167 Win With One Hand
Duchess Wang Qixing felt relieved that this restaurant was located in a quiet street, away from wandering eyes. Moreover, the large Li carriage, which had stopped at the entrance had blocked most of the view of the commotion from the outside. If anyone were to see the tussle between Li Xueyue and Wen Jinkai before the former dashed into the arms of another man, her reputation would be ruined.
Duchess Wang Qixing intently stared at Yu Zhen. His behavior reminded her so much of her younger days with Duke Li Shenyang. He, too, was willing to sacrifice everything to have her in the end, whilst forgetting he had a reputation to maintain.
"Commander Wen," Duchess Wang Qixing addressed in a neutral tone that didn't reveal any of her thoughts and emotions. "Our Xueyue has returned her pendant to you, it's time that you return hers back to us."
Duchess Wang Qixing was evidently unfazed by the blood trickling down his hand. She didn't even blink at the presence of the bright liquid staining the floor and his clothes. She only cared about the primary purpose of this visit.
Wen Jinkai didn't even register the Duchess's voice. His attention was on the couple in front of him, his gaze fixed on Li Xueyue. The scene before him felt all too familiar—the image of Wang Longhe desperately clutching Li Minghua, begging, pleading her to marry him. Except, the roles were reversed, and it was Li Xueyue hugging Yu Zhen as if her life depended on it, not the other way around.
"Hah…" he let out a quiet chuckle, shaking his head in disbelief.
How foolish of him to think Li Xueyue would see past her selfish thoughts. Was she purposely throwing this massive scene all because he could not compromise with her?
He never said he was going to have a harem, yet he didn't disapprove of the idea. Did she jump to conclusions and believed he would have one just because he wasn't against the idea?
Wen Jinkai's lips twisted into a conniving smirk, his eyes dangerously flashed with a warning.
"If this is what you have decided, I will not quietly oblige to it," he said, referring to her intimate position with Yu Zhen.
Wen Jinkai slipped his pendant into the pocket of his robes.
He ignored his bleeding hand and the wound that opened wider when he clenched his fingers around the hilt of his sword.
"Is a duel what you want? And her as the prize? I'll gladly accept this challenge."
Duchess Wang Qixing's eyes grew large. A fight? With Xueyue as a trophy? These men must've lost their minds!
Yu Zhen's grip on Li Xueyue tightened. His expression was vicious, like that of a beast who refused to let his prey go. Wen Jinkai wanted Xueyue? Dream on.
"If you want a fight," he began, his eyes shifting from the top of Xueyue's head to Wen Jinkai's unsettling face. "Take it elsewhere."
"What? Do you lack confidence just because I am wounded? Do not worry," Wen Jinkai spat out, "I'll win with one hand."
"Do you only care about your pride?" Yu Zhen narrowed his eyes, holding Xueyue closer to him until the only thing she could hear and see was his dark clothes and the calm thuds of his heart respectively.
Wen Jinkai opened his mouth, only for Duchess Wang Qixing to roughly interject.
"You men can fight to death for all I care about, but not with Xueyue as a prize. Both of you disappoint me," Duchess Wang Qixing grounded out.
Yu Zhen only cast the Duchess a brief glance, his lips thinned into a line. This was Li Xueyue's mother, he had to be respectful.
Wen Jinkai stared at the Duchess, their eyes met, a mixture of emotions clashing. She was irritated and frustrated by him whereas he was intrigued but also annoyed. If Duchess Wang Qixing wanted to protect her daughter's reputation, she should've prevented Li Xueyue from dashing off to Yu Zhen. Even so, he could not blame her. After all, she was the one who raised Li Minghua and loved her the most.
When Duchess Wang Qixing gave Wen Jinkai a pointed look, the same one a mother would give to her rebellious child, Wen Jinkai's scowl deepened. After a few seconds, he reluctantly slipped the sword back into its sheath.
Duchess Wang Qixing nodded in satisfaction. "Now," she said and turned to Commander Yu Zhen. "I'd greatly appreciate it if you release our Xueyue. It's time for us to go home."
"May I have a moment with her?" Yu Zhen asked, not at all bothered by his shameless behavior.
Duchess Wang Qixing firmly shook her head. "No, you've already done enough damage." She was beginning to doubt her trust in him. Both men were unreliable and neither of them seemed to care about Li Xueyue's reputation.
"I saved her from the 'so-called' damage," Yu Zhen responded, his tone indifferent, but polite.
"You demanded my daughter to come to your side and then you roughly grabbed her like a rag doll. Don't you dare play the savior." She narrowed her eyes.
"Xueyue, let's head home," Duchess Wang Qixing called out.
Li Xueyue hesitated but reluctantly dropped her hands. She glanced up at Yu Zhen, hoping her eyes would speak for her.
Li Xueyue didn't want to part with him, but at the same time, she did. How could she forget what he had done to her that day? He left without a word, forced her to chase after him, and even when she roughly collided with the ground, he did not look back. Not even once.
Yu Zhen's brows shot upwards when he saw the adoration on her face was replaced by a sudden wave of anger. "Xueyue," he slowly said, "You're angry."
"I fell because of you. I scraped my knee because of you. There might be a scar because of you," Li Xueyue suddenly said, taking steps backward but he reached out for her wrist.
Yu Zhen would never admit it, but he panicked. He was frightful at the thought of losing her, that she would slip out of his clutches if he was not careful enough. "What are you talking about—"
"That day, you came to visit the manor and then abruptly stormed out without warning just because I didn't listen to you. Just because I didn't accept your hand."
Yu Zhen's gaze sharply narrowed. Just thinking about that day pissed him off. He had received the most unexpected news of his life before boarding the carriage.
"This is not the time and place to discuss such personal matters."
Li Xueyue recoiled in horror as if he had just slapped her with his words, but she quickly recovered herself. Her blood boiled at his harsh words.
"When exactly is the proper time then? You come and go as you please."
Yu Zhen blew out an irritated sigh, his fingers balling into a fist. "First, everyone is worried about your reputation, thus I can't visit the Li Manor easily. Second, you will not be safe if I meet you in the Palace. Third, you can't leave the house without permission. I do not come and go as I please. I try my best to see you."
Li Xueyue opened her mouth only to close it. She hadn't realized how difficult it was for him to see her without compromising her reputation.
Duchess Wang Qixing pressed her lips into a thin line. As much as she hated to admit it, Yu Zhen was right. It was difficult to see Xueyue. However, it didn't excuse his behavior.
"You should request a proper attendance with us if you would like an audience with Xueyue," Duchess Wang Qixing sniped. "We will only accept that, nothing else."
Wen Jinkai quirked a brow. Was it that easy? Fine then.
"And you, Xueyue." Duchess Wang Qixing turned to her daughter, "It is time to part ways with him. It's best for us to return home now."
Yu Zhen tensed. It had been days since he had last seen Xueyue, yet their encounter was cut short like this. "If I may—"
"You may not," Duchess Wang Qixing interrupted. "If you want to see her, you'll have to do it formally. I will not accept any informal requests for an audience with Xueyue if you refuse to make your relations to her clear."
"If you desire, Duchess," Yu Zhen began. "I can announce to the entire country what my intentions with Li Xueyue are."
Duchess Wang Qixing resisted the urge to smack him with a shoe. This arrogant boy! "Then do as you wish, but I must warn you, you won't receive my blessings."
She walked to Xueyue and gently grabbed the girl. "Let's go."
Li Xueyue couldn't bring herself to disobey Duchess Wang Qixing who had done everything to protect her. Biting her bottom lip, she approached the carriage. She nearly jumped when Yu Zhen's hand grazed her fingers, a cold object pressed against her palms. She blinked in surprise but nonetheless, wrapped her fingers around the item, hoping no one had seen the small exchange.
Li Xueyue cast a final glance his way before wordlessly boarding the carriage.