Li Xueyue was sure Xu Jiaqi would cause problems in the long run. It would be as easy as telling Yu Zhen to dispose of the woman.
He had promised her before that he would eliminate every obstacle in their path. But what would the people say? What will the Emperor and Empress think especially after she had gotten on their good side today?
Li Xueyue frowned. In high society, words were weapons. She should use it instead of actual knives.
She couldn't change the fact that she killed her birth father with her bare hands. She was now a monster—one that's desperately grasping onto humanity.
"She will be punished," Yu Zhen abruptly said. "On the grounds of disobeying commands and storming into my private study without permission."
Li Xueyue didn't respond. She remained motionless in his arms.
Li Xueyue didn't want to have a single part in any of this. She thought these types of petty drama were beyond her. She didn't come to Hanjian to throw mud at others. Her lips curled downwards.
How many more Xu Jiaqis were there in this palace? How many more women would throw their life away for the Crown Prince? How many of them didn't value their dignity, their pride, and worth?
"You don't have to worry," Yu Zhen soothed.
He released her from the hug and grasped her hands. Li Xueyue's silence worried him. And her silence confirmed his suspicions when she stared blankly at him.
"You look like your world has been shattered," Yu Zhen whispered.
He tugged strands of hair away from her face, but it fell back in place, framing her small head.
"I've been betrayed once before," Li Xueyue stated. "I saw history repeating itself."
"It was a misunderstanding."
"Then why do you look so devastated?"
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip. He could comfort her with as many vows as he'd like and she'd listen to it, repeating it inside her brain, but her heart would never listen.
"Actions speak louder than words," Li Xueyue said.
She lifted her stare to meet his and felt the wind knocked out of her. He stared at her with so much adoration in his eyes as if she was his muse. Concern seeped from his warm, obsidian gaze.
"You don't trust me," Yu Zhen accused.
Li Xueyue instantly shook her head. "It's not that—"
"No, listen to me—"
"No matter how much I'll promise you that there is no other woman in my life, you won't believe it until you see to it that all of them are gone," Yu Zhen pointed out.
Li Xueyue shut her mouth. It was true. It was a selfish, delirious wish of hers that's hard to fulfill, especially with his position.
Everyone would vie for his attention, everyone but her. She refused to praise the ground he walked on, refused to bow her head, refused to be treated less than his equal.
"Is it wrong to be possessive?" Li Xueyue argued. "You do the same for me—"
"Because I know how men look at you!"
"And you don't think I realize how women stare at you?!" she exasperated.
"They don't matter—"
"And neither do other men!"
Yu Zhen gawked at her like she was crazy. "And Wen Jinkai? He didn't matter? Are you telling me that the Commander who placed his feelings for you before his family, didn't matter at all?"
Li Xueyue's voice died in her throat. Was this how he viewed her? A woman at a crossroad, uncertain of her lover?
"We're being hypocrites," she harshly argued.
"Really?" Yu Zhen bit out. "I couldn't tell."
Li Xueyue deeply scowled. The sarcasm was uncalled for.
Li Xueyue glared up at him, anguish and irritation flashing on her face. She saw the same emotion plastered on his flawless features. His eyes had darkened and his jaw was clenched. A muscle ticked.
Finally, she tore her gaze away from him and stepped back. She hugged her stomach and sighed.
"Do we have to bring up the past?" she muttered.
Yu Zhen frowned. He looked away and held back a sigh. The past should remain behind them.
Yu Zhen didn't mean to bring up Wen Jinkai. He couldn't help it.
The jealousy that another man had intrigued her before irked him. He knew it was foolish of him to be jealous. What was there to worry about?
At the end of the day, Li Xueyue belonged to him. Just as he did to her. Wasn't that the bigger picture here?
A long silence ensued. Outside the window, a petal fluttered in the wind. A breeze shook the candlelight. An echo drifted through the trees, carrying with it the sounds of the forest. The world brimming with life, louder than the stubborn lovebirds.
"It's getting late," Yu Zhen finally said. "You should head back to your room."
Li Xueyue dug her finger into her palms. So this was how he wanted it to be between them. She ground her teeth and turned around. Without another word, she approached the door. But then she paused.
She let out a shaky breath. The second she'd walk out of this door, their accusations would remain in the air. Their problems would be brushed under the rug, forgotten until someone tripped over it and injured themselves.
"Let me ask you this," Li Xueyue said. She slowly turned her head to face him. "Did you ever feel anything for Xu Jiaqi?"
"If I said yes, what would you do?"
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. "If I said I liked Wen Jinkai, what would you do?"
Yu Zhen's gaze hardened. He took a step forward. A chill entered the room. Somewhere, a candlelight was blown out. Darkness seeped from the corners.
"Exactly," Li Xueyue muttered. She crossed her arms and headed towards the door.
"And if I said no, what would be your reaction?" he growled out.
Li Xueyue stiffened.
"Will you continue to doubt me? Continue to question my sincerity? What will you do?"
Li Xueyue glared at the ground.
"Good night," she harshly said, placing one hand on the door.
"If you walk out right now, I'll take it as a yes."
Li Xueyue's grip on the door tightened. She didn't want to face her insecurities. She didn't want to acknowledge her trust issues. So many things plagued her thoughts, the majority of which were unfavorable to Yu Zhen.
"I always make the first initiative, don't I?" Yu Zhen suddenly said. "From chasing you to stopping you from running, I'm the first to do everything."
"You want something in return for that," Li Xueyue stated. "What is it?"
"How many times do you want me to prove it? That my feelings for you are sincere when you've never done your part in the chase?"
Li Xueyue angrily turned around. The words, 'I never asked you to chase me,' rested on the tip of her tongue. She hated that the thought even crossed her mind.
"I've never done my part?" Li Xueyue repeated. "Oh, as if traveling to the other side of the country amidst horrid weather just to marry you isn't doing anything."
"All because of a marriage proposal initiated by me."
"Are we really the type to keep scores of who did this and who did that?" Li Xueyue argued.
"Yes, we're petty enough to do that, and you know it."
"No, actually, I don't," Li Xueyue said. "If we keep track of every little thing, we'll go crazy from it. This is a relationship, not a competition."
Li Xueyue pinched the bridge of her nose. "I don't even know why we're having this argument. You wanted me to go to bed. So I am. But then you stopped me and—"
"All because this argument will stretch for days on end if we don't conclude it tonight."
Li Xueyue shut her mouth. "And what is the outcome you have in mind? That we kiss and makeup as if our trust issues weren't revealed just now?"
"What do I look like? A mirror?" Yu Zhen stated.
Li Xueyue was taken aback by his words. She was provoked and irritated. She wasn't the type to enter screaming matches. It wasn't in her nature to do so. But she was so ready to argue his head off.
"I don't have trust issues—"
"I really, really don't!" Li Xueyue yelled.
"Then why do you seem so hesitant?"
"What are you even talking about?" she harshly asked, wishing this conversation would just end.
Yu Zhen stared directly into her eyes. He held her attention with ease.
"Then why do you hesitate to fall in love? Why are you so terrified of letting people in? Why do you shy away from those who adore you? Why are you so uncomfortable with sharing your thoughts?"
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