An excerpt for you. Second book in the Tiger Lily series. (99 cents on Amazon)
“THE NIGHTINGALE’S SONG betrays the night-blooming lily,” said a husky voice. I froze in the dark passage. Under my feet, polished cryptomeria board gave a soft, high sigh. A hand reached out from the shadows and grasped my wrist—long, slender fingers with the calloused strength of a horseman.
My lordling, second child of the great Daimyo of the Northern Han, emerged from the darkness. As part of the Ashikaga retinue come down from the Northern hinterlands, I slept in the room down the hall with the other girls hired to be handmaidens here in the capital. To reach the outside, I had to pass my Lord Ashikaga’s room. I’d been on tiptoes, arms pressed close to my sides to quiet the swish of the long, cumbersome robe I was forced to wear. I had imagined I could escape unnoticed.
Stupid floor. The Daimyo had built this Residence in the fashion of the Emperor’s palace, complete with specially constructed flooring designed to sing whenever a person walked upon it.
“My lord,” I said, bowing low, despite the hour and the lack of watching eyes.
Laughter—a mocking, sharp-edged sound in the twilight. “For days you have pleaded exhaustion. Yet I find you outside your bedroll in the dead of night.” The grip on my wrist dragged me across the polished wood. Shadows hid my lordling’s eyes, but the breath that prickled my cheek was over-sweet with rice wine. “A midnight tryst, perhaps?”
I muffled a snort. No chance anyone in the entire city of Kyo no Miyako would believe that. Not a girl born in the Tiger year, drab as a crow in the midst of petite, greenfinch handmaidens. Coarse spinsters did not have romantic meetings in the moonlight. Ashikaga teased only to drive home the real reason I, the mere daughter of the Daimyo’s cook, was here in the Ashikaga Palace at all. I knew a secret—my lordling’s secret. As if I needed a reminder of who Ashikaga Yoshinori was. As if my thoughts didn’t dwell on the lordling too great a portion of my waking hours already.
I gave a little sigh.
“Lily,” said the lordling. Fingers bit painfully into the tender skin of my wrist. “What are you doing?”
How to answer? The truth would only cause anger. The kami were not a welcome subject. My lordling had readily used me and my forbidden songs not long ago against the Pretender Emperor’s general, Norinaga, and his fox magic. Now the Pretender was . . . dead. I brushed away the memory of the black, lacquered box in my lordling’s hands and the blood on his sword.
Best keep the Jindo part of me quiet this night. Ashikaga looked on edge.
There was no way to stop hearing the ancient Jindo spirit-kami, nor avoid the cold-prickling otherness that filled me when I sang my mother’s forbidden songs. Since I had come to the Great House’s notice and climbed Hell Mountain with Ashikaga, my life had changed utterly. Before I was a solitary person, practicing my heresy alone in the woods. Not here in Kyo no Miyako. There was no time, no daylight songs. Now I spent all my hours in Ashikaga’s service, more alone than before, pretending I listened to the other handmaiden’s conversations instead of to grumbling cherry trees.
But the lordling didn’t understand. Ashikaga thought of Jindo and the kami like a silk robe—a garment to put on or take off. If only I could—it would make things so much easier, so much less dangerous for my family back home. Maybe I’d finally even get a whole night’s sleep.
The kami of the ancient cherry trees lining this eastern wing of the Ashikaga House’s Kyoto residence whispered and grumbled night and day. But mostly during the dark hour of the ox.
My lordling grew impatient in the silence, as stubborn a Tiger Year as I.
“Lily-of-the-Valley,” said that fierce-delicate voice. No longer the mocking lord. The soft caress of my true name undid me. A tingling heat spread from the hand still gripping my wrist. Tingling up my arm and down into my middle. My insides tightened, condensing into a single thread of awareness.
Ashikaga Yoshinori, second child of the powerful Ashikaga Daimyo, Lord of the North. My lordling.
Feeling surged up to meet the wanting in his voice. Kami whispers forgotten, I raised the hand imprisoned by those elegant fingers and searched in the shadows until I cupped a smooth cheek.
One by one, the imprisoning fingers dropped away. Ashikaga turned into my palm, lightly pressing lips to the tips of my fingers. Feeling surged again. Breath caught impossibly somewhere in hollowed-out insides. If Ashikaga knew the power these touches had on me—as if I were one of those wooden statues I’d seen in the Kyoto temples, all stiff and lifeless, until Ashikaga touched me for the first time.
My lordling bit down, hard, on my medicine finger.
“Oh.” I jerked away. Mocking laughter again. Punishment for something. What had I done this time?
“Word that my handmaiden spends moonlit nights under the cherry trees, pining, spreads through the residence.”
My hand balled into a fist. I pushed against my thighs to push down the sudden swell of panic. “Not pining, my lord.”
“No, I didn’t think so.” Ashikaga gripped my elbows, pulling us both to a standing position pressed against the wooden wall. “But I also didn’t think you would risk singing forbidden songs in the middle of the Emperor’s capitol.”