Author: Garrett Leigh
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Rating: 4.5 stars
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Ex-surfer-turned-businessman Liam Mallaney moved back to Holkham, Norfolk, to mourn the loss of his husband. Grief and loneliness keep him a solitary figure, and he likes it that way. There’s no room in his broken heart for anything else.
Review: Thirty-four year old Liam Mallaney has been merely surviving since the death of his business partner and husband in an accident more than a year ago. While he may not be home bound with depression, he is just coasting through life wrapped in the layers of his grief, instead of living it. Liam took the reins of their successful business in memory of and respect for Cory dreams, and it continues to do very well, with the help of his twin sister, Rosa, and Mike, her husband and Liam’s best friend. He’s proud of what they’ve achieved, and cares about the business and those who work for it, but it had been Cory’s passion and sometimes Liam misses just being the graphic designer instead of running the show. It is his loneliness that convinces Liam to take his friends and family’s advice to get out and have some fun. That decision takes him to a nightclub in the nearby seaside town of King’s Lynn. It is with that same sense of loneliness that Liam makes the snap decision to still go home with the beautiful young man he thought was going to be a hook-up, but turns out to be a hooker.
At twenty-three, Zac’s hasn’t ever known what a life that’s less than a continuous struggle is like. But when he survived a heroin overdose six months before, thanks to being saved by his best friend and fellow rent boy Jamie, he took that second chance and moved away from the people and temptations of London to Norfolk and King’s Lynn. Likely marks may have been fewer than in a big city, especially outside of tourist season, but at least here it was on his own terms.
This isn’t m/m/m, but there is a third character of almost equal importance in this story – Jamie. He and Zac are best friends who have taken comfort in each other amidst the johns and the drugs and the hard life they’ve led. Zac managed to take the opportunity surviving an OD inadvertently handed him and put heroin behind him. Jamie came with Zac to King’s Lynn but still craves the oblivion and numbness the drugs give him and is unwilling to give them up, often disappearing to the city of Norwich for days at a time. Jamie absolutely broke my heart. There were just enough glimpses of the man he could be to desperately want him to realise that potential.
Rented Heart isn’t a light and easy read, but, despite the issues the MCs (and Jamie) are dealing with, it isn’t as angst-ridden as you’d expect, either. Liam is good man. He genuinely cares about the people in his life and wants the best for them. He’s funny and sweet and calm-natured. The age gap between he and Zac works really well, because I don’t think anyone younger would have been able to draw Zac from out behind the barriers he’d erected to protect himself. Zac is fierce and strong, he’s had to be to survive, but there’s also a vulnerability to him, a tenderness that hasn’t been completely hardened by the life he’s endured.
I really enjoyed this book. I loved both MCs, and cared about what happened to them a lot, even the difficult Jamie. The chemistry between Liam and Zac is hot from the start, and it bewilders both of them for different reasons. Zac has been hooking for a long time and he’s never felt any attraction to any of his other johns. Liam manages to get under his skin deeper and faster than he’s willing to admit. Liam has been numb ever since the death of Cory, the only person he’d ever slept with before Zac. The guilt he feels after being with Zac causes him to doubt the connection he has with him; for the first time since his husband’s death Liam feels truly alive. With each time he’s with Zac the thought of it being nothing more than a business transaction gets harder to bear. Each man has to struggle with his own baggage before they can see themselves as the other sees him.
This is a wonderful story exploring the theme of second chances, with solid writing and characters I cared deeply about. I both wanted to get to the end to see their HEA, but at the same time wanted it to keep going because I didn’t want to say goodbye to them. The development of the relationship between Zac and Liam, the conflict that threatened it, and the resolution of it were all believably done, and the epilogue was a delightful end to their story; I’m crossing my fingers that it’s also the beginning of another story.