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Xiangcheng was an import and export city. Many people from exotic lands live there bring their culture with them, and this is reflected in the decorations of buildings and houses. You would see people of different hair colours and styles, and eye colour in Xiangcheng.
Because of the sea, the air in Xiangcheng was briny. The city was also famous for its seafood. With so many people of different ethnic origins, one could enjoy a variety of exotic foods in Xiangcheng.
When walking about in Xiangcheng,
one had to be careful because there are also many thieves. An accidental brush
against someone could mean your purse has been stolen away. It was a city of
dragons and snakes. (Zuben: So ends the cack handed tourist manual of Xiangcheng. Thank you for reading)
The Pei family owned an embroidery workshop here, as well as two restaurants: Yuxilou and Wenxiang Pavilion. Yuxilou was the high end restaurant, the building it resided was decorated gorgeously and luxuriously. The simplest fried bean sprout was worth a dozen silver. This was equivalent to the monthly expense of the everyday person, so only the wealthy citizens of Xiangcheng patronised Yuxilou.
On the other hand, Wenxiang Pavilion was a much more relaxed fare. Located near the east port, facing west so that the sunset could be seen from the windows and balconies. It was built with Qingbai stone, and it’s decor was simple yet elegant. The dishes were cheap bur rich and flavoursome. It would not lose to Yuxilou. So it was well patronised by the general populace and a favourite haunt for the literati of the city.
Both restaurants saw a constant stream of business, making a fortune for the Pei family.
Qin Yaotang had proposed the management of the two restaurants, he was greatly praised by Master Pei. Master Pei could not help but not his head in approval again and again.
Not only Master Pei, the various managers of the family business approved of Qing Yaotang, and he was believed to be the master of the Pei family; the true master being completely disregarded.
Miaofu had no sense of injustice, she quietly followed Yaotang, listening to him and the manager’s discussion. She yawned, bored.
‘What does Qing di think?’ Yaotang suddenly asked her. The manager’s also turned to Miaifu who had been mid-yawn, with tears hanging out of her eyes.
Miaofu froze, she saw the manager’s frown and the flash of contempt in his eyes.
This surnamed Qin must be intentional.
Miaofu put her hand down, but was not embarrassed. She opened her fan, and fanned herself as she gave a refined smile. Her mind turned over the conversation the manager and Yaotang had been having,
‘The idea of opening another embroidery workshop is good, but it would be hard to find a good embroider. Being a good embroider takes a lot of time to cultivate. On the other matter, rather than creating many fabrics with the same design, I suggest creating limited edition fabrics, they would sell faster.’
She glanced at the manager, he had an astonished expression on his face. (Zuben: How simple must he be to be impressed by that basic suggestion, hey ho). She folded her fan, and smiled,
‘One of the things a woman fears, besides the fading of beauty and the waning of desirability, is seeing another woman in the same outfit as she has. A woman likes to be the one to own that limited item, that beautiful thing.’
The people around were amazed and surprised, considering second young master’s reputation. How did this wastrel know commerce?
Yaotang was also surprised by her suggestion, but he didn’t show it on his face, ‘I never expected Qing di to understand a woman’s mind this much,’ and her knowledge of requirements of their trade was also good. There was no dullness as she was in the past.
You, trying to make me lose face, you’re still many years too early, surnamed Qin! In the way of commerce, how could you ancients compare with a modern person?
Miaofu was proud of herself but outwardly she remained modest, ‘Dàgē‘, you have always been busy, unlike younger brother. I don’t partake in the business, and I love to wander around, so of course, I would know more about what women want than you.’
When she said this, the manager thought second master must like going to the brothels, but Qin was thinking of her as woman.
It was normal that a woman understands what a woman wants, but what was abnormal was her change. He would have never expected such wisdom from the former Shaoqing.
He tapped the table with his fingers while staring enigmatically at Miaofu, and she returned his gaze.
‘Qing di’s proposal is good. Go ahead and discuss it with Liu Guanzhi. In accordance to Qing di’s suggestion, I will make final decisions. I will let you know the outcome.’
‘Yes,’ the manager replied and rose from his chair and left the room. There was no disdain in the manager’s eyes as he turned to Miaofu. He nodded respectfully before taking his leave.
Miaofu nodded and smiled back, waiting for the others to leave. Soon, only she and Qin Yaotang were left.
She touched her nose nervously, she didn’t want to be alone with him. She was already fed up of it from their journey. She was thinking up an excuse to go, when he asked,
‘Is Qing di planning to remain male?’ As he picked up a bowl of tea and sipped it, ‘don’t you want to become your true self and wear women’s clothes?’
Of course! What a nonsense question. Who wanted to live everyday with their chest tightly wrapped?
Since there was no one there, she didn’t keep up her genteel mannerisms, and spoke without politeness, ‘And how do I go about doing that? Would you like me to go to Father and tell him directly that I am a woman, but my mother made me dress up as a man to retaliate against him? And this daughter has frequented brothels, mixed with prostitutes and slept with them…’
Yaotang raised an eyebrow, ‘Sleeping with them?’
‘Of course, I slept with them when we all got drunk.’ That fact that she had not been found out was a miracle in itself.
‘I would like to become female, but even if I am not bothered, there would still be people talking about what I did as a male.’ That was why she had been hesitating. If she should expose herself as a female, they would not believe she had not slept with the prostitutes and there would be whispers behind her back.
‘So do you want to be a man for the rest of your life, take over the family business and keep your identity hidden?’ He asked. He did not think she would do this; the former Shaoqing may have attached great importance of the wealth of her family, but this Shaoqing...there were too many mysteries. He noted she talked about Uncle Pei like she was regarding a stranger not her relatives.
‘Actually, I have a solution.’ she said with a conspiratory smile.
‘This method would be good for you and me, actually, it would benefit you more.’ she said. She believed no one would refuse this offer.
‘Speak, I’m listening.’
‘You can give me a sum of money, so that I can live comfortably for the rest of my days. I disappear. You can tell the family that we were beset by thieves and I fell to my death. From then, no second master. You are the lone heir to the family.’
She had thought of this in the carriage on their way here. Actually, she had no feelings for the Pei family. And she didn’t really want to have many dealings with Qin Yaotang, he was too dangerous. It was better to take money and dash. She could find a small holding to buy, were she can stay and live freely as woman. Never have to worry about binding her chest.
Yaotang nodded for a bit, then asked, ‘How does this benefit me?’
‘Sole heir to the family!’ Become the richest man, the title everyone wants.
‘Even if you are here, I could still inherit the family.’ to be blunt, he was the master of the family.
‘But I won’t get in your way.’ she added.
Yaotang raised an eyebrow and said mockingly, ‘Do you think you can obstruct me?’ Was she even capable of obstructing him?
Seriously despising him, Miaofu could not refute. She was speechless.
Yaotang rose from his seat and came to her. He placed both hands on her chair and leaned over her.
The oppressive action made Miaofu shrink back, but since she was trapped in the chair, there was nowhere she could retreat to. She could only stare at him wide-eyed.
His beautiful face was now close to hers, his hot breath made her hold hers and her heart beat fast in her chest. She didn’t dare look directly at him, she lowered her face in trepidation. But this made her more sensitive to his presence around her; his breathing and his body heat.
‘Do you want to leave the Pei family? But I don’t want you to go.’ he said, his warm breath against her ear. When he spoke his lips brushed against her earlobe.
She could not help but shrink away to try to avoid his teasing.
Watching the goose-bumps that appeared on her jade-white skin, Yaotang who was usually indifferent, had a touch of mischief in his expression. He bowed over her.
‘Ouch!’ she shouted. She clasped a hand on her neck and she turned to him with a glare; he had bitten her. Not just biting but he also licked her too!
He caught her lips in a kiss. He saw her eyes widen as he slipped his tongue into her mouth, stealing her breath like a gust of wind.
Miaofu was so scared, she forgot to breathe. The oxygen in her lungs depleted, and her face gradually turned red as her vision began to go dark.
‘Breathe,’ he said patting her face.
Oh my goodness! She took a gasp of air and returned to reality. She was shocked into suffocation. As she eager took deep breaths, she still glared at him. Her lips were now slightly swollen.
‘You...you...you..’ she stuttered, she could not come up with a coherent sentence.
‘Until you tell me the secrets of your body, you don’t get to leave.’ he said with fascinated smile. His thumb brushing against the soft fullness of her lips. The eyes watching her looked dangerous and captivated, ‘But even if I found out all your secrets, I don’t think I want to let you go.’
His tone was quiet, careless but it sounded like an absolute oath. (Zuben: Why?)
Miaofu could not help but be scared and shivered.
‘Don’t be afraid, as long as you’re obedient, I won’t hurt you.’ he said with a sinister smile, while he stroked her cheek; his touch gentle and lingering.
Miaofu was now like a scared little mouse bitten by a sinister cat.
She shook with fear and in her mind she cried; terrible! Very scary!
Miaofu was totally frightened; while her personality was the pure type, she could run her mouth, but her courage was very small. She was very afraid of the villain type.
In addition, all the people she knew were the strong types like the Jiang siblings. Under the oppression of Jiang Chuwei, she vowed to get as far away from such villainous types. Which was why when she first saw Qin Yaotang, her evasive sensor warned her he was very dangerous and she should steer clear and hide from him.
Despite all that, why was the follow up situation completely out of her control?!
Miaofu thought about it and the conclusion was; it was the fault of her mouth. She should not have provoked Yaotang when she was not at three or five (Zuben: You would think both you and Chuwei would know that but hey ho) She should not have attracted his attention, she should not even have looked at him.
Miaofu was deeply regretful, but she knew she would not changed. She decided it would be best to continue to be a bad boy, steal money from the family, once she had enough; disappear. In any case, no one liked her so no one would care about her leaving.
Mission my arse! Her imaginary mission ended up entangling her with a dangerous person. (Zuben: you gave yourself the mission. No one sent you message)
Miaofu fumed silently. She could not help but recall what Chuwei had told her once upon a time; she was born with a magnetic field that attracted strong villainous types.
Although, her appearance was ordinary and fat, but her peach blossom is very good. The conditions of the men chasing after her were good; usually highly successful men, handsome and rich, but their main issue was that they were usually arrogant. Treating her like a pet.
After too many of such boyfriends, she could not stand it any longer. She decided to keep away from this kind of person, but the men who showed interest in her always had this type of personality. (Zuben: Well, you’re blatantly an M so…S come gather)
Unexpectedly, in this alternate ancient time, her magnetic field had not changed one bit. It was even more tragic, Qin Yaotang was worse than all the men she had dated put together.
Her thoughts could not evade his sight, he was always watching. He seemed to see through her, ready to expose all her secrets.
If he found out she was a ghost that crossed space and time and was not really Pei Shaoqing, she shuddered to think of what he would do.
She could not imagine the consequences, just that her intuition was shouting: Danger!! Danger!! (Zuben: High voltage. When we touch. When we kiss)
No! She could not stay, sooner or later she would be forced to spill the beans. Spending everyday guarding herself, she would soon be mentally exhausted.
If it went on like this, sooner or later she would collapse.
Miaofu bit her lower lips in thought as she turned to look out the window; it was now evening.
Xiangcheng was not like other places, when evening fell, lots of different kinds of small vendors come out; night time in Xiangcheng was very lively.
Yaotang and a few business partners had gone to the infamous Hua Man Lou. This kind of place was not suitable for women - is what Yaotang said, so he made her stay at the inn while he went.
She remembered when she was having dinner, she had overheard some patrons at the restaurant talking about a ship setting sail that night…
Miaofu quickly got going and went to pack her things. She didn’t have much money on her so she looked around her room and put all the valuable things in her bag. She went to Qin Yaotang’s room as well, packed his things, checked how much money he had and took it. She picked up her now big bag and snuck out of the room, avoiding the staff, she escaped from Yuxilou.
She knew there were many thieves in the city and her baggage was very big. She carefully carried the bag and headed to the port. No matter where that merchant ship was going, she didn’t care, as long as she escaped from Qin Yaotang.
The cool autumn wind blew through the open windows and the light red curtains fluttered in its wake. There was flowery incense in the air and the gentle sound of string and woodwind instruments to create an amorous and enticing environment.
Yaotang had no interest in these kind of fireworks, but men liked to come to these sorts of places to find pleasure. So although, he did not care for it, he did not refuse.
After all, when they are merrily drunk was the easiest time to talk business.
Watching the men groping the girls while laughing and drinking; Yaotang’s expression was cold. These people were Pei’s long established business partners. Most of them were drunk, a few of them had taken girls into rooms.
He glanced at the time and decided to leave in half an hour. He wondered what Shaoqing was doing back at the tea-house at that moment. Thinking of that interesting person, his usually indifferent face could not help but break out in a smile.
The kiss earlier had been an accident. He had not intended to kiss her but when she suddenly raised her face to him, eyes wide and flashing like a frightened mouse, he was kissing her before he noticed.
Did he regret it? No.
It was not the first time he had kissed a woman (Zuben: Kissing one woman and your step sister are two different things) As a man, he had desire, but his lust is not heavy, and he did not greatly inconvenience himself to solve it.
Her lips were softer then the women he had kissed, and she trembled. Her mouth tasted of the elegant tea she had been drinking. As he deepened the kiss, he heard her gasp. He looked to see her rounded eyes gradually losing consciousness; she had forgotten to breathe.
If he hadn’t woken her, she would have suffocated!
He knew she was afraid of him, but the fear and the panic in her eyes delighted him. Her red face was so cute that he wanted to laugh.
Yes cute - he never expected that one day he would use this word to describe Pei Shaoqing, or should he say, he didn’t expect Shaoqing to enter his eyes.
The person who had been not worth looking now has provoked his mind. Her nimble and resourceful appearance captured his eyes, making him stir.
He had always been a cold hearted person. No one could hold his gaze, but he was good to the family because Uncle Pei was good to him. When the grace is over, he will leave.
But for the time being, he could not allow the existence of people who will endanger the family. The change in Shaoqing roused his suspicions, though the face was the same, he knew that this person was not Pei Shaoqing.
There must be something going on, but he could not find a clue. It was only a matter of time till he found the secret. If it was harmful, he would get rid of her, but for how...he took a drink of his liquor. The lightly spicy Fu Liang wine made him smile. This wine was a specialty of Xiangcheng; the scent was fragrant and the first taste was spicy. This wine made him think of Shaoqing's warm facial features but extremely stubborn personality. Once a person got a glimpse of it, she stuck in one’s mind.
‘Pei Shaoqing…’ who the hell are you really? He wondered, intrigued.
The scent of a delicate fragrance drew close to him. Fang Yan, wearing a gauzy red dress with her breasts half exposed danced into his arms.
‘Qing gōngzǐ, what are you thinking of sitting there by yourself?’ the beautiful woman asked, as she softly took the cup from his hand and drank from it. Then she tried to kiss him, but he turned his face away so her kiss landed on his cheek. His lips still had the soft fragrance of her, he didn’t want it to be tainted with vulgarity. Just then, he saw a familiar figure walking rapidly down the street.
He noted the man was carrying a bag and was heading in the direction of the east port. Looking ahead, he saw a merchant vessel looking ready to sail. The handsome face shuttered hiding his thoughts, only a cold light was emitted from his dark eyes. He got up.
‘Ah!’ the beautiful woman who had been on his lap exclaimed when she fell on the floor, ‘Qin gōngzǐ, you hurt me.’
Yaotang ignored her and jumped directly from the second floor window down to the street below, and followed the ‘man’ headed to the port.
‘Shāngjiā, is this boat about to set sail?’ Miaofu asked.
‘Yes! We would be setting said shortly, fifteen minutes at the most.’ he replied.
Fifteen minutes? This was short enough time, Yaotang would not return to the Yuxilou early, so she was home free.
Miaofu’s eyes brightened and she quickly asked, ‘How much for passage?’
‘For two? That’s fifty-two silver.’
‘We won’t be boarding the ship.’ was said menacingly from behind her. Miaofu’s back went cold. A strong arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her away.
She fell onto his warm chest, her body was shackled. She could not help but shiver as his hot breath fell on her ear, ‘Younger brother, are you planning on going somewhere?’ the tone was gentle, quiet - very pleasant, but Miaofu’s fine hairs stood on end.
♢ Chapter 5
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