Skip to main content

Year of the Dog serial novel, chapter 22

I’m posting a Humorous Christian Romantic Suspense serial novel here on my blog! Year of the Dog is a (second) prequel to my Warubozu Spa Chronicles series. Year of the Dog serial novel by Camy Tang Mari Mutou, a professional dog trainer, is having a bad year. While renovating her new dog kenneling and training facility, she needs to move in with her disapproving family, who have always made her feel inadequate—according to them, a job requiring her to be covered in dog hair and slobber is an embarrassment to the family. She convinces her ex-boyfriend to take her dog for a few months … but discovers that his brother is the irate security expert whose car she accidentally rear-ended a few weeks earlier. Ashwin Keitou has enough problems. His aunt has just shown up on his doorstep, expecting to move in with him, and he can’t say no because he owes her everything—after his mother walked out on them, Auntie Nell took in Ashwin and his brother and raised them in a loving Chri

The Assassin's Homecoming #shortstory #romance

This fantasy romance short story was inspired by this photo prompt:

Shizuoka Sengen Shrine (3428x2301)[OC] from r/japanpics


The Assassin’s Homecoming

The assassin had not been back to his hometown in many years, and everything seemed both strange and familiar to him. The leaves were bright green with the warmer weather, which was in contrast to the cold fortress he had left in the north. Here, life was vibrant and everything was shouting, "I am awake!" Even the practical vegetable gardens of the villagers were steeped in cheerful color.

It was still daytime, but he made his way to the manor house, disguised as a traveling merchant. He would scout out the house and plan his assassination, which he would execute tonight.

The manor house was on an extensive tract of land, so he had to enter the estate from the woods at the backside so as not to be seen. Security patrols were sparse, almost nonexistent here—if it had been the secret base and training facility where he had spent half his life, men would be killed for such negligence. But then again, the base was hidden underground rather than out in the open, for protection and to force its residents to mentally and emotionally focus. He had not looked out the window of a house onto yards and gardens in full sunlight for many years.

The lake in front of the house shimmered from the waterfall at the far end, a stream diverted from its normal course of watering fields and instead used for ornamental purposes. It was typical of the lord of the manor, Bob, a man devoted only to show and ostentatiousness, with the willing sacrifice of sympathy for others. The assassin had known Bob as a child, and they had indulged in a scuffle every week, or thereabouts. Bob could subsist solely upon his conceit, and the assassin hadn’t been able to stop himself from punching Bob’s perfect teeth every time he smiled that malicious smile.

Bob had been one of the reasons the assassin had left his home to join the clan that he now belonged to. He had wanted to escape from a world where he was helpless from injustice. Instead, he wanted to be a spear that pierced the darkness to allow rays of light to shine, even if they were only small pinpricks. He had not been able to accept his father’s way fo life, choosing to never become involved in anything that would jeopardize his life, his career, his family, allowing everything to pass him by without comment, complaint, or lifting a finger to help someone else.

As a member of his nameless clan, he had no family, no ties. He could act without hesitation. This was the kind of power he had wanted.

He avoided the occasional patrolling guard and crept up to the house. It was difficult with the wide swaths of green lawn, so when he drew as close as he could under cover of the trees, he circled around toward the kitchen gardens and found a lone gardener near the treeline. A quick blow to the head knocked him unconscious, and he donned the gardener’s gray short coat, protection against the weather and sun, and the wide hat that extended out from his head like an umbrella. His own pants and boots would pass for a gardener’s from a distance, so he dragged the unconscious man into the brush of the forest, tied him up, and then commandeered his wheelbarrow, which was left in the middle of the vegetable field.

But as he approached the manor house, he immediately noticed something was wrong. The servants bustled into and out of the back entrance, and there was more movement than he had expected of a rural country home. Lower housemaids carried carpets out to the side garden to be beaten to an inch of their lives, while upper housemaids—distinctive in their cleaner and finer clothing—were bringing in spotless napkins and blindingly white tablecloths that had been hanging to dry out in the sun. The cook’s assistants were harvesting baskets of vegetables and herbs from the kitchen garden near the house, and other maids were vigorously cleaning the ground floor windows until they sparkled.

He had known he couldn’t infiltrate the house as a gardener, but with the added busyness of the household today, his plan of sneaking inside a sleepy household had to be scrapped.

He rolled the wheelbarrow into the kitchen gardens, near enough to overhear the servants as they worked their way down the row, picking lettuces and cucumbers, but not close enough to bring himself to their attention. He hunched down over some summer squash and pretended to be working.

“You’d think we were feeding the entire county.” A maid stopped to wipe at her forehead.

“Ria, you just smeared mud on yourself.”

“What?!”

“Don’t do that, you’ll only make it worse.”

“Does it matter?” A third girl plopped her basket down beside the two maids. “We won’t be seen by any of the mourners today.”

Who had died? Surely not Ema—? He surprised himself when his heart felt as if it were crushed by an avalanche. He breathed slow and long through his nose to calm himself. This might completely change his orders.

“I think half the people coming only want the free food.”

“More than half!” The maid lowered her voice. “I don’t know anyone who would actually feel sad that the master is gone.”

Bob was dead. He had made the trek to kill him for nothing. But his next thought came before he could control his emotions.

Ema was free.

He had not felt true happiness in many years—since he had last seen Ema—so he wasn’t certain what it was he was feeling. His chest was tight, and his hands shook. Did she look the same? How had the years and her marriage changed her? He had heard that she had not had children. Did she consider that a blessing to not continue her husband’s family line, or a curse to not have a child to lavish her affection upon?

With a start, he realized his mind had wandered, something he hadn’t done since he began his training. He had worked hard to develop sharp mental focus, and yet the thought of Ema had blasted all his effort and discipline away like sand before storm winds.

He still had to make his way off the estate, and then travel back to his clan in the north to report what had happened. The news of Bob’s death had probably passed him on his way here.

Yes, he should leave quickly.

But he knew he was powerless against his desire to see her again. And he knew exactly where she would be.

Not in the house, with the servants busy cleaning and preparing for the funeral guests. He had only been vaguely familiar with Bob’s estate, since the two of them had not been friends, but he knew of one place on the estate where she would be, near the stream. They had played there along with the other children in the neighborhood, and Bob had thought too well of himself to try to prevent his neighbors from coming to join them, even though it was technically on his family’s property.

Hitching up his pants, the assassin rose slowly to his feet, his body hunched and moving stiffly like the gardener he had knocked out, and he rolled the wheelbarrow out of the kitchen garden. But just as he was about to leave through the side gate, he spotted movement out of the corner of his eye.

An older maid, round and cheerful looking, came up to him from the far corner of the garden. “Goro, I need help …” Her face turned white at seeing his face. “You’re not Goro.”

“Uncle wasn’t feeling well, so he asked me to help him out. He’s in the far garden.” He didn’t know if the gardener, Goro, had actual nephews, but in this village, children had always called their elders “Uncle” or “Aunty” whether they were related or not. He delivered his line with utmost confidence, and yet with appropriate deference for the older woman, and allowed his childhood accent to smooth out his voice.

She relaxed. “Oh, that’s all right, then. I’ll get one of the other gardeners to help me.”

He dipped his body in a bow and continued out the gate.

Lying had always come easily to him, and it had served him well no matter where his missions had been—mostly in the capital, surrounded by a sea of people who walked past each other, each busy with their own purpose. Life there was hard, but each person knew what he had to do, and most would do anything possible to achieve their desires.

But here, in his former hometown and in one of the most rural areas of the country, somehow lying to the maid had been harder than lying to a courtesan or a merchant in the capital. Was it the fresh air that made the sun shine brighter and made people walk a little slower? Was it the old-fashioned values that parents still taught their children, even though they would revert to the jaded morals of the capital once they left home?

He was being ridiculous. This place was no different than any other he had been.

He ditched the wheelbarrow near the unconscious gardener at the edge of the woods, and returned the man’s coat and hat to him. Then on silent feet, he ran toward the northwest end of the heart-shaped forest. As a child, he had insisted the forest was shaped like a giant butt, while Ema had shrieked and argued that it was shaped like a heart. She had always been romantic that way. It surprised him that her romanticism clung to him as he ran through her forest, toward the hidden villa.

It wasn’t really a villa, but a small two-room hut built on the edge of a man-made pond that was rimmed by gray boulders. Water from the village stream had been redirected here, trickling in from the northeast end and trickling out on the southwest end of the pond before winding its way back toward the village and away from the estate.

Even calling the building a “hut” was misleading, because it had an elegantly slanted roof and red painted panels, but once inside the elaborately carved front door, there was only two perfectly square rooms with hardwood floors. Because the windows were small and the rooms were always dim, the children would fling the front double doors wide open to the view of the small garden and let the sunlight into the front room. There they would eat strawberries and watermelon in the summer and mandarin oranges in the winter, bundled up to their noses against the cold, although the winters here were relatively mild, nowhere near as freezing as his clan’s base up north.

He approached the pond from the north side, where there were large bougainvillea bushes at the edge of the water. The flowers were lavender and purple at this time of year, and the bushes parted at one point, giving a clear view of the outside porch of the hut.

She sat on a low lounging chair on the porch, staring out at the water, but she could not see him if he remained in the shadow of the bushes. The sight of her made him lose his breath for a moment, and his entire body strained as he crouched low to the ground.

She wore a black dress that made her look pale and thin, and her hair, which been scraped back tight against her head, was coming loose in wisps around her oval face. She had short, thick eyelashes, and coupled with her dark eyes, it always made her expression seem a little melancholy, but he was surprised at how sad she appeared. He knew she had not loved Bob when they married, had not even liked him when they were children, although Bob had always wanted her for her family’s name and the respect it accorded from the villagers—respect he could never earn on his own merit.

Had she come to care for him? Had Bob become more kind as he matured? From what the maid said, it seemed unlikely. So why was she so sad?

She suddenly twisted in her chair and turned slowly to gaze northward. Her body strained as if she would rise from her seat and run in that direction at any moment. She rubbed her hand against her opposite wrist in a slow, soothing motion.

Then, long minutes later, she turned back to the pond. She seemed to have given up on her desire for flight, and instead looked small and frail in her chair.

He then noticed that on her wrist, which she had been rubbing, was a white handkerchief.

It was innocuous, and would have gone unnoticed, except that he recognized the embroidery that edged one corner, where it floated down from the knot. The embroidery was three circular designs in red, purple, and lavender. He was too far away to see the design, but he recognized the vague shapes in that color combination, because he had sewn it for her.

It had been a summer day like this, and he had escaped his father’s shop to wander along the stream, only a quarter mile from this pond. He had fashioned a paper boat and was following it as it bobbed along the stream when he saw her.

Ema had been sitting on a boulder, but she had brought her sewing basket with her into the woods, and she had been working on a decorative pillow.

“That’s pretty,” he said by way of greeting.

“It’s boring.”

“But you seem really good at it.”

“I’m supposed to be good at it, I’ve spent years under my mother learning all this stuff. But really, what use is embroidery?”

He hadn’t many pretty things in his home, since his mother had died when he was young and his aunt had despised decorations that were not family heirlooms or were impractical. He reached out to touch the pillow, but she pulled away.

At first, he felt a pang of hurt that she would draw back from him, as if he were a dirty urchin and not her friend, but then she said to him, “Wash your hands, first. Mother will make me do this all over again if it gets dirty.”

He washed in the stream and sat next to her on the boulder. “Dad makes me sew his fishing nets.”

She eyed him. “I didn’t know your dad fished.”

“When he can get away from the shop.” He wasn’t looking at her, and instead eyed the rainbow of colors swirling around a gold and orange carp on the pillow.

She sewed in silence for a while, then sighed gustily and dropped the pillow into her lap. “I don’t like you staring at me. Here.” She reached into her basket and drew out a length of linen, shoving it into his lap. She threaded another needle with purple silk, knotted the end, and gave it to him.

“Wait, what?”

“Does it offend your manly sensibilities?” There was a clear challenge in her voice.

“I’m manly.”

“Prove it.”

And so she had shown him how to sew a circular flower pattern that looked like a chrysanthemum. He had chosen the red and lavender colors of the other two flowers himself, because the colors were in the print of the dress she was wearing that day.

He had given the handkerchief to her as a gift.

“But you made it.”

“Dad’ll take it away if he sees it.” He couldn’t look at her face as he added, “It matches your dress.”

He wished he had looked up. Had she smiled? Had she been indifferent? But he thought he heard a smile in her voice when she said, “Well, then, thank you.”

That length of linen on her wrist was the one he had given to her, he was certain of it. Suddenly he thought he understood why she had been looking away, northward.

He had to leave soon, and he could not speak to her—he could not be seen. And yet he couldn’t leave her now that he knew she had kept it all these years, and wore it today, the day of her husband’s funeral.

He had paper in his slim back pack.

He made the paper boat like the one he’d made all those years ago, and with his belly to the dirt, he reached out between two gray boulders to set the boat on the surface of the pond. With the water from the stream coming in from this corner, it would float past her on its way to the water outlet.

At first he thought it would pass her and she would not see it. But she straightened in her chair as if her spine had turned into a spear, her eyes fixed on the paper boat on the pond. Her face, her body was unmoving and he couldn’t tell if she was breathing as she stared for one minute, two minutes.

Then she did something he had not expected—bolting to her feet, she jumped down from the edge of the porch, climbed over the rocks edging the pond, and splashed into the water. She used her arms to pull herself as she waded out to the paper boat, desperate to get to it before the lazy current drew it toward the pond outlet. Her fingers stretched out, her legs straining against the resistance of the water, until at last she plucked the paper boat from the surface.

She cradled it gingerly in her wet hands, holding it close to her face, breathing heavily from the exertion, or perhaps from emotion. Suddenly aware that it had to come from someone, she turned her head in his direction, scanning the bushes at the shore.

He ducked behind a bush, his heart racing.

Then her voice floated to him from across the water. “Kou …”

The sound reminded hm of days eating watermelon, of her laughter by the stream, of her tears when he left the village.

“Kou … go and then come back to me.”

She turned and waded back toward the hut, not looking back in his direction again. She dripped her way along the porch, and then disappeared around the corner of the building, probably heading in through the double doors.

He let out a breath, realizing that he hadn’t breathed since she last spoke to him. He thought that the thinnest thread of scent from her perfume reached him behind the bush, a light fragrance of lilacs and water rushes.

Then he nimbly crab-walked through the bougainvillea bushes toward the forest. Once in the shelter of the shadows, he leaped to his feet and melted through the trees. He ran, with the air flowing through his lungs and blood pumping through his legs and in his ears.

He ran, not to escape from something, but he somehow felt as if he were starting off on a journey. It would take him far from her, but now, he also felt he had a place to come back to. Not his clan in the north, not the place he had lived for the past fifteen years, but a place that felt like … home.

For the first time in his life, he felt like he had a home.

***

You can check out my other short stories here.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Beautiful history. There is something romantic and beautiful in those loves that despite the years never cease to be.
Camy Tang said…
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed that!

Popular Posts

Year of the Dog serial novel

About Year of the Dog : A month or two ago, I remembered an old manuscript I had completed but which hadn’t sold. It was a contemporary romance meant for Zondervan, titled Year of the Dog . The book had gone into the pipeline and I even got another title ( Bad Dog ) and a cover for it, but eventually my editor at the time decided she didn’t want to publish it, for various reasons. She instead requested a romantic suspense, and so I cannibalized some of the characters from Year of the Dog and thrust them into the next book I wrote, which was Protection for Hire . Honestly, I didn’t take a lot from Year of the Dog to put in Protection for Hire , aside from character names and a few relationship ties. I was originally thinking I’d post Year of the Dog as-is on my blog as a free read, but then it occurred to me that I could revamp it into a romantic suspense and change the setting to Hawaii. It would work out perfectly as (yet another) prequel to the Warubozu series and introduc

Grace Livingston Hill romances free to read online

I wanted to update my old post on Grace Livingston Hill romances because now there are tons more options for you to be able to read her books for free online! I’m a huge Grace Livingston Hill fan. Granted, not all her books resonate with me, but there are a few that I absolutely love, like The Enchanted Barn and Crimson Roses . And the best part is that she wrote over 100 books and I haven’t yet read them all! When I have time, I like to dive into a new GLH novel. I like the fact that most of them are romances, and I especially appreciate that they all have strong Christian themes. Occasionally the Christian content is a little heavy-handed for my taste, but it’s so interesting to see what the Christian faith was like in the early part of the 20th century. These books are often Cinderella-type stories or A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett) type stories, which I love. And the best part is that they’re all set in the early 1900s, so the time period is absolutely fasci

Clean & Christian Romance Book Sale

I’m participating in this promo. Click on the graphic to check out all the Christian suspense books available and stuff your eBook reader! Clean & Christian Romance Book Sale

No Cold Bums toilet seat cover

Captain's Log, Stardate 08.22.2008 I actually wrote out my pattern! I was getting a lot of hits on my infamous toilet seat cover , and I wanted to make a new one with “improvements,” so I paid attention and wrote things down as I made the new one. This was originally based off the Potty Mouth toilet cover , but I altered it to fit over the seat instead of the lid. Yarn: any worsted weight yarn, about 120 yards (this is a really tight number, I used exactly 118 yards. My suggestion is to make sure you have about 130 yards.) I suggest using acrylic yarn because you’re going to be washing this often. Needle: I used US 8, but you can use whatever needle size is recommended by the yarn you’re using. Gauge: Not that important. Mine was 4 sts/1 inch in garter stitch. 6 buttons (I used some leftover shell buttons I had in my stash) tapestry needle Crochet hook (optional) Cover: Using a provisional cast on, cast on 12 stitches. Work in garter st until liner measures

Cupid's Library Escape

Sign up for these authors’ newsletters and get free books! Click on the graphic to check out all the free books. You might find a new favorite author! Cupid's Library Escape

Cleo’s Drawstring Purse knitting pattern w/ @KnitPicks CotLin

Kari Trumbo is one of the twelve authors who participated with me in the Christian Contemporary Romance anthology, Save the Date . Kari’s novella in the anthology is titled January Hope . In celebration, I wrote a knitting pattern for the lace drawstring purse used by Kari’s heroine, Cleo. (In case you missed it, here are the links for my interview with Kari part 1 and part 2 . Tomorrow I’ll post an excerpt of one of Kari’s other books, Better Than First .) This is a pretty and practical little bag used by the heroine Cleo in Kari Trumbo’s novella, January Hope . Knit in a cotton/linen blend yarn, it’s just large enough for a cell phone and a small wallet. In the book, Cleo’s bag was a coral shade, but the bag I knit here is a chocolate brown color. The lace pattern is the Double Rose Leaf stitch pattern originally published on page 195 in The Lady's Assistant, volume 2 by Mrs. Jane Gaugain, published in 1847. ( You can download a scanned .pdf of the book from Archive.

Cover Reveals!

Here are the covers to my next books! Spinster will be the 7th volume in my Lady Wynwood’s Spies series. I don’t yet have a release date because I’m still writing it and it’s taking a bit longer than I had anticipated, but within the next few months, I’m pretty sure. This is the cover for Lissa and the Spy, a novella I’m writing that will be in Once Upon a Courtship , a multi-author box set releasing in October this year. You can preorder Once Upon a Courtship now for only 99 cents! And then click here for how you can get additional free Christian romance ebooks! When the box set is unpublished in January 2025, I’ll release Lissa and the Spy as a separate ebook. I’m thinking that I might make it only available to my newsletter subscribers, and if that’s the case, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you can download it for free. But that wouldn’t be until spring of next year. In the meantime, preorder Once Upon a Courtship!

Bethany House Publishers Cover Survey Invitation

Captain's Log, Supplemental I just got this from Bethany House Publishers: Hello Reader, We at Bethany House Publishers appreciate our readers opinions about the books we publish. Occasionally, we seek your input about upcoming products. Currently, we are conducting a survey about the cover image for an upcoming novel. For your time, we are offering a giveaway in conjunction with this survey. You will be able to choose from ten recent Bethany House novels, and there will be ten winners. Winners will be notified within two weeks. Click here to take the survey, which should take about 10 minutes to complete. Thank you for your participation, and feel free to forward this email on to your friends or link the survey on your website. The survey will be available through Monday, September 17. Thanks for your time and your opinions. We value your feedback. Sincerely, Jim Hart Internet Marketing Manager Bethany House Publishers

Writing Progress - Sushi and Suspicions

I’ve been working on Sushi and Suspicions , a Christian contemporary romantic suspense which will be releasing in June in the multi-author box set Summer Suspicions . Trouble follows Liv on her vacation to Hawaii when she is framed for the theft of an antique rifle. Only a handsome investigator can help clear her name ... and maybe give her a reason to stay in the islands. If you want to read a snippet of what I wrote last week, check out my last newsletter !

Tabi socks, part deux

Captain's Log, Stardate 07.25.2008 (If you're on Ravelry, friend me! I'm camytang.) I made tabi socks again! (At the bottom of the pattern is the calculation for the toe split if you're not using the same weight yarn that I did for this pattern (fingering). I also give an example from when I used worsted weight yarn with this pattern.) I used Opal yarn, Petticoat colorway. It’s a finer yarn than my last pair of tabi socks, so I altered the pattern a bit. Okay, so here’s my first foray into giving a knitting pattern. Camy’s top-down Tabi Socks I’m assuming you already know the basics of knitting socks. If you’re a beginner, here are some great tutorials: Socks 101 How to Knit Socks The Sock Knitter’s Companion A video of turning the heel Sock Knitting Tips Yarn: I have used both fingering weight and worsted weight yarn with this pattern. You just change the number of cast on stitches according to your gauge and the circumference of your ankle. Th