This is not a romance. It is a love story. Pen is eighteen and works in her father’s Mexican restaurant. She loves the work and baking – improving recipes and delicious desserts. She lives for that restaurant, but her parents want her to become a nurse, like her mother. The thought leaves her cold; she doesn’t want a life like her mother’s. Her dream is to open her own bakery. So, she pretends to attend school and lies for several months about her classes and books. One day soon, she will have to tell the truth. In the meantime, she longs to know what freedom feels like.
Zander’s father disappeared when he was very young. Then, he struggled with his mother’s painful declaration that she couldn’t love him, so she walked away, too. Thankfully, his grandfather was more than happy to take in his son’s child, but neither did he know where Zander’s father was. At the age of twelve, he met Jago, never realizing he was the leader of the neighborhood gang. He protected Zander from bullies, while Zander yearned to earn the acceptance of a father who wasn’t there. Gradually, he was being formed into a gang member – able to accept all the criminal activities and, most of all, being obedient to Jago’s commands. Zander realized he didn’t want to spend his life scaring people, and taking money from them in exchange for Jago’s so-called protection. Worst of all, Zander knew that Jago sometimes made people disappear. The only thing he could do was walk away and hope that Jago and the gang would not come after him.
Now, Zander needs a job, so he goes where everybody in the neighborhood goes: the Mexican restaurant. Mr. Prada is well-known for helping anyone in need. Zander is hired, of course, and he’s pretty far down the pecking order, but he doesn’t seem to mind, until he sees Pen. She is a beautiful, young woman with a fierce personality that is constantly evident at work. Pen has no patience for soothing customers. All she wants is to make sure everyone is doing their job, and that the food is top-notch. Of course, she takes notice of Zander, too. It isn’t long before he speaks to her and she decides, just maybe, she’s willing to talk back to him.
Zander and Pen have one thing in common: the fear of never fulfilling their dreams. Zander is capable of seeing through Pen’s facade of tough capability, and while she thinks her heart is hidden from him, she can peek through his outer layers to the childhood pain and loss. When Pen confesses her lies to her parents, she is shocked when her father fires her and her mother kicks her to the curb. She finds a shabby, little room to live in, and spends her nights there in fear. The one person who gives her a bit of stability is her elderly neighbor who loves to bake. Zander and Pen are quite close by now, and he advises her to never give up on her dream. She cannot even begin to contemplate how to make it happen without the restaurant, but she has the loving support of Zander and the varied family of employees that work for her father.
The story not only focuses on Pen and Zander, but on the restaurant employees, the surrounding neighborhood, and how two people working towards their dreams impacts the lives of others. This story is full of love – even when it isn’t obvious – supportive kindness to those in need, and striving to do the right thing, regardless of what others say. There are some areas where I was pretty sure where it was going, but it surprised me, and is such an absorbing tale that I read it in a few days. Readers will not be disappointed, and I came away with one of those rare feel good moments. As I said, this is not a romance, and it isn’t boringly focused on just two characters. A lot happens in this book, and I was reminded that a love story is much more than kiss and tell. Read it. Enjoy it. I sure did.
- Genre and general reading age – Romance for teens and adults.
- Level of sexuality – Low.
- Is there graphic language? There is some cursing, but it’s on average with a person’s normal day.
- Did I cry? No.
- Did I laugh? Yes, I did.
- Is this part of a series? No.
- Level of character development – They are extremely well-developed, and highly believable. There are wonderful conversations that come into play, and some chapters are just down right fun. All put together, they are relatable and you will find yourself rooting for them.
I am happy to give this one ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars, and look forward to the next story from Ms. Kemp.