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Unable to inform her aunt of the situation and suppress her emotions alone, Rackley’s friend Irina Solomon, who had heard about her predicament, rushed to her side to provide some relief.
The Solomon family had close ties with the Winner family, so Rackley had spent most of her time with Irina Solomon, the daughter of that house.
“It’s unjust. Not even a year has passed since the funeral of the lady, and now he brings in a new wife, and even a child born out of wedlock as part of the family!”
“It’s really too much.”
“Even though you’ve been the one taking care of the estate so far, now that he has a son, he gives the management to his wife. That’s not right.”
Though Irina occasionally made snide remarks that upset people and caused distress, she genuinely expressed her anger on Rackley’s behalf.
“Count Winner is looking for a marriage partner for you. He wants to send you away from the estate. It’s like you’re being driven out. You need to act before that happens. You have to protect your position.”
“Is my father really looking for a marriage partner for me?”
“Yes. I overheard the Count asking my father for help.”
“Is that so…”
She had thought the mention of marriage was a warning, to not entertain any unnecessary thoughts since there was now an heir.
Even if it wasn’t a warning and he was serious, she had believed marriage would be an issue far in the future. She had thought it would be at least a year or two away, but it was happening too soon.
“And he even said to give your position in the Rose Foundation to that woman… It’s not acceptable. You need to make them feel your absence. The Count must realise that he can’t do without you.”
It was sweet talk.
Although she doubted that her father would ever notice her absence, she couldn’t resist the temptation.
“They’ll only appreciate your efforts if you leave your position.”
The truth was, it was a busy time. She had to pay attention to the Rose Foundation’s work preparing for the Melrose Orphanage bazaar, and there was a lot to think about in terms of business.
Despite all this, Rackley didn’t refuse Irina’s proposal.
To make Count Winner realise her value, to make him look back at her.
That thought swayed Rackley’s heart.
Irina, seeing Rackley’s trembling eyes, whispered with her bright red lips.
“We’ll go to our family’s villa under the pretext of sharing marriage information among the young ladies. I’ll help you, Rackley.”
As soon as Irina’s whispered words ended, a familiar voice suddenly reached their ears from behind.
“Winner, have you returned to the capital?”
A stern voice, as if scolding.
With bright silver hair and winter sky-like blue eyes, Daniel Holton spoke up.
Rackley and Irina had been talking in a secluded spot on the second floor of the cafe. Daniel, who had finished his conversation and was about to leave the cafe, discovered them and approached.
He was a cousin on her mother’s side and had been her partner when Rackley attended social events. Despite seeing each other often, he was still quite curt. He still called her “Winner” instead of using her name.
Her mother’s family disliked Count Winner, who was after their fortune. They had even cut ties with their sick daughter, and Count Winner disliked Rackley’s maternal family, calling them wealthy but arrogant people, despite marrying Rackley’s mother for their money.
Nevertheless, it was surprising that Daniel Holton had accepted the request to be Rackley’s partner, given the bad relationship between the families.
She understood why he maintained his distance by calling her “Winner” even though he had agreed to be her partner. The two of them were close but in an awkward way. He was a reliable cousin and someone she could lean on. That’s why Rackley often felt like a child when she stood by his side.
“I told the butler to inform you.”
“I heard it. But I was so preoccupied…”
“What kind of person is the Count Winner?!”
Seeing Daniel getting angry with a strained voice, Rackley quickly tried to calm him down. They were in a public place.
Most of the nobles probably already knew about the Winner family’s situation from the rumours, but she didn’t want to add more fuel to the fire.
And no matter how wrong he was, he was still Rackley’s father. She should be the one to criticise him, not someone else. She didn’t want to see someone else badmouth her father.
Daniel glanced at Rackley, who was trying to stop him. It was an uncomfortable gaze.
Then, Irina, with a sad face, gently placed her hand on Daniel’s arm.
“Lord Holton, Rackley is the one who’s most upset. And to raise your voice like that in a place like this… It’s hard for Rackley.”
Daniel only moved his eyes to look at Irina’s hand and then took a step back. Irina bit her lower lip.
“I have a prior engagement with Irina. Let’s talk another time.”
“…I’ll be waiting for your call.”
Fortunately, Daniel backed off.
Daniel Holton, who already disliked Count Winner, had found out about the existence of Rackley’s new stepmother and the child born out of wedlock. The thought of having the family’s disgrace exposed made her feel embarrassed, even though it wasn’t her fault.
She was tired and wanted to return to the mansion, but Irina caught Rackley once more.
“Think carefully and make your decision, Rackley. This could be an opportunity. The Count should also experience that you are a precious child as well.”
She knew it was just a sweet dream.
With the help of the butler, Rowena was doing well, so there would be no problem with the Winner family even if she weren’t there.
Still, using Irina’s suggestion as an excuse, Rackley wanted to leave the mansion and the capital, even for a short time.
Once she made her decision, things moved quickly.
Thanks to Irina speaking well to the Count, Rackley didn’t have to prepare for the party introducing Rowena, and instead went to the Solomon family’s villa.
“The servant has just returned. However, he saw the broken carriage on the way, but he did not see the coachman. As it is late, I shall send a carriage again tomorrow.”
The manor’s butler, Brand, conveyed this message before departing for the servant’s quarters.
Rackley was left alone in her room.
The room, suitable for a lady’s stay, was equipped with cosmetics, perfume, undergarments, and many fine dresses. She had a simple meal and took a bath. With no clothing available, she borrowed a muslin dress and lay on the bed.
However, feeling uneasy, she could not fall asleep, so she drank the sleeping potion given by Irina and closed her eyes again.
Rackley soon rose again, unable to lie down in the sweltering heat.
The heat surged within her, causing her eyes to open involuntarily. It was just past midnight.
‘Is it because it’s the south that it’s still hot at night?’
As she wiped her neck with her small hand, she felt the dampness of sweat.
She attempted to quench her thirst with water from the console, but while it soothed her momentarily, the heat from within did not subside.
Could it be that escaping the exhausting events and coming to an unfamiliar place had caused her to develop a fever?
“Is my body unwell?”
The fever was peculiar.
Her head did not ache, nor did her body feel sore, but there was a churning sensation within her abdomen. Her undergarments felt damp as if she had made a mistake, and the secretion made her feel slippery. The sensation was irritating and uncomfortable, causing her legs to twitch.
The thin fabric of the muslin dress brushing against her skin felt too sensitive.
Although her physical condition was far from normal, she did not want to inconvenience others by waking the butler in the middle of the night on the first day. She was a guest who had come to seek refuge at someone else’s manor.
‘First, let’s try to cool down with some ice.’
Rackley headed to the kitchen.
In any building, the kitchen was typically located at the back. She searched for the kitchen, carrying a lamp. As expected, the kitchen was at the back, and there was a container for storing ice for cooking.
Rackley first took some ice and placed it in her mouth.
Even though she had ice in her mouth, the heat gradually consumed her body. Her head felt hazy, and her intimate area wrapped in small undergarments was ticklish. She wanted to rip off the muslin dress that clung to her body.
However, her rationality reminded her that she must not do so.
She wrapped the ice in a handkerchief and rubbed it on her neck.
An involuntary exclamation escaped her lips.
She rubbed the ice behind her neck, stroked her nape, and ran it down her spine to cool herself. The ice melted in response to her body heat. The water trickled down her chest, dampening her muslin dress.
The damp fabric clung to her body, revealing her skin, but Rackley had no energy to care.
The chill that had cooled her skin soon melted in the heat of her body. The damp dress clung to her skin, irritating her sensitive flesh with each rough breath. The water had trickled down her abdomen, making her undergarments even damper.
Trying to ignore the churning in her lower abdomen, Rackley headed for her room.
Perhaps a cool shower would help. She recalled how her mother had wiped her body with a damp towel when she had a fever as a child.
She had to try something. Time was of the essence.
Her heart raced due to the anxiety that something would happen if she didn’t cool down this fever.
Wiping her damp neck and exposed chest above her muslin dress with anxious hands, Rackley headed for her room.
However, the moment she entered the parlour,
The languid voice of an unfamiliar man stopped her.
A man was standing with his back against the moonlit window.
He appeared confident as if he owned the manor. His face was not clearly visible with his back to the window, but his broad shoulders beneath a thin shirt and the solid chest muscles visible between the open lapels of his shirt shimmered in the moonlight. He had a stature befitting a knight.
However, even his large frame seemed small as he hunched his shoulders. As the man straightened his back, his figure seemed to grow larger, enough to block the entire window.
Only then did she see the man’s face.
Rackley couldn’t help but hold her breath.
With his dark and distinct features, he had a stronger presence than any man Rackley had ever seen. He felt even more intense than a royal prince.
The wild, black-haired man scanned Rackley’s body with an impolite gaze.
“Ah, the gift.”
His husky, laughter-filled voice licked Rackley’s ears. A shiver ran down her spine, and her body trembled.
Despite encountering a stranger in such disarray, she felt a thrill rather than fear.
In her fevered mind, Rackley recalled Irina’s words before she left Count Winner’s manor.
At the time, Irina stretched her red lips into a provocative whisper, her soft laughter somehow unsettling.
‘I’ve sent a surprising gift to the manor for you. Learn well and return.’
Rackley instinctively swallowed her dry saliva.
Translated by Neijude