So it was by comparison.
Xia Ling relaxed a little and said, “You’re too kind.” But wait, what did he mean by “you kids”? She looked over at Li Lei. He looked no more than 24 or 25 years old, even younger than she was in her past life.
Li Lei was unaware of her thoughts as he beckoned to the waiter to serve lunch.
A row of waiters in matching uniforms came holding similar wooden trays and silently served plates and plates of delicacies. Xia Ling quietly watched them. The spread was indeed extensive, there was a steamed bass, barbequed meat, prawn fried with Longjing tea, corn with pines, etc., all placed in polished, white porcelain plates. The food looked succulent and the aroma was intoxicating — just looking at the food made her hungry.
He poured her some wine with the impeccable manners of a gentleman. The rose-colored liquid swirled in the amber cup, the wine’s fragrance lingering in the air. “This is a fruit wine that we produced in this mountain villa.” He remarked. “Have a taste, it’s very refreshing.”
She sipped for a taste and it was indeed a good wine. It was slightly warm as it entered her palate, and the initial sweetness left a subtle mellow aftertaste that lasted. In her past life, she had tasted many good wines while with Pei Ziheng. At this moment, she was certain that this wine was not as simple as Li Lei had put it. Even if it were self-produced in this mountain villa, there was definitely an experienced and illustrious wine-maker overseeing the operation.
Yet he kept mum with no intention to brag.
Xia Ling could not resist but steal another look at Li Lei, feeling increasingly impressed by him.
The boat captain skillfully rowed the boat with the bamboo oars in his hands, and the wooden boat traversed the river between the green mountains, following the river’s current.
Along the way, Li Lei kept up the intermittent conversation and before long, the wooden boat had traveled past many twists and turns along the river stretch. The scenery on the two banks changed and there were no longer signs of houses or people. Li Lei told her that this river’s name was “The River of Longing”. It flowed through many of the neighboring peaks with many twists along the way, and they were now no longer in the initial mountain where they started from.
He peeled an orange and passed a segment to her, saying, “Have an after meal fruit and rest for a little longer. We will be reaching another jetty. From there we can switch to a cable car to return to the mountain villa. You will be able to see the Jade Mirror Lake and wild geese midway up the mountain.”
His words were lined with a tinge of laughter, fulfilling his role as host well.
Although Xia Ling felt that it was a little waste of time to traverse the entire mountain region just for a simple meal, the year-long prisoner life that she had experienced in her past life, as well as the mundane life of a trainee, was just too boring. Hence, she couldn’t help but feel expectant upon hearing about the wild geese he spoke about.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.
A sudden downpour sent them scrambling, soaking them from top to bottom. Li Lei used both arms to protect the wound in his abdomen while ordering the boat captain. “Lao Chen, quickly look for a place nearby to hide from the rain.”
The boat captain responded with a loud voice and then started rowing in earnest. The little wooden boat picked up speed as he guided it steadily through the many turns that he had become accustomed to. They came to a stop in front of a secluded cave.
Li Lei jumped ashore and stretched out his arm to help Xia Ling out.
This time, Xia Ling did not decline, mainly because the partially recovered wound on her shoulder was hurting badly having been wet through by the rain. She could barely lift her arm to balance herself. Li Lei half dragged, half carried her ashore. She looked disheveled and stood unsteadily as he pulled her into his embrace in one swift motion.
Li Lei’s chest was sturdy like it was made of metal, and her nose hurt from bumping into it with the sudden movement. Xia Ling panicked momentarily and struggled to stand steady. He released his hold on her and looked at her teasingly. “The ground is slippery from the heavy downpour. It’s not the time for you to pretend like you don’t need help.”
She covered her nose in embarrassment, not saying a word.
She did not know if it was her imagination, but she felt that his words held more meaning than he let on on the surface. Could it be that he was holding a grudge from her initial rejection?
Yet, it was just a moment later that he turned and walked further into the cave, leaving her behind. His steps were steady, and nobody would be able to tell that he was still recovering from an injury. Xia Ling looked on in shock. His gun wound was definitely more serious than her shoulder injury. Her shoulder was still hurting badly but he was completely fine already?
At this moment, the boat captain too came ashore after anchoring the wooden boat. Seeing Xia Ling standing outside the cave, he politely said, “Miss, you should head inside the cave too. The wind at the cave entrance is chilly, thus you’ll easily catch a cold. I’ll be ok here alone standing guard.”
Xia Ling nodded and followed in the direction that Li Lei had headed.
The cave was not considered deep and was formed in a semi-circle shape. As she took a turn to go further into the cave to look for Li Lei, she could no longer see the boat captain at the entrance. Li Lei had already taken off his shirt, revealing his naked upper body, his muscles proportionate and well-toned. She noticed that there was gauze wrapped around his waist and some blood was seeping out. Clearly, his wound was not fully recovered.
She would not have been able to tell from the way he had acted earlier like there was nothing wrong at all.
Furthermore, she could see countless old scars crisscrossed on his body, in all shapes and sizes. Many looked scary, with one spanning from his left shoulder to his right waistline, as if someone had tried to cut him in half. She couldn’t help but wonder what did he go through to have scars like these?
She kept walking forward while she pondered, her footsteps light, not obvious with the howling of the wind and rain. However, as she drew near to Li Lei, he raised his head alertly, the deep green of his eyes overflowing with coldness.
Xia Ling felt her heart tighten in fear. It was as if an invisible hand held her in a choke the moment he laid eyes on her, making her freeze in place. There was an iciness in the air. Was this… a killer’s instinct?
In a split second his death glare was replaced with his usual lazy smile. He said, “Oh Ye Xingling, it’s you. Take off your clothes and come sit by the fire. It’s easy to fall ill in this weather.”
She took a deep breath. Who else did he think would appear here?
As she sought to tame her heart that was thumping wildly, Xia Ling thought to herself that she had but seen Li Lei twice and both times he had given her a massive fright. She felt no security being with him, a vagrant associated with the underworld, thus she would better keep a distance in the future.
She carefully walked closer and sat down opposite him, as far away as possible.
He had somehow found some firewood and was starting a fire. The confidence he exuded clearly suggested that he knew what he was doing. As he worked, he said, “The weather in the mountains is hard to predict. Lao Chen and his crew have been here for a long time, thus they know all the places to hide from the rain. This cave has already been scouted out before. It’s safe, don’t worry.”
She had nothing to worry about. Tan Ying had mentioned that there were no wild beasts in the nearby mountains on the very first day of filming. Furthermore, ever since Li Lei’s injury, she heard from the caretaker that security in the mountains had been heightened. In the route that they took on the wooden boat, there were countless bodyguards around, some visible some not.
He was the one that was worried. The aggressiveness in his glare earlier was too obvious.
Warmth rose from the flicker of the orange-red flame that Li Lei started. She lifted her hands and warmed them by the fire, and then curiously asked, “Where did you find this firewood?”
“We prepare them year-round in these caves, in case anyone needs them urgently while being trapped here alone.” Li Lei replied and continued, “When we go back later, Lao Chen will replace the firewood here. Oh, there’s also some dried food…” He jerked his chin towards the direction of a stack of dried biscuits in a near corner of the cave.
As they had just had lunch and were not hungry, neither of them touched the biscuits.
Li Lei narrowed his eyes and watched her warming her hands by the fire, darkness entering his eyes.
She noticed the change and lowered her head to look at herself. At this moment, she noticed that her long dress and cardigan, soaked in the rain, were clinging closely to her body, the curves of her body and muscles underneath her skirt shaped clearly by the wet fabric. With a start, she wrapped both arms around her chest reflexively.