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Zhu Yuchen nodded. Failure and defeat bled through his poised countenance. “Hah… Ah Ning, you are the bravest girl I’ve ever met. Why are you so unsure of yourself when it comes to Yin Zhihan?”
“Maybe it has something to do with my personality…”
“Ah Ning, it doesn’t have anything to do with your personality. It’s because you don’t just like Yin Zhihan. You are in love with him. You are afraid of rejection because you love him so deeply. Your love for him has merely drawn out your deepest insecurities - it has nothing to do with any defect of character on your part.”
Could Yuchen be on to something?
Lu Ning’s heart skipped a beat. Was she in love with him?
When had she fallen in love?
Diving into the memories of her past was not a complicated matter. One memory, in particular, stood out. It was around the time she was 15 years old. She remembered injuring her leg and how Zhihan had taken it upon himself to bandage her wound, going so far as to bring her books to read so she wouldn’t be bored. Lu Ning felt the first stirrings of her heart were then.
Gratitude gave way to intrigue, and before she knew it, it had transformed into the beginnings of love. Since then, she never managed to put aside her feelings for him, regardless of how she tried.
Subconsciously, Lu Ning rejected him. She was afraid of love. For a burgeoning young girl of her nature, love was a foreign concept. Like many others of her disposition, she shunned it, too afraid her passionate love would consume her; More so in the unfortunate event should Zhihan fail to return her feelings.
“Ah Ning, Yin Zhihan is already dating Ann. If he can throw you to the back of his mind so soon after falling out, I’d advise you to reconsider. In terms of marriage, I’m a much better candidate than Yin Zhihan.”
In her heart of hearts, Lu Ning knew, without a doubt, that Yin Zhihan would not be a suitable marriage partner. One might compare him to a work of art in that regard. He was an object to be admired from a distance, nothing more.
Yet, what the mind proposes, the heart often disposes.
She wanted to follow her heart.
“Yuchen, thank you for your kind consideration, but I must humbly decline your affections. Yin Zhihan and I will let nature take its course…”
Three months later…
During these three months, Yin Zhihan did not return to the company. Lu Ning had not seen him for a very, very long time, and the two of them did not have any contact.
On this day, Lu Ning decided to take leave for a short vacation - a month’s break to rest and relax.
She had not slept well these past three months. Lu Ning’s mind often replayed the scene of a particular sedan some three months ago. Perhaps it was just Zhihan’s way of flirting with girls, but she could not help but read more into it.
This holiday was a chance to let her hair down, to forget the pesky nuisance that was her overactive imagination. It was a time for fun and games.
Lu Ning did not go alone. She went on vacation with her good friend and colleague, Xiao Qiu. The two of them spent seven days shopping in Hong Kong before flying into Macau for some fun.
One day, Xiao Qiu brought her to a white sandy beach overlooking a large, pellucid lake. She pointed at a palatial yacht cresting over the blue waters. “Ah Ning, let’s board that yacht.”
Lu Ning glanced at the yacht and smiled. “Xiao Qiu, stop fooling around. That yacht is a place for the rich. It isn’t something we can venture into without an invitation.”
“You’ll be glad to know, then, that I managed to snag one!” Xiao Qiu smirked proudly.
Lu Ning’s gaping mouth resembled an elegant koi. “Oh my God, Xiao Qiu, you’re… amazing. I don’t know what to say. How did you get your hands on an invitation?”
“I got this invitation from a good friend of mine. She couldn’t attend the event - she said something about having another engagement - so she transferred her invitation rights to me.”
“Is that so? When did you become friends with such a wealthy person? The invitation can’t be fake, can it? If we get kicked out, it’ll be such a scandal!”
“Ah Ning, this invitation is real. Come one, let’s go in already!”
Xiao Qiu all but dragged Lu Ning to the yacht with giddy excitement. “Ah Ning, let me tell you. There are many rich people on board this yacht. This yacht is hosting a masque and an underground casino. Honestly, we’ve been in Macau for so long but not once have you stepped foot into a casino. You don’t know what you’re missing!”
Casinos were places where vice took on physical form and clung to individuals like a second skin. They were sites of opulent indulgence, where the upper rungs of society mingled and enjoyed themselves. Those who did not lack money and those who hoped to strike it rich often mingled shoulder to shoulder in these raucous dens. People like Lu Ning would never venture into one. All that she had was won through hard work. It was not something she could afford to squander in places like casinos.
As someone from the mainland, Lu Ning feared the many stigmas attached to casinos in general, many of which stemmed from the vague impressions of them she had garnered via television dramas and old-fashioned crime movies. She was afraid of being caught by the police. She did not fancy the idea of sitting behind bars for the rest of her life.
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