Erna’s face turned bright red when she finally saw the initials of her name embroidered in one of the corners of the handkerchief.
“……thank you.” After a while, she reached out a trembling hand and received the handkerchief.
He found it unbelievable that she unknowingly performed the classic scheme of deliberately leaving something behind.
Bjorn, on the other hand, watched her reaction with keen interest.
An audacious lady who tried to use her body to increase her worth, and at the same time she was someone who took walks on Tara Boulevard while wearing a rustic dress.
Currently, he was having a hard time trying to figure out which one of these facets was the real Erna Hardy.
To some extent, it seemed that those idiots who were fooled by this scheming lady could understand his current plight since at least on the surface, she indeed appeared as an innocent and pure lady that was like no other in this world.
“Will you give me the honor of appreciating these paintings together, Young Lady?”
When he noticed that the guest’s attention had now solely focused on the two of them, he held out his hand in a respectful manner.
Erna, who was just looking for a chance to escape a while ago, was startled to the point that her face paled from shock.
Her lips looked exceptionally red and stood out more against her pale white skin.
“Me?” Erna mouthed her question because she couldn’t find her voice to reply, while he continued to stare at her with a calm smile.
“Come on, let’s go.” He took the lady’s motionless hand and put it on his arm.
‘Since you want to take advantage of me so much, you can use me now as much as you want.
You wouldn’t be able to find such a neat and fair transaction.’
Bjorn escorted Erna affectionately and proceeded to tour the gallery.
Among the noisy spectators, Gladys was shocked to the point that she turned white like a ghost.
She thought she must have looked just as nice as Bjorn and his partner when she still spent her days as the beloved Crown Princess of the Kingdom of Lechen.
He found out later that the story about his affair had spread throughout the city before nighttime even arrived.
It was said that Prince Bjorn was frolicking with another lady in front of Princess Gladys, who had come to Lechen to forgive her ex-husband and reunite with him.
Additionally, the other lady was actually Erna Hardy, the very woman who was soon to be married off for the sake of money.
Of course, no matter what speculations and accusations were thrown at him, he didn’t care and completely ignored these rumors.
No rumor was disturbing enough to faze him other than the talk of an apparent reunion with Gladys.
Bjorn put strength into the hand that was holding Erna’s arm that was resisting weakly.
Suddenly, she raised her head and stared at him with her round blue eyes that were surrounded by long, dense eyelashes; her eyes reminded him of a doll.
After staring at him with her beautiful eyes, she, however, bowed her head again after a while; as if she had come to the conclusion that there was no further harm that would be done to her.
With her silent agreement, he led the stiff lady through the crowd with a slow pace to provide enough spectacle for the guests to gossip about.
”Y-O-U! You bastard!”
Turning his head to the persistent gaze that followed them for quite a long time, Bjorn saw Peter, who was animatedly mouthing out swear words directed at him.
“Hey! Are you going to do it too? Seriously?” Peter asked in surprise with his gaze.
Without hesitation, Bjorn raised his chin and looked down at the fussy lady beside him.
Erna was walking while only looking forward, completely ignoring his existence.
Her cheeks, as well as his earlobes and the corner of her eyes, were dyed red, just like a freshly ripened apple that was ready to be eaten.
“Who the hell is that lady?” Philip Dniester’s face hardened with embarrassment as he asked his wife.
In the end, he avoided the worst aftermath out of Bjorn and Gladys’ relationship, but considering the rumors that were now spreading from the guest’s mouth, it was hard to say that the current situation was very optimistic.
“It’s Erna Hardy, Father.” Louise answered with a very angry face on behalf of the Queen.
“It’s the young daughter of Viscount Hardy, who used Older Brother Bjorn to attract other’s attention at the Royal Ball.” The explanation that Louise added made the King’s countenance even darker.
The Queen, who had been quietly listening to the story between them, shifted her gaze towards the entrance of the hall where the two had disappeared.
“I thought that Bjorn would not be willing to accept Gladys’ greeting, but I didn’t expect it to end up this way.
It is childish of him to just turn around and leave.”
“Maybe he can be that shameless? It’s just a handkerchief! Who else would fall for such an obvious, low-level trick other than Older Brother?”
“Mind your words, Louise.
There are many ears around us at the moment.” Isabel Dniester reminded her agitated daughter with soft, powerful words.
She wanted to say more, but Louise couldn’t maintain her stubbornness and retreated in the end.
“I need to investigate more about that girl.” After confirming that Louise had returned to her husband, Isabel Dniester lowered her voice and whispered.
“That’s obviously what we should do, right?” She looked at her husband with a polite, gentle smile.
The King, as expected, did not disagree with his wife’s decision.
“Please go back first, Your Highness” Erna barely opened her mouth after arriving at the last exhibition room.
It was a pretty bold statement, as it was her first sentence that she willingly told him ever since they started walking together.
In the end, she still uttered these words even when she found it difficult to talk to her current partner.
Bjorn looked down at the petite lady, who had been looking at the painting in front of him just a while ago.
Erna, on the other hand, was now staring back at him with her neck upright.
Unlike those times when she ran away in fear, her eyes were firm and full of determination.
“Now that you have seen all the paintings, you should go back inside first, Your Highness.
I will stay here a little longer.” As if concerned that he would not understand, she repeated her statement slowly once again.
“Why?” The Grand Duke’s gaze stopped at her blue eyes that strangely stimulated his nerves, his eyes traveled towards her chest then to the nape of her neck where blue blood vessels were reflected beneath her translucent pale skin.
All this time, Erna did not avert her eyes and also maintained her gaze at him.
“Are there any paintings left for me to see alone?”
I don’t mean that.”
“You asked to see the paintings together.
Now that we have seen all the paintings on display, I think my role is over.” Her tone was stiff as if trying to show her displeasure, but unfortunately, she didn’t appear threatening to him at all.
After taking a quick look at the onlookers who had been following them all the way here, Bjorn suddenly took a step closer toward his partner.
Erna, who was startled by his sudden move, tried to back away quickly but his arm was a little faster than her and he managed to grab her before she could escape.
“Stay here.” He shook his head and whispered to her.
“There are many eyes looking at us.” He continued.
Erna realized what he meant and followed his gaze, and soon became docile.
From a distance, their interaction must have been quite affectionate and secretive like a pair of lovebirds.
“Are you angry?” He whispered softly.
If not for his mischievous expression, she would’ve thought that he was concerned for her feelings.
“I’m not.” Erna also lowered her voice and replied.
She was obviously lying and her cute frowning expression in an attempt to fool him made him laugh.
“Really? You look angry in my eyes though?”
“I am not angry, Your Highness.” She denied once again with her eyes tightly closed. “I also caused a lot of trouble to Your Highness at the royal ball, so I think today’s incident has made up for that mistake.”
“Mistake? Made up?” With narrowed eyes, he looked at the lady who acted as if she took care of his problems.
“I admit that I’m angry because I have been troubled these days due to Miss Hardy’s actions.
So, you’re telling me that you finally understand the consequences of your past actions?”
“… … .”
“Since you felt that you have compensated me for what happened before, we are now even? What kind of calculation is that?”
“… … .”
“You are truly a very scheming lady.” Looking at Erna, who kept her mouth shut, Bjorn burst into laughter without realizing it.
Even though this lady in front of him appeared timid, she had the guts to spit out what she wanted to say in the end.
After all, this kind of person, they appeared docile but were actually beasts if you know them well enough.
I guess it was a reasonable deal.” He nodded and finally decided to let her go.
He already got what he wanted, so at this point he wouldn’t mind letting her get away for now.
That was until he saw Erna’s expression that blatantly showed her relief from finally escaping from his clutches.
Bjorn, with irritation boiling inside his chest that came out of nowhere, suddenly snatched her little hand that was adorned with lace gloves.
It was only after his lips had touched the back of her hand that Erna realized what had just happened.
The silent exhibition room roared with exclamations from the guests, who pretended to appreciate the paintings while secretly watching them at the same time.
The Grand Duke didn’t pay attention to the commotion, and politely bent down once again and kissed the back of Erna’s hand as if she were a princess.
“Then I look forward to seeing you once again, Ms.
Hardy.” He finally left after leaving a sweet goodbye as if she was his lover.
Seeing Erna’s bright red face while staring at him in shock, his chest finally felt a lot lighter.
Bjorn left the exhibition room without any regrets, and as expected, Peter and his companions were waiting for him in the hallway.
“What did you say to her? Are you planning to meet again?” “I’m not interested, my ass! And yet here you are getting the upper hand” Peter said mockingly while following behind Bjorn who continued walking down the hallway slowly without saying a single word in reply.
“Are you really gonna join us? You have already stolen so much money from us, is it too much of a loss for you to let us win? Do you think that any reward will be wasted if it didn’t end up in your hands?” Leonard decided to also join the inquisition of the Grand Duke.
“Half of that stake should have been mine in the end, right? It’s the prize I would have won if you hadn’t started this asshole bet.”
Bjorn’s reply surprised Leonard, because in the end, that would have been the likely scenario to happen if his stupid bet was not made.
“Look at this bastard.
Those who have more in life are the scariest one in the end, what a bastard with a pure lust for money.” Peter exclaimed and stuck out his tongue in amazement.
“To seduce another woman in front of everyone because the stake is so precious, I guess if you want to be rich, you have to live such a life.
By the way, what are you going to do now? Everyone must be cursing you to death I assume.” Leonard asked.
“Why does it matter?”
“What about Ms.
“Did you make such a bet because you were so worried about Erna Hardy?”
Bjorn cut off his peer’s petty sympathy with a remark laced with ridicule.
The crowd of noble men, who were at a loss for words, averted their gazes.
In the end, the silence between them did not last very long, thanks to the director of the Royal Academy of Arts who arrived just in time.
Having found the Prince, the director hurriedly approached him and offered his greetings together with a young man on his side.
“This is Pavel Lore, my pupil who won the first prize in this art exhibition.
He is the most promising talent in the art academy, so I wanted to introduce him to His Highness the Grand Duke.”
The head of the art center introduced his pupil with a smile full of pride.
When the young man’s eyes met the Grand Duke, he lowered his head once more, showing humility.
The red-haired man had the impression that was closer to a soldier rather than an artist.
Bjorn responded to their greetings with appropriate courtesy.
After all, art is beyond his interest but he still needs to show his respect.
It was not his forte to recognize who could be a talented painter that could lead the Kingdom’s culture to the new era.
However, if the price of their works soars, then that would be a different matter for him.
He continued on his way, leaving the two people behind surrounded with brief silence.
It was when he reached the end of the hallway that he finally remembered that it was not the first time he heard that young artist’s name
Bjorn, who stopped suddenly, called out the familiar name once again.
It was the name that a certain familiar lady was calling out eagerly while wandering through the garden.
Peter and his party, who had been following him while exchanging nonsensical jokes, stopped walking at the same time.
“What’s the matter? Is there anything wrong?”
Leonard curiously asked, but Bjorn ignored him and didn’t answer.
Instead, he turned his head and looked at the path they had just walked through.
The Art Director and Pavel Lore had just entered the exhibition room at the end of the hallway, the same exhibition room where he left her behind.
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