Dahlia Hebe’s trembling intensified as she laid eyes upon Evelyn. Despite Evelyn’s cherished status in Henry’s heart, she struck nothing but terror in Dahlia’s.
“Why is Milady here…?”
Wide with shock, Dahlia’s eyes quivered incessantly. She had recently found comfort in the knowledge that Evelyn seldom ventured beyond the confines of their home. Thus, she mustered the courage to visit this boutique, a place frequently frequented by Lord Henry Praviche.
But that had been a foolish decision.
“I’ve never known Lady Evelyn to be here even once…”
Yet, who was this enigmatic pink-blond figure now before her?
What prompted the woman who had become a recluse after her marriage to the Crown Prince to appear here, of all places?
Just as Dahlia was taken aback by the sight of Evelyn, Evelyn’s eyes widened noticeably upon spotting Dahlia.
However, this reaction was fleeting. Evelyn’s brow furrowed, and she brushed her hair aside, murmuring softly.
“I… I didn’t expect to encounter you here.”
Though her voice was barely audible, it reached Dahlia’s ears and snapped her back to her senses.
‘I need to leave quickly.’
Initially, Dahlia had ventured into the luxury boutique with the intention of treating herself, having saved money bit by bit. Unfortunately, fate had a different plan, leading her to cross paths with Evelyn, who was already present.
At that moment, Evelyn had expressed her displeasure to the boutique staff without restraint.
“It seems Mavel’s charm is waning, wouldn’t you agree? They hardly care about customer service anymore.”
Evelyn, the Empire’s sole noblewoman raised within the Imperial Palace, harbored a distaste for sharing salons with others, particularly someone like Dahlia Hebe.
Panicked, Dahlia concealed the hat she held behind her back and offered a humble bow.
“I-I apologize. I’ll leave.”
Antagonizing Evelyn was out of the question. It could also jeopardize her father’s business. Henry Praviche was already casting a cold, calculating gaze in Dahlia’s direction.
As Dahlia grew increasingly anxious and prepared to exit the boutique, an unexpected turn of events unfolded.
To her astonishment, Evelyn uttered an unexpectedly lenient phrase. She turned away abruptly, signaling Dahlia to not speak to her any further.
‘…Is she letting me leave?’
Had she dared to set foot in a boutique favored by Duke Praviche?
Could this be a dream, perhaps?
Regardless of whether Dahlia opened her eyes wide in disbelief or not, Evelyn had already been escorted into the VVIP room by the waiter.
“Come with me, my daughter!”
Following Evelyn’s haughty figure, Henry, too, disappeared into the VVIP room. Watching him vanish from sight, Dahlia found herself momentarily bewildered.
‘What’s happening all of a sudden?’
This was a customary haunt of the Pravicci family, distinct from her prior visit to Marbel, a place below her station.
Could it be that they came here deliberately to humiliate her? To flaunt their wealth with Evelyn using her, a person of limited means?
Dahlia suddenly noticed the hat in her hand. It was adorned with numerous flowers and ribbons, devoid of any gems.
Her face flushed with sudden anger. Everything Evelyn wore, everything Dahlia wore, everything Evelyn bought, and everything Dahlia bought flashed through her mind like a whirlwind.
“Well, then. Evelyn wouldn’t have come here just for shopping.”
After all, it was a Pravicci boutique, and they must have had information about her intended purchase. They were aware of everything and had come here to mock her.
Dahlia’s grip tightened around the hat. Her demeanor had completely transformed from her usual self.
“Miss Hebe, you should pay for that and leave…”
The attendant’s words jolted her back to reality. The hat in Dahlia’s hand had become sadly crumpled.
She had come to this lavish place with the determination to make an impression on His Majesty the Emperor, and she hadn’t even paid for it yet!
Dahlia’s eyes welled up with tears. She couldn’t bear the pitiable situation.
“It’s all because of the Crown Prince, undoubtedly.”
The fact that Evelyn had knowledge of her family’s circumstances and had still brought the Duke along to jest and mock her was evidence of that.
With those thoughts in mind, Dahlia glared at the VVIP room entrance, biting her lip. Then, as if deciding to let the hat crumple even further, she crushed it in her hand.
* * *
The next day, a letter from the palace arrived at my doorstep.
I received a letter from one of the palace maids, and I couldn’t help but wonder why.
“Why would I receive a letter like this?”
The maid appeared perplexed, unaware of the contents. I dismissed her, assuring her I understood, and carefully examined the letter.
‘…Could it be?’
I attempted to push aside the image of a specific person that instantly came to mind and broke the seal. As expected, it was a letter from the Crown Prince.
The letter was brief, requesting an immediate visit to the palace for a discussion.
‘Why is he summoning me all of a sudden?’
Even though Evelyn had been relentless in her pursuit of him, she had never heeded a summons before.
‘Why the sudden summons?’
If it were original Evelyn, she would have been pleased, but an uneasy feeling gnawed at me. Just the day before, I had encountered Dahlia, who left alone. While nothing untoward had transpired, I was unsure how Dahlia had relayed the incident.
I sighed deeply.
‘Ha… I just wanted a peaceful day at home.’
Yesterday had been so peaceful and joyous at home. I had gone shopping with Henry, and the Duke had been thrilled with the gift I had purchased. Aesil had even asked to go shopping with me next time, and Douglas hadn’t sparked any arguments.
‘I wished for a life like this, away from the Crown Prince.’
It was regrettable, but my status dictated everything. I called for the maid I had sent away earlier and instructed her, “I’m going to the palace. Please make the necessary arrangements.”
* * *
Dressed in a resplendent crimson gown, adorned with fur and shimmering jewels, I entered the palace. As I crossed the threshold of the Crown Prince’s residence, I couldn’t help but notice the hostile glances directed at me from all corners.
Inside the reception room, the tension only escalated.
Golden hair that rivaled the sun and azure eyes greeted me. A man who undeniably looked like a prince—Julius Etwell Sardium—fixed me with an intense expression as he spoke:
“Lady Praviche, are you not satisfied after causing such embarrassment?”
I racked my brain, trying to recall any wrongdoing on my part. Julius seemed to have a major misconception.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve already heard about what you did to Dahlia yesterday. Are you going to deny it?”
I was genuinely puzzled now. What had I possibly done? Did I refuse to acknowledge Dahlia’s presence? Or avoid using the same boutique as her? What was the accusation?
Then, Julius’ response took me by surprise.
“Yesterday, Dahlia, who visited the same boutique as you, returned in tears with a crumpled hat.”
“Tears? Over a hat?”
“Lady, you’ve never been fond of Dahlia using the same boutique as you. Perhaps you played a prank this time?”
I opened my fan wide, covering my mouth as I exclaimed in amazement. It was indeed a plausible conclusion, but not if it were me; it was something Evelyn might do.
Julius practically growled at me, adopting a threatening stance.
“If this continues, I may have to take decisive action.”
“It’s unfair. Why should I be treated like a stalker by someone I no longer like?”
Evelyn might have once harbored affection for that man, but I certainly did not. I couldn’t tolerate someone so openly arrogant.
“I dislike individuals like you, Your Highness.”
The Crown Prince’s expression shifted abruptly.
Oops, my true feelings had slipped out again.
But I had a mission to accomplish, even if it meant getting caught in this situation. I needed to quell this rumor-monger.
Setting aside my pride, I continued, “I no longer have any affection for you. I’ve come to realize you’re not a suitable romantic partner.”
Julius’ face twisted into a smirk, his eyebrows furrowing.
“What’s this, an advanced tactic? Switching from pulling to pushing?”
‘Seriously, this guy…’
Although I had initiated the conversation, his unexpected agreement left me exasperated.
“Do you even understand how busy I am? I’m practically on the verge of bankruptcy, relying on my parents’ money!”
I waved him off with clenched fists, a hint of frustration in my expression.
“I dislike people who play these tiresome games. You can do whatever you want with Hebe; it’s not my concern.”
Despite my sincere declaration, Julius continued to view me with suspicion.
“Then why did Dahlia cry yesterday?”
Why was he even asking me about this? I frowned in response.
“I don’t know, either. I’m not the one dating Dahlia, so it’s not me you should be interrogating. Ask her directly.”
“She won’t tell me, that’s why I called you!”
His sudden loud outburst startled me.
“Why are you dragging me into this…?”
A chill ran down my spine. I wasn’t sure what had happened with Dahlia, but it seemed they were discussing something among themselves. This part, where they joined forces against others while acting foolish, mirrored the original story.
“Regardless, I wasn’t the one who made her cry. I’m leaving.”
Julius grabbed my wrist as I attempted to depart. I tried to break free, but his grip was strong and immobilized me.
“What’s this? Let go!”
“It has to be Lady Dahlia’s doing. Otherwise, there’s no reason for her to cry!”
“It wasn’t me! Release me, you lunatic!”
No matter how I struggled, all I managed was to shake off the fur draped over his shoulders. I couldn’t escape. My face contorted in pain, and it felt like my wrist might snap at any moment.
“Milady, answer me honestly. Did Lady Dahlia harass you?”
Julius pinned me against the door with an intense expression.
More terrifying than the sword at his side, more menacing than his fierce demeanor and shouting, was my utter helplessness in this situation.
‘Darn it, I should have brought Mother…!’
If my mother had been here, she could have undoubtedly faced down Julius. But I was powerless. Should I have brought Douglas along?
‘No, that would bruise my ego.’
I needed to handle this myself.
I lifted my foot. It had come to this point. If I took this step, I would undoubtedly lose my composure.
‘Mother, Father, please forgive me. It’s only been three days, but thank you for accepting me as your daughter and allowing me to spend your money.’
I closed my eyes, swung my foot backward, and stepped forward.
“Oh, Lady Praviche. It’s been a while…”
“Release me, you scoundrel!”
With a resounding thud, the door suddenly swung open. Julius released my wrist and tumbled to the ground. However, without a moment to spare, I spun around in trepidation.
Standing there was the Emperor of the Empire, Frederick Orion Sandrium.