An awkward silence fell over the four of them, weighing them down.
Yu Zhen was the only one who didn't seem affected. He sat there, sipping his tea without a care in the world, peering over his teacup to study Li Xueyue.
She was munching on the cookies without a single care in the world. Her lack of awareness of the environment only made him more intrigued by her. She was raised with all of these rules of etiquette, yet she enjoyed breaking all of them down.
"So, uh…" Li Wenmin spoke up when he finished two plates of cookies. "Are we going to address the elephant in the room?" He threw a look towards Yu Zhen.
"No, we won't." Li Xueyue left it there, refusing to speak any more about her love life. Her response did not satisfy any of the twins, but what could they do? Convince her to not see him? Would she even listen?
Creases formed on Li Chenyang's forehead while he contemplated over his words. He needed to convince Li Xueyue that intertwining her fate with the Prince of Hanjian would not be the smartest decision right now. Especially with Wen Jinkai who was unwilling to put his pride away, but also reluctant to let Xueyue go.
"What are your plans right now, Xueyue?" Li Chenyang asked, deliberately wording his question in a way that favored her. In reality, he was trying to dissect her thought process and mold it into his favor.
Li Xueyue was a jumbled mess of mixed emotions and pure uncertainty. She didn't mean to cross paths with Wen Jinkai nor did she mean to stumble across Yu Zhen. All she wanted to do was put her plan of vengeance to place. She hadn't thought about her future at all or the people who could impact her life.
"I didn't mean for any of this to happen," Li Xueyue finally admitted.
"I know." Li Chenyang's tone was filled with understanding, but the weariness buried in his eyes said otherwise. "Maybe, we should focus on the current problems and then we can discuss your love life."
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together. As much as he wanted to sort out the feelings between him and Xueyue, her safety was his current priority. He had already made too many enemies for himself. The list alone could stretch from the top of the palace stairs to the cement ground.
"I'm sure you're aware of this, but the Emperor has called you into the Palace again," Li Chenyang said.
He heard from the Eunuchs that the royal family was far from happy regarding the news of her absence. Duke Li Shenyang handled the situation well, but not without complications.
"You're the only unwed Princess living outside of the Palace walls," Li Chenyang pointed out. "The Emperor has plans of moving you into the Palace. It's protocol."
"I thought we went over this already." Li Xueyue frowned, remembering the conversation that took place the last time this was brought up.
"Yes, but we can't ignore the laws set in place to keep Princesses safe. The Imperial Family believes you will be safer in the Palace than in the Li Manor."
"Which is stupid," Li Wenmin spat out, disgusted that his uncle had so little faith in them. "All of the Li guards are the cream of the crop. None of them misses a day of training. Everyone takes turns to train while others fulfil their duties as guards to the Li family."
"Yes, but laws are laws." Li Chenyang sighed. "A week from now, there will be a Eunuch coming to make a public announcement in front of our manor's entrance demanding you to pack your bags for the Palace."
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip. She was growing aggravated by the Emperor's meddling. What made her so unique that he could not stop bothering her? Everyone has a motive. What was his?
"No one can force a third-rank Princess into marriage, is that correct?" Li Xueyue asked.
"Yes, but the problem is, the person acknowledging the marriage will be the Imperial Family," Li Chenyang confirmed.
Li Xueyue frowned. "If the Emperor wants me to marry someone, he can make it happen without my consent."
"Precisely." Li Chenyang fumed. "What's the point of giving that long speech at the tournament when he's going to be the one to break his own rules?"
"One day, that's going to change," Duke Li Shenyang reassured. He stepped into the room with his hands folded behind him, a tired smile on his features.
"Father, you're home early," Li Chenyang pointed out.
For a split second, Duke Li Shenyang's attention was on Yu Zhen—the only person not part of their plan. Unless… An idea came to Duke Li Shenyang's mind. It would be insane, but worth it if it could guarantee her protection.
"I'd like a private discussion with you, Chenyang. Why don't you join me in private study?" Duke Li Shenyang asserted.
Li Chenyang turned his attention to Yu Zhen. "And what about this Commander?" he asked.
Yu Zhen understood his presence was not needed here. For now. "I have places to be," he noted, standing up.
Li Xueyue tensed when he brushed past her, his fingers momentarily grazing her shoulder. It happened so quickly, no one saw it. Her eyes were attracted to him, watching his every move.
He was aware of this and instead of playing with her emotions, he reassured her with a lopsided smile. "Have a good day, Princess."
"Likewise, Commander," she retorted.
He softly chuckled at her pettiness. If he refused to call her by her name, she'd do the same thing. He nodded in greeting to the Duke before excusing himself.
Duke Li Shenyang's knowing eyes followed Yu Zhen the entire time he walked down the hallways until he turned the corner and disappeared from sight. "We'll address this issue," he decided.
Li Xueyue knew the Duke was directly talking to her. "Of course."
"Good." Duke Li Shenyang's smile widened. "And Wenmin, why don't you tag along as well? We have much to discuss."
"Without me?" Li Xueyue raised a brow.
"We all have your best interest in mind," Duke Li Shenyang assured her. "Do not worry, child. You will be safe."
Li Xueyue believed him but she didn't understand his ending words. She would be safe. From what or whom? The Emperor? What was so dangerous about him? Did he know something that he could not say? Her head snapped towards Li Chenyang, catching him by surprise. He averted her gaze, only to regret it, and stared into her curious eyes.
'He knows something,' Li Xueyue thought to herself. Something that neither of them wanted to say. What was it?
"Is there something I should know?"
"No," Li Wenmin affirmed.
"Of course not," Duke Li Shenyang confirmed.
"Don't worry about it," Li Chenyang stated.
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Are you sure I shouldn't worry?"
"There are some concerning details," Li Chenyang said. "But we'll try to find a solution. So, don't worry too much. Okay?"
Duke Li Shenyang quirked a brow at his son's willingness to share confidential information. He'd have to speak to him about this later. It'd be best if she was kept in the dark, or else the more she knew, the more she'd panic and make illogical moves. Then again, she had rarely made a foolish decision, but that didn't mean she couldn't.
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. "Will you tell me what happens in the discussion?" she asked no one in particular.
"For now, it's best if you don't know a thing," Duke Li Shenyang insisted.
"Even though it's about me?" Li Xueyue questioned.
"Unfortunately, yes," Duke Li Shenyang responded. "I do hope you can understand."
Li Xueyue frowned, but didn't respond.
Duke Li Shenyang didn't feel the need to argue about this further. He beckoned the twins to leave with him.
"I'll see you later, Xiao Yue." Li Wenmin patted her head and Li Chenyang simply walked out of the room.
Li Xueyue watched their figures strut past her window. Despite being related, neither of their footsteps were in sync.
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