“I will guide you to the drawing-room.”

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After all, Takan was not a man who went over just because Hari told him so.
I felt a strange sense of deja vu from Takan’s cold tone.
A storm raged in Hari’s eyes, gradually becoming unsettling.

“I’ve always been able to go to Kyle’s study without permission.”

“I’m sorry, but things have changed since you were children.”

Hari narrowed her eyes at Takan’s firm attitude and looked away.
Then, her gaze involuntarily turned to me.
Finally, she smirked and raised her head proudly, looking as if she held the victory. 

“Will you stop the owner?”

Takan looked Hari straight in the eye, the high-pressure energy seemed to rise from him like mist slowly.
I hurried to stand in between Hari and Takan before things escalated.

“Laura, can you come with Takan to see if cosmos have been planted in the garden?”

“…”

“Laura?” 

Laura looked back in silence, wetting her lips as if troubled. 

“Laura.”

“Yes, I understand.” She bowed her head and approached Takan.
“Let’s go.”

Frustrated, Takan rubbed his eyebrows before turning around at Laura’s urging.
I wasn’t sure, but I think I heard him click his tongue. 

Hari stared intently at him as he walked out of the hallway, raising her lips as if relishing the sight.

“If it weren’t for Kyle’s friendship, I wouldn’t have let him go.”

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Hari’s brows rose sharply.
Of course, Takan was only doing his job and wasn’t at fault, but I nodded and took her side.

“Okay.”

Jjak–.

Hari smiled brightly and clapped her hands to change the mood.
“Then shall we go in?”

Hari grabbed my hand and dragged me to the study, obviously familiar with the place. 

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Squeak–.

The study’s interior was revealed only after the rusty sound of the door hinges scratched my ears.

It was the first time I had seen Kyle’s study.
Our studies are separated, so I have never stepped into this room.

I could see bookshelves on both walls, covered in dust.

Did no one clean this place? As I wondered about it, I saw a wall clock the size of a person. 

Hari looked pensively around the study.
“It’s changed a lot.
It used to be splendid.”

“…I see,” I said indifferently. 

“The former Duke liked us and allowed us to play here.” Hari turned and looked back.
“Ah!”

She pointed a finger somewhere, her eyes fluttering with anticipation.

“Do you know there’s a secret space here?”

Turning to the spot Hari pointed, I spotted a gap and a doorknob that could barely fit a person behind the clock.

Ah, there’s another door over there.
It was inconspicuous enough that anyone who’d enter the study for the first time wouldn’t notice.
It was as if the wall clock existed to hide the fact that there was a door.

I shook my head and smiled awkwardly but didn’t answer.
Despite my lukewarm reaction, Hari wrinkled her nose and smiled brightly.
She was already reminiscing on her memories.

“I spent most of my childhood here.”

“…”

“That’s the door to the basement, where we all played together and took a nap.
Because the previous Duke allowed it–”

Hari, who had been explaining things with exaggerated gestures, abruptly stopped, her expression quickly hardening.
I didn’t know if it was because of Louis or something else that caused her to stop talking.
Hari bit her lip and showed a face that made it obvious she had made a mistake. 

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“No, it’s nothing.” Hari shook her head with earnest eyes telling me not to ask. 

Before I knew it, there was silence in the space, and no one spoke.

A moment later, the sound of a chime cut through the stillness beyond the door, and the sound of someone’s urgent footsteps rang out.

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Hari’s eyes widened, and she tugged at the hem of my dress to whisper in my ear. 

“I think Kyle’s here.” Her voice rose playfully.
“What do we do?”

Hari rushed towards the wall clock and hid behind it as I stared at the scene in awe.

“Hari?”

Hari tried to arrange the end of her dress that had come out of the wall clock, but in the end, she hurriedly grabbed it with both hands and lifted it up.
She stared intently at the study door. 

“Hari, what are you doing?”

“I want to surprise Kyle.”

Hari’s hand popped out of the clock, shaking her hand in the air a few times before disappearing again.
It seemed to mean to cooperate.

Did Kyle and Louis accept her actions, or was it just because of her cold temper? Just as I thought of that, the door to the study flew open. 

“Your Grace.”

Gray eyes roamed the room in search of something.
His eyebrows pulled together unpleasantly, perhaps because he couldn’t find what he was looking for. 

“Where’s Hari?”

“Ah…” Should I say it or not? I looked around, hesitating.
“She went to see the garden with Takan.”

Kyle narrowed his eyes and stared at the study, perhaps because he didn’t feel Hari’s presence.
Soon after, he sighed deeply and took a step back from the threshold.
He didn’t set foot in the study, but I could clearly see his clenched fists, his aura nervous and anxious. 

“Are you feeling unwell, Your Grace?”

Kyle let out a shaky breath and rubbed his forehead with his hand.

Was it really bad? Kyle’s breathing did not stabilize over time, so I moved my feet to approach him.

“Your Grace, I think–”

“…”

At that moment, Kyle lowered his hand and glared.
I froze since it seemed like an unspoken signal not to approach him.

“It’s good that Hari’s not here.”

“…”

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“Be flexible today.”

“…”

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“Hari is starting to suspect our relationship.
If she finds out she’s the reason we started this contractual relationship…”

“Your Grace!” 

The more Kyle spoke, the more my eyes widened.
I tried to stop him in a hurry, but it was too late.
He refused to listen.

By the time I was riddled with guilt, the hem of the dress had trembled out of the clock.

Kyle finally felt her presence and slowly turned to her. 

“Kyle.” 

Hari gripped the hem of her dress with both hands and came out of the clock.

I didn’t think Hari would find out this way.

“What did you mean?”

Kyle made a rare startled face, then slowly opened his mouth.
“Hari.”

Kyle’s pupils trembled, anxious. 

“What do you mean I’m the reason behind the contractual relationship, Kyle?”

Hari looked calm on the surface, but her unstable, trembling voice revealed her emotional state.
Shocked eyes lingered on me, and when our eyes met, I looked away.

“No, no.” Hari shook her head and pushed Kyle away to run out of the study.

“Hari!”

Kyle rushed out and followed Hari.

It all happened in a blink of an eye.
I could hear Hari sobbing and several shouts and urgent footsteps through the wide-open study door.

I couldn’t see them, so my imagination ran wild.
Such pessimistic thoughts like Kyle hugging Hari as she wept or Hari accepting his feelings.

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Even if I closed my eyes and covered my ears, my mind refused to stop.

I didn’t want to imagine something like that.

I just–

“Kyle.”

I wanted to call his name. 

I wanted to call his name the way she did.
I wanted to run out calling his name the way he ran out calling her name.
I wanted to hold him just as he caught her. 

I repeated his name as if suppressing my desires.

“Kyle.” 

Calling his name, I suddenly felt like I was left alone in the world.

Laura approached the balcony and bent down.
“Madam, it’s windy, so you have to come in now.”

I gripped the railing.
The cool breeze gently carried the scent of the season.

It’s definitely autumn.

My thoughts flowed naturally.
I recalled the day I was with them in the backyard and thought of Kyle, who ran away, and I ended up worrying about him.

“Just a little bit.
Wait a little bit.”

“Madam.”

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I ended up lying in bed because I couldn’t resist Laura’s urging.
As I lay down, the center of the bed sank and comfortably wrapped around me.

“Then rest.”

Laura covered the blanket up to my neck and left the room, the sound of her footsteps muffled.

It was already dark, yet Kyle didn’t return.
Will he come back today? No, will he ever come back? Is Hari okay?

Plagued with such worries, I fell asleep.

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