It was the last day of the year.
On this day, the Imperial Family was holding a grand celebration.
It was a celebration to mark the safe passing of the current year and to welcome the year to come.
This elaborate event was the ideal setting for the nobles of the capital to build connections.
It was also an important event for the younger sister of the duke, as she had only recently entered the social world after her coming-of-age ceremony.
“Lady Rose needs to attend the party too! The last party Lady Rose attended was the Imperial Family's coming-of-age celebration last spring.”
Behind her stood her personal maid, Anne, holding a comb as she begged.
Rose didn't respond.
She didn't enjoy crowded places.
Unfortunately, she was not just an ordinary noble girl.
She was the only sister of the Duke of Honeywell.
An unimaginable number of eyes would follow her if she only appeared now.
The girl shook her head.
“I don't want to go.”
Her voice was firm as she readily hid herself within the duvet on the bed.
She was worried her maid would pull her up and dress her.
Long, soft blonde hair spilt messily across her pillow, and Rose peeped out of her duvet to look out of the window.
The evening hours had passed.
Whenever night came, the winter sky would turn pitch black.
Brother must have been at the imperial palace by now.
If nothing else occurs, he'll be there past midnight.
On such a day, it was customary for everyone to celebrate the New Year together in the Imperial Palace.
Rose shut her eyes as she thought.
Her maid left the room with a small sigh.
I won't be able to welcome the New Year with my brother.”
Rose trailed off as a glint on her clasped fingertips caught her attention.
Looking closely, it was the ruby ring on the fourth finger of her left hand.
Rose's lips arched.
The ruby was an engagement ring given to her by her fiancé, Duke Elliot Proud, who claimed that he handcrafted it to resemble Rose's red eyes.
Her giggle echoed as she wrapped her right hand around her left, covering the engagement ring.
“Elliot must have attended the party too.
Should I have followed my brother?”
Longing settled across her features.
Thirteen years ago, Rose was lost in the Capital City during a festival when she met a boy who helped her.
His blue hair, the color of the sky and sea, and his complaints about being tired from walking were her only memories of him.
It was just two years ago, at a party held for Duke Honeywell's coming of age, that she met the boy again.
She finally met the boy whose whereabouts had been so hard to find.
Elliot Proud—heir to the Duke of Proud
Gazing upon the blue-haired man at the Honeywell family event, Rose was convinced that the boy from before had to be Elliot.
She couldn't remember his face very well, but she could clearly see his sea blue hair from that day.
Even with her eyes shut, Rose could still picture his blue hair and eyes, which were a darker shade of blue.
If I continue to daydream like this, I might end up running to the Imperial Palace.
Rose got up from the bed.
“If Elliot had asked to escort me to this celebration, I would have attended.”
She smirked as she thought of her ferocious fiancé, who hadn't said a word to her about attending together, then rolled up her quilt and got off the bed.
I should have a chat with her while I drink hot tea.
The girl made her way to the room where she stayed.
The people in the manor were busy cleaning up for the end of the year, so the hallway Rose walked by was very quiet.
“But Ilya is so quiet.
What am I going to do in her room?”
As she made her way down the hallway, Rose's thoughts drifted to the person she was going to visit.
Ilya Titonsser was one year younger than Rose, and she was the Baron's pot of gold who was due to come of age in the new year.
A month ago, Duke Honeywell was indebted to Baron Titonsser.
After the Duke promised to repay his debt, the Baron Titonsser didn't hesitate to ask the Duke to support his daughter in the name of the Duke of Honeywell.
The Baron said it was the only way for his daughter, who had no affiliation with the Imperial Capital, to make her debut at the Imperial Court and enter the social gatherings of high-ranking noblemen.
Born and raised in such a small barony, the maiden of the Baron Titonsser family followed the Duke of Honeywell to the Imperial City.
The reason why the shy Rose took to Ilya so quickly was also due to the young lady's open-minded sociability.
Although the young ladies were one year apart in age, to Rose, Ilya was nothing less than an innocent, younger sister.
“Today, Ilya and I will celebrate the New Year alone.”
Rose muttered with a smile on her lips as she stopped outside Ilya's room.
She knocked a few times but received no reply.
The girl tilted her head.
If it was as usual, like a puppy waiting for its owner, Ilya would have opened the door and run out as soon as she heard Rose's footsteps.
“Ilya? Are you sleeping already?”
She knocked on the door again, but there was no reply.
Carefully, she opened the door.
The unlocked door gently swung open, revealing a silent bedroom.
“It doesn't look like she is inside.
Did she go out to the garden at this time? Without saying a word to me…
The cold bedroom was an indicator that the owner had been away for quite some time.
Rose spotted the desk as she was about to leave in search of her missing friend.
Ilya's desk, which was always kept neat, was cluttered with something.
The bedroom was shrouded in darkness, making it all the harder for Rose to see, but strangely enough, from the moment she laid eyes on the desk, her heart began to beat wildly.
Shall I go and take a look? Should I pretend that I saw nothing?
Maybe it was something trivial.
It could be Ilya's private belongings.
If it were Ilya's private belongings, then Rose might make a mistake.
And yet, Rose felt an unknown anxiety, a greater curiosity that moved her forward.
With a fumbling hand, she lit a match.
Only then did she know what lay on the desk.
It's just stationery.”
A light blue stationery.
She swallowed as that sinking feeling in her chest loosened, but that moment of reassurance did not last for long.
She read the neat handwriting written on the letter.
Tonight, let's go to the Imperial Banquet.
Her red eyes swept through the letter and settled on the right corner of the paper, where a seal was stamped in place of the sender's signature.
It was a seal from a family she was all too familiar with.
Rose's outstretched hand trembled.
He managed to pick up the letter once more and recheck the seal, but the stamp remained the same.
“Why…Elliot asked Ilya…
Why—why are you two…”
Rose forced strength into her weakened knees and staggered her way out of her friend's room.
In her hand, she carried the letter sent from the Proud family.
At the girl's shout, Anne and the butler, as well as a few servants cleaning, rushed into the room.
After the passing of the former Duke and Duchess of Honeywell, the young lady had never once raised her voice within the manor.
Thus, her voice strained as she shouted for them.
“Lady Rose! What's wrong?”
The butler, sensing the unusual tone in his mistress's voice, ran to Rose.
Rose grabbed the butler's arm as soon as he reached her.
“Butler! Ilya! Where is Ilya now?”
“Are you talking about Miss Ilya? Lady Rose…
Have you not received the report yet?”
She asked them again as her neat brows wrinkled.
“What report are you talking about? I haven't seen Ilya since dinner.”
Sweat dripped down the butler's cheeks when he heard the young lady's words.
“Miss Ilya left the manor just shortly after dinner, saying that she had an appointment.
She said that she had already spoken to Lady Rose and Duke Honeywell.”
Although the butler felt confused, he still honestly answered Rose.
The young lady's hand loosened and slipped off the butler's hand.
Rose, who had fallen silent, recalled the contents of the letter once more.
A letter sent from Elliot asking the recipient to attend the event together.
Strength surged through her fingers as she crushed the fancy stationery in her hand like fallen leaves.
Rose turned around without delay.
“Get the carriage ready; I'm going to the Imperial Palace immediately.”
She left the manor, leaving behind a hesitant butler who then ordered the coachman to prepare a carriage, and Anne, who walked up to Rose and stood before her.
“Rose, if you leave for the Imperial Palace, you will need to change your dress.”
“No, I don't plan on going into the hall where the ball is held.
I'm just going to meet someone.”
As the coachman pulled the carriage towards them, the butler handed the young lady a fur coat.
Anne assisted Rose and placed the coat over her shoulders.
Once the carriage stopped before them, she helped her into the carriage.
As soon as Rose entered the carriage, she opened the window and looked back at the anxious butler and Anne.
“I'll be back before midnight.
Please keep this a secret from my brother.”
Rose quickly closed the window so she could avoid hearing any disagreements from the two of them.
The wheels of the carriage began to move, safely carrying Rose to the palace.
Amidst the rattling sound, her head was full of complicated thoughts.
She opened the letter again, but no matter how many times she reread it, it was still in Elliot's handwriting with the seal of the Duke of Proud.
“How the hell could this happen? Elliot.
How could you two…”
The young girl thought about their relationship.
If her memories were correct, the two of them had only met once.
It was when Elliot came to visit her at the Honeywell Manor that she introduced Ilya to him.
“Let's not imagine anything strange, Rose Honeywell.
The letter might have been for me.
Even so, why was there a letter from the Proud family in Ilya's room?”
The more she thought about it, the more her head began to throb.
Rather than questioning their relationship, it would have been better for her to carefully choose what she would say once she met them at the Imperial Palace.
She spent the rest of the ride contemplating her words, and when she arrived at the palace, she had not made any progress.
At her arrival, a knight appeared and helped her down.
“You are from the Honeywell family.
The celebration has already begun.
Did you come alone?”
It seemed that the knight recognized the Honeywell family crest engraved on the carriage.
She stepped gently off the carriage, her gaze lowering.
“I attended late as I was delayed by some work.
I'll take my leave now.”
Rose left the knight and entered the castle.
“Where should I go?”
For Rose, who hardly ever attended social gatherings, the Imperial Palace, which was several times larger than the manor she lived in, was like a maze.
Besides, her purpose wasn't the extravagant ball, but Elliot Proud.
“When I get to the venue, I will have no choice but to ask the attendant to call for Elliot.”
Rose followed the sound of the distant music.
The sky was dark when she arrived, but as she neared the celebrations, the surroundings started to brighten.
The voices of the nobles entered her ears.
She stopped in place as she looked around for an attendant.
But before she could even find any, she was greeted by the sound of a scream coming from the direction of the banquet hall.
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