In the original story, I had no clue if I was involved in a carriage accident.
It was just a scene from a novel in my head; I didn’t personally experience or witness it, which made it feel so distant.
Besides, I was just a minor character in the original work.
But one thing was for sure.
If there was an unplanned carriage accident, it meant my knowledge of the original work had a butterfly effect.
‘Getting trampled by a horse must hurt a lot.’
I shut my eyes tight, fear gripping me.
The sound of horse hooves pounding the road grew louder.
Goodbye, Eldest Sister. Goodbye, Older Sister and Youngest Sister. I love you all so much.
Then, in an instant, something warm and firm wrapped around me, and whoosh, I was lifted.
The next thing I knew, I was spinning wildly and then suddenly stopped.
‘What… what just happened?’
Instead of pain, I felt warmth and something hard.
Cracking open my eyes a bit, I saw Uncle Leopold holding me as he lay on the ground.
Frozen in fear, I couldn’t move, but he had swooped in to shield me, rolling on the ground to dodge the carriage.
The firmness I felt was from his muscular body.
The carriage rushed past the spot where I was standing and stopped a distance away.
My sisters and Uncle Marius came running, their faces pale as sheets.
I stared at the motionless Leopold.
I could see even the tiny hairs on his face since he held me so closely.
I felt his heart beating against my cheek, but why weren’t his eyes opening? Did something go wrong because of me?
Engulfed in fear and worry, my heart sank as sister Alice hurriedly checked me over.
“Are you okay? Does your head hurt? Anywhere else?”
As my eldest and younger sisters meticulously examined my arms, legs, and head, Marius shook Leopold.
“Hey, hey! Leopold!”
Seeing Uncle Marius’ panicked face made my heart contract even more.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Uncle Leopold, who lay there as if asleep.
“Mi-mister Le-Leo… Mister Leo–”
Unable to bear it, Uncle Marius slapped Uncle Leopold’s cheek with a heavy hand.
“Leopold, wake up!”
The smacking sound was loud.
Uncle Leopold’s cheek reddened, and I worried the slap might make him pass out again.
But Uncle Leopold suddenly gasped for air and opened his eyes, immediately finding mine.
“Liliana, are you alright?”
He truly was a warm-hearted person.
Even though he’d been at risk because of me, he was more concerned about me.
As our gazes locked, the tension in my chest released, and my eyes welled up with tears.
Before I knew it, I was sobbing uncontrollably.
“Waaahh! Sniffle. Hic.”
I thought I had screwed up, and because of me, so did Uncle Leopold.
The fear I felt in that fleeting moment was so deep that I couldn’t even understand it.
“I’m so-sorry, Mister Leo. Hic.”
I clung to Uncle Leopold’s neck, crying my eyes out.
Baffled, he looked to my sisters for some kind of explanation.
Even as my tears and sniffles continued, my sisters tried to separate me from him.
“It’s okay, it’s alright.”
Uncle Leopold gently patted my back.
His touch was awkward, but it felt as warm as his body temperature.
His comforting words made me cry even harder.
I felt worse because instead of getting angry at me, he treated me with such affection, even though he could’ve been seriously hurt.
Leopold hugged and comforted me until the carriage owner rushed over to ask if we were okay.
Afterward, I was handed over to Eldest Sister and received a major scolding.
* * *
Due to Liliana’s shock and exhaustion, they had to give up on watching the circus and return home.
Marius carried a drained Liliana all the way home and laid her down in a room following Alice’s guidance.
She almost seemed unconscious from exhaustion. He couldn’t help but playfully tap her nose as he watched the sleeping child.
“She must be tired from crying so much earlier. She had quite a scare today. Take good care of her.”
After covering Liliana with a blanket, Marius left the room with Alice.
As the door closed, he noticed Alice’s pale face. Both Alice and Regina were equally alarmed by the near-miss accident with Liliana.
Although Liliana was their youngest sister, they’d raised her almost like a daughter due to the significant age gap.
They’d nurtured her with love from a young age, especially because she was frail. If not for Leopold today, they might have lost her forever.
“Alice, you should rest today. You don’t look too good.”
Alice was too overwhelmed to even reply that she was okay.
The mere thought of almost losing Liliana in an accident was heart-wrenching, let alone losing her to an illness.
“Let’s do it.”
“Let’s negotiate a strategic marriage.”
Truthfully, Alice preferred her friends and siblings over romance.
She had never envisioned herself getting married.
She was ambitious and wanted to be recognized for her talents in her career rather than settling down.
Considering her accomplishments and future plans, her life was on a solid track.
But then came Liliana, a sister she cherished like a daughter.
Even without giving birth to her herself, Alice felt like she had experienced motherhood because of the deep love she held for her youngest sister.
The thought of parting from her was unbearable.
“We should draft a contract stating to what extent and how we can help each other.”
Alice’s eyes were intense and serious with determination.
Marius thought she looked ready to dive into battle right away.
He couldn’t help but smile at the intimidating gleam in her eyes and replied.
“I promise. Nothing bad will happen to Liliana.”
* * *
While Alice and Marius discussed the strategic marriage, Regina sat on the living room sofa with Leopold.
Because Leopold held Liliana and rolled on the street earlier, his hands were scraped, and there were minor cuts on his face.
Regina fetched a first aid kit to treat his injuries.
“Are you okay? I thought maybe you had a concussion when you blacked out earlier. Are you sure you don’t need to see a doctor?”
“To be honest, I didn’t actually pass out… I just pretended to, thinking it would be fun to play a little prank on Liliana. If I’d known she’d be that scared, I wouldn’t have done it… It was my mistake. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. We’re so grateful to you for saving our Liliana.”
Leopold sat there stiffly, probably because Regina was applying ointment to his injuries.
The touch of her delicate fingers was like electricity on his skin. Her golden curly hair swayed, almost tickling him.
Regina was so close that Leopold could clearly see every detail of her long eyelashes.
The sight of her slightly pursed lips as she concentrated on applying the ointment made his heart race.
In his twenty-five years of life, Leopold had never felt this nervous. His heart pounded so loudly that he feared she might hear it.
“Mister Leopold, I really appreciate what you did after the incident at the playground.”
“Oh, no worries. I just did what had to be done. You don’t have to thank me anymore.”
“But, Mister Leopold, you could have been in danger. And if anything happened to Liliana, I…”
Regina’s shoulders trembled.
Liliana was precious to all three sisters, not just Alice. Regina and Emilia each felt the same way.
If something had happened to Liliana today, Regina would’ve blamed herself for a lifetime for not holding her younger sister’s hand properly.
“So, I’d love to invite you over sometime. Would you be able to make some time before you head back to the Empire?”
“…You don’t need to invite me.”
Leopold wasn’t as cunning as Marius or as skilled as François.
He was rather straightforward and stiff in nature.
Usually, he preferred silence over expressing himself, but now he couldn’t remain silent.
Even if he couldn’t smoothly express his feelings like other men, he felt he had to be direct.
“Just go on a date with me.”
Regina’s eyes widened in surprise, and her lips parted slightly.
Leopold feared she might think he was a jerk for trying to score a date as a ‘thank you’ for saving her sister.
He was more nervous than the first time he went on a mission.
He felt more confident fighting five barbarians alone than he did now; everything seemed so uncertain, it was almost suffocating.
“That’s not a way to show gratitude. I’ve been hoping for this anyway…”
Regina’s response washed away the fear that had gripped Leopold.
She had accepted his date offer.