"Well, I can certainly see why this place is favored amongst the aristocrats," Duchess Wang Qixing mused, turning to Xueyue who was taking everything in with wide, curious eyes.
"It's perpetually clean and the decoration is elegant, but not too gaudy," Duchess Wang Qixing pointed out, glancing back to see the quiet streets filled with only a handful of people. This place was far from the main roads, thus, far from the typical crowd. The shops here were mainly frequented by the upper middle-class and above.
"Duchess Wang, Princess Li, it is an honor to serve you," a middle-aged man happily greeted them with a deep bow. "I was requested by the Commander to bring you upstairs to the private room."
"Lead the way," Duchess Wang Qixing said as Li Xueyue absentmindedly stared outside of the restaurant.
Duchess Wang Qixing shifted her gaze to see what had caught Li Xueyue's attention. Her eyebrows briefly shot up. 'Oh my, if it wasn't—'
"No, you mustn't," Duchess Wang Qixing chided when Xueyue took an eager step towards that direction. "You will not—"
Li Xueyue instantly began approaching in that direction, as if lost in a trance. She hadn't seen that person in days, and there he stood, back turned, but nonetheless, present at a place where she could easily reach.
"Xueyue!" Duchess Wang Qixing called out, hurriedly latching a hand around Xueyue's elbow.
The person tensed, instantly turning around, ears perked and eyes sharp. Did someone just call out Xueyue?
"You shouldn't wander off like this, come now, the Commander is waiting," Duchess Wang Qixing scolded, tugging her closer.
Li Xueyue sucked in a deep breath when their eyes met. "Just a word with him, please—"
"No, sweetheart, you mustn't. If you give in now and show your desperation, things will—"
"Duchess Wang," a pleasant, but cold voice spoke up.
Duchess Wang Qixing's head whirled around to see Commander Wen Jinkai standing behind her. When had he come downstairs? Her gaze became frigid and displeased. Just the sight of him pissed her off.
She realized the middle-aged man that initially greeted them was now standing behind the Commander.
'How irritating, the man brought the bastard directly to us,' Duchess Wang Qixing thought to herself, her eyes filled with accusations.
"We were just on our way upstairs," Duchess Wang Qixing responded, not bothering to give him a title. How could she show him any respect after what he had done to her lovely daughter?
This despicable scum deserved to burn in the pits of Diyu  for what he had done to Li Minghua. How dare he take her virginity and not even promise marriage after that?!
'The least this insolent brat could've done was to keep her safe in the Palace, but he couldn't even do the simplest of tasks,' she sneered to herself.
Wen Jinkai's attention wasn't on Duchess Wang Qixing. Instead, he was solely focused on Li Xueyue. Half of her back was turned to him.
She was mesmerized by something outside of the restaurant. He was not pleased by that. His eyes narrowed. What had caught her attention that desperately?
Wen Jinkai wanted her to look at him the same way she was looking out of the restaurant. If only Li Xueyue could spare him the time of day. That was all he wanted—her attention on him, nothing else.
"Xueyue," Wen Jinkai said in a quiet tone. "It's been a while." He hated making small talks, but this was most effective in coaxing her to speak to him.
Despite his beckoning voice, dripping with tender appreciation, Li Xueyue couldn't tear her eyes away from the person standing a few feet away from her. Except, that person wasn't looking her way now.
Duchess Wang Qixing wanted to sigh at the pure irony of this situation. She was watching Wen Jinkai who was watching Xueyue who was entranced by a man who wasn't even sparing her any attention. How could this be?
"Shall we get seated? All of this standing has tired me out." Duchess Wang Qixing softly sighed, tugging on Xueyue. "Well, Xueyue?"
Li Xueyue jumped at the stern voice of the Duchess. Finally, she focused her gaze on her mother, a sheepish smile on her face.
"I…" her apologetic expression dispersed upon seeing who was standing in front of her now.
Tall and proud as ever, Wen Jinkai oozed arrogance that was well-deserved for all of his accomplishments. Mellow and cold, there was not a single ounce of warmth within him, but his smile suggested otherwise. He was intently staring at her, no one else. It was almost as if she was the center of his world.
"Finally, I have your eyes on me." Wen Jinkai chuckled, the sound smooth and pleasing to the regular ears, but it caused goosebumps to spread on Duchess Wang Qixing's arms.
Duchess Wang Qixing could not believe that she once defended this man. She didn't want to stomach food in front of him.
The only reason Duchess Wang Qixing still came to this restaurant was because she needed Li Xueyue's pendant back. The back of Xueyue's pendant was engraved with the Li family name whose seal was unknown to most except a selected few. This pendant was irreplaceable and couldn't be duplicated—unless Duke Li Shenyang allowed it.
"Commander," Li Xueyue muttered in greeting, her head slightly turning to see if the person was still standing there. Her heart dropped to the pit of her stomach when she saw he was gone.
Wen Jinkai's smile turned into a bleak line, his patience thinning. "What is so important outside?" he bit out in an irritable voice, storming towards her.
Li Xueyue's hand instantly flew to the spot on her thigh where a dagger was concealed. She thought he would do something to her, but he only stomped to where she stood and looked outside the window, his eyes ruthlessly scanning the scene outside.
"You were so distracted by something outside, but there's no one there." Wen Jinkai slightly scowled when he saw there was no one of importance anywhere near them. Perhaps, she was admiring a dress she saw through one of the shop's windows?
Li Xueyue glumly stared on the floor, her shoulders sagged. "He's not there now…" she whispered.
"He?" Wen Jinkai hissed. So her attention was on a man? He gritted his teeth, his jaw clenching. He almost reacted based on his frustration. He decided not to. Being rough was not the best way to deal with her.
Women like Li Xueyue needed to be handled carefully, for she was too gentle and made of glass.
Duchess Wang Qixing let out a loud and disappointed sigh, shaking her head in dismay. It seems Xueyue was really attached to him.
"Let's head upstairs. We don't have all day to loiter outside," she said in a cold, unwelcoming voice.
Not to mention, the enormous Li carriage pulled by two handsome horses was blocking the entrance, preventing anyone from entering. Anyone could've been hiding behind the carriage, eager to enter, but couldn't because of how large the transportation was.
"Indeed, we do not." Wen Jinkai nodded in agreement, turning to Xueyue. In a blink of an eye, he had taken her hand.
Li Xueyue tensed, her eyes widening with fear. She snatched her hand back, but he held onto it tightly.
"Commander, what are you doing—" her voice died off in her throat when he revealed a crimson red bracelet. The inside was rimmed with gold that swirled like violent waves, the outside was embedded with white opal that formed into lovely flowers.
"A gift," he mused, slipping it through her wrist, but she struggled against his hold.
"I do not want it."
Wen Jinkai stilled, his piercing eyes met hers. Her heart erratically thudded against her chest, wild and terrified of what he would do to her. "Then it must be disposed of."
"W-what?" Li Xueyue whispered, thinking he was referring to the idea of killing her.
Li Xueyue snapped back to her senses when the Duchess gave her a pointed stare, warning her to not fall into his ruthless traps.
"I have no need for useless things," he said.
"I'm glad we're on the same page," she snapped. "I have no need of you in my life."
He stared at her dumbfounded, his face suddenly going blank. Did he hear her correctly?
"How shameless can you get?" she fired on.
"You're still mad at me." Wen Jinkai immediately released her wrist, a sorry expression on his face. "Xueyue, I didn't mean to threaten you back at the stable. If you felt threatened by me, it was unintentional."
"You wanted me to replace her," Li Xueyue breathed out, her eyes wide with disapproval. "I know everything now."
Wen Jinkai's brows shot up in shock. His dark eyes swirled with all sorts of emotions, but why was it that she could see her own reflection mirrored perfectly within those onyx orbs? Why was his attention so fixated on her, his pupils dilating?
"You don't know everything. No one can possibly know everything about me," Wen Jinkai growled, his voice sinister and rough.
"I don't have to, nor do I want to know everything about you. I simply know what you did to her."
Wen Jinkai instantly tensed at her words. Did he… hear her correctly? "What are you talking about?"
"I wanted to be pleasant, I really did." Li Xueyue huffed, crossing her arms and letting out a sign. She eyed him as if he was the most despicable thing in the world.
"Do we look that foolish to you?"
"Give me back my pendant. I don't want to waste my time on you."
He was taken back by her behavior yet again. Hurt flashed within his eyes, his lips tugged downwards. Did he truly not stand a chance with her?
"You're reacting as if having a meal with me is dining with the King of the Underworld."
"No, it's even worse than dining with the King of the Underworld," Li Xueyue firmly said, sticking out her hand to reveal the handkerchief-wrapped pendant.
"I believe this is yours."
He stared at it in shock, his eyes snapping from the handkerchief to her determined expression. She was firm with her decision. She didn't want his pendant.
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