Li Syaoran was every bit as tall as Mr. Trung but the similarities ended there. Syaoran was dark and dangerous-looking. Powerful even in an expensive blue vested suit like one he was wearing now. He stepped into the sunlight. Despite the anguish from the past six years, Sakura felt a surge of warmth shoot through her body as she looked at him.
He was older. There were new lines in that handsome face and the most intense amber eyes. His brown hair a mess as usual with sheen to it. His fingers held
"I thought it was you," he said without introduction, his deep sharp as harsh as the unrelenting winter wind. "I can see the bus stop out my window."
So he had seen her after all. She gave herself a quick, mental pep talk. I'm older, I'm richer, I have secrets, and he has no power over me.
Her lips tugged into a careless smile. "Hello, Syaoran," she said. "Fancy seeing you over here in the slums"
His jaw tautened. "Hong Kong doesn't have slums in this area. Why are you here?"
"I came back for your family silver," she returned with a pointed stare and sarcastic tone. "I must have missed it on my last trip."
He shifted uncomfortably, ramming one hand into his pocket. It drew the thin fabric of his slacks against the powerful muscles of his long legs, and Sakura had to fight not to look. His body unclothed, was a miraculous epitome of perfection; perfectly natural tanned skin, finely chiseled chest, his six-pack evident in his flat stomach and in between his legs . . .
"After you left," he said hesitantly, "Tan-saga confessed to my mother that you had nothing to do with the theft."
Tan-saga Jun, she recalled, was the "accomplice" she'd allegedly been in love and sleeping with. Only a jealous fool could have imagined Sakura going from Syaoran to Jun, but since Yelan had paid Jun to invent the story, the details she'd given him had been perfect. A classic frame. But regardless of that, Syaoran had believed her capable of infidelity and criminal acts. Love without trust was definitely not love. He's even admitted that his only interest in her had been only sexual. It was unfortunate that her mother had died before her teen years.
"I wondered why the police hadn't come after me," she said easily.
His powerful shoulders shifted underneath the fabric. "You couldn't be found," he said tersely.
That instant, Sakura was once again grateful for her husband. Takahiro took her to the Philippines during her pregnancy, with Mr. Trung as her protection. Nobody knew her real name, nobody had been told of her real name. She was known as Karumera after their marriage. She had feared that the Lis would track her down, to humiliate her if not to arrest her.
"How pleasant for me to hear that," she said with a slight cynicism, watching his intense eyes glitter as she transfer her bags of groceries to her other arms. "A jail sentence wouldn't have appealed with me."
His face grew more severe, his intense eyes narrowed as he studied her face. "You look skinnier than I remember . . ." he paused. "And older."
"Turning twenty-five next birthday." She said cheerily with a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "You are thirty-two now, right?"
Syaoran nodded in respond. His gaze moved down her body and back up. He felt as if he were dying inside all over again. Six long years and he could still remember the tears on her young face, and the sound of her voice hating him. He remembered, too, long exquisite lovings in his bed with her arms clinging, her soft body like quicksilver under the heated thrust of his, her voice breaking as she moaned her pleasure into his damp throat . . . .
"How long are you going to be here?" he asked tightly.
"Long enough to dispose of the house," she replied.
He lifted the cigarette to his mouth. "You won't keep it?" he asked, hating himself for being vulnerable enough to ask the question.
She shook her head. "No. I don't think I'll stay as much as I love it. Hong Kong has too many enemies in it for me to."
"I'm not your enemy," he replied.
She lifted her chin and stared at with pure bravado. "Aren't you, Syaoran? That isn't how I remembered it."
He turned away, his eyes glancing down the wide street.
"You were eighteen. Too young. I never asked, but I'd bet I had your chastity."
Sakura flushed. Syaoran watched the stain in her cheeks with faint amusement, the first he'd felt since he'd seen her off the bus.
"So I did," he murmured, tingling all over at having his suspicions confirmed.
"You were the first," she said coldly. She smiled. "But not the last. Or did you think you were going to be an impossible act to follow?"
His pride bristled, but he didn't react. He finished the cigarette and flipped it off the porch. "Where have you been for the past six years?"
"Around," she answered causally. "Look, this bag is getting heavy. Do you have anything to say or is this just a friendly visit to see how fast you can shoot me out of town?"
"I came to ask if you needed a job," he answered stiffly. "I know your aunt left nothing except bills. I own a restaurant here. There is an opening for a waitress.
This is really too much. Sakura thought. Syaoran was offering her a job waitressing, when she could easily afford to buy the place. Guilty conscience? She wondered. Or renewed interest? Either way, it wouldn't hurt to accept it. She had a feeling she'd see a good bit of the Lis that way, and it fitted in nicely with her plans.
"Okay," she said. "Do I need to apply?"
"No. Just report for work at six sharp tomorrow morning," he said. "I seem to remember that you had a job in a café when we first met."
"Yes." Her green eyes met his brown ones, and for an instant they both shared the memory of that first meeting. She'd spilled coffee on him, and when she'd gone to mop up his jacket, electricity had danced between them. The attraction was instant and mutual . . . and devastating.
"So long ago," he said absently, his eyes dark with bitterness. "Kami, why did you run? I came to senses two days later, and I couldn't find you, damn you!"
Came to his senses? She didn't dare dwell on that. She glared at him. "Damn you, too, for listening to your mother instead of me. I hope the two of you have been very happy together."
His eyebrows arched. "What did my mother have to do with Tan-saga?"
He didn't know! She could hardly believe it, but his blank stare was genuine. He didn't know what his mother had done!
"How did you get him to confess?" she asked.
"I didn't. He told Mother that you were innocent. She told me."
Her heart trembled in her chest. "Did she tell you anything else?" she asked with affected carelessness.
He scowled. "No. What else was there to tell?"
That I was pregnant with your child, she thought darkly, that I was eighteen and nowhere to go. I couldn't risk staying with my family with a theft charge hanging over my head.
She lowered her eyes so that he wouldn't see the fury in them. Those first few weeks had been the purest hell of her life, despite the fact that they'd strengthened and matured her to a frightening degree. She'd had to take complete charge of her own life and fate, and from that time she'd never been afraid again.
"Was there anything else?" he persisted.
She lifted her face. "No. Nothing else."
But there was. He sensed it. Her eyes held a peculiar gleam, almost of hatred. He'd accused her unjustly and hurt her with his rejection, but her anger went deeper than that.
"The restaurant is the Bar H Steak House," he said. "It's off North Twenty-seventh past the Sheraton."
Sakura felt her body go hot at the mention of the hotel, and she quickly averted her eyes. "I'll find it. Thanks for the recommendation."
"Does that mean you might stay for a few weeks, at least?" he asked, frowning.
Her eyes fenced with his. "Why? I do hope you don't entertain any thoughts of taking over where we left off. Because frankly, Syaoran, I'm not in the habit of trying to superglue broken relationships back together."
He went very still. "Is there someone?"
"In my life, you mean?" she asked. "Yes."
His face showed nothing, but a shadow seemed to pass over his eyes. "I might have known."
She didn't reply. She simply stared at him and saw him glance at her left hand, and she thanked God that she'd remembered to take off her wedding band. But the engagement ring Takao had given her- a diamond-cut emerald with small diamonds- was still there. She remembered how Takao laughed at her choice, because the ring was so inexpensive. He was hoping to give her a three-carat diamond, and she'd insisted on this ring. How long ago it seemed.
"You're engaged?" he asked heavily.
"I was," she corrected. True enough, she was, before Takao married her a week after the engagement.
She shook her head. "I have a friend who is very dear to me. But I don't want commitment anymore." She wished she could cross her fingers behind her. She'd told more lies and half-truths in two minutes than she had in two years.
His features were more rigid than usual. "Why isn't your friend here with you, then?"
"I needed the breathing space. I came alone to get Aunt Soyaki's possessions she left."
"Where were you living?"
She smiled. "Along the coast. Excuse me; I have to get these things in the refrigerator."
He stood aside, hesitating. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Presumably he at the restaurant where she was going to work. "I suppose so." She glanced at him. "Are you sure they won't mind giving me work without references?"
"I own the damned restaurant," he said shortly. "They can't afford to mind. The job's yours, if you want it."
"I want it," she said.
She unlocked the door and hesitated. Since he didn't know her circumstances, he was probably doing it out of pity and guilt, but she felt obliged to say something. "It's very generous of you to give me the job."
"Generous." He laughed bitterly. "My God, I've never given anything in my life unless it suited me or made me richer. I've got the world. And I've got nothing." He turned and walked to his car, leaving her staring after him with wide, sad eyes.
Sakura let herself into the house. It had shaken her to see him again after so many barren years. She dropped the groceries on the kitchen counter and sat down, her mind going back to their first meeting.
She'd been seventeen then, a week shy of eighteenth birthday. But she'd always looked older than she was, and the uniform she wore as a waitress molded itself lovingly to every soft curve of her slender body.
Syaoran had stared at her from the first, his eyes followed her as she waited on one table and then another. She'd been nervous of him instantly, because he radiated self-confidence and a kind of bridled arrogance. He had a way of narrowing one eye and lifting his chin that was like a declaration of war every time he studied someone. Actually, she found out later, it was because he had a slight problem focusing on distant objects and was too stubborn to go to an ophthalmologist. She wondered if any of the people he'd intimidated with that level glare ever knew what caused it.
His table drew its regular waitress, and she'd seen him frown and ask the girl something. Seconds later, he'd moved to a table that was in Sakura's territory.
The very idea that a man who looked like that should seen interested in her made her toes tingle. She'd approached him with a gentle smile, her face flushing with excitement when he looked up at her and smiled back.
"You're new here," he'd said. His voice was deep and slow, with delicious sensuality in it.
"Yes." She sounded as breathless as she felt. She could still remember how cold her hands suddenly become. "I just started this morning."
"I'm Syaoran Li," he said. "I have breakfast here most mornings."
She recognized the name instantly. Most people in Hong Kong would recognize the infamous Li. "I'm Sakura," she said huskily.
He lifted an eyebrow, and the smile deepened. "Beautiful name, Sakura." Emphasizing her name, he watched as a blush came across Sakura's face.
"Are you past the age of consent?"
"I'm . . . twenty," she said at once, lying through her teeth. If she'd told him her real age, she knew instinctively that he'd have dismissed her.
"That'll do. Bring me some coffee, please. Then we'll discuss where we're going tonight."
She rushed back behind the counter to pour the coffee, running headlong into Tamiko, the older waitress who worked with her.
"Careful, chick," Tamiko said under her breath when Syaoran wasn't looking. "You're flirting with disaster. Li Syaoran has a reputation with women as in business. Don't get in over your head."
"It's all right. He . . . he's just talking to me," Sakura stammered.
"Not when you look that flustered, he isn't," Tamiko replied worriedly. "Your great-aunt must live in a world all her own. Honey, men don't automatically propose marriage to women they want – especially men like Li Syaoran. He's out of our league. He's rich, and his mother would savage any woman who tried to get him to the altar unless she had money and connections. He's upper crust. They marry among themselves."
"But we're just talking," Sakura protested, forcing a smile while all her dreams crashed to earth.
"See that it stays just talk. He could hurt badly."
The sound of authority made her bristle, but she really couldn't afford to antagonize a co-worker, so she just smiled and finished getting Syaoran's coffee.
"Was she warning you off?" he asked when she put the cup and saucer in front of him on the red-and-white-checked tablecloth.
She gasped. "How did you know?"
"I took Tamiko out once," he replied easily. "She got too possessive, so I broke it off. It was a long time ago. Don't let her get under your skin, okay?"
She smile, because now it all made sense. He was interested and Tamiko was just jealous. She beamed. "I won't," she promised.
Remembering her own naïveté that say, Sakura groaned. She rose from her chair she'd been sitting in and went to put the groceries away. How could anyone have been so stupid? She asked herself. At eighteen, with a sheltered upbringing, she'd known nothing. To a man as worldly as Syaoran, she must have been a pushover. If she had any idea how things were going to turn out, she'd never have . . .
Who was she kidding? She laughed bitterly. She'd have done exactly the same thing, because Syaoran fascinated her. He still did, after all the grief and pain. He was the most beautiful man she'd ever laid eyes on her life, and she remembered those strong loving arms as if they'd happened yesterday.
Now she'd landed herself in his orbit again and taken a job that she had no business taking. She was living a lie. But as she remembered the reasons for coming, her blood began to boil. Syaoran had discarded her like garbage, she and the child she'd been carrying. He'd turned his back on her and left her to fend for herself with a theft charge hanging over her head.
She hadn't come back to rekindle an old love affair. She'd come back for revenge. Takao had taught her that everyone had a weakness that could be exploited in business. And some people were better at hiding their Achilles' heels than others. Syaoran was a past master. She'd have to be very careful if she was going to locate his. But in the end she'd get the upper hand, and he'd be out in the cold. She meant to cost him everything, to put him in the same horrible position he'd put her in so long ago. Her eyes narrowed as she considered the possibilities, and a cold smile touched her disciplined mouth.
Sakura was no longer a naïve eighteen-year-old deeply in love with a man she couldn't have. She held all the aces this time. And when she played her hand, it was going to be the sweetest pleasure since Syaoran's treacherous kisses.
Spring is going to busy so I am making a commitment to update monthly. I uploaded this chapter because I was finished with it at the same moment as the last chapter. To those who are reviewing, thank you so much and for keeping up with story.