It was difficult to maintain composure whenever Cain Delacroix was around. Fortunately, the nobles attending the ball were focused on Princess Sonia and Lady Evita, competing for attention, and paid no mind to her.
“Why do you dislike Duke Delacroix so much? He may be a bad man, but he gave you the nickname of ‘Martessen’s songbird.'”
Martessen’s songbird. Lariana despised that nickname given to her by him. Just the thought of it made her teeth grind.
Even if Cain Delacroix were to call her that with his arrogant face, it wouldn’t change her mind.
No one else would know, but songbird was actually a nickname he had given her during the time they secretly dated. Every time someone called her the songbird, it reminded her of her painful first love.
When she first accompanied Lejandro to a social event, she was treated as a mere lady passing by the side of the prince.
However one day, in front of everyone, Cain Delacroix made a single comment about Lariana.
“Lady Heliosen, the partner of Prince Lejandro, seems to fit the name Martessen’s songbird.”
After Cain Delacroix’s casual remark, she became the center of attention in the social circle. Her life changed overnight because of one offhand comment from Cain Delacroix.
Lita, the servant of the princess, approached Lariana, who was standing quietly. They had never had a conversation before, so Lariana was curious.
Although Lita was originally a slave from Rindell, he was quite popular among the noble ladies as a bold and sturdy young man. As he approached, all the ladies’ gazes turned to Lariana.
Among them was Evita. Her gaze was particularly piercing.
“What’s the matter?”
“Duke Delacroix is waiting for the lady at the pergola in the innermost part of the Grand Hall.”
Ah, so that was it.
Lariana tried to ignore Lita’s words. But she couldn’t just let it go. Memories of the past kept flooding back into her mind.
After much contemplation, she finally decided to quietly leave the ballroom.
She had thought of slapping Cain’s cheek on this occasion. She felt unjust that she hadn’t been able to take any revenge for what had happened in the past.
When Lariana reached the pergola as Lita had mentioned, she saw the back of a tall man standing upright. It was Cain Delacroix dressed in a white suit.
Cain slowly turned around at the call. This was the first time she had seen him up close like this since he was in Heline. He was still as exquisite as ever, enough to make her curse.
“Have you arrived?”
Lariana lightly bowed her head in greeting and waited for Cain to speak. However, if he had called her, he would say something, wouldn’t he? Yet he remained silent.
Time passed, and before she knew it, the bell tower of the palace announced midnight.
Lejandro had official duties and was scheduled to arrive at the ball around midnight. Unable to bear it any longer, Lariana stood up from the bench.
“Your Excellency, what did you want to say? It seems that His Highness the Prince will be arriving soon.”
Only after Cain’s blue eyes, which had shown no emotion, met Lariana’s did it finally reveal a glimmer of something.
“Lady Heliosen, will you marry me?”
What? Lariana doubted her own ears. Everything fell silent for a moment.
Lariana brushed off her disheveled hair nervously as she crossed her arms. Her elegant tiara got caught on her finger and fell to the ground. She tossed the tiara onto the floor.
“Are you out of your mind, Your Excellency? Only a madman would…”
This man was insane. He was not in his right mind. Lariana blurted out her inner thoughts in surprise and quickly covered her mouth. It was an undignified and unbecoming manner of speech for a lady.
Contrary to Lariana’s agitation, Cain calmly picked up the fallen tiara from the floor and placed it on the marble table as if nothing had happened.
“From the moment I first met you, I have admired you,” he said smoothly.
“Um, Your Excellency, just a moment. How many of these do you see?” Lariana extended her hand, fingers spread wide, and shook it in front of Cain’s eyes.
Cain smirked and looked down at Lariana.
“Aren’t there three?”
“Oh? Then, can you tell me my name?”
“Lariana Heliosen, the daughter of Count Heliosen. Is that not correct?”
“Uh, um… Are you in your right mind?”
Cain bent one knee, took hold of Lariana’s hand, and lifted it up. It was a familiar scene, just like what he did on Heline. This was truly an unbelievable event. No, it couldn’t be happening.
Startled, Lariana let out a scream as Cain quickly pressed his finger against her lips.
“Lady Heliosen. Shh!”
His cool touch met her hot lips. In an instant, Cain gently silenced her by placing his finger on her lips.
Terrified by his actions, Lariana fled behind the marble table, clutching her fan as her weapon.
“Your Excellency, what are you doing… Do you know who I am dating?”
“Of course, that’s why I am proposing to you.”
Cain Delacroix was not only the worst as a man but also as a friend. He seemed to possess nothing more than a handsome appearance and exceptional abilities.
Lariana even felt worried about Cain. There was undoubtedly something wrong with his mind. They say that doctors in the capital could treat and cure illnesses, not just the shamans… Perhaps she should consult a doctor to find answers.
“How can you propose to the lover of your friend…”
“His Highness plans to propose to the Princess of Serren and arrange a marriage alliance.”
Cain cut through the middle of Lariana’s words, his blade severing her speech.
Lariana’s hands dropped weakly to the ground.
She tried to look into his eyes to confirm the truth, but the darkness engulfed them, and shadows veiled his eyes, preventing her from seeing clearly.
Lariana walked forward from the table and approached Cain.
“Are you lying?”
There was not a single trace of falsehood in his blue eyes, reflecting the night sky.
It had been exactly one year since Lariana, at the age of twenty, started dating Lejandro. Recently, Leandro had been talking frequently about marriage. Although there were rumors of discord, they were nothing but baseless claims.
Today, she had a strong premonition that she would receive a proposal, so she wore a specially ordered pure white dress. The neckline was adorned with layers of lace, and the bodice clung seductively to her body, made of satin that accentuated her every curve.
Satin was known for its beauty, but it was not easily chosen due to its tendency to wrinkle. Yet, Lariana chose this dress. She endured the whole day without taking a sip of water or sitting down, all for this day.
After all the anticipation, what kind of outcome was this?
Whether the dress got wrinkled or not, Lariana clenched her fists.
“Even if it were true that His Highness Lejandro is getting married, what am I supposed to do with that information?”
“I don’t want to see you being abandoned by His Highness Lejandro without knowing anything.”
“Hah, how amusing, Duke. I already experienced that a year ago. Don’t you know that fact better than anyone?”
Lariana laughed mockingly at his contradictory attitude. She waved her fan while looking down on Cain. He watched her movements as if mesmerized, like watching a slow dance.
Her fair skin, reflecting the moonlight, shimmered as if sprinkled with pearl dust. With each breath, her ample chest rose and fell evenly.
Cain’s face turned red, almost reaching his ears. He quickly shook his head and then closed his eyes tightly.
“The moon is truly bright tonight.”
Lariana, perplexed by Cain’s sudden change in topic, was at a loss for words. She also looked up at the sky. The moon was round and bright. But why did he mention it?
“If you have nothing more to say, I’ll leave now.”
“I don’t even understand my own feelings. Some days, I feel an overwhelming love for you, and other days, I feel such hatred that I wish you were dead.”
Confessing love and making a murder threat at the same time. What nonsensical confession was this?
During the year-long correspondence, Cain proved to be quite the romantic, skilled in crafting eloquent words. Although Lariana discovered that his appearance was deceptive after being abandoned by him, she still fell for it at the time.
In the social circles, the people she actually met were fiercely cold, and yet they wanted to befriend Cain, although they didn’t dare to approach him.
Noblewomen who fell for his appearance were countless, but they were unsuccessful. What happened to Lariana was a rarity. Cain ruthlessly ignored and humiliated the noblewomen who tried to approach him.
Taking a deep breath, Lariana turned to look at him. Cain also seemed equally confused.
“If the announcement of His Highness Lejandro’s engagement is true… then there is no better option for you than me. For the sake of your honor, it’s better for us to strike first.”
Cain Delacroix spoke of marriage as if it were a tactic or strategy on the battlefield. However, his words were not wrong.
If the engagement was true, Lariana couldn’t find anyone better than Cain. After dating the prince for a year, who else would accept a woman like her?
If she were to search desperately, there were men who would take her as a mistress or cousins like Jenox who clung to her in order to be acknowledged as Heliosen’s successor.
Lariana wrapped her arms around herself, feeling a chill.
“First… we need to confirm if the rumors are true.”
“I hope you can give me an answer by the night of the day after tomorrow at the latest.”
“The time is so tight.”
“If that night passes without an answer, I might end up hating you again.”