As Elise looked up at him with innocent eyes, Rezette couldn’t help but feel a sense of disgust. It wasn’t directed towards Elise, but towards himself. He realized that he shouldn’t have entered into such an absurd contract if he had thought that her life didn’t matter to him. But he had signed his name and agreed to the terms, and he had a job to do.
“This happened because I forgot which was more important. You don’t have to anticipate the next one…since there won’t be one. I will do my best from now on,” Rezette said firmly, his gaze fixed on Elise.
She swallowed dryly, her eyes searching his for answers. “Am I important to you?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Yes,” he said, his tone leaving no room for doubt.
It was a question that didn’t need to be asked, and yet the answer seemed to bring a sense of relief to Elise.
“Among those I have kept under my protection, you are the most precious and important,” he said. “That’s been true so far, and it will be even more so for the next six months.”
“Is it because I am the Princess of Argan?” asked Elise.
“Yes,” Rezette confirmed.
Elise’s gaze drifted downwards, fixated on their intertwined hands that she could feel but not see. She sensed the roughness of the fabric and the warmth of his skin beneath her fingertips. “Contract,” she silently whispered and tentatively tugged at the hem of his clothing.
“Then don’t push me away,” she implored. Rezette remained silent. “I don’t expect you to hold onto me first, but when I do, please don’t let go. You know that there is no one else for me to turn to,” Elise said, clinging to the flimsy agreement that they had forged. If the man holding the other half of it turned his back on her, she would sink to the bottom of the lake without hesitation.
There was no other place more safer for her than here. For Elise, every place in the world except beside Rezette was fraught with danger. “Please stay by my side,” she whispered.
Rezette responded quietly, “I understand.”
“Don’t entrust me to anyone else. Promise?” Elise asked, seeking assurance.
“Yes,” Rezette replied.
Just hearing his unwavering answer was enough to alleviate the crisis that had almost consumed Elise. The tension that had etched itself onto her face melted away. Elise felt all the moisture in her body evaporate, but the warmth he provided was enough to keep her comfortable.
Exhausted, Elise leaned against him, and just then, there was a knock on the door. The inn’s maid had arrived to prepare the hot water for the bathtub.
“Your Highness, I will prepare hot water for the bathtub,” the maid announced.
“Come in,” Rezette responded.
His hand slowly slipped out from her robe, and he moved to block her from the maid’s view as she entered the room. Inadvertently, Elise’s face ended up buried in his chest, and the refreshing scent of cool water emanated from his body.
Once the maid had left after setting up the partition screen, Rezette stepped back, holding Elise’s shoulders.
“You must have been very startled today. Although you don’t appear to be in pain now, you might experience discomfort later. If you feel any pain, please tell me immediately,” he advised.
“I understand. I’ll take a bath by myself,” Elise replied. Quickly, she stopped his hand from moving from her shoulders to her waist. Rezette frowned in response.
“Can you manage on your own?” he inquired.
“Of course,” she retorted.
Now, Elise had a fair idea of the type of expression Rezette made in certain circumstances. “I’m not someone who can’t do anything like you think. Until I was fifteen, I bathed by myself,” she protested.
“Fifteen? And after that?” Rezette questioned.
Elise hesitated for a moment before responding, “There were circumstances. Let’s just say that I’m not an idiot who can’t wash my own body.”
She couldn’t possibly reveal the truth about the measures that Andrei had taken to ensure she was never alone after her suicide attempt.