AILYS 26 – 30

Chapter 26

Touch

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Just let me go.”

All emotions had disappeared from her tone, and his jaw felt so tight, it was in danger of snapping. She went to turn way from him.

It was sheer frustration with the whole sordid scene that made him stop her, Ximen told himself. It had nothing to do with the sudden suspicion that if he let her turn away, she would never turn back to him again.

So his hands found her shoulders and drew her against him, then, simply because he needed to do it, he lowered his head and his mouth took her mouth by storm.

At least she didn’t fight him, but neither did she respond. She just stood limp and lifeless against his body while his mouth ravaged hers without receiving any feedback at all. Not liking what was happening here, and liking even less the knowledge that she could stand there lifeless while his own body was reacting as fiercely as it always did to her and his heart was pounding away for her, he went for the kill with a pride-staking vengeance aimed at demolishing her resistance.

For he knew this woman, he consoled himself grimly. It had been two years but nothing had changed. Her body still craved his in exactly the same way. And his body would always know how to arouse her.

He began covering her face with the kind of small light teasing kisses guaranteed to drive her wild. Her cheeks, her jaw-line, her firmly closed eyes, the length of her small nose. His kisses found all the right pleasure points while carefully avoiding her pouting lips even when, with a helpless whimper, she slackened the tense little line they’d been held in with sensual expectation.

Yes, he confirmed triumphantly. He knew her so well. The way her breathing quickened, and she began to vibrate to the feather-light stroking of his fingers. As she released a gasp in startled surprise, he at last captured her mouth again. She fell into his kiss like a woman with a fever. When her fingers came up to clutch at his biceps, he stroked her hair, her body, and her beautiful breasts that simply begged for further attention.

He gave his touch knowingly, willingly—ruthlessly, arching her over his arm so far that she had no choice but to reach up and hook her hands around his neck to maintain some control over her own balance.

Within seconds she was groaning. Eyes closed, head tilted right back, as he grimly tore trough every veil of rejection she had dared to pull on against him. When the groans became hot little gasps of pleasure, he consolidated his success by gliding a hand along a silken thigh until it found the cluster of curls that shrouded her sexuality. The dress was no barrier, sliding aside to give him easy access. But the real triumph came when her thighs parted for him in all-out invitation.

“You want me, Xiao You,” he whispered huskily against her throat. He nipped sharply, wanting to mark her as his. “Me. You can’t just walk away because of things that don’t matter. What matters is us. What we have between us.” His breath was harsh in his throat, his body trembling as he held and supported her in his arms. Her eyes looked at him dazedly, trying to understand. “You think that you can walk away. But as long as we have this passion … as long as we have love … you could never live any kind of life. Don’t think it’ll be that easy to walk away from me again. Because this time you know that you’ll be walking away from my love.”

Her eyes narrowed. Her gaze cleared. She quickly pulled away, and glanced around, wondering if anyone had caught their behavior. Putting her hands up to her burning cheeks, she shook her head, as if trying to clear away the sensual cobwebs his seduction had spun.

“This doesn’t prove anything,” she whispered frantically, trying to fight the truth her body had begun to tell her. She ignored the plaintive cries instead of her. She needed to walk away for his good … for Shen Shen. She needed to walk away for her own peace of mind. She needed to play the coward one more time.

She turned and hurried into the apartment.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Xiao You’s insides were shaking, the fight to hold back her tears strangling her ability to breathe. Her hands stopped their frantic packing, and she stared around the room and the chaos she had created. What was she doing? Did she have the energy to do this again? Did she have the strength to do this alone? Did she have the right to do this to Shen Shen?

Without really knowing what she was doing, she left the room, walking outside into the living room and over to the couch. Her hands began tugging at the back zip of her dress as if it was perfectly natural to undress—when in actual fact she should be getting away from here.

The zip snagged between her shoulderblades. She struggled with it for a while, with her head lowered and her eyes concentrated on the diamond hanging from the choker he’d placed around her neck earlier that evening. The zip wouldn’t budge. It seemed kind of a justice, after the night she had just had, that the zip should get stuck at a point where had no hope of wriggling out of her dress. Her fingers instead began to tug furiously at the choker, removed it and threw it on the dressing table. At least she could remove that collar. The diamond that claimed her as his.

She wasn’t his. She’d never be his. Her lips began to tremble. And the tears began to fall. One by one and then in a flood. I should hate him! Her heart cried for the broken dreams she’d begun to dream once more. When would she learn? What a dreadful night. What a terrible, eye-opening, miserable night.

Falling back onto the couch, she tried to think. What would she do next? What could she do? She had no reason to stay here anymore. But could she run away again? Lying back, she tried to think up a plan. But her mind was exhausted from the emotional upheaval this evening had wrought. She didn’t want to think. But she could no longer ignore the whispers of her heart, awakened by his kisses. She didn’t want to run away again. She didn’t want to leave him. The thoughts circled through her mind, until finally, she slipped into sweet oblivion.

Slipping in an hour later, Ximen froze to find her sleeping in the living room. His heart clenched at the evidence of tears he saw on her face. She didn’t deserve this pain. They didn’t deserve this. He didn’t like to think that she had been alone here crying because of him. Kneeling down beside her, he took a moment to stare at her in peace. In her sleep, her face revealed the Xiao You he’d known so long ago. She was beautiful in her innocence. That old purity of spirit was still there. It was the look she’d worn when she still believed in their love.

She must have sensed his presence because her eyelashes fluttered, her soft mouth parted on another one of those sighs. Then her eyelids lifted to reveal sleep-darkened beautiful eyes—and she smiled at him. In the two years they had been together, when had she ever opened her eyes and NOT smiled at him like this? Only when he received that gift once more, did he realize how much he’d loved that smile … how much he’d missed it. And those unguarded eyes were awash with love for him. It had always been love. Why had he doubted?

A set of slender white fingers came up to touch his cheek. They moved to his eyebrows then dropped to run the length of his half-smiling mouth. For a man who had been used since birth to having his face lovingly touched like this, this was touching like no other touching he had ever experienced. At least, not for two years. It was like he’d finally come home.

Lifting his hand to capture those fingers, he made his own loving gesture by pressing a kiss to her palm. “Hi, what are you doing sleeping out here?”

It was then that she realized where she was—and, more to the point, why she was out here. The hand was withdrawn. The smiled disappeared, along with the love. That Xiao You was gone again, hidden behind the wall she’d erected between them.

Looking away from him, she slid her feet to the floor so she could sit up. Combing her fingers through her hair, she tried to regroup her defenses.

“What time is it?”

“You didn’t answer my question.” His lips tightened. What did it matter what time it was?

“What are you doing here?” Her gaze challenged him. “I thought I asked you to leave. Why can’t you …”

His fingers flew up to gently press against her lips, cutting off further words of rejection. She stared at him silently, and then pulled her head back slowly.

“The zip caught in my dress,” she replied, as if that should explain everything. Getting up, she went to move around him, but he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. Pulling away, she made for the room, intent on locking herself inside. She didn’t need a repeat of what had happened earlier that night.

Quietly he followed her, freezing when he saw the mess she had made. His glance caught the half-filled suitcases on the bed, the empty closet, and his gaze swung back to glare at her in question.

She turned away, not wanting to answer any questions tonight.

Ximen’s hands clenched inside his pockets. Suddenly it was all too much. He’d waited. He’d treated her with kid gloves. He’d wanted a new start. But maybe it had all been a mistake. He shouldn’t have waited like a gentleman. He should’ve taken what she offered that day to him so coyly. He should’ve taken her and kept her enslaved with his hold over her body. She would never have tried to run away if he hadn’t stepped back.

His gaze ran over her body. She was his, why couldn’t she see that? Fear, desperation and anger swirled within him, creating a knot in his throat. She began to clean the bed, putting clothes inside the suitcase, instead of taking them out. Her actions and her silence sealed her fate.

No more words.

In two long strides, he stopped her by the economical act of scooping her off her feet. Her protesting shriek was ignored, as were her wriggling attempts to get herself free. Without a single word from his tightly clamped lips, he turned and began carrying her out of this bedroom and down the hall to the bedroom they used to share. She wouldn’t reject sleeping in their bed tonight. She wouldn’t reject sleeping with him.

“You are such a primitive underneath the layers of breeding,” she sliced at him disgustedly.

He stopped dead and kissed her—so hot and so hard she was gasping for breath by the time he lifted his head again.

“Is that primitive enough?” he asked, not in the least bit insulted she’d called him that. In fact he liked the whole scenario, since he was feeling very primitively aroused right now.

Ximen shut the door behind them with a very satisfyingly primitive kick. The bed awaited and he could only thank the fates that Shen Shen was with San Chai tonight. There would be no interruptions when he claimed her as his own.

He dumped her on the pale blue cover, then followed with the long hard length of his body in a very primitive man-on-top-of-woman pinning down.

Her angry eyes shot bright warnings at him. Her clenched fists made a puny but determined effort to do him some damage. “Get off me,” she insisted. “You’re such a big brute. This isn’t the answer!”

“Maybe this is the only answer,” Ximen growled back. “You need to remember what we have between us. It can’t be so easily forgotten … so easily left behind. You aren’t leaving me for another two years!”

Her breasts heaved against the solid wall of his chest and her hips writhed delightfully beneath the pressure of his. She felt the rise of his passion and spat her utter contempt at him, while the mocking arch of his eyebrows asked her who was to blame.

She hit back with more than her fists. “I was smart to leave you two years ago and once I get out of this bed, you will never find me ag—.”

Ducking between the flailing fists, he stopped the words with his mouth. He kept on kissing her until her hands stopped punching and began to anxiously knead his shoulders instead. His hands quickly divested her of her dress, tearing the zip in his sudden urgency. Further efforts smoothed away the underwear and stockings. Her hands trembled, as she pulled at his clothing frantically, wanting his naked skin against hers.

Triumph sizzled through his system; the red-hot heat of desire spun through his blood. He made love to her as if there was no tomorrow and, because there was still the heat of an angry fear behind the passion, he drove her to the edge more than once before ruthlessly drawing back again.

“I hate it when you do this to me,” she sobbed in frustration.

“You would hate it more if I didn’t do it at all. You would hate it more if I let you go,” he threw back.

Her breath broke on a whimper because she knew he was right. The helpless sound did things to him no woman could ever begin to understand. He thrust into her with the force of absolute possession.

“You belong to ME. Just remember that the next time you think of running away.”

If he’d expected her to respond at all, it was not the way she did. With the slick roll of her body, he suddenly found he was the one pinned down and she the one most definitely on top. For the next few minutes he experienced what it was like to be utterly seduced by a woman hell-bent on making him embarrass himself.

It didn’t happen. While the two years of celibacy didn’t help, he was no one’s easy victim. He was Ximen. But Xiao You in this mood was irresistible. She was the true sensualist born to pleasure man. She kissed him and stroked him and rode him towards heaven. And then she gave him back a taste of his own medicine by pulling away to rise up and stand over him.

Feet planted on either side of his body, hands resting on the delicious groove of her slender waist, and her hair curling softly around her absolutely wanton face, she asked, “And who do YOU belong to, Ximen?”

‘The little minx. The beautiful, outrageous little minx!’ he thought, and with a laugh of appreciation, he jack-knifed into a sitting position, clamped his hands to her hips—and gave his mouth the pleasure of bringing her to heel again.

The battle progressed to a different level. She gasped and protested and tugged at handfuls of his hair in an effort to dislodge him, and eventually lost the ability to stand. She was groaning and trembling but still in there fighting, matching him kiss for kiss, caress for caress, intimacy for exquisite tortuous intimacy, which had them crossing a few boundaries they’d never attempted to cross before.

By the time he was back where he belonged—on top and deep inside her—he had lost the will to pull back again. Hot, bathed in sweat and no longer on this planet, they rode the fiery dragon with a focused compulsion that blocked out everything else.

He climaxed first—she was so damned determined to make him do that. But she followed half a second later, urging him on with the convulsing tug of her muscles towards the kind of prolonged orgasm that laid them both to waste for long minutes afterward.

‘Yes!’ he thought with a deep satisfaction as he lay heavy on her, fighting for her breath. To hell with everyone. To hell with those reporters. To hell with his godparents. Ximen was aware that the need to hold on to this woman rightfully overshadowed every other thing in his life.

Lying there beneath him, almost completely engulfed in his body, his scent and the glorious weight of his utter satiation, Xiao You wondered ruefully if she would ever find the energy to move again. Her bones felt like liquid and certain muscles were trembling in the aftermath of something pretty spectacular. She couldn’t find it in her heart to be angry. Anger didn’t belong between them. Yes, he had gone against her wishes, but ironically this had reminded her more than anything … it wasn’t just sex between them. He’d ripped away all illusions with his sensual aggression.

The truth shown at her with crystal clarity. She might not belong in his world out there, but where it counted, in here, they did belong together. She belonged to Ximen, and he belonged to her now. There were no barriers.

Her arms came up to wrap around his neck, not wanting him to leave her body. “Just a little longer,” she murmured softly in his ear, when he began to move away.

He froze at the words. She was beautiful. He adored her. No other woman had ever made him feel this deeply. He kissed every inch of her upturned face, wanting to hold on to the magic for a few moments longer. He knew that if Xiao You left his life, he would never find this magic again.

Only when she eventually opened her eyes to look at him in daze astonishment did he surrender and give her back what she had just given him. Himself. He gave himself. Resting fully against her body, he relaxed completely. For just a little longer. Slipping from her body, he quietly gathered her into his arms.

It really was the perfect moment to glide past everything that had gone before it and just be content to drift into sleep on the soft cloud of knowledge that neither of them was going to throw this away. Lying there, with her cheek resting in the hollow of his shoulder and her hand covering the steady beat of his heart, escape into sleep was certainly all that Xiao You wanted to do.

But Ximen didn’t agree. “Xiao You?” he whispered. Silence wasn’t enough anymore. He wasn’t willing to wait anymore. She’d given the physical commitment … he wanted the words.

“Xiao You?”

……………………

“Xiao You?”

She sighed quietly and burrowed closer to his warmth. She remained silent so long that he thought she had fallen asleep.

“Xiao You?” he whispered one final time. Hopelessly.

……………………

“I’ll fight for us.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 27

Trust

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Xiao You stirred softly in the bed, her body stretching and slowly coming awake. Her long-unused muscles protested the motions, revealing to the sleepy woman how sore her body was. Why?

Her eyes widened, her mouth frozen open in a yawn.

Last night.

Ximen.

In her bed.

In her arms.

In her heart.

Turning, her gaze landed on the man beside her. He was still asleep, his lips twisted in a smile of utter bliss. It made her want to smile in return.

The sheets rode low on his hips, leaving almost nothing to the imagination. She blushed and looked away. Her hands itched to touch some more. She wanted to revel in him once more, but she had become shy in the light of day.

How could she have done those things last night? Taunting him? Flaunting herself? Letting him touch her … own her body and letting him know that she owned him, as well?

Unable to resist, her fingers combed gently through his hair and froze when he shifted on the bed.

She relaxed when he dropped off to sleep once more.

Her fingers traced that smile. He looked so innocent in sleep. Leaning down, she stole a kiss and began to pull away.

It was time to get up. Trying to wrap the sheet around herself, she contemplated on how she would get to the bathroom without giving him a peek if he should happen to awaken.

“You’re going to just leave me like this?” His voice was sleepy, as his hands came up to span her waist. Getting up, he gently but inescapably pulled her back to lean against his chest. “I think I just caught the tail end of that kiss. I want a real morning kiss,” he murmured, turning her to face him.

Xiao You gripped at her sheet, and stared at him, wide-eyed.

Leaning down, he kissed her trembling lips once more, his tongue slipping in and piercing through all the barriers the light of day had erected between them once more. The kiss lasted for a few heartbeats, but Xiao You was enraptured once more.

This was the Ximen of last night.

The possessor.

The conqueror.

There was nothing he wouldn’t do to have her in his life.

She needed to be worthy of him. She’d promised to fight beside him not against him.

And once the loving started, she’d remembered quickly enough that it was always magical between them. Thinking back to when she’d offered herself to him that first time, she wondered at her naiveté. If he’d taken her then, she would’ve been his from that moment on. His refusal had been a mistake.

Her lips responded eagerly, inviting him in and dueling with him in the most elemental of battles. Both were breathing hard when they pulled apart to stare into each other’s eyes.

“I should get up,” she murmured, tucking a strand of his hair behind an ear.

“Why? Why can’t we lay here and enjoy the sunrise together? Why can’t we engage in some more pleasurable activity?” he murmured sensually into her ear, nipping at the delicate shell.

She shivered, and pushed him away, only to moan in delight when his lips began to feather kisses across one silky smooth shoulder.

“Shen … Shen Shen expects to see me in the other room when she wakes up.” Her breath hitched as he pushed the sheet aside to suckle an aching peak. “She’d be really scared if she couldn’t find me.” Her voice was distracted as sensations began to arise once more.

His fingers combed through her hair, and his lips caught hers in a hot, searing kiss one more time before reluctantly pulling away. Getting up off the bed, he stood before her, unabashed, in all of his naked glory.

Her gaze roamed over the body placed so conveniently before her eyes, eating up the sight she’d been deprived of for so long. Her fingers began to twitch, wanting to touch him once more.

“Ximen,” she entreated, a hand reaching out unintentionally.

Bending down, he pulled her up into his arms. She squealed, her hands losing their grip on the sheet concealing her from his eyes.

“Then let’s go to that room,” he said, before tucking her close into his arms.

“You don’t have to…,” she began uncertainly. “I can go al—.”

“Xiao You,” he interrupted, “Now that you’ve let me back into your life … I’ll be wherever you are. Even if it is the depths of hell, you’ll find me next to you.”

Her eyes sparkled with emotion and a tear overflowed one beautiful eye.

Leaning down, his tongue erased any hint of melancholy.

“No more tears,” he whispered assuringly. “It’s just you, me and Shen Shen against the world. Remember, no one can take away our happiness unless we let them.”

A hand came up to grab at a lock of his hair, needing comfort. An arm twined itself around his neck. Her head came to rest against his shoulder, but not before her lips placed a kiss above his heart. And finally … she allowed herself to relax.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“I’ll see you in the evening,” he murmured, planting a swift kiss on her upturned lips. “We’ll talk about what happened last night with my godparents.”

Xiao You’s happiness dimmed at being reminded of that rejection.

“Apparently rumors had begun to circulate about your desertion two years ago. And my godmother reacted out of loyalty to me,” he quickly explained, wanting to bring back the sparkle. “She wasn’t rejecting you per se.”

“There was a reporter …,” Xiao You began hesitantly.

“I’ll take care of it.”

Xiao You nodded, her confidence restored. ‘If auntie hadn’t rejected her, why did she so easily accept his godmother’s rejection?’ she wondered silently. Xiao You would have to fight if she didn’t want to end up losing Ximen.

“Daddy going?” Shen Shen asked with a pout. Her tiny little figure blocked Ximen’s way as he made his way toward the door.

He crouched down.

“Daddy has to go to work,” he gently explained, tugging at Shen Shen’s ponytail affectionately.

“No!” Shen Shen shouted, “Daddy no go!”

“Shen Shen …” Ximen looked at Xiao You helplessly. Shen Shen had been so excited to see her father in their home this morning that neither had thought about how she would react to this first leave taking after his unprecedented early appearance. Ximen usually stayed for hours, not the one hour they had before he had to leave. She was adamant that Ximen wouldn’t leave too soon.

“Daddy … daddy will bring you a present,” he bribed unashamedly.

“Okay!” her worries forgotten, Shen Shen raced to her toy corner, and began to babble to her dolls about the new friend that would be coming today.

“Ximen,” Xiao You began in a warning tone.

“Well, you have to admit it is unfair to spring this on Shen Shen,” he passionately argued. “She was surprised to see me here this morning. Who knows how traumatized she might be; what with seeing me N-A-K-E-D with her mother?” he muttered frantically, spelling out the pertinent word. “I don’t have the time to explain, but I can distract her until I do have the time.”

Xiao You began to laugh. “Just go! I’ll try to suss out if we’ve traumatized our child beyond redemption.”

Ximen nodded gratefully, and left after stealing one last kiss.

Xiao You smiled, and got up to clean the dishes from the table. She’d easily fallen back into the old routine, but it meant so much more now. They were a family. And there were no lies between them.

Turning she caught Shen Shen pouting.

“What?” Xiao You asked smilingly.

“Daddy didn’t kiss me!” Shen Shen said, pointing at herself. “Mommy stole all his kisses.”

“He gave me one especially for you,” Xiao You explained quickly. Shen Shen nodded in acceptance and eagerly came running over for her kiss.

As she gave Shen Shen a quick peck on the cheek, the doorbell rang.

“Daddy back?” Shen Shen asked excitedly, her eyes rounding with delight.

“Probably not,” Xiao You cautioned, heading for the door. “Daddy just left. It’s … it’s auntie San Chai!”

“Xiao You!” San Chai cried out in her piercing tone, running in to grab the slight frame in an enthusiastic bear hug. Xiao You winced at the shriek and then began to laugh as San Chai nearly strangled her in her exuberance.

“What are you doing here?”

“We’re back from our honeymoon. Ah Si and the kids needed to rest. I wore him out during the honeymoon … it had been four years and we slept those two weeks apart before the wedding to make our wedding night special. Let me tell you, bad idea,” she quickly confided. “But I needed to see you! And then I saw Ximen leaving with his trademark smirk and I didn’t know what to think.”

Xiao You pulled out a leaf from San Chai’s hair. She looked questioningly at San Chai.

“Yeah, that … I really don’t know why I jumped behind the shrubs. But it happened so quickly that I felt like a total spy,” San Chai explained, brushing the issue aside. “Now tell me what’s going on. Apparently he stayed the night … you two are back together?”

A huge smile flowered on Xiao You’s face. It was that same sunny smile she used to see on Xiao You’s face before everything had gone so terribly wrong between the two. It was all the answer San Chai needed, even if she did want to hear the words.

“Last night, he took me out in his ‘society’. It was horrible. They were horrible!”

“Those parties always are. The men stare at you lasciviously, wanting your body. And the women are all catty bitches, going on about how much better suited they are to your guy than you. I felt two inches small after my first party, too. It was hard, trying to get back together with Ah Si after the Yesha incident, and to be always compared to Yesha and be found lacking turned me into a mess for a while. And then I remembered that I was the weed and if they tried to stomp on me, I’d make them regret it.”

“How?”

“By sticking Ah Si and F3 on them. They spent those first few days handing out a lot of metaphorical red cards. And those people learned their lesson. You want Ah Si to help you?”

“No, I think Ximen can handle it,” Xiao You said with a laugh. “I just have to believe in him.”

“He will,” San Chai said softly, “Even I can see he loves you too much to let anyone hurt you without retribution. So, you’re really happy?”

“I’m ready to move on with Ximen. And … I’ve never felt freer. I’ve been busy fighting myself and him since we came back. So busy that I forgot to ask myself whether separation was what I really wanted or needed. It was exhausting. But now, the burden’s been lifted. And I know that we can make this work.”

San Chai pulled Xiao You down to take a seat beside her on the sofa.

“I’m so happy for you,” she said softly, cupping her cheek. “I’ve been so worried about you since … since we left. It’s been killing me to see you become just a shadow of the Xiao You you used to be. You were a fighter like me, stubborn, confident, but it all just disappeared. There were so many times that I wanted to suggest returning. I was even willing to forgive Ximen for the mistakes he’d made with you, if he could appreciate you now, but you weren’t ready. You were so fragile that I … instead I spent the last two years hiding any kind of news about Ximen and his family from you. And that meant hiding the newspaper every single day or turning off the television every few hours. I didn’t know whether any hint of him could end up breaking you. I was so afraid.”

“And for that, I have to thank you,” Xiao You said sincerely, her hands holding tight to San Chai’s hands. “You were the support that I needed. You were the one that I constantly leaned on … and I have to thank you for never breaking … for never giving up on me. And for knowing when it was time for me to come home. I don’t regret it. I don’t. I know that I can be happy now in a way that I could never be without him. An unfortunate truth, but it’s the truth nonetheless. It’s frightening to fall so deep so fast again, but I won’t back away. I’ve made the choice to take the leap.”

“Well, whatever it was that made you ready to listen and move on, I’m all for it … Uh, what was it, exactly?”

“None of your business!” A rosy blush appeared on her cheeks.

“Sex?”

……………………

“It was, wasn’t it? I thought so. Ximen is pretty sexy and has his needs. You couldn’t resist him for long if he decided not to wait any longer.”

“Keep your eyes off my sexy man!” Xiao You growled playfully. “You have one of your own.”

“I do,” San Chai nodded agreeably. “However, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate male beauty in all its forms.”

The oven bell dinged, breaking the playful mood for a moment.

“Oh! They’re done.”

“What are you talking about?” San Chai murmured questioningly. Her general lack of cooking skills explained why she hadn’t recognized that the noise had been coming from the oven.

“I’m baking.”

“Baking? What?” There was a certain hesitance in her tone. San Chai stared at Xiao You in shock, trying to comprehend.

“Cupcakes.”

“Cupcakes?”

“Shen Shen insisted,” Xiao You explained, putting on her oven mitts. She smiled when her gaze landed on the perfect cupcakes inside.

SC quietly nodded, and then turned away for a moment. Turning back, she smiled once more at Xiao You. “I’m so happy for you XY.”

“Me too.”

“Get this, the first thing Ah Si did when we first came back was to make out new wills in case he should suddenly die.”

“What do you mean?” Xiao You asked distractedly. She hurriedly pulled out the trays and began to prepare the icing.

“Ah Si already named Wei Yi in his will as his successor in the business, but I get the bulk of his estate if I should outlive him,” San Chai said, sitting down on a stool at the counter.

When Xiao You turned to her in surprise, San Chai nodded in understanding.

“Apparently, with these rich people, there are always issues like this if something happens. He doesn’t want us left out in the cold. So, he’s taking care of the insurance and inheritance issues in one fell swoop. It’s a precaution. We took Wei Yi to get his blood drawn to get a DNA match. He was crying so much! And Xiao Mei started crying in sympathy. It was total chaos. Xiao Mei’s already in the will, but Ah Si also wanted to make me Xiao Mei’s guardian if anything you know …,” San Chai said, rolling her eyes. “And the blood tests and marriage license just solidify my claim on everything of his.” San Chai wiggled her eyebrows suggestively, hinting at nefarious thoughts.

“Ximen and I aren’t married,” Xiao You commented doubtfully.

“I’m sure you will be soon. That is, if you want to marry him.”

……………………

“Eventually … yes. With just a little more time, I believe we’ll live happily ever after.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because I trust him to never hurt me again.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Are you sure there was no mistake?”

A muscle twitched in one cheek.

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“These results have been confirmed?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’re sure?”

There was a desperate quality in the words. As if the speaker was trying to grab onto any hope, no matter how miniscule.

“Sir … I don’t know how to say this in a way that would make the truth more palatable. With 99.99% accuracy, the DNA results state that …”

The figure standing in front of the desk swallowed against the constriction in his throat.

“Ximen Shen Shen is not your daughter.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 28

Blind Accusation

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“While you are named as the father on Miss Shen Shen’s birth certificate, Miss Shen Shen was born a full five months after Yang Xiao You would’ve had your child according to the information you gave our agency.”

“And you’re sure that no mistakes have been made?” Ximen asked once more, his tone desperate. His hands gripped the glass between his hands.

There was a small sigh.

“Mr. Ximen, I understand your predicament. But based on the information you’ve given us and the DNA results, this information is absolutely correct. Ximen Shen Shen is not your daughter. In fact, she couldn’t be your daughter unless a miracle occurred and it was possible for her to be born five months after the initial delivery date. I’m afraid it’s just not possible. We’ve continued to investigate, but…”

“There’s no need,” came the brusque order.

“But wouldn’t you like to know more about the situation?” The voice was hesitant.

……………………

“Mr. Ximen?”

“Leave me.”

His gaze focused on the scene outside his office window. The view did little to distract him from the earth shattering news he’d just received. The man’s departure made no impact. He felt numb. Completely … numb.

There was a coldness growing inside of him and spreading outward. It was reaching into his heart … the heart that had been so recently warmed by hope.

He shivered for a second before regaining control. His mind grappled with the facts, trying to cut through the layers of fog that had begun to cloud his brain. His fingers tightened once more; the glass his only anchor.

Putting the brandy to his lips, he finished it in one swallow. Getting up, his lips tightened, and in an explosion of movement he threw the glass against the wall. His face was expressionless as he watched the shards fly.

……………………

She’d made a fool of him.

……………………

Again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“So, how are the cupcakes?” Xiao You asked eagerly. Her gaze was trained on San Chai, her eyes questioning.

San Chai took a bite and then made a face.

“Not good?”

“Perfect,” San Chai answered with a chuckle and quickly finished the rest. “I didn’t expect to come home to the news that you and Ximen were back together,” San Chai finally said. “All kidding aside, although I am happy that you guys are trying again, what really made you change your mind? Besides the sex, that is.”

“San Chai, the sex was never the issue in our relationship,” Xiao You protested with a blush. “Ximen and I have always had great chemistry, but it’s the relationship outside the bedroom that’s always been troubling. And all the outside forces that affected it on a daily basis didn’t help either.”

“I can see that Ximen might have a problem with commitment,” San Chai commented, trying to understand. “You’ve seen his dad. You know what they say, ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’. There were so many times I just wanted to kill him! It killed me to pretend like I knew nothing. But I hoped that you could straighten him out.”

“That wasn’t our problem,” Xiao You quickly interjected. “Ximen was ready to commit the first time I came back to Taiwan but his father got in the way. He basically kicked me out of his son’s life. I wasn’t good enough. And then he brought me back into Ximen’s life.”

“You didn’t tell me any of this.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It was my problem … my shame,” Xiao You said.

“Xiao You, we would’ve helped. Ximen would’ve fought for you.”

“San Chai, if it had been just about me, I would’ve fought with my last breath. But my parents’ lives were at stake. I couldn’t let me dad’s life be uprooted and destroyed once more. I couldn’t have him lose faith in life once more. And no matter how strong Ximen was, his father was stronger.”

“I guess in a way … Ximen’s father did eventually reunite you two. At least that’s something to be thankful for.”

Xiao You’s lips opened on a quick denial and then she paused. Could that be possible? Could she possibly be thankful to that man for anything?

“His father poisoned our relationship and made it impossible for us to trust each other,” Xiao You began slowly. San Chai’s hand quickly came out to cover Xiao You’s. “But I guess … without him … I would never have returned to Ximen that second time. I felt that he’d moved on … or even if he hadn’t moved on emotionally … I could never forgive him for being with so many other women. But his father did force me back into Ximen’s life, and for that I guess I’m grateful now.” Xiao You quickly explained about the threats, the manipulations and the distrust they had created in her relationship with Ximen.

San Chai’s eyes narrowed in fury. “What can I say about misguided parental cruelty? You know what Dao Ming Si’s mother did to us and Yesha in her quest to tie her family to royalty. But I can’t understand that pighead! Why didn’t he talk to you? Why didn’t he ask? He had you for two years. That’s a long time to hold a grudge.”

“He confessed that he would rather be with me knowing that I was in it for the money than not have me at all,” Xiao You said with a small smile. While she hadn’t given Ximen credit for that admission, she had to admit that had been a big concession for a man like Ximen. Ximen’s ego … his pride was astronomical. But he’d set that aside, he’d let the truth lacerate that pride so he could be with the woman he … loved. It had to be love … even if he had blinded himself to that truth for two years. “I couldn’t forget the past. No matter how hard I tried. But when Ximen tore through all of my protective barriers, I realized that there had been goodness in those two years as well. I’d loved this man. He could be sweet. He could be faithful. He could forget his pride. And he was only human … like me … so I shouldn’t have expected him to be omnipotent. He approached our relationship with the information he had, and I guess the only thing he was guilty of was handling it badly. I don’t want to lose him San Chai, and now, I feel that I can truly move on.”

“I’m so happy for you,” San Chai said, clearing her throat. She could see traces of the old hopeful and brave Xiao You. There was fighting strength in her once more. Xiao You had decided to fight for a relationship she’d unconsciously pined for in the two years they’d been gone. It made San Chai happy that she could finally admit her need.

There was a knock on the door.

“Let me get that,” San Chai said, getting up. “Why don’t you give Shen Shen a cupcake?”

The door banged open, slamming against the wall.

“Hey!” San Chai shouted. “Be careful! You can’t just go around breaking doors.”

“Sorry!” Ah Si said with a laugh, pulling her in for a kiss. “The kids got a little too excited.”

“What are you doing here? I thought you were all too sleepy,” San Chai asked with a laugh, submitting to the kiss before bending down to hug the munchkins.

“Sorry to interrupt the girl talk, but the kids wouldn’t sleep without their mommy and I couldn’t sleep without my wife. And since they were getting progressively more irritable and irritating, I thought I’d bring them over here to nap and you can stay with them until they sleep and then go back to talking to Xiao You. Is that okay with you?” he asked as Xiao You walked into the hallway.

“That’s fine. Take the second bedroom on the right,” she said with a laugh.

“Go take your nap,” she instructed the kids smilingly. “I’ll talk to you once you put your family to sleep,” she told San Chai.

San Chai gave her a quick hug and dragged Ah Si, along with Wei Yi and Xiao Mei, toward the bedroom.

“I wanna go too,” Shen Shen said with a pout.

“Shen Shen they’re going to sleep,” Xiao You pointed out. “You just woke up from sleep.”

“I want to sleep with Wei Yi Gege and Xiao Mei Jie,” Shen Shen repeated.

“It’s okay,” San Chai interjected. “Come on, Shen Shen. Time for a nap.”

Xiao You watched them go with a smile. Everything was finally good.

She was home.

She was with Ximen.

And they were a family now.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

It had been half an hour since San Chai had gone in with the kids and Ah Si. She heard a soft giggle from the bedroom, and for a moment Xiao You wondered if Ah Si and San Chai were taking a moment to relive the memories of their honeymoon.

Xiao You shook her head. Those two …

The door burst open behind her. The noise was explosive in the near-silent living room.

“Ximen? Is everything okay?” Xiao You stared at the man standing before her. His eyes were filled with fury … his expression dark. There was clear loathing on his face. For her?

“Ximen, what’s wrong? What happened?” she asked, clearly worried, hurrying over. Her hands reached out to touch his arm.

His hand slapped hers away. She winced at the pain and pulled back, her lips beginning to tremble.

“Ximen?”

He turned away and walked into the living room, throwing down a pile of papers on the coffee table.

“Did you think I wouldn’t find out?” he asked softly. She could hear the effort he was putting into controlling his voice.

“Find out?”

“Did you think I wouldn’t discover the truth?”

“The truth?”

“You thought that you could come back here and foist your bastard on me and I wouldn’t do a DNA test to see if we really were father and daughter?”

“I don’t understand,” Xiao You began hesitantly. “DNA test. For who?”

“Shen Shen!”

“What about Shen Shen? Oh, to leave her an inheritance, San Chai was just …”

“Inheritance? Is that why you did it? Did you think that you could get more money out of the Ximens by giving them a fake heir?”

“Ximen, I don’t understand.”

“Our blood didn’t match! Shen Shen and I aren’t related. Did you even think of that! Shen Shen was born five months after you would’ve had our child! I’m not her father! You slept with someone else!” He shouted the words, his anger growing as he made each statement. He’d been forced to face that reality, and he loathed her for it. His hands gripped her shoulders tightly, wanting her to see the depths of his anger at her betrayal. This time there would be no forgiveness. No explanations.

“Ximen, of course Shen Shen is your daughter. I don’t know what you’re saying.”

“Come on now, Xiao You,” he said, pushing her away in disgust. “Were there so many guys you fucked that you can’t remember the father of your own child? I’m not paying for your mistake. She’s not mine.”

“Of course she’s … yours,” Xiao You murmured, backing up. Her knees hit the coffee table, and she turned around to look at the papers. Her brow wrinkled in confusion. Shen Shen’s birth certificate had the wrong birthday. Why would it have the wrong birthday? Shen Shen was born five months before. Why? Her gaze landed on the DNA exam results. Ximen wasn’t the father … he wasn’t the father.

Her hands reached up to her forehead, trying to massage away the pain racing through her head. Shen Shen had to be Ximen’s daughter. She was … his daughter. She had to be. He was wrong.

“She’s not my daughter.”

~*~*~*~

“San Chai,” Xiao You ground out, her face red from the exertion. “I don’t think I can do this. She doesn’t want to come out.”

“Xiao You,” San Chai shouted into Xiao You’s ear, “Don’t give up!”

“Xiao You, you have to do this,” she murmured desperately, gripping the limp hand tightly.

“You can’t leave your baby. Shen Shen, think of her. You can’t leave me alone here. Xiao You, please,” she murmured, her shoulders drooping.

“Push, Ms. Yang, push,” the doctor began excitedly. San Chai felt her hand being squeezed in return, as if to tell her not to worry.

And the miracle, the one San Chai had so desperately been praying for, occurred.

It took only a few more minutes.

“Wwaaaaahhhhhhh!” a child’s scream rang through the room.

“Congratulations, Ms. Yang, you have baby daughter,” the nurse said, placing the child in Xiao You’s arms.

~*~*~*~

Xiao You moaned in pain. Memories were flooding in. She remembered that day. She remembered Shen Shen being born.

“There’s been a mistake,” she murmured desperately. “You’re wrong. You’re labwork is wrong. Shen Shen is your daughter. Maybe someone paid them to lie.”

“Three different labs couldn’t have gotten it wrong. This birth certificate is the real thing. Shen Shen was born five months after our baby would’ve been due. What did you do, Xiao You? Did you hate me that much? Did you abort our child? Did you throw him away just like you threw me out of your life?”

“No! No. No. Stop it.” The words were almost silent. The anguish was deafening. But the memories were coming back. New ones beginning to overlay the old memories.

~*~*~*~

“San Chai,” Xiao You ground out, her face red from the exertion. “I don’t think I can do this. He doesn’t want to come out.”

“Xiao You,” San Chai shouted into Xiao You’s ear, “Don’t give up!”

“Xiao You, you have to do this,” she murmured desperately, gripping the limp hand tightly.

“You can’t leave your baby. Think of him and only him. Remember how excited you were when you found out that you were having a baby boy. You want to hold him in your arms, don’t you? Xiao You, please, he needs you to work a little harder,” San Chai murmured, her shoulders drooping.

“Stay awake, Ms. Yang. Don’t fall asleep. You have to push,” the doctor instructed. San Chai could feel Xiao You slipping away. Her hands tightened on Xiao You’s, as if she could keep Xiao You conscious by the strength of her will alone.

Xiao You awakened gradually. She blinked. There had been something … something she’d been doing … something important. She’d forgotten something important. What?

Her baby! Her baby son. Her hands settled on her stomach. Her baby was gone. Her baby.

‘Where’s my baby? Where’s my Xiao Tian? Is he okay? How many fingers and toes does he have San Chai?’ She tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come.

And the fog lifted a little. Enough for her to understand the nurse’s words.

“If only she’d taken better care of her health. I don’t understand these women. Don’t they understand that prenatal care is important? The baby could’ve been saved if we’d caught this problem earlier. But she didn’t care. And look at her. She looks like she hasn’t taken care of herself either. She owed it to her child to take care of herself.”

“Shh, don’t say that in front of the patient.”

“What? She’s out of it from the C-section. She doesn’t even know that her son is dead. Maybe next time, she’ll take care better care of herself. That way an innocent babe won’t lose its life because of her.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Yang, we couldn’t save your baby.”

“Xiao You? Xiao You?”

She could hear San Chai’s voice. She wanted to talk, but San Chai was too far away. She didn’t understand. What were they saying? San Chai was too far away. She didn’t have the energy to shout! She wanted San Chai to come closer. To come closer with her baby. But San Chai was too far away.

‘San Chai?’

‘Where’s my baby?’

Why wouldn’t her lips work?

Why couldn’t she move?

‘Where’s my baby? My baby?’

‘San Chai?’

~*~*~*~

“Xiao You! Xiao You! What did you do?” San Chai’s was loud, breaking the silence that had fallen between the two. Ximen’s eyes remained trained on Xiao You’s trembling, silent form.

“Ximen! What did you do to her?”

Ximen turned his bleak gaze toward her.

“Shen Shen isn’t my daughter, and she didn’t tell me. She tried to foist her bastard child on me, thinking that I wouldn’t know the difference. She’s the whor—.”

His head snapped back from San Chai’s punch.

“You bastard! I asked you … I asked you if she’d told you about your son!”

“She lied to me,” Ximen repeated. “She betrayed me. Shen Shen’s not my daughter.”

“No. No. No,” Xiao You began to keen in agony. “No! No! No!”

Ah Si came running out of the bedroom, his worried gaze landing on Xiao You’s crumbled figure. His eyes landed on San Chai, readying herself to launch herself at a dazed Ximen. Running over, he grabbed her flailing figure.

“Let me go, Ah Si. I’m going to kill your friend today.”

“Not until you tell me what’s going on.”

“Shen Shen’s not my daughter,” Ximen said grimly.

“No. No. No,” Xiao You murmured, her hands going over her ears.

“Stop saying that. Stop it!” San Chai shouted, struggling to get free of Ah Si’s grasp.

“Why? It’s the truth. Shen Shen isn’t mine.”

Xiao You looked up, and all three froze. Her eyes were eerily blank. There was no emotion. No thoughts in those eyes. She’d shut off. Getting up, she moved around them, staying out of their reach.

“Xiao You,” San Chai murmured, reaching out a hand.

Xiao You flinched away.

“No. No,” she murmured, backing away. Before anyone could realize her intent, she ran out the door without a backward glance.

“Xiao You!” San Chai shouted, breaking free, trying to give chase.

Ximen blocked her path.

“You helped her. You lied to me. If you weren’t Ah Si’s wife, I’d …”

“You’d what?” Dao Ming Si asked, stepping forward.

There was a moment of frozen silence. A haze of fury was flowing through all three, leaving no room for rational thought.

The oven buzzer sounded once more.

“What’s that?” Ximen asked irritably, glancing toward the kitchen.

San Chai slid to the floor, sobbing. It was as if all the energy had left her body.

“That’s the oven bell. Xiao You was baking. It’s the first time she’s baked since … she lost your baby and almost died herself … you stupid man.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chapter 29

Willful Deception

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Lost my baby?” Ximen asked in a pain-wracked voice. “Lost it? Are you sure she didn’t just get rid of the inconvenience? After all, it was so easy for her to walk away from me. How much harder would it have been to abort the child of a man she hates? I guess she wanted her freedom too much to worry about a little thing like murder,” he spat out. The anger blazed in his eyes once more.

At that moment he hated the woman who had so utterly betrayed him. He hated Xiao You.

San Chai lunged at him once more, the tears quickly replaced by outraged fury.

“San Chai, stop!” Dao Ming Si yelled, pulling her back. “Now isn’t the time to mindlessly attack. We’ve already seen where that can lead. Xiao You is out there, alone, in pain. And you’re wasting your time trying to attack him. You both need to sit down and talk. And I want you both to promise me that you won’t fight. If you two can stop being boneheads, I can get out there and mobilize people to start looking for her.”

There was total silence, as San Chai continued to struggle. Her only aim was to get at Ximen and hurt him for the pain he had inflicted on Xiao You.

“San Chai!” Ah Si shouted, shaking her roughly. His fingers held her hard enough to leave bruises. “There isn’t any time for this! You’re Xiao You’s friend and you know she’s hurting. But Ximen’s your friend, too. Granted he did something stupid, but look at him. Look at him without the anger clouding your eyes.”

Her struggles ceased when she realized that Ah Si wouldn’t let her go. She rested against him, seeking his warmth. The deep breaths she took allowed her to let the anger trickle away. That destructive emotion wouldn’t help Xiao You … it wouldn’t bring her back.

Looking at Ximen, she stiffened at what she saw. There was no malice in his eyes. There was no triumph at hurting Xiao You for her supposed betrayal.

She could finally see.

He was completely broken.

“He’s hurting, too,” Ah Si said softly. He placed a tender kiss against her temple. His touch soothed her like no others. “He’s hurting really badly. He needs to know the truth before the misunderstandings tear him apart.”

“But Xiao You …,” she began uncertainly. “She could be anywhere. I don’t have time to waste.”

“I’ll find her. Trust me. He needs to know, San Chai,” Ah Si said softly.

San Chai reluctantly nodded and pulled away.

“Sit down Ximen,” Ah Si ordered the grim male. “I want you to listen to what San Chai says and hold your tongue.”

“I don’t have to listen to anymore lies,” Ximen replied, beginning to turn away. He was still intractable in his beliefs.

Ah Si roughly pulled him back and pushed him down on the couch.

Ximen’s expression darkened, and he seemed ready to do violence against the man he had called his friend for so long.

“How many times are you going to jump to conclusions?!” Ah Si shouted angrily. “How many times will you try and convict Xiao You without hearing her side of the story? How many times will you hurt her before she says enough is enough and stops loving you? How many times before she decides to forget whatever it is that you both have? Stop testing her. You won’t like the consequences.” His tone was grim. His expression serious. He meant every word he said. He’d already heard most of what had happened, and he knew that Ximen had definitely been in the wrong.

“Remember your desolation in the past two years!! Remember your desperation to find her … the loneliness … that gnawing hunger you had to live with 24 hours a day. Remember all of it and think about whether you can live with that for the rest of your life. Because if you walk out that door, you’ll lose her forever.”

Ximen stayed quiet, mulling over what Ah Si had said.

“Now, listen to my wife and I’ll go out and find the woman you love. Don’t doubt her. You’ve already made that mistake twice, and you were wrong both times,” he grimly reminded the other man. “Remember that Xiao You’s never betrayed you!”

Stepping back, Ah Si stared at the two opponents. San Chai slowly sat down. She nodded at him.

“Ximen?”

Ximen finally nodded his agreement as well.

“I’ll be back. Hopefully with some good news,” Ah Si said, already moving toward the door.

………………………

He dialed a number on the phone and heard it begin to ring.

There was a click on the other end as the line was picked up.

“We have a problem. I need your help.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

San Chai cleared her throat and looked at Ximen. They’d sat in near silence for half an hour. When he’d walked in the door and started throwing those accusations at Xiao You she’d wanted to tear his eyes out.

How could he be so insensitive? So suspicious?

But now…she saw the lines around his mouth. She saw the unhappiness on his face. She saw the heartbreak in his eyes. He really was hurting. Ah Si was right. She’d let her best friend’s pain blind her to Ximen’s grief.

And it was all her fault. She shouldn’t have assumed anything. She should’ve clarified with Ximen what Xiao You had told him and supplemented any gaps in his knowledge.

Her shoulders slumped. She leaned back and closed her eyes, rubbing at her forehead.

The doctor had warned her that Xiao You might never be able to face reality, but had also said that there was a small chance that seeing Ximen again might push her into facing the truth. San Chai had hoped for the latter, but it was now apparent that Ximen had known next to nothing.

His shock was understandable. His anger had had tragic results … but even that was understandable in the face of his feelings of betrayal.

……………………

But why couldn’t the pighead have approached this more calmly?

She steeled her heart, taking a deep breath.

“What did I do?”

San Chai’s eyes flashed to him in surprise.

He looked up at her. Tears had welled up into his eyes and he was trying to blink them away.

“I don’t know what’s true anymore. I don’t know if I can trust what Xiao You told me when she returned … I don’t know whether I can trust what science has told me to a 99.99% certainty; not once but three times. But I do know that I should’ve trusted her. I’m sorry. Oh god, Xiao You, I’m sorry,” he murmured brokenly. Her white face, drained of all emotions, kept on flashing before his eyes. That hadn’t been the face of a betrayer. That hadn’t been the face of a liar. How long would the wounds of the past continue to hurt them?

San Chai came over and sat down beside him.

“Yes, you should’ve trusted her,” she agreed.

He winced at the words.

Her hands came out to wrap around his. “But she’ll forgive you … if …,” her voice broke on a sob. She quickly wiped away the tears that had begun to flow.

“What?” His voice was a husky demand, as he stared at the worry in her eyes.

“You have to understand that this was an immensely traumatic experience in Xiao You’s life and you forced her to confront something that she’s hidden away from for a long time.” There was no more condemnation in her voice. Only calm resignation. There was no other choice. “I don’t know what kind of consequences that might have. Let’s just hope the damage isn’t too long-lasting.”

……………………

“What happened, San Chai?” he asked in a driven tone. “What happened to Xiao You? What happened to … our baby?”

San Chai’s heart ached at the pain in his voice. Ximen was broken. He was confused. He was being buffeted by a storm of emotions, and she could see he was trying to find the calm in the storm … any port in the storm would have done. But she knew that it was time to tell him the entire truth.

“What did she tell you?” San Chai asked, needing to know how much he actually knew.

“She told me … that we had twins. Our … son was stillborn, but Shen Shen survived. I got the impression that she felt it was her fault that she lost our son. She said she almost died herself. But she rallied … came back … and held both her babies in her arms. She said goodbye to our son for us and welcomed our daughter into the world.” He sighed, trying to parse the lies from the truth. “What is the truth?” His voice was thick with emotion.

San Chai’s eyes widened in surprise. The tears welled up in her eyes once more, and began to trail down her cheeks. Her lips trembled at his words.

“She mentioned your son? She really mentioned him?” Her cold fingers tightened around his hands, conveying her shock.

“Yes, but she also said that she was lying … playing with my mind, right after that. Even so, there was enough conviction in her voice that I believed her about my son.”

“You did have a son that died,” San Chai agreed. “He was stillborn. Xiao You fell unconscious during the birth, and the doctors had to do an emergency C-section. She fell into a coma and didn’t awaken for two days. By that time … by that time … I’d buried the child. She never got to hold him. She never got to say goodbye. I did catch a couple of nurses discussing that better pre-natal care might have saved his life … they were standing by her bedside and I kicked them out … But she never heard any of that.” She angrily brushed away her tears. She couldn’t weaken now.

Ximen’s jaw clenched in reaction. He’d believed it, but it was still a blow. His heart ached when he thought about the son he would never know. He hadn’t felt him kick. He hadn’t felt him move inside Xiao You’s body. He hadn’t seen his sonograms.

Why did it hurt so much to lose someone he’d never met?

“And … you’re right, Shen Shen isn’t yours,” San Chai confirmed gently.

His heart clenched at hearing those words. He pulled away from San Chai and walked across the room. His hands tightened into fists, as he tried to grapple with the truth.

There had been the smallest hope buried deep inside of his heart that maybe … maybe the labs had made a mistake. But there was no more hope. San Chai’s words had ruthlessly snatched that away from him.

Xiao You had … Xiao You had been with another man. She’d let another man touch her … impregnate her? Who was he? Who could Xiao You have trusted with her body? Her soul? Because Ximen knew that Xiao You would never give one without the other. His heart burned with jealousy of that faceless, unknown man.

He wanted to kill him.

“But Shen Shen isn’t Xiao You’s daughter, either,” San Chai continued. “Shen Shen isn’t a premature baby that Xiao You had with another man. There was no other man in her life. Ever. Xiao You didn’t give birth to Shen Shen, but for all other intents and purposes, she is Shen Shen’s mother. The only mother Shen Shen has ever had.”

Ximen’s eyes widened in surprise. He swung around to stare at the figure sitting on the sofa. He felt like he’d been punched. His fingers loosened his tie … he couldn’t seem to find his breath.

“I don’t understand,” he finally murmured.

“Xiao You told you the partial truth. It’s all she can allow herself to remember. You see, she did carry your child the entire nine months, and she gave birth to him. But … something went horribly wrong and your son … she was going to name him Xiao Tian … she lost him. But she couldn’t face that reality. She couldn’t accept the fact that she’d lost him. I took her home from the hospital, but she didn’t … couldn’t return to normal.”

“What do you mean?”

“I also felt that she did blame herself for losing your child. It was as if she’d let you down. She stopped living. She stopped functioning. It was as if the outside world didn’t exist for her anymore. We didn’t exist for her. She’d sit there all day, everyday, staring off into space. She’d eat if I fed her. She’d sleep if I put her to bed. But otherwise, she was locked way somewhere deep inside herself and I couldn’t reach her. I couldn’t bring her back. And I couldn’t be with her.”

“What…?”

“I had to put her in a psychiatric hospital,” San Chai confessed. She ruthlessly wiped away her tears and forced herself to continue. “I had Wei Yi and Xiao You required constant care. She’d wander away if I didn’t keep an eye on her. After one such incident, I had to give in.”

“What did the doctors say? What was wrong with her?”

“It had to do with her loss … but why it was hitting her so badly … they couldn’t understand. They couldn’t understand why she’d shut off. Months went by. And I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t just leave her in that state. So, I…”

“You…what?”

~*~*~FLASHBACK~*~*~

“If she can’t handle the loss of her child, can’t we get her another baby?” San Chai threw out desperately, looking at Xiao You’s psychiatrist imploringly. “Any baby. If we just leave her with a child … I’m sure she’ll react.”

“Miss Dong, babies aren’t just lying around. We’re a small hospital in a small town. I doubt our orphanage even has newborn infants,” the psychiatrist protested. “And this might be detrimental to Miss Yang’s health in the long run. We need to help her face the truth now. If the truth came out later, and she wasn’t prepared, it could damage her psyche irreparably.”

“I can’t wait for her to come out of her shock naturally,” San Chai said. “She’s been like this for almost four months, and look at her!” She turned to stare into the two-way mirror and saw Xiao You sitting on the bed. Her eyes were lifeless. Her figure motionless. She’d lost weight, so much so that she was almost a skeleton. Her skin had dulled. They’d already hacked away at her hair.

Xiao You was wasting away before her eyes. And San Chai had the feeling, without intervention, Xiao You would just slip away one day.

“Miss Dong…,” the doctor began with a sigh.

“Look into it,” San Chai ordered, turning back to glare at the doctor. “Get me a baby. Money is no object.”

“You want me to …?” There was an incredulous silence in the room.

“Buy me a baby if you have to,” San Chai confirmed the unspoken words.

“I ca—,” she began to bluster.

“Please.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t promise anything.”

~*~*~*~

“Will you take care of her?” the man asked softly, his blunt finger tracing the curve of a cheek.

San Chai nodded quickly, a knot in her throat.

“Baby girl,” he whispered to the bundle in his arm, “I’m sorry I couldn’t keep your mother alive for you.” His lips trembled and he quickly planted a kiss on the wailing baby’s forehead. “And I’m sorry that I can’t keep you. I’m so sorry. So sorry.” His voice broke as the baby grasped at one of his fingers.

“Take her.” His voice was harsh as he thrust the bundle at San Chai.

San Chai tried to give him the envelope.

“No!” he ground out. He pulled away, repelled. “No! I’m not selling you my child. I’m not selling her. I’m giving her to a woman who desperately needs a child. I’m giving her to a woman who’ll love her like her own and raise her with all the tenderness and care that my wife would’ve given her. I’m giving her to your friend because they can heal each other. My baby will heal that childless mother.”

He turned to stare at the figure on the bed. At the blank gaze … at the nervous fingers that clenched at the bedspread sporadically before stilling once more. His eyes read the silent words formed by her lips.

‘My baby. Where’s my baby?’ He could’ve sworn he heard her cries in his mind.

“When I lost my wife … when I lost her,” he said in a hoarse voice, “her death tore a hole in me. She took my heart with her. And I know myself. If I keep this baby … if I keep this innocent one, I’ll only end up resenting her. She won’t find peace in my arms. She won’t find peace with me. Give her all the love she deserves.” He swung around and quickly walked away.

“Wait!” San Chai called out.

He stopped but didn’t turn around.

“Did your wife have a name picked out for the child?”

……………………

“Shen Shen.”

~*~*~*~

“The child has been crying for half an hour and Miss Yang hasn’t reacted. This won’t work,” the doctor said with a heavy sigh. “We can’t leave the child in there any longer. This is highly unethical behavior. I don’t know how you talked me into this, Miss Dong.”

“Because you’re a mother,” San Chai murmured. “Give her a few more minutes.”

“I can’t. It’s not good for the child,” the doctor said, moving to the door.

San Chai was openly sobbing as she saw the doctor move to the baby next to Xiao You. The doctor’s hands reached out to pick up the baby. This had been San Chai’s last hope. Xiao You hadn’t reacted at all. It felt as if she’d lost her best friend forever.

But a miracle occurred.

“Shen Shen, baby, please don’t cry anymore,” the doctor began to croon, bending to pick up the baby.

Xiao You sharply turned to look at the doctor. Her gaze was focused. Clear.

She followed the doctor’s gaze, and saw the baby in the cradle. Her hands reached out to block the doctor’s attempt to pick up the child. Her eyes glared at the doctor.

Reaching out, she tenderly picked up the baby and curled it close to her body. She rocked the baby back and forth in her arms.

Shen Shen immediately stopped, her sobs turning into quiet hiccups.

San Chai stared, her mouth open. It worked! It had worked.

She raced into the room.

“San Chai,” Xiao You said. A smile appeared on her face. That same, special Xiao You smile. “San Chai, look,” Xiao You urged. “My baby. Shen Shen.”

~*~*~End of FLASHBACK~*~*~

“Xiao You came out of her shock, and thought that she was still at the hospital. It was as if those five months hadn’t happened at all. The psychiatrist agreed that it would be better to allow this belief. We pretended to have mother and baby discharged from the hospital and a fake birth certificate was drawn up. You were named the father, and Xiao You was named the mother. Shen Shen’s birthday was listed as the same day as your son’s death anniversary.” She winced as the words left her mouth. “But I guess your detectives found Shen Shen’s real birth certificate and real birth date, correct?”

He nodded in agreement.

“But what about the discrepancies. How did she explain having Shen Shen instead of Xiao Tian?”

“She never mentioned it. She accepted Shen Shen without question, and we thought she’d completely wiped Xiao Tian from her memory. But based on what she told you, even in cruel jest, he lives somewhere in her mind … in her heart. She hasn’t completely forgotten him. But she has forgotten that Shen Shen isn’t her child.”

……………………

“So, you see, Ximen, she never meant to deceive you,” San Chai said, openly crying now that there was no reason to stop. “The only person that Xiao You wanted to … no, that’s not quite right … the only person she NEEDED to deceive was herself. And you took that away from her.”

Ximen’s fingers trembled as he tried to comprehend Xiao You’s confusion … her pain. It was all his fault. His fault.

San Chai sighed once more.

“I don’t know if she can live with the truth.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Miss, are you alright?”

Xiao You jumped, startled by the question. Turning, she stared into the eyes of a stranger. Smiling politely, she quickly assured the woman that she was perfectly fine.

Lying back, she stared up at the blue, blue sky.

It was such a beautiful day. The sun was out and the light breeze just added to the perfection. She wished she could lay here all day.

She didn’t want to go back.

Placing her hands behind her head, she closed her eyes. She wanted to enjoy the golden rays of sunshine some more before returning. She was so tired. Her feet ached. It felt like she’d been walking around for hours. That was just her imagination. Nonetheless, the lack of energy felt all too real.

“Xiao You … Yang Xiao You, what are you doing here? Are you okay?”

“Hmm?” she asked dreamily, not wanting to open her eyes.

“Get up,” the voice urged, pulling at her arm.

Sighing, she opened her eyes.

It was a soft voice. A calm voice. That quietness soothed away the tension within her that she hadn’t even known existed until that moment.

She squinted, staring up at the shadow blocking out the sun. She couldn’t see who it was. Getting up, she stared at the figures standing above her.

“Who?” she began uncertainly.

“We’ve been looking everywhere for you. Where have you been?” The calm voice had roughened somewhat, demanding answers.

“I…,” she began uncertainly. She got to her feet and stared at the faces in front of her. Their faces were so familiar. So familiar. But who…?

“Are you okay,” the female demanded, reaching out to brush away Xiao You’s bangs. “When we got the call, we didn’t know where to look. But somehow we found you … I guess people do take notice sometimes. We’re just glad someone saw you.”

“I don’t know …,” Xiao You began uncertainly, stepping back from the touch.

“Everyone’s worried about you. Let’s go home,” the male urged, putting his arm around her.

Xiao You pulled away sharply.

“It’s not time for me to go back yet,” she argued insistently.

“It is,” they insisted in unison. “You can’t just run away.”

“I still have five minutes left.”

There was a momentary beat of silence. She could see the confusion in their eyes.

“Five minutes before what?”

“Until I have to return to work. Did boss lady send you? I’m sure the bakery can last a few more minutes without me. What’s the hurry?” Xiao You was getting angry. Couldn’t these people see how tired she was? Couldn’t they see she’d been working so hard? But no, they just had to come and interrupt her break and disturb her.

“Bakery? What bakery?” the woman asked.

“You’re not from the Italian Tomato?”***

They shook their heads simultaneously.

“Then who are you?” Xiao You said with a mulish look.

……………………

“Don’t you recognize us?” The man’s voice was cool, belying the worry in his eyes.

Xiao You looked closely. She’d seen them somewhere. She’d seen them … in fact, she’d seen them last night!

“I do!” she said excitedly. “You’re Hua Ze Lei. San Chai knows you from school! I’ve seen you at the bakery and I saw you dancing with this pretty lady last night. And you’re Teng Tang Jing. I was at your birthday party, too. We didn’t get a chance to meet, but I enjoyed it very much. I want you to know that I totally support your decision to become a lawyer instead of just being an heir to your family’s millions. In fact, I plan on being a career woman too,” she said eagerly. A shy smile played across her lips.

Xiao You saw the couple exchange a troubled glance. She could feel the tension growing in the air.

“I don’t know if you remember me, but I was the one in that really horrible dress,” she supplied timidly.

“Lei,” Teng Tang Jing murmured softly, her hand clutching at his sleeve.

His arm came around her shoulders in comfort.

“Umm,” Xiao You began meekly, bringing their attention back to her.

“Why were the two of you looking for me?”

Chapter 30

Deceiving Her

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Has she said anything?” The words burst from Ximen’s lips as he entered the room, his eyes trained on the occupants already in place. San Chai was only a step behind him.

“No, she’s a bit confused,” Lei said calmly, his arm around Jing. “The doctor is in there with her right now.”

“What happened? Where did you find her?” San Chai’s voice was shrill with worry. She stared at Lei, awaiting his answers. “Why is she back in an insane asylum? I didn’t want her to ever come back here.” The last words were spoken tearfully, her voice breaking in the middle. She’d never wanted to see this again. She’d never wanted to see Xiao You this broken again.

“She was at the park near Italian Tomato. I think it’s about half a mile away from the bakery,” Lei replied. “She was lying in the grass, enjoying the sun and breeze. Or at least that’s what she said when one of my people asked her if she was okay and when we came up to her.”

“That’s where we used to go to take our breaks,” San Chai said, hurriedly explaining to the others. “Xiao You used to say that in the moments she spent at that park, she felt most at peace. That place soothed her when her feelings were at their most chaotic. She used to go there when her loser of a boyfriend cheated on her and then dumped her.”

“What happened?” Ximen asked quickly staring at the woman he loved through the two-way mirror. “How bad is it?”

Mei Zhou and Xiao Qiao burst into the room, their worried gazes landing on Ximen and San Chai, the two most involved in this situation.

“How is she?” Mei Zhou asked, coming over to stand by Ximen. His hand went out to pat his friend on the shoulder, trying to give Ximen his own strength.

While the others knew how desperately Ximen had been looking for Xiao You, only Mei Zhou knew how close Ximen had come to breaking down in the past two years. Lei and Ah Si hadn’t seen the drunken moment that Mei Zhou had walked in on. When pain and regret had almost pushed Ximen into doing something irreversible.

Mei Zhou shuddered when he thought about that bleak evening. If he had come in a minute later … but no, he wouldn’t think of that. He’d gotten there at the exact right time.

“Ximen, are you okay?” Mei Zhou asked, pushing Ximen into a seat.

“I’m fine,” Ximen said with frustration, “but I have to know what’s going on. How bad is it?”

Lei shook his head and sat down, motioning for everyone to sit down and be quiet.

“Like I said, when I found her she was lying in the grass, relaxing. When I urged her to come with us, she told me she still had five minutes left in her break and she wasn’t going back a minute before she was due.”

San Chai’s eyes widened at the words. Her mind returned to the time she had worked with Xiao You at the bakery, and she could hear Xiao You’s laughing voice arguing against an early return.

“Oh god, no,” she whispered softly to herself. “No.”

“What?” Ximen shouted, staring at Xiao You adamantly shaking her head at the doctor. “What’s wrong?”

“She thought that she was still working at the bakery,” Lei said softly, his calm voice doing nothing to lessen the impact on the listeners.

“She what?” Ximen whispered. “But she hasn’t worked at that bakery since she left for Canada that first time.”

“Yes,” Lei agreed. His eyes stared at Ximen with sympathy.

“She’s lost her memory. To orient you to how far back she’s gone,” Jing began, “she thinks that she was at my party last night in her horrible dress.”

“Party?” Ah Si questioned sharply.

“The party where I revealed my future plans of becoming a lawyer. The party where she met Ximen for the first time. Everything after that has been erased.”

“Everything?” San Chai’s voice was barely a whisper … yet it sounded like a shout in the horrified silence that had fallen over the group.

“Ximen, she’s forgotten that she ever loved you,” Lei said, looking at Ximen with sympathy. Mei Zhou’s hand tightened on Ximen’s shoulder, and Ah Si came over to sit beside him, offering his own brand of comfort.

Everything. From the moment they’d met to now. Everything.

Her breakup with Zhong Ze. His own knight in shining armor bit. The bitter coffee.

The reasons he’d first caught her attention. The reasons she’d fallen in love with him.

Her confession. Their night together before she left for Canada. Xiao Gen’s message.

The reasons she’d kept his attention after he’d been so attracted to her at Jing’s party. The reasons he’d fallen in love with her.

Their week together.

His proposal.

Her departure.

His downward spiral … the one she’d witnessed and suffered through from thousands of miles away.

Her return and his refusal to forgive or trust her.

Her final escape.

He flinched. There had been some good memories. But in their two years together, the bitterness had substantially outweighed any joy she might have received from their relationship.

And those two years she’d spent running. Losing Xiao Tian. Losing her mind. And then …

Could he say that forgetting the love was a fitting sacrifice for the peace of mind she’d attained by forgetting the pain?

“Ximen.” San Chai’s voice was a horrified whisper as she reached the same conclusion he’d just reached.

“She’s forgotten Shen Shen. She’s forgotten her own daughter.”

……………………

“What the hell are we going to do now?”

~*~*~*~

“San Chai,” Xiao You said with her sweet smile, “What are you doing here?”

“Haven’t you wondered why you’re here?” San Chai asked gently.

“Of course I have,” Xiao You answered, “but the doctors aren’t answering my questions. All they do is ask me stuff. I don’t know how to answer. So, I thought I’d wait until someone volunteered the answers to me. I’m tired of asking.”

“They’re just worried about you,” San Chai explained, sitting down beside her. She leaned in to give Xiao You a quick hug.

“Was that F4 I saw out there?” Xiao You asked. “I guess you’ve all gotten really close that they’d come to be with you when one of your lowly friends was sick.”

“Xiao You …,” San Chai began uncertainly.

“I don’t see Zhong Ze,” Xiao You said with a frown. “You would think he’d come to see his own girlfriend in the hospital. Or my parents. Why aren’t they here with me? I am assuming this is some sort of hospital.” The words were stated in the form of a query.

San Chai’s fingers clenched, and then she pulled back.

“Xiao You, it seems that you’re a bit confused now,” San Chai said gently.

“Confused? What do you mean? I feel fine.”

“No … the thing is that you’ve lost a bit of your memory,” San Chai quickly blurted out.

“A bit of my memory?!!” There was a tone of incredulity in Xiao You’s tone. “How much is a bit?” She put her hands up to her head.

“What are you doing?”

“Feeling for bumps. Isn’t that how it usually happens? In all the movies and books? The character has some sort of accident and bumps her head. And then the memory loss.”

“This is a bit different than that,” San Chai said desperately. “I … the cause of this is more emotional than physical.”

“Emotional?” The first notes of worry began to creep into Xiao You’s voice. At first she’d thought it all an irritation. What did it matter what strangers or near strangers said to her? What if they asked all these questions that she couldn’t even begin to answer. But now … San Chai was sitting here and telling her she’d lost her memory.

“San Chai?”

“I … the doctor said not to tell you anything, because it might be harmful to you,” San Chai replied. “I can’t tell you why you’re here … what caused this … because it could only end up hurting you. I can’t give you the answers you need. But …,” her voice trailed off.

“But?”

San Chai leaned in and cupped her cheek.

“San Chai? You’re scaring me.”

“I will tell you that you HAVE lost your memory … it’s been more than four years since that party that you think happened just last night.”

There was a moment of frozen silence. Xiao You felt the earth fall out from under her.

“Four years?” Her voice was ragged, as she tried to come to terms with this revelation. “I’ve lost four years of my life?”

San Chai nodded.

Xiao You shot up from the bed and moved to the mirror at one end of the room. She stared at her reflection, trying to see the differences. Yes … she could see them now … the wrinkles she hadn’t noticed before … at the corner of her eyes. There was a frown line between her brows. Her lips … her mom used to say there was a natural curve in them so that she always seemed to be smiling. The curve was still there … but the smile had turned into a perpetual frown.

“What …,” she stopped, clearing her throat.

“What is it?”

“What is it that you’re hiding from me? What horrific truth are you keeping from me?” she asked.

……………………

“What hurt me so much in the past FOUR years that I would rather forget that entire part of my life?”

……………………

“Who hurt me so much?”

San Chai stared down at her hands, unable to give Xiao You the answers she needed. Her heart knew that the truth could only hurt Xiao You right now, but the confusion and fear in her eyes killed her. But anything was better than what Xiao You had become after losing her child. Anything. Even that confusion.

At least Xiao You was still capable of functioning. Of communicating. Of handling this situation.

Her mind turned back to the decision they’d made before she entered the room.

~*~*~*~

“No,” Ximen said quietly into the room. “We don’t tell her anything. Even the doctor agrees with that. She can’t handle the trauma. That’s why she’s erased it all. We keep everything from her.”

“Even her daughter?” San Chai asked tearfully, looking at him. “How can we keep that from her?”

“What do you suggest, San Chai? We bring Shen Shen in front of her and hope that her daughter doesn’t trigger her memory and push her even deeper into her psychosis? Do you want her to become what she was after Xiao Tian’s loss? I can’t take that chance. I love Shen Shen. I loved her before I met her, I’ve loved her in the past few months, and I love her even more now, knowing what she’s done for Xiao You. But Xiao You cannot handle the truth. We’ll have to keep mother and daughter apart.”

“What do you suggest? How will you comfort Shen Shen?”

The expression on Ximen’s face revealed his inner turmoil. While he wanted to reunite mother and daughter, he couldn’t risk losing Xiao You again. The two would be reunited, but only after Xiao You was given a chance to recover … only after she was given a chance to deal with reality at her own pace.

“She needs to know that time has gone by, so we can explain any general concerns she might have. She might need to know that the reason for her condition is emotional, but that is all she needs to know. We keep Shen Shen away from her, and hope for the best. She’ll stay with you,” Ximen told San Chai. “Mother and I can take care of Shen Shen.”

“But Shen Shen knows me better. At least I can take Xiao You’s place,” San Chai protested.

“San Chai,” Ximen breathed out, losing the last of his patience, “I have bonded with Shen Shen over the past few months. She knows me as her father. Do you want to take me away from her, as well? I can take care of her. After all, what’s the alternative? Xiao You doesn’t know me from Adam. She’s erased everything about our relationship from her mind … everything that made her love me … hate me … fear me from her mind. I’m a complete stranger to her.”

“Fine, say we keep the two apart. Then what? How long is this supposed to go on?”

“Until she remembers on her own. But hope … hope that it’s not before she can handle the trauma.”

“What are you going to do in that time?” San Chai’s words were sharp.

……………………

“Me?” His tone was grim. “I’m going to give her a truckload of good memories to replace the bitter ones she carries deep in her mind. I’m going to give her enough love so that, even if she does remember, the past won’t have the power to hurt her anymore.”

~*~*~*~

Two Months Later …

Xiao You sat in a candlelit room, her eyes wandering over the roses in every nook and cranny of the room. The air was filled with their fragrance. Ximen sat across from her, his hand holding hers in his. She blushed and stared down.

“Ximen, I …,” her words were soft. All of this was for her. He’d done all of this for her. Her eyes prickled with tears. And for the first time she allowed herself to feel all the emotions that had been building up inside of her in the past few months.

To her mind, she’d met this man only two months ago. It scared her how quickly their relationship had grown and blossomed into something so much more than friendship. Her heart trembled at the thought that this might just be a dream.

The previous four years were a complete blank. But she’d made a ton of memories in just these two months.

She’d gotten closer to F3, namely Ah Si, Lei and Mei Zhou, who insisted on being called by their first names. She had to admit that it was cool being on a first name basis with billionaires. Not that she liked putting on airs. But it was nice.

She’d become friends with Jing Jie, who’d helped her to regain confidence in herself.

She met and quickly became friends with Xiao Qiao, Mei Zhou’s girl. She could see why a playboy like Mei Zhou had fallen in love with such a gal. But she still found it inconceivable that a woman could wait ten years for a fickle playboy like him. Mei Zhou still complained about her daring to say such a thing to his wife and pouted whenever Xiao You met him.

And through it all, there had been Ximen’s constant presence. He had no questions. He had no doubts. He had never pushed her to remember, but accepted her as who she was. He’d comforted when she’d cried for the void in her mind, afraid of what was behind the veil hiding her memories. He’d distracted her … laughed with her … loved her.

Yes, while it was incomprehensible to her how it had happened … but this perfect man loved her. Ximen Zhong Er Lang was one of the top tycoon’s of Taiwan, yet he’d chosen her to be his.

She remembered his daily visits and how their relationship had begun with gentle conversation and quiet companionship under San Chai’s eagle eye. Zhong Ze had quietly slipped from her mind, never to be given a second thought. It was frightening how quickly Ximen had taken up space inside of her head to the exclusion of all else.

She remembered their outings … to café’s and amusement parks. His ability to read her likes and dislikes had captivated her initially. But then she’d thought to ask him if he’d known her in those four years, and he’d quietly admitted that he had. That had terrified her enough to pull back. How well had he known her? Was he hiding something?

But he’d been patient. He’d waited. And then he’d started courting her once more. And it had been a courtship.

This man had made her feel the most loved woman in all of Taiwan. The flowers. Her favorite. The candies. Her favorite. The trinkets, small and inexpensive. Just how she liked them. He’d taken the time to know her in the past.

And she’d made the decision to take the time to know him in the present.

That was when she’d fallen deeply and irrevocably in love. She’d fallen in love with the man who knew her every like and dislike. She’d fallen in love with a man who was always gentle and compassionate. A man who didn’t know what pressure meant. She’d fallen in love with a man who treasured her above all else.

Oh, one could argue that she didn’t know him at all. After all, who could know after only two months? But her heart had always called out to his.

She’d been strongly attracted to him at Jing Jie’s party. Even then he’d driven all thoughts of her boyfriend out of her head.

But there was more to love than loving only one part of a person.

She’d seen him be cold and harsh to others. She’d seen him become sulky after losing an argument with her. She saw that he controlled his emotions too much sometimes. He could find it hard to forgive when others made mistakes, allowing no room for the fallibilities of human nature. She knew that he kept secrets from her … she could see them in his eyes. And she loved him even more for his very human weaknesses. He wouldn’t be her Ximen without them.

Finally, she loved him because she’d seen glimpses of the inner man. A man that very few people were privileged to know. She’d seen his loneliness and envy when he saw his brothers living happily with their women. She’d seen his need for warmth, his need to be loved. She’d seen his desperation for her.

How could a woman not love a man who desperately loved her?

The past wasn’t important anymore. What was important was the here and now, with Ximen.

Always Ximen.

“Ximen, I lo—.” She blushed. He stared at her quietly, awaiting her words, hoping against hope that she would say what he needed to hear.

“Xiao You?” His voice was gentle, encouraging her to speak. But without any pressure. He’d never pressured her.

Her hand flew up to her throat and she pressed her lips together.

“Xiao You?” The worry was evident in his tone.

There was a moment of silence and then her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell unconscious, her head hitting the table.

……………………

“What is it?” Ximen’s voice was tense, cutting through the thick atmosphere. Xiao You’s gaze was confused.

She refused to meet his eyes, staring down at her hands quietly, not knowing what to say to this man. How to explain?

“Xiao You?” he asked gently, tipping her chin up, forcing her to meet his gaze.

Her lips trembled. She jerked her face away, turning to face the wall.

“I’m afraid Ms. Yang is a bit confused,” the doctor said, trying to lead Ximen from the room.

“What do you mean?” Ximen demanded, reluctantly allowing himself to be pulled out of the room.

“You see … Mr. Ximen … Ms. Yang is two months pregnant.”

The doctor’s words fell like rocks into the still stream, causing reverberations in Ximen’s soul. He pulled back, trying to deal with the news.

“And she doesn’t know how it happened.”

Ximen closed his eyes. How must she feel right now?

“She doesn’t know who the father is. She’s embarrassed. Afraid. Hating herself.”

……………………

Why?

Why now?

……………………

He’d been so close to getting her love.

……………………

So close.

……………………

And now the past had reared its head once more.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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