Author: K-Lee Klein
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 3.5 stars
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Brett Taylor’s world collapsed three years ago when he lost the love of his life. Almost as bad as the grief is the advice he’s starting to get from everyone and their brother, telling him it’s time to move on. They’re flat-out wrong. He left his career as a musician and escaped to his ranch because he needs the peace and quiet, and he’s doing just fine. He doesn’t want anyone invading his memory-filled, booze-fueled solitude.
JT Campbell’s world has been defined by his parents’ money, status, and his own empty relationships, until he’s desperately sick of it. A quest to find something meaningful leads him to Brett’s failing ranch. It’s supposed to be a brief stay. JT never wanted to be anyone’s savior or compete with the ghosts of lovers past. Still, he can’t help wanting this gruff and grieving man.
JT’s mind knows it’s a bad idea, but his heart keeps pushing him to find out what lies beneath Brett’s rough and broken exterior. Brett’s not going to make it easy. JT can only be patient, keep his sense of humor, and hope for the day he may be allowed far enough into Brett’s world to unbreak his heart.
First Edition published by Amber Quill Press, 2013.
Review: The scenario of “an older man who’s lost the love of his life meets a younger man who is able to break through his walls” is nothing new. For me it all comes down to how everything is handled. Are the characters intriguing as individuals? Is their attraction to one another palpable and obviously more than lust? Given their histories, is their relationship development plausible? Thankfully in this book, a big yes is the answer to all of these questions. Unbreak My Heart is a powerful, lush romance between two men who certainly weren’t in the market for anything of the sort.
Upon the death of his partner Walt three years earlier, Brett walked away from his life as a country music star to hide his grief– often behind a bottle–at their ranch. The circumstances surrounding Walt’s death are initially sketchy, but it’s clear from the get go that Brett had saddled himself with blame. Brett wasn’t out in his career, but he was out to his ranch foreman and best friend, Ray, as well as to his mother, Millie. As the story progresses, and Brett befriends and grows close to JT, the details of Walt’s death – and Brett’s guilt–come out. The other coping mechanism Brett had in place after losing Walt was heartbreaking, yet beautiful. No, not the drinking, I’m talking about something else. Something personal, touching and tragic. You’ll discover what it was, just like JT did.
The wandering JT had his own back-story, which he was much more willing to discuss. After he’s rescued and deposited at the ranch by Millie–much to Brett’s annoyance–the two men began a tentative employer/employee relationship. This bloomed into attraction and genuine friendship long before the two entered into the category of lovers. One of the elements that is so special and so wonderful about this book is that while Brett and JT acknowledged their attraction fairly early on, they understood the need to proceed slowly, cautiously. JT wanted more from Brett than to be a hook up, and Brett had the burden of his feelings for Walt to examine and to put to rest—if he could.
The age difference—Brett was forty-one, JT was twenty-eight– isn’t really presented as a stumbling block, but Brett did fasten on to it a bit as one reason in his own mind not to get involved with JT. He took to calling JT “kid”, but JT liked it. So did I, the nickname was laced with fondness. JT’s training in psychology lent him more insight and patience when dealing with unlocking Brett’s grief and guilt than the average person may have had. For me, this detail added plausibility to the fact that the two men were able to tackle Brett’s deep seated issues together, growing stronger as individuals and as a couple along the way. I appreciated the fact that JT didn’t end up taking Walt’s place, what he did do over a period of several months, was help heal and fill a void in Brett’s life. JT and Brett’s love was the real deal, forged over time, among turmoil and genuine caring. Ray and Millie shone as secondary characters who managed to hold Brett’s best interests in mind without meddling too much.
I was deeply drawn to both characters. Brett was gruff, broken yet functional. He had thought his heart was off limits, but discovered it wasn’t. He wasn’t presented as wallowing, but rather as always striving, or at least wanting to strive. JT never looked upon Brett as a puzzle, or a patient. He saw him as beautiful, imperfect man. An intriguing, fractured man with so much left to give and receive. Both men had me in their corner all along.
The writing is gorgeous, evocative and leaves no doubt ever as to the emotions either man is experiencing. There are lengthy toe curling descriptions of touches, glances, kisses. The love Brett and JT have for each other is evident long before they ever make love. And when they did, there was no turning back. Or…was there? A rocky patch occurred, and it wasn’t contrived or thrown in as a plot device, it evolved strictly due to a poor decision by one of the men. I love the manner in which it was resolved: raw, realistic, rational.
Yeah, I loved this sweeping love story. What didn’t work for me, and why I didn’t rate it higher, is the following: This is a 387 page book. I expected so much more to happen parallel to the scope of the love story, largely due to the length. While the overall writing and the relationship were beautiful, I felt the lengthy passages involving sentiments became repetitious. The men nearly seemed to exist in a vacuum. Especially given that the story took place over many months, we rarely saw what JT did around the ranch, or what Brett or Ray did with all the hours of the day. Were there repercussions in town when JT went back for supply trips in the aftermath of his fight there? He did get in the fight because of gay bashing after all. Did those ranch horses ever get ridden? I spent too much time while reading wondering about unrevealed day-to-day stuff, and a few other big question marks.
I see that there are several follow up novellas/short stories related to this one. I’m on my way right now to check them all out. I imagine some of the questions I had, but didn’t pose above, will be answered in them. 🙂
The cover art by Reese Dante is gorgeous, and very representative of the characters and story.