Lia struggled to keep down the ice tea she’d drunk while getting dressed up because she was a nervous wreck and felt sick to her stomach.
Then, the worst-case scenario had occurred, and she was praying that the man standing with Marilyn Shelby was not Duke Claude.
She was desperately hoping that her eyes were wrong.
But her wish was shattered by the sound of him banging the teacup down on the table.
“You look ridiculous.
Dressing like a girl, Canillian,” he said frankly.
The voice that sounded so full of himself was most definitely that of Claude Del Ihar.
And she met his gaze as he slowly brushed his hair back, which was wet due to the humidity.
On this rainy day, the eyes that were similar to the color of water reflected her appearance.
Canillia let out a deep sigh at that and laughed to try and steady her nerves.
“Sorry I showed you something so ridiculous, Your Majesty, the Duke.”
Lia took a step forward rather confidently, and Claude’s face became more stern-looking at that.
But he no longer made sarcastic remarks.
To be seen as a woman in front of others was more embarrassing than she’d previously thought.
Especially now because of Marilyn Shelby’s quiet and tenacious gaze.
“I feel shy to show this kind of appearance in front of a beautiful youngster,” Lia said, unable to hide her embarrassment.
She said this in the hopes of making the awkward situation bearable.
Marilyn responded as if she was waiting.
“Sir Canillian, the prettiest flower in the empire might not be Rosie or the princess.
You look beautiful!” Marilyn laughed with an odd expression on her face while covering her mouth with one hand.
“Why a brunette I’m sure I ordered for a honey-colored wig.”
“It attracts too much attention, and I didn’t think my long hair would look so fancy.
It would be a bit less of a burden.”
“Hmm, I guess that’s right.” When Marilyn raised her hand after scanning her as if she was measuring something up, a servant carrying a silver platter appeared.
In the center of it was a choker to wrap around one’s neck.
In the middle of the choker, made out of the same material as the dress, was a green emerald that was the same color as Lia’s eye.
The servant quickly walked over to Lia and stood in front of her.
“Even though it looks like a cloth, it’s the material that goes into the knight’s armor.
It will prevent you from getting a cut on your neck.”
“Thank you.” Lia lifted, and her face looked astonished by its beauty.
It was tough, and heavy just like the material that Marilyn had explained.
“I will help you, sir.” Lia gave the choker to the politely stretched-out hand of the servant.
He then stood behind her, gathered her hair, and moved it to the side so that he could place the choker around her slim neck.
At that moment, Claude jumped up and grabbed the servant’s wrist.
“I’ll do it.”
Immediately the sounds of whispering could be heard among the staff, and the surprised servant handed the choker to the Duke and stood back.
The tip of Claude’s hand, which had grabbed the choker, then brushed against her neck.
She felt the unspeakable touch that was different from when the servant’s hand touched her.
Lia didn’t realize that her face became red from holding her breath because she was too busy praying this would all be over soon.
Strange feelings stirred within her, and she couldn’t tell if they were from shyness, fear, or humiliation.
And her knuckles soon turned white from clenching her fists to calm her fluttering stomach.
For some reason, the sound of rain dropping on the floor sounded enhanced as it echoed through the misty air.
Claude slowly tightened the knot of the choker, looking at the end of the long ribbon, and then held her shoulders to turn her around to face him.
“Even without this, there will be no chance for your neck to get hurt,” Claude said as he looked into her eyes.
Unlike the sarcastic tone in his voice earlier, he sounded kind now, and Lia laughed.
Her laughter was awkward while she fiddled with the gem in the middle of the choker.
“Then, I’ll be off first, madam,” Claude said as he cleared his throat.
At Claude’s goodbye, Marilyn stood up, spread out her skirt, and greeted him.
“Be safe, Your Highness.” She then followed close behind Claude as if she was a wife sending off her husband.
Lia chose to stay seated at the table for a while even after they’d left.
Then she picked up a small macaroon and bit into the soft center.
The sweet coque and cream mushed in her mouth, and the sticky taste automatically calmed her nerves.
Lia realized she should’ve eaten one earlier as she stretched out her arms and legs and sat on the chair like a man.
“A lady can’t sit like that, Sir Canillian,” Marilyn said, jokingly, when she returned from seeing Claude off.
“Excuse me, madam,” Lia said as she got up and brushed off the powder from her dress.
Marilyn looked at Lia’s whole body up and down from a few feet away, and she had a strange smile on her face.
“It’s amazing, even for you.
I thought there would be a bit of a resemblance of a man, but compared to you, a lady like me looks shabby.”
Although it was a gentle tone, Lia could feel a thorn in her words.
“Please don’t make too much fun of me.
It’s embarrassing.” Lia lowered the tone of her voice on purpose and spoke to Marilyn like a man.
“Then I will go to His Majesty, the Duke.
Until we catch the culprit, we’ll have to be indebted to you, so next time, give me a dress that is not this flashy.
It is difficult to move for fear of getting it dirty.”
“But it suits you well.
That’s too bad.” Marilyn smiled as if she understood her feelings.
The Duke is waiting for you.”
“Okay.” Lia tried to suppress her tremors and, guided by her servant, left the garden.