“Why are you smiling like that?”

“I can’t help but smile at the very good news I heard, my Lord.”
“Good news?”
“The news that my Lord has finally found love.”

After Sophia’s debutante, the capital was in turmoil.

All the nobles did was gather and talk about Kael and Adeline.
About how Kael, who had never attended a party in his lifetime, came to the party, how his gaze kept following Adeline the whole time, and even the fact that he became Sophia’s first dance partner for her spread around in great detail.

And adding the fact that the fearsome Grand Duke Inver laughed like a child because of Adeline, Sophia’s debutante became the hottest event in the empire.

Because Kael acted as if nothing had really happened, the people of the Grand Duke’s family, including Zion, later learned of the incident through rumors; but Zion only smiled, without a hint of disappointment.
The fact that Kael had finally met his love was important.

“It’s no use stiffening your expression like that.
I heard it all, too.
You danced in the debutante for the Marquis’ daughter, and just looked at her with loving eyes.
Ah.
Finally, my long-cherished wish…”
“Zion.”
“… Is that really not the case, my Lord?”

However, Zion’s deep emotions were quickly broken.
Kael summarized the situation into one single name with his cold voice.

Zion had spent fifteen years as the Grand Duke’s friend and bookkeeper.
He could tell Kael’s condition just from listening to his breathing.
Kael’s voice right now was a warning not to cross the line anymore, which meant that Zion’s expectations, which had swelled to the fullest, would be thrown back to the ground.

“But you even went to a social party, which you never did in your whole life! And you also danced there! You even told me to find out about her fiancé and prospective partners! Did you not plan to marry her?”
“That’s correct.
I’m going to do it.
Marriage.”
“Then, what’s wrong… Are you going to make that ridiculous ‘contract’ that you mentioned last time?”
“Yeah.”

Zion opened his mouth and looked at Kael in shock.

“My Lord! How many times have I told you! You should also meet someone you love and be happy…”
“Zion.
This is the last warning.
You know the reason why, so I will not allow you to make any more comments.”

In the end, the answer, ‘Isn’t it more like this because I know the reason?’, didn’t leave Zion’s mouth.
Kael was exuding a cold energy right now that if it were anyone other than Zion, they would be frightened and shuddering.
He felt sad and upset, but he shouldn’t say anything more.

“If you’re going to do it as you wish, why are you working so hard for Young Lady Tien? What my Lord is doing right now is what a man in love would do, not someone trying to achieve a contract.”
“She’s not a woman who can be easily won over.”
“Even with the terms of that damn… Ahem, of that contract you’re trying to make? If I were a young lady, as soon as I heard it…”
“Ordinary young ladies would do that.
But not Adeline.”

Kael’s cold, hardened expression relaxed slightly.
Then, a faint smile sank on his face.

From the first time he met her in the ballroom, he thought she was different from ordinary ladies.

He never dreamed that he would see a lady standing with such emotionless eyes at a ball, or even at a masquerade ball hosted by the imperial family.

That’s why Kael turned to Adeline as soon as the Crown Prince threatened him to dance.

His discernment was correct that day.
Adeline did not blush with vain expectation, as Kael had expected.
Rather, she pushed Kael away and tried to stay away from him.

In addition, she always surpassed Kael’s expectations.
What happened at the battlegrounds and at Sophia’s debutante was all within a range that Kael couldn’t calculate.

So, it was fun.
For the first time in a long time.

[Lady Felix.
That’s it.
Why didn’t I think about that? What you were saying just now, I want you to spread the word as much as you can.
Can you at least tell everyone that is here today?]

Kael smiled again as he remembered Adeline’s words in the debutante.
He couldn’t believe she was going to make use of false rumors as if they were true so as not to get involved with Kael.
It was something that no young lady, no, no noble would do.

“Then why don’t you choose another lady instead of the one who is so difficult? If my Lord really wants a contract only.”
“No.
It has to be Adeline.”
“That kind of thinking must be interest and love, nothing mor…”
“That woman will never love me, no matter what.
I am confident in that.”

However, there was a reason why Kael’s interest in Adeline was heavier than just interest.
After hearing the reason, Zion could not grumble anymore.

A dark shadow sank on his face.
He could see that the wounds that had been piling up for too long were still eating Kael little by little.
The weight seemed to crush even Zion.

“My Lord, no more…”
“My Lord! My Lord!”

Zion’s words, hoping to free him of the wounds, were not completed due to the butler who rushed to them urgently.

“What’s wrong?”
“His Highness the Crown Prince has come.”

 

***

 

“Oh my.
I hope I didn’t interfere with your training, right?”
“Not at all, Your Highness.
Please forgive me for meeting Your Highness in this state.”

It was a visit with absolutely no indication.

He couldn’t make the Crown Prince wait inside his mansion, so Kael welcomed him in a sweaty training suit.

The loose, unbuttoned white shirt revealed Kael’s firm body.
The carved and divided muscles and scars exuded a tremendous sense of intimidation, showing the time he had spent on the battlefield and how strong that time had made Kael.

Feeling that aura, the Crown Prince raised one eyebrow slightly.

“Haha.
Certainly.
I’m the one who came here all of a sudden.
I was also thinking how long it’s been since I’ve seen you in a comfortable training suit.”
“Why didn’t you call me to the imperial palace?”
“It’s been a long time since I last came here.
I suddenly wanted to come.
It’s amazing.
Although this is definitely inside the capital, it feels like I’m in the middle of the Northern region when I walk into your mansion.
I wanted to feel that way in a while.
And there are too many listening ears in the imperial palace.”
“Do you have anything important to say?”

Kael cut out the useless introductions and refused to have a leisurely conversation.
The fact that he didn’t call Kael to the imperial palace and instead came to his mansion meant that it was not a matter to be taken lightly.

The Crown Prince was a man who lacked a lot compared to his father, who was called the ‘Wise King from the Gods’.
Not only did he lack political sense, but his sense of inferiority was also not ordinary, perhaps because of the disappointment that poured out around him.

His sense of inferiority was mainly directed at Kael.
The Emperor did not hide at all how he wished that Kael was his son, which led to the Crown Prince’s anger towards Kael.
In addition, rumors spread that the Crown Prince himself was so promiscuous that he called women every night without the Emperor knowing to make lowly harems.

Kael knew this better than anyone, and he constantly felt how much the Crown Prince was trying to hold him back.
It didn’t feel good.

“I heard that when two or more people come together in the capital these days, all they talk about is you and the daughter of Marquis Tien.”
“…”
“I heard that bets are pouring in on when the two of you will get married.
Well, that’s understandable.
You’re the one who has never glanced at a woman no matter how many try to court you after a few rounds around the capital.”

The Crown Prince came closer to Kael with a distinctive haughty smile.

“I want to ask you a question.
Are you really planning to marry the daughter of Marquis Tien?”
“Yes.”
“Did you already get engaged, as the rumors say?”
“We will be soon.”

Kael was calm and determined, as if he would be married tomorrow.
His attitude was that of someone who had no other choice but to marry Adeline.

The Crown Prince swept his chin with a ‘hmm’.
Then, he looked at Kael with a fishy smile and opened his mouth.

“Then you’d better give that up quickly and find another way.”
“…”
“Because the moment you and the Lady get married and the Inver family and the Tien family connect, I intend to consider the union as treason.”
“…”
“I don’t have to tell you how the empire handles treason, do I?”

Kael burst into laughter as soon as the Crown Prince’s groundless declaration of war was over.

‘Marriage is treason…’

Even if he didn’t, he was already on fire.
He put firewood all over the place.
As if he wanted to see how much Kael’s flame would grow to bring Adeline to the contract.

‘In that case, I’ll show you.’

Kael’s blue-grey eyes sparkled with a blue flame.

“You c-can’t go in there…”

The moment Kael tried to convey his will to the Crown Prince, the butler’s urgent voice was heard.
At the sudden interruption, both Kael and the Crown Prince turned their heads towards the sound.

“… Ah.
I apologize.
I didn’t know you two were having a conversation here.”

Adeline stood beyond the large door splendidly decorated with gorgeous jewels.

 

***

 

“I didn’t expect the Lady to come here without notice.”
“It’ll only take a moment.
Of course, I would have come at another time if I had known His Highness was here.
His expression seemed distorted.
Is it alright to let him leave like this?”
“You don’t need to worry about it.
At all.”

Kael smiled and looked at Adeline.

Although it was equally unannounced, Adeline’s visit was not unpleasant.
It was rather interesting once again, and enjoyable.

‘Adeline came to Kael’ became an unintended shot at the Crown Prince.
Adeline came to Kael’s mansion on her own, when he was unreasonably considering their marriage as treason.
It was a visit that provided supporting evidence that things would not go as easily as the Crown Prince wished, no matter how violently he acted.

In the end, the Crown Prince couldn’t hide his displeased look, and immediately left the mansion after glaring at Kael.
Only Adeline, who did not know the situation, was confused.
Though Kael said it was no big deal, and even that it would be sorted out quickly.

“How is your ankle?”
“It’s fine.
Fortunately, the bone didn’t dislocate, so it became fine after a few days of rest.”
“That’s a relief.”

Adeline looked at Kael with a quite surprised expression, as if she had no idea he was going to ask her about her ankle.

Then, she belatedly checked his outfit and stared at the firm body that could be seen through the loose fabric.

“It is my discourtesy to meet the Lady while looking like this.
I’m a little embarrassed when you look at me like that.”
“I cannot believe you when you are speaking with a completely unembarrassed face.”

Kael held back a laugh that was about to come out and took a step closer to Adeline.

“I guess you like my body quite a bit, seeing that you can’t take your eyes off it.”
“Well, it’s not bad.”

This time, he couldn’t hold back and laughed.

Her unusual answers and reactions continued to intrigue Kael.
It was pleasant enough to make all the unpleasantness he felt due to the Crown Prince fly away.

“Hm, you seem busy, so I’ll take care of my business and leave.”

When Kael couldn’t finish it off with a light smile, Adeline got straight to the point.

“I really wanted to thank you for your help so that Sophia’s debutante didn’t get ruined.
I wanted to express my sincerity.”
“…”
“In the case of jewels, you already own a mine, and as for other rare and valuable gifts, I’m sure you already have lots of them, so I have prepared a slightly different resolution gift.
I hope you like it.”

Adeline, who was in a position where she seemed to be holding her hands behind her back, held out a basket of flowers that she had been hiding all along behind her dress.
It was a beautiful basket decorated with blue roses and irises blending with big and small white flowers.

“These are blue roses that bloom only once every 100 years in the southern part of the empire.
It’s said that their scent has a calming and soothing effect.
I brought this because I thought it would be good to put it in the hall or a room.”

Kael looked at Adeline, who was confidently handing him the basket, with a strange expression.
The corners of his mouth were still slightly raised, but his eyes were cold.
As if he already knew what this gift meant, and as if he had figured out what Adeline wanted by directly bringing him flowers.

“Adeline.”
“I don’t want you to skip honorifics.
We don’t have that close of a relationship, do we?”
“I’m not sure.
I think this gift will make it a very special relationship.”
“What does that…”
“Where did you get the potion you sprinkled over these roses? I think you bought it from a guy who is going to end up in an underground cell the moment I get my hands on him.”

As he stared at the pale-green eyes that started shaking the moment she heard Kael’s question, he grabbed a blue rose from the basket and inhaled its fragrance very deeply.

“Unfortunately, this drug doesn’t work on me.”

As Adeline looked at Kael with a pale face as if she couldn’t believe it, Kael approached her with a grin and whispered in her ear.

“Drugs can’t make me hate you.
Though your effort is praiseworthy.”

A languid voice, like a beast holding the neck of a prey, reached Adeline.

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