Hi, everyone! I’m the McKay half of Ari McKay, and I’d like to thank Divine Magazine for hosting us on our blog tour for our new historical Western, The Quality of Mercy. This is the second book in our Bent Oak Saga series, set in Texas in the late 19th century.
Today, I’d like to share an exclusive excerpt from the book, one that shows the uphill battle Carlos faces in winning Jules’s heart. I hope you enjoy it!
“Wait, please.” Carlos stood up swiftly and approached Jules.
For a moment he thought Jules wasn’t going to stop, but then his steps halted, and he turned to face Carlos, his face once more a mask of neutrality. “Yes?”
“Our talents meshed well tonight,” Carlos said, moving closer until he could feel the warmth emanating from Jules’s body. “Some things never change, I think.”
Jules gaze roamed over Carlos’s face, as though searching for a motive behind Carlos’s words, and when he spoke, his voice was huskier than normal. “You’re right, some things never do.”
“But people do. Boys grow into men.” Carlos met and held Jules’s gaze, and he brushed his fingers across the back of Jules’s hand. “Men take responsibility for the wrongs they have committed. I broke your heart and shattered your trust, and I am sorry. If you need to hit me, hit me. If you need to shout at me, shout. If you wish to see me on my knees while I apologize again, I will kneel. I will do whatever I must to make amends.”
Jules pulled his hand away as though the touch had burned him. “There was a time when I wanted to hit you. A time when I might even have taken you back, if you’d gotten down on your knees to apologize. For years, I’d catch sight of tall men with black hair, and my heart would stop as I wondered if you’d decided you wanted me back. I suppose you’re trying to assuage a guilty conscience.” He studied Carlos intently. “I want to make a life in Mercy and to stop running from what other people have done to me, so I suppose I cannot berate you for immaturity if I hold on to anger over something that happened a long time ago. If you seek my forgiveness, then you may have it. I want to live in peace.”
“I am grateful for your forgiveness, but I doubt there will be any peace for either of us as long as we are apart,” Carlos said. “I have not known true happiness since I was foolish enough to leave you.”
Jules’s lips twisted, and he looked away. “Some lessons are only learned through pain and loss. I learned mine, and I have no desire to repeat the experience.”
“Even if I swear to be true to you for the rest of my days?” Carlos asked softly. He ached to gather Jules in his arms and try to ease Jules’s pain, but that would likely make Jules bolt. As with skittish horses, Carlos needed to avoid doing anything that might frighten Jules. “I never want you to feel pain because of me again.”
“I don’t intend to feel pain again because of you,” Jules replied. His breathing had sped up, and Carlos had no doubt Jules’s heart was pounding in his chest. “Why would I believe anything you swore to me, Carlos? You were faithless to me once, so I have no reason to believe you wouldn’t be again.”
“I was faithless to you then because I was a selfish boy,” Carlos said, stroking Jules’s cheek lightly with his forefinger. “I did not treasure your heart as I should have. I made no promises to you then, but I promise to be faithful to you alone now because you are the only man I want.”
Jules stared at him as though mesmerized, and he almost seemed to lean into Carlos’s touch, his blue eyes dark with something that wasn’t pain. “Yes, you were,” he murmured. “A beautiful, selfish boy, and I should have known better than to give my heart to you. I won’t do that again. I can’t. I’m an old man now, Carlos. You cost me everything, and I can’t pay that price again. I’m tired of running.”
“You are not an old man,” Carlos said, frowning to hear Jules speak of himself that way. He cupped Jules’s cheek in his palm and savored the soft warmth of Jules’s skin against his, the feel stoking his desire for more. “You are still handsome and desirable.”
He felt Jules tremble and then take a deep breath, apparently coming to his senses. He stepped back from Carlos, dropping his gaze. “I am old and tired, and I just want peace in my life, don’t you understand that? You wooed me once with pretty words, made me feel like the only man you wanted, and it was a lie. You were a lie. Maybe you’ve changed, but maybe you haven’t. I can’t take the risk. I have Al, and responsibilities to him and to Mercy. And to myself. A few fleeting nights of bliss aren’t worth what they would cost me to find if you really mean what you say.”
Carlos lowered his hand and remained where he was. Jules seemed to have reached his limit for one night, and pushing harder wouldn’t help Carlos prove he could be trusted—just the opposite.
“Mercy is your home now, as it is mine,” he said. “We have time for me to prove I mean it, and I will take that time because I want far more than a few nights of bliss with you. I want a lifetime.”
Jules’s gaze flew back up to his face. “Part of me wishes you really meant that,” he replied, then shook his head, drawing himself up straight as though preparing himself for battle. “We have little reason to see one another, and I don’t want people to have any reason to start talking about us. It’s not just my reputation this time, but my stepson’s. I love Al more than anything in this world, and I won’t stand for him being subjected to gossip. Just let the past go, Carlos, and we’ll both move on.”
Carlos returned to the pew and picked up his guitar case, and when he turned back to Jules, he was resolute in what he intended to do.
“I will let the past go, but I will not let you go,” he said. “Nor will I do anything to jeopardize you or Al and your standing in Mercy. I will keep you safe this time. But I believe we have said enough for now. Think on what I have said, and we will speak again soon.”
“I don’t think there’s anything else to say,” Jules countered. He nodded to Carlos. “Goodbye.” With that, he turned and headed once more for the doors, walking quickly as though afraid Carlos might stop him again.
But Carlos watched him walk away and wished he could go with Jules. But there was no quick and easy fix for the damage he had inflicted. Carlos would have to woo Jules slowly, but he would do whatever he needed to in order to win back Jules’s trust—and his heart.
A Bent Oak Story
Gil Porter and Matt Grayson’s Bent Oak Ranch in Mercy, Texas, is a rare haven for gay men in the nineteenth century, and their friend Carlos Hernandez will need it when a man from his past unexpectedly comes back into his life.
Jules Wingate hopes to start over in Mercy as the schoolmaster after a scandal sent him and his son fleeing their former home. But he discovers he’s left one bad situation for another when he encounters his former student and lover, Carlos. No matter how Jules tries to resist, he yearns for the passionate connection they once shared… before Carlos broke his heart.
Carlos knows his foolish, immature actions hurt Jules, but he desperately wants a second chance and to show Jules he’s changed. But trust so badly broken is hard to repair. While he works to earn Jules’s forgiveness, someone else at the ranch has his sights set on Carlos—and he doesn’t care how many lives he has to ruin to make Carlos his and his alone.
Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the ebook of Finding Forgiveness, the first story in the Bent Oak Saga
About the Author
Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who have been writing together for over a decade. Their collaborations encompass a wide variety of romance genres, including contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, and action/adventure. Their work includes the Blood Bathory series of paranormal novels, the Herc’s Mercs series, as well as two historical Westerns: Heart of Stone and Finding Forgiveness. When not writing, they can often be found scheming over costume designs or binge watching TV shows together.
Arionrhod is a systems engineer by day who is eagerly looking forward to (hopefully) becoming a full time writer in the not-too-distant future. Now that she is an empty-nester, she has turned her attentions to finding the perfect piece of land to build a fortress in preparation for the zombie apocalypse, and baking (and eating) far too many cakes.
McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ari-Mckay/266185570179748