Stealing heart

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In the deep silence of the night, hunger gnawed at me, compelling me to vent in a post: “After seven years, my fiancé’s eyes have wandered to my closest friend. A mere $50 contribution to my Venmo could unveil my elaborate scheme for revenge.” To my astonishment, a reply from my fiancé appeared: “?”

Seconds later, my account swelled by $500,000, accompanied by a note as cold as ice: “Done, now speak.” With my heart in my throat, I faced the man who had made an urgent return from overseas, stammering out an explanation:

“I… I was supposed to use a secondary account. Could you possibly… believe me?”

By trade, I am a weaver of tales.

Chasing deadlines into the wee hours, madness took hold, fueled by starvation and relentless demands for more. In a fit of passion, I turned to social media, broadcasting live:

“My fiancé dares to charm my dearest friend, after endless patience on my part, only to face further audacity. Offer up $50 to Venmo, and bear witness to my vengeance.”

The release of these words somewhat eased the pressure suffocating my heart. Madness, it seems, has its own peculiar charm, beneficial even to one’s health.

A notification chimed, revealing a message from Fu Jing: “?”

The ensuing buzz of my phone, with likes and comments surging, brought someone’s remark to my attention: “Snap out of it, author, you’re the talk of the town.” Glancing up, my heart skipped a beat.

In my haste, I had forgotten to switch accounts.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that my debut on the trending list would be fueled by scandalous rumors of infidelity…

Merely minutes later, an alert notified me of a $50,000 deposit into my account, with a message chilling to the bone: “It’s sent, now speak. Silence equals death.”

My engagement to Fu Jing spanned seven years, marked by distance and separation.

His business anchored him abroad, leaving us to exchange cold, impersonal texts during the holidays, often through his assistant. Ironically, I glimpsed him more in financial magazines than in person. Our last encounter was his brief return home the year before last.

A simple family meal brought us together.

The topic of marriage, broached by our parents, was met with his nonchalant refusal: “We’ll discuss it later, I’m pressed for time.” A phone call that night saw him hastily excusing himself, leaving an air of awkwardness behind.

It was an open secret that Fu Jing harbored a lost love in his heart, now gone. My friend unearthed the tale—

His “lost love” was his first, thwarted by her parents’ vehement disapproval years ago. By the time he was ready to commit, fate had cruelly snatched her away.

Yet, our engagement was nothing more than a strategic alliance, devoid of romantic entanglements, aimed solely at mutual prosperity. A single utterance from me had now catapulted Fu Jing into the limelight of gossip, potentially dooming our union.

At this juncture, my mother’s scathing reprimand over the phone was a harsh reality check: “Apologize to President Fu this instant. If this alliance falls through, you and your magazine can pack up and leave.”

The magazine was the embodiment of my dreams, now teetering on the brink of collapse in an unforgiving market. It had been a labor of love to revive it, buoyed recently by a script sale.

The thought of losing everything over this debacle sent shivers down my spine. With trepidation, I messaged Fu Jing.

“I forgot to switch accounts. I’m sorry.”

The wait until evening was agonizing, but eventually, his message lit up my screen: “I’m at the airport, home in thirty minutes.”

The bar at ten o’clock was a cacophony of life and excess. In my best friend’s embrace, I found solace, albeit drunken and disoriented. “So, you just fled?” she asked.

Barely coherent after several shots, I leaned in, grinning, “What choice did I have? Wait for him to end the engagement?” Anger makes one reckless, but I hoped to salvage a conversation with him once the dust settled.

At least to safeguard my magazine.

The dimming lights barely concealed a young man, his gaze catching mine as he passed with a drink in hand.

Our eyes met, and he hesitated, reaching for his phone—a modern gesture of interest. Adorable.

“See, I’ve still got it.”

Teetering on my heels, I brushed my hair aside to reveal a hint of collarbone, and sauntered over, “Flying solo tonight, handsome? You remind me of someone. Let’s connect—

He stepped back, phone in hand, his distress palpable: “Bro, I’ve found her. Your sister-in-law’s asking for my number again…” Had I been sober, I’d have realized I was flirting with Fu Jing’s younger brother—Fu Jin.

This wasn’t the first time I’d mistaken someone for someone else…

Half an hour later, Fu Jin was escorting me out of the bar.

“I think you’re more handsome than my fiancé, did you know? If things go south, would you consider stepping in?” I slurred.

“Bro—” Like disposing of a problem, Fu Jin bundled me into the backseat of a Rolls-Royce.

Collapsing onto someone, I felt a firm hand steady me, a deep voice inquiring, “How much has she had?” “Not much, just half a bottle,” I mumbled, struggling to sit up on his lap, squinting up at him.

The man’s stern visage, unsoftened by the gentle rain, struck a chord with me. He was exactly my type.

Leaning into him, I whispered, “Alright, you’re in too. Let’s make it a party—” His hand swiftly covered my mouth, his gaze shifting coldly outside, “This is what half a bottle does to you?”

Fu Jin’s expression fell, “Vodka. She treated it like a soda…” He defended, “Bro, I swear, I didn’t lead her on. She came to me.” Perhaps it wasn’t entirely my fault.

Who could have predicted that the Fu lineage would so perfectly align with my tastes? Fu Jin and I, peers in age, had crossed paths in college.

I had flirted with him once, his shyness preventing anything further.

My memory failed me; a freshman year flirtation led to a senior year repeat upon a familiar encounter. And it had all unfolded before Fu Jin’s parents.

That day, those parents were none other than Fu Jing… The rain outside threatened to worsen.

Half-awake, I nestled against Fu Jing’s shoulder, my murmurs unintelligible to all but him. Fu Jin, caught in a nocturnal escapade, was promptly sent home by Fu Jing’s men.

I snuggled closer, tugging at Fu Jing’s tie, “Brother, shall we marry?” My whisper, laced with the scent of liquor, found its way to Fu Jing’s ear.

He swallowed, his gaze darkening, “Jiang Qian, do you realize who you’re speaking to?” My silence prompted him to gently lift my chin, ensuring our eyes met.

“I am Fu Jing, not Fu Jin.”

Clad in his impeccable black suit, Fu Jing exuded an aura of cold authority, stirring a restless unease within me. His finger lingered on a button, and as the black car window silently ascended, it cloistered us away from the clamor outside. Leaning against his thigh, I playfully silenced him with a finger to his chilled lips, “Shh, let’s not dwell on misfortunes tonight, shall we?”

A chuckle escaped Fu Jing, his gaze, dark and piercing, locked onto mine, “Misfortunes?” he mused, his curiosity piqued by my avoidance.

In the enveloping darkness, an unspoken tension quietly unfurled between us. Attempting to rise, I stumbled, nearly sealing our lips in an unintended kiss. Suddenly, I was shrouded in darkness as his jacket enveloped my head, erasing Fu Jing from my sight.

I frowned, struggling for a moment before his grip tightened around my wrist. “Flirting with Fu Jin is one thing, but my clothes are off-limits?”

His voice, deep and resonant, filled the space between us, his thumb tracing delicate patterns on my wrist. Trapped and slightly bewildered, I found myself cornered by his assertive stance.

“Don’t move,” he commanded, his tone brooking no argument.

Outside, the rain and the relentless traffic stretched the night into infinity.

His jacket, still warm with his presence, carried a subtle hint of sandalwood, its fragrance lingering in the air.

Through the sliver of space beneath his jacket, I caught sight of the elegant sandalwood bracelet adorning his wrist, its craftsmanship exquisite.

Impulsively, I reached out, touching the smooth beads. “Like it?” he inquired.

Hidden under his jacket, I nodded, my voice muffled, “Like it.” With a gentle motion, he slid the bracelet onto my wrist, “Then it’s yours.”

Laughter bubbled up from within me, my words slurred, “A fine piece.” Fu Jing’s laughter joined mine, “Indeed, a fine piece.”

Our engagement had been marked by a grand gesture when Fu Jing transferred a property into my name, a spectacle for the media. His visits were few, meals shared but nights spent apart.

His private residence, nestled in the suburbs, remained a mystery to me, a place I had yet to visit, perhaps never meant to.

Leaning on him, we staggered into the elevator, my arms wrapped around him for balance. “I’ll enter first. If he’s home, you make a run for it, understand?”

The proximity intensified the scent of sandalwood, weaving an intimate ambiance around us. He gazed down at me, a silent question in his eyes, “Is this a common occurrence?” I smiled, a hint of defiance in my gaze, of course not.

But the days of living under someone else’s shadow were behind me.

I was young, drawn to beauty and the thrill of romance. Why should I resign myself to solitude just because Fu Jing’s heart belonged to another? Ding!

The elevator doors opened.

Fumbling with the lock, I finally opened the door to a home that still bore my touch, the minimalist gray replaced by vibrant yellow and lace.

Pulling him inside by his tie, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Fortune favors the bold—”

Abruptly, Fu Jing lifted me, striding into the bathroom.

“Let me down!”

The bathroom’s warm glow cast a soft light on his sculpted features.

A sudden realization struck me, “You bear such a resemblance to my fiancé.” Fu Jing merely glanced at me, unresponsive.

Clarity dawned, and I attempted to flee, only to be effortlessly caught by him. “Help… a plot for insurance fraud…”

He silenced me with a hand, his other rolling up sleeves, preparing for what came next with a jest, “Noted, I’ll get you insured next time.” The details of what followed blurred into a whirlwind of unexpected developments.

By the time the night waned, I was enveloped in a profound exhaustion, the distant thunder barely registering as I drifted into sleep.

Fu Jing was on the phone, a girl’s sobs breaking through the silence, “Okay, don’t be afraid, I’m on my way.”

His voice was a gentle caress, a stark contrast to the storm brewing outside. When morning came, he was gone.

The next day, under the brilliant afternoon sun, I found myself in the CEO’s office of Fu Corporation, facing Fu Jing with a resolve that surprised even me, “Let’s part ways.”

Bathed in sunlight, Fu Jing was a vision, his attention momentarily on the documents before him.

At my words, he looked up, an eyebrow raised in mild amusement, “Wasn’t it just last night that you wished to marry me?”

His gaze, though gentlemanly, carried an undercurrent of wildness that sent a flush to my cheeks, memories of the night before flooding back.

It was a fleeting sensation, gone as quickly as it came.

Clearing my throat, I found no other excuse, “We’re not suitable for each other.”

Fu Jing studied me for a moment, a playful smile gracing his lips, “Agreed, but accompany me to a banquet first, and then I’ll consider it.” His offer, sweetened with the promise of handsome company, sealed the deal.

“Deal.”

That evening, as we stepped into the banquet, all eyes were on us.

The enigmatic Fu Jing, with his complex history and whispered-about “white moonlight,” navigated the room with ease, his arm around me.

While I maintained a polite facade, my mind wandered, lost in the sea of attractive faces.

It was like being set free in an ocean, my spirits buoyed by the beauty around me.

Fu Jing, ever the gracious host, allowed me my distractions. “Hello, sister, my name is Bai Qiaoqiao.”

After the thirty-eighth handshake of the evening, I met her, a vision in white, her innocence and eagerness shining through. “I’m an aspiring actress, here to broaden my network. It’s an honor to meet you.” Her beauty was undeniable, captivating all who laid eyes on her.

“Sister, this strand of old mountain sandalwood must be quite precious, isn’t it?” Her sudden approach enveloped me in a delicate fragrance of gardenias. Before I knew it, she was delicately examining the bracelet on my wrist.

Coming back to my senses, a blush crept over my cheeks, “Yes, it’s a gift from my fiancé.”

“Your fiancé seems to be quite affluent,” she remarked, her gaze lowered, revealing the graceful curve of her neck as she sifted through her handbag.

Then, with a gentle flourish, she produced a hand-woven bracelet, moving closer. “Unlike me, I can only offer this humble handcrafted piece as a token of our meeting. I hope it doesn’t upset you.”

The hand-woven bracelet was a testament to meticulous craftsmanship, clearly a product of considerable effort.

She fastened it around my wrist with unhurried grace, her voice a whisper, “So, sister, might I be privileged to have your contact information?”

“…..”

Post-banquet, nestled in the garden, I endured my friend’s playful ribbing: “Hahaha, you can’t seriously tell me you got charmed by a girl?”

“Be quiet!” I retorted, muffling the phone, “Regardless, she’s going to be my leading lady.” “Miss, the last ‘rising star’ you championed has already eloped.”

I asserted with conviction, “No, she’s different. There’s an inherent goodness in her.”

To my dismay, Fu Jing’s promises proved fickle.

The ensuing days were filled with banquets requiring my presence.

Now, without dissolving our engagement, the business circles were abuzz with news of me as his fiancée. After one such gathering, I found myself scrutinizing Fu Jing with a mix of bitterness and accusation.

The passing streetlights intermittently illuminated his striking features in silence. “What’s the matter?” he queried.

“I suspect you’re playing me for a fool.”

His gaze momentarily lingered on my lips before meeting my eyes with intensity, “Did I ever specify the number of banquets?” “No.”

“Were there no handsome men present?” “There were.”

A soft chuckle escaped Fu Jing, “Then, in what way have I deceived you?” I had become a fixture in his office.

The desk burgeoned with snacks, and milk tea flowed without limit.

Mostly, I succumbed to sugar-induced slumbers on the couch, only to awaken to Fu Jing’s tender gaze.

Bai Qiaoqiao’s daily inquiries were a constant: “Sister, did you have breakfast? It’s chilly today, make sure to stay warm.” Her handmade gifts were occasional surprises.

Days later, Bai Qiaoqiao and I crossed paths again at a script reading.

She had switched her perfume, greeting me with a smile, “Sister, would you care to join me for a drink in my room?”

“Ah, I’ve been battling a cold, on antibiotics,” I demurred.

That evening, as I strolled beneath the crew’s hotel, Bai Qiaoqiao’s voice drifted from the bushes: “This filming schedule is exhausting, Mr. Fu, I dread the kissing scenes.” In the dim light, Fu Jing stood by Bai Qiaoqiao, who was playfully appealing to him.

In that moment, I felt the sting of heartbreak. Twice over.

Fu Jing’s brow furrowed slightly, “I was under the impression this had been clarified long ago.”

“She’s new, ignorance is expected,” she implored with puppy eyes, “Mr. Fu, please.”

“Alright, it’ll be removed,” he conceded.

Minutes later, the director’s call came through: “The investors insist Bai Qiaoqiao avoids any kissing scenes, adjust the rest accordingly.” I was struck by lightning.

The man and woman I admired, were they an item?

That night, I sought solace in my friend’s embrace, inebriated and desolate.

She lectured, “Jiang Qian, when will you learn? This isn’t your first heartbreak. Chasing after looks will only leave you empty-handed, do you understand?”

“But she was kind to me.” “Kind? How so?”

“Breakfast deliveries, reminders to dress warmly, nightly well-wishes.”

Right then, Bai Qiaoqiao’s text arrived: “Sister, the moon is stunning tonight, have you seen it?”

My phone clattered to the ground as I wept, nestled in my friend’s comforting embrace, “Such sweet nothings.” Exasperated, my friend exclaimed, “Enough!”

Somehow, I found myself being whisked away in Fu Jing’s Rolls-Royce.

As the world outside silently retreated, I rested against the window, tears streaming silently. Fu Jing sighed, “What now?”

My tears fell in torrents as I clambered onto his lap, my eyes swollen, confronting him, “Mr. Fu, is there truly no way for the three of us?”

Fu Jing’s forehead vein throbbed as he steadied me, asking resignedly, “And who has caught your eye this time?”

I continued to cry, embodying despair, my makeup a smeared mess.

Fu Jing soothed, “Jiang Qian, there’s no space for another in my heart.” His words sealed my fate.

A fiery indignation surged within me, and I pushed against him, eyes blazing with betrayal. “I despise you.”

Fu Jing’s expression hardened, his eyes narrowing, “Repeat that?” “I despise you.”

His laughter was tinged with disbelief, “All because I won’t allow another? Is this reasonable?” With a gentle nudge, I collapsed into his embrace.

He caressed my hair, murmuring, “Jiang Qian, as long as I breathe, abandon such thoughts.”

Fu Jing forcibly returned me to the apartment, ensuring I bathed before holding me close as we slept.

In my dreams, Fu Jing and Bai Qiaoqiao stood hand in hand, declaring the unloved to be the true outsider. Awakening to daylight, Fu Jing had vanished.

Nursing a hangover, my forehead pulsated with a dull ache, shadowed by the dark circles under my eyes, a testament to the previous night’s turmoil. I ventured out to submit the script’s latest revision, navigating through the sparsely populated open-air garden. Amidst the scattered presence, Bai Qiaoqiao’s voice, laced with intermittent pauses, found its way to me, weaving through the air with an effortless grace. “Mr. Fu has always been a beacon of kindness to me, ensuring my discomforts are kept at bay and marking each birthday with his presence,” she shared, her voice a melody that drew a chorus of admiration from those around. “With his unwavering support, the path to recognition seems all but guaranteed,” they exclaimed in unison. A soft laughter escaped Bai Qiaoqiao, her acknowledgment wrapped in humility, “Indeed, his heart harbors a place for me. Patience, however, remains a virtue, for the ties of his current engagement bind him still.”

Moments later, I found myself confronting her in a secluded nook of the garden. Her initial surprise quickly dissolved into a smile of recognition, “Sister, to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?” My response, stern and unyielding, cut through the pleasantries, “Were you aware of my identity from the onset?” The air between us tensed as her smile waned, the facade crumbling. “Was your warmth merely a strategy to disarm me?” A silence ensued, heavy with unspoken truths, until her apology broke through, “I’m sorry.” My anger, barely contained, simmered beneath the surface, “Let’s be frank. What’s your price to step aside?” Her rebuttal was swift, “You misunderstand—” I interjected, desperation edging my voice, “Two million? Four? Just name it. I’m prepared to pay.” Her demeanor shifted, adopting a stance of defiance, “I seek an audience with Mr. Fu. Your ignorance of our shared history strips you of any right to dictate terms.”

Our exchange was abruptly cut short by a scream. In a clumsy collision, her hair entangled with the zipper of my top. Before I could gather my wits, she retaliated, igniting a scuffle that drew the attention of onlookers. The aftermath saw us both in the hospital, bearing physical marks of our encounter; her arm adorned with a scratch, my face mirrored her injury, and both our hair in disarray. My ankle bore the brunt of a stone’s kiss, bleeding profusely. Prioritized due to the severity of my injuries, I was whisked away for treatment.

Post-treatment, as the door swung open, my gaze fell upon Fu Jing, a stoic figure offering solace to Bai Qiaoqiao, his silhouette framed by the rain-soaked backdrop. “Mr. Fu, bound by a contract of convenience, what claim does she hold over your personal affairs?” Bai Qiaoqiao’s plea, her voice trembling with emotion, “I wish never to cross paths with her again.” The opening door diverted Fu Jing’s attention to me, standing at the threshold, a portrait of dishevelment. As our eyes met, the warmth once familiar in his gaze was conspicuously absent, replaced by a solemnity that weighed heavily in the air. “Is there something you wish to say?” he inquired, his voice a calm amidst the storm.

My resolve faltered, yet spurred by a surge of defiance, I accused Bai Qiaoqiao, “Shameless! A charlatan of affection!” Taken aback by my audacity, she initially hesitated but quickly regained her composure, ready to defend her honor. The garden, once a haven of tranquility, became an arena as our conflict reignited, drawing a crowd eager to quell the chaos. Amidst the tumult, Bai Qiaoqiao’s cries for justice rose above, “She instigated this; I demand the authorities!” In the end, it was Fu Jing’s arms that offered refuge, carrying me away from the fray.

As I nestled against his shoulder, my voice broke through the silence, “I refuse to continue! Demand a new leading lady!” His embrace tightened, a stern reminder of reality, “Jiang Qian, be still. Your wounds are freshly tended.” Yet, my spirit remained untamed, struggling against his hold, “A conspiracy, this is.” Fu Jing’s patience waned, “I owe you an explanation.” His words, meant to soothe, only fueled my indignation. “A mere business arrangement, and she dares meddle in your affairs?” I mocked, my voice dripping with sarcasm. His resolve unbroken, he ushered me into the Rolls-Royce, away from the prying eyes and the cacophony that had enveloped us.

Within the confines of the car, my turmoil found no respite. “I demand an annulment!” I declared, my resolve as tangled as my hair. Fu Jing, ever the bastion of calm, countered my fury with a simple command, “Peace.” And in that moment, peace was all I sought, my tears a testament to the tumult within. Fu Jing, navigating through my storm of emotions, revealed, “Her sister, a guardian angel in my darkest hour, entrusted Bai Qiaoqiao to my care with her dying breath.” “Then marry her, for convenience’s sake,” I retorted, my voice laced with bitterness. “But I am betrothed to you,” he replied, his sincerity piercing the veil of my anger. “You’ve wronged me,” I whispered, my grievances laid bare. “When have I ever?” he questioned, his confusion evident. “Your inquiry, a veiled accusation,” I accused, the weight of our shared history pressing down on me.

“Jiang Qian, have you nothing to confess?” Fu Jing implored, his earnestness a beacon in our tempest of misunderstandings. “Why the sudden urge to sever ties, to confront Bai Qiaoqiao in battle, do these not warrant an explanation?” Overwhelmed, my tears gave way to hiccups, a physical manifestation of my inner turmoil. Fu Jing, with a gentle chuckle, sought to unravel the knots of our discord, “For clarity to dawn, the heart of the matter must first be illuminated.” My defiance softened, replaced by a quest for understanding, “Begin with your nocturnal escapades, the knight errant at the witching hour.” Fu Jing, momentarily lost in thought, inquired, “Which night do you refer to?” My frustration peaked, seizing his phone in a quest for truth, “Denial until the end, is it? Await Bai Qiaoqiao’s response, and brace for my wrath—” “Hello, Mr. Fu, how may I assist?” The voice that greeted me was unfamiliar, a deviation from the expected. Under Fu Jing’s amused gaze, I stood frozen, the phone an anchor in the sea of my confusion. Could this be one of his subordinates?

Nursing the remnants of a hangover, my head throbbed painfully, a stark contrast to the quietude of the morning. Dark circles, like unwelcome shadows, lay beneath my eyes as I ventured to submit the latest draft of our script. The garden, bathed in the soft light of dawn, was tranquil, its sparse occupants lost in their own worlds. It was here, amidst the serenity, that Bai Qiaoqiao’s voice, carrying fragments of her conversation, reached me. She spoke of Mr. Fu’s kindness, how he respected her dislikes and celebrated her birthdays with unwavering consistency. The surrounding crowd, caught up in her narrative, couldn’t help but express their admiration. Bai Qiaoqiao’s laughter, light and knowing, acknowledged their reactions, “Yes, his heart does make room for me, but patience is a virtue, especially since his engagement still binds him.”

Confronting her later in a secluded corner of the garden, her initial surprise quickly gave way to a knowing smile. “Sister, what a surprise to see you here.” My voice, firm and devoid of warmth, cut through the pleasantries, “Were you aware of who I was right from the start?” Her demeanor shifted, the smile fading as the reality of our confrontation set in. “Was your kindness merely a strategy to disarm me?” Her silence was telling, and when she finally spoke, her apology barely masked the tension between us. “I’m sorry.” My frustration, barely contained, sought an outlet, “What’s your price? How much to walk away from him?” Her defense was immediate, yet I interrupted, desperation coloring my tone, “Two million? Four? Just name it.”

Her response was cold, her stance defiant, “I need to see Mr. Fu. You’re unaware of our history; what right do you have to judge?” The conversation was abruptly interrupted by a scream. In a clumsy entanglement, her hair caught in the zipper of my top. Before I could process the situation, she retaliated, and our scuffle drew the attention of onlookers. The aftermath saw us both in the hospital, bearing the physical marks of our encounter; her arm scratched, my face mirrored her injury, and both our hair in disarray.

After my wounds were tended to, I emerged to find Fu Jing offering solace to Bai Qiaoqiao. His tall frame, shoulders damp from the rain, suggested he had rushed over. “Mr. Fu, bound by a mere business arrangement, what claim does she hold over your personal life?” Bai Qiaoqiao, her voice breaking with emotion, pleaded, “I can’t bear the sight of her.” My appearance caught Fu Jing’s attention. Standing there, limping and disheveled, our eyes met, his usual warmth absent. “Do you have anything to say?” His question hung in the air, heavy with unspoken accusations.

My resolve, fueled by a surge of defiance, led me to accuse Bai Qiaoqiao, “Shameless! A charlatan of affection!” Caught off guard, she initially hesitated but quickly regained her composure, ready to defend her honor. The garden, once a haven of tranquility, became an arena as our conflict reignited, drawing a crowd eager to quell the chaos.

Eventually, Fu Jing’s arms offered refuge, carrying me away from the fray. “I refuse to continue! Demand a new leading lady!” His embrace tightened, a stern reminder of reality, “Jiang Qian, be still. Your wounds are freshly tended.” Yet, my spirit remained untamed, struggling against his hold, “You’re in this together.” Fu Jing’s patience waned, “I owe you an explanation.” His words, meant to soothe, only fueled my indignation.

Within the confines of the car, my turmoil found no respite. “I demand an annulment!” I declared, my resolve as tangled as my hair. Fu Jing, ever the bastion of calm, countered my fury with a simple command, “Peace.” And in that moment, peace was all I sought, my tears a testament to the tumult within.

The misunderstanding cleared, the air between us remained charged with an awkward tension. The sudden swerve of the car threw me into Fu Jing’s arms, his hand instantly finding my waist, pulling me closer. “Jiang Qian, I meant no harm. I’m just curious, who were the ‘three people’ you mentioned that day?” “I was just talking nonsense,” I replied, my voice steady, yet my heart raced with the thrill of our closeness.

As the night deepened, the dim light of the living room offered a soft glow. Fu Jing’s gaze, tender yet intense, examined the wound on my face. “Does it hurt?” “No,” I whispered, leaning into his embrace, seeking the comfort only he could provide. “Next time, don’t fight. Come to me with your troubles, and I’ll make them disappear.” His promise, whispered in the quiet of the night, was a balm to my soul.

“Then, may I ask for one more thing?” I ventured, my voice barely above a whisper. “Anything,” he assured, his presence a steady anchor in the storm of my emotions. “Can I… kiss you?” The question, bold and uncharacteristic, hung between us. “You didn’t ask last time,” he teased, a hint of amusement in his voice. “I was too rushed, too eager. This time, I want to savor the moment.” My confession, honest and raw, was met with his silent consent.

The next day, as Fu Jing prepared for his journey, I found myself reluctant to part with him. “Can’t I come with you?” His refusal, though expected, did little to quell the disappointment that settled in my heart. “The schedule is too tight, and I can’t ensure you’ll get enough rest.” His concern, always for my well-being, was a reminder of the depth of his feelings.

As he embraced me, his parting words were a gentle command, “While I’m gone, keep your eyes to yourself.” His request, simple yet profound, was a testament to the trust and love that had blossomed between us, against all odds.

“Alright,” he conceded, with a thoughtful pause adding, “And that includes women.” “Understood.”

Life had its own rhythm when I was on my own, but the sudden plunge into a whirlwind romance left me feeling oddly isolated, a sensation I hadn’t anticipated. Late into the night, I found myself hunched over my computer, laboriously working through my drafts. Unexpectedly, a notification flickered into view at the corner of the screen, claiming, “Fu Jing spotted on an overseas date with the up-and-coming Bai Qiaoqiao.” My heart skipped a beat as I delved into the article.

Under the cloak of night, a man and a woman were captured in a tender embrace, stepping into a hotel. By the next morning, undeniable shots of Fu Jing and Bai Qiaoqiao, seen leaving the hotel separately, had surfaced. The article zoomed in on a telling detail: Bai Qiaoqiao’s wrist adorned with a red-stringed old mountain sandalwood bead, a piece conspicuously missing from Fu Jing’s collection.

The rumor mill went into overdrive, speculating a shift in Fu Jing’s affections. Before I could confront him, his call preempted my doubts. “Ignore the rumors; I’m handling it,” he assured me without preamble. Drained, I let myself collapse into bed, my worries momentarily assuaged, “Alright, I’m off to sleep then.” “Jiang Qian?” he probed. “What’s up?” “You’re not upset, are you?” “No,” I replied, though a hint of melancholy lingered.

The photos, blurred and ambiguous, hardly seemed convincing, and the man’s silhouette bore little resemblance to Fu Jing. Yet, the masses, ever hungry for scandal, were quick to leap to conclusions. The narrative spun around Bai Qiaoqiao’s supposed medical visit abroad with Fu Jing added fuel to the fire.

A few days later, my personal turmoil escalated—I was late. Amidst this, Bai Qiaoqiao sent me a side profile picture of Fu Jing, just as I was grappling with the reality of two pink lines on a pregnancy test. “Tomorrow’s my birthday, and he’s baking me a cake,” she boasted, throwing in an overseas address with a challenge, “You’re invited for cake.” My frustration reached its boiling point, and on impulse, I booked a flight directly to Fu Jing’s hotel.

After traversing time zones, I stood outside the hotel in the dead of night, shivering in my coat, and made the call. “Jiang Qian,” his voice, ever calm, greeted me. “Come down, we need to talk,” I urged, my voice barely above a whisper. The line went dead.

Moments later, Fu Jing emerged, his gaze locking onto me as he approached. My eyes, damp from tears shed along the journey, met his. “Just say the word, and I would’ve been at the airport,” he breathed, his concern palpable. His hands cradled my face, his voice a soothing balm to my frayed nerves. My pent-up grievances spilled over, tears streaming anew. “Who’s wronged you this time?” I sobbed, “I never imagined you’d make such a mistake.” “What mistake?” Confused, he watched as I rummaged through my bag, eventually presenting him with the pregnancy test.

His casual glance turned into a fixed stare, his composure shattering as he processed the two red lines. Silence enveloped us, broken only by his hoarse inquiry, “Is this real?” Our subsequent debate by the riverbank was tinged with disbelief and frustration. “Was it you or me?” I demanded, my anger palpable. Fu Jing, attempting to diffuse the tension, gently grasped my fist, “Let’s not dwell on that. Do you want to keep it?” My outcry, “You dare to make it but refuse to take responsibility?” was met with silence. “Scumbag!” I accused, only for him to finally admit, “I want it.” “Well, I won’t bear it for you.”

Despite my protests, Fu Jing led me back to the hotel. Lying beside him, my mind raced with theories, “Neither of us was careless, it couldn’t have been a product defect.” He listened in silence as I pondered aloud, “It’s a reputable brand; what else could it be?” My thoughts halted as I considered another possibility—the woman could have been unfaithful. Fu Jing’s gaze sharpened, his voice soft yet probing, “Must you force me to this conclusion?” His sudden embrace silenced my speculations, “Not all precautions are foolproof. I suggest you rest now.”

As sleep beckoned, a final thought crossed my mind, “Bai Qiaoqiao mentioned you were making her a cake.” Fu Jing, weary, clarified, “Jiang Qian, I don’t bake, especially not anything with cream, which you dislike.” “How did you know?” Under my scrutinizing gaze, he revealed, “You mentioned it once during high school.” The realization dawned on me; Fu Jing, five years my senior, had been a part of my life since those days. “Wow.” “What’s the ‘wow’ for?” I teased, nestled against him, “So you’ve been harboring a crush on me for that long.” It seemed our paths had crossed much earlier than I thought, our connection rooted in a shared past and a secret I’d kept even from myself. Fu Jing, wrapping me in warmth, shared a final piece of insight, “Your alt account always liked your main account’s posts.” Confused, I prepared to sleep, his words a gentle reminder of the complexity and depth of our bond.

Over the next few days, I found myself inextricably linked to Fu Jing’s side, a shadow to his every move. Whether he was immersed in the intricacies of business negotiations or making his rounds through corporate corridors, I was a constant presence. Amidst this whirlwind of activity, a recurring declaration emerged, “My wife is pregnant.” He delivered these words with an unassuming calm, a master of subtlety, awaiting the inevitable burst of surprise and congratulations from his audience before offering a modest smile and a gracious “Thank you.”

A week into this new routine, during a late-night video conference with Fu Jing, my phone erupted into a frenzy of vibrations, a stark interruption to the monotony. Bai Qiaoqiao’s voice, laden with desperation, pierced through the receiver, “Sister, please save me!” My response was swift and unsparing, “I’m not saving you, liar,” a cold conclusion to her plea.

Fu Jing’s inquisitive gaze sought an explanation. I briefly flashed the call log on my phone towards him, but before words could follow, Bai Qiaoqiao’s number illuminated the screen once more. “Enough already,” I muttered, irritation creeping into my voice. Yet, this time, her voice trembled with unmistakable fear, “Can someone please save me—” her plea cut through by chilling sounds of distress.

With a shared look of alarm, Fu Jing and I recognized the gravity of the situation. He promptly concluded the call, enveloped me in a coat, and led me swiftly outside. “Do you know her whereabouts?” “Not in the slightest,” he replied, adjusting my hood with care, “I’ll alert the authorities.” When the police finally located Bai Qiaoqiao, she was found in a state of disarray within the confines of a lavish apartment, her gratitude towards me palpable as she clung to me, her once pristine hair now a tangled mess.

The medical examination that followed painted a harrowing picture of her ordeal, revealing not only physical wounds but also the haunting evidence of a thwarted assault. Bai Qiaoqiao, now confined to the sterile environment of a hospital bed, seemed trapped in a relentless cycle of trauma, her moments of rest punctuated by involuntary shivers.

From the police, Fu Jing pieced together the events that had unfolded. In the aftermath of our confrontation, Bai Qiaoqiao had sought him out, her years of misunderstanding dissolving into a desire for independence. Yet, her sheltered life under Fu Jing’s wing had left her ill-equipped for the ruthless world she aspired to enter, culminating in her entrapment by a deceitful contract and a sinister plot to undermine Fu Jing.

But for Bai Qiaoqiao’s quick thinking, her fate could have been sealed. On a day bathed in sunlight, as I hesitated at the threshold of her hospital room, the air was sliced by the sharp edge of an argument. Bai Qiaoqiao’s steadfast refusal to abandon her dreams clashed with the cold reality voiced by the man on the other side. Their heated exchange, a testament to Bai Qiaoqiao’s unwavering spirit, revealed the depth of manipulation she faced.

Unbeknownst to us, Bai Qiaoqiao had been indiscriminately reaching out, her messages a plea for understanding. The ensuing silence allowed us to eavesdrop on their softened tones, a mix of apologies and affectionate teasing that hinted at a complex undercurrent of emotions.

As we departed, Fu Jing’s light-hearted remark on their interaction sparked a moment of reflection. The drive home was contemplative until, seized by a sudden impulse, I sought reassurance of my own worth. Fu Jing, after a thoughtful pause, affirmed my endearing qualities with a tenderness that eased my earlier anxieties.

Bai Qiaoqiao’s subsequent withdrawal from the public eye to pursue academic aspirations marked a turning point. A week later, as Fu Jing and I embarked on our journey home, the reality of our intertwined lives began to crystallize. Our immediate detour to the hospital upon landing was fraught with anxiety, only to be dispelled by the doctor’s reassurance of my well-being and the debunking of the pregnancy scare, attributed to a faulty test.

Exiting the hospital, Fu Jing’s nonchalant handling of the secretary’s query regarding the unused baby formula, coupled with his jest about its eventual utility, prompted my hasty retreat. My friend’s inquiry into our apparent discord was met with a quip about evading debt, a light-hearted veneer over the deeper currents of our shared experience.

My cheeks burned with a mix of embarrassment and warmth as I reminisced about a night far from home, when I eagerly nestled into his bed, seeking the comfort of his warmth. “Brother, does it bother you?” I whispered. Fu Jing, with a playful grunt, drew me closer into his embrace, teasing, “Oh, look at you, deriving status from our child now.”

In the cozy confines of the blanket, I squirmed, playfully suggesting, “Let me entertain you with an earthworm dance.” His smile, though strained, didn’t wane as he replied, “Hold that thought. Once you’ve ‘delivered the goods,’ you can pay me back.” Merely days later, I found myself ambushed by Fu Jing at a mall entrance, my playful protests silenced by his determined grip as he escorted me home. The door locked behind us, he playfully challenged, “Any unsolvable math problems tonight?”

The memory of his once indifferent demeanor sparked a thrill in me, leading to an impromptu scream of excitement before being swiftly cocooned within the blankets by him. My playful defiance had, by the time of our marriage, manifested into a tangible reality within me.

Fu Jing’s smile on our wedding day was one of unbridled pride and joy, a stark contrast to my inability to partake in the celebratory toasts, leaving him to graciously drink on my behalf. Later, as we neared our home under a gentle snowfall, he suggested we walk the remaining distance. Draped in his wool coat, I rested against his back, our shadows merging under the streetlights into a whimsical shape. “Fu Jing, look at our shadows, we’re like a giant turtle,” I laughed, animating my limbs in mimicry of turtle legs, our laughter resonating in the crisp night air.

He carried me forward in silence, our shared mirth a testament to a bond that felt ageless. Nestled against his shoulder, I pondered aloud the mystery of his affection, “Why do you like me?” His response was a tender “It’s a secret,” a playful exchange that veiled deeper sentiments. “Spouses shouldn’t have secrets,” I countered, only to be met with his simple truth, “I just do, without reason.” Skeptical, I teased, “Perhaps it’s my wealth you’re after.” He played along, humorously lamenting his fate as a husband reliant on his wife’s modest earnings, a moment of levity that eased the weight of my eyelids.

As Fu Jing wrapped me in warmth, whispering a heartfelt “Happy honeymoon,” I was transported back to our youth.

Extra Story (The Green Years)

The break exercise at No. 3 Middle School was an expansive forty minutes. With the grade director absent, the school’s discipline loosened, turning the grounds into a scene of unbridled freedom. Yet, it was the basketball court at A University that drew crowds, a stark contrast to the deserted exercise fields.

On one such day, I was plucked from the throng of spectators by the math class representative, her inquiry about my missing homework met with a flustered promise of “tomorrow.” Her skepticism mirrored my desperation, leading to a bold proposition to secure an autograph from the school’s basketball star in exchange for leniency.

The plan, born of desperation to avoid parental wrath, culminated in a fateful encounter at the basketball court’s entrance. “Fu Jing, will you come?” The scene, witnessed by his roommate, became a spectacle. Fu Jing, unfazed, assessed the sudden interruption with a detached curiosity. My offer, a crumpled five yuan note for his autograph, was met with amusement and a hint of intrigue. “Are we that close?” he teased, a question that only deepened my embarrassment.

His eventual acquiescence, a simple signature exchanged for a promise, marked the beginning of an unexpected camaraderie. That evening, as familial disputes echoed from neighboring windows, I found solace in the diligent completion of my homework, shielded from the chaos by the newfound support of a once distant figure.

The words of her husband struck a nerve, propelling the woman towards the girl’s desk. With a forceful sweep, she snatched up several homework books and flung them at the man’s face. “Did you bring in a tutor for an affair, or to actually tutor her? If she was truly dedicated, would Jiang Qian’s grades be in such a sorry state?”

The girl tentatively reached out, only for a glass bottle to crash onto the desk’s edge and shatter, sending shards flying. She recoiled in fright, retreating back into her corner, enveloped in silence.

The woman, in a frenzy, ripped the homework to shreds, casting them into the air where they fluttered down like snowflakes. A few pieces, dancing in the air, landed near Fu Jing’s hand—unfinished problems on the cosine theorem among them.

He was reminded of the threat another girl had made to Jiang Qian, “If you don’t turn in your homework, I’ll tell the teacher.” True to form, the next evening, she confronted him again, cheeks flushed, offering ten yuan and a greeting card, “Could you write ‘Happy Birthday’?”

Fu Jing, without a word, acquiesced and penned the message. Throughout, she never really looked at his name or his face, her focus solely on battling her homework. Fu Jing, accustomed to boarding at school, found himself drawn home more frequently that semester.

Through the breeze-lifted curtains, he watched from the window, buried in his textbooks, while Jiang Qian labored at her desk into the night. Their proximity in the alley allowed him to see the sweat beads rolling down her nose and the hair tousled by the fan. She was putting in the effort.

Yet, Fu Jing knew her math grades were abysmally poor, likely a casualty of constant parental disputes. Failure to complete her homework meant criticism, leading to sporadic lapses in progress. In high school, falling behind even slightly made catching up a Herculean task.

That summer, he observed the young girl’s valiant efforts to catch up, always just out of reach. One day, a friend request popped up on his QQ, a 90s icon and male gender listed, with a note: “Asking you some questions, doubt you can solve them.” He almost declined, but the clumsy challenge and its tone inexplicably reminded him of someone, prompting him to accept impulsively.

Jiang Qian, seizing this lifeline through sheer audacity, began sending him homework questions intermittently. From simple, almost foolish queries, she progressed to more advanced problems, her submissions stained with sweat and tears.

From that summer on, the quiet nights of the alley were shared by two souls guarding the stillness. Jiang Qian felt as though she had found a guardian deity.

In her sophomore year of high school, as the neighbors moved away, she stood downstairs with her final math exam paper, excitedly capturing her score to share with him. “Thank you! I ranked in the top 10 this term. May I treat you to a meal?”

Fu Jing, observing from the second floor, glanced at the jubilant girl below and responded, “No need, I’m going abroad. All the best to you.” The tuft of hair atop the girl’s head, caught in the twilight, seemed inexplicably deflated.

That marked the end of their student-era interactions.

As time passed, Jiang’s family business expanded, eventually collaborating with the Fu family. At their first dinner meeting, Jiang Qian entered alongside her father, addressing him as “Mr. Fu.” Fu Jing’s gaze briefly met hers, offering a detached “Hello.”

She failed to recognize him.

Their parents, both subtly and overtly, pushed for a business marriage. She ate her meal, unresponsive.

Fu Jing saw echoes of the past in her—the girl who, amid her parents’ quarrels, ignored the world to rush her homework. She never resisted; in truth, she felt powerless to do so but remained a resilient blade of grass, thriving and finding joy within her means.

Fu Jing thought, why not offer her a sky of freedom to see how she’d flourish? Engaged for seven years, he watched over her silently, working. The grass was content.

He patiently awaited the sapling’s growth. And in the seventh year, she climbed onto his leg and asked, “Brother, shall we get married?” The temptress had fallen into the trap he had woven, ensnared forevermore.

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