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256 You Must Believe Me 4

 Amidst the grandeur and splendor of the wealthy elites, Gu Nianzhi had eyes for Huo Shaoheng alone. He reached out to smooth the long hair flowing down to her waist. Gu Nianzhi blushed, but then suddenly sensed something and looked up across the hall to see He Zhichu's tall figure among the crowd. In that moment, He Zhichu's dark eyes suddenly filled with warmth. He smiled at her, then whispered into the Prime Minister's ear before heading over to her. Dou Haoyan, the eldest son of the Prime Minister, began greeting all the guests present. A melodious serenade echoed in the living room and the guests clustered in small groups, carrying wine glasses and plates of food. They enjoyed the food and drink, as well as the company that made for a lively atmosphere.

Dou Qingyan saw Huo Shaoheng as soon as she entered the room. Even though six years had passed since she had decided to let go of him, her eyes welled up with tears at the sight of his face.

Wen Shouyi was concerned that Dou Qingyan would get too emotional and so quickly asked, "Qingyan, can you take me to bathroom? There's something wrong with the fastening on my dress." She smiled gently at Dou Qingyan.

Dou Qingyan nodded and took two deep breaths to calm the turmoil in her heart. She said to the Prime Minister's wife, "Mummy, I'll come back after getting changed upstairs with Shouyi."

"Go, go. I'll come with you." The Prime Minister's wife hadn't seen Dou Qingyan in six years and loathed to be apart from her daughter for even a moment. They had been so close to never seeing her again.

"Mummy, aren't you going to entertain the guests?" Although Dou Qingyan was feeling anxious, she still held up the tenets of proper etiquette. How could the banquet be maintained without her mother, the lady of the house, absent?

Her mother quickly dispelled her concerns. "Qingyan, this banquet is being hosted by your older brother, so these are all young people here. Your father and I aren't the hosts: we especially came to see you and Lawyer He. With the two of us around, everyone will be too courteous and won't enjoy themselves."

Wen Shouyi looked around and found that the Prime Minister had indeed already left the living room to return to his office in the back after having greeted a few close acquaintances.

Dou Qingyan glanced at her brother, Dou Haoyan, and saw that he was enjoying the company of the guests with their younger sister. She finally nodded and went upstairs with the other two women.

...

He Zhichu's entourage parted the crowd before him, so he had a clear path to Gu Nianzhi and Huo Shaoheng.

Gu Nianzhi gawked at him as He Zhichu walked up to them and said, "Nianzhi, Happy New Year." He then looked up at the silent Huo Shaoheng beside her and asked kindly, "Nianzhi, is this your guardian?" He reached out his hand to Huo Shaoheng. "I've heard lots about you. My surname is He, and I'm Nianzhi's post-grad instructor at B University. Last year, while Nianzhi studied abroad and accompanied me, she had often mentioned her guardian. Seeing you in person today is a honor; it's no wonder that she admires you so much."

Huo Shaoheng pressed his lips together and slowly raised his hand, as though reaching for He Zhichu's outstretched one. However, he withdrew it and put his hand on Gu Nianzhi's back instead, then nodded to him. "He Zhichu, you are highly respected as a great teacher and lawyer. With an instructor like you, Nianzhi will certainly excel and be successful in the field of law in the future."

Highly respected? Great teacher? Is he drawing a line that I shouldn't cross? He Zhichu stiffened at the subtle offense initiated by Huo Shaoheng, but laughed softly and said to Gu Nianzhi, "Nianzhi, why don't you introduce your guardian to me?" As he spoke, he looked up at Zhao Liangze standing behind Huo Shaoheng. "I remember that someone was your guardian while you were in the States, no? I think I saw him before..."

Gu Nianzhi was shocked by He Zhichu's inquiries. After a long pause, she finally replied, "Happy New Year, Professor He." She then looked at Huo Shaoheng and Zhao Liangze, and introduced them together. "Professor He, yes, that's Brother Ze. He used to be one of my guardians and he took care of me in the States. This is Mr. Huo, he was my guardian too. But I'm already 18 now and don't need a guardian anymore."

He Zhichu laughed as he patted her head with adoration. "You're such a stubborn child. Legally speaking you don't need a guardian anymore, but how old are you now? You only just turned 18 and grew up under Mr. Huo's care. Although he was your guardian, he was basically your adoptive father and you will still need to rely on him for many things. Don't be impudent. How sad would he be to listen to you say that you don't need a guardian anymore? You don't want people to say that you're ungrateful, right?"

Adoptive father? That's rich. Huo Shaoheng thought. He said quietly, "Professor He, you must've come from the United States and therefore, you don't eally understand Huaxia culture. Guardians and "adoptive fathers" are completely unrelated. If you can't speak Chinese, you can choose to speak English, French, or even Latin. I'll be happy to accomodate."

"Oh? Really?" Although He Zhichu was speaking to Huo Shaoheng, he only looked at Gu Nianzhi. "I didn't think your guardian is such a talented person: he even knows French and Latin too!"

Gu Nianzhi was getting uncomfortable-she sensed that the two men were trying to one up each other. She had been very displeased to hear He Zhichu say that Huo Shaoheng was basically her adoptive father, but her expression remained unchanged. She hugged Huo Shaoheng's arm with a smile. "Professor He indeed grew up abroad, so his Chinese is not the best. Mr. Huo was asked to be my temporary guardian, so I naturally didn't need one anymore when I turned 18. Professor He is speaking too seriously. You are a Professor of Law and a great lawyer in the United States after all. How can you speak with such unsuitable verbiage? Please don't disappoint me." Gu Nianzhi teased.

He Zhichu's breath caught in his mouth. He hadn't expected Gu Nianzhi to be so aversive to his labelling of Huo Shaoheng as her adoptive parent. Although he had mentally prepared himself, bitterness still seeped into his heart as his gaze rested on her face for a moment. He nodded to himself. "Is that so. I truly didn't understand the difference between the two. Thank you both for explaining."

Gu Nianzhi smiled at him and took two cocktails from the waiter passing through, handing one to each of the men. "A toast to you both. Happy New Year!"

He Zhichu and Huo Shaoheng took the glasses and slowly raised them to each other before downing them at the same time.

"Shaoheng? I'm very happy that you were able to come to my family's New Year banquet." A charming female voice sounded from behind He Zhichu.

He Zhichu didn't have to turn around to know that it was Dou Qingyan walking over. He put his empty glass on the waiter's tray and took a new one to give to Gu Nianzhi. "This is just fruit wine with low alcohol content. You can have some too."

Gu Nianzhi's attention had been taken by Dou Qingyan as soon as she came over. She had changed into a dark magenta velvet qipao. It was tight fitting and showed off her slender curves; she was astonishingly beautiful. Her beauty was the kind where a woman had matured to her prime, but not yet withered.

"Take it and drink slowly." He Zhichu's voice was as rich as aged wine, infusing directly to Gu Nianzhi's heart. She picked up the glass absentmindedly and didn't even look as she took a sip. Her gaze stopped on Dou Qingyan's face for a moment, before shifting to Huo Shaoheng's.

Although Huo Shaoheng appeared unaffected, Gu Nianzhi knew him better than anyone else-she could detect a hint of some deep emotion in his eyes. Gu Nianzhi's heart dropped.

Dou Qingyan stood before Huo Shaoheng and sighed. "It's been six years and you look more mature than before." She paused, then laughed quietly and said, "You're even more handsome too."

Huo Shaoheng smiled. "Qingyaan, you're still too funny." He had one hand in his trouser pocket while the other gently swirled his wine glass.

Dou Qingyan then greeted He Zhichu before turning back to say to Huo Shaoheng, "I had a bit of trouble when I was abroad, but it was Lawyer He and Lawyer Wen who helped me resolve it." She paused for a long time and gently caressed her left wrist which was adorned with a gold bracelet. "I hadn't planned on coming back, but after going through all that in a foreign country, I thought it was all so pointless. My nation is still my home and I missed my family and friends too-so I came back."

"It's good that you figured it out." Huo Shaoheng raised his glass and said, "Happy New Year."

"Happy New Year." Dou Qingyan took a cocktail and toasted Huo Shaoheng, then they both took sips at the same time.

Seeing Dou Qingyan and Huo Shaoheng chatting so amiably, He Zhichu whispered to Gu Nianzhi, "Nianzhi, I texted you about some things related to the school and asked you to come early. Did you get it?"

"Oh, about that..." Gu Nianzhi's attention was still on Huo Shaoheng and Dou Qingyan, so she barely heard He Zhichu. He Zhichu didn't want her mind to stray, so he reached out to take her arm and dragged her to the screen in the corner. "They're old comrades getting reunited, so don't get in the way now."

"They're comrades?" Gu Nianzhi asked curiously and was just about to ask Zhao Liangze when she discovered that he already walked away without her noticing.

"Of course they're comrades. Didn't your great guardian tell you?" He Zhichu put one hand in his trouser pocket and held a cocktail with the other hand, his sultry eyes twinkling with a smile. "Dou Qingyan and your guardian, Huo Shaoheng, had enlisted at nearly the same time, but she suddenly withdrew from the military and went abroad six years ago. She has only just come back to the Empire this year."

Gu Nianzhi looked at Dou Qingyan's brightly smiling face directed at Huo Shaoheng. He didn't seem to keep her at an arm's length like he did with other women. They had an indescribable connection between them.

He Zhichu's smile grew as he lowered his head to whisper in Gu Nianzhi's ear, "Don't they look good together? In terms of their appearance and family?"

Gu Nianzhi was unperturbed, casting an icy look at He Zhichu as she said coldly, "Professor He, how do you know so much?"