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188 Visiting Home

 Spend the New Year? There was a week's time from Christmas to New Year. That meant she'd be spending a whole week with Huo Shao?! The happiness came so quickly Gu Nianzhi didn't know how to react. As her thoughts ran with her excitement, she began to absentmindedly fiddle with their joined hands, holding and releasing his hand as she linked her fingers through his. Huo Shaoheng was silent as he let her play the game, and purposely moved his hand closer when her hand wasn't tightly pressed to his. He stretched his hand as much as possible so their hands lay together. Gu Nianzhi continued her game, so fully absorbed that she had forgotten her resolve to not cling to Huo Shaoheng. Not aware of the passing time, when she looked up again, the procession had already stopped in front of the community entrance. She instinctively turned her head to see Huo Shaoheng looking at her quietly with a half smile; his gaze moved to their joined palms. Even though it was Huo Shaoheng who had been the one to take her hand first to warm it, Gu Nianzhi felt embarrassed. Her heart pounded and she was terrified that Huo Shaoheng would see through to her true feelings. Her awareness had her immediately yanking her hand away and moving away to sit on the other side of the car; she took a deep breath turn before turning to look out the window. A pink blush spread on her cheeks all the way to her tender earlobes.

Their car stopped and as expected, there was a security checkpoint at the community entrance. After verifying the permit and military documents, the soldier on duty stepped out to give Huo Shaoheng a military salute. "Good evening, Chief!"

The window slowly slid down and Huo Shaoheng nodded slightly at him from inside the car. "Good work."

The soldier was so touched he blushed with pride. "This way, Chief!" He jogged back to his post and pressed on the button to raise the crossbar blocking the intersection. Huo Shaoheng's procession slowly drove in. He was returning home to visit his family, so his guards, orderlies, and personal secretaries would only return to the 6th Military Region base after escorting him home. The atmosphere in the car relaxed, yet although Gu Nianzhi was sitting on the other side of the car, the flush on her cheeks had not yet subsided. She dared not look at Huo Shaoheng and focused on the snowy landscape outside as much as possible, memorizing the way they had come in. The roads in the community were well laid out and lined with phoenix trees that had already lost all their leaves. The heavy snow was still falling, but it wasn't enough to accumulate on the ground. Gu Nianzhi was perplexed as she leaned her head against the window to watch the inconspicuous road. Huo Shaoheng crossed his arms and kept silent, his expression unreadable.

Zhao Liangze turned around to chat with Gu Nianzhi, "Nianzhi, what are you looking at?"

"I'm looking at the road, but there's something weird. Why is the snow not piling on the road?" Gu Nianzhi inquired curiously.

Zhao Liangze chuckled and pointed his finger at the road outside the window. "There's a self-heating device in this road, so the snow melts as soon as it hits. Isn't it great? You don't have to clear the snow or worry about it affecting traffic."

But how much energy does it take to heat up the roads in a complex like this? Gu Nianzhi immediately had a new understanding of how luxurious this community was. If even the common roads had self-heating devices, it went to show just how incredible the facilities in the community were. It left no question as to how high class the people who lived here were. Gu Nianzhi consciously straightened her back, suddenly worried that she was going to embarrass Huo Shao. She snuck a glance at him and saw that his eyes closed, their thick black lashes resting on the tops of his cheeks. She had no idea what he was thinking about. His characteristically indifferent face made her a tad anxious as always. Thankfully the car stopped and she was eager to put some distance between the both of them. Gu Nianzhi grew even more anxious and smoothed her long hair as she looked about her. The people in the car glanced at her, but no one said a word. Yin Shixiong was the first to open his door, and then came over to open it for Huo Shaoheng. Huo Shaoheng exited the car, then slightly moved over to wait. Once Gu Nianzhi came out, he took her hand and had her stand beside him. Before them was an exquisite courtyard. It was surrounded by white brick walls and guarded by a towering wrought iron gate. Matching iron grate lamps hung above the gates, and illuminated the black wooden plaque on the white wall, which read 'Huo Manor.' Zhao Liangze walked to the side of the wall to enter a password. The iron gates opened with a click and the sound of several footsteps and excited calls could be heard.

"Mr. Huo is back?"

"Mr. Huo is back?!"

"Elder cousin is back!"

"Elder cousin!"

Many people came into view, milling about the gardens, and looking toward the entrance. It was in the middle of the night, yet the courtyard was brightly lit, as though in preparation of a party. Perhaps that's why everyone was waiting for him. Gu Nianzhi felt her knees go weak. When the great iron gates opened and the Huo family surged out to greet him, Huo Shaoheng casually turned around to stand in front of Gu Nianzhi and reached out to adjust her Hermes scarf. His slender and warm fingers glided on the cool skin of her neck, making her shudder and her knees go even weaker. She couldn't help but grip his arm for support. Huo Shaoheng looked down at her and smiled warmly as he placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's fine. Come into the house with me."

The Huo family who came out to greet him hadn't expected to see this. Under the brilliant lights, Huo Shaoheng's tall and strapping figure was tying a scarf for a girl! More than one family member rubbed their eyes in disbelief to make sure they weren't hallucinating after having stayed up all night, awaiting his arrival.

Huo Shaoheng turned around and scanned every face in the group, merely nodding as he took Gu Nianzhi's hand and walked to the entrance. Zhao Liangze followed them, Gu Nianzhi's small suitcase in his arms.

Gu Nianzhi's gaze quickly swept over all the people who came out to greet them, but she was unable to determine their relationships to Huo Shaoheng. She saw a middle-aged couple and a young man and woman come out to greet them. From looks of them, the older couple had to be around the same age as Huo Shaoheng's parents. The two young people were probably Huo Shaoheng's age. She remembered someone had called out, "Elder Cousin," so perhaps this young duo were his cousins? Gu Nianzhi's mind went into overdrive when she followed Huo shaoheng inside the three storey Huo Manor. The building was about twice the size of Huo Shaoheng's quarters at the Special Ops base in C City. It was obvious that it had many more rooms and could house more people. Huo Shaoheng's quarters in the city had only been for himself and Gu Nianzhi; she was was uncertain as to how many people lived here. Gu Nianzhi gave her most beatific smile as she passed through the crowd and followed him to the living room. There were more people waiting for them inside. On the main sofa was an old man with white hair. He exuded a dignified air, and a cane with an intricately carved dragon's head at the top was held by a wrinkled hand. A lthough he was elderly, his intimidating face remained authoritative.

Huo Shaoheng gave the elderly man a military salute and brought Gu Nianzhi closer. "This is great-grandfather."

Gu Nianzhi stared at Huo Shaoheng and then asked hesitantly, "T-This is your great-grandfather?"

"No, this is my grandfather," Huo Shaoheng responded sarcastically and then shifted his gaze down at her. "Gu Nianzhi, this is your great-grandfather."

Gu Nianzhi pursed her lips, unsure on how to accept Huo Shaoheng's address. She smiled sweetly at the elderly man. "Merry Christmas, great-grandfather." She purposely slurred the word "great," so it sounded as though she was saying "grandfather."

The old man carefully scrutinized Gu Nianzhi and turned to ask Huo Shaoheng, "She's the one?"

Huo Shaoheng nodded and bowed. "She's the one. I'm her guardian."

A middle-aged man sat next to the elderly man. He had a handsome but weathered face that resembled Huo Shaoheng's. He looked up to gaze at Gu Nianzhi. He nodded and repeated the first man's question.

"You're Gu Nianzhi?"

Gu Nianzhi nodded, but was reluctant to say anything more without knowing what was going on.

Huo Shaoheng glanced at her and sensed her resistance to the greeting and introduction, but didn't indulge her. He answered in a low voice, "This is my father, who is your grandfather." He introduced her to everyone else in the room, "This is Gu Nianzhi. I'm her guardian and Uncle."

She nodded politely to everyone and then asked, "Uncle Huo, what should I call them?" She pointed to the four people who had come out to greet them.

Huo Shaoheng looked at them and gestured at the older couple. "This is Uncle and Aunt Zhang." Then he turned to the young man and woman. "These are their children, Zhang Wenna and Zhan Wenjie."

Gu Nianzhi was confused as to why Zhang Wenna and Zhang Wenjie had called Huo Shaoheng Elder Cousin, while Huo Shaosheng had her call their parents Uncle and Aunt. Shouldn't they be Granduncle and Grandaunt to her? What's more, why was their surname Zhang instead of Huo? She was clever enough to not question Huo Shaoheng about this openly however, and greeted them as told.

"Uncle Zhang, Aunt Zhang, Merry Christmas." She looked at the young siblings and said in English, "Merry Christmas!"

Zhang Wenjie met Gu Nianzhi's large and beautiful eyes and suddenly felt too tongue tied to speak. Zhang Wenna smiled as she came over to take Gu Nianzhi's hands. "My Elder Cousin is your guardian? How old are you? I believe you're younger than I am, so you can just call me Sister Na."