"Aston was acknowledged as a prince, yes, but his mother isn't the queen. Maybe that's why the earl hates him less. Waiving his right to be an heir could play a part in it, too." Nathaniel deliberately made it seem like he wasn't sure about the earl's motives. He was the patient now, so being too clear about the earl would be a flaw in his acting.
Prince Aston being illegitimate son was new to Katherine. She wasn't a citizen of the Icelands to begin with, so it was natural not to know some dirty details. She felt a bit of schadenfreude and happiness to have spotted a weakness of that unlikable man. Counting the two factors together, this could be a reasonable explanation for the earl to not hate the prince. Maybe the prince, too, didn't like his family, and with that, they felt sympathy for each other.
Pondering, Katherine lightly tapped her lips with her index finger as her gaze got unfocused. If it was like this, there was no reason to fear the earl being part of the royal family. Maybe the resemblance of the prince and the patient is part of the prince's mother's genes. I wonder if she's an aristocrat, too, she thought. Where else would the patient get his nobility from?
Though she never heard his title, she was sure that the patient was a noble, too. It could be derived from his bearing and the good state of his hands, as well as the earl's attitude towards him.
Does she even realize what she's doing?, the earl meanwhile thought slightly annoyed, when his eyes couldn't help but fall on her soft red lips every time she tapped them. How could she just loosen her defenses and get all dreamy when she was in front of a stranger? Even though she cared for the patient for a long time, they had next to no time to interact with each other.
If it was his earl-persona, he could have understood it. He wasn't sure if she was still trying to seduce him in that persona. However, to do that in front of another man... He sifted his seating position, feeling uncomfortable. Did she have no self-awareness? Or was there some other agenda?
Yes, the patient must look like a noble, too. Maybe her aim isn't solely to seduce the earl, but anyone with enough power.
The atmosphere in the carriage turned gloomy, as the earl imagined her seducing different nobles. Although he wouldn't claim her for himself, he didn't want to see that sight either. Maybe he'd developed a feeling of protectiveness. Interacting with her and knowing about her nativity, it was unavoidable. Even those rough guards of hers had started to act protectively after a while. It was normal to not want her to seduce people at random.
If she was really doing that. But to deliberately seduce multiple targets at once, she would need to be a cold-blooded veteran at flirting, he pondered. Which she obviously wasn't. Of course, experienced woman could fake to be pure, but he still remembered her blush when she kissed his hand. That wasn't fabricated. Also, why should someone trying to seduce him choose to pretend to be a girl who was so stubborn that she just couldn't stop fighting him? It made no sense.
There was a very real possibility that she didn't know what she was doing. Tapping her lips like that would make any man imagine what they felt like. It was nearly an invitation. If she did that in front of another man unintentionally... no, he had to remind her now, before he lost his mind! With a low growl, he grabbed her arm.
"Ah!", Katherine exclaimed in surprise, and jerked his hand away. "What?"
As relieve flooded him, a mocking smirk curled the corners of his mouth upwards. "So you're still aware that it's not proper to touch. And here I thought you were implying something by show-casting your lips all the time."
Katherine first turned white, then red from anger and embarrassment. With balled fists she sprang to her feet. "You... you! I should've let you die! One hooligan less would've been a good deed for all
He raised his hands in defense, not able to stop smiling. He was too happy that his worry was for naught. She wasn't trying to seduce the patient. "Peace! Peace! I concede!"
Bewildered, Katherine stopped, her fists loosening a bit. Her anger didn't dissipate, but his hurried surrender robbed her of an aim. Additionally, this smiling face was unexpectedly stunning. "What are you conceding? And what are you smiling for?!"
"I..." He tried to make a serious face but failed dramatically. The smile was plastered on his lips and impossible to remove. However he moved his muscles, it wouldn't go away and instead he now felt a tickling feeling in his stomach that strengthened the more he tried to resist it. Her confused-angry look was so adorable and funny! Even her ears were red!
Seeing him making comical faces, Katherine was first confused, then enlightened. A giggle washed the anger away. Triumphantly, she pointed her finger at his strangely twisted smiling face. "Ha! Serves you right!" The more he tried to remove the smile, the more she laughed until she had laughing tears in her eyes.
Nathaniel, irritated and embarrassed by his own unruly facial muscles, hid his mouth behind his palm, and tried to move it down with his fingers. The situation alone was completely unprecedented. "Stop... stop laughing!"
Her laugh only made it worse! The tickling feeling had rapidly moved up, making him gasp for air as if he was suffocating. With all his might fighting against it, he could keep the laughter down, but he was breathing in quick, heavy breaths. A laugh had never felt this mighty, like it was a power of its own, taking him over.
Somewhere deep down, he rationally knew that laughing wouldn't trigger the darkness, that he could let it go. However, just now he didn't think rationally. This was a new kind of situation for him. He hadn't felt like laughing out loud since he was a child! A chuckle was the limit of what he'd allowed himself.
Sadly, it was in his bones to control himself. This unexpected violent kind of laughter made him instinctively fight it. Suddenly, his vision started to blur at the edges. He was breathing too much! In a second of clarity, when the very real danger of fainting in front of her crossed his mind, the funny feelings instantly vanished. He suppressed his laughter completely, without even laughing out once.
When he blinked his eyes, he saw Katherine, who recovered from her own hearty laughter, frowning at him. Suddenly he felt ashamed.
"Are you okay?", she asked. "You looked strange just now."
Still slightly dizzy, the earl only nodded with lowered gaze, and took a few calm breaths. Then he cleared his throat, getting back to the topic. He didn't want to linger on his embarrassing performance. I must have looked like an idiot, he thought, I can't even laugh naturally! "I originally wanted to say thank you. I imagine it must have been hard work to heal me. I'm grateful, but even though our ways will part in the capital. I don't want to burden the earl any further. It is highly unlikely that we meet again, so what I want to say is: Goodbye. I wish you good luck."