Work, sleep, work, repeat. Nero’s lonely life suits him just fine until his best friend, Cass, asks him to take on a new apprentice—a beautiful young man who’s never set foot in a professional kitchen. Despite his irritation and his lifelong ability to shut the world out, Nero is mesmerised by the vibrant stray, especially when he learns what drove him to seek sanctuary on Nero’s battered old couch.
Lenny Mitchell is living under a cloud of fear. Pursued by a stalker, he has nowhere left to run until Nero offers him a port in a storm—a job at the hottest restaurant in Shepherd's Bush. Kitchen life proves heady and addictive, and it’s not long before he finds himself falling hard and fast for the man who has taken him in.
Fast-forward a month and a neither man can imagine life without the other, but one thing stands in their way: a lifetime of horrors Nero can’t bring himself to share with Lenny. Or can he? For the first time ever, happiness is there for the taking, and Nero must learn to embrace it before fate steps in and rips it away.
No one does tortured, flawed MC's as well as Garrett Leigh.She takes heroes, damaged by life, and gives them well fought and much deserved happy endings and I've never picked up one of her stories that I did not enjoy. In fact, the first book in this series, Misfits, is -- hands down -- my favorite book of hers. And though Strays contains the MC's from Misfits as secondary characters, you can read this one as a stand alone, if you wish.
Lenny Mitchell works for Misfits, one of the many Urban Soul restaurants. He's young and grew up in an affluent family where he was expected to follow a particular path in life. He started out doing just that and then decided that living someone else's existence wasn't making him happy. So he dropped out of Uni, died his hair pink and decided to live a little. He wanted to devote time to his art, too, because that is something he truly felt passionate about.
But then, Lenny got noticed by the wrong someone. He would claim to be Lenny's boyfriend and he would send creepy letters. He also broke into Lenny's apartment just so that Lenny knew that he couldn't escape. But the police weren't much help, so Lenny moved around, changed jobs, going from dancing at a gay club to waiting tables at Misfits. However, when his stalker managed to find him there, too, Lenny had a bit of a melt down.
Cass then offers him another opportunity to work at Pippa's, another Urban Soul restaurant, and stay in the apartment upstairs, with one of their chef's, Nero. That arrangement would mean that Lenny could live and work in the same building and maybe take a much needed break from having to watch his back.
Nero Fierro is a chef that works for Cass, Tom and Jake. He moves around between the Urban Soul restaurants depending on where he is needed. He's helped design the kitchens, developed menus and he works harder than anyone. In fact, work is what keeps Nero going and he will take all the work that Cass, Tom and Jake will give him. What he won't take easily, though, are promotions or praise. He is also one of the "strays" that Cass has taken in over the years, and though Nero feels he owes Cass pretty much everything, he still keeps a lot to himself.
In fact, Nero is a very closed off guy. He's been damaged by things that have happened to him and things he's done and Nero doesn't really think he deserves a happily ever after. He's cynical and a bit grumpy, and doesn't let anyone close to him. Even his best friend, Cass, has only gotten so far. Cass is crafty, though, and thinks that helping Lenny is just what Nero needs.
So Nero and Lenny are thrown together at Pippa's. While Nero doesn't, at first, want someone else in his space all the time, he quickly acclimates to having Lenny around. His attraction to Lenny does make it easier, for sure, but Nero isn't one for opening up, so he continually pushes Lenny away, especially when Lenny asks questions trying to get to know Nero. Even after Lenny finally opens up and tells Nero why he's hiding out at Pippa's and they each acknowledge their attraction to one another, Nero still backs off thinking that Lenny deserves better. Meanwhile, Lenny just want to know Nero. And it was that holding pattern - that they stayed in a bit too long for my tastes - that made this a four star read for me instead of 4.5 or 5 stars.
Still though, I loved Nero and Lenny and I thought they were wonderful together, especially once they really found their stride. And while love does not conquer all their issues, it does at least show them that they aren't alone. And I loved that there wasn't a bunch of drama for the sake of drama. That's one of the reasons, actually, that I am such a fan of this author. Yes, there is angst (sometimes quite a lot) and yes the MC's are always damaged by their pasts, but the stories feel genuine and real and Strays is no different.
ARC of Strays was generously provided by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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