When it comes to flowers used to decorate the Crown Prince’s space, anything that comes short in appearance is instantly pruned and trimmed. Every flower with a fallen petal or even barely nibbled by the insects, and anything that isn’t striking enough was discarded and cast away.
Because they bloomed in the Crown Prince’s garden, all of them were stunning and pretty. Still, Eloise was determined to scour around the bushes, trying to find a special flower among the already beautiful ones.
Just when she was engrossed in cutting and arranging the red, pink, and white roses in her basket…
“Would you mind giving me one as well?”
Suddenly, a man’s voice that she didn’t recognize spring behind her.
Eloise glanced at the man who owned that voice, and her gaze landed on his handsome face up to his golden-brown hair and warm hazel eyes. He stood out particularly in his distinguished outfit, displaying the air of an aristocrat’s son.
Despite that, no matter how hard she tried to look at him, she couldn’t recall his name or title. When Eloise tilted her head in confusion and drawn a blank look on her face, the man coughed awkwardly—perhaps embarrassed.
“It’s Count Astor Kint. I happened to run into you the last time I was here.”
Eloise answered succinctly then simply nodded her head. Now that she thought about it, he was one of the nobles who sometimes visited the Crown Prince’s palace.
“Greetings, Lord Kint.”
Eloise curtsied and offered her greetings.
“You were also in the garden back then. I was the one who picked up the handkerchief you dropped… I guess I’m not all that impressive on our first meeting.”
He said with an awkward look plastered on his face.
“It’s because I have a poor recollection. And it was a very brief moment.”
“Isn’t there a saying that the eternity is captured in a moment?”
His lips curled into a smile. Young ladies of her age who appreciate warm, gentle expression and a refreshing smile will surely swoon beneath his feet.
His age could have been the same as hers or even younger. Eloise felt quite bizarre in this unfamiliar experience. She did not remember how long it had been since she conversed with a man her age.
“Miss Eloise, do I have something on my face?”
At Eloise’s staring, the young count coughed and blushed slightly. At that, Eloise, taken aback by him uttering her name, queried in surprise.
“You know my name?”
“I sometimes saw you with His Highness’ side.”
She never told him directly about her name, so she was sure he heard it through someone else’s mouth. It wasn’t rare to see two strangers standing alone in the middle of a garden, but Eloise, who was at a loss of her current situation, fell silent while averting her eyes.
“I’ve heard that you’re His Highness’ favorite maid and that you both grew up like siblings since childhood.”
“I’ve also heard that the Empress adores you like her daughter and was rumored to be as beautiful as Her Majesty.”
“She just feels pity for me for being an orphan at a young age. A daughter–that’s ridiculous.”
Eloise shook her head. Each time she did that, the ribbon tied in her hair brushed her cheek, and the count watched those sights with ecstatic eyes.
“It makes sense why he hides you from the crowd. It’s because you’re a hidden gem. I guess I had a stroke of luck that day.”
The young count looked genuinely excited. While Eloise was left flabbergasted and stunned at his words.
This was the Crown Prince’s garden. A place where no one can come and go as they please. It was a space where only the Crown Prince and the people who had made an appointment can set foot and leave unscathed.
“I’m on my way back to see His Highness. I’m here for my uncle’s errand. Oh, my uncle is the Duke of Penshire. He oversees the construction of Her Majesty’s new palace, which will be completed soon. I’m here to provide them the updates.”
The count was excited to talk about things she didn’t even ask.
“But I was lucky to meet Miss Eloise today.”
The man’s eyes were shining earnestly. On the other hand, Eloise was just staring at him with wide eyes while keeping her lips tightly closed—deliberating on what to reply.
“Actually, I’ve been waiting.”
“I was hoping we might meet since it’s hard to catch a glimpse of you. You can swear at me for hanging around with a little impure intention.”
Eloise gave a troubled smile at the count’s words.
“…I don’t really like walking around. And I have a duty to serve His Highness. That’s why I must always be there when necessary to attend to his needs.”
The count frowned upon hearing her response.
“Are you picking flowers?”
Eloise smiled as she looked at the basket teeming with newly pick roses.
“Can I have one as well?”
“That’s not possible.”
The young count’s eyes lowered with embarrassment at the quick refusal. So Eloise swiftly added—coating her voice cheerfully, wondering if it was too cold.
“It is a flower of His Highness the Crown Prince.”
At that, the count once again gave an awkward smile.
“Oh, my God, I coveted something precious.”
“There’s a lot of roses surrounding us, so don’t worry, I’ll close my eyes if you get one.”
She replied with a soft smile. For a moment, a certain glow of admiration was visible in the young count’s eyes.
“Then how about you give me a secret flower instead?”
“No—I’ll buy it instead. That one flower.”
He rummaged through his pocket and held out something in his hand. Eloise locks her gaze on the object placed on the palm of his hand. It was a hairpin studded with tiny rubies.
“Oh, you don’t have to.”
Paying no heed to her words, the Count came closer and picked up a rose from the basket.
The red rose that he picked up was replaced by the hairpin studded with rubies.
“Then our deal is sealed.”
He tucked the red rose into the pocket of his jacket and turned around with a grin.
It was when Eloise, who suddenly lost her flower and obtained a hairpin, was chasing the back of the count in a daze.
Then a familiar feeling struck Eloise in the back of her head. When she lifted her eyes towards its direction, she saw the figure of Rishid, who was sitting on the window frame–looking directly at her.
Eloise stood stiff—frozen to her spot as if she had been doused with a bucket of cold water. The indifferent cold blue eyes held her feet like magic, hindering her from moving.
There was no emotion in those eyes. It was as if he had no feeling at all. She dropped her stare and shook her head unconsciously. Even though they were pretty far away, the gaze that fell on the top of her head was hotter than the scorching midday sun.
It was an act of instinctive fear, but avoiding his gaze was never an option in the first place. Because if she did, consequences would fall into her. As her thoughts run wild, Eloise hurriedly raised her head.
However, Rishid had already disappeared from the window.
Eloise scoured the window with an edgy look. But his figure was nowhere to be found. Her heart was pounding; she quickly grabbed her basket and rushed to make her way through the rose bushes.
The sound of walking up the stairs reverberated throughout the wide corridor of the Crown Prince’s palace. Whether it’s a maid or anyone else, it was forbidden to run with such a noise unless it was veritably urgent.
The owner of the footstep was Eloise. With a basket of flowers hanging on one of her arms, she frantically ascended to the stairs to the Crown Prince’s office. The polished white marble reflected her fears and nervousness.
As soon as she jumped and stood in front of the office, uncertainty and hesitation sweep over her.
Eloise was biding her time reaching out the doorknob and withdrawing her hands again and again.
It’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be okay. She just came to put the flowers in…..
She quit trying to persuade herself inside. No matter how much she wanted to reassure herself, anxiety persistently lingers on her.
In a little while, the weekly political meeting would begin, so in the meantime, she could resume her task of changing the flowers in the vase later on. Having chosen to return at a later time, she turned around in haste.
Without making any sound, a long arm stretched out from the gaping door.
In a snap, the arms caught her waist and pulled her inside. It happened so quickly that there was no time for her to react.
From there on, only a few traces of flowers remained where Eloise had stood.