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    "You claim that Jiang Shenglin holds you in his heart, that you're doing this for the Cheng'an Marquis Estate. Admit it, Rong Shu, you're merely reluctant to part with the glory that comes with this marriage. It's none of my business whether you marry Jiang Shenglin or not, but if you dare to show disrespect to my mother, I'll dare to seek your future mother-in-law at the Jiang residence for compensation."

    With that, they found no common ground for further conversation.

    Not wanting to prolong the discussion, Rong Shu picked up the folding fan on the table and instructed Yingyue to settle the bill outside.

    "I'll consider today's theater experience as my treat. If you wish to stay and watch more, feel free, and I'll cover your expenses. Otherwise, I'll escort you back to the marquis estate right now."

    As she finished speaking, she stepped out of the private room.

    Descending the wooden stairs would lead them past several neighboring rooms. Unbeknownst to Rong Shu, her conversation with Rong Wan had been overheard by Gu Changjin, who had been there for about fifteen minutes.

    He hadn't taken a sip of his tea, and by the time he noticed its chill, Rong Shu's luxurious carriage had already left Linjiang Tower, followed by the second Miss Rong.

    Initially, he had been worried she might be mistreated, but now it seemed he had unnecessarily worried. This young lady was quite skilled with her words; her verbal jabs could pierce hearts without leaving a trace.

    Putting down his teacup, Gu Changjin strolled out of Linjiang Tower at a leisurely pace.

    Chang Ji and Heng Ping came to fetch him, assuming he was heading straight back to Phoenix Lane, so they didn't ask any questions. When Gu Changjin got into the carriage, Chang Ji couldn't contain his delight as he said,

    "The eldest son of the Jiang family is far too timid. I merely set off some smoke on the painting boat, and he hastily fled. Tsk, with his courage, it's laughable that the people from the Cheng'an Marquis Estate dared to compare him to our master."

    But Gu Changjin paid no attention. He glanced out the window and casually instructed, "Return to the Ministry of Justice. I'll be staying there for now. Later, go to my study and retrieve some items for me."

    Chang Ji was taken aback. "R-Right now? Back to the Ministry of Justice?"

    "Mm," Gu Changjin replied, his eyes half-closed. "Minister Lu has assigned me two new cases. It's a crucial period for my annual evaluation, so I need to handle these cases promptly. Besides," he added, his voice still mild, "the imperial examinations are almost upon us."

    Upon hearing this, Chang Ji seemed to realize something.

    The imperial examinations were held once every three years, and the memory of the exam cheating scandal twelve years ago, when Emperor Jiayou had unleashed his wrath, still haunted the citizens of the capital.

    Thus, whenever the examinations approached, all government departments would be on high alert.

    Master was gaining more and more favor with Minister Lu, which was excellent news. Thanks to the Li'er Xu case and the Yang Xu case, Master had proven his worth. This year's evaluation would likely see him promoted to the fifth rank.

    If he was fortunate, even the fourth rank might be within reach.

    With this in mind, Chang Ji didn't ask further and escorted Gu Changjin to the Ministry of Justice before returning to Phoenix Avenue to retrieve his daily necessities.

    The office was deserted at that moment; it was just after the New Year, and most officials were still in a sluggish state of mind. They clocked out on time and headed straight home.

    Gu Changjin was the only one left in the entire department.

    He buried himself in the documents, forcing his focus onto the official papers.

    But as he read, he couldn't help but involuntarily recall the conversation between Rong Wan and Rong Shu earlier.

    Xu Fu informed him about her marriage to the eldest daughter of the Cheng'an Marquis Estate after they had gone through all five traditional wedding rites. At that time, he didn't even know who Rong Shu was, assuming she was merely a pawn Xu Fu had planted by his side.

    He had no idea that the girl had been scolded, confined, and ridiculed – all for the sake of marrying him, to be by his side.

    Back then, she must have truly loved him deeply.

    But now, all that love was gone.

    Well, that's for the best.

    Didn't he distance himself from her during their marriage to make her lose hope?

    Now that she has finally given up, what's so terrible about it?

    Therefore, there was no need to feel upset, let alone heartache.

    Even if he had developed feelings for her, they had only been married for half a year. How could he possibly be so attached?

    But why...

    Her heart still felt cold, as if it was being assaulted by icy winds and snow, leaving her in a desolate state.

    Gu Changjin almost laughed at the sight of his own melancholic expression.

    Gu Yunzhi, what is there to be desolate and heartbroken about?

    A mocking smile tugged at the corners of his lips as he threw down his pen, massaged his temples, and pushed open the window.

    The chilly wind howled, tree shadows danced, and the snow illuminated the corridor.

    He pressed his palm against his chest, slowly lowering his gaze.

    It was merely a fleeting moment of affection. Once she left Wutong Lane, everything would return to how it was before.

    ...

    Time flew by, and February arrived. After several heavy snowfalls, the gloomy sky over Shangjing finally cleared up.

    Gu Changjin worked tirelessly day and night in the Ministry of Justice, seldom returning home.

    Rong Shu vaguely recalled that in her previous life, she wasn't this occupied at this time. Although puzzled by his current daily stay at the Ministry of Punishments, she didn't dwell on it much.

    Rong Wan was to be married on the 28th of the second month, and her mother would soon return to the Marquis's residence. Naturally, Rong Shu would accompany her.

    As Gu Changjin was busy with work at the Ministry of Punishments, she busied herself in the Songsi Courtyard. When she married into the Gu family, she had brought along numerous dowry items. She intended to move these belongings back to the Minglu Yard.

    It wasn't that she was attached to these possessions; rather, they were all highly personal belongings. Take, for instance, the canopy bed – it was the bed she had slept on. It wouldn't be appropriate for Gu Changjin and Miss Wen to continue using it after their marriage, would it?

    She was not bothered by it, but they surely would be.

    Rong Shu had enough self-awareness to realize this.

    Neither Gu Changjin nor the Miss Wen, whom she had never met, would wish to see any remnants of her past in the Songsi Courtyard.

    Therefore, she would take away everything that belonged to her, ideally erasing all traces of her presence in the Songsi Courtyard.

    With such preparations, on the tenth day of the second lunar month, Shen sent word that she had returned to the Gu residence.

    Rong Shu promptly returned to the Qingheng Courtyard.

    That day happened to be the beginning of the imperial examination, and the Imperial Academy granted a three-day holiday to all its students. Rong Ze, the eldest son of the Rong family, also returned to the Cheng'an Marquis Estate.

    Rong Shu had not seen Rong Ze since her marriage. Their relationship as siblings had always been amicable. Upon arriving at the Qingheng Courtyard, without Shen's prompting, she hurriedly lifted her skirt and made her way to Chenyun Courtyard.

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