As she refilled her glass, Claire asked.

“Was there something different about Russell than Max?”

Claire’s question made Isabelle think for a moment.

I mean, earlier you asked me to come back and have lamb pie with you next time, but I actually thought I wanted to bring Russell with me next time.”

Isabelle said honestly.

“I didn’t think about Max until you brought him up.
Maybe that’s why Russell sent us this wine, because he felt the same way I did.”

Isabelle laughed shyly.
She was pretty to begin with, but she was even prettier with that twinkle in her eyes.

That was the face of someone in love.

Claire gulped down her wine and grumbled.

“I was so happy at the idea of eating lamb pie with you, but you were thinking about a man.
I’m so disappointed, now I won’t be able to sleep at night.”

“I was going to have lamb pie with you and roast duck with Russell.
Russell should’ve never been here, but he was, wasn’t he?”

It was only a matter of moments before Isabelle’s eyes sparkled with love, then betrayal.

“I see.
Who is he with?”

Her emotions were contagious, and Claire felt a flare of betrayal toward Russell, whom she barely knew. 

The sisters shifted in their seats to see who had come with Russell, but the planters were in the way!

She couldn’t even tell if the person sitting with their back to her was a man or a woman because of the potted plants.

“Claire, drink up.”

She meant to drain the bottle quickly, then go over to say thank you and see who it was.

Reading Isabelle’s intentions, Claire nodded with a serious face.

After all, no one would send wine to another woman while on a date unless they were a total flirt.

Claire and Isabelle’s cheeks were flushed from just the thought.

“This is good, by the way.
It’s sweet and delicious.”

“You like it too? Russell must know his wine.”

The two of them drank their wine like it was water, satisfied as if they’d never been overcome with betrayal.

“Sis, anyone who buys you delicious food is a good person.”

“Russell is a good man.”

“It makes me sad to think I can’t live with you, but if it’s Russell, I’ll allow it.”

“I’ve only been on two dates.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t give up your heart that easily.
Max could buy you something better, right?”

Isabelle burst out laughing at Claire’s serious face.

Russell and Max were aware of each other’s presence.
They know they were both courting Isabelle, and they knew she was dating both of them.

Because that’s what the two recommended.
It was okay if they didn’t end up being chosen, so let’s have a few dates with each other.

A person like this was her older sister, Claire felt like a proud parent even though she hadn’t done anything.

Claire giggled.

“Why are you laughing?”

Isabelle giggled along with Claire.
Then, almost simultaneously, they came to their senses.

They’d almost forgotten their true purpose.

The wine was almost gone.
She turned around and, thankfully, Russell was still there.

“Let’s drink.”


In retrospect, they could’ve kept the rest of the wine, but it was as if they were under some sort of spell.
They called the server, paid the bill, finished the rest of the wine, and stood up.

Claire wasn’t sure when she was sitting down, or when she got up.
She felt like she was drunk and her head was spinning, but Claire somehow managed to stay upright.

Isabelle, who had a little more to drink than Claire, stood for a moment, and blinked.
Then she started walking, and Claire followed.

By the time they finished their wine, it was quite late and there were many empty tables.

While having a conversation with a comfortable face, Russell’s gaze turned their way when he felt their presence.

“I didn’t expect to meet you here.”

Isabelle smiled broadly and said hello.
Would it be as simple as that?

Isabelle’s eyes twinkled as she turned her head to see who Russell was sitting with, and there was another familiar face.

Fortunately, the man was looking at Isabelle.
So, Claire pretended not to notice and fixed her gaze in the direction of Isabelle and Russell.

“This is my sister Claire.”

She was determined not to look over there, so she concentrated on Isabelle introducing her to Russell.

When Russell rose from his seat, she had to raise her head because of his towering height.
She felt like he was Isabelle’s escort knight because he was so tall and big.

She knew the noble sitting there would scoff at the idea, but even the wealthiest merchants among the commoners have bodyguards.

Though the sisters were far from wealthy.

“I’ve never met you before, I’m Russell McDowell.”

Not a bad voice.

“Hi, I’m Claire Doherty.”

She didn’t enjoy giving people grades, but she found herself doing it because this was the man who was courting her sister.

Despite his bandit-like appearance, Russell treated her sister with respect.

“I’ve heard so many stories from Isabelle about her sister, and now I get to meet her.”

Claire wanted to ask what she’d heard, but Russell continued.
She also didn’t have the courage to ask a stranger anyway.

“This is my friend, Clive.”

Isabelle, who had forgotten her purpose and was focusing on Russell, spun around when she realized that it was Clive who was seated with him.

“Oh, Chief!”

She’d only seen him once before, and he didn’t like it when he’d been called Chief Constable!

Perhaps Isabelle didn’t know what to call him either, but Claire felt her alcohol-reddened skin flush and freeze in an instant.

She jabbed Isabelle with her elbow subtly, avoiding eye contact.

“You’re the chief of the guards, right?”

However, the signal didn’t go through, and Isabelle wanted to confirm once more that he was the Chief Constable.

“I’m Clive Norton.
I’m not here as Chief Constable.”

It was the gentlest thing she’d ever heard him say, but he was certainly a man of business.

Claire struggled to get her wine-fogged head to spin properly.

What did she say Russell did? No.
Did Isabelle ever tell her anything specific about Russell?

She thought she just told her that she met him as a customer at the Rome Book Store, and that he asked her out.

Isabelle never told her how old he was, what he did for a living, or where he lived.

Now that she thought about it, that was suspicious.
How could he be friends with Clive Norton, second son of Count Norton, the Lord of Shadehill? Was he a nobleman?

Claire was unfamiliar with that surname.
Many commoners had a last name, but it was more common among nobles.
So, it was certainly possible that he was a nobleman.

If so, why?

If he was a nobleman, why would he ask Isabelle out? It wasn’t unheard of for a nobleman to marry a commoner, but it was rare.

Was he planning to date Isabelle, and marry another young noble lady?

Just as Claire’s thoughts were descending into tragedy, she heard Isabelle’s cheerful voice.

“It’s nice to see you twice in one day.”

Claire’s first priority was to restrain Isabelle, who was merely in a good mood due to the effects of Russell and the wine.

“Sis, it’s late, let’s go.”

Claire whispered in Isabelle’s ear.

“If you don’t mind, would you like to sit down for a while?”

However, Russell dropped a bomb.


Isabelle happily embraced that bomb.

Russell moved to sit next to Clive, and Isabelle flew over and took the seat across from Russell.

It all happened as naturally as water flowed.
Claire froze, unable to take it all in.

“Why don’t you sit down?”

At Clive’s urging, Claire reluctantly took the seat next to Isabelle and across from Clive.

Clive’s gaze shot straight to her.
Claire greeted him in a voice that couldn’t help but croak.


“I see you again.”

She was embarrassed by the man’s lack of formality, but she didn’t show it.

An astute server brought two new glasses, set them in front of Claire and Isabelle, then filled them with wine.

Claire stared at the red liquid in the clear glasses.
It was all because of this wine.

Stupid wine.
The wine was making it impossible to think rationally.

No, she admitted it.
She didn’t want to use wine as an excuse for her poor judgment.

She would only drink at home from now on.

As she stared at the red liquid and muttered to herself, Russell asked a question.

“When did you and Clive meet?”

Of course, Russell looked into Isabelle’s eyes as he asked the question.
Isabelle opened her lips to answer, but Claire interrupted.

“How did you two become friends?”

She regretted saying it because all three sets of eyes were focused on her.
She guessed she was asking too much.

“I studied with Clive at Harborne Academy.”

Harborne Academy was located in the Baileys, a northern part of Kaliba.
It was open to anyone, including nobles, commoners, and foreigners.

It was a place where generations of crown princes, princesses, lords and ladies had studied.
A place where you didn’t get in unless you were good at studying, and where everyone was considered equal.

Claire had studied by herself, but Harborne Academy was famous because it was where the children of royalty went to school.

They’d become friends there, where everyone was equal, and they continued to treat each other the same way.

Which meant Russell was smart, too.

Claire decided to give him extra points.
This score wouldn’t be of any interest to Russell or Isabelle though.

After her curiosity was resolved, there was nothing more to say.

“He bought a book at the Rome Book Store earlier.”

Isabelle explained, breaking the brief silence.

“I thought the gentleman chose a love story to buy as a gift.
‘Is it a gift for your lover?’”

“I bought it at the request of my sister.”

Claire recalled Eleanor Norton, the youngest daughter of Count Norton.
Did she look like Clive?

Actually, she just saw her in a black and white picture that was of bad quality, so she wasn’t really sure since she didn’t pay much attention.

Anyway, Claire had a hard day of trying to get the countess her cookies on time for the tea party.

The servants and maids who worked there must’ve moved the tea table to the vast garden, brewed high-quality tea, and delivered five kinds of cookies.

Perhaps servants stood by with large awnings to provide shade.

It could’ve been tea time indoors, but somehow, Claire’s mind pictured that outdoor scene.

It was uncomfortable to think that someone who felt such a fast psychological distance was sitting right across from her.

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