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    Shen Li pushed open the door to the boisterous private room, stepping into the surreal light. With a gentle smile on his face, he said, “Mr. Lu, what wind brought you here today?”

    The man sitting on the sofa, chatting with someone, smiled as he stood up and handed Shen Li a glass filled with untouched wine, saying, “My cousin just returned from abroad, so I organized a gathering to welcome him back and catch up.”

    “Cousin?” Shen Li downed the drink in one gulp. Following behind him, a waiter entered the room and neatly stacked several boxes of wine on the coffee table before bowing and leaving.

    “His name is Lu Changting, the heir of the Lu Group, personally appointed by Mr. Lu himself.” Jiang Chifeng sitting beside him also stood up, offering another glass of wine with a smile. “It’s been a while since we last met. Let’s have a drink together, shall we?”

    Lu Changxu continued Jiang Chifeng’s words, “He hasn’t arrived yet. Sit down and have a couple of drinks. I’ll introduce you to him later.”

    “Gujiu” is the largest upscale bar in City S, frequented by the wealthy and powerful. People from business and politics can be seen coming and going. As the owner of “Gujiu”, Shen Li has a wide network of contacts. Making acquaintances is beneficial to the Lu family’s business and harmless.

    The Lu family is wealthy and their business is extensive. Although there are disputes over family property, they primarily manage the “Wangjiang Building” business, specializing in catering, with a mature and efficient management system. They earn more money than they can spend in a lifetime. Therefore, Lu Changxu has no interest in power struggles. Moreover, he has a good relationship with Lu Changting and is very satisfied with Lu Changting being designated as the heir.

    Lu Changting has only been back in the country for less than a month, just taking over the Lu family business. He’s bound to face obstacles from some people. It’s good to get to know more people in the business world. Every bit of support counts.

    When the man heard that name, a glint flashed in his clear eyes, but he quickly suppressed it. He smiled, greeting each person in the private room as if nothing had happened.

    The big shots in the private room all had successful careers or powerful family backgrounds, so no one could afford to neglect anyone.

    After the pleasantries, Shen Li looked at Jiang Chifeng. “Why didn’t we see Mr. Wei?”

    Jiang Chifeng curved his lips. “He’s on a business trip.”

    “You’re sneaking out to Gujiu behind his back. Aren’t you afraid he’ll reprimand you when you get back?”

    Jiang Chifeng had a close relationship with him and had a lively personality. Therefore, he used to be a frequent visitor to “Gujiu,” but he rarely came after he started dating.

    “Ahem.” Jiang Chifeng cleared his throat and picked up a strawberry from the fruit plate, feeding it to Shen Li. “Hush money.”

    He knew Shen Li was just joking, not afraid that Shen Li would actually say anything to Wei Wenxing. Besides, today’s gathering was to welcome Lu Changting, so the reason was legitimate, and there was no need to be timid.

    As the strawberry approached his lips, Shen Li’s lips slightly parted, and he bit into it.

    Someone pushed open the door of the private room. Between the light and shadows, a handsome figure emerged, accompanied by the chilly breeze of early spring, exuding a sense of coldness. “I’m late.”

    Shen Li licked his lips, savoring the sweetness of the strawberry as it rolled from his lips to his stomach.

    The heating in the private room was ample. Lu Changting took off his heavy black coat and hung it on the coat rack by the door.

    Lu Changxu smiled and called out, “Changting,” then stood up to pour him a drink.

    Lu Changting glanced roughly at the people in the private room. Some were familiar, some were not, but since everyone was gathered today, they were all acquaintances now. He knew he would have to deal with these people in the future, so he promptly poured himself three glasses as a self-punishment.

    “Chu Jinghong, Fu Jiashu, Chen Xingye, Xiao Yao, do I need to introduce them to you?”

    “This is Mr. Jiang from Changrong Real Estate, Mr. Li from Shangshan Entertainment, Mr. Mu from Zhizhen Technology…” Lu Changxu spoke too much in one breath, took a sip of wine to moisten his throat, and then continued, “This is Mr. Jiang from Fanning Group, Jiang Chifeng, and the owner of ‘Gujiu,’ Shen Li.”

    “Pleasure to meet you all,” Lu Changting toasted everyone.

    In the private room, aside from the aristocrats he already knew and those close to his age, most of the others were older, seasoned individuals in the business world. They inevitably carried a polished sophistication and worldliness from years of experience. Their eyes held calculations, and their faces bore smiles that concealed their intentions. It was hard to read anyone.

    Only Jiang Chifeng and Shen Li stood apart, whispering and laughing softly. Even though they were all in the same private room, they seemed somehow detached from the others, making it hard not to notice.

    As for Jiang Chifeng, Lu Changting knew he was from the Jiang family, but they had never interacted before, so he didn’t recognize him. As for the owner of “Gujiu”… recalling the scene he saw when he entered, Lu Changting couldn’t help but give Shen Li a second glance.

    The young bar owner had a pair of eyes like scattered stars, giving the impression of someone who loves to smile. His eyes twinkled with laughter at the slightest provocation, yet he seemed completely unaware of it himself.

    Perhaps due to just having had a drink, his lips bore a hint of moisture, looking soft and supple. His hand, holding the wine glass, showed distinct knuckles, and the rolled-up sleeve revealed a portion of his forearm, which was fair in complexion. On his wrist, he wore a simple red string.

    Lu Changting belatedly realized that it was impolite to scrutinize someone like this. He lowered his gaze, refraining from staring any longer.

    Shen Li was unaware that he had been scrutinized. He kept his head slightly lowered, only casting a peripheral glance at the man’s Adam’s apple as he swallowed his drink, then lowered his eyes again and poured himself another glass of wine.

    In such gatherings, Shen Li usually felt at ease, but today he seemed somewhat disinterested, barely speaking. Occasionally, his gaze would linger on Lu Changting unintentionally.

    Many people were watching Lu Changting, each with their own thoughts. Only Shen Li’s gaze remained calm, yet it held a hint of fervor. Jiang Chifeng had never seen Shen Li look at someone so seriously before.

    He found it strange, but Lu Changting was the focus of attention today, and he couldn’t leave. Besides, it wasn’t appropriate to ask questions. Jiang Chifeng could only watch as Shen Li finished a few more drinks before leaving the private room.

    Surrounding Lu Changting, people had been drinking quite a bit, and as the night progressed, the atmosphere grew livelier. The private room was filled with the scent of alcohol and tobacco. Lu Changting unbuttoned another button of his collar and got up to go to the restroom.

    While the private room had its own restroom, he decided to step outside for some fresh air and followed the signs to the restroom.

    It had been a long time since Lu Changting had indulged in drinking so recklessly. His stomach ached, his throat burned, and he felt as if he had just emerged from a wine barrel, reeking of alcohol from head to toe.

    After running some water, he stood in front of the sink and splashed cold water onto his face with one hand.

    After splashing his face three or four times, he began to feel slightly more awake. He wiped his face and leaned against the wall, his back slouched, holding onto the painful spot on his stomach to alleviate the discomfort.

    Hearing footsteps, he lifted his eyelids slightly and glanced over. “The owner of ‘Gujiu’,” what was his name again…

    Shen Li called out to him politely, “Mr. Lu, are you alright?”

    Lu Changting straightened his body, his expression devoid of emotion as he forced out, “I’m fine.”

    The man’s face was flushed with alcohol, his shirt collar wide open and soaked from the water. His meticulously styled hair, which usually lay neatly back, now had a few strands damp and scattered. This appearance didn’t look fine by any measure.

    He claimed to be okay, and Shen Li didn’t want to pry further. Entering the restroom, it seemed like they had just happened to cross paths, so Shen Li casually asked and left it at that.

    Once Shen Li departed, Lu Changting breathed a sigh of relief, his tense shoulders relaxing. He retraced his steps back to the private room.

    No sooner had he sat down for a couple of minutes than several waiters pushed open the door, each carrying trays of honey pomelo tea, crowded onto the coffee table filled with glasses.

    It was approaching dawn, and at this hour, everyone was quite intoxicated. With the arrival of the hangover remedy, no one hesitated to partake.

    Many in the private room were regulars at “Gujiu,” but it was the first time they had received such treatment. Jiang Chifeng muttered, “When did ‘Gujiu’s’ honey pomelo tea become so sweet…”

    Fu Jiashu took a big sip in haste, “I was dying of thirst. How considerate of Changxu.”

    “I didn’t order this,” Lu Changxu joked, “so whoever did should foot the bill.”

    “The boss said it’s complimentary,” Chen Ke gestured graciously, smiling as she replied.

    Xiao Yao took a sip, overwhelmed by the sweetness, with barely a hint of sourness: “It’s too sweet. Shen Lao Ban must be going all out, adding so much sugar.”

    Laughter erupted in the private room. Lu Changting held the honey pomelo tea, recalling Shen Li’s inquiry, “Are you alright?” His expression turned distant. He felt he might be overthinking, and the slight furrow in his brow gradually smoothed out as he brought the cup to his lips and took a sip.

    It was fragrant and sweet, warm and comforting, filling his stomach with a sense of warmth.

    As time passed, people began to trickle out of the private room. Half an hour later, only a group of familiar acquaintances remained, continuing to share drinks and enjoy each other’s company with lively banter.

    Having consumed too much, the private room was now filled with intoxicated revelers. In the end, Shen Li and the waitstaff helped escort everyone to their respective drivers’ cars. After two rounds of seeing people off, Shen Li returned to the private room, leaving only Lu Changxu and Lu Changting, the two brothers, behind.

    Shen Li handed Lu Changxu over to two waiters for support, then he himself supported Lu Changting, helping him put on his coat and walking slowly behind him.

    Lu Changting was heavily intoxicated, feeling the onset of sleepiness as the night deepened. His eyelids were heavy, and he lacked the strength to even open his eyes to see who was supporting him. He only smelled a faint woody scent, a blend of cedar and tobacco, which was light and comforting.

    Relaxing, he leaned his weight against the other’s shoulder, tilting his head to sniff closer.

    Shen Li paused, hesitated, and called out, “Mr. Lu?”

    Lu Changting’s lips were too close to his neck, his warm breath brushing against it, making Shen Li almost unable to support Lu Changting.

    They had already left the bar, and the chilly night wind blew against them. For a moment, Lu Changting’s mind sobered slightly. He made a soft sound of acknowledgment, realizing his abrupt behavior, and hoarsely said, “I’m sorry.”

    He added, “Thank you.”

    Lu Changting turned his head slightly, and Shen Li breathed a sigh of relief, bending down to help him sit in the car.

    Lu Changting still hadn’t opened his eyes, but he adjusted himself into a comfortable position, tilting his head against the soft cushion of the seat, his long legs casually sprawled inside the car.

    Shen Li watched him, his gaze softening.

    His eyes greedily traveled from Lu Changting’s brows, inching down his nose, to his lips.

    His trembling fingers lifted slightly, but ultimately he dared not touch. He restrained himself, hiding his hand behind his back, instructed the driver to drive carefully, closed the car door, and stepped back.

    He remained standing there, lost in thought, until the car disappeared into the night.

    Eventually, he snapped out of it, lowered his head, and looked at his own palm.

    The young man reached out into the air, slowly bringing his arm back in a motion resembling a hug.

    He chuckled softly at his own absurdity, then turned around and headed towards the still lively bar, taking one step at a time.

    Author’s note:

    Lu Changting is the Gong. This is a series of stories that are not part of a formal series. This story takes place before “Quenching Thirst with Poison.” So, in this story, there is no Lu Yinzuan, nor is there Song Mianfeng.

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