Title ~ Restitution: A Love Story
Author ~ Aubrey Cullens
Publisher ~ Lovelight Press
Published ~ 29th October 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Nate Parker has spent the last few years imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. His wrongful conviction cost him his job, his fiancée, his reputation, and his hope for the future. His name has been cleared, but after everything he’s lost, he doesn’t know how to find his way back to the life that was taken from him.
Parker Campbell is raising his 9-year-old niece, Emma, on his own. Working for a homophobic boss in a gay-unfriendly town, he treads carefully, knowing that his job security has to be his priority when he’s all Emma has.
Parker has never considered starting a relationship with another employee… until he hires Nate. It should have been easy to avoid getting involved, since Nate keeps insisting that he's not gay. Parker is used to life not being easy, though, and Nate may find that what he really needs isn't at all what he thought he was looking for.
(Restitution is a standalone m/m contemporary gay romance of approximately 60,000 words containing profanity, mature adult content, two men who deserve love, and a happily ever after ending.)
“Restitution” has no heart-rending coming out, no shape-shifters, no abusive parents, no kidnapping by a church, no vampires, no rock stars, in fact, nothing particularly dramatic at all. It doesn’t need it. Its subtitle is also its most appropriate description: “A Love Story”, because that’s exactly what it is.
There’s not a lot of hand-wringing, though it’s got its own fair share of self-inflicted misunderstandings, minor insecurities and Southern bigots making homophobic statements just to be obnoxious. After all, this book does take place in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Arkansas works hard at discriminating against gays. Nothing personal, it took the Federal Government and a few thousand armed soldiers to get them to let blacks into their white public schools back in the 1960s. It’s also the only state in the U. S. to pass a law making it illegal for cities and towns to provide protection for their LGBT citizens.
There are three main characters, plus a host of secondary ones, all beautifully rendered. Each has a unique voice and personality that just radiates off the page. Nate is the not- gay, hunky, muscular, used-to-be-engaged-to-a-woman guy. He was recently released from prison, where he served over three years of a much longer sentence for rape/murder, a crime he didn’t commit. Fortunately, the cop who was the real rapist did it again, got caught and confessed to it all. Nate was almost immediately released with the profound apologies of the state. But, since his incarceration lingers on his record (despite the fact that his conviction has been vacated), he’s been unable to find a job. He’s got a degree in marketing that is now as useless to him as the fiancée who dumped him while he was in prison. All his friends, contacts, acquaintances and neighbors abandoned him when they believed that their dear friend/employee/co-worker was a rapist-murderer. The only good thing to come out of it is that the state of Washington will be paying him somewhere around $50,000 for each year he was erroneously incarcerated. Meanwhile, he’s staying with his beloved brother, Josh, and his lovely wife, Jessica, in Fort Smith, until he can get his hands on the restitution money and his life back in order.
Parker is the manager of a local commercial hardware store that caters to contractors. The owner, Mr. Larson, is an incompetent boob, a loudmouthed bigot, and all-around jerk, who only tolerates his openly-gay manager because he knows he would go bankrupt without him. That doesn’t keep him from making “f*****” comments to his face, and insulting him in a hundred different ways each and every day. Parker only keeps his job because he needs it. He is the sole support of his niece, Emma. Her mother (his sister) is a drug-abuser serving yet another stint in prison. Emma is nine, going on thirty, and Ms. Cullens paints her brilliantly. Emma really does come across as an age-appropriate nine-year-old, but she’s a very special nine-year-old, raised by her gay uncle and his friends with love, encouragement, safety and security - the recipe for a well-adjusted child and a great little family. He has supported and raised Emma since birth, and there’s not a lot of opportunities, in Fort Smith, for an openly gay young man without a college education who’s raising a child on his own.
Once the characters are introduced to the reader and to each other (Nate takes a job as a warehouseman for Parker), the rest of the book is primarily about love and family. In that order. Though Nate has never been openly gay (and associates being gay with prison rape), he finds he has the most surprising and uncontrollable reactions to Parker. Parker soothes him, calms him, puts a smile on his face, and drives him insane with his smell of peaches. In fact, Nate comes to love the smell of peaches and, without thinking about it, starts calling Parker “Peach”. It turns out that Parker is a born baker. His peach cobbler and peach crumble are well-known in the community. Seems he knows a hundred different ways to make pastry with peach filling, and he’s always trying out a new one.
Ms. Cullens does a remarkable job using the smell of peaches and the mouth-watering taste of delicate pastry as a metaphor for the love growing between the two men. The day they finally get intimate, they are so out-of-control, they pretty much demolish Parker’s kitchen (a wonderful, charming sex scene, I hasten to add), destroying nearly a hundred different peach pastries and pies that Parker had baked.
He’d been baking, all through the sleepless night, in the vain hope of working off the frustration of his unrequited desire for the “straight” man he’s falling in love with. Which, of course, turns out not to be so unrequited – as the destruction of Parker’s kitchen clearly demonstrates.
The author also handles their attraction honestly. Nate is neither a closet case, nor a guy who’s “gay for Parker”. He is, indeed, a gay man. He’s always found men more attractive and interesting, but because he was always so passionate about having a marriage and family like his parents’, he just never really thought “out of the box” or acted on his attraction to men. Family was his overriding desire, not orgasm.
The same is true for Parker, who became an inadvertent parent at the age of 18, but wouldn’t have it any other way. They’re just two guys in love, discovering that they can have it all - family and soul-searing orgasms.
“Restitution: A Love Story” is a truly sweet and tender book. There’s one moment when Nate loses it, walking into Parker’s house to find Parker’s abusive ex-boyfriend terrifying Emma, whom Nate has come to love like his own daughter. This bully tries throwing his weight around. Instead, Nate throws him around, all the way out to the curb, still pounding his face. Despite the violence, you’ll cheer Nate on. Kyle is a really bad guy who’s hurt Parker in the past, and would hurt him even more, if he could. That one moment of violence is the only moment that diverges from the sweetness, tenderness and the smell of peaches that define the journey of Parker, Nate and Emma to a future family of three, a family of love, devotion, and having each other’s’ backs, no matter what.
There’s also a cool thread about Emma’s YouTube channel and what happens to this growing family when her videos go viral.
This is definitely a feel-good read, but there’s no cheap sentimentality here. The guys are too authentic for that. It’s just that, in the hands of this talented author, there’s a certain poetry to what they think, what they say, and how they feel, that really touches the soul.
I believe that this is Ms. Cullen’s first full-length book on Amazon. I hope she publishes many more. She’s got me as a fan for life, and many others, I’m sure, as they discover her charming and moving work. I loved that “Restitution” didn’t rip my heart open, provoke my uncontrollable fury at injustice, or send me screaming out into the streets with the angst of it all – it just gave me a few hours of pure reading joy, and a reassuring sense of hope that people like Nate, Parker and Emma might actually exist in this world. There’s room for super-dramatic gay fiction, and some real good examples out there. But there’s also room for a sweet, relatively uncomplicated story, with a few really beautiful people who fall deeply in love as you watch.
“Restitution: A Love Story” warmed my heart. It will warm yours. It is, indeed, “a Love Story”. Thank you, Ms. Cullens, for a lovely read. I can’t wait for the next one.
Meet Aubrey Cullens
Aubrey Cullens has loved to read for as long as she can remember. She spent her early twenties sitting behind a desk, playing with numbers, until one day she realized that she’d much rather play with words. After a brief stint writing ad copy which bored her to tears, she decided to take a stab at her first love: writing about love... most definitely including the steamy bits.
Aubrey is married to a stand up comedian, and at some point along the way she gave birth to two glorious human beings who inherited their father’s funny bone and their mother’s love of story telling. They are intensely disappointed that all of Aubrey’s books seem to be about the same thing — two men who fall in love — and are constantly campaigning for more princesses, demons, and talking cats.