Leopold had already checked his wristwatch five times.
The time he had agreed to meet Regina was 2 PM in the afternoon.
No matter how much he thought about it, it was definitely 2 PM in the afternoon, not 2 AM, and it was today, not yesterday or tomorrow.
However, Regina had not appeared for three hours already.
‘Am I being stood up…?’
With a dejected expression, Leopold checked the bouquet of flowers.
Just like his skin, which was tanning in the hot sun of Trovanza, the bouquet seemed like it would melt away soon.
That day, he had certainly felt a spark between them.
He didn’t think that such a massive emotion had ever welled up inside his chest.
“Mr. Leopold, do you have a fiancée or a wife?”
Leopold didn’t know much about women, but he knew that a woman wouldn’t ask a man that question if she wasn’t interested in him.
So he asked her out, even though Marius was next to him.
“Then let’s meet again at the café we went to today at 2 PM, three days from now.”
Maybe she had only agreed because her younger sister, Liliana, had burst into tears, but in reality, it might have all been his delusion, and she might not have had any interest in him at all.
As that thought crossed his mind, he felt his strength drain from his body, and a deep sense of melancholy overwhelmed him.
At the same time, he realized that he had waited long enough.
Waiting for someone who wouldn’t come was just as burdensome for the other person.
With his shoulders slumped, he returned to his accommodation.
“Why are you back so soon? Did you get dumped?”
Marius’ eyes widened as he packed his bags.
He was a friend who had supported his subordinate Leopold’s first love more than anyone else.
“No… I got stood up.”
He didn’t just get dumped. He was totally stood up.
Marius felt bad for his friend, so he consoled him.
“You only met her once, anyway.”
“Whether it’s once or ten times, what does it matter? What’s important is that my feelings for that person burned hot.”
Marius looked at his troubled friend.
Leopold was usually aloof and reserved in expressing emotions yet now seemed like a sensitive teenage boy.
While he didn’t know what to say to console him, Leopold cleared his expression and asked calmly.
“It was today, right?”
“Someone from Trovanza will be here soon to guide us.”
When they arrived ahead of schedule, the Trovanza government advised them to move to a hotel due to security concerns.
Since the summit was only a short time away, Marius decided to follow their advice, and a government representative would be arriving shortly.
Leopold had left early in the morning because he was supposed to meet Regina.
As he gathered his bags by the doorway, he asked.
“Why did François Cassel come to Trovanza so early? He was supposed to come this way to take the oath of allegiance, but he wasn’t supposed to come this early.”
“He said he had some business.”
“I’m curious about what that business is. It’s bothering me for no reason.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s personal. He might be planning to research the gifted ones while he’s here in Trovanza.”
Marius pretended to be packing his things, but Leopold was engrossed in fiddling with the now useless bouquet of flowers and didn’t notice his actions.
“Well, it’s not easy for Trovanza to issue entry permits so easily, so he might’ve come for that reason.”
As Leopold came to this conclusion, there was a knock at the door from outside.
It was a government official from Trovanza.
Leopold opened the door instead of Marius, who was hastily shoving clothes into a bag.
On the other side stood a woman dressed in a neat pantsuit.
She wore her jet-black hair down and wore leather boots instead of shoes, giving her a chilly air.
“I’m Leopold von Waltrachen. And this is–”
“Marius. Nice to meet you.”
After confirming the government official’s identity, Marius approached her with a cheerful smile and extended his hand for a shake.
The woman’s deep blue eyes looked at his outstretched hand.
She shook Marius’ hand in greeting.
“I’m Alice Verchio, a senior officer from the Trovanza Coast Guard. I’ll be responsible for your security during your stay in Trovanza.”
Contrary to her cold demeanor, her voice was clear and refreshing.
There was even an odd softness to it.
A strange light flickered and faded in Marius’ eyes as if he were pleased.
He initiated a conversation with his usual playful tone.
“Are you Regina’s older sister?”
Alice’s eyes widened at the unexpected mention of the name.
“I asked just in case, but you’re family, aren’t you? Such a small world.”
“Do you know my sister?”
“Oh, yes. We happened to meet her and she guided us for a day.”
Marius briefly contemplated whether to mention that Regina almost went on a date with Leopold, but he decided to keep quiet, thinking it would be better not to scratch the wound.
However, it was inevitable that her eyes naturally turned to Leopold.
This was because Leopold was slightly more tense than usual upon hearing the surname Verchio.
“Your eyes are the same. Ah, come in, and let’s talk. I haven’t finished packing yet.”
Marius forcefully stuffed the remaining clothes into his bag.
Puzzled, Alice asked.
“I heard that your entourage was coming separately on the scheduled date. Are you comfortable with this arrangement?”
“It’s fine even if it’s uncomfortable. If I don’t seize this opportunity, when else will I be able to live without avoiding people’s gaze? It seems that the imperial throne just doesn’t suit me.”
Winking and teasing her, Marius managed to forcefully close the bulging bag.
Leopold quietly observed Alice.
From the lean muscles of her frame, to the sword at her hip, to the smooth accent and upright posture.
Trovanza was a country without social hierarchy, unlike the Empire.
However, she appeared more noble than the nobles of the Empire, exuding a dignity rarely found in an ordinary person.
Leopold, who was sensitive to security, asked her.
“Did you come alone?”
“I’m sufficient by myself.”
“Ah. I didn’t mean to doubt your abilities. I’m sorry if I offended you. It just bothered me that the Coast Guard would do something like this.”
“Trovanza is a small island country, so the influence of the Coast Guard is stronger than that of regular police, and it’s not like we can’t use soldiers to serve you two.”
Alice finished her sentence while checking Marius, who had finished his preparations to leave.
“I’m a direct descendant of the Verchio family.”
The Verchio family was a prominent political family in Trovanza.
They had produced numerous politicians, and in times of war, both men and women volunteered for frontline service.
Of course, with such a long history, there were many politicians using the Verchio name, but the weight of a direct descendant was a different matter.
In other words, Trovanza was showing its respect by sending a member of the Verchio family who was capable enough to escort the Emperor alone.
“Once you’re ready, we will proceed with the move.”
They traveled to the hotel in a carriage.
In the silence that no one broke, it was Marius, not the stiff Leopold or the reserved Alice, who started the conversation.
“You know Liliana, too?”
“Of course. We’re pretty close, didn’t you know?”
“Liliana has been running a high fever for the past few days and is currently hospitalized. Regina and our other sister are taking care of her.”
Leopold let out an involuntary sigh.
It was hope that made him think Regina hadn’t shown up at the meeting place because of her sister’s illness, not because she disliked him.
In an instant, his face began to flush.
Marius chuckled softly and continued the conversation.
“Is she very sick?”
“She was fine when I saw her this morning, but her fever tends to rise again at night, so it’s hard to say. But more importantly, have you enjoyed your visit to Trovanza?”
“Of course. They say there are many beauties in Trovanza, and that’s not just a rumor. It’s made things quite difficult for me.”
“What do you mean?”
“We were planning a strategic marriage, focusing solely on political positions, but they’re all so beautiful that it’s been challenging.”
He confessed with a nonchalant tone, but the content and his gaze were far from casual.
Alice was slightly surprised by Marius’ declaration, but she took it in stride.
“I heard you were preparing for the soul oath under the peace agreement, but I didn’t know you were considering a strategic marriage. That’s unexpected.”
“The soul oath is one thing, but mingling the bloodlines is a very long-lasting agreement.”
Her voice felt cool amidst the summer heat, like being in the shade of a tree.
Marius asked in an odd tone, a mixture of jest and seriousness masquerading as mischief.
“The reason I’m here so early is to find a suitable political family to marry into, but what do you think, Lady Alice? Do you have anyone you’d like to recommend?”
One of Alice’s eyebrows rose subtly.
Deep and unyielding as ice beneath a rough current, she stared straight at Marius.
“Do you have any specific requirements for a lady?”
“I’ll propose a strategic marriage without any special notice, so the person should be someone who fits this situation well. It would be good if they come from a highly respected political family, and…”
Certainly, his eyes had a sly glint, his lips curled, and his smile light.
But in the atmosphere surrounding Marius, looking away from that gaze would mean getting torn apart and shredded to pieces by the wild energy.
It was the kind of wildness that only a man at the prime of his powers, with the blood of his brothers on his hands, could display.
“Lady Alice doesn’t seem bad either. What do you think?”
One of Alice’s eyelids twitched.
The Emperor had been eyeing her from the beginning.
A direct descendant of one of the best political families in the empire who would never be brooked, someone with the power to bring something powerful to the imperial court, and was rare in Trovanza.
“Well, it depends on what you can offer me.”
Alice’s lip curled slightly.
To her younger sisters, she was a loving older sister, but she was by no means an easy woman.
If she were weak, she wouldn’t have risen to the rank of senior officer at a young age.