17.
The Incompetent Villainess(?)’ Tea Party

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A few days later, Avril and Dylan left for the tea party by carriage.

For as long as Avril could remember, she had never attended such an event before.
Thanks to the secret teachings of Corinna’s tutor, she recalled the proper etiquette.
Still, she was anxious.

—This is related to the second rule in the contract, ‘The wife shall cooperate with all activities regarding the maintaining of the dignity of the Duke of Lancester.’

However, since I’m supposed to be a villainess, there’s no need to be flawless.
This is convenient.
All I have to do is behave just rudely enough as to not cause trouble to others…!

That being said, the hands atop her lap were quivering.

There was an underlying reason as to why Avril, a levelheaded person, was nervous.

“U, uh, Lord Dylan…? Is it true that His Highness the Crown Prince will be attending the tea party?”

“That’s correct.
Did you ask Chris?”

“Indeed.
…W-well, there shouldn’t be any problems.”

Try as hard as she might, a stiff smile was all she could muster.
Then, Avril began to massage her cheeks in an attempt to loosen her facial muscles.
Upon seeing that, Dylan blinked, before chuckling.

“…Pfft—! You’re quite different from the rumors.”

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“!? …Well, certainly. After all, I’m unaccustomed to daytime activity such as this.
It’s nothing to worry about.”

Avril’s model, Corinna, was devoted to the nightlife and would rarely partake in conventional social activities.
As such, if Corinna were in the same position, she would’ve been pretty nervous.

Dylan, who seemed to have felt the growing tension, burst into laughter.

“I shall introduce you as my fiancée.
If you are unaccustomed to this, there’s no need to overdo it.
Instead, you may stay beside me and relax.”

“…I, it must be because I’ve been too busy with my nightlife.
Y’know, playing with fire and such.
It’s been a while since I maintained a proper social relationship.”

“I’d like you to provide me with further explanation as to what you refer to as ‘nightlife’ and ‘playing with fire.’ I have a feeling that they’re far from what is generally and widely recognized as such.”

“!?”

No, there’s no way I can salvage this situation, anymore…

Avril dearly wished he’d refrain from pursuing the matter.

However, Dylan appeared to be enjoying himself.
His atmosphere was gentle.
It was as if the Dylan she had met on their first encounter never existed.

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…Still, before he could ask any further, she had to change the topic!

After clearing her throat, Avril swerved the topic.
In a rather smooth manner, if she said so herself.

“Lord Dylan, might I take a look at the list of the invited guests?”

“Of course, but for what purpose?”

“Considering that I’m an incompetent villainess, I need to know who to not mess with.
As part of the contract, I have to conduct myself with integrity befitting that of a duchess.”

“…”

Surprisingly, Dylan provided her with the list right away.
As Avril read it, she thought to herself.

…Despite being a masquerade, some guest may have guessed Corinna’s identity.
I’d be better off knowing who the guests in attendance are.

Contrary to how frequent Corinna participated in night activities, she seldom partook in social events involving her parents.
On the other hand, as the person overseeing Count Allingham’s study, Avril had to manage the guest list.

In addition, despite being only half-related, Avril and Corinna bore a striking resemblance with each other.
Not to mention, their hair and eyes were both of the same color.
As a result, they were difficult to tell apart.
More so if either of them were to don a mask.

…I’m glad no one has ever met Corinna at a tea party or any regular evening party.

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“An ‘incompetent villainess’, is it? You have such an adorable way of saying it.”

“!?”

Suddenly, Dylan said something unexpected.
In response, Avril blinked.

—Did Lord Dylan just…?

“…You, flatter me, I guess?”

“No, the thought just occurred to me, hence I said it.”

“…!”

In her life up until that point, Avril had never received a single praise.

Her mission to pretend as a villainess was all but forgotten, Avril could only stare at Dylan in astonishment.
Dylan casually turned to look at her, as well.
As the two sat next to each other, their gazes crossed.

At the same time, the carriage reached its destination.

With the help of Dylan, Avril alighted from the carriage.
In the next moment, due to the very sight that greeted her eyes, Avril went wide-eyed.

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A house as white as chalk, along with the garden of flowers which surrounded it.
A number of luxurious carriages were lined up in an orderly manner.
They were almost, if not as glamorous and as dazzling as the house of the Duke of Lancester.

“There’s a palace here, too…!”

Upon exclaiming that, Avril rebuked herself. Remember, Avril, you’re a villainess. Corinna, her role model, was well accustomed to visiting such places.

…Why do I feel like I’m being laughed at?

Avril, who decided to pretend to be unaware of the gazes of Dylan and Chris, stepped into the venue with determination while being escorted by Dylan.

…Wait.

At the sight that awaited her, Avril froze.

A tall and gorgeous black-haired man was garnering a lot of attention.
He was undoubtedly the crown prince of that kingdom—Lawrence Geeson.

There was another figure, as well.

“—The one next to His Highness, isn’t that Lady Alexandra Lindbergh?”

…The former fiancée of the lord who had an affair with Corinna at the masquerade—! Her name wasn’t on the list I saw earlier—!

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