Standard disclaimers apply.


By Cassandra's Destiny


He had not meant for this to happen.

Heavy-eyed and exhausted from yesterday's photo shoot, not to mention the last minute paperwork he had to finish, Tokiya was unable to attend to Rick's call late in the evening. The already unsound side of him turned deaf to the series of rings; sleepy eyes turned blind to the flashing caller ID. It wasn't that he wanted no part in the late night specials of Dumb and Dumber – well, that too – but heck, had it been Kiara's father, he still would not have answered the phone.

Such a shame for a man of his stature to have reached his corporeal limits.

"The other contestants have already gone out of their ways, grabbing as many photo ops as possible. The promotional shots are one thing, but public buzz is a whole new matter altogether." Rick began explaining, occasionally tugging on his checkered tie. "It's a must that we don't fall far behind."

Everyone nodded their heads in approval, and began raising questions and throwing suggestions. "What if we sell the story of their first date to the papers?"

Tokiya sighed. Their first date neither had a romantic nor dramatic twist to it. To add to that, there never was a first date.

"Write that down," he heard him whisper to his assistant. "Everyone, keep giving your suggestions, please."

Tokiya was not Rick. He was not a short man with dark eyes and dark skin. True, he can take on anything, but a room full of busybodies was not on his list of things he would choose to take on.

"Tell me again why the opening was postponed for tomorrow?"

His head snapped to where the voice was coming from, and so did Tokiya's. Finally putting a word in the situation was Miki, who was removing her sunglasses and standing up to emphasize her point. "Wasn't today supposed to be the opening?"

She did not look exasperated. In fact, she kept her cool just like he did. The glint in her eyes though gave away that being called at 7:30 in the morning for such a session was not her idea of a perfect start to a would-have-been perfect day.

"Business." It was Martin who provided the simple answer. Naturally, a complex answer was to be anticipated from Rick. "Correct; business matters, Miss Miki. Apparently, the network was able to negotiate on a better time slot for the pilot episode. Had the opening been today, we would only have a forty-five-minute time slot. Postponing it for a day – a single day, mind you – we have been awarded a primetime slot. Think three hours in full, just for the unveiling of the contestants and the first set of scenes!"

"Does Maeda Inc. have anything to do with that?" Tokiya asked, and the room fell silent.

Rick shot his friend an anxious glance before scratching the back of his head. "Not without your permission, of course!"

He raised a brow. "What has he gotten him into again?"

"The network would be more than happy if Maeda Inc. would offer its help, especially since it's a fast-growing group of companies – a solid backer of Devil's Isle, if you ask me."

Too bad nobody did.

The blank stare Tokiya gave him had him chuckling nervously. "What if a fraction of the group signs a contract with Devil's Isle as sponsors, or to pledge partnerships…"

"Maeda Inc. will take no part in the show." He declared with finality.

"Why not?"

"No part of our individual contract states that the mother companies and/or sponsoring enterprises are obliged to sign in as benefactors of the show. If Devil's Isle was able to score primetime, more so a three-hour slot, I'm certain it's not because the television producers were psyched about the show's format. There are definitely big companies involved already."

Tokiya smirked. Thankfully, beauty and brains do come in a single package every three hundred years or so. "Miki makes a lot of sense. Had it been a requirement that's legal and binding, Maeda Inc. will definitely oblige. However, you don't see fashion houseS calling dibs on sponsorship rights in behalf of this model over here." He gestured to Miki.

Rick sat down and rubbed his temples, obviously regrouping. "What if…" He began, a hint of uncertainty in his tone. "Hey, what about the publicity stunts? Has the list been narrowed down yet?"

A preposterous snicker was heard from Martin. Even he found his friend's attempts to steer the conversation in another direction highly laughable.

Rick was a short man with dark eyes and dark skin, and he can take on anything. A resolute Tokiya was no exception, especially since he was distracted by a certain red-haired supermodel who was currently whispering in his ear.

"Would you like to accompany me for some coffee and macadamia brownies, perhaps?" Her voice came out as but a whisper, as if breathing words voicelessly. He hated to admit it, but in a morning the words horrifying and annoying would fail to describe, it was the perfect aphrodisiac.

"If you say please, I might take you up on that offer."

"Cocky," she leered at him, paying no attention to Rick and Martin rounding up the staff. "Would you please accompany me for some coffee and macadamia brownies after this twaddle?"

Twaddle. This woman really was something. "I'd love to; I would have to skip the macadamia brownies though."

She smiled at him and he mentally froze. The reason why her sexy, enthralling, seductive, albeit mysterious smile – that model's smile – never ceases to faze him, metaphorically, was beyond reason.

"Suit yourself."

He watched her lovely backside as she walked away, slowly disappearing into the crowded group Rick was speaking to. Even then, it seemed all too familiar to him: the smile, the teasing, the walking away, the disappearing, the comely backside… déjà vu?

Tokiya sighed. He needed to make his coffee a double, obviously black.

Later, as he sat comfortably in the car seat, his thoughts slid inexorably to Rick's plan. He was stunned to find a black sedan parked outside the office building. "The chauffer has been instructed to drive the two of you to the town's shopping district. You'd be making a quick stop two blocks from here. Miss Miki, your wardrobe coordinator is waiting for you there." With the confidence of a practiced performer, he sent them off, giving them no chance to argue or question.

"Here," he mouthed a few words of thanks as she handed him a cup of coffee. "It's the only thing available in the car. So, how do you like it?"

Slowly, he took a sip. As soon as the liquid made contact with his tongue, he grimaced, but it was quickly replaced with a small smile. "The coffee's alright; I just burned my tongue." Decaf.

Miki raised a brow, signaling she did not buy his fake smile and lame excuse. "You burned your tongue?" Tasting her coffee, she instantly made a face. "Decaf, probably the worst kind."

He was amazed at her recognition of the decaffeinated coffee. More often than not, it will take an entire mug for a person to leave with the conclusion that he has been drinking decaf. However, that was not the case for him. Coffee was his drug – a drug Recca and the others have persuaded him to drop, a drug he almost gave up about a year ago.

"Coffee again?"

He raised his head to see who his nosy parker was. "I believe that falls under the category of none-of-your-business."

She only laughed at him and teased him more about his coffee addiction, going in so far as saying it will shorten his life dramatically. "You'll die early."

"I'll die happy."

"Just for coffee?"

"Kiara," he began, careful not to be rude enough to have Kaoru dragged into the conversation. "How about we make a deal? I'll stop drinking coffee the minute you stop, and I mean stop, eating sweets."

The incredulity in her expression will forever be etched in his memory. She tried laying down on the sweets, stopped buying chocolates and candy-coated cookies. Failure was in her near future, she knew, and she gave up on their deal eventually.

"The reason they can't provide us with real coffee and macadamia brownies is probably one of the many mysteries of the world." Miki's tone was distressed, and it caught his attention. "I really wanted those brownies."

He said nothing, but his mind was a breeding ground for studies on women and their relationship with sweets and pastries. "I'm guessing it's a biological thing."

Tokiya felt the car make a stop, and he finished his drink in a single gulp, no matter how bad it was. "Are you ready?"

"I took on decaf; everything else should come as a breeze." She joked, checking the hems of her dress. "All this trouble just to get the longest section in a Devil's Isle exclusive."

The plan was subtle and crafty. It almost made him proud he let Rick keep his job after his series of screw-ups in the past. Nevertheless, the scheme in itself was worthy of praise; the execution was another matter. Would it hurt to tell them at least a day before? Apparently so. He allowed no room for complaints or scrutiny; only told them they had to make themselves spotted by the columnist so that in the article intended for Devil's Isle and each of its participants, they would have the longest section, steering it from the basics on the reality show to the what-if's and formal hearsays on their relationship. "Actually, he was hoping for a follow-up on an article I read yesterday."


"Were we born yesterday was the title of the article, talking about how the media has missed our so-called budding romance."

"Any pictures?"

"Just one, a shot from our coffee session the other day."

She smiled. "They weren't born yesterday. Our budding romance as the news puts it, however, was." The driver opened the door for them, and Miki put on her sunglasses.

"We are definitely going for gold," Rick's speech played in his head as he got down from the car. Offering the chauffer a curt nod, he watched as his girlfriend stepped her stiletto boots on the concrete.

"Shopping," he heard her say. "Your publicist isn't as bad as I thought."

Tokiya shrugged. Trust Rick to make things more complicated than they actually are. Before he received that tip from his Page Three insider, he was rambling about the dramatic flavor they should add to the story of their first meeting. Love at first sight, he says. "The wife of Eliseo Romano, famed columnist of Page Three, is known to go to this shopping district a lot."

"Alegria or Natasha?"

The bemused expression he gave her was enough to have her giggling. "What I meant was, which wife of Eliseo Romano are you talking about? He has two, you know. Moreover, rumor has it, he's currently sleeping with Chantel, the French supermodel."

Revulsion was the first thing that struck him. The man was in his mid-50's, already married to Alegria Rizzo, and to some Natasha apparently – as if that's not more than enough – but he's hitting on, and actually sleeping with a twentysomething model too? "Wasn't Alegria a model when he married her years back?"

She nodded once. "Natasha is a model too. She's only big in glamour photography though."

"And the French model?"

"Chantel? She's definitely a heroin chic famous for her shoe collection. She stopped selling last fall, and word backstage is that was the exact time Mr. Romano came knocking on her bedroom door."

"To think he has children." A scowl. "Looks like he has a fetish for models. Who knows, maybe you are his next target…" He trailed off, giving Miki a look. "But I'll make sure he doesn't lay a finger on what's mine."

The moment those words escaped his lips, he mentally froze. Did he just call her his?

He opened his mouth to take back what he said, or maybe do some damage control. Shutting it immediately, he realized what's done is done – that and she snaked her arm around his waist.

"I don't know what game you're playing, Tokiya, and I'm afraid we don't have time to talk about the rules of your game right now…" She gestured to the display windows of a boutique. "I say Mr. Romano has spotted us already."


In the next chapter: "Join me in welcoming the contestants of Devil's Isle!"