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253 You Must Believe Me 1

 "By the way, what's going on with Auntie? She's always been devoted to scientific research-how did she get into such a mess?" Bai Shuang asked, perplexed. "My father reaped what he sowed, but Auntie... why would she...?"

Bai Shuang's voice trailed off. She knew that her father had deserved his fate because of his treachery, but he had been a doting, loving father to her nonetheless. It had been difficult for her to look upon his lifeless body with her very own eyes.

Bai Jinyi had always acted as a role model for the younger generation in the Bai family. As children, they had all heard the adults around them praise their aunt excessively-"Look at your Auntie, see how accomplished she is!"-at every opportunity, and it had stuck with them.

Bai Yueran let out a sigh. She squeezed Bai Shuang's hand. "It can't be helped. The Bai family is a large family. Everyone clings to the main trunk for shelter, but we all have our own private ambitions, and we can't keep an eye on everyone. I'm sorry about Second Uncle, but what's done is done, and there's no use crying over spilt milk. But Auntie... My father and I have asked her, repeatedly, whether she was keeping secrets from us, but she denied it. She refused to tell us the truth, and look what happened: the Huo family pulled the rug out from under us. To make matters worse, Huo Shaoheng is my colleague, I can't avoid bumping into him at my job. Can you imagine how embarrassing this is for me?"

Bai Shuang nodded. She mused, "Auntie really should have known better, then."

It was stupid to act selfishly and then expect the family to bail you out whenever you messed up.

No family, no matter how powerful, would be able to weather one scandal after another.

"I'm glad you understand." Bai Yueran patted Bai Shuang on the shoulder. "Remember to let me know if you ever get into trouble. If I'm not around, you can tell my parents. Don't be a stranger now. My parents love you just as much as they love me, we're all family here. We will never abandon you."

Bai Shuang was deeply touched. She nodded, and said, her voice breaking: "Cousin Sister..."

"Get a good rest. I'll call Third Uncle." Bai Yueran got up and returned to her study.

She dialed Bai Changhui's number and asked calmly, "Uncle, is Jin Wanyi the lawyer you hired for Auntie?"

Bai Changhui gave an awkward laugh. "You know about it?"

"Yes. Why wouldn't I? She lodged a formal complaint against the commander of the Special Operations Forces, which means the Legal Department has to deal with it. Uncle, are you aware that I'm the head of the Special Ops Legal Department?" Bai Yueran would have preferred not to have to talk to her uncle this way, but she knew she had to do it. "Uncle, please don't make a scene, for my sake, okay? This is embarrassing for the both of us."

Bai Changhui's face purpled with rage, but he knew that Bai Yueran was right.

"Fine, I'll keep my nose out of it for now. But you should talk to your father-do any of you even care about your aunt and her case?!"

"We'll help her, of course. She's family. But she has to tell us the truth, no exceptions." Bai Yueran's voice had turned icy. "If she continues to hide things from us, we won't be able to save her-not even if my father becomes the Prime Minister."

Bai Changhui felt his blood run cold. He suddenly realized he had been too complacent.

Bai Yueran was right: the Bai family's hopes and ambitions currently rested on the shoulders of Bai Jiancheng, Bai Changhui's eldest brother.

Bai Jiancheng was currently the head of the government's administrative office. Although he was top dog in the cabinet, he still had to report to the Prime Minister.

This Prime Minister was the true leader of the Empire. The commander-in-chief of the military, General Ji, and the chairman of the Senate, Chairman Long, had considerable power, but they were working for the Prime Minister, too.

"I understand, Yueran. I was too rash and impulsive. I should learn how to keep my composure, like you." Bai Changhui sighed wistfully as he complimented Bai Yueran for her level-headed composure.

"Thank you for the compliment, Uncle. Anyway, please tell Jin Wanyi not to be too aggressive. General Huo isn't someone she can intimidate. All she has to do is to do her best as a lawyer-we don't need any unnecessary drama." Bai Yueran was unhappy with Jin Wanyi's methods, but she knew her aunt needed a lawyer, and Jin Wanyi was the best they could get for her. Besides, Jin Wanyi had already appeared in public as Bai Jinyi's lawyer; they would just have to let her continue with her job, for the time being.

Bai Changhui heard the message Jin Wanyi had left for the Special Operations Forces, and was momentarily speechless. He gave an awkward laugh. "I had no idea she was that ignorant and fearless. Oh well. Since you have to deal with it, I won't embarrass you, don't worry. There won't be any more trouble from her."

Bai Yueran had settled the issue with Jin Wanyi with a single phone call. She immediately called Huo Shaoheng to report to him.

Huo Shaoheng was knocking on Gu Nianzhi's bedroom door when he heard his phone ring. He got out his phone, saw that it was Bai Yueran, and put on his Bluetooth headset. He said to Zhao Liangze over his headset, "I'll take the call."

As soon as Bai Yueran was connected, she said to Huo Shaoheng, in a tone that conveyed her sincerity, "Sir, I've dealt with Lawyer Jin's complaint. She's the lawyer my third uncle hired for my aunt, and I understand that she may have been a little too eager. She's not a bad person, really, and she's apparently good at her job, too. It's just that she's a little stubborn, and not the type to beat around the bush. I hope you won't hold it against her, sir. She's just starting out as a lawyer, she wasn't deliberately trying to step on your toes."

"I see," Huo Shaoheng calmly responded. "If it's settled I don't see the point in pursuing this. This is your job anyway, as head of the Special Ops legal department. Is there anything else to discuss?"

"No. Happy New Year, Mr. Huo." Bai Yueran smiled as she ended the call.

Huo Shaoheng continued to knock on the door, but Gu Nianzhi ignored him. He got out his key and calmly unlocked the door to Gu Nianzhi's bedroom, as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Gu Nianzhi was sitting on the window sill, hugging her knees. She looked up in surprise. "How did you get in?! I locked the door!"

"Come here." Huo Shaoheng closed the door behind him. He remained by the door, and made no attempt to approach Gu Nianzhi. He merely looked at her, his expression stern.

Gu Nianzhi had to summon all her courage to defy him. "...I don't want to!"

"Come here." Huo Shaoheng's voice was lower now. "Don't be difficult."

"Too late, I'm already being difficult!" Gu Nianzhi said indignantly. She drew the pale green brocade curtains together, hiding herself behind them.

Huo Shaoheng's lips curved into a wry smile. He remained standing by the door, his hands in his pockets. "You better have a good reason for your tantrum. If you don't, I'm punishing you with a 10-kilometer cross-country obstacle course, and you'll have to run an extra kilometer for every minute you continue to be difficult."

"On what authority?!" Gu Nianzhi practically rolled off the window sill in her anger; she lunged towards Huo Shaoheng and stood before him with clenched fists. "You liar! Huo Shao is a liar!"

"I'm a liar?" Huo Shaoheng looked at her impassively. "When did I lie to you?"

"You're still trying to deny it?! Don't you remember what you promised me last night?" Gu Nianzhi was upset, but she could not articulate the reasons why. They had been so intimate last night, he had even kissed her to sleep-so why was he acting like nothing had happened between them? Was he toying with her?

"What did I promise you?"

"You said you'd stay with me until the sun came up!" Gu Nianzhi jabbed a finger into Huo Shaoheng's chest, right above his heart. "But where were you when I woke up? Huh?"

Huo Shaoheng sighed inwardly. So the little empress was angry about that, of all things...

He reached out a hand and patted Gu Nianzhi soothingly on the head, before helping her tuck a few unruly strands of hair back into place.

The "head-pat counterattack" was effective; Gu Nianzhi had been absolutely livid, but her temper deflated like a balloon at his touch. The anger on her face was replaced by the contented expression of a kitten who had just had her fill of milk. Her large eyes disappeared into blissful slits; she was practically purring.

"I stayed with you until the sun came up." Huo Shaoheng's expression was entirely sincere. "If you don't believe me, check your phone. I helped take a call for you around six in the morning."

"...Really?" Gu Nianzhi suddenly realized she hadn't checked her phone yet. She had immediately washed up after getting out of bed, and had been too busy being angry with Huo Shao after that to think about her phone...

She ran back to her bed, picked up her phone, and saw that Huo Shaoheng had been telling the truth: there had been an incoming call at six in the morning, from Brother Ze. And before that, not long after the clock had struck midnight, there had been a phone call from Professor He!

Both incoming calls had connected; someone had taken the calls for her.

She noticed there were several new voice messages waiting for her in her inbox.

"See? I stayed with you until six in the morning. That's pretty much when the sun rises, isn't it?" Huo Shaoheng could not help staring at Gu Nianzhi's fair, delicate neck as she bent her neck to look at her phone. It was as slender and beautiful like a swan's; his eyes drifted to tiny red mole at the base of her neck, near her shoulder.

Gu Nianzhi nodded quickly, too distracted to give it any more thought. She opened her inbox and began listening to the voice messages.

They were mostly messages from her old college roommates, wishing her a Happy New Year. There was also a New Year greeting from Brother Ze and Brother Xiong. There was even one from Mei Xiawen!

Finally, she heard He Zhichu's voice message: something had come up, and she was to report to school early...

Gu Nianzhi jumped to her feet. "Th-th-this voice message is from several days ago! Why am I only receiving it now?!"

"Who knows? Must be some kind of glitch in the system." Huo Shaoheng nonchalantly shifted the blame to the telecommunications company.

"This is completely unacceptable! The message was delayed for several days! I'm going to lodge a complaint!" Gu Nianzhi was trembling all over with anger. She made to call He Zhichu.

Huo Shaoheng grabbed her hand and stopped her. "It's New Year's Day. Professor He must be spending time with his family right now. You should call him tomorrow."

Gu Nianzhi was instantly persuaded; she knew that He Zhichu had been raised abroad, and was therefore very particular about his personal time.

"That's true. I'll call back tomorrow. I've kept him waiting for so long-what's another day, anyway?" Gu Nianzhi gave a self-deprecating laugh as she put her phone away.

Huo Shaoheng crooked a leg as he leisurely leaned against the door. He said tonelessly, "So you lost your temper with me for no reason whatsoever, and now you want me to just forget it?"

Gu Nianzhi felt her heart constrict; she averted her gaze, too embarrassed to look Huo Shaoheng in the eye. She gave a fake laugh and tried to change the subject: "...Huo Shao, how about we go out and have some fun? It's the first day of the new year, after all..."

"Go out? I suppose you're feeling all better now, after venting your anger on me. Well, I'm still angry." Huo Shaoheng raised his head. Gu Nianzhi watched him lift his perfect chin, entranced.

He had to be hard on Gu Nianzhi; he did not want her to get into the habit of throwing childish tantrums.

To his chagrin, Gu Nianzhi was completely unrepentant. Instead, she gaped at him in surprise. "Huh-this is the first time I've seen you lost your temper, Huo Shao!"

Huo Shaoheng was speechless. He turned towards the door.

Was he angry?

Gu Nianzhi panicked. She ran over to Huo Shaoheng, quick as lightning, and hugged him from behind.

Huo Shaoheng stiffened, but only for a split second. He extracted himself from Gu Nianzhi's arms, and turned to face her. "...Don't ever be so difficult, ever again."

"I won't, I promise." Gu Nianzhi shook her head vigorously.

"I told you: I always fulfill my promises to you." Huo Shaoheng patted her cheek. "You have to believe me."

Gu Nianzhi nodded again and again. She laid her head against Huo Shaoheng's chest; she realized now that she had been trying to get Huo Shaoheng to coddle and pamper her by throwing a tantrum, and it had been a complete and utter failure...

They quietly snuggled for a while, and only pulled apart when Huo Shaoheng heard Zhao Liangze's voice over his Bluetooth headset.

"Sir, the Prime Minister's eldest son, Dou Haoyan, is inviting you and Nianzhi to the party at his house tonight." Zhao Liangze was puzzled by the invitation; the Special Ops had always maintained a respectful distance from the Prime Minister and his social circles. As far as he knew, they had never crossed paths with the Prime Minister.

He had also been perplexed by the sudden nature of the invitation. It was extremely rude to spring a last-minute invitation on someone of Huo Shaoheng's status.

But Zhao Liangze had subsequently learned that Dou Haoyan had meant no offense; the party itself was a last-minute affair. Everyone on the guest list had only just received an invitation.

"Okay, I'll go." Huo Shaoheng did not refuse the invitation. "Who else is going? Do you have the full guest list?"

"I just got it. I'll send it to you, right this minute." Zhao Liangze pulled up the list of all the guests that had been invited to the dinner party, and sent a copy to Huo Shaoheng.

Huo Shaoheng hung up. He said to Gu Nianzhi: "Get dressed. The Prime Minister's son is throwing a dinner party tonight, and you're coming with me."

Gu Nianzhi did not object; she was not about to let any opportunity to spend time with Huo Shaoheng pass her by. She immediately rushed over to her wardrobe and began rummaging for a proper dress, shoes, and handbag.


At that very moment, Bai Changhui was on the phone with Jin Wanyi. "Lawyer Jin, I got you an invitation to the New Year's Day banquet at the Prime Minister's residence. Do you want to go?"

Jin Wanyi was about to politely decline the invitation when she heard Bai Changhui say: "Huo Shaoheng will be going, too."

Jin Wanyi could hardly believe her luck. She immediately pounced on the offer. "I'm going."

Bai Changhui had warned her not to go up against the Special Operations Forces, but she wasn't convinced. She had to see Huo Shaoheng with her own eyes before deciding her next step.