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    Chapter 77: In What Way Am I Inferior to Her?

    Chang Nian: "…"

    Such an overt, straightforward, and blunt question left her utterly at a loss for a response. She could only stare up at him in a daze.

    Ye Jiangbai's face was undeniably handsome, but few paid attention to it, as when they encountered him, their minds were often preoccupied with schemes and intrigues. Now, standing close, Chang Nian felt her heart pounding. Her gaze swept from his deep, piercing eyes to his slightly pursed lips, and she swallowed quietly.

    "Mm?" Failing to receive an answer, the fox-eyed man before her lids drooped slightly, revealing a hint of displeasure. "Is it that difficult to say whether you like or dislike someone?"

    For an ordinary person, a simple 'like' or 'dislike' didn't carry much weight. But this person before her… Chang Nian smiled bitterly. Did she like him? Yes, she did. They had kissed, and despite the calculations and manipulation involved, she still appreciated his help.

    But, did she dare to like him?

    No, she didn't. Not only was their relationship awkward, but there were also numerous secrets between them. Their connection was fleeting, like morning dew, shining brightly for a moment before vanishing into thin air.

    It wouldn't end well.

    Her eyes gradually dimmed, and Chang Nian leaned against the wall, pondering for a long while before softly speaking, "Could yesterday's incident be considered a moment of impulse on your part?"

    Her eyebrows twitched, and Ye Jiangbai reached out to pull her waist toward him, lowering his head to press closely against hers. "You can't."

    " ... Huh?"

    "I said, you can't." He exerted force with his hand, insisting on aligning their bodies perfectly, pressing closer and tighter. "I'm not impulsive or irrational. I've seen who you truly are, that you're a man, and that's why..."

    His throat constricted, and Ye Jiangbai gritted his teeth. "I never even mentioned impulsiveness. Why do you assume it was just a momentary urge?"

    His tone was a mix of urgency, irritation, and anxiety.

    Chang Nian was confused. She instinctively wrapped her arms around his back, wondering how he had gone from a confrontational stance to being the one in distress. What was there to be anxious about? Was there anything in this world that could rattle Ye Jiangbai?

    Where had his nonchalant demeanor from before gone?

    After some thought, Chang Nian patted his back gently and whispered, "Please let go of me a little."

    "No." With a hint of stubbornness, Ye Jiangbai held her even tighter, half resentment and half anger in his voice. "You want to marry Mu Shufang."

    "Mm... I did promise her that."

    "You have poor eyesight," Ye Jiangbai said, his jaw clenched. "In what way do I fall short compared to her?"

    Chang Nian: "…?"

    Well, how could one compare a man to a woman?

    "I can give you everything she can, and even more that she cannot," Ye Jiangbai continued. "In terms of appearance, at best, she has some charm—how could it compare to mine?"

    "…"

    Staring at the painted ceiling rafters, Chang Nian was unsure how to react.

    "After all, I did promise her," she whispered after a moment. "It wouldn't be proper to go back on my word."

    Ye Jiangbai paused, releasing her slightly as he gazed into her eyes. "Is it solely because you made a promise and don't wish to break it?"

    Chang Nian nodded. "What else is there?"

    Relaxing his features, Ye Jiangbai withdrew his hand and elegantly smoothed out the wrinkles on his clothes. He muttered an oath under his breath directed at Mu Shufang, then smiled. "Leave it to me."

    "What does Duke Guo intend to do?" Chang Nian hastily grabbed his sleeve. "We had already agreed that we could lead separate lives after marriage. There's really no need for this..."

    "Separate lives?" Ye Jiangbai chuckled and shook his head.

    The mere thought of her marrying someone else in her wedding dress was unbearable to him. How could he possibly let them go through with the marriage? Forget about being unrelated; they couldn't even avoid each other their entire lives. His person could not be touched by anyone else.

    Dark glimmers flickered in his eyes before returning to calm. Half-holding her, Ye Jiangbai led her to the bed and whispered soothingly, "Rest first."

    Chang Nian frowned, aware that he was planning something. She stubbornly tugged at his sleeve.

    "Why, are you reluctant to part from me?" Ye Jiangbai raised an eyebrow, complying by sitting on the edge of her bed. "Then I'll read my documents here until Your Highness falls asleep."

    Blushing, Chang Nian bit her lip. "That's not what I meant."

    "Be good and listen," he whispered. "With me here, there's nothing else to worry about."

    Worrying was futile anyway, as she couldn't compete with him. Chang Nian sighed softly, removed her outer robe, folded it neatly, and drew the covers over herself obediently.

    Diligent officials soon noticed that Duke Guo had been in an exceptionally good mood lately. Not only did he converse more warmly with others, but his smiles also seemed genuine.

    The Crown Prince chuckled and said, "It seems like Lord has some good fortune coming your way? Have you taken a liking to a maiden from a certain family?"

    Ye Jiangbai returned the smile and replied, "Your Highness jests. With the arrival of spring, our great Zhou Empire remains prosperous and strong. How could I not be in high spirits?"

    "Yes, another new year," the Crown Prince said, curving his lips. "In previous years at this time, Fifth Brother would still be by my side, strolling through these majestic palaces with me."

    But now, he was on his way to his fief.

    At the thought of this, the Crown Prince couldn't help but feel pleased.

    Ye Jiangbai smiled faintly. The fall of the Fifth Prince had implicated many, and Concubine Liang had been relegated to the cold palace. It was indeed a time for the Crown Prince to bask in success. However, it was too early to celebrate. Third Prince had already met with the old cabinet ministers alongside the emperor in the spring, while the Crown Prince had yet to receive any benefits.

    "Suddenly, I realize that one's life is not wasted only if they stand above thousands," the Crown Prince sighed suddenly. "Now, I believe that leading a peaceful and contented life can also be considered a blessing."

    Huh? Ye Jiangbai raised an eyebrow, looking at him in surprise.

    The Crown Prince appeared sincere. "Fifth Brother's failure taught me many lessons. That's why when I see Third Brother trying to make things difficult for Seventh Brother, I feel the urge to advise against it. After all, we're brothers born from the same root; why rush to torment each other?"

    Third Prince causing trouble for Chang Nian? Ye Jiangbai lowered his gaze, responding calmly without revealing any emotions, "Indeed, advice should be given."

    "The princes might not listen to me, Your Highness," the Crown Prince said with a helpless bow. "It would require Lord Guo's persuasion."

    "Your Highness speaks too seriously," Ye Jiangbai replied with a smile. "I've been preoccupied with trivial matters recently and haven't seen those two princes for quite some time. Even if I wanted to persuade them, I lack the means."

    "Hmm," the Crown Prince sighed, turning his head to gaze into the distance with a wistful expression.

    Exiting the palace, Ye Jiangbai asked Liang Ce, "Has there been any news from the Patrol Guards?"

    Liang Ce whispered, "Three assassins were caught near the palace walls last night. The Patrol Guards will take the credit, and Seventh Prince was on duty at that time. General Beithang intends to share the accolade with Seventh Prince, but it seems that someone under Third Prince... has objections."

    The words were tactfully chosen, but the meaning was clear: they wanted to snatch the credit. Nowadays, it was not easy for princes to earn accomplishments; most had to piece them together. It didn't matter if others took credit, but why would Third Prince contest the recognition that was rightfully Prince Zhao Changnian's?

    Unless he still couldn't forgive the oversight in supervising the grain supplies.

    Leaning against the carriage wall, Ye Jiangbai closed his eyes and pondered. With such narrow-mindedness, Third Prince would never make a wise ruler.

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