Tara and Kyle have a much-needed conversation.
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Episode 262. About 9 months (21)
There seemed to be a hint of embarrassment in her eyes as she turned her head. And then, she frowned.
"It's just... Hmm. How do I explain this..."
She dropped the arm that was supporting her chin onto her lap and gently pulled her upper body back. She looked around somewhat troubled, unable to meet his eyes.
"Oh, I'm sorry, this seems like a difficult topic. You don't have to tell me, I was just asking because I'm not familiar with the word you used to refer to yourself with."
She looked up carefully. Doubt, accompanied by hesitation flickered in her eyes. After a few seconds of staring, she looked down again.
"It’s very personal. Do you mind if I tell you at a later time, not right now?"
The words had come out when she thought she was all by herself, in her own private space.
It wasn't something she’d wanted anyone else to see.
Kyle cursed under his breath at his habit of reading between the lines and questioning things if they didn't make perfect sense.
Her eyes lifted slowly, and there was still a hint of doubt in them.
"I was rude. You don't have to answer all my questions. Our relationship is one of equals. There's no coercion. If you don't want to tell me something, you can save it for later."
She smiled brightly, as if she was finally at ease.
It was beautiful.
"I'll tell you all about it after some time. Okay. Now, why in the world did you send me to the full-time secretarial division? I mean, it's all well and good that you compromised and sent me there, but don't you think the reason is a bit ridiculous?"
She pouted, showing her displeasure right away.
'As expected, my outspoken lady.'
Kyle struggled to control the corners of his mouth that threatened to curve upwards. He explained calmly so as to not alarm her.
"A sudden letter came to my office in the Palace. It said you were in danger, Tara."
"Oh, my God!"
“They impersonated one of the spies dispatched to your family.”
“Tara, I thought you'd understand the meaning right away.”
"I would've been discovered in no time... They were trying to see how Your Highness would react."
"Yes. It's been a long time since I've seen such a shallow trick, it's embarrassing. But what's even more embarrassing is that I almost fell for that sloppy trick."
Kyle then briefly explained the circumstances that had led to her being sent to the full-time secretarial division.
After listening to his explanation, Tara slowly opened her mouth with a thoughtful expression on her face.
"So, you're saying that they're suspicious of the relationship between Your Highness and me, and that's why they wanted to find out if I was your weakness."
"It appears to be the same reason why they tried to escalate the incident by using Victoria’s scheme on your birthday."
"... No hesitation on their part. Do you think the person who planned this also planned the rumours about the mercenary group, the Hunting Contest Assassination Attempt, and the Dragon Fruit Incident?"
"It feels similar, but they could be separate incidents as well, which is why we have to find evidence and can’t conveniently pin it down yet."
If the culprit was assumed to be one person, we might miss others if the same person wasn’t responsible for all the incidents.
Tara nodded slowly, voicing her thoughts.
"Only the Third Prince is missing from the list of victims. If it looks like that to me, then why haven’t they thought of that? Doesn't it seem like the Third Prince is the mastermind behind this?"
During the Dragon Fruit Incident the Emperor was targeted, while the Hunting Contest Assassination Attempt was aimed at the First Prince and Kyle. The rumours about the mercenary group involved Kyle and the Empress, and the First Prince was the victim. Amongst the potential successors to the throne, only the Third Prince hadn’t been victims.
"Perhaps they believed that this chain of events would work. Or maybe they were deliberately trying to make us suspicious of the Third Prince. Unless we know for sure, we have to be open to all scenarios."
"So from now on, I will have no personal contact with you."
"You're trying to make it seem like I'm not important to you."
"Exactly. That is the way to protect you, Tara."
Tara nodded slowly, but she soon raised her head and looked at him with curious eyes.
"I understand. But don't you hate this kind of strategy, Your Highness?"
He did. He despised being restricted in his actions because of his enemies' scheming. Kyle was the kind of person who would rather devise a strategy to take advantage of several enemies and use her as a target to draw them out.
"I can't stand it."
"Rather than that method, you’re going to use their ideas against them to draw the enemy out like I did on my birthday...!"
Instead of finishing her sentence, she snapped her mouth shut. Her eyes widening in realization.
Kyle couldn't have been happier watching the flashing in Tara’s eyes as she read his thoughts.
"That's right. It’s because of what you’re thinking about right now."
"If I was the person they were targeting, I would use myself as bait a million times over. But you... Never!"
He said seriously, without a hint of humour, that he would use himself as bait, but could never use me.
Something heavy filled my heart. And at the same time, I wondered whether I was as thoughtful towards this man as he was to me.
"You look like you have some doubts."
I burst out laughing.
"Do you realize how perceptive you are?"
"Does that mean you have more questions?"
"It's just, I have questions for myself."
He waited without saying a word, as if he thought I had more to say.
"Your Highness... No. Kyle, I'm wondering if I think of you just as much as you think of me."
"What's your conclusion?"
"... I don't think so."
My head snapped up at his words.
"The thought of you sacrificing yourself for me, Tara, is horrible. So don't think of it."
"No. Well, I would never want you to sacrifice yourself for me either."
"Eh? What kind of cow scratches their own front legs... Isn't that ridiculous? Between equal lovers, one can sacrifice themself, but not the other? Oh, that's not right!"*
He chuckled as I frowned and waved my hands.
"We're equal as lovers, but we're different in strength. Ah! I mean no disrespect to you, so stop glaring."
"I'm a quick study. Tell me more in detail."
"As you know, I have strength, authority and ability beyond anyone else in this Empire."
"Aha, I can't deny that."
I raised my arms and nodded.
"Which means I'm more than capable of defending myself, even as 'bait'. But you can't. So don't worry or blame yourself for not feeling the same way I do about you."
He was persuasive indeed.
I stared at him, unable to come up with anything else to say because logically it made so much sense, but emotionally, he left me speechless.
"Regardless of everything, I'm grateful just to be by your side."
What a line.
He said it with such conviction that heat naturally rose to my face.
"Hahaha... It's like a declaration of war. Wow. Hmm. I understand. Does this mean that from now on we won't privately meet each other in either the Palace or outside of it, and you won't come to my balcony anymore until we catch the main culprit?"
"... Damn it. Yes."
He roughly ran a hand through his bangs for a moment. It was my favourite thing to see. That must be why my mouth became bewitched and I blurted out a thought that should've stayed in my head.
"Please do that one more time."
He jerked his head up at my words with a serious expression on his face. Surprised, I clamped my hands over my mouth.
His deep eyes stared at me, uncomprehending.
Having already said it, I decided to just ask for it.
It wasn't like it was difficult.
"That motion. This. Like this."
I did the exact same thing Kyle had done, and he burst out laughing!
"I don't know, it's just kind of pleasing to the eye. Hehe."
I stammered and laughed because I couldn't bring myself to admit it. It was dangerous how much more disheveled he looked than usual, and it made my mouth feel strangely dry.
I propped my chin back up with both hands and waited in spectator mode.
Then, he tilted his head and stared at me with those profound eyes, and swept his bangs back a little slower than before.
He lowered his gaze. His haphazardly disheveled hair, his straight forehead and sharp jawline.
Oh, oh, oh... It was even more fatal when he looked at me like that. Fuck... That was cool, my boyfriend.
I could see his neckline through his black shirt which was unbuttoned at the top, and thanks to his twice-folded sleeves I could follow the contours of his arms that smoothly flowed from his fingers to his wrist and then to his elbow. It was very nice to look at.
I swallowed carefully so as not to be caught and nodded.
"Yes. I like it. Hehe."
"One more time?"
This time he gave me a meaningful smile and ran a hand through his hair, disheveling it even more than before.
"Again?" He asked in a lower voice.
At this rate, I was going to want to watch him endlessly.
"Yes... Oh, no. Ah. What was it? Oh! Can you tell me about your negotiations with the Empress? It must've cost a fortune to turn it into a common nursery rhyme and spread it throughout the Empire, right?"
Kyle smiled meaningfully again and supported his chin with one hand.
Shit. I liked this posture too.
Damn, I had to stop.
I caught myself admiring Kyle like I was gawking at a celebrity in a magazine. I slowly and deliberately moved my upper body away to widen the distance between me and him.
"If I explain, will you keep your promise?"
"Huh? What promise?"
This chapter made me unwell, frankly. I love them so much <3
* I could not find out what 그게 무슨 소 앞다리 긁는.... (scratching a cow) means. I suspect that it means to shoot yourself in the foot/do something that’s bad or inconvenient for yourself, but I’m not sure
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