No. Eating. Pixies.
At the annual Global Lijun Alliance conference in Tokyo, Tally Bastille makes the first impulsive decision of his life. Others perceive his uktena—the enormous legendary serpent that’s his dual-spirit—as a threat, which makes him all too aware that he frightens fellow lijun. But an encounter with a passionate, obviously not-straight otter lijun one evening convinces Tally that he’s found his Em’halafi, his destined match. Tally is determined to barrel through all obstacles to make the match happen, including the otter’s conservative, traditional family.
Trained as a Satislit—a bride-son—Haru Tanaka chafes at the strict boundaries set around their life. They rebel against their clan’s constant attempts to force an arranged match and wish desperately for someone who will love them. At the conference, Haru is horrified to learn their family has accepted an offer for them, one too lucrative for the clan to refuse. Not only has the Urusar sold Haru to a stranger, but the lijun is also a giant snake and one who believes in the tired old superstitions regarding Em’halafi. Threatened with banishment if they refuse, Haru has no choice but to marry the wealthy American serpent.
Back in Tally’s home in Wisconsin, Haru and Tally must navigate both the widening gulf between them as they realize how much they’ve misunderstood about each other, and the tricky politics of the lijun clan Tally leads. Murder, intrigue and increasing hostility threaten to tear apart the little town of Wadiswan and the arranged marriage they’ve barely managed to begin.
QueeRomance Ink Link: https://www.queeromanceink.com/book/fireworks-stolen-kisses/
From the time humans became a unique species, the lijun have lived among us. Dual spirit beings able to change at will between their human halves and their animal halves, at different periods throughout history lijun have been revered, feared and reviled. Modern lijun realized some time ago that their survival in the human world depends upon successful, peaceful integration—a partnership with humans who are unaware of their existence. But in the little town of Wadiswan, Wisconsin, tensions between rival factions run high, escalating to the point where the secretive lijun community risks exposure. The survival of lijun everywhere may depend on which side wins.
Author Name: Freddy MacKay and Angel Martinez
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Release Date: Tuesday, June 26 2018
Format: Paperback, eBook
Is This Book Romance?: Yes
Price: 4.99 ebook, 13.49 print
Story Type: Novel >50k
Word Count: 84,925
Cover Artist: Emmy Ellis
Genres: urban fantasy, romance, multicultural
Tropes: arranged marriage, culture clash, destined match
Keywords/Categories: bisexual, non-binary, Native American, Japanese, business man, otter, uktena
Series Title: Lijun
Position (Number) in Series: 1
Necessary to Read Previous Books: No
Other Books in Series Available for Review?: No
Back straight, back straight. Is this person my social equal? Tally offered a futsurei to be safe while the evening’s host introduced him as the new Urusar from Wisconsin. He wished Dad had come with him. As hard as he tried to think of this as just another business conference, the names and places had started to run together. Back home, he might have reached for the worry stone in his pocket. Here, that might be rude.
The ballroom was gorgeous, with the doors to the terrace rolled back to reveal the view of Mt. Fuji. Tables groaning with food lined the walls. Arrangements of blood-red flowers decorated every table. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, though that might have been an illusion created by nerves.
“Wisconsin?” the middle-aged woman inquired with reserved decorum. “That is the state of cheese, yes?”
“Very true.” Damn it, he’d forgotten her name. She was the Uruma, the village mother, to one of the larger cities to the south. “Though thankfully the state is more than just cheese.”
She laughed politely, turned to greet another conference-goer, and Tally hoped it had been a dismissal. He shouldn’t have felt out of his element. Employees depended on his decisions all day, every day. Meetings were his lifeblood, or at least took up most of his life. Not to mention these were his people. The perfectly draped Global Lijun Alliance banner dominated the front of the room—there for anyone, human or lijun to see. For the humans, it was simply a trade organization. For the lijun, it was survival, a shared bond of secrecy and a way for lijun communities to thrive.
Except Tally would always stand outside, which simply made diplomacy that much more important. When his father had gleefully announced his retirement as Urusar, village father of their community in Wadiswan, Tally knew his duty. He’d been groomed for it all his life. He’d taken up the leadership mantle with the sobriety and respect it deserved, even though some of their lijun neighbors had whispered about another deadly serpent leading them.
Tally couldn’t escape his heritage or his lijun type, but he was here at this conference to continue his father’s work—to ensure his community thrived, that the lijun under his care were safe, and to fight against the ancient prejudices that branded him as dangerous.
He retreated to one of the buffets to nibble on sectioned oranges with his back to the wall so he could observe. Not everyone at the welcome dinner was as bound by formalities. The younger attendees had dressed in a variety of styles and more or less appropriately. Nearer the terrace, a young woman in a leather miniskirt tapped her boot heel to music only she could hear. On the other side of the room, a handsome young man in a strange mix of business formal and rebel-casual lounged against the bar. The suit jacket and expensive jeans fit in well enough. The faded T-shirt and rainbow suspenders? Not so much.
Tally thought he would introduce himself to this interesting person, but an older gentleman beat him there and spoke urgently to the young man, who made an impatient gesture and stalked off.
Too bad. He’d been an…otter? Tally surreptitiously flicked his tongue out to taste the air. Difficult to tell in such a large gathering, but he was sure he was right. Something beyond the rainbow suspenders drew him to the otter, a yearning that he didn’t want to deny. He was about to follow when someone touched his arm.
“Herr Bastille, is it not?” A man with flame-red hair, an educated European accent and a calculating smile stood at his elbow. “I am Gerhard Klug. I understand you are a hotelier?”
Tally offered his hand rather than a bow and smiled in return. “Good to meet you. Tal-tsu’tsa Bastille. Everyone calls me Tally. Yes, I run the family business back home. Several properties.”
“Good. Good.” Herr Klug put an arm on his shoulder and steered him toward the bar. “I’m hoping we could discuss a possible business arrangement.”
“I’m always interested in discussion, Herr Klug.” Tally signaled the bartender. “What are you drinking?”
“Gerhard, please.” The fox lijun laughed. “You’ll make me feel old. And they have a pear brandy here that is good.”
Tally ordered the brandy and a whiskey sour for himself. Yes, Gerhard was obviously here to woo him, but Tally didn’t like being put at a disadvantage right from the start, even with something as small as who paid for drinks. “What is it you do?”
“I have glassworks,” Gerhard said as he hopped onto the stool next to Tally’s. “My family has been in glass for several centuries. While we have commercial lines, we have sites dedicated to custom work, as well.”
Tally had the oddest image pop up at the phrase in glass of little foxes running about under cheese domes. Of course he knew what Gerhard meant and the more focused part of his brain perked up at the mention of custom work. “Oh? What sort of custom work?”
Gerhard pulled a small tablet from inside his suit jacket. “For restaurants. For hotels. Erholungsort…what is the word? Resorts.”
Tally answered the fox’s calculating look with a soft laugh. “I have the feeling you’ve brought a portfolio. Please, let’s have a look.”
“Thank you. It’s very kind of you to give me a hearing.” Gerhard opened the tablet between them as their drinks arrived. “We have contracts across Europe. This first set is work we recently added for a winter resort in Sweden.”
They leaned in together to inspect the photos, Tally nodding and asking questions here and there. The images showed wine glasses, water goblets, tumblers and beer glasses in beautiful shapes and colors, with the property name and logo etched discreetly into each piece. Tally particularly admired the champagne flutes with the snowflake-shaped feet. Lovely, though he gave no outward indication that he reacted to any one set more than another.
When they reached the end of the photo samples, Tally sat back, sipping at his whiskey and making Gerhard wait. “It’s a very interesting thought. Though I imagine a certain percentage of that pretty glassware vanishes from the properties as souvenirs.”
“Ha. I’m sure some of it does. Though not offering the prettiest glasses in the guest rooms most likely reduces that number.”
Gerhard’s eyes twinkled as he laughed and if Tally had been someone who craved casual sex, Gerhard might have been a candidate, but his heart would only be half in it. The other half had already left the room with the handsome otter. The suspenders were a beacon, a flare sent up, and Tally was going to speak with the otter of definitely-not-straight orientation that evening if it killed him.
“I’d like you to work up some samples with the resort manager at Sapphire Lake.” Tally didn’t mention immediately that the manager was one of his sisters. “We’d need to see physical pieces, of course. Then we can discuss the possibility of starting a small contract there first. I do have properties in Europe, but allow me to begin closer to home.”
“Very good. A pleasure, Tally, surely.” Gerhard extended a hand and they shook—a gentlemen’s agreement to further negotiations.
When Gerhard Klug finally let him go with an exchange of business cards, the otter was nowhere in sight. Uncharacteristically disgruntled, Tally left the main ballroom to check some of the smaller venues where different sorts of food were on offer. The first meeting room had been set up as a sushi bar, which seemed a good place to find an otter. He wasn’t there. The second was a room dedicated to international cuisine, offerings from host countries of previous years. No otter.
The third was a paradise of desserts which had drawn the children since the beginning of the evening with its siren song. Tally hurried his steps when he picked up shouting from that direction and he skidded to a stop in front of the door.
Angel and Freddy are giving away a $25 Pride Publishing gift certificate with this tour. Enter via Rafflecopter for a chance to win!
Author Bio: Freddy MacKay
Freddy is a bisexual, biromantic, genderfluid nerd and geek who grew up in the Midwest playing soccer, diving, swimming and doing gymnastics, along with running around outside as much as possible—preferably spending that time in swamps and hiking through forests. The haphazard escapades have not changed, except some of them have been replaced with a healthy geocaching addiction and a love for Science Fiction and Fantasy. This love of SFF developed into a writing passion and has led to several awards in the gay science fiction and fantasy categories. Freddy likes worms, dancing and being outside… and toll passes, but you’ll have to ask on that one. (They/Them/Their pronouns.)
Author Bio: Angel Martinez
The unlikely black sheep of an ivory tower intellectual family, Angel Martinez has managed to make her way through life reasonably unscathed. Despite a wildly misspent youth, she snagged a degree in English Lit, married once and did it right the first time, (same husband for almost twenty-four years) gave birth to one amazing son, (now in college) and realized at some point that she could get paid for writing.
Published since 2006, Angel’s cynical heart cloaks a desperate romantic. You’ll find drama and humor given equal weight in her writing and don’t expect sad endings. Life is sad enough. She currently lives in Delaware in a drinking town with a college problem and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes.
Where to find the authors:
Welcome to the Family
It is hard to explore the different spaces of the internet, media, or textbooks without ever having run into a picture of a Japanese person in a kimono. If you ask someone what they think traditional Japanese clothes are, it’s usually their first answer. And they’re not wrong. Exactly. There are more kinds of clothing than just kimonos. In Fireworks & Stolen Kisses, my character Haru is often wearing a yukata though for more formal occasions they wear a kimono. Part of the reason of their clothing choices are because of who they are, a Satislit, a trained bride-son, but there are more reasons they make those choices and it is something that gets explored not only in this first book of the lijun trilogy, but the following two books as well.
I can remember my first full-on exposure to Japanese culture rather clearly. My uncle had finally married his girlfriend and in about the third year they had been married they invited me to stay with them for a week in Northern California over their anniversary. Young couple, in California. Newly married. Why would they want a 13 year old niece around?
The thing you need to understand here is that my uncle and I have always been close. You can go back to my first pictures as a little and see how close we were. My parents and two siblings would be in your standard family pose while my Uncle and I would be off to one side cuddled up laughing our asses off because we did something silly.
When my uncle introduced J to our family, he was most nervous about what I thought of her. I hadn’t like the last girlfriend, none of the cousins had, mainly because we knew how much he wanted kids and how much she didn’t. It wasn’t something we held against her, but they weren’t right for each other because of their wants. First time we met J she went tobogganing with the cousins and we immediately knew she was his person.
What I didn’t initially catch was that she was Japanese American. I mean, I knew she looked different, and did some things differently, but I didn’t get it. Not until my visit to them in July when I was 13. They brought me to their work places. They took me to San Francisco. I went to the movies with them—a tradition my Uncle always have whenever we see each other. We get a few hours for our movie—and, most importantly, J took me to Obon for the very first time.
So much food! But I digress. You may be wondering what Obon is. A quick explanation is that Obon (or Bon) is a traditional Japanese Buddhist festival honoring the spirits of one’s ancestors. It’s a time for family to get together and remember their loved ones. There is food, music, dancing, and other activities.
It was the first time I had seen so many different types of clothing other than the commonplace Western clothes. Yes, there were a ton of yukata and kimonos. Men in hakama. I instantly fell in love the clothing because they seemed so much more practical–and to a non-binary person, they felt less gendered. Then I saw the taiko drumming—or should I say I felt it. Because I did feel and hear it before I saw it. When I saw the drummers in their happi I was a goner. It was a time I cherished because two people who loved me dearly had shared a new part of the world with me. J wanted me to know I was just as important to her as I was to my uncle.
I still go to Obon and celebrate with them as often as I can, because it’s truly a time to connect with family. To love and be loved.
I have my own yukata and still need help getting dressed when I get to the festival. The Japanese community is good about setting aside space so people can help each other, because it isn’t just pull it on and go.
Yukata are different from kimonos. Not a ton, but they are more informal, lighter, usually made of cotton, and meant for the summertime when it’s hotter. Kimonos used to be layered up in the winter time because of the cold. But the two have the same components. I’ve included an image I borrowed off pinterest to show you all the parts of a kimono/yukata instead of running through the list. There are specialized types of kimonos for marriages or for certain ages, the design or sleeve lengths being different respectively. Hakama were traditionally worn by men, but these days you will see women wearing them too for certain things. They are worn over kimonos/yukata, similar to wide pleated pants. Haori are jackets that are worn over kimonos, especially as the weather gets cooler. Happi are like a light cotton coat, usually seen being worn by teams at festivals or work crews. There are different types of footwear – they have tabi (toed socks) and all sorts of different sandals. What type you wear depends on whether you’re wearing a kimono or not, working or not, etc.
If you want a decent place to look at Japanese made yukata or kimonos, I would suggest trying a place called: Kimono Yukata Market Sakura. It’s where my aunt and I got ours. They are run out of Japan and a very reasonably priced. It’s fun to click through and see what they have.