Love Bytes is delighted and honored to host the exclusive cover reveal for “Tender Mercies”, author Eli Easton her new upcoming novel from Dreamspinner Press.
Check out the wonderful cover by Brooke Albrecht below and make sure to enter the giveaway to have a chance to win a copy of the first Men of Lancaster County novel, “A Second Harvest”.
Eddie Graber’s dream of a sanctuary for rescued farm animals was about to come true when his partner backed out at the last minute. Now Eddie risks losing the twenty-five acre property in Lancaster County—and all the hopes he held for it—before the project even gets off the ground. He needs help, he needs money, but most importantly, he needs to rediscover the belief in a higher purpose that brought him here in the first place.
Samuel Miller worked hard to fit into his Amish community despite his clubfoot. But when his father learns Samuel is gay, he is whipped and shunned. With just a few hundred dollars to his name, Samuel responds to an ad for a farmhand and finds himself employed by a city guy who has strange ideas about animals, no clue how to run his small farm, and a gentle heart.
Samuel isn’t the only lost soul to serendipitously find his way to Meadow Lake Farm. There’s Fred and Ginger, two cows who’d been living in a garage, a gang of sheep, and a little black pig named Benny who might be the key to life, love, money—and even a happily ever after for two castoffs.
NOTE: This story takes place in the same area as “A Second Harvest”, but involves an entirely new couple and can be read as a stand-alone.
“What the devil are you doing?” Father’s voice boomed through the hayloft, frightening Samuel half to death. He was looking out the window with his back to the ladder, and he hurriedly did up the flap on his britches. He’d barely closed the buttons before his father was there, shouldering Samuel aside and peering out the window.
Humiliated, Samuel stepped back, his heart sinking. Oh Lord, please don’t let him see.
But his father did see, and he understood. When he turned from the window, the stern, bearded face was set hard, and his eyes burned. “You have a sick, filthy soul!”
“No, Da! I was only lookin’ at the sky.”
“Liar! Don’t make your sin worse by lyin’ to my face!”
“Don’t you move! Not one inch!”
Father moved swiftly to the hayloft ladder and climbed down to the main floor of the barn. Samuel knew he would return, and when he did, Samuel would be in for a world of hurt. He was nineteen years old, for land’s sake, and he hadn’t had a beating since he was fourteen. He avoided them by staying quiet and doing what he was told. But this…. He was in terrible bad trouble.
It was bad enough Samuel’s father caught him touching himself. But that would likely warrant extra Bible study, not a whipping. What was worse was Samuel did it while looking out over a field. The only point of interest in the field below was their neighbor, young and handsome John Snyder, who was out there working a plow. His body was strong, and his muscles bunched under his white sweat-slicked shirt…. Even now the memory of the sight caused eddies of arousal to swirl amidst the fear in Samuel’s belly.
It wasn’t the first time he’d been caught at something like this either. He was found behind the schoolhouse with a boy when he was fourteen, their hands down each other’s pants when the boy’s father came around the corner. Samuel was driven home, and the man talked solemnly to his father. Samuel got the worst beating of his life that night. But he promised his father it was the only time he’d ever done anything like that, and it was mere curiosity, not his nature. He’d lied.
In the years since, that incident had eroded away his relationship with his father like rot in the foundations. Samuel sometimes looked up to find Da staring at him, suspicion and worry in his eyes. But Samuel ignored it, tried to prove he was a good worker, that he was an honorable man, that physical desire of any kind was not part of his makeup. Now one glance out the window had sparked those long-buried doubts in his father’s mind, and all those years of hiding lay crumbled to dust at Samuel’s feet.
His belly crawled with shame and self-loathing. Why did he do these things? Why did this desire torment him so? What was wrong with him? He was a grown man. He shouldn’t still be getting beatings from his father, shouldn’t be doing the kind of furtive, shameful acts that deserved them.
His father came back up the ladder. “Take your shirt off!” he ordered, his voice as dark and cold as a winter’s night.
Hands shaking, Samuel stood, pushed off his suspenders, and began to unbutton his shirt. His fingers were graceless, fear robbing them of their usual dexterity. There was nothing he could say that would convince his father now. Any lie would only make things worse.
He laid his shirt neatly on a bale of hay and turned his back obediently to his father. Maybe if he showed humility in this, his father would be appeased. His shoulder dipped as his bad foot made the maneuver of turning awkward. As he moved, he glimpsed the large switch in his father’s hand. His da kept a box of such switches in the barn, cut anew from green saplings from time to time. They were an excellent deterrent to his children but rarely saw use.
This was going to hurt. Bad. Samuel braced himself for pain. A few strokes, he told himself. Maybe three. Five at most. Then it would—
There was a faint whistling sound, and fire shot across his back. The pain was so sharp and fierce Samuel couldn’t stop a cry and a half step forward.
Before he could begin to recover, another blow came, and another. He found himself half lying, propped up by the stacked hay bales and clinging to their rough surface. There was unfettered fury in the blows that rained down upon him. His da held nothing back, striking Samuel with all his might again and again.
Samuel lost count of the blows. His cries came in a steady stream of agony and pleas. The fire in his back turned sharp and cutting as skin bruised, swelled, and broke open under the assault like a melon left to rot in the field. He felt blood trickle down his back. He twisted but couldn’t escape the cruel lashes or the clouding effect of shock and pain.
Oh dear Lord in heaven, help me.
Through the fog of agony, he heard his father’s ranting voice. “Shoulda known! That foot of yours is a sign from God about the sick, twisted nature of your soul! Your foot’s not the abomination! You are! You lying, lustful, sick, devil-ridden….”
“Da, stop it!” It was Matthew’s voice, urgent. “Da, please stop! You’ll kill him!”
“Stay out of it!” His father shouted.
“I’m gettin’ Ma. Ma! Ma!” Matthew was eighteen and the only one of Samuel’s siblings he had any true closeness with. He heard Matthew’s voice grow faint. Matthew would get mother. She would stop this, stay his father’s hand. She had to. Please, Lord.
But the blows had already stopped, Samuel realized. The only sound was his father’s harsh panting. The fear-fueled adrenaline that had kept Samuel mostly upright now vanished, leaving him exhausted, his senses overwhelmed with pain. He dropped his head into his arms, still propped on the hay bales, and sobbed. They were big, wracking noises he couldn’t contain.
His father gripped his bicep firmly and tugged him upright. “Get to your feet. Now, boy!”
Samuel stood, shakily, and wiped at his eyes. He was ashamed of the tears, but he couldn’t seem to stop them.
“You listen to me! You will go down that ladder and walk to the road, and you jus’ keep on walkin’. I don’t want you on this farm no more. Because if I catch you sinnin’ again, I can’t answer for what I’ll do. And I don’t need that on my conscience. Do you understand me?”
Samuel hitched in a breath and stared at his father in disbelief. He wiped a sleeve over his eyes again as if he couldn’t trust his own senses. “But… but Da….”
“I mean it!” His father’s face, his voice, were flat and merciless. “Take your coat and hat and be gone with ye. Here.” His father dropped the switch, fished out his wallet, his mouth set in a white line, and took out a bunch of twenty-dollar bills. He shoved them into Samuel’s hand. “Take this and don’t never come back! I wash my hands of you.”
Da turned and went down the ladder, not looking at Samuel again.
Samuel’s ears were buzzing. His back throbbed and stung like it had been run through a thresher. His head swam. Nothing felt real, and yet surely this was too awful to be a dream. Surely the dream world was not so stark nor so cruel. He picked up his shirt and his black wool coat and black hat from where he’d lain it to the side earlier, before his world commenced to shatter. He stood for a moment, holding the clothes. He didn’t want to put the shirt on. It was white, and it would quickly stain with the blood he felt on his skin. But he couldn’t very well go walking down the road in March half-naked.
He put the shirt on, breathing through the pain as the movement stretched tortured skin. Then he put on his coat and placed the hat on his head, smoothing his long hair behind his ears with shaking fingers. He wiped the tears and snot from his face, swallowed the ache in his throat, and gingerly climbed down the ladder. The rough wood of the rungs felt too solid under his palms, the moment too important. I’ve climbed this ladder a million times since I was a little ’un. I’ll never climb it again.
When he reached the driveway, he looked back at the farmhouse. He expected to see his mother or Matthew or Eliza, anyone. Surely someone would come out to say Where are you going, Samuel? What’s wrong? We’ll talk Da ’round, you’ll see. But there was no sound from the house, and no movement except the flutter of a curtain as someone stepped back away from the window.
Da was keeping them inside. He wouldn’t let them come.
Your foot’s not the abomination! You are!
His heart shrank in his chest, withdrawing into the furthest reaches of his rib cage like an abused dog hiding in a doghouse. Abomination. He’d been cast out, sure to be shunned by the bishop. His family, Ma, Matthew, Jane, Sarah, Eliza, all his older brothers and sisters, cousins… they were all lost to him. He had nothing and no one. Dazed and in shock, Samuel turned and walked to the road. His normally mild limp, caused by his twisted foot, was exaggerated due to the agony of his back. He pathetically swung from side to side.
He turned right at the end of the driveway. And he kept walking.
Having been, at various times and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal thrillers, a fan fiction writer, an organic farmer, and a profound sleeper, Eli is happy these days writing love stories.
As an avid reader of such, she is tinkled pink when an author manages to combine literary merit, vast stores of humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with her husband, three bulldogs, two cows, a cat, and a pot belly pig. She enjoys reading in all genres and, when she can be pried away from her ipad, hiking and biking.
Eli Easton has published 24 books in m/m romance since 2013. She won the Rainbow Award for Best Contemporary Romance in 2014 (The Mating of Michael) and in 2016 (A Second Harvest). Her Howl at the Moon series of humorous dog shifter romances have become fan favorites and placed in the Rainbow Awards and the Goodreads M/M Group Reader’s Choice awards. She is best known for romances with humor and a lot of heart.
Her website is www.elieaston.com
Ebook copy of “A Second Harvest” (first Men of Lancaster County book)