Chapter 23.1

Kennard shifted his gaze from Hazel, who met his eyes without hesitation, and his thoughts turned to Elena. Whenever Elena looked at him, her reaction resembled that of a skittish herbivore—quick blinks and a tendency to avert her gaze. Her discomfort manifested in blushing cheeks and a reddening neck, mirroring the shade of her hair. Notably, her style, both in terms of clothing and hairstyle, differed significantly from Hazel’s.

In the beginning, he had gifted Elena an elegant dress and a hair accessory that matched Hazel’s ensemble. However, much to his surprise, she returned them the same day.

“Miss Elena refuses to wear something so extravagant, even if it costs her life,” Cura had remarked.

Kennard vividly recalled the awkward expression on Cura’s face as she returned the dress and accessories to his office. Over time, he gradually transitioned Elena’s wardrobe to simpler, less ostentatious dresses, leading to her current attire. Despite the adjustments, the ornate hair ornament still elicited discomfort from her.

As Kennard reminisced about the past, a chuckle escaped him unintentionally.

“It’s a relief to see you still smiling despite the unexpected visit. I was concerned that upon arrival, you might promptly dismiss us without setting foot inside the castle,” Hazel remarked. Only then did Kennard snap back to reality, straightening his posture. Lost in contemplation about Elena, he hadn’t fully registered Hazel’s initial words.

“Ah, my mind wandered elsewhere. Could you please repeat what you said?” he asked, realizing he had missed part of the conversation.

Hazel’s smiling lips twitched slightly, and her large, bluish-hued eyes betrayed a hint of a similar reaction. It appeared that Kennard’s mental distraction during their discussion had unsettled her. Observing Hazel’s expression tighten as she struggled to conceal her displeasure, Kennard inwardly sighed at the unfortunate turn of events.

Whether it stemmed from her refined upbringing or a lack of worldly awareness, witnessing such a pained expression before him left a sense of pity.

“Ahem! Ahem!” Serin abruptly cleared his throat, drawing attention. As Kennard turned to glare at him, Serin covered his mouth with a clenched fist, raising his eyebrows on both sides in a silent plea that seemed to say, ‘Bear with it, even if you’re angry.’

Kennard suppressed a sigh and redirected his attention to Hazel.

“So, what brings you here…?”

“I’ve come to see you in person, given your absence at the Emperor’s birthday celebration.”

“It’s been years since I last attended the Emperor’s birthday celebration.”

“True. However, this time, our lord intended to announce our engagement at the celebration. But with your absence…”

“Engagement?” Kennard arched an eyebrow, fixing his gaze on Hazel. The notion of engagement wasn’t entirely foreign to him, as he had gleaned it from the Emperor’s invitation, courtesy of his brother Noyer. While he was aware, it was also something he hadn’t agreed upon. She hadn’t sought his consent.

“I never consented to marry Miss Hazel.” His once soft and courteous tone turned cold in an instant. “I didn’t attend the celebration despite receiving the invitation, which means I oppose the engagement.”

“I’m aware. That’s why I’ve come here in person, perhaps rudely,” Hazel admitted.

“Rudeness, you say.”

Hearing Kennard’s words, Hazel’s ears turned red. Though only her ears betrayed her embarrassment, her overall expression remained nearly unchanged, and Kennard chose not to delve into the reason. His sole focus was on concluding this conversation swiftly and escorting the unwelcome guest away.

“It’s quite suspicious for someone to show up with attendants and luggage, seeking someone they’ve never met in person. Especially from the perspective of someone who dislikes guests, like myself,” he remarked, soft-spoken yet each word carrying a subtle edge. Even his usually formal language had transformed, unmistakably conveying his dissatisfaction with the visit.

“Ahem! Ahem!” Serin coughed again from behind, but this time, Kennard paid it no heed.

“If my presence has been displeasing, I apologize. Well, of course, it must be displeasing. However, I had to come,” Hazel spoke, undeterred by Kennard’s chilly tone.

Despite his irritation, Kennard found himself intrigued by what this determined young lady would say next.

“Why? Is your father aspiring to elevate his status by marrying me? He was merely a regional governor until recently, and now, with a ducal title, it seems his ambitions have grown excessive.”

“That’s accurate. However, it’s not my father harboring dreams of status elevation.”

“What?” What is she getting at now? Even Serin, who had been coughing incessantly, abruptly ceased as Hazel’s words took an unexpected turn.

“I sought a marriage proposal from the Emperor for myself.”

Kennard felt a throbbing in his head. It wasn’t the length of the conversation that bothered him; rather, it was the ominous sense that this meeting might mark the beginning of a troublesome matter for him.



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