It was too much to hope that Syaoran would walk out of his office building and run headlong into her, Sakura decided as she watched the city bus head towards the Hong Kong Station. He might not even be in town. Like Takao, and now herself, business demanded frequent trips to business meetings and conferences. And for her to run into object of her youthful desire today would require a ferocious kind of coincidence or a helping hand of fate.

She boarded the bus and got off several minutes later near the corner of her street. Her aunt's little house sat on a dead-end street sheltered by towering parasol trees. This house, thankfully, held no memories for her. When Sakura lived here, Great-Aunt Soyaki's home was a small matchbox on the outskirts of the city. When she dated Syaoran, they always wound up in the penthouse he kept at the Sheraton, one of the many buildings that made up the Hong Kong skyline. She ground her teeth, remembering. Perhaps it had been a mistake to come back here after all. With the city of her youth around her, memories hurt more.

She unlocked the door with the key Mr. Hamoro, the Realtor, had sent her. She loved in November and December here in southeastern Hong Kong; there were always pleasant breezes, lots of sunshine and the temperatures were very comfortable. But the months afterwards were extremely cold and snows weren't far off either so she hoped she will be long gone before they arrived.

The house was quite chilly, but fortunately Hamoro had remembered to have the utilities put on for her in the chilly evenings. There was a gas stove with the pilot light already burning, and electricity worked. He'd even been kind enough to leave her a few groceries.

Her eyes lingered on the old but functional furniture. Everything was done in traditional Mongolian with a touch of Japanese culture here and there, because that was what Great-Aunt Soyaki liked. But she had kept many of her late husband's treasures. The medicine shield and bad that he always displayed so proudly were on the one wall. His pipe, with its exquisite decoration, rested on another peg, as did the bow and arrows his own grandfather made for him in his youth. There was several parfleche bags filled with secret things in a coffee table drawer. There was a huge mandala on another wall, and assorted dried skins and woven hangings on the others. Dead potted plants covered almost every available surface. Great-Aunt Soyaki's plants were her greatest treasures, but they'd gone without water since her death and now were beyond saving . . . except for one chrysanthemum, which Sakura took to the kitchen and watered, then placed gently on the Formica counter.

When she noticed the telephone on the wall, Sakura felt stab of relief. She was going to need it. She was also going to need it. She was also going to need her fax machine and her computer with its internal modem. Smith could bring all that equipment out, and she could make use of Aunt Soyaki's library as an office. It had a door that locked, to protect her secret from prying eyes in case any of the Lis ever made it this far.

Sakura was a little concerned over the amount of time this project was going to take, but the mineral leases were her top priority right now. The domestic operation simply couldn't move ahead with its expansion program without them. She was committed, however long it took. She'd have to keep up with business through Hotaka and the telephone and hope for the best.

Worst of all was the time spent away from Hikaru. He was becoming hyperactive in school. Her lifestyle was apparently affecting him more than she'd realized. And business had edged its way between them until she couldn't even sit down to a meal with her son without being interrupted by the telephone. He was on edge, and so was she. She planned to use this time to catch up on work so that she could have more time with him when she gets back.

She made herself a pot of tea, smiling at the neatness of the little kitchen, with its yellow walls and white curtains and oak furniture. Aunt Soyaki didn't want Sakura and Takao to buy her this house and furnish it, but they'd finally convinced her that it was something they wanted to do. Despite the fact that she had friends and cousins near her old home, they wanted her near to her best friend, Miss Mao, who'd offered to look after her. Miss Mao had died only a few weeks before Soyaki. Perhaps they were together now, exchanging crochet patterns and gossiping on some ghostly front porch. Sakura liked to think of that way.

Her fingers were cold, and she almost spilled her tea as she poured it. Aunt Soyaki's cup were everywhere in the living room, intricate patterns of colored thread that she'd crocheted so beautifully. It was a shame to use them, and Sakura knew that she wasn't going to let them be sold with the house when the time came. She'd have to choose some personal items to keep, especially the doilies and quilts, and of course Uncle Eiji's legacy for little Hikaru.

As Sakura's gazed lingered on the beautifully decorated parfleche bags she removed from the drawer, she remembered sitting on Uncle Eiji's knee while he regaled her with stories about the Mongols and their time a long time ago and how they would enjoy their horse-taking forays in Western China where Mongolians still resided and vice versa. So much of the information given about Mongols was inaccurate. The thing she remembered most from her uncle was his teachings about courtesy and generosity which the Mongolians practiced. The Mongolians are unconstrained and warm-hearted people as they treat others warmly and politely. They greet everyone they meet during their travels even they do not know each other. Nobody went hungry or cold in their camps. Brotherly love was practiced and virtually known to them. Courage was the trait that was utmost respected.

Courage . . . Sakura sipped her tea. She was going to need plenty of that. Li Yelan's face flashed before her eyes, and she shivered. She had to remember that she was no longer eighteen and poor. She was twenty-four, almost twenty-five, and rich. Much richer than the Lis. It was important to keep in mind that she was equal to them socially and financially.

Her eyes settled on Uncle Eiji's medicine pouch. It contained, among other things, kinikinnick – willow shavings used as tobacco and sage, tiny rock from the mountains, a black-crested lizard hawk feather and a golden lion tamarind tooth. She'd opened it once secretively and looked in. Later she'd asked her uncle about the contents, but all he was willing to say was that it was his own personal "medicine," to keep away evil and protect him from enemies and ill health. How ironic that her people seemed to think that money and power were the answers to the riddle of what made life bearable. But Uncle Eiji had never cared about having things or making money. And, content to work as a security guard for Li Corporation, he was one of the happiest people Sakura had ever known.

She finished her tea and carried her suitcase into the neatly furnished second bedroom, the one Aunt Soyaki had used as a guest room. Sakura never used it – she'd been too afraid of seeing the Lis to ever come back to Hong Kong.

Her few belongings put away, Sakura took the bus to a small convenience store several blocks away and bought a sack of groceries. It had been years since she'd done anything this menial. She had maids and a housekeeper at her Tokyo house, and they took care of such things. She knew how to cook, but it wasn't a skill she practiced often. She smiled at her own shortcomings. Aunt Soyaki liked to chide her for her lack of homemaking abilities.

She decided to walk back to the next bus stop. Passing the enormous Hong Kong Park she sighed at its beauty. The beautiful trees of all types towered overhead to create a colorful canopy over the lawn. Here in the summer, there were symphony orchestra concerts and ice cream suppers. There was always something going on here.

Coming a long way from being a crown colony to England, Hong Kong was a huge city that starts from the New Territories which span northwards eventually connecting with mainland China across the Sham Chun River (Shenzhen River) to the Kowloon Peninsula. Its well-designed wide streets and plenty of elbow room, with railroad tracks through the city. Trade and international finance kept things running in Hong Kong and maintaining it as the wealthiest urban center in the People's Republic of China. Along the outskirts, refineries were everywhere. A little farther north and west of it vast ranches and fields of rice, wheat, sweet potatoes and citrus fruits.

Undeveloped land surrounds the city with mostly hilly to mountainous with steep slopes, used as country parks and nature reserves. Sakura loved the country and the wilderness outside of the city, loved the vastness of it, and loved the absence of the concrete and steel. Distances were terrifying to most city folk in China, but a hundred miles was nothing for western Chinese native.

Her bus came just came as she approached the bus stop to take her back to the house. Her arms tightened around the grocery sack as she reached the street on which Great-Aunt Soyaki's house stood. Odd, she thought, that sleek gray Jaguar hadn't been sitting on the curb when she left. Perhaps the Realtor had come looking for her.

Digging in her jeans for her house key, she didn't see the shadowy figure on the front porch until she reached the steps. Then she stopped dead. She felt her heart skip.