Chapter 2

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‘I can’t believe he saw through me right away.’

The hands that rested on my shoulders were strong.
He put more strength into the grasp.

I tried to look at him confidently without flinching in pain.

“Is this how the Count conducts business? Changing goods like this is unforgivable.”

He was truly insensitive, going as far as calling people mere commodities.

“I didn’t mean to deceive you, Duke Blois,” I said, conceding immediately before he’d break my shoulder like it’s a toy.
“As you can see, I’m not Renée.
I am her sister Rowaine.”

“Why are you here?”

He was a villain described as very capricious, cruel, and cold-hearted.
Knowing that he never hesitated to kill or destroy people as he pleased, I chose my next words carefully

“I thought that it doesn’t matter who the bride is.
I hear you’re looking for a woman of the right family… isn’t this the case?”

His head tilted to one side.
Maybe it’s because what I said wasn’t wrong, so the hand over my shoulder relaxed a bit.

It was as though he was a cat playing with prey without any intention of eating it.

Depending on its mood, a cat would either let go of the game when it wasn’t hungry, or would keep playing with it until it stopped breathing.
Whereafter, the cat would throw it away without devouring it.

“I heard that abusing shapeshifters like me is a hobby of yours.”

He laughed quietly as if he were having fun.
Unable to grasp the meaning of that laughter, I swallowed to wet my dry throat and spoke a little brazenly.

“When you discussed the matter with my father and my sister, from what I understand, there was no such condition that a woman who mistreats shapeshifters could never be the Duke’s marriage partner.
The rest of the conditions are things that I also meet, so there shouldn’t be any problem.”

His emerald eyes gleamed dangerously.
Somehow, as I tried to get out of this crisis, I felt as if I walked into another one instead.

I quickly added before he could say anything else.

“If my hobby will pose a problem, then I promise that I will never play with the Duke.”

“Ha?”

Laughter erupted from the Duke of Blois.

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* * *

The Duke let out a laugh, and I wasn’t sure whether it was a ridicule or not.
Without saying anything, he shooed me off to the butler.

The butler then took me to the annex, sternly explaining that the Duke would never allow first-time guests to stay in the main building.

‘If he was going to accept me as a bride, he wouldn’t have given me a room in the annex.’

In the novel, Renée was guided to a bedroom on the fourth floor, which could only be used by the Duke’s family.
This was during the first day she entered the Duke’s residence.
On the other hand, I was driven away to the annex building.

Even if I didn’t ask what the Duke planned to do with me, I knew what was going on.

Still, I decided not to jump the gun.

‘I did come up with a plan, after all.’

He would need me soon because I knew what Renée saw in the Duke’s room on the first day.

According to the novel, the same thing would ensue around midnight later.

“If you need anything, you may pull the rope.”

And at the butler’s remark, I was left alone in the cold room.

“Is there any good excuse to somehow be in front of the Duke’s room later…”

It wasn’t long before midnight.

* * *

At the Duke’s Office—

After Rowaine left, Dimitri sat down in front of his desk, fingers pressing over his temples.

Someone knocked and opened the door before entering the room.
He was a man with sharp eyes and dark blue hair.

“What are you going to do with her?” the man asked and handed him a glass of wine placed on a tray.

“Who knows.”

Dimitri took a large sip of the wine.
As the pungent liquid flowed down his throat, warmth spread inside his chest.

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“If it’s Rowaine Larscel… Isn’t that the woman the Emperor is coveting? At the last banquet at the Imperial Palace, she was caught kissing Count Hermann Herth by the Emperor.”

Trying to suppress his throbbing headache, Dimitri recalled the woman who had just looked up at him.
She looked daring, but it didn’t seem like she was any special.

As if it wasn’t enough to steal the Emperor’s heart, she even had a rendezvous with another man right under the Emperor’s nose in the palace.
If he weren’t a ferocious playboy, that would have been enough to provoke the Emperor’s jealousy.

‘Either way, she must have that much confidence to keep the Emperor’s attention like that.’

Why would such a woman suddenly abandon the emperor and say that she came to become my bride?

“From the looks of it, it doesn’t seem like Count Larscel forced her to come.
What the hell is she up to?”

Was Count Larscel involved? Dimitri didn’t know for certain, but it didn’t seem like this was the case.
Count Larscel was a businessman—his eyes lit up at the opportunity of selling his daughters to anyone who could pay the highest bid.

‘Although, I must say…’

Dimitri leaned back languidly on his chair.

‘She smelled good, that girl.’

The scent was so good that he could forget this terrible headache for a moment.
It was one that he had never smelled before.

It was like a fresh incense from dried bark or ground grass, but Dimitri had to be careful not to get drunk by it and bury his nose into Rowaine’s nape.

‘Is it a magical incense that has a seductive effect? I’ve never heard of anything so powerful.’

Dimitri’s eyes narrowed.
He licked his dry lips as if to taste it again.

But instead, he winced at the coming headache.

“Are you not feeling well?”

The blue-haired assistant, Hyle worriedly asked as he saw Dmitri pressing his fingers into his forehead with great force.

“It must have gotten worse.”

“But it’s not time yet, is it?”

Hyle’s eyes tensed up.
He hurriedly approached the Duke and placed a hand on his forehead.
He was burning up.

“I shall take you to your bedroom.”

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* * *

I left the room quietly.
To return to the main building, I had to traverse the wide back garden.

On the way, I met two guards and one servant, but they all passed me without any doubt as I pretended to be walking slowly as if I was taking a stroll.

When I reached the main building, I took off a glove and threw it away somewhere in the grass before entering through the back door.

The butler, who was about to go up the stairs with a towel on a tray, found me there and descended the steps.

“Is something the matter?”

“Ah, I must have left my glove in the Duke’s office a while ago.”

The butler glanced at the towel with a slightly impatient expression and said, “Instead of coming all the way here, a maid could have fetched it for you.”

“I wanted to go on a stroll anyway because the garden I passed by earlier was so beautiful.
I might be kicked out tomorrow, so I wanted to see it since I had the chance.”

As expected, the butler did not deny that I could be kicked out tomorrow.

“I shall have a maid take your glove to the annex.”

“But it’s something I cherish, so I don’t want to let anyone else touch it.”

The butler frowned, clearly miffed.
However, like any skilled employee, he changed his expression in an instant.

“Please follow me.
No one can enter the office without the Duke’s permission, so if you wait at the door, I will find it for you.”

“All right.”

I followed the butler up the stairs.
The Duke’s office was on the third floor, and his bedroom was on the fourth floor.

‘It seems like the Duke had already moved to his bedroom, seeing that the butler was about to bring that towel upstairs.’

Following the butler silently until the third floor, the moment he entered the office, I quickly ran up the stairs.

‘Where is it?’

I was walking along the hallway when I saw a blue-haired man coming out of a room with a gloomy expression.

By the color of his hair, I realized at once that he was the Viscount Hyle Bilph, the Duke’s aide.

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“Why is it taking so long to get just one towel?” he grunted as he went to the stairs.
I swiftly hid behind a statue by the steps and held my breath, waiting for him to pass.

After the Viscount went down the stairs in search of the butler, I went to the door that he came out from.

Feeling a little nervous, I placed my hand on the doorknob and carefully turned it.
The door swung open.

The air in the room was cool because all the windows were open.

As soon as I opened the door, I passed the tables and sofas and went deeper into the room.

There, the Duke could be seen lying on a large bed.

In the novel, Renée saw the Duke being transported by Viscount Bilph, after which the Duke threatened her to forget what she saw and say nothing about it to anyone, all without explaining what had just happened.

The Duke’s disease was actually a magical curse with symptoms of poisoning.
It was a curse that would not take his life, but it made him live with terrible pain for the rest of his life.

The reason I dared to sneak into the duke’s room was because the fact that the Duke was under a curse was top secret.
No one would have allowed me to meet the Duke in his present condition.
Still, I had to meet him now.

I cautiously approached him as he lay on the bed.
Perhaps feeling my presence, the sleeping duke opened his eyes and murmured briefly.

“Shedim.”

At that moment, a black, meandering mist came out from under his feet and wrapped around me.
Looking as if it were a boa constrictor as large as a house that immobilized its prey, the black mist coiled around me with great force.

“Urk.”

The Duke sat up on the bed, frowning.
His emerald eyes glared at me sharply.

“Do I even have to ask why you snuck into my room like a rat?”

Perhaps because of the pain, his eyes were full of anger.
Fearing that he would kill me because he thought I was troublesome, I hurriedly spoke.

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“Please take me as your bride.”

“Ha.
You came here just for that?”

Though he laughed at the ridiculous statement, cold sweat formed on his forehead.

Calmly, even though I felt pain as the black mist tightened around me, I continued.

“That pain.
I’ll get rid of it for you.”

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