Warning: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in ..../includes/class_bbcode.php on line 2958
Always & Forever
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 34

Thread: Always & Forever

  1. #1
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default Always & Forever

    I posted this story years ago, but due to my extremely long absences from updating, I had the thread deleted. I've recently had the chance to edit the chapters I previous wrote. Hopefully, I'll be able to update on a more regular basis.






    Forewords
    The setting starts out in present day Hong Kong. Ruby Lin is an inexperienced news journalist, dedicated to her job, but keeps finding herself in difficult situations because of her hot temper and honest opinions. Her turbulent meetings with Tae Leung, a handsome and extremely influential singer/actor, only intensify her dislike for him. To her horror, she is assigned to work alongside Tae. He may be charming and suave with other women, but Ruby manages to bring out another side of him that he didn’t even know existed.

    Annie Man is a levelheaded, down-on-her-luck caterer. With her catering company not doing well and mortgage bills to pay, she is desperately trying to make ends meet. Her first encounter with Kevin Cheng results in a misunderstanding that jumpstarts their relationship. Kevin is presumed to be a normal wealthy businessman, yet there is more to him than meets the eye. Annie also has her share of secrets that will threaten the lives of people around her.

    Tae and Ruby’s relationship is a rocky one, but will it end up as true love? Will Kevin and Annie be able to overcome their painful pasts? Read on and find out…

  2. #2
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 1 – First Encounter

    The loud buzzing of the alarm clock nosily erupted in a small, but neatly decorated room. A hand sleepily reached out from under a fluffy comforter to turn off the alarm and pulled it under the blanket. The cover was immediately thrown off the bed to reveal a wide-eyed lovely young woman. She quickly jumped up and started ripping her pajamas off.

    “My God!” she screamed. “It’s 7:30! Why didn’t Annie wake me up?! Oh no, I’m going to be late again!” Being in a hurry, she barely had the chance to check her image in the mirror. Then again, she rarely gave much thought to her appearance. Her heart-shaped face, thick shiny hair, rosy red lips, and fair complexion had always made it easy for her to look her best.

    After rushing to finish dressing, brushing her teeth, and combing her hair, she went to the adjacent room to search for her best friend. “Annie?” Seeing a note on the table, she picked up the small sheet and started reading it. “Got to leave early. I made breakfast for you and left it on the kitchen table. I’ll see you later tonight.”

    She grabbed her briefcase and hastily went to the kitchen to see scrambled eggs, two slices of toast on a plate and a glass of orange juice next to it. She picked up a piece of toast and hungrily munched on it as she glanced at her watch. “I don’t have time for breakfast,” she spoke with her mouth full.

    She raced out the door to take the elevator eleven stories down. Reaching the busy streets below, she anxiously searched for a taxi. Spotting a “For Hire” tag behind the front window of a red taxi across the streets, a happy grin appeared on her face. She popped the remaining small piece of toast into her mouth and ran toward the car while frantically waving her hand. In her excitement, she failed to notice a silver BMW racing down the street at a dangerous speed. A loud honk caught her attention. Spinning around, she turned pale as she saw the oncoming car and stood frozen on the spot. She fell to the ground in shock as the car stopped within inches of hitting her.

    A man wearing a pair of stylish black shades on the top of his head rushed out of the driver’s seat and approached her. “Miss, are you all right?” he asked in concern. “Are you hurt?”

    The man’s deep husky voice shook her out of a daze. She turned to gaze into a pair of mesmerizing eyes. With jet black hair, a strong prominent nose, and the lean stature of a model, he was easily one of the most handsome men she had seen. She had little time to be ogling attractive men. She glanced up and realized the taxi had already left. There were no other cabs around. Despair overwhelmed her as she stood up. “Why didn’t you watch where you were driving?” She turned her anger on the man. “You could have killed someone.”

    “Look lady, why didn’t you check both ways before crossing the street.” He gave her body a quick glance and said, “Well, it’s apparent that you’re not hurt. Since no damage is done, I’ll be on my way.”

    She had to find a way to get to work. Left with little option, she quickly latched on to his arm. “Where are you going? You can’t just leave like this.”

    He released a heavy sigh and turned around. “What do you want then?”

    “I’m late for work and since you caused me to miss my taxi, you have to let me use your car.”

    “Women and their crazy demands,” he muttered. He walked to his car and opened the passenger door. “Fine, get in the car and I’ll take you to work.”

    She cleared her throat. “Ahem, I’ll be the one driving, if you don’t mind.”

    “What?! Of course, I mind. This is a brand new BMW 3 Series 330ci convertible. There’s no way I’m letting a stranger drive my baby around,” he stated incredulously.

    “How do I know you’re not a crazed maniac ready to abduct and kill me?”

    “This is my car and I’m going to drive. If you would stop arguing with me, I might get you to work on time.”

    She quickly contemplated her options. She would probably have to wait awhile until another taxi came along and she was already late three times this month. Mr. Wu would not be a happy man if she came late again. “Fine, but I’m warning you, I know karate.”

    He frowned as he got into the driver’s seat. “You are one paranoid woman.”

    She sat down on the passenger seat and buckled her seat belt. “Have you heard the news lately? The crime rates in Hong Kong are soaring. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

    “By the way, my name is Kevin Cheng. May I ask what is your name or is that prying too much?”

    “Ruby,” she curtly replied.

    “Well it’s nice to meet you too, Ruby. Do you have a last name?”

    She suspiciously studied his profile. “Why are you asking so many questions?” She started tapping her watch with her index finger. “Just drive.”

    He shifted the car into drive mode. “Geesh, it was just a simple question. You don’t have to get all nasty. Where to?”

    “Hong Kong Daily News corporate office on the corner of Wyndham and Lan Kwai Street.”

    “Okay, hold onto your seat.” He slammed his foot on the gas petal and the car zoomed down the streets, causing her to jerk back against the seat. She quickly grabbed on to the door handle with both hands and prayed for her life.

    “Oh my God, I’m going to die!” she cried out with her eyes tightly shut. Seeing her life passed before her eyes, she began praying to the Almighty Lord. Oh God, haven’t I always been a good girl? Okay, okay, so maybe I’m not always good, but I don’t deserve to go out like this. There are so many things I haven’t done yet. Besides, what kind of friend would I be without saying goodbye to Annie before I leave? If you allow me to get out of this predicament alive, I promise to go to church every Sunday from now on. I’ll even stay awake for all the sermons too. Thinking that it wasn’t a good idea to bargain with God, she decided to change her tactic to begging. Oh, please, pleasssssssssse, don’t let me die.

    She was too preoccupied with her conversation with God to notice that the car had stopped moving. He gazed at her and amusement lit up his features. “You can open your eyes now. See, I got you safe and sound to work.”

    Slowly peeking out from under her eyelids, she turned to stare at the tall building to her left and saw a huge sign with the words Hong Kong Daily News plastered on top. She pinched herself to verify that she was still alive. Relief poured through her tensed body as she turned to glare at him. Picking up her briefcase, she whacked him in the arm and shoulders several times.

    “Hey! What was that for?”

    “What are you trying to do? Kill me? At first you tried to run me over with your car and now you want to send me to an early grave by crashing it?”

    He tentatively rubbed his arm where she hit him. “Don’t be ridiculous. My driving is top notch. Ever since I got my license, I have never been in a car accident. No tickets either.”

    She didn’t even bother to respond back. She hastily opened the door and wobbled out. The ride still left her shaken as she stood on unstable legs. She straightened her outfit and proceeded toward the building.

    He stuck his head out the window and yelled out to her rapidly retreating back, “Do I hear a thank you for my help?!” She continued walking without a backward glance. “You’re welcome!”

    She rushed through the revolving glass door and went up the elevator. Upon reaching her desk, she glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was exactly eight o’clock a.m. She barely made it. Grinning, she turned on her computer and started to organize the papers on her desk. Suddenly, she saw Ada Choi, Chief Editor of the newspaper, coming out of Mr. Wu’s office. She was a tall, elegant woman with straight midnight colored hair and large enchanting eyes. They were college roommates. Ever since their first meeting, there was a mutual respect between them, which only grew with time. Ruby’s quick-witted and straightforward attitude along with Ada’s earnest personality resulted in them becoming close friends. Ada also introduced Ruby to work at the company.

    “Mr. Wu wants to speak to you.”

    “Do you know what this is regarding?”

    “Not sure, but he’s waiting for you in his office.”

    “Thanks.” She approached Daniel Wu’s office with a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. The vice president, a kindly old man in his late fifties, placed aside the file he had been reading and gestured for her to sit down. He gave her a serious look. “Ruby, as you know, your 90 day evaluation period is almost here and I would like to commend the wonderful job you’ve been doing. We would love to hire you full time, but with this slumping economy, the company has to proceed with some major cutbacks.”

    Great! I’m probably going to be fired. She mentally prepared herself for the worst.

    “You have great potential and I really hate to lose such a great employee, but management still needs to do some more evaluation before making the final decision. In the event that we have to let you go, we will give you two weeks to find another position elsewhere. Hopefully, I will have better news for you next time”

    She was trying hard to smile. “I understand Mr. Wu. In either case, I would just like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to gain some experience in journalism. It has always been my dream to be a good journalist and I learned a great deal during the three months at this company.”

    “I’ll keep you updated on the situation. Hopefully, I can give you better news next time.”

    She stood up and left his office with a heavy heart. Feeling rather depressed, she went back to her desk and contemplated on what to do next.

    **********

    On the other side of town, Kevin was driving into a parking construction. After parking his car, he headed toward the elevator

    “Good morning, Mr. Cheng,” greeted the security guard

    He turned to wave at the other man. “Morning.” Getting off on the top floor of the thirty story high building, he walked across expensive plush carpeting and arrived at Cheng Architecture, Inc. Sitting down on his leather chair, he started examining the designs for a new housing complex his company was in charge of designing.

    The door suddenly burst open and a lanky woman in her late thirties strolled into the room. Stopping in front of his desk, she crossed her arms over her chest and peered over her wire-rimmed spectacles. “Well, I’m glad you’ve finally decided to show up for work today, boss,” she said with annoyance on her face.

    “Don’t look so ticked off, Lydia.” He gave her a dazzling smile. “It’s only ten o’clock. I’m already an hour earlier than my usual time.”

    Lydia Lai had worked twelve years for Kevin’s father before deciding to switch over to help Kevin. She was a competent and hard worker, but she also had a very frank attitude. He always considered her as part of the family and treated her like an older sister rather than just an employee.

    “That would be fine if the company doesn’t open at eight,” she retorted. “Where have you been? I left like a hundred messages on your cell phone.”

    He shrugged and returned his attention back to the blueprints. “I guess I forgot to turn it on. Was there something important?”

    She started tapping her fingers on her arms. “Yes. Carmen called and left a message saying that she’s breaking up with you. Since she couldn’t get a hold of you either, she decided to call me. I had to sit and listen to an hour of her sobbing and complaining. I’m your secretary, not your personal servant. I don’t know why I always get pulled into these affairs and have to deliver news on your breakups to you.”

    He released a heavy sigh and raked his hands through his hair. “What did I do wrong this time?”

    “You forgot her birthday, but that’s not the only reason she dumped you. In addition to being inconsiderate, you always arrive to your dates at least half an hour late, you never listen to her or talk to her. Worse of all, you promised to pick up her parents at the airport, but left them waiting for three hours.”

    He jerked his head up and replied in a defensive tone, “How was I supposed to know it would rain and there would be a car accident causing the entire street to be blocked?”

    “If you had left earlier rather than waiting till the last minute, you could have avoided the traffic. Anyway, your mother also called to remind you not to be late to Sarah’s wedding reception tonight.”

    “Oh noooooo,” he moaned. “I totally forgot about her wedding. Now with Carmen gone, where am I going to get a date on such short notice? My mother always tries to hook me up with some simpering girl whenever she sees me. You have no idea how torturous it is to spend several hours trying to converse in boring talks about the latest fashion or the cutest hairstyle. Damn, I need a drink.” He went over to the mini bar in the corner of the room and poured himself a brandy. While sipping the liquor, his eyes lit up as an idea hit him. He grinned at Lydia and gave her a knowing look.

    She held up her hands and violently shook her head. “Oh, no. Don’t even think about it. I am not going to set you up with my friends again. You always charm them to fall head over heels for you, and then you break their hearts. I’m the one that ends up cleaning up the mess.”

    He placed his elbows on the countertop and started to massage his temple with his middle fingers. He sighed pitifully. “I’m thirty-one, passably good looking, have a great source of income, and own a thriving company. Why is it so difficult for me to get a date to attend a party?”

    “Now you know how I feel listening to your mother and ex-girlfriends complain about you.” She smiled at his misery. “You really got yourself into a fine mess this time. Good luck trying to find a date within several hours notice.”

    “I don’t see why it takes women days to prepare for a wedding. I mean, how hard is it to go out and buy a dress?”

    “Sure, it’s a really simple task, but we women are just making a big deal out nothing, right?”

    He wisely refrained from commenting. Women can be a big source of headache sometimes and he wasn’t foolish enough to provoke this one. He played it safe by turning his attention back to his drink.

    She turned to exit the room. “And another thing, you have an appointment with Miss Annie Man in fifteen minutes regarding a party arrangement.”

    “What party arrangement?” There was a very confused expression on his face. “I don’t remember making an appointment with her.”

    She turned back around and sighed. “Remember, Benny recommended her services for parties and public functions? She called a week ago and set up an appointment with you to discuss the details.”

    He frowned as he tried to remember. “Oh yeah, Benny did mention something about her.” With a thoughtful look, his face unexpectedly brightened and he slammed his drink down on the counter. He was grinning from ear to ear. “Lydia, my worries are over. Send her in when she arrives.” She shrugged and gave a baffle shake of her head.

    Sitting down on his chair, he swiveled around to gaze through the large glass window at the view of the city bustling to life below. He started to whistle a happy tune as he recalled his conversation with Benny more than a week ago. He was studying a complex blue print on the reconstruction of a popular entertainment center when Benny called regarding Sarah’s wedding. With his attention solely focused on his work, he didn’t pay much attention to what his friend was talking about.

    Now, he vaguely remembered the subject of hiring call girls to attend social events being brought up near the end of the conversation. He was overjoyed at the fact that he no longer had to deal with the headache of finding a date to attend his cousin’s wedding. Hiring an escort was a brilliant move. With one less thing to worry about, he went back to the stack of documents on his desk.

    **********

    A petite young woman wearing a navy blue business suit was standing on the sidewalk below Kevin’s window. Just when she was about to step foot into the building, a shiny object on the ground caught her attention. She stopped to pick up the coin. “See a penny, pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck.”

    Annie pocketed the coin and proceeded toward the elevator. Pulling up her sleeve, she checked the time and was pleased to see that she was a couple of minutes early for her appointment with Kevin Cheng. Due to the slumping economy, her catering business had not been doing too well over the past several months. She was hoping to land a job for some of Cheng Architecture’s social events or at least get a couple of business contacts. It was not surprising that her company had being doing badly. The wealthy were not interested in her small catering company and the not so rich were saving their money by cooking themselves or hiring less expensive caterers.

    Benny really did her a favor by recommending her name and providing her with the opportunity to get some new customers. She met him through a mutual friend two years ago. With any luck, she’ll get a large catering order after this meeting. She entered the only office on the thirtieth floor. “Good morning. My name is Annie Man and I have an appointment with Mr. Cheng.”

    “Good morning. Please have a seat,” Lydia smiled as she greeted the young lady.

    “Thank you.”

    Lydia picked up her phone and dialed an extension. “Mr. Cheng, Annie Man is here for your appointment.” After hanging up the phone, she said, “He is ready to see you.”

    Annie followed her down the hallway and stopped in front of a door. After a knock, a muffled voice from inside told them to come in. She entered a spacious room that was lavishly decorated. Either Mr. Cheng had really good tastes in decorating or he hired a terrific interior designer. A man in a posh business suite sat behind a glossy wooden desk reading a report. With his black hair smoothly swept back, the determine set of his jaw, broad shoulders, and keen assessing eyes, he looked every inch the prominent businessman she envisioned. As Lydia left the room, he approached her with an outstretched hand. She slipped her small hand into his strong grip. She was rather surprised to find him so young and attractive.

    There was a brief flash of perfect white teeth as he introduced himself. “Kevin Cheng. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Would you like something to drink?”

    “Water would be fine.” She took a seat across from his chair as he went to the mini bar. Placing her drink on the table, he sat back down on his chair.

    Annie Man did not seem like the call girl type, but then again, appearances can be deceiving. She wasn’t gorgeous, but she had an unembellished oval face with dark shoulder length hair. Her piercing brown eyes were bright and luminous. Her brows were nicely shaped, forming perfect light arches. He found himself staring at her full lips. She had on dark pink lipstick, a color that seemed to match her very well. He especially liked her pert nose. It gave her a proud look that was not exactly haughty. He found himself finding her more striking by the minute. She could definitely grow on a person. He had seen his share of beautiful women, but there was just something about her that stood out. It must be her eyes. They seem to hold so much depth and mystery that he was instantly absorbed by her presence.

    “I know you made an appointment with me to discuss certain potential party arrangements, but I wasn’t aware of the specific details. Could you recap the details for me?”

    “Of course, Mr. Cheng ---”

    “Call me Kevin.”

    With a slight curving of her lips, she continued on, “Kevin. The services I provide for parties range from decorations to the planning of invitations to preparing---”

    “Do you also attend the social events you planned?” he interrupted her again.

    “Yes, I do,” she answered with a startled look. “I often show up with the host or hostess to make sure everything goes well.”

    “Great! Do you have any plans tonight?”

    She hesitated as she shifted in her seat. “Why do you ask?”

    “I have a wedding to attend to later on in the evening and would like you to join me.” She was a bit taken aback that he would ask her on a date when they just met. He was certainly very straightforward. Thinking of declining, she considered the possibility of getting potential catering jobs if she went with him.

    Noting her uncertainty, he decided to give her an offer she can’t refuse. “I’m well aware that this is short notice, but I will compensate you for your time. I’m not sure what you charge for the entire night, but would $1,000 cover it?”

    “Excuse me, I’m not sure I understand you,” she stated in a puzzled voice.

    “I would like you to be my escort for the night,” he explained. “Just name your price. I’m sure we can negotiate something to both our likings.”

    Shock registered through her as she realized he was paying her to go out with him. She had never felt so insulted in her life. She was a caterer, not some cheap ***** willing to go out with him for a couple of bucks. Well, perhaps not cheap, but the principle of the matter still left her fuming with anger. She forced a smile on her lips. “Just how much are you willing to pay me to accompany you on this little outing?”

    Putting on a business face, he leaned back in his chair and thought over the amount. “I like your frankness. My final offer stands at $1500.”

    “When you put it that way, I can only do one thing.” She picked up her purse and stood up.

    Thinking that she finally agreed to the deal, he gave a satisfied nod and stood up. “So, I’ll pick you up at 6?”

    She was normally very composed and amiable, but when provoked, her temper can run quite wild. Any ordinary girl would probably yell or at worst give him a slap on the face, but unfortunately for Kevin, she was not an ordinary girl. Balling up her right hand into a tight fist, she unexpectedly swung at his face, punching him directly in the left eye.

    He immediately fell back into his chair moaning in pain. He clutched his left eye as he screamed at her. “Have you gone mad?! Why the hell did you hit me?!”

    Her eyes blazed with rage as she yelled out indignantly, “You jerk! Don’t ever let me see your face again! Otherwise, I’ll punch that other eye of yours too!”

    She stormed out of the room, rushing pass a very surprised Lydia. Quickly getting into the elevator, she pushed the button for the ground level. As the door opened, she was too busy mentally cursing to notice a man was standing in front of the elevator, waiting to get in. She bumped right into him and lost her balance. He took several steps backward and was able to catch her in time.

    “Pardon me,” she uttered as she clung on to his shoulders. “I didn’t see you. I’m so sorry.”

    “That’s all right. No harm done.”

    She straightened up and barely gave a glance at him. She left in a fit of rage. The man scratched his head, guessing she wasn’t having a very good day. Arriving at Cheng Architecture, Inc., he was surprised to see that Lydia was not at her desk. There was a loud commotion coming from an office down the hall. He hastily went to see what was going on and found a group of people surrounding a desk.

    “What happened here?”

    Lydia turned around and gave him an upset look. “Hi, Tae.” She gave a loud clap and spoke to the group of employees in the room, “Let’s get back to work, people. Mr. Cheng is fine.”

    He was stunned to see that Kevin’s left eye was slightly puffed up and a black-purplish bruise surrounded his eye. Lydia noted Tae’s questioning frown and explained, “Your friend foolishly incurred the wrath of a woman and got punched in the face. He thought Annie Man, the caterer that Benny recommended us to hire for this year’s Christmas party, was a call girl. He even offered to pay her $1500 to go out with him.” Staring at Kevin, she stated in a disapproving tone, “I think a punch in the eye is too good for you.”

    “Wait a minute. Was she wearing a navy blue business suit? Small frame with short hair?”

    “Yes. How did you know?” she inquired as she slapped an ice pack in Kevin’s hand.

    “Because I met her on my way up here.” He grinned with mirth dancing in his eyes. “She’s a tiny little thing.”

    “Well, that goes to show that women, regardless of their size, can be very formidable. Better watch what you say from now on, boss.”

    “I can’t believe Hong Kong’s former Tae Kwon Do champion got beaten up by a puny girl,” he snickered.

    “She may be small, but she packs a pretty hefty punch. Besides, it was just a lucky shot. She simply caught me offguard.” He resentfully glared with his good eye. “I’m in pain here and you’re mocking me? What kind of friend are you?”

    “Serves you right for always gloating about your great fighting skills.” Humor lit up his features. “Now you met your match. Man, when the other guys hear about this…” he was unable to finish the sentence. He clutched his stomach and burst out in another fit of laughter. Apparently, he found the situation hilarious.

    Kevin picked up a box of tissue from his desk and threw it at Tae's direction, hitting him right in the chest. Tae fell to the ground, uncontrollably cackling.

  3. #3
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 2 – Apology

    Annie was in a bad mood as she returned to her company with a scowl on her face. Not only did she fail to get a much needed catering deal, she was mistaken for a call girl. Talk about having a streak of bad luck. At this rate, Annie’s Catering Services will have to close down for sure. After opening the door to her office, she switched on the lights. “Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!” she screamed with a startled jump backward.

    Ruby was comfortably lounging on a couch with an innocent look on her face. Her feet were propped up on a footstool and she was casually twiddling her thumbs.

    “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?!” Annie exclaimed with a frown. “Why are you sitting in the dark?!”

    “I was just trying to save you some money by conserving the electricity, but evidently my good intention isn’t appreciated,” the reply came in a hurtful tone.

    Annie was still trying to calm her nerves. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at work?”

    “It’s a long story,” Ruby said with a dejected sigh.

    “Did anyone call while I was gone?”

    “Nope.”

    Annie flopped down on the couch. “So, what happened to you?”

    “I’m having such a horrible day. First, I woke up late. Afterwards, as I was rushing across the street to hire a taxi to get to work, I almost got hit by a car ----”

    With alarm in her eyes, Annie jumped up from the couch. “Good grief! Are you hurt?! Did you get the driver’s id and license plate number?!”

    “Calm down. No, I’m not injured. That guy stopped in time. With all the commotion, I missed my taxi. So I had to get a ride from the man who almost hit me.”

    “Are you crazy?! That guy could have been a rapist or a murderer.”

    “Don’t you think I thought about that? What other option do I have? I was already late three times this month. Anyway, if I knew he was such a reckless driver, I would have taken my chances and waited for another taxi. With the way he was speeding on the streets, I really thought I was going to die.” Her expression turned even gloomier as she continued, “I finally arrived to work on time, but Mr. Wu called me in to let me know that the company might not hire me after my evaluation period. The company has to cut costs.”

    “And I thought I was having a bad day.”

    “Okay, let’s hear your story.”

    Annie went over the details of her eventful morning. “Can you believe that lowlife?!” she bit out as anger flared up in her eyes. “I am a sophisticated businesswoman and he thought I was a hooker! Do I remotely resemble a hooker? I barely wear any makeup at all and the length of my skirt is below the knee. Now that I think about it, I should have given him a kick in the groin.” She stared at Ruby’s giggling face and her mood soured even more. “Quit laughing. This is not funny.”

    Ruby’s shoulders shook with unrestrained mirth as she hugged her friend. “Yes it is. Come on, at least now you know how much you’re worth.”

    “Well, I’m glad someone’s getting a good laugh at my expense. And I’m damn well worth more than $1500. If I do go into prostitution, it wouldn’t be for that amount.”

    “Yes, yes. Annie Man is priceless.” She tried unsuccessfully not to smile.

    Annie gave a firm nod of her head. “You got that right.”

    **********

    “How did things go with Evelyn last night?”

    “So that’s her name.” Tae snapped his fingers as his eyes lit up. “I knew it started with an E, but I could have sworn it was Emily.”

    “Don’t tell me you can memorize pages and pages of a movie script, but you can’t remember a woman’s name?” Kevin held up a small mirror and tentatively examined his sore left eye. The skin surrounding his eye was turning an ugly shade of blue. He grimaced in pain as he touched his bruise.

    Tae was reclining on the leather chair by the desk with a sports magazine in hand. He lifted a shoulder and ran his fingers through his carefully styled hair. “Well, it no longer matters to me what her name is because I got rid of her this morning.” With an ironic twist of his lips, he continued indifferently, “She was sobbing her eyes out and clinging to me like a magnet. Of course, it was all an act, but I promised her an interview with YS Magazine anyway.”

    Kevin shook his head and sighed. “Women have been chasing after you for your influence and prestige ever since you became famous in the entertainment circle. You just need to learn how to say no. Man, I really hope this doesn’t leave a scar.”

    “An interview doesn’t guarantee that she will land the job,” he reasoned while skimming through the magazine. He flashed his trademark smile and said, “If she has what the producer is looking for, then she will get the photo shoot. And will you please go see a doctor if you’re so worried about that little bruise.”

    “Heck no! You know how much I hate going to the doctors. Besides, it doesn’t hurt that much anymore. Look, the swelling is starting to go down.” He walked over to Tae and pointed to his eye. “Go ahead, touch it.”

    “Urghhhhhh!” Tae quickly leaned away with a revolted look. “I’ll take your word for it.”

    Kevin slumped down behind the desk and covered his eye with a new ice pack. His bruise still hurt like hell, but he refused to admit it.

    “So, what are you going to do about Sarah’s wedding? You still don’t have a date.”

    “I thought Annie was the perfect solution to my problems. How was I supposed to know she was a caterer? This is all Benny’s fault. When he gets back from Singapore, I am going to pound his face.”

    “Don’t blame Benny when this is your fault for jumping to conclusions.” There was humor ringing in his tone. “Why don’t you just call an actual escort company and hire someone?”

    “I don’t know. There is just something about Annie that interests me,” he added thoughtfully.

    “I feel sorry for the girl. Another broken heart added to your list.”

    “You never know, it might be my heart that gets trampled this time.”

    “Who are you kidding?” Tae asked with raised eyebrows. “With your charm and charisma, what woman in her right mind can resist you? Of course, you never could stay interested in a woman for long. What’s the record now? Three weeks?” he shook his head and sighed. “I better prepare a box of tissue for another unlucky soul.”

    “Look who’s talking. For the past couple of years, you have dated every single female co-star in your movies and involved yourself in several scandalous relationships,” Kevin pointed out defensively. “At least I never had affairs with married women.”

    “Hey! I didn’t know her divorce papers were never finalized. And it was just that one incident. Must you keep mentioning it?”

    “Of course. What are friends for if you can’t laugh at them?”

    “Whatever. Oh yeah, I just came by to tell you I won’t be attending the wedding tonight?”

    “What?!” Kevin immediately jolted upright in his chair. “Why didn’t you say anything sooner?! You can’t abandon me now! I was counting on you to fend off at least half of the single women there! Now, what am I going to do?!”

    Tae shrugged helplessly as he patted his friend on the back. “Sorry, buddy, but I have to do a last minute rehearsal for the ending scene in One Last Cry. Director’s orders. Hey, don’t feel so bad. I promise to drop by and pick up your remains if you don’t survive their attacks.”

    Kevin gave him a resentful glare with his good eye. “With a friend like you, who needs enemies?”

    Tae threw the magazine back on the coffee table and headed toward the door. “See you later, buddy. I wish you luck on your potential date. Hopefully, you won’t earn yourself a punch in the right eye too. Then again, you could start a new fashion trend with raccoon eyes.”

    Kevin grabbed a book on his desk and hurled it. Seeing the flying object, Tae quickly shut the door and made a narrow escape. The book slammed against the door, barely missing a direct contact with his head. The booming laughter could still be heard through the thick wall.

    **********

    Back at Annie’s Catering Services, Annie and Ruby were still lounging on the sofa and sulking about their own mishaps that day.

    Ruby had her elbows placed on her knees with her chin cupped in her palms as she sat worrying about the difficult task of finding another journalist position. Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! Poor me! Where am I going to find another job with my limited experience in journalism? With Annie’s business not doing too well, I can’t expect her to take care of all the bills. I don’t want to return to Canada and live with Aunt Rebecca. It’s just too damn cold there! My sensitive skin can’t handle those frosty wind chills and cold temperatures anymore. I swear, if I have to see another snowflake again, I am going to scream. Great! Now my head hurts from thinking too much!

    Annie, on the other hand, was soulfully staring up at the ceiling, glumly thinking about her mortgage payments and the costs of running her business. Damn! I knew it was a bad idea to buy a new house and open a business in this kind of economic condition. But how can I possibly pass up on the opportunity to buy my dream home with the interest rates being so low? If only I don’t love catering so much, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Why didn’t anybody stop me? Well, there is still the option of moving back in with Uncle Dan and Aunt Nancy. They always wanted me to live with them, but it’s just too embarrassing to admit defeat after only a couple of months. Urghhhhhhhhh!!! Stupid, stupid Annie!

    A sudden loud knock on the door disrupted them from their thoughts. Annie stood up to answer the door. “Who could that be?” With Ruby following close behind her, Annie opened the door to find a young man holding a large bouquet of freshly cut flowers. A dozen stunning white and pink roses were arranged in a very elegant fashion.

    “Delivery for Annie Man.”

    “I’m Annie Man.”

    “Please sign on the dotted line.” The deliveryman handed her the clipboard. She signed her name and gave the clipboard back to the deliveryman.

    “I’ll put this in a vase for you.” Ruby excitedly reached for the bouquet. She sighed as she sniffed the roses. “These flowers smell heavenly.”

    “They sure are beautiful, but who sent them?” She picked up a small card in the middle of the bouquet. She opened the gift tag and read it out loud while Ruby looked over her shoulder.
    “My sincerest apology for making an inexcusable mistake. I hope you can find it in your kind heart to forgive me. KC.”

    Without a second thought, she crumbled the card and threw it in the trash. As she was reaching for the flowers to discard them, Ruby slapped her hand away. Holding the bouquet possessively to her chest, she gave Annie a chastised look. “If you don’t want these flowers, then give them to me. Even if you are mad at that guy, don’t take it out on them. It's such a waste to throw these away.”

    “Geesh, you didn’t have to hit my hand. Fine, I guess we could keep them around.” Suddenly the phone started ringing and Annie picked up the phone. “Hello, Annie’s Catering Services. How may I help you?”

    “How are you doing, Annie? This is Kevin Cheng.”

    “What do you want?” Her voice immediately turned hostile.

    “Just calling to see if you received my flowers. I trust they are to your liking?”

    “There’re in the trashcan if you want to know and don’t call again!” she exclaimed irritably.

    “I take it I’m still not forgiven for our little misunderstanding?” he hopefully inquired.

    She didn’t even bother to answer as she slammed the receiver down. With a wide-eyed startled look, Ruby stood staring at Annie. “What? He deserved it.”

    “I didn’t say anything.” Ruby held up her hands defensively. She shrugged and turned her attention back to the flowers.

    Annie decided to organize the company’s records and clean up the stack of files piling up on her desk. Half an hour passed by and there was another knock on the door. Ruby was closest to the door so she went to open it. The same deliveryman that brought the roses half an hour ago stood holding another bouquet of flowers. This time, arranged in a brilliant crystal blue vase were six snow-white lilies layered with mini carnations.

    “Whoa!” Ruby exclaimed as her eyes gleamed with delight. She gave the lilies an appreciative sniff.

    “Another delivery for Miss Annie Man,” said the deliveryman. After Annie signed the order, she read the card that was attached to the vase.

    “Everybody makes mistakes. I know you are too compassionate and understanding to hold a grudge against a fool like me. Please accept my apology. KC.”

    “Why don’t you just give him a break? He even sent your favorite kind of flowers. Lilies aren’t exactly cheap, you know.”

    “There’s something about him that makes me uneasy. I don’t trust him.”

    The phone started ringing again and Annie checked the caller id to see that it was Kevin. She refused to answer him and turned on the answering machine. She tried to concentrate on the reports in front of her, but the red blinking light on the machine was a sore distraction to her eyes. She grabbed her sweater and threw it over the phone. With a satisfied nod of head, she went back to reading her reports. Ruby was too busy admiring the lilies to notice her friend’s annoyance with the machine.

    **********

    “Oh God!” Annie wailed in a frustrated tone as she roughly ran her fingers through her hair. “This place is turning into a freaking floral shop!”

    Half an hour after the lilies were delivered, eighteen long-stemmed red roses arrived in a large velvet box. When that didn’t get a response, a huge basket filled with white daisies, yellow roses, pink lilies, and red tulips was sent over twenty minutes later. While her friend was in a black mood, Ruby was happily arranging the flowers in the office. “I don’t know why you're complaining. These flowers are gorgeously displayed. I have to applaud the florist for doing such a wonderful job.”

    “Will you stop fussing about those stupid flowers?! Help me find a way to make him stop!”
    Ruby tapped her chin with her index finger. “Hmmmm, I bet these petals would make great potpourri.”

    “Are you listening to me?!”

    “You don’t have to yell. I heard you. Just give the guy a call and talk to him.”

    The red light on the answering machine started blinking, signaling an incoming call. “Speak of the devil. If you want to end your headache you better answer the phone. I’m going to the restroom to wash these pollens off my hands.”

    Annie roughly yanked up the receiver. “Leave me alone!”

    “Don’t you know that anger can cause a woman to age faster? It’s also not good for your blood pressure.”

    “Who died and made you doctor?” she bit out sarcastically. “Quit bothering me; otherwise, I’ll report you to the police for harassment.”

    “You could try, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Involving the police would not be good for your business. You have to take time off to file a police report and then you have to be involved in an investigation as well as go to court. Very costly and time consuming. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

    “Is there a point to this conversation or do you gain pleasure from irritating me?”

    “All right, I’ll stop beating around the bush. All I want is for you to do one simple thing for me.”

    “I’m listening.”

    “Like I told you before, I need a date to accompany me to my cousin’s wedding tonight. With such short notice, I can’t find anyone willing to go with me. In exchange for your time, I will introduce you to my friends and supply you with catering orders to last the entire year. Think about it, Annie.”

    “You’ll leave me alone afterward? No catch?” she asked warily.

    “No catch.”

    “Why don’t you just hire someone from an escort company? It would definitely be less troublesome for you. Why me?”

    “I don’t have time to find an escort to my liking. Who knows what kind of women those companies send out. What do you say?”

    She was silent for several minutes thinking about his proposition. One date would save her company and house. It was definitely worth a shot. It wasn’t as if she had to sleep with him or anything. However, could she trust him not to do anything perverted? She was quiet so long that he thought she disconnected him again.

    “Hello? Are you still there?”

    “I have one condition. You have to let me bring my friend along with us because, frankly speaking, I don’t trust you.”

    He gave a loud laugh after hearing her ultimatum. She really did have spunk. The air of simplicity around her was a stark contrast to her gutsy nature. This will definitely be a very entertaining evening. Too bad Tae was going to miss out on all the fun. “Deal. Where should I pick you and your friend up?”

    “We’ll wait for you at 6 o’clock in front of my company. The address is listed in the phone book.”

    “Great. I’ll see you then.”

    Hanging up the receiver, she saw Ruby walking out from the hallway. She rushed over with a cheerful grin plastered on her face. “How long have we known each other?”

    “Well, we met on the first day of kindergarten, so that would make it twenty years this coming September.”

    “You have a pretty good memory.”

    “Yeah. What do you want?”

    Annie had on an insulted look. “Why do you assume I have an ulterior motive?”

    Ruby took several steps backward and suspiciously said, “Because you always ask me for a favor whenever you mention our friendship in that tone.”

    “I was just thinking that best friends would help each other out in times of needs. That’s all.”

    “That depends on what kind of needs you’re talking about.” She crossed her arms over her chest and doubtfully frowned.

    “Well, you know that this company hasn’t been doing too well these past few months and now that you’re about to lose your job, we really need money.”

    “Just get to the point.” She impatiently waved her hand.

    “I agreed to attend the wedding with Kevin tonight. In exchange, he will supply me with catering orders for the whole year.”

    “What does that have anything to do with me?”

    “I want you to go with me and he already agreed to take both of us.”

    “Me?!” Ruby cried out as she pointed an index finger at her nose. “Why do I have to go? He asked you to be his date.”

    Annie immediately clasped her hands together and raised a pair sad puppy eyes at her friend. “Pleassssssssssse… pretty pleassssssssssssssse. Think about my mortgage bills. This evening will be over with the blink of an eye. C’mon, go with me. It’ll be fun.”

    Adamantly shaking her head, Ruby refused to listen to the pleas. “Uh-uh. You are definitely not dragging me to some stranger’s wedding. I never like going to weddings. You get all dressed up to stand idly around and stare at other people you don’t know. The whole point of the evening is waiting for the food to be served. I have better things to do with my Friday night.”

    “Like what? You have nothing to do at home.”

    Ruby was desperately thinking of a good excuse to give her so she can avoid going. “I can watch re-runs of my favorite shows and finish knitting my scarf,” she stated with a triumphant nod of her head.

    Annie made a face. “That is one of the worst excuses I have ever heard. You have to do better than that.”

    “I don’t care. I’m not going and that’s final. Spending the evening in my pajamas and watching tv is much better than being bored at some party.”

    “You have to go! I don’t trust that guy! God only knows what he will do on our date,” Annie sniffled loudly. “I can’t believe my best friend wouldn’t even help me out with one little request. I would do it for you.” She slumped down on the couch and gave a loud sigh. She racked her brain for ideas to persuade her friend and finally decided to use the guilt factor. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” she uttered in a distressful tone. “I guess it is asking too much for you to spend a couple wee hours with me. We’ve only known each other for twenty years. I totally understand that you have a busy evening planned ahead.”

    Ruby tried to ignore the pair of woeful eyes staring at her, but she was always a sucker when it came to those pleading looks. After several minutes of listening to the soft sniffling, she finally caved in and threw her arms up in defeat. “Oh all right already! I’ll go with you. Just stop it with the guilt trip.”

    Annie instantly jumped up and rushed over to hug Ruby. “You are the best!”

  4. #4
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 3 – Hostage Crisis

    “Well, it is true that I am a wonderful person,” Ruby admitted with a reluctant smile.

    “Of course you are,” Annie said with a joyful grin. “You are the greatest friend a person can ever have. You have my undying gratitude.”

    “So, does this mean we can forget about the hundred bucks I borrowed from you two months ago?”

    Annie immediately released her hold and took several steps away. “I’m grateful, but I’m not that grateful.”

    “Hey, it was worth a try.”

    Annie took out a handheld electronic organizer from her pocket. “Since we’re on the subject, you still haven’t paid me back for that $50 turtleneck you bought a month ago. You also owe me $31.75 for a pair of dress shoes you purchased last week. So, the total comes out to be $181.75, but since you’re helping me out with this date thing, I’ll make it an even $180. Don’t say I’m not a good friend to you.”

    She looked up to find that the office door was left wide open and Ruby was nowhere in sight. Apparently, she had snuck out when Annie was busy with her calculation. “That girl always runs off whenever I mention about the money she owes me. I wonder if I will ever get my money back. Man, one of these days, I’m going to charge her interest.”

    She started gathering her belongings and closed the office. With the apartment complex located only two blocks away, it was a short walk home. She loved the fact that she could save money by not having to take the bus or taxi to work as well as avoid the horrible morning traffic. She opened the apartment door and sat down on a stool to take off her shoes. Hearing the water running in the bathroom, she predicted that it would be a while before Ruby will be finished with her bath. She picked up an apple from the kitchen table and headed to her closet to start on the daunting task of deciding what to wear.

    Ruby finally stepped out of the bathroom comfortably wrapped in a fluffy robe. She was toweling her hair dry as she poked her head into Annie’s room. She was shocked to see that the once very tidy room, now had clothes littered everywhere. She carefully stepped over a pair of jeans. “What happened? It looks like a tornado just passed through here.”

    “I’m trying to decide what to wear.” Annie was sitting cross-legged on the floor chewing on an apple and staring at the clothes around her with a dazed look. “I heard Sarah Cheng’s wedding is going to be very prestigious, so I want to look my best.”

    Ruby cleared some clothes off the corner of the bed. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Details about her wedding have been blasted on every news stations for the last month. I even had to write a short editorial on her and Julian Cheung’s courtship.”

    “What did you expect when the only son of the fifth wealthiest man in Hong Kong gets married? It must feel good to have so much money. I wonder what I would do if I have a quarter of his fortune?”

    “Stop daydreaming. You better hurry up and pick out a dress. You still have to shower and get your hair done.”

    “What about you?” Annie asked. “What are you wearing?”

    “I already have a dress all picked out.”

    “Really? I want to see.”

    Ruby ran into her room and pulled out a black strapless silk dress with matching black shawl along with a pair of pumps from her closet. She rushed back to show off her dress and shoes.

    “Is that what I think it is?!" Annie squealed loudly.

    “Yep.” Ruby gleefully smiled. “You are looking at a genuine Armani black silk cowlneck dress. There are only three copies sold in Hong Kong.”

    Annie tentatively smoothed her fingers over the material. “How did you manage to get this? It must have cost a fortune. It’s sooooooo gorgeous.” She saw the shoes on the ground and gasped out in wonder, “Ohhhhhh, you even have matching black pumps.”

    “This dress isn’t mine. I borrowed it from Ada. She received it as a present from a close friend of hers. I didn’t know I was going to have the chance to actually wear it.”

    Sadly pouting, Annie gazed longingly at the dress. “You are so lucky. I don’t have anything remotely as pretty as this.”

    Smiling, Ruby left the room and returned holding something behind her back. She nudged Annie’s leg with her foot. “Look what I have for you.”

    Annie glanced up to see a luxurious baby blue satin dress with matching blue high-heeled shoes. “Wow! You bought this for me?!” she exclaimed in jaw-dropping delight.

    “It’s supposed to be your birthday present and I was going to surprise you next month, but what the heck, you can have it now. I bought the dress last week with the money I saved from my salary.”

    “This is the best birthday present ever. You don’t have to pay me back that $181.75 you owe me.”

    “Gee, thanks, I feel so much better now.” In a teasing voice, she said, “Now hurry up and get dress. We only have a couple of hours left to do our makeup and hair.”

    **********

    “It’s 6:15, where is that idiot?!”

    “Maybe he’s stuck in traffic,” Ruby said as she leaned against a lamppost.

    “Hmph, he’s still late.”

    Just then, a silver BMW turned the corner and screeched to a halt in front of the girls. Out stepped Kevin, wearing an expensively tailored dark blue tuxedo that accentuated his broad shoulders and well-muscled physique. Even with a black eye, he still looked sinfully handsome as he approached them.

    “Oh Lord, not you again,” Ruby gasped out incredulously. “I can’t believe KC stands for Kevin Cheng?! Annie, he’s the guy that almost hit me with his car this morning.”

    “Hey, what a small world.” He flashed a winning smile. “Ruby, right? It must be my lucky night to have a date with two lovely young ladies.”

    “Oh, save your sweet talk for someone who cares,” Ruby shot back.

    Annie pushed Kevin aside and headed toward the passenger seat. “Let’s get this thing over with.” She pinned him with a threatening look. “Just remember to keep your paws to yourself.”

    He gave a hearty chuckle. “I’ve already learned my lesson. I promise to be a perfect gentleman. Scout’s honor.”

    Driving up to the valet parking section of the Dream-Crescent Hotel, they got out of the car and were blinded by camera lights flashing around them. There were reporters and security guards swarming all over the three-story building. People were yelling and taking pictures of the guests walking on the red carpet. Blinking rapidly, Ruby tried to clear her vision. “Whoa! This place is packed. I knew this wedding was a big event, but who knew there would be so many people here.”

    Kevin handed his car keys to the valet driver. He took each of their hands and hooked their hands in the crook of his arms. Annie and Ruby were too busy staring at the reporters and other guests to notice what he just did. As they walked pass the reporters, their cameras started flashing again and girls made the mistake of looking directly into the bright lights. Momentarily blinded again, they kept their eyes shut. Once inside the ballroom, they stared in awed at the lavish decorations and colorful designs.

    Ruby’s attention was locked on a young woman in a silk white wedding gown. “Holy crap!!!” she whispered to Annie behind Kevin’s back. “Look at those diamonds! They’re humungous!”

    Annie’s eyes lit up at the mention of expensive jewelry. She frantically glanced around. “Diamonds?! Where?” Locating the bride, her eyes grew large as she saw the diamond necklace, earrings, and bracelets on the other woman. “Whoa!!! Look at the size of those rocks. They must cost millions.”

    “Five million to be exact. Follow me, I’ll introduce both of you to my cousin.” He led them over to the beaming bride who were talking to several people and didn’t notice them. “Hey Sarah. Too busy to give your favorite cousin a proper greeting?”

    Turning around, Sarah stood gaping at him. “Good Lord! Kevin, what happened to your eye?"

    At the mention of his black eye, Annie guiltily looked down. He walked over and gave his cousin a tight hug. “I accidentally bumped into a pole, but enough about me. I want you to meet my two dates.” He pulled the girls over. “This is Ruby Lin and Annie Man. Ladies, meet my lovely cousin, Sarah Cheng.”

    The three girls shook hands and exchanged greetings. Sarah glanced up at Kevin and in a teasing voice, “You managed to lure two attractive women to accompany you tonight? You are definitely getting too good with women. I’m sure Aunt Lisa would love to see this.”

    “By the way, where is my mother?” he asked as he draped an arm around his cousin.

    “Aunt Lisa had a headache and left early.”

    “Oh yeah, here’s your wedding present.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a red velvet jewelry box. “I better give it to you now before I forget.”

    “You big lazy bum.” She shook her head at him as she critically examined the box. “You didn’t even have the decency to wrap it? At least give me a bow or something.”

    “It’s the content inside that counts, not the wrapping. Besides, you’re going to open your presents and discard the wrappings later on.”

    “Presents are like fish. Wrap it badly and it stinks.”

    A voice from behind Kevin interrupted them. “Get your hand off my wife, Cheng. You already have two women by your sides.” Turning around, Kevin grinned as he lightly clapped Julian Cheng on the back.

    “What took you so long? And how did you get that shiner?” Julian stared that bruise.

    “Little mishap.” He introduced Annie and Ruby to Julian and the five of them stood around conversing in idle talks for several minutes. The girls were both hungrily eyeing the buffet table since neither had much to eat the whole day. Finally, unable to stand it anymore, they excused themselves and headed toward the food with the intent of feeding their stomachs. Kevin was deeply engrossed in a conversation with Julian as Sarah went over to greet more guests.

    “Man, I am freaking starving,” Ruby mumbled as she shoved several crackers with ham and cheese into her mouth. “I only had a piece of toast this morning.”

    “At least you had a piece of toast,” Annie managed to spit out as she munched on an eggroll. “I haven’t eaten anything the entire day. Hey, these eggrolls are pretty darn good.”

    “Mmmm-hmmmmm,” Ruby uttered while reaching for a cup of juice.

    Half an hour later, after they finished stuffing their mouths with food, Ruby decided to pay a visit to the restroom on the second floor while Annie was busy examining food from the other buffet tables. She wanted to see if she could use any of the dishes for her next catering orders.

    After washing her hands, Ruby walked out of the bathroom and encountered dead silence in the hall. Heading toward the stairs, she felt cold chills as she sensed something was terribly wrong. “There is a wedding reception downstairs, but why is it so quiet? This is too weird. I better go find Annie and leave this place.”

    At the top of the stairs, she froze in her tracks as she witnessed the scene below. There were at least forty armed, masked men holding everyone at gunpoint. She quickly hid herself behind the wall and slowly peeked out from the corner. The masked men had everyone tied up and gathered in several large circles in the room. They were stripped of their money, jewelries, and other valuables. She saw Kevin, Sarah, and Julian sitting against the wall with their hands tied behind their back. Oh crap! This does not look good. Damn, where the hell is Annie? I don’t see her anywhere.

    Under the buffet table, Annie sat with her legs pulled up against her chest and her arms wrapped tightly around them. She morosely thought of her impending demise. This is it, Ruby, we’re really going to die tonight. I can’t believe I’m about to go see my Maker. I know I always said I wanted to see my parents again, but not this soon. I was aiming for another 70 years.

    Ruby was still hiding behind the wall upstairs and trying to think of what to do next. Oh Annie, where are you?! You and your bright idea of pulling me along to attend this wedding. I could be warm in my bed with a cup of coffee and watching re-runs of my favorite shows, but noooooo, you had to drag me along. Well, I hope you’re happy now. My life will definitely be over with the blink of an eye.

    Annie’s heart was pounding so hard that she feared it would leap out from her chest at any moment. Her plan was to quietly remain under the table and pray that she won’t be caught. It wasn’t a brilliant plan, but so far, she was still relatively safe and that was her main concern at the moment. Maybe luck will be on her side tonight and she would be able to make it out of this horrible ordeal alive. As she remained shivering under the table, she suddenly heard soft whisperings a couple of feet away.

    “Pssssst, pssssssst, Julian, do something!” Sarah whispered fiercely to her husband. “They took my jewelries!”

    “Sweetheart, now is not the time,” Julian whispered back while eyeing the other men with their rifles. “Can’t you see they have guns? What do you want me to do?”

    “I can’t believe I’m married to a wimp.”

    He gave a firm nod of his head. “I wholeheartedly admit that Julian Cheung is a big fat chicken. At least I will be a live chicken.”

    “Wait until my father hears about this. He will be appalled at the way his son-in-law is defending his daughter.”

    “Would you rather be married to a wimp or be a widow?” he questioned as he turned to face his wife.

    A big, burly masked man saw them talking and walked over to them. He aimed his pistol at them and threatened in a booming voice, “Shut up or I’ll blow your brains out!”

    Immediately clamping her mouth shut, a pale-faced Sarah scooted closer to Julian. Meanwhile, Kevin was silently assessing the situation and trying to understand the robbers’ motives behind this holdup. He counted exactly forty-five men wearing black ski masks over their heads and armed with various assortments of guns. Being an ex-police officer, he was surprised that they were able to obtain double-action semiautomatic pistols. These weapons were the standard firearms of the Hong Kong police; therefore, they must have been acquired through the black market.

    They wouldn’t have gone through so much trouble to raid the year’s biggest and most publicized wedding just for money. Of course, Sarah’s jewelries alone were worth a fortune, but the place was crawling with security guards and news reporters. Even if they managed to get inside, it would be extremely difficult to make a safe getaway. A bank robbery would have been easier and a lot less troublesome. While analyzing the situation, his mind strayed back to thinking about Annie and Ruby. He was unable to locate the girls ever since the robbers burst in and tied up everyone. Hopefully they were safe and away from trouble.

    During this time, Ruby was close to hyperventilating as she stood wringing her sweaty hands.
    Oh shoot, what to do?!! I really don’t work well under pressure. I think I’m going to have a heart attack. No, must calm down. I can do this. She took several deep breaths to calm her nerves and clear her head. She suddenly remembered her hand phone. Just as she was reaching into her purse, she heard footsteps coming her way.

    Quickly backing away from the wall, she quietly scurried down the hall looking for a room to hide. She frantically turned the handles on just about all the doors in the hallway. Wonderful! It’s just my luck that all the rooms are locked! Fear coursed through her veins. She was on the brink of losing all hope when she noticed one last room in the far corner on her left. Closing her eyes and uttering a silent prayer, she turned the handle and to her great relief, it opened. She hastily stepped into the room and locked the door. She started to wipe the sweat off her forehead with her sleeve as she sagged down against the door.

    “That was a close call,” she whispered to herself. “Man, I think I’ve aged ten years in the last ten minutes. This is definitely not good for my blood pressure.” Pulling out her phone, she tried to call the police station, but she couldn’t get any reception. “You good-for-nothing, stupid machine!” She angrily shook it. “Why won’t you work?!”

    She scanned around the room and saw a phone on the dresser next to the bed. Dashing over, she picked up the receiver and started dialing the number for the police station. Unfortunately, there was no dial tone. She was in utter despair as she sank down on the bed. She was very close to crying when she heard someone turning the handle…

    **********

    The police had the entire perimeter of Dream-Crescent Hotel surrounded as well as blocking people from entering the crime scene. The cops were prepared for the worst as they called in backup from the Hong Kong police department. Even the mayor was involved in this affair. Sharp shooters were lined up on top of several tall buildings near the hotel and had their firearms ready.

    Sergeant Stephan Leung, a tall darkly attractive man, was placed in charge of handling this precarious situation. Being in the police force for close to a decade, he was levelheaded and able to maintain a calm deposition when faced with tough, dangerous criminals. As he was consulting with his fellow officers on the situation, they were abruptly distracted by the bright headlights of a shiny red motorcycle. Stopping several yards away from the police cars, Tae parked his bike and hurried over to the men.

    “Stephan, how’s the situation?” he anxiously asked. “Have you heard anything about Kevin, Sarah or Julian? Are they all right?”

    “What are you doing here?”

    “I just finished filming the last scene for my movie and heard that there was a holdup at Dream-Crescent. So I rushed down here to see if anyone is hurt.”

    “It’s not safe here,” Stephan stated in a stern, authoritative tone. “I want you to go home.”

    “The hell I will! Kevin’s life is in jeopardy and you want me to leave?! I don’t think so. Besides, before Father left for that conference in Thailand, he told me to take care of this place; therefore, I have a right to be here. I know this hotel like the back of my hand and I might be able to help you.”

    Knowing how stubborn his brother can be, Stephan relented with a heavy sigh. “Just don’t get in the way.”

    “When do I ever get in the way?” Tae questioned with an offended look. “So, who are the robbers and what do they want?”

    Stephan was clearly frustrated as he said, “The masked robbers are followers of Mark Chan.”

    Tae’s eyebrows shot up as he recognized that name. “Isn’t he the notorious leader of the Eagleside Gang and currently serving a lift sentence for murder and illegal drug dealings?”

    “Yes,” Stephan responded with a worried frown. “They want his release as well as a helicopter and several minivans for their getaway; otherwise, they will kill a person every hour.”

    “How many people are in there?”

    “They said there are over six hundred hostages and they refused to talk to us. We can only stall for half an hour at most. If only there is someone inside who can communicate the situation to us.”

    “Wire me. I’m going in,” Tae stated with determination in his eyes.

    “Absolutely not! Have you gone nuts?! Those are dangerous men in there. Mother would skin me alive if she finds out I let you endanger yourself.”

    “There is no way I’m going to stand idly by and witness Kevin in trouble without doing anything to help”

    “Do you think I’m not worried about the hostages in there? We’ll find a way to get them out, but I’m not going to let you risk your safety.”

    “I know you’re my big brother and you want to look out for me, but I’m the only one who knows the layout of this place well enough to sneak inside and check out the condition in there.”

    Left with no other options, Stephan grudgingly agreed. He handed Tae a pen and a stack of papers. “Here, sign these.”

    “Why?”

    “By signing these documents, you are agreeing that should anything happen to you, the police department will not be held liable for any of the injuries you incurred. The injuries include, but are not limited to cuts, scraps, sprains, broken body parts, dismembered limbs, and even death.”

    “It’s good to know that the government is constantly looking out for its citizens,” he sarcastically responded.

    Following several officers, Tae went to a nearby police van to put on a pair of spectacles with a tiny hidden camcorder placed in center of the frames. The glasses were nonprescription, so he was able to see perfectly fine. They also placed a mini microphone in his hair to allow them to hear what’s happening inside. Once he was ready, he turned to face his brother before heading inside. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” he said with a reassuring smile.

    “If anything goes wrong or if you think you’re in any kind of danger, get out of there immediately. Your safety comes first.” Stephan pulled out a handheld gun. “Be careful. And don’t lose this.”

    Tae bent down to strap the gun to his right calf and he gave his brother a tight hug before walking toward the back entrance of the hotel. There was an underground sewage canal that would lead directly to the basement of the hotel where the laundry was placed for cleaning. He plugged up his nose with a tissue and headed down the dark, wet tunnel. Using a small handheld flashlight to guide his way, he continued walking in the filthy slime for ten minutes and finally reached the end of the tunnel. Climbing up the short ladder, he pushed the heavy metal covering aside and pulled himself up.

    “Damn!” he gagged out and tried to breathe through is mouth. “That has to be the most horrendous smell on earth.” He started sniffing his shirt. "Urghhhhhhhh! I smell like shit!” Stepping toward the lockers, he found some worn out waiter clothes and put them on. Making a face as he headed up the staircase, “I still smell ghastly, but at least it’s better than before.”

    **********

    The door handle to the room that Ruby was hiding in started turning. Once the intruder found that it was locked, the sound of a key rattling in the lock was heard. The wooden door swung open and two masked men stepped into the room. The slowly surveyed the area.

    “You check the bathroom while I search in here.”

    “Okay.”

    The first man walked over to the windows with his rifle in hand and pulled the curtains aside, half expecting to catch someone, but there was no one behind the drapes. He went to check the walk in closet and found nothing. The other man came back out and shook his head. Seeing that there was nobody in the room, they were about to leave when the large chest at the end of the table caught their attentions. The mahogany trunk was large enough to hide a person and there was a piece of black silk hanging out of it. Standing over the chest, they aimed their guns at the lid and flipped it open, but only found a bunch of dresses in the chest. Finding nothing in the room they left and closed the door behind them.

    Ruby was laying flat on her stomach on top of the canopy that was hanging over the bed. With a sigh of relief, she relaxed her sore muscles and took great gulps of air. Dumb *******s! Almost scared me to death. Good thing I thought of hiding up here. Otherwise, I would be meeting up with my dead mother right about now. When I get out of here, I’m going to strangle Annie for making me go to this hellhole!

    Just when she thought it was safe to climb down from the canopy, she heard someone outside the door. Oh nooooooo! They found me! Now, I’m a goner for sure! Wait a minute… they can’t possibly know I’m up here. Okay, I’ve got to get grip on myself. Can’t let them get to me.

    She leaned over the edge of the covering and saw a man dressed in a waiter’s uniform slowly walking back and forth in the room. After awhile, he sat down on the bed and seemed to be in deep concentration. All of a sudden, she heard a soft ripping sound near her head and glanced to the corners. The seams holding the material together were slowly splitting apart. Her heart was racing and she was extremely close to passing out. Shit! What kind of shoddy materials are these people using to decorate the rooms?! A loud rip vibrated in the room. Uh oh!!!

    Tae glanced up to see a falling lump coming straight at him. “What the –”

    Ruby fell with a muffled scream down from the canopy. She landed on top of him and accidentally knocked his spectacles and microphone off. She attempted to untangle herself from the material and tried to beat up the man underneath her at the same time. She managed to scratch his neck with her sharp nails, but he retaliated by punching her in the stomach several times. He pinned her beneath him. Tears sprang to her eyes and she was groaning in pain from his punches. He sat astride her waist with her wrists restrained in each of his hands.

    “Get off me you stinky brute!” She struggled to free herself. “Pick on someone your own size!”

    Pulling the thin fabric away, Tae saw a pair of raging brown eyes glaring back at him. Although surprised that his attacker was a young woman, he refused to budge. “I’ll let you go if you tell me who you are and what you’re doing here.”

    “My name is Ruby Lin and I came here to attend a wedding reception with my friend. Now, move your fat ***! You’re crushing me!”

    Sensing that she was telling the truth, he released his hold on her wrists and shifted away. Sitting up, she unexpectedly slapped him across the face, knocking his head to the side. Holding a hand to his stinging cheek, he questioned in a fuming tone, “Why did you hit me?! I let you go, didn’t I?”

    She was rubbing her stomach and trying to soothe away the pain as she stared back at him. “That was for punching me, you idiot! You’re lucky it’s just a slap on the face!”

    “So, you scratched me first!”

    “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to hit girls?!”

    “How was I supposed to know you’re a girl with the stupid drape covering you?” He blatantly checked out her figure. “From the looks of things, and there aren’t much to look at, I still can’t really tell you’re a girl.”

    She raised her fist to pound him, but he swiftly jumped off the bed. “You better run.”

  5. #5
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 4 – The Rescue

    “I’d advise you to be nice to me because I’m your ticket out of here,” Tae warned.

    Ruby was clumsily trying to disentangle her limbs from the bed sheets while angrily staring at him. “What are you talking about? You still haven’t told me who are you.”

    He ignored her question and checked to make sure his spectacles and microphone were still in place. Alarmed to find them missing, he walked around the room, anxiously searching the floor. “What are you looking for?” she asked with a frown.

    “I’m trying to find my glasses and microphone,” he said with his head bent over the ground.

    She glanced around the room and noticed a pair of spectacles and a tiny, circular object near her feet. “You mean these?” She picked up the specs and microphone.

    His head jerked up and his worried expression turned to relief. He walked toward her with an outstretched hand. “Yeah. You found them.”

    She instantly backed away from him and tightly held the items to her chest. “Not so fast. First, you have to answer some of my questions.”

    “What do you want to know?”

    “Who are you and what are you doing here?” she warily gazed at him. “Why are you so worried about getting these items back?”

    He released an impatient sigh before saying, “I’m Tae Leung. Now that you know who I am, give me back my stuffs.” He reached for the items again.

    She jumped on the bed and hopped to the other corner of the room. “One more step and I’ll break these frames,” she threatened. “I’m not joking.”

    He immediately stopped in his tracks and anxiously stood still. Seeing that he had actually listened to her, she loosened her hold on the frames and relaxed her posture. His name sounded vaguely familiar to her and she tried to recall where she came across it.

    “Tae Leung!” She snapped her fingers as her eyes lit up with recognition. “I remember now. You’re the actor/singer guy who had that sordid love affair with a married woman… what’s her name. It was broadcasted all over the news.”

    His face twisted with annoyance. “Doesn’t the media have better news to report than gossip about all my relationships?! For heaven’s sake, I didn’t know she wasn’t legally divorced!”

    She gave an indifferent shake of her head. “Well, if you ask me, it wasn’t all that interesting. They cancelled my favorite MTV show just to report on your latest breakup.”

    “So who asked you?” He pointedly looked at the items in her hands. “It would be in your best interest to give those back to me.”

    She was about to retort back to him when she suddenly heard voices coming from the frames in her hand. Thinking that she was hearing things, she leaned her face toward the spectacles to examine it. Puzzled, she turned the frames sideways and found two small holes in the corners. The voices were getting louder as she placed the spectacles next to her ear.

    “Tae! Tae! Can you hear me?! Where are you?!”

    “What the hell! Why are the glasses speaking?!” She yelped as she threw the spectacles on the floor.

    He frantically lunged toward the glasses as it flew out of her hand. Sliding to the floor on his stomach, he barely managed to grasp the frames in time. He released a sigh of relief and worriedly inspected the frames for any damages. Seeing that it wasn’t broken, he turned to glare menacingly at Ruby. “Woman, you almost destroyed our chances of saving the hostages! These frames have a hidden camera installed for me to spy on those men holding the hostages. That little metal piece in your hand is a microphone that allows the police to hear what’s going on in here.”

    “You mean we’ll be saved?” she whispered with hope glowing in her large eyes. She held up the microphone close to her mouth and screamed out, “Heeeeeeelp!!! Heeeeeeeeeeeelp! You guys have to get me out of here!” Seeing that she wasn’t getting any responses, she started to shake the microphone.

    He grabbed the mic away from her. “Give me that. Don’t break it, woman.” After putting the glasses on, he clipped the mic back in his hair. “Stephan, how are things outside?” She knelt on the chest at the foot of the bed and strained to hear the other person on the phone.

    “The police department is providing us with the minivan and helicopters that should arrive soon,” Stephan said over the mic. “We’re still negotiating with the court to release Soaring Eagle. We don’t have much time left. How’s the situation inside?"

    “I didn’t have the chance to move around. I was almost caught walking in the hallway, but luckily I was able to elude them. How much time do we have before they start shooting the hostages?”

    Ruby instantly blanched after hearing those words. She grabbed Tae’s head and yelled into the mic. “Shooting the hostages?! You cops have to do something! Annie might be down there with the other hostages! You have to save her! You have to save me!”

    He roughly pushed her aside. “Owwwwwwww! What are you trying to do? Blow out my eardrums? If you don’t quit your yapping, the men downstairs will definitely find us and God knows what perverted things they’ll do to you.” She immediately covered her mouth with both hands and stared up at him with frighten eyes. Sighing, he went back to discussing a plan with Stephan.

    **********

    Annie’s fingers were gripping her legs so hard that her knuckles were turning white. This is turning out to be the worst date ever! Man, I’m starting to lose the feelings in my legs, and to top that off, I need to go to the restroom. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to drink seven cups of punch. Damn eggrolls! Who’s the idiot that had the bright idea of making them so tasty anyway? Who am I kidding? It’s all my fault for being such a pig. Otherwise, my bladder wouldn’t be stretched to its limits right now. I wonder if Ruby is safe or is she tied up like the rest of them. She silently sighed as she reached into her purse and pulled out the shiny coin she found this morning. I thought you would bring me luck. Hmphf! More like bad luck.

    Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw a black object moving toward her. She gave a careless glance at it and her eyebrows shot up. She nearly screamed out in fright. With both hands tightly clamped over her mouth, she fearfully gazed at the biggest, ugliest black cockroach she had ever laid eyes on. She quickly moved backward in an attempt to get away from the monster, but it kept crawling toward her. Feeling grossed out, she threw her coin at the disgusting insect and successfully killed it with one blow. Yellow-greenish guts were oozing out and making a mess on the carpet.

    Ewwwwwww!!! Ewwwwwwwwww!!! How disgusting! I think I’m going to be sick! She turned her head away and tried to erase the horrible image of the dead vermin from her mind. Out of nowhere, a biscuit rolled in from outside and hit her foot. Hearing footsteps approaching, she barely had the chance to react before the white drape covering the table was lifted. With a pale face, she stared at the bulky masked man. His hand shot out and painfully gripped her arm.

    **********

    Tae and Ruby were stealthily tiptoeing in the hallway toward the main staircase leading downstairs. He led the way while she closely followed behind. Without warning, he abruptly stopped at the corner and caused her to bump her nose into his back. She smacked his shoulder and was about to yell at him. He turned around and motioned for her to be quiet.

    “What?” she whispered as she massaged her nose.

    “Shhhhhhhhh. I think I hear someone coming.”

    He silently bent down and pulled out the gun that was strapped to his calf. As he was preparing himself for an attack, she was nervously grasping onto his shirt from behind. After take a deep breath, he charged around the corner and found a white-haired terrier staring up at him with round, shiny eyes. The dog started wagging her tail happily and approached him with her tongue hanging out.

    Releasing her hold on his shirt, Ruby crouched down to pick up the dog. “Awwwwwwww, isn’t she the most adorable thing?”

    “Yeah, she’s a real cutie. Now, get rid of her.”

    She protectively held the dog close to her body. “How can you be so cold hearted? She probably lost her owner when those men busted in and tied up everyone. She needs our help too. How can you say no to a face like this?”
    He ignored the two pairs of sad, pleading eyes. “We can’t take her along with us. We’re already treading on dangerous grounds. If you would just listen to me and take the passageway through the sewer out of here, I would be able to work better.”

    “Annie and I came here together and we’ll leave together. I’m not going to ditch her in her time of need,” she stated stubbornly.

    “Well, we still can’t keep that dog with us. How about putting her in a room and when everything is settled, you can come back for her?”

    Giving the dog one last hug, she glanced up at him and nodded her head. They put the dog in the room that they were just in and closed the door. Turning around, they came face to face with two shotguns.

    “Looks like we have two more hostages, eh Rock.” one of the masked men said.

    “Hey Bee, how come they’re not tied up like the rest?”

    “Who cares. Just tie them up.”

    The man named Bee was gazing at Ruby with lust in his beady little eyes and turned to whisper something in Rock’s ear as Ruby nervously moved closer to Tae. She definitely didn’t like the look that guy was directing at her. Rock nodded his head and started to snicker. “Just be sure not to take too long. Our boss wouldn’t like it if he finds out you’re fooling around while on guard.”

    Bee vulgarly gazed at Ruby and pointed his gun at her head. “You! Follow me!”

    She shook her head and hid behind Tae. “No!”

    “Leave her alone!”

    Bee slammed the butt of his shotgun against Tae’s ribs, causing him to double over in pain. “Mind your own business!”

    Tae’s hand itched to reach for his gun, but he was worried Ruby might get hurt in the crossfire. He could only wait for the opportunity to take them by surprise. Narrowing his eyes, he slowly straightened up.

    The lamplight lit up her necklace and caught Rock’s attention. He knew an expensive piece of jewelry when he saw one and her locket was definitely valuable. As he was reaching for her necklace, she slapped his hand away and furiously glared at him. “You stay away from me!”

    “Hand over that necklace.”

    She protectively covered her necklace with her hands. “Over my dead body!”

    “Which will it be, your life or your necklace?” he demanded in a menacing voice. “Give it to me or I’ll shoot you.”

    “All right, go ahead and shoot!” she exclaimed with defiance in her eyes. “What kind of monster are you?” Oblivious to the fact that he was aiming a gun at her, she started poking at him in the chest and shoving him backward. “My mom left this locket to me before she died. It’s the only thing I have to remember her by and you want to take it from me? Don’t you have a mother? What would she say if she knew you were threatening people at gunpoint and stealing from them? How can you disappoint and shame her like this when she went through a difficult nine-month pregnancy to give you life? Do you have any idea how painful childbirth is?”

    She was talking so fast that Rock was having trouble understanding her. He had never before encountered the fierce wrath of a woman like Ruby and was left momentarily speechless. Seeing that she had Rock preoccupied with her tirade, Tae unexpectedly swung his arm at Bee’s gun. The weapon was sent flying out of his hand. He kicked Bee in the stomach as well as landing a hard punch to his face, smashing his nose. He staggered backward with a bloody nose and attempted to strike back. Tae deftly moved to the side and successfully avoided the blow.

    Rock noticed what was happening and was going to help his comrade, but Ruby automatically stomped on his foot. He immediately dropped his gun. He hopped up and down with one hand holding onto his foot. Quickly recovering from his pain, he backed her up against the wall. Remembering a move she learned in a self-defense class, she gave him a vicious kick between the legs that propelled him to his knees. Without missing a beat, she clasped her hands together and swung at his head with all her might, instantly knocking him out.

    Meanwhile, Tae was cracking several of Bee’s ribs. He repeatedly slammed his knee against the other man’s chest. He sent his elbow crashing down on Bee’s back, causing him to fall to the floor in an unconscious heap. He went over to check on Ruby.

    Her hands were throbbing as she stood over Rock’s body. Out of frustration, she gave his arm a fierce kick. “Damn bastard! His head must be made of steel. Owwwwwwww. I think I sprained my wrists." Fury raged in her face as gave the unconscious men several hard kicks to their sides. “Stupid idiots! Trying to take advantage of a weak, innocent girl like me."

    “Stop fooling around.” He pulled her away. “Help me tie them up. We can’t just leave them lying around.”

    With an unsatisfied pout, she gave one last kick. “This is for trying to steal my locket!”

    After dragging the men back into the room, they were tied up and gagged. Tae placed them in the walk-in closet and bolted the doors. He took both of the shotguns and led her to an air vent near the main staircase.

    “Climb onto my shoulders and I’ll push you up to the air vent,” he whispered. “Continue crawling forward until you see another air vent. You should be directly above the reception room holding the hostages. Stay there and I’ll come get you when it’s safe.”

    “I don’t know, it’s pretty dark inside. Do you have a flashlight?”

    He shook his head. “They might be able to see the light coming through the cracks in the vent. Don’t worry, they won’t know you’re in there if you remain quiet.”

    “What about you? Where are you going?”

    “Those men would most likely split up their forces, so I’m going to go search the rest of the hotel for their whereabouts.” He took off his spectacles and mic. “Oh, yeah, wear these spectacles and microphone so the officers will be able to check on the conditions of the hostages. I’ll contact my brother with my cell phone.”

    He reached into his pant pocket and pulling out a small Swiss army knife. “Here, take my knife. You most likely won’t have the opportunity to use it, but keep it just in case you do need protection.” He knelt down on the ground and she carefully stepped on his shoulders. After seeing her disappear through the opening, he turned toward the one of the rooms down the hall. There was a secret chamber in one of the private suites with an exit that few people knew.

    It was extremely dark inside the vent, but Ruby continued to crawl forward until she reached another air vent and just like Tae said, it was situated in the reception room. She clenched her fists in anger as she saw Annie being tied up and looking so weary. We’ll get you out soon, Annie. Just hold on. She was lying in the vent for close to ten minutes when she suddenly heard soft whisperings near her ear. Remembering the spectacles, she took them off and placed the frames close to her ear.

    “Ruby can you hear me?” Stephan’s voice could be heard coming from the microphone.

    “Yes. How’s Tae?” she whispered.

    “He’s fine. I want you to listen closely to me and follow my instructions. We know where all the men in the group are and will be sending armed officers in to rescue the hostages. I want you to position the spectacles so that we can still see what goes on in there and crawl back out of the vent. Tae will be waiting for you at the end of the vent and take you out of the hotel.”

    “How are you going to save the hostages? Is it safe to act now?”

    “We have everything covered. Now, hurry. We’ve managed to convince them to give us another half an hour before they start killing off the hostages.” She took off the glasses and laid it facing the room. She swiftly crawled back out of the vent and met up with Tae. Together, they exited the hotel through the underground sewer.

    **********

    Ruby had been pacing back and forth for the past hour and it was driving Tae crazy. “Will you please stand still? You’re making me dizzy.”

    She continued to move back and forth. “I can’t help it. I pace when I’m nervous. Just don’t look at me. What is taking them so long in there?” She suddenly turned frightened eyes on him. “You don’t think this operation failed and they’re hurt or injured, do you?”

    He was trying his best to stay calm and compose. Yet her words sent his mind reeling with endless possibilities of things going wrong. Stephan had gone into the hotel to lead his men through the rescue mission. Since this was official police business, Stephan was not allowed to disclose full details of their plan. His best friend and brother were inside and he could do nothing but wait. “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all!” he snapped in a grumpy voice.

    “Don’t you use that tone with me,” she retorted back. “I’m just worried for everyone’s safety. Annie is still in there. If anything happens to her…" She was unable to finish her sentence as she tried to hold back her tears. It was just too horrifying to envision Annie harmed in any way.

    The doors to the hotel abruptly burst opened and police officers wearing gas masks were carrying people out of the building. They ran toward the onslaught of rushing people. Ruby desperately searched for Annie while Tae tried to locate his brother and Kevin.

    She finally saw an officer holding a young woman wearing a blue dress and hurried over to them. “Annieeeeee!!!" she yelled out.

    Tae also found Stephan carrying an unconscious Kevin. “Good Lord!

    The police officers were placing people on stretchers and putting them in the ambulances that were starting to fill up the parking lot. People were swarming all over the place as Tae and Ruby pushed through the crowd.

    With her heart pounding rapidly in her chest, Ruby worriedly scrambled over to her friend and knelt down beside the stretcher. Seeing Annie’s limp body and pale face, tears streamed down her cheeks and she started wailing at the top of her lungs. She jumped to the conclusion that her best friend was fatally wounded. “Aaaaahhhhhhhh! Nooooooooo!” she was hysterically clinging on to Annie’s cold hands and sobbing her eyes out. “She’s dead! She’s dead! Why, God, whyyyyyyy?! What has she ever done to deserve this?! Oh, Annieeeeeeee, I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you! Please forgive me! Annieeeeeeeeeeeee! Annieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

    Tae, several police officers, and paramedics stood staring at Ruby with exasperated looks on their faces. A handful of nurses were covering their ears with their hands to block out the loud racket. Unable to stand the horrible, earsplitting screams any longer, Tae grabbed her shoulders and gave her several hard shakes. “Get a grip on yourself! She’s not dead, yet. Shut your mouth and check her pulse. You’ll see that she is still alive, just knocked out from inhaling too much sleeping gas. Now, will you please shut up! You’re giving everyone a headache with that God-awful screeching.”

    She instantly stopped crying to stare up at him with puffy red eyes, a tear streaked face, and a runny nose. She started to wipe her wet cheeks with the back of her hands. “You mean, she’s going to be all right?”

    “She won’t be if you continue laying on her like that,” said a male paramedic.

    She immediately pulled away. “What’s wrong with her and all the other people? Why are they still unconscious?”

    Stephan finally spoke up as he took off his gas mask. “We used knockout grenades to make everyone unconscious so we can apprehend the armed suspects. Unfortunately we had to use a slightly high dose of sleeping gas, so some people might be knocked out for several hours. Although the gas is relatively harmless, everyone should be taken to the hospital for checkups just to be on the safe side.”

    She gave the paramedics a harsh frown, “Well then, what are you guys waiting for?! Didn’t you hear the man? Hurry up and get her to a hospital! Can’t you see she needs help?”

    “They can’t leave with you clinging to her arm in that death grip of yours,” Tae replied dryly.

    Being so distressed, she was unaware that her hand was still tightly clutching Annie’s arm. She glanced down and saw that her knuckles were starting to turn white. With an embarrass giggle, she released her hold. “Ooooops, hehehehe.” She turned to one of the paramedics. “Could I ride in the ambulance with my friend? Please.”

    “I see no harm in letting you ride with us,” said a female paramedic.

    Stephan glanced over his shoulder at Tae. “I’ll drop by the hospital later on after I finish up with all the paperwork here.”

    Tae gave his brother a hug. “You scared me half to death. Good thing I don’t have to witness you on your job everyday; otherwise, I’ll probably have a heart attack in a couple of weeks.”

    “It doesn’t get this exciting everyday,” Stephan chuckled. “Remember, not a word of this to Mother. The less she knows, the better off our ears will be, but I’m sure she’ll probably hear enough from the news reporters.”

    **********

    Annie was experiencing the worst headache of her life as she groggily tried to open her eyes and sit upright. She squinted against the glaring bright lights above. She saw white curtains and a familiar face hovering over her. Blinking several times to clear her vision, she saw Ruby’s concerned expression turned into extreme relief. “Ruby?” she murmured in confusion. “So you’re dead too? Are we in heaven?”

    “Don’t be silly!” Ruby said with a horrified wave of her hand. “Girl, you’re giving me bad luck by saying that! We are definitely not in heaven. I don’t know about you, but I plan on living for eighty more years.”

    Annie was fondly smiling at her friend. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking straight. I mean, how could you possibly be admitted into heaven?” she teased. “Of course, there’s no questioning that I would be accepted, but it is highly doubtful that you can get in.”

    “Well, I’m glad you’re still in the mood to joke around. I can’t believe I was worried sick over you and the first thing you do when you wake up is mock me.”

    “Can you be mad at me later?” Annie was trying to sit up. “Help me get to the bathroom. Man, my bladder is about to explode.”

    A short while later, Annie felt much better as she sat back down on the bed. Ruby pulled up a chair next to her. “Phewwwww,” Annie sighed as she leaned back against a pillow. “That feels soooooo good. Oh Ruby, you have no idea how much pain I was in when they tied me up. Those damn bastards wouldn’t even let me use the restroom!”

    Ruby had a fierce glow in her eyes. “If I ever get my hands on them, I’ll rip out their hearts and make them eat their organs raw. Then I’ll have their bodies sliced into eighteen pieces and feed their flesh to the dogs!” she heatedly stated while making chopping motions with her hands.

    “Do you have to be so graphic with your descriptions? You’re making me nauseous here. With your gruesome talk, people might actually think you could act on those ideas. Not everyone knows that you are too much of a wimp to do all that.”

    “Hmph, I can hire someone to do the dirty jobs for me. By the way, where were you when those men burst into the hotel? After I came out of the restroom, I saw everyone tied up, but I didn’t see you anywhere.”

    Annie sighed as she made herself more comfortable on the bed. “Shortly after you left, I was eating my tenth eggroll so fast that I accidentally dropped it on the ground. It rolled under the table. Naturally, being a good guest that I am, I didn’t want to dirty the carpet. So I crawled under the table to pick up my half eaten eggroll. When I was about to crawl back out, I heard people screaming and yelling. Out of curiosity, I peeked out from underneath the drapes to see what was causing all the commotion. There were armed, masked men pointing guns at all the guests. Of course, I hid back behind the drapes. It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t need to go to the restroom and if that nasty cockroach didn’t attack me. You should have seen it, Ruby. It was so gross and repulsive looking that I almost threw up after killing it. I swear, it was the ugliest creature I have ever seen. Arghhh, just thinking about it gives me chills.”

    “What are you complaining about? At least you’re still alive, unlike that poor roach; killed for no apparent reason.”

    “Poor roach?! Poor me! I’m the one being attacked! It kept crawling toward me and leering at me with those beady little eyes. What was I supposed to do? Let the creepy thing crawl all over me? Besides, I didn’t intentionally kill it.”

    “Yeah, yeah, now, do you want to stay here the rest of the night chatting or go home?”

    Annie scrambled to her feet. “No need to ask me twice. Let’s get out of here. I’m bone tired. Can’t wait to get home and sleep for twelve hours straight.”

    They walked out of the building and Annie pitifully moaned. She was holding the hospital bill in her hand and said in a gloomy voice, “Just look at the amount they charged me for laying on that dinky little bed for two hours. It’s highway robbery I tell you.”

  6. #6
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 5 - Memories

    Ruby’s eyebrows shot up as she saw the amount on the receipt. “Whoa! No wonder doctors are so rich. I can’t believe they would take so much money from poor, unfortunate patients like us.”

    Annie sighed as she took out her cell phone. She mournfully shook her head and said, “I guess I better call the taxi company to send someone over to pick us up.”

    Standing near a bench at the front entrance of the hospital, they were too tired to notice two figures approaching them from behind. They screamed as two hands were placed on each of their shoulders and fearfully ran straight ahead without even turning around to check behind them.

    “Annie! Ruby!” An elderly man yelled out. “You two come back here!”

    Recognizing the voice, the girls immediately stopped running and turned around. Standing several yards from them was a middle-aged couple with two disapproving frowns on their faces.
    “Uncle Dan? Aunt Nancy? What are you doing here?” Annie inquired in a shocked tone.

    “Shouldn’t you still be in England?” Ruby had a puzzled look on her face.

    Aunt Nancy gave Annie and Ruby each a tight hug. “Your uncle and I felt uneasy about leaving two all alone in Hong Kong, so we decided to return from our vacation early.”

    “When we arrived at the airport, we heard that a group of armed men were holding hostages at the Dream-Crescent Hotel,” Uncle Dan stated with concern in his eyes. “Reporters managed to tape most of the guests entering the hotel. I almost had a stroke when I saw you girls on the news.”

    “We were worried sick and rushed to the hotel, but all the roads were blocked. So, we stayed home to listen to the news and prayed for your safety.” Aunt Nancy turned to Annie. “Your parents would never forgive us if anything happens to you.”

    “You two are staying with us tonight. It’s too late to be out waiting for a cab.” They took a quick walk to the small parked car on the side of the street.

    Dan Lau was Annie’s uncle, her mother’s only brother. Years ago, Annie and her parents were on a plane trip to Singapore to visit some relatives, but the plane unexpectedly encountered some engine problems and came crashing down. Out of the 250 people aboard the flight, Annie was one of the lucky seven people who survived the crash. At the young age of fourteen, she had suddenly lost both her parents. After her parents’ death, Dan became her legal guardian and took her into his family. Nancy Sit was a gentle and caring woman, who had always wanted children of her own. Unfortunately, she and Dan were not blessed with any children. When the opportunity came up that they could adopt Annie, they welcomed her into the family with opened arms. They treated her like their own daughter and she also grew to love them like her parents. Being orphaned at a young age, she had always been grateful for their kindness.

    Twenty minutes later, they finally reached an apartment complex and took the elevator up to the top floor of the twenty-five story high building. Stepping inside the small, but quaint household, Annie tiredly flopped down on the sofa and rested her legs on a footstool. Lying down next to Annie, Ruby proceeded to use Annie’s thighs as a pillow for her head.

    “Annie, I stored some of your old pajamas in the closet, so why don’t you and Ruby go change and get some rest?” Aunt Nancy suggested. “I’m sure you’re both very tired.”

    Annie and Ruby gave Aunt Nancy and Uncle Dan a kiss on the cheek before heading toward the bedroom. After turning off the lamp on the table stand next to the bed, Ruby turned to her side and closed her eyes. Annie was extremely tired, but she couldn’t go to sleep, so she continued to stare up at the ceiling in the darkness.

    “You can’t sleep either?” Ruby whispered ten minutes later.

    “Yeah.” Annie smiled in the dark. “How did you know I wasn’t asleep?”

    “Because you snore like a bear in your sleep.”

    “I do not!” Annie elbowed her in the ribs.

    Ruby softly giggled as she rubbed her ribs. “Damn girl, you didn’t have to drill a hole through my skin.”

    Annie reached for the switch on the lamp. “Since we both can’t sleep, want to look at our old photo albums? I asked Aunt Nancy to keep some of my stuffs in this room since my apartment doesn’t have enough space.”

    “Sure.”

    Hopping out of bed, she opened a drawer in the dresser and took out a worn out blue photo album. They sat on the bed and flipped through the yellow pages holding their treasured memories. Grinning cheerfully, Annie pointed at a photograph with two chubby five year olds sitting on the swings. “Look, our first day of kindergarten. You were adorable with your messed up hair and tomboyish looks.”

    “Urghhhh! Don’t remind me. I looked hideous back then while you always looked like a perfect angel. I thought you were another one of those stuck up pretty girls.”

    Annie smoothed her fingers over the picture. “And I thought you were one of the bullies on the playground and was scared to death of you. Of course that was before you defended me and beat up that fat boy.”

    Ruby lightly yanked on several strands of Annie’s hair. “He was making fun of you and pulling your braids while you were too nice to fight back and just stood there crying.”

    Annie smiled as she reminisced. “By the way, you never told me what he said that made you beat him up so badly. He had to be rushed to the nurse’s office.”

    She had a light scowl on her face. “He called me a bastard and that my mother was a bad woman. His family lived several houses away from us, so he knew that I didn’t have a father. Besides, I didn’t do that much damage.”

    “If you consider giving him two black eyes, leaving deep bite marks on his arms, and ripping up his shirt, not bad, then I’d hate to see what would happen if you really went all out.”

    Ruby sighed, “I still can’t believe that we caused so much trouble on our first day of school.” As she silently flipped through the album, she saw a picture of Annie and her parents. She suddenly felt a familiar ache in her heart. Annie saw the look in Ruby's eyes and whispered, “Do you ever think about him?”

    Ruby nodded. “When I was younger, I often fantasized that my dad isn’t living a separate life with another family. He would be devoted to me and my mom. At the end of the day, he would come home after a hard day at work and eat dinner with us. As I grew older, I faced reality and tried not to think of him too much. Right after my mom died of leukemia, I wanted to carve out his heart. Now, I’ve decided to be the bigger person and just pray that he chokes on his food and die a long, suffering death.”

    Not wanting to rekindle her friend’s sad childhood, Annie closed the album. “I think we’ve reminisced enough for the night. Let’s go to sleep.”

    **********

    Stephan and Tae decided to stay at Kevin’s apartment for the night since they were too lazy to drive home. Kevin and Stephan were sitting at the kitchen table sipping their beers and eating peanuts. Tae was sprawled on the sofa with his mouth wide open and snoring loud enough to wake the dead.

    Kevin popped a peanut in his mouth as he glanced over his shoulders. “Damn! Look at that horrible sight. It is truly amazing so many women are willing to throw themselves at him. How can they possibly stand that awful sound?”

    Stephan shook his head in wonder. “That’s a question I’ve always asked myself. At least you didn’t have to listen to that racket every night for three months. I had to share a room with him on our family trip to Paris at Uncle Bob’s mansion. I was seriously thinking of hanging myself just to end my misery.”

    “Aren’t there like over forty rooms in his mansion? Why did you have to share a room?”

    “Well, my uncle didn’t remember how many people he invited for summer vacation and too many people showed up that year. Our relatives thought it would be fun to have everyone spend the summer under the same roof since we rarely get together.”

    Tae suddenly choked on his saliva and started coughing. After several seconds, he rolled over to his side and resumed his snoring. Stephan walked over to the sofa and threw his jacket over his brother’s head, but it unfortunately failed to silence the snoring. He stared at his younger brother with disgust. “I give up. Hey Kev, I’m going to hit the sack. Don’t stay up too late.”

    “I won’t.”

    Stephan headed down the hall toward one of the guest rooms and closed the door while Kevin continued to sit at the kitchen table. He was tired, but didn’t feel sleepy, so he decided to kill some time by paying his bills. Taking out a stack of mail from the corner, he started to open the envelopes when his cell phone started ringing. He glanced at the clock on the wall and noticed that it was 1 o’clock in the morning.

    Kevin muttered to himself, “Who would call at this hour?” He picked up his phone. “Hello.”

    “How’s it going, Black Hawk?” a familiar deep voice inquired. “I see you had quite an exciting night.”

    His expression instantly turned grim as he tightened his hold on his cell phone. “What do you want?” he whispered in a gruff tone.

    “You know I wouldn’t call you if this is not urgent. Meet me at Mammoth Peak in half an hour. We need to talk.”

    Kevin wanted to ask more questions, but the man had already hung up. Walking into the guest room, he found Stephan sound asleep. On his way out the door, he grabbed his coat and car keys. He arrived at the top of the hill fifteen minutes later and saw a man in his fifties wearing a black leather coat standing against the railing near the ledge. Turning off the headlights, he took a deep breath and prepared himself for what he knew was going to take place. Walking up to his former supervisor, the two men stood side by side without uttering a single word for several minutes. They just stared down at city lights below.

    “Hong Kong really is a beautiful place. Don’t you think so, Black Hawk?”

    “Yes,” Kevin said after a brief pause. “And I am no longer Black Hawk.”

    “Still stubborn as hell.” His former chief chuckled. “I’m sure you know why I called you out.”

    “If this is regarding another assignment, then forget about it. My days as a police officer are over and I’m not interested in working as a spy again. I’m tired of always having to look over my shoulder and putting my life on the line.”

    There was a keen look in the other man’s aging eyes. “You may say that, but do you think I don’t know the real reason you retired from the force? It’s been over four years. I thought you would be over Ricky’s death by now.”

    At the mention of his younger bother’s name, he angrily slammed his palm down on the steel railing and fixed a cold stare on the older man. “Leave Ricky out of this,” he uttered in a dangerously low voice. “You’re wasting your breath, Keith. I’m sure you can find someone else to do the job, so I would appreciate it if you don’t contact me anymore.”

    “You would pass up on the opportunity to catch Dragon?”

    Shock registered in his dark face as he froze in mid-stride. He whirled around with disbelief in his eyes. “He’s still alive?!”

    “Apparently the explosion didn’t kill him,” Keith disclosed the information. “He is now the mastermind behind the multi-million dollar cocaine operation in Shanghai and using several large investment companies to launder money for him. We need you, Kevin. Only you have the skills and experience to finish this job. The guys in the unit still talk about Black Hawk’s great accomplishments.”

    Faced with the decision of either forgoing the risky mission or resuming his former hidden identity, Kevin didn’t even hesitate as he agreed to the assignment. There was no other choice for him. “I’ll do it.” There was a deadly determination in his eyes. This time, he would catch Dragon or die trying.

    “I knew you wouldn’t let me down. I’ll contact you in a couple of days with the details.”

    **********

    Kevin stepped on the gas pedal, sending his car racing down the streets toward Victoria Harbor. Making a screeching stop at the railings on the edge of the pier, he stepped out of his car and strolled aimlessly along the bridge. As the cool breezy wind blew against his face, his mind wandered back to thinking about his brother’s death at the age of twenty-one. He pulled out his wallet and stared at a picture he took with Ricky. He looked so young and happy with a vibrant grin on his face. No matter how many times he told himself that Ricky’s death was not his fault, guilt remained tearing at his conscience.

    Coming from a wealthy, caring family, he grew up getting everything he wanted. What he couldn’t buy, he would charm out of people with his dazzling smile and winning personality. At the young age of twenty, he entered the policy academy and graduated in the top of his class. He was transferred to the Special Crime Unit as an undercover agent. In the short span of a couple years, he managed to crack over ten of the top cases involving drugs and money laundering. He placed some of the most high profile criminals behind bars. Under the secret identity of Black Hawk, he prided himself in his accomplishments. Just when he thought nothing could dampen his spirit, his life abruptly took a nosedive.

    He could still remember the scene four years ago as if it had occurred only yesterday. He and his team of undercover agents comprising of five other men had been working for months trying to capture the leader of the Red Scale Gang, nicknamed Dragon. After obtaining the location of their illegal dealings, his team and a large group of other police officers staked out at the warehouse. He hid behind several large loading carts and waited for the Red Scale gang members to exchange their illegal drugs for money from another gang. As the exchange was taking place, the officers immediately seized all the suspects along with the drugs and money, but one man standing in the back managed to outrun them and headed toward the five story high warehouse fifty yards away. He jumped out from his hiding place to chase after the other man.

    “Stop!” The pursuit led to the roof of the building as he pulled out his gun and aimed it at the suspect’s back. He was breathing hard as he screamed at the other man. “I said stop! Put your hands behind your heads and lie down! Now!”

    The other man slowly placed his hands behind his head and turned around.

    He was so stunned that he almost dropped his gun. “Ricky?! What the hell are you doing here?!”

    His brother’s eyes shown with fear. “Kevin, I’m so glad it’s you. I didn’t want to do it, but they made me. You have to help me.”

    “Slow down. Tell me exactly what happened. Who made you? Why are you here with those gang members?”

    Ricky nervously racked his hands through his hair. “I lost two million dollars playing the stock markets and borrowed some money from this guy one of my friends knew. I wanted to recover my losses and bought some more stocks, but the damn company went bankrupt and I lost all my money. He told me that if I help him out by bringing some briefcases to some of his friends, I don’t have to pay him back. I didn’t want Mom and Dad to find out that I owed so much money, so I agreed.”

    Kevin had a sinking feeling at the pit of his stomach. “How many times have you done this?”

    “This is the fourth time, but he promised I won’t have to do this anymore,” Ricky said as he wiped the sweat off his forehead.

    “Come back with me to the police station. I’ll ask the courts to be lenient on you. I’m sure that since this is your fist offense and that you didn’t resist arrest, they will give you a lighter sentence.”

    “No! I’m not going with you! Don’t you understand?! I’m going to graduate from college in a couple of weeks! I can’t go to prison! My life will be ruined!

    With a pained look, he sadly shook his head. “You should have thought about that before you agreed to break the law.”

    “I didn’t know there were drugs in those briefcases!” Ricky panicked. “You’re my big brother, why aren’t you helping me?! You always helped me out before.”

    “Even I can’t bail you out this time. I enforce the law. I can’t break it.” He turned anguish eyes on his brother. “Turn yourself in. Mom and dad will forgive you.”

    “Let me go, Kev.” Ricky dropped to his knees with tears running down his cheeks. “I don’t want to go to jail!” he sobbed.

    As Kevin stood there wavering for a split second, Ricky jumped up and pushed him aside. He ran toward the fire escape, but tripped on a loose wire and fell over the side of the building. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

    Kevin leaped up and ran to the ledge. Terror ripped through his body as he saw his brother tightly hanging onto a rusty cable antenna attached to the wall. He was lying flat on his stomach as he reached for Ricky’s hand. “Hold on! I’ll get you up! Grab my hand!”

    Ricky reached for the outstretched hand, but just when he managed to grasp Kevin’s fingers, the antenna snapped and he fell screaming down to his death.

    "Noooooooooooooo! Ricky!" He was too horrified to move as he continued to lie on the ledge, staring down at the twisted, lifeless body on the pavement. He slowly closed his eyes against the bloody scene, but he knew that this day will haunt him for the rest of his life.

  7. #7
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 6 – Burglar In The House

    “I still think both of you should move in here to live with us,” Uncle Dan said with a frown. “Two single girls living alone in this busy city can be quite dangerous. Your aunt and I wouldn’t have to constantly worry about your safety, Annie.”

    “I’m fully capable of taking care of myself. Besides, our apartment is located in a great neighborhood.”

    Aunt Nancy smiled warmly at them. “Well, you two be extra careful and remember to give us a call once in a while. The weather is starting to get cold now, so don’t forget to put on some warm clothes when you go out.” She sighed before saying, “I don’t understand why young people always want to leave home.”

    “Don’t sound so depressed, Aunt Nancy. We eat here practically every night anyways.”

    “I guess. Now, you girls better go before we change our minds and decide to keep you here.”

    They were standing at the bus stop waiting for their ride when Ruby suddenly remembered the terrier at the Dream-Crescent Hotel. “Oh, shoot! I totally forgot about that dog I found at the hotel. I want to go check on her at the animal shelter.”

    “Sure. I’m going to drop by Benny’s house to pick up some of my cds. I’ll meet up with you afterward.”

    A short while later, Annie stepped off the small bus and walked on the narrow pathway leading up to a luxuriously furnished two-story house. Taking a spare key that Benny gave her before he left, she opened the front door and disarmed the security system in the house. She headed toward the back of the house and opened a door separating the garage from the kitchen.

    There was a large package placed on the corner of the cabinet. She quickly ripped open the wrappings and to her delight, found her music albums. She squealed with joy and hugged the package to her chest. “Oh, fifty of my all time favorite music albums!” Her excitement was disrupted by the sound of someone opening the front door. She listened closely and heard footsteps heading her direction. A burglar! She glanced around and saw a metal baseball bat on a work bench. Armed with a weapon in hand, she was prepared to face the intruder. I’ll show him the consequences of trying to steal from one of my friends.

    She hid behind the kitchen door with the bat held high and prepared to strike at the burglar when he walked through the door. With sweaty palms and a racing heart, she prayed that this intruder wasn’t a bulky man. The door opened and she immediately swung at the man’s head with all her might. However, a split second before making contact, he swiftly grabbed the bat and yanked it out of her hand. With blinding speed, he roughly grasped her right arm and forcefully twisted it behind her back.

    She instantly rammed her elbow against her attacker’s stomach and stomped on his foot with her high-heeled boot. Grimacing in pain, he slammed her head several times against the wall and pinned her down on the cold floor. Trying to restrain her, the man had his knee on her lower spine and her arm locked behind her back. While lying on her stomach, she was in so much pain her head was spinning, yet she still desperately tried to twist free of his hold.

    Fearing for her life, she screamed out. “Let me go, you overgrown baboon! I have close connections with some of the top police officers in Hong Kong. If anything happens to me, they will hunt you down like a dog and have you skinned alive!”

    “Annie?” the man abruptly released her arm. “Is that you?”

    “Who the hell are you?!” she asked in confusion. “How do you know my name?” She tried to turn her head to get a good look at him. “Kevin?! You dimwitted moron! Why are you still kneeling on me?! Get your bony knee off my back!”

    He promptly moved off her back and tried to help her up. “I’m so sorry, Annie. I didn’t know it was you and thought a burglar was breaking into the house. Are you all right?”

    Angrily shoving his hands away, she cradled her sore arm and pulled herself up. Without warning, she gave him a vicious kick in the shin with the pointed tip of her boot before heading over to the dining table. Howling in pain, he grabbed his leg and gave her a disgruntled look.
    “Now, was that necessary?” he whimpered. “I already apologized.”

    “Serves you right,” she glowered back. “You almost dislocated my arm and nearly gave me a concussion. The least I can do is return the favor.” Feeling light headed, she leaned against the table and tentatively touched her forehead. Staring at her hand, she saw blood on her fingertips. She gasped out in horror. “I’m bleeding!”

    Seeing a small cut near the corner of her hairline and several large bumps starting to swell up on her forehead, Kevin limped toward the kitchen cabinet to get the first aid kit. Hastily returning to her with the kit, he opened the box and took out several small packages of antiseptic napkins. She was too dizzy to notice what he was doing. “Aiya!” she winced in pain as he wiped her cut with the wet napkins. “That stings!”

    He tightened his grip on her chin. “Hold still. I can’t clean your wound if you keep fidgeting.” He applied a soothing antibacterial balm on her cut. Her arm was still aching and her head was throbbing painfully as he finished placing a band aid over her cut. She suddenly felt extremely dizzy and started seeing bright stars. Her vision was starting to get blurry. A couple seconds later, she collapsed to the side.

    He swiftly caught her before she hit the floor. “Annie!” Wrapping his arm securely around her waist, he supported her head against his chest. “Annie! Wake up!” he gently shook her. He checked her pulse and heartbeat. With concern in his dark eyes, he carried her upstairs to one of the guest rooms and laid her down on the bed.

    **********

    Annie groaned as she gradually opened her eyes and stared at the unfamiliar surroundings. Only feeling a slight headache, she slowly sat up in the dimly lit room. Remembering what had happened earlier, she held her forehead until the dizzy spell went away. She made her way downstairs to search for Kevin and headed toward the sounds coming from the kitchen. The scene in the kitchen caused her to smile as she stood leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed over her chest. Kevin managed to appear completely at ease wearing a yellow cooking apron and frying something in a pan. He was humming a happy tune and swaying his hips to the beat. With his attention focused on his cooking, he failed to notice her standing behind him with a silly grin on her face.

    Now that she thought about it, he wasn’t really such a bad guy. So, he jumped to conclusion and thought she was a hooker. Maybe there was some misunderstanding with his conversation with Benny. He did apologize for unintentionally attacking her. Maybe she should give him a break and let him off the hook. After all, she wasn’t a petty person.

    Out of the blue, he held up a spatula and started singing and waving his hands like he was a singer at an actual concert. It was too much. She clutched her stomach and burst out laughing. He whirled around and his face flushed once he saw her standing in the corner giggling her head off.

    “Don’t you know it’s rude to spy on people,” he mumbled in an embarrassed tone.

    She was trying to stop laughing as she wiped the corner of her eyes with her sleeve. “I wish I had a camcorder! That moment was priceless!” Unable to continue on, she burst out in another fit of hysterical giggles.

    He turned around and continued his cooking. “Well, I take it that you’re feeling a lot better since you definitely have your warped sense of humor back.”

    She sat down at the kitchen counter. “Since I’m in a good mood, I will let that remark slide by, but don’t push your luck. By the way, what are you cooking?” she asked while sniffing the mouth-watering aroma coming from the food. “It doesn’t smell half bad.”

    “Just some grilled steak and steamed vegetables. You hungry?”

    Her stomach was throwing a tantrum. “Not really, but I wouldn’t mind giving you some pointers on your cooking. Consider this my good deed for the day.”

    He placed the food on a plate and grinned. “Of course.”

    Placing his plate down on the kitchen counter, he turned to prepare Annie’s portion. She gazed at the juicy steak and steaming vegetables on his plate. She was barely able to keep her hands off his food as her mouth watered with hunger. Returning with a can of cold sardines and some dried crackers, he plopped the contents on her dish. Gaping with shock, she turned to yell at him, only to find him beaming with silent mirth. “Gotcha.”

    She scowled at him. “Hahaha, very funny. Now, where’s my food?”

    “You mean, you don’t like sardines and crackers?”

    She held up a fist near his face. “You don’t want to mess with me with I’m hungry.”

    “I thought you said you weren’t hungry?”

    “So, I lied,” she said with a shrug.

    He took out a plate filled with a large, hot steak and a side dish of vegetables from under the counter. His grin lit up his chiseled features. “In that case, enjoy the food, milady.”

    They sat next to each at the kitchen counter, enjoying their meal in an oddly peaceful silence. He had never felt so at ease with a woman before. Stealing a quick glance at her profile, he saw that she was totally absorbed in the meal. “You seem to be enjoying the food. So, how’s my cooking?”

    “Not bad, but hey, when a person is hungry, anything can taste halfway decent,” she mumbled while chewing a piece of steak.

    “You really do have high standards,” he said with a shake of his head.

    She shoved the last piece of string bean into her mouth. “Of course. After all, I am a chef. Well, thanks for lunch, but it’s getting late. I’ll get going now.” Picking up her purse and music albums, she headed toward the door. “Hopefully, I won’t see your face again anytime soon.”

    “I hate to disappoint you, but we’re stuck here for awhile. All the roads around here are blocked,” he calmly revealed.

    She whirled around with an astonished look. “What are you talking about? The roads were perfectly fine this morning when I took the bus here.”

    “That was before a drunken truck driver rammed into a telephone pole and knocked down several miles of phone lines. There’s a huge traffic jam right now,” he informed after casually sipping his ice tea.

    “How do you know?” she asked with a doubtful frown.

    “It’s all over the news. It was estimated that 15 cars were involved in the accident. If you don’t believe me, turn on the tv and see for yourself.”

    She grabbed the remote control on the coffee table and flipped on the television. Sure enough, several stations were still covering the accident. Scenes of phone lines lying on the roads and an endless line of cars stuck in traffic flashed on screen.

    Seeing her unhappy expression, he tried to cheer her up. “Hey, don’t look so down. The roads should be cleared out by tomorrow morning.”

    She slumped down on a nearby couch. “Of all the luck! Now, what are we going to do? And how can you eat at a time like this?”

    He continued munching on some broccoli. “Even if I starve myself, we are still going to be stranded here.”

    “There has to be another way out. Don’t just sit there. Think of something.”

    “If I had a solution, would I be sitting in this chair having this delightful conversation with you? We’re just going to have to wait till morning.”

    “Great. Now, I’m stuck in this house with you,” she muttered.

    “What is that supposed to mean? I’m not exactly thrilled to be here either, so that makes two of us.”

    All of a sudden, she jumped up from her seat. “What time is it? Ruby must be worried sick about me by now.”

    “It’s 2 o’clock.” He saw her reaching for the phone hanging on the kitchen wall. “Don’t bother. Like I told you, the phone lines within several miles perimeter of the accident are temporarily down.”

    Her eyes lit up as she remembered her cell phone. Grabbing her purse, she hastily searched the contents inside. While this was going on, Kevin had his elbow perched on the counter with his chin resting in his hand. He stared at her with an amused grin. Finally, locating her phone, she started dialing the apartment’s number, but the battery was dead. She started cursing up a storm as she paced the living room floor. He smugly took out a small object from his coat pocket and started waving it around. “It seems someone is in need of this,” he said smiling.

    She happily rushed over to him and reached for his cell phone. “Why didn’t you say anything sooner? Let me borrow that.”

    He quickly stood up and held the phone high above her head. She jumped up and down trying to reach it. “Not so fast. First of all, I only let polite people borrow my stuffs.”

    She asked in a disgruntled tone, “May I please borrow your phone, Mr. Cheng?”

    He was trying hard to keep a serious face. “I don’t know. You don’t look or sound very sincere. Maybe if you apologize for kicking me earlier, I might consider letting you borrow this.”

    “Have you lost your mind?” she loudly protested. “First you brutally attacked me and now you want me to apologize?”

    “I already said I was sorry for mistaking you for a burglar and unintentionally hurting you. However, I have yet to hear an apology for nearly puncturing a hole in my leg with your boot.”

    She pointed to her forehead. “I only kicked you once. Look how many bumps I have on my forehead. Plus, my arm still hurts.”

    He casually shrugged. “No apology, no phone.”

    With an angry growl, she charged toward him. He immediately stretched out his hand and blocked her attack by placing his palm against her forehead. She reached out and attempted to grab the cell phone out of his grip. Unable to reach the object of her desire, she quickly found another way to get it by punching him in the ribs. As he doubled over in pain, she jumped on his back and tightly wrapped her arms around his neck. “Now, are you going to give it to me or not?!” she asked while squeezing his throat.

    “Let go of my neck!” he exclaimed as he tried to pry her arms away. “You’re suffocating me!”

    She stubbornly shook her head. “Hand over your phone first!”

    “No!”

    She started to tighten her grip on his neck. He finally relented and squeaked out, “Fine!” He tossed it down on the plush carpet. “All yours. Now let go.” She released her hold around his throat and hopped off his back. She joyfully picked up the cell phone and started dialing. After a couple of seconds, she whirled around and gave him a threatening glare. “Hey! What’s the password to turn on the phone?”

    He was coughing and laughing at the same time. “Why don’t you try choking the password out of it?”

    “Kevin Cheng!” she screamed, clearly frustrated.

    He stood leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest and a wide gloating smile plastered on his face. “I think someone owes me an apology.”

    She contemplated her options and knew that it was highly unlikely that she could wrestle the password from him. Ruby was most likely freaking out by now and probably called Uncle Dan and Aunt Nancy to ask about her. “Sorry,” she muttered.

    “Did you say something, Annie?” he asked, cupping his ear with his hand.

    Her hand was itching to give him a punch in the nose. “Sorry.”

    “What was that? I didn’t quite catch what you just said.”

    “I said I’m sorry,” she stated in a slightly louder voice.

    He thought she looked really cute when her eyes flamed up with anger. “You have to speak up, Annie. I can’t hear you.”

    She walked over to him and stood next to his left side. “I’m sorry I kicked you!” she shouted in his ear.

    He instantly backed away while covering his ear. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! You don’t have to scream the house down.”

    She stood with her hands perched on her waist. “Well, I already apologized. What’s the password? I don’t have all day you know.”

    “Now, was that so difficult? I didn’t know you could be so cooperative.” After he gave her the password, she was able to dial the apartment’s number.

    “Hello, Ruby?”

    “Annie! Where have you been?! I tried calling your cell phone, but you didn’t pick up. What happened?”

    “Calm down. I’m perfectly fine. Have you called my uncle or aunt?”

    “No, I didn’t want to scare them, so I decided to wait a while more before contacting them.”

    Annie breathed a sigh of relief. “Good thinking. Anyway, I’m at Benny’s house right now and all the roads leading out of here are blocked because there was a huge traffic accident. The phone lines are down.”

    “When will the roads be cleared out?”

    “Most likely by tomorrow morning, so I’ll see you then.”

    “Okay, but be sure to call me if you need anything.”

    “I will. Talk to you later. Bye” After hanging up, she idly tossed the phone back to him and headed toward the stairway.

    “Where are you going?”

    “I still have a slight headache, so I’m going to take a nap,” she yawned. “Unless the house is burning down, don’t bother me.”

    He could only shake his head and smile. Annie Man was definitely a very strange girl. One minute she was jumping on his back, demanding his phone and the next she could take a nap and act like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. He sat down on the couch and gingerly rubbed his shin where she kicked him this morning. It seemed like every time they meet, he ended up getting hurt in some way. One thing was for sure, she was definitely amusing to have around.

    **********

    Annie turned to her sides with a loud yawn. Her headache was totally gone and her energy was fully rejuvenated. Sitting up in the bed, she stretched and gazed out the window to see that it was completely dark outside. Tossing the blanket aside, she got off the bed and went into the bathroom to wash her face and freshen up. Making her way downstairs, she noticed that the house was in total darkness except for the living room. She found Kevin sitting on the sofa with his head bent over a board game. Tiptoeing across the carpet, she stood behind him and saw that he was in deep concentration. She leaned down close to his ear and eerily whispered, “What are you playing?”

    He gave a startled yelp before turning around. “Didn’t anybody ever tell you it’s not polite to sneak up on people?” he asked with a peeved expression.

    “Hahahahaha,” she laughed while pointing at him. “Scared you, didn’t I?”

    “Of course not!” he denied.

    She gave a hearty chuckle and couldn’t help saying in a teasing tone, “You looked like you were about to pee in your pants!”

    He ignored her and focused his attention back on his game. She glanced at the board and found that he was playing chess by himself. With her hands placed behind her back, she continued to stand quietly by his side and stared at the chessboard for several minutes. He finally stared up at her hovering form. “Do you want to play?”

    She promptly sat down on the stool facing him and smiled happily. “I thought you’d never ask.”

    “Are you any good?” he inquired curiously.

    “I play chess once in a while in my spare time.” They cleared the board and set up the 16 black and 16 white pieces for a new game. She made her moves skillfully, but never underestimating his ability. Being bold at first, she was decisive and quick, but after one hour, she started to slow down. “It seems I have finally met my match.”

    “I didn’t think you noticed,” he replied, chuckling. “You’re not half bad yourself.”

    She moved her pawn forward. “Thank you. I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”

    They continued for another hour and the game ended in a tie, so they started a second match. When he reached for one of his knights, she gave her warning. “If I were you, I wouldn’t make such a rash move.”

    He quirked an eyebrow. “You are hardly in the position to give advice after your last careless move.”

    She smiled as she shifted her bishop to an empty spot. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

    “By the way, what are you doing at Benny’s house?”

    “I asked Benny to order some music albums for me because his country club was giving their members discounts to several large music stores. Some of these cds are no long in circulation and I’ve been looking everywhere for them.” He shifted another rook. She cleverly blocked his move. “What about you? Why were you snooping around here?”

    “For your information, I left my tool set here several months ago and came by to pick it up. And I’m not too sure who was doing the snooping. At least I wasn’t hiding behind a kitchen door armed with a deadly weapon.”

    “How was I supposed to know you would come barging in like that? I’m not a psychic. Your turn.”

    He moved his rook into a dangerous position and left his king open to be checked. With a glowing sparkle in her eyes, Annie thought she was going to easily win this round. A couple of minutes later, she stared in shock as her king was checked. She shook her head in disbelief.

    “You were too eager to win and made one fatal mistake by leaving one of your rook unguarded. I took the opportunity to advance my pawn closer toward your king without you noticing. One false move and you lose the whole game. Better luck next time.”

    He stretched and stood up with the intent of leaving. Her competitive nature surfaced as she grabbed his arm. “I demand a rematch. This game isn’t finished yet. I think you somehow cheated.”

    “Cheated?!” He had been called a lot of things, but never in his life had he ever been labeled a cheater. “Good Lord! You are such a sore loser.”

    “I take offense at being called a sore loser! I’m not a loser, yet.”

    “Okay, okay, we'll play another round after I feed my stomach.”

    She was left to sulk at the coffee table. She scratched her head and tried to figure out how she lost. “This time, I’m keeping my eyes glued to the board.” After dinner, they continued their match late into the night. He defeated her in the next two matches. She was not a gracious loser. She continued to sit on the floor with a sad pout. She was quite tired, but was too upset to sleep. Eventually, her eyelids slowly started to droop and she unconsciously dozed off.

    During this time, Kevin had been in the kitchen making snack. He figured, he’ll be generous and give Annie half of his sandwich to appease her anger. Walking out to the living room, he stopped in his tracks as he took in the scene before him. Annie was fast asleep with her head resting on the table. Even in her sleep, she was still holding a chess piece in her right hand. There was a very determined look on her face. The soft lamplight spilled on her features, making her appear very demure and angelic.

    A small smile appeared on his face. He removed the chess piece from her fingers and gently picked her up in his arms. Careful not to wake her, he placed her on the sofa and set a soft pillow under her head. Fearing she would be cold, he went to the closet and took out a wool blanket. After making sure that she was comfortably situated, he headed upstairs toward one of the guest rooms. Unable to sleep, he stood on the balcony that overlooked the streets below. Leaning against the wood railing, he started to smile as he remembered her surprised looks after losing to him. He couldn’t recall ever having so much fun playing chess. He never expected to meet a person like Annie Man. She was like a breath of fresh air to his static life. Strangely, he felt completely comfortable in her presence. Was it fate that he was so drawn to her?

  8. #8
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 7 – The Interview

    Annie was holding her box of albums as she quietly unlocked the front door to her apartment. She tiptoed into her room to put her albums away and went to check on Ruby, but she wasn’t in her bed. Annie walked out to the living room and muttered, “That’s odd. Where’s is she?” At that moment, a foot unexpectedly stuck out from the end of the sofa. With a small scream, she jumped back from the sofa and was prepared to bolt out the front door. However, with a closer look, the foot appeared very familiar. She glanced over the back of the sofa and saw her best friend sleeping at an uncomfortable angle. Her head was tilt back and her mouth was wide open.

    She gently shook her shoulders. “Ruby.”

    “Just five more minutes, Mommy.” She mumbled and pushed away a pair of intruding hands. “I’ll get ready for school.”

    Annie pulled her to an upright position and gave her shoulders a hard shake. “Ruby!” Seeing that she was getting nowhere, she thought of another idea. “Look, Bae Yong Joon is in our house!”

    Ruby’s eyelids instantly popped open and she frantically searched the living room. “Bae Yong Joon?! Where?! Where?!”

    “I knew that would get your attention,” Annie smiled.

    She realized that her friend was home and there was no Bae Yong Joon. She pulled a long face and irritably said, “That was a mean and underhanded trick. You didn’t have to bring out my idol for the sole purpose of waking me.”

    “No other method would work this effectively. Why are you sleeping out here and not in your bed?”

    “I was waiting for you to come home and I guess I fell asleep without even knowing it.”

    “But I already told you that the roads were blocked.” She smiled as she looked at Ruby’s goofy morning expression.

    She yawned and stretched. “I was just too worried to go to sleep and wanted to see if you were able to return early.”

    “By the way, how did things go at the animal shelter? How’s the dog?”

    “The dog is fine. On my way to the shelter, I saw a poster with the picture of a missing terrier. The dog looked a lot like the one I found at the hotel. So I took the terrier back to her owner. She’s a very nice lady. She lost the dog during the chaos at Sarah’s wedding.”

    “Well, you better get dressed.” Annie ruffled Ruby’s already messy hair. “It’s already 7 o’clock.”

    “Oh shoot! I’m going to be late!” She rushed to the bathroom to freshen up and change.

    **********

    Ruby was diligently typing up an article for Wednesday’s issue when Ada lightly tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around with a bright smile. “Hi, Ada. What’s up?”

    Ada smiled back. “Mr. Wu wants to have a word with you.”

    “Thanks. Is he in his office right now?”

    “Yes, he’s waiting for you.”

    She knocked on the vice president’s door and heard his reply to come in. She saw that he was buried behind a tall stack of documents and looking quite stressed out. “Hi, Mr. Wu.” She cleared her throat before continuing on, “Was there something you wanted to discuss with me?”

    He glanced up from a report he was reading. “Have a seat, Ruby.”

    She nervously sat facing him and waited for her boss to continue. He’s probably going to fire me without giving me two weeks to find another job. Oh well, I better start packing my stuffs. I knew this day was coming, but I really didn’t expect it to be this soon. Maybe I could go work for Annie. Good God! What is my life coming to?! I don’t want to work for Annie! I hate cooking!

    “So, what do you say?”

    She realized that he had been talking to her all this time. “Huh? Uh, I’m sorry, but could you please repeat the details?”

    “Would you be interested in writing an article on your experience at the Dream-Crescent Hotel holdup?” he repeated. “It would be a great story to print and I’m sure the public will love it. Your involvement in the incident will definitely provide the added attraction to the article. I am positive that our newspapers will sell like hotcakes. So, what do you say?”

    She was relieved to know that she wasn’t let go yet. “When is the due date?”

    “How about tomorrow night?” he grinned.

    “That’s fine. I’ll have it ready for you by then.”

    **********

    By Wednesday afternoon, Ruby was shocked to find that copies of their newspapers were sold out. Apparently, people were really interested in the hostage crisis at Dream-Crescent. She was cleaning up her desk and ready to leave when Mr. Wu opened his door and called out to her. “May I have a word with you?”

    “Sure.” She entered his office and sat down.

    “First, I would like to say that you did a fantastic job on the article,” he complimented. “Even the Superintendent at the police department was impressed with your story. Your thoughts and details were very well written.”

    “Thank you.”

    “I also want to take this opportunity to tell you that HK Daily News, as well as several other major newspapers, are trying to land a very coveted interview with Tae Leung. He is currently the most popular celebrity in today’s entertainment circle, but also a very private individual. In response to the public’s increasing demand for information on him, his publicist sent word to five of the largest newspaper companies in Hong Kong that he is willing to do an interview. We were offered the chance to bid for this interview and the appointment to meet with his publicist is set for Friday afternoon at two o’clock.”

    “That’s great news, but what does any of this have to do with me?” she questioned.

    “I want you to go to this appointment and meet with his publicist.”

    “Me?” she asked in an astonished tone. “But I don’t have the experience or the ability to handle this job. Plus, my evaluation period is coming up. Why don’t you have Ada go to the meeting?”

    “Let me clarify. After much consideration from management, we’ve decided to hire you on permanently. You are a great asset to this company and we would love to have you join our team.”

    She was so elated that she was almost speechless. “Oh, thank you so much, Mr. Wu! But I’m still not sure I can handle it.”

    “Don’t worry. I already discussed this assignment with Ada and she is more than happy to work with you. I’m counting on you and Ada to convince the publicist that we are the best choice. Remember, this is a very important opportunity to promote the newspaper. I’m depending on you to do your best.”

    She grinned as she jumped up with joy. “Yes, sir! I won’t let you down.”

    “That’s the type of attitude I like to see. I’ll discuss the details with you tomorrow.”

    “Thanks again for this wonderful opportunity, Mr. Wu. You won’t regret it.”

    “I’m sure I won’t,” he smiled while nodding his head.

    After gathering her purse and briefcase, Ruby rushed home to tell Annie the good news. She was in an ecstatic mood as she opened the door to the apartment. “Annie! You’ll never guess what happened to me at work today!

    Annie walked out of the kitchen wearing a cooking apron and holding a ladle. “What happened? You look like you just won the lottery.”

    “Close, but no, I didn’t win the lottery. Guess.”

    “Did you find another job?”

    “No, but you’re getting closer.”

    Annie thought for several more seconds before saying, “I give up. Tell me.”

    Ruby started jumping up and down with a gleeful squeal. “I don’t have to search for another job because the company has decided to make me a permanent employee. Mr. Wu even offered me the chance to do a very coveted interview for the newspaper.”

    She immediately gave Ruby a tight hug. “That’s wonderful news!”

    “I know!”

    “This calls for a celebration. Let’s go out for dinner tonight.”

    “Well, I haven’t exactly landed the job yet. There are several other large companies competing with us. I still have to meet with the publicist and she has the final word. I think it’s a tad early to start celebrating. Besides, your cooking is already first-rate. Eating at home is the same thing as going out to those fancy restaurants.”

    “You cheapskate! You’re just saying that so you don’t have to fork out money for dinner.”

    “Hehehehe. You know me so well.” She draped an arm around Annie’s shoulders and led her back into the kitchen. “So, what are we having tonight?”

    “Pork chops, baked potatoes, chicken soup, and some salad.”

    “Mmmmmm. Just thinking about your food makes my mouth water. If you were a guy, I’d marry you.”

    “If I was a man, I would run the hell out of here. Let’s face it, you have high demands,” Annie declared as she pointed her ladle at Ruby’s nose.

    “Hey! Any guy would be damn lucky to have me as a girlfriend. With my beauty, talent, and sweet nature, men would kill to be by my side,” she stated with a satisfied nod of her head. “However, since we’re best buds, I won’t hold it against you for having bad judgments.” Nothing was able to dampen her good mood. She tilted her head up and smiled brightly as she waltzed out of the kitchen humming happily.

    **********

    Ruby glanced at her wristwatch for the fourth time in fifteen minutes as she anxiously sat next to Ada in her dark gray business suit. Ada noticed her nervous posture as they waited to see Michelle Yim at TVB’s corporate office. “Try to relax. This is important to the newspaper, but it’s not a life or death situation. I heard Michelle is a very perceptive person. I’m confident she will make the intelligent choice and choose us.”

    “It’s just that I’ve never done anything so exclusive before. I’m so glad I have you here with me; otherwise, I don’t think I can make it through this meeting.”

    Ada placed a comforting hand on Ruby’s shoulder. “Just think of this as one of our normal conference meetings,” she said reassuringly.

    There was a knock on the door before it opened and in walked a tall, beautiful woman in her mid-fifties. With short, black hair and smooth ivory skin, Michelle Yim had a youthful appearance that belied her age. Her sophisticated looks never failed to turn heads. She extended her hand to Ada and Ruby. “Hi, I’m Michelle Yim. You must be Miss Ada and Ruby from the Hong Kong Daily News.”

    Ada firmly shook Michelle’s hand. “Yes. It’s a great pleasure to finally meet you.”

    Michelle walked over to her desk and gestured for them to sit. “Please, have a seat. I would like to get straight to the point and not waste anyone’s valuable time. As you both know, there are four other newspaper companies bidding for this interview. What can HK Daily News offer us?”

    Ruby opened her briefcase and took out three folders, handing one to Michelle and another one to Ada. She flipped through her copy. “We have compiled a report that fully lists the benefits Tae will receive if he chooses HK Daily News. We will arrange to provide free promotion in our newspaper for his new movie, One Last Cry, and his next music album. The first page of the report explains the terms of conditions and the last page has a listing of the questions we will ask Tae.”

    Looking up from her report, Ada explained, “Aside from being one of the five largest newspaper companies in Hong Kong, our company also has a reputation in the industry for being highly professional and trustworthy. We can pretty much guarantee that Tae’s image will only improve in the public’s eye.”

    Ruby continued on, “HK Daily News also has a very large group of male readers. Since a majority of Tae’s fans are made up of females, this will be a good opportunity to expose his image to more male fans.”

    Michelle closed the report and placing it on the desk. “This is a really thorough report. The conditions sound reasonable. However, Tae will be the one making the final decision. I also have to meet with one more company before making my decision. I will contact your vice president in a couple of days to notify him on the outcome.”

    **********

    It was late Sunday afternoon and Ruby was busy watering her flowerpots when the telephone rang. “We got the interview!” Mr. Wu exclaimed in an elated tone.

    She jumped up from her seat. “Really?!"

    “Yes. I just got off the phone with Michelle and she told me that Tae’s schedule is open on Tuesday. The meeting is scheduled at 9 o’clock in the morning at his beach house.”

    “I’ll be there bright and early,” she said in a promising voice.

    “I knew you and Ada wouldn’t let me down. I need to call Ada to tell her the good news. I think it’s best if you two get together to do a quick run over of the details though.”

    “Absolutely!”

    ********

    Ruby was sipping her fourth cup of coffee as she glanced up at the clock above the mantel and noticed that it was exactly 12 o’clock. She was fuming as she fidgeted in the chair. Wanting to make a good impression, they had arrived to Tae’s luxurious beach house extra early on Tuesday morning. To their surprise, they found that he was not home and were told by his aging butler to wait in the living room. “Ada, this is ridiculous! He’s over three hours late!”

    Ada heaved a sigh and shook her head. “I tried calling Michelle, but she’s not in her office and Tae isn’t picking up his cell phone. Maybe he ran into some trouble on the way here?”

    “What trouble could he possibly be in?!” Ruby gritted out. “The least he could do is call us if he can’t make it. I’ve heard of celebrities being fashionably late, but this is absolutely inexcusable!”

    Ada was starting to feel annoyed herself. “Let’s give him five more minutes. If he still doesn’t show up, then I guess we’ll just have to reschedule.”

    Just then, they heard the front door opened and saw Tae casually strolling toward the living room. He appeared devilishly handsome wearing an expensive Armani white silk shirt and black trousers. From his perfectly styled hair to his shiny shoes, he looked every inch an acclaimed celebrity. There was confidence in his stroll and a dark arrogance in his features. It was easily understood why he appealed to so many fans.

    However, Ruby was not impressed as she shot death stares at his direction. She was ready to give him a good scolding, but Ada whispered her caution. “Not now. Remember, a good journalist must face all situations with a clear head.”

    Ruby forcibly controlled her anger and stood up to greet him. There was a brilliant grin on his slightly tanned face. “So sorry for being late. Some unexpected business came up. I hope you two didn’t wait too long.” As he took a step toward Ruby, she had a strong whiff of expensive women’s perfume on his shirt. There was a light imprint of red lipstick near his collar. Obviously, he was in the company of some cheap hussy and forgot all about the interview. “Ruby, it’s been awhile. I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”

    “Neither did I,” she gave a curt response.

    “Do you want something to drink?” He draped his arms suggestively around both of them and flashed his killer smile.

    Clearly uncomfortable at his closeness, Ruby moved away. “No thanks. We already had enough coffee for the day.”

    “Yes,” Ada said as she shrugged his arm off her shoulder. “It’s getting late. We should get started.”

    He sat down quite close to Ada, almost to the point of sitting on her lap. He hooked his foot over a knee and gave a slight wave of his hand. “Whenever you’re ready.”

    Ada picked up a pen and notebook. She carried out the first question. “Let’s start with your background. Your family has been in the entertainment industry for three generations. Did you feel any pressure to become an actor and singer?”

    Instead of answering the question, he reached out to hold her hands. He started massaging her palms. “Gosh, you have such smooth skin. What type of lotion do you use?” He went so far as rub his leg against hers. Her eyes widen in alarm at the intimate gesture and she shoved him away. She slid down to the far end of the sofa. With an embarrass cough, she uttered in a shaky voice, “Ummm, what were the deciding factors for you to venture into this industry?”

    He quickly scooted down and sat beside her again. He trialed a finger along her arm and ogled her chest. “I’ve answered these types of questions so many times that they are starting to bore me. Don’t you have anything else to ask me? I thought a well known journalist would be more competent in her work.”

    She attempted to evade his fingers. “Umm, perhaps you have something interesting you want to discuss?” She had never in her career encountered a situation like this and was doing her best to remain professional. She was getting goosebumps with him breathing down her neck.

    “Why don’t we continue our discussion in a more comfortable place? Say… the bedroom?” he said in a suggestive voice while grazing his fingers along her cheek. “You have such pretty eyes.” He tilted his head and his lips came within inches of her face. She was too stunned by his actions to move. Unexpectedly, he was grabbed by the collar and dragged away from her.

    Ruby smiled demurely after pulling him to the other end of the sofa. “Tae, I think it’s best we get back to the topic. However, if you’re not feeling well, we can reschedule for another day.”

    “No, I’m feeling fine.” His interest suddenly shifted to Ruby. “You’re looking quite lovely today, Ruby. Let me guess, new haircut?”

    She ignored his flirting words and read the next question off her notebook. “You have quite a reputation for being a private person. Since you have not done any interviews in the past, what prompted to you do one now?”

    He leaned over and placed a hand on her thigh in a provocative manner. “Well, I think I owe it to my fans to give them a glimpse of what goes on in my life.” His hand started to move higher up her thigh.

    She immediately slapped it aside and slammed her notebook on the table. “That does it! Ada, pack your bags. We don’t have to sit here and endure this kind of crap from an ill-bred jerk like him. He clearly has dirty motives in his mind.” She quickly gathered her belongings and pulled Ada up from her seat.

    “Leaving so soon, ladies? Don’t you want a private touring of the house before you go?” His voice held a lazy drawl as he rested an elbow on a cushion. “I don’t let just any woman into my home.”

    She glared at him and said in a voice filled with disgust, “You filthy pervert! I can’t believe we even considered working with you. It was obviously a horrible mistake.”

    “Please, spare me the virtuous talk. You’re just mad I didn’t pay attention to you first. No need to be jealous. There’s plenty of me to go around.” He stood up and attempted to wrap his arms around her.

    She shoved him aside. “Get away from me you uncouth boor!”

    “I’m not fond of that tone you’re directing at me. If you expect to work in this town again, you better apologize for calling me names,” he threatened as he towered over her.

    A thin smile graced her lips as she replied in fierce tone, “All right, I’m sorry for doing this.” She swiftly picked up her cup of coffee and tossed the content in his face. Luckily, the coffee was no longer hot, so it didn’t burn his skin. Disbelief registered in Tae’s face as the dark liquid dripped down his face and stained his costly shirt. Horrified at this unexpected turn of events, Ada grabbed Ruby’s arm and hurried out of the house.

  9. #9
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 8 – Painful Past

    “You did what?!” Mr. Wu exclaimed as he slumped back in his chair.

    Ada and Ruby stood next to each other as they faced their very shocked vice president. After reaching the office, they went straight to Mr. Wu and explained everything that happened during the meeting with Tae. He was actually taking the news much better than the girls anticipated.

    Ruby cringed from the look on his face. “Mr. Wu, even though Tae was being a total jerk, I shouldn’t have let my temper get the better of me.” She mentally prepared herself for a scolding. “This was my fault and Ada had nothing to do with it. I take full responsibility for my reckless behavior.”

    Ada shook her head. “No, Mr. Wu, don’t blame Ruby. As chief editor, I should have been able to deal with the situation in a more appropriate manner. I’m sorry the interview could not be completed.”

    Mr. Wu held up his hand and interrupted them. “I get the picture. Don’t act like I’m going to bite your heads off.” He released a long sigh as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I heard that Tae can be a difficult person, but I’m surprised his character is so bad. I’ll give Michelle a call and discuss this situation with her. Since Tae was partially at fault, I’m sure we can work something out. Why don’t you two go get some rest? I know it’s been a long day.”

    Ada and Ruby were both relieved to here this. “Thank you, Mr. Wu,” they said in unison.

    **********

    The sounds of soothing, melodic singing filled the large recording studio while the staff quietly stood listening to a voice that could only be found in heaven. With his eyes closed and a set of headphones over his ears, Tae conveyed all his pent up emotions through the words in his song. He sang each high and low note to perfection, utilizing an enchanting, crisp voice to its full potential. He skillfully brought the words to life. Just as he was finishing up the song, the studio door was suddenly burst opened and Michelle Yim stormed in wearing a furious expression on her usually sunny face. “Everyone, out!” she commanded.

    The staff immediately formed a single line and rushed out of the room. Michelle may appeared to be a soft spoken lady on the outside, but underneath her docile appearance was a sharp, intelligent woman. She had managed to build a reputation for herself in an industry dominated by men with her persistent and tough as nails personality. With over three decades of hard work and dedication to the film and music industry, she was currently one of the most influential people in Hong Kong as well as the most sought after manager in the entertainment circle.

    Ten years ago, she recognized his talent and agreed to take on the dual role as his manager and publicist. She helped launch his career to its current superstar status. She grew to love Tae like her own son. She took him under her wings and guided him through some of the toughest situations he encountered as a celebrity. He had always been grateful for all her help and even considered her to be his second mother. Now, she stood with her arms crossed over her chest and looking extremely upset. “What the hell are you trying to do?!” she directed an accusing tone at him.

    Casually pulling out a chair, he sat down facing her and prepared himself for the oncoming lecture. He lit up a cigarette and answered casually. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

    “Don’t play dumb with me, young man. I’m talking about the interview with Hong Kong Daily News. I just got off the phone with Daniel Wu and he told me what you did this morning. “You purposely wrecked the interview, didn’t you?!” she questioned irately.

    He just shrugged as he continued to sit there with an indifferent expression. “Big deal. So, I blew off one lousy interview. It’s not the first time I’ve done it.”

    “This was the perfect opportunity for you to improve your image and make peace with the media. You just had to go and ruin it!”

    He blew out mouthful of smoke. “I told you from the beginning that I didn’t want to do this interview, but you kept pressuring me about it.”

    She was clearly frustrated and released a heavy sigh. “Damn it, Tae! We’ve been through this before. You may be one of today’s hottest popstars, but in order to maintain that status, you need to build a better relationship with the media. Do you have any idea how damaging it is to your image with all these rumors about your involvements with strippers and porn stars flying around?”

    He roughly snubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray. “Do you think I give a damn about what other people say?” he asked with a sardonic twist of his lips. “No matter what I do, those vultures will come up with some false information to sell to the public anyway. All they care about is making money.” He angrily clenched his fists. “It doesn’t matter how many lives they hurt with their relentless pursuit to obtain newsworthy gossip.”

    She saw the blazing anger in his eyes and knew that she would be wise to end this conversation, but she desperately needed to make him understand that he can’t keep fighting this losing battle.
    A long period of silence followed as she stood staring at him. Finally, she said in a low voice, “You still can’t put the past behind you. It was an accident. Nobody wanted it to happen.”

    He slammed his fist on the table as he stared at her with an incredulous look. “Put the past behind me?! Why don’t you tell me how the hell I’m supposed to forget that my fiancée was killed in a mindless chase just days after our engagement?! Tell me how to forget the voice and laughter that continue to plague my dreams every night for the last five years!” He started to yell in a fierce tone, “I would really appreciate it if you could teach me how to forget the love of my life and put an end to all my misery!”

    She stared into a pair of bitter, sad eyes and realized that even after all these years, Laura Yam’s death still weighed heavily on his mind. “We have battled countless hardships together in the past ten years, but this is one thing that I am unable to help you with, Tae. You will only make life harder on yourself if you continue to hold this grudge against the public.”

    The mere mention of Laura’s death renewed the anguish buried inside him. He briefly closed his eyes against the wave of aching pain that threatened to shatter his control. He abruptly stood up and headed for the door.

    “Where are you going?” she asked.

    “I really don’t feel like discussing this issue anymore,” he answered gruffly. “I’m going for a drive.”

    She knew it was pointless to call him back. The door slammed shut, but she remained standing in the silent room. She slowly sat down on the chair that Tae vacated and took out her hand phone. Dialing the number of the Leung family resident, she impatiently waited for someone to pick up. “Hello, this is Michelle Yim. Could you please put Mrs. Leung on the line?”

    **********

    The sun was casting a few remaining rays across the horizon and several sparrows were perched on a nearby tree, chirping their usual merry tunes. Tae stood alone in a large cemetery, staring down at his late fiancée’s grave. Cool wind brushed against his face, but it failed to ease his burning grief. It had been five long years, but the image of Laura’s face was forever branded in his mind. Kneeling down, he placed a bouquet of yellow roses on the grass and tenderly ran his fingers over her engraved name on the tombstone.

    “You must be very lonely here,” he whispered in a hoarse voice. “I’m sorry. It’s been awhile since my last visit. Are you mad at me?” He gave a slight smile. “You never could stay angry at me for long.” He swallowed to ease the tightening in his throat. “Maybe if I love you less, it wouldn’t hurt so much now. I would give anything to see you smile one more time.” Memories of the times they spent together swirled before his eyes, rekindling the ache in his soul.

    Their first meeting was at a friend’s birthday party in high school. She was utterly captivating in a simple pink dress with her auburn wavy hair tied up in a ponytail. Although she stood in the corner of the room, away from all the activity, he spotted her right away. It was love at first sight for him. From the reticent way she tucked several strands of loose hair behind her ear to her shy smile captivated him. When she dropped her napkin on the ground, he was quick to pick it up. Her eyes could melt any man’s heart. “Hello, you must be new in town. My name is Tae.”

    She glanced up at him and took back the napkin. “Thank you,” she said coyly. “My name is Laura. I just moved to the neighborhood about one week ago.”

    “I’m president of the student council, so I pretty much know my way around. If you need help with anything, feel free to let me know.”

    “Everyone at school knows who you are, Tae. You’re quite popular with the ladies.”

    “I hope you haven’t heard anything too damaging.”

    “Not at all. You’ve managed to impress many people.”

    “Have I impressed you?” He asked in a hopeful tone.

    She hesitated for a brief moment. “Yes.”

    Their relationship took off without a hitch. Although she was also from a prosperous family, she lacked the haughtiness found in most wealthy young girls. After graduating from high school, he started his acting and singing career while she went on to college to study interior design. Even with their busy schedules, they still managed to continue their relationship. The time they spent apart only strengthened their love for each other.

    She never liked the limelight and tried to stay out of it as much as possible. However, Tae’s stardom brought with it an avalanche of storming fans and reporters wherever he went. Their relationship was like a juicy steak to a starving lion. Her every move was scrutinized and followed. The more she hid, the more persistent they became in their pursuit. News on their engagement spread like wildfire. Two days after he proposed to her, she was on her way to a jewelry store to have her engagement ring adjusted.

    While driving on the road, she noticed a car following her and immediately tried to lose it. The chase went on for several blocks, but she was still unable to get away from the other car. As she was intently staring at the rearview mirror, she failed to see the red light ahead and crashed into a cargo truck. The truck driver had minor cuts and a broken arm, but Laura’s condition was a lot worse. Her car had flipped over and she was trapped in the wrecked vehicle with multiple injuries to her head and chest. She was quickly rushed to the hospital, but it was already too late. She immediately lapsed into a coma and died one week later.

    He remembered her entire body wrapped up in bandages. She was lying helplessly on the hospital bed, but he was unable to save her. Till this day, he still blamed the media. In an attempt to drown out his sorrow, he poured all his energy into his work. He did not want anyone to see the sight of him in despair. It was hard enough to mourn for her in private. He needed to maintain what little privacy he had left. Over the years, he dated countless women, searching for what he had lost. Yet none of them could fill the dark void in his soul. Emotionally, he kept all of them at a distance.

    Now, standing before the love of his life, a single teardrop rolled down his cheek. It landed on the tombstone. “I should have cancelled that photoshoot and gone with you to the jeweler. You would still be here today.”

    There was a soft rustling of dried leaves being stepped on. He recognized the familiar presence behind him, but he did not bother to turn around. “How did you know I was here, Mother?”

    “Today is the anniversary of your engagement. I figured you would most likely pay a visit to Laura.”

    “Did Michelle call you?”

    “She is very worried about you.”

    He stood up and turned around. “I know. I shouldn’t have taken my anger out on her.”

    Rachel Lee was a short, plump woman in her fifties. Although her clothes were expensive name brands, they were not flashy. She wore very little makeup and wrinkles had already appeared on her face. She had the endearing presence of an elderly woman. Even in her prime, she was never a raving beauty, but she possessed an amiable personality that drew people to her. Many were surprised that she was the mother of two extremely handsome men. It was obvious that they got their looks from their father.

    “I’m sorry for worrying you.”

    She hugged him, desperately wanting to help him overcome his painful past. Yet there was nothing she could do. She felt incompetent as a mother. Hearing the negative way the media portrayed her son had never been easy. She withstood all the hurtful rumors, but seeing him so desolate and bleak tore at her heart. “I just want you to be safe and happy. I’m not asking you to forget her, but could you at least try to make peace with her death? It’s been so long.” She looked up at him with tears welling up in her eyes. “You can’t bring Laura back by continuing to torture yourself. She would not want to see you like this.”

    “It seems you’re constantly fretting over me.”

    “It’s a mother’s job to fret over her son. No matter his age.”

    “If it makes you feel better, I’ll do the interview.”

    **********

    Kevin was sitting in a lounge chair on the balcony of his apartment and studying the documents in front of him. During the last couple days, he had been reading the large file on the Red Scale Gang and its current operations in Shanghai. The company suspected of having close connections with the gang was Lantect International, one of the largest architectural companies in the nation. What he couldn’t figure out was why would such a prominent corporation commit illegal transactions with the Asian mafia?

    According to Keith, the vice president of Lantect will be attending a charity event this Sunday at the Victory Racetrack. This would be the perfect chance for him to further investigate the case. He heard that the main purpose of this trip was to meet with several large architectural companies in Hong Kong to discuss a potential alliance. He knew this was a dangerous mission, but he was determined to see the Dragon permanently placed behind bars. He swore to avenge his brother’s death at all costs.

    Leaning his head back, he stared up at the beautiful sky and allowed his mind to drift back to thinking about Annie. She was frequently occupying his thoughts lately. Touching the corner of his left eye, he started to smile as he remembered the look on her face when she punched him. He seldom took a blow to the face without retaliating. It was very probable that he would have to travel to Shanghai soon and not be able to see her for a long period of time. He hat thought suddenly gave him a keen sense of disappointment. He wondered what she was doing now.

    **********

    Annie was trying very hard to get some sleep, but Ruby kept poking her in the ribs and talking in her ears. After a long day at work, she came home with the intent of taking a hot shower and retiring early for the night. Unfortunately, she didn’t get her wish. When she first heard what had happened, she was mad for Ruby and fully supported her. However, after several hours of listening to the ranting and raving, she started to regret asking about the interview.

    “So naturally, I can’t stand idly by and let that scumbag take advantage of us,” Ruby continued her one sided conversation.

    Annie bolted up on her bed and scowled at her chattering friend. “Aiya! I’ve listened to you talk nonstop this entire evening. May I please get some sleep now?”

    “Come on, Annie. It’s still early. Don’t sleep now. Stay up and talk to me.”

    “No, leave me alone.” She slumped underneath the blanket. “Why don’t you go bug Ada?”

    “She was there with me. It would be meaningless to talk to her.”

    “If you don’t shut up and let me get some rest, I am seriously going to strangle you!”

    Ruby had on a good sulk. “Fine, be that way. I was going to tell you that Mr. Wu wanted Ada and me to cover a charity event at the Victory Racetrack this weekend. He even gave me an extra ticket. There’ll be a lot of wealthy business people at this function and I’m sure it will be a good opportunity for you to promote that little catering business of yours. I was going to invite you along, but now I’ve changed my mind,” she stated in an offended tone.

    She took out the ticket from her shirt pocket and started to wave it around. “Alas, I guess I’ll just have to find someone else to go with me. I wonder who would want to spend a fun filled day out in the sun with me.”

    Faster than a blink of an eye, Annie snatched the ticket and tucked it safely under her shirt. She rolled over on her stomach and closed her eyes.

    Ruby stared at her empty hand. “Hey! Give that back!”

  10. #10
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 9 – Charity Event

    It was a beautiful Sunday morning with a crystal clear blue sky, signaling a fine day for an outing. Annie and Ruby were anxiously standing several yards from the entrance to the Victory Racetrack, waiting to be admitted into the arena. Several hundred people were attending the 15th Annual Children’s Cancer Society fundraiser. This charity event was organized by a group of prosperous, well known physicians who had close ties with the rich sector of society. Some guests were present for legitimate reasons, while many only came for the publicity and to promote themselves to the media. Only a few reporters from highly regarded companies were lucky enough to obtain the much-coveted tickets for this function.

    Ruby stared at her surroundings with an excited expression. “Look at all these people! I think I just saw the mayor walking by a minute ago.”

    Annie was happily grinning from ear to ear. “Yup. And I get to advertise my business for free! How great is that?!” She gazed warily at the security guards scattered in the crowd. “They sure increased security after that holdup at Dream Crescent.”

    “Well, it’s taking them forever to check everybody’s belongings and my feet are starting to ache,” Ruby complained as she rubbed her legs.

    “One can never be too careful, so I guess we’ll just have to be patient and wait like everyone else.”

    “I’ll wait, but I don’t have to like it.”

    After another half hour of waiting, the girls were finally next in line. They placed their purses on the tables and handed their tickets to the two security men standing at the entrance. After a thorough search of their belongings, they were allowed inside the arena. Annie was awestruck as she surveyed the racetrack and stadium. “Wow! This place is enormous!”

    “Come on, you can gawk later. First, we need to meet up with Ada in the reception room upstairs.”

    They entered a passageway leading to a large guest lounge on the second floor and tried to locate Ada in the mass of people. Ruby saw her standing near the window talking to another reporter and waved to her. She rushed over to the window with Annie close behind.

    “You guys made it.”

    “Sorry for being late,” Annie apologized. “We were stuck in the long line outside.”

    “Don’t worry about it. We still have a couple hours before they start the first race. Oh yeah, Ruby, I’ve been waiting to introduce you to Holly Wang, the broadcaster from Channel 6. She knows practically everyone in the telecasting business and can be a tremendous help when it comes to gathering information on celebrities.”

    Annie was gazing at the well-dressed people in the room with sharp interest. “You two go on ahead without me. I want to take a quick tour of this place first. I’ll meet you guys back here in two hours.”

    **********

    With an expression of bored resignation, Tae glanced up from the glass of brandy in his hand, momentarily distracted by the laughter coming from the voluptuous beauty clinging to his arm. He was extremely weary of these types of function, where more than half of the people pretended to show concern about a topic they normally could care less on. He would much rather stay home and write a big fat check to the Children’s Cancer Society instead of being at this function, but Michelle insisted that he attend. As he recalled, her exact words were, “It will be good for your image.” The worst part was having to endure the senseless babbling coming from his date. It was starting to become insufferable.

    Mimi Lo considered herself in love with Tae ever since she met him at a movie premier years ago and refused to take the hint that he wasn’t interested in her. She irrationally believed that if she waited long enough, her love for him will one day be reciprocated. The minute she found out that he was coming to the charity event, she invited herself along with him and was practically glued to his side. Since her mother was a close friend of his mother, he couldn’t outright turn down her offer to be his date. It would appear rude and he didn’t want to embarrass his mother.

    Stifling a yawn, he gazed out of the window and noticed Ruby and Ada conversing with Holly Wang. His expression immediately changed to one of interest. Ruby was without doubt one of the few women he encountered who could infuriate and entertain him at the same time. Their first encounter was certainly an unforgettable one. Never in his life had he been slapped by anyone before, but strangely, he admired her boldness. Initially, he believed she was like all the other reporters, willing to do anything to benefit her career. That idea quickly changed after she pitched coffee in his face. Even though he deliberately tried to sabotage the interview, it never occurred to him that she would do something so outrageous. Women had always been vying for his attention, using any means necessary. Although he may find her lively persona amusing, he was still annoyed at being insulted.

    “Do you think I look fat in this dress?” Mimi inquired, disrupting his train of thoughts.

    He paid little attention to her and stated indifferently, “Of course not. What gave you that silly notion? You look fabulous.”

    “Really? I didn’t think you’d notice.” She was clearly overjoyed. He had no idea how much his few words of compliment meant to her.

    He suddenly frowned as he studied her face. “But your lipstick is slightly smeared at the corners.”

    “Oh, my gosh!” she stated in alarm. “Will you excuse me for a couple minutes? I’ll be right back.”

    “Take all the time you need.” As she rushed off to the restroom, he hastily strode toward the exit and left the VIP lounge. He had no intention of waiting around for her. While any other man would jump at the chance to be with a rich, beautiful woman, he was praying for a way to obliterate her attraction to him. He could definitely do without her pestering nuisance.

    Meanwhile, Holly Wang was shaking Ruby’s hand in the guest lounge. “It sure is a delight to meet you.”

    “You certainly made a good impression on her.” Ada rested her elbow on Ruby’s shoulder after Holly left.

    “You think so?”

    “Of course.” Ada nodded her head in agreement. “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to discuss this with you. I just had a call from Mr. Wu this morning and he told me that our little mishap with Tae has been settled. We’ll be able to do the interview sometime next week. With any luck, this thing will be completed without any more problems.”

    “If that scumbag tries anything funny, I’ll whip out my karate chop and kick him so hard he’ll fly halfway to the moon. That creep better watch his back.”

    “Really?” a voice drawled from behind. “Then I guess it would be wise to bring my bodyguard with me to the interview.”

    Whirling around, they were startled to see Tae was standing right behind them. His lean frame and broad chest appeared exceptionally striking in a crisp linen shirt and dark navy slacks. It wasn’t hard to figure out why so many fans find him enthralling. Except to Ruby, his sudden presence only managed to rile her good mood.

    Still seething from their last meeting, she blasted him with an irate glare. She actually considered him to be a decent guy after the holdup escapade at the hotel. Unfortunately, what occurred during the interview abruptly changed her opinion for the worse. To think he was in fact a wolf covered in sheep skin, a typical lustful womanizer. It was sickening. She quickly glanced around him and derisively asked, “What’s the matter? Hong Kong’s most notorious bachelor without a date?”

    He started to chuckle. “I was saving myself for you ladies.”

    She was prevented from telling him off by Ada’s warning look. She barely even opened her mouth when she felt the rough tugging at her sleeve. “Oh, don’t mind her,” Ada stated with an awkward laugh. “She likes to joke around, so you’ll have to excuse her remarks.”

    He doubtfully lifted an eyebrow. “From the sound of her tone, I get the impression that she wasn’t joking. I’ve been the recipient of Miss Lin’s irrationally violent behaviors a couple of times in the past. I would hate to be the victim of her powerful karate chop.”

    How could Ruby ignore such a mocking comment without responding back? It just wasn’t in her nature to be silent and meek. “We all know what a pervert you are, Tae. I’ve heard all about your countless love affairs with strippers and porn stars, so you can cut it with this pathetic pretense.”

    Ada nervously yanked on her shirtsleeve again and tried to prevent the situation from getting out of control. Nevertheless, Ruby continued her verbal assault. “Just because you’re rich and famous doesn’t mean you can treat other people like insignificant rodents. I’m not one of your lackeys, willing to bend over backward to kiss your ***. I don’t like you and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. You don’t deserve to be interviewed by any respectable newspaper and especially not by Hong Kong Daily News.” With that said, she walked away with her head held high and looking as regal as a queen dismissing her subject. While Ada was left feeling incredibly flustered, Tae stood next to her with a small smile on his lips. Coming to this charity event wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

    **********

    Annie was standing next to the buffet table holding a large plate of spaghetti and meatball in her left hand and a plate of chicken wings in her right hand. She was clumsily trying to balance both plates as she could reach for a cup of orange juice. Just when she almost had a firm grip on the cup, the dish of spaghetti started tipping over. Out of nowhere, a masculine hand caught it just in time.

    “Thank you so much for your help,” she uttered as relief poured through her. “I really appreciate…” she gazed up at the man. “Kevin? What are you doing here?”

    He gave her a boyish grin. “Oh, I had to discuss some business details with someone. So what brings you here today?”

    She gulped down the rest of her orange juice before answering. “Ruby got an extra ticket and since I’ve never been to a racetrack before, I thought it would be fun to check this place out.”

    “I see.” There was a keen assessment in his eyes. “The fact that there are hundreds of affluent business people attending this fundraiser has absolutely nothing to do with your decision to come?”

    “Of course not,” she refuted with a wounded expression. “I can’t believe you have such a low opinion of me. I care about other people too, you know.”

    He was not convinced. “How many catering orders did you manage to con out of these gullible people?”

    “I can’t very well pass up on a golden opportunity to promote my business,” she stated defensively. “It’s not everyday that I get the chance to meet so many wealthy people in one place. You’re here to discuss business matters too. I’m not the only one with hidden agendas.”

    “How many orders?”

    “Fifteen.” She smiled mischievously.

    He released a low whistle. “Impressive.”

    “Well, I did mention that I’ve catered to many of the top celebrities in Hong Kong.”

    “In other words, you lied,” he countered with raised eyebrows.

    “No, I did cater to them. When the restaurants in charge of the parties run short of certain ingredients for their dishes, I supply the ingredients to them,” she reasoned. “I admit that I slightly embellished the truth, but what they don’t know, wouldn’t hurt them.”

    “You still lied.”

    She lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “Call it whatever you want, but at least I’m helping people out.”

    “Yes, mainly yourself.”

    “I’m just trying to eek out an honest living in this tough economy. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.”

    From the corner of his eyes, he located Keith waiting for him at the bar. With great reluctance, he gave Annie back her plate of food and excused himself. He watched her slowly swerved through the crowd of people. Despite wanting to follow her, he needed to talk to Keith first.

    While Annie was busying shoving pieces of chicken into her mouth, she unexpectedly felt a light tap on her shoulder. Turning around, she saw Ruby’s pitiful expression and asked in concern, “What happened? You look like you were just summoned for jury duty. I thought Ada was going to introduce you to Holly Wang. Didn’t the meeting go well?”

    Ruby slumped down on a chair. “It went really well. Holly even invited me to lunch.”

    “Then why the long face?”

    With a sad sigh, she told Annie what happened after Holly left. “And that’s the whole story,” she said morosely.

    “Don’t worry. If you lose your job, you can work for me. I’ve been receiving a lot of catering orders lately.”

    “Thanks for the offer, but you know I’m a horrible cook. I always burn things in the kitchen. For your safety and mine, I think it’s best I stay away from your business.”

    Annie was about to take another bite of her drumstick, but seeing Ruby’s miserable face, she changed her mind. She held out her drumstick. “Here. If it makes you feel better, you can have the rest of my chicken. This is the last piece on the buffet table.”

    Ruby made a disgusted face. “But you already bit it.”

    “You can eat the part that I didn’t bite yet. Do you want it or not?”

    She hastily reached for the drumstick. “Hey, a half eaten drumstick is better than nothing.”

    Ada finally located them sitting at the table and rushed over. “Annie, Ruby, where have you two been? I thought we were supposed to meet back at the lounged in two hours.”

    Annie checked her watch. “Ooops, sorry. I totally lost track of time.”

    “Hurry up and finish your food. The race is about to start.”

    Ada was about to lecture Ruby on losing her temper again, but seeing her mournfully slouching over the table, she didn’t have the heart to do it. Ada patted her back and sighed. “I’m sure we can work something out with Mr. Wu. Besides, Tae didn’t appear to be too upset after you scolded him. Maybe he’ll forgive and forget? Cheer up.”

    Annie finished the last piece of meatball on her plate. “Yeah, let’s go see the race.”

    They dragged Ruby toward the balcony in the lounge room, which had the best view of the racetrack. Ada took out three pairs of binoculars. “It’s a good thing I brought these along. We'll be able to see much better with binoculars.”

    At that moment, the host of the fundraiser, a lanky middle-aged man, stepped up on the podium. Dr. Liu appeared very excited as he greeted the guests. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he announced into the microphone. “It is my great pleasure to be your host for the day. As you all know, the entire proceeds from the seven horse races will go to the Children’s Cancer Society. The funds will be used to benefit misfortunate children with this disease. The president of Victory Racetrack, has generously agreed to match the total amount we raise for this event. Each ticket for the horse race is set at $250 and each person is only required to buy one ticket for this fundraiser. To show our appreciation for your donations, the person with the winning ticket for each race will be entered into our raffle contest for a brand new black Jaguar Convertible. The first race will start in approximately thirty minutes, so please buy your tickets as soon as possible. I hope everyone will have an enjoyable time today and good luck.”

    “Did you guys hear that?!” Annie started to jump up and down. “A new car!”

    Ruby did not appear too happy. “Yeah, but you have to fork out $250 to buy a ticket. That’s a pretty hefty sum.”

    “It’s for a good cause,” Ada said. “Don’t be so stingy.”

    “Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s for the children.” Ruby pulled out a pamphlet listing all the horses entered for the races. “Which horse are you guys going to bid on?”

    “I’m going with Buttercup. Love the name.”

    Ada frowned at Annie’s choice. “Uh, I hate to burst your bubble, but that horse is rated the worst runner in the entire stable at Victory Racetrack. He’s a couple months away from being retired.”

    “Beautiful and knowledgeable.” Someone spoke out behind the girls. “I wasn’t aware that Miss Choi is a horse enthusiast.”

    All three women turned at the sound of his voice. Kevin smiled and pointed to a name on the list.
    “My advice is to pick Thundercloud. He’s the four time national champion in China before he was bought by a breeder and transferred to Hong Kong. Plus, he’s relatively young and still has a lot of stamina left.”

    “I don’t care,” Annie said stubbornly. “It’s my money and I’ll bid on any horse I want. Ruby, put me down for Buttercup.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Of course, I’m sure.”

    Ruby shrugged. “Okay.” She stared at Ada and Kevin. “What about you two?”

    Kevin sat down on a bench. “I already bought my ticket.”

    “You could put me down for Thundercloud too,” Ada said.

    “Got it. One ticket for Buttercup and two for Thundercloud.”

    “Ruby!” Annie cried out. “Why are you bidding on Thundercloud? How can you consider yourself my best friend when you don’t even support my decisions?”

    “I want a shot at the Jaguar too. I can’t help it if the odds are against Buttercup. Don’t worry, I’ll give you all the moral support you need. Just not monetary support.”

    Annie pulled out a wad of bills and grumbled, “Some friend you are. Well, I’m taking my chances and sticking with my instinct.”

    Ruby went to buy the tickets and returned just in time to see the horses being led to their stalls. The moment the ringer sounded and the stall doors opened, Thundercloud immediately took the lead with Buttercup in last place. Ruby and Ada were screaming at the top of their lungs while Annie was anxiously staring through her binocular.

    “C’mon Buttercup!” Annie yelled out. “You can do it! Put some more effort into it, boy! Don’t give up!”

    “Go Thundercloud!” Ruby and Ada enthusiastically hollered.

    Annie slapped Ruby’s arm and gave her a dirty look. “Owwwwww.” Ruby massaged her arm. “What?! I have to root for my horse, too.”

    “You’re scaring my horse with your loud screaming. Can’t you do it more quietly?”

    “No.” Ruby scooted away before shouting loudly, “Go Thundercloud! Run faster!”

    Suddenly, a loud murmuring from the crowd caught Annie’s attention. She whipped her head around to see what all the commotion was about and noticed that Buttercup had suddenly raced ahead of Thundercloud and was currently in first place. She dashed over to the edge of the balcony and ecstatically waved her hands. “My baby’s winning! C’mon Buttercup! Just a little bit more!” As if fueled on by her screams, Buttercup sped across the finish line with Thundercloud close behind. Annie laughed and squealed with joy. “I won! I won! I won!”

    She ran to hug Ruby and Ada. In her excitement, she also gave Kevin a tight hug. Momentarily surprised, he smiled and immediately hugged her back. She quickly realized what she just did and dropped her arms from around his shoulders. Yet Kevin still did not release his hold on her. She leaned back to stare into his dark eyes and felt her heart skip a beat for some unknown reason. Suddenly breathless, she stood unmoving in his arms as she could feel a strange heat rise to her cheeks.

  11. #11
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 10 – Someone, Help!

    “You can let me go now,” Annie murmured softly. After a short pause, Kevin slowly withdrew his arms from her waist. She moved away from him and tried to act natural. She awkwardly avoided his gaze.

    During this time, an uproar of chaotic murmuring filled the spacious room after Buttercup took everyone by surprise with the photo finish win. The last couple minutes of the race had all the guests holding their breaths. Now, people were engaged in a heated discussion on choosing the next horse for the second race. No one was paying any attention to Annie and Kevin. Ruby and Ada remain rooted on the balcony. Ruby continued to stare at the racetrack and wondered how on earth Thunder Cloud could have lost against an aging horse.

    “Now, that was a good race,” Ada stated in awe.

    Ruby, however, wasn’t too happy as she gazed at the tracks and pouted. “It would have been better if Thunder Cloud won. Maybe I should have stuck with Annie on her instinct.”

    Glancing around, she noticed Annie standing to the side with a weird expression on her face. Ruby headed over with a creepy smile on as she slapped an arm around Annie’s shoulder.
    “So, buddy, which horse are we going to bid on next?”

    Annie snapped out of her daze and gave Ruby a skeptical frown. “What do you mean “we”? Oh, so now you’re going to listen to me? What happened to your moral support?”

    Ruby shook her head. “Annie, Annie, Annie. Must you continue to nitpick on what I said in the past?” she helplessly shrugged. “I wasn’t thinking straight and was totally out of my mind for not trusting my best friend.”

    “Are you certain you want to follow my lead?” Annie asked with raised eyebrows. “I was probably just lucky that Buttercup came in first place.”

    Ruby whipped out the pamphlet from her shirt pocket. “Absolutely. I have complete confidence in you. I’m sure some of your good luck will rub off on me today. Besides, if I lose, I’ll just blame it on you.”

    “I don’t think so!” Annie protested.

    “I was only joking,” Ruby giggled. She handed Annie the pamphlet. “Here’s the list. We have another half an hour before we have to place our bid.”

    Happy to have something to distract her mind from the hug, Annie critically studied the names on the list and then walked over to the edge of the railings. Gazing through her binoculars, she examined all the horses strolling on the fields. Annie knew absolutely nothing about horses and was just basing her decision on a gut feeling. A white horse with black star shaped patch on his forehead immediately caught her attention.

    With a beaming smile, she turned around to face Ruby. “I got it!”

    “Really? Which one?”

    “Number seven, Snowflake. That mark in front of his forehead reminds me of a shooting star and I have a feeling that he’ll shoot his way to victory like Buttercup,” she predicted confidently. “Plus, seven is my lucky number.”

    “Annie, have you noticed that Snowflake is limping?” Ada voiced her concern. “I’ve heard that he sprained his front ankle while running in a race last month. According to the latest reports, he just barely recovered. What do you think, Kevin?”

    Kevin had been eyeing the animal all this time and after a brief pause, turned his attention back to the girls. “I think that if he was in his best condition, he would be a sure bet. He’s young and in great health. However, I wouldn’t be too confident in siding with him right now. On the other hand, Darkness, that black horse standing next Snowflake, would probably have a higher chance of winning.”

    “I’m still sticking by my instinct,” Annie said with an undeterred expression. She turned to Ruby and Ada. “So, are you guys with me this time?”

    “Of course, I’m in,” Ruby piped up.

    Ada smiled. “I think I’ll play conservative and bid on both horses.”

    Annie didn’t bother asking Kevin and purposely ignored him. “I guess you’ll want to bid on Darkness then?” Ruby inquired Kevin curiously.

    “Most definitely.”

    Ruby was the designated ticket buyer again and happily rushed off to the ticket booth. She had been dying to get a car for a long time, but it was taking her forever to save up the money. If she actually won the Jaguar, it would be a dream come true. No longer would she have to stand in long lines at the bus stops and fight for a decent seat on those crowded buses.

    The race started and Snowflake shot pass all his competitors at blinding speed. Despite the injury in his front leg, he was galloping at a fierce pace and took the lead for the first three quarters of the race. Loud screams coming from anxious spectators permeated the atmosphere throughout the stadium. Seeing that Snowflake was going to win the race, the girls were joyfully jumping up and down, and shouting with excitement.

    While everyone else was glued to the race, Kevin’s attention was focused solely on Annie. He gazed at her happy countenance and was simply mesmerized by her cheerful laughter. Out of the three women, Ada had the mature, sultry beauty that could charm any man and Ruby’s cute heart-shaped face and energetic personality made it hard not to like her. Annie, on the other hand, completely fascinated Kevin. She made him want to smile every time he’s around her. When she hugged him earlier, he wanted to hold her and never let go. To keep her by his side as long as possible.

    As the race was coming to an end and just when everyone concluded that Snowflake would win, the horse suddenly appeared to be in pain and started to slow down. The jockey riding
    Darkness took this chance to gain the upper hand. He urged the horse pass Snowflake and dashed across the finish line, coming in first place. To Annie and Ruby’s disappointment, Snowflake ended up in third place.

    “There goes my chance at a new car.” Ruby moaned while sniffling sadly.

    “Don’t look so down, Ruby. Since I’m entered into the raffle contest with Buttercup’s win, we at least have a chance at the Jaguar. If I get the car, I promise you can drive it to your heart’s content.”

    Ruby felt slightly better. “Yeah, but that’s only one raffle ticket. Unless we choose the winning horses for the next five races, our chances aren’t very high. And I don’t have any money left to bid. I’ve max out my credit cards for this month already.”

    Ada took out her ticket and handing it to Ruby. “You can have mine. I just bought a car several months ago, so I don’t really need one.”

    “I’m not really into Jaguars, so you can have my ticket too,” Kevin offered.

    “Oh, thank you soooooooooo much!” Ruby gratefully said as she beamed from ear to ear. “You guys are the best!”

    “Of course, I expect to be treated to a nice dinner if you win,” he cleverly added.

    “No problem,” Ruby promised. “Annie and I will take everyone out to a fancy restaurant for a dinner with all the trimmings.”

    Alarm registered on Annie’s face as she hastily pulled Ruby to the side. “I don’t want to go to dinner with him,” she whispered fiercely. “Don’t you remember what happened on our date the last time?”

    “Oh, don’t be silly,” Ruby said with a careless wave of her hand. “The robbery was just a coincidence. We were just having a bad day. What are the chances of us running into a situation like that again?”

    Annie narrowed her eyes as she suspiciously glanced at Kevin. She whispered to Ruby, “I think he purposely gave you his ticket so that he can swindle a date out of us.”

    “How do you know his ticket is going to be the winning one? But if we’re that lucky, then one simple dinner in exchange for a Jaguar is a pretty darn good deal. Plus, he’s interested in you, not me. So, it’s more like he’s trying to swindle a date out of you.”

    Annie smacked Ruby in the arm. “You idiot! You knew he’s interested in me, yet you still agreed to the dinner? What’s wrong with you?”

    “Owwwwww!” Ruby had on an injured look while massaging her arm. “Will you quit hitting me? I’m not a punching bag. Besides, I don’t see what’s the big deal. You’re single and he’s single. In addition to being tall, dark, and handsome, he’s filthy rich.” She grinned cheekily. “I think you two will make a lovely couple.”

    Seeing the dark frown staring back at her, the grin on Ruby’s face disappeared. “I can’t believe you would sell out your own friend for a stupid raffle ticket!”

    “Ah c’mon, Annie. I’ll be there with you and we’ll invite other people along as well. What could possibly go wrong? Plus, it’s not guaranteed that our ticket will be drawn. So, lighten up.” Ruby suddenly saw a familiar figure out of the corner of her eye. The minute she confirmed the identity of the person, her features twisted into a look of disgust. “Urgh! It’s him again.”

    Annie glanced over and saw Tae strutting over to the balcony toward them. His trademark smile that had caused countless screaming fans to fall swooning to their knees was on display. Walking pass Ruby, he winked at her, but she turned the other direction and ignored him.

    Tae slapped Kevin on the back. “How’s the race going?”

    “Quite exciting actually. Where have you been?”

    He made a nasty face. “Hiding from Mimi. I was finally able to lose her in the crowd down the hall.”

    “She’s here? I thought she was going to a fashion show today.”

    “Someone told her that I was coming to this charity event, so she changed her schedule,” he stated with a scowl. “When I find out who squealed on me, I am going to break their legs.”

    Out of the blue, a loud, high-pitched sound could be heard from across the room. Mimi was frantically waving her hand and trying to gain Tae’s attention by calling out his name. She was half running, half stumbling as she made her way to the balcony. Her multi-layered yellow gown made it difficult to walk, let alone run.

    Kevin stared with raised eyebrows. “Good Lord, she follows you around like a bloodthirsty leech.”

    “Damn!” Tae gasped out exasperated.

    Remarkably, Mimi managed to reach Tae’s side without falling flat on her face. She was out of breath, but appeared extremely happy. She was wheezing as she held out a cup of punch. “Tae… here’s… the… punch… you… wanted. Sorry… I… took… so… long.”

    He glanced at the drink with a disheartened look. “Oh, it’s cherry flavored. I wanted the lemon flavored punch. Could you be a doll and get me another cup?”

    She was gasping for air, but managed to say, “I don’t think…. there is… any lemon… punch left.”

    He sighed and pretended to sound disappointed. “That’s too bad. I’ve been craving it for a while now.”

    Although exhausted from running around for the past hour, she desperately wanted to make a good impression. After a brief pause to catch her breath, she offered a solution. “I believe there’s a carton of lemon punch stored in the basement on the other side of the stadium,” she mentioned tiredly.

    “Really?” His eyes lit up with interest. “But it’s so far away.”

    “Oh, I’ll go get if for you,” she piped up in a cheery voice.

    “If it’s not too much trouble for you.”

    “It’s no trouble at all.” She vigorously shook her head.

    “Thanks, Mimi.” He gave her a dazzling smile and chucked her under the chin. “You are such a sweetheart.”

    She was close to fainting with joy after hearing those words. “I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere,” she yelled out cheerfully. Thinking that Tae was starting to like her, she hiked up her heavy skirt and took a deep breath before slowly waddling out of the room.

    With a relieved sigh, he gazed at her disappearing back. “That should keep her busy for a couple hours.” Turning around he noticed Ada, Annie, and Ruby shooting disapproving looks at him. “What? It’s not like I forced her at gunpoint to serve me.”

    Ruby didn’t even bother responding to him. There was an acutely disdainful glare in her eyes before she walked away. Ada and Annie just pitifully shook their heads at him before following Ruby.

    “What’s wrong with them?” he turned to Kevin with a puzzled frown. “They’re acting like I committed a heinous crime against society.”

    Kevin patted Tae on the back. “In a way, you did. Women tend to bind together to protect one of their own. They may not know Mimi, but they sure as hell don’t appreciate you mistreating her like that.”

    “Mistreating her?!” Tae gasped out astounded. “I’m the one being relentlessly stalked. Do you have any idea what a nuisance she is to me? Everywhere I go, she’s there. It’s like she has a tracking device on me. I feel like a damn hunted prey. I’ve made it perfectly clear that I have absolutely no romantic interest in her whatsoever, but that woman won’t take no for an answer. I have tried everything from subtle hints to blatant insults, but nothing seems to work. I’ve decided that if I let her believe I’m a terrible catch, she might just abandon her foolish love for me.”

    Kevin sympathized with his buddy. “Let’s just hope your idea works.”

    **********

    After the first two races, the girls didn’t feel like bidding anymore and decided to just watch the races. Ever since she was a small child, Ada had always been interested in horses. She loved watching them gallop in the fields and was enthralled with their sleek beauty. While Ada was enjoying the races, Ruby was silently praying to God for the car.

    Oh, Mighty Lord, I promise this is the last favor I’ll ever ask you. I haven’t requested much from you in the past, have I? Nope, I’ve been a perfect devoted follower… well, probably not perfect, but I am trying. Of course, you know that I’m not using this car for just my benefit. It’s for a good cause. I need it to travel around and gather news information to provide to the public. The people deserve to know what’s happening around them and ignorance is not good for the mind. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. So, naturally, I deserve this Jaguar for helping other people out….

    For the past hours, Annie had been trying very hard to focus on the races; however, Kevin’s presence was making it quite difficult. Every time she turned around, she found him staring intently at her.

    Tae also had his share of problems. He was unable to focus on the races because he was afraid Mimi might pop up behind him again. He was hoping that by the time she returned, the fundraiser would be over and he could leave. Even though he had been randomly placing bids, he succeeded in picking two winning horses.

    The last race finally ended and everyone gathered near the podium to listen to the latest announcement. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just received the total amount for today’s fundraising and I’m pleased to say that we’ve surpassed our goal. The grand total comes out to be $1.8 million,” announced the doctor.

    A round of earsplitting applause vibrated in the room. After the applause died down, Dr. Liu continued on. “Now, what we’ve all been waiting for, the raffle contest.” A waiter pushed out a cart with a large glass case on it. “I have here with me the tickets with the names of all the winners for the seven horse races. I will randomly select one ticket and the lucky owner of that ticket will win the Jaguar convertible.”

    Most of the guests either already owned expensive luxury cars or had enough money to buy them, but it was still nice to participate in a contest and actually win something. Anticipation was in the air as people held their breaths and waited for the host to read the name on the raffle ticket.

    Dr. Liu stuck his hand into the glass case and pulled out a small raffle. “And the winner is…. Annie Man.”

    Annie stood with a wide-eyed, stunned look on her face. Ruby shrieked at the top of her lungs and hugged her friend. “Hahahahaha! Annie, you won! This really is our lucky day!” She grabbed Annie’s shoulders and roughly shook her. “Snap out of it, girl. This is no time to be in shock.”

    The wonderful news finally sunk into her brain and Annie shouted with delight. ““I have never won anything before in my life,” she murmured in awe.

    Nathan Liu stepped down from the podium and approached Annie. Grabbing her hand, he started congratulating her. “Miss Man, we have a special surprise for you. For being the recipient of our grand prize, you get to sit on the horse you bid on. Publicity photos will also be taken.”

    Annie was unable to believe her good fortune. “Really? Oh, my gosh, this is so cool.”

    “Everything should be set up in about twenty minutes. The photo shoot will take place behind the racetracks, near the stable in the back. If you like, I could ask someone to direct you there.”

    “I know where it is. I’ll lead her,” Kevin volunteered.

    **********

    Twenty minutes later, a majority of the guests had already left. Only a few people stayed around to witness the photo shoot. Believing that Mimi had probably came to her senses and left the stadium, Tae decided to join the gang. Sitting on Buttercup, Annie was in high spirits as she posed for the photographers. Kevin was leaning on a fence a couple of feet away while Ruby and Ada were sitting on two barrels.

    All of a sudden, a familiar voice could be heard calling out to Tae near the corner of the stable. He felt a cold chill run down his spine as he closed his eyes in dread and swore under his breath. Mimi halted in front of him and held up a large carton of lemon punch. Her hair was messed up, her gown was dirtied, and she was sweating profusely. Nevertheless, she appeared elated.

    “Did you miss me? I couldn’t find any lemon punch in the basement, so I drove to the supermarket. I had to go to three stores before I found some in stock.”

    “You took so long that I don’t feel like drinking punch any more,” he sighed.

    She contritely clung to his arm. “I’m so sorry, Tae. Please forgive me.”

    He struggled to pull free of her grip. “That’s all right, but next time, try to be more efficient,” he stated harshly. “I can’t wait around the entire day for you.”

    “Of course.” She nodded her head. While still hanging on to Tae’s arm, she pulled out a small compact mirror and attempted to fix up her hair. The sunlight reflected off the mirror and shone directly into Buttercup’s eyes. The horse immediately flared up on its hind legs and whinnied loudly. Annie screamed and frantically held on to the horse’s neck. The animal was hysterically trying to buck her off the saddle.

    “Annie!” Ruby cried out with a pale face. Without thinking, she automatically rushed forward to grab the reins. The horse rose up on his hind legs again and was about to trample her. She was oblivious to the danger and didn’t move out of the way.

    “Watch out!” Tae instantly shoved Mimi aside and ran to Ruby’s rescue. He grabbed her waist and jerked her against his chest. Buttercup’s powerful front legs came down directly on the spot that she stood a split second before. His rough push caused Mimi to land in puddle of mud and her gown was drenched with the brown liquid.

    Meanwhile, Buttercup was madly galloping across the field with Annie hanging on for dear life. “Somebody heeeeeeeeeeelp me!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Where are the breaks on this think?! Heeeeeeeeeeelp! I don’t want to die!”

    Kevin shot across the stable and hopped on the first horse in sight. Lines of worry etched across his face as he sent his horse hurtling after Buttercup and Annie. At a neck-breaking speed, he tightened his jaw in determination and focused on trying to catch up to the other horse. Noticing that Buttercup was heading toward the racetrack, he urged his horse into a faster pace. As he turned the corner, he saw several large piles of haystacks blocking the path and hoped that the haystacks would stop the other horse. However, Buttercup effortlessly leaped over the obstacle and continued on. Without missing a beat, he followed the other horse’s lead and jumped over the haystacks.

    “Pleasssssssssse! Someone, anyone, get me off this thing!”

    “I’m coming, Annie! Just hold on!”

    “What do you think I’m doing?!”

    As the horse sped pass a warehouse, a stable boy suddenly walked out holding a pair of pliers. Preoccupied with cleaning the pliers with a cloth, he failed to notice the animal heading straight toward him.

    “Move out of the way!” Kevin bellowed loudly.

    The boy glanced up and turned pale as sheet. He hastily stepped backward and nearly missed being run down. However, in his fright, he threw the pliers in the air and it fell down slashing Kevin in the upper left arm. He grimaced in pain as blood spurted from the deep gash. Ignoring his wound, he refused to slow down and relentlessly carried on with the pursuit.

    While the chase was going on, Tae was still tightly holding Ruby against his chest. She finally recovered from the shock and shoved away from him.

    “Woman, do you have a death wish?!” he snapped while glowering down at her small frame. “What the hell were you thinking? That horse could have killed you.”

    “Why do you care?!” she retorted back. “If it wasn’t for you, I could have saved Annie!” She suddenly remembered her friend. “Annie?!” She anxiously ran after the crowd of people heading in the direction of the racetrack.

    He was about to follow them when a voice mournfully called out to him. “Tae, help me!” Mimi wailed out. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Her entire body was covered with mud and her voluminous dress was too heavily soaked to allow any sort of movement. She was fumbling to stand up, but failed miserably. Seeing her wretched condition, he didn’t have the heart to leave her behind. He slowly approached her and stretched out his hand. With a winsome smile, she happily grabbed his hand and he easily pulled her out of the puddle. She wiped her face with her sleeve, but only managed to smear more mud on her face.

    He cracked up laughing at her comical appearance. “You look absolutely ridiculous! I think it’s best that you go home and change your clothes. Better yet, take a shower. You smell horrible.”
    After saying that, he rushed off toward the racetrack. However, she ignored her filthy attire and ran after him. She struggled to keep up with his long strides. “But I want to stay here with you. I don’t mind being a little dirty.”

    He instantly whirled around to face her and gave her a reprimanding lecture. “You don’t mind, but I do. Now, do you want to be embarrassed wandering around in public like this? Aside from the fact that you’ll make me look bad, think of what your parents would say if they found out.”

    “Oh, Tae!” Tears were filling up her eyes as she mumbled in a weepy tone. “I didn’t know you cared so much about me. All this time, I thought you were trying to avoid me, but you just wanted to uphold a good image for me. You are such a considerate gentleman!”

    She leaned in, wanting to give him a big hug, but he swiftly stepped aside and a look of horror crossed his features. Not wanting to dirty his expensive clothes or have any sort of physical contact with her, he held up his hands to fend her off. “Now, now, no need to show any gratitude. I’m sure any normal, decent man would do the same thing. You should really go freshen up before some reporters decide to snap pictures of you.”

    “Yes, Tae,” she said with a reluctant sigh. “I have been meaning to ask you something. My birthday is next Friday and I’m having a small party at my house, so I was wondering if you could make it.”

    He stared at her hopeful eyes. “I’ll have to check my schedule. I am a very busy person, you know. I’ll call you if I can spare some free time.”

    “Oh, that’s wonderful! Wait till Mother hears about this.” With an enthusiastic smile, she shuffled away from the stable in her ruined gown.

    “If I have any free time in my schedule,” he hollered. “Remember, that’s a big IF.”

    She was too busy dreaming about being the future Mrs. Tae Leung to pay any attention to his words. Believing that she was getting closer and closer to making him declare his undying love for her, she was in an ecstatic mood as she hummed a wedding tune.

    Sadly shaking his head, Tae went to see how Kevin was doing in his rescue mission. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that his buddy was smitten with Annie. At first he was surprised that Kevin would be interested in her. She was definitely pretty, but not at all like the wealthy, gorgeous women his friend dated in the past. Come to think of it, aside from having money and beauty, those women were quite shallow.

    Blood was still dripping down Kevin’s arm and staining his sleeve, but he was oblivious to the pain. Bending low over his horse, he finally managed to catch up to Buttercup. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead as he rode up to the left side of the other horse. Once he was within arms reach of Annie, he extended his right hand and yelled out to her.

    “Annie, grab my arm! I’ll pull you over! Hurry!”

    She was still hugging Buttercup’s neck. “What?! Noooooooo! What if you miss and drop me?!”

    “I won’t drop you! Trust me!”

    She closed her eyes and vehemently shook her head. “I can’t move! My arms are too numbed!”

    The horse was running so fast that Annie was starting to slip from the saddle. Fearing that she would eventually lose her grip and be thrown off, Kevin concentrated on executing his plan. He carefully moved even closer to Buttercup and once he was a couple inches away from Annie, he waited for just the right moment. It was now or never. Using his right hand, he quickly grabbed onto Buttercup’s reins and swung his body over behind Annie. He roughly yanked on the leather strap and the horse started to slow down. The animal reared back on his hind legs, but Kevin held on tightly. After several minutes of wrestling for control, Buttercup finally stopped running. Even though she was no longer in danger, Annie’s eyes remain closed and she was still trembling.

    Extreme relief coursed through him as he tenderly hugged her from behind. “It’s okay,” he whispered soothingly next to her ears. “You’re safe now.”

    Peeking out from beneath her eyelids, she released a sigh and weakly leaned against his muscular frame. Just at that moment, Ruby, Ada, and crowd of people swarmed toward them. She was quickly helped down from the horse.

    “Oh, thank the Lord!” Ruby breathed out as she hugged Annie.

    “You nearly scared all of us to death!” Ada exclaimed.

    Annie looked slightly pale as she stood on wobbly legs. “I am never going near another horse again in my life.” She instantly dropped to her knees and laid flat down on her stomach. “Oh, blessed ground! I love you so much!”

    Tae approached Kevin with a stunned look. “You’re bleeding!”

    Annie got up from the ground and rushed over. She bit her lower lip as she stated in worry, “Are you all right? How did you get such a deep cut?”

    “Buttercup almost ran over a stable boy and he accidentally threw a pair of pliers at me. It’s nothing really. Just a small scratch.” He attempted to reassure her. “It looks worst than it feels.” He took out a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and handed it to Tae. “Tie it up for me, will you.”

    Tae tightened the cloth on the arm to stop the bleeding. “You call this a small scratch? Seriously, you need to go see a doctor, man.”

    “Mr. Cheng, I’m so sorry for this incident,” the horse trainer apologized. “I don’t know what got into Buttercup. He has always been such a docile creature.”

    “Don’t worry about it. No one’s seriously hurt.” His cell phone suddenly started ringing. “Hello? Okay, great. I’ll be right there.” He turned to Tae. “I’m needed back at the office. I’ll talk to you later.” He gave Annie a reassuring smile before he turned to leave.

    She stared at his back with a heavy guilt on her conscience. He wouldn’t be hurt if he didn’t try to save her. No man had ever risked his life for her before and she was undoubtedly touched by his actions.

    Ruby placed the back of her hand on Annie’s forehead. “Are you feeling well?”

    Annie snapped out her thought. “Huh?”

    “Yeah, you don’t look too good.” Ada said with a frown.

    “I’m fine. Let’s go home. It’s been a long day.”

  12. #12
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 11 – A Simple Gift

    Kevin stood watching the sun slowly drifting down the horizon and casting shadows over the surrounding hills of Mammoth Peak. The multiple shades of pink and blue scattered across the sky. He tentatively touched his bandaged left arm. “You’re positive Tom Ng has been embezzling money from Lantect International?”

    Keith lit up his cigarette. “My sources have confirmed that for the past two years, Ng has been using the company’s funds to secretly conduct illicit transactions with the Red Scale Gang.”

    Kevin clasped his hands together. “I don’t think Ng works alone. He’s vice president of the company. He wouldn’t risk such a prominent job and the possibility of prison time to work with the mafia. There has to be someone else involved in this, someone above Ng. This operation is too big for him to handle alone.”

    “Well, you’re going to have to be extra careful this time. You may be under the guise of forming an agreement between Cheng Architecture and Lantech International, but Shanghai is their territory. We don’t know who else is involved as of yet and it could be anyone in that company. One false move and this mission, as well as your safety, will be in jeopardy.”

    “I’ve done this type of job before,” Kevin stated grimly. “Every mission has its risk and danger. The only thing that’s different this time is the target. When do I leave?”

    He was handed a yellow manila folder. “Next Saturday. Your plane ticket along with all the contact information and background details associated with Lantect are in here. Sergeant Stephan Chan from the Special Crime Unit will also be joining you. Aside from having extensive experiences in the field of police negotiation, he has also worked on several undercover cases in the past. I’m sure Stephan will prove quite useful to this mission.”

    “Does he know my identity?”

    “Not yet. I thought it would be better for you to reveal that information when the time comes. I’ve arranged for him to contact you at the Somerset Hotel in Shanghai. Good luck, Black Hawk.”

    He turned to walk back to his car. “Thanks, but I don’t need luck.”

    **********

    By the time Kevin drove up to the parking construction of his apartment complex, it was already pitch black. Getting out of his car, he approached the front entrance and saw a figure sitting on a bench near the door. The light from the lamppost spilled over her features. She was intently staring down at the pavement and holding a wrapped package in her arms. Lost in her thoughts, she wasn’t aware of his presence.

    “Annie? What are you doing here?”

    She jerked her head up and appeared slightly embarrassed. “Oh… I… uh… was on my way to… uh.. the supermarket …and umm since your apartment is on the way… I decided to drop by to see how you’re doing.”

    “How did you find out where I live?”

    “You’re listed in the local phonebook. Plus, Ada and Ruby are journalists, so it’s not exactly difficult to dig up some information on you.”

    “I see.” He smiled fondly at her. “May I assume you did some digging because you were worried about me?”

    “Of course not! It just so happens that… ummm… that my sink was clogged up and I was … uh… searching for a plumbing company in the phone book. I saw your address while I was flipping around.”

    “You found my address in the business section? Hmmm, that’s funny, I would assume it would be listed in the residential section.”

    She was flushing to the roots of her hair as she came up with an excuse. “The stupid phone company must have made a mistake.” After a brief, awkward pause, she questioned, “So how’s your arm?”

    “Well, I went to the doctor and had a couple of stitches. He said it’s nothing to worry about and the cut should heal within the week.”

    She nodded, feeling relieved. “At least that’s good news. Anyway… here, this is for you.”
    She hastily shoved the package into his hands.

    “What is it?”

    She stared down at her shoes like they were the most interesting things on earth. “I passed by an outlet store on my way here and saw a shirt on sale. Since your shirt was damaged when you saved me, I thought you would need a new one.”

    He glanced at his bloodied arm sleeve. “You didn’t have to do this. May I open it?”

    She casually shrugged. “Go ahead. It’s nothing fancy, though. And it might not even fit you.” She softly chewed her lip in anticipation as she waited for his reaction.

    Sitting down on the stone bench, he slowly removed the silver wrappings and opened the cardboard box. Inside was a plain white shirt with a row of clear buttons down the front. It was not one of the name brands he usually bought and the quality of the material was only average. However, coming from her, it was more valuable than his most expensive shirt. He was deeply touched that she would buy him a gift. He was silent for so long that she assumed he didn’t like the shirt.

    She reached for the box. “I don’t know what I was thinking. You probably don’t even wear this type of brand.”

    He immediately pulled the box out of her reach. “No, it’s lovely. I really like it, Annie.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Yes,” he answered grinning.

    Seeing that he was staring at her again, she averted her eyes and glanced at her wristwatch.
    “It’s getting pretty late. I better head back home.”

    “Let me drive you.”

    She shook her head and declined his offer. “That’s okay. I can take the bus.”

    “Don’t be silly. It’s the least I can do.”

    “But–”

    “I insist.”

    He grabbed her elbow and pulled her toward his car. He was quite content sitting next to her and didn’t mind the quiet atmosphere. On the other hand, she was feeling rather uncomfortable and kept fidgeting. She peeked at his prominent profile and was glad to find him concentrating on the road. Every time he pinned her with his piercing gaze, her mind would go blank. She didn’t like the breathless feeling he invoked in her. It was too overwhelming. Even now, the close proximity between them was making her skin tingle.

    “Do I have something on my face?” he inquired. With a slight turn of his head, she was once again the focus of his attention.

    “What?”

    “You were staring quite intently at my face.” Caught red handed, she could only whip her head away. Fortunately, it was dark enough in the car that he couldn’t see her blush. She cleared her throat and changed the subject. “I’ve been meaning to thank you for recommending my catering service to your friends.”

    She could detect his smile even in the dimly lit car. He stopped at a red light. “I take it that business has been good for you?”

    “It could be better, but I take what I can get.”

    He stepped on the accelerator as the light turned green. “At least it’s better than before. By the way, you still owe me a dinner. Don’t think I forgot about our agreement.”

    “Ruby promised you,” she was quick to remind him. “I didn’t say anything. And that is beside the point. I won the car with my ticket, not with the one you gave Ruby.”

    “Consider it to be my farewell dinner then.”

    “Farewell dinner? Where are you going? Are you leaving Hong Kong? For how long?”

    He was pleased to know that she was concerned over his whereabouts. “I’m leaving for Shanghai on Saturday to deal with some business affairs. I don’t know how long I have to stay there. It could be months or longer.”

    “Oh.” She inexplicably felt disheartened at the news.

    “Even if you didn’t agree to have dinner with me before, don’t you think I deserve a reward for saving you today?”

    She really wanted to agree. For some unknown reason, just the thought of not seeing him again for several months caused a wave of sadness to wash over her. If she gave up the opportunity to have dinner with him, she would regret it later on. “What time?”

    “How does Friday night at 6 o’clock sound?” He was beaming with unrestrained joy.

    She didn’t want to sound too eager. “Well, I do have plans, but since you’ll be leaving soon… I guess I can rearrange my schedule.”

    He stopped in front of her apartment complex. “Wonderful!” He stepped out of the car and opened the door for her. “I’ll call you.”

    She stood next to him and could feel the warmth from his body. After a moment of hesitation, she said, “Don’t eat any seafood. It’s not good for your wound.”

    He gazed into her soft brown eyes. “I won’t.”

    “Good night, Kevin.”

    “Good night.”

    He stared at her retreating figure as she turned to leave. After she disappeared into the complex, he released a soft sigh and got into the convertible. He winced as pain shot through his left arm. The pain medication he took must be wearing off. The throbbing ache was more of a nuisance than anything else. It was a minor injury compared to what he had been through in the past.

    Opening the glove compartment, he took out two pills and a small bottle of water. After taking the medicine, he leaned his head back and stared up at the full moon. Yes, it was a fine evening. He could not recall a more pleasant night. The temperature was warm and the scent of late summer filled the air. With a dreamy, thoughtful smile, he turned on the ignition and drove off.

    Annie opened the door to the apartment and met with complete silence. After placing her purse and keys on the kitchen table, she went into Ruby’s room to check on her. Annie found her fast asleep on the bed with the covers thrown haphazardly over her body and her arms stretched over her head. It had been a very eventful day and Ruby was apparently exhausted from all the excitement. Quietly walking over to the bed, she pulled the covers up and tucked it around her body.

    After turning off the lamp on the dresser, Annie headed for her own room. Unable to sleep, she took out a book and decided to do some reading. However, after ten minutes, she noticed that she was still on the first page. Her mind kept lingering on the event of that afternoon. She would most likely have been thrown off the horse if Kevin had not risked his safety to stop the horse. She was grateful for his help, but she was starting to feel more than gratitude toward him and it was scaring her. For nearly eight years, she had managed to block out the horrible events of that day. She had kept men at a distance and built a wall around her heart for all these years. Yet, she feared Kevin might be able to breach her defense. She knew it would be so easy to fall for him, but that would leave her vulnerable to being hurt once again. No, she had to be strong. She can’t allow his sweet words and charismatic presence to affect her.

    Besides, a guy like Kevin Cheng was simply too good to be true. Dozens of wealthy, gorgeous women would probably flock to his sides at his beck and call. What could he possibly want with a simple, average girl like her? With no money or a prestigious social status, she would never fit into his world. Either way, after Friday, he will leave for Shanghai and she will be able to put her mind at ease. She placed her book on her nightstand and turned off the light. Stifling a yawn, she closed her eyes and went to sleep.

    **********

    “Tae, why don’t we start from the beginning?” Ada started the interview. “You started your singing career at the young age of eighteen. What caused you to venture into this industry?”

    “Ever since I was a child, I have always liked to sing,” he replied honestly. “My parents decided that it might be good for me to take some lessons. They took me to singing auditions and I had the chance to play in several musicals. They were relatively unknown, but starring in the musicals gave me the chance to experience what it was like to sing and act. One thing led to another and Michelle Yim took on the job as my manager/publicist. The rest, as they call it, is history.”

    Ruby sat next to Ada and concentrated on writing all the information down. She had to admit that Tae was acting very professional and courteous for this interview. Obviously, Michelle had done a great job in pressuring him; otherwise, a flamboyant playboy like him would not be so cooperative. All she really cared about was finishing this interview as quickly as possible so she can leave. His revolting presence was enough to rile her temper. As Ada was wrapping up with the final question, Ruby let out a sigh of relief and started to gather her belongings.

    “Well, I guess we’re done here.” Ada stood up and shook his hand. “Thank you so much for your time, Tae. I know you have a packed schedule for today. Hopefully, we will have a chance to work together in the future.”

    He returned the handshake. “It was my pleasure to be in the company of two enchanting women.” He turned his attention on Ruby. “Call me sometimes and we’ll have lunch.”

    Ruby turned her head and refused to pay any attention to his magnetic smile. As she was walking toward the door, he blocked her path. “I think you forgot something. You haven’t thanked me for saving you the other day yet.” She narrowed her eyes and gave him the get-out-of-my-face-or-I’ll-pulverize-you look. Without bothering to give him an answer, she pushed him aside and followed Ada out the door.

    “I guess that’s a no,” he quietly chuckled. “Well, I’ll be the bigger person and forgive your rudeness.”

    **********

    “I don’t understand why you have to be so nice to that jerk.”

    Ada sighed as she turned on the ignition. “I’ve been in this business for over ten years and one thing that I’ve learned is that you can’t hold grudges against top celebrities. In order to work in this town, you have to forgive and forget. We are journalists. Our job is to gather news and report the information to the public as objectively as possible. Oftentimes, we have to work with people we don’t like, but that’s part of the job description. We can’t afford to allow our feelings to affect our work.”

    “That is easier said than done. One look at Tae’s face and you just want to kick his ***. Don’t you remember how he acted on our first interview?”

    “Yes, but he already apologized for his behavior.”

    Ruby refused to change her mind. “Once a creep, always a creep. Look at the way he acts toward Mimi Lo. Aside from being a spoiled snothead, he thinks he’s better than everyone else. Sure, women find him attractive, but that doesn’t mean he can treat them like dirt.”

    “At least we don’t have to see him anymore after today.”

    “Thank the Lord for that.”

    The following day, Ruby was no longer feeling so thankful. She was sitting at her desk in a miserably depressed mood. After hearing the unexpected news from Ada, she was completely shocked and unable to believe her horrible luck. This could not be happening to her. It just couldn’t. Close to tears, she glanced up at Ada with beseeching eyes.

    “Say it isn’t true, Ada. Say it isn’t true,” she sniffled loudly.

    “I’m so sorry, hon, but I’m afraid it is true,” Ada stated regretfully.

    “You have to help me,” Ruby pleaded desperately. “Isn’t there anything you can do? There has to be someone else more suited for this job.”

    “I tried talking to Mr. Wu, but he’s adamant about you going to Shanghai to cover Tae’s next film project,” Ada replied sympathetically. “He was so impressed with your article on the Dream-Crescent holdup and the way we handled the interview that he wants both of us to do this assignment.”

    “But I don’t even want to hear his name again, let alone see his repulsive face everyday for five long months!” She was pathetically wailing and shaking her head. “I don’t want to go to Shanghai!”

    Ada took a seat next to Ruby and patted her back. “I know, sweety, I know.”

    Ruby vented out her frustration by banging her head on the table. “Of (bang) all (bang) the (bang) goddamn, (bang) stupid, (bang) dumb, (bang) luck! Why (bang, bang, bang) me?!”

    Ada frantically blocked Ruby’s forehead with her hands. “Stop it! You’re going to hurt yourself.”

    “That’s right!” she exclaimed with a determined gleam in her eyes. “Why am I sitting here feeling bad for myself? I should go hunt Tae Leung down and beat the crap out of him,” she threatened with a fierce expression. “Let’s see if he can still go to Shanghai with two broken legs!”

    “Don’t be ridiculous,” Ada gasped out. “You can’t possibly be serious. Why don’t you look on the bright side?”

    “There’s a bright side?”

    “Of course. Consider this as an all expense paid vacation. I heard Shanghai is a very beautiful city.”

    “My idea of a vacation doesn’t involve being within breathing distance of a slimy womanizer like him.”

    “Ruby, try to calm down. This assignment is extremely important to the company and there isn’t a valid excuse for you to turn it down.”

    She knew that Ada was right. There really wasn’t anything she can do to change Mr. Wu’s mind. If she refused this job, her employment at HK Daily News will definitely be jeopardized. Damn Tae Leung and his popularity! She bowed her head and in a defeated voice, “When do we leave?”

    “In two weeks.”

    Her lower lip started trembling. “Two more weeks before I step into hell.”

    “At least we don’t have to share a flight with him.” Ada’s attempt to console Ruby only caused her to be more depressed. She continued to sit at her desk with a grief-stricken face.

    By Friday evening, her disposition still did not improve. Wearing her Winnie the Pooh pajamas, she sat comfortably on the sofa with a huge bowl of strawberry ice cream in her hands. With a melancholy sigh, she scooped a large chunk of ice cream into her mouth and sighed again with her mouth full. Whenever she felt unhappy, pigging out on sweets always made her feel better, but this time, even her favorite dessert couldn’t cheer her up.

    It was getting close to 6 o’clock and Annie was running around trying to finish drying her hair, putting on makeup, and ironing her clothes. She would ask Ruby to help her out, but her friend was in such a pitiful state that she had doubts anything can be accomplished. After hearing another moan from the lump on the sofa, she glanced up while trying to put on a stocking.

    “Geesh, you’re acting like you’re about to be sentenced to the electric chair.”

    “Is it asking too much for you to give me a little sympathy here?” Ruby questioned with a soured face. “Some words of comfort would be nice.”

    Annie fumbled to zip up her long black skirt. “A little sympathy? Ruby, you have been moping around the house since yesterday evening. Don’t you think you’re overreacting just a tad?”

    “Yeah, right. This coming from a person who pulled me along to attend a stranger’s wedding just to avoid going out with a man.”

    “You know I don’t trust men; especially those suave, debonair, too good to be true guys. I’ve learned my lesson.”

    “Then why did you agree to go on a date with Mr. Handsome?”

    “This is not a date,” Annie bit out exasperatedly. “How many times do I have to tell you? I merely want to thank him for saving me. It’s just a simple dinner. That’s all.”

    Ruby lifted a shoulder. “Ehhhh, dinner, date, what’s the difference? Just remember not to smooch all night and return home with hickeys all over your neck.”

    Annie grabbed a cushion on a chair and sent it sailing across the room. Ruby immediately ducked and succeeded in avoiding the shooting object. “You should stop whining and start packing. You only have two weeks before your trip. Don’t come to me for help the day before you leave.”

    “Urghhhh…don’t remind me. Just thinking about Shanghai gives me cold chills.”

    “I don’t see why you’re so upset about this assignment. Not just anyone gets to go behind the scene and cover the year’s most anticipated movie. I mean, aside from the fact that you get to rub elbows with famous celebrities, your company pays for all the job related expenses on this trip.”

    “Fine, then you take my place and spend eight hours a day beside a sleazy, sexually promiscuous leech.”

    “Tae doesn’t appear to be that bad of a person. You’re letting one bad incident corrupt your judgment. And are you seriously going to finish eating that bowl of ice cream? I thought you were watching your weight.”

    Ruby responded by scooping up another big spoonful of ice cream and gulping it down. She was still wallowing in self-pity. “Leave me alone. I deserve to spoil myself. This is my reward for spending the next five years in exile.”

    Annie scratched her head in puzzlement. “I thought this assignment will only last five months?”

    Ruby waved her spoon at her friend. “It may be five months to you, but it will feel like five years to me.” She stuck out her lower lip. “This is so unfair. Now, I won’t even get the chance to show off my brand new Jaguar.”

    “Ahem…your Jaguar? I believe it was my raffle ticket that was drawn, so shouldn’t it be my Jaguar?

    “Rub it in, why don’t cha. Miss I-can-stay-in-Hong-Kong-and-have-a-wonderful-life-while-my-best-friend-for-twenty-years-slowly-withers-away-to-an-untimely-death-in-a-foreign-land.”

    Annie picked up her purse and gave Ruby a supportive pat on the head. “I’d love to stay and chat, but gotta go. Kevin should be downstairs any minute now.” Before heading out the door, she said, “And don’t eat too much ice cream. You’ll have a stomachache.”

    Ruby placed her bowl on the coffee table and stood up from the sofa. She slowly made her way to Annie’s closet and took out a pair of black pumps. She stood by the front door with the shoes dangling from her fingertips. “1… 2… 3...” she counted while tapping her foot.

    The front door immediately burst open and Annie ran in looking embarrassed. She took off her slippers and grabbed the shoes from Ruby’s hands. “Thanks!” she yelled while running out the door again.

    “You go and have fun now. I’ll be fine all by my lonesome self,” Ruby hollered out. She closed the door and surveyed the empty room. “Nobody cares about me anymore,” she muttered, still feeling down about her new assignment. Strolling over to the cabinet, she took out several dvds and sighed. “Hmmmmm, what to watch tonight?”

    **********

    Annie stood at the gate in front of the apartment complex and anxiously waited for Kevin. She was really nervous and kept checking her watch for the time. He stubbornly refused to give her any idea as to where they were going or what he had planned for the evening, so she was left in the dark. At exactly 6 o’clock, a black limousine turned the corner and drove toward her direction. Expecting to see his silver convertible, she didn’t pay much attention to the limo and kept glancing around. However, the vehicle stopped right in front of her and a middle-aged man stepped out of the driver’s seat. He approached her with a large bouquet of white lilies.

    “Good evening, miss,” the man courteously greeted. “Are you by chance Annie Man?”

    “Yes.” She frowned. “Do I know you?”

    He handed her the flowers. “My name is Eddie Tse. I’m Mr. Cheng’s driver. I’m here to pick you up for your dinner tonight.”

    “Where are we going? Where is Kevin?” she inquired as she stepped into the limo.

    “I’m not at liberty to say, miss. You’ll know when we get there.”

  13. #13
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 12 – A Touching Tale

    Annie sat in the limousine and glanced around the extravagant interior. After several minutes of sitting idly on the cushioned leather seat, she decided to explore her surroundings. She opened a drawer and found out that it was a small refrigerator storing several bottles of expensive wines and chocolates. There were also other various types of desserts and sweets. Pulling apart a compartment, she saw a small television screen, dvd player, as well as other equipments she had no idea what they were or how to use them. Deciding that it was best not to mess around and possibly break something, she returned back to her seat. The car finally pulled to a stop and Eddie opened the door.

    She stepped out onto the pavement and was awestruck by the sight before her. They were standing at the entrance of Sunset Palace, one of Hong Kong’s most luxurious restaurants. She had heard of this place, but never had the chance to dine here due to the fact that it was extremely pricey. Known for its great tasting food, first class service, and elegant atmosphere, reservations were required several weeks in advance. This place was very popular with famous celebrities and wealthy business executives. She stood there gazing at the striking flowers surrounding the four-story building and oriental lanterns hanging from the pillars.

    He led her through the double doors and they entered the restaurant. She couldn’t stop staring at the lavish decorations. They took the elevator to the top floor and walked down a long corridor. Turning left at the corner, he opened the door to a huge dining room. Glancing around the area, she was struck by the beautiful designs of the furnishings. Aside from the two waiters and two waitresses standing next to a table, the room was strangely empty of diners. Soft music could be heard playing in the background, adding to the romantic atmosphere. She finally noticed a lone figure looming over the balcony railings in the far corner. Hearing their approaching footsteps, the man turned around and she felt her heart skipped a beat.

    Kevin wore a black three-piece silk tuxedo that was flawlessly tailored to fit his physique. The classic four-button tux accentuated his wide shoulders and brought out his commanding presence well. He stood in a relaxed manner with an inviting smile gracing his lips. It must be a crime for a man to look so impeccably handsome. She was suddenly self-conscious about her plain black skirt and yellow tank top.

    “If I knew we were going to meet at such an extravagant place, I would have dressed more formally. Maybe I should go back and change.”

    He shook his head. He didn’t say a single word, but strangely, the engrossed way his eyes lingered on her was compliment enough. Being the target of such an intense gaze was making her blush.

    He turned to the chauffeur. “You may retire for the night, Eddie.”

    “Will you be using the convertible, sir?”

    “Yes. Is it still parked outside?”

    “In the valet parking section.” Eddie replied. He gave a slight bow before turning away.

    Kevin led her to the table next to the balcony and pulled out a chair. He whispered to two of the waiters and they quickly rushed out.

    She scooted closer to him and voiced her concern. “I thought this was just an ordinary dinner. I don’t think I have enough cash on me to cover this meal.”

    His shoulders were shaking with mirth. “Do you seriously believe that I would let you pay for all this?”

    “Well, I did say I would to treat you to dinner for saving me. I insist that this meal is on me.” She picked up the menu and her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. Damn! These prices are outrageous! She thought to herself with a sinking feeling. There goes my salary for this month.

    “May I take your order, miss?” a waitress asked.

    She was still examining the prices. “Uhhhh…. I’ll just have a small garden salad and…. ahem… water, thank you.” She smiled up at the waitress.

    Shaking his head, he grabbed the menu from her hands. “We’ll have the house specialty and a bottle of your best chardonnay.”

    “Excellent choice, sir. Would you like anything else?”

    “No, that should be all for now.”

    The moment the waitress left the room, Annie leaned over and whispered, “That sounds expensive. What’s the house specialty?”

    “Relax, I have everything covered.”

    “No, even if I have to max out my credit card, I’m paying,” she stated stubbornly. “I’m not going back on my word.”

    “How about you let me take care of this meal and you can pay the next time we have dinner.”

    She was about to say yes, but quickly realized that would mean a second date. She thought over her options and decided on a compromise. “How about we split the cost of this meal? That way, I can keep my word, yet not have to empty my pockets.”

    He laughed at her unwavering principles. “As you wish, my dear.”

    She leaned back with a satisfied look and studied the room in puzzlement. “By the way, why is it so empty in here? The tables downstairs are packed and I saw people waiting in a long line outside.”

    “I booked this entire room for tonight,” he casually answered.

    She was stunned. “I thought a reservation has to be made several weeks in advance to just get a table. How did you mange to book this huge room in such short notice?”

    He gave her a smug grin. “The owner of this restaurant, Philip Kwan, owes me a favor. So, I gave him a call and he was more than happy to reserve this place for us.”

    “What did you do for him?”

    “It’s nothing really. I just gave him some pointers on a couple of stocks which happened to yield some profit.”

    She cleared her throat. “You know, I wouldn’t mind some stock tips myself. Feel free to give me some of your pointers anytime you want.”

    “I’ll think about it,” he said with a merry laugh.

    Just then one of the waiter returned pushing a cart with several large plates of food. The aroma coming from the dishes was heavenly. The waiter started introducing the food. “Sir, ma’am, the house specialty is a seven course meal that includes a garden salad, oyster soup, barbecued shrimp simmered in red wine, stir fried crawfish, smoked salmon, rotisserie chicken, and steamed noodles. Of course, your choice of desserts is on the house.”

    They started to serve the food. She was amazed to have the opportunity to test out all these wonderful dishes. She took a sip of the soup. “My goodness, this soup is delicious!”

    He noticed her digging into the salmon. “I take it you’re satisfied with the food?”

    “For the prices they charge, the food better be to my satisfaction.” She shoved down a jumbo shrimp. “Man, these shrimps are to die for. Do you think we can get an order to go? Ruby’s favorite dish is barbequed shrimp. I want to take some home for her.”

    “Of course. You seem to be very close to Ruby. How long have you two known each other?”

    There was a thoughtful look on her face as she started to reminisce. “Almost twenty years. We met on the first day of kindergarten. She was being picked on by this fat kid.”

    “Let me guess. You came to her rescue and beat up that playground bully.” A twinkle gleamed in his eyes.

    “Let’s just say, he didn’t bother her anymore after that incident.”

    He could just imagine a feisty five-year old girl attacking a bully nearly twice her size. That poor kid was probably beaten to a bloody pulp. Her loyalty to friends impressed him. He could also sense that she was the type of person who will not give up easily even when faced with great obstacles. He couldn’t help but smile at the way she was guzzling down food. She certainly wasn’t one of those pretentious women who would go out of their way to impress and lure wealthy men. There were no calculating smiles or sexy gestures, yet her simplicity was immensely appealing.

    “What about you and Tae?” she questioned while still chewing. “You guys seem to have a close bond too. When did you first meet him?”

    “We met on a camping trip years ago. One of the events organized for the trip was a boat race and the best rowers were chosen to participate. He badly wanted to compete and on one of his practice sessions, the boat tipped over. His leg got tangled in some ropes. He did manage to cut himself free with a knife, but he accidentally stabbed his lifejacket. He wasn’t a very good swimmer. Fortunately for him, I was passing by the lake and saved him from drowning. You could say, he owes me his life.”

    She finished her glass of wine. “You seem to have a knack for rescuing people. Maybe you should consider being a police officer.”

    “Naw, I’m more of a businessman,” he refuted with a careless wave his hand. “That dangerous life doesn’t suit me. It’s best to leave all those action stuffs to the real cops.”

    On the subject of drowning, she suddenly remembered her parents and their unfortunate deaths at sea. He sensed a shift in her mood. “Is something bothering you?”

    “I was just thinking about my parents,” she revealed in a low voice. “They passed away years ago in a plane crash, but I still miss them very much.”

    He watched as sadness swept over her features. His hand reached out and covered hers. He wanted to do more to comfort her, but could only say, “I’m sorry, Annie.”

    “I guess that’s another reason why Ruby and I are so close. She also lost her mother the same year my parents died. People say time heals all wounds, but time still hasn’t healed my wound. I supposed the pain and sense of loneliness will never completely go away. I was fortunate enough to be taken in by my aunt and uncle. They treated me like their own daughter, but they can never replace my parents. I often lie awake at night wondering what life would be like if I still have them with me.” She gave a slight shake of her head and ruefully said, “I’m sorry. All this talk about death is pretty depressing. Let’s just finish dinner.”

    As they resumed their meal, a waiter walked up to Kevin and whispered something to him. “Excuse me. I’ll be right back. I have an important phone call to make.”

    Once outside the room, he pulled the waiter to the corner. “Did you have it engraved?” he asked in a whisper.

    The younger man took out a small red velvet box. “Yes, Mr. Cheng. Exactly to your specification.”

    He slapped the other man on the back. “Excellent. I will definitely put in a good word to your manager regarding your helpful assistance.”

    “Thank you so much, Mr. Cheng!” the waiter exclaimed with a thrilled expression. “Please, if there is anything else you need, I’m at your service.”

    “There is this small issue with the bill. Charge everything on my account, but I want you to print out a receipt with a specific amount for me.”

    Kevin returned back to table. “Are you finished?”

    “Yes. Oh, what about the bill?”

    “I already took care of it.”

    She took out her wallet. “How much do I owe you?”

    “Twenty dollars should cover everything.”

    “You seriously want me to believe that dinner was only forty dollars.”

    “I got a big discount from my friend for tonight’s dinner.”

    She didn’t trust his words. “Let me see the receipt.”

    He pulled out the receipt from his pocket and handed it to her. Seeing that the total was forty dollars, she paid him her half. “Now, we’re even,” she chirped happily.

    He shook his head. “You are way too stubborn.”

    “This is a matter of principles,” she countered defensively. “I’m not your girlfriend, so I can’t expect you to pay for me.”

    He turned to look down at her. “What would you say if I really did ask you to be my girlfriend?”

    She stopped in her tracks. Her mind went completely blank and she couldn’t think of anything to say. “I… uh… ummm.. that is… I…” she stuttered in her state of shock. Her mouth was opening and closing like a fish out of water.

    He finally took pity on her and chucked her under the chin. “I was just joking around. Don’t take my words too seriously.” Hearing that, she sighed with relief and followed him out the door.

    He led her through a different hallway and down three flights of stairs toward the back of the restaurant. Once outside, they reached a gate, but it was locked. He approached a keypad on the wall and punched in a sequence of numbers. To her surprise, the gate immediately opened.

    “This garden is reserved for VIP guests and there are some rare flowers in here, so it’s locked most of the time.”

    “Are we allowed in here?” she inquired while glancing around the place.

    “Of course. I have the password.”

    The garden was brilliantly lit with lights hanging overhead and lamps positioned along the pathway. Flowers of different shapes, sizes, and colors filled the secluded area. They were masterfully arranged in an artistic pattern that brought out the radiant splendor of each plant. The vibrant full moon was casting its shimmering rays down on the garden and adding to its beauty.

    “Wow.” Her voice was filled with awe as she touched a silky rose petal. “This place is magnificent. I have never seen so many different flowers before. It must have cost a fortune to build this garden.”

    “I’m glad you like it. I have to admit, it was definitely a challenge to renovate the layout.”

    “You did a terrific job. I hope you were paid well for your work.”

    “I did receive a pretty generous paycheck, but I wasn’t in it for the money,” he revealed. “I liked the challenge of reconstructing buildings, but never encountered the chance to work on a garden before. The project definitely intrigued me.”

    They slowly made their way to a fountain set in the middle of the garden. While she was busy staring at the water, he took out a velvet box from his shirt pocket and held it behind his back. “Annie, close your eyes.”

    “Why?” she questioned warily.

    “I’m not going to bite your head off. Trust me.” She reluctantly slowly lowered her lids. “Give me your hand.”

    “Why?” Her tone was apprehensive. “What are you going to do?”

    “Will you stop asking so many questions and just give me your hand?”

    She hesitated briefly before closing her eyes. She felt him wrap a cool, metallic chain around her wrist. She heard a soft clicking sound as he snapped the lock in place.

    “Done. You can open your eyes now.”

    She gasped out in wonder at the exquisite silver bracelet draped on her wrist. In the center was an image in the shape of a dragonfly. Five tiny sapphires were encrusted along the chain and the eyes of the dragonfly were made of diamonds. The moonlight reflected off the jewels and created a dazzling glow. She was mesmerized by the delicate carvings on the bracelet and couldn’t take her eyes off it.

    “Oh Kevin, this is gorgeous. Where did you get it?”

    “Do you like it?”

    “It’s incredible, but I can’t accept this. It’s too expensive.” He grabbed her hands as she tried to take the bracelet off. “This is a gift. You bought me a shirt. Naturally, I have to return the favor.”

    She glanced up at his compelling features. “An inexpensive shirt in exchange for a priceless bracelet? That is hardly fair. Take it back.”

    “I never take back what I give out. Ever,” he stated with a determined expression.

    She sighed at his unwavering look. “You really shouldn’t have gone through so much trouble.”

    “It was no trouble at all.” He grinned cheerfully. “There’s a very interesting story behind this bracelet. Do you want to hear it?”

    She sat down on a nearby stone bench. “I love stories.”

    He took the seat next to her. “According to legend, approximately four thousand six hundred years ago, there lived a very powerful pharaoh in ancient Egypt, named Nebhotep. He had many children, yet he loved and favored one daughter above everyone else. Her name was Amena and she was claimed to be so beautiful that men would do just about anything to get a single glimpse of her. She possessed a lovely outer appearance, but she had an extremely cruel and evil heart. She found it amusing to taunt and tease the men to fight over her. The princess would stand laughing on the side while watching them battled to the death.”

    “Why didn’t the pharaoh say anything?!” Annie burst out. “How could he allow that type of behavior in his kingdom?”

    “Nebhotep wasn’t exactly a compassionate king. He spoiled Amena by giving her everything she wanted and punished anyone daring to voice complaints about his beloved daughter. As luck had it, on one of her hunting trips, she was attacked and severely injured by a mountain cougar. Recently returning victorious from a long war, General Jarha passed by the hunting area and saved her life. Aside from being a very handsome and intelligent man, he was the best fighter in the entire kingdom. Countless women fell in love with him, including Amena.

    However, Jarha was in love with the princess’s plain looking servant, Kiya. They were childhood friends and she had always been the only woman in his heart. Although not very pretty, she was kind and caring to everyone. It was her friendly and sweet nature that attracted Jarha, not her looks. They were already engaged and planned to wed after he returned from the war. Their happiness was tragically shattered when Princess Amena petitioned her father for a marriage between the general and herself.

    General Jarha refused to obey the royal command and told the pharaoh that he only loved Kiya. As expected, Amena was absolutely furious when she found out she was being rejected for a lowly servant. She had both Jarha and Kiya thrown in the dungeon and gave him an ultimatum. If he agreed to marry her, he would have power and wealth beyond his imagination; otherwise, he was going to be sentenced to death. A man of great pride, the general fiercely rejected the offer and told Amena that he would rather die than live a life with a cold-blooded woman like her.

    Even though she was angry, the princess decided to get rid of Kiya instead. She believed that with Kiya out of the picture, she could convince Jarha to love her. A good friend of the general, Badha, came up with a plan to rescue them. He managed to save Kiya from being executed and also succeeded in getting Jarha out of prison. They were to meet in the forest ten miles from the kingdom and make their escape by the river. The general stood waiting for his fiancée and friend the entire night, but they didn’t show up. It was near dawn when he saw Princess Amena leading a large army of soldiers heading his direction.

    After restraining him, the princess revealed that Kiya and Badha were dead. Her spies were able to capture them on their way to the forest and both were executed on the spot. Jarha went mad with fury and broke free of his restraint. He charged straight toward Amena with the intent of avenging their deaths. He chased after her and killed everyone in his path. Eventually, he had the princess cornered and pierced her heart with his sword. However, he was also fatally wounded from his fight with the other soldiers. He died shortly afterward.

    Many believed that Jarha’s love for Kiya was so strong that his soul turned into a dragonfly, in hopes of one day finding her and reuniting once again. It was rumored that a soldier took the remains of Jarha’s sword and made this bracelet to remember the great general.”

    Finishing his story, Kevin turned to look at Annie. He was surprised to see tears brimming in her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she softly sniffled. “I don’t know what got into me. After all, it’s just a story. It’s not real. That kind of deep and everlasting love doesn’t exist in this world.”

    “I have always thought that such a touching tale has to have some grains of truth to it.” He reached out to gently wipe away her tears. With his hand still cupping her cheek, he gazed longingly at her. “To find one’s other half is not easy, but Jarha was able to find his and he never once faltered in his devotion to Kiya. I prefer to hope that a love as rare and pure as theirs does exist and could surpass the barrier of time.”

    She had a feeling that he was no longer referring to Jarha and Kiya. She suddenly felt very warm. Her heart started racing as she felt herself being pulled into his enchanting spell. His close presence was starting to make her dizzy. She found it difficult to avoid those seductive eyes. Resisting his touch was even more difficult. He caught her quivering chin with his fingers. Staring at her lips, he slowly leaned down. She could feel his breath on her cheeks. Out of the blue, his cell phone started ringing, unexpectedly disrupting the magical moment. She was shaken out of her daze. Thankful for the distraction, she immediately scooted away from him and stood up.

  14. #14
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 13 – Wretched Contract

    As he picked up the ringing phone, Kevin felt like strangling the person on the other line for interrupting him. He wasn’t sure if Keith might call regarding any new information on the mission; otherwise, he would have turned off the blasted machine. “Hello,” he answered curtly.

    A woman spoke in a panicked voice, “Kevin, where are you? Your mother just fainted.”

    “Lydia, how is she? What happened?” he uttered in a stricken tone.

    “She’s still unconscious and I just called Dr. Zhao. I think it’s her heart again.”

    “I’ll be there in a couple minutes. Bye.” With a worried frown, he turned to face Annie. “My mother fainted and it might be related to her heart condition. I have to go home and check on her.”

    “I hope she will be alright.” Annie had on a worried look.

    “Thank you. Come on, I’ll drive you home.” He led her out of the garden and toward the parking construction.

    **********

    Kevin barged through the front door of the Cheng Family mansion and almost collided with Lydia. His arms immediately shot out to steady her. “Where’s my mother?”

    “That’s a fine way to greet a person. Have you any idea the trouble it took me to get here? The traffic was absolutely horrendous. I would have arrived here sooner had I walked. Now, my poor aching back is killing me and—”

    “Lydia! Where is my mother?!” He had no time to listen to her endless chattering.

    “She’s upstairs in her room. Where else would she be?” she glanced up to see him running up the spiral staircase and totally ignoring her. “Well, it’s fine for me to listen to your problems, but when poor Lydia has something to say, nobody has any free time to spare,” she hollered at his back. She glanced around the empty living room. “See what I mean?” she complained loudly.

    He threw opened his mother’s bedroom door and saw his mother sitting on the bed. He rushed to the bedside and grasped his mother’s cold hands. “Mother, how do you feel? Did Dr. Zhao come yet?”

    Lisa Tsang was a frail woman in her early fifties with silver streaks in her once raven black hair, but she was still very attractive at her age. After being diagnosed with Congenital Heart Disease four years ago, her health had slowly deteriorated. “I just have a slight headache, that’s all. Dr. Zhao said I overexerted myself gardening in the backyard. He wrote down a prescription for some new medications and left a couple of minutes ago.”

    “You should take better care of yourself and let the gardeners handle all the work,” he admonished. “Father will be spitting out fire once he finds out that you fainted.”

    “That’s what I’ve been telling her all this time, but your mother is so darn stubborn,” Lydia said as she followed him into the room. She was carrying a tray with four cups of steaming hot tea. “She doesn’t listen to anyone.”

    “The doctor said I’m fine. Stop making such a big fuss. ” Lisa turned her attention back on her son. “Now, your father is not going to hear a single word about this incident, will he?” she inquired in a tone that always managed to make Kevin comply with her wishes.

    “Father will not hear anything from me,” he agreed with a soft laugh. “But this is no joking matter, Mother. You have to promise me you won’t endanger your health by overworking yourself again.”

    “Yes, I solemnly swear to let the maids and butlers wait on me hand and foot,” she said in an exasperated tone.

    Lydia handed a cup to Lisa. “Here you go. My specialty, green tea with touch of lemon. By the way, Kevin, how was your little date with Annie Man?”

    Two pairs of questioning eyes turned on Kevin. He shifted uneasily on the bed and for the first time in his life, felt like squirming. “How did you know I had dinner with Annie?”

    She gave him a smug grin. “Well, actually the manager at Sunset Palace called the office to confirm the reservation you made. You were busy on the phone, so I took the message.”

    “Kevin, you never told me you were dating someone. Who is she? Does she come from a good family?” Lisa frowned at him.

    Kevin stood up, ready to bolt rather than face the nosy questionings from three prying women. “Uh… you know what… I have an early flight to catch tomorrow. Must go get some rest… I’ll call you once I reach Shanghai, Mother. Bye Lydia.” Knowing that his mother’s health was not in jeopardy, he ran out of the room faster than a speeding bullet.

    Slowly sipping her cup of tea, Lisa sighed and glanced up. “Gather information on Miss Annie Man for me, Lydia. I want to know more detail regarding her background.”

    **********

    Returning to the apartment, Annie’s mind was still reeling from the enchanting dinner. She nearly jumped out of her skin after turning on the lights. With a frightened scream, she stared at the figure reclining on the sofa. “Will you quit sitting in the dark like that?! And what the heck did you do to your face?”

    Ruby was lying on several fluffy pillows with a thin slice of cucumber placed on each of her eyes. Her hair was neatly tied back and her entire face was covered with a thick layer of white gooey substance. Hearing Annie’s voice, she hastily removed the cucumber slices off her eyes and sat up. She rushed over and grinned creepily. “So, how did your little dinner go? Did you have fun? Where did you go? I want all the juicy details.”

    Annie had a sheepish smile on her lips. “We went to Sunset Palace for dinner. Afterward, we took a nice walk in the garden.”

    Ruby slouched down right next to Annie with a look of wonder on her face. “You mean the Sunset Palace that caters to all the famous celebrities and ridiculously filthy rich people?” she gasped out in awe.

    “Is there any other Sunset Palace in Hong Kong?”

    “Dang! What’s it like inside? Is the food there as good as the reviews say?”

    “The decorations and settings really do resemble a palace. I couldn’t believe my own eyes. It was absolutely magnificent. Regarding the food, why don’t you try some of their jumbo shrimps and judge for yourself?” She handed over the box of shrimps.

    “Oh, I can’t believe you remember to bring back some food for me!” She hugged Annie and also gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “You are the greatest roommate ever!

    “Ewwwwwww,” Annie sputtered out as some of the cream on Ruby’s face rubbed off on her cheek. “What is that goop on your face?”

    Ruby was trying to gobble down the shrimps and talk at the same time. “I’m trying out a new facial gel call Miracle Cream. It’s the newest and hottest product on the market. Not only will it moisturizes and rejuvenates your skin, it also gives you a fresh and supple appearance. Some of the top models have used it and claimed this cream can make you look years younger. The only down side is that it’s really expensive. But a girl has to pamper herself once in a while, right?”

    Annie wiped the sticky gel off her cheek and doubtfully glared at it. “You sound like one of those models in the commercials. Are you sure this cream can do all that?”

    “There’s no harm in trying it out once.”

    “Your skin is already smooth enough. You don’t need to fork out an arm and a leg to buy some product that might or might not work.”

    “There is always room for improvements regarding a woman’s looks. Man, these shrimps are so gooooooood! When I get back from Shanghai, I’m saving my money so I can eat my heart out at Sunset Palace.”

    “How long do you have to keep that stuff on your face?”

    “Two hours. I can wipe it off soon.” The lamplight reflected off from the bracelet on Annie’s wrist and caught Ruby’s attention. In the midst of chewing, she asked, “What’s that on your wrist? Let me see.”

    Annie glanced down at the dragonfly bracelet. “Oh, this?” She took it off and handed it to Ruby. “It’s just a gift from Kevin in return for that shirt I bought him.”

    Ruby held the chain under the lamplight to examine it more closely. She carefully observed how the diamonds and sapphires shown with a radiant sparkle under the light. The dragonfly was so skillfully crafted that it appeared to have a life force of its own. “Do you have any idea how much this thing is worth?!” she exclaimed with a stunned expression.

    “I don’t know the exact price, but I’m sure it’s quite expensive.”

    “I remember writing an article on antiques and this dragonfly bracelet came up as one of the world’s top ten most sought after ancient jewelry among collectors. It was supposed to be placed on auction a couple years ago, but I heard someone bought it from the previous owner even before it hit the auction house. Kevin must have paid a fortune for this artifact.”

    “Really? I didn’t know that.” Annie squinted as she saw some inscriptions on the back of the dragonfly. “Turn the bracelet over. I think there are words written on it.” The girls hunched over to read the elegant words engraved on the silver backing.

    To An Angel:

    Surrounded within total darkness
    Never dreamed of seeing the light
    Coming so unexpectedly
    To find the perfect one.

    --- Kevin

    Ruby slowly turned around and stared at Annie. She was suggestively wiggling her eyebrows with a disturbing look plastered on her white face. “The perfect one, ehhhh?”

    “Oh, will you quit that. There is absolutely nothing going on between us,” Annie ardently denied.

    “Hah! You call this poem nothing? Aside from the fact that he gave you a priceless bracelet, he even engraved his feelings for you on it. I think his message is pretty clear. Yup, that guy is head over heels in love with you,” Ruby stated confidently.

    “You certainly have an active imagination. Maybe he just wants to share his poetry with me. He didn’t exactly spell out my name. It could be written for anyone.”

    “Hello! Why on earth would he give you a piece of jewelry with a poem written for someone else?”

    Annie shoved a jumbo shrimp against Ruby’s lips. “Oh, shut up and finish eating. You talk too much.”

    “But I– ”

    “Here, have another one,” Annie interrupted by pushing a couple more shrimps into Ruby’s mouth.

    Later on that night, Annie was sitting at her desk and holding the bracelet in her hands. It was truly a beautiful piece of artwork. Perhaps too beautiful. Running her fingertips over the inscriptions, a sense of sadness washed over her. Good things in life often come with a price. Would she have to pay with her heart? Was Kevin toying with her emotions? She dared not think about him because she feared her heart would weaken and she would have to face the dire consequences. With a troubled sigh, she placed the bracelet in her jewelry box and closed the lid. The phone on the nightstand started ringing and startled Annie from her thoughts.

    “Hello?”

    “Did I wake you, Annie?” His husky voice rang out through the receiver.

    She unconsciously sat up straighter and was suddenly very aware of her rapid heartbeat. “No, but I was just about to go to sleep,” she replied softly. “How is your mother doing, Kevin? I hope it’s nothing serious.”

    “My mother is fine. She just exhausted her energy gardening in the yard. Nothing to worry about.”

    “Well, I’m glad to know she’s okay.” There was a brief of silence before she asked, “Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?”

    “Did you notice the poem on the bracelet?”

    “Yes, it’s quite lovely. I didn’t know you were into poetry. But maybe you shouldn’t have carved it on a gift for me. The person you wrote it for might not like it.”

    “I wrote that poem for you. A smart woman like you should have a clear understanding of my feelings.”

    She was at a loss for words at his declaration. When she finally spoke, her voice sounded hesitant and confused. “I’m sorry… but… I… I’m not ready for a relationship right now. It’s complicated.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say. “I’m really sorry.”

    “Am I moving too quickly for you?”

    “Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not you. It’s me. I…. there are certain things… I’m sorry.”

    “You don’t have to keep apologizing. I understand.” Yet she could hear the disappointment in his voice. There was another period of silence. “We can still be friends, right?” he asked hopefully.

    “Of course. I would love to have a friend like you,” she said with a relieved sigh.

    “Well, it’s getting late and I have to be at the airport early tomorrow morning. If you ever need anything or just want to talk, you have my number.”

    “Have a safe trip, Kevin.”

    “Goodbye, Annie.”

    “Bye.” She felt a poignant ache at having to say those departing words to him. Did she make a mistake in rejecting him? What if she took a chance…. she roughly shook her head and mentally reprimanded herself for succumbing to temptation. Turning off the lights, she willed herself to sleep.

    **********

    “Nooooooooo! I’m not going and you guys can’t make me!” Ruby yelled out heatedly as she wrapped her arms and legs tightly around a lamppost. “I don’t want to go to Shanghai! Annie, Ada, let go of me!”

    Ada was yanking on Ruby’s hands while Annie had her arms around Ruby’s waist, desperately trying to pull her away from the steel pole. It was turning out to be rather difficult to pry the fingers loose. “Stop being so childish!” Ada admonished. “We’re going to be late for our flight.”

    “You have to go whether you want to or not. Your job is at stake,” Annie reminded her. “It’s only for five months.”

    “I don’t care!” she willfully shouted. “I want to stay in Hong Kong with you, Annie!”

    “You can’t always get what you want in life,” Annie tiredly gasped. “Release that damn post and get your butt into that car.”

    “Damn it! Why are you so freakishly strong?” Ada was practically wheezing now from exerting so much energy. “Quit fooling around and get in the cab!”

    “No!” Ruby stubbornly shook her head and tightened her grip.

    Ada finally gave up trying to peel her resisting figure from the pole. “Fine! Be that way!” She proceeded to tickle Ruby under her arms. Peels of laughter rang in the air, but she amazingly held her ground.

    “Nooooo! Hahahahahahaha! Stop it! I mean it! Hahahahahaha! No more! Please stop!” Unfortunately, she was unable to stand the relentless torturing for long and finally dropped her arms. Although she lost her grip on the pole, her legs were still securely clenched around the lamppost.

    “Ada, grab her legs!” Annie squeaked out. Ada successfully managed to force Ruby’s legs apart. Annie and Ada half carried, half dragged Ruby into the taxicab with her screaming at the top of her lungs.

    “Pleassssssssssssseeeeeee, don’t make me go to Shanghai!” Ruby hollered. “Somebody help meeeeeeee!”

    Half an hour later, Ada and Ruby were settled in their seats on the airplane. Ruby gloomily gazed out the window at the scenery below. There was little else she could do other than accept her bad luck. “Goodbye, Hong Kong. I’ll miss you,” she said wistfully.

    **********

    Ada and Ruby were standing in front of lovely two-story building in the quiet section of the city. Hong Kong Daily News had rented out several rooms on the second floor for them and the camera crew to stay in for the next five months. The rent and utility bills were already prepaid in advance. The girls dragged their luggage out of the taxi and entered the elevator. Once inside their two-bedroom apartment, they started to unpack.

    “This place may be small, but it has quite a comfortable feel to it,” Ada admitted as she surveyed the surrounding.

    “By the way, when are Tim and the rest of the crew going to be here?”

    “They should arrive by tomorrow afternoon. Which reminds me, we need to meet Michelle and Tae at the production site later to check the place out. We have to start filming the day after tomorrow.”

    “Okay, I guess I better go get some pain medication.”

    “Are you feeling ill?”

    Ruby despondently sighed as she explained, “Not yet, but I will be after I see Tae. Being near him gives me a headache, so I have to prepare myself for the worst.”

    An hour later, they arrived at the huge production site and wondered around searching for Michelle’s office. The girls located the room and found them deep in conversation. Michelle stood up to greet them. “Ruby, Ada, you’re finally here. Tae, why don’t you go over the production process with them and get them acquainted with this area? I’m sorry, girls, but I have to discuss an important issue with the director, so I can’t stay and give you a tour of this place.”

    “Sure thing.” After Michelle left, he gave the girls a thorough description of the movie and the arduous working condition involved in completing the project. “As you probably already know, The Legend Of A Simple Warrior is a movie depicting the life of a Song Dynasty general on and off the battlefield. I play Zhu Wen, the hero of the movie. Everything happening in the story is seen through his point of view and the audience gets to see the emotional as well as physical struggles he face as a soldier and as a normal human being.”

    After giving them a brief summary of the story, he took them around the site. Two hours later, the girls were relieved to hear that the tour was over. As they tiredly walked toward the exit, the words out of Tae’s mouth halted them in their tracks.

    “Oh, I forgot to mention that one of you girls will have to accompany me on a little shopping spree around town. A friend of Producer Wan is throwing a party and I need to buy a couple items.”

    Ruby glowered at him. “We’re here to work, not to follow you around. Go find someone else to be your servant,” she retorted.

    “I’m sorry, Tae, but we’re really tired after our long flight and the tour. Couldn’t you find someone else to accompany you?” Ada asked hopefully.

    “Don’t tell me you girls can’t handle a short trip around the shopping mall. Anyways, as I recall correctly, the contract that I signed with Hong Kong Daily News clearly states that all my needs will be accommodated.” Seeing the confused expressions on their faces, he whipped out a document from his shirt pocket. “Since it’s obvious that I need to refresh your memories, I’ll kindly read the contract to you.”

    He cleared his throat. “Employees from Hong Kong Daily News involved with the filming of The Legend Of A Simple Warrior will accommodate Tae Leung’s wishes to the best of their abilities. They will put in 100% of their efforts to make sure the project flow smoothly. Mr. Leung’s comfort, health, and piece of mind will be our top priorities. Our staff will provide all the necessary support to assist him in any way possible. Should any problem arise, Daniel Wu, vice president of Hong Kong Daily News should be notified immediately to solve the matter in a professional and efficient manner.”

    “You lie! Let me see that contract!” Ruby demanded. She refused to believe that the company would sign such an outrageous agreement with an underhanded scoundrel like him.

    With a shrug, Tae held the piece of paper in front of her. She reached out to grab it, but he quickly pulled it away. “Uh, uh, uh.” He wagged his index finger at her. “You can look, but don’t touch.” He turned to Ada and held out the document. “I trust you won’t attempt to destroy this?”

    A frown creased Ada’s forehead as she carefully read the contents. After thoroughly examining the agreement, she turned and gave a quick nod to Ruby. “It’s a valid contract.”

    “Now that we’ve cleared up this issue, I expect to be treated with the utmost respect for the next five months. That means no more offensive name-callings, evil stares, or vile remarks,” he declared while pointedly gazing at Ruby.

    “Why you sneaky, little snake! You want respect, I’ll show you respect!” She growled as her eyes blazed up. She threateningly charged toward Tae with outstretched hands aiming for his throat. Ada quickly wrapped her arms around Ruby’s waist from behind and yanked her back. “Let me at him! Don’t hold me back! I’ll take that contract and shove it up his ***!”

    “Don’t do it, Ruby! Don’t do it!” Ada frantically held on.

    “Well, you two can decide who will accompany me while I go change into something more comfortable. Wait for me in front of my dressing room.” He had an amused glint in his eyes as he walked away whistling. Meanwhile, Ruby was angrily gritting her teeth and snarling insults at him. Poor Ada still had her arms locked around Ruby’s waist.

    **********

    God must really hate me. He must. Why else would He torture me like this? Isn’t it bad enough that I have to work beside this jerk for the next five long months? Now, I have to carry out his despicable biddings for the duration of the assignment too? Things can’t possibly get any worst. Damn it! If the economy wasn’t in such a bad slump, I’d break every bone in his body and make him die a slow, painful death. Afterward, I’ll sing and dance on his grave for three long, wonderful days! No longer will I have to put up with his obnoxious demands.

    “Miss, your order is ready.” The cashier at the soda stand shook Ruby’s shoulder and interrupted her daydreaming. She snapped out of her thoughts and reality came rushing back to plague her. “Thanks,” she muttered absentmindedly.

    Ada needed to return to the apartment and finish writing the first part of the review for their assignment. She had more experienced in writing such articles, so it was decided that Ruby would help Tae with his shopping. He had dragged her through the mall for nearly two hours, trying on clothes and shoes. She was exhausted, but he seemed to be relishing in her pain. As they were passing by a juice stand, he suddenly had the craving for a slushy, so she had to go get it for him. As she held his lemon flavored slushy in one hand and her cup of coffee in the other, she headed back to the restaurant table searching for him.

    To her irritation, he was sitting at a table, laughing and flirting with two scantily dressed women. She was ready to dump his drink on his head, but hastily changed her mind. She walked over to the table with the intent of disrupting his little party. She slapped on a demure smile and tapped Tae on his right shoulder. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your new friends?”

    He turned around, suspiciously eyeing her. A couple of seconds ticked by and he sighed. “Meet Helen and Tanya. Girls, this is Ruby, my maid.”

    Maid?!! Ruby Lin is nobody’s maid. I’ll teach that greasy ratface not to mess with me. She innocently smiled as she gave him a hard slap on the back, causing him choke on his slushy. “It’s just so wonderful to see that our dear Young Master Leung has finally built up his courage to talk to girls again. He has been so depressed lately after the little incident at the strip club.”

    He choked on his drink again as his eyes bulged wipe open with a mortified look. He narrowed his eyes and was going to demand an explanation, but Helen beat him to it. “What little incident at the strip club?” she asked warily.

    “You mean, Young Master Leung hasn’t told you yet?” she inquired with raised eyebrows. Both girls shook their heads. “Oh, it’s nothing for anyone to be really concerned over. He just picked up a pesky little sexually transmitted disease, that’s all. You only get severe itchy rashes all over your body and wished to hell you could rip out your internal organs rather than suffer the pain. But don’t you two worry. His itching is somewhat under control now. Even his rashes have stopped swelling. The doctor assured us it’s really not that contagious.”

    Helen and Tanya immediately excused themselves and hastily vacated their seats. Seeing their speedy exit from restaurant, she smiled sweetly as she cheerfully slurped her coffee.

  15. #15
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 14 - Retribution

    “That does it! Woman, this time you’ve gone too far!” Tae furiously snapped. “It’s one thing with the name calling, but giving me a sickening disease is outright slander. How would this make me look if words get out about my alleged infection? I’ll have you know, I will not tolerate this kind of offensive behavior anymore,” he stated indignantly.

    Ruby stared at him with silent humor dancing in her luminous eyes. “It’s not like I was too far off from the truth. With you indiscriminately chasing after everything in a skirt, it’s only a matter of time before you contract some kind of dirty virus. Of course, that is assuming you haven’t already been infected.”

    “You better shape up and be more courteous to me. Need I remind you about the contract?” He irately warned her. “Don’t make me call Daniel Wu.”

    Outraged that he would threaten her with that stupid contract again, she shot to her feet and gave him a belligerent look. “Don’t make me smash your ugly monkey face!”

    “Tsk, tsk, tsk.” He sighed and shook his head. “I am simply appalled that such a dedicated journalist would willingly violate a lawful agreement. Under the circumstances, I see no point in continuing our business relationship any longer. This is clearly a breach of contract. My severe afflictions will have to be compensated for one way or another. Be prepared to hear from my lawyer. It is quite a shame that Hong Kong Daily News has invested so much money in this project. But I’m sure Mr. Wu will understand why you blew off a million dollar deal as well as created a litigation problem for the company.” Picking up his slushy and shopping bags, he slowly headed toward the escalator.

    She was definitely in a dilemma. There were two choices available. She could abandon this assignment and return to Hong Kong to join the long list of unemployment. Her other option was to give up her principles and become a spineless sycophant to a conniving pond scum. Losing her job was only part of her concern. She couldn’t bring herself to disappoint Ada and Mr. Wu by ruining this opportunity for the company. With the huge financial investment associated with the movie, other people’s jobs will also be affected. She wasn’t sure whether Tae was really going to follow through with the lawsuit, but if he does, the blame would be on her shoulders. How could she look at herself in the mirror?

    “Wait,” she grudgingly called out. It was one word that seemed to seal her fate for the next months to come. Tae turned around and resisted the urge to smile. He knew he was winning this battle of wills. “Yes?” he inquired coolly.

    “I… I’m …” The words seemed to be stuck in her throat. “I’m sor…” She took a deep breath. “I’m sor… sorry.” She finally managed to utter those dreaded words. “I shouldn’t have said that you were infected with a sexually transmitted disease.”

    “Anything else?”

    “And I’m sorry I’ve been calling you all those names. In the future, I promise not to refer to you as a sleazy cretin, greasy maggot, womanizing parasite, ill-mannered worm, slimy hooligan–-”

    “Okay, I get the point. Are you trying to apologize or insult me?”

    “Apparently, a person can’t even apologize without being rudely cut off,” she defensively countered.

    “That has got to be the worst apology in the history of time. However, being a magnanimous gentleman that I am, I forgive all your wrongdoings.”

    “Gee, should I get on my knees and lick your feet in gratitude, Your Majesty?”

    “Hmmmm, that actually doesn’t sound half bad,” he answered with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

    “Why you…” She stopped in mid sentence as he raised his eyebrows, daring her to continue. She desperately wanted to smack that arrogant grin off his face, but managed to restrain her temper. “Urghhhhh!” She whirled around and started to walk away.

    He suddenly stuck out his arm to block her path. “Forgetting something?”

    She contemptuously stared up at him. “You mean like kicking you down the stairs and doing a favor for the human race?”

    “Hmph, real men don’t argue with ignorant pests.” He held out the twelve shopping bags and gazed expectantly at her. “Well?”

    She frowned. “Well what?”

    “I have an important battle scene to film tomorrow. I can’t tire myself out carrying heavy things. My fingers might cramp up.”

    Roughly yanking the bags from his hands, she sneered at him before stalking off. She had to bite her tongue to force back a sniping retort as she quickly strode ahead. She took the escalator down to the first floor while he slurped his drink and followed her.

    Tae had a feeling that the next couple of months will prove to be infinitely enjoyable. Ruby’s quirky mood swings and creative remarks were starting to grow on him. It had been a long time since he had been this amused. Convincing Daniel Wu to sign the stipulation on the contract wasn’t too difficult. Daniel was more than willing to add in the statement requiring perfect cooperation from employees of HK Daily News or the termination of the project. The chance for an in-dept behind the scenes coverage of the year’s most highly anticipated film and receiving numerous personal interviews with Tae was extremely profitable. Countless news companies were willing to offer anything to work with him, but the main reason he chose HK Daily News was because of Ruby. The opportunity to get even with her for tossing coffee on his face was simply priceless. Plus, it was fun to bait and tease her.

    I can’t believe Ruby Lin has finally sunk to this lowly level of having to serve a spoiled and morally corrupted pop star. Mom would probably roll over in her grave if she knew about this. Oh, I am such a sellout! That sadistic tyrant deserves to be tied and quartered for making a refined lady like me carry his shopping bags. What a lazy jackass! She turned her head around and saw him dragging along at a snail pace. “Will you please hurry up?! These bags aren’t exactly stuffed with feathers.”

    “There is no need to rush. My driver is waiting for us outside. He won’t be going anywhere without us.”

    “Easy for you to say. You’re not the one lugging around two tons worth of shoes and clothes.”

    “Oh, don’t exaggerate. Those things can’t possibly weigh more than a couple pounds.”

    “Well, could you at least open the door for me?” she gritted out through clenched teeth. She impatiently stood next to the glass entrance of the mall and felt her blood pressure rising.

    “Can’t you see I have my hands full holding my slushy?” He held out his cup with both hands.

    “Please pardon me for not considering your delicate condition. We don’t want you to pull a muscle performing such a treacherous task.”

    “Now that’s the type of attitude I like to see. You’re a quick learner.”

    She smiled as she placed the shopping bags down on the tiled floor and yanked open the glass door. Then, she proceeded to kick each bag over the threshold. The powerful force from her kicks sent everything flying out of the bags and the contents spilled out on the concrete sidewalk.

    “Ahhhhhhhhhh! My Christine Dior sunglasses and Gucci silk dress shirts!” Tae exclaimed as he anxiously rushed toward the scattered materials. He carefully examined the spectacles and was mortified to find that the lens was severely cracked. His blue and gray silk shirts landed in a puddle of gasoline oil on the curb and were already stained beyond repair. Since the other bags contained glass accessories, they were undoubtedly broken. With a grievous expression, he quickly retrieved the items and angrily confronted her.

    “Ruby Lin! Look at what you did!” he yelled as he waved his damaged merchandise in front of her face. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to obtain this pair of Christine Dior sunglasses? It’s the newest style on the market and not even available to the public yet. I had to preorder it two months in advance. And these shirts are hand tailored!”

    She turned a pair of contrite eyes on him and appeared very apologetic. “I’m so sorry, Tae. Who would have known name brand products would be so easily damaged,” she said with a shrug. “I guess they don’t make them as sturdy as they claimed. But don’t you worry; I will definitely be more careful next time. Oh, look, hear comes your driver. Since you won’t be needing my help anymore, I’ll be out of your way now. Bye-bye.” She skipped away in a vastly improved disposition as he continued to mourn over his loss.

    **********

    It was completely dark by the time Ruby returned to the apartment. She entered the living room and saw Ada talking on the phone. Upon noticing that Ruby was home, Ada waved her hand and held out the receiver. “It’s Annie. She wants to speak to you. I need to finish proofreading my articles, so I’ll be in my room.”

    She happily ran over to the sofa and grabbed the receiver. “Annieeeeeeeeeee!!! I miss you so much!”

    “I miss you too. How do you like Shanghai so far? I heard from Ada that you’ve been quite busy today.”

    “Oh, you have no idea the kind of atrocious torture I had to endure! It was simply awful, awful I tell you!” she complained loudly. “Stupid Tae made me buy his drinks and carry his belongings around like a servant. I have never felt so abused in my life. He is totally taking advantage of my compassionate and sensitive nature.”

    “No doubt you’ve managed to make him see the folly of mistreating such a fine lady like yourself.”

    “Hehehehe. Well, I calmly explained to him that his current behaviors does not suit him at all and also showed him the consequences of messing with someone intellectually superior to him.”

    Annie giggled. “What did you do?”

    Ruby gladly retold the events at the mall and the more details she disclosed, the harder Annie laughed.

    “Good grief! You didn’t!” Annie gasped out.

    “Yes, I did,” she heartily confirmed. “Everything was kicked to the curb. You should have seen the expression on his face. His eyes were ready to pop out of their sockets and his face was all red.”

    “Are you sure it was wise to be so hostile to him? He would most likely find some ways to retaliate against you.”

    “It’s too late for regrets now. You know that once my temper acts up, I can’t think clearly. I’m devoted to my job, but there’s no way in hell I’m letting that punk walk all over me. I can only take things one step at a time and let fate handle the rest.”

    Annie sighed and voiced her concern. “I just hope this situation doesn’t get out of control. The Leung Family does wield a lot of power in the entertainment industry. Do be careful.”

    “I will. Don’t stress your pretty little self out about me,” Ruby said reassuringly. “There’s always Ada to be my buffer.”

    “I guess you’re right. Anyway, I gotta go. I have to wake up early tomorrow morning to lay out the preparation for a party.”

    “Okay. I’ll talk to you some other time. Say hi to your uncle and aunt for me.”

    “Of course.”

    **********

    The Flaming Emerald Clubhouse was one of Shanghai’s most popular hangout places for business executives and upper class socialites. Seventeen majestic man-made fountains surrounded the building’s perimeter and never failed to fascinate the guests. Sitting in a private VIP room inside the clubhouse were Stephan, Tae, and Kevin. Still fuming about the earlier incident at the mall, Tae was retelling the story and verbally venting out his anger.

    “Can you believe that woman?!” Tae questioned incredulously. “She broke my sunglasses! Good thing Arnold had another pair in stock that he was willing to sell, but I still have to wait a couple days for the delivery.”

    “Seems to me, both you and Ruby are at fault,” Stephan pointed out while sipping from his glass of red wine. “Sure, she might have overreacted, but you shouldn’t have provoked her to such an extreme state. Frankly speaking, you weren’t acting much different from a bully and I would not be surprise if she sock you in the face.”

    “Oh shut up, Stephan. You’re supposed to be on my side. Why the heck are you defending a stranger?” Tae questioned.

    “I am a man of the law and I do not take sides. I defend logic and judge everything from an unbiased perspective.”

    “You are such a traitor. And to think that when we were kids, I took the rap for you every time you broke Mother’s vase playing basketball in the house. This is the thanks I get?”

    “It was just that one time and you have reminded me of that for the past twenty years,” Stephan irritably announced. “If I have to hear that story again, I am seriously going to sew your lips together.”

    Tae shook his head and stared at Stephan in disappointment. “I don’t know you anymore. You become a fancy cop and family no longer means anything to you. Next time I talk to Mother, I’m going to inform her the shocking truth that her beloved and respectable eldest son is an underhanded liar.”

    “Go right ahead. See if I care. What is she going to do? Ground me for breaking her vase twenty odd years ago?”

    Kevin was holding his glass of margarita and half-heartedly listening to the conversation, but his mind was elsewhere. It had been two weeks since he left Hong Kong, yet he was still getting nowhere regarding the embezzlement at Lantect. Stephan had been spying on Tom’s daily activities, but had also come up empty handed. Since they had been keeping contact through e-mail, letters, and phone calls, his friend was still clueless that he was Black Hawk. Every time they had a phone conversation, he would speak through a small device that would change the sound of his voice.

    He was almost certain that Tom Ng had some sort of association with the Dragon. He would have to make use of Tom’s business associates and see where that gets him. Richard Heung, one of China’s wealthiest men, will be hosting a party in a few days and the guest list included countless influential business executives. This would be a great chance for Stephan and him to do some investigating.

    Tae suddenly smacked Kevin in the shoulder and disrupted his thoughts. “Kevin, don’t just sit there like a rotten piece of log. Aren’t you going to say any words to back me up? My actions toward Ruby Lin were clearly justified after the inexcusable way she treated me.”

    Kevin popped a walnut into his mouth and nonchalantly shrugged. “What do you want me to say? Stephan does have his points and you also make sense.” He nodded his head and smiled “I think it’s best for me not to take sides.”

    “What do you know? You’re besotted with her friend and pretty much blind to everything else. I call you two out for support and what do I get in return? One’s lecturing me and the other is staying neutral.”

    **********

    Annie tiredly came home after an exhausting day of catering to three different parties. She soaked herself in a hot bath and finally had the chance to relax as she propped herself up on several fluffy pillows. She attempted to finish the remaining pages of the mystery novel she recently bought. However, Kevin’s teasing grins kept flashing before her eyes. It had been three long weeks since he left, but tried as she might, she was unable to block him from her thoughts. A smile tugged at her lips as she remembered the first day they met. The look on his face when she punched him was permanently imprinted in her mind. Now that she thought about it, the whole situation was quite comical.

    Suddenly, she released a distressful sigh as she closed the book in her lap. It would be in her best interest to forget him, but images of his eyes lighting up every time he saw her were so difficult to brush away. She made the terrible mistake of falling for the wrong man once and vowed never to let that happen again. In spite of that, she was now being drawn to a man with such a magnetic appeal that she was afraid her struggles would be in vain. For all his charming talks and captivating personality, Kevin was still a mystery to her; a mystery she did not want to solve.

    Annie glanced at the jewelry box on her desk and hesitantly opened the lid. The silver bracelet shimmered brightly underneath the lamplight as she picked it up. The urge to speak to him intensified as she continued to gaze at it. She yearned to hear his deep voice and easygoing laughter. She was rapidly heading toward an endless pit, but she couldn’t seem to stop. Telling herself that one quick call wouldn’t hurt, she reached for the phone on her nightstand…

    LUXURY SUITE, SOMERSET HOTEL
    SHANGHAI

    In a large, stylishly decorated room filled with top of the line furniture, Kevin sat leaning against the headboard of a king size bed with his feet crossed at the ankles. His attention was completely absorbed in the plain white shirt in his hands. He had kept it by his sides because it reminded him of Annie. It was a simple cotton shirt, but it was priceless in his eyes. He had never experienced this infectious desire for anyone before. He wondered if this was what poets described as love. He knew it wasn’t boredom that made Annie shine out. She had a fresh, wholesome image that he found infinitely intriguing. Her prim neatness and the endearing way she expressed her honest thoughts had him hooked from the very beginning.

    How ironic that women have been chasing after him for as long as he could remember, but now that a woman had finally captivated his heart, she wanted to be friends. He would do everything in his power to change her mind. He had waited his entire life to find someone like her and he was not going to let her slip away so easily. He had never failed at anything before and he was not going to start now. Gaining her trust was only the first step. He was determined to win her heart as well. He pulled out his cell phone and started dialing her home number, but was met with a busy signal. He redialed the number and again her phone was busy.

    The busy signal annoyingly resounded from the receiver as Annie tried to call Kevin’s cell number. Disappointed, she turned off the phone and walked over to the window. She stared up at the starry Hong Kong night and wondered if this was fate’s way of telling her to end her foolish thoughts. It was probably a good thing that she failed to reach him. What would she say to him anyways? She had already told him she wasn’t ready for a romantic relationship. Maybe she and Kevin were not meant to be together.

    **********

    Ruby stood next to Ada on the plush lawn in front of Richard Heung’s glamorous three-story mansion and surveyed the crowded scene in front them. Being president of UniBank, one of China’s largest banks, Richard was an influential man with countless people trying to get on his good graces. He was a fun loving man and easily made friends with his jovial nature. In addition to having good relationships with many of the top producers, directors, actors, and singers in the business, he also had close connections with government officials in Shanghai.

    Ruby grumbled under her breath before she drained her glass of orange juice. She didn’t want to come here in the first place, but since Michelle had personally invited them to this party, she couldn’t flatly turn down the good intention. Nevertheless, she refused to spend several hours dolling herself up for a pointless event and decided that being comfortable was more important than trying to impress people she didn’t know. She came wearing a faded pair of blue jeans, pastel blue knitted tank top, and worn out sneakers. Ada was dressed more appropriately in a silk lavender evening gown with matching purple pumps. The color of the gown managed to enhance her ivory skin and large, bright eyes.

    “This is so utterly boring, Ada,” she whined. “I wouldn’t give a fig about this party if Michelle didn’t invite us. The sight of all these hypocrites trying to outdo each other with false flattery is downright sickening.”

    “Hey, what can we do? Richard Heung is a close friend of Producer Wan. We might as well bite the bullet and pray for the party to be over soon.”

    “I don’t think I can last another minute standing here. I have never heard so many fake laughter and stomach churning compliments in my life.”

    “At least the food makes up for some of our sufferings,” Ada pointed out while chewing on a crab cake.

    “Can’t argue with you there. If only Annie was here.” Ruby sighed. “She loves testing out new food.”

    “Why don’t you write down these courses and describe them to her when we get back?”

    “That’s a great idea. Urgh, but most of the entrées are placed on the banquet tables in the dining hall. It’s just so stuffy in there.”

    “That’s okay, I’ll go in there and jot down the information for you.”

    “Oh, thanks so much! You are the coolest!” she smiled enthusiastically as she gave Ada a notepad. “Remember to make special note of how they laid out the dishes as well.”

    “Sure thing. I’ll be right back.”

    As Ada headed toward the mansion, Ruby decided to find a seat near the fountain in the center of the lawn. There was a live band of violinists playing on a small stage nearby and the music was quite catchy. She was tapping her feet to the rhythm of the music while enjoying the cool night breeze. Out of nowhere, she heard a loud burst of laughter several yards away. She turned her head and was not surprised to see Tae being surrounded by a group of five giggling women wearing incredibly revealing dresses. Their breasts were threatening to spill over the low cut bodices and their skirts were scandalously short. Shaking her head, she took in the scene with distaste.

    “Oh, Tae, you’re so funny.” The women mindlessly chuckled.

    “Yes, do tell us another story,” the one with short auburn hair chimed in.

    “Sing for us instead, Tae. You have such a magical voice. I have all your albums and I listen to your songs every night before I go to sleep.”

    “No, flex your muscles again. Your biceps are so strong.” The rest of the group nodded in agreement and continued to bombard Tae with more requests.

    “Good God! What a bunch of shallow airheads,” Ruby muttered as she listened to their conversation. “Clinging to that pea-brain idiot like cement to bricks. They’re the ones giving women a bad reputation.”

    Fearing that she would soon get cross-eyed if she continue to stare at them, Ruby stood up and walked toward one of the drink stands. The bartender was nowhere in sight, so she went behind the counter and made herself an iced lemonade. She was stirring her drink when a model thin woman approached the stand wearing a flashy strapless dress and stiletto heeled shoes.

    “Hey you, get me a glass of champagne,” she commanded haughtily.

    Ruby glanced up with an affronted look as she glared at the other woman. “Excuse you! Are you physically challenged? Get your own damn drink.”

    The woman’s features clearly portrayed her shock that someone would have the audacity to act so offensive toward her. “You’re just a lowly bartender,” she said while examining Ruby’s off-the-rack clothing with disdain. “How dare you speak to me like that? Do you know who I am?”

    “First off, I am not a bartender. Secondly, I don’t give a rat’s *** who you are. You could be the president of China for all I care.”

    Ruby could tell that her answer was not the response the other woman wanted to hear. Her face was starting to turn an ugly shade of red as she angrily clenched her fists. “I am Alyssa Heung,” she said triumphantly. She appeared to expect Ruby to apologize and grovel for forgiveness.

    There was a blank look on her face as she casually shrugged. “Is that your pathetic attempt to impress me? Now, why don’t you shuffle your scrawny, anorexic body back to where you came from and go find some lame fools to order around.” She turned and calmly sauntered off.

    Alyssa glanced to her sides and noticed other people whispering and staring at her. Clearly humiliated, she ran after Ruby and blocked her path. “Don’t you dare walk away from me! I’m not done talking to you, yet. Now, I demand an apology.”

    “Hah! Don’t make me laugh. Why should I apologize to you?”

    “For your information, I am Richard Heung’s only daughter. I can have you thrown out of this party for your deplorable manners.”

    Hearing this stunning new information, Ruby raised her eyebrows in surprise. Alyssa started to gloat, thinking that Ruby was going to beg for mercy now. “However, I am willing to pardon your lack of respect on the basis of your wretchedly poor upbringing. I understand that not everyone can have my level of sophistication and elegance,” she declared condescendingly. “So, kneel down and give me a couple of bows and I’ll forget about this incident.” She stood with her arms crossed over her chest with a smug smile.

    Ruby frowned and stated sympathetically, “You poor, poor thing. It must be hard growing up not knowing your biological parents. Did Mr. and Mrs. Heung kindly picked you up at the dumpster or were you adopted at an orphanage?”

    Alyssa was stunned that someone would actually dare accuse her of being adopted. “What the hell are you talking about?! I’m their biological daughter, you halfwit!”

    “Well, in that case, I’m very sorry to hear about your parents’ misfortune. Do convey my condolences to them. How sad that a nice, amiable man like Mr. Heung should be related to you. Are you absolutely sure you’re his biological daughter?”

    “You… you… you….” Alyssa was so mad, she couldn’t think of anything to say. Her mouth was opening and closing like a fish out of water.

    “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? If you have nothing else to say, kindly move out of my way,” she announced impatiently as she pushed Alyssa aside.

    Alyssa screamed and stomped her feet. “Security!” Two security guards standing nearby hurried over. “Miss Heung, is there a problem?” the shorter of the two guards asked.

    She smacked his arm with the back of her palm. “Yes, there is a problem, you goon! Can’t you see I’m being mistreated here?” She pointed at Ruby’s back. “I want you to throw that ***** out of here!”

    “Afraid we can’t do that, miss,” the taller guard contritely answered. “She is a guest and we can’t remove her from the party unless she’s causing trouble.”

    “Verbally insulting me is not causing trouble?!” she irately scowled at them. “Casting doubts on my lineage is not causing trouble?!” she screeched out.

    “We’re really sorry, Miss Heung, but she is on Mr. Heung’s list of honored guests. Unless we have specific instructions from him, we can’t ask her to leave.”

    “I’m not telling you to ask her to leave! I’m telling you to pick that tramp up and throw her out of here!” she angrily yelled at them. The men were uncomfortably staring at each other and not making any moves to follow her orders. They definitely didn’t want to get on Alyssa’s bad sides, but if they listen to her, things might turn nasty. Known to be a very gracious and polite host, Richard Heung would be displeased if one of his guests was removed from the party without his knowledge.

    “I don’t know why my father hired such useless morons! I’m going to tell him to fire you both!”
    She darted across the lawn with her eyes glowing with resentment. “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” she mumbled under her breath. She raced forward and grabbed Ruby’s shoulder.

    “Where the hell do you think you’re going? You’re messing with the wrong person, *****!”

    “Oh, I’m so scared, I’m shaking in my shoes,” Ruby scoffed back. “Now, remove your filthy hand before I really get mad and smash your surgically enhanced nose.”

    Alyssa raised her hand with the intention of slapping Ruby, but before her hand could even come close to Ruby’s face, it was twisted behind her back. Ruby tightened her grip on Alyssa’s wrist, causing her to shriek with pain. “You got one thing right. I can be a nasty ***** sometimes. So, it’s not a very good idea to aggravate me.”

    The two security guards immediately rushed over and attempted to help Alyssa. The taller guard grabbed Ruby’s shoulders and the shorter guard tried to free Alyssa from Ruby’s hold, but she refused to let go. By now, everyone in front of the mansion had gathered to watch the spectacle. Apparently, this was the most exciting thing that happened all night. Amidst all the chattering and whispering, a piercing voice was clearly heard above all the noise.

  16. #16
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 15 – Unexpected Appearance

    “Take your hands off Miss Lin! Harm a single strand of her hair and you’ll have to answer to me.” Countless pairs of eyes scanned around, searching for the owner of the voice. Tae quickly rushed over to Ruby and glared at the security guards. “What do you two think you’re doing? How dare you attack one of the guests. Mr. Heung will have your heads once I notify him about this.”

    “Mr. Leung, please try to understand. We’re just trying to do our job,” the taller guard explained. “Miss Lin, will you please release Miss Heung? I’m sure this whole misunderstanding can be resolved without further violence.”

    “You heard the man. Let go of my arm!” Alyssa cried out. “You’re chaffing my sensitive skin with your coarse fingers.”

    Ruby responded by jerking Alyssa’s arm up, causing her to scream out in pain again. “Apparently, my coarse fingers seem to have a mind of their own.”

    “Just let her go. We can’t stand here all night,” Tae reasoned.

    “Fine,” Ruby grumbled before loosening her grasp on Alyssa and roughly shoving her toward the shorter guard.

    Alyssa rubbed her wrist to soothe away the ache while she stood with her eyes burning with wrath. “Don’t think this is over between us, Ruby Lin. Be prepared to spend some quality time in jail. I’m going to sue you for assaulting me,” she heatedly threatened.

    “Pipe down, Alyssa. Everyone saw you raised your hand first.”

    Alyssa automatically softened her tone. “Why are you defending her, Tae? She’s just a penniless, ill-bred misfit. Nobody important for you to concern yourself over.”

    “Who are you calling a misfit, you overbearing snob!” Ruby lunged toward Alyssa, but she cowardly ran behind the two guards for protection. Tae managed to pull Ruby back and draped his arm over her shoulders. “You better watch your mouth, Alyssa. This is my new bodyguard you’re threatening a lawsuit against.”

    “Your what?!” Alyssa and Ruby exclaimed in unison.

    “Bodyguard. I just hired her. She’s quite fast with her fists. Don’t you think so, Alyssa?” He gazed down at Ruby with mischief in his eyes. “For the duration of my stay in Shanghai, she will be my personal bodyguard. You should see her with an AK 47 assault rifle. She’s simply lethal with that weapon. Isn’t that right, Ruby?”

    Ruby doubtfully narrowed her eyes at him, but she didn’t say anything. “So, I’d advise everyone to think twice before messing with her,” Tae concluded with a smile as he guided Ruby away.

    As they walked pass Alyssa, Ruby noticed the malicious stares directed her way. She gave her caution to the other woman, “You may be Richard Heung’s daughter, but that doesn’t mean you own the world. Next time, you might not be so lucky and meet someone who will give you a real beating. Better watch your manners from now on.”

    Tae led her down the paved lane toward the mansion and asked, “Shouldn’t you take your own advice and watch your manners when you’re with me?”

    She ignored his question. “Okay, spill it. What are you scheming with that polluted brain of yours?”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just trying to be nice and defend you in a difficult situation,” he indicated in a hurtful tone. “A person can’t even do a good deed without being interrogated for hidden motives.”

    “You being nice? That’s a real shocker.”

    “Well, you are contracted to assist me during the filming of my movie. Naturally, I can’t have you getting hurt. Who would carry out my errands if you become disabled?”

    “I’m touched at your display of concern,” she stated sarcastically.

    “I have such a kind heart, don’t I?” he rhetorically asked. She made a face, but chose to remain silent. “You should be grateful to me for bailing you out back there. After all, Alyssa Heung can be quite vicious when she’s mad.”

    “I don’t need you to defend me. I had that situation completely under control. And take your hand off my shoulder. I’m not your personal armrest.”

    He slowly removed his hand. “Geesh, I was just giving you some advice.”

    “Why don’t you go find your ****ty, bimbo friends and leave me alone? Your presence is starting to annoy me.”

    “You know, you should really change that attitude of yours. All this anger will only lead toward high blood pressure and an early heart attack.”

    “When did you suddenly become so thoughtful of my health?”

    “Since your contract stated–”

    “Oh, will you shut up about the contract?! I can recite it in my sleep. Yes, I know, accommodate your wishes… blah, blah, blah… assist you in any way possible… blah, blah, blah…”

    “Glad we’re clear on one thing,” he beamed cheekily at her.

    “You are a sadistic bastard.”

    He laughed at the way her eyes flared up. Having her around would definitely brighten up any tedious party. He didn’t have long to enjoy the moment though. Out of the blue, a familiar terrorizing squeal invaded his eardrums. “Tae! Sweety, where are you?!”

    “Oh, hell no!” He literally cringed at the sound as his eyes filled with panic. His legs shot over the lawn at an amazing speed. He ran straight ahead and acted like the Devil was on his tail. Ruby turned around to see who was causing all the commotion and saw Mimi Lo frantically scanning the area. The moment her eyes caught sight of Tae, she rushed after him like a bolt of lightning.

    “Tae! Wait for me! Where are you going, honey?! Slow down!” Mimi shouted breathlessly. She whizzed passed Ruby and was quickly catching up to Tae.

    Ruby gazed at the two running figures and shook her head. “Damn, gotta say that girl sure is persistent. Tracking Tae all the way to Shanghai. Quite impressive.”

    She decided to sit on a stone bench near the fountain and wait for Ada to return. Unexpectedly, she felt a light tap on her left shoulder. Glancing up, she saw Kevin peering down at her. He was dressed in a dark gray suit and stood oozing with charisma.
    "Hey, Kevin. Didn’t know you were here. What’s up?"

    He sat down next to her and offered her a cup of punch. "Nothing much. Heard from several people that you had a small tiff with Alyssa Heung."

    “Word sure spreads fast around here. Well, if Tae didn’t stop me, I would have introduced her face to my fist.”

    He laughed at her fiery expression. “I have no doubt you would do just that.” He was silent for several moments before voicing the question that had been plaguing his thoughts. “So, have you heard from Annie?”

    Her eyes gleamed with understanding as she studied his profile. “Oh, so now the real question comes out, eh? I should have known you would only be interested in Annie.” She gave a dramatic sigh.

    “Come on, have some sympathy and put me out of my misery. Just give me a quick update on her.” He nudged her arm with his finger. “Please.”

    She took pity on him and stopped her teasing. “Annie’s doing fine. She has her hands full with orders for parties, weddings, and even funerals. She barely even has time to breathe.”

    Hearing that Annie was loaded with work, his features twisted in concern. “She’s not overworking herself, is she? How’s her health? Is she eating well? If I knew she was such a workaholic, I would never have given her so many references.”

    “Relax, Kevin. She knows how to take care of herself. Don’t beat yourself up over nothing. Why don’t you give her a call if you’re so worried about her?”

    “I agreed to give her some space. Plus, I don’t want to scare her away by being too aggressive.”

    Ruby stared at Kevin’s earnest expression and felt her heart go out to him. She could tell that he really liked Annie. It was possible that he had already fallen in love with her friend. “Annie and I have known each other practically our whole lives. We grew up together like sisters and there is nothing I want more than to see her happy. Many people see her as a strong, independent woman, capable of facing any hardship with a smiling face. They don’t know that behind the hard shell she created for herself, there lies an extremely vulnerable heart. Her life has been filled with so much pain and trauma that she is still unable to completely trust people.”

    “Aside from her parents passing away in an unfortunate plane crash, what else happened to her?”

    “That is something you have to ask her. I don’t think it’s right for me to disclose such personal information without her approval.” She turned to gaze directly into his eyes. “Are you serious regarding your feelings for Annie? If you just want to have a fun and quick fling, I’d advise you to find someone else. I won’t allow you to treat her like a cheap toy ready to be discarded at any moment.”

    “You don’t have to worry about that. I never play with women’s emotions. I have the greatest respect and admiration for Annie. To be honest, I am completely enthralled with her.” His face seemed to light up as he spoke about Annie. He gave a small laugh as he gazed up at the full moon. “I have never met anyone like her before. She can be furious, yet still be able to generate this aura of sweetness about her. I can guarantee you that I will make her happy. She won’t be disappointed in choosing me.”

    Hearing Kevin confirmed his feelings for Annie was a huge relief for Ruby. She gave him a bright smile. “That is a very good answer. I sincerely hope you will keep your word because if you hurt her, I will hunt you down and personally make sure you regret the day you were born,” she stated while still smiling, but there was a clear warning in her tone.

    “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said with a lighthearted chuckle. “I definitely don’t want to fire up your dangerous temper.”

    “You are a wise man, Kevin Cheng.”

    **********

    Stephan was walking down the long corridor in the mansion when he heard someone whispering his name. “Pssssssst. Psssssssst, Stephan.” He halted in his stride and strained to locate the source of the sound. He glanced around the empty hall, but didn’t see anyone. “Who’s there? Show yourself.”

    A head popped out from behind one of the pillars and Stephan was surprised to see his brother lurking in the dark. “It’s me, Tae.” Frowning with confusion, he walked over to the pillar and casually leaned against the column.

    “Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m hiding in the dark?”

    “I’m sure you will enlighten me with the details,” Stephan predicted.

    “Mimi Lo is here,” Tae whispered.

    “Ahhhhh. Enough said. So, I take it you are hiding from her?”

    “Of course!” he answered in frustration. “Can you believe that madwoman actually chased me around the mansion for the last half hour?”

    “Why don’t you just leave and return to the hotel?”

    “Don’t you think I want to do that? But I’m afraid I’ll run into her again. If her parents didn’t have such a close relationship with our parents, I’d slap her with a restraining order in a split second.”

    “Tae!!!” The frightening sound echoed like thunder down the hall and they could hear footsteps rapidly approaching.

    “Jesus Christ! That woman is relentless.” Tae slumped back behind the pillar and prayed she wouldn’t discover his hiding spot. Grinning with amusement, Stephan stepped away from the column and headed toward Mimi’s voice. She appeared with a flustered face and ran gasping down the hallway.

    “Stephan, have you seen Tae? I’ve been looking everywhere for him.”

    “Yeah, I saw him several minutes ago. He’s most likely in the billiard room shooting some pool.”

    “Thanks so much. Gotta go.” She dashed through the doors and scurried in the direction of the game rooms. After making sure that Mimi was really gone, Tae quietly tiptoed out. He gave Stephan an appreciative slap on the shoulder. “Thanks, bro. I owe you one.”

    “Think nothing of it. After all, it’s quite a pathetic sight to witness a mighty super star like you cowering in fear.”

    “For your information, Mimi is like a starving dog with her eyes set on a juicy bone. You can yell at her, insult her, heck even kick her aside, but she will always come charging back.”

    “Well, that’s the price you have to pay for being just so darn irresistible to women,” Stephan teased.

    “Yeah, go right ahead and mock me. I know you enjoy seeing me suffer in misery.”

    Stephan leaned an elbow on Tae’s shoulder. “Oh, cheer up. I’m confident you’ll come up with a brilliant plan to get rid of her sooner or later.” He took his car keys from his pocket and dangled them in front of Tae. “Mimi probably has someone staked out near your motorcycle, so you have a better chance of leaving here unnoticed in my car.”

    Tae’s eyes lit up as he gratefully snatched the keys in his hand. “Bye.” Stephan smiled as he watched his brother rushed away.

    **********

    Later that night, Stephan was standing on the balcony of his hotel room while waiting for the expected phone call from The Hawk. His cell phone rang and he quickly answered it.

    “Tell me you have good news.” The deep raspy voice came from the other end.

    “From what I found out, Tom Ng has been spending a tremendous amount of money that greatly exceeds his income for the last year and a half,” Stephan revealed. “I’ve been working with the local authorities on his case and one thing we know is that the money he embezzles out of Lantect is somehow returned within the period of one month.

    “Who’s been transferring money into his bank account?”

    “That’s the problem. Even though the police have been following his every move for the past several months, they are still unable to trace where that cash comes from or how he has been able to obtain it.”

    “Where is Ng spending all his money?”

    “He usually frequents nightclubs, fancy restaurants, and the racetracks,” Stephan answered. “He is especially fond of Ming Dynasty antiques and paintings.”

    “Ng does not strike me as a man who would be interested in the arts. I’d expect him to be attracted to women and gambling, but not ancient artifacts. He’s not the cultured type.” There was a brief period of silence. “See if you can obtain information on the antique stores that he associate with and email me a detailed report on all your findings.”

    “Okay. I should have everything ready in two days.”

    “Great. I’ll catch up with you next time.” Kevin hung up his phone and placed the voice synthesizer down on the table next to him. It was a small device capable to disguising his identity. He leaned his head against the back of the chair he was sitting in and mulled over the fact that he was getting closer to his goal. The thought of putting the Dragon behind bars gave him such an intense sense of fulfillment. Finally, he was going to get the chance to avenge Ricky’s death. The grief and sense of regret would never end for him, but at least he could punish the man responsible for his brother’s demise. “It won’t be long now, Ricky,” he whispered. “Dragon will pay for his crimes. I’ll make sure of that.”

    **********

    The early morning air was quite chilly, but the radiant sunlight signified the dawn of a warm autumn day. A cold breeze permeated the air as people started their daily activities. Kevin was dressed in his jogging outfit and running along the pavement surrounding the park. He always jogged in the morning whether rain or shine. He usually exercised in the gym, but decided to check out Shanghai’s city life while he worked out.

    A familiar sight caught his eyes and caused him to halt in his path. He saw the back of a petite young woman with black shoulder length hair crossing the streets in front of him. “Annie?” he whispered in surprise. He didn’t see her face, but she looked a lot like Annie. Pushing and shoving people aside, he hastily darted through the crowd and tried to catch up to the woman.

    “Annie! Annie!” he hollered while running across the busy streets. In his haste, he accidentally knocked over a box of oranges on a vending stand.

    “Hey man! What’s your problem?!” the owner exclaimed.

    “Sorry.” He crouched down and helped the owner retrieve the oranges. By the time he placed the last fruit back on the stand, the woman had already disappeared. With a sinking feeling at the pit of his heart, he continued his jogging. He knew it was foolish to think that Annie would be in Shanghai, but he couldn’t help it. His eyes kept scanning the area, hoping to catch another glimpse of that woman.

    **********

    The doorbell chimed loudly, waking up Ada and Ruby. Ada threw aside her blanket and sleepily walked out to the living room. For their safety, the girls had installed a chain lock connecting the door to the side of the wall that allowed them to see their visitors without opening the entire door. Ada stared through the gap and her eyes widened with delighted shock.

    “Surprise!”

    “Annie!” Ada unlocked the chain and gave Annie a tight hug before pulling her inside.

    “For goodness sake, it’s five o’clock in the morning!” Ruby’s drowsy voice could be heard coming from her room. “Who’s the blockhead that interrupted my beauty sleep?!” She sluggishly heaved herself off the bed and marched to the living room, ready to confront the culprit. She was rubbing her eyes and yawning loudly.

    “Hey, sleepyhead.”

    All of a sudden, Ruby was wide-awake as she stared at the figure standing before her. “Annie!” Disregarding her disheveled appearance, she joyfully hurtled herself forward. She threw her arms around Annie’s neck and nearly knocked her friend over.

    “Thanks for the warm welcome.” Annie laughed while hugging Ruby back.

    “Why are you in Shanghai?” Ada asked as she and Ruby carried the luggage inside.

    Annie sat down on the sofa and stretched her back. “It’s a long story. A week ago, I was catering for this engagement party and one of the guests was really impressed with the dishes I prepared. It turns out that she’s Lin Yeung.”

    “Isn’t she Jing Wong’s wife? If I’m not mistaken, Jing is the owner of Wong Industrial, one of the largest producers of furniture in China.”

    “You are absolutely correct, Ada. Mrs. Wong wanted me to plan and cater her youngest daughter’s upcoming wedding to millionaire, Jake Lam. She is willing to pay me triple the rate of what I usually charge, plus all my travel expenses.”

    Ruby frowned. “I heard Melissa is a spoiled and conceited brat. She’s rumored to be so demanding that nobody can stand working for her. No wonder you’re paid so well. I’m just worried she’ll be too difficult to handle. Are you sure you want to accept this job?”

    “Well, I can’t back down now. Mrs. Wong already prepaid for half of the costs, so I have to keep up my end of the bargain. I know this order won’t be easy to swallow, but I’m determined to finish it no matter what happens.”

    Just then, the phone rang. One look at the caller id and Ruby immediately scowled. There was a look of hostility on her face as she stared at the machine.

    “Who is it?” Annie curiously inquired.

    “Who else would rudely call us at this ungodly hour?” Ruby crossed her arms over her chest and continued to let the phone ring.

    Ada turned to Annie with a smile. “It’s probably Tae.” After two more rings, the answering machine picked up the message.

    “Ruby Lin!” Tae’s voice blasted loudly through the speakers. “You answer the phone right now. I know you’re home. Don’t make me drive all the way to your house.” He still didn’t get any response. “By the count of three, you better pick up the phone; otherwise, I’m calling Daniel Wu.”

    “1…2…”

    Ada tugged on Ruby’s arm sleeve. “Just talk him, girl. See what he wants.” Ruby still won’t budge and glared up at the ceiling.

    “2 1/3…”

    Annie laughed heartily. Ruby turned and pouted at her, causing Annie to cover her mouth and giggle silently. Ada knew better than to stick her nose in the situation, so she kept quiet.

    “2 ½…2 ¾…”

    Ruby finally yanked up the receiver. “What the hell do you want from me?!”

    “Hey, Ruby,” Tae joyfully greeted her. “Did I wake you?”

    “What kind of stupid question is that? Do you have any idea what day it is?”

    “Of course I do. It’s Sunday and since we’re not filming today, I want to go do some shopping. Be ready in ten minutes and I’ll come pick you up.”

    “Why can’t you go by yourself?”

    “Your Mandarin is better than mine and you can bargain for me. Okay, see you in ten.” He hung up without waiting to hear Ruby’s response.

    “No, wait! I don’t… Hello?! Hello?! Arghhhh!” Ruby slammed down the receiver and angrily kicked the table, wishing it was Tae’s head. “Owwwww! My foot!” She grabbed her toes and whimpered loudly.

  17. #17
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 16 – The Plan

    “Ruby, are you all right?” Annie worriedly asked as she examined her injured foot.

    Seeing that her toes were swelling up, Ada went to get an ice pack from the fridge. She returned and gently placed the cold compress on Ruby’s right foot. “What did Tae want?”

    “That lunatic wants me to get ready in ten minutes to go shopping with him! It’s freaking 5 a.m.! What store would open this early?!”

    “I wonder why he keeps on pinpointing you to do all these tasks. I mean, he has people lining up to do his biddings at the snap of his fingers,” Annie reasoned. “Plus, the two of you don’t exactly get along very well.”

    “Because that egghead is mental, that’s why!” Ruby exclaimed in a fuming tone as she massaged her foot. “I swear, I must be cursed. I can’t even spend one day off in peace. Urghhhhh… he just makes me so mad!”

    “I’m under the same contract as well, but he’s not picking on me. Could it be that he’s still holding a grudge against you for throwing coffee in his face and constantly snubbing him?”

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if he is trying to get even with me. Either way, I’m not going with him.”

    “You’re not?” Annie and Ada questioned in surprised unison.

    “Nope, I’m staying right here.”

    “But… but… he’s going to show up here any minute now,” Ada said in a panicked voice. “What are you going to tell him?”

    Ruby smiled and scooted closer to Ada. “I’m not going to tell him anything.” She patted her friend’s hand with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “You will.”

    “What?! Me?! I don’t know what to say!”

    “Don’t worry. I have a plan,” she said reassuringly.

    “I don’t like that look in your eyes,” Ada warily remarked. “Is this plan of yours going to get us in trouble?”

    “Whatever you have in mind, count me out.” Annie shook her head as she tiredly slumped back against the sofa. “I took a long train ride here, so I don’t have any energy left to deal with one of your wacky ideas.”

    “You two have to help me. I don’t think I can manage spending the entire day beside Tae without punching him in the nose. A person can only endure so much aggravation. Annie, you still owe me for agreeing to attend Sarah Cheng’s wedding reception. Now’s the time to pay up.”

    “But that was ages ago.”

    Ruby narrowed her eyes and directed an angry frown at Annie. Faced with such an intense scrutiny, Annie rolled her eyes and grudgingly agreed. “Oh, fine! I’m in. Anything to get rid of your death stare.”

    Ruby whipped her head to the other side and pleaded in a bleak tone, “Ada, how can you idly sit here and witness your friend being tormented by a sick, hateful man without offering to help? You know how much I loathe being near Tae. And it’s not as though I’m asking you to donate a kidney. Does my suffering mean nothing to you?” she questioned with a dramatic flair.

    “Well… I… but Tae … and… well…” Ada started fidgeting under pressure.

    “Pleasssssssssse!” Ruby was tugging on Ada’s arm. “You gotta help me! Just this once! Come on, have some pity!”

    Ada always had a soft spot when it came to helping others and she really did felt bad for her friend. She knew this assignment had been difficult for Ruby to handle since she was constantly in Tae’s presence. Celebrities can be quite unreasonable sometimes and Ruby was ill fated enough to be the target of such a high profiled pop idol. She heaved a long sigh and reluctantly nodded her head. “Let’s hear this great plan.”

    **********

    Swerving by several pedestrians on his motorcycle, Tae was driving along the streets of Shanghai with a delightful grin on his face. He was definitely in an elevated mood and could just envision Ruby’s upset expression after hanging up on her. She was most likely cursing him to hell right about now. He found it quite weird that she was able to intrigue him in such a way that no other women ever had. With her razor-sharp tongue and comical personality, it was rather thrilling to anticipate what she would do next.

    Initially, he had wanted to teach her a lesson for slighting him. He deliberately sent her to do miscellaneous errands and made sure she accompanied him on tedious shopping sprees. The fact was he hated shopping and considered it a total waste of time, but he also knew those trips to the malls were torturous to her as well. Believing that self-sacrifice was necessary to gain certain goals, he was not so bothered with the idea afterward.

    He nonchalantly leaned against a lamppost, took out a cigarette from his shirt pocket, and lit up the end. After dragging several long puffs, he glanced down at his watch and saw that it was already 5:30. There was still no sign of Ruby. Undoubtedly, she was being stubborn again. He smiled as he had already predicted she would not make this easy for him. It was actually exciting to see what she had up her sleeve. He snubbed out the cigarette and dropped it in a nearby ashtray. Heading straight toward the two-story building, he didn’t even bother to wait for the elevator, but took the stairway.

    **********

    Ada had been anxiously spying near the window overlooking the streets below while Annie helped Ruby get settle into her position. The moment she noticed Tae’s shiny red motorcycle, she immediately exclaimed, “Oh, my goodness! He’s here! He’s here!” She ran into Ruby’s room with a flushed face. “What are we going to do?! What are we going to do?!” She started wringing her fingers and pacing back and forth on the carpet.

    Annie grabbed Ada’s shoulders and lightly shook her. “Calm down. Take deep breaths. Breathe.” She nodded her head and followed the much needed advice. Sitting on a chair near the bed, she slowly inhaled and exhaled to relax her bunched nerves. While she was attempting to compose herself with her breathing exercise, Annie was adjusting the pillows under Ruby’s right foot.

    “I don’t know if this is going to work,” she said while casting a skeptical glance at her friend. “Tae isn’t a fool. He’ll see right through your lies.”

    “Hey, I admit that there’s room for improvement, but so far, this plan is the only one I got. If Ada or you have something better, by all means please share. At this point, I’m open to anything.”

    “I guess it’s too late to change tactics now. We might as well hope for the best.” Annie continued to bind Ruby’s foot with long strips of cloth. “With any luck, Ada will survive this ordeal. She’s practically having a seizure over there.”

    “I am not having a seizure,” Ada refuted. “I’m just a tad worried, that’s all.” After a short pause, she hopefully inquired, “Ruby, can we forget about this whole thing? You know I’m not very good at lying. I get all tongue-tied and become a nervous wreck.”

    “There is nothing to stress over. All you have to do is say a couple teeny, tiny white lies. Tae would never suspect you of lying. Even if he does, what can he possibly do?”

    “I guess you’re right,” she reluctantly replied.

    “Of course, I’m right. There’s nothing to it. All I ask is for you guys to hang in there until we get rid of the spawn of Satan. It will only take several minutes max.”

    Just when Ada was starting to feel better, the doorbell rang, causing her to jump up from her seat. She took deep breaths and prayed nothing will go wrong. With a slightly paled face, she stated in surprisingly calm voice, “I’m fine. I can do this. Nothing to it. The worst thing that can happen is that I’ll get fired.”

    Annie led Ada out of the room. “Oh, don’t be so pessimistic.”

    They opened the door and met Tae’s beaming face. He was casually resting his tall frame against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest and one foot hooked over the other. He was definitely startled to see Annie in the apartment. “Well, this certainly is a pleasant surprise. When did you arrive, Annie?” he asked as he sauntered into the apartment.

    “I just got here a couple minutes ago.”

    “Kevin would be delighted to know you’re in Shanghai. He’s staying at the Somerset Hotel. It’s only a couple miles from here. You should pay him a visit when you have a chance.”

    Annie’s eyes unexpectedly lit up with interest. How could the mere mention of his name have such a strong effect on her? She didn’t want to analyze her feelings at the moment. There were so many questions she wanted to ask Tae, but at the same time, she didn’t want to sound too eager.

    His eyes scanned the small apartment. “By the way, where is Ruby? Is she ready to go?”

    “She isn’t feeling well, so she’s resting in her room,” Ada spoke in an uneasy tone.

    “Really? That’s strange. She sounded perfectly fine on the phone. What’s wrong with her?” he suspiciously inquired.

    The piercing look he directed at her was enough to make her perspire. She had always been a terrible liar when placed under pressure. She could barely think straight, let alone lie through her teeth. “Uh…she… ummm… ankle….uhhhh… sprained.”

    Annie tried to salvage the situation by answering the question. “What Ada is trying to say is that Ruby twisted her ankle yesterday afternoon and the doctor had specifically instructed her to spend a couple days off her feet.”

    He rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger in speculation. “Ahhhh, I see. Is she seriously hurt?”

    “Well, a sprained ankle can be extremely painful, but with plenty of rest, she’ll recover in two to three days.” Annie started to push Tae toward the door. “So, I don’t think she can run errands for you today. She did want us to convey her apology for not being able to go with you. We’ll be sure to tell her you stopped by. You have a safe drive back now.”

    As they approached the door, he whirled around and questioned, “What kind of person would I be without checking up on her first? As long as I’m here, might as well go see her.”

    Before Annie or Ada could stop him, Tae headed straight down the hall toward the bedrooms. He first poked his head into Ada’s room and didn’t see anyone. Then, he proceeded to the next room. Ruby was dressed wearing her white cotton pajamas and reclining comfortably on the bed.
    Her right foot was tightly wrapped with several layers of white cloth and propped on three fluffy pillows. Her hair was placed in a ponytail and there was a healthy glow on her face. She appeared rather vibrant for a person who was supposedly enduring great pain.

    He slowly ambled in with Ada and Annie following close behind. He took a seat on a small chair. “I heard that you met with a little mishap yesterday. How’s your ankle doing?”

    “Oh, it still aches terribly,” she woefully answered. “I can barely stand up.”

    “That bad huh?”

    She peered up with large, forlorn eyes and nodded her head, trying to muster a pitiful look. “Yup. I guess this means I can’t accompany you today. Really sorry about it, Tae. And I was so looking forward to going out too,” she stated in a regretful tone. “It totally sucks to be cooped up inside on a weekend, but if I want to get well soon, I have to follow the doctor’s order.”

    “I totally understand. Don’t worry about it,” he stated empathetically. “Just curious, though. Who examined your ankle? An injury to the joint is not a matter to be taken lightly. I know a couple prominent physicians in Shanghai. Maybe I can have them come over and take a look at your ankle, just to be on the safe side.”

    Ada blanched at Tae’s words and repeatedly poked Annie’s arm in apprehension. She knew this was a bad idea from the beginning. If only Ruby wasn’t so darn stubborn, they could stop this childish nonsense. She gave an inward sigh and wondered how much longer this will take. She had never been so stressed out before in her life.

    Annie also didn’t like how things were progressing. Tae seemed to suspect their story and if Ruby wasn’t careful in answering his questions, their cover would be blown for sure. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. With this whole charade over, she could finally unpack and maybe even take a quick nap before going to meet Mrs. Wong.

    Tae could barely restrain himself from laughing. Pretending to be injured was the last excuse he would expect Ruby to give him. He had to admit, as a spur of the moment plan, it wasn’t exactly a bad one. If Ada wasn’t such an awful liar, he might have fallen for this trick.

    Ruby was on the verge of losing her patience and kicking him out of the apartment. The nerve of that jerk! She was disgusted with the fact that he would waltz into her apartment and act like he really cared about her health, when she knew he was thinking of some sick ploy to torment her. No matter what, she would stick to her plan till the very end. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.

    “I went to see Dr. Ching Yun at the Shanghai Hospital,” she answered. “Certainly, you have heard about him? He’s a respectable podiatrist and quite well known in the field.” She was rather pleased with herself that she could sustain such a cool composure when lying.

    Ada leaned over and whispered into Annie’s ears, “She doesn’t know Dr. Yun. What is she doing?” Annie shrugged and shook her head.

    “What a coincidence. Dr. Yun and Michelle are quite close friends. I haven’t seen him in years. I have been meaning to pay him a visit. We could go see him together and have him check on your ankle again.”

    Ruby was no longer feeling so smug. A sense of frustration started to fuel her temper. “Please, don’t trouble yourself. I’m sure he has a packed schedule. I don’t want you to impose on him because of me.”

    A sparkle flashed in Tae’s eyes as he grinned from ear to ear. “It’s no trouble at all. You and Ada have been such dedicated workers and placed so much effort into the film that I would feel horrible if either one of you gets hurt and I didn’t do anything to help. I’m confident Dr. Yun wouldn’t mind examining you one more time and answering a couple of my questions.”

    She smiled and spoke through clenched teeth, “No, really, I don’t need a second checkup.”

    “It’s the least I could do.”

    She suddenly had the urge to strangle him. “It’s okay. I feel great.”

    He shook his head and said in a firm voice, “It would put my mind at ease if we go see Dr. Yun.”

    Her eyes flared with unrestrained aggression. She unexpectedly reached out to seize the front of his shirt with both hands and roughly yanked him toward her. His face was several inches from her as she uttered in a voice filled with menace, “I repeat, I don’t need to see the doctor. I don’t want to see the doctor. My ankle will completely heal in two to three days and if it doesn’t, I’ll take my chances of being crippled. Now, why don’t you go home and let me get some rest instead of pestering me?!”

    Ada couldn’t bear to watch anymore. She closed her eyes and sadly shook her head. Things were not going well at all.

    Tae blinked several times and smiled again as he gently pulled her hands away from his shirt. He cleared his throat, “Ahem… you certainly sound quite lively for someone with a painful injury.”

    “I have a sprained ankle. I’m not infected with a deadly disease,” she retorted. “Would you rather have me rolling on the ground screaming with agony?”

    “Certainly not. What gave you that silly notion? I’m just worried about your health.” He had on a wounded expression before commenting, “I guess we can skip seeing the doctor if it bothers you so much.”

    Ada and Annie sagged against each other and blew out a sigh of relief that this was finally over. However, his next statement nearly made Ada pass out.

    “Before I forget, I need to see a doctor’s note explaining your condition. I’ll give it to the production manager for you tomorrow. After all, it is company policy that any absences, including sick days, need to have a valid excuse. You have read about it in the company handbook, right?”

    Ruby had never opened the darn book, let alone read the company policy on absences. That book was huge. She looked at Ada for confirmation. Ada had on a helpless expression and gave a slight nod of her head. She had been so nervous that she totally forgot about this policy and failed to mention it.

    “So, Ruby, you got a note?” The room was suddenly filled with complete silence. None of them could think of a valid excuse. It was the exact reaction he had anticipated. “No note, huh? That’s okay. Since I’m free right now, I would be more than happy to go with you to Dr. Yun’s office to get a one signed. If you don’t want to go see him, we could go to any other physician. Your pick,” he generously added.

    “Well, I am feeling a lot better now, so I think I can show up for work tomorrow,” she said with a forced smile. “Therefore, I really don’t need a doctor’s note.”

    “Great! If you’re feeling better, how about you accompany me around the city for a couple hours? I promise it won’t take long.”

    “I still need time to recuperate,” she snapped. “I can’t be skipping around town with an injured foot. I don’t understand why you can’t find someone else. There are plenty of people around here who speak fluent Mandarin and with your super star status, I’m sure you don’t even need to pay them to go with you.”

    His response was to casually lean back against the chair. He slowly took out a folded piece of paper and waved the document in front of her face. “Remember this?”

    She tried to snatch the contract from his fingers, but he was too quick for her. He carefully, placed it back into his pocket and looked at her expectantly. They stared at each other for several long minutes. Finally, she caved. “This better not take long.”

    A smile instantly lit up his face. “It will be over before you know it.” He stood up and attempted to pick her up from the bed.

    She yelped and hastily slapped his hands away. “What the hell are you doing?!” she exclaimed.

    “You said your foot still hurts. So, I’m willing to make the sacrifice and carry you around.”

    “No, thanks! You just keep your hands to yourself!” she declared in a ghastly tone. “Ada, could you get me that metal walking cane in the hallway closet?”

    “Sure.” Ada left and quickly returned holding a silver, metal cane.

    Ruby supported herself using the cane and resentfully scowled at Tae. “Why are you still standing here? I need to change, so kindly remove your body from this room.”

    Her sour response failed to disrupt his jolly mood as he exited the room. A short while later, she limped out of the room wearing a pink tank top and a pair of faded jeans. If looks could kill, he would already be dead. In the living room, Annie handed Ruby her purse and whispered, “Try not to lose your temper. It’s only for a couple hours.” Ruby despondently nodded her head before leaving the apartment with Tae following right behind her.

    **********

    Ruby gaped at shiny red motorcycle parked along the curb. Sitting in a car was one thing, but riding a motorcycle was a totally different issue. She had always considered it a dangerous vehicle. Although not a mathematician, she was darn sure that if there was an accident, the motorcycle along with its passengers would certainly sustain more damage.

    “You have got to be kidding me.” Without a second thought, she promptly whirled around and limped back to the apartment. There was no chance for her to get far. Tae grabbed her arm and pulled her back.

    “Relax. I’ve been driving motorcycles around for years. So far, no major accidents yet.”

    “Surprisingly, that doesn’t make me feel any better.” She attempted to free herself from his steely grip. “Let go of my arm! I’m not getting on that thing!”

    “Don’t worry. I’m a terrific driver.”

    She snorted in disbelief. “Uh-uh, ain’t gonna happen. I draw the line at having to endanger my life.” She kept trying to pull away and he kept tugging her back. “Will you quit that?! I’m not a yo-yo!”

    “Just trust me for once, will you?” He didn’t wait for her response and took her cane away. There were three locks on the stick that allowed the user to fold it into a compact size. After placing it in the compartment under the seat, he slapped one of the helmets on her head and tightened the strap under her chin.

    “Are you listening to me, Tae Leung?! I said I’m not going! Which part of no don’t you understand?!”

    As usual, her heated statements were ignored. He effortlessly picked her up and dropped her on the seat. Before she knew it, he had already turned on the ignition. Fearing for her life as he sped down the streets, she promptly wrapped her arms around his chest. Using his body as anchor, she held on for dear life…

  18. #18
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 17 – Face To Face

    After Ruby left with Tae, Ada decided to help Annie unpack at her new place. Mrs. Wong had kindly agreed for Annie to stay at the Wong’s spacious one bedroom apartment that no one was using. It was located only five miles from Ada and Ruby, so Annie was thrilled to take up the offer. Three hours later, they were finally done with all the cleaning, dusting, and unpacking.

    “Thanks so much for your help, Ada. It would probably have taken me the entire day to get settled in.”

    “No problem at all. Glad I could help out,” she replied while adjusting a picture frame on the wall. Stepping down from the chair, she turned around and accidentally knocked a black jewelry box off the nearby table. Two gold rings, a thin platinum necklace, and a bracelet spilled out and landed on the soft carpet.

    Annie ignored her other jewelry and rushed over to pick up the bracelet with an alarmed look on her face. She carefully checked for damages and was relieved to find none.

    “I’m so sorry, Annie. It’s not broken, is it?” Ada asked as she gathered the rings and necklace from the floor.

    “That’s all right. No harm done.” She gave it one last inspection before gently placing it back in the box.

    “What a unique bracelet. The dragonfly looks almost lifelike. It must be a gift from someone special for you to be so concerned about it.”

    “Nobody special. Just a present from a friend.”

    “Oh? A guy friend or a girl friend?”

    “Does it matter?”

    “Of course.” Her eyes gleamed with a keen understanding as she nudged Annie in the stomach with her elbow. “I bet it came from a very handsome gentleman. Do I know him?”

    Annie looped her arm around Ada’s arm and guided her toward the door. She cocked her head to the side and said, “You are starting to sound more and more like Ruby. It’s not good to be so nosy.”

    “I’m a journalist. It’s my nature to be inquisitive. So give me the scoop on this guy you’re dating.”

    “Ada! I’m not dating anyone.”

    “Not yet, but that could soon change.”

    Annie shook her head at her friend. Her lips remained sealed.

    “Okay, I see that I won’t be able to weasel any information out of you today.”

    Annie grinned and changed the subject. “I’m hungry. Go with me to get breakfast. I heard there is this great café down the streets. You want to try it out?”

    “You know I never turn down food.”

    After a short walk, they arrived at the crowded café and managed to get a small table near the window. “How’s everything going at the production site? Any trouble with the filming schedule so far?”

    “Luckily, everything is flowing along at a smooth pace. I already went through a couple tapes of the documentary we filmed and things appear to be in great shape.”

    “That’s wonderful.” Annie suddenly sighed. “The sooner this project is over, the sooner I can put my mind at ease. I just hate seeing Ruby so unhappy.”

    “Tell me about it. It’s been over a month, but she is still bickering with Tae. I get so stressed out every time I’m around them. You can’t really blame her though. He appears to really enjoy infuriating her.”

    They continued through the meal in friendly conversation. It felt nice to see her friend again. Ruby and Ada’s long absence from Hong Kong was sorely missed. “Well, I better head back,” Ada said as she took one last sip from her coffee. “I still need to edit some of the footage we recorded this week.” She stood up and buttoned up her coat.

    “You barely touched your food. You are working way too hard. It’s Sunday. Take the day off.”

    “I’d love to, but I can’t relax until I make sure all the tapes are edited. Do you need me to go back with you?”

    “No, I can find my way back. I’ll drop by around seven. Ruby should return by then and we can all have dinner together.”

    “Perfect. I’ll see you later.” Ada gave Annie a quick hug before rushing off.

    After gathering her jacket and purse, Annie exited the café and slowly wandered along the crowded streets. The weather was quite chilly, but the cold air felt good against her cheeks. Without Ada by her side, she started thinking about Kevin again. A strong sense of longing seemed to overwhelm her. She was starting to grow more confused with her feelings.

    When the chance to cater Melissa Wong’s wedding came up, she was thrilled. She tried to fool herself into thinking the reason for her excitement was the high profits involved. Her expenses were compensated, plus she had the opportunity to travel around a new city. Yet those were just excuses. In actuality, the idea of being in Shanghai and only a couple miles away from him was the main reason for her decision to travel so far up north.

    “What would you say if I really did ask you to be my girlfriend … I never take back what I give out. Ever… A smart woman like you should have a clear understanding of my feelings for you….”

    Those words circulated in her mind ever since he left Hong Kong. She kept asking herself how a man she had only met a couple times could leave such a deep impact on her. She knew practically nothing about him. The rational side of her brain said stop, but the romantic side kept saying go. There were many times when she wanted to call him, but ended up refraining herself. Now, she was so close to him that logic was momentarily pushed aside. She abruptly stopped walking and searched for a taxi. Seeing an oncoming cab, she waved her hand and it halted in front of her. She opened the door and stepped into the vehicle.

    “Where to, miss?”

    “Somerset Hotel please.”

    Fifteen minutes late, she stood staring up at one of the most magnificent buildings she had ever seen. With the outer walls made entirely of glass, the bright beams of sunlight were able to create a luminous glow that would surely catch anyone’s attention. What was most striking was a gorgeous flower-filled garden positioned in front of a stone fountain. Everything was perfectly positioned to give off a classic atmosphere.

    She approached the entrance and a bellboy opened the door for her. If the exterior was considered grand, the interior was simply magnificent. The floor was completely lined with cream-colored Italian marble and polished to the extent that she could see her reflection. The lights and beautiful chandeliers succeeded in emitting an air of elegance that she found breathtaking.

    “May I help you, miss?”

    Startled, she whirled around and met with a pair of questioning eyes belonging to a man in his late thirties. She glanced up and noticed his nametag with the words Manager Zhou boldly imprinted on the white plastic.

    “Yes, I’m looking for a friend. I heard he’s currently staying at this hotel. His name is Kevin Cheng.”

    “Oh, Mr. Cheng. He’s staying in one of our luxury suites.”

    A cheerful smile brightened her face. “Could you please tell him that Annie Man is here to see him?”

    “I’m sorry, but he’s not in right now. I saw him leaving early this morning. Would you like to wait in the lounge?”

    Manager Zhou could see the disappointment in her expressive eyes as she answered in a saddened voice, “No, that’s all right.”

    “May I take a message?”

    “There’s no message. Thank you for your help.”

    “You’re welcome. But are you sure you don’t want to leave a message? Mr. Cheng should be back soon.”

    She lightly shook her head and turned to leave. She paused outside the building, feeling relieved, yet at the same time, disheartened at her luck. It was probably for the best, she mentally consoled herself. It was a foolish thing to come here in the first place. She had spent years trying to establish order back into her life. Adding a relationship now would only complicate things. She should stop indulging in immature adolescent fantasies. After one last glance back at the hotel, she slowly walked away.

    **********

    Kevin was standing on the rooftop of an old abandon building that was scheduled to be demolished in a couple days. “Long time no see.” The cheerful greeting came from behind him. He turned away from the busy city life below and stared at the face he hadn’t seen in two years. The young man was casually dressed in a pair of old jeans and a thick jacket, but the plainness of his clothes failed to diminish his arresting presence. His dark jovial eyes had always given people the impression that he could easily be one’s best friend. Few were able to get a glimpse of the darkness hidden behind them.

    Kevin hugged the man who had worked side by side with him when he was still a police officer. Pulling back, he lightly punched his friend in the arm. “You’re late, Peter. As always.”

    Peter Lai gave a throaty laugh. “This coming from the King of Tardiness?”

    “I need a favor.”

    “You disappear on me for two years and the first thing you ask is a favor? No, how are you doing, what have you been up to, did you lose any weight? It would be nice to know that I’ve been missed.”

    “How are you doing? What have you been up to? Did you lose any weight?”

    Peter popped a piece of chewing gum in his mouth and grinned. “I’m doing very well. Just recently opened another electronic shop. Drop by when you have the time. Business is booming, so all those extra hours have actually caused me to shed a couple pounds. Thanks for asking. So, what do you want?”

    He wasted no time and jumped right to the main issue. “Have you heard of Jeng’s Antiques store?”

    “Damn! I knew it. Every time you call me out, it’s nothing good. If it’s not pull up this guy’s background for me, it’s gather info on some gang leaders. Being your friend is proving to be a pain in the ***,” he remarked with a peeved expression.

    Kevin shrugged. “You’re the best at this type of job, so of course I have to come to you.”

    “I’ve been hearing that kind of hollow compliments for years. Do you have any new lines?”

    “Why come up with new lines when you’ll give me the info anyway?”

    “I should start charging you one of these day,” he grumbled while chewing his gum. “I must have owed you something in my past life to be sticking my neck out for you so many times.”

    “Do you have any info on Jeng’s Antiques or not?”

    “Always so impatient,” he uttered with a sigh. “You didn’t hear this from me, but word on the street is that Old Man Jeng is somehow connected to the Red Scale Gang. Something you might also find interesting is that Marty is also in Shanghai.”

    The only reaction Kevin made was a slight tightening of his jaw. “So, that bastard didn’t die after all.”

    “I’m sure you heard about Dragon by now. If he managed to survive, it’s no surprise Marty is still alive. I just heard about him last week and was quite shocked myself,” he revealed. Suddenly, no longer in a joking mood, Peter cautioned in worried voice, “If I were you, I’d turn around and take the first flight back to Hong Kong. You’re in way over your head, Kev. We were able to catch them by surprise last time, but they learned from their mistakes. They’re a ruthless bunch of *******s and if they find out you’re Black Hawk, your throat will be slit before you know it.”

    “I can’t leave now. Not when I’m getting so close to Dragon.”

    “You’re no longer a cop,” Peter protested. “You don’t have to be involved this time.”

    “Thanks for the warning, but I’m not going to watch the man responsible for my brother’s death continue to harm other people.” Painful memory assailed Kevin once again. “If it wasn’t for those illegal dealings, Ricky would still be alive today.”

    Peter grimly stared ahead. “Marty may be in Shanghai, but there’s no guarantee that Dragon is here. He may be staying somewhere else.”

    “Dragon likes to be in control. He has to be in a position where he can maintain power over the major operations. Shanghai is currently his primary interest, so he has to be here,” he stated dispassionately. He paused before continuing. “But it doesn’t matter whether he is or not. I’ll make him show himself sooner or later.” He glanced over at Peter. “One more question. How is Tom Ng associated with Jeng?”

    “All I know is that Ng has been purchasing an obscene amount of antiques from that store,” Peter replied. “For what reasons, I don’t know. Jeng is seldom seen at the store though. If my sources are correct, he often disappears for a fortnight and then shows up out of nowhere. That’s all I got for you.”

    “Thank you, Peter. I appreciate your help.”

    “It’s not like you to be so polite.” The younger man’s lips started to curve at the corners. “Take care of yourself, Kev. So far, Lady Luck has been on your side, but that won’t always be the case. You damn well better not make me attend your funeral.”

    He smiled as he gave Peter several pats on the back. “Don’t worry. It’s not something I have planned for the near future.”

    He watched as Peter took the staircase down. They have known each other for close to seven years, but it certainly felt like a lifetime. He was a genius when it came to anything relating to electronics. He can practically crack any set of codes given to him. His specialty was disarming security systems and had worked with the police department to solve countless cases.

    After Ricky died, Kevin relentlessly went after Dragon with the sole intent for revenge. His perseverance finally paid off when he found out that they were planning a major cocaine deal on a large ship at midnight. He and a small group of men from his unit smuggled themselves on the ship and attempted to apprehend Dragon and his followers. However, nobody was aware of the explosives being carried on the ship. During the struggle, someone accidentally shot at several barrels holding the gunpowder and caused a huge explosion. Several men from Kevin’s unit perished and many were severely wounded, including Peter. The explosion had sent shattered glass and debris slicing through his chest and limbs. He was placed in the Intensive Care Unit for several days before he woke up.

    The bodies of Dragon and his right hand man, Marty Liang, were nowhere to be found. Everyone assumed they got blown up along with the ship. Peter was starting to grow weary of living such a dangerous life. Kevin could not forget his brother’s death. He still blamed himself for failing to save Ricky. Both men decided to resign.

    Kevin released a trouble sigh as he descended the stairs and headed back to the hotel. He didn’t want to involve Peter in this case, but he was getting restless waiting for Stephan’s report. This will be the last time he would contact his friend.

    **********

    “Mr. Cheng, so good to see you back,” Manager Zhou greeted.

    “Good morning, Manager Zhou.” Kevin nodded back as he walked by the manager.

    After a moment of contemplation, Manager Zhou called out, “Oh, Mr. Cheng.”

    Kevin halted in his steps and turned around. “Yes?”

    “Earlier this morning, a pretty young lady came in asking to see you. Since you weren’t here, she left without leaving a message.”

    “Did you catch her name?”

    “Miss Annie Man, sir.”

    Shock flickered across his features, followed by a feeling of exhilaration. Annie was in Shanghai? Could it really be true? He immediately seized the manager’s arm and questioned in an anxious voice, “Are you sure she said Annie Man? What did she look like?”

    The manager was startled by Kevin’s abrupt movement and hastily answered, “Yes, I specifically remembered she said her name was Annie Man. She had shoulder length black hair and was quite petite in size. Her eyes were rather large and expressive.”

    “Where did she go?!”

    “I don’t know, sir. She left before I could ask her. But I saw her heading north, toward the marketplace.”

    He released his hold on Manager Zhou’s arm and raced out of the hotel. Joy surged through him as he scanned the area looking for Annie. His gaze flew left and right, but she was nowhere in sight. Even after an hour of searching, he still refused to give up and tirelessly continued running around. He suddenly thought of Ruby. If Annie was actually in Shanghai, Ruby would be the first person to know. He drew his phone from his pocket and punched in several numbers.

    He impatiently waited for her to answer, but was met with a voice message. “Damn!” he cursed under his breath. He tried Ada’s number, but was also met with her voice message. “What’s wrong with these people?!”

    At that moment, he spotted a woman with short black hair pulled into a ponytail walking ahead. She wore a jacket similar to the one Annie had on before. Hope surged through him as he dashed over and grabbed her shoulder. “Annie!” She turned around and his expression changed. He dropped his hand and apologized. “Terribly sorry, miss. From behind, you resemble a friend of mine.”

    “That’s all right.”

    He aimlessly roamed the streets, still trying to seek out the face that had consumed his heart. Where was she? Could she have already left the area? He knew he was acting like a lovesick schoolboy with his first crush, but was helpless to stop himself. His eyes kept shifting over the numerous people around him. The ray of hope he felt earlier was now gone. They were so close, yet so far away. He lowered his head with a sullen expression.

    Glancing up, he noticed he was a couple feet from a toy store. He was about to return back to the hotel, when a figure in his peripheral vision caught his attention. He moved his head to the right and could barely believe his eyes. Standing a mere twenty feet away was Annie. Her attention was occupied with a small white kitten in a pet store.

    Seconds ticked by and turned into minutes. His face was filled with pure elation as he stood rooted to the ground, intently studying her profile. He was afraid to move for fear that she was just another one of his illusions. Any slight movement and she would vanish from his sight. Had it only been one month? It sure felt like they had been separated for years. His surroundings seemed to have disappeared. All sounds had gone silent to his ears. She was the only thing that mattered.

    Annie felt someone was looking at her. She slowly turned to the left and saw Kevin. Her mouth gradually lifted into a heart-stopping smile as she stood staring back at him. Her face was filled with happiness as her eyes slowly took in his presence. Even in casual workout clothes, he still managed to look so dashing. Time seemed to stand still as they gazed at each other. Finally, she took the first step, which instigated him to meet her halfway.

    “Hi,” she murmured, suddenly nervous. She wondered how she looked. Was her hair in place? Did she have too much makeup on?

    “Hello, Annie,” he said with a lopsided grin. An indescribable feeling overcame him. There were so many things he wanted to say that he didn’t know where to start. Her appearance hasn’t changed since he last saw her in Hong Kong, but somehow, she seemed lovelier than ever.

    “How have you been, Kevin?”

    “Good. And you?”

    “I’m doing quite well. I just landed a job catering and planning a wedding.”

    “That’s terrific. So, how long will you be staying in Shanghai?”

    “Three months. Once the wedding is over, I’ll return to Hong Kong.”

    He was more than thrilled to hear this news. He had thought that this mission would separate him from Annie, but now, all that had changed. She would be by his side for three wondrous months. It was proving to be a great day. “I’m assuming you’re getting a hefty paycheck?”

    “Of course. In addition to the extra cash, I’ll also get the opportunity to gain more business contacts if I do a good job. Besides, I can visit Ruby and Ada while I’m here.”

    “An entrepreneur to the bone, eh?”

    She giggled at his mocked frown. “It is my dream to open a restaurant one day. So, I have to work extra hard in order to reach my goal. Money isn’t going to miraculously fly into my hands.”

    “Maybe you should take the easy way out and marry a rich husband,” he teased.

    She tilted her head to the side and sighed. “I would, but sadly, no one is offering for my hand in marriage. I guess I’ll have to make my money the old fashion way. Earning it myself. If I’m going to become an old spinster, at least I’ll be an old spinster with money.”

    He laughed at her response. “I’m positive there is a long line of men waiting to offer you marriage. Could it be that you’re just picky?”

    Her face scrunched up as she pondered over that idea, then she shook her head and replied, “Nope. Don’t think so. I’m a very easy going person.”

    “Well, in that case, would you mind freeing some time to have lunch with me?”

    “You must have important business matters on hand. I don’t want to bother you.”

    “For you, I’m available the entire day.”

    He really had a way of sweet talking to women. She felt her cheeks warming up and was suddenly very aware of his closeness. She forgot how strongly his presence affected her. Already, she was feeling intoxicated.

    Before she could refuse, he pulled out his cell phone and started dialing. “Hello Manager Zhou, this is Kevin Cheng.” He glanced up at the street signs. “I’m located at the corner of Corral and Kress Street. I need to have my car brought over immediately. Thank you.”

    He turned off his phone and smiled at her. He really had a way of charming a woman. “We’ll have to wait a couple minutes.”

    “You really didn’t have to do that.”

    “Well, think of this as a favor. You can pay for lunch.”

    “That seems fair. When I have my own restaurant, feel free to drop by any time you want. Since you have been so nice about giving me a ride, I’ll give you a small discount on the meals.”

    “What? I don’t get to eat for free?” he questioned in an appalled tone.

    “Free?” She furrowed her eyebrows in astonishment. “That word is definitely not in my vocabulary. Consider yourself lucky on the discount. I don’t give it out to just anybody.”

    “In that case, I will definitely wait to collect on this magnanimous offer.”

    “It’s probably going to be awhile though. I’m still trying to save up.”

    “If you need any financial help, let me know. I can lend you some money.”

    “Thanks, but I want to do this on my own,” she stated with determination. “And you shouldn’t be so quick to lend people money. Not to cast bad luck on myself, but what happens if my business fails and I can’t pay you back? I could grab everything and split before you know it. Then, the creditors will come after you once they find out you were involved with my business. The police will call you in and interrogate you on fraud. Your face will be plastered on the front covers of the tabloids. You’ll be hounded by the paparazzi everywhere you go and all hell will break loose,” she dramatically concluded.

    Listening to her, his shoulders started to shake with unrestrained hilarity. She was so cute when she became all crazed up. Her lively imagination was quite adorable. The fact that she could envision such an extreme scenario on the whim was admirable.

    “I fail to find anything funny.” There was a disapproving expression on her face as she perched her hands on her hips. “It could happen, you know.”

    “Of course, it could,” he choked out. Noticing her dark frown, he tried to stop laughing. He coughed and said, “I’m sure the paparazzi have much better targets to pursue. Chasing me around for information on fraud will probably be the last thing on their list.” He chuckled again before adding humorously, “However, I’ll remember to get some type of collateral from you before I lend you money. Just to save myself in the unlikely case that you do try to bankrupt me.”

    “What kind of collateral?”

    “Why don’t you make a guess?”

    At that moment, a silver BMW convertible appeared from the corner and stopped a couple feet away. The driver handed Kevin the keys. “Here’s your car, Mr. Cheng. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

    “No. Thank you for your help.”

    “You’re very welcome, sir.”

    He held out the door for her. Once she was settled in the seat, he went to the driver’s side and turned on the ignition.

  19. #19
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 18 – Mocha Tapioca Drink

    Annie was staring out the car window as Kevin pointed out various different attractions to her. He gave brief descriptions of the buildings and famous statues. Surprisingly, there was little traffic on the road and the drive went smoothly. She scarcely noticed the scenic views of the city. Instead, her attention was entirely focused on Kevin. The manner of his speech, the way his eyes light up when he thought of something amusing to tell her, and how his silly grins could prompt her to go breathless. She really did miss him.

    She finally forced herself to stop concentrating on him. It was not good for her peace of mind. Staring out at the passing buildings, something caught her eyes. “Stop the car!”

    He slammed on the brake and the car came to a screeching halt, causing both of them to lunge forward. He immediately turned to her and worriedly asked, “What is it?!”

    “Sorry, I just wanted to check out the art gallery I saw.” She cheerfully opened the door and rushed back toward the store.

    “Annie, wait for me! Let me find a parking space first!” He searched around for a place to park and found an empty slot on the curb. She had already entered the store by the time he stepped out of the car. There were many paintings of different genres and techniques on display. He finally located her in the far corner of the room, intently studying a watercolor image of a sunset in the woods.

    Her face shone with a sense of contentment as her eyes absorbed the illustration. He silently stood behind her and noticed that it was titled Ray of Light. The painter was anonymous. The sweeping view of natural trees and mountains was painted in a way that created a realistic illusion. What was most spectacular was the radiant orange-red sunset peeking over the horizon. The leaves on the trees along with the blades of grass seemed to rustle within the lifelike picture. Although a simple scene, there was a mystical feeling of man being united with nature.

    She broke the silence by saying, “This is a duplicate. I saw the original once when I was twelve. It was the first time my parents took me to an art exhibit,” she revealed while still consumed with the image. “My mother loved sunsets. She always told me that no matter what happened during the day, no matter how bad you feel at the end of the day, tomorrow will always come. My parents believed that a new day was the chance for a fresh start and you should always smile when you wake up in the morning.”

    “They sound like wonderful parents as well.” The wistful way she stared at the picture and the poignant sound of her voice made him want to somehow soothe away her sadness.

    “Yes. I remember during the summer, my father would take us out to the beach every weekend. I love holding their hands while walking along the shore. Somehow, it made me feel so… safe. After they passed away, paintings of sunsets would remind me of them. Yet this painting holds a special meaning for me. I don’t know why, but seeing it makes me feel like I still have them by my side.” She gave a low laugh filled with little mirth. “I know it’s a silly notion.”

    “It’s only natural that you miss your parents and want to have some kind of connection with them.”

    “I tried to locate the original version, but the museum that previously owned it said they placed it up for auction and can’t disclose the buyer’s name. I just want to see it one more time. Even for one minute, it would be enough.”

    He thoughtfully regarded the painting and vaguely remembered seeing it somewhere before. “Are you hungry, Kevin?” He snapped out of his thoughts at the sudden question. “Huh?”

    “We’ve been driving around for awhile now and I’m starting to get hungry.”

    “There is this terrific restaurant only a couple miles away from here. I’ve wanted to try out the food there after I heard the great reviews they received. Want to go?”

    Half an hour later, Kevin was beginning to regret his selection of this particular restaurant. It was small and crowded. He was discreetly trying to breathe through his mouth while swallowing a sliver of the most foul smelling beancurd he had ever eaten. Miraculously, he was able to maintain a decent facial expression as he finished the tiny portion on his plate. Placed on the table were dishes filled with deep fried stinky tofu, garlic covered steamed fish, string beans with onions, and sticky rice reeking of a foreign odor that he couldn’t identify. To top everything off, Annie had ordered fresh durian for dessert. He had always hated the putrid stench of durian.

    The food was prepared in a way that gave off the pungent smell of the ingredients to the extreme level. Certain people, like Kevin, could not stand or enjoy the strong tastes, but Annie was the total opposite. She was happily gobbling down the food at a record speed.

    “Gosh, these dishes are so tasty!” she mumbled with a mouth half filled with string beans. “You barely touched your food, Kevin. What’s wrong? You don’t like it?”

    He was desperately attempting to control himself and not throw up in front of her. “I’m not very hungry. I had a huge breakfast.” He didn’t want to tell her that the food stinks, literally.

    “So, what do you think of the food?” she inquired.

    “Delicious,” he managed to utter.

    “I knew you would like it.” She picked up a napkin and wiped her mouth. “I need to go wash my hands. I’ll be right back.”

    The moment she was out of sight, he immediately started gagging and fanning himself with his hands. “Oh, my God! I think I’m going to be sick. How the hell can anyone eat these things?” he quietly mumbled. Seeing Annie walking back to their table, he immediately took a huge gulp of air and tried to compose himself.

    Sitting back down, she picked up two remaining pieces of fried tofu with her chopsticks and placed them on his plate. “Why don’t you finish these, Kevin? It’s a waste to throw away two small pieces. You did say they’re delicious.” There was an expectant look on her face as she waited for him.

    “No, that’s okay. I’m rather full.”

    She shoved the plate closer to him. “Eat them,” she stated commandingly.

    He was getting goose bumps just by staring at the two offending yellow lumps. He gingerly picked up the tofu with his chopsticks and hesitated for a split second before placing it in his mouth. It was a struggling task to keep from spitting the tofu out. With one down, there was one more to go. Unfortunately, there was a limit to how much his stomach can tolerate. It was halfway down his esophagus before it was forced back up the pipe. The odorous chunk fell back on his plate as he started coughing and reaching for his glass of ice tea.

    “Serves you right for lying to me,” she admonished while patting him on his back. “You should have told me the truth that you don’t like the food. We could have eaten somewhere else. Are you all right?”

    He emptied his glass and shook his head. “Don’t worry. I’m fine now.” He coughed a couple more times before saying, “I thought I was doing a pretty good job on keeping a straight face.”

    “Then, you better check a mirror next time. It was quite obvious. Plus, I saw you gagging and fanning your face,” she pointed out with a peevish look.

    He gave an embarrassed laugh. “You were enjoying the food so much that I didn’t want to ruin your meal.”

    “I could have taken it back home and eat it.”

    If she had taken the food to go, then he wouldn’t have the chance to spend lunchtime with her. He would gladly endure the stench for the rest of the day if he could keep Annie by his side. “I don’t mind.”

    “Next time, if you don’t like something, tell me.”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    She chuckled at his goofy expression. She started licking her lips as she spotted the waitress carrying a platter with two large bowls of fresh durian. “Oh, here comes dessert.” After the waitress placed the bowls on the table, she grabbed her spoon and plowed right into the soft, fleshy part of the fruit. She glanced up and saw the dreaded look on Kevin’s face. “Don’t tell me you don’t like durian.”

    “Actually, I absolutely abhor durian. Can’t stand the smell.”

    “Well, in that case, you mind giving me your portion?” She was already reaching for his bowl before he could answer.

    “Not at all,” he replied.

    After finishing dessert, she leaned back and released a blissful sigh. “That was good. You don’t know what you’re missing.”

    “Do you want more?”

    “Nah, I’m full. Let’s go.”

    She followed him as he went to the cashier. Pulling out his wallet, he asked, “How much for table number six?”

    “Your friend has already paid.”

    He turned around and saw Annie’s smug look. “I agreed lunch was on me.” She walked pass him and exited the restaurant. He grinned as he caught up with her. On the drive back to the studio, she suddenly had a craving for a tapioca drink. The closest store selling the drink didn’t have parking spaces for cars. So, Kevin had to leave Annie in the car half a block away from the store.

    While she was waiting for him to return, she heard a woman’s distressful cries. “Let go of me! It’s over between us!”

    Annie curiously turned her head around and saw a tall, brawny man holding on to a young woman in her early twenties. The woman was struggling to free her arms from his tight grasp and appeared very upset. The familiar scene sent her mind reeling with pains from the past.

    “Give me another chance, Yuet,” the man pleaded. “It was just a one night stand. You know how much I love you.”

    “That’s what you said last time, Xian. If you really love me, you wouldn’t keep cheating on me. I’ve had it this time. I already agreed to marry Jeng. We’re leaving for Australia tomorrow.”

    Upon hearing this disturbing news, he grabbed her shoulders and violently shook her. “I knew there was something going on between the two of you! How can you do this to me?! I won’t let you run off with that bastard!”

    Yuet broke free of his grip and shoved him away. “I am tired of your lies and deceits. Our relationship is over. Why can’t you get it through your mind that I don’t love you anymore?”

    She started to walk away, but he roughly yanked her back and slapped her across the face. The force of the blow left a red handprint on her cheek. “You ungrateful, greedy ****! After everything that I’ve done for you, I can’t believe you’re ditching me for another man.” He sneered at her. “You’re after his money, aren’t you? You shameless gold digger! You have always looked down on me because of my poor background.”

    He was going hysterical as he slapped her again, knocking her to the ground. When Annie saw him raising his foot with the intention of kicking Yuet, she ran over to help the young woman. She grabbed the man by the hair and jerked him away. She kicked him behind one knee, causing him to fall on the hard ground. Annie helped the other woman up and glared at the man lying on the ground.

    Momentarily dazed at the unexpected attack from behind, he shook his head to clear his vision and scowled up. “Who the hell are you?”

    Annie could see his eyes were filled with an intense anger. “It doesn’t matter who I am. You should be ashamed of yourself for striking a defenseless woman.”

    “Mind your own business, *****!”

    “What if I don’t want to mind my own business?”

    Xian’s eyes glazed with uncontrollable rage. He leaped to his feet and lunged toward Annie. She swiftly jumped out of his reach and gave him a hard kick in the back, propelling him to the ground again. He slowly stood up and swung his fists at her. However, her small framed enabled her to dance away from him with ease. His fists repeatedly aimed for her face, but she skillfully dodged the blows. Deciding to end her defense, she balled up her right hand and deftly landed a punch across the left side of his face. She grabbed his right arm and jerked it behind his back. Throwing her full weighting against his frame, she managed to pin him against the brick wall.

    “Not all women are powerless creatures for scums like you to beat up. You slept with other women and you have the audacity to call her names and hit her?!” Annie twisted Xian’s hand, causing him to yell out. “You rotten, spineless pig!”

    Yuet rushed over and tried to end the violence. “Miss, I thank you for your help. I’m sure Xian has learned his lesson and won’t bother me anymore. Please, let him go.”

    “It’s a good thing you have a forgiving ex-girlfriend.” She released her hold on him. Turning around, Annie noticed that Yuet’s cheeks were swollen from the slaps she received. “I think you better go home and place an icepack on your face.”

    Yuet’s eyes suddenly widened with alarm. “Watch out!” she exclaimed. Annie whirled around in time to see a flash of steel rapidly moving toward her. She arched to the side, but was a split second too slow. The razor-sharp knife sliced the side of her waist, piercing through her jacket and leaving a thin, bloody cut. She fell down in bewilderment. Yuet screamed again as the knife headed straight at Annie.

    The blade came within a couple inches of Annie’s heart when it was abruptly wrenched out of Xian’s hand. Kevin threw the knife aside as he repeatedly slammed his fists against Xian’s stomach. He proceeded to smash his knee against the other man’s chest several times before kicking him across the face. Hauling the half conscious man up by the front of his shirt, Kevin sent his fist crashing into Xian’s face.

    His face was livid with fury as he spoke in a dangerously low voice. “If you ever hurt another woman again, I will make sure you won’t have any fingers left. Do I make myself absolutely clear?”

    Xian’s face was now swollen and bloody. He made an effort to nod his head, but his neck was too stiff to move.

    “Answer me when I speak to you,” Kevin ordered with an ominous expression.

    “Y…yyy… yyes,” the man stuttered as his whole body shook with fear.

    “Now, apologize to the ladies.”

    “Sorry, Yuet. Sorry… um…”

    “Annie.”

    “I’m sorry, Annie,” Xian uttered through his crack lips.

    Without warning, Kevin released Xian, causing him to stumble and collapse on the ground. “Get the hell out of my sight,” he said in a voice filled with disgust.

    Xian slowly staggered away hugging his stomach as Kevin darted over to Annie to check on her wound. She grimaced when he gently picked her up and carried her over to the car with Yuet trailing behind them.

    “Are you all right miss? I’m so sorry for what happened.”

    “I’m fine. You should return home and start packing. That guy doesn’t appear like the type that would quietly walk away from a relationship.”

    “I already have my belongings packed and ready to go. I want to thank you again for your help.”

    “You’re welcome.”

    She waved goodbye and hurried off. Kevin removed his keys from his pocket to unlock the glove compartment. He took out a first aid kit and opened the box. He rummaged around to find a couple packets of alcohol wipes and a large band-aid.

    “Let me see that cut.” She moved her body to allow him a better view of her wound. He pushed aside her jacket and pulled her shirt over the cut to examine it. He released a sigh of relief to see that it wasn’t too deep. “Luckily, you had that jacket for a barrier. Otherwise, the knife would have penetrated much deeper.”

    He ripped open the alcohol wipes and cleaned up the blood. She flinched from the stinging pain. He instantly stopped wiping. “Sorry. Am I being too rough?”

    “No, I’m okay. I can take it from here. Could you hand me the band-aid?”

    He placed the band-aid in her hand and watched her placed it over the cut. “I’m taking you to the doctor for a checkup.”

    “What?! No, I feel perfectly fine. There’s no need to make a big deal.”

    “You don’t know where that knife has been. We’re going and no butts about it.”

    He had already shifted the car into gear. Annie was feeling exhausted, so she didn’t object to his decision. She saw the dark frown creasing his forehead. She sensed that something was bothering him. Her front teeth softly bit into her lip. “What’s wrong? You look like you’re about to punch somebody in the face again.”

    He didn’t answer her, but remained silent for several minutes. She shrugged and returned to staring at the vending stands and people on the sidewalks. Out of nowhere, he startled her by angrily exclaiming, “That guy was nearly twice your size! How could you have been so reckless?!”

    “Well, I can’t just stand around and watch a vulnerable woman being abused without doing something to help,” she calmly answered.

    “You should have waited for me.”

    “By the time you get back, she would have been beaten to a bloody pulp. That guy was crazy.”

    “Must you have an excuse for everything?”

    “Yes,” she responded in a matter-of-fact tone. “Are you mad at me?”

    He had on an exasperated look. “No, I’m not mad. Just promise me you’ll be more cautious next time.”

    “I promise.” She stuck out her hand and started wiggling her fingers. “Oh yeah, where’s my drink?”

    “How can you think of food at a time like this?”

    “I can never turn down food? Where’s my drink?” she persistently asked.

    “There was such a long line that I decided to go someplace else.”

    Hearing that he didn’t have her mocha tapioca drink, she gloomily slumped back against the seat. Seeing her unhappy pout, he made a sharp turn and drove to another store selling tapioca drinks. He parked under a tree and said, “Unless the car catches on fire and is on the verge of exploding, wait here until I return.”

    “Yes, I know. Hurry up.”

    Several minutes later, Kevin came back to the car holding a large cup of mocha tapioca and noticed that Annie was sound asleep. He settled in his seat and placed the drink in the cup holder. He took off his jacket and carefully draped it over her. Not wanting to wake her up, he decided to take her to the hospital later. He brushed aside several strands of hair from her cheeks and just sat there, gazing at her. He watched, fascinated as the sunlight dance on her features and made her appeared even more engaging.

    He slowly leaned in and tenderly pressed his lips against her forehead. She was in such a deep slumber that the soft kiss failed to wake her up. He smiled as he had hopelessly fallen under her spell. Her bright, spirited eyes possessed an almost heavenly allure that he couldn’t resist and didn’t want to resist. How easily she seemed to affect him without even knowing it.

    When he saw the knife plunging toward Annie, a disturbing, almost savage sensation ripped through him. He had wanted to strangle that man with his bare hands. He must find a way to ensure her safety while she stayed in Shanghai. The mere thought of Annie being harmed made his blood run cold. He closed his eyes and scooted closer to her, hoping the day won’t pass by too quickly.

    **********

    Annie gradually woke up from her sleep and stifled a yawn. She stretched and winced as the ache on the side of her waist reminded her of what transpired earlier. Settling back against the car seat, she allowed her eyes to adjust to the afternoon glare from the sun. Suddenly noticing Kevin’s jacket loosely covering her body, she realized she must have fallen asleep while waiting for him to return with her drink. Touched at this simple, but sweet gesture, she tentatively traced her fingers along the edge of the jacket. Her mouth quirked up as she glanced to the right and noticed the figure dozing beside her with an arm resting on his forehead.

    He appeared to be so at peace lost in dream world. There was always an air of power and mystique surrounding him. The way he moved and conducted himself was so full of confidence and ease that his very presence demanded attention wherever he went. Even in his sleep he was able to convey a unique charm that could attract any woman. What would it feel like to wake up seeing his face every morning? The idea caused her heart to abruptly warm up.

    How strange that the harder she tried to resist him, the more she became drawn to him. That realization unsettled her. This morning was the second time he saved her life. She was once again indebted to him. She gave an inward sigh. Why must he act so protective and caring toward her? It was getting more difficult to control her feelings for him. Could she risk allowing him to get so close? A confusing tumult of emotions roiled through her head. The same fear and insecurities she had felt all these years were still lodged deep inside her. It remained a burden she was unable to cast off.

    The death of her parents had left her feeling so lost and alone. The warmth of her mother’s hug and the loving sound of her father’s voice were gone forever. For a long time, she was in a deep depression, but she soon decided to stop the self-pity and take back control of her life. She wanted her parents to be proud of her, even if they were no longer around.

    Just when Annie thought things would turn out all right, fate threw her another punch. She had entangled herself in a brutal relationship with Nicholas Lee, a man that nearly destroyed her. He had spun his web of lies and deceit so skillfully that she easily fell for his promise of love and happiness. How foolish she was to succumb to those sugary words. Worst yet, she had endured a violent relationship with him, but was too young and naïve to leave. Looking back, she blamed herself for her stupidity.

    She forced those memories to the back of her mind. She must forget about Nicholas. Otherwise, there will never be any peace for her. She snapped her head to the side and gazed longingly at Kevin. Why must she have feelings for him? Will she never learn? But the romantic side of her wanted to argue that he was different from Nicholas. He would never harm her. He had protected her so many times, surely he could be trusted.

    How she hungered for the warmth of a real family. To find someone to share her hopes and dreams with, and to rebuild the home she had lost. Yet she was scared to death of lowering the protective wall around her heart. She didn’t want to give anyone the power to control her. She must never let a man make her feel worthless ever again. Falling in love with Kevin will place her on unfamiliar grounds she had tried so hard to avoid.

    She needed time to think about her situation, time alone and away from him. Taking out a small notepad, she quickly scribbled a couple lines and stuck it on the dashboard. After carefully draping the jacket over him, she pushed the button to lower the top of the convertible. She climbed out holding her purse and tapioca drink. After she pushed the button to close the top of the convertible, she stood watching him slowly being blocked from her view.

    **********

    His eyes suddenly popped open and he was jerked awake from his dream. Lately, he kept seeing images of Ricky calling out to him. He must be working too hard. Abruptly remembering Annie, he glanced around to find her missing. Fearing that she could be hurt or lost, he was ready to leap out of the car and search for her. However, catching the yellow note in the corner of his eyes, he turned around to read it.

    Kevin,

    Sorry for not saying goodbye, but I didn’t want to disturb your sleep. I have to go run some errands. Thank you for spending the day with me. It really means a lot to me. I feel bad that you had to go through so much trouble to get a tapioca drink. You are a great friend. Take care.

    Regards,
    Annie

    His eyes lingered over the neat handwriting on the slip of paper. He continued to hold on to the note, reluctant to put it away. A great friend. He started to frown. Not exactly what he wanted to be, but it was a good start. It was certainly better than nothing. She was beginning to consume his mind and soul, and he was helpless to do anything about it. Every time she bestowed a smile on him, it made his heart leap with joy. The sweet way she fixed her eyes on him would always send him silently sighing with contentment. When he saw how sad she was at the art gallery, he had the urge to just wrap her in his arms and shield her from all the pain in the world.

    He neatly folded the paper and slipped it into his wallet. If only he hadn’t fallen asleep like an idiot. He could have helped Annie with her errands. He drove away resolving to be more alert the next time he saw her.

  20. #20
    Senior Member tweety365's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    3,478

    Default

    Chapter 19 – Blue Phoenix Sword

    “I’m not taking another step!” Ruby took her time limping over to a wooden bus bench on the side of the street. She plopped down and shot Tae a fierce look. Still pretending to have an injured foot, she waved her metal cane at him.

    “You have hauled me all over this stupid city on that stupid motorcycle to pick up stuffs you already preordered and could have been shipped to your hotel room. We went to thirteen different department stores and you barely spoke twenty words all together. I didn’t even have to say anything at all. Plus, you called your personal assistant to pick up your purchases. What do you have to say for yourself?!” she exclaimed in a cranky tone.

    He turned a smiling face at her. “It was only twelve stores.”

    “I don’t give a hoot if it’s twelve or thirteen. You said this wouldn’t take long, but it’s been over five hours!”

    “I didn’t anticipate on you being such a slowpoke. Otherwise, it would have taken us half the time.”

    “Well, excuse me for having an injury and slowing you down. Maybe it would be better for both our sakes if I take the bus home and you can carry on by yourself.”

    He dismissed her suggestion with a wave his hand. “Nah. I can wait for you. I’m in no hurry.” Sitting down next to her, he casually placed his hands behind his head and leaned back.

    She gritted her teeth and was seething with frustration that he still wanted her to go with him. “If you want to continue carousing around town, be my guest, but you’re going alone. This time, I’m putting my foot down. I refuse to budge from this spot,” she firmly announced. She turned her face away and gave Tae the cold shoulder.

    “Oh, come on, Ruby. I had my personal assistant pick up my things to save you from carrying those bags around. Heck, I even told one of the saleswomen to get you that small cup of water when you said you were thirsty. I’ve been very considerate if I have to say so myself,” Tae proudly declared.

    She wouldn’t look at him and chose to remain silent. “Your face will be all wrinkled up if you keep frowning like that.” His remark failed to get a response from her. “You are being quite childish with this silent treatment thing.” He poked her shoulder and tried to pacify her anger. “Hey, if you stop sulking, I’ll treat you to lunch. We didn’t eat breakfast and I’m sure you’re hungry. You can order anything you want,” he coaxed.

    Ruby’s stomach loudly voiced complaint at the mention of food. He tried not to smile while she debated with her hunger. With last night’s small dinner and following Tae around the entire morning on an empty stomach, she was famished. Thinking it would be foolish to starve herself, she gave a slight turn of her head and asked, “Anything?”

    He grinned cheekily, happy that she was talking to him again. “Anything.” He grabbed her hand and started pulling her away.

    “Hold on! I need my cane.”

    They arrived at a luxurious restaurant located at the bustling center of the city. Walking inside, there was a very unique cozy feeling that she found quite likeable. They were led to a secluded table on the second floor and a waitress handed them the menus before getting their drinks. “You go ahead and order first,” he told her. “I’ll be right back.” As he made his way downstairs, a young woman approached the table with a notepad and pencil held out. “May I take your order, ma’am?”

    Ruby had every intention of getting the most expensive dishes. She placed the menu down and stated in a gleeful voice. “Let’s start with the shrimp cocktail for the appetizer. I’d like them served chilled with horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce. The chicken salad sounds rather tasty, but hold the bean sprouts. Do you have lemon marinated chicken?”

    “As a matter of fact, we do. Would you like sesame dressing or ranch?”

    “I’ll go with ranch. For the main entrée, I’d like to get the mushroom and sirloin steak.”

    “How would you like the steak?”

    “Medium rare please. Could I also try the famous ginger crab soup with a light sprinkle of bread crumbs?”

    “Definitely. Anything for dessert?” the waitress asked as she rushed to write down Ruby’s order.

    “The raspberry chocolate cheesecake please.”

    “Is that all for you, ma’am?”

    “Yes. That should do for now.”

    “Should I wait to get the young gentleman’s order?”

    Ruby lightly shook her head. “Don’t worry about him. He already ate. Just get him some crackers with a glass of water and he’ll be fine.”

    “I’ll bring out the appetizer and salad in a few moments.”

    “Thank you.”

    Ruby was finishing her shrimp cocktail and chicken salad when she accidentally knocked her over the jar of soy sauce. Luckily only the corner of her sleeve was stained. “Damn,” she grumbled under breath. Taking her cane and purse, she stood up and searched for the restroom downstairs. After cleaning the stain, she headed back outside. As she was strolling along the empty hallway near the back of the restaurant, she suddenly felt a presence behind her. She shifted her eyes to the right and saw a tall figure dressed in a wrinkled, beige trench coat with a matching hat covering his eyes.

    The moment she stopped walking, he also stopped and appeared to be observing the paintings on the wall. She hastened her pace and he immediately followed. She ran ahead and turned left at the corner. Pressing herself flat against the wall, she tightened her grip on the cane. She stood prepared to confront the man. Just as she expected, he ran right pass her. She instantly swung her cane at him, hoping to knock him down.

    Sensing an assault from behind, the man leaped out of the way and tried to dodge her swinging weapon. She turned and aimed a kick at his stomach, but missed as he jerked to the side. Her punches were getting quicker and quicker, yet he skillfully managed to avoid being hit. She threw a succession of kicks at his direction, yet oddly, he was only blocking her moves instead of fighting back. With him on the defense, she charged forward with the cane positioned over her head. He acted out of reflex and kicked the metal stick out of her hand. The force propelled her to the side and caused her to crash into the wall. Momentarily dazed, she groaned out in pain.

    The man hurried over to check on Ruby. Seeing an opportunity to take down her follower, she unexpectedly used an attack she had learned in karate class. Without warning, her right foot snaked out and hooked itself behind his left knee. She yanked with all her might and he fell flat on his back. Snatching her cane up from the floor, she cautiously aimed it at him.

    “Don’t move or I’ll whack your head off with my cane! Why are you following me?”

    He started chuckling softly, which only made her feel more wary. With him lying on the floor, she was allowed a better view of her stalker. There was something very familiar about him, but she couldn’t clearly make out his features. He had long brown hair that extended below his shoulders and a thick, bushy beard that covered half his face. His eyes were also well hidden behind a pair of dark shades. It was strange that he appeared very amused at the current situation.

    Things were getting too weird. With the conclusion that he was a madman, she was more than ready to flee the area. He didn’t show any intention of getting up, so she inched backward toward the main lobby. Just when she was about to reach the door, the man stopped laughing and called out, “Where are going, Ruby? Don’t you recognize me?”

    “That voice!” she gasped out. Twirling around with eyes flashing sparks, she marched back to the man, who was now sitting on the ground with an amused grin plastered on his face. She hit him hard on the arm with her cane. “Tae Leung! You numbskull! What the hell are you trying to do?! Have you finally lost your marbles?!”

    Tae rubbed his arm as he pulled himself up. “Scared you, didn’t I?” he asked in a merry tone.

    She couldn’t believe her ears. She actually thought she was being attacked and he had the nerve to stand there chuckling at her. After giving him a repulsive look, she slapped him upside the head with her hand.

    “Owwww! Stop hitting me, woman! I get the point. Geesh, where’s your sense of humor?” As he took off his sunglasses and hat, a cascade of thick, stringy hair spilled down from underneath the hat.

    “If you consider dressing up in that ghastly outfit, pretending to be a homeless pedophile, and trailing after a person funny, then I’m sorry to say I don’t have that kind of disturbing humor. And what did you do to your hair? It looks like a furry creature crawled up on your head and died.”

    “I beg your pardon,” he indicated in a hurtful tone. “There is no need to insult my disguise just because you’re a wimp. If I knew you couldn’t stand a little excitement, I would not have wasted my time. This outfit doesn’t come cheap, you know. I had the coat and hat tailored to my exact specifications,” he boasted. “My beard and wig are made from the finest real hair too. Do you have any idea how much hair of this quality is worth?”

    “I don’t care how much the wig costs,” she responded with an air of apathy. “It’s still damn ugly. I guess it really is true that money can’t buy great fashion tastes.”

    “You’re just bitter because I have a nifty hat and you don’t.”

    “Yeah, I’m jealous of someone who looks like he stepped out from a mental institute.”

    He was suddenly sidetracked from his next statement and started studying her right ankle. “Hey, what happened to your ankle?” he suspicious questioned. “That leg of yours is certainly lethal. If I wasn’t fast at dodging, I’d be mincemeat by now.”

    Her gaze immediately flew to her feet. Darm! She was too consumed with fighting him that she totally forgot about her sprained ankle. Quickly thinking of a reason for her speedy recovery, she dropped to the ground on her knees and tightly clasped her hands together. She gazed up at the ceiling with a grateful expression on her face and loudly exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! God must have been watching over me and healed my ankle. Oh, Mighty Lord, thank you so much for your help!”

    He stood with his arms crossed over his chest and didn’t appear to buy her explanation. “Why don’t you make it easier on yourself and end this pitiful pretense now?”

    She wasn’t ready to throw in the white towel yet. She had on a very composed expression as she stood up and stared him directly in the eyes. “Tae Leung, are you insinuating that I lied?”

    “I’m just merely stating a fact. It was pretty obvious from the looks on Ada’s face that something was up. Besides, you acted like going for a second checkup was worst than getting the plague. I do have to admit one thing though. You’re fairly good at feigning an injury.”

    “So I embellished some minor information to avoid going with you today,” she admitted with a shrug. “However, I’m not the only who lied. You did too. Now that I think about it, I distinctly remember reading about Dr. Ching Yun in a magazine. Aside from being a podiatrist, he is also a scientist. He had spent the last twenty years in France doing research and just recently returned to Shanghai. You claiming to know him is undoubtedly a total fabrication.”

    “That’s not true. I know a Dr. Yun and a Dr. Ching, so technically one could say I know Dr. Ching Yun.”

    She slowly shook her head. “Why do I even bother?” She turned around and headed for the main lobby.

    He was left standing there alone. He caught up with her and they walked back upstairs to their table. He nudged her arm with his elbow and pointed out, “You know, it’s quite rude to leave a person behind like that.”

    “This may come as a surprise to you, but feeding myself is much more important than standing around and exchanging barbs with you.”

    “Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m wearing a disguise?” He started stroking his fake beard and rearranging his wig.

    “Nope,” she uttered as they sat down. The waitress had already cleared away the empty plates and placed Ruby’s order of steak on the table. She eagerly picked up her fork and knife.

    “I’ll let you have three guesses.”

    “No, thanks.”

    “Come on, I’m sure you’re curious,” he said in a persuasive tone.

    “Quit bothering me. Can’t you see I’m eating here?”

    He wagged an admonishing finger at her. “This won’t do at all. How are we going to continue working together if you don’t open the doors of communication? We need to learn each other’s interests and build a sense of understanding for one another. That way, we’ll be intoned with our inner selves and create a more harmonious working environment for everyone. Not---”

    While still chewing her food, she raised her hand and disrupted his speech. “Stop beating around the bush. I knew this lunch would come with strings attached. What do you want and how does it involve me? I’m certain there’s a reason for you to dress up as a weirdo. Let’s hear it.”

    “Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, such a cynical view you have. I just want to improve my relationship with a fellow coworker. Is that so wrong?”

    “That’s a bunch of bologna,” she affirmed as she waved her fork at him.

    He held back a chuckle. Her no-nonsense attitude was very amusing. She was outspoken, impulsive, blatantly straightforward, and completely unpredictable. Those qualities on any other woman would appear too bold and some might even consider offensive; however, Ruby managed to make her persona appealing. Her various moody expressions had constantly intrigued him. At the moment, she was casting doubtful stares at his direction while trying to finish her lunch.

    “Okay, I do have a small favor to ask you. There is this little auction scheduled in a couple hours and all you have to do is identify a couple antique items for me.”

    She paused in the middle of cutting her steak. “I don’t know anything about antiques.”

    “Oh, don’t be modest. You were president of the history club in high school for four years, earned a minor in ancient Chinese history and artifacts at the University of Toronto, and worked two years at a small antique shop. You’re the next best thing to a specialist.”

    “How did you know all that?!” Her eyes widened with surprise and she made a loud gasp as realization dawned on her. She started waving her knife at him in an accusatory manner. “You investigated my background?!”

    He reached out and tried to push her hand away from his face. “Put the knife down, woman! You can poke someone’s eyes out with that thing.”

    Anger surged anew on her features. “I’ll do more than poke your eyes out if you don’t give me a good explanation on why you’re digging up information on me. That’s a deliberate invasion of privacy!”

    “There is no reason to get fired up all of a sudden. I can explain.” He had a feeling that appeasing her temper might not be such an easy task. Nonetheless, he was desperate and beggars can’t be choosers. “Have you ever heard of the Blue Phoenix Sword?”

    She leaned back in her chair with a puzzled frown. “You mean the legendary sword belonging to General Zu Shang, the trusted confidant of Emperor Li Shimin, during the Tang Dynasty?

    He snapped his fingers and gleefully nodded his head. “The great general’s prized possession that aided him in countless winning battles has just recently been uncovered in an ancient tomb in the countryside near Beijing.

    She didn’t appear to be affected by the news and nonchalantly lifted a shoulder. “So?”

    “I need you to help me get the sword. It’s currently placed up for auction by Link Antique Corporation. Anyway, in order to even attend the auction, you have to enter a contest.”

    She doubtfully gazed at him while trying to absorb the information. “What sort of contest?”

    “There will be numerous items on display and the goal is to identify as much information as possible, mainly the approximate year and region of manufacture. The theme is sectioned out into three categories: jewelry, paintings, and porcelain ceramics. The top fifteen teams are invited into the auction room.”

    “This is all very fascinating, but you still haven’t clarified why you were checking up on me.”

    “Contestants can sign up in teams of two or work alone. There’s a 2 hour time limit so to be most efficient, I need another person to help me.”

    “Why don’t you hire a professional to go with you?”

    He heaved a troubled sigh. “I did hire someone, but he recently got into an accident and broke his leg. I’ve asked around and no one is available on such short notice. Then, I vaguely remember hearing from Michelle that you’re knowledgeable in antiques. As a last resort, I had to look into your background. You should be pleased to know that I decided you were qualified enough to accompany me.” He finished and waited for her to accept his invitation.

    The more she listened to him, the more she felt her blood pressure rising. Unable to take his highhandedness any longer, she swiftly picked up a roll of bread and threw it at him. The flying bun hit him directly on the nose and fell on the table. He glanced up and saw her face brewing with annoyance.

    “You did a background check on me without my knowledge or approval, woke me up at five in the morning for an event that will take place in the afternoon, scared me half to death on that monstrosity you call a vehicle, hauled me around to go shopping with you, freaked me out with that horrid costume, and waited till the last minute to ask for my help?!”

    He nodded his head with a cringed look on his face. “Well, I woke up early and was so excited about today’s event that I couldn’t sleep.”

    “How inconsiderate can you be to disregard someone’s feelings like that? Whatever you have to offer, I’m not interested. This is the last straw!” She stood up and threw down her napkin on the table. “Contract or no contract, I’m not helping you this time. Go ahead and whine about this to Mr. Wu. I refuse to stoop so low as to sell my self-respect like this.”

    Alarm shot through Tae as he knew he had gone too far this time. She was his only chance to win the sword. Before he had a moment to think, he raced after her and tried to prevent her from leaving.

    “Ruby, wait!” he called out. Grabbing her elbow, he managed to pull her back. “I know what I did was very wrong. It was rude and selfish of me to ignore your privacy and assume you would be available to go with me without first informing you.” He took a deep breath before continuing in a sincere voice. “I’m extremely sorry for my actions.”

    She was stunned that he was actually apologizing to her in a decent manner. It was so unlike him. He must really be desperate. An idea started forming at the back of her head. There might be a way to rid his control over her. It was definitely worth a shot. She glared at him with extreme dislike, but was able to compose herself.

    “What do you say? Am I forgiven? Will you help me?” he questioned in a hope filled voice.

    “Under one condition. From now until the end of filming the movie, you cannot use the terms on the contract against Ada or me. No more ridiculous demands, unreasonable requests, and ordering me around. Except for work related issues, you will not bother us before, during, or after work hours.”

    “Consider it done,” he assured.

    “Not so fast. I want our agreement in writing.”

    “Not a problem. I’ll have the waitress bring over a piece of paper and pen. You just add in all the stipulations you want.”

    A distrustful look crossed her features. She cautiously asked, “Why are you being so obliging? Are you scheming something against me?”

    “Stop being so paranoid. I just really want that sword and your conditions sound fair enough.” He led her back to the table. “Let’s hurry up and finish lunch. The contest will start soon.” He paid little attention to the distrustful way she regarded him. “Oh yeah, I didn’t even finish telling you why I’m all dressed up. You must be dying to know.”

    “Not really,” she dryly commented.

    Despite her show of little interest in his affairs, he went ahead with the details anyway. “Mimi has been stalking me like a hound dog for the past couple of weeks. There’s a ninety-nine percent chance she will show up at the auction. Many reporters will also be present and I don’t want them harassing me for interviews and photos. Hence, I have devised this outfit to conceal my identity. Am I smart or what?” Once again, he was ignored and left talking to himself. He was in such an elevated mood that he felt nothing could dampen his spirit.

Similar Threads

  1. Never Forever
    By yuenwooping in forum Japanese/Korean Dramas
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 08-20-07, 06:39 AM
  2. Charlene&Ronald/Gillian&Alex/Yumiko&Deep?
    By Gernice in forum Entertainment News
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 02-26-05, 10:05 AM
  3. Always and Forever
    By tweety365 in forum Fan Fictions
    Replies: 150
    Last Post: 02-14-04, 12:21 AM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •