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.