Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Things Brought by the Little Sister
Hearing noises suddenly coming out from the entrance, I quickly went out of the living room. Stepbrother also followed me eagerly without even bothering to put on his shoes.
When I came out of the mansion, Nolan, Marco, and about ten men had just returned.
—They must be the search party Nolan had gathered.
Among the group, one of the people who seemed to be an islander was pulling a black-haired horse.
“It’s our horse!!!” Stepbrother shouted from behind me and sprinted towards the horse. So Leticia indeed did come to visit me.
As soon as he was finished checking the horse from up close, he quickly asked the men around in desperation if they also brought Leticia, a young girl, with them.
In response to him, Nolan said with an intentionally calm tone, “We found this horse loitering around the lake. No one was nearby.”
My stepbrother and I shouted almost at the same time. Then, did Leticia go to the lake? But it shouldn’t be possible.
I was terrified and felt all the hairs on my body rising. However, Nolan answered with a calm tone, “Ricardo and the others have spread around and are searching for her now.”
My stepbrother’s chubby hands, rubbing the horse’s back, slid down feebly. He seemed to have lost all his strength as he sat on the spot he was on.
Unconsciously, I found myself mulling over at his grief-stricken face and voice. He was truly worried about her.
The stepbrother, who was shouting in pain until a while ago, ran to the entrance desperately with his injured foot.
Similarly, I was also worried about Leticia and couldn’t contain my anxiety. However, a thought suddenly appeared in the corner of my mind.
—What would have happened if I had run away from home in the past?
I’m sure he would have been as pleased as punch, and possibly even drunk himself until he was down entirely.
A while after that… Noises once again echoed out from the front of the mansion, and I, Nolan, and stepbrother rushed in, with the latter bearing a strange gait.
It was Ricardo with another search party, and Leticia was in the center, surrounded by them.
A blanket was hung on her while Ricardo seemingly supported her by holding her shoulders.
“Leticia!” Stepbrother yelled.
Leticia shivered as if startled and looked ahead with a frightened gaze. Her emerald-colored eyes shook and captured me standing there. She came running like a tout string suddenly released, hugging me tightly as she got to me.
I finally felt the heavy burden lifting off my shoulders, and I gently hugged her back. “Sister, I wanted to see you!!!”
“Leticia… Okay, let’s go inside.”
There was a lot I wanted to ask, but that was for later. I led Leticia inside the mansion and then expressed our gratitude to the islanders for searching for her many times with Nolan.
Apparently, Leticia had lost her way and was wandering around the forest. She then sat down on the roadside, where she finally stumbled upon where Ricardo found her.
Maybe because Ricardo helped her, Leticia didn’t leave Ricardo’s side even when we were inside the mansion.
“I… I don’t want to marry yet!” Leticia complained to stepbrother with a sorrow-filled face.
In response, my stepbrother shouted in exasperation while making exaggerated gestures. “That doesn’t mean you can run away from home! Do you even know how much trouble you’ve caused to others!?”
“But I know you will continue with the marriage if I hadn’t run away. Just like the time of my sister.”
I wondered what he was going to say. However, my stepbrother didn’t seem to want to continue, no matter how long I waited.
“Anyway, what is it that you didn’t like about the marriage, Leticia? Either of them is an outstanding candidate for marriage. Viscount Wislav is a renowned soldier, you know…”
“I don’t want a muscular person like that as my husband.”
I worriedly searched around to see if Marco was here, too.
“Then… Then what was wrong with Baron Floyd? He has money, and his age too—”
“I don’t like my brother’s childhood friend, either. I’ve met him almost every day since I was little.”
I was also of the same opinion; I would hate that, too.
Baron Floyd was a close friend of stepbrother, and he often came to our house to play. He even played with the young Leticia. Nevertheless, it would be hard to get her mind around actually marrying him.
“But Leticia, marriages are all like this. You won’t always get to choose the partner of your liking.”
Thereupon, Leticia’s gaze moved to the scenery outside of the window. Ahead of her gaze was Nolan, who was still talking with the islanders.
Leticia cutely pouted and said while lowering her voice, “But didn’t sister marry a charming and romantic person?”
A lovely person— Was she talking about Nolan…?
I felt embarrassed hearing such praise about my husband, but on the other hand, I couldn’t bring myself to be happy either since our marriage wasn’t as romantic as Leticia thought.
“I’m not going to leave from here unless brother promises not to talk about marriage again.”
…Why was my stepbrother staring at me now? It was as if he was saying that it was all my fault.
“Leticia, it’s my fault, okay? It seemed much earlier; I hadn’t thought you would hate it so much. I just thought you were being shy…”
When stepbrother conceded, Leticia looked up. “Then you will decline the marriage proposals, right?”
“…Yes. Just, just return with me, okay?”
“Will you really reject the marriage proposals?”
“Then swear upon the esteemed count, sister, Ricardo-sama, and Marco-sama.”
Stepbrother, like a deflated balloon, took a long breath. “I swear upon everyone present here. I will not force Leticia to marry so soon.”
“Brother!” Finally, Leticia got away from Ricardo’s side, ran up to stepbrother, and hugged him. Stepbrother’s face warped as he also hugged her back.
“Why, why did you run away…!? There could have been other ways to handle it.”
I didn’t miss the tears welling up in his eyes, even though he was shouting.
Ricardo excused himself to the corridor, guessing it may have been time for some family bonding. I also followed suit and left the room following Ricardo.
He looked surprised when he saw me coming out. “Shouldn’t the madam be inside at such moments?”
I guess it wouldn’t be possible to explain the sense of alienation I felt seeing them like that. I turned to the kitchen with a messy state of mind and once again warmed the pie I had made after working all morning, but no one was there to eat it. Leticia must be hungry; I should get her something to eat.
A sense of emptiness suddenly struck me, and I rooted to the ground in front of the hot oven for a long time.
It was already late by the time I came to myself, and most of the pie was burnt black.
Geez… What am I doing?
I hurriedly took out the pie from the oven and placed it on the pot stand, frustrated at myself.
I peeled off the burnt dough and stuck it to the baking tray with the fork. The dry, crumbled pieces of pie that lost all their moisture scattered on the kitchen table. The delicious aroma of the butter and wheat flour was replaced with the burnt stench rising together with the vapor.
The pie looked so delicious until a while ago…
It’s too frustrating.
I heard Nolan calling out from behind, but I had lost all my vigor to do anything.
“Liese, why are you crying?”
I was crying?
Surprised, I blinked my eyes and certainly felt the tears rolling down from my eyes.
…Why? Since when?
No wonder I felt my vision getting hazy. I thought it was due to the steam. I quickly wiped my cheeks with the back of my hand and began to dispose of the burnt parts.
I just had to take the part that wasn’t overcooked and give it a beautiful shape, removing any burnt sign.
“What are you doing, Liese?”
Nolan touched my shoulders gently.
“…I’m preparing the pie for Leticia. She must be tired and hungry.”
“I’m not talking about that, Liese.”
“Hmmm… Ahhh, right. Stepbrother must be hungry, too.”
He has a habit of eating often. I’ve seen him lying on the sofa while holding fried snacks in his hands. I have to take bread too, or else he would complain again.
Then I noticed that the burnt smell had permeated all over the kitchen. I pushed open the window entirely and again turned to the pie while sighing.
“I am sorry, Liese.”
I was surprised at the abrupt apology and stopped working on the pie again. Nolan was looking at me with awfully deep eyes.
“…What are you apologizing for? I should be saying sorry for all the trouble my little sister has caused.”
“The pie was baked for Marco and me, right? Thank you… I should have gone after eating.”
I couldn’t reply.
—Yeah, I have baked it for him.
I felt so stupid that I teared up for that very reason, dropping my head as I did so. I didn’t want to annoy Nolan, so I didn’t look up.
It was shameful, but I couldn’t stop how loud sniffles sounded. I then looked at the wretched appearance of the pie I made.
I had wanted Nolan—my most important person—to taste the fresh and crunchy pie I had baked so well. And a part inside me wanted him to praise me. Although it’s childish, I was slightly expecting such a scene.
That’s why I felt so sad, enough to the point of crying, at the pathetic-looking pie, which couldn’t even compare to its former self and had almost turned to being half charcoal. It was the dish I had the most confidence in.
—No, that’s not it.
Indeed, I was sad that the dish I made with so much pride turned to ruin. But it’s not only because of such a simple reason… I felt a sense of emptiness.
I tried to go deeper into my heart, but stopped.
Was there anyone who thought I’m the most important to them…?
I felt as if I was alone on a vast prairie, feeling intense loneliness.
My mother, my beautiful mother, was deeply loved by my stepfather despite never staying in the house for long.
Stepbrother had kids with Daphne.
Leticia was doted on by stepbrother and even cherished by that stepbrother.
Nolan had many friends in the Royal Palace, and he also had Ricardo and Marco, who have accompanied him since childhood.
…What about me?
In fact, no one thought of me as someone necessary in this world. Now, I couldn’t stop myself from feeling like that.
Because that was just the kind of person I was, with no value at all.
I thought so.
—Even for Nolan, our wedding was just a way to escape from a marriage he didn’t want. It was for his little brother and his lover’s sakes.
After arriving here, there was one more thing that had always bugged me.
Nolan had said that we would not have children anytime soon. Because of finances. But that’s most likely a lie, too.
I, more or less, realized this.
No matter how poor he was as a count, it couldn’t be denied that he was a privileged person. He shouldn’t be so tightly pressed that he couldn’t have even one child. Instead, a child should be an indispensable existence who will inherit the count status.
It was just a superficial answer, for he just wanted to keep his distance from me. And that’s what stung the most.
No one… No one thought of me as crucial in the truest sense.
I muttered to myself as I squeezed out my voice, keeping my eyes on my poorly made pie, embarrassed that Nolan saw it too.
I don’t have any charm, do I? I wanted to ask that. But, in the end, I couldn’t muster the courage to ask as it would throw my dignity as a woman to the winds if he were to agree.
I’m sure it was a nasty thing to ask. Nolan may even be disappointed in me if I did.
All that was left in the kitchen was the burnt smell of pie and the silence between us. I don’t doubt Nolan must hate a wife like me who’s whimpering just because of some burnt baking incident.
I got a grip, and tightly grabbed a fork, boldly scraping off the burnt parts and tossing them into the kitchen waste box.
“You must be hungry too, Nolan-sama. I will prepare now—as for brother, he will most likely eat this. He’s a person who likes to eat often.”
I said as I opened the shelf to look for the container I had stored peer compote in.
I was actually worried if it’d be all right to eat it since some time had already passed since Olivia made it, so this will be dumped in my stepbrother’s share.
“His mood worsens whenever he’s hungry, so I have to bring the food quickly— I mean, something for him to eat.”
I almost caused a strange misunderstanding.
Just then, Nolan suddenly stretched his hand, and I thought he’d simply put them on my shoulder, but the next thing I knew, he had already pulled me into his embrace.
I was so surprised my breathing stopped for a moment.
“You must have been working so hard for me. And yet, I’m sorry that you have to handle this sorry excuse of a husband.”
“Our marriage was abrupt. And I was a troublesome person who needed to put on a show for the eyes of the public. I know you must have hated me and might have wanted to run away from home, too.”
I was so surprised by Nolan’s words that the matter about the flopped pie completely flew out of my mind. I never thought Nolan would say such things.
I wanted to say I would’ve never taken such actions, or that I wasn’t like Leticia, but I couldn’t. Because I also once thought about getting out of the Teddy Viscounty by saying I just wanted to work to my stepbrother.
“However, you were probably not in a position to decline even if you wanted to…”
I couldn’t deny that.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any bold actions like Leticia did when I came to know of our marriage, and in fact, I couldn’t help but shudder when I try to imagine what would have happened if I had done so.
“I also proposed marriage because I knew you wouldn’t be in a place to refuse. Rather, I had wanted to help the freeloader daughter. Because I often heard about you from the viscount.”
I held no doubt that my stepbrother must have been publicizing how much of a nuisance I was from his stepmother’s previous marriage while adding how generous he was to let me stay in his place. I can almost imagine the scene of arrogant aristocrats ridiculing me after hearing about me.
“Nevertheless, you tried to keep your smile for me and was even willing to put in so much effort.”
Nolan faintly called out my name and kissed my forehead.
I raised my face and looked up at Nolan. His beautiful aquamarine eyes were looking down at me from up close.
“Thank you for coming with me.”
Just then, Ricardo entered the kitchen with hastened footsteps.
He reported with an embarrassed face while flinging off his wavy hair that sticking on his face behind, “Viscount Teddy is making a racket about how he’s going to faint from hunger…”
Nolan curtly said, if he’s going to faint, then let him be.
“I’m sorry my brother is causing you so much trouble… I am going for a bit and ask what he would like to eat.”
I removed myself from Nolan’s arms while giving a bitter smile and left the kitchen.
But just as I walked so slightly in the corridor, I suddenly realized something.
I forgot to see what we have in our kitchen to eat. Olivia wasn’t there, and I wasn’t confident in my cooking either. I might not be able to make what he might demand in such a short time.
I had to confirm, or else he will lose his temper even more.
When I turned back to the kitchen, I heard the voices of Nolan and Ricardo. I inadvertently halted my steps and pricked up my ears since they were discussing in a subdued voice, making me curious.
“Nolan-sama is so clumsy when it comes to the madam.”
“Wouldn’t it be fine to give a clear-cut explanation instead of fretting about…? No one knows how long the marriage between Your Highness and the madam would last.”
I was surprised to my very core.
It was the first time I had heard Nolan’s subordinate, Ricardo, refer to Nolan, his master, as Your Highness.
And… No one knows how long our marriage will last…?
Ricardo seemed to think that Nolan and I will part ways one day from his tone. That was news to me.
The cold seemed to be creeping up from my fingertips. The knob in my hand felt extremely cold.
“What do you mean?”
“I have been serving Your Highness since I was a child. What I want to say is I know Your Highness very well.”
When I slowly moved my gaze from the knob to the narrow gap of the doors, peering inside the kitchen, I saw Ricardo looking at Nolan, who was standing with his back to us; the corners of his mouth turned up a little.
“To begin with, your marriage with Sevesta’s princess has now been cancelled, you have already achieved your goal. Hasn’t the madam already served her purpose if we think about it?”
“You, what are you saying…”
My heart was a mess at the provocative tone of Ricardo. I never thought Ricardo, who was usually so gentle with women, would also have such a side to him.
Ricardo further continued, “Isn’t that how it is? And above all, Your Highness hasn’t yet embraced the madam, right?”
I shivered as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water on my head. Why does Ricardo even know this?
No way… Don’t tell me our married life was being leaked secretly?
“Just because I’m not holding her does it mean I will let her go!”
“Then is it because you feel guilty?”
“Because the time hasn’t come yet.”
What did he mean by time? What time? Was there a specific time for it? My body stiffened, and I couldn’t move, but my head kept spinning around.
Then came the voice of Ricardo again, “Hmmm, that’s right. Your Highness may marry a fitting woman once everything subsides.”
“I have never thought about it!”
“Because I don’t want to let go of Liese!”
“As I said, why?”
“Because I love her!”
My hand slipped from the knob. My breathing roughened up suddenly.
Ricardo’s voice continued as if he was stunned, “…I have never thought of divorcing from the very beginning. I don’t want to become an ungrateful person to such an extent.”
“Geez! What a handful of people you are, Your Highness. Here I thought Your Highness was unaware of his feelings.” said Ricardo, somewhat surprised.
“Then, even more so, you should properly confess your feelings to the madam. Our madam is quite a dense person, after all.”
“I know that.”
—That’s pure slander.
Nolan indeed criticized me for being insensitive right after our wedding, but I was not. How could I have felt the goodwill that was nonexistent at that time?
“You do know how you feel for the madam nevertheless, spending your time together without doing anything is simply unthinkable for me. I could never do that…”
“Don’t say that. I am struggling with my reason every night.”
Then followed Ricardo’s laughter.
Thump. Thump. My heart asserted its existence by beating loudly.
“Your Highness is too rigid. Learn to be gentler with women.”
Ricardo sighed deeply and shook his head left and right. Rather than disapproving of his behavior, he expressed that he simply gave up on Nolan.
My courage to enter the kitchen had already withered long ago.
I ran to my stepbrother’s side while making every effort to suppress the sounds of my footsteps as much as possible. An intense turmoil was shaking up inside me as I avoid being caught by the two. I couldn’t let them know that I had listened in on their conversation.
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