Chapter 8.1

Perched atop the 29th floor of the SL Hotel, ‘Gaon Nari’ exuded an air of exclusivity and refinement. It proudly held the honor of being the second Korean restaurant to bask in the coveted Michelin 3-star rating. As guests stepped inside, they were met with a sea of impeccably attired staff donning elegant black and white uniforms, their warm smiles setting the tone for an unforgettable dining experience.

The restaurant boasted a mesmerizing view of Seoul from its window-side seats, while the central area, adorned with pristine white tablecloths, held its own charm. Among the twenty or so tables scattered throughout the dining space, one spot stood out as the most sought-after retreat: the private room known as ‘Laon,’ nestled in the innermost sanctuary.

Inside ‘Laon,’ the intimate setting accommodated just three individuals: Hyun-seong, his mother, Jang In-hwa, and Yi-soo. An air of discomfort hung in the room, apparent in the subtle tension that seemed to weave among them like a delicate spider’s web. Nonetheless, they proceeded with the meal, and Yi-soo took to the task of slicing the food with quiet concentration.

In the center of the table lay a large plate, adorned with perfectly charred, grilled short ribs. The tantalizing aroma teased the senses, and as Yi-soo delicately placed a small piece of meat into her mouth, it dissolved, leaving behind a mesmerizing smoky flavor that danced on her taste buds. Yet, despite the culinary delight that surrounded her, an unsettling feeling gnawed at the corners of Yi-soo’s mind.

“…It feels stifling in here,” she silently mused, her sigh swallowed within. The engagement plan had escalated swiftly, mirroring Hyun-seong’s straightforward nature. 

To Yi-soo, this new development held the allure of unraveling the enigmatic Yoon & Kang, and she was willing to endure any discomfort if it meant getting closer to the truth. Within a mere week, Hyun-seong orchestrated a meeting for the three of them. In the absence of Yoon Min-sik, the CEO, Lady Jang wielded the household’s authority, making it impossible to dismiss her influence over this engagement.

As they sat together, quietly savoring the appetizer, In-hwa broke the silence with a question.

“You spoke of Park In-seong, the Seoul Chief Prosecutor, didn’t you?” In-hwa asked in her composed manner.

“Yes, that’s correct,” Yi-soo confirmed.

“I’ve heard that you were adopted,” In-hwa continued, her tone steady and inscrutable. “Is that true?”

Yi-soo admitted, “Yes, it is. I was adopted through standard procedures. Father, being in the prosecution himself, didn’t make it a topic of conversation with others.”

With grace, In-hwa placed her knife and fork down, delicately dabbing her lips with a napkin. Her demeanor exuded a profound sense of dignity as she looked at Yi-soo, her gaze imbued with curiosity.

“If you don’t mind my asking, could you share some details about your life before adoption? As you’ll be engaged to our Hyun-seong, I’m simply curious to learn more about Prosecutor Seo.”

For Jang In-hwa, whether it was impolite or not didn’t matter. She was determined to glean the information she wanted, regardless of Yi-soo’s discomfort.

As the meal progressed, Hyun-seong quietly sipped his wine, stealing glances at Yi-soo seated beside him. He knew her better than his mother gave him credit for; beneath her composed exterior, she possessed a tenacious spirit.

Though their engagement was essentially contractual, Hyun-seong wished to shield Yi-soo from any discomfort brought on by his mother’s probing questions. Deciding to intervene, he gently spoke up, attempting to steer the conversation away from the sensitive topic.

“Mother, please, let’s enjoy our meal. It’s not that crucial…”

In-hwa, however, seemed undeterred. “Oh, she should have nothing to hide,” she replied.

Yet, just a few seconds later, a composed voice filled the room. Yi-soo turned her head to meet Hyun-seong’s gaze, her calm eyes revealing no sign of emotional turmoil. Slowly, she began to share her past.

“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.



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