The anxiously awaited conclusion to the Shattered Hearts series is here at last and all our hopes and dreams for these beloved characters have finally come true. Whether you are ‘Team Adam’ or ‘Team Chris’, I promise you that you will be pleased with how this story ends. In my heart, there has never been any other way for this story to plausibly wrap up as every sign was there, whether you admitted it to yourself or not, that from the very beginning our heroine’s heart pointed in one direction and one direction alone. After much heartache, Claire takes control of her future by choosing the one who is her true home. This is a story of learning to listen to one’s heart, of loving freely, selflessly, without restraint, and not denying oneself happiness out of fear or self-doubt. It is also a story of forgiveness, of not allowing regret and guilt to taint one’s future, and learning that letting go of the past is sometimes the only way to move forward.
“To love is to destroy pain. I love your heart.”
Claire has had more loss and suffering in her young life than most people her age, having learned very early on that happiness is transient and that it takes very little to lose everything that matters in her life. Her decision to give her baby up has never stopped haunting her, her mind torn between wanting what is best for her baby girl and missing that last piece of her past with Chris. We find her at a crossroad, torn between two very different loves, representing two very different futures. Adam offers Claire a new beginning, free from the burdens of the past, a way to heal her heart without being reminded every single day of the sacrifices made. Chris is her heart, the man who has loved her since they were kids, the man she grew up with and who has watched her blossom from the frightened little girl she once was into a strong loving woman. I truly believe that Claire’s denial of her love for Chris stems more from her fear of loving someone so completely than not loving him enough. He has always been her rock, he helped her overcome the traumas from her past and showed her the true meaning of unconditional love.
“Who do you belong to?” he growls as he kisses my neck.
“You,” I breathe, a searing heat building inside me. “I belong to you.”
In this book, we find Claire finally allowing her heart to love without regrets, by embracing the woman she has become in spite of her past and forgiving herself for her mistakes. She has lived for so long mourning the loss of her mother’s love at such a young age and then punishing herself emotionally for abandoning her own baby. The man she ultimately picks frees her from the burden of that guilt and gives her the future she deserved all along.
“It’s not our mistakes that define us. It’s the lessons we learn that show our true character.”
Unfortunately, I cannot comment too much on the beautiful healing power of that love without undeniably confirming which man Claire ultimately picks, but I can say that our hearts are capable of loving in a myriad of ways. Some loves are driven by passion, some by habit, some by fear of the alternative, and some loves complete us and give our hearts the home they need to blossom fully. Claire finds that type of love. It was never a question of which man loved her more or loved her better – it was always a matter of which man Claire’s heart loved the most. Family is the one thing Claire has always needed to finally embrace happiness and the man her heart chooses to love represents that very thing.
“Where we love is home.”
This series has been one of the most surprisingly touching stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Even now, weeks after finishing it, I get all choked up while reminiscing some scenes from it. When I read the first book in the series, Relentless, I immediately loved the heroine and I was curious to find out how the story would unfold, but I cannot say it rocked my world. After reading the sequel, Pieces of You, I was so emotionally invested that I was prepared to fight the author for the ending I believed this heroine deserved. True story. Reading this beautiful conclusion to a most beloved series has been such an emotional experience for me – I was on the brink of tears too many times to count, each milestone in Claire’s journey to forgiving herself and learning to listen to her heart marking me deeply and forever making me trust this author’s intentions. It is apparent that Ms Leo had a very clear picture of this story in her mind and knew all along how the pieces would fit together as all the signs were there, from the very first book, regardless of how much we ignored them or didn’t consider them to be important. She did not leave any loose ends, she took care of every single character, gave them the ending they deserved and that fit them best. The triple epilogue alone makes reading the whole series worth the effort. Nothing is over-done, everything is intentional, and the result is fantastic.
This is a stellar conclusion to an outstanding series, one I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone looking for a well-written heartwarming story that will make you reflect on your own definition of love, on its many degrees and what constitutes a fitting happy ending.
“In the depths of winter, I discovered in me an invincible summer. That’s you. Thank you for being my invincible summer.”
Monday is a day most people dread. When you’re an entertainer, you don’t work normal hours, so Monday feels just like any other day. Unless, of course, Monday happens to be the day you finally get to hold your daughter in your arms after knowing of her existence for three and a half months. Unless Monday is the day you get to watch the person you love more than life have their one wish granted. Then, Monday becomes the day your life changes. I can only hope this isn’t the last Monday I ever wake up with this much hope.
I’m sitting on the sofa with my guitar when the front door opens. Though I’m nervous as hell, I can’t help but smile as Claire enters the house without knocking or ringing the doorbell.
I lay my guitar on the sofa and stand carefully. “Are you ready to go?” I ask.
Her gaze slides over me, taking in my clothing. Her eyes widen as she stares at my mouth.
“Where’s your lip ring?”
“I took it out.”
“Because I’m trying to make a good impression.”
“You’re wearing a suit?”
“You have to admit it looks good on me.”
“Well, there’s no denying that, but you look like you’re about to walk down a runway or into a boardroom for an important meeting.”
“This is an important meeting, babe. I don’t want to fuck it up.”
She looks down at her outfit, a black blazer over a teal dress, and ankle boots. “We don’t look like we belong together.”
I step toward her, making sure she doesn’t notice the discomfort in my leg, and stop just a few inches away from her. She doesn’t flinch as I reach for her face.
“You look beautiful,” I say as I sweep a soft lock of hair behind her ear. “And very responsible.”
I laugh as she shoves my chest. “Come on, let’s get out of here before we’re late.”
Once we’re settled inside my mom’s Volvo, my mind flashes back to the last time we did this. To say I was devastated after Abigail’s parents cancelled our first scheduled meeting would be a hell of an understatement. I almost expect my phone to ring at any moment with the news that they’ve cancelled again.
As I pull the car out of the driveway, I notice Claire’s hands shaking in her lap and something tells me it’s not the bitter November weather. I glance at her face and the muscle in her jaw twitches as she clenches her teeth.
She nods quickly.
I reach across and take her hand in mine. Instantly, the trembling stops. She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes.
“Chris, you know I don’t pray, but I want to pray right now. I want to pray that Abigail will feel how much I love her when I hold her. Is that stupid?”
“Not at all. I want the same. I keep dreading that the second I hold her in my arms she’ll start crying.”
Just speaking these words aloud fills me with both relief and dread. I squeeze her hand as I continue toward downtown, toward the three people in this world who possess the power to both bring Claire and me closer together and tear us apart. I pull my hand away and from the corner of my eye I can see Claire looking at me.
“What’s wrong?” she asks in a small voice.
I wait until I’m stopped at a red light to face her. “I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid that I’m too happy right now. I’m afraid that holding Abby will make me happier than I’ve ever felt and I’m afraid of what will happen if that’s taken away from me forever. I’m afraid of being too angry to forgive you.”
Her mouths falls open, stunned as she tries to catch her breath. “Oh…. I don’t know what to say.”
“I’m not trying to make you feel bad, I’m just being honest. I’m afraid of what this will do to us. As happy as I am to see Abby, I know that I’m not guaranteed another second beyond today with her. With you…. I don’t want to lose you.”
I turn right onto the street where the Jensens’ lawyer’s office is located. I glance at Claire every few seconds, waiting for her response, but she just stares straight ahead in a daze.
“Claire, I love you,” I say as I reach for her hand again. “But all that matters right now is Abby. Let’s go meet our baby and worry about the rest later. Deal?”
She turns to me and smiles weakly. “Deal.”
The parking lot is almost completely empty. It’s almost seven p.m. on a Monday. Most people have gone home for the day while Claire and I are just finding our way home. We make our way up to the seventh floor, to the offices of Hirschberg, Leidenbach, and Associates. The whole building oozes money and, though I’ve got plenty of that, I feel uncomfortable knowing Claire is probably intimidated by the atmosphere.
“I need to tell you something,” I say as we walk down the seventh floor corridor toward a set of tall, glass double-doors. “I stretched the truth a little and told the Jensens we’re back together.”
She smiles, not looking the slightest bit annoyed. “I’m so happy right now, my heart is about to jump out of my chest. I don’t think anything you tell me right now will upset me.”
I grab her hand and she laughs as I pull her close enough to feel the warmth of her body against mine. Bringing my lips to her ear, I whisper, “When we are back together, I’ll help you study every day.”
Her hand slides over my chest and she shoves me away. “Still not mad.”
I lean over and kiss her cheekbone. She smiles and shakes her head as I reach for the handle on the tall glass door.
“After you, babe.”
The receptionist looks up from her computer screen as we enter the lobby and I quickly grab Claire’s hand to let her know I’m not available. Claire doesn’t look at me, but I glimpse a barely-there smile on her face from the corner of my eye. It’s nice to be admired just about everywhere I go, but I don’t need anyone but Claire’s admiration anymore. It took a while to figure that out, but I’m not about to fuck that up again.
“We’re here to see Ira Hirschberg,” I say to the receptionist, not bothering to introduce Claire or myself.
She fiddles with the braid draped over her shoulder for a moment, then she dials an extension and speaks into her headset. “Chris Knight is here to see you.”
She glances at Claire as she waits for a response, so I take the opportunity to lean over and lay a soft kiss on Claire’s temple.
Claire turns to me so our noses are almost touching. “Take it easy. This is a law office, not a bedroom.”
I lean over to whisper in her ear. “I’m just trying to give you what you want. And right now, you want everyone here to know we’re madly in love.”
A man with curly salt-and-pepper hair and thick bifocals comes out to greet us. “Come on in,” he says in a gravelly voice as he holds open the door to the back office area. “The Jensens just arrived, so this is perfect timing. I’m Ira Hirschberg. You can call me Ira.”
We shake hands and as soon as we step through the doorway, I relax a little when I see a few messy desks. We pass through a corridor of cubicles until we reach a glass wall, beyond which I glimpse Brian, Lynette, and Abigail Jensen. God, it kills me that she doesn’t have my last name.
Ira opens the door for us again—a humble lawyer is always a good sign—and I wait for Claire as she hesitantly steps into the conference room. She claps her hand over her mouth at the sight of Abigail and I know this is going to be more difficult than I ever imagined it would be.
“Oh, my God,” she whispers through her fingers. “Oh, my God.”
I place my hand on the small of her back to guide her forward, but she’s rooted in place. “Claire, babe, are you okay?”
She bites her lip and nods slowly as she steps forward. I can see the hesitation on Lynette and Brian’s faces as we approach. Brian is holding Abby as she stands on the table. His eyes are focused completely on Abby, as if he doesn’t want to acknowledge our presence.
“Honey?” Lynette says to get Brian’s attention.
Lynette looks me up and down a few times. She seems a bit dazed by the suit. Brian scoops Abby off the table and into his arms then turns to face us.
“We’re going to be right outside,” Brian says in a deep, rumbling growl.
Ira looks back and forth between Brian and me. “I have to stay in here, if you don’t mind.”
“That’s fine. Thank you so much for allowing us this visit,” I say to Brian and he nods as he hands Abby over to me.
She reaches for Brian as he steps away and my heart aches as I realize she doesn’t know me or want me.
“It’s okay, baby girl,” Brian says as he leads Lynette out of the conference room.
It’s as if these words flip a switch inside Abby and she turns to look at me. Her soft blonde hair curls up around her ears and neck and her body is so squishy and warm in my arms. I want to squeeze her tightly and never let her go.
Her wispy eyebrows shoot up, like she’s surprised to see me. I smile at her and her eyes widen.
“It’s okay, princess.”
She still looks uncertain as her gaze shifts back and forth between Claire and me. Her upper lip curls up and I’m afraid this is it—she’s going to cry. So I do the only thing I know how to do. Because this is my daughter, I know there is one thing that is likely to comfort her.
I sing the chorus of “Sleepyhead” to Abigail and her gaze is locked on my lips as I sing, as if she’s mesmerized. Her fingers curl around my tie and I can’t help but smile as she yanks it.
“Hiding with the stars. Put your dreams to bed.” I tap her nose as I whisper the last line of the chorus and, suddenly, she smiles.
And time stops.
I never got to see Abby’s smile when she was lying in the hospital bed two months ago. The way her lips curl up, showing me the same smile I’ve seen on Claire’s face a million times, makes me want to live in this moment forever.