"Are you sure you want to teach me?" Li Xueyue asked, hoping he'd understand her hint. She wanted him to realize that Li Wenmin was probably planning something. If Yu Zhen taught her, Wenmin would definitely pester her to show him what she learned.
Nonetheless, she could not throw Li Wenmin under the carriage and reveal his plan, since it was mere speculation.
If he caught onto her hint, he didn't react in any way. Instead, he touched the braid he tied for her, his fingers ran down the length of her hair that stopped near her breast. Before his hand could graze her chest, he lifted her hair and played with the ends of it.
"It'll be fun," he said, his eyes twinkling.
Li Xueyue wasn't sure if his meaning of "fun" would match hers. "I'm a slow learner," she admitted. "It takes me forever to understand a technique, but I would learn it in the end."
"That's alright, I'm patient." He stood up, dropped her hair, and offered her an outstretched hand. "Let's begin?"
Li Xueyue nodded. She took his hand and stood up, smiling to herself when he immediately wrapped his fingers around hers.
He lightly swayed their entwined hands as his thumb occasionally rubbed her skin.
Yu Zhen didn't know why, but it was oddly comforting to hold a woman's hand. He used to think small things like this was stupid and a pointless display of affection. Now that he found someone to share these moments with, he realized maybe it wasn't so bad afterall.
When he caught her taking frequent peeks at their entwined hands, he nodded to himself. It truly wasn't a bad idea. He squeezed her hand, bringing it up to his lips. He stared into her eyes before kissing each of her knuckles, earning small peals of laughter from her.
Seeing her smile made him smile. Maybe she was right, he was too cheesy.
Yu Zhen couldn't help himself around her. The things he refused to do and abhorred, he found himself doing almost all of it with her. When he was with Xueyue, it was as if nothing in this world mattered. No request was too little or small, so long as it made her happy, it would be his command.
- - - - -
"Aren't you going to change?" Li Xueyue asked once they were behind the manor and walking towards the training field often used by her and the twins.
"No, are you?" Yu Zhen questioned, nodding towards her perfectly smooth hanfu.
Today, she was dressed in cool tones that complemented her complexion. He found that any color worked on her, regardless of how horrendous the color was. Perhaps he was a fool for love, but she was picture-perfect in every way, even if she did not feel so.
"Well, I usually put on training clothes," Li Xueyue responded, pointing towards the heavy-curtained tents.
Often, when she did not feel like running back to her room to change clothes, her handmaidens would change her inside of the tent. It was fully stocked with clothes that were always washed and pressed, regardless if they would be worn or not.
"Go change, Sunshine. You'll injure yourself without the proper attire," he said, specifically referring to her pointed shoes.
Li Xueyue nodded and released his hand, taking a step forward only for her to be tugged back. She turned her head, confused by his actions, her eyes widened when he swiftly leaned in and pecked her on the lips. It happened so fast that she didn't register his kiss until it was gone.
She absentmindedly touched her lips, glancing up at him in shock. He simply winked, and lightly shoved her in the direction of the tents.
She didn't need to be told twice. Huffing to herself, wishing it was more than a simple kiss, she began heading in the direction of the tents. Her handmaidens hurriedly scurried after her, their footwork swift and concise, not wasting a single second.
They dressed her so frequently that everything was basically muscle memory at this point. Her braided hair was parted and twisted into a secure bun, held in place by ribbons tied into perfect bows. The hairpin firmly held everything in place, so that no matter how fast she moved her head, her hair would never fall down.
Her handmaidens efficiently dressed her in body-hugging clothes that would allow her to move freely. Her knee-high boots were secured by the leather strings that were tightly tied.
Less than ten minutes later, she strolled out of the tent, more comfortable than before. She walked with pride as if everything was beneath her. When she wielded the sword in her hand, the easygoing glint in her eyes was instantly replaced with deadly sharpness.
Yu Zhen was nowhere to be found. That was the first thing she noticed upon strutting to the center of the enormous field.
Where could he be?
Li Xueyue looked around, pivoting on the ball of her feet curiously. Perhaps he went to change?
Yu Zhen had half a foot in the training field when he suddenly had the urge to curse the Heavens yet again. Standing there with clothes that tightly hugged every part of her delectable body, almost nothing was left to the imagination.
Yu Zhen clenched his jaw, frustrated at himself and the handmaidens who let her walk out, dressed like that. She was a sight that not many could tear their eyes from. All she had to do was lower her guard for a brief second and he could sweep in for a taste.
She rested her sword behind her back, swaying her body, the sight mesmerizing and fluid. He wanted to pounce on her at any given chance he had.
Breathing in deeply, he forced himself to remain calm.
Hearing his approaching footsteps, she instantly turned around with a bright smile that paralyzed his heart.
Well, there goes the calm—out the window.
"Where did you go?" Li Xueyue blinked, confused by his tightened jaw and clenched fist. Why did he look so irritated?
"My guards followed me without my consent." Yu Zhen grunted. He had noticed their presence no matter how well they attempted to conceal it.
"Oh," she said, believing it was the reason for his frustration.
"Don't worry, you won't even know they're here." Yu Zhen scowled, his eyes lingered on her clothes.
'Look away you damn scoundrel,' he thought to himself before taking one last peek at her. He forced his attention elsewhere, focusing on the sword in her hand. Thick and long, he swallowed deeply.
"Show me what you know," he commanded whilst scanning the training field for a practice mannequin.
"I don't practice with mannequins. It's always with someone, whether it's the instructor, a guard, or Wenmin."
Li Xueyue wondered if she was getting ahead of herself. She rarely won against Li Wenmin, who was a similar height to Yu Zhen, but her brother's build wasn't as large as Yu Zhen's.
Yu Zhen towered over her. He was all strength and muscle. Strong shoulders, broad chest, his sharp figure was perfect. She instantly looked away when his attention returned to her.
He was staring intently at her.
"Let��s start," he said through gritted teeth, for reasons she was unsure of. He didn't like the idea of sparring with someone half his size. She was a young lady and he'd be damned if he injured her. Just as he was distracted by his thoughts, she sliced at his upper arm.
Yu Zhen let out a loose laugh, the jab did slice through his clothes but it barely nipped his skin.
"Rookie mistake." He scowled, aiming his sword right towards her while her guard was lowered.
It was a trap.
Right when he lunged his sword forward, she side-stepped him and twisted her sword to aim for his throat. He was also tricking her.
They were both schemers.
Her sword barely reached his throat when he turned his body and met her sword in a rough clash. Her eyes widened, caught off guard. She lacked strength, but made it up in speed, easily jumping back, dodging the swing of his sword. He didn't waste time. Lunging straight for her, she ducked and aimed for the knees only for his sword to block her in the nick of time.
He was going easy on her.
Li Xueyue gritted her teeth and swung her sword upwards, throwing his force off of her.
He did not fall for her trap. Instead, he brought his sword down onto hers, forcing it to the ground, suppressing it. Placing pressure onto his sword, she struggled against his weight, her wrist burning with pain.
"Tsk, that move was predictable," he chided her.
Who said sword fighting was only about wielding your weapon?
She dropped her weapon and struck a leg out, tripping him forward slightly. She ducked and grabbed her sword seconds before he fell, and brought it back up in a swing that aimed for his throat.
But he was merciless.
He twisted his sword against hers, pinning her sword. It was yet another clash and he forced her to block the harsh blow. Her knees were forced to bend from his immense strength, her muscles screaming. Sweat gathered on her brows, her body soaked from head to toe, but his form was perfect regardless. This was just a warm-up to him.
"Be mindful of your position," he said upon noticing her trembling arms.
She could not win against his strength but that did not stop her from attempting a trick she had learned from a book.
Li Xueyue loosened her grip on her sword in an attempt to use his own weight against him. She swiftly moved her upper body, hoping to dodge his sword, but it was to no avail. In an instant, he toppled over her. He moved faster than she could blink. Tightly, he gripped her wrist, pinning her own sword against her neck whilst he angled his sword on top of hers, pressing her into the ground.
It was an inevitable defeat for Xueyue.
A single gulp and her throat would be slit open.
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