Reiko buttons her blouse quickly before reaching for her blazer. When she turns to look at the mirror, she’s pleased with what she sees. There she is, Hosho Reiko. Tokyo Metropolitan Police, Kunitachi branch. Star detective. Her hair is tied back in a prim ponytail, her glasses lend her an intellectual air, and her pantsuit is simple but comfortable.
It’s been a while since she’s been able to see this Hosho Reiko, and she can’t help smiling.
She adds a coat of her favorite lipstick and grabs her work bag from her chair, leaving her bedroom behind as she descends the stairs to the dining room. The house is rather quiet this morning, and she finds her breakfast already waiting. She lets out a huff of disappointment and has a seat at the table, setting her bag down beside her. Lifting the lid reveals a hearty breakfast of French toast and sausage, hot from the kitchen and ready to see her through a challenging day.
It’s not until she’s draining the last of her orange juice that Kageyama bothers to make an appearance. He comes to clear her place, his movements efficient as always as he removes the plate and silverware. She knows by now not to bother talking. The only conversation she’ll receive in return will lack depth. He’ll comment on the weather, the new gardener with her grand plans for the rose bushes, or perhaps some odd anecdote he heard on the radio.
How many weeks has it been now, Reiko wonders, since Kageyama has been able to look her in the eye?
She tamps down her disappointment, her bubbling anger, and thanks him politely for the meal. She gets to her feet, taking her bag with her as she heads for the garage. He meets her there, holding the limousine door for her.
The ride from the house to the station is utterly silent this morning. In the past, Reiko used this time to complain. About Kazamatsuri’s boneheaded assumptions, about the latest gossip in the forensics lab, about her neverending pile of paperwork. This morning Reiko simply stares out the window, the sights outside familiar and comforting. The gas station they always pass. The elementary school with its playground full of boisterous children. She’s missed it, this familiar route. Before, she took it for granted. The world spins on outside the limousine, but inside it the world is stuck on that day just over four months ago. Reiko bites the inside of her lip, wanting to be free of the unnerving quiet.
He holds the door for her again after he parks, but it’s not the old meeting place. Of course not. Kageyama’s a creature of habit, but he’ll never park there again. Instead she’s now two blocks west of the station instead of three blocks east. She rejected all of his other suggestions. All of them were closer to the building, and Reiko prefers her colleagues to remain in the dark about her social status.
She steps out of the limo, bag in hand. Reiko turns her head, trying to look at him. His eyes face down, fixed on some part of the door. Anywhere but at her.
“Please have a safe and pleasant day, my lady,” he says in a friendly-enough tone. It’s too rehearsed, like nearly everything he says to her now.
She misses him. He’s standing right here, holding the door, performing his duties admirably. Respectfully. He’s Kageyama with his tuxedo and bow tie, Kageyama with his glasses and dark hair. He’s Kageyama, but he’s not hers. And he might never be again.
“See you tonight,” she replies, ignoring the slight throb in her shoulder when she hoists her bag and walks away.
She tugs her hair free from the elastic, sighing in relief after another long day. Reiko’s phone chirps with a new text message as she rounds the corner and heads down the quiet, tree-lined street. She wants a nice hot bath and if she pouts enough, maybe she’ll get a massage without having to ask for it.
She retrieves her phone from her bag, smiling at the notification. Speak of the devil.
Her heels tap rhythmically against the pavement as she reads the message. Running a few minutes late. Traffic. Many apologies. She rolls her eyes. Great, it’s only going to delay her massage.
The comfort of bath bubbles and the touch of warm, gentle fingers are flooding her mind as she walks. She passes a hedge, and since the person is wearing sneakers, she only hears their footsteps at the last moment.
She’s welcomed back with an embarrassing amount of clapping and a three-tiered cake that she suspects Kazamatsuri bought mostly so he could eat it himself. Reiko accepts the well wishes with a grateful smile before easing away from the celebration and going to the chief’s office.
He spent most of the last week telling her to take more time, but Reiko doesn’t need any more time. She’s only been cleared for investigative duty anyhow. Crime scene visits and interviews. Nothing too taxing, doctor’s orders. She just needs to be here. She needs to be Hosho Reiko. Tokyo Metropolitan Police, Kunitachi branch. Star detective. After four long months of Hosho Reiko, hospitalized and Hosho Reiko, resting at home, she needs to be herself again. She needs to be out there, fighting to keep Kunitachi safe.
The chief doesn’t put her on Kazamatsuri’s current case. He doesn’t need to say why. He thinks it’s the right thing to do. Four women, three in Kunitachi, the other from Hino. Two survived their attacks, two unfortunately did not. It’s only a matter of time before Headquarters sends a team out to take over since Kazamatsuri’s leads keep drying up. Of course they’re drying up, Reiko thinks. It’s because she’s been gone.
Instead she’s tasked with joining another case in progress, a series of thefts at the local high school. She accepts the assignment with a smile, even though she’s disappointed. But work is work, and Reiko finds the lead detective to receive her orders for the day.
Reiko spends three hours interviewing some rather snotty teenagers before she gets the call from Kazamatsuri. He sent the most irritating floral display to the hospital, but he meant well by it. And now that she’s back, he’s not about to let the opportunity to force her to do work for him pass him by.
“Hosho-kun, where are you?”
“I’m still on the Kunitachi Senior High case with Inspector Harada,” she tells him patiently, her partner for the day watching her with irritation in his eyes. The guy can’t stand Kazamatsuri.
“Well, I’m at Joyama Park. Get over here right away.”
Kazamatsuri doesn’t have the authority to pull her off her current case, but Reiko is secretly grateful for his grouchy orders. She puts up a good fight though. “Keibu, I have more interviews to complete over here.”
“They can wait!”
He hangs up on her, and Reiko makes a face. Harada shakes his head. “You don’t have to go, Hosho.”
Harada is absolutely right. She doesn’t have to go. She already has an assignment. But the women in Kazamatsuri’s case deserve justice. It seems a bit more urgent and pressing than some jewelry being stolen from a student’s locker. And she can always remind the chief that Kazamatsuri still outranks her on the detective squad (and perhaps that could change with a well-deserved promotion…)
She pretends to be annoyed when she leaves Harada behind, asking the patrolman to bring her to Joyama Park. She feels more like herself, like Hosho Reiko, star detective when the patrol car pulls away from the curb.
She’s still woozy from surgery when Kazamatsuri arrives, bragging about his gaudy “Get Well Soon” roses before telling her that the assailant has been arrested. She’d fought back hard, scratching her nails across his face. It’s how they managed to find him, and he’s being held at Headquarters. It’s Ichimatsu Yuto, the husband of Ichimatsu Raya. It was Reiko who was responsible for putting Raya behind bars for attempted murder after she tried to poison her boss. Well, Kageyama’s deductions played a part, but it was Reiko who’d gotten the warrant to search her home and find the evidence.
Now husband and wife are both in jail and won’t be coming home any time soon.
Kazamatsuri’s a little confused though, asking why Reiko was walking in that direction from the police station after work that night. The train station is closer, the taxi stand is closer, and he knows that Reiko has never parked a car in the lot before. She lies and says she was simply enjoying a pleasant walk, was on her way to a different train station to get home.
She’s never told anyone, and especially not Inspector Kazamatsuri, that she’s picked up every evening in a limousine so her butler can bring her home to the mansion she lives in. The chief knows, but only because he has to.
And she’ll never tell anyone, especially not Inspector Kazamatsuri, that her butler was late in picking her up that night because he was buying her flowers.
Reiko is alarmed when she finds Kazamatsuri standing impatiently outside of an elaborate tent in the middle of Joyama Park, only yards from the fourth crime scene. There’s a bespectacled middle aged man in what Reiko easily recognizes as a butler’s uniform standing just at the tent’s entry flap.
The closer she gets to the fancy thing, the quicker her brain works. Great. He’s finally come to Kunitachi. Kazamatsuri turns to her when she arrives, and even in his flashy white suit, he’s not the most eye-catching thing in Joyama Park. She knows that Kazamatsuri hates to be upstaged.
“Hosho-kun, finally. What took you so long?”
She’s arrived only ten minutes after his call, so he’s just being a jerk. She inclines her head in greeting to the strange butler and stands before her senior officer. “Keibu, I came as quickly as I could manage. What’s the problem here?”
“The problem,” Kazamatsuri complains, hands on his white-trousered hips, “is that my investigation is being taken away from me.”
The butler bows to them both.
Reiko hides a bitter smile. “Taken away?”
“I can’t even get inside here unless you’re with me!” Kazamatsuri complains. “I’m the lead detective here, but apparently whoever’s inside here will only talk to me if you’re here too!”
The butler is nothing like Kageyama, speaking to her in the most reverent and respectful tones. He introduces himself as Yamamoto and explains that his master has been in touch with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.
“He has grave concerns about this case, Hosho-sama. Kazamatsuri-sama. He only wishes to see it solved as soon as possible.”
Reiko cocks her head. “I’m sorry, Yamamoto, but I’m on another case right now. This case is Inspector Kazamatsuri’s to investigate…”
“Please,” Yamamoto interrupts with an apologetic look in his eyes. “Won’t you come in and speak to the master?”
Reiko has no choice but to agree. Yamamoto holds the flap of the tent open, and she steps inside, an impatient Kazamatsuri at her heels.
The tent is just as obnoxious and ostentatious as she’s heard. It appears in a flash and can be dismantled in a flash, yet it has a floor. Seating for guests. Statues and plants and a woman in a rather old-fashioned maid’s attire standing dutifully beside a cart, bowing as Reiko enters and offering her a cup of tea. Kageyama, at least the old Kageyama, would have relished the opportunity to have his afternoon tea from such a grand set of cups and saucers.
Reiko accepts the tea and has a seat on a small sofa while Kazamatsuri nibbles on a few cookies and is desperately trying not to like them. He goes back to the maid, Tanaka, for another handful without bothering to thank her.
Reiko’s had a few sips of tea when he arrives. She only knows about him through what her father has told her. He’s an investor in the Hosho Group, owning ten percent of all company shares. Papa has always liked him, even though his existence is such a mystery.
He has no name, or at least no name he’s publicly known by. Even his stock has been purchased through a holding company, KT Enterprises. He only appears in the Hosho Group’s annual report under his ridiculous alias.
“So this is the Noble Detective,” Kazamatsuri says, crumbs flying from his mouth as a man comes into the tent and heads for a rather throne-like chair on a small, raised platform. He offers no apologies for the delay as he takes a seat, looking between her and Kazamatsuri with a twinkle in his eye.
He’s handsome, absurdly so, Reiko realizes, even as she takes in his odd appearance. He’s tall, lean, his black hair slicked back away from his face. He’s dressed like an aristocrat from another century in a long brown coat that falls almost to his knees and tight white trousers tucked into knee-high boots. He looks like someone who’s lost on his way to a costume party, except Reiko knows he’s the real deal.
His voice is smooth and relaxed as he rests his hands on the arms of his fancy chair. He has a rather wicked smile, and Reiko knows something her father doesn’t. Her father only knows him as “Noble Detective,” stockholder. Reiko has heard whispers among friends of his flirtatious nature, his cavalier attitude. Seeing him in person, even in his peculiar clothes, it’s hard to deny how attractive he is, the confidence he exudes.
“Hosho Reiko,” Noble Detective says. “And Kazamatsuri Kyoichiro. I trust my servants have offered you proper refreshments.”
Kazamatsuri is clearly put off by the overt displays of wealth under the Noble Detective’s tent. He is probably seething that he doesn’t have a gaudy tent of his own to set up in the middle of a public park.
The Noble Detective offers Reiko a cheerful smile. “What a lovely shade of lipstick.”
“Thank you,” she replies, a bit thrown by the odd compliment. Of all the things to remark about…
“Rouge Allure Velvet?”
“Let’s get to the point, Noble-kun,” Kazamatsuri fires off. “This is a police investigation, not a department store makeup counter, and I am in charge here.”
Noble Detective’s smile grows wider still. “Four unsolved attacks in three weeks, two of them fatal, and you’re still in charge?”
Kazamatsuri falters, munching on a cookie. “Well…well, it’s a complicated case.”
“Precisely. Which is why I’ll be solving it for you.”
“Beg pardon?” Kazamatsuri sputters.
The nobleman’s face grows more serious. “Four innocent women attacked, I simply won’t stand for it. This is clearly the work of a misogynistic serial killer, and it must end. Now.”
Reiko sets down her tea cup. “This area is the jurisdiction of the Kunitachi police. You have no authority here as a…private…contractor.”
His eyes meet hers, and she doesn’t shrink. Reiko has spent her entire adult life juggling two worlds - the world of the Kunitachi police and the world she was raised in, a world of wealthy, self-involved aristocrats. One day the Hosho Group will be hers to control, and she won’t be intimidated by anyone she considers a peer or social equal. This “Noble Detective” will not walk all over her.
But she has to tread carefully. She doesn’t want Kazamatsuri to learn her real identity, though they’ve worked together for years now and he’s never bothered to be very curious. Apparently a pair of glasses and a plain pantsuit are disguise enough.
“I have friends in high places, Hosho Reiko. I expect cooperation or for you both to simply stand aside.”
“I’m not even assigned to this case,” Reiko points out.
“But it’s personal for you, is it not?”
Reiko is silent for a moment. Hosho Group money was more than enough to keep things quiet. The attack was never made public, her hospital stay and rehabilitation were kept equally quiet. The four women in this case were stabbed, although the assailant is obviously not Ichimatsu Yuto. So yes, of course this is personal for Reiko. But how on earth does the Noble Detective know that?
“My servants are already investigating,” Noble Detective insists. “So you can either share your information with them, or I can put in a friendly call to the head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and force it from you.” He crosses his legs casually, cocking his head. “I’d rather not start a feud with the heir to Kazamatsuri Motors.”
Kazamatsuri’s expression changes. “You know our company?”
“Why, my driver Sato has always told me about them. He is an auto enthusiast.”
“We make the best cars in the world!” Kazamatsuri brags, his objections forgotten.
The Noble Detective simply smiles, clearly disagreeing but not willing to say so and lose his edge.
Reiko takes a step forward. “Just a moment, what do you mean by your servants are investigating? Aren’t you the detective here?”
He gets to his feet, walking over until he’s in Reiko’s space. He smells like brandy, and he’s deliberately wearing a warm and sensual cologne. Even in her heels she has to look up at him. He knows very well who she is, who her family is, but she doesn’t think he’s going to say so out loud. No, he’s more calculating than that.
“A nobleman doesn’t dirty his hands with such things. That’s why we have servants to do our snooping for us.” He leans close until she can feel his warm breath against her ear when he whispers. She shuts her eyes, savoring it yet still annoyed with herself for being taken in by such an overtly flirtatious move. But she’s been so lonely. “Your own servant is out in the park right now, hiding behind a bush. Isn’t he?”
Reiko stands up tall, irritated at the truth of it. Kageyama trails her everywhere, he always has. It’s likely that the Noble Detective is telling the truth.
“Can’t solve the case on your own?” she whispers back in challenge.
His chuckle sends a rush of heat through her body. All the rumors about him are absolutely true. “Takes one to know one, Reiko-chan.”
“Well, it’s a terrible shame what’s been happening,” Kazamatsuri interrupts, sounding as though he’s had an abrupt change of heart. Hearing the praise for the source of his wealth (even though it wasn’t quite praise) has made him more agreeable. “In the interest of solving this case and ensuring there are no more victims, I feel like it might be best to pool our resources.” He looks over, waving at her dismissively. “Hosho-kun, you can go back to the junior high school.”
“It was the senior high school,” she complains under her breath as the Noble Detective steps back, moving over to clap Kazamatsuri on the shoulder.
Yamamoto the butler is called back so that he and Kazamatsuri might exchange information. Apparently Yamamoto, Tanaka the maid, and Sato the driver work together to investigate the Noble Detective’s cases. Reiko feels a little less embarrassed about her usual reliance on Kageyama to prod her in the right direction - at least he’s just one person. She doesn’t have a whole team doing work on her behalf.
Thinking about Kageyama and the way he used to be only a few months back, his gleeful investigations, makes her feel tired. She takes a breath, looking over and seeing that the Noble Detective is watching her from where he’s standing beside the tea cart, nibbling on a cookie. She goes over, bringing her cup and saucer.
He takes them from her hand, shaking his head.
“Tanaka would have cleaned this up. That is her duty.”
Behind them Kazamatsuri is talking up a storm while Yamamoto patiently listens to his rambling.
“What is your real purpose here?” she asks him quietly.
He seems a little confused. “Women are being gravely injured in Tokyo, even killed. How can I just ignore it?”
“You wouldn’t speak to Inspector Kazamatsuri without me,” she reminds him. “Why?”
“You fascinate me, Hosho Reiko,” he says, reaching out to tug at a stray lock of hair that’s fallen out of her ponytail, likely in her rush to get here from the high school. He tucks it behind her ear, a tender gesture he has not earned. “I’ve longed to meet you.”
“I’m just a police detective.”
His knowing smile would make any other woman swoon, but she’s made of sterner stuff. And her heart’s already spoken for, foolish as it is after all that’s happened.
“Will you dine with me? Tonight?”
She raises an eyebrow. “Here? In your little tent?”
He laughs gently. “I can arrange for a private room at Joy Tree. I do remember someone recommending it to me recently…”
Joy Tree is a Chinese restaurant in Nakameguro. Coincidentally, it’s her father’s favorite place to eat in all of Tokyo. She wonders if her father has arranged for this behind her back. It was Reiko who fought for Kageyama to keep his job, even though he’d already tendered his resignation to her father after the incident. Perhaps Papa thinks Kageyama is no longer enough.
“I can have my butler drive me there at…”
“Nonsense,” the nobleman interrupts. “I will send Sato for you at 7:00.”
She stares up at him, knowing that she could easily turn him down. Reiko’s life is complicated enough right now, and she’s spent so many long weeks fighting to get back where she is. On her own two feet, working to solve crimes and keep her city safe. She’s lost so much else that she needs her work to keep herself afloat.
And as much as she wishes for this case to be hers, it’s not. But that doesn’t lessen her curiosity about the man before her, and why he’s chosen this exact moment to force himself into her life and her business.
“I am going back to the high school to work on the case I’ve been assigned,” she tells him. “I will not be ready until at least 8:00 tonight.”
“Not a problem at all.” He takes her by the hand, lifts it to his lips. He brushes a soft kiss across her knuckles, no hesitation in anything he does. “I look forward to it.”
He waits until she’s home, in her own bed. He waits until the private nurse Papa hired has retired for the evening. She pats the mattress beside her, but for the first time in a long time, he doesn’t join her.
His face is grave, a mask. Even when they first met, his face was never like this. He was always halfway to an insult, a teasing remark. Now he looks at her, and she doesn’t recognize him.
“My lady,” Kageyama says without tenderness, without affection. He addresses her merely as his employer, which she still is despite his best attempts to leave her. “Given recent happenings, I feel it is best we remember ourselves.”
“Remember ourselves?” she asks, watching as he closes himself off to her more and more with each passing second. “You think that’s what I want?”
“It is in your best interest,” he says, voice so calm it makes her furious. She lets it bubble under the surface, lest she rips her stitches. “I have a duty here, and I was selfish. I was selfish for too long.”
You’re breaking up with me, she wants to accuse him, but that’s not quite the way to phrase it. Because Kageyama will still live here, sleep here, and serve her here. But from now on, he’s saying, that’s all it can be. She’s just a job. She’s just an obligation.
“I need you,” she says and hates how she sounds when she says it. It hasn’t even been that long since they’ve…
“If there’s anything else you require, please ring for me. Good night, my lady.”
He closes the door, and that’s how it ends.
Reiko stands inside her closet for twenty minutes pondering dresses. It’s been a while since she’s worn any of them. Once she was back on her feet, there was little need to dress up for meals. Little need for jewels and sequins.
She’s mostly come to the dinner table in a loose-fitting top and a skirt or pants. Something that can easily come off so that the live-in nurse could examine her, although those days are now over too. Reiko’s well enough now that she’ll simply have to go to the doctor’s office for check-ups every other week and eventually less than that.
She frowns. So many of her newest acquisitions are low cut so she might drape her neck in pearls or jewels, the extravagant gifts from her father, who is overseas far more than he’s ever home. Form fitting, elegant. She has to dig around for a while, back a few fashion seasons until she finds something that will work but still look stylish. Current. Worthy of its wearer. It has a high neckline, short sleeves. A conservative A-line dress she wore on a trip to Italy, opting for modesty on a family vacation in the Vatican.
Her scars are covered entirely when she has it on, turning from side to side in front of her mirror. Hosho Reiko, the beautiful heiress, looks back, although her glamour has been tempered somewhat. She puts her hair up, does her makeup. It’s nice to feel wanted, even by a notorious playboy. It’ll be fun to pretend at romance after so many weeks without.
Kageyama is waiting in the hall when she comes proudly down the stairs, a small clutch tucked under her arm. He’s staring for a few moments before he scolds himself, and then he looks away, schools his expression. She catches him sometimes, catches him looking so long as she’s not looking back. But even if he regrets his decision, she knows he isn’t likely to change his mind.
“I can drive you,” he says, just as he said earlier when she explained that the Noble Detective’s driver will be picking her up.
“Take the night off,” she replies, wondering how she’s managed to make it four months without shaking him. Without screaming in his face, without begging for him to reconsider.
She tells herself it’s because she’s Hosho Reiko, heiress to the Hosho Group, and heiresses don’t beg.
The car pulls up in the driveway before Kageyama can say anything else, and she leaves him behind. If he’s jealous, it doesn’t matter because all of this was his choice. All of this was his cowardly retreat.
Sato bows to her and opens the door of the sedan for her. She gets into the car and ignores the ache in her belly as the mansion and Kageyama fade into the darkness behind her.
He comes up from behind her and pushes. She falls forward, dropping her phone and hearing it shatter, her heel scraping the pavement as she tries to brace herself. It doesn’t work because he’s fallen with her, landing on top of her. It’s enough to knock the wind out of her, keeping her from letting out a scream.
She tries to wriggle out from under the stranger, lashing out with her hands and as best she can with her feet. He’s bigger, and unfortunately most of her self-defense training has revolved around assailants who are still standing.
Reiko doesn’t feel the knife go in the first time, she’s too busy crying out as loud as she can. It’s a rather feeble sound, and so she goes for his face. It’s dark and she just goes for whatever she can find, delighting in his screams as her nails find something soft to dig in to. She does feel the second stab, only a few inches shy of her lung, the x-rays will reveal later on.
It’s a residential neighborhood, and so he doesn’t get to try it a third time because someone in the distance is shouting. He gets off of her, flees.
The man that finds her, the man that shouted, calls an ambulance. As he’s hung up, pressing his hand against her wounds, she looks up at him, gasping. “I’m a police officer. My phone…can you call someone…”
The man tells her to stay calm.
The last thing she manages to say before she passes out is “Kageyama needs to know…”
The Noble Detective has made no effort to tone down his wardrobe as he enters the private room on the second floor of Joy Tree. His coat is blue with brass buttons, worn over a button-down dress shirt. It’s tucked into a sinfully tight pair of trousers just like before, and Reiko doesn’t allow herself to be distracted by it for long.
He looks distressed to find her already sitting down. “I would have held your chair for you, Reiko-chan.”
“I’m quite capable of sitting down on my own,” she replies lightly.
There’s a knowing look in his eyes as he decides to sit to her left rather than across from her at the table. His maid, Tanaka, has come along to serve them both, and she quickly moves the place setting in front of him.
“Gozen-sama,” she says in her pleasant voice. “Shall I have the chef prepare something to your liking? Mabo tofu perhaps?”
He gives her a rather astonished look. “You’ll do nothing of the sort, Tanaka. I will eat whatever Reiko-chan recommends.”
“Of course,” the maid replies.
Tanaka bows to her, presenting her with a Joy Tree menu. Reiko blinks for a moment, wondering where she was hiding it because a second ago her hands were empty. They move quickly, these servants of the Noble Detective.
“My father is a long-time devotee of this restaurant,” Reiko explains. “I think I’d like to order some of his favorites.”
“Sounds perfect to me,” Noble Detective says with a grin.
She tells Tanaka what to order, and she’s gone. It seems that Tanaka will handle everything tonight, as though they are dining in the Noble Detective’s own home rather than in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Reiko waits until Tanaka returns with wine and disappears again before she decides to accuse him of anything. “You had the opportunity to tell Inspector Kazamatsuri who I am,” she says. “He doesn’t know I’m an heiress.”
“Well, then he is a fool,” comes the reply, the Noble Detective clinking his wine glass against hers before lifting it to his lips and having a sip. “The Hosho Group is a marvelous company. It astonishes me that he’s never made the connection. But then, the nouveau riche can be awfully self-involved.”
“A marvelous company in which you have a ten percent share of stock.”
He smiles. “I have very diversified business interests, Reiko-chan.”
“Why are you interfering with the Kunitachi police’s case?”
He shakes his head, laughing. “Goodness, we haven’t even had our appetizers yet. I wasn’t expecting an interrogation this evening.”
She relents when Tanaka wheels in a cart overflowing with food. The maid’s face remains perfectly calm as she serves them, but this time she doesn’t leave the room. She stays in the corner, waiting for the opportunity to top off a wine glass or clear a dirty plate. Reiko’s questions will have to wait.
Instead of the case, they talk about the Hosho Group. Recent and pending acquisitions, financial results. He seems amazed by how much she knows about the company’s holdings, but Reiko has grown accustomed to people underestimating her. Only Kageyama seems to…
Reiko reaches for her wine glass.
“The Hosho Group will be mine someday,” she tells him. “It is essential that I understand its inner workings in detail.”
“Quite right,” Noble Detective replies with a nod. “I’m just impressed with you, Reiko-chan, that’s all.”
She feels herself blushing. It’s been a long while since she’s been complimented. “Impressed? Why?”
He leans forward, taking her hand in his own. He doesn’t seem to mind that his maid is in the room. “You have a lot on your plate. You stand to inherit one of the largest conglomerates in Asia, if not the world. And then there’s your day job. Tokyo Metropolitan Police. I know I’d never have the patience for two such diverse occupations.”
“My work for the police is very important to me.”
“So I’ve gathered.”
“I suppose I have a strong sense of justice.”
He beams. “You’re brave, Reiko-chan. A risk taker. A woman in a man’s profession, and a noblewoman at that.”
She doesn’t pull away, trying to stay strong against the wicked look in his eyes, the way his thumb is stroking across her skin. She’s dealt with his type many times, attending parties with her parents. Overly familiar men, playing at gentleman when they mostly just want to meet with her father about some business venture and think it’s easier to go through her.
But Noble Detective, flirtatious reputation aside, already has his connections to the Hosho Group and her father. As forward as he is, Reiko is surprised by his sincerity.
She grins. “Women make for much better detectives.”
He leans even closer, squeezing her hand tighter. “I couldn’t agree more.”
“Gozen-sama,” Tanaka interrupts. “Will you be having any dessert this evening?”
“No, Tanaka. Thank you. Perhaps you can see if Yamamoto or Sato would like anything.”
She bows and departs, pushing the cart and leaving them alone in the private dining room. He takes his hand back, having another sip of wine.
“Why are you interfering in the Kunitachi police’s case?” Reiko asks again as soon as the door is closed.
He laughs merrily. Between the two of them, they’ve had plenty to drink already. “I take on cases that interest me, nothing more.”
She presses him. “You mean you have your servants take on the case while you sit back and watch.”
He leans back in his chair, watching her carefully. “Unlike you, bravest Reiko-chan, I have no wish to dirty my hands with the nitty-gritty of a mystery. That’s why I have servants.”
“Did Papa ask you to do this?”
He says nothing.
Reiko’s father stayed in Tokyo the first two months after the incident, working from home, tending to her carefully. But a businessman of his stature couldn’t hide away much longer, especially when what happened to Reiko was not public knowledge. He’s back to his jet-setting lifestyle now, but he knew she was going back to work this week.
For years, he’s tolerated her career, even cheered her on. Many parents wouldn’t, especially in their privileged social circumstances. Her peers attend soirees and play tennis or fly to Dubai on a whim to go shopping. Even the Noble Detective only takes on mysteries as a hobby, investigating murders with the same enthusiasm one might have for stamp collecting or butterfly catching. But her Papa has long accepted that his daughter isn’t satisfied with mystery solving as a mere hobby. It’s her job. It’s her passion, seeing justice done.
But what happened to her has rattled him, as it would rattle any father. He’s long tasked Kageyama with watching over her, protecting her, but perhaps he’s decided it’s not enough anymore, putting that on one man. Reiko expects that Kageyama, at least the Kageyama of today, is inclined to agree.
Her Papa knew she was going back to work, and he knew there would be no stopping her. But it seems like he’s set on keeping her away from the stabbing case. She’s been shuffled to her other assignment. It’s insulting. It’s infuriating. And there’s nothing she can do about it.
“Even if he did ask you to take charge of this case, you wouldn’t tell me.” She crosses her arms. “Would you?”
“Let’s not end the night on a sour note,” he says lightly. “I’ve relished the opportunity to get to know you better. After all, when your father retires, I will look to you to see that my investment in the Hosho Group is well-tended.”
It’s not a threat or a warning. He seems genuinely impressed with her.
He gets to his feet, moving to pull out her chair. He’s still standing close when she gets to her feet, turns to look up at him. If life was simpler, she’d give in to him without questioning it or questioning herself. It’s been a long while since a ridiculously handsome man’s spent an entire meal praising her without any hint of irony. The Noble Detective is mysterious, true, and his motives for taking up the stabbing case are equally muddled.
But his feelings for her, even after only a few hours in her company, seem real. He falls in love, or at least in lust, very quickly. He reaches out, cups her cheek in his firm hand, thumb stroking affectionately.
“It’s been too long since someone has touched you like this,” he murmurs. “Hasn’t it?”
His servants haven’t had to snoop around for this. And Papa never knew the full truth. No, this is a mystery the Noble Detective has solved on his own.
“Not so very long,” she replies, smelling the after-dinner mint on his breath as he looks down at her. Only four months, but it’s felt much longer. It’s felt so much longer because of how abruptly she lost him.
“Bravest Reiko-chan,” he teases in his warm, soothing voice. “Brave even now.”
She shuts her eyes, shuts off her mind and the emptiness she’s felt for so many weeks. She may never be full again, but it’s nice to be wanted. Nice to be wanted by someone who doesn’t hesitate or hide. It’s harmless, allowing this, if only for a night or two. He’ll solve the case and the tent in Joyama Park will vanish. He’ll be that mystery man in the background, the stockholder again. Out of her life.
Whatever his motives are with the case, taking her to Joy Tree and holding her in his arms are actions of his own free will.
She’s accustomed to a different type of kiss. A kiss that always asks permission, a kiss that always keeps her in control of where it leads. The Noble Detective’s kiss is different. He holds her close, tipping her face up to meet his, and he closes the distance without delay or doubt.
It doesn’t feel like a betrayal. Four months ago, the decision to stop was Kageyama’s and not hers. So Reiko moans softly, giving herself permission to indulge. His hand is warm against her back, possessive and eager. She parts her lips, allowing his tongue to slip inside to explore.
Reiko’s not used to kisses without history behind them. She’s not used to things moving so fast. It’s thrilling, exciting. She’s felt like unwanted goods for months, and something as simple as the Noble Detective’s kiss has reignited the fire in her belly.
There’s a knock at the door. This time Tanaka seems to know she mustn’t walk in.
He ends things with a series of small, gentle kisses. The corner of her mouth, her cheek, her forehead. And then he’s stepping back, looking like a hero from a western fairy tale, the gallant prince.
“Have Sato bring the car around. Reiko-chan will be going home,” he calls out, and Tanaka acknowledges the order without coming in. He moves back to his seat, reaching out and downing the rest of his wine, his eyes never leaving her. “I’m sure you have important police business come morning.”
“And so do you,” she says, still catching her breath, letting what they’ve done sink in. “In your own way, of course.”
“With what Inspector Kazamatsuri has shared and with what Yamamoto has already told me, it will not be long. We’ll find the despicable character responsible for this.”
She moves to the door, Noble Detective on her heels. It’s his hand that moves for the knob, holding her there.
“When the case is solved, meet with me again,” he says.
She merely nods.
There was no grand gesture, no over-the-top moment that brought it about. It was a night like any other, discussing things in the sitting room after dinner. She was listening patiently as Kageyama poked holes in every single theory she had about whatever case it was. Well, Reiko felt she was being patient. Kageyama may have thought otherwise.
She finally got to her feet, exasperated that yet again he had proven himself the more observant of the two of them. One day she would outsmart him, she vowed. Either way, she’d been tired of listening to him, tired of that ‘I told you so’ tone.
Tired enough to say what she was really thinking when usually she just threatened to fire him for being so condescending.
“I’ll shut you up myself,” she’d said, leaning down to where he was sitting opposite her preferred sofa. She’d expected him to back up, to stop her. To list numerous reasons why they shouldn’t.
Instead he’d been smiling just as their lips met.
It was still months before she allowed him in her bed, but it all started with that night. That night when she decided to be daring, to go for what ought to have been perpetually out of reach. She found in it something that had probably always been there, simmering under the surface. Hidden under layers of duty and status. She’d always wanted him, he’d always wanted her.
Now he acts as though it never happened, and she doesn’t know why.
Sato is a well-trained servant and drives her home in silence.
She gave Kageyama the night off, but he’s still there opening the door just as she’s taking her key out of her bag. She moves past him, into the house, without greeting him. Another man kissed her tonight, and it felt good. It felt good but it didn’t necessarily feel right.
He trails her up the stairs, telling her that he’s already drawn her a bath. That tomorrow’s breakfast will be Japanese-style. That a pair of shoes she custom ordered has been delivered, and he’s left the box in her room.
It all goes in one ear and out the other, and Reiko shuts her bedroom door in his face. She leans back against it, struggling to breathe. She knows that like most nights, he’ll probably stay out there for a few minutes, just in case she has a need for him. Not the way she used to need him, but in the way a mistress might need a servant.
He’s blamed himself for what happened from the beginning. If only he’d been there on time. If only he hadn’t dawdled trying to find the perfect flowers for her. If only he’d never loved her, he’d have been able to carry out his duties.
Reiko struggles a little to get out of her dress, but she won’t allow him in here when she’s home now. She bathes, tries to let her mind drift to work, to the things that are more important. She soaks until her fingers are pruny and gets out, standing naked before her mirror.
It’s the same Reiko, with only a few minor modifications. Still perfect hair. Still a perfect face. Now that she’s been cleared for more vigorous exercise, she uses the treadmill and free weights in the exercise room. The softer parts of her are firming up again. The only thing that’s different are the two scars on her chest.
They’re not even that big, two slightly raised patches, lighter than her normal skin color. They rest side by side just over her left breast, and they weren’t as deep as they might have been. She’d fought back hard.
He’s never seen them, not as they look now. He only saw her blouse soaked through with blood as the paramedic had to cut it off her. And after that, he only saw the bandages peeking out.
She dresses in a comfortable pair of pajamas, getting under the covers. For some foolish reason, she often wakes up on the right side when the entire mattress is hers to command. Her body is still wired for someone to wake beside her.
Tonight Reiko rearranges her pillows, scoots to the very center of the bed. She hugs one of her stuffed animals and pretends that it’s enough.
He’s playing the piano when she comes downstairs on a Sunday morning. She walks up behind him, resting her hands on his shoulders while his fingers move gracefully over the keys. It’s not a song she knows. He’s likely just improvising, filling time until there’s a proper start to the day, and he has to do the job her father pays him for.
It’s daring, touching him down here on the ground floor of the house during the daytime when any other member of the staff might pass by. But Reiko revels in the danger of it, feeling his firm body under her hands even through his layers of clothing. She strokes the back of his head, his playing growing more lazy.
He eventually starts playing with only one hand, barely a tune anymore as his free one moves to bat her hand away from his hair playfully. She leans forward with a soft chuckle, pressing a kiss to his cheek.
“Will you always love me, Kageyama?” she asks airily, her words whispered so only he might hear them.
“My lady,” he says softly. “Are you blind?”
Before she can protest, he’s laughing that arrogant laugh of his.
“Look closer. Pay attention. And you’ll have your answer.”
She grins in relief, wrapping her arms around him.