Chapter 2 - Secret Scion

"Are you crazy, Lily? You're actually going to take the punishment in Asher's place?"

"Livia seems to have gone insane."  

"She'll regret having gone against Grandpa."  

Noelle, likewise, stared at Livia in amazement while everyone was taken aback by her words. She knew her uncle's precious daughter far too well. Livia would never jeopardize her position in their grandfather's heart for an insignificant person, let alone rebuff him.

What Noelle could not comprehend was the reason Livia seemed to care for her husband. Could it be possible that… Livia had fallen for Asher?

Noelle could not deny that Asher had been taking good care of her despite him being so despised. He had never gone to work ever since he got married into the Steward family and instead took up domestic responsibilities. Noelle would return from her job every day for the past two years to a warm meal served alongside Asher's concerned smiles.  

Asher may be an incompetent person, but he was a good man who took care of his family.

It was not implausible for Livia to fall for him.  

Noelle snuck a glance at Asher and as she thought about it, an indescribable feeling surfaced in her heart. This was the first time that she had ever taken a good look at the man by her side.

"Are all of you trying to send me off to an early grave?!"  

Carter angrily got to his feet with his eyes clouded by fury. "The Steward household is facing a crisis. This is not the time to punish you, Asher. However, I will remember this! The matter regarding the Leonards may not relate directly to you, but they are still worried about how you broke off your engagement with Radley Leonard. I was made aware that Radley still misses you, and he's well-loved by his family. As of now, only you can ask for Radley to let us be. I don't care what method you use. You must settle everything with him within three days. Otherwise, you can just forget about calling us your family!"  

"You're making this difficult for me, Grandpa…"  

Noelle was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Carter did not give her a chance to speak at all as he turned to leave.  

With Carter gone, the others also left one after the other.  

Erick intentionally waited until everyone had left to flash Noelle a disingenuous smile. "You're my sister, Elle. You, as the younger sister, should also help if your brother gets into trouble. Radley has always been obsessed with you. Grandpa asked you to beg him, didn't he? You're a smart one. I'm sure you understand what he meant."

Anyone who could discern the nuances knew what Carter meant. It was only natural that Noelle understood the implications.  

Radley could not get her out of his mind, but a more blunt observation communicated that he simply wanted to bed her. Carter had sent her off to plead to the man just so she could use her body in exchange for the Stewards' safety.

Asher could only sneer to himself. Seeing the head of a household go as low as Carter Steward was an eye-opener.

How could the Stewards not meet its end with a man like him at its helm?  

"This is all your fault, Erick! And, you're still talking bullshit!" Livia huffed and glared at Erick. He simply shrugged and walked away with a wicked smile.


"Don't listen to Grandpa, Sis. Don't even seek Radley out. I'm sure Asher has a way out of this." Livia smiled as she gave Asher a knowing look.  

"Him?" Noelle gave Asher an indifferent glance. It did not matter what she said. She would not believe that her husband was capable of doing that. "I didn't expect you to think so highly of Asher, Livia. Do you think he's outstanding?"

Noelle had said so as a means to probe Livia.

Livia, on the other hand, did not catch the meaning behind her words. She nodded with great certainty, armed with the knowledge that Asher was the Crawford household's heir. "Your husband is amazing, Sis."

Asher panicked when he noticed the thoughtful looks Livia was sending his way. Could she have overheard the conversation between him and the servants sent by the Crawfords?  

This was the moment Noelle noticed the way Livia was looking at Asher. It was as if she was trying to get in his good graces. How could she not understand what it meant as a woman? It was at that exact moment Noelle became certain that her cousin had fallen for her husband.

Noelle felt displeasure despite not knowing exactly why. It was like she had acid wash over her entire being. She then laughed to herself and walked away without looking back.

Asher hurried out the moment he caught sight of Noelle leaving with the intention of hitching a ride back with her. His wife, on the other hand, stomped on the accelerator and left, leaving only a cloud of dust in her wake.

He helplessly shook his head. He had never envisioned his wife to be so green with envy. 

Noelle was comfortably ensconced in the living room as if she were in contemplation when he returned home after hailing a cab. Not wanting to disturb her, he gently shut the door behind him.

"I thought Livia was going to offer you a ride home."  

Noelle, on the other hand, did not have the slightest inkling as to why she was being so bitter. Was she jealous to have uttered those words?  

The moment the idea materialized in her head, she dismissed it. She definitely did not love Asher that way. How could she be overcome by jealousy?  

Asher was likewise befuddled as he gave Noelle a look conveying his confusion.

Noelle, not wanting him to think too much into it, changed the subject. "Why didn't you stop me from seeking Radley out? Is my downfall what you want to see?"

The fact of the matter was that Noelle was rather contradictory in her way of thought. She had been convinced that Asher's love was hers alone before this. In spite of that, her firm conviction was swayed the moment Livia made her presence known.  

She had remained cold toward Asher throughout the two years. They had never even slept with one another. A marriage with no lovemaking was not a strong one. All of this was the reason for her nonsensical ruminations.

Livia was also young and beautiful with a lively and cheerful personality. There should be countless men who liked girls like her, right?  

The more she thought about it, the more irritable Noelle got. She could only wonder if Asher could withstand the temptation.  

Asher, of course, did not know what was going through his wife's mind. He answered her question, "That's because I know you wouldn't listen to me. Are you hungry? I'll fix something up for you."

"Fix what up? What else can you do besides cook? I really don't know why I chose to marry you!" The flustered Noelle made a beeline for her room, slamming the door behind her.

The following morning.  

Asher was a creature of habit that rose early. Breakfast had been prepared by the time Noelle woke up.  

Noelle felt guilty when she thought about the words she had spat in his face last night. Just when she was about to apologize to Asher, the doorbell rang, and Livia's voice could be heard from beyond the door. "Ash. Ash. Open up. It's me, Lily."

Noelle's anger flared once more when she heard her words. Her name was always the one called first in the past. How amazing. Now, she was calling out to her brother-in-law first. How could she be so brazen even if she liked Asher.

Women were mysterious creatures. They tend to have a bee in their bonnets, especially when it came to matters of the heart. It was clear that Noelle was also a victim of the stereotype.

Noelle opened the door and asked, "Is something the matter, Lily?"  

"Oh, I'm here to see Ash." Livia then barged right in. Noelle felt as if she had been brushed aside like a fly. She looked incredibly displeased. 

Livia noticed the breakfast placed on the table and walked over to take a whiff of the aroma in the air, giggling softly. "It smells good, Ash. Were you the one who prepared it? It seems that I made it just in time."  

Asher smiled with a slight incline of his head.  

"Men who can cook are a rare breed. How surprising for you to be so good at it," Livia continued with a quirk of her lips.  

Noelle's lily-white right hand was still clasped tightly on the doorknob. She was shaking with rage. Who do they think they are? What is this PDA?

She might not like Asher that way but he was still her husband in name. Livia would be going too far if she were looking to rob her of her husband.  

"This was just something I threw together. We haven't started on breakfast. You should join us." Asher went back into the kitchen to prepare an extra set of cutleries.

The moment he stepped out of the kitchen, he was faced with Noelle's stern expression and her icy words. "You should eat more if you like it that much. Feel free to have my share as well." With that said, she picked up her purse and left the duo behind who shared a look.

"What's up with her, Ash? She doesn't seem very welcoming." Livia frowned.  

Asher, who was ever clueless to the fact that his wife was jealous, was all smiles as he answered, "You're looking too much into this. She's just busy with work."  

Livia was twenty-one, in her prime and was younger than both Noelle and Asher by four years. She was also extremely beautiful with a sylph-like waist and an elegant countenance that reminded one of a blooming flower—a rare gem indeed.

Livia probed while they partook in the meal. "I know you've suffered over the past two years, Ash. But you're still family. With the Stewards now facing a threat, you wouldn't just sit back and do nothing, would you? Grandpa is forcing Elle to beg Radley for mercy. She's going to be in big trouble if you don't step in."  

"There's nothing I can do even if I wanted to. The Leonards are renowned in Rollinsford. What am I to do if the Stewards can't find a way to get themselves out of it?"  

Asher's words may seem cold but it was not as if he was going to see his own wife off to someone else's bed. Noelle was still his savior.  

Livia suddenly set down her fork as she stared right at him. "Stop hiding the truth from me, Ash. You're Master Asher Crawford of the Capital City that went missing two years ago, aren't you?"