Authors: Anne Stuart
* * *
To my fabulous agents, Jane Dystel and Miriam Goderich, for unflagging support, wise advice and, most of all, patience.
First off, I couldn't have written this without falling in love with J-rock and Japan, so thanks to my daughter for dragging me to Otakon. I have an addiction to Japanese doramas (twelve-hour television miniseries, which I watch slavishly, in Japanese with Chinese subtitles and I don't speak or read either language but I love them anyway). My Yakuza is not terribly realistic, so don't blame David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro or their fabulous book Yakuza: The Explosive Account of Japan's Criminal Underworld. I believe in poetic license. And if you want a soundtrack for this, listen to the new age music from Pacific Moon, rock from Hyde and L”Arc-en-Ciel and, oh, just maybe the soundtrack to “Final Fantasy: Advent Children.” A touch of Dir en grey wouldn't hurt either.
Reno bounded up the stairs, two at a time, and pushed open the door to the deserted apartment, only to stare directly into the barrel of a Glock.
Peter Madsen slowly put his gun away. “What the hell are you doing here? I could have shot you.”
Reno grinned. He knew Peter thought he was the most annoying, most flamboyant operative ever to work for the Committee, that covert organization of ruthless do-gooders, and he did his best to live up to that image. He brushed an invisible speck of lint off his leather jacket and kept his sunglasses firmly in place in the darkened room.
“I trust your instincts,” he said, closing the door behind him and strolling into the apartment. His pointy-toed leather cowboy boots echoed on the parquet flooring.
“How do you ever sneak up on anyone when you're so damned noisy?” Peter said.
Reno gave him his most annoying smile. There was nothing he liked better than to irritate the Ice Man. “I manage,” he said. “I thought you might need a little help.”
“When I need help, I'll ask for it.”
Reno shrugged. “Just trying to do my duty, boss. Isobel's really gone, hasn't she? Our fearless leader has disappeared, leaving you in charge.”
“Yes.” Peter glowered at him. “And don't call me boss. It's not my idea you're here.”
“Not mine, either. You think she went with Killian?” I expect so.
Aah, true love,” Reno said. “For good?”
“I hope so,” Peter said.
“Why? So you can take over running the Committee?” Reno wandered over to the window to look out into the wet winter afternoon.
“Hardly. I'm passing this off to the first person qualified.”
Peter shrugged. “Because this kind of life demands too high a price. Isobel and Killian stayed too long—they earned the right to get out of it.”
Reno snorted. “You don't seem the sentimental kind to me.”
“And you're such a great judge of character?”
Reno merely smiled his catlike smile. “So explain this to me,” he said in his deliberate English. “Why are we still in hiding? Why have my cousin and his wife disappeared somewhere in Japan? Thomason is dead—any contracts he put out should be canceled, and the Russian mercenaries should have lost interest. Mercenaries don't work without money, and their source of income has dried up. We should be ready to move on to new things, not wasting time cleaning up old messes.”
“Maybe the Russians haven't heard. Maybe they've moved on to other things, but our intel is spotty. Either way, I'm not about to take a chance. We've lost too many operatives to risk it. Besides, I'm rather fond of your cousin.”
“So am I. I also think he could hold his own against half-a-dozen retired Russian operatives,” Reno said.
“Probably. But we're not going to find out. They stay hidden until we know it's safe. You got that?”
Reno didn't respond, changing the subject instead. “How is Mahmoud doing?”
“Fine,” Peter said gloomily. “I'm supposed to bring home a Play Station Three. The kid's a ruthless, soulless assassin, so Genevieve's plan is to get him blowing up virtual heads instead of real ones. No thanks to you.”
Reno laughed, heartlessly. “I'll give you a list of games.”
“Christ,” Peter grumbled.
Reno looked around him. “So why don't we move the offices in here? There's plenty of room. Or even better, why don't I move in?”
“For the same reason we're out of Kensington. It's been compromised, and so has this place. The house in Golders Green will be fine for the time being.”
Reno made a rude noise.
“You don't like it, you can come out to Wiltshire and stay with us,” Peter said.
Reno could imagine just how much Peter would like that, and he was almost tempted to accept the invitation, just to annoy him. But then he'd have to put up with Genevieve's mothering, and at twenty-seven he had no more need of a mother than he'd had at seven. He did very well on his own.
There was a muffled sound of an electronic beep, and Peter yanked out his PDA, staring at the incoming text message. “Shit,” he said. He looked at Reno, who was doing a piss-poor job of hiding his curiosity. “We've got trouble.”
If it wasn't the first time Peter had come up with the word we, it was close to it. “What's up?”
“We've got word from one of our informants in America. It's about your cousin.”
Reno froze, dead serious now. “You said they were safe.”
“They are. Even I don't know where they've gone. That's the problem. Taka's sister-in-law, Jilly, decided to make a surprise visit. So while Taka and Summer are somewhere safe, hiding out, the girl could be walking straight into danger. And I don't have anyone to send in
“I'm going.” Reno's voice was flat, implacable.
“You can't. You were kicked out of Japan for the time being—”
“My grandfather kicked me out, not the government. I can go back anytime. The Toussaints are back on their mountain, half your operatives are dead or missing. I'm your only real choice.”
“Are you asking my permission?” Peter said.
“Fuck, no. I'm going. You can send someone else but they'll just get in my way.”
“I don't have anyone else to send and you know it. I still haven't heard what happened to MacGowan.”
Reno nodded. “So it's up to me. How long ago did Summer's sister leave?”
“They're not quite sure.” He took a long look at Reno. “I think Taka wanted to be very sure you didn't get anywhere near his wife's sister.”
“Taka wants a lot of things. He thinks he knows best. Right now he's gone, and there's no one else. You try to stop me and I'll kill you.”
“I doubt it,” Peter said. “And I don't think you want to waste time trying. I'll see to transport for you. Not that I approve, but trying to stop you will take too much time. I'll send backup as soon as I figure out who's left alive.”
“I don't need backup.”
“I'll send backup,” Peter said.
But Reno was already gone. Out into the late winter night, into the ice-cold city. London was at its darkest in the last few weeks before spring came, and during the months he'd lived there it had never once felt like home. He was heading to the nearest airport, back to the land of his ancestors, whether his grandfather approved of his return or not. He wasn't going to let anything happen to his cousin's sister-in-law. He wasn't going to let anything happen to the tall, shy-looking teenager he'd seen only once and should have forgotten all about, the one who popped up into his dreams at the most inconvenient times.
He was going to find Jilly and send her back where she belonged before she got hurt.
And then he could forget all about her once more.
The jet lag
shouldn't have come as a surprise to Jilly—she'd seen
Lost in Translation
too many times. She'd staggered off the airplane in a sleepless daze, and it was sheer luck she'd made her circuitous way from Narita airport into Tokyo and into one of the cute green cabs. She handed the address to the driver, then sat back, closing her eyes.
Where the hell were Summer and Taka? She'd left half a dozen messages on her sister’s cell phone and heard zip in return. If she'd had any sense, she never would have gotten on the plane to Tokyo until she heard back from them, but right now she wasn't in the mood to be sensible. She was running, running to her big sister, who'd hug her and tell her everything would be fine.
And in the meantime she'd finally managed to get her butt to Japan. She had all the practical reasons—she hadn't seen her sister in three months, there was an extraordinary exhibit of Heian-era pottery at the state museum, and if she was thinking of switching her doctoral studies in archaeology from Mesopotamia to early Japan, then an almost pitch-perfect (according to the reports) exhibit of Heian life was a necessary part of her studies. It didn't matter that the exhibit would be there for years—she hadn't discussed the change with her advisers and the sooner she made the decision the better.
So Japan, now, was a necessity. If it happened to coincide with the occurrence of the worst one-night stand in the history of the universe, with Duke the moron, then that was merely coincidental. She was going to put that abortive, messy, horrible night out of her mind. It wasn't the first time shed done something stupid—well, in fact, when it came to men, it was, but she wasn't going to think about that now. Like Scarlett O'Hara, she'd think about that tomorrow. For the time being all she wanted was her sister, and she wanted her now. There were a dozen other reasons to be in Japan, like Taka, like his cousin, but she had no intention of thinking about any of those right now.
It was growing dark, the bright neon flowers lighting up the city, but she was too impatient to admire anything. She just had to get someplace and stay put for a while. She needed her sister's calm wisdom, and a decent bed and time to figure out what she was going to do. About everything.
It took the cab forever, and by the time the driver pulled to a stop in the residential area in the southern part of the city, she'd almost fallen asleep.
,” she said, shoving half of her yen into his white-gloved hand. She scrambled out of the taxi, dragging her backpack with her, and looked at the one-story building.
The taxi hadn't moved. A moment later the driver emerged, a troubled expression on his face. “No one appears to be home, miss. Perhaps I should take you to one of the big hotels in the city?” Except he spoke in Japanese, and clearly had no hope of her understanding.
But she'd been working toward this from the moment she met her Japanese brother-in-law. And his mysterious cousin. “I'll be fine. My sister knows I'm coming, and I have a key.” Which was a lie on both counts, but she had no doubt she'd find a way in.
The taxi driver politely hid his surprise, either at her command of the language or her god-awful accent, and returned to his cab, relieved to have done his duty to the hapless gaijin. He took off into the darkened street, leaving Jilly alone to make her way into her sister's walled fortress.
She checked the iron gate, just in case they'd left it unlocked, but it held firm. She sighed. Climbing, it is. She headed around the side of the building, hoping for a tree or a trellis or something to give her a leg up. Not on Taka's watch—there'd be little chance to break in when your brother-in-law was some kind of uber-spy cum gangster.
The residential street was dark and deserted. If she'd thought of it in time, she could have gotten the taxi driver to give her a boost over the wall. He probably would have—he'd tried so hard to be helpful.
There were trees inside the compound, just out of reach. “Okay,” she said under her breath. “I can handle this.” She pulled her belt free from her jeans, refastened it into a loop and tossed it toward the branch.
On the third try the belt caught, and she was able to drag it down far enough to hold on to. Tossing her knapsack over the wall, she followed, using the tree branch to scale the boundary, dropping over onto the other side, feeling ridiculously proud of herself. Ninja Warrior, here I come.
She half expected sirens and bright lights, but the tiny house was dark. Summer and Taka picked a rotten time to go on vacation, she thought, grabbing her bag and shoving her belt inside it as she walked through the tiny, winter-dead garden. The house was so small it would fit inside her mothers bedroom suite, but Lianne was nothing if not pampered, and given Tokyo real estate this was probably considered palatial.
The last thing she wanted to do was break a window, but the inner door was unlocked. Probably because no one would dare mess with the grandson of a Yakuza leader. She kicked off her shoes and went in. Alice through the looking glass, she thought.
Where the hell was Summer?
It wasn't like Reno
was trying to sneak into Japan. If anyone, in particular, his very annoyed grandfather, bothered to check, they'd know the moment he landed at Narita airport. He was hoping Ojiisan wasn't going to notice. If he had to choose between duty to his grandfather and saving Taka's sister-in-law from blundering her way into trouble, his choice was clear. Even his grandfather, if asked, would agree. He wasn't about to ask.
His name was powerful enough to get him through Customs quickly, and he rented a motorcycle and rode fast and hard toward the city, but he should have known it wouldn't be that easy. By the time he reached Chiba City it was getting dark, and he knew he wasn't alone—he'd been a fool to underestimate his grandfather's influence. He should probably let the two men following him herd him straight to his grandfather's compound. If Ojiisan knew when he landed, he could also know where Taka's sister-in-law was. His grandfather might have even taken care of the problem, which would make life a lot easier. Reno had made a promise, and he wasn't in the habit of breaking promises to family members, even if they were only his cousin's wife.
He didn't need to be the one to rescue Jilly—he'd only seen her once in his life. He probably wouldn't even recognize her.
That was bullshit—he'd know her if he was blindfolded. He'd taken one look at her and felt his world begin to crumble away.
And he liked his world. He liked the variety of women, he liked making his own rules, he liked answering to no one if he could help it, his grandfather and his cousin if he must.