Yu Zhen frowned down at the book in his hands. He knew he shouldn't have trusted Hu Dengxiao with things related to understanding women.
Letting out an irritable sigh, Yu Zhen slammed the book onto the table. What a waste of time. Reading love stories? Maybe that was why Hu Dengxiao wasn't able to win Lu Tianbi's heart.
"I don't have time for this," Yu Zhen seethed, even though no one was in the room.
Yu Zhen had finally finished the last piece of work, thereby freeing up his schedule for the next two weeks.
Originally, he thought reading the book would give his mind a break, but he found himself worked up over how stupid and unrealistic the story was.
"Did she eat already?" he thought out loud.
Yu Zhen wondered if it was time for Li Xueyue's dinner. By now, she should be mid-meal, shouldn't she? At the thought of her, his worries went away. She was eating well nowadays. Or at least, in front of him, she was.
An abrupt knock on his door interrupted his thoughts. His lips curled into a permanent scowl.
"What?" he demanded.
The door opened slowly and a Eunuch stepped inside. He got to his knees and kowtowed, his forehead nearly touched the floor.
"Your Highness, Lady Xu Jiaqi is urgently requesting your audience," the Eunuch announced, his voice coming out slightly muffled.
Yu Zhen raised a brow. What the hell did she want from him?
"Don't let her in."
The Eunuch didn't hesitate. He nodded his head, but it was too late. She had ignored the protocols and pushed her way through the door, her eyes brimming with tears.
"Lady Xu!" the Eunuch exclaimed, horrified at her audacity.
The guards stepped forward, prepared to grab her. But the Crown Prince lifted his head and waved his hand. It wasn't an exact invitation for her to come inside, nor was it a command to drag her out.
The guard wondered if the Crown Prince was just pitying this woman who had the guts to barge in like this. They saw the wave as a dismissal.
They bowed their heads and respectively closed the door behind them.
"Is it true, Your Highness?" she asked. Her voice cracked and she seemed to be on the verge of tears.
Yu Zhen glowered at her. He hated crying women. He hated their nasal voice, the sobs and sniffs. All of it irritated him.
So many have cried to him, hoping he'd have a soft spot for them. It wasn't until he met Li Xueyue that he found himself softening for a woman. Everything felt natural when it came to her.
His hands always moved on its own, his mouth whispering sweet words on its own accord.
"I'm so sorry for barging in, Your Highness, b-but I heard an urgent piece of information," Xu Jiaqi blurted out.
She gathered the ends of her heavy hanfu and stepped forward, her eyes moistened.
Yu Zhen was slightly intrigued. "What did you hear?"
"I-I didn't think it was true," Xu Jiaqi whispered. She glanced towards the floor, despite having predicted the outcome of this situation.
Xu Jiaqi knew she was being used by Yu Zhen. For heaven's sake, she was there to witness it herself. She knew Li Xueyue would become the Crown Princess, but a small part of her had hoped the latter wouldn't.
Xu Jiaqi came to know about the events that happened today—how the Emperor and Empress tested Li Xueyue and how Li Xueyue had passed their test with flying colors. It is without a doubt that Li Xueyue would become the Crown Princess of Hanjian.
"Your Highness," Xu Jiaqi stated as she stepped forward.
She shuddered at the murderous glare of the Crown Prince. It was enough for her to be frozen to the ground. Chills crawled down her spine.
"Allow me to abandon my dignity and pride for you," Xu Jiaqi whispered. She continued walking towards his workspace.
Abruptly, she dropped to her knees.
"Your Highness, I am willing to devote my life to you, for you have saved me from a life of despair," Xu Jiaqi boldly articulated and placed a hand upon her chest, ignoring the fact that he was ready to kill her.
"Please…" Xu Jiaqi lowered her head. "Take me as your concubine."
Yu Zhen's mood worsened. A snarl formed on his lips. Concubine? This woman had truly lost her mind.
And then she hiccuped.
He scowled. Was she drunk?
Xu Jiaqi raised her eyes, revealing the sincerity that poured from it. "I am not a greedy woman for power, Your Highness. I only want to be of use to you."
Yu Zhen was repulsed by her confession. She wasn't in the right state of mind. Neither did he need a concubine to satisfy him. Li Xueyue was far more than enough.
Besides, Xu Jiaqi's face was flushed red, indicating the influence of something on her gutsy confession.
"You can leave on your own." Yu Zhen slowly stood up.
Xu Jiaqi felt her heart drum in anticipation. What was he going to do? She watched as he stepped away from his workspace.
Her stomach churned at the sight of him. He was handsome beyond words—even when a dark shadow danced over his features, and indignation flashed in his eyes.
Xu Jiaqi shivered when she met his gaze for the briefest of seconds. She stared up at him, helpless and weak, like a trampled flower dreaming of the sky.
"Or," he mused. "You'll be dragged out of here, screaming and kicking."
Xu Jiaqi's throat dried at his words. He was ever so cruel, wasn't he? But she had heard the rumors.
The Crown Prince was capable of showing affection. She had heard the servants' gossip of his gentle gaze for the Crown Princess.
"I'm willing to do anything for you, Your Highness," Xu Jiaqi whispered. "Whether it's playing the double agent for the Empress, or—"
"A drunk mind speaks a sober heart, Your Highness," Xu Jiaqi rushed out.
Was she drunk? She wasn't sure. Her body hummed and her brain tingled. But it was a normal reaction around him. Wasn't it?
Yu Zhen couldn't be more repulsed at this sight.
The eldest daughter of the Xu Family was willing to give her everything to him, but he didn't want it. Perhaps, a year ago, he would've considered it. She was a tempting offer, a pawn in his game.
"I won't repeat myself," he growled.
"Then let me repeat myself, Your Highness," Xu Jiaqi stated. She refused to leave this room without taking a yes for an answer.
Xu Jiaqi had made up her mind. She wanted to stay by the Crown Prince's side. Even if he had forgotten her, she would still do it. Even if he had forgotten their childhood, she would still do it.
Xu Jiaqi wanted the Crown Prince. No one else. Not because he treated her differently, but because he had saved her life three times. Wasn't it fate? Wasn't it destiny?
Xu Jiaqi knew she had a duty to save her family line. To bring honor back to the Xu Family name. But they had never cared for her. So why should she care for them?
"Please take me as your concubine, Your Highness. Please allow me to stay by your side. Dignity and pride do not matter to me," Xu Jiaqi said.
She rose to her feet, her heart skipping when she saw his expression shift. Was he surprised by her determination? Surprised that she had stood up so quickly?
"Please consider—" Xu Jiaqi's voice died in her throat.
Yu Zhen roughly yanked her by the collar, pulling her forward. He glared down at this despicable woman. Tomorrow, she would forget this ever occurred. She'd wake up puzzled. Her life would resume as usual.
The Crown Prince never owed favors to anyone. He never lent a helping hand unless it was beneficial to him.
Yu Zhen only pardoned Xu Jiaqi because her circumstances reminded him of Li Xueyue. That was the only reason why he'd spare Xu Jiaqi another look.
"Do you not value your life?" Yu Zhen snarled.
"No," Xu Jiaqi whispered with a shake of her head.
Her hands trembled at the intensity of his glare. Her knees threatened to give out from under her.
Xu Jiaqi had never been this close to the Crown Prince before. She couldn't even see the specks of color in his eyes. He looked inhumane.
The eyes of a monster stared back at her. Even so, her heart skipped a beat and her gaze shifted to his lips, perfect and smooth.
"You may not care or remember it, but you have saved my life three times now, Your Highness. The only reason I am still alive to this day is because of you," Xu Jiaqi whispered.
Whether it was the effects of the alcohol or her blind courage, she boldly rested her hand upon his chest.
"If I can't be of use to you, Your Highness, then please dispose of me. I will not yearn for power or wealth. I want nothing but your attention, even if it's as brief as petals cascading to the ground."
Yu Zhen grabbed her wandering hands. "You repulse me—"
A loud thud interrupted his words. His infuriated glare instantly snapped to the door.
His eyes grew wide when he saw her. She was pale and her eyes were wide, trembling in disbelief. And it didn't take long for him to realize how compromising his position was. But all of that was too late, wasn't it?
Li Xueyue had seen everything.
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