“It's such a coincidence that we met like this.”
Ilya drew attention back to her with a bright voice.
She suggested that Rose go to a restaurant with them, but Rose refused, saying she would return to the manor.
She then spoke to Lord Stanley, who was standing at Ilya's side.
“Lord Stanley, I'll invite you to the manor sometime later to have tea or dinner with Ilya.
For now, I'll go first.”
“Farewell, Lady Honeywell.
If you send me an invitation, I will accept it.”
Stanley's posture was undisturbed.
Rose left behind the waving Ilya and headed to the carriage with Anne and the escorting knight.
After the winter solstice, the longest night in winter, the year-end banquet had come upon them.
Thanks to Rose, who attended the celebration for the first time in a long while, her maids in charge of serving her had been busy since morning.
“This is just a year-end celebration.
It is not a debutante ball.”
She may have said that, but the maids didn't actually hear it.
They were too busy picking out the dress and accessories that would best suit Rose.
And after lunch, Rose gave up on persuading them too.
I thought the first and last time I'd be wearing this kind of flashy and burdensome dress would be for the debutante ball.
Perhaps it was clear that if Rose went to a banquet in the Imperial Palace, she would easily attract attention, even if it wasn't worth the last name she carried.
When the sun set early and darkness crept into the sky, she was ready.
“Rose, I think you should start going down now.
I've also packed a bag to bring with me.”
“Alright, Anne, let's go.”
With Anne's assistance, Rose, wrapped in a soft fur cape, left the room.
All the way through the hallways and down the stairs to the front door, Rose couldn't stop getting distracted by the bag in her maid's hand.
In the end, I ended up taking the box containing the diamond sword brooch.
Although I am not sure if I can give it to Russell.
Rose reached the first floor by taking the last steps and looked at the front door.
Contrary to the expectation that there would be Wells and Ilya waiting for her, another person was standing beside them.
He spotted Rose and approached with a smile.
“Good evening, Lady Honeywell.
You look so beautiful today.”
“Good evening, Lord Stanley.
Thank you for the compliment.”
It was Stanley Gardner, with whom Ilya had recently become obsessed.
He, too, was wearing a dark blue tailcoat, possibly attending the year-end celebrations with them.
Rose knew what he was here for.
“Are you waiting for Ilya?”
“Yes, I first proposed that we go to the Imperial Palace together.
Fortunately, Lady Ilya accepted my request.”
It seems that the relationship has developed quite well over the past few days since they met at the plaza.
Rose turned slightly in the direction of the staircase.
A well-dressed Ilya stepped down, holding the hem of her dress.
Her expression brightened when she caught a glimpse of Stanley.
Seeing that dazzling face, Rose thought that there would be no need for a chandelier in the Imperial Palace banquet hall.
“Lord Stanley! You are already here.”
“Yes, I arrived like this because I wanted to meet you a little sooner.”
Ilya burst out in a fit of girlish laughter.
Just in time, Wells also appeared, dressed in a tailcoat, as Stanley and Ilya stepped into the Gardners' carriage.
And Wells and Rose hopped into the Honeywells' carriage.
Once all four nobles were seated, the carriages set off.
Wells' smile lingered in the gently moving carriage.
Seeing him so happy brought Rose amusement.
“Brother, do you really like going to banquets?”
“No, but this is an exception.
Being able to attend with my Rose, even if it's not a banquet, is the greatest happiness for me.”
“I think the same.”
“So, Rose, would you like to dance with me for the first dance at the banquet today?”
Wells straightened his back and kneeled on one knee in front of Rose, holding out his hand.
It was quite gentlemanly, but it was enough to make Rose giggle.
“What are you doing in the carriage?”
Rose lightly placed her hand on Wells' hand.
“That was what I wanted to ask first, but my brother beat me to it.”
The year-end celebration was held in the largest banquet hall in the Imperial Palace, it was the same as before she returned.
I don't remember the details, but I got the vague impression that the ornaments used and their locations are still the same.
When Rose showed up at the banquet with Wells, all eyes were on her.
The Rose of Honeywell, whispered high and low by those around, had finally appeared.
Rose felt their stares descending on her and heard the whispers they spoke while peeping at her.
When she tightened her fingers, holding Wells unconsciously, Wells soothed her.
“There is nothing to be afraid of, my Rose.
No one here can say anything to you, do not forget that you are Rose Honeywell, and behind you is this Wells Honeywell, your brother.”
Even if the whole world turns against her, I will be on her side.
With the encouragement of the strongest ally in the world, Rose's courage gradually grew.
Wells approached a group of nobles who were nearby, and they welcomed Rose.
Amongst them were some people whom Rose knew by face.
Most of them had been seen by Wells when he occasionally invited guests to Honeywell Manor.
“His Majesty, Emperor Russell Whittle van Tristan!”
The banquet hall, buzzing with light greetings, became quiet in an instant at the cry announcing Russell's appearance.
At such a moment, Rose tried hard not to make any wrong movements as the silence thickened, as if she would be guilty of high treason if she dropped even a teacup.
In the midst of the silence, Russell appeared on the podium in the hall.
His attire was also the same as the one he saw before her return.
Standing at the railing of the platform, Russell's gaze scanned the nobles beneath his feet, and briefly, Rose had the illusion that her eyes met with his.
Their Emperor spoke.
“I express my gratitude to all the distinguished guests who came to this royal year-end celebration.
This year has passed splendidly and without any major incidents.
There are only a few hours left in this year, so let's wrap up the year here and welcome the new year together.”
The applause of the nobles rang loudly throughout the hall.
Russell turned and walked away from the podium.
Only after he was entirely hidden away did the band start playing their instruments.
Sweet melodies echoed throughout the room as those who made their debut a few weeks ago announced the start of the dancing.
Among them were Ilya and Stanley.
Watching them dance, Rose drew a picture in her head of what she was supposed to do.
Wells was her dancing partner, so she wasn't worried about dancing, but she was worried about dancing in a place where there were so many people.
What if I make a mistake and stumble?
Rose, looking anxiously toward the center of the hall, frantically recalled her dance steps when she heard the whispers of those around her grow louder.
Wells, standing next to her, even clicked his tongue.
Rose quickly understood why they were reacting this way.
Elliot has come.
“Long time no see, Rose.”
He warmly greeted her.
Rose, who was trying to answer, felt her mouth shut tightly.
She struggled to separate her lips, which further sealed up at the curious gazes around her.
“Yes, long time no see, Elliot.”
“If I had known you were coming to the year-end celebration, I would have come with you.
I missed the honor of being able to escort you.”
“I don't really want to give you that kind of honor, you peacock.”
Wells retorted at Elliot's words.
Elliot didn't respond to Wells as if he was used to it, and took a step toward Rose.
The melody flowed in the hall and slowly approached its end.
The dancers stepped the final steps, and as the music ended, Elliott extended his hand to Rose.
“Would you like to dance a song with me?”
The women around her exclaimed.
It was to see Elliott, who seldom asks for a dance, ask a woman to dance that brought about a bout of chatter.
The promise to Wells was also a promise she wanted to keep, and she truly did not want to dance with Elliot.
With Wells by her side, she didn't show it, but she was rather afraid of Elliot.
On the day of the debutante ball, what happened with Elliot, who arrived at the manor, came to mind.
“Peacock, my Rose is already going—“
Are you going to cheat on your fiancé?”
Elliot cut Wells off quickly.
When Elliott mentioned that word, Rose felt numerous gazes center on them.
Mostly— No, except for those close to me, everyone was unaware that I was trying to break off my engagement to Elliot.
The engagement ceremony was only postponed, but to them, Elliott and Rose were no different from lovers, symbolizing the empire's strength.
As Rose's silence lengthened, whispers rose here and there.
Before it spread further, Rose let go of Wells' hand.
Hearing Wells call her name in dismay, Rose laughed.
She couldn't help but laugh.
I couldn't dance the first song with my older brother.”
Rose grabbed Elliot's hand before Wells could say anything.
His hands were large, and through the thin gloves he could feel the hardened calluses of his swordsmanship.
Elliott escorted Rose like a true gentleman.
In her memory, she had never seen Elliot escort anyone, but he led Rose skillfully.
The two stood in the center of the hall as a different kind of sweet music played.
Hand joined with his and the other on Elliot's shoulder, the two moved in sync with the beat.
Rose danced as Elliott led.
In the middle of the large banquet hall, only Rose and Elliot were dancing.
“It is quiet.”
As Rose silently danced to the beat, Elliot spoke first.
Rose chuckled wordlessly.
“Then shall we chat?”
“That's not a bad idea.”
Rose looked over Elliott's shoulder, raised her head, and replied in a relaxed voice.
With a shift of his head, their eyes met, and his smile caught her eye.
“Now you see me.”
Rose lowered her gaze again and pursed her lips.
If it's good even once, the wish to beat Elliot with insulting words rises.
“Didn't you always only look at me?”
Elliot wrapped his arm around Rose's waist and gave strength to his arm.
The gap between the two narrowed as her light frame was led by the hand holding her down.
“Ahh! What—what are you doing?”
“What? Are we not dancing?”
“Stop! This, here! This hand!”
Rose glanced at her waist.
Elliott's gaze landed on Rose's waist, then rose again.
“You have to be this close when you dance.”
“It's true that I haven't danced much at banquets, but I know that's a lie.”
“Then remember this.
New information must be learned quickly.”
“Why are you doing this…!”
Dealing with Elliot, who never lost a battle of words, made Rose feel as though she would develop high blood pressure.
Rose's eyes flashed.
But maybe I'm just too anxious because of the excitement?
The rhythm, which had been going well, was twisted in an instant.
…Why? Why do I have to fall like this only in front of Elliot?
Rose convinced herself into thinking that her next actions were for a better cause.
If I fall hard on the ground during the dance, the music will stop, and naturally, the dance will end.
Rose threw herself as hard as she could toward the floor.
However, there was one thing that she had forgotten for a moment.
The man in front of her was a knight by profession.
There was no reason why he couldn't hold onto the falling Rose, as he often lifted and trained with weights heavier than her.
Rose's vision suddenly changed as she tilted toward the floor.
Elliot lifted Rose's hand and waist with pure strength.
Her feet lifted slightly off the floor, and her dress unfolded like a flower around her.
The music ended as soon as Rose's feet gently kissed the floor.
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