He had directed Mrs. Echevarria to clean her up and dress her wounds. The old housekeeper had installed her in one of the bigger suites with a personal bathroom and was now in the process of helping her bathe along with the assistance of two other maids, one of whom used to be a nurse's assistant. Mrs. E later reported that their guest was very quiet and cooperative, only saying "please," "thank you," and "no, thank you." This perturbed him a little bit because from what little he'd seen of Kiki Chow, he already discovered she was a whirling dervish of energy and emotions as well as a spark plug.
And what he knew of Akiko Takeshi from the dossiers he had received, she was a fierce warrior in her own right, an exacting underboss who expected nothing short of excellence from her people. Within a matter of months, she crushed the Bakuto clan presence in both Toronto and Ontario, so she could claim the territories for the Yamagata-gumi. At thirty-two, she had fifty-three confirmed kills and that didn't include the massacres she and her soldiers had left in their wake. In all of these crime scenes, each of Akiko's signature kills were readily apparent. With her katana, she would carve a V on the torso of her victims from one shoulder to the groin and back up to the other shoulder. She killed them first, of course. She slit their throats from ear to ear with such force that they were almost always nearly decapitated. He had seen all the photos and videos. He still had a hard time believing that such a small, delicate-looking woman could have enough strength to deliver such punishing blows with a sword. The top of her head barely touched the knot on his necktie.
"What the hell are you doing, Gui?" demanded Sylvana, shattering the temporary wall of silence and peace he had built around himself.
Will drained the rest of his scotch and set the empty glass on a coaster on top of his dark mahogany desk. Rachel immediately stepped forward with a bottle of Lagavulin to refill it, but he waved her away. "I don't know what you're getting at, Sylvana, but I would suggest that you modulate your tone. Your shrillness offends my ears."
The green eyes of his lieutenant narrowed into slits as she continued to glower at him. "Why did you bring the girl here? Why isn't she on ice at the warehouse like Saito? Goddamn it to hell, Gui, I have never seen you like this. If you needed to get laid so badly, you should have told me. Maria Luisa has a gaggle of top-dollar, hyper-clean girls who are always begging to fuck you."
Will slammed his fist on the desk, causing the empty glass to topple over and fall to the carpeted floor. Sylvana should be thanking her lucky stars that none of the men were present at the moment or she would have gotten a backhanded slap across the face. "Watch your mouth, Sylvana. I am still your Capo and will not be disrespected. Is that understood?"
His coldness must have gotten through his lieutenant somehow because her shoulders dropped and she seemed to crumple into herself. "Apologies, Capo. I am just worried about you."
He raked a hand through his hair and with a sigh, dropped his weight on the large leather chair behind the desk. "I have some suspicions regarding Miss Kitty Chow. I'd like to keep her under close observation for a while."
"You don't truly think she's Akiko Takeshi?" asked Lucinda from her spot at the door. "Gui, surely you must have seen how genuinely terrified that girl was tonight. No one can fake that. Mrs. E said she is completely shell-shocked. Hasn't really said a thing, just cried herself to sleep."
Sylvana glanced at Lucinda with a smirk and snorted. "I hope you're joking, Luci. The scared, little girl routine is easy to do for someone who looks like her." Shaking her head, she reached for the bottle of Lagavulin and poured herself a serving. "I don't think she's Little Miss Muffet."
"She's not," added Rachel with a chuckle. "That ho is full of attitude and sass."
Will wished he could just drown them all out. He'd had a hell of a long day. It had started with a tense briefing from his long-term handler, followed by the harrowing flight from London to Los Angeles, visiting the many nightclubs Jupiter Holdings owned, and cleaning up an unexpected bloodbath brought about by low-level, trigger-happy thugs. On top of that, there was his sucker-punch of a meeting with Kiki Chow.
How the hell was he supposed to know that he was going to react so viscerally toward her? But he had suspected he would, hadn't he? His gut had been telling him all night that a catastrophe was looming over their heads. He just didn't think it would come in the small, delectable package that was Kiki Chow.
"What, you think it's a coincidence that shit went down like the way it did?" Sylvana demanded. "Who the hell would set up a deal like that at the club on the night you're visiting? This was obviously planned from the get-go, Capo."
Will clenched his jaw and nodded. He had thought about that, too. He kept close tabs on his men and he'd never known Dominic to be less than discreet. He never would have fucked up this badly and never would have chosen one of their nightclubs for any of their dealings. Dominic was a smooth operator. Hardly anyone got killed on his watch, on either side. "All right, Sylvana. Look into it, interview the men. See what you can find."
"Capo," Rachel said, stepping forward. "Just so you know, before Kiki Chow started dancing at the club, two high-profile, high-demand dancers of ours named Nara and Nikita Lane disappeared and haven't been found. The police have no leads and there has been no word on the street about what happened to them."
"Two?" Will stared at his assistant. "Go on."
"Twins. Nara and Nikita are half-black and half-Japanese, Capo," Rachel added. "Perhaps they have a connection to Miss Chow."
"What, because they're both Asian?" Sylvana scoffed. "You racist bitch."
"Fuck you." Rachel pulled out her mobile to show Will a nightclub promo picture of the twins on Instagram.
Though Nara and Nikita were a lot darker in complexion, their eyes were similar in shape to Kiki's, as well as their cheekbones and chins. Side by side, the twins appeared completely identical. There was no denying they were related to Kiki.
Lucinda made a low whistling noise, catching Will's attention. "Worth investigating, neh?"
Will ruminated on this. His lieutenants were sharp, quick, and perceptive. That was what made them valuable to him. Most of the time, they helped him view problems from a different perspective, so he could find solutions he never would have come up with on his own. It was the same reason he couldn't quite relax around them. Where would their loyalties fall if they ever found out that he was secretly a spy? "See to it, Luci. Find out what you can and report only to me. Be careful. My father has eyes and ears everywhere."
"Mais oui, Capo."
After dismissing the women, Will pulled out the bottom left drawer of his desk and took out a bottle of antacid. After tossing back a handful into his mouth, he laid his head back against the cushioned leather and crushed the tablets between his teeth.
This could be the biggest bust of his career. The Yamagata clan had a stranglehold on the biggest prostitution and sex trafficking ring in Western Europe. Akiko's father was a member of the Yamagata board of directors. If he could rip this case wide-open, he was sure to catch the attention of Lord Andrew Muldoon, the Director-General of the MI5.
A recommendation from top brass and a good word from the Foreign Secretary, his godfather, would go a long way in his quest to gain an audience with the chief of the SIS. He was a good enough candidate for MI-6, but because of his connection to the Camorra, his superiors thought he would be better positioned working in domestic espionage so he could concentrate on the mob activity in Greater London. It was ironic, really, that he was just ordered by his father to take over the metropolitan business interests in the United States.
His handler, Michael Okonedo, was the top agent in charge of the organized crime taskforce and concerned that Will wouldn't have the necessary backup in the States if the situation went south. He said he would contact the person in charge of the FBI office in Los Angeles and see if he could round up some undercover agents already in the field to provide assistance to Will when he needed it. Now, the Interpol and the FBI had jumped into the fray and every day, he could feel the walls slowly closing in on him.
He would do anything to get back into regular circulation, to attain a semblance of normalcy. He was sick of being Guillaume Esposito. He just wanted to go back to his old life. He couldn't even really remember what that was anymore. Did he ever have what one might call a "regular" life?
After the death of his mother when he was twelve, it was one boarding school after the other. Then Oxford followed by a gap year. He had taken one because he couldn't quite decide what he wanted to pursue in graduate school.
He had no idea that his fate had already been set. He had just joined the Royal Army when his godfather, Ferdinand Abernathy, Viscount Woodcock and Foreign Secretary, approached him himself and asked if he were interested in joining the Queen's Secret Service.
He could feel the beginnings of a headache throbbing beneath his left eye. His exhaustion was catching up with him. He hadn't had a solid block of sleep in almost thirty-six hours. How much longer could he endure this? Already his grip on sanity was slipping because all he had to hold on to was the blade of a knife.
Though he was naturally graceful, he struggled to get out of his chair like an old man suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. It seemed his entire body was angry with him. He gripped the corner of his desk as the world shifted underneath his feet. He really needed to get some rest.
But not quite yet. After regaining his bearings, he made his way out of his office, the door automatically locking behind him. He had to see her. With a sudden jolt of energy, he strode up the stairs and headed left, toward the other wing of the mansion, where the guests usually stayed. His own suites were located on the opposite side.
He had opted to bring her to the mansion in Pacific Palisades, instead of his penthouse on Spring Street in downtown LA, because it was a lot more secure and private. The property was surrounded by ten-foot walls and canopies of roses and bougainvillea. The front entrance was secured with a ten-foot solid metal gate guarded by two people at a time twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with a steady rotation of experienced men and women supplied by the bodyguard company that Jupiter Holdings also owned. The gate was never to be left unattended.
Will reached the door to Kiki's room and for a moment, could only stand there with his palm pressed flat on the wood. Diplomacy suggested he should knock and wait for her response, but it was almost three in the morning and he was dead on his feet.
He entered the security code on the panel next to the doorframe and the door unlocked with a hiss. He had no intention of bothering her. He just needed to see if she were okay.
She was so small that she could have been easily missed among the mountains of pillows on the king-sized four-poster bed. She was lying on her side facing the window, the covers pulled up to her underarms.
Will entered the room and approached the bed, even though the feeling that he was intruding on her privacy made him uncomfortable. He pushed on until he was standing at the side of the bed, blocking the moonlight that bathed her sleeping face. He could see the tracks of tears on her cheeks. In his shadow, the injuries he gave her looked sinister and grotesque. It was as though at any moment, the cut on her lower lip could burst open again and stain her once more with blood. Mrs. Echevarria had done a great job cleaning and patching her up.
Will retreated from the bed, clutching his stomach. The hollowed-out, gaping feeling he had there was threatening to get bigger and swallow the rest of him. He shouldn't be here.
With one last look at the lone figure on the bed, he headed for the door and left the room.
Kiki kept her eyes shut and breathed evenly for a few minutes after Guillaume Esposito left her room. It had been a struggle to pretend she was sleeping when he was standing next to the bed, just a few feet away from her. He emanated sheer masculinity and raw power. He prowled over her like a jaguar guarding its kill, his presence enveloping her like a cool shroud. Her body reacted hungrily to his scent. The moment she smelled him, a yearning she had never before experienced struck her core. Suddenly, there was nothing else in the world she needed, not even her next gulp of air, but the weight of this man on her, crushing her into the mattress. She had never been so tempted...To her relief and consternation, he was not there to seduce her, after all. She didn't quite know how to process this. On one hand, she was disappointed that she wo
The olive-skinned woman was not skinny, but not fat, either. Her dark brown hair which was pulled back into a thick bun was graying along the sides and her temples. She had a warm, open face with a prominent nose and crow's feet in the corners of her dark eyes. Kiki had a good feeling about her immediately.She wondered how much the older woman knew about whom she served--Big Shot Gangster Man. Did she know their guest was technically a kidnapee? But of course she did. She had to enter a code for the door to unlock, didn't she? How could she reconcile being an accomplice to unlawful confinement with the whole pleasant, helpful housekeeper thing?Kiki told herself to stop it. She didn't need all this crap cluttering her head before she could even have her first sip of coffee.The older woman seemed to loo
Will didn't think she would comply. He had, after all, terrorized and traumatized her in the last several hours. He even had her locked up. She should have been spitting nails at him.And yet her body was turned toward him at the waist and she was staring intently into his eyes like she was willing him to do something because she was lost and didn't know what to do next.Well, he knew what he should be doing right now. He was supposed to be meeting up with the undercover field agents one by one who would serve as his backup, to brief them on what he might need help with. Instead, he was here, on a bed with an incredibly desirable woman and for some reason, they were both still fully clothed and not even touching. Obviously, this was an error that must be immediately rectified.She put her hand on h
The glare she gave him was nothing short of malevolent. "Go ahead. Give me your best shot. And stop calling me kitten."He had to admire her. Almost everyone who knew him was afraid of him. But here she was, challenging him to what she might imagine as a slap-tickle fight. He grinned inwardly. If she could see it, maybe she wouldn't be as brave as she was now. "If I take you down, kitten, it wouldn't be with my fists, and you won't be getting up for a long time."His words appeared to have some effect on her as her eyes flashed with an emotion he couldn't recognize before she ducked her head to sip her drink. "Do you understand me, kitten?""Don't call me that." She set her glass down on a coaster on the bedside table. "So... beating women is your kink, huh?"He shrugged
She needed to do better. How could she expect Mister Boss Man to drop his guard and grant her more freedom if she weren't willing to play ball? Ugh, but there was just something about him that riled her up. She'd met some gangsters in the past who'd put up a classy, shit-don't-stank facade to cover up the fact that they're nothing more than two-bit thugs, but Guillaume Esposito was the real-deal Holyfield. The dude acted like a duke, probably because he had aristocracy in his bloodline or something. For all she knew, he could be the third cousin to Prince Harry or a descendant of Richard the Third. Who knew with British people? Ugh, he bothered her so much. In movies, he'd be the super-posh, ultra-rich asshole who was mean to poor people and customer service staff and never got his comeuppance at the end. It wasn't right, this preoccupation she had with him. She couldn't allow him to distract her from he