Mike took a shuddering breath. â€œIâ€™m a dangerous person to be around. Look what happened tonight. Just because I disobeyed Hanlonâ€™s orders, he sent those five guys after us.â€
â€œWhat orders?â€ Aidanâ€™s voice was sharp.
â€œMike. Look at me. Please.â€
Mike opened his eyes, not sure when heâ€™d squinched them shut. â€œHow did you know I wasnâ€™t?â€
â€œThe shame in your voice. Are you looking right at me and nowhere else?â€
Aidan nodded. â€œWhat happened?â€
â€œI was walking down the hall toward the gym, thinking about nothing but getting back to you. I was passing the janitorsâ€™ office when Hanlon grabbed me and pulled me inside. He closed the door and said he missed me.â€ Mike pulled his hand free of Aidanâ€™s grasp and put it over his face. â€œI was scared, but I remembered how pissed off Iâ€™d gotten with him toward the end of my junior year, and started talking back. Then he mentioned how heâ€™d noticed you.â€
â€œI doubt like hell Iâ€™m his type.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I thought too, but he said heâ€™d sic students on you if I didnâ€™t submit to him again.â€ Mike lowered his hand. â€œWhy would he ask me to come back if he doesnâ€™t want me anymore like that?â€
â€œBecause youâ€™re a threat.â€
Mike laughed, but that hurt his shoulder and he groaned. â€œHow do you figure that?â€
Aidan reached out, and Mike allowed his hand to be taken again. â€œIf you exposed him as a pedophile, he wouldnâ€™t just lose his job. Heâ€™d go to jail.â€
â€œJust on the strength of my testimony?â€
â€œâ€¦Donâ€™t forget: youâ€™re not the only one heâ€™s molested. If you come forward, that single act of bravery would help others find their courage.â€
Aidan looked suddenly worried, so Mike rubbed his thumb over the other manâ€™s hand. â€œYeah?â€
â€œThis might go national. You could be so outed there would be little use for a closet in the near future. Iâ€™m not saying you couldnâ€™t choose not to tell peopleâ€”sometimes itâ€™s none of their damn businessâ€”but your face will be known in more than Marisburg for a while.â€
Mike considered that, but all he saw when he closed his eyes and tried to picture a hard life of people deriding him and slamming doors in his face was Aidanâ€™s open arms, cornflower blue eyes, and sunbeam smile.
That and McCormick almost killing you, he thought, looking at his lover.
â€œCompared to watching Chuck McCormick make you bleed, coming out to the entire United States, even for fifteen minutes of dubious fame, will be easy as kissing your hand.â€ He suited gesture to words. â€œAlthough much less pleasant.â€
When Heartwood was finished last October, there were many questions left unanswered. Why did it take almost two years for Mike to escape the shadow of the man who molested him in high school? Even more importantly, had he truly escaped?
The end of Heartwood satisfied me at the time but it was to quick, too easy. The realization that the newness of Mikeâ€™s and Aidanâ€™s love might not withstand Mikeâ€™s demons gave birth to Heartwoodâ€™s sequel, Black Mahogany.
Renewing and strengthening vows is like preparing a garden for the spring arrival of perennial flowers. Thereâ€™s a lot of hard weeding involved. But perennialsâ€”and renewed loveâ€”are often hardy and determined never to fail.
Readers who leave a comment to this post will be entered into a drawing. Black Mahogany will be released in June from Loose Id, LLC. One lucky reader will receive the book and a tasty treat in keeping with the Scotch-Irish blood of both heroes: Scottish tablet.