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    His heart felt heavy and stifled, as if countless needles were brushing past him.

    He was aware that something was amiss; normally, he would have ruthlessly crushed these almost vulnerable emotions without hesitation.

    But this time, he allowed them to linger, feeling a powerless sort of torment as the piercing pain reverberated through his limbs and bones.

    As if he intended to use this pain to erase his feelings for her sooner.

    Gu Changjin opened his eyes and retrieved an exquisite, antique wooden box from a drawer nearby.

    This was the box she had given him the day before.

    Tracing the spots where her fingers had touched with the tip of his finger, the oppressive ache in his chest intensified.

    After a long while, a mocking curve formed at the corner of the man's lips.

    Did he truly like her that much?

    But what right did he have to speak of love? For him, liking someone was already an extravagant affair.

    Contemplating his father and mother, his elder brother and younger sister, and Ah Chai.

    Gu Yunzhi, you have no right to love someone.

    Gu Changjin glanced at the empty room and removed his outer robe before climbing onto the bed.

    He hadn't slept all night, and he expected another sleepless night today. Surprisingly, within a quarter of an hour, he fell into a deep slumber.

    But he didn't sleep for long before being awakened by a voice.

    "Milord."

    Gu Changjin opened his eyes to find himself seated once more in the official's hat chair behind the desk.

    "Milord, do you like it?" The voice rang out again.

    Raising his gaze, Gu Changjin unexpectedly met a pair of smiling, almond-shaped eyes filled with mirth.

    Chapter 37

    She was painting, he knew, and she was truly skilled in the art of calligraphy.

    She enjoyed coming to his study and never disturbed him. When he was engrossed in his paperwork, she would quietly paint her pictures. Occasionally, catching him setting down his pen, she would lift her gaze from her artwork, showing him her creation, asking, "Is it pleasing?"

    Her paintings were always distinct from others.

    For spring, she would depict a nest of fledglings on a melting rooftop eave. In summer, it would be a few shrimp leaping from a brook. For autumn, a plate of osmanthus cakes; for winter, a bonfire in the snow.

    Her vision of the four seasons held a childlike charm, filled with delicate beauties that most people failed to notice.

    Despite her less than ideal past, with a grandmother and father who had never favored her, she seemed utterly unconcerned. To her, this world was incredibly wonderful and beautiful.

    Gu Changjin's eyelids drooped slightly, focusing on the pair of fighting roosters in her painting.

    The two tiny cockerels stood proudly, their necks raised high, their black eyes shimmering, evoking an irresistible smile from anyone who saw them.

    Gu Changjin did smile, the corners of his lips lifting slightly as he said, "It's beautiful."

    The young lady appeared surprised by his laughter, staring at him in a daze. It wasn't until a drop of ink fell from her brush onto the paper with a 'pat' that she hurriedly looked away.

    Yet in the next instant, she lifted her gaze and met his, beaming a gentle smile.

    Gu Changjin's smile faded slightly.

    He recalled the days back on Floating Jade Mountain when Mother would light a lamp, waiting for Father's return.

    Back then, Mother said that it was only with Father's homecoming that the lamps in their house felt warm and comforting.

    Now, under the glow of the lanterns, the young lady's smile blossomed, and the lights around her gradually merged with those of Floating Jade Mountain.

    This, he supposed, was what Mother meant by having someone to make the lamps feel warm and dear.

    Gu Changjin curved his lips again and said, "It's time to return to Songsi Courtyard, Madam."

    It was late autumn, and the ginkgo trees in the courtyard were cloaked in a golden hue.

    Walking side by side in the night, the wind caused the lanterns' flames to sway. Unconsciously, Gu Changjin took a half-step forward to shield her from the chilly autumn breeze.

    Despite the silence between them, they didn't feel awkward.

    Approaching the Songsi Courtyard, a figure standing by the roadside made him abruptly stop in his tracks, his hand concealed in his sleeve slowly tightening.

    Unaware of his momentary stiffness, Rong Shu approached the person with a smile, asking, "Nanny An, is there something from Mother?"

    Nanny An returned a kind smile, casting a glance at her and then at Gu Changjin. "Madam wishes to discuss something with Second Master. Has Madam just come from the study, Young Lady?"

    "Yes, I was just accompanying Second Master in the study."

    Biting the back of his teeth lightly, Gu Changjin suppressed the urge to pull her away from Nanny An, responding coolly, "Nanny, since Mother is looking for me, I'll go now. Madam doesn't need to leave a lamp for me; it will likely be late when I finish talking with Mother, so I'll stay in the study tonight."

    Noticing the coldness in his voice, the corners of the girl's lips froze slightly.

    She stared blankly at him.

    Even as he stepped onto the cobblestone path, disappearing from sight, she remained still, standing in the shadows of the trees.

    "Go back." He had to go back. "Gu Changjin, go back."

    In the study, the man on the couch suddenly spoke, then opened his eyes.

    Gu Changjin sat up from his bed, glancing at the hourglass; it was not yet the tenth hour of the night, and he had only slept for a mere forty-five minutes. He pressed his hand against his forehead, memories of the dream causing a sharp ache in his heart.

    After recovering from that pain, the man lifted his gaze to survey the room. It was pitch black, without a single lamp or her presence.

    ...

    At Minglu Yard.

    Rong Shu clutched a crescent-shaped pillow and, wearing a pair of padded butterfly slippers, made her way to the eastern courtyard, gently knocking on the door.

    "Mother."

    Shen was still angry, but with the cold weather, she couldn't bear to let her daughter suffer outside. She reluctantly called out, "Come in quickly."

    Rong Shu entered with a cheerful smile. Upon seeing her blossoming face, Shen's anger multiplied.

    Earlier that afternoon, Rong Shu had returned with the same bright smile, holding a bouquet of wild apricot blossoms, saying she had something important to discuss.

    Back then, Shen had noticed the joy on her fair, young face, but beneath it was a hint of unease. A thought crossed her mind, and she instinctively glanced at Rong Shu's abdomen.

    It had almost been seven months since she was wed to Yunzhi. It would not be unusual for her to be with child.

    Madam Shen assumed this to be the case and felt a surge of joy in her heart.

    Unexpectedly, the young lady spoke, "Mother, Gu Changjin and I have already divorced."

    As she said this, she took out a divorce letter as if presenting a treasure.

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