Rose's reaction was delayed.
Not to mention the flick of a finger—even a proper thinking circuit wasn't an option.
Clearing her mind of unnecessary thoughts, Rose focused on what was important.
She needed to process the new information she'd received.
This is the first time I've heard of the Gardner family.
Even before I died, Ilya had never mentioned them.
So…? They're asking you to attend the year-end banquet as their partner?
If it was before her rebirth, Ilya would have snuck out to attend the year-end celebrations at Elliot's invitation, and Wells' life would end at that banquet.
Rose struggled to open her lips.
“Well, it looks like you've gotten closer with the heir of Gardner.”
“Yes, after we danced last night, we talked.
Young Lord Stanley is said to be the second son of Baron Gardner's family.
His letter to the manor was sent because he felt he was indebted to the Duke of Honeywell for the debutante ball.”
Examining her face, Rose discovered Ilya's skin glowed brighter than ever.
It was almost as if she were a maiden with a new crush.
…Like someone in love.
After coming to a sudden discovery, Rose glanced at Ilya once more.
She's not the same as she was in the past.
On the days where Elliot and Rose shared brief conversations, the present Ilya would remain as bright and happy as she always did; it was different from before.
Confused, Rose clenched her fists.
Perhaps this can further add to the conviction that Ilya will not betray me like that time.
Cautiously, she called out to the beaming young lady.
“Are you planning to meet the second Lord Gardner after the debut?”
“Ha? Ahh! No way!”
Ilya, whose face was shy and red, shook her head vigorously as she nervously played with the letter in her hand and softly muttered complaints.
“I don't know Lord Stanley's heart yet…”
At Ilya's pouty behavior, the daughter of Honeywell smiled slightly.
Ah, then we can use this to cut off any other contact between Ilya and Elliot.
With this twist of fate, when the year-end party finally arrives, maybe it will all be different.
This is our chance to survive!
Her eyes flashed brightly with a touch of hope.
She carefully wrapped her hands around Ilya's.
“I don't know much about this young lord, but if your relationship is this good already, then I don't think it's a bad idea to see where it leads you.
Let me know when you decide to schedule a meeting again.
If I can be of help to you, then I'll help.”
“Of course, if you're inviting him to the Honeywell Manor, just get permission from Older Brother first.”
“Thank you, Rose!”
Ilya, whose joy was almost childlike, gave Rose hope.
…The future is changing for the better.
Perhaps the future of the Honeywell family can also meet a tragic end.
Shortly after the debutante, the Imperial Palace began preparing for the year-end banquet.
It was a celebration to wrap up the year, and the scale was several times larger than the debut event.
Because of the budget and attendee list, there was another residence that was as busy as the imperial family's political conference room.
It was the annex where Allison stayed.
Upon hearing that Alison, the Marquise of Rosenberg, was staying with the Imperial Family, many noble ladies sent letters wishing to meet her.
When the correspondence piled up, Alison finally decided it was time to invite some noble ladies to a tea party.
The greenhouse in the outbuilding was busy preparing to welcome guests.
It was the same in Alison's room.
Rose always arrived punctually after lunch, as if she only worked at noon, but on that specific day she arrived at Alison's annex before lunchtime.
After having a simple lunch with Alison, she helped the marquess dress up with the assistance of an attendant.
“Rose doesn't have to help.
The reason I called Rose early was to make an excuse so that my maid, Rose, would not come to the annex at the same time as the other ladies.”
But please allow me to help too.
It is an honor to serve Alison.”
Now that I hear you, Rose seems to have a knack for flattery.”
“I mean it.”
Rose stood behind Alison, who was seated in front of the dressing table, as she ran the comb in her hand through Alison's hair.
Brushing her soft, silky silver hair, Rose thought of Russell.
Russell's hair looked soft at first glance.
Would it actually be so? I'm sure he takes good care of it.
Rose felt a chill run down her spine at the thought of how she had dared to touch the emperor's hair when she had met him a few days before in the Imperial library.
As Rose let go of her disturbing thoughts and focused on Alison's hair, Alison, who had been observing Rose through the mirror the entire time, broke the silence.
“I don't have good hair, but you brush it so well, it usually gets tangled.”
“I don't think that would happen because Alison's hair is too good.”
“Hahah! Have you decided to flatter me with every sentence you speak?”
Allison laughed loudly, clearly a little flattered by Rose's praises.
Following Alison's laughter, Rose giggled and started brushing her hair.
“Actually, a friend who serves me at the mansion is good at getting out the knots in my hair.
After being brushed by her, I must have developed some talent.”
“If I ever do my own hair, trust me, you'll hear me.”
Alison muttered, but Rose, who stood behind her, clearly heard her muttering.
Meeting the eyes of the emperor's sister through the mirror, Rose pretended to be shocked.
“And who would— Are you saying you'll be heard?”
Alison's shoulders trembled as she teasingly faked a smile.
“Hah, Rose Honeywell, I've told you that even if you're ordered to carry out simple errands, you won't be asked to help with dressing me up and such.”
“Do not worry, Alison.
My older brother is not the type to say anything about me helping out where I can.”
Yes it was—“
Alison, who silently agreed, let out a sigh of relief inside when she confirmed that Rose was focusing on her head and no longer lost in thought.
Their banter had drawn her away from her thoughts.
In fact, the person she hinted at was Russell, not Wells, but luckily Rose doesn't seem to notice.
Hair combed, Alison watched as Rose handed off the comb to the maid waiting patiently on the side.
“Rose should sit next to me at the tea party, don't forget that I've already sent an invite to you earlier.”
“Ah, yes, I will remember.”
Rose's complexion darkened.
A tea party with not just one or two, but close to ten strangers.
Allison turned to Rose.
“You don't have to go if you feel uncomfortable.”
Alison would take care of it if Rose truly did not want to attend.
Rose wanted to accept and say she would not go.
However, she shook her head because she could not refuse the invitation of Alison, who, above all, was willing to think of her and help her in many ways.
“No! It's the first tea party Alison invited me to.
I will attend! Tea party etiquette…
ah, mine is a bit clumsy.”
“Don't worry about that.
It's just to get together to have a casual chat.”
Rose sat down next to Alison.
Her hair was already set well in advance as she was coming to the Imperial Palace, but the maids still demanded to add a few finishing touches.
Rose, who had entrusted her appearance to the trusty maids, cast her eyes on Alison.
The marquise had finished her make-up and was getting her hair styled.
Alison sat serenely, the sunlight shining down on her through the window.
Tinted glass mobiles hung from the windows, and the variegated colors painted Alison's silver hair.
Russell's hair did the same in the light when we were in the Imperial Library.
Russell's silver hair, which had been colored by stained glass windows, was as mysterious as Alison's hair now.
Rose stared at the silver hair, which was dyed in a variety of colors, and perhaps feeling her gaze, Alison turned her head towards Rose.
“Why are you staring at me like that?”
“You're sorry? If I were a man, I might have mistaken the intentions of Rose's intense gaze.”
Rose replied with a laugh.
She took Allison's words as a joke, unaware that Alison meant what she said.
…Haha she hasn't interacted well with other nobles so far, only looking at Duke Proud.
I don't even know how many men are in love with Honeywell's Rose.
Allison shrugged and changed the subject.
“So why were you staring at me like that?”
“Alison's hair looks amazing!”
Turning her head towards the mirror, Alison took in the beauty reflected in the mirror.
Is this person really me?
It was just a few days ago that I put all my effort into dressing up to attend the debut concert, so it's not like it's been a long time since I've seen myself dressed up.
Alison turned her head slightly to look at her hair in the mirror, tilting her head to get a better angle.
“Is it strange, Rose?”
When she was asked, Rose stared in awe at the hairstyle consisting of strands of hair separated into two and plated into an updo, and Rose denied it at once.
[TL/N: Imagine a milkmaid braid.]
“Alison, it's beautiful, I pointed it out because I thought the color of Alison's hair, which was touched by the shadow of that glass mobile, was mysterious and pretty.”
Only when mentioned did Allison notice that her hair reflected in the mirror was dyed by the colors of light.
Whenever the glass mobile on the window swayed, the color dyed in her silver hair also swayed back and forth.
“It seems that the silver hair of the royal family is particularly good at taking different colors.
Maybe that's why, when delegations from other countries came, they often mistook our hair lit by the chandelier for blonde?”
“It must be so.”
That's why His Majesty's hair color was like that.
They were interrupted by the butler, who requested an audience.
The butler in charge of the annex approached and announced that the ladies were arriving one by one, so Alison and Rose prepared to leave the room.
Shall we go? Oh, did you come directly from Honeywell Manor?”
Rose, who was putting on her coat with the help of a maid, hesitated for a moment at Alison's question and nodded.
I'll introduce you at the tea party to Ilya Titonsser, the daughter of Baron Titonsser.
My older brother helped Miss Ilya attend the imperial debut in return for being indebted to Baron Titonsser.”
“I remember her face.
I've seen all the young girls and lords who made their debut.”
When everything was ready, the butler guided the two of them.
Rose trailed behind Alison.
This is the first tea party for noble ladies with Alison.
Although Alison and Ilya are here, I feel my heart beat abnormally with this tension.
…When the invitations came to the mansion a few times, my older brother probably sent a letter of refusal along with a gift.
I don't want everyone to feel uncomfortable because I'm suddenly attending today.
Rose imagined sitting at a table in the conservatory and enjoying a tea party.
[TL/N: She is beginning to panic as she doesn't have much experience interacting with ladies of society, so her mind is wandering to a possible outcome of how the tea party would play out.]
The imaginary ladies Rose thought of were kind; they talked about fashion that was popular among nobles these days, and their husbands, who had traveled abroad, shared their experiences with them.
Then, suddenly, their eyes would turn to Rose.
Their faces, full of smiles just a moment ago, do not contain any expressions now.
Rose was well aware of the meaning behind those nonchalant expressions.
It was the expressions of the people from the time when she asked for help to heal Wells, who had been struck down by Elliot's sword in the hall of the Imperial Palace, but no one came forward.
All the noble ladies in her imagination were looking at her with the same faces as back then.
The terrible memory broke Rose's defenses and snapped her back to reality.
Taking a deep breath, Rose stopped walking and covered her mouth.
My heart is pounding, and I have a bad feeling that something is going to come pouring out from the inside at any moment.
No! Now is not the time.
This time is different from when everyone turned away.
She forced those traumatic memories away, but the nightmare that haunted her memory came to mind like a flood.
Rose crumpled, shouting for help, but no one came forward.
Wells, who was bleeding non-stop.
The knights who led him away from her.
The butler and Alison, who had been walking ahead, look back at Rose.
The marquess found Rose standing in place and covered her mouth with both hands.
Her slender body swayed to and fro like a flower in the midst of a typhoon, eventually collapsing.
The last sound Rose heard was Alison's voice urgently calling her name.
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