I have been on a dark romance kick (what else is new?), so when I found the Necessary Evils Series and read the blurb to Unhinged, I knew I found my next read. It’s one of those concepts that I read and immediately wished I had come up with myself. It’s very creative. Full disclosure: I’m already over halfway through the second book in this series: Psycho.
This review will contain small spoilers.
Book Trigger Warnings: Sex Trafficking, Child Sex Trafficking, Child Abuse, Molestation, Childhood Trauma, Psychopathy, Violence, and Torture. In my opinion, none of this is really in any graphic detail (except maybe the violence). Honestly, I’ve written worse.
Adam Mulvaney lives a double life. By day, he’s the spoiled youngest son of an eccentric billionaire. By night, he’s an unrepentant killer, one of seven psychopaths raised to right the wrongs of a justice system that keeps failing.
Noah Holt has spent years dreaming of vengeance for the death of his father, but when faced with his killer, he learns a daunting truth he can’t escape. His father was a monster.
Unable to ignore his own surfacing memories, Noah embarks on a quest to find the truth about his childhood with the help of an unlikely ally: the very person who murdered his father. Since their confrontation, Adam is obsessed with Noah, and he wants to help him uncover the answers he seeks, however dark they may be.
The two share a mutual attraction, but deep down, Noah knows Adam’s not like other boys. Adam can’t love. He wasn’t born that way. But he refuses to let Noah go, and Noah’s not sure he wants him to.
Can Adam prove to Noah that passion, power, and protection are just as good as love?
Unhinged is a fast-paced, roller coaster ride of a romance with an HEA and no cliffhangers. It features a dirty-talking, possessive psychopath and a sweet cinnamon roll of a boy with Daddy issues and a core of steel. There’s gratuitous violence, very dark humor, enough steam to fog up a hundred car windows, and something a lot like love. This is book one in the Necessary Evils series. Each book follows a different couple.
I really enjoyed this book. The concept is just fascinating to me. It was one of those that I wish I had come up with myself. In this book, you get right into the two main characters meeting, which I very much apricated.
Adam is a bit of a spoiled rich kid who has gotten by on his good looks and his father’s money. He is a good-looking, devil-may-care model, but what he does behind the lens of the camera is a different story. He is a psychopath, and he, along with his brothers, are vigilantes. He kills people who do evil things but these people are somehow either above the law or the law just simply can’t catch them. I must admit, I was way more interested in Adam’s brothers than I was him.
Noah is the son of one of Adam’s victims. When he confronts Adam one night for his crime against his father, Adam shows him who is father really was which unlocks memories that Noah had repressed. These memories lead Adam and Noah into a dark world where Noah and many other children were the victims.
I thought this story would have worked better as a slow-burn. Their instant attraction to each other didn’t really make a whole lot of sense. The way James explains Adam’s desires for Noah is almost… supernatural? It’s reminiscent of supernatural beings who have found their mate, but Adam isn’t a werewolf. I found the explanation a bit odd, but I went with it. There was lots of steam in-between the action.
I wouldn’t describe this book as particularly angsty, especially when it comes to their relationship. A lot of their conflict comes from outside sources. There was no will-they-won’t-they questions. You knew from the beginning that they would. The conflict revolved around the mystery that was unfolding about Noah’s past.
The one thing that really annoyed me about this book is that Noah acted really out at one point for no real good reason other than to move the plot along. If James would have added a few lines about the reason as to why Noah acted out of character, then it would have made sense. The other thing that bothered is how quickly they fell for each other. The blurb made it seem like a slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers, type deal but it was the opposite. Everything with their relationship happened really quickly which seemed really unrealistic to me.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend you read it if you can handle the triggers that it contains. I must admit, I am enjoying the second one way more. I am looking forward to doing a review on it in the coming weeks.
A month ago, I signed up to receive an ARC for Willow Erdem’s upcoming book, Wilde & Twisted which will be released 7/7/2021. It is an m/m romance novel about battling your demons, discovering your sexuality and falling in love. Erdem has a poetic way of writing. She has a way with metaphors, really drawing the reader into the scene. She writes third person, split POV and present tense, which is something we seem to.
Silver-tongued lawyer, Linus Twist, has expensive tastes. The sharpest suits, the purest drugs, and the dirtiest sex; Linus wants it all in excess, especially the sex, and especially with the wrong types of men. So when he impetuously follows a foxy redhead into the gym shower and gets kissed like it means something, Linus knows he’s headed for certain disaster.
Finnigan Wilde is a dreamer, a wanna-be novelist, searching for himself. In love with the idea of love, Finn only knows what he feels. He woos Linus with lilacs, speaks to him in filthy poetry, and touches him like he doesn’t care who’s watching. But can Linus set aside his sinister tendencies, his ambition, and one vital fact: that, as far as the world is concerned, Finn is straight?
Wilde & Twisted is a bisexual-awakening, opposites-attract novel, with a happily-ever-after.
I must admit, when I first picked this book up, it took several chapters for it to really hook me. I am sincerely glad I stuck with it though because the story was worth it. At first, I didn’t like Linus (fucking) Twist at all. He was pompous, arrogant, and his actions didn’t really make sense to me. After I was finally introduced to Finn Wilde, and his character really drew me in.
Finn is an aspiring writer (relatable) who works as a trainer. He is a cupcake. That’s literally the one way he can be described. He is young and dumb, and doesn’t always make the best decisions, but who does? He is really sweet and patient. He deserves the world even though he pissed me off a few times.
Linus is a divorce attorney that is very clearly good at his job. Even though I hated him at first, he grew on me. After I started understanding his past more, I found myself forgiving of his all around asshole-ness (yes that’s totally a word). He is caring in his own way and very protective over the people he loves even though he doesn’t always know how to show it. Without spoiling it, I was very proud of a decision he made near the end. It was much needed.
This book has it all. Steam. Poetry. Fucked up, imperfectly perfect characters that you hate to love. My favorite kind of stories are about imperfect people. Real people have flaws. It’s important that they grow and own up to them in the story, which is exactly what happened. I appreciated the character growth. It was a Wilde (& Twisted) ride, but I would recommend it in the end.
I see you out and about, roaming the baby aisle at Target with a purpose while I go through those isle, looking at the contents with longing. You pat your belly, picking up various items, inspecting them with a huge smile on your face. Occasionally you’ll show your significant other, and you will discuss pros and cons.
A part of me hates you, but then I instantly feel guilty because the truth of the matter is, I don’t know your story. You could have gone through years and years of infertility like me, only to end up spending your life savings on IVF for it to work for you, or you could have gotten pregnant by accident, the result of a night coated with inhibreation and lose inhibitions.
I don’t know you so I shouldn’t hate you, but I do. I know it’s jealousy, the envy that lives deep inside of us all coming to the surface. I hate it, but I don’t really know how to stop it. I just… I want to be in the baby aisle of Target with a purpose. I want to bicker with my husband about the pros and cons of a certain brand of diaper. I want that, but the American healthcare system has failed me. It’s failed us all really.
Maybe you are one of the people who spent your life savings on a chance to be a mother. If you are, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the healthcare in our country is so fucked up that you have to spend somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 dollars just to become a mother. I’m sorry that it cost twice that to adopt.
At this point, I have been told that IVF is really our last option, but my husband and I cannot afford it. We don’t have any kind of savings. We don’t have anyone to help us. We have nothing in this battle. Just like everything else in this country, if you’re not rich then you don’t matter. Your wants and needs do not matter.
My insurance is more than happy to cover limp-dick syndrome but it covers 0% of infertility cost. That’s right ZERO. Meaning, every single procedure I’ve had in regards to infertility has been paid for out of pocket or billed to me with a lovely little bow. Each IUI cost somewhere between 300 and 500 dollars. That seems like chump change in comparison to the cost of IVF. IUIs haven’t worked though. Nothing works, and IVF isn’t a guarantee.
So, I guess I will just stand in the baby aisle of Target, looking at the merchandise with longing. I guess I will continue to feel like a failure in this world because my body cannot do the one thing that it is biologically supposed to be capable of. I cannot give life, only death.
So please, Stranger, cherish your pregnancy and baby. Cherish motherhood with everything you have because some of us are forced to just view it from a distance. Some of us aren’t gifted with the ability to create and hold life. Some of us are just wastelands of dust and sorrow.
I’m so excited to reveal the cover for the second book! The eBook is already available for preorder on Amazon!
Special thank you to Bibi and Daria for making this cover come to life. They will also be working on the third and fourth, which I am so excited for.
Luka Thomas is leading a double life. Publicly, he is a God-fearing Christian with a loving girlfriend. What happens in the shadows of his reality tells a different story. Because of one boy, he has begun to question everything.
Harlan Sharp promised himself he wouldn’t fall for Luka, but he doesn’t know how to stop it. Each kiss, each touch, each gentle caress they share only leads him further toward revealing the secrets of his past and bearing his scars.
The nature of their relationship must be hidden from everyone. If they are caught, Luka will be kicked out of his family’s house and disowned. He will lose everything. It’s a sin that Luka isn’t ready to confess. He can try to keep his secret from everyone, but God is all-knowing. This limbo can’t last forever.
The Take me to Church Series is a real depiction of falling in love in high school as a gay teen amidst the rampant homophobia of the south and the mental health issues many people face. It’s explicit in the ways that life is. It’s raw, beautiful and real. Readers will scream in anger and cry in pain but also laugh in joy and healing as they grow with these characters.
Sweetness In Innocence will be released August 10, 2021! Follow me on my social medias below for more content such as sneak peeks, giveaways, and more!
I had a dream last night. It wasn’t a nightmare in the traditional sense. It didn’t leave me screaming or jumping out of bed with my heart pounding in fright. It was a bad dream, though. It left me feeling sad with a sense of hopelessness and loss. I’m a logical person. I know it was a dream, but I couldn’t shake it. I spent my morning trying to hold back tears every time I thought about it.
I dreamed that you had gotten back together with your ex-wife. I was still a part of the relationship because we do have an open marriage. In my dream, she had gotten pregnant a few weeks into your renewed relationship. I overheard you both whispering about it excitedly, talking about your dreams and hopes for the baby’s future. In the dream, I laid bawling in the adjacent room, praying you couldn’t hear me. You had finally gotten everything you wanted, and I couldn’t give it to you.
I know this is a dream. I know that your ex-wife actually had her tubes tied, and you wouldn’t ever renew that relationship. It was what the dream was truly about that really bothered me. You see, I know deep down inside, you could easily go find a woman that can give you something I can’t: a biological child of your own. The problem has always been with me and my body, not you.
So… what’s stopping you from doing this? I know, I’ve asked you this before. I know I have shared this deep seated fear of mine with you, and you always say that you love me regardless. If it doesn’t happen with me, then you don’t want it to happen at all. I hear you, and it’s not that I don’t believe you. Fears are just… illogical.
I know that if the roles were reversed, I would say the same thing to you. I would feel the same way. I just don’t value myself the same way I value you. My self worth is pretty much non-existent and every time I think about infertility, it diminishes to nothing. Working on valuing myself, whether I’m able to have children or not, is up to me, not you.
I know you’re probably sick of me apologizing by now, but I feel so fucking guilty. I’m sorry I can’t give you what you want. I’m sorry my body is broken. I’m sorry your luck was so shitty, you ended up with someone who couldn’t bear you a child. I’m so fucking sorry. I hate myself, and I wouldn’t blame you if a small part of you hated me too.
It’s truly okay if you do. I am a very understanding person. I do my best to look at things from all perspectives. If one day, you decide you no longer want to be with someone who can’t give you something you want, then how can I blame you? I couldn’t blame you doing something that will make you happy. I would always love you, but I understand you have to do what you must to be happy. I may never be able to make you happy.
It is National Infertility Awareness Week. I started writing this series several weeks ago as a way to deal with all of the loss I have experienced because of infertility. I never intended to publish it, but I thought there was no better week than this one.
I have been very quiet about my struggles, but now it’s time to be open. To any woman reading this who is struggling with infertility, you are not alone. To any woman reading this who has never fought this battle, please understand how hard it is. This series is very raw. Each one features an open letter that I am writing to someone in specific or a group of people.
Content Warning! Topics discussed in this post are as follows: infertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy loss
Dear Pregnant Best Friend,
We initially bonded over the fact that we were both trying to get pregnant. I found out I was pregnant in March then two weeks later, you sent me a picture of your own positive pregnancy test. I was thrilled to have someone to talk to during such a life changing time. We had already talked every day, and now we had so much more to talk about. Your due date was only weeks from mine. We would get to experience this together.
We created a group chat with another person who had the same due date as me. In the group chat, we talked about our pregnancies and our hopes for our unborn children. It was a wonderful environment. We talked every day, and we were so supportive of each other.
When I was 11 weeks along, I messaged you all and explained that I had been cramping with some bloody discharge. I had spoken to my doctor, and she instructed me to go to the ER. I was scared but in good spirits. You both said that you didn’t think it would be anything bad and told me to let you know.
I walked into the ER that night alone. I couldn’t have my husband with me due to Covid restrictions. They admitted me and took me back to a room where they drew some blood for testing. After a while, they wheeled me to another part of the hospital to do an ultrasound.
To say I was excited to finally see my baby is an understatement. I had been wanting to see it for several weeks at that point. I hate that it was under the circumstances, but I was so sure that I would hear a heartbeat. I even asked the sonographer if I could video chat my husband. She said I could but to wait until she started to get a reading.
So I laid on the bed in nervous anticipation. She said I was far enough along to do an external ultrasound and asked me to pull up my hospital gown. She squirted some gel onto my stomach, and it wasn’t as cold as I had anticipated. Maybe I was just too excited to notice. I felt like I was going to throw up as she began to press the probe onto my stomach.
Her face fell, and I immediately knew something was wrong. She explained to me that she didn’t see anything, so she was going to switch to an internal ultrasound. She said maybe my due date was off. I knew it wasn’t, though. I knew the exact day I conceived. My heart dropped, and I held back tears.
I spread my legs, and she placed the wand inside of me. I looked up at the screen, silently begging to hear a heartbeat, any sign of life. I heard nothing. The silence was both heartbreaking and deafening. She said that the sac didn’t look like it developed passed 7 weeks, but she wouldn’t tell me anymore. I knew, though. I knew I was miscarrying and the baby I wanted so badly was dead.
They took me back to my room where I began bawling. I called my husband to tell them what she said, and he cried with me. He couldn’t even touch me. We couldn’t comfort each other because of the pandemic, so I had to tell him over the phone that the baby we wanted was gone. It was the worst moment of my life.
After I hung up, I continued to just cry in the hospital room. I had never felt so alone. I could tell the nurses wanted to comfort me, but they weren’t allowed to make contact due to the restriction set in place by the CDC. They just looked at me with pity in their eyes. I hate pity.
The doctor came in and told me that I was, in fact, miscarrying. He discharged me with some pain relievers and instructions to call my doctor in the morning. I was devastated. I just felt numb. I couldn’t believe it. My mind was racing with all of the people I would have to tell now, all of the hearts I would have to break. That’s the burden of being the woman in this, you’re the first to know when something is wrong. You are always the one that has to deliver the bad news.
I went home and cried with my husband until I finally passed out from exhaustion. The next day I began sending the heartbreaking messages recounting my nightmare from the day before. I told you I was going to leave the group chat because I couldn’t stand the idea of watching you all talk about your healthy pregnancy while I bled. You were understanding. Of course you were because you were an amazing friend, unlike me.
After that, I tried. I tried to keep up with your pregnancy. I tried to talk to you some and make sure you were okay. I liked your post on social media about your sonogram and how you were having a boy. I looked at the pictures from your virtual baby shower then eventually the ones of your newborn. I was so happy for you, but I just can’t force myself to speak to you.
You remind me of everything I lost. You remind me of how absolutely useless I feel as a woman and a wife. You have your family now. You were able to give that to your husband, and motherhood looks so amazing on you. I wasn’t able to do any of that because my body doesn’t know how to do a normal biological function like reproduce. I’m sorry, I’m such a terrible friend. I’m so fucking selfish.
After everything I had been through, I just wanted a happy ending. You got yours while I had to watch mine bleed away.
A Selfish Acquaintance
To read more of our story and donate to our IVF effort, please use the link below:
Oftentimes, dialogue is the most difficult thing to write. It’s hard to make it sound realistic and relatable. As writers, we are told not to write like we speak however, that is difficult when writing dialogue. I get asked a lot how to write it and if I have any tips for people who are trying to write good dialogue. Below are my seven tips to writing dialogue. Yes, seven. I’ve never really liked even numbers.
Write First; Fill in Later
If I have a dialogue based scene or if the dialogue is super fucking important in a particular scene, I always write the dialogue first then fill in the details later. I also call this “bare boning” because it’s essentially the skeleton of the scene, then I add the meat later. I feel this helps me keep their conversation more organic and flow more naturally because I’m not having to constantly pause my thought or the conversation in my head to write what they are doing, physically.
Read it Out Loud
Reading it out loud helps me make sure it sounds organic. I know, personally, I have a habit of never using contractions when I write, but they are absolutely necessary in dialogue. Reading it out loud or to someone else will show any awkward phrases.
Don’t Write like you Speak
I know this may be controversial. My argument is that you aren’t your characters (not really). They probably speak a bit differently than you. They have different experiences. They grew up with different influences than you. They may not even be your age, which means they will probably use different types of slang terminology. Write like your character speaks, not how you speak.
Dialect (AKA Accents)
I have written characters with a southern US accent, and although you can hear it in all of their words (if they were to really speak which they do in my head), I only select a few words to show their accent in the way they talk. Like, instead of dropping all ‘g’s’ on words ending in ‘ing’, I’ll choose one or two to drop in the sentence. I also try to get creative with it. I show their accent or where they are from in the words/phrases they use. Someone from the Sothern US may use phrases like ‘lick of sense’ or ‘down yonder’ while someone from the UK may say ‘lads’ or ‘mates’ instead of friends.
Don’t Write Small Talk
Your reader doesn’t give a single fuck how the weather unless it is pivotal to the plot. If there is a scene with dialogue, every single bit of it should be pivotal to the plot in some way whether it is a reveal or moving it along. If there isn’t a reason for the dialogue, then do not write it. It gets boring.
If it can be Said in Dialogue, Wait Until Dialogue to Say It
Do not reveal anything in the inner monologue. Anything. This keeps your readers guessing about certain character traits. Does your character have a secret? Don’t reveal it until he says it outload. Is the mother of your heroine dead? Let her reveal that information to someone in dialogue. This helps limit the inner monologue your characters have and keeps the readers more in the moment. It also helps you bridge various conversations to one another so you don’t have random spurts to dialogue.
Avoid Long Text of Dialogue
I know this is sometimes difficult if one character is doing most of the talking. I like to break it up with questions. Let me use my two main characters in the Take me to Church Series as my example. If Harlan is telling Luka his story (he does eventually) it would make sense for Harlan to be speaking a lot in that scene. I break it up by having Luka ask him questions and contribute to the conversation.
I hope this was helpful to you in someway! Please let me know if you have any request on other author tips. Come chat with me on my social medias below. I just posted a video on my Instagram where I read the blurb of my book, Cool for the Summer, in a very dramatic way. I plan to continue this series, so come say hello!
Today, we are going to do something a bit different yet exciting! I had the pleasure of interviewing Aila Glass for my blog. She interviewed me as well which you can find here. Aila is an Indie Author with a few books out. She mostly writes romance that is more of the taboo side, which we get into in our interview. Find the links to all of her social medias at the bottom of the post!
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an indie/self published author?
I think the biggest challenge for me, to be honest, is money. I am a bit of a control freak and I love to self publish my books because I have the control that I want but that means I have to buy everything myself and things like an editor I just can’t afford. So if you find typos in my book just know that I tried my best and that I am doing this all by myself. I am really thankful to beta readers for helping me because they will also flag typos as well.
Tell us a line in one of your books that is special to you and why?
“I need her like air, and I am just about done waiting” and “ No sweetness, you are not in trouble. I am” from Dirty Work. These lines made me feel like a legit romance writer. They are from my first book and those lines are what I love to hear in a romance book and the fact that I wrote them means a lot to me. So much so I could just pick one. I couldn’t choose between the two.
Why do you choose to write more ‘taboo’ subjects?
I’ve always read those kinds of books so when it came to writing I wanted to write what I liked to read. I think I like the “you’re not supposed to” kind of feel they have in them. Because it is always people who are like “I want it anyway” I love that attitude.
Have you received any criticism for the taboo topics you write about?
I think my aunt was a little concerned about my books but I would say that my books aren’t known enough to get a lot of people’s opinions, which is great on one hand. So I would say not really. Most people who read my books I think know what they are getting into and if they don’t link it they probably just don’t read it.
When and how did you start writing?
I started writing when I was a kid. I was always writing stories. I just never finished it. Until 202 when I thought since we were in a pandemic and I am unemployed that I would try it. That August I finished my first book and published it. I was so happy. The story meant a lot to me.
What is your biggest piece of advice for those who are just starting on their writing journey?
Write for you. Always. I think people get pretty consumed with “what if people don’t like it?” that they get stressed and it doesn’t become fun anymore. If you always write for you chances are you lift a huge weight off of you. Also, people who read your books might be a lot like you. Your audience and yourself tend to share characteristics so writing for you can hugely benefit you. Your book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Do you plan to branch into different genres in the future?
I have a supernatural/fantasy romance book in the works. I would say judging by the hundred of book outlines I have I have a hard time staying in the lines of “taboo romance” I think a lot of my books have that air to it but I am looking forward to getting into that supernatural vibe.
Do you read the genre you write in?
Most of the time yes. I read a lot of age gap books and “Daddy” books and other books with hints of taboo. I do branch off sometimes.
What book had the biggest impact on you and your writing style?
I don’t know if I could pin it down by a single book but I would say that Alexa Riley had a huge impact. I fell in love with their books. I started writing Dirty Work because of their books. I like their sexy, dirty, and fun atmosphere and they inspired me to write books like that because I also really like reading books like that.
If you had to describe your writing style in three words, what would they be?
Three words-Light, Dirty, and Sweet.
Bonus- Elevator pitch of your upcoming book
So my current work in progress is an age gap, reporter vs CEO. He is a millionaire who is 40 and single. She is a reporter who is 25 and has a boyfriend. But not for long. She ends up interviewing this man and gets a kind of a thing for him. She realized that guys her age don’t know how to treat her right. No cheating. Hot as hell. HEA guarantee.
I wanted the music to be a bit slower to reflect the tone of the series rather than the book. I felt that upbeat music fit this book a bit, but not the series as a whole, so I wanted to go with a slower, more melancholy sound. I wanted it to show the seriousness of the series and set the foundation for what’s ahead. We went though several different sounds. CJ is a saint for putting up with me until we eventually decided on this one. I love the strums of the guitar then the singer coming in with the ‘oooos’. It kind of reminds me of choir music, which is exactly the sound I wanted to go for.
The Opening Scene
I wanted the first scene to reflect Luka’s character and to also show that the story is set in high school. I thought the players running out of a locker room would do just that. Luka plays football through a lot of this story, a football game even coming into play during the end. I thought this particular scene gave a lot of information about his character especially with the lines “they told him he was born sick” laid over the video. That’s the tag line for this book, and it really applies to both male character leads.
The Second Scene
Of course this trailer needed to show an old church. I mean… it’s pretty much a requirement at this point. I think that was one of the things I listed to CJ when she asked what I was looking for. Church is a huge part of this stories as well as the culture that is present in the south that surrounds these Christian communities. I love that it says “being gay is a sin according to his church” here because the church is in the background, and to me it really drives that point home. It’s huge theme of the whole series, believing in a god that you are told will damn you for who you love. The guilt that comes along with it.
The Third Scene
The storm represents the inner turbulence that both characters go through in the book. Luka struggles with his faith and what that means in relation to his attraction to Harlan. In turn, Harlan really struggles with trusting others, especially someone like Luka who reminds him of the very person that betrayed him. I do not shy way from mental health in this series, including in this book, and I think this scene really showcases the turbulence of both the book and the series. The tree in the scene represents growth, and how you need rain, including a storm, in order to grow, which both characters do throughout this book. All of this ties into the line “faith and sexuality will be tested”.
The Fourth Scene
This scene is powerful. A flower is growing among barbed wire with a cross in the background. It shows that even in the worst possible circumstances, with things around them that wants to destroy them, beauty can grow. Despite all of the difficulties of life, with the church watching them, they can still find a way to each other. The reality is that the barbed wire is sharp, and could very easily tear their fragile relationship a part, like a petal being ripped to shreds.
Buy the Book
If this trailer has intrigued you, please take a moment to purchase the book! It is available on many platforms, including Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.
Luka Thomas is a God-fearing Christian. When his family moves to the Bible Belt right before his senior year of high school, he knows he’ll blend right in. Sort of. Being gay is a sin, so he’s not gay. He’s just…experimenting.
Then he meets Harlan Sharp and begins to question everything he knew to be true.
Harlan stopped believing in fairytales when the darkest days of his past left him scarred, angry, and questioning God’s motives. He doesn’t trust anyone, let alone Luka, who reminds Harlan of the very same person who hurt him.
When blatantly ignoring all of Luka’s attempts at conversation doesn’t deter him, Harlan begins criticizing the one thing that Luka seems to believe wholeheartedly: his faith in God.
With Luka’s incredibly strict step-father pressuring him to date a girl, he desperately makes a deal, but at what cost to his budding relationship with Harlan?
The Take me to Church series is a real depiction of falling in love as a gay teen amidst the rampant homophobia of the south and the mental health issues many people face. It’s explicit in the way that life is. It’s raw, beautiful, and real. Readers will scream in anger and cry in pain, but also laugh in joy and healing as they grow with these characters.
“Luka! It’s almost time for breakfast!” his mom yells from down stairs, and Luka ignores her. Instead he sighs as he looks in the mirror, debating about whether or not he should change his outfit for a third time. The first day of school is always nerve-wracking, but adding the extra stress of it being his first day at a new school and his senior year, it’s downright nauseating. Being an Army brat, he should be used to this by now, but he isn’t. It never gets easier. He has been to five different high schools alone, not to mention all of the various middle schools he has attended.
He remembers when his mom married Matt. He was happy for her. She seemed happy, and it meant he was getting a new dad. He had no idea at the time that he would be ripped away from all of his friends and everything he held dear. All of the schools and faces over the years have just kind of blended together, no one really standing out. He quickly learned not to allow himself to even get attached to anyone. He is so excited to go to college next fall so that maybe, just maybe, he can finally lay down some roots. Have actual friends that he won’t have to leave after a couple of months. He can dream.
He takes a deep breath, checking out his appearance again. He glances at the clock, knowing his mother will call him down to breakfast any minute now. He tugs at his shirt, not knowing what exactly the kids at his new school would be wearing. He then runs small fingers through his brown hair, going for a somewhat messy look.
“Luka! I told you it’s time for breakfast!” she shouts, again. He has to be down to breakfast at exactly the same time every single day. He hates it. His mom and stepdad are somewhat controlling. Well, his stepdad really, his mom just tries to keep the peace. He stares at his reflection again, hoping that he won’t stand out at this new school. He just wants to blend in until he is forced to move to the next location by Matt’s job. Who knows, maybe this time he will get to stay an entire school year.
“Luka William Thomas, don’t make your mother ask you again!” Matt’s booming voice travels up the stairs and into his room, making Luka wince.
“Yeah, sorry! I’m coming,” he calls back, turning and leaving his room then going down the stairs. He walks into the kitchen, where they always eat breakfast, to find his four sisters, mother, and Matt already sitting around the table.
“‘Bout time, Lu. You know we aren’t allowed to eat until everyone is down here and we say grace. I’m starving,” Lizzie moans. If Luka wasn’t in front of their parents, he would flip her off, but instead he just rolls his eyes and plops down in the open chair, avoiding Matt’s glare.
Everyone holds hands as Matt begins, “Heavenly Father, thank you for allowing us to wake up this morning, and thank you for this meal. We thank you for our health and happiness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
It’s the same every morning, so Luka mumbles his ‘Amen’ and starts eating right away, trying to avoid the small talk with his family if at all possible. No such luck, though.
“I signed you up for football,” his mom starts, glancing in his direction. He barely stops himself from rolling his eyes, knowing Matt would chastise him for it.
“Why?” Luka asks, through gritted teeth. He kind of likes the sport itself, being an active person, but he hates having to leave his team once Matt gets relocated. He would rather just avoid it all together.
“Because it is a good way to make friends, and it is a safe after-school activity for you to take part in,” his mom answers easily, her tone leaving no room for argument.
“Fine,” Luka grumbles, looking down at his plate of half-eaten food, suddenly not feeling hungry.
“First practice is today, after school. Your father talked to the coach yesterday since you already missed two-a-days, but he is willing to let you play, given you prove your skills. Don’t forget about it. We expect you home right after,” she says, and Luka knows. Of course he knows, he has had the same rule since he was a child. How dare he try to do anything fun after school that isn’t school-sponsored? He has never even been to a school dance because his parents fear that he may get drunk or lose his virginity. Their stupid rules didn’t do them any good, though, because he has already lost his virginity and been drunk.
“I know, Mom,” Luka tells her, suppressing yet another eye roll. Jesus, he will be lucky to make it through breakfast without getting grounded.
“Oh, and join your school’s Bible Club,” Matt adds, pointing one chubby finger at Luka.
“Sure,” Luka answers robotically because he is just done with this already, and he hasn’t even made it to school yet. He manages to evade the rest of the conversation, his parent’s attention turning to that of his little sisters. After he forces down enough food to appease his mother, he practically runs out the door and to his car, silently praying that no one from his family stops him. He lets out a sigh of relief when he is safely in his car, the door slamming behind him.
He pulls out his school schedule, glancing over it to see what he has first period. Choir. Fuck. Must be one of those stupid general courses every high school student has to take. Why couldn’t it be art or something? The rest of the classes seem fine. It looks like he is in Honors courses at this high school. His eyes rove down the list of courses: Physics, Chemistry, Pre-Calculus, Spanish, English, Creative Writing, and a free period.
He takes a deep breath before he puts the car into gear, making his way toward the location of the high school. It is a very small town, so the high school is equally as small. Hick-town, USA, it seems. When his mom enrolled him, she had said he would only have about 100 people in his entire class. That almost makes this worse. In bigger schools, it’s easy to blend in. Smaller schools are a whole different universe. Everyone knows everyone, so when a new kid comes along, that person is easily identifiable. This thought makes Luka feel sick all over again.
He parks his car in the student parking section of the lot and takes a few more calming breaths, trying to slow his racing heart before he steps out onto the pavement. As he typically does with all new schools, once he leaves the safety of his vehicle, he keeps his eyes down and starts walking, not wanting to be met with the staring and pointing that inevitably happens when people notice ‘the new kid’. He only glances up long enough to follow the signs for the main office, which is where he was told to go.
“Hi. I’m a new student here,” Luka tells the older lady at the front desk. She is wearing red, thick-rimmed glasses with lipstick to match. She smiles, and Luka notices a few lipstick stains on her teeth. Her hair is also red and teased up. The higher the hair, the closer to heaven, he supposes. She looks like she just strolled out of the 80s.
“Lukas Thomas?” she asks, her thick southern accent prominent as she types something into a computer that looks about as old as her. Well, maybe not that old, but still not as high tech as it could be.
“It’s actually Luka,” he corrects, rolling his eyes. He is so used to people getting his name wrong, but it will always annoy him just a bit.
“Oh, I’m sorry, darlin’,” she apologizes, smiling again, her yellow teeth looking even more stained against the red dots of lipstick.
“It’s okay, ma’am,” he answers politely, beginning to tap his fingers on the surface of her desk, needing a release for his nervous energy.
“Okay,” she says as she stands up from her desk, and for the first time, Luka notices she is also wearing something that looks like it is from the 80s. Jesus, he loves the decade, but this is a bit much. She walks around her desk and uses one long bony finger to motion for someone to come in. Luka turns to see a student with longish dark brown hair and deep brown eyes make his way through the glass door of the office, smiling at him. He returns the smile because at least this boy isn’t looking at him curiously like everyone else.
“Luka. This is Ezra Carter. He is going to show you around a bit, then take you to your first class,” the woman says, gesturing towards the other boy.
“Hiya. Nice to meetcha,” Ezra greets, eyes crinkling with his smile. He grabs Luka’s outstretched hand for a shake, and Luka instantly likes him. Something about him seems warm and caring. Maybe they will be friends. Well, that is if Luka allows it. He hates the thought of leaving yet another person behind.
“Hi. Nice to meet you, too,” Luka returns, smiling as well.
“Come on. I’ll give you a quick tour. Shouldn’t take very long since the school ain’t very big. We have pretty much the same schedule, and I play football, too. I think that’s why they asked me to show ya around,” Ezra says, gesturing for Luka to follow him.
“Yeah. So this is a super small school. Shouldn’t take you long to learn your way around. Let’s start with your locker,” Ezra starts, walking down a hallway to the right, lined with trophy cases. “You’ll find that you will be in class with generally the same people all day, every day. It’s based on test scores. They want to make sure kids are taking classes with other kids who are on their level, academically. The only classes that’ll differ are general courses, like foreign languages and fine arts.”
Luka nods along, listening to Ezra ramble about the school and pointing out various things, mostly understanding him, even with his heavy accent. They get to Luka’s locker, where he successfully opens the combination lock, then they go on a quick tour. Luka is thankful that it seems class has already started, so he doesn’t have to deal with the staring.
“Alright, time to go to our first class, I suppose,” Ezra says with a chuckle, although Luka didn’t find the statement all that funny. They walk into the choir classroom and a hush falls instantly, all of the students’ eyes trained on them.
Harlan hits the snooze button on his alarm for the fifth time that morning, not wanting to go to school at all. He groans, looking at the clock. He doesn’t have time to shower or anything before he has to catch the bus. Fuck. Why does school have to start so godsdamned early? He rubs his entire face in a weak attempt at waking himself up. He really should have gone to bed last night at a halfway decent time, but he was reading and didn’t want to stop. Not like there is anyone to make him go to bed anyways.
He rolls out of bed and finds the nearest pair of black skinny jeans laying on the floor. He stumbles to his dresser, pulling out one of his many black band t-shirts. He doesn’t even pay attention to which one it is as he pulls it over his mop of curls. He grabs all of his bracelets, putting them on one at a time, making sure they take up most of his forearms, covering his scars. Next, he puts on his necklaces, pulling them over his head so that they lay flat against his t-shirt. He slips each ring on, one by one, enjoying the feel of the cool metal against his skin.
He goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth, squinting at the harsh overhead light. He looks bad. Despite the fact that it’s summer, his skin is pale, and there are dark rings around his eyes. He shrugs at his reflection. He isn’t trying to impress anyone. No one will even notice him, like normal. He is just the weird kid. Most people at his school simply try to ignore his existence, or they are scared of him. They think he is a Satanist or something, going to cast a spell on them. He doesn’t care. It gets them to leave him the fuck alone.
He finishes his minimal bathroom routine and goes down to the kitchen to grab an apple, not having time for actual breakfast. His mom has left him a note on the fridge, saying she is working both jobs today, so she won’t be home until late. He sighs, mentally preparing himself for another lonely evening. Maybe he will find something to get into, but probably not.
He doesn’t know if his mom actually loves him or just does the minimum to keep him alive because she has to. She is never around, but to be fair, she is a single mom. Just to put food on the table for him and his sister, she has had to work two jobs since his dad left when he was younger. Things have been easier on her since Emma moved out, but she still works a lot.
He eats his apple as he makes his way to the bus stop, his friend Cadeon greeting him with a huge smile. Harlan just rolls his eyes, but allows his lips to curl into a soft smile. Cadeon is like an overexcited puppy, but he is Harlan’s best friend. His only friend, really. Cadeon is one of those rare people who is liked by everyone and can fit in with any crowd. He is friends with everyone at school and fits into all the cliques easily. He sticks with Harlan the most though, and it’s only because Harlan has told Cadeon all of his secrets. He is too nice to let Harlan always be alone.
“Hey, I didn’t think you’d make it,” Cadeon greets him, hugging his friend like he didn’t just see him yesterday. Cadeon knows that Harlan hates hugs, but that doesn’t stop him for a second.
“Yeah. I was up late last night,” Harlan responds, shrugging his hunched up shoulders.
“With a boy?” Cadeon asks with an exaggerated wink.
“Fuck off, and keep that shit down. I am trying to not die on my first day of school,” Harlan whispers, but Cadeon just rolls his eyes.
“Come on, you know I’d protect’cha.”
“If you could keep your big fucking mouth shut, then I wouldn’t need protection,” Harlan hisses, but there is no bite in his tone. He loves Cadeon too much to actually be mad. Not that he actually gives a flying fuck what people think of him. His sexuality would be just one more thing to add to the list of ‘weird’ if they were to know. He just doesn’t want to deal with that kind of crisis in his senior year. He would rather just move far away for college and become his own person; however, that’s probably not even in the cards for him. He can’t afford it. People like him don’t get to go to college. It’s as simple as that.
“So what classes are you in?” Cadeon asks, talking over the screeching of the bus’ brakes as it pulls to a stop in front of them. They both get on, Cadeon heading straight to the back with Harlan hot on his heels. Cadeon greets everyone while Harlan tries not to make eye contact.
“Here,” Harlan says, thrusting his schedule at Cadeon.
“Fuck yeah, we have all the same classes except for Art!” Cadeon exclaims, clearly happy about this turn of events.
“Awesome. Maybe I won’t be terribly miserable,” Harlan says, closing his eyes and resting his head on the seat in front of him. He just wants to go back to bed. Cadeon chats on and on about how he hopes the first day of school is going to go. Harlan doesn’t even think Cadeon would realize it if he put his earbuds in to block out the noise, but he doesn’t want to do that to his friend. He may be an ass, but he isn’t that rude.
They get off the bus and walk to choir class together, stopping at Cadeon’s new locker on the way. Harlan doesn’t bother going to his. He didn’t bring anything except his ancient cell phone, a pen, a notebook, and the brown, leather-bound journal he takes everywhere with him. Harlan is actually looking forward to this class and creative writing, but he doesn’t voice this. He has had choir since the beginning of his high school career, even though he was only required to take it once. He enjoys music and singing. The ease of the class also provides a needed break from some of his harder ones, like Physics and Chemistry.
The room is set up with three rows of brown chairs all facing the front of the room. Harlan and Cadeon immediately go to the section where the baritones will be seated, familiar with the layout since they have both been in the class before. Mr. Tennant will probably make them test their vocal range again, since it can change with age, but both boys are pretty confident this is where they will end up. Cadeon keeps talking because he literally never shuts up. As more people begin to filter into the room, Cadeon greets each of them, starting a conversation. Seriously, how does he have the energy this early in the morning?
Harlan, for his part, just ignores everyone with his eyes trained firmly to the front of the room waiting for class to start, thinking about how boring this year is going to be. He contemplates, for the fourteenth time that morning, putting his ear buds in and drowning out everything with some rather loud music; however, class will start soon and Mr. Tennant would just make him turn it off. Sure enough, a few moments later the last bell rings, signaling the beginning of class. Mr. Tennant takes roll, then starts bringing each student up one by one to test their vocal range, assigning them the appropriate section afterward.
When it’s Harlan’s turn, he walks to the front of the room, hating the feeling of all eyes on him. Thankfully, the other students are allowed to talk amongst themselves while their peers are being tested. It still doesn’t ease his apprehension, though. Cadeon gives him a thumbs up, which kind of helps.
He pushes down the anxiety making its way up his throat and walks over to the piano. Mr. Tennant does an excellent job of making it painless because he understands that not everyone is a good singer, nor do they like being in front of people. Mr. Tennant, however, has told Harlan on multiple occasions that he is a great singer, and he would give him a solo if he just asked. Harlan ignores his comments, being perfectly happy to just be the weird kid in the corner.
“Baritone,” Mr. Tennant starts with a smile, “but you can go as low as some bass notes. Well done.”
“Thanks,” Harlan mumbles, making his way back to his seat, feeling as though his cheeks are on fire at the compliment. Cadeon is called next, his results being a steady baritone. Before he knows it, everyone in the room is seated in their appropriate sections. Like normal, most of the girls are sopranos and a few are contraltos. Most of the boys are baritones, like him and Cadeon, with a few basses and tenors in the mix.
Mr. Tennant is in the front of the room beginning their lecture when the door opens. All eyes are immediately drawn to the pair entering the room. One guy Harlan recognizes as Ezra Carter. He is a jock and in his senior year as well. He has never explicitly made fun of Harlan, but he has also never really talked to him outside of the classroom. He has a good voice, though. His falsetto is killer.
The other guy, however, Harlan doesn’t recognize, which is odd for a small town. He is quite attractive, even though he is preppy and clearly a jock. He is short with shapely legs, brown hair, lightly tanned skin, and freckles. His eyes, though. His eyes are a clear shade of blue, framed with ridiculously long eyelashes. Okay. He is cute. Very, very cute, but completely off limits. A guy like that would never even talk to Harlan, let alone actually date him. He is probably straight anyway, like everyone else in this godsforsaken town.
“Mr. Tennant,” Ezra addresses his teacher, “Sorry I’m late, sir. I was showin’ our new student around the school. This is Luka Thomas.” Ezra then goes to take a seat beside Cadeon, knowing that Mr. Tennant probably wouldn’t make him test his range.
“Hi, Luka. Nice to meet you. I’m glad you could join us this morning,” Mr. Tennant smiles reassuringly. “Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, then we can test your vocal range.”
Harlan watches a blush creep up Luka’s freckled cheeks, turning them the prettiest shade of dark pink, to match his lips. Luka doesn’t seem to want to do this, but he finally turns towards the class as a whole and gives them a tentative smile.
“Hi,” he starts with a small wave. “As already established, my name’s Luka. I hate doing these things. I’m an Army brat, so I’ve moved around a lot. My family just moved here last weekend. I guess I will be playing football.” His voice is high and raspy, his accent very different from any Harlan has ever heard before, except on the television. He doesn’t really have an accent, that’s the thing. Everyone in this town sounds like a donkey eating an apple, but Luka is different.
“Very good. Come over here, and we can test your range to see where you will be seated,” Mr. Tennant instructs. Luka does as he is asked and makes his way to the piano at the front of the room. When he starts to sing, Harlan is mesmerized by it. His voice is the most beautiful kind of oxymoron. It is light and raspy, but somehow bright with great projection. He sounds how silk feels, and it gives Harlan shivers.
“Don’t see new kids very often ‘round here,” Cadeon’s voice breaks into his subconscious, effectively taking his attention away from Luka and his voice.
“What? Oh, no. We don’t. Seems like another jock, though, so he should fit right in,” Harlan replies, bitterness seeping into his tone.
“Ya never know, he may be different,” Cadeon observes, right as Mr. Tennant compliments Luka on his voice and seats him with the tenors of the class, on the other side of the room from the baritones.