The morning mist lingered, honey-gold rays bathing the lake with a warm light.
Three beautiful women stood by the lake, looking like angels in the fantasy-like lighting.
Yan Lingqing regarded the approaching Lu Qing'er with faint interest. This girl had clearly been interested in Li Luo since their time together in the Tianshu Province.
Still, it was not unexpected. Considering what Li Luo brought to the table, it would be stranger if girls were uninterested in him.
This Lu Qing'er was something special. She had not backed down upon seeing Jiang Qing'e, instead coming up to them. It spoke of inner pride and self-confidence.
Enough to consider herself worthy of taking on Jiang Qing'e and the legacy she had.
Besides, Jiang Qing'e and Li Luo were engaged. If Lu Qing'er had feelings for him, she should be feeling guilty right about now, so coming up to them was a surprising move indeed.
Yan Lingqing could feel a slight stirring of excitement. Another entertaining show was about to begin.
"Qing'er, were you at Li Luo's?" Jiang Qing'e asked neutrally.
Lu Qing'er inclined her head. This meeting was no coincidence. Jiang Qing'e might have seen her and Yu Lang headed for Li Luo's earlier.
"We went to meet Li Luo and his squad," she replied.
"You don't look too happy," Jiang Qing'e said with a faint smile. "Is that because Li Luo is as responsive as a fish carved out of wood? It's very normal. He's still young, and you two have been close for a while. If the topic isn't breached directly, I'm afraid he won't make the leap to realize that you have romantic feelings for him."
Yan Lingqing's eyebrows shot up. Jiang Qing'e's opening move was insanely daring, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.
A lower-born opponent might have fainted from that statement.
Lu Qing'er was indeed a little ruffled, but she still looked like she was in control. She gave a small nod of confirmation. It looked like she indeed had the mettle to take on a queen.
"What are you trying to say, Senior Qing'e?" Lu Qing'er asked slowly.
Jiang Qing'e's golden eyes regarded Lu Qing'er in turn. "I think it was you who had something to say?"
Lu Qing'er shook her head. "I don't, really. If Senior Qing'e is trying to tell me to back down because you are engaged to Li Luo, then I'm sorry to say that I can't oblige."
Yan Lingqing's fingers curled in anticipation. Lu Qing'er was even better than she had expected. A counter attack against the wife-to-be?
"Oh? Why is that?" Jiang Qing'e asked, interest piqued.
Lu Qing'er fearlessly looked into her golden eyes. "Because your engagement is a loveless one. Perhaps Senior Qing'e knows best just how much of it was born of gratitude to Li Luo's parents.
"I'm not saying that you have no feelings for Li Luo. Conversely, perhaps he holds an important place in your heart. A place more important than romance.
"You are not blood-related, and yet maybe you think of him as an irreplaceable part of your family. For him, you would do anything. Perhaps even more so than I."
Lu Qing'er paused. "But... that is not what marriage is about. Senior Qing'e, you like Li Luo. But you also do not like Li Luo. At least not right now."
Yan Lingqing whooped inwardly. This Lu Qing'er was no slouch, delivering an incisive emotional riposte straight to Jiang Qing'e's heart. As Jiang Qing'e's best friend, she knew best that Jiang Qing'e valued Li Luo more than her own life. But... she had yet to really be romantically moved.
This was not Jiang Qing'e's fault. And perhaps she had never taken romantic relationships seriously.
After all, what more could even be done to strengthen the bond between her and Li Luo?
Still, emotions were complicated, and it was clear that Jiang Qing'e had not fully sorted out the complexities of her relationship with Li Luo.
Jiang Qing'e's eyes widened at Lu Qing'er's words. "And so?" she said mildly.
"And so you should take the lead and annul the engagement, if you truly care about Li Luo."
"That seems very ideal for you. I'll annul the engagement, which gives you free rein to pursue him openly?"
Lu Qing'er did not deny it. "That is the best outcome for Li Luo."
Jiang Qing'e inclined her head. "Well, from a certain perspective, what you say makes sense."
Lu Qing'er's eyes widened with a cautious delight. Had Jiang Qing'e really been swayed?
It was quickly quelled. "Canceling the engagement is impossible..." Jiang Qing'e said, bringing down a metaphorical bucket of cold water over Lu Qing'er's head.
"The marriage was approved by the House Lords, my mentors. Rest assured that no matter how complicated the feelings between Li Luo and I, this engagement will not change."
Lu Qing'er clenched her fists. "Senior Qing'e, you're being selfish!" she burst out. "You don't care about Li Luo's feelings at all! What if... what if he really likes someone else in the future? Will you rather he be sad? For you?"
Yan Lingqing nodded. It was a valid question.
What's your reply, Jiang Qing'e?
Jiang Qing'e cocked her head slightly, then broke into a smile. "You wouldn't be talking about yourself, would you? Are you that confident?"
Lu Qing'er flushed, but she met her eyes. "Can't I be?"
"Well, it's not that you can't..."
Jiang Qing'e leaned against a stone railing, tilting her chin up in a queenly manner. "...but House Luolan is a big place. I don't mind another woman in the house."
Not only Lu Qing'er, even Yan Lingqing was speechless at that.
Jiang Qing'e, have you lost your mind?!
Lu Qing'er reeled for a good while. "Jiang Qing'e," she whispered in an almost mortified tone. "Wh-what are you saying!?"
"Must I really spell it out? If you're that capable, I really don't mind," Jiang Qing'e said mildly.
“But I do mind!” Lu Qing'er cried in her heart. Jiang Qing'e had pitched a real curveball. It had blown all of her prepared thoughts away.
But she backed down, shaking her head as she turned and fled.
"A little too forward, don't you think?" Yan Lingqing said, watching the fleeing Lu Qing'er.
Jiang Qing'e did not reply.
"You... weren't for real, right?" Yan Lingqing asked carefully.
"I don't know..." Yan Lingqing shook her head. "But if you were for real, all I can say is-"
"-to include you as well?" Jiang Qing'e teased.
Yan Lingqing punched her in outrage. "Do you want to die?!" She turned serious. "Jiang Qing'e, your attitude just now was not that of a girl talking about her fiance. Rather... It was like an older sister choosing a bride for her younger brother.
"Li Luo... might not like that. Jiang Qing'e, I know that your feelings for Li Luo are complex, perhaps so much so that no one besides you can understand them. But I think that if you keep this up... a time might come when you will regret it."
Jiang Qing'e remained silent for a long while.
"Are we still going to Li Luo’s place for a meal?" Yan Lingqing broke the silence eventually.
Jiang Qing'e carelessly pressed down against a stone on the railing, crushing it to powder.
She turned and started walking away.
"We are not. I'm afraid I might treat his head like that stone if I see him now."Previous Chapter Next Chapter