Li Xueyue was worried about the condition of her heart. It fell when he left but jumped when he turned his head back to wink at her before leaving.
She was puzzled by his unexpected behavior. He was a confusing man with hidden motives. He was different from Wen Jinkai in every way possible. Dazzling like the sun and mellow like the moon, Yu Zhen was a man with too many personalities. He wasn't traditionally aloof, nor was he unnecessarily kind.
As a matter of fact, she didn't know anything about him.
Her eyes subconsciously sought for him in the crowd, similar to when her eyes were solely focused on Wen Jinkai. That sneaky Yu Zhen… now that he had her attention, he decided to make her work for him.
She jumped when someone brushed past her, a soft whisper following after, "Meet me behind the willow tree."
By the time Li Xueyue turned to see who it was, the person was gone.
For a brief moment, she looked in the direction that Wen Jinkai was in. He hadn't moved, but his rigid lips were slightly curled upwards. It was barely noticeable from afar, but she'd be able to recognize that lopsided smile from miles away. He hadn't glanced at her the entire time. Only when he felt her stare did he raise his eyes, but she was long gone.
Li Xueyue ignored the uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. She didn't care if he was surrounded by women. She didn't care about his push and pull game. She didn't care about him and his lies.
Standing under the thick willow tree was none other than Ning Huabing. She ushered them behind the large concave of the tree, walking them to the other side so that no one would catch them together.
"What are we?" Ning Huabing asked, turning her face to Li Xueyue.
To Li Xueyue's pleasant surprise, her present was put to good use. A daring pair of ruby earrings rested comfortably on Ning Huabing's ears, sparkling with each movement.
"You make it sound like we're a couple," Li Xueyue snorted, crossing her arms whilst she leaned against the stubbly bark of the tree.
Ning Huabing raised a brow. "Seriously? That's the first thing you think of?"
Li Xueyue shrugged in response while observing her surroundings. The willow tree was relatively healthy and its hanging branches created a thick curtain around them, shielding them from any wandering eyes. In particular, they couldn't be spotted by Bai Tianai and her cronies.
"Why are you after Bai Tianai?"
"Why should I tell you?" Li Xueyue deadpanned.
"I need to know your motive to carry out your plans."
"Who said anything about plans?" Li Xueyue turned to Ning Huabing who was playing with one of the branches near her.
"Why else do you want to befriend me?"
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. "Fair point."
"What will I get out of you using me?"
"I wouldn't call it using you," Li Xueyue worriedly said, her brows coming together. "I just want to become friends with you."
"Oh, please. No one wants to be friends with me for the sake of being friends. Everyone always wants something." Ning Huabing sighed, twirling a branch in between her fingers.
"Of course they do. The healthiest relationships are the ones where both parties benefit from it," Li Xueyue pointed out.
"Then what will I be benefiting from this?" Ning Huabing curiously asked. She needed everything to be established before she could trust anyone. She needed to know what's in it for her.
Being friends with someone like Bai Tianai was comforting for Ning Huabing. She felt a sense of familiarity in being friends with Bai Tianai because that's what her life had mainly consisted of—friendships with other aristocratic daughters in a close-knit circle.
"What do you want?" Li Xueyue genuinely asked.
Ning Huabing didn't spell it out but there was a sense of despair in her eyes. "Believe it or not, I turn 21 today."
Li Xueyue's eyes widened. She had no idea Ning Huabing was three years older than her.
"My mother fears I would grow old and lonely just because no one has courted me."
"What?!" Li Xueyue hissed, throwing a look of disbelief towards Ning Huabing. The girl was gorgeous! How come no one came forth?
"I mean… there have been a few suitors here and there, but they always… just, well I don't know." Ning Huabing shrugged. "They always disappear on me."
"Did they say why?" Li Xueyue pressed on, equally as confused as Ning Huabing. Why did she have a suspicion that someone was behind all of this?
"I don't know," Ning Huabing groaned. "They're always like this when they meet my… oh nevermind." She sighed, not wanting to sound like she was blaming outside influences.
"My point is, I don't want to be a leftover woman ."
"Leftover?" Li Xueyue was taken back. Ning Huabing was only 21! Her life had barely begun!
"Girls older than the ripe marriage age of 18 to 21 become leftovers…"
"That's so stupid," Li Xueyue scoffed. Sometimes she felt like she was born in the wrong era.
"I know," Ning Huabing huffed while plucking one of the small leaves off the branch she was playing with. "Most of my friends already have someone courting them. I mean, Bai Tianai has Zheng Leiyu, but there's also someone else she's—oh nevermind. I'm rambling. Sorry."
Li Xueyue's eyes narrowed. Someone else?
"But you get my point, don't you?"
"You want me to find you a suitor?" Li Xueyue deadpanned, blinking in disbelief. She could not wrap her head around the fact that Ning Huabing herself was having difficulty. It shouldn't be possible… unless someone was meddling with her chances of success.
"Yes, and in return, I'll help you."
Li Xueyue was suspicious of Ning Huabing's alliance. "Prove to me you can be loyal."
Li Xueyue straightened when she spotted a group of women in the distance—Bai Tianai's friends. They were looking around, obviously searching for Ning Huabing.
"I'll leave that up to you."
"I know," Li Xueyue said, "I need to test your intelligence as well."
"Aren't you worried that I'll snitch on you?"
Li Xueyue laughed, her face lighting up with mirth. She didn't look the slightest bit offended. "Trust me, you don't want me as your enemy."
Li Xueyue giggled, the sound was airy and gentle. "Because I can be your worst nightmare." With that said, she left the seclusion of the willow tree and left.
Ning Huabing nervously bit her bottom lip while contemplating a great plan to prove her loyalty. She mindlessly fiddled with her new earrings just as someone caught her eye. Instantly, she straightened up and decided to approach him. The man that Bai Tianai was in cahoots with.
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