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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Excerpt & Giveaway: Stim by Kevin Berry

Title: Stim
Author: Kevin Berry 
Publication: October 16th 2013
Genre: Contemporary, New Adult

Robert is different. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. He experiences the world differently to 99% of the population. Follow his entertaining and highly empathetic story as he struggles to realise and accept who he really is, try to understand other people—which he cannot—and find a girlfriend. Especially find a girlfriend—he’s decided it’s his special project for the year. Accompanied on this transformative journey by his quirky flatmates, Chloe (who also has Asperger’s, amongst other things), Stef (who hasn’t, but doesn’t mind) and their oddly-named kitten, Robert endures a myriad of awkward moments in his quest to meet a nice, normal girl…and not even a major earthquake will stop him.

This absorbing and humorous story is starkly told from Robert’s point of view, through the kaleidoscope of autistic experience.

Meeting Chloe in the café became comfortingly familiar and as regular as clockwork. On Mondays, Tuesdays (twice), Thursdays and Fridays, we convened in the café—nearly always at the same corner table, whenever we could occupy it, and with the same drinks—like déjà vu stuck in some kind of unstoppable time loop. On a few occasions, the time passed without either of us saying anything, but somehow comforted by the other’s presence. Sometimes we talked about our studies or assignments, but mostly we talked about ourselves. Or more accurately, I should say Chloe talked about herself. She had been entirely truthful about the verbal diarrhoea. Words spilled out of her mouth with a rapid staccato, machine-gun-like rhythm.
But I did not mind this. When I was in the café by myself, I could only observe people interacting socially, try to work out what was going on in their minds and what it was they were doing, to try to unravel the mystery of their behaviour. I never actually knew what was going on with them, could never properly interpret what I observed, because I could only imagine. Invariably, people behaved inconsistently and did not do what I expected or wanted them to do, and I could not discern any patterns underlying their actions. This was confusing, sometimes bewildering.
With Chloe, it was all very easy. She just poured herself out to me, wholly and honestly and clearly, and I lapped it all up like a thirsty kitten drinking cream from the saucer of knowledge. For the first time, I had a friend I could understand, and who could understand me, because we seemed to communicate on the same wavelength. I think she felt the same, but she never said exactly.
Chloe told me all about herself, how she had been first diagnosed when young, and passed from doctor to doctor and psychiatrist to psychiatrist, collecting the acronyms of different diagnoses like alphabet soup until finally she was evaluated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Once she knew that, she sped-read numerous books on the subject, assimilating their collective wisdom. The very best, she told me, were those written by fellow Aspies who had struggled to fit into the NS world but ultimately prevailed to establish their own place within it somehow, and yet remain true to themselves. Chloe said she could identify with their early lives, and that everything in her own life, past and present, made sense to her after reading those books. She had always known she was different, and now she understood why. And I agreed with her. I borrowed the books and read them too. I felt the same.
Chloe explained that her father travelled a lot on business and tried to make up for his frequent absences by ensuring that she always had the best care possible. Evaluations. Psych tests. Personality tests. Private mental hospital whenever she felt especially distressed. A seemingly interminable tweaking of her medications (eleven different combinations so far) in an attempt to find the right mix and dosage, a kind of educated guessing on the part of her doctors. There is so little known about the human mind in general and the Aspie mind in particular. It is so complex that all the doctors can do is just try one thing at a time, pick up the pieces if it does not work out as planned, and try something else, trying to solve the incomplete jigsaw of a fractured human mind.
One day when she met me in the café, my life changed forever.

Author Bio:
Kevin Berry is an indie author. His particular niche is writing Aspie New Adult contemporary novels set in an earthquake zone. The first of these is STIM, published in October 2013.

His first novels, co-written with Diane Berry, are Dragons Away!, Growing Disenchantments and Fountain of Forever (humorous fantasy). These are available as paperbacks and ebooks at Amazon and elsewhere.

Giveaway: This giveaway is for a ebook copy of Stim and is open internationally. This giveaway is sponsored by the Author and/or Xpresso Book ToursPlease use the rafflecopter form below to enter. 
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Excerpt & Giveaway: Secrets and Lies by Christine Amsden

Title: Secrets and Lies
Author: Christine Amsden 

Series: Cassie Scot #2
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Publication: October 14, 2013
Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Pages: 270

Cassie Scot,still stinging from her parents’ betrayal, wants out of the magical world. But it isn’t letting her go. Her family is falling apart and despite everything, it looks like she may be the only one who can save them.

To complicate matters, Cassie owes Evan her life, making it difficult for her to deny him anything he really wants. And he wants her. Sparks fly when they team up to find two girls missing from summer camp, but long-buried secrets may ruin their hopes for happiness. Book 2 in the Cassie Scot Mystery series.
“I faced my former father for the first time since he had announced his intention to disown me. He looked just as he always had, with straight dark hair, brown eyes, a long, angular face, and a wide, curving mouth – curving downward into a frown, that is.

If Victor was the last person I had expected to see in the diner that morning, then my former father was the last person I wanted to see. Even now, with Victor explaining my part in his unusual scheme for revenge, I didn't want my former father nearby. I didn't want his help. I only hoped Nicolas and Juliana hadn't broken their promise and told him about the life debt, or I would never hear the end of it.

The air crackled with visible tension. Sparks of shimmering red fire danced around my father’s head. Behind the counter, Mrs. Meyers twisted her hands together anxiously, as if afraid her diner might burn down. Her fears were not unjustified.
I stepped boldly between them, facing my father. “What are you doing here?“

“We need to talk,“ he said.

“I have nothing to say to you. You disowned me, remember?“

The color seemed to drain from his face as he stared past me, at his oldest enemy.
Victor raised his water glass in a mock toast. “I've known for some time. If it makes you feel any worse, so does everyone else in town who hasn't been asleep for a week. Or at least, they guess.“

“I don’t care what you think you know. Stay away from my daughter.“With that, he grabbed my arm with a hand hot enough to leave a reddened imprint on my skin, and dragged me through the kitchen to the employee room at the back. Only then did he release my injured forearm.”

Author Bio:
Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.
At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams. (You can learn more here.)

In addition to writing, Christine teaches workshops on writing at Savvy Authors. She also does some freelance editing work.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Excerpt: Bobby's Trials by Bobby Wilson, JD

Title: Bobby's Trials
Author: Bobby Wilson
Publication: June 27, 2011
Publisher: Apache Publishing
Source: Author/Publisher
Genre: Biography, Memoirs
Audience: 17+

Apache Publishing|Amazon|B&N|Kobo  

A real-life, true crime, memoir about the incredible story of a poor teenage Oklahoma farm boy who was charged with murdering his mother and sister in cold blood and then burning down the family home in a supposed attempt to cover up his crimes and his ten-year court battle to clear his name.

In the early morning hours of June 19, 1963, just four days before he was to leave for basic training, Bobby Wilson was awakened by his mother.

She held a loaded gun to his head and had a crazy, yet familiar, look in her eyes. Alongside his sister, Bobby had suffered her rants for years, but tonight was different. Bobby knew without a doubt that the demons that his mother had struggled with for years had their sights on him.

He realizes he has nowhere to turn and nowhere to run, but he has no idea that the nightmare has just begun. It is a nightmare that changes the course of his life. It is a nightmare that will ultimately take Bobby ten years to wake up from.

Butch was barking like crazy and trying to lick my face. Every dog within a mile was barking. I looked around and could see dawn was breaking and our house was blazing, totally in flames, and so was my pickup parked nearby. It was a surreal scene.

Suddenly with a loud crash, our brick chimney collapsed onto the top of the burning house, causing the entire structure to become a roaring fire pit.
The neighbor helped me to my feet, and I leaned on a fence post for support. I was shaking badly and confused about everything. I was not sure if I was just having a terrible nightmare and I would soon wake up. I don’t remember how it happened, but the next thing I knew, I was here.

Fire trucks and ambulances arrived, and I was taken away to the hospital where I was treated for smoke inhalation, cuts, and burns on my face and back. The doctor told the deputy sheriff that I was in shock and very confused. The deputy offered to drive me back home, and he questioned me about what happened.

I told him I really did not know what had happened. He told me matter-of-factly that my mother and sister were dead and their bodies had been removed from the fire debris and were being taken to Oklahoma City for autopsies. He watched me closely for a reaction. There was none. The deputy could have just as well told me it was Thursday morning, June 19, 1963, and my response would have been the same: nothing. I was totally numb and confused. One thing I did remember that would bother me for years was a very strange odor in my nostrils that I could not identify, and my clothes still reeked of that unknown odor.

Author Bio:
Bobby was born in San Francisco, CA, on September 3, 1944, to a waitress mother and mysterious father.  His younger years were years of endless relocations until his mother and younger sister, Judy, ended their sojourn in Hugo, Oklahoma, the area of his mother’s upbringing, Indian country in Southeastern Oklahoma.

Intent on a military career, Bobby enlisted in the National Guard while beginning his high school senior year.  His plans for the future were suddenly cut short when he was jailed and criminally charged with his family’s deaths.

After his release from jail, Bobby had to rebuild his life from scratch and worked his way through the University of Texas and Texas Tech School of Law, all the while supporting a wife and daughter.
Bobby graduated from Law School in 1973 having already passed the State Bar exam.  He was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980.

He soon established himself as a fearless trial lawyer in the State of Texas, unafraid to take on the establishment or its leaders in civil and criminal litigation.  He made enemies in the legal profession, but his clients worshipped him.

In the early 1990’s Bobby quit the law business to become a professor of law.  He moved to Arizona and became certified to teach law and political science and was named Outstanding Business Faculty Instructor at Rio Salado College in 1999.

In 2001 he was retained by the disgraced Arthur Anderson and Company to write an Ethics guide for their employees in Arizona.

Bobby continues to write and teach law and paralegal courses for colleges in Arizona. Currently, Bobby is busy writing a series of books under his "Bobby Trials" banner as well as Murder Mysteries/Legal Thrillers. Bobby is married and currently living in Arizona.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Excerpt & Giveaway: Knowing You by Allie Everhart

Title: Knowing You
Author: Allie Everhart
Series: Jade #2
Publication: November 2013
Genre: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance

Now that Garret’s decided he’s no longer following the rules of his wealthy family, he can finally develop a closer relationship with Jade. Things are going well, but Jade still worries that being with Garret is only temporary. And because of that, she’s not sure how much of herself and her past she’s willing to let him see.

Garret does all he can to assure Jade that the two of them can last, but convincing her of that is difficult when she’s never trusted anyone. So he has to show her, by being there when she needs him the most, even when she tries to keep him away.

The mysterious letter from Jade’s mom still haunts her and now she’s getting threatening phone calls. Someone from Jade’s past will stop at nothing to keep his secrets from getting out. And his number one secret is Jade.
I don’t know what I was thinking letting you plan our date," Garret says.

"You probably would’ve picked that taco stand for dinner if I let you.”

“Nah. Probably the burger joint by the dry cleaners.”

“That place is just as disgusting. Well, that confirms it. I’ll be planning the dates from here on out.”

“I still haven’t agreed to go out with you again.”

He nudges my foot under the table and smiles. “You will.”

Our food arrives. Just as we start to eat, a mariachi band stops by our table singing some type of love song. It makes me laugh, not just because of the song but because they’re not very good. The main singer is way off key. I try to hide my laughter because the guy is really trying hard. 

Garret sees me struggling. He sets his fork down, then reaches over and holds the hand I’m not eating with and gazes into my eyes. The mariachi guys notice and assume their music has caused Garret’s romantic gesture. The bad singer nods at Garret and gets a huge grin on his face, singing even louder. 

I’m practically in tears trying to keep from laughing. I give Garret a look to cut it out, but he’s enjoying this way too much. He picks my hand up and kisses it. 

Finally, the song ends. Garret takes some money from his wallet and gives it the guy. 

“Muchas gracias,” the singer says. He points to me. “Beautiful girl. You two are a lovely couple.”

“We are, aren’t we?” Garret says, smiling at me, then back at the singer.

“You two get married some day. I sing at your wedding.” He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a business card. 

“Thank you.” Garret takes the card, then looks at me. “Jade, he could sing at our wedding. Wouldn’t that be great?”

I kick his foot under the table. “Um, yeah. Great.” I turn to the singer. “Thanks again. It was very nice music.”

The guy nods and moves on to another table. Garret releases my hand and goes back to eating like the whole scene didn’t even happen.

“Did you have to do that?” I ask him. “You knew I was dying over here. They would’ve left if you hadn’t started that hand holding crap.”

He shrugs. “I didn’t want them to leave. I was enjoying it.”

“They were horrible! That guy was way off key.” I take a bite of my taco.

“He did better than I would do. I didn’t think he was that bad. And you must’ve liked him at least a little. You agreed to let him sing at our wedding.” 

I almost choke when he says it. I take a big gulp of my soda. He continues to eat as if his wedding comment is perfectly normal and expected. “We’re on a first date here, Garret. I think it’s a little early to plan a wedding.”

“I guess. Then maybe he could sing at our graduation party.”

“Four years from now, I don’t think he’ll still be employed as a singer.” 

I hear the guy belting out a new song at a table on the other side of the restaurant. He’s so horrible. Now that they’re gone, I’m finally able to laugh.
Garret shakes his head, but he’s laughing, too. “You’re so mean. At least he’s trying.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t help it. He’s just so bad.”

For the rest of dinner, I keep thinking about Garret’s wedding comment. He couldn’t possibly be even the tiniest bit serious. We’ve only known each other a few months and we technically weren’t even dating during those months.

He was probably just making a joke. But still, hearing Garret even mention the idea of marrying me makes those annoying butterflies that have now taken up permanent residence in my stomach flutter with happiness. Which only makes me wonder what this boy is doing to me. 

I’m Jade, the sarcastic, independent, smart ass who has no interest in marriage or weddings or rings or any of that stuff. 

And yet my stupid heart skips a stupid beat when that stupid boy tosses out the idea that someday he might marry me.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Excerpt & Giveaway: Reign of Ice by L.P. Dover

Title: Reign of Ice 
Author: L.P. Dover 
Series: Forever Fae #4
Publication: November 15th 2013
Genre: Fantasy, New Adult, Romance

Two courts to four is what needs to be … to save the land so shall we see.

The scroll has been found and now the fae know how to defeat the dark sorcerer, to end his evil existence in the Land of the Fae. However, the only thing standing in the way is the one bond that must be formed; the one that will empower all four courts together and make them invincible. Ariella and Brayden’s bond will not come easily, for Ariella is mischievous and head-strong with a heart full of love, while Brayden is strong and loyal with a heart made of ice.

What do you do when the fate of your land rests upon your shoulders because of the bond you must form to save it? How are you supposed to do that when the one man to help you fulfill the prophecy is the one who doesn’t believe in love?

With all four princesses bound together as one, will they be strong enough to save the life of Ariella, who is destined to be the one who ends it, the one who will sacrifice everything to save the people she loves? In this final installment of the Forever Fae series you will see how the bonds of love and all the sacrifices it takes to truly conquer the evil once and for all.

Taking a deep breath, Brayden took my hand and opened his closed fist. In his palm lay a shiny silver and onyx band with a symbol engraved on it. I couldn’t tell what the symbol was until he slid the band slowly down on my finger. However, it wasn’t just a symbol, it was the crest of the Winter Court … our Court of Ice.

“How?” I whispered. Did he really remember the symbol in our vision?

“Yes, I did,” he replied, giving me the answer to my silent question. “I can still see our vision clearly, right down to the way we made love by the fire. I remembered our crest on the wall in the room we were in, and it’s been engraved in my mind ever since. I had Lukas make the ring for you.”

“Lukas made this?” I cried, gazing down at the ring. “It’s beautiful. I just wish I could tell him so.”

Brayden lifted my chin with his finger and grazed my lips with his thumb. “He was a very talented man and a good friend of mine. I will miss him. I know it’s not customary to exchange rings, but I wanted you to know that I am serious about us and about our court. We have so much to learn from each other, and by giving you this I am ready. I know you are not yet, and I am fine waiting for as long as you need me to, but I have faith in us. I’ve never believed in anything as much as I believe in you.”

Staring at the man in front of me, I couldn’t believe he was the same Brayden. Our time has been short together, but all along we both knew that we were the ones for each other. Deep down I knew I was ready to bond with him, except with everything going on I knew it wasn’t the right time.

Kissing me gently on the lips, he whispered silently in my mind, “Do you think you will ever love me the way I love you?”

I stifled a gasp and let him deepen the kiss. He said he loved me. Tears sprang into my eyes as I melted in his arms, lying back against the bed. He covered my body with his while melding his tongue with mine, tasting me and claiming me, never taking his gaze away.

“I need to hear you say it, Brayden,” I murmured tenderly.

He wiped away the tears in my eyes and whispered across my lips, “I love you, angel. No matter what happens and what challenges we face, I will always be there with you. In your mind, body, and soul, you will never be alone.”

We stared at each other, him holding onto me as we lay together on the bed, and I knew without a doubt that I had fallen for him. The times he pissed me off and the times I thought he didn’t care no longer mattered because I knew he did care … all along he felt the same way about me that I had of him. 

Author Bio:
I am an avid reader that loves my collection of books. Writing has always been a passion of mine and now I am glad that I get to share my passion with the world. I live in North Carolina and I absolutely love being a southern girl. I spent several years in college starting out with a major in Psychology and then switching to dental. I worked in the dental field for eight years and then decided to stay home with my two beautiful girls. I spent the beginning of my reading years reading suspense thrillers, but now I can't get away from the paranormal/fantasy books. I knew ever since then that if I wrote anything it would be in a paranormal aspect. Now that I have started on my passion and began writing, you will not see me go anywhere without a notebook and pen.

Giveaway: This giveaway is for an ebook copy of Reign of Ice and is open internationally. This giveaway is sponsored by the Author and/or Xpresso Book ToursPlease use the rafflecopter form below to enter. 

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Excerpt & Giveaway: Buried Threads by Kaylin McFarren

Title: Buried Threads
Series: Threads #2
Author: Kaylin McFarren
Publisher: Creative Edge Publishing LLC
Published: October 1, 2013
Genre: Erotic Romantic Suspense

Rachel’s mouth sagged. “You mean you’re really a monk? But how’s that possible? You’re not even wearing a robe, and your hair…”

He simply smiled.

 A disturbing prophecy sends a treasure hunting duo on an urgent race to rescue a country in Kaylin McFarren’s heart pounding new novel,  Buried Threads. Full of erotic suspense and wild adventures, this is one trip that readers will never forget!

Rachel Lyons and Chase Cohen work together as the successful owners of a treasure hunting company. But a seemingly simply assignment – to track down a priceless gem that is believed to buried in a shipwreck deep within the Sea of Japan – takes a starling, and dangerous, turn.

Faced with a monk’s dark prophecy that a natural disaster will soon strike Japan, killing millions, Rachel and Chase must embark on the mission of a lifetime in order to uncover the three cursed samurai swords that can avert the catastrophe.

Chaos ensues as their adventure takes them from shark infested waters and creepy caves to haunted hidden tombs and a confrontation with Yakuza gang members.Time is running out as the prophecy’s day of reckoning draws near. Will Rachel and Chase succeed before disaster strikes?

First Chapter:

The mystery begins…
Kenji Otadidn’t fit the description of a bloodthirsty killer. Upon meeting him, it would be difficult to believe he’d gotten away with murdering at least twenty-five men. He was intelligent, intuitive and physically attractive. His black hair was kept short and neat, and from the professional manner in which he dressed and carried himself, he could have been mistaken fora television announcer or successful business executive. He socialized in mixed circles – with stockbrokers, politicians and street-smart hoodlums alike – and his charming, larger-than-life personality drew the attention of women everywhere. However, after meeting Mariko Abe, his taste in the fairer sex had been spoiled forever. No one in his mind would ever compare to Kyoto’s most beautiful geishaorbe foolish enough to keep her away from him.
At 8:45 P.M., he stepped inside RAIN, one of the hottest nightclubs inJapan’s Roppongi district with his face hidden behind a katou anime mask. He knew only the “big” people in Tokyo could gain access to this place, and at the age of 29, he was already considered one of the largest. His loyalty to his yakuza family, the Zakura-kai, carried great weight and had earned him three rankings within the Japanese syndicate: Kaito Mitsui’s body guard, his personal advisor, and captain of his own crew of soldiers. Yet his hard-earned promotions were not the result of monies earned, smart business dealings or his ability to entice new, ambitious recruits. They came as the result of his eight-year incarceration on behalf of his boss for a botched extortion scam.
With renewed interest in the noisy scene before him, Kenji pulled off his mask and tucked it into his black studded belt. He ran his hand across the back of his sweaty neck – the irritatingresultof another muggy August night. Unlike the devoted men in his crew, he shied away from solid black suits by wearing tight jeans and a loose white shirt most days. And although the police had released him only four days earlier, across his back he carried a red wakazashi– a lethal 31” sword.
Associates who were below Kenji’s rank moved quickly aside and bowed in respect as he passed. On more than one occasion he’d proven himself a deadly adversary with his sweeping blade, the most memorable occurring ten years earlier. Boss Mitsui had called a meeting between Katsu Nagura and all the underbosses in the Zakura-kai to discuss territorial issues. Foolishly, Nagura had challenged their supreme leader, bringing him to his feet.
“You’re not even worth killing! You stupid ingrate!” Kaito Mitsui yelled at the top of his lungs.
Dedicated to his mission to protect his boss at any cost, Kenji appeared in front of Nagura in the blink of an eye. He whipped out his sword and slashed the yakuza boss’s face twice across both cheeks. Within seconds, four of his men jumped in and were dropped to their knees with gaping wounds and severed arteries. The ones that could stand scrambledto get out of there. The two that couldn’t were carried off and deposited in a common grave. Strangely, the whereabouts of these men were of no interest to local officials or members of Nagura’s group. Kenji was never confronted for his part in the bloody incident and was left to conduct business as usual in the Zakura-kai with the same unaffected attitude he exhibited tonight.
As he neared the DJ’s booth, the base-infused rock music grew louder. Hundreds of bodies were bouncing to the techno beat. Dresses were shimmering beneath flashing strobe lights and the surrounding bar was filled three deep with thirsty customers. By Kenji’s estimate, it was unusually busy for a Monday night, even with the discounted drinks andRockabilia theme.
While he continued to eye the club’s glitzy interior, contemplating owning it one day, two girls crossed the dance floor and were heading straight for him.“Ken-chan, come dance with me,” the girl in the skimpy red dress called out. She was swaying her hips to the music provocatively and angling a come-hither look. Her friend in a micro blue skirt joined in, matching her move for move. In his book, with their thigh-high stockings and hemlines barely covering their assets, they looked likeSasebo bargirls. But another quick look around convinced him they weren’t alone in their meat market attire.
“You promised last time,” the girl in red persisted.
Right. Kenji feigned a smile. He knew these girls belonged to Tak – a “family” member who enjoyed cheap whores and spending his money in by-the-hour love hotels.
“He’s not interested in you,” the other girl said, tugging at his arm. “He promised to dance with me. Right, Kenji?”
He didn't, of course. He had better things to do and would have remembered if he’d made a promise to anyone…especially these two. He pulled his arm free with little effort. “Sorry, Tak’s waiting. Maybe another time.” Kenji could hear their annoying little whines as he stepped away. Hustlers like these were more disappointed in the watered-down drinks you didn’t buy them than the time you weren’t willing to spare.
He edged his way around the crowd and spotted his friend at the back of the room. As usual, the acme-scarred rebel was holding court in one of the club’s high-back chairs with drinks on the table and two girls seated before him hanging on every word.
As he drew near, Tak’s eyes lifted. “Hey, man! Been waiting for you. What took you so long?” Unlike most of the people Kenji socialized with, Takashi Bekku lacked proper manners. He was slow at paying tabsunless there was someone at the table he needed to impress. Although he was street smart, his education ended at junior high. The knife scars on his arms and cheek came from his father and not from gang members as his girlfriends were lead to believe. But despite it all, Kenji Ota valued their friendship and was confident that if worse came to worst, Takashi would be there for him – watching his back all the way.
“Sorry I’m late,” Kenji said. “I had some business to take care of.” He pulled up an empty chair and two new girls came over to join them. They giggled, prattled away and padded his shoulder, but he paid them no mind.
By the look of excitement in Tak’s eyes, he knew exactly what Kenji was talking about. Earlier that night, Mitsui-san had ordered a hit on Nobu Kimura. He was a retired detective who had spent half his life trying to bring down the Zakura-kai. The man was clever, considering he was old, half blind, and favored a leg from a childhood injury. But he was also brazen and secretly corrupt. He had raided their clubs, planted wires and hassled their business associates. He even went so far as to interrupt the boss’s birthday party just when his cake arrived. All because Mitsui refused to drop a dime – hand him a boss on a silver platter to make him look good with his department heads.
Of course, it came as no surprise when Kenji got the order to get rid of him. Yet the recollection left him grimacing. He didn’t mind taking care of the competition or squirrely guys in the organization, but this was different. Kimura was an outsider, a well-known official people were likely to miss.
Tak was grinning over the top of his drink. “So how’d it go? As good as I'm guessing?”
Kenji glanced away, recalling the white bathroom’s blood-splattered walls. He grew anxious and started bouncing his heel under the table. Like chewing on fingernails, he found it hard to sit still and not move when surrounded by people.
“C'mon, gimme the gory details,” his friend insisted.
Kenjileaned in and lowered his voice. “I sliced his neck from ear to ear like I’m gonna do yours if you don’t shut up."
Tak laughed and slapped his fist into his hand. “Aw, man! Nice. Quick death. Now if it was me, I would’ve delivered slow torture.”
“Yeah, that sounds like you. Anyway, you didn't ask me to come here to discuss Kimura. There must be something else on your mind, right?”
The girl on his left handed him one of the beers from the table. He nodded his thanks and twisted off the cap. After a long pull, he sat back and waited for Tak’s answer. “I heard Satoru Yamada hooked up with an American treasure-hunting company and is flying in from Los Angeles tonight. The lead diver showed up three days ago and has been real tight with your sister Yuki ever since. They’ve been buying gear and going to libraries…checking out history and treasure-hunting shit. No one seems to know much, but I got a good feeling about this one.”
Kenji listened closely, thoughtfully nodding.
“Anyway, it turns out this guy has been trying to line up a dive boat. Since you got one stored in that marina you own, this could be your chance to pull in some real dough…maybe even throw a few crumbs my way.”
Kenji snorted a laugh. “Yeah, right. What else do you know?”
“They’re getting together for a meeting on Friday night andYamada invited that geisha Mariko Abe to join him. He was checking out rings before leaving town. Before the night’s over, they might be celebrating more than a partnership.”
Shit. Kenjiswallowed hard. He lowered his crossed arms but managed to keep his eyes level, knowing the slightest sign of weakness could undermine his position. “Is that it?” he asked.
“So far. I’m going to do a little more snooping around to see if there’s anything worthwhile to report. Just wanted to give you a head’s up.” it made sense. The real reason Tak had called and insisted he show up. It wasn’t about his sister forming an alliance with Yamada. They’d been friends for years and were always covering for each other. But when it came to his boss, if the American was here to recover something of value, stealing it and handing it over to Mitsui could result in gaining his favor. Maybe even expedite a promotion.
“So, where’s this meeting going to take place?” Kenji asked. “If it's anywhere near the Tanahashi mansion, you won't make it in there alive. There are hundreds of guards surrounding that place. You'll be cut into tiny pieces if you take one step on their ground.”
Tak was quick with a comeback. “No way in hell. You think I'm stupid? My connection at the Garden restaurant said they’re due at 6:30.”
“Fancy. Yamada must’ve swindled some rich gaijins out of their money,” Kenji said. “So you got any idea what they’re after?”
Tak half shrugged. “Not a clue.”
“Well, if you hear anything, I’d be interested in knowing.”
“Sure, you got it. Anyway, I'm thinking of crashing their party.”
Kenji huffed a laugh. "Why would you do that?”
“First hand information, of course.”
“Well, good luck with that.”Kenji stood up and started to leave.
Tak reached out and grabbed his arm.“Wait a minute! I need your help.”
“No way. It doesn’t matter how much I hate Yamada, I’m not going anywhere near him. Not without the boss’ say-so.”
Tak’s eyes narrowed. “Whatever I find out could benefit the Zakura-kai,” he reminded him.
It was no secret Kenji would do anything for the family: infiltrate investment companies, circulate meth, demand protection money…even destroy their enemies should he be called upon to do so. And even though friendships were short-lived, they were equally important. He didn’t want to waste the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. Too many years had been spent that way.
Kenji heaved a sigh. If he didn’t go along to keep Takashi Bekku out of trouble, the next execution order he received could have his name written all over it. "All right,” he finally said. “What do you want me to do?"
“You’ll love it. I picked up a wig and borrowed some women’s clothes. I heard they’re looking for wait staff, so I thought we’d sneak into the restaurant pretending to be servers.”
Kenji unleashed a cynical laugh. “You’re kidding, right? Women’s clothes? And who do you think is going to wear those?”
Tak’s brow furrowed. “You got a better idea?”
“As a matter of fact I do.” Kenji thought about Yamada and Mariko, and the promise he made to himself to never let anyone have her…especially that ridiculous self-serving monk. “I might have to clean out half my bank account before I’m through,” he said, “but in the end, it will all be worth it.”

* * *

The doorbell buzzed again. Kenji laughed and walked to the front door of his apartment with his towel draped over his shoulder and his white shirt unbuttoned. He was getting ready to tell Takashi he wasn’t interested in his stupid plan or in hearing more about the container he was in the process of loading. But by the time he'd pulled the knob and begun to swing the door open, he realized he really didn't know who was on the other side and almost slammed the door in the face of a nerdy-looking guy.
“Kenji Ota? I’m here about a plumbing issue. Sorry, am I interrupting?”
What the hell. Kenji looked him up and down. “Yes to the first, no to the second,” he said sternly. The guy had brownish hair, which was scattered ambiguously about his head. His face was freckled and he appeared to be middle-aged with neither the build nor the dress of a yakuza gang member. All and in, he looked perfectly harmless. Still, Kenji reflected, so had the others.
“I'm in charge of maintenance,” the man explained. “My name is Daiichi Asano. As you may know, there have been some concerns about possible water leakage in the building. We're having a terrible time trying to find the source, though, and we're reduced to looking at any suspect blip in our readings, no matter how insignificant. Uh, have you noticed anything leaking in your apartment?”
“I was using the shower earlier,”Kenji said. “Would that do it?”
Daiichi sighed. “Ah, yes. I believe it would.” He fiddled with the seam in his pants, then seemed to notice himself and swiftly placed his hand in his back pocket.
“Did you want something else?”Kenji said.
“Well…I know this is a bit of a bother, but might I take a look around, just for appearance sake? If I can't tell my boss I gave this an inspection, even a cursory one, he'll have my head.”
Kenji hesitated, but decided that he might as well let the man take a look rather than arouse any kind of suspicion, however small. “Sure, help yourself,” he said.
Before Daiichi could respond,Kenji immediately walked into the kitchen. He tookKimura’swatch from the counter where he had left it and slipped it into his backpocket. When he looked up, Daiichiwas peering around the corner, scrutinizing his movements.
“You keep this place pretty neat.”
“Well, you know…confirmed bachelor here,” he said with forced cheer.
The man nodded and flashed a wry smile, showing he didn't have a clue. He followed Kenjithrough the kitchen and looked around. Surprisingly, his gaze passed over a steak marinating on the counterand the diamond-inlaid tanto knife Kimura had confiscated from a local hood – the same one Kenji had reclaimed on his sister’s behalf and intended to flaunt at their next meeting.
“Getting dinner ready?” Daiichi asked.
“Yeah. I hope you’re not planning on joining me.”
The man turned away with no comment. He stepped into the living room and didn’t seem to find anything of interest. Then he took a quick peek into the bedroom before withdrawing into the hallway.
“Well, I think we're good here,” he said, smiling the wide smile of someone who didn’t really want to be there.
Kenji nodded and smiled back. He walked toward the entry and waited for Daiichito follow. But as the inspector passedby the bathroom,he halted.“Oh, mustn't forget!” he said.
Before Kenji could stop him, Daiichi ducked inside and took a look around. Kenji rushed after him, thinking up distractions. By the way the manwas staring, it was obviously too late.
“What on earth is this?” he asked.
Wrong question, Kenji thought. The sudden urge to take this little man and put his head through the wall was threatening his self-control.
“I don't believe it!” Daiichi said. “Have you been washing clothes in here?”
Kenji had the sense to look at the ground, feigning deference and biting the corner of his lip to hide the smile that was threatening to break out. “Yes, “he managed at last. “As a matter of fact, I have. Exactly. God, how embarrassing.”
“Mr. Ota, while I doubt that this habit of yours has anything to do with the water leaks, it sure isn't helping to prevent them. We have industrial washing machines in the basement to take care of your laundry needs. Why don't you use them instead of wasting water and doing this in your own home?”
While he was talking,Kenji had been staring at him, but now he glanced back at the pile of clothes in time to notice a tiny thread of blood weaving its way down the drain.
Daiichi’s eyes were stretched wide in horror.
Great. Kenji sensed that he was about to say something that would undoubtedly evoke a negative reaction. His faithful wakazashiwas stillhanging on the back of the bathroom door. It would only take two seconds to grab it. One quick swingand thisannoying little creep would be silenced forever.
“Oh, that,” Kenji said, tracing his line of vision.
Daiichi tilted his chin. “Exactly. What’s been going on here?”
“Relax, Mr. Asano. I work part-time as a butcher. Iripped a carcass wide openearlier today and had to rush home to changefor a date. Normally, I wear an apron when I work…especially when there’s a mess to clean up. But as you can tell, I left everything in the wash.”
Daiichi’s eyes dropped to Kenji’s ripped abs and the claw marks tattooed on his chest. His Adam's apple bobbed up and downwith audible swallows. “Right…okay…great. I think we're done here,” he said. “But if this happens again, I…well, never mind. Just finish what you need to get done.”
“Thank you,” Kenji said, smiling. “I always do.”
He shut the door behind the maintenance inspector and peered through the keyhole. As soon as Daiichi was out of sight, he leaned against the wall. This time it had been a little too close. His confidence was making him bold and careless. But at least now, he had a faithful ally – someone who wouldvouch for his innocence, if it ever came to that.
Kenjiwiped his damp forehead with the towel from his neck. He went into the bedroom and mused over how easy it was to convince feeble-minded people of anything. Their blind faith wouldn’t allow them to see the worst in mankind. He knelt down in front of his clothes cupboard, opened it and reached deep inside, grabbing hold of a small box hidden behind his shoes and spare arsenal. It was heavy, and its contents clinked as he pulled it out. He removed its lid and dropped the watch on top of all the others. Then he stood back and looked into the sink mirror.
“Hmmm…how sad,” Kenji said aloud. “People just have too much faith these days.”