For a self-proclaimed seeker of fairy-tale endings, I have an uncanny penchant for stories that feel particularly ‘real’ to me, stories that refuse to be sugar-coated or bubble-wrapped in forced imaginary scenarios, stories that are so honest and raw that even the sweetest of happily-ever-afters often comes with a healthy and sobering dose of truth. They put your heart through the wringer, they jerk it around like their favourite toy, but the most satisfying thing about them is the way they colour the lenses through which you see your own life, the lives of those around you, and the way they expand your view on things you would have never considered otherwise. Love, in English will forever remain one of my most beloved books. It is not a love story with a big red bow on top—it is a love story born when it perhaps never should have been, a love story that has been scrutinized, dismissed, judged, attacked, and yet it remains alive because two people met on a bus in Spain and ended up falling for one another so deeply and so irreversibly that every hurdle before them pales in comparison. Mateo and Vera’s relationship has never been easy—it is not that kind of love story—but their love for each other has never been in question. It shows us that some things in life are worth fighting for until our very last breath, and that it is never too late to find oneself, to embrace the person one is born to be, to capture happiness, even when knowing that no gift in life comes without a sacrifice to pay.
“Our journey has never been easy. The only thing easy in all of this is my love for her. It is pure, it is simple, and it is true.”
We saw them meet, we saw them fall in love, we saw them fight that love, we saw them give in, and we saw them become one. But for Vera and Mateo, the road ahead was never meant to be simple, and it was always going to be marred by prejudice and opposition.
“Through it all we have each other, two exiled souls. We pay for our sins with each kiss, we feel our mistakes with each touch.”
Mateo Casalles has finally found the love of his life, a woman who has changed him and given him purpose, and when faced with having all his dreams come true as professional fulfillment is once again within his reach, he is suddenly reluctant to accept more change in his life, fearing it might cost him the one he loves the most. Being in the public eye brings its own set of challenges for their young relationship, their every public move now dissected and twisted around even more, but Mateo never stops putting Vera’s needs first, her happiness being his key concern, knowing how heavily her role in the break-up of his marriage weighs upon her.
“I see her as my star, one she thinks has burned too much for the both of us.”
By hearing Mateo’s every thought and every fear, we are faced with a very different man than the one we met in the first book. A better man. His every action is now seen in a different light, his every word now speaking volumes about the gentle-hearted, selfless, loving man that he is. His love for Vera is a sight to behold. The raw intensity of their every touch is only outmatched by how much her happiness means to him, and how much of himself he is willing to give to her.
“I follow every part of you, everywhere. You go before me, Vera. You always will.”
As they embark on the next chapter in their lives, the odds playing against them only keep multiplying, from scorned ex-spouses to meddling paparazzi, but through it all, Vera remains his constant, his own guiding star, and Mateo is not a man who ever forgets how dark his life had been without her. Or would once again return to be.
“You are my star, my light, my love. And it doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not because it is the truth and the truth always finds a way to shine.”
I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book so thoroughly and so ardently as I have this one. I found myself constantly stopping, re-reading entire paragraphs, desperately trying to absorb the beauty of every single line in it. Karina Halle has a very unique talent for weaving words almost poetically, the sheer elegance of her writing style only outshone by her meticulous character development and the annihilating power of the notions behind her stunning words. And ‘meeting’ the real Mateo Casalles this way has been quite a treat in itself. A complex man, an intelligent man, a passionate man, a caring man—Mateo’s only ‘sin’ is to have fallen in love with someone whom society deems inappropriate for his social standing and reputation, but it is his relentless devotion to the woman he loves and his emotional vulnerability and honesty before her that make us weak at the knees as readers. And utterly enchanted with him.
“Just a man in love. Just a hero. Just a coward. Just me.”
Karina Halle does not just give us heroes and heroines, she gives us real, tangible people for us to identify with, learn from, and she gives us stories to talk about for many moons to come. I know that a lot of people often dismiss these books because of the ‘cheating’ theme in the story, but it is my personal and humble opinion that this story is not about a cheating spouse or a homewrecker. It is about what happens when people fall out of love, or have never experienced true love before, and then they are given the unexpected gift of finding someone who suddenly lights up everything in their life, including the person they are but never got a chance to be. These are not reckless human beings, they are not driven by hormones or lust—they are fallible individuals who feel deeply the sting of every single consequence of their actions and who never forget what their happiness has cost them.
This novella only completes an already perfect story in my eyes, a story that might not be your traditional idea of a fairytale, but whose brutal honesty makes it that much more unforgettable.
“We were worth every sacrifice, every burnt bridge.”
How could so much have changed, so fast? I grip her hand even tighter, wishing I could sink down into the sand, let the beach swallow us whole and take her to the bottom with me. I want to shelter her from what’s coming and it rips my soul apart just knowing that I can’t.
“Mateo,” she says softly but I can’t bear to turn my head to look at her. I want to keep feeling her, staring at the stars. I don’t want her to see the pain in my eyes. I don’t want to ruin our night.
“Yes,” I answer, just as softly. I stare up and see a shooting star dart across the sky. I close my eyes and make a wish.
I want Vera with me forever.
“I love you, you know,” she says and it’s enough to make me open my eyes.
I swallow hard, so afraid I’m going to crack. I pull her hand to my lips and kiss her palm. “I love you, too.”
“Do you think,” she says, then trails off. She sighs and it sounds like her heart is heavy. “Do you think that we’ll get a happily ever after, after all of this?”
Her question stuns me so much that I have no choice but to look at her. Her eyes are dark, wet pools, the distant streetlights reflecting in them.
“Of course we will,” I say. “What makes you say that?”
“Because you don’t sound convinced.”
I rub my lips together, trying to think, trying to sound convinced enough to her. “Vera, my Estrella, I want us together forever. I want us to be happy. I want a lot of things that fools only dream of.”
“And you think we are fools?”
“I think we are fools if we don’t dream.”
“But wanting is not the same as knowing, as having. Do you think we’re going to be okay?”
I want to lie to her but I can’t. I let out a low breath and say, “I think we deserve to be okay. But in the short term…”
“You know something,” she says, “don’t you?”
My heart stills. I glance at her, frowning. “Why makes you say that?”
She gathers sand and lets it fall through her fingers, watching the grains absently as she repeats the action over and over. “I’ve been with you for over a year and in that time we’ve been through a lot. I knew you after a month at Las Palabras. I definitely know you now. I know when you’re hurting, when you’re troubled. You think you can hide everything away beneath your beautiful face and your classy gestures, but I know the real you. And I know there is something going on right now, something that’s breaking your heart.” She pauses and swallows loudly. She blinks a few times, her eyes growing wetter and that heart of mine that she’s talking about, I can feel the deep pinch. “I’m afraid to know what it is because I know it’s going to break my heart too. But, please. Mateo. I need to know. I can’t let you go through this alone. Let me in with you.”
I lean over and kiss her lips, taste the tears that have spilled down her cheeks. I feel so much love for her and so much fucking sorrow that I can’t even separate the two. I push my fingers through the silky wildness of her hair and hold her in place, as if I can hold her here forever.
It is a beautiful kiss. It is the one that precedes sadness and change, the last one that feels strong and free. I relish it, relish her. When I pull away from her lips and mouth and tongue and soul, I will have to tell her the truth. I will have to destroy her, destroy this, destroy me.
It is the pain that makes me pull apart. Everything has already changed inside.