Ch. 190 Best Gift
Even after Isaac’s visit to the palace, Elena remained busy with further preparations. Not only did she have to work out the details of the date, but she was taking painstaking care to select her dress tonight, far more than with any party or event so far.
Elena turned to Mary, who was helping her with her fitting.
“How about this? Does this look alright?”
“Of course. All of the dresses you tried so far are beautiful.”
“I’m glad that they are…”
Elena peered at herself in the mirror.
“…but tonight I want a look that can’t easily be forgotten.”
Carlisle complimented her every day for looking beautiful, but tonight she wanted to give him a memory that years from now he would remember with stunned appreciation.
Mary gave a quiet smile.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so meticulous, Your Highness. You seem even more nervous than the wedding.”
“Do you think so?”
“Yes. Are you looking forward to going on your date?”
Elena’s cheeks colored. She couldn’t bring herself to deny it. It was the first time she and Carlisle would go out together since she realized her feelings for him.
“Is it that obvious? That’s embarrassing…”
Mary’s smile widened at Elena’s honest words. It wasn’t often that she saw Elena look this happy.
“Why? Wouldn’t you prefer to be more honest with the Crown Prince?”
“I do have something to tell him tonight.”
She couldn’t say to Mary that she was in love, as the maid long believed they were already so. Elena continued, pointing to another dress on a hanger.
“I’ll try that on, too.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
Mary picked up the dress Elena indicated. For the first time in Elena’s life, she experienced the dissatisfaction of being unable to choose what to wear, and went through a dozen dresses before making a final selection. After finishing with hair and makeup, she looked around and studied herself in the mirror again.
‘I wish a were a little prettier…’
It would have been a shocking statement to anyone who would have heard her say that. Her flowing golden hair, clear skin, and ruby eyes would turn anyone’s head. She had almost a doll-like perfection to her, but Elena had never paid much attention to her appearance before. However, love could make one do anything. She wanted to be the most beautiful person in the world to Carlisle’s eyes.
Mary approached her from behind and spoke.
“The Crown Prince has arrived.”
She surreptitiously tucked the ring box away and stepped out.
As the couple were not going on official imperial business, their departure was a quiet affair. Carlisle stood in front of a plain carriage waiting for Elena, but he himself looked so handsome that even an ordinary vehicle somehow seemed luxurious.
Carlisle looked up, his blue eyes widening when he spotted her. His gaze was fiery as she approached, and when she arrived he spoke in a husky voice.
“You’ll make things more difficult for me if you become any more beautiful.”
“What if I want no one else to look at you?”
Elena smiled gently at the possessive longing in his words.
“You don’t have to worry what other people see. You already said that I was yours.”
For a moment, Carlisle froze. Then he burst out laughing, covering his forehead with his hand.
“…My wife dominates me more and more.”
However, Elena didn’t hear him clearly.
“Hm? What did you say?”
“Nothing. I’m looking forward to tonight.”
He chuckled and held out his hand to escort Elena to the carriage. As she took his hand, Elena ran the schedule in her head again and became even more excited with anticipation. Tonight, she would give him a ring and confess to him the true feelings of her heart. Carlisle would smile warmly at her, and say there was nothing more he could wish for.
Carlisle safely escorted Elena into the carriage before boarding himself. He took his seat, then looked at her with tender eyes.
“First, let’s go to the opera house.”
Elena and Carlisle were seated together in a box at the opera house. It was intimate, luxurious, and—most of all—private.
As the opening performance began, Elena opened her mouth to speak in a soft voice.
“This performance is the same one I saw with my mother when I went to the opera for the first time.”
“I see. So holds a lot of meaning for you.”
“Yes. This was the performance I wanted to show you when we were children.”
Carlisle’s eyes widened. They had only met briefly, but their childhood encounter remained vivid in his mind. He had repeated their conversations countless times in his head when he fought in the hellish battlefield.
— Of course. So are you coming to my home? I’ll watch the opera with you, and we can go to the bakery…I’ll show you a lot of other fun stuff. Promise!
Since then, Carlisle had longed to watch the opera with Elena and stroll around the streets freely. He turned his eyes back to the stage with a peculiar look on his face.
“Yes. You did say that.”
Elena looked at Carlisle seated next to her and continued.
“Yes. Tonight I’m going to fulfill the promises I made to you.”
“When this opera is over, let’s visit Charlie’s Bakery together.”
Carlisle turned to her with mild surprise.
“The bakery still exists?”
“Yes. The bakery is so popular that they have stores in the provinces as well as the capital. The man who ran the bakery at the time passed away, and the business is now run and named after his son Charles. Their bread is something to boast about.”
A soft smile played across Carlisle’s face as he listened to her speak. It wasn’t his usual smile, and Elena remembered that he did not forget the conversation they had as children.
‘He must have gone through as many hardships on the battlefield as I did.’
In the beginning, she had suffered harshly as a woman on the battlefield with no proper skills. Maybe Carlisle wasn’t so different. It was hard to imagine how much he experienced before he was even an adult. She wished she could return to their childhood and protect Carlisle from the suffering and hardships of the world. But she couldn’t. It was in the past.
But that didn’t mean she could do nothing at all. They could still start from the beginning. With that in mind, Elena planned their night out together accordingly. Although she would be late in expressing her feelings, she wanted to be honest with him.
‘…I love you too.’
Her feelings weren’t unrequited. If he said to her “I love you”, she could reply “I love you, too.” A tender ache started to form in her chest.
“Can I lean on your shoulder?”
Carlisle looked at her in surprise, and then his gaze softened.
“You don’t need to ask for something obvious.”
Elena smiled at the sparkling heat in Carlisle’s blue eyes. His feelings were directed only to her.
With his permission, Elena gently leaned her head against Carlisle’s shoulder. It was solid and broad, but it was the most comfortable place in the world. As Elena was watching the opera—
Carlisle’s large hand cupped her face, and he lightly pressed his lips against her forehead. Elena looked up at him in wonder, and he smiled.
“Tonight is the best gift.”
She didn’t express it in words, but she had the same feeling.
She secretly fingered the ring case. The night wasn’t over yet.
The same time.
The news of Carlisle’s and Elena’s outing was not only passed on the Marquis Selby, but the Empress as well. She received news faster than anyone else in the Imperial Palace. Her lady-in-waiting, Cassana, leaned down to whisper in Empress Ophelia’s ear.
“Your Majesty, the Crown Prince’s carriage has departed.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. Will Marquis Selby follow?”
“It’s good if he does, and it doesn’t matter if he fails.”
A venomous smile crept on Ophelia’s mouth.
“Now that Helen is involved in a murder attempt of an Imperial Family member, the Selby family is also getting weaker. They will be to my advantage until they’re no longer useful.”
Helen was beyond even the rescue of the Empress now, as Helen’s attempts to administer the aphrodisiac were too obvious. Ophelia could have softened the punishment, but she had no interest in dirtying herself in the crime. Using Helen’s father, Oswald, brought her far greater gain, while Helen acted as a shield. It was for this reason that Ophelia made her a lady-in-waiting. Ophelia was pleased that her pieces were falling into place.
Cassana nodded, as if she understood the Empress’ goal.
“Yes, Your Majesty. Then we’ll just have to watch.”
“Carlisle’s death will be the most desirable outcome, but if the plan fails, Marquis Selby will take full responsibility.”
“Send more troops, but do not alert Marquis Selby. If it appears that the Crown Prince is slipping from his grip, have them assist.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Oswald’s forces were already substantial, and the addition of the Empress’ men would further bloat their numbers. Ophelia did not want to miss the satisfaction of the Crown Prince crying in agony.
A sly smile spread across her lips.
“I hope Carlisle’s neck falls before me tonight.”