“You won’t eat it twice? How obstinate.”
“It’s good for your health.”
“This one’s mine.”
As Eve checked, the kitchen door leading to the dining room was slightly ajar. She approached it because one of the voices sounded strangely familiar.
Peeking through a crack in the door, to her surprise, she saw Arsen sitting at the dining table. And next to him was a servant she hadn’t seen before. Arsen seemed to be eating, but his expression was far from pleasant.
“It has a really strange taste.”
“Then why are you forcing yourself to eat it?”
“Eve made it for me.”
The servant glanced at Arsen and grumbled with utmost sincerity. It was only now that Eve realized that Arsen was eating the eel dish she had prepared.
“He’s still eating that?”
She had cooked a large amount of it a few days ago out of frustration from dedicating time and effort to Arsen when he didn’t know about it.
Eve felt an odd sensation creeping over her. She realized that this feeling was one she had experienced a few times since their return.
She didn’t want to waver anymore, especially when all the pain from before her return felt so vivid.
As Eve was about to turn away, the servant’s words caught her attention.
“Oh, by the way, what did you say to Duke Bonaparte? He looked much older now.”
“He always looked older for his age.”
“… Please stop evaluating people based on their appearance.”
The servant, irritated, retorted curtly and asked again.
“So, what did you say to him that he wants you dead?”
In response, Arsen nonchalantly continued slicing the eel as if discussing the weather.
“I told him to kill me.”
“What did you say?”
Without realizing it, Eve held her breath, and then she stumbled back. However, Arsen, or rather Charles, sensed her presence. He gazed through the open door crack and said,
“Come in, Eve.”
“…Already caught, huh?”
As Eve hesitated for a moment, she opened the door and entered, causing the servant to quickly get up and step back. Charles, until then, was leisurely having his meal.
Eve also put down the cookie plate and casually sat opposite him.
“Have you eaten?”
“…Yes. You seem to have eaten late.”
“Oh, I had some work to do.”
Charles smiled and speared a piece of eel with his fork, offering it to Eve.
“Do you want some?”
“No, thank you.”
“Is it really that bad?”
Charles tilted his head and took a bite of the eel. Then, he furrowed his eyebrows slightly.
“I can taste your feelings, Eve.”
“Are my feelings really that bitter?”
When Charles raised his head, Eve raised the corner of her mouth.
“You just said it didn’t taste good. I know my cooking skills aren’t exceptional.”
“Well, at this level, it’s not just about not being good; it’s more like being uniquely different.”
Eve clenched her fist. Was this man always so sarcastic? She felt a desire to punch him, beyond simple hatred.
Observing Eve’s clenched lips, Charles chuckled softly.
“Still, I won’t give it to anyone else. Whatever you make, it’s all mine.”
Eve fell silent, but Charles added, “Oh, for you, I might give you a bite.”
Eve suppressed the urge to pinch Charles’ lips and changed the subject.
“Will you participate in Madame Laurent’s auction? Like before?”
Intentionally, Eve added the phrase “like before.” She knew that if Fake Arsen was pretending to be real, he would act exactly like the real Arsen.
Charles answered without hesitation.
“If you’re going.”
“Your birthday is coming up soon, isn’t it? I want to give you a birthday present.”
Eve’s chin tensed as memories of her past birthdays flooded her mind. She lowered her gaze and offered a faint smile.
“Well, you see, Lady Laurent’s auction is a secret one. Attendees wear masks or send proxies. Don’t you know?”
“But I don’t think I’d have trouble recognizing you, Eve.”
In response to that statement, Eve slowly lifted her head and locked eyes with Charles.
“… I feel the same way.”
Upon hearing her response, Charles grinned.
“Alright, then. Let’s both go.”
“But let’s go separately. After all, it’s a secret auction.”
“Oh, like hide and seek? No, like tag? Okay.”
Eve couldn’t take it any longer and furrowed her eyebrows. Whether he was her husband or not, this person seemed to have an exceptional talent for muddling up conversations.
However, Charles continued casually.
“If I win, you grant me a wish. If you win, I’ll grant you a wish.”
“Fine, then eat a lot of eels if you win. Eat them and recover…”
Talking to this man was turning out to be quite a challenge. Eve muttered to herself and stood up. Whether he was Arsen or not, it seemed they had the commonality of communication being difficult with him.
As Eve got up, Charles waved goodbye with a charming smile.
“Goodbye, Eve. Stay strong.”
“Stay strong? For what?”
It was a cryptic remark, but Eve chose not to read too much into it and turned away. She felt too much doubt and confusion around him at the moment. She needed to keep her distance before losing objectivity and, most importantly, find out the truth as soon as possible.
Back in her office, Eve immediately began preparing for the auction. She also wrote a reply stating that she would participate in the auction while wearing a mask and would auction off the pink diamond ring.
A few days later, the auction day arrived.
* * *
Wearing a mask to avoid drawing attention, Eve discreetly scanned her surroundings. She hadn’t seen anyone who looked like Arsen.
But she didn’t think he wouldn’t come. The butler had informed her that Arsen had written a response to the invitation, and she had learned in advance that he had plans to go out today.
Her cold hands clenched in anxiety, Eve took her designated seat. Sitting next to Eve was a man with long, golden hair that completely covered his face. When their eyes met, he tilted his head.
Eve turned her eyes away without saying a word, but for some reason, she couldn’t shake the feeling that the face beneath the mask might be smiling.
Suddenly, Eve thought of Arsen, and not far from where she was sitting, she spotted a familiar brown-haired man. His face was not visible due to the mask, but everything from his clothing to his gait was characteristic of the Arsen she knew.
Eve focused her attention in that direction, forgetting about the man seated beside her.
As nearly thirty seats filled up and the surrounding lights dimmed, the spotlight illuminated the front stage. There stood Lady Laurent, the hostess of the secret auction, wearing a mask.
“Thank you all for participating in my secret auction again this year. Those invited here are the ones I acknowledge. To satisfy all of you, I have prepared exceptional auction items once again.”
Lady Laurent smiled confidently as she spoke.
“Especially for this auction, I will be presenting a very precious item, so please have high expectations.”
Lady Laurent briefly glanced in Eve’s direction before continuing her speech. Eve felt a slight shiver, wondering if she was so easy to recognize. But soon, Lady Laurent turned away and said,
“Well then, without further ado, let’s begin the auction.”
In complete silence, the first item emerged under the spotlight. It was a stunning necklace adorned with sapphires.
However, Eve paid no attention to the auction items. Instead, she concentrated on Arsen, who sat just a bit ahead of her.
“The first item up for auction is a necklace worn by the deceased Queen Juxen. Bidding starts at one million gold.”
Several more auction items were presented, but Arsen showed no particular reaction. As time passed, the last auction item, the pink diamond ring, which had been a gift for Eve and Arsen, was finally unveiled.
“It’s a ring made with a rare pink diamond that comes out once every 500 years. As you can see, it boasts a remarkable gem size and delicate craftsmanship. Bidding starts at four million gold.”
Eve watched Arsen closely. He didn’’t seem surprised. Could it be that he was just calm because it was a wedding gift? Or perhaps he didn’t recognize it?
‘Is he really not Arsen?’
But then, Arsen raised his bidding plate. Eve widened her eyes.
‘Is he bidding? Does that mean he recognized it?’
No, maybe he just likes it for some reason. Eve decided to observe the situation further.
“4.5 million, yes. 5 million, 5.5 million, 6 million…”
In an instant, the bidding price soared to 8.5 million gold. Eve was astounded. She didn’t expect the price to go this high. Was it really because of the wedding gift? Did Arsen and someone else bid this high?
And then, Eve realized belatedly that it was the man sitting next to her who had pushed the bidding this far.
“9 million gold, 9 million gold, do we have 9.5 million? 9.5 million, 9.5 million, do we have 9.5 million? 9.5 million, 9.5 million, sold for 9 million!”
Eve was astonished by the unexpected winning bid and momentarily looked at the man sitting next to her. In turn, he looked down at her. Even though she couldn’t see his face due to the mask, Eve had the feeling that he might be smiling underneath it.
“9 million gold… he won?”
But what mattered now was not who won the bid. Eve needed to see Arsen’s reaction.
Even if he was a noble from a prestigious household, 9 million gold might still be a burden. He might have gone home in a hurry. However, it wasn’t clear-cut proof that Arsen wasn’t the winner.
To confirm that, she needed to meet him now.
Hurrying out of the auction hall, Eve followed Arsen. She caught sight of his familiar brown hair disappearing into the distance.