Shadow Reaper: Chapter 19

Ricco detested that his woman had insisted she go along. He was proud of Mariko for her decision and knew she would never do less, but he was determined to find out where the kidnappers were holding Ryuu. His methods might not meet with her approval.

She was exhausted as well. Coming out of the ropes was usually a slow process, but they’d had wild sex several times. More than he’d ever thought possible, before both had fallen asleep. She had been draped over his body when he woke, her breasts against his ribs, her arm around his waist. He’d fallen asleep on his back and stayed that way, something very unusual for him, but he loved his woman lying over top of him. He’d slept soundly, again something very unusual.

Nao’s condo was on the top floor. There were security cameras everywhere. Shadow riders were required to hear lies, disrupt electricity and be able to be pulled apart and put back together. Most could compel the truth as well. That was a specialty of Ricco’s and he’d damn well get the truth out of Nao.

Stefano held up his hand at the entrance to the tube and indicated a camera pointed right at them. It wouldn’t be able to capture their images, hidden inside the tube as they were, but the moment they stepped out, it would record them. He raised his hand, a gesture that wasn’t strictly necessary, but one all of them made. It was a human gesture. The disruption really began in their brains and had nothing to do with hands. Stefano concentrated, and the dim lights flickered. The camera smoked and then abruptly went dead. He looked cautiously around, seeking any other devices that might be a problem before he stepped out into the hallway and beckoned to Ricco, Taviano and Mariko.

Taviano moved ahead of Stefano. He was extremely powerful at disrupting electrical equipment. He would ensure no cameras worked as they made their way through the condo to Nao’s private quarters. The walls were decorated with expensive paintings, most depicting ancient tortures of men in various stages of undress with ropes done in intricate knots. Ricco recognized the ancient art of hojojutsu. He paused to look at the prints. Nao liked ancient weapons and ancient tortures.

A few very ancient prints and extremely rare books were kept under glass. Above them along the wall were weapons of every kind throughout the history of Japan. The collection was museum-worthy. Hundreds of weapons from every era. Ricco would have loved to have the time to study all of them, because there were three he was absolutely certain were ones he’d bid on and lost to an anonymous bidder. The first had been ten years earlier. The second, seven, and the last, five years ago. If he was correct about the items, then Nao had been keeping tabs on him for a long, long time.

He kept walking, following Stefano, but that strange nagging feeling in his gut only intensified. He noticed four empty spaces, as if the wall had been prepared for four more weapons, but Nao hadn’t found them yet.

As they passed the door to the caretaker’s room, Ricco hesitated. His gut was still talking to him, telling him something wasn’t quite right. He stopped and motioned to the others that he wanted to check the room. He waited for Stefano’s acknowledgment and then stepped into the larger shadow that slipped beneath the door.

The suite of rooms was spacious and very clean. The caretaker was a neat freak. Every single thing was put precisely in place, from the books on the shelves in alphabetical order to the coffee mugs with their handles turned the exact same way. Glasses were lined up in cupboards, plates slipped into slots so that they stuck out precisely a quarter of an inch. Everywhere he looked, the rooms were perfect.

He slipped into the bedroom. The bed wasn’t made, the blankets flipped back, but no one was in it. One pillow was military straight, the other cocked at an angle. He glanced toward the bathroom. There was no light spilling out from under the door indicating the caretaker was in that room.

Ricco looked around, checking the kitchen area, what passed for a living room and the bedroom before he decided to look in the bathroom. There was no sound coming from the dark room. He turned the doorknob cautiously. It wasn’t locked. He took his time opening it, slowly, inch by
inch. Waited for sound, for anything indicating the room was occupied. If anyone was in there, they were holding their breath, and doing it for a very long time.

He moved into the room with confidence, treading silently as he examined the main area where there was a wide sink and a large Jacuzzi tub. The toilet was in a separate section, wide, with a large towering cupboard behind it, rising all the way to the ceiling.

Puzzled, he looked around. Even if the caretaker had been given time off, research the investigators had discovered indicated that another caretaker always took his place. The man’s name was Darin Salsberry and he’d worked for Nao five years, much longer than most of his caretakers had lasted. The substitutes came and went, most fired after two or three days with Nao. He apparently liked the way Darin took care of him, or Darin was just able to put up with the constant abuse Nao heaped on the heads of those working for him.

It didn’t surprise Ricco in the least that Nao was a bully. He had been a bully when he was seventeen. His father had not only lied for him, but he’d shielded him from the consequences after murdering a family, crippling a child and causing the deaths of three other boys. More, Yamamoto had placed his son in a position of authority from early on in their overseas companies, removing him from possible retaliation from the Saito and Ito families.

The investigators said male prostitutes regularly visited the condo. Often, several returned, no doubt because Nao had millions to burn. He definitely had enough money to fund an elaborate attack on the Ferraro family. He could afford mercenaries, and most of the mercenaries, Eloisa and Henry had discovered, came from South Africa, and they weren’t cheap.

So where was Darin? He wasn’t in his condo. Had Nao called him? Was he with his client? That was the only explanation, yet for some reason, Ricco felt uneasy. He made his way twice around the apartment, but couldn’t find what was setting off the reaction in his gut. He stood in the middle of the bedroom, breathing deeply, listening, certain something was wrong but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. There were several closets, and he ignored those.

Curious, he opened the two remaining doors, one built into the bedroom and one the main living quarters. Both opened to narrow corridors. When he opened the door, LED lights lit up along the ceiling, illuminating the hallway. Ricco followed each hallway. One led to the kitchen, the other to Nao’s master bedroom. When Nao had guests, clearly he didn’t want Darin to be seen.

Finally, knowing he was taking up far too much time, Ricco slipped into another shadow that allowed him to reach the others faster than he could have walking. Taviano had cleared the cameras so they could move quickly to the master bedroom.

Nao’s bedroom was enormous. The bed was king-sized with a mirror on the ceiling. One wall held a long floor-to-ceiling mirror. The walk-in closet was designed for someone in a wheelchair, the clothes set lower to be easily accessible. Both doors were wide open, revealing the huge room, one that was nearly as big as some apartments. Nao obviously liked clothes and shoes. Every kind of shoe and boot was lined up in neat rows. Hundreds of pairs.

The door to the passageway Darin used was in the corner to the front of the room and left of the main entryway. Two panels on either side of the bed, from floor to ceiling, were lights that would instantly illuminate the room if Nao turned them on. It also made the man feel safe.

Stefano and Ricco exchanged a long look. Nao was vain. The wheelchair hadn’t affected his narcissistic personality in the least. From all reports, he was a master manipulator and closed deals faster than his father–who had been renowned for being a closer–had ever done. It was rumored–but not proven–that threats were often used and companies caved immediately after speaking with Nao. Ricco, having witnessed the extent of his sociopathic behavior, believed all the rumors about the man.

The shadow took him to the left side of the bed. Stefano went right. Taviano searched the other rooms thoroughly and shook his head to indicate Darin wasn’t anywhere to be found. More, with Nao soundly sleeping, there was no evidence that the caretaker had been there in the last few hours. He slipped back into the shadows in order to protect them. Ricco waved to Mariko to position herself at the head of the bed, so the first thing Nao would see when he opened his eyes was her. The men looked at her and she nodded.

“Nao,” she called softly. “Akiko wanted me to give you her regards.”

Nao shifted uneasily in his sleep, a frown chasing across his face.

“Did you think she wouldn’t keep an eye on you? She doesn’t like that you would attempt to harm the rest of her family.”

Nao scowled and batted at the air. “Go away.” His hand fluttered in midair and then dropped to his chest. “Stop coming here.”

There was some satisfaction in knowing that Akiko was still on Nao’s mind. Ricco pressed his knee into the mattress to help wake him. The movement caused the man to thump his fist into the pillow and scrunch his eyes closed tighter.

“Go away, Akiko. You’re dead.”

“Yes,” Mariko said. “I’m dead. You killed me. That means I can come visit you anytime I want to. You’ve been sending men after my sister to kill her. I don’t like that. Wake up and look at me.” She put command into her voice.

Nao’s eyelids fluttered and then he forced himself to peek at her. His sudden inhale was audible and his eyes widened with shock. He reached behind him for the crosspiece running along the four posts, gripped with both fists and pulled himself into a sitting position, the entire time staring at her. He fumbled for a moment and then hit a button. The large panels on either side of the headboard lit up, throwing a dim light across the room.

“Who are you?”

“Mariko. Akiko’s sister. Where is my brother, Ryuu?”

Ricco was proud of the low demand in her voice. She didn’t overplay it or act theatrical, she just stated the truth softly.

“How the fuck should I know where your twisted wreck of a brother is? That double-crossing bastard stole my companies’ research right out from under me. Hacked into our computers and then got his company the patents without doing any of the work. Osamu put him up to it. Feeding him lies about me, blaming me for Eiji’s and Hachiro’s deaths. She never wanted to believe they threatened my family if I didn’t go with them.”

“Where is he?” Mariko persisted.

“Get out of my bedroom before I call the cops.” As Nao gave the order, he reached for the phone beside his bed. Ricco’s hand was there first, so Nao’s fingers tried gripping his. Nao’s head swung around and he gasped in alarm. “Ricco Ferraro.”

“Not dead, Nao. Wet work didn’t suit your team of assassins.”

“I heard your father died.”

Ricco nodded. “He did. No one else.”

“That’s too bad.”

Nao grinned, looking both sly and evil. Ricco didn’t like that his attention kept straying to Mariko. He wanted Nao’s entire focus on him at all times. There was just something nagging at him, something he couldn’t put his finger on, but he was worried. He didn’t want Mariko anywhere near Nao or danger, and he sensed they were all in danger.

“Where’s Ryuu?” He kept his voice low but commanding.

“I told you, I have no idea.” Nao gripped the bar behind him tightly and dragged himself into a very upright sitting position. He glanced at the bell on his nightstand, the one that presumably called his caretaker, but made no move toward it. Instead, he clasped his arms behind his head and leaned back, his eyes on Mariko.

“Osamu told me you’d fuck Ricco. You really are a little slut just like your mother. Osamu and the other women did their best to tell your father, but he wouldn’t listen. He was weak. We didn’t need weak riders. We can’t tolerate weak riders. It was our job to weed them out.”

“Whose job?” Stefano spoke for the first time, and Nao’s head swiveled to face the new threat.

Ricco watched him closely. Nao had that same superior look he remembered so vividly in his nightmares from his teenage years.

Nao leaned toward Stefano. “All of us. All riders. We can’t allow the gene pool to grow weak. It should be pure.”

“Pure?” Stefano echoed, one eyebrow shooting up. “Pure what?”

“Not tainted by weak men or women.”

“Akiko defeated you,” Ricco reminded. “I was there. I saw what she did. You couldn’t take that a woman was stronger than you.”

“She wasn’t stronger.” Nao spat the words at him, glaring now, his famous temper rising. “She was slutty, just like her mother. I heard the talk about Tanaka. What a worm he was. Throwing away greatness. His name. His honor. All for what?” He sneered the last as he looked at Mariko. “A whore.”

“She wasn’t a whore,” Ricco said softly, his voice so low Nao swung his head back toward that thread of a sound. “We investigated her, just as your father’s family would have done before he married her.” He didn’t look at Mariko, he couldn’t. He knew he was revealing far too much. She would know his family had investigated her. “Marie Hammond was a good woman, not a whore. Osamu and the other women were jealous that Daiki Tanaka married her instead of one of them, and they were vicious, turning everyone against her. The lies Osamu told Chiharu caused her to turn on Marie.”

“The International Council investigated your family,” Stefano said, drawing Nao’s attention to him. “Their findings were interesting. Four of your family members were quietly killed by other family members. Do you know why? They went mad. The Archambaults destroyed two others. Osamu has been hospitalized twice in a psych ward and your father once.”

“For depression!” Nao screamed, his face turning bright red with anger. Both fists clenched. “For depression. My father lost everything thanks to that twisted troll and her . . .” He spat toward Mariko.

“Actually, Nao,” Ricco said calmly, “your father was out of his mind. He tried to kill several nurses after he’d physically assaulted them.”

“You liar. You’re a fucking liar. You fuck a whore, you don’t let them lead you around by your dick. She’s infected you with her weakness. With depravity.” Nao leaned forward, his hands sliding along his mattress as he did so. Instantly the lights on either side of him went out, plunging the room into darkness.

Instincts kicking in, Ricco dove for Mariko. He was too far away
to get to her fast enough. Stefano made the same dive from the other side of the bed. It was Taviano who took her to the floor, landing on top of her, his body covering hers. Ricco and Stefano hit the floor on either side of her, wrapping arms around their brother so no part of Mariko’s body was exposed.

A faint hum shimmered in the air for one moment. A thunk. Ricco turned his head away from the bed, peering into the darkness behind them. The door to Darin’s passageway was open and a shadowy figure, holding a crossbow, suddenly turned to run. As the intruder turned, three figures emerged from the shadows, and Ricco recognized three of the Archambault riders.

“Cover me,” he hissed in Stefano’s ear. He patted Taviano on the back and rolled toward the partially open door.

Stefano and Taviano stood, both between the French riders and the door to the passageway. Taviano gallantly helped Mariko to her feet.

All three stared at Nao. An arrow protruded from his chest. His mouth was open grotesquely, as if he’d seen death coming and had tried to stop it with a shout.

“Maxence,” Stefano greeted, looking to the oldest brother. “What are you doing here?” He knew it looked bad, but they were all empty-handed. Still, the French riders would know Ricco had been there as well.

“The investigations are complete. We were here to bring justice to Nao Yamamoto. Where is Ryuu?”

There was something in Maxence’s voice that had Mariko turning pale and Stefano feeling like an old man, tired of always being right. “We don’t know,” he said. “Why?”

“Osamu Saito trained Ryuu as a shadow rider and used him as an instrument of revenge against the Yamamoto family. He began taking their companies apart by hacking in and stealing research and selling it to the highest bidder. He proved to be extremely good at industrial espionage. He also managed to transfer most of Nao’s personal fortune into an account he’d set up for himself offshore.”

Mariko stepped back, away from Taviano and Stefano, shaking her head. Taviano made a move to slip his arm around her, but she stiffened and stepped back farther. “That’s impossible,” she whispered. “My brother’s bones were broken and twisted. He couldn’t ride the shadows, as much as he wanted to.”

“You’re certain Osamu trained him?” Stefano asked, already knowing the answer. The International Council would never have sent the French riders if they weren’t 100 percent convinced that they had all the facts.

Maxence nodded. “I’m afraid so, Stefano. Ryuu and Osamu are behind the attack on your family. They used the money Ryuu stole from the Yamamotos to fund the mercenaries. We traced the money back to the account Ryuu set up. They also targeted the Yamamotos. Sango Yamamoto was pushed onto the tracks. Witnesses said another woman was with her. We believe that woman, from the description, was Osamu.”

Stefano shook his head. “Osamu had to have been totally insane.”

Maxence agreed. “She had been courted by Daiki Tanaka when they were young, but at the last minute he backed out. There is a small trail that leads us to believe she began plotting revenge on him. Certainly she was known to say things against Daiki to her friends and her sons. We believe she tracked Marie down and killed her. She was in the same small town at the same time as Marie’s death, and that’s just too big of a coincidence for us to swallow.”

Taviano moved closer to Mariko. She was pale, her eyes looking like two bruised flowers pressed into her head. At his movement, Stefano glanced back at Taviano. Somewhere, in the house, Ricco was hunting right at that moment. Ricco and Stefano had been worried that Ryuu was involved somehow. To what extent they didn’t know, but nothing about the kidnapping made sense.

Stefano wanted Taviano to get his hands on Mariko. She was a very intelligent woman and she was going to realize that along with the Ferraro family, her brother and Osamu had targeted her. The moment Ricco realized who was in the passageway, his expression had turned murderous. He would want to protect Mariko before anything else, not realizing that if he killed her brother, she might not ever forgive him.

“We do our own investigations and our findings differed from the police’s when it came to Isamu’s suicide. We kept those findings secret, but we knew he wasn’t alone when he killed himself. More than likely Ryuu put a gun to Osamu’s head and forced Isamu to kill himself to save his sister. He just hadn’t realized that his sister was bent on revenge.”

“Do you think Dai knew his wife was behind those deaths?” The last thing Stefano wanted was for one of the French riders to come across Ricco killing Ryuu. He tried to stall them.

Maxence shrugged. “Everyone knew he loved her, and yet he killed her. He wouldn’t have killed her unless he knew there was no other way out. He had to know the moment the International Council launched an investigation into the deaths of the Tanaka family that we would uncover Osamu’s conspiracy to take down all the families involved.”

Stefano sighed. “If Dai knew all along and did nothing, he was as guilty as she was.”

Maxence nodded. “Agreed. We found evidence that the Ito family was next in line for the pair to take down. All along Ryuu had been pretending to help Nao. Nao was obsessed with Ricco. From the evidence we gathered, he admired Ricco. He began pitting himself against Ricco by trying to outbid him for various items they both collected. Ricco’s collection came first, but Nao was determined to rival it. During that time, he trusted Ryuu and gave him access to his computers without realizing it. That enabled Ryuu to begin his destruction of the Yamamoto empire.”

Stefano’s investigators had known someone was stealing from Nao Yamamoto and that his personal assets as well as companies were slowly being drained in a variety of ways. “Ryuu changed the compound for the making of casings for the race cars, didn’t he? That was Yamamoto’s company.”

Maxence nodded again. “We believe he made certain that your brother’s car received the bad casing. He’s been watching your brother for a long time.”

“Ricco worried for years that someone was entering his house. He made certain no one, not even a rider, could.”

Maxence’s eyebrow shot up, but he didn’t comment on that bit of information. “Ryuu killed Darin Salsberry. His body is in one of the hall closets. We’re certain that Ryuu is somewhere in this house. He could use the passageway without fear that Darin would stumble onto him. My brothers are hunting him as we speak.”

A small sound of distress escaped before Mariko could stop it. Not her brother. He wouldn’t do this. He would never conspire to kill an entire family, just wipe them out because Osamu told him to. Would he? She pressed trembling fingers to her lips and took another small, gliding step back away from the men and toward the passage where Ricco had followed Nao’s killer.

She could not believe that Ryuu would do this, but a part of her was already recognizing the red flags she’d chosen not to see. The many times Ryuu had laughed when Osamu had shamed her. He’d come to her room later and tell her he was sorry, it was just that Osamu looked so funny with the broom, bashing at her as if she could sweep her under a rug. Although his laughter had hurt at the time, she’d allowed him to coax her into smiles after.

There were so many incidents growing up that she’d overlooked because she’d needed to believe Ryuu loved her. Someone had to love her. Now he was somewhere in the house with Ricco after him. Ricco. Her heart stuttered. Ryuu could kill him. Ricco had a gentle heart. He might hesitate because Ryuu was her brother. How would she feel if he killed Ryuu? She didn’t know. Her normally calm mind became utter chaos.

She turned and dashed for the passageway. She didn’t care if the French riders were angry at what she was doing. She had to find her brother. She needed answers. She needed to know that he hadn’t done these things and Osamu hadn’t turned him completely against her. Fighting back emotions that threatened to overwhelm her, she raced down the passage, looking for shadows that would tell her which way they went.


Ricco sprinted down the narrow passage after the shadowy figure he knew was Ryuu. He had begun, almost from the very beginning, to worry that Mariko’s brother was involved. When she had lost the trail and then the investigators had said there was no trail,
he had looked at the surveillance footage of the hotel cameras himself. He and Stefano. Neither had said one word of their suspicions to Mariko. Ricco had wanted to be wrong. He’d even sent up a prayer or two, and he wasn’t a praying man.

There was plenty of footage of Ryuu walking to his hotel room, but none of him coming out of it. Stefano and Ricco had watched every inch of the recordings, identifying the guests and following up to make certain each person entering the hotel had legitimate business there. No one had come to kidnap Ryuu, and seemingly, he’d never left his room. That left only two ways possible. Someone could have tampered with the cameras, but there was no evidence of that. Or, Ryuu was a shadow rider and he had left that room on his own. If that were the truth, then he had to be a big part of the conspiracy against the Ferraro family.

It explained a lot of other things as well. Nao’s collection mimicking Ricco’s so closely. Ryuu could have been entering Ricco’s home and photographing the weapons for Nao. Ricco had always suspected someone was coming into his house. As a shadow rider, Ryuu would know about the Ferraros using shadows to travel and he could have warned the mercenaries to attack the shadows.

Ricco opened the door leading to the caretaker’s rooms cautiously, mindful of the attack on Vittorio outside the Fausti home. He somersaulted into the room, scanning as he rolled across toward the door. It appeared empty but the lights were on, throwing shadows across the room. He kept rolling until he was just at the mouth of one of them, the largest that led under the door to the next room, and then he leapt up and into it.

Ryuu tried to take his head off with a vicious kick right to the exact place he’d taken such a beating in the accident on the track. Expecting the attack, he dropped low and swept Ryuu’s leg out from under him. Ryuu went down, but as he did, he dove forward, deeper into the shadow, letting it swallow him.

Ricco raced after him. The shadow tore him apart, reminding him he wasn’t 100 percent physically. He consoled himself with the knowledge that Ryuu’s body wasn’t perfect, either, and the brutal pull of the shadow on him had to be just as painful. There was some satisfaction in that.

As he neared the end of the tube, he slowed, hating to lose precious seconds, but he couldn’t take chances. Ryuu was nowhere in sight, but again, shadows raced up the walls and under the doors. Ricco stepped into the nearest one and followed it under the door of the caretaker’s suite, to the outside, private entrance provided for Darin.

Ryuu was waiting, standing draped against the ornate column just outside the door. Ricco couldn’t see any resemblance to Mariko. Ryuu was almost the spitting image of his father, Daiki Tanaka. He grinned at Ricco.



“So you know.”

Ricco nodded. He took the time to allow his body to catch up with itself. His heart needed to find a calm, steady rhythm while he assessed his opponent. Ryuu couldn’t stand straight. His back appeared to be twisted just enough to throw one shoulder higher and his frame on the right side forward. Still, he was a handsome man by most standards.

“I see Nao stomping you into the ground when you were a baby didn’t stop you from learning to use the shadows,” Ricco said. Ryuu was an intelligent man. He would need to show Ricco how smart he’d been. The more they talked, the better the chances that Ricco could find every weakness.

“Nao had nothing to do with my bones. That was my dear sister–the woman who claims she’s my sister. She was playing in a car and took it out of gear. It rolled over me.”

Ricco shook his head. “I suppose Osamu told you that lie. She was very good at manipulation. Mariko told me you were intelligent, but that can’t be true if you didn’t recognize Osamu’s madness and hear the lies in her voice.”

“Riders can hear lies,” Ryuu informed him. “I’m a rider and I never once heard a lie in my mother’s voice.”

“Your mother was Marie Tanaka.”

“My mother was Osamu Saito,” Ryuu explained patiently. “Daiki Tanaka was my father. Look at me if you don’t believe me.”

“I am looking at you, and I see a fool.”

Ryuu smirked. “I spent so much time in your house I know the entire layout by heart. I photographed it foot by foot for Nao. He was obsessed with you. Totally obsessed. He thought you were a god. The perfect rider.” He snorted his derision. “I was right under his nose and he didn’t even know it. All those years, sucking his company dry and he never suspected until I let him know it was me.” He laughed softly. “Nao, sitting on this throne, believing he was better than me because he had the pure blood of a rider.”

“It must have been difficult listening to his bragging. I knew him when he was seventeen. He was a braggart and bully then, too.”

Ryuu shrugged. He moved position just slightly, easing his weight from his right leg. “I found him tedious. I was stealing him blind, right under his nose, and all he could do was wonder what you were doing, what you were up to, how many women you’d screwed, what paintings you were acquiring.”

“Why?” He didn’t take his eyes off Ryuu, breathing evenly, his body relaxed now and waiting. Coiling to strike. To defend. Every defense was an offense.

“He wanted to be you.” Ryuu smirked again. “I used to talk about you with him, show him all the magazines. He went to every race you were driving in. I switched out the casing for your car and made certain he was at the race to watch you go right into the wall. I had a difficult time deciding who to watch–you crashing or him watching you crash. I chose him. The expression on his face was well worth it.”

“Why would you hate him so much if you don’t believe he was the one who twisted your bones? He’s Osamu’s nephew.”

“He took Eiji and Hachiro from us–my true brothers. Both were great riders and he was jealous of them. He tried to dishonor them. He was driving the car that killed them and he’d been drinking.”

Ricco shook his head. “Eiji, Hachiro, Kenta Ito and Nao murdered the Tanaka family. Nao pulled you out of a closet and stomped on you. Mariko saved you by kicking him in the groin. She was just a baby, too.”

“That’s bullshit. Everyone knows the story, apart from Nao’s guilt. His father refused to allow anyone to tell the truth of it. My brothers were lost to us and the entire rider community. No one did anything about it.”

“Ryuu, does that really make sense to you? She raised you on hatred and revenge. Every moment of your existence, she forged a weapon against those she perceived as her enemies.”

“They were her enemies. They were enemies to the entire riding community.”

“Mariko was an innocent child, just as you were. Why would Osamu target her? Why would she have you turn on your own sister?”

“She’s not my sister,” Ryuu spat the venomous statement out, his face twisted with hatred.

Behind Ricco, Mariko gasped. He silently swore. He didn’t want her to hear any of this, to see the evidence of just how far gone her brother was. He’d been raised by a madwoman and he believed every word she’d said.

“She’s a Tanaka. Even if Marie wasn’t your mother, Ryuu, by your own admission, Daiki is your father. That makes Mariko your half sister.”

“A whore? Osamu said she would sleep with you, and she has.” Ryuu raised his gaze to his sister’s face. “Haven’t you?”

It was the small distraction Ricco waited for. He slid across the entryway, slamming the ball of his foot into Ryuu’s right thigh, his full body weight behind the kick. Ryuu went down hard and Ricco was on him. He couldn’t just kill Ryuu, not with Mariko watching, and that gave Ryuu a huge advantage. He hit him hard in the pit of his stomach and Ryuu jackknifed his body, drawing up his knees and slamming his feet into Ricco’s chest, knocking him back.

Ryuu leapt to his feet, limping now but coming at Ricco, pressing him hard. Ricco feigned falling back a step or two and then went to the right, kicking the leg again, this time a solid round kick, targeting the exact same spot. Ryuu’s face paled a little, but he kept moving, switching to a left-handed stance to better protect his leg.

“Stop. Ryuu, stop,” Mariko pleaded. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Ryuu snapped, never taking his eyes from Ricco. “You don’t talk to me. You’re dead to me. You always have been. You’re nothing but a little whore like your mother.”

“Ryuu, you don’t mean that.”

Ricco winced at the pleading in her voice. He hated this for her. He knew there was no taking back all those years of Osamu whispering to Ryuu, turning him into her instrument of revenge. He had wanted to be loved, and Osamu loved him as long as he did exactly what she said.

“I despise you.” Ryuu spat on the floor. “She took you in and even allowed you to become a rider, but you were never grateful. You were just like your mother, always flirting with Dai until she had to send him away. When he pleaded to come home, she relented, but there you were, trying to lure him to your bed.”

“I didn’t,” Mariko denied.

Ricco heard the tears now. His woman was crying. Her heart breaking. He feinted a punch, forcing Ryuu to turn his body just enough. He landed another solid kick.

Ryuu’s gaze went desperately around the entryway, seeking a shadow. His right leg had to be numb, a dead leg. Ricco had many of those during early training years before he’d learned to protect his legs. Ryuu had been taught to ride the shadows and he definitely had trained in hand-to-hand combat, martial arts and street fighting, but he didn’t have the years of training and experience that Ricco did.

Ricco circled him, keeping him away from the shadows, forcing him to drag his right leg around to keep Ricco in sight at all times.

“She lied to you,” Mariko said. “She lied, Ryuu, about everything.”

“I told you not to talk to me,” Ryuu said, his voice low and vicious. He kept his attention seemingly centered on Ricco, moving awkwardly forward with a series of punches. At the last moment, he flung himself to the side, right at Mariko.

There was a large shadow directly behind her. Mariko stood her ground, and Ryuu slammed into her hard. He punched her twice in the mouth.

“Keep your filthy mouth shut,” he spat at her as he rolled, coming up on his feet triumphantly right at the front of the tube.

She staggered back under the assault, but didn’t lose her footing. She reac
hed out a hand to her brother. “Ryuu.” Just his name whispered.

He looked back at her.

Mariko cried out. “Don’t.”

The last was said to Sacha Archambault. He emerged from the shadow directly behind Ryuu and caught his head in both hands.

“Justice is served,” Sacha said as he wrenched hard.

There was an audible crack. Mariko screamed and went to her knees. Sacha dropped the body and looked at Ricco.

“I’m sorry she was here,” he said softly.

Ricco nodded and went to her, wrapping his arms around her, forcing her to her feet. They had to get out of there and leave the cleanup to the people in charge. They were riders. They dispensed justice.

“It’s over, farfallina mia. Let’s go home.” What else was there to say? Now he had to find a way to keep her with him.


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