Chapter Twenty-Six: Strenuous Efforts of the Stepbrother, Teddy Charles
My stepbrother stepped off his horse, and after him came Pierre, the foster brother of my stepbrother, slightly lagging behind.
He glanced at my face before quickly looking away, “Hmmm… His High— I mean, the count isn’t at home?”
“Nolan hasn’t come home yet from his work.”
Hearing that, my stepbrother’s thick eyebrows scrunched up as a color of dissatisfaction appeared on his face.
“Not at home? At this time?”
“…Uhm, what business might you have with Nolan?”
“…Had Leticia passed by here?”
“Leticia… Here? No way. She didn’t come.”
Why was he asking that I wonder? There’s no way Leticia would come to Dahl Island. I looked at Pierre with a curious gaze, to which he said while looking at my stepbrother’s complexion. “Leticia-sama has… She’s run away from home.”
Run away from home? I yelped as I heard that.
“Leticia-sama argued with Charles-sama and left home on a horse. We have checked all the conspicuous spots in the Royal Capital, but we didn’t find her…”
“Sooo, you thought she might be here and have come to search?”
Pierre nodded dejectedly.
Leticia… Coming this far?
My little sister was never very keen about horse riding, so it made me worried on why they think an amateur horse rider like her may have come so far to this island.
I looked at Pierre’s appearance and noticed his clothes were all covered in dust and looked whitish. My stepbrother wasn’t any better either, as he was covered in sweat and grime. His black hair was also sticking to his forehead.
Stepbrother’s shoulder slumped, and he groaned, “She isn’t here either… Where in the world has she gone to!?”
Eventually, he scrutinized the surroundings and said frustratingly, “I have come in such a hurry from the Royal Capital. Aren’t you going to ask us to come in for tea or something!”
I hurriedly guided them into the mansion. Stepbrother harrumphed while walking in the corridor to the living room from the entrance.
“Hey, is there no one here? The count doesn’t even have servants at his home?”
When I explained that Olivia just happened to have an urgent business to attend to, he jeered, saying, “Then doesn’t that just account for only one person?”
I didn’t say anything back and led them to the living room silently. He flopped down onto the sofa almost immediately. His actions aroused a loud creaking sound from the sofa, making me anxious if his weight had just now broken it.
“Haaa, I’m tired! My legs hurt so much. I’m dying of thirst.”
I hurriedly went into the kitchen to brew tea at the repeated urging of my stepbrother as he grumbled. From the cupboard, I took out the most expensive cups.
…Just a worthless show of vanity.
I prepared the tea for two and carried the tray to the living room.
There, my stepbrother was scrutinizing the mansion’s interior rudely. His little blue eyes had a tinge of contempt that he couldn’t hide.
I didn’t particularly appreciate how he was observing the mansion. It was as if he was judging it from up close. Meanwhile, Pierre stood up from the sofa as soon as he finished drinking his tea.
“It’s possible that Leticia-sama might have lost her way going to Dahl Island. I’m going to search around.”
Stepbrother scowled, also raising his fat butt from the sofa.
I looked out the window. The orange hue of the evening had already been replaced by the pitch-black darkness of the night. It would be troublesome if even the two lost themselves when they weren’t familiar with the island’s roads.
Besides, the horses they came riding on from the Royal Capital should be considerably tired too. I wouldn’t find it strange seeing them squashed by the big and chubby body of stepbrother if he were to ride them any further.
“Please rest here, brothers. I will search for her.”
Pierre replied immediately after hearing me say that, “I’m not that tired, so let me accompany you. It would be safer with more people.”
“Don’t decide by yourself, Pierre. Do you want to leave me behind in a place like this?”
Apparently, my stepbrother didn’t like the idea of housesitting alone. Maybe you could call it his selfishness. Seeing Pierre stuck between a rock and a hard place, to ease the situation, I said, “It’s possible Leticia might come when I’m out, so the both of you can just stay here. Pierre, you can get me if Leticia does come here.”
Pierre reluctantly agreed to my proposal while looking at stepbrother helplessly.
“Leticia! If you’re here, reply to me! Leticia!”
I followed the road on Dahl Island as my horse trotted. There wasn’t just one road that lead to the mansion. Short routes like animal trails also existed. It’s highly possible for Leticia, who had never come before, to be lost on the way.
I also considered the possibility of her taking shelter in any of the distressed houses, so I asked around the wealthy farmers’ families on the island, but it was to no avail.
No one has seen her, apparently.
—Just what have they quarreled about? Leaving the house wasn’t a trivial matter.
Unlike how beautiful and gentle she looked from the outside, Leticia was never a soft persimmon. Nevertheless, incidents like running away from the house had never happened before.
Ultimately, I still couldn’t find Leticia anywhere, even after searching around the main roads. Abruptly, my visibility diminished when a belt of clouds covered the moon, the only source of my light, floating in the night sky. The trees on the Island looked as if they’ve assimilated into the darkness of the night, and it became hard for me to discern between the road and thickets.
The horse also began to neigh and stomp here and there restlessly, showing his reluctance to walk into the darkness any further. I blinked and tried rubbing my eyes with the back of my hand, but it still didn’t help.
“Leticia… Are you here?! Please reply to me, Leticia!!!”
Unfortunately, all my screams met the silence of the night. It might be late to say this, but the tranquility and darkness suddenly made me cringe back in fright. In the end, I decided to return to the mansion feeling heartbroken.
—Nolan and Marco should be returning soon.
The lot of them might get startled seeing each other in the mansion.
If possible, I would like to tell them about the situation and get Nolan and Marco to give a helping hand in finding Leticia.
I returned to the mansion, and when I opened the entrance door while rubbing my cheeks which had become slightly numb from the chilly night wind, I immediately sensed a sort of strangeness.
A loud voice of a man was echoing from the inside. I abruptly halted my footsteps and pricked my ears to hear.
It was, ahhh, Nolan’s voice.
—He has returned!
The voice came from the living room. I clearly heard Nolan’s voice as I quickened up my pace and headed to the living room.
“Because it was dark and dangerous? Then why did you let Liese go alone to search!?”
Then followed the faltering voice of stepbrother in response to Nolan’s question.
“But, Leticia… Our little sister might be lost along the way too…”
As soon as I showed myself in the living room, my eyes met with Nolan’s.
His eyes widened for a moment, and then he came in front of me with quick steps and hugged me.
“I’m glad you’re safe… Don’t go out alone at night again.”
“Uhm, my little sister…”
“I have heard of it. Marco has already gathered some people to search. It’s dangerous outside, so quietly stay here.”
I was relieved to hear that, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Marco, for he didn’t even get to rest and had to go handle another matter.
I shifted my gaze to my stepbrother and saw him sitting on the corner of the sofa, trying to make his body as small as possible.
“Brother, why did you fight with Leticia? What was the cause…”
“Shut up! It doesn’t have anything to do with you!”
“If it doesn’t have anything to do with Liese, then I don’t think we need to search for her, either.” Nolan said in a flat tone.
Hearing that, the stepbrother begrudgingly squeezed out his voice while scratching his scalp.
“I recommended a marriage proposal to Leticia.”
“Marriage proposal? But that girl is still 14.”
“Daphne’s sister married at 13. It’s nothing strange among aristocrats.”
—I was stunned.
It didn’t matter if they were daughters of a noble family. Marrying at the age of 14 was just too early.
Nine out of ten, it must have been instigated by his wife, Daphne. Daphne must have wanted to get rid of her little sister-in-law now that I was already out of sight.
“What kind of partner did you recommend to her?”
“What do you mean what kind of… It was a man from a prestigious family. Ladies from any family would have even cried and jumped in delight if it were them.”
Are you sure it wasn’t a slip-of-tongue and you actually meant crying and running away? It felt unbearable when I tried to imagine how Leticia must have felt.
Putting my stepbrother aside, who didn’t understand women’s feelings, I suddenly thought, I wonder what Daphne felt before marrying my stepbrother.
It was decided that Nolan, Pierre, and even Ricardo, who returned late, would join the search party in the end, resulting in them leaving the mansion. I prayed while staring at their fading backs, hoping they would find Leticia if she had actually come to Dahl Island.
When everyone else left in a hurry, it naturally became my job to entertain my stepbrother.
Apparently, stepbrother sprained his ankle and was constantly complaining about the pain.
He mumbled out his complaints, asking why his leg hurt when he was almost always riding his horse, and he didn’t remember getting hurt, either.
However, I recalled the scene of my stepbrother getting off the horse. Maybe he injured himself at that time? It’s not impossible, given his bulky body and the horse’s height.
Then, stepbrother opened his mouth while leaning on the sofa. “By the way, you went to the Royal Palace, right?”
“I’m saying you also participated in the ceremony of the king celebrating his successful reign of 20 years, no?”
How’d you know about that? He snorted when I asked him.
“Isn’t it because I also participated in it too? So… You didn’t realize.”
I hadn’t noticed that my stepbrother was also at the ceremony venue. At the time, I was simply a bundle of worries and didn’t have the heart to look around.
“You surely have climbed up the ladder. To think the freeloader girl in our family would one day sit on the seat for Royalties… It’s unthinkable.”
While saying so, he took off his socks and threw his feet up on the table in front of the sofa with a thud.
Then, he said it like it was a natural request. “Is the hot water not ready yet?”
He always had servants wash his feet whenever he returned from the outside.
I carried the hot water while feeling angry at him that he was still treating me as a servant.
I placed the tub down, kneeled on the floor, and rolled up my sleeves. Stepbrother, on the other hand, dipped his feet in the basin as if it was a given.
I was doubtful if it was really all right for him to put his feet on the hot water. Nevertheless, I put my hand in it and washed his feet. His fingers were fat and flabby, looking like a baby’s foot.
However, they weren’t cute, with the socks’ threads and dirt sticking between them. Instead, they looked disgusting.
When I began to dry his foot with a towel, his face suddenly scrunched up. Apparently, I had touched a spot where he has hurt.
“It hurts! Can’t you be careful…? You always annoy me.”
“I’m sorry,” I bowed my head, but why I was apologizing? A faint color of defiance was mixed in as I was doing so.
My stepbrother perceived it very keenly. “Look at you. The freeloader girl has learned to grow her wings.”
I ignored his sarcasm. It will just tire me out if I began to deal with every annoying point he made.
While I was drying his feet with a towel, he seemed intent on staring at me. He frowned as I looked up at him, wondering what happened now. “Have you lost weight?”
“Maybe. Since I move quite a lot here.”
“Don’t get yourself dumped by His Highness by becoming even skinnier than you already are. Don’t think I will take you back.”
What tone does he have telling me that when he’s the one making me work now?
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