An hour after her date failed to show up, Kora finally admits she's been stood up. But when a handsome stranger slides into the chair opposite her, pretending to be her missing date, she finds herself drawn into a world of mystery and adventure she'd never dreamed was possible - quite a feat considering she's part mermaid.
They come by day as wraiths
in the night.
Edition XV of The Book of Ages
Kora traced her finger along the rim of her water glass slow enough that it didn’t ring; the last thing she needed was more unwanted attention. She could feel the eyes of the other diners watching her, though most of them tried to be discrete, and it made her nervous. Was this how fish felt in an aquarium?
The waitress came around carrying a silver pitcher of water, and Kora drew her hand back so the woman could refill her glass. Again. More eyes focused on her, boring into her like worms trying to burrow beneath her skin. Kora shivered and rubbed a hand up her bare arm.
“Can I get you anything else?” the waitress—Marcy, according to her name tag—asked. She should have sounded short or annoyed, but instead she sounded achingly compassionate. Kora gritted her teeth behind a false smile.
“No, that’s—” Kora glanced at the elevator as it opened, hope blooming in her chest—and undoubtedly across her face—but it was just an elderly couple wearing nearly identical black pea-coats. Kora deflated but tried hard to hide it as she turned back to Marcy and smiled again. “Thank you, but I’m fine. He’ll be here soon.”
Marcy nodded kindly, but it was obvious she thought Kora should stop pretending and just admit she’d been stood up. Kora resisted the urge to slump in her chair; not only would that make her look even more pathetic than she undoubtedly did, but it would also wrinkle her red silk shirt. Kora liked that shirt; the draping cowl neck made her small boobs look awesome.
Not that anyone cares, she thought as Marcy left to service her other tables. Kora rapped her long, French-tipped nails against the polished tabletop and pursed her lips. Maybe she should give it up; she hadn’t been all that thrilled at meeting her fiancé anyway. But to be stood up at their first meeting? With the engagement already finalized?
Kora clenched her fist and refused to cry; no one was worth her tears. Especially not some guy she’d never officially met.
The elevator opened again, but she didn’t look. She doubted it was him, and even if it was, Kora no longer cared. Her family was a traditional one, able to trace their history to ancient Japanese nobility on every side, and this was an insult to her heritage and pride. If she told her mother what happened tonight, she would break the engagement in a heartbeat.
A light clack sounded as a pale blue pearl struck the tabletop and bounced. Kora gasped and slapped her hand over the small gem. She glanced around without moving her head—no need to look suspicious—but no one seemed to notice. With a short, quiet sigh, Kora palmed the pearl and slipped it into her silvery-gray clutch under the pretext of pulling out her phone. She made a show of checking her texts and emails, resignedly aware that people would assume she was checking the time. She checked anyway.
7:27. Almost an hour and a half after their meeting time. Kora’s eyes burned, but she forced back the tears with a painful swallow. She didn't need any more unexplainable pearls.
A shadow fell over her, and Kora glanced up to tell Marcy she was ready to order—she might as well get something out of this evening—but the words died on her lips. It wasn’t Marcy.
But it wasn’t Makoto Fujiwara either.
“I am so sorry, sweetheart,” the unknown man said. His handsome face—sculpted cheekbones, Cupid-bow lips, western nose, and brown eyes so dark they looked black—was the perfect picture of contrition and frustration. “The meeting ran far longer than it was supposed to—you know how Mark likes to talk—and I forgot my phone at the office.”
He took her hand and leaned forward to press a kiss to the back. His eyes never leaving Kora’s, he mumbled against her skin. “My name is Arashi Yamashita; whoever ditched you is a jerk.”
Kora blinked, startled, then quirked an eyebrow. “You’re lucky; I almost ordered without you.”
Arashi smiled and took the seat across from her, still holding her hand with his right. The sleeves of both his sweater and white oxford were pulled up nearly to the elbow to display an odd black bracelet on his right arm so wide enough it covered half his forearm. The dark metal almost looked like liquid—was it steel? The sudden caress of his thumb across her knuckles shattered her curious thoughts as she shivered.
Kora should pull away, she knew. This man was a stranger; who knew what he wanted or who he even was? She knew he was Japanese—the name was a dead-giveaway—but that was hardly enough. He could also be a serial killer or a rapist or an IRS agent. He could be gay.
“You didn’t have to wait for me,” Arashi said, once again stroking his thumb across the back of her hand as he gave her an adoring smile. “I know you must be hungry.”
Kora stared into his near black eyes, his long bangs falling across his forehead, and her heart sped up until it thundered in her chest. Please, please, please don’t be gay…