Standing behind heavy curtains, Toshiro watched Kaito send his bodyguards away and close the bedroom door. Toshiro waited for the outer door to close, aware that those two burly men who followed Kaito everywhere waited in the hallway. Kaito removed his tie, dropping it on an armchair, his grey suit jacket followed.
Toshiro moved from his hiding place when Kaito turned to the bed, ready to remove his shirt.
"Leave your clothes on," he said.
Kaito's shoulders stiffened and he turned to look at Toshiro.
"Surprised?" Toshiro asked, closing the distance between them. He met Kaito's dark gaze. When he read no remorse there, he asked, "Why?"
"You shouldn't have come back," Kaito said.
Toshiro pressed the silencer on Kaito's forehead and asked again, "Why?"
"You can't kill me," Kaito said with a small smile. "I know you, Toshiro. You pretend to have a hard heart, but I know how soft you are. You can't stand violence or cruelty. Murder certainly doesn't become you."
"I changed when you stabbed me. Now answer my question or I'll shoot you, and no one will know who did it."
"Toshiro, you can't change overnight. I know you," Kaito said in a cajoling tone.
"If you don't tell me what I want to know, I'm going to kill you, Kaito. You trained me well."
Kaito sighed and sat on the bed.
"What do you want to know?"
Toshiro glared at Kaito.
Kaito chuckled, the sound mocking.
"What happened to my dagger?"
"The police in that small town have it."
"That was my favorite dagger, you know. I'm going to miss it."
When Toshiro didn't respond, Kaito studied him.
"You wear your anger well, little brother. How long did it take you to find me?"
"Three weeks," Toshiro answered lowering his gun.
He had gone to his old apartment in Manhattan to find it trashed. No doubt, Kaito's men had wanted to make it seem as though he'd been killed there. It had taken him three days to track Kaito in Newark.
Getting this close to Kaito… that had taken longer…he'd had to wait for Kaito to return to the city.
Toshiro adjusted the grip on his gun.
"I thought you might return to Tokyo, but then there was an article about Mr. Carrey. Sakura worked overtime on this one, didn't she? How quickly did she get Carrey in hospital?"
"It was a record two weeks," Kaito said with a pleased smile. "She induced a heart attack. Mr. Carrey was practically at death's door when you and I got Warren to sign over his shares."
"Of course," Toshiro said. "The wife? Did she sign over the family shares?"
"Yes, two days ago. Sakura left for Tokyo this morning. Did you know she loved you? She saved Mr. Carrey in your honor. She was devastated when I told her you were dead. To get back at me, she defied my orders and gave Mr. Carrey the antidote."
"That's shocking," Toshiro said in surprise. "I never realized she had a heart under all that ice. Tell her to cut it out if she's to survive with you."
"Toshiro," Kaito chided. "Don't be so mean. Sakura is a nice girl. Now stop this madness. You're not going to kill me. You can't, we're family. What's a little stabbing between us? It was harmless."
"You left me for dead. The least you could have done was finish the job instead of leave me to stumble alone in the forest."
"The choice to live or die was yours. You chose to live, good for you, but it's stupid you decided to return to me and squander your precious life." Kaito's gaze hardened. "There's nothing for you here."
Toshiro raised his gun again and pointed it at Kaito's head, his gaze hardening too.
"I want to know why you killed me."
"You're so stubborn, Toshiro."
When Toshiro didn't budge, Kaito sighed.
"Fine, I needed you out of the way."
"I'm trying to make the Takumi businesses legitimate. Thanks to you, that is now a reality. Your financial advice has helped us but our rivals have noticed."
"Rivals?" Toshiro scoffed. "You mean Jun Natake. When are you going to stop fighting that man? If your men left his alone, there wouldn't be problems."
Kaito glared at him.
Jun Natake was a wealthy neighbor Kaito hated.
"You sound like father. Do you think remaining passive shows strength? I can't allow Natake to do what he wants. He'd destroy what we've worked for if he got the chance. He has to be put in his place."
"So you stabbed me because Natake has taken notice of me?"
"I stabbed you to keep you out of his reach," Kaito replied. "You're so ignorant, Toshiro. Have you never wondered why you've lived the kind of life you have?"
Toshiro felt his blood run cold.
"So, you have thought about it?" Kaito's gaze narrowed, studying him. "Of course you have. That's why you are my favorite. You do so much thinking. What will you do if I refuse to tell you?"
Toshiro put his finger on the trigger, and ground the silencer on Kaito's forehead. Kaito raised his hands in surrender.
"Relax, I'll tell you the truth," Kaito said. "Toshiro, you're a Natake. My mother's men stole you from Jun Natake when you were two years old. She came up with the brilliant plan of raising you in the Takumi clan. You see, the Natakes' have a knack for money that we don't have. My mother figured if you grew up thinking you were part of us, some of that luck would rub off. She stole you behind my father's back. Her men took you from your parents. She kept you at the bar we run in town so that my father wouldn't know what she'd done. It turned out my mother was right. You've worked hard to make us richer, while your father searched for you with growing desperation."
Toshiro stepped back.
"All those raids into the compound in Yokohama—"
"Your father trying to find you," Kaito answered coldly. "Jun Natake focused all his attention on finding you, so much so that that he neglected his businesses and your mother has taken control. Everyone knows he spends time searching for you. That's why we decided to bring you to New York to study. It kept you out of his reach."
"My mother?" Toshiro asked in shock. How could he be Natake's child? "Your father killed my mother in front of me. I watched it."
"That woman was a whore who owed my father money. She took care of you when you were a baby because you took a liking to her. My mother let her keep you, but that woman loved her highs too much, and she got greedy. She had nothing to do with you, sweet Toshiro. It was endearing how you loved her as if she were your mother. I thought it was a big laugh watching you cry your heart out for her."
Toshiro felt a tight fist clench his heart at the realization that Kaito's family had robbed him terribly. Anger brewed deep inside him, he wished he had the guts to shoot Kaito in cold blood, but he couldn't.
Kaito didn't deserve a simple death.
"You stabbed me to make sure my father would never find me," he said forcing his brain to think. "Jun Natake knows who I am."
"Someone I have yet to find gave him your picture. I took matters into my own hands and put an end to you." Kaito crossed his arms against his chest and shrugged. "It's nothing personal, Toshiro, just good business."
"Good business," Toshiro repeated with a scoff, his head felt like it might explode with rage. He brought his hands up at a loss. "My whole life is a lie for the sake of your business!"
"Do you see why I said you should never have come to find me?"
Kaito stood up then, his movement abrupt, meant to unsettle him. Toshiro took a quick step back and ducked Kaito's punch. He'd learned to escape Kaito's punches through the years.
His abdomen was still sore, so he shot Kaito's thigh, and watched with satisfaction as Kaito fell to the carpet. Kaito's painful shout attracted his bodyguards' attention. Looking around the bedroom, Toshiro located the briefcase Kaito carried around and ran to the dresser across the room to get it.
"You won't escape," Kaito warned as Toshiro raced back to the window where he'd hidden earlier. "The moment you land in Japan, you're dead, Toshiro."
Kaito's men burst through the doors.
Toshiro pushed the sliding doors open, got out on to the balcony and grabbed the rope he'd used to rappel down to Kaito's suite from the roof.
Going down was faster, he thought, as he threw himself over the balcony.
He wasn't fast enough.
A bullet hit his right arm as his left hand gripped the rope. His gloves protected him from rope burn as he slipped down the rope, the ground coming fast. He tightened his hold on the rope, slowing his progress until he was standing on the pavement. There weren't many people to see him land at three in the morning.
If they did, they didn't care.
His right arm burned, Toshiro hoped the bullet hadn't hit a major artery. Hugging the briefcase against his chest with his left hand, he ran to the motorcycle he'd parked a block away. Kaito's men would be after him for vengeance.
His choices limited, Toshiro rode his motorcycle to a townhouse in Greenwich he'd staked out a year ago. Parking his motorcycle two blocks away, he walked the rest of the way to the house, breaking in through the kitchen door. He placed the briefcase he carried on the small kitchen table.
Toshiro removed his leather jacket and placed it on the table too. He raised his hands, folding them behind his head and turned toward the door.
He didn't wait long.
"Who are you?" a gruff voice demanded from the hallway entrance.
"Toshiro Shindo," he said.
The lights came on.
"Keep them off if you want to keep breathing. I'm not here for a social visit."
"Why are you here?" FBI Agent Michael Baron asked as he turned off the kitchen lights and turned on the ones in the hallway.
"Relax, if I wanted to kill you, I'd not have let you hear me enter your house, Agent Baron. Take the briefcase on the kitchen table."
Toshiro heard Agent Baron pick up the leather briefcase.
"I'm going to drop my arms now," Toshiro warned.
His right arm was starting to hurt.
"Go ahead," Agent Baron said behind him. "You're bleeding."
Toshiro dropped his right arm with a wince. He gripped his right arm with his left and walked to the sink.
"Do you have a first aid kit?'
"In that cupboard under the kitchen sink," Agent Baron said. "Shouldn't we head to the emergency room?"
"The people who shot me have a long reach," Toshiro said as he retrieved the first aid box.
Running cold water in the sink, he gritted his teeth as he inspected his arm. The bullet had gone through; thankfully, no damaged major artery.
He moved to grab a clean dishtowel on a rack, and the agent hissed.
"Stop, I'll get you towels. Don't move."
Toshiro bit back a chuckle.
The Agent was probably hoping he'd leave, but where was he going to go?
Agent Baron returned with a bunch of towels. He grabbed a kitchen chair and brought it close to the sink.
"Sit, I'll take care of it."
Toshiro sat and watched the agent do his best to stop the bleeding with only the light from the hallway. He'd liked Agent Baron at first sight. The man had integrity; he followed his investigations with persistence. Baron had managed to solve ninety-percent of his caseload. The ten percent of his unsolved cases tied into the Takumi Family.
The good Agent had tried his level best to get evidence that would put a crack in the Takumi Family in New York. Baron had gotten close a year ago, when he'd stumbled on Toshiro's apartment in Manhattan. Following a lead on one of the shell companies Toshiro had created to protect the family's illegal money. They'd played a game of cat and mouse for three months. Agent Baron had been sure Toshiro was involved in Takumi's illegal business. Kaito's men had worked hard to draw suspicion from Toshiro, and eventually Agent Baron had had no choice but to back off.
"Why are you here, Mr. Shindo?" Agent Baron asked as he cleaned Toshiro's wound. "Shit, you're going to need stitches."
"I'm sure you can find a needle and thread," Toshiro said gritting his teeth against the pain. "Do the best you can."
"I'm not a nurse." Agent Baron complained as he got up and left the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later with a black thread and a needle. "Are you going to tell me who shot you?"
"Kaito Takumi's men," Toshiro answered, watching the older man douse the needle in whiskey he'd gotten from a shelf above the sink.
Agent Baron gave him an accusing look and brought the bottle to him.
"Does that mean you're not an MBA student at Columbia?"
Toshiro took the bottle of whiskey from Agent Baron and drank a healthy gulp. He closed his eyes, welcoming the burning liquid down his throat. He took another gulp when he saw the needle the Agent held. Anticipating pain, he took another drink before he handed the bottle back to the Agent.
Toshiro bit back a painful cry when Agent Baron poured whiskey on his arm. Embracing the pain, he gripped the sink counter tight as the Agent got started making neat stitches on his arm.
"Talk to me," Agent Baron urged.
Toshiro sighed and forced his mind away from the numbness creeping on his arm.
"I am a student at Columbia. I'm graduating next year, but, I also work for Kaito Takumi." He shook his head. "Not worked…I'm more of a pawn, one who didn't know his real value until tonight."
"What do you mean?"
"Your case, the one with the dead Caribea executive," Toshiro said. "I have the evidence you need to prove Kaito Takumi killed that man. As well as the dry cleaner you found shot in a club bathroom in Brooklyn. He laundered money for Takumi. I have evidence to help you solve a few more cases on your list."
Agent Baron finished sewing him up, applied a stinging salve on the wound before he started wrapping Toshiro's arm with a bandage. His motions spoke of experience. Toshiro suspected the good agent had treated a few gunshot wounds in his time.
When the dressing was finished, Agent Baron held out the bottle of whiskey and Toshiro refused.
"Coffee, Agent Baron." Toshiro stood and flexed his arm slowly; the pain cleared his head as nothing else could. "This has been one long night."
"What did you do for Takumi?" Agent Baron asked as he filled the coffee pot with water.
"I managed Takumi's finances up until three weeks ago."
Agent Baron's eyes widened in surprise, "What happened three weeks ago?"
Toshiro dragged his chair to the kitchen table and sat down.
"Kaito retired me. He stuck his favorite dagger into my gut, and left me in the woods near Lake Keuka to die. Agent Baron, if I talk to you, we're both going on a hit list. I'm just warning you that we might not get out of this alive."
Agent Baron started the coffee maker. He opened a kitchen drawer and removed a tape recorder. Toshiro watched him take a seat across him and place the recorder on the table.
"I'm listening," Agent Baron said, his voice full of confidence.
Toshiro sighed and started his story from the day he'd watched Kaito Takumi's father kill a woman he'd loved as his mother.
Jason carried a box of precious jewels into the workroom set in the back of the Watson Ranch-style house. He placed his precious cargo on a neat worktable set in the middle of the room and opened the box. Excited at the prospect of making new designs with the precious stones he'd ordered a week ago, he got the different plastic containers he used for storage.
Pulling up a seat, Jason got out ruby red crystals, studying them for flaws before he stowed them in a plastic container of their own. He reached his hand into the box for another bag and frowned when he got light brown crystals.
The crystals weren't as light as he'd have liked. They didn't match Toshiro's eyes.
Jason thought about Toshiro everyday these last three weeks. He wondered if Toshiro had healed, if Toshiro found his car. Was Toshiro eating well and taking care of himself?
Shaking his head, he pushed thoughts of Toshiro away and concentrated on his work. Claire, his shop assistant, was ecstatic over his new designs. Even Sean had complimented him for the designs he'd created in the past three weeks.
Work was going well, as for healing his heart… that was a work in progress.
At least he was no longer angry with Sean and Mark. He'd seen them at the shop several times. Their connection close, Mark seemed to know what Sean needed before Sean knew. They understood each other, something that had never been there with him and Sean. Now that he thought about it, he'd never known what Sean liked to eat, or that Sean liked to garden.
Obviously, he and Sean weren't right for each other. Letting a sigh escape, Jason wondered if he and Toshiro would have been right for each other.
That afternoon, Jason drove into town to get groceries. He parked outside Silverstone, dropping by to greet Claire. She was busy with customers, so he looked around the shop instead. Happy that all was well, he left deciding to walk to the supermarket.
It was windy. He zipped up his windbreaker thinking it was probably going to rain later. Crossing the street, he wondered if he shouldn't stop by the police station and talk to Jeff. Maybe the detective had discovered something about Toshiro.
He turned back to see Sean running after him. He stopped and waited.
In a green light jacket and fitted jeans, Sean looked like he should work at Abercrombie & Fitch as a model. He'd recently dyed his hair blonde. Jason missed Sean's dark hair.
"You left the shop so quickly," Sean complained as he reached him. "Where are you going?"
"Supermarket, I'm running low on groceries," Jason said as they continued down the street.
"How are you?" Sean asked.
"Fine," Jason said with a shrug.
When he turned to look at Sean, he smiled when he saw the frown on Sean's forehead.
"I'm okay, Sean."
"Have you forgiven me yet?" Sean asked his tone forlorn.
"Forgiven you for what?"
"Leaving," Sean said his hands in his pockets. "Isn't that why you wanted to escape the loft for a while?"
"You were a small part," Jason said.
Sean gave him a skeptical look and he shrugged.
"Okay, maybe a big part, but don't worry, Sean. There's nothing to forgive between us. You did what you needed to for happiness."
Sean nodded and they walked in silence for a while. When they got to the supermarket, he followed Sean into the busy building.
"So, did they find the guy you rescued in the woods?" Sean asked watching him get a cart.
Jason walked along the detergent aisle and frowned when he a million brand names confronted him. Sean picked out a bottle of All detergent, saving him, and placed it in the cart.
"I was going to stop by the station. Jeff might have found out something."
"I heard that poor guy was carjacked, and the dagger they used was one of those Japanese ones they use for suicide."
"You've been watching ninja movies again."
They turned onto the dairy products aisle and Sean stopped to get him three bottles of two percent milk. They continued down the aisle with Sean speculating on Toshiro's identity, while Jason watched him fill the cart with foods Jason preferred. He suddenly felt guilty because he couldn't remember what Sean liked.
"Maybe he's in the mob," Sean said when they got to the cereal aisle. "You know the Japanese one, what do they call it?"
"Yakuza?" Jason laughed. "Jeez, Sean. You and Mark need to stop watching Asian movies."
"What? Don't you think it's strange for him to have disappeared? I mean if he were just a victim, he would have stayed, allowed Jeff to find his car. Instead, he ran away in the night."
Jason found it odd too, but he'd spent time in Toshiro's company. He remembered Toshiro's laugh, and his shy smile. None of it reminded him of a gangster.
"Don't say that, he probably had an appointment he had to keep."
"Are you sweet on him?"
"What?" Jason scowled at Sean and shook his head. "Why would you say that?"
"I'm just asking," Sean said getting him bran flakes. "Keira told me you visited him everyday, and even brought him clothes."
Jason shrugged as they headed to the cashier.
"The guy was in trouble, I helped him out. I'd do the same for you."
"It's okay to say you liked him, Jason."
"You and Keira spend way too much time discussing whom I like," he complained as the cashier quickly tallied his groceries.
He got his debit card and handed it to the young lady chewing gum. She winked at him and swiped his card. His groceries turned into three brown bags. Sean took one while he carried two. They left the supermarket headed to his car.
"Thanks for shopping with me," he said.
"It's no trouble," Sean said as they crossed the street. "Jason, I know it's been weird between us. I don't want to lose your friendship. You're family to me."
They reached his grey Range Rover and he unlocked the trunk to stow away his groceries. He took Sean's bag and arranged it beside the others.
Closing the door, he patted Sean's shoulder.
"You're family to me too. Don't worry, Sean. We're good."
Sean hugged him tight.
Jason patted Sean's back with a smile.
"Don't get lost in the woods too long," Sean said as he stepped back. "And call me if you get in trouble."
Jason nodded and watched Sean hurry to their shop with a lighter heart. Why he couldn't have done that a month ago, he had no idea.
"Your ex-boyfriend is handsome."
Jason turned around in shock at the sound of that accented voice. A smile tugged his lips when he saw Toshiro leaning on his car. Dressed all in black, his hair held back in a tight ponytail, Jason felt relieved to see him so obviously healthy.
Gods, Toshiro looked good, Jason had to stop himself from pulling Toshiro into his arms.
"Hi," Toshiro said with a slight smile. "You were so talkative in the supermarket. What's happened?"
"You were in the supermarket?"
"I wanted to see if you and Sean were back together. I'd have walked away if you were."
"We're not," Jason felt compelled to reiterate.
"You left," Jason said his tone accusing.
"I'm back." Toshiro looked around the street, his gaze wary. "Do you mind if we get going?"
"Are you coming with me?" Jason asked.
Toshiro straightened and faced him.
"Only if the offer you made me when I was in the hospital is still open."
Jason studied Toshiro's pale face and nodded.
Toshiro smiled and walked around the car to the passenger side. Jason unlocked the doors and slid into the driver's side. He watched Toshiro slide in to the car, a duffel bag on his lap. Starting the car, he pulled out of the parking spot and headed north.
They didn't speak until he turned onto Knights Bridge Road. Slowing down, Jason turned to Toshiro.
"Will this bother you? This is where I found you."
Toshiro stared into the woods.
"I was lucky you were driving by."
Jason frowned because Toshiro sounded disappointed.
"Where did you go? Why did you leave that night?" he asked wanting to know.
Toshiro shifted in his seat so that he faced Jason.
"Can't you let it go?"
"Are you in trouble?"
"Nothing I can't handle."
"Why did you come back?"
"I missed you," Toshiro answered.
Jason smiled happy for that answer and turned on to the quiet gravel road that led to the Watson property.
"Then you shouldn't have left."
"I had to sort something out," Toshiro said watching the trees lining the long driveway. "Nice place."
Jason nodded as he drove up to the front of the house and parked the car near the steps leading to the front door. He turned off the engine and they both sat in the car staring at the neat lawn and the trees beyond.
"This place is quiet. I hope you don't mind that."
"It's perfect. How long are you watching it?" Toshiro asked.
"The next seven weeks," Jason said, removing his keys from the ignition. "Mrs. Watson called me yesterday. She and her husband have extended their stay in Hawaii. She wasn't ready to say goodbye to her daughter."
"She sounds like a good mother."
"She is," Jason agreed as he opened his door and got out of the car.
Toshiro helped him carry the groceries into the house. Jason led the way through the elegant living room, to the dining room, which flowed into the kitchen.
Toshiro fell in love with the house immediately. The great room had hardwood floors and three sliding doors that let in light, bringing in the outdoors. The living area had a cozy fireplace, the eclectic collection of furniture inviting. It felt warm, and looked as he'd imagined a family home would look.
Jason led him into a large country kitchen with ample cupboards and countertop spaces.
They placed the groceries on a breakfast bar. Toshiro tugged one of the wicker chairs set around the bar and dumped his duffel bag and leather jacket on it.
For the next few minutes, Toshiro helped Jason put away the groceries, following direction, marveling over the simple domestic exercise. He'd spent the last four days and nights in a state of worry. The quiet existence Jason lived seemed a dream.
"Do you want coffee?" Jason asked washing his hands at the sink.
Toshiro sat next to his bag with a soft sigh. His right arm throbbed, and his abdomen was sore. He'd barely slept these past three weeks.
"You look tired," Jason said.
He glanced up to find Jason leaning on the counter next to the coffeemaker studying him.
"How is your stomach? Is your wound healing?"
Toshiro sat back in the chair, and pulled up the black t-shirt he wore. The bandage he'd changed in the morning was still in place. He held his palm over it for a second.
"It's sore, but healing."
Jason nodded and folded his arms against his chest.
"So why are you back?"
"I told you. I missed you," Toshiro said tugging his t-shirt back in place.
"Where did you go?"
Toshiro leaned his elbows on the table.
One glance at Jason told him the older man wasn't going to let him stay without an explanation. Gods, he really didn't want to lie to this man, not when he'd gone through the worst kind of betrayal with Kaito.
He still couldn't believe it.
His whole life was a lie: his mother, his name, and his roots.
"Jason," he said trying to find words to explain the reason why he'd come back without lying. "I came back here because this is the first place in my life I've felt safe. Here with you."
Toshiro shook his head.
"I feel as though anything is possible."
Jason pushed off the counter and came to pull out a chair beside him. He sat and took Toshiro's right hand in his.
"What is going on, Toshiro? Does this have to do with why you were stabbed?"
Toshiro stared at their clasped hands.
"I want you to let me stay here without needing answers," he said after a moment. He met Jason's green gaze. "I know it's too much to ask, and—,"
He broke off and dropped his gaze to their clasped hands.
"I'll understand if you want me to leave."
"Toshiro, I don't want you to leave," Jason said. "I just want to help you. Can't you trust me?"
Jason's sincere green eyes made him want to learn how to trust.
"Help me by letting me stay without asking questions," Toshiro said, his gaze pleading.
Jason studied him for a moment. That moment seemed like a year to Toshiro. A tight knot formed in his stomach, as he hoped Jason would agree.
"Stay as long as you need."
The knot in his stomach eased.
He watched Jason get up and walk to the counter. Jason took two mugs from the cupboard above and placed them next to the coffee maker.
Jason didn't turn to look at him.
"Don't leave me without a goodbye this time. Promise me."
When Toshiro didn't answer right away, Jason turned and seeing his determined expression, Toshiro answered.
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