Welcome to author Eli Easton, who’s joining us today to share the moments in romance she especially loves as well as an exclusive excerpt from her latest Men of Lancaster County novel, Tender Mercies.
I’m celebrating the release of Tender Mercies, a romance set on a farm very much like the one I live on with my family. It’s the second book in the “Men of Lancaster County” series, though it features a new couple and can be read as a stand-alone. What each book in this series has in common is being set in Lancaster County, a rural area of Pennsylvania where there are a lot of Amish and Mennonite.
There are moments that I especially love in a romance book, both as a reader and as an author. High on the list are the first time the two main characters meet, and the first kiss. 😊 In romance, the meeting of the soon-to-be-lovers is especially critical and often has some funny spin or unusual circumstances – also known as a “meet cute”.
In my past books, some of my favorite meet cutes include Roman and Matt from How to Walk Like a Man. Their very first meeting is in a gun battle where Roman saves Matt’s life (that was in How to Howl at the Moon). But in their romance book, their first meeting is in a sheriff’s department men’s restroom when Matt can’t do up his own pants because of an arm in a sling and so Roman, naive to human ways, falls to his knees and does up Matt’s pants for him. I can so picture Roman doing this and Matt’s stunned reaction! Another of my favorite meet cutes is Mick and Fielding’s first meeting in Blame it on the Mistletoe. Fielding’s mother has visited Mick to inquire about a room for let, and he’s about ready to throw her annoying ass out when Fielding bursts in hauling luggage, wearing a cheery grin, and looking like Mr. Rogers meets Poindexter. He charms Mick by immediately going to his DVD shelf and requesting a Star Wars marathon.
In Tender Mercies, the first meeting of Samuel and Eddie is a bit more plot-driven. Eddie has bought a farm where he intends to start a farm sanctuary, but he has no idea how to run a farm, so he puts an ad in the paper for a farmhand. Samuel was just beaten bloody and cast out by his Amish father after his father discovers Samuel is gay. With no place to go, and no money, Samuel is desperate to find work and a place to stay. What I like about this scene is the gulf between these two men when they first meet, how they are from completely different worlds and points of reference. But they still need each other desperately.
I hope you enjoy Tender Mercies. Drop me a line on social media or email about this book or anything else.
About the Book
Eddie Graber’s dream of a sanctuary for rescued farm animals was about to come true when his partner backed out at the last minute. Now Eddie risks losing the twenty-five acre property in Lancaster County—and all the hopes he held for it—before the project even gets off the ground. He needs help, he needs money, but most importantly, he needs to rediscover the belief in a higher purpose that brought him here in the first place.
Samuel Miller worked hard to fit into his Amish community despite his club foot. But when his father learns Samuel is gay, he is whipped and shunned. With just a few hundred dollars to his name, Samuel responds to an ad for a farmhand and finds himself employed by a city guy who has strange ideas about animals, no clue how to run his small farm, and a gentle heart.
Samuel isn’t the only lost soul to serendipitously find his way to Meadow Lake Farm. There’s Fred and Ginger, two cows who’d been living in a garage, a gang of sheep, and a little black pig named Benedict who might be the key to life, love, money—and even a happily ever after for two castoffs.
NOTE: This title is set in the same region as book #1 but features a new couple. It can be read as a stand-alone.
The Excerpt ~ Samuel and Eddie’s First Meeting
It was almost 5:00 p.m. when the doorbell rang. Eddie walked toward it with his mouth pressed in a grimace. He’d had dozens of phone calls about the help wanted ad since it appeared in the paper two days ago, a crazy amount of interest. His phone had rung off the hook to the point where he just stopped answering his phone for most of the day, trying to get some writing done. This would be the third person to actually come by.
So far it had been a monumental waste of time. He’d had teenagers looking for part-time work they could squeeze in after school. No, that’s not what this position is. He’d fielded off a number of people interested in a second job that paid cash rather than room and board, as if they could talk him around from what the ad stated. One unfortunate older lady seemed desperate for work, but she had her own home and clearly wasn’t physically up to the job.
Eddie was the world’s biggest softie, and he hated having to judge people and tell them no. It was weirdly like joining a really bad dating service. But he knew if he failed in this one important thing, hiring the one and only employee of Meadow Lake Farm, he might as well pack it all up now. He needed serious help, and he needed to find that one person who could supply it and be happy with the room and board he had to offer in return. On top of all that, he needed someone he could bear to have living in his personal space, someone who wouldn’t be secretly plotting how to get rid of Eddie’s body and take over the farm.
He forced a pleasant smile as he opened the front door to the latest applicant. Then he blinked.
Standing on the steps in front of the door was a young man wearing black pants, white shirt, suspenders, a short black wool jacket, and a black hat he held clutched in large hands. Amish. He was probably no more than twenty years old, and he had a shy demeanor, his shoulders curling forward slightly as if he longed to hide himself away. His dirty-blond hair was long in that bowl-cut way the Amish wore, hanging limp around his chin and tucked behind his ears. It needed to be washed. His face had large, angular features, almost too large for his body, with a prominent jaw and cheekbones and full lips. His eyes were close-set and brown, and he couldn’t hold Eddie’s gaze, instead looking somewhere around his chin.
“Hi, can I help you?” Eddie asked. For some reason, his heart was going a mile a minute.
The young man twisted his hat in his hands. “Hello. My name is Samuel Miller. I called yous on the phone a few hours ago. I’m here about the farmhand job what you had in the paper.”
Eddie smiled, charmed by the quaint words and shy voice. “Ah. Yes. Hello.”
“I’d like to apply for the job if it ain’t taken already.”
A gust of wind whipped through the door, making Eddie shiver. He saw Samuel Miller shiver too. It was windy today despite the bright sunlight, a gusty kind of wind that came at you with a vengeance over the open fields, unlike anything he was used to in Manhattan.
“Why don’t you come in? It’s cold today, isn’t it?”
Eddie glanced around for a car, but there was no trace of a vehicle or even a bike in the lonely driveway. He stepped back to allow the stranger to enter. Samuel did, coming up the single step and then in through the door with a lurch. Eddie tried not to stare, but his heart sank. Samuel had a clubfoot. It appeared to be twisted inward, probably a birth defect. He limped badly on an oversized black ugly-as-sin shoe with a good two-inch sole. His left shoulder swung down with each step he took.
Eddie felt a wave of pity but also disappointment. For a moment there, Eddie was hopeful. Samuel appeared to be a nice, quiet young man, and, being Amish, he probably knew farmwork. But with a handicap like that, he wouldn’t be very capable. Eddie’s mouth went dry and he rubbed at his breastbone absently. He’d have to tell this man no. He felt guilty, but there was nothing for it. He needed a worker who could do it all, and he couldn’t relent on that point, no matter how sorry he felt for the guy. Maybe he could tell Samuel he’d made an offer to another man and was waiting to hear back. Sometimes a lie was kinder than the truth.
In the front room, Samuel turned and gave Eddie a brief smile, but his demeanor was a serious one, and his expression turned grave. He was very pale and had purple circles under his eyes. He didn’t look well.
“I’m a gut worker. Grew up on a farm, and I’ve done every job there is to do on one. I don’t mind workin’ hard.”
“Is that right?” Eddie cleared his throat. God. “So… this is a very labor-intensive job,” he hedged. “You might not be interested. The position includes mucking out barn stalls, feeding the animals, fixing fences, and a ton of yard work. There’s a riding mower, but it’s old, and there’s a lot of trimming and garden beds. I’ve been told I should mow the pasture for hay, and there’s an old tractor in the barn with various attachments, but I don’t know how to run it.”
It occurred to Eddie after he said it that an Amish man wouldn’t know how to run a tractor either. It was yet another reason he shouldn’t hire Samuel.
As if reading his mind, Samuel spoke up. “I know a little ’bout engines. We had a generator and a motor for the milk cooler. They was old and took lots of upkeep. Oil and filters and sometimes cleaning out the gears and stuff too. I could always get the genny runnin’.”
“Oh. Okay. Um… the job entails a lot of physical labor, though.” His gaze dropped to Samuel’s foot unwittingly. It was only for a second, but Samuel stiffened instantly.
His knuckles whitened on his hat, and he furrowed his brow. His voice was firm. “I’m used to real hard work. On my da’s farm, I did all the muckin’ and feedin’ and hayin’ and all that. I can repair fences, raise a garden, sand and paint, anything else you need. My foot’s no bother, usually. It’s only that I just walked a long ways to get here, so my limp’s actin’ up. But on a normal day, it’s no problem. I can do any task you give me. I’m right strong. I promise you that.”
Eddie felt ashamed and embarrassed. “I’m sure you can.”
And looking over Samuel again, Eddie thought that was probably true. His hands were large, with roughened skin, the palms thick with muscle as if he did hard labor with them every day. He was also quite lean, with broad shoulders. He hardly looked like a couch potato. In all likelihood he was strong despite having grown up with a disability. Or maybe because of it.
Eddie met Samuel’s eyes again. This time Samuel held his gaze. He seemed determined. There was a glint of what might be desperation in his eyes.
Eddie found that he appreciated that sense of certainty. One of them ought to be sure. He sighed. “Why don’t you come in the kitchen and have a cup of coffee or tea, and we can talk about it. If you walked here, you must be cold.”
“My name’s Eddie. Eddie Graber.” He held out his hand.
Samuel took it immediately. Yeah, shit, the guy had strong hands. He didn’t crush Eddie’s hand in his, but he could. “All right, Mr. Graber.”
“Call me Eddie, please. No one calls me ‘Mister.’”
“Do you like coffee?”
“Yes, sir. Eddie. A cup of coffee would hit the spot. It is a little chilly out there.”
Eddie smiled at the understatement and the accent. Samuel’s “there” sounded more like “dar.” He led the way to the kitchen. Samuel’s foot made a clumping noise on the hardwood floors that made Eddie’s heart hurt again.
He waved to a stool at the kitchen island, and Samuel sat down. Eddie made two cups of coffee using the K-cup maker. He put them on the island along with a bowl of raw sugar and a pint of almond milk. He also set out some oatmeal cookies he’d made earlier. Samuel helped himself to all of it, pouring milk and sugar in his coffee, then eating a cookie carefully, as if conscious of being watched.
Wow. The guy had amazing bones, Eddie thought, getting a better look at his face in the fading daylight from the window. His cheekbones were wide and nearly formed a square box with the broad and well-defined jaw below. He had such large features too. He reminded Eddie of a puppy with oversized paws, like he hadn’t quite grown into himself yet. It wasn’t an unattractive look. Quite the opposite—he was lovely—in a fresh and wholesome sort of way. He had Germanic heritage, probably. Weren’t Amish German?
These were strictly objective observations, disconnected from any personal interest, Eddie assured himself. Samuel was way too young to think about that way, even if he weren’t Amish, which he was. Eddie didn’t know a ton about the Amish, but he knew they were intensely religious and shunned modern technology. Eddie, on the other hand, was liberal to his core, and he loved his gadgets. They were oil and water. Even Samuel’s manner of speaking placed him in an entirely different social stratum. Of course, they didn’t have to agree philosophically for Samuel to work here. They didn’t even have to be friends. What Eddie needed was a strong back, a tolerance for manual labor, and knowledge of how a farm was supposed to run.
But as Eddie snuck glances at Samuel, he also saw his complexion was pasty and gray. He looked tired. Was he sick? Something serious? Once again Eddie’s doubts intensified.
“I’m afraid the offer in the paper is firm,” Eddie hedged. “I live alone in this big house, so you’d have a private room and bath, plus meals. But the cash is only fifty a week. It’s not much.”
“That’s all right,” Samuel said calmly, picking up the cup of coffee. His brown eyes met Eddie’s briefly. “I need a place to stay, so that’s worth a lot to me.”
Samuel drank his coffee steadily, holding the cup in both large hands. He fixed his gaze out the window. “Grass needs mowin’ right away.”
Eddie scratched his head. “Yeah. It’s been on my list. But I work a lot.”
“Tomorrow’d be a good day for it. You don’t want to do it when the grass is wet, and we ain’t had rain since Sunday.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow,” Samuel said, almost to himself.
Eddie stood there feeling discomforted, as if he’d found himself driving on the wrong side of the road. Samuel was talking like this was going to happen. But Eddie hadn’t made that decision yet. Yes, he felt sympathetic toward this curious young man. He tugged at Eddie’s large and easily played heartstrings. But even besides the questions about Samuel’s abilities, did Eddie want an Amish man living in his house? Would the man pray? Read his Bible at the table? Would he freak out when he figured out Eddie was queer?
Eddie was a Jewish, agnostic, liberal-assed homosexual. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. Or an episode of Big Brother.
Yet Eddie already felt unable to tell the young man to just leave. Holy hell, the guy walked here.
Eddie scratched his neck. “So. I guess I should tell you more about this. See, I’m opening a farm sanctuary. Currently I’ve got two cows and three sheep, but eventually there will be a lot more animals around.”
Samuel turned to look at him, his face blank.
“And, um, along with the whole farm sanctuary thing, I’m vegan. So the meals I serve will be vegan. Lots of rice and pasta and bean stews. Bread. Things like that. I like sweet things too. But no meat.”
That got a reaction. “No meat?” Samuel looked confused.
“No, I’m vegan,” Eddie repeated patiently. “Now I don’t care what you eat when you’re not here. If you want to go out and get a Big Mac or whatever, that’s your business. But I do ask that you not keep or eat meat down here in the kitchen. After all, this is a sanctuary. If you want to have some beef jerky or something in your room, or even have a mini fridge up there, well, that’s up to you.”
Samuel continued to stare at him doubtfully but said nothing.
Eddie let out a tense breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and sipped his own coffee. “If that’s a deal-breaker for you, I understand. After all, meals are part of your pay.”
Samuel looked at the plate of cookies, took another one, and bit into it thoughtfully, as if considering its quality. “Guess I can do without meat if there’s bread and cookies and such like.”
Eddie couldn’t help but smile at Samuel’s serious tone. “There’s definitely bread and cookies.”
“All right, then.” Samuel met Eddie’s eyes and gave him a small, tentative smile.
There was something so hopeful in it, so sweet. It absolutely swept Eddie’s metaphorical legs out from under him. Shit. He rubbed at his sternum to ease the sudden ache. “Well…,” he said gruffly, sighed. “If you’re still interested, I guess we could give it a trial run. Maybe for a week? Just to see if it works out, though. I can’t promise anything.”
“Thank you,” Samuel said, his smile widening. “You won’t be sorry.”
Eddie blew out a breath, hoping he wouldn’t regret this. “Okay. So. Would you like to see the room?”
“Yes, please. Eddie.”
About the Author
Eli Easton has been at various times and under different names a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, an organic farmer, and a long-distance walker. She began writing m/m romance in 2013 and has published 27 books since then. She hopes to write many more.
As an avid reader of such, she is tickled pink when an author manages to combine literary merit, vast stores of humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, two bulldogs, several cows, and a cat. All of them (except for the husband) are female, hence explaining the naked men that have taken up residence in her latest fiction writing.