“Do those obligations and responsibilities imply choosing a worthy marriage partner after you meet suitable bachelors from other noble families?” He asked. I detected a slight sharpness in his tone. Is he criticizing me?
“Circumstances might be different for some people who don’t plan on having an heir,” I said, “You never know that other people might want children. I might choose to work on the estate for the Duke of Seymour. For that, it is very important to meet a ‘worthy’ marriage partner and propagate my bloodline to take care of my grandfather’s estate.”
“In that case….” The Grand Duke suddenly knelt in front of me and offered a hand. “Miss Alice Warwick of Wishburn, will bestow me the honor of marrying me? I am second to none by my noble lineage and I am not very far off in age.”
Is this supposed to be a joke? His eyes stared at me without wavering. He held out his hand to me without moving. Patiently, waiting for an answer.
As though he had waited for this moment all along.
As though there was nothing more important in this world than my answer.
As though he had been waiting only for me.
I couldn’t look away from him. I was rendered speechless. “Alex!” I said finally. He was looking at the event in shock. “Hand me a knife, will you?”
“A knife? Why?” He murmured, not being able to look away, yet, embarrassed to look on.
I looked at the Grand Duke unwaveringly. The Grand Duke of Glouster, Rion. Or, detective Jang Seong-hoon. It didn’t matter. Two can play this game.
“Yes, a knife,” I said, “So that I can cut off this man’s tongue and feed it to the dogs.”
“Alice Warwick!” roared Alex. He was serious this time.
I finally turned away from the Grand Duke to look at Alex. “Quit your yapping! You should cut off that tongue before it speaks any more nonsense. As an elder brother, I would have expected you to come to my defense! A vulgar, useless tongue is better off mutilated.”
Alex seemed even more shocked, if that was possible. “The girl has been reading a lot of stories about murder happening in the Underground District. It was mentioned in ‘One Week in Schway’,” said Alex, hurriedly turning to the Grand Duke. “It must have gotten to her. Please don’t take offense at her words.”
The Grand Duke stood up slowly. There was still a smile on his lips as though all this was highly amusing to him. He was a cruel person. I thought he didn’t play with people’s emotions like this. Has he changed so much?
“Did you tell your family?” he asked.
I crossed my arms and frowned at his words. Alex glanced at me and then at the Grand Duke. “Only my brothers. They saw what happened to the son of Count Thoreau.”
“What about the Count?”
Should I just sew his mouth shut? I told him never to speak of Count Thoreau, ever! Alex could suspect me. The story was clear: Count Thoreau was a known drunkard. He drank so much that he drowned in the tub while bathing. That’s all people knew about it. I don’t plan on changing their perspective any time soon. Besides, his body might have been taken care of by now. Cremated. Buried. Whatever.
I narrowed my eyes on him. As though sensing my thoughts, he smiled brighter. “Then, did you tell them about me?”
“Of course not!” I said, “I don’t plan to, either. So, please leave now. Good riddance. Someone’s waiting for me in the drawing room. Again, I am very busy. I do not have time for jokes.”
“Alice! Could you be a little more polite?” said Alex through gritted teeth.
I looked at Alex and frowned. Does he think he can scare me with that tone? “Just shut your trap,” I said. “I am going now. I can’t keep my guests waiting. Goodbye.”
I walked out of the door to the hallway. “Alice?” called the Grand Duke.
I stopped in my tracks and looked back and glared at him. He still had that annoying smile on his face. “I am not joking,” he said. “Last time I was too wrapped up in my own prejudice and I lost you. But I can’t let that happen this time. I won’t lose you that way.”
“Well… last I checked I belonged to no one but myself,” I snapped back. “You can’t lose something that is not yours to begin with.”
“I just proposed to you,” he said. “If you do accept, marriage is a sort of thing where people belong with each other, no?”
I glared at him. His smile never faltered but his eyes were serious. I didn’t believe for one second that earnestness was directed at me. When I cared about him, he had no interest in me at all. So why is he acting like this now? Do I look that easy to him? Dismissed when he wants and reeled in when he wants?
I was a fool last time. I let him use me. Since I didn’t know how else I could meet him and spend time with him, I did what he told me to do. I don’t want to be used like that. Not for love, not for anything else. This time, I can afford to have dignity. This time, I have choices. Hell, I am even beautiful!
“Don’t do that ever again,” I said. “Lately, I have decided that I am going to marry a super-rich trash, kill him and live the rest of my life as a rich widow. That way, I don’t need to bow to any man.” I walked up the hallway with the Grand Duke’s laughter and my brother’s furious cry reverberating behind me.
Amy, who had been waiting for me in the hallway, looked confused but didn’t press me for an explanation.