Chapter I: Men are disappointing
CHAPTER I: Men are disappointing.
"That's it." Said Minhee throwing herself onto the nearest couch under the confused stares of her two closest friends that were having a sleepover at her then empty house. "I'm never getting married." She declared in a dramatical tone the pair was too used to.
She loosened her corset and took a deep breath, blood rushing to her cheeks.
It was late at night and the sun had long disappeared into the horizon leaving them with nothing but the darkness of winter sighing its cold air for the last time before spring came.
" I have decided to stay celibate until the day I die."
"...You're what? Why?" Asked Mina, running to her side, worried, almost tripping on her cream coloured nightgown "Did something happen...again?"
Minhee chuckled while staring at the painted ceilings of her own room- cherubs and happy couples playing in a blooming garden almost as if to make fun of the pitiful reality that was her life.
She sincerely despised them.
"Let her be, she'll change her mind again in a few weeks." Laughed Kami as she read a novel, her knees to her chest.
"I won't this time. I swear."
Kami lowered her book, a book she had been obsessed with for the past few weeks.
Kami had also been supposed to attend the ball but in her usual way, had decided not to- she had always found the parties to be boring and of no interest to her.
The blonde girl with sapphire eyes preferred staying with her friends at home,in a calm environment,chatting the night away.
"On what?" She smirked.
Minhee sat up to think, the tall girl looked almost tiny under the layers and layers of apple green fabric that made her violet red locks shine the more.
"...On...On…." She began to say " Well what would you want from me anyway?"
"You have that one book in your library…With a golden cover…"
"...No this is a present from-"
"The man that broke your engagement , yes this one please." Finished Kami with another trademark smirk of hers "...Or maybe you think that you will lose our bet...And that's why you are hesitating."
"You know that's not why she is hesitating, she truly liked him…"
Minhee hugged the dark haired girl, her face disappearing into her green sleeves.
"See? That's why she is my favorite."
"Fine,fine….Then what about the hourglass in your room?" Said Kami, rolling her eyes.
Mina tugged at Minhee's sleeve for her to let go so that she could take a breath.
"...Wasn't it a present from the man that was recently courting you?" She said, putting a strand of hair behind her ear after having taken a deep gasp of air.
Minhee laid down on the couch again with a sigh, all of her dramatics gone- sadness was written all over her face.
"Well…I caught him kissing another girl…"
"...Ouch." whispered Kami, now fully focused on the story."Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really...It's just what it is...A man being a man again."
"...Well surely they can't be all bad right?" Whispered a maybe too innocent Mina.
A silence and a meaningful exchange of stares between the two girls followed by chuckles that confused the young woman.
"How was the ball apart from that?" Asked Kami to change the subject of conversation.
Minhee tried to remember her evening spent mostly near the bar and in an empty room where she cried her heart out, something that she didn't want her friends to know.
The last thing she desired was to make them worry about her.
"Well...Boring." she explained, still struggling with the knots in the back of her dress. " It isn't the ball season yet so there was but few people and the music was...tasteless as was the food…But the cocktails..."
Mina helped her friend take off her dress,something no one would expect the daughter of a duke to do but Mina was at ease with the two women, they were her second family.
"Speaking of ball season...When does it start? Mina is of age now and she is to unfortunately join us this year." Asked Kami.
Kami and Minhee were a year older than their friend and had adventured first in the wild jungle that was the marriage scene.
Both of their parents were astounded as to why they still hadn't made a match, they had been the best "catches" of the previous year.
The three of them were the richest, most noble, well educated and beautiful girls of their generation in their social class - and so it had been a shock to all to see the two eldest go unwed for as long as they had.
Minhee was the sole heir to her rich parents, her father being a marquess with no nephews to inherit his rank upon his death.
She had to marry in order to continue their line and carry his title, she was a brilliant prospect for any family and yet none seemed willing to love her as much as she expected her future husband to.
The candidates had all been more than disappointing so far, a few of them cheating on her before they even were engaged, one being overly possessive and toxic while another ended up preferring the company of men.
Kami ,on the other hand, had taken things slowly from the very beginning, her intellect and interest for what was considered "unnatural" for a woman to like making most of the interested men run away.
One day she just stopped attending balls altogether and that was the last thing most people heard of her.
She might have been the daughter of a duke but people had quickly forgotten about her and her quiet aura, something she was quite happy about.
"In two weeks." Replied Minhee, finally free of her dress and quickly slipping into her light pink nightgown.
"Then we should get her a dress." Said Kami
"No way, I am not letting her go to these...these parties festering with sharks."
"But you are going too right?" Asked Kami.
"...The food...the music…" started saying Minhee "...The men…" she whispered in a smaller voice.
"...You might as well give me the hourglass right now then."
"Hey! I might be going but...but I am not changing my mind! I am just going to have fun with them."
This time it was Mina's turn to laugh.
"...Nevermind, I hate the both of you." Stated Minhee before dragging her two friends to her large bed,wrapping them in her covers.
"I am never marrying." Said Kami,her cheeks flushed with rage as she sat in a free sit between her two friends at a busy cafe filled with flowers.
Minhee almost choked on her afternoon tea cakes as she eyed her in confusion while Mina just froze.
It wasn't new to them that marriage wasn't a thing Kami appreciated but still, she never was the one to first talk about it.
"Is it a trend these days…?" Asked Mina wondering if she should also pledge her celibacy.
"To what? Be disappointed in men? Oh no women have always been disappointed in them-" quickly managed to say Minhee between two coughs " But why…?"
Kami was boiling as she took her navy blue gloves off, violently stirring a cube of sugar in her lukewarm violet tea.
"Do you remember the man I met a few months ago and that I really appreciated as a FRIEND?"
"He tried to kiss me! The man tried to kiss me!!!"
"...That's not the worst of it."
Kami rubbed her temples as she saw the still unsatisfied gaze of her two best friends that wanted to know what could be worse than that.
"...He turns 79 this year."
"...Jesus Christ-" Swore Minhee too loudly, making heads turn their way.
Dumbfounded and outrageous looks aimed at the young lady with violet hair.
"...Our Lord and savior, may you bless this afternoon tea." She finished, hiding her blushing face of shame.
All the customers went back to their respective conversations and so did Kami.
"...When I told him that I wasn't interested in him he called me a wench and a sorceress that had bewitched him!" told the blonde woman before finishing her cup of tea "...I ran away to come here."
"Ran away?" Asked Minhee
"Yes, from the bookstore."
The two friends turned their heads to the busy outside street that separated them from one bookstore, Kami's favourite.
"....This one?" Inquired Minhee.
"Precisely this one, yes."
A laugh escaped Mina's lips.
"I wouldn't call this running away…"
Kami crossed her arms.
"This is a large street and I am short therefore I have short legs." She began " It felt like it took years for me to get here!"
"I am sure it did." Laughed Minhee
"You wouldn't get it, you both are too tall for your own good."
Mina handed biscuits to Kami, she didn't want to have a grumpy woman on her hands.
"...Why didn't you tell us about...his age?" Asked Mina
"You would've judged me."
"No-" began Minhee
Mina threw her a stare and so did Kami.
"...Well yes maybe but still! You should have mentioned it."
"It doesn't matter anyway, I am done with men, they disgust me."
Mina came home and sat next to her living room's fireplace, eyeing her parents lovingly talking to one another while holding hands.
The young girl had grown up surrounded by what could be considered a perfect family.
She had caring, rich, clever and good looking parents that had always been there for her along with her elder brother, two years older than her and the perfect gentleman to everyone including herself.
She therefore struggled to understand why her two friends so despised men, surely they were just unlucky...?
" Can you believe it darling...Our daughter might get married this year." Whispered her mother as her brother pretended to read a newspaper on another couch as he spied on the conversation.
"...Maybe we should keep her here and out of sight for another year-" Whispered the father.
"...Is marriage that great?" Mina suddenly asked, causing even her brother to raise his head.
"Well...Can't you tell?" Smiled her mother
"You two are...special."
"In what way?"
"You married for love…Not many people do."
"Are you worried Mina?" Asked the eldest child of the Han family
She didn't reply and laid back into her chair.
"It's just...My friends have only known heartbreak since they came of age...They have given up on marrying for love already."
Her mother smiled.
"Minhee, Kami and you are too young to give up on it."
"But you can't deny that not many people do find love in marriage like you two did."
"Well, not everyone is the daughter of a duke and dutchess." Said her father " You will live a prosperous life whether you marry or not."
"You have all the time you want to make a choice, we won't pressure you darling...Just have fun alright? The parties are amazing, I am sure you will enjoy them and maybe...Just maybe you'll find the one there."
"But what if I don't…?"
"You'll be fine either way, don't worry."
"This is one ugly dress." Said Kami, holding the same book in front of her face as Minhee helped Mina pick a gown.
Minhee turned around with a vexed look on her pretty rosy face, she had picked the dress herself and wasn't going to let Kami destroy her plan of having Mina wear it at her first ball.
"You aren't even looking!"
"If it is already ugly in my peripheral vision, I can't imagine how ugly it really must be." She stated
"What do you even know about fashion?"
"Nothing, but I might have more taste than you." She said ,eyeing the puffy pink and sparkly dress on Mina " This is…just not it."
Minhee rolled her eyes.
"..Or maybe I could choose my own dress…?" Said Mina in an hesitant voice, she hadn't dared interrupt Minhee while she made her try all sorts of dresses present in the shop.
"...We could do that." Compromised Minhee "What colour do you want?"
The two older friends eyed one another.
"...White like...Wedding white? Like Matrimonial white..Like I am walking down the aisle kind of white???" Asked Minhee
"Why not? I like white. It could be off-white too."
"I am against it. White, the colour of chastity will only attract the monsters of the other gender." Added Kami
"It would be like…"
"Like she was a lamb thrown into a pack of wolves." Finished Kami
"Or a little bird hunted by hungry vultures..."
"...Will you let me finish?" Asked Minhee
"...I might have lost my train of thought."
Kami smirked as Mina began taking the dress off.
"It's just not the one." She said " I need something pretty but more...plain?"
"Relax, you are not choosing a wedding dress…"
"She might as well, that's what men imagine when they see us at parties, they try to visualize if we would make good wives." Joked Kami " That or our naked bodies-"
"You're not helping Kami-"
"...Is it so wrong to want a white dress…?" Mina asked as an assistant brought them a white ball gown with long sleeves.
"Not at all, we are just worried..."
Mina tried on the white dress, a smile soon appearing on her lips as she saw her reflection.
"...Well, seems like this is the one." Smiled Minhee
"Don't worry about me." Said the young woman "I can take care of myself."
"The first rule of balls is that a young unmarried lady should never be alone somewhere with a man, it would ruin her reputation." Said the older brother in the crowded carriage "The second one is that you have to keep your guards up at all times , even when you are having fun."
"This I might have to disagree with-" interfered Minhee
"And how has it been working for you so far?"
"Hey! That's mean!"
"No need to get nervous Myungsoo, she'll be fine we'll make sure of it." Added Kami to calm the heir of the Han family "Will you stay?" She asked.
Myungsoo nodded before taking a look out of the window, the paved streets were lit up by the dim streetlights and only the sound of the horses hooves on the stone could be heard in the dark night.
The weather had gotten warmer, warm enough for the ladies to be able to go outside with only a light cape covering them and their gowns.
"I will stay with Mina first and then I'll have to find my friends among the crowd. I'll count on you two then."
"Your friends?You have friends?" Asked Mina, joking.
The man rolled his eyes.
"..You would like one of them, he is a writer." He said to Kami who still was reading the same book she had religiously been carrying.
"I doubt that. I am done with men."
Myungsoo eyed the young woman and blinked a few times.
"...It's a long story." Mina told him.
"People won't like this…" smiled Myungsoo " And yet I know that you three don't care."
"I might have to argue that it is our main charm." Said Minhee as the trio smiled.
"I might have to agree." Answered Myungsoo.
The estate in front of them was immense, larger than the Han's town mansion which was not to be compared to their ancestral home in Norfolk. It was the house of a new duke that had just inherited the title from his recently deceased father, the duke of Clarence.
It was the first ball of the season and also the very first party he had ever hosted.
"What if I am not able to recognize some people? Or remember their name?" Asked an anxious Mina who had been brought up away from the parties of the capital.
"We will help you and they will mostly introduce themselves to you first so don't worry." Said Minhee with a smile on her lips painted with a slight touch of colour.
Myungsoo gave her his arm that she grabbed a little too tightly even for him.
He escorted her to the limestone stairs and then the main entrance that towered over the small group.
The man keeping the door bowed to the small party before coughing to clear his old throat.
Mina tightened her grip on her brother's arm, she had heard so many bad things about these parties and yet so few good things- she was nervous and didn't know what to expect but still the excitement was unbearable, she had waited for years for this moment.
She was now an adult and ready to fly away.
"Are you ready?" He whispered.
"...I am." She said back.
"Lord of Norfolk accompanied by his sister the Lady Mina as well as the Lady Kami and the Lady Minhee!" Announced the man before opening the door.
The crowd went silent as soon as it saw the group and all of the guests bowed.
Most of them were rich but without titles or were from what was considered lower nobility.
Dukes ranked the highest after royalty, followed by Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts and finally Barons.
"..Right I remember why I hated parties, this is awkward." Whispered Kami to her friends as she felt the heavy stares on them.
"Everything will be alright as long as you smile." murmured Minhee to the brunette who had slightly fallen back to them.
"You should take your cloaks off ladies." Smiled Myungsoo, reaching a hand out to receive them.
Mina hesitantly pulled back her white hood to admire the large and slightly dim hallway that led to a bright and glowing ballroom.
Minhee and Kami had carefully prepared her, knowing how important of a day it was for her.
The young woman shivered as she felt suddenly uncovered, nervously touching the choker made of white pearls that reflected the warm light of the chandeliers on her neck's soft skin.
It had been a present from her mother to wish her luck, and luck was what she needed the most.
The fireplaces were lit and tables covered with exquisitely presented dishes served in crystal plates assorted with a pyramid of champagne glasses.
The walls were beautifully molded and covered in gold leaves just in the right places, the coat of arms of the duke of Clarence could be seen embedded in the ceilings above the newly polished wooden parquets that smelled like varnish.
Whispers soon filled the room, it was the first time most of them were seeing the young woman that had been kept away by her parents as if she was part of the crown's jewels.
"It's so beautiful!" She whispered to her brother who had been eyeing her reaction as she gave him her cloak.
Mina might have been worried but so was Myungsoo who knew too well what kind of people filled that crowd.
He had always taken it upon himself to protect and shelter her from the world outside and to make sure that she would always smile.
Mina had been a weak child, always sick and he could remember it getting so bad that their parents had been scared for her life at one point. He still hadn't forgotten the fear he had felt back then and had sworn upon his life that he would die before letting something ever happen to her.
"Is it?" He asked with a reassuring smile maybe for her or himself.
Myungsoo knew that it was time.
He knew that as soon as he would let go of her hand she would enter a new phase of her life, a phase where she would grow apart from him and their family and it felt all too soon for him- especially as he knew how little time they actually had left together.
He knew that she wasn't the same little girl that used to ask him to read her stories at night or that would try to follow him when he left to ride with his friends.
He had to let her go.
Some women rushed to curtsy before him, almost drowning under the layers and layers of tulle fabric - if the three girls were the best catches there were then Myungsoo was the ultimate prize at that party and he wasn't about to forget it.
"Your Grace~ We missed you!" They whined and Mina could swear that she saw her friends roll their eyes and her brother swallow his saliva out of discomfort.
Myungsoo reluctantly let go of his sister's arm.
"I'm sorry, go ahead will you?"
She pouted and mouthed a word to him that caused him to smile.
Her free arms were soon grabbed by the two women by her side.
"Did you think you could escape us young lady?" Joked Minhee.
"I wouldn't dare-" laughed Mina
"Now, let's make a good evening out of this miserae party." Kami smiled.
Myungsoo sadly watched as his little sister disappeared into the crowd, knowing too well that he would have to get used to the view of her back facing him.
There were so many new faces for the young woman to remember and among them piercing stares that made her feel uncomfortable.
"...They are staring." She said in a discreet and low voice to her friends.
"Who?" Asked Kami
"The men stare because well...You are stunning and of the highest rank there is...And also because they are men and therefore disgusting by nature."
"And the girls...?"
"Jealousy. Your family has always been the favourite of the royal family and you are their godchild, you are richer than they are and more beautiful than they could ever be so they know that if you marry, you will marry the best man there is here therefore taking away their chance at social climbing." Explained Kami.
"I just have to avoid the best catches then and I will be fine right?"
"It will be hard, one of them is the host of tonight's party." She said "You'll see him eventually."
"Don't worry, he is a gentleman,you should be safe."
"Who?" Said a masculine voice.
A man walked to the trio and bowed.
"Your Graces, My Lady." He said, respectively addressing Mina and Kami before smiling as he laid his eyes on Minhee.
Minhee's face grew dark and her fist white as she clenched them.
She wanted to punch his teeth back into his skull.
"You left so quickly last time Lady Minhee,I was looking everywhere for you."
A scoff escaped her lips, a scoff that made her friends raise an eyebrow.
"Oh were you? You were rather busy with some other woman that night so I decided to leave early."
The man's face grew pale.
"Every second of it."
"Oh so he is the jerk-" began Mina, frowning as Kami was about to strangle the man.
"No one, don't bother wasting your time on him." Coldly said Minhee.
The man left in a rush once he realized that he had lost Minhee's affection, embarrassed beyond repair.
"...He looked like a donkey Minhee." Whispered Mina with a disgusted expression on her face.
"Don't mention it, alcohol must have clouded my judgement at the previous parties." She sighed before lightly laughing.
"...A donkey kicked in the face by another donkey." Corrected Kami.
"I must have been mad!"
"See? This is why you should not drink Mina." Said Kami. "Alcohol makes you think strange things."
"On this I strongly disagree, and now that you mentioned it I might go grab a drink."
"It's never too early for a drink my dear." She said before leaving for the bar.
The two friends watched as their friend dressed in a lovely dusty pink dress disappeared in the crowd.
"-And I inherited two pretty horses from my grandparents that I intend to breed, do you have any interest in breeding horses my ladies?" Asked a gentleman that had been talking about horses for the past fifteen minutes to the bored pair that had instead been focused on how asymmetric his eyes were and how his nose occupied most of his face.
It might have been shallow and rude to judge people on their appearance but then again, it wasn't as if they had a lot to go on.
Most praised them for their noble lineage and others talked about their issues as if in hope that the two of them would grant them favors.
Conversations were boring and led to nothing.
Kami hid her laugh behind her open book as Mina looked at her for help.
"Uh...No but I am sure that it is an interesting...activity…?" She coughed.
"You should watch them go at it...They are magnificent beasts."
It became harder for the pair not to laugh.
"You and I could be…" he leaned and whispered in the brunette ears not quietly enough so that Kami wouldn't hear"...Like a stallion and a mare together, beautiful."
Kami lost it and broke into a laugh while Mina cringed the most she had ever done in her whole life time.
"What's wrong?" Asked the man both worried and obfuscated " What's so funny?"
"I think that you did enough for tonight sir." Said a stranger behind him.
"Who are you-"
He turned around only to come face to face with a man taller than he was and gasped.
"...My Lord, I am sorry." He apologized before running away.
Kami lowered her book to eye the newcomer with her ocean blue eyes.
He wasn't that tall, the previous man had just been extremely short but then again, she wasn't the one to judge someone on their height.
He had blue black hair that was half swept back to allow people to take a closer look at his face that was, in her eyes, quite handsome.
He was quite the specimen.
" I couldn't listen to him any longer, I apologize. It was pure torture." He smirked
"What? You didn't appreciate the talk about horses?" Joked Kami
Mina was still cringing.
" Not at all- It was the most awful conversation I ever had."
"You will hear worse at these parties I promise you." He laughed.
Kami hadn't stopped staring at him and the wittiness in his brown eyes.
She liked them.
"It sounds like you do not enjoy them?"
"The parties? I don't, but so do you right?"
Kami was intrigued.
"How would you know?"
"No one brings a book to such a party, especially this book." He said
Kami blinked, it wasn't a well known book, a book written mostly for women and in which the main character was a woman, something quite rare at the time.
She identified as the character, a blonde girl like her that went on adventures and traveled the world in her stead.
"You have read it?"
He only smiled and bowed.
"My ladies…" he formally murmured before going away.
Kami closed her book and raised her eyebrow.
"He just left like that…?" Asked Mina confused.
"....What a jerk."
"....Men are weird."
"You haven't seen the worst of it yet."
Mina was left alone as Kami had gone somewhere else without her, probably to the bathroom.
She was soon surrounded by curious faces that wanted to exchange words with her.
She was trying to smile but felt overwhelmed quite quickly and found herself unable to reply to their never ending questions.
"Maybe you could let my guest have some space so that she can breath?" Asked a kind voice behind the crowd that soon split into two "Maybe then she would be able to answer your questions."
Mina raised her eyes to see a tall man in the familiar tailored outfit that only dukes could wear. She eyed the medals hanging on top of the black and red fabric and soon recognized the symbol of the house of Clarence.
He was younger than what she had expected and more handsome - handsome with his black locks and dark eyes shaped like those of a feline or maybe a fox.
It was the kind of face one would find in a museum, a face sculpted by masterful hands.
She finally took a breath, grateful for his sudden apparition and acknowledged him.
He leaned and whispered in her ear, shivers traveling her skin.
"Are you alright? Do you need my help?"
A shiver went down her spine again and she quickly stepped aside, suddenly self aware of the heat in her cheeks.
He stepped closer again and whispered, gently offering her his arm.
"Don't be so tense, they are analyzing every single movement that you make, you have to appear strong or else they will think you are weak and will take advantage of you."
She nodded before whispering back into his ear.
"...Thank you." She said, taking his arm.
"Should I bring you to your brother-"
"Mina!" She heard Myungsoo call as he went through the crowd.
She shyly smiled, her face maybe too close to his.
"You won't have to, he is here." She said before stepping back.
The crowd dispersed, they could deal with two high ranking nobles but not with another one, they felt like they were intruding on a conversation they weren't meant to hear.
"Are you alright?" Asked Myungsoo, checking on his sister. " I am sorry they rushed towards me and I couldn't really dismiss them-"
"I am fine thanks to his Grace-"
"Oh please, just call me Minhyun." He smiled "I am a friend of you brother Mina."
The young woman blinked.
"You know my name?"
"How could I not? He told me a lot about you."
"Oh did he?" She asked, eyeing the mentioned man who just coughed.
"...Well I do need someone to take care of you if something ever happens to me-"
Mina rolled her eyes.
"Oh stop saying that ,nothing is going to happen to you !"
Minhyun chuckled, staring at the two siblings.
"..But still...How did you recognize me?" She asked, confused
He smiled and leaned in.
"Hmm...Let me see…" he took a strand of her hair" The long and beautiful black hair that runs in your family, the lovely beauty mark under your pretty dark eyes and your lovely smile…?"
Blood rushed to the young woman's cheeks once more.
"Stop flirting with my sister when I am here or I'll have to kick you."
A melodic laugh escaped the duke's lips who stepped back.
"It was nice finally meeting you Mina, I hope you'll have a nice time at my party."
Minhee was disappointed, what kind of party only had Champagne?
Champagne was good but not good enough for the mood she was in.
She wanted to drink until her brain erased the annoying face of the man that had, more or so, cheated on her.
She sat on a couch, a little farther away from the heart of the party, she needed some calm.
She needed some time away from the judging stares and all the gossiping.
Minhee knew that she had to go back to Mina, she had promised her after all that she would be there for her first ball, but she had underestimated how bad she would feel seeing her surrounded by all the curious and amazed faces.
She had once been in her place, she used to gather all the gazes and compliments, all until one night, a single night that changed her reputation forever.
A mistake in the night that she was soon reminded of by the man that stood in front of her.
"...It's been a long time Minhee." Whispered the man that was a decade or more older than she was.
She wasn't drunk enough to deal with this, not drunk enough to ignore his soft eyes and his little forehead wrinkle that she had always found so attractive.
She wanted to ask him what he was doing there and why but wasn't able to.
"...Go away." She simply told him, her throat tightening.
"Are you mad at me?"
She stood up, grabbed his arm and dragged him into an empty and dark room before anyone saw them together.
She knew how bad things would get if they did.
The room they were in was rather small and was only lit by the moonlight, a moonlight that was bright enough for her to see that he hadn't changed at all.
"...What are you doing here? When did you come back? Why?"
"...I came back for you." He whispered, caressing her cheek with his hand.
She bit her lips, unable to push him back.
He had a strange spell on her, maybe it was in the way his hands were so caring and made her feel special when she felt like she had only disappointed people for most of her life.
The man was good looking but not as much as Myungsoo or some of her other lovers were- he had a palpable charisma, an aura around him that was surpassed by no one in her young eyes.
"...Stop it." She begged "...Do you know how hard things have been for me because of you?"
There were tears in her eyes.
She remembered the rumors, the constant chattering that followed her everywhere she went, she remembered the disappointment in her parents gaze as they looked at her.
She had wanted to tell them that she hadn't given herself to him out of a whim and that she had loved him and thought that their love would lead to marriage eventually.
Only Mina and Kami had been there for her then, never judging her and embracing her until her tears all dried.
But Minhee had never told them the truth, the fact that she had hoped she would meet him again at the parties and that it was truly why she went to them so often ,even when she hated the people there.
She had hoped to meet him again.
"...I heard and I am sorry, it never was my intention I-"
She had thought about what she would tell him once she met him again.
She had thought about hitting him, maybe killing him….
But now that he was in front of her all of her strength was gone and all she could do was admire him like she used to.
"... I worked so hard for people to think that our...mistake...What we did together was just a rumor and not the truth." She whispered.
He stayed silent, his eyes unable to meet hers.
"...You ruined me, my chances of marriage and my life on that day and you left me."
" I had business to deal with in France I-"
"Months! I waited for months for you to come back and not a single letter…"
She sat on a couch and took her face in her hands, she heard him come closer.
She should have pushed him away and she knew it but she let him come closer.
" I am sorry about that...I wasn't playing with you back then, I was serious, I wanted to marry you." He said, taking her hands "...I still want to."
She looked up to his face, surprised as he kissed her fingers.
She had fallen for him during her first ball, just a year prior to that one, on a quite warm spring night.
She had fallen for his maturity, how clever and composed he was compared to boys her age- and that's what they were to her, young boys that were rough and unrefined.
He was sophisticated, kind and polite and one thing led to another.
She gave in to his sweet words and soft touch.
He had been her first love.
"...Do you mean it?"
Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe she had just missed him or maybe she still loved him.
She was tired of men chasing her and her chasing them, she wanted to rest, she wanted to give in to him.
She missed his caring touch, the kisses he would give her.
He made her feel cared for and that's what she needed, affection.
"Will you give me another chance?" He asked, his fingers tracing her waist.
She felt herself waver.
Kami had been quietly spying on the mysterious stranger that had saved her and Mina from the horse-loving man.
He was alone by the fireplace, reading a book from one of the shelves near him, almost like a model posing for a painting.
The young woman got closer, step by step and rested her back against the wall- still watching him.
"Are you done staring at me?" He inquired with a smile.
"....Someone once told me that reading a book at a party meant that that person isn't enjoying the said party." She said, taking a glance at the book he was reading, a classic.
"I wonder who it was that told you such a thing, I am having the time of my life, can't you tell?" He smirked.
"Why are you following me?" He asked crossing his arms across his chest
"Your eyes have been for quite some time…."
"And so were yours every time I pretended to look away."
Kami showed him her book again.
"So have you read it? You didn't answer my question earlier."
"I have, why?"
"Well...It's not the type of book men usually read?"
"And what type of book is it that men usually read?"
The stranger carefully took Kami's book and went through its pages.
"Women are half of this world, if I only read books about men then I am not seeing the other half of the world I live in."
The man also rested against the wall, slightly closer to her.
"What did you think about it?"
"...Do I have to be honest?"
"Badly written, it lacks a lot of elements and the story is quite basic in itself."
Kami took her book back ,pouting.
"Well then you know nothing about literature sir…?"
"Ah...The name of a man that lacks tastes."
"...May I say something in my defense?"
"It might be lacking but I like the main character, she's interesting and brilliant."
"...I may forgive you then."
"Thank you my Lady."
"Kami, my name is Kami."
He smirked and politely kissed her hand.
Kami watched as the man left again, another smirk on his face, she wanted to kick him.
Myungsoo was talking again with other people as Minhyun also entertained his guests.
Mina was trying to make conversation ,or rather had to listen to the constant babbling of two men that hadn't left her side for the past thirty minutes, she missed her friends that seemed to have forgotten all about her and their promise to spend a good time together.
Her monotone evening came to a halt when a perhaps drunk woman spilled her champagne glass on her dress.
"Oh- I'm so sorry-" she said, malice in her eyes, showing Mina that it wasn't an accident and that she was far from drunk.
"You shouldn't be standing here your Grace, you were in the way." She provocatively smiled.
Mina clenched her fist, remembering how Kami (after reading a book about martial arts) had taught her how to punch someone in the right spot to make them drop to the ground.
However, just as she was about to commit murder,Minhyun walked to them smiling in his radiant beauty.
He didn't have to say a word, his presence and stare were enough to denounce her action.
"...Where is the nearest bathroom?" Asked Mina, sighing as he joined them.
"You have to go upstairs, should I show you the way?"
"No I'm fine." Said the young woman before hurriedly leaving, she just wanted to get out of there.
Minhyun watched her leave and leaned in closer to the drunk woman's ear.
She blushed and brought a hand to her mouth, expecting him to ask her if she was alright with his sweet voice.
"Your Grace I-"
"How ungraceful, should I tell your husband that you have been spilling drinks on young women while lurking around young men all evening long?"
Minhyun coldly smiled before stepping back.
"Now if you'll excuse me…"
The corridors were seemingly endless but quite narrow in some part of the second floor.
Mina had passed by rooms and rooms without finding a bathroom and finally sat down on the floor, she was alone anyway no one was there to judge her, she could drop the ladylike act.
The guests were all on the lower grounds and were too drunk to notice that she was gone, it was her time to stop and breath.
She considered staying there for the rest of the evening, parties were not what she had imagined.
Formalities and greed filled people, fake laughs and smiles- cold people everywhere in a beautiful, almost fairy tale like mansion.
She just wanted to make new friends, to see the world and yet still felt like she was trapped in a bird cage.
She just wasn't enjoying herself and regretted coming at all to begin with.
"See? I told you that I should have shown you the way." Smiled Minhyun, sitting against the wall across from hers.
His legs were long and the tip of his shoes touched the tip of hers.
"It's a true labyrinth." She lightly laughed, running a hand in her hair.
He eyed her, a sad sigh escaping his lips.
"...You are not having a good time are you?"
"...Can I be truthful?"
"Why wouldn't you be?'
"Well...You are the host of the party, I wouldn't want to offend you." She said
"You won't...It's my first time hosting one and I am quite sure that it isn't great, I am in dire need of feedback."
Mina hesitated for an instant ,but then again, he was her brother's friend, he wouldn't take it to heart and even if he did, she would probably never see him again- she was done with parties.
"...It is awfully boring so far." She confessed, biting her lip to conceal her smile.
He laughed and ruffled his hair, looking younger and less burdened suddenly.
She could imagine that it wasn't easy for him to carry such a heavy title at such a young age.
"I guess it is, I am not having a good time so far either."
"For the same reasons as yours I guess?"
"I doubt that people look at you as if they are about to eat you…."
"Well...you kind of did."
"But then again so did I as I looked at you." He smiled.
Mina blushed as he leaned in and delicately grabbed the end of her dress that was wet, she became redder as he brought the fabric closer to his face to find out which liquid it was.
She could see the soft silk threads graze the tip of his pretty nose and then graze his lips.
"...Champagne...It should wash off pretty easily without leaving a stain later on." He innocently smiled against the white chiffon layered with ivory organza.
Mina wasn't breathing as she stared at his pretty and hypnotic smile, feeling bad for imagining that he might have other intentions behind his movements.
Feeling even more bad for hoping that he truly had followed her for something more than just an extended form of loyalty towards her brother.
It was the first meaningful meeting she had made during that all night.
"...I...I am lucky that it wasn't red wine." She whispered before slowly pulling the fabric back towards her.
"Do I make you feel uncomfortable…? If I do then I can leave-"
Mina leaned in and grabbed his hand as he was about to stand up.
"No- no you don't…" she coughed, feeling her cheeks get redder by the second before letting go of him "...It's just that I am already breaking the first rule by staying with you like this…"
He raised an eyebrow.
"...An unmarried lady should never be seen alone with a man..?"
"...Did your brother tell you that?" He laughed
"Yes, how did you know?"
"Well because that is typical of him…?" Minhyun said "He is just being protective, don't worry. There's no such things as party rules."
"But still you never know what some men might do so be careful ok?"
He nodded in approval.
"Well...Since we broke the first rule imposed by your brother anyway...What about a walk by ourselves in the gardens?" He asked, reaching his hand out to her.
"This sounds like something I shouldn't accept…"
"...But I'll let you lead the way this time."
The gardens were blooming under the moonlight, roses and baby-breaths intertwined along the white walls of the mansion.
"It's lovely." Mina whispered, walking a feet away from him.
"Our garden here is...small. I miss the one we have back in our castle." She said.
"Do you miss living there?"
"Sometimes…? I miss how calm it is...Do you miss yours?"
He shook his head.
"I am an only child, my family castle always felt too empty and big for me, it was always cold."
"That's why I am grateful for your brother, he often came to visit me there even when he was busy."
"How come we have never met then?"
"You were kept away and sick most of the time, I never got the chance to."
Minhyun stopped to watch a scarlet rose and so did Mina.
"...Well...Not really, I did see you once." He said.
The young woman blinked and raised an eyebrow.
"...I am sure that I would've remembered you if I had."
"Why?" He asked
Mina turned around to look at the moon, but really to hide her red cheeks, she never had the opportunity to stay this close to a man apart from her brother before.
It was as if she was walking along a magical being, a rare creature she was seeing for the first time.
She was tall but so was he, his hands were larger than hers, making her fingers look almost fragile.
He was her opposite and the difference between the two of them made her heart race.
"W..Well you have a face that isn't easy to forget I guess…?"
He took her hand and made her turn around so that she would face him again.
"Hmmm….Because it isn't to your taste or the opposite?" He asked with the most teasing smile there was.
Mina found the fact that he played with her shyness annoying, annoyingly attractive that is.
She was tired of being swaddled in a blanket of security by her family and friends, all that she wanted was to feel the rush of life and its ups and downs.
He was giving her glimpses of it.
"Well...Objectively speaking…You aren't unpleasant to look at..." she replied, scarlet.
"...You were playing the piano in your music room when I first saw you, but you were too busy to notice me or your brother I guess." He told her "We left without interrupting you."
"So that's how you recognized me…"
"...That and because of the constant mumbling from the men telling one another how beautiful you are tonight?"
"Oh stop it!" She laughed to hide her embarrassment
"I am not joking…" he seriously said before bringing her hand to his lips "You shined like a diamond tonight and as one might be entranced by such jewels, all men were."
Mina wanted to ask him what he had thought of her when she first came through that door, glowing and smiling at this new world that was opening to her, she wanted to know if she had taken his breath away too, if she had caught his sight even for a second before they exchanged their first words.
What the lady ignored is that he had been the first one to notice her as he stood at the top of the stairs, coming down to greet guests he had no interest in.
She had been there, carelessly giving away smiles that he considered to be too precious to be witnessed by the greedy vultures that wouldn't hesitate to seize the golden prize that she was.
She was beautiful, rich and of noble blood, but most of all she was young- too young in fact for most of the men that were there to look for a bride.
Minhyun had seen himself in her in a way, he had been ignorant too at one point and wanted to spare her the brutal downfall that was reality.
And so he had waited for an opportunity to whisk her away to a calm place, hoping that he would be able to keep her a little more the way she was until the night ended.
He had promised her brother that he would take care of her after all.
Minhyun kissed the back of her hand, his gaze not leaving hers, he could feel her heart flutter under his touch.
"I wouldn't dare lie to you."
Mina knew that it was all but a formal kiss and yet she couldn't forget the feeling of his lips on her skin.
She couldn't help but wonder if this is why Minhee loved being in men's company no matter how much she loathed them the next morning.
"I…I should go back inside, my brother and my friends must be looking for me." She whispered, holding her hand to her heart.
"Let me take you back."
"People will see us-"
"And I will tell them that you felt unwell and needed some fresh air." He smiled "You'll be fine ,I promise."
He offered her his arm this time and she took it as they both walked back into the party.
Eyes were locked on their arms, some already up to gossip about the pair.
Some even going as far as to suspect that the duke might have found his duchess.
"I see that you've met Woohyun." Said Myungsoo, joining Kami as they both watched the man leave through the main entrance. "He was the writer friend I told you about."
"Is he? Then I am afraid to tell you that his tastes when it comes to literature are great but that his opinion when it comes to the actual content of the books is rather disappointing."
"Oh really? How come?"
Kami showed him her book.
"He wasn't able to recognize what a masterpiece this is!"
Myungsoo took a look at the author's name and smirked.
"What? What's this smile?" She asked.
"Well…" he laughed " He has good reasons to be critical of it, he is the one who wrote it."
Kami froze and eyed her friend's brother with large eyes.
"...But the pen name…"
" A fake one, he wouldn't be able to publish such stories under his true name, his family would forbid it."
"...No way...I...I have to talk to him..I have so many questions to ask about the book!"
Myungsoo grabbed her arm.
"Another day, there will be plenty of parties for you to come to and see him."
Kami cringed, Myungsoo was a sneaky man and she knew that it was his way of making sure that even if he wasn't there, Kami would be keeping an eye on his little sister instead.
"Do you really see me going to another party…? You do know how much I hate dresses and wearing this much jewelry right?" She said pointing at her pale blue dress and heavy jewelry.
He raised his shoulders and let them down again.
"You won't really have a choice, the next party is a royal one."
A loud sigh escaped her lips.
Royal parties were painfully boring, more than the regular parties that sometimes could turn out to be entertaining (especially when mysterious writers were involved)- but these were all about formality and displays of wealth, Kami disapproved of them and yet could not escape them, her parents would throw her in a carriage before she had the time to say no.
"Would you help me find your friends? It's getting late, we should get back."
"You won't have to search for them Cinderella,look, Minhee is already here-"
Kami wasn't really sure as to what angered her the most as she froze, the fact that this man was back and dared walk by Minhee's side or that her friend was lightly, but still smiling,holding onto his arm.
"...This has to be a joke." Whispered Myungsoo to her who had helped the trio deal with the aftermath of the scandal "Did she lose her mind…???"
"This can't be happening."
The man stopped in his tracks as he met the eyes of the pair, most definitely willing to end his life on the spot and whispered some words before leaving Minhee's side.
The young woman hurried to her friend.
"...How was your evening..?" Asked Minhee,uncomfortable under their heavy stares.
"Are you out of your mind..???" Whispered Myungsoo
"Not here Myungsoo, people are listening...But you better explain this later Minhee." Said Kami " We are leaving as soon as we find Mina."
Minhee sighed, lowering her head as the crowd grew louder.
Kami eyed them to see what agitated them and froze once more as she saw a glowing Mina hanging onto Minhyun's arm.
Kami could recognize the familiar red flush on Mina's cheek, the way her body leaned towards him and the way her sparkling eyes looked for his.
Her evening was taking a turn for the worst, how was she going to deal with her friends?
"Mina!" Myungsoo called rushing to her and his old friend "I've been looking for you!"
Mina's and Minhyun's complice smiles did not escape the glance of Kami.
"Sorry, I needed some fresh air." She lied.
Myungsoo whispered a few words to his sister, sending her to the duo.
"Go outside first, I'll join you in an instant." He said.
Kami grabbed her friends' arms and dragged them outside without letting them a moment to breathe.
"What's wrong?" Asked Mina, confused and suddenly out of her daze-like state "Are we already leaving?"
"Oh yes we are!"
Kami stopped before the carriage.
"...You both have some explaining to do." She said "...Especially you Minhee but we are dealing with everything tomorrow, I don't have enough energy to hear whatever excuse you have for this." Finished Kami, looking at Minhee.
The blonde woman then focused on their cadet.
"...What's happening with you and Minhyun?"
Mina blushed and that time, Minhee saw it too.
"I think...I think I might like him."
"....Jesus Christ." Swore Minhee.
"...Just kill me already." Sighed Kami.
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