"I… didn't think you'd be friends with Commander Yu Zhen," Marquis Ning Guahe slowly said, careful to not offend any of his guests.
"You know of him?" Li Xueyue was surprised, to which Yu Zhen nudged her, clearly offended. She smirked a little, happy that she found one of his sore spots.
"Yes. It'd be strange to not know the Second Prince of Hanjian."
Second Prince? Li Xueyue blinked once, twice and thrice. 'Great, he's someone else I can't outrun from.'
"I didn't know that Hanjian's royal family was that famous."
"Well, they used to be our enemy. Most people are naturally curious," Marquis Ning Guahe cautiously explained, his eyes darting from Li Xueyue to Commander Yu Zhen. Never in a million years would he think that a simple woman like Xueyue was acquainted with this man. It was peculiar.
"Regardless, it's a pleasure to meet you, Prince Yu Zhen." Marquis Ning Guahe warmly smiled.
Yu Zhen nodded and replied, "Sure."
"Well, come in come in!" Marquis Ning Guahe said, gesturing them inside the banquet that was suddenly quiet. When the four walked through the front entrance, conversations immediately continued.
"This is quite interesting," Yu Zhen commented, turning to Li Xueyue who was eyeing him skeptically.
"What is it?" he mused, his fingers twitching to do something with her. "Don't shamelessly ogle me in public."
Li Xueyue scoffed, "I was merely wondering why you're so—"
Li Xueyue eyed him from head to toe before rolling her eyes as if she couldn't believe what he just said. "If it helps you sleep at night, sure."
"You want to know what else can help me sleep at night?"
"No." She looked away, praying her dirty mind was not written all over her face.
Seeing her reaction, Yu Zhen grinned to himself. "Why not? Did you think I was going to say something suggestive?"
Li Xueyue crossed her arms and retorted, "As if I'd ever think of doing anything suggestive with you."
"Oh, but you'd think of it with another man?" There was a hard edge to Yu Zhen's playful tone. She turned her head to face him, her eyes shining brightly from the lights surrounding her. For a split second there, he saw hesitancy flash in her eyes.
"Who said I would?"
"You didn't say you wouldn't," Yu Zhen remarked when her eyes grew bigger from her curiosity. What was she looking at? She was examining his face as if searching for something. He slightly smiled, softly grabbing her chin with his fingers.
"Like what you see?"
"I don't think you are," he teased, releasing her chin when she slightly pulled back.
"You should keep your hands to yourself," Wen Jinkai snarled from behind, grabbing Li Xueyue who narrowly dodged his hand. His eyes narrowed at her effortless dodge. In her haste, she had directly bumped into someone.
"Why should I?" Yu Zhen challenged with a loose and easygoing smile on his reassured face.
Wen Jinkai's face became solemn and chilly. "Do you really think you'd win against me?"
Yu Zhen's eyes wandered to Li Xueyue. "I already have."
"I'm sorry, are you alright?" Li Xueyue asked, only to surprise herself when she realized she had bumped into Ning Huabing who was accompanied by her friends.
Bai Tianai's eyes widened in shock and horror. From up close, she could see the striking similarity between this woman and Bai Xueyue. She truly was Bai Xueyue.
"Oh. That's fine." Ning Huabing swallowed, her eyes bouncing from Li Xueyue to Bai Tianai. She found it surprising that they had a slight resemblance to each other. It was barely noticeable, but she always had a keen eye.
"Happy birthday," Li Xueyue said with a slight smile, revealing the silver box she had held onto the entire time since she entered the banquet.
"Presents are delivered to the table," Bai Tianai deadpanned, careful of her words as her eyes wandered to Minister Li and both of the Commanders.
She was incredibly wary of all three men and couldn't help but wonder how exactly that brat wormed her way into becoming acquaintances with them.
Li Xueyue tilted her head. "Do I know you?"
Bai Tianai's eyes narrowed suspiciously. What was the point of feigning ignorance? She was obviously Bai Xueyue! But she couldn't reveal this out loud, or else her parents would catch on.
"That's so strange."
"What is?" Bai Tianai asked.
"I don't recall asking for your opinion then."
Bai Tianai was instantly taken back by her bold words. She was nothing like Bai Xueyue. That brat was too meek and quiet to even find the courage to muster insults like that.
Bai Tianai batted her lashes and softly said, "I was merely trying to help you."
"Did I ask you too?"
"Then why did you give it?" Li Xueyue feigned confusion whilst placing a finger on her chin.
"Do you realize who you're talking to?" one of the women surrounding Bai Tianai spoke up.
Li Chenyang raised a brow and barked, "Who gave you the right to talk to a Princess like that?"
When the woman shrank back, Li Xueyue placed a hand on his arm. "She didn't mean any harm, Chen-ge," she innocently said, presenting the woman a welcoming smile. "Right?"
The woman awkwardly fiddled with her fingers. She was confused by the sudden kindness from Xueyue. "R-right…"
"Arrogance is frowned upon," Bai Tianai worriedly said, placing a hand on her chest. "Your behavior today—"
"My behavior?" Li Xueyue repeated, revealing a harmless smile on her welcoming face. "What do you mean?" she innocently batted her lashes.
Bai Tianai gritted her teeth. This wench was copying me! "Lady Li, you're causing a ruckus."
"D-did I offend anyone...?" Li Xueyue sullenly glanced at the floor, an apologetic look on her face. She decided to play the same white lotus card that Bai Tianai was so fond of using.
"Now you've put the birthday girl in a rough predicament." Bai Tianai frowned, shielding Ning Huabing. "How can you be so rude like this? Are you blaming our Huabing?"
Li Xueyue bit her tongue, allowing Bai Tianai to make a fool out of herself.
"It's her birthday today. Don't you think you've overly accessorized yourself?" Bai Tianai gently asked, even though she was more glamorously dressed than all of them when she wasn't supposed to.
Li Xueyue lifted her head with an apologetic look on her face. She inched closer to Li Chenyang, almost shying back in fear. "I only wanted to give a present to Ning Huabing..."
Ning Huabing's eyes widened. She didn't think Li Xueyue was this coy. Her eyes trailed to an infuriated Li Chenyang who instantly placed a comforting hand on Li Xueyue's shoulder. He hugged Xueyue close to him in a protective nature whilst sending an accusing glare towards Bai Tianai.
He was prepared to take Li Xueyue home, which meant he would also be gone.
Ning Huabing immediately shook her head and said, "N-no! You're fine, thank you so much for the present."
Bai Tianai's face snapped to Ning Huabing who threw her an apologetic look. What else was she supposed to do? Continue offending Li Xueyue?
"See, now you've forced Ning Huabing to break the protocols." Bai Tianai softly sighed, shaking her head in dismay. "I'm sorry I dragged you into this Xiao Hua."
Ning Huabing shot her a begging stare to be quiet because the blame was now actually directed to her. Bai Tianai would walk away from this unscathed.
Every pair of eyes landed on them, wondering what was causing so much tension.
Bai Tianai seemed apologetic as she softly hugged Ning Huabing from the side. "I'm so sorry that she's causing this scene, Xiao Hua. It is your birthday after all."
Ning Huabing was placed in a rough predicament. She could only drop her head in shame which instantly made it look like it was Li Xueyue's fault.
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