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review 2018-04-25 07:10
Audio Blitz - Leaning Into Touch

 

Title:  Leaning Into Touch

Series: Leaning Into Stories, #4

Author: Lane Hayes

Narrator: Nick J. Russo

Publisher:  Lane Hayes

Original Publication Date: October 5, 2017

Heat Level: 4 - Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 80k words

Genre: Romance, Bisexual, Humor, Second Chance, Friends to Lovers, San Francisco, Office

 

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Synopsis:

 

Josh Sheehan is unlucky in love and now… newly unemployed. He’s not sure what to do next, but he’s sure he should give up on romance. Especially after last time. His friends warned him that falling for the hunky Irishman was a bad idea. Josh can’t help feeling torn even though he knows it’s best to move on. But when an unexpected dose of family drama blindsides him, Josh finds himself leaning on the one man he’s supposed to forget.

 

Finn Gallagher is driven by success. He makes no secret that building a name for his tech company is his number one goal. Finn left home a decade ago with a ton of regret, a heavy heart, and a vow to never repeat the same mistake twice. However, there is something undeniably appealing about the self-deprecating man with the silly sense of humor that makes it difficult for Finn to remember why falling for Josh is a bad idea. It soon becomes clear they’re both in deeper than they intended. There is no way to remain untouched. And there is so much to gain, if they’re brave enough to lean in.

 

Listen to an audio excerpt & purchase at Audible

 

 

 

 

Leaning Into Touch (Leaning Into, #4)Leaning Into Touch by Lane Hayes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book is technically the 4th book in the series, though it is labeled as book #3 in the Leaning Into Stories series. This book can be read as a standalone novel. To avoid spoilers and have a greater understanding of the series, I recommend reading these books in order.

Josh is unsure what he wants to do with his future, now that his current job is complete. He is trying to work this out as he runs into an ex that he has never really gotten over. Can he trust his feelings to try again with Finn, even though he is a mess about the rest of his life?

Finn never wanted to say goodbye in the past to Josh. Running into him repeatedly lately feels like fate taking a hand. Can he convince the skittish man to give him another chance?

This story just stole my heart. These characters so obviously belong together. I loved the very real heartache they expressed. I also felt the heat with the sexy times. Really good read and addition to the series. The narrator did an amazing job on the different voices, where you can tell each character apart. Was a great experience, as the different accents, and inflections were very heartfelt. 


***This copy was given in exchange for an honest review only.

View all my reviews

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author:

 

Lane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.

 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

 

 

Meet the Narrator:

 

Nick is an award winning narrator with a fan following for his work in fiction, specifically in the romance genre. His performances in two of Amy Lane’s books, Beneath the Stain and Christmas Kitsch, made him the recipient of Sinfully M/M Book Review’s Narrator of the Year – 2015. When he’s not in the booth, Nick enjoys spending time with his wife, Jessica, and kids, (aka their beagle Frank and cat Stella), drumming in his cover band, exploring rural back roads with his wife on his motorcycle, or being enthralled in a tabletop role playing game with his friends.  

 

Facebook | Twitter

 

 

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text 2018-04-24 07:10
New Release Blitz - In Azgarth's Shadow

 

Title:  In Azgarth's Shadow

Author: Cassie Sweet

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: April 23, 2018

Heat Level: 1 - No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 94100

Genre: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, LGBT, steampunk, fantasy, friends to lovers, fae

 

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Synopsis:

 

When popular artist Nicholas Alexandre is shot and killed in a patron’s bedroom and his body dumped in Whitechapel, it is up to the talents of Drs. Mikhail Stanslovich and Dante Savoy to bring him back to life. Since the death of his beloved sister a few months before, Nicholas has lamented his pact with the fae master, Azgarth—for the world of the fae is one of broken promises and terrifying illusions.

 

Fae agent, Roman Cetanni has spent his tenure as one of Azgarth’s representatives trying to shield his charges from the fae master’s wrath. But what once seemed a division of worlds has now morphed until the lines between the human and fae world are blurred.

 

Even as Roman tries to help Nicholas recover from his injuries, a new threat looms. Lately more beings from the fae have invaded the human realm, and Oiredon, another fae master, wishes an alliance with Roman and his charges to aid in overthrowing Azgarth. In these uncertain times, one thing is for certain: war has come to the fae and the lives of the humans they’ve touched hang in the balance.

 

Excerpt:

 

In Azgarth’s Shadow

Cassie Sweet © 2018

All Rights Reserved

 

Chapter One

 

Light caressed Lady Clarissa’s bare breasts, creating interesting shadows as supplied by the long dark hair that cascaded over her shoulders in tousled curls. The strands revealed as much as they hid. She lay on the bed, gaze fixed out the window, staring at the moonlight. A pensive expression filled her lovely face. She didn’t do pensive well. Pouting and preening were more in line with her nature. Oh, there were the intrigues, instigations, and incidents, but they were solely to amuse.

 

“How much longer, Nicholas?”

 

“Not too much, my dear.”

 

Nicholas Alexandre put the finishing touches on the canvas and stepped back from his work. He’d painted her as Tatiana from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Most people assumed Shakespeare wrote the play as a fanciful comedy. What they didn’t know, or understand, was the fact the Bard wrote it from his experiences of the fae realm.

 

Lady Clarissa was as much Tatiana as any woman Nicholas had ever known. Petty and jealous, she lived in a world where her needs and desires were met at the cost of those around her. He indulged her because her behavior, though outrageous, amused him. He enjoyed the way her schemes horrified society. These days, it was the only thing that lifted his grief.

 

He studied the details of the painting, not quite satisfied with the illumination. Not to worry, he’d add flourishes later. For now, he was exhausted and wanted only to pack up his paints and—

 

The door burst open and banged against the wall.

 

“You wretched whore!”

 

Lady Clarissa screamed and grabbed at a sheet to shield her naked torso from her enraged husband. “My heart, it’s not what you think.”

 

Sir Rodderick Danworth laughed and held the dueling pistol pointed at Nicholas’s stomach. “You expect me to believe that? In my own bedroom?”

 

Nicholas wiped paint from his brush, unperturbed that the angry husband threatened his life. “As you see, I came here to work. I’m nothing more than a humble painter.”

 

The laugh this time came out bitter, pained. “There is nothing humble about you. Do your promises mean nothing?”

 

A prick of conscience and a slight brush of regret. “My word is still good, but my purse is not subject to the whims of honor. I still need to eat and live. I have a grieving mother to support.”

 

The fact his mother hadn’t left her bed since his sister’s death, notwithstanding.

Rodderick kept his gaze focused on Nicholas, much as a hunter might a wild animal. Something stirred in the depths of his eyes, not entirely of the man himself. “You are nothing more than a deceiver. A liar.”

 

Nicholas inclined his head in a subtle acknowledgment of the accusation and let his suspicions fall to the ground unvoiced. “And so I am what the world has made me.”

Realization and pain morphed into fury, filling Rodderick’s eyes. He fought an inner demon that shone in the dark depths. The gun went off.

 

Nicholas watched in horror as the shot struck him true. Crimson bloomed across the front of his white shirt, spreading like paint through a jar of mineral spirits. Odd how no pain registered.

 

The paintbrush dropped from fingers that no longer worked. Sound became a distant, hollow thing. A scream came from behind him, but even that had the quality of a train entering a tunnel, the whistle fading into the dark earth.

 

If he’d had the ability, Nicholas would have laughed. A mortal wound would not kill one such as him; it only released him into the hands of the fae master, Azgarth. And therein lay his real fear. Servitude on this plane was one of commerce, a way to provide for his family in the manner they’d become accustom. Being one of the chosen in the fae realm for eternity was not the thing of beauty Azgarth promised. The thing he’d seen welling in Rodderick’s eyes.

 

The only one to derive any pleasure from such an association was Azgarth himself. However, it might give him a chance to see Juliana again. To see if she’d been taken into the fae realm on her death and protected.

 

Rodderick stood over him, his face white, lips pale. Tears streamed down his face. The darkness had faded from his eyes. “Look what you made me do.”

 

He was unsure if Rodderick meant Nicholas, Clarissa, or Azgarth. He moved his arm to try to cover the wound and staunch the flow, but could do nothing more than watch as the blood began to soak into the carpet beneath.

 

Lady Clarissa finally rose from the bed. She stood over Nicholas, looking down on him.

 

Her mouth was pinched with displeasure, no doubt for the stains that ruined the Aubusson. “I knew your jealousy would one day be your downfall.”

 

Rodderick still held the pistol. Disbelief pulled his mouth down at the corners. “I’ve killed him.”

 

Nicholas tried to inform Rodderick that he was very much mistaken—he still lived and heard every word they said. The one to kill him was much worse than Rodderick could ever imagine.

 

Lady Clarissa took Rodderick by the arm. “No. We will keep this between the two of us.

 

Call Charles and have him dump the body in Whitechapel. No one will bat an eye for one more murder in that part of town.”

 

Rodderick nodded mutely. He started out of the room, then turned back as Nicholas took one last shuddery breath.

 

Purchase:

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

 

 

 

Meet the Author:

 

Cassie Sweet lives in beautiful Pensacola, Florida and often enjoys watching the Blue Angels do practice flyovers from the window in her writing nook. Growing up with a great love for the Grimm’s Fairytales and the original Star Trek, her stories might involve paranormal elements, space travel, or a combo platter of both.

 

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

 

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text 2018-03-25 08:10
Release Blitz - Leaning Into The Look

 
Title:  Leaning Into the Look
Series: Leaning Into Stories, #6
Author: Lane Hayes
Publisher: Lane Hayes
Release Date: March 23
Heat Level: 4 - Lots of Sex
Pairing: Male/Male
Length: 82000
Genre: Romance, friends to lovers, san francisco, humor, businessmen
 

Add to Goodreads

 

Synopsis:

<!-- [if gte mso 9]> <![endif]--><!-- [if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <![endif]--><!-- [if gte mso 9]> <![endif]--><!-- [if gte mso 10]> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri",sans-serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} <![endif]-->

 

Grant Kostas made a career based on his looks before joining his family’s real estate firm. He may not love his job but he’s better at sales than he thought. And when he’s poised to bring in the biggest account of the company’s history, even his father is impressed. Unfortunately, the extra attention highlights Grant’s personal life. His parents accept that he’s gay. They just wish he’d meet a nice Greek man.
 
Miles Harrison is a fabulous red head going through a rough patch. Between getting dumped by his long-term boyfriend and finding a new place to live in the city, he’s nearing his wits end. He’s not sure why he thought rooming with his boss’s friend was a good idea. Miles has had a crush on Grant for years. However, he knows attractive people aren’t always pretty on the inside. As the two men grapple with external problems, they form an unexpected bond of friendship and trust that feels like the real thing. The only way to know for certain is to let go of fear and lean into the look.

 

Purchase at Amazon:

 

Amazon ~ Amazon UK

 

 

 

 

Excerpt:

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I stopped short when we reached the other side of the street and then backed him against the brick façade of a bank building and pressed my lips over his. It was a bold move and not one I’d ever tried on any man in public before. But I couldn’t help myself. It felt oddly freeing to share one of the bleaker parts of my past with him. I wanted to thank him somehow but that seemed awkward so I kissed him instead. I held his head and glided my tongue alongside his, loving the moment when he flung his arms over my shoulders and responded with fervor. When we broke for air, I rested my forehead on his and grinned.
 
“Your ass is pretty spectacular too, Mi.”
 
He chuckled good-naturedly. “Thanks.”
 
“No really. I think I’m love with it.” I lowered my hands down his back and squeezed his cheeks as I molded his pelvis to mine.
 
“That’s kind of romantic. But if you’re thinking about falling in love with me too…don’t.”
 
I backed up slightly to get a better look at him. “Okay. I won’t.”
 
“Pinky promise.” He held up his right hand and wiggled his fingers.
 
“What makes you think you’re so irresistible?” I asked, wrapping my pinky finger around his.
 
“I’m not and you’ll figure it out sooner or later. But I like you and I want you and…”
 
“And what you’re really saying is you don’t want to fall for me.” I kept my tone light, hoping a jocular vibe would steer us from turning this into an uncomfortable conversation.
 
“Maybe.”
 
“Look, Mi. I’m not—”
 
“No. Listen. Don’t make this into a big deal. It’s not. We’re going to have a grand adventure. Just me and you. We’ll do incredible things and have amazing conversations and lots of sex. And when it’s time to say good-bye, we won’t ruin it by pretending we were ever in love. What do you say?”
 
Nothing. I had nothing to say. All I could think was maybe he really was crazy because who said shit like that?
 
But when I looked past the lighthearted swagger I saw the cracks in his armor. He was scared and battered and raw on the inside. Kind of like me. And somehow I had a feeling it wasn’t an ex-lover that made him so cautious. I only knew he was right. We were a couple of oddballs who unexpectedly found ourselves inhabiting the same circle. Temporarily.
 
But love? I should have walked away. Or at the very least, laughed at his wild leap. Instead I cocked my head and squinted. “What kind of adventures?”
 
Miles grinned. A slow-moving, gorgeous upturn of the lips that morphed into something celestial. He literally took my breath away. I hoped the dizziness faded before I gave him a reason to think it was a good thing he’d issued a warning about getting too attached.
 
“All kinds! We’ll turn this town upside down being one hundred percent ridiculous.”
 
“Okay…” I gave a half laugh and pushed a stray lock of hair behind his ear. “What do you have in mind? Dancing, parties—”
 
“No. More like Trivial Pursuit marathons, Netflix binge-watching fests in our Pjs, the compare and contrast game and—”
 
“The what?”
 
“Don’t worry. We’ll have fun. You’ll see,” he assured me earnestly as he laced our fingers together and pulled me away from the wall.
 
I glanced down at our joined hands and briefly thought about joking that he should be careful about giving me mixed signals. But I knew my limits. My comedic timing was crappy and the last thing I wanted was to push him away. I might not love Miles but I liked him. A lot. And holding his hand while we wandered through town under a sea of rainbow flags on a random Sunday felt special. The way new beginnings sometimes did.

 

 

Meet the Author:

 

Lane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and won first prize in the 2016 and 2017 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.

 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon

 

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review 2018-03-09 07:15
Audio Blitz - Leaning Into The Fall
 
TitleLeaning Into the Fall
Series: Leaning Into Stories, #2
Author: Lane Hayes
Publisher:  Self-Published
Heat Level: 4 - Lots of Sex
Pairing: Male/Male
Length: 7 hrs and 44 mins
Genre: Romance, Erotica, Bisexual, humor, San Francisco, May to December romance
 

Add to Goodreads

 

 

 
 

Synopsis:

<!-- [if gte mso 9]> <![endif]-->

 

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Nick Jorgensen is a quirky genius. He's made a fortune in the competitive high tech field with his quick mind and attention to detail. He believes in hard work and trusting his gut. And he believes in karma. It’s the only thing that makes sense. People are difficult, but numbers never lie. In the disastrous wake of a broken engagement to an investor’s daughter, Nick is more certain than ever he isn’t relationship material.
 
Wes Conrad owns a thriving winery in Napa Valley. The relaxed atmosphere is a welcome departure from his former career as a high-rolling businessman. Wes’s laid-back nature is laced with a fierceness that appeals to Nick. In spite of his best intention to steer clear of complications, Nick can’t fight his growing attraction to the sexy older man who seems to understand him. Even the broken parts he doesn’t get himself. However, when Wes’s past collides with Nick’s present, both men will have to have to decide if they’re ready to lean into the ultimate fall.

 

Listen to an audio excerpt & purchase at Audible

 

 

Meet the Author:

 

Lane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in an almost empty nest.

 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

 

 

 

 

Leaning Into the Fall (Leaning Into, #3)Leaning Into the Fall by Lane Hayes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is book #3, in the Leaning Into series. This book can be read as a standalone novel. To avoid spoilers, and to better understand the series, I recommend reading it in order.

Nick is a tech genius, who tends to forget everything when he is making better things happen in the lab. For real life and relationships - he does not do so well. In the middle of a deal with a deadline, he is hoping for a miracle. Hoping he can still trust those closes to him.

Wes owns an amazing winery where Nick purchased some wine. They meet when Nick goes to the winery, and unexpectedly has the worst run of luck he has had in some time. Despite all the animosity and attraction crackling in the air, Wes does his best to be kind to Nick.

This story actually surprised me. I was not a big fan of Nick's character after reading the first couple books int he series. His story made me understand him, and why he does what he does better. The flow and pace seem to go along well. The characters make a great couple. The narrator made some odd pronounciations that caught me off guard, but otherwise had a very pleasant voice.



***This copy was given in exchange for an honest review only.

View all my reviews

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Narrator:

 
 
Nick is an award winning narrator with a fan following for his work in fiction, specifically in the romance genre. His performances in two of Amy Lane's books, Beneath the Stain and Christmas Kitsch, made him the recipient of Sinfully M/M Book Review's Narrator of the Year - 2015. When he's not in the booth, Nick enjoys spending time with his wife, Jessica, and kids, (aka their beagle Frank and cat Stella), drumming in his cover band, exploring rural back roads with his wife on his motorcycle, or being enthralled in a tabletop role playing game with his friends.  
 
 

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text 2018-01-30 07:05
Blog Tour - Ibuki
 
TitleIbuki
Author: Kathryn Sommerlot
Publisher:  NineStar Press
Release Date: January 29, 2018
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Pairing: Female/Female
Length: 26000
Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, lesbian, fantasy, cleric/priestess, magic users, abduction, royalty

 

Add to Goodreads

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

<!-- [if gte mso 9]> <![endif]-->

 

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Ibuki: the gift of healing through breath. Chiasa has possessed the ability since childhood and shares it with her father as they care for their Inuru community. Chiasa has never doubted the stability of her simple life. That is, until Namika, a water-gifted priestess, shows up outside the Ibuki shrine gates with information promising Chiasa’s doom.
 
With Namika’s help, Chiasa is determined to find the secrets behind the ritual that will claim her life, but her growing feelings toward the other woman reach beyond her control, adding to the confusion. Time is rapidly running out, and Chiasa can’t seem to sort out the lies woven through the magic of Inuru and its emperor.
 
Caught in a tangled web of immortality, betrayal, and desire, Chiasa must find the right people to trust if she hopes to stop the ritual—or she will pay the consequences.

 

 

 

Excerpt:

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Ibuki

Kathryn Sommerlot © 2018
All Rights Reserved
 
 
When Chiasa first saw the young woman standing outside the shrine, her throat seized in fear around a single thought: the emperor is dead. A moment later, she realized the woman appeared far more nervous than grief-stricken, and she relaxed, only to wonder why a seseragi priestess would be on her doorstep before the sun had fully risen.
 
The woman was unmistakably one of the water-chosen. Her hands were fidgeting and pressing tiny creases into the telltale blue of her silk robe, its pale folds hanging uneven above her shell-lined sandals, and above the short collar, a silver clip in the shape of an ocean wave held her hair in two overlapping plaits. She glanced down either side of the empty road, shoulders bowed, before starting up the stairs.
 
Chiasa hung back to observe.
 
It took the woman a minute or so to climb the steps that led to the small fountain, and with the shrine deserted, her footsteps echoed through the grounds. Her hair seemed to have been hastily done as an afterthought—long strands had come free and hung down her back like splatters of black ink across parchment.
 
She did manage a jerky half bow when she reached the slotted board holding the wooden ladle, though most of the water she then tried to pour over her hands ended up splashing onto the front of the blue silk, a testament to the shaking in her arms. Chiasa let her continue without interruption until she reached the top of the stairs and clapped her hands together before the silver bell. Any farther, and the seseragi priestess would make her way inside the sanctuary, to where the ibuki power-stone was held, and the thought was unsettling enough to push Chiasa forward.
 
“If I can help you with something,” Chiasa began, slipping out from her hiding spot between the side of the sanctuary and the hall of worship where she spent many hours praying in solitude.
 
The young woman started, nearly tripping on the hem of her robe. One hand went to her mouth as she stared far longer than was comfortable, and then she bowed again, the force of the action throwing the loose tendrils of hair over her head.
 
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t send word, and…well, I know it’s strange for me to be here, but I must speak with an ibuki priest, please.”
 
Chiasa took a step back, one corner of the hall’s intersecting wall panels jabbing between her shoulders.
 
“My father is the head priest, but he’s not here. He’s out with the herbalist to tend the sick. If you wish, I can leave him a message for when he returns—”
 
“It’s urgent,” the other woman whispered. “Please.”
 
At a loss, Chiasa looked around the shrine grounds she knew by heart. There was no one else to summon. Her father wouldn’t be back until much later, perhaps even after midnight, and old Isao was seldom of much use anymore, relegated to menial groundskeeping tasks and selling talismans. As the morning breeze broke through the tree line and nipped at the exposed skin of her cheek, she felt acutely alone.
 
Chiasa tried to imagine what her father might do were he present as the young woman, still bent in an awkward bow, began to shake with the exertion of it. Chiasa, afraid she would topple over entirely, sprang forward and dropped the broom she was holding, the tool clattering noisily across the pathway.
 
“He’s not here,” Chiasa repeated, though she wanted to help the woman when she was in such a state. “But please don’t panic, I will not send you away. If you’d like, I could make you some tea?”
 
“Yes,” the woman said. Her hands went to her face, cupping cheeks that were tinged with an uneven smattering of powder. As Chiasa watched, her gaze seemed to get lost in nothing, until she finally blinked and focused once again, settling on Chiasa’s face. Again, there was something sparking in her eyes that Chiasa couldn’t entirely read. The woman lowered her hands and nodded. “Yes, I would appreciate it. I’m sorry to intrude.”
 
Chiasa thought briefly of disagreeing, but it felt best to avoid lying. Instead, she led the seseragi priestess into the hall of worship and through to the small back room where they kept a low, small table and supplies unrelated to the shrine itself. There was a heavy iron kettle, which was so old that one side of it was slightly lower than the other, making the whole thing lopsided. Chiasa placed it onto the small fire in the center of the room with care and waved the smoke up into the open flume built into the roof’s small, soot-blackened bricks. Her strange guest knelt at the table, smoothing her silks beneath her knees.
 
“I don’t know when my father will return,” Chiasa apologized as she waited for the water to bubble. The other woman deflated somewhat, her shoulders curving in and over on themselves as she ran a finger over the grain of the table.
 
“Is there no one else?” she asked. Then, a half second too late, her eyes snapped up, wide and frightened. “I didn’t mean… I meant no offense. I’m sure you are quite capable at the breath—”
 
Chiasa waved her apology away. “I’m not offended. But I am afraid there is no one else. It’s only my father, myself, and old Isao.”
 
“Then, your father is part of the emperor’s circle?” the woman asked. The expression on her features changed from nervous to suspicious, and Chiasa couldn’t follow the reasoning behind it. Her guest tapped her fingers against the tabletop as she pursed her lips together, and her gaze shifted away from Chiasa and the teakettle. “Perhaps it was unwise to come here. I thought there were more in the ibuki shrine.”
 
The kettle whistled its completion, and as she poured the fragrant hibiscus blend, Chiasa frowned, puzzled by the transformation in both the conversation and the woman’s demeanor.
 
“My father is not advising the emperor today,” she said, again, in case it had been missed, as she handed the other woman the small teacup of hollowed bone. Her guest held the cup between her fingers, but didn’t sip from it. Her gaze seemed lost again, her eyes focused on something far beyond the table and the crackling fire pit, in a place Chiasa could neither see nor touch.
 
After quite some time, the woman raised her head once more. “My name is Namika. I suppose with your father too close to the source I should not have asked for him at all. You are the youngest within the shrine?”
 
“Yes,” Chiasa answered, though she regretted doing so in the next heartbeat when the oddness of the question fully registered.
 
Namika’s brow furrowed as her fingers knit together around the bone cup. “Then I must tell you of my discovery.”
 
“Discovery?” Chiasa repeated.
 
“I’m afraid it’s not good news,” Namika said and grimaced. “I was tasked with sorting through our cellar, where many of the old texts and records are kept. The majority of them are simply logs of visitors to the shrine and the actions our priests performed at the emperor’s command. But within the piles, I discovered what seemed to be a set of entries detailing the truth behind the emperor’s longevity.”
 
“The gods have seen fit to bless him with immortality,” Chiasa said, but she felt suddenly very cold, crossing her arms over her chest and running her hands over her sleeves. The small room seemed to constrict even further around them, squeezing the air from Chiasa’s lungs until she was gasping for it. They should not even be discussing the emperor. They were far too young and unimportant to think they had more wisdom than a man who had been ruling Inuru for nearly three hundred years, and despite their solitude within the shrine, Chiasa got the distinct feeling someone, somewhere, could hear them. The sensation sent toe-curling shivers down her back.
 
“No,” Namika said. She leaned forward, like she, too, was reacting to the sudden chill permeating the air. “It’s unnatural, his lifespan— He is stealing it, all of it; he is stealing his life.”
 
“That’s impossible,” Chiasa snapped. “No magic could grant a mortal so much time.”
 
Namika shook her head and set the cup of tea down, still just as full as when Chiasa had handed it to her. “He is stealing it through blood. He’s drinking blood to absorb the life within it and add it to his own.”
 
Chiasa stood so suddenly that the table shook, splashing tea across the surface. The scent of steeped flowers and herbs grew even stronger.
 
“You’re lying,” she said through clenched teeth, hands curled into fists at her side. The flash of indignation that flared up beneath her skin came from a source she couldn’t identify, but she knew from years of practiced obedience that it was necessary. “My father is on the emperor’s circle, and he would never allow such a thing, even if it were possible.”
 
“But that is why I had to come!” Namika exclaimed. “It’s written in the documents, by the seseragi high priest himself. I swear to you I did not come here with a lie!”
 
Chiasa wove her hands through her hair, tugging bits of it free from the tortoiseshell clasp holding the twist snug at the nape of her neck. Her father couldn’t possibly be implicated in such a monstrosity—and beyond that, the insult to the emperor weighed like a stone within her gut. The emperor protected them all. The emperor loved them all.
 
“It’s impossible,” Chiasa said, letting her hands fall back down to her sides. “What blood could possibly grant such—”
 
“Those with the breath!” Namika cried out and then sat back on her heels, cheeks flushed and pink. As Chiasa stared at her across the table, the unwanted and uninvited woman with the poison-tipped tongue of lies inhaled deeply and then pushed the air back out, slowly, through red lips.
 
“He is drinking your order,” she said. Her voice was far quieter, filled with something that sounded an awful lot like sympathy. “He is drinking the blood of ibuki priests.”
 

 

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Kathryn Sommerlot is a coffee addict and craft beer enthusiast with a detailed zombie apocalypse plan. Originally from the cornfields of the American Midwest, she got her master’s degree and moved across the ocean to become a high school teacher in Japan. When she isn’t wrangling teenage brains into critical thinking, she spends her time writing, crocheting, and hiking with her husband. She enjoys LGBTQ fiction, but she is particularly interested in genre fiction that just happens to have LGBTQ protagonists. You can find Kathryn on her Website.  

 

 

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