Chapter 10.2

Kennard’s pheromones enveloped Elena like a turbulent whirlwind, momentarily blurring her vision and inducing dizziness. Nevertheless, she steeled herself against the sensation.

“Do you believe just anyone can serve my tea? Lassino hails from a lineage that has served as stewards to our royal family for generations. He was bred for stewardship from birth. Are you suggesting that you, rather than someone like him, should serve my tea?”

Elena’s voice remained earnest and unwavering. “I am aware of my limitations. I’m more than willing to learn under Lassino’s guidance. I’m prepared to undertake even the most modest and mundane tasks. Please, permit me to serve the Grand Duke’s tea. I implore you.” Elena lowered her head in deference to Kennard.

Though discomfort prickled at her back, she displayed no outward sign of pain. The form-fitting dress she wore, starting from her chest and descending to her waist, forced her movements to feel somewhat unnatural. Until this point, she had exclusively worn flowing dresses that draped gently from her shoulders, avoiding contact with the wounds on her body.

Even though her current attire allowed for greater freedom of movement, the fabric still irritated her healing wounds, causing discomfort.

Perhaps it was too ambitious? Should I have offered to assist with the castle’s cleaning instead of serving the Grand Duke’s tea? she wondered. The alternative idea hadn’t entirely escaped her thoughts, but for some inexplicable reason, since she had made up her mind to contribute to the castle, her focus remained steadfast on serving Kennard’s tea.

“Raise your head,” Kennard’s voice cut through the air, cold as ice. Elena tightly shut her eyes.

Ding, ding. Kennard picked up the handbell from beside a stack of documents and shook it, producing a clear, echoing sound throughout the study.

“Your Highness, did you summon me?” Before the reverberations had fully dissipated, Lassino entered through the adjacent door leading to the study. The elderly head butler’s countenance remained composed, as if he had foreseen Kennard’s call.

“Lassino, have you heard about this matter too? Why did you take action without my permission or even my request?” Kennard’s voice was stern.

“I apologize.”

“You’ve exposed your role to just anyone. Does your position hold little worth?” Despite the absence of any physical threat, Kennard’s tone exuded menace, sending a shiver down Elena’s spine. Her legs felt weak, and she feared she might collapse at any moment.

“No, Your Highness. There’s no truth to that.”

“Return to Montefiano immediately.”

“Your Grace, I apologize. I simply believed it would be beneficial for Miss Elena to be by your side… I acted hastily.” Lassino bowed deeply.

Elena swiftly knelt before Kennard. “I’m sorry. I implored Mr. Lassino without thinking,” she confessed. Her throat felt as though it might dry up, and she couldn’t find words to respond to the Duke’s stern reprimand. But she saw no other option; she couldn’t bear to witness Lassino lose his position because of her.

Kennard’s sigh was accompanied by a weighty silence that hung in the air for what felt like an eternity. Inside the study, it was as if the entire world had vanished, with even the softest breath muffled into oblivion. The stillness was so profound that it seemed to magnify the minute movements of dust particles suspended in the air, as though they, too, were making their presence known.

“What about Serin?” Kennard finally broke the silence with a question.

“He’s in the barracks, Your Grace,” Lassino replied promptly.

“If he learns of this, his response will likely be more severe than mine.”

“That’s quite likely, Your Grace,” Lassino concurred, bowing even deeper in acknowledgment.

Tap, tap. Kennard slowly tapped his fingertips on the desk. Elena’s lowered head prevented her from seeing his expression, her vision instead marred by a flaw in the carpet’s pattern.

“Lassino, go check.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” From Elena’s vantage point, Lassino vanished behind the imposing wooden desk as the sound of the door indicated his departure from the study.

“Stand up.”

Elena, confronted by Kennard’s leather boots nearly in front of her face, attempted to rise but found her legs trembling, rendering her unable to stand.

“You’ve stirred up quite a commotion,” Kennard grumbled with irritation, taking hold of Elena’s arms and gently raising her to her feet.

As Elena rose with both arms steadied, she did so hurriedly and accidentally stumbled forward, her foot entangling with the hem of her dress. The mishap led to her inadvertently burying her face in Kennard’s chest, her nose pressing against a golden button.

“Ouch,” she muttered in response, a twinge of pain resonating from the tip of her nose, causing an involuntary groan to escape her lips.



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