May 3 2014 10:00am

First Look: Gemma Brocato’s Hearts in Harmony (May 5, 2014)

Hearts in Harmony by Gemma BrocatoGemma Brocato
Hearts in Harmony (Five Senses)
Lyrical Press / May 5, 2014 / $3.99 digital

Sometimes life’s most simple melodies become songs of love.

Pippa Sanders’ life is filled with songs of leaving, longing and loneliness. Since the death of her husband, her children have been her world. She’ll do anything to protect them, including encasing her heart in ice until they’re college age. She’s made a practice of shying away from any relationship that could break her heart when it ends. And it’s worked so far.

Clay Mathers has made a temporary move to Granite Pointe, Massachusetts to help with his mother’s Christmas tree farm while she recovers from a stroke. Although his long-range plans don’t include staying in the small town, a little female companionship during his short residency would be welcome. While on duty as sentry against protestors at a military funeral, he finds Pippa visiting her husband’s grave, and begins a campaign to make her into a friend–with benefits.

What starts as a simple affair evolves to something more, something that changes the soundtracks of both their lives…the beating of two hearts in harmony.

Reading Gemma Brocato's Hearts in Harmony made me think of the lyrics to “Wishing and Hoping”; the song has great advice for a single woman but not, perhaps, for a widow with twins. Pippa Sanders is a woman alone. She has two delightful children, a protective family, loving friends, and a challenging, meaningful job, but there hasn’t been a man in her heart since her soldier husband died. It’s complicated.

Pippa is a music therapist, someone who uses rhythm, lyrics, and familiar songs as part of the healing process. She works with clients of all ages, ranging from troubled high school kids to recovering stroke victims. Before Clay Mathers set eyes on Pippa, he hears her voice lifted in song, singing a hymn at a military funeral.

He’d never been distracted when he stood guard at a funeral, either. He’d always stayed alert to keep the protesting scum from disrupting the solemn occasion. But when the willowy, dark haired woman sang, he’d turned his head, drawn like a ship to the Sirens of ancient Greece.

Is it fate that brings Clay and Pippa together? Or is it their two careers, music therapist and temporary Christmas tree farmer? Perhaps a bit of both. Clay’s mother, Seeley Tombaugh, suffered a stroke when she was in a water-skiing accident. Her son returns home to take care of her Christmas tree farm while she recuperates. Imagine his surprise when, a few days after the funeral, he sees the beautiful singer beside his mother’s wheelchair.

“You’re the woo-woo doc the insurance company is paying for?”

She bristled at his question. She’d spent six years in school, probably had more education that this tree farmer did, and he clearly thought she was a quack. “No, I’m the music therapist they trust to help Seeley get better as quickly as possible.”

Perhaps Clay doesn’t shine as a supporter of alternative therapies but as The Man around the Christmas tree farm, he’s in his element. Pippa’s children, Mia and Mason, are thrilled to have an adventure at the farm, especially since their mother is along for the day. Who should step into the sunshine but Clay.

Lordy! He looked fine. But his handsome looks alone didn’t explain why she’d give anything to spend just one night with him.

Pippa’s soft spot is her twins. She is devoted to them and has chosen not to introduce any of her dates to them because she doesn’t want them confused, possibly heartbroken, if her romantic relationships fizzle out. Clay, though, is a natural with her children, treating them like individuals and with respect.

When Clay gives Pippa a tour of the tree farm, it comes out that he’s a former Army Ranger, now juggling two hats: military consultant and writer of military thrillers. What is she to think when he tells her,

“I have a houseboat near Alexandria, Virginia, on the Potomac River. It’s just me, so I don’t require much. Just space to sleep, a power supply for my laptop and an internet connection.”

Clay makes it pretty clear to Pippa that he’s not in town for the long haul—when his mother gets better, he’ll go home. But the sparks are flying between Clay and Pippa and timing and logistics take a back seat to banter and more.

The naked hunger in Clay’s eyes rocked her back on her heels. Hot desire rolled off him like the clarinet glissando from “Rhapsody in Blue,” steamy and seductive. Her body tingled in response.

There’s one more element guaranteed to draw two people together—danger. Dewey Evans has been a thorn in Pippa’s side, staring at her malevolently when she’s out and about with her children, and, she fears, trespassing and peeping late at night. Her fears are not unfounded, as Clay tells her.

"Pippa, you have to be careful. The Battalion is still active in the area. I’m worried that you’re on Dewey’s radar after the incident at the cemetery. I swear to God, I think that shithead is riding the Bipolar Express with stops scheduled at drunk, disorderly and devious.”

All the elements are in place for a very tempting autumn interlude. Pippa wrestles with the possible unprofessionalism of dating a client’s son, as well as continuing to worry about her children’s emotional well-being. But under bright blue fall skies the little Sanders family gets to know Clay Mathers—as a friend and more. Music is a significant component of their deepening friendship. Clay tells Pippa “I do like to sing. It makes me happy” while Pippa shares that “I’ve always said music is what emotions sound like.” Clay’s dishes out some straightforward, up-front talk, making his intentions very clear.

“…You want me, as much as I need you. I’ll give you time to accept the idea of us together. But I want you to remember something, spitfire. I’m an Army Ranger, a master strategist. The campaign begins now.”

A first kiss can often give clues to the tenor of a future relationship and Clay’s doesn’t disappoint. Is there anything stronger and more attractive than a man who has the courage to step back and wait for his lady to come to him?

He feathered his lips over hers, light, sweet, unbearably tender. She couldn’t help responding, letting her mouth cling to his, until he ended the kiss.

No surprise after this that Clay and Pippa decide that they want to be together. Their first night together is mutual, planned, on the calendar and all the more adorable for that—because these two are planners and strategists. Who’s busier than a single mother? How often can she turn off all the to-do lists in her head? Pippa is no exception. Which makes their sultry, desperately enjoyable first night together so meaningful. When Pippa and Clay finally make love, Pippa’s world shrinks to her bedroom and the way Clay makes her feel.

“Colors spun in a kaleidoscope behind her eyelids, each hue flaring higher as she drew closer to the flame. Her world centered on where she and Clay were joined, merged into one.”

Is this ecstasy only in the heat of passion? How will the tape replay the morning after? Pippa and Clay have obstacles to conquer: their first night together doesn’t end with a marriage proposal or anything of the sort, but here’s how Pippa feels—what she thinks about the night before.

With each step, a sensuous cloud surrounded her. This morning’s exhaustion was the good kind, the fuzzy, soft piano concerto type. The sun played a flirtatious game of hide and seek with colorful leaves on her drive to work, echoing the way she’d been last night with Clay.

It would have been easy for Hearts in Harmony to slip into cliché—lonely widow, studly special operator—but Gemma Brocato makes you care about Pippa and Clay first as individuals and later, as a couple you’re rooting for.

Learn more or order a copy of Hearts in Harmony by Gemma Brocato, out May 5, 2014:

Buy at AmazonBuy at Barnes & NobleBuy at Indiebound




Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart. When I rediscovered the world of romance, my spirit guide was All About Romance's Desert Island Keepers — I started with the “A” authors and never looked back.

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