Title: Resilient Heart
Author: Annabeth Albert
Pages/Word Count: 118 Pages
At a Glance: Resilient Heart asks its readers to bring our empathy to the reading of this story
Blurb: NOTE: This is a previously published work. The title, author, and/or publisher may have changed. Originally released as part of the Unconditional Surrender bundle, now available as a stand-alone novella complete with BRAND-NEW 10,000 word short story/epilogue.
When a wounded soldier is forced to accept help from his former best friend, both men discover the true strength of their entwined hearts.
Army IT specialist Xander keeps his emotions wired as tight as his NETCOM gear, but when he’s seriously injured by an IED, his whole life unravels. Running out of options, Xander must accept help from his ex-friend-with-benefits, Mackey. However, Xander’s had feelings for Mackey for years, and close quarters only complicates his emotions. Further, Xander doesn’t know which is worse: combating his inner demons or dealing with Mackey’s guilty kindnesses.
Mackey’s always kept his emotions close to his chest, but now he’s got a secret that could destroy his one chance with the man he cares far too much for. Both men will have to heal their wounded hearts to ensure a future together.
Entwined Future (Bonus Epilogue): In this new short story, Mackey has news that could change everything for him and Xander, but a visit from Xander’s family jeopardizes Mackey’s plans–and forces Xander to confront some harsh truths.
Review: Annabeth Albert digs deep and comes up with a healthy dose of emotion in Resilient Heart, a story that portrays the physical, psychological, and all too human impact of war.
Xander and Mackey are two soldiers who served their country post-DADT but still toed a cautious line, keeping their stolen trysts a secret and guarding their feelings for each other behind the pretense of a best-friends-with-benefits label, all while they were both beginning to feel so much more than a simple physical need for each other. These details are offered in retrospect through the narrative, as the story begins well after their affair had started. Xander and Mackey have a longer history than is fleshed out in Resilient Heart, but we get enough back-story to know that somewhere between sex and friendship, love took root and grew in a fertile soil of silence and lies of omission.
This story takes place following Xander’s discharge from the Army, after an IED exploded and changed the course of his life. The author explores the fallout not only of Xander’s physical and emotional injuries but the effects and psychological impact of those injuries on Xander and on his relationship with Mackey. PTSD, physical impairment, and depression inform Xander’s life now and have a direct effect upon Mackey as well. Nearly losing Xander, not to mention the unspoken guilt he harbors for the unforeseeable role he played in all of it, has caused Mackey to do what he didn’t have the courage to do before—admit he needs Xander in his life as something more than a convenient means of scratching a sexual itch. Once Mackey steps up to help Xander through his recovery, Albert lays the groundwork for the conflict: every interaction between the two men becomes a trek through an emotional minefield, Mackey never knowing when the next sentence will set Xander off.
Being a novella, we get just a small glimpse of the greater part of Xander’s recovery, focusing on the bitter reality of his having survived only to come out alive but altered. It took time for Xander to appreciate the fact he lived after the explosion that changed him in tangible and intangible ways, going through the motions while fighting his demons. It took a confession from Mackey and bringing all his secrets and lies out into the open to push Xander to the brink, forcing him to make a decision about his future.
Resilient Heart asks its readers to bring our empathy to the reading of this story, to invest ourselves in the cost of serving in the military and imagine the sacrifices both Mackey and Xander made in order to hide their relationship, then to feel our way through the conflict and the impact Mackey’s confession made. Both of these men made mistakes but, in the end, resolved to correct them together, and the bonus epilogue, which wasn’t available in the Unconditional Surrender bundle, gives us a sweet and satisfying resolution to their romance.
You can buy Resilient Heart here: