Blurb: Can a bamboo princess outwit five princes and win a chance at love?
Genre: Historical (Shogun Era), Paranormal
Heat Level: Sensual
Her father rubbed his eyes. “I know, child. I know.” He picked up the stack of letters from the nearby chabudai. “But if you don’t marry one of the five princes, then they shall all become angry.” He shook his head as he shifted through the stack. “These are powerful men, Miki. I ask you, what will happen to your mother and I if we provoke the wrath of five kingdoms?” He waved the letters in the air between them. “These princes want to marry the bamboo princess. To deny them would be foolish.”
Miki lifted her chin. “Why does everyone insist on calling me that? I am neither made of bamboo, nor a princess.”
Her father placed the letters back on the chabudai. “I know, but no matter how hard I try to convince them otherwise, they insist that --”
The door opened, cutting off his sentence. Shiro, their head servant, entered with a bag over his shoulder. His large frame filled the doorway as he scanned the room. Miki took in his wide chest and narrow hips and felt a fluttering in her chest. He had proud, noble features and a sharp mind, one worthy of any king. And yet Shiro had been born on the wrong side of the sheets and was destined to serve instead of lead. Not that it mattered. Miki loved him regardless of his birth. It was society who had betrayed him, just like it had betrayed her.
Shiro’s features softened as his gaze rested on her, and it was as if a spell had been cast on the room. The air heated and a dull ache formed in her lower abdomen. She longed for this man with an intensity that made her dizzy, but knew that she could never act on it, at least not in public.
Ever since she was old enough to walk, she had loved Shiro. They had played side-by-side together as children, unaware of their different stations and different destinies. They would chase each other through her mother’s gardens and play otedama by the irori on cold winter nights.
“Put it over there, Shiro.” Her father motioned to a spot in the far corner of the room where they had been collecting bags of raw bamboo for market.
Miki held her breath as Shiro walked past. He was close enough to touch, and Miki longed to reach out and hold the hand of the man who had given her comfort in her youth, the one person who made her feel normal. She didn’t dare, however. Instead she watched the muscles ripple in his back as he approached the corner and settled the heavy bag on the floor. She wasn’t allowed to speak with him, but they had been meeting regularly under the cover of darkness. The meetings were thrilling and brief, and Miki lived for those stolen moments of passion.
“I suggest you read over these again.” Her father turned his back to Shiro and gestured toward the letters. “Surely one of these princes will suit your needs.”
Miki looked over her father’s shoulder at Shiro’s back. He appeared focused on the bamboo before him, but Miki saw his muscles tense and knew he was listening. Miki longed for the carefree days of youth. With age brought responsibility, and while Shiro was sent to work the land, she was too special to join them. At least, that was what her parents had told her. Instead Miki was kept hidden away in their home, away from cruel men who would want to use her for their own selfish gain. Men like the princes who wrote those letters.
“Miki, are you listening to me?”
“Of course, Father.” Miki dragged her gaze away from Shiro and to her father. Throughout her entire life, Shiro and her father were the only men who didn’t look at her and think of riches. It was why she loved them both so much.
Her father looked over his shoulder at Shiro, who was still organizing the bags of bamboo. “If I could change things, I would.” He returned his gaze to Miki. “But I can’t have five kingdoms angry with me.”
“If I choose one prince, then the other four will be angry.” Miki shook her head. “You can’t win, father.”
He thought or a moment. “Perhaps, but the one you marry would protect you from the others.”
“What if a sixth man, one not a prince, was to offer protection?” Shiro’s low voice rumbled through the room.
Miki held her breath as tension filled the air. Servants were never allowed to speak unless spoken to. Her father was more lenient than most, but to have a servant offer input on her future was not normal. Slaves in other households were punished for much less.
“Father, Shiro did not mean --”
“I spoke out of turn, Master.” Shiro inclined his head. “I am sorry.”
Miki tried to push back on her building desperation. “Father --”
Her father held up his hand, cutting off her words. Then he turned to face Shiro.
“If a sixth man saved my daughter from marrying someone she did not love, and spared me from the vengeful princes, I would welcome him with open arms,” he said.
The tension in the room evaporated as Miki realized that Shiro would not be punished for his mistake.
Shiro bowed to his master and then glanced at Miki, a smile forming on his lips. “I shall have to think about it, then.”
Miki watched him leave and wondered if he had a plan. She made a mental note to seek him out later that night.
“Think about it, child,” her father’s words brought her back to the present. “I trust you will come up with an answer.”
Her father followed Shiro out of the room and closed the door behind him.
Miki rushed over and scanned the letters again. One prince praised her body’s unique glow, saying that it could light the darkest night. Another admired her delicate fairy-like features and suggested that they could charm the most unruly king. The third lauded her singing, comparing it to an enchantress who could hold entire armies immobile with a few notes. The fourth and fifth spoke of her eyes, calling them beautiful silver orbs that could bend the most stubborn man to do her bidding.
None of them mentioned the rumors that she was causing the bamboo on her father’s property to grow golden nuggets in their stems. That was the real reason why the princes wanted to marry her. They believed the home she lived in would become rich and powerful.
These men didn’t care about her. Not one of them had visited. Not one of them had asked her whether she preferred tea or sake, or if she burned incense when she prayed. They didn’t care, and they never would.
Not like her father, who had found a golden-haired baby girl hidden among his bamboo plants and had taken her home to raise her as his own. He had loved and protected her as if she was part of his blood. She owed him much, and yet she found that even knowing this, it was difficult to make such a large sacrifice.
She tossed the letters aside and wiped her watery eyes with the back of her hand. How could the fates be so cruel?
A knock at the door jarred her from her thoughts. Before she could answer, it opened. Shiro’s dark head peeked inside.
“Are you all right?”
All of the worry and anger faded at the sight of her lover. “I am now.”
He glanced behind him and closed the door. “I don’t have much time.”
“There’s never enough time.” She knew she sounded bitter, but she couldn’t help it. If the princes had their way, then she would soon move away, and never be able to see her love again. Thinking about it made her chest ache and her eyes fill with tears.
“Miki.” His features softened and he closed the distance between them. “What happened?”
“It is nothing.” She had this moment with him, and she was determined to not waste it thinking of the future. Miki pushed her worries aside and smiled as he wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her into the air.
“I’ve missed you,” she said as she reached around his head and loosened the leather strap around his hair. Black strands fell to his shoulders and she ran her fingers through them.
“You missed my hair,” he joked.
“No, I’ve missed you.” She kissed the tip of his nose. “Not a moment goes by, where I don’t think about you, about us.”
“And I think about you, too.” He turned their bodies and stepped forward until her back rested against the wall. “Every minute of every day, I think about moments like this.” The playfulness in his eyes disappeared, replaced by something dark and hungry. “I don’t want to lose you, Miki.”
Her joy faded, despair and sorrow taking its place. “Put me down, someone will hear us.”
“Your parents are sleeping.” He loosened his grip and let her slide to the floor. Miki’s skin heated as she slid against his hard, muscular body. Desire wound around her like vines, wrapping around her muscles and winding them tight.
When she touched the floor, he leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers. Miki gasped at his sudden advance, but then melted against him. He nibbled at the side of her mouth, coaxing her to open. With a sigh, she parted her lips and tilted her head, deepening the kiss.
Shiro tightened his strong arms around her, cocooning her in warmth and safety. She inhaled his rich, earthy scent, tasted his jasmine-infused tongue, and knew that after work he had enjoyed tea served by one of the other servants instead of her. A stab of jealousy lanced her chest, and she did her best to let it go. She would never be able to bring him tea, or massage the sore muscles in his back. Their stations in life were so different. Their relationship could never be more than what it was, a collection of stolen moments and vague promises.
Miki broke the kiss and turned away as a hollow hole formed in her chest. Why couldn’t things be different?
“Talk to me.” Shiro reached up and pushed a golden lock from her face.
“No.” She grabbed his wrist and stopped his affectionate touch. It was all too much. If she couldn’t have Shiro, she didn’t want anyone. Miki let go of his wrist and stepped away.
“Miki, don’t shut me out. Please.”
Miki retrieved the letters and shoved them at his chest. “These princes will ruin me. Because of their greed, I will be taken away from you and forced to submit to a man I do not love.” She shook her head as her vision blurred with tears. “I can’t stand it.”
“Shh…” He ran his thumb down the side of her cheek. “Don’t cry. I may have a plan, but I need to read the prince’s demands first.”
She handed him the letters. He scanned the words, his features hardening as he flipped through the pages.
“These men don’t love you,” he said after a few moments.
“I know. They only want me for my curse.”
“You’re gift.” He placed the papers aside. “Ever since your father brought you home, I knew you were special.”
She fought the urge to smile. “How could you? You were four.”
“But I still knew.”
“Why? Because I was found among the bamboo, or because I glow like the stars in the sky?”
“My hair, then.” She ran her fingers through her blonde locks. She hated the fact that she looked so different. Why couldn’t she be like everyone else? Then no one would care if she chose to spend her days with a servant instead of a prince.
Shiro slid his fingers up and down her arms, sending tingles of awareness over her skin. “It was your smile.”
She snorted. “I was a baby, just barely out of the womb.”
“And I was a young boy. And yet I knew then and there that we would become close.” His features softened. “It wasn’t until much later that I dared hope --”
“Please Shiro, stop.” She took his hands, and eased them away from her body. “I can’t bare it.” She nodded to the letters. “I wish I could burn those and make the selfish princes go away.”
She jerked her head up and met his gaze. “What do you mean?”
“You could say that your hand in marriage is based on one condition.”
He nodded. “Yes, tell them that they must answer a question. Then make it something so difficult, that none of them will be able to come up with the correct answer.”
She thought about it for a moment. The idea had merit, but everything hinged on the question.
“What should I ask them?” she asked.
“That’s for you to decide.” He put his finger to her lips as she opened her mouth. “And don’t tell me your question, for I will need to answer it as well…if I want to have your hand in marriage.”
Joy filled her heart as he took his hand away. “You would challenge the princes?”
“I would challenge those self-centered princes and many more if you were the prize.”
Her spirit lifted, and Miki threw herself into Shiro’s arms. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
She stood up on her toes and pressed her lips against his. Heat slid over her body as he reached up and cupped the back of her head with his hands. She parted her lips, offering up not only her body, but her mind and soul as well. He was the one, her soul mate, she could feel it in her bones. Why couldn’t her parents see that?
Or perhaps they could. Her father was normally a reasonable man, not caught up in local Japanese politics. The threat of the wrath of five kingdoms was enough to give anyone pause. If she could manage to send all of those self-righteous princes away, then perhaps her father’s heart will open to the possibility of her marrying Shiro.
The thought sent a warm rush through her body, and a low, pulsing ache in her core. She grabbed onto Shiro’s cloak, curling her fingers into the thick fabric at his hips. She tugged him closer and parted her lips, inviting him to take more of her, to claim her for his own.
He growled, a low, throaty and passionate sound, as he tilted his head and deepened the kiss. She could feel his erection pressing against her lower abdomen. It stroked the sparks of her desire into a roaring flame. Heat and need swirled through her like steam from a teapot, and a primal desperation gnawed at her core. She let go of his cloak and slipped her arms around his trim hips, then rested them on his tight, firm ass. He slid his hands down and let his fingers trail over the open skin of her neck. His heady masculine scent surrounded her, making her feel dizzy with desire. His sweet jasmine taste made her crave more. She let her hands roam, wishing that she wasn’t touching rough fabric, but skin.
Miki knew he wanted the same, she could feel it in the way his body hardened, the quickness of his breath. He slipped his fingers down her arms, trailing them over her thin house robe until they rested by his hips. Then he grasped her arms and eased her hands away from his body.
She held back a whimper as he broke the kiss.
“We have to stop this,” he said.
“We aren’t married.”
“It’s only a matter of time.”
He smiled as he stepped out of her embrace and dropped her arms. “But we aren’t yet, and I could never disgrace you in that way. You’re too valuable to me. Once we’re together, I promise to give you so much more than just a kiss.” He reached out and cupped her cheek with his large palm. “So much more.” He ran his calloused thumb over her smooth skin. “But until then, your virtue must remain intact.”
Miki frowned. “Whether or not I am a virgin on my wedding night is not your decision to make.”
“Normally I would agree.” He dropped his arm. “But in this case, I know your father well. If word of our passion for each other spread, it would risk the anger of all the princes, and bring shame on your family.”
Why did he have to be so right all of the time? “I don’t want another minute to pass with us apart.”
“We only need to wait a little while longer.”
All of the erotic sensations she had felt before vanished, leaving her tired and irritable. She motioned to the door. “Fine. If I can’t be with you, then you might as well leave.”
“Don’t ‘Miki’ me. You’ve made your point clear, now get out.” She walked over to the door and opened it for him. “Tomorrow, the five princes will come and demand a decision. I must prepare.” She motioned outside.
Shiro hesitated, clearly wanting to say something, but instead he nodded. “As you wish.”
Miki held her breath as he walked past, his masculine scent filling her nose and sparking the familiar longing in her core. She fought it back, knowing that it wouldn’t be appeased tonight. Perhaps it never would.
If everything went according to plan, then tomorrow she and Shiro would be betrothed. One misstep, and Miki would never see her lover again. As he approached, Miki realized that she didn’t want their relationship to end like this, with her hurt and him mad. She touched his cloak as he brushed past her, stopping his movements.
“You didn’t kiss me goodbye.”
“The next time I kiss you, you will be mine, and there will be no more goodbyes.” Then he was gone.
Miki closed the door and picked up one of the letters. She read through the scrawling script and then she put it down with a snort.
Miki paced the small room and chewed on her fingernail.
Tomorrow she’d put forth one question, and her fate would be sealed. If one of the princes figured out the answer, then she’d be forced to marry him. If the question was too hard for Shiro, then she could lose him as well. What was she going to do?
Shiro stood in the shadows behind the bamboo plant as the princes walked into the grand room. The old bamboo cutter rose with his wife as they entered.
Miki’s father was getting on in years and was no longer the young, strong man who took Shiro in when he was orphaned at seven. It saddened his heart to know of his adoptive father’s frailties, but it also made him better understand the old man’s reasoning. Miki’s father could no longer defend his home from invaders, and needed his daughter to marry someone who could not only support her, but him and his aging wife as well. Shiro hoped more than anything that he could be that man.
“We demand an answer,” one of the princes announced as he stormed into the room.
“We have waited long enough,” another added.
“My daughter prepares herself, she has assured me that she has chosen, and will join us momentarily.”
Just as the old man had spoken, the door in the back room opened and in walked Miki. She was a vision to behold. Her long honey-colored hair was tied up tight in a bun, as was customary. Her face was painted with care, and her delicate, fairy-like features pulled at his heart-strings. A faint white glow shone around her body as she moved, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. They all saw the enchantress, the woman with the power to bring riches to whatever household she resided. Shiro didn’t see any of that. He only saw his beloved Miki, his soul mate.
Miki carried herself, not like a bamboo cutters daughter, but as a queen. Shiro had never been prouder. She would make a perfect wife.
Wife. For years Shiro had wanted her to be his, but didn’t know if her parents would allow her to marry someone born on the wrong side of the sheets. Her father’s words last night proved that her family would not only accept him, but welcome him with open arms. Finally, after years of waiting, Miki could be his. All he had to do was answer her question.
He felt his cock harden, and tried to think of less sensual thoughts as she strode to join her father. She appeared confident and strong, but Shiro noticed how she held her shaking hands at her sides. He resisted the urge to go to her, to gather in his arms and take her away from all of this. It wasn’t time yet. Once she sent all of the princes away, he would have his chance to claim her.
He only hoped that he could answer her question.
The princes took their turns bowing and kissing Miki’s hand. Jealousy rose up and stabbed Shiro’s chest, and he forced it back. Patience.
“I have made my decision,” Miki said after the last one moved back in line. “I will offer all of you a quest. The one who completes my quest will have my hand in marriage.”
The princes all nodded their agreement.
“She is wise,” one said.
“I will surely win,” said another.
Miki waited until the murmurs ceased. “Whoever first brings me my heart’s greatest desire shall have my hand in marriage.”
The princes whispered to each other as a dark hole opened in Shiro’s chest. Miki’s greatest desire? What could it be? He had no idea. For years their encounters had been so brief that they had no time to speak of such things.
“My lady,” one prince stepped forward and bowed. “What is your greatest desire?
She smiled. “That is for you to guess.” She looked at each of them in turn. “A good husband would know his wife’s desire, and seek to give it to her.”
The princes murmured between them once more.
“I believe my daughter’s request is fair. I will grant it,” her father said.
The princes nodded their agreement and Shiro began to panic. What could Miki’s greatest desire possibly be? He had no idea.
“I know what you desire.” The first prince stepped forward. “It is wealth. Marry me and I will give you as much money as you can spend in three lifetimes.”
The prince’s features fell as he heard the words. He swallowed and straightened, determined to keep his pride. “As you wish.” He turned to the others and wished them luck.
One by one, the other princes made offers to Miki – power, fine silks and travel to great lands. Each time Miki turned them down. One by one the princes left until only one was standing.
“I know your heart’s greatest desire,” the prince said.
She raised her brow. “You do?”
“It is to marry.”
Miki’s features became a cool mask. “Oh?”
“Yes,” The prince smiled in victory. “It is to marry a prince and become a great princess, worthy of a fairy-tale ending.”
Miki visibly relaxed. “You are wrong, Prince Saito. I do wish to marry, but not for the reasons you suggest.”
“What other reasons could there be?”
Miki smiled, but did not answer his question.
“Then you are a fool.” The prince frowned and glanced at her father. “And I am lucky so as to not marry such a foolish woman.”
He stormed off back to the kingdom from which he came.
Miki closed her eyes as her father embraced her. “You did it, child.” He kissed her forehead and stepped back. “That was very clever of you, but I have to ask. What was the answer to your question?”
Then suddenly, everything became clear. “I’ll tell you the answer.” Shiro stepped away from the bamboo plant. “But when I answer the question correctly, you must allow Miki to take my hand in marriage.”
“You do not have to marry him if you don’t want to,” her father said. “Shiro was not part of the deal.”
Miki smiled at her father and patted his hand. “No, if Shiro can answer the question, then I will marry him.” She turned to face him. “Tell me, what is my heart’s greatest desire?”
He approached Miki, taking sure, measured steps as his eyes locked with hers. “You’re greatest wish is to marry, but not for the reasons the prince believed.”
Her smile widened. “And tell me Shiro, what are my reasons?”
He stopped only inches away from her. “You want to marry someone who challenges your mind and speaks to your heart. You want to marry not for money, or power, or political connections, but for love. And not the fairy-tale kind of love, because that always ends the story. You wish the strong, enduring love that grows from years of being together and sharing each others hearts. That kind of love does not end a story, but begins it.”
Miki’s smile lit up the whole room. “You are correct, Shiro. That is my heart’s greatest desire.”
Her father laughed as he pulled away from his daughter. “Well, I guess that settles it, then.”
“Yes, it does.” Shiro took Miki’s hands in his, and knelt before her. “Miki, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Their gazes met, and Shiro saw all of his love mirrored back at him in her gaze. “Yes, I will marry you.”
Joy burst from his chest. Shiro stood, wrapped his arms around her hips, and lifted her into the air. She laughed and grabbed his shoulders as he spun her around the room.
“You have made me a happy man, my beautiful Miki,” he said as he put her back onto the ground.
Miki’s face flushed, and her silver eyes glowed with happiness. “And you have granted me my heart’s desire.”
Shiro knew that it was improper for a man to kiss an unmarried woman in front of her father, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. He had too much happiness to keep it all inside. He didn’t think that her father would mind his emotional outburst. After all, Miki wouldn’t remain unmarried for much longer.
After over a decade in the scientific world, Suzanne needed a creative outlet. She tried scrap booking, cooking, crocheting, painting, and piano, none of which held her interest for very long. Then one of her friends suggested writing. Thrilled with the idea of creating her own worlds, she opened up her lap top and never looked back.
When Suzanne’s not writing, she can be found playing with her two daughters, testing her husband’s latest kitchen creations, or curled up with her favorite romance novel in her central Massachusetts home.
Pairing: m/f, erotic (capture/bondage)
Deep in the Hidaka Mountains, Akito is commissioned to capture the goddess of desire. He expects to use all of his samurai skills to complete the task. What he doesn't expect is the resurrection of his deceased lover, or the number of immortals who wish them both dead.
Condemned to an eternity of loneliness, Jin curses the day the mother goddess tricked her into becoming immortal. When a seasoned samurai enters her prison, she’s determined to build the man’s desire so she can harness enough strength to break the bonds that tie her to the mountain. As the intruder makes himself known, memories long buried rise to the surface and Jin becomes desperate for Akito to believe the truth – that she is his beloved. Can she earn his trust in time, or will they both succumb to the forces that strive to keep them apart?