Read Koshi Online

Authors: Annie Nicholas

Koshi (6 page)

He gave her a slow, inviting smile. “You’ve been drinking.”

“Just a little.” She pointed to the now broken sake bottle lying on its side on the balcony. The remaining contents had spilled on the concrete flooring.

“Sure.” He stepped past her and circled her room. “Nice view.” Finishing his short tour, he held out his hand and fixed her with a stare. “I came for Ishi’s necklace.”

She clasped it within her hands, disappointment dragging its red claws over her silly hopes. Why would someone as handsome as Koishi be paying her a visit unless forced by a dragon? “What happened to him? One minute he was making me a deal, then he vanished.”

His smile turned feral for a fleeting moment. “The gate called him. There was an incursion onto this realm that he needed to…squash.”

Her stomach clenched. “Is he all right?” While she’d been wallowing in self-pity and sake, Ishi had been defending the world.

Koishi’s eyes widened. “Uh, he’s fine.” He rubbed his jaw and flinched.

She looked closer and noticed a purpling bruise. “You’re not! Were you part of the fight as well?” She hurried to the bathroom and soaked a facecloth in cold water.

He trailed behind her. “What are you doing?” Raising his hands, he retreated as she held the wet cloth to his face.

“Don’t be a baby. The cold will help the swelling.” She followed his retreating form until the bed caught behind his knee and he ended by sitting on its edge. His legs were spread open and she stepped within the space. Pressing the cloth to his injury, she was suddenly aware of the heat emanating between them.

He leaned in close. Too close. Close enough for her to notice how dark his eyes had grown.

“Don’t bother telling me you didn’t help.” Her voice had grown low and husky.

“I won’t.” Amusement twinkled in his dark stare. “But I’m fine as well.” Placing his hand over hers, he removed the cold compress. “Your concern is considerate.”

She licked her dry lips and noticed his gaze tracking the movement with intense interest. “Tell me about it.”

He chuckled. “Goblins have been trying to take over this island for as long as he, Ishi, has been guarding the gate. It’s been unusually quiet until today. Some dwarves have been stirring trouble on the other side and driving the goblins through.”

The world tilted to the side and a wave of heat spread over her body. “Dwarves?” What would have happened if the dragon hadn’t stopped them? She blinked at the concerned expression on Koishi’s blurry face. A hand slipped under her elbow and guided her to the bed. “As in Snow White?”

“Sit.” He knelt and took the compress from her hand and ran it over her forehead. “No, more like chop-your-head-off-and-steal-your-gold. When was the last time you ate?”

“Dwarves?” She couldn’t pull her gaze from his. So dark and intense, his eyes ate at her soul.

“Yes.” He nodded and slid the cloth to the back of her neck. “Breathe slower, Sandra. Easy, it’s safe. All the gates are guarded well. Ishi wouldn’t let anything happen to you.”

“He wouldn’t?”

“You still have a trade to make.”

She shook her head. “I never knew about all this stuff until a few days ago. It’s a lot to take in.”

“Most mortals don’t understand and I think, after watching your reaction, it’s best they remain in the dark.”

“Mortals?” She raised an eyebrow and took a deep, settling breath. “That’s an odd word to use. Are you from Outremer?”

“No, I’m from here. I meant to say humans, but Ishi calls us mortals. It rubs off when you hear it enough.” He cleared his throat. “You never answered my question.”

“You asked me something?” She rubbed her clearing head. The booze hadn’t helped with the shock.

“When did you last eat?”

“This morning. I was too upset to eat after Ishi disappeared.” The cold of the cloth felt good against her skin. So did Koishi’s confident hands.

“Let me buy you dinner.” He helped her rise and paused, his lips close to hers. “Why did his leaving upset you?”

“We never finished the deal.”

He nodded and stepped away. “That’s why he sent me. I’ll bring him the necklace. Tomorrow he’ll meet you at the rock and give you the saji.”

“Just like that?”

“What were you expecting?”

She shrugged. More of a struggle, or a fight to make the deal? Maybe the saji didn’t work and he was swindling her. She didn’t have much of a choice at this point. It was her only hope. “Koishi.” She took his hand. “Can I trust him?”

“With the deal? Yes. With your virtue?” He laughed. The low, smooth sound caressed her with unspoken promise. She seriously doubted a dragon would care for her virtue, but she wasn’t sure about Koishi.

“My virtue was compromised a long time ago to a smooth-talking senior in high school.” She released Koishi’s hand.

* * * *

The loss of her touch left his palm cold and wanting. When was the last time he’d spent so much time talking to a female? The late 1920s? Geishas shouldn’t count. They’d been paid to spend time with him.

The life of a gatekeeper’s lover wasn’t glamorous. Mortal women were entertaining to a certain extent, naked and in his bed, but their needs and wants never had anything in common with his. It left a lack of conversation or growth in a relationship. On the other hand, supernatural females came on occasion, with their sharp wit and high demands, but none stayed. This world held nothing of interest to them, not even him, and the journey through Outremer to his gate was a dangerous one.

He was trapped and alone. Battle his only true companion, death his only release.

“Enough worry for one night.” All this concern for a saji? He kept his gaze on his new toy. She really had brightened his last two days. It deserved some kind of reward. “I know the best sushi place on the island.” Maybe after a little more sake, he’d find out what her trip to his home was truly about. No one would travel halfway around the world to confront a dragon for a little healing magic. His treasure room contained much more valuable trinkets. This had to be a trick.

She made a sour face. “I don’t think I can eat raw fish.”

Grunting, he shook his head. “Sushi is a delicacy, not raw fish. First, you must try it, then you can give me your opinion.” He took her hand once more, pleased at how comfortable she seemed with the gesture, and led her out.

The restaurant was within walking distance and the evening still held some of the day’s warmth. He didn’t release his hold on her and soaked in the amicable silence. Glancing over his shoulder, he halted at Sandra’s grim expression. “What?”

“Why are you being so nice?”

“Is it against the law?” He kept from laughing as she considered the idea.

“You were such a jerk when we first met.”

“I gave you a ride. How was that being a jerk?”

“You charged me.” She scowled at him, but didn’t yank her hand from his. Such a contrary and spirited creature, in comparison to everyone he had contact with.

“You dared me to give kindness a try.” He tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear as an excuse to touch her more. Reaching inside his pocket, he pulled out the silver earrings she’d paid him to drive her. “I will start with this. And dinner.”

The small twitch at the corner of her lip told him he’d won. It was good thing he’d thought to bring the earrings. “We’ll see if I like sushi first before you can add it to your list of good deeds.”

Setting the hoops on her outstretched palm, he chuckled. “It’s amazing what the world will reveal if you keep an open mind.” Oddly, he was applying that philosophy to himself. Should a gatekeeper show kindness? Mercy could lead to devastating consequences. Then again, it was only a set of poorly made earrings and dinner.

She attempted to insert the hoops through her ears, but missed. “Ouch.”

“Let me.” He grasped the loop, drawing closer to her so the heat of her lean body licked along his flesh. Sliding it into the hole, he closed the clasp and repeated on her other ear. “There.” Tugged by her proximity, he couldn’t keep from meeting her gaze. Sorrow welled deep in her blue eyes. He hadn’t noticed it until now. “You’re still worried.”

She shrugged with a slight shift of her shoulders.

“Dragons as old as Ishi always keep their word.” His gaze traveled beyond her to his home on the mountain. “If you want, we can travel to see him.”

“It would be too dangerous in the dark for a hike.” She retreated from him. “Thank you for offering. I can wait until tomorrow. I have an open-ended ticket for my flight back home.”

“Oh, you plan on leaving tomorrow?” What the hell was he doing? He was supposed to come for the necklace, and instead he’d allowed her vulnerability to play him. Thinking with his dick was never a good plan.

“Once I have the saji, yes, I have to go back.”

Retreating from her lush scent, he shoved his heart back inside the shoebox in his chest. Stupid of him to pull it out in the first place.

She sighed as she strolled next to him. “I wish I could stay.”

His eyelids fluttered shut. “Why?”

“It’s so different here. I’d love the chance to explore everything. The culture, the people…” She grabbed his hand with both of hers. “The food.” Her smile was infectious. “My biggest adventure back home is doing groceries on busy Saturday mornings.”

“I’d like you to stay.” The words were out of his mouth before his brain registered his lips were moving. “I–I could show you the sights.” Nice, he was a dragon gatekeeper turned tourist guide. His fellow gatekeepers would string him up and use him for target practice if they ever heard about his offer. He had to shut up. “We’ll start here.” He gestured to the restaurant. “Your first sushi.”

A blush bloomed over her cheeks as she cast him an interested look. The fire of yesterday’s anger was an echo in her heated gaze.

He bent forward and drew her into his arms, tracing his fingertips over her soft skin. Growing fond of her was dangerous. He wanted to take things in a different direction, try something new. She never had to know about his real identity. Her stay would be short, but, oh so sweet, for both of them. He needed this, and it seemed she needed it too.

She trembled at his touch, their lips a fraction of a breath apart. “Koishi.” The way she spoke his name had changed. She’d always said it with an edge of frustration. Now, it was something warm that wanted to curl inside his chest.

He closed the gap. Her lips were delicate as they parted on a quiet sigh. Hands sliding around her waist, he pressed her curves against his body and luxuriated in their softness. He wouldn’t allow himself to caress any of them, to mold them in his palms until her sighs became moans. Mauling on the first date was usually frowned upon by most races, including his.

Part of him expected her to push away, but when she didn’t, he compensated by tilting her chin so his mouth moved more fully over hers.

A slender hand curved around his neck as Sandra rose on tiptoe to follow his kiss. Her breasts slid over his shirt, taut nipples crushed against him.

Groaning, he ran the tip of his tongue across her lips, coaxing her to open and let him devour her. A warning tingle ran over his body, running along his soul, and it had nothing to do with Sandra’s kiss. He gasped and pushed at Sandra, turning his head away. The gate was calling.

Shit, and a truck load of it!

Her nails dug into his neck, as if not wanting to let him go. It made his entire body ache.

There was no place to hide from her. “I have to apologize. I can’t stay.”

“Is this another game for you?” She fisted her hands, ready to pummel him, then her eyes grew wide. “You’re fading.” Without a word of warning, she jumped him, wrapping her arms firmly around him.



Chapter 6


It was the boat trip all over again, but worse. Sandra’s stomach rolled and her head spun. She couldn’t even sense Koishi in her arms.

Then in a flash he was there again, his hands under her elbows, and gently guiding her to the ground. “What the hell? Why did you have to do that?” He stepped in front of her, blocking her blurred vision of a shimmering force field, which had to be the Takai Gate.

Something dark with oddly shaped limbs moved toward them.

She blinked and rubbed her eyes. The nausea vanished.

A creature from a horror movie stood before them wielding a massive sword. Dark green skin covered its thick, muscled body. Bumps and scars pocked its scowling face.

On weak legs, she scrambled to her feet. If dragons were real, why not other monsters, but was it a friend or foe? The sword hinted at the latter. She rose to her feet and retreated a few steps.

The gate gave off an unnatural glow, which lit the room. Stone walls surrounded them like a huge cavern with streams of lava meandering around the room via canals carved in the floor. Tunnels exited the room in multiple directions and angles. Some of them were so steep she’d never be able to climb them. She completed her survey by viewing the liquid surface of the gate, and gasped.

Other, similar green creatures stepped out of the gate wielding a multitude of weapons that consisted of sharp edges and pointy spikes.

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