✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 117 - 120 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️



Blackthorn's Murderer(Chapter 117)

Music Recommendation: Abandoned Secret- Fredrik Jonasson     

Anastasia was taken aback by the Storm Prince's story about how Dante became a demon. She wondered if he remembered what had taken place in his past life, which might explain why he had always kept women at arm's length, rather than solely attributing his emotional distance to the Mother Queen's attempts at matchmaking to secure great-grandchildren.      

"Does Dante know about this?" Anastasia asked him, her eyes brimming with curiosity.      

"He does," Prince Raylen replied, and Anastasia felt her stomach sink slightly in dismay.      

"Why did the woman stab him?" she inquired, and she saw Prince Raylen pursing his lips in contemplation as a thoughtful expression settled on his face.      

"Perhaps because her love for him wasn't as deep as his for her?" the prince ventured in a questioning tone, as though he were only guessing.      

"Anastasia!" Emily called from behind, and Anastasia turned to see the princess walking towards her. "Grandmother has been searching for you. She is in the main hall," she informed before her eyes landed on the Storm Prince.     

"I will go now," Anastasia responded to the princess. She turned her gaze towards Prince Raylen and offered him a short bow, saying, "It was a pleasure talking with you."      

"I enjoyed our brief conversation as well," Prince Raylen smiled at the young woman, who proceeded to depart from the corridor, accompanied by her maid. When the princess was about to take her leave, he addressed her, saying, "Good evening, Princess Emily."      

Emily halted her steps, her inner cheek caught between her teeth, as she had hoped he wouldn't try to initiate a conversation. She turned around to meet his gaze before greeting him back in the same manner, "Good evening, Prince Raylen. I trust your stay in Versailles has been pleasant?"      

Leaning casually against the wall, Prince Raylen responded, "I don't think I have enjoyed my time here as much as I am now. Particularly in the presence of such wonderful company and the lively atmosphere."      

A faint frown formed on the princess's brow. She didn't like the Storm Prince hovering near Anastasia, especially given that the young woman was her brother's concubine. She questioned him,      

"What were you both talking about?"      

"I never thought you to be nosey, Princess," Prince Raylen retorted, evoking a disapproving expression from her. "Or could it be that my diverted attention has left you feeling excluded?" A cunning grin played on his lips as her jaw visibly clenched, but she quickly released it.      

"I asked because she is Brother Dante's woman," Emily stated firmly, her voice unwavering. "It would be best for you to not hover around her and to maintain a respectable distance, regardless of how powerful you are."      

"Spoken like a true princess," Prince Raylen remarked with the same polite smile he always wore. He continued, "I thought the lady might benefit from a little push through a small anecdote."     

Emily regarded the prince with a hint of suspicion. Opting not to delve further into the conversation, she said, "I hope it was for a noble purpose. Enjoy the rest of your evening." She offered him another bow before turning and departing from the corridor.      

On the floor below, near the main hall, Anastasia found the Mother Queen standing alone in front of a pillar entwined with creeping vines as if deep in thought. As footsteps reached her ears, the older woman turned her head, prompting Anastasia to speak up,     

"Princess Emily said you wanted to see me, Mother Queen."      

With a sombre demeanour, the Mother Queen turned away from the pillar and questioned Anastasia, "Have I not previously instructed you to address me as Grandmother and not as Mother Queen?"      

"My apologies, Grandmother," Anastasia quickly corrected her mistake, earning a glance of approval from the older woman this time.      

"Much better. Now, I was thinking we could chat a little, as so much has transpired in this short period, and that way, I would be able to spend some quality time with my granddaughter-in-law," the Mother Queen suggested, glancing briefly at the maid standing behind Anastasia and instructing, "You can dismiss your maid and have her return to you at a later time."      

Theresa offered a respectful bow to each before stepping away, and the two women began to walk together.      

They proceeded towards the inner side of the palace, a notably quieter area where torches affixed to the walls had been lit to prepare for the swiftly approaching night. Anastasia waited for several seconds before she heard the Mother Queen ask her,     

"How are you doing, Anna?"      

"The same as yesterday, I think," Anastasia replied before returning the question, "How about you? Grandmother," she added to make her answer seem polite and respectful.      

"Upset and sadness seem to be the two feelings that have dominated my emotions in recent months. However, it's nothing I haven't experienced before," the Mother Queen sighed. "Losing a family member is never easy, but it's a reality we must face regardless of our feelings. But some losses are necessary." She briefly turned to look at the young woman, who met her gaze before looking forward.      

Anastasia hesitated, contemplating whether this was the right time to broach the topic. But she doubted there was ever a right or a wrong time as time passed swiftly, leaving little chance to seize the opportunity to ask.      

"Like Lady Maya's brother?" she finally inquired.     

The Mother Queen didn't appear offended, but there was a hint of surprise in her expression. She admitted, "Yes, I was the one who ordered the man to be beheaded. Maya should have known better than to hug him in secrecy, which made it all the more suspicious. There are some things I have done that I am not proud of, mistakes that only worsened with time."     

Anastasia listened as the Mother Queen recounted, "My mistake and Maya's tears led William to eventually grant her the head position in the concubines' quarters. It gave rise to her rebellion against me, but she was mistaken to think she could challenge me when I am no stranger to these games."      

"May I ask about something personal, Grandmother?" Anastasia sought permission, and the Mother Queen waved her hand for her to proceed.      

"There are no lines that you have to worry about crossing anymore. You are now a member of the Blackthorn family. Go ahead."      

Anastasia took a moment to muster her courage as they strolled along the deserted corridor before she asked, "Did King Johnathan not have any concubines or exclusive courtesans?"     

"I must tell you that your questions are catching me off guard," the Mother Queen responded, her footsteps slowing down compared to their previous pace.      

"My apologies, I was curious as no one seems to know or speak about it," Anastasia replied, and the woman smiled before calmly responding,      

"They wouldn't. If they did, they know it will cost them their tongues."      

Anastasia knew that being Dante's concubine granted her favour and advantages, unlike the other servants she was once among. Still, she couldn't pretend she was unaffected by the Mother Queen's remark. She heard the woman say,     

"Sometimes, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. My husband, King Johnathan, had two beautiful concubines of his own and, together with them, their equally beautiful children. You must be wondering where they are." She halted her steps, and Anastasia did too. When the curious eyes met the ones filled with experience, the red-headed queen revealed, "I had them removed from the palace, the women and their children, after the king passed away."      

Anastasia was far from naive not to understand that 'removed' meant killed. The more she conversed with this woman, the clearer it became why pretending to be mute and maintaining her silence had been necessary for her survival until the last few weeks.      

"I see…" Anastasia responded, and they continued their stroll through the quiet corridors.      

Unlike the Mother Queen, neither Lady Sophia nor Lady Maya had made such a hasty decision to kill every other companion of the king and the children they had borne him.      

"You must be wondering if I am a tyrant, eliminating everyone who once was dear to my husband," the Mother Queen said nonchalantly.      

Without directly agreeing with the older woman's statement, Anastasia responded, "You could have chosen to send them away… far from the palace or kingdom."      

"So they could return to exact revenge on me or William?" The Mother Queen chuckled softly, and said, "I had seen enough to know how each of their minds operated. We do what is necessary to protect ourselves and our children."      

Recognising they had delved into a heavy subject, Anastasia decided to change the topic by asking, "Do you miss your husband?" From what she knew, King Johnathan had died when his son, William, was in his teenage years.      

"Sometimes," the Mother Queen replied, her thoughts drifting back to the past. She continued, "He was a good-looking man. You can tell by looking at my grandchildren. Tall and dark, with a head full of hair. Women flocked to him, and he delighted in their attention. There are some good and bad memories, and as the years have passed, they now seem almost like distant thoughts. He was handsome, until that fateful day when we went hunting together, and he was mauled by a tiger."     

"I am sorry that it happened," Anastasia said, offering her condolences, feeling pity for the woman.     

The Mother Queen sighed and responded calmly, "Don't be. I was the one who pushed him into the animal's mouth."     


The exchange to the rose (Chapter 118)

Music Recommendation: Mission Control- Hans Zimmer     

Anastasia's sympathy swiftly gave way to a stunned expression. She hadn't expected this from the Mother Queen, but on second thought, it shouldn't have been surprising, considering the woman's track record of callously severing people's tongues without thinking twice.      

"Did I catch you just slightly by surprise?" the Mother Queen asked with a slight chuckle escaping her thin lips.      

'Slightly' was an understatement, Anastasia thought to herself. With a nervous smile, she replied, "Yes."      

"This is something unknown to the people of Versailles, not even my family. Wait, Aziel knows about it because I had to seek a little help from him," the Mother Queen calmly revealed as if she were discussing what kind of alcohol she would have in her tea, which was surprising. "You must be wondering about my motives for doing what I did."      

Anastasia remained speechless and gave a cautious nod before carefully asking, "Why are you sharing this with me?" She couldn't help but wonder if this wasn't some kind of veiled warning, where the woman subtly hinted at what she was capable of and could do to her if she were to cross a line.      

"Hm, why did I divulge something so significant?" the Mother Queen drawled, her words trailing off as she turned to gaze at the young woman. "It is said that sharing secrets brings people closer. I trust you to keep it safe with you, even though there is little that can be done about it now, as years have passed," she let out a laugh at the thought of it.      

Anastasia mustered a smile, but internally, she realised she was walking with a formidable woman. When they entered a new corridor, leaving the one they had strolled through behind, inside a secret passage on the other side of the wall, Aiden stood frozen with his mouth hanging wide open in astonishment.      

"Grandmother killed Grandfather?!" Aiden mumbled in shock before quickly making his way out of there.      

As they walked through the corridors, Anastasia couldn't help but ask, "I thought King Johnathan was your soulmate?" After all, wasn't a soulmate meant to provide unconditional love and be unable to bear the loss of their partner?      

The Mother Queen sighed as if Anastasia had asked a heavy question.      

"He was my soulmate, but sometimes soulmates don't function as we hope, not when the connection is incomplete." Incomplete? Anastasia asked herself. "His ruling caused considerable harm to many of us," the old woman explained, choosing not to delve into specifics. She continued, "He took the concubines before I met him. As a soulmate, jealousy runs too deep, as does possessiveness, especially when you learn that the crown will pass to the concubine's son."      

Anastasia couldn't help but observe that the Mother Queen didn't look guilty for her past actions and, instead, seemed rather proud. "Why didn't you abolish the concubine and courtesan system during King William's reign?" she inquired. Deep down, she also wondered why the Mother Queen hadn't considered bringing people from other kingdoms to serve them instead.      

With a solemn expression, the Mother Queen turned to face Anastasia and said, "I wouldn't have met you then, would I?"      

"No," Anastasia replied with resentment. The older woman's words did little to console her and failed to offer her any comfort.      

"Also," the Mother Queen continued, "It isn't within my authority to abolish a system that had been entrenched for many years. As women, we only hold influence within the palace, but the ultimate decision-making and power lies with the king."      

Anastasia contemplated whether the Mother Queen understood Lady Sophia's position, as it mirrored the one she had once endured, having to share her husband with other women. In some respects, she pitied Lady Maya for being forcibly brought to the palace and losing her son, despite her aspirations of becoming the king's concubine later. She couldn't help but feel that everything in the palace was disordered and chaotic.      

If Anastasia had previously considered Lady Maya cruel for exiling most of the royal family, the Mother Queen surpassed her by strategically eliminating individuals who could pose a threat in the future.      

With a smile, the Mother Queen turned to Anastasia and inquired, "Is there any secret you would like to share with me, Anna dear?" After hearing everything from the woman, Anastasia felt uncertain about how much she could reveal. However, she considered the possibility of turning this woman into her friend rather than viewing her as an enemy.      

"I was brought to this palace along with my sister," Anastasia disclosed, a fact the Mother Queen was unaware of, as it was something she hadn't shared even with Princess Emily.      

"Where is she? I will have her status elevated immediately!" The Mother Queen's footsteps paused, appearing quite eager at the prospect.      

"The palace has already elevated Marianne to a position beyond which there is no further advancement," Anastasia replied, while the Mother Queen frowned in response to the young woman's answer. "She was the late king's concubine."      

The Mother Queen's faded eyebrows lifted, and she asked, "The Marianne who died with William?"      

"That was my sister," Anastasia replied, prompting the Mother Queen to take a step closer before placing her hand on the young woman's shoulder.      

"I am sorry that you lost your sister. We have been diligently searching for the murderer… but we haven't been able to pinpoint a suspect because of the sheer number of guests visiting the palace at the time, with suspicion pointing in every direction," the Mother Queen said solemnly, lowering her hand from Anastasia's shoulder. "It must have been very difficult for you. I believe there is something you might appreciate having," she continued, slipping her wrinkled hand into her dress pocket before pulling out a handkerchief.      

Upon seeing the handkerchief, Anastasia remarked, "This is Mary's."      

"I thought so. Was it her dress that you borrowed that night during Sophia's birthday celebration?" the Mother Queen inquired.     

"No, she gave it to me," Anastasia replied, taking the handkerchief and turning it over to see the embroidered 'M' on it.      

'Do the people in the tower steal things?' she wondered aloud.     

Anastasia could vividly recall Marianne's smile as her sister delicately embroidered the letter 'M' at the corner of the white handkerchief.      

'They do not. Stealing is prohibited in the palace, Anna,' Marianne had replied to her. 'It was merely something I wanted to claim as my own.'      

Returning to the present, Anastasia inquired, "Where did you find it?"     

"In an unexpected place yesterday," the Mother Queen replied.     

"Thank you," Anastasia expressed her gratitude to the woman, who responded with a warm smile. If she had kept the handkerchief, it implied she found it important and directly related to the late king.      

"There's no need to be thankful for something that is rightfully yours," the Mother Queen stated, bringing a smile to the young woman's lips.      

"I wish that were true," Anastasia responded, prompting a puzzled expression from the Mother Queen.      

"It isn't?" she inquired.     

Anastasia shook her head. She then asked, "There is something I wanted to ask about King Dante's demon. About the curse."     

"What about the curse?" The Mother Queen's eyes turned serious, and she treaded the situation carefully as they resumed walking.      

"He told me that someone cursed him many years ago. But isn't it the case that when a curse cast upon a person is broken, it is because something good has happened?" Anastasia asked because the demon seemed to have awakened after experiencing a series of painful experiences.      

Queen Ginger wanted to tell Anastasia how she was destined to fall in love with Dante and accept both his virtues and flaws. That she was the one meant for him, but Raylen had advised her against it, as it could potentially make things worse for them, and she in no way wanted to scare the young girl.      

"Allow me to show you something you might have already seen. Come with me, Anna," the Mother Queen said, and Anastasia followed her.      

They ventured into the forbidden side of the palace before reaching the inner garden, where the Blackthorn rose continued to endure. As Anastasia's eyes fell on the plant, she observed how the once withered and dry stems now bore leaves, making it look alive once more.      

Astonished, Anastasia murmured, "It is returning back to life."      

"Indeed, it is," the Mother Queen said, pleased with how things had proceeded so far. "As you can see, the rose is yet to regain life, and unless that happens, the curse persists."     

"So… if the flower blooms again, the curse will be broken?" Anastasia inquired, taking a step forward towards the plant.      

"That is correct," the Mother Queen answered, attempting to recall the number of days she was waiting for to pass. As slowly as the days were moving, the events were unfolding at lightning speed.      

Anastasia stared at the Blackthorn rose, which looked striking even in its wilted state. The question of whether her ancestor had truly placed a curse on Dante many years ago lingered in her mind. Out of curiosity, she asked,      

"What if the curse doesn't break?"     

The Mother Queen hesitated, uncertain if Dante was listening to them, and she couldn't take the risk of allowing something her family had destroyed to reach the ears of her demonic grandson. She replied, "All I know is it won't end well."     

Anastasia didn't pay complete attention to the Mother Queen while she spoke, as her eyes were trained on the plant. She wondered if she could help break this curse with her abilities. After all, if it was her ancestor who had cast it, her involvement could hold the key to the solution, right? she asked herself in contemplation.      

"Can I take a closer look at it?" Anastasia asked, even though she had been next to the plant a few times before.      

The Mother Queen's eyes subtly narrowed, a question evident in her eyes though left unspoken. Nonetheless, she was intrigued and responded, "Let us go together."     

Anastasia didn't particularly desire the woman to come along, but she couldn't refuse her directly after hearing her stories. They walked together and came to stand before the plant.      

She wondered if singing to the rose right now would elicit a response from it. However, she had only tried her ability on flower buds before, making them bloom, but this particular rose seemed lifeless. Moreover, everyone knew that once a flower died, it eventually fell and withered into dust. What if she made things worse rather than better? The thought made her mind dizzy for a moment.      

'Two feet hopping front and back, twirling and running, ah ah ahhh. Little buds waiting to bloom.'     

'Anna, what did Papa say about not singing to the flowers,' a young Marianne reminded her before taking them from Anastasia's small hands. 'You cannot let anyone see.'     

'But they are only flowers, Mary. See.'     

'It's because the others don't know. You can sing to them inside the house. Come.'     

As the old memory passed through Anastasia's mind, she raised her hand to gently touch the rose, feeling its delicate and dry petal beneath her fingers.      

The Mother Queen's eyebrows rose once again, almost sure that Anastasia was aware of something significant. If not, the girl was certainly being bold with the plant. She watched as the young woman parted her lips, and the older woman held her breath, bracing herself to potentially witness the plant heal completely.      

"The beauty we gaze upon between the stars, pales against the crescent you bear," Anastasia softly sang the poem in a lowered voice, her gaze fixed upon the black rose. "The brightness only you sustain, makes the sun's gold green. For every arch of your step—"     

Her voice trailed off as both she and the Mother Queen noticed the stems of the Blackthorn rose beginning to vibrate.      

"It is responding...!" the Mother Queen exclaimed in surprise. She turned to Anastasia and urged her, "Go on."     

Seeing how the Mother Queen wasn't shocked by what had just happened, Anastasia interpreted it as a good sign and continued to sing.      

When Anastasia sang four more lines, the petal she was touching started to appear less dry, but simultaneously, an ache formed in her chest. Unable to sing further, she coughed and brought her hand to cover her mouth. Although the Mother Queen was excited to see a petal regain colour, Anastasia noticed blood on her palm, realising it was her own.      

Anastasia could still feel the tug in her heart, and she closed her eyes. She realised she had the power to heal the flower, but at the expense of her life.      

"This is wonderful!" the Mother Queen exclaimed. However, her enthusiasm quickly shifted to concern as she turned away from the flower, "You are able to hea—Is that blood??"     

Panic struck Anastasia, rendering her speechless. Not only had she exposed herself like an idiot, but she now faced the risk of dying if the queen decided to heal the flower by having her sing to it. After all, there was no telling what the Mother Queen was capable of when it came to protecting her family.     

As if the situation wasn't already tense enough, they heard footsteps approaching where they were, and soon Dante appeared at one end of the corridor. His eyes swiftly landed on Anastasia and the Mother Queen standing beside the cursed plant, before he sensed the scent of blood in the air. His eyes narrowed, and he demanded,      

"There had better be a good reason for why you are standing there."     

The Mother Queen replied, "Anastasia wanted to look at the dead rose after I shared the story of the Blackthorn rose and its significance in our family history."     

"Did you hurt yourself, Anastasia? Or is it you, Grandmother?" Dante asked, as he walked towards them.     

Anastasia had no visible wounds and wondered if she could claim that she was sick. Lady Lucretia had coughed blood too, but what if Dante discovered later that she had lied?     

"It is me," the Mother Queen said, raising her finger, and when Anastasia turned towards her, she noticed a blood spot. How did she do that? "I accidentally pricked myself while picking up a dead thorn, not expecting its sharpness. Do not worry, I don't mean to bring her any harm. In fact, I quite like her," she said, looking at the younger woman.      

Dante came to stand before them and said, "Aziel was looking for you, Grandmother."     

"Oh," the Mother Queen responded, taking note of her grandson politely sending her away. "I guess I should get going, then."     

Once the Mother Queen left them alone, Anastasia's heart continued to pound under Dante's scrutinising gaze. She heard him say,      

"It is amazing that a dead rose can make one's heart race."     

...and also make it bleed, Anastasia thought to herself.      


Wet & scented room(Chapter 119)


Now alone with Dante amidst the creeper-entwined pillars and the backdrop of the Blackthorn rose, Anastasia's heart continued to race. She saw him take a deep breath, as if unconvinced by his grandmother's earlier words. His eyes roamed from her slender neck to her shoulders before finally settling on her hands.     

Anastasia felt him pick up her hand, which she had coughed into, and turn it around as if examining it, but it was clean as she had wiped her palm against the side of her dress.      

"It doesn't look like you are visibly injured anywhere," Dante murmured.      

"Nothing happened to me; we were only talking," Anastasia reassured him, and she saw Dante give her a nod in response.      

He turned her hand again and brought it to his lips, planting a gentle kiss on her skin. The tender gesture caused her to lower her guard in his presence. As he brought her hand back down, he didn't let go of it and asked, "Did you bathe in the essence of jasmine today?"      

"I did…" Anastasia replied as they stared at each other.      

"The lovely fragrance suits you well," Dante approved, and Anastasia's heart almost calmed down until she heard him say, "But I don't believe jasmines bleed."     

Never had Anastasia felt such intense pressure before, not even when her room was searched for the gold coin. But she told herself there was no reason for Dante to be suspicious.      

"Your loud heartbeat betrays you, calling out so sweetly that it makes it difficult not to wonder, Anastasia," Dante remarked, and he continued, "After our conversation is over, I will be sure to have a private conversation with my grandmother separately."      

He was onto her! Anastasia thought to herself. She responded, "I don't know where the blood scent came from; it must be from an iron railing I touched earlier. I didn't pay much attention to it."      

Dante's eyes narrowed subtly, and he pressed on, saying, "I will ask you one more time, and it will be the last: what is it that you and my grandmother are hiding?"     

Anastasia firmly clung to her simple lie, stating without hesitation, "I didn't come here with the Mother Queen to harm the plant or her. We were just talking, and then you arrived… you are acting as if I have done something wrong, when I haven't."     

A small chuckle escaped Dante's lips, and he briefly looked away from her as if finding humour and amusement in her statement. However, Anastasia didn't take it as a sign that the atmosphere had lightened. When he looked back at her, he remarked, "I wonder if you can see your reflection in my eyes, Anastasia, because if you could, you would see guilt written all over your face. But you are too preoccupied with thinking of what to say next."     

When Dante's eyes shifted from her to look behind her, it took a second for Anastasia to realise his eyes were focused on the Blackthorn rose. She turned her head in the same direction and whispered, "I touched it out of curiosity."      

"It seems like you enjoy danger a little too much," Dante stated, moving closer to the plant and inspecting the wilted black rose.      

As Anastasia's gaze shifted towards the object of his attention, she noticed the petal, which had earlier regained its colour and life, had now returned to its previous withered state. The ache in her chest had made her realise the rose didn't want to be healed by her ability. Was she not supposed to involve herself in this curse? she questioned herself.      

"Do not come near this plant again," Dante calmly advised her as he examined the wilted rose closely.      

"I won't," Anastasia replied, realising that if the rose would cause her harm, it would be the first thing she would avoid. "I won't go near this plant again."      

Dante accepted her word without further questioning her intentions with the Blackthorn rose, but he wouldn't pass up the opportunity to make her reflect on what she did. He said, "It is troubling to think that you tried hiding something from me. Even though you have come clean now, I can't shake this nagging feeling in my subconsciousness that there is more to the story."     

"I already told you what happened…" Anastasia observed Dante's intense gaze on her.     

"Too late. Perhaps next time you consider withholding information, you will remember this," Dante stated, his grip on her hand tightening.      

Anastasia exhaled the air she had been holding and questioned him, "Isn't this… taking advantage of the situation?"      

Dante's eyes narrowed at her, and her lips tightened. He retorted, "And who created the situation? Do you truly want to understand what taking advantage of means, little rabbit?"      

"No," Anastasia quickly replied, not knowing if Dante would repeat what he did to her yesterday. It wasn't that she disliked it, as secretly, she had enjoyed the experience more than she would ever confess to him.      

As Dante began walking, he gently pulled her hand with his, and she obediently followed him through the corridors, leaving the poisonous flower behind. The servants in the corridor halted their tasks to respectfully bow their heads as they walked past them.      

"Where are we going?" Anastasia asked him, feeling her heart rate quicken for different reasons this time.      

"You will see," Dante replied without letting go of her hand.      

On the way, Anastasia couldn't help but wonder where the Mother Queen was and what she was doing. The older woman had told Dante that she liked her, and she took it as a good sign that she wouldn't be dying today. Her cheeks flushed when she saw Dante turn to look at her over his shoulder.     

They continued to walk until they reached the entrance to the baths reserved for the royal family. Her eyes widened, and she quickly said,      

"I already took a bath."      

"I am aware," Dante replied as they entered the space adorned with white walls and flooring.      

Anastasia had never set foot in here because it had never been assigned to her to clean. It was undoubtedly one of the most extravagant baths she had ever laid eyes on. The bath featured a pool of water built at the centre of the room, surrounded by a low, enclosed wall for sitting. Both thin and wide candles were placed all around the room, casting a warm glow, while steam gracefully drifted up through the gaps in the floor.      

The three female servants in the room swiftly bowed without raising their heads, addressing him, "Your Highness."      

Dante didn't acknowledge their greetings. Instead, his red eyes scanned the room before he ordered,      

"Leave us alone."      

Without uttering a word, the servants promptly exited the room, not even glancing at Anastasia, who stood a step behind Dante. She distantly heard the door closing, leaving the place engulfed in silence, with only the gentle ripple of water breaking through the stillness. In an attempt to delay whatever was about to happen, she remarked, trying to fill the silence,     

"This place looks absolutely heavenly…" She admired the ambience created by the soft candle glow and the captivating fragrance of flower oils that filled the room.      

"It does," Dante hummed in response.      

When Anastasia noticed Dante removing the coat he was wearing and setting it aside on the granite bench wall of the bath, her heart began to pound. His hands then reached for his buttons as their eyes locked, and he didn't break his gaze.      

"You want me to… bathe you?" Anastasia asked him.      

"There's something else that needs attention, which I doubt you've noticed," Dante remarked as he slipped out of his shirt, allowing it to fall to the floor. Anastasia wondered what he meant, and before she knew it, the two steps of distance between them reduced as he walked closer to her.      

"We aren't going to take a bath," Anastasia inquired, as if trying to understand.      


Then what were they doing in the bath? He had removed his shirt, revealing his well-toned muscles, and she realised that the once prominent scar that marked his skin had now faded into a faint mark. Was it the demon's powers that were healing his body? He then said,     

"Your dress needs to come off."      

He was definitely lying about not bathing! Anastasia thought to herself. And though the candle's glow concealed the heat rushing to her face, Dante's lips slightly curled.     

Anastasia's thoughts raced in her mind, leaving her feeling slightly dizzy. Moreover, the room's serene atmosphere was starting to make her relax. And while she was lost in her thoughts, Dante's hand gently curled around her, reaching behind her to unfasten the cloth belt wrapped around her waist.      

Though he had seen her womanly curves and had also seen and touched her between her legs, Anastasia couldn't help but avert her eyes from what his hands were doing. He patiently untied the thin cotton laces which secured her outer jacket, and it was the first article of clothing to fall.      

"Are we going to take a dip in the bath?" Anastasia asked out of nervousness.      

"Later," Dante responded, his eyes focused on her dress, while she continued to speculate, her imagination causing her heart to race even faster. "It seems like you are anticipating something to happen, Anastasia. Care to share what's on your mind?"      

Anastasia's voice came out breathy as she replied, "I think they are better off staying in my head… rather than be let out."      

"Maybe if you share, we can explore the possibility of bringing them to life," Dante replied, his gaze shifting from her dress to meet her slightly dilated brown eyes.      

H—How could she respond to something like that? Anastasia couldn't blame the demon, because Dante had always been straightforward about his desires and what he could do to her.      

When Dante started lifting her outer layer from both sides, one inch at a time, she spoke up.      

"I don't possess a wide enough range of imagination for that," she said, quickly adding, "I don't mean that it needs to be fueled."      

"Raise your hands upwards," Dante instructed her, and Anastasia hesitantly complied. Soon, he removed the outer dress, leaving her in her long, sleeveless, off-white petticoat that hung loosely from her shoulders.      

When Anastasia instinctively crossed her hands against her chest, her bosom subtly pushed upwards, which didn't go unnoticed by Dante. The woman's naiveté was taunting him to no end, and he couldn't help but want to sprinkle water on her. He said,     

"Take a seat here."     

When Anastasia obliged and sat down, Dante positioned himself behind her. He pulled a few pins from her hair before weaving his fingers through it, then gathered it in one hand and expertly tied it into a bun.      

A second later, he began to unbutton the back of her petticoat. She softly gulped, nervously drawing her hands to her chest, and she heard him say,      

"Just as I thought, you have neglected them."      

"Huh?" Anastasia turned to the side and saw Dante's hand reaching for the cart filled with various bath oils and other things she had never seen before. Using his foot, he pulled over a small stool and positioned it behind her before taking a seat.      

"You've neglected the whip marks on your back, and if left unattended, they will likely leave scars," Dante stated as he dipped his hand into a small bowl of oil.     

That was what he had in mind all along? Anastasia asked herself. Soon, a droplet of oil trickled onto her back, which slid slowly down her skin, only to be picked up by his finger. She felt his warm hands on her back, gently sliding back and forth over her skin. Her toes curled on the wet floor. She would have never guessed that this was why he brought her here. She kept her hands close to her chest to prevent the petticoat from falling.      

"Take better care of yourself. Your life belongs to me now since I pulled you out of the sea," Anastasia heard Dante say, and she turned her head to the side once more.      

Dante's hands moved with a gentle yet sensual touch, working on each muscle one at a time. As he skilfully massaged her, he observed her previously stiff shoulders relaxing. His fingertips pressed into her shoulders, even though she had never been injured there before.      

"It happened many days ago… which is why I didn't pay attention to it," Anastasia murmured. "I didn't have help then."     

"You could have come to me," Dante stated.      

Yes, because asking a prince to apply oil to her back was such a common occurrence, Anastasia sarcastically thought to herself. Her back straightened as his hands moved downward and pressed on her lower back. When she spoke next, her words came out barely above a whisper, "Is this—Are you massaging me?" Despite feeling embarrassed about what happened yesterday, it seemed that all the punishments he had in mind were things she enjoyed.      

"You aren't a wall that is fine with a single coat of paint. You are a flower that needs to be soaked," Dante said, causing Anastasia's eyes to widen at the flower reference.      

"I, thank you," Anastasia murmured, biting her bottom lip. It felt as if the old prince, who used to take care of her, had resurfaced, and somewhere within her, guilt ate at her. Maybe she could return the favour by massaging his back, she thought to herself.      

"You appear a little breathless. Are you doing well?" Dante lightly teased her, noticing Anastasia's back arch when he ran his finger down her spine.      

"I am fine. I think you have helped me enough," Anastasia quickly replied, hastily standing up only to realise the back buttons of her petticoat were still open.      

Dante watched her, his eyes akin to those of a patient vulture waiting for its prey. His eyes subtly narrowed because he hadn't forgotten what he had said to her on the forbidden side of the palace.      

"Do you want me to help you?"     

"We weren't done with your back, Anastasia," Dante interrupted her while placing the bowl back in the cart. He stood up from the stool and shifted to where she had been sitting. "Now that the layers of your dress won't be in the way, why don't we attend to what I promised?"      

Anastasia, whose back had been facing him, felt her heart skip a beat as she slowly turned to meet his gaze. The once gentle atmosphere had transformed into something that jolted her wide awake, and she heard him say,      

"Come here, little rabbit. On my lap."      


On the demon's lap (Chapter 120)

Anastasia blinked at the words Dante uttered, not understanding what he meant by sitting on his lap. Though he called her a rabbit, did he not realise that she wasn't one and bore no resemblance to a small animal in any way? She replied,      
"I don't know what you mean…"     

Sit on his lap facing him? Facing her back to him?     

She saw Dante patiently gazing at her; after all, they had all the time in the world, and there was no one to question or disturb them.      

To Dante, Anastasia resembled nothing less than the small and innocent little creature with her wide eyes staring back at him. Her hands, held in a loose grip, moved to settle in front of her chest. He shifted his stance, slightly adjusting his position by subtly parting his legs to make a little more room, and he stated,      

"I will tell you how," he said, lifting his hand towards her, his red eyes penetrating into hers.      

The previously relaxed muscles in Anastasia's body began to stir, and his husky voice compelled her to walk towards him, prompting her to place her hand in his. She saw him offer her a smile before he gently pulled her hand, guiding her to stand beside his right leg.      

"Lie down across my lap, Anastasia."      

"On my front?" Anastasia inquired sceptically, her eyebrows drawing together.      

"Yes. Don't worry, I will support and guide you," Dante assured her, his demeanour relaxed despite the fiery intensity behind his eyes.      

Anastasia's heart continued to respond to his words and the way he looked at her, as if it would never tire of such sensations. Hesitantly, she leant her upper body across his thighs, and in no time, the middle section of her body rested on his lap. Finding the position more than a little awkward, she turned to look at him and felt his hand settle on her upper back, as if to keep her steady.      

"Do you know why we are doing this, little rabbit?"      

"Because you think I am a rabbit…?" Anastasia asked him with uncertainty, returning her gaze to the wet floor.      

Upon hearing her words, Dante's lips slightly curled.     

"You have a wonderful mouth, which can be put to better use rather than lying to my face," she heard Dante say, and her body suddenly jolted into alertness when she felt his hand lifting the back hem of her petticoat. "But we can save that for next time, because this time, we need to discipline you." She felt her heart hitch as the back of her thighs were uncovered bit by bit, the fabric inching upwards until it reached her lower back.      

Anastasia's eyes widened when she realised what Dante was planning to do, and she started to protest, "Are you going to—I am a grown woman!" He couldn't possibly be thinking about spanking her, could he?! What had she even imagined he would do to her in this position? she questioned herself. "Dante—" she began, preparing to rise, when his hands turned firm on her back.      

"Are you trying to make things worse?" Dante's voice was low, yet it reverberated faintly within the confines of the enclosed bathing room. "Are you entirely certain that there was nothing else apart from what you have told me?"      

Anastasia bit her lower lip before releasing it and whispering, "Yes."     

"You know," Dante's calm voice sent quivers through Anastasia's body as he said, "Being tasked with handling traitors and liars makes it easier to discern if a person is guilty through their reactions."      

"Are you angry with the white lie?" Anastasia asked him, feeling her heart hitch once again as she felt his finger hook onto her undergarment before sliding it down and exposing her bare skin to his gaze.      

"The problem isn't how small or big the lie was, but a part of me is irked by the fact that you are capable of telling falsehoods in the first place. Or perhaps you are simply shy, and this might help you open up," Dante hummed, and at the same time, Anastasia felt his warm hand rest on one of her globes. As his hand caressed her, tracing the curve, she closed her eyes as a flush of embarrassment spread across her face.      

Yesterday, it was the front, and today, it is the back, Anastasia thought. At this rate, he wouldn't just consume her, but devour her even to the bones.      

Anastasia's heart shuddered as Dante gently shifted from one side of her bottom to focus on the other. As her heart began to settle down, and her thoughts drifted to what the Storm Prince had told her earlier, she didn't pay attention to his hand leaving her bottom.      

Wanting to ask him something, Anastasia parted her lips. However, instead of words, a surprised cry escaped from her when Dante's hand, which he had earlier moved away, smacked on her right buttock, leaving behind a stinging sensation and spreading warmth that wasn't limited to that spot alone, but coursed through her entire body.      

The resounding smack, mingled with her echoing cry, deepened Anastasia's blush even further than before.      

"You have a beautiful voice, Anastasia, akin to that of a seductress," Dante said as his fingers traced across her bottom. Her voice was something he had taken note of during the first time they had collided on the secret balcony. "And the more you let it out, the more I want to hear it."     

"I can talk if you wa—!"      

Another cry escaped Anastasia's lips; this time, it carried less surprise and more of a moan when Dante's hand moved away and returned with the same pace. It was enough to evoke an array of sensations when the sting blended with pleasure as he unabashedly caressed her tender skin as if coaxing it, only to return to remind her of the little lie that she wasn't planning to disclose.      

The blend of pain with tenderness created an indescribable feeling that Anastasia continued to voice out softly. She felt like the candles in the room, growing hot and feeling as if she would melt.     

"Feels like you are enjoying the punishment," Dante murmured, his focus alternating between her body and the sound of her voice, which now transformed into moans. "In certain matters, pain and pleasure run hand in hand, little rabbit. It's a delicate equilibrium that is enough to leave you wet and squirming."      

"…!" Anastasia bit her lip this time, feeling her body slightly jerk when Dante's palm connected with her skin to smack her round globe. The resulting sound held an erotic allure to her ears, and his insinuation didn't help as he pried open the gates of pleasure, his hand generating a fiery warmth and a cold shiver.      

"Do you need to be disciplined further, or has the message sunk in?" Dante questioned her as his fingers drew lines on her skin.     

"… message received…" Anastasia breathed, feeling heady.      

And while she was engulfed in a sea of emotions, which she couldn't help but find ironically amusing considering she couldn't swim, she felt Dante adjusting her undergarment and petticoat. As his hand retracted from her back and he assisted her to stand, she felt her knees shake, but before she could seek support by sitting down beside him, he pulled her closer, settling her onto his lap with her feet on the ground.      

"I could sit next—on the platform," Anastasia stuttered without meeting his eyes and directing her attention towards the nearby candles.      

"I wanted you to sit here," Dante replied, watching her sit like a rabbit he remembered one of his sisters once owned. She felt small, seated like this, her hands resting on her lap. "How are you doing?"      

Uncertain of how to respond, Anastasia nodded before briefly glancing at him, only to quickly avert her gaze. God, she couldn't bring herself to look at him anymore after being spanked. They had been doing such embarrassing things! Sitting like this, she realised that Dante was considerably larger than her, and if it weren't for the fact that the wall enclosing the bath was short, her legs would be left dangling in midair.      

"Use your words, Anastasia," Dante reminded her, drawing his legs closer to him.     

"I am doing okay," Anastasia responded. She then felt his hand on the back of her head before he began to stroke it.      

She finally turned to meet his gaze, her heart still pounding from how one minute he turned into a demon, telling her he was going to punish her, to this… making her feel like a child. She asked him, "Do you punish everyone like this?"      

"You mean women?" Dante asked, feeling amused, though it didn't reflect on his face. "No, I don't. You are the only special one granted these privileges."     

Special… the word lingered in Anastasia's mind. She wondered if the way he felt would dissipate once he found out the truth. Until now, she had indeed received exceptional attention from him, a man who didn't look at any other woman twice. Her lips pressed together, and she asked him,      

"There is something I wanted to ask you."     

Dante noticed the hesitant look on her face and said, "Go on."     

Instead of asking the question directly, Anastasia took a roundabout route by asking, "Are there women back in the underworld… who might be waiting for your return?"     

"Are you asking whether I had any relationships with the lowly demonesses?" Dante's head tilted as he continued to watch her. "There were a few, but none had any significance. Nothing that you should feel threatened about."      

"I wasn't," Anastasia replied, realising that her question had moved in a different direction. "You are a demon who is… old. People, demons have needs."      

"How considerate of you," Dante replied, his lips twisting slightly. "Why the question then?"      

Anastasia drew in a deep breath, as if mustering her courage. She confessed, "I heard that before becoming a demon, individuals were once humans. If there was a woman back then... I mean, you seem skilled in certain things, so I couldn't help but be curious…" Her voice turned faint at the end as she noticed the expression in his eyes harden.      

Dante's hand, which had been gently stroking Anastasia's head, paused for a moment before gliding down to rest on her back. With calmness in his voice, he inquired,      

"From whom did you hear this information?"     

Did she ask the question too early? Anastasia answered him, "From the Storm Prince."     

"You must have heard more than that," Dante responded, and he said in a nonchalant tone, "There was one. Her name was Isabelle Hansley, and for an earthling, she seemed perfect. A woman many had their eyes on, yet she and I were in love with each other. We married on the outskirts of a small town and lived together for not more than a month before she and her later lover killed me."     

"Lover?" Anastasia asked.     

"She had fallen in love with another man and wanted to build a life with him. Love makes one do crazy things, even though it can be fleeting," Dante exhaled softly, cutting his words short.      

"I am sorry to hear that…" Anastasia replied, not knowing how awful it must have been for him.      

"No need to be sorry, for she was," Dante answered, causing Anastasia's eyebrows to rise in question.      

"You met her again?" she asked, curious about the circumstances and timing.      

Did she end up in hell after she died? "How did you end up as a demon? You should have gone to heaven," she blurted out, because wasn't that how it usually worked?      

A subtle smile formed on Dante's lips, and he replied, "Not necessarily. Sometimes, tortured souls can become corrupted and find themselves in hell. After my transformation into a demon, I visited her in the living world. She was old and wrinkled, having borne children and seeing the arrival of grandchildren."     

Considering the kind of intentions harboured by the demon Dante, Anastasia could faintly imagine the implication of his words. "The scent of fear can be utterly intoxicating for a demon. I started with her husband, before methodically working through the kin she had created, leaving her for last. As I said, revenge is best served with blood."      

Anastasia noted how Dante didn't seem upset by the memory, and rather, he was too calm, which could be the result of the years he had later spent as a demon in the underworld. While the demon had exacted his revenge, it seemed to come at the price of an increasing hunger for destruction, almost as if the vengeance hadn't been sufficient.      

When Dante leant towards Anastasia, he gently pressed his lips behind her ear, making her gasp. He allowed the contact to linger a second longer before pulling back. With a soft tone, he asked her, "Did I scare you with that story?"      

Anastasia shook her head and replied, "No, you didn't…" If the woman had mercilessly taken his life, she deserved the same fate. But did the woman's children? She couldn't extend the same judgement to them.      

"You don't have to be, because you are my rabbit that won't do anything wrong."