Reviewed by Helyce
Favorite quote: “I just want to be where you are.”
Garrett Leigh has fast become my crack for M/M romance with pain and angst to the Nth degree. Her stories pull me in, drag me down, break my heart, make me cry and then slowly put it all back together. She never fails to bring forth characters, so very broken, that you wish you could somehow crawl into the book so that you can hold them and love them and make them whole again.
In Heart, Leigh gives us Dex, whose own father sells him to an uncle when he is just a boy. This uncle takes Dex away from his family as they travel from town to town living the gypsy life. Dex is a beautiful boy and it’s not long before his Uncle begins to abuse him and prostitute him out to the highest bidder. It’s all Dex knows and his uncle has brainwashed him into thinking it’s all he’s good for. He never tries to run or get away, just does what his uncle says.
But one summer in the small coastal town of Cornwall, Dex meets a man named Seb and for a short time experiences a life he’d never imagined.
We watch Seb and Dex as they slowly get to know each other. Dex is skittish and Seb does everything he can to prove to Dex that he just wants to help. First by offering shelter from the rain, then with food and it’s not long till Dex is coming by daily to help out at the shop. But Dex never really lets his walls down; he always looks like he’s ready to run at any moment. While a certain bit of trust begins to develop between them, Dex is leary and always seems to be looking over his shoulder. Seb continues to step lightly with Dex, always afraid that one wrong move will make him bolt. One evening, though, both men give in to the spark that had slowly been igniting between them, but when Seb wakes up, Dex is gone.
The story then moves strictly to Dex’s point of view where we are witness to the explicit details of everything Dex goes through while being held captive by his uncle. He has no choice in anything, and it’s the few minutes he spends with the horses, feeding and watering them, that give him any kind of comfort. It’s not until Dex witnesses a horrific crime involving his uncle that he finally runs as far as he can. Not knowing how to do anything else, he falls into old habits, trying to turn tricks to make money but when a trick takes a bad turn, Dex’s fear finally gets the best of him and he realizes he has to find another way.
Once again, the hand of a good samaritan comes to Dex’s rescue in the form of a gruff, outspoken restaurant owner who literally pulls Dex off the street and offers him a job washing dishes. Dex is quick to agree and with Rick’s help he finds a place to stay. For the first time in his life, he has honest work and a place to sleep. The story then comes full circle when Rick hires a new pastry chef and Dex finds himself looking into the face of the one man he’s never been able to forget.
Leigh expertly pulls us in and gives us a front seat to the seedy underworld of human trafficking. We see how easily a child can be broken by withholding basic needs like food, water and shelter so much so that they believe that this is their life and it becomes all that they know. We see the power of the spoken word-if you hear you are nothing often enough, you begin to believe it. We are witness to the brutality and indignities these people suffer because they literally believe that they have no choice. It’s so ingrained in them that even when love and kindness are close enough to touch, there is only distrust.
And with good reason. Just when you think Seb and Dex are on their way to a life together, Leigh rips your heart out again when Dex’s past collides with his present and he’s once again forced to endure the unimaginable. The difference this time, though, is that he has people who love him and miss him and will stop at nothing to find him.
Heart is a rollercoaster ride that will leave you breathless more times than you can count. You will feel just as broken as Dex and suffer every indignity as he suffers them. You will be heartbroken for him. But Leigh give us a character that is very strong underneath it all. He wants a better life, he’s experienced love and trust and he now knows that it exists. Just when you think it is completely out of his reach, small splinters of hope start to shine through. As much as she is expert at bringing the pain, this author will bring you back into the light and prove again that love and a happy ending are in fact possible.