All I wanted was a quiet and peaceful life—not the glamorous life of a heroine, or to be loved by everyone. I just wanted a happy, sheltered life as a nobleman’s daughter.
I didn’t want to get involved with the crown prince, either, if I could help it. You should at least pretend to get to know the lady. It is the emperor’s will, after all.
I wanted to break the engagement with the male secondary character who’d been my fiancé from birth as quietly as possible. After all, I knew that he would grow up and call off the engagement himself. Break off our engagement? My lady, what on earth do you mean? This has nothing to do with my father. It’s between the two of us.
I certainly didn’t want to talk to the other male secondary character, who I knew would fall for the heroine and come to hate me. You’re much more interesting than the rumors led me to believe.
And I definitely didn’t want to cross paths with the heroine. I wanted nothing to do with her for the rest of my life. My lady, you said you’d be my friend. Did the time we spent together mean nothing to you?
But with this body I found myself inhabiting—or rather, these lips that spoke for me—I feared that every humble wish of mine might be denied.
When I opened my eyes after the truck’s headlights flashed before me, I found myself lying on a bed. Maybe this was a hospital. Or heaven?
Raising my head slowly, I noticed that my hair was red. For a moment, I thought it was soaked with blood and that the pallor of my fair skin was the result of excessive bleeding. But that wasn’t the case.
Several women dressed as maids came running through the door. They eyed me nervously. “My lady! You’re awake. Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
I tried to ask where I was, but strangely, my body refused to follow my will. Instead of calmly asking the question, I found myself yelling irritably. “What is going on here?”
“My lady, please forgive me.” A dark-haired maid dropped to the floor, begging for forgiveness. Why was she acting this way when I was the one who’d yelled?
Disconcerted, I looked down at her without a word.
She continued her pleading. “My lady, I have a sick mother, a father unable to move for a month due to a back injury, and a brother who’s only five years old, all that I need to provide for. Flog me if you wish but please don’t fire me.”
“What are you doing?” whispered another maid. “Don’t you know she hates this kind of behavior?”
I froze in confusion before coming to my senses and trying to help her up. I wanted to tell her to stop, but again my lips did not move as I intended. “So what? Stand up this instant!”
“Yes, my lady,” she sobbed.
Why was I saying such domineering things? It seemed like I was possessing this strange body, but something had gone wrong in the process. I didn’t know what to do. I composed my face and thought frantically. It seemed I was able to convey my intentions through speech, albeit in a shockingly rude way.
I cleared my throat. “Enough. Go fetch me a mirror. Now!” It was an order, not a request.
Despite my shout, the first maid thanked me repeatedly before rushing out of the room. She came back struggling with a full-length mirror and placed it in front of me.
With a trembling heart, I stood in front of the mirror: red hair, red eyes, fair skin, and sharp, beautiful features like those of a cat. Judging by the groveling of the maids, I was a lady of high stature. Characters with such features in the novels I read were common; there were plenty of redheads. I had a feeling that I was not a nice one.
I pointed at one of the maids. “You there. Who am I?”
“You are Lady Mary Bell, the flower of Eton and the most beautiful lady in all the empire.”
“Apologies, my lady. You are the most beautiful lady in the entire world, not merely the empire. How shortsighted of me. Please forgive me this once, please, my lady!”
I wanted to ask why they were so scared of me, but now that I’d heard who I was, I understood. They were right to be scared.
Mary Bell. I knew that name all too well. She was one of the villains in the novel Beneath a Beautiful Melody, a typically expendable villainess. Pretty, foul-tempered, and stupid—that was Mary Bell.
“I’m Mary Bell?”
“Yes, yes.” The maid with dark hair praised me again with a serious expression. “You are the most …”
While the real Mary Bell may have liked this kind of adulation, I couldn’t stand it. It was suffocating. “Stop. That’s enough. Leave me now. I need some time to think.”
“Yes, my lady.” After a deep curtsy, she and the others left the room in a hurry, as though they’d been waiting for me to dismiss them.
Normally I would have been hurt by such a reaction, but Mary Bell had once thrown a hair ornament into a maid’s face because she didn’t like it. She had fired a maid for complimenting another lady in front of her. What a narcissist.
“So I’m Mary Bell—ha-ha!”
Okay, I got it, but did my laugh have to be so evil? It was strange. I was able to say what I wanted, but only in the way Mary Bell would have said it. The real me would never be so rude. I’d been shocked enough to speak that way in front of others, but apparently the pattern didn’t stop even when I was alone. Did this mean I would speak like this for the rest of my life?
“Being pretty means you can do anything, right? Who cares if you’re a bad person, as long as you’re pretty?” I tapped the mirror in frustration. I’d meant to say that being pretty doesn’t give you the right to act like a bad person, but my lips had twisted my words. What was happening to me?
As I cursed to myself in panic, my face in the mirror remained strangely calm, as though it weren’t my own. I was a regular high school student. I’d been on the way home when that truck ran a red light and hit me. I remember blinking, and when I opened my eyes, I’d found myself in this implausible situation.
I could not accept this with a calm demeanor.
How had Mary Bell ended up in the story? I tried to recall. She was a simple, one-dimensional villain, not smart enough to commit truly evil deeds. She said nasty things to provoke or belittle Aria, the heroine, and she demanded to know why the male characters didn’t love her. After persistently harassing Aria, she’d lost her reputation and honor, and in the process, she’d lost the trust of her friends, her fiancé, and her family. But she wasn’t a major villain capable of plotting to assassinate the heroine or pushing anyone over a cliff.
It was only when her parents cast her out due to her unruly behavior that she’d lost everything. Well, maybe she hadn’t had much to lose in that regard. In the end, she’d been forced to marry a country noble. I didn’t truly understand how she’d had any reputation or honor to begin with.
Mary Bell was an arrogant character who cared only for herself. She didn’t care about other people and did whatever she wanted. But I wasn’t that kind of person. It was bad enough that I’d ended up in a different world overnight. I had no desire to live life as Mary Bell.
But this was my life now.
I considered my options. I had to decide what I should do. Since my lips didn’t seem to obey me, I decided to speak as little as possible. And if I ever saw Aria, I would leave immediately. I was the daughter of a marquess. As long as I lay low, I should be able to lead a comfortable life in peace.
But first I had to find out which part of the story’s timeline I’d been thrown into. What if Mary had already performed her terrible deeds?
I cleared my throat and called the maids. “Anyone outside, get in here.”
“Yes, yes, my lady.” As soon as I spoke, the maids scurried into the room with frightened looks.
I didn’t want to raise too much suspicion, so I asked the most harmless question I could think of. “What is the most important upcoming party?”
Mary Bell was crazy about parties. She loved getting attention by flaunting her looks and charms, but she got herself into trouble at every party she attended. I would be able to find out what part of the novel I was in by asking which parties were next. I waited uneasily for one of them to answer.
Finally, the nervous dark-haired maid opened her mouth. “Well, isn’t tomorrow His Imperial Majesty’s forty-seventh birthday celebration?”
I had to stop my mouth from opening in surprise. The birthday celebration was tomorrow? What kind of absurd timing was this? Only a day to prepare.
“That is tomorrow?” I said.
The emperor’s forty-seventh birthday celebration marked the beginning of the main plot. Aria the heroine, Prince Edville the hero, and all the other male characters would attend. Many of the characters would meet at this event.
“Of course, I remember now,” I said through clenched teeth. “I should make all the necessary preparations for tomorrow.”
The maid nodded. “Yes, I understand, my lady. With my life, my lady.”
I was sure we had different things in mind, but I didn’t care. It wasn’t important. I opened my eyes wide with burning determination and hoped the sound of their frightened breathing next to me was only my imagination.