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"What're you two talking about?"

Master Hooney snuck behind me and swoop me in his arms, pressing me to his chest. His hug was overwhelmingly tight, like a child smothering a puppy. He flexed his muscles around my ribs which made me wince, ready to smack him as soon as he set me free.

Li He was instantly irritated, if he can slap master Hooney with his shoes, he probably would have a dozen times already. Li He breathed, his deep breathing seemed to be his best friend these days. "We were discussing her future as a matter of fact."

His glare was on master Hooney, tracing his eyes on the other man's torso that was glued to my back. But then, he paused, and his mouth remained hanging, it is as if he'd just seen a ghost, draining his face clean of blood.

"P-princess..." Li He stammered.

Master Hooney whipped around with me still wrapped around his arms, reacting out of panic. "Ai." His arms became liquid loosening his hold on me. I stepped away, my chest pounding nervously.

The air around us tensed, but not in a brutal sort of tension, but rather, a worried atmosphere as if we were caught doing something we're not supposed to.

"Who's she?" Princess Ai asked, forcing her delicate smile. Her face sported a sort of permanent smile that, she, perhaps, wore as a façade.

"S-she's, she's...her name is...Hui." Master Hooney stumbled for his thoughts, taking him a while to give her a coherent answer.

"She's a slave." She said still holding that smile that wants to leap out of her face. "Why are you hugging her?"

Her prodding made me nervous and I wanted nothing but to escape this confrontation happening.

"She's an m-my servant." Answered master Hooney, speaking to her as though he is a young boy again, getting caught by his elder sister, doing what he's not supposed to, terrified of her.

"I could see that." She continued. Her eyes pressed only at her brother and no one else, forgetting completely there are other people around.

I felt Li He's fingers closed around my arm and reeled me closer to his side. I stepped back and took my place beside my brother.

"Is this why you refused to set a date and plan out your wedding every time I come here? You know why I kept coming here! But you kept making up excuses, leading us on! Father is getting impatient and angry! If he finds out the reason for your dawdling around, you certainly would regret you made him wait!"

"Oh, please!" Master Hooney countered. "We both know this is not just me, the feeling is mutual. Niang doesn't want the wedding to happen as much as I don't want it to happen. She's in love with someone else."

"That may be, but you both knew the day would come and you two need to marry!"

Master Hooney scoffed. "Could do without her."

Suddenly, Princess Ai was aware of me, her instigating eyes scanned me up and down riddled with disgust. The sweet and tender princess didn't seem so sweet at all, she's sour. "What have you done?!"

"I fail to see how this is my fault," I answered without a breath.

Li He gasped behind me and quickly barred his hand on my mouth, he pushed my head down while he apologized for my supposed insolence.

"Foul mouth, ill-mannered peasant. How predictable." The princess hissed, and swiveled around, her long gown swished in tune with her movement. "Wait till father hears about this!"

Now, I understood why Li He said she has a reputation for tattle telling. She's about to tell on master Hooney.

Li He held my head down and didn't let me go until she's nearly out of sight. "What were you thinking, talking to her like that?!" He hissed reprimanding me.

"She's trying to put the blame on me!" I protested. "I didn't seduce this horny bastard!" My arm shot to master Hooney, who said nothing in defense. I waited for one of his snarky remarks, or some seductive retort, but none came. That's when I knew this is serious, and he might be in trouble.

I whipped slowly to see him and saw his alarmingly empty state. He looked 10 years older somehow. He reached out to my hand, and held it, kissing the back of it. "Don't mind my sister, she does that all the time. I thought I could stall her, but I guess, me dragging things can only linger for so long."

He made himself smile and pulled me back to him. "We should go back inside."

I walked back with him and this is the first time he held my hand without letting go, even when we walked through the corridors and hallways filled with curious and gossiping eyes watching us, he didn't care and kept his firm grip on my hand.

He led me back to his office and shut the door behind us. He sighed deeply as he faced me, letting himself fall on me, his arms draped loosely around my waist - to my back. He was desperate for that security like an insecure child who needed solace. So, I comforted him with a hug. I felt the swarm of his relieved breath when I didn't deny him of my affection.

"I'll have to send you away for a while, Hui. You have no idea how my father gets."

"He's bad-tempered?"

"Like a prince." He said.

"I'm sorry." I murmured.

"No, this is none of your faults. It's mine. I shouldn't have been so careless. I'll have Li He take you to safety for now and call you back when things settled down."

"I'm going to miss you." Was all I could think of at the time. I didn't want to make this harder on him than it is.

I felt his smile on my shoulder where he had rested his head. "You better." He said and lifted his head. He hovered and stared at me solemnly, soaking in details of my face as if memorizing every pore, every line, for those times he's not going to see me. I already knew what he's about to do next and I did nothing as I let him lean and press his tender lips against mine.

It was the right atmosphere for a kiss. We were both in despair and desperate, craving for that comfort from each other.

Note: It's funny how Ai is such a bitch here while she's really nice to Jasmine on my other book. 'The Woman in the Palace'.

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