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< —="" ever="" after="" —=""> (3)
"d.u.c.h.ess. I heard that lately, you rarely appear at social activities. Apparently, you haven't gone to a tea party in almost a month." (Beth)
"Yes. My health isn't very good these days."
Lucia tried not to blush. He had left a lot of traces on the exposed part of her neck and arms, so she could not appear in public places in such a speckled state. When she cried to him that she couldn't go out in such a state, he got a kick out of it, instead of being apologetic. It was only after she declared that they would sleep in separate rooms if he did it again, that he quit his mischief.
"Oh no. It must be because the weather is so cold these days. Even Her Highness the Queen has been cooped up in her palace lately."
Beth smiled pleasantly, not saying anything. Seeing Beth's strange smile, Katherine tilted her head, then her eyes widened.
"You have something to be cautious about!"
"A few days ago, I was diagnosed by the Imperial doctor. I have been careful so far because I could sense something."
"His Majesty must have been delighted."
"He asked me to give him a princess this time."
Lucia belatedly realized what they were talking about after being unable to follow the conversation and she saw Beth stroking her lower belly.
"Congratulations, Your Highness."
"Thank you. I have already had three children, so I don't want to make a big fuss."
"What are you talking about? It is only right that it is celebrated. Since elder brother keeps talking about wanting a princess, do you hope for that now?"
"It might be a son again."
"Ah…that's a little, you know. I want to see a cute baby girl."
"Oh my. Aren't your nephews cute?"
"Boys are too much. Just one hour with them will drain you completely."
A handmaid approached Beth and whispered something to her.
"Bring him in."
Beth instructed the maid and asked the two of them for understanding.
"It seems Ethan is feeling peevish after waking up from a nap. I think I'll have to interrupt our fun."
Ethan was the third son of the King and turned three years old this year. Lucia and Katherine were willing to understand the situation and after a while, the handmaid came in with a blonde little boy in her arms.
The child rubbed his eyes, looking annoyed, and as soon as he saw his mother, he stretched out his arms, wrapped them around her neck and cuddled up in her arms. Beth gently stroked the child's back while patting him and kissed his forehead.
The sight of a mother pouring out her love onto her child was more beautiful than the smile of an enchanting beauty. It was sublime and mysterious. Lucia remembered her late mother. She remembered her mother hugging her and calming her down after she had scary dream.
As Lucia looked at the prince who was quickly falling asleep in his mother's arms, she projected her childhood onto him and overlapped the image of the Queen happily embracing her beloved child with herself.
The greed of man was endless. Just a month ago, she was happy to get his love and felt as if she had gotten the whole world. She had already prepared herself to never have a child in this life. The problem was that she gave up on it earlier than she gave up on his love. She didn't know why the firm determination she made in the past was beginning to waver so easily after getting his love.
* * *
Lucia came down from the royal carriage that brought her out from the Inner Palace. The Taran family carriage was waiting to take the d.u.c.h.ess back to the mansion. Since a while ago, she had been stuck on the thought of a child.
'I know talking about a child now is premature. We just started seeing eye to eye.'
Her desire to have his child was her greed after all, even with the excuse that she loved him. Even though she knew that, she kept thinking of the image of the young child in the Queen's arms.
Because of this, Lucia didn't notice that her guard Dean didn't come out to meet her and simply climbed up the carriage stairs that were dropped down by the servant. But suddenly, she felt something pulling her and fell forward. She let out a short scream and fell into a familiar embrace.
His eyes curved gently as he looked at her and he brought his lips to hers. One of his arms held her waist while the other held her arm as he supported her unstable position.
He tasted her sweet lips like biting into a fruit, and swallowed her hot, tender flesh. His tongue effortlessly dove into her small mouth, sweeping through her moist innards, and savoring the faint scent of tea leaves coming from her.
After ending the long kiss, he was still not satisfied. As she gasped for breath with a flushed face, he kissed her lips lightly again. Then, he knocked on the wall of the carriage. Understanding the signal, the carriage began to move slowly.
"Why are you…" (Lucia)
"I came to pick you up." (Hugo)
Lucia smiled faintly and wrapped her arms around his neck. She liked the light pressure on her back as he returned the hug and pressed his hand against her back.
'Things are fine as they are.'
Lucia's heart was overflowing with happiness. The strange emptiness from a moment ago had disappeared. She didn't want to do something stupid like agonizing over something she couldn't have and ignoring the happiness right in front of her.
Over the past month, on the outside, their relations.h.i.+p had not changed much. Even before they confirmed their feelings for each other, they were known to everyone as a devoted couple. Even if she was thrilled by the fact that they had unexpectedly confessed their love to each other; to other people, they were just a little more unusual.
Thanks to this, Jerome had been dealing with an internal dilemma. In the matter of a month, another maid had quit. As expected, the reason was marriage. It was unprecedented for maids to quit a stable, high-paying job like the Duke of Taran's, one after the other. Jerome had to worry about bad rumors turning up that the job environment was so atrocious, causing so many to quit, and that brought him a headache.
"Do you want to go somewhere else instead of going home?" (Hugo)
"Go where?" (Lucia)
"I heard there's a funny play these days."
"Are you interested in such things?"
"I was told it was popular among n.o.blewomen."
Whether someone said it in pa.s.sing and he remembered it, or whether he deliberately asked someone about it, either ways he made an attempt for her sake. Lucia was happy with just that. She kissed his cheek and gladly accepted his invitation for a date.
 They're quitting because they keep being fed dog food and want to feed other people dog food too. In order words, they see the ducal couple happily married and want that for themselves. They keep quitting to get married.