Sofony calmly met the warm yet scrutinizing gazes the kind-looking middle-aged man in a simple button up shirt and pants was giving her. She had just crossed the doorway to the wide balcony of the second floor. She ignored the stunning view of the place, her eyes settling on the man's face.
In one glance, she knew he was the person who summoned her here, finally, after making her wait for almost two years. The man's face, despite his age having entered the middle years of his life, resembled at least half of Gio's features. It's not unlikely for him to be mistaken as Gio's father due to his likeness with the younger man.
"You must be Sofony Silver."
The woman's pace of breathing slowed down a bit. She purposely did so in hopes that this action would help her read through the eyes and expression of the person seated on the elegant brown wicker chair with white cushions and backrest on the left side. In response to his remark, instead of immediately taking the chair opposite his, she mustered all the elegance in her body to give him a respectful yet graceful bow.
"I'm indeed Sofony Silver. It's my pleasure to meet Your Majesty, Hidden King of Alina. May you always be happy and in good health."
"Quite polite." He simply commented along with a nod.
Conrad Albarez looked carefree and not very attached to or nitpicky of customs and mannerisms. His eyes were showing appreciation though, acknowledging through his stares that Sofony and her elegant bow was a beautiful sight to behold. Regarding the title she mentioned, his thick face enabled him to not be fazed before the woman. Or maybe he just grew used to the moniker, thus, no more reaction could be squeezed out of him.
"Come, take the seat across mine so we can speak more comfortably with each other."
Sofony did as suggested, expressing her gratefulness for the older man's thoughtfulness while at it.
Gio's uncle then spoke up after giving one last glance to the direction of the open door. With his gaze back to the girl whose sitting figure laid bare to his perusal due to the lack of table or anything in between them, he began.
"I'm glad to finally meet you. I'm Conrad Albarez, Gio's uncle and the current head of the Albarez family."
She merely nodded since her introduction had been said earlier.
The man continued with a wide and heartwarming smile, "You did well in safeguarding his business empire. I sincerely thank you for all your efforts."
"I'm only doing what I should do for him." She said with only a polite smile on her delicate face.
Conrad laughed, the gesture magically made a few of the wrinkles on his forehead and the edge of his eyes disappear. "You don't have to be so courteous in front of me. I know how close you are to that child."
She argued in her head. 'Who won't be in front of a smiling cat who is actually a king tiger?'
Conrad was Gio's only remaining uncle and he once mentioned to her that he was almost his father. Yet Sofony didn't dare treat this meeting as a mere meeting between a father and a prospective daughter-in-law, but that of enemies. It was just hard for her to not do so considering the fact that aside from being a very competent and influential non-host, this man possibly had ties with someone at the same level or more probably higher than her. She also couldn't shake off the thoughts that he possibly had the means to help out that time, yet chose otherwise.
Sofony didn't erase her courteous smile from her lips, her eyes glittering like stars, as always, but without the edges of her eyes wrinkling. It was more like a forced smile. Something she purposely didn't conceal since it was obvious that no acting would go past the man's notice.
The talk between them had been dulled and uneventful. The older man would ask her random things, like, how're her parents doing, why didn't she bring a guard with her, what's her opinion about this and that.
Nothing about the system or Gio, to her dismay.
However, as a member of the junior generation, she had no choice but to remain courteous to the man, letting him have the lead in the conversation while she was in the passive.
Not once did she think, if only she could hypnotize this man to go straight to the point... and be done with it.
On the other hand, the Albarez' head was not blind to see the subtle touches of impatience and restlessness in the girl's eyes. Contrary to that, he was even perceptive enough to guess what the woman before him wanted to know the most from him. Despite having maintained a foolproof smiling facade, complicated feelings arose within the man's heart. He couldn't help but complain why the daughter of that lovestruck fool was as crazy as him in the matters of the heart.
'Is my clan destined to be filled with host supporters?'
He didn't like the idea because being one meant a life full of darkness, and threats from beings out of the league of regular humans.
The man's eyes went to the woman's hand which were resting atop her lap. Her left hand almost curled into a fist, trembling a bit even. He pretended to not have seen it, continuing with his story about marketing and campaigns.
Admirably, Sofony managed to hold on for another thirty minutes. The Albarez head then realized the current Ever Victorious' CEO was trying to bait him in, showing her impatience as to make him ask about it. Once he takes the bait, that would most likely when she would steer the conversation to what she truly desired to speak with today.
In other words, she was okay being in this for several hours straight, but if there was a way to make him speak, she was willing to try them on.
It seemed the little girl from before had really grown up, at least, she now knew petty yet subtle tricks like this.
Nothing changed from the kind of smile he was giving the girl in front of him. But deep inside, the mischievous devil dwelling in his heart was grinning from ear to ear with a different kind of light in its eyes.
He decided to play along. In a kind of roundabout way.
"So little lady, all these years that you're going toe to toe against Amelia Morgan, how do you feel about her? May I know your evaluation of the Morgan lady?"
Sofony didn't break eye contact with the man as she answered, "Capable and admirable." 'For a non-host.'
How she wished there was at least tea she could sip to have something new to look at. The man seemed to be trying to make her be the one to lose patience first. Or actually, it was obviously his motive since he suddenly brought up that question.
What a contemptible move. Why was he not content that he drove her on the passive? Didn't he know were it not for his relationship with Gio, she had long resorted to real petty tricks?
"Do you know? Amelia has been Gio's acquaintance even before he went to the military. Like you said, she's capable and admirable. Her age was not far from my nephew too."
'Look at this.'
Suppressing the urge to shake her head, Sofony smiled, saying without breaking away from his stares, "I supposed she's the best fiancee candidate for him. After all, she's also ruthless and good in business. Before I rose to prominence, people are saying she' the male version of Gio Albarez."
"That was indeed the case before. Sadly..."
Sofony flashed another grin. It gave the illusion that the words she replied to his response were not her way of expressing how offended she was, but was merely her telling of the weather.
"Thankfully she's been engaged to Marc Goldwin, otherwise, three years ago, her head would have long rolled around to tour the city."
Conrad intently watched her as she spoke that in a humorous manner. When she finished, his facade still didn't crack.
He jokingly answered, "You said it yourself that she's able and smart. How can you be so sure that she'd just let her head falls off her neck?"
"We've been fighting for so long. I already know her patterns and styles. I have faith in Your Highness' capabilities and thus I believe Your Highness know for yourself what is only keeping me from completely ruining her."
Her eyes additionally told him. 'So how about we stop here?'
The Albarez head laughed. "It seemed I have already used up all the patience my nephew's princess has allotted for me."
'Oh? In other words, he will be finally stopping with the pretense. Great.'
"Speaking of Gio," she smiled a smile saying seemingly that her goal was finally achieved. Since the chance to open the topic was presented, she directly asked, "... I hope you won't see me rudely for asking this. But as his uncle, may I know if you also believe that he's really not dead and is merely missing?..."
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