Lenny had fun with his job as a dancer in a club, but when he started being stalked, he felt fear everywhere. He quit his job, left his home, and is now working in a restaurant for Cass, but the danger is still everywhere he turns. When being on the dining room floor is still too visible, Lenny starts to work with Nero in the kitchen, despite never having worked in a professional kitchen before. But it’s not only kitchen space they will be sharing as Lenny is also crashing on Nero’s couch.
All Nero knows is work. Well, work and the constant loneliness that encases him. His grumpy and closed off exterior hides all the pain that he’s carried around for years. But Lenny brings life and color into his dark world and Nero feels a protective instinct for him. Lenny becomes addicted to working in the kitchen as it keeps his mind off of what could be waiting for him outside and he soon becomes addicted to Nero as well.
Nero thinks he’s no good for anyone, especially not someone as special as Lenny. As the men fall in love, Nero doesn’t know how to let Lenny in and share his traumatic past. But Nero wants it all with Lenny, although one man could threaten to take it all away.
Garrett Leigh is an author I will always stop and take a look at with a new release. Strays is the follow up to Misfits where mysterious Nero was introduced. Mostly this book would work as a standalone, although knowing all of the connections between the characters was helpful to me.
Nero’s days are a cycle of the same. He works, he sleeps when he can, and then he does it all over again. He’s found a good place with Cass, Tom, and Jake in the restaurant group and although he works hard, he considers it a job, while the other men consider Nero family. Nero has lots of scars, both physical as well as emotional, and while no one knows his story, he’s not as good as hiding his pain as he thinks he is.
Lenny sees Nero right away. At first it’s just his appearance and his rough exterior, but then it’s the man himself. But Lenny is in quite a state as he’s been stalked and the police don’t have enough evidence to do anything. He’s so undone that he doesn’t leave the apartment that’s connected to the restaurant.
Leigh does a great job here on several fronts. At first, she excels at showing how fearful Lenny is and how gruff Nero can be. But as the guys get to know each other, the layers so slowly peel away and underneath are two scared men both just trying to hang on. The setting also really comes through, from the behind the scenes in the restaurants, to the authentic British slang the men speak that was entertaining to read as they both certainly tell it like it is.
So the stalker story line is one that I usually stay away from. While the storyline was a big part of what was going on with Lenny, the stalker himself stayed mostly in the background for a good portion of the book. While I was pleased that this didn’t take over the storyline, it was all sort of subdued. The same went for Nero’s back story, which didn’t quite pack the punch I was expecting due to the delivery.
What shone through was that Nero and Lenny have a sweetness together as Nero paints Lenny’s toes and gives him the initial push to get his career going and Lenny shows Nero he is someone worth loving. Nero and Lenny worked so well together and their happiness was hard won and well deserved.
Would he ever get used to the certainty in Lenny’s voice when he said shit like that? He hoped not, because all the rum in the world didn’t carry a buzz quite like the one that came with loving Lenny.