“Aina!” Marlon intervened to stop his daughter’s tantrum, “Stop it now.” He loved his daughter and would do anything for her, but he was not one to side with her if it meant his humiliation.

“Father,” Aina cried, and then helplessly returned the perfume bottle in the box.
Joheim ordered the apprentice to secure the gift and spoke up, a hint of displeasure evident in his voice.

“Since the Duke has sent an invitation, I would like to invite Miss Lobelia to the residence of Duke Ferrado this afternoon,” he said, with emphasis on the duke’s invitation.

Lobelia stood still and waited for Marlon’s answer.
The invitation came to Lobelia, but she could not leave the mansion without Marlon’s permission as she was his ward.
Marlon fidgeted on his mustache as he contemplated.
He didn’t like Lobelia going outside.
He wanted to decline the invitation, but how could he when it was sent from the duke, who had also sent a gift? Eventually, Marlon agreed, albeit hesitantly.

“Then let’s go, Miss Lobelia.”

Joheim subtly urged Lobelia as if he wanted to get out of this strange mansion as soon as possible.
Lobelia wanted to go to Ferrado’s mansion as well, so her cooperation was immediate.
She lowered her head and thanked Marlon, “Thank you for allowing me to go to the Duke of Ferrado.”

“This is ridiculous! My sister was invited by Duke Ferrado before me,” Aina wailed, now in her mother’s arms.
Tears soaked Josephine’s sleeve.
Marlon glanced at his daughter before facing Lobelia.
“Come back before dinner,” he said sternly.
Lobelia nodded without protest.
Outside the mansion, a huge carriage bearing the seal of the Duke of Ferrado was waiting for Lobelia.

“I’ll help you get into the wagon,” Joheim said.
He bent one knee on the floor and outstretched his hand to Lobelia.
Lobelia was confused by the gesture, but soon realized that he intended to assist her to the carriage.
Lobelia hesitated for a moment, but her body eventually moved accordingly.
She took Joheim’s hand as she stepped on his knee and climbed on the carriage.

While Lobelia straightened her crumpled skirt, she noticed Joheim was staring at her with a strange look.
“Do you need anything?” she asked.
Joheim shook his head in surprise.

“Miss Lobelia is too light,” he said without thinking and hastily bowed his head, “Please forgive my rudeness.”

“It’s okay,” Lobelia replied casually.
She was aware that she was painfully thin.
After Julia’s death, she had suffered extreme stress and lost a lot of weight.
She had been worried that her body might weaken further, but as long as she had energy to accomplish her revenge, she would be alright.
Joheim cast one last glance at Lobelia, and the carriage began to move and headed to the duke’s residence.

* * *

Lobelia disembarked from the carriage with Joheim’s assistance and absorbed the magnificent view of the duke’s not so humble abode.
During her first visit, she had been too anxious to notice the beautiful landscape, the intricate statues, and the lavish decorations in the mansion.

“This way, please,” said Joheim.
At his guidance, they passed through the duke’s hall and arrived at the dining room, which had a splendid arched ceiling and a crystal chandelier hanging from it.
Seated across the long table was none other than Jade Ferrado, handsome as ever.
He was dressed in a neatly ironed black suit which complemented his red eyes.

“Miss Lobelia.” Jade called out Lobelia’s name.
The sound of her name was unfamiliar as it rolled out of his tongue.
“Come and sit down.
Joheim, you go out.”

Joheim bowed his head and exited the dining hall, leaving Jade and Lobelia alone.

“I deliberately didn’t call the maids,” Jade said, “You’d be comfortable with this, wouldn’t you?”

Lobelia nodded and approached the table. This is not simply a luncheon, she thought, this is a feast. When she hesitated, Jade stood from his seat and pulled out a chair.
“Here,” he said.
Lobelia took a seat, feeling the same awkwardness she felt when Joheim got onto his knees to help her into the carriage.
Jade sat across Lobelia.
He had invited her for a luncheon, but neither of them touched the food.
After a few minutes of stifling silence, Lobelia spoke first.

“How was the effect of the sleeping potion?”

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