Li Xueyue wandered the hallways in search of the Chrysanthemum Gardens. She found it interesting that the Empress and Emperor trusted her to get there herself. The Empress didn't provide her with a guide, but she gave specific directions. The only problem was, Xueyue had a horrible sense of direction. Thus, she found herself lost.
\"Maybe I went the wrong way,\" she concluded upon realizing all of the open hallways surrounding her had doors. They were beautifully designed, similar to the ones back in the Li Manor. She found it interesting that there were guards stationed beside the doors. Maybe there were important people inside?
She sighed and decided to retract her footsteps. She turned her head and her handmaidens bowed their heads. They rarely spoke to her unless necessary. Sometimes, it felt lonely…
\"Do you know the way back?\" Li Xueyue asked them but they slowly shook their heads.
\"We're afraid not, my lady. We apologize for our incompetence,\" one of them said.
Li Xueyue softly sighed again before crossing her arms. Amongst her handmaidens, none of them were guards. This should've felt odd, but apparently, the Emperor never allowed guards from other families into the palace. Even if it was the Lis. She remembered they were waiting down the grand staircase with an antsy expression, but the Duchess didn't seem to mind—which wasn't a surprise since she had grown up in this familiar environment.
\"Would you like us to ask the guards, my lady?\"
\"That'd be lovely.\" Li Xueyue nodded while she approached one of the guards near the door.
\"Wait, my lady, that's our job—\"
Li Xueyue jumped when the door flung open. Her eyes widened as her head tilted up. She felt the wind knocked out of her body at the sight of him. He was handsome in ways that she couldn't even describe it. It was impossible to not notice how good-looking he was, tall and proportionally muscular. Dark hair, honey-tanned complexion, sharply angled jaw, he was attractive in all of the right ways. When all of his features were placed together, he was strikingly appealing far beyond the conventional ways.
\"There you are.\" His voice was deep and husky, but pleasing on the ears. It was gentle and soothing to the soul, so much so, that she blinked in shock. What had just happened?\"
His eyes searched her face before slightly nodding. \"I was waiting forever.\" Without warning, he grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her into his room.
She stiffened at his touch—firm and self-assured, but loose and considerate.
\"What are you doing?\" she scowled, attempting to yank her arm back but it was too late and he had shut the doors behind him. She didn't realize it, but the guards had suddenly blocked the entrance outside.
\"What do you mean?\" he asked, dragging her behind a black folding screen with white branches.
\"This is improper!\"
The man raised his dark brow and agreed, \"I know.\" He gestured to his indecently dressed body.
Her face was set ablaze when she realized he was in nothing but an especially thin robe that was lazily tied together, revealing his firm chest that rippled and clenched when he rolled his shoulders.
\"What?\" Li Xueyue hissed, yanking her hand back to which he narrowed his gaze. She felt a shiver crawl down her spine. He was even more appealing when he was aggravated.
\"What? You can't perform the basic duties?\"
\"Basic duties?\" she repeated, her brows drawing together. \"Do you know—\"
\"Know where the clothes are? Yeah, right there.\" He nodded to the black robes draped over a chair.
\"I'm not going to dress you.\"
He bit his bottom lip to prevent a smile from breaking out. \"What kind of wife will you be if you can't even dress a man?\"
Li Xueyue fumbled for a response as warmth spread over her face. Misunderstanding his words, she retorted, \"As if anyone would marry you.\"
\"That's rich coming from you,\" he scoffed, rolling his dark eyes. \"We don't have all day, hurry now.\" He jutted his chin to the black robes while crossing his arms.
Li Xueyue tried to prevent her eyes from wandering, but it needlessly did and she had seen the clench of his biceps. \"You're crazy.\"
\"At least I'm not useless.\" The edge of his lip quirked into a taunting smirk, his eyes flashed with amusement when she gawked at him. She was obviously not used to this type of treatment. He wondered if she knew how smitten he was by her. Smitten and stricken.
To say she was beautiful was an understatement and perhaps it was because she was disarmingly unaware of her allure which added to her charm. Somehow, her imperfections made her perfect. There was a sense of boldness within her that he appreciated, yet he felt like she was concealing herself; that, deep down, she was timid and soft.
\"Useless?\" she echoed in disbelief. \"You can't even dress yourself!\"
\"I can, but I prefer not to,\" he mused, his eyes twinkled with mischief.
Li Xueyue fumed on the inside. First, she was caught off guard by his appeal, then she was kidnapped into his room, and now he was pressuring her into performing an audacious task.
\"I'm not dressing you.\"
\"Oh, Sunshine, do I pity you.\" He let out a sigh that aggravated her to no avail. He was purposely getting on her nerves just to see how she'll react. And right now, she was living up to each and every one of his expectations.
\"No man will wed you.\"
\"You can't be excused yet, unfortunately.\"
\"What gives you the right to excuse me?\" Li Xueyue scoffed, rolling her eyes.
She stepped past the separating screen, but he latched his hand around her wrist and yanked her backwards. She stumbled and collided with something warm and hard—his chest. Instantly, her body tensed. Without warning, she tried to stomp on his foot in hopes that he'd release her but her attempts failed and he easily moved his foot away.
She felt her heart betray her as it pounded on her chest when something tightened around her waist—his arm, burly and powerful.
\"What are you doing? Let me go!\"
\"Why don't you make me?\" He playfully hummed, his fingers twirling with the ribbons that held up her waist belt.
\"Do you know who I am?!\" she snarled, attempting to back kick his shin but he expertly dodged her, wagging a finger in front of her face.
\"Such a violent little thing you are.\" He boldly laughed. It was recklessly warm in the way sunlight and fire was, tender and intense. She didn't realize her stomach had fluttered until she felt her heart pounce against her ribcage.
Her eyes widened further when she felt him comfortably rest his chin on top of her head. \"As expected.\"
\"What?\" Li Xueyue blinked just as a loud commotion could be heard outside—her handmaidens. She smiled victoriously. He was screwed.
\"Do you want to know who I am?\"
She could feel the powerful rumble of his chest when he spoke. She felt herself swallowing visibly, not because she was scared of him, but because it was such a strange sensation. She didn't know if she enjoyed it or hated it.
\"I could care less.\"
He laughed again, this time, unrestrained and teasing. His chest shook, shaking her along the way. The arm wrapped around her waist tightened, \"It should be 'I couldn't care less.'\"
\"No it's not!\"
\"Yes, it is.\"
\"Grow up!\" she fumed, finally realizing he was right.
\"You're the one arguing with me,\" he said before shrugging. When he abruptly pinched her cheek, she slapped his hand away, earning another chuckle from him. She wished her heart wouldn't skip a beat as it just did.
Suddenly, the door slammed open.
Xueyue jumped and finally realized their compromising position. Luckily for her and her reputation, they were hidden behind a screen. He instantly released her and in record time, slipped on his clothes with ease. His fingers expertly tied everything in place. His sleek clothes hugged his form perfectly and it was then she realized the circular brooch attached to his chest. The crest of Hanjian.
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