Love in Another Life: My Gentle Tyrant - novelonlinefree.com
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An Emperor's Heart.
Hidden behind the embroidered screen was the soft curves of a woman's graceful body, her mane of long black hair unpinned to fall in a curtain around her exquisite face. Consort Hua's hooded eyes burned with infatuation as she stared at the well-defined planes of the body above her.
With a sudden force, Long Fei-li shoved her body, which had been draped over him, off him.
'What did you drug the soup with?' Long Fei-li said, his eyes darkening.
In one swift movement, he stood, pulling his robes over his body.
Frightened, Consort Hua quickly prostrated herself on the bed and hurried to explain, 'I only thought that the drug would help to increase our excitement. I -'
'Min'er,' the man interrupted, voice like cut glass. 'This is the first and the last time, do you understand?'
The words, coldly spoken, was the man's only response before he swept out of the room.
Staring at the man's retreating figure, Consort Hua gritted her teeth in frustration.
It was a potent drug; how could he have resisted the urge to touch her?***
Within the stack of hay lay a small figure, tightly curled up. At some point in time, Xuanji's shoes had fallen; her feet, uncovered in the frigid air, were frozen as though she had stepped into a glacial lake. Pain hammered at her heart, and, covering her mouth, she coughed violently, a trail of dark red sliding down the curve of her hands.
It was early spring. The prisons were a dark and gloomy place, the air an icy cold.
Xuanji only felt a wave of dizziness enveloping her, her head throbbing with the insistent burn of a fever. She knew that she must have caught a cold. As she struggled to wrap the thin cloth of her robes tighter around herself, her frail hands trembled and fell to the floor. Futilely, she tried to move her fingers, but could not find the strength to do so.
Abruptly, a faint movement issued from the stack of hay, only to reveal a giant rat which scurried by, stopping to probe at her slender wrists.
A bitter smile crossed her face. She did not even have the strength to chase that rat away.
In the prisons, there were numerous large rats. She knew, because she saw their black, beady eyes gleam in the darkness.
They did not fear humans.
Slowly, the rat began gnawing at the soft flesh of her wrists.
Xuanji only smiled, clenching her jaw to endure the pain, the blurring of her vision.
In the haze of the darkness, she felt someone grasp her two legs into an embrace. She shut her eyes tightly, even as the distinct smell of sandalwood lingered in the air.
'Cui-ya, Cui-ya,' she murmured in a daze, her mind weaving in and out of consciousness.
Cui-ya was her personal attendant. During those long-gone days of the past, whenever the weather cooled, no matter the number of times she said not to, that young girl of few words would often help her warm her feet in this manner.
Except, wasn't Cui-ya already dead?
Her tears, when they flowed, were silent. Curling closer to that comforting source of warmth, she could not help the spill of her words, confused and disconnected, 'Cui-ya, he is an evil person. He drove my family to their deaths; he killed them; and today, he hit me.'
Despair, a suffocating pressure, overwhelmed her.
Her feet, which had been itching from the frostbite, unconsciously rubbed against themselves.
In the wintry cold air, there was a soft exhalation of breath.
She was engulfed into a person's warm embrace. Gently, that man placed both her legs onto his knees, carefully massaging them.
'Why did the Empress plead for my life? If I died, wouldn't that fulfil his wish?' She bit down on her lips, forcibly halting the rush of further words. Blood welled from her cut lip, mingling with the tears which had fallen.
'Yes, he is an evil person.'
The hand on her knees withdrew. A broad palm lay against her back, stroking her in a soothing gesture.
A cold breeze swept through the prison cells. Flecks of snow, drifting in from the barred windows, scattered across a beautifully chiselled face.
The man said, 'You survived, not because the Empress wanted to save you, but because I couldn't bear to let you die.'
'He hit me,' Xuanji said in a low voice, a despairing laughter rising from within her.
The traces of a smile flitted across Long Fei-li's lips. Under the moonlight, his eyes were a contradictory burn of anguish and affection.
'If I didn't hit you, your hands would have been ruined.'
There was a long silence.
'The late Emperor left behind a chaotic political landscape. The Feudal Lords, with their private armies, have grown ambitious. At the same time, the Queen Mother and her maiden family have become aggressive. I cannot contend with them now. The only way is to let both factions contain the forces of the other, preserving the balance of their powers. Yet, at such an anxious time, the Queen Mother is determined to have you dead.'
There was a rustle from the stack of hay. Turning, Long Fei-li's gaze fell upon Xuanji's mutilated wrists, which lay by the floor. His brows drew together, and he waved his hand. Immediately, the bodies of a few rats fell to the ground in a muted thump, their gleaming black bodies each pierced with a silver needle.
With one hand tightening his embrace on her, his other hand reached over to draw up her silk skirts, revealing the gleam of a silver needle burrowed deeply within the pale skin of her knees.
As his fingers brushed upon that needle, she snuggled closer to his embrace, a sound of distress escaping her.
A crease appeared between his brows.
At Lanxin Pavilion, he had deliberately hurt her knees. To ensure that she would spill the cup of tea, he had not dared to take any chances, choosing instead to steel his heart, releasing that silver needle which he had speared at her with great callousness.
'Be still, I have to remove this,' he murmured soothingly in her ear.
Her mind, dazedly, could not comprehend his words; her body, unthinkingly, could only follow their instincts and curl closer to his warmth.
From within his robes, he withdrew a small dagger, its sheath simple and unadorned.
Bowing his head, he kissed her.
Their bodies, familiar from their many nights spent together, sung with desire. She could not help the soft sound of protest which escaped her as his lips attacked hers, their tongues entangling, their breaths mingling.
His hand brushed by her knees in an uncharacteristically gentle gesture.
Her body heated; her fingers curled around his collar.
A jerk of his wrists, and the dagger was unsheathed, a sharp glint under the glow of the moonlight. Carefully, he braced the dagger across her knees, and, with a quick incision, prised the needle from her knee.
Pain clouded her eyes; cold sweat dripped from her forehead.
He did not make a sound, his lips still pressed against hers, engulfing her incoherent words.
The needle, with its tips still glistening with her blood, was flung to a corner, smearing the floor a dark red.
Slowly, he fed her a pill to protect her heart. Then, from within his robes, he removed a small porcelain vase and a silk cloth. Scattering the powder from the vase over the wound on her knee, his hands tugged at the cloth, carefully bandaging her wounds.
Only when all these were done did he envelop her into his arms once again, carefully cradling her, the top of her head settling into the junction between his neck and shoulder.
His fingers brushed across her forehead, tracing the curve of her face and settling over her eyes, which were tightly shut.
His face was a picture of distraction, his actions an unconscious and careless movement.
'Ah Li, Ah Li.' Her voice was faint in her delirium.
His brows drew together as he turned to look at her, thinking, perhaps, that he had hurt her, or that she had woken up, only to realise that her incoherent words were murmured in the thickness of her sleep.
Yet that simple glance caused his feelings, which had been forcefully suppressed, to surge up.
Her eyes, usually liquid and expressive, were shut at the moment. Her brows, beautifully shaped, were creased even in her sleep. Her lips, a pale red, had been bitten raw with blood.
The aftereffects of the drug in his body were threatening to act up. How much time had passed since the rebellion orchestrated by Minister Nian, since he last touched her? How often had he, tenderly, showered the familiar body that was currently burrowed within his arms with affection?
His hand, which had been tracing her face, abruptly stilled, sliding down the curve of her body to stop at her waist, resting above the band of her skirts.
A moment's pause.
In the end, he only tightened his grip on her, fingers curling, gently cradling her within his embrace.