With only one week before Croft would relocate to the Imperial Palace, Livia was confident she could find a way to be fired from the tutoring position. After all, seven days was more than enough time to douse even the most passionate romance. She was sure she could make this maniac hate her in that amount of time.
She scanned Croft from head to toe like a predator observing its prey. She needed to find something to criticize, but there was little to latch onto. He sat with his feet firmly placed on the floor. Certainly, his posture exuded arrogance, but it would be outright strange to insist that a future emperor be too modest. Moreover, his posture was perfect.
“Tsk.” She clucked her tongue, unable to find something to criticize.
For Croft, this was one of the strangest experiences in all his twenty-four years. After being kicked by a woman he’d met for the first time, now that woman was evaluating him like produce at a market and clucking her tongue at him.
“Tsk?” he asked.
“Did you just click your tongue at me?”
“Me? That’s impossible, Your Highness.”
He’d certainly heard her, yet she audaciously lied with a gracious smile. He was speechless.
In fact, he’d seen through Duke Blanche’s intentions the moment Livia had entered the room. He even thought it mightn’t be too bad a deal. If ties with the duke could be solidified through marriage, Croft could regain his birthright. It wouldn’t be bad to secure the duke’s aid—no, to have him as an ally and stepping-stone.
Fortunately, Livia didn’t take after her father in appearance. She was quite pretty. Hmm. Actually, she wasn’t merely pretty—she was extraordinarily beautiful. Even Croft could admit this. She exuded elegance even standing perfectly still. He could understand why the duke kept going on about rules and etiquette.
Still, elegant as she was, who’d have thought she would kick him?
He gestured toward the opposite sofa. “Why don’t you take a seat? Unless you intend on striking me again …”
Livia couldn’t keep standing forever, so she sat. The action was akin to a windblown feather landing gently on a leaf. “We don’t have much time together, Your Highness, so I’ll give you a series of shortcuts for the essential etiquette you’ll need inside the palace.”
“We have much to learn in a short amount of time. I apologize in advance if I’m strict during our lessons.”
He matched her warning with one of his own, in a moment foreshadowing a stormy relationship between the tough etiquette tutor and the impolite student. “I’ll need your understanding as well. I doubt I’ll be a well-behaved student.”
Livia carried on, easily ignoring his provocation. “The manner in which you sit, walk, speak, and carry yourself, in addition to table manners and ballroom etiquette—you must learn all this and much more.”
“How many foolish imperial subjects are there who would dare complain about their emperor’s behavior?” He didn’t hide his displeasure. He couldn’t find the connection between this list and the requirements for being an emperor. He’d crawled through the mud his entire life just to survive. These rules were nothing but useless.
He had a point, Livia thought. There wasn’t a single character in the entire novel foolish enough to endanger himself by criticizing Croft. After all, this dangerous man was set to become emperor, an exalted position above all rules and etiquette.
But now there was one person foolish enough. Livia was set on escaping, no matter how dangerous the plan. She had to find a way out, while this maniac still needed Duke Blanche’s support.
It was with this confidence that she looked him right in the eye, long lashes fluttering and a pert smile on her lips. “If Your Highness does not mind being called the mad emperor from the hinterland, then there is no longer a reason for me to teach you.”
The harsh words came in stark contrast to her innocent expression. He was already aware he was called a madman—and the Mad Dog—but Livia was the first person brave enough to say it to his face. The only one who would survive it, anyway. He should’ve drawn his sword by now, but for some reason, he didn’t feel compelled to. Was it that harmless face?
Sitting up, he clucked his own tongue. He would warn her not to act like some clueless, sheltered lady and speak without thinking.
“My lady,” he began in a low, menacing voice, “do all women of the empire think so little of their lives?”
An even more beautiful smile dawned on her face. “Your Highness, such thoughtless jokes leave a bad impression.”
“I suppose you think that was a joke.”
“It would be far worse if it were not. We cannot afford to let the people of Luwens think of the future emperor as a madman who kills without mercy.”
“A mistake.” He smirked and rose to his feet, his long legs effortlessly stepping over the coffee table separating them.
His left arm shot past Livia to the seat back. She tried to dodge, but he quickly leaned in and took her chin with his right hand.
Livia flinched as her face was drawn closer.
In that same menacing tone, he spoke again, “Let’s see if it’s a misunderstanding or not.”
As he finished speaking, he felt an upward breeze beneath his jaw. Before he realized it, she had punched him right on the chin.
He heard her cheerful voice once more. “Your Highness, please refrain from touching a woman without her permission.”
The prince remained frozen in shock as she slapped his hand away and stood up. “I shall excuse myself now that I have completed my introductions, Your Highness.”
She departed quickly but regally, before he could respond.
He managed to regain his composure after the doors closed. It was only then that he realized he’d received an uppercut from the daughter of Duke Blanche. He had previously conquered the Eastern Frontier with his sword, so it wasn’t that he was physically unable to avoid her fist; rather, it was that he hadn’t seen it coming. He simply couldn’t have fathomed that she’d strike him in the face.
The pain wasn’t the issue. He didn’t feel anything in the shin she’d kicked or the face she’d struck. It was only that he couldn’t comprehend either situation. She had kicked him, lectured him on not touching a woman without permission, punched him, and run away.
He had to wonder if she was crazy.
Livia was not, in fact, crazy. She returned to her quarters with haste, afraid Croft might follow her with his sword in hand. She put a hand on her pounding heart, trying to catch her breath.
It turned out that this body remembered not only the elegant manners of this life but her boxing skills from the previous one. Before she’d woken as Livia, she’d enrolled in a local gym after finishing her university exams. The owner had been kind enough to teach her self-defense.
Why did he approach me so threateningly? I thought he was going to kiss me. It was only after her reflexes got the better of her that she realized she’d punched the madman (who would become the novel’s tyrant) in the face. Her only option was to run without looking back.
Safely inside her room, Livia placed an ear on her door. She was sure Croft would explode with rage, but everything outside seemed business as usual. She sent Georgette to see if anything was out of the ordinary, but the maid returned with no news.
Just as Livia sighed in deep relief, the maid let out a shriek. “My lady! What happened to your hand?”
She looked down at her wrist. The hand that had punched Croft was red and swollen. She certainly couldn’t admit that she’d injured herself striking the future emperor. “It’s nothing serious. I must have bumped into something.”
“My lady…” Her loyal maid’s eyes filled with tears.
Georgette thought that surely that brutal Mad Dog from the hinterlands had bitten her mistress. Georgette had already worried about Duke Blanche’s orders that Livia serve as Croft’s tutor, and now her lady was clearly hiding the fact that he’d hurt her.
Her heart sank, but she held back her tears and brought ice water for her mistress’s injury.
Livia clucked her tongue as she eased her hand into the cold water. Why is the one who gets punched completely fine, but the one who does the punching injured? This body, which had been raised like a princess, was far too delicate.
Croft’s reaction had been equally unexpected. She’d expected him to be a crazy man, but he hadn’t reacted at all when she struck him. Her initial plan had been to annoy him just enough to make him let her go as his etiquette tutor, but now she wondered if that would even work.
Should I hit him more? As she immersed herself in these matters, the rumor that Croft had struck her spread throughout the mansion.