Duchess Li Qixing glanced down and breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing Xueyue had fallen asleep. She lifted the blanket and delicately tucked Xueyue into bed. Xueyue was sound asleep and everyone could tell she was beyond exhausted. Her long lashes were still brimmed with tears and her nose was bright pink from crying so hard.
Duchess Li Qixing slowly released the breath she was holding in for a very long time. Her heart felt heavy at the thought of leaving the small girl alone. To throw her out into the streets meant she would rot in the cruel hands of society. She was only a young woman and it was evident she had experienced a life of hardships and abuse.
Duke Li Shenyang watched his wife gingerly wipe the tears off of Xueyue's dainty face. In a heavy and solemn voice, he said, "I know what you're thinking and the answer is already no."
Duchess Li Qixing raised her head and stared at her husband. She had already expected this response, but that didn't stop her stubbornness. "Do I need your permission to keep this girl in a house we paid equal amounts over?" she said with a frown.
Duke Li Shenyang felt his lips twitch with amusement. She was a smart one, that was for sure. "Because we paid an equal amount, we have to come to an equal agreement," he replied with mirth twinkling in his eyes.
Duchess Li Qixing narrowed her eyes and thinned her lips. "The girl gets to stay," she declared, leaving no room for arguments.
Duke Li Shenyang studied the fierce woman standing before him. In the twenty years that he had known her, she was always a docile and gentle woman who followed the rules of society: Men ruled over the house and the women stayed behind to take care of the children.
Before the death of their daughter, Duchess Li Qixing was a calm and collected woman. But Duke Li Shenyang knew there was a hidden layer of sass and passion beneath her gentle smiles and softened eyes. Perhaps it was because the death of her daughter made her realize something that Duke Li Shenyang didn't, or perhaps it was because her stubbornness was beginning to come out, but the fighter within her was slowly making herself known.
Duke Li Shenyang walked towards the right side of the room that was separated by a wide panel divider. He decided to sit down on the couch near the divider while immersing himself in his thoughts. He analyzed her with a fierce determination to make her bend to his wishes.
Duchess Li Qixing raised her chin and glowered back at him. She recognized his expression. It was the same mask he was infamously known for in the imperial courts.
Duke Li Shenyang was known as the "Iron Minister," because of his unrelenting and unflinching behavior that didn't seem to budge from threats and bribes. As long as it involved the affairs of the imperial courts, nothing could get past his keen and hawk-like eyes.
In a questioning and doubtful voice, he asked, "What will you tell her when she wakes up?"
"I will offer her the choice to stay with me."
"And if she rejects?"
"I don't see why she would."
Duke Li Shenyang laughed at his wife's response, but the laughter was cold and harsh. "A person will always have to prepare for the worst when they want the best," he mused.
"There is no worst in this situation. She can stay here and flourish or rot at the hands of society. And we both know, she will choose the first option..." Duchess Li Qixing took a taunting step forward. Her hands were tucked in front of her in a very harmless manner.
In a dignified voice, she continued, "We both saw her reaction. She has no one in this world that cares for her. She has experienced unimaginable things a child should never have to go through."
A cold, dark smile spread on Duke Li Shenyang's lips. The smile never reached his eyes.
Duchess Li Qixing didn't blink or flinch at the smile that would send most men cowering in their boots.
Duke Li Shenyang stared at his wife and inquired, "And if she does decide to stay with us, what will the people say? What will your relatives, your parents, your long-term friends, and the people of society say about this issue?" He delivered the final blow and said, "Think about how this will affect your reputation."
Suddenly, a smile bloomed upon Duchess Li Qixing's face. Duke Li Shenyang was taken by surprise at her coy and humorless smile. A sense of uneasiness filled him. Since when was his lovely and docile wife capable of such a frightening smile and expression?
"My dear husband, the people will not utter harmful words. They're too fearful of their reputation to sit around and mindlessly gossip about me, the Duchess of Hechen. Everyone knows of my reputation, but they also know I do not tolerate malicious rumors." Duchess Li Qixing's voice was so chilling and icy, he was almost amused by it, had he not shivered.
He suddenly thought about the saying, "Hell hath no fury like a scorned mother."
Duchess Li Qixing seized the opportunity and declared, "Xueyue will have the 'Li' surname and the title as your niece who has come to stay and keep me company." She knew she was taking a big risk by forcing her husband to pass his surname to her.
"And why should she share my surname and not yours when you want to keep her more than me?" Duke Li Shenyang said with a scowl.
"Because the people will talk less if she shares your household name. Wasn't that your objective?" Duchess Li Qixing was right.
If Xueyue shared the powerful "Li" surname, no one would dare bully or comment about her. The people were terrified of the Li Family whose influence didn't stop in the royal court. They had connections in the military, the trading ports, and anything a person could think of.
Duke Li Shenyang decided to play devil's advocate. "What if the people talk about her resemblance to Minghua and brand you as a horrible mother who is seeking for her daughter's replacement—"
Duchess Li Qixing interrupted him, "Besides our servants, no one has ever seen Minghua's face. You kept her far away from society, because you feared her sleeves would be tainted by the scums of this world." Her eyes flared at the horrendous memory of Minghua's covered face.
Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
She remembered the rumors circulating around Li Minghua. Because her face was always covered by a veil, the people thought she had some sort of illness or scar that made her look ugly, therefore Duke Li Shenyang was forced to have her cover it.
But the truth was completely different from the rumors.
Duke Li Shenyang didn't want anyone to experience Minghua's beauty. He didn't want suitors to line up at his door and steal his daughter away. Duke Li Shenyang loved Li Minghua too much to allow any scummy man to marry her. He had kept her locked within the tall walls of the Li Manor. There was never a day she had seen or walked the outside world. For sixteen years, she remained hidden and locked away in the deepest wing of the Li Manor.
Because Minghua died at an age that wasn't suitable for a proper introduction to society, no one had ever seen her face. Aside from her high rank and title, there wasn't anything special about her, thus, many nobles had lost interest in her.
No one wanted to go against Duke Li Shenyang who always kept a tight leash on his daughter's security.
"I tried to keep her safe—"
"By having her face covered from sunrise to sunset was not keeping her safe!" Duchess Li Qixing hatefully scorned.
Duke Li Shenyang's eyes darkened at her crude words, but that did not stop her.
"When she disappeared, no one even cared about her! No one could even give a proper description of her face so that she can be saved in our memories! Not a single painter was able to draw her accurately! I don't even have a picture to remember my daughter, OUR daughter, by!" Duchess Li Qixing didn't mean for her voice to rise so high and her face to get red with angst, but the thought of her lovely daughter burning away in the manor broke her heart more than anything in this world.
Duke Li Shenyang breathed in and out deeply at the harsh words of his wife. Pinching the spot between his brows, Duke Li Shenyang released a heavy sigh. In a tired voice, he declared, "The girl gets to stay."
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free