Li Xueyue couldn't stand another moment in the dining room. It was suffocating, and she didn't want to eat anymore. She bowed her head to show respect to her parents and excused herself without another glance backward.
Li Xueyue didn't care about Minghua's paled expression and the sheer agony on the latter's face. Li Minghua's heartbreak was evident.
Li Minghua opened and closed her mouth. The thread of lies binding her for over two years was beginning to strangle her. She was at a loss for words, unable to understand what was reality and what wasn't.
Was Wen Jinkai truly as Xueyue claimed he was? Did he still love her?
Tears filled her eyes as her face warmed up. Her throat tightened and her vision blurred.
No, she refused to believe his sincerity for her. It was just as the Second Prince said. Wen Jinkai no longer loved her. He loved the third-rank Princess of Wuyi.
Li Minghua had seen the look in his eyes when he picked her up by the throat. The sheer disgust and aggravation that flashed on his face. She had never seen rage so terrifying. He reacted like that all because Xueyue was slapped on the hand.
"Minghua," Duchess Wang Qixing gently murmured. "What your sister said could be the truth. Please don't be angry with Xueyue. She has done nothing wrong."
"Everyone is always on her side," Li Minghua declared. She raised her head as a single droplet of tear slipped down her cheeks. "She has it all! Beauty, brains, and—"
"You only know Xueyue on the surface," Li Chenyang harshly said. He stood up and glowered down at her. "If you don't know anything about her past, you should keep your mouth shut."
"She lived in an abusive household and was accused of murder by the Bai Family. She killed an older caretaker of Viscount Bai Sheng!" Li Minghua exclaimed. "I know everything about her."
Li Chenyang was instantly taken aback. Xueyue was accused of murder? When was this? His eyes snapped to his parents who glanced away.
Duke Li Shenyang knew Xueyue was sentenced to death by beating. For the crime she supposedly committed. It was not surprising that her punishment had been severe. Ling had looked into her background. He knew what she was accused of, but still accepted her.
"Is it true?" Li Chenyang asked.
Duke Li Shenyang silently nodded. The reason that he continued to accept Xueyue into the household was not because of the happiness she brought to Duchess Wang Qixing. It was because he had silently watched over her.
Duke Li Shenyang knew Xueyue would never be capable of murder—especially of an elderly person.
"I don't believe it," Li Chenyang sniped. A part of him did. He had seen the way she maneuvered a sword. She had the ability to kill, but the question was, would she do it?
Li Chenyang refused to come to terms with such an atrocious accusation. He stood up and didn't excuse himself, only to chase after his younger sister. Xueyue wouldn't do such a thing. Would she?
Duke Li Shenyang let out a sigh upon seeing how disrupted the meal had become. "She might've been accused of murder, but the circumstances surrounding it is suspicious."
Duchess Wang Qixing slowly nodded. She trusted her husband's words over anyone else's. There was no way that a happy-go-lucky girl would be able to kill someone. Right? Even so, she turned to Minghua.
Duke Li Shenyang glanced at his daughter. "How do you know so much about Xueyue? Chenyang was overcome with shock to realize that, but I wasn't fazed."
Li Minghua bit her tongue. She peered at Wenmin who was pale-faced with disbelief at the turn of events. He hadn't spoken up. Not even once.
"I saw it…" Li Minghua whispered. "T-the night before the palace slaughter occurred, I snuck into the Empress's bedroom. It was fairly easy. She never had a guard with her when she slept."
Li Minghua didn't plan to disclose the conversation that unfolded between Wen Jinkai and the Empress the night he had stormed into her bedroom. Perhaps it was what prompted the Empress to lose all sense of security. The Empress most likely wanted a leverage over her son in the form of Xueyue.
Li Minghua fiddled with her hand. "I think the Empress looked into Xueyue's background. I think it was difficult to find the information, since the Bai family disappeared, but there were still servants remaining.
There was a scroll that was hidden between the bookshelves. When I pulled it out and read it, I discovered it was all about Xueyue's history."
Li Wenmin was the first to be alarmed. His eyes grew wide. The thought of danger coming to Xueyue's way was enough for him to snap into reality. He sprang out of his chair.
"Where is that scroll now?" Li Wenmin urgently asked. He was terrified that there was something that could jeopardize Xueyue.
"It's in the Palace. I hid it in my bedroom," Li Minghua said. "But—"
"Father," Li Wenmin addressed. He hated the formal title, but desperate times called for desperate measures. "You must burn it. No one else must know—"
"You didn't even have to tell me," Duke Li Shenyang mused. "You're coming with me to the Palace today, Minghua. You'll take me to your bedroom."
"But the thing is…" Li Minghua nervously responded. Her eyes darted everywhere in the room, but her parents and brother. Fear weighed her down. She didn't want to return to the Palace, it was a dreadful place.
"What is it?" Duchess Wang Qixing asked. Her voice was filled with reassurance. She placed a gentle hand upon her daughter's back and soothingly rubbed it, knowing this would calm Minghua down.
"My bedroom is in the Second Prince's residence. I-I don't want to run into him."
Li Wenmin stiffened. Why the hell would a servant reside near a Prince? It was as if she was a concubine. And the reason a concubine's room would be so close to a royal… "Did the Second Prince, our cousin touch you?!"
The blood drained from Duchess Wang Qixing's face. It wouldn't be the first time Minghua's cousin fell for her. But it'd be the first time if one had succeeded. She was suddenly grateful for the massacre of the Princes. How could they have the audacity to touch her daughter?
"No, not yet, he hasn't," Li Minghua muttered in a quiet voice.
Duke Li Shenyang's lips dipped into a slight frown. Minghua's shoulders were hunched over and she had lost the confidence from earlier. This was definitely a sensitive topic for her. He planned to request for the Duchess to speak to her in private about this.
"Have faith in your father," Duke Li Shenyang spoke up. "I've failed to protect you in the past, but this time, I will not fail you. Come with me to the Palace. Once we've secured the scroll, I will send you home as soon as I can."
Li Minghua was hesitant. She didn't want to run into the Second Prince. If he was alive, he was most likely simmering with rage. The Second Prince had placed his trust in her, his accomplice, and she had fled from him. She had never ran so fast than the night she rushed to her father.
"I-I don't want to," Li Minghua whispered. She shrank back when Wenmin's gaze became intense and pressing.
"Do you dislike Xueyue?" Li Wenmin suddenly asked.
"It's alright," Duke Li Shenyang interrupted with a slight sigh. "Tell me where you placed the scroll and I'll have it fetched."
Li Minghua bit her bottom lip. That scroll was the only leverage she had over Bai Xueyue. If she gave it up so quickly, then wouldn't Xueyue win this battle?
"It's under my pillow," Li Minghua said as she averted her eyes from them.
"Alright then," Duchess Wang Qixing warmly responded. "You don't have to worry about this anymore."
Li Minghua rapidly nodded. "C-can I head back to my room now? I'm tired."
"Of course," Duchess Wang Qixing attentively said. "Here, let me guide you back."
"No need," Li Minghua blurted out. She panicked and stood up from her chair in a hurry. Her chair fell backward. A loud crash followed after her as she jumped.
Duke Li Shenyang was suspicious of her abrupt clumsiness. If he recalled correctly, she was the most nervous when she was hiding something. He wanted to question her, but it would be wrong of him. Why would his own daughter hide from him?
"Wait," Li Wenmin spoke up.
Li Minghua stiffened. "I said I'm fine walking back on my own! I don't need anyone's help. This is also my house. I'm not a guest. I won't get lost!" she exclaimed.
Li Wenmin's expression softened. "I wasn't implying that, Xiao Hua."
"Then what are you trying to say?" Li Minghua impatiently asked as she tucked her shaking hands behind her back.
"Are you sure it's under your pillow?" Li Wenmin asked. "We don't want to create suspicion by rummaging through your room, so we'll have to grab the scroll quickly. I hope you can understand where I'm coming from, Xiao Hua."
Li Minghua stared at her brother accusingly. "Is that how it is now? You don't believe me anymore?"
Li Wenmin's eyes widened. He shook his head and began to approach her. He always had faith in his Xiao Hua—no matter what she said or did to him. She was, after all, his precious little sister. She could do no wrong in his eyes, just as Xueyue wouldn't either.
"No, it's not that—"
"Thanks for that insult," Li Minghua bit out. She was scorned by his words, and it was written all over her face.
"I'm leaving. Excuse me," she said. Without waiting for his reply, Li Minghua stomped out of the dining room.
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