Title ~ Mark of Cain
Author ~ Kate Sherwood
Publisher ~ Samhain Publishing
Published ~ 20th May 2014
Genre ~ M/M Romance
When a man is consumed by hatred, is there anything left to love?
After a tough day of counseling sessions, Anglican priest Mark Webber is looking forward to a relaxing dinner at a local restaurant. When he sees who’s bellied up to the bar, though, he reaches for his cell phone to call the police.
It’s Lucas Cain, the man who killed Mark’s brother three years ago. Apparently he’s out of jail and hanging out with his old crowd, which has to be a breach of parole, right?
Pulled over upon leaving the bar, Lucas blows a clean breathalyzer and hopes this isn’t a harbinger of things to come. He’s ready to build a sober, peaceful life. His friends aren’t ready to let him move on, though, and he ends up taking refuge in an Anglican half-way house.
Thrown together, Mark and Lucas find common ground in the struggle to help a young gay man come to terms with his sexuality—and the fight against homophobic townsfolk. As attraction grows, the past is the last stumbling block between them and a future filled with hope.
Warning: Bad boys being good, good boys being bad.
When Mark Of Cain came up for review, I wasn't really sure because normally I shy away from stories involving religion.That doesn't mean that I don't have faith, and I am 'spiritual' in my own way but I don't adhere to or follow any organised denomination. Therefore stories about conflicted religious figures tend to turn me off and get pushed away unless the blurb sounds interesting enough to get me past my 'block' and something about this did give me that vibe, plus it's Kate Sherwood - so that went a long way in its favour. I had a little bit of trepidation going in but it wasn't long before that drifted away as I became deeply engrossed in this amazing, thought provoking story surrounding long held blame and guilt, testing of faith, hypocrisy, forgiveness of past sins, forgiveness of self and ultimately...redemption(s).
Lucas Cain has been in prison for three years after killing a man in a bar-room brawl. The charge, reduced to manslaughter because witnesses said he was provoked by the man in question but all Lucas remembers is being drunk out of his skull, losing his temper, which had always been pretty volatile, picking up a bottle and striking the man over the head with it, killing him outright. However, as far as he's concerned he murdered a man and he just can't forgive himself for that.
His long standing best mate Sean and their other friends, Mikey and Tinker...all similar personalities to the Lucas of old have carried on in the same vein whilst he's been away. Drinking, brawling, sleeping with any willing female, no thoughts of settling down because for them its all about having a good time, and when Lucas is released, they're all there to meet him with the idea that everything will just go back to the way it was. As part of his release, he needs a place to stay so that he can honour the terms of his parole, so he ends up living with his quick tempered friend Sean who can't understand why he's sticking to the rules—curfew at 9pm, no drinking, no more putting himself in the path of trouble—as far as he's concerned Lucas has done his time, paid his dues and can just go back to being one of the lads again. So the three of them begin to hassle Lucas, egging him on to flaunt the rules and let loose. But Lucas' guilt lies heavy and that lifestyle holds no pleasure for him anymore, plus the feelings he's been hiding about his own sexual orientation are getting harder to hide from his reckless friends whose slurs about "Faggots and Queers" show exactly how they would react if they ever figured it out, although Sean isn't as blind to that side of Lucas as he makes out, and later on it becomes a huge factor when he refuses to revert to his old ways. Sean, Mikey and Tinker get pissed off with him and accuse him of being boring and safe, causing rifts to appear in the group and it all culminates in a violent, hate filled incident that finally blows their friendship apart, throwing Lucas further into the path of the man who has more reason to hate him than anyone in the town...Father Mark Webber, the priest and brother of the man he killed!
Mark is an Anglican priest who, because the Anglican faith supposedly recognises homosexuality in a more positive way, is openly out to his family, congregation and peers. As far as he's concerned it doesn't seem to hamper his life as a priest. As part of his duties he works with the church youth group, where he helps sixteen year old Alex come to terms with being gay, and being gay himself he also hopes he'll be chosen to be part of an Integrity Panel to speak out for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community within the church. His devotion to god, his vocation, and love of his religion is fairly solid and even though the tragedy surrounding his brother is still very raw for him and his parents, outside of it he still manages to preach forgiveness and the teachings of his faith. That is until one night he goes to a local bar with his friend and spots the man responsible (in his view) for the murder of his brother. It looks to him; wrongly in this case, that Lucas Cain is out of prison, laughing, drinking and having a good time and suddenly the deep-seated anger that's been simmering since he saw Lucas convicted, blinds him and fuelled by that anger he makes some rash decisions that go completely against the principles he lives by, inadvertently kicking up a storm that in the long run causes more conflict and trouble for Lucas, who hasn't been accepted back by the majority of the town. Those decisions end up rebounding back on himself, affecting his relationship with his understandably still grieving, unforgiving mother and his on-going role in the church, bringing to light hypocrisy not only within his congregation,who have never really accepted him being gay like he thought they had, but more importantly, the church hierarchy that up to that point he's believed have always supported his sexuality. Suddenly his faith and personal boundaries are being tested to the limit.
"I was always hyper-aware of my sexuality in terms of a social identity, you know? I was The Gay Priest. But the actual being gay? Like, letting myself be attracted to men, pursuing relationships with them? I didn't do any of that. I was theoretically gay, but in practice I was just celibate." '
There are So many moral issues in this story to test your own beliefs and ideals, and of course I found myself exploring my own. If I hadn't been an outsider, seeing both sides of the coin, would I REALLY have found myself actually sympathising with, and liking Lucas? Would I not have been as dismayed at some of Marks actions, even though I felt so terribly sorry for him losing a loved one in such a terrible way, and if it had been my own sibling would I have done the same without thought? Would I have been incensed that Lucas hadn't been given a longer sentence? Would forgiveness ever be something I could contemplate, however guilty that person who had devastated me and my family's life felt? I know sometimes I've been the first one to say that criminals have been released far too soon after the enormity of their crimes, and bitched about it. So...those were just a few things to contemplate, but that's the thing about reading a story that gives you more insight into the personalities of the people involved, you know under normal circumstances you wouldn't or shouldn't find yourself caring for them, but if you don't find yourself rooting for Mark and Lucas then I'll be really surprised. By the end of the book I desperately wanted them to make it together, so much so that I found myself feeling niggled by the characters who at the start of the story had my sympathy, but who at times and for different reasons, either fanned the flames of Marks inner turmoil or used Lucas' guilt to try to push him away from Mark as they got closer.Thankfully some did redeem themselves, but I still had a few teeth gnashing moments!
There's a lot of emphasis on religion and the part it plays both physically and spiritually in Mark's life, which normally would be a no no for me, but I honestly never felt put off by it or preached at because it's so important, emotionally, to the story. It did however, reinforce for me why I do have certain issues with the church and its politics, especially around its policies about gay rights. However, that's not what I wanted to really bang on about because even though it is a big part of Mark and Lucas' journey, really this is a heartfelt, poignant story about two emotionally conflicted men, drawn to each other by unconscionable circumstance, learning to come to terms with a tragedy that has far reaching consequences — touching and shaping the way they both live their lives after the event and finally, healing each other's pain despite the origin of each of their sorrows. The romance grows slowly, emerging out of a shaky relationship that starts in a world of hurt and hatred, but after a decision of Marks turns sour, making him question his actions...and a shared attachment to Alex (the gay teen), who makes a friend of and ends up crushing on Lucas, conspires to brings them together, they begin to see each other in a different light. Mark sees the cold eyed, hard hearted man he thought Lucas Cain was in the trial, melt away with each passing contact and he realises that the guilt that's evidently pulling him down, is sincere and honest. Forgiveness isn't easy for him but something about this quiet, accepting younger man starts to break down the walls he's built around his heart and the same for Lucas...he finds himself pulled towards Mark, uneasy about how they could ever make a relationship work based on the fact that its core foundation is built around shame, blame and guilt, especially when others around them will never understand how a relationship between them could ever work. Both of them have to weather a lot in this story...separately and together...but being part of their journey and seeing them overcome each trial was what made this such a special story for me.
Also the intricacies of each supporting characters personalities, whether positive or negative...and their importance to the heart of the story, all goes towards the richness of the novel as a whole. Sean, Mikey, Tinker, Alex, Elise, Marks mother, and even the lesser supporting cast, all bring an extra something to the mix that adds to its readability. I absolutely loved this book! I loved that what could have been dreadfully gloomy, angsty and overly dramatic turned out to be compelling and totally believable, I loved that Kate Sherwood made me question my own thoughts on such a debatable subject, I loved that this didn't follow the normal route of the typical love/hate trope, where the lust is insta and the hate just an excuse for the proverbial angry sex... No, we patiently wait for these two guys to recognise their attraction, which like I said grows steadily out of the fires of hostility in a slow burn love story which is perfectly paced for its subject matter. When the romance takes full flight, and finally, they physically connect, their coming together is as sweet and tender as it is sexy and sensuous and as it reached its conclusion, it left me feeling emotionally satisfied, hopeful for their future and totally at ease with its wonderful finale and rewarding epilogue. Yes, I'm in love with a book that might just have passed under my radar if I'd followed my usual choice, so it just goes to show that it's good to push your boundaries every now and again. If you're dithering a bit like I did when I was offered this for review...don't think...just take a leap of faith....
About Kate Sherwood
I started writing at about the same time that I got back on a horse after a twenty-year break. I’d like to think that I’m far too young for it to be a mid-life crisis, but apparently I was ready for a few changes!
My writing focuses on characters and relationships, people trying to find out how much of themselves they need to keep, and how much they can afford to give away. I try to find that careful balance between drama and humor – I want readers to have an intense experience and feel drawn into the book, but I also want them to enjoy the time they spend reading.
I started writing in the m/m area of Romance, and I’ve spent some serious time trying to figure out why that is… if you’re interested, my reflections on why m/m fiction appeals tothis straight woman can be found at my blog (here). And, now that I feel like I’m hitting my stride writing the m/f stuff, I’m working up another post outlining how I made that work, for me. I definitely plan to continue writing in both sub-genres, and of course I still have my YA projects to play with. And I’m thinking about trying some women’s fiction, too! This writing thing is fun!
Kate Sherwood is gifting one lucky reader an ecopy of Mark of Cain, all you need to do is enter the Rafflecopter below.