Cover reveal! Flying Fish coming to Dreamspinner Press!

FlyingFish_FBprofile_OptizimedForFeed Some of you might already be familiar with my Sword and Silk series which begins with this title, Flying Fish, which focuses on the romance between Daisuke Minamoto, a ronin who returns to his home town to seek revenge on the lord who’d murdered his wife years earlier and Genji Sakura, a traveling kabuki actor whom Daisuke stumbles upon, bathing in a hot spring. Their encounter turns passionate and Daisuke, unexpectedly smitten with the beautiful young man, finds himself quickly at a crossroad: continue his oath of vengeance, or take responsibility for the destruction his anger causes Genji.

If you are familiar with the series, you know it continues with Blind Love and the never before published Blossom of the Samurai. I was fortunate enough to get the series contracted at Dreamspinner Press where Flying Fish is now available for Pre-Order. Official release: August 17! Yay! I hope you’ll check it out. Here is a little snippet from the story. I would love to hear your opinion when you’re done. Do you like stories about samurai? Ir maybe other historical settings for m/m stories?

Excerpt:

Chapter One
Kai Province, Edo Period, Japan
During the Tokugawa Shogunate

Ah, finally, the hot spring! A sunny summer afternoon to himself to enjoy a soak and not another soul in sight with whom he’d be forced to share. Who’d have thought such an oasis of luxury awaited a lowly traveling Kabuki actor, a flying fish who jumped from town to town with his troupe, entertaining merchants, peasants, and samurai? Unimaginable. Except that it had happened. And might not last long.

Genji stared a moment into the placid water of the small pond, surrounded by large rocks between which one could slip to reach the water. Steam rose invitingly from its surface. Even the twittering birds in the trees surrounding the small enclave of rocks seemed to be ordering him in quickly. A hot spring like this would probably not remain undiscovered for long. Once he went back to the troupe’s quarters, only the Buddha might know when he’d have this chance at solitude again.

That was all the encouragement he needed. Genji pulled open the sash of his kimono and let the article slip to the rock below his feet. On top of that, he dropped the small knife he carried, which when sheathed appeared to be a woman’s fan. A mistake probably, leaving it there, considering there were bandits in the countryside who could assail a lone person. But the briefness of time made him throw caution aside.

He stepped out of his wooden sandals, not bothering to fold his clothes neatly. The tie in his hair also landed on his discarded garments, as he fully intended to wash his hair in this hot water. Another luxury he couldn’t have dreamed of before this moment. Now he was naked, having already daringly left off the loincloth before parting from his quarters in the village. Who wanted to spare the valuable time to unwrap it in the instance that he found the legendary hot spring spoken of by the innkeeper?

He covered his knife with the folds of the kimono, left it within his reach, then stepped into the water. And immediately smiled. Delicious already and the water had barely submerged him past the ankle.

Anchoring his weight on one rock, he lowered himself in to his upper chest. Mmm, more luxurious heat penetrated his skin. The perfect relaxation. Bending forward, he soaked his long hair, then yanked his head back and scrubbed his scalp with eager fingertips. It wasn’t the same as having someone else do it for him, but it made his eyes close with pleasure all the same. Dipping down again, he rinsed his hair until he felt certain all the dust of the road had washed away, leaving the long, ebony strands gleaming.

He squeezed the excess water from the length of his hair then found a spot to sit and recline, where a rock jutted out into a natural ledge underneath the water. The sun warmed his face, and the water warmed his body. Warmth filled him. Made his soul as warm as his body. In moments like these, he could forget for a little while. Forget his childhood memories of the anguished cries of women and children as they all were forced from their homes in the aftermath of their lord’s defeat and herded onto the platforms to be sold. The sun made a reddish glow of the darkness behind his closed eyelids, a starburst of light that blocked out even the worst of his childhood visions.
A breeze passed over, blowing cool on his damp skin, rustling the leaves of the bushes and trees surrounding the tiny pool. However, when the breeze died down, the rustling of the leaves continued. Heavier, with the crunch of tiny twigs under the weight of something on top of them.

Genji’s eyes shot open. Sunlight flooded them, blinding him for a moment. The surface of his skin crackled to life. He strained to hear, and his body tensed, ready to spring from the water for his knife an arm’s length away.

Another snap of twigs.

He sat bolt upright. “Who’s there?” he growled.

Silence.

Genji might have thought it was an animal in the brush, but his inner voice told him otherwise. It whispered to him that he shared this tiny oasis with another human being. Someone who’d been spying on him, watching him wash his hair.

Genji leaned over, slipped his hand within the folds of his kimono, and wrapped a hand around the hilt of his knife, a gift from a high-ranking samurai who had patronized Genji’s talents in the past, both on and off the stage. “Answer me,” Genji said, his voice tight. Years of acting had taught him how to infuse his tone with whatever emotion was needed for effect. In this instance, he sought for threatening. “I’m armed. I know how to use this knife.” Indeed, he could follow his threat with action. That same samurai had taught him some basic swordsmanship, in between sessions of intense lovemaking.

Silence still answered him, yet the sense of another human presence remained.

Genji slid the knife from its scabbard.

“If you don’t show yourself on the count of three,” Genji went on, gaze trained on the rocks that hid part of the brush, “I will climb from this pool, seek you out, and gut you. Don’t think I won’t do it.” Though slim and narrow in build, with finely etched muscle and not the brawn of a highly trained samurai or laborer, Genji had speed and agility. As a dancer, he’d found the principles of movement were the same.

“Relax, peasant,” a voice said suddenly from behind the brush. “I’m obeying your order.”

Genji’s insides jumped. The voice, deep and male, held a hint of mockery tinged with admiration. Though the owner of the voice hadn’t threatened his safety, Genji continued to hold his knife at the ready, should the stranger indeed mean him harm.

The leaves and branches of the brush rustled and snapped, and within seconds, a figure emerged. He came to a stop at the edge of the rocks.

Genji stared, blinking, not so much because the glare of the sun made a halo of blinding light around the stranger’s broad figure, but because when the man moved so as to block the sun from Genji’s eyes, the vision before Genji was that of a wild warrior.

Darkness. The word rose in Genji’s mind as the stranger moved a few steps closer. Dark eyes, swarthy skin, jaw and cheeks covered with more than a few days’ growth. And though his abundant black hair was pulled back, much of it had escaped its tie and rioted about his rugged face.

The man, obviously a samurai of some sort, would have been handsomely imposing had his clothing not been ragged and desperately in need of washing, even his rope sandals, though Genji felt certain that the blades of his weaponry, long sword, short, and knife, were polished to perfection within their woven scabbards. The hands that handled those weapons were large, fingers thick, and his legs in their gaiters below the hem of his kimono were also thick, muscled limbs of coiled strength.

Genji’s tanto and his limited ability to use it were a mere joke in the face of this obviously skilled warrior, however ragged and dirty his state. His fear must have shown, for the stranger gave him a sudden lopsided grin and began to untie his belt, lowering his weapons to the rocks.

“I apologize for coming upon you the way I did, like a sneak thief,” the samurai said. His hands went to the tie of his kimono and worked it open. “I thought you were a woman when I saw you from a distance, washing that hair.”
Genji exhaled a tiny bit. But only a bit. He set his tanto onto the rock behind him, an excuse to avert his gaze from the thickly muscled torso being revealed. For some reason, the man’s growing nakedness made Genji feel testy. “So you would have continued to spy on me, taking advantage of my undress had you not seen I’m a man?”

The samurai didn’t answer though his dark gaze shifted away from Genji in a way that appeared guilty. He removed his gaiters, unwrapped his loincloth, dropping everything on top of his other ragged clothing, and Genji got an eyeful of the samurai’s musuko. Even in its softened state, the member hinted at delicious thickness when erect. The sac beneath it was equally abundant-looking, heavy and full.

The samurai leaned down, turning halfway as he began to lower himself into the water. His meaty leg and ass muscles flexed as he climbed down into the pool and settled on the other side. Genji didn’t know if there was a rock ledge to sit on over there, but he didn’t offer the space beside him in spite of this warrior’s handsome appearance. He entertained enough samurai already, nearly every evening after the day’s performances. His life was not his own, and it was a blessing for him that he loved the theater, otherwise he would have gone mad and committed hara-kiri long ago with his own knife.

Without meaning to, Genji caught a glance of the way the waterline lapped at the samurai’s chest and gleamed on the golden hue of his skin, just beneath the large dark rounds of his nipples.

“To answer your question,” the samurai said finally, “yes, I would have continued to spy on you, as crude as that may be.”

Genji blinked again, struck at the man’s honesty. That, at least, was refreshing. Not all samurai were as noble as their warrior’s code demanded they be.

“Even after you first spoke,” the samurai went on, “I wasn’t sure of your sex. Your voice is soft and gentle even though you tried to sound fierce. It took many moments of debating whether to show myself. Only when you turned around and I saw your male chest, I knew I could come out without making you scream.”

Genji continued studying him as he spoke. The samurai’s voice was deep, each word saturated with emotions. The explanation made some of Genji’s apprehension ebb, and he nodded. “I see.”

The samurai cupped some water and splashed his face. Shiny droplets clung to the heavy dark stubble on his cheeks and jaw. “You must be a boy, then, by your smooth appearance.”

“No.” Genji lifted his chin. “I’m in my twenty-fifth year.” Truthfully, he’d not been a boy since his family’s expulsion from the castle into dire poverty, a violence that had ripped him from childhood and thrown him into the constant struggle for survival.

His bathing companion looked doubtful for a moment but then nodded and continued to wash himself. He came away from the edge to the center of the small pool and dipped underneath the surface, scrubbing his skin when he rose.

His large hands slid over his arms and chest, making the water stream off his skin.

Genji tried not to watch him while that testy feeling intensified. He shifted his weight. “I’m not a peasant either,” he said to the man’s back. Water soaked the man’s abundant hair, making it shine in the sun, and those thick back muscles flexed and bunched as he washed himself. Genji had nothing against peasants, of course. His parents had been peasants who’d served the lord of their province within the grounds of the castle keep before the shogun dissolved the lord’s estate and turned them all out. But Genji hadn’t had the chance to grow up as a peasant once he’d been sold into service of Shizu, the theater troupe’s director. And so, his occupation, the very thing that had formed his identity as a human being, was of utmost importance to him and would be known. Even to this bedraggled-looking warrior.

The samurai turned and regarded him. More water beaded off his broad chest and down his taut abdomen. “What are you then?”

Genji squared his shoulders a bit. “An actor.”

The samurai’s eyes widened with a look of amazement. “Ohhhh,” he said in a hushed whisper, as if a great honor were being conferred on him. Then he bowed, his face nearly touching the surface of the water.
Genji’s cheeks burned. Was the samurai mocking him?

But when the other man straightened, his expression seemed sincere. “You must be famous,” he said.

“You don’t need to make fun of me just because I am part of a traveling troupe.”

The samurai’s brow furrowed. “I make fun of no one.” He bowed again. “I have never met an actor before.”

Genji studied him as his indignation faded. Judging from the wild look of the man, it was certainly possible he didn’t patronize the theater as so many of his class did. Then Genji understood his own agitation. “I apologize,” he said softly. “I see you weren’t mocking me. I’m not accustomed to a… response such as yours.”

“Oh.” The samurai bowed again, and Genji felt his cheeks tingle a bit. In spite of their strange introduction, the warrior seemed to possess the sense of honor exhorted by the samurai code, a quality Genji found attractive.

“My name is Genji,” he said, feeling his heart open a bit toward the samurai. Politeness went quite far with him since so many patrons saw his occupation as an excuse to make him an immediate object of their carnal appetites without regard for his feelings. “Sakura Genji.” Sakura was a surname he’d given himself, not only because he found cherry blossoms beautiful, but as a stage name, it had a touch of romance to it. He also felt it would honor his parents. They’d have been proud to know their son had earned the honor of a surname, even if he had to confer the honor upon himself as he grew older and earned his promotion from stagehand to understudy to first performer.
The samurai bowed yet again. “Minamoto,” he said, “Minamoto Daisuke.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Genji paused before speaking again. “Which lord do you serve?” he asked and immediately regretted his question.

Minamoto’s face darkened, and the wildness Genji had first seen came forth in his look.

“I serve no lord,” he said quietly. “I’m a ronin.”

A masterless samurai. There were many of those in the world. For various reasons, these warriors roamed the countryside, using their skills for their own purposes, never swearing fealty to one lord. Indeed, the status explained Minamoto’s unkempt state. The occupation of ronin never held the promise of steady employment, especially in a time as relatively peaceful as this one, when a swordsman’s skill was not so much in demand.
Genji sought to lighten the sudden mood. There was something underneath the ronin’s demeanor that made Genji uneasy in spite of the man’s apparent honorability. “Well, then, we have something in common,” he said.

“What is that?” Minamoto looked genuinely curious.

“Neither of us stays long in one place. You’re a ronin, and I’m a tobiko.”

Minamoto broke into a grin. He laughed then, a deep, rich laugh that did, indeed, release the darkness of the previous moment.

Genji found the laughter infectious and joined him. Their combined voices echoed into the air, Minamoto’s deep sound and Genji’s higher, melodious one blending into the sweet summer air and the birdsong in the surrounding trees. Life held some truly pleasant moments for Genji at times, and this was one of them.

When their mirth had passed, Minamoto regarded him with a thoughtful expression. “I wouldn’t have thought of such a comparison, but you’re right, after all. The world holds great uncertainties for both of us.”

Genji nodded then saw the samurai’s look change, as if his own words had made him think of something he’d left behind while laughing. Feeling suddenly shy, Genji gazed down at the water. “This is certainly a beautiful spot,” he said. The mood had darkened again, and Genji understood. Minamoto carried this darkness with him. It was part of him, like a precious treasure to which he clung for survival. Being an actor had sensitized Genji to the inner workings of human beings. After all, he needed to access the depths of human existence in order to portray it effectively onstage through song and dance.

“It is beautiful,” Minamoto agreed. “I’ve soaked here many times.”

“Oh, so you’ve been in the province before.”

The darkness seemed to close in like a shadow over Minamoto’s handsome face. “I lived here for some time, years ago.”

“I see.” Genji remained quiet. It wasn’t his way to pry into others’ lives. He’d learned long ago to mind his own affairs. Yet, it often didn’t matter. For whatever reason, he had a way about him that made people feel able to bare their souls to him and so had often learned more than he wanted to know of others’ depravities and secrets.
A tormented look tightened Minamoto’s features. “It’s no secret why I lived here and why I left. No doubt you’ll hear the gossip once people see I’ve returned.”

Genji’s insides jumped. Apparently, the ronin sensed this thing in Genji as well. It was inescapable. “I never pay heed to gossip,” he said. “It’s belittling. Unworthy of even the lowliest peasant.”

A moment of silence passed, and Genji thought his response had ended their conversation, but Minamoto spoke again.
“Five years ago, the lord of this province murdered my wife,” he said quietly. “Shot her with an arrow while he was out hunting. She was collecting flowers. They were still in her hand when she was brought to me.”

Genji stared at him. It occurred to him perhaps the lord had been hunting and mistook the woman’s movement for a game creature, but deep inside, he knew it wasn’t true. The act had been committed in cold blood. The truth was in Minamoto’s eyes.

“I was a threat to him,” Minamoto continued. “The aid I gave to certain of his vassals made him distrust me. He did it to rid the province of me. He succeeded. I could not stay here after that… and be reminded of her. Everywhere I looked.”

“I’m truly sorry,” Genji said softly. Clearly the ronin still grieved. The woman’s death had obviously been a loss from which Minamoto felt he could never heal. Perhaps that was the cause of the darkness Genji had sensed in the man.

Minamoto’s stricken eyes went to him. The sympathy he read on Genji’s face seemed to soothe him, for his look shifted to something softer. He nodded an acknowledgment of Genji’s kindness. “Since then, I’ve traveled every inch of Japan, been to every province, and studied with the greatest swordsmen of each fiefdom.”

The samurai’s voice took on an edge as he spoke. There was a hunger in his eyes Genji had seen before in the warriors of his class. So many of them possessed fighting skills beyond anyone’s imagination, and in this peaceful time, they had no outlet other than to challenge each other to duels or to protect villages from gangsters and bandits. From the way Minamoto spoke, and from what he’d just revealed about his past, Genji felt certain as to the destructive course this man actually followed. Minamoto was a man consumed, devoured from the inside by his own life. The understanding formed in Genji’s mind and heart as he watched the steam rise from the water’s surface around Minamoto’s damp torso. Minamoto was a living, breathing figure of tragedy.

The understanding softened Genji a bit more toward the man. As much as he ever wanted to remain aloof from anyone for his own protection, he was never able to do so, as if some sort of natural barrier that other people had was missing from him. “Perhaps it’s none of my business,” Genji began gently, “and please tell me if it is not, but what brought you back to this province?” Something gave him the feeling it wasn’t to revisit the place where he had lived with his wife.

That darkness settled over Minamoto again. “I have unfinished business here.”

The answer confirmed his suspicions. Yet, Minamoto’s intentions were none of Genji’s affair. Genji’s existence was devoted to playing the Samurai Princess, a role for which Shizu had meticulously trained him since buying Genji off the platform.

Genji nodded and remained respectfully quiet. The slant of the sun told him it was time to return to the village. His troupe had just arrived the previous day, and their stage would be near completion. Rehearsals would go on this evening, and then when the news of their arrival had spread, there would be the usual wandering in of samurai looking for an evening’s companion. Genji sighed. “I must return. I have a few moments to dry out on the bank, and then I will go back.”

The ronin started as if given a shock. He bowed to Genji. “I’ll accompany you,” he said. “It’s safer not to travel alone.”

Genji hovered on the verge of refusing the offer. After all, he had his tanto and wasn’t afraid to use it… he believed. However, he found Minamoto’s company oddly comforting, showing Genji how lonely he actually felt in spite of his busy life. His fellow tobiko could never really be true friends, even Aoki. Especially Aoki, who coveted Genji’s position in the troupe. Aoki would not want to remain an understudy indefinitely, and so there was always an undercurrent of tension among the troupe members. Disappointed, Genji climbed from the pool, picked up the pile of his things from the rock, and went to the grass. He retrieved the small bottle of sesame oil from his things and poured some into his hand, smoothing it into his wet hair. The long strands would comb out much more easily when dry if he worked any tangles out beforehand.

Peripherally, Genji saw Minamoto recline on the grass roughly an arm’s length away. He kept his back turned so as not to steal glances at the samurai’s magnificent, naked physique stretched out on the grass in the sun. Working his fingers down the fall of his hair, Genji turned slightly and caught a glance of Minamoto’s lower body. The man’s musuko was no longer soft between his muscular thighs but stretched halfway erect, blooming with reddish color.

A jolt went through Genji’s body, sending in its wake a series of tingles that concentrated in his own member. He’d thought himself jaded after serving so many samurai with his body, but for some reason, life now infused his male parts, even his nipples, which began to tighten into small, hard peaks. He looked back down, pretending to concentrate on his hair with all his will.

“Your hair is so beautiful.”

Minamoto’s deep voice made heat spark in Genji’s middle.

Genji pulled in a small breath. With his fingers still engaged in untangling his hair, he glanced sidelong at the other man. “Thank you,” he said softly.

The samurai had turned onto his side, propped on his elbow, watching Genji tend to his hair as if he were watching something of beauty unfold before him. “I didn’t know a man could move so gracefully… like a swan.”
Heat tingled mercilessly now in Genji’s cheeks. Such praise was a far cry from having his ass grabbed lustfully by a ribald admirer. The occasional riot that had broken out among audiences over Genji’s favors wasn’t nearly as flattering as this simple poetic admiration.

Special Guest Interview: Akira Koieyama!

Those of you who know me, know of my passion for writing stories set in feudal Japan and for samurai and martial arts films. So you can imagine I was over the moon when I was given an opportunity to speak with someone who has actually starred in them!

If you have seen The Last Samurai and 47 Ronin, you’ve seen Akira Koieyama. His most recent role is Gouken in the film adaptation of Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, but you can also see him in Ninja, Rush, Scopia and Color of Pain. In addition to being a talented actor for over two decades, Akira-san, born in Tokyo in January, 1969, has been practicing martial arts from the earliest age and has achieved a 2nd Dan black belt in karate. My interview with him revealed much of the inspirations and influences that went into creating this sensitive, humble and talented person. Please help me welcome him and read on to find out the wonderful things I learned from our conversation.

Me: I know from reading a previous interview that your father was a judo instructor for the police and that was how you began your martial arts training. Did your father encourage you to begin training at an early age or did you choose on your own? What was it like to be raised in that environment?

Akira: Actually my father instructed people when he was young, after he had a bad injury to his back he had has own business at home.

I was wild and a big dreamer when I was a little boy. To be honest I believed I could get inside the mirror to connect to the other side. Then one day I tried to jump into the mirror….but I cut myself below my eyebrow and that was the result of my first honest challenge.

I remember my father played with me all the time when he had time and we sometimes went fishing too. I think we spent more time playing than training. I feel My father taught me mind( Heart ) is the first important technique, when I look back to those days. After my father passed away I started practicing Karate. I think I wanted to do something different, from him. I enjoyed Karate training, speed , power, spirit, and of course pain too. Those spirits are always an important essence to me and encourage me in my life.

Me: How did you get into acting? Did you feel drawn to it or did someone or
something inspire you as you got older?

Akira: I remember, one day I was listening to the radio in the bath, my favorite actor Yusaku Matsuda, his voice was coming out from the radio. He talked about the filming days and details of difficulty for a project. I felt something new in that instant. When I was 23 I went to Toho drama school and got into the acting world. My acting teacher Kazuo Hirayama taught me a lot ! He is already in heaven but He still sometimes comes to my mind and gives me a nice hint.

Me: Of all the projects you have done so far, do you have one that is personally closest to your heart?

Akira: I think personally, the most closest to my heart is Gouken (SFAF). To become Gouken is the biggest challenge in my acting career . its feeling like a climb up the top of mountain . as a one of audience I watch SFAF. I can see vestiges of my father in my acting.

Me: You are very versatile in the types of roles you have done. From martial arts roles to dramatic, including Scopia, which is horror/sci-fi. Is there a type of role you haven’t done yet that you hope to perform one day?

Akira: I would like to challenge many types of roles, perhaps a king or shogun…. when I get older.

Me: What projects coming up can fans look forward to seeing you in?

Akira: I just came back from Thailand a filming trip for Strike Back 5. It will be coming out middle of next year 2015. I can not talk about the project but please look forward to it .

Me: Who are your personal heroes and why?

Akira: My personal heroes are my family because there is always huge love.

Me: What wisdom have you learned in your life that you would wish to impart to
others?

Akira: I am still in a learning process in my life. But I can tell, I want to be true to myself and I want to enjoy everything.

Akira, thank you again for being here and hope you can come back again to talk more someday.

Akira: Thank you so much for having me! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!!!
Akira Koieyama

For an in-depth interview on Akira’s role in Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist visit Kung Fu Kingdom.

Follow Akira Koeiyama on Facebook.

Sneak peek at the third in my samurai trilogy


(photo of an onnegata (male kabuki actor in female role) from weheartit.com)

As some of you know I have been working on A Samurai for Aoki the third in my samurai trilogy. (Previous books: Flying Fish and Blind Love. If you’ve read them, then you’ve met the beautiful kabuki actor Aoki who longs to find the samurai who will be his true love. Aoki is a wonderful character, kind and sweet and a good friend to those in his life. But he has not had good fortune in finding the man of his dreams, in spite of how lovable he is and how willing to love.

I realized it was time for Aoki to find his Happy Ever After. And it will come in what is, for him, a most unexpected place. He just has a lesson to learn first that he had no idea he needed to learn. But isn’t this the story of our own lives? Which is what, to me, makes this story universal even though it is set in feudal Japan between a young samurai, Toho, (whom we also first meet as a boy in Blind Love but who is now grown into a handsome young man,) and an onnegata (male kabuki actor who played female roles). I hope you enjoy the snippet I’m posting here. Please bear with me the long time it is taking me to finish the story. Since I also am a publisher, I don’t have as much time to write.) From my work in progress, A Samurai For Aoki (unedited. Final version may differ):

Toho dreamed again about Aoki. It was the same dream he always had. Aoki’s beautiful face with its delicate features smiling down at him. Warmth sparkled in Aoki’s eyes, a gaze full of love and sweetness, dark liquid pools in which Toho felt enveloped, wrapped in safety and unending compassion. Aoki’s long hair curled and flowed, tresses that gleamed like liquid ebony with sunlight glinting off of it. Toho smiled up at him, as Aoki himself were the warm sun, bathing him while he slept. He could feel the teasing brush of Aoki’s hair on his cheeks. Aoki held out his arms, inviting a protective embrace. Aoki’s embrace had always made him feel as if he’d be all right.

Only this time the dream changed. Aoki’s smile faded. Distress filled his pale complexion. Lines ringed his eyes and deepened across his smooth forehead. His reaching arms flailed and he began to fade, as if made of mist. Toho gasped and reached out to him, grasping desperately. He got handfuls of Aoki’s kimono but Aoki slipped from his grasp. The more Toho reached, the more Aoki faded. Until he was gone…

Toho fought for breath. His chest heaved. What he’d thought were Aoki’s sleeves in his tight fists was, in reality, his own bedding. He sat up. Sweat made his kimono cling to his torso and odd tingles coursed over his skin and through his thigh and calf muscles. While the ghostly whispers of the nightmare ebbed away, he raked a shaky hand through his hair. With a long breath he lay back and stared up at the ceiling. The faintest light of dawn stole through the window slats. The brazier had burnt out during the night, allowing hints of the crisp autumn air to cool his sweaty skin.

On the other side of the brazier, his fathers stirred on their futons. He listened, hoping he hadn’t woken them. They worked hard and needed their rest. He’d have been happy to stay in the one of the dojo’s sleeping rooms with his father’s students but neither Hirata nor Sho would allow that. They were fiercely protective.

Toho took another deep breath. Usually he awoke from his dream feeling refreshed, calm and happy. Not today. Something was wrong. Aoki was in trouble. Toho felt it in his bones. Guilt flashed through him as it did several times each. He’d not yet kept his promise to Aoki to return to him. Both his fathers had made him promise to wait until the first day of his eighteenth year. Well, that day was drawing close, but if his nightmare had any truth in it, then he couldn’t wait until then. Aoki might be in trouble…

A shadow loomed over Toho. In the next breath, Sho was kneeling beside him. His father could move as silently as a cat or a ninja.

“Toho, are you unwell?” Sho, who’d been trained in the arts of acupuncture and herbal healing as well as massage, picked up Toho’s wrist. Immediately, Sho’s fingertips pressed into his pulses.

“I’m fine, Father. Just a bad dream.”

Sho nodded and continued his careful listening. When Toho was a child whose parents had been brutally slain before his very eyes, Sho was the one person in whom he’d been able to take refuge. He couldn’t expect Sho simply to give up his protective ways and let go simply because Toho was now a grown man. And yet, he had never quite gotten used to Sho’s razor-sharp perception. There was no keeping any secrets from his father. He listened another moment to Toho’s pulses and then set his hand down. “You dreamed about Aoki-san again?”

Toho sighed. “Yes. But this one was different. It wasn’t good. Something was—“

“Toho, are you all right?” Hirata came over and knelt beside Sho. His dark gaze fell on Toho. Hirata too, fussed over him too much sometimes, but after what Hirata had recently revealed to Toho about his own past, Toho could easily forgive him his over-protectiveness.

“Toho had a nightmare. About Aoki-san.”

Toho sat up. “In my dream nothing really happened but Aoki-san looked so troubled, so frightened. That’s never happened before. Maybe he needs me to go to him. I did promise I would return to him. And…” Toho hesitated before finishing. “I’ve missed him so badly.” When he looked up, both his fathers brows were furrowed, as if Sho and Hirata knew at once what he would say next. “Please, let me go to him. Let me keep my promise.”
Sho and Hirata were both silent. Toho felt their tension in the very air and his heart sped up. “We’ll go with you,” Sho said.

Toho felt a wave of shame, something he hadn’t expected. For some reason, he’d always assumed that when he returned to Aoki, he would do so as a proud samurai, not the damaged peasant boy he’d been when he and Aoki had parted. How could he do that with his two father, both accomplished swordsmen, surrounding him? “But, Father, how can I ever prove myself to you if you are always protecting me?”

Finally Sho cleared his throat. “You expected to make this journey alone? If it’s about keeping your promise to Aoki then what does it matter if we’re with you?”

“And since when would you need to prove yourself to either of us, Toho?” Hirata said. “You’re our precious son.”

Toho bowed his head again. The cool air in the room had dried his sweat and he pulled his kimono tighter, squaring his shoulders. “I want Aoki to…be proud of me.”

“I have no doubt Aoki would be proud of you if you showed yourself with us beside you,” Sho said. “Just to set eyes on you again and see what a fine young man you’ve grown to be would fill him with joy.”

Toho felt his back muscles clench. Both his fathers had proven their strength and merit as swordsmen and as human beings. Why did they insist on depriving him of his chance? “But Aoki adores samurai. Even as a child I noticed his preference, we spent so much time together.” Toho even remembered the little alcove at the entrance of Aoki’s home, across from the tokonoma, the altar that held the statue of the Buddha, where a weapons rack provided storage for the weapons of samurai who came to call on Aoki. Samurai loved kabuki actors, especially Aoki, who was exceptionally beautiful and graceful.

“Aoki loved you before you were ever a samurai,” Sho said, his voice tight. “Before Hirata ever adopted you, you were Aoki’s special boy.”

“Sho-chan,” Hirata said, his hand on his partner’s shoulder, “In all fairness to Toho, I do understand what he’s saying. I can understand how Toho would wish to prove himself. After such a prolonged absence, he’s worried that Aoki will hold him to a new standard.”

The furrow in Sho’s brow deepened. “And what indications has Aoki given in his letters of such a change in attitude? Every time he’s corresponded with us he sends only love and well wishes and hope we’ll all see each other again before too long.”

Toho looked down. He had no answer. Sho was right, of course. Aoki had never expressed anything to him except complete love and acceptance. It was himself who’d changed. As he grew older and his body became a man’s body, he’d noticed the change in his thinking and feeling. He was no longer that little boy Aoki had loved and helped to heal. That’s the person Aoki loved. The beautiful graceful man he looked up to as a motherly big sister had never met Toho the samurai.

“Toho.” Sho broke the silence. “Please, understand my position. No matter how old you are, how skilled you are, you’re my little boy. I’m not a samurai. I don’t think as a samurai. You don’t prove your worth as a human being by living the laws of Bushido.” Sho sighed, his brow deeply furrowed. “You’re asking me to let go. To let you go…to let you…grow up.”

His father’s words moved Toho to rise and go over to him. He knelt down by Sho who immediately covered Toho’s hands with his. “I’m sorry, Father.”

Sho pulled him into an embrace. The bond between them had formed the moment Sho had first come to treat Toho. In the wake of Toho’s parents’ murders, Toho had lain on a mat in his uncle’s tiny hut, staring up at the ceiling, paralyzed by the trauma of what he’d witnessed. Sho had been the first person he’d looked at, spoken to, trusted when he’d come back to life. He knew that Sho would keep him by his side the rest of their days if he could. When Sho finally ended the embrace he sighed again. “All right. But I expect you to post a message to me every few days, to let me know what’s happening and that you’re all right. Promise me.”

“I promise, Father. Thank you.”

Latest good stuff

Hi everyone – Sorry I haven’t been able to post any personal stuff lately. Since I opened Ai Press, working as a publisher leaves less time for writing. But I assure you I am hard at work on the next White Tigers book, Men of Tokyo: Forbidden Cravings. If you’ve read the series, then you’ll know the gorgeous twins, Mod and Tatou haven’t had their story told yet. So please, stay tuned for that!

In the meantime, in case you haven’t heard, this is my latest release with hot M/M author D.H. Starr. We are pleased and happy to bring you our favorite theme in this collection of novellas. My story, Blind Love is set in the same world as Flying Fish. If you’ve read that story, you’ll remember Genji’s fellow kabuki acting troupe member Aoki, who helped Genji with his makeup and covered for him when his lover came to see him in his dressing room. Well, Aoki doesn’t get his own samurai ry, BUT, he plays a key (and enticing role) in this story as well. Hope you’ll check it out!

Friends to Lovers
Authors: D.H. Starr; Sedonia Guillone
Genre: M/M; Anthology
eISBN: 9781937796174
MSRP: 7.99
You pay: 5.79

Cover art: Les Byerley

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What do an advertising executive, an Olympic skater and an 18th century samurai have in common? Each is in love with his best friend and knows he’s found his soul mate. But is Fate destined to give him his heart’s desire? A timeless theme explored in three sizzling M/M stories by two of today’s favorite authors, D.H. Starr and Sedonia Guillone.

It Was Always You (D.H. Starr) A drama club geek and a consummate jock—hardly a formula for friendship. Yet Caleb Richards and Kevin O’Brien have been best friends since high school. Kevin’s free spirited ways brought Caleb out of his shell, and Caleb introduced Kevin to a world outside of sports. When Kevin came out to Caleb as gay, all the things he’d thought were wrong about himself suddenly seemed right…except for his inability to say the four words that could open the door to his ultimate happiness: I love you, Kevin. Years later, when Caleb finally faced his fear and plans to finally tell Kevin, “It was always you,” he’s a bit too late: Kevin tells him he’s found someone. How will a friendship ever become more now?

Blind Love (Sedonia Guillone) After a harrowing seventeen-year separation, Hirata Morimasa leaves his home and secure future to search for his childhood friend, Sho. Blinded by illness when they were children, Sho was sent away, apprenticed to a blind masseur (an anma) to learn his trade, and then disappeared. Desperate to find the other half of his heart and soul, Hirata willingly sacrifices the prestige and security of his father’s dojo to find him. When an anma who looks exactly like Sho crosses his path in front of a gambling parlor one day, the man flatly denies he is Sho. Hirata knows better and is determined to get the truth…and to get back the friend he’d lost. However, even though Hirata knows in his bones this man is his soul mate, Sho has…changed…in ways Hirata could not have prepared for in his wildest imaginings, changes that could continue to keep them apart…forever.

Skating For Gold (D.H. Starr) Joined by sorrow, Olympic figure skating hopeful Devon Hayes met champion Lance Dawes at a time when both their worlds were falling apart. Devon lost his mother to cancer and Lance’s family rejected him for being gay. When Devon leaves for college, a door seems to close on any hopes for something more than friendship…until Fate provides a second chance. Devon returns home to train with Lance. As the Olympic trials draw closer and their love grows stronger, the tug-of-war between desire and ambition threatens to ruin everything. If they can’t discover what matters most, they might end up with nothing.

Excerpt: