Chapter 147: Continued Pursuit
Qin Yining sat primly in the rose seat  as Pang Xiao bent even closer to her. Their faces were extremely close to each other, and she could almost smell the fragrance that she knew to be unique to him.
Her heart suddenly skipped a beat, then started to pound furiously. Rosy clouds flitted to her cheeks, and her eyes seemed to glisten ever more strongly with irritation. This person is so…
She almost couldn’t discern her feelings towards Pang Xiao anymore. She was angry at how brashly he just charged in, doing things his way, but deep in her heart of hearts, she couldn’t help but be moved.
But, but. If she really did accept this park just like this, the emperor would definitely suspect her father of treasonous thoughts, let alone the offense the trampess would take. She had no right to decide whether she was going to tie her fate with Pang Xiao, because in her hands were also the fates of the entire Qin family.
At this moment, Qin Yining was suddenly struck by a notion. How nice would it be if Pang Xiao wasn’t from Great Zhou, or if relations between their two countries weren’t so awkward? Or, wouldn’t it be nice if I wasn’t a Qin daughter and he not Pang Zhongzheng’s son?
There was just much too much between the two of them.
Pang Xiao on the other hand, wasn’t willing to miss the slightest ripple in her emotions. He watched her intently, the reddened cheeks and wide eyes a silent witness to how much she was moved. However, the gradually dimming look and subconsciously pursed lips also expressed her helplessness and recognition of the greater picture. He was no fool, he immediately understood her concerns.
Indeed, Qin Yining rose and looked straight at the prince to answer righteously, “There can be no rewards without services rendered. I have absolutely no relationship with Your Highness, so how can I accept such a valuable gift? Please, retract your order.”
Such a firm rejection awoke the ladies from the fantasies that’d erupted of that ardent confession. Those with a clearer understanding of national matters understood what the Qin fourth miss had done. Of course, there were still some who cursed her as a stupid fool.
What kind of person was little Prince Pang? It was the accumulated fortune of eight generations that he would deign to show favor in such a fervent way! How dare she reject him so callously with something like ‘I have absolutely no relationship with Your Highness’?! Wasn’t she afraid that the prince would hack her to pieces in a sudden fit of fury?
The atmosphere froze, and just as née Sun rose to her feet out of worry that Pang Xiao would wring her daughter’s neck in a momentary surge of anger, the prince burst out laughing.
“You still don’t think much of me, huh? My poor self-esteem is being trampled into the dirt because of you.” He’d actually dropped the formal usage of ‘this prince’.
“Please watch your words, Your Highness.” Qin Yining frowned. “I’m sure you have a clear understanding of matters between us now. We do not walk the same path, please respect these boundaries.”
“It doesn’t matter if we walk different paths. I’ll come walk yours. I like you and want to make you happy, but that’s my own business and nothing to do with you.”
Qin Yining’s eyes widened out of sheer disbelief. Exactly how thick-skinned was this prince!? How is he able to say all this with a straight face in public and in front of an audience?!
“My dear Yi, I would never force you to do anything you don’t like. Think about it, when have I ever forced you into anything?”
A memory of that unsolicited kiss rose unbidden in Qin Yining’s mind. Her cheeks flushed red all over again and she itched to blow a raspberry straight into his face.
For all his perception, Pang Xiao didn’t quite see that blush and continued smilingly. “This park is merely a trick to see you smile. If you still don’t want something in the future, I won’t force you into accepting it. But please bear with me just this once. I had the land and residence deeds made out to you this morning, and your Grand Steward Zhong will probably deliver it by the time you return.”
“You…” The girl was flabbergasted.
“Alright, alright, it’s my bad.” Pang Xiao bent down again in order to see her expression clearly. He drank in every twitch and crinkle of her face, and softened his tone. “Don’t be angry, alright? It’s just this one time. I won’t be like this in the future.”
Qin Yining found it difficult to connect the gently cajoling man in front of her, trying with all his might to make her happy, with the unblinking killer demon that the rumors spoke of. It was precisely because this iron-hearted, domineering person was so soft and gentle to her that it moved her heart.
The prince’s actions in readying the contract first and then shoving it into her possession cleared most of the suspicion from her and her father, and shouldered a lot of the unnecessary blame as well. She was the one who’d profit from it, but the outside world would harangue him for forcing her into this. She looked at the prince with a complicated gaze, unable to give voice to further words of rejection.
Pang Xiao was smiling happily, absentmindedly noting the resemblance between her and the snowy Riceball. Her ears even stick out the same way. He really wanted to stroke her head, but knew that his high profile announcement right now had already successfully intimidated certain people. Unsightly criticism would spring forth if he went overboard. There’s plenty of opportunities in the future, so no need to be in a rush now.
He once again took his seat at the head of the table, while Qin Yining returned to her original seat, deep in thought. The empress’ expression had long since become the epitome of unsightliness. The emperor doted on her, yes, but he was never this tender and loving towards her.
Additionally, the emperor was a geezer as old as her father, and in stark contrast, the Faithful Prince of the First Rank was a young, fine specimen. The emperor had bestowed Oft Spring Garden to her not too long ago, but Qin Yining had just received the much superior Ning Park! And it’d be one thing if the Qin fourth miss was a vixen who’d hooked the prince, but even a fool could see that between the two of them, the prince was the one on the back foot!
The empress had completely lost in the contest of men and face, and even her most confident attribute, her looks, was a few shades weaker in the face of Qin Yining blooming like a rose in spring. The imperial majesty clenched her teeth, forced to seethe silently even as she nursed a belly full of grievances.
“Everyone, do as you wish. This prince has other matters to attend to and will be leaving now.” Pang Xiao rose and ignored the empress, smiling only at Qin Yining before leaving with Huzi.
The caretaker in charge of the park bowed to Qin Yining. “Mistress, His Highness has instructed this humble one to take your orders in the future. This servant kowtows to the mistress.”
Well now, the park that the raging empress wanted to hold a banquet in was now Qin Yining’s! The womenfolk’s gazes flitted between Qin Yining and the empress, their looks… interesting.
Qin Yining also felt like Pang Xiao had handed her a hot potato, but with how the cards had fallen, she couldn’t push this off to someone else. She wasn’t the type to shirk from responsibility. Plus, the empress’ livid expression was quite the amusing picture.
“You may rise.” Qin Yining indicated her assent with a smile and curtsied to the empress. “All shall be as Your Majesty desires.”
The empress glared at Qin Yining’s pretty, young face. The girl was so charming that it made her teeth ache. After a long moment, the empress spat out, “We return to the palace!”
She whirled angrily and stalked off, Cao Yuqing and Madame Cao in hot pursuit.
The noble ladies hadn’t eaten a bite of the banquet and now had tramped around on the mountain paths for long enough that they didn’t remain behind either. The group quickly rushed off in the empress’ footsteps. Meanwhile, Qin Yining placidly sent the empress off with her eyes and then nonchalantly took her original seat. She poured a cup of wine and sipped at it while her eyes turned to those who’d remained.
The old dowager, née Sun, second madame, and seventh miss hadn’t left. It was just as well, because to the empress, they were clearly in cahoots with Qin Yining. And now, the old dowager no longer knew how to treat her granddaughter.
But moments later, a shrewd light suddenly shone from the Qin matriarch’s eyes. “Granddaughter Yi, just what is your relationship with little Prince Pang? Were you keeping him company when you went to Xihua?”
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