Side Story (1)
The scorching sunlight was pricking on Ashley’s eyes.
The child who was still deep asleep covered her sight with her small hands but they hadn’t been enough. The light that passed through the gaps between her tiny fingers had nonchalantly pierced straight into her big eyes.
The kid eventually started whining while parting open her eyes. As she began squirming her body on the bed, a big hand proceeded to caress her head.
"You’ve woken up, Ashley?"
Ashley’s whining gradually stopped at the low yet gentle tone of voice. As her eyes were slowly revealed underneath her long eyelashes, Knox, who had been sitting next to her, immediately deepened his smile.
The inarticulate voice of a child who still hadn’t been fully awake yet reached him. Then, Knox continued to caress Ashley’s head carefully. The child’s little finger wiggled a few more times before she placed them on top of his hand.
"Today, you’ll be with me all day long."
Daddy? The child’s jumbled pronunciation popped out from her mouth. Knox stroked Ashley’s tousled hair and waited for the child to awaken on her own.
Her squirms in bed were much more brief than expected. On top of that, the unusually sunny weather might have triggered the child’s playfulness. The child, who had already awakened, began clasping onto her father’s hand soon after.
"Did you sleep well?"
Knox’s sweet voice made the child’s heart thump in an instant. The Grand Duke’s impression, which was once called a monster, vanished at the appearance of a child. The rumors about the man, who had never been scared even in front of a giant beast, getting intimidated in front of little Ashley were quickly propagated throughout the whole continent.
At first, most people didn’t really believe it. However, as the Grand Duke had delayed his time to go to work and hastened his time off working in order to see Ashley and Vivian, the rumors soon became a concrete fact. Since he was someone who had always been living buried underneath his work, his rather early return home made everyone unable to believe their own eyes.
Moreover, his figure when smiling ever so kindly while hugging his own child? It was a perfect image to overthrow those rumors about the Empire’s dog or even the monster from the north.
"Wher ish Mom?"
"Vivian just went out to do something. She’ll come back soon."
Knox referred to Mom as Vivian, but the child understood it very well. It was as if she hadn’t been hearing it only once or twice. The child then embraced Knox’s neck with all familiarity.
"Are you still sleepy?"
The child nodded. She wasn’t that sleepy, but the broad shoulders were comfortable enough for the child. When Knox felt the child’s temperature was warmer than his as it exuded through the thin cloth, he began stroking the child’s back.
The child, who hadn’t been crying since younger, was not really unfamiliar with the whole situation where her mother wasn’t present. Rather, she felt embarrassed of Vivian who repeatedly advised her all the time before she went away, which eventually led the child to calmly roll her eyes instead.
Sometimes, Vivian hugged her because she felt regretful about that. The thought of being unable to be by her side at all times had always plagued her mind. Perhaps due to that reason, she would glue herself next to Ashley without fail, only with the exception of when she had work—despite the fact that they had been living in the Grand Duchy while a nanny was around as well.
"She saw that you were already up and straight away went to get ready for your morning wash."
The child’s small body unwittingly flinched. She seemed to dislike the situation where she had to move only to have washed up, unlike during play times. Knox smiled softly before meeting the child’s eyes.
"Ashley. If you wash up well, I’ll let you eat some cake after breakfast."
"I can eat cakey in the morning?"
He said so while kissing the child’s round forehead.
"But it’ll be a secret to Vivian."
The child was finally smiling brightly. As she escaped from Knox’s arms by wiggling her body away, Ashley straight away stepped onto the ground and called for the nanny while running around with tiny steps. Knox just stared intently at those powerful steps of the child’s.
He was always amazed to see the child, who was ultimately smaller than himself, scampering around. He thought that the child had still been small enough by now where she could just break apart if he were to touch her a little bit stronger. He couldn’t believe Vivian’s words that the child was even smaller than now itself. How would it have been if I could actually see her back then? Would I even dare to hold her at all?
Knox stopped thinking and started heading the opposite way of the child. He ought to finish all of the work that he had brought home since he wanted to see the child even if it was just a little bit more. In consideration of not going to work for a day, the documents that he had been entrusted with were quite enough to create a small hill.
Knox then left Ashley to the nanny for a while and quickly disappeared into his study.