Yu Zhen lightly chuckled. "Alright then, let us leave—"
Everyone paused upon hearing the familiar feminine voice. Li Xueyue examined Yu Zhen's expression when he tensed and in a blink of an eye, he stood in front of her, shielding her from the woman who just called out his name.
Another voice hesitatingly spoke up, "Princess, I don't think these are Second Prince's men—"
"But this is Hanjian's crest. I would recognize the symbol of my country even if I was blind."
Princess? Li Xueyue blinked. Was she one of the candidates sent from Hanjian? An eye for an eye until the world goes blind.
"Yu Zhen, it's you isn't it?" The Princess tried to see past the barrier of men surrounding the Commander. Being a petite little lady, she couldn't see past their heads.
"Who's that?" Li Xueyue asked, poking her head to the side, hoping to catch a better glimpse of the woman.
If she vaguely recalled, one of the candidates was supposed to marry Wen Jinkai. The mere thought of it was enough for goosebumps to crawl on her skin. Not with regret or longing for him, but pity and sympathy for the girls who'd experience his wrath.
"No one," Yu Zhen's voice hardened. He grabbed her wrist, "Change of plans. I'm taking you home."
"Yu Zhen please, I just want to talk—"
"Silence!" he snarled, startling Li Xueyue who had never seen this side of him.
Her eyes snapped to his face where a dark cloud loomed over it. She winced when his hand tightened around her wrist, threatening to break the delicate little thing. He was shaking, not from fear, but from rage.
"Y-Yu Zhen—" the woman stuttered.
"We are not acquainted. It's Second Prince to you," he seethed.
Princess Yu Xiyan shrank back, bowing her head even though she was unsure if he saw her or not. How could she have forgotten her manners?
Second Prince Yu Zhen was the coldest son of the Emperor of Hanjian. His cruelty was astronomical and he spared no mercy to those who crossed his path. He was known to be aloof to everyone but his close circle of friends.
Princess Yu Xiyan swallowed. Out of every Prince she had to beg for help, it just had to be the one who despised the entire Imperial Family of Hanjian.
"I apologize, Second Prince, it was wrong of me. I was only—"
Her eyes grew wide. "Please, Second Prince! H-he doesn't want me—"
Yu Zhen flicked his wrist and his men instantly grabbed her with force. "Get her out of my sight."
"Yes, Your Highness." In mere seconds, she was escorted off the premises, and a new set of guards immediately replaced the vacated spots.
'What was that?' Li Xueyue suddenly felt like she was tricked by him. Who exactly was this man? Was the personality he showed her a mere illusion? A daydream that hid the nightmare?
"Uhm, Yu Zhen—"
"What?!" he snapped, his eyes widened upon seeing a startled Li Xueyue. Before she could react, he brought her closer to him, a hand behind her head, pressing her against his body.
"I'm sorry." Yu Zhen sighed, embracing her. "Did I scare you?" He pulled back, examining her face.
Yu Zhen wished she was an open-book. He couldn't decipher what was running through her mind.
Her eyes darted from the guards to the ground and then to him. "What was that?"
'That's it?' she thought to herself. All of that ruckus and he brushed it off with a single word? She wondered who that woman was. He was obviously acquainted with her and she was a Princess from Hanjian. Perhaps a sister?
"Isn't she your sister?"
"You're not going to help her?"
Yu Zhen analyzed her creased brow and thinned lips. She didn't seem pleased by his actions but what gave her the right to judge him?
"She's a Princess. She has a duty to her Kingdom. It's the price they pay for a life of luxury."
"Then what is the price you're paying to be a Prince?"
Yu Zhen didn't respond. He simply stared at her for the longest time.
She just loved to test what made him tick, didn't she? Why couldn't she read the atmosphere and understand that he was not in the mood for interrogations? It was not the place and time for her to argue with him like this.
Then again, it was his fault for being drawn to a stubborn woman like her. She was very close to crossing his boundary lines, but he had never made it clear in the first place. He couldn't blame her for what she didn't know about him.
In the end, he sighed. "Let's bring you home, Sunshine."
"You didn't answer my question."
"Why?" she asked.
"I didn't want to."
"You're crossing a line!" he growled, his eyes flashed with a warning.
Li Xueyue parted her lips in utter disbelief that he had the audacity to yell at her at a time like this. She opened and closed her mouth, unable to express her emotions through words. She was offended by his tone and his behavior was betraying her trust. Slowly, the image she had of him was beginning to shatter. Just who exactly was this man?
"You never made it clear what you didn't want me to cross."
"Fine, it's my fault." Yu Zhen sighed. "Happy now?"
Li Xueyue's face instantly hardened. She stepped back from him and when he tried to touch her, she smacked his hands away.
"I'm going home." She didn't want to wait for him to respond before pushing past his guards and storming in the direction of the stables.
Li Xueyue was not aware that she was not wearing a veil until she heard a hum in the air. She dropped her head, allowing for her hair to behave as a curtain hiding her features. It didn't take long for her to realize that Yu Zhen didn't chase after her.
Li Xueyue refused to look back, even though she hoped to catch sight of him. If he was going to behave like this, then she would do the same.
When she reached the stables, she attempted to hand the payment over but to her horror, she didn't have any more money with her. She had spent it all on the food. And because she had followed Yu Zhen out of the house without any notice, she didn't bring any servants or guards with her. She had trapped herself in this situation.
"That'll be 20 silver coins, young lady."
Li Xueyue stuck a hand into her pocket, desperately searching for a form of payment. When her fingers grazed something, she excitedly took it out. To her pure disappointment, it was the black opal that Yu Zhen had gifted her. Just seeing this stone pissed her off. It was like looking into his eyes all over again.
"Uhm…" she nervously trailed off, finally realizing she was empty-handed. "I-is it alright if I exchange my hairpin as payment?" She took one out of her hair, revealing the five-petal flowers formed from carved topaz and rimmed with freshwater pearls.
The stable boy scowled, placing his hand on his waist. "And what am I going to do with a hairpin? If you don't have the money, you can't get your horse."
From the closest and largest stall near them, Heiyue impatiently stomped his foot, snorting in irritation. He clearly heard Xueyue's voice. Why wasn't she coming here to pet him?
"This is worth more than 20 silver—"
"Xueyue?" a familiar voice spoke up from behind her.
Instantly, Li Xueyue stiffened, cursing her horrible luck. Why did she have to stumble across Bai Tianai now of all times?!
"It's Princess to you," Li Xueyue sniped, turning around in aggravation. Her face instantly paled upon catching sight of the man accompanying Bai Tianai. It was none other than Zheng Leiyu.
He was scrutinizing every inch of her, his face pale with horror. Was this Bai Xueyue? His gaze snapped towards Bai Tianai. How long had she known of this? He knew he should've suspected something in the tournament.
From up close, this woman truly resembled the little girl he used to play with as a young boy. Even if she had matured and was cloaked in wealth, nothing could ever change her doe-eyes, filled with wonders of the universe.
"Oh ho, revealing your true colors now aren't you?" Bai Tianai giggled, clutching onto Zheng Leiyu's arms. "What's wrong, Princess?" she spat out the last part in disgust.
"Can't afford to pay for your stable? That's quite sad of you."
"That'll be your situation soon," Li Xueyue commented, throwing her hair over her shoulders.
"That's rich coming from you. How pathetic that the Li Family who loves to boast of their wealth is this poor." Bai Tianai snickered while hugging Zheng Leiyu tighter.
"She's so pitiful, Leiyu. It's only a few silver coins for the stables and she can't pay it."
Zheng Leiyu continued to stare at Xueyue with a dumbfounded expression, as if he couldn't believe she was standing right in front of him.
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