Alan Wright is a 29-year-old marketer/ad-man living in Chicago. He’s just learned that he’s been downsized from his job, and then he gets mugged leaving a gay bar—beat up so badly he needs time to convalesce. Alan’s best friend, Clay, is happily married to his hometown sweetheart, Dell, in rural Power, Wisconsin where they live on Clay’s family farm with their son, Archie. Clay and Dell keep goats and make goat cheese for the local farmer’s market, and Alan has visited them previously, so it’s to their quiet idyllic abode that he goes to rest and recuperate from his injuries.
Haley Martin is a traveling nurse serving the area around Power. He grew up there and has lived there nearly his whole life. He’s in his mid 20s and lives with his parents. Haley’s father is a homophobic man, but also a very angry one, emotionally and occasionally physically abusive to Haley as he grew up. Haley’s younger sister was born ill and died young and neither of his parents recovered from the loss. His mom emotionally shut down, while his father has only grown more domineering and hateful. As a child, Haley took the brunt of his father’s rage, but no longer. Haley loves going to Clay and Dell’s farm, seeing them live and love openly gay in their small town. The folks there all treat Haley well, and encourage him to share his truth when he’s ready. Haley’s had a giant crush on Alan since meeting him during Alan’s previous visit. He’s careful and conscientious in his care of Alan, and Alan is so darn thankful, and attracted. But, Haley’s father insists he quit his job instead of caring for queers. Now, Haley must finally find the courage to stand on his own two feet, knowing that he has people who will support him.
Heart and Home is the second book in the Heart Home Family series, but can be enjoyed as a standalone. This is a great follow-up to A Heart Back Home, where we get to see the growth of Clay and Dell’s relationship, and the intermingling of three generations in the farm. Archie plays a big role here, as he did with Clay and Dell, sharing his sweet and innocent love—and a special turtle stuffie—with all the sad and broken people he meets. The steps Alan must take toward recovery mirror those that Haley needs to assert his emotional wellness, and they bring each man closer to the happiness neither had expected to find in this rural locale. There are conflicts, of course, but they are external to the passion that is growing between Alan and Haley. Alan’s future doesn’t lay in Clay’s guest room, and while Alan’s job was discontinued, a new and lucrative opportunity strains the fledgling connection he’s made with Haley.
This story is low on the steam, but high on the feels, and several characters get the chance to grasp happiness they’d thought was elusive. It will be difficult, and requires being both honest and willing to make big changes. I loved how both Alan and Haley considered their relative stations in life, and if one could move to be close to the other. The interim while this got figured out was brief, and led to a real talk, delivered as only a true friend can, and a happy ending for Alan and Haley. The side characters all seemed authentic and insightful, there to enrich the story, including little Archie. Expect a strong resolution and hope for the future, though I didn’t glean any hints for future love stories.