Chapter 1 - An Unexpected Encounter
“Ha, damn it.”
It was the same dream. Again.
Woojin’s elegant lips gradually parted. He looked much more mature compared to his dream where he was still a college student. A deep sigh leaked out from the thin skin of his lips.
Woojin has had recurring nightmares of that fateful day when Hyein, the love of his life disappeared right before his eyes eight years ago. The nightmares appeared like a broken record playing the same few notes over and over again.
Woojin held his breath as he looked around. Like always he was covered in darkness. He was alone here. This was his bedroom. Nevertheless, the chaotic emotions he felt in his dream remained, leaving Woojin suffering from the illusory stings atop his skin.
He stared blankly at his hand, which had touched her skin a very long time ago.
Until now, Woojin accomplished anything that he had set his mind to do and possessed everything he ever wanted in his life.
If she hides, he can just look for her until she shows up.
Winning was his specialty.
Breathing low, he made his way out of bed.
Woojin looked marvelous in his luxurious suit. He fastened the buttons on his suit jacket and walked into the elevator. A pair of long legs gracefully settled onto the elevator platform with a tap.
Woojin’s Chief of Secretary, Chief Ha, followed him and whispered to him after pushing the elevator button, “Director Shin, you must attend this time. It’s a lot of work on my side to keep rejecting.”
Even then, Woojin was deeply immersed in his thoughts.
“The last time you stood the lady up, her family threw a huge, huge, huge… Director? Director Shin Woojin! Are you listening?”
Only then did his moderately thick crimson lips open. The voice flowing through them was a very nice baritone. “I’m listening. You were talking about another marriage meeting, right?”
“The madam spent a lot of effort to get you this spot. She practically begged for it.”
“You mean, practically threatened.”
“Please, even if you just show your face… The madam is really determined this time. You can’t win over the madam’s stubbornness. I fear that other problems may arise.”
He frowned as he was annoyed at the fretting Chief Ha. Woojin’s response to his earnestly begging Chief of Secretary was wholehearted rejection as always.
“Is your direct superior, me or my mother? Aren’t you scared of the wrong person?”
“Please save me, please.”
Chief Ha begged, but in the end, Woojin simply diverted his gaze indifferently onto the elevator panel.
Woojin kept his eyes on the drab numbers as they gradually decreased. His feelings had been fluctuating between impatience and joy for some time.
There was only one thing that occupied his mind.
“What happened with Seo Hyein?”
The moment he mentioned her name, Woojin’s voice adopted a strangely dark tone.
Chief Ha glanced at him through his peripheral and responded skillfully, “Oh, the one-month training has been completed smoothly. The plan is to assign her to the gallery starting this week.”
“Please make sure HR remains quiet about this. Seo Hyein must never know that I was involved in her recruitment.”
The elevator stopped on the sixth floor where the hotel reception area was located. Chief Ha paused his report. Both sets of eyes naturally looked at the sudden intruder.
“Excuse me, I’ll be getting on.”
An employee holding a large canvas several times the size of her body simultaneously asked for permission and entered the elevator. When he heard the woman’s light voice, Woojin’s eyebrows rose slightly.
He could mistake anyone else’s voice but hers. This, Woojin was sure of.
Meanwhile, Chief Ha couldn’t contain his surprise and rebuked the woman.
“What do you think you’re doing?!”
“Sorry. I’m also headed down to the lobby. There’s enough space on the elevator, so could you please excuse my actions, sir?” asked the woman.
The woman, who was fumbling with the canvas and had her head turned to the side to explain, temporarily lost her balance. Due to the sudden movement of the elevator, she fell on top of Woojin.
Oil paint that had yet to dry smeared all over Woojin’s suit jacket. The woman, deathly pale with distraught, hastily wiped it with her hands. Even though she tried to wipe it off, the paint only spread further. A helpless expression appeared on her face like paint.
“I am so sorry, sir. Since it is my mistake, the laundry fee will be…”
A low baritone voice reverberated in the airtight interior. The busy movements of the flustered woman stopped immediately.
“It’s you, isn’t it. Seo Hyein.”
Her gaze that had been planted to the stained jacket gradually climbed up. She flinched when she saw the beautiful face of the man taller than her. The handsome man’s well-defined facial features, broad shoulders, long neck, and pale skin could make someone look back many times.
And… she also recognized him.
Hyein unknowingly turned her head away in a hurry out of embarrassment. As soon as she did, Woojin tilted her head slightly, causing the woman to make eye contact with him again.
“It’s really you.”
“You’ve got the wrong person, sir.”
“I’ve got the wrong person… Well, we just have to confirm our relationship,” Woojin coldly spat as he took a straight finger and let it travel down below her collarbone.
The woman’s face turned crimson. “What are you…!”
Before she could finish, he had roughly ripped her name tag. A few thin stitches remained where the name tag had previously been.
The name tag resting in his palm read: [Seo Hyein, Malena Hotel]
Hyein was embarrassed that none of her excuses worked. She could only say, “Sir, doing this without my consent is considered assault.”
“None of my body parts touched your body. Isn’t this a false accusation? In addition, I’m not a customer at this hotel. Are you an employee here, Ms. Seo?”
“Yes, I am.”
“And yet you got on this elevator without knowing what elevator this is?”
When she looked confused as to what he was talking about, Woojin pointed his long finger at the phrase under the elevator panel this time. Hyein, whose gaze followed his finger, paled.
The more the two words registered in her mind, the more embarrassed Hyein became, and she could not form any words. She knew the name of Hotel Malena’s Director of Project Management as well as the second son of MP Group, the hotel’s parent company. She simply thought it was a coincidence that both shared the same name.
Contrary to her expectations, it was the Shin Woojin.
While Hyein floundered in a sea of her thoughts, Woojin broke the silence and added, as if extremely entertained, “How long has it been, eight years? You’ve become prettier.”
Hyein, who had been anxiously avoiding his gaze and gnashing her teeth, finally faced Woojin. She had soberly grasped the reality that she had nowhere to escape in this narrow space.
“You look well, too, Sunbae.”
At that moment, the elevator reached the lobby and the doors opened.
“Then, please excuse me.”
Hyein politely bid the two people in the elevator farewell and stepped out of the elevator to make her quick escape. Unfortunately, she lost her balance and stumbled. Woojin hurriedly clasped her wrist to prevent her from falling.
Startled, Hyein released her grip, and the canvas fell to the ground with a loud bang.
Hyein looked down at the painting as if she had just lost her soul. To make matters worse, the painting was damaged. Her face turned pale as she neared her wit’s end. Woojin, however, was not interested in the broken canvas at all. He pulled the stunned Hyein towards him and stared at her face.
Their faces were so close that they could feel each other’s breath.
“Which department do you work in specifically Ms. Seo? Seeing as you weren’t aware of the executive elevator’s existence, you definitely don’t belong to the front desk or housekeeping department. Since you were holding a canvas, then… the gallery? Am I right?”
“I’m from the special lobby gallery, sir. I will somehow compensate for my mistakes today. So…”
She twisted her wrist in Woojin’s hand.
“Please let go of me. I am currently working.”
“Shouldn’t you first be thanking me for catching you?”
“Thank you. Now, please let go.”
Right then, the doors to the elevator rattled as they prepared to close. While the elevator doors distracted him, Hyein pulled out her wrist and escaped from Woojin. With an upset expression, she picked up the canvas, politely excused herself, and turned around.
The elevator door creaked to a close.
Her figure disappeared from his sight.
Heh. Instead of responding to Chief Ha’s call, Woojin, left in the enclosed space, laughed.
“Are you not going after her? You’ve searched far and wide for Ms. Seo and you’ve finally met her once more.”
Honestly, Woojin had already expected this. It could even be considered something that he had thoroughly planned and prepared for. Just as Chief Ha said, he had wandered around searching for his lost lover for a long time. He had finally found her. Bringing Hyein to his own hotel was an easy feat.
Eight years ago, Woojin never had any intention of breaking up with Hyein. He never agreed to her proposal to break up. There were so many things he wanted to ask her, wanted to hear from her but couldn’t because she vanished into thin air without even explaining why nothing could convince her otherwise. Even if it was going to be over between them, he had to be the one to decide.
Hence, from now on, he planned to rebuild their story bit by bit. He had already finished preparing for it a long time ago as he waited for the day they would meet again.
“No need. She is going to need some time alone to throw her mind into chaos. I’ve already waited eight years. There’s no need to rush.”
“Are you alright?”
“Not at all. I’m angrier than I expected.”
If she was so intent on brutally abandoning him and disappearing, she should have at least lived a good life. Woojin did not know why she still looked as if she had the world on her shoulders.
“Yes, Director. Please speak.”
“The painting just now… Judging from the wet paint, it must’ve come from one of the other rooms. As soon as it was finished, it was meant to be placed into storage on that side of the room. Please tell the gallery that I will purchase that painting so that Ms. Seo will not get into trouble.”
“I shall instruct the staff not to question who was responsible.”
“Don’t let her know about this.”
“I will also quickly prepare new clothes for you to change into.”
Following his fickle master’s tastes, Chief Ha usually performed ten tasks even when he was ordered to do only one. Satisfied with the answer, Woojin nodded. Chief Ha made a phone call somewhere. Meanwhile, Woojin’s meaningful gaze moved to Hyein’s name tag. He kissed it lightly.
He had always thought that her name was as beautiful as her neat appearance and strong character.
Perhaps it was because of that, that after she disappeared from his sight overnight, he had never separated her name from his life even for a moment.
* * *
Hyein stood in front of the staff cabinet. Her eyes, which were always bright, had somewhat lost their light today.
The person she had encountered on the elevator was clearly her first love, her first everything, Shin Woojin. At the same time, he was the same person who, for many years, lied to her. He was the one who caused her life to become like hell.