The Quality of Mercy (Bent Oak Saga #2) by Ari McKay
Cover by Reese Dante,Website: https://www.reesedante.com
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to welcome back McKay of Ari McKay, here to talk about their latest release The Quality of Mercy.
Hi, everyone! I’m the McKay half of Ari McKay, and I’d like to thank Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words 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!
“Tonight we have something new and special for the harvest festival,” Miss McManus announced. “In honor of the season, our schoolmaster, Mr. Jules Wingate, will read a selection of seasonal poetry for us, accompanied by the beautiful music of one of Mercy’s favorite cowboys, Mr. Carlos Hernandez.”
Miss McManus stepped aside and the audience applauded politely. Jules removed several sheets of paper from his coat pocket; he’d copied all the poems down in case nerves got the better of him. He waited while Carlos readied his guitar. Carlos sat down in the chair that had been provided for him, tuned his guitar, and smiled warmly at Jules when he was ready.
Jules began with the Browning poem he’d chosen, modulating his voice to reach to the back of the room so everyone could hear him. Carlos’s music suited the poem perfectly, adding its own beauty to the measured lines of verse. When they finished, there was loud applause. So it went through the other seasonal poetry. Carlos found the perfect accompaniment to enhance the spoken words and make them seem richer and more vibrant. Each was given enthusiastic acknowledgment, and Jules was pleased the people of Mercy were so receptive.
After a brief pause to let the applause die away, Jules recited “Annabel Lee.” The poem had been one of his favorites since school, the pathos of the tale elevated to something transcendent by a poet without peer. It meant even more to him after losing Carlos, for the yearning, even in the face of incredible pain, was something he knew all too well. To have loved and lost made the poem resonate with him in ways that nothing else did. To know the love he had lost and missed so deeply sat only a few feet from him somehow made it all the more heart-wrenching, and he knew the depth of his own loss was reflected in his voice.
When he finished speaking and the last beautiful, melancholy chord of Carlos’s guitar died away, there was utter silence for several moments. Jules looked out on the people who had come to listen, seeing tears glistening in more than a few eyes. Then the applause began, and it shook the very timbers of the building with its power.
Stunned, Jules took a step back, drawing in a deep breath and glancing at Carlos.
“I think they liked it,” he said, pitching his voice to not be lost in the thunderous clapping.
“Of course they did,” Carlos replied with a little nod. “You are a captivating speaker. You always have been.”
Jules smiled, feeling his face grow hot at the compliment, which warmed him far more than it should. “Thank you. But I think your music gave it that extra something.”
“Thank you.” Carlos turned away briefly to pack up his guitar, and then he stood up and moved closer to Jules. “Our talents are well matched,” he said, and a heated gleam appeared in his dark eyes before he leaned over and murmured in Jules’s ear, “We were well-matched in several ways, as I recall.”
Memories of the two of them entwined in passion rose to torment Jules, no doubt as Carlos intended. Jules felt himself flushing again, and he shook his head, taking a step back to put some distance between them, glancing quickly at the audience to make certain no one was paying attention to them. “That was a long time ago.”
“Yet not so long ago that I have forgotten the pleasure of your touch or the sweetness of your kisses,” Carlos said. He winked at Jules before picking up his case and sauntering away, seeming to put a little extra swagger in his step for Jules’s benefit.
Jules wished he could smack Carlos. Carlos knew exactly what he was doing to Jules, and Jules was frustrated with himself that he wasn’t immune to Carlos’s tactics. He watched Carlos walk off, unable to keep from thinking about how different Carlos’s body would be now that he’d filled out, all broad shoulders and lean hips.
Jules bit off a growl. Rather than dwell on it, he joined Al to watch a skit put on by the older students from school, as well as the musical performances to follow. He tried to enjoy himself and put Carlos out of his mind, but he found his gaze straying throughout the evening, watching Carlos as he interacted with other people. He couldn’t seem to help himself, and every time Carlos noticed him looking, he gave Jules a heated smile.
A young cowboy, perhaps a few years older than Al, approached Carlos, and Jules was experienced enough to recognize the subtle flirtation in the way the handsome blond stood a bit too close to Carlos and leaned in whenever Carlos spoke. He wasn’t certain if Carlos was uninterested in the young man or if age had schooled him to more discretion, but Carlos didn’t appear to give the young man any encouragement. Still, the sight gave Jules a pang he had no right whatsoever to feel. It reminded him that Carlos probably hadn’t spent the past ten years alone the way Jules had, and that even if Carlos wanted him now, Jules wouldn’t be able to hold his interest for long.
The performances ended, and Jules rose, ignoring Carlos and the other young man. Feeling deflated, Jules made himself nod politely and accept the compliments of those around him for his own part in the evening, but he didn’t linger. Instead he decided to help the group of people who were cleaning up the tables outside, keeping busy instead of dwelling on what could never be.
Gil Porter and Matt Grayson’s Bent Oak Ranch in Mercy, Texas is a rare haven for gay men in the 19th 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.
About the Authors
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