Pure Silk

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Desperate

1868, Northern Japan. When her father's forces fall to the imperial army, Tama has no choice but to escape before her enemies find her. Disguised as a peasant boy, she makes her way to the city's pleasure quarter—where anything and anyone is for sale and no request is forbidden. There she finds the one man who can protect her, and she's willing to pay him handsomely, in whatever currency he desires. ...

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Overview

Desperate

1868, Northern Japan. When her father's forces fall to the imperial army, Tama has no choice but to escape before her enemies find her. Disguised as a peasant boy, she makes her way to the city's pleasure quarter—where anything and anyone is for sale and no request is forbidden. There she finds the one man who can protect her, and she's willing to pay him handsomely, in whatever currency he desires. . .

Intrigued

Taking on a daimyo's beautiful daughter seemed a fine idea at the time, but now, dodging assassins, spies, and police, Hugh has second thoughts. But once Tama is in his bed, the captain is overcome by his desire to protect her—and ravage her—in equal measure. . .

Uncontrolled

In a country teeming with danger, the line between royalty and commoner will melt under passion's heat. Strangers will become lovers, and uninhibited pleasure will offer love's only refuge. . .

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Disguise, intrigue, danger, and pleasure mingle dangerously in this sexy romance set in 19th-century Japan by New York Times–bestselling author Susan Johnson. The story begins as Tama, the princess of Otari, is forced to flee after her father is killed and his forces defeated. Disguised as a peasant boy, Tama hides in the city's pleasure quarter, where she finds Captain Hugh Drummond, who agrees tol take her to Paris. In return for his assistance, Tama will pay him with the only currency she has -- pleasure -- but those sensual hours are eclipsed by Tama's desperate need to escape her enemies. The developing romance between this most unlikely and spirited couple will delight Johnson's many fans, and the exotic historical setting is a wonderful bonus. Ginger Curwen
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781575668093
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 1/1/2004
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Johnson is the award-winning, national bestselling author of the novels Hot Spot, Hot Legs, and Hot Pink, among others.

 

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First Chapter

PURE SILK


By SUSAN JOHNSON

BRAVA BOOKS

Copyright © 2004 Susan Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57566-810-9


Chapter One

November 1868 Northern Japan

The sound of a horseman riding fast brought her sitting upright in her bed. The brazier fire was burning low, the air so chill, Tama pulled the silk quilt up to her chin as she listened to the pounding hoofbeats draw near. Reports of the battle between her father's army and imperial forces had begun filtering in that morning: the Lord of Otari had been defeated; the northern forces were in retreat; the Mikado's general had been killed; the imperial army was vanquished; victory lay with the north—no, the south. The rumors were so wildly divergent, it had been impossible to glean the truth.

The outer gate was creaking open. With the war raging, only her father's men would be allowed entrance at this time of night. Was her father back? Please, God, let it be him! Leaping up, she snatched a heavy quilted robe lying on the chest near her bed, slid her arms through the sleeves and ran.

Lanterns illuminated her swift passage through the corridors of Otari castle, the cries of retainers, a horse's high-pitched squeal, the creaking of the gate as it closed once again, echoing upward from the courtyard to her ears. Home to the Lords of Otari since time immemorial, the castle fortress was one of the most magnificent of princely homes, exquisitely painted screens, gold filigree work, carved pillars and lintels, lacquer work medallions flashing by as Tama raced through the halls and galleries leading to the courtyard.

At the sight of her servants standing heads bowed at the entrance portal, fear gripped her heart. Dashing past them, she came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the porch, a scream caught in her throat.

Her father's bodyguard was sprawled on the snow, still as death, the grooms standing at a respectful distance, uncertain what to do.

Quickly descending the short flight of stairs, she knelt beside Shosho, his life draining away in crimson rivulets already congealing on the snow. One arm was nearly severed at the shoulder, his body so lacerated by shrapnel and sword cuts it was a miracle he'd stayed alive long enough to reach the castle. Wakamatsu, where the northern forces had taken their stand, was ten ri distant.

As though sensing her presence, his eyes fluttered open and he struggled to rise. But his powerful body no longer responded to his brain's commands. Tears came to his eyes.

"We'll get the doctor," Tama murmured. "You'll soon be well again," she lied.

"Not this time," he whispered, a grimace of pain flickering over his features. "I bring—sad news, my lady." He gasped for air. "Wakamatsu fell."

"Is my—is he—" She couldn't bring herself to mouth the fatal words. "Tell me," she whispered.

"You are—now ... the head of—Otari."

She went numb, momentarily paralyzed by inexpressible loss, aware of neither the cold nor the blood soaking through her robe, the servants' sobs and cries unheard. Her father was dead, their cause defeated, the castle at Wakamatsu, under siege for two weeks, had fallen. It was over. The clans of the northern alliance would be hunted down and exterminated—to the last living child.

"He's gone, my lady," her chamberlain murmured. Had protocol allowed, he would have taken her in his arms and offered her comfort.

Roused from her grief, she glanced up at Togai and nodded. Reaching out, she gently closed Shosho's eyes. He'd been faithful to the end, executing her father's last command by sheer force of will. "Go to heaven and smile again," she whispered to the young man who had always made her laugh, who had taught her the way of the sword without scoffing or teasing. "He must have a proper burial before we go," she said, slowly rising, suddenly realizing she was barefoot in the snow. Taking note of her bloodstained robe, she was reminded how little time they had before their enemies arrived. "No one of Otari is safe. Patrols could reach us within hours." Her voice was without emotion, her entire focus on what she must do. "Tell the staff to take what they wish from the castle before it's set afire."

After Shosho's burial, everyone packed what they could carry and with her own hands Tama put torch to the fortress to keep it from falling into enemy hands. Standing well away in the distant reaches of the garden, she and her staff watched the flames begin to destroy the castle, each leaping, crackling spiral of fire eating away at the towering structure that had been their home. Otari princes had lived on this land since the first emperor sat on his throne at Nara. And soon, the grand fortress would be gone. "I'm sorry, Father," she whispered, tears streaming down her face. "I'm so sorry," she repeated, at a loss to express the magnitude of her anguish. "I wish you could have come home," she softly murmured, wishing as a child might that everything could be as it once was.

As though in response to her wistful yearning, a huge section of the great curved third-story roof suddenly collapsed in an explosion that shook the ground. Wrenched back to reality, she reminded herself that she was a princess of the blood who understood what was expected of her. Wiping away her tears, she turned to her servants huddled around her and said with a determination that startled even herself, "I intend to bring Prince Komei home. We'll clear our name and rebuild the castle." She had wanted to offer her retainers hope, but as the words tumbled out, she found her spirits lifting. Why shouldn't Komei return? Why shouldn't they regain their titles and lands? Political pardons were not without conspicuous precedence in Japan.

"Will the young prince return?" Togai gravely asked, aware of the reasons Komei had left Japan.

"Under the circumstances, he must." The words seemed to bolster her resolve; a new firmness resonated in her voice.

"And what of the ITLηITL woman?" Her maid's sneer was obvious.

"The prince's wife will return as well," Tama crisply replied. "The world is changing." There had long been talk in the more enlightened political circles of erasing the strict caste system in Japan. Even the outcasts such as Miyo would be accepted into society. Maybe her father had been fighting among other things for just such a cause—unlike the southern clans who wanted to maintain the conservative status quo. "I'll send word to you once we return," Tama said, offering the servants a confident smile, feeling suddenly as though anything were possible. Even escape. "Now go," she urged. "Scatter like the birds and leave a hundred trails for our enemies to follow. Until we meet again," she said with more hope than certainty, "may the Goddess of Mercy protect and comfort you."

But hope, however slight, was a blessing in the wretched sorrow of this night, and she desperately wanted to believe she was being shown the way.

She would travel to Edo, book passage to Paris and bring her brother home.

Had he not said as though prescient on the night he'd left, "If you ever need me ..."?

Disguised as a peasant boy, Tama journeyed south, avoiding well-traveled roads with their checkpoints and guard posts, keeping company with pilgrims on their way to local shrines when possible, securing an occasional ride on a farmer's oxcart, above all—keeping to the shadow world. The snows of the north gradually gave way to a parched brown landscape, the crowds of travelers and dust raised by the northwest winds increasing as she neared Edo.

The shogun had retired to his estates to study Chinese poetry she heard as she moved south, the man for whom her father had died enjoying a comfortable retirement. Anger and resentment further fueled her sense of purpose. It wasn't fair that Yoshinobu was allowed to live a princely life when her father was dead, his estates confiscated and the Otari clan labeled traitor.

Adauchi—vendetta—was powerful motive in Japan.

Perhaps, someday, she would cancel Yoshnobu's debt to her father.

As she arrived in the city, thoughts of retribution gave way to the practicalities of surreptitiously finding a ship to take her to France. Government spies would be everywhere; spies spied on spies in the capital. Every bureaucratic post was filled by two men so they could watch each other, distrust and suspicion the natural consequence of autocratic rule. But in a city of a million souls, perhaps one small peasant boy might escape detection.

Making her way to the Yoshiwara, the fabled pleasure quarter most likely to offer both anonymity and an obliging sea captain, she stood outside the entrance as evening fell, gazing at the colorful scene through a gray mist of rain. In such a place, one could lose oneself. In such a place, anything and anyone was for sale. In fact, she might have been for sale here had she been captured by the Mikado's soldiers and allowed to live.

But she wasn't caught yet.

Dressed roughly, her face half hidden in a muffler, her long hair tied up, shielded from the rain and closer inspection by a broad-brimmed straw hat, she slipped through the torch-lit Great Gate without notice. Moving down the central Naka-no-Cho avenue lined with the leafless cherry trees of winter, she kept well in the center of the throng. And the streets were crowded despite the rain, rickshaw men vying with each other to grab departing guests or deposit those arriving to take part in the pleasures offered by the brothels, restaurants, fancy shops, high fashion and Kabuki theaters. Hawkers wandered the streets lined with lanterned food stalls, their gaily printed awnings bright as those on the many snack sellers' carts. The air was filled with the twang of the three-stringed samisen and voices raised in song drifted out into the night from the brothels.

The Yoshiwara was even more popular since the emperor had moved the capital to Edo and foreigners had been allowed to do business in the city. And those ketto—hairy barbarians—were just what she needed right now. With luck and enough Mexican silver, the currency of commerce in the East, she would buy passage from Edo tonight.

As she progressed down the street, her heart was beating like a drum. Beyond the fear of capture, it was unheard of for a highborn lady to enter this district. On the other hand, sea captains were prime customers for the exotic wares the Yoshiwara dispensed, and she intended to find a bearded foreigner to take her away from her enemies.

A familiar face suddenly loomed into her line of vision and murmuring a quick prayer of gratitude, she eased out of the stream of humanity flowing down the busy thoroughfare. Taking shelter under an awning, she surveyed a red-lacquered palanquin and the burly seaman leaning against it, smoking his pipe. He was unmistakable—a giant of a man with carrot red hair and a matching beard she'd first seen at Niigata last summer. As first mate, he'd accompanied his captain to a meeting with her father and herself where the Lord of Otari had purchased five thousand repeating rifles and twenty cannon.

With their business concluded, her father had asked Captain Drummond if he was concerned about slipping back past the Mikado's naval blockade.

He'd run guns for the Confederacy through a Yankee blockade so tight you could hear the Yankee sailors sneeze, Captain Drummond had said with a smile. The Mikado's navy was child's play.

Such confidence would serve her well.

And no doubt, a gunrunner would be willing to overlook the fact that she was in flight from the authorities.

The red palanquin rested on the flags before a sumptuous Green House, the sailor seemingly immune to the rain, lounging against the porch railing smoking and exchanging witticisms with other foreigners who passed by, his booming laughter making her forget for a moment her utter peril. Her father's retainers would wait for him like that, enjoying their pipes and laughing while he visited the teahouses. How long ago it all seemed. How impossibly long ago. She shut her eyes briefly, half hoping when she opened them she would be home with a brazier fire burning, the scent of incense in the air, her father smiling at her as he listened to her read his favorite poems.

She opened her eyes to another loud burst of laughter, the chill night air in sharp contrast to her dreams, the bawdy Yoshiwara so far removed from the refinements of her home her eyes filled with tears. But a daimyo's daughter didn't cry, nor did she allow herself to be bowed by heartache. Drawing in a sustaining breath, she touched the fortune in pearls out of sight beneath the plain blue padded jacket, clutched her pack closer and debated how best to conceal herself within the American's palanquin.

Chapter Two

The moment Tama saw Red Beard ascend the stairs to the Green House and disappear inside, she moved toward the palanquin, forcing herself to walk slowly—as though she were out for a stroll. But once she reached the litter, she shot a glance at the bearers, saw that they were still enthralled by a performing acrobat and quickly jumped inside.

As she slid over the silk cushions, her wet clothes and muddied sandals stained the pale fabric—the smudges a sudden stark reminder of how much her world had changed. Only days ago, a servant would have shielded her from the rain with a parasol and lifted her sandals from her feet as she entered the palanquin; when she alighted, her sandals would have been replaced before her feet touched the ground. An anomaly now in a world speeding toward revolution, her servants' jealously guarded prerogatives as obsolete as muzzle loaders.

A thundering shout erupted from inside the brothel, Red Beard's voice raised in impatient demand and Tama's reflections on the past gave way to more immediate perils. Quickly unwrapping her short sword from her pack, she shifted to one side of the door so she wouldn't be visible when it opened, gripped the hilt of her weapon, and waited.

A short time later, the wafting scent of perfume struck Tama's senses only seconds before a geisha's exquisitely coiffed head intruded into the palanquin. At the sight of Tama, she hesitated, her eyes flaring wide. "Get in," Tama hissed, her short sword raised in threat.

Displaying no emotion, the courtesan obeyed, seating herself in the small space with a fluid grace and composure only years of training could instill.

Quickly sliding the door shut, Tama frowned. "Where's Drummond?" She'd caught a bird of paradise when she'd been expecting the captain.

"I have no idea."

"His first mate came for you," Tama murmured, slipping her knife blade under the courtesan's throat. "So you know."

As the bearers lifted the palanquin, Sunskoku steadied herself against the sudden movement, not wishing to mar the perfection of her much-admired swanlike neck. And while the captain was charming for a barbarian outsider, she'd not reached her exalted position in the first ranks of tayu courtesans without understanding the subtleties of survival. "He waits for me at his residence," she offered, wincing slightly as the bearer's rhythmic step altered for a moment and the sharp blade nearly drew blood. "Please." She indicated the dagger with a slight motion of her fingers. "I have no intention of disclosing your presence."

Tama eased her blade away. "I'll kill you if you do," she warned.

"I have no intention of moving." Sunskoku calmly scrutinized her captor. The chief of the secret police whom she served would want to know of this peasant seeking Hugh-sama—just as he wished to know any information about the captain's activities. An arms dealer was, by definition, of questionable allegiance. "Hugh-sama's not expecting you, I assume," Sunskoku remarked, hoping to draw this little would-be ninja into conversation. "If he was, you would have knocked on his door."

"I mean him no harm."

Sunskoku smiled faintly. "He'd make short work of you if you did—even with your wakizashi."

Tama's gaze narrowed. "He could try."

"Such bravado from a peasant who's not even allowed to carry a wakizashi," Sunskoku noted, lightly teasing.

"The world's changing," Tama curtly noted.

Apparently, this young female with a cultured northern accent thought she was a match for Hugh-sama—an expert in Bushido. Although she might have other than martial plans in mind, Sunskoku reflected. "If you think to tempt the captain's vices," she casually observed, "he prefers women to boys." Although even in the dim light of the interior lantern, it was clear this was no boy.

"How fortunate for me."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from PURE SILK by SUSAN JOHNSON Copyright © 2004 by Susan Johnson. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2004

    NOT A KEEPER

    I HAVE READ EVERY OTHER BOOK BY THIS AUTHOR WITH POTHOLDERS ON MY HANDS SO I DON'T GET BURNED BY THE SEXY WORDING. THIS BOOK REQUIRED ONLY BLOWING ON THE PAGES EVERY NOW AND THEN. IF THE AUTHOR ATTEMPTING TO TONE DOWN THE STORIES SHE NEEDN'T TRY. THE CHARECTERS WERE NOT COHESIVE THE STORY NOT ENGAGING ENOUGH TO KEEP ME READING FOR HOURS. IT WILL BE THE FIRST BOOK BY THIS AUTHOR I WILL NOT KEEP TO RE-READ.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2004

    WAS OK

    set in 1868 in japan and france. story was good, was a little confusing for me with the japanese words and phrases. very sexy and loving at times. but when i finished the book it left me with wanting more, like i missed something. i've read other of ms. johnson's books (only the historical romance ones) which were a little better than this one. i do forsee a part 2 with the book ending with the Otari heir and the yakuza's son meeting on their 25th birthday.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2004

    Good but Not Up to Par

    As always Susan Johnson has written a steamy novel. However, as with her last few books, the details that flesh out a story are missing. In this one, the characters are never described. Events do not flow, connections are missing, background info that would help clarify the story and characters is lacking. The endnotes that I thoroughly enjoy are missing. It's like sections of the book were edited out leaving a chopped up book that was okay rather than one that was REALLY GOOD. Miss the old style of Susan Johnson's books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2003

    LOVED IT!

    Classic Susan Johnson style. I have read several of her books. If you love others she has written, you will love this one as well.

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