Lead Me Not

by Ann Gallagher

Lead Me Not - Ann Gallagher
Editions:ePub
ISBN: 978-1-62649-277-6

Isaac Morris has devoted his life to preaching against the sin of homosexuality. But when his sister proposes a documentary to demonstrate once and for all that it’s a choice—with Isaac choosing to be gay as proof—he balks. Until he learns his nephew is headed down that perverted path. Isaac will do anything to convince the teenager he can choose to be straight . . . including his sister’s film.

When Isaac’s first foray into the gay lifestyle ends with a homophobic beating, he’s saved and cared for by Colton Roberts, a gentle, compassionate bartender with a cross around his neck. Colton challenges every one of Isaac’s deeply held beliefs about gay men. He was kicked out by homophobic parents, saved from the streets by a kind pastor, and is now a devout Christian. Colton’s sexuality has cost him dearly, but it also brought him to God.

As the two grow closer, everything Isaac knows about homosexuality, his faith, and himself is called into question. And if he’s been wrong all along, what does that mean for his ministry, his soul, his struggling nephew—and the man he never meant to love?

Published:
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Editors:
Cover Artists:
Genres:
Tags:
Pairings: MM
Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Coming Out / Closeted, Coming Out Later in Life, Find Love and Come Out
Word Count: 111,000
Setting: Seattle, WA
Languages Available: English
Excerpt:

EXCERPT:

Chapter 1

Six Months Ago

The Sodomites had bullhorns this year. It was already a challenge for Isaac’s voice to be heard — an even greater one for his words to be heard — without half a dozen rainbow-festooned bullhorns amplifying people’s shouts and chants.

Isaac had only been out here in the blazing sun for an hour, but his throat was raw from trying to speak over the crowd at Summer Bluff’s Gay Pride Festival. He wiped a hand across his forehead. Sweat soaked his hair and his crisp white shirt, trickling down the sides of his face and the back of his neck.

William, Isaac’s second eldest brother, gave him a cold bottle of water. He downed most of it in two gulps and handed the remainder back.

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“Thanks.” He cleared his throat, adjusted the hands-free microphone beside his mouth, and clicked his headset back on. To the crowd, he bellowed, “Be not proud of your sins!” His voice was getting hoarse already — he doubted he’d be able to speak by day’s end. “The Lord forgives those who are humble and ask for grace, but — ”

“Divorce is a sin too, jackass!” A woman covered in rainbows waved an enlarged, laminated copy of a news story with a headline Isaac knew by heart: INFAMOUS CHURCH DYNASTY ROCKED BY DIVORCE SCANDAL — Outspoken Traditionalist Up-and-Comer, Son of Famed Homophobe Reverend Morris, Said to Be “Stunned, Devastated, by Wife’s Departure.”

He set his jaw and tried not to look at the photo beneath the text. Even after almost a year, it still hurt to see that image of himself and Candace, which someone had manipulated to look like it was being ripped in half. And someone always brought that article or one like it. As if the fact that he’d fallen and his marriage had come apart — something for which he’d begged God’s and his father’s forgiveness a million times — somehow negated the graveness of the sins being flaunted here today.

“Every one of us is a sinner!” he shouted over the chanting. “We have all sinned! We are all sinners in the eyes of the Lord!” He held up his Bible. “But we can be forgiven! God’s grace is for all of us, unless you have made the choice to turn away from the Lord! You can choose to come back! Cast away your — ”

“Do you think we chose this?” someone screamed back. “To be discriminated — ”

“Cast away your sinful lifestyle!” Isaac waved the ragged Bible over his head, gripping the worn leather cover with sweaty fingers. “The word of God is clear, and it is final, and — ”

“I’ve got a question for you, Reverend.” The single voice was calm and low, and somehow cut through the noise of the throng.

Isaac turned and found a middle-aged gentleman with a gray beard and faded tattoos, wearing a rainbow tank top with BORN THIS WAY printed across the front. His arms were at his sides, his expression taut but not hostile.

Isaac lowered his Bible and turned off his headset. “Yes?” Behind him, William took over shouting to the crowd, but Isaac could feel people watching him and this quiet man who’d grabbed his attention.

The man took a step forward. Isaac’s eldest brother, John, tensed, ready to lunge at the man if he came too close, but Isaac waved him back. All around them people stilled, and Isaac sensed more heads turning their way.

“I’ve heard you preach, Reverend,” the man said. “You say we’ve chosen this life.”

“Yes.” Isaac held up the Bible. “You’ve chosen to stray from — ”

“I’ve heard it.” The comment was terse, as was his dismissive wave, but his tone remained calm and even. “I’m not here to argue about that.”

Isaac was guarded but curious. Constructive dialogues were difficult to come by at these events, and if there was even the smallest opportunity to turn someone to Christ, he wasn’t going to pass it up. “All right?”

“I guess I have less of a question and more of a challenge.” The man folded his powerful, inked arms across his chest and the BORN THIS WAY slogan. “Prove — and I don’t mean using your book” — he jerked his chin toward Isaac’s Bible — “that it’s a choice.”

“Of course it’s a choice. Any defiance of the Lord is — ”

“Make the choice, Reverend.” The man raised his chin, narrowing his eyes slightly. “You’ve told us all that the people we love and the lives we live come down to choice. So . . . prove it. Choose to be gay. Show us all that it’s a choice.”

Isaac blinked. “Are you suggesting I should become a gay man? And how exactly does one go about that?”

“You tell us, Pastor.” A slightly younger man wrapped his arm around the bearded one’s waist. “If this is a choice, prove it by choosing to do whatever it is you think we choose to do.”

Isaac snorted in disgust. “Never.”

The first man laughed smugly. “That’s what I thought.” He kissed his partner’s cheek. “We’re done here.”

And with that, they slipped back into the crowd, blending into the sea of rainbows and vanishing like a mirage.

For a moment, Isaac stared at the space they’d occupied, trying to wrap his head around their absurd challenge. Then he realized everyone else was still staring at him.

He clicked his headset back on and raised his Bible again. “Turn away from this abomination! Repent your sins to the Lord!”

***

The church’s permit to protest expired at three in the afternoon, an hour before the event officially ended. Isaac’s father had loudly objected to that over the years, stating it muzzled Summer Bluff Christian’s free speech while allowing the Sodomites to continue with theirs. Isaac understood both the city’s stance and his father’s, and had helped mediate the debate over the years — but today he was thankful that the city council had, thus far, won.

Isaac’s throat was raw; though after a couple of eucalyptus cough drops, it wasn’t so bad. Mostly, the heat had taken its toll. Everyone in the group was sunburned. Half the protesters had bowed out around noon. By one thirty, only the Morris family remained — Isaac, his two brothers, and his twin sister, Ruth. Even John and William had been flagging by two o’clock, and they could usually preach until the sun went down.

So at just before three, they gathered their signs, sound equipment, cameras — his sister was always filming for some documentary or another — and the cooler. They’d had to park several blocks away, so William and Isaac guarded the pile of equipment while Ruth and John went to get the vehicles.

Mercifully, the place they’d found to wait was in the shade beside an office building. The sweltering heat was still intense, but after several hours in direct sunlight, Isaac wasn’t going to complain. And thank the Lord his sister’s truck had air conditioning that could ice over the Sahara.

While he and William waited, some of the Pride attendees walked by. One carried the signs displaying the news article about Isaac’s divorce. He set his jaw, refusing to flinch or turn away, but he also refused to look directly at the torn photo of him and his wife. Ex-wife.

The one with the torn-photo sign sneered at him. The others just kept walking, chatting about an upcoming bar crawl as if they didn’t even see William or Isaac.

As the group walked on, William turned to him. “They’re not going to forget about that, you know.” His brother had a way of making thinly veiled accusations out of observations. Not that it was all that thinly veiled this time — William had never hidden his contempt for the failure of Isaac’s marriage.

“I suspect they’ll forget it before I do.”

His brother sighed heavily. “Have the two of you even — ”

“Not now.” Isaac immediately regretted his sharp tone. “I’m sorry. But . . . please. Not now. I’m too hot and too exhausted to even think about that.”

William’s lips tightened, but God bless him, he didn’t push the issue this time.

Isaac wiped sweat from his brow. “Must they always have these events on the hottest days of the year?”

William laughed dryly. “Guess they want to get used to being hot and miserable.”

Isaac didn’t laugh. He didn’t find nearly as much amusement in these people’s damnation. William saw them as perverts who’d gladly dance with Satan himself. Isaac wanted to believe they were simply misguided, that they’d see the light if enough people showed it to them. He was always demoralized and sad after these events. He couldn’t just let the Sodomites celebrate their sin without someone being here to voice God’s disapproval and offer of salvation . . . but what good did it do if no one heard him?

Across the street a couple of vans drove away, revealing a park bench beneath a huge oak. Two men — boys, really — sat on the bench, and they were oblivious to him. Oblivious to anything, Isaac thought. Even the heat — they were cuddled close in the shade, one lying across the bench with his head on the other’s lap, both playing on their cell phones. The one sitting upright had his arm draped across the other’s chest, and their fingers were loosely laced together. The second rested his phone against the first’s arm.

“Disgusting faggots,” William said.

One of the two must’ve heard, because he lifted his head and looked right at Isaac and William. Rolling his eyes, he kissed his partner’s wrist and returned to playing on his phone as if nothing was the matter. Too tired for a fight, Isaac hoped.

Whatever William muttered next, Isaac didn’t hear. His brother had been known to shout at “couples” like this, but he was probably as parched and raw as Isaac was right then.

Moments later, John and Ruth pulled up and parked on the curb. While John and William piled the signs and such into the car, Isaac helped Ruth load her audiovisual equipment into the back of the truck.

She hoisted the camera onto the tailgate and slid it into place between some of the other crates and boxes. “You look exhausted. Maybe get some water out of the cooler?” She slammed the tailgate. “I think there was still a bottle or two left.”

“Oh good.” Isaac fished around in the red plastic Coleman and pulled out a bottle of cold water.

“You two need any help?” William asked.

Ruth spun her key ring on her finger. “Nope, we’re ready. How about you?”

“We’re done.” John shut the trunk. “See you back at church.”

“See you there.” Ruth swung herself into the driver’s seat.

Isaac climbed up into the cab, legs and back aching, and settled into the passenger seat. He downed the water in one go.

She shot him a pointed look. “Sweetie, what have I told you about staying hydrated?”

“I did, I promise.” He set the empty bottle in the cup holder. “I think the heat index is almost a hundred and fifteen today. Water’s only going to do so much.”

“Ugh. No kidding.” She wrinkled her nose as she put the truck in gear. “My equipment was actually getting so hot, I almost burned myself.”

“I know the feeling.” He’d taken off his headset when they’d left the event, and nearly scorched his fingertips on the metal part. “Hopefully next weekend’s march will be cooler.”

They drove in silence for a little while, but Isaac had a feeling something was on his sister’s mind. She was tapping her thumbs on the wheel, but not keeping time with the song playing softly on the radio.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

She chewed her lip. “Well, I was thinking . . .”

“I saw that.”

She glared playfully at him, but then turned serious. “So I was thinking about that bearded guy. The one who came up and talked to you.”

“Which one?” he croaked, his throat still parched.

“The one who challenged you to prove being gay is a choice.”

“Oh. Him.” Isaac rolled his eyes. “What about him?”

“What if you took him up on his challenge?”

Isaac’s head snapped toward her. “If I what?”

“Hear me out.”

“Okay . . .”

She squared her shoulders and fixed her gaze on the road. “You and I leave town — too many people know our faces here — and rent a place together. I’ll film you over the course of several months. When it’s all over, we’ll have a documentary about what it’s like to make the choice to be gay, and how you were able to choose to live that life and then to abandon it.”

“Film me doing . . . what exactly?” Isaac squirmed in his seat.

“Mostly talking to the camera about your thoughts and feelings.” She glanced at him. “The rest of it, we’ll film later with actors. You know, dramatizations and reenactments. Like they do on TV all the time.”

Well, that was more palatable than the alternative, but still, his stomach lurched at the thought of what he might have to do that would be dramatized and reenacted later. Isaac shook his head. “No. No way.”

Ruth reached across the seat and took his hand. “Isaac, think about it. Yes, you’ll be living a life of terrible sin for that time, but you’re doing it to prove a point and bring people to the Lord. I absolutely believe He will forgive you, especially if you’re going into it with pure intentions.”

“How could I have pure intentions about engaging in . . . that?”

“Because you’re doing it for the sake of the thousands and thousands of people your story could inspire to come to Christ.” She squeezed his hand. “Imagine how many people would have listened to you today if you’d told them you made a conscious choice to join them, and then a conscious choice to walk away.”

Goose bumps rose on his arms. He tapped his fingers on the armrest. The idea of getting into that lifestyle made his stomach turn, but what if Ruth was right? What if he could prove to people that it was a choice?

Still, the idea she’d proposed was insane. They’d be better off . . .

Their ministry would be more effective if . . .

They . . .

He blew out a breath. He didn’t have any better ideas.

So, what? Give in to the temptations he’d resisted all his life? It wouldn’t be difficult, he supposed. Not pleasant or palatable, but all he had to do was act on those urges long enough to make a point, and then walk away and try to scrub his memory clean. The thought nearly made him ill, but he still didn’t have any better ideas. Staring out the passenger side window, Isaac asked, “If, hypothetically, we did this, how far would I take it? Being gay, I mean?”

“As far as you need to, sweetheart.”

He turned to her. She glanced at him.

Isaac swallowed hard. “Dad won’t be happy about this.”

Ruth whistled. “I don’t think many people will be. Not until we’re done.”

“But you’d be there?”

“Absolutely.” She squeezed his hand again. “I’d be there every step of the way.”

Isaac looked out the window again and just stared at the scenery for a few miles as he mulled over her idea. The thought of living that lifestyle appalled him. The thought of letting countless people burn in hell when he could have, with some sacrifice on his part, helped them see the truth?

He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, then turned to his sister again. “I’m . . . I don’t know.”

“Will you at least come with me to talk to Dad about it?”

Isaac shuddered. Their father would be furious, but he’d be easier to deal with as a united front than letting Ruth face him on her own. Then again, he might shoot down the idea and forbid anyone from speaking about it again, which would mean Isaac was off the hook. The project would go away.

But . . . souls. Misguided people. Opportunity to witness.

They needed to do this. And they needed their father’s support, which meant if he shot it down, they’d have to fight for it. Isaac would have to fight for it.

“All right.” Isaac moistened his lips. “We’ll talk to him.”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:on Publishers Weekly:

This chaste story will appeal to readers looking for true reconciliation between religion and sexuality.


About the Author

Ann Gallagher is the slightly more civilized alter ego of L.A. Witt, Lauren Gallagher, and Lori A. Witt. So she tells herself, anyway. When she isn’t wreaking havoc on Spain with her husband and trusty two-headed Brahma bull, she writes romances just like her wilder counterparts, but without all the heat. She is also far too mature to get involved in the petty battle between L.A. and Lauren, but she’s seriously going to get even with Lori for a certain incident that shall not be discussed publicly.


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