Eve had arrived earlier and was followed by Emma, who had arrived late. Emma could sense that Madame had no idea why she was acting this way.
But Eve urged her forward, not wanting to raise false expectations. Arsen wouldn’t come anyway. He never showed up. This time was no different. It might be different if it was someone else…
“What if Arsen isn’t really Arsen?”
Eve suddenly laughed at her absurd fantasy. What was she thinking? It seemed that she had some strange and almost ridiculous thoughts, perhaps due to the magnitude of her betrayal.
Finally, the carriage Eve boarded began to move. She collected her scattered emotions.
Now was the time for her little revenge.
“Welcome, please come in.”
Eve handed the porter her invitation and stepped inside. Soon, the doorman announced loudly,
“Duchess Fontaine has arrived!”
At the announcement of that name, all eyes immediately turned to one place – Eve herself. The stares felt as if they were piercing her skin.
But no one pretended to recognize her hastily. An awkward silence hung in the air until someone broke it. It was Eve herself.
“Hello, everyone. Is there no one here noble enough to give me a proper greeting?”
In Imperial customs, guests invited to a reception should greet those who arrive later. Eve reminded them of this, causing the nobles to feel embarrassed.
The Duchess of Bonaparte, a high-ranking official’s wife who had arrived late, extended her greetings.
“No, Duchess Bonaparte, thank you for inviting me today.”
“Not at all, I’m glad you could join us. We have a seat reserved for you.”
Following Duchess Bonaparte’s lead, Eve moved to her designated seat. There, she found Countess Dubois, Lord Alain’s beloved Young Lady Alain, and several others. It was a scene reminiscent of her past life before her regression.
“Oh my, hello? I didn’t know you were coming.”
“I received an invitation, so, of course, I had to come.”
Eve responded naturally to Countess Dubois’ sarcasm and took her seat gracefully.
Today, for some reason, she appeared more beautiful than usual, and Countess Dubois and Young Lady Alain wore displeased expressions. Eve silently teased them for it.
Before her regression, they had criticized her for wearing inexpensive clothing, claimed she had no dignity, and even belittled her for being rude to the Bonaparte couple. But this time, due to Eve’s careful choice of clothing, they could find nothing to criticize, even though they clearly wanted to.
“But what’s this? Young Lady Alain, your attire seems rather shabby. Where did you get that dress?”
At Eve’s question, Young Lady Alain jumped as if stung by a bee.
“Wh-what? How can you say such nonsense…! This dress was personally tailored at Baronique Tailors!”
“Baronique Tailors? I’ve heard they cater to the royal family.”
As expected. Thinking this, Eve tilted her head innocently.
“But that’s strange. My dress was also made by Baronique; the owner herself tailored it for me. But I heard that Alain didn’t order a dress there this time.”
“…! W-what, there must be some misunderstanding…”
Sensing the growing attention, Young Lady Alain tried to defend herself, but Eve didn’t give her a chance. She raised her fan and spoke with an air of sophistication.
“True, I remember now. It was just a casual conversation, but I overheard that your father, Lord Alain, made an ill-advised investment, right? He suffered a significant blow from a misguided investment in a mine…”
“W-what, how do you know that!”
‘How could I not know? I’ve seen it all before,’ Eve thought to herself.
Though it would be some time before Lord Alain’s investment scam was exposed, Eve seemed to know of it before it happened. Young Lady Alain had run into financial difficulties that prevented her from buying an expensive dress, and she had to settle for a more affordable one.
‘I suppose it serves her right to suffer like that.’
It couldn’t be helped at the moment, but Eve couldn’t help feeling a sense of satisfaction looking back. Despite being in the same business of distributing wine to noble families, Eve had sensed an underlying resentment from Young Lady Alain that she couldn’t quite understand.
Eve now thought that perhaps Young Lady Alain had also fallen for the foolish face of Arsen, whom she had heard was a childhood friend.
“All right then.”
Just as Eve was having these disturbing thoughts, a sharp voice broke through.
“Duchess Fontaine, your words are exaggerated. Spreading unfounded rumors is beneath your dignity.”
It was none other than Countess Dubois. She was one of the women who had been romantically involved with Arsen in the past. Despite her many affairs with women and her relatively quick breakup with Arsen, Eve couldn’t help but think that Countess Dubois still had some lingering attachment.
‘The problem is that she took it all out on someone like me who had nothing to do with it.’
Originally, Eve had been busy with work and had become physically weak, avoiding social events after her marriage. But these two individuals had contributed significantly to her growing aversion to such gatherings.
However, this time was different. There was no way she would allow herself to be mistreated and show weakness as she had in the past.
“Whether my words are groundless or not, you can tell by Young Lady Alain’s reaction. Or you can look at the thread sticking out of her dress.”
Eve’s observation was met with a wave of laughter from the nobles. The atmosphere among the nobles began to change as they realized that the formerly naive and foolish Duchess Fontaine had somehow changed.
Ignoring the blushing Young Lady Alain, Countess Dubois spoke calmly, “Still, it’s considered bad manners to talk about someone else’s shortcomings in front of many people. Don’t you know that as a duchess?”
“Oh, so, Countess Dubois, did your husband also give you a necklace to wear at this meeting? Right here, in this place?”
Countess Dubois quickly grabbed the peridot necklace around her neck. Eve looked at it with a mocking smile, as if it were something insignificant.
Countess Dubois was momentarily fazed by the indication that Eve seemed to know the true nature of the necklace. But she soon replied nonchalantly, “Yes, that’s true. After all, Duke Fontaine is a free spirit. His heart is free, even if it doesn’t seem to be toward his wife.”
It was a sharp remark. In the past, old Eve might have been deeply wounded and on the verge of tears, but now she had grown a sharper thorn than Countess Dubois.
“Did you know that necklace is worth only 50,000 gold coins? Did you also know that it was given to a barmaid named Marilyn in a tavern, as well as to our maid Sophie?”
Countess Dubois turned beet red at the revelation that she was associated with common women.
“It seems Countess Dubois is quite proud of that necklace.”
This time, instead of laughter, a murmur of disapproval spread among the nobles. Countess Dubois had been quite vocal in the past about being special to Arsen. But she couldn’t deny the embarrassment she felt now.
“I must admit that there were times when my husband asked me to purchase this necklace on his behalf. I wonder if it was purchased at that time.”
“You’re lying! This can’t be true!”
When Eve heard Countess Dubois’ protest resembling a wail, she inclined her head slightly. In her innocent demeanor, there was no trace of triumph or superiority. She had merely stated the plain truth.
‘Is this enough?’
However, just as Eve was about to savor her near-perfect victory and turn away, someone unexpectedly spoke.
“But, my lady, is Lord Fontaine not accompanying you? I thought I saw you enter alone earlier.”
Slightly flustered, Eve turned around to look. The person who had spoken was someone she had never seen before.
“Yes, I came alone.”
“Oh dear. Where is your husband?”
“Wherever he is. He’s probably wrapped up with another woman.”
As someone made the comment, just loudly enough for everyone to hear, they all chuckled softly. The laughter heard through the fans was more unsettling than openly mocking.
However, this time, Eve had no counterargument. It wasn’t only Countess Dubois who disliked her; there were many others, as well.
‘What did I do wrong…? All I did was die unjustly.’
Had she truly committed some grave mistake? Was it such a great sin to love Arsen, to fall for him, and ultimately die because of it?
‘Why does everyone hate me? Why do Alain and Countess Dubois get away with it while they single me out…’
At that moment, the voices of the maids she had heard in the past resurfaced in Eve’s mind.
“Madam is truly foolish. What does she hope to achieve?”
“If it were me, I would have divorced, no matter how embarrassing it was.”
“She was abandoned even in Laurentia, right? Nowhere to go.”
“Ah, it’s such a bother to promote madam in society. I’ll have to bring her meals later.”
And now it seemed as if those voices were echoing through the fans hiding the nobility. Though it wasn’t reality, the constant scorn and contempt Eve had experienced for so long came back to haunt her. In less than a month, she couldn’t completely escape her past.
And she had no one to lean on, not even in death…
Eve stumbled, caught in her confusion. Among so many people, she felt more alone and miserable than ever.
Could I live differently this time? In this precarious state of mine…
Just then, a familiar voice called her name. Familiar, yet unfamiliar, with a loving tone she had never heard before.