After going ahead to say that he didn’t want to hold Eric back instead of her, it was laughable to even just hear his proposal that she should stay, of all people.

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However, Chloe had no justification to reject Harris’ invitation to dinner.
After she had been told that there was nothing she could do for Eric during his work, she herself also knew that there was nothing that could be done.

Chloe looked down, feeling helpless once more.

“…Yes, I understand.”

Harris smiled, hitting William with his elbow.
With an indescribable smile, William led Chloe.

“I’ll be escorting Chloe back home later.
There’s nothing for you to worry, Marquis.”

“Is that so.”

Eric glanced at Harris, and then at Chloe.
He soon turned around.

“Have a nice dinner, Wife.”

Chloe replied that she would, and just like that, they went their separate ways.

 

* * *

 

The dinner was much more uncomfortable than she had expected.

Elizabeth constantly talked about Eric, and Harris surreptitiously encouraged her.

It was even mentioned that once Eric would have a divorce, he might want to marry Elizabeth.
Chloe tried to refute it, but there was nothing substantial she could really say because it was true that their divorce had already been decided.

William was the only one who was on Chloe’s side, but since he was inevitably still part of the royal family, he still had that characteristic arrogance in the way he held himself.

Chloe set down her fork, an evident sign that she was done eating.
Nevertheless, the people around her did not stop chatting.

They were royalty, but they were still family, so they could easily see each other anytime.
Even so, they would not stop talking for hours.

Chloe listened to their words, which flowed into one ear and out the other.
She had a rather tired expression on her face.

“…So Chloe, until when will you be staying in the capital?”

“Pardon?”

Chloe replied in a hurry as the question registered in her mind.

“Oh, the capital.”

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She wiped her lips with a table napkin.

“I don’t intend to return to the North for a while.
I think I’ll be staying here for a bit more.”

“Isn’t the mansion you’re staying in too small for you both? I don’t think it’s as good as the castle you’ve been staying in until now.”

“Right! The castle in the north is so beautiful.
I really want to go there, too!”

And underlying that statement was the desire to become the madam of that castle one day.
Chloe observed how evident Elizabeth’s expression showed her yearning, and the eventual jealousy that Chloe felt because of this.
The inside of her mouth tasted bitter.

“Come and visit next time.
After the snowstorms in the capital have subsided.”

“I know.
The weather is unusual these days.”

Elizabeth puffed up her cheeks in a lovely manner, then let out a huff.

“It’ll be better once spring comes.
This year’s winter is just a fluke.”

As Harris said this, he glanced towards Chloe.

“It seems uncomfortable to stay at such a small place.
And the castle in the north can’t be empty for a long time.
Don’t you think it would be better if you returned right away?”

His coercion went beyond subtle.
He kept forcing the idea that she should get out of the capital so that Elizabeth and Eric could grow closer in the meantime.

Chloe suddenly felt displeased.

She treated Harris like her real older brother, that’s why she could understand his languid behavior.
Whether he was purposely mentioning the relationship between Elizabeth and Eric, or when he would subtly urge her to push through with the divorce.
From an outsider’s perspective, everything he said was like the advice that an older brother would give her younger sister.

But that wasn’t it.
Harris’ biological sister was Elizabeth, and Chloe was just a foolish woman that he could use as a chess piece.

Chloe tightened her grip over the table napkin.

“Of course, I would have wanted to go back.”

She tried hard to smile.

“However, my husband told me not to.”

“…The Marquis did?”

“Yes.”

Chloe continued.

“It seems like he wants me to stay by his side.
That’s why it’s difficult for me to return to the North.”

At this, silence weighed down heavily on that dinner table.
Harris and Elizabeth shared a silent look at each other, and William just looked bitterly towards Chloe.

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No one said anything.
The silence continued until she rode the locomotive back to the mansion.

 

* * *

 

“I’ll be off.
Thank you for today.”

Chloe alighted the vehicle and said goodbye to those who were left inside.
As the door was about to be closed, Elizabeth spoke up.

“Ah, right.
I was invited not long ago to a tea party the Duchess will be holding.
Would you like to come with me?”

“Pardon?”

Taken aback, Chloe’s response was a question as well.

“Oh… I…”

“Right, right.
Let’s go together.
It would be nice for you to meet other people again after such a long time.
It’ll be fun! Then, I’ll send a carriage for you at that time! Bye bye!”

Elizabeth had always been this way.
Chloe took offense to her attitude, but the locomotive had already left, so she couldn’t say anything back.
Chloe was forced to walk into the house right then.

As she went over the day’s events, she realized just how difficult of a day it was.

It was great that she had gone to watch the opera with her husband.
The conversation they had on the way to the theater house was good as well, and they also linked arms closely as they were entering.

However, it became a sour experience because they had to come across the royal family there.

Chloe pondered why she was in a terrible mood.

Was it because of Harris’ subtle digs?

Was it because of Elizabeth’s covetous nature?

Or was it because of William’s feelings that were difficult to read?

No.
None of this could be the reason.

It’s just that Chloe disliked Elizabeth.
She hated the other woman for talking about a remarriage with her husband so blatantly.
Jealousy, or something close to it, was perhaps what she was feeling.

That’s right.
Because of this jealousy, Chloe disliked Elizabeth.
But what she disliked the most was her own self for feeling this way towards the princess.

The royal family had already fallen.

But that didn’t mean that their honor had hit the ground.

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Chloe believed that they still had a firm position in society because the people continued to respect them.
And she could think this way only because she had no idea that the royal family’s reputation had already hit rock bottom at this point.

In any case, as a citizen of this kingdom, Chloe still needed to regard Princess Elizabeth with respect.
So she shouldn’t dwell on this jealousy that was festering inside her.

But nevertheless, she truly disliked Elizabeth…

Blaming herself for how pathetic she was, Chloe bowed her head.

She walked into the gates of her home with slow steps, opening the door to find Andrea and the other maid, Roseanne.
They said that Eric was waiting for her inside.

She thought that he’d be in the lab, but he was waiting for her personally? Chloe took rather measured steps towards the drawing room.
As soon as she opened the door, she saw Eric standing there.
Chloe announced her presence.

“It’s late.”

Eric glanced at the clock as he said this.

He still looked the same, wearing the same clothes he went out in.
What happened to that neat husband she knew, Chloe wondered.

“Did you enjoy your meal?”

“Yes, it was a delicious dinner.”

She couldn’t say that she enjoyed it.
Chloe smiled.

“You look happy.”

“Pardon?”

“You look happy being with them, I mean.”

Not at all.

She had a terrible dinner, and she was filled with only frustration.

She was also planning to ask Andrea for some digestive medicine later before going to bed.

However, Chloe knew that Eric also held a close relationship with the royal family, so she couldn’t easily confide in him and tell him anything negative about them.

“It was fun.
They’re like family to me.”

So, Chloe decided to protect them.
Eric’s forehead crumpled, though he still looked handsome.

“You,”

He stepped closer towards her.

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“Will you remarry Prince William after you’ve divorced me?”

Chloe’s mind went blank for a moment.
Because she couldn’t comprehend the question he asked her right then.

But as soon as she came back to her senses, she realized just how rude he was being, that he said what he shouldn’t have said.
Soon, anger rose within her.

“What are you talking about.”

She raised her voice.

“Haven’t I told you over and over again? There’s nothing between me and William!”

“Despite that, you looked like you have a rather close relationship.”

Eric recalled what kind of look William had as he gazed upon Chloe earlier, starting from the very moment they met at the front of the theater.
Then, there was the way they whispered to each other, and the way that man escorted Chloe away towards their dinner.
Everything made him feel terrible.

“Which part of it? No, rather than just a close relationship, are you saying that it’s a relationship between a man and a woman? William and I have known each other since we were children.
There’s nothing like that between us.”

“So,”

Eric spat out, his eyebrows furrowed.

“Can you say that Prince William completely has no interest in you?”

Chloe opened her lips, and then closed them.

She knew.
She knew that William still had feelings for her.
She was even more sure of it now after spending time with him again.

However, she herself had no feelings for him.
She considered him an older brother who she was close to, nothing more than that.
This was why Eric’s words sounded so unpleasant and demeaning.
She clutched the hem of her dress.

“Then what about you, don’t you know that Princess Elizabeth likes you?”

Elizabeth continued to speak.

“Even if it’s like that, I don’t do anything about it.
She’s the one who constantly clings to you as though she wants to throw herself at you!”

Haa. Eric sighed, then walked towards the sofa, leaning down on its backrest while holding it with both hands.

“She’s the one willingly giving herself to me, so are you saying that I can’t receive that?”

“Of course not.
It would mean that you’re only using someone else’s feelings!”

Chloe shouted as she faced Eric squarely.

“You really can’t do that.
It’s such a disgraceful conduct!”

“……”

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