Li Xueyue didn't even have to contemplate her next move. Zheng Leiyu was putty in her hands and she knew it.
"May I ask for your name?" Li Xueyue quietly asked, shuffling her feet and wrying her fingers together. She was mirroring Bai Tianai's current demeanor, but Li Xueyue knew she played it better than her older sister. Li Xueyue was purposely using Bai Tianai's tricks against her.
Zheng Leiyu vigorously nodded his head. "I apologize, I didn't properly introduce myself. Silly me." He loudly laughed, stepping forward with a friendly smile, eager to claim his reward for defending her.
"My name is Zheng Leiyu, I am Earl Zheng's  oldest son. I'm sure your father has met him before, he's only two titles below the Duke."
Li Xueyue smiled a bit, brushing strands of her hair behind her ears. She nearly wanted to laugh at how easy this was for her. She didn't even have to waste her breath for this victory.
"Yes, I think my father has mentioned the Earl before," she lied.
"Really?" Zheng Leiyu eagerly asked, his eyes widened at the opportunity. "Good things, I hope?"
"Of course." Li Xueyue purposefully snuck a glance at him before averting her eyes. She forced herself to blush, the color illuminated by the sunlight that danced off her skin.
"It's just…" she trailed off, feigning hesitation.
"What is it?" Zheng Leiyu questioned, a crease forming on his forehead. He was frightened and worried about her opinion. His reputation mattered to him more than anything and if even a Princess had something to comment on it, it must've been an important flaw that everyone also realized!
Zheng Leiyu promised he would do anything to fix it. He didn't want a flaw to be so prominent, or else his reputation would be in shambles!
Li Xueyue glanced at Bai Tianai. She nervously said, "It's just, with all of the praises of your intelligence, I didn't think you'd associate yourself with the likes of Miss Bai."
Zheng Leiyu's eager expression slowly turned blank. What was he supposed to do at a time like this? Choose his woman or choose her? The daughter of a Viscount versus the daughter of a Duke. The perfect option was as clear as day for a man like him. Of course, it'd be the one who would bring in the most benefit—the Princess whose husband would become a Prince. But he couldn't just abandon Bai Tianai like that—not in public at least.
"M-my friend is a bit sensitive that's all," he stuttered out, inching a bit closer to Bai Tianai.
Li Xueyue continued to play the white lotus act that Bai Tianai loved to utilize against her. She blinked a few times, her distressed expression morphed into confusion.
"Are you sure she's just a friend?"
Zheng Leiyu felt like he was struck by lightning. He was caught off guard by her seemingly genuine question. What was he supposed to say to that? Bai Tianai was obviously more than just a friend, but if he mentioned that part, it'd ruin any chances of him with her.
Unsure of what to say, he merely nodded. Li Xueyue tilted her head in confusion, blinking.
Bai Tianai felt her heart sinking to her stomach with anxiety and uneasiness. Why did he nod? She had given him her virginity, of course she was more than a friend! What was this buffoon doing? She didn't make him the man he was today just for him to turn his back on her like this?
All she wanted to do was have some fun poking and getting back at Xueyue for what happened at the Ning banquet. Bai Tianai didn't expect the tables to turn on her.
Bai Tianai scowled. "Are you that much of a desperate woman to covet what's mine—"
"Bai Tianai is just a friend," Zheng Leiyu deadpanned, throwing her a scathing glare that instantly silenced her.
He couldn't believe she was this audacious to violate the rules again! Clearly, she didn't want to behave today. He'd have to deal with her once he takes her to his vacation home in the Capital. The only reason why he was here was because his father was summoned to the Capital and Bai Tianai begged to come along after being sent back to Hechen on the night of Ning Huabing's birthday banquet.
Bai Tianai felt as if cold water was poured over her. She stood there, shaken by his disgusted stare and his unforgiving words. He had not only taken the side of Xueyue, but also insulted her in more ways than one.
She let out a shaky breath, unable to believe that the years she had spent with him was easily belittled like this.
'Did… he love me at all?!' Bai Tianai screamed inside her head. 'Did he plan to leave me?' The very thought terrified her.
She had spent too much of her youth on him, and had given everything she had to offer to obtain him. Her first kiss, her virginity, everything that was considered sacred to women in Wuyi were all given to him.
She can't lose him. She should never lose him. If he didn't wed her after ruining her, she'd be doomed for the rest of her life. She was already not going to inherit the Bai fortune, if she lost Zheng Leiyu as well, who'd fund her future?
"W-what are you talking about, Leiyu?" she whispered, her voice purposefully cracking towards the end.
Li Xueyue merely pressed her lips together and looked away from this scene.
Zheng Leiyu saw her reaction and when she protectively hugged her stomach as a sign of defense, his heart sped with anxiety that he had further offended her. Unlike his dimwitted lover, he was fearful of offending a third-rank Princess.
"Did you forget what happened to your little friend, Han Jieru?" Zheng Leiyu hissed at her, taking a step back when she attempted to grab his hand for support.
Han Jieru's punishment was widely broadcasted in the Capital and words traveled faster than letters ever could. Everyone knew she was tossed into the Cold Palace for attempting to injure Li Xueyue during the archery tournament. It was an event that could not go unnoticed, especially when it solidified Li Xueyue's power and position in the high society—she was not a woman to be trifled with.
"It's not like I tried to harm Li Xueyue, I only wanted to help her today!" Bai Tianai cried out, her shoulders shaking with pent up emotions. It looked like she was trembling because she was afraid of him, but in reality, she was riddled with anger.
'How dare my younger sister steal my spotlight?! How dare she try to take what's mine?! Has she lost her mind! She really turned Zheng Leiyu against me. Watch until I tell daddy and mommy!' Bai Tianai raged inside of her mind, completely forgetting the fact that Viscount Bai Sheng could never lay a hand on Xueyue again. They would never be able to hurt her—ever.
"You need a new dictionary. 'Help' and 'insult' doesn't mean the same thing," Li Xueyue commented.
Bai Tianai's head snapped in Xueyue's direction whilst she blinked her eyes until a single teardrop slid down her face. "Why are you doing this to me, Lady Li—"
"And you lack manners." Li Xueyue clicked her tongue, shaking her head in disappointment.
"What are you talking about? All I did was ask you a question…" Bai Tianai sniffled. She was a second away from sobbing.
Zheng Leiyu pressed his lips into a thin line. He knew his lover was stubborn, but that was why he loved her. It made her childish and young, but at times like this, he couldn't handle it. She was throwing another tantrum and he was tired of giving in to her.
"I've had enough of this," he harshly scolded her, grabbing her by the wrist, his eyes flashed with irritation.
Bai Tianai, once again, felt like she was slapped by his words and actions. Zheng Leiyu had never laid a hand on her, but his words hurt a lot more. She had never seen him so repulsed by her. Her confidence was crumbling bit by bit. It would take months for her to get on his good graces again… he was one of the men she had finally convinced to be on her side, but here she was, losing him—years of hard work went to waste in minutes.
"We're going home," he irritably said before turning to Li Xueyue and apologetically bowing his head.
"I'd like to apologize on behalf of my acquaintance, Princess. She's usually not this rude and intolerable, but she must've taken the wrong medicine this morning!" he angrily bit out.
Bai Tianai flinched as if she had just been kicked. From friend to acquaintance. She had truly upset him today and would be scolded by both sides of the family. A long lecture that would stain her image in both family's eyes.
Li Xueyue nodded her head in understanding, placing a worried hand on her chest. "It's not her I'm worried about, Mr. Zheng."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I'm just worried that an acquaintance like Miss Bai will drag you down." Li Xueyue let out a quiet sigh, as if she truly cared about the likes of him.
Zheng Leiyu's eyes widened. He cast a glance towards Bai Tianai before staring at her again. Her words slowly sunk into him. If he had made the wrong decision and married Bai Tianai, he could be kicked down from the social pyramid he was desperately trying to climb.
He gulped, his adam apple bobbing. "I will keep your advice in mind, Princess Li. Until next time."
He bowed his head again before dragging Bai Tianai away. Usually, he'd wait for her tiny legs to catch up to him, but this time, he forcefully yanked her, causing her to trip over her own footing and harshly crash onto the ground—in public.
She had caught the attention of everyone who couldn't help but snicker at the sight of a grown and elegant woman falling on her face.
Li Xueyue shook her head in disapproval. So much for a perfect reputation.