by Gayle Gillespie (@storygirl78)
Editor: Elizabeth Buege (@ekbuege)
Twenty-year-old bastard prince Dakotashi Bennet longs for the approval of his half-brother the king, who rescued him from an abusive criminal four years ago. As he escorts Princess Megumi—his niece and only friend—to the high society events of an alternate 1800s London, he hopes to prove he’s left the violent instincts of his past behind. But when Dakotashi promises to investigate the mysterious death of Megumi’s favorite suitor, his discovery of the man’s overdose on an illegal magical drug leads to a duel with the suitor’s brother.
Dismayed by Dakotashi’s actions, the king threatens to banish him to the country if he can’t learn some restraint. But when Dakotashi learns the suitor’s death was actually the latest in a string of murders—with the drug as the murder weapon—he suspects a magical plot. If he can find proof, he’ll surely redeem himself to his brother. He seeks out the drug’s distributer only to learn the supply is controlled by Valos, his former abuser. Dakotashi craves revenge, but Valos is the only person who can lead him to the murderer—and killing him would mean losing his chance to earn the king’s respect.
Torn between vengeance and getting answers, Dakotashi turns to a witch with forbidden powers for help. She confirms his suspicions and warns him the royal family is the murderer’s ultimate target. To save his family, Dakotashi must bargain with Valos for the killer’s identity, but he’s afraid his newfound freedom is the only payment Valos will accept.
THE DEATH OF NAKAMURA MORIMASA is an 80,000-word adult fantasy featuring the first-person voice of urban fantasy and a setting inspired by Regency England and Heian Japan. It is a standalone with series potential.
I have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts and live surrounded by disappointing closets that have never once taken me to Narnia.
First Five Pages
Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret Megumi slammed open the drawing room door.
My hand jerked, crushing my knife through the shell of my soft-boiled egg.
“He’s trifling with me,” Megumi said. My niece’s dark hair flowed loose past her waist instead of being confined under a bonnet in Breinnish fashion. She looked more ready for an elaborate Kansai banquet than to sit down with me for breakfast.
I began spooning bits of shell from my egg’s soft interior. “I’m sure there’s a good reason he wasn’t in attendance.” Perhaps he was as tired of the Season’s endless events as I was.
“I should hope so.” Megumi ignored her usual place setting and strode around the room, the colorful layers of silk in her Kansai-styled walking dress swishing with each of her strides. “People noticed his absence. They know he’s slighted me.”
I caught Megumi's hand as she paced by. “Don’t worry. They also know how lucky he is to have your favor. If anyone will lose respect, it will be him.” I tugged until she sat down next to me at the table laden with ham, rolls, jam, and plum cake.
“Why wouldn’t he be there?” She clenched my fingers, clearly distressed. But she had no reason to doubt Lord Morimasa’s regard. He’d be daft not to fall for her. They all would.
“Shall I challenge him to a duel?” I asked, only half joking. I hated seeing her so anxious.
“And break your word to my father? Don’t be ridiculous. I’d like him to beg for my forgiveness, not his life.”
I raised her hand to my lips. “If you say so.” Morimasa was a good man. He’d always been friendly with me, but I couldn’t allow him to toy with Megumi’s regard.
“Good morning.” My uncle, Finn Bennet, swept into the drawing room, clad in his ridiculously ornate dressing robe. “Princess.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Dakotashi.” He kissed me as well. “How was the ball last night?”
I pushed my egg aside. “Same as they all are. Tedious.”
“Lord Nakamura Morimasa did not deign to honor us with his presence,” Megumi said.
Finn frowned as he took his seat. “That’s strange. The Nakamuras are known for their courtesy—they didn’t send word?”
“Do you think something happened to him?” Megumi asked.
“I’m sure it’s nothing.” I shot Finn a reproachful look and patted Megumi’s hand. “You can interrogate him tonight. He’ll give you a perfectly reasonable explanation, and you can go back to pretending he isn’t your favorite.”
She sipped her tea, but the cup couldn’t hide her smile. Or her blush. “He’s more real than the others. Since my selection is limited, perhaps the most honest is the best choice.”
While Breinnan and New Kansa shared a monarch, a consolidated military, and an integrated economy, our societies remained stubbornly separate, and marriages across cultures remained rare, except for the royal family. Megumi’s older brother—like every crown prince since the Peace—was required by law to marry into the opposite culture from his father. Megumi could technically marry into either society, but that didn’t mean she was free to choose whomever she liked, much to her exasperation. Her options were restricted to six suitors carefully selected by my half-brother the king: two Kansai, two Breinnish, and two of mixed blood.
I thought she should put an end to the suspense and declare Morimasa her choice.
“If it will free me from the unrelenting monotony, the faster you choose, the better.” I’d originally jumped at the honor of being Megumi’s escort, thinking it would give me the chance to prove to King Katsuo I was ready for more consequential responsibilities, but it seemed every time I opened my mouth I said something stupid. Or shocking. At this rate, he’d never trust me.
Once Megumi was safely married, I’d ask Katsuo again to let me do something other than attempt small talk with people I didn’t care about. Maybe then I’d finally get the chance to repay him for everything he’d given me, assuming I hadn’t ruined my chances to do that already.
“To the end of this ordeal.” I raised my cup in a pretend salute.
Megumi laughed. “I see how much you care for my happiness.”
I plopped down the empty cup and wiped my mouth with my sleeve. “You know I’m the perfect uncle.”
“If only that were true,” Finn said.
I looked toward Megumi, blinking expectantly. She raised an eyebrow and cocked her head. “You don’t leap to my defense?” I asked.
“How many times have I kept you out of trouble when you’re supposed to be the one minding me?”
I put my hand over my heart in mock outrage. “I just offered to fight a duel for you!”
“You make my point.” She popped a bit of plum cake into her mouth triumphantly.
Our butler, Eustace, entered the room with a bow. “Excuse me, Your Highnesses, but a Miss Thornley is here to see the princess. She’s waiting in the parlor. Should I tell her you are unavailable?”
Megumi stood. “No, I’ll be there presently.”
“I’ll accompany you,” I said, rising. I’d seen Miss Thornley at a distance during parties and events, but we'd never been officially introduced.
She seemed as proper as Megumi’s other friends, and yet, instead of waiting to speak with the princess at the palace during acceptable visiting hours, she appeared at the house I shared with my uncle. How . . . unexpected.
“So now you wish to meet one of my friends?” Megumi asked.
“One has finally done something interesting enough to catch my attention.” I would not apologize for avoiding her gaggle of ladies. At eighteen, she might be about to get married, but my two years in seniority didn’t mean I was ready to balance on the edge of the marriage mart’s blade. I’d be cut to shreds.
“Fine.” She brought her hands together and bowed slightly. “But remember this moment and don’t complain to me later. You’re opening the floodgates.”
I was in trouble now. I stabbed at the ham on my plate and took one last bite. “I might as well start with someone intriguing.”
“Caroline possesses many wonderful qualities, but being intriguing isn’t usually one of them. Her aunt died recently and they were very close. Perhaps . . .” Megumi shook her head. “Let’s go discover what prompted this unusual visit.”
As promised, we found Megumi's friend waiting for us. She perched on the edge of a chair, her legs crossed at her ankles. She clenched her bonnet in her lap, twisting and wrapping its blue ribbon around long, delicate fingers, her golden head bowed.
She looked up when we entered, her blue eyes standing out against her pale skin, filled with some sense of urgency. She didn’t pretend to be calm or seem concerned we’d seen her fidgeting. She jumped to her feet and rushed toward the princess, her arms outstretched. “Megumi, I’m sorry—”
Megumi cleared her throat, and Miss Thornley stopped short, dropping her hands. She glanced at me and blushed.
My mouth went dry at the flush of pink spreading across the creamy skin exposed by the low neckline of her Breinnish dress. The surge of awareness made me catch my breath. It had been so long since a woman had struck me so, and yet it strained credulity I’d never noticed how enchanting she was before. I’d seen her at a few events, and neither she nor any of Megumi’s friends had caused me to come undone. Why was I responding now?
She curtsied. “I apologize for intruding in this manner, Your Highnesses.”
“Uncle, may I introduce you to my good friend, Miss Thornley? Caroline, my uncle, His Highness Prince Dakotashi Bennet.”
“I am honored to finally meet you,” she said, her voice huskier than I expected.
I bowed. “The pleasure is mine.”
“There.” Megumi linked her arm through her friend’s. “Now, what brings you here?”
“I know your morning visits with His Highness are important to you—”
Megumi waved Miss Thornley’s concerns away, leading her to a settee. “Then you must have something pressing to say.”
I settled on the chair across from them. Miss Thornley watched me, threading her ribbon between and around her fingers again and again.
“Speak freely before my uncle, Caroline. You know I tell him everything.”
“Yes.” She stared at me, her blue eyes wide. “I know.”
“Caroline?” Megumi asked. “What’s wrong?”
Miss Thornley clenched her fists, spreading the ribbon taut between them.
I stood. “I’ll go. I shouldn’t intrude on what was intended to be a private conversation. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance—”
Eustace entered the parlor and began to bow, but a royal messenger shoved past him and knelt before the princess, holding out a letter. “Word from the king, Your Highness.”