.
Refusing his hand here when there were so many people watching would just be stupid.

Theodore held my hand tightly and leaned down his upper body a little, looking into my eyes intently.
That attentive gaze of his was so burdensome.
Despite the somewhat cloudy weather, his eyes were still so strikingly blue.

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I used to like his eyes.
But if I ever thought the same way again, I’d rather ram my head into the carriage walls instead.

“Your cheek isn’t swollen anymore.
I’m glad it left no trace.”

“……”

To be honest, I wasn’t hurt that bad either.

Nevertheless, after that day, Theodore still checked my cheek several times more.
It was dumbfounding how much he cared for me, as if I was a fragile, delicate porcelain doll.

How absurd was it that the man, who once wouldn’t hear me out and was so cruel and heartless towards me, was now someone who was so sweet and considerate.

I could feel my anger rising to the crown of my head.

“Then, shall we get into the carriage? I had it changed into a more comfortable carriage rather than the usual carriages we have.
Our trip should be more comfortable this way.”

Once we get into the carriage, I’ll be able to let go of his hand.
I nodded quickly.

The sound of Theodore’s soft laughter brushed past like the wind.
Soon, he gently led me to the carriage.

As soon as I got in, I let go of his hand and sat in one corner.
If he wasn’t riding on horseback to the venue, then he would of course choose to sit at the opposite side.

But unexpectedly enough, Theodore sat next to me.
He even sat close and held my hand again.

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I stared back at him with round eyes.
I don’t know what I look like—I’ve lost my composure now.

He gave me a soft smile.

“I’ll sit next to you just in case, Lily.
I’ll have to be close to you so I can protect you.”

“……”

Entering the carriage last, Charlotte hesitated before she sat across from us.

The eccentric mage, who entered as well before I knew it, spoke with a flat expression on his face.

“If you’re all ready to go, let’s set off.”

Then, the mana in the air turned into golden specks, soon coating the carriage at once.

I couldn’t see clearly because all I could see out the window was the color gold, but it seemed like the knights and the other servants were also covered by the spell.

It didn’t take long before the heavy, nauseating feeling came over.
In a blink of an eye, the scenery outside changed.

And so, we arrived at the place where the hunting party was being held.

The Ashridge Forest, a terrain owned by the crown prince.

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