“Do you know how sometimes - when you are riding your bike and you start skidding across sand, or when you miss a step and start tumbling down the stairs - you have those long, long seconds to know that you are going to be hurt, and badly?”
― Jodi Picoult
It was a smart decision hiring a driver to take us to the hotel. I was so tired I didn’t know what I would have done if Nate wasn’t here to pick us.
It was night time in Tokyo, and I rested my head against the seat’s headrest. Nina beside me was silent and staring at the lights and busy streets. I was glad she seemed a little more comfortable this time around in a car.
Twenty minutes later, Nate pulled in front of our hotel. After registering at the front desk and taking our room’s card, we headed to the elevator.
It took us to the presidential suite, and I was satisfied when Nina stared in awe at the luxurious suite. It had one master bedroom with a king-sized bed, a walk in the closet, and a bathroom, a spacious living room, and a kitchenette.
She directly went to the wall made of glass and looked out at the night sky. The hotel was in a secluded area of the city where the lights were dimmed, allowing the stars to shine and draw a beautiful picture.
I opened the door for the bell boy, who put our luggage in the door’s entrance and left after I thanked him in Japanese.
“I am going to take a shower. You can have one after I am done. Your clothes are in your bag.” I said to Nina, who looked at me and asked.
“How did you find the time to pack your clothes when you didn’t even leave the office last night.”
“I am always prepared for unpredictable trips like this. It is why I always have a packed suitcase in my car’s trunk.” I answered.
“Weird, I bet you have a change of clothes in your office as well.” She said it like a joke, but when I remained serious, she shook her head and commented dryly. “Unbelievable, rich people and their habits.”
I watched as Nina’s eyes grew wide when they landed on her bag. She looked at me and said in a harsh voice. “Where did you find this bag?”
“I instructed Matteo to take one of the bags from my car and load it into the plane,” I answered, confused with her reaction.
“And where are the other bags?” She asked with the same voice as before. I could even detect a hint of nervousness in her tone.
“They are still in my car. When we go back to the apartment, you can have them.” I waited until she nodded her head before I spoke again. “Why do you seem upset about the topic of your bags?” I inquired.
“Tell your driver to watch his back. I will have his neck when we are back. He brought me the wrong suitcase.” She answered with her voice confident once again. I made a mental note to ask Matteo to verify the contents of her bags. Her reactions were subtle and controlled, but they made me a bit suspicious about her.
“What do you mean?” I played along.
I was surprised when her face colored, and she murmured something inaudible under her breath. “What? Come again.”
“He brought me the bag of my undies and swimwear. Happy now?”
She said with a scowl on her face.
Inwardly, I burst out laughing and imagined the scary thoughts rummaging through her mind. Poor Matteo was in immense danger.
“I sympathise with you. I can only imagine the dilemma you are facing now.” I teased her and was ready to catch the pillow she threw my way. I tossed it back to her and was satisfied with her rapid reflexes. After all, maybe she would be a beneficial asset to our organisation.
With those thoughts, I went to the bathroom and took a much-needed shower. The hot water cascading down my back relieved the stress knots I felt all day. I leaned against the shower’s stall and enjoyed the relaxation feeling engulfing my insides.
I wore a plain white t-shirt and black sweatpants. I passed a towel through my wet hair and placed it around my neck.
Once in the living room, I saw Nina with her back to me. A glass of juice, which was placed on a tray full of food, mere inches from her lips.
“Stop!” My sudden words startled Nina, and the glass dropped from her hands.
She whirled around with her hands, clutching her chest. She glared at me and said in a breathless voice. “What’s wrong with you? I was thirsty and decided to drink some juice. Do you have a problem with that?”
“Did you touch anything else?” I asked seriously, moving closer to her.
“No, the food just arrived.” She responded with confusion.
“Good, I think the food is poisoned,” I spoke while examining the dishes on the tray.
“What?” She asked with panic visible in her voice.
“Who brought this food to our room?”
“A Waitress came and said it was on the hotel. I remember her saying it was about welcoming their special guests.” Nina spoke and moved away from the tray as if even its presence offended her.
“Bullshit, I made sure to tell the staff never to send anything to my room unless I ordered it myself. Anyway, Mr.Hirokatsu wants to play games? I will gladly join him, but the tables will turn around. This time we will play by my rules.” I declared in a determined tone. It was a low blow to poison your rival, but since he resorted to this kind of behaviour, it was clear he was desperate.
“What are you talking about? I am lost here.” Nina voiced her thoughts. I sat on the couch and patted the seat beside me in an inviting gesture. I waited until Nina was comfortable before I recounted today’s events to her and why we rushed our leave to a different continent in less than twenty-four hours.
A dangerous gleam entered Nina’s eyed, and her face formed a scary expression. She rubbed her hands in excitement. “Why didn’t you tell me all this before leaving? At least I would have brought some of my favourite toys.”
I chuckled at her response and shook my head. If I were any other man, I would have run for the hills. But since I very well knew what toys Nina was speaking about, I just found her blabbering amusing.
“Don’t get too excited. I am here to close a business deal and not to torture people. But don’t worry about any lack of supplies. I have enough for both of us.” I said as I moved to fetch one of my black duffel bags.
I crouched in front of the bag and opened it. Nina stood up and came to stand above my shoulder. She whistled when her eyes landed on the different kinds and sizes of the weapons inside.
“You are prepared.” She commented.
“Always, baby.” I winked at her and moved towards the still full tray. I took a pipe and filled it with the other glass of juice that was meant for me.
“What are you doing?” Nina wondered.
“I need to know what kind of poison they used,” I said as I closed the tube where I put the filled pipe. “Find a way to get rid of the food on the tray. I want the plates clean by the time I am done.”
“Sir, yes, sir!” she said in a mocking voice.
I ignored her antics and went to the balcony. I dialed a number I didn’t try in years. It rang four times before a groggy voice sounded on the other side. He spoke in Japanese, and I smiled softly at his words. “Hello, Akira.”
There was silence for a few moments before he screamed in joy and said with excitement. “Ethan! Oh! I can’t believe it. How are you, man?”
“I am doing fine. How about you? How is life treating you?” I asked.
“Life is life. Nothing had changed, but I am still pushing through it day by day. What brings you to my doorstep, my dear friend.”
“You are still as bright as ever,” I remarked.
“Some things will never change.” The little rascal said with what I was sure a big smirk on his face.
“I need a favour.” I admitted.
“I figured as much. Go ahead, shoot.” His voice turned serious, and I knew he was ready to listen to me. After I explained the situation and gave him the hotel address, he hung up and promised to be there as soon as possible.
I went back to the room and was surprised when I saw the plates empty. And a small thanks note with a smiley face drawn on it placed in the corner of the tray. I raised an eyebrow in question.
“As much as I hate the prospect of throwing food, I have thrown it in a plastic bag. I placed it one of your bags so we can get rid of it later. We can’t let them think we didn’t eat the food.” Nina shrugged and went to the room. I was impressed with her thinking. And how she was swift in solving the problem.
I frowned when I saw her lay on the bed and turn off the bedside table’s lamp. “What are you doing?”
“Going to sleep.” She said into the darkroom.
“And why do you think you can have the master bedroom?”
“Maybe because you are a gentleman who would take the couch while the lady in his company sleeps on a comfortable bed.” I could practically feel the sarcasm dripping from her voice, but I decided to ignore it when my phone biped, and Akira informed me he was waiting in a back ally two blocks from the hotel.
Nina was a heavy sleeper. I concluded as I shook her for the third time without getting a response from her. A trace of a smile touched my face as I remembered Hunter. I always wondered how he was doing. I have new photos of him with his friends. He had changed a lot. His smile was absent, and his features matured early. I longed to be with him and touch his soft black hair. I shook my head to push those thoughts to the darkest parts of my mind. It would do me no good to remember them, especially today.
“Don’t you know it is creepy to watch people sleeping?” Nina’s voice brought me out of my thoughts.
“You know what would be more creepy?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“What?” She asked and started stretching her arms above her head.
“Going with me to the meeting in underwear,” I said casually and laughed heartily at Nina with her arms stopping mid-air and glaring at me.
“You know you are a prick, right?” Nina huffed and closed the bathroom door behind her.
Nina took her sweet time in taking a shower that was supposed to be a short one. I was moments away from banging on the door when the subject of my irritation came into the living room.
“I am hungry. We need to eat first.” Nina announced and plopped down on the couch.
“We are not eating any food from this hotel,” I said with finality in my voice.
“And here we go again. Do you plan on starving me?”
“Don’t be dramatic. It is still early in the morning, and I am not ready to deal with you. We will eat out.” I said and grabbed my phone, heading towards the door.
“Where are we going?” Nina asked while following me. She was a loud person and always wanted to know every single little thing. I was never annoyed like this before. Lillian had her moments, but she wasn’t as stubborn as this brunette who was thrown at me from nowhere.
It was the fifth dress I tried, and Ethan shook his head in negative. If looks could kill, he would have been buried six feet under earth.
I gave the girl who helped me out of the dress a tight smile.
It all started with us leaving the hotel. After we ate in a local coffee, which wasn’t a five-star establishment, thankfully, we went out and headed to the clothes store.
The management team welcomed us and gave us their full attention. I snorted mentally, thinking about how money can make you royalty in any place you set foot inside.
“Choose whatever you want,” Ethan said as he made himself comfortable on a white sofa that was facing the entrance of the changing room.
I was lost, looking at endless rows of dresses in different shapes and colours. Thankfully, an assistant in her late forties came to my help, and after I told her about the occasion I was going to attend, she started selecting dresses for me.
I looked at myself in the mirror and hoped Ethan would like this one. He was being difficult on purpose, and my patience was running thin. I was wearing an off the shoulder dress, it arrived just below my knees and hugged my curves perfectly. The black garment was elegant and attractive at the same, it doesn’t show a lot of skin, but it made you look sexy at the same time. I never imagined myself saying that, but I was in love with this dress.
A little smile took over my face when Ethan nodded his head and stood up from his seat and sighed in boredom. “Finally, you are done. I never thought shopping for a dress would take all this time.”
The assistant next to me chuckled and shook her head fondly. “All girls are like this. They take forever to pick up a single dress. But I am sure your girlfriend’s attire tonight will make up for it.”
I took back my claim about liking this woman. How dare she turn the tables on me? She knew the source of my misery was this hotheaded man who wasn’t satisfied with anything. Every time I protested about him being difficult, he shrugs and tells me it was necessary to impress his partner.
“By the way, I am not his girlfriend,” I grumbled as I entered the changing room.
“Whenever she is angry, she denies being my girlfriend.” I could practically picture Ethan shaking his head like a loving boyfriend.
I hurried out of the room and gave the woman the dress. I gave Ethan a scorching glare. He gave me a toothy smile and grabbed my hand.
“What are you doing?” I hissed as I tried to move my hand from his.
“We need to convince her we are a couple.” He replied with a shrug.
“And who cares?” I said as I settled and stopped struggling. It was useless to start a fight in a luxurious shop about something like this.
“You are so cute!” The woman gushed as she handed me two bags. I looked at her in confusion. “Oh, dear! You were pleasant clients. It is rare to stumble upon lovebirds like yourselves. I added the perfect heels for you to wear with the dress. Just remember to visit our boutique in the future.” After we said our goodbyes, we exited the shop to the busy streets.
“Was she high?” It was the first question I asked Ethan. He laughed at me and shook his head.
“She is a cheerful woman,” He said and opened the car’s doo for me. I got in the passenger seat, and he went to his side.
“If she were any younger, I would have thought she had a crush on you,” I remarked as he started the car.
“Do I detect a hint of jealousy?” He teased.
“You wish.” I shot back and stuck out my tongue at him. He burst out laughing at me and kept his focus on the road. I closed my eyes and groaned.
Great you are turning to a five years old kid. By this rate, you will need to go to kindergarten soon. My conscious admonished in a sarcastic tone.
“What is our next destination?” I asked once I got over my embarrassment.
“To make you look like a doll.” He winked my way.
“You mean you want me to be a wolf in sheep clothes,” I said with my voice full of excitement.
“You can say that,” Ethan responded with a smirk.
This time when I looked at my reflection in the mirror, I wanted to shoot the stylist dead in the head. I looked like an innocent and sweet girl with my hair styled in big curls and light make-up covering my face. I had half a mind to wipe off the pink lipstick covering my mouth.
“I hope you love your look.” The girl said with a bright smile on her face. I gave her a sneer and left the salon. Ethan was leaning against his car’s door with his focus on the phone in his hand. He was wearing a black tuxedo, and he looked devastatingly handsome in it.
I wasn’t aware I was staring until Ethan said with a lopsided smile. “Like what you see?”
“Yes, I admire nice things when I see them,” I was satisfied when he raised an eyebrow at my response.
He surveyed me with his green eyes from head to toe before he let out a low whistle. He opened his mouth to start speaking, but I held my hand warningly.
“If you are going to say anything to make me angry, I advise you against it.”
“I was just going to say you look different.” He said with a shrug.
“In a bad or a good way?” I questioned.
“I didn’t decide yet.” He said with a smirk on his face.
“Prick,” I said as I got in the car after him.
“I heard that,” Ethan muttered under his breath.
“You were supposed to,” I said with a shrug.
At 7 p.m, Ethan pulled in front of a five stars restaurant. Once we were out of the car, Ethan held his arm for me and hooked my arm in his. A woman wearing a black suit opened the door for us and bowed deeply. I followed Ethan’s lead and gave a little curtsey as well.
We walked a short hallway and climbed a short staircase. We arrived at a large double door that was guarded by two blurry men. We stopped in front of them and waited until they searched us for weapons.
I looked in surprise as they found no weapons on Ethan. When they were satisfied with our lack of any dangerous arms, they opened the door for us.
The large room was beautifully decorated and screamed luxury. I looked around and was confused by its emptiness apart from a large table in the middle where I can see two men sitting.
“What’s happening?” I whispered in Ethan’s ear.
“Remember what we discussed this morning?” I nodded as I recalled Ethan’s instructions this morning.
“Good, you follow them, and we will be okay,” Ethan whispered back.
The sound of my high heels clicking on the floor echoed in the silent room. I could practically hear my heart beating harshly inside my ribcage. It was the first time I find myself in a mission like this. I had always worked in the shadows and away from the eyes of others.
We stopped in front of the table, and the two men stood up. The one I believe was Ethan’s partner Mr. Hirukatso said with a smile on his face.
“Late as always.” He extended his hand, and Ethan shook it firmly.
“Some habits die hard,” Ethan said with a smile of his own.
I noticed how Mr. Hirukatso’s smile tightened, and he spoke in a clipped voice.
“Meet Mr. Eichi, my lawyer.” Ethan nodded his head towards the man and shook his offered hand.
Ethan moved his attention to me and said in a calm voice. “Gentlemen, I want you to meet Nina Castello, my new associate.” It was hard to remain passive after the words Ethan said. Associate my ass, you mean my new assassin machine.
I wanted to correct his mistake, but I decided against it as I didn’t want to ruin the moment.
Mr. Hirukatso took my hand and planted a kiss on the top of it. I suppressed the urge to gag and call him on his rudeness. I just gave him a smile I hoped didn’t look like a grimace.
“You always keep yourself surrounded by beautiful women, my boy.” I cringed at the look of lust in his eyes and wished I could kick him where the sun doesn’t shine. Ethan tightened his jaw and gave the older man a nasty look. “You know me so well, sir.”
From the expression on Ethan’s face, I can say he was restraining himself by a thin thread.
Mr. Eichi was wise enough and just shook my hand, giving me a neutral look.
Finally, we took our seats at the table. I sat next to Ethan with Mr. Hirukatso in front of me while his lawyer was facing Ethan.
“Finally, you agreed to meet us. It is an honor to have you here in Japan.” I felt disgusted at his fake pleasant voice.
“I was so busy these past weeks. I couldn’t have the time to travel across the world for a meeting.” Ethan said smoothly. He looked so relaxed and in his element.
“Yes, we heard your family organised a big party last weekend. It was a huge success apart from a minor breach in security.” He said and moved his dark eyes to me.
I felt my hands getting clammy and sweat forming on the back of my neck. I forced my face to remain passive and not show any of my internal panics.
“I see you have investigated too much for your own good,” Ethan said with ease. I sat straighter on my chair and decided to watch the power display unfolding in front of me.
“We always make sure to keep tabs on our partners. It is our duty.” The man just took a sip of his champagne glass. “I think we should start with dinner first. Making deals on an empty stomach is a bad idea.” Mr. Hirukatso snapped his fingers, and the doors opened. Waiters and waitresses in their uniforms entered with covered plates in their hands. They worked fast and efficiently. In no time, the food and drink glasses were in front of us.
I stared at the mouth-watering dished and wondered if they were poisoned at well. Our hosts started eating while Ethan and I just sat there in silence.
“Something wrong?” Mr. Eichi asked after he swallowed a forkful of some fish.
“Nothing is wrong. We just had the same food yesterday at the hotel, and we don’t want to eat the same kind again. We can always dine out after we close the deal.” Ethan said calmly without a hint of nervousness or even annoyance in his voice.
“I can always order the cook to prepare a meal for you.” Mr. Hirukatso said in a pleasant voice.
“No, we don’t want to eat here. Our lives are precious to us.” Ethan answered without even blinking.
“Are you insulting me, Mr. Salviatti?” The previously pleasant demeanor soured, and I could tell the man was barely containing his anger.
“I would never dream of doing that, sir. You are the one insulting us by offering us poisoned food twice in less than twenty-four hours.” Ethan said with his voice steady.
“Don’t accuse me of things I didn’t commit, Ethan.” Mr. Hirukatso spoke without a trace of fear.
“So, you won’t mind if I gave my piece of meat to your dog. I don’t like wasting good food.”
Dog? What dog is he talking about? I looked around the room, and only then did I notice the dog sitting at Mr. Hirukatso’s feet.
The man in question shook his head and spoke with superiority. “My dog had a special diet. He can’t eat any food. Thank you for the offer anyway.”
Without batting an eyelid, Ethan threw the piece of meat across the room, and the dog lunged forward and caught it. Mr. Hirukatso’s eyes widened, and he made a move to go to his pet. I shook my head at him, and without giving him any time to react, planted a fork in his upturned palm. I was satisfied when he let out a howl of pain and sat in his chair.
Mr. Eichi reached for his phone, but before he could say a word, Ethan threw a knife that merely grazed his arm, but it caused him to drop his phone to the floor.
I was surprised by his accuracy. He wasn’t even looking at the man, and still, he managed to hit his target. Ethan stood from his seat and went to stand behind Mr. Hirukatso.
“Your dog’s life is in your hands. A little birdy told me you love this dog more than anything in this world.” Ethan spoke in a harsh voice. The usual warmth was absent from his eyes. They were empty, and for the first time, I was scared of Ethan.
You should be scared for yourself when the time comes, and those eyes would be focused on you.
Damn it! I cursed under my breath. It wasn’t the time for me to think this. I needed to put all my concentration on the moment.
“You will regret this, Ethan.” Mr. Eichi said through gritted teeth.
“You are the ones who will regret all your decisions if you don’t sign the contract without further fussing. I had spent a lot of time on you already.” Ethan said with finality.
“Save my dog, and I will sign the damn papers,” Mr. Hirukatso spoke with fear in his voice.
“But sir, you can’t be.....” Mr. Eichi protested, but his boss held his hand and shook his head.
“Don’t try to convince me about anything. You don’t know these people like me.”
Ethan smirked and sat once again. He took the briefcase he brought with him and took out a pile of well organised papers. He pushed them towards his partner.
“Save the dog first.” Mr. Hirukatso said shakily.
“You are stalling, sir. The faster you sign, the quickest your dong will receive the antidote.” Ethan’s words brought my attention to the poor creature on the ground. The dog was whimpering, and I instinctively reached over and caressed him gently. He didn’t deserve this at all.
Mr. Hirukatso hesitated for a few minutes before he used his left hand to sign the papers hastily. I could tell it was so hard for him to do it. His ego was bruised beyond repair. He paused at the last page and looked at Ethan with an arched eyebrow.“What is the meaning of this? We agreed to share the profits equally.”
“That was before what happened yesterday. Now, you will only have thirty percent. It is unnegotiable, and I won’t budge.” Ethan spoke with a voice that didn’t give any space for argument.
Finally, the last paper was signed, and Ethan took his sweat time checking them. I kept my eyes trailing on Mr. Hurikatso, who looked in so much pain. He tried to reach for his dog, but it was in vain since his right hand was pinned into the table.
Ethan took out a small vial out of his pants pocket and held it to the dog. He helped the feline to drink all of its content before he ran his hands through his soft fur and straightened up.
“Next time, before you decide to confront others, calculate the pros and cons of the situation. Thank you for the dinner, and I hope we will meet in better circumstances.”
Ethan spoke coldly and stretched his hand towards me. Without hesitation I took his hand and together, we exited the restaurant.
And this was the first time I saw Ethan Salviatti with all his ruthlessness and power. It was the moment I understood how much the person I was playing against was scary and merciless. It wasn’t a pleasant revelation, but the image of Aria flashed in my mind, and I willed myself to look past all the dangers and keep walking to my doom.
Until next chapter!
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