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Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Author:Renée Ahdieh
Language: eng
Format: azw3, epub
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Published: 2017-05-16T07:00:00+00:00


HANAMI

Mariko had been to Inako once, when she was younger.

As a girl.

As a boy, the sights of the imperial city were entirely different. And it was not merely because a blindfold had been torn from her eyes only moments before.

Everything seemed crisper. Colors seemed more alive. Scents flooded her nostrils, and sights flashed across her vision—marinated squid sizzling over an open flame, vividly dyed paper lanterns strung above bolts of lustrous silk, displays of painted fans and freshly sliced persimmons, creamy bean curd floating in barrels of cold water. She smelled and tasted everything in the air with the abandon of a girl in a fevered dream.

Mariko felt free. Freer than she could remember feeling in quite some time.

Her current situation notwithstanding.

At least in Inako there’s little chance of me being snared by a blood-draining tree. Or being pelted by sharp rocks.

Ranmaru studied her. Caught her grinning with open glee. “Is this your first visit to the imperial city?”

Mariko thought quickly. “Yes.” Her answer more easily explained how enthralled she was. It also helped circumvent any further inquiries about her past. The Black Clan had been blessedly uninterested in who she was before she came to the forest, and Mariko wished to keep it that way for as long as she could.

“Try not to appear so green once we arrive at the teahouse,” Ōkami said from his perch atop his warhorse to her right.

Mariko wrapped her fingers tightly around her reins, struggling to bite her tongue. To ignore the rope trailing from Ōkami’s horse to hers, keeping her tethered to the Wolf’s side.

At her left, Ranmaru laughed, his brown eyes sparkling. “Or when you first set eyes on Yumi, the most beautiful girl in the empire.”

“I doubt Lord Lackbeard has ever seen a geiko before in his life,” Ōkami said. “Much less been with a beautiful girl.” Even as he provoked her, Ōkami maintained a cool affect. One of careful indifference.

A geiko?

So they were not traveling to a mere house of ill repute, as she’d initially surmised. A geiko would never set foot in such a den of iniquity.

Regardless Mariko kept silent. Stewing in unspoken reprisals.

Ranmaru’s brows arched. “Tell us, Lord Lackbeard. Are you indeed untried?”

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Of all the questions for Ranmaru to ask, of course he would choose that one. Men left to their own devices were so sadly predictable. “I am not untried. I have been with . . . many women.” Her words were half true, at least. She was no longer a maid. Though the one and only occasion had not involved another girl.

It had involved rebellion.

Mariko recalled the face of the young stable boy fated to accompany his master to her father’s province one spring morning not so long ago. She remembered the boy’s kind smile. His enthusiasm. His obliviousness.

It was his smile that had drawn Mariko to him. Drawn him into a sun-drenched hayloft to while away a moment in her embrace.

He’d been kind. Gentle.

Only hours later had a horrible realization shaken Mariko to her core.



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