Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday's Memorial Moment: The Quality of Mercy by Ari McKay

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.

Carlos Hernandez has found a place where he belongs at Bent Oak Ranch run by Gil Porter and Matt Grayson.  A place where men like him can feel safe.  Jules Wingate and his son have arrived in Mercy, Texas ready to take up his position as the new schoolmaster but when he sees Carlos, a man who broke his heart years ago, will he be able to do his job and keep his heart intact?  Can Carlos prove to Jules that he is a changed man, that the boy who broke Jules heart has grown up?  Trust once broken is hard to recover, will they be able to make a life at the Bent Oak Ranch or has their time come and gone?

I loved Finding Forgiveness, book one in Ari McKay's Bent Oak Saga so when I heard there was going to be another one I was really looking forward to The Quality of Mercy.  Well, I was not disappointed.  Did Carlos and Jules reach my heart as thoroughly as Gil and Matt? No but that doesn't mean I didn't love them because I did.  Carlos and Jules have their own set of demons to overcome and watching their journey unfold is a bit of beautiful storytelling.  From the ranch to the town, the settings are wonderfully written, at times I expected to look out my backyard window to see the Texas landscape of 1890 instead of the endless snow drifts of a 2018 Wisconsin winter. 

My heart went out to both Carlos and Jules in this lovely second chance romance, you can't help but want to see a HEA for these men, but will it be with each other? Well, I think you know what I'm about to say: for that answer you have to read The Quality of Mercy for yourself but you won't regret the journey.  Do you have to read Finding Forgiveness first? Probably not.  Would I recommend reading Forgiveness first? Yes.  Does Gil and Matt's story have an impact on Quality? Again, probably not.  It's just a personal preference of mine to read a series in order, even when each entry focuses on a different couple.  I find knowing the journey secondary characters who were main characters in previous installments, took to get their own HEA just makes the story flow better and the friendships understandable and more appreciated.  I would not go so far as to say that The Quality of Mercy is a standalone but neither would you be lost if you haven't read Finding Forgiveness first. A true gem to make you smile and warm the heart.


Chapter One
Texas, 1890
CARLOS HERNANDEZ stood in the center of Bent Oak Ranch’s largest paddock, with a dappled gray yearling on the end of a long lead rope. Little vegetation grew in the enclosure due to the steady stamp of horse hooves and cowboy boots, and dust settled on Carlos’s boots as he turned in slow circles while the horse galloped around the perimeter of the wood rail fence with a saddle on her back. The September sun was bright and still hot, making both Carlos and the yearling sweat, but the Texas summer heat was receding, and the nights were getting cooler at last.

Carlos’s responsibilities had increased since Gil Porter, the owner of Bent Oak, decided to move away from raising cattle and toward breeding horses. His experience in working with horses had gotten him a job at the ranch, and his hard work and dedication had gotten him put in charge of breeding and training. He had plenty to do to keep him busy, and he ended each day tired but proud of his part in helping Bent Oak succeed. But of late, he yearned for something more.

Gil and Matt Grayson, the ranch foreman and Gil’s lover, had found a way to be together discreetly even here on the ranch, surrounded by other people. Matt had moved out of the foreman’s house and into the big house after his sister Jeanie got married and moved into town. Gil claimed he found it more convenient to have his foreman under the same roof, and no one had questioned him. Now they lived together, happy and in love, and Carlos found himself longing for what they had.

He was lonely. But he wanted more than a warm body to share his bed. He wanted to share his life with someone. He wanted the closeness and connection that Gil and Matt shared. He wanted the love and passion he had known—and foolishly thrown away—once before.

“That filly has a pretty gait,” a voice called out from the fence line, and Carlos glanced over to see Matt tying his own horse, Wendigo, to the railing. Matt was a big, sturdy man, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes, and he leaned on a wooden crossbar, regarding Carlos with a raised eyebrow. “Too pretty for you to be looking like someone done rained on your picnic.”

Carlos gradually brought the yearling to a stop and let her rest while he went to talk to Matt.

“I believe she will be one of our best,” he said, ignoring Matt’s observation about his mood. “We might want to keep her.”

Matt nodded and grinned, but he didn’t take his eyes from Carlos’s face. “I trust your instincts when it comes to horses, so if you say we keep her, that’s what we’ll do. I’m sure the fact that she’s named after your boss ain’t got nothing to do with it.”

In fact, the filly’s name was Gilla, and Gil Porter had assisted with her birth, an event that had helped the Boston-born-and-raised man develop a bond with the ranch.

Carlos tried to remain objective and fair when it came to judging the horses, but he had to admit he didn’t always succeed. He had a soft spot for Gilla, and he knew Gil did too, so he was inclined to look for reasons to keep her at Bent Oak.

“Not a thing. I am always impartial,” he said, although a quirk of his lips gave away his teasing.

“Uh-huh.” Matt’s eyes crinkled at the corners, but then his expression turned more serious. “That’s a little better, but I still miss seeing you smile. Seems like you don’t think you got too much to smile about lately, and I’m getting worried you’re thinking about moving on. I wouldn’t like that, and neither would Gil. So… you gonna talk to me about what’s wrong? I was your friend long before I was foreman of this place. I hope you know you can tell me anything.”

“I am not going to leave Bent Oak,” Carlos said, reaching out to stroke Wendigo’s velvety nose. “I like my job and the ranch. I have no desire to leave when I can work solely with horses as I have always wanted to do.”

There was no mistaking the relief on Matt’s face, and he nodded. “I’m glad to hear it. I want you to feel like your home is here at Bent Oak, and not just because there ain’t no one better with horses than you. Not because we were once lovers, neither. You belong here, just as much as me or Gil or the horses. And me and Gil both want you to be happy.”

“You need not concern yourself about me,” Carlos said. Gilla walked up behind him and nudged his shoulder with her nose, and he pivoted so he could give her the attention she wanted. Gilla had been doted on by Matt, Gil, and José—her dam’s owner—since birth, and she was accustomed to being petted and spoiled. “My wandering days are behind me. Bent Oak is my home, and I am happy here.”

“You may be content enough, but you ain’t happy.” Matt’s tone was certain, and he did know Carlos better than anyone else. “I’ve seen that new hand, Caleb, making eyes at you when he thinks I ain’t looking. Just in case you ain’t noticed it for yourself. Time was that a handsome man casting his eye your way would’ve put a spring in your step and a gleam in your eye.”

Carlos stroked Gilla’s neck as he considered how to respond. He’d noticed Caleb, of course. How could he not when Caleb’s golden curls and big blue eyes reminded him of the only man who had ever captured his heart? But he’d also recognized Caleb’s immaturity. Caleb was much like Gilla: accustomed to getting attention whenever he wanted it. Carlos didn’t doubt that Caleb thought he could get any man he wanted thanks to his pretty face, mainly because Carlos had once been the same way himself.

“I see too much of my younger self in Caleb,” he said at last. “We would not suit.”

Matt’s gaze sharpened, but he only nodded in response. “Well then, if you’re at loose ends this evening, what do you think of coming into Mercy with me and Gil? There’s that reception for the new schoolmaster tonight. I know you don’t get off the ranch much, so this might be a good time to look at what else is on offer, so to speak. There ain’t been nothing big in town since Fourth of July, so I’m thinking there’ll be a lot of people there.”

Carlos doubted there were any more men who shared his preferences in town than there were the last time he went, but he liked the idea of seeing something different for a few hours. He never felt closed in thanks to the rolling plains that stretched out to the horizon, but the flatness of the land also meant the scenery stayed pretty much the same.

“Very well,” he said, inclining his head slightly. “What time should I be ready?”

“Gil and I are taking the carriage, and we’ll be leaving about four,” Matt replied. He reached out, put a hand on Carlos’s shoulder, and gave it a squeeze. “If you don’t see no one to your liking, we can go have a few drinks after the tea and cake stuff is over, if you’d like. Gil won’t mind. Hell, he’d probably want to come along.”

Gil had arrived at Bent Oak as a stuffy Boston socialite who preferred the parlor to the stables. But Bent Oak had liberated Gil from the shackles placed on him by his dictatorial father and by Boston society, and now he was more likely to be outside in jeans and a chambray work shirt like the rest of the hands, far more comfortable in his own skin here than he ever had been in Boston.

“He probably would,” Carlos said, chuckling.

Matt nodded, releasing Carlos’s shoulder with another squeeze. “All right, then,” he said, unwrapping Wendigo’s reins from the rail. He stepped back, then swung up into the saddle with the ease of a natural-born horseman. “Wear something pretty,” he added and then grinned wickedly as he turned Wendigo in the direction of the stables.

Carlos unfastened the lead rope and grasped Gilla’s bridle. She’d had enough saddle training for one day, and Carlos needed to wash off the scent of horses and sweat before going into town. He didn’t expect the reception to be all that interesting, especially since he didn’t have school-age children, but at least he would get the chance to socialize with people he didn’t see often. That alone would make the trip worthwhile.

And if the new schoolmaster was a handsome man who shared Carlos’s preferences, so much the better. Carlos shook his head and smiled at his own foolishness. The schoolmaster was far more likely to be an absentminded scholar with soft hands and a round little wife. But, Carlos thought as he led Gilla to the stables, a man could dream.

Finding Forgiveness #1
Boston in 1888 is quite urbane, but unfortunately for Gil Porter, that isn’t the same thing as being understanding. When his sexuality is exposed by the scandalous suicide of his lover, Gil is exiled to the small town of Mercy, Texas, by his domineering father, George, who believes life on Vernon Porter's ranch will cure Gil of his “unnatural” desires. Grieving and ashamed, Gil is determined to keep his distance from everyone until he can return home. To his surprise, he finds acceptance at Bent Oak Ranch, especially from Matt Grayson, the handsome son of the ranch foreman. Knowing he must fight his attraction to Matt, Gil courts a local girl, but an unexpected encounter with Matt leads to his discovery of Matt’s feelings for him. Torn between Matt and his desire to be “normal," between returning to his old life and building a new one in Texas, Gil is faced with a choice—appeasing his father or becoming the man Matt knows he can be.

Original Review September 2015:
I love discovering a new author, or at least new to me.  Ari McKay's knack with historical romance is obvious with their detail to accuracy.  Gil is definitely a fish out of water when he's been banished to his Uncle's Texas ranch, couldn't be further from Boston if they had sent him to Timbuktu.  Watching him discover his true path in life as well as finding a new family is entertaining, at times heartbreaking but also very heartwarming.  Gil has a lot to learn but with unexplained acceptance from his uncle and immediate friendship from Matt, he learns the way of the ranch quickly, unfortunately he doesn't learn the way of his heart quite so easily. A great addition to my historical western romance collection and a definite plus for cowboy lovers.


Author Bio:
Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who collaborate on original m/m fiction. They began writing together in 2004 and finished their first original full length novel in 2011. Recently, they’ve begun collaborating on designing and creating costumes to wear and compete in at Sci Fi conventions, and they share a love of yarn and cake.

Arionrhod is an avid costumer, knitter, and all-around craft fiend, as well as a professional systems engineer. Mother of two human children and two dachshunds who think they are human, she is a voracious reader with wildly eclectic tastes, devouring romance novels, military science fiction, horror stories and Shakespeare with equal glee. She is currently preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

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.


The Quality of Mercy #2

Finding Forgiveness #1

Release Tour: Love Lorn by Amy Manemann

Title: Love Lorn
Author: Amy Manemann
Series: Twisted Love #1
Genre: Romantic Suspense, Police Procedural
Release Date: March 26, 2018
Determined to prove she’s more than just a pretty face, Detective Evie Harper works hard and trains even harder to be the very best. Her first homicide case will put her skills to the test as she and her partner, Detective Stephen Harris, track a ruthless serial killer terrorizing the west end of town. The Lovelorn killer may be one step ahead of them, but they’re closing in fast — until an immoral decision is made that leaves their partnership hanging in the balance.

Love Lorn, is the first book in a six-book series called The Twisted Love Series. While this book was written by me, Amy Manemann, the second book, Love Torn, will be written USA Bestselling Author, Stacy Eaton. The two of us have worked together on these two books so our stories run parallel and prepare you for the first full-length novel in the series coming this fall. Stacy's prequel to our series will be releasing May 19th.

The Twisted Love Series: 
The first full length co-authored novel, Love Inked, will introduce author Amy Manemann’s Detective Evie Harper with author Stacy Eaton’s Kali Mann as they become partners. Their lives are about to change, and the cases they will investigate will be intense. Between a new serial murder and dealing with their pasts, these two will be tearing up the streets and the pages as they deal with Twisted Love.

Love Inked is slated to release in later Summer/early Fall.

He veered on the path, his footsteps leading toward the large fountain. My ears picked up the screech of tires and fading wail of sirens behind me. I knew without looking that back up had arrived, and I was relieved to have some actual police officers arriving on the scene.

My relief was short lived when his grip suddenly tightened on the girl, and he pressed the knife harder against the side of her throat. A thin red line appeared, blood trickling down her neck, and the girl cried out, tears spilling over her round cheeks. “I said get the fuck away from me!”

God damn it…I jerked my gaze to see a twenty-something-year-old-looking hipster hugging the side of a park bench close to Douglas. He wore an odd-shaped stocking cap that was pushed low over his forehead, and he had the determined look of a man about to do something really heroic that would probably get someone killed.

“Back off.” I growled the warning low, relieved when the baggy pants, want-to-be-a-hero hipster begrudgingly backed away. I knew what he was thinking; the guy was distracted, so why not try to make a play for the girl? Except Douglas was a lot smarter than that, and I had the feeling he would plunge the knife in the side of the girl’s neck faster than anyone could make a move.

“See, Donovan, everything’s good,” I reassured my suspect once I was certain nobody else was going to play hero. “No one is getting close.” We were a good distance away from the park entrance now, but the sound of fast moving footsteps beating the pavement told me help was close at hand. Normally, this would be the time when I would back down and gladly allow the hostage negotiation unit to take over, but this guy wasn’t playing with a full deck. Trying to rebuild a rapport with him may do us more harm than good.

Something, or rather, someone, shifted in my peripheral vision. I spared the man a quick glance as he worked his way behind a statue, recognition instantly sinking in. Even in his street clothes the intimidating profile of Detective Stephen Harris was noticeable. His dirty blonde hair was covered by a Philadelphia Eagles baseball cap set low over his brooding eyes as he quietly assessed the situation. Where he came from was hard to say, but he didn’t look happy. In fact, he looked downright pissed off. I could relate.

“You don’t get it. It doesn’t matter.” Douglas sucked in a deep breath, eyes wild. “It doesn’t matter!” The scream echoed around me, and I watched him take a step backwards, the backs of his knees hitting the fountain. “I’m fucked, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Donovan, there’s always another solution, but I can’t help if you don’t let me.” I quickly scrambled to regain control. My eyes connected briefly with Harris’s, and I could tell he was thinking the same as me. We were losing ground.

From his position, Harris was in Donovan’s blind spot. Three more steps and Harris could easily overtake him, if Donovan didn’t lose his cookies before then.

“It’s too late. Too late.” Donovan glanced down at the rippling water behind him before looking back at the crowd of uniformed officers who had reached my side. He appeared to be weighing his options, which weren’t good. I took advantage of his altered gaze to step closer.

Two more steps…

“It’s never too late to the do the right thing,” I continued, barely breathing. “That little girl didn’t do anything wrong, Donovan. Why don’t you let her go and we can talk about fixing all of this.” I shuffled closer.

One more step…

Donovan shook his head, lifting his foot to rest it on the edge of the fountain. “You can’t fix a dead man.”

Love Torn #2
Detective Kali Mann lives by her nickname: The Mann-Eater. She’s a true love them and leave them with no attachments—ever. She’s hard-core, to the point, intense and she doesn’t always play nice with others. When her partner, Keith Harvard, finally gets her to take notice of him, the case they are working goes awry, and suddenly Kali is having emotions she’s not sure she wants. A major part of her past will come back to haunt her and just as she beings to open herself up, her life will be torn apart.

Love Torn is the second book in the Twisted Love Series. The first book, Love Lorn, was written by Amy Manemann. If you haven't read it, nows the time to so that you have the backstory on Detective Evie Harper when they two characters are partnered together in Love Inked.

Author Bio:
Amy Manemann is an International Best Selling Author. She writes sexy and intriguing romantic suspense, contemporary romance, young adult paranormal romance, and dabbles in children's books. She resides in her hometown along the Mississippi river with her husband and their two children. When she isn't plotting her next book, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, and diving into a good book.


Love Lorn #1
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Love Torn #2(Coming May 19, 2018)

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