After breakfast was settled, Li Xueyue was ushered back into her room where she was supposed to remain bedridden.
Playing with the pages of her geography book, she sighed, twirling the quill in her pen in utter boredom. She was tired of studying all day; there was only so much she could learn about the territories surrounding Wuyi and the routes leading to Hanjian.
"Studious as always," a lazy voice commented from her door.
Her head snapped in that direction, her eyes widening in disbelief when she saw his large frame leaning against the door.
"What are you doing here? Who keeps on letting you into my room?" Li Xueyue asked, even though she was grateful for his company. Though, she couldn't let him know that, else his massive ego would be stoked.
"As warm as ever, Sunshine." Yu Zhen snorted.
"I'd be a lot nicer if you made appointments instead of coming as you please."
His eyes flashed with amusement. He wondered if she could hear the double meaning of her curious words.
"Also, this isn't good for either of our reputation if you continue to visit me like this." Li Xueyue frowned, her eyes darting to the door. She didn't want to sound so spoiled and bratty, but these things had to be said. Once or twice was fine, but now… they should publically establish what they were, but what were they? Friends?
What if Wen Jinkai was right and that she's coming off as a loose woman? In an era like this, a woman's virtue meant everything.
Yu Zhen thoughtfully considered her remarks. "I will take that into consideration."
Li Xueyue blinked at his vagueness.
"Also, aren't you glad to see me? I've come to whisk you away from your cage."
She unknowingly brightened, her face filled with joy like a child stumbling into a surprise birthday party.
"Really?" she asked.
"Really," he confirmed.
"Yes," he deadpanned, raising a brow at her childish antics. She dropped her book and quill without a second thought, springing up from her chair.
"Today the traveling merchants are in town, it'll be festive and fun." Yu Zhen could not suppress his adoring smile for her.
"Really?" she asked, rushing to get ready.
"I'm beginning to regret pulling you away from your studies. Clearly, you need to learn bigger vocabulary words," he humored.
Yu Zhen watched as she hooked a thin veil from one side of her ear to the other, revealing nothing but her bright eyes, shimmering like stars. He shuddered at his own vocabulary, deciding she was right, he was indeed very cheesy.
"Why are you wearing a veil?" he genuinely asked.
She arranged her hair to hide the gold thread holding the veil upright. "Well, I'm supposed to be bedridden. It's not the best idea to leisurely stroll outside with my face on display. What if the Emperor hears of the truth?"
Yu Zhen instantly picked up on how careful she was with her words. "I see."
"Did you get permission from my parents to take me on an outing?"
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together. "No."
"What?" She turned to him, her eyes instantly flooded with disappointment. The excitement and whirl of energy from before died down. Her eyes, that shimmered like topaz under sunlight, suddenly dimmed to a dull river pebble.
"Then I'm not sure if I can go—"
"But one of your brothers recommended for me to take you out," Yu Zhen quickly explained, his heart racing with panic. He eagerly searched her face, wishing he would see her features properly. The veil was thin and barely hid her features, but from their distance, he could only see her doe eyes, like a little deer nipping in the forest.
"Which one…?" Li Xueyue asked, grateful for their help.
"The one who thinks he's so cool because he's as chill as an iceberg, but in reality, he's just too arrogant."
"Hey! Chen-ge is not arrogant!" she bit out, her eyes widening in his defense. Besides, if one was in the same position as him, they should have every right to be proud of their accomplishments.
"Well, it's an adequate description. He instantly came to your mind didn't he?" Yu Zhen smiled.
"You shouldn't insult him."
"Who said arrogance is an insult? It's good to be confident in yourself." His smile widened when she hesitated.
"Well, are you coming, Sunshine?" He stretched a hand in her direction, waiting for her to take it.
Li Xueyue stared intently at his palm, covered by a thick leather glove. He seemed extra intimidating with his outfit, dark and well-fitted, hugging his muscles perfectly. Her eyes flickered to the design of his clothes, a daring dragon roaring up his chest. From the sleek sleeves that protected his forearm to the loose white jacket, everything about him screamed perfection that she dared not trifle with.
Noticing her clear hesitation, Yu Zhen instantly slid his gloves off. "Force of habit," he explained, handing it to someone behind him that she recognized was a foreign guard.
"There, all better now. Isn't it?" he mused, stretching his hand out.
She slipped her hand on top of his, barely touching his hand. His fingers instantly closed around her tiny hand. If only she knew, he'd never let her go from now on. With their hands entwined, he tugged her forward until she was standing closer to him.
"You're brazen," she stated, just as one hand wrapped around her lower back, hugging her closer to him. He towered over her, enough for him to comfortably rest his chin on top of her head if he wanted to.
They were in the comfort of her room, but she realized how touchy he was. Were all men in Hanjian like this? Were they less judging of women there? No one ever placed the blame on men in Wuyi, but of course, it was like this in many parts of the continent.
"That's a sophisticated word," he teased, tilting his head down so she did not have to crane her neck so much. He quite enjoyed this intimate position where her guard was finally lowered and she was admiring his features, her eyes wandering.
"You're improving, I'm impressed." He softly chuckled when she kicked him on the shin. It stung, but he had too much pride to admit it. He simply smiled at the cub trying to be a lion.
"Don't you have better things to do than bully me?"
Yu Zhen's eyes raked over her face, staring deeply into her eyes. His lips twitched from his suppressed smirk. Yet another remark with double meaning. She accused him of bullying her, but she was the biggest tease he had ever met.
He leaned down, her body tensed up in response. Gently and teasingly, his lips grazed her ear, tickling her. "I prefer to do you instead."
Li Xueyue tilted her head, not quite understanding the dark meaning of his words. To do…? Her eyes widened in utter disbelief and instantly, she tried to take her hand back but it was already too late. She was already caught in his trap.
Yu Zhen loudly laughed at her realization, his chest rumbling. He bit his bottom lip when her pale skin flushed a lovely pink hue and he decided from now on, that would be his favorite color.
"Easy now, little cub." He soothed her attempts to struggle free and her feeble kicks.
"How can you say such dirty words in public?!"
"And how can you understand them so quickly? Unless, you're dirty-minded yourself," Yu Zhen taunted.
"That's because it's so obvious!"
"Are you sure it was?" he chided, shaking his head. "Who would've thought such a strict woman had the dirtiest mind?"
"I don't have a dirty mind!" Li Xueyue argued, her face growing redder and redder by the second.
"Oh, but you do."
"No, I don't."
"I can argue with you all day, darling," Yu Zhen teased. He was unable to wipe the large smile on his face. She was so flustered, she wasn't thinking properly.
"Me too," she argued back.
"So you're admitting it," he pointed out
"That not only are you dirty-minded, but you're petty as well," he deadpanned.
Her jaw dropped open in disbelief at his fallacious accusations. "You—you—!"
"Yes, yes, I'm incredibly shameless for cornering you like this." His smile widened for her, reaching his eyes when she retorted to a petty, "Hmph!"
"Has anyone ever told you that you're cute—"
"—When I'm mad." She finished for him. "You need better phrases."
"Oh, I'm sure you're great at flirting then, Miss Know-It-All," he scoffed, lifting his hand to stretch her cheeks but she beat him to the chase and grabbed his instead, angrily pulling at both of it together. To her irritation, he had no baby fat on his face and she was only pulling at his flawless skin.
He barked another teasing laughter at her feeble attempts and her height. She was on her tippy-toes and with just one poke, she toppled on top of him.
"Why are we always falling onto each other!" she grumbled in irritation when she crashed onto his chest, but as always, he was able to steady them both. It gave him the perfect opportunity to hug her tightly, while comfortably resting his chin on top of her head. He relished in this unexpected embrace, enjoying the scent of her hair and the coolness of her skin.
"I'd prefer if you fell in love with me instead," he told her.
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