Toshi grabbed the wrist holding the knife against his neck. He ignored the painful cut on his neck, turned and pressed his gun into his assailant's thigh. He took two shots, the man dropped to his knees and Toshiro kicked him on the head.
The bastard fell back to the ground with a painful groan.
Toshiro kicked the workroom door open and rushed in.
The room was empty.
"Jason," he whispered.
He turned back to the man groaning on the ground. Falling on his knees, Toshiro grabbed the man's collar and took the knife the man had used on him. He pressed it against the bastard's neck.
"Where did they take him?" he asked his voice raw with anger. "Where is he?"
The man he held stared at him blankly. Impatience had Toshiro pressing the sharp knife deeper into the man's skin until he drew blood.
"Talk or you're dead."
"The dock," the man said.
Toshiro knocked him out with his gun and searched his pockets. He found two guns, a wallet and cell phone. Checking the guns, he slipped them in the waistband of his pants at the small of his back, grabbed his assailant's knife and cell phone. He stood up and raced to the tree line.
Toshiro ran through the trees, staying away from the main path, navigating wayward branches, and boulders, his thoughts on Jason. Sweet Jason who'd shown him nothing but kindness. He jumped over a fallen tree and prayed to God that Jason was fine. Swiping a branch out of his face, he came to an abrupt stop when he reached the clearing to the dock.
He flattened himself against a large tree and stared at the boat waiting there. There was one man standing on deck, five men stood scattered close to a short woman crouched on the grass by the dock. The men held guns, their gazes sweeping the tree line. She was talking, and they seemed preoccupied with what she was saying.
The woman straightened up, and he frowned.
It was Sakura, elegant in grey slacks and a silk blouse. She'd been crouched over…Jason!
Toshiro clenched his fists at the sight of Jason kneeling on the grass, his hands tied behind him and a black hood over his head.
Toshiro took in a deep breath, fighting the urge to run out to Jason. It took a few seconds; he closed his eyes desperate, desperate, for control.
The cell phone he'd taken from the man at the workroom buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out with a sigh. He answered the call and pressed the cell phone to his ear.
"Is he back? Bring him to the dock. Leverage the boyfriend's life," Sakura ordered curtly.
When he didn't answer her order, a soft chuckle came through.
"Hisashiburi, Toshiro." Long time no see.
Her tone was soft and friendly: disarming, but he knew her too well.
"I should have known one guard wouldn't be enough."
"Let him go," Toshiro said then in a tight voice. "I'll leave with you."
"Why should I do that?" Sakura asked. "No one knows what you've told him. Pillow talk is dangerous, Toshiro. You taught me that. We've built a business based on it."
Toshiro closed his eyes.
"You let him go, I'll come with you," he repeated.
His heart hammered when she remained silent. He shifted on the tree to study her from his hiding place. It was far enough that her guard wouldn't see him, but he could see her clearly. She stood staring at Jason. His breath caught when she grabbed the hood on Jason's head and tugged it off.
"What's so special about him?" she asked her voice dripping with irritation.
Toshiro swallowed as she lifted Jason's bruised face so that she could study him.
"He's not so special. I doubt anyone will miss him, but you Toshiro," Sakura said.
Her tone was hard. She wasn't going to let this go easily.
Toshiro closed his eyes. He had to protect Jason no matter what. There was only one way to get through to Sakura.
Toshiro trained his gun on the man standing on deck. He braced his feet and took the shot with cool accuracy. The man fell with a sharp groan.
He shifted from his tree, and moved to another. The men around Sakura trained their guns into the tree line, but he knew they wouldn't fire without sighting him. It would draw attention and that was something he was sure Sakura didn't want. Otherwise, she wouldn't have come through the dock.
He brought the cell phone to his ear.
"Let him go," Toshiro repeated, "and I'll come with you."
Sakura punched Jason in the stomach and Toshiro watched his boyfriend fall to the ground with a groan. Swallowing back his anger, he trained his gun on the five men who'd made a circle around Sakura. He chose one standing close to Sakura. His hand shook slightly, so the bullet lodged into the man's stomach.
Toshiro stayed put this time. His back pressed against the tree, he brought the cell phone back to his ear.
"You're next, and quit hurting him. You're angry with me. Let him go and I'll let you do what you want with me."
She growled into the phone.
"Come out!" she ordered.
He shifted to see her get a gun from the small of her back.
"You do it, or I shoot him."
"He dies, you die. Don't test me."
She stood staring at Jason for a moment then gave an exasperated sigh.
"I should have brought more men, and gotten you at night in your bed. Then I'd have killed him while you slept."
"He walks," Toshiro reiterated, refusing to think about anything but Jason's safety.
She hissed in annoyance. "Fine, you have a deal."
"Give your gun to the man standing next to you."
She lifted her head, scanning the tree line.
"I know you well, Sakura-chan," he said then. "Give your gun to the man beside you and have them walk to the water."
She hesitated and he shot-off a bullet into the grass right by her feet.
"Fuck you, Toshiro," she hissed into the phone and motioned her men to the edge of the water.
She took five steps away from Jason and threw her gun on the grass.
Taking Jason's cell phone from his pocket, Toshiro dialed Baron's number. When Baron answered on the other end, he took in a deep breath and emerged from the tree line. His gun trained on Sakura, he took quick strides, not daring to move his gaze from Sakura or her men.
"Jason," he said when he jumped over Jason's prone body. "Hey babe, answer me, please. Can you sit up?"
Jason groaned and rolled to his side.
"Sit up for me," he cajoled, moving so that his body shielded Jason.
"Toshi," Jason said, sitting up then. "Thank God, I thought they'd gotten you."
"Jason, get to your feet."
Holding his gun steady with his left hand, Toshiro got the knife he'd slid into his belt and waited until Jason stood. He had Jason turn so that he could cut off the rope bruising Jason's wrists. When Jason was free, Toshiro allowed himself to look at Jason then.
Sweet Jason, he smiled at the sight of Jason's green gaze on the men training guns at them. A deep frown creased Jason's forehead making him want to rub it away.
"It's going to be okay," Toshiro said gently, slipping Jason's cell phone into Jason's jeans pocket, "Like it never happened."
"Toshi," Jason said with a frown.
Toshiro took in Jason's face, wincing at the bruises on Jason's jaw, the cut on his lip. Jason remained the most beautiful person he'd ever met. In heart, in soul…he turned to meet Sakura's hard gaze.
He'd do what he needed to protect Jason.
"He lives, I won't fight you."
Toshiro dropped his gun and kicked it to her. Her men rushed to grab him and Jason panicked.
"No!" Jason said moving to stop them.
Sakura swept up her gun and turned to point it at Jason.
Toshiro struggled with the two men holding his arms.
"Please let Toshiro go," Jason begged, trying to fight off the men holding Toshiro. "Let him go!"
Sakura pressed her gun into Jason's left temple.
"He doesn't belong here," she said in heavily accented English. "Stop fighting for him if you want to live. You two, take Toshiro to the boat, and make sure he's not hiding any weapons. The rest of you get the injured men."
When Jason wouldn't stop, she slapped him across his jaw.
"You, stop! Otherwise, I change my mind and kill you."
The two men holding Toshiro didn't give him a chance to see Jason again. He hoped Baron was smart and would find Jason soon. He didn't trust Sakura and she could easily have her people return for Jason. The agent would know to protect Jason. It took less than a minute to get him on the boat, he couldn't bear to hear Jason shouting for him, but then they dumped him on the deck. One of Sakura's men stuck a needle into his neck, and he lost consciousness.
Cold water dumped over his head woke him up. He blinked water drops out of his eyes and hissed when harsh lights assaulted his eyes.
"You've been a bad boy, Toshiro." Suni Pakino's face appeared before him. "I saw your yummy lover. Are you playing house now?"
"I see you're still playing games. You were in the supermarket," Toshiro said in a bored tone.
He sat on a metal chair, his thighs cold against the metal.
"Not like you," Pakino said with a grin. "You, you're going to end up dead."
"Is that so?" Toshiro asked testing his limbs.
His legs were free, but they'd tied his arms behind him to the chair. He dropped his gaze to the wet black shorts he wore.
"Was this your idea?"
"Sakura-chan knows you hide knives in your clothes." Pakino grinned. "She's upset by what you did earlier. You should have let her kill your man."
Toshiro moved his hands to test how tight the ropes were.
A door opened behind him and he heard two sets of footsteps walk in: Sakura's heels and a man's shoes. He grimaced when an arm slipped over his shoulders.
"Look at you," Taki said into his ear. Taki's breath unwelcome, he turned away to escape it. "I heard you were ready to lay down your life for some nobody. Is he the reason you betrayed the boss?"
"Kaito betrayed me first."
"You hurt the boss, you know. Talking to that FBI Agent has caused us unimaginable losses. If it were up to me, you'd be dead. I think we should kill you here, and forget you ever existed," Taki said with a small smile.
Toshiro ignored Taki's taunts. He'd always hated how petty Taki was, so jealous, and needy. He gritted his teeth when Taki stroked a finger down his left jaw.
"Is it true?" Taki asked, tugging the wisps of hair that had escaped the rubber band he used for his ponytail. "Are you really a Natake? It's unbelievable that the bastard Toshiro is a plutocrat's child. Who'd have imagined? Do you think they would accept a criminal like you?"
"I always knew your arrogance came naturally. Natakes are so entitled. Your mother thinks she owns the world. What I'd do to show her who is boss—"
Toshiro turned then and head butted Taki. Taki growled, jumping away holding on to his nose. Taki rewarded him with a hard punch on his left jaw. Toshiro closed his eyes, temporarily dazed.
"I fucking want to kill you," Taki said savagely, pressing the muzzle of his gun into Toshiro's forehead.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk," Sakura said then. "Control yourself, Taki. Don't damage the goods just yet."
"But—" Taki started.
"We need him," Sakura snapped.
Taki grumbled under his breath and moved away.
Toshiro moved his jaw to ease the ache before he spoke.
"Sakura, are you doing petty errands now?"
"You're special, Toshiro," she said. "You should have died in the woods. This is not going to get easier for you."
Toshiro met her gaze and read his fate in her eyes. He'd live long enough to get them access to the accounts he'd locked when he'd decided to talk to Agent Baron.
"How could you do this?" Sakura demanded of him. "If you were unhappy, you should have come to me."
"I didn't know you cared so much."
He hissed when she punched his left jaw too.
"Stop that, you're pissing me off."
"What? Don't want me to ruin your handsome face?" Sakura taunted. "Is it because of your sweet little boyfriend? I should have killed him."
"I'd have killed you. Then gone after everyone you've ever saved, Sakura. I know what you've done for the women Kaito wanted dead in your whorehouse."
She narrowed her gaze.
"You've grown a pair since I last saw you. What happened to you?"
"Got stabbed and was left for dead," Toshiro smiled at her. "Why don't you let me go? Tell them you didn't find me."
Sakura studied him for a moment before she paced away. Taki and Pakino had retreated to a desk by the wall.
"What are you going to do with me?" he asked.
"Take you to Manhattan, get our money, and then ship you home. They'll release Kaito as soon as you don't show up to make a formal statement. He'll deal with you."
She glanced at him pensively.
"You've ruined a lot of plans by doing this, Toshiro."
"Good," Toshiro said with satisfaction.
"You've lost your mind. Don't you care if you live or die?"
Toshiro thought about Jason. He wanted to see Jason again, sit out on the lake with him. He wanted to see Jason's loft, watch him work in his shop. Instead, here he sat, about to die…again.
They would ship him out to Tokyo, as though he didn't have a say in his life. He dropped his gaze to the floor and sighed.
It was really time to make a choice, whether he wanted to live or die...
Jason ran back to the Watson House, his heart pounding with fear, the sight of Toshiro disappearing in the boat the only thing in his thoughts.
Good God, what was he supposed to do?
Toshiro, he slowed down.
What had Toshiro meant by 'like it never happened?'
Gods, surely Toshiro couldn't mean he was going back to Japan. Those people meant to kill him.
Jason's hip vibrated. He pulled out his cell phone and frowned. The number calling was blocked. He answered the call.
"Who is this?"
"Agent Michael Baron, who am I talking to?"
"Jason Stone. They took him," Jason said turning to stare back at the empty dock. "They have him on a boat, heading south."
"Where are you?"
"Penn Yan, they're on Lake Keuka," Jason said starting toward the house. "I have to call police."
"Don't, I'll take care of it," Agent Baron said. "Toshiro called me, which means he needs you protected."
"What do you mean he wants me protected?" Jason asked as he raced toward the house. "Are you insane? Toshiro needs saving. Stop worrying about me and think about Toshi. He needs our help—"
"Mr. Stone," Agent Baron snapped.
"You and I can't trust anyone. Toshiro's life depends on it. Do you understand?"
Jason paused right outside the house.
"How can I trust you? How do I know you're not the one who sold him out?"
"Because he called me," Agent Baron said. "All I know is if you stay there, they'll come back for you. So, shelve your trust issues, pack a bag and do what I tell you, Mr. Stone. I, at least, don't want you dead. Trust in that."
Toshiro sneezed, bringing his elbows up to wipe his nose on the white sweater Sakura had handed him to wear. Stupid Pakino, he'd poured water on him and refused to let him dry his hair. Moving his jaw to unblock his ears, he shifted on his feet, his gaze on the apartment building across the street.
It was early in the morning. Sakura had flown him into New York City and spent the night grilling him about the organizations accounts. He'd shared very basic information. She'd gotten angry with him and gotten her men to express her frustration on him. Toshiro shifted and sighed when his ribs protested any movement.
He worried for Jason...worried Sakura had sent men after Jason. Twenty-six hours ago, he'd been happy, now—
His gaze moved over the wide windows on the seventh floor across the street. His hopes hinged on a stupid plan that could get him killed.
"Are you sure this is where we need to be?" Pakino asked him. "If it isn't, Sakura is going to take it out on you again. You won't like it anymore than you like your bruised ribs."
"What is she going to do, kill me?"
Pakino placed a coat over the cuffs on Toshiro's wrists.
"Don't make a fuss. Things are tense right now, what with the boss in FBI custody. Tempers are high, Toshiro. Give her the money and she'll let you live long enough to get back to Japan."
"I'll die when I give her the money," Toshiro said still watching the seven-floor apartment building across the street. "I don't want to go back to Japan."
"Then that's the price you get to pay for betraying the boss," Pakino said meanly.
Toshiro slid his gaze to Pakino.
"You know if you weren't such an asshole, I'd like you."
"I like you anyway." Pakino grinned at him. "I'd have followed your leadership, if you hadn't decided to go rogue."
Sakura came out of the black car parked on the curb, followed by Taki. She'd changed into a black dress and heels. He hid a smile at the thought of the steep staircase she had to climb to get to the seventh floor.
"Time to go, Toshiro," she snapped. "I hope this isn't a game."
He gritted his teeth when Taki grabbed his right arm, and unnecessarily pushed him onto the street. He narrowly missed an oncoming car, and the ensuing honk had Taki laughing. Toshiro stepped back to allow the car to pass ignoring Taki's stupid antics.
They crossed the street without further incident.
Toshiro led the way into the building, pausing to punch in the front door code. He ignored the elevators and started up the stairs.
"Which floor?" Sakura demanded.
"Seventh," he said with a smile.
Sakura ignored his smirk and followed him with Pakino walking in front of him. They'd given him back his boots, his daggers still intact. Whomever they'd tasked to check his boots for weapons had obviously missed the sheaths he'd sewn into the leather. The steel handles looked like part of the boot. With his hands in cuffs and Sakura's men surrounding him, he still was at a disadvantage.
Nevertheless, he'd made a decision through the past few hours.
He meant to live, he wanted a life with Jason, wanted to sit out on the lake with him and argue over fishing...yes, he'd found his place. No one was going to take that away from him.
Now all he needed was a distraction.
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