The banquet inside the hall is buffet-style. Shuoxing’s ordinary employees and celebrities of average popularity will dine and converse there, while those with higher statuses have gone into a more private, luxurious room.
Shuoxing is quite well-known within the industry, but it’s still a start-up established only a few years ago, small in size and few employees in numbers. Apart from the boss Luo Peng, the only high-level members of the company at the table are the assistant manager and the director of artistes. Adding Li Luo and Lin Cheng, there are only five people from their side.
On Duan Mingyang’s side, three people are sitting on either side of him. At the four corners of the room stand four bodyguards, while two more watch over the door, ensuring that no unauthorized persons will venture inside.
Luo Peng has never been in such a situation before, and his back starts sweating out of anxiety. He has no idea why the Duan family’s second young master would come and discuss the acquisition directly with him.
Besides the Jiang family, the Duan family is the wealthiest and most influential in this city. It has once set foot in the entertainment industry too, but its profit there is likely to be less than even one percent of the Duan family’s annual profit. When it comes to acquiring a couple of entertainment companies, it’d be even a little excessive to have Duan Mingyang’s secretary come, much less the man himself.
Did Lin Cheng really strike gold? But no matter how Luo Peng thinks about it, he still can’t remember if the two ever crossed paths at all.
Besides, Duan Mingyang is rumoured to be a cruel, cold-blooded illegitimate son. He had been quiet during the first few years he was accepted into the Duan family, but in the past couple of years, he had rose to fame. It’s rumored that he has already taken over half of the family business from his older brother, Duan Xingye, with whom he shares a father. If this goes on, he might end up replacing the other as the heir.
How could such a proud, ruthless young master ever fall for a soft, white bunny like Lin Cheng? Is Lin Cheng so lucky that he ended up in the plot of a real-life CEO romance?
“Mr. Luo,” sitting opposite to Luo Peng, Secretary Wu calls out, “among the companies we’ve acquired this time, yours is the first with which we’ll sign a contract. You can see the emphasis we’ve placed on it. The contract has been drafted already and it will be delivered to you by Monday. If you have any remaining questions or requests, there is still time for adjustments.”
Hearing the last sentence, Luo Peng glances at Duan Mingyang in difficulty. The man has been silent this whole time. Luo Peng is truly too afraid to speak up, and thus shoots Li Luo a look. Hurry up — tell the big boss you want to stay!
But, as if he doesn’t see him, Li Luo only plays with the glass in his hand. He gazes at the stony face of the man across from him, through the wine swishing in the glass.
He’s now more mature, but more unfamiliar as well.
When he greeted Duan Mingyang just now, the latter walked past him without sparing a single word, entering the private room along with Lin Cheng.
It made Li Luo, who was smiling and saying hello, look like an awkward clown making a fool of himself.
But Li Luo was quick to get over it.
After all, this wasn’t the first time his eagerness was met with apathy. Duan Mingyang has never cared for him.
Not five years ago, and not now either.
If he felt upset by this, even he himself would laugh at how unreasonable he was.
It’s only when Luo Peng has been winking so hard his eyes begin to hurt that Li Luo finally does something.
He takes a small sip of the wine. When he puts down his glass, he doesn’t cushion its base with his pinky finger as he usually does, but purposely knocking it against the table. It lets out a clink slightly louder than the surrounding noise — not too sharp, but enough to attract the attention of others.
He stands up and bows slightly. “I don’t think Mr. Luo has any further requests, but I have one of my own.”
Instantly, everyone turns to him. So does Duan Mingyang, with his cold gaze.
The pair of pitch-black eyes was perfectly steady and emotionless. It seems as though he’s looking at someone he has never met before.
Secretary Wu responds, “Go ahead, Mr. Li.”
Li Luo looks straight at Duan Mingyang and smiles. “It’s truly an honor that our little company can earn the appreciation of the one and only Duan family. Presumably, Mr. Duan, your goal is also to make money. If this is the case, as the most valuable artist of Shuoxing, I would like to ask you for a favor, Mr. Duan. Could you let me stay at Shuoxing… please?”
In his last sentence, he softens his tone on purpose.
Just as how humble he used to be, in front of Duan Mingyang.
If this were back then, Duan Mingyang might have made a concession. However, the current Duan Mingyang, or rather, the Duan Mingyang who had torn off his mask, holds no more warmth for Li Luo.
There is no courtesy given. It’s a frigid word of denial.
“May I ask why?” Li Luo is still smiling. “Is my accomplishment as an artist insufficient? Or… do you have anything against me, Mr. Duan? So much so that you have to kick me out?”
As the polite yet cutting words leave his mouth, the atmosphere immediately stiffens. By the side, Luo Peng wipes the sweat glistening on his forehead, daring not even to take a breath.
“You are surrounded by gossip; your image is terrible; you are negligent of your work; you make no effort to seek progress. We don’t need an artiste like you.” Duan Mingyang looks at him coldly. “It’s time somebody purges the garbage of the entertainment industry.”
Not only do the people of Shuoxing gape in disbelief, even those on Duan Mingyang’s side betray some surprise.
In the years since Li Luo’s debut, although he hasn’t achieved much in terms of acting, he hasn’t been involved in any scandals either. He’s top-tier both in popularity and in how much attention he draws online — countless companies have been fighting over him. Yet, because of Duan Mingyang’s words, he has become a worthless piece of garbage. It doesn’t make sense no matter how one thinks about it.
The words were indeed a little too harsh. Secretary Wu wants to ease the situation, but sensibly shuts his mouth after he sees his boss’s expression.
Li Luo laughs lightly. The curvature of his lips slowly straightens as he narrows his eyes.
They’ve been apart for five years, and the first thing Duan Mingyang tells him is that he’s garbage.
It fits Duan Mingyang’s style quite well, really.
“If I’m garbage—” Li Luo raises his brow. “What are you?”
The bodyguard at the corner closest to Li Luo, dark-daced and with a scar at the corner of his eye, takes two steps forward.
Li Luo glances at the bodyguard. The sharp, blade-like brilliance within Li Luo’s eyes shoots straight towards Duan Mingyang. “Hah, you know how to threaten people now? How spectacular, Young Master Duan, for a bastard son like you to—”
The chair crashes to the ground.
The bodyguard bolts forth and locks Li Luo’s wrists behind his back, pressing him onto the table as if holding down a convict.
Pain shoots up Li Luo’s shoulders. He grimaces and can’t help but curse, “Fuck!”
The glass has been knocked over. The wine inside spills out and stains his intricate suit, soaking into his styled hair. A few wet strands tumble down, clinging onto his forehead.
Li Luo’s pupils shrink.
Lin Cheng dashes over anxiously, trying to prise the bodyguard’s hands away. “Let go of him! Mingyang-ge, get your bodyguard to let go of Luo-ge!”
An incident of violence has occurred so suddenly at the acquisition banquet. Everyone is afraid. Nobody dares to make a sound.
In such circumstances, Lin Cheng has gone as far as to speak up in an attempt to stop Duan Mingyang, even calling the latter’s name so intimately. The others can’t help but to take a few more looks at him, and the more sensitive ones understand immediately.
Luo Peng doesn’t have as much courage, but he’s still a loyal friend. After holding himself back for a few seconds, he finally manages to stand up and plead for mercy, “Mr. Duan, A-Luo is just a little too wilful. He doesn’t mean any hostility. Please don’t mind him…”
Duan Mingyang raises his glass, taking a small sip before putting it back down, his hands steady.
Luo Peng doesn’t have the guts to say anything else.
The new bodyguard was once part of the underworld. Eager to impress his employer, he tightens his hold — he can snap Li Luo’s arms if he goes just an inch farther.
From the other side comes the sound of a chair scraping against the floor. His face against the table, Li Luo watches the man rise and approach with firm strides until he stands right before Li Luo, looking down upon him.
But it’s not his name that’s called.
“Return to your seat.”
“But…” Lin Cheng tries to say something before deciding not to.
Duan Mingyang gestures. The bodyguard immediately releases his hold, retreating back to the corner respectfully.
“Your clothes have been dirtied, Mr. Li. Perhaps it’s no longer appropriate for you to stay here.”
It’s a tone saturated with wealth and power.
But he once said he detested the way those with wealth and power did things.
Li Luo doesn’t answer. He gazes at the glinting, platinum ring on the middle finger of Duan Mingyang’s left hand, his attention straying.
Only when Luo Peng tugs the corner of his clothes does he recover. Standing up, he stretches his sore shoulders, letting out an exaggerated gasp of pain.
“So it seems you really dislike me, Mr. Duan. Sure. I’ll leave and stop annoying you.”
Li Luo smiles, calmly fixing his wet, crimson collar as if he doesn’t care at all. He then turns the glass upright again and pours himself a half glass of wine. Downing it, he clicks his tongue.
“What a disgusting wine. You’re the only one who could’ve pick it, Mr. Duan.”
He stares at Duan Mingyang through the damp hair hanging at his forehead, his eyes cold.
“What a shameless act. You’re the only one who could’ve done it, Mr. Duan.”
Hearing this, the bodyguard darts forward once more, but Li Luo is even faster. Li Luo swings his hand violently.
The wine glass flies past the bodyguard’s cheek, smashing against the wall with a ear-piercing shatter. The round glass fractures into sharp, broken slivers, scattering across the ground.
The air within the room seems to have frozen. It’s frighteningly quiet.
Li Luo takes a napkin and dabs the corner of his mouth before tossing it back onto the table. Dark wine stains the pure white of the napkin, almost like clotted blood.
Politely, he bows to everyone—
“Please enjoy your meals.”
Under Duan Mingyang’s cold gaze, he opens the door as if seeing nothing and leaves the room.
In the banquet hall, Deng Liang is in the middle of savoring his dinner. He has just picked up a piece of steak when he looks up to find his Luo-ge walking out from the hallway near the private room.
At once, he approaches happily. “Luo-ge, you guys finished already? The buffet at this hotel is so good — as expected, the new boss is…”
Halfway through, he halts, “… Luo-ge, what’s wrong?”
Luo Ge grabs a towel, drying his face and his hair. He covers his wine-stained collar, his face somewhat pale. “Nothing. It’s too stuffy inside. I’m gonna go get some fresh air.”
“Luo-ge… Was the new boss mean to you?” Deng Liang asks carefully.
The new boss chose to force Li Luo out before he even met the latter. It’s natural that he wouldn’t treat Li Luo well. But with such a personality, his Luo-ge should’ve bickered with the opponent so much that the opponent stormed out of the room in fury. Why is Li Luo the one who left so miserably? This is the first time Deng Liang finds himself in a situation like this.
“If he weren’t mean to me, it wouldn’t be him anymore.” Li Luo tries to raise the corners of his mouth, but still, he’s unable to pull off a casual grin.
Deng Liang, “What does that mean? You know the new boss, Luo-ge?”
Li Luo doesn’t reply. He lets out a long, weary breath and tosses away the dirtied towel. Brushing his wet, dishevelled hair back, he reveals a proud, unruffled expression, taking wide strides with his hands in his pockets out of the banquet hall. He is a nonchalant young master, leaving just like how he came.
However, when he answers, there’s a hint of bitterness that underlies his voice—
“He’s only my ex.”