QSFer J.A. Jaken has a new MM fantasy audiobook out, narrated by Dan Calley: Through the Last Door.
When Kaori Sansa’s father dies, he is forced to return home to claim the throne as the rightful heir of the country of Kazure. In the aftermath of his father’s death, he learns that the country he loves is riddled with corruption, and is hovering on the brink of war. Will he be able to hold the kingdom together despite the odds that are stacked against it, and somehow unlock the buried powers of Shinja, the Sacred Beast of Kazure?
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“You’d better get some sleep, too.”
“Of course.” Hunter’s tone was nonchalant. It occurred to Kaori that he’d never once seen the other man sleep. He just always seemed to be there, watching over him.
“Seriously, Hunter.” That thought worried him, for some reason. “I don’t think you have to worry about anyone trying to assassinate me here in the palace tonight.”
“No,” Hunter said agreeably. “You should be safe enough here.”
“So get some rest. Please.”
Hunter’s eyes were extraordinarily dark when they looked at him. For the first time, Kaori wondered if he was mourning Akashi’s passing, too. Had the two of them been close at all? They must have been, for Akashi to have assigned Hunter the task of protecting his only heir.
“I will,” Hunter said after a moment’s pause. “Promise me you’ll get some sleep as well. Don’t just lie awake, worrying.”
It had been nearly three years since Kaori had last slept in a room alone. Having a roommate had been troublesome for him at first, but he’d swiftly grown accustomed to the sound of another breath in the darkness next to his own. All of a sudden, he missed Ben so poignantly it brought a physical ache to his chest.
“Yes,” he said, wondering if he sounded half as insincere as he felt. “I promise.”
They walked in silence the rest of the way to Kaori’s room. At this hour, there was no one else out and about in the corridors. The emptiness of the palace was unsettling, as if it were inhabited by nothing more than ghosts, or memories. Kaori wasn’t sure which of the two would be worse.
He paused outside the door to his bedroom when he reached it, staring hard at the elaborate whorls etched into the polished wood. At his side Hunter waited patiently, as if sensing that he needed to find the courage to speak.
“Everything’s changed,” he said at last. There was no one else he could have made such an admission to, not even Haku. “And I don’t think… I don’t think I can be what they need from me.”
“Nonsense.” Hunter’s tone was kind. “You’ve spent the past three years–nearly four–studying politics and economic stratagems. You’re already more educated than your father ever hoped of being.”
“My father was a great warrior.”
“It takes more than war to rule a country.”
“I’m too young. The lords of the Council are going to laugh at me if I try to tell them what to do.”
“I assure you they won’t.”
“They’ll be right to. I don’t know anything. I mean, I do, but it’s all book knowledge. I don’t know anything about their fears, about the issues they’re facing.”
“You’ll learn. The important thing to remember is that you aren’t alone. We’re all here for you, and we’re rooting for you. We’ll help you all that we can.”
Hunter. Haku. Ishaya. Kaori smiled slightly at that reminder. “I’m probably going to fall on my ass.”
The corner of Hunter’s mouth curled upward. “If you do, you’ll pick yourself up again. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll learn from them, and life will go on. Your father made more than his fair share of them.”
That made Kaori raise his head, surprise widening his eyes. The thought that his father might have been fallible rocked the foundations of his world.
After a moment, he asked, “Do you miss him?”
For a moment, it didn’t look as if Hunter was going to answer. Then he turned away with a small sigh, so soft Kaori almost couldn’t hear it.
“I think you have the potential to be a far greater ruler than your father ever had a hope of being,” he said, without looking at Kaori’s eyes. “I think people are going to assume, at first, that you might be just like him… and that they’ll be pleasantly surprised when they find out you’re not.”
Kaori turned those last statements over in his head and tried to determine if, taken as a whole, they amounted to a compliment for him, or for his father. He decided he was too tired to come to a coherent conclusion and that he’d do best to just let it go for now.
He slid the fingers of one hand over the surface of his door, feeling the familiar warmth of it slide in through his skin. “Promise me,” he said, staring down at his hand. “Promise me… you aren’t going to change. Promise me you’ll never treat me any differently because of… of what I am.”
Hunter turned to look at him then, surprise at the words tightening the skin between his brows. A moment later, his expression softened. “Is that an order, High Lord?”
Kaori frowned. “No. It’s not. It’s only a request.”
Hunter nodded seriously. “Then unfortunately, I’m going to have to decline. I can’t promise never to change. I don’t know anyone who could do that.” When Kaori opened his mouth to speak, he said, “But I will promise always to treat you as I have in the past.”
“Like an obsessive mother hen, you mean,” Kaori said, subsiding with a grin.
“If you’d like to think of it that way.” Hunter’s eyes sparkled. “But seriously, Kaori. You don’t have anything to worry about. No matter what happens, I’ll always be by your side.”
It was ridiculous, how much comfort that promise gave him. Kaori was struck by the sudden urge to ask the other man to go into his bedroom with him, just so he wouldn’t have to sleep alone.
Flustered, he turned back toward his door. “Go get some sleep, then. You promised.”
“I did.” Hunter lifted a hand and ruffled Kaori’s hair, his palm settling in a warm, heavy weight on the top of his scalp. “You go to sleep, too.”
Kaori repressed a shiver. “I told you I would.” He pushed open the door and stepped into his room, feeling strangely bereft when the other man’s hand fell away from his hair.
J.A. Jaken has been writing fictional stories and novels for more than ten years, most frequently in the fantasy and science fiction genres. She got her start in the profession writing slash fanfiction, where she has published numerous stories under the pen-name Rushlight. Over the years she has written short stories and novels in genres ranging from science fiction/fantasy to gothic horror to modern detective mysteries, most with at least a touch of m/m romance to them. She lives at home in the southwestern U.S. with her college-aged son, a cat, and the family Rottweiler. Outside of writing, her interests include studying foreign languages, practicing martial arts, riding horses, and collecting medieval weaponry.