DeShawn and Malik Franklin had a good and loving relationship, and even a happy and fulfilling marriage back in their early 20s—nearly two decades ago. DeShawn was an up-and-coming sous chef and Malik was an accountant. They were mostly embraced by DeShawn’s small family, especially DeShawn’s grandma who’d raised him, but Malik was deeply closeted. He’d severed contact from his family in order to keep them from finding out he was gay. However, DeShawn’s culinary career was growing, and Malik felt that new opportunities were too good to pass up. If DeShawn took these chances, however, it would reveal their relationship publicly and Malik’s family surely would find out. So Malik, despite loving DeShawn with his whole heart, asked for a divorce—breaking DeShawn’s heart in the process.
DeShawn tried to fight Malik, he tried to explain that he’d stick by his side and remain in place, but Malik would not have it. He was not going to let his own personal struggles ruin DeShawn’s career prospects. So, he insisted on the divorce, and they filed the paperwork…incorrectly, it seems. DeShawn’s grandmother, who was getting DeShawn’s mail while he worked kitchens in Europe, received notices about the problems with the filing, but she was caught in her own grief over the loss of her husband. Time expired on the ability to sort out the snafu, but Grandma didn’t get this information until recently. Now, seven years after his break from Malik, Deshawn has a fabulous restaurant in DC, not far from where he grew up. He’s also got a TV spotlight that he’s not super wild about. He’s lonely, and he’s only more broken up when he learns his grandma has cancer—and that she’s not going through any treatment for it. Then, she levels him another one-two punch. She’s cut his greedy uncle from her will, instead naming Malik as a beneficiary—and, by the way, their divorce was never certified. So, Malik’s still DeShawn’s legal husband, a fact that isn’t quite as disturbing to him as it should be. Because DeShawn never did want to divorce Malik, and he’s not found another man to love in all these years.
Malik, in his own grief over ending his marriage, finally reconciled with his family and came out. He is currently the accountant and financial manager of Franklin’s, the family-style soul food restaurant his parents opened. It had been a staple of its family neighborhood locale, but twenty years of urban sprawl have encompassed it as a relic of a by-gone era, buried in the midst of office complexes. While the food is amazing, it’s not a place built to cater to the harried, lunchtime crowd. Malik struggles to make his younger brother—the hands-off CEO of the restaurant—see that his reluctance to modernize is causing the restaurant to fail. Malik’s only more frustrated to learn he’s not only still married to DeShawn, whom he never stopped loving, but is also a beneficiary of DeShawn’s grandma’s will—and is now being sued by DeShawn’s uncle to get his hands on the money, when Grandma isn’t even dead yet.
As these two men try to keep the uncle from upsetting Grandma’s plans, they have to reveal the nearly unbelievable truth of their relationship to the world—because people care about Chef DeShawn, and his celebrity is both a part of his success, and still scary to Malik. And, wow, they still are totally attracted to one another, so working together to facilitate their respective situations is fraught. Grandma couldn’t be happier; she always hoped they would reconcile. And, Malik’s brother is more than happy to capitalize on his now-discovered ties to a celebrity chef to help save Franklin’s. As they platonically cohabitate in the effort to foil the lawsuit, even their dogs seem to conspire to join their lives again, permanently.
This book is a fun twist on the fake marriage trope—in that the MCs are surprised to find out they are in fact legally married—seven years after they believed their divorce was finalized. This is really such a fun and sweet story, about love that shines through, even in the hardest of times. I loved that both Malik and DeShawn are such good men. Malik is so self-sacrificing it was nearly painful. He’s been punishing himself since the rift, still thoroughly in love with DeShawn and terrified that DeShawn will never be able to forgive him, or love him back. DeShawn is an amazing man, whose love is endless and eternal, it seems. Their love for each other, and their dogs, is so true and wholesome, and I just gloried in the slow burn of their reconciliation. This romance was always looking up, even with Grandma being ill and the other family tensions. I adore the author’s use of language, providing deep and colorful insight into the southern, urban, Black experience. I’ve read several of her books, and am always eager to get another one in my hands. I highly recommend this happy reconnection romance.