Sunday, June 07, 2009

Shunga Chronicles: Flight of Heron by Lizzie Lynn Lee

Shunga Chronicles: Flight of Heron
by Lizzie Lynn Lee

Cover art by Reneé George
ISBN: 978-1-60521-202-9
Genre(s): Action/Adventure, The Fetish Club, BDSM
Theme(s): Shunga
Series: Shunga Chronicles
Length: Novella


It's hard to kill your enemy when you fall in love with him...
Haunted by the shameful death of her older sister Sadae, Lady Kinshiro Yukiko goes undercover as a tayū in Yoshiwara pleasure quarter to ensnare patronage of daimyo Tsunemoto Matsushita, the man who is responsible for Sadae's death.
When Yukiko finally meets the handsome lord up close and personal, she finds out that he isn't the man she believed him to be. And what makes the matter more complicated, Lord Matsushita is also smitten with Yukiko. Head over heels in love, he purchases Yukiko's contract and elevates her status to his concubine.
Torn between her newfound love and her sacred oath to restore her family honor, Yukiko is unwillingly swept into a tangled web of deceit, betrayal, and intricate political schemes in Tokugawa's exotic shogunate court, where one wrong move can cost her life and the life she holds most dear.


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Her plan was simple: bed Lord Tsunemoto Matsushita, and when he was in his most vulnerable state, she would avenge the death of her beloved sister, Sadae, and collect a confession from his dying mouth.
She'd plotted for years since she'd learned the truth behind her sister's tragic demise. But now, Yukiko found herself shrouded in doubt when she finally met him. Lord Matsushita was the Shogun's favorite vassal, and his gallantry was well known throughout Edo. If Yukiko hadn't discovered the ugly truth behind Lord Matsushita's noble character, she would naively believe he was as righteous as his reputation.
Yukiko reminded herself she must carry out her plan no matter how innocent he might look. Sadae wouldn't rest in peace until Yukiko fulfilled the vow she had sworn on her shrine. Sadae's death was a disgrace to the Kinshiro clan, and this revenge was the only way to restore their family honor.
She gave the daimyo a deep obeisance, proceeding to pour him sake. Her heart thundered and her hands trembled. She didn't fear him, nor did she yet have second thoughts. She just couldn't fathom why this man literally made her nervous.
"Tsunemoto-dono." Yukiko summoned all her wits, and schooled a coy smile she had rehearsed a thousand times before. "Would you like to sample these sweet cakes? Nishio-san procured them especially for you." She bowed again in a perfect motion, full of grace as any celebrated tayū, courtesan, would. The long sleeves of her scarlet kimono swept the edge of the lord's feet, and the silver sparrow jewelry that festooned her coiffure made a clinking sound when her forehead brushed the tatami floor. She started when she felt his warm hand on the nape of her neck. Lord Matsushita ordered her to rise.
Nishio, the yarite, madam chaperone of the pleasure house, also gave the daimyo deep obeisance. "Honorable Lord, please forgive the girl's impetuousness. Azalea was so excited when my lord decided to grant the honor of an engagement this evening."
Yukiko heard the sharpness in Nishio's tone, which served as an indirect warning for her: Don't ruin the charade. As a tayū -- the Lady of the First Class Rank courtesan in Yoshiwara's pleasure quarters -- she was supposed to maintain a stoic and passive demeanor on her first appointment with the patron. Yukiko was a virgin, and thus she lacked the necessary skills to please a man. But for the last several months, Nishio had taught her the pillowing art as well as how to carry herself to pass as a seasoned tayū. It would be a shame if the charade was foiled by a simple mistake.
Lord Matsushita made a tiny gesture with his hand, dismissing Nishio's apology. "I'm honored Lady Azalea would grant me an appointment tonight." The daimyo tugged Yukiko's chin up so she would look at his face. His dark eyes glittered like moonlit jewels when she caught his gaze. "I've heard of Lady Azalea's famous beauty for some time, and what they've been telling me doesn't do justice to what I witness before my eyes."
Yukiko blushed. She couldn't help being flattered, even though the praise came from this heartless man. She calmed herself, brushing out the fluttery feeling. But she was alarmed when Lord Matsushita politely requested Nishio to remove herself from the room so they could have some privacy.
"Forgive me, sire," Nishio objected. "I don't mean to be rude, but this is only your first appointment." Old custom dictated patrons would only bed a tayū on his third appointment, as the first and second appointments were intended for getting to know each other.
"Are you worried about your master's fee, Nishio? Tell Ori I would be more than happy to satisfy any due amount. Just leave us in private for now."
Yukiko cast a sharp glance at Nishio, hoping she would persuade the daimyo to rescind his decision. She wasn't supposed to bed him tonight, as she didn't have the weapon to carry out her plan. To her disappointment, Yukiko saw Nishio bow. No one dared to disagree with a daimyo, especially with a man like Lord Matsushita.
"Tsunemoto-dono, I bid you a good evening," Nishio conceded in a low voice.
The madam looked worried as she silently withdrew from the room. Yukiko caught the meaning in Nishio's eyes that she should go along with Lord Matsushita's whim. To assassinate a powerful man like him required a meticulous arrangement. They didn't think Lord Matsushita would fall into their machination this fast. And so Nishio and Yukiko hadn't planned to escape from Yoshiwara tonight. The pleasure quarter was tightly guarded. One couldn't just walk in and out unchallenged, especially women. The tight security measures were employed to preserve order, keeping shady characters away, and to prevent the courtesans from escaping.
Yukiko was about to pour the lord more sake when he suddenly halted her hand. "I prefer to enjoy my drink in my own fashion."
Yukiko was baffled for a second, and then she inclined her head. Nishio had told her that sometimes patrons demanded queer ways to be satisfied. She had no idea what the lord meant by preferring to drink in his own fashion. To ask would be an inappropriate thing to do.
"Azalea-chan. You're new in Yoshiwara, aren't you?" Lord Matsushita's voice sounded deep and warm, and commanded great authority.
"Yes, sire."
"I heard you are quite selective with patrons too. You even refused Senior Elder Umehara's patronage. Truthfully, I find your selectiveness quite unusual."
Yukiko didn't know what to say. Her sole purpose in Yoshiwara was to lure this man and then kill him. She had no interest in bedding old men for money. She thought hard and chose her answer carefully. "Sire, Lord Umehara is ripe with old age."
Matsushita smiled at her answer. "Senior Elder Umehara is a very wealthy and prominent man. His Excellency values his advice greatly. No courtesan has dared to refuse his patronage before. If you don't mind quenching my curiosity, may I ask why you did?"
Yukiko's lips thinned. "I don't mean to be rude, sire, but have you ever seen Lord Umehara in person? He is… most undesirable."
Lord Matsushita arched an eyebrow. "But he can buy your freedom. Don't you want to be free?"
"Not if I have to bed a man like him. Am I foolish, sire?" Yukiko dared to look upon him. The lord possessed a pair of sharp eyes -- hawk eyes, her sister used to say. They were oval-shaped, fathomless, and dark as a starless night. A true mark of a great warrior. In ancient times, people said a man who possessed hawk eyes could see a thousand miles away, and spot a liar with one glance. Could he see that she lied right now? Yukiko secretly hoped not.
"You're young. I understand." Matsushita reached for the sake flask and poured himself a cup. "How many men have you bedded since you arrived in Yoshiwara?"
The question was rude and unexpected. Yukiko had no idea why Matsushita would ask such a question. She could lie, but she worried he would already know the answer. A daimyo like him chose his intimate companions selectively. One of his spies would have already investigated her background before the lord decided to approach her.
She answered in a small voice, "None."
"Will you have me, Azalea-chan? I would rather not waste my time with women who have no interest in me."
"Lord, it would be my greatest honor to please you."
He arched his eyebrows again. A sneer lingered on the corner of his lips. "Is that so? Why?"
She was tempted to give more elaborate answers, but she was afraid he wouldn't believe her. "Because you're very desirable, sire."
His smile widened. "Yuhara Tamuramaro is also a desirable man, but you refused his request for a second appointment."
So he had investigated her. Yukiko found the fact rather amusing. "Forgive me, sire, since you wish me to be blunt, Lord Tamuramaro preferred sake and greasy barbarian food to my companionship. My art was wasted, sire. You should see the way he engorged the whole roast pheasant by himself." She pretended to shudder. "Repulsive."
Lord Matsushita laughed heartily. "Fair enough."
Yukiko was relieved. Apparently, her answer had satisfied him.
Lord Matsushita slowly lifted the cup and drank his sake in one gulp. His eyes devoured her with unspoken lust. His hawk eyes stripped her of her clothing, leaving her naked and vulnerable in his presence. Her face burned. She had anticipated this moment for years, and yet nothing had prepared her for the sudden attraction to this man. Yukiko resented herself for being weak.
"Look at me, Azalea."
Yukiko lifted her gaze from the floor and forced herself to meet his demand. Her heart skipped a beat. He was tall, broad-shouldered and very well built. Yukiko had stolen a glimpse of him when he arrived with his retainers downstairs. Lord Matsushita stood a head taller than everyone else in the room. The moment he arrived, all courtesans on the floor flirted for his attention.
"Do you want me to be your sponsor, Azalea-chan?"
A sponsor was a patron a tayū saw exclusively. When a patron willed himself to be a sponsor, the tayū would commit herself only to him, and was forbidden to receive the patronage of others. Yukiko fluttered her eyelashes. "Will you, sire?"
Lord Matsushita answered her question with a smile. Her heart thundered. His smile had temporarily captivated her attention. She froze when the lord leaned toward her, cupped her face, and captured her lips with his. This display of affection was only practiced by the yellow-haired barbarians from the West, and it was uncommon for Japanese people. Luckily, Nishio had enlightened her about this, so Yukiko knew what she had to do. She surrendered under his ministration and timidly reciprocated his kiss. But nothing that Nishio had said had prepared her for the effect from the kiss. All the bones in her body melted as his tongue stroked deep into the moist cavern of her mouth.

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