Count Flynn’s mansion, where a ball was being held, was lit up as if it were daylight, even though it was already in the middle of the night.
Bright light shone from every corner and windows in the mansion.
It was bustling with activity as it prepared to welcome its many guests.
In front of the main entrance was an endless procession of carriages wanting to enter the ball.
Serena stepped out of the carriage and slowly made her way into the mansion.
The nobles who spotted her hurriedly bent down to offer her their respect.
“Welcome, my Lady Serena.”
As soon as she entered, the Countess came running out to greet her.
“It is a great honor to our family to have you here, Lady Serena.”
“Thank you for the invitation, Countess.
His Highness the Duke is busy with work again today, so I’m afraid that…”
Serena smiled sweetly and apologized for Raymond’s inability to attend.
Fortunately, the Countess didn’t find the Duke’s absence the least bit odd.
She was just trying to be nice to Serena.
“Serena, my dear, please come this way.
Everyone has been waiting for you.”
The Countess grasped Serena’s hand politely and led her to the mansion’s guest room.
This was where the honored guests were kept until the ball began.
As soon as Serena was seated, the ladies gathered around her.
“Young Lady Serena, you look absolutely stunning tonight.
You are well deserving of the accolade of being the most beautiful woman in the Empire.”
“You are flattering me.”
Serena smiled and accepted the flattering compliments of the ladies.
Suddenly, a nearby noblewoman looked back toward the front door and said.
“My goodness, the Archduke is here.”
At the sound of her words, the gathered women turned their heads in unison.
At the front door of the banquet hall where their gazes landed, a handsome dark-haired man dressed immaculately in robes was entering.
‘It was Calix.’
Puzzlement flashed through Serena’s eyes.
Calix had long disliked her.
She’d wanted to get close to him, to win his favor as Raymond’s only brother, even if he wasn’t really his biological brother.
But from the moment they met, Calix had already disliked her.
The Archduke had been like this ever since she was about 15 years old, and though she had tried to make small talk with the young Highness several times, he had ignored her like she was invisible every time.
It wasn’t like he was mocking or insulting her directly, but to Serena it felt worse than an outright insult.
She smiled and stood up.
She didn’t want to be ignored by Calix in front of so many nobles.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see my foster father.”
Serena’s abrupt departure didn’t raise any eyebrows among the assembled nobles, as they had a good idea of what was going on.
Most of their gazes were directed towards Calix anyway.
Calix, the Archduke of Royten, was a celebrity in the capital in more ways than one.
For one thing, he was the third highest-ranking member of the Imperial family, the second richest man in the empire, and a stunningly handsome one at that.
“You’ve been away from the estate for a while.”
Someone muttered in a whisper, and at the same time, the Archduke turned his head in this direction.
His eyes were a deep blue, like sapphires.
The Archduke, Calix, glanced at the women gathered to one side, then turned his gaze elsewhere.
It was only for a moment, but each of the ladies who was caught by his gaze quickly fluttered their fans.
They covered their mouths with their fans and started talking in unison.
“What a beautiful man.”
“He looks just like his mother.”
His mother, Tierra, was renowned as one of the capital’s finest beauties.
She was the only daughter of the Archduke of Royten and heir to the duchy.
However, women were not allowed to succeed a title, so Calix’s father married Tierra and took the title of Archduke.
Calix was their only son.
His mother died when he was young as well, and his father, the Archduke, died while trying to save his friend, the Crown Prince.
“But don’t you think his highness is more beautiful?”
They all chorused in agreement.
Calix had striking features, his dark black hair appearing almost black-blue with that faint blue tinge in the light.
Beneath it was a chiseled nostril, a perfectly sculpted forehead, and vivid blue eyes.
Whereas Raymond’s blue-gray eyes were filled with regal majesty, Calix’s clear blue pupils were always as inviting as the clear sea.
He was a mixture of the opposites of a handsome young man and a handsome boy, but that only added to his charm.
Some people found him even more mesmerizing than his older brother, Raymond.
“By the way, did you hear the story?”
A noblewoman whispered over her fan.
“They said the dethroned duchess is trying to set up a shop on the east side of the capital.”
What did they say… That she was going to open a cafe selling cakes? Like a coffee house?”
They said she’s already got a shop somewhere in the east.”
It was only a month ago that the social world was abuzz with the scandal of the Duke and Duchess’s divorce, and now it was rumored that the ousted Duchess was looking to open a coffee house somewhere in the East.
It didn’t make as much of a splash as her divorce, but it was still bizarre.
‘Why would an exiled duchess want to open a shop in such a place?’
Everyone wondered, but no one really knew.
To the east, Viltrout Street was home to lower-middle-class commoners, and nobles didn’t pass through that neighborhood.
No one had ever seen the shop in question as well.
“Why would she go to such an out-of-the-way place?”
Someone asked, puzzled.
High-ranking nobles only lived near the imperial palace, where mansions lined the streets, or in the upscale neighborhoods west of the capital.
They rarely ventured beyond those neighborhoods.
Other parts of the capital were inhabited by commoners and were considered undignified, so they never visited them.
To them, it was normal to open a cafe or something like that in their neighborhood.
Someone covered his mouth with a fan and whispered meaningfully.
“You don’t think she’s trying to get away from the public eye and meet with that Knight Levnin and…”
“Oh, yes, they were lovers, so maybe she went to such a remote place to live together now.”
“Well, no one would see them in such a remote place, so it’s perfect for secretly cohabiting with a lover.”
The ladies fanned themselves as if they had an answer.
“Maybe that’s why she was talking about opening that cafe, so she had more excuse to see that handsome Knight Captain often.”
It was a rather nonsensical story, but they were having fun with it.
It didn’t really matter if it made sense or not.
There was no topic that entertained everyone in the nobility, young and old alike, more than tales of infidelity in the highest echelons of the society.
Then a playful voice interrupted from behind.
“Excuse me, madam.
What do you mean, lovers?”
She spun around, startled, just to see Calix.
“My goodness, Your Highness.”
At his sudden appearance, the seated ladies leapt to their feet.
Calix, the Archduke of Royten, smiled innocently and begged their forgiveness.
“I beg your pardon.
I hope you will forgive me for eavesdropping on your conversation, for I have heard something so interesting that I cannot let it pass unnoticed.”
Even as she looked ecstatic at the man in front of her, the noblewoman folded her fan and skillfully continued.
“My, what do you need to be forgiven for, it’s no big deal.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
The women were secretly smiling over their fans at the Archduke.
An exclamation like a sigh leaked out.
“How… beautiful you are up close.”
Someone muttered, and everyone nodded in agreement.
“So, is the rumor about the Duchess true?”
“What? Oh, that’s…”
The ladies stuttered, while exchanging glances amongst themselves in embarrassment.
It was inevitable.
After all, rumors of Erin’s affair were a topic the Emperor himself had forbidden.
Calix smiled innocently.
“I’m just curious, so much has happened while I’ve been away from the capital.”
“Yes, but that’s because His Majesty…”
“What do you care, this isn’t even the imperial palace, my grandfather said he would punish anyone who spreads that rumor in the imperial palace.”
The ladies seemed to understand after hearing that.
No matter what happened, the Emperor would forgive Calix.
The Emperor would forgive his handsome grandson no matter what he did.
With that judgment, everyone was inwardly relieved, including the noblewoman who had spoken up.
The Marchioness of Elston, also one of the highest ranking one among them, immediately stepped forward.
She began to explain the situation to Calix with a meaningful glance.
“Well, the Duchess, no, I mean…the former Duchess, was found cuddling with a Knight Captain called Einz, in a low spot in the palace garden.
They were seen hiding in the grass and…”
The tone was slightly accusatory, but even so, the Marchioness could not hide her amusement.
She continued her explanation, describing the two of them in great detail, down to the way they were dressed and the way they were hugging.
Calix, who had been listening with a smile on his face, chuckled.
“I see, your ladyship saw this with your own eyes?”
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