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257 You Must Believe Me 5

 He Zhichu looked at Gu Nianzhi with undisguised admiration in his shimmering, sultry eyes. "Very astute. You never fail to live up to my expectations."

Gu Nianzhi: "...Professor He, you haven't answered my question."

He raised a cocktail glass and took a sip. He was in a good mood, and it showed on his face. "Dou Qingyan got into trouble in the US, and one of my subordinates defended her in court. This is why I know so much about her-we have to conduct thorough background checks on our clients, after all."

Gu Nianzhi frowned slightly. She shot He Zhichu a skeptical look. "Is that so? That must have been quite the coincidence."

He Zhichu "just so happened" to bail Dou Qingyan out when she was in trouble? And Dou Qingyan "just so happened" to be Huo Shaoheng's former comrade-in-arms?

Gu Nianzhi was openly interrogating him, questioning his honesty, and He Zhichu did not like it. His attitude cooled as quickly as smoldering coal in ice water. He fixed his icy gaze upon the crowd before him, and gave a snort. "Of course it wasn't a coincidence. I only bailed her out because I knew she was Mr. Huo's former comrade-in-arms. There, are you satisfied with my answer now?"

Gu Nianzhi was confused. Her instincts told her that the matter was not so simple, but the more she thought about it, the less credible her intuition seemed, even to her.

Why would Professor He do that? What did he stand to gain from messing with Huo Shao?

Gu Nianzhi could not come up with a plausible answer.

She could tell, deep down, that He Zhichu was especially nice to her, but she wasn't so shameless as to think he was attracted to her. He Zhichu's actions confused her.

He Zhichu saw the hesitant, dubious look on Gu Nianzhi's face, and felt better.

He waved a waiter over and handed him his empty cocktail glass. He turned to Gu Nianzhi to ask: "Are you hungry? What do you want to eat? I'll get you some food."

Gu Nianzhi was the type to start feeling hungry when she was nervous. She nodded, and said, "I'll get the food, Professor He. What do you like to eat?"

"No, I'll do it. How can I let a young lady serve me? That would be much too ungentlemanly of me. I grew up abroad, so you'll have to forgive me if I seem unfamiliar with the way you do things here in the Huaxia Empire." He Zhichu added the last line sarcastically; it was a direct jab at Gu Nianzhi, who had accused him of not understanding the Huaxia language earlier.

Gu Nianzhi's face colored. She followed him to the buffet table, thoroughly embarrassed. She mumbled, "I'm sorry, Professor He. That wasn't what I meant..."

"That's okay, you don't have to apologize. I can never be truly angry with you, you know," He Zhichu said simply as he tousled her hair.

Gu Nianzhi, however, was too busy sneaking restless glances in Huo Shaoheng's direction to catch He Zhichu's doting tone.

...

"Shaoheng, how have you been?" Dou Qingyan smiled pleasantly at Huo Shaoheng as she handed him a plateful of food.

The plate was stacked: Dou Qingyan had filled it with grilled beef tenderloin, crispy chicken fillet, fried cumin lamb, prawn-and-bacon rolls, crab meat salad, cabbages leaves, a few cherry tomatoes, and a generous portion of crab cheese dip on one corner of the plate.

"How's that? I have a good memory, right? I got you all your favorite food." Dou Qingyan smiled, her eyes curving into happy crescents. There was an unexpected hint of tenderness in her stately, dignified features. "...I used to prepare these for you every night."

Huo Shaoheng accepted the food, but removed the fried cumin lamb from his plate with his fork. He smiled and said, "Thank you, but I don't like mutton."

Dou Qingyan was surprised. "What? You don't like mutton? Why didn't you say so, back then?"

"...I didn't think it was necessary to tell you." Huo Shaoheng calmly ate the food on his plate.

Dou Qingyan was about to continue reminiscing about "the good old days" when Huo Shaoheng spoke up and interrupted her: "That's enough. You left the army, but I'm sure you still remember our rules and protocol, don't you?"

"...Oh." Dou Qingyan pressed her lips together, and changed the subject with a carefree laugh. "Right, how careless of me. Let's talk about you then: what have you been up to, in the last six years? I heard that you're already a major general? Is the Special Operations Forces now under your command?"

"Yes." Huo Shaoheng cut up a beef fillet with a knife as he added: "I founded the Special Operations Forces, you remember."

"I remember, I was one of your first subordinates." Dou Qingyan winked at him. "I remember my first day at the Special Ops-you were so hard on me I spent half the night weeping into my pillow. And then, you woke me up before the crack of dawn to start my physical training. Oh, it was truly hell..."

Huo Shaoheng laughed, and relaxed. "If you hadn't left the army, you'd be a high-ranking officer yourself by now, too."

"Oh, I wasn't tough enough to handle it, so I became a deserter." Dou Qingyan laughed openly.

She was easily amused: a single, casual remark from Huo Shaoheng had been enough to send her into peals of laughter.

...

Gu Nianzhi stood in a corner, watching Huo Shaoheng and Dou Qingyan smile and laugh as they chatted amiably. She did not know how to feel.

She was upset. The last time she had seen-through a video feed-Huo Shaoheng smile at a woman, it had left her in a bad mood for days.

But she was also surprised; she had never seen Huo Shaoheng interact with another woman in such a relaxed and leisurely manner.

As far as Gu Nianzhi knew, Huo Shaoheng classified the people around him into two different categories-"one of my own" and "enemy"-and treated them accordingly.

He did not differentiate between men and women; Gu Nianzhi was his only exception.

Aside from her bitterness and surprise, Gu Nianzhi was actually relieved to see Huo Shaoheng and Dou Qingyan chatting like old classmates. It proved that Huo Shao was a living, breathing person, and not a cold-blooded war machine, incapable of feelings.

He Zhichu walked over to Gu Nianzhi with a glass of Canadian ice wine. He stood beside her, leisurely tracing her line of sight to Huo Shaoheng and Dou Qingyan.

He Zhichu was surprised by Dou Qingyang's dignified performance. He had half expected her to get all weepy and hysterical upon meeting Huo Shaoheng.

He Zhichu was a man. He knew very well how stone-hearted men could be towards the people they had cut off all ties with-they did not like having the ghosts from their pasts appear before them to weep and beg for sympathy.

For men like Huo Shaoheng, it was better to start afresh as ordinary friends, instead of dragging up the past.

Although Dou Qingyan and Huo Shaoheng had broken up, they had braved many battlefields together as fellow soldiers. The "brotherhood" of sorts between them was a lot harder to break than a romantic relationship.

"Mr. Huo is a grown man, and he's very accomplished for his age. It's normal for him to have one or two ex-girlfriends, you know. You don't have to look so surprised, your eyes are practically falling out of their sockets." He Zhichu handed Gu Nianzhi a bottle of warm milk.

Gu Nianzhi was in a bad mood; warm milk was precisely what she needed to soothe her injured sensibilities. She accepted the milk, and began to sip it with a straw. She muttered sullenly: "I'm not surprised, my eyes are just naturally large. You should get your eyes checked."

"Oh, you weren't staring? How big are your eyes, really? Show me..." He Zhichu smiled as he turned to look at Gu Nianzhi.

He was greeted by the sight of large, perfectly-shaped eyes; they were misty and enigmatic, like a forest veiled in fog. He felt himself being drawn into uncharted territory.

He Zhichu forced himself to look away. He swallowed a mouthful of the thick, sweet Canadian ice wine in his hand.

The wine was much too sweet; it was so sweet it was actually nauseating to the senses.

Ice wine was made from grapes frozen on the vine, and it was chilled before serving. The glass in He Zhichu's hand was still icy cold; drinking the wine was like having a bucket of ice water upended over his head, and it was exactly what he needed right now.

Gu Nianzhi lowered her eyes. She wondered why He Zhichu was behaving so strangely, but she did not press the issue. He Zhichu was just her mentor, anyway; she did not want to get too personally involved with him.

...

Huo Shaoheng had finished the food on his plate, and was about to politely take his leave from Dou Qingyan when Dou Haoyan walked over with a smile on his face. "General Huo, thank you for taking the time to grace us with your presence today! We apologize for not welcoming you at the door."

"You flatter me, Mr. Dou." Huo Shaoheng laughed. "Thank you for inviting me. Happy New Year, and I wish you every success in your endeavors."

"Come now, let's not stand on ceremony." Dou Haoyan glanced at Dou Qingyan. "I have matters to discuss with Mr. Huo. Why don't you help me attend to the other guests?"

Dou Qingyan nodded, smiling. She politely took her leave from Huo Shaoheng, and made her way to the other end of the hall.

Dou Haoyan led Huo Shaoheng to a slightly less crowded corner, before saying respectfully in a low and subdued voice: "General Huo, it's actually my father. He wants to meet you-would you mind coming with me to see him? He's in the office building, behind the hall."

"Oh, I don't mind." Huo Shaoheng nodded. His gaze swept over Gu Nianzhi-she was in the middle of a conversation with He Zhichu.

Huo Shaoheng looked at Yin Shixiong and Zhao Liangze: they were both in the hall, mingling with the other guests. Huo Shaoheng gave the both of them a pointed Look; one he was satisfied that they had caught his meaning, he followed Dou Haoyan to the Prime Minister's office.

Not long after Huo Shaoheng left, He Zhichu was also called away. Gu Nianzhi was left standing alone beside the folding screen in the corner.

She was beginning to feel bored. She looked for Brother Xiong and Brother Ze, but the former was engaged in an animated conversation with a lady she did not recognize, while the former was happily chatting with Bai Yueran and Bai Shuang.

Gu Nianzhi saw the happy expressions on their faces, and decided not to bother them. She slipped behind the folding screen, and found, to her surprise, a comfortable and beautiful L-shaped sofa.

She leaned casually into the sofa, and began playing mobile games on her phone.

Not long after, someone walked over to sit beside her.

Gu Nianzhi looked up. It was Dou Qingyan.

"Are you Gu Nianzhi?" Dou Qingyan looked her over. She said, smiling, "I heard that Shaoheng is your guardian?"