Chapter 199: Hugs
Qin Yining blinked and quickly got up. She did up her hair and hurried downstairs, making for the side hall of the front yard.
The steward’s forehead and face gleamed with sweat. He’d actually gotten a tan after only five days, but he looked to be in good spirits.
“What brings you here, Grand Steward? Have we run out of silver?”
“Miss, someone wants to do big business with us! I can’t make the decision myself, so came here to ask you.”
Qin Yining started. “Who wants to do business at a time like this?”
The steward’s eyes gleamed. His excitement was obvious from his expression. He lowered his voice. “Miss, someone wants to buy the stores and houses that were left to us as collateral!”
“Who on earth would want to buy those useless stores?”
Animated eyes danced in the steward’s face. “Come with me, miss. You’ll know when you see them. Oh, right, bring only your closest servants.”
Qin Yining narrowed her eyes suspiciously but still nodded out of her trust of him. “Alright, I understand.”
She took only Bingtang and Jiyun with her. All of them climbed into a carriage and headed for the north of the city. The fourth miss couldn’t contain her curiosity once in the carriage. “Who are you talking about, Grand Steward?”
Steward Zhong answered with a smile. “You’ll know when you get there, miss!”
The air of secrecy and the enthusiastic sheen on his face made him a completely different person from one worrying about the doom of the nation a few days ago. This further piqued Qin Yining’s curiosity.
Was the steward happy simply because someone wanted to take the useless properties off her hands?
The carriage exited the inner city doors and drove into the outer areas. It was much quieter here than the heart of the city.
The blazing noon sun was high and dust swirled on the official road. Thankfully, the moving carriage stirred up a breeze, sending it inside the compartment. Qin Yining lifted the curtains for a look outside as they travelled. People were hoisting belongings on carrying poles or rushing mule carts forward. They travelled in clumps of three to five, rushing for the inner city doors. Everyone was road weary and distressed, as if the sky would cave in on them.
What had been a relatively carefree mood took a dip when the Qin fourth miss saw the scene.
Only when faced with war did awareness grow of how precious peace was. Just like the Qin womenfolk who’d previously bicker over a bowl of bird’s nest and throw veiled barbs at each other when they met, there suddenly wasn’t much to fight over now. Each passing hour of peace was to be treasured, as the march of time dwindled their stock of untroubled days. Harmony filled the family. Even troublemaker Qin Huining was quiet and demure.
Steward Zhong could guess at what was upsetting Qin Yining when he saw her face dim. He remained quiet as well.
The carriage topped outside the wooden wall of a country manor in the city outskirts before long. The steward hopped down and checked the surroundings to make sure that nothing was amiss. He had the groom drive the carriage straight through the open doors.
Bingtang and Jiyun jumped down after the doors were shut and helped Qin Yining down. The fourth miss smoothed out the pleats of her skirt with a smile. “How come we chose a place like this for business discussions?”
“The counter party’s a very special person and couldn’t make it to our businesses. But don’t worry, miss. I’ve taken care of everything. This way, please.” Steward Zhong smilingly led Qin Yining through the spacious yard to three thatched houses. Bingtang brought up the rear with a fan and Jiyun was on high alert, taking note of everything around them as they moved.
Qin Yining was very familiar with these kinds of residences. When she was young, she’d always envied whoever could live in such a neat house and have such a large yard. Although she’d enjoyed living in the Qin Manor for a while, the homes that’d left the deepest impression on her were the mountain caves and thatched huts she’d built herself.
The style of this residence filled her with immense reassurance.
When they reached the door, the steward lifted a dusty yellow, coarse door curtain. “Please go in, miss.”
Qin Yining nodded with a smile and crossed the threshold. She was facing a wooden, square table with stools and folding chairs scattered around it. More of the dusty, coarse cloth trailed down from doorframes to the right and left of the door she’d just entered in. From the shadows cast on the ground, there seemed to be someone inside the room on the right.
And indeed, the steward headed to the right, murmuring apologies before lifting the door curtain so that Qin Yining could enter.
She walked in unsuspectingly. She’d just set foot inside when a large hand reached out and grabbed her.
She was pressed against the wall before she even had time to scream. A hand covered her eyes as hot lips silenced her own.
Scared witless, Qin Yining balled her hands up and frantically pounded the person in front of her. Her legs thrashed and kicked wildly, and she tried to reach her people with guttural sounds for help. But the person holding her down was very strong. Their hand had a vice-like grip, pushing her into the wall and just one leg was enough to restrain her legs.
What was even more terrifying was that outside the door, Steward Zhong, Jiyun, and Bingtang weren’t reacting at all!
The person’s lips and tongue pressed forward with their attack, wanting to conquer her. Qin Yining decided to relax her mouth and bit down viciously when the person’s tongue probed in.
“Ssss! Are you trying to murder your husband here??”
Qin Yining froze with shock.
The hand covering her eyes loosened, revealing a blurry look at Pang Xiao’s familiar phoenix-shaped eyes, high nose ridge, and drops of blood dotting his red lips. His face was right in front of hers and their breathing intermingled. He changed his posture so that he was holding her waist and leaned down to lay several loud smacks on her cheek.
“You’ve even forgotten how I taste? It looks like I didn’t leave a deep enough impression last time.” Pang Xiao smirked rascally and leaned in again.
“You, you…” Qin Yining raised her hand for a slap. It rang out clearly, prompting a grin out of Huzi, standing guard at the door to the house.
Pang Xiao wasn’t angered by the slap at all. He only felt that the girl in his embrace was so fragrant and soft. He seemed to be cuddling a warm, fuzzy ball. She even looked very much like the plushy, downy Riceball when she’d slapped him. A large pair of misty, angry eyes were glaring at him, lashes batting quickly and melting his heart. No wonder they said that the nights were always too short when it came to pleasure and that even kings would push off morning court in favor of sleeping until noon! Such a beauty would be the death of him!
“Did I scare you? Does your hand hurt?” Pang Xiao intimately rubbed the girl’s nose with his own.
Angry tears swirled in Qin Yining’s eyes. She really had thought she’d fallen into a trap just now and couldn’t understand why Steward Zhong had betrayed her. She thought he’d lied to her to turn her over to some villains! Her pounding heart had yet to settle down.
Pang Xiao peered closely at her when he didn’t receive an answer. He felt terrible to see his girl struggling to keep tears in and rocked her back and forth in comfort.
“I really did scare you? I was only teasing you! How about you slap me a few more times?” He put her hand on his stubbled cheek. “Then, then, slap here, here. You can slap me however many times you want.”
“Who wants to slap you.”
Huzi shuddered, sending his goosebumps all over the floor. Was this shameless rogue really his prince? My eyes, my ears! He rose and pulled a red-faced Bingtang off to the side to chat. Jiyun and Steward Zhong also walked off awkwardly.
Qin Yining took a few breaths in but couldn’t hold her tears back. Since they’d parted, she’d almost been eaten by the empress, things at home were a mess, her father was arrested, she had to plot her rescue and run the household, shelter thousands of refugees, and their servants seemed to want to quit on a moment’s notice… Although she could adapt quickly to changing circumstances and had a cool head to plan on strategy, who could understand how much stress and pressure she’d been under?
And now when facing Pang Xiao, her taut heartstrings suddenly relaxed and she plopped her head on his shoulder, crying like a bullied child.
“Alright, alright, don’t cry. It’s all my fault, I shouldn’t have scared you like that. How about you beat me up? Kick my butt!” The arrival of tears flustered Pang Xiao. He sat down on the wooden bed frame on the side and placed her on his lap, flailing around in an attempt to wipe her tears away.
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