Crossed Hearts (Hearts and Scars #1), K. Vale
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Second Chances, Contemporary
Length: 212 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: amazon.com (April 27th)
One heart’s been broken. The other is secondhand.
Kory Vansant doesn’t deserve to be alive.
As time sucks him dry of energy, sapping the final ounces of strength from his congenitally enlarged heart, he’s forced to end his career as Kory Kent, porn star. Staring down death, he questions his life choices and prays for a miracle. For another chance at life, he vows to change who he is at his core.
His prayers are answered. A perfect heart now beats in his chest, but it comes at a heavy price. The donor is an innocent young man cut down far too prematurely.
Kory’s blemished history and his donor’s spotless past are far from ideal matches.
As his debts skyrocket, Kory can’t help but think his resolve to walk the high road is being tested. After he meets the adorable Will Squire at the gravesite they both visit, he’s doubly damned because there’s no way he can keep up his end of the bargain. What happens when a man breaks a deal with a higher power?
Will often prefers the company of the dead to that of the living. Following a bad breakup, he pours himself into his two jobs—funeral director at his uncle’s mortuary and part-time paramedic. He’s drawn ever closer to Kory, as if fate sticks her fickle hand in and pushes them together like two unlikely puzzle pieces. But sometimes history can’t be buried, and maybe divine intervention isn’t always right. Will discovers everyone is imperfect, no matter how pretty the outer package, and opening one’s heart is never easy, but can be oh, so worth the pain.
Will Squire works two days a week as a paramedic and three days for his Uncle Ray at Rolling Hills, a funeral home. His mum died of cancer, and his dad left for another man many years before. Uncle Ray, while not a bad person, doesn’t understand Will’s sexual orientation and hopes he’ll meet a nice girl. Will is dating – and I use that word loosely – Darryl, a one-time jock and crush from his old school who he’s about to pop the question to. But Will and his EMS partner, Jon, have been called out to an emergency at the local high where a young footballer, Brandon Diaz, has collapsed.
Kory Vansant has just been the recipient of a new heart from a donor. He used to be porn star Kory Kent for a couple of studios in California but now he’s in hospital across the other side of the country. Kory developed cardiomyopathy and when things were at a low point he made, for want of a better description, a pact with the man upstairs that if he received a heart and a second chance he’d somehow change his life for the better.
Two months later and Kory is still in New Jersey after his operation, he visits the grave of the young man at Rolling Hills whose family have made it known that he was the donor of Kory’s new heart. But Kory is struggling being alive while young Brandon is dead. Will also visits Brandon’s grave – he was in the position of being called out initially and then, sadly, preparing him for his burial. So both men have been touched profoundly by Brandon’s death. It’s at Rolling Hills where the two first meet.
When Will first meets Kory he’s still feeling hurt and betrayed by his ex, Darryl. He thinks Kory is way out of his league – gorgeous, cool, and seemingly together – and wouldn’t be interested in him. Besides, he’s probably straight. Kory thinks Will is just his physical type, slim, smaller and has some freckles. Will obviously saves lives and gives solace to people who are bereaved, so he’s more than just physically attractive. Both guys feel they aren’t worthy in one way or another. They strike up a conversation and get along but neither feel like handing out phone numbers at Brandon’s grave.
Not long after the graveside meet, Will and Kory cross paths again at a screening of The Fault in Our Stars. Will is out with his friend, Holly, who is a real character and a would-be matchmaker. After this impromptu “date” he now knows they are both gay and he hopes Kory might be available to see him. But Kory relates to Hazel from “Fault” and doesn’t think he’s a good long-term proposition.
“But now you’re okay, right?” Please be okay.
“Okay as guys like me get, I guess. The ten year survival rate after a heart transplant is, I think, 56%. So, not the greatest odds. But I made it past the initial hurdle so I like to think my numbers are better than that.”
So even though Holly gives Kory Will’s number, Kory doesn’t call. He wants to but he can’t.
Long story shorter, they get to know one another but it takes them a while to build their relationship and even though chemistry and feelings are growing, there are some things they both hide – Kory’s previous porn work and full details about Will’s ex’s behaviour. Kory is broke with money he made in porn being rapidly chewed up by pre and post surgery expenses, which (understandably) consumes him. He lives in a small attic, he drives a clunker of a car. He paints and is good at it, but art won’t suddenly sell itself and pay for the medications he continually needs, which make job prospects top-of-mind for him.
Will has kept in touch with the Diaz family. Kory is battling going to see them, even though they have let it be known they want to meet him. After Kory asks Will to take them a portrait of Brandon that he’s painted, they want to get to know him even more. While Kory finds it difficult Will supports him in making contact. That his art is a comfort for people, that he finally meets the Diaz family, is a major turning point for Kory.
Regret was replaced by a kernel of pride. Not the gloating kind, but a bittersweet satisfaction that his work had meaning for someone. It was worth parting with his art, knowing it went to loving homes where it could perhaps bring a semblance of comfort.
The only thing that stopped me from giving Crossed Hears 5 stars was Darryl’s characterisation. Darryl was a tad OTT – almost like a Peril’s of Pauline villain. I like a good antagonist but I don’t particularly like them like Darryl, however he’s (thankfully) not in the book much.
What I did love was Kory and Will. They had a number of things in common – they were both really nice guys, they both had empathy borne out of personal loss and life experiences, they were both looking for someone special in their lives – even if Kory was unsure about his ultimate prognosis – and they supported one another.
“Most people treat me like a plague carrier when they find out what I do for a living.
Kory’s laugh was loud and unexpected. Will’s mouth spread into a gradual grin along with him. “Oh, I’ve been on the receiving end of that, let me tell ya.”
And there are extras kudos for the use of the word cockmuppet. Come on! it’s a great word and describes Darryl really well.
When Kory organises a surprise date in the rain – and the significance for both men – with the rainbow-striped umbrella… it was beautiful. They really worked well as a couple and I was so glad they found each other. The title is good, there was indeed a crossing of hearts in the metaphorical and literal sense. It really fit the writing and the story. The Diaz family, while only in the book fleetingly, were wonderful, and it broke my heart that Brandon died even if he lived on in Kory.
“You know…” Her fingers wrapped around his forearm. “I want to tell you…” Kory stopped walking and she peered up at him. “I think Brandon’s heart went to the perfect place.”
He couldn’t hold her gaze, but focused on the small hand gripping his arm. “I don’t know about that, but… I’ll be forever grateful it went to me. I promise.”
One more thing, I’m left wondering about a particular character, Matt. I felt like that was the only thread left undone but I’m thinking, this being a series, it may be on purpose and perhaps he’ll appear later in a another book.
I very much enjoy K. Vale’s writing and Crossed Hearts is another good book to add to the growing list I have read by her. I thought that Kory and Will’s story was uplifting once some hurdles were leapt. In the beginning Kory was so down on himself and really struggling with his odds of survival, glad to be given a chance but not really feeling like he deserved it. Will had been hurt and was ashamed of his relationship with someone like Darryl, but together they became stronger and found comfort. I was happy to see the growth of the two men. You get to see everything from both MCs POV which really helped to make them three dimensional and feel very real. I’m a total sucker for second chance stories, so bear that in mind, but this was a good one. I loved seeing Kory and Will finding their way and their second chance together. I recommend Crossed Hearts for those who don’t mind their nice story with a tinge of bittersweet, who enjoy second chances, and need an epilogue and a satisfying HEA. Looking forward to the next in the series. Oh yes, that cover is perfect. 4.5 Stars!
ARC provided by the author in return for an honest review.