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Monday, December 20, 2021

Talk of Tokyo by Heather Hallman 💕 New Release Spotlight and EXCLUSIVE $15 Gift Card Giveaway 💕 (Historical Romance)



She never planned to meet the cad, and now that she has, she may have to eat her words.

Griffith Spenser is exploiting the love of an esteemed Japanese war widow and Suki Malveaux condemns him in her weekly column in the Tokyo Daily News, but she never planned to meet the cad, and now that she has, she may have to eat her words.

CAREFUL WITH YOUR WORDS
1897 Tokyo is no different than anywhere else in the world: men are exploiting women. Specifically, Western men are exploiting Japanese women, and Suki Malveaux holds no punches in her condemnation of their behavior in her weekly column in the Tokyo Daily News.

Suki knows firsthand when Western men arrive at Tokyo Bay there’s only one outcome for Japanese women: a child and new mother left behind as nothing more than discarded shrapnel from the heartless war on love.

Griffith Spenser is her latest target. He’s been seen with Natsu Watanabe, one of Tokyo’s esteemed war widows. Under full anonymity of the moniker “The Tokyo Tattler,” Suki makes sure Griffith knows exactly why his behavior with Natsu won’t be tolerated.

Away from her Japanese mask as a columnist, Suki never intended to meet the cad. When he seeks her out to hire as a tutor for his niece and nephew, she’s faced with seeing him day in and day out without him ever knowing who she really is.

Caught in her struggle for anonymity so she can keep battling for women’s rights, Suki’s about to learn the full impact of her words on the people behind the story, especially on Griff.

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CHAPTER ONE

April 1897

Tsukiji, Tokyo

 

Shaky hands and racing heart notwithstanding, Suki gave herself a fighting chance. The incorrigible rake might have accusations, threats, and plans for retaliation, but she had feminine cunning. While she lacked familiarity with the mechanics involved in that sort of cunning, she’d seen how furtive glances and teasing words reduced men to foolishness. The basics of flirtation rivaled neither the complexity of French verbs nor the convolutedness of English spellings, both of which she’d mastered with ease.

A maid hastened across the garden and opened the front gate. “Mr. Spenser is expecting you,” she said in the clear, precise English of servants in Tokyo’s foreign quarter of Tsukiji.

Suki followed the maid through Spenser’s front garden, past azalea bushes boasting radiant displays of scarlets, lavenders, and magentas. Flurries of pale pink temple bells burst forth in a graceful arrangement that bore a decidedly feminine touch.

Of course it did. Spenser’s gardens would’ve been planted by his former wife.

Suki pictured the fair-haired young woman vigorously fanning herself at last summer’s festival. She’d worn one of those heavy dresses that trapped sweat and exacerbated the summer itch. Several months later, news had traveled through Tsukiji that Spenser’s bride had returned to England for good.

As Suki stared up at the Japanese-style wooden beam home with the gingerbread trim and second-story dormer windows favored by Tsukiji’s British residents, dread once again grew in the pit of her stomach. If Spenser had seen fit to alienate the woman he’d pledged to honor and protect, what did he have in store for the woman he most certainly despised?

“The door is over here,” a man’s voice called from the house.

Had Emperor Mutsuhito been standing on the front porch, Suki wouldn’t have been more surprised. The irate gentleman she’d been expecting was looking at her with an expression of mild amusement. Up to now, she’d only caught glimpses of the incorrigible rake in passing. Closer examination revealed an angular jawline that an aspiring journalist might wish to trace with her finger and cheekbones ordinarily found on statues of world-conquering kings. Pillow-like lips, one touch of which would make a woman’s insides melt, were already having that very effect on her.

Griffith Spenser was downright handsome. But not in a way that made Suki swoon into the azalea bushes. A crease lined the middle of his chin, and his nose could be described as a bit wide, his brow as a bit too high. The caramel-colored hair atop his head hadn’t been set with a pomade but permitted its thick waves, adding a few inches of unruly height to the already tall, lean gentleman.

Given his reputation, she should have been prepared for a strong dose of masculine appeal. But her head felt light and airy, and her breath had all but disappeared. In its place, a bubbling sensation portended a spell of the giggles. Gripping her satchel, she took in enough air to restore her powers of reason. Unless she got to work, Spenser was going to be the instrument of her undoing. Fortunately, she knew his weakness. Like most foreign men who arrived on Japan’s shores, Spenser was enamored with the nation’s beauties. And although her chignon had loosened to lopsidedness, and her kimono bore the marks of a full day’s teaching, and she was, in fact, only half-Japanese, she could muster enough charm to make Spenser reconsider his plans.

Fluttering her eyelashes in a coquettish manner, which had much in common with trying to dislodge a flying insect, Suki faced the man who held her fate in the palm of his rather well-shaped hands. “I was admiring your fine home.”

“I quite like it myself.”

“Was it constructed after the quake of ’94?”

“We commissioned its construction when we arrived in ’95. I’m assured by its builders it could withstand another earthquake of that intensity. Japanese-style homes fare better than brick and stone.”

“Mother Nature has given us many opportunities to rebuild.”

“Mother Nature?” Spenser furrowed his brow. “I thought it was the giant catfish residing under Japan flipping its tail that caused all these earthquakes.” His tone was teasing, while the observation revealed Spenser as the type of foreigner who bothered learning about traditional culture.

“You know your Japanese folklore,” Suki replied.

“I like to be prepared for all the dragons and ghosts I’m certain to encounter,” Spenser said with a smile that brought out creases along his soft brown eyes. “I should introduce myself, although introductions are probably unnecessary. I’m Griffith Spenser, arrived from England, resident of Tsukiji for almost two years.”

Suki mentally added to the introduction: Spenser counted minor members of the British aristocracy among his family, although he himself had no chance of inheriting a title; his company was the most highly regarded foreign-owned trading firm in Tokyo; he’d arrived with a new bride who left him a year later; and he now graced the bed of war widow Natsu Watanabe. Also, he played lawn tennis.

The Tokyo Tattler’s job was to know these facts about Tsukiji’s most illustrious residents, and Suki needed to continue doing this job, which was why she couldn’t let Spenser’s allure compromise her defenses. The man had asked her to his home without explanation. Although she’d like to imagine he’d summoned her to discuss the modern significance of Japanese mythology, she was a realist. Spenser had a score to settle with the Tokyo Tattler, and all this pleasant banter about earthquakes was merely diversion.

“It’s an honor to make your acquaintance, Spenser-san.” She bowed low and rose slowly, presenting him with downcast eyes and a curl of the lips, a pose meant to convey both shyness and carnal desire. Rakes liked that combination.

“I appreciate your coming on such short notice,” he said with a heavy sigh. “The events of the past few weeks have left me no choice. I find myself scrambling for any means to rectify the situation.”

Spenser was going to rectify her? What could that possibly entail? She’d be fortunate to leave his home in one piece. Steeling her nerves, she gave Spenser her most accommodating smile. “I’d be pleased to oblige in any way I can.”

His shoulders relaxed by degrees. “I’m much relieved to hear that.”

Was Spenser already caving to her charms? Truly, men were like flower petals in the hands of an eager child.

Stepping aside, he motioned for her to enter the house. Like a chivalrous Western gentleman, he was content to let his female companion be the first to confront whatever danger, disaster, or vengeful demon lurked inside. A Japanese man would have taken the lead, not stood so close behind her, bringing heat to her cheeks as she removed her shoes and stepped into the home’s interior.

A middle-aged Japanese woman appeared and gave a low bow before offering Suki a pair of slippers.

“This is the housekeeper, Rei-san. In the event you have any misgivings about our conversing alone, she’ll act as chaperone. I realise it’s a bit unorthodox inviting a woman I’ve never met to my home. But these days I find it difficult to present my face in public.”

Suki heard sadness—profound sadness, to be exact—weighing down his voice. How could he have been so offended by her writing? All she’d done was spread a bit of gossip. Her readers had questions as to why Spenser’s wife had suddenly departed Tsukiji and how he’d ended up with everyone’s favorite war widow on his arm. As their Tattler, Suki was duty-bound to provide answers, all of which had ample verification.

Granted, there’d been times when she’d presented a luscious on-dit based on weak sources, which had later proved false. But those incidents bore no relation to Spenser. Everything she’d written about Tsukiji’s Lothario had been obtained through trusted sources. Had she really made it impossible for Griffith Spenser to present his face in public?

Rei-san led them to a parlor at the front of the house. Here, Spenser’s former wife had left her mark in the form of rural scenes in gilded frames, luminous bronze sconces, and a carpet that resembled a field of daisies.

Spenser motioned to a high-backed chair and took the one opposite. “I’m told this is an excellent variety of green tea,” he said while Rei-san poured a cup for Suki.

“I enjoy all varieties of tea,” Suki said, her voice lilting with her best attempt at deferential sweetness. Truthfully, she preferred black tea with milk and sugar like the British, which was also how her Japanese mother took it. His people had won the tea battle; he might as well gloat.

Spenser forged ahead with his cup of Japanese tea, his nose crinkling as the earthy brew neared his lips. After a short sip, he returned the earthenware cup to its tray and sat back. “Shall we discuss the reason for my requesting your presence this evening?”

To expose her identity, to chastise her for what she’d written about him, to describe how he planned to denounce her to all of Tsukiji as the shrew who was penning their gossip.

Using flirtation to charm this rather serious, seemingly intelligent man into abandoning his plans for her demise no longer seemed the wisest course of action. Fortunately, she had other means at her disposal: apologize, grovel, offer to extol his virtues for the next five columns. Strike first with her own blistering interrogation. How had Spenser discovered she was the Tokyo Tattler? Who were his spies? How did he dare attack Tsukiji’s favorite columnist?

Spenser was a member of civil society, which meant he appreciated the idea of rights. She could plead freedom of the press and the public’s right to knowledge. Those were British notions, too.

The teacup nearly slipped from her trembling fingertips as she lowered it to the tray. Whatever it took, she’d placate Spenser. Otherwise, every word she’d written, every source she’d cultivated, every piece of journalistic advice she’d taken to heart would be for naught. “Please tell me, Spenser-san, why you summoned me to your home.”

“I asked you here to request your assistance with my wards.”

“Your…” The word fell on her ears, devoid of meaning. Did wards refer to Tokyo’s administrative districts? Why would Spenser possess urban administrative districts? And why would he need her assistance with such possessions?

“My wards.”

She stared at him, unable to fathom what he possibly meant by wards.



    

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"This is a short story about what happens to Natsu after we last see her in Talk of Tokyo. Be advised: It contains book spoilers. Enjoy!" ~Heather

ENJOY THIS PREQUEL TO THE TOKYO WHISPERS SERIES

In the Foreign Quarter of Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan, Victorian England is alive and well. Manners and etiquette are as valuable as gossip and deceit. Men are more rakish than ever - so far from home, societal rules seemed to be relaxed. But courting young women still requires a deft hand, a smart wit, and a man with something to offer.

INTERNATIONAL SCANDAL

Intent on being an international journalist of repute, Evelyn Prescott will do what it takes to make her mark.

It doesn’t hurt her father has built a newspaper empire, but finding a scandal in Japan is no easy task.

As much as she hates to admit it, she is forced to meet with the owner of the Tokyo Daily News, Ned Taylor, also an Englishman.

Ned holds a deep-rooted dislike of Evelyn’s father’s approach to journalism, and Ned, a notorious rake, pushes her to see just how far Evelyn is prepared to go to get her story.


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Heather lives in Tokyo with her professor husband and two young daughters. Once upon a time, she earned a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology for her thesis on adolescent friendship in Japan. Presently, she writes witty, sensual, contest-winning romances set in Meiji-era Japan (1868-1912).

Heather spends her free time translating ancient Japanese poetry and observing the passing of seasons while sipping green tea. Just kidding, she has no free time. But she does watch something that makes her laugh while she does the dishes.

Perennial obsessions include the weather forecast (she checks three different apps at least three times a day, as no single app can be trusted), Baltimore Ravens football (hometown obsession), and making smoothies that taste like candy bars.

Feel free to chat her up about any of her obsessions, or even better, about historical Japan—any era is fine, she loves them all.

She also enjoys exchanging book recommendations, discussions about the craft of romance writing, and stories about life in present-day Tokyo. You can reach out through Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter, or her website.


   

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