QSFer Courtney Maguire has a new gay/gender fluid paranormal romance out: “Bloodlaced.”
Kanjin hardly view their servants as human. Even less so when they are different.
Asagi is different. Both a man and a woman.
In the wake of his failure to protect a boy he saw as a son from their abusive master, Asagi is sold into the house of a young nobleman, Mahiro, who is the opposite of everything Asagi has ever known—gentle, kind, and generous.
Mahiro bonds with Asagi and their friendship blooms into a deep and profound love. But when Asagi is poisoned out of jealousy, Mahiro reveals himself to be youkai, a demon who feeds on blood, and he has no choice but to turn Asagi to save their life.
Asagi awakes reborn, strong, and eternally youthful. But the price for Asagi’s new life is high.
The blood of the innocent.
Just as Asagi’s trust in Mahiro falters, the boy they failed to protect, now a man, reappears.
New master, same threat.
With both a literal and proverbial monster at the door, Asagi must decide what it means to be human to protect what they loves most.
Warnings: physical abuse, (off page) sexual abuse, self harm, graphic violence, blood.
Get It At Amazon | Publisher | B&N | Kobo | iBooks
I could hear them out there, bantering and bartering, trying to agree on how much my life was worth. Would I fetch more than a horse? Would my new master’s teacups be worth more than I was? I could almost laugh if it weren’t so absurd.
Sitting on my knees, the tatami biting into my legs through my threadbare kimono, I ducked my head against it, my long black hair like a veil between me and the world. Behind it, I could be anywhere, like back in the arms of my mother, in a world I barely remembered but knew had to be better than this, smelling the powder on her skin, humming a tune I imagined was hers.
“Are you a boy or a girl?”
I tipped my head up as a small voice pierced my fantasy. A little boy, maybe eight or nine years old, squatted in the corner, his too-long legs tangled up underneath him. He wrinkled his nose as he studied me, his thin mouth puckered in confusion. His eyes were big as walnuts, but shadows lay under them.
“What do you think?” I returned, dropping back behind the shadow of my hair. The tatami creaked as he shuffled on his hands and knees toward me and tugged at my sleeves.
“Your kimono is like a girl,” he said, “but you’re big like a boy.”
“Maybe I’m a giant.”
He giggled, his big eyes sparkling. “You sound like a boy too. But your hair is long like a girl.”
“Boys have long hair,” I said, ruffling his shoulder-length locks.
“Not this long,” he retorted, tugging on the ends. His face scrunched up, his tongue sticking out a little with the effort. “What’s your name? If you tell me your name, I’ll definitely know.”
“Asagi.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the dejection on his little face.
“No fair!” he cried, balling his hands into pudgy fists. “Your name can be both!”
“Maybe I am both.”
His jaw dropped, and he fell backward onto his bum on the dirty floor. “No way!” he gasped in childish disbelief. “You can’t be both. How can you be both?”
“I’m magic,” I said with a devilish wink, making him smile wide.
Our brief moment of levity dropped at the sound of raised voices, and our focus shifted to the shadows moving on the other side of the paper walls. My chest tightened, and my skin went cold. I wasn’t particularly attached to this house, but starting over always held a certain terror. A new house, new rules, new dangers to avoid. I slid my fingers up my sleeve, found the short, thin cut just inside my elbow, and scratched my fingernails over it. A twinge of pain and the tension eased, allowing me to breathe a little easier.
“My mom died. Now, they don’t know what to do with me,” the boy said, his tone flat but his eyes glistening.
I knew, of course, of the kitchen maid struck down by a sudden fever and the son she left behind. The house wasn’t so big that a death among us didn’t shake us all.
“Why are they getting rid of you?”
I released a long, heavy breath. “They don’t know what to do with me either.”
The door snapped open, and our master stepped inside, followed closely by a middle-aged man with a shaved head and an expensive-looking burgundy kimono pulled tight across his round belly. He scratched at it and sucked at his teeth as he ran his cold eyes over us. I dropped my forehead to the tatami, and he stopped so close, I could see his toes.
“Up. Both of you.”
Keeping my eyes lowered, I lifted to my feet in one smooth, practiced motion. The boy scrambled up and pressed himself to my side. I cringed as the old man raised a meaty hand to touch the ends of my hair, toying with it before pushing it back from my face.
“Well, well, what have we here?” His stinking breath rolled over me as he grabbed me by the chin, forcing my head up. I shivered involuntarily as his gaze dragged over my face and down, lingering around the loose-fitting collar of my kimono. He sucked his teeth again, squinting, judging, before shoving his hand squarely between my legs.
“Well, well,” he repeated with a wide, sickening grin, “what /have/ we here?”
He released me, and I crumpled a bit, gasping, heart pounding against my sternum. My gut clenched as his gaze dropped to the boy pressed against my hip. A familiar darkness swirled in his eyes that made my palms sweat, and I pushed the boy farther behind me.
“What are you to this boy?” He released a snorting laugh. “Are you his mother?”
“N-No, Goshujin-sama. No relation, Goshujin-sama.”
He rocked back on his heels, mouth twisted into a cruel smile. “Fine. I’ll take them both.” He tossed a small bag of coins over his shoulder to our master, the paltry price for two lives. “I’d hate to break up a pair.”
A wail burst from the boy, sending a rush of adrenaline burning through my veins. “No! I don’t want to go!”
The old man—our new master—rolled his eyes and cursed. “Yutaka!”
A third man appeared, broad chested with a hard face and a sword on his hip, his expression blank and cold as a block of ice. Our master took a step back, gesturing to the boy with an irritated wave of his hand, and Yutaka lunged forward. The boy squealed, and I instinctively stepped between them. Without hesitation, Yutaka slapped a heavy hand on my shoulder and shoved me aside. He scooped the boy up and threw him kicking and screaming over his shoulder like a bag of rice. The boy was a fighter, but it wouldn’t matter.
/All fighting ever gets you is broken bones and bloodied noses and scars so deep they bleed into your soul until you learn to stop fighting./
As the boy’s screams receded, the master’s dark eyes turned back to me.
“Are you going to come quietly, or shall we wait for Yutaka to return?”
Hands clasped at my waist to keep them from shaking, I bowed deeply and walked past him on wobbly knees. He followed close behind as I drifted down the narrow hallway toward the front of the house. A few faces popped out from behind doors, drawn by the commotion. Familiar faces I would never see again.
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. Her first novel, Wounded Martyr, is a 2019 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist in the Contemporary Romance: Short Category.