Chapter 31: Want to Love You
Ella stared at him, her mouth open in disbelief. She tilted her head to the side, trying to see the truth in his eyes. Did he really believe that she didn’t love him? She shook her head. How was that possible?
‘Maybe because just last night you said that you loved Blake?’ her inner voice pointed out sarcastically. ‘Did you really expect him to read your mind?’
“You don’t love me, Ella Chen,” he murmured dejectedly.
Her eyes widened at the pain in his eyes. In wanting to see some proof of his love, she had hurt him so badly. It was her fault that he was broken like this.
“Not like you loved him,” he continued. “Do you have any idea … how hard it is to be in love with a woman that doesn’t love you as much as you love her? The worst thing is when you’re willing to sacrifice everything for her, but she doesn’t even have faith enough in you to give you that chance. She just walks away. Giving up the life you had planned together, rejecting your love.”
Ella knew that he was no longer just talking about her. He was talking about Samantha now.
Chun took a deep breath, and met her eyes once more. “I’ve been through this once. I don’t think that I can bear to live through it again.” He turned and walked into the living room.
Ella quickly followed. “Chun! Come back here,” she said desperately, grabbing onto his shirt. “You are not walking away from me,” she stated, pushing him down onto the couch. Standing over him, she glared at him fiercely. “How can you think that I don’t love you?”
“Why not?” he asked softly. “Your actions … your words haven’t left room for doubt. I am jealous of my own brother. The man that I never had the chance to know or love; the man that died too young, and now I’m jealous of him? How do you think that makes me feel?”
“Chun, please. I didn’t mean for you to feel like this,” Ella murmured, kneeling down in front of him. Her hands came up to hesitantly touch his. “You have to believe me, I didn’t mean for any of this. I just needed to know … that you felt something real for me. That it wasn’t just …”
Chun pulled away his hands, leaning back against the sofa, creating distance between them.
“Despite you saying that I was just a substitute for Blake and that you would love him and only him … I still wanted to marry you,” he said in a hoarse murmur. Clearing his throat, he stared at the ring on her finger. “I was still going to marry you. That was how much I wanted to be a part of your life. From the moment I first saw you, I felt this connection.”
His words made Ella’s heart soar, a smile began to play on her lips.
“I wanted to know you better. I wanted to be with you. That night when I saw you at the restaurant with Calvin, I felt this burning resentment inside of me. I wanted to pull you away. And when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I kissed you. But you … you slapped me again. You rejected me at everyone turn. You called me a pale imitation of my own brother. I began to resent Blake even more. From the stories I had heard about him, I had initially felt only contempt for him. But because of you, I was now also jealous of him.”
Ella shifted at that, as if wanting to protest. Chun shot her a challenging glance, as if daring her to say something in defense of the man that had always stood between them.
“I was disgusted by Blake, at first. And then I was jealous. And then I began to love the man he was.”
Ella’s eyes widened at those words. ‘Was this when you read his journal?’ she silently wondered to herself. ‘Was this when you realized how much he loved you?’ She gulped. ‘Was this when you began to feel guilty?’ She took a sharp breath. “Stop it!” she muttered to her insecure self. “He said he loves you!”
“What?” Chun asked, staring at her. “Did you say something?”
“Did I say that out loud? You know what? It doesn’t matter,” Ella answered, silently urging him to continue.
Chun looked in the direction of the bookshelf for a long time. Ella was sure he was staring at the journals.
“But, no matter how much I had come to appreciate the man my brother used to be, I still had these feelings for you,” he said, rubbing at his heart. “Out of respect for Blake, I should have stayed away from you,” he admitted in a heavy tone. “I should have been your friend, but I shouldn’t have hoped for more. I didn’t have the right to be with you, when he …” Chun stopped and cleared his throat.
Ella gasped lightly at those words. His guilt had been pushing him to stay away from her. Despite all of that, he had come to her. Over and over again.
“The more I was around you, the more I wanted to know you. The more I wanted from you. The more I allowed myself to stupidly hope. And then I saw you with Jiro.”
Ella flinched at the suppressed anger in his voice. He leaned toward her and cupped her face.
“First Calvin, and then Jiro. And this was so much worse,” he said, gazing into her eyes. “I had already lost one woman that I loved to him. And now you. You were in his home, Ella. You had met his daughter and mother. You were becoming a part of his family. And there was nothing I could do about it,” he whispered into her ear, before pulling away. His hand fell away. “You had that much power over me, and you didn’t even know it.”
He got up from the couch, and moved toward the bookshelf. He stopped in front of Blake’s journals, and stood there, with his back to her.
“Despite all of that, when you came to me, my heart filled with joy. I couldn’t stop smiling for weeks. But when I asked you to marry me, you fell apart. And from that moment on, Blake was back in our lives. His specter overshadowed every moment we shared. And last night …,” he stopped, his head bowing. “You say that you can’t do this anymore? Ella, I don’t think that I can do this anymore. I can’t pretend not to know who you really love.”
“But I love you,” Ella protested, springing up. “I love you, Chun. I loved Blake, but since you have come into my life, you’ve been the one who has been in my thoughts. You were the reason that I walked away from Jiro. You were the reason that I could move beyond Blake,” Ella insisted, running to him. She grabbed his arm, turning him to face her. “You have to believe me. Last night was a stupid mistake. I made a stupid decision at a moment when I wasn’t thinking clearly.”
“You still love him,” Chun said, after a long pause. “I don’t belong here.”
“But I love you!” Ella nearly shouted, shaking his arm roughly. “Last night was a mistake! I wasn’t asleep when you walked in. I was awake when I said those words. I was awake when I mentioned Blake. I was awake when you walked away. It was a test!”
Chun stepped back, pulling his arm away. “What?” he demanded. “What did you say? A test? When have I ever given you a reason to doubt me?”
“You didn’t. I had no reason to doubt you,” Ella said tearfully, collapsing against him, her arms reaching around him. Chun stiffened in her arms, but Ella paid no attention to the implicit rejection. She tightened her arms around his waist, pulling him close. “I had no reason, until Chase Wu called.”
Chun stiffened once more. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he gently pushed Ella away. “Chase called you?” he demanded stiffly, looking at her closely.
“He told me about a journal that Blake was keeping at the time he died.”
Chun stepped back, all expression wiped clean from his face.
“I found those journals in your apartment,” Ella revealed softly. She saw the panic in his eyes. “Why did you hide the truth from me? Why did you hide his journals? What did you think that I would do?”
Chun grabbed her hands, squeezing them tight. “I thought that you would hate Blake for his decision at the end,” he admitted softly.
“And you wanted to protect Blake?” Ella prompted him, relieved to discover the reason for this secrecy.
Chun shook his head. “While that was a concern,” Chun explained, “that wasn’t the main reason.” He stopped for a moment and swallowed. “I was afraid that you would resent me because Blake chose me over you. He would have left you, Ella. And it would have been because of me.”
Ella violently negated that assertion with a shake of her head. “I would never have blamed you! I blamed Chase Wu. I mourned Blake all over again, but what I read in those journals didn’t affect my love for you. I was afraid when I read those journals, Chun,” Ella muttered. Chun gazed at her questioningly. “I was afraid that you were with me out of guilt. That you felt guilty for Blake’s choice, and had to atone for that mistake. I was afraid that you felt like you had to be with me. Because of Chase Wu, I began to question your love,” Ella said in a shaky voice. She fell to her knees, sobs bursting from her. Her tears were a mixture of regret and relief.
Chun knelt down before her, and cupped her cheeks once more. Only this time his touch was lovingly tender, not weighed down by the despair of a moment ago. “You deserve to be in a relationship where you are loved,” he asserted, leaning in to kiss her. “I would never do that to any woman,” he murmured huskily. “I would never have been in this relationship unless I loved you.” He wiped away the teardrops on her cheeks, and pulled her into his arms. “You are my life, and I love only you.”
“And I love you,” Ella murmured brokenly, pulling back to place a fervent kiss against his lips. “Blake was a part of my past, and you’ve helped me to let go of that past. You are my present and my future,” she promised, choking slightly on the emotion welling up inside of her. “Even though you didn’t ask,” she murmured smilingly, “I will marry you.”
Chun threw back his head and laughed out loud. “I’m still not asking. We are getting married. There’s just one thing that we have to take care of before we can live our very own happily ever after.”
“Deal with Chase Wu.”
Chapter 32: Fighting His Demon
Chase Wu sat behind the desk in his home office, staring at the pictures spread out in front of him. He frowned, noticing the ring on that woman’s finger.
“What does this mean? Are they engaged now?” Chase asked his assistant, tapping at the picture in front of him. He glared at the hapless man when he received no quick answer. “Well? Aren’t you going to answer me?” There was a moment of silence. “Why did I hire such a dunce?” he muttered to himself.
“S-sir?” the assistant queried uncertainly. The uncertainly ran a hand through his hair, his fingers trembling slightly.
“I said, why did I hire such a dunce?” Chase barked at the hapless man, making him jump in surprise. “Am I supposed to put up with your incompetence forever? Why did I listen to Belinda? What was she thinking to recommend you?”
“S-s-sir! Please, don’t do that! I assure you, your hiring me was not a mistake,” the assistant protested, pushing up his glasses with an unsteady finger. “Please give me another chance!”
“Then prove to me that I haven’t made a mistake!” Chase Wu said coldly, staring down at the pictures. “Answer me when I ask a question. Give me the information I need. Or is that too much to ask?” he asked sarcastically.
“Y-yes, sir. I mean n-no s-sir,” the assistant muttered with a gulp, staring at the pictures spread out on the desk in front of his boss. “Whatever you say, sir.”
“I told you to investigate what is going on in my son’s life right now. I played a gambit two weeks ago, and I haven’t heard the news I expected to hear.” He tapped at the picture in front of him, pursing his lips. “And now she’s wearing a ring. Tell me about this ring,” Chase growled at the man, making him jump once more. “What does this damn ring mean?”
“Sir, it’s on Ms. Chen’s ring finger. On her left hand,” the assistant pointed out nervously.
“It could be one of those promise rings,” Chase pointed out irritably, waving his hand. “A ring doesn’t always mean an engagement.”
“I’m afraid this ring does,’ the assistant said, grimacing unhappily. He tugged at his collar before delivering the next piece of bad news. “Not only are they engaged, the two are planning their wedding. It is to be held in a month.”
“What?!” Chase Wu shouted, getting to his feet. A clenched fist slammed into the desk, making the other articles on the desk rattle. “How can they be getting married?! They were supposed to be breaking up about now! That gold-digging slut,” he muttered to himself. “She’d rather have my money than her own self-respect. She’ll stay with a man that obviously doesn’t love her for all of this wealth.”
He stared at the pictures of his sons on the wall. The portraits were there purely for show. He had to keep up appearances of the doting father for the public that expected such behavior. His eyes narrowed on the unsmiling visages in front of him.
Blake. His oldest child. His biggest disappointment. Even though he’d brought Blake to heel in the end, his manipulations had borne no fruit. All the effort and sweat he’d expended in molding Blake into the man he wanted him to be had been wasted when that fool died on the way to his own engagement.
His eyes turned on his second son. His only hope for the right future. With Chun there was hope. He wouldn’t lose this time. Chun would do what he wanted him to do. Chun would listen. Chun would break up with that nonentity and ensure that the Wu dynasty flourished the way Chase Wu wanted it to. Sitting back down, he slowly and ruthlessly crushed the picture of a smiling Ella in his hands.
“So, they’re getting married in a month, huh?” he murmured musingly. “Well, I can’t let that happen. I can’t let her become a part of this family.”
“S-sir?” the assistant said softly, trying to rouse his boss. “Did you say something?” He cautiously moved forward, stopping a foot away from the desk. He jerked back slightly when Chase Wu’s attention turned back to him.
“What about Chun’s relationship with Jiro Wang? I think there is a way I can utilize that relationship to control Chun. Wang has an elderly mother and a young child. A child’s future … isn’t that what a doting parent always worries about?” He gazed thoughtfully at the picture in his hand.
“I’m sorry, sir, but Mr. Chun does not consider Mr. Wang a friend. They had a falling out years ago.”
“They’ve been seen eating together multiple times!” Chase protested, glaring at the picture. He rifled through the photos until he found the one he was looking for. “Look! They’re sitting at the same table in the same restaurant, just three weeks ago.”
“Right, sir,” the assistant nodded knowingly. “But they are seen together only because Mr. Wang is dating Hebe Tien. The same Hebe Tien who is Ella Chen’s close friend. Mr. Chun tolerates the man’s presence, but still blames Jiro Wang for the loss of his first love, Samantha.”
Chase Wu’s eyes narrowed, and his lips pursed in distaste at that excess show of emotion on his son’s part. That was a weakness that Chun would have to control. What man still mourned the woman that had left him for another man? His ire grew when he realized that he couldn’t manipulate Chun through this man. But there were other pawns to be used. Shrugging his shoulders, he threw the picture aside.
“What about Calvin Chen?” he demanded, picking up another picture. “I know that he and my son are best friends. Chun could never bear to see the man who has supported him through so much lose all he has worked so hard for. He could be fired. A target of bogus lawsuits. His assets frozen. Left with no recourse,” he murmured thoughtfully, tapping at the smiling face in front of him. “He’s a newly married man. Supporting his wife would be the topmost worry in his mind.”
“Mr. Chen is leaving the country with his wife,” the assistant pointed out unhappily. “He has received a job offer from an overseas company that has no connections to any of the properties or businesses that you currently own. Unfortunately, you have no influence over Mr. Chen’s future employers.”
“I guess there is no way for me to use his wife, either,” Chase Wu mused, “since they’ll be leaving together.”
“The new Mrs. Chen plans on being a housewife,” the assistant stated. “She has no further interests in having a career outside of the home.”
“Well, then, what about Ella Chen herself?” Chase Wu demanded. “I told you to investigate into her background. What kind of weaknesses does she have?”
“Ms. Chen lost her parents at a young age, and is independently wealthy. She has no need to work. In fact, the work she did for the last three years, for one of your companies, was merely viewed as a pastime on Ms. Chen’s part. I have not been able to discover what she plans on doing next.”
“Damn,” Chase said, exhaling heavily. Glaring at the pictures once more, he picked up another one. “What about Chun’s mother and his stepfather? Or his sister and new brother-in-law?”
“Mr. Chun’s stepfather is retired and the couple are living off of his retirement savings,” the assistant supplied. “I am sure those savings could be lost through ‘bad investments’.” The assistant tried a suitably evil smile, after suggesting the dastardly deed.
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Chase said with a thin smile. He inclined his head, silently instructing the man to continue with his suggestions.
“Mr. Chun’s brother-in-law is starting a new business that has started to show some profits. You could very easily set up competition in the same area, and drive the brother-in-law out of business.”
Chase nodded in agreement, smiling for the first time that evening. “There are some definite possibilities. What about this woman?” he demanded, picking up another photo. “What is with the hair?”
“That is Ms. Hebe Tien. One of Ella Chen’s best friends.”
“And?” Chase asked impatiently when the damned man stopped.
“Ms. Tien has decided that she likes to change her hair color every two weeks. In the past four months she has gone through blonde hair, black, then magenta, then blue, and …,” the man looked up, clearly trying to remember the other hair colors.
“I did not ask about her hair!” Chase shouted angrily.
“But you said …”
“Forget what I said,” Chase ordered with annoyance. “Just tell me how we can use her.”
“Ms. Tien works for the research branch of Meyers, Inc,” came the quick answer.
“Meyers, Inc. The company I bought a year ago?” Chase asked with a growing smile.
“Yes sir. It would be quite easy to terminate Ms. Tien’s position and make it impossible for her to work in this field anywhere on the continent.” The assistant tried another smile. “Sir, Ms. Tien loves her job and is lauded for her job performance on a yearly basis with a big bonus.”
Chase Wu nodded thoughtfully. “So, while I may have nothing over Ella Chen,” he said musingly, “but I can definitely control her through by threatening her dearest friend. How close is that relationship?” he asked abruptly. “Are you sure it wouldn’t be easy for Ella Chen to just walk away?”
“Ms. Chen and Ms. Tien have been roommates for years, and friends from when they were children. Ms. Tien has helped Ms. Chen through the grief of losing her parents, from the loss of …,” he coughed slight, “Mr. Blake Wu, and Ms. Chen’s miscarriage. Ms. Chen is alive today, she has been heard to say, due to the constant support and love she has received from Ms. Tien.” The assistant took a deep breath after saying his piece, and glanced away from the gleam that had appeared in Mr. Wu’s eyes.
“Well, Ms. Tien, it looks like you will be the next card I will play to get that woman out of my son’s life. And, if that doesn’t work, we can always use Chun’s new brother-in-law or his mother. That boy loves his family.”
“And what makes you think that I’d let you use my family to separate me from the woman I love?” a voice demanded from the doorway.
Chase’s gaze flew up, coming to land on his son standing in the doorway. His eyes narrowed. There was that woman behind him. “How dare you bring that sl—”
“I sincerely suggest that you hold your tongue,” Chun lashed out. “I do not want to hear you calling Ella any more names. I promise you that you will regret it.”
Chase Wu snorted lightly. “There hasn’t been a man born that could make me regret any action that I have taken, boy. You don’t have the money or the power,” he reminded his son. “You’re forgetting that I own these companies. I earned that money. It is my power.”
Chun smiled sardonically, and made his way into the office. He gently pulled Ella behind him, and sat her in one of the chairs across from his father’s desk. Leaning against the side of her chair, he silently stared at his father.
“What are you doing here?” Chase Wu demanded. “Why were you allowed into the house without anyone notifying me?”
“I asked your people to keep quiet,” Chun replied. “I told them that I wanted to give daddy dearest a surprise. They reluctantly complied.”
Chase Wu sat back and glared at his son. There was an oddly triumphant glint in the boy’s eyes that Chase Wu did not like. His eyes narrowed. “Just what do you think you can do to me?” he abruptly asked.
“I wonder what the public would say to hear that Chase Wu has been caught plotting against poor innocent people? People that he calls ‘pawns’?”
Chase waited for a moment, expecting more, and then began to laugh incredulously. “That is your big scheme to stop me? Threaten me with possible public ridicule?”
“You love your public image,” Chun reminded him. “Blake was Belinda Wu’s son, and I was the long lost son that had been happily discovered. All lies. There was no mention of your mistress or the actual origins of your golden heir. It seems that while your shame may not be enough to prevent the behavior, but I do believe that you are conscious enough of your image to stop me from making all of this public,” Chun pointed out with a lethal softness.
“What about your mother?” Chase Wu blustered after a moment. “What will people think of her?”
“She’s agreed, if it means that you will leave us alone.” Chun crossed his arms, and gazed at his father.
“This is too important to me,” Chase Wu asserted, shaking his head. “Can’t you see that you need to let her go for your own good?” Chun remained silent. “Go ahead and make it public,” he finally said. “They might believe you about the fact that you’re not my wife’s child. And that Elizabeth was my mistress. But who doesn’t have a mistress nowadays?”
“A businessman that deliberately projects a family man’s image to the media?” Chun supplied sardonically. “That image is so important to you that you felt the need to lie. Not once but twice.”
“But all of that happened years ago. I can take care of that.”
“What about your illicit relationship with Lucinda? Or Beverly? What about Marilyn? Shall I go on?” he asked the silently seething man in front of him.
Chase Wu was silent for a moment. “I’m a man, and men have their needs. The public can forgive such a man when he is the leader of industry and creates their jobs.”
“What about the fact that you’ll use your money to go after them?” Chun asked, pointing at the pictures on the desk between them. “These people … they aren’t from your world. They are like the public, whose adulation you seek. If you go after my family, then who’s to stop you from going after any other person? The public won’t like that.”
“No one would believe that I was plotting against these people. These friends and families of yours that are beneath my notice,” Chase muttered, rifling through the photos in front of him. “Where’s your proof?” He stared at Chun, expecting no real answer.
Chun smiled cryptically. Glancing at the assistant still standing quietly to the side. “We’re still recording in this room?” he asked the man.
Chase’s gaze flew to the cowering assistant. Except, the man was no longer cowering. “What are you …?” His voice trailed off when he saw his idiotic assistant pull of his glasses and stuff them in a pocket.
“Why do you think that Belinda Wu was so insistent that you hire this man?” Chun asked his father, coming to stand in front of his father’s desk. Leaning in, he placed his hands on the desk, smirking at his father. “When she’s never gotten involved in any of your business? She couldn’t care less, but suddenly she wanted this man working in your office. Working close to you and, maybe, keeping an eye on you?”
Chase’s lips tightened, the only hint of the affect Chun’s words were having on him.
“Everything you said in this room, from the beginning of this meeting … or rather, from the time you hired Mr. Yan, has been recorded. The recordings are in a safe place, just waiting to see the light of day. Give me a reason … dad.”
Turning back to the silent man standing behind them, he gestured toward the door. Following him, he shook the other man’s hand. “Thank you for everything, Aaron. I don’t know who else I could have trusted to do this for us.”
Aaron nodded, and gave Chun a quick smile. “I’m just glad that I got back just in time to be of some help.”
“I’ll talk to you later,” Chun murmured, before turning back to walk toward his father and Ella. Both were sitting quietly, not having spoken a word to each other. Chun sat down across from his father, and reached out to grasp Ella’s hand. Chase’s lips tightened at this blatant disrespect.
“Now, father, why don’t we talk about why you need to give up this plan to separate us,” Chun stated quietly, a hard look in his eyes. “Remember that conversation we had months ago at the restaurant? The conversation where I told you to stay away from me and mine? I knew you would do something. The way you manipulated Blake, why would you let me get away so easily? I asked a close friend to keep an eye on you. He’s recorded everything, from the moment you hired him,” Chun remarked, gesturing with his head toward the door through which Aaron had left a minute ago. “You may have gotten away with terrorizing Ella, but you won’t get away with anything else.”
Chase’s eyes widened, as he thought back to the hundreds of private conversations that had been held in this office.
“You already know that I am willing to out you and my mother, with my mother’s blessing, to get the media to come at you. And if that’s not enough, I will also release the recordings of your plan to destroy the lives of so many innocent people, just so … why exactly? So that you can separate two people in love? Think of how that will sound to the media.”
Chase Wu’s eyes narrowed. He then exhaled, smirking slightly. “I’m doing nothing wrong,” he responded. “I’m only protecting my innocent son. I’m protecting him the way no one protected me from your mother. A woman that seduced me …”
Chun’s eyes widened angrily at the words.
“Took my seed into her body and hid from me until she gave birth to my children. Just so she could get my money.” Chase smiled slightly as he said the words. “I was able to rescue one of my children before she disappeared with my other child. I have searched for that poor child for years. And found him, just when I had lost my beloved son in a tragic car accident.” Chase Wu smirked slightly.
Chun’s lips tightened, preventing the angry words on the tip of his tongue from bursting out.
“So, now, if I have to, I will use any means to protect my innocent son,” Chase Wu continued, triumph in his gaze. “I am only a doting father. A protective father. The world will understand me.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Chun responded harshly. He paused for a moment when he felt Ella’s hand on his, squeezing lightly. When he turned to look at her, she smiled encouragingly at him. Chun took a deep breath, and forced himself to calm down. Chase Wu was not going to get a rise out of him. He was not going to react like a hotheaded little boy.
“Will the public be so understanding when you tell them that you’re doing all this to tear a husband and wife apart? A woman that has signed a prenuptial agreement, proving that she isn’t interested in my money?” Chun finally asked, breathing deeply to calm the fiery anger bubbling inside of him. “Will they understand you or sympathize with Ella, a woman who belongs to their social class … more or less?”
“What?” Chase demanded, leaning forward. “You weren’t getting married for another month!” he said angrily.
“And where exactly did you hear that?” Chun asked smugly.
“Fro—,” he stopped, realizing that his traitorous assistant had been the source of that news. “You can’t be married. You couldn’t have planned anything so quickly.”
“We eloped,” Chun responded. “It doesn’t take long to get married, when all that is needed is blood tests and city hall,’ Chun reminded his father sardonically. “While you were waiting for your play to get you the win, Ella and I were getting married. How are you going to explain your desperate need to separate your son and daughter-in-law now?”
“I will not stand to have her in my family!” Chase Wu shouted, standing up. “You do not have the right t—.”
“To what? To marry the one I love?” Chun asked. “What right do you have to come into my life and decide who I marry?!” Chun said angrily, standing up to glare into his father’s face. “What right do you have to decide? You are not my father. You are only the man that provided the sperm. My father is the man that raised me. My father is the man you plan on destroying, just so you can have your way. And I won’t let that happen.”
“I will do whatever I have to get you in your right mind,” Chase Wu said with finality. “This conversation is over.” Moving around the desk, he walked toward the door.
“I didn’t want to have to do this,” Chun said quietly, turning to stare at his father’s back. “I told you that every conversation in this office had been recorded. Do you think that I don’t know?”
Chase whirled around, his eyes opened wide in horror.
“I wondered,” Chun stated. “You were willing to throw my brother aside when Blake tried to fight you for his love. I wondered why you didn’t threaten me with disinheritance in favor of some yet unborn kid. You could have another child. You could groom him in your image. Then why, I wondered, why didn’t he threaten me with that?”
“Don’t you dare,” Chase began, his gaze moving to Ella before snapping back to land on Chun.
“You were diagnosed with cancer a year ago,” Chun continued. “When Aaron set up hearing devices in the office, you had just come off your chemotherapy. But that wasn’t the end of it, was it?”
“Don’t say another word, Chun Wu,” Chase ordered angrily.
“You’re sterile, aren’t you? The disease and the treatment … they caused you to go sterile. You can no longer have kids, can you?” Chun pushed. “How would you feel if the world found out that you were no longer man enough to have a child? You didn’t want Ella to hear, but how would you feel about having your deepest secret out there for the public to gossip and laugh about?”
“I’m your only option,” Chun reasserted. “You want to leave your wealth, your power to a Wu? I’m it. I’m your only goddamn choice. There’s only me,” he said again. “I hold all the cards in this little game of ours. You need me more than I need you. In fact, I don’t need you. At all.”
Taking Ella’s hand, Chun pulled her toward where Chase was standing. “And I promise you this. If you attempt to do anything else against Ella or me or any of our friends and family, you will regret it. I will take away the only thing you seem to care about.” Chun paused to take a deep breath. “I will take away your heir.” Walking to the door, he opened it and gestured for Ella to go ahead. He then turned back to his father.
“I will disappear. And years down the line … someone will declare me dead. You can’t leave anything to a legally dead heir, can you? Your wealth, your properties and businesses … all the things you care about, will revert to the state. And everything you’ve worked so hard for will disappear. The Wu name, as you know it, will disappear.”
Walking to the door, he paused for a moment, with his back to his father.
“I am all you have left,” Chun reminded him. “Let me have my love, and I will take care of your dynasty. Push me … you will live to regret it.” Walking through the doorway, he reached back and pulled it shut behind him.
Chase moved back to his desk, falling into his chair once more. He stared at the portrait of Chun. The picture seemed different somehow. He could see the gleam of triumph in that bastard’s gaze. ‘”How dare he think that he could beat me?” he murmured to himself.
He flinched slightly.
He threw out an arm, sweeping all of the pictures to the floor.
His hand clenched into a fist. He focused on the wrinkles on the back of his hand. When had he gotten so old? They would all think of him as weak.
Sterile. Unmanly. A joke.
Chase stared at the portrait once more. Chun had left the office without a second thought.
Chun had left Chase behind, alone, with the growing realization that he had lost.
Leaning forward, Chase grabbed the full glass sitting in front of him and brought it to his lips. He tossed the drink back, before slamming the empty glass back down on the glass surface. He frowned slightly when his gaze landed on the portrait in front of him. Leaning back in his seat, he glared balefully at Chun’s picture.
His gaze moved to the clock, and he realized that he had been sitting in his office for the past hour. It was dark now, the only light coming from the moonlight streaming in through the open curtains. His gaze flickered back to meet his son’s serious eyes. This boy … he sighed softly … this man had beaten him today.
He let his head fall back against the back of the chair and closed his eyes.
‘What am I going to do?’
A crease appeared between his eyebrows, when the memories came rushing into his mind.
His father had contracted his marriage to Belinda without asking him. That is what the patriarch of the family did. It was his right. The heir did his duty to the family and the family wealth by marrying for connections and more money.
He had complacently agreed, even though Elizabeth had been in his life at the time. She had loved him as no one else ever had. He still remembered the look on her face when he had told her about his upcoming nuptials. Despite his marriage to another woman, Elizabeth had chosen to stay by his side. Her love had kept her tied to him for years.
But then she had gotten pregnant and run away. She had found out about the pregnancy around the time he had discovered that Belinda could never have kids, which also meant that he could never have a legitimate heir. Divorce was out of the question, because Belinda came from a family as strong as the Wus. In order to keep and love one of her children, Elizabeth had made a devil’s bargain and given him Blake. And she had left Chase behind, without once looking back.
His hand gripped the glass, his mood growing darker. He had raised Blake, but lost him in a senseless car accident. When he had been about to succeed in making the Wu Empire the biggest it had ever been, success had been snatched from his grasp.
And Chun … Chun had done something that he had never had the courage or desire to do. He’d been willing to take on a powerful man to keep his love. And when nothing else had worked, he’d been willing to walk away from it all.
‘That was something I was never willing to do,’ he silently told the picture, gazing at it once more. ‘I could never walk away from all of this power and wealth.’
His hand shook slightly as he reached out a hand for the brandy decanter. Filing the glass once more, he grabbed it, bringing it to his lips. He had spent the last four decades building this dynasty, building on what his father had left behind. He had let go the love of his life, a truth that he would only admit to himself in the darkest of nights, for the power his father had held out to him. He had worked this hard … for what? So that the Wu name would be remembered generations after he had left this earth, damn it.
His fingers curled around the empty glass, and he sneered slightly. If he didn’t concede defeat now, the Wu name would disappear. And every sacrifice, every compromise he had made, every stain on his soul would all have been for naught.
Reaching out, he grabbed the receiver and dialed the number.
There was nothing else he could do.
“Nothing?” Ella asked again, gazing at the man sitting in the corner. He had a laptop open in front of him and headphones covering his ears.
“Nothing,” came back the patient response.
“Ella, please calm down,” Hebe counseled her. “Getting impatient like this isn’t really going to help.”
She snorted slightly, and then shifted in her chair. “Are you sure he didn’t just leave the office?” she demanded, staring at Aaron. “Maybe we’ve been spying on an empty room.”
“No, he’s still there,” he responded, glancing at her comfortingly. “There are intermittent noises of the chair squeaking, a glass being placed on the desk. And … he’s calling someone.”
“Who?” Ella asked, jumping up anxiously. When Chun had told her they would be facing Chase Wu together, Ella had been afraid for a moment. But she had faith in her Chun and their love. As long as she had faith, there was nothing that man could do to them. Her faith in Chun had held her together while they were in that vile man’s office. Her faith in Chun had allowed her to maintain her calm façade until they had left that house far behind. But the waiting was getting to her now. They had returned to Chun’s apartment, and had been keeping an eye on Chase, but the man hadn’t done anything in over an hour!
“Chun …” Aaron began.
Ella’s gaze swiveled to the doorway, her eyes widening when she saw Chun standing there. “When did you get back?” she demanded, bounding over to him. He’d gone out to pick up some dinner for their friends, since everyone had decided to show up at the apartment to find out how the showdown had, well, gone down.
“Chase Wu just called me,” Chun related, giving her a comforting hug.
Ella froze, pulling back to look at Chun in worry. “What did he say?”
“’You win,’” Chun replied with a big grin, leaning down to place a big kiss against Ella’s surprised lips.
“What?” Ella squawked, stepping back in shock. Could it be that easy?
“The conversation wasn’t long,” Chun stated, pulling her into the living room. Sitting down on the couch, he looked around the room, his gaze moving over his silently waiting friends before coming back to rest on Ella. “My father conceded defeat. He’ll leave us alone.”
Ella fell down beside him, and then quickly hugged him. Her body was suddenly limp with exhaustion. The tension that had kept her going had disappeared, and she could feel her fatigue pulling at her.
“I take it that means we don’t have to leave the country?” Selina asked, with a soft smile, resting her head against Calvin’s shoulder.
Ella laughed lightly, her eyes widening as the ramifications of Chase’s concession became clearer. “None of us have to go anywhere. We don’t have to hide our relationships,” she said, throwing a quick glance at Jiro and Hebe, “and we don’t have to be afraid of his manipulations. Your family will be safe now. Our friends will be safe.” She hugged Chun close. “Thank you so much for this,” she muttered against his chest. “We can be happy now.”
His arm came around to squeeze her to his side.
“He really believed that you would walk away from all of it,” Ella murmured musingly, gazing up at him.
“I would have,” Chun replied. “If I didn’t have you in my life, my life would not have been worth anything. This was the biggest gamble of my life, but I didn’t stake anything that I wasn’t willing to lose. If he hadn’t stopped, I would have walked away from all of this. He knew that. I’d talked it over with my sister and my mother, warning them about the possible explosion, and they supported me 100%.”
Ella leaned against him, seeking comfort in his embrace. She had been living with the shadow of Chase Wu for so long, that its disappearance had left her a little shell-shocked. His reaction to her being in Blake’s life, and then in Chun’s life had made her very afraid of what he might do next. “Thank you,” she whispered to Chun.
“It isn’t just me that you should thank,” he murmured, placing a soft kiss on her forehead. “If it wasn’t for Hebe, we wouldn’t have gotten the idea to get married before going off to confront Chase. And it was Calvin’s idea for the prenup, so that no one could accuse you of going after my money,” he reminded her. “For people like Chase Wu, no amount of money is ever enough. Even though you had enough funds to live on comfortably for the rest of your life, he wouldn’t think it was enough. He wouldn’t believe that you would be happy with just getting by.”
“Yeah, thanks for that,” Ella muttered, gazing at the two smiling faces. She didn’t care about what Chase Wu believed, because he had no bearing on her life any longer. She could think about the important stuff now. “I still blame the two of them for not getting a real wedding,” Ella said with a pout. “Why couldn’t we have just pretended to get married?” she demanded, bringing up the old bone of contention.
“You know why,” Chun said with exasperation. “He could have checked!”
“Hmph,” Ella muttered, looking away for a moment.
“If it’s that important to you,” Chun finally said, “we’ll get married again. And you can pretend that this marriage never happened.”
“I’m not that good at pretending,” Ella protested. “Regardless of how drab it was, it was still my wedding day,” she pointed out. “It was still the day we exchanged our vows.”
“Well, maybe you can renew your vows some day,” Selina suggested.
“Yes, I guess we can do that,” Chun said in agreement.
“We are definitely doing that,” Ella proclaimed. “You didn’t even ask me to marry you! And then we get married in a courthouse with no religious ceremony or parties or gifts.”
“It’s that last bit that bothers you most, isn’t,” Calvin asked teasingly.
“Hmph,” Ella muttered, looking away for a moment. She began to laugh softly, and hugged Chun even closer. She gazed into his eyes, and smiled. He smiled back, knowing that she was just joking around. While their wedding may not have been what either of them had planned for, but it was something the both of them had wanted. Someday, in the future, they would have a ceremony. But for now, knowing that she was by his side was more than enough.
“I still can’t believe that you didn’t tell me about Aaron,” she blurted out, glancing at the quiet man who had come to sit with all of them. “You’d had an eye on Chase Wu all this time,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief.
“I may not have known that Chase Wu was my father until three years ago,” Chun said, “But I’ve known a lot of men like him. And I know him. I knew that he wasn’t done just because I had ordered him to stay out of our lives. Everything worked out. That was when Aaron had come back into the country, and was planning on starting a private investigation business in the area. We hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, which was long enough for Chase’s people to miss the connection between us. I asked him to take on this job, and he got everything we needed.”
“Just not that play he had made about the journal,” Aaron said apologetically. “He kept that one really close to his chest.”
“But you got us everything we needed to get Chase to back off,” Ella pointed out gently. “And for that, we will always be grateful.”
“But how did you get Belinda to agree?” Jiro asked after a moment of silence. “I would never have imagined that woman to lift a finger to help her husband’s child.”
“Belinda Wu likes to look out for number one,” Chun answered. “I just pointed out that I will be inheriting all of Chase Wu’s wealth one day, and that I could make her life easy or difficult based on whether she helped me right now. She agreed. And I think she enjoyed pulling one over on Chase. She doesn’t like him at all.”
“You might not have been able to get Aaron into such a position of trust without her,” Hebe murmured.
“Probably not,” Chun acknowledged. “Well, the food is probably getting cold. Why don’t we reconvene in the dining room?” He got up, leading the way into the dining room.
There were general murmurs of consent and gradual exodus into the other room.
“Ella?” Chun asked, coming back to kneel down next to her. “Don’t you want to eat something?”
“No, let me just rest for a while,” she murmured, snuggling into the sofa cushions. She felt a soft caress against her cheek, and a kiss as gentle as the brush of butterfly wings.
“Have a good nap,” he murmured before getting up to go.
“Hmm,” Ella murmured, slipping into a light sleep even before Chun had walked away.
Her eyes blinked open a moment later, and she looked around, confused. She could hear the voices in the other room and the clinking of silverware and glasses. What had awakened her? She looked around the living room sleepily, her gaze moving over the boxes of her stuff that were still waiting to be unpacked. She yawned and got up, stretching to get rid of the kinks in her body. Turning around, she froze.
“What are you doing here?” she whispered to the man standing there, his arms crossed across his chest. “I thought I just heard you in the dining room.” He straightened from where he had been leaning against the wall. “You were watching me sleep again?” she asked with a smile. “I wasn’t snoring, right?”
He remained silent, staring at her with a small smile. She could see the love in his eyes.
She blinked and focused, rubbing at her eyes. It felt as if something had come across her eyes for a moment, making the figure blur. “What …?”
‘Be happy,’ he mouthed at her. He then slowly lifted a hand and waved at her.
She saw the lips moving. She read the words on those lips. But she couldn’t hear him. She gently tapped at her head, trying to dislodge whatever it was that was making it impossible for her to hear.
“You’re awake?” a warm voice asked from behind her.
Ella whirled around, her eyes widening when she saw Chun standing there. Turning back, she saw that he had disappeared from the corner of the room. The same corner, she realized, that housed Blake’s journals.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, seeing the look on her face. “Did something happen?”
Ella shook her head. “No, nothing,” she stated, deciding to keep this moment a secret between herself and Blake. She knew that Chun wouldn’t mind.
“I’m so happy,” she murmured, moving into his arms and hugging him tightly.
He placed a finger under her chin and gently raised her face to his. Leaning down, he kissed her softly. “I love you,” he murmured against her lips. “Are you happy?”
She nodded, blushing at the love she saw in his eyes. “Love you, too,” she stated, leaning in to kiss him once more. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she brought him closer, deepening the kiss. Resting her head against Chun’s heart, she allowed herself a chance to rest. She smiled softly, hearing the gentle beat of his heart quicken at her proximity. His heart beat for her, just like hers beat for him.
‘I will,’ she thought to herself and to the ghost of the man that had loved her so much. ‘I will be happy.’ She would be happy. There was no doubt that she would be happy. Not when she had Chun by her side.
“What?” Ella barked into the phone, unhappy to be interrupted. She wouldn’t have even bothered to pick it up, if it hadn’t been the umpteenth time it rang in the last five minutes.
“Ella?” Chun asked. “Where are you? I thought that we were supposed to meet at the house?”
“Chun,” Ella murmured weakly, sitting down. “Chun.”
“What’s wrong?” Chun demanded, hearing the worry in her voice.
“I … I can’t find the ring you gave me!” Ella blurted out, beginning to cry. She sobbed softly, clutching at the phone for dear life.
“Is that all?” Chun asked exasperatedly. “It’s just a ring, Ella. Why would you cry over such a little thing?”
“I know,” Ella got out through the tears. “I know it’s just a ring. You think I don’t know that it’s just a ring? Since you never bothered to get me an engagement or wedding ring,” she said, muttering the last in a low voice, not really wanting him to hear.
“What was that?” Chun demanded. “I missed that last part.”
She sniffled loudly, and then cleared her throat. “I said that I don’t know why I’m being so emotional. It’s just a ring.”
“No, after that.”
“Nothing,” she murmured with finality. “Dammit, Chun, what am I going to do about my ring? I just noticed that it was missing. I’ve been to hundreds of places today, I only noticed it was gone when I got to my office.”
“Forget about it,” Chun urged her. “Just come home. You’re over 15 minutes late. And you know how long it takes for you to get here.”
“But I have to look over these articles…and the ring. What about the ring? I can’t jus—”
“We’ll look for it later,” he interrupted, “I promise.”
Ella stared down at the ring on her finger, tears glistening in her eyes. An engagement ring. Five years after their hurried wedding, she’d gotten her engagement ring.
Her fingers then reached up and wrapped around the silver ring that Chun had given her on that day. In one of the darkest hours of her life, he’d placed this ring on her finger and it had become the symbol of everything good between them. It hung from a chain around her neck now.
She touched the ring on her hand once more. She’d finally gotten her engagement ring and her romantic proposal.
“Where are you right now?” Selina demanded, accompanied by the cries of a wailing baby in the background. “I thought you’d already be home. You told me that Chun had something planned for today.”
“I don’t know why he insisted today had to be the day. He knows that I had to do so much work this week. And especially after what just happened.”
“Ella, it’s your fifth wedding anniversary. You don’t think that warrants some kind of celebration?” Selina asked. “Shh, baby. Mommy is here. Let me just sit down, and I’m all yours.”
“So, how is my little namesake?” Ella asked, hearing the soft suckling noises on the other side of the phone.
“Hungry,” Selina murmured. “When are you coming over to see us?”
“You know how busy I am with work,” Ella muttered unhappily. “I don’t know what I was thinking by opening this publishing company. What made me think that I could put out a magazine every month?”
“You love it,” Selina pointed out. “Just like I love being home with my family. You know that you’re going to miss it,” she said after a short pause.
“Where’s the little brat?” Ella asked, ignoring that last bit. She quickly parked the car and got out. “I don’t hear him playing around in the background. He usually wants to talk to me when we’re on the phone.”
“Devon is out with his dad for some ‘man time’,” came back the reply. “He was getting a little jealous of all the attention everyone has been paying to his little sister, so I suggested an outing for just the two of them.”
“Have you heard anything from Hebe?” Ella asked, walking up the steps of their house.
“Why would she be calling us on her honeymoon?” Selina asked laughingly. “I think she is a little busy with other things. More important things.” She sighed softly. “I miss those things,” she murmured wistfully. “Not that I regret this little treasure.”
“You’re right,” Ella murmured. “What was I think—” her voice stopped, her eyes frozen to the rose petals on the floor. The trail of petals lead from the door toward the back of the house.
“Ella?” Selina asked at the continued silence.
“I … I’ll call you back, Selina. There’s something here that needs my attention.”
“I’ll be waiting,” Selina replied, quickly hanging up the phone. “Can’t wait to hear from you about the ring.”
Ring? Why was Selina talking about a ring? I didn’t even tell her that I’d lost mine.
Thunder growled loudly nearby, making Ella jump. Where was Chun? He’d promised her that he would be home early today. They’d both been so busy for the last few months, that they hadn’t had time for just themselves. She’d needed this time together. She wanted to talk to him again. She wanted to tell him things. Important things.
Chun’s responsibilities had steadily increased from when Chase Wu had passed away due to complications from the return of his cancer. His death had been sudden and unexpected. While Chun was actively delegating and reorganizing, it would take time for things to get back on a steady footing. It would take time for them to get their lives back, a little at a time.
She jumped again, her eyes widening at the lightening that lit up the night sky. She moved away from the window, not wanting to be too close a witness to the elements in all of their riotous glory.
She walked deeper into the dark living room, her gaze moving over the room. This room … this house still didn’t feel like a home. It had been a year, but Chase Wu’s stamp was still on every little thing in this mansion. After moving in, Ella had had to take over the duties inherent to the wife of Chun Wu, the man that now controlled a large portion of this country’s industries. Belinda Wu had gladly relinquished the reins, looking forward to a life of luxury and unlimited funds.
Ella had given up the publishing company that she had started a just a couple of years ago, and she hadn’t regretted it one bit. She knew that all of these responsibilities were part and parcel of being Chun Wu’s wife, and being his wife warranted any sacrifice. Moving toward the back of the enormous house, she peered out into the backyard getting drenched by the swiftly falling rain.
Ella hesitantly followed the trail of roses through the back door and out into the garden. Her mouth dropped open in shock, seeing the candles and roses set up in the gazebo. The glow of the candles turned a cold and dreary night into the stuff of dreams.
“Chun?” she asked, walking toward the gazebo. Her hands came up to smooth down her flyaway hair, and she quickly pulled out a compact mirror and lipstick, frantically applying it to her lips. Hurriedly pinching her face, she brought some color to her pale cheeks.
“Chun?” Her voice fell away when she saw him standing the center of the gazebo, a bouquet of roses in his hands. There was a small velvet box on the table beside him.
“What are you … our wedding anniversary doesn’t really warrant all of this, does it?” Ella asked softly, her eyes watering. She smiled softly when she saw the love in his eyes.
“Our wedding anniversary? Why wouldn’t it?” Chun murmured, handing her the bouquet and leaning down to kiss her on the lips. “But even if you have doubts on that score, know that your wedding proposal certainly does.”
Ella gasped softly when she saw him reaching for the velvet box. She held her breath when his fingers carefully opened it. And her heart dropped when she saw her silver ring. She’d … expected a little something different. A little something like the ring he’d presented to her right before she’d hyperventilated and ruined the whole thing.
“My ring,” she murmured, glad to see it back nonetheless.
Chun pulled out the ring and reached inside his jacket. Pulling out another velvet box, he opened it, revealing a platinum chain, which he then threaded through the ring. Reaching around her neck, he tenderly locked the necklace into place. Ella felt the weight of the chain landing against her heart, before sliding to rest between her breasts.
“This was the only piece of jewelry I’ve given you since our wedding, because you were always insistent that you wanted an engagement ring before anything else. I waited all of this time,” Chun murmured, “Because you told me how important it was to you to have a beautiful proposal and wedding. It was important to me that nothing overshadow those moments for you. I waited all this time because I did not want Chase Wu’s shadow hanging over us when we started our lives together for the second time.”
Chun slowly knelt down before her, his hand coming up to grasp her hand, bringing it to his lips for a gentle kiss. He reached into his pocket and brought out yet another velvet box.
“How many of those do you have?” Ella asked, half in laughter and half in tears from the emotions welling up inside of her.
Chun pulled out the ring and placed it onto her ring finger. Ella gasped again, realizing that it was the same ring that Chun had tried to give her before. He’d held onto it all this time.
“We’ll be moving into the Wu mansion soon. A large percentage of the time our lives will no longer be our own. But I wanted to start our new lives together by following through on that promise I made to you five years ago.”
Chun got up and pulled Ella into his arms. “Knowing the kind of future that we will have together … knowing that we will always be under media scrutiny … knowing that you will have to make sacrifices to perform the duties of a Wu wife … knowing all of that, will you marry me again? Will you be my wife, to have and to hold, till death and beyond?”
“I don’t mind of any that,” Ella protested, wrapping her arms around Chun’s neck. She brought him close and placed a soft kiss against his waiting lips. “Because I also know that you love me. That you will always love me. I know that you will support me. I know that while our days may be busy, I will sleep in your arms every night.” She rested her head against his chest, placing her ear over his heart, and listening to the reassuring thumping of the heart that beat only for her. “I know that the media may write about us, but our truly intimate moments will remain private, because you will insure it. I trust you to be there for me and to protect me. And I will be there for you, Chun Wu.” Her voice shook slightly on those last words. Ella had to stop and clear her throat before continuing. “Yes, I will marry you,” she whispered huskily, tears beginning to fall from her eyes. “I will stand by your side. As long as you need me, I will never abandon you.” She smiled through her tears, her heart lurching to see those same emotions in his eyes.
“I will always need you, Ella Wu.” His words were a whisper, as he lowered his head to press his lips against hers.
Her eyes landed on the humongous tent she hadn’t expected to see there. As the wind moved aside the flaps of the tent, she saw the glow of hundreds of lanterns. Her eyes widened, as she saw the flurry of movement.
“What the hell is going on?” she muttered, wondering if she had forgotten some important event. She’d spent the entire day with the Wu Charitable Foundation, hammering out the details for a new scholarship. She’d just gotten home half an hour ago, in the driving rain, and had seen no hint of any human activity. “What kind of event is it that couldn’t be canceled?” she muttered to herself, walking toward the door. “And why on our anniversary?”
Pulling open the door, she stared at the beehive of activity in her gardens, something that she hadn’t even suspected when she’d come home. Her shoulders fell slightly, realizing that the hoped-for intimate dinner she’d wanted to share with Chun on their sixth wedding anniversary wasn’t meant to be.
“Ella, what are you doing over there?” a voice demanded from behind her.
“Hebe? What are you doing here?” Ella asked, turning to look at her heavily pregnant friend. She raised her eyebrows in surprise when she saw Hebe’s elegant appearance. “Why are you so dressed up? And the purple? I thought you said the only thing that should be purple is hair?” As the thunder growled once more, she turned to stare at the rain and then turned back to glare at Hebe. “You drove here in this weather?” she demanded, striding over to make sure that everything was okay. “Hebe, you’re eight months pregnant!”
“Ella, I’m pregnant, not an imbecile,” Hebe shot back in irritation. “I do know how to drive safely, even in torrents of rain. And it’s not like I never dress up. I just don’t see any reason to bother half the time.”
“Well, you were the most comfortable looking bride I’d ever seen,” Ella murmured cheekily.
“Whatever,” she muttered balefully, crossing her arms. “I want to talk to you. Let’s go upstairs,” she demanded.
“Sure, but let me just check one thing,” Ella murmured, glancing back at the beehive of activity. “Can’t you se—”
“Right now, woman!” Hebe barked at her and turned away, leaving Ella no choice but to follow.
Ella quickly moved up the steps, wanting to keep an eye on Hebe. The two stepped into her room, and Ella stopped in surprise.
“Selina, what are you doing here?” she asked her other best friend. “Look, you two are wearing matching dresses,” Ella pointed out cheerfully, staring at Selina and Hebe. “But, Selina, you told me you had plans with Calvin tonight. What happ—?” Ella’s voice fell away when she saw what Selina had been hiding behind her. She gasped softly, a smile beginning to play on her lips. Her hand went up to clutch at her silver ring necklace, as she fought to catch her breath. Her gaze traveled over the white dress set out in front of her, moving appreciatively over the delicate lace and beadwork.
“What?” She cleared her throat. “What is all of this?” she finally got out past the knot in her throat.
“Chun asked you to marry him last year,” Selina said, coming over to hug Ella enthusiastically. “Haven’t you wondered when the wedding was going to be?”
“I didn’t think he would have time to plan all of this,” Ella murmured, gazing at the veil placed next to the dress. “He’s been so busy. We’ve been missing each other for the past few months, doing fly-by dinners and mainly meeting in our dreams. And all this time, he was planning this?”
“With our help,” Hebe pointed out archly, sitting on the bed, with a hand on her bulging stomach.
Ella chuckled softly and gave Selina a quick hug, before making her way to Hebe to grab her in a gentle hug.
The next two hours passed as if they were part of a dream. Ella watched herself putting on the beautifully designed wedding dress through a happiness-induced haze. Then the makeup. She smiled with tears in her eyes as Hebe helped her with the jewelry. Her lips trembled when Selina helped her with the veil.
“No crying,” Hebe ordered crankily, before wrapping an arm around Ella’s bare shoulders. “You have no idea how hard Chun worked to make this perfect. And you certainly don’t want to be photographed with raccoon eyes, right? And that’ll certainly happen if you cry and your mascara begins to run.”
“Couldn’t you guys get waterproof mascara?” Ella quipped.
“Aren’t you ready yet?” Calvin’s voice called from down the hallway. “The guests are all here. We’ve been freezing our butts out there in this rainy weather.” He knocked briskly before opening the door. He paused for a moment and then flashed his trademark smile, and continued, “Chun’s starting to panic,” he told Ella. “He thinks you’re going to jilt him at the altar.”
Ella’s eyes widened at this statement. “What? How could that even be possible? Even if I did run away right now, we’d still be married.”
“So, the thought did cross your mind?” Calvin asked teasingly.
Ella shook her head at him, before turning back to the mirror. She gazed at her reflection through her veil and smile. “I’m ready.”
And suddenly it was as if time skipped a few beats, and she was there, standing at the entrance of the tent. There, she found Chun’s family, Selina’s parents, her friends … they were all waiting inside for her. For a moment she paused, thinking about all of the loved ones that had left her behind, but only for a moment. She saw her future in front of her. Chun. Who was standing there at the end of the aisle, with his heart in his eyes. His smile grew bigger and bigger, as she made her way to him.
In the end, it wasn’t the guests or the horrible weather that she would remember. It wouldn’t be the flowers, the dress or the veil. It wouldn’t even be the vows they exchanged. She wanted to remember the love she saw in his eyes. It would be a memory she wanted to hold onto until the end.
Well, that, and the wedding ring he had just slipped onto her finger. She felt warm drops on her cheeks, and she realized that she had begun to cry.
“I love you,” Chun whispered against her ear, before sliding his lips across her cheek to plant a gentle kiss against her lips. His fingers reached out and wiped away her tears. “I love you. We’ll be happy, right? Just the two of us.”
She nodded. And then shook her head, a smile spreading across her face.
Chun wrinkled his brow at her in query.
“The three of us. For now,” she whispered lovingly, taking his hand and placing it against her womb, where their child grew. Chun’s eyes widened in shock, and then he whooped with joy. Grabbing her around the waist, he picked her up and whirled her around. Oblivious to the cheers of their friends and family around them, he allowed her to slide to the floor and then swooped in for another kiss.
“I’m going to be a father!” he shouted out to the expectant crowd. “We’re going to be parents!” Everyone began to cheer once more, delighted by the news. Calvin and Jiro popped the corks of champagne bottles and began to spray everyone around them. Selina could be heard laughing on one side. And, a moment later, they heard Hebe begin to curse crankily, warning Calvin to stay away if he knew what was better for him.
Ella smiled at the rings on her finger, before raising her eyes to meet Chun’s. He smiled happily, shaking his head slightly at their friends’ shenanigans. Reaching out, he latched an arm around her waist, and pulled her close. Nuzzling her ear, he whispered, “We’ll live happily ever after. Forever.”
Ella rested her head against his broad shoulder and sighed deeply. A smile grew on her face, until you couldn’t help but notice the pure joy in it. She gazed at her rings once more, her finger lightly caressing the warm metal.
Forever would last the rest of their lives and beyond.
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