“Miss Lobelia of the Count of Evelentia.”
In the duke’s parlor, Lobelia fixed her veiled hat.
She could hear the attendants whisper among themselves while their staring burned holes in her back.
“That famous illegitimate child of a gypsy?” spoke one.
“How disgraceful,” said another.
“How does she keep her head up? If it were me, I wouldn’t even be able to show my face in the capital.”
Lobelia stared straight ahead, her gaze unwavering.
They could gossip to their heart’s content, and Lobelia wouldn’t care at all.
She was already accustomed to this kind of reaction.
Whenever people in the capital saw her, they would frown and express contempt as if she was a garbage unworthy to breathe the same air as theirs.
“Taking advantage of the count’s daughter’s favor and pretending to be a noble,” muttered a maid, “How pretentious!”
Lobelia couldn’t help but laugh. She, pretending to be an aristocrat? It was the count’s daughter who sought her company, forcing her to participate in the nobles’ ceremonies and whatnot which hardly piqued her interest.
Lobelia did not desire to endure discriminant glances toward her, whether they were a noble or a commoner—she hated it.
Lobelia took a sip from the teacup, ignoring the murmurs around her.
A little while later, a man who seemed to be the duke’s lieutenant appeared.
“Did you say you brought Count Evelentia’s message?” he asked.
“Yes,” Lobelia replied.
“It’s important, so I was told to deliver it directly to the Duke of Ferrado.”
Of course it was a lie.
There was no message from the count.
Lobelia merely needed a believable excuse to meet the duke, Jade Ferrado.
In the past, Aina would treat her as handmaiden to deliver letters and gifts to other nobles.
Her experience should make her seem credible enough.
“Come hither,” gestured the lieutenant.
Fortunately, he seemed to be unsuspecting.
Lobelia was ushered into the duke’s study.
As the lieutenant left, she stared at the back of the duke who was looking out the window.
Lobelia waited silently.
“You have brought a message from Count Evelentia?”
At last, Jade Ferrado turned to face Lobelia.
His eyes were as red as blood and as cold as ice at the same time.
His dark hair was slicked back and the buttons of his clothes were left unfastened, as if to reveal his sculpted chest.
Above all, there was something savage about his princely charm.
Everything was just as Lobelia remembered when she was fifteen.
“Well, then.” The duke urged Lobelia to speak.
“Let’s see what it’s about.”
Lobelia took a long breath.
This was the beginning.
“May I sit down?” she asked.
At Lobelia’s question, Jade raised one eyebrow.
He examined Lobelia with squinting eyes and then nodded, “As you wish.”
Lobelia sat across the table from him and confessed, “It was a lie that I brought you a message.”
Contrary to her expectations, Jade reacted more calmly than she anticipated.
“The only one who treats you like a handmaiden is Lady Aina, the forbidden jade of Evelentia,” he continued.
“Count Evelentia is not someone to leave a message in the hands of just anyone.”
Lobelia looked him in the eye.
“If you allowed me into your home then it means you’re willing to listen to me, am I correct?”
“Well,” Jade laughed at Lobelia’s assumption.
“It’s true that I’m curious.
Why did Evelentia’s disgraced illegitimate daughter want to see me, to the point of telling a lie?”
“I came to ask the duke for a deal,” Lobelia replied firmly.
“A deal?” Jade snorted.”I don’t think you have anything to offer me.”
As expected, he refused before she could elaborate on the details, but Lobelia didn’t care.
Even she found her proposal absurd.
In fact, she deemed it a wonder how the duke hadn’t summoned his lieutenant yet to kick her out.
“It’s certainly a deal that will benefit the Duke.”
“Yeah?” Jade perked an eyebrow at her insistence.
“What do you want from me and what can you give me?”
Lobelia straightened her back, her green eyes deepening like an old well.
“Let’s start with what I want,” she began.
“Please accept me as ward of the Duke of Ferrado.”
“Please accept me as the guardian of the Duke of Ferrado.”
“A ward?” Jade repeated.
“Yes,” Lobelia nodded.
“I heard that the Duke of Ferrado accepts and supports promising adolescents as his ward.
I’d like to be part of that.”
Initially, Lobelia had planned to suggest a fake marriage.
If she became the mistress of the Duke of Ferrado, she could easily seize the gold of Evelentia.
But a fake marriage… How could she propose something so absurd to the duke? Whatever the truth may be, Lobelia was now a commoner without a drop of noble blood.
Most of all, she was the daughter of a gypsy.
A marriage between her and a duke, the noblest bloodline in the empire, would be an insult.
No matter how great the card Lobelia held, it was impossible.
“Being a ward isn’t all you want.
What do you plan to do if you become one?” Jade asked.
Lobelia replied, feeling glad that their conversation progressed quickly, “I want to start a business.”
“Business,” Jade nodded his head.
“Anything that earns me gold,” answered Lobelia.
Jade frowned as if he didn’t understand.
“Why the hell would you do that?” he asked.
Lobelia smiled faintly.
The words she was about to utter should have caused her to be nervous, but strangely, she laughed.
“I intend to reclaim the House of Evelentia.”
“Yes, I am the true owner of Evelentia.”
“Then the rumor…” Jade trailed off.
He, too, was aware of a rumor that had been circulating long ago, that the count, blinded by his brother’s fortune, had turned his niece into an illegitimate child.
Marlon schemed meticulously and left no trace, but there were those who knew the truth behind his lies.
Unfortunately, there was no evidence, and taking Lobelia’s side was not simply advantageous, so people refused to speak of it openly.
“What I need is gold and legitimacy,” Lobelia continued, “Now that I have thought of a way to prove my identity, shouldn’t I proceed to make Evelentia’s wealth my own?”
Jade stared at Lobelia in silence.
It wasn’t until quite a while before he spoke again.
“I heard that Evelentia’s illegitimate daughter is quite sickly and timid, but she’s very different from those traits,” Jade said, observing the girl seated across him with interest.
She was certainly thin and pale, but he could not believe that those eyes belonged to a sickly girl.
“Rumors are often exaggerated,” Lobelia replied with a stiff voice that showed no emotion.
Her body was weakened by Marlon and his wife’s abuse, but she wouldn’t choose to display her fragility.
It was also true that she was withdrawn and timid, until she discovered the truth in the Original.
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