Swallow One’s Breath – Chapter 4

Se-eun’s plan was very simple.

Sleep in all Saturday, stuff her face on Sunday.

However, Do-won’s voice lingered in her head all weekend, making it difficult for her to sleep or eat properly.

‘Did you think I forgot about what kind of eyes you make when you want me?’

Of course, it wasn’t surprising that she hadn’t forgotten about him. It was extremely difficult for her to suppress the memories of Kang Do-won for any extended amount of time.

For him, she was nothing more than an object he used to relieve his sexual desires, and it took her six months to realize and acknowledge that fact.

But before she reached that conclusion, she went to the club where she first met Do-won and got crazy drunk for the first time in her life.

That night, if Se-eun hadn’t met Charles by chance, it was clear that her life would have been completely ruined.

Charles picked her up from the floor, guided her out of the club, and took care of her until she came to her senses. He did all of this simply because he remembered her working part-time for only three days at the JnC headquarters a year ago. This encounter developed into a close friendship, which led to Se-eun working at JnC.

Since then, she had been working hard to break free from the naive and humble Jeong Se-eun of the past.

‘I won’t be swayed by him like I was in the past.’

She swore and vowed that she wouldn’t allow herself to be hurt by Do-won anymore over the entire weekend.

On Sunday afternoon, Charles, who invited Se-eun out to eat, smiled mischievously and started a conversation about Do-won.

“I heard you were with President Kang in the garden on Friday.”

Se-eun knew that there were no secrets between Jaehee and Charles. But even so, she didn’t see the point of rehashing the details if he already knew about it.

Charles smirked upon seeing Se-eun’s sulky expression.

“What? Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”

“That’s not it.”

“Then why do you have that look on your face?”

“…”

“Because you didn’t want to get caught?”

“Rather than that, I think Charles is having too much fun at my expense.”

“This is so fun!”

When Se-eun immediately frowned at Charles, he chuckled in response and continued.

“Se-eun, this is the first time you’ve been involved with a man since I’ve known you. It’s bound to be exciting, right?”

“I’m not getting involved with him.”

“No way. If a man like him gives you that kind of look, do you think you can move forward without anything happening? And why would you want to miss out on such an opportunity?”

Then, once again, Do-won’s voice echoed in her head.

‘Did you think I forgot about what kind of eyes you make when you want me?’

Se-eun suddenly grew angry with herself and retorted, “How does that man look at me?”

“He looks at you like he wants to devour you. Like he wants to drag you off somewhere, push you down, rip your clothes off, and f*ck you…”

Her face lit up fiercely. Charles tended to be too explicit when he spoke about such topics.

“What if someone hears you?!” Se-eun protested in a low voice as she glanced around.

This wasn’t something they should talk about in a restaurant with elegant classical music. However, Charles was completely shameless.

“Why does it matter if someone hears us? It’s not like anyone here hasn’t done it before.”

“Charles!”

“Okay, fine! So, what are you going to do?”

“What do you mean? Nothing is going to happen.”

“Why not?” Charles asked with a face full of wonder. “Why throw away the opportunity to tie such a sexy man to the bed, caress him from head to toe, bite and suck-“

“Charles!”

“Okay, I get it! Anyway, you tend to be too shy towards such things…”

As Se-eun rolled her eyes at the grumbling Charles, he spoke again with a reluctant expression.

“So, you’re just going to throw away the chance to get with that hot guy?”

“I don’t want to be associated with that person anymore…”

“You’re really making me frustrated!” Charles picked up his glass and gulped down the cold water as if he was upset.

“Se-eun, sweetheart.”

“Yes.”

“Just meet that man again, sleep with him a few times, and then break up. Take this opportunity to shake off any lingering feelings and regrets. Otherwise, won’t you have problems when you try to date other men in the future?”

“But we’re a client-“

“Why does that matter?! As long as the two of you keep your mouths shut, it will be fine!”

“………..”

Charles gave her a bewildered look and spoke with a more serious tone.

“You probably think I’m being a busybody, but I’m saying this out of hope that you can shake off all of these feelings and move forward.”

“……Yes.”

“After having a blast with a guy like that, all the frustration that has accumulated in your body after years of getting off alone will disappear in an instant-“

“Charles!”

Charles smiled mischievously at her flushed face and Se-eun eventually burst into laughter. After talking to him, her heart felt a little lighter.

When she arrived at her house after parting with Charles, she pulled out a small box that she had hidden deep within a drawer. Inside the box was a delicate necklace.

The necklace was a simple design. Hanging from a thin silver chain was a pendant with a red jewel surrounded by a row of small transparent jewels.

A gift from Do-won 5 years ago.

Even after breaking up with him, she couldn’t bear to throw it away, so she stuck it in a drawer. Later, when she needed some money, she took it to a jewelry shop.

The owner of the jewelry shop examined the necklace for a long time, then looked at her with her strange gaze and asked.

‘Does this belong to you, Miss?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s excellent quality, but why do you want to sell it?’

‘……’

‘If you decide to sell it, I can’t give you the same price you paid for it. Diamonds and rubies depreciate in value, so they only resell at bargain prices.’

‘What?’

‘However, this is a pure platinum chain, so you can sell this at the market price…’

‘The jewels are diamonds and rubies?’ Se-eun asked with a shocked expression.

The owner made a strange face and asked, ‘Why are you so surprised? Didn’t you know?’

‘No, I received it as a gift…’

‘You received such a wonderful gift. If I was you, I would wear it all the time. It would be a waste to just sell it…’

‘No, no, I won’t sell it! I’m sorry!’

Se-eun grabbed the necklace off the counter and ran out of the jewelry shop. Once she was at home, she opened the palm of her hand, and watched as the necklace fell to the floor. It was the same necklace as an hour ago, but it didn’t seem the same anymore.

Since then, Se-eun tried to change her perspective on the necklace. She had been given a platinum necklace, but she didn’t want to think of it as anything but a silver necklace. Even after receiving diamonds and a ruby, she tried to convince herself that the jewels were cubic zirconia instead.

This motivated her to learn everything she could to improve herself.

She mastered everything from how to dress stylishly, how to treat people with confidence, how to develop physical strength and shape, luxurious hobbies, and culture. Of course, it would not have been possible without Charles and Jaehee by her side.

Charles helped her unconditionally, as if it was his sole duty to rehabilitate her.

Se-eun wondered if she would have been able to ask for his help if he hadn’t reached out first.

‘Why are you helping me so much?’

“Because I want to.” Charles smiled, stroking her head when she looked confused at his short answer. “When I see a good kid, I want to help them. Nice and hard-working, these words describe you perfectly.”

‘I’m not the only person like this.’

“That’s true, but the only one who caught my eye was Jeong Se-eun.”

To be honest, there were times when she had doubts about Charles’ help. She didn’t understand why he was helping her when they had no connection and often thought he had an ulterior motive. However, there was only sincerity in Charles’ eyes, and in the end, she decided to accept the favor as it was.

She desperately wanted to stand on her own so no one could ever disregard her again. It took her some time, but soon she realized that meeting Charles was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After finding out about Charles and Jaehee’s sexual orientation, her determination became even firmer. Now that she knew Charles had no interest in her outside of a friendship, she decided to return the favor by devoting herself to JnC.

‘But I needed help from Charles once again.’

Se-eun sighed as she recalled Charles’ suggestion to meet Do-won again and shake off any lingering feelings and regrets.

‘But should I really do that?’

Even with such an excuse, she felt so pathetic for wanting to see Do-won again.

‘Even after everything he has done to me, why do I still want to see him again? What kind of insult am I going to receive this time?!’

However, no matter how hard she tried, Charles’ words did not disappear from her mind. Especially the way he described Do-won’s expression of wanting to devour her.

‘Is it possible? Whether it’s a date or rolling around in bed, will I be able to start a new love after seeing him again and brushing off all of my regrets?’

While Se-eun agonized over her inconclusive thoughts, time continued to pass.

The bitter winter gradually came to an end, and the spring breeze began to rustle the budding leaves on the trees. During all that time, she never ran into Do-won again. While she knew that all he wanted was her body, it still left her with a bitter feeling to see that he had stopped trying to pursue her.

She had troubled and worried herself over nothing. Five years had passed since their breakup, but Se-eun still felt pathetic because she couldn’t control how her heart was shaken by him.

Despite all that time, she still hasn’t come to her senses, even after the way Do-won treated her.

 

* * * * * * *

 

One day after some time, Joo-hyun was gazing out the window where the spring flowers could be seen in full bloom.

“I can’t believe that there isn’t a single man to go view the cherry blossoms with me on such a lovely spring day,” Joo-hyun muttered with a sigh.

Then, two male employees, who were sitting across from her, complained, and asked why she didn’t want to consider them. However, Joo-hyun was not having it.

“I don’t want to go with a married man or a man with a lover.”

Then she called Se-eun, ignoring the flustered expressions of the men.

“Team leader.”

“What is it?”

“What are you doing after work today?”

“I’ll probably just head straight home.”

“Why don’t you come see the cherry blossoms with me before going home?”

Se-eun raised a brow without answering. She didn’t like that idea very much.

In fact, she hated crowds and crowded places.

Moreover, today is a Friday, and it is sunny and warm for the first time in a long time. The road near the office, which is lined with cherry blossoms, would be bustling with people. When Se-eun didn’t respond, Joo-hyun stood up from her seat and approached her desk. After crouching next to Se-eun, she looked up with a pitiful expression on her face.

“Team leader.”

“What is it now?”

“Will you come with me?”

“…Why don’t you just go up to the roof and look at the cherry blossoms from there? You’ll be able to get a good view, too.”

Joo-hyun’s brows furrowed at her words.

“No, that’s too far away. I want to walk along a path where petals fall and flutter in the wind.”

“……..”

“You’ll come, right?”

Se-eun couldn’t just tell her to go when she got a boyfriend later. That would be too cruel to say to Joo-hyun considering it had been three years since she broke up with her last boyfriend.

“All of my friends either have lovers or are married, so I have no one to go with.”

“···········”

“Please, just this once.”

Joo-hyun knew that if she begged like that, Se-eun would eventually give in. So, the moment Se-eun nodded her head, Joo-hyun jumped up with an excited expression on her face.

“Team leader, let’s go see the flowers, eat at a good place, and drink cocktails. Okay?”

Se-eun smiled as she looked at Joo-hyun, who was full of anticipation. She was annoyed that she had to go view the flowers, but it was fun to have dinner and chat with Joo-hyun from time to time.

But when it came time to leave, for some reason, there was one more person joining them for dinner. Myeong-ah, a senior designer, was excited to spend a Friday together.

“Well, I ran into her in the bathroom, and after bragging about going to dinner with the team leader…”

When Se-eun asked what happened, Joo-hyun hesitated to answer. Joo-hyun and Myeong-ah sometimes had dinner together, so she probably thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. Of course, Se-eun didn’t mind if Myeong-ah came along, however, if more people found out about their plans, the number of people at the dinner table would increase as well.

Myeong-ah also had a particular type of personality. Once she started playing, she would play until the very end. As Se-eun prepared to leave work, she began to think of ways to avoid Myeong-ah dragging her off to a club after dinner.

Viewing the cherry blossoms was more fun than she expected. The three women took pictures and chatted as they walked under the cherry blossoms in full bloom. As expected, there were many people around, but Se-eun didn’t feel uneasy because Joo-hyun was clinging to her side with their arms linked.

After leisurely viewing the flowers, they went to a nearby soup restaurant to fill their empty stomachs as planned. And for the last course, they decided to head to the bar at Hotel K, which was famous for its beautiful night view, and cocktails.

“I’ve always wanted to come here.”

After arriving at the hotel and getting on the elevator, Joo-hyun looked like she wanted to jump in excitement. If she hadn’t been linked with Se-eun’s arms, she really might have.

“Then you should’ve just said so. I come here with my friends sometimes.”

“You do?!” Joo-hyun’s eyes widened at Myeong-ah’s words.

“Yes, the drinks here are pretty good.” Joo-hyun giggled at Myeong-ah’s playful expression.

As the rumors suggested, the night view was incredible.

When Myeong-ah pointed out that there were many handsome men at the bar, Joo-hyun winked and nudged Se-eun. Se-eun laughed and took a look around the room. However, when her gaze unexpectedly landed on Do-won’s figure, she bit her lip in surprise.

No one seemed to notice that the man sitting over there was President Kang Do-won, but Se-eun could tell just by looking at his back. However, the moment Se-eun realized that the man sitting with his back facing her was Do-won, she also noticed a sophisticated and sexy woman sitting next to him.

All the good feelings she had just a moment ago completely disappeared and were replaced with the urge to immediately flee. But it had only been a few minutes since they came in, so she couldn’t simply just leave and go home alone.

Se-eun struggled to not look in his direction as she chatted with Joo-hyun and Myeong-ah. However, she couldn’t focus on anything they were saying because her head was filled with the image of Do-won sitting with another woman.

 

* * * * * * *

 

Do-won was annoyed. The reason, of course, was the ignorant woman sitting in front of him, and his mother, who had relentlessly pushed him to meet this woman.

From an objective point of view, the woman sitting in front of him was not a bad opponent. She had a pretty face and a body with sensual curves. Notably, her father was the president of Geumgang Construction.

He had considered meeting her for a cup of tea to stop his mother’s nagging, but unexpectedly, the woman made an appointment at a time too late for tea or dinner. That was how he ended up at a hotel bar with this woman blatantly flirting with him.

“Actually, I saw President Kang once before I left to study abroad.”

The woman fluttered her eyelashes, which were clearly fake extensions, and smiled gently.

“I thought you were so cool back then.  I’m so happy to have the chance to meet you alone like this after returning to Seoul.”

As the woman spoke, she slid her hand up his forearm. However, the moment she touched him with her bright red nails, instead of excitement, a feeling of discomfort rose. Completely unaware of the effect she was having on him, she fluttered her eyelashes once again and continued her seduction.

“How do you feel about me, President Kang?”

‘Are you really that curious? You would be shocked to hear my honest thoughts.’

Do-won mumbled a swear word and swallowed the rude words that lingered on the tip of his tongue.

‘Damn it.’

He didn’t plan to listen to his mother. Ever since he broke off his third engagement, his mother has been behaving like it was her lifelong goal to marry him off. He got so irritated with his mother that he blatantly told her that he didn’t care whether he got married or died alone, but she was very stubborn.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for his mother, he wouldn’t be in any sort of relationship. In any case, he decided to sit for just another 30 minutes as a courtesy to the other party, or more precisely, to the president of Geumgang Construction.

But in just that half hour, the woman finished three cocktails and was leaning against him while looking at him with hazy eyes. Her lustful expression was urging him to take her up to a room.

Do-won clenched his teeth and moved away. As he excused himself and rose from his seat, he caught sight of a familiar woman on the other side of the room. For a second, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

‘Jeong Se-eun is here at this hour? That’s absurd.’

While the bar was famous for its night view, it was also well-known for being a place where single people, who enjoyed one-night stands, could come find a partner at any time.

‘Ha!’

‘When I asked her to meet me, she scoffed at the idea. Did she come to a place like this to find someone else? Jeong Se-eun, are you crazy?!’

Seething with anger, Do-won moved towards the table where she was sitting. As he got closer, he saw that there were several companions around Se-eun, but that fact alone did not quell his anger.

At that moment, a man approached the table and spoke to Se-eun. When Do-won saw this, he felt like his head was literally spinning.

‘How dare that bastard…!’

He strode up to the table and grabbed Se-eun’s arm.

“What are you doing here?”

The eyes of the man and the women at the table widened in shock at Do-won’s actions. However, Se-eun’s expression remained calm.

“Why are you doing this all of a sudden?”

“That’s what I want to ask. If you think you’re going to find someone here better than me, you might as well give up.”

“I don’t know why President Kang is telling me this.”

Her eyes were as cold as her voice. Just before harsh words could come out from Do-won, a woman with short hair sitting opposite Se-eun boldly opened her mouth.

“Why don’t you two take your love spat somewhere else?”

“Myeong-ah, why would you say such a thing…”

The moment Se-eun looked at the short-haired woman with a furious expression, Do-won grabbed her wrist.

“If you don’t want to attract attention, come with me now.”

Se-eun bit her lower lip as she picked up her handbag with a reluctant expression. The two didn’t say a word until they were in the parking lot. It was only when he opened the passenger door of his car and gave her an impatient look that she opened her mouth.

“Where are we going?”

“To a place where we won’t be disturbed.”

Raising her chin in defiance, Se-eun sat in the passenger seat without saying a word and slammed the passenger door loudly. When he saw her expression, the anger that had risen to the top of his head suddenly subsided, and his lips curved into a smirk. Do-won sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine.

 

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