Ch. 40 A Short Night’s Outing (2)
She stared at Carlisle with a startled expression.
“Are you sure? If you’ve never hidden your identity and you don’t wish to…”
“If you want me to hide my face, then I cannot refuse you.”
Elena wondered if Carlisle had some hidden agenda, but she didn’t sense an intent to mislead her. And contrary to what he said earlier, he also seemed to have decided to disguise himself under the cloak. And somehow…
The two were close enough that they could feel each other’s breaths at the slightest exhale. She was frozen on the spot, unable to move. After a moment’s hesitation, Elena decided to do as he wished, at least to escape his simmering gaze. With faintly trembling fingers, she grabbed the hood behind Carlisle’s neck and drew it over his head, concealing his handsome face and only barely revealing his sharp jawline. Carlisle was now disguised just as she originally planned, but she didn’t realize she it would be by her hands.
“…Is that enough?”
The concealment of Carlisle’s intense blue eyes allowed her to released her halted breath.
“I think so, Lady.”
Elena felt a blush spread up to the tips of her ears when he addressed her in that way.
“Please don’t say that.”
“I thought I’d try pretend to be a slave gladiator who fell for the daughter of the Count.”
The visible part of Carlisle’s face was caught in a sly smile. He seemed to be following Elena’s example when created a setting of love at first sight at a ball. Despite his mischievous tone, however, his blue eyes, dimly visible beneath the robe when he looked at her, were serious and subdued. There was a peculiar heat in his gaze towards Elena.
“If the scenario were rule, I would have won every gladiator contest for you.”
“…I am grateful for your words.”
Winning a gladiator contest was far from an easy task, but strangely, his words did not feel like a joke to her. Elena was left confused. Carlisle was an enigmatic man. Every time Elena met him, her curiosity about him seemed to grow. She still hadn’t figured out why his arm turned into that of a monster’s. She still had a few other questions as well.
“Shall we go then?”
Even when cloaked, Carlisle’s figure was darkly imposing.
She replied curtly, then headed again towards the exit of the building. Neither side was one to talk much, and there was not much conversation left to be shared. This was only a short night’s outing of them walking silently. Elena never had a night so strange.
“Who is this?”
As expected, the family knights were wary of Carlisle’s large, cloaked appearance, and Elena blocked any questions they would have.
“I know him personally. We will travel together to the front of the inn.”
Without listening to the knights’ responses, Elena opened the carriage door and gestured Carlisle inside. Elena’s deferential manner made the knights reconsider speaking out. They could see the stranger was a man, but because his face was hidden, they could not identify which family he came from. The knights could not protest easily at risk of disrespecting someone of high rank.
After a moment’s hesitation, the knights soon stepped away from the carriage without a word. They couldn’t disobey Elena’s order, and the carriage ride was only a short distance anyhow. It was determined he was no threat to Elena’s safety.
The Blaise’s carriage was designed to keep conversation inside, so long as the window was not opened. However, Elena couldn’t help but lower her voice as she spoke.
“Do you feel comfortable?”
The carriage somehow felt cramped with Carlisle inside. Was it because of his long legs? The carriage wheels began to turn and rattle as the carriage moved forward, and Elena looked straight at the other passenger. His face was obviously concealed by the hood, but she could feel his gaze resting heavily on her.
“…Why are you looking at me like that?”
“How did you know I was looking at you?”
“If you stare at me that hard, I can tell no matter if you’re wearing a cloak.”
Carlisle’s mouth curved into a mocking smile beneath the hood before continuing.
“We’re going to part again soon, so let’s talk more.”
“You seem to care about me a lot.”
“In my own way, yes, that’s true.”
Elena needed to put an end to her curiosity. It was more than one or two things about Carlisle’s attitude that made her feel suspicious, and she knew there was something more between them than just a simple contract marriage. She wanted to know why he was like this.
“You didn’t answer me last time, but I hope you’ll do so now. Have we met in the past?”
Carlisle’s jawline seemed to harden at the forwardness of her question. However, there was no other way for Elena to know if he kept evading the topic, and Elena became genuinely curious as time went by. She wondered if there really was a connection she couldn’t remember…
Carlisle spoke in a quieter voice than Elena.
“I’ll tell you since you’re so curious. You don’t seem to remember it, but we did meet a long time ago.”
She somehow felt doubtful at his answer, but at the same time it felt like an important clue.
“When did we meet?”
“Well…I’ll let you know the next time I see you.”
“When is that?”
He seemed about to give an honest answer, but suddenly dodged it at the last moment. Elena’s expression turned impatient while Carlisle simply smiled at her.
“Until then, I hope all you will think about is me.”
“I hope you will look forward to meeting me again.”
Elena tried to suppress her frustration. This man was a player. She couldn’t believe he wouldn’t give her a proper answer after all this…
Elena was about to say something else when the carriage drew to a stop. There was a rapping sound from outside, and when she opened the window, a knight addressed her respectfully.
“We’re here, My Lady.”
Elena closed the window again and turned towards Carlisle seated in front of her. She knew the travel would be short, but they had only exchanged a few words and arrived at the inn before she knew it.
“It’s already time to part. You must let me know the next time you will see me.”
After Carlisle’s reply, the two stepped out from the carriage. All the knights’ sharp eyes were fixed on Carlisle, but he did not so much as blink. Elena bowed her head to Carlisle.
“I’ll leave you now. Take care.”
Mindful of the eyes of the surrounding people, she only gave him a brief farewell and turned and headed towards the inn. The Blaise knights marched in perfect order in Elena’s wake. Carlisle only stood there, staring at Elena’s retreating figure, then mumbled to himself.
“…Don’t bow your head to me.”
Carlisle tried his best to respect Elena’s desire to not be seen together until the ball. He had never restrained himself from doing what he wanted, but if it was for Elena’s sake, it wasn’t a bad tradeoff.
Only after Elena disappeared completely from Carlisle’s sight did he turn away, his footsteps echoing loudly on the deserted streets in the middle of the night. He turned into a dark alley with only the moon as a companion, when suddenly a few shadows appeared in the seemingly empty street and approached the crown prince.
They were Carlisle’s own escorts.
“The Empress has noticed your absence. Where are you headed now?”
“I must go back to the capital.”
Only then did Carlisle pull off the black cloak he had been wearing. The cloudy moonlight revealed his chilling blue eyes and a profile that looked as if someone with great skill had carved them. Carlisle turned around and murmured in the direction where Elena had disappeared.
“…I already miss you.”