I always know that I’ve found an all-time favourite in a story when I start missing it before I’ve even reached the end. There has not been one thing about this book that I did not adore—from the vibrant characters and vivid dialogues between them, to the perfectly paced love story that never eclipses the great message behind the author’s every word—and it only took me a few chapters to know that I had found a true gem. Stories like these are the reason I read—they are exactly what I always hope to find when I turn that first page—and I have loved this book from its first words to the very last. The story of a broken young woman finding herself again and regaining her confidence through her life’s greatest passion, this is an absolute top recommendation from me.
Life could take everything else from me—my stable future, my expectations, my dream of becoming a noteworthy, decorated chef before I hit thirty, my last dollar… all of it. But I would not give up on my goal of becoming the chef of my own kitchen.
Once a promising young student at one of the best culinary schools in America, Vera Delane is at a painful existential crossroad in her life, having escaped a toxic relationship that left her self-worth and confidence in smithereens, and then drove her to spend a year working her way through Europe, hoping to find herself. With her savings heavily depleted, and with all her hopes and dreams of running a five-star kitchen of her own now just a distant memory, Vera finds herself back in her small North Carolina hometown, funnelling all her energy into a food truck, her last attempt to salvage the remnants of a career that never got off the ground, and to piece together her broken life.
This truck, as beautiful and inspiring as she was, didn’t represent the person I thought I would become. She was the culmination of everything that I’d let happen to me. She was dreams abandoned and futures lost. And she was all I had left.
Her brave enterprise, however, just happens to be located right across the plaza from one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants, run by one of America’s rising chefs—the über-talented, but obnoxiously smug Killian Quinn. And from the moment she takes residence across the street from him, he makes it known to her just how unwelcome her little fast food truck is in his neighbourhood.
“You stick to your side of the street, and I’ll stick to mine, and we’ll manage to go on with our lives without any problems.”
But the more Killian scrutinises her every effort, following closely everything she does in her kitchen, the more he rouses in Vera a woman ready to stand up for herself and battle anyone who stands in her way. They bicker, they toy with one another, and in the midst of it all, a most delightful game of cat and mouse is slowly set into motion.
He’d bulldozed into my life and shaken up everything I’d thought was true about men and chefs and people. And I didn’t know what to do with him.
But even as their sizzling attraction soon takes central stage, Vera’s history of judgment and insecurity in relationships makes her distrustful of self-possessed men like Killian. After letting herself be mistreated for two years by someone she was too weak to contradict, Vera is now fearful of her own heart, knowing it could be manipulated into falling back into an old pattern of behaviour. She is terrified of being vulnerable with someone again, and everything about Killian—his confidence, his steadiness, his strength of character— frightens her to her core. But the more she fights her feelings for him, the more she realizes that the charming, loveable man before her is nothing like the demon she is so desperate to vanquish from her life.
“I found you, Vera, because I was supposed to find you.”
An entirely character-driven story start to finish, with meticulous focus on detail and a steady and measured pace that allows the reader to savour the careful development of character to the fullest, Rachel Higginson casts a spell with the deftness and poignancy of her prose, leaving us mesmerized by her every thoughtful sentence. It is evident that the author takes palpable pleasure in crafting characters that stay with the reader long after their story is done, exploring their inner struggles, and only pointing them towards a way to overcome them. The result is a compelling plot that is both absorbing and entertaining, and one I will undoubtedly revisit often in the future. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
“At some point, we’ll fight. In the future, things might get difficult. I’m never going to be an easy person to get along with. But, Vera, on the other hand, we can fight for each other. Life will likely get difficult whether we’re together or not, so why not tackle it together? And I might be an asshole, but I’m an asshole that cares a very great deal for you. In fact, I might even love you.”
Killian stared at me for a minute, not saying anything and not doing anything. I turned back to the counter and put the knife away. Talking about boyfriends made me stabby. I didn’t want to be responsible for what happened to Killian if he pried any further.
Not that he pried.
He just asked a question, and I verbally vomited all over him.
After a long, uncomfortable silence, he said, “Uh, I came over to ask if you wanted to go out with some of us from the restaurant tonight? It’s Wyatt’s birthday.”
Surprised by his offer, I turned around and leaned against the counter. If I was honest, I was surprised that he was still here. He hadn’t fled. He’d witnessed some of my crazy and hadn’t abandoned me. He stood there as calm and patient as always.
Something warm and bubbly burst through me. I crossed my arms, trying to ward off the sensation, but I couldn’t manage to banish it. I tried to convince myself that it was just nice to be included with the staff at Lilou, but even my stubborn heart saw through the lie. It had nothing to do with Wyatt or his birthday and everything to do with the cocky, self-absorbed chef standing in my doorway. “Where are you going?”
Killian inclined his head toward the other side of the plaza. “Probably Verve or Greenlight. It could be cool.”
“Yeah, it could be.”
Half his mouth lifted in a coaxing smile, partly hidden behind his beard. “You don’t sound convinced.”
“No, it’s not that. I mean, Wyatt’s cool. And I should probably get him a gift for all he’s put up with from me anyway. I just don’t know anybody except you and the birthday boy.”
He shrugged, playing cool, but his shoulders were rigid, and he’d crossed his arms over his chest. “Yeah, but you do know me. We could hang out. Away from food and our places of employment.”
I licked my suddenly dry lips and avoided his gaze. God, I wanted to say yes. My first instinct was to say yes. To jump at the chance to see what he was like away from a kitchen. To get to know him without the pressure of performing. But Derrek was too fresh in my mind, a dark shadow that lingered in every corner of my new happiness.
Killian sensed my hesitation and threw me a life preserver. “You don’t have to decide now. Just see how you feel later.”
“How will I find you?” Not that I was thinking about going. Because I wasn’t.
“Here, hand me your phone. I’ll give you my number.”
I blinked at him, unable to believe he was seriously hitting on me. He had such a poker face. “Okay, smooth operator,” I mumbled.
His lips twitched into a reluctant smile. “What?”
“Don’t act so casual. I see what you’re doing.”
It became harder for him to hold back his smile. “I’m just saying; then you can text me later.”
The smile won, breaking through and transforming his face from ruggedly handsome to I can’t breathe when I look directly at you. “I probably need it anyway, you know, for like work stuff.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Work stuff?”
“That way I can just text you tips and salt warnings.”
He reached up to tug at the side of his beard, forcing it into shape. Then he curled those long fingers at me, gesturing for me to give up my phone.
Apparently, I’d also lost my mind. I grabbed my cell from the shelf over my head and walked it to him. “If I get a text about salt, I might punch you.”
He took the phone from me after I’d tapped in the password, our fingers brushing in the exchange. It wasn’t anything. We barely touched, but a burst of sensation sizzled up my arm, sending butterflies in a craze inside my belly and flushing my cheeks with heat. What was wrong with me?
I’d sworn off men.
But honestly, did I even stand a chance when it came to him? His bright green eyes were warm beneath thick lashes. His dark hair was wavy and full, pushed to one side in a disheveled sort of delicious mess. He was just a step shorter than me, since he still hovered near the doorway and it was the first time I looked at his face where his beard wasn’t the prominent feature. From this angle, I noticed his tanned, perfect skin and the wrinkles his forehead made when he raised his eyebrows.
I swallowed and took a steadying breath. Get it together.