Li Xueyue felt her afternoon meal rising up her throat. That name had not been said in a long time—especially by him. To this day, she could still recall his sickening voice, enthralled by the thought of touching her.
Her fingers trembled. Whether it was out of fear or hatred, she did not know. The emotions she felt for him was a jumbled mess. She couldn't pinpoint an emotion.
But one thing remained true.
Li Xueyue wished to see him suffer—in more ways than one could possibly imagine. She wanted to see his hard work crumble into nothingness. She wished to see his pride trampled into dust, and his fortune to disappear. Men like him did not deserve to succeed.
"Princess, are you alright? You seem sick to your stomach," Xiao Hua worriedly whispered.
The maidservant kept her voice low, but it did not escape the Crown Prince's sharp ears.
Yu Zhen's gaze darkened. He had blocked Xueyue's view of the Marquis. Yet, she was still affected by him. He would not tolerate this at all. Her discomfort was his discomfort. Her pain was his pain.
They had made a vow in their marriage to stay together through thick and thin. They had sworn to celebrate triumphs and withstand losses together, as if it were their own.
"Drag him to the dungeons," Yu Zhen commanded.
Yu Zhen yanked the Marquis' dirty belt and roughly tied it around the man's mouth. That way, he would not squeal out any more secrets.
"I'll deal with this livestock later."
The guards did not need to be told twice. The tension was high. The Crown Prince resembled a beast. They did not want to incur his wrath or see the Underworld so quickly.
The guards hurriedly dragged the screaming and kicking Marquis away. The servants instantly averted their eyes and pretended not to see anything. They were familiar with the Crown Prince's cruelty.
Without another glance back, Yu Zhen spun around and stormed towards his Wangfei. Immediately, his men parted to let him through. No one denied him access to the Crown Princess. No one dared to.
Once he reached her, Yu Zhen yanked off the black gloves on his hands. They were thin and had stuck to his hand like a second skin. He tossed it to the ground.
Without another word, Yu Zhen pulled her towards him. She moved like a rag doll, with ease and fluidly. His keen eyes observed her expression.
"Are you alright?" he gently asked.
She was numb. He could see it in her glazed expression, and the slight terror that quivered her shoulders.
Eventually, she gave him a faint nod. It was barely visible. Deeming it satisfactory, Yu Zhen kept his eyes locked on hers.
"For upsetting your eyes, ignoring etiquette, and disrespecting the Imperial Family, the Marquis will get his sufficient punishment," he loudly announced.
He had said it out loud partly for the servants, who would not have a reason to point fingers at him. Not that he cared. But it was mainly to put Xueyue's heart at ease. He knew she was concerned about his reputation, though it could never be changed.
"The sun is too bright today. An afternoon walk in the gardens would not be pleasant," Yu Zhen softly added on. He cupped her cheek, his thumb rubbing her soft skin.
"Let's go to the library," Yu Zhen gently said and wrapped an arm around her waist.
Eyes were glued on them, a loving couple that left everyone speechless. Many have heard tales of the Crown Prince's adoration, but not many have personally witnessed it.
Even a blind man would know the Crown Prince loved his wife. It was written all over his face. His hardened features, dripping with bloodlust, promising of murder, was nowhere to be found. When he laid eyes on her, he had the look of a dutiful husband. There was gentleness in his eyes, and his actions were heartwarming.
It's easy to be cruel. But it takes strength to be kind.
- - - - -
"I don't want to read," Li Xueyue finally said when they had reached their estate and set foot inside the library. All of the maidservants and guards had been excused.
"Then, where would you like to go?" Yu Zhen asked her.
Li Xueyue turned to him. Immediately, he snaked an arm around her hips, and pulled her closer. She was flushed against him, her hands resting on his chest.
"Certainly, not the dungeons to view the torture?" Yu Zhen mused. He brushed his lips upon hers and gently kissed her once.
"Not the dungeons," she mumbled against his mouth.
Li Xueyue pulled back, knowing it would be too distracting for his sinful lips to be so close. Just thinking about what he'd do with his mouth was enough for her cheeks to burn.
"I… I don't think I can stomach the torture," she admitted.
It was the truth. The last time she had witnessed his brutality, her stomach had uncomfortably churned. Blood and gore were not for her eyes. She wished she was strong enough to face it. He was doing this for her. The least she could do was watch.
"Then, would you like to hear what I will do to him?" Yu Zhen patiently asked. In hindsight, it would be best if she did not set her eyes on something so unpleasant.
Yu Zhen was used to blood and gore. His experience in the battlefield had numbed him enough. But she was not used to such brutality. It would give her nightmares.
"Yes, that would be enough for me," Li Xueyue said.
Yu Zhen's lips twisted into a sinister smile. What a wife he had married. It was impressive she was even able to stomach his sadistic behavior. He brushed strands of hair behind her ears.
In a low, controlled voice, he told her, "It'll be similar to what will happen to Ge Beining, who will soon be publicly whipped and then burned inside of her ancestral home until the only thing that remains is pure ash."
Li Xueyue's blood chilled. She did not mind what would happen to Lady Ge. But the thought of him doing the torture made her uncomfortable.
"My men will do it for me. Someone has to pay for the loss of our child, compromising the virtue of your maidservant, and hurting you," Yu Zhen gently said. He wrapped his hand around the back of her head and pulled her to him.
Yu Zhen tightly embraced her.
Li Xueyue could hear his heartbeat—rhythmic, and calm. Who exactly was she married to? He said the threats with tranquility unlike any other. He was not fazed by his own actions.
Li Xueyue knew it would be wise not to make an enemy of him. His power knew no bounds. Mercy did not exist in his books. She feared that brain of his. His love for her was a dangerous obsession. And shame on her for hugging him back and loving him regardless.
Li Xueyue was in love with a crazy man. But what could she do? Her heart yearned for him, and any distance apart was too painful to fathom.
"It will be alright, Sunshine," Yu Zhen gently murmured to her. "No harm will come to you anymore. Ge Beining's crimes will be revealed, and so will Marquis Qin's. I have enough evidence to ruin them all."
Li Xueyue's hands tightened upon his upper back. Her fingers grasped onto his clothes out of habit. "The Empress will hate you," she quietly whispered. "I—"
"I do not care," he concluded. "When has she loved me?"
Li Xueyue's mouth dried up. The Cold Palace was already cruel enough of a punishment, especially for someone as privileged as Lady Ge. Once a lady was sent inside, no servants shall accompany her.
Lady Ge would have to clothe and feed herself. If she wanted a meal, she would have to beg the guards. Additionally, it was freezing cold in there with limited lighting. A week inside of the Cold Palace was sheer torture unlike any other. It played mind games on the victims until one eventually loses their sanity.
"Ge Beining has only suffered in the Cold Palace for a day or so. I'll deal with her later."
Li Xueyue could not find an ounce of sympathy to voice a protest. Her eyes burned at the painful memory at the bathhouse. Tears threatened to trickle out. The pinkish water would forever be imprinted in her mind. The unexplainable loss would never be forgotten.
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