Chapter 55: Sometimes Like a Lion (1)

“You’re a nuisance.”

The strong tone didn’t quite match Rose. It wasn’t a way she often spoke.

But that didn’t mean she never used it.

She frequently adopted this manner when masking her true self in negotiations with other nobles or merchants.

- “Sometimes you have to act like a lion to live as your true self.”

This was a teaching from Rose’s father, Hian.

Of course, Rose didn’t consider herself pure enough to call herself a lamb, but she deeply resonated with the idea of needing to act like a lion sometimes.

No matter how scared she was, she had to muster up courage and act.

Even now, she was slightly afraid of Lily’s decadent beauty, Vienna’s inscrutable thoughts, and Luss, who had exuded such intimidation before, but she didn’t show it.

She couldn’t afford to.

Speaking weakly here might make her seem easy to underestimate.

And regardless of the fake relationship, it was real to these three.

She was here as Starchis’ lover.

Which woman would speak gently to those approaching her man?

Speaking softly would be unnatural.

If she didn’t want to speak so harshly, she could have pretended not to notice, but Rose didn’t want to lose Starchis, so she didn’t pretend.

It wasn’t that she couldn’t live without him. She still hadn’t fully understood her own feelings.

Curiosity... No, it had moved past curiosity.

Affection?... Yes, it seemed to be affection.

Even so, she was determined to protect him. This was an opportunity that didn’t come easily.

In any case, Starchis had asked her to play the role of his lover.

So everything she said was to appear natural. appear natural.


Luss instinctively responded in informal speech. She had never been told to give up by anyone. Not by Vienna, nor by Lily.

Yet this woman, who hadn’t known Starchis for long, was telling her to give up.

She was treating years of emotions lightly, like they were to be thrown away.

‘That’s impossible.’

She wouldn’t give up her only love just because of a single word.

‘It’s not like I can control my feelings either...’

“Right now, he’s my lover.”

Rose continued her act as Elza.

‘Right now, I am Elza. I am Elza.’

She immersed herself in the emotions of the character she was acting. As she got too deep into the role, she felt a surge of anger.

“Stop trying to seduce my man.”

‘My man?’

Lily was dumbfounded. As Rose began to show hostility, she started stepping on landmines all around.

“Why is he yours?”

Lily asked. And from this question, Rose became completely certain. At least Lily had feelings for him.

“Because he’s my lover.”

“But you’re not married.”

“We’re in the pre-marriage stage; we’re lovers.”

There are relationships that don’t consider marriage and those that do. Lily felt anxious, thinking that the relationship between Elza and Starchis was the latter.

“Even so, why is he yours? Is Starchis a possession?”

Lily, who had shamelessly claimed Starchis as hers, asked.

“...No, he isn’t.”

“Then why say he’s yours?”

“Don’t stray from the topic. The point is, I’m asking you to stop shaking him.”

As Rose spoke, she looked around at the three women. When her eyes met Vienna’s, Vienna, feeling a pang of guilt, spoke up.

“...What did I do?”

Vienna looked slightly crestfallen, unlike her usual prickly self. She felt a twinge of conscience, having even consulted Casey while hiding her face under the covers.

If she were in Elza’s position now, she would have gone wild.

If Starchis were her boyfriend and strange women clung to him, she would have hugged him tightly and screamed at those women.

But the situation was reversed.

“Is it right to keep tapping someone else’s boyfriend under the table during a meal?”

“It just touched him by accident...”

Vienna’s face turned bright red with embarrassment. She lowered her head, still feeling guilty since she had only recently started thinking about taking him away.


Rose couldn’t find anything to say to Vienna’s response. She had enough circumstantial evidence but no concrete proof.

In contrast, Luss was different from Vienna.

Unlike Vienna, Luss had already firmly decided to take him away. Although she felt a pang of conscience, she had resolved a long time ago, making the discomfort familiar.

She was willing to endure this discomfort a thousand or ten thousand times if it meant she could take him away.

She had always thought that someone who steals another’s partner is the worst kind of villain, but now that she found herself in that situation and it was related to Starchis, she couldn’t help herself.

Deep down, she felt sorry for Elza and disgusted with herself. The despair over the situation and the longing for hope were equally immense.

She was torn.

Should she pretend not to care and sneakily seize opportunities, or should she be honest with Elza and declare her feelings openly?

Before that, Luss had a question.

“...Elza. May I ask you one thing?”

“Go ahead.”

Now, Rose donned a completely different mask to confront the three women. A layer of determination was added over her usual facade.

“Why did you come to like Starchis?”

A somewhat strong question was thrown her way. She wanted to swallow her dry saliva out of nervousness, but doing so might reveal her discomfort, so she held back.

Her mask almost cracked.

‘The reason I like him?’

She had never discussed this with him. She couldn’t even clearly say she liked him yet, so she couldn’t give a definite answer.

“Do I need a reason?”

“Yes, you do.”

Luss’ response made Rose recall a conversation with her father.

When she asked, “Does a person need a reason to be interested in another person?” he had said that such statements only work in novels and that in reality, reasons are necessary.

Luss had countless reasons to love him—his kindness, their memories together, his dependable back... and so on.

If a trivial answer came out, she was prepared to declare war on her without hesitation.

“Answer me.”

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t come up with a plausible lie, so she decided to be honest.

Rose thought about the first reason she became curious about him.

It was because of a novel.

He resembled the protagonist of a novel too much.

Ordinary-looking but with sharp eyes,

A sturdy body that gave a reliable feeling.

An air of calmness that flowed from him.

And a harshness that made him seem potentially terrifying if he changed suddenly.

Thinking about him made Rose unconsciously swallow her saliva again.

That was the reason, but she couldn’t say it out loud. It was too embarrassing, and given the situation, it was impossible to mention.

So, she picked the most fitting part of her description.

Even with a mask on, it was a hard thing to say.

“...I liked his sturdy body.”

Luss ground her teeth. She let out a deep sigh.

‘A sturdy body. Just that one thing.’

So that’s why they got physical so quickly. The saying about pink hair being lewd seemed true; Vienna was right.

Luss made up her mind.

“Elza, let me tell you something.”

Then Luss leaned in towards Elza and whispered in her ear in a soft, almost casual tone.

“...The seduction hasn’t even started.”

- Goosebumps

The fine hairs on the back of Rose’s neck stood on end. It was a reaction of her body, something a mask couldn’t hide.

Luss stepped back, smiling slyly.

- Step... step

The sound of Starchis walking towards them made the tension at the table dissipate.

The calm jazz of the restaurant filled the air again.

“Sorry, took a bit longer, didn’t I?”

Starchis, having returned, spoke up.

“No worries. It gave us a chance to get to know each other better.”

Rose, now wearing her relaxed and friendly mask again, greeted Starchis warmly.

“They really are wonderful people.”

“I thought the same. Elza seems like a really good person too, Chis.”

Their expressions were so dramatically different that Starchis didn’t notice anything suspicious.

“I’d appreciate it if you all could get along well.”

Starchis felt relieved. It seemed the meal would conclude without any major issues.

Once Rose left, he would have shown his supposed girlfriend, and there would be no reason to doubt his lie or ask Rose to act as his girlfriend again.

As long as he granted her one wish in return for the performance, it would be over.

Telling a lie didn’t feel great, but the relief of not getting caught outweighed the negative feelings.

Everything was falling into place.

“So, how did you come to form a party with such wonderful people, Starchis?”

Elza asked Starchis.

“Well... it’s a long story since I met each of them differently...”

“He knew me before we formed the party.”

Luss spoke to Elza. The fierce tension from earlier had vanished, but they both knew the underlying battle Starchis was unaware of.

“We’ve known each other for a long time. Do you know what Chis did before becoming a gatherer?”

“Would you tell me?”

“He worked in the kingdom’s guard with me.”

“Oh? Really?”

Forgetting the tension, Rose looked at Starchis in surprise.

“Yes, I did.”

“That’s an honorable job.”

“Haha... not really. At least for me, it wasn’t for any noble reason. I just didn’t want to starve. Luss, why did you do it?”

“Hehe, for similar reasons. Anyway-”

Luss continued, directing her words towards Elza.

“-we got really close then, and when Chis decided to quit the guard to become a gatherer, he asked me to join him. That’s how I became a party member. Because of Chis’ suggestion. Oh? Just a moment, Chis.”

Starchis, who was listening attentively, froze at Luss’ words, “Just a moment.”

Luss’ hand slowly reached out, her long and delicate index finger gently tracing his lips.

As her finger passed, his lips slowly returned to their original position.

Luss then licked her index finger with her moist, red tongue. It was an action so captivating that anyone watching would be entranced.

“Hehe... How can you walk around with sauce on your lips?”

“...! Luss..! I told you not to do things like that..!”

Starchis frowned and covered his lips with his left hand as he spoke. Even after six years of friendship, such behavior felt odd. Especially when he had a girlfriend, it wasn’t an acceptable action.

But Elza, who he expected to react explosively, remained silent.

Both Luss and Starchis turned to look at her simultaneously. Starchis turned his head, while Luss shot a cold glance her way.

“Hmm? Starchis?”

Elza had turned around with her cheeks puffed out, full of meat. And most notably, her face was smeared with sauce in several places. She had been eating so delicately before, but this sudden change caught Starchis off guard.

“Mi- Elza?”

He was so startled that he almost called her ‘Miss?’ but managed to hold back.

However, Luss noticed Starchis’ slip.


Did he usually call her by such a romantic nickname?

“It’s delicious, Starchis. You should eat more.”

Rose, with a satisfied expression, suggested that Starchis eat more. What confused him the most was that Elza was so messy with the sauce yet seemed unaware.

The recent incident replayed in his mind. Luss had wiped his lips.

It felt strange that a friend could do what a lover could not. Maybe Rose was giving him a chance. An opportunity to act more like a couple.

“Elza, just a moment.”

At the words ‘just a moment,’ Elza froze just like Starchis had.

Could he touch a noblewoman’s lips so casually? Would her bodyguards, watching from afar, be okay with it? Despite these worries, Elza seemed to have no intention of wiping the sauce herself.

He reached for the white cotton napkin on the table to clean her lips.

But the napkin was nowhere to be found. His eyes darted around and found the napkin in Rose’s hand.

Finding the napkin with her, he then looked up at Rose.

She smiled warmly.

“Do you have something to say?”

In the end, Starchis slowly extended his right hand and wiped her lips with his thumb. Her lips were warm and soft.

“It’s done now.”

But Rose remained still, staring intently at Starchis’ fingers.

‘This girl...!’

Luss’ heart ached at the situation unfolding. Rose was a stronger opponent than she had anticipated.

Feeling Rose’s gaze on him, Starchis thought, ‘Oh, what the hell,’ and put his thumb in his mouth.


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