Review Summary: A poignant story of loss and a new beginning.
Courage. Patriotism. Words rendered meaningless to Erik when his brother Howard returns home from Afghanistan in a flag-draped casket. Months later, Erik finds the gentle words of Howard’s Marine buddy, Greg, soften his pain. After losing a limb in combat, Greg understands the raw sorrow of loss. Erik and Greg spend a soul-searching night together and find the unexpected in each other’s company.
Every year when Erik and his brother were kids they and their Grandpa would raise the flag on Veteran’s Day and bow their heads in prayer for those brave soldiers who had given their lives to keep America safe and free. Erik never thought that one of those soldiers would be his brother Howard. This year he was in no mood to be patriotic on Veteran’s Day like everyone else in the town as they gathered for the annual service. Howard was gone, leaving a wife and son, and for Erik there was no justice in the world as he grieved at the cemetery for his brother who had died four months ago in Kabul. Two hours later he was all alone at Howard’s grave cursing fate and everything else when he heard the rustle of leaves and he looked up. A man stood there, leaning on a cane, who apologised for disturbing him.
Greg Simmons had returned home from fighting the war in Afghanistan but he was not the same person who had left the USA years ago. He had lost part of a leg and was trying to rebuild his life in the town where Howard used to live, and it was no coincidence he was at his gravesite because he knew Howard very well.
This writing pair never ceases to amaze me with the range of their stories. The plot of Purple Hearts is quite different to anything I have read to date by Jaye and Reno but at its core is what they do best – create exceptional characters that stay with readers for a long time. The story touches on a topic that’s been covered in many M/M romances, but in this instance the authors have written sensitively about two men who healed each other and in the process came to terms with a major heart-breaking event in their lives. The plot may not have been original but the story was special, as Greg showed Erik another side to Howard, the wonderful gift he had given him, and why he would remember him and cherish his memory for the rest of his life. For Erik, meeting Greg was what he needed in order not to look at his brother’s life and death as a waste; even though he would miss Howard, he did not die in vain.
These authors’ stories are always at heart character-driven whether they are paranormal with a lot of world building or a simple romance like Any Excuse, and this is never more apparent than in Purple Hearts, a dark and somber epitaph to Howard’s life but a moving tribute as well. The focus and thrust are also unusual as M/M romances rarely let readers into the lives of amputees because there is little of the glamour, glitz and escapism most readers look for when they pick up these books. I appreciated the thoughtful and sensitive way this story handled both Erik’s honest reactions towards Greg’s lost limb and his concern that he might hurt him in the process. Greg’s acceptance of his new life as a disabled veteran and his understanding of Erik’s reaction were just as realistic. The characters in this short story will make you admire Jaye’s and Reno’s skill as writers because they didn’t try to minimize Erik’s repugnance or reluctance to see what was left of Greg’s leg , as well as Greg’s understanding of what Howard’s loss would mean in the future to his family – his son, his wife and last, his brother Erik. He also showed appreciation and compassion towards Erik’s anger against the world, including his own unintended role in Howard’s death. The authors also integrated Greg’s disability in a positive way into the story and used the budding relationship between Greg and Erik as a way to keep Howard’s memory alive.
Purple Hearts at first may seem to be angst filled and a downer and in a way it is, but it’s a lot of fun too as you laugh with Erik and Greg at their first fumbling attempts at intimacy. What amazed me was how much Jay Valentine and Reno MacLeod managed to make this into not only a story about bravery under the worst conditions, but also about the emotional journey of two men seizing a chance at becoming special to each other and perhaps filling a huge void that might have otherwise been a major turning point in the opposite direction.
I hope you like Purple Hearts. For such a short story it packs a lot of emotion. I’m beginning to look forward to every new story I read by this writing pair. Highly recommended.