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    Chapter 76: Do You Like Me?

    He did.

    With the intention of appeasing, Ye Jiangbai draped himself in a cloak and returned to his courtyard, walking with a forced smile on his face as he instructed, "Prepare an extravagant gift for the Northern Hall family to take back, saying that it's from me to General Northern Hall, thanking him for his care of Seventh Prince these past few days."

    Liang Ce asked, "Should we follow the protocol for returning gifts to county or provincial officials?"

    Ye Jiangbai curved his lips. "Follow the gift list sent to Third Prince's residence."

    Liang Ce was startled.

    Chang Nian knew nothing, having slept soundly. Upon waking up, she vaguely sensed an argument outside, but the voices were hushed, making it impossible for her to discern the details.

    "Hong Ti?"

    "At your service, Your Highness." A voice answered promptly from outside, and the disputing sounds immediately ceased.

    Someone lifted the beaded curtain and entered, greeting her with a smile, "Seventh Prince."

    It was Mu Shufang. Chang Nian sat up, blushing as she smiled apologetically. "I seem to have overslept."

    "It's understandable that you'd be tired these past two days," Mu Shufang instructed Hong Ti to set down the water for washing, then personally wrung out a cloth to wipe Chang Nian's face.

    Chang Nian found the situation both amusing and frustrating. "Miss Mu, I can manage on my own."

    "How can there be any formality between His Highness and me?" Mu Shufang glanced at her reproachfully, her eyes seductive like silk threads.

    Looking at her, Chang Nian felt that this girl was truly lively, someone who brought joy just by being seen. She couldn't help but return a bright smile.

    Ye Jiangbai lifted the beaded curtain and stood in the partition, witnessing this affectionate scene.

    "Miss Mu," he said calmly, "His Highness has yet to rise. Shouldn't you withdraw for a while?"

    Mu Shufang turned her head and pouted. "It's the Duke who should withdraw."

    What business did he have with Zhao Chang Nian? Who was this pesky girl to meddle? Ye Jiangbai harrumphed coldly and looked at Zhao Chang Nian, gesturing for her to make a decision.

    Feeling very awkward, Chang Nian blinked and suggested, "Could you both step out for a moment so I can change clothes?"

    Mu Shufang tugged at her sleeve, looking aggrieved. "If he must go out, does that mean I have to as well?"

    "It should be me saying those words," Ye Jiangbai narrowed his eyes. "Others may withdraw, but I should leave too?"

    Chang Nian chuckled softly. "I have always preferred to dress myself, I do not enjoy having others around me during that time."

    In other words, both of you are kindly requested to leave.

    The door slammed shut, leaving Ye Jiangbai and Mu Shufang standing outside, staring at each other with wide eyes.

    "Would you kindly leave her alone?" Ye Jiangbai said impatiently. "I'll find you another husband."

    "I won't!" Mu Shufang crossed her arms. "His Highness promised to marry me yesterday. Even if you're the Duke of State, it's unjust to snatch away someone's beloved!"

    Promised to marry? Ye Jiangbai felt a sinking sensation in his heart, and his expression darkened. "She agreed to this?"

    "Yes," Mu Shufang answered with a beaming smile, cupping her chest. "Prince Seventh and I are mutually smitten, our feelings perfectly aligned. All that remains is for us to inform my father and mother, then choose a wedding date."

    In just one day, they fell in love? Ye Jiangbai scoffed, clearly unconvinced.

    Mu Shufang curled her lips. "I'm not lying to you. I genuinely want to be with the princess, and she wants to be with me too. Duke Guo previously mentioned that Seventh Prince has a preference for men… but that's not true."

    "Hmm?"

    "I think you're overthinking it." Recalling that secret, Mu Shufang sighed. "Her preferences are perfectly normal. It's you, Duke Guo, who isn't."

    Ye Jiangbai's gaze darkened immediately.

    Chang Nian's preferences are normal? She doesn't like men? Doesn't like him?

    "Although we've just met, Seventh Prince is such an innocent person that one can see through her at a glance," Mu Shufang whispered. "She's bad at turning people down. She's timid and weak. Perhaps if you bully her slightly, she'll give in easily."

    Was it because of her timidity that she couldn't refuse him, leading to her compliance? Ye Jiangbai frowned, his hand in his sleeve slowly forming a fist.

    He had always believed that Chang Nian liked him. Where did this perception come from? Initially, he deduced it from her blatant admiration, but in fact, Chang Nian looked at powerful people, including Beitang Miao, with the same expression.

    After the joy of possession came the fear of losing it – a common human sentiment. Even a wise and astute man like Duke Guo was not immune to this. He even began to wonder whether Chang Nian was with him because of who he was or because of the benefits his power could provide her.

    "Duke Guo?" Mu Shufang waved her hand in front of his eyes, watching him snap back to reality before disdainfully remarking, "You're a great person overall, but you carry too much on your mind. You keep your thoughts to yourself and don't involve those around you at all."

    "How wonderful Prince Qi is!" she exclaimed with clasped hands and sparkling eyes. "So innocent and endearing, one can't help but want to cherish and protect him."

    Ye Jiangbai's expression remained stoic as he replied, "He doesn't need your affection."

    Mu Shufang choked, looking at him with a peculiar expression. "Duke, what do you mean by that?"

    "Nothing," Ye Jiangbai averted his gaze. "If you wish to marry Prince Qi, then you should put in more effort."

    We'll see if your efforts can match my schemes.

    Unaware of his inner thoughts, Mu Shufang smiled radiantly upon seeing that he wasn't too opposed. As Chang Nian finished dressing and opened the door, Mu Shufang eagerly approached her side.

    "I saw this on the street and thought it was so intricate, so I bought it to present to Your Highness." From her sleeve, she pulled out a small beaded horse and held it before Chang Nian. "Does Your Highness like it?"

    Chang Nian's face lit up with a smile. "How did you know I wanted this?"

    Yesterday, while they were shopping, she had kept quiet but couldn't resist glancing several times at the beaded trinkets stall. However, since Mu Shufang didn't approach, she didn't feel comfortable going there herself.

    "How could I not understand Your Highness's heart?" Mu Shufang covered her mouth, placing the little horse in Chang Nian's palm.

    Chang Nian held the beaded horse as if it were a precious treasure, admiring it repeatedly with admiration. "Truly remarkable craftsmanship."

    Ye Jiangbai sat by, sipping tea in silence, allowing the two to indulge in their affectionate exchange.

    However, later that night, just after dinner, Chang Nian shut herself in her room, even excluding Hong Ti from entering.

    "Marquis... Marquis?" Sensing an unusual atmosphere, Chang Nian took a step back, hiding behind a partition, only daring to peek at him cautiously.

    Ye Jiangbai picked up the beaded horse that Mu Shufang had given, asking her, "Do you really like it?"

    "Yes," Chang Nian nodded. Noticing his stern expression, she quickly corrected herself, "N-Not particularly, I mean."

    Timid and weak. Mu Shufang's assessment was accurate. This person was indeed a pushover, lacking backbone and easily submitting when bullied.

    Feeling frustrated, Ye Jiangbai pursed his lips and asked, "Can you be honest with me?"

    Chang Nian was clueless about what she had done wrong and whispered, "What does the Marquis wish to know?"

    "Do you genuinely like this trinket?" Ye Jiangbai narrowed his eyes.

    "Adore...?" She no longer dared to lie.

    Nodding, Ye Jiangbai stepped closer, pinning her against the corner. He reached out to hold her hand and asked, "Do you like me?"

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