Today I am so pleased to welcome Lisa Henry & J.A. Rock to Joyfully Jay. Lisa & J.A. have come to share an exclusive excerpt from their upcoming release, The Preacher’s Son. They have also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving them a big welcome!
Hi! We’re Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock, and we’re excited to introduce you to our new novel, THE PREACHER’S SON, a story about gray areas and how we struggle to forgive the people who hurt us. We’ve brought an exclusive excerpt for you. THE PREACHER’S SON is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, and will be released 1/16!
It had started Friday night when Nathan had visited UW Tacoma. Jason, a senior, had gone to a party hosted by a group of juniors. Most of the prospective students had been there, including Nathan Tull. Jason had known immediately who he was—everyone in Pinehurst knew the Tulls, and Aunt Rose was a churchgoer, after all. But did Nathan know who Jason was? Jason wasn’t a churchgoer, and Nathan had been homeschooled. They’d never spoken. Bigsby had introduced them, in a casual, “Hey, Jason, aren’t you from Pinehurst too?” and suddenly they were in an awkward conversation, because I hate your father and everything he represents wasn’t exactly something Jason could use as an icebreaker.
Nathan had been so nervous and shy, so patently out of his depth in the real world, that Jason had warmed to him. And then he’d noticed the way that Nathan’s gaze had kept dropping from his eyes to his mouth, and then lower down to his groin.
It was so wonderfully absurd that Jason had wanted to burst out laughing: Nathan Tull was gay! How was that for karma, Reverend Pray-The-Gay-Away Tull? And then the germ of an idea took hold in some dark place in Jason’s head.
Reverend Tull’s son was gay. Reverend Tull was a hypocrite and a liar. The whole world should know. The whole world should see.
“Do you want to get out of here?” he’d asked after a while.
Nathan had jerked his head in a nod. “Sure.”
They’d gone for a walk around campus. They’d talked about the school. About the countries Jason had visited. And eventually about Nathan’s father.
“Why don’t you tell him?” Jason had asked casually. They were standing near the Russell T. Joy building—the last of Tacoma’s defunct warehouse blocks to be renovated as university buildings. Jason had photographed the building from every angle over the years. In the nineteenth century, it had housed companies that made wood stoves, candy, gloves, Studebaker wagons, and more. It wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but Jason had been determined to find ways to photograph it that would bring that history to life.
Nathan’s gaze had shifted to him, wary. “Tell him what?”
“You’re gay, aren’t you?”
Nathan had stared at him as though Jason had made a sword cut across his belly, too clean and sudden for it to even have started bleeding yet.
“It’s okay,” Jason had said. “I am too. And I assumed we were flirting?”
“I…” Nathan had said.
“It’s okay. Really.”
They’d kissed, by the building with all its ghosts. Nathan’s lips were soft and a little dry, his hand hovering just above Jason’s shoulder, sweetly hesitant. The next day, Nathan had bailed on a tour of the admissions office to have coffee with Jason. That afternoon, while Nathan was interviewing with the dean, Jason had set up the webcam in the bookcase. And that night, he’d taken Nathan to dinner at Noodles-2-Go, and then invited him back to his place.
Jason had been so anxious on the way there he’d nearly run over a group of students heading to an early Halloween party. He’d stopped at a corner store on the pretext of buying coffee and tea, when what he really needed was an opportunity to collect himself.
Back in the car, he’d been all easy smiles and jokes. A teasing hand on Nathan’s thigh, moving steadily up. Eying the growing bulge in the front of Nathan’s jeans, his own dick getting hard. The Reverend Tull’s son…
What did the collateral damage matter when it was for the greater good?
And it was for the greater good.
Jason had told himself that then, and he told himself that now. The best journalism served both the journalist and the public.
He’d done Pinehurst a mercy, even if the town couldn’t—never would—see it that way.
He scowled and tossed another stone over the cliff and waited, imagining he’d could hear it echo.
What had changed? Jason’s story had spurred protest against the camp by civil liberties groups and LGBTQ organizations—but it had also brought forth an impenetrable wall of support for the Tulls from the Pinehurst community. The reverend could do no wrong here; he was loved and respected, and his camp wasn’t some Medieval torture den where kids were electroshocked into heterosexuality.
There was much more outrage and contempt for Jason—even from progressives. God, especially from progressives. In the end, you couldn’t even call the reverend a hypocrite for running a gay conversion camp and having a closeted gay son. Because once the reverend had found out about Nathan, he’d shown nothing but love, patience, and understanding as he’d worked with his son to overcome this “hurdle”. The Tulls were the victims here, while Jason was the sleazebag who’d recorded sex with a barely legal kid and used the footage to wreck his life. Jason’s motives hadn’t mattered.
What Jason hadn’t realized right away was just how much trouble he could face for his breach of ethics. Suddenly there was talk of the Tulls suing for damages. Not just a suit against Jason, but against The New Star, a borderline tabloid that marketed itself as “news with an edge,” and had published Jason’s story about the camp. The New Star had run one of the less explicit stills of Jason and Nathan. And not-so-subtly hinted that a video could be found online.
At the time, Jason had been buddies with a law student named—well, Buddy. Buddy had taken great pleasure in detailing exactly what could happen to Jason if the Tulls pressed charges. “Dude, they could sue you for everything you have.”
“I don’t have anything.”
“Pfff. The courts’ll find stuff to take from you to make up the difference. And are you sure the kid was eighteen when you nailed him? Because they could get you for making child porn too.”
“What the fuck? I didn’t make porn.”
“You made a sex tape. That’s porn.”
“No way.” Though Jason was at a loss to explain how it was different. “I wasn’t going to…to sell it or anything.”
“Way.” Buddy had pushed on. “They could also have you on sexual abuse…rape and sodomy if he was under sixteen…though I guess they could have you on sodomy anyway.”
“He was eighteen.”
“How do you know?”
“He…” Told me?
Jason hadn’t even asked. Nate was visiting colleges. Which you didn’t do unless you were at least sixteen, right? So Jason had assumed… But holy fuck, what were the laws? Age of consent was sixteen in Washington, but Jason wasn’t sure how much of an age difference between partners was legally permissible.
“He was,” Jason insisted, trying not to throw up. “We’re from the same town. I knew how old he was.”
“Dude.” Buddy shook his head. “You’re an idiot.”
Maybe so. There was a lot Jason hadn’t considered. He’d only wanted to show that Reverend Tull couldn’t “cure” his own son, much less all of Washington’s gay and lesbian teens. Wasn’t history full of dubious but effective journalism? Sure, you ended up with scandals, like ACORN or whatever, but Jason was fine with controversy. What he wasn’t fine with was going to jail, or being sued for money he didn’t have. Or murdered by an angry mob. And part of him, cocky and young and wanting to believe that he had just launched a brilliant career, not destroyed all hope of one, had refused to process the reality of the situation. He wasn’t going to be sued. He was a college student for fuck’s sake. He was a journalist. He had a right to free expression.
“And Nathan Tull had a right to privacy,” Buddy said, clapping Jason on the back.
“What about my privacy?” Jason had grumbled. The death threats and propositions came in equal measures: Like you to fuck me like you fucked that Tull kid.
I’ve got a story for you to investigate.
Breaking news, cunt: You’re a dead man.
Where can I get the full length video? I’ll pay premium.
You wanna make this little fag scream for Jesus?
Back in Pinehurst for winter break, he’d seen firsthand what an interest the media had taken in the prospect of the Tulls’ retaliation. He’d been approached by reporters at UW Tacoma, but a terse “no comment” had usually gotten them to back off. In Pinehurst, he had reporters follow him to his car, wait for him outside restaurants, camp out in front of Rose’s house… He’d started to get scared then—really scared—though he’d never have admitted it.
But Reverend Tull had come forward and publicly put a stop to rumors that the family would file a civil suit. “What good would it do?” the reverend had asked in an interview. “It won’t restore my son’s privacy. It won’t make people unsee what they’ve seen. It will only cause more acrimony. I’ve known this young man, Jason Banning, for a long time. I’ve known his family. I believe that he has made a mistake. That he deserves a second chance.”
That had pissed Jason off royally. Reverend Tull didn’t know him, not at all. And he didn’t need a “second chance” from the pompous fucker. He ought to be getting a fucking award for exposing what bullshit the camp was. Instead, he was a leper, and the reverend got to play the benevolent god, allowing Jason to go on with his life instead of trying to ruin him.
Jason didn’t want to be in the Tulls’ debt.
He’d wondered about Nathan. If Nathan had agreed with his father that going after Jason wouldn’t change anything. If he had been prepared to turn the other cheek.
In the end, all the story had gotten Jason was near fanatical support from a leftwing nutjob group called Civil Liberties for All. They’d admired his tactics— “there aren’t any true muckrakers anymore!”—they’d lambasted Moving Forward, and, when Jason’s reputation couldn’t recover from the scandal, they’d helped him get to Afghanistan as a freelance photographer for their news blog.
It had gotten his shinbone blown to shards.
He stayed at the lookout point until it was completely dark and a welcome silence set in, and he saw bats flying over the gorge. He tried not to think about anything, but it all came to him in a rough and desolate flood: A brown and endless desert. Soft light on the mountains. The nights he’d lain awake worrying about what would happen to Aunt Rose if he didn’t make it home. That nagging, prickling feeling that had started just after his first year that maybe he didn’t want to make it home. The thought of Zac and Zoner and the car with the Our Family decal on it became heavy enough to slow him down when he ran, when he spoke. Part of him still believed he’d have somehow noticed and bypassed the IED if his brain and body hadn’t been slogging through that promise of domesticity and normalcy thick as the dust in the air.
Sand in his lungs, trapped in the sweat on his skin. Trying to pass time in the hospital thinking about something besides the pain. Thinking about Nathan, and drawing forth a new kind of pain.
He snapped around at the sound of laughter somewhere to his right. A man and a woman. He wondered briefly if it was Nathan and Marissa, but the laugh was too deep to be Nathan’s. The sound died away, and Jason went back to thinking about wars that could never be won. The slide of shoes on stones as people scrambled toward what they thought they wanted—some warped idea of freedom or justice or safety or love.
You tried to do a good thing, and it exposed some part of you—some dark and ruthless part that existed outside of morality. That had never known goodness at all.
Nate had tried to sneak past the study door, but his dad had ears like a bat. So Nate plastered a smile on his face and pushed open the door. “I thought you’d be in bed by now. It’s late.”
“Just going through the admission interviews.” His father rubbed his eyes.
“Isaac?” Nate asked, thinking of the unhappy kid.
“Leanne did the interview,” his dad said with a sigh. “And she’s a good woman. Sharp as a tack. It’s not like her to miss anything, so I have to wonder if this unwillingness is new to young Isaac. Maybe he’s been receiving some bad guidance from others.”
Nate nodded. These kids were all computer-savvy. There wasn’t a corner of the internet they didn’t feel at home on. And there were plenty of people out there willing to shout from the rooftops that Reverend Tull was some sort of evil bigot, that his camp brainwashed innocent kids. It hurt Nate to read stuff like that. His father loved these kids, and only wanted the best for them. He wanted them to live according to God’s plan. He wanted to help them walk that difficult path, and safeguard their souls. How could that be wrong?
His father tapped his fingers on the desk. Smiled—tiredly but with a sincerity that made Nate feel safe. “Still, enough about that. How was your night?”
“Good.” The word sounded hollow.
Saw Jason Banning.
I hate him. I shouldn’t hate him, but I do. He betrayed me. If I’d stayed strong, stayed righteous, he wouldn’t have been able to do that. It’s my fault, my sin. But I hate him because it hurt.
Another lie, but Nate didn’t know how to explain it to himself, let alone his father. How lately Marissa’s company made him itch, like he was desperate to put some space between them. How every little irritation was suddenly bigger than it had any right to be, all because of Nate’s own bad mood. He ought to have been forgiving of her sins, not cataloging them.
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
She’d forgiven him for Jason. What did it matter if she took the Lord’s name in vain or playfully wished a bunch of douchebags would fall off a cliff? Marissa’s sins would never—never—be as terrible as Nate’s.
His dad stood up from his desk and walked around it. He knew. He always knew when Nate was stumbling. He put a hand on Nate’s shoulder and drew him close. Held him, and rubbed his back.
“It’s okay, Nate,” he said. “I love you. God loves you. You’re stronger than your phantoms.”
Nate was scared that wasn’t true. He was scared that in a year, in ten years, in twenty, he’d still be working here at the camp, married to Marissa, his skin itching all the time, while he slowly grew to hate her as much as he hated himself. He was scared he was using her, when she deserved someone who wanted her for herself, for all her faults, not just someone who wanted her because he thought he ought to. He loved her, as a friend, but he wasn’t blind. He’d seen other young couples, and there was an energy between them, a spark, that he and Marissa didn’t share. Was it so wrong to question God’s plan for them?
Of course it was. It was questioning God’s plan that had landed him in Jason’s bed in the first place.
“I saw Jason tonight,” he said at last, and his father’s grip tightened, as though he suddenly feared Nate was falling away. Nate squeezed his eyes shut.
“How did that make you feel?”
“I don’t know.” Hurt. Angry. Ashamed. Stupid, because underneath everything a sick, rebellious part of him had reacted in a different way. Had been pleased to see Jason again. Safe, alive, handsome. Stupid, because Nate wasn’t the same kid he’d been that weekend at UW. He wasn’t dizzy with fear and hope, both pressing on his chest so hard he could barely breathe. Stupid, because Jason had set a trap for him and he’d dived straight in. Stupid, because he hated Jason Banning, but still shivered in the middle of the night when he remembered the way Jason had touched him. “I don’t feel strong.”
“But you are.” His father released him. His eyes were dark with concern. “You are. You must believe that, Nate. The Lord tests us, but He loves us. He doesn’t set us up to fail, Nate. He knows you’re stronger than the phantoms.”
Nate didn’t know if he believed that. He was just so tired of fighting this battle, so tired of the constant fear of backsliding—like one of those alcoholics you heard about who hadn’t touched a drop in twenty years before going on a bender for no reason at all. Once a sickness like that was in you, once it was eating away at your soul, you never got rid of it. You never recovered from it. A thing like that didn’t go back in its box at all.
“You’re tired,” his father said, showing him a worried frown. “Go on and get some sleep. We’ll talk again in the morning.”
“I’m sorry,” Nate murmured.
“You have nothing to be sorry for. You’re a good man. You’re doing your very best, and that’s all anyone can ask of you. Even Him upstairs.”
Nate managed a small smile at that. “Thanks, Dad.”
His father hugged him again. “I love you, Nate.”
Nate’s throat ached with unshed tears. “I love you too.”
Jason Bannon is a wreck. His leg’s been blown to hell in Afghanistan, his boyfriend just left him and took the dog, and now he’s back in his hometown of Pinehurst, Washington, a place that holds nothing but wretched memories…and Nathan Tull. Nathan Tull, whose life Jason ruined. Nathan Tull, who will never believe Jason did what he did for a greater good. Nathan Tull, whose reverend father runs the gay conversion therapy camp that Jason once sought to bring down—at any cost.
Nathan Tull is trying to live a quiet life. Four years ago, when Nate was a prospective student visiting UW, his world collapsed when senior Jason Bannon slept with him, filmed it, and put the footage online. A painful public outing and a crisis of faith later, Nate has finally begun to heal. Cured of the “phantoms” that plagued him for years, he now has a girlfriend, a counselor job at his dad’s camp, and the constant, loving support of his father.
But when he learns Jason is back in town, his carefully constructed identity begins to crumble. As desperate to reconcile his love for God with his attraction to men as Jason is to make sense of the damage he’s done, Nate finds himself walking a dangerous line. On one side lies the righteous life he committed himself to in the wake of his public humiliation. On the other is the sin he committed with Jason Bannon, and the phantoms that won’t let him be. But is there a path that can bridge those two worlds—where his faith and his identity as a gay man aren’t mutually exclusive?
And can he walk that path with the man who betrayed him?
About J.A. Rock
J.A. Rock is the author of over twenty LGBTQ romance and suspense novels, as well as an occasional contributor to HuffPo Queer Voices. J.A.’s books have received Lambda Literary, INDIE, and EPIC Award nominations, and 24/7 was named one of the best books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. J.A. lives in Chicago with an extremely judgmental dog, Professor Anne Studebaker.
- Website: www.jarockauthor.com
- Blog: http://jarockauthor.blogspot.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/jarockauthor
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ja.rock.39
About Lisa Henry
Lisa Henry likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied history and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
She shares her house with too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.
- Website: www.lisahenryonline.com
- Blog: http://lisahenryonline.blogspot.com.au
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/LisaHenryOnline
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lisa.henry.1441
Lisa and JA have brought a backlist book to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Friday, January 12th at 11:59 pm ET.
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