Hello my little samurai kitties! I've got 4 cover reveals to feature today, this time for my Twitter pal SJ Pajonas. So here's a bit about the books, the pretty covers, some excerpts, a book trailer, and even a giveaway!
Part One (Nogiku series #0.1)
New Year’s Eve with Jiro and Mark
Get immersed in the Nogiku world with Jiro Itō as he gets ready for a boring and annoying New Year’s Eve out in Nishikyō. At least, that’s what he expects his night to be like. Jiro would rather drink with the geisha all evening, and avoid taking anyone home, but he has family business to attend to instead. When the family business leads to an unfamiliar restaurant, Jiro spies Sanaa Griffin smiling at him from across the room, and his night turns around.
But Mark Sakai, his uncle, is not pleased with Jiro’s flirtations. Mark has worked hard for over a decade to get Sanaa into position for her new life, and he can’t have Jiro interfering. Will a stern warning be enough to keep them apart?
PART ONE of REVEALED is a companion short story to REMOVED, Book ONE of the Nogiku Series. The first chapter of REMOVED is included at the end of PART ONE. Read REVEALED first or read it later, but don’t miss this look into the other side of Sanaa’s story.
Approximately 10,000 words.
Nogiku series #1
Duty knows no family. Love has no price. Secrets can cost you everything.
Twenty-year-old Sanaa Griffin is about to get more than she bargained for when she wishes for love, happiness, and excitement on New Year’s Eve. Ripped from the job she always loved, she is reassigned to work for mysterious Mark Sakai and spy on the corrupt leaders of her city. War looms on the horizon, and Sanaa must help Sakai determine the key players and their weak spots before it’s too late.
Mark Sakai has many plans for Sanaa that will take her into a web of lies and danger, and her only protection is to learn to defend herself. But defense training under the watchful eye of Jiro, a strong and enigmatic young man she has a crush on, was not what she expected. Between falling in love with Jiro and the information she is gathering, Sanaa realizes Sakai is holding back secrets about her family and her deceased parents, secrets as to why she was chosen for this job, and learning the truth puts all of humanity in jeopardy.
REMOVED is the first book in a captivating post-apocalyptic series that harnesses the cultures and traditions of Japan and sweeps them into the future between Earth and a faraway land.
“Sanaa, this is Koichi Itō, and his son, Jiro, whom you’ve met before. As you have probably guessed, you will be learning to sword fight with them.”
Fantastic. A guy who is totally my type and any prospect of romance is about to be submarined by a business relationship, a teacher-student relationship. How the hell am I going to pull this off when I’ve already flirted with him once before?
Jiro is studying me, gauging me like Sakai often does. This must be a family trait. Looking at the three of them together, they are definitely related. They could all practically be triplets in their Nishikyō grays and solemn expressions. I sigh and turn to Sakai for reassurance as he lays a hand on my shoulder. This is not what I expected to happen today.
“Sanaa, I know your mother never cared for sword fighting, but, since you’re already more than proficient in karate, I figured this was the next logical step.” Sakai turns to Jiro. “Don’t think she can be easily defeated, Jiro.”
Sakai is boasting about my skills? I want to tell him to shut up before he gets me in trouble, but he seems sincere. “She has her father’s determination.”
Sakai’s eyes are hard on Jiro, and the two stare at each other stonily before Jiro gives in.
“Hmmm, we’ll see,” Jiro says, walking to the wall of wooden swords. Uh oh. I think I’m about to be tested. Too much talk.
He takes two of the smaller swords and tosses one to me which I fumble and drop on the ground. I am so unprepared my face practically bursts into flames. I reach down and pick up the sword, copying Jiro’s stance, but he hasn’t made a move to lunge at me like I thought he would. Instead, he is watching me stare at the sword.
“It’s real wood!” I exclaim. The strong grain weaves up the side, and I follow the wavering line all the way to the tip with my fingers. The sword is nicked and dented more times than I can count.
“We’ve had them for centuries.” Jiro smiles at me, holding his sword tip-down in front of him. “Passed down through our family for generations. Newer ones are available, but they’re all composite.”
I heft the sword in my hand. Light but sturdy. Surely fighting with a sword can’t be that different from fighting with your hands. What have I gotten myself into?
Behind these two men are the brothers our age Miko referred to earlier. The older one is around twenty-four or twenty-five and his brother a few years younger. Yes, Miko, they are definitely cute but the younger one is more my type. He is seriously handsome with longer, floppier hair than his older brother, a strong chin, and what looks like a white streak in his hair just over his ear. He reaches up and tucks his hair back before turning and spying the three girls staring from the bar.
“What did I tell you, Sanaa-chan?” Miko whispers. “The older one’s mine.” A slow, seductive smile comes over her face, and I do my very best not to roll my eyes. Miko has her sights set on him. He’s done for.
But I’m watching the younger brother. Yes, just my type, I can tell already. Strong and confident in the way he holds himself. I love longer hair on men, and that black kimono. Sigh. I love men in kimono. His eyes are on me and now that we’re staring at each other, my breath is slowing, slowing, slowing down until I’m holding it and not breathing at all. I don’t blink. I don’t move. I am completely entranced.
“It’s a good thing neither of these two are my type,” Helena whispers at me, but I barely hear her. The younger one has turned from me at the behest of one of the other men, the two brothers bow to Miko’s father, and turn to exit the izakaya through the back door. No! Wait!
No, wait. He’s looking at me again before he goes. Did I say that out loud? I don’t know. Smile, Sanaa.
I smile, trying not to be too eager nor too subtle. I’m usually at one end of the spectrum or the other and know nothing of moderation. Moderation? What’s that? No clue.
A smile brightens his face for a moment, but he’s gone. They’re all gone.
Nishikyō itself is mostly devoid of charm and uniqueness, except for a few temples and theaters, but each building’s owner takes care to set their place apart from the blandness around it. It’s not surprising I would have walked past this place had Jiro not led me directly here. Its exterior is austere, simple.
Inside, they must have knocked out all of the existing structure and rebuilt it entirely from the floor up. The walls are papered a lovely shade of cream and lit softly from above. Real wood supports and beams are shellacked a deep, dark coffee brown. I place my hand on one, and it’s warm and organic. Nothing like the cool and precise composite material we use around the city to mimic the real thing.
The genkan has an area of cubbies for shoes and sets of washed slippers for guests. It’s cool in here as I thought it would be, but comfortable. Okiyas call private contractors to bring in more cooling units so the geisha can entertain in their silk kimono and not overheat. It’s something they can easily afford in this business.
A doorway opens off to the right and a young woman dressed in a lovely pink and green kimono comes out to greet us.
“Irasshaimase, Itō-sama! You’re expected. I hope you’re well.”
“I am, Shichi-san, and you?”
“I am well, thank you.”
“Shichi-san, this is another family guest, Sanaa.” He gestures to me, and I stand absolutely still. I’ve never been to an okiya and am not sure how polite or formal I’m supposed to be. When Jiro sees my frozen state, he puts his hand on the small of my back. He probably thinks this is going to have a calming effect on me, but now I’m fluttery instead.
“Well,” Sakai begins, walking to his right. I am content to stand where I am, but he motions to follow. “You may not be in school anymore, but you have much to learn. Where you are going and what you will be doing, the decisions you will make, will all depend on what you learn with me.”
Uh oh, I don’t like the sound of that.
“Sanaa, you have grown up around people your whole life, but you do not know people. You live your life amongst your few friends and your aunts but you never travel outside your circles. You are sheltered.”
My face flushes red with anger. Who does this man think he is? We only ever met each other two nights ago for the first time. He knows nothing about me. Yet, what he just said was true, and that scares me more than anything else.
“This has been your life for twenty years and, in two years time, this will all change for you. Will change for everyone.” He turns to me with a sad expression on his face, and all the heat leaves my body cold. “Sanaa, I’m sorry to say your time as an engineer has come to an end. Now it’s time you learned about the other side of Nishikyō, about the other side of you. There is a way of life here that must be protected, at all costs, and forces at work that will try to fight against the system we’ve worked so hard to build. You will help me keep the peace.”
I’m finding it hard to breathe, the air around me solid and stagnant. When I manage to take a shaky breath, my fear turns to anger again, a hot blush rushing back to my cheeks.
“Ok, I’m confused. Who are you? And why the hell am I here?” I let out a laugh and glance around to make sure I’m not about to be pranked. “I hate the fact you’re telling me things without really telling me anything. Is this a joke? Because I’m nobody.”
Sakai leans in and looks hard into my eyes, and I do my best to stand still and not draw back. His glare is intense and follows the curve of my forehead, over my eyebrows, and down across my chin. He studies every line, every millimeter, and I’m a little disturbed by how familiar he is with me. “No. No, you are not.”
He sighs and turns toward the window again while I try to will the blush from my face and steady my heart rate.
“Tomorrow we start your real education, Sanaa-chan.”
Nogiku series #2
Left in the desert to recuperate from her injuries, Sanaa Itami paces the floors and contemplates her mistakes. She trusted too easily, and now people she loved are dead, killed at the hands of men coming to assassinate her. Sanaa feels beaten, but life awaits her at home. While her city recovers from the devastating earthquake, negotiations for Sanaa's future continue. New allies must be made, new friendships brokered, new skills acquired -- at all costs.
Life at the top of the chain is complicated and lonely, though. With all her friendships rocky and uncertain, Sanaa must learn to trust others again more than she's willing. Who is left holding a grudge? And will the new family Sanaa has found with Jiro support or betray her?
RELEASED, Book TWO of the Nogiku Series, is the second book in a captivating post-apocalyptic romance series that harnesses the cultures and traditions of Japan and sweeps them into the future between Earth and a faraway land.
I wonder if Sakai is up. Now is the time for me to visit him the way he visited me before the concert. Perhaps he’s always an early riser.
I get dressed, brush my hair and clip the long strands back over my ear with some pins Aunt Lomo left in the makeup bag she gifted me. Slipping on my shoes, I send Jiro a note on my tablet and close the apartment door quietly behind me.
Two flights up the stairs is Mariko’s apartment and Sakai said he was in the penthouse above her. Mmmm, the heady scent of onions and garlic cooking is getting stronger, so I climb the stairs even faster. When I reach the landing, two large caucasian men stand on either side of the only door in the hallway.
“Can we help you, miss?” asks the man on the right.
“Etoooo, I’m here to see Mark Sakai. Who are you?”
The one on the left reaches into his bag sitting on the floor and pulls out his tablet. “Please scan your hand, miss.”
I examine them both before stepping up to his tablet and placing my hand on the screen. Is this some new security Sakai has hired? The man examines my credentials and puts his tablet away. “You’re cleared. You may scan your hand at the door to request entrance.”
The man to the right of the door steps to the side. I watch both warily as I palm the scanner, and the chimes ring inside.
Maybe I should have thought to message Sakai before I came up? The door opens, and he is standing shirtless with his hair down. It’s about time I got to see those tattoos of his, but I have to admit I’m a little embarrassed by his informality.
“Sanaa-chan, jet lagged?”
“Yes, sorry, Mark. Jiro is still sleeping.”
“Come in.” He doesn’t acknowledge the men standing on either side of the door, and they don’t acknowledge him. “Are you hungry, Sanaa? We were about to eat breakfast.”
“Yeah, sure. I could eat. What’s with the guys, Mark?”
His apartment is huge. A loft-style design with lots of open space and high ceilings sprawls out in front of me. His bedroom door is ajar on the right, and another door to a large bathroom is open next to it. The living room area is immediately to my left, and on the couch is a woman’s bag and jacket. Did he just say we were about to have breakfast?
“They’re security. Why don’t you come in and sit down at the kitchen table with us? I’d like you to meet Lucy.”
Shit. I’ve intruded on some private time Sakai is having with a lady friend, or girlfriend, or something. I doubt he would have let me in if he didn’t want me here, but I’m frozen in place and don’t want to step farther into his apartment and ruin his lovely morning.
He sighs and pushes me out of the way so he can close the door. Turning to walk to the opposite side of the apartment, his tattoos face me, and all over his back and up over his shoulders to his neck is a large samurai warrior entangled with a dragon. Damn, that’s hot.
Just as the embarrassed blush rises to my cheeks for thinking anything about Sakai is hot, I’m stopped by the sight of a woman seated at the kitchen table. She’s in her late thirties, fair-skinned, bright green eyes, her red hair messy and pulled into a quick knot at the back of her head.
“Itami-sama, I’m glad to see you’re feeling better. Sakai-san tells me you were injured during the earthquake. How unfortunate.”
What a supremely cunning liar Minamoto is. I’m sure he knows everything about the fight, my injuries, my recovery, and my near death again in the hospital at the hands of an assassin. He has spies. We have spies. If only we all just told each other everything, but instead we do this dance. To men like Minamoto, the dance is everything, and if I don’t want to offend him, I will have to step lightly.
“I am quite well now, thank you, Minamoto-san.” I rise from seiza to lean forward and lift my cup of tea from the table between us. Jiro is sitting silently to my left, Usagi standing behind me, and Sakai is on my right.
I sit back on my heels and take the time to sum up Kentaro Minamoto. He’s twenty-two, the same age as Jiro. He’s lean, fit, and possibly a little wiry under his gray kimono. He has a thin face, long forehead, and short spiky hair. If I had seen him out and about, I definitely would have thought, “Not my type.” He has yet to utter a word, but he is watching me while I watch him.
“Minamoto-san, you said you had business to discuss,” Sakai says, setting his tea cup down and placing his hands on his upper thighs. I continue to sip at the genmaicha. Hmmm, this tea is not as bad as I remember it being.
Kentaro lightly shakes his head at Minamoto. Violences flashes over Minamoto’s eyes as Kentaro turns towards me.
“Itami-sama, before the earthquake, I was prepared to get back to you about my support. I am willing to throw the full weight of my house behind you, but I ask one thing in return.”
I keep my face as passive as possible. Here it comes.
“You currently have no consort. You are twenty and of the age that such things are permissible. It would be advantageous for both our families if you were to take my son, Kentaro.”
Never before this moment have I ever felt the crushing desire to marry and have children, to have a real wedding, to expand my tiny family and be joined with another. Ugh, I’m so selfish. Why can’t I just be happy with what I have?
Jiro looks at me and despite the festive atmosphere, the people around us talking and laughing, I’m not smiling. I just can’t smile when I’m trying to keep the thoughts away, the thoughts about my own future and what’s in store for me on Yūsei.
He pulls me in, and I close my eyes and wrap my arms around him, resting my head on his chest. We don’t say anything, but this is exactly what I need. I need to know Jiro’s fine with all the terms and conditions that come with me. A bright flash illuminates everything around us, and I know our hug has been captured by the photographer. I hope I don’t look ridiculous.
“Come on, Sanaa. Miko and Yoichi are at the door.”
Sure enough, they come into the dining hall propped up by the thundering of our applause. Mr. and Mrs. Itō. Miko Itō. She told me she was thinking of keeping Tanaka because of the izakaya, but, ultimately, she likes the idea of changing her own name and leaving the business name as-is. Maybe I should legally change my name to Sanaa Itami. Maybe a change would make me feel more in control.
Gods, some days I think my brain is broken. I can’t stop thinking about this mess I’m in. If I choose to stay with Jiro, I’m robbing him of his ability to marry, too, and that’s important for the leader of a big family. Beni tried to convince me everything would be fine. But I’m watching Miko and Yoichi walk to each table and talk to their guests as the waitstaff serves dinner, and I’m not sure.
I’m really not sure.
My leg is bouncing under the table, and my knee knocks up against Jiro’s. His hand comes down on my leg, and I try to tuck my hair behind my ears like I used to do when I was nervous and can’t. I have very little hair left on my head.
I search the room from my chair for support or distraction. Lucy and Sakai are laughing and drinking together, and they both seem so happy. Helena is at the next table over being introduced to Usagi’s parents. Oyama is standing next to them, smiling and nodding his head. My knee bounces even more.
Jiro turns to me with sadness in his eyes again, like he did during the ceremony, and my stomach sinks. He’s regretting this, isn’t he? Regretting us because we can’t have what everyone else has. Looking around at the table full of people I love, they all have the freedom to choose and be with whomever they want. I want to be with Jiro. I am with Jiro but suddenly it feels so temporary, like our relationship can’t last.
I can’t sit here anymore.
Jiro links arms with me and pulls me along behind some of Sakai’s men out in front of us. I’m happy to be wearing my red yukata today with a black obi. It’s not often I decide to go with red, but, when I do, I feel alive and energetic. Red is a powerful color. I like having it in my hair.
Jiro is wearing his dark blue yukata, the one he wore to the okiya on the night we first openly flirted with each other. I do love men in kimono and yukata, but I’ve gotten used to him wearing all black too when we play around at night in the city.
“I’ve had plans to visit Minamoto today for weeks now, but we’re going to have to talk business with him after what’s happened.”
I nod my head in assent. I need to be passive and not get emotional.
“We’re going to his family’s chashitsu in Minamoto territory. It’s a favorite place of mine. Kentaro, Usagi, and I used to play there a lot when we were kids.”
“Chashitsu? You want to take me to a tea house?”
“Ah, but Sanaa, it’s not just tea. It’s kaiseki and the tea house. The tea house grounds. They have a real koi pond.”
“With real fish?” I remember all of the beautiful fish swimming in the aquarium in Ku 8, and I’m so fond of my haori coat with the big koi fish along the back.
“Real. Fish. You will love the fish in the pond. They are hand-fed each day so they’re quite friendly.”
We turn the corner onto a main street, and everyone is out. From each street lamp hangs a bright, big, round star in a million different colors with streamers hanging off the bottoms, tickling the heads of people who walk under them. Usagi and Oyama press in a little closer to us as do the other men in front. The street is loud and busy. People are lining up for lunch from the street vendors. The smell of all the food is making me hungry. Toast this morning was probably not enough.
I turn to Oyama behind me, and he smiles. “I can tell you’re hungry, Sanaa-san. Kaiseki is simple but elegant and won’t take long to prepare. I was at the tea house earlier. They have strict instructions not to start until I arrive, though.”
A particularly beautiful and large multi-colored star hovers over the center of the street ahead of us with a little girl on her father’s shoulders reaching up to swirl her hands in amongst the streamers. Her laughter is so sweet.
“Sanaa, Mark and I had a long talk two days ago, the day he cornered me and asked me why I was going around introducing you as my fiancée to everyone. The last thing I want is to lose you, and, if we had gone on the way they all wanted us to, there’s no way we’d be happy. Neither of us. Mark wanted me to keep my distance in the beginning, but I’ve made it clear that we want to be together, have a family together?”
My heart is racing in my chest, I’m excited to hear him talk so decisively about our future.
Nogiku series #3
Yūsei has surprises for Sanaa Itami. The long trip across the stars ends with Mark Sakai delivering bad news from orbit over their new home, and there’s no turning back or moving on. Despite all their misgivings, this is where they will have to stay.
Sanaa, Jiro, and the rest of Earth’s settlers move into a coastal town and stick to their plans to live the colonization life they dreamed of. But Sanaa’s existence won’t be kept secret from her enemies for long. Kazuo promised he would see her in another life, on another world, and he aims to keep his word. Now she will face those who want their revenge and make new enemies while dispensing with old ones on her journey across the fascinating and unfamiliar landscape of Yūsei.
REUNITED, Book THREE of the Nogiku Series, is the third book in a captivating post-apocalyptic romance series that harnesses the cultures and traditions of Japan and sweeps them into the future between Earth and a faraway land.
As a tour special you can read Revealed: Part One for free! And the price for Removed has been permanently dropped to $0.99. Haven't started this series yet? Pick up your copy today!
About the Author
S. J. Pajonas loves all things Asian and has been in love with Japan and the East for as long as she can remember. Writing about Asia and Japan came naturally after studying the culture and language for over fifteen years. She studied film and screenwriting first and eventually segued into fiction once she was no longer working a full-time job.
Face Time is the first novel in the Love in the Digital Age series, and Pajonas’s first foray into Korean culture and families. Along with Removed and Released in the Nogiku Series, she continues to take the cultures of Asia and weave them into stories that appeal to people from around the world. Her writing is described as unique and unpredictable. Expect the unexpected.
Stephanie lives with her husband and two children just outside of New York City. She loves reading, writing, film, J- and K-dramas, knitting, and astrology. Her favorite author is Haruki Murakami and favorite book is The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.