Of Honor and Love
Jonathon Addison wanted a night of companionship, to be in the arms of a man – any man – and no longer feel lonely. But he picked the wrong man, and events led him to make a twisted deal to save his own life. Now he’s in the mysterious and distant nation of Japan, where the death of another means freedom for himself.
Kazuhiro Takezaki is a lord and samurai living in a country strained and ready for rebellion. He agrees to meet with Jonathon Addison, a representative of a foreign arms dealer, in an act of keeping his enemy close. Only, Jonathon isn’t anything like he expected, and Kazuhiro can’t stop himself from being drawn toward the man’s exotic beauty.
As Jonathon and Kazuhiro’s passion takes hold, danger looms close, much of it in the secret Jonathon keeps.
Japan, June 1867…
Jonathon sighed as he looked forward. He’d thought this was going to be easy. Or, as easy as killing any man ever was. With the sympathy he was already feeling toward the country and her people, he feared meeting Lord Takezaki and what that would do to his resolve. He could only hope the man would prove insufferable and make him want to season Takezaki’s food with the arsenic. He would find out soon. For how long they’d been traveling, he wouldn’t be surprised if were close to Kyoto.
He stared at Nakano’s back riding ahead of him. The older samurai had yet to formally introduce himself, but he’d caught his name from the others speaking to him. His first impression that Nakano was the leader proved true, as he controlled their pace, when they rested, when they ate, and the others obeyed without question.
Jonathon glanced back. Directly behind him was Kita, the youngest of the group and who he imagined couldn’t be beyond twenty years. He met Kita’s gaze, and the young samurai gave him a small, but friendly smile. Of all of them, Kita seemed to be the most accepting of his presence. He was the one who brought him food, helped him with his horse, and anything else he needed. He sensed Kita was interested in speaking with him, but wouldn’t because it might incite disapproval from the others.
Bringing up the rear of their little band were Tanaka and Kawada, who spoke mostly to each other besides teasing Kita. So to say the samurai were silent was something of a misnomer, because they did talk. Just not to him. It didn’t stop him from eavesdropping on their conversations, though, and while he learned he wasn’t as proficient in Japanese as he’d thought, he was able to understand well enough.
It seemed Kawada was newly married, something Tanaka took great pleasure in teasing him about as it seemed Kawada had unwillingly given up his bachelorhood but pressure from his father forced him to. Lord Takezaki’s warhorse had kicked a groom and broke the man’s leg, which then led to a discussion of Kita, who had recently been caught in a comprising position with one of Lord Takezaki’s grooms, which delighted Tanaka even more than Kawada’s forced marriage.
Even if their banter and casual conversation didn’t include them, it was comforting to see them acting like any group of men he’d been around.
As they rounded a curve in the road, Jonathon saw Nakano jerk his horse to a short stop. A downed tree blocked the way. All conversation silenced. Nakano sat alert in the saddle, scanning the forest. Jonathon looked to the others, as alert as Nakano. His heart started pounding quicker without warning. A sense of danger fell over him.
Nakano whirled his horse around toward them. He shouted to turn back.
A breeze whooshed by Jonathon’s head, and he belatedly realized it was an arrow. More arrows rained through the trees. Shouts shattered the silence. Jonathon spun his horse. A band of five samurai charged up the road behind them. Two more sprang out from the forest’s cover to his left, another two on the opposite side of the road to the right.
Jonathon saw Kawada snap off the end of an arrow lodged in his shoulder while turning his horse to meet their enemies. Tanaka galloped at his side. Two against five, and one of them injured. There was no way they could win, and yet they rushed their attackers without hesitation. Nakano shouted for Kita to take the two men on the left, as he intercepted the two on the right.
Everything was happening in the span of his rapid heartbeats. As the warriors clashed, Jonathon became all too aware he was weaponless. All he had was a Colt revolver in his satchel and that did him no good now.
Hearing a distressed shout, Jonathon snapped his head around. He saw Kita’s short sword sheathed in the chest of one of his enemies, but the other grabbed the young samurai, ripping him from the saddle. Kita fell hard, but rolled to his feet, drawing his long sword and striking the second attacker across the chest.
Behind Kita, one of the four samurai engaged with Tanaka and Kawada broke away. He galloped toward him, spear lowered. Kita twisted away, the spear grazing his arm. The samurai swung his horse. Its hindquarters slammed into Kita, sending him crashing to the ground.
Jonathon put his heels to his horse. He may not have a weapon, but he couldn’t do nothing.
The samurai raised his spear, the point aimed down at Kita.
Jonathon let out a loud, guttural shout as he charged Kita’s attacker. It did what he hoped. The other samurai twisted around, his attention broken. Jonathon saw the samurai’s shock an instant before his horse slammed into the samurai’s. He caged the samurai in his arms, hurling himself out of the saddle and taking the other man off his horse with him.
Hands grabbed Jonathon, dragging him off the samurai. He started to fight, then realized it was Kita. He stumbled back, clearing the way for Kita to finish their enemy. But it wouldn’t be enough. Nakano, Tanaka, and Kawada were all on the ground, back to back, and surrounded.
New voices rose over the cacophony of battle, shouting brave and clear.
Jonathon spun to the sight of another band of samurai racing up the road from the other side of the downed tree. The one leading the charge wore black and gold armor, a fierce black mask and horned helmet. His black stallion outpaced the other horses and leaped over the tree, as if the horse was just as eager for battle.
Their enemies charged the newcomers, but now found themselves outnumbered. Nakano, Tanaka, and Kawada all ran for him and Kita. Nakano grabbed him by the arm, dragging him into the forest and away from the battle, but not so far to not be able to help their allies if need be.
Jonathon’s gaze remained locked on the lead samurai. He and his stallion were like a black fury, a whirlwind that destroyed all who came near. The samurai struck with such grace and fluidity, and though Jonathon knew the actions were horrendous in their deadliness, he couldn’t help but see beauty in the samurai’s skill and strength.
It took only a few short minutes for the new group of ten to overpower the remaining enemies. Nakano led them forward, reaching the head samurai as he dismounted. He’d no sooner touched the ground than Nakano dropped to one knee, his head bowed. Kita, Tanaka, and Kawada all did the same.
Jonathon stared at them, shocked at their actions, especially Nakano’s. This must be a man of great importance to warrant such respect. He wondered if he should mimic their actions even though he didn’t know who this man was, then heard Nakano say, “Lord Takezaki, there are no words to express our gratitude for you coming to us in our time of need.”
Jonathon’s eyes widened. This man, this warrior, was Lord Takezaki Kazuhiro. He dropped to one knee, his head lowered. He hadn’t quite been sure what to expect of the lord, but this certainly wasn’t it. Like many wealthy and aristocratic types, he’d thought Lord Takezaki wouldn’t directly engage in combat, but rather send his men to do it for him.
Jonathon chanced a glance up at him. Kazuhiro removed his mask and helmet. Jonathon’s breath stopped, yet his heart beat harder, faster.
He was young. So much younger than Jonathon expected. He couldn’t be more than thirty. Gazing at Kazuhiro’s delicate features, Jonathon felt a pleasant tightness in his chest over their beauty. A few strands of ebony hair had fallen loose of the binding, clinging to Kazuhiro’s cheek, which was damp with sweat. Though Kazuhiro’s gaze was on Nakano, Jonathon stared at his eyes, drinking in their black depths. He was sure moments before, they held ferocity, but now as Kazuhiro looked upon Nakano they held only warmth.
Kazuhiro’s gaze flicked from Nakano to Jonathon.
Jonathon stared back on him…then realized he was staring and quickly dropped his head.
Kazuhiro focused on Nakano again. “Stand, all of you. Words are not necessary, Nakano-san. I’m the one who’s grateful we arrived in time. We caught a Tokugawa spy and were able to learn from him of the attack.” He looked to Kawada. “But we didn’t arrive soon enough. Kawada-san, how badly are you injured?”
Kawada bowed to Kazuhiro. “Not bad, my lord. I can ride.”
Kazuhiro nodded his head once. “Is anyone else injured?” His gaze scanned all his men as they shook their heads. “Good. Then let’s get the bodies off the road and covered in the forest. Do it quickly.”
His final word was answered with bows and the men leaping to follow his orders.
Kazuhiro signaled for Nakano, Kita, Tanaka, and Kawada to stay. He looked at the foreigner. He’d seen his share of Westerners, but never had he seen one like the man before him now. The young man was slender, lithe, and not very tall. Thick, golden hair framed his face. Rings as golden as his hair adorned each ear. His eyes were as blue and clear as the sky above, and those eyes were now looking at him with bold and unabashed attraction.
Copyright 2013 by S.J. Frost