SarEr sat in the back of the black Mercedes counting back from a hundred. His temper was raging and the need to lash out was strong. He hated it when his father pulled him back home this way. Treating him like a child when he clearly wasn’t. Humiliating him in front of all those people, what was the need for such a show of power? One bodyguard would have been fine.
Ten men, closing his eyes, SarEr took in a deep breath and restarted his counting.
The car made a sharp turn throwing him against the door. He grabbed the door handle to keep steady. The fact that he needed to hold on at all made him worry. The threat had to be real this time. They were driving fast to get to safety within the estate.
He didn’t care though. All he knew was that they had pulled him back from a place he enjoyed. Being with Zun and Xiao Wei was like going to paradise. He glared at the approaching high black gates. Five armed men stood guard, their eyes watchful. The moment they saw the entourage of cars, the black gates slid open smoothly to reveal pristine manicured grounds.
When he’d been five years old, he’d looked forward to coming back home each time his father would take him out on an outing or even on a short walk in town. His mother had been alive then, and the excitement of telling her everything he’d seen had been a highlight in his life. She’d loved laughing at his stories. The sound of her laugh still lingered in his memories: infectious and lively. That excited feeling was gone now.
An image of the slender, elegant Ariel Nan flitted into his memory and SarEr shook his head to send it away. He really didn’t want to think about his mother. A very dark void filled his heart where she belonged. All he remembered was one day she’d been planning a birthday party for him and the next he’d been standing beside his father at her funeral holding her picture. He scowled as a fresh wave of grief hit him.
The Nan Estate was no longer a home but a gilded prison to him, designed to keep everyone out as much as keep those inside in. Built on ten acres of land on the outskirts of the little rental city, the westernized mansion was by the beach and equipped with all the modern security gadgets that technology could offer in this century. As though the master of the estate didn’t trust the technology, he’d posted security men on every inch of the estate to guard the gates and the house.
SarEr always felt like he was walking through a prison instead of his home. His father’s paranoia seemed to have escalated after his mother’s death. An unknown assailant had shot and killed Ariel Nan in their house. After her funeral, Choi Yang Nan had turned the estate into a fort.
The black Mercedes drove up to the main entrance and stopped by the stairs. A guard immediately opened the door for SarEr and he got out with a grim expression. There was no point asking why he was home. Obviously, someone had rung in another death threat.
The story of his life, he scoffed.
He raced up the steps and entered the already open front door. The butler, who was also another bodyguard, indicated the office his father used on the ground floor. SarEr headed for the double doors with determination, not bothering to knock. He pushed the doors open with restrained violence.
Three men sat around his father’s desk in deep discussion. They all glanced up at him when he walked in. SarEr kept his gaze firmly on his father’s unaffected one.
“Leave us,” SarEr said to the three men.
Now that he was here, his blood pressure was hitting dangerous heights. He wanted a free life, one not tied down by his relationship to his father.
The men glanced back at his father for confirmation. Choi Yang nodded in agreement and the men got up and left the room without another word making sure to close the doors. SarEr glared at his father, not moving to take a seat afraid that if he moved even an inch he might start ranting wildly.
“Are you going to spend every day of your life angry with me, SarEr?” Choi Yang asked, his tone gentle.
His father’s gentle tone startled him. He hadn’t heard it in ages.
SarEr scowled because he didn’t want his anger diluted. He needed a shouting match. His father’s controlling antics couldn’t continue. He was twenty years old, and life had to be more than death threats and bodyguards.
“Take it away,” SarEr said. “Stop having me watched and followed. I really hate it. I’m not a child anymore.”
Choi Yang leaned back in his chair and shook his head.
“Father, you have to free me sometime. I can’t live like this forever,” SarEr said frustrated by his father’s continued calm composure. He was starting to feel like an idiot with all the anger boiling inside him. “Stop punishing me.”
“I am not punishing you. I’m keeping you safe. People want to hurt you to get to me, and I won’t allow it. Besides, look at you right now. How can you tell me you’re not a child when you look like that?”
SarEr glanced down at his shorts and sleeveless t-shirt. He was in disarray, sweaty and his clothes made him look like a teenager.
“I was playing basketball with Zun. I hope you’re not taking that away. You allowed it.”
SarEr shook his head unable to understand why he had to make sacrifices for the sake of Nan Enterprises.
“I won’t, but you have to take the security. Remember, give and take, SarEr. That is how we compromise. You need to keep your end of the bargain.” Choi Yang swung his chair gently from side to side. “You’re important to me, I can’t lose you.”
“I don’t want to live like this anymore,” SarEr protested.
Damn his father and his deals: compromise, compromise, he sighed.
SarEr didn’t want to compromise anymore. That feeling of being in prison returned and he let out a harsh breath hoping for salvation. Suddenly, he didn’t care who wanted him dead. If they were going to try to kill him then he was giving them permission. He would do anything to get away from living like this.
“You are who you are, SarEr, you can’t escape it no matter where you go. Isn’t that why you got those tattoos on your wrists? You’ve even branded yourself that you’re my son,” Choi Yang said. “Accept it and stop fighting. This will all end up being yours anyway, you should start preparing for it.”
Turning his wrists over, SarEr stared at the tattoos on his inner wrists. The kanji symbols of his name and his father’s name. His father had been furious with him when he got them. It had been a rebellion of sorts after evading yet another kidnap attempt. His father had called it a crime against his body. Looking at his father now and that stable firm gaze, he understood one thing. No matter how much he raged or yelled, the bodyguards would remain, they would even increase.
With a suffering sigh, SarEr capitulated.
“What happened this time?” he asked with resignation.
He wasn’t even sure he wanted to know. He already knew the drill. Having too much money and power in the right places also meant carrying around burdens of unsatisfied business partners, jealous people and sick psychos who just wanted to kidnap for money.
“Someone wants me to stop looking into your mother’s death. The detectives in charge are both dead. They were found murdered two hours ago.” Choi Yang shook his head. “I think someone close to us is behind it all. The only people who knew how close we’re getting are within the estate.”
SarEr winced. His mother’s murder remained unsolved. His father kept overturning stones that sometimes meant threats to stop looking into the murder. He wished his father would stop looking into it at all. It would be worse if he lost his father too.
But how could he tell Choi Yang that?
His mother deserved justice.
SarEr swallowed hard.
“Do you have a suspect?”
“I got an anonymous call thirty minutes ago warning me to stop looking into your mom’s death. Han and his team are tracing the call, but so far, nothing has turned up. The entire estate is under lockdown. Whoever it is knows my private number and the progress the two detectives have made. I’m afraid this puts you in danger as well. Your MIT acceptance letter arrived. I gave it to Han. Hopefully you’ll be safer in college away from the estate.”
SarEr felt weak.
He always tried not to ask about the details, because when he did, the answers made him angry. He didn’t want to imagine that someone he knew had killed his mother. Cursing under his breath, he wiped a trembling hand down his face. How he hated the reality of dealing with his mother’s murder. It hurt to think about her. It hurt more to watch his father try to get justice for her.
“I’ll be in my rooms.”
“Don’t leave the estate, SarEr. Don’t give Han a hard time today,” Choi Yang warned.
SarEr glanced at his father for a moment, noting the frown on the older man’s forehead. His father was a handsome man in his mid-forties. He had an arrogant tilt to his chin and his eyes were sharp behind the reading glasses resting on the bridge of his nose. He wore his hair long, and in a tight ponytail at the back of his head. SarEr remembered playing with his father’s hair when he’d been young and Choi Yang had carried him. Those days his father’s smile had come readily, not now though. His father’s lips were always set in a grim line.
SarEr missed his father’s smile as much as he missed his mother’s laugh. Judging from recent events, he doubted he was going to be seeing his father’s smile any time soon. He bowed his head slightly to his father and headed to the door.
So much for his anger, he thought.
He’d get a shower and go to sleep, tomorrow he had two hours with Zun, he could hold on until then. Beyond that, he could only hope leaving for college would take away all these problems.