Li Xueyue searched for Li Chenyang so that they could head home.
Her first scheme against Bai Tianai was already dealt with. She had given Ning Huabing her present and wished her a birthday. She had stayed here for a while now and felt like there was no need to remain here any longer if there was no benefit to it aside from companionship. Besides, it was getting late, and a few people also shared the same mindset.
Walking through the crowd, she was abruptly grabbed by the elbow. She turned around, shocked to see the person who had a tight grip on her was none other than a displeased Wen Jinkai. He didn't wait for her to say anything before he began dragging her to a secluded area near the rose bushes.
Li Xueyue crossed her arms, leaning against one of the large trees near the bush. She'd prefer if her identity was kept hidden. No one else was around them.
"What do you want from me, Commander?"
Wen Jinkai's eyes were brewing a storm, dangerous enough to drown her. His aura was tense and threatened to suffocate her alive. The atmosphere was awkward. He didn't know what to do with her.
Her attention momentarily flickered to the tick of his jaw when he clenched it and the creases between his knitted brows.
"Why are you like this?" Commander Wen Jinkai growled. To his irritation, she crossed her arms across her chest, almost in a protective manner. Did she think he'd hurt her?
"What are you getting from playing around with other men?"
"What?" Li Xueyue hissed in disbelief.
"You were publicly declared to be promised to me and now you're involved with Yu Zhen."
"How does that concern you?" Li Xueyue scowled. "You made it clear you wanted nothing to do with me—"
"I made it clear that I wanted everything to do with you!" he snarled, storming to her.
She didn't take a timid step backward to create distance. Instead, she raised her head and glared deeply into his eyes. A storm against a hurricane.
"No, you didn't," Li Xueyue calmly responded. She preferred to argue in the most passive voice. Not because she wanted to anger him, but because loud voices do not prompt open ears.
"You gave me a vague answer and expect me to read your mind," she continued, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.
"I gave you a vague answer because I wasn't sure of what I felt. Why are you so impatient for an answer? Is it so wrong to be friends and wait it out—"
"Friends?" Li Xueyue repeated, gesturing to the proximity he had forced them to be in. "Do friends get jealous over another man? Do friends talk about marriage? Do friends lash out like this?"
Wen Jinkai pressed his lips together. "Are you so eager to cage a man like me?"
"Do you know what people might think of you? A loose woman."
Li Xueyue almost smacked him. She had raised her hand, her eyes wide with frustration. He didn't even flinch. He simply glared at her, daring her to hit him.
Her heart was racing, her blood boiling, and her breath quickened. She was enraged by his insults, by his bold accusations. Who the hell did he think he was?!
She roughly grabbed him by the collars, yanking his head down so they were the same height.
"Don't you ever call me that when you think with your dick and not your brain," she seethed.
Li Xueyue then shoved him away from her, but he grabbed her shoulders and slammed her back against the tree bark.
Li Xueyue bit down on her tongue to not cry out in pain. He had hurt her; it was written all over her face, but he turned a blind eye to her emotions.
"I said that for your own good," he growled.
"Just like how dragging me to a secluded place was for my own good?"
He violently punched the tree, so close to her head that she tensed. The tree shook from the force as leaves tumbled down. Her eyes widened and for the first time in their encounter, she was fearful of him.
"What?" she asked in disbelief.
"Apologize and take back what you said." Wen Jinkai was calm and collected, his voice cool and placid, but nothing could mask the fury in his eyes.
Li Xueyue felt her heart drop all the way to the pit of her stomach. She looked away from him, but he grabbed her jaw and forced her to stare at nothing but him. Goosebumps crawled up her arms, and she shivered against the iciness in his eyes.
"I'm sorry!" Li Xueyue fumed. It was then she had lost all hope in him. He had hurt her, but she was the one to apologize for it.
Finally, Wen Jinkai released her, and she immediately seized that opportunity to run. It surprised him when she whirled past him. He immediately reached for her wrist, only to grab her sleeves.
"You shouldn't run in these clothes—" he paused when he saw the look on her face. Her eyes were shaking and she looked like she saw a ghost.
"You're scared of me," Wen Jinkai pointed out, slowly releasing her sleeves.
She didn't respond, her face a mixture of disgust, hatred, and dread.
Wen Jinkai's face instantly softened, terrified by the idea that she'd always feel frightful around him. He didn't want to hurt her. "Little Fawn, I was just angry with myself. I didn't mean to scare you."
Remorse was painted all over his face, his eyes becoming as gentle as the soothing waves of the ocean. "Come here, Little Fawn." His voice dripped of sweet promises and adoration. "You're shaking, let me—"
"I'd appreciate it if you keep a distance from me," Li Xueyue told him.
"Have a good night, Commander," Li Xueyue briskly told him before fleeing back to the banquet that had come to a closure. People were all leaving one by one, filing into the carriages.
Li Xueyue could feel the desperation in his penetrating stare before she looked away. She told herself she shouldn't look back at him, but she did. He was leaning against the tree, a hand over his face in disbelief.
"Xueyue?" Li Chenyang spoke, happy and glad that he had found her.
Where did she wander off to? He had been searching for her for a while now. Relief flooded him when she turned to face him, but it was quickly replaced by suspicion.
"What happened?" he asked, stepping closer to her. She looked terrified out of her mind. He could see it in the way her eyes nervously darted from him to the ground.
"Did someone do something to you? Did someone hurt you?" he worriedly asked, bending his head to her height. She didn't reply.
"Who was it?" he whispered to which she shook her head, still shaken up by what had just happened to her.
"A name. All you had to do is give me a name and he'll never bother you again. I promise."
For the second time tonight, she felt sheer terror. No one in this world could oppose Wen Jinkai. Whatever he wanted, he'd get. With no consequences.
She realized no one could protect her from him. She realized no amount of guards would keep her safe from him. He possessed more power and influence than she had anticipated. And he wouldn't hesitate to use it against her.
She would never feel safe. Ever again.
Li Chenyang saw the dread on her face. "Xueyue…" he trailed off, unsure of what to tell her.
"I want to go home," she pleaded.
He lowered his face and whispered, "It's Wen Jinkai isn't it?"
"I don't want to talk about it—"
"I'm going to destroy him." Li Chenyang snarled, straightening up, but she grabbed him.
"Chen-ge, I just want to go home."
"Did he do anything to you?" he seriously asked, grabbing her.
Li Chenyang had to know it was truly over. He was prepared to cut all ties with Wen Jinkai, but he needed her confirmation first. Their friendship was already strained by an incident that occurred way before Xueyue's arrival at the Li Manor, but this incident would forever ruin it.
'He hurt me and then I apologized for it.' The confession rested on the tip of her tongue.
"I don't want any trouble, Chen-ge."
"You won't get in trouble."
"I will." Li Xueyue looked around them and whispered, "I have a suspicion why the Emperor finds it so interesting to poke and jab at me."
"It's because he doesn't like the idea of Wen Jinkai being near me."
"I guess I finally have something in common with my uncle," Li Chenyang scoffed. "Don't worry Xueyue," he leaned into her ear and discreetly whispered, "Father warned him."
Li Xueyue blinked. "How is that possible?"
"Just trust me," Li Chenyang warmly told her, patting her cheek. "Are you sure you want to continue protecting him like this?"
Li Xueyue stared at the ground, finding it oddly fun to count every single pebble on the path. She didn't want to be the reason why a friendship had ended. It'd feel like... she's a friendship wrecker? Besides, this was her issue to deal with. She had been all alone for most of her life and it made it difficult for her to ever rely and depend on someone else for their help.
"Yes. I'm sure."
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