As soon as I was left alone, some men approached me. For the sake of their lives, I slipped away and avoided them—looking for Rodrigo all the while.
The banquet hall was quite large and bursting with people, but I was able to find him very quickly. He had black hair and red eyes, was taller than most people, and had a solid build. In other words, he was very handsome. The worries I had had in the carriage about not being able to find him went out the window. Rodrigo was far too noticeable.
That’s definitely him! I hurried toward him, making sure to behave naturally. But then, someone started talking to me. “Lady Estella, could we talk for a moment?”
How foolish. There are always people like this. People who act like moths to a flame, not knowing or caring about the consequences. I wanted to ignore him, but I turned and greeted him, glancing at the crest adorning his sleeve.
Oh… The two-headed dog embroidered on the man’s sleeve was hard to miss. He was from another villain family, slightly less prestigious than the Kartinas. This meant that they were inferior in skill and wealth, not that they were any less evil.
The Frey family. No wonder he was brave enough to talk to me. He must have thought that he was fully capable of taking on a few assassins on his own.
“Greetings, Lady Estella,” he said. “I am Barbati, the eldest son of the Frey family.”
I nodded again instead of greeting him properly.
“If you don’t mind, could I have this first dance?” He held out his hand. Over his shoulder, I could see Ayla smiling seductively at Rodrigo as she approached him.
I wanted to get rid of Barbati as fast as possible. I mind very much, thank you, I thought. Instead, I said, “Sorry, I’m quite busy at the moment.” Then I scurried over to Rodrigo.
Barbati stretched out his arm to try and grab me, but I was too quick for him. “Wait, Lady Estella!” He was following me. I was in too much of a hurry to care, so I ran.
Ayla opened her mouth to call out to Rodrigo.
“Hello!” Before Ayla could get his attention, I reached Rodrigo just in time. Ayla was behind me, Rodrigo in front.
I could sense Ayla flinch in surprise behind me. I’ll explain later, Ayla. After taking a deep breath, I lifted my head to look at Rodrigo. Our eyes met. “Hello, Sir Rodrigo.”
Rodrigo’s eyes were sharp with suspicion, as if he had discovered an intruder.
“I’m Estella Kartina,” I introduced myself.
Rodrigo’s expression changed at my words. His eyes shone like jewels, as if delighted at finding a new toy to play with. His gaze shifted to Ayla, behind me. As he looked back down at me, Rodrigo’s lips curled into a charming smile. Overall, his demeanor seemed temperamental and irritated, but that smile was strangely beautiful. A smile that made my stomach flutter, and heat spread through my body.
“Oh yes, of the Kartinas… I’ve heard.” It was unclear whether he meant that he had heard of me or my family. His well-defined and sleek features came nearer, cold eyes crinkled in a chilling, gorgeous smile. “Is there something you need from me?” His gaze seemed to say, “It’s not like we are on good enough terms for pleasant chit-chat.”
Indeed, there’s something I need from you. I returned his smile and held out my hand. “Shall we dance?”
“Is there something you need from me?”
Rodrigo stared down at Estella. He knew he would get mixed up with the Kartinas at this banquet as soon as they had made their entrance. There was no way the Kartinas were attending Duke Gloria’s banquet for no reason. They never go anywhere without an objective. Their objective was obvious.
A target. It wasn’t hard to figure out that he was that target. He knew very well that the Kartinas were targeting Erhart. It was hard to miss their machinations.
The Kartinas even messed with Erhart’s business ventures. For example, it hadn’t been long since they had blown up his mines that had previously operated without problem. Many had died in the explosion—which, for the Kartinas, was barely more than a prank.
Convinced that the Kartinas were behind it, Rodrigo had reported this to the emperor, but the emperor dismissed it, citing a lack of evidence, and offered Rodrigo his half-hearted condolences.
Incidents like this had happened a few times. It was only natural that Rodrigo didn’t like the Kartinas, and he had done his best to avoid them.
But then, the Kartinas had made an appearance at an event hosted by Duke Gloria, known to be a supporter of Rodrigo. There was no way for him to avoid them. Again, their intentions were obvious. He was sure he would have to at least cross swords with them tonight. It might even result in bloodshed.
But then Estella, the youngest daughter of the Kartinas, stepped in front of him and asked something absurd.
“Shall we dance?”
Is she trying to toy with me? Rodrigo furrowed his brows. The atmosphere turned cold. Rodrigo had always had a frigid disposition, so much so that even his nanny, who had known him for years, would get chills when she saw him sitting with a blank look on his face.
And when he frowned, she would say, “You look like the grim reaper.”
Whenever he frowned, people ducked out of his way or even fled. But Estella just smiled serenely at him with her wide puppy-dog eyes and stretched out her hand even further.
A hand clad in a pristinely white glove.
That untainted little hand did not suit the blackened Kartinas. She wasn’t asking for a fight or handing him a poisoned wine glass, but asking for a dance. On top of that, this was her debut into high society. Did she not know the significance of her first dance?
“You, you don’t dance?” Estella asked carefully, as Rodrigo continued to stare at her hand.
Carefully? This manner, this approach did not suit the Kartinas. Actually, Estella didn’t seem like a Kartina at all. Her eyes were free of malice, her expression innocent, her gaze pure.
He was intrigued. Is this a new assassination technique? What is she up to?
Rodrigo took Estella’s hand and tugged. He pulled her toward him, wrapping an arm around her slender waist.
“Gah!” Ayla, apparently appalled, gasped as Rodrigo led her sister away.
Kalen and Ada, hiding upstairs to ambush Rodrigo, were also shocked.
Estella could sense how shaken they were. She quickly figured out where each of them was.
“Are you a good dancer? I never had the chance to learn it properly because I was on the battlefield,” Rodrigo told her.
“Let me lead,” Estella said. She had intended to lead whether or not he was a good dancer. Because somewhere upstairs, Kalen and Ada were waiting for an opportunity to target Rodrigo.
Estella put her hand on Rodrigo’s shoulder.
Even though my hand rested on his jacket, I could feel the hardships of his life through my palm. His untamed ferocity and his strong, unshakable physique were not something you could simply hide under a jacket. Embraced by Rodrigo’s muscled arms, I raised my heels. He’s huge. I made an entirely objective observation.
Over his shoulders, my eyes met those of Ayla, whose soul seemed to have left her body. She silently mouthed a question. “Estella, what are you doing?”
I mouthed the answer I had prepared. “Ayla, I’m seducing him!”
But I was in the middle of dancing, and so distracted by Ayla that I accidentally stepped on Rodrigo’s foot.
“I thought you were a good dancer?” His marvelous voice tickled my ears.
“I’m sorry! I was looking somewhere else…”
“Where? Did you hide something upstairs?”
Cold shock rippled through me when he pointed out the second floor. Did he find out about Kalen and Ada hiding upstairs? I studied Rodrigo’s face.
“Of course not,” I replied slyly, and quickly waved my hand behind his back.
Go somewhere else, Ayla, I wished at her. My sister glared at the back of Rodrigo’s head before disappearing into the shadows. Phew, now I can concentrate on our conversation.
“I’ll show you my dancing skills now,” I told him. “You might not be able to keep up.”
“How hard could it be?” Rodrigo’s smirked, confident.
I smiled awkwardly. The dance we’re about to do isn’t so simple. I was sure he would change his mind soon. The fast-paced dance was not easy to keep up with for someone who hadn’t learned how to dance. But, of course, Rodrigo was the male lead. Even though he said he never practiced, he was a very skilled dancer. I guess the male lead is good at everything.
I fixed my gaze on Rodrigo’s chin and tensed. Not too far away, Ada and Kalen waited like predatory cats. They watched us, just waiting for an opening—to shoot poisoned needles at Rodrigo to knock him out.
They were going to shoot before the end of this dance. I would have to protect him without raising suspicions and still continue to dance.
The tempo increased. I wouldn’t let them pounce.
The song hurried on and on, and the moment the song reached its climax, a silver needle gleamed in the light of the chandelier. The Kartina needles were as thin as a spider web and required flawless precision to use.
And they were almost impossible to detect.
Unless you had seen and touched these weapons before and knew the attack was coming, there was no way to block it. But I was Estella Kartina. I could do it…with just a bit of concentration.
I clenched my right hand on Rodrigo’s shoulder. At the unexpected force of my grip, Rodrigo flinched and turned. As if it were part of the dance, Rodrigo and I twirled to the right, embracing each other.
At the same time, I kicked the inside of my dress. The skirt billowed up and completely covered Rodrigo’s thighs. A silver needle embedded itself into the billowing fabric.
Okay, one down.
The poisoned needle was definitely shot by Kalen.
One, two, three.
I blocked exactly three poisoned needle attacks by the time the first dance ended. I felt a bit guilty, thinking about Kalen getting chewed out by Ada right about now. They would never even imagine that I had blocked, or was even able to block, their attacks, so the failure had to be blamed on Kalen’s lack of skills.
“That was nice.” As soon as the dance was over, Rodrigo stepped away.
“How about another?” I prompted. I hadn’t been able to talk with him yet. I held Rodrigo as he tried to step away.
Rodrigo’s lips tightened into a harsh line. I knew how laughable I must have looked, like some obsessive woman who has fallen in love with him at first sight.
As expected of the male lead, there were a lot of women in Rodrigo’s life. He must have had so many women come up to talk to him and ask for a dance.
It must be tiring, I thought, understanding his displeasure. A beautiful face even a god would envy, a well-trained body, and a severe expression paired with a strangely seductive gaze. No man or woman could resist his charm. So why couldn’t you charm the emperor and the Kartinas!
“Look here, Lady Estella.”
Silence enveloped us. Rodrigo’s scarlet eyes rested on me for a while. Then he slowly opened his mouth.
We hope you enjoyed this preview of The Obsessed Hero and the Villainous Family’s Daughter! The entire volume one is available on our web reader.