The Maybach glides along the road. A thick soundproof partition divides the interior of the vehicle into two separate areas. The driver in front can neither hear any sound behind him, nor see the two entwined figures in the spacious back seat.
“Fucking let go of me!” Li Luo’s surprise attack failed and the tables have turned. He’s so pissed that he wants to bite someone.
“You really don’t have a good temper, Mr. Li. It’d be difficult for us to cooperate if this continues.” Duan Mingyang lets go of his grip on Li Luo’s hair. Instead, he slides his fingers through the soft strands, pushing Li Luo’s head against the car seat. Caressing Li Luo’s head gently, it’s almost like he’s petting an alarmed kitten.
“I just want you to learn some obedience.”
“It’s a shame, but I only know how to fake obedience. Learning it is impossible.” The side of Li Luo’s face is right against the leather car seat, a few dishevelled locks hanging loosely at his forehead. He’s panting, but still, he retorts, “Mr. Duan, you know this best, don’t you?”
“Looks like you don’t fully understand your circumstances yet, Mr. Li.” Duan Mingyang brushes aside the hair at his forehead and leans down, gazing into his eyes from a close distance. Duan Mingyang’s eyes look sharp.
“Do you think you’re still the influential young master of the Li family? Should I remind you that your dad is in jail, your grandfather is old, and your family now only manages to maintain its empty name through its previously accumulated assets and the humble income you make?”
“If not for you becoming an actor and posing no threat, do you think that those eyeing your family would’ve let you go so easily?”
“Now that your dad is almost released, people afraid of his comeback are already beginning to stir. If you keep on doing as you please, you won’t even know how you ended up dead.”
Li Luo narrows his eyes. “Are you one of those people too, Mr. Duan?”
“If I were, would I be telling you all this?”
“I can’t know for sure. What if it’s the thief himself shouting, ‘stop the thief’?”
“If you doubt me, sure, try cooperating with the other young master of the Duan family. See if he’ll pay you any attention.”
Duan Mingyang releases his hold on Li Luo and returns to his seat, sitting as properly as before. “Mr. Li, excuse my directness, but you have no rights to bargain, especially in the eyes of those who see you as nothing more than meat. I’m cooperating with you, not because I don’t have other more suitable candidates either.”
Li Luo sits up, shaking his sore wrists. “It’s not for the sake of our shared past, is it?”
“What if I say yes?”
“Then please find a more believable reason next time.”
Duan Mingyang tilts his head down as he twists the ring on his finger. It’s unclear if the action’s intentional or not. “That certainly puts me in a difficult place. In your eyes, Mr. Li, nothing that comes out of my mouth is believable, right?”
“I’m glad you know.”
“I’ll return the same words to you.” No emotions can be discerned in Duan Mingyang’s downcast eyes. “I don’t believe anything you say either, Mr. Li. So, you see? There is no trust between us, so how can there be any deception?”
Li Luo considers it for a while. “That makes sense. Then why are you cooperating with me?”
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend. What the Duan father and son want to destroy — I’m going to protect it. What do you think of this reason?”
Li Luo scrutinizes him for a few seconds before finally smiling, “That’s sounds more like the truth. You’re truly resilient, Mr. Duan. Back then, you joined the Duan family for the sake of name and status. Now, after so many years of silent suffering, you’ve risen to the top and you’re going to ungratefully take revenge upon your own father and brother. How scary.”
Duan Mingyang isn’t angered by the derogatory terms thrown at him one after another. He reaches out smoothly and pulls Li Luo’s wrist over, gently rubbing the red marks. “If you know I’m scary, then be a little more obedient next time.”
Li Luo freezes.
He thinks that his own change of attitude has been fast enough, but Duan Mingyang’s change is clearly even faster.
Tingles shoot up his arm from that intimate touch. He wants to pull his hand away, but after thinking about it, how could he lose to Duan Mingyang’s shamelessness? And so, he straight-up extends his other arm as well.
“This one hurts too. Massage it for me.”
Duan Mingyang glances at him. Speechlessness can be seen in his eyes, but he doesn’t comment.
Both of Li Luo’s wrists are cupped between Duan Mingyang’s warm, broad palms. The strength used in the massage feels just right. The two are in close proximity to each other, as intimate as a couple who has never fought before.
As though Li Luo had not been the one who broke out into curses, and Duan Mingyang had not been the one who caused the redness on Li Luo’s wrists.
Is this the carrot-and-stick approach? Li Luo thinks absentmindedly.
This is the reason why Lin Luo is so head over heels for Duan Mingyang. When it comes to showering love and affection, Duan Mingyang is quite an accomplished sugar daddy.
“Mr. Li,” Duan Mingyang calls out lowly. It’s a rather distant way of calling someone, but it feels slightly amorous when spoken at such a proximity.
Li Luo looks up at Duan Mingyang’s face, but after meeting those dark eyes, he can’t help but lower his voice. “What?”
“I heard you’re investigating Yang Jing.”
And the amorous feeling vanishes.
It’s needless to ask whom he heard it from.
“Yeah. I suspect the only reason she got the publicity ambassador role is because she’d hooked your brother.”
“She has indeed been close to Duan Xingye recently. But there’s no way for me to look for any evidence yet.”
“Leave it to me. You gave me the endorsement position, so I should do something for you in exchange. The brand is hosting a publicity event the day after tomorrow, and both of us are attending. I’ll sound her out there. Wanna join in the fun too, Mr. Duan?”
“I’m attending the Huaqu Awards ceremony the day after tomorrow.”
“Huh, you’re really thinking of branching out into the entertainment industry, Mr. Duan?” Li Luo teases, “Or is one of your lovers a singer? You want to get them an award?”
“Assume whatever you want, Mr. Li. In any case, I won’t make it. Please be careful.”
“Don’t worry. You’re the only one whom I’ve continuously suffered losses from. If anyone else wants to look for trouble, I’ll teach them what they’re worth.”
“I think you should be taught what you’re worth first.”
Duan Mingyang’s tone sounds quite resigned, vaguely mingling with some tenderness. Li Luo pauses for a second. He can’t tell if that was a show of mockery or care.
At this point, the car glides to a stop. Duan Mingyang lets go of Li Luo’s wrists.
The reddened imprints have already disappeared. Looks like Duan Mingyang didn’t overdo it after all. At least there are no bruises left.
The bodyguard gets out of the car and opens the door for him. The car has stopped right outside the entrance to his house.
Calmly, Duan Mingyang gestures. “Mr. Li, I’ll be awaiting your good news.”
Li Luo returns a smile. “Mr. Duan, I won’t disappoint you.”
The Maybach drives into the dark of the night, disappearing in a flash.
Against the wind, Li Luo stands in front of his door, his hair knotting and tangling. Only after the warmth around his wrists fades, turning numb, does he then turn around and enter his house.
The brand event is held at a large exhibition hall in the city’s downtown area.
It’s supposed to be a publicity event, but it’s actually more like a marketing event. Unlike most runway shows, the new designs as well as the classic ones are all displayed in glass showcases. The programme scheduled is interesting, including the screening of a feature film about the brand, as well as a presentation on the brand’s vision.
Other than the country’s only global ambassador, Li Luo, along with a few publicity ambassadors, the brand has also invited a group of well-known fashionistas and media companies. It seems that they intend on expanding further into the Chinese market.
Of course, Li Luo is the most important and distinguished celebrity there, and most of the media is chasing after him with cameras. A hoard of social media influencers whose names he hasn’t even heard of are blushing as they ask to take selfies with him.
He’s more than annoyed. With a professional smile, he pushes his assistant in front of him. Now that there’s a stocky figure as a barrier, nobody can approach him.
Assistant Deng complains tearfully, “Luo-ge, I’m gonna be squashed.”
“Perfect. It’ll help you lose weight.”
With this shield, Li Luo fights his way out of the crowd. Before the media can catch up to him, Li Luo hurriedly escapes into the exhibition hall.
Inside are more displays of high-end jewelry, each and every one invaluable in price. Blinding lights are cast upon them. Gawking, Deng Liang leans so close that he almost touches the warning line. Li Luo only gives him a couple of reminders before walking straight towards the VIP exhibition all the way inside.
The wide hall is decorated with the color of night. Embedded in the ceiling are small lights glittering like stars or scattered diamonds, mysterious and extravagant. Only about a dozen individuals who have a close relationship with the brand have the privilege of being invited inside.
Li Luo wanders around for sometime before locating his target, who’s standing in front of a necklace display.
“The necklace is an exhibit from a runway show twenty years ago. It was worn by the top supermodel of the world back then. Its value as a collector’s item is quite high.”
He flashes a smile. “You have a great eye, Miss Yang.”
Yang Jing, admiring the exhibit, stops in surprise at the flattery. “Mr. Li…”
“Oh, you know me, Miss Yang? Then I can save the introduction. I’ve always looked forward to meeting you, and today I finally have the chance.”
Li Luo’s eyes crinkle. The curve of his lips can steal a person’s soul.
Under such a gaze, Yang Jing’s cheeks immediately flushes a light red.
Handsome male celebrities are usually the most attractive when they’ve just debuted. The more aware they are of their good looks, the slimier they tend to act. However, Li Luo is different. Ever since the day he appeared in the public eye with his charm, he has always been as mellow as melted chocolate.
As soon as one gets a taste of it, they’d plunge in and sink deeper, savouring more and more of it until they can never escape the chocolate marshes.
He is deeply aware of his beauty. His beauty is his weapon, assisting him in his conquests to achieve what ordinary people cannot.
Yang Jing blushes. “You flatter me too much, Mr. Li. Is there even anyone who doesn’t know you? On the other hand, I finally got to meet you in person. I’ve finished watching the drama you did with Shanshan.”
Li Luo reveals some surprise. “What a coincidence. I also watched your drama last month, the one set during the Republic of China. Your character of the Eighth Concubine is quite stunning, Miss Yang.”
Yang Jing covers her mouth as she breaks into a smile, shrugging off some of her reservation. “So you watch dramas too, Luo-ge? I thought you were the aloof and unworldly type.”
“Only because I happened to see the trailer and thought that it was good. It’s true that I usually don’t watch dramas. I rarely even watch the ones I star in.”
After having gained her favour, Li Luo changes the subject. “Which is why it’s absolutely my pleasure to endorse this brand alongside the breathtaking Eighth Concubine. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to get to know you better, and then I just so happened to see you while looking at the exhibits. On the spur of the moment, I decided to come and greet you. Now that I think about it, it does seem a little sudden. Sorry about that.”
“Of course not, Luo-ge. It’s my pleasure instead. You’re the actual global ambassador. I’m only a publicity ambassador.”
“It’s not that big of a difference. We’re both faces of the brand anyways. Whether it’s you or me, they’re just into our looks, right?”
“Haha… That makes sense.”
Li Luo doesn’t miss the flash of awkwardness in her eyes. He takes a step forward, lowering his voice, “Right, the supervisor told me that we’re going for a hard sell to the Chinese market, and wanted me to see if there are any suitable actresses I’d like to work with. There are four to five spots available. Miss Yang, if you’re interested, I can recommend you.”
Yang Jing is pleasantly surprised. “Me?”
A publicity ambassador only shows up to events and post ads online. But if they can be included in a billboard ad that will be displayed nation-wide, their status would be completely different.
“That’s right. You’re a publicity ambassador, after all. It’s good to keep our resources for ourselves. Also, Shanshan will be joining me. Since you’re her friend, she’ll definitely be happy if I invite you.”
Li Luo’s words are flawless, hiding an ambiguity within them.
Just as he planned, Yang Jing misunderstands him. “Wow, you and Shanshan…? When I read about the gossip of you two having a meal together, I thought it was fake…”
Of course it was fake. But Li Luo is misleading her on purpose. “We’re on good terms. Her friend is my friend.”
“Haha, if this is the case, I’ll take the offer then. Luo-ge, you’re really doing me a huge favor. How should I repay you?”
“Don’t mind it. As long as you can mediate between us when I fight with Shanshan, it’d be a great help.”
As for what kind of a fight it’d be, it’s up to her imagination.
Yang Jing completely trusts him now. She grins. “Thank you in advance then, Luo-ge.”
“No problem.” Li Luo pulls away, both appropriately and gentlemanly. Next, he blinks and says playfully, “The event’s about to be over. I’m gonna leave first. What about you, Miss Yang?”
“Huh? We can leave early?”
“The supervisor said that we can leave early if we’re tired. Anyway, we don’t need to make any appearances afterwards. It’s alright. If you’re leaving too, we can have dinner together.”
Yang Jing hesitates. “But I have plans afterwards…”
“Then I won’t bother you anymore. We can take a rain check,” Li Luo responds generously before he continues, “but it’s quite a surprise.”
Li Luo grins, “It’s not that I’m narcissistic, but when I invite someone, they usually choose me even if they already have plans. I wonder who’s so irresistible that you’re turning me down instead. Is it someone I know?”
“Probably not.” Yang Jing suddenly recalls something. “Wait, no. You might actually know him.”
Li Luo’s ears immediately prick up. “Who?”
“The one who took over your company—”
“Gah!” Yang Jing exclaims, startled.
It’s not her fault. The sudden voice had burst almost right into their ears. It was so ghastly that even Li Luo felt his scalp tingle. At once, he turns to the direction of the speaker.
A tall man, dressed in an expensive black suit, has been standing behind them since however long ago. With a straight back and a dignified air to him, he seems to be just slightly over thirty years old. Amidst his handsome features is a gentle, almost bookish quality. He’s currently smiling at them with crinkled eyes.
It’s quite a bright smile, but Li Luo feels almost as if he’s been drenched from head to toe in ice water.
Fuck. Why is Duan Xingye here?