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It did not take long before they reached the mansion. Once the car came to a stop, Matthias got out first, before holding his arm out for Claudine, who took it as she exited as well. They were then led towards the reception room, where two ladies-in-waiting stood to receive them, alongside his cousin, Riette.
’What if Claudine was mistaken?’
Riette thought as he observed his cousin. One would think he would at least show some bit of concern towards the incident on Leyla, but Matthias remained calm and composed throughout the whole thing.
If Claudine was in fact correct in her assumption about the Duke being enamoured with the orphan, surely there would be some sort of reaction from him seeing Leyla get hurt. He knew he would if it was Claudine.
His cousin wasn’t an idiot as well, and was wise enough to cover up the earlier incident and brush it off as something trivial. Still, it was baffling for Riette to see Matthias so indifferent. What were his true feelings towards the girl?
He’d get to the bottom of things, one way or the other. And so they had dinner served early in consideration for Claudine. As quick as it started, so did it end, and she retired early, leaving the two men alone, to head towards Matthias’ study.
“To be honest, she looked quite lonely, waiting for your arrival on her own.” Riette started, “So I decided to go and give her some bit of cheer when I arrived. I might have teased her some, but I had not expected her to be so afraid and run away.”
He eyed Matthias carefully, watching for any subtle hints of emotion as he sat across from the Duke in the study. When there was no change with Matthias, Riette cleared his throat, before languidly leaning back on the chair.
“I’m talking about her, by the way,” He clarified, “Miss Leyla Lewellin.”
The name spilling out of Riette’s mouth as though he was spitting out sand, albeit in mild distaste. Much of what he said was indeed true. He might have gotten a little physical, but he’d only meant to tease her.
“Ah.” Matthias hummed, indifferent as ever, but sharp eyes regarding the Marquis in scrutiny. He then let out a low, yet amused chuckle, before sighing at him, looking quite amused by his cousin’s antics.
It wasn’t the reaction of someone affected by a loved one’s near-death experience. It seemed too real to be fake, Riette thought to himself.
“I guess even a womaniser by the likes of Riette von Lindman have their limitations!” teased Matthias, “Imagine that, you, getting rejected by a woman. Such a woman does exist.” He declared jovially. Riette couldn’t help but chuckle back.
“What? Such slander!” They both laughed at each other before it died down eventually. Matthias’ eyes softened a little bit before turning serious.
“Well, it does serve you right.” Matthias told him, smoothly opening the silver box on his desk and took out a cigarette. He flipped his lighter to light the end before offering one to Riette, who in turn took one for himself as well.
Both men settled back in their respective chairs, languidly puffing out smoke. Riette continued to regard Matthias carefully, wondering what would happen now. He was mostly convinced by now, after the laugh they shared moments ago, that Matthias could care less about Leyla.
‘I can’t help but feel sorry for Leyla after all,’ Riette thought as they continued to puff smoke, ‘To think he’d treat her this pathetically.’
“Not one of my best moments, I’d admit to that.” Riette said, sinking further into the comfy chair. He felt as though he and Claudine had made complete fools out of themselves.
(‘That girl over there, doesn’t she resemble the canary Duke Herhardt raises in his bedroom?’)
Those were the words Claudine said last summer during one afternoon as she had been looking out the window, still all smiles and hearts filled with light. She had been busy looking at Leyla Lewellin, who had been returning home after a day’s work in the garden.
Riette could still remember the way Leyla looked at that moment. Her voluminous blonde hair bounced softly with every step, swaying as the wind fluttered through her. The sweat on her brow glistened, making her shine in the afterglow of the setting sun. She did greatly resemble a bird, whose wings were flapping so exquisitely.
( ‘Are you possibly wanting to tell me that Matthias started to raise a canary because of her?’)
He had asked Claudine in disbelief that day. She only looked at him meaningfully, all confident as she gave him a clandestine smile.
Yes, Claudine conveyed wordlessly. She was so certain, Riette couldn’t help but believe her. She was always so rational, so logical, so he trusted that she wouldn’t make such a decision lightly on a small coincidence. After all, he too had been a little apprehensive with Matthias’ sudden change of heart in raising a bird.
Coupled with the fact he had overheard that Matthias had planned to create a rift between Leyla and Kyle Etman, it seemed more and more plausible that Claudine’s assumptions were correct.
‘But how can he act like this?’ The more he pondered about it, Riette felt as if he had lost his way in a maze of increasingly complex questions.
How could he act so indifferent towards the woman he has strong feelings for? Sit across him and make jokes about the way his cousin acted so callously towards her, leading to injury? And if Claudine had indeed been right, what did that mean about their relationship with each other?
‘Have they broken up already? But then why does Matthias still care for the canary, safely tucked in his bedroom?’
“Riette von Lindman.” Matthias spoke up, blowing a drawn out puff of smoke, looking at his cousin now with indifferent eyes. Riette, who had been preoccupied with his growing questions, looked up at the sound of his name, schooling his expression immediately. “Why don’t you create your scandals in your own estate and not mine?”
Though Matthias slightly quirked up the corner of his lips into a smile, his eyes told a different story. “Don’t you remember? I’m willing to do anything to keep Arvis in order.” He blew one last puff of smoke before disposing of his newly used cigarette to light up a new stick.
Both cousins locked eyes on one another, Matthias resolutely trailed on Riette, who still could not pick up any hint of his emotions. There was no tell of jealousy, anger or anything else, other than indifference. In fact, Matthias greatly resembled that of a mischievous child.
‘Your cousin was a gentlemanly demon.’
Riette’s mind flashed back to the officer he met not too long ago. He held quite the appalled expression as he had been describing how the Duke looked like while on the battlefield. Riette involuntarily swallowed his saliva, making his mouth feel dry. His hands lightly shook the longer they kept eye contact.
“I’m sure you know that better than anyone else.” Matthias finished in a low tone, warning him slightly before breaking eye contact. At that moment, Riette could see his cousin looked a little worse for wear, a slight look of fatigue could be seen in his face.
‘I don’t understand him.’ Riette thought, before sighing out, his smoke mixing with the growing fog in the room as both men continued to puff out their cigarettes. ‘Perhaps a little more provocation is in order, though I do wonder…’
His thoughts trailed off as he regarded the growing embers at the end of his stick. He brought it to his mouth and took a long breath in, before blowing another drawn out puff into the office…
‘I wonder if the answers I will find, prove useful to you, Claudine?’ and so Riette swallowed back down his nervousness to calm his nerves.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The familiar sound of Phoebe pecking her window broke through the silence of the dimly lit room. Normally, Leyla would have opened it up to let her bird in. However, she found herself stuck in her head, staring into nothing but the space in front of her as she curled in on herself, lying on her side on the bed.
She blinked occasionally, looking but not really seeing what was in front of her. Should anyone stare at her eyes now, they’d find themselves feeling as though they were looking inside a deep, yet empty well.
Leyla couldn’t remember how the accident happened or how she returned to the cabin. She had simply wanted to run away from Marquis Lindman, but next thing she knew, she was met with a burst of light coming towards her, and not a second later, felt faint pain that spread throughout her entire body.
Though it hurt a lot to be hit, it felt nothing compared to when she found out that the car she was hit with belonged to Duke Herhardt, who had been inside during the incident, with his fiance, Claudine.
At that moment the physical pain she felt was nothing compared to the sudden sting inside her heart. All she could think about at that moment was to escape, to be as far away as possible from them.
A few more minutes had passed before she was finally back to herself, but opted to remain in bed for a little while longer. The accident earlier left her with no tear on her skin or fracture in her bones. But it did leave behind a few bruises, and pain in her left shoulder and back, which took most of the hit. It felt as though her bones would crack every time she moved.
She should probably get some sleep in, and rest early, but the pain made it impossible to even close her eyes. Eventually Leyla managed to convince herself to get up from her fetal position to open the window for Phoebe to get in.
Once the bird fluttered by the windowsill, Leyla noticed there was a note attached by her bird’s ankle. Her eyes narrowed as she suspected the note might have come from Duke Herhardt. She was certain of that.
With a deep sigh, Leyla untied the note, and lightly caressed Phoebe for a moment. Sensing that she had done its job, Phoebe flew back to its cage, having eaten its fill back at the Duke’s mansion.
Leyla pursed her lips as she stared at the note, pondering if she could leave the note unread. Deciding otherwise, she quickly closed her window shut and sat down by the edge of the bed. She unrolled the note open, grabbing her glasses by the pillow beside her to read its content.
[You need to bring the handkerchief, Leyla. If you don’t come here, I’ll go there instead.]
Leyla’s hand shook as she read the note, her fists clenching at the trepidation that came over her. She soon dropped the crumpled letter on the bed, before sliding down in anxiousness. She clutched the end of the bed, hands fisting over the sheets as her body shook, before she let out a quiet sob.
Her hands came up shakily to grab her glasses, tossing it carelessly aside before burying her face into her pillow to release a muffled scream! She felt as if she was going mad!
‘If only… If only I could run to a place far away from this man.’
However no matter how hard she wished, reality still caught up to her. She was still here, she was still in Arvis, which meant she was still within his reach. Which brought her back to the letter’s content.
Should she decide not to go to him, he would not hesitate to come to her instead. He wouldn’t mind it too, if he was to be caught by Uncle Bill.
‘Should that happen then Uncle Bill would…’ Leyla’s thoughts trailed off as she recalled one of the things her Uncle Bill had told her some time ago…
‘You’ll become a pretty decent adult.’
Uncle Bill’s fond smile, and soft voice filtered through her mind, bringing fresh tears into Leyla’s eyes. No matter what others had said about her, what rumours spread, Uncle Bill had always been there for her. He believed in her when no one else did. He had been, still is, proud of her and her achievements. He made sure she knew that too.
“You’re almost like the Duke’s mistress, are you not?”
That one sentence, from Marquis Lindman immediately crushed the light feeling from Uncle Bill, with a bitterness that was hard to swallow.
She struggled for a while, but managed to find footing to raise herself up from the floor. Leyla gingerly reached out for her bag, which had been thrown haphazardly on her desk, and took out the handkerchief that had been weighing her down all day.
Resolving to end this quickly, she clutched the handkerchief and immediately turned to leave her room, locking it behind her. As she passed by the living room, Leyla slowed her steps as she listened to Uncle Bill’s soft and steady snores. She hated that she had to leave Uncle Bill, but she knew she needed to if she wanted to escape Matthias.
She really despised the Duke, so much…, so she felt as though her heart would burst into flames. It didn’t matter if it was Marquis Lindman who had been the indirect cause of her accident, it was the Duke’s involvement with her to blame everything going wrong in her life.
She walked out of their house, and braved the woods at night, with only the moonlight to light her way. Overhead the clouds rolled by, often dimming the moon’s glow, but Leyla could see just fine in the dark. She was familiar with these woods.
She walked the same path she always took towards the annex, reaching the clearing that led to the Schulter river in no time. Leyla picked up her pace, eager to put this entire thing behind her. She was freezing, as the nightly chill washed over her, but her cheeks burned with her frustration, giving her heat in the cold.
Leyla stopped when she heard the voice from the darkness. It was Matthias. He was leaning against the railing by the stairway that led outdoors, connected towards the dock and the annex’s second floor. His gaze was resolutely locked onto her form, regarding her with a resigned air.
“I was just about to leave.” He hummed, before he pushed himself off the railing, and began to saunter towards her with a predatory grin as she stood frozen in place. Once he was only a step away from her, he stopped in his tracks and took in the sight of her.
Leyla’s blonde locks were tussled by the wind, her hair and skirt swaying slightly with the night breeze. He also took note of the goosebumps up and down her arms, and the slight shiver she involuntarily made.
“Aren’t you cold?” He frowned in concern as he noted she wasn’t dressed warmly.
Leyla scoffed at the sudden concern he was showing her. Where was it when she had been hit by his car earlier? But that didn’t matter to her, not anymore.
She thrust her hand out in front of Matthias, her hand holding the clean handkerchief towards him to take. “Here, I’m returning your handkerchief to you.” She huffed out, cold puffs of smoke escaping her.
“Leyla-” but Matthias got cut off, as she hastily made him take the handkerchief back, before pulling away from him.
“Goodbye then Duke,” She bid him adieu, “I hope to never see you again, ever.” She finished, turning swiftly on her heels. Her task was done, and she felt some weight lift off her shoulders the more she put some distance between them.
Only her soft footfalls echoed through the forest. Leyla breathed in the earthy scent of the trees around her, making her head feel clear and refreshed despite her dark surroundings, despite the way her body shook with every step due to her bruised body.
“I order you to stop, Leyla!” Matthias commanded, a few steps behind her, making Leyla jolt in surprise. She attempted to break out into a run, but found her body frozen after hearing his command.
He caught up to her in no time.
“Leyla,” He called out to her softly, his hands grazing the back of her hand, trailing it up to her left shoulder, before she regained her movement and slapped his hand away from her. “Leyla!” Matthias exclaimed in frustration.
Immediately he crowded into her personal space, face set into a frown as he grabbed her, and lifted her bridal style as though she weighed nothing more than a feather.
Leyla choked on her scream at the sudden change in orientation, before realising what was happening to her.
“No! Let me go! Let go!” She yelped, struggling against his hold, but Matthias resolutely held onto her, before shifting his hold on her and hauled her over his shoulder like she was a sack of potatoes.
Leyla kept thumping her fists against his back, kicking and screaming against him but he made no indication he had been affected by anything she’d done so far. Matthias resolutely climbed up the flight of stairs into the annex building all poised and steady despite his struggling companion.
Leyla’s screams grew louder with each step, but they were deep enough into the forest and no one else would hear them at this time of night. Matthias kept walking down the corridor, leading them both towards the reception room.
He then reached his bedroom, opening the door without delay, before dragging Leyla inside.
Translator : Moonvielle
Editor/PR : Dict Groiler n April
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