✧A Favorable Bet✧
“Greetings, Princess.” Bjorn greeted his unexpected guest calmly while keeping eye contact, his lips curved slightly in a relaxed smile.
Gladys, who was nervously fiddling with her clasped hands while waiting, raised her head with an expression of surprise. Stunned to the point of not being able to reply back to his greetings, Bjorn casually approached her and sat down on the opposite side of the table. It was a reunion that he didn’t expect that would happen so soon.
“It has been a while.” Lady Hartford finally remembered her manners and greeted back with difficulty. It was a stupid, worthless greeting that she practiced countless of times while she was inside the carriage on the way here. The Grand Duke, however, didn’t bother to continue the conversation and just stared at her..
“I’m sorry for my sudden visit without any prior notice, it’s a big mistake on my part. Still, I think it would be better to meet here in private rather than outside… … ”
Her voice trembled so much that she couldn’t even finish her apology properly, but Bjorn continued to be silent. Clear drops of tears started to pool in her eyes and her soft lips were bitten in frustration.
The gap between the Bjorn in her memory and the Bjorn in front of her was so glaringly obvious. The man that she remembered in the past still had hints of childishness and immaturity within him, but now, her shoulders couldn’t stop from shuddering from his intimidating and mature aura that he currently possessed. Together with his face that now appeared sharper and his lean but toned body that couldn’t be hidden by his attire, the current Bjorn Dniester was someone that she couldn’t even recognize.
In the end, Gladys couldn’t look at him any longer and bowed her head down in shame. She was wondering why her vision was getting blurry, until thick tears finally fell on the back of her trembling hands.
Bjorn, however, just continued watching this scene of a pretty lady crying beautifully without any changes on his expression. Not long after, Mrs. Fitz finally arrived with refreshments at hand and saw such a view. If it was anyone else that didn’t have any idea about the history of the two ex-lovers, they would have condemned Bjorn for being heartless. Unfortunately, it was her, the former Crown Prince’s nanny, so she completely ignored Gladys, set the tea table up and left right away.
Indifferently looking at the woman who was once his wife, the Grand Duke leisurely grabbed the teacup in front of him. Gladys, on the other hand, continued to weep pitifully even after the sugar cubes thrown into the teacup lost their shape.
‘I guess it’s good to know that nothing has changed.’ He let out a silent exhale that resembled a sigh. The scene in front of him brought out a memory from long ago when she received the news of their divorce; Gladys Hartford’s only reaction of weeping in the same way as she was crying now.
“It’s still the same boring reaction.”
He slowly took a sip of the cooled tea while he moved his gaze to the window. As the strong tea gradually awakened his sluggish mind, his patience finally started to get depleted bit by bit.
“I remember we have cleanly broken off any relationship between us, Princess.” His eyes, which reflected the sparkling river and the forest beyond the window, narrowed little by little.
“I gave what I was supposed to give…” He turned around to face her after putting down the now emptied teacup..
“…and I already got what I was supposed to receive…” His amiable face changed in an instant as the light smile on his lips finally disappeared.
“.. isn’t that right, Gladys?”
“Bjorn, I… … .”
“Just tell me what you want already.” He cut her off with a voice void of any emotion.
“I guess it has been a long time that you have already forgotten my almost non-existent patience?”
“I-I’m sorry… I still remember….” Gladys, who barely stopped sobbing, replied with difficulty.
“Because of me… We… For what happened.. I’m so sorry… I’m sorry…” The tears welling up in her large eyes finally flowed down when she opened her eyes that were tightly shut. Her beautiful little face now drenched in tears, gleamed with a soft light in the morning sun like a pure, white rose blooming for the first time.
Bjorn leaned back deep in his chair and just stared at her, the lady in front of him was still as beautiful as before. Nonetheless, the fact that such a mesmerizing appearance failed to provoke any emotion in him was in the end no different from before.
“And so?” He asked with a smile back on his lips.
“There is no way you would have visited Lechen just to say such a thing. Did the King of Lars give you an order in the end? Now that all the problems are gone, he hopes you will once again get along well with your ex-husband?”
Gladys, who licked her lips slightly, lowered her gaze in shame. Her two hands, that were tightly clasped together as if offering a sincere prayer, were now as pale as a blank sheet of paper. The clear answer that was delivered with her silence made Bjorn’s smile to deepen.
“What an obedient daughter who listens so well to her father. I see that you’re still a very good child.”
An innocent and tender-hearted princess who knows nothing of malice. If humans were to be divided into the dichotomy of good and evil, Gladys Hartford would certainly belong to the side of good. He could freely admit that fact, although he doesn’t hold that statement in high-regard.
“It’s not just for that reason!” Gladys pulled out a handkerchief and wiped away her tears, then raised her head once again.
“I really wanted to apologize, so I gathered all of my courage to do so. Because I feel sorry for you all this time… I.. For what I did…..”
“You must have misunderstood something, Princess.” Bjorn slowly lowered his eyes, feeling a suffocating and foreign emotion for the first time.
“The deal we had was pretty fair. In terms of profit and loss, we might have even benefited on the contrary.”
“But you… … .”
“I am moved to tears because my ex-wife is so worried about me.” He stood up while replying sarcastically.
She, however, didn’t really harbor any negative feelings about their divorce. Their relationship didn’t have any pure feelings such as love right from the start and four long years had already passed, any sort of attachment had already disappeared between them.
In the end, this dirty feeling that was plaguing his chest, if he had to define it, would just be annoyance.
Bjorn, whose gaze was at the table’s smooth surface, gently pushed the teacup with the tip of his long finger towards the edge. The sound of breaking glass soon shook the stifling stillness of the study.
He slowly rang a bell without any remorse even with the now speechless Gladys in front of him and not long after, a middle-aged maid came into the study. Princess Hartford began to sob once again as the Grand Duke’s gaze passed through the sparkling shards of the broken teacup and stopped at the face of the bewildered maid.
“Clean it up.” He ordered with a light smile on his face then proceeded to leave the study without looking back. As soon as he entered the bedroom after being mentally beaten up by the unexpected encounter he had with his ex-wife, a feeling of intense fatigue came rushing in.
Instead of casually throwing himself on the bed to take rest as usual, Bjorn instead opened the window facing the river. The cheers and shouts of the group of people, who had started practicing rowing since early morning, came rushing inside the solemn room along with the faint humid smell carried by the wind.
With a sigh mixed with laughter, he picked up a cigar and lit it up while leaning against the windowsill. The small waves of water in the flowing river dazzled his eyes when the morning sunshine shone on the water surface. The smoke that had languidly flowed out from his lips for quite some time was soon blown away by the wind while the bright ray of the early summer sun pierced his throbbing eyes.
Today was definitely a boring and annoying day.
“It seems that Count Lehman is the most prominent husband candidate for the Hardy family as of this moment?”
Erna Hardy’s name now became a regular topic of their group while playing cards. Bjorn glanced at Peter, who was sitting next to him, while checking the cards in his hand.
“Count Lehman? That old man is still alive?” Giggles and laughter flowed from everywhere as an absurd question was asked with seriousness.
Count Lehman, an old man who would soon turn seventy years old, wanted to marry a young lady who was less than twenty years old.
Bjorn raised his eyebrows slightly and leaned backwards with his long legs crossed together. The current round was going well for him and as long as there were no unexpected turn of events, the winner of this round was clear as if it had already been decided.
“I heard that Viscount Hardy meets up with Count Lehmann from time to time. A few days ago, he said that he enjoyed an opera performance together. Of course, Erna Hardy joined them as well.”
“Hey, as long as you pay a really high price, nothing else matters I guess.”
“I guess their marriage would be of that kind, huh? If that old man suddenly died early, I could just sell my daughter once again to another rich man. Such a marriage seems very attractive for Viscount Hardy I presume.”
The atmosphere of their game gradually reached its climax, while words of ridicule and pity for Lady Hardy were diligently exchanged between the participants. The Grand Duke decided to take a step back while waiting for the right moment to strike once and for all, it was a game that was good enough for him to see until the very end after raising the stakes again and again.
“Ah! Bjorn, I heard that Princess Gladys took trouble to visit Schuber Castle to meet her ex-husband? Will this year’s summer end up as the hottest in the history of Lechen? ”
Peter smirked in a strange way while directing his gaze towards the Grand Duke. However, the subject of the controversial topic just lit up a cigarette while completely ignoring the gazes around him.
‘Everyone’s living their life in such a boring way.’
A life where most of their time was spent talking about others, most of the nobility partake in such a distasteful hobby. It seems that the most popular topic this summer would be about the marriage business of the Hardy family and the reunion of the former Crown Prince and his ex-wife.
“My mother said that Princess Gladys had come to Lechen with the intention of forgiving her ex-husband and reuniting with him. It’s a pity that even when such a kind Princess offered a magnanimous act, she got ignored like it was not a big deal. Of course, this made a lot of nobles curse our Prince here more harshly.”
“Oh, I heard that too. If such a beautiful Princess decided to visit me, I would probably have gone crazy. Prince Bjorn really lives in a different world that we common people couldn’t imagine being in .”
“By the way, if you marry the same woman twice, do you need to have another wedding? Will it be embarrassing for the bride and groom to make the guests attend the same wedding twice?”
Peter asked with his eyes twinkling while looking at his cards anxiously as the game seemed to have finally ended. Bjorn responded by exhaling a long puff of cigarette smoke towards Peter’s face.
Peter yelped and cursed at the Grand Duke’s shameless actions but soon gave up and began to turn his attention to another discussion. The new topic of the table, which was busy predicting the winner of the latest horse race and sharing information about investing in a new shipping company just a moment ago, once again turned back to the marriage scheme of Viscount Hardy.
“No matter how much money you need in a hurry, isn’t it a bit unfair to sell your daughter to an old man who is about to die?”
“Isn’t that a gamble worth trying? The Lehman family only has a daughter and a youngest son, if things go awry between the father and his children then all of that wealth would become Lady Hardy’s.”
“Son? That old man still managed to make it stand up and have another child?”
“I guess he is still confident regarding that aspect to be able to buy a young bride at a high price.”
Leonard shrugged and put his cards down. It was a pretty long round, but it was still a game with a high win rate for Bjorn.
“Poor Ms. Hardy. She became an old man’s bride because she couldn’t meet a proper man whose age is the same as hers..” Peter lamented as he let out a sigh as if he was genuinely sorry.
“Come to think of it, Miss Hardy strangely resembles Princess Gladys, don’t you think? They look different, but their atmosphere is somewhat similar in the end.”
“They are both beauties that possess a delicate aura like an innocent baby deer.”
A crooked smile hung on the corners of Bjorn’s lips as he glanced over jerks nodding their heads in agreement.
Said baby deers could still bite you hard if they so wished to. He guessed these bunch of idiots need to experience this first-hand before they come to their senses.
“Then, shall we do something interesting?”
While Bjorn was choosing his next hand, Leonard suddenly exclaimed with an odd tone.
“Let the poor and miserable Lady Hardy enjoy the courtship of a young man before she falls into the deep pit of despair of a loveless marriage with an old man. Wouldn’t that be a good memory to give to her?”
“Didn’t you see her running away quickly after someone offered a simple greeting to her? I already tried to court her by repeatedly sending flowers and cards for days, but no response has been sent in reply for my earnest feelings.”
“Let’s make a bet then.”
Leonard’s eyes gleamed as he scanned the poker chips piled up on the card table. Bjorn, who had been making calculations to finally end this game, raised his head with a wrinkled eyebrow.
“Whoever can move Ms. Hardy’s heart wins. In other words, it is a bet on who will earn her favor first. How about it?”