“You will be married to the Duke of Valentino.”
When I first heard that, I wondered if my father had finally gone insane.
It wasn’t entirely impossible that he’d gone mad because he had already abandoned his humanity a long time ago.
“The Duke of Valentino has been a difficult opponent for us for a long time, even though we’ve been trying to shake his authority.
But recently, he’s been trying to rally support from other households.
Looks like he’s desperate.”
I heard that many fissures have been appearing at the northern part of the Valentino territory, and so they’ve been suffering from many difficulties.
The fissures or cracks were like wounds that appeared in the world, and they would pour out countless demonic monsters, which were from a different dimension.
The fief lords were always troubled by these fissures because the damages caused by the monsters were very severe.
In particular, I heard that the situation in the north was by far the worst in all the land.
“Duke Valentino seems to have requested support from Delacroix and Alvinith, but I’ve already finished talking to those two families.”
What he just said was that he isolated the Valentino Duchy so that they couldn’t not receive any support.
Of course, His Majesty the King would also not help Valentino because he was already on my father’s palm.
“Duke Valentino is like a rotten rope, but it would not be a waste.
He might be struggling now, but he’ll eventually surrender to me.”
“Start your bridal classes today.
Lily, even if it’s only this much, you can do this at least.”
My father’s eyes were cold as he clicked his tongue.
I naturally shrank down at his gaze that was devoid of warmth.
“Answer me, Lily Everett.”
“Since you understand, get out.”
With my head down, I left his office as if I was running away.
My father’s gaze seemed to follow me for a long time, as though he was looking at a defective product.
* * *
Rumors soon spread throughout the estate that I was set to marry Duke Valentino.
The first person to come visit me after hearing the news was my stepbrother who always expressed his dissatisfaction with me.
“You have a knack for breezing through, huh?”
While I was weaving a tapestry with the family insignia, I paused after hearing my younger brother’s sarcasm.
I turned around quietly.
He had a broad smirk on his face, but he wasn’t looking at me.
“Duke Valentino is famous for his good looks and outstanding physique.
Since it’s like that, you wouldn’t dare refuse, right? You’re absolutely ecstatic about this, right?”
There was no need for me to respond to his taunting remarks.
I ignored my brother and focused on weaving the tapestry again.
“Lily Everett, are you ignoring me?”
“I have nothing to say to you, Hessen.”
Incredulous, Hessen laughed.
Then, he picked up a pair of scissors nearby.
Baroness Baden, who’s in charge of my bridal classes, became surprised and flustered.
But Hessen did not stop.
“How dare you ignore me? Huh?! You’re not even a real Everett! Lowborn wench!”
He mercilessly ripped the tapestry using the sharp silver scissors.
As I was forcibly stopped, I soon sighed and pulled away from the loom.
Hessen threw the scissors away haphazardly and glared at me with ferocious eyes.
His indigo eyes were fired up with anger.
“Do you think you’ll change just because you’ll become the Duchess of Valentino? You’ll be a nuisance even in that house, you incompetent and foolish Lily.”
After saying those venomous words, Hessen turned around and left.
A maid who was standing by the wall carefully picked up the silver scissors and placed it back on the console table.
Was she about seventeen years old? When our eyes met, the maid quickly lowered her head and I spoke to her quietly.
Answering with a small voice, the maid bowed further.
The tips of her ears were a little red.
Seeing how kind she was to me, it looked like she just entered the Everett estate.
There was a bitter feeling in knowing that this kindness would not last long.
The Everett family’s servants generally ignored me, and there was no one on my side.
It wouldn’t be long until this one would turn away from me.
With a bitter smile, I looked back at Baroness Baden and asked her.
“I apologize, but can we continue our tapestry class tomorrow instead, Baroness?”
“Yes, of course.”
As if not to show that she was affected by the storm that Hessen had caused in the room, the Baroness calmly replied.
I smiled thinly at her and left the study.
I was hoping to get some air and calm myself as I walked along the corridor, but my peace was brief.
I ran into Owen, Hessen’s older brother—and an older stepbrother of mine.
After Hessen left, now Owen came.
To make matters worse, that bastard Lennon was next to Owen.
Lennon, the second son of the Chester Marquisate.
He was Owen’s long-standing acquaintance, and he’d had that vicious and double-faced attitude the entire time I knew him.
When I was younger, I had to run away from his pranks and harassment many times.
And when I got older, I had to run away from his attempts at taking my purity.
I couldn’t let my guard down in front of Lennon Chester even now.
Even though Owen, my older brother, was here with me, he still had the gall to throw an unpleasant look towards my direction.
I curtsied in front of them, trying not to wince.
“Brother, Lord Lennon.”
“What do you mean ‘Lord’ Lennon? Call me Brother, too, Lily.
You’re getting prettier and prettier these days.”
I wanted to cut off his tongue if only I could.
How shameless was he to do this in front of my brother and sometimes even my father? Lennon had always been this way ever since I was fourteen years old, leering at me with those sleazy eyes of his.
“I heard about it.
Father’s planning to marry you off to Duke Valentino.”
Owen spoke in a dry voice that was scratchy like dry sand.
I nodded silently, refusing to look at Lennon’s side.
I’m on my way back from my bridal classes.”
That guy has always been on my nerves.
It’s great that you’ll marry him so we can hold him on a leash.”
“I hope you can be useful this time, Lily Everett.”
A cold gaze was looking at me like I was not more and not less than a tool of the household.
If I were truly their full-blooded family, would the men in this house ever respect me?
Would they see me as a human being?
A dark fog seemed to enshroud my mind as I thought of this.
At the same time, someone’s hand was placed heavily on my shoulder.
When I looked up in surprise.
Lennon was staring at me with a lustful smile.
Goosebumps rose up my spine.
“Don’t worry too much.
I can marry you if it becomes too burdensome for you to be Duchess Lily Valentino.”
“…Thank you for your words.”
My voice that answered him trembled slightly.
Lennon leaned in as though he was going to caress my lips, then he whispered.
“Come on, call me ‘Brother’ Lennon.”
“Hm? Aren’t you going to call me that? You’re making me upset.”
I clutched the hem of my dress tightly and trembled.
I was both ashamed and angry, so it felt like I was about to cry, but I held back these emotions and forced my eyes not to shed tears.
See you later.”
Chortling, Lennon patted my shoulder twice more, then stepped away.
I quickly bowed my head and rushed towards my room with restrained steps.
Click. After barely arriving at my room and closing the door behind me, it finally felt like I could breathe.
With my back to the wall, I slid down.
Sitting while crouched into myself, I stared blankly into space.
When can I get out of this hell?
It felt like there were insects crawling on the place where Lennon touched.
I wanted to twist his hand if I could.
‘… Will Duke Valentino really marry me?’
Would I be happy if I married Duke Valentino and if I finally escaped this place?
There’s no way.
Everett and Valentino were two households that were rivals for so long.
Valentino was a family that defended justice and morality, while Everett was their exact opposite.
Under Everett’s influence, countless people died and lost their homes.
The Duchy of Everett did everything they could to get their hands on more wealth and power.
Everett and Valentino clashed with each other in almost everything.
The two families had been antagonizing each other for many years, shedding blood many times and building mountains of corpses in between them.
Over time, the power of the two families were on equal terms, but a difference between them arose more than a decade ago.
The Everett family, which had grown exponentially like a monster, eventually became powerful enough to swallow the entire kingdom.
‘…Theodore Valentino won’t like me.’
It’s not just because I was a daughter of the Everett family.
‘Because I am flawed.’
To the public, I was an illegitimate child that Duke Everett had with a maid.
However, I was clearly not Duke Kasef Everett’s biological child.
‘Dirty and lowly wench.’
That was how Hessen called me.
Owen did not use such harsh words to address me because he pretended to be a good nobleman on the outside, but I could see with the way he looked at me that he despised me.
And my father…
‘You have to achieve as much as I invested in you, Lily Everett.’
The Duchess who had given birth to her children had long since passed away.
The Duke, who had only two sons, needed a daughter who he could raise well and sell at a high price.
However, Duke Everett wanted to avoid spending useless money on a new wife or a lover.
That’s why he decided to just adopt a child rather than siring an illegitimate child.
And that child was me, Lily Everett.
I was a lowborn maid’s child who didn’t even know who my father was.
Duke Everett was satisfied with me because I had a good enough face and white-silver hair that was similar to the silver hair of the Everett family.
In other words, my appearance was all it took to get me here.
‘All you have is your face and that white-silver hair.
Shortly after adopting me, Duke Everett deemed that I was not worth even half the amount of money he used to invest in me.
Still, the Duke did not throw me away because that would mean throwing away his investment entirely.
But the members of the Duchy, who had already been cold to me, began to openly treat me harshly.
Owen tried to control me to his standards, and Hessen was always enraged at me.
Even when Hessen would harass me and when the Duchy’s servants bothered me, the Duke continued to ignore me.
And so, I’ve been living in this hell for over a decade.
There were times when I truly wished to die, but I didn’t have the courage to take my own life.
All I could do was endure it all over time.
There was a weak hope in me that someday, somehow, there might be a person who would reach out to me.
I got up from the floor, but there wasn’t any strength in my numb legs.
I barely staggered over to my bed.
I fell on the sheets that had a pleasant scent and lay down without tucking myself in, closing my eyes.
Soon, a maid would come in to wake me up and urge me to go to my next schedule, but I wanted to rest even for a moment.
* * *
The next morning, here at the Everett estate, Theodore Valentino came to visit.
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