QSFer Courtney Maguire has a new queer paranormal book out (gay, non-binary, pan), Youkai Bloodlines book 2: Blood Pact.
In Hiro’s world, youkai are a supernatural story used to scare children into obedience, and to keep men out of back alleys and brothels. Until Sakurai Hideyoshi walks through his door with a fantastical tale of a samurai who had killed a thousand men and drank the blood of his enemies, a man that lived in darkness but sought beauty to keep it at bay.
A story both terrifying and romantic…and completely ridiculous.
Unless it is true.
Convinced something softer lurks behind Hideyoshi’s hard mask, Hiro follows him home. And discovers the story is real.
Only instead of the blood of his enemies, it is innocent blood taken.
Hideyoshi tells him never to return. Yet after Hiro’s mother is mortally wounded, Hiro runs back to the one being he knows with the power to save her. When Hideyoshi can’t, Hiro begs him for the next best thing: the power to avenge her.
As Hiro becomes youkai, he faces a new threat, something darker, older, and far more dangerous. With Hideyoshi at his side, Hiro must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice–and what he’s willing to do–to protect this new life before he loses everything for a second time.
If you like Bella Forrest, P. C. Cast, AJ Tipton, or Anne Rice, you will love this beautiful dark paranormal fantasy romance.
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I had just drifted off to sleep when the door to my room slid open. The taikomochi I shared it with snorted and burrowed deeper into their beds to evade the invading light of her lamp.
“Okaasan. Is everything all right?”
“We have a guest. You’ve been requested, Hiro-chan.” She grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me out of bed and into the dressing room. Kimono boxes lined the wall next to a low vanity topped with a round brass mirror. White powders and brightly colored paints littered the top, along with a variety of hair ornaments. All the affectations that made the oiran glamorous.
“Why must he come so late?” I complained around a roaring yawn.
“He’s just arrived from Edo. I don’t dare turn him away.”
Hanagawa stumbled in after me and collapsed in front of a mirror, her face rumpled and eyes bleary. “He better be handsome,” she said with a ferocious pout.
With the help of one foggy-eyed attendant, Okaasan yanked me out of my jinbei and into a nagajuban. I yawned again and scratched at my hair as they draped me in layers of cotton, topped by a fine kimono. Black silk adorned with bright-pink sakura blossoms that made my fair skin shine. Her fingers trembled as she ran them through my long, wavy hair and arranged it into a nest of curls high on my crown, fastening it with glinting silver pins.
“Okaasan, my hair—”
“There’s no time, Hiro. This will have to do.”
“Who is he?” My heart skittered with anxious excitement as I watched her in the mirror, her small mouth pursed into a tight little knot and eyes wide.
“Just a samurai.”
I frowned, exchanging a look with Hanagawa, but didn’t press the subject. A lifetime of experience had taught me better. Okaasan was a strong, sometimes severe woman, willing to throw herself in the path of any danger to protect the ones in her care, yet she was shaken. There was something different about this samurai, something she didn’t dare say, and it made my skin tingle with apprehension.
Her task done, she squeezed my shoulders, and I turned to face her. “Be beautiful, Hiro,” she whispered into my ear, pressing a light kiss to my temple before pushing me out the door. “Make your mother proud.”
With a deep breath, I squared my shoulders, picked up my head, and slipped out into the main house. Our guest had already arrived, and a herd of servant girls in their sleeping clothes had gathered around the door to his room, all whispering and peeking through the crack. Saki, a petite girl with a small, round face, straightened and rushed to my side as I approached.
“His name is Sakurai Hideyoshi,” she said in a hurried whisper. “They say his katana has killed a thousand men and he drinks the blood of his enemies.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I chided, frowning toward the crack in the door.
“It’s true!” chimed in another girl. “I heard he was once struck in the heart by an arrow, pulled it out, and used it to kill the archer!”
“He traded his soul to a demon in exchange for immortality,” Saki said. “Now, he’s doomed to walk the earth for a thousand years.”
I groaned and shooed them all away, swatting them across the shoulders with my fan. They disappeared down the hall in a giggling mass, leaving me alone in front of his door. Surely it wasn’t these fantastical stories that had the house in such a stir.
The crack in the door was just wide enough to emit a flickering beam of light. Despite myself, I leaned toward it, my head filled with images of ghosts. When I was a boy, a traveling merchant told me a story of an old battlefield haunted by the headless spirits of fallen soldiers, their consciousness gone, fueled only by spite. I’d spent every night for a week after that in Okaasan’s bed. But now I was grown, and the magic had worn off such stories. Yet as I peered through the gap in the shoji, the boy inside me thrilled at what could be behind it.
A shadow passed through the light, and I jumped back. “Just a samurai,” I whispered to myself, taking a deep breath before sliding the door open and entering the room.
What I found inside wasn’t a ghost, but a man sitting cross-legged on the floor, back straight, sipping saké from a white ceramic cup. He was dark like the night. All the customary lamps had been lit, yet the light pulled away from him like a retreating tide. His simple but elegant black kimono and hakama stood in sharp contrast to the white screen behind him. Extremely long black hair spilled from a high ponytail at his crown and fell in a thick stream over his shoulder, the end grazing his waist. His free hand rested on a short sword on his hip, and his katana lay out on the floor beside him.
The katana that killed a thousand men.
“Hajimemashite, O-Sakurai-han,” I said with a low bow.
“You must be Hiro,” he said in a deep, soft voice, flicking eyes like razors up at me.
“Yes.” Heat crawled up the back of my neck as he raked that gaze over me. I bowed lower. “Please forgive my appearance, Sakurai-han. Your arrival took us a bit by surprise.”
He made a low sound in his throat, almost a growl. “You’ve come to sing for me?”
“Y-Yes, if it pleases you.”
With a wave of the hand, he signaled me to begin. I unfurled my fan and found his eyes again, dark as obsidian and just as hard. Something caught in my chest, and for a terrifying moment, I couldn’t draw breath, like the shock of sudden cold.
I closed my eyes and held the song in my heart until it warmed again. It was an old song, filled with mystery and romance. One I’d sung a million times, and it never failed to move me. It told the story of a woman who fell in love with the spirit of a lonely mountain, and as my voice swelled with the lamentations of love, of desires just out of reach, my imagination drifted with the words and I was transported.
I walked the base of the mountain in search of my love, felt the cold air on my face and the earth beneath my feet. Real longing, not the empty affections of our patrons, tingled across my skin and warmed my cheeks. I peeked out from under my lashes. Over the years, I’d pasted a thousand different faces into this fantasy, let them fill my heart and mind until they believed I sang only for them. That was my talent, my gift, to bring my patrons into the fantasy with me, and this time it was Sakurai Hideyoshi, his fierce eyes softening, his dark presence warming with every note.
Courtney Maguire is a University of Texas graduate from Corpus Christi, Texas. Drawn to Austin by a voracious appetite for music, she spent most of her young adult life in dark, divey venues nursing a love for the sublimely weird. A self-proclaimed fangirl with a press pass, she combined her love of music and writing as the primary contributor for Japanese music and culture blog, Project: Lixx, interviewing Japanese rock and roll icons and providing live event coverage for appearances across the country.