Chapter One

All roads and sidewalks imaginable were congested on a Monday morning in Tokyo. On a crowded intersection in downtown Akihabara, a huge clock ticked at half-past seven as the wide screen below it featured the morning news, where the scrolling marquee read:

"Multimillionaire CEO Satoshi Takeda of Matsui Freight found dead last night in Shinjuku"

A young, brown-haired girl in a high school uniform looked up from the crowded intersection below.

"Takeda's death linked to a string of 'corporate murders' that began in March"

"Akemi, do you mind? We're crossing the street," Her companion whispered to her. "We're blocking the way."

"Oh, sorry," The girl named Akemi blinked, quickly continuing on her way. They arrived at the other side of the street as they paused in front of a magazine stand.

"Ooh, the latest issue of Layla is out," Kasumi picked up a magazine from the rack. "Hey, it's a special edition! Hold on, I'm going to buy this!"

After her purchase, they waited by the stoplight as the other two girls began reading behind Kasumi's back in piqued interest.

"I knew Tomoki Kurokawa would make it to the list," Kasumi nodded. "He was so hot in his latest movie!"

"Totally," Yukari raised her eyebrows. "He only ranked number nine though..."

"What's that?" Akemi creased her forehead as they began to cross the street.

"Layla magazine's April special," Tsubame answered. "Featuring the most eligible bachelors of the year."

"Oh," Akemi disinterestedly blinked. "I see."

"Who got number one?" Yukari curiously asked.

"... Takeshi Ryuuzaki?" Kasumi creased her forehead. "Who's this guy? He sounds familiar."

"If I'm not mistaken, the Ryuuzakis are one of the richest families in the country," Tsubame put a finger to her chin in thought. "I wonder if he's one of them?"

"Wow, he looks really hot," Yukari's eyes widened. "Hey, isn't he the guy that's being linked with that actress Mika Matsumoto...?"

Akemi finally saw the long lane of blooming, cherry blossom trees in front of their school and sighed.

Today was going to be another day.

xxx

Akemi could hear her own breathing as she picked up on her feet. Her eyes locked on the soccer ball in the distance as she collided with the other players in her pursuit. A careless kick sent the ball rolling closer to her favor.

Narrowing her eyes in determination, Akemi raised her leg and kicked with all the strength and accuracy she could muster. She ended up missing the goalkeeper's net by a small margin.

"Alright, time out!" The teacher bellowed with a shrill whistle as she ushered the students to assemble before her. "Morisato! Get that ball!"

Akemi let out a groan and broke into a sprint to retrieve the ball. In the distance, a boy in a baseball uniform appeared and picked it up.

"Hey!" she called out. "Wait!"

The boy turned around and raised his eyebrows at her. "Oh hey, Akemi. Is this yours?"

A knowing smile then crept to the boy's lips as he raised his hand the moment she tried to reach for it.

"Oh very funny, Makoto," she scowled. "Not in the mood for games right now."

"You kicked this ball, didn't you?" he grinned, raising his hand higher when she tried jumping for it. "Now why didn't I see that coming?"

"Shut up! Just give it back!"

"Wrong answer."

"Hey, what's going on in here?" A tall, dark-haired man in regular uniform placed an arm around Makoto's shoulders.

"Hey Ryuuichi," Makoto snickered. "I'm just dealing with my stupid girlfriend here."

"I am not stupid!" Akemi hissed. "And I am not your girlfriend!"

"Sure," Ryuuichi drawled with a smirk. "Come on man, just give it back to her."

When Makoto didn't budge, he tipped the ball over from the boy's grasp as Akemi reflexively caught it beneath him.

"Hey!"

"Don't mind this idiot, Akemi," Ryuuichi grinned.

"Thanks, Matsuzawa," She beamed with the ball in both hands. "I owe you one."

"A movie on Saturday sounds good?"

Makoto slapped him at the back of the head. "Like hell that's gonna happen!"

"Hey!" Ryuuichi angrily exclaimed. "Like you have a say in it!"

"Oh..." Akemi uneasily laughed. "Sorry, I..."

"Don't mind it," The taller boy grinned as he began wrestling with Makoto and successfully pulled him into a headlock. "You know I never give up."

"Let me go!" Makoto growled.

Akemi had only turned to leave when she faced them again. "Oh by the way Makoto, I need those textbooks. I have a test in two days."

"Sure," Makoto grunted as Ryuuichi finally released him. "I'll drop them off later."

"Okay," The girl shrugged and left without another word.

"It's not fair," Ryuuichi muttered with a shake of his head. "How can you swing by her place that easily?"

Makoto patted him on the shoulder. "Well, just happened to know her seventeen years before you, chum."

xxx

"Hey, Yukari. Do you still plan to return that to me?"

Taking a sip of the chocolate shake in her hands, Akemi averted her gaze from the window and looked at Kasumi beside her.

"I'll be done in a minute," Yukari sipped on her milkshake from across the table, still reading the same magazine from that morning. "You know, this special they've got on the bachelors is really something."

"And that's my magazine, if you haven't forgotten," Kasumi interjected. "I haven't even finished reading it yet."

"Wow, this guy's really got it going for him," Yukari heedlessly continued. "28 years old, Marketing AVP of one of the biggest shipping companies in the country..."

"I know. He's quite something, isn't he?" Tsubame nodded beside her, taking a sip of her latté. "Pretty accomplished at such a young age."

"And look at all these companies his family owns! No wonder he ranked number one on the list."

"Whatever. I've never even heard of him until today," Kasumi rolled her eyes. "Nobody beats my Tomoki Kurokawa. Now give me that!"

Kasumi immediately snatched the magazine from Yukari, who scowled loudly in response.

Akemi glimpsed at a paparazzi-taken photograph featured on the centerfold. The man named Takeshi Ryuuzaki had jet-black hair and a distinctive set of hazel brown eyes. He had a well-defined jaw and high cheekbones, his lean frame embraced by the designer suit he was wearing. His unusual features made her wonder if he had foreign blood or not.

"I still think Tomoki Kurokawa is hotter," Kasumi muttered despite her lingering gaze on the photo.

"Whatever you guys say," Akemi sighed, sipping on her milkshake again as she returned her gaze to the window.

xxx

Akemi was working on her homework in the living room that evening when her older sister sat on the long couch beside her.

"You should do that in your room," The woman turned on the television. "Has my show started yet?"

"Nope," Akemi replied as her sister changed the channel to the evening news and momentarily returned to the kitchen.

"As for business news, the merging of Fukuda Cargo and Ryuuzaki Navigation was officially announced in a press conference in Shinjuku today..."

"We're very pleased with the success of this merging," A clear, male voice sent Akemi looking up from her homework. To her surprise, it was the face of the man in the magazine as cameras furiously flashed before him.

"We're looking forward to our future endeavors with Fukuda Cargo, and we are thankful to finally have them with us..."

Her sister returned from the kitchen, a bowl of potato chips in hand as she placed them on the table beside Akemi's books.

"Call me when my show starts," she said. "I'll just finish with the dishes."

"Okay," Akemi grabbed a chip as she thoughtfully continued watching Takeshi Ryuuzaki on her screen.

xxx

"Tell him I can't go. I have a meeting today."

Tilting his chair as he faced the wide windows of his office, a young, dark-haired man in a business suit held his cellphone closer to his ear and crossed his legs in his seat.

"Yes I know, but my hands are tied," He looked at his wristwatch. "I have a conference in half an hour."

He stood up and walked to the clear glass window. He placed a hand in his pocket and kept his gaze to the city thirty-eight floors below him.

"Alright, very well," he sighed. "Thank you."

His secretary entered the room with a knock. "The meeting is about to begin, Mr. Ryuuzaki."

He began playing with the mobile in his hand. "Has the client arrived?"

"Yes, sir."

"You know what, tell Hiroshi I can't make it. Say I have a prior engagement."

"But Mr. Katsuragi has personally requested for you to be there..."

"I'm sure he'll understand."

"But Mr. Ryuuzaki..."

His secretary could only stare at him in despair as he waved a hand to dismiss her. He disappeared to an adjoining room in his office; a handsomely decorated room that looked more like a suite than an office retreat.

He took off his coat and stepped into the bathroom, taking a good look at his reflection by the sink. All that lighting on print and television concealed the faint shadows under his eyes, but now under the harsh fluorescent light of his bathroom, there was no hiding the fatigue on his face.

"I need a vacation," he mused to himself before taking off the rest of his clothes with a sigh.

He stepped into the shower and finally felt himself relax under the constant, pouring heat. He threw his head back and closed his eyes, running his hands through his hair.

Reluctantly, Takeshi shortly stepped out of the shower, steam following him as he reentered the room with a towel around his waist. He proceeded to the walk-in closet, picking out a black dress shirt and white pants.

Fifteen minutes later, he arrived in the building basement and stepped inside his silver Corvette ZR1. He slipped on his sunglasses and entered the main road, pausing at a stoplight as he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel.

The signal turned green as Takeshi stepped on the accelerator. He didn't really know where he was going, but as long as he could get away, anywhere would do. The city with its buildings, cars, and crowds only reminded him of long, dreary meetings and his bothersome seniors at work.

Finding himself breaking away from the busy, urban scenery twenty minutes later, Takeshi finally relaxed as flowering, cherry blossom trees showered petals past his window and to the sakura-covered road ahead.

xxx

"Strike one!"

The catcher returned the missed ball back to the pitcher as the batter prepared herself once more for the next hit. With a raised leg and an outstretched arm, the pitcher gave one fast throw, and the batter failed to hit the ball again.

"Strike two!"

Akemi looked at the padded glove in her hand with a sigh. It had been a long, busy day, and although she just wanted to go home, she still had half an hour left before baseball practice was over...

A loud crack suddenly resounded in the field, snapping Akemi out of her thoughts as a girl nearby shouted, "Morisato! The ball!"

"Huh?" She looked around in frenzy. "Where?"

She looked up, spotting the ball in the air as she instantly broke into a run. She outstretched her arm up as the ball rapidly plummeted down...

Until her face ungraciously hit the field screen.

The other team ecstatically roared as the grinning batter sprinted on her way to a home run.

"Morisato! Get that ball back!" The coach shouted.

"Yes Coach..." Akemi groaned.

Takeshi's cellphone began to ring as he fumbled for his bag on the passenger seat. Creasing his eyebrows, he temporarily averted his gaze from the road as the phone remained elusive from his grasp.

Only several hundred meters away was a baseball in the middle of the street. Akemi stepped out of the school gates, breathless as she put her hands to her knees. She sorely stared at the ball and groaned. That batter sure had a lucky strike to send a ball this far out...

Takeshi let out a low scowl when he finally found his cellphone, only to discover it was one of his seniors calling him. With a shake of his head, he reluctantly answered the call and returned his gaze to the road before him, where a girl materialized in front of his speeding car.

to be continued