Today, Parker Williams is here, talking about his new book Stained Hearts. And I have to say, if you don’t shed a tear or two at the character interview and excerpt, I will be very disappointed! This is book 3 in the series, and so touching! (I really enjoyed books 1 and 2 as well). So, check it out, and make sure to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway.
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.
Word Count: 67,000
Book Categories: Fiction, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance, Romance, Hurt and Comfort, Loss and Redemption
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Good morning! Today we’re going to be talking with Tom from ‘Stained Hearts’, the third and final book in the Links in the Chain series.
“Tom, thank you for taking the time to meet with us.”
“Sure, no problem.” He glances around. “Wait, when did I agree to do this?”
“Oh, your mom set it up. She said you needed a break after dealing with the loss you did.”
The sheen of tears was obvious, and I immediately felt like an ass for reminding Tom of what he lost.
“I’m sorry about that. My mouth usually engages a day or two before my brain does.”
“That’s…fine. We can talk about it if you want.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. So Brian was the love of your life.”
Tom’s gaze took on a dreamy quality. “He was. From the day I met him, no one could ever hope to catch my eye. He was such a tiny thing, but his presence filled any room he was in, no matter how large. Though he’d deny it, Brian captured the attention of everyone, and he held them in his web, because once Brian approved of you, you had a friend for life.”
“Was falling in love hard for you?”
Tom chuckled. “Oh, no. Falling in love with Brian was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. One look into his eyes, and I want him to know that I would do anything to make him happy. And I spent nearly twenty-five years doing just that.”
“And then he got the diagnosis.”
“Yeah… That was the worst fucking day in the history of ever for me and my family. Brian gathered us all together an told us in no uncertain terms he had cancer. The doctors told him he was on borrowed time, but he told me he would outlive any expectation they had. And he did. But I watched as the fucking disease consumed him. That healthy glow paled, his bright eyes dimmed, and that beautiful hair became brittle and fell out in clumps.” Tom gave a pained smile. “He told me he would understand if I didn’t look at him the same. He was wrong, though. His beauty was never on his outside, it was the inside I was in love with.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“What are your plans now?”
There was a moment of uncertainty. “I’ll be honest, I’m trying to take everything one day at a time. After he died, I fell apart. Mom and Dad dragged me out of the house and did their best to push me to become part of the living again. I kicked and screamed the entire way, but they were right. I needed it.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I don’t think Brian would want you to be alone.”
“He doesn’t…didn’t. But I’m okay with it. I’m not looking for anyone else, and I really can’t see myself finding anyone who could hold my heart like Brian did.” He checked his watch. “Is that it?”
“Sure, no problem. I’m not sure why you wanted to interview me, but I appreciate you coming by.”
I stood to leave. “Have a good day, Tom.”
“Thanks. I’m heading over to the diner to see Noel and Lincoln. You’re welcome to come if you’d like.”
I smiled at him, because I knew what was about to start unfolding. “Nah, it’s fine. I think this trip will be memorable for you. Take care.”
I left Tom’s house and, while sad for his loss, I realized that sometimes we have to lose something we love in order to grow strong enough to find a new thing that we’ll hold onto. Tom’s journey to healing would start today.
There is a moment, just as twilight gives way to total darkness, when everything over the lake is still. It’s like the world is holding its breath, waiting to see what’s going to happen. It’s during this one, singular moment when I feel… free from the memories. Of course, like they always do, they surge back when I realize I can’t cling to that magical second any longer.
In October, Brian and I bought a cabin near Crivitz, Wisconsin. A quiet, peaceful tract of land where we could lay together and love each other as much as we could. I had a company come in to fix it up, so after we shared Thanksgiving dinner with our family, we could pack up our things from our home in Milwaukee and move into the cabin. The place was beautiful, but I don’t know how much of it Brian really saw. Each passing day he got weaker and weaker, and each day I wished I could freeze time.
When January came around, we went home to Milwaukee for a little while. Brian told me he wanted to go back and say goodbye to our friends and family. The trip was awful, what with my mother and father spending hours locked away with Brian, and him wanting some alone time with my brother, Robert, and his lover, Galen. After finally meeting with Lincoln and Noel, Brian also asked to go to Lincoln’s diner alone so he could sit and talk with Noel. It hurt me to have him away from me, but I understood his need to be by himself for a time. It still sucked.
I remember the night clearly. There was a haze over the lake, and the clouds obscured the moon. Around us, the night air filled with sounds, like the animals were doing whatever it took to make Brian happy. We sat there, holding hands in our little bit of paradise, where nothing bad could happen. Only… it could. Brian wanted to stay here because he didn’t intend his last days to be spent being fussed over by our friends and the family we’d created. The thought that they pitied him made his heart hurt, because Brian was the healer. He needed to make everyone else feel good. And now it was he who needed the healing, but we both knew it wasn’t going to come. The doctors had given him less than a year. He swore to me that he would prove them wrong, and he did. Being the fighter he was, Brian stretched it out to five. But every hourglass runs out eventually.
One night, just as twilight was giving way to total darkness, he reached for my hand.
“I love you.”
My throat seized. I knew what he was doing, but I wasn’t ready. Not yet. “I know.”
“You have to let me go.”
I jumped out of the chair and spun to face him. “How the hell do you expect me to do that? Since that first day in college, I have been in love with you.”
It was true. When this young Asian man knocked on the door to the dorm room, my tongue stopped working. He was so goddamn beautiful, it hurt to see him and not be able to touch his flawless skin. But that was 1993, and things were still kind of closeted. Hitting on your roommate was probably the stupidest thing you could do, despite what the porn videos said.
“I’m Brian Chen.”
His voice sent ripples of pleasure through me. I was hit hard by lust and longing, and the only thing I could think of was that it would be a very long four years.
“Hi. I’m Tom Kotke.”
He held out his hand, and after I took it, I was reluctant to let go. He smiled at me, showing off pearly white teeth, with one just a little crooked. I wanted to kiss that mouth and let my tongue explore that tooth. I’d never had sex before, but right then I wanted to drop to my knees and show this man the pleasure one guy could give another. Or, at least what I’d seen in porn.
He chuckled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tom Kotke. Might I have my hand back?”
It was then I realized I still held his hand in mine. I let go of it, instantly regretting having done so. “I’m sorry.” I worried that now he’d think I was some kind of freak. “I’m not a weirdo.”
And saying that out loud seemed to prove the opposite.
He gave the barest of smiles. “No, I never thought that.”
And that was our first meeting. Over the next two months of living together, Brian spent every night at home, in front of his laptop. Secretly I was grateful for that fact, because seeing him with another person would have hurt. It wasn’t too much longer before I had to admit to him that I was gay, because having him be uncomfortable around me was definitely not what I wanted.
“I figured that out when you held my hand that first day. If I’m honest, I wish I hadn’t said anything and you had continued.”
My heart beat a little faster. “You mean…?”
His grin slid into place, and my heart went pitter-pat. “Yes, Tom, I’m gay as well.”
And that sealed the deal for me. I was in love with him.
Before those memories could swamp me, a wheezed breath dragged me back to the here and now.
“I watched you every night, pen in your mouth, as you worked on one paper or another. I dragged you up to bed on nights when you told me you needed five more minutes. I sat in the audience as you stood up there, diploma in hand, and told our class that they were responsible for the world they were entering. That they had to choose kindness over money. And the day I asked you to marry me….”
“And I said no.”
I couldn’t swallow past the lump in my throat. “You said no.”
He quirked his artfully plucked eyebrow. “And why did I say no?”
“Because you didn’t want me to have to choose between you and a career. You thought you were doing good by me.”
“And I was wrong. The day you slid that ring on my finger, I finally understood what it meant to be whole.”
“Right, and now you think I’m supposed to just let you go and move on? I won’t be whole anymore, so how the hell do you think I can pick up and forget you existed?”
He gave me a weak smile. “Tommy, sit down.”
When he called me Tommy, my knees wobbled. It was a nickname that only he could use. I wouldn’t accept it from anyone else, not even my family. From him? My heart always thumped a little harder at hearing it in his soft voice, as his light brown eyes held me captive. I sat on the bench beside him, and he put a hand on my arm.
“I’m not saying you have to do it now, but you can’t keep living for me. I won’t be here in anything more than a memory. If you really want to honor that, then you need to live. You’ll have to do it for both of us. Take that trip and go parasailing like we always said we’d do. Trek across the desert on the back of those humped nightmares. Ride the scariest roller coaster in the world. Do that, and your heart will race harder than it’s ever done before.”
“No, it won’t.” I turned my hand over and wrapped our fingers together. “The day you said ‘I do’? Nothing will ever be more thrilling or terrifying than that.”
He coughed, his body shuddering. He reached up to cover his mouth. When he pulled his hand away, dots of blood coated his palm. The inevitable had finally happened, and I was about to lose my heart.
“It’s been twenty-five years, baby. The best anyone has ever had, but—”
“Shut up.” I leaned over and put my head on his shoulder. “Please. Just stop talking. Let’s sit here and enjoy the quiet.”
He laid his head against mine. “Okay.”
The moment was perfect. A reminder of why I loved him so very much. We sat there for an hour, and when the coughing started again, worse this time, I reached for my phone. He shook his head.
“Don’t. You’ve got to let me go. It’s time. I don’t have it in me to fight anymore.”
My heart broke, knowing what was coming. “But I can’t…. I don’t want to.”
“I know, but no one can stop time, and mine has come. You need to accept that.”
My eyes filled with tears, and I scrubbed a hand over them.
“Do me a favor?”
“Anything, you know that.”
“Hold me, so I won’t be so afraid.”
God, my heart tore in two. “Okay.” I wrapped my arms around him, the body that had always been delicate but was now thin and fragile. He put his head on my chest, and his wheezing grew harsher.
“I’m always going to love you, Tommy. And if there’s an afterlife, I’ll be waiting for you in the park under the big oak tree. Will you look for me?”
That was where we had our first date. Him sitting there, his face tilted up at the sun, looking so fucking gorgeous. “I swear, I won’t look for anything else.”
“Okay.” He coughed, harder than before. “I’m going to miss waking up and seeing your smile every morning.”
I squeezed him tighter. I no longer had words. In my mind, I was wishing I could die along with him, because being alone? I couldn’t see how that was possible. The man I clutched to me was my life.
“You’re going to be okay. You know that.”
I started to disagree but stopped myself. He needed it to be true. He didn’t want to die with the regret of leaving me alone. “I’ll be okay.”
“Stop lying to me. You’ll cry, grieve, and try to hide away from people. When we went home, I told our family not to let you do it. They’re going to hound you. They’ll force you to go out and meet new people.” He reached up and put his hand on my chest. “And one day, I hope you’ll find love again, because there’s too much in your heart not to share it with—” Harsh coughs wracked his slight frame, and I knew the time had come.
“Rest. I’m going to be right here for you.”
“You always were. And when the time comes that you need comfort, you know where to look, right?”
“Sure.” I really had no idea, but I just needed him to be at peace.
I’m not sure when Brian passed away, but the night had gone dark. As if sensing my mourning, everything around us was still. Taking out my phone, I called the hospital and told them that he had died. They sent an ambulance, and the EMTs found me still cradling the body of my husband. A numbness sapped any strength I had, and I was grateful to the men who took me to the hospital, because I wouldn’t have been able to get there on my own.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind of calls and letters, the funeral—Brian had asked to be cremated and wanted his ashes laid to rest in his favorite place in the whole world, Yellowstone National Park. He loved the beauty and tranquility of the place. Of course, I would follow his instructions to the letter, but I wasn’t prepared for what I found when I opened his urn. Brian was always so full of life. He personified grace and beauty in all things. And now? My husband was nothing but a white powder, like something I cleaned out of our fireplace. Upon seeing what was left of my Brian, I broke down in tears. Still, I sucked it up and did what he asked, burying his ashes beneath a tree that he’d carved our initials on decades ago.
Going home—to the house we had bought together a lifetime ago—was bittersweet. I could sense his presence everywhere, and more than once the memories of the life we shared overwhelmed me. Stupid things, like sitting down to watch a favorite TV show, became hollow and empty without him next to me. Going to bed, knowing his side would stay forever cool, had me moving out onto the couch. Not comfortable by any means, but still a damn sight better than rolling over to wrap my arm around him and finding him gone. Again.
Parker Williams began to write as a teen, but never showed his work to anyone. As he grew older, he drifted away from writing, but his love of the written word moved him to reading. A chance encounter with an author changed the course of his life as she encouraged him to never give up on a dream. With the help of some amazing friends, he rediscovered the joy of writing, thanks to a community of writers who have become his family.
Parker firmly believes in love, but is also of the opinion that anything worth having requires work and sacrifice (plus a little hurt and angst, too). The course of love is never a smooth one, and happily-ever-after always has a price tag.
Leave a comment for Parker about this new book, and his guest post and excerpt and you could win one of his backlist ebooks!