“Young Lady, Duke Lucas is looking for you.”
Archen’s voice resounded.
He slipped through the crowd and stood before her with a polite demeanor.
Although Carinne couldn’t fathom why Duke Lucas would seek her out, it didn’t matter much in the current situation.
All she wanted to do was to leave this place as soon as possible.
“Did you hear that? I have to go.”
Thankfully, the mustache guy’s energy seemed to be drained from Archen’s voice, and his grip on her dress weakened.
Seizing the opportunity, Carinne swiftly pulled her dress away from his grasp immediately.
Archen stared at the fabric slipping through the mustache guy’s fingers as he had a look of dismay.
If there were anyone the mustache guy detested more than Carinne, it would be Duke Lucas.
His cold and cruel nature was infamous.
So, if he ever dared to bother Carinne when the Duke was looking for her, he would face the wrath of the Duke himself.
It was clear that clinging onto her and getting caught by the Duke was not a desirable outcome for him.
Eventually, the mustache guy had no choice but to release his grip.
Swiftly lifting the hem of her dress, Carinne gracefully leaped over to Archen, who was still bent over.
Ignoring the dismayed expression of the mustache guy amidst the murmuring crowd, she followed closely behind Archen.
At that moment, she was too preoccupied with keeping up with Archen that she failed to notice the dismay on the mustache guy’s face turning into anger.
‘You annoying mustache guy, don’t bother me every time we meet.’
She thought as the impatience evident on her face.
However, she remembered who she was following and brightened up.
After all, what mattered now was that she was walking alongside Archen.
The irritation melted away like snow upon seeing his blonde hair and sparkling earrings.
Then, it suddenly occurred to her that she had forgotten to ask something.
“Why is the Duke looking for me?”
She blurted out.
“If you go, you’ll know.”
Archen replied, briefly turning to look at Carinne before retreating into silence and continuing to walk.
Still, something seemed off.
Archen was heading towards the dressing room.
There was no reason for Duke Lucas to be in the dressing room of all places.
Carinne followed him inside, only to find the room empty.
As she glanced around, half-expecting to see someone, it hit her.
‘Ah, this is…’
“I’m repaying the debt with this.”
“Wait, did you help me?”
Carinne felt a mix of confusion and disbelief as she replayed the events in her mind.
Being held by the mustache guy, hearing that Duke Lucas was looking for her, and following Archen to the dressing room only to find it empty…
It was crystal clear.
…Archen had lied on purpose.
He helped her!
In her lifetime, she had never experienced such a moment.
She wanted to shout ‘Hooray!’ right there and then.
‘All the hardships were worth it—!’
You know how hard she tried to lower his guard, right?
Of course, at that time, the results weren’t exactly favorable, and she thought she had not only failed to gain his favor but also made things worse.
Though seeing his attitude today, the phrase ‘her patience had paid off’ suited the situation perfectly.
By taking these small steps forward, she believed she would not only win him over but also uncover his secret in no time.
That d*mn secret.
Ever since she received the message from that cursed author, stating that Archen would die, it had been tormenting her relentlessly.
Every morning when she woke up and checked the calendar, and every day, as the festival drew closer, she felt like her heart was being squeezed tightly.
She needed to know what the secret was so she could come up with a plan to save him and do whatever she could, yet she couldn’t even qualify as his life companion, let alone a friend.
It was not the only concern she had, Carinne knew it well.
No one knew how a person’s heart could change.
Even though she continued to show kindness to provoke him, there was no guarantee that he would ever consider her a friend or grow to like her.
Therefore, after much deliberation, she came to one conclusion.
If she wanted to ensure his survival, she had to explore another way, even if it meant resorting to drastic measures.
Carinne thought that if she didn’t have any progress until the day of the flower festival, she would even consider using truth serum on him, if necessary, to uncover the secret.
She had thought about going to the black market soon to buy the truth serum…
‘…But considering today’s events, maybe I don’t need to?’
She had been contemplating that forcibly feeding him something wouldn’t sit well with her conscience.
However, now that their relationship seemed to be progressing, it was fortunate.
It couldn’t get any better than becoming close friends or lovers and naturally discovering the secret.
Lost in various thoughts, Carinne realized too late that he was still standing there.
It seemed as if he was waiting for a grateful acknowledgment, so she quickly spoke up.
I almost ended up in another fight.
I don’t even want to deal with that despicable guy anymore.”
She hoped she wouldn’t have to see him again.
Recalling the stern face of the mustache guy, Carinne furrowed her brow while Archen was silently watching her.
Then, a thought occurred to her.
‘He… how could he be so…?’
He was truly handsome.
Flawless, porcelain skin, refined features, and the thin round glasses that adorned his face.
How could someone be so handsome? She wanted to give him a perfect score of a hundred out of five.
How could she just watch someone like him die?
For the sake of the welfare of humanity, Archen had to live long.
“Why do you dislike Count Frank?”
As she engraved Archen’s face into her mind, a muffled voice reached her ears.
Why did she dislike Count Frank?
Carinne elongated her response, lost in thought.
Since he was also there when she first encountered Count Frank, Archen would know what kind of answer he would hear.
It was puzzling why he would ask a question that already had a predetermined answer.
“If it’s because of that incident, you really don’t have to worry.”
It turned out it was a question that didn’t require an answer.
Hopefully, he didn’t build up suspense just to tell her not to worry about it.
Now, what else would she hear from him? Carinne’s anxiety grew.
Meanwhile, he swept his bangs aside and said something completely unexpected.
“…It’s not something that happens just once or twice.”
“What did you say?”
She couldn’t control her rising anger and raised her voice.
He had been continuously tormented by that guy…?
“He was truly a terrible person! Why should you be treated like that? Those b*stards who divide people by status should each receive a kick with a high-heeled shoe…”
“You seem angrier than I am.”
Carinne, who was angry, faltered at his calm voice and trailed off.
It was clear that he was the one who had been wronged, but judging by the intensity of the emotions, it seemed the opposite.
“He did it not only because of that.”
Archen glanced at Carinne briefly, then moved his gaze beyond her.
His sky-blue eyes, which had been staring into space, suddenly took on a lonely gleam.
This was the third time she had witnessed him feeling down.
“So, are there other reasons?”
“It’s nothing you should be concerned about, Young Lady.”
Well, she hadn’t thought he would easily reveal it like that.
Nonetheless, that didn’t mean she had any intention of giving up.
If she had intended to give up from the start, she wouldn’t have even started.
Carinne urged him once again.
“Still, tell me.”
“I’ll keep pestering you until you tell me.
You know what I’m capable of when I set my mind to something, right?”
In response to her half-coercive statement, his sky-blue eyes slowly lifted, meeting her gaze.
Carinne sensed a faint question mark within them.
‘Why are you going to such lengths?’ he seemed to ask with his eyes.
‘Because I like you, that’s why!’
Carinne, in turn, responded fervently with her eyes.
Whether her feelings reached him or whether he succumbed to her coercion, he hesitated, opening and closing his lips a few times before finally parting them completely.
“Frank and I come from the same academy, but he isn’t particularly good at studying.
If someone like him can secure a position as an aide, it’s considered a success.
Unfortunately, though… he competed with me and lost.”
So, there was such a story.
Carinne nodded her head, attentively listening to Archen’s words.
It turned out that the reason for his behavior was jealousy.
Frank couldn’t stand the fact that Archen outperformed him.
It wasn’t like he was a child, and yet he picked fights for such a petty reason?
And not just once or twice, but multiple times?
Canceling the contract with Frank was truly a wise decision.
The next time they met, Carinne thought she would to give him a piece of her mind once again.
If he dared to grab her dress and try to push her down, she’d stomp on his hand without hesitation.
She was determined.
“Listening to this, he’s even more despicable.
Why did he take out his frustration on others just because he was a failure? It’s not like you obtained your position as an aide through connections.
It’s thanks to your hard work that you become the top of the academy…”
Carinne started to speak boldly, but then she suddenly realized something and fell silent.
Archen mentioned that someone like Frank, who couldn’t excel in his studies, considered it a success to secure a position as an aide.
In other words, being an aide was not necessarily an attractive position for academy graduates.
However, Archen graduated at the top of his class, so why did he remain working as an aide? After achieving the honors, couldn’t he have found a better job? Although she didn’t know what kind of job opportunities were available, he could, for example, work in the Palace…
At that moment, she recalled something that Frank had mentioned.
He said that Archen had taken the imperial mage exam and failed.
He also mentioned who would support a commoner mage?
Carinne was at a loss for words.
She couldn’t figure out what to say.
She had no idea what Archen felt when he failed the exam, and she doubted that comforting him now would improve his mood.
It must be frustrating to have the ability but be hindered by social status, unable to move forward.
Were there other disappointments he had inside him?
“I understand what you’re thinking, but it’s okay.
It doesn’t bother me.”
Archen said, surprisingly comforting her instead.
It didn’t bother him… what could that possibly mean? Did he find another job? Or did he have a change of heart and want to be accepted in the Palace?
“I’ve spoken too many unnecessary words.
I should be going now.”
Just as Carinne was about to ask, he abruptly ended the conversation.
Archen had returned to the intense expression she saw during their first meeting.
With a slight bow, he moved the curtains and was about to leave the dressing room when Iris and Duke Lucas appeared behind him.
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