Anderson Passero is finally out of prison after spending eight years behind bars for selling drugs after getting sucked into his ex-boyfriend’s dealing. Now he has to figure out how to restart his life by finding a job and a place to live. Not to mention dealing with a prosecutor who would still like to nail Anderson on more charges and a hostile parole officer. Fortunately, Anderson’s sister Gia, although a constant meddler in his life, manages to help him get on his feet with the help of her wealthy husband.
But even as he begins to rebuild his life, Anderson’s heart is still broken, thinking of the man he left behind in prison, Lem Porter. Against all odds, Anderson and Lem managed to connect in prison, starting a romance that brought both of them peace and comfort. But Lem is in jail on a life sentence for murder, and his unwillingness to do anything to help his case or to tell anyone why he killed his brother means Anderson must accept Lem is never getting out. And although Anderson means to keep in touch, as time passes, the pain of the separation is just too much for him.
Two years after Anderson got out of prison, Lem is surprised by an unlikely visitor — Anderson’s sister Gia. Even more surprising is that Gia believes she can help Lem get out of prison. She paints an enticing picture of what his life could be like on the outside, complete with a small cabin in the middle of his beloved woods. Being locked up is slowly killing Lem, a man much more comfortable outdoors in the wild than he ever could be inside. And of course, getting out of jail could finally bring him back to Anderson. When against all odds Gia is able to deliver on her promise, Anderson and Lem finally have a chance to be together again.
Lem and Anderson find that the love between them is still strong, and it continues to grow over time. But they are still such very different men. Anderson enjoys life in the city filled with action. Before prison he was a well known club promoter with lots of perks and comforts. Even now as he tries to rebuild his life, he has trouble letting go of the desire to be in the thick of things in the city. And Lem is made for nothing more than the outdoors. He is at home in the forest, and can spend weeks on end wandering the woods and living in the wilderness. As the years pass with visits back and forth but neither man really comfortable in the other’s world, Lem and Anderson must finally decide if they just want too many different things out of life, or if their love is strong enough that they can make it work together.
Heart of Timber is the sequel to Cold, where we first meet Lem and Anderson in prison. I just adored that book and found the depictions of life in prison and the fragile romance these men built together just wonderful. Here Lem and Anderson must face the real world and deal with trying to make things work together while they both try to rebuild their lives after prison.
To me the best part about these books is Lem and Anderson. They are just both such fascinating characters and make such an usual couple. Lem is really like no one else I have read. He is a huge giant of a man who terrifies everyone with his physical presence, but he is truly the most gentle soul. He grew up exploring the woods and knows everything about the forest and the wildlife. Prior to going to jail he worked as a naturalist and during the 20 years he served he pined to get back into the wild. His cabin is in the remotest spot, just on the edge of the national forest. He indoor space is one tiny room, but he truly lives in the outdoors. Shire really succeeds here helping us see the forest through Lem’s eyes. He does a wonderful job of portraying not on the beauty of the area, but the sense of wonder and appreciation Lem has for his surroundings. We can feel the peace and the glow that comes over Lem when he is out in the middle of nowhere.
Lem is also complicated by his past. After his father died when Lem was just 18, he was left raising his young brother. The same brother Lem killed to end up in prison. Throughout the first book and much of the second, Lem refuses to talk about why he killed his brother, and it is a cloud that hangs over him. We do finally learn the truth about what happened, and even then it is something Lem is very hesitant to share. I think the reveal really works here, and totally fits with everything we know about this man. Lem is so warm and gentle and just a really wonderful character who wins the heart of not just Anderson, but his sister and mother as well.
Anderson is also complicated, still caught a bit by his past. Prior to prison, Anderson was focused on wealth and fame and parties and material things. He got caught up in the drug dealing sort of despite himself, yet he still went along with things rather than give up the life he had built. Prison helped give Anderson some perspective, taught him to focus on things that are more important. But even when he gets out, Anderson is still caught up somewhat in his old habits. He avoids bringing Lem around his mother because he still is uncomfortable involving her in his relationships. He continues to let Gia take care of him at the same time he complains about her meddling. And part of him still wants some of that past life, even as he tries to move on. We really see the most growth from Anderson over the course of the book as he is able to figure out what is really important to him and mature along the way.
A couple of areas didn’t work quite as well for me here. First off, the beginning of the book felt somewhat slow to me. The men are not reunited until about 50% of the way through the story. And I enjoyed following along as Anderson settles in to his life and Lem works to get out of prison. But it just felt like the real action doesn’t really start until midway through the story and I wish this first portion had been condensed a little. I also think there were some big issues that never really get addressed. First off, we learn early on that the prosecutor is still after Anderson and his ex-boyfriend is making noise trying to get Anderson brought up on more charges to deflect attention from himself. The issues with Jacob just sort of disappear and while the problem with the prosecutor is addressed, it felt like a lot of build up for a rapid resolution. Also, I wanted to know what Gia did to get Lem out of jail. I mean, yes, she is rich and determined, but can that really be all it takes? We never learn how this man in prison for life, 20 years into his sentence, is able to suddenly walk out months after she gets involved. Part of it is now Lem is motivated to get out and working on his own behalf, but I still felt that this was so vague for such a major plot element. And finally, I feel like the ending conflict gets too rushed at the close of the book. This is an issue that is a huge stumbling block and one that has been building throughout the story. But in the final pages, everything just seems to fall into place really fast. I would have loved to see this expanded more so that the resolution felt more complete.
Despite these issues, I loved this story and adore Lem and Anderson. The love they have for one other is so palpable. It is clear that despite their vast differences, these men are meant to be together. I loved seeing the contrasts between the two and the way they worked so well as a couple. And I loved the way Shire captures the beauty and peace of the wilderness and makes it such an important part of the story. So I really enjoyed Heart of Timber and strongly recommend both of these books.
P.S. In case it isn’t clear, you really should read Cold before this one to understand the backstory on these guys and the development of their relationship.
Note: As with all of his books, Shire is donating 10% of his proceeds to GLBTAYS & Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc.