The bad memories had resurfaced, violently slamming into Li Xueyue like a sword piercing through flesh. She felt her palms turn clammy, her eyes moisten with tears.
Li Xueyue's heart froze with terror for a split second before it suddenly thumped against her chest. Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Like the sound of drums during a ceremony. Her foot was rooted to the wooden floor. Any second now, she would break into tears.
Li Xueyue did not think her worst nightmare would be walking towards her. One grimy step at a time. In her eyes, he wasn't even human. He moved like a monster of the night, large and terrifying, nothing but contours of shadows stalking through the forest.
She didn't realize her hands were shaking until she hugged her stomach out of fear. It felt like bugs were crawling upon her skin, creating goosebumps.
"Heavens no…" she breathed out, believing this must've been a wicked dream of hers.
Li Xueyue's knees nearly gave out from underneath her. Then, one thing happened after the next, and she blinked rapidly. One second her eyes were upon the monster, and the next, she was looking up at the ceiling.
Horrified gasps could be heard, as maidservants quickly surrounded her. What had happened?
"Crown Princess, are you alright?!" Xiao Hua urgently asked, as her gentle face came into view. She was kneeling upon the ground, preventing the Crown Princess's head from hitting the floor.
Xiao Hua couldn't believe her eyes when it happened. The Crown Princess was standing firm as a tree, then the next, she had fainted backward.
No one was prepared for it to happen. It was a miracle that they even caught her in time before her head hit the floor.
"Y-yes, I'm fine. I am just dizzy from forgetting about my afternoon meal," Li Xueyue lied. She stood up with the eager help of Xiao Hua.
Xiao Hua's hands trembled when the Crown Princess got back onto her feet. Her eyes darted from Lady Ge Beining to the mysterious man who had approached him. Both of them wore alarmed expressions on their faces.
Xiao Hua hated the fact that they witnessed the Crown Princess at such a lowly point. The Crown Princess could've walked away with a victory, but now she was put in a sticky situation.
"Oh my," Lady Ge Beining worriedly said. "Does the Crown Prince starve you? I didn't know he preferred his woman to be thin as a twig."
Li Xueyue's lips twitched. She had barely recomposed herself, and Lady Ge Beining was already starting the second battle.
And if this was the Li Xueyue from months ago, she would've believed in Lady Ge Beining's words like an insecure little girl. But Li Xueyue knew better.
"It seems your sources have lied," Li Xueyue shakily said. She turned around, doing anything to distract herself from the disgusting man behind her.
"The Crown Prince prefers some meat to grip upon…" Li Xueyue surveyed Lady Ge Beining from head to toe. She pretended to suppress a smile, and hid her mouth behind her hands, before letting out a snicker of amusement.
Lady Ge Beining's haughty smile threatened to slip away. The audacity of the Crown Princess! Everyone knew Lady Ge Beining was the most beautiful woman of the palace, if not, in the entire Hanjian!
There was no one who could match her beauty, in terms of bountiful assets in the front and back. Her waist was slim, which enhanced her perfect figure even more.
What the hell was the Crown Princess laughing at?
"Please pardon me." Li Xueyue laughed. "I suddenly thought of a funny joke when I laid my eyes upon you. But, believe me, the joke wasn't about you."
Lady Ge Beining did her very best not to glare. So much so, that she smiled larger than before and turned her attention to the man who had approached the both of them. And the poor thing. He didn't know who to look at first, his eyes darting frantically for one woman to the other.
"Marquis Qin," Lady Ge Beining deadpanned. "It is a pleasure to see you again."
Li Xueyue's confidence threatened to shatter. So, he was no longer an Earl, but a Marquis. It was a considerable rise in rank, for the title of Marquis was just one step away from becoming a Duke.
Li Xueyue couldn't help but wonder if all of the high-ranking aristocrats in Hanjian consisted of lowly and irritable men, for example, the disagreeable Duke Han.
"Yes, Lady Ge, it always brings me immense pleasure to lay eyes on you," Marquis Qin happily said. His smile was large and excited, not believing his luck today. There were two beautiful women in front of him and he didn't know who to admire first.
"Ah, forgive old, deary me, Crown Princess!" Marquis Qin suddenly said. He was so distracted by Lady Ge's ethereal and blinding beauty, that he had forgotten who else was present.
Marquis Qin cupped his hands together and presented the Crown Princess with a grand bow.
He wasn't able to fully see her face, but just from her side profile alone, he knew she was beautiful. The Crown Princess truly lived up to the rumors of a splendid, yet delicate beauty.
"May the Heaven shine upon you, Crown Princess," Marquis Qin coyly said. It came out so effortlessly and fluent, one would think it was a sincere compliment. After all, he was always the sweetest of talkers.
Li Xueyue suppressed a shiver. Her skin crawled with disgust. Just hearing his voice was enough for her eyes to tear up again. She tried to not remember it. Tried not to acknowledge it. The cause of her nightmares, tremblings, and screams. All of it was caused by him.
Nonetheless, she forced herself to turn around and acknowledge him. After all, he was a Marquis and someone who had influence in the court.
"And who might you be?" Li Xueyue asked. She was immensely proud of not stuttering. Her voice was on the verge of breaking, but she was able to suppress her nerves by focusing on her breathing.
Marquis Qin chuckled at her frigid words. Truly, she was gorgeous… He loved a challenge. Wooing a cold-hearted woman to be kinder to him was a learned skill. After all, it had worked upon the icy Empress.
"I believe we have never met before…" Marquis Qin trailed off when she finally turned around, revealing her full face.
His eyes briefly widened.
Li Xueyue's heart dropped.
She had never wanted to curse so much in her life. Seeing him up close again, Li Xueyue felt the bile rise to her throat. This morning's breakfast threatened to resurface. She was forced to hold her breath, forcing the gag to go down.
But this wasn't the biggest issue at hand. He had recognized her, didn't he?!
What overcame her fear was the sudden fury that filled her veins. He was smiling so innocently at her as if he was not a monster that preyed upon children. He was standing here, dressed in fancier clothes than decades ago.
Whilst she suffered from insomnia and nightmares, he slept soundly and perfectly. Just looking at his pristine eyes, lacking from eye bags or dark circles...she knew. His life was perfect. Despite ruining so many.
"My, Princess…" Marquis Qin breathed out in astonishment. Where would he even begin with the Crown Princess?
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