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198 With You 3

 Gu Nianzhi's heart pounded in her chest; she shook nervously but didn't dare lean back. If she really leaned then what would Huo Shao think of her?

"Why aren't you eating? You're all red; do you have a fever?" Huo Shaoheng had noticed Gu Nianzhi's face as he spoke to Xue Jingjiang-it was red as a tomato's, so he touched her forehead. She was indeed warm.

Sitting on the other side of Huo Shaoheng, Xue Jingjiang's heart dropped. He hoped the young girl wouldn't fall ill now, since it was so rare that he got hang out with Huo Shao. There was no question that Huo Shaoheng would take her home if she wasn't feeling well.

"Is the air conditioning not cold enough? I'll have someone set it to a lower temperature!" Xue Jingjiang rose and asked Gu Nianzhi, "Do you want some warm milk?" Such a cute girl would be suited to drink milk, he thought.

Gu Nianzhi was embarrassed and moved her head to avoid Huo Shaoheng's hand. She pressed her hand over her thundering heart and looked at Xue Jingjiang with wide eyes and said, "Brother Xue, I'm fine. But, I could go for some warm milk."

Xue Jiangjing sighed in relief and gave her a thumbs up. "I like this young sister! You can always look for me if you need help in the Imperial capital!"

"Why would she look for Xue the fool?To this day, there still hasn't been a girl who's looked for you that hasn't somehow ended up in your bed!" The door to the private room opened with the sound of three men laughing, and three dignified and beautiful women followed them.

Xue Jingjiang turned around and saw his three buddies come in. He quickly got up to greet them. "There's a younger sister here, so don't be so crass! Be careful that Huo Shao doesn't feed you bullets!"

Huo Shaoheng smiled and also rose from the seat to stand in standard military position. He looked at the three men."Hey A-fei, Tianqun, and Ziqi. It's been a long time."

"Oh wow! Huo Shao is really here!" Cui Baifei, Bai Tianqun, and Hong Ziqi all surged forward to shake hands with him. "Well, I got to shake hands with the youngest Major General in all of the Huaxia Empire! I'm not going to wash my hand for a month now!"

"Cut it out! You just know how to joke around!" Xue Jingjiang walked over with a smile as he ordered the waiters to serve the food and began to introduce everyone, "Huo Shao, you haven't been back in so many years, so you had no idea about our friends' new lives right?"

"Well, you should tell me." Huo Shaoheng turned around to see Gu Nianzhi standing as well and pulled her to his side.

Xue Jingjiang pointed to the woman in a purple belted wool coat standing by Cui Baifei. "This is Baifei's wife, we call her Mrs. Cui." He then pointed to another woman in a red down jacket behind Bai Tianqun and said, "This is Tianqun's fiancee, Xue Xinran, who's also my cousin. They just got engaged this year and are getting married next year." Lastly, he pointed to a woman wearing a white cashmere coat standing beside Hong Ziqi. "That's Ziqi's girlfriend, Guo Huining. She an honors student who graduated from the B University Faculty of Law and the director of the Legal Department in Hong Enterprises. She was destined to be with Hong Ziqi!" Xue Jingjiang nudged Hong Ziqi playfully, and then the group broke out into laughter.

Huo Shaoheng nodded to them. "It's a pleasure."

"And who is this younger sister? She looks such a pretty little darling." Hong Ziqi's girlfriend, Guo Huining, was a sociable person. She, like Gu Nianzhi currently, had also studied law and although she came from a humble background, her intellect and hard work had enabled her to earn approval from the head of the Hong family. She was now officially the girlfriend of Hong Ziqi, one of the most eligible Fuerdai in the Imperial capital. She smiled at Gu Nianzhi and thought that the girl had very good taste-she was dressed in all designer pieces, but didn't appear ostentatious so she had to be fairly well off. This was unlike many people who drowned themselves in brand name items.

Huo Shaoheng held Gu Nianzhi's hand and gave a small smile as he introduced her to his friends. "This a child from our family, her last name is Gu. You can just call her Little Gu." He had repeated the earlier introduction to Xue Jingjiang. All the people in the room were elites. As soon as they heard Huo Shaoheng's vague introduction, they could confirm at least two things. First, this young lady had close ties with the Huo family, because her last name was different but was still referred to as "from the family." Second, that Huo Shaoheng valued this young lady and was very protective. He wouldn't even tell them her full name and had only given the last name, so exactly how protective was he? Even though everyone understood the two truths, not one among them had the guts to say anything to Huo Shaoheng. Since he had given Gu Nianzhi such a subtle introduction, they all pretended not to notice and instead laughingly fawned over Gu Nianzhi before they took seats around the rosewood round table in the adjacent room. Huo Shaoheng sat at the head of the table with Gu Nianzhi his right and Xue Jingjiang on his left. Guo Huining took the seat beside Gu Nianzhi, since it was better for her to sit with a girl instead of two strange men, regardless of the fact that they were her fiancée's childhood friends. Huo Shaoheng watched everyone take their seats and didn't say anything more, merely nodding as the waiters served the platters of food.

"Today we're welcoming Huo Shao back, and it so happens that 'Jiu Lou Feng Yue' has especially prepared a 'Buddha Jumps Over the Wall Soup' for Christmas and New Year. Normally, you have to reserve it half a year in advance. But Huo Shao is back, so I made an exception and ordered it myself." Xue Jingjiang pointed to the the middle of the round table, where a rustic round pot sat steaming. "The kitchen stewed it for a full day and night, so please, everyone, have a taste!"

"'Buddha Jumps Over the Wall Soup' requires dozens of ingredients including sea cucumber, abalone, shark's fin, dried scallop, fish lip, shark apron, deer tendon, pigeon egg, duck stomach, fish maw, scallop, pigeon, ribs, razor shells, ham, pork belly, sheep elbow, hoof tip, tendon, mushroom, winter bamboo shoots, etc., then uses different methods such as frying, pan-frying, cooking and deep frying all the ingredients separately. Lastly, everything is layered inside a large Shaoxing wine jar, where broth and cooking wine is added and sealed with lotus leaves, then simmered. Our restaurants especially uses white smoke and charcoal to slowly stew it for one day and night to create a rich and nutritious recipe, aptly called 'Buddha Jumps Over the Wall Soup.'" Xue Jingjiang nodded as he introduced his restaurant's specialty dish.

The waitress waited until he finished speaking, then came over to open the lotus leaf cover. The fresh and rich scent emanated throughout the room.

"Here, here. Everyone have a taste!" Xue Jingjiang picked up a spoon and began serving everyone one.

Although Gu Nianzhi was still full from the morning, she couldn't help how hungry she was now. She looked at Huo Shaoheng, who didn't say anything and instead passed her small soup bowl to Xue Jingjiang.

Xue Jingjiang immediately said, "The first bowl isn't as good, so I'll serve myself first. It tastes better in the bottom with all the essence and spices settled in there"

Hong Ziqi guffawed and said, "Well, well, Xue the fool! You're telling the truth now that you're buttering up Little Gu! Last year when I came here to eat it, you said the first bowl was the best! You coaxed me into eating the first bowl everytime! You've been lying to me all along!"

Xue Jingjiang chuckled. "Just look at you! Who else would fall for my lies?! I'm telling you, you only deserve to eat the scum on the top!"

Bai Tianqun couldn't help laughing and winked at Cui Baife as they took out a bottle of 30 year old Maotai and toasted Huo Shaoheng, "Huo Shao, it's been so many years and we missed you a lot. We saved this Maotai just for you!" They had first saved this Maotai when it had aged for 20 years, and in a blink of an eye it had already became 30.

Huo Shaoheng gave a small smile and raised his glass. "Then, I'll drink first." He emptied it one gulp, the mellow scent of Maotai wafting from him. Gu Nianzhi could get drunk just smelling him. She licked her lips and snuck a look at the Maotai bottle. She hadn't had real wine all her life; would she be so lucky tonight?

Bai Tianqun and Cui Baife saw Huo Shaoheng finish the glass and also drank from their own. After a round of toasts, Xue Jingjiang served the soup to everyone's bowls. Gu Nianzhi couldn't wait to try the special dish.

Huo Shaoheng placed a spoon in the bowl for her. "Eat it, and you'll feel better. You need to replenish yourself."

"Oh? Little Gu was sick? What kind of illness?" Guo Huining had overheard and quickly asked. "No wonder you look so pale; do you have weak health?" She knew all the daughters of rich families ate supplements as though they were regular meals.

Gu Nianzhi shook her head and said with a smile, "I got a fever after catching a chill. I've felt better since yesterday, but my appetite still hasn't recovered. But, Brother Xue's 'Buddha Jumps Over the Wall Soup' is exactly up my alley, so I know I'll be fine." Gu Nianzhi's soft voice lacked the inherent arrogance of an heiress. Her words were clear and honest and easily blocked Guo Huining's little deviation from the topic. With one sentence, Cui Baife, Bai Tianqun, and Hong Ziqun all looked at her in a new light.

Xue Jingjiang had already been stunned by Gu Nianzhi's beauty, and her well rounded reply completely impressed him. "Well if that's the case, I'll order another one and let Little Gu recuperate!"

Gu Nianzhi hastily waved her hands. "No need, no need! It's enough for me to eat one bowl."

"Your Brother Xue is looking out for you, be good." Huo Shaoheng said coolly as he kept his hand draped on the back of her chair.

Gu Nianzhi could no longer refuse and said to Xue Jingjiang, "What a lucky night for everyone; thank you Brother Xue!" Soon afterwards, another order of soup arrived. Gu Nianzhi was served the last bowl again, and was completely stuffed after she finished the two bowls.

Cui Baife's wife, Mrs. Cui, noticed this and left her seat with a smile. "I'm full and want to sit over there in the lounge." She then asked Gu Nianzhi, "Little Gu, do you want to rest with me over there?"

Gu Nianzhi felt she couldn't ask for more food considering how sated she felt, and so quickly replied, "I'm full too! I'll join you as well."

Bai Tianqun's fiancee, Xue Xinran, and Hong Ziqi's girlfriend, Guo Huining, followed them from the table. The four women went to the karaoke area behind the screen to chat.

Huo Shaoheng listened to his friends recount the past few years. Gu Nianzhi ,on the other hand, slumped on the sofa behind the screen and smiled. "I'm so full! Brother Xue's 'Buddha Jumps Over the Wall Soup' is delicious; I couldn't stop eating at all."

"We're all lucky to have been able to eat it at all, since it was all thanks to you." Mrs. Cui giggled. "For the past few years, people even had to draw lots to get reservations. Xue, that fool, is great at business and he's a pro at 'hunger marketing.' There are only a dozen restaurants in the Imperial capital that can make the 'Buddha Jumps Over the Wall Soup,' but his is the most popular."

The women began talking about business; Gu Nianzhi sat on the side with a smile as she listened quietly without interjecting.

Mrs. Cui didn't want Gu Nianzhi to be left out, since Cui Baife had brought her along to keep the girl company. She thought about it and quietly asked her, "Little Gu, how old are you?"

"I just turned 18 in October." Gu Nianzhi picked up the teapot to serve everyone. "What about you all?" Since the topic of age was brought up, everyone was treated the same and had to reveal it. It turned out Guo Huining was the oldest at 28, which was the same age as Hong Ziqi. Sister Cui was 25 and Xue Xinran was 23-they were all older than Gu Nianzhi.

"You're still so young? Where do you go to university?" Guo Huining sighed deeply and said, "I'm a whole ten years older than you."

"You've already graduated from your Master of Law?! What a genius! Don't make us feel ashamed." Xue Xinran teased and asked Gu Nianzhi, "What's your major?"

They had all assumed that she was in her first year of university.

Gu Nianzhi smiled. "I graduated with my undergrad this year and will be doing my post-grad in B University this spring. Sister Guo, please advise me in the future!"

"Huh? You already graduated university at 18?!" Mrs. Cui and Xue Xinran were both shocked and impressed-she was a young beauty with the looks, smarts, and a good family background! They all sat curiously besides her and peppered her with questions.

Xue Xinran even asked her directly, "Are you a relative of the Huo family? Do you have a boyfriend? My brother turns 22 this year and he just graduated from the B University Faculty of Economics; do you want me introduce you one day?"