Chapter 17 – What ho? A foe?

"Rivalry adds so much to the charms of one's conquests" – Louisa May Alcott

To the unenlightened stranger, Kagome's hunched shoulders and tightly clasped hands spoke of a subdued nature; one cowed by the crackling tension that radiated from the small table arranged so comfortably next to the large bay windows of the coffeehouse. Her eyes remained steadily on her lap, falsely oblivious to her two companions. One stared at the other with cool hostility and the other reciprocated with a slightly more confused, though just as unfriendly, demeanor.

It was too bad that the only individual in the room that would have a true understanding of how much her outward appearance differed from the truth had left the land of reality into the land of male chauvinism. Sadder still, he was the only individual in danger of being on the receiving end of her less than pleasant thoughts.

"Kagome, my love!"

Relief that only one saved from certain insanity can feel, rush through her as she looked up to see the delighted gaze of one of her dearest friends. In fact, he was the very reason she had insisted on driving halfway across the city to a slower-paced part of town.

"Jakotsu!" She cried out in happiness. Her eyes met his in silent desperation. Pausing, the new arrival cocked his head, a carefully penciled eyebrow arching, only to raise even higher as he took in the two stunning male specimens flanking her. His rouged lips curled slyly as he smoothed out nonexistent wrinkles from his form-fitting black pants before swaying forward to capture a small hand, bringing the black-haired woman to her feet.

"Darling! It has been so long!" Jakotsu crooned as he wrapped his arms around Kagome and tucked her into his chest. He did not miss the scowls that darkened the faces of her two companions and his smile only widened when it seemed the two were prepared to forcibly remove him as he brushed a light kiss at the corner of her lips.

"You've been a naughty girl, my love." Jakotsu whispered lowly in her ear before raising his voice. "Old Kane has missed your magical touch. You should pay her a visit, or she'll give me fits all day for allowing you to leave without seeing her."

"It has been a while hasn't it? That sounds lovely." Turning, she smiled brightly at the seated men. "I'm sure I won't be missed for a few minutes, seeing how engrossed you both are in your business discussion."

Stalking off, she ignored the trio as they watched her make her way behind the counter and caress the state-of-the-art espresso machine that sat, its metal gleaming as if preening under her attention. Apparently, this was 'Old Kane.' It seems that Kagome's penchant for naming devices is not limited to cell phones, Sesshomaru thought with mild amusement.

"So, which one of you fine specimens has the honorable pleasure of being punished by me for keeping my Kagome away from me, hm?" Jakotsu purred as he perched himself on the edge of Kagome's now vacant chair before coyly propping his chin on the back of a well-manicured hand, his elbow resting on the table.

Twin pairs of eyes snapped their attention back to the table. "Your, Kagome?" Two voices demanded.

"Of course! She is the love of my life. Why, I wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for her." Jakotsu said dramatically, though neither canine could detect any sign of dishonesty. Seeing the obvious agitation that crossed the face of the silver-haired Adonis and the scowl that darkened the blue-eyed charmer at his words, Jakotsu felt like the cat who ate the canary.

"Well, well." He murmured in delight as he leaned back in his chair, arms crossed. "It seems my darling has been playing without me." He mused, pouting. "I shall have to punish her instead."

"I would suggest otherwise if you wish to survive my punishment." Sesshomaru said, danger radiating from him.

Jakotsu shivered. "Oh, yes. Please do." He said throatily as he leaned forward.

Shocked, it took several seconds longer than it should have for Sesshomaru to comprehend the human male's meaning. When realization finally dawned, it took every bit of will he had not to kill the man where he sat for daring to even suggest such a thing because surely that was what he was feeling... not an almost overwhelming desire to make a hasty exit for the door. His ire only grew as the previously stunned wolf began howling with laughter. Sesshomaru's contemplation of how many ways there were to eviscerate the suicidal...male were only halted by the return of his assistant whom his gaze pierced accusingly for having to suffer such indignity.

Displeasure coursed through him as her smile only widened upon seeing his misfortune. Turning to Koga, she asked cheerfully. "Looks like I missed something entertaining. Care to share?" She queried as she carefully sat a large porcelain latte cup in front of him before turning to Sesshomaru with another cup that she placed rather forcefully on the table.

"Kagome, did you make this?" Koga asked in wonder as he examined his cup. On the surface of the savory latte was a design carefully drawn into the creamy foam of a single bamboo stalk, an extended branch with delicate leaves curving around the shape of the cup and arching to the ground, shading the ancient symbol for luck.

"Yes." Kagome said as she pulled over a chair, sitting between Koga and Jakotsu.

Curious, Sesshomaru glanced down at his own latte, his eyebrow twitching as he saw a dog house with the forlorn looking face of a puppy peering out. The not-so-subtle point was not lost on him.

Jakotsu hummed nostalgically. "Yes, my Kagome was my star barista here for a time before she left me for some silly job behind a desk working for some devil boss."

"Interesting that your employment here did not make it onto your resume, Higurashi." Sesshomaru said with feigned indifference as he deliberately used a spoon to stir his latte and thereby removing any traces of the unfavorable, though admittedly well done, art.

"I did not think my short time as a barista was relevant to the job as an assistant, Mr. Taisho." She said sweetly. "And I believe we have already established that there is a lot about me you don't know."


Koga cleared his throat, breaking the crackling tension between the two. "So, where did you learn how to do... what is it called? Latte art? If I recall, it is quite unique and the training is usually done in Europe."

"I was never really trained actually." She said, shifting awkwardly. "It was just something I picked up. Jakotsu saw me doing it one day and asked me to work at the cafe. And well, the rest is history."

"Ah, ah, ah." Jakotsu tsked, his finger wagging. "You left out the most important part, darling."

Uneasy, Kagome's smiled stiffly. "Oh, I don't think I did, Jakotsu." She gritted.

Sesshomaru nose was working overtime as he took in Kagome's discomfort. It seemed that there was no end to her secrets. How many would he need to uncover before he was satisfied? He wished he knew.

Waving a dismissive hand, Jakotsu continued, "Kagome is the reason my lovely cafe is still open. Her art became so popular, people came just to see what she would come up with next." He cast a wistful glance at the scowling woman. "She put The Little Coffeehouse on the map. My coffee shop hosts latte contests year-round now. Business could only be better if my little Kags came back." He leaned forward eagerly. "Tell old Jakotsu you plan to leave these stiff-suits and come back, my love." He passed a hungry glance at the two cringing hetero-males. "Don't get me wrong, darling. I wouldn't mind staring at that eye-candy all day either, but I'm sure I could treat you much better." Jakotsu said with a wink.

Relief washed through her, and Kagome laughed. "I'm afraid my barista days are over, but that shouldn't have stopped me from stopping by more often." She reached over, giving Jakotsu's hand a squeeze in silent thanks. "I'll make sure to come around more. I hadn't realized how much I missed this place until now."

"Hmph." Jakotsu grouched, though his pleased smile rendered any apparent displeasure null, but the conversation ended when he was called elsewhere. "Well darling, duty calls. You know nothing gets done in this place without me." He couldn't resist teasing her companions once more and leaned over to give her a lingering kiss behind her ear before standing up. "I miss our... late night dinners, love." He said suggestively. "Call me when you have a free night."

"I will." She said, her eyes gleaming with amusement at Jakotsu's antics. He could drive her crazy sometimes, but today, she was grateful for his insanity. It had gone a long way to reigning in her homicidal inclinations.

Her smile faded as she turned to face two belligerent faces, but her glare halted any ideas of further questioning. Sesshomaru's answering glare promised the discussion was only delayed while Koga's clenched jaw meant he knew their relationship was too new for him to demand any answers.

Attempting to diffuse the awkward situation, Kagome turned to Koga. "So, you mentioned a potential business dealing?"

The next hour was spent discussing Australian wine and how best to introduce it in Japan. It was a market that Taisho Corp had never really been in before, but Sesshomaru had been considering expanding into other trades for some time. This may be just the opportunity he was looking for.

"You know Mr. Taisho," Kagome began excitedly. "I think this would be perfect for our yearly Halloween and Christmas charity balls we hold every year. They would be wonderful venues to showcase the wine. It's the perfect mix of people and we always have large media coverage. What do you think?" She asked eagerly, turning to fully face him for the first time since their arrival at the cafe.

Eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he considered her proposal. "Hn. It only gives us a little over two months to get the winemaker to agree to a proposal and ensure there is enough product. However, you are correct. It would be a good opportunity; one we should not pass up." He turned to Koga. "You have spoken with the winemaker and seen his vineyard. Do you believe he is capable of handling such a short-notice order?"

Koga nodded. "He can handle it. The challenge is getting him to agree to a proposal. I spent quite a bit of time convincing him that a partnership would benefit his vineyard, but he isn't quite sold. I get the impression he's rather particular about who he works with. It may require you to pay a visit."

Kagome was already flipping through her digital planner. "Hmmm. This week is no good. We still have too much to catch up on."

Two pairs of male eyes riveted on her bottom lip as she unconsciously began nibbling on it … a habit of hers that Sesshomaru had learned only came out when she was particularly excited or nervous about something. Throughout the years, Sesshomaru had found that when his assistant found a project truly worth her attention, it usually meant it would be very successful. She had a sixth sense about these things he still hadn't figured out. There had never been a rhyme or reason to her preference but he always paid attention to it. His eyes strayed briefly from that abused appendage when he noticed Koga shifting slightly forward in his chair. He had to suppress a glare as he noted Koga found the gesture just as intriguing as he himself did. Perhaps he would mention the habit to Higurashi later. She would be rather embarrassed to know she did such a thing in mixed company. His irritable contemplation was interrupted when Kagome raised her head expectantly and he was forced to replay her last comment.

"I could work time in for you to take a day trip next week if you leave in the morning on Wednesday and return Thursday afternoon. It will be tight, since it's such a long flight, but I don't think you'll have any problem. Of course, since the winemaker already knows Mr. Matsuno, it might be best if he goes as well." She looked up expectantly. "What do you think?"

Before he could respond, Koga grabbed her hand. "I think that's a great idea, Kagome. I think it would be an even better idea if you came with us. I'm sure if you came, we'd have no problem convincing him."

Kagome gave a small smile. "Yes well, Mr. Taisho is an excellent negotiator and I doubt he needs me there. However, I am quite interested in meeting Mr. … You know I don't think you've said his name."

"He goes by Mr. Black." Koga said with a small frown. "Though he speaks Japanese quite fluently. In fact, I get the impression that Australia wasn't his first home even though he has been there for some time." He said, giving Sesshomaru a pointed look.

Kagome didn't miss the silent communication between the two, but she got the feeling now wasn't the time to question it and made a mental note to ask Sesshomaru later. "Well, I would love to meet Mr. Black, but, that can be arranged at a later date." She turned back to Sesshomaru, once again proving how much of a distraction she had become to her male audience by nibbling on her bottom lip.

"In fact," she said thoughtfully. "I think we should invite Mr. Black to Japan for our Halloween party to debut his wine! And, if he has one, his family, of course. You will have to ask Mr. Black when you see him, Sesshomaru. Hmmm." She trailed off, as she began writing notes in her planner, completely oblivious to the unintentional use of her boss' first name or the mixed reactions at the table of growing suspicion and satisfaction to the slip.

It was a quiet ride back to the office, each lost in their thoughts as they rode in the back of Sesshomaru's limo, though Sesshomaru wasn't so distracted to not notice the sharp, puzzled looks that the ookami kept darting between Sesshomaru and his assistant. Every once in a while, he would shake his head and scowl – a completely witless thing to do in Sesshomaru's opinion. It was beginning to grate on Sesshomaru's nerves, which had already been tested to their limits. He shot a glare that promised painful things to come as Koga glanced at him for the dozenth time. For a moment, the lesser youkai seemed cowed, before his gaze landed back on Kagome and his jaw firmed.

"Why don't you head up first, Kagome? Sesshomaru and I have a bit of catching up to do." Koga asked, plastering on a cheerful smile as the limo glided to a stop at the Taisho Corp entrance.

Kagome glanced at Sesshomaru who gave a slight nod. "Alright." She agreed, before slipping out of the limo.

"Oh, and Kagome?" Koga called. She leaned down to peer back into the limo. "I'll call you this weekend?"

Kagome hesitated, her gaze automatically moving towards Sesshomaru before she could stop it. His face was blank, but his eyes bored into her. It almost made her give then answer she knew her boss wanted her to. But, that was the whole point wasn't it? She needed to start taking control of her life. Who knew it would be so hard? She swallowed before she turned her gaze back to Koga.

"Yes. I already have plans for Saturday, but perhaps Sunday?"

The dark-haired male's smile widened. "It's a date." Kagome smiled and nodded, her whole body coiled with the effort to keep her eyes from glancing at the other figure. "Well, enjoy your talk." She waved, as she stepped away from the limo and closed the door.

The atmosphere was tense in the small confines of the vehicle as Sesshomaru turned to face the ookami. "I do not like wasting time. If you wish to speak, do so."

"Is there something going on between you and Kagome that I need to know?" Koga asked bluntly, his arms crossing across his chest.

Sesshomaru's eyes reddened as he released enough yoki to make Koga's skin itch unpleasantly. "You overstep your boundaries, wolf; thinking you may question this Sesshomaru. You are in no place to know anything about this Sesshomaru's matters."

Koga tapped the side of his nose. "My sense of smell may not be as strong as an inu's, but it's good enough to tell Kagome doesn't hold a claim mark. And I think she would have told me if she was seeing someone. She's seems too honest and loyal to try to play around. Or, am I wrong?" Koga, baited.

Sesshomaru bared his fangs. "You question her integrity? Do you believe this Sesshomaru would allow someone of such low character into his employ? I wonder what she would think, knowing you think so lowly of her."

"Your employ?" Koga stared intently at the inu-youkai for several moments before his eyes cleared and he smiled broadly. "Of course that's it!" He chuckled. "Don't know what I was thinking there for a second. You liking a human. Ha!" He shook his head. "Well, you may not like human's you old dog, but they suit me just fine. Even if they didn't, Kagome is special. You're just gonna have to get used to the idea that if things go the way I plan, Kagome's life won't be just about work anymore."

Koga missed the dark look that passed over the inuyokai's face as the ookami walked away; and he never felt the yoki filled with confused outrage behind him, so tight was the control Sesshomaru exerted to contain it.

Writer's Corner

Now, before everyone freaks out and asks if I am back...the answer is no. Still keeping the "On hiatus" status, but you guys are so awesome that I just felt awful holding onto this chaper any longer since it was 3/4's of the way done. I just recently graduated with my Bachelor's (Summa Cum Laude), so this is my treat to everyone. I hope you enjoy.

P.S. Kudos to anyone who knows where the chapter title came from ... I am a kid at heart and have no problems admitting it!