Chapter 1 - Stalker
‘The colors of my world shifted the first time I saw you.’
Isabel could not remember where she had first seen him because, for her, a banquet was nothing more than a setting full of awkward situations she had to endure. All grand and splendid banquets were the same to her. She was a phantom amongst the other guests who were lively with conversation and laughter. No one talked to her. No one noticed her presence. Isabel cared so little for banquets that she could not even recall what kind of banquet she had first seen him at.
But the moment she had seen him was clear in her mind.
The windows overlooking the starry, night sky, the chandelier and the light it scattered, and the ladies and gentlemen in their expensive dresses and suits had all disappeared before her eyes. All she could see was him.
The whole world seemed to quake.
He had dazzling, blonde hair that looked as if moonlight were trapped in each strand, and his curved eyes half-covered his scarlet irises. He had not been facing her, but she was sure that his gaze had wandered over and met hers. His smile had not been directed towards her, but Isabel’s breath caught in her throat regardless. All of her surroundings disappeared—even she disappeared. He was the only thing left in her world. Ever since then, Isabel would look for him at banquets.
The previous emperor had suddenly passed away at a relatively young age. Per the line of succession, the Crown Prince was then crowned emperor. He was the prince’s brother. In other words, he was someone who shared the same blood as the emperor, the Grand Duke.
The Grand Duke did not yet have a Grand Duchess to accompany him, though he enjoyed a life of debauchery regardless. Nobles were obligated to keep their chastity while unmarried. Only after marriage were they allowed to do as they pleased.
He should have received criticism for his playboy lifestyle since he was not yet married, yet, on the contrary, the noblewomen were deeply attracted to his immorality. Everyone wished to be his lover. The affairs of his bed were the center of all the noble ladies’ attention. Unwed, young ladies would look at him and pray to stand in the spot beside him. Although he had a different woman by his side each time, the spot where she could simply observe him from afar at banquets was enough for Isabel.
There was another woman beside him again today. No one was asking Isabel for a dance, so her dance cards were always empty just like every other banquet. Once again, Isabel was a wallflower. In the past, it had been very difficult and embarrassing for her to accept that fact, but now she was rather grateful for it. No one was interested in her.
She was the ghost of the banquet. Her lack of presence allowed her to hide behind a pillar and spy on him until the end of the banquet. There, she witnessed him kiss another woman in a clandestine corner of the banquet hall.
From the way his tongue penetrated and moved inside the woman’s lips, his seductively languid smile, to how his white-gloved hands squeezed her waist, wandering up the curves of her body to seize her breast—Isabel had watched everything.
As she watched him, she imagined the texture of his lips. She wondered what it would be like to have his lips touch hers and his thick tongue penetrate her lips, swirling inside. She wanted the person he was touching and tasting to be her. It was a fantasy that could not come true, but Isabel was satisfied just watching him.
That’s right. Isabel was Agares’ stalker.
* * *
There were countless young noblemen in the empire, but when one was asked to pick the most charming man, everyone’s first pick would always be the Grand Duke, Agares. He was beautiful today, too.
Agares Halen Arthas.
He was a man whose name, Agares, was more renowned than his title as the Grand Duke of Arthas.
A crowd of people was always surrounding him. Countless men and women flocked around him, the beautiful man of power. At any banquet in which the emperor was not in attendance, he was the belle of the ball. The word “belle” normally did not suit a man, but he was more beautiful and shined brighter than anyone.
Every now and then, he would attend a banquet without a partner, perhaps because all the women were obsessed with him. So whenever he happened to be alone, numerous women would throw themselves at him with subtle temptation to sit next to him. Such instances, however, were few and far between, and the woman sitting next to him today was rightfully gorgeous and beautiful.
This time, Isabel was watching him from the wall closest to him. It wasn’t difficult. No one was aware of Isabel’s existence since she was hiding behind such a huge pillar.
She would catch glimpses of him amidst the crowd that swallowed him. Her throat became dry as she kept her eyes on his lips. He spoke with his mouth stretched into a bright smile. His lips were a pale red, and every time he smiled while slightly biting his lower lip, Isabel found that she couldn’t breathe. She swallowed to moisten her dry throat.
‘Wherefore art thou so quaint in mine own eyes?’
Isabel wet her lips with a glass of white wine she took from the silver tray of a passing server. She returned to her spot and hid while she spied on him. Normally, once he had enjoyed the banquet enough, he would leave with his partner by the time the atmosphere would slightly die down and stagnate.
Isabel fell for Agares from the very moment she saw him. It could have been because of his beautiful appearance or his excessive, constant changing of women. No, actually, there was no reason.
He was just that enchanting.
The thought that she shouldn’t do it crossed her mind. Regardless, she went after him. While the women who failed to be chosen as his partner held back their sighs of disappointment, Isabel, who had disregarded her reputation as a noblewoman, sneakily followed him. So, she watched. She watched as he led his partner to a dark corner and watched as their lips touched and their tongues intertwined. She saw him plant his lips on her voluminous breasts, lift the hem of her fancy dress, and clench her fleshy thighs in his hands.
Isabel knew that, as a lady, she should not have been doing this, but she couldn’t control herself. She had been to every single banquet he had attended and snuck behind him until he disappeared with the woman of the day.
She didn’t dare to present herself before him. She was too shabby in her appearance, dress, position—everything.
“His Highness is really beautiful today, too.”
Someone beyond the pillar was whispering about him with admiration. It seemed they were not aware that Isabel was standing behind the pillar.
“Indeed. How can someone like him exist?”
Isabel’s ears perked at their conversation. She loved hearing anything about him and was happy just listening to others’ chit-chat. She was clueless about recent happenings and knew nothing about him; however, listening to other people talk about him like this, she learned a little about what kind of day-to-day life he led.
“I heard that he went hunting with His Majesty the Emperor a while ago. He caught a silver fox that day and presented it to Her Majesty the Empress.”
This was what Isabel meant by learning about his day-to-day activities.
“That’s right. From what I heard, when they examined the fox afterward, they found that he had shot it straight through the eyes. There were no scars or imperfections on the fur at all.”
“That means he must have excellent hunting skills.”
She had already known that his hunting skills were excellent, but this was the first time she found out that he was outstanding enough to pierce the eyes of a fox. A sigh of admiration escaped her lips.
“I didn’t know he was so filial.”
“How can such a perfect person exist?”
“But, you know, don’t you think it’s a little too much for a man?”
“Is that so?”
“How do I put this…I should say, it would feel burdensome to be by his side.”
He was too pretty. That wasn’t something one would typically say about a man, but he was such an elegant and stunning beauty.
“Oh, my. Then, the Grand Duke seems to not be to your liking, Lady Ellin.”
After all, the rivals for his attention were all the women in the empire, whether they be single or married. It was good to have fewer rivals, even if it was only by one person. The veiled feud to capture him was fierce even among those he paid no attention to. They were all of the mindset that if they couldn’t have him, then at the very least they wanted to deprive others of the opportunity to possess him.
“N-no. I didn’t mean it that way.”
Lady Ellin, who was a baron’s daughter, had tried to be coy by asking if such a man was a bit much to handle. She muttered as heat rushed up to her neck, but it was too late. After expressing such a sentiment, even if by the slightest possibility the Grand Duke one day showed interest in her, she could no longer accept him. If she went back on her words, all sorts of rumors would follow.
Ellin bit her lip, but she could not come up with a good retort. Her status was low and she lacked influence within this gathering. The circle of nobility was interconnected. It would be a loss for her if she was kicked out. The other ladies were satisfied that they had handled a rival with only a few light remarks and resumed their conversation once more.
“Still, they say he’s completely different in bed. A beast.”
“How could you say such a thing?”
“Well, I’m sure you were all aware of this.”
They fluttered their fans and tried to cool themselves down, but they couldn’t hide the envy they felt towards the woman who claimed the spot next to him today. No matter how much they fought here, the real winner was the woman currently standing in that position.
Agares excused himself for a brief moment to the person beside him and promptly took his leave. Isabel also gave the glass she was holding to a passing server and quickly followed him out of the banquet hall. The banquet hall was packed with many people both inside and outside, and no one noticed the invisible Isabel.
Isabel followed Agares, though it was difficult to do so despite his leisurely gait. No one noticed her chasing him thanks to the hustle and bustle of the nobles and servants traversing through the hall. Soon, he had moved towards a deserted area. She also considered the fact that she got to follow him in this manner as part of her good fortune today, stooping down to pick up his hair along the way.
Just like now.
Something dropped from his person with a light thud. What fell from him was a silk handkerchief embroidered with gold thread. There weren’t many who could embroider silk. It must have been extremely expensive, but the actual monetary value of the handkerchief meant nothing to Isabel. Even if what he had dropped was a gross handkerchief barely worth a dime, it would still have become Isabel’s most precious item.
Isabel carefully picked up the handkerchief and hugged it to her body. As she picked up the handkerchief, body tingling with pride, she looked up and met someone’s gaze. Isabel ducked in surprise. Had he seen her pick up the handkerchief? He seemed to be scolding her, asking if what she had picked up was the Grand Duke’s handkerchief and why she kept it in her arms instead of returning it.
Isabel, frozen and unable to escape from the surprise, waited impatiently. She waited and waited, but she did not hear anything. After keeping her gaze fixed on the floor the entire time, she finally carefully looked up. When she raised her head once more, the man with who she had made eye contact was no longer there.
“Phew, that startled me,” Isabel mumbled, scarcely audible.
She sighed a sigh of relief. She had been so surprised that her heart was beating hard against her chest. It wasn’t until she realized that no one was looking at her that the adrenaline subsided slightly.
Isabel was someone who could not catch other people’s eyes, so she had lowered her gaze without even realizing it. Yet, the man whose eyes she had met had disappeared just like that. No one paid attention to her as always, but now, there was another problem.
Agares, the man Isabel had been chasing and spying on, had also disappeared.