In the end, the two of them went back to Yue Dingtang's house for dinner.
Firstly, the chef at his house was truly skilled.
The taste of the old duck soup made Ling Shu crave it from the last time he had it until the next time. Not to mention the scallion oil noodles with fresh shrimp mixed in, or the chicken soup rice noodles with mushrooms and chicken that were tender and extraordinary.
If Yue Chunxiao were here, her hand-made chicken vegetable dumplings would have had a taste of home. Now that she wasn't here, there was a bit less warmth and enthusiasm, but it was still better than being at home alone with cold food and a cold stove.
At the very least, the thoughtful and considerate steward made Ling Shu feel right at home.
His sister and brother-in-law hadn't returned yet, so this place had almost become his second dining hall.
Secondly, ever since the incident at the Yuan Manor, the true nature of the owner of Xinyue Cafe, Mr. Li, was revealed when his facade of kindness was stripped away. In reality, he was a ruthless person. Ling Shu still had some lingering trauma from the Western meal they had at the cafe. If Mr. Li had wanted to do something to them at that time, they wouldn't have even noticed. Ling Shu believed that Yue Dingtang had similar thoughts to his own.
As expected, the housekeeper had prepared hot dishes.
It wasn't duck soup, but bone soup.
There weren't many mushrooms or other seasonings added, just simple bones that had been marinated to remove any unpleasant odors and boiled into a soup. The pepper helped to dispel the cold, and the perfect amount of salt brought out the rich flavor of the bones.
As their bodies gradually warmed up, the harsh cold and snow outside seemed to fade away into the distance. The servants of the Yue family always appeared at the right time and quietly retreated when they were not needed.
Before they knew it, only the two of them were left in the dining room.
"Are you going to attend Zhen Congyun's birthday banquet?" Ling Shu heard Yue Dingtang say as he was putting a piece of winter bamboo shoot into his mouth.
He hummed in response and chewed the bamboo shoot.
"If there's nothing else, I'll go and see the excitement. I heard that He You'an will also be there," Ling Shu continued.
Yue Dingtang furrowed his brows slightly. "You care about her a lot."
"I care about the case," Ling Shu shrugged.
"Don't forget, she belongs to Shen Shiqi," Yue Dingtang reminded him.
"That may not be the case anymore," Ling Shu replied.
"What do you mean?" Yue Dingtang asked.
He had already felt that Ling Shu's attention towards He You'an was excessive and had crossed a certain line. Now, this sentence seemed to confirm Yue Dingtang's suspicions.
If it were an ordinary woman, it would be nothing. Ling Shu has always had many admirers, and adding one more in the form of He You'an would only add to the beauty of the situation.
But once He You'an became involved, things were different.
Shen Shiqi was not someone to be trifled with.
Although he was restrained by the existence of the Yue family and couldn't take action against Ling Shu, that didn't mean he didn't hold a grudge.
He couldn't completely give up on seeking revenge against Ling Shu, especially with the threatening letters that kept coming.
He You'an was like a beautiful flower, attracting countless suitors, but there was danger lurking beneath her gorgeous exterior.
"Because when I was talking to He You'an just now, I saw a scarf."
The scarf was draped over the armrest of the sofa, not hanging on a coat rack. This indicated that the owner of the scarf was quite casual at the home of He You'an, and also showed that the other person had a close relationship with He You'an.
Perhaps they had just left and He You'an hadn't had time to tidy up, or maybe they accidentally dropped something and would quickly come back to retrieve it.
"That scarf is gray, white, and black, with a checkered pattern. Interestingly enough, not long ago, I saw an identical scarf," Ling Shu said, pausing to ask Yue Dingtang, "What were you about to say?"
"Nothing," Yue Dingtang replied, realizing he had gotten off track. He calmly got up to scoop soup and turned his back to Ling Shu, smoothly changing the subject.
"Please continue. What's so special about that scarf?"
Ling Shu continued, "That day we were at Baofeng Building, and sitting next to us was Shen Shiqi and his friend. Do you remember?"
In a flash of insight, Yue Dingtang realized, "Mr. Cheng!"
Ling Shu nodded, "It is indeed Mr. Cheng."
Shen Shiqi did not specifically introduce Mr. Cheng, but he was always arrogant and looked down on people. From his attitude towards Mr. Cheng, it was clear that Mr. Cheng was one of the few people who could make him listen and obey.
He You'an was originally Shen Shiqi's person, but now a scarf that Mr. Cheng had just worn a few days ago appeared in her residence.
What does this mean?
Ling Shu didn't want to think too much about it, but he couldn't help but think about it. With He You'an's appearance, even if Mr. Cheng had seen countless people, he might still be moved.
That fleeting glance that day might have sparked something.
But no matter what He You'an thought, without Shen Shiqi's permission, she could not openly be with Mr. Cheng. So it was that Shen Shiqi had tacitly agreed, even personally delivering He You'an into Mr. Cheng's hands.
But what about He You'an?
What was she feeling, like a gift being passed from one person to another?
When Ling Shu recalled their conversation with He You'an earlier, he noticed a hidden sadness beneath her frightened expression, like a withered flower deprived of water.
At the time, he had thought it was just the string of threats that had left her unsettled, but he had no idea of the hidden truth behind it all.
Every human being has emotions and desires, joys and sorrows, and no one would willingly want to be treated like a plaything.
He You'an had no way to resist.
Whether she liked it or not, she couldn't escape this fate.
If Mr. Cheng had been more aware and willing to treat her better than Shen Shiqi, perhaps she would have gradually come to enjoy this forced hypnosis.
"What a pity," Ling Shu would always say whenever the name He You'an was mentioned.
But this time, it was not Ling Shu who spoke, but Yue Dingtang.
"Your tone is too indifferent. Some things cannot be ignored and left hanging," Ling Shu commented.
Yue Dingtang replied, "She has nothing to do with me. It's rare for me to say 'what a pity.' Since she's now involved with Mr. Cheng, it's best for you not to get too involved. If you're interested, you can casually investigate the case, but don't overdo it. If you're interested in unsolved cases, there are plenty in all of Shanghai. You don't need to focus on this one spot."
Ling Shu looked suspiciously at Yue Dingtang and asked, "Have you found out anything about Mr. Cheng?"
Yue Dingtang remained silent for a moment before responding, "His name is Cheng Gong, and he does timber business in the northeast. He frequently travels to the mainland and is said to have a large and diverse network. From the Northeast Army to the Japanese, from the Green Gang to the Nanjing government, everyone owes him favors. Many people like to do business with him, and over time, his influence has grown. It is said that if he agrees to help you, there is nothing he cannot accomplish."
"So, Shen Shiqi sought his help?" Ling Shu asked.
Yue Dingtang said, "Shen Shiqi values He You'an very much. Otherwise, he would have had countless opportunities to send her away, even if it meant making her a concubine for those powerful military officials. He could have easily gained enough capital for himself, but in the end, he sent He You'an to a businessman."
Ling Shu replied, "Now that you put it that way, I'm even more interested."
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
"Just kidding, I understand what you mean. The situation is complicated. It looks like a shallow pool, but once you step in, you realize it's an unfathomable abyss. You're afraid I'll drown in it."
Ling Shu grinned and saluted, "Don't worry, I'll be careful. Even if I die, I'll make sure it's far away from you, so as not to cause trouble for Captain Yue!"
He had a way of turning a good conversation into something that could infuriate people.
Yue Dingtang sighed. Out of nowhere, Ling Shu suddenly approached and leaned over, lowering his voice in a mysterious tone.
"Hey, Old Yue, do you know what Miss Zhen likes?"
Yue Dingtang asked, "Are you planning to give her a gift?"
Ling Shu replied, "You know me well, Officer Yue. What are you planning to give her? Never mind, I won't ask. Whatever you give her, I definitely can't afford it."
Yue Dingtang said, "I'm not going. I have to go to Nanjing this weekend. There's an academic conference and monthly salon at a university over there, and they invited me to attend."
Ling Shu exclaimed, "So I'll be left all alone?"
Yue Dingtang replied, "I think you're actually quite happy about it."
Ling Shu quickly wiped the upward curve of his mouth downward.
"That's not true! You still haven't told me what Miss Zhen's preferences are."
If you're going to a banquet, you have to bring a gift. It should be expensive, but also clever.
Zhen Congyun just came back from abroad and has seen all sorts of new and interesting things. Ordinary gifts might not catch her eye.
Yue Dingtang smirked, his expression full of meaning.
"I happen to know something about Miss Zhen," he said.
Ling Shu looked interested.
Yue Dingtang continued, "She likes to dance. That's why her family rented out the entire Bailemen for her birthday."
Ling Shu replied, "I can do the tango and waltz, but with so many people at the party, I doubt I'll get a chance to dance with her. I'm just going to enjoy the festivities, give my gift, and eat some good food."
Yue Dingtang was speechless. "Can't you have a little ambition?"
Ling Shu said, "Food is the most important thing for people. Besides, I've been to Bailemen before and there are a few familiar dancers there. I don't even have time to catch up with them, how can I have time for Miss Zhen?"
Yue Dingtang replied, "Zhen Congyun is very proud. Since she has specially invited you, it means she values you. Even if you can't dance the first dance with her, you will definitely have a chance to get close to her. If you want to save money, just don't give her anything and make her happy. That's more effective than anything else."
Ling Shu thought for several seconds, weighing the options between buying a cheap gift to pass off and not buying anything at all to save money.
"Tell me more," he said.
Yue Dingtang replied, "Her favorite dance is actually the rumba."
"How do you know?" Ling Shu asked.
"My sister told me," Yue Dingtang said.
"But I don't know how to dance the rumba," Ling Shu said.
"I do," Yue Dingtang said.
The two of them stared at each other in surprise. Ling Shu said, "Old Yue, Captain Yue, Fourth Young Master, Dingtang, Little Tang Tang–"
Yue Dingtang remained silent.
"I used to have a low salary, and now that I'm here, I haven't even received my first month's pay. I have to support myself, my family, and save some money for my future wife. Whether or not we can save money this time is all up to you!" Ling Shu said.
"You can just not go," Yue Dingtang replied.
Ling Shu stood firm, "A man without integrity cannot stand. Since we've already promised Miss Zhen, how can we go back on our word? Besides, I am now Captain Yue's assistant, representing your face. If you don't go, and I don't go, wouldn't that be impolite?"
Yue Dingtang got up and walked towards the phonograph in the living room.
He bent down and searched through the record box for a while before finding a disc.
In just a moment, the music flowed out. Yue Dingtang raised his hand, gesturing for Ling Shu to follow.
Ling Shu walked over.
"Follow my steps and pay attention to my movements," he heard Yue Dingtang say. Ling Shu concentrated, his eyes fixed on the slender and straight back of the other person, his hands and feet constantly moving like a toddler learning to walk, imitating every move.
After jumping for a while, Ling Shu suddenly realized something.
... Was he dancing in a feminine style?