“When I was young, my parents passed away in an accident. My biological sister found a new family through adoption, while I spent my days in a welfare facility until my third year of high school. My father had been my sponsor from a young age, and that connection eventually led to my adoption.”
As Yi-soo bared her soul, there was no hint of embarrassment on her face. There was no need to hide or justify her past—it was simply her history. She understood that her past shaped the person she had become today.
Yi-soo was well aware that her disclosure might not fully satisfy Jang In-hwa. In Korean society, being an adopted child still carried certain limitations, and despite the changing times, the watchful eyes of others were keenly felt.
As expected, In-hwa’s expression revealed a hint of dissatisfaction. However, coming from a chaebol background and being the wife of a legal professional, she was skilled at concealing her emotions. With a subtle gesture, Lady Jang encouraged them to focus on the food and adorned her face with a gentle smile.
Amidst the delicate clinking of utensils and the delightful progression of courses, Hyun-seong lifted his glass and savored a sip of red wine. Its rich fruity aroma enveloped his senses, while the firm tannins left a lasting impression on his palate, providing a striking contrast between the wine’s initial taste and its aftertaste.
He glanced at Yi-soo, observing that her glass remained untouched, still holding the wine poured earlier. It seemed the wine didn’t align with her preferences. In a light-hearted tone, Hyun-seong couldn’t resist teasing her, “Give it a try. It’s not bad.”
She responded, “I’m not much of a drinker. I don’t like losing control.”
“Surprising,” he chuckled. A mental image formed in his mind of Yi-soo sitting alone at a bar, gently tilting a cocktail glass after a long and tiring day. The notion caused his eyebrows to twitch ever so slightly.
In their short time together, Yi-soo had already proven herself capable of defying Hyun-seong’s expectations. As the dessert course approached, he unexpectedly pushed back his chair and rose to his feet.
“I’ll step outside for a moment,” he announced.
“But dessert will be served soon. Won’t you have some?” Lady Jang inquired.
“I’ll be back shortly,” Hyun-seong reassured them both.
Yi-soo, though taken aback by his sudden departure, concealed her bewilderment. The thought of being left alone with Lady Jang, who held an unfavorable view of her, filled her with a sense of unease.
“This is getting awkward…” she mused inwardly, determined to maintain her composure. Taking a sip of water to compose herself, she was surprised to hear a pleasant baritone voice addressing her.
“What are you doing? Let’s go outside together,” Hyun-seong suggested.
“Are you talking to me?” Yi-soo asked, slightly puzzled.
“Yeah. You, Prosecutor Seo,” he confirmed.
“To get some fresh air,” he added, briefly explaining his intention as he picked up his suit jacket from the back of his chair. It became evident that he had no intention of leaving her alone with Lady Jang after all.
In spite of Yi-soo’s reputation for independence and unpredictability, the atmosphere inside the room had become stifling. A brief respite outdoors felt like a welcome escape from the tension that lingered.
Embracing the idea, Yi-soo gracefully rose from her seat, and Hyun-seong took the lead, sliding the door open to step outside. Jang In-hwa’s gaze oscillated between her son’s departing figure and Yi-soo, her thoughts inscrutable.
“…I’ll be excusing myself for a moment, Mother,” Yi-soo announced.
“No need to excuse yourself. Take your time,” In-hwa replied with a courteous smile.
Following Hyun-seong, Yi-soo trailed him, making slightly larger strides to match his long legs and wide steps.
“Where are we going?” she inquired.
“The terrace,” he responded succinctly.
With that, Hyun-seong guided her to the outdoor terrace connected to the restaurant. Once they closed the door behind them, Yi-soo took in her surroundings.
The terrace differed from the dining area; it lacked tables but instead featured benches, a swing, and vineyard chairs thoughtfully arranged here and there. It exuded a more relaxed ambiance, inviting guests to unwind and savor the moment.
As Yi-soo stepped onto the terrace, a refreshing breeze enveloped her, embracing her like an old friend. From this elevated vantage point, the sky revealed a different perspective than she was accustomed to.
Hyun-seong, who had been gazing down at the buildings below, turned his attention to Yi-soo for a moment. Retrieving a cigarette case and a lighter from his jacket’s inner pocket, he effortlessly placed a cigarette between his lips, seemingly lost in thought.
Yi-soo couldn’t help but let out a surprised chuckle, her amusement evident. “You said we were going out to get some fresh air.”
“I am getting some fresh air. Wind,” Hyun-seong responded nonchalantly.
“It seems like you just wanted to smoke, and you didn’t need to bring me along,” she retorted playfully.
A faint smile tugged at the corners of his lips. “You looked uncomfortable. Even from my perspective of watching you, it was quite uncomfortable.”
Closing the distance between them, Yi-soo crossed her arms, her eyes drawn to the glimmer of the silver lighter as the sunlight played upon it. With a crisp sound, the flame came to life, dancing gracefully as if it had a life of its own.
Hyun-seong held the cigarette delicately between his index and middle fingers, taking a deep drag. The dense smoke wafted around him, its aromatic embrace penetrating deep into his lungs. With his eyes closed, he exhaled the ash-gray smoke slowly, releasing the tobacco’s earthy fragrance through his thin lips.
Yi-soo’s gaze traced an ascending path, carefully observing each detail. From the sleek and refined black shoes to the long, strong legs, the glimpse of the white shirt peeking from beneath the suit jacket, and the masculine tie—her eyes absorbed every nuance.
Raising her head slowly, Yi-soo inadvertently found her attention drawn to the white cigarette dangling between his lips.
‘…Am I losing my mind?’ she wondered.
Her heart quickened, questioning why she was so captivated by the simple act of him smoking. It was as if the world had narrowed down to this moment, and she couldn’t fathom the reason behind it.
In that fleeting instant, Hyun-seong sensed her gaze upon him and responded with a subtle, amused smile, turning his head slightly.
“What are you thinking, Prosecutor Seo?” he inquired, his languid yet keen eyes meeting hers. It felt like he could see right through her, prompting her to guard her emotions.
Yi-soo, caught off guard, blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Just… I also want to smoke.”
She had never smoked in her life, and expressing such a desire was far from the truth. The realization brought a sense of frustration, and she swallowed her sigh inwardly, hoping her slip didn’t reveal too much.
“You said you don’t drink alcohol, yet cigarettes?” Hyun-seong questioned, his tone gently teasing.
Yi-soo felt a hint of fluster creeping into her cheeks. “Well… that’s possible. I smoke occasionally,” she admitted, feeling somewhat embarrassed by her earlier slip of the tongue. Being straightforward about it wasn’t as easy as she had hoped.
As Hyun-seong regarded her with a difficult-to-read expression, Yi-soo couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking. Her words seemed to have sparked some curiosity in him.
“That’s a shame. This is the only one,” he remarked, referring to the cigarette he held.
“It’s okay. I didn’t really want to smoke anyway…” she replied, relieved that she didn’t have to pretend to indulge in something she had never tried.
“If that’s the case, this might be the only option,” he remarked cryptically.
As Yi-soo began to relax, thinking the matter was settled, Hyun-seong surprised her by stepping closer. The gap between them diminished, and the mingling scents of wood and tobacco enveloped them in an alluring embrace. In that moment, her composure faltered, and her lashes blinked in a fleeting display of vulnerability.
“Go ahead, take a puff,” he encouraged gently, lightly touching the cigarette between his fingers to her lips, forming a knowing smile.
As the cigarette was brought close to her lips, and as her eyes met his, she detected a faint scent of wine in the air. It felt too close for comfort, as if he could see into the depths of her soul. The tip of the cigarette glowed red as it burned, mirroring the accelerated pace of her heart that seemed to malfunction in his presence.