For all his life, Shiro Kuroda has served the Harada empire–first in Japan, and now in America as a fighter in the organization that spans New York’s underground. He also works closely with his sempai, Jenner–a secretive man whose sadistic cruelty is legendary.
Technically, Shiro is Harada’s chief assassin, but his deadly skills have never been called into service. Until now.
When Shiro is ordered to hunt down an enemy whose lethal abilities match his own, he is forced to close himself off from those he trusts–his sempai, and his close friend Angel–because his adversary will use any means necessary to stop him. Even if it means going through the people he cares for.
Meanwhile, Angel and Jenner struggle with an uneasy truce, working together reluctantly to help Shiro–before time runs out for all of them.
Devil’s Honor is a tense and twisted suspense thriller, with explosive action and shocking revelations.
If the island itself was a fortress, then Tomi Harada’s office was the moon—cold, distant and unreachable. The complex maze of corridors and staircases Serizawa and Piper navigated was outfitted at irregular intervals with security cameras and motion sensors.
As they traveled deeper into the viper’s nest, Shiro’s unease increased with every step. Along with it came a confused self-loathing no amount of rationalization could dispel. Why had he lashed out at Mendez’s swaggering underling?
Perhaps he truly was no better than Shonen.
At last they reached a great door of solid polished oak and stopped. Piper raised one fist and knocked twice, paused, then knocked once. Almost instantly a soft electronic buzz sounded near the doorknob. Piper turned it and pulled the door open, then held it and motioned for Shiro to enter.
He went in alone, and the door slammed shut behind him.
The room he entered was large, dimly lit…and silent as a tomb. Its only other occupant sat rigid behind a desk at the far end. His hand rested on the telephone beside him, as though he had just disconnected from a call.
Frowning, Harada gave a slight nod that signaled his permission for Shiro to approach him.
Though he did not fear Harada-sama as he did Jenner, the man commanded his deference. Shiro gave it freely, as it was his place. He approached the man with measured steps, bare feet treading lightly on the ornate carpet beneath, the gravity of his situation weighing his every motion.
Tomi Harada could kill him here and now, and it would be within his right to do so.
Keeping his eyes respectfully lowered, Shiro stopped a foot from the desk, placed his arms at his sides and bowed. Only then did he look up and greet the glittering black eyes of his employer and lord.
“I have just received a message from our pilot.” Harada’s hand left the phone and moved to a desk drawer. “The fighter from Prometheus is dead.”
His words hit Shiro like a fist.
Harada opened the drawer and reached inside. Shiro tried to maintain eye contact, but his gaze insisted on straying to the arm that moved out of his view.
He was convinced Harada was preparing to extract a gun and execute him.
The hand appeared, and Harada laid an object on the desk without a trace of emotion. It was a tanto, a dagger used in traditional seppuku. Ritual suicide by disembowelment.
Much worse than execution by gun.
Shiro froze, unable to tear his eyes from the weapon. The blade rested unseen inside a wooden sheath. Only its burnished teak handle was visible. Two thin sashes were fastened to the sheath. A weapon intended to be carried concealed until its use became necessary.
He had a feeling he wouldn’t be carrying it far.
“Pick it up.” Unsmiling, Harada folded his hands calmly in front of him and waited.
Shiro did as he was told, with hands that trembled but not uncontrollably so. He had always known about this ritual and been prepared to take his own life for honor’s sake. Now, faced with imminent death, he found he wished to live a bit longer.
But the choice was not his to make. If Harada-sama wished him to commit seppuku, that was exactly what he would do.
No, you won’t. Stick the old bastard with it instead.
The voice in his head was loud, insistent…and like nothing he had thought before. He pushed it ruthlessly aside and waited for his instructions, thinking what is wrong with me?
One minute passed, and then two, in utter silence. The dagger grew heavy in his hands.
Three minutes. Four.
He wondered if he should just do it, if that’s what Harada was waiting for. His fingers tightened convulsively around the handle. He pulled it out a bit, just enough to reveal the wicked glint of steel.
“No.” Harada’s voice rang out through the room, stopping him. “I do not wish you to take your life at this time, Shiro.”
Relief flooded him, and he nearly dropped the dagger. As he hurried to return it to its original position, Harada rose, circled the desk and stood in front of him.
“Give it to me.”
Shiro handed him the sheathed knife. The other man promptly withdrew the blade from its protective pocket.
“Remove your shirt.”
The order was a shock, but Shiro obeyed without question—though fear settled into his bones as he stood waiting, exposed.
Whisper-quiet, the blade raced toward him. Shiro held his ground, but the muscles of his stomach contracted involuntarily, drew inward until the rock-hard washboard outline of them stood in sharp relief. The honed edge sliced him, piercing his skin somewhere around his left kidney, and drew upward in a diagonal slash to the right to stop just below his breastbone. Blood pulsed from the wound, soaking his pants.
The cut would not kill him—but the pain was immense. Shiro refused to make a sound and clenched his hands behind his back until his knuckles grew white with the effort. Gritting his teeth against a moan, he looked at his shujin and wondered if there would be an explanation.
Harada re-sheathed the dagger without wiping the blade. “Consider this a blueprint,” he said to Shiro, “of your possible future.” He handed him the knife again and sighed. The look he directed at him said this hurts me more than it hurts you.
But Shiro knew better.
“You are to keep the tanto with you at all times. From this moment, you are withdrawn from House Pandora’s fighting rotation.” He paused, making sure his words were understood. “You will serve as a member of my security team. In time I will have an assignment for you to complete.”
Harada’s black eyes pierced Shiro as he looked from him to the dagger, then back. “If you fail,” he said, “I will expect you to finish what I have started.”
Shiro bowed his head. “Of course, shujin.”
“Go and have that looked at.”
With a last bow of respect, Shiro retrieved his shirt, shrugged into it as quickly as his injury would allow, and backed out of the room to join Serizawa and Piper, who waited for him in the hall. The door closed, and the three headed down the corridor.
They traveled no more than fifty feet when Shiro’s world began to blur at the edges. He stumbled and collided with Piper, who grabbed one of his arms and slung it around his shoulders. Serizawa did the same on his other side.
His last coherent thought was that he’d lost more blood than he realized.
* * * *
Entering the lobby of the Gendarmes Hotel, Angel suppressed a shudder of pure apprehension. The elegant structure near the center of lower Manhattan was the closest thing to a home Jenner claimed.
As far as he knew, no one had ever been to Jenner’s…lair.
This is an emergency, he told himself as he stood before the gleaming brass doors waiting for the elevator car. Besides, Jenner wouldn’t have given him his room number if he’d wanted him to stay away.
Or would he?
More worrisome than the prospect of intruding on Jenner’s personal space was the strong possibility that he might be rousing the man from sleep. This could make him angry, which was widely considered a bad move. Even by those who dared to claim the sadistic psychiatrist as their lieutenant.
At the moment that honor fell to Angel, who still wasn’t sure whether the idea pleased him.
The elevator arrived and whisked him up to the eighth floor. He stepped out into a richly carpeted hallway with gilt plasterwork adorning the walls, then looked up and down trying to determine which direction he’d find room eight thirty-five. At last he decided to follow his instincts and turn left. As he passed doors on either side, the numbers rose steadily from eight hundred.
He stopped in front of the fourth door on the right, which was further apart from its neighboring rooms than any of the others he’d passed. Presuming that the room was actually a suite, he lifted a hand, then paused.
A full minute passed before he found the courage to knock.
Silence emanated from the other side of the door. When he didn’t receive a response, Angel swallowed and raised his arm to knock again. Just before his knuckles rapped the wood, he heard a low metallic click from within. “Yes,” came in a soft tone.
“Um…er…it’s me. Angel.”
Silence once again, and then another louder click as the latch was drawn. The door swung open onto a room filled with low light leaking from a muted lamp, revealing shadowed shapes of objects that were probably furniture—though Angel didn’t care to speculate what else they might be. He moved inside, and the door closed behind him.
Jenner stood frowning in front of him, shoeless, wearing an open silk robe, arms folded across his exposed chest. His habitually braided hair flowed loose behind him. A startling sight. Somehow, when Jenner was at his most vulnerable, he appeared more menacing than ever.
Then Angel noticed the gun in his hand.
Jenner gave a small smirk and dropped his arms to his sides in surrender, which revealed four thick parallel ropes of scar tissue slanting across his gaunt chest. “For once, I am at a loss as to your motivations.”
“Huh?” Angel mumbled, distracted by the scars.
Jenner sighed. “What do you want?”
Jenner followed his gaze. “Yes, Angel,” he said. “I, too, have my scars.”
“What made those?”
“Why must you ask so many questions?” Though his tone was even, anger flared in his cold gray eyes. “A tiger. Now answer my question. Why are you here?”
Angel grimaced and met Jenner’s gaze. “It’s about Shiro.”
* * * * *
DEVIL’S HONOR: Available now from Amazon — coming soon to all major ebook retailers