Can two hearts stained by past pain find healing together?
Tom Kotke held his husband of twenty-five years on the day he died and spent nearly a year adrift. Determined to force Tom back into the world, his family takes him to the Park View Diner, where he meets young stained-glass artist Aiden Dawson. For a brief moment, Tom doesn’t think about his deceased husband—a terrifying prospect.
Slowly, Aiden draws Tom out of his shell and helps him feel alive once more. But Tom isn’t the only one who has suffered. Aiden fears no one sees beyond his wheelchair. Even if Tom can convince him he’s different, they’ll still have to overcome their age difference and a secret that could destroy their future together.
This is the 3rd (and probably final) book in the Links In The Chain series, which must be read in order. Even though each book deals with the relationship story of a different couple, the books build on each other and should not be read as standalones.
I knew this 3rd book would make me cry, having read the blurb and a teaser from the first chapter shortly after I finished book 2. I knew Tom and Brian's 25 year love story would come to an end with Brian's death of cancer, and I knew Tom would have a really difficult and long grieving period.
After Brian, Tom is in so much pain. Heart-broken. Lonely. And so, so sad. Everything everywhere reminds him of Brian, of the love they shared, and the strong connection they had. He misses Brian in everything. I felt his grief; it dripped off the pages. Tom's family is watching helplessly, until they feel that enough is enough - Brian didn't want Tom to grieve forever, and it's time that they fulfilled their promise to Brian.
Tom's brother Robert is the boyfriend of Galen Merriweather, whose brother Lincoln owns the Park View diner, and through some machinations, Tom finds himself at the diner, having a meal with friends and family. It is there that he encounters a young man named Aiden who creates stained glass art. Tom is interested in the art and after a great conversation, he commissions Aiden to create a piece of art for him.
Thus Tom and Aiden begin to spend time together and get to know each other. Aiden spends most of his time in a wheelchair and fears that most romantic interests cannot see beyond that. Tom is intrigued by the younger man, who draws him slowly out of the self-imposed hole of grief.
There are struggles, of course. Tom worries that he's not thinking of Brian as much as he thinks he should, and he overcompensates for Aiden's handicap by doing more than Aiden thinks he should. Aiden struggles with his handicap, unsure whether Tom sees him as a whole man or just pities him.
Interspersed, the author used letters Brian wrote to Tom as part of the narrative, which made it feel as if Brian is still around to some extent, as if he's still watching over Tom, having known the other man so thoroughly as to anticipate his actions after his own death and write his letters for specific occasions. I feel that those letters helped Tom to start to move on, to start to live again.
Aiden has taken steps to be more independent, and he fiercely guards this independence against anyone who might want to take it from him, so he doesn't react positively when Tom tries to do all the things for him. In Aiden's defense, it has been just him and his sister for so long, and he's had some bad experiences with others, that he has maybe forgotten that some people help not out of pity but out of a desire to be helpful wherever possible. Sure, Tom overdoes it, and sure, Aiden needed to put a stop to some of it, but I did like that they figured it out together.
Tom's parents - oh, I want to claim them for myself. Two more perfect people do not exist, and they love their kids and kids' spouses/boyfriends/lovers and include them all in their family, even Aiden's sister, who never knew how much she needed that.
There's only one thing I didn't quite love in this book, but I can't explain that without spoiling the whole thing. Let's just say that it felt a wee bit manipulative to me, and it didn't feel in character. But that's my hang-up, and you might not have the same issue.
Overall, I'm giving this book 4.5 stars. The first one is still my favorite. Also, Parker, if you're reading this - you owe me a box of tissues.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **
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