Li Yundong stared at the girl in front of him. With her hair pulled into a tight bun and her slim figure wrapped in a beige waitress uniform, Deng Yu looked totally different.
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "What are you doing here?" Li Yundong shook his head slightly. Admittedly, he was having a hard time reconciling this woman with the one he'd met in front of MacDonald's.
Deng Yu, on the other hand, seemed more amused than surprised to see him here.
"Isn't it obvious why I'm here?" Deng Yu gestured at her uniform, then grinned at him. "Here's an even more interesting question. What are you doing here?"
Li Yundong shook himself out of his stupor and pointed at President Cao. "Oh. I'm here on a job for President Cao."
A look of surprise flitted across Deng Yu's features. "Y- You're working for President Cao?"
Li Yundong smiled. "Yep. I'm her security detail tonight."
Li Yundong cast a glance at President Cao. It wasn't too difficult to keep President Cao in his line of sight since she hadn't moved away from her position earlier.
Deng Yu made a sound of approval. "Ooh. Right. You know, back at the cafeteria, I've been wondering about how you and President Cao got acquainted with one another and—Oh, hi, Su Chan!"
Deng Yu gave Su Chan a wave.
"Hi..." Su Chan mumbled incoherently. She was still staring at the hall's entrance.
What on earth is she staring at?
Li Yundong followed Su Chan's gaze and saw Ding Nan and Zhou Qin stepping into the elevator.
Looks like those two have finally mended fences and—
"Well! I suppose it makes sense!" Deng Yu said, bringing Li Yundong's back to their conversation.
Li Yundong frowned in confusion. "What does?"
"Oh, I mean the fact that you're President Cao's bodyguard tonight." Deng Yu chuckled, then gestured with her hands. "I mean what with those badass moves you have..."
Li Yundong laughed, then looked around the banquet hall. He hadn't detected any threats so far. As far as he could tell, things looked pretty secure. The attendees had already returned to their conversations or whatever it was that they'd been doing before that little "demo" between him and Shi Neng earlier.
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "So. This is your other part-time job, right?" Li Yundong studied Deng Yu's expression. "The one you mentioned at the cafeteria this afternoon?"
Deng Yu's face broke into a huge grin. "Oh, yeah! We got kinda lucky when we landed this one. I mean it was a total coincidence. You see, the other day, I saw a flyer saying that Shengyuan Hotel is looking to hire part-time waitresses when I was, guess what, giving out fliers on the streets. Funny, right? Seeing a flyer while giving out fliers." Deng Yu laughed at her own joke.
Li Yundong's mind was focused on something else Deng Yu had mentioned.
"Did you say we?"
Deng Yu's eyes widened as though she'd just remembered something. "Oh, that's right! My sister's here too!" She suddenly turned and waved at someone at another corner of the hall. Li Yundong turned and saw Deng Jiao waving back at them shyly.
"We both got the job!" Deng Yu said proudly.
Li Yundong chuckled. "Congratulations, then." It must pay pretty well to work at a place as posh as Shengyuan Hotel.
Deng Yu nodded with zest. "Mm-hmm! Anyway! I gotta get back to work now. Enjoy the party. I'll catch up with you guys later!" Deng Yu gave him a wave and hurried off.
Li Yundong glanced down at Su Chan.
Princess Chipmunk was still staring at the entrance. A deep frown marred her beautiful features.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
Su Chan shook her head distractedly. "Something's wrong with her..." she mumbled.
"What? With whom?" Li Yundong followed Su Chan's gaze. Zhou Qin was nowhere to be seen.
Li Yundong gave Su Chan a curious look. "You mean Zhou Qin?"
To his surprise, Su Chan shook her head.
"No," Su Chan said. "With Ding Nan."
Inside the elevator, Ding Nan stared at the half-conscious woman leaning against her shoulder for support. A devious glint shone in Ding Nan's eyes. Second later, a derisive laugh escaped her lips.
"I can't believe you're that naive, Zhou Qin." Ding Nan shook her head in amusement. "You knew how much I hate your guts, yet you barely hesitated to take the drink I offered to you..."
Ding Nan laughed smugly. "You were overconfident, Zhou Qin. You shouldn't have come running the moment I called you." There was a brief pause. Ding Nan turned her head slightly to stare at Zhou Qin. "Do you know what I'm going to do to you later, hmm?"
"D... Ding... Nan... S- Stop this... mad...ness... or you... you'll... get... get into... trouble..." Zhou Qin slurred.
"Trouble? Hah!" The sounds of Ding Nan's laughter echoed inside the elevator car. "Oh, no, no, Zhou Qin. My actions won't lead me into trouble. It's the opposite, you see! Trust me. Everyone will praise me for what I did. Including that powerful father of yours!"
All was silent in the elevator until a loud ding announced their arrival at the intended floor. Ding Nan smirked when the doors slid open. "Looks like we're here."
The two women stumbled out of the elevator with Ding Nan half-dragging Zhou Qin's limp form. They moved slowly, stopping only when they reached the door of Room 1503. Ding Nan raised her knuckles and knocked on the door a few times.
The door opened seconds later to reveal a man sporting a dark scowl on his face.
"Took you long enough," He Shao growled.
Ding Nan rolled her eyes. "What did you expect? You think it's easy to carry her all the way here? Now quit standing around and help me move her inside."
He Shao cleared the doorway, allowing Ding Nan to step into the room. Moments later, Ding Nan dumped Zhou Qin onto the bed with He Shao lingering somewhere behind her.
Ding Nan crouched down and patted Zhou Qin's cheek a few times.
Zhou Qin's eyes opened slightly.
Ding Nan smirked. "Take a good look, Zhou Qin. This"—Ding Nan pointed at He Shao standing behind her—"is your fiancé!"
Ding Nan rose to her feet, then plopped down beside Zhou Qin on the bed.
Ding Nan crossed her legs and gave He Shao a smug look.
"There," Ding Nan said. "I brought the woman here for you. You can do as you please with her." She smirked. "Just don't forget to give me my full payment."
He Shao stood beside the bed, holding his chin with his thumb and index finger. Although he hadn't said a word, his eyes were darting back and forth between Zhou Qin and Ding Nan.
"Y- You're out of your mind, Ding Nan!" Zhou Qin's angry voice filled the room.
Ding Nan threw her head back in laughter. "Out of my mind? Oh, I don't think so, Zhou Qin." Ding Nan suddenly bent over and held Zhou Qin's chin with her thumb and index fingers. Then, Ding Nan lowered her voice into a menacing growl. "How about a taste of your own medicine, you manipulative bitch!"
"A- Aren't you afraid of the consequences?" Zhou Qin said through gritted teeth. "You actually think you can walk away freely a- after what you've done...?"
Ding Nan burst into laughter again. She took out a bundle of cash from her handbag. "See this?" Ding Nan waved the bundle in front of Zhou Qin's face. "This is the money He Shao promised me for this job. I'll get my full payment once the job is complete. Oh, and about these consequences you mentioned..." Ding Nan smirked. "I have nothing to worry about. What, you think your father will punish me for pushing you into He Shao's arms? Why would he do that when that's the very thing he wanted for you all along! If anything, he'll reward me, not punish me!"
The haze in Zhou Qin's eyes began to clear a little. "You… I never expected you to be capable of something so evil and conniving, Ding Nan!"
Ding Nan's eyes flashed in anger. "Evil?! You're calling me evil?! Have you forgotten what happened back on the rooftop? You're the one who let me die just so you could live!"
"You never cared about me!" Ding Nan shouted. "I was never your friend! You were just using me like a pawn!"
Ding Nan's hand rose to slap Zhou Qin. However, a set of fingers wrapped themselves around her wrist before her blow could connect. Ding Nan turned and saw He Shao shaking his head at her.
A devious glint formed on He Shao's face. "You're not allowed to damage her pretty face..."
Ding Nan yanked her wrist free, then stared down at Zhou Qin coldly. "Enjoy your night then, you bitch. Scream and yell all you want. Nobody will come save you... ahh… ugh..."
Ding Nan's body went limp.
When He Shao's roaring laughter permeated the room, Zhou Qin decided to drop the whole act. She sat up slowly and stared down at Ding Nan, who was now sprawled across the large bed. Ding Nan was shaking her head and blinking her eyes rapidly, no doubt trying to stay awake.
Zhou Qin rose from the mattress. Almost at the same time, she heard a gasp from Ding Nan. Zhou Qin glanced down and saw Ding Nan staring back at her. Disbelief filled Ding Nan's hazy eyes, along with a look of dejection and defeat. Zhou Qin had seen that look in Ding Nan's eyes before. The hopelessness. The helplessness…
A crushing wave of guilt coursed through Zhou Qin. Stop feeling sorry for her! She tried to betray you! said a voice inside her head. Zhou Qin shut her eyes and took a deep breath. A moment later, she opened her eyes again.
"You must be feeling rather confused, Ding Nan," Zhou Qin said coldly, "as to why I'm the one standing while you're the one lying down."
"I- It w- was all just an act...?" Ding Nan whimpered. "D- Damn y- you..."
Anger coursed through Zhou Qin. How dare Ding Nan betray her? How dare Ding Nan do this to her when Zhou Qin had tried to save both of their lives that day on the rooftop? How dare she! How dare she do this to me!
Contrary to what Ding Nan's deluded mind might believe, Zhou Qin had never intended to let Ding Nan jump off the rooftop. No. She'd never do that to Ding Nan. The truth was that Zhou Qin actually had a plan to save both of their lives that day. All she needed was for Ding Nan to play along and pretend to agree to be the one to jump off the roof. Zhou Qin would then goad Zhao Yujian into pushing Ding Nan off the roof himself. Then, when Zhao Yujian got close enough to the ledge, Zhou Qin and Ding Nan would work together and push Zhao Yujian off the roof instead.
It was a good plan. And it would've worked if Ding Nan had enough wits about her to listen to what Zhou Qin was trying so hard to tell her. Instead, Ding Nan had panicked and kept backing away when Zhou Qin tried to approach her. That idiot had no doubt assumed that Zhou Qin was approaching her in order to push her off the ledge when in fact Zhou Qin was merely trying to get close enough to whisper the details of her plan into Ding Nan's ear.
"W- What... did... did… you do to… to me..." Ding Nan's garbled voice interrupted Zhou Qin's thoughts.
"Giving you a taste of your own medicine," Zhou Qin snapped. "Literally." The drug He Shao had supplied Ding Nan for her little scheme was fake—painkillers crushed into powder form. However, Zhou Qin had played along to see how far Ding Nan would go to exact her revenge upon her and also to figure out what other tricks Ding Nan had up her sleeves.
"W- When d- did… did you..." Ding Nan mumbled.
Zhou Qin snorted. "It doesn't matter when I drugged you." Zhou Qin regarded Ding Nan coldly. "I really underestimated you, Ding Nan. Approaching He Shao for help to get rid of me?" Zhou Qin laughed humorlessly. "Has it never occurred to you that He Shao might double-cross you? That He Shao might take my side instead of yours?"
Ding Nan struggled to turn her head to look at He Shao. "Y- You... bastard..."
"Yes, that's right," Zhou Qin said. "He Shao called and warned me about your little scheme the same day you cut this deal with him. Otherwise, I'd never have imagined you to be capable of an atrocious act like this!"
To Zhou Qin's surprise, Ding Nan's eyes no longer looked hazy when they suddenly shot open. Instead, venom leaked out of those eyes as they glared daggers at He Shao. "He Shao! Why! Why did you double-cross me! You wanted Zhou Qin, so I gave her to you!"
He Shao started laughing as though he'd just been told the funniest joke in existence. Ignoring the madman, Zhou Qin started scanning her eyes along Ding Nan's body. Ding Nan should be out cold by now. Why was she still awake? Seconds later, she saw it. Ding Nan's palm was bleeding. She had dug her nails into her palm so hard that it bled and used the pain to stay awake.
Zhou Qin felt a tug in her chest. Whether she liked it or not, Zhou Qin had to admit that Ding Nan was a little bit like her—too stubborn to bend to anyone's will.
He Shao stopped laughing and begun to stroke his chin. "Oh, Ding Nan... Ding Nan... You think you know Zhou Qin well, but the truth is, I know her far better than you do. In fact..." Zhou Qin suddenly felt He Shao's gaze on her. "There's nobody on earth who knows her better than I do."
Zhou Qin felt her skin crawl.
He Shao laughed derisively. "You've also underestimated my intelligence, Ding Nan. Do you actually think I'm stupid enough to go along with your plan? There's only one thing that would happen if I force myself on her." He Shao paused as though he was about to make some kind of grand revelation. "Zhou Qin would just kill herself." He Shao chuckled. "Oh, yes, she would. She'd rather die than go through with our marriage. A woman as headstrong as Zhou Qin would never allow anyone to force her into doing something against her will... Anyway, her death won't benefit me at all." He Shao snorted. "Uncle Zhou would just blame me, and when that happens, I'm screwed. My family would rather cut me off than lose Uncle Zhou's alliance."
He Shao pulled out a chair and sat down. "You might not know this, but Zhou Qin and I grew up together at the Municipal Council's Headquarters, so I know how strong-willed she is..." He Shao sighed.
"Enough, He Shao..." Zhou Qin growled.
He Shao ignored her and kept talking. "You wanna know what happened when she was ten, Ding Nan?" He chuckled. "Uncle Zhou wanted to move into Tiannan City, but Zhou Qin refused to go. In the end, Uncle Zhou had to tie her up and stuffed her into the backseat. But guess what happened?" He Shao laughed loudly. "Uncle Zhou found Zhou Qin covered in blood when they arrived at Tiannan City. She had bitten off the rope used to tie her up. She even lost a tooth in the process—"
"Enough! Stop your babbling!" Zhou Qin snapped, then glanced at Ding Nan on the bed. "I'll leave her to you. Do whatever you want with her."
Zhou Qin stormed towards the door as He Shao's lecherous laughter sounded behind her back.
Ding Nan's screams echoed in the hotel room, stilling Zhou Qin's hand on the door handle. Zhou Qin bit down her lip. This didn't feel right. None of this felt right.
"Don't touch me! Don't touch me, you filthy animal!!!"
Images flashed inside Zhou Qin's mind. She remembered the way Li Yundong had stepped forward to defend his enemy—and his mother—from He Shao's thugs. She also remembered the way Li Yundong had risked his life to save both Ding Nan and her own life during Zhao Yujian's crusade. What drove Li Yundong to such acts? Er Lu had wronged Li Yundong several times, yet Li Yundong had gone up against a bunch of pipe-wielding thugs to save him. Ding Nan was nothing but mean towards Li Yundong at the beginning, and yet Li Yundong had risked his life to save her. How? How could so much honor be found in one human being?
What would Li Yundong think if Zhou Qin let Ding Nan be violated like this?
"Zhou Qin!!!" Ding Nan screamed again. "You f*cking bitch! Ahhhh!!!!"
There was a loud slap.
"Quiet!" He Shao yelled. "You're mine tonight! So you might as well enjoy the ride!"
Ding Nan continued to scream at the top of her lungs.
"Zhou Qin! Even if I die tonight, I'll haunt you for the rest of your f*cking live!"
Zhou Qin clenched her jaw and released her grip on the door handle. Without further ado, she turned around and stormed past the lounge area and headed straight to the en suite bedroom.
"Ahhh!!! Stop! Go away! Don't touch me!!!" Ding Nan screamed. "Don't you dare touch me, you son of a bitch!"
Zhou Qin increased her pace, then yanked open the bedroom door the moment its handle was within reach.
"Stop!!!" Zhou Qin yelled. "Let her go!"