Title: Heart of Stone
Author: Ari McKay
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Heart of Stone
Genre: M/M Romance
Rating: 4 stars
A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: A good old fashioned cowboy story that snapped and crackled with tension and pathos.
Blurb: Stone Harrison never knew he had an aunt; he certainly never expected her to bequeath him one of the largest spreads in central Nevada. But something about Copper Lake Ranch and its foreman, Luke Reynolds, speaks to him, offering a chance for the home he’s never really had.
Luke wants Stone to succeed as a rancher and put the legacy of his shiftless father behind him, but he’d also like Stone to share his bed. Unfortunately, Stone is convinced that the world is a harsh place that will never accept two men sharing their lives. Much to Luke’s dismay, he refuses to risk Luke’s life despite the intense attraction they share.
The tension between them escalates when a series of calamities strikes Copper Lake. An unexpected and unwelcome visit from Stone’s dandified cousin, James, only makes things worse. Stone’s ability to run the ranch comes into question, but the threat of losing it means less to Stone than the threat to Luke’s life. Stone will do anything it takes to protect the man he loves—even if it makes him a murderer.
Review: The writing duo that makes up author Ari McKay has delivered an authentic old-fashioned western that was well paced and enjoyable to read. Stone Harrison is part Indian in a time when men can still remember Indian raids and losing their loved ones to attacks. He is feared by some, hated by others and often mistrusted.
A loner by choice, trying to undo the abuse he received by his alcoholic, no-good father, he finds out that he has kin–an aunt who has left him a considerable spread which boasts a healthy head of beef cattle. Run by the foreman, Luke Reynolds, since the death of Stone’s aunt, the cowboy tries to settle down and live in one place–put down roots. It does not help that his foreman is an inveterate flirt and gay to boot. Stone has always hidden himself and his preferences from others, not just because it is safer, but also because he has little knowledge of real love and carries the shame of his past too closely to his wounded heart. Little did he reckon on Luke or the love the man has begun to develop for Stone.
Heart of Stone really deals with one man’s finding his self-worth and discovering that despite all he has been told from an early age, he is worthy to be loved. I was so pleased to see how well the authors unfolded this story, allowing it to have a leisurely pace, which, in turn, afforded the opportunity to really get to know these men as separate characters. Instead of plunging the reader into an insta-love set up, Ari McKay writes of a love that steadily grows and with it the doubt that it will ever fully come to light.
Interwoven in the romance is a mystery that is a bit to transparent but still solid and action packed. I do wish the “bad guy” had been a little less obvious and made me think just a bit harder over solving just who it was that was sabotaging the ranch. I felt that we didn’t see enough of the cousin, James, to really get a feel for how his mind worked which would have made his plotting seem more like an immediate and real threat. Coupled with the obvious, that all the mishaps at the ranch began after his arrival, it quickly became apparent who was behind all the chaos. That fact, more than anything, took the real impact out of the threat that the ranch might fold–you just knew it was not going to happen.
However, that element was really a small piece of a larger story–that which centered around Stone and Luke and their dilemma surrounding the need to hide how they felt about each other. These men lived in a time where the idea that they would be run off their land and quite possibly shot and killed because of their love for each other was a very real threat. Was it worth loving each other if lit meant losing all they had, the ranch, the first real home Stone had ever had, all of it?
Heart of Stone was not only a solid historical western but a nicely paced love story that felt real and believable. So, dear reader, if you are a fan of cowboys, and yes, in this instance, Indians as well, then Heart of Stone by Ari McKay is a great summer read waiting for you!