My hotel lobby is alive as usual with activity, gossip and music. I am observed by the gawking faces of my people, the poor and envious, who stare while mumbling about the ship recently come ashore and it's mysterious crew. When I turn towards the warm, fresh air blowing in over the marble tiles from the gold-trimmed double doors, I cannot help fixing my gaze on a tall man with an unfamiliar, but appealing face.
He comes towards me wears a sun-faded red velvet coat and feathered hat with black hair shooting out from its curved brim. He is none other than the captain whose name I cannot stop hearing since that ship came ashore. Kakarot.
"You must be Vegeta," he says as he tips his hat with a charming smile.
"Prince Vegeta. And you are?"
I don't care to give him the dignity of feeling important, especially not after he addressed me so improperly. Rumor is, he's here to take what is mine. I will die before I let that happen. Unlike all the others who cower when I darken my gaze as I do now, he surprises me by smiling as something flashes in his eyes.
"It's nice to finally meet you." He clasps his hands behind his back, puffing his broad chest as he smiles at the elaborate balconies above. "I've heard about your hotels, your power and influence in these lands. I had to see the man who accomplished so much with my own eyes."
"And do you like what you see?" I snap.
His eyes, which had been so full of light while absorbing his surroundings, darken and meet my gaze. "Very much so. When they warned me about Prince Vegeta's power, I didn't think it was in body as well as mind."
I'm not amused by the odd turn this conversation is taking as his eyes travel up and down my navy, jeweled attire with more interest than any man has ever paid me. I would end the conversation now, but I want to be sure Kakarot understands his status here. He is sizing me up, presumably seeking out my weaknesses. No classless pirate will have my lands, no matter how formidable he is rumored to be.
"Don't forget fortune," I say.
With one last appraising glance at my arms folding across my chest, Kakarot smiles and meets my gaze. "Of course. Your money. I have no interest in money. When I meet an exciting man like you in my travels, I yearn for..." Kakarot's eyes narrow and pulse with light all at once, "...other pursuits."
"If you hope to achieve anything here, Kakarot," I say, biting my tongue at the way he smiles when I unwittingly utter his name, "you're mistaken. All you're going to find is failure."
"All the better," Kakarot says with a smile and a bow. "I like a good challenge."
I shake my head, clenching my jaw with my gaze fixed on him. He must be able to read that he has outstayed his welcome, because he backs toward the doors. I never let him leave my sights, not until those heavy doors close him off from my view. I don't trust this pirate.
I was right not to trust Kakarot. I'm sure he's after something. Over the past week, his behavior's continued to be suspicious, or for lack of a better word, odd. I can't help focusing on his distracting presence when I see him in town. Regardless of how much I try to convince myself that he is insignificant, he pervades my thoughts. His boyish smile, the mischievous look in his eyes that like day we met, his powerful presence and confident stance – they distract me from my work.
They shouldn't. It should be the threat of his pirating, insulting presence here and nothing more that haunts me. I see him now, at the end of the brick-paved street among merchants and nameless peasants, seemingly on amicable terms with them as they smile and offer him goods with no pay in return. But when he turns towards me, I startle. With a growl, I turn for the doors of my establishment, ignoring the footsteps growing louder behind me. I seize by the shoulders the first person with whom I come into contact. I've never seen a doorman look so petrified. Usually, I'd find this amusing, but not now. I need to speak to this idiot.
"Y-yes, Prince Vegeta?"
"I want a complete rundown of the calendar of events at this hotel."
Giving a curt nod, I caution a glance over my shoulder to see Kakarot approaching. "Quickly, if you want to keep this farce of a job."
"W-well, on...Sunday, there's-"
"And don't stutter!" I roll my eyes. "Sound authoritative."
"Sunday, the twenty-first, we have-"
I flinch at his voice, baring my teeth as I keep my eyes intensely focused on the wide-eyed doorman. He gulps and wisely continues.
"-a conference scheduled in the ballroom at ten, followed by..." his voice waivers as his gaze shifts to the figure now hovering over us.
I growl under my breath. The doorman gasps.
I tense. "Prince Vegeta, Kakarot. As you can see," I wave my hand to the imbecile uselessly gawking at me, "I'm busy here. I have hotels to run."
"He sounds like he's done." Kakarot inclined his chin at the beguiled doorman. "Aren't ya?"
With one glance at me, the doorman fervently shakes his head. "Then on the twenty-fifth-"
"Hm." Kakarot frowns. "Running these hotels really keeps you busy, huh?"
"I shouldn't be surprised, huh?" Kakarot laughs with a lilt that sounds almost beautiful. "A man such as you shouldn't be kept from his work. I wouldn't want to be the cause for your beautiful wife I hear so much about being left waiting for your late return because you fell behind."
I balk. The first thing that hits me is not Kakarot's reference to and unexpected knowledge of my wife, but his remark about me falling behind. I am offended, beyond reason, given the situation. It seems to me that everything Kakarot does or says is meant to challenge me.
"I envy you, for I've never married. For now, if you're busy, I'll-"
"My wife isn't waiting for me." I raise my chin and meet Kakarot's softening gaze. "She never waits for me. She's-"
I hesitate, realizing I'm about to expose something to Kakarot that may be considered a weakness. I don't know what I'm thinking, and yet, my tongue supersedes my mind. "She's been committed, indefinitely."
Kakarot raises a brow with a cautious glance to the tight-lipped doorman. "An asylum?" I avert my gaze and nod curtly. "I'm...sorry, Vegeta."
I clench my jaw and snap my gaze to his again. I won't have this fool feeling sorry for my wife's pathetic misfortune. Her weakness is not mine. It is no reflection on me! I won't let him perceive it that way. He's the one who will leave this conversation with his tail between his legs.
"You were leaving, Kakarot." I narrow my eyes as his lips part slightly. "You really are wasting my time."
As I dismiss him by turning to the doorman before he has time to nod in acknowledgement, a smile crosses my face. This pirate may be a threat, but he will realize that Vegeta is not one to be taken down.
"Vegeta," Kakarot says my name in a hushed voice that sends a shiver down my spine. "I'll return to seek your attention again when you're less busy."
The way he says it feels like a promise. A promise for what, I do not know. I would be loath to admit it, but part of me is intrigued.
Intrigued as I may have been that day, the sight of him barreling down the hall towards me brings a scowl to my face. He is clumsy and rude as he passes people in my narrow hall. I frown at my manager who I'd been berating for substandard work. Unfortunately, the fool takes my frown as a sign of dismissal, and turns to leave just as Kakarot reaches my side and claps a heavy hand on my shoulder. As he releases a content sigh, I sneer at the offending dirty appendage daring to make contact with my pristine gold jacket.
"Vegeta, I finally found you."
I slap the hand away and grunt as I turn to face him. He is so close that I can feel his breath tickling my cheek.
"Now that you're free-"
"I am not-"
"I just need a minute."
"Just a minute to speak with you." He presses his palms together and flashes his teeth in a saccharin grin. "Please."
I glower, and just like the first time, just like all the times after when I've seen him, he is unaffected. This man is either a moron or completely fearless. I routinely ruin people's lives around here, and yet here he stands, demanding and fearless.
With a self-satisfied smile, he nods towards the door of the nearest hotel room. "Can we talk in here?"
My frown deepens as I eye the brown door and subconsciously reach for the keys in my pocket. I suppose there's no easier way to rid myself of Kakarot than giving him what he wants.
"Make this quick," I snap as I open the door. "I won't have you wasting my time again!"
"Well, see, Vegeta," Kakarot begins before I shut the door. "You might not be happy about this."
I flick on the new electricity to flood the cherry-carpeted, clean room with light before crossing my arms. He is hesitating, expecting me to say something, until I tell him with a look that I'm losing my patience.
"I'm going to be sticking around here a little longer than I planned."
"Maybe you and I should try to get along."
"We get along just fine as long as you keep your distance from my-"
"I'd prefer to stay at a hotel rather than sleeping in a rocking ship cabin, in a cold bed every night. I do enough of that when I'm at sea."
I feel myself deflate. "I own all the hotels."
Kakarot laughs. "Yes, you do."
I study him as I think about this. I do not want this man taking what is mine, growing comfortable here. But he already is. One glance into his eyes confirms that he already knows that which I am just now realizing. And as he smiles, his smile looks smug, so smug that I just want to punch him in his stupid face. But I'm the one with the power here.
As his face falters, I smile. "No."
"Come on, Vegeta!"
"Sleep in your ship." I turn to reach for the doorknob, but to my surprise, feel the rap of skin against my knuckles as my hand is batted away. "What?!"
Kakarot is glaring at me, suddenly fierce. "Why are you like this, Vegeta? What are you holding onto so tight?"
My possessions. My place of power in this town. My loyalty to a wife I will never know again. My dignity.
When Kakarot's eyes read into mine, I shove him out of my way with a growl. I have no intentions of telling him these things. And yet, I've told him too much.
When my fingers wrap around the doorknob this time, there is no hand to swat them away. Instead, there are fingers gently curling around my bicep. The soft touch drains the tension from me as I turn with a question on my tongue. My parting lips are met so quickly with a silky, warm caress that I barely register Kakarot's face so close to mine. I inhale sharply as his lips soften and ease off, only to press and rub against mine again so gently that I cannot believe this touch is coming from a man as powerful as Kakarot. The same man who seconds ago had my blood boiling now has my insides raging for another reason entirely. At the inkling of feeling a stirring between my legs, I press my hands against his firm chest and release my lips from his.
I lick my lips as my eyes light on his cheeks flushed with highlights of pink. I've never considered a man beautiful before. But in this instant, Kakarot is undeniably beautiful. Before he can open his mouth and say something else which might ruin this moment, I wrap my hand firmly around the back of his neck and silence him with a kiss more aggressive than his.
Kissing Kakarot is the best way to shut him up, I've found. We've encountered each other a few times since that day, though our privacy is never enough for anything more than a kiss. After years of being without my wife, directing my energy towards building my empire here, I feel the pent-up urges held back by years of careful restraint every time I see Kakarot. I want more than a kiss – which is why I've finally agreed to let him stay in this room, in this hotel. He wasn't surprised when I invited him. The bastard probably thinks he has my wrapped around his skillful fingers.
"Vegeta." His lips brush my collarbone as he works the buttons down his shirt. "I want-"
"I know," I say with a breathless quiver. "I do, too. And when I want something, I get it."
His answering smile lights the room. I can't stop myself from smiling back as he peels his fraying shirt away to reveal his bare chest, as bare as mine. We have all night, with my tasks for the evening complete and the roar of thunder outside to silence our cries from prying ears. I don't want anyone to overhear us.
When he moves to pull me flush against his hard body, I look him firmly in the eyes. "No one can know."
Kakarot nods, slowly and deliberately before a smile crosses his face. "No one will know, as long as you come to see me again."
I feel my lips pull into a smirk before I press them against his, sliding my fingers into his waistband and around that hard cock I've been eyeing and secretly desiring since the moment Kakarot's lips first touched mine. After this night, I will see him again.
Fastening the cuffs of my sleeves, I look across the cherry-carpeted room to where Kakarot is stepping into his worn boots. He shoots me a glance. I think he may actually know what I'm going to say.
"People are growing suspicious." I sigh. "I know they're watching."
"I told you no one could know, Kakarot," I snap. "I won't be judged by these worthless people while you sail off to start anew somewhere with a perfect reputation!"
"I don't care about my reputation!"
"I do!" I falter, stunned by my own admission as I meet Kakarot's equally-shocked gaze. "We're done."
I peel Kakarot's hand from my chest and storm towards the door. "Let me go. This is over."
Kakarot releases me with eyes narrowed and a deep frown. "We'll see, Vegeta."
"We'll see?" I cock a brow at him.
"I know you're not done with me. You just don't want to admit it."
I don't want to admit it, but Kakarot is right. Even as I refuse every one of his requests to see me, he invades my mind more now than he ever has. I race through the halls in my hotel, especially that hall, in complete avoidance of him and his pathetic clinginess. Racing around has proved effective until now, but as I round this last corner, Kakarot is here, waiting for me. Face to face. There is no way to avoid him.
"Vegeta." Kakarot wears a glare and all traces of the passion I've grown used to are snuffed from his voice.
"Kakarot." I cross my arms and avert my gaze.
"You're too proud for your own good. You know that?"
I scoff. "So people tell me. When are you leaving?"
Kakarot's anger dissipates within the blink of an eye. "In a few days."
I blink. "A few days?"
"I wanted to let you know before I leave." Kakarot sighs and rubs his neck. "Vegeta, I won't be returning here."
My words might be more clipped than intended, my demeanor more taciturn. When Kakarot turns away, it is as if I'm watching a wounded animal moping. Perhaps he is a wounded animal. But he's the one who is turning away.
He's the one who is leaving.
I've never understood the heartfelt sendoff people give to the ships when they depart for sea, but as I stare at this brown mass with the sails hoisted in the gentle wind on the buoying waves, for the first time, my heart wrenches. That ship is never turning around. It is never coming back.
It is time for my life to return to normalcy. I should refocus my attentions on my hotels and lording over the pathetic people here who are not leaving this town. I am alone, which is fine. I've always been able to handle myself. I like it this way. When I turn to head inside, my sunlit hotel lobby is alive as usual. I dissociate the activity, the gossip and the music as I pass. I ignore the attention from my onlookers, who whisper about the ship and its crew that abandoned our shore.