When someone comes and shares a special moment with you, it’s frightening.
This preciousness, this uniqueness—such words like responsibility and anxiety also came with it.

I wasn’t confident that I could carry this weight.
Even more so because it was with Theodore Valentino.

He was someone who had a rightful reason to hate me.
It wouldn’t be strange if he’d kill me at any given time.

My family destroyed everything precious to him.
Even if it’s not my fault, as long as the name Everett followed me, it was like a shackle that I could not be free from.

That’s why it’s extremely reasonable, that Theodore Everett hates Lily Everett.
The opposite was impossible.

So, all that’s left is despair.

As soon as I recognized my own feelings—that they would not be reciprocated, that I should not let them grow even further—I tried to avoid and deny it all.
I was afraid enough that I hid my own heart.

But feelings like these were like a timebomb.
Some emotions were just harder to hide compared to anger.
I realized that only now.

“……”

I could hear Theodore’s even breathing as his eyes were closed.
As one cheek was leaning against the palm of my hand, his dark, long eyelashes glistened with tears.

I gave up on acting how I should and just acted the way I wanted.
I wiped away his tears because I wanted to wipe them away, not because someone else asked.
I embraced him because I wanted to embrace him.

I stroked his fine black hair and patted his back that was so wide compared to my hand.
My mind was empty.
I focused on only his clear heartbeat.

…And I hoped that this moment would last forever.

But of course, a single moment would be broken.
Nothing lasts forever.
As if to laugh at my foolish hope, this dream-like moment soon ended.

Theodore, who was still trembling in my arms, suddenly flinched.
I felt his body stiffening.
And immediately, he pushed me away roughly.

I almost fell back with the chair, but I managed to stay in my seat.
I stared blankly at Theodore, who took two steps back with an incredulous look on his face.

His eyes seemed to express that he had just woken up from a dream.
No, to be exact, he became sober.

The ferocious glare in his blue eyes became fiercer as his shock grew, and soon, his expression became distorted.
With his reaction, I could read the sense of shame he was feeling.

“What did I…”

“……”

Muttering with a tense voice, Theodore looked around, then he bowed his head with his face in one hand.

He could hardly calm down as he walked to the other side of the room.
Then, while his face was still buried in his hands, he looked up to stare at me.
Those blue eyes peering through his fingers seemed to be reproaching me.

That gaze made me feel that this situation was unfair.
It was him who came here first.
Those words bubbled up in my throat, but I couldn’t utter them out loud.

“…crazy.”

Theodore, who muttered under his breath, sighed and lowered his hand.
When his shock disappeared, what was left in his expression was the despair that took over without fail.
It was the same sadness that had shaken my heart when he collapsed in the garden at dawn, and just now when he came here drunk.

So my heart was swayed once again.
Even though I know it’s not the time, now, I can’t control it anymore…

Ah, I hate this so much.

I feel like I’m not myself.
The beating of my heart was not my own.
I felt indescribably vulnerable, and I trembled helplessly even with only short breaths.

I knew it would be like this.
I tried hard to turn a blind eye to it, but I knew that these feelings would break me down like this.
And at the end of it, even though there was despair, I would still take a step forward and accept it even deeper though I knew it was poison.
Now, I…

…What will happen to me.

If I can’t turn a blind eye to it anymore.

“I made a mistake.”

“……”

“This will never happen again.”

He was about to turn away—my body moved reflexively.
Regardless of my will, I stopped him.

Hope always makes one weak.

However, it was human nature to cling to such weak hope.
Even though they knew that their despair would deepen as the embers died down, they could not let go of their lingering desire to live and be happy.
So, I… This is…

“Don’t… go…”

“……”

“Please don’t go…”

And lastly, it was to wish for salvation.
This was an impulse that would never happen again in my life.
If he could hold my hand here, if he could listen to my past and understand me, if he could believe that I was on his side—I will finally be able to change.
Truly, I would be able to live and express myself fully.

My body and mind trembled, and I left it all to impulse.
Countless words I could not utter echoed within me.

‘I’m even less than an illegitimate child of Duke Everett.’

I don’t even share a drop of blood with those devils…

I never wished for your misfortune.
On the contrary, I want the Everetts to be punished.
I despise them.
I hope that those devils who treated me like a possession and like a tool would all die.
You might be able to understand me.

And I want to be a person who could comfort you from your sadness…

I want to tell you everything.

To the man who could become my salvation.

“Something like this, as much as you want…”

My voice was shaking.
The hands that had grabbed his sleeve were shaking.

“As much as you want, it’s okay if you want to open up to me…”

That was the extent that my words could reach, how terrible this was.

I gripped his sleeve tightly.
…What kind of expression am I wearing now? Even more, I needed to tell him even more so that he could understand me, but I was so nervous.

I chose my words and pursed my lips, but suddenly, my eyes met his.

His eyes were like the cold northern wind.

“……”

At that moment, my thoughts vanished.
It felt like my entire body was bleeding out.
My eyes quivered and my sight went out of focus.

When I tried to stand up and grip his sleeve tighter, Theodore threw off my hand strongly.
Before I knew it, even the slight confusion in his eyes had disappeared.

Now, it was only a distrustful look.
…It might not even be my own imagination that he looked livid.

“So that’s how you do it.”

“…What?”

“You must have honed your abilities even before you met me, but it’s a shame.
It won’t work.”

“What are you…”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know.
Isn’t this what your father and brothers told you to do?”

I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
As though it suddenly froze, my mind wouldn’t work.
A shrill sound was ringing in my ears.
When I stumbled because my legs were about to collapse under me, he looked at me and only clicked his tongue.

I managed to support myself and looked up at him, but all I could see was a cold gaze.

“You’re no different from them.
Perhaps it’s because you grew up in that devil’s den.”

Why… I don’t understand why you’re saying that.

I, I just—

“Your father and brothers told you to seduce me.
Didn’t you come out and intercept me at the Everett estate’s garden that day just to make an impression on me?”

“……!”

At that moment, my face heated up in shame.
While wearing colorful decorations and rosy fabrics as though I was a peacock, my shoulders had been so clearly exposed and my cleavage could be seen.
It must have looked like I was very determined to stand out…

“B-Back then…”

“Why must you make excuses? That was your purpose from the beginning.
Your father and brothers want to hold and shake my household, and you’re the one who’ll hold and shake my heart.”

“I-I, it’s not…!”

“…I’ll be fooled.
Even though I know you’re acting.”

Theodore replied half a beat late.
It was only then that I realized I had started crying, that I was clinging to the hem of his clothes.

My heart was heavy.
It was throbbing.
Tears flowed down from my eyes, and it seemed like a lie.
He’s misunderstanding me right now.
But I couldn’t think of anything—I could only try to think about why and how this misunderstanding had formed.

What did I do wrong? Did I do something that could be misunderstood? What was the cause? Only questions and not answers plagued my mind.
Half out of my mind, I opened my lips to speak.
First of all, I had to say that wasn’t the case.

But Theodore was faster.

“Tell me.
How does it feel to seduce a man you don’t even like?”

Anger brewed within his eyes, cynicism laced his lips.
With an expression of terrible distrust, he scowled at me.
I lost any semblance of confidence in an instant.

He won’t believe me.

With my lips quivering, I spoke in a broken voice.

“I’m… I’m not trying to seduce you.
I’ve never tried to.”

“…That’s not convincing at all.”

He stepped forward.
He looked at me from up close as though he was a ferocious, hungry beast.

As I faltered unknowingly, he held me firmly.
I groaned because his grip was so strong as he held my shoulders on both sides.

When I looked up, tears streaming down my eyes without realizing it, he gritted his teeth.
The vicious expression that was full of hatred held not a shred of sympathy.

And it became clear.
Just how he viewed me.

“I’ll do what you want, Miss Everett.”

He held my chin with one hand and clenched hard.
Even though he was the one trying to kiss me, he looked horribly insulted.
With eyes full of hostility, he overlapped his lips with mine.

“……!”

When I flinched as my eyes closed shut, he strongly held me in place.
Tears flowed down my cheeks.

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