Startled, Lucerne froze in place, afraid that even his breathing might wake her up.
Hyerim, who had been rustling inside the blanket, lifted the corners of her mouth and let out a soft chuckle.
Even in the darkness, her expression was clear—the smile that Lucerne hadn’t expected and hadn’t dared to hope for.


His heart pounded loudly, as if it were about to burst.
She was so close, and oh, how beautiful she was.
It felt like his heart had shattered into countless pieces, each one throbbing and swirling with a sense of disarray.

Hyerim murmured her smile still intact.
“Yes, even Mother likes you…”

Lucerne thought to himself how she was dreaming about the children.
Lately, they were the only ones bringing joy and happiness to Hyerim’s life.
He couldn’t help but envy them; they could love her freely and receive her love in return.

What if he could use magic to transform into a child? Would she love him like she loved the other children? Would she hug him tight and kiss his cheeks?

But he knew he was being selfish.
He didn’t just want to be by her side; he wanted to be the one who comforted her, the one she kissed and whispered love to.
It was too much to dream about, knowing he couldn’t even see her smile.

He smiled to himself with a tinge of self-mockery and closed his eyes.
The night spent with Hyerim felt so long.

* * *

Lucerne was really becoming a pain.
Sleeping in the same bed became a routine, but tonight he was unusually agitated.

“I can’t let you do that, absolutely not!”

“The moment you are alone is the most dangerous.
Those two, Asilis and Iris, may seem safe, but they are not knights.
They won’t be able to protect you in a crisis.”

“They can use magic, right? You confirmed that they are safe.”

“They may be maids, but they are not knights.
They won’t be of any use against threats like blackmail, mental attacks, or poison.”

The maids holding towels in front of the bath didn’t know what to do.

“Your Highness, the water will go cold if you keep this up.”

“Can’t you just listen to His Majesty’s wishes? He’s worried about you, after all.”

“Asilis!”

At the mention of the word “bath,” I screamed, and Lucerne’s ears turned red.


“Lucerne, your face turns red just hearing the word ‘bath.’ It’s embarrassing, you know? How can I stay by your side while I bathe?”

“Your safety is more important than my embarrassment.”

I can’t believe this, really.

Lucerne always granted my wishes without hesitation.
This was the first time he refused my request or tried to persuade me against something I didn’t want.
It was so desperate and frustrating.

It was the first time I had ever begged like this.

Feeling helpless, I let out deep sighs.

As the maids continued to talk about the water temperature, Lucerne waved his hand, warming the water to a comfortable level.
They were all surprised that he used the magic’s power just to heat the bath, but he didn’t seem to care.

I pondered and pondered, but in the end, I shook my head.

“No, Lucerne.
Regardless of anything, I don’t want to bathe together.”

I felt like crying.
Despite my feelings for Lucerne, how could I possibly bathe together? It felt as absurd as asking a newborn baby to run a race.

Last night, I couldn’t even regain my senses because of Lucerne’s irresistible charm.
The unfamiliar and large body, the warmth, scents, and every little detail poked at my nerves.
If it weren’t for the magic, I might have stolen a kiss from him while pretending to be asleep.
Thankfully, magic protected me from that.

“Please, I’m begging you, Lucerne.
Bathing together is not an option.”

“Really, not an option at all? If you wish, I can put up a partition in the middle of the tub.
I promise I won’t peek at you; I’ll only ensure your safety and be ready to respond if anything happens.
I swear I won’t invade your privacy.”

“Well…”

I retreated, wrapping my arms around my shoulders.

“It’s not that kind of issue…”

Actually, there was nothing stopping me.
I trusted Lucerne not to peek.

It was just that I needed to prepare myself mentally.
To be with someone I liked, in a warm and intimate space, required emotional preparation.

Asilis let out a sigh.


“Your Majesty, please grant Astia’s wish.
We’ve already taken up quite a bit of time.”

“However.”

“Please stand in front of the bathhouse door.
One of us will stand on the other side of the door and report immediately if anything happens.
If you signal, you can come inside then, right?”

“You might be worried that it’s too late.”

“We may not be knights, but if necessary, we’ll risk our lives to protect Lady Astia.”

Lucerne fell silent.
The words “risk our lives” seemed to touch his heart.

“Your Majesty knows how you feel about Lady Astia.
We are well aware of her mercy as well.
If we do our best to protect Lady Astia, you will surely reward us appropriately.”

I nodded quickly, “Of course.
I was planning to reward all of you more anyway.”

“The reward from last time was more than enough.
It’s invaluable.”

“Invaluable?”

“Yes, so, Your Majesty, please decide.”

Lucerne waved his hand, and a bluish chair appeared in front of the bathhouse door.
He walked over and sat down, sweeping back his fallen hair.
He looked tired.

Instead of following the maids into the bath, I hesitated, standing by Lucerne’s side.
Even though he willingly offered, I felt bad about going in alone.

“Lucerne.”

Lucerne turned his head to meet my eyes without showing any sign of annoyance.
It was amazing how constant he was.
Even with all the complexity and hardship, he volunteered to do this for me.

“I know how you feel.
I know you’re not doing this to do something strange.
I’m sorry.
It’s just so sudden.
And… when I’m mentally ready, I will bathe… together…”

My face turned beet red.

“Together… bathe…”

Ack! Embarrassed, I couldn’t bear it and hastily jumped into the bath.


“Lady Astia! Please don’t run around here! You might slip!”

Asilis scolded me.

Lucerne’s surprised face floated in my mind.

I immersed myself in the warm bathwater and let out a deep sigh.
I felt sorry and embarrassed, my emotions going back and forth.

As Iris followed Asilis, she stood guard at the bathhouse door, as promised with Lucerne.
Rosalie and Asilis were the only ones in my bath area.

As I played with the surface of the water with my fingertips, Asilis asked nonchalantly, “What exactly do you dislike so much? It’s not like he’s going to attack you or anything; he just wants to protect you.”

“It’s not that I dislike it.”

“If you don’t dislike it, then isn’t it okay?”

Rosalie chimed in, “With his highness’s status, there’s no one you can’t escape from.
Not only is he the Emperor, but he is also incredibly beautiful, talented, and wealthy.
Moreover, he cherishes Lady Astia so much.
What’s the problem? Frankly, my self-esteem is almost wounded because of that.”

“That’s not the issue…”

My voice trembled as they questioned me.
I bent my knees and submerged my body deeply into the bath, leaving only my face above water.

The accusatory tone crept into my voice.
I knelt down and sunk my body deep into the tub.
Only exposing my face above the water, I mumbled an excuse.

“I’m really just embarrassed, that’s all.
Wouldn’t two people be like that?”  

“Of course not.
I’ll welcome with open arms,” Rosalie nodded so cutely.
 

“For nobles, marriage has more strategic meaning than love.
As long as the conditions are met, they’ll tie the knot at once and make a lifetime vow.
It’s ridiculous for Astia to be reluctant out of embarrassment,” she said.

“I-is that so?”  

The two maids filled my hair with water and washed it thoroughly.
The warm water flowed down my hair and face.
 

Asilis said indifferently. 


“Think of His Highness too.”

“I’m… always thinking of Lucerne.”

“Would such a person leave Your Highness in so much pain?”  

“Umm…” 

I had no rebuttal.
If I thought of Lucerne, I had to obediently do as he said.
I shouldn’t refuse or oppose him, so as not to add to his concerns.
 

Rosalie clicked her tongue.

“Poor Highness.
Even though you love someone so much and have been together for so long, you have to get permission for everything he protects you from.
You’ve only recently started sharing a bed, but when we entered in the morning, only Astia was sound asleep.
Don’t you know?”  

As she scolded me, I pouted my lips.
 

“Isn’t sleeping soundly allowed too? Lucerne put me to sleep with magic.”

“Please think about how His Highness must have felt all night.”

“All night…why?”

Asilis, who had been listening nearby, briefly and intensely pointed out the problem.

“His Highness was surely restless all night longing to hold Astia in his arms.
As a man with a healthy physique, he wanted to hide his passion and so forced himself to sleep.
While suppressing those feelings, he still wished to stay by your side, but you pushed him away in embarrassment.
How frustrated he must have been.”  

I opened my mouth wide and stared blankly at Asilis.
 

Lucerne having passion for me? That’s impossible!

She continued.
 

“His Highness loves you deeply but cannot show it openly.
He restrains himself for your sake.
Please have more sympathy for his feelings.”  

I was stunned into silence.
Could Lucerne truly feel that way about me? I never knew.
 

Rosalie added softly.
 

“His Highness only wishes to protect and cherish you.
Please give him a chance to do so fully, without hesitation.”

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