The sun was starting to set, but the boulevard was still bustling with people. All the ladies here were probably of the same mind—that they must get the best dress available for the upcoming Imperial ball.
“I’m so sorry you have to accompany me here today, Lu,” Clara said.
Her long, golden locks were brushed neatly and held down by a white headdress decorated with silk flowers. Her blue eyes looked antsy and apologetic as they stared at the man in front of her.
“It’s fine. I have something to do around here anyway,” Lucien answered with a smile. The soft and smooth icy blue hair that he inherited from his mother was tied to the side. He looked outside the carriage to check whether they were arriving yet or not.
When the carriage stopped, the first thing he did was step out of it and waited in front of the door with his hair extended towards Clara.
Clara smiled and took his hand as she got off the carriage, graciously accepting his escort.
The two of them had been friends since childhood due to the fact that Marquess Renand and Count Benois, their fathers, got to know each other during their academy days.
Both of them, along with Lucien’s older sister, were as tight as real siblings. They were so close that Lucien wouldn’t hesitate to protect Clara even if it meant putting himself in danger.
Clara was going to go to the Swanlake Boutique with Lucien’s older sister today so both of them could get fitted into some new dresses for the Imperial ball, which was going to be held in a month. Unfortunately, Lucien’s older sister Cecile was down with a fever, so Lucien had to step in for her.
“What kind of dress should I pick, I wonder?” Clara said. Her eyes were sparkling, as if she was a child looking forward to her present.
“Soft colors look best on you,” Lucien said. Even the pink dress she was currently wearing really accentuated her complexion.
The sight of her being so excited brought a smile to his face.
They got to the Swanlake Boutique just in time for their reservation. However, the personnel approached them in a hurry instead of leading them into a private room.
“Welcome, Lady Benois, Lord Renand. Unfortunately, I am afraid I must ask you to wait for a moment since our private rooms are currently still in use,” the personnel said, her expression clearly showing that she was flustered.
Clara smiled and nodded to reassure her. With a relieved look on her face, the personnel led them to an anteroom instead.
“Please feel free to wait here. I will bring some tea and snacks in just a short moment,” the personnel said while gesturing at the sofa.
Lucien had taken a seat, but Clara was still standing with a troubled look.
"Can you lead me to the restroom?" Clara asked the personnel, to which the personnel nodded politely in return. Clara then turned to Lucien.
"I'll be back!" she said with a wave towards Lucien.
As the personnel led Clara out of the anteroom, Lucien knew that she would take a while. He was left in his own device with nothing to do.
For the first few minutes, Lucien just observed the anteroom. Pretty exquisite decoration, he thought.
Then for the next few minutes, he started to look through the catalog. Being the little brother of one of the two most influential ladies in high society, he knew a thing or two about fashion trends.
Maybe I can be of help if I know what we're looking for, he thought.
His serious personality was what pushed him to read up to the third catalog when he suddenly heard a scream.
Lucien immediately jumped to his feet and rushed towards the door.
It was Clara's voice. Something had happened.
"Clara?! What's wrong?!" Lucien yelled as he burst the door open. Yet, what he saw next froze him on his tracks.
Clara was in the arms of an unknown man, her back bent backwards as if they were doing a dip during waltz.
Their eyes were locked on each other, and for a moment, it was as if they were in their world.
"Clara!" Lucien's voice seemed to startle the both of them and returned them to reality as they quickly separated themselves from each other.
Lucien grabbed Clara by her shoulders and looked at her in worry.
"Are you okay?" he asked. His gaze turned fierce in an instant when he shifted his focus on the man in front of him.
"What did you do, Duke Karron?" Lucien said, almost with a growl.
Duke Siegfried Hann Karron raised an eyebrow. His black hair and red eyes made him look like a beast eyeing its prey, and even Lucien couldn't deny the fact that he had a strong presence.
"I did nothing, Lord Renand. Will you please not look at me like you're looking at a human garbage?" Siegfried sighed and shook his head.
Clara tried to calm Lucien down. "It's true, Lu, I just tripped and—"
"What is this commotion?"
All three of them turned their heads towards the source of the melodious voice.
The door to a private room right next to their encounter had been opened, from which a lady had emerged.
Her black hair was tied on each side of her head and her black eyes seemed to flaunt her authority on everyone around.
Black hair was the characteristic of the Imperial family, and there was only one lady of their age related to the Imperial family…
"Greetings to Your Highness the Princess Giselle," Lucien said with a bow when he quickly realized who the lady in front of them was. Clara followed suit and gave Giselle a curtsy.
The Imperial Princess Giselle was the other most influential lady in high society, along with Lucien's sister Cecile. Lucien had only met her once before this though.
Giselle didn't respond to them and just shifted her attention to Siegfried.
"Explain, Siegfried," she said. She sounded intimate and informal to Duke Karron, Lucien noted, probably because they were cousins.
Siegfried grunted, "Lady… Benois tripped and I caught her fall. That was all."
Lucien couldn't help but notice Siegfried pausing in the middle. Did he not even remember who Clara was?
"Hmm," Giselle hummed along with the sound of a folding fan being spread open. "You may raise your heads."
When she said that, both Lucien and Clara raised their heads in an instant.
The first thing that Lucien noticed was how cold Giselle’s black eyes looked. They looked as if they had no light nor warmth at all, like a bottomless pit.
Of course, he knew better than voicing it out or letting it show on his face.
With her face hidden behind her folding fan, her expression was unreadable. For a moment, she said nothing and just studied Clara from top to bottom.
"I apologize for taking my time, Lady Benois. Siegfried, let us take our leave," Giselle said as she walked past both Clara and Lucien.
Lucien thought the storm had passed, but then he flinched when he felt a killing glare on him.
He looked up and saw Giselle's eyes lit up with fiery wrath for a second before she turned away from him, walking away with Siegfried right behind her.
Once both of them were out of their sights, Clara let out a deep sigh.
"That sure was nerve-wracking," Clara said, slumping onto the floor.
"...Did you see her eyes?" Lucien said, nonchalantly offering his hand to her as if it was a usual occurrence.
"Yeah! They're deep and profound, aren't they?" Clara beamed as she took Lucien's hand to help herself up.
Deep and profound? No, that's not what I mean, Lucien thought, yet he didn't press it any further and just kept it inside his mind.
"And that man—Ah, I think we can go in now," Clara said. She rushed ahead into the private room, not even giving Lucien a chance to see her face.
Suddenly, Lucien remembered the scene he saw when he opened the door.
He was sure that this was Clara's and Siegfried's first time meeting in person, so just what was that about?