The viscount’s face paled as he shifted his gaze between Claude and Canillia. In a complete reversal from his earlier demeanor, he refused to meet Canillia’s eyes, an unspoken guilt weighing heavy on his conscience.

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Claude calmly retrieved the hairpin from the viscount and placed it back in Canillia’s hair with practiced ease.

“I came to collect you from the convent, as you requested, only to find you here instead,” he said, his voice even.

Canillia’s response was barely audible, her embarrassment palpable, as if she had been caught red-handed.

“There was little time left,” she murmured, her heart pounding with nervousness.

Claude’s eyes softened as he brushed a stray strand of hair from her face and winked at Ivan, who stood a few feet away.

“Viscount Faylot and I need to have a word. Why don’t you and Ivan head to the car and wait for me there?” he suggested.

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Canillia looked at him in disbelief. However, she acquiesced, knowing better than to argue in such a delicate situation. As she turned to leave with Ivan, her steps felt heavy and her heart weighed down with disappointment.

Canillia sat in the car, her hands clasped tightly together, her gaze fixed on the crumpled hem of her trousers. Although the clothes she wore were designed for women, the only ones who wore pants were still the lowest rungs of society. It was only acceptable for aristocratic women to don pants while horseback riding.

Given the way she had presented the precious sapphire, it was natural for her to be viewed with suspicion. Her fingers trembled as she fiddled with the hairpin that Claude had returned to her. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment as she reflected on her actions.

Outside the car, a crowd had gathered around the grand duke’s parked vehicle, their curiosity piqued. The escorts tried to prevent the locals from getting too close, but Claude’s arrival caused the crowd to erupt into cheers. Canillia turned her head in surprise, realizing that the cheers were for Claude, who was walking out, escorted by the very man who had been suspicious of her.

Even with his hat pulled low, Claude’s tall frame and striking features were unmistakable, highlighted by his piercing blue eyes. He acknowledged the crowd with a nod before stepping into the car and drawing the curtain shut.

“The viscount has apologized for his earlier behavior,” Claude informed Canillia, removing his hat. With that, the car began to move, despite the throngs of people still surrounding it, their faces pressed up against the closed curtains.

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“The viscount had every right to be suspicious. I made a foolish mistake by wearing these clothes and presenting the jewel,” Canillia murmured.

“Why should it matter what you wear? The viscount was hasty in his actions without confirming the facts,” Claude replied.

“Are you angry with me?” Canillia asked, studying Claude’s expression. His tone was unchanged, but she sensed a subtle shift in his demeanor.

“Actually, this is a situation that calls for appropriate advice and encouragement,” Claude said.

Canillia wondered if something had happened in his absence. She reached over and placed a gentle hand on the back of Claude’s hand, prompting him to turn his head and smile at her. He took her hand and held it tightly.

“You’ll have to endure a lot of hardship when we get home,” Claude said.

“Have the guests arrived already?” Canillia asked.

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“They arrived earlier than scheduled. I had to rush out to meet with the pulp company officials and asked Ivan to come and get you,” Claude explained.

Canillia nodded in understanding. She had more questions to ask, but decided to remain silent. She could sense that Claude was upset about the way she had been treated by the viscount.

“Canillia,” Claude said after a moment of silence.

“Yes?” she responded.

“Whatever you do, let me know first. You are no longer an ordinary person,” Claude said, emphasizing each word.

“Okay,” Canillia replied softly, feeling grateful for his concern.

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Claude enveloped Canillia in a warm embrace, turning her slightly to help her sit down. With care, he gathered her long hair into a bundle, securing it with a hairpin she had been holding. Though it wasn’t the most elegant technique, it was effective.

Canillia couldn’t help but smile as he finished. Her smile quickly faded as she felt Claude’s lips press gently against the pale skin of her neck.

“Don’t smile. I’m being serious,” he said, his voice low and firm.

“I am too,” Canilia replied softly. “Whenever I come down to the village, it’s clear that the residents of Del Casa deeply respect your family.”

Claude bit down on her skin, savoring the sweetness as he considered her words. Embarrassed, Canilia turned her head towards his, and their lips brushed together.

His warm and velvety tongue slipped past her lips and explored her mouth. With a tight embrace, Claude’s strong heartbeat reverberated through her back, offering a sense of calm that belied the chaos that had just passed.

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