A round table with a card placed beautifully in the middle was seen just over Alice’s shoulder. Chloe blinked rapidly several times when she saw the birch tree-shaped seal on it. The invitation to the party sent by the Duke was so simple that she was embarrassed to call it an invitation. Though for an aristocrat like him, there was no such thing as a boring invitation. All that was written was the party’s location, time, and the invitee. Knowing very well that there wasn’t a single person in the kingdom with enough courage to reject an invitation from him, Chloe still had a frown on her face.
“He’s probably more brutal now, huh?”
Alice’s head shot up out of Chloe’s arms when she mumbled that to herself.
Chloe hurriedly shook her head no. Alice continued with her eyes half-closed, her face still drowsy.
“Even without the rumors, I hate Damian Teece.”
“Chloe, you were very hurt when the Duke’s army left after messing up the castle. I remember. I was on a break from school, so I came home; the inside of the castle was like a wasteland, and you were injured so badly that Father couldn’t even look at you.”
Mr. Chester had said that Chloe had been moved to the hospital due to her injuries sustained by the soldiers. To make matters worse, natural disasters had begun to occur that year, and the harvesting of crops had also decreased by one-tenth. Thus, the ill-fated relationship between the Verdiers and Duke Teece had started then.
“Is that why you don’t want to go, Chloe? You’re worried you might get involved with one of his schemes?” Alice, after reaching that conclusion, managed to lift her heavy eyelids and look up at her sister. “Don’t worry, Chloe. Just go there tomorrow and act like a well-mannered young lady. And I can find a man good enough to hurt Duke Teece’s pride.”
Chloe smiled at her younger sister, thinking whether it would be possible to find someone comparable to the power of the Teece family in all the kingdom.
“Yep, I feel stronger thanks to you, Alice,” Chloe mumbled in a determined voice before Alice closed her eyes and fell asleep. That Alice would be shocked by the number of visitors in their aunt’s house. Then she carefully got off the bed after checking she was in a deep sleep. A brisk gust of wind came in through the crack in the door. It was a summer night, but she became worried that Alice might catch a cold. So she walked carefully over to the window and closed it before sitting in a chair to stretch out her legs, rubbing her palms over her thighs.
There was a pain in her legs from having walked for so long. She thought about going to the sauna but then gave up on the idea because it would be too much work to call in a maid.
“…don’t be afraid,” she mumbled to herself.
Unlike Alice, Chloe has never left the Verdier estate, except when she was young—but that memory was faint now. She tried not to display it in front of her sister, but she has been feeling nervous ever since they arrived in Swan two days ago. As soon as Aunt Tabatha looked through their trunk on the day of their arrival, she had said that they didn’t have any proper dresses and urged them to go to the best dress shop downtown the next day.
“Why in the hell would I marry off my niece looking like that?”
The dress that Alice wore last year still looked new, but Aunt Tabatha had complained that it wasn’t trendy enough, that it looked old-fashioned. It was because of her comments that they had gone around to five shops to try on dresses, and in the end, she had bought a customized dress at a high price for a young lady who was unable to attend a party due to her disability.
“You won’t be able to dance, but as long as you follow Alice, you must be formal.”
Chloe didn’t like the idea of getting a new dress if she couldn’t dance in it, like Aunt Tabatha said. However, it was bad etiquette to show up looking shabby at the party she was invited to, so after hearing that she could not humiliate herself and her sister, she had taken gold coins out of her precious pocket. She had tried her best to hide her trembling hand holding the money to purchase the dress, but it was a futile attempt.
“Now I know why your father sent you two alone with an escort. Your family is all out of money, huh? To the point where even taking a trip is wearisome.”
Aunt Tabatha’s eyes were sharp at that time. Continuing natural disasters had led to poor harvests on the Verdier estate. To make matters worse, this misfortune happened at the same time the stock their father had invested plunged. Chloe had also known about that. Still, she had believed that they could overcome it by pinching pennies, but the family’s financial status was worse than expected. That she found out about her father’s secret debt was after she had received the Duke’s invitation.
“I have to thank… him, right?”
Chloe sighed quietly as she looked at the invitation she tried to disregard. As soon as the sisters arrived at their aunt’s home after hearing the news, an image of Aunt Tabatha making a fuss had appeared in her head. Being invited to his party, which would be hosted at Rose Castle, came with two days of “Oh, you must be honored to attend Duke Teece’s splendid party.” Of course, Chloe didn’t intend to reject her words. To the daughters of a poor viscount living on a tiny estate in the southwest region of the kingdom, sending an invitation to a party could also be considered as payback of the debt they owed during the war.