Rating: 4.75 stars
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Noah Daniels, professor of art history at the Art Institute of Chicago, is stuck in a rut. He has lost his zest for life and spends his evenings at Redheads, his local bar, sipping bourbon. When an opportunity to teach at Central Saint Martins in London for a semester as part of an exchange program presents itself, Noah decides to go for it. Other than his brother’s family, he has nothing in Chicago holding him back from an out-of-country adventure.
Noah exchanges lives with fellow professor Robert Callinan, and once in England, Noah takes in the sights. A few days into his stay, however, he has discovered the purpose for all of Robert’s keys but one, a small ornate key that he cannot match with anything in the house. One night Noah decides to watch one of Robert’s DVDs and comes across a box with a lock that fits the small key. The contents are indeed what Noah thought they would be, but he was not expecting the porn to be homemade, starring Robert and a variety of hookups.
The discovery of Robert’s DVDs is the catalyst for Noah’s coming out and he quickly becomes obsessed with the videos featuring the handsome Robert. When Noah finds a business card for a local bathhouse in Robert’s desk, he is intrigued, and after weeks of scoping out the establishment, Noah takes the plunge and goes through the door into a whole new world. Noah finds the bathhouse overwhelming and is fortunate to meet another patron who takes care of Noah and initiates him to the finer aspects of the bathhouse experience. He also tries out a night club, but while these experiences are physically pleasurable, they are still contradictory to what Noah truly wants: a connection to one person.
A throwaway comment during one of Noah and Robert’s daily Skype session turns into a plan for Noah to remain in England for the summer, staying with Robert and travelling across Europe together. Noah and Robert begin their European vacation in Paris and the sexual tension is palpable. Robert begins the seduction but Noah is the one to seal the deal with a kiss and from there, the two men resist each other no longer, and begin what is to be two months of passion and happiness for both Noah and Robert. Noah is in love but as the days and nights countdown to Noah’s return to the United States, Noah is uncertain if Robert shares his feelings. He is conflicted by the fact that Robert was a player and wonders if he may be just another one of Robert’s playthings.
Noah is trying not to think too far into the future, but he is steadily falling in love with Robert and must make some major decisions about his life and whether he should return home or stay in the UK. When conflicts arise with Noah’s family, he may risk losing both the love the love of his life and his family, all in the name of being true to himself.
One thing I always look for is organic growth in a character and I certainly got that in Noah. His acceptance of his sexuality takes time, and since his fantasies all revolve around Robert, once he has Robert in bed, all bets are off. Both men, intentionally or unintentionally (I never could figure out), avoid discussing themselves, having fallen into such a comfortable relationship in person after so many months communicating by Skype. Noah’s journey of self- discovery was easy for me to relate to on an emotional level. I remember years (and years) ago when I first came out, the buildup of tension, desire, and finally the terrifying and desperate need to take action. Although my actual experiences were a far, far cry from Noah’s, I believe that his feelings and experiences mirror those of many men when they first come out, a need to discover themselves, both physically and emotionally. Once Noah begins to accept that he is gay, the floodgates open and he begins to think he is obsessed, not just with Robert’s porn but with men in general and although that may be true, I felt like he was a kid in a candy shop or rather trying to catch up for the years of loneliness he experiences while sleeping with women. Noah’s fear of coming out is somewhat justified, especially after his brother makes homophobic remarks about Robert. Noah has no other family in his life, and the thought of losing his big brother, wife, and their two sons, whom Noah has dubbed the “hurricanes,” make him hide for fear of losing their closeness.
We meet Robert well into the story. He is confident, out and proud, and a definite player, who was raised by his grandmother after having been kicked out of his family home at 14. From watching Robert’s videos, Noah believes that Robert also yearns for a deeper connection than he is getting from his many one-night stands. Nearing the end of the semester and after many trips to the bathhouse, Noah is torn: go home or stay and experience more of this new life. He would like to experience anal sex but wants to save himself for Robert, if he would have him. Although it may seem odd that Noah would feel this way about Robert, having never met him, Noah’s deep desire stems from his and Robert’s daily Skype sessions and he feels they are kindred spirits. To Noah, Robert is the “the ideal,” both physically and emotionally, and falling for Robert could mean the loss of everything he holds dear. Robert’s return home pulls all of the loose strings together and Noah thinks he is in love with Robert. Now, considering Noah has never felt anything for any of the women he had sex with in the past, it is easy to understand that once he feels a connection that he would latch onto it with all of his might.
Often, Robert refers to Noah as Sunshine, a term normally used in the bathhouse to ensure anonymity, which made me (and Noah) wonder if Noah was just a trick, although their behavior in Paris felt like they were more like a couple. The conflicts at the end, and the heated discussion about their needs, leave Noah bleeding inside but he is determined to salvage the relationship built from friendship into love before it is too late. But when the conflicts between them grow, Noah separates himself, a mental disconnect as a coping mechanism for his life that has fallen to pieces.
During Noah’s journey, he is fortunate to meet people who are not out to take advantage of him, but rather to help him on his journey. However, I wondered about the likelihood that someone could be so lucky at such a vulnerable time. I also found that the bulk of the secondary characters other than Miranda, Noah’s sister-in-law, were a bit two dimensional, including Noah’s brother, Mitch, who was portrayed as the stereotypical homophobe, spouting off the standard lines about homosexuality. This was not at all a detriment to the story as it was Noah’s life we were following and other than Robert, none of the other characters other than Mitch and Miranda were critical to the advancement of the story.
Heart Knot Mine sucked me right in and the title is a nice play on words, Noah’s heart is in a knot and once he fell in love, it was no longer his. Only Robert, admitting his love for Noah, can heal Noah’s heart. The knot becomes the symbol of Robert’s willingness to commit himself to Noah and of all that can be in the future for the two men. The sex scenes were super-hot, the drama and heartache was sad to witness, and being a sucker for a HEA, I was extremely happy with how Velden pulled it all together at the end. Heart Knot Mine is a definite must buy.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.