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245 Goodbye

 As soon as Huo Shaoheng gave his order, the orderlies he had brought with him immediately rushed over. Their deadpan expressions said: "Don't take this personally."

One of them twisted Huo Jialan's arms behind her back and cuffed her wrists. Another deftly cut a strip of masking tape and stuck it over her mouth.

In a split second, Huo Jialan found she had been silenced. She could no longer defend herself. She burst into tears, and her knees buckled beneath her.

Luckily for her, the two orderlies on either side of her had a firm grip on her arms. If it weren't for them, she would have crumpled to the floor by now.

Grandfather Huo and Huo Guanchen were stunned. They exchanged a glance, before turning to look at Huo Shaoheng.

"Shaoheng, what are you doing? What crime did Jialan commit? Why are you arresting her?" Grandfather Huo's expression was terrible to look at.

Bai Jinyi had turned out to be an evil schemer, but Huo Jialan... What did she have to do with it?

She was a victim, too!

Uncle Zhang and Aunt Zhang stood on either side of Grandfather Huo, supporting him between them. They did not dare look up; the formidable aura emanating from Huo Shaoheng paralyzed them.

The young master had not returned home in six years-and now, as soon as he was back, he had immediately turned the entire household upside down.

If the two older Zhangs were paralyzed with fear, Zhang Wenna and Zhang Wenjie were positively shaking in their boots. The two siblings stood behind their parents, gaping at Huo Jialan with undisguised sympathy. They knew Huo Jialan had gone to great lengths to convince Huo Shaoheng to come back for the New Year-if she knew then that he would be back to get his revenge, would she still have welcomed him with open arms?

There was no cure for regret, however.

Huo Jialan had made her bed, and now she had to lie in it.

Zhang Wenna chewed on her fingernails: she had a bad habit of doing it when she was nervous. She looked at Huo Jialan's tear-stained face, and then at Huo Shaoheng's solemn, no-nonsense expression. Fear welled up inside her.

She wondered whether the young master of the family had come home after his long absence just to "repay" Huo Jialan for the way she had treated Song Jinning in the last 10 years.

Huo Shaoheng looked at Grandfather Huo. "Grandfather, Huo Jialan may know something about the death of her mother. To be safe, she has to be kept under supervision while we investigate. Would you rather the police take her away and throw her into a cell, like they did with Bai Jinyi, or would you rather I detain her instead?"

"Are you saying she had something to do with the death of her mother?!" Grandfather Huo was utterly shocked. "That can't be right! Jialan... Jialan... Let her say something! She isn't that heartless-I don't believe it!"

Grandfather Huo had watched Huo Jialan grow up. She was the only daughter of his eldest son, Huo Guanyuan, and he refused to let anything bad happen to her.

Everyone in the Huo family was dumbstruck by the news.

Huo Jialan had heard the entire exchange. She shook her head frantically. She tried to say that she had had nothing to do with her mother's death, but Huo Shaoheng had ordered his men to cover her mouth with tape. Her protests, no matter how articulate, were reduced to incomprehensible mumbling.

Everything Gu Nianzhi had learned as a law student told her that Huo Jialan deserved a chance to defend herself, but the order to gag her with tape had come from Huo Shaoheng himself. Gu Nianzhi had already decided long ago-in an entirely unprofessional manner-that Huo Shao was always right. She therefore assumed that he had a good reason to gag her; perhaps Huo Jialan knew something else, something that could not be revealed in public?

The wheels in her head spun rapidly. She said, "Huo Shao has been on the case for the last 10 years. Grandfather Huo, I think you should put a little more faith in him. I'm sure he has his reasons."

Huo Shaoheng's gaze swept over Gu Nianzhi's face, before returning to rest on Huo Jialan, who was still being restrained by the orderlies. "Take her to the Special Ops detention center."

"What are you trying to do here?! Answer me!" Huo Guanchen was livid. He had kept a tight lid on his boiling temper for the entire night, but this was the last straw.

Huo Shaoheng clasped his hands behind his back. He looked his father in the eye. "...We'll give her a polygraph test. We need to check whether she's lying."

Huo Jialan was shocked. She fainted, unable to withstand the enormous psychological stress she was under.

The two orderlies walked out the door, supporting the unconscious Huo Jialan between them.

Grandfather Huo opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Instead, he erupted into a series of earth-shattering coughs. He coughed so hard he doubled over, looking for all the world like a sad, withered prawn.

Uncle Zhang and Aunt Zhang rushed over to him, patting him on the back to ease his coughing. Zhang Wenna and Zhang Wenjie took out their phones, and said to Huo Shaoheng: "Young Master, do we have your permission to call a doctor for Grandfather?"

Huo Shaoheng pressed his lips together. After a moment, he said: "Where's Head Nurse Zhang?"

Head Nurse Zhang had taken care of Grandfather Huo for several decades now. She knew everything about his physical health and medical history, and was the person best suited to look after him.

She lived in the Huo residence, but had temporarily returned to her family home when Huo Shaoheng had suddenly called on Christmas Eve to say that he would be back for the New Year.

Uncle Zhang and his wife stealthily exchanged a glance, before turning their heads to stare at the floor before them. They did not dare say a single word.

Song Jinning finally realized that there were several new additions to the family.

The Zhangs had only moved into the Huo residence after Song Jinning's accident. She did not know who they were, and had no recollection of ever meeting them.

She shot a questioning look at Gu Nianzhi.

The Zhangs were just as much of a mystery to Gu Nianzhi. She returned Song Jinning's look with a light shrug, indicating that she knew nothing.

Huo Shaoheng watched the two women exchange puzzled looks. It amused him to see the two of them caught off-guard for once, and the frown on his face faded. He turned to Zhang Wenna and Zhang Wenjie, and said to them: "Call Head Nurse Zhang, and tell her to come back. I'll take my mother and Gu Nianzhi to my official residence."

After a slight pause, he walked over to Grandfather Huo and patted him on the shoulder. "Happy New Year, Grandfather."

Grandfather Huo looked up at him. His grandson was all grown up now...

"All right, you can go. But..." Grandfather Huo clenched his teeth, " have to come home for the Chinese New Year."

"Okay," Huo Shaoheng replied readily. He kept his promises to his grandfather.

Huo Jialan had already been taken away. Huo Shaoheng turned and led Gu Nianzhi and Song Jinning out of the Huo residence.

Huo Guanchen watched them leave in helpless despair. Suddenly, he snapped out of it and ran to catch up with them.

He ran out the iron gates, and saw that Huo Shaoheng had gotten into his car. Gu Nianzhi had followed behind him, and was now sitting in the middle of the backseat. The empty spot next to Gu Nianzhi was for Song Jinning.

Before Song Jinning could get in the car, however, Huo Guanchen reached out and grabbed hold of Song Jinning's coat-sleeve.

Before exiting the house, both Gu Nianzhi and Song Jinning had put on their coats.

Gu Nianzhi wore a knee-length down jacket. Song Jinning wore a lavender cashmere coat that was light, but cosy.

The cashmere coat was in a straight, baggy cut, but it did nothing to hide Song Jinning's voluptuous curves underneath.

Huo Guanchen looked at Song Jinning with an expression that wavered between sorrow and joy. He held onto her sleeve, unwilling to let her leave.

Song Jinning, however, had given up on Huo Guanchen after everything she had seen and heard that evening. The love she had for him had died out after witnessing his intimate gestures with Bai Jinyi.

She took hold of Huo Guanchen's hand and pushed it away. She brushed her coat, and said: "General Huo, please mind your manners."

"Jinning, do you hate me?" Huo Guanchen's eyes were a little wet, but he fought off the tears. After so many years of sorrow, the revelations that evening were just as shocking to him as it had been to Song Jinning.

"General Huo, what reason do I have to hate you?" Song Jinning arched an eyebrow as she pulled her coat together. Her heart was aching, but she did not think it was necessary to show it.

Huo Guanchen closed his eyes. "That means you hate me. I know you very well, Jinning-you always try to appear calm and composed when you're trying to hide what you actually feel, deep inside."

"Oh, you actually know that?" Song Jinning let out a long sigh. "You know me so well, and yet you chose to believe the lies of others when I was unable to speak for myself. You chose to divorce me."

"...Jinning, do you honestly believe that I was stupid enough to believe that you and my brother had an affair, just because of a few letters?" Huo Guanchen's voice was solemn. He was about to reveal a secret, and he wished he did not have to do it. He had been determined to protect his dead brother's reputation, but if revealing the truth was the only way to resolve the misunderstanding between him and Song Jinning, then so be it.

Song Jinning was the one true love in Huo Guanchen's life. But he had loved her too deeply, and the depth of his feelings had backfired on him: the moment he saw those letters, it had seemed to him that his deepest, most secret fear had come true. He had been afraid that she would leave him, so he had decided to take the initiative and leave her instead-he would mercilessly extinguish his feelings for her, before she could break his heart.

Song Jinning looked straight ahead. She said nothing.

The winter nights in the imperial capital were exceptionally cold. It was a moonless, starless night.

The entrance to the Huo residence was lit by a single street lamp. Song Jinning's face appeared pale and entirely devoid of expression in the harsh light.

Huo Guanchen looked at her hesitantly. He said bitterly: "...Jinning, did you know? The night before our wedding, my brother told me, in a fit of drunken honesty, that he was in love with you. He said you were the only one for him... But you chose me instead. Do you know how happy that made me? How touched I was that you chose me over him?"

"My brother was a genius. I looked up to him ever since I was a young boy. My parents only ever cared about him, they didn't care about me. But that was okay, because I admired and worshipped him, too. I didn't mind being his sidekick, his lackey for the rest of my life." This was the first time Huo Guanchen had spoken about his complicated feelings for his brother. He had never mentioned it to anyone, not even to Song Jinning when they had been happy newlyweds.

Song Jinning knew that Huo Guanyuan was superior to Huo Guanchen in many ways, but she had never had eyes for anyone besides her husband.

It had been love at first sight.

She did not know that Huo Guanchen had lived in his older brother's shadow his entire life. She had given Huo Guanchen a powerful boost to his self-esteem when she chose him over his brother.

Song Jinning turned around. Under the light of the street lamp, her eyes were inscrutable, like mist over a winter's lake.

"But I never gave more than a second's thought to your brother. To me, he was just your older brother, nothing more." Song Jinning frowned. "You keep telling me I'm the love of your life, but you've never trusted me."

"...Heh, I'll admit it: I'm useless. I'm dumb. But my brother was better than me in every way, and he was secretly in love with you. How was I supposed to feel safe with him hanging around all the time? How was I supposed to trust you?"

He had found his brother's behavior to be suspicious: his brother was older than him, but had remained single for many years. Shaoheng was already two years old when Huo Guanyuan finally married-out of the blue-and had a daughter of his own...

This was why Huo Guanchen had snapped when he saw his wife admit in her letter that she wished she had met Huo Guanyuan before she married.

He had been consumed by a single thought: she regretted it... she regretted marrying him...

His older brother had passed on, but she was still in love with him...

Hate and jealousy had distorted his heart and mind. He had lost control of his emotions.

He had to divorce her. He had to leave her, as soon as possible. It was the only way for him to free himself from her, and find another reason to live.

Huo Guanchen clenched his fists. He was a man. He could not bring himself to tell the woman he loved of his insecurities. He did not want her to think he was weak and cowardly.

"I see." Song Jinning was in so much pain she could hardly breathe. Her hands, hidden within her coat, were trembling uncontrollably. But she did not show her pain. She put on a nonchalant face, and said resolutely: "So you never trusted me. In that case, our divorce was a blessing: it set the both of us free. Goodbye, Huo Guanchen. I never want to see you again."