Chapter 33 - Viscount Garth’s Banquet
A disturbance arose at the entrance. A dazzlingly beautiful man appeared amidst laughter and awe: the Grand Duke, the one and only brother of the emperor of this nation. Once again, he arrived without a partner. His attending without a partner meant that he would find one at the banquet. The eyes of the many females attending the banquet gleamed as if they were preparing to play cat and mouse.
The Grand Duke was swarmed in no time. Everyone was anxious to approach him, for he was the most delicious-looking prey in the empire. He was so sought after that if he were to be captured, he would probably have been devoured without so much as a single drop of blood left behind. Even feeding a piece of meat dripping with blood to a tank of piranhas would have elicited a less fierce reaction.
“Your Highness, it is such an honor to have your presence at this banquet.” The viscount who was hosting the banquet looked at Agares with eyes full of emotion, since it was quite unusual for the Grand Duke to attend a banquet hosted by someone of his rank.
“It is my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.”
“Your Highness, allow me to present my daughter, Lana. Say hello, Lana.”
“Your Highness, it is an honor to make your acquaintance.” The young woman pulled at the hem of her dress and curtsied as she greeted the Grand Duke. Her cheeks were aflame; her youth shining through as if she had just made her debut into society. Agares received her greeting with a soft smile.
“I am pleased to meet you too, Lady Garth.”
Now that the daughter of the viscount hosting the banquet had been presented to the unaccompanied Grand Duke, there was no way the young lady did not expect anything from their encounter. Many esteemed sons and daughters of the nobility flocked to attend the banquet and overcrowded the viscounty as soon as they were informed of the Grand Duke’s presence. Even high-ranking nobles sought entrance to the function in hopes of having a word with him.
Lana, who usually went unnoticed because of her status, piqued the interest of the other daughters of the nobility as if she had suddenly been elevated to the rank of princess. Taking advantage of the newfound attention, she subconsciously began telling others in a roundabout way that the intrigue surrounding his presence at the banquet was something only people in the know would know about.
“You are really beautiful, Your Highness.”
Very few people knew how much the Grand Duke actually hated that word and those that did kept their mouths shut over that information. As a result, the general public, Lana included, had no idea of his disdain.
No matter how sincere her sentiments, they were useless now. When he heard that hateful word leave her lips, Agares’ face hardened a bit. His change of expression was momentary and fleeting, happening within a fraction of a second, so no one had noticed. Lady Garth continued to look at him with shining eyes as if she were living a dream.
“Thank you for your praise, my lady,” he replied.
He then exchanged a few more words with Viscount Garth and responded to what the count next to him was saying. After he was finished with greeting the master of the house, dark-haired women began to crowd around him with their chaperones in tow and chattered, in hopes that he would look at them.
It was often said that the empire’s current trends revolved around the Grand Duke’s preferences. The veracity of that statement was palpable tonight as the hall was aflutter with dresses, jewels—even fabric patterns and hairstyles—that had been chosen favorites of the Grand Duke. Everything he had ever expressed an interest in became sensationally popular.
However, no one knew for certain whether their choices were really to his liking. The women had fashioned their looks after women the Grand Duke had chosen before, hoping for their turn with him.
Isabel wondered if she would have done the same had she been born into the right household with all the liberties and supportive circumstances enjoyed by the other noblewomen. She was unsure, but she simply, purely wanted to look at him, even if it was not from beside him but from a distance.
Agares glanced around the banquet hall. His eyes met hers.
Isabel’s heart jumped.
For so long, she had become accustomed to stalking and watching him from a distance, so she was caught terribly off guard when his eyes made direct contact with hers. The attention made her feel as if she had been caught in the middle of committing a crime. She did not know whether he also felt the same.
Isabel’s eyes widened and stared back at him for a long time. Somehow, she could not bring herself to look away. Agares smiled lightly and began to move from his standing position.
‘Why does he keep staring at me?’ she wondered. Although she knew she had to avoid his gaze, Isabel found it difficult to turn from him. Her eyes were affixed to him. As he walked, the crowd walked alongside him. After a short while, Isabel noted that his steps seemed to be weird. No—his steps were fine, but the direction he was headed in was strange. ‘No way…?’
He looked to be walking towards her. No—he was walking towards her! Isabel took a few steps back in surprise, only to find herself bumping into the wall behind her.