Julie’s steps were light as she returned to the Sunset Room, where Grace was.
Grace was staring blankly outside the wide, open window, then she looked back at Julie in surprise.
“Ah, you’re back.”
“You were so absorbed, Milady. What were you looking at?”
“Hm? Ah, it’s nothing. It just feels quite strange.”
Grace looked at the horizon once more, as the sun was slowly setting.
Idling clouds sailed above, and there were some birds soaring high in the sky.
It was a quiet, peaceful landscape.
And it evoked such a feeling of freedom.
It was only an empty field.
And yet, this empty field gave off a positive impression.
Blades of grass fluttering along with the wind, without restrictions.
Unevenly, at their own will.
This endless expanse of viridescent land.
“Mmh, it’s a very beautiful place.”
Grace felt strange.
Her daily life was originally uneventful, nothing usually of note.
But the week that passed from the day that Grace met him was vastly more colorful than the entirety of the last year she had lived.
Running away, being chased after, shaking in fear, laughing, getting scared yet again.
Like a moment’s repose, she was just here, waiting to have dinner with him at his mansion.
“…This life, really.”
I can’t understand.
As Grace was staring blankly at the sunset, her eyes suddenly went wide.
She shouldn’t get distracted like this!
Belatedly, she remembered something that she had forgotten.
* * *
“Umm… He might be disappointed by it.”
Grace muttered anxiously, fiddling with one corner of the neatly folded handkerchief.
As it neared dinnertime, she became more and more nervous at the thought of not having a gift prepared for Lucas Blacke.
She scoured through her bag and eventually found one thing.
It was this handkerchief.
Fortunately, the silk handkerchief was clean as it was freshly washed.
However, no matter how much she looked at it, just giving it as it felt shabby, so she hurriedly drew a quick sketch on the handkerchief.
It was a drawing of a black stallion, which was featured in the family crest of House Blacke.
“It contains your sincerity, Milady. You’ve drawn it so well, too, and I’m sure that His Excellency will be amazed once he sees it.”
“But doesn’t it, kind of, look like a child’s prank?”
As Grace continued to doubt herself, there was a straight expression on Julie’s face as she replied.
“Not at all. Absolutely not. What kind of child can draw such an elegant stallion with genius precision? With the skill at which you drew this picture, Milady, I’m sure that this wonderful drawing could be sold anywhere for several hundred crous.”
Julie’s well-meaning but exaggerated praise made Grace laugh.
“Really, you have such a knack for flattering people.”
“It’s my best talent, I tell you.”
Just as Grace was about to tell Julie that she had hundreds of talents more, someone knocked on the door.
“Grace, I heard that dinner is ready now. Would you like to come down with me?”
It was Lucas Blacke’s voice.
Julie and Grace jumped at once. Then, their eyes met.
Julie went on to busily make one last check on Grace’s appearance, while Grace was swept into confusion—she didn’t know what to do with the handkerchief in her hands.
“Grace, may I come in?”
“Y-Yes! Please come in!”
In the end, Grace hurriedly pushed it into her pocket, though it was still folded in a neat square.
If she knew this would happen, she would have at least bought a ribbon with her.
With the regrets brought upon hindsight simmering within her, she wordlessly watched as the door opened.
Her tense chest started pounding once more.
Grace hid her trembling fingers by folding her hands into fists.
Julie ran to open the door.
And soon after, she let out an exclamation filled with her admiration. How could she not, when she was faced with a spectacular sight.
Lucas was still obliquely covered by the open door from Grace’s perspective, but when he took a step inside the room…
Only then did Grace find out why Julie exclaimed like that.
“Actually, I prepared this beforehand, and I intended to give it to you as soon as you arrived here at the mansion. But since we came together, I missed the timing to give it to you.”
Lucas walked towards Grace and handed her a huge bouquet of flowers.
Hyacinths of various shades flooded Grace’s vision.
‘Oh my goodness, flowers and Lucas Blacke.’
Grace doubted her own eyes.
Then, holding out the bouquet that he held with one hand, Lucas said,
“For accepting my invitation to have our first dinner together, thank you, Grace.”
His voice was much too polite, much too soft.
His hyacinth-like voice, sweet enough to make her dizzy, was mixed along with the flowers’ scent.
Grace stared blankly at the bouquet of flowers, which she gingerly embraced in her arms.
It felt strange.
Flowers and Lucas Blacke.
It was a combination that she never would have ever imagined.
And she couldn’t believe that he prepared this bouquet just for her.
“As expected, they’re similar to the color of your eyes.”
Contented, Lucas softly murmured as she took the bouquet.
Her face was hidden behind the bouquet as though buried, but it didn’t seem like she was feeling any discomfort.
‘I chose well. As expected.’
Feeling proud, unbeknownst even to himself, a wide smile tugged up on Lucas’ lips.
His smile made Grace even more dizzy.
‘Why in the world is this person being like this?’
She buried her face, which went bright red, even further into the bouquet of fragrant flowers.
‘By any chance, this man… Does he like me?’
…That’s just a delusion.
No, it has to be a delusion.
How could he still see her in a favorable light after meeting her father and being subjected to such rude behavior?
And she even kept making mistakes in front of this man.
She fainted, she fell on him, and what’s worse—she even put him in such a difficult position back then.
After all that, he went on to take off his own coat and offered it to her.
Instead of laughing at her outright.
“Do you… not like it?”
…And now, he’s even gifting her a bouquet.
Watching as Lucas carefully gauged her reaction, Grace couldn’t help but smile, or cry.
Has there ever been a man in my whole life who’s so conscious about my own opinion like this?
No other man ever treated her with such care. There was never a time when any other man tried to gauge her thoughts.
‘Something’s strange. This… This is so strange. How come, why… this man.”
Grace’s heart was beating abnormally.
It would be more accurate to say that she was nervous.
There’s something that was making her feel overwhelmed— making her heart beat so fast, making her heart skip a beat.
“Yes, I like it.”
While clutching the bouquet with her trembling fingertips, Grace looked up at Lucas.
The man standing before her smiled as though he felt relieved. He didn’t look as frightening as he did before.
And this just made her feel even more confused.
“Then, shall we go down and have dinner?”
Lucas politely offered his hand.
A large hand with hard calluses waited for her.
‘Can I… Can I even tell this man to break off the marriage?’
For the first time in her life, Grace felt a little—no, a lot—like she had lost confidence in her own choice.
* * *
The dinner table had been set up outside the mansion.
In the middle of the garden, which was not that big but definitely well maintained, there was a raised stone platform with vine-wrapped columns around it, evoking a romantic atmosphere.
But was that all?
Dozens of subtle candles lined the path on which Lucas and Grace crossed.
Grace was stunned.
No, but… What on earth was this?
And when exactly did he have the time to prepare this?
She couldn’t help but question whether she was going the right way at all, as she walked down this path decorated with soft candlelight and flowers.
It certainly didn’t feel terrible, but…
‘…Too much. It’s too much.’
It was a perfectly burdensome candle-lit path that would make anyone thing that they’re about to get proposed to.
At the end, too, there was a foreign chef wearing a large, tall hat waiting for them.
“Welcome, Milady and Milord. It’s so nice to meet you, lovely Lady!”
With black hair and a nicely trimmed triangular beard under his chin, the chef greeted the two for the first time.
Then, he bent down—one foot back—though his head was slightly raised.
“I am the head chef who meticulously prepared your meal tonight with all my heart and soul, Cote-amont Largeur Nerner La Denche at your service.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Chef Cote-amont Largeur Nerner La… Denche?”
“Please comfortably call me Cote. Ah! Cote means handsome in my native language. It suits me well, doesn’t it, Milady?”
Grace froze at the sudden mention of the word ‘handsome’.
Coughing quietly, Lucas urged Cote-amont to tone it down.
“Hahahahaha! It’s been so long since we’ve had a guest, so I seem to have gotten too excited! Pardon me. Then, please go ahead and enjoy the dinner I’ve prepared with all my heart.”
Cote took a step back, once again bowing with his hips drawn back.
Grace smiled quietly at his exaggerated gesture, and when Lucas pulled out a chair for her, she gently sat down there.
Lucas also sat down across from her, and Cote served him his drink from a very high place, like an elegant waterfall of champagne.
Cote-amont had this odd talent of pouring champagne in glasses without ever letting it splash out even a single drop, even if he was holding the bottle at about one meter high.
Taking in the sight as though she was having fun, Grace suddenly jolted, then looked at Lucas with an apologetic expression.
“Um, Your Excellency.”
When he asked her and looked up, yet again, Grace realized anew just how handsome he was.
He wasn’t the kind of man who had many different expressions, and because of the scars on one of his eyebrows and there on his chin, he naturally gave off a frightening impression. But, well, she didn’t know whether it was through the power of the romantic candles or not, but those sharp features seemed to have softened.
‘I’m still so scared of him, but I can’t believe I find him handsome. That’s kind of scary, too, though.’
Shuddering inwardly, Grace tried to speak calmly.
“You officially invited me to your abode, but I couldn’t prepare a gift in return for you.”
“Ah! I didn’t invite you to receive anything in return, Grace.”
Lucas’ expression stiffened, as though he heard something unexpected.
“No, but it’s only natural for me to repay your kindness. Next time, I’ll…”
At that moment, Grace froze.
‘Next time? There’s going to be a next time?’
Ahh, her thoughts were seriously all jumbled up.
Looking at Grace, who had stopped mid-sentence, Lucas asked.
“…You don’t have a handkerchief, Your Excellency?”
Instead of answering his question, Grace pointed out his empty chest pocket.
Lucas, in turn, also looked at the empty pocket and nodded.
“It seems like I forgot one because I was so focused on my tie.”
At that moment, Grace perked up.
She raised her head and asked him.
“Umm, then… Your Excellency, would you excuse me for a moment?”
Grace rose from her seat and strode towards Lucas.
Lucas watched her come closer to him, and he, too, rose from his seat as she drew nearer.
The two of them faced each other very closely.
Though… She reached only until the end of his chest?
But despite her petite stature, Lucas felt her huge presence in front of him.
He had kneeled in front of a number of nobles before, including Ludwig, who was the current master of the royal throne.
Grace herself, who exuded such a presence, was amazing.
As he faltered where he stood, Grace looked up at him slightly.
Her violet eyes, reflecting the dim light, glimmered very mysteriously.
The moment Grace’s eyes, which resembled the early morning sky, curved as she smiled shyly, Lucas felt something thump heavily on one side of his chest.
The strange reaction of his heart made Lucas flustered for a moment, and he closed his lips in a tight line in an effort to hide his embarrassment.
But at that moment, she reached out to his chest, on the very side that was responding heavily.
He didn’t know whether it was one or the other—that his instincts had started to dominate his rational mind, or that perhaps his stupid head had gotten swept along by the atmosphere.
For a brief moment, Lucas thought… Should I take her hand and pull her into my embrace?
This petite, fragrant body that came so close to his embrace seemed to have completely paralyzed his ability to think rationally.
‘C-Can I hug her?!’
Lucas unconsciously spread his arms wide, an excited expression painting his features.
“Just a moment…”
But right then.
Grace muttered something into his chest.
Lucas’ wide arms froze.
“This is my handkerchief, but… I drew something on it myself. It may just be a small piece of cloth, but it is all that I can offer to Your Excellency right now.”
Lucas’ ears turned red. Just a little.
Seriously, just a little.
It’s a good thing that Grace wasn’t looking at him, as she was focused on neatly setting the pocket square that she put in his chest pocket.
In the state that he was right now, Lucas looked up at the sky and closed his eyes.
And he told himself inwardly.
‘Ah… This idiot.’
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