Morning dawned bright and clear; the fall sky was a deep crystalline blue. Curled in the huge platform bed, Hyun Ae gazed out the bay window into the sky. She had gotten little sleep last night, her first night alone in her new location. When the phone began to vibrate on the bedside table she rolled over and picked it up. A preset alarm was ringing. “He even dictates when I wake up in the morning,” she grumbled. Her mood improved after a wonderfully hot shower. Wrapped in a large soft towel, she stood inside the walk-in closet.
When Mr. Park had mentioned that In Su purchased some clothing for her she hadn’t realized that meant an entire wardrobe. The generous walk-in closet held more clothes than she had ever owned. Shoes, a wide assortment of costume jewelry, both casual and business clothing, and they were all of the highest quality, and in flattering colors and styles.
Feeling somewhat like a kid in a candy shop she allowed herself a few squeals of excitement as she explored her choices, forgetting who purchased them. She settled on a cream dress and a pale pink bolero jacket. With a simple silver looking necklace, matching earrings and slick pink heels, she felt like a princess. Pausing to admire herself in an antique mirror, she couldn’t believe how sophisticated she appeared, even with her long blonde hair in simple ponytail.
“You are already running late.” The voice caught her off guard and she jumped. Turning she saw In Su standing in the archway. “You have ten minutes to eat before we leave.” With that he pushed away from the wall and walked back towards his private quarters. In Su had to remove himself from her presence, with the crisp sunlight gracing her petite frame she looked… beautiful. He had not been prepared for that and the idea that he could find her attractive bothered and distracted him.
Making a face at his retreating back she scurried into the kitchen to find that a simple but tasty breakfast had been prepared. In Su probably had someone deliver meals, as she couldn’t imagine him bumbling around the kitchen to cook. Eating swiftly, she was ready by the time In Su made his way back to the kitchen . Of course he looked dashing as always, in a deep blue double-breasted suit with warm green accents, a white shirt, and green tie. The cut emphasized his powerful frame without bringing attention to the ever-present arm braces.
The ride in the elevator was almost familiar in its silence, and would no doubt become even more so as time went on. In the garage Mr. Park waited for them with the sedan. Once they were settled and moving, In Su slapped three folders in her lap.
“Your resignation letter to the legal department. The paperwork for your move to Assistant Vice President. The information for the car and driver Mr. Park hired.” With that he opened his phone and made a call.
Closing her eyes and gritting her teeth Hyun Ae gripped the files and took a few deep breaths. When she felt under control she determinedly opened and read each file. It was in that moment she decided that she would no longer let fear cloud her thoughts. She could not remain docile any longer, despite her fear for the orphanage and her true family. It was against her nature, and she no longer wanted to just give in.
Hyun Ae pulled a red pen out of her briefcase, and began editing the paperwork. In Su paused in his conversation and watched her meticulously edit the letter he’d crafted for her. Noting the silence she looked up and met his dark gaze, “Yes?”
There was a slight tremor in her voice, it was a very real possibility that she might had pushed too far too fast.
For a moment he held her gaze and then looked away. Hyun Ae couldn’t believe it, but she was almost certain that she had seen a ghost of a smile on his lips. Letting out the breath she hadn’t realized that she had been holding, Hyun Ae finished with the letter just as they pulled up to the building. Secretly proud of herself for standing up to him regardless of how nerve-wracking it had been. Securing the three folders in her briefcase she watched as In Su was helped out of the car.
When Mr. Park opened her door she lightly took his hand and stepped out with a cheery expression. Mr. Park smiled to himself seeing the subtle changes in both Hyun Ae and In Su. Regardless of their differences and the terrible circumstances of their relationship it did his heart good to see them both smile.
In Su stopped in front of her and took her hand in his. Startled by the sudden contact she looked warily up at him. From his inner pocket he retrieved the gaudy ring that he used to propose. Swiftly sliding it on her finger he growled softly, “Don’t forget it again darling.” The warning was clear in his gaze and words. Pulling her hand away she nodded, the playful atmosphere of the car ride gone in an instant.
Hyun Ae knew what was expected at the office. Slipping her arm through his, they entered the building together, all smiles and sweetness. As they stepped into the elevator, the whispers were like waves, ebbing and flowing in the lobby. The moment the door closed she took a small step away. His arm tightened for a moment, then released her.
She looked up at his impassive face. How could anyone believe this act, really? Shaking her head slightly, she focused on the elevator doors. The couple staring back from the reflective metal seemed well-matched, but only on the surface.
The morning rushed by. Her co-workers had a small good-bye party for her; Hyun Ae did her best to endure it. The department head even made a speech, and the over-enthusiasm of the other workers grated on her. Before she knew it, she had arrived at In Su’s office with her box of belongings carried by an office assistant.
A desk, similar in style to the President’s but much smaller, stood apart from the main areas of the space. The assistant placed her box on the credenza and bowed out of the room, and she was alone to absorb her new surroundings. After the whirlwind of a morning she was glad to just sit and relax. Her fiancé was in a meeting and so Hyun Ae was able to eat her lunch in complete peace and silence.
Her phone started to buzz, Hyu Ae pulled it out of her purse and checked. It was an alarm for a meeting that had no title. Curious, she closed the reminder just as Mr. Park entered the office.
“Ms Song, please accompany me.” Tucking the phone in the pocket of her dress she stood.
“Of course, just a moment.” This was her first test. Hyun Ae picked up a new portfolio notebook on her desk and took a moment to gather her thoughts. She was determined to meet this challenge head on.
The assistant quickly led her through the corridors to a large well-appointed meeting. Several groups of people stopped talking and turned to see the new arrival. Hyun Ae immediately realized that these individuals were the Board Of Directors. From the head of the dark table In Su stood up and gestured.
“Ah, here she is.” Hooking his arms in the cuffs of his crutches he made his way towards her.
For the first time today she looked at the crutches, and really took note. They thudded loudly on the marble flooring, accentuating his off gait. The looks the Board members gave him ranged from pity to malice, and Hyun Ae suddenly realized that, for all his business acumen and abilities, these people would always look at him as crippled. She felt the fear inside her heart ease a little; perhaps his prickly nature was due to the environment that he lived in.
She’d have time to ponder that later. Unexpectedly, Hyun Ae wanted these people to take her seriously, and in return, respect her fiance,and it was time to play her part to the hilt.
With a sparkling smile she walked across the floor to meet him. She was emboldened by the momentary look of confusion on his face. She flicked off an imaginary dust mote off his shoulder, and turned to face the rest of the room.
Turning her sparkling smile to the room Hyun Ae bowed respectfully and then placed her free hand on his arm, deliberately brushing against the metal armcuff. “I’m Song Hyun Ae, President Lee’s fiancé.” A murmur swept the room; most of those in attendance perfunctorily returned her bow. She straightened her spine; this was her new life and she was determined not to stepped on by anyone. She glance to the man at her side. Except maybe one. But she hoped there was wiggle room there, too.
In Su was impressed. With her on his arm they walked back to the head of the table together. Her chair was to his left, set a little apart from the board members. Once they were seated In Su smiled at her, if she didn’t know better she would have believed it was genuine. Turning towards the board members, she began her carefully prepared speech.
“In order to prepare for the position as Vice President of Royal Lee Exports, I will be shadowing President Lee until the wedding. I will work hard and do my best to further the company’s holdings. Please take care of me.” Bowing her head again she settled her portfolio on the table and smiled at In Su with an expectant expression.
Their eyes met and she would have sworn that he was really smiling. Together, they sat down, still looking at each other. Clearing his throat, In Su turned his attention to the room and motioned to Mr. Park who dispersed a thick agenda.
With the conclusion of the board meeting Hyun Ae was relegated to a small anteroom across from the Presidential Office. After feeling connected to him throughout the meeting, she seethed at being treated like a second class citizen again.
Pouting in the seat at the single desk she glared out the partially opened door. After a few minutes, she stood up and headed for it, intending to sit in on whatever meeting President Lee was undergoing.
A moment before Hyun Ae opened the door wider she heard two very familiar voices. Suddenly her knees grew weak; she stepped back and sank into a nearby chair. “I hear that he has been keeping her at his side. If she’s here today, should we reschedule?” Her adoptive father’s voice held the faintest quiver of uncertainty.
A resounding slap made Hyun Ae gasp and cover her mouth. “Why? If she doesn’t know the truth of this pairing by now then she should be brought into reality quickly. Stop being such a weakling.”
Their voices faded as they entered the administrative assistant’s office. Hyun Ae took a moment to collect herself before creeping to the door leading directly to the President’s office. She pressed her ear against it, and managed to hear much of the conversation.
“Sit.” In Su’s commanding voice rang clear to her through the dark wood. “Why are you here?” His voice was cold and stern. In Su kept a calm facade as he faced his ersatz in-laws, but inwardly he fumed at their low behavior. His advisors had calculated and accurately predicted the cost of their cooperation, but he never thought they would do this.
Hyun Ae’s mother didn’t hesitate. “The money wasn’t sufficient for our needs.” With that single statement Hyun Ae’s heart dropped. Even knowing that they didn’t love her, she couldn’t believe their gall. “If you wish to maintain this relationship…”
“Your financial situation was assessed and I provided you with sufficient funds to discharge your debt. Plus I agreed to absorb your daughter’s school debts.”
Hyun Ae started. Throughout her high school and college years, her parents had forced her to work in order to pay for her education.
In Su knew, based on the findings of his investigator, that his fiancé had worked during her schooling. For a moment, he pitied the woman trapped in his plans. At least his father took care of him during his formative years, even though he never showed his father his gratitude. It was amazing that she managed to be at the top of her class, and a well-adjusted person. “So what you are telling me is that you have spent beyond your means again?” The cutting words stopped Bong Cha’s request in its tracks, and In Su pushed the advantage.
“How much is your daughter worth?” It was like a dagger to the heart, and she couldn’t contain the animal sound welling up as she sank to the soft carpet.
A tiny scraping sound by his private door caught his attention. Was Hyun Ae eavesdropping? He focused on the couple in front of him.
“Of course she’s priceless,” Sim Bong Cha smoothly said, her nervous gestures belying the tone of her voice. Na Kyu Bok sat by and watched the exchange, obviously intimidated by both In Su and his wife. “This has nothing to do with her worth, there are obligations between family members.” Her voice grew stronger as he sat there and said nothing. Self-importantly, she concluded, “You wouldn’t want the business community to know how poorly you treat your in-laws.” The self righteous tone set his teeth on edge.
In Su’s smile was predatory as he slid a folder across the polished surface of his desk.
“Did you think my investigators would not find everything you thought was hidden? Here is hard proof of your actions: siphoning money from your company for personal use, your gambling receipts, the loans you acquired under your daughter’s name that she knows nothing about. The Prosecutor’s Office would be very interested in this file.”
He began to draw it back, only to have Na Kyu Bok grab onto it. “What do you want us to do?” he quietly asked, finally moved to action. His wife was frozen, mouth hanging open.
In Su’s voice became menacing. “I see no family here. Neither of you have the right to call yourselves parents. You’ve sold her off for a bit of cash. After today we will see one another at the wedding, beyond that you would do well never to be in my presence again.” Looking at each one of them in turn, he summarily dismissed them.
They scrambled up from the heavy leather chairs, and without another word, quickly disappeared through the doors to his assistant’s desk. He had already ordered Security to escort the pair outside and deny them entry again.
Once they were gone, he took a deep breath. He was finally free of them. Even better, she was out of their grasp. He ignored the tiny voice in his head that told him he was no better in his treatment of this woman.
The thought brought him back to the previous sound. He levered himself out of his chair and made his careful way to his private door. It was tricky walking without his braces, but he barely managed to walk close enough to turn the knob and pull the door in.
She was there, crumpled on the carpet, and for a moment he was alarmed that something had happened to her. Then she looked up, and time seemed to stop.
Hyun Ae’s eyes were stormy, deep green and tempestuous, and he was caught in their depths, unable to turn away. They were filled with embarrassment and pain. She blinked as one tear slid down her cheek, breaking the spell, but before he could say anything, she scramble to her feet and darted for the stairwell.
“Hyun Ae!” But she was deaf to his call, and In Su knew he could never catch up, and, not for the first time, cursed his infirmity.
* * *
Hyun Ae didn’t think, she just ran,desperate to escape the emotions overwhelming her. She burst out, breathless and exhausted, through the emergency stairwell onto the rooftop garden. With her heart beating like a timpani she stood with her fists clenched, “how… how could they? Vile… horrid…” Shamed by the acts of her parents, she angrily rubbed her watery eyes.
“They don’t matter… Just like he said, they aren’t family. But… does that mean… he’s family?” Shaking her head and knocking her knuckles against her temple, “he’s so confusing!”
Stomping her foot she took a strong step forward and walked directly into someone. Opening her eyes she immediately apologized, “Omo, I’m sorry!”
The laughter that slipped from the older gentleman was kind and warm, it instantly made her feel better. There was a twinkle in his eye that matched the wide and benevolent smile that pulled at his mouth.
“There is no need to apologize, Ahgassi, it seems that you have had a difficult day. Looks to me that you need a friend.” Hyun Ae allowed herself to be lead over to a comfortable bench beneath a cherry tree. Her heart was already slowing down after her flight. “Now, what has you so upset?”
It was nice to feel such genuine sympathy after being treated so coldly.”Ahjussi … my parents… they have done something shameful. But… you see there’s this man. He endured their terrible actions…”
Pausing Hyun Ae wondered how much to say, the need to release some of her wildly careening emotions overwhelming her.
“How can one person be both caring and hateful?” She burst out. “He can act like he’s in love, and then turn off the charm like a light switch. I know it’s a performance. I know this in my heart, and yet…and yet…” Hyun Ae stopped for a moment to collect her chaotic thoughts. “And I never know how he’s going to act towards me, so I’m constantly on edge.” Agitated again, she stood up and began pacing, much to the amusement of the gentleman.
“I am engaged to someone who uses coercion in business, and…and…” Hyun Ae stopped, not wanting to reveal their agreement to this stranger. Who was probably employed by the company.
“And yet, I don’t feel that he’s really mean inside. It’s more like, I’m not sure, a shell?” She plopped back down on the bench, and blew a few stray hairs off her face. “Do you know anything about his parents? I wonder if they are proud of how he has grown.”
The older man became pensive. “Are we talking about President Lee?” Hyun Ae realized with a start that she hadn’t mentioned any names.
“I’d…rather not say.”
Holding her gaze for a moment there was a flash of calculation in his deep brown eyes. Then he smiled. “He sounds like a vexing young man. How is it that you managed to get yourself attached to such a person?” His beaming face was a veneer over an edge of cleverness vaguely familiar to her.
Hyun Ae blushed and toyed with an imaginary string on her skirt. “It’s complicated.”
“All good things usually are. The things truly worthy of keeping are the most complicated of all.” The sun broke out from the clouds and dappled the ground at their feet with warm yellow light. With her head bowed and attention on her hands, he watched her with a critical eye. Turning serious, he continued. “The struggles may be great, however, if you can overcome those complications, there may be greater blessings in your new life.”
Making a face Hyun Ae shrugged and looked up at the older man. “He confuses me… if his reactions made some semblance of logical sense I might be able to understand him. But he changes from one second to the next. He’s so…mercurial. I just can’t guess what he’s going to do or say next and I don’t even know how to react anymore.”
Growing serious, he spoke quietly, ”Maybe his parents didn’t really know what to do, and that’s why he’s a handful. Perhaps he needs a reminder of what it means to be human, and you can do what his father couldn’t.” He started at his own words, but Hyun Ae just laughed softly, watching the sunlight sparkling on the tiled walkway.
* * *
In Su finally made it up to the roof, sure that Hyun Ae had fled there. Was she still crying? He smiled when he thought of her gratitude once he told her that her greedy adoptive parents would never darken her door again. A sound of girlish laughter wafted through the slight breeze as he rounded the corner to the rooftop garden. He quietly stepped through the gate and was greeted by a surprise.
Hyun Ae was sitting and laughing with his father and smiling with that beguiling mouth. Struck silent, the glitter of happiness in her green eyes took his breath away. For a few moments he watched the pair, before shaking off the enchantment and heading towards them.
From the opposite side of the garden the sound of metal creaking reached their ears. The older gentleman looked up sharply while Hyun Ae jumped, embarrassed to be caught chatting with a stranger.
In Su stood there glaring at the pair, but for once, Hyun Ae felt no fear. He looked stern and imposing, but a breeze playfully ruffled his hair, softening his appearance. She immediately stood and bowed, a smile tugging at her mouth.
Turning his glare to the older man he practically growled, “Aboenim? What are you doing here?” He tried to ignore the gasp from his woman. How much information had his father gleaned from her?
Hyun Ae felt her heart stutter. Aboenim? This nice old man wasn’t an employee but the owner of the company? And her fiancé’s father? She wanted to sink into the tiled walkway.
The accusatory words were met with a sharp laugh, “Can I not come to my own company and meet my future daughter in law?” She made an unladylike squeak, and sat down heavily on the bench. He patted her shoulder, “I am sorry for not telling you who I was or that I knew who you were.” He stood up, and she followed, still shocked. He made a formal bow and handed her a business card.
“Miss Song Hyun Ae, I am Lee Dae Ho, Chairman of Royal Lee Exports.” He winked before continuing, “I could hardly resist getting to hear your unabashed thoughts on my son. I ask your forgiveness, Myeoneuri.” With a shaking hand she took the card and returned the formal bow, unable to manage any sort of reply.
In Su growled, but didn’t say anything. Now that they were next to each other, she could see the similarities between the two men. Despite the calm demeanor of the older one, the tension between them was almost palpable.
For the moment he ignored his fiancé. “I should have guessed you would interfere.” In Su was angry; he had planned out when and how he would introduce Hyun Ae to his father. Gripping Hyun Ae’s arm he pulled her away from his father, and in a harsh tone, ordered her back their office.
Dae Ho gave his son a withering look, and carefully removed his son’s hand from Hyun Ae’s arm. “In Su-ah, you should treat your fiancé better.” Taking Hyun Ae’s hand he held it tenderly while escorting her to the garden gate , “Myeoneuri, I need to instruct my son on proper etiquette. Would you please excuse us?” Grateful for the excuse to disappear, she bowed swiftly and escaped to the doorway and into the building.
In Su stomped towards the balcony railing as his father returned, “I told you I would handle this.” Grudgingly he admitted to himself, that he was lucky his father had stayed away this long. The old man was as sharp as they came, and hadn’t gained his fortune by sitting around. It only made sense that he’d insert himself into In Su’s plans. But he wasn’t happy about his father’s intrusion.
“I expected that you would formulate a plan which would ensure your success and the success of the company. But, by deviating from my advice, you have created your own obstacles. Which will be much more difficult to overcome than anything I had anticipated.” Turning his clear gaze to his son, Dae Ho regarded the young man. In Su could only hold that intense scrutiny for a few moments before looking back to the cityscape.
“You will do well to listen now, I will not have your actions be the ruination of the company I have given my life to. Do you understand me?” The quiet way in which Dae Ho spoke held a measure of authority that even In Su inherently respected.
Even though it angered him, In Su bowed in agreement. There was no way he would win against this opponent. And no matter the distance of their current relationship, he didn’t want fight his father. Dae Ho was the only family he had left, and even though he never showed it, In Su loved his father very much. Over the years he’d forgotten how to show it.
His father surprised him by clapping him on the back. “You have a good head on your shoulders, son, and I expect you to use it, right?” A moment of silence hung in the air between the two of them, before the older man spoke.
“Your Uncle and cousin entered the country a week ago.” Dae Ho raised a brow and glanced sideways at his son, letting the words sink in.
It was not what In Su had expected his father to say. Gripping his crutches tightly he watched his father’s guarded expression.
“I am certain you understand what that means. You have appointed her as Assistant Vice President. Without regard to necessity you have given her the title in name only.”
Moodily In Su grumbled, “I should not be surprised that you know.”
A satisfied smile was Dae Ho’s only indication that he was pleased with his son’s reaction. “Now that they have returned, what do you assume will be their goal?”
“Royal Lee Exports.” Closing his eyes In Su grit his teeth.
Clasping his hands behind his back Dae Ho watched the city spread out before them. “They are cunning, devious, and ruthless. Do you believe that either of them will be blind to such an easy opportunity?” Pausing he considered In Su, who looked unsure where the conversation was going. A sly smile flitted across the older man’s mouth.
“A confused woman living under your thumb. A woman that you are controlling through fear and intimidation.”
The disapproval in his father’s eyes made him look away. In Su could not deny those accusations and it made him feel a strange tightening pain in his chest. “Adding to that her lack of training in her current position of power, will she not make an easy target?”
In Su looked at his father with disbelief tinged with a healthy dose of respect. How did he figure out his arrangement with Hyun Ae so quickly? The older man easily read his son’s expression.
“I still have my networks both within and without the company. When you rejected my choices, did you not think I would keep an eye on you?” He eyes bored into his son’s still sharp despite the fading the years had done. In Su was the first to look away.
“And I want to add, any action you take against my future daughter-in-law will be neutralized by me.” In Su eyes snapped back to his fathers, which were now tinged with amusement. “Except I know you have no intention of doing any of it. But just in case,” he pointed a figure at his discomfited progeny, “Know I am watching.”
Suddenly he was enveloped in a bear hug. He was too surprised to act before his father tousled his hair and stepped back.
Strolling away from the railing he moved towards the exit. “Bring your fiancé to the estate soon, we should keep up appearances.” With that he left his son to brood on the rooftop garden.
The Board Meeting had gone well, but since then her day had taken a turn for the worse. First with her parents and now with Chairman Lee. Hyun Ae wanted to run home and hide. However, she wasn’t willing to admit defeat either. Pacing the spacious office she was debating what to say to In Su. Should she apologize for her parents? Should she scold him for giving them money? Should she ask about his father? Even more confused the more she debated what to do she sat down dejectedly.
A few moments later In Su barged into the room. Startled to her feet she watched him, wide-eyed, as he stalked towards her. His normally neat hair was disheveled. “What do you think you were doing? People are dangerous. What exactly crossed your mind that it became acceptable to speak with a stranger?” The words were spoken in anger, but the grip on her arm was surprisingly gentle, and very different from the rooftop.
Without another word, In Su pulled her closer. Hyun Ae stumbled, her hand coming to rest on the smooth wool covering his broad chest in order to keep her balance. She had no response for his tirade. Because in that instant she realized something vital. He had been worried about her. This cold, calculating machine had been afraid something might have happened to her. Astounded by this concept all she could was stare up at him.
For a moment he was distracted by her small hand clutching the lapel of his suit jacket. The way she was gazing up at him filled him with some strange sensation, a tingling he’d never felt before. He let go of her her arm to rest his hand on the curve of her waist. Closing his eyes, he savored her proximity for an instant before returning back to her timid gaze. He wanted to yell at her for frightening him when she ran away. But his words were soft and heartfelt, not the lecture he had planned to deliver. “What if something happened to you?”
A split second later, he released her, angered at his show of vulnerability. Walking away he added gruffly, “Do not speak to people you do not know again, unless I am with you.”
Breathless and disoriented, all she could do was fall back on formality. “As you wish President Lee.” Quietly she made her way back to her desk. Busying herself with organizing her things from her box. Hyun Ae tried to ignore her fluttering heart and the lingering heat from where his hand had graced her waist.
Later that evening after a silent meal at a popular restaurant they arrived home. In Su sat in his office watching for her in her quarters, but she was in her bedroom. Not for the first time he cursed his promise to remove the cameras there. The soft rustling noises made him feel restless, imagining her evening routine. Finally giving up he slid his arms into his crutches and headed for the library. Anything to distract him from his thoughts.
Once he was there, though, he found himself lurking near the door to her apartment, still trying to hear for any movement. Growling in frustration he turned and walked quickly out onto the shared balcony.
The cold night air swirled around him, helping to clear his thoughts. He sat down in one of the plush chairs and gazed in through the glass door which led to the library, willing Hyun Ae to appear. A few seconds later, almost in answer to his plea, her door opened and she walked into the room. Holding his breath he watched from the darkness of the balcony.
Unaware that she had an audience she lovingly brushed her fingers on the exterior of the piano before going to a bookshelf that held a vast array of business reports. She returned one and picked the next in line. In Su realized that she was studying the company fiscal reports. A warm sensation blossomed in his chest. Pride. He was proud of her, even though he had told her that she wouldn’t be doing much more than making an appearance. She was still determined to understand the business.
The soft light of the library gave her an ethereal glow, accentuating her long softly curling blonde hair and pale skin. In spite of the mint colored tracksuit, she looks almost angelic. With her lower lip caught between her teeth Hyun Ae wandered back into her rooms and out of his sight. In Su leaned back in the chair, her mouth taunting his thoughts. Which led him to think about how impressive she had been during the board meeting.
She had not allowed herself to be a mere decoration. During all the boring arguing she had remained alert and attentive. In Su had found himself distracted on more than one occasion by her mouth. He discovered that when she was deep in thought she bit her lower lip. A habit that was invented with the sole purpose of driving him insane. Regardless, she had managed to ask several intelligent questions which astonished more than a few of the board members. And himself.
Finally, cold and stiff he made his way back inside and to his room. However, when he laid down on the large bed sleep eluded him, his mind lost to the mysterious ways Hyun Ae affected him.
The next morning saw some changes that Hyun Ae had not expected. While they ate in silence that was almost companionable, he took her phone and made some entries, providing no other explanation. Unsure of his mood since they had not spoken once since that strange event yesterday after meeting his father, she didn’t know what to say. Once in the car, he was engrossed in a phone call, and she looked at what he had added.
What she found surprised her. Where her calendar was once laughably empty, her entire day was now filled: meetings with Marketing, Analytics, PR, and Acquisitions to name a few. Additionally, he had synced their calendars so she could see exactly where he was during the day. She was thrilled that her mind would be kept busy. So absorbed in her phone, she wasn’t aware that In Su was watching her.
The lavender slacks and ivory patterned top accentuated her slight frame very well. Today her hair was worn in a simple bun held in pace by a decorated hair comb. Once more the corner of her lower lip was caught by her teeth. “Is your schedule cause for concern?” he blurted, then cursed under his breath.
Settling his phone into his suit coat pocket, In Su was surprised to find himself nervous about her response. Without preamble or warning he had begun her training in earnest. In Su hadn’t meant to say anything, but he discovered he was worried that he was asking too much of her.
Startled she looked up at him, their eyes met, and Hyun Ae felt a flutter in her stomach. The way he watched her in that moment, it was without pretense or the ever present sneer. Was that true concern? Her answer mattered to him… Her spine straightened, even as her muscles, always tense in his presence, began to unknot. “I’m just surprised. This looks suspiciously like you’re trying to teach me the ropes.” There was a playful, teasing lilt to her voice that wasn’t there before.
Clearing his throat he looked away and crossed his arms over his chest. “To sustain the appearance of your being the Assistant Vice President I cannot logically keep you locked in the office all day. There is only so much knowledge of the business you would acquire from self study.” Pulling at this indigo tie In Su did his best to ignore the soft snort of amusement. Turning an overly stern glare her direction he added, “You would do well to appear absorbed in the materials presented. I will be receiving reports of your progress.”
Stifling the sudden urge to truly giggle Hyun Ae nodded, “Of course. I will be sure to make it as believable as possible.” She met his glare with a cheerful smile that held a spark of something. Whatever had caused him to treat her as a real employee and not just a piece of arm candy, she didn’t know. But she offered up a sincere thank you for being taken seriously at least in the workplace.
When she turned away In Su couldn’t help but smile, just the barest lifting of the corner of his mouth. Her excitement was palpable. He had made the choice once he learned that his Uncle and cousin had come back, but he felt a sense of rightness in his decision. Unfortunately, his father was right; they would latch themselves onto her if they knew of her circumstances. He could not risk that. There was not much time left before he would need to present a capable wife to the elders. Seeing her enthusiasm, he felt she was up to the task.
The rest of the week fell into a rhythm. A near silent breakfast, elevator, and car ride. A few moments in the President’s office to finalize schedules and adjust for business need before they would part ways. Lunch was a quiet affair in the office where In Su would review current reports and data with her before shuttling her off for her next lesson. They would reunite for dinner at a popular establishment; he would quiz her throughout dinner about what she had learned that day. Hyun-Ae was beginning to enjoy the meals she shared with him. Whenever a smiled flitted across his lips, or she saw approval in his eyes, she felt like she had won a victory. After they ate, Mr. Park would drive them back home where they would retire to their separate apartments at night. Hyun Ae almost felt comfortable with him now, though she knew such peace could not last.
Saturday was a dreary sort of day. When she opened her eyes and was greeted by sheets of rain she immediately snuggled back into her blankets. It was the perfect day for staying in bed, napping, and reading. In Su had entered nothing into her calendar for the day, so she was free to do as she pleased. She was content to hide in her bed where it was warm and cozy until hunger pangs forced her to seek a meal.
In Su checked his watch several times as he sat barely able to read the newspaper in the library. It had been at least an hour since he had gotten up and eaten breakfast alone. Grumpily he folded the unread paper and stood, making his way into his study. Flicking on the monitors he didn’t see her, which meant she was still in her bed.
“Damned woman needs to get herself out of bed so I can speak to her.” he growled as he drummed his fingers on the mahogany desktop. Yanking his phone from his pocket he began and consequently erased several texts to her.
Why are you still abed?
You have kept me waiting for an hour, breakfast is cold
I need to speak to you now
He muttered in frustration as he tossed the phone onto the desk and leaned back in the leather chair. Flicking on the speaker he listened to the silence for a moment before he turned it back off in frustration. In Su’s eyes were drawn to the tickets he’d had Mr. Park purchase. He had meant to surprise her with them over breakfast, but his perfect and carefully built plan had been destroyed.
Unnerved and off balance by his need to protect her, he grabbed a pen and paper, and cursed when his normally smooth movements scattered writing utensils across the desk. He scrawled out a note in his strong and decisive handwriting, gathered his bag and crutches and called Mr. Park for his car. He dropped the note beside her covered breakfast tray and stumped out of the apartment.
* * *
After a long satisfying nap, Hyun Ae stretched luxuriously, smoothing her sleep-tossed hair before checking the clock on her bedside table. It was almost noon! Her stomach protested when she finally exited her room. The shared areas were empty and silent. Making her sleepy way to the kitchen she found a cold breakfast and his note.
We are attending the Symphony tonight.
Your driver will be here at eleven to take you shopping.
The staff is aware of your impending arrival.
Do not disappoint me in your purchases.
There was no indication as to where he was or what time the Symphony would be, but she knew better than to argue. In truth she didn’t want to protest. The idea of attending a performance by the Seoul Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra made her as giddy as a schoolgirl. Music had always been her passion. If she’d had her way she would have studied nothing but piano, but her adoptive parents had other ideas. Excitedly she bolted her food, barely tasting it, and was ready before the driver arrived.
Once at the boutique Hyun Ae was provided with several options, chosen by the staff. All of the dresses were so elegant and beautiful that she had a difficult time deciding. After nearly two hours of in depth discussion with the personal shop assistant, she finally made her choice. The halter dress had a Basque waist and asymmetrical hem which showed off a good deal of her left leg through the silken draped folds of the skirt. The diaphanous material was layered so that the nearly sheer fabric seemed to change color from lavender to indigo when she moved. A nude colored bodice and undergarment guaranteed her modesty. The assistant matched this with silver stilettos and a tiny jeweled clutch. Now she was even more ecstatic about that evening’s event.
In Su had been in a dark mood all through his physical therapy. He gratefully used the punishing routine to chase away his chaotic thoughts, only to have them return when exhaustion slowed him down. He all but barked at the therapist, who wisely finished his session with few words. This week his fiancee had exceeded all his expectations and moved through the lessons he’d planned for her at lightening speed. She now had a confident grasp of the intricacies of Royal Lee Exports, and he found himself enjoying the conversations they had at dinner.
Yet, ever since the incident with her parents and his father In Su realized that he had lost his objectivity; his need to dominate had softened to a need to safeguard. Any public venue could be used to generate the necessary publicity of their relationship. Simply, he had picked the symphony because Hyun Ae loved music.
The confusion and anger fueled him into pushing even harder when he made a circuit of the gym after his physical therapy session. Covered in sweat, his exhaustion made his legs shake as he hobbled over to the locker room and grabbed a towel. He finally allowed Mr. Park to take him home once he regained his equilibrium, his physical if not quite his mental. Thankfully he arrived at the apartment before Hyun Ae and could recover from the punishment he’d put his body through.
She finally arrived back at the empty apartment with hair, nails, and makeup done. With her dress and the box for her heels in hand she stood looking at the door to his apartment. Was he here?
So far they had only been together in the shared areas. Pursing her lips she wondered if she should knock on his door. According to the internet, there were still two hours before the performance, but no meal was ready here, and she didn’t know of any dinner reservations. After hesitating a few times she sighed and walked towards her own door.
In Su sat in his gloomy office and watched her stare at his door, and physically felt the loss when she turned away. Rubbing his chest he wondered what that pain meant. Disappointment that she hadn’t wanted to see him enough to knock? His heart condition rearing its ugly head? Anger that she hadn’t once tried to contact him throughout the day? He stalked away from the screens, his protesting muscles warning him to be careful if he hoped to use the crutches and not his wheelchair that evening.
Just as the sun was touching the horizon Hyun Ae received a message to be ready in half an hour. Scurrying about her room she finished the small meal she’d brought in from the kitchen. Dressing and making sure her hair and makeup were acceptable she looked around the walk-in closet for jewelry, but found none but the small collection of costume jewelry. It was appropriate for the work environment, but did not seem right for the symphony. She didn’t even have the delicate jade necklace he bought at the auction those weeks ago, but that had been a purchase to show off, not truly a gift. She settled on her simple gold chain with a crucifix, a gift when she graduated high school, and unlocked the clasp to put it on.
* * *
In Su’s body hurt, his emotions were confusing, and she was making him wait again. Tossing open the door to her apartment he stomped in. He was prepared to lecture her, that is until he saw her standing in the closet. With her hands behind her neck, Hyun Ae was a delicate curve in a flowing dress that both clung to her delicate frame and floated at just the right angle to keep her figure a mystery. That strange pain clenched his heart again and he found it difficult to breathe.
Hearing him enter she turned, and the moment their eyes met, the rest of the world melted away.
For the first time she felt as if she was precious to him. Her heart beat quickly in the rush of overwhelming emotion at this discovery.
The familiar sensation of chest pain squeezed his lungs as his vision narrowed. Stumbling backward he landed with a thud on her bed and shook his head violently, fighting back the seizure that he was sure would come any second.
“In Su!” She shrieked. The necklace tumbled to the plush carpet as she raced to him and threw herself in front of her fiancé. Time seemed suspended while he struggled for breath and the color drained from his usually tanned complexion. Hyun Ae’s small hands cupped his face, “In Su?”
Just when she thought he would pass out he sucked in a great lungful of air and met her gaze. The sheer terror in those green depths gave him the strength to force his body back from the brink. For a few moments he concentrated on her and breathing as his vision slowly widened until it was normal. “I’m fine.” He managed to grumble through gritted teeth.
Tears glittered in her eyes when she realized that he would be alright. A half sob-half sigh slipped from her and she wrapped her arms around his neck, “Thank God!”
Before he realized what he was doing his hand brushed the back of her head and he leaned forward to rest his forehead against hers. He closed his eyes as the faint tremors of his woman eased. He softly shushed her, running his hand along silken strands that smelled faintly of jasmine.
Hyun Ae was aware of the gentle stroking as she worked to regain her own composure, gaining strength from his touch.
“Don’t overreact, little idiot, I was just lightheaded.” Even though his words were harsh, In Su’s tone was gentle. Pulling away, Hyun Ae scrutinized his face: the color had returned with only a fine sheen of sweat on his brow as evidence. She wanted to respond with a biting remark, but the events had drained her, and her emotions felt too fragile. Instead she nodded and slipped from his grasp. In Su watched as she walked swiftly to the bathroom, taking those few seconds after she disappeared to stand and straighten his suit.
When she reappeared she had a soft towel in her hand. Reaching up she tenderly dabbed the sweat from his face. In Su didn’t stop her. Stepping back she placed the towel on her vanity. “Why don’t we do the Symphony another night?” Hyun Ae was afraid that going out in public would be too much for him.
Unable to admit any form of weakness he immediately shook his head, “Absolutely not. Mr. Park is waiting.” Turning away from her In Su forced his body to listen, even though his legs were shaking and his chest hurt.
Sighing Hyun Ae gathered her clutch and followed behind the obstinate man. Timidly she spoke as they crossed the library, “Then will you consider using the wheelchair?”
Stopping in his tracks In Su felt a flash of anger, but just as quickly came embarrassment. Did she see him as somehow less than a man because of his disability? He searched her face, but saw no condemnation, only concern. A knot he didn’t even know existed eased.
He reached out to touch her hair again, but dropped it before the thought was more than half-formed.
“No. I’m fine.” She knew the discussion was over, and with it the closeness they had shared just after his episode. Resigned to his stubborn will she followed him to the elevator, still remembering the way he had looked at her in that brief, timeless moment. She resolved to make sure that no matter what, Lee In Su would learn that her will was a match for his.