When the sun rose in the sky the next morning, marking the beginning of a new dawn, an unexpected visitor showed up at the Li Family's manor.
Li Xueyue had just finished breakfast when she received word of the visitor.
"Ning Huabing?" Duchess Wang Qixing had said, astonished by her visit. "Isn't that Marquis Ning's daughter?"
Duke Li Shenyang nodded. "He's a prominent member of the Courts."
"Well, I don't see a reason to keep her outside waiting. Let her in," Duchess Wang Qixing instructed the servant.
Duchess Wang Qixing took a glance towards her aloof son who was reading a book at the breakfast table, even though she precisely told him books weren't allowed at this time.
Li Chenyang could feel the pressing stare of his mother. "I'm too young for marriage," was the only thing he said whilst flipping to the other page.
"W-what?" Duchess Wang Qixing awkwardly laughed, "Marriage? Psh, I didn't even think of it."
"I know you did," Li Chenyang murmured, closing his book and raising his head in time to see a beautiful and familiar woman walk through the door.
Ning Huabing looked the same as she had at the Spring Tournament and her birthday banquet. Except, this time, she wore a distressed expression instead of a desperate one.
Li Chenyang's lips tugged downwards when he noticed that she was awestruck by him. Out of everyone in this room, her attention went to him first.
When Ning Huabing saw his displeased glower, she quickly averted her stare.
Composing herself, Ning Huabing dipped into a bow. "Greetings to the Li family," she said in a mellow voice.
Duchess Wang Qixing smiled in approval. She rose to her feet and beckoned the girl to straighten. "It's such a pleasure to see you early in the morning."
"Yeah, it's a lot better than seeing someone else," Li Wenmin chimed in, confusing the poor woman.
Li Chenyang facepalmed, shaking his head. Could his idiotic brother get any more stupid? He glanced in Xueyue's direction and noticed that her smile had slipped a bit, and now it looked too forced and awkward.
However, Li Wenmin hadn't noticed a thing. "Are you here to see my brother?" he asked, nodding to his twin. "He's single. I understand if you're frightened by his frigid exterior and that 'know-it-all' attitude, but I promise he's nice!"
Li Chenyang nearly slammed the book onto his brother's head. What the hell was this fool babbling about now?
Li Wenmin flashed a cheeky smirk towards Chenyang's way. He knew how much matchmaking irked his brother. "See that glare of his? It'll soften if you impress him."
Ning Huabing was stunned to silence. She opened and closed her mouth, unable to formulate a sentence. Eventually, she became flustered, her face turned bright red.
"Look what you did to the poor thing." Li Wenmin snorted. "This is why you're going to be single for the rest of your life. You should've at least spared her a smile."
"If you don't shut up," Li Chenyang whispered, "I will make sure you wake up in the middle of the forest covered in bugs and honey."
"Pft, you're the heavy sleeper of this family, not me." Li Wenmin whispered back, "I'm a light sleeper. Good luck trying to kidnap me!"
Duchess Wang Qixing ignored her bickering sons. "What has brought you to us, Miss Ning?"
"I apologize for my intrusion so early in the morning, Madam Li," Ning Huabing began. "But I'd like to seek a private audience with Xueyue, if that's alright with you?"
"Oh..." Duchess Wang Qixing's shoulders sagged in disappointment. "In that case, I can escort you to the nearest drawing room."
"Yes, I'd appreciate that. Thank you."
Li Wenmin let out a huff. "The servants won't talk, Miss Ning. If you'd like to see my brother after Xueyue, I will gladly arrange that as well!"
Li Chenyang glowered at his brother, wishing he didn't have a twin!
Li Chenyang lowered his voice and hissed, "Shut up you insolent fool—"
"What was that, Brother?" Li Wenmin cupped his ear, "You'd like to see her in private? Why, you should've said that earlier! You didn't have to whisper."
Duke Li Shenyang quietly sipped his tea. Every morning in this house was always so amusing. His obnoxious sons were becoming his daily entertainment.
Duchess Wang Qixing clapped her hands. "Chenyang, you'd like to see her? How fantastic!"
Ning Huabing shook her head. "I-it seems the Minister is busy early in the morning, I won't intrude on his personal time."
Before Duchess Wang Qixing could butt in, Li Chenyang spoke up, "I'm grateful for your wise consideration. It is as you said, I'm quite busy. Now, if my family will excuse me, I must prepare to depart to the Royal Courts."
Li Wenmin rolled his eyes at how posh and formal his brother sounded. Can't he spare the poor girl some mercy? It was evident Ning Huabing was in love with him.
Duchess Wang Qixing's lips tugged downwards. She had remembered Ning Huabing's encounter with Li Chenyang during the Spring Tournament. If she recalled correctly, Ning Huabing attempted to give her son a gift. Ultimately, the young woman was rejected.
A sudden thought crossed her mind. Was her son… not interested in women? Her jaw dropped open in shock, as she swiveled around, surprising everyone.
"Are you…" she trailed off, glancing at her son, "Perhaps—"
"If it's a personal question, ask me privately," Li Chenyang muttered, standing up with his book.
"Don't interrupt your mother," Duchess Wang Qixing chided and narrowed her eyes. This son of hers needed a lecture!
"Won't happen again." Li Chenyang chuckled.
Duchess Wang Qixing watched as he left the room. She could practically feel the disappointment rolling off of Ning Huabing. Duchess Wang Qixing felt the same thing.
Li Xueyue stood up and said, "I will guide her to the drawing room."
Li Xueyue raised her guards. It had been weeks since she had last seen Ning Huabing. By now, she had decided Ning Huabing wasn't on her side. But who knew, the woman in question would show up this randomly?
Once they were alone in the hallways, Ning Huabing immediately spoke up, "I won't take much of your time, I know you're still a bit sick, so I won't force you to stay out of bed for too long."
Sick? Li Xueyue blinked. That's right, she almost forgot. The Li Family had continued to inform the Royal Family that she was bedridden. Perhaps word got around and now everyone knew—not that she cared.
Li Xueyue gratefully smiled whilst faking a small cough. "Yes, your consideration is much appreciated."
"You must be wondering about my absence, the truth is," Ning Huabing began, "I was doing a lot of research into Bai Tianai."
"There's a rumor that Bai Tianai is seeing someone aside from Zheng Tianyi. There's another man courting her and she's not refuting him. The rumor is true, I've seen him before."
Li Xueyue's eyes grew wide. Well, that was unexpected.
"When did this happen? Who's her other suitor?"
"His identity was so tight-lipped, which was why it took me forever to find out about him, but that's not the important topic at hand. I don't think you have to worry about Bai Tianai anymore."
Li Xueyue tilted her head. "What do you mean?"
"The Bai Family has completely disappeared!"
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