“But?” Lobelia tilted her head, urging Joheim to continue.
Joheim lowered his head again.
He hesitated for a long time before barely uttering the next words.

“Chivalry is not limited to the Lady, Miss Lobelia,” he said, “a knight has a duty to protect those weaker than himself.” Cliché, Lobelia thought.
“I’ve seen Miss Lobelia in the swordsmanship contest.
When Miss Lobelia collapsed, I guessed that the rumors were true,” Joheim said in all seriousness.
It seemed his concern toward her was sincere.
Lobelia carefully observed Joheim.

The rumors had undoubtedly pervaded the social circles.
The count’s family’s harassment towards Lobelia was not such a secret, but the people did not know the extent of their abuse; they simply assumed they were only verbal.
Perhaps Joheim thought otherwise, discovering how Lobelia was abnormally light.
He thought his presence by her side would cease their bullying.

But as Lobelia said, she didn’t believe in good faith.
She would never accept one’s generosity because no person would be ever so gracious out of mere sympathy.
“It’s really okay, Sir Jereminus,” she said, refusing Joheim’s kindness once more.

“Is it?” Joheim muttered to himself, unable to hide his disappointment.
He blamed himself for not earning her trust.

“Then, I’ll go in now,” Lobelia said, “Tell Duke Ferrado that I’ll be waiting.”

“Understood,” Joheim replied, helplessly.

As Lobelia was about to alight from the carriage on her own, Joheim, who had been in a daze, immediately got up.
He stepped out of the wagon first and took Lobelia by the hand.
Lobelia looked strangely at the knight who was doing her a favor even after he was coldly rejected.

“Thank you,” she muttered politely.

Joheim stood still and watched Lobelia until her back disappeared through the front door of the Evelentia mansion.

* * *

“I told you not to be late!”

As soon as Lobelia entered, Josephine’s voice erupted in the hall.
Lobelia quickly checked the time.
It was still afternoon tea time, and Marlon had told her to return before dinnertime, so she was far from late.

“What time is it now?” Josephine roared as she descended the stairs and angrily approached Lobelia.
She had done nothing wrong, but Lobelia wisely kept her mouth shut.
Behind Josephine trailed Aina with her reddened eyes fiercely glued on her; she seemed to have been crying since she had left the mansion.
Her unrelenting gaze never left Lobelia for a second as if she believed she would see through her secrets if she glared at her long enough.

“You…” Josephine studied Lobelia from head to toe with scornful eyes.
Aina squeezed the hem of her mother’s skirt as though signaling something.
Josephine spoke again.
“Tell the truth about what happened with the Duke of Ferrado,” she said, “everything.”

“I had lunch with Duke Ferrado,” Lobelia replied in a deadpan tone.
Josephine narrowed her eyes.

“And?” she questioned.

Aina, who was hiding behind Josephine, suddenly stepped forward and burst out, unable to contain her curiosity.

“And? And? And what did you do?”

“I thanked the Duke for his kindness.
I didn’t say anything more,” Lobelia answered.

“I know that’s not all! Tell me!” Aina demanded.
Lobelia stared at Aina. She’s surprisingly sharp, she thought.
At Aina’s behavior earlier, Lobelia suspected that Aina might be a very different person from what she knew.

“Nothing else happened, young lady,” she said.

“It can’t be!” Aina screamed.
Madame Terrine, who was standing upstairs, leaned out and cautiously called out to Josephine.
“The Count is looking for Lobelia,” she announced.
Josephine sighed heavily.
She tapped Aina on the shoulder and said to Lobelia, “Go up to the study.” Lobelia had wondered why Aina and Josephine were out in the hall.
Apparently, they wanted to interrogate her before Marlon summoned her.

“Then I’ll go.” Lobelia bowed her head to Josephine and Aina and followed Madame Terrine upstairs.
As she entered the study, she saw Marlon looking out the window with his hands resting behind his back.

“Madame Terrine, you get out.”

Madame Terrine left without delay and closed the door.

Aina was tense, unlike when she dealt with Josephine and Aina.
Marlon wasn’t simply her sworn enemy, he was a sinister man.
He tried to control Lobelia by limiting her radius of action and regulating the amount of information going to her.
Her visit to the duke should have never happened

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