Duke Li Taojun had expected so much more out of this conversation. He wanted to apologize for being so late in her life.
Duke Li Taojun wanted to form a father-daughter relationship with her. There was so much to be done, but he hadn't. He thought she'd at least hug him or shed a tear.
This encounter was a lot more painful than he anticipated. Who knew she'd be so heartless…? Who knew she was exactly like her mother?
"Don't you have any empathy for me, at all?" Duke Li Taojun demanded in a raised voice. He was hurt by her words.
"Don't flatter yourself," Li Xueyue said with a small laugh. "The only contribution you had in my life was bringing me into this world, which by the way, no thank you."
Duke Li Taojun was infuriated by her indifference. Was this how both families raised her to be? He was told she was a lot more humble and kinder than this. What had gotten into her?
"I suppose this conversation has come to an end." Li Xueyue revealed a small smile, her eyes softening with the tiny movement.
She was entertained by his dumbfounded stare. It was almost as if he thought she wasn't capable of being amicable.
"I wish I can say it was a pleasure to see you, but it wasn't." Li Xueyue picked up her hanfu a bit and walked off without a nod of acknowledgement or a bow. He didn't deserve any of her kindness or sympathy.
A coward. That was what he was. Her birth father was a useless man and her birth mother was an absentee parent.
Li Xueyue couldn't help but want to laugh at her situation. Her past would forever leave a scar in her heart. She couldn't find the energy in herself to ever forgive any of her biological parents. Nothing they do or say would change what had happened to her.
The only thing that could heal Xueyue was time and acceptance.
"Is this how it's going to be? You're going to cast me aside, all because I am of no use to you? Are you going to pretend to not know me, even though I can drag you through the dirt?
Li Xueyue let out a sigh. Was this where her stubbornness came from?
Duke Li Shenytang glowered at her. "I might've lost my power because of the late Emperor's death, but that should make me an even more lethal enemy."
She tilted her head and raised a brow. What was he blabbering about?
He continued, "I have nothing to lose now. I won't hesitate to slander you any chance I get. For example, bringing up your abrupt presence in the Li family's life."
Something in her snapped. She lost it.
So this was how it was going to be? Both of her birth parents were insignificant in her growth. They offered her nothing, but wanted something from her. They had treated her so horribly, yet had the audacity to request things from her as if she owed them.
Her own birth father threatened to ruin her. A coward was too kind of an insult for him. He was less than scum.
Li Xueyue turned around to face him. "Oh dear, you're right, Father. I didn't think ahead into the future. That's quite a flaw I have, don't you think so?"
Duke Li Taojun was suspicious of her sudden change. "What are you planning?"
"How can I plan anything when I don't have anything against you? Whereas you have everything against me?" Li Xueyue questioned in a soft voice. She dropped her gaze to the ground and shrank her shoulders a bit.
"Is it too late to apologize for my insolence? Please don't ruin my reputation, Father. I've worked so hard to build it," Li Xueyue pleaded.
Duke Li Taojun blinked. "I can see past this pitiful act of yours. Do you truly think I'm that stupid?"
Li Xueyue figured he wasn't as simple-minded as most men. After all, it would take quite a lot of skills to train someone like Wen Jinkai. It must've been even more difficult to slither his way into power after losing it all.
"What do you expect me to say, Father? Now that you hold my secrets against me, do you really think I will continue to insult you and dig a deeper grave for myself?" she questioned in a sullen voice.
Raising her stare from the ground, she revealed the fear that temporarily flashed in her eyes.
Duke Li Taojun wryly smiled. At times like this, her coyness resembled her mother. "Do you really think you can trick me just like that vixen? I've learned from my mistakes."
Li Xueyue took a step closer. "Then what do you want me to do and say, Father? Apologize for being such a disrespectful brat? You revealed your weapon against me. Shouldn't my defenseless self yield to you?"
Duke Li Taojun hadn't thought that far ahead. He supposed she had inherited that trait from him.
He had threatened her but didn't know exactly what he wanted from her. It was too late to take him under his care and wing. She was simply too loyal to Li Shenyang.
"Be my eyes and ears," Duke Li Taojun instructed. "For every secret you tell me, I will award you with a month of my compliance. You're leaving for Hanjian soon, aren't you? If you don't want your reputation to be slandered here when you're residing there, then find out as much dirt as possible."
It was the final straw for Xueyue. The one that broke the camel's back.
This useless man truly had the guts to demand her betrayal to the only family that had actually loved her.
Li Xueyue no longer worried about the consequences anymore. Lifting her head from the ground, she was prepared to end it all. Once and for all.
Li Xueyue forced herself to frown. "This is unfair."
"This is your punishment for being such a brat earlier," Duke Li Taojun spat. "If you had behaved properly and ran into my arms much earlier, I wouldn't have done this to you."
Li Xueyue realized this man was all brawns and no brains. How exactly did he even acquire his power? Was it by sweet-talking the previous Emperor? Hm…
"I need more time," Li Xueyue whispered. "I'd leave for Hanjian in less than a week. There is no way I would be able to acquire so much information in such a short span of—"
"I don't care," Duke Li Taojun hummed. "You've made your mistake. Now, you'll learn the harsh way."
"So you're actually going to reprimand me like a father?" Li Xueyue mused.
Duke Li Taojun narrowed his gaze. "If I don't, who will? Obviously my younger brother has done a sorry job at disciplining you," he spat out.
He observed her from head to toe in disgust. "It seems I resented the Bai family's abuse towards you all for nothing. You're a disobedient little girl who needs to be taught a proper lesson."
'Isn't it a little bit too late for that?' Li Xueyue bit down on her tongue to stop herself from blurting out that response. She continued digging her teeth into her tongue until she tasted blood and her eyes watered.
"How unfair of you," Li Xueyue sullenly whispered. She dropped her stare to the ground right as her eyes glistened with unshed tears.
"Fine," Li Xueyue gritted out. "I will do as you said, just this once."
Duke Li Taojun clenched his fists together. She was playing him. Did she actually think he would fall for those fake tears? How many times have they been used against him by her mother? He had already lost count.
"Good, now hurry off before they suspect anything due to your absence," Duke Li Taojun said. He shooed the Princess as if she was a dog that wouldn't stop showing up at his door.
Li Xueyue turned her back to him. She took a step forward but paused. "You know, Father. There is one thing you didn't ask me."
"Stop calling me by that title in hopes of appeasing me. It does nothing."
"You never asked if I missed you," Li Xueyue murmured.
She continued, "Have I ever glanced out the window in my battered state and wondered if my knight in shining armor was out there somewhere? Have I ever cried to see my birth father? Have I ever prayed day and night to meet you, even if it's just once?"
Duke Li Taojun's throat dried up at her words. It was what he initially wanted to hear from her. Because he, too, had done the same.
Duke Li Taojun had peered up at the limitless night sky and wondered if she was alright, if she was happy if she was well-fed. It was before he discovered the Bai Family's abuse.
"Because the truth is," Li Xueyue said and shifted her chin just to peer at him. "I did."
Duke Li Taojun's heart plummeted. It was as if the rug was yanked from underneath him.
Duke Li Taojun squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself not to believe her. And because he concentrated too much on blocking her out, he didn't hear the soft thud of her shoes. Nor did he expect the body that crashed against his, or the arms that wrapped itself around him.
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