This chapter is so late. Sorry, guys. The holidays really threw me off a few weeks. Still, it was great. How were everyone’s holidays?
Chapter 23: The Art of War
Early morning on a winter day, a day fresh and cold, the sky gray and drab. On such a gloomy day, the vast enterprise park seemed particularly cold and desolate.
Day one after their victory wasn’t much different for Li Zhicheng. He reached his office before seven, just as he usually did.
Seven o’clock on the dot.
Sitting on the sofa, he looked down at his watch, then looked up, watching the small cubicle outside the door.
Under the limpid lighting, Lin Jian’s desk was clean and bright, a fresh, tender green plant sitting on a corner of the desk.
She wasn’t in yet.
Li Zhicheng leisurely stood up, walked near a bookshelf, took a professional magazine, flipped it to a certain page. Then he walked back to the coffee table, put the magazine on it open just like that.
However, the Lin Jian who almost always came in and took off at the time at the same time as he did was still not in even at eight. Li Zhicheng looked up again, glanced at her seat, then looked back down, continuing to leaf through documents.
Only when the work bell rang at nine did he hear familiar lithe footsteps among all the other scattered, disarrayed ones, walking into the cubicle. A series of rustling noises: her taking off her coat as she usually did, sitting down, switching on her computer. Then the phone on her desk rang.
“Hello, this is the director-general’s office.” A voice soft, clear and sweet.
Inside the office, still sitting on the sofa, Li Zhicheng looked up just then and happened to see through the half-closed door the side of her face, her skin pure and fair, her lips crimson.
Li Zhicheng’s eyebrows rose wordlessly, then he looked down again and continued to study the documents.
Listening to her voice, seeing her colors, this woman’s cold seemed about gone.
Lin Jian hung up the phone, looked at the documents on her desk waiting for Li Zhicheng’s comments, and stayed silent for several seconds.
She’d come later this morning on purpose. In fact, she’d been long awake already, but she simply didn’t want to come. Because when she thought she’d have to spend two hours alone with him as they usually did, why did she feel a little uneasy all over?
He clearly was a wolf, the toughest and most savage one at that, but she’d actually thought him a sheep.
Sigh! It seemed she wanted to charge inside and swear right to his face.What kind of mood was that?
Of course, Lin Jian wouldn’t really go and swear at him. When she picked up the documents, went to his door and knocked softly on it, a professional smile even floated on her face in spite of herself. Only, she could at most offer him a fake smile like this one. She didn’t have any desire to smile without restraint as she was wont to.
Hmph. Who did he think she was? Though he couldn’t be blamed for any of his strategies, how could he have strung her along as well? Was she one of those ordinary characters with empty brains?
However, another opposite thought pierced through her gloominess—he planned for such a big and such a long plan but didn’t deliberately hide his talent from her. She was at his side every day but hadn’t noticed it at all. Was her level really that much worse than his….? Damn damn damn, what was she thinking?
From today on, she had to be a hundred twenty percent on her guard when facing this…
…deep and immeasurable man.
She pushed the door open, looked up, glanced at Li Zhicheng sitting on the sofa.
Sunlight had already started filtering through the layers of clouds, shining a warm tangerine-yellow in this room on a winter day. He still wore a well-ironed black suit, his shirt spotless white, his sitting posture upright. His hands rested softly on his knees, his peacefulness carrying a hint of casualness. Hearing footsteps, he looked up at her, his black, serene eyes tranquil as water.
Lin Jian couldn’t stop her heart from quivering when her eyes met his. She immediately scolded herself in her mind: fool!
Look, just look! The expression in his eyes, this attitude of his, this was the look of someone unabashedly two-faced no matter how she looked at it. Why did she ever think he was a big quiet cat! Mothertrucker, there was such a big gap between a cat and a wolf, how’d she been so blind!
Though her heart was galloping like ten thousand horses, the smile on Lin Jian’s face was increasingly faultless. She handed him the documents, her movements practiced and professional, saying at the same time, “Director Li, this is this morning’s report from the tech department from this morning. This is…”
Li Zhicheng took them. Both of them cooperated with a tacit understanding the way usually did. She spoke simply; he read carefully. He offered brief replies or comments that she jotted down in her notebook.
Lin Jian inadvertently looked up a while later. She saw him looking down, his focus very single-minded. Under two long, jet-black eyebrows, the pitch-black eyelashes and the straight bridge of his nose made him look like a calm, striking picture.
Yesterday night’s thought flashed across Lin Jian’s mind—she never clearly saw him at all.
They completed this routine task very quickly. Lin Jian grabbed the pile of documents, turned around, about to leave, even a little eager to do so. Who would have thought she’d hear a cool and limpid voice behind her: “Wait.”
Lin Jian halted her steps, turned around and looked at him with a smile. “Is there anything else, director Li?”
The man had his head down, reading another document. He patted the sofa beside him and said without even looking up, “Sit down.”
Lin Jian’s heart quivered again.
The ardent, powerful kiss from that day flashed in her mind. The cool and refreshing smell in his manly arms seemed to instantly drift to her nose.
As though he’d sensed her hesitation, he slowly lifted his head, his bright eyes on hers.
“On this authoritative magazine, there’s a ranking and evaluation of the top ten bags from last year.” His finger tapped softly on the magazine that’d stayed a long while on the table.
Lin Jian understood—he wanted her input!
She decided she’d directly play the fool.
She looked calm and composed when she went to his side, but she still subconsciously left a foot between them when she sat down. Ignoring his burning gaze stopped at her face, she took the magazine and started reading it with rapt attention.
It actually seemed very familiar, because she’d already seen this article somewhere else before. The magazine had proceeded to an assessment based on five criteria, “quality, appearance, quality-price ratio, sales volume, and online evaluation,” then selected the ten best-received bags in 2013.
This article was in fact rather shocking because the items ranked first to third were all from Xin Baorui. After that, some were from Smecki, some from others. A bag from the Vinda brand Aida was using most of its resources to push nowadays also had a bag coming in at number eight. It was merely because last year’s sales volume was too appalling.
Who knew, maybe Vinda could challenge for the first few places by this time next year?
So, Lin Jian took the documents out of habit and explained to Li Zhicheng the situation as she knew it. “Director Li, coming first is a casual bag from Xin Baorui. To my knowledge, this bag was launched three years ago. Its main advantage is its fashionable design, the quality is also pretty good, the price is also advantageous. Number two is an outdoor bag. There are actually pretty few domestic companies doing good with outdoor bags, you could say this one from Xin Baorui is particularly popular, but the price also leans toward the costly…”
She suddenly came to her senses in the middle. What was she doing? Why was she still treating the big boss like a newborn calf who didn’t know to fear tigers, rushing where angels feared to tread? Since he could easily toy with Smecki as though he were holding them in his palm, how would he fail to be aware of the information about these companies?
Then why did he tell her to come?
Her thoughts drifted away, but words still came out of her mouth. She sneaked a furtive glance upward. She saw him reclining at ease on the sofa beside her, his long legs lightly crossed together. An arm rested on the armrest behind her, his other hand on his knee. Without even looking up, she could feel his gaze encompassing her like the omnipresent air.
Lin Jian’s face warmed up all of a sudden.
A thought flashed through her mind—he was a man with very clear-cut goals.
This thought made Lin Jian’s face even hotter. She hastily put down the magazine; she wanted to make a hasty exit. “Director Li, that’s everything I know.”
However, he stayed silent for several seconds.
“Your face is very red.” A voice cool and warm, deep and low, just against her ear.
Lin Jian also fell silent for an instant before looking up and watching him with a faint smile. “Yeah, maybe it’s because I’m not feeling entirely well yet. I better sit a little further so I don’t contaminate you.” She wanted to stand up and stay away from the crook of his arm that seemed so close yet so far away.
Who knew she’d feel a weight on her shoulder as soon as she moved. He put his hand on her, pressing her down.
Lin Jian’s heart and mind suddenly leaped—now she was truly in his arms.
Two pairs of eyes looked at each other. His handsome face was very close to hers. That hand still firmly pressed on her shoulder, commanding her to stay seated where she was. Her small, flustered reflection shone in his eyes, dark yet distant.
Neither of them spoke. Like the temperature coming from his fingers, the air inside the room seemed so scalding it made her face uncomfortable. He stared at her just like that, his tall and slender frame trapping her between him and the sofa.
Thump, thump, thump. Lin Jian’s heart banged something fierce. A voice was shouting in her mind: What was he doing?! Had you ever heard of this kind of courting? Silent yet intense. Was he that certain he already had her in his clutches, that she wouldn’t escape?
Another cold and indifferent voice mocked her: Lin Jian, are you absolutely certain he likes you? Someone like him with so much hidden depth, you can’t take his measure even now. Aren’t you afraid you’ll have to shoulder the consequences in the future?
Lin Jian stilled her mind. She looked at his figure almost within reach and said, “After endless mountains and rivers, there is suddenly the shade of a willow in sight bright flowers, and a village. Director Li, I think that Aida is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel this time.”
He looked at her, his eyes seemed even deeper.
Lin Jian’s chaotic heart thumped something fierce. She felt a little aggrieved, while also a little panicked for no good reason at all, and also recklessly bold. She said, “Although we missed on Ming Sheng, Smecki’s middle-grade bag market suddenly came into our view wide and clear. It seems the heavens reward the diligent. Providence hasn’t deserted Aida yet.”
She was calm and serene when she said those words. She then looked straight into Li Zhicheng’s eyes.
Li Zhicheng looked back at her, no sudden emotion to be seen in his striking black eyes.
The two of them quietly gazed at each other like this.
Lin Jian knew she was being a little preposterous. With his intelligence, he’d definitely understand the meaning of her words. Even if she’d guessed the truth yesterday, she still never thought about confronting him. But for some reason today, she felt she had to confront him as soon as he pressed down on her shoulder.
She might be tangled, she might have regrets, she might have been impulsive, but she never thought that his face would not change an iota, his hand still pressing down on her. The first thing Li Zhicheng said was:
“Are you angry?” he asked in a whisper.
Lin Jian didn’t pipe a word.
He looked at her deeply. Then, he swiftly released her shoulder, his body also shifting backward, temporarily keeping a certain distance from her.
Lin Jian felt a great weight lifted from her all of a sudden. Yet, there was an unspeakable tactile sensation left behind on the shoulder he’d been pressing.
His face impassible as he opened a book sitting at the upper left corner of the table. Lin Jian shook when she saw the cover—it was precisely titled “The Art of War.”
His long fingers softly grasped a white sheet of paper from it. He turned and glanced at her, directly putting it in front of her. Lin’s eyes skimmed over it. Wasn’t it that page where he’d written the military stratagems? The handwriting was as bold and vigorous as in her memories: give someone a taste of their own medicine, borrow someone else’s knife to do the dirty work…
“I never intended to hide it from you,” he slowly said. “The circumstances made forced me to do so.”
Lin Jian still didn’t make a sound.
What was he doing right now…
Was he taking the initiative to explain to her?
A shrewd and treacherous person suddenly acting so straightforward and self-candid?
Li Zhicheng stayed silent a moment when he saw she wasn’t talking. His eyes not flickering away, he opened “The Art of War” once more with calm and nimble movements and took another folded piece of paper from it. Then his eyes went back to her.
“Something like this, I’ll usually write three pages. This is the second one.” He pinched the piece of paper between his long fingers, watching her with clear, deep eyes. “Want to see?”