“Eve, I’m here.”
Eve looked at the figure standing in front of her in disbelief. It was Arsen, or more precisely, Charles.
Charles approached Eve with a warm smile.
“How could you leave me all alone? I’m so disappointed.”
“How did you come here? You’re not supposed to…””
Certainly, you can’t come here. You shouldn’t have come here.
“Well, how did you get here? We’re a married couple, after all. This place does allow couples to come together.”
Eve was clearly shaken by Charles’ unexpected appearance. ‘It can’t be true. This isn’t you.’
“Why so…? Where did I say I was?”
Stepping forward with a playful expression, Arsen asked Eve as if he found it amusing. His gaze then shifted to the individual who claimed that the Countess DuBois had a special relationship with the Duke.
“Well, Countess DuBois? Would you like to answer?”
“What? Uh, well…”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, but it might be a good idea for the Countess DuBois’ estate to undergo another tax audit. After all, one who speaks out of turn might have also found ways to evade paying taxes to the Emperor, don’t you think?”
“You do know, right? The Marquis de Fontenay has the authority to execute nobles immediately. Well, thanks to the wisdom of a certain lady, he hasn’t used that power yet.”
The Countess DuBois was lost in thought, beads of cold sweat forming on her forehead. Equally surprised, Eve pulled Arsen’s arm.
“What are you saying, Arsen?”
“An audit? We simply don’t have the time for that. We’re already overwhelmed with managing our estates. If you want it done, entrust our territories to another noble family or report it to the Imperial authorities!”
In response to Eve’s advice, Charles smiled wryly and mumbled softly.
“As expected of you.”
Her husband’s unfamiliar smile left Eve nonplused. It seemed that in her previous life, Arsen had never worn such an innocent and kind expression.
Stepping forward and being supportive of her like this, and even attending the event, all felt strangely surreal, as if he had become a different person.
‘…Becoming a different person, that’s an unreasonable thought.’
She chuckled, trying to dismiss the idea. After all, she had returned to the past from death, and the impossible had become possible.
Arsen had been acting exceptionally strange lately, as if he had undergone a change of soul.
Meanwhile, in the overwhelming atmosphere, Charles spoke impudently.
“Well then, everyone, enjoy the reception. We’ll take our leave.”
With that, he turned away and wrapped his arm around Eve’s shoulders. However, before leaving, he suddenly glanced back at Countess Debois, a mischievous glint in his eye.
“Oh, Countess Debois, I must apologize for the necklace incident. It really held no significance.”
The statement served as a subtle confirmation of Eve’s earlier claim, though her widened eyes remained hidden as she faced away.
“Shall we go? You like tea, don’t you? How about sitting over there?”
Guided by Charles, Eve walked with him for a while until they were away from the crowd.
“You should take a break. I’ll take this opportunity to have a chat with the Prime Minister and build some rapport with influential individuals.”
“No need for that.”
“The most powerful person in this country is standing right next to you and is probably… on your side.”
Eve fell into a momentary silence, her expression furrowing as she thought, ‘What is he talking about?’
“Oh, I see. Well then, I’ll be going.”
With a dry response, she quickly turned and surveyed her surroundings. She noticed that one of the individuals she had intended to meet wasn’t too far away.
As she headed in that direction, she felt something peculiar and turned around. Charles was grinning broadly.
“Why are you following me?”
“Because my wife is going somewhere.”
“I told you to stay right there.”
“Why would I do that? In case you get into trouble again.”
“Trouble, you say? I’ve already repaid that favor.”
“You did well.”
Eve felt a bit dumbfounded after receiving praise. Did this man know who was responsible for her humiliation?
‘Definitely the foolish Arsen,’ she thought.
After her recent upset, she now focused briefly on her surroundings.
She had expected Arsen to quickly get bored and leave her alone, but Charles persisted in following her closely. It was as if Arsen was trailing her for a particular reason, almost like someone tracking a butterfly. When someone mentioned this to him, he didn’t seem to mind, and rather whimsically, he even laughed at the nickname.
Within noble circles, opinions were spreading that something had changed about the Duke of Fontaine. It was hard to believe, but it seemed he had developed genuine affection for his wife.
Caught in such a confusing atmosphere, Eve felt torn about whether she should appreciate it or not.
“Oh, Duke Bonaparte.”
With a complex mix of emotions swirling in her, Eve’s face paled as she spotted Bonaparte, the Prime Minister. Building a rapport with him had been the original goal of this gathering. As the Emperor’s closest confidant, he was the one who had elevated her to her current position, and she wanted to make sure the nobility didn’t underestimate her anymore.
‘It’s a great opportunity,’ she thought.
Eve approached Duke Bonaparte with a smile, but as he noticed her, his demeanor turned grim and uncertain.
Puzzled, Eve began to speak to the Duke with hesitation, “Your Grace? I want to express my gratitude for today’s invitation…”
“Why, why are you…” The Duke stammered.
“I’m sorry?” Eve was bewildered, and behind the Duke, Charles stood, showing a wicked grin that seemed to suggest he knew something. This made the situation even more uncomfortable for her. Charles, being someone who knew the Duke well, made the awkwardness of the situation more apparent.
“No, why are you here…?” Duke Bonaparte finally managed to say.
“Oh, um, I…” Eve faltered, disconcerted by the Duke’s reaction.
Finally regaining his composure, Duke Bonaparte wiped his brow with a handkerchief. Charles, standing behind him, cheekily mouthed a casual “hello” as a greeting. His audacious demeanor was truly something to behold.
“I apologize, Duchess Fontaine,” Duke Bonaparte said, still flustered.
“No, it’s alright. If you’re feeling unwell, would you like me to call for an attendant? Or should I look for Duchess Bonaparte?”
“No, no, I’m alright…”
On the other hand, Charles was persistently urging with a subtle pout that indicated, “Please, be good at this.” Eve wondered what exactly he wanted her to be good at. This was becoming an ordeal for Duke Bonaparte.
“Uh, Your Grace… if you don’t mind, would you like to sit down and have a conversation?”
“Oh, yes. Thank you.”
As they moved to a nearby table, Charles tagged along, not giving them a moment’s peace. Eve couldn’t help but cast a discreet, watchful gaze his way, secretly wishing she could be rid of him.
“Since long ago, I’ve wanted to have a sincere conversation with you. Especially, I heard that this tax reform proposal was devised with Your Majesty…”
“Yes, yes. But, would you like some tea? This is tea with alcohol in it. I’ve heard it’s a trend in neighboring countries these days.”
They put alcohol in tea? Eve hesitated and brought the teacup to her lips. Soon, she was surprised by the unexpectedly delightful taste.
“Isn’t it? My wife taught me how to make it.”
“Duchess Bonaparte seems to have many talents.”
“Haha, my wife is indeed like that. Beautiful, intelligent, assertive, kind…”
The Duke de Bonaparte stopped speaking as he watched Charles tuck his chin and discreetly roll his lips. The meaning behind that slight smile was clear – enough, be quiet. In short, shut up.
As the Duke looked at Charles and remained silent, Eve turned her head to gaze at him. At that moment, he naturally took the glass from Eve’s hand while still caressing his chin and said, “Have a little more. It’s intoxicating.”
However, not wanting to hear anything her husband said, Eve snatched the glass back, her irritation growing. “I’ll handle it myself.”
Then Charles shrugged, as if he wouldn’t object any further. Even his nonchalance was infuriating, so Eve sipped her tea as if to show him.
“It truly has a unique and delightful flavor. May I learn more about the blend later?”
In response to Eve’s question, the Duke de Bonaparte nodded approvingly. “Yes, if my wife allows it. I believe she will permit it since she enjoys sharing her knowledge.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Perhaps I should have a conversation with her later.”
It was a well-known fact that the Duke de Bonaparte, a successful merchant, was deeply devoted to his imperial wife. To build rapport with the Duke, it seemed Eve would need to make inroads with his wife first.
After enjoying a few more cups of tea, Eve stood up. It was time to leave. Charles, who had been sitting there as if bored, also stood up, but the Duke de Bonaparte held him back.
“Haha, Duke Fontaine. If you don’t mind, could we have a brief conversation?”
“I don’t have anything to talk about.”
“I have a request.”
“So, you think there’s a reason for me to grant your request…”
“It’s right there.”
Duke Bonaparte gestured toward Eve, who was already some distance away. She turned around, saw the two men, and approached once more.
‘What’s going on? Did my husband say something unseemly?’
“Oh, no. We haven’t had a chance to talk before, so I thought it might be a good opportunity to have a brief conversation. Earlier, I was talking with Duke Fontaine’s wife.”
Eve found it puzzling, but she couldn’t refuse the request in a way that might seem like she was ignoring the nobleman. At the very least, she couldn’t do that.
Eve gently tapped Arsen’s arm.
“Alright, you two go ahead and talk. I’ll take a short walk. I noticed earlier that the garden is quite beautiful.”
“Have your conversation and come find me, Arsen.”
Charles couldn’t help but burst into laughter at Eve’s affectionate yet firm attitude.
“The only person who talks to me like this is you.”
“Well, that’s true. No matter what you say, I’m still your wife.”
“That’s a bit regrettable.”
‘I also regret that you’re my husband!’
With a cold expression, Eve turned away and walked off.