86 To Be Stronger
Bai Tianai inwardly smiled. Do you really want to turn the tables on me? You're decades too late for that!
"Did I offend you, Miss Bai?" Li Xueyue quietly asked with teary eyes. Another second later and she looked like she was going to cry. Her lips trembled in the most harmless manner.
Bai Tianai raised a brow. Was that the best she could do? "I think you offended Miss Ning."
"By giving her a gift?" Li Xueyue sniffled, her tiny shoulders shaking.
Bai Tianai narrowed her eyes. Was she really going to cry? She was so focused on Li Xueyue, she didn't realize how misleading this scene looked to everyone else.
"You weren't simply giving a present, you were insulting me." Bai Tianai inwardly laughed. This white lotus act was so fake!
"Insulting you?" Li Xueyue blinked, "This is our first encounter."
"Why would my sister waste her time insulting a nobody?" Li Chenyang scoffed. "Look at yourself, Lady Bai. You're creating a ruckus out of nothing."
Bai Tianai was baffled by this and retorted, "I merely pointed out the errors in Li Xueyue's ways."
"What gave you the right to point out her flaws?" Li Chenyang mused. "I think you're more offended by my words, thus decided to take it out on someone else."
Ning Huabing's eyes darted from Li Chenyang to Li Xueyue.
"We're not attention-seekers like you," Li Chenyang deadpanned.
"How am I an attention seeker? I'm merely protecting my friend." Bai Tianai figured she could do the same pitiful act that Xueyue was bravely putting on.
"Why else are you more accessorized than Ning Huabing?" asked Li Xueyue. Her eyes were large and innocent which made her question seem harmless. Bai Tianai was not the only one who could put on a damsel-in-distress show. She had watched her sister long enough to understand how these games worked. It was quite fun to play Bai Tianai's tricks against her.
The onlookers glanced from Bai Tianai to Li Xueyue. Neither girls had a stain on their reputation. To the public, they were so flawless that it was hard to choose sides.
"Do you realize you're dragging Miss Ning's name through the mud by deliberately bringing her up?" Li Xueyue softly and hesitantly said, batting her eyes.
Bai Tianai forced herself to smile. "I'm only looking out for my friend. You've made her uncomfortable, so I have to protect her."
"You protect friends by using them as shields?" Li Xueyue placed a hand over her mouth. "That's not a good habit."
"Xiao Hua this, Xiao Hua that. If you replace the majority of 'Xiao Hua' mentioned, your name would fit perfectly there." Li Xueyue tilted her head like a naive little bunny.
Yu Zhen realized that he had severely underestimated this woman. She had many faces and she knew how to use them perfectly. Innocent. Daring. Shy. She utilized her face to its full potential by playing into the image she wanted to portray. Just as Hu Dengxiao said, a woman who knew her potential was a dangerous one.
She was treating this like childsplay. He could see it in her kneaded brows, forming soft creases on her forehead. She was subtly portraying a white lotus. Schemer—that was what she was.
As her words traveled to the curious onlookers' ears and wormed its way into their brains, many of them began piecing two things together.
"Isn't that Viscount Bai's daughter…?"
"The night has barely begun and she already made a woman cry?"
"What do you mean by already? I didn't think Viscount Bai's daughter was a bully. Look at the poor thing, she seems so upset. What happened?"
Bai Tianai dug her fingers into her palm, forming fists; an action that Li Xueyue did not miss.
"Are you mad at me, Lady Bai?"
"No, of course not."
"Why are you clenching your fists then?"
Bai Tianai instantly relaxed her fingers. She didn't realize it was a force of habit. "Lady Li, what is your motive?"
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together and innocently replied, "To give Ning Huabing her present…?"
"I think your motive is to cause a ruckus."
"I merely came to deliver a present."
"I don't think—"
"No one cares about what you think, Bai Tianai," Li Chenyang scoffed. "You were the one who started this entire conversation by saying 'presents should be delivered to the table.' And now you're feigning ignorance."
He clicked his tongue and said, "I expected better from a Bai."
At this moment, Viscount Bai Sheng finally made his presence known. He strolled towards his daughter and placed a warning hand on her shoulder. "What seems to be the problem here?"
Bai Tianai instantly changed her behavior to maintain her image of a gentle and dutiful daughter in front of her father. The only problem was, her behavior changed too quickly. Her voice became a higher pitch and she plastered on a wronged expression.
She sniffed. "Daddy, I—"
"Wow, did you see that?"
Bai Tianai's stiffened. She instantly realized her mistake and cursed inside her head.
"Viscount Bai," Li Chenyang pleasantly greeted. "It seems your daughter is purposely trying to tarnish our family's reputation."
Li Xueyue felt her soul leave her body at the sight of her intimidating abuser. Even after two years, she still could not forget the horror he had inflicted on her. Even on this day, memories of her past flashed before her eyes, just as her life did when he repeatedly raised a hand at her.
Cold sweat drenched her from head-to-toe. She couldn't even register their exchange of words. Her heart was frozen with fear and she couldn't even move to shield her face from him.
Viscount Bai Sheng nearly choked on his spit. What did this young man just say? He was years his junior and he dared to point fingers at Bai Tianai, his perfect daughter?!
"That seems to be your motive," Viscount Bai Sheng countered.
"What benefit would I obtain from tarnishing the reputation of an unknown aristocrat?" Li Chenyang laughed. "Besides, why did you only bring one daughter? I heard rumors that you had another one."
Viscount Bai Sheng's composed face darkened incredibly. "What do you mean?"
Li Xueyue felt her entire body tense in horror. She didn't think Li Chenyang would know about this. Did he know… that she was Viscount Bai's daughter?
"Don't tell me, you forgot your second daughter?" Li Chenyang raised an expectant brow.
When Viscount Bai Sheng's displeased eyes traveled from Li Chenyang and attempted to wander to Li Xueyue, a figure blocked his view.
Wen Jinkai had deliberately shifted his body until Li Xueyue was stealthily hidden behind his large arm.
Expertly hidden from unnecessary attention, a hand touched hers. Li Xueyue glanced down and to her surprise, it was Wen Jinkai's. He wrapped his fingers around her hand, clenching it with reassurance.
She didn't need him to fight her battles. She was not that type of woman. But there were certain times that required her to swallow her pride and now was the best one. She could not risk staring directly into his eyes. If she did, all of her confidence and haughtiness would disperse like the facade it was.
'I need to be stronger,' was the sole thought running through her head.
She believed she needed to be stronger to face Viscount Bai head-on. She needed to be stronger so that she did not have to rely on others. After all these years of never being able to rely on someone, she never had the solace of resting on someone else's shoulders.
'If I wasn't so weak… I would have argued for myself. I wouldn't have burdened Li Chenyang.' Guilt and remorse filled her entire heart, squeezing it painfully.
"Well?" Li Chenyang humorlessly smiled.
Viscount Bai Sheng laughed. "What are you talking about?"
"Did you forget your other daughter?"
Viscount Bai Sheng swallowed. How did Minister Li Shenyang know of that girl? There were only a handful of people who knew of Li Xueyue's existence.
"What are you talking about? I didn't have another…" he trailed off when he saw his wife's face, pale with disbelief. The only problem was, Viscountess Mu Yihua was not looking at him. The Viscountess was looking at the back of a girl that she'd never thought she would see again.