After cracking open the door so that she could barely squeeze through, all Irina saw was darkness.
It was such a bright sunny day outside.
But it was so dark in the room, she could scarcely see what was in front of her as though it was night.
Relying on the light seeping through the curtains, Irina shuffled into the room, moving little by little.
‘Ah, I can see now.’
With her eyes getting accustomed to the dark, she soon had a panoramic view of the room.
A bed, two long sofas that faced each other and a low table.
The room had the same layout as hers.
‘Where is the duke?’
She was told that the duke was in the room but no matter how hard she searched, she could not find him.
Not only was the room dark, but there was no one who replied when she called for him.
‘I guess he must still be sleeping.’
She wanted to quickly tell him.
Irina let out a small sigh before moving her feet.
Since she had already entered the room, she was planning on just leaving the food inside.
‘But I’m worried the food will get cold if I do.’
But he would definitely be hungry when he wakes so she thought it would be better if she just left it here.
She wanted to reach the low table situated between the two long sofas.
Worrying that her footsteps might wake the duke, Irina tiptoed forward.
Any sound that she could possibly make was swallowed by the soft carpet.
‘I did it.’
It was thanks to the flooring that she was able to reach the table without any issue.
As she leaned over the table and placed the tray in the middle of it, the moment Irina turned around.
A figure who she had not noticed before filled her vision.
It was the Duke of Winfried who seemed to have fallen asleep on the sofa.
Despite the sofa being spacious enough to sit on, it looked cramped now that the duke was lying across it.
Actually, the sofa could not even contain his legs.
They hung over its armrest.
‘Why is he sleeping here?’
His bed would have been more comfortable.
After staring at the duke for a while, Irina arose.
It would be rude of her to continue staring at a sleeping man as the Duke of Winfried might awake any moment.
She was planning on leaving and going out of the room as carefully and silently as she did when she entered.
But her vision was flipped in an instant.
Before she could figure out what was going out, Irina found herself lying on the carpet.
And those red eyes that stared into hers.
The eyes that were clearly tightly closed just moments ago were now looking at her without a hint of sleep.
They scared her.
Was this how the hunt felt on the other end of a hunter’s arrow? Irina could not find her breath.
Her chest began to rise and fall without a break.
She was terrified.
She bit down on her lips hard.
In the meantime, those red eyes continued staring straight at her as though they were checking for something.
The only part of her he grabbed was her wrist.
But for some reason, she could not turn her head away, as though she had been trapped in his gaze.
A sharp breath fell between Irina’s lips.
For how long did the two continue to stare at each other without blinking?
As if he finally recognised Irina, the duke’s eyes slowly widened.
His blank expression remained frosty.
“… Why are you here?”
His voice was so gruff it sounded like it was dragging on the ground.
Grasping the situation at last, Winfried let her wrist go before moving away from Irina.
He swept his face down with his large hand.
“I asked why you are here.”
“Well, to bring you your meal… I heard you haven’t eaten anything since yesterday.”
“… Who asked you to do that? Was it Delphia? Or the chef?”
It felt as though she was going to hiccup soon.
Irina bit her lips once before continuing.
“I said I wanted to do it.”
A deep sigh streamed through the lips that had been pressed into a straight line.
He removed the hand that had been covering his face.
With the face that had been hidden under his hand exposed, he revealed his expression of clear displeasure.
“Are you so set on doing these menial tasks that you’re willing to sacrifice your hands? I don’t know if I took in a guest or a maid.”
Irina lowered her gaze at the sound of his clear sarcasm.
Her lips felt dry.
Her fear had taken over her pain.
Ah, dang it.
‘I made a mistake.’
Watching Irina, Winfried swept his hand down his face again before turning away.
It would be better if he did not see Lady Leonid right now.
It would be best if she turned invisible.
“You don’t have to do this again in the future.
You are strictly my guest.”
Winfried did not want anything from Lady Leonid.
He just wanted her to eat till she was full, recover from her wounds and heal from her traumatic past.
This estate was merely a place for her to rest before she set off to walk on the path she chose.
That was all.
He had not expected her to do things only mere servants would.
And to think that she would approach him herself only to get hurt.
“I would like it if you leave this room.”
When he spoke sternly because she did not show any sign of moving, he finally sensed her movements.
After walking a few steps away, Irina stopped.
She paused for a moment.
What did she want to say now? Winfried swept his tired face down again.
It was clear from her voice that she was hesitant.
“Your meal, it’s warm.”
He had not expected her to say that.
And when Winfried whipped his head around in surprise, Irina had already left the room.
‘T-that shocked me.’
Leaving the room, Irina glanced at the hem of her clothes.
Just as she expected.
Under the fabric she had been tightly grasping were two red handprints.
Upon inspecting her wound, Irina frowned.
‘He was clearly sweet to me yesterday.’
Stopping in front of a window that was well-lit thanks to the sunlight streaming through, Irina gently rubbed those handprints with her wrists.
He had saved her, allowed her to stay in his estate and just yesterday, he had helped her stop her hiccups.
That was why even though she was scared of him, she believed him to be a sweet person.
Irina let out a long sigh.
She combed her hands through her hair and gathered them in a bunch before releasing them.
Just a moment ago, she was upset.
But after calming down a little, she realised that it had been her mistake all along.
Hadn’t Delphia and Leo tell her to leave his food by the door from the start?
It was her fault for ignoring their advice and entering the room.
Irina inhaled sharply.
If they manage to run into each other later, she should apologise for startling him.
Lifting her head, Irina stared out the window.
In the garden in the Winfried Duchy, spring flowers were in bloom, signalling that spring was right around the corner.
Some of the flowers that had been planted in past seasons seemed to have survived the cold winter and blossomed again.
Other seeds must have travelled in the winds, gotten caught in someone’s clothes before falling into the ground and sprouting once more.
Amidst the flowers she could see, the daffodils stood out to her the most.
Had someone planted a bulb in the past winter or had it just bloomed?
White and yellow daffodils were blooming in clusters.
Irina stared at the small groups of daffodils and muttered to herself as though she was possessed.
She was so startled her body jumped.
“Do you still look like a mess because you hadn’t noticed the state of your hands? You’ve barely tidied yourself.”
Turning around, she found the exhausted-looking Duke of Winfried standing before her.
Almost screaming in surprise, Irina quickly covered her mouth.
“Why are you…”
“I must have scared you earlier.”’
The Duke of Winfried seemed to have something to say.
but his words barely registered in Irina’s mind.
She had not noticed because it was dark earlier, but the clothes the duke was currently wearing…
Irina’s eyes slowly lowered.
And her face began to redden when she spotted something.
As he continued speaking, Winfried frowned.
“Do you have a fever? I can call someone over…”
At this point, her eyes were spiralling as Irina exclaimed.
“How can you walk around wearing this!”
“… What do you mean ‘this’? And I am merely walking about my estate.”
Winfried was currently wearing a nightgown aristocrats commonly wore before they slept.
He did not think he looked too bad but he did look dishevelled because he had been tossing and turning earlier.
“No, you cannot!”
But Irina did not hear a word of his explanation.
She continued to shake her head vigorously as her flush now reached the nape of her neck.
“You dressed so properly yesterday! So, why did you, today, why!”
“… Please don’t make me out to be such a flagrant man.”
Ha, but no matter what he did, it seemed as though Irina would continue to protest until he adjusted his attire.
Winfried pulled up his sleeves before re-tying the knot around his waist.
“Is this alright now?”
Irina shook her head.
Her face was still as red as a ripe tomato.
“I can still see something there.”
The duke scanned his clothes again.
But he could not figure out what Irina was referring to.
She waved her hand as though she was beckoning him to lower his head.
In spite of themselves, they lowered their heads and their faces got a little bit closer.
“It’s still a little loose here.”
She was still feeling shy but her pale hands continued to gesture.
Winfried stared at Irina’s face from afar.
As though she had just been running around outside, her cheeks were flushed and bright red, her lips were tightly pursed, and her shy gaze below her drooping eyebrows made her look flustered.
‘She has pretty eyes.’
The blue eyes hidden beneath her long eyelashes were the colour of the blue sea, just as Count Leonid and his wife had always described them to be.
The colour of freedom.
Winfried stared blankly into Irina’s eyes.
He could feel himself getting strangled.
Because Irina had grabbed his clothes as if she was trying to grab his collar and wrapped them tightly around his neck.
“It’s still loose here!”
“That’s how it’s supposed to be!”
Gasp, the strangler and the one being strangled.
Both their heads turned to one side at the same time.
At the other end of their gazes stood a stunned Delphia and a pale Leo.
“What the hell are you doing in the middle of the hallway?”
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