Li Luo just barely manages to get back on his feet again only after lying at home for an entire day.
The first thing he does when he gets out of bed is to export the recording from yesterday. He saves an uncut version before he makes a copy, deleting the insignificant conversation and fight portion in the beginning, leaving only the last few sentences spoken by Duan Xingye. Next, he calls Duan Mingyang to set up the location of their meeting.
Duan Mingyang tells Li Luo to come to his place. Li Luo agrees without hesitation.
Usually, he’d be wary of a trap, but after being beaten up and shamed by Duan Xingye, Li Luo suddenly starts to feel that Duan Mingyang isn’t so dangerous after all.
At least Duan Mingyang hasn’t hit him before.
Deng Liang is diligently planning out Li Luo’s itinerary in the living room. When he sees his boss walk out of the bedroom, already changed out of his pajamas as if he’s heading out, Deng Liang asks in confusion, “Ge, it’s so late already. Where are you going?”
“My little assistant doesn’t need to know about this. You can leave when you’re done. Don’t wait for me.”
Deng Liang mumbles, “You slept for the whole day, and now that it’s night-time, you’re in better spirits? That’s such an unhealthy sleep cycle, Luo-ge. And didn’t you hurt your leg yesterday? You shouldn’t be going out now. If you need to meet someone, you can do it some other day.”
“The other guy can’t wait. Told me to go as soon as possible.” Li Luo is putting on his shoes at the foyer. When he lifts up his leg, pain shoots up the back of his knee. He stumbles, preventing the fall only by supporting himself against the wall.
“Hey, Luo-ge!” Deng Liang hurries to help him up. “Looks like it was quite a bad bump, huh. Did you put on ointment? Roll up your pants and let me take a look.”
“I’m fine. It’s just a bruise. It’ll go away in just a few days.”
“Even just a bruise can impact your work too, okay? You make a living out of looking good. I think it’s time you buy insurance for your body.”
On his way there, Li Luo really begins to ponder the feasibility of Deng Liang’s suggestion.
He already got beaten up anyways. He might as well extort some money from Duan Xingye to further piss him off.
When he arrives at Duan Mingyang’s home, it’s already past nine, the time they agreed upon. Surrounded by winding paths, all is quiet in this neighborhood, hidden beneath thick shadows of trees. The driver is still inching forward slowly, seizing the rare chance to visit such a luxurious villa as he peeks out the car window. Through the rearview mirror, he gives a few glances to the youth sitting in the back seat, who’s wearing a pair of sunglasses. The driver has probably stuck the label “rich young master” on Li Luo already.
Li Luo grins, flashing a mouthful of white teeth in the darkness. “Could you go a little faster, Sir?”
The driver’s shoulders quake. Without looking to the side at all, he immediately sits upright and quickly drives him to the address stated earlier. After he takes the money, he steps hard on the gas and speeds off.
Li Luo finally manages to release some of that frustration from yesterday. Feeling a little better, he straightens up, concealing every hint of fatigue. He then walks up to Duan Mingyang’s house and rings the doorbell.
Surprisingly, the one who comes to the door is Duan Mingyang himself.
“Why didn’t you drive?”
Abandoning the cold honorific of “Mr. Li” and wearing a casual outfit, Duan Mingyang almost sounds as if he’s hosting a gathering between two old friends.
Whether it’s because the warm yellow lights in the hall are too cozy, or because the person in front of Li Luo is the mirror image of the young man of his memories from years ago, Li Luo feels as though he’s being influenced by such an atmosphere. He casts aside the distancing honorific as well, asking directly, “Why are there no servants here?”
“It’s quieter this way.” Duan Mingyang turns slightly to the side, making way for Li Luo.
Li Luo is too lazy to make small talk with him, and he strides into the room. When he hears the door close behind him, he turns around to explain why he came, “Yesterday, I…”
Duan Mingyang walks a few steps closer, frowning. “Did you get hurt?”
His tone turns downwards at the end. The sentence sounds like a statement instead.
Baffled, Li Luo looks up and down the entirety of his own body. He’s wearing long sleeves and long pants, and all of his exposed skin is uninjured. There isn’t anything that gives him away, is there?
The silence lasts for a second, and Duan Mingyang promptly reaches out and pulls him over.
Li Luo is astonished. The sudden closeness between him and Duan Mingyang makes him so uncomfortable that it feels even worse than pain. At once, he raises his hand and tries to push back. “Don’t get so close.”
But Duan Mingyang is even faster. Catching Li Luo off guard, he gives Li Luo’s waist a firm nudge. The bruises haven’t healed yet, and his waist immediately spasms in pain. He gasps, his body slumping uncontrollably.
Duan Mingyang catches him right away.
After so many years, their chests are finally against each other’s once more.
Duan Mingyang is such a cold person, yet why is his embrace as warm as before?
This is the first thing that pops up in Li Luo’s mind.
But then Duan Mingyang presses onto Li Luo’s thigh, stomach, and arm. Every spot is deadly, shattering all of Li Luo’s tender thoughts. He howls, “Fuck! Are you trying to kill me?”
With a dark expression, Duan Mingyang doesn’t say anything before suddenly bending down. With one hand at Li Luo’s back and the other behind Li Luo’s knees, he flexes, picking Li Luo up from the ground.
Li Luo’s slender eyes grow so wide that they almost become orbs. He stares at the cold edges of Duan Mingyang’s side face. “What are you doing??”
Duan Mingyang doesn’t say anything. Holding Li Luo steadily, he walks straight to the second floor. The door isn’t fully closed, so he kicks it open and walks in, laying li Luo on the soft, wide bed.
“Take off your clothes.”
“No, thanks. I’ve already treated the wounds.” Li Luo pushes against the bed and sits up, eyeing him with amusement. “How could you tell?”
“It was obvious.”
“Was it? But my personal assistant was by my side from yesterday to today, and even he couldn’t tell. How could you tell with just a single glance?”
“Because he’s an idiot.”
Li Luo lets out a laugh, “Hahaha, that actually makes sense.”
As he laughs, he accidently strains his injured abdominal muscles. He can’t help but cough hard. When he looks up, Duan Mingyang’s brows are knitted even tighter.
“Take off your clothes.”
“I’m really fine. I’ve already checked the bruises. They’re not as bad as when he beat you up back then.”
Duan Mingyang’s expression changes slightly. “Duan Xingye did it? When? Last night?”
“That’s right. Apart from you guys of the Duan family, who else hits so hard in a fight?” Li Luo lifts a finger and pokes Duan Mingyang’s chest, smirking. “Mr. Duan, does this count as a work-related injury? Avenge me, won’t you?”
“How should I avenge you?”
Li Luo was only joking, but Duan Mingyang really responded. Li Luo answers without thinking, “Just beat him up too. Maybe make him go bankrupt as well.”
Duan Mingyang answers with so little hesitation that it seems fake, as if he’s saying it only to make Li Luo feel better. But Li Luo doesn’t mind it too much either. Li Luo himself only said it for the sake of it. Even if one day Duan Mingyang really made Duan Xingye go bankrupt, it wouldn’t be for him.
“Let’s talk business.” Li Luo takes out the recording pen. “This is the precious recording I got my hands on by sacrificing myself. Listen carefully. See if there’s anything useful.”
Duan Mingyang takes it and listens to it once. His expression is somewhat solemn.
“Anything to blackmail him with?” Li Luo asks. “I feel like when he said, ‘The property would be my mom and mine, sooner or later,’ he sounds too assured, almost as if victory is already in his hands. But isn’t your dad using you to keep his mom’s side of the family in check? And your dad is still so healthy. Why would he give up his control in just a few years?”
“My dad is getting old. He’s often made mistakes in the past couple of years, and he’s no longer the one best suited for the position of president. But with his personality, it’s true that he won’t relinquish his control so easily. I don’t have many clues right now. I can send people to investigate this later.” Duan Mingyang changes the subject without pausing. “Weren’t you looking for Yang Jing? Why is it all Duan Xingye talking?”
“It’ll be impossible to get anything else from her. Your brother caught me just when I started talking to her. It was why he decided to teach me the lesson, you know? Good thing your brother isn’t as smart as I am. He didn’t even wonder why I followed him so obediently.” Li Luo gloats.
Duan Mingyang’s face is dark. “Next time, don’t act so rashly.”
“Next time? I’m guessing your brother will be more careful from now on. We probably won’t be able to get to him through his bedmates.”
“We can try again.”
“Again? Did your brother get a new lover? Even if that’s the case, he’ll never let me get near her again, right?”
“You don’t have to be involved. I have my own candidate.” Duan Mingyang seems quite confident.
Li Luo eyes him doubtfully, searching his expression for any hints. But as he looks, he instead realizes that something else is off.
“Why does this side of your face look a little swollen?”
One side of Duan Mingyang’s face is just a little higher than his other. If one doesn’t scrutinize, it’s really impossible to tell.
“Same as you.”
“You got beaten up?” Li Luo covers his mouth, exclaiming in feigned astonishment. “Oh my god. Who in the world dares to hit our noble Young Master Duan?”
Duan Mingyang says in an indifferent tone, “Somebody really does. And you know him too.”
Li Luo falters, “… It wasn’t… Jiang Liushen, was it?”
Duan Mingyang doesn’t deny it.
“Why did he hit you?” Li Luo is quite bemused.
It’s true that Jiang Liushen has never liked Duan Mingyang. But with the way Jiang Liushen does things, he would’ve hit Duan Mingyang five years ago if he wanted to and not drag it on until now.
Besides, Jiang Liushen has always been an odd one out among the young masters of the upper class. He has an amorous face that makes him look like quite the playboy, but in reality, his character is so upright that most other heirs of rich families can’t even understand him. Li Luo has known him ever since childhood, and he’s only ever seen Jiang Liushen get in a fight once, when his cousin Jiang Xiaofu got bullied.
“For his new lover.” For some reason, Duan Mingyang’s tone lifts a little towards the end. “I didn’t let that singer kid be a finalist for the new talent award. He got mad and punched me. Looks like he really likes that kid.”
Li Luo mocks, “You sure deserved it. If I were him, I’d get mad too. Singer kid? Do you know how popular Xia Xi’ai has been over the past few years? Who’d believe that he’s not a finalist? It’s beyond obvious that it was rigged.”
“As the sponsor, I only care about the company’s interests. If a singer who’d recently been surrounded by scandals won the award, the ensuing PR management would be quite annoying.” Duan Mingyang pauses. “I think Jiang Liushen went to look for him later.”
Li Luo lets out a sigh of relief. “That’s good, then.”
“That’s good, then?”
“Is there a problem?”
Duan Mingyang gives him a long look. “You sure have a good attitude, Mr. Li.”
Li Luo: “?”
“Nothing. I admit it wasn’t a nice thing to do. He punched me, so we’re even. But please tell him: if he provokes me again, I won’t be stopping myself from fighting back like I did this time.”
“Don’t you have a mouth? And you want me to tell him?” Li Luo clicks his tongue. “Don’t think everyone is as obedient towards you as Lin Cheng. I’m only working with you. I’m not your servant.”
When he mentions Lin Cheng, Li Luo looks around. He doesn’t see any trace left by another person in the bedroom.
“Lin Cheng isn’t living at your place anymore?”
“He has his own home. Why would he be living at my place?”
“He had a cold before, and his parents live in another city. He usually lives alone. I was worried he couldn’t take care of himself properly, so I brought him over and he lived here for a few days.”
“Oh, I see, “Li Luo answers absentmindedly. He turns around and gets off the bed. “I’ll be heading back, then.”
“It’s so late already. It’s hard for you to walk, Mr. Li. You might as well stay the night.” Duan Mingyang assumes his detached tone once more, almost as if he’s distancing himself from Li Luo on purpose, trying to pose as little a threat to Li Luo as possible.
Li Luo looks at him with a smile. “It’s hard for me to walk? You said it as if I were an old man. I’m going back even if I use a wheelchair. Or else, who knows what Mr. Duan would do to me?”
“I won’t do anything.”
“Could anyone guarantee that? Mr. Duan, do you really believe I’ve lowered my guard against you, just because we exchanged a few calm words tonight?
Duan Mingyang walks towards Li Luo slowly, his eyes dark. “There’s no need to worry, Mr. Li. You’re hurt. I won’t do anything to you. Besides, I’m not my brother who forces himself on others even though he has almost every choice in the world. If you don’t want to, there’s no reason for me to look for trouble, either.”
Li Luo can’t help laughing. “You really want to sleep with me?”
“I’ve already suggested last time that we can ‘cooperate deeply.’ Have you forgotten?”
“I thought it was just your way of shaming me.”
“What’s the fun in verbal shaming?” Duan Mingyang raises his hand and combs through Li Luo’s long hair, stroking Li Luo’s neck gently. His voice sounds as if it has drifted over from a faraway place, yet at the same time, it’s like an inviting whisper right beside Li Luo’s ear.
“If you choose to give me the opportunity, Mr. Li, I can show you… how thrilling real shame feels.”
Goosebumps crawl up Li Luo’s body from the touch. He swallows unconsciously, closing his eyes before looking at him again.
“But that’s not what your brother said.”
“What did he say?”
“He said you’d already gotten tired of fucking me.”
Duan Mingyang’s movements instantly freeze.
Li Luo tilts his head. Incandescent light falls in his eyes like pure white snow.
“What, Mr. Duan? You want to do it again with someone you’ve already tossed away?”