Chapter 1: Morning
The birds were chirping, the sun started peeking over the horizon...Tokyo began to wake up on that beautiful Saturday morning.
And what a glorious morning it was. The beginning of a new era. Glory, glory, Halleluiah!
That was what flew inside Miki’s head that day as she ran up the stairs to her guest bedroom, where a slender woman with short chestnut hair was still sleeping peacefully.
“What a slacker,” the raven haired café owner murmured to herself, pulling the sheet off the other woman’s body. “Wake up, sleepyhead. Rise and shine!”
“A few more minutes,” the other one grouched, rolling over, pressing her face in the pillow.
“Kaori, get your cute little butt off that bed, right now! Don’t you remember what day’s today?” Miki grabbed her ankle, pulling gently. “Get up, get up, get up!”
Kaori opened one eye, groaning. “It’s still dark outside. Go away.”
Miki rolled her eyes, sighing. “Living with that lazy schmuck for all these years left a mark, I see. It’s not dark outside, the sun rose half an hour ago.”
“Only half an hour ago?” Kaori mumbled into the fluffy pillow. “Why did you wake me this early for? Go away, I’m tired.”
“Tired?! I thought one night away from him would finally restore your energy...” Miki wiggled her eyebrows. Since Saeba confessed to Kaori he loved her, the two seldom left their apartment, or more specifically, his bedroom.
Heavy footsteps sounded in the hallway. Ijuin Hayato, a.k.a. Umibozu, squeezed his bald, fiery red, at the moment, head through the door, his sunglasses steaming up. “Ladies, the others are already here.” His ears smoked a bit. “Good morning, Kaori.”
The redhead beamed at him. “G’morning, Umi-chan.”
The smoking signals from his ears increased in volume. Miki shook her head at her husband’s shyness. “Honey,” she murmured, “why don’t you wait downstairs?”
He looked at her thankfully, disappearing into the hallway.
“See?” Miki dragged Kaori out of bed. “The girls are already here.”
Kaori looked beyond confused. “The girls? Why in the world would they be here at such an ungodly hour?” She scratched her head, her eyes still glazed from sleep.
“Kaori? Are you pulling my leg? It’s Saturday, remember? You slept here tonight, because...”
Kaori bleached, slapping her forehead. “Oh my God! I’m getting married!” She grabbed Miki’s shoulders, shaking her vigorously. “We’re going to be late! What time is it?”
“It’s still early, you said it yourself.” Miki grinned mischievously.
“I wasn’t lucid when I said that, Miki. Stop fooling around. I have to get ready!” Kaori jumped off the bed and ran to the bathroom, waving her hands frantically. “I’m late...I know I’m late...He’s going to leave...” There was some grumbling and then, “If he leaves, I’m going to kill him!”
“What’s all this ruckus about?” came a throaty inquiry from the hallway.
Miki walked out of the bedroom, noticing Saeko and her two sisters at the top of the stairs. “Hey, gals. Kaori went bananas with me.”
“Kaori? What’s the matter?” the Detective asked.
The object of their scrutiny poked her head out of the bathroom, a toothbrush between her teeth. “I’m so late,” she mumbled, somehow managing to keep all the foam in her mouth. How did she do that, anyway?
“Late?” Reika lifted an eyebrow. “Late for what?”
Yuka bulged her eyes. “Oh, God...She’s pregnant.”
Kaori sputtered, toothbrush flying. “No, I’m not.” Could I be? “I’m late for the wedding!”
Saeko looked at her wristwatch. “It’s seven a.m., Kaori. The wedding’s at noon.”
Kaori leveled an ugly glare at Miki, tapping her foot, frothing at the mouth. She looked so adorable. Angry as hell, but adorable.
Miki adopted an angelic look. “What? It was you who jumped at conclusions; I just woke you up, honey.” Her gaze flew to her feet. “Hmm, Kaori...that’s Falcon’s toothbrush!”
Something heavy, and probably expensive, shattered downstairs. It was immediately followed by a loud thump and male laughter.
“What did he smash?!” Miki yelled.
“Let me see,” Mick answered shakily from below. “One, two, three...six or seven teacups, a teapot and a china platter!”
“Sorry, Umi-chan!” Kaori took the stairs. “I didn’t mean to use your toothbrush...I also have a pink one!”
There was another thump, some scrunching of glass, and more laughter.
“Umi-chaaaan, I didn’t know you like pink!” another male voice guffawed.
Kaori almost rolled down the stairs. “Ryo?!”
She stopped dead in her tracks. “What are you doing here?! You’re not supposed to be here! Mick, why did you bring him here?!”
Ryo sighed. “Don’t get hysterical, baby. I missed you, that’s all. I felt lonely tonight...Where are you, anyway? Why are you hiding? Come and give me a good morning kiss.”
“Go away, Ryo!”
“Sweetheart, I just want a kiss. Come on, baby, just a little one.” He moved closer to the stairs.
Kaori squeaked and bolted upstairs. “Miki! Stop him!”
“What’s the matter, hon?” Ryo’s path to the upper floor was blocked by four furious women. “Could you please get out of my way, ladies?”
“Hell, no, Saeba.” Miki, arms akimbo, shook her head vehemently. “Not a step further, do you hear me!”
Reika, Saeko, and Yuka joined her, efficiently blocking the stairway.
He rolled his eyes. “What is this?” He leaned his foot on the first step and suddenly found himself looking down the barrel of a gun.
“Don’t you even think about it,” Miki growled.
Ryo’s eyebrow climbed. “Umibozu, get your fainting butt over here right now! Your wife totally lost it.” He climbed that first step.
Saeko, a dagger in her palm, didn’t even blink. “Over my dead body, Ryo.”
“And what a cute body it is. Come here, Saeko-chan, give us a squeeze.”
There was a rumble on the upper floor, Kaori yelled, “Fore!” and the four women plastered themselves to the wall just in time. A large, extra-spiky, white konpeito came tearing down around the corner, smashing Ryo to the floorboards.
“Bastard! Pig! Idiot! Cretin! Swine! Pervert!” With each word, a mallet followed.
However, Ryo wasn’t under the spiky ball anymore. Darting past the women, expertly (they’ve been living together for many years) dodging the mallets, he ran upstairs, grinning like an idiot. “Honeybunch! Come to your Ryo-chan, baby!”
Hearing him almost at the top of the stairs, she screeched louder, scurrying to the bedroom, and slammed the door shut...right in his face. Damn, he was too quick!
“Sweetie!” He rattled the doorknob. He was starting to worry. “What’s the matter,” he asked softly.
“You’re dense, that’s what!” she bit out on the other side of the door.
“I don’t get it, baby. I just want to see you.”
“That’s the whole problem! You’re going to ruin everything.”
Now he was spooked. What was wrong with her? “Ruin what? Kaori, open this door!”
“I can’t,” she whimpered.
“Kaori...God, baby, are you sick? Let me in right this second!”
She smacked her head against the door. Was he faking it or was he just incredibly stupid. “You can’t see me before the wedding.”
“Of course, I can,” he interrupted.
“No, you can’t! It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony!”
Ryo rolled his eyes. Women and their stupid superstitions. “Is that why you made me sleep alone tonight? That big bed was so cold without you in it...Now step aside, honey, I’ll knock this bloody door down!”
“Do it and you’ll never see me again, Saeba Ryo!”
He flinched at the promise in her voice. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Brain tumor serious.” She sighed, splaying her palm on the wooden surface. “I missed you, too. I wish I could touch you.”
“Me, too,” he breathed on the other side of the door. “I’m hard as a poker here...Honey, what was that sound?”
Kaori lifted herself from the floor. “You blasted horny asshole! I was trying to be romantic, here!”
“I need you, babe,” he pouted.
“Boohoo, to you. You’ll just have to wait ‘till tonight to relieve a certain part of your anatomy.”
Nope, just until I can get you alone in the limo. “Oh, well, in that case, I guess I’ll just go pay a visit to the stripper Mick got me for my bachelor party,” he said thoughtfully, his eyes twinkling mischievously.
Kaori took a deep breath. Ok, girl, count to ten, you can do it. “We both know there was no stripper. Mick wouldn’t risk his jewels on a stunt like that. I know you’re just provoking me so I would crash through this door with my mallet. Well, guess what, buddy. It isn’t going to work.”
He sighed heavily, leaned against the door, and slid to the floor. “Does this no-seeing rule includes no talking?”
She tapped her finger on the tip of her nose. “Never heard of the no-talking rule.” She sat on the floor, her legs crossed. “Talking is nice. I like your voice. It has such a sexily muffled ring to it coming through the door like that. It makes me all hot and bothered,” she breathed throatily.
He swallowed loudly, observing the sudden ridge in his gray slacks. The girl had a voice and imagination to drive any man out of his mind. He still remembered the unbelievable phone-sex they had one night when he was on one of Saeko’s top-secret, bullshitty assignments. He was almost unable to walk the next day.
“Ryo? Are you still there?”
“Yeah,” he sounded strangled. “Hear you loud and clear.” He adjusted himself. “I wish this day would be over, though.”
“Oh,” she sighed. “Are you having second thoughts?”
“Wishing this day would be over.”
“Yeah, so you’d already be my wife and again in my bed.”
“Oh, yes—” She cleared her throat. “I mean...is that all you can think about?!”
He grinned, giving Mick, who poked his head around the corner to see if he was still alive, an OK sign. “I’m a male in my prime, babe.”
“I know,” she answered dreamily.
The bulge in his slacks increased. Damn, he wanted her. Right now! “Kaori, what are you wearing?”
“Shorts and a tank top, why?”
“I’m letting my imagination loose.”
There was a pained groan on the other side of the door.
“If I promise to keep my eyes shut, would you let me in?”
His head snapped up. “What are you doing?”
“I’m calling Miki, so she can kick you out!”
“You can be so mean sometimes, muffin.”
“Muffin?!” Mick doubled up with laughter. The others were pretty much in the same condition as they all congregated in the hallway.
“Oh, shut up, Mick,” Kaori mumbled behind the door. “I think it’s cute.”
“See?” Ryo stood up, dusting his rear. “She thinks it’s cute. Moreover, if you don’t want to lose any of your teeth, you’re going to get off my back.”
Mick lifted an eyebrow. “Cranky, are we? She didn’t let you in, I presume.”
“Mick,” Yuka pulled his sleeve. “Don’t push it when he’s cranky...By the way, where’s Kazue?”
The American slapped his forehead. “Shit! I forgot to pick her up at the airport.” He bounded down the stairs, mumbling, “She’s going to kill me and feed me to the poor. I know she is.”
Miki shook her head, walking towards the guest room door. “Kaori, did you holler?”
“Yes.” Kaori bumped on the door. “Could you please make Ryo leave. I’d like to get ready and I can’t do that with him thinking lascivious thoughts.”
Miki grabbed her gun again, pointing it at Ryo’s midsection. “You heard her, you perv. Get out. Falcon, escort him out, please.”
Umibozu grinned evilly. “Gladly.” He grabbed Ryo by his T-shirt and threw him down the stairs.
“Take it easy, Umi-chan!” Kaori yelled. “I’m going to need him alive at noon!”
Umibozu walked leisurely downstairs, picked Ryo up, and carried him outside, dropping him into a heap on the sidewalk. As he prepared to return inside, his wife slammed the glass door in his face.
“Go help him get ready, Falcon. Your tux is already at his place.”
“No buts! I don’t want you underfoot while we prepare for the blessed occasion. You only keep blushing, anyway.” She waved him away. “Now shoo!”
Kaori poked her nose out of her room, seeing Miki return. “So?”
Miki grinned. “They’re gone. Just in time, too. I was going to start screaming.”
Saeko’s lips twitched. “Your husband is just so adorable.”
“Easy for you to say. You don’t have to live with him 24-7.”
“It can’t be that bad,” Yuka patted her hand.
Miki gave her a droll look.
Kaori was a nervous wreck. “Hello? Focus here. I’m the one getting married to a pervert. I wish he were blushing when he saw a patch of naked skin.”
Reika put her arm around her shoulders. “Don’t worry, Kaori. He changed. We all know he did. Now he drools only for you, girl.”
Kaori batted her eyelashes. “Oh, I’m so honored.”
“Ok, girls,” Saeko clapped her hands. “Enough chitchat. We have to get her ready.”
The four women pushed our poor Kaori in the bathroom where they dunked her into the bathtub, the water scented with rose oil. They proceeded with fussing over her in the bedroom, combing her hair (she has short hair, what’s there to comb?), adding touches of make-up here and there...
Then, the time came to put the dress on.
The Nogami sisters, never seeing it before, remained speechless. Kaori’s wedding dress was adorable. Made of white silk, strapless, with a long flowing skirt, it looked like a ball gown fresh out of a fairytale. It hugged Kaori’s figure to perfection, emphasizing her height and curves...
“Damn, Kaori,” Reika gawked. “Are you sure you wanna give your would-be husband a heart attack before the ceremony?”
Kaori panicked. “What? What is wrong with it? Is it torn? Is there a smudge?”
Miki grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her. “Breathe, Kaori. There’s nothing wrong with the dress, except being stunning. Reika meant, Ryo was going to lose it.”
Reika nodded enthusiastically. “He’s going to drool like a bulldog, girl!”
“He might even jump her bones in front of everybody,” Yuka put in.
“Yuka!” Saeko tried hard not to laugh. “Where did you learn this?”
“From Dad,” the girl shrugged.
Miki looked at her wristwatch. “It’s not like this isn’t fun and all, but it’s almost eleven. Shouldn’t you go get ready yourselves?”
As the Nogami sisters scurried away, Kaori looked at Miki thankfully. “You really are a gem. Umi-chan can be grateful for having you.”
Miki hugged her. “Stop, Kaori, you’re making me blush.”
Kaori returned the hug, laughing. “No, I’m not. Shouldn’t you be getting ready, too, ‘maid-of-honor’?”
“Crap, you’re right!”
X Y Z
“Miki?” She looked worriedly at her friend. “Are you OK? You’re not going to throw up on my dress are you?”
“I don’t think so.” Miki gulped the water down. “How can you be so calm, anyway. It’s your wedding day, for crying out loud. Aren’t you in no mood to puke all over yourself?”
Kaori smiled sheepishly. “I did it in the bathroom while you were getting ready.”
“Oh, that’s explains it.” Miki bulged her eyes. “Holy guacamole! Check out our ride.”
Kaori looked out the window, noticing a long silver limousine stopping in front of the café. “Ryo never mentioned a limo...” she murmured.
“Who cares!” Miki grabbed her hand. “Let’s go.”
Kaori followed her friend outside, waiting for Miki to lock the glass door. She eyed the long car suspiciously. “Miki—”
Miki was already seated on the comfortable leather seat. “C’mon, Kaori, move your cute tush. You of all people can’t afford to be late today!”
You’re just nervy, girl, that’s all. It’s just a car. Mentally thanking Ryo for the surprise, Kaori stepped into the limousine.
Chapter 2: Noon
The small chapel was flooded with light sifting through painted-glass windows. The air was permeated with the sweet, heady scent of flowers. In a dim corner an organ softly sounded.
A tall, raven-haired man in a perfectly cut black tuxedo, paced nervously in front of the altar.
“Calm down, pal.” His best man tapped his shoulder. “I’m sure she’s just stuck in traffic.”
Ryo turned with a start. “What if she changed her mind? She wasn’t herself this morning.”
“Not many brides-to-be are lucid on their wedding day, Ryo.” Saeko and her two sisters joined the two men. “She’ll be here, don’t worry.”
“Besides,” Yuka added, “she was all ready and set when we left.”
Umibozu walked down the aisle. “I called the café.”
“And?” Ryo was beyond nervous.
“There was no answer.”
“See?” Kazue smiled. “She’s coming.”
Ryo hesitatingly nodded, his instincts screaming at him something was definitely and utterly wrong.
A uniformed police officer ran through the door. “Nogami-san, Nogami-san, thank God I found you.”
Saeko frowned . “Kamiya-san, it’s my day off! I told everyone I didn’t want to be bothered!”
The policeman shifted from one foot to the other. “I apologize, Nogami-san, but this is an emergency.”
Saeko grabbed him under the arm, dragging him in a corner. “What is it?” she hissed.
Ryo’s sensitive ears managed to catch something similar to, “We found...” He saw Saeko turn pale and his heart stopped for a fragment of a second. “Umibozu,” he mumbled.
“I heard.” The giant looked worried
Saeko returned on wobbly legs, her eyes wide and frightened. “Umibozu, your wife...Miki’s at the hospital.”
“Oh, God.” Ryo’s heart threatened to shatter in his chest. “Was there an accident? Kaori?”
Saeko shook her head. “No accident. My deputy found Miki by the road. She’s in a coma. The doctors say it’s gas poisoning.”
“Gas?” Umibozu looked ready to crumble.
“What about Kaori?”
“There’s no sign of her, Ryo. Or the car.”
Ryo collapsed on a bench, dropped his head in his hands. “This isn’t happening.”
“Ryo.” Saeko sat beside him. “I assure you we’ll do anything in our power to find her. Don’t worry.”
Ryo’s eyes flashed angry sparks as he looked at her. “Worry?” He laughed bitterly. “Saeko, I’m way beyond worry at the moment. I knew something like this might happen, and still we had to go through with the whole fucking thing.”
Umibozu was pale as a ghost. “You don’t even know if it’s because of you.”
“Why then? Why kidnap her if not because she was about to become my wife?” Ryo lowered his head again. “God damn it.” He guiltily looked up. “Sorry, father...I shouldn’t have caved about the whole wedding thing.”
“Saeba.” Kazue walked to him, her arms tucked in the crook of Mick’s elbow. “This meant the world to her. Don’t ruin it by feeling guilty. We’re going to find her. Right, Mick?”
The American nodded. “Sure thing, man. I’m ready to swipe the city.”
Umibozu looked towards the chapel door.
Ryo understood. “Go, Umibozu. You should be with your wife right now. I’m sorry she was involved.”
The colossus smiled sadly. “Knowing her, she probably fought like a hellcat.”
“Kamiya-san.” Saeko stepped to the police officer, whispering in his ear. “Great. Umibozu, he’s going to give you a lift to the hospital.” She smiled. “I hope Miki gets better soon.”
“Thanks, Saeko. Ryo, if you need anything, you have my number.”
Ryo nodded. “Yeah. Now go.”
Mick watched the giant leave, before turning back to his friend with a determined look on his face. “What’s the plan, bud?”
Ryo stood up. He was going to find whoever kidnapped Kaori and make them pay. With interest. “We call every informer this screwed-up city has. I don’t care what it takes, pay them, threaten them, torture them, just get me some news.” He purposefully strode out of the chapel, impatiently tugging at his tie.
Saeko caught up with him at his car. “Ryo! What are you planning to do?”
“Look for the limo.” He threw his jacket on the seat. “Saeko, find out who’s been released from jail recently.”
“Ok.” She touched his shoulder. “Try not to do anything stupid.”
He winked. “You know me.”
“Yes, I do,” Saeko whispered as she watched the Mini speed down the drive. “Be careful, Ryo.”
X Y Z
“Kaori!” The shaking increased. The one doing the shaking started panting from the effort.
Kaori mentally smiled with glee. They were tired. Good. At least she wasn’t the only one.
“Kaori, wake the hell up!”
Was it her or did the voice sound really familiar. Kaori started to slowly unglue her eyes open. Her mouth felt like something crawled inside and died. Slowly. Blech.
“Kaori, please, wake up,” the familiar voice pleaded.
That’s it, girl. You’re going to wake up right this instant. Chop, chop. Snap yourself awake, Kaori!
“Yeah, yeah,” she grumbled, lifting a heavy eyelid. She quickly lowered it with a groan as the light blasted at the insides of her skull. “I’m up.”
“Oh, thank God. I thought you’d never snap out of this, whatever it is.”
“Drug induced sleep, perhaps?” Kaori helpfully suggested, hefting herself up on her elbows. She could finally keep her eyes open and noticed the room was in fact dim. The excruciating pain was provoked by a flickering candle. Great, just great!
“Kaori? Are you sure, you should be up?”
“Hell, yes! It’s my wedding day. I’ve got to be there.” She rubbed her eyes, sniffing gently at her palms. The floor wasn’t very clean. There goes her white dress. “It won’t be the same without me, don’t you think?” She finally turned her head to see her companion and her jaw snapped open. “Sayuri?”
“Hey, girl.” The woman beside her smiled crookedly.
Taking in her appearance, Kaori grimaced. Sayuri didn’t look to be in a good shape. She was too thin, her eyes were blank, and the state of her clothes wasn’t even worth mentioning. “What happened to you?”
Sayuri toyed with her shaggy locks. “Well, I’ve been here quite a while, Kaori. Congrats on the wedding, by the way.”
“You were supposed to be my maid of honor, but I couldn’t reach you.”
“Probably because I’ve been here for more than a month.”
Kaori frowned, cursing between her teeth. “Who’s the son of a bitch who did this?”
“That would be me,” a soft voice spoke from a dim corner. The shape strengthened and walked to them. As it stepped into the light, Kaori could see it was a tall young man, very close to her age. Dark brown hair brushed his collar, blank dark blue eyes adorned his pale visage. “Don’t look at me like that, Kaori,” he chided, smirking. “They say vengeance is better savored cold.”
Sayuri shifted closer to Kaori, knowing full well the wrath this young man was capable of. She’d experienced it on her own skin.
“Vengeance?” Kaori looked at him, her eyebrow climbing. “What the hell are you talking about? Who are you?”
“Oh, where are my manners.” The man bowed mockingly. “My name is Yurinoki Ichiro son of Yurinoki Hajime.”
Kaori let the names sink in. “Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
His eyes flashed with hatred. “No, I guess not.” He smoothed his perfectly tailored suit. “My father has been dead for quite a long time.”
“I’m sorry,” Kaori whispered.
He slapped her, splitting her lip. “Shut up! Don’t speak of sorry in front of me, you bitch!”
Kaori tenderly touched her lip, wincing at the sting. “You’re one seriously disturbed bastard, you know that, Ichiro?”
He slapped again, his dark eyes flashing with fury. “Don’t use my name, whore! I’m Yurinoki-sama to you! To both of you!”
Kaori grabbed two fistfuls of her skirt, jumping to her feet. “Listen, buster!” She poked at his chest. “Don’t you ever hit me again, you hear! And don’t even expect me to address you with respect! You’re not worth for me to step on you!”
She yelped as he grabbed her by the hair, pushing her down onto her knees. “You will address me with respect, bitch, just like your sister, here, does!”
Kaori gasped. How did he know Sayuri was her sister? “Look, you’re not the only one holding a grudge towards Ryo—”
His demonic laughter stopped her from speaking any further. The guy was insane. “You think this has to do with your lover? Please, I don’t care about Saeba, this is all about you two!”
“You should care about him, Yurinoki-sama,” Sayuri whispered shakily. “Because when he finds out you were the one to have Kaori kidnapped, he’s going to stop at nothing to make you pay.”
“I’m not afraid of him.” Ichiro tightened his grip on Kaori’s hair. “Even if he finds out, it’s going to be too late. You’ll both be dead.” He suddenly shoved Kaori away, and her head collided with the metal wall.
“You’re out of your fucking mind,” Kaori spat.
“Call me whatever you like, bitch, you both still die tonight.” He turned on his heel, elegantly left the room, and locked the door behind him.
X Y Z
Ryo shook his head. “I’m still waiting for the info. How is she?”
“Pretty bad. She’s still not responding.”
Ryo knew exactly how his friend felt. Helpless. He’s been feeling the same ever since noon and the news of Kaori’s disappearance. Where are you, baby? If something happened to her, he was going to slaughter the bastards who dared touch her.
“Ijuin-san!” A nurse rushed out of Miki’s room. “Ijuin-san, she’s awake. She’s asking for you.”
Ryo slapped Umibozu on the back. “What are you waiting for? She’s awake, man. Go see her.”
As Umibozu slipped through the door, Ryo sighed. Lucky bastard!
He turned. “Mick. Please, tell me you got news.”
The American nodded, worried. “Not good though.”
Ryo’s heart skipped a beat. “What do you mean?”
“The entire scenario has nothing to do with you,” Doc answered instead. “This is vengeance of a different kind.”
“Ryo,” Umibozu called softly. “Before she passed out, Miki heard the name Yurinoki and they mentioned a ship.”
Ryo’s head snapped around. “Mick, call Saeko.”
“I’m on it, Ryo,” Saeko interrupted, having emerged from around the corner. “And I’ll contact the Coast Guard as well.”
Ryo smiled. She was always there when he needed a friend. “Thanks, Saeko, I owe you one.”
“You bet your ass, you do,” she replied with a smile, already dialing.
Ryo turned back to Doc. “Professor, tell me everything.”
X Y Z
“I overheard a conversation a few days ago.” Sayuri walked to her sister, kneeling beside her. “Will you be all right?”
“Yeah.” Kaori grinned. “My head’s pretty sturdy. Don’t fret. What conversation?”
Sayuri shrugged. “Something about children paying for the sins of their fathers.”
Kaori nodded. “I guessed as much.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know who Yurinoki Hajime was.”
Sayuri pressed her fingers against the bump on Kaori’s head. “What? Why did you pretend otherwise?”
“I didn’t want him to realize I know what he’s about.” Kaori grimaced, seeing rusty stains on her skirt. Just perfect! “Yurinoki was a member of a more peaceful faction of the Yakuza. He was killed as he tried to prevent a takeover by another Yakuza family.”
“Killed? By whom?” Sayuri was afraid she already knew the answer.
“Our father.” Kaori smiled sadly. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not stupid. I know Makimura wasn’t my real father or Hideyuki my brother. I’ve known it for quite some time. Even before my brother died.” She gazed pensively at the flickering candle. “Our real father was Takeda Mitsukage. A murderer. A professional killer. He was the one to kill Yurinoki, and Ichiro, as the son of one of his victims, is taking his revenge on us.”
“But why tonight? Why didn’t he act before.”
“He couldn’t kidnap me before, because Ryo was always there. Our wedding gave him the perfect opportunity to act.” Kaori tucked a stray lock behind her ear. “Besides, tonight’s the anniversary of his father’s death.”
“Oh, God,” Sayuri whimpered.
Kaori put her arm around her shoulders. “I promise you we’re going to make it, sis.”
Sayuri sniffed. “Sis?”
“That’s what you are. My sister.” Kaori winked. “I’m going to get us out of here. Soon, I hope.”
“Shouldn’t you wait for Saeba?”
Kaori shook her head. “There’s no time to wait for him.”
“Why not? Don’t you think he’s going to look for you?”
“Oh, he will.” I know you will, Ryo. “But he’ll never make it in time. We’re on a ship. And moving fast.”
Chapter 3: Afternoon
Mick watched dispassionately as his best friend beat the limo driver into a bloody pulp. His eyebrow arched, he snorted as the poor schmuck lost another tooth.
Ryo just kept pummeling at the guy’s face, sitting heavily on his chest. “Give me the name of the ship, you fucking son of a bitch!” he snarled, blood oozing over his knuckles.
Kato, the limo driver, stared, frightened shitless, at the enraged sweeper through swollen eyes. Every bone in his battered body hurt and he knew for certain at least two ribs were broken where Saeba Ryo had pressed on his chest with his heavily booted foot. Kato knew of City Hunter’s reputation, but he never imagined the infamous sweeper could be such a bloodthirsty beast. There was only one emotion on the sweeper’s darkened face, burning fiery red in his eyes. Rage. Blind, uncompromising rage. And all because of a woman. It was funny, really—in a morbid kind of way—Kato reflected as he felt his cheekbone crack.
“It happens to the best of ‘em,” he mumbled through split lips.
Saeba’s friend, the blond avenging angel of death, lifted a dispassionate brow. “Oh, look, Ryo, he can still speak,” he sneered.
Ryo’s fingers squeezed tightly around Kato’s throat, making him gag and roll his eyes backwards. “Then you won’t have any problems telling me the name of the ship, will you, mate?” He smiled viciously.
Kato managed to swallow. His eyes widened. He was petrified as he stared into the midnight depths of the sweeper’s merciless eyes. It was like looking at death. He was afraid he wouldn’t survive even after telling him everything he knew. The beast choking him smelled blood and it didn’t look ready to back out of its bloodlust.
“Ryo.” Mick nudged him with his knee. “You look a bit tired. Do you want me to take over for a jiffy?” He smiled humorlessly as he slipped on his brass-knuckles.
Kato swallowed again, his heart racing. Saeba Ryo scared him with his rage, but Mick Angel was even worse. There were absolutely no emotions on his face. He just stared at him coldly, detachedly. He didn’t look human. There was no chance in hell he was going to let Angel get his hand on him.
Ryo cocked his head. “What was that?”
“The name of the ship.” Kato hoarsely whispered. “It’s Vendetta.”
“How fucking appropriate,” Mick murmured, taking a step back.
“Yeah.” Ryo’s gaze turned blank as he pulled the Python out of its holster, pressing it against Kato’s temple. “Say good-bye.”
X Y Z
Sayuri slowly opened her eyes, watching her younger sister swearing as she fumbled with the hem of her long dress. “What are you doing?”
Kaori looked up and grinned, her left cheek glowing bright red where Ichiro had struck her. “Making myself comfortable.” She hitched her skirt higher up, revealing shapely calves.
“By showing your legs?”
Kaori sighed, rolling her eyes. “I can’t kick their butts with this skirt tangling around my ankles, can I?”
“I still think we should wait for Saeba.”
“My future hubby can just sit home and wait for me. This time he ain’t playing the knight in shining armor.” Kaori tied the silky fabric around her waist, letting it reach the tops of her knees. “This thing is about us. I don’t want him involved. I’ll deal with this psycho myself.”
Sayuri lifted herself on wobbly legs. “He’s going to kill you.”
“Who?” Kaori lifted her eyebrow. “You have to be more specific, sis.”
Sayuri got it and smiled. “The psycho.”
“Ryo is a little bit psychotic sometimes, Say.”
“I meant Yurinoki-s—”
Kaori cleared her throat, her eyes narrowing.
The younger sister smiled evilly. “I would like to see him try.”
The overhead lights snapped to life, blinding the two.
“Not only will I try, bitch,” the hoarse voice laughed from the iron door. “I will succeed. Your sister will be first, though. I will immensely enjoy seeing you suffer.” He grinned. “If Saeba happens to come by, I might kill him, too. You know, as icing on the cake and all.” His gaze flew over her. “Nice legs. I hope you’re not trying to seduce me with such a juvenile trick. It won’t work.”
“You’re sick, Ichiro-chan,” she taunted, smiling as she saw his face turn into a mask of fury.
As he descended on her, she lifted her knee, letting it collide with his groin. He didn’t even flinch. Her eyes flew wide. What is this guy on? Her head snapped to the side as his fist made a brutal impact with her jaw. The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth and her head span. Dizzily slipping to the floor, she felt his foot against her stomach.
“You. Will. Address. Me. With. Respect. Bitch!” Each word was accompanied by a merciless kick against her midsection.
Kaori rolled into a tight, protective ball, trying not to give him the satisfaction to see her vomit. Her entire body protested at the abuse. Groaning internally, she closed her eyes, finding the inner pool like Ryo taught her to do.
“Breathe deeply, Kaori, and concentrate.” She could hear his deep voice as she reached her inner sanctum, trying to forget the pain that assaulted her senses. “You have to keep a tight rein on your emotions, baby. They could get you killed in the heat of battle. Never let them control you.” And still he went crazy with worry whenever she was in trouble. Hell, even a chipped fingernail sent him over the edge lately.
Ichiro looked at the woman curled up at his feet with blank eyes. This was the offspring of the man who killed his father. He was displeased for not feeling the satisfaction he should, seeing her on the ground, her eyes squeezed shut in pain. Makimura Kaori. The younger of the two sisters. She was tenacious, he had to give her that. The way she defied him with every breath she took. Her eyes snapping fire, each word a poisonous dart aimed at his heart.
He knew his father must have been turning in his grave, but he couldn’t shake the envy he felt for Saeba for claiming this woman. She was full of life. He’s been following her for weeks, before she was finally alone and during those excruciatingly long weeks, he came to know her...and admire her. He viciously kicked her again. Damn the bitch! He didn’t want to admire her. He wanted to hate her like he hated her father, like he hated her older sister—that pale, spineless shadow who was at the moment cowering in the corner, not moving a sole muscle to help the woman at his feet.
He felt like laughing demonically. If the situation were reversed, Kaori undoubtedly would have had his guts for garters by now. He kicked her in the stomach again for good measure. She didn’t even whimper. He admired her even more for that. And he hated her for liking her. The problem was, he couldn’t help himself. Observing her from afar, he came to like—he wanted to scream at the thought—the radiance of her smile whenever she looked up at that Saeba prick, the sound of her laughter, the way the sun caught in her red-brown tresses, making them burn...Disgusted with himself and these ‘mushy’ feelings she stirred up in him, he kicked her one last time, spat at her, and stomped out of the iron chamber.
X Y Z
Umibozu sighed, looking sheepishly at his friends. “Miki, would you please stop straining yourself? You’re still too weak.”
His wife, pale as the sheets enveloping her slender body, glared at him. “Kaori is my friend, too! There’s no chance I’m letting you go without me.”
“Want it or not, here you stay!” her husband bit out.
“You’ll have to kill me first!”
“They almost succeeded!” Umibozu thundered.
Miki quickly sat up, ignoring the wrenching pain in her head. “‘Almost’ being the operative word here. Falcon, some bastards shot at me on my wedding day and still I walk this Earth. You seriously don’t believe a few whiffs of gas are going to stop me!”
“Don’t ‘Miki’ me! I’m not staying in bed while my friend is in danger. You need me!”
Ryo decided it was time to give a helping hand. “Miki, actually we can manage pretty well without you. Umi-chan is right, it was too close for comfort—” He snapped his mouth shut as she turned the full force of her incensed stare at him.
“Men! What is it with you and women being the weaker sex!? You’re all impossible!” Her eyes snapped like an inferno as she looked at the three males at the foot of her bed.
Saeko’s lips twitched. Miki and Kaori were best friends indeed. Only Kaori showed her point by keeping her mallet handy. “Gentlemen,” she chided. “Miki is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She must be feeling much better if she insists on tagging along.”
X Y Z
Sayuri crept on all fours closer to her sister. Blinded by tears, she stroked her hair. “I’m so sorry, Kaori, please forgive me.”
Kaori slowly lifted herself from the floor, looking at her sister. “What is there to forgive?”
“I just sat there.” Sayuri’s lower lip quivered and her eyes misted.
Kaori rubbed her abused stomach, giving her sister a slightly pained smile. “You did the right thing, Say. There’s no point in both of us getting thrashed.”
“No buts! I’ll be fine, don’t worry.” Kaori tried to stand up, but a fit of nausea made her drop back down. She smiled sheepishly, trying to keep the bile from rising. “Just give me a minute, sis.” Damn, he’s strong.
“Are you going to barf?”
“You wish.” Kaori rubbed her stomach again. “There’s nothing worth throwing up in here.”
“You haven’t eaten anything?”
“Nerves.” Kaori slowly climbed to her feet. “Ugh. I feel like I’ve been run over by a tank. That’s one psychotic mother f—” Kaori delicately cleared her throat. “Excuse me.”
“You can call him whatever you want, Kaori.” Sayuri’s skin crawled just thinking of their captor.
Kaori stretched her arms, inclining her head to all sides, making her neck crack. “All righty! No broken bones, no internal bleeding—at least I hope so, damn he has a big foot. Ouch!” She gave a quick inspection to their surroundings. A faint outline of light caught her eye. “Bastard!”
“Huh?” Her sister blinked.
“We appear to have a window.” Wiping her hands against her skirt, Kaori stood on tiptoes, feeling for the ledge with the tips of her fingers. “Too high. Give me a hand with that box over there, Say.”
The two women spent the next half hour hauling a large wooden case across their cell, heaving and sweating.
“Damn, this is one heavy SOB.” Kaori panted, hitching her bodice back into place. “Where is Ryo when you need him?! He would just spit on the floor and kicked this godforsaken thing under the window.”
Sayuri straightened, tying her long, shaggy mane into a knot. “I told you to wait for him.”
Kaori just arched an eyebrow. “Hah!”
“Okay, why don’t you use one of your mallets?”
Sayuri fell on her face, a cute little black crow bouncing off her head.
“What?” Kaori blinked, helping her sister back up.
Sayuri grabbed her bare shoulders, shaking her lightly. “No mallets?! What’s gotten into you?!”
Kaori spread her arms out. “It’s not like they go with the dress.” After a moment of stunned silence by her sister, she hung her head. “Fine. I promised to Ryo he wouldn’t have to live this day in fear. No mallets. Who knew?”
“Great.” Sayuri hunched over the box again. “Now let’s move this sucker.”
Another half hour later, Kaori finally plucked the iron plate off the window with a satisfied grunt. “Grab the other end, Sayuri. Careful...Easy. If this thing falls, it’s going to wake up the dead.”
“What do you see?”
Kaori peered over the ledge. “The ocean.”
Sayuri hopped onto the box beside her. “And what else?”
Sayuri peeked out. “Jeez, we’re in the middle of nowhere.”
X Y Z
Umibozu rolled his eyes and, sighing, walked to the kitchen.
“Howdy, Umi-chan.” Ryo sat backwards on a chair, working his way down the beer bottle.
Mick was perched on the counter, doing pretty much the same. “Tough gig, huh?” He nodded towards the glass, firmly clasped in Umibozu’s fingers.
“She’s cranky as hell.”
Mick nodded. “Women tend to be like that from time to time.”
“Yeah, well.” Umibozu poured the water. “Cranky or not, she’s still my wife.”
“At least you have one,” Ryo murmured darkly, his face drawn.
Umibozu clasped his shoulder. “We’ll get her out of it, Ryo.”
Ryo smiled up at him. “Thanks, Um—”
“Falcon!” The screech rattled the windows.
“Coming!” The giant left the kitchen, shoulder sagging, his two friends guffawing after him.
Miki was tapping her foot, waiting for him, Kazue keeping her company. “What kept you?” she asked, draining the glass in two gulps.
He never had time to answer, for the door burst open, and Saeko rushed in. “Coast Guard spotted the Vendetta!”
Ryo and Mick were out of the kitchen in a heartbeat.
“A police chopper is waiting down at the station.” She checked her gun. “We’re landing on a drilling platform. The Coast Guard is picking us up from there. Is everybody ready?”
Ryo’s fingers ran smoothly over the Python. Oh, he was ready. Ready to gut whomever stole Kaori from him.
Kazue helped Miki to her feet. “Ready!”
Mick did a double take. “No way, you’re going.”
“If Miki’s in, I’m tagging along, too.” She narrowed her eyes. “There’s no way you’re going to stop me, Mick Angel.”
Ten minutes later, they were boarding the chopper, with Kazue left pouting on the helipad.
As the helicopter took flight over Tokyo skyscrapers, Ryo watched the sun slowly set towards the horizon. Kaori, I’m coming!
X Y Z
Sayuri leaned her nose against the ledge. “Wow! This is what they call nature’s masterpiece.”
“Yeah,” Kaori smiled sadly. “Something you watch in the arms of a lover, wishing for happily ever after...” Ryo, I hope you know how much I love you.
Sayuri turned her head, noticing Kaori’s melancholic gaze. “We’re not going to make it, are we?”
Chapter 4: Night
Ryo dropped lightly on board the drilling platform. Above him the helicopter roared, the rotor revolving at blinding speed, drawing a circular hollow pattern on the dark surface of the sea under the floating construction.
Umibozu gently lowered his furiously scowling wife in his arms.
“You do know, I’m not an invalid, right?” Miki groused.
Umibozu jumped down with a heavy thud, collecting his wife, and slowly helped her gain her feet.
She swatted his hands away. “Shoo! Go see where our ride is.”
Mick dropped down beside Ryo, helping Saeko clear the chopper, stealing glances up her skirt. “Nice panties, Detective.”
Her stiletto heel got stuck in the center of his face.
Ryo shook his head ruefully. “Saeko, what do you expect wearing a skirt on a mission.”
Miki lifted an eyebrow. “I noticed you didn’t even peek, Saeba.”
Ryo sighed. “I’m done with other women, Miki. There is only one for me.” I just hope I get to her in time.
Saeko blinked back tears. She couldn’t even come close to grasping what he felt. This was supposed to be his wedding night, but now he didn’t even know if Kaori was still alive.
Mick sighed, looking out into the pitch black, moonless night. Not a star twinkled. It was eerie. He hoped he wouldn’t have to go through a similar ordeal, if he ever decided to pop the question to Kazue.
Umibozu subconsciously put his arms around his wife’s shoulders, tugging her closer to him. He needed to feel her close, her warmth permeating his skin. Ryo’s expression tugged at his heart.
Miki circled his waist, leaning her head on his chest. She could hear his erratic heartbeat and labored breathing. He might seem big and insensitive, but sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night, sweating and calling her name as if afraid she might be whisked from him. Probably because of the whole shooting incident at their wedding.
Ryo watched the embracing couple, his heart heavy. He never thought it possible, but he envied them. At least they were together, in each other’s arms, knowing the other was safe. He didn’t have the same luxury. God, please, keep her safe ‘till I get there. Please!
X Y Z
She chuckled humorlessly. Lots of help that would do. Two women, one almost starved to death and the other half naked with an ample skirt, against at least dozen thugs with Uzis. At least they would kill them quickly. Or so she hoped. The sadistic twinkle, she’d caught in Ichiro’s eyes, told her he would have a real hoot dispatching them as slowly and painfully as was humanly possible.
“You find something amusing?” her sister whispered beside her.
“Well, yeah. We’re going to die pretty soon—in an hour tops—and I’m not even that upset about it.”
Sayuri shuffled closer to her sister, tugging at her skirt. “How can you not be upset? We are going to die!”
“You figured that out just now?”
“Sarcasm doesn’t help.”
“Sorry,” the younger sister mumbled. “I guess it rubbed off.”
Sayuri blinked uncomprehendingly in the dark. “Rubbed off?”
Kaori’s voice carried a hint of sorrow. “He’s always sarcastic at times like these.”
There was no need for Sayuri to ask whom her younger sister meant. Standing, she felt her way toward the ‘window’. Lifting her chin, she sent a silent prayer into the dark night, even darker than their surroundings. Please, I don’t care what happens to me, just let Saeba come in time. Please, save my sister.
X Y Z
Saeko turned. “Captain Matsumoto, is something wrong?”
The captain cleared his throat apologetically. “In private, if you don’t mind.”
Feeling Ryo tense beside her, she arched a brow. “I do mind, actually. Whatever you have to say, you can do it in front of my friends. It is probably more important for one of them, than it is to me.”
Matsumoto Keno gave her a tight lipped smile. He didn’t like the tension in the air. It came at him in waves from the direction of the tall, raven-haired, young man beside Detective Nogami. His crew had told him that whomever they were hunting had kidnapped this guy’s fiancée. Judging by the pure, unadulterated wrath in those jet-black eyes, the bastard would be lucky to be able to walk when the guy was done with him.
“Our radar shows them in international waters. We have to turn back.”
Ryo slowly straightened from the railing, like an enormous coiled beast ready to strike. “Why?” The word was a soft whisper.
Matsumoto swallowed. He was wrong. The kidnappers won’t live to tell the tale. The midnight eyes burned with a cold, ruthless rage, promising swift and brutal death to whomever was foolish enough to stumble on his path of destruction. And at the moment, that idiot appeared to be him. Puffing his chest, no whelp was going to intimidate him, he announced, “That’s why they’re called ‘international waters’, son. We have no jurisdiction—” He stopped, his mouth hanging open, as he felt the cold barrel of a gun pressed under his chin.
“I don’t give a fuck about your jurisdiction,” Ryo hissed, eyes narrowed on the pale captain. “We are going after them and we are going to stop them. Did I make myself clear?”
“This is mutiny,” Matsumoto whimpered. As the cold pressure under his chin increased slightly, his eyes bulged. “I won’t allow that on my ship.”
“Currently the ship is not yours, Matsumoto-san,” Saeko smiled.
“Don’t worry,” the blond man beside her sneered. “We’re just borrowing her.”
The bald giant slammed his ham-like hand on Matsumoto’s shoulder, almost sending him through the deck. “You should stick around to collect her, when we’re done.”
The tall raven-haired beauty, beside the colossus, smiled pleasantly. “Unless you prefer to cool your feet in the sea. We’ll make sure to fish you out on our way back.”
“I’m not leaving my ship in your hands,” Matsumoto squealed as Ryo wrapped his fingers around his throat, shoving him against the railing.
“That’s my woman on the board of the Vendetta,” Ryo hissed. “And I don’t care if I have to shoot you. I’m going to save her.”
Matsumoto nodded weakly.
“Good,” Ryo said softly, releasing his throat. “You better increase our speed. If we’re late, I’ll hold you responsible.” He turned his head to look into the darkness. “Then you’ll wish we threw you off-board.”
X Y Z
Ichiro looked up at the First Officer, lifting an eyebrow.
“Yurinoki-sama, we have something on radar.”
Ichiro climbed on the ship’s bridge, frowning. “What is it?” How dare anyone mar his vengeance? Even the night was perfect. Pitch-black, no moon or stars to lighten the oppressive darkness.
“It’s a ship, sir.”
Ichiro rolled his eyes, sighing heavily. “I would be surprised if it was a car. We’re at sea, man.”
The captain lifted his gaze off the radar screen. “It’s moving at great speed, sir.”
“It’s headed on a collision course with us.”
“Attention. Vendetta, attention, Vendetta. This is the Japanese Coast Guard. I repeat, this is the Japanese Coast Guard. Please, shut down your engines and prepare to be boarded. Stop your engines, we’re boarding.”
Ichiro grabbed the transmitter. “Coast Guard has no jurisdiction in international waters!”
A low, deadly rumble replaced the official voice in the transmitter. “My gun has jurisdiction everywhere. Let me guess. You’re the fucker who kidnapped Kaori, right.”
Ichiro smiled evilly. “Let me guess. Saeba, right? Saeba Ryo.”
“You know my name, now you can tell me who I will have the pleasure of killing.”
Ichiro laughed. “It’s Yurinoki Ichiro. And about killing me, be my guest, but first I have to execute your little bitch and her sister. You’re free to watch, of course. If you can reach us in time.”
The last thing he heard was the transmitter’s feedback as the static kicked in.
X Y Z
Captain Matsumoto barely caught the radio, before Ryo threw it overboard. “Calm down, son,” he murmured, his heart contracting seeing the young man’s face. Pulling Detective Nogami to the side, he whispered: “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her deep blue eyes were sad. “Would it have made a difference?”
Knowing a woman’s life depended on his ship arriving soon enough? Hell, yes! “I would have relinquished my ship in a heartbeat.”
“Now you know,” Ryo murmured behind him.
Matsumoto nodded. “Now I know.” Sticking two fingers in his mouth, he emitted a shrill whistle. “Men! Let’s show them what this baby can do!”
X Y Z
“Come on, ladies,” a mountain of a man rasped down at them. “It’s showtime.”
Sayuri slowly gained her feet. It was now or never. Gathering the last bit of strength she possessed after weeks of starvation and abuse, she ran into the thug, knocking him off his feet. “Run, Kaori!”
Kaori gingerly stood up, poking her head out of their cell. “Run where?” Her eyebrow climbed as she shook her head. Her sister had no clue what mess they were in.
Ichiro clapped mockingly. “Nice performance, big sister.” He grabbed a fistful of her long hair, yanking her up, only to send her flying against the wall. “Did you really think I would have left you without an escort?” His eyes met Kaori’s disdainful gaze. She still managed to look dignified, even in that torn and stained dress. “You surprise me, bitch. I would have expected you to pull a stunt like that.”
Kaori smiled slightly. “And what good would that have done? It’s not like you’d kill us sooner, am I right? You want us to suffer. You’ll probably go all Karloff on us. ‘I want to bathe in your blood’ and stuff like that.”
“On the contrary to some tribal beliefs, it does nothing for your potency. Nah-ah. It’s just icky.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Hey, but maybe that’s your scene. Who am I to judge?”
Ichiro threw his head back and laughed with glee.
The heel of Kaori’s palm collided with the underside of his jaw. “Laugh at this, prick!” A brute lifted his meaty fist, hitting her straight in the jaw, making her see stars.
Ichiro pulled a Glock from his jacket, and shot him between the eyes. “No one dares touch her!” He sneered. “Did I make myself clear?”
The big body collapsed on the floor in a large heap. Sayuri screamed and would have fallen in a dead faint if it weren’t for the gravity of the situation, and the wall supporting her.
Kaori eyed the gun. “Nice toy.”
“This holds more bullets than the cannon Saeba’s packing.”
Her chin lifted proudly. “You wouldn’t have time for a single shot.”
“We’ll see about that, won’t we?”
Kaori’s heart skipped a beat. “What do you mean?” She asked softly.
Ichiro smirked. “Your knight in shining armor is riding, or should I say flowing, to the rescue.”
“Saeba is coming,” Sayuri breathed. “Thank God.”
Ichiro laughed again. “Pity, he won’t make it in time. I was planning on killing you at midnight, but circumstances being what they are...”
“What is he talking about?” Sayuri whispered.
The younger sister smiled slightly. “We’ll be meeting our Maker ahead of schedule.” Waving her hand in a semi-circle, she looked at their captor. “Lead the way, Ichiro-chan.”
“Oh, no,” he bowed mockingly. “Ladies first. After all, you are the stars of the show.”
Locking her jaw, she bowed back and, hiking her skirts up, stepped nonchalantly over his henchman’s dead body and out on the deck. The fresh, salty scent of the sea hit her, provoking a heady rush in contrast with the musty, stale smell in the brig. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the sounds in the night, when a blinding floodlight pierced her eyelids, sending sharp shards of pain through her brain.
Ichiro looked at her, flooded with light. She looked magnificent. Her pale skin almost translucent, her hazel eyes watering as she squinted, looking for her sister. In that stained and tattered dress she looked like a ragged princess...He shook his head vehemently. This night was all about revenge. He shouldn’t feel admiration for his victim. He should concentrate on his goal. Tonight his father would finally rest in peace.
Sayuri, another floodlight following her every step, moved closer to her younger sister, clutching her elbow. “Kaori, what is going on?”
Kaori’s eyes were empty hazel pools. “He’s one seriously disturbed son of a bitch,” she whispered. “This whole thing looks like a Broadway show.” Looking scornfully at Ichiro, she spat, “I hope you don’t expect us to sing. I don’t feel any ‘Sound of the Music’ vibes at the moment.”
Ichiro laughed again.
X Y Z
“Mick? What is it?” Saeko joined him, frowning.
She turned green in the dim light of the captain’s bridge. “He’s insane.”
“Who is?” Ryo murmured behind them.
Mick elbowed her and she blushed guiltily.
Ryo’s eyebrow climbed. “Mick?”
“What’s up?” Miki and Umibozu melted from the shadows.
Saeko’s hand trembled as she held it over her mouth.
“What is that light?” Umibozu inquired.
Ryo’s gaze moved from his friend’s face, finding the spot of light. “Give me the binoculars, Mick.”
“Give it to me, or I’ll pry it from your dead fingers.” Ryo was in no mood to play mind games. Not now, when he was so close to Kaori.
Mick relinquished his hold with a heavy heart.
“Saeko, you all right?” Miki took the woman’s hand. It was icy cold.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be again,” Saeko whispered. “Ryo...”
The man turned pale beneath his tan as his eyes widened. “Bastard,” he hissed. “Captain! You better get us there soon!”
X Y Z
Ichiro smiled sadistically. “I finally got through your defenses, huh, Lady Bitch.”
Eyes narrowing, she spat in his face. “Drop dead.”
He calmly wiped at his cheek, slapped her soundly. He inwardly smiled at how enraged she looked.
“Yurinoki-sama, the Coast Guard is closing in!”
“Now they can enjoy the show, too.”
Ryo! Kaori squeezed her eyes shut in relief. He was coming. “Ryo—”
Cursing, Ichiro shoved her toward one of his bullies. “Guard her!” Walking slowly toward Sayuri, he licked his lips. His moment has come.
Sayuri watched him approach, her heart beating frantically. The rope, chafing at her neck, terrorized her. She was even more afraid for her sister. What was that animal going to do to Kaori when he finished with her? She hoped with all her heart Saeba was going to reach them in time.
“Yurinoki-sama, the radar shows them veering!”
Ichiro looked at Kaori. “Your knight appears to have a chink in his armor.”
Sayuri closed her eyes and hung her head. They were doomed.
“Yurinoki-sama, they’re circling us!”
Ichiro ran a finger down Sayuri’s cheek. “You die first, big sister. Any last wishes?”
Hazel eyes, so like her sisters, snapped open. “I hope you rot in hell.”
He laughed again. “Lousy time to grow a backbone.” Tightening the rope around her neck, he kissed her forehead. “Thank you for allowing my father to rest in peace.” He waved at his men. “Hoist her up!”
Bucking in his man’s arms, Kaori frantically tried to get free, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Sayuri, no!”
Her older sister made a choking sound, her eyes bulging, as the rope drew tight, lifting her off the deck.
Ichiro moved to Kaori, grabbing her chin, making her look at her writhing sister. “Watch!” He hissed. “I want you to watch your sister hang.” Lowering his head, he smelled her hair. “You’ll be next and my father will finally be avenged.”
Kaori’s eyes swam with tears. Her sister was choking to death before her eyes and she was unable to help. God, please, make it quick.
A deafening thunder sounded in the night. The rope slackened and Sayuri collapsed on the deck in a coughing heap. A tall, looming shadow vaulted over the railing, smoke coming from the barrel of his gun. A gun that looked familiar, even through the film of her tears. “Ryo!”
His eyes quickly traveled over her, looking for damage. He smiled slightly. “Hey, honey. Did you miss me?”
Kaori thought her heart would burst in her chest. He was here. All would be well. “Ry—” Steely fingers clasped around her throat, choking the words, cutting off her air supply.
Jet-black eyes burned with rage as the barrel of the Python leveled on Kaori’s captor. “Let her go.”
Ichiro sneered, tightening his grip. “I don’t think so, Saeba. You might have saved one sister, but your fiancée stays with me for the moment.” He pressed the Glock to her temple. “Let’s see how you react under pressure.”
Miki and Saeko helped Sayuri gain her feet, untying the rope around her neck. The thugs were surrounded and subdued with Umibozu assigned to guard duty. Everything was silent and dark. Only two floodlights met in the center of the deck, putting the macabre three-actor-drama in the limelight. Midnight eyes met hazel ones in silent communication.
Ichiro smirked. “What are you waiting for? Do you want me to dig a hole in her brain? What the—” Feeling the woman in his grasp go limp, he looked down.
Another thunder pierced the silence and Yurinoki Ichiro slumped to the floor, a neat hole between his dark blue eyes, wide open in shock. Kaori turned, looking down at him with. Rest in peace, Yurinoki Ichiro. Feeling the bonds on her wrists lessen, she sighed, distractedly rubbing her sore skin.
“Kaori!” Her older sister blubbered, throwing herself into her arms. “Are you OK?”
Kaori hugged her tightly. “Sure thing.” Touching the angry red welt on her sister’s neck, she frowned. “You?”
“I guess I’ll have to wear a scarf for a few days.”
Kaori smiled. Looking past her sister’s shoulder, her gaze locked with his. She felt tears welling in her eyes. Blinking furiously she tried to keep them at bay.
Sayuri cast a quick glance behind her and slowly disentangled herself from her sister’s arms.
Ryo watched her with an unreadable expression. A bruise was forming on her jaw, there was dried blood on her lip and her dress has seen much better days, but she never looked more beautiful than in that moment.
Kaori watched him walk slowly toward her and sniffled slightly. Lifting her eyes so they could meet his, she parted her mouth, but the words never got the chance.
Ryo slanted his mouth over hers in a devouring kiss. Circling her slender waist with his arms, he drew her deeper into his embrace, never wanting to let her go.
Kaori whimpered, stood on tiptoes, and threw her arms around his neck, warm tears rolling down her cheeks.
Chapter 5: Epilogue
“Welcome on board the Virago,” Matsumoto greeted the two bedraggled women.
“Kaori,” Ryo murmured into her hair, keeping a possessive arm around her waist. “This is Captain Matsumoto.”
“Hi.” She smiled and waved slightly.
Matsumoto Keno bowed. She was beautiful, even in the condition she and her dress were in. No wonder Saeba was prepared to kill him in order to save this girl.
“He’s the one who helped me get to both of you in time.” Ryo kissed the top of her head, closing his eyes with a sigh of gratitude. She felt so good in his arms. Alive and well.
“Thank you, Matsumoto-san,” the sisters replied in unison.
Blushing slightly, the captain cleared his throat. He wasn’t used to this sort of thing. “Well…I’ll get you home in no time. If there is anything I can do, you know where to find me.”
Ryo grabbed his elbow. “Actually, there is.”
Saeko sniffed in the handkerchief Mick has gallantly offered her. Umibozu’s ears smoked and steam rose in white whiffs off his blinking fiery red bald head. His wife, her arm curled around his, sighed dreamily, wiping at stray tears trickling down her cheeks. Mick was grinning like an idiot, standing proudly behind his best friend. Sayuri, kept upright with the First Officer’s not-so-subtle help, stood behind her sister, eyes misted and lower lip wobbling suspiciously.
Kaori, her hand firmly grasped in Ryo’s, her fingers fluttering nervously, still grouched under her breath, plucking at the stained skirts of her gown.
Ryo smiled, leaning closer to her, so his breath caressed her ear as he spoke. “Would you stop mumbling? I can’t hear a thing. You’ll ruin the ceremony.”
She gave him a black look. “You could have checked with me before deciding on this stunt. My dress is ruined if you haven’t noticed.”
“You still look beautiful to me, baby.” He squeezed his fingers around hers. “Pay attention.”
Captain Matsumoto cleared his throat for the third time. “If you really want to do this, you better stay focused. It’s tough for me, too. I’ve never done this sort of thing before.”
“Sorry, Captain,” they both mumbled simultaneously.
“Please,” Sayuri whined. “Would you just go through with this? I don’t think I can stay conscious for much longer.”
Kaori quickly looked at her sister. Sayuri was pale as a sheet and the corners of her mouth were pinched. “OK!” Kaori ran a shaky hand through her disheveled hair. “I’ll do this, but under heavy protest. I’m not presentable.”
“Miss, if I may,” the First Officer put in. “You look lovely.”
“Who asked you?” Ryo growled, sending him a killer glare.
It was Kaori’s turn to squeeze his fingers in warning. “Behave,” she hissed. Beaming at the poor captain, she said sweetly, “Please, go on.”
“Oh, right.” He cleared his throat again. “We have gathered—” He glared at Ryo. “Son! Would you stop fidgeting?!”
“Skip the preliminaries, Matsu-chan. I just need the basics.”
The captain frowned. “Look, whelp. This is the procedure, take it or leave it.”
“Sir,” Sayuri whispered faintly. “Please, just go with the basics. I can’t hold on any longer.” She winked at Ryo, who grinning winked back.
“All right, all right. Today’s youth. Hah! Where is this world going to?”
“Oh, for the love of God,” Umibozu sighed. “Would you concentrate on the matter at hand?”
Matsumoto swallowed loudly. “Where were we?” He cleared his throat again. “Do you, Saeba Ryo, take this woman to be your wife?”
Ryo looked down in her hazel eyes and smiled slowly. “I do.”
“You go, man,” Mick whispered behind him.
“Do you, Makimura Kaori, take this man to be your husband?”
Kaori looked up, feeling a little faint. Those midnight eyes stared at her with such love, she thought her heart would melt. Her wish was really coming true. “I do.”
Matsumoto smiled. “By the powers invested in me, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may now k—Hey, I wasn’t finished!”
The newlyweds were caught up in a fierce lip lock, not having heard a word beyond their vows.
The sky was turning dark blue as they sailed into Tokyo harbor. Kaori and Ryo stood on the back of the ship, watching the white foam she left in her wake.
He tightened his arms around her, leaning his chin on her shoulder. “I love you .”
She sighed, watching the sun slowly peek out of the sea. “I love you, too.”
Ryo gently nuzzled her neck. “I thought I lost you back there.”
“Bad thoughts are not allowed today,” she frowned.
“Oh, really?” He turned her in his arms, arching an eyebrow. “What is so special about today?”
She circled his neck with her arms, brushing her lips over his. “It’s the most beautiful day of my life.”