Li Xueyue felt a familiar ache in her heart. It reminded her of the time she found Bai Tianai and Zheng Leiyu together. Years have passed since that incident, but the pain could never be forgotten. It crawled out from the depths of her mind, gnawing at her trembling heart.
She let out a shaky breath and took a hesitant step backward. She wanted to run, but where? She wanted to yell, but how? When her eyes met his eyes, he dropped his hands.
"Well, this is an interesting sight," Li Xueyue wryly said. She hugged her stomach and stared at the familiar woman.
"Sunshine," Yu Zhen murmured.
Yu Zhen completely abandoned Xu Jiaqi. He rushed to Xueyue who stood by the entrance. He reached out to grab her, knowing she must be shocked by this scene.
Li Xueyue let him touch her. She could see the hope soar in his eyes, only to die down.
"Let me explain," Yu Zhen muttered. His hands rested upon her shoulders, hoping to comfort her. She seemed cold, despite the heavy shawl she wore over her hanfu. He pulled her into the room and closed the door behind him.
"Don't look so heartbroken, Sunshine," Yu Zhen stated. She stared at him blankly, her eyes numbed with pain.
"How many concubines will you take?" Li Xueyue coldly asked.
Yu Zhen frowned. "Have I ever lied to you?"
Li Xueyue tilted her head. Had he? She wanted to peer over his shoulders, but couldn't. His large frame towered over her. He was her shield, but also the barricade that held her back.
"Then, who is she?" Li Xueyue asked, pointing to Xu Jiaqi who was in shock. Taking Li Xueyue by absolute surprise, the beautiful woman lowered her head in a bow.
"Crown Princess," Xu Jiaqi greeted as she sank onto the floor in greeting. "It is unfortunate that we have to meet like this."
Li Xueyue narrowed her eyes. She could see right through this woman's act. Obedient for now, but untamable later.
"My name is Xu Jiaqi. I didn't mean for us to meet in such an awkward manner, but next time, your eyes won't be sullied—"
"Next time?" Li Xueyue sharply repeated. "Raise your head."
Xu Jiaqi did so with confusion. Why did the Crown Princess sound so irritated? She slowly raised her head. People have whispered of the Princess of Wuyi's beauty but she didn't see it. In her eyes, Li Xueyue paled in comparison to herself, especially when she's standing next to Yu Zhen.
"If you value your life," Li Xueyue slowly said. "Then get out."
"I don't understand, Crown Princess…" Xu Jiaqi trailed off, her brows coming together. She was conflicted by this.
Why was Li Xueyue so unwilling to share? It shouldn't be a surprise if the Crown Prince took a concubine, especially with her bland looks and small frame. Surely, such a thin little thing wouldn't be able to satisfy the Crown Prince?
Xu Jiaqi wondered if those hips could even bear children. Could Li Xueyue even handle the Crown Prince? The Princess looked like she would shatter just from his touch.
"Even dogs understand the command of 'get out'," Li Xueyue stated.
Xu Jiaqi's eyes widened at the offensive words of the Princess. She concealed a gasp and glanced towards the floor.
"Princess, I've never wronged you—"
"Enough," Yu Zhen seethed.
It took a simple word to shut Xu Jiaqi up. Her lips clamped shut and she remained on the floor. She wanted to get up to take a peek, but couldn't do so. The Crown Prince's stare was just that intimidating. It felt like a mountain was weighing down upon her.
"Scram," Yu Zhen growled.
Xu Jiaqi's eyes watered at his words. She didn't want to leave the Crown Prince alone with that woman. She slowly rose to her feet and raised her head.
"I'm sorry, Your Highn—" Xu Jiaqi's body lurched forward and she covered her mouth, a sudden urge to puke. She felt the contents of her dinner threatening to come out.
And in the midst of her panic, she saw it. The Crown Prince had protectively pushed Li Xueyue back a bit. The Crown Prince was more concerned about Li Xueyue to care about her sickly state.
Xu Jiaqi knew this was expected. Li Xueyue would always come first, wouldn't she? Except in bed. Exactly. That was when the Crown Prince would prefer someone else, like her.
"P-please excuse me, Your Highness," Xu Jiaqi mumbled out. She rushed for the door, but a stormy voice halted her.
Xu Jiaqi paused and slowly turned around, one hand over her mouth. She swallowed back her fears and shakily lowered her palm. She was overcome with joy, thinking everything would play out in her favor.
"Properly bid the Crown Princess goodbye."
Xu Jiaqi's hope died just like that. Her lips twitched. She thought he wouldn't care, but it seemed like he did.
Reluctantly, Xu Jiaqi bowed her head towards the Crown Princess. "May you have a restful night, Princess."
Li Xueyue didn't know why, but she felt a chill. Goosebumps rose at the same time Xu Jiaqi lifted her head. The woman then slipped out of the private study without another word.
"Let me explain," Yu Zhen repeated, grabbing Li Xueyue's attention before she jumped to a conclusion. Knowing her, she was already on her way to overthinking.
"She's pretty," Li Xueyue suddenly said.
Yu Zhen blinked. "She's annoying," he deadpanned.
Li Xueyue averted her gaze from him. She attempted to step out of his grasp, but he tightened his grip.
"Why are you wearing so little?" he worriedly asked.
Li Xueyue didn't get to respond when he abruptly released her. She watched as he adjusted the shawl which was basically a long fabric worn around her upper body. He made sure it covered her upper arms and not just her shoulders.
"Are you cold?" Yu Zhen questioned. He didn't wait for an answer before slipping off his robes and wrapping it around her.
"Next time, wear more clothing. Hanjian is colder at night," he stated.
Li Xueyue pursued her lips. Was this a tactic of his to change the subject? She jumped when he grabbed her hand, pulling her forward.
She yanked her hand back, and to her surprise, he allowed her to do so.
"Come with me to the desk, it's warmer there," Yu Zhen patiently told her.
Li Xueyue expected him to cross the lines like Wen Jinkai did. But he didn't. Yu Zhen respected her boundaries.
"Whatever you want to know, I can tell at my desk," Yu Zhen told her. He waited as she observed the private study, noticing the fire lanterns placed around his table. They were made of metal and conducted heat well.
"Will you have a harem?" she blurted out.
Yu Zhen stiffened at her words. "Why are you asking this?"
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip. This wasn't the answer she wanted. "Call me selfish, but I don't want you to have anyone else but me."
Yu Zhen's hardened gaze became gentle. He reached out and this time, she didn't reject him. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer.
He opened his mouth to speak, but she interrupted him.
"When you held me in your arms, each word and vow you said was so clear that I believed everything you said. Promises are sweet lies, but you make it sound like truths," she whispered.
Yu Zhen felt a prickling pain in his chest. She was terrified of losing him as much as he was fearful of losing her. He hugged her tighter until she couldn't move.
"To me, you are the only one. I'm scared that… to you, I am just one out of many women," she said.
Yu Zhen knew she wasn't doing this on purpose. But he was overwhelmed with guilt. She was confident of his words but hesitant about his actions. He wanted to hold her tighter, but that was impossible. She was already pressed against his chest, where his erratic heart beated for no one else but her.
"I'll only have you, Li Xueyue. No one else," he vowed.
Li Xueyue believed him, she truly did, but a part of her was terrified of losing him. She could do nothing but lean her head against his chest. She prayed he'd remain by her side when age takes a toll, and she was no longer young.
"I will never leave you, Sunshine. And if death dares to take you from me, I'll wrestle for immortality with you."
Li Xueyue's eyes watered at his words. In his arms, she felt safe and comforted. In his arms, she felt like nothing could go wrong. His words seemed absolute, and she trusted it would be.
"Don't you know what you possess?" Yu Zhen whispered. He let out a small laugh when she shook her head.
"My heart, you fool."
Li Xueyue's eyes widened.
"You can break my heart, shatter it a thousand times, and do as you please with it. It was always yours to begin with."
Li Xueyue could no longer hold it back. Tears spilled from her eyes. Her hesitant heart was finally reassured by him. She realized his words weren't promises meant to trick the soul.
"So stay by my side, Li Xueyue. And I'll stay by yours. For the rest of our lifetime, and the ones beyond that."
Li Xueyue could do nothing but mutely nod her head. She hoped it was enough.
She wondered if he knew that he, too, possessed her heart. They had unknowingly given it to each other. She didn't even remember when or how it happened. But it did. And it was the only thing that mattered.
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