When Vince Franklin messed up at his job manning a hose as a firefighter, it cost two people their lives and sent a third to the ICU. Vince fought suicidal thoughts and depression in the aftermath of that horrible night, but he’s come a long way since then. He’s finally proven he’s up to the task of fighting fires, albeit in a role that keeps him away from manning any hoses. But when one fire suddenly involves a litter of puppies, Vince comes dangerously close to a full-blown panic attack when he realizes one of the puppies may not survive. To make matters worse, his intensely emotional reaction is caught on camera by the homeowner’s photographer nephew, Aidan, and gets blasted all over the local media.
Aidan didn’t know one photograph would cause such strife for Vince. That alone would be enough to make Aidan apologize, but it also doesn’t hurt that Vince is exactly the type of man Aidan would fall for. Unfortunately for Aidan, his attempts to apologize to the man and to figure out if there is any point in hitting on him meet with cool reactions by Vince. When he unexpectedly runs into Vince at a local gay bar, Aidan learns the man is conflicted about his sexuality—and definitely attracted to Aidan. After a sudden kiss, the two finally hit their stride and quickly fall in love. But Aidan’s job as a photojournalist comes calling and puts time and distance between the two lovers. He and Vince have only been together for a few months, but they’ve fallen hard and parting is difficult for them both. When, a few weeks later, news comes of an attack on journalists in the city where Aidan went on assignment, Vince braces himself for crushing loss.
Pulse of my Heart is a sidestory/follow up to an earlier novel called Through the Inferno. The latter focuses on a trans woman’s tumultuous relationship with her family and her falling in love with a client of hers. This book follows Vince, who is a side character from Through the Inferno. The blurb mentions Vince falling in love with Aidan and believing Aidan has been killed in a tragic accident. This was on my mind as I watched Vince slowly come to realize he’s not 100% straight. Noelle takes her time in getting Vince to admit his attraction to Aidan and I rather enjoyed this slow trip towards self-discovery. I also liked that it was Vince and Zoe (from Through the Inferno) who work out Vince’s bisexuality, because I feel like this allows the focus to fall on Vince and his emotional needs, rather than Vince and his physical attraction. The idea that Vince craves an emotional relationship with a male partner (as opposed to just sex with a male partner) is a specific point of discussion between Vince and Zoe, as well. I just think covering this aspect of Vince’s sexuality with a character who is not is love interest made it feel more genuine to me.
Based on the official blurb, I was half expecting Aidan to bite the dust at any time. Noelle’s treatment of this plot twist is both clever and, personally, a bit of a double-edged sword for me. The clever bits are that the story starts with a happy ending, backtracks to the beginning when Vince and Aidan meet, Vince discovers he’s bisexual, the two fall in love, Aidan goes on assignment and gets killed, and we circle back to the scene from the start of the book. The major events are demarcated with a holiday and a year to help the reader understand where we are in the timeline. If you like not-exactly-linear storytelling, then I think you’ll enjoy this presentation. That said, the gimmick Noelle uses to craft the plot twist was a bit obvious. To her credit, the sheer amount of time spent on developing Vince’s sexuality and the slow-burn (that turns into a gasoline-fueled conflagration once Vince accepts he’s into Aidan) helped me forget the premeditated tragedy…and when it hits, I was sort of dumbstruck because it was so late in the story.
On the whole, I thought this was a uniquely intimate look into one man’s journey on realizing his sexuality. There is plenty to attract readers, too. There are intimate scenes between lovers, hurt and comfort, and misunderstandings that give the early interactions between Vince and Aidan a slight hint of “enemies to lovers” (or at the very least, odd bedfellows). Even better, you don’t have to have any real knowledge about the preceding book to enjoy this story. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys surprise endings or who enjoys books featuring characters discovering their sexuality. This is also a fun, mature take on what otherwise might be considered instalove.