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189 Family

 Gu Nianzhi was not used to strangers touching her, and almost jumped out of her skin when Zhang Wenna held her hand.

When she first moved into the C University dormitory, it had taken her six months before she was finally comfortable with her roommates.

Gu Nianzhi valiantly resisted the urge to pull her hand out of Zhang Wenna's grasp, even though she was a complete stranger to her. She did not want to embarrass Huo Shaoheng.

Huo Shaoheng, on the other hand, was well aware of her secret quirks. He stood beside Gu Nianzhi and extracted her hand from Zhang Wenna's grasp. He gave a small nod to Zhang Wenna, before turning to Zhang Wenna's mother, Qian Shihui, to ask: "Auntie Zhang, have you prepared a room for Gu Nianzhi?"

He was very polite and courteous to her.

Qian Shihui smiled. "Your rooms are ready, Young Master. Miss Jialan personally prepared the rooms for the both of you." She looked around. "Where is Miss Jialan? She was just saying she wanted to welcome you home."

Huo Shaoheng's grandfather, Huo Xuenong, stood up with the help of his cane. He frowned at Huo Shaoheng, but said nothing. He was evidently not in a good mood.

Zhang Wenna's eyes were glued to Gu Nianzhi. She was awestruck by her beauty, and even more amazed by Huo Shaoheng's attitude towards her.

She knew that Huo Shaoheng, her oldest cousin, had been away from home the last six years, busy with his duties as a soldier. She had heard that he had rescued a young orphan girl from a car accident, and had later adopted her-that must be the young lady standing before now, Miss Gu Nianzhi.

She guessed that Huo Shaoheng was very fond of this young orphan girl, judging from the way he had acted towards her at the door: he would not have thought to personally wrap a scarf around her otherwise.

Zhang Wenna lowered her eyes.

She had never forgotten-and would never forget-how Huo Shaoheng had behaved towards her and her younger brother when they had first set foot in the Huo residence. Back then, he had never once looked directly at them, and had even ordered them to remain 3 feet away from him at all times. Apart from the two veteran household servants, no one had been allowed to touch his belongings: anyone who violated this rule ended up viciously booted out of the house by Huo Shoaheng, dead or alive...

Zhang Wenna and her brother had found their Cousin Brother to be as terrifying as the devil himself.

Huo Shaoheng had only become a little less difficult to deal with when he had been admitted to the military academy at the age of 16. He had moved out after that.

Even then, he had remained just as touchy with his belongings every time he came home for his annual vacation. His OCD had worsened, in fact: he had barred even the two veteran servants from entering his room, and had cleaned his room and done his laundry himself to ensure no one would ever come near his things.

Zhang Wenna knew Huo Shaoheng joined the military when he was a junior in college, but his involvement with the military had been shrouded in secrecy ever since then. She did not know what he did in the military, only that he quickly rose through the ranks. Within 10 years, he had been promoted from 2nd Lieutenant to Major General-his meteoric rise had set a new record in the history of the Huaxia Imperial Military.

As Huo Shaoheng steadily climbed the military ranks, his abrasive personality naturally mellowed out. His old quirks disappeared, and he learned to be courteous and polite to the people around him. His social conduct was now above reproach.

Zhang Wenna and Zhang Wenjie were not so easily fooled, however; they had lived with Huo Shaoheng for many years, and knew that the frosty barrier around his heart had never really gone away.

They were therefore stunned to see his open concern and sincere respect for Gu Nianzhi, a mere orphan girl.

They had previously assumed that Huo Shaoheng did not like them because of their inferior status. Now, however, they were forced to reconsider their assumptions: Gu Nianzhi was literally a nobody, but Huo Shaoheng treated her as an equal all the same.

Not only did he not look down on her, he was also very protective of her.

It seemed that his duties as a guardian in the last six years had changed him for the better.

Zhang Wenna was profoundly moved by this thought. She was about to show Huo Shaoheng and Gu Nianzhi to their rooms when she heard hurried footsteps from the stairs.

A shapely woman with a face as beautiful and striking as a peony in full bloom rushed down the stairs.

"Cousin Brother, is that you?" She was wearing a mauve cashmere cardigan over a silk blouse. A long bow-tie fluttered from her collar. Her dark gray skirt was made of thin wool, and her slippers were heeled. She walked towards Huo Shaoheng and Gu Nianzi, the very picture of elegance and grace, and was soon standing before them.

Grandfather Huo's face brightened at the sight of her. He hobbled over to her with his cane. "Where have you been, Jialan?"

Gu Nianzhi did not know who this woman was, or how to address her. She turned to look questioningly at Huo Shaoheng.

Huo Shaoheng squeezed her hand in a reassuring manner as he introduced the woman to Gu Nianzhi: "This is my First Uncle's daughter, Huo Jialan. You can call her Auntie Lan."

Gu Nianzhi had to duck her head to hide the twitch at the corner of her mouth. Auntie Lan? That made her sound at least 10 years older!

The beautiful woman was only in her twenties. She was younger than Huo Shaoheng, but he had made her out to be a middle-aged woman.

Huo Jialan was also somewhat embarrassed by Huo Shaoheng's introduction. She wrung her hands, unsure of how to react, and decided to attend to Grandfather Huo first. "Grandpa, you should go to sleep. It's nearly three in the morning. Have you taken your meds?"

Grandfather Huo was evidently a lot more appreciative of Huo Jialan than he was of Huo Shaoheng. He nodded. "Yes, it's time for me to go to bed. I'll be returning to my room now-you help Shaoheng and his guest get settled. It's late, we'll talk tomorrow."

Huo Jialan smiled in agreement. She called for two of the orderlies to help Grandfather Huo up the stairs and to his room on the second floor.

Huo Shaoheng's father, Huo Guanchen, looked at Huo Jialan. "Did you just come down from the third floor?"

Huo Jialan nodded. She looked nervous. "Something came up. I had to go upstairs to deal with it, so I wasn't able to greet Cousin Brother at the door."

Huo Guanchen's eyebrows were knitted together. He waved his hand. "Well, help them get settled. Shaoheng, come upstairs with me." He glanced at Huo Shaoheng, before hurrying up the stairs.

Huo Shaoheng lifted his head and looked towards the stairs. He turned to Zhao Liangze and said: "Leave the suitcase, and take the rest of the men back to the station."

Zhao Liangze immediately snapped his heels together in a military salute. He nodded to Gu Nianzhi as he handed her suitcase to her, before turning to leave.

Huo Shaoheng patted Gu Nianzhi on the shoulder. "Go to the guest room with Auntie Lan. I need to talk with my father."

Huo Shaoheng had not had a private conversation with his father in the last six years; their interactions had been limited to official correspondence regarding military and legal matters.

Gu Nianzhi quickly said, "Okay. Don't mind me, Uncle Huo. I'll stick with... Auntie Lan."

"Good girl." Huo Shaoheng tousled her hair before going upstairs.

Gu Nianzhi was extremely perceptive; she picked up the underlying current of urgency in Huo Shaoheng's footsteps as he ascended the stairs. To everyone else, he appeared stoic and calm, but Gu Nianzhi knew better: she was familiar with his every gesture, and could sense even the smallest change in his demeanor.

She knew that Huo Shaoheng had not seen his father for six years; it was only natural for him to be a little more agitated and excited than usual. It made Huo Shaoheng seem more like a living, breathing human being, instead of a heartless war machine devoid of all emotion.

The four members of the Zhang family politely excused themselves, and followed Huo Shaoheng up the stairs.

Huo Jialan had been watching Gu Nianzhi attentively, and saw the way Gu Nianzhi's eyes lingered on Huo Shaoheng. She walked over to Gu Nianzhi and held her hand in a gesture of understanding and affection. "Nianzhi-that's your name, right? It's a beautiful name. Come with me. My name's Huo Jialan, by the way. My father is the older brother of Cousin Brother's father, but I'm younger than Cousin Brother. He's the oldest among all my cousins, in fact."

Gu Nianzhi lifted her suitcase and nonchalantly slipped her hand out of Huo Jialan's grasp. She smiled and said: "Merry Christmas, Auntie Lan. Thank you for having me. Can you point me to the guest room?"

Huo Jialan smiled. She pointed to the stairs and said: "That leads to the second floor, where I live with Uncle Zhang's family. Second Uncle and Grandfather live on the third floor. Half of the first floor is taken up by guest rooms. Cousin Brother's rooms take up the other half."

Having said that, she led Gu Nianzhi across the ridiculously large living room and to a corridor on the left. They turned a corner, and arrived at the door to a small suite.

As soon as she opened the door, Gu Nianzhi was greeted by the sight of a room decorated entirely in pink. She could practically feel three thick, dark manga lines appear over her forehead.

Why did everyone think young ladies had to live among pastel pink, like some kind of princess out of a cartoon?! Seriously!

But she did not dare say it out loud. She smiled sweetly and said, "Thank you, Auntie Lan."

Huo Jialan gave a snort of laughter. "Don't call me Auntie Lan-Sister Lan will do. Auntie Lan makes me feel 10 years older!"

Gu Nianzhi laughed as well: she had been thinking the exact same thing. She immediately felt a lot more at ease with Huo Jialan.