The first of this week’s two spotlights is the Sacred Guardian series by J.A. Jaken. Check out the beautiful covers and awesome blurbs of the two M/M fantasy books, add them to Goodreads or buy them with the universal Amazoon links.
If you leave a comment by June 11th at 11:59 PM CST, you may even win an e-copy of either book (winner’s choice). More giveaway details below. Good Luck!
‘Through the Last Door’ (Sacred Guardian #1) by J.A. Jaken
Genres: M/M Romance | Fantasy | Adventure | Length: 376 Pages
Publisher: White Owl Publishing |
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?
“You really should try to eat something, High Lord,” Ishaya said.
Kaori closed his eyes. The smell of the food, while undoubtedly well-prepared and mouth-watering, was making him feel ill. But if he hadn’t eaten all day, then neither had Hunter. And Hunter would not eat before he did; not out of a misguided overabundance of fealty, but because he was as much of a mother hen as Ishaya was.
Reluctantly, he selected a plate of light crackers and cheeses, adding a pile of thin-sliced veal at Haku’s insistence. The food clung to his throat when he tried to swallow, without any taste at all. He nodded gratefully when Haku handed him a cup of spiced wine to wash it down with.
“You, too,” he said, frowning in Hunter’s direction. “Don’t tell me you aren’t hungry.”
Hunter made no move to accept the offer. “I want to be sure you have enough to eat first,” he said. “You need—”
“There’s more than enough here to feed all of us if we want it, and half the grounds staff besides. Eat, damn you.”
A small smile touched Hunter’s face as he slid down to sit at Kaori’s other side and reached for a plate, piling it high with sliced veal and fruit. “If you insist.” There was an ironic twist to the words.
The familiar byplay made something inside Kaori’s chest loosen. Hunter, at least, wasn’t treating him any differently because his father had died. Taking comfort from the shoulder brushing so warmly against his, he finally found the courage to look up and meet Ishaya’s eyes.
“There are probably things I need to know,” he said. The words felt heavy in his mouth. “Affairs of state, or… something.” He felt lost.
Ishaya smiled kindly at him. “There’s no need for you to worry about that tonight, High Lord.” His eyes were soft. “Rest assured that all is running as it should within your kingdom. For tonight, at least, you have no responsibilities other than spending time with your friend.”
“I’d like to hear about that university in Gyre,” Haku said, selecting a grape from the platter and taking a slow bite from it. “What was it like, living over there? Was it horrible?”
“No, it wasn’t horrible at all. Gyre is really a wonderful place. Let me tell you about the campus where I was living….” Kaori was glad for the delay in having to face his new reality for that much longer. He felt more relaxed now as he talked about the country he had spent the past three years visiting, the things he’d learned there, the culture, the language, the people. In return, Haku told him about the trials he’d passed in order to become a member of the Palace Guard, and some of the campaigns he’d been on. Kaori was unsettled to realize that his friend had significant battle experience now, and had even killed on occasion, when it had become necessary. That image jarred discordantly with the image of the childhood companion he carried around in his mind’s eye. In many ways, this new Haku seemed a stranger to Kaori; the thought made him feel sad. But time moved on, and people changed. That was the way of the world.
At length, he began to feel quite sleepy. He realized with some surprise that he had eaten more than he thought he’d be able to.
“Your room has been prepared,” Ishaya said, drawing his attention, “if you’d like to retire for the night.”
Kaori caught himself in the middle of another yawn and ducked his head embarrassedly. He really was very tired. The thought of going to sleep as if nothing untoward had happened disturbed him, but at the same time he wanted it desperately, wanted the dark and the temporary oblivion it offered.
“Yes,” he said, sighing. “I think I’d better.” He smiled, feeling very much aware of his friends sitting around him like a balustrade, like armor, sitting with him so he wouldn’t have to be alone on this night of all nights. “Thank you.”
He got up to walk out of the room, but stopped before he reached the doorway. Turning around, he met Haku’s eyes and asked, “Did my father suffer at all?”
Haku hesitated before replying. “It wasn’t easy for him,” he said at last. “But what is, in this life?”
Ishaya leaned forward in agitation. “Haku!” he said sharply, with a disapproving frown. “There was no reason for him to know—”
Haku shrugged, unimpressed by the other man’s ire. “We shouldn’t get into the habit of lying to him. Life is hard, and it’s only going to get harder.” He glanced in Kaori’s direction, his gaze contemplative. “Especially for him.”
The words sent a wave of coldness washing through Kaori, but he nodded agreeably enough. “Thank you, Haku.” Feeling numb, he left the room.
He’d taken nearly five full steps before he realized that Hunter had fallen in beside him. Glancing at the man irritably, he said, “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 two years—nearly three—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.
He didn’t look back when he closed the door.
Eater of Dreams (Sacred Guardian #2) by J.A. Jaken
Genres: M/M Romance | Fantasy | Adventure | Length: 341 Pages
Publisher: White Owl Publishing |
Kaori Sansa has uncovered the truth about Shinja, the Sacred Guardian of Kazure, but the country he is sworn to protect is far from secure. War presses hard from the east, and unrest from within Kazure’s borders threatens to undermine what little control he has managed to gain over his subjects. Furthermore, there are those who question his choice in pursuing a relationship with Hunter–quite possibly even those who are closest to him, and whom he has most come to depend upon. Will he find a way to sort through the miasma of lies, violence, and political entanglements that surround him in order to save the country he loves, yet somehow remain true to his own heart?
It was nearing evening when they came across a booth at one side of the concourse, half-covered by a concealing backdrop of thick velvet drapery. Ben was currently distracted by a nearby vendor selling herbs and local healing poultices; Kaori left him to his browsing and wandered curiously toward the booth to see what its wares might be.
Ari stood watch on the street outside while Hunter and Kaori ducked their heads low to enter. The interior of the tent was dim and smoky, and smelled strongly of incense. The floor was covered with a profusion of colorful pillows and blankets, although the decorations did little to lighten the oppressive atmosphere of the room.
Tucked in a back corner of the tent was an old woman, sitting on a wooden chair. She was dressed in a patched robe, with a gnarled walking cane leaning against the wall of the booth beside her. She appeared to be blind in one eye.
“Ah,” she said in a voice that sounded as if it got little use on a day to day basis. The softly grating rasp of it made Kaori wince. “You’ve come to visit with Madam Malka, have you? Come to have your fortunes told?”
Kaori regarded her curiously. The old woman was apparently a Seer. There was some debate in Kazure about whether Seers were true practitioners of the magical arts or merely charlatans; it was true that foretelling was not a facet of the art taught at any of the universities. However, there were those who swore on the graves of their ancestors that they’d had an experience with a Seer who foretold their future accurately, who passed along the words of a departed loved one or helped them find a family heirloom that had been irretrievably lost. Kaori himself had never had any personal experience with them, and thus had never formed much of an opinion about them one way or the other.
He figured it couldn’t hurt to play along in this case, just for fun. He was in high spirits after the afternoon spent at the carnival, and was in a particularly indulgent mood.
“Yes,” he responded. “What fortunes do you have to tell?”
He glanced at Hunter, who obediently took a coin from the purse at his belt and handed it to the old woman. Her long, crooked fingers snatched hold of the coin with surprising deftness, and both coin and hand disappeared beneath the folds of her robe.
“Come,” she said, gesturing with the other bent hand. “Sit. Listen to what Madam Malka has to say to you.”
Kaori arranged himself cross-legged on the blankets in front of her chair, while Hunter knelt gracefully down beside him. He could feel the old woman’s gaze resting heavily on him, evaluating his every move.
“You,” she said to him once he had settled, “have come a long way to visit us, my young lord. A traveler, you are.”
Kaori smiled at her. Most anyone could have figured out he wasn’t a native of this village. “Go on.”
“There are three parts to the reading, young master. Past, present, and future.” Reaching toward a low shelf beside her, she picked up two shallow wooden bowls filled with what looked like bird’s bones. “Here,” she said, handing a bowl to each of them. “let us see what your destinies offer you.”
Kaori glanced at Hunter and shrugged. Giving his bowl a rough shake, he spilled the contents out over the blanket in front of him. After a moment’s hesitation, Hunter followed suit.
“Ah,” the old woman said again, leaning forward in her chair. She reached down to poke a finger at some of the bones in front of Kaori’s knees, being careful not to disturb them. “What I see here is a relatively unremarkable childhood. A father notable mainly for his absences. A mother who loved you. A bit more loneliness than the average child faces. But memories of happiness, for all of that.”
Kaori chewed on his lower lip, feeling reluctantly impressed with the observations. Those kinds of vague proclamations could have applied to almost anyone, he was sure, but the fact that they described him so accurately was rather eerie.
“And you,” she said, turning toward the bones in front of Hunter’s knees. Her face creased suddenly with an expression of sorrow. “I see pain in your childhood, and the memory of loss. Yours was not an easy passage into adulthood.”
“No,” Hunter agreed.
“And your present…it is one of service, and duty, and love. And atonement. Still, you seek to make reparations for the sins you see in your past.”
Kaori gave Hunter a hard look, but Hunter wasn’t looking at him.
“And you, my young lord.” The crone’s voice had a faint edge of amusement to it as she turned back to Kaori. “You see yourself as diligent, but not particularly strong. You carry such a weight of responsibility on your shoulders. The challenge before you is to remember that you do not have to carry those burdens alone. You must learn to rely on those who stand beneath you, even if it means risking the loss of them.”
Kaori’s mouth tightened. “I’m no more important than anyone under my command.”
“Oh, but you are.” Her mouth curled slightly. “I sense the winds of change about you, lordling. You carry a powerful destiny within you, a purity of purpose, that shines from within you like a star. It is most curious.” Her eyes narrowed, sweeping over his face with disturbing intensity. “Have a care that you do not falter under the weight of that destiny.” Then her gaze returned to the bones, and she brushed a fingertip over a particularly ugly, gnarled-looking one. “The consequences of failure in the course you’ve set before yourself are dire. This tells me that once you reach the end of this road, you will give in to your fear and fail the ones you care about most in order to save yourself.”
Hunter shook his head, his mouth pressing together in a hard line. “That’s not possible. He would never do that.”
The crone’s head lifted to fix on him, the milky gaze of her blind eye giving her a disturbingly predatory expression. “And you, famed hunter of the dark though you may be…if you fail to conquer the demons within you, you will end up leaving this one alone in the darkness to die.”
The expression of shock on Hunter’s face pierced Kaori’s chest like a blade. Shaking, he reached for Hunter’s hand and pulled them both to their feet. “I think we’ve heard enough,” he said, embarrassed by the sharp edge of anger in the words. Why was he taking this so seriously?
The woman leaned back in her chair again, regarding them both with a narrow-eyed expression that looked almost pitying. The shadows at that corner of the room swept forward to enclose her, claiming her as their own.
Her voice followed them as they fled out through the door. “You are doom-driven, High Lord. Make sure you do not fall into the trap your destiny has set for you.”
Comment for the chance to win one e-copy of:
‘Through the Last Door’ OR ‘Eater of Dreams’ by J.A. Jaken
You need to be 18 years or older to participate in this contest. Void where prohibited. Etc.
This giveaway will end on June 11th at 11:59 CST. Good Luck!
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.