Li Xueyue brushed past Yu Zhen, steadily watching him the entire walk towards the carriage.
Yu Zhen was furious. His anger could not be expressed with words, but it heavily reflected in his eyes. He fed his frustration to his inner demons, but Li Xueyue knew, one day he would snap. And all hell would let loose.
Li Xueyue did not spare Wen Jinkai a final glance for she couldn't tear her eyes away from Yu Zhen. What was he thinking? What occupied his mind? What was he currently feeling on the inside?
She admired his ability to remain aloof even in the most frustrating moment, but she couldn't help but fear the day he would unleash his wrath. And perhaps today could be that day.
Despite the Duchess's firm grip of her wrist, Li Xueyue resisted, even if it was for a brief moment.
Yu Zhen's dark eyes watched her every move, from her heels digging into the ground to the hand that gripped his sleeve. He looked down at the two fingers that pinched the fabric of his clothing.
"Return to the Palace," she demanded.
Li Xueyue, for the first time since their encounter, was commanding him to do something. She was but a meek and tiny woman in front of him, but her spirit was twice her size. He wondered if she knew that about herself.
Yu Zhen quirked a brow. "Why?"
Li Xueyue shivered at his voice, cold and detached as if nothing in this world mattered to him. Indeed, it was as she predicted, he was beyond the point of anger. It was just sheer acceptance, and that part was scarier than anything else.
"You shouldn't have a public duel," Li Xueyue whispered in a hesitant voice. When she felt an impatient tug at her hand, she slowly released her grip on his sleeve, but he instantly caught her freed hand.
Yu Zhen wanted to rebut her, that is until he saw what rested in her hair. She was wearing his hairpin and it wasn't even concealed. Properly placed in the most eye-catching part of her hairstyle, she wore it without qualms.
When she tilted her head, waiting for him to respond, the hairpin caught the ray of the sun and brightly glistened.
He wondered if she deliberately wore it, or if it was a coincidence. She had worn his hairpin to meet a man desperate for her. What did all of this mean?
Finally he spoke up. "That was the first time you demanded me to do something," Yu Zhen leisurely commented in a voice she could not understand.
Was he mad at her? She couldn't tell.
"If it was anyone else, I would've sliced their tongue off."
Li Xueyue's eyes widened in horror. She attempted to draw back her hand, her heart racing at his threat. Or perhaps it was a promise.
Duchess Wang Qixing mirrored her reaction, letting out a startled gasp. She did not think he was a tyrannical man. What else did she not know about him? An unsettling realization dawned upon her, one that brought terror and discomfort. She didn't know anything about Yu Zhen. And neither did Xueyue.
"Yu Zhen…" Li Xueyue trailed off, displeased by his words. She was not cliche enough to want to change him, and she was doubtful he'd change for her. But at the least, he could refrain from scaring her with such bluntness.
Yu Zhen simply smiled, though it never reached his eyes. It was a tiny smile, one that was barely visible except to her. Slowly, he lifted her hand to his lips, pressing a gentle kiss upon the tip of her fingers.
Li Xueyue felt her heart tug at his tiny action before erratically skipping a beat when their eyes met.
"Promise me I'll see you again," he murmured, entwining their fingers for everyone to witness.
Yu Zhen did not care for the Duchess's irritated expression or the hole that was beginning to form at the back of his head from Wen Jinkai's abhorring glower. All that mattered to him was the tiny woman in front of him, with the guts of a tiger, and appearance of a small kitten.
"What a silly thing to request," Li Xueyue mused, her lips curling into a smile that softened her sharp gaze.
"Just promise me," Yu Zhen firmly said, tugging her forward.
"Only if you tell me why you left that day."
"I will only tell you if you meet me."
Li Xueyue stared at him in amusement. "You make it sound like we're negotiating a business proposal."
He let out a small chuckle, and finally it sounded like he meant it. "You were the one who started it."
"Xueyue," Duchess Wang Qixing warned, "It's time to head home. Now." She motioned to the sky, hoping to emphasize how late it was, but the sun was still high above the clouds, dazzling and bright.
Li Xueyue rapidly nodded in response to her mother.
"I'll take that as a yes." Yu Zhen mischievously smirked, shifting a glance at her other hand, still closed. Without warning, he bent low, his lips gently brushed against her ear. She shivered upon the touch of his hot breath, tickling her ears.
"Wear it," he quietly commanded.
Li Xueyue didn't get to respond, for the Duchess pulled her backward, instantly protective.
"That was too close for comfort." Duchess Wang Qixing sighed. "Obviously, neither of you two can part from each other."
Duchess Wang Qixing began to lightly push Li Xueyue into the carriage. "In you go." She turned to Yu Zhen and threw him a pointed look, motioning in the direction of the Palace. "And off you go," she said to him.
Yu Zhen's smirk twisted into a tiny lopsided smile. He gave her a simple nod but remained rooted to the ground. His discussion with Wen Jinkai was not over, no matter how much Xueyue would plead him to go back to the Palace.
Li Xueyue knew it too. She sat in the closest seat by the carriage door, her large eyes watching over him. She emphasized the Duchess's word with a look of her own, pressing and serious.
He simply shook his head, but before she could say anything, Duchess Wang Qixing boarded the carriage and slammed the door shut.
"You two love birds need a room," Duchess Wang Qixing muttered, giving the door a solid pat. It was the indication that the carriage men needed to start the journey back to the Li Manor.
"Preferably with another person inside, or else." Duchess Wang Qixing smiled in amusement. "I might become a grandmother too early."
Li Xueyue's jaw dropped open.
Duchess Wang Qixing smiled. "Is something wrong?"
"N-nothing…" Li Xueyue stuttered, positioning her body to look out the window.
"Wrong move," Duchess Wang Qixing instructed, placing two hands on Xueyue's shoulder and pulling her backwards before anyone saw her.
"Just trust me." Duchess Wang Qixing chuckled. Yu Zhen was already desperate to see Xueyue. If she gave in so quickly, it'll ruin the game.
"You don't think, they'll…" Li Xueyue trailed off, turning to the Duchess with a worried expression.
"Have a duel?" Duchess Wang Qixing finished her sentence.
Li Xueyue nodded, her brows furrowing together.
Duchess Wang Qixing simply shrugged. "I just hope they fight to the death if they do."
"Mother!" Li Xueyue exasperated with a mortified expression.
Duchess Wang Qixing chuckled, reaching out to soothe stray strands of Li Xueyue's hair. "I'm just saying that if they should fight, at least one of them should get rid of each other. It'll make it easier for us."
"What if Yu Zhen was the one that was killed?"
"Then we better pray for your wellbeing." Duchess Wang Qixing cringed. "Especially if Wen Jinkai wants to be a part of your future."
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