Gay Book Reviews is delighted to welcome Marie Lark today chatting about her new book The First Morning After along with a sneak-peek excerpt.
Where Conflict and Happily Ever After Meet — Forbidden Love
Hello, and thank you so much for hosting me! I’m excited to be in such good company and to gab a little bit about my newest book, The First Morning After! This is my fourth release and my second M/M romance, and it feels like coming home. While I love ALL the love stories, there’s something about M/M that calls me back—and I think it’s how writing the relationship between two men encourages a new look at gender dynamics within tropes and archetypes that feel so worn in and comfortable in het romance. In this case, forbidden love.
Take two people who, for reasons outside their control—family, profession, class, race, gender, sexuality—can’t be together and I am in their corner. I will revel in their emotional turmoil until that exquisite moment when they overcome the structures keeping them apart, and then I’ll celebrate their triumph.
Writing contemporary LGBT romances, and in the case of The The First Morning After, gay romance, that conflict is built right into the structure of the story. In this era of increasing inclusivity and empowerment, the recent backlash against sexual minorities has been shocking and tragic.
I think it’s important to reflect that in literature, but I think it’s especially important to reflect it in contemporary romance novels, because only in a romance does the reader know for certain that good will triumph, and the lovers will get their happy ending. With the threat of violence a reality for so many, the act of telling a love story that ends with optimism and hope is a powerful thing.
The sleepy, small town of Peach Blossom, with the idyllic, farm-country setting and a dark underbelly, is the backdrop for The First Morning After, where all the progress in the world can mean very little to two people encountering the everyday prejudice and ignorance of rural America.
Peach Blossom is based on my own home town in Pennsylvania. I attended a very small high school with a number of students who, after graduation, came out as queer—people I’d known for twelve years and never would have guessed had identities and desires entirely secret from everyone else. There was also the gay boy who had no hope of disguising himself and who suffered for it.
Danny and Mitchel, the two heroes of The First Morning After, play out that secret story, happening right under the noses of a town that would never think to look twice at one of its brightest stars, but that always judged, and judged harshly, the town pariah who never had the luxury of hiding who he was. Telling their story let me explore one of my very favorite story archetypes—forbidden love—and give them the happy ending they deserve. (Or at least the hint of what will bloom in Book Two! 😉 )
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For as long as he can remember, Danny Rojas has wanted all-star first baseman Mitchel Finch. And he could swear that in high school, Mitchel was maybe interested, too. But the baseball team made Danny’s life a living hell back then, and the moment he was able, he got out. Five years later at a friend’s wedding, Danny finally has the chance, and more importantly, the courage, to act on his years-long crush.
Mitchel Finch used to have it so good–a brilliant athlete with lots of friends, a gorgeous girlfriend, and a place of importance in his home town. All he had to do was play it straight. But when an injury ends his baseball career, and his best friend’s wedding reminds him of everything he lost, Mitchel jumps at the opportunity Danny gives him–a night to be honest with himself. A night to finally feel wanted for exactly who he is.
The trouble is, neither of their circumstances has changed by morning. Mitchel is still closeted, and Danny is still the town pariah. Can a connection, building for years and forged in one night, survive the first morning after?
Danny had been sweating pretty much the whole day, but he felt almost smothered as he strode into the parking lot. Should he head straight for his room? He hadn’t given Mitchel the number. Curious looks or no, Mitchel had never said a word to keep his teammates from making Danny’s life a living hell.
If worse came to worst, he could run. Even in these shoes and pants, Danny Rojas could always run.
Walking right past his room, Danny kept his hands loose at his sides. What the hell had he been thinking making a pass at Mitchel Finch Jr.? No boost of confidence fueled by righteous fury at the injustices of his youth could justify that kind of foolishness. His mother had raised him better than that. His mother had tried to teach him to disappear, and this was the opposite of disappearing. Even though Mitchel himself had never taken part in any of the team’s cruelty, that didn’t mean he—
Danny rounded the corner of the building to find Mitchel standing in the shadows, leaning against the bricks like something out of a movie. He glanced up at Danny’s arrival, straightened from the wall when Danny walked right past him.
“Just checking something,” Danny called as he jogged to the back of the building and peered down the line of rooms. No Clarks lurked there either, with or without bats. When he turned back around, Mitchel had his hands shoved deep in his suit pockets and his shoulders hunched. Danny slowed his approach until they stood a few paces apart. The nighttime breeze blew dust and grit across the parking lot, and Mitchel appeared to be dug in. He’d made the first move. The ball was in Danny’s court.
“You still in, Fincher?” Danny asked, throat dry for the amount of liquid in his stomach.
Mitchel shook his head, and Danny exhaled sharply, unsure if he should be relieved or disappointed.
“Don’t call me Fincher,” Mitchel said. “That’s my old man’s name.”
“All right.” He said it like a question.
“And, yeah, let’s do this. Last thing I want’s one of Liza’s twenty-eight cousins running into us at the ice machine.” He glanced around, expecting a different kind of audience than Danny had.
“You bet.” Danny tilted his head toward the rooms on the front side, working with everything he had to maintain his cool. “I’m in 7, right here on the end.”
Mitchel gestured for him to lead the way, so Danny went. He dug in his pocket for the room key and tried not to tense up at the feeling of Mitchel at his back. Hands still shaking a little, Danny managed to turn the key in the lock and let them into the drab little motel room. He flipped on the light and jumped when Mitchel shut and bolted the door behind them.
They both shed their jackets, and in the dim orange light of the room, Danny could see where Mitchel’s dress shirt was damp with sweat. Mitchel eyed the queen-size bed with what looked like skepticism, as if he couldn’t believe what they were about to do. Danny himself was having trouble picturing the two of them on it—without clothes, just skin and breath and friction.
“I’m gonna—” He nodded toward the bathroom and escaped there, though he left the door open as he ran the sink and rooted through his shaving kit for the strip of condoms and lube he’d packed. When he’d found them, he washed his hands. Then, spotting Mitchel in the mirror, he shut off the faucet and turned to face him.
“I’m not reading this wrong, right?” Mitchel leaned his shoulder into the door jam. “You weren’t thinkin’ we’d just catch up on local gossip.”
When Danny shook his head, Mitchel came the rest of the way into the bathroom. Danny shuffled back a half step and bumped up against the sink counter. “Well, I would like to do that, but I think we should fuck first. This was your idea though, so. Whatever you want.” His pulse skyrocketed as he said it. He was stalling, of course, to make space for the full realization, Mitchel Finch picked me up at his best friend’s wedding. Seeing Mitchel in the doorway put the fire of adrenalin in his veins. He looked Mitchel right in the face and dared him to make the first move.
Mitchel looked Danny up and down where he stood at the sink—let his gaze linger in a way he never quite had in school. “College was good to you, Rojas. You look good.” He came a step closer, his eyes stuck about waist-level—right where Danny’s cock had begun to chub up under Mitchel’s scrutiny. Christ, all Danny had ever wanted was for Mitchel to look at him like this.
“Thanks for noticing. You know you’re still fucking gorgeous.” Even in a suit that looked like it had belonged to his dad when he was twenty years younger and thirty pounds lighter.
Mitchel smiled like he did know but hadn’t heard it in a while. He licked his lips, pinched the bottom one gently between his teeth, and closed the last few inches between them, sliding one foot between Danny’s. “How long you been sweet on me, anyway?” Bracing his hands on either side of Danny’s hips, Mitchel boxed him in. They were the same height now, and Danny felt like he’d always wanted Mitchel Finch.
“Since I learned what dicks were for,” he answered. “Watched you play ball in middle school and wanted to get you all flustered behind the bleachers. I’d’ve had no idea what to do, but that’s what I wanted.”
Mitchel breathed in sharply and made a quiet, desperate-sounding noise before he grabbed Danny’s elbows and squeezed. The fierceness of Mitchel’s grip startled Danny enough that he instinctively drew back. He’d taught himself not to do that once he’d left home for college, but being back in Peach Blossom, every bit of muscle memory had returned. Mitchel dug his fingers into the meat of Danny’s triceps, dragged his shirt sleeves up, and just—he just looked at Danny for a minute.
Luckily, Mitchel didn’t seem to notice Danny’s flinch. “You know what to do now?” Mitchel asked, gaze stuck on Danny’s mouth.
“Yeah, I do.” He wet his parched lips. “Do you?”
Mitchel huffed an unhappy laugh. “You’d be surprised what I know.” Then he leaned in and kissed him.
It…wasn’t a nice kiss. Mitchel pressed into him until he was bent back over the counter, until all he could do was grab hold of Mitchel to keep from falling backward into the sink. Mitchel clutched at him, hands clumsily groping up his arms to his shoulders, closing briefly around his throat, and slipping down to his waist. Danny tried to keep from closing his eyes so he wouldn’t miss a moment of Mitchel’s desperate touches, but when Mitchel bit a trail of kisses from his mouth to his collarbone, he couldn’t keep from tipping his head back and groaning.
“Yeah.” Mitchel kneaded his hands at Danny’s waist. “Want me to fuck you? Get inside you, make you feel it?”
The heat in those words shook him to his bones, and Danny slouched against the sink a little as his knees turned to soup. “You think I’m gonna say no to that, Mitchel Finch?”
He couldn’t help superimposing the carefree, gifted kid Mitchel had been over this version of him—still handsome as hell but edged with bitterness. Whiskey instead of Coke. And apparently well past the sidelong-looking stage of his interest in guys. Maybe he hadn’t been saving himself this whole time for a straight best friend.
Mitchel’s hands tightened on his waist a moment before he spun him around and pushed him against the sink. He grabbed both Danny’s hands and braced them on the counter as Danny grunted his surprise, scrambling to fit himself in the narrow space Mitchel left for him.
Gaze lifting to their reflection, a part of him was prepared for Mitchel in a Sharp Shin’s uniform, but that warped, false memory flickered and died when Mitchel bent his head and bit a kiss over the first bump of Danny’s spine. Nerve endings fired all down his shoulders and back, and he shivered hard, breathing out a laugh.
“Jesus. You want—right here?”
Mitchel nodded without breaking the kiss. He rolled his hips, the shape of his cock thick and obvious against Danny’s ass. Thick, obvious, and yet somehow more than Danny could comprehend after so many years of imagining it. He watched them in the mirror, reached back when Mitchel finally let one of his hands free, and rubbed his palm through soft, sand-colored hair. Fucking against a motel bathroom sink might not be the most romantic way of acting on his years-long crush, but the way Mitchel touched him, put him where he wanted, Danny didn’t think this was about romance or tenderness.
Well, that was all right. Danny wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.
Marie Lark is a part-time teacher and rest-of-the-time writer. She lives in New York with her very respectable husband and tiny dog. She writes contemporary New Adult and LGBTQ romance, but loves love stories of all kinds. Romance is like kung fu—it’s in everything. Jackie Chan said that, right?