If there was a place Li Xueyue loved to wander, it would be the merchant stalls of the Capital. It was an entire street lined with colorful tents and vendors of all sorts. Festive music bustled in the air, children chased after each other, lively chatter, and there was a unique smell in the air. Foreign travelers from every corner of the country were gathered today who sold a variety of items ranging from accessories to spices to materials.
After handing the horses off to the stables, Li Xueyue was eager to explore. She easily wove through the crowd of people, forgetting who she had come with.
Almost every stall caught her attention, whether it was selling accessories or food like dried fruits. Li Xueyue couldn't help but stop in front of every one of them, curiously examining the products being sold whilst unknowingly, everything she touched was brought.
"Are you forgetting something?" a husky voice sounded behind her just as a pair of arms caged her against a table. He hovered over her, watching as she turned a polished black stone in her hand.
It was smooth but when Li Xueyue wrapped her fingers around it, heat emitted from the oddly colored pebble.
"Isn't it pretty?" Li Xueyue asked, not caring about their intimacy. Her face was covered by a veil anyways and there were guards surrounding them.
Li Xueyue held the stone up to the sunlight, revealing the burst of colors hidden beneath the darkness. She was instantly mesmerized by it, in awe at the various hues of its brilliance. Despite the speckles of color, nothing could ever mask the beauty of the obsidian black.
"Look at the colors!" She swiveled around, showing it to him.
Yu Zhen was caught off-guard by her abrupt movement. He had expected her to shy back from him but she was now facing him, her face so close to his.
When she naively smiled up at him, her eyelashes innocently batting, he could feel himself fall helplessly in love with her.
Li Xueyue was going to be the death of him. She was as beautiful as the masterpieces of Heaven but that wasn't what drew him to her. Words couldn't describe what he felt towards her, nor could he pinpoint exactly what he liked about her. He just did.
He was originally going to tease her for abandoning him whilst she bounced from one merchant to the other. He had instructed his men to buy everything she so much looked at for more than three seconds. It had gotten so bad that many people were beginning to notice this generous patronage and many were eagerly waiting for the young lady to visit their stall.
"What do you think?" she eagerly asked him, showing him the magnificent stone.
Yu Zhen saw no purpose in it, for it was just a pretty rock but she regarded it with a higher degree, thus, he smiled for her and said, "It's beautiful."
She placed it beside his eyes, a childish smile resting on her lips. There were so much joy and excitement on her face that he couldn't look at anything but her.
A wave of possessiveness washed over him. He wanted her and only her in this lifetime. There would be no one else who could ever replace her.
"They're the color of your eyes!"
"What?" Yu Zhen softly chuckled when she showed it to him again. "My eyes couldn't possibly be this dazzling—"
"But they are." Li Xueyue grabbed one of his hands that was firmly grasping the table for control. She placed the stone in his fingers and used her hand to wrap his fingers around it.
"It's warm to the touch," he pointed out, unable to understand the meaning of her actions. "People say my eyes are the worst features of me. They're dull—"
"This stone is also dull, until light fills the infinite abyss and creates a world of colors." She reached up to touch his face, his entire body stiffened. He held his breath, allowing her to do as she pleased. Even with all of the noise in the background, the only thing he could hear was the rapid beating of his heart.
"Just like you."
Yu Zhen felt his chest swell with adoration for this little lady. He could not find it in himself to respond to her compliment. He was a Prince. He had grown up listening to flattery, but none would ever compare to her words, so soft and genuine, he believed it in a heartbeat.
"Am I hot like the stone as well?" he teased but she easily took the bait, rapidly nodding her head.
She shook her head. "I find it strange that you call me Sunshine, but you're always emitting a comforting warmth like no other."
Abruptly, he embraced her, not caring if they were garnering attention from their intimacy. He hugged her like his life depended on it—as if there was no one in the world that he'd cherish more than her. He tightly squeezed her, burying his face into the crook of her neck.
"Where have you been all my life," he muttered under his breath, the sound too soft for her to decipher.
"Can you repeat that? I didn't hear you," she mumbled against his clothes, her arms squeezed between them. She couldn't move a limb, but he was too focused on hugging her to realize.
Finally, he released her, his eyes ignited with passion.
Li Xueyue almost mistook it with lust until she saw the gigantic grin on his face. He truly was the most magnificent sight she had ever witnessed. Nothing could ever compare to his smile. She could tell it came from deep within him, spreading the happiness to every inch of him and their surroundings.
"What did you say before?"
"Nevermind that." He laughed, turning to the merchant. "We'll take it."
"Thank you for the patronage!" the vendor exclaimed just as a pretty maidservant placed the payment on his palms.
Before Li Xueyue could see the price, he turned her head to face him.
"You didn't have to buy it, I was merely admiring it—"
"Too late. It's said and done."
"But—" Li Xueyue trailed off when she finally realized the guards surrounding them. A few of them were carrying things, ranging from spice bags to boxes of various sizes.
"What's that?" she asked and pointed to the boxes in his guards' arms.
"You'll find out later," Yu Zhen reassured her while he took her hand and placed the stone on her palm. He wrapped his hand over hers until her icy fingertips were slowly turning warm.
"What type of stone is this?" Li Xueyue asked.
"It's a black fire opal usually found in the depths of volcanoes," Yu Zhen explained without hesitation.
He was grateful that his hobby as a kid was collecting rocks. It was something he was genuinely fond of until his father severely reprimanded him that the hand of a Prince should never graze the ground. When Yu Zhen didn't listen, the Emperor spared no mercy and ordered fifty lashings on the hand, until the skin was raw and a bleeding mess. Luckily, there wasn't permanent scarring, but the event was enough to traumatize a young boy.
"You should keep it. It'll make a lovely necklace."
"Or a ring."
"What?" Li Xueyue touched her left ear, wondering if she heard him correctly.
"Nothing." Yu Zhen gently smiled, grabbing the hand resting on her ear. "Shall we explore more?"
Completely oblivious to the money being spent today, Li Xueyue eagerly nodded her head. "Let's visit the food vendors next!"
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