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Hearts Among the Stars [MultiFormat]
eBook by Joe Vadalma

eBook Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
eBook Description: A Stunning Collection of Romantic SF and Fantasy from the Bestselling Author of the Morgaine the Sorceress series. Do love and romance mix well in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Dark Fantasy stories? They do in the stories in this collection! In Joe Vadalma's new book, love (and lust) figures prominently. Here are fifteen stories in which love or romance are major factors in the outcome of the plot. They are stories of encounters with demons, robots, monsters and witches, and adventures in time, haunted houses and fantasy lands. Included are: Kumiko, Rosepetal and the Hunter, Abandoned Mansion, Alvida, Magic Crystal, Shadow in the Sky, Strange Artifact, Box on the Seashore, and more.

eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2007

5 Reader Ratings:
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I met Kumiko for the first time at a high-tech convention in Tokyo. I'm a buyer for an import firm that specializes in the latest technologically advanced gadgets. While I was there, my contact, Binya Nakamura, introduced me to the great artificial intelligence genius, Haruki Takahashi. We met at a restaurant. He was with an indescribably beautiful woman. Takahashi is an intense man who speaks little and usually in monosyllables. At first he did not introduce the woman. After we greeted each other, bowing in the usual Japanese manner, I asked, "and who is this lovely young lady?"

He gave me a look as though he was wondering why I would ask about her. "This is Kumiko, my personal assistant. Say hello to the American gentleman, Kumiko."

In a soft pleasant voice, Kumiko said, "Welcome to Japan, Mr...."

"My name is Allen, Allen Goodwin." I put my hand out.

As she shook my hand lightly, I noted that hers was small and very soft. "I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Goodwin."

She was so lovely that I was distracted by her beauty. As a result I don't recall much about our conversation. I assume that it concerned the latest advances in artificial intelligence. I'm sure Nakamura and I did most of the talking. I recall that Kumiko sat demurely staring at her lap and did not speak at all until it was time to leave.

"Good bye, Mister Goodwin."

She gazed directly into my eyes as she said it. I felt a definite connection.

* * * *

For the next six months, I thought of Kumiko often, those beautiful almond eyes, perfectly oval face, pert nose and shoulder-length, jet-black hair. I tried to think of an excuse to return to Japan so that I could look her up. I hesitated because I was not sure what her relationship was with Takahashi. Was she simply his personal assistant? Or was there more to their relationship?

Then a miracle happened. Takahashi came to New York. Takahashi was one of the guest speakers at a big artificial intelligent convention in Madison Square Garden. Because of midtown traffic, however, I missed his speech. Nonetheless, I caught up with him as he was strolling around the stadium looking at exhibits. To my delight, Kumiko was walking slightly behind him.

She was the first to notice me. She smiled and said, "Good afternoon, Mister Goodwin. It is good to see you again."

"Hi Kumiko. The pleasure is all mine." I really meant it.

Takahashi looked up from the exhibit he had been examining. He had an annoyed look on his face. Nonetheless, he bowed. "Ah. Mr. Goodwin. Let me see. You are with Worldwide Tech Imports. We met in Tokyo."

"Yes. That's correct. It's nice to see you again. And your beautiful personal assistant."

He chuckled. "Oh her. Yes, I have her tag along to take notes on items of interest. Did you catch my speech and the demonstration?"

"No. I'm sorry I didn't. I just got here."

My mind worked furiously on some method of getting Kumiko alone. It was as though Takahashi read my mind. He said, "since you missed the demonstration, perhaps you should speak to Kumiko about it. I won't be needing her for a while."

"That would be great."

"You may drop her off at my hotel, The Hyatt, Room 1006, when you are done talking. Let me know whether you are impressed. Kumiko, stay with Mr. Goodwin for the rest of the afternoon."

"Of course," I replied. Although I wasn't sure exactly what he meant, I did not question him. He walked away.

"Well Kumiko, it's kind of noisy in here, and there's nowhere to sit. Shall we take a walk?"

"If you like." She took my arm and let me lead her out onto Broadway. I took her to a side street and into a Starbucks that was not too crowded. I asked her what she wanted. "Nothing for me. I do not drink coffee."

I ordered a regular coffee and a Danish. "Now that we are somewhere quiet, you can tell me about Mr. Takahashi's speech and demo."

"The whole thing verbatim?"

"Heavens no. Just summarize."

She told me that his goal was to achieve an artificial intelligence that could not be told from a human being. To achieve this he had put the equivalent of emotions into his artificial intelligence software. Then, she rattled on about the technical details, which I tuned out. I was too busy contemplating that gorgeous face of hers.

When she finished, to keep her talking I asked her about the demo.

"Oh he had the artificial intelligence answer questions from the audience."

"Impressive. Say, Mr. Takahashi asked me to bring you to his hotel room. Is he your boyfriend?"

She thought for a moment. "No. He is a friend and my boss. He is not my boy friend. I don't have a boy friend."

My heart leaped for joy. "But you stay in the same room with him."

"Strictly speaking, it is not a room but a suite."

"I see. How long do you two expect to be in New York?"

"Mr. Takahashi wants to stay a month. He wishes to confer with several AI experts before we return to Japan. He also wishes to do some sightseeing."

A whole month. That was great. I decided to pop the question. "Uh, since you don't have a boy friend, I wondered whether I could take you out some evening."

She thought that over for a few seconds. "Do you mean like a date where a man and a woman do things together that are romantic. You must ask Mr. Takahashi whether I am allowed."

I realized that in Japan their customs were different. It seemed rather paternalistic to me though that an employer could control an employee's social life to the point where he could say whether the employee could go out on a date. But, if that was their way, there wasn't much I could do about it. "Very well. I'll ask him."

We spent about an hour in the coffee shop. Then I took Kumiko sightseeing in the midtown area, Rockfeller Center, the Empire State Building, Radio City and the Fifth Avenue shops. Although we talked a lot--she was a wonderful conversationalist, knew a lot about many subjects, literature, the arts, current events, and so forth--I did not find out much about her personal life. On the other hand, I blabbed on about myself quite a bit. I hoped that I had not been a boor.

I returned Kumiko to the hotel at the appointed time. After briefly chatting with Takahashi about trivialities, I said, "Kumiko tells me that she needs your permission to go out on a date. I'm quite taken with her. Is it all right if I take her out on the town tomorrow night?"

His eyebrows raised. "You want to date Kumiko?"

"Yes. If it's all right with you."

"Hmm. It would be an interesting experiment. Yes. You may take her out. What time will you pick her up?"

"About seven."

"She will be ready."

We said out goodbyes, and I left. All the way back to my own apartment, I puzzled on what he meant by saying that it would be an interesting experiment. Finally, I decided that like most geniuses, he was eccentric.

* * * *

When I arrived at the hotel the next evening with flowers and a bottle of wine, Kumiko was dressed in a backless, low-cut gown which showed that her figure was as spectacularly gorgeous as her face. We opened the bottle I brought. Takahashi poured a glass for each of us, and we chatted for a while. Takahashi and I each finished a glass of wine. Kumiko did not touch hers.

Takahashi asked, "Where are you taking Kumiko?"

I thought that it wasn't really any of his business, but I replied anyway. "Dinner at an Italian restaurant, a movie and a nightclub. Is there a curfew?"

"No. You may keep her out as late as you like. I would forget about dinner though. She has already eaten."

"Oh. I should've said something. Here in New York we're used to late dinners. Very well, we'll skip dinner. Kumiko, what movie would you like to see?"

"I have no preference. You choose one."

As we were leaving, Takahashi said, "have fun." I don't know whether he was talking to me or Kumiko. Although he was about the same age as her, he was treating her as though he was her father. I wondered whether he had promised her parents to keep an eye on her. I'd heard that Japanese parent were very strict even to their grown children.

I took her to see a romantic comedy. Afterwards, we went to a jazz club. Among all her other accomplishments, she was an excellent dancer. She did not drink at all, merely ordered one highball which lasted her the entire evening. About three in the morning, we arrived at her door. She took out her key, but before she inserted in the lock, I grabbed her arms and kissed her. She responded ardently. We held the kiss until I ran out of breath.

"That was wonderful. I enjoyed every minute of tonight, Kumiko."

"Yes. It was a pleasant evening. Goodnight, Mr. Goodwin."

"Holy smoke. After that kiss and you're still calling me mister?"

"What do you want me to call you?"

"Allen, of course."

"Goodnight Allen. Thank you for an enjoyable evening."

"Will I see you again?" I asked; her response seemed cold.

"Mr. Takahashi says I may see you any time you want."

"What I mean is, do you want to go out with me again?"

"If you wish."

I was puzzled. Did she like me or not? She seemed so noncommittal. Nonetheless, she did not say no. I was determined to make her like me. I knew that I was in love with her. I had fallen from the first moment that I gazed on her face. "I'll call."

"I will wait for it. Good night, Allen. Do you want to kiss me again?"

This put a smile on my face. "Absolutely." I kissed her passionately.

On the way home, I was higher than a kite crazy in love. My only concern was that she was due to return to Japan in a month. But, I thought, a month is a long time. I'll see what happens. Maybe I can talk her into staying longer even if Takahashi goes back.

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