Adrian was Eleanor’s only friend. They grew up together since childhood and knew each other’s feelings better than anyone else.
At least Eleanor thought so. Until Adrian left, leaving only a letter saying that he would be out of touch for a while because he was going far away.
Eleanor was disappointed with Adrian’s behavior.
“Long time no see?”
Eleanor gave him a small snort. She, clasping her arms tightly, asked sternly.
“To think that you’ve been avoiding me for a few months, and then suddenly you show up and say something like, ‘long time no see’…”
“I didn’t avoid you. Why do you think so?”
“Because at that time, we quarreled every day, and you acted strangely every time you saw me.”
Recognizing the unusual atmosphere between the two, Dwight sneaked out of the room. Suddenly, the door closed and only the two of them were left in the room.
“I was too busy going around to learn merchants’ business. I also wanted to organize my thoughts.”
“So, did it turn out the way you wanted?”
Adrian looked down at Eleanor with strange eyes and answered.
“In a way.”
“Good for you.”
Eleanor turned her head and said coldly. There was a cold atmosphere in the room.
“Ellen. Look at me.”
Adrian, who looked at Eleanor for a moment, took a step closer to her. His golden eyes, as if they were whipped honey, came close to her eyes.
Eleanor blushed involuntarily at his face, which suddenly got closer to hers.
Her gaze slowly glided down from his soft, caramel-colored hair to the new, slightly lean cheeks she hadn’t seen. After more than 20 years of seeing him, he still had a dazzling face that made her weak.
Normally, her stomach would melt just by looking at him, but today was an exception. Eleanor walked back and forth through the room, trying to get rid of the sobbing again.
“If you were going far away, you should’ve gone after saying farewell to me. A few lines of letters are never enough.”
“I know. It was a stupid thing.”
“It can’t even be called a letter. It was a note.”
Adrian stood upright and humbly accepted Eleanor’s wrath. Her heart gradually calmed down at the attitude of a truly meek student.
He asked, finding that Eleanor’s eyes had softened as usual.
“Are you forgiving me?”
Eleanor answered, lowering her eyelashes coyly. Knowing that her heart had already softened, Adrian asked with a sad expression on his face.
“What should I do to make you forgive me?”
“I don’t know. I hate you.”
Adrian grinned as Eleanor mumbled a small mumble the moment he sat down on the couch.
“I missed you too, Ellen.”
Adrian sat casually in the seat next to her, lightly messing with Eleanor’s hair. Eleanor, who was stomping her feet playfully, asked as if she had just remembered.
“By the way, what made you come here today? To congratulate Dwight?”
“Yeah. And I also have something I want to ask you.”
Eleanor tilted her head. After a moment’s hesitation, Adrian opened his mouth.
“Do you remember Sienna?”
“Your niece? Of course I remember her. Wow, she must have grown quite a bit now.”
“Yeah, she’ll be nine soon. This time, she got a house nearby and came up. She’s preparing for the Academy Exam these days, and…”
The moment the word ‘Academy’ came out of Adrian’s mouth, Eleanor’s spine shivered. An ominous feeling crept up.
Please just don’t say ‘that’…
However, the world has always betrayed Eleanor’s wishes, and her ominous premonitions have always been exactly right.
“Ellen, I want you to be Sienna’s teacher.”
“Ugh, I never wanted to teach anyone again, though. It’s hard to say no because I know how much Rian cares for his niece.”
Eleanor threw herself onto the bed and let out a long sigh.
Sienna, whose biggest goal in life is to enter the Academy at the age of nine, seemed very impressed by Dwight’s interview. Adrian made a troubled face, saying that throughout going up to the capital, she only asked him to make her meet Eleanor.
Eleanor replied to Adrian that she would think about it first. He stared at her with the eyes of a puppy in the rain, how could she just cut it off and say no?
Three more days had passed since that day, but Eleanor still couldn’t make up her mind. It was certainly the time for her to deliver an answer.
‘I think it sure will be fine for just a month or two…’
Her mind slowly weakened as she recalled Adrian’s twinkling eyes.
‘But I said I’d reject everything! It might just be annoying again.’
I surely must not do it. I mustn’t.
Eleanor quickly regained her senses and shook her head. She couldn’t live her life like a worker ant in this way. She surely has money, she sure is young, and she was overflowed with things that she could enjoy.
She went in front of the desk and picked up a pen, determined. If she looked at his face, she would become weak again, so it would have been better for her to express her refusal in a letter.
“Miss, you need to come out for a moment.”
Then the butler’s voice came from outside the door. Unlike usual, his voice was full of bewilderment and tension.
“There’s a guest looking for the Miss.”
“Yes. But about that… It’s the Duke of Valentine.”
Eleanor’s mouth fell open in shock.
Kaidel Idris Valentine.
The Duke of Valentine was one of the few figures in the Empire who didn’t require any special introduction. Everyone knew about him, and Eleanor was also one of them.
Valentine was the most powerful family in the Empire. When the previous duke died and his only 19-year-old son took over as head of family, people all expressed doubts. How could a kid who barely knew how to hold a sword lead such a large family?
But now, seven years later, no one doubted Kaidel’s abilities.
Kaidel wasn’t only an outstanding warrior like his ancestors, but also a perfect administrator. He made perfectly rational judgments like a machine and made the duchy even more prosperous.
He was near-perfect in every way. Is that why? The rumors that followed him were of the kind that said he wasn’t a human at all. Things like being cold-blooded who doesn’t know emotions, or freezing people with his eyes.
She knew it was a false rumor, but since she was going to deal with him closely, Eleanor couldn’t hide her tension.
‘Why the hell is the Duke wanting to see me?’
Eleanor’s little brain was busily turning around.
Has she ever accidentally entangled with him? No matter how much she thought about it, she hadn’t had any contact with him at all, except for a few encounters at parties. It was all she could see, even at very distant feet.
Just what the hell is it! What is it!
Eleanor headed to the drawing room as she forcely pressed down the urge to chew her thumb.
As soon as she saw the Duke’s back, Eleanor curled her shoulders without realizing it. Dwight wasn’t short, either, but he seemed to be a span taller than him. The mere presence of wide shoulders and back exuded a sense of intimidation.
Standing behind the Duke, Eleanor cleared her throat.
“I greet the Duke of Valentine. I am Eleanor Everett.”
As Eleanor greeted him in a trembling voice, the Duke turned back slowly.
His sea-blue eyes looked down at her calmly. At that moment, Eleanor gasped.
It was the first time she had seen the Duke’s face properly. Even from a distance, she thought he was very handsome, yet seeing him up close made her feel it wasn’t real.
His white skin contrasting with his black hair as dark as night exuded an ascetic and sacred atmosphere. On the other hand, the thick line from the straight forehead to the straight, high nose bridge and the sharp jawline was extremely manly.
Eleanor swallowed involuntarily. Kaidel, who was looking down at her, parted his lips with an expressionless face.
“I apologize for such a sudden visit. I’ll properly compensate you for today’s disrespect later.”
A sweet voice rang low. There was a power to overwhelm the listener in the words that were uttered a little slowly.
“To think you said disrespect. It’s such an honor to meet you.”
Kaidel shook his head as Eleanor waved her hand with a polite smile.
‘But why… is he not saying anything?’
Kaidel stood upright in his place, staring at her. Smiling at him for a long time awkwardly, Eleanor carefully suggested.
“…Would you like to sit down and have a cup of tea?”
He nodded his head briefly and sat down. Eleanor stroked her chest and beckoned a maid to bring cups of tea.
There was a continuous sound of the clattering tea in the dreary silence. Just before her body twisted because of the awkwardness, Kaidel finally opened his mouth.
“This morning, I got a reply.”
“If it’s a reply…?”
Kaidel’s gaze fell on Eleanor. It was a look that asked, “What are you saying when you were the one who sent it?”
The rumor that he could freeze a person with his eyes was a perfectly fact-based rumor, even if other rumors weren’t known. Eleanor, crushed by his energy, shrugged her shoulders.
In fact, she didn’t even know that a letter had come from the Duke’s house. It was because she got tired of tearing it halfway and left all the replies to Dwight.
‘Dwight, you idiot! You should have told me something like a letter from the Duke’s house!’
Eleanor answered brightly as she lashed out at Dwight inwardly.
“Yes, a reply! I sent it. Yes, that’s right.”
“What’s the reason?”
Kaidel frowned and asked.
“Did you not like the conditions? I think I said that I’m willing to do the best I can for whatever you ask for.”
“It’s not a matter of conditions. I… I don’t want to teach anyone anymore. And I don’t have the talent for that.”
“The Lady is too humble.”
Kaidel let out a smirk on his face. It must have been a compliment, but somehow she felt scolded. Eleanor managed to swallow the apologetic words.
“Although you might already know, I have an eight-year-old brother.”
Kaidel continued speaking in a serious voice. Eleanor hadn’t read his letter, so she knew nothing, but she nodded her head shamelessly, as if it was the opposite.
“I didn’t want to embarrass you with a story you’ve already rejected. But the reason I asked for a meeting without making excuses was because I felt so confident.”
Eleanor, who had been choosing her words for a moment, answered calmly.
“I’m grateful that the Duke appreciates me, but if it’s the Duke of Valentine, you can find many more capable and smarter tutors than me, though.”
Kaidel didn’t answer. She couldn’t understand the subtle emotions in his blue eyes. Eleanor, who looked at him for a moment, spoke again.
“Even though I was born with a little talent for studying, I’m a count’s daughter who didn’t receive proper academy education. There are a lot of things my brother brags about because he has too much affection for me.”
“If I had been concerned only about Demian’s studies, I wouldn’t have bothered to look for you.”
Kaidel’s lips twitched over and over again as if he was in a conflict. Eleanor didn’t rush, just waiting for him. After a long sigh, Kaidel continued speaking in a calm voice.
“Please reconsider. I want you to meet him just once. Even if you’ll refuse again.”
There was a faint crack on Kaidel’s face, who had been like a perfect statue the whole time. He seemed to be hurt or very distressed.
Eleanor, who looked at him slowly, nodded her head involuntarily.
She didn’t bow down to his position as a duke, nor did she succumb to the pressure he exuded. At that moment, the Duke looked so exhausted that she could hardly refuse his request.
After Kaidel politely thanked her, he asked her to write a letter of a convenient date and left. His cup of tea was untouched.
The large carriage engraved with the Duke’s pattern was leaving, and Eleanor let out a belated sigh of relief. Her whole body was numb, as if she had been frozen all along.
“…If it’s to this extent in front of the Duke, I sure put up a good defense. Although I couldn’t say no, it’s only I’ll try meeting him once, so yeah.”
She can just go at that time and say no.
Eleanor returned to her room, struggling to drive away her uneasy feeling. No matter what happened, not a single day passed comfortably.
Eleanor grinded her teeth while saying that it’s all because of Dwight, that brat. And as soon as the next morning dawned, Eleanor ended up letting out a screech.