Grace soaked herself in the warm bath that Julie had prepared for her.
A languid groan left through her lips automatically.
“…I love this.”
The greatest luxury Grace could treat herself with was to soak in a fragrant bath full of white steam.
Though she was born as a daughter of a marquis—a high aristocrat—she had never even eaten a piece of chocolate easily.
Everything about her was, perhaps to an immoderate degree, plain and simple.
Other people called this ‘primness’, however.
It was not only Grace, but also Norman and Marquis Kafrenn were thought to be the same. Thus, other people thought of the whole O’Ellin family as being very frugal and prim.
‘But it’s all nonsense.’
Grace knew of her father’s deep ambition.
He’s acting like he’s taking the middle road now, but in truth, the money he’s been ‘saving’ was all filling the stomachs of numerous nobles and statesmen.
This meant only one thing.
‘Here, eat all the money I’ve got that’s like my flesh and blood. When the time comes that I need you, do remember to be on my side.’
It’s unknown to what heights he was planning to reach, but he would be sure to wear that mask of frugality until then, all the while constantly wringing Norman and Grace dry.
Of course, he wouldn’t forget to use Norman and Grace in marriages of convenience to suit his own benefit.
Grace was to be married into the one and only House Blacke, the kingdom’s best duchy. Whereas, Norman was to take in a bride from the royal family.
‘Maybe… Her Highness Vivian, right? The youngest sibling of the previous king. His Majesty’s aunt.’
Lady Vivian was twenty years younger than the previous king.
And she was only one year older than Ludwig, the current king of the Zeronium Kingdom.
From an outsider’s standpoint, it’s easy to surmise that the relationship between Lady Vivian and His Majesty the King wouldn’t be good due to the complicated nature of their blood ties. Fortunately, however, they seemed to be on amicable terms.
Perhaps because Lady Vivian was a staunch celibate and an inflexible intellectual who’s focused on only scholarly matters.
What the king loved the most were capable and wise people.
Grace had been able to meet Lady Vivian only once, and it was when she had been conferred her peerage.
Wearing glasses and with dark blond hair that resembled the king’s, Lady Vivian was a woman who carried herself with an intelligent and calm atmosphere.
“Your meritorious deeds are enormous, Grace.”
She had a voice that was low for a woman, and her calm tone as she said these words to Grace was still vivid in her ears.
Marquis Kafrenn O’Ellin was trying to hitch Lady Vivian and Norman together.
‘Nothing but impossible.’
It’s clear to see that the two would be at odds.
If they were to get married, one of them would probably die from a constantly upset stomach due to stress.
For the wellbeing of those two… No, for the well being of Princess Vivian, Grace wished for those two people to never be connected.
“Well, Her Highness will reject him well enough on her own.”
Who’s worrying for whom here?
Grace stretched languidly and leaned her head against the rim of the spacious bathtub.
“Ahhhhh. Mmh… So good.”
The pleasant sensation was so nice that it felt like her whole body was melting. It’s making her groan, too.
“Baths are the best… Really so nice. Ahh.”
With a smile on her face, Grace sank further into the water until her chin.
As she felt the heat rising, she felt the exhaustion and tension she felt in her body after horseback riding come loose.
‘It was really so fantastic.’
She closed her eyes and recalled the cold sensation of the wind against her.
And the hugely exhilarating feeling that permeated her from head to toe.
It was an invigorating pleasure like no other.
Even when she felt the onslaught of fatigue after her heart had been pounding to the highest level was not enough to temper the joy she felt at that moment.
Grace’s hot cheeks were red.
“Really the best…”
If she could have the chance, she really wanted to ride that horse one more time and run with him again.
She wondered if she could ask His Excellency the Duke for this favor.
No, would she even manage to ask such a thing towards him?
Could she ride the horse once more before going back home?
‘Home… Come to think of it…’
As she thought of her household, she recalled the note that Julie had slipped to her. It was from Alia.
[ Milady, the door of the drawer that you especially commissioned to be made was found open. It seems like the lock had been broken, and the documents inside are missing. I apologize. ]
The message had been written in code, and the following message from Alia contained a warning for Grace to avoid the eyes of Norman and Marquis O’Ellin.
Alia didn’t write too much, and Grace was only reading between the lines.
So that if this message were to be intercepted, it could be roughly covered up.
From what Grace could infer from the coded message, Norman and his friends barged into her room, and after they left, the drawer was found open and one of the documents had disappeared.
And that one document was probably her checkbook from Thompson Bank.
Shaking her head and letting out a sigh, Grace stepped out of the bathtub.
Fortunately, Thompson Bank had a policy wherein all transactions had to be made by the account holder in person, unless it’s a representative who had a notarized affidavit.
Even if a duke or a grand duke were to go there, the bank would deny them.
The only person who could put pressure on them was the king himself.
It was because of their strict policies that Thompson Bank had fees that were more than three times higher than other banks, but Grace did not regret opening her account with them.
‘I was careless. I thought he wouldn’t touch my room.’
The only people who entered her room freely were the maids dedicated to Grace like Alia and Julie, and a couple other maids who had been serving in the mansion since she was young.
Not even the butler could enter her room recklessly.
This was because Grace had been very strict about anyone entering her room all these years.
But she didn’t expect that, of all people, Norman and his friends would enter her room without any care, to the extent that they even searched through her belongings…
She felt goosebumps rising over her skin.
To think that they rummaged through her pillows and the things she used in her everyday life.
Grace gingerly placed a hand over her bruised stomach.
After the death of the first madam, Grace’s mother—who Marquis O’Ellin brought in as his second wife—was not a noble of this country.
She was an unknown noblewoman of an island nation, and Marquis O’Ellin had brought her home as a second wife not even a year after his first wife had died.
Norman hated this situation terribly.
He hated both Grace and her mother terribly.
And after Grace’s mother passed away, Norman’s hatred was entirely focused on Grace.
As he grew up, his feelings of hatred grew as well.
In particular, his hatred for Grace grew to a frightening degree.
“You have to die, Grace. At the end of the day, you’re just a useless wench!”
It didn’t matter to her that Norman hated her.
However, his hatred did not just stop there. It led to harassment.
Sometimes with physical violence, sometimes with ostracizing, sometimes with obsession.
Grace couldn’t stand it.
Norman’s hatred for her was so obsessive that she was sick and tired of it.
Grimacing, Grace closed her eyes.
‘Don’t you dare cross me anymore, Norman.’
Or else I’m really going to bite back.
Upon Grace’s elegant features, dripping with water, a cold glint shone in her eyes.
It seemed like she would have to move up the schedule.
* * *
In the Zeronium Kingdom, ‘information’ was money.
Especially speaking, any piece of information that’s been stamped with the coat of arms of House ‘Serpiente’ was considered to be credible.
Everyone could buy and sell information at any intelligence agency under the administration of House Serpiente.
Anyone at all, whether it be nobles, commoners or foreigners.
In House Serpiente, information was carefully and meticulously reviewed and stored in a systematic way.
Even false information became information to Serpiente when they’d consider what, when and who sold that false information.
—Don’t open your mouth in a place where a snake has passed.
It had come to the point that such a saying had swept through all of Zeronium.
They possessed more ‘stories’ than even the royal library.
It was ‘Serpiente’ who took power for themselves not through merchandise or honor, but through ‘information’.
Kafrenn O’Ellin’s carriage stopped in front of ‘Heath Intelligence Bureau’, which was under the direct management House ‘Serpiente’.
It was the kind of place that would instantly empty the pockets of anyone who would step inside, but Marquis Kafrenn O’Ellin was by no means a pushover.
The current household head of the Serpiente family was a mere rookie who had inherited his position not long ago.
As far the marquis knew, wasn’t that rookie just about Norman’s age?
Of course, they had never met before.
He heard that the rookie was so weak that it’s impossible to do any outside activities.
So, how great would that person be after only being raised in a cage?
Kafrenn thought so confidently.
‘I need to get the most information for the lowest price possible.’
With that resolve, he stepped into the intelligence bureau with the butler, who came to accompany him.
As soon as the doors opened and he entered, a woman wearing a neat suit was standing by the front desk, and she turned around to look back at him.
And as she caught sight of the marquis, a picturesque smile tugged up on her lips.
“Welcome. I am Julius of the Heath Intelligence Bureau. It’s an honor to meet you, Marquis Kafrenn O’Ellin. Are you here for a consultation?”
Before the door behind him could even close again, the woman had called his name.
Marquis O’Ellin shook his head slightly, trying not to look surprised.
“I’m here to buy information.”
“Aha, I see. If so, please follow me this way. I would like to remind you that any information dealt by the bureau is confidential and can only be traded in a controlled environment.”
With the same pasted smile, she led him to a room on the second floor of the intelligence bureau.
Throughout the entire walk towards the second floor, no other employee was seen.
It was a strange place.
Julius led him to a magnificent room with no windows, but the ceiling in itself was a painting. He was guided to a seat.
On the table in the middle of the room was a cup of hot tea, steam still rising from it, as if they had been expecting his visit.
Smiling, Julius held up a notepad and a pen, then asked.
“What kind of information are you looking for?”
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