Striking Sparks by Ari McKay Guest Post & Excerpt!

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Hi peeps, we have Ari McKay popping in today with their upcoming release Striking Sparks, we have a fantastic guest post and a great excerpt so check out the post and enjoy! ❤ ~Pixie~

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Striking Sparks

(Dreamspun Desires 24)

Ari McKay

The stakes are high and the heat is on.

Beau Walker, owner of the Barbecue Shack, needs the help of Jake Parnell, his one-time rival and secret crush, in a televised barbecue competition. Beau is a proud man, but the stakes are high, and smart, sexy Jake is his only hope, even if being around Jake reawakens the attraction he’s fought for years.

Jake left his hometown, determined to build a life somewhere his sexuality wouldn’t hurt his family’s restaurant business—and far away from hunky, obstinate Beau Walker. Then his twin, Josh, is killed, and Jake returns to support his brother’s wife and children. Despite his reservations, he agrees to go head-to-head against Beau on national television. Between stress and grief, as well as pride and determination, only one thing is certain—the heat between Beau and Jake extends well beyond the kitchen.

Release date: 15th December 2016

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Ari McKay!

Hello everyone, happy Thursday, and thanks for stopping by! McKay and I hope everyone is having a fantastic holiday season so far!

We’re thrilled to be here with Pixie and all the wonderful folks at MM Good Book Reviews and to talk about our new release, Striking Sparks. This story is the first of a set of stories involving the Walker boys, a bunch of Texans with a taste for good food, sexy men, and happy endings. In this volume, you’ll meet Beau Walker and his long time crush, Jake Parnell. The two men couldn’t be more different on the surface, and yet underneath, where it counts, they share the same values and want the same things. They’re both strong willed and determined, but the competition to be named the best barbecue restaurant in Buffalo Lick, Texas, isn’t the only obstacle standing in the way of their happiness.

This book is near and dear to our hearts, in part because it features one of our favorite things in the world besides hot men and romance — barbecue! Yes, McKay and I both have a fondness for cooking, and barbecue ranks right up there among our favorite foods. Whether it’s a tender and juicy brisket hot off the grill and ready to melt in your mouth, a rack of perfectly cooked ribs where the sauce is caramelized to perfection, chicken smoked with mesquite until it’s falling off the bone, or — my personal favorite — pulled pork dripping with tangy red sauce, we both love it.

Food is central to every culture and goes hand in hand with love and romance, doesn’t it? People woo each other with both fancy dinners and intimate meals, and they give each other gifts of sweets and savories to titillate the palate. There can also be a healing aspect to shared meals, and that’s what we present in Striking Sparks. In one scene, Beau brings a meal to Jake and his family, a gesture of help and support rather than a declaration of romantic intent, but in sharing food with the Parnell family, Beau helps to narrow the gulf between himself and Jake. Food can be a way of saying “I want to take care of you and make you happy” as much as “I want to be your lover”, and it can satisfy a craving for personal contact and connection as much as fulfilling the needs of the body for sustenance.

Another thing I loved about writing this book was the research we did. From reading about the Chisholm Trail (where we placed our fictional little town) to researching fancy barbecue grills, we got to explore things that were new to us. We probably read almost as much as we write when it comes to our books, and it makes me happy to expand my mind even while we’re writing to entertain others. Did you know that there really was a Sausage King of Texas? Even though we pilfered his title and awarded it to Beau’s great-uncle, if you’re familiar with the name Jimmy Dean, then you’ve heard of him. While there isn’t a real place called Buffalo Lick, there is a Lizard Lick, North Carolina, that we used as inspiration. Who knew, right?

As a thank you to our readers for your support (and for getting through my rambling!) I’d like to leave you with something special. The name we originally had for the story had “cumin” in the title, so here is the recipe for the barbecue sauce (with cumin!) that Jake uses in the story. 🙂

Parnell’s Pantry Barbecue Sauce

6 ounces bacon, diced
2 medium onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup brewed coffee
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar, plus more to taste
1 cup ketchup
Few dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco, plus more to taste
3 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
Kosher salt

In a heavy, medium saucepan over moderately low heat, cook the bacon until the fat renders and the bacon starts to brown, about 10 minutes—do not let the bacon get crispy. Add the onions and continue cooking, covered and stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, sage, and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Add the smoked paprika, chile powder, cumin, black pepper, and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the coffee, brown sugar, yellow mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar and stir well to combine. Raise the heat to moderate and bring the sauce to a boil, scraping the saucepan with a wooden spoon to remove any browned bits from the bottom. Add the ketchup, hot sauce, and bay leaves, then lower the heat to moderately low and simmer the sauce until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon but isn’t as thick as ketchup, about 30 minutes. Taste the sauce and add more vinegar or hot sauce to taste and season with salt and pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaves.

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BEAU WALKER stood outside Parnell’s Pantry, studying the diner that provided the biggest competition to Walker’s Barbecue Shack; outwardly, it looked the same, but he knew everything had changed behind the scenes. He and Josh Parnell had maintained a friendly rivalry they’d often played up in public, but he had respected Josh’s business acumen and skill in the kitchen. His feelings about Josh’s twin brother Jake weren’t quite so straightforward.

His rivalry with the Parnell twins went beyond barbecue, stretching all the way back to high school football, when they’d played on opposing teams. While he and Josh had established a truce, he wasn’t sure he and Jake could manage to do the same. Still, this wasn’t a visit he could put off, so he entered the diner, waving to the servers as he headed to the kitchen.

Pausing in the doorway, he knocked on the frame once he spotted Jake at the grill. “We need to talk,” he said without preamble.

Jake looked up, his blue eyes flying wide in surprise before narrowing in annoyance. “Now isn’t a good time, as you can see.” He waved at the pots on the stove. “I can’t imagine what you might want to talk to me about, anyway, Walker.”

The flash of Jake’s unearthly blue eyes made Beau’s stomach clench, and all the attraction he’d felt as a teenager came flooding back, intensified by the fact that Jake had grown up into an even better-looking man, tall and lean with angular features, his thick, wavy blond hair and tanned skin making him look like a model from a men’s magazine.

“I wanna say I’m sorry for your loss, for one thing,” he said, forcing himself to stop thinking about how good Jake Parnell looked. “Josh was well-respected and well-liked in Buffalo Lick.”

Jake swallowed hard and focused on stirring a pot of gravy. Beau knew the twins had been close, even though Jake lived a thousand miles away. “Thanks,” Jake said, his voice rough. He cleared his throat and glanced at Beau again. “And thanks for the flowers and the card to Lexy. It was appreciated.”

Beau tucked his hands in his back pockets and glanced away, a little awkward and embarrassed. “It was the least I could do. Josh and I were rivals, but there wasn’t no bad blood.”

“Not between the two of you, no.” Jake moved the gravy off the burner, then picked up a towel and wiped his hands as he turned to face Beau directly. “All right, what else do you think we need to discuss? If it’s about buying this place, I’ll need to get Lex. I only own half, so she will have to agree.”

“What?” Beau stared at him, shocked that he would make the offer, considering Parnell’s Pantry had been a family-owned restaurant for a couple of generations, just like the Shack. “No, I don’t wanna buy you out.”

Admittedly, he was tempted, but only for about two seconds. He didn’t enjoy the business end of running onerestaurant, and he couldn’t imagine taking on a second. “I wanted to know if you’re willing to go ahead with the competition on the Gourmet Network,” he explained.

Jake leaned back against the counter, crossing his arms across his chest and frowning. “What competition? This is the first I’m hearing of it.”

Well, damn. Beau was dismayed by that news, and he hoped Jake wouldn’t turn down the offer Josh had accepted just because it involved him.

“The network approached me and Josh about having a barbecue cook-off, playing up the local rivalry. We both said yes, and they wanna start filming during the rodeo.”

Jake’s jaw dropped, and then he closed his mouth with a snap and ran a hand through his hair in agitation. “During the rodeo? You have got to be kidding! That’s the most insane time of the year, and—” He stopped, a pained expression crossing his face. “I don’t see how it could work.”

“If you think you’ll be short-handed, don’t worry.” Beau tried to sound reassuring, because he desperately wanted the competition to move forward. No, he needed it to move forward. Just getting the Shack some exposure on national television would give the restaurant some much-needed publicity and draw in customers even during the off-season. If business picked up enough, he might be able to hire someone to handle the bookkeeping and other elements of running a business so he could focus on the kitchen. “You can get people to help out for the competition. I’m sure there’s plenty of folks who’d love to be on TV.”

Jake bit his lip. “I suppose,” he said slowly, then grimaced again. “It’s not just the help, though. There’s Lexy and the kids, and we’re still trying to catch up on the paperwork. The bank hasn’t released the accounts yet, and God knows what I’m going to have to deal with as far as the IRS and licensing and inspections go. I’m having to make payroll out of my own money until everything gets straightened out.”

Beau felt a sinking sense of dismay, because he had no idea how to respond to that, and he cast around for something that might convince Jake to get on board. “It’ll be good publicity for the restaurants, which could get both of us more business on top of what they’re paying us to be on the show,” he said, hoping the prospect of more money would help make his case.

Suddenly Jake looked interested. “Payment for the show?” he asked. “Damn. I suppose I’m going to have to think about it.”

“There’s probably a copy of the contract in Josh’s papers somewhere.” Beau tried to sound more casual than he felt. Looking too eager would probably be the best way to get Jake to turn him down flat. “Look it over and see what you think.”

“I will. I’ll discuss it with Lexy too and find out what she thinks. She and the kids have had enough upheaval in their lives, and I don’t want to add to their stress by having some TV crew prying into everything.” Jake shrugged. “That’s the best I can do for the moment. But I’ll let you know.”

Beau nodded, knowing that was about all he could hope for right now. “Okay. You know where to find me.”

Jake’s gaze met his, and there was something in it he couldn’t quite read. Something that looked almost like regret. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

When he was younger, Beau would have bristled at those words, particularly coming from Jake, taking them as a reminder that he was destined for a small-town life. But Beau wasn’t an angry young man anymore, and instead of getting mad, he shrugged and gave a small, wry smile. “’Least I don’t live out in the sticks anymore. Got me an apartment here in town. Anyway, I need to get on over to the Shack. See you around.”

“See you around.” Jake retrieved the neglected gravy and put it back over the burner.

Beau was surprised but relieved that his meeting with Jake hadn’t escalated into a confrontation like their last conversation had. Then again, they’d been eighteen at the time, and they had both done a lot of growing up since then. Jake probably didn’t remember calling Beau ignorant and a bully in the heat of anger, but Beau doubted Jake saw him any differently now than he had then. Nothing had changed in Buffalo Lick after all.

But it didn’t matter what Jake thought of Beau as long as he agreed to participate in the competition. Unfortunately Beau had done all he could to make his case. He could only hope Jake made up his mind soon and that his decision worked in Beau’s favor.

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About Ari

Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who have been writing together for over a decade. Their collaborations encompass a wide variety of romance genres, including contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, and action/adventure. Their work includes the Blood Bathory series of paranormal novels, the Herc’s Mercs series, as well as two historical Westerns: Heart of Stone and Finding Forgiveness. When not writing, they can often be found scheming over costume designs or binge watching TV shows together.

Arionrhod is a systems engineer by day who is eagerly looking forward to (hopefully) becoming a full time writer in the not-too-distant future. Now that she is an empty-nester, she has turned her attentions to finding the perfect piece of land to build a fortress in preparation for the zombie apocalypse, and baking (and eating) far too many cakes.

McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.

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