< — I love you — > (1)
After the coronation party, Lucia went about her social activities in only small-scale tea parties. Then after a long interval, a huge party was held at the Royal Palace. It was a charity dinner solely for women.
The King decided to extort money from the nobles in order to raise funds to look after the begging orphans in the capital. It was the first charity dinner held by the new King since his accession. It was going to be attended by many nobles so there was no choice but to open the vault.
The King left the hosting of the party to Katherine. The arrangement could help the national budget, and also help to his sister in her social activities. It was killing two birds with one stone.
Katherine enthusiastically made arrangements for the task given to her by her elder brother. With aspirations to hold a party of the highest scale, she sent invitations to all the decent aristocrats in the capital. Needless to say, Lucia received an invitation. An invitation alone was not enough; Katherine sent someone to receive a definite confirmation of attendance from Lucia.
Antoine visited the ducal residence in the morning to help with the preparations for the party that would be starting at noon. This time, Antoine made the dress with all of her effort. It was the biggest challenge for her to make a dress with ‘virtuous’ as the criteria.
The light red dress was very modest for Antoine’s standards. The neckline was high enough to cover the collarbone, and everything was covered till the wrists. It was just, the material for the shoulders and the arms were made of semi-transparent lace, giving the dress a somewhat sensual feeling. Antoine thought that this was a very large compromise for her standards.
Lucia wore the dress and made a final check in front of the mirror. A maid entered and scuttled to her side before speaking.
“Master is about to head out.”
A little while later, Hugo entered the receiving room.
When she looked away from the mirror to smile at him, Hugo paused. Today, she looked pure and at the same time, alluring. It was such a shame he had to go to work. He walked up to her, hugged her waist lightly and kissed her on the cheek.
“I have to head out first. When are you leaving?” (Hugo)
“In about an hour or so.” (Lucia)
Hugo lowered his gaze to look at her dress.
“It’s a new dress from the designer.” (Lucia)
Hugo made a brief sound and turned to look at Antoine. He still had some bitterness towards the blabber-mouth designer.1 He also didn’t like the dress his wife was wearing. It didn’t have a lot of exposure but weirdly, it evoked a sensual feeling. However, because the party his wife was attending was only for women, he decided to let it go.
While Antoine bowed her head in greeting, she was inwardly exploding with dissatisfaction.
‘If you dare say this is still not modest, I’ll spread that the Duke of Taran has delusional jealousy.’
When the Duke of Taran withdrew his gaze without saying anything, Antoine lifted her head slightly in relief. She watched the ducal couple ask each other about their activities of the day, saying things like ‘When will the party end?’ or ‘You said you’ll be coming home late, right?’.
‘Aren’t they going to see each other again this evening? Why are they acting like they’re breaking up forever?’
Antoine glanced at the maid only to see the maid standing there, completely unmoved and nonchalant, as if saying this was an everyday occurrence.
Ever since the coronation party, Antoine had been hearing the same thing about the ducal couple from the noblewomen that visited her boutique. The refined noblewomen said that the couple’s relationship was intimate, the expressive noblewomen said that the Duke’s eyes were as sweet as honey when he looked at his wife, and the rumor-mongering noblewomen said that the Duke of Taran had completely fallen in love with his wife and refused to separate from her.
‘Rumors have to be listened to with a double filter but the exaggerated rumor that the Duke of Taran has completely fallen in love is right.’
That was the Antoine’s thought after witnessing the ducal couple of the rumors.
* * *
Katherine greeted Lucia in a very pleasant mood. Because their range of activities was different, it was hard for them to meet easily and Katherine was continuously disappointed.
Katherine stuck to Lucia and went around with her as if Lucia was a co-host of the party. The noblewomen who knew Katherine’s prickly temper were astonished and whispered amongst themselves. It led to the speculation that the Duchess who already had the backing of Duke Taran, was now also strengthening her relationship with the royal family. The people approaching Lucia became more persistent.
“Duchess, you are growing more beautiful everyday. The dress you’re wearing must be Antoine’s latest work. It wasn’t in the design book.”
The rumor that Antoine was the exclusive designer of the Duchess had already become widespread.
“Countess, you are also shining today. The feathers on your hat are very charming. It must be a very precious item.” (Lucia)
Lucia gave a suitable response to the showy Countess who was classifying people by their clothing.
“Ho-ho-ho. As expected, Duchess has a good eye. Indeed. This is very precious. I pestered my husband for three days and three nights before I managed to get it. Would you like me to introduce you to the feather merchant, Duchess?” (Countess)
“I’d appreciate it.” (Lucia)
Katherine had a strong personality and fierce manner of speaking but because she was next to Lucia, her rose-thorn-like prickliness was whittled down. The noblewomen were somewhat able to approach Katherine more comfortably than before.
“Countess. I believe your daughter made her social debut not too long ago. She has a lot to learn.” (Katherine)
Katherine’s tone was rough, as if she was indicating that Countess’ daughter was lacking in a lot of places. The Countess’ expression stiffened slightly and as the atmosphere began to harden, Lucia spoke up.
“Why didn’t you come with her today, Countess? She could have learnt a lot. Experience is learning. Even if she wasn’t sent an invitation, the Princess would have gladly welcomed the young lady if she was accompanied by Countess.” (Lucia)
Katherine primly added to her words.
“Sure. Bring her next time.” (Katherine)
The Countess smiled delightfully and replied.
“Actually, my daughter wanted to come with me today. I will introduce her when there’s an opportunity.” (Countess)
Katherine’s gaze fell on Lucia who was talking with someone else and a pleasant smile tugged at the corner of her lips.
1. He thinks she blabbed about the contract to Lucia.