Mike took a shuddering breath. “I’m a dangerous person to be around. Look what happened tonight. Just because I disobeyed Hanlon’s orders, he sent those five guys after us.”

“What orders?” Aidan’s voice was sharp.

“I…”

“Mike. Look at me. Please.”

Mike opened his eyes, not sure when he’d squinched them shut. “How did you know I wasn’t?”

“The shame in your voice. Are you looking right at me and nowhere else?”

“Yes.”

Aidan nodded. “What happened?”

…

“I was walking down the hall toward the gym, thinking about nothing but getting back to you. I was passing the janitors’ office when Hanlon grabbed me and pulled me inside. He closed the door and said he missed me.” Mike pulled his hand free of Aidan’s grasp and put it over his face. “I was scared, but I remembered how pissed off I’d gotten with him toward the end of my junior year, and started talking back. Then he mentioned how he’d noticed you.”

“I doubt like hell I’m his type.”

“That’s what I thought too, but he said he’d sic students on you if I didn’t submit to him again.” Mike lowered his hand. “Why would he ask me to come back if he doesn’t want me anymore like that?”

“Because you’re a threat.”

Mike laughed, but that hurt his shoulder and he groaned. “How do you figure that?”

Aidan reached out, and Mike allowed his hand to be taken again. “If you exposed him as a pedophile, he wouldn’t just lose his job. He’d go to jail.”

“Just on the strength of my testimony?”

“…Don’t forget: you’re not the only one he’s molested. If you come forward, that single act of bravery would help others find their courage.”

…

“But…Mike?”

Aidan looked suddenly worried, so Mike rubbed his thumb over the other man’s hand. “Yeah?”

“This might go national. You could be so outed there would be little use for a closet in the near future. I’m not saying you couldn’t choose not to tell people—sometimes it’s none of their damn business—but your face will be known in more than Marisburg for a while.”

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 Aidan’s open arms, cornflower blue eyes, and sunbeam smile.

That and McCormick almost killing you, he thought, looking at his lover.

“Compared 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.” He suited gesture to words. “Although much less pleasant.”

EC_Heartwood_covertn

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 Mike’s and Aidan’s love might not withstand Mike’s demons gave birth to Heartwood’s sequel, Black Mahogany.

 

Renewing and strengthening vows is like preparing a garden for the spring arrival of perennial flowers. There’s a lot of hard weeding involved. But perennials—and renewed love—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.

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