Detective Jang Seong-hood hadn’t even been that handsome. He was a middle-aged man by all looks and purposes. He did take good care of his body since he was a police officer compared to other middle-aged men his age. His face had wrinkles and his hair had started greying. When he had walked around in his old and worn jumper and jeans, I had the urge to buy him a pair of new clothes.
But his eyes had always drawn me in. Those eyes were looking directly at me right now.
His gaze wasn’t that of a man looking at a woman, nor watching a bold girl. His eyes didn’t call me a murderer either. They were searching for something, and I finally realized they had found it. The real me.
No, that can’t be! Even I couldn’t remember my past self very clearly, so how could he? I snorted, and walked inside the drawing room. I grabbed my skirt and curtsied politely.
“My goodness!” said I, mockingly. “The Grand Duke of Glouster who was recently declared my distant uncle. Who is so mysterious and hard to meet? Right here in my drawing room! What could have moved him to honor us with a visit?”
Alex turned to glare at me, almost snapping his neck. The Grand Duke got up from his seat and approached me with a polite smile on his lips. I extended my hand and he bowed and placed a kiss on the back of my hand.
It was only the proper protocol. Men bowed and placed a chaste kiss on the back of a woman’s hand as greeting. Lifting up their hands would look inappropriate if not between lovers. It was those eyes that flustered me. They looked at me while his lips dropped a kiss on my hand. I felt the heat rise up to my cheeks and my ears. I couldn’t look away from him. His eyes stared into mine, his warm lips on my hand and his rough stubble on his chin…
Alex faked a cough and cleared his throat. I am acting stupid. How can I be so charmed by a man! I am twenty-eight plus fifteen years old.
I almost yanked my hand away, caught myself and slowly pulled it away from his hand smiling politely all along.
“She is not a kid anymore, they say,” he teased. The part of my hand where he had touched felt warm and tingly. I restraint my child-like impulse to hide behind my mother’s skirt and kept on my smile. “How have you been? Quite busy, from what I have heard. Many nobles say they are still waiting for Miss Wishburn’s permission for a visit.”
“Oh, please! Don’t get me started,” said I, “Several people visit every single day. I don’t even have any time to myself. I didn’t know there were so many bachelors in Schway.”
Alex interrupted me. I rolled my eyes at him. I looked at the Grand Duke. He still had a smile on his lips but his eyes told a different story. They seemed to have turned dark. His mood seemed to have worsened. Why? Is it because I am meeting other men? Does he have the audacity to be under the illusion that I ‘belong’ to him? Jokes on him!
“One of them is waiting in the other drawing room right about now,” I said, “I only came to greet you. I am a little busy today and won’t be able to entertain you. Please talk with my brother. I am sure you both will find something to talk about, like politics. Now, if you will excuse me…”
“Of course,” he said, “I knew you were very busy. I just wanted to deliver this personally.” He offered me an envelope. I frowned at it and looked at him.
“What is this?”
“I was thinking of inviting some people to the Glouster estate next weekend. I wanted to invite you and your brothers.”
“To Glouster lands?!” exclaimed Alex. He looked like he would swallow his tongue in excitement. I still hadn’t taken the envelope from his hands. It looked really thick to be just an invitation.
“I would be honored if you could look through the invitation personally, Miss Alice.”
This was suspicious. Very suspicious. I accepted the envelope and opened it slowly. Inside the smooth, velvety envelope was an equally fancy and classy paper. Invitation for the Marquess of Wishburn was written in elegant handwriting.
When I took out the invitation, I felt a cruder paper inside. I moved my finger and nudged the cruder paper to the side so it was covered by the invitation. I was worried Alex would see it. I only saw the first few words: Murdered in… intestines were removed through the abdomen… The method is similar to… hanging from the store…. The only difference is that the woman murdered last time was…
I closed my eyes. I felt light-headed. I opened them slowly to look at the Grand Duke. His smile faltered a little. Again? In this lifetime? I am not that person anymore. I wanted a quiet life. After pretending to be interested in the Bachelors for a while, I was going to refuse them and never marry. I was going to make a career out of my botany study and live by myself (maybe with a little help from Alex and the estate money).
I had planned to patrol the village occasionally to make sure the people on our land were safe from the murderer. I didn’t want to get directly involved with this. It might sound selfish but I have had enough of killing and bloodshed in my past life. It affects a person mentally and emotionally.
I put the invitation, along with the murder report, back in the envelope carefully. I handed the envelope back to the Grand Duke. His smile froze. “Forgive me but I will have to refuse.”
“Alice!” shouted Alex. I didn’t even glance at him.
“I am sorry but I am very busy,” I said, “I do not have the time or the interest in exploring Glouster lands at the moment. Above all, I have no interest in things that interest you. I am a newly-debuted-fifteen-year-old lady from a noble household. And as much as it comes as a surprise to you, I have my own obligations and responsibilities to fulfill.”