I must be honest in admitting that this story, Damaged Heart by S.C. Wynne, was rather difficult for me to give a rating to in the end. The story had such good bones. There was a framework and plot premise that was solid and two characters that one could easily relate to and enjoy. However, I felt the padding, the meat of the story, lacked cohesion at times and ultimately lost its way a bit.
The story revolves around Cory Johnson who has returned to his hometown to settle his family estate after the death of his mother. However, Cory has come home only reluctantly as his memories of the violent and ultra religious past he endured has left scars that haunt him to this day. In particular, his childhood has left him stunted, unable to trust or love another person, preferring to remain alone and closed off from even the hint of any emotional ties. When Cory begins the process of selling off the house and adjoining acreage left to him, he meets with potential contractors who will bid on the job of repairing and prepping the house for the market. And that is when Rhys Tucker walks in and begins to systematically attempt to break down the carefully constructed wall around Cory’s heart.
From the moment they meet, it is obvious that Rhys has held on to a years-long memory of Cory and nurtured it into somewhat of a long-standing crush. Cory, on the other hand, barely remembers Rhys, primarily because he has spent years trying to bury his past. While I could certainly understand that type of affection, it was Rhys’ intensity and approach concerning Cory that was a bit strange. At first, I felt that Rhys was almost stalker-esque but as time went on it was more desperation that surfaced in his pursuit of the rather cold and withdrawn Cory. And it was here that parts of this novel began to feel forced and untethered to the main storyline for me.
As time moved on, the way in which Cory’s past was continually glimpsed at but never fully realized made me frustrated. Even when he finally broke down near novels’ end and shared a few details with Rhys, the build up throughout the rest of the story was such that the big reveal fell flat and was certainly not enough to make the reader understand why Cory was so emotionally affected by his past. It was small details like this that kept me off balance, alternating between loving these men and the story that was building, and scratching my head at the inconsistencies. For instance, near the beginning, Cory has a run-in with a small child and meets Rhys for the first time. There is discussion and clear internal dialogue that indicates Cory would not want to add children to his life, whereas it is alternately apparent that Rhys would. And yet, other than a short scene where Rhys announces his sister giving birth, this loose end is left dangling and I wondered why it was a part of the story at all.
Then there was the mystery around Mr. Johnson’s death/suicide. Often it was hinted at that Cory’s parents were alcoholics and argued incessantly. However, within just a few dedicated lines of dialogue, it was also hinted that perhaps his mother had murdered his father and then summarily explained that it did not happen that way at all. But as far as Cory unpacking any strong feelings for finding his father’ bloodied body shortly after a gunshot killed the man, we were only given a curt response to Rhys’ inquiries and little more than a glimpse at how this affected Cory. Again, there simply was not enough explanation tor delving into the past to make all Cory’s hang-ups make sense.
All in all, the tenuous and tentative love story that develops in Damaged Heart is one that you are drawn into and want to see succeed. But Cory is not the kindest or most loving of main characters and without that bigger more dramatic reveal surrounding his childhood, it was hard not to view him as someone who emotionally manipulated poor Rhys and took advantage of his forthright admission of a long standing crush for Cory. I also cannot bring myself to think this is an HEA. Instead, I found myself wondering, much like Cory states over and over at the end, if these two may finally reach a point where Cory can overcome his fears and give enough of himself in order for the relationship to grow. Rather, his reluctance might very well threaten and essentially destroy any possible happiness with Rhys.
Damaged Heart had some wonderful moments and really was written well with solid dialogue and believable characters. Unfortunately, there were just too many threads in the story that were left dangling and, in the end, did not seem necessary to the story as they were never fully fleshed out or resolved.