I sat facing the Duke.
It was only the two of us in his office.
Count Larscel’s aide was restless and tried to join the conversation, but the Duke’s imposing countenance stopped him from doing so.
The Duke was sitting in a relaxed posture, and despite his languid expression, he looked rather arrogant, just like a cat.
Without holding back, I immediately brought up the subject.
“Yesterday while I was treating the Duke, I noticed that it wasn’t a common disease.
You seem to have a powerful curse in your body.”
Obviously, I found out about this fact through the novel, but since I couldn’t say that, I started spinning a story.
He raised one corner of his mouth and smiled.
It was a sharp smile.
“No wonder you’ve been so brazen.
You think you’ve caught my weakness?”
“Rather than saying such a scary thing, let’s just say we both got lucky.
I finally found a way to stay here, and Your Grace will be able to get help from me.”
I shrugged, emphasizing contingency.
“What do you want?”
“I will replace my sister as your bride.
He stroked his chin and smiled slyly.
“It’s a pretty romantic proposal.
It looks like you’ve fallen for me, enough to sneak into my bedroom and pounce on me.”
“If Your Grace doesn’t accept me, I will soon be sold to the Emperor as his mistress.
All I want is for you to put a stop to that.”
I tried to negotiate while pretending that I wasn’t too invested.
The Duke smirked without giving in.
“I almost couldn’t believe my ears.
Are you really rejecting the Emperor to choose me?”
“I know that His Imperial Majesty has been pressuring you to marry.
The purpose is to make you his son-in-law just to put a leash on you.
Isn’t that what you’re in a hurry to find a bride?”
In the dawn of aristocratic society, shapeshifters were merely a class of slaves.
Duke Dimitri Blois was born after the previous Duke raped his enslaved mother.
Had the previous Duke and his children not all been killed on the battlefield, Dimitri would have been kicked out of Blois, even if he did make it back unscathed.
‘That’s why there are rumors that he may have killed all of his brothers on the battlefield…’
He was the only one to return from the terrible battlefield where all the Young Lords of Blois were killed.
There were no women who wanted to marry him because of the heinous rumors that he was someone who would not hesitate to kill his brothers for his own benefit, and because he was a shapeshifter.
To him, Count Larscel simply sold Renée for money.
For the Count who believed that wealth was power, having a son-in-law like him wasn’t such a big deal.
Moreover, even if it wasn’t Dimitri, he was already regarded as a mercenary among nobles, so there was no honor left to lose.
“You are very interested in me.
That passionate heart is admirable.”
Even when I said that I knew about his situation clearly, he had a relaxed face.
At first glance, it might seem that we both were only speaking for our own sakes, but it did not mean that we did not listen to each other.
We were engaged in a tense battle of nerves, trying to determine the intentions of our opponent.
And I was trying hard not to get swept up by his mischievous look.
Being emotional would only make me careless.
“If you scratch my back, then I’ll scratch yours.
I have a few conditions, but I assure you that they won’t be disadvantageous to you, Your Grace.
First, this marital relationship will only be for appearances.
As long as my honor is not tarnished, I will abide by the Duke’s authority.
Second, please divorce me in three years.”
He raised an eyebrow, surprised by my conditions.
Still, he didn’t ask why and only responded in a playful way.
“There are many things you want from this marriage.
I didn’t expect you to have such a detailed plan for your marriage with me.
The more I get to know you, the more formidable you become.”
I was committed to staying calm, but his non-serious attitude, which continued to rile me up, gradually bothered me.
I copied his clever smile the same way, and added one more condition I just thought of.
“…Finally, the third.
It would be nice to be equals.
If you’re not opposed to it, it’s not bad to treat each other well.”
He smirked at my sudden use of informal language.
[e/n: there’s no equivalent in english, but she’s been using formal language until now.]
“How bold of you.”
“Being bold implies that the superior is judging the inferior.
If you accept this contractual marriage, I want us to be equals.”
He stared at me.
At first glance, it was a gaze that seemed to be scrutinizing and observing.
However, seeing his pupils open and close non-stop, even minutely, seemed that he’s immersed in his thoughts.
I waited patiently, not wanting to rush him.
‘You won’t be able to pass up on my healing powers.’
Through the novel, I looked into the pain he’s suffering from the curse.
Even though he didn’t express himself openly, I was certain that the sudden presence of my abilities would make him hope for the better.
Anyone who had an incurable disease or something of the sort around them would know…
…How depressing it was to live with pain that would never end until his last breath.
The suffering that did not go away.
A sense of despair at the thought that you could only truly feel comfortable when you die.
It would gradually gnaw at his mind and drive him crazy.
I knew exactly how he felt.
I watched my mother succumb to her illness and eventually passed away.
It would be inevitable for any patient to hold on to even the slightest hope that they could get better.
It was better than dying.
Conversely, such people were those who were willing to seize even the tiniest hope.
The Duke of Blois will never let me go that easily.
“Let me add one condition as well.”
Did this mean that if I can accept his terms, he’d agree to this contract marriage?
I nodded my head to ask him to speak.
“Confess about the perfume you wear.”
I furrowed my brows.
Why was he still talking about that?
“Are you serious?”
“Does it look like I’m joking?”
I stared at him for a while, but in the end, I couldn’t understand his intentions and sighed.
“I don’t use perfume or anything like that.”
He, who had been leaning so far back in his chair, suddenly reached out and grabbed my wrist.
Then pulled me towards him like a torrent without any room for me to resist.
My long hair, which slid forward from behind my shoulder, cascaded down in front of him.
He stroked my hair with his delicate gestures, as if playing a string instrument, and took a deep breath.
As he breathed out his breath and smiled, his fangs, longer and sharper than ordinary humans, were revealed in front of me.
“Are you still trying to make excuses when my nose is itching from your scent?”
I pulled away from him, but his hold didn’t budge, as if my body was trapped by a strong force.
In an instant, emergency bells rang in my head.
‘I’m gonna get eaten up.’
As I was engulfed in fear, I closed my eyes involuntarily, then he whispered softly.
“Did you intend to deceive me like this just to cloud my judgment?”
“Then, you’ve succeeded.
I’m dying to eat you up right now.”
His hot breath grazed my neck with a chilling sensation.
Shivering at the thought of getting bitten, this time he chuckled and let me go.
“If you knew how much I’m holding back, you’d never think of using it again.”
My heart was pounding in surprise at the sudden confession of his intent.
When I thought that he was only teasing me, I jumped up and expressed my indignation.
“If you keep doing this, you’ll never find out from me about how to undo the curse.”
At that, I turned around and slammed the door as I left his office.
Renée, who was waiting outside, looked at me, startled by the fire in my eyes.
I reassured Renée so she wouldn’t get worked up.
“It’s going to go our way.
I already hinted that I knew how to break the curse.
I said everything I wanted to say and left it at that.
I wouldn’t be so easily discouraged by the Duke’s attitude, so I glanced at the door to his office and spoke to Count Larscel’s assistant.
“Let’s go back to the County.”
“Good idea, Milady!”
Count Larscel’s aide rushed out in delight, smirking and saying that he would prepare a carriage.
I couldn’t figure out why, but he seemed to think it was a good thing.
I grabbed Renée and explained.
“Just wait for me here.
I’ll go home and get Nigel.”
“What? How are you going to get out again?”
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“Duke Blois will take care of that.”
I gritted my teeth, recalling his sly smirk.
Let’s get in trouble.
“Try and catch me.”
I muttered in a low voice and got on the carriage engraved with Count Larscel’s emblem.
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