Today I am so pleased to welcome Ari McKay to Joyfully Jay. Ari has come to talk to us about her latest release, Key Change. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!


Hello, everyone!

First I want to give a big thanks to Jay for giving me space on the Blog today. I’m so glad to be back after a fairly long dry spell with a new book! We’re really happy to introduce you all to Key Change, a part of Road to Rocktoberfest 2023. It’s also a story set in the Herc’s Mercs universe!

There’s a reason beyond just the release of this book that I’m happy about. A long, long time ago, Rachel and I wrote a little bitty short story called Changing the Things You Can, about a rockstar and a baker who get together as the rocker is mourning the death of his best friend. As much as we loved the idea behind the story, 12K words just wasn’t enough to get our teeth into the story we really wanted to write, but that was the limit for the submission, so that’s what we wrote. Then when we got the rights to the story back, instead of republishing it immediately (which we did with almost everything else we got back from that publisher), we sat on it. Because we wanted to rewrite it and make it bigger and better.

So what did we do? Yeah. We sat it aside and didn’t do anything with it. For FOUR YEARS.

Fortunately for us, TL Travis started soliciting books for the third year of Road to Rocktoberfest. I saw the call and immediately jumped on it, because… perfect, right? Well, not exactly, because that meant we had to actually look at a story that was nearly 10 years old by that point and figure out how to make it better. Because during those 10 years we’d not only learned a lot, we’d written a lot. As we were trying to figure out how to tie things in with Rocktoberfest, and wondering how to get a small-town baker from NC out to Nevada, Rachel had a brilliant idea — instead of a baker, why not make the other MC a bodyguard? You see, we’d written this little series of books called Herc’s Mercs, and after 8 novels, we’d set it aside for other projects. And just like that, the whole thing came together — Rocktoberfest, our short story, and the Mercs that are so near to our hearts! Actually writing it presented a few problems of its own, but we made it through, and we really hope you will give it a try!

Thanks for spending a little time with me today and letting me ramble on about writing — and don’t be shy, comment if you’d like, and I’m always available on the Book of Faces! Thanks again to Jay — I hope to be back again in the near future with another release and excerpt for everyone!


The drive from Raleigh to Beaufort on the coast was uneventful. Devon spent the entire ride staring out the passenger window, so lost in his own world that he responded to Michael’s questions about how he was and if he needed anything with vague noises that were an acknowledgment, but not an answer. Eventually, Michael fell silent and focused on the road, keeping a watchful eye out for any vehicle that seemed like it might be tailing them–other than the one Mojo and his team were in, of course.

The closer they got to Beaufort, the more his stomach had knotted up, even after he received confirmation from the surveillance team already stationed at the Bailey house that the street was quiet. Only once they were inside could Michael relax, and he felt better knowing he wasn’t solely responsible for Devon’s safety for a while.

“Devon, you’re home,” he said, keeping his voice low and soothing, and he rested his hand on Devon’s shoulder. “You’ll be safe here. I’ve made sure of that.”

He paused, waiting–hoping–for a response this time. Devon didn’t answer at first, but he drew in a deep breath, so Michael pushed a little harder. “Come on, Dev. I know you hurt, but no one is here now but me. Please, Dev. Come back.”

The grandfather clock in the foyer began the familiar tones of “Westminster Chimes”. Michael wasn’t sure if it was his words or the sound of the clock that made Devon respond, but Michael could feel Devon’s muscles tense beneath his hand. Devon turned his head, looking up at him with blue eyes that were dark and clouded with pain.

“Chad’s really dead?” he asked, his voice so low and soft that Michael as much read Devon’s lips as heard him speak the words.

Michael’s heart broke anew over the deep grief he saw in Devon’s eyes, and he tightened his fingers on Devon’s shoulder.

“Yeah.” His voice was almost a whisper. “I’m sorry, Dev. He’s gone.”

Devon scrubbed his face with his hands, then covered his eyes. “I’ve wondered for years if this was how it would end. But I hoped, you know? God, I hoped.”

“You did everything you could,” Michael said, although he doubted Devon could accept that idea yet. “He made his choices.”

“Yeah. Choices.” Devon drew in a deep, shuddering breath, then dropped his hands and looked back up at Michael. His eyes were red-rimmed, as though he was holding back tears. “For a long time now, I’ve thought that things would have been better if we’d made different choices.” His lips twisted. “The money and the fame weren’t worth his life. Nothing is worth losing your life.”

“Money and fame didn’t shove pills down his throat.” The words came out sharper than Michael intended, but he didn’t want Devon to spiral into guilt over what-ifs, especially when the only person to blame for what happened was Chad himself.

Devon shrugged. “No, but… you know, things happened that made him feel he needed the pills. Things we did as a band. Things I did as a friend. Or didn’t do.” He closed his eyes, and tears spilled down his cheeks. “It hurts. God, it hurts.”

Michael forced himself to bite back everything he wanted to say. Devon wasn’t anywhere near the right emotional state to hear it, and Michael doubted anything would stick right now anyway, not while Devon was still in shock. Instead, he slid his arms around Devon and gently tugged him into a warm embrace, offering a safe place for him to pour out his grief.

At first Devon was stiff and still against him, but then he went almost limp, laying his head against Michael’s shoulder. His breath hitched raggedly, and then his shoulder trembled as he cried, his tears soaking into Michael’s shirt as his sorrow finally overcame the shock. Michael simply held him and rubbed his back while his grief ran its course. Michael couldn’t do anything to take away the pain, but he could lend his strength and support–and he would, for as long as Devon needed it.


Sometimes what seems to be the end of the music is just the time for a key change.

As front man for supergroup Queen Anne’s Revenge, Devon Bailey has a string of hit songs, has traveled the world, and has everything he could possibly want–or so the rest of the world thinks. Behind the scenes, however, Devon’s life is far emptier than anyone could imagine.

With his band scheduled as headliners at Rocktoberfest to kick off their latest world tour, Devon tries to maintain the illusion of perfection. But he’s deep in the closet, QAR’s drummer is battling addiction, and his bandmates seem to think Devon should have all the answers. When the unthinkable happens, Devon’s life is plunged into chaos, and all he wants is to escape the pressure.

Michael Ford has had a crush on Devon ever since he was hired as a bodyguard, but professional integrity demands he keep his feelings in check. However, Michael doesn’t hesitate to offer respite when Devon is overwhelmed by tragedy. Between the paparazzi on the prowl, grieving family hurling accusations, and Devon’s battle with his own demons, will the attraction between them have the chance to develop into something more?


Ari McKay and Rachel Langella are the professional pseudonyms 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.

Ari McKay is a retired systems engineer turned full-time writer and seamstress. 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.

Rachel Langella is a creative writing teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She loves all things spooky and/or vintage, and she’s given in to Ari’s corruptive influences and learned to sew so she can make her own vintage-style clothes and costumes. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Ari to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.

FILED UNDER: Excerpt, Guest Post