Chapter 5 Red-dyed Muslin
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Although it was summer, there was a lot of ice in the room. The sun had long set, relieving the air of its humid oppression. However, the bed’s heaped covers and downy pillows, trapped the person within, causing a sensation of burning and parchedness for no apparent reason.
After Li Jing Ye left, Chun Yue had already changed all the bedding in accordance with Li Zhi’s habits. At this moment, the red-dyed muslin fluttered down, making the originally spacious bed cramped.
The bedding was all scented, and the faint fragrance spread in the muslin canopy bed, dispersing the tense atmosphere.
Trapped in the softness, Li Zhi tried to sit up using both her hands and feet but accidentally touched a large, broad palm.
Her slender fingertips brushed lightly over the large palm and were burned by the scorching heat. She paused and looked up, suddenly locking eyes with the deep and secluded gaze of Pei Ji.
He remained expressionless, his whole being exuding indifference. However, for some unknown reason, in this crimson-hued light, Li Zhi sensed a trace of scorching passion within his deep gaze, as if he wanted to devour her.
With her heart pounding, she withdrew her fingers from his palm.
Before she could move an inch, his hand aggressively caught up, firmly grasping her wrist that had emerged from her sleeve.
His palm burned with a scorching heat, bearing the slight callus left by years of martial arts practice. It clung tightly to her skin, as soft as smooth cream, creating a faint prickling sensation that left tiny goosebumps on her back.
His fingers tightened around her slender wrist, drawing her closer, as they left a deep and lasting imprint on the lush bedding.
The space between them shrank to a mere half inch.
Their breaths intertwined and lingered between them.
Pei Ji’s deep gaze silently moved across her face.
With his keen eyes, he noticed how her flawless ivory complexion bloomed with a rosy hue, her crystalline orbs misting over with unshed tears. He could also see her disheveled collar as she struggled.
He turned his head, his Adam’s apple rolling slightly, and whispered in her ear, “Lie down.”
Li Zhi quickly understood and hurriedly helped him mess up the bedding even more. When he had already concealed himself under it from head to toe, she also lifted the covers and lay on her side on the pillow.
At that moment, Qian Yang could no longer contain her impatience and pushed open the door without waiting for Li Zhi’s permission.
Following closely behind her were four or five eunuchs, who promptly split into two rows and meticulously scanned the relatively cramped space.
Chun Yue entered as well and breathed a sigh of relief upon realizing that the room was empty. But as she surveyed the scene, her heart skipped a beat when she saw that the bed curtains, which had only just been drawn, were now lowered once again.
Her fists clenched tightly as she feigned calmness and spoke with a cold tone, “Sister Qian Yang, you’ve already seen for yourself that there’s no man here. How could there be?”
Qian Yang hesitated briefly, but her resolve quickly returned. “I saw it with my own eyes, there’s no doubt about it. He must be hiding somewhere in this room, and we need to find him.”
Crossing over the low screen, she respectfully bowed to the bed and said, “Please forgive me for disturbing your rest, my lady.”
In the midst of her apology, she couldn’t help but steal a glance at the fallen bed curtains.
A sheer layer of crimson gauze draped over the bed, outlining only a hazy silhouette of a woman. Apart from the heap of brocade quilt on the bed, there was nothing else in the room.
With one hand propping up her chin, Li Zhi tried to steady her voice, her tone soft and slightly lazy as if she had just woken up from a deep slumber. “Alright,” she murmured.
The sound of her voice was like a gentle breeze, carrying a hint of lassitude, as if she had just been awakened.
The eunuchs scurried around the room, searching every nook and cranny for any sign of a man.
In fact, except for the cupboard, everything else was clear at a glance. It would only take a moment to search by flipping curtains and looking around.
However, that moment had already made Li Zhi’s body damp with sweat, and she trembled lightly.
Beneath the brocade quilt, another scorching body pressed against her back, emanating waves of heat that invaded her senses, making her acutely aware of his proximity.
In the open-minded atmosphere of Great Wei, women dressed in thin, flowing clothes during the summer. Trapped in the soft silk quilt at this moment, she could feel his light breath seeping through her thin garment and onto her waist. It crept along her spine, causing her limbs to weaken and almost give out.
Meanwhile, Pei Ji, who was hidden among them, felt extremely uncomfortable.
He was tall, but at the moment he couldn’t stretch his limbs and had to curl up, which inevitably brought him very close to Li Zhi.
As soon as he got closer, the faint scent on the woman’s body entangled with his nostrils.
The silk quilt blocked out the light outside, and in the darkness, his sense of smell was infinitely amplified. Only that faint fragrance, like a cluster of invisible flames, suddenly ignited something in his body.
Waves of heat rushed at him from all directions, making his entire body tense. He closed his eyes and focused his senses, straining to catch any sound or movement in the room.
Outside the bed, the eunuchs found nothing, so they retreated behind the screen once again.
Qian Yang’s face darkened. Though she couldn’t put her finger on what was wrong, she knew something was off. She turned her gaze to the scarlet veil draped across the bed.
The bed was the only untouched area in the room, and it stood out like a sore thumb. Its neat, pristine coverings contrasted sharply with the other furnishings, which had been tossed and rifled through.
When Chun Yue saw her gaze, she immediately exclaimed, “Does Sister Qian Yang have to check even my lady’s bed?”
Qian Yang pursed her lips and remained silent, her face growing even more gloomy.
She did want to check. She had seen clearly the figure in a purple robe sneaking into the courtyard after His Majesty left.
According to the rules established by the founder of Great Wei, only princes and court officials of the third rank or above were allowed to wear purple robes.
She could almost guess that the person who came was Prince Rui.
If she really caught the two in the act, knowing the Emperor’s personality, he would surely lose his fondness for Miss Zhong. Not only would she return to Zichen Hall, but she might also be promoted to be a court lady.
There had been precedents for this.
However, she looked at the thin red veil and did not dare to act.
After all, the person inside had served the Emperor. Even if they were nameless and addressed only as “my lady”, they were in a different league from palace women like her.
Just as she hesitated, a slender, white hand slowly emerged from behind the red veil, lifting it slightly to reveal a glimpse of what was inside.
Qian Yang quickly craned her neck to take a peek.
Amid the bed, Li Zhi was half-reclining lazily, with disheveled clothes and a crimson face. Her almond-shaped eyes were hazy with a hint of smoke and mist, and two tiny water droplets hung on the corners of her eyes, making her look alluring as if she had just woken up.
Behind her, there was no one except the scattered brocade quilt.
Qian Yang was taken aback and met Li Zhi’s indifferent gaze.
“Are you here to look or not? Please give a clear answer.”
Li Zhi felt as if she was being roasted on a fire and wanted Qian Yang to leave quickly. Her words lacked the usual gentleness and innocence, and were tinged with impatience.
Qian Yang could not see any trace of guilt on Li Zhi’s face, so she dared not look again. She hurriedly bowed and said, “Please forgive me, my lady. I was presumptuous.”
Li Zhi flicked her hand irritably, ordering Chun Yue to escort everyone out.
As soon as the sound of footsteps faded, the room fell into silence.
The tension that had been weighing on Li Zhi’s mind vanished in an instant, taking with it much of the strength in her body. She slumped down and took a few deep breaths, saying softly, “General, they’re all gone.”
Pei Ji lifted the silk quilt that had been covering him and exposed himself to the candlelight and the fresh air.
He was like a fish that was eager to return to the water. After taking a deep breath, he attempted to get out of bed.
But as soon as he moved, he felt a sudden pull at his waist.
He looked down and realized that the jade belt clasp at his waist had become tangled up in her dress’s waistband, creating a jumbled mess.
The verdant green jade and bright emerald hues contrasted with the slender, vibrant vermillion waistband, exerting an imperceptible tug that lifted Pei Ji’s gaze along the two delicate ribbons.
Today, Li Zhi wore a long trailing dress with a slightly low and revealing collar. The belt around her waist rested just below her chest, exposing a vast expanse of porcelain skin above it. Below the belt, the fabric was thin and delicate, like a veil that could be lifted to reveal an alluring color hidden beneath.
Pei Ji’s eyes roamed silently over the contours of Li Zhi’s body, then quickly and discreetly returned to the buckle of his waist belt. He focused his full attention on disentangling the knotted ties, his hands deftly moving as if on autopilot.
Li Zhi leaned back against the headboard of the bed, her gaze wandering idly over Pei Ji’s Adam’s apple as it bobbed up and down with each silent swallow. Her eyes then trailed up to his temples, where beads of sweat had begun to form and gather.
“Allow me to do it,” she said softly, her slender fingers gliding across Pei Ji’s rough, calloused hand with a gentle touch.
Li Zhi’s fingers were delicate and pristine, like pale green onions with a subtle pink hue at the tips. In contrast, Pei Ji’s hand was clearly defined and rugged, his knuckles protruding prominently from his skin. His years of martial arts training had left his once-fair skin with a slight tan that only enhanced his rugged good looks.
One was slender as white jade, the other hard as an iron brand, creating a stark contrast that left an indelible impression.
Pei Ji had been lost in concentration, untying the intricate knot, when an incredibly soft touch brushed against the back of his hand. His heart fluttered as if tickled by a cluster of downy feathers.
A sudden jolt ran through him as his forehead twitched, causing him to retreat instinctively. The jade hook on his waist yanked on the tangled knot of the dress, causing it to fall apart and scatter on the ground.
Li Zhi gasped, her hands clutched at the dress that had almost slipped off her body. Her almond-shaped eyes glistened with innocence and timidity, two teardrops threatening to spill over the brim, as she looked at him imploringly, “General…”
“It was my fault.” Pei Ji’s breathing faltered momentarily before he turned his gaze away. His eyebrows furrowed tightly as he stood up, placing the red veil down and turning his back. He stood alone outside the bed, exerting brute force to quickly untie the long and thin knot, before tucking it away.
With a flicker in her eyes, Li Zhi gazed at the hand that slipped through the crimson veil to grasp the rouge-colored ribbon.
“Thank you, General Pei,” she purred, her voice soft and alluring. As she took the ribbon, her delicate, ivory fingers brushed against his roughened palm, as if by accident.
The broad hand jerked back as if stung by a bee.
Li Zhi slowly rose, a flush creeping up her cheeks as she smoothed her dress and hid the peculiar glint in her eyes. She glanced at the swaying veil, lost in thought.
As she hung up the veil, Pei Ji deftly extracted the unconscious Li Jing Hui from under the bed and checked his pulse and breathing.
As a true man of Great Wei, Pei Ji had trained in martial arts from an early age and knew how to handle himself. However, given Li Jing Hui’s drunken stupor, he proceeded with extra caution.
Fortunately, after a thorough examination, Pei Ji found that Li Jing Hui had only fallen into a deep sleep due to alcohol consumption. He occasionally frowned impatiently when his breathing was obstructed by fingers resting on his nose.
Pei Ji breathed a sigh of relief in his heart.
His gaze quickly swept over the woman sitting aside, and seeing Li Jing Hui in such a state, she seemed like a woman who had nothing to do with him. His face darkened again.
“Since my lady has followed His Majesty, she should not have any more involvement with Prince Rui.”
His tone of voice was still steady and cold, with a hint of disdain and warning that he couldn’t be bothered to hide.
Li Zhi looked fragile to begin with, and at the sound of his words, she became even more pitiful and helpless, tears threatening to spill from her eyes. “But it was not my intention to attract His Highness’s attention…”
At that moment, Chun Yue returned and lightly tapped on the door three times. She whispered to Li Zhi, “Miss, they have all gone back to their rooms and shut the courtyard gate. They won’t be coming out again.”
Pei Ji did not utter a word. Instead, he simply pressed his thin lips together tightly, displaying an air of extreme disgust towards Li Zhi’s weakness and self-pity.
He bent down to lift Li Jing Hui and prepared to leave. He had already instructed Shi Quan to keep watch near the mountain path, ensuring that their departure would go unnoticed.
Although he carried a tall and heavy man on his back, he showed no signs of strain or exertion. His movements were smooth and effortless, though his bare summer shirt strained slightly against his taut muscles.
As Pei Ji turned to leave, Li Zhi watched his departing figure and whispered, “Thank you, General.”
Pei Ji hesitated briefly, but did not turn back. Instead, he spoke coldly, “If you seek me out again, I will report it directly to His Majesty.”
With that, he pushed the door open and strode away into the moonlit night.
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