Yu Zhen didn't think a woman could have a bigger appetite than him until he met Li Xueyue. He was already stuffed from the variety of snacks they had, ranging from tanghulu to rice cake on a stick, but she was still browsing for other things to snack on.
When he had turned his back to her for a brief second, she came up to him with two large buns in her hands, a bright expression on her face.
Yu Zhen should've been appalled, but he merely laughed at her childish antics. He didn't think she was capable of being this excited over a simple tour of the merchant stalls. He didn't realize the extent of her boredom in her room.
She was brimming with excitement over exploring the city further and spending the day outside, even if it was in a rowdy and crowded area.
"What are the fillings?" he found himself asking, though he didn't care for the answer. He simply wanted to hear her babble about random things.
"One of them has a smooth red bean paste and the other is a new flavor, it's made with green beans, but I wasn't paying attention, so I don't know which is which."
Li Xueyue looked from her left to her right hand. "Would you like one?" she asked.
He shook his head and replied, "I'm very full."
"Oh, pity." She shrugged, but her expression didn't match her words.
"Where did you get such a big appetite from?" Yu Zhen snickered, watching as she happily bit into the left bun, her eyes widening.
"Its green bean paste!"
"Is it?" He brushed a crumb from the side of her lips, shaking his head at her excitement over food. What was so interesting about food? The only thing that he felt was interesting was watching her eat. He enjoyed watching her lack of awareness of her surroundings.
By now, she had taken off her veil just to enjoy the snacks, but his men had formed a protective barrier around them. No one would be able to see her tiny frame, but they could see Yu Zhen who was a bit taller than most of his guards.
"Yep, which means this one has red bean paste!" She nodded to her right hand.
Yu Zhen laughed while sticking his hand out for a wet handkerchief that one of his servants easily handed to him. He cleaned her left hand, a tiny smile on his face.
"Does food make you that happy?"
"Yes, of course. Doesn't it make you happy?" she asked, staring at his large hand. She noticed how amusing it was that his hand could easily swallow hers whole.
"Not really." Yu Zhen's smile softened a bit.
He never found food enjoyable. Every time he had his meal, he was always alone. It had been like this since birth. He was raised without love and because of it, he rarely found things he enjoyed. He lived a life of luxury, but hated everything about it.
From the quiet servants to the immoral lessons of ethics, there was nothing enjoyable about his life. His lessons of "ethics" always consisted of thinking about himself before others. As a Prince, his duty was to worry about his country, not his people. To some extent, it was brainwashing and he didn't fall for it.
"Oh." Li Xueyue frowned, "Why not?"
"I ate my meals alone. It was hard to enjoy it."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. "Despite being surrounded by servants, it gets lonely doesn't it?"
Yu Zhen was taken back by her words. Did she feel the same?
"It's understandable. Feeling alone in a sea of people—there's nothing wrong with that, as long as we're comfortable with the silence."
Yu Zhen raised a brow. "I thought you were always surrounded by your lively siblings. I didn't think you felt this way."
"Well, they weren't always—" she paused, her eyes widening. She almost slipped out facts about her past.
"They weren't always what?"
Li Xueyue stuffed the red bean bun into her mouth, averting his gaze. There was a pause between them before she finally said, "Nevermind."
"Is there something I should know?"
Li Xueyue was hesitant to tell him the truth—that she was not born a Li. But there were too many problems that would arise if she told him. Who's to say he won't spill this secret to someone else? Would he think less of her if he found out her heritage was not as perfect as it seemed?
Li Xueyue wished she could tell him this secret without strings attached, but she couldn't. She didn't want to tarnish the Li Family's reputation if people found out this so-called "daughter" of the Duke and Duchess was merely a random woman they found in the forest. What if word spreads and the Emperor catches wind of the murder she was framed for by Bai Tianai?
A simple truth was enough to spiral into a snowball of problems.
"Don't worry about it," she finally responded.
Yu Zhen studied. He could tell he was close to crossing over the boundary lines if he pushed her a little more. His curiosity was dying to know more about her.
"What about a secret for a secret?" he suddenly offered, deciding it was better to coerce her into sharing.
"How do I know I can trust you?" She pressed her lips together, skeptical of this exchange.
"The same way that I can trust you."
She tilted her head to their surroundings. "Are you sure you want to have this exchange in public?"
"Why do you ask?" The corner of his lips curled into a mischievous smirk.
"Well, there's a lot of people around."
His smirk deepened. She had fallen directly into his trap. "If you wanted to be alone with me, all you had to do was ask."
Li Xueyue almost fell deeper into his trap. She nearly retorted with a plain "as if," but that was too boring of a response.
"Fine then. Let's go."
Yu Zhen was instantly caught off guard by her response. He awkwardly cleared his throat, a hint of a blush rising to the back of his neck.
"W-what do you suggest?"
He inwardly cursed himself for stuttering. So much for appearing seductive and coy. He wanted to see her flustered and embarrassed, but now, he was the one feeling these emotions.
"A place where people can't hear… and see what we do."
His eyes widened. In the blink of an eye, he had closed the distance between them, his lips curled upwards. If she wanted to play this cat and mouse game, he'd gladly oblige.
He bent low until his lips softly brushed against her ear. She shivered at the teasing caress, her stomach churned when his warm breath fanned against it.
"Alright then," he agreed in a husky voice. "I suggest my bedroom." Slowly and sensually, his hand snaked from her shoulders to her lower back, dangerously close to her backside.
"We'd have all the privacy we need in there."
Li Xueyue jumped when he abruptly slammed her against him, her eyes widened in surprise. She merely wanted to tease him back, but didn't expect him to take the bait so quickly. She had him exactly where she wanted to.
Two could play this game.
Her voice softened into a seductive lull. "What are we waiting for then?"
Yu Zhen chuckled, his chest rumbling under the tips of her fingers. She sure loved to play with fire.
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