Chapter 21: The Crown Prince's Longing (Ethan POV)

 Not long after I became engaged to Princess Aaliyah, my brother Garrett also became engaged.
 It was to Miss Rebecca Howard, the eldest daughter of the Howard family, who was 14 years old, the same age as Garrett.

I knew that my parents were making an enthusiastic approach to either me or my brother's future wife, but I wasn't interested.
 She was supposed to be the same age as me.
The margin of error was about a year at most.
 Even though I thought I was following her immediately, I don't know how the being who granted my 'wish' would have taken those few minutes, or even tens of minutes.
I knew she could have been a few years older than me, but a girl younger than me, and three years at that, was completely out of the question.

 Howard had no ambition to marry his daughter off to royalty.
 So he had dutifully avoided letting us meet with him and his daughter, whether it was a casual meeting request or a stop at the Marquess's mansion on the way to inspect the area.
 My parents, however, were quite persistent.
It seemed that the Howard had finally lost their patience when my engagement was finalized.

 Garrett, who had just accepted a fiancee whose face he didn't even know, seemed to be intimidated by Miss Rebecca's high specifications afterwards.
 I don’t mean to meddle in my brother's marital affairs, though I do think that a man who didn't even decide on his own partner should be a man worthy of being wed to her.
No, I didn't, but …

 The girl my brother introduced as his fiancée.
When I saw Miss Rebecca Howard standing beside Garrett, I thought I would stop breathing in shock.

 —I'm sure of it, it's her.
That's my other half …!

 I recognized her at a glance.
 Of course, she looked different.
Silver hair, amethyst eyes.
On the outside alone, the girl in front of me was several times lovelier than my wife.
 But what attracted me was her soul.
Something that shines from within.
It was the same feeling I had when I first met my wife.

 A tremendous feeling of joy overcame me.
I wanted to run up to her, hug her tightly, and kiss her so hard that I would devour even her breath, but I held back.
 That would be a bad idea.
Now is the time to show the results of the education I have practiced as the Crown Prince.
I feigned calmness and welcomed them.

“It is a pleasure to meet you.
I am Rebecca, daughter of the Marquess Howard.”

 When Garrett walked her over, she introduced herself and bowed with a grace that befitted her age.
Her straight, silvery hair flowed freely.

 I was shocked by the look she exchanged with me for a moment.
 There was no surprise at seeing me again, no affectionate, secret sweetness in her gaze.
It was a friendly but not greedy smile, the polite smile of an innocent noblewoman.

 Don't tell me you don't recognize me …!
 No, she can't just act out of place as long as she's engaged to Garrett …!

 I wanted to believe that, but a cold sweat trickled down my back.
 I dared to say to her the same words I had said to her the first time we met.

“You're going to like me.”

 As the crown prince, I usually use “I”.
Garrett looked doubtful, and she—Rebecca smiled vaguely, saying, “Of course, sir, I am one of the people who respects the Royal Family.”

 Respect for Royalty …

 Her slightly troubled expression was the same as in her previous life, but it was much different from the reunion I had envisioned.
 Rebecca had no memory of her previous life.

 Once I got over the initial shock, I quickly changed my mind.
 It was unfortunate that she had no memories of her previous life, but she was the love of my life, the one I had vowed to be with even in my rebirth.
I had finally found her, and that joy filled me again.

 At the same time, I realized how much I was bound by the memories of my previous life.
 I had assumed that she must be the same age as me.
The unfounded confidence that she must remember me, too.
Perhaps there are other things I just can't think of right away.
 I had overlooked the obvious: I was now Ethan, not Shu, and she was Rebecca, not Saki.

 The cost was huge.
She was so unexpectedly close, and yet I couldn't find her.
 I was looking for Saki.
I was looking for Saki.
I had no idea about her situation now that she had been reborn.
 I had gotten myself into a lot of trouble because of my own self-importance, but it was all my own fault.

 Still, I am sure of one thing.
 I am currently engaged to a princess from another country, albeit under false pretenses.
It would be an outrageous folly for me to express my feelings to her.

 She is my other half.
A part of my soul.

 Of course, we exist separately as individuals.
But the core of what makes me who I am and her who she is will never change, even if we are reborn.

 We were intense.
We were possessive of each other, we would not tolerate betrayal, and in return, if we loved each other, we would go as deep as we could.
 If we could have it, we would take it all, and if we couldn't, we would thoroughly eliminate it.

“If we cheat, we divorce immediately.”
 She said this because we were married.
 Before marriage, I'm sure she would have said, “If you cheat on me, I'll break up with you without question.” All or nothing.
We couldn't make any compromises, It could only be the two of us.

 That's why I'm so sure.
If I told her how I felt while I was still engaged to someone else, she would never open her heart to me in the future.
Even if things go well on the surface, it will be hopeless for us to have a trusting relationship in which we share our souls as we did in our previous lives.

 Of course, the situation is different from my previous life.
Once I found her, I would explain that my engagement to Princess Aaliyah was a fake engagement for a limited time and that it was a part of a deal to find her.
If she wanted, I could have brought her to Princess Aaliyah.
 The terms of my contract with Princess Aaliyah were also made with this in mind, but they were based on the assumption that she had memories of her previous life.

 If I were to beg her for love now, after meeting her for the first time, and persuade her that my current engagement was only a contract and that she is the only one I love, would she respond? … No, she would not.
If I put myself in her shoes, I would know.
It's out of the question.
 It would already be over if I tried to court her without ending the engagement.
She would see no sincerity if I didn’t end the engagement first and that in itself is a problem.

 Moreover, she is now engaged as well.
She is probably aware that noble marriages are political maneuvers, but even so, she would not betray her fiancée to accept me.
 The reborn me is still me.
There was no doubt in my mind that she would remain as she was, even if she did not remember me.

 Incidentally, part of her staying the same can be glimpsed in Rebecca's background

 My parents were eager for her to marry one of us brothers, no matter what! I can understand why they were so excited.
Rebecca's career was outrageous, comparable to a Queen's education.

 Her father, once my father-in-law, was a bigwig at a well-known car manufacturer, who never spoiled his daughter because she was a hard worker, but gave her every opportunity for an education.
 She did not disappoint him, either.
She was very diligent, with a serious personality.
 Moreover, she hated to lose.
 Rebecca's background, even if she had no memory of it, was definitely rooted in her previous life.

 I could not approach her with a fiancée.
I could stay by her side as her future brother-in-law, but how long would I be able to keep my eyes on the woman I love without making a move on her?
 Until I finished sorting out my personal affairs, I was hesitant to even meet her.

 Seventeen years have passed since our heart wrenching parting.
There was no reason why I couldn't hold out for a few more years, just a few more years until I could get my affairs in order.
 The contract with Princess Aaliyah was a false engagement for a maximum of four years.
It could be terminated sooner if the princess were able to drive off her late mother's killer and secure her personal safety.
 It would be nice if the princess could provide evidence to hunt down the Queen Consort (who is now a full Queen) as soon as possible, but it is not likely to be that convenient.
I decided to secretly begin my own investigation so that the engagement could be dissolved as soon as possible.

 After a brief conversation, Rebecca said a few words asking to be excused.
 As I watched her back, I earnestly hoped that the day would come soon when I would be able to hold my beloved in my arms.
 In my previous life, it took three years for my love for her to actually come to fruition.
Our paths will eventually cross.
Just a few more years of patience … I consoled myself.

 In the meantime, I have work to do.
 I called out to Garrett, who was escorting Rebecca.

“Garrett, come back after you drop her off.” 

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