A crowd of screaming fans gathered outside the hotel where Li Mei was staying. She heard the commotion from her suite in the twentieth floor, but she had no idea who the fans were screaming for. After taking a last look of herself in the mirror, and applying one more coat of red lipstick, she went downstairs to the lobby.
Several guards held the fans at bay to stop them from rushing into the hotel. A pair of screaming teenagers almost dodged one of the guards, but they were caught as soon as they reached the grand staircase that led up to the hotel's auditorium.
Someone tapped on Yanmei's shoulder.
"Miss, they are waiting for you in the meeting room," said the concierge, giving a slight bow with his head.
Li Mei thanked him and headed to the meeting room. She tried not to be nervous, but all her life's work came down to this meeting.
Mr. Wang was already waiting for her with a lit cigar in one hand. He puffed out a grey cloud of smoke when she entered the room. It was small, but looked a lot bigger because of the mirror-covered walls. She had to admit she looked very good in the yellow dress her mother had bought her for this special occasion. Her hair shone in the room's dim light.
"Li Mei, so good to see you!" Mr. Wang said, setting the cigar on an ashtray. Beside it there were two champagne glasses and an unopened bottle in a cooler.
He looked fit for his age, with only the small hint of wrinkles on his eyes.
"Mr. Wang! I hope I didn't keep you waiting," said Li Mei, greeting him with a handshake. But Mr. Wang grabbed her and squeezed her. He reeked of alcohol and cigar smoke.
"Why so cold? We're going to be partners now!" he said, letting her go and gesturing towards the chair he had been sitting on. "Please, sit! Let's open this up to celebrate."
Li Mei took a seat in the chair next to the one he had been sitting on. The cigar was still lit, and the smoke was getting into her eyes. Mr. Wang opened the champagne bottle and poured the two glasses.
"Shouldn't we sign the contract and then celebrate?" said Li Mei, smiling. She didn't want to spoil the mood, but there was nothing to celebrate yet until she was officially signed with Mr. Wang's production company. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine she'd find herself in the same room as this man, who had produced over sixty five movies and the biggest stars in the country working for him. He was the maker of stars and the biggest puppeteer in the industry.
"Yes, yes. But my assistant isn't here yet. We can start celebrating and then we'll sign," he said, offering a glass to Li Mei and sat beside her. He put out the cigar and then placed a hand on her knee.
"Li Mei. Even your name sounds starlike. We're going to make a lot of money, you and I" he said, sliding his hand towards Li Mei's thigh.
Li Mei was paralyzed, not knowing how to react. Was she supposed to encourage his advances? It was a well known rumor that Mr. Wang's methods were somewhat... unethical. But he had never given her the impression he was interested in her. Besides, he was over fifty years old. Twice her age and old enough to be her father!
"Please, Mr. Wang," said Li Mei, slowly sliding his cold hand away.
"Don't pretend you didn't know this was part of the deal," he said, giving her a smirk and downing his glass of champagne. He set it on the table and then pulled Li Mei up, spinning her around and sitting her on his lap. "Relax. We can go up to my room to wait for my assistant," he continued.
Li Mei wanted to cry. All she ever wanted was to be an actress, and she was tired of doing plays in rundown theaters where the only people who saw her were tourists and school groups. This was her first big shot at starring in a movie with an enormous production and an international cast. But she was not willing to pay this price for it.
She threw the champagne at him and got up quickly before he was able to hold her down. The glass fell on the floor and splintered.
"You bitch!" Mr. Wang cried out, his face wet and dripping with champagne. Despite his age, he was well-built and strong, and he grabbed Li Mei before she was able to get away from him.
"I will give you one last chance, and I'm only doing this because I think you are beautiful. I haven't seen someone with your eyes in ages, and I can't think of someone else to play this role," he said into her ear, holding on to her arm and hurting her.
"No," said Li Mei. "I don't want the part if it means that I have to sleep with you."
Mr. Wang slapped her, throwing her down on the ground.
"I was not asking you if you wanted to or not," he said, loosening his tie and unfastening his belt. "You're going to have to learn the ways of the industry sooner or later."
Before Li Mei was able to get up, he was on top of her, holding her down. He tore her dress, ripping out a piece of fabric. When she started to scream, he covered her mouth with one hand.
Li Mei kneed him in the groin and Mr. Wang fell back, groaning with pain. Something warm trickled down her forehead onto her cheek. He had cut her at some point, but she hadn't felt it. Just as she placed her hand on her face and saw the blood that wet her palm, the door opened.
A tall, gorgeous man in an impeccable black suit walked inside. He froze at the sight of Li Mei and Mr. Wang, but the serious and stoic expression on his face did not change. If he was surprised at what he saw, he did not give it away.
"You will never work in the movie industry! Never!" screamed Mr. Wang. "You, tear up the contract and take her back to her room. Spread the news that Li Mei is done before she even started."
The man said nothing, and stared at Mr. Wang. When Mr. Wang turned and saw him, his mouth fell open.
"Master Zhou. This... this harlot assaulted me because I refused to sign her," he said, getting up. His white shirt was stained red with Li Mei's blood and lipstick. "She tricked me into meeting her and then attacked me when I asked her to leave."
Master Zhou ignored Mr. Wang, and walked up to Li Mei.
"Are you OK?" he said in cool, husky voice.
"Yes," said Li Mei. Her voice came out shaky, and she was still trembling with fear, but she was otherwise unharmed.
Master Zhou took off his suit jacket and placed it over Li Mei. When he did so, another man opened the door.
"Zhou Yu, where did you go?" said the man. He was an exact copy of the man in the suit, but unlike him, he looked far more relaxed. He was dressed in jeans and a jacket, and his long hair fell down his shoulders.
"Oh," he said when he saw Mr. Wang on the floor. "What...?"
"Take this lady back to her room," said Mr. Zhou. "I will have a talk with Wang Ying."
"I can't go back out there. They've overrun the lobby" said the other man. When he finished, the door slammed open again.
"Here he is!" screamed a teenager, running into the already crowded room. She jumped up at the man in jeans, giving him a hug.
"Zhou Jiao! I love you!" she screamed, as Zhou Jiao tried to pry her away from him.
Li Mei took advantage of the situation to escape, as the door stood open and more teenagers streamed inside the meeting room, completely ignoring everyone besides the man called Zhou Jiao. His brother, Zhou Yu,, called after Li Mei, but she didn't stop.
She would have to return his jacket later.
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