SV – 13

A luxurious breakfast of sumptuous Southern Tezeban cuisine was arranged for outdoor dining. Under the pergola where the sweet-sour grape vines cast comfortable shadows, lay fresh salads, still-hot baked bread loafs, juicy chicken in gravy and the region’s exclusive white berries filling plate after plate.

An exhausted Dahlia unable to go back to sleep, quelled her fatigued regard as she watched dish after dish constantly being served. In general, the people of the Count’s mansion had a good appetite and were well-fed so setting up a generous table was standard, but this was the first time she had such an excessive breakfast.

“It’s a southern morning feast that I’ve only heard of before,”

the Archduke remarked with admiration. Since he had spoken, everyone’s eyes dining at the table turned to him.

It was the same for Dahlia, but she quickly shifted her gaze to the front.

Coincidentally, the person sitting opposite of her was Jurgen whom she had only met last night. Unlike last night, he was wearing a white shirt and a blue vest. The man’s hard body was clearly visible through the open collar complete with a couple of undone buttons down his front.

She frowned and looked away from his unkempt figure. Then, as he stared at Dahlia with an unknown smile, he raised a fork.

Yvon surveyed around the table at the strangely sharp men today and opened the conversation,

“White berries are the specialty of Tezeba. It is very sweet, but the last notes of its taste are refreshing like a lemon.”

“I’ve heard of it. Etna’s head chef once made a dessert out of it. My wife loved it.”

“If that’s the case, I’ll prepare some white berries for you to take back. We select the most outstanding varieties and breed the best through the seedlings.”

“Thank you, Countess.”

Yvon and the Archduke continued conversing without a lull. They quietly exchange topics such as ‘how did you sleep?’, the climate and weather, and news about the imperial family and the capital.

When Dahlia was about to place the salad plate in front of her, Gerald, who was sitting next to her, offered his white berries.

“Sister, you should eat something sweet after getting sick.”

“Thank you, but… . It’s too much to eat yours, Gerald.”

Instead, he brazenly took the plate.

“I take care of the greens.”

“Gerald, Dahlia should have a balanced meal.”

Despite Yvon’s response, he did not return her salad. Dahlia was internally pleased. She liked meat more than vegetables, and she loved white berries much more than meat.

It was when Dahlia opened her mouth wide, ready to eat slices of meat topped and loaded with white berries—her eyes met Jurgen’s, who was sitting opposite her.

The man who cracked her seals last night and threateningly demonstrated his power, was now staring at her with a gentle and soft gaze as if he were in love. The fingers holding his fork were so long and straight that it caught her eye.

Instead, Dahlia put her food in her mouth without avoiding Jurgen’s gaze with a chilling grimace and sharp glare.

The sweet fruit’s pulp burst and the salvory surface of the chicken spread throughout her mouth, giving rise to the satisfied smile across her face.

“Young Duke, stop staring a hole in my sister’s face and focus on your meal.”

The clack of silverware hitting the plate was particularly loud. Dahlia, who had just swallowed her food, shot a shocked and distressed look at Gerald.

“Gerald, how could you—”

“It’s because Miss Von Klose is so incredibly beautiful.”

Count Howell’s glass fell with a clamorous clank. Howell glared at Jurgen with a fiercely sullen look and clenched his fists on his table.

“I don’t think it’s a jest to be had at the dining table, Young Duke.”

“I am not joking.”

“Then… . Why are you saying that all of a sudden?”

“I want to propose marriage.”

Jurgen’s steady gaze with a handsome, beaming smile on his confident face, turned to Dahlia again. She wanted to faint.

Their gazes met at a point. Dahlia put her fork down and did not lose to Jurgen’s stare.

Plainly, he had some plan. There was no affection in that man’s regard. Those eyes were not in love, but dotted with interest or curiosity.

At the sudden proposal of Duke Leicester, the Archduke of Leicester [t1v: Jurgen is the Duke while his father is the Archduke] sealed his mouth in utter bewilderment, and Howell’s face turned pale. If Gerald had not got up and left after hitting the table, Dahlia might have had to answer the proposal right there.

“Nevertheless….. my daughter is still a child who hasn’t even made her debut yet. We are grateful for the Young Duke’s proposal, but the timing is not right.”

At the chilly atmosphere that had become a thin ice sheet ready to crack, Yvon gracefully lightened the mood and persuaded everyone to eat again and carry on with the meal. However, Jurgen was the only one who started eating calmly.

He showed impeccable dining etiquette. The sequence of cutting food, putting it in his mouth, and swallowing was almost reverent.

Determined, Dahlia also finished her meal steadfastly amid the chaotic ambiance. She made frequent eye contact with the Duke, and they exchanged polite ascetic smiles as if all was serene.

And at some point she was sure.

Jurgen Axel Edelred.

That he noticed two powers mingling within her. And that this marriage proposal was the first test he had thrown at her.

***

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