>This grand welcome banquet was something unlikely considering the current state of affairs of the Valentino territory, so it might have been under the Everett family’s influence.

After reflecting on this fact again, I felt sick.
I wanted to get up and run away right now.
But I needed to endure.
Rather, I needed to look exactly who I was—a victim, so that I could be seen separately from them…

“The food doesn’t seem to suit your taste.”

At this time, I heard a cynical voice from my side.

“Miss Everett.”

…He didn’t call me ‘Wife’ or my name, but ‘Miss Everett’.
I glanced to the side and looked at him incredulously.

“I’m telling you in advance, but I hope that you will not try to call me intimately as well, Miss Everett.”

“……”

“I have no intention of continuing this marriage until I reach my grave.
And the same goes for you.
We don’t need to deal with each other, so let’s just avoid wasting our emotions.
Do you understand?”

Let’s just avoid wasting our emotions, he says.

In other words, he meant that there should be no contact between us.
…It’s not anything surprising, but strangely enough, when he confirmed it himself… My heart seemed to throb painfully.

No, it’s just my stomach.
I must have a stomachache.
Was there anything between us for my heart to throb like this? It must be an illusion.

I answered in a small voice.

“Yes, I understand.”

“…Right.
You should understand.”

“……?”

I looked at him suspiciously as he sipped his fruit wine in a silver goblet.
Was he just repeating what I said to enunciate a nuance or was it something in his attitude… No, I don’t need to think of unnecessary things.

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Because it’s enough of a relief that he won’t kill me.

 

·

 

The banquet lasted for less than two hours.
When I went back to my room, Charlotte was waiting there with a hot bath drawn in advance.
Perhaps because I didn’t eat anything, but I had no strength left in my body.
When I stumbled a little, Charlotte quickly helped me up.

“Milady! No, Madam, are you alright?”

“…I’m fine.
I just want to take a bath and rest after.”

“Yes, I’ve prepared everything.
Please head to the bathroom.”

…Charlotte was the only one in the room.
Originally, there should have been two ladies-in-waiting and three maids assisting her with her work, but…

“Charlotte, did you prepare the bath by yourself?”

As soon as I entered the bathroom, I glanced back at Charlotte and asked her, and at this, Charlotte flinched a little.
She soon lowered her gaze and smiled awkwardly.

“No, Madam, other people helped me.
But everyone said something urgent came up, so I was left in the room alone.”

“You don’t have to lie, Charlotte.”

“……”

“Are the other servants of this estate ostracizing you?”

When I asked this, Charlotte was visibly flustered, and her expression instantly crumbled as though she was about to cry.
I thought that Charlotte was feeling that it was unfair because she was being treated as an outcast, but that wasn’t it.

“I’m… I’m fine, really, Madam.
I can do everything by myself.
It’s just that… The Madam shouldn’t have to hear bad things.
Please don’t worry.
I’m quite strong.”

Looking as though she was holding back tears, she smiled as she clenched her fist.
And in turn, I held back my laughter that was threatening to burst out.
Anger rose within me.

“Right.
So you’re being ostracized.”

“M-Madam, I’m really…”

Charlotte repeatedly said that she was fine more than ten times.
She was worried about me.
While there was a power struggle between the servants, Charlotte was afraid that if I stepped in and defended her, I would be vulnerable to their attacks.
That’s why she was sacrificing herself.

“I understand why you’re worried, Charlotte.”

“……”

I took off my clothes and went into the large marble tub, and the hot water overflowed.

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“Even so, in this house full of people who hate me, I’ll cause a disturbance regardless.
And I’ll be hated even more.”

“I’m so sorry, Madam…”

“Why are you saying sorry? I’m the one who’s sorry.”

“No, Madam! Please don’t be sorry either! It’s just… I used to be an orphan… so I just want to say…”

What Charlotte was saying was almost gibberish.
She seemed to have already made up her mind about sacrificing herself for me.

But I didn’t want to leave it at that.
I couldn’t do that.

Charlotte being shunned like this was all too familiar to me.

I’ve endured it countless times as Lily Everett, too.

We’re in the same situation now, but seeing the person who’s always by my side suffering—for me to turn a blind eye to it… would be difficult.

I planned to do nothing in this house.

“Charlotte, do you want to go back to the Everett estate?”

“Pardon…? That, but, why are you asking that all of a sudden…”

Charlotte’s tears finally fell, and she murmured in a tearful voice.

“I, I like being beside, the Madam.
If I go back, there’s no one else who’ll welcome me anyway, there will be no one beside me…”

After hearing this, I realized.

While staying together with Charlotte, I wasn’t the only one who gained comfort.

Charlotte was also by my side, and she took comfort in it as well.

…We were like two injured animals licking each other’s wounds.

“Okay.
I got it.”

“Hicc…”

“You care too much about me.”

“Madam…”

“Would it be such a big deal if I’m a little hurt.”

I tried not to do anything for myself.
However, for someone who cared for me, it was difficult to just stay still.

 

* * *

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