In reality, the moment Li Luo finishes speaking, he feels a slight uncertainty.
He doesn’t have a thought-out plan. It’s only an impulsive idea that he hatched after leaving the banquet hall, with the night wind clearing his mind.
There hasn’t been any breakthrough in his dad’s case over the past few years. After so much work, a while ago, he finally found a lead, only for Duan Mingyang to cut him right off. He doesn’t know if the Duan family found out why he accepted the endorsement, but if they did, he’d have to think more carefully about his future moves.
But neither is it a good idea to drag things on. Coercion doesn’t work on Duan Mingyang, while Li Luo is not the type to back off either. Nothing will come out of this deadlock.
The fortunate thing is that Duan Mingyang doesn’t fully belong to the side of the Duan family.
In their current situation, the best compromise would be to cooperate with each other.
His end goal of getting the endorsement is supposed to lead him towards the Duan family anyways. This way, it would be a shortcut.
“That was quite surprising, Mr. Li.” Duan Mingyang turns around. “With what happened back there, you didn’t seem to have an attitude of cooperating.”
“My attitude is whatever your attitude is, Mr. Duan. If you’d like to cooperate, my attitude would be one of cooperation.” Li Luo smiles. “But please don’t misunderstand. We haven’t finished clearing up the past yet, and I’m just postponing it temporarily. I think we both have more important matters at hand right now.”
“What important matters do I have?” Duan Mingyang seems as if his interest has been roused.
“You’ve taken over most of the family business, but the right of inheritance is still with your brother, isn’t it?” Li Luo goes straight to the point. “In other words, you’re only an assistant to your brother right now. No matter how hard you work, as long as your dad, the CEO, doesn’t change his mind, it’ll all go to somebody else. But your dad wouldn’t really let you be his successor, and he’s just using you to hinder Mrs. Duan’s side of the family from taking over the business. Am I right?”
Duan Mingyang stays silent. With heavy eyes, he gazes eerily at Li Luo through the darkening night. “What a surprise that you’ve been keeping up with my situation, Mr. Li. And here I thought…”
For some reason, he takes the lead, stepping forward.
“You didn’t want to see me again for the rest of your life.”
The response doesn’t answer the question at all.
Li Luo is momentarily caught off guard. He looks up at Duan Mingyang, who’s a little taller than him.
For a moment, he seems to feel that Duan Mingyang hasn’t changed that much after all.
His sharp edges are still so defined. An unmelting darkness remains frozen between his deep-set features, and the cold eyes still grant no warmth.
The only time he saw a fluctuation within Duan Mingyang’s eyes was probably the night before they fell apart, the night when they were in bed.
He had been too drunk then. He can only recall that the heated pair of hands swimming across his bod, the heated deep kisses between his lips and his teeth, and the even hotter length thrusting in and out of his body. However, he doesn’t remember if there were burning flames in Duan Mingyang’s eyes for him.
He doesn’t wish to remember. He’s afraid that if he remembers, he’d discover that Duan Mingyang’s eyes were cold back then as well.
Watching icily as Li Luo submitted to him, succumbing to love and lust, hips swaying while asking for more kisses like a whore. Li Luo had given up on all of his pride then, revealing the ugliest part of himself.
It was no wonder Duan Mingyang secretly filmed Li Luo’s pitiful, unrestrained self to use as blackmail material.
To watch the fall of a prideful person has always been a hidden hobby of those in positions of power.
The good thing was that his best acting skills were brought forth by that darkest day. His voice was a little hoarse, but no trace of his heartbreak could be heard through the phone. Even though what Duan Mingyang left inside of him the night before still remained in his body, even though his back felt so sore he couldn’t even stand properly upright, his tone was still harsh and pointed—
“Duan Mingyang, you thought played me, didn’t you? Let me tell you—I’m the one who was playing with you! In my eyes, you’re just a dog. You’re still only a dog, even after biting my hand. You’re as filthy and as disgusting as your dad is. Did you really think I fell for you? You?! Keep dreaming!”
“Fuck off! I don’t want to see you again for the rest of my life!”
He didn’t want to see him again for the rest of his life. That was the last thing Li Luo said to Duan Mingyang five years ago.
It sounded raw and hurtful, but it really wasn’t all that much, considering that Duan Mingyang betrayed him, abandoned him, and worked with the Duan family to imprison his dad. Besides, as cold-blooded as Duan Mingyang is, could he really have been hurt by this spout of rage? Maybe he thought Li Luo was like a mad dog that lost its mind and started cursing everyone—amusing yet pitiful.
But right now, Li Luo is surprised indeed by Duan Mingyang’s sudden iteration of those words.
So he still remembers.
“I didn’t want to… but here you are, no?” Li Luo tries not to step away, facing Duan Mingyang’s domineering aura head-on. “You got what you wanted and you’re still chasing after me, Mr. Duan, intending to finish me off completely. What good is there for you? You should cooperate with me instead—then, you can get the family business you want, and I can accomplish my goal. We’ll have the best of both worlds.”
Duan Mingyang asks coolly, “What goal do you have in mind?”
“I want to prove my dad’s innocence,” Li Luo says, “and I want your dad and your brother to be kicked out of the board of directors. Look, we share the same goal.”
“Really.” Duan Mingyang, seems as if he’s not too impressed, but he doesn’t deny it either. Instead, he asks, “Then what will you do after you accomplish your goal, Mr. Li? Turn your target back towards me?”
“Of course.” Li Luo smiles, revealing two rows of white teeth. “You should be glad I haven’t killed you yet. Did you expect me to forgive you?”
Perhaps the deep shades of the night have blurred his eyes, but Li Luo seems to glimpse a sense of loss flashing across Duan Mingyang’s face. When he looks again, however, it’s still the same usual lack of expression.
“Then what did you mean by using yourself as a bargaining chip, Mr. Li?”
“You finally asked the right question.” Li Luo explains to him, “I’m no match for your dad at the moment, but your brother has quite a few weak points. We can lay our hands on him first.”
“I heard your brother likes keeping little celebrities as sugar babies? Then I’ll—”
Before he finishes, he sees Duan Mingyang’s face darken. “You’re going to give yourself to him?”
“Of course not.” Li Luo is shocked by his line of thought. “Am I a little celebrity? I’m a huge celebrity! Your brother isn’t into men either, is he?”
Duan Mingyang’s expression lifts a little. “Duan Xingye is not so easy to deal with.”
Picking up on the hint of possibility, Li Luo continues, “Which is why we should plan carefully. Mr. Duan, you have to trust in my connections in the entertainment industry. Your brother’s lovers change day to day. I’m bound to get hold of some information that can help you.”
“You do have many connections, Mr. Li.” Duan Mingyang’s tone sounds somewhat mocking. “You might even have more lovers than my brother has.”
“That makes two of us.” Li Luo smiles. “If you want, I can introduce you to a few of them. They’re bound to suit you more than Lin Cheng does. He’s still too young. He doesn’t know anything—”
“Then what about you?”
“I said, what about you?” Duan Mingyang takes another step closer, lowering his voice. “Mr. Li, perhaps our cooperation can go deeper.”
Li Luo is caught off guard.
He has long since known about this man’s abhorrent personality, but they’d once been together for a year, after all. His impression of Duan Mingyang was that he had a sort of front to him—steady and restrained, calm and meticulous, a gentle warmth trickling beneath a gloomy surface. The cold, ruthless Duan Mingyang he saw on the day they broke apart seemed to be some kind of nightmarish hallucination.
But right now, there is no trace of affection on Duan Mingyang’s face as he suggests the sexual exchange so openly. Like others of his status, he tramples over another’s sense of pride as he pleases, thinking that he can humiliate Li Luo through wealth and power.
Reality was false. The nightmare was real.
Li Luo is brought back to that drunken night. Their bodies entwined as he drowned in the unbearable pleasure, his arms wrapped around Duan Mingyang’s neck as he called, “Mingyang…” over and over again. They looked to be the most intimate of lovers.
Now that he thinks about it, perhaps that instance was no different from just another exchange in Duan Mingyang’s eyes. He spent a year’s worth of time and energy, and even revealed confidential information of his dad’s to Duan Mingyang, which was why Duan Mingyang, despite usually being so indifferent, granted him some physical comfort, whether as a reward or in pity.
At this thought, Li Luo feels his stomach convulse. He feels like throwing up.
“Are you trying to humiliate me, Mr. Duan? Or… after sleeping with me once, you’ve been unable to forget about me?”
Duan Mingyang’s eyes reveal some contempt. “You’re as confident as always, Mr. Li. In other words, you’re conceited.”
“Thank you for the compliment. But I’ve forgotten much about you, Mr. Duan,” Li Luo replies, “and I was drunk back then. I wasn’t too willing either. For the sake of this, Mr. Duan, could you make it up to me by considering my suggestion?”
“You seem to have remembered wrong, Mr. Li. I thought you looked as if… you were enjoying yourself quite a lot.”
“Really? I don’t recall.” Li Luo smiles with nonchalance. “Perhaps I’ve had too many enjoyable nights after. It’s only natural I don’t remember.”
Hearing this, Duan Mingyang’s gaze sharpens. His lips are pursed into a straight line, as though he’s on the verge of losing his temper. However, he endures it for a few seconds and holds himself back. Stepping backwards, he allows some distance between them.
He then takes out a personal business card from his suit pocket and gives it to Li Luo, his tone cold and formal as usual.
“You may stay at Shuoxing, but any future work must receive my approval. Your manager will be changed as well. You cannot act without my permission. Contact me directly if you make progress with my brother.”
Li Luo takes the name card and grins. “Sure.”
“And.” Duan Mingyang has already opened his car door, but he turns his head around. “Don’t tell anyone about our cooperation, or it will end immediately.”
“No problem. Don’t worry, Mr. Duan.”
Duan Mingyang doesn’t say anything else, not even a goodbye, as he takes a seat in his car. The moment the Maybach’s engine sounds, the scattered bodyguards gather and get in two more cars. With one in the front and the other in the back, they leave with Duan Mingyang under their protection.
The night wind is chilling, and his drenched shirt feels even colder against his skin. Li Luo stands there for a while, spacing out, before he gives a self-mocking grin.
From lover to enemy, and from enemy to ally. What a surprising world this is.
He squats and uses Duan Mingyang’s name card to wrap the cigarette butt on the ground. Along with the whole pack of cigarettes and lighter he had just bought; he tosses them all into the trash can at the side.
It’s the same local China number he used back then.
The cold-blooded beast seems to hang on quite a bit to these trivial details.