Laekan Zea Kemp
Publication date: October 31st 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pen Prado has a passion for cooking. Specifically, cooking her father’s food in her father’s restaurant. It’s the heart of their immigrant neighborhood, a place where everyone belongs, and second chances are always on the menu. Except for Pen. Despite the fact that there’s something almost magic about her food, her father can’t imagine anything worse than her following in his footsteps. And when Pen confesses to keeping a secret from her family, he fires her, ensuring she never will.
Xander Amaro is undocumented but that doesn’t stop Ignacio Prado from offering him a job at his restaurant. For Xander, it’s a chance to make amends and to sever his toxic relationship with the druglord, El Cantil–a man whose been like a father to him since his own disappeared. Soon after, his mother abandoned him too, leaving behind a void that not even his abuelo can fill. Until he meets Pen.
Both seeking a place where they feel like they truly belong, they end up finding each other, and in the face of tremendous fear and self-doubt, they end up finding themselves.
Goodreads / Amazon
The room empties until there’s no one left but a few people snoring. Pen stays put too, standing across from me. Her cheeks are flushed from the alcohol, her expression stoic.
“Should we call it a tie?” I say.
She slides a shot glass over to me. “There’s no such thing.”
“Okay…” I reach for the coin. “Call it.”
She calls heads. She wins.
I try to steady my voice. “Go easy on me.”
“Truth or dare.”
“Truth.” It’s the only game I want to play with her.
“Okay. Where are you from? Originally?”
I sigh, relieved. “Puebla. I moved here when I was twelve.”
“My turn,” she says, not wasting any time.
“Truth or Dare,” I counter.
The question immediately forms on my tongue—who are you…really?—but it’s too harsh, almost accusatory. I mull over the words again and finally settle on, “Are you really as brave as you seem?”
She doesn’t smile. “Yes. And no. Your turn.”
“Truth,” I say.
“Are you as cool, calm, and collected as you seem?”
I huff out a laugh. “Sometimes.”
“And other times?”
The laugh slips from my lips. “I’m a fucking mess.”
“My turn.” I can’t tell if the abrupt back and forth is driven by her desire to reveal something about me or to be revealed herself. “Ask me another question.”
“Why did you drink before they could say who your brother…you know…?”
Pen glances at the window seat where Chloe is asleep against the sill. She rolls, sensing our eyes, and Pen lures me onto the front porch. The breeze is warm, the night sky hidden behind grey clouds. I expect Pen to explain but instead she’s silent, proving once again that Chloe’s secrets, unlike everyone else’s, are safe with her.
Beneath the light whistle of the wind, crickets chirping, I say, “You’re a good friend.”
She ignores the comment, sitting on the lid of an old paint can. “It’s your turn.”
I sit down next to her. “I’m ready.”
She narrows her eyes. “Okay, for all the marbles this one’s a two-parter. One truth and one dare.” She stares at the street, cheeks burning.
When she faces me again mine are too.
“Truth,” she breathes. “Do you want to kiss me?”
I don’t look away or even blink. “Yes.”
She doesn’t look away either. “Dare.” She swallows, leans in. “Do it.”
My hands move first, trusting that the only way to make them stop shaking is to press them to her skin. My thumbs graze her cheeks, fingers in her hair. It’s soft and she’s warm and for a long time I just look at her, closing the space centimeters at a time while I take in the lashes that are stuck together by mascara, the birthmark buried under her left eyebrow, the small dimple on her chin. I stare, sorting every piece into things that feel good and things that hurt like hell, into things I never want to forget and things I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I never have to.
But before I have a chance to savor those first few breaths slipping between her lips, they’re pressed against mine, falling and climbing their way back up. I taste her lipstick, her tongue, and it makes me dizzy. Her hands are on my knees, pinning me there, and then they’re on my waist, on my shoulders, both of us gripping each other like we’re clinging to the edge of a cliff. Afraid of falling off. Or hoping that if we do, we’ll fall together.
Suddenly, Pen stops moving.
She stops breathing, my wild heartbeat the only sound.
I open my eyes and she’s not staring back. She’s staring at the street. At the car parked in front of Angel’s house, cigarette smoke slithering up from the open window, flesh and ink viper flexed against Jago’s forearm as he hangs it over the side of the door.
I’m on my feet and so is Pen. She shudders, angry, and unafraid. But I’m terrified. And not just of Jago seeing me here but of Jago seeing her. I don’t know how long he’s been watching us but I can tell by the way his mouth twitches that he knows who she is. To Ignacio Prado. To me.
The engine purrs as the car pulls forward. Just in time for Angel to step outside. For Jago to say hello to him too.
“Get inside, Pen.”
She straightens, shoulders heaving.
“No.” Her stare sharpens. She charges down the steps. “He’s not gonna fucking do this.”
Angel wrenches her back. “Are you out of your mind?”
My heart races.
“Stay away from us!” Pen shouts, trying to tear herself from Angel’s grasp. “Stay away from the restaurant. Fucking stay away!”
She seethes but the faster her breaths, the more transparent she becomes. Beneath the anger, beneath the shock, her eyes glisten with something like fear. And it’s all my fault.
Jago hangs his head back, a whistle cutting between his smile. He leans on the gas, letting the engine growl, and then he speeds off.
Pen glares until he rounds the corner and then she finally lets Chloe pull her inside. I stay put, afraid of facing Angel. I know Jago’s been following me and because I wasn’t being careful I led him right to Angel Prado’s house. To Pen. Her rage wasn’t directed at me but what she doesn’t know is that it should have been.
“I’m sorry, Angel. I didn’t mean for—”
“It’s not you,” Angel stops me. “It’s…” he shakes his head, “it’s not you.”
Laekan is a writer and explorer extraordinaire who grew up in the flatlands of West Texas. She graduated from Texas Tech with a BA in Creative Writing and is the author of the multi-cultural New Adult novels The Things They Didn't Bury, Orphans of Paradise, Breathing Ghosts, and the Young Adult Paranormal series The Girl In Between. Her upcoming contemporary romance is slated for release during the summer of 2017!