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291 Only One Chance

 It was the first time Gu Nianzhi would be defending someone in court, and she did not want to go up against a heavyweight like He Zhichu.

She had been worried that the Bai family would ask He Zhichu to be their lawyer...

If He Zhichu had been hired by the Bai family to defend Bai Jinyi in court, Gu Nianzhi would have had to rack her brains to look for another way. She knew she could not win against He Zhichu in court-not yet, at least.

Gu Nianzhi smiled happily; she was glad He Zhichu wasn't standing in her way.

After signing the document, He Zhichu faxed a copy to the Ministry of Justice, for filing purposes.

With that, the procedure was complete.

Gu Nianzhi raised her endorsement letter and kissed it. She said joyfully, "Now I'm a practicing lawyer!"

"...Only temporarily. You're just a stand-in, for the moment." He Zhichu arched an eyebrow as he ruthlessly shot her down.

Gu Nianzhi was unfazed. She slipped the endorsement letter into her backpack and said, with a laugh, "Even if it's temporary, a lawyer is still a lawyer. Professor He, I'm so glad we're on the same side!"

He Zhichu rolled his eyes, and forced a smile. He knew what she was happy about, and decided to remind her: "I know you're afraid of going up against me in court, but there are other talented lawyers in the Huaxia Empire, you know. If the Bai family asks any one of them to represent them, and you'd still have a hard time winning your case. You're just a rookie, after all-not even General Huo can help you in court."

The Bai family had actually asked for his help through his law firm in the United States, but He Zhichu had refused. He did not want to get involved with the Huaxia Empire's political infighting.

And now he had gotten himself involved anyway, all because of Gu Nianzhi.

He Zhichu decided not to think about his own hypocrisy, or what to say to his American partners if they asked about it.

He was not the type to change his mind once he had made a decision, but this was Gu Nianzhi. He would break his promises for her.

Gu Nianzhi was blissfully unaware of the impact her request had on He Zhichu. She eagerly fished her stack of printed notes out from her backpack. "Professor He, this is what I have on my case so far. Will you help me look it over?"

He Zhichu paid no attention to her notes. Instead, his bright, almond-shaped eyes narrowed slightly as he gave her a long, meaningful look. "Nianzhi, this will be good training for you. I won't get involved, because I want you to step up to the plate and take on the challenge on your own. I'll observe from the sidelines and give you feedback, but before that, you'll have to find your own way."

Gu Nianzhi was stunned to hear this. She awkwardly slipped her notes back into her backpack.

He Zhichu saw the look of disappointment on her face, and averted his eyes. He said in his cool, indifferent voice: "This isn't a mock trial or a classroom debate. You're going up against the defendant's lawyer in a real court. Are you going to ask me to look over your notes before every court battle?"

"No, of course not..." Gu Nianzhi bit her lip. "I wish I didn't have to ask you to do this for me, either. It's just that there are hardly any witnesses or evidence in my case, and it happened over ten years ago. I... I don't even know if I'm taking the right approach to the case..."

If her approach was entirely off the mark, she would never be able to win her case, no matter how hard she tried.

He Zhichu pressed his lips together. He extended a hand towards Gu Nianzhi. "Hand it over."


"Your notes, what else? I'll take a look," He Zhichu said impatiently. "Hurry up, I don't have all day."

But Gu Nianzhi's pride had been injured. She stubbornly shook her head. "That's okay, Professor He. You're right, I shouldn't take your kindness for granted, I should start working things out on my own." She stood up and bowed. "Thank you for your time, Professor He. If you'll excuse me..."

He Zhichu did not say anything. He watched Gu Nianzhi from his desk chair, his eyes flashing with an inscrutable mix of emotions. He seemed upset, but he made no move to stop her.

Just as Gu Nianzhi was about to reach the door, He Zhichu pressed a secret button under his desk.

The door locked itself with an audible click.

As soon as Gu Nianzhi laid her hand on the lock, she knew something was wrong.

She tried to turn the lock, but it wouldn't budge. She let out a soft sigh, and looked up at the ceiling as she fought to get the anxiety welling up within her under control.

When she had collected herself, Gu Nianzhi turned to look at He Zhichu. "Professor He, please open the door."

"I said I'll take a look at your notes. If you don't hand them over, you won't be leaving this room today." He Zhichu leaned backwards on his chair. His clasped his fingers loosely on top of his chest; his gaze was firm and resolute.

Gu Nianzhi hugged her backpack to herself. She refused to give in. "You already refused me once. You only get one chance. Once it's gone, it's gone."

Gu Nianzhi had not meant anything else by that, but He Zhichu felt as though a nuclear bomb had exploded inside his head and sent a mushroom cloud up into the top of his skull...

His face darkened instantly. He sprang out from behind his desk, his eyes red, and before Gu Nianzhi knew what was happening he had already closed the distance between them. His hand shot out and grabbed Gu Nianzhi by the throat. "What did you just say?! Say it again!"

Gu Nianzhi immediately fought back. She threw her backpack away and grabbed He Zhichu's hand in a Tai chi move she had learned from the Special Ops, but she could not get him to let go.

He Zhichu was angry, and when he saw Gu Nianzhi's attempt to break out of his hold, his anger increased tenfold. There was a buzzing in his ears, and his eyes clouded over.

He could not think straight. He heard himself say, through clenched teeth, "...'Only one chance'? 'Once it's gone, it's gone'? Why are you so cruel to me?! I wasn't able to find you... it wasn't my fault... I spent so many years looking for you!"

His voice was as clear and as hard as an icicle. Inside, however, he was burning with rage.

Gu Nianzhi struggled desperately. He Zhichu responded to this by coolly pinning her hands behind her back with a hand. He slid his other hand behind her neck and grabbed the back of her head, holding it firmly in place. He stared at her, his breathing uneven; his bright, almond-shaped eyes were filled with despair.

Gu Nianzhi was scared out of her wits. She tried her best to wriggle free, but He Zhichu had pinned her firmly against the door.

She had not expected such explosive strength from He Zhichu's slender, elegant body.

His powerful arms pressed her shoulders against the door to the study.

He Zhichu's eyes were red with anger. Exasperation seemed to leak out of every pore on his body. His fingers tightened around the back of her neck as he stared down at her from his towering height. His expression was cold, but his gaze burned her; at that very moment, he was both fire and ice.

Gu Nianzhi finally broke down. She sobbed, "...Let go of me... Professor He... Please... Let me go..."

She shook her head desperately as the tears streamed down her cheeks.

He Zhichu looked steadily at her. He took in the tears on her face, her terrified expression, and her hoarse screams-they wound about him like a rope, restraining him from making another move...

He could not move. He held her at arm's length, his fingers still clamped around the back of her neck. He could not get any closer.

Gu Nianzhi wept openly. She trembled all over.

It was not an act. She was truly afraid.

She had not expected the dignified, sophisticated He Zhichu to behave this way when he was angry...

After what seemed like an eternity, He Zhichu finally took a deep breath, and released the back of Gu Nianzhi's neck. His hand slid to her back, and rubbed it apologetically. He said in a hoarse voice: "Nianzhi, I'm sorry... I... mistook you for someone else..."

Gu Nianzhi was still trembling. She choked out, in between sobs, "You mistook me for someone else?! How is that an acceptable excuse? That's the worst lie I've ever heard! Get away from me! Go away! I... I'm going to sue you for harassment!"

He Zhichu suddenly let go of her hands and turned away. His back seemed forlorn and melancholic, like a desolate figure wandering a barren landscape.

He returned to the sofa in the middle of his study, and seated himself. He kept his eyes on the fruit bowl on the coffee table as he said tonelessly, "If you want to sue me, go ahead. I won't deny what I did. I'll take whatever punishment they give out. Don't worry. I promise you, if I try to argue my way out of it, I'll kill myself, right then and there."

Gu Nianzhi was not the type to be coerced. Had He Zhichu tried to weasel his way out of the situation with cunning sophistry, Gu Nianzhi would have thrown everything in her arsenal at him until she pinned him down.

But she wasn't entirely cold-blooded, either. She was easily moved by signs of sincerity, and she stood staring at He Zhichu, unsure of what to do. She had never seen him so depressed.

She retrieved her backpack from the floor and hugged it to her chest. She said, sobbing, "Professor He, please open the door. I want to leave."

But He Zhichu had no intention of opening the door. He pointed to the sofa opposite him. His voice, usually clear and sharp, was hoarse when he said: "Nianzhi, sit with me for a bit, okay?"