In the tender embrace of the Duke, Elise felt a mix of emotions – relief, joy, and a tinge of apprehension. As Ivetsa caught sight of her return, tears welled up in her eyes, and she couldn’t contain her heartfelt exclamation, “Your Highness, I was startled to see you vanish without a trace!”
Elise pondered Ivetsa’s reaction. Granted, she had only stepped outside the palace, merely venturing as far as the castle grounds. Yet, the entire castle seemed to have been thrown into disarray by her temporary absence. The gravity of the situation struck her, and she felt compelled to offer Ivetsa some reassuring words. However, before she could do so, Rezette hurriedly passed by, leaving Elise’s comforting words unsaid.
Back in the Duke’s office, Elise noticed that the door she had exited through was now wide open. An extinguished lamp rolled carelessly in front of it. Ruben must have sent her away and subsequently shut the door, but what had transpired during her brief absence remained a mystery. Elise’s mind was filled with questions as she tried to make sense of the peculiar scene.
While she stood perplexed, Rezette appeared at the foot of the stairs. In an instant, the office below them seemed a world apart. The darkness enveloped them, and there wasn’t a single candle to guide their way, yet Rezette ascended the stairs with an assured grace, never faltering. Elise followed, and within minutes, they had reached her bedroom.
Should she apologize for her abrupt departure? Elise couldn’t help but wrestle with guilt, though it seemed undeserved. Standing still in the middle of the living room, she hesitated to remove her robe. Rezette sighed, recognizing the turmoil within Elise, and gently helped her take off the robe instead.
Rezette finally broke the tense silence, his voice tinged with concern. “I was startled,” he admitted.
Elise turned to face him, curious and puzzled. “Why are you startled?” she inquired.
“They say you went down there,” he gestured vaguely, “but the door that should have been closed was open. Your Highness was nowhere to be seen.”
She arched an eyebrow, slightly amused. “How do you know I went down there?”
A hint of worry flickered in Rezette’s eyes. “Because I came up to see you. If you had stumbled on those steep stairs, you could have fallen to your death.”
Elise couldn’t help but feel conflicted. Not long ago, she had complained about Rezette leaving her alone in an unfamiliar castle, and now he had sought her out. She knew his words were probably just a façade to check on her well-being firsthand.
She averted her gaze, hoping to avoid revealing the real reason for her impromptu adventure to the castle. However, Rezette’s gentle touch on her cheek turned her back to face him.
“Of course, you can go anywhere within Rotiara,” he reassured her. “Just don’t venture into the knights’ castle or the military areas outside the walls. If you’re curious, I can accompany you.”
Elise remained silent, her heart torn between gratitude for his consideration and the desire to keep her hidden.
“Do you remember what almost happened on the day you were captured by the Van Yela knights?” he softly asked, his eyes searching hers.
Her mind immediately flashed back to that fateful day, a day she had narrowly escaped a humiliating and shameful fate. Yet, the memories seemed to blur and intertwine with the overpowering presence of the man before her, erasing some of the details from her recollection.
“Lucky for you, Fred Roderick, who met his demise in Your Highness’s hands, was not one of my knights. But I can’t vouch for every subordinate in my faction, and I fear they might not keep a level head if something were to happen again.”
Elise felt a surge of defensiveness. “It’s not my fault for what happened,” she retorted, her emotions slightly raw.
“I didn’t say it was your fault; I’m just worried,” Rezet clarified.
Frustration seeped into Elise’s tone, “So, that’s why you keep me confined here?”
Her mind was quick to devise a solution; if he was genuinely concerned about her safety and wished her to remain within the castle walls, he could simply visit her more frequently and accompany her outside when necessary. She could take care of her duties during those visits without causing trouble.
Rezet’s eyes betrayed the thoughts that mirrored her own, but he chose to shift the subject.
“Have you had breakfast yet?”
Elise couldn’t help but see through his feigned nonchalance, recognizing his subtle attempt to evade the issue. She widened her eyes in disbelief and gasped, “You… you even stated in the contract that you would cooperate…!”
A pang of exasperation hit her. Was he implying he would never come to this top floor again? Did that mean she was to be confined here indefinitely? That wasn’t what they had agreed upon.
“So, does that mean you won’t even look in my direction from now on?” Elise’s voice quivered with a mix of frustration and hurt as she confronted Rezette.
Concerned by her sudden attempt to stand up, Rezette gently took hold of her shoulders, urging her to remain seated. “At the moment, I don’t feel like it,” he admitted, his tone guarded.
“Will there ever be a day when you feel like it?” Elise’s question held a tinge of bitterness, though she already suspected the answer.
Inwardly, Rezette knew the truth. He had a bevy of other options available to him, countless women in Rotiara who desired him. In comparison, Elise felt like an insignificant choice, someone he needn’t bother himself with.
The realization gnawed at her, and she tightened her fists, directing a fierce glare at him. “In that case, I don’t need to wait quietly here for you either. Let me go ask Ruben to show me around the territory!” she declared.
But her words hit Rezette like a blow to the heart, and his eyebrows furrowed in distress. He couldn’t ignore the implications of her outburst. Ah, so if it’s not about creating heirs, then there’s no reason for us to be together like this now? Is that why she followed me so obediently?