“A fresh and vital new voice in romance.”—Entertainment Weekly
“[Adriana Herrera] is writing some of my favorite Afro-Latinx characters and giving us beautiful love stories along the way.”—New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo
“[Herrera] excels at creating the kind of rich emotional connections between her protagonists that romance readers will find irresistible.”—Booklist, starred review
No one ever said big dreams come easy
For Nesto Vasquez, moving his Afro-Caribbean food truck from New York City to the wilds of Upstate New York is a huge gamble. If it works? He’ll be a big fish in a little pond. If it doesn’t? He’ll have to give up the hustle and return to the day job he hates. He’s got six months to make it happen—the last thing he needs is a distraction.
Jude Fuller is proud of the life he’s built on the banks of Cayuga Lake. He has a job he loves and good friends. It’s safe. It’s quiet. And it’s damn lonely. Until he tries Ithaca’s most-talked-about new lunch spot and works up the courage to flirt with the handsome owner. Soon he can’t get enough—of Nesto’s food or of Nesto. For the first time in his life, Jude can finally taste the kind of happiness that’s always been just out of reach.
An opportunity too good to pass up could mean a way to stay together and an incredible future for them both...if Nesto can remember happiness isn’t always measured by business success. And if Jude can overcome his past and trust his man will never let him down.
Book 1: American Dreamer
Book 2: American Fairytale
Book 3: American Love Story
Book 4: American Sweethearts
Book 5: American Christmas
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"So, this is it? You're really taking off to that wilderness upstate."
I looked up from where I was trying to shove another gigantic container into the back of my food truck, and saw Camilo, one of my three best friends, walking down the sidewalk wearing oversized sunglasses and holding an enormous cup of coffee.
Late as always.
He was supposed to be here an hour ago, but could he manage to make it on time to help me literally pack up my entire life? No.
"What the fuck, Milo? You're an hour late, pendejo! I've been waiting on you since seven a.m. You know I'm on a schedule, man. I can't have this truck sitting here all morning!" I cringed thinking of everything I needed to get done in the next twenty-four hours.
"We need to be on the road by nine if I'm going to be ready for the gig tomorrow. I shouldn't have let Mamí talk me into opening this thing the day after getting up there."
Milo looked at me shaking his head, then put down his coffee and crossed his arms over his chest like he had all the time in the world.
"Chill out, you'll be fine. Your mother already has your food order waiting at the commercial kitchen she found you. As soon as we get in, she'll be deploying people to make sure you're ready to go. Besides Juanpa, Patrice, and I will be there tonight to help too. Don't worry so much, pa. It's only like a five-hour drive. We'll be there by two, tops."
I took a deep breath, because I knew arguing with Milo would probably mean I'd either get going even later or that he'd get himself so worked up he'd crash my damn car on the interstate.
"Dude, can you be at least a little sympathetic? This is a big fucking deal for me. I'm moving out of New York City, my home since I was six years old, to try and get a food truck business going upstate."
I reached over for another container and huffed in exasperation. "If I had a beard and a man bun I'd be a cancelled show on Food Network."
Milo's face softened, and he started chuckling while he finally got his ass in gear and walked a box to the truck. "You're so over the top sometimes. But okay," he said, raising his hands. Palms out. "It's only a six-month trial, you can always come back. Your truck is doing fine here. It's not like you're going out of business or anything. People love those burritos."
He grabbed his coffee and drank deeply before continuing with his pissy pep talk.
"I mean, true, it's hard to make a living out here with all the competition, but your food sells well. You've been killing it at Smorgasburg when you're down in Brooklyn. Those hipsters go crazy over your shit."
I shook my head forcefully at his words as I slammed the back doors of the truck closed.
I stepped away from the vehicle, taking a long look at it. Emblazoned on the back was the logo for my business, OuNYe, Afro-Caribbean Food in huge bold black font on a red background. The black and red contrasted with the flags of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica painted over the entire truck. To name my business, I used a word from the Yoruba language. Which had been spoken all over the Caribbean by our ancestors, the West Africans who were brought there as slaves. Ounje is the Yoruba word for nourishment, and I'd decided to play a bit with things and put the NY right at the center.
The two worlds that made me merged into one word.
OuNYe was my baby. I put my blood, sweat, and tears into getting this idea off the ground. Street food filled with the flavors of the Caribbean. My roots and those of Juan Pablo, Camilo and Patrice, my three best friends. The food we had grown up with and had been our connection to where we came from, while our families tried to make a life here in the Big Apple.
Now I was taking one last shot at making my living from it.
I looked over at Milo, who was still gulping down coffee. "I've been doing this for two years, and I need to be able to make a decent living. I'm not going to be sweating it out for the rest of my life, to barely break even. If I can't get it off the ground like I want to in Ithaca, I'm done. Se acabo."
Milo clicked his tongue like it was taking every ounce of patience he had not to hit me upside the head.
"Oh my god, you gotta stop. You've agonized over this move for a year. You'll be doing business like gangbusters up there. You're gonna kill it. You know white people love 'ethnic' food wrapped in a tortilla."
He held up his hands with his index fingers hooked together, ready to start pulling out the receipts to shut down my bullshit.
"First of all, the concept is awesome, and your food is delicious. Second, there isn't any Caribbean food anywhere up there. Now stop whining before I lose my temper with you! I've had like three sips of this coffee and you know better than to aggravate me when I'm not properly caffeinated."
I could only laugh, "You're an idiot."
This is why I knew Milo and the guys coming along for the drive up was a good idea. Because despite the fact that he was salty as fuck sometimes, the guy could give a hell of a pep talk. I walked to my Prius, which Milo would be driving up to Ithaca, met him by the driver's side door, and handed him the keys.
"Here, don't drive like a fucking maniac. I texted you the address where we'll stop for lunch. There's a truck stop so we can park. Patrice and Juanpa already left in J's truck. They'll meet us there. Again, do not drive while reading something on your phone or text the guys while the car is moving."
"Pshh, you're being mad extra today." Milo blew me off. "Stress is not a good look on you, pa." He scrunched his face, pressing the point as he got in the car. "See you in a couple of hours." I stepped back and watched him set up the Google maps on his phone and drive off with a little wave.
I went back to stand by the truck and looked around one last time. It was a beautiful Sunday morning in New York City. The sun was shining and it was going to be a perfect spring day.
People in this corner of Manhattan, right up against the Hudson River, were already buzzing past me, heading to jobs and lives. Going after their little piece of the American dream. I choked up because this felt final, like it would never be my New York City again. This place was not just where I lived, it was part of my DNA, and I was convinced I would never feel at home anywhere else.
After twenty-seven years of calling this place mine, I was leaving.
I took one last look at my surroundings and inhaled the smell of fresh coffee and hot oil from the empanada cart down the street. I stood right off Broadway, on 155th street, Boricua College on my right, Trinity Church Cemetery on my left, and the Hudson straight ahead. This had been my neighborhood for almost eight years, and I was going to miss it. I was going to miss all of it.
I sighed as I made my way back to the truck and climbed in. I got the map up on my phone, pushed down my sunglasses, and started the truck.
I was ready.
I was going after my dream, to pursue my passion. As I headed out of the city, I looked out and said a silent "See you soon."
If it didn't work out in Ithaca, I'd be back soon enough.
I was a son of New York City, and she would always have me back with open arms.
The day ended up being perfect for a long drive. Just a bit before two p.m. I took the exit for Ithaca and began to feel the nervous anticipation of what was to come. I was adventurous when it came to travel or trying new things, but not with my livelihood.
Immigrants didn't fuck around with a steady stream of income. If you were making a decent living, you worked your ass off to keep it on lockdown.
Pursuing your passion? Risking everything on a dream?
That was for people with trust funds, not a Dominican kid from the Bronx.
While I coasted down the rural two-lane road that led to my destination, I thought about what this move meant. It'd been terrifying to leave a good and secure job to try my luck in something so unpredictable, and where the chances for utter failure were sky-high. Sure, I was confident in my skills, in my food, but I knew there would be a long way down if I failed.
This was not just a side-hustle anymore. I was going all-in with my business. It felt big, like it could change everything.
Before I got to my mom's, I decided to stop at the gas station where I was going to park the truck for lunch services, and check out the location. I was low on gas too, so I could kill two birds with one stone.
Navigating one of the many hills of Ithaca entering downtown, it was like I was seeing it for the first time. I drove by houses painted in bright colors and narrow streets full of trees laden with flowers. It was so green and quaint here. I wasn't sure how I'd fit in, being so used to the fast pace of the city.
I turned the steering wheel of the truck and wedged into an empty spot next to a pump. I jumped out and glanced around, taking in the location. I couldn't help the grin that broke out on my face. Of course my mom would somehow manage to find me the best possible spot in town. It was right by the public library and all around were commercial buildings. There would be a lot of foot traffic during the week.
I kept looking around as I filled the tank and didn't notice the car that drove up on the other side of me. It was a small, green Subaru hatchback with a Human Rights Campaign sticker on the back window. The guy who jumped out was gorgeous. He had the blondest hair I'd ever seen, and was wearing tight jeans and a black NPR t-shirt.
For some reason his shirt struck me as hilarious, and as he was pushing up his Ray-Bans to look at the screen on the pump, a laugh burst out of me. He turned around with a startled expression, probably looking for the jackass laughing at him for no reason. The intensity of his blue eyes, and the way his mouth pursed and then turned up into a smirk like he wasn't sure if he should get pissed or laugh too, made the laugh die in my throat. He was so pretty, and currently looking at me like there was something seriously wrong with me.
I put my hand up in an attempt to apologize for my bizarre behavior. "Sorry, man. Ignore me. I'm just a bit punchy from a long drive."
He didn't respond, just kept staring me, looking confused. I quickly finished up, and almost left without saying anything. But at the last second decided not to be an asshole and called out, "Have a nice day" before jumping in the truck.
I sent a quick text to my mom to let her know I'd be at her place soon and pulled out of the station. As I drove, I mused that if the blond was a sample of the men running around town, I'd need to look into some socializing opportunities. Then I remembered I was here to run a business, not to get laid.
I needed to get my head in the game and remember if this plan didn't work out my only prospect at the moment was going back to TPS reports and coming up with ways to make fro-yo sound "a little more urban."
After a few minutes navigating my truck through the tight residential streets of Ithaca I turned onto my mom's block and saw her waiting outside.
She was wearing a flowing white linen shirt, her long salt-and-pepper curls falling down her back. As a boy I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and that was still the case. These days she was embracing the natural look; had given up wearing makeup and relaxing her hair.
I parked the truck in the empty space in front of her house, which I knew she must have been guarding furiously all day.
"M'ijo! You made it," she yelled out as I walked over to her. "Look at you, so handsome. Your hair is getting long, papí," she griped as she gave me a bear hug and kissed both my cheeks.
"Mamí, you look gorgeous. I like this blouse. Very Stevie Nicks."
Complimenting her on her clothes and how great she looked was first and foremost.
She smacked my arm but the big smile on her face gave her away.
"Muchacho, Stevie Nicks is a lot older than me!"
She pulled on the hem of the shirt as we walked, as if only now noticing what she was wearing. "Besides, this old thing? Your Tía Maritza got it for me at some hippie clothes sale she goes to. You know how she is, goes overboard, buys too many things, and then I end up with half of them!"
I raised an eyebrow, because she was just as bad as Tía Maritza with the shopping.
"You two are hilarious."
She put her hand around my waist as we walked up the sidewalk. "Tell me about the drive. Did you have any trouble?"
I was thinking how much I'd missed having my mom and sister close by, when a pinch on my arm got my attention. "Sorry, Mamí. Drive was good," I said as we got to the door of my mom's little house.
One thing was certain, even if things flopped with the truck it would be nice to have family close again. My mom moved up to Ithaca eight years before. She wanted a more sedate environment for my little sister Minerva to go to school, and decided to join Tía Maritza and Tío Tonin who'd been here for years. I'd been out of college and working then, so I stayed behind. I looked down at her smiling face as she ushered me into the house.
"Good. Come in your sister should be home soon, and your tíos are on their way over. We're all so happy you're here, papí." I got another squeeze.
"The guys are inside," she said, trying her best to look grumpy, and failing completely. "They've only been here for fifteen minutes and Juanpa's already eaten all my food."
I just grinned down at her. "Don't even front like you're mad, Mamí. I know you love having a house full of people."
She looked up at me with a blank look on her face, as if she wasn't sure what my point was. "Nesto's home!" she called while she went for another hug.
I loved seeing my mom in her home. She'd busted her ass as a single mom for so long to give us a good life. She'd kept us out of trouble and was an amazing role model, but it all came at a cost.
She never stopped. She worked hard, and always knew what was up with school, with friends, and on the block. All while going to night school, and sending money home to help the family back in the DR. If anyone deserved to slow down and smell the roses, it was Nurys Maldonado.
We stood by the door arm in arm and then my mom waved toward the kitchen. "Let me go start some coffee." She gave me one last peck on the cheek before she hurried off.
I spotted Milo sprawled on the couch messing with his phone. "Did Milo do anything to my car?" I asked my mom, who was already in the kitchen.
Mamí smiled in Camilo's direction while she bustled around. "Car looks fine to me, but you know Milo. As soon as he got here he started moaning about getting lost three times and cursing out Juanpa and Patrice for not picking up when he called them."
I looked over and saw my friends filling my mom's living room. My brothers. I wouldn't have them just a few subway stops away anymore. I tried to shake off the feeling of unease the thought brought me and focused on all the stuff we needed to get done before they went back to the city.
But before I could get to them, my uncle and aunt were barreling into the house making a fuss over me, and talking over each other asking about the truck.
"Nesto! M'ijo. Look at you. You look more like your abuelo every day. Doesn't he, Nurys?" my aunt asked my mom as she engulfed me in a tight hug.
Tía Maritza was a slightly thinner and older version of my mom. The same bronzed skin, the curly hair, tall and curvy. She didn't look a day over forty-five, even though sixty-two was just a few months away. She and Tío Tonin had been married for almost forty years and still looked at each other like they were high school sweethearts.
"What's good, Tío? You letting Tía Maritza feed you too much of that platano?" I asked, patting the little bulge around his waistband.
He laughed heartily as he went in for a bear hug.
Tonin as always had a big smile on his face, and at sixty-five his dark brown skin was still free of any wrinkles. My uncle had always been like a father to me. He taught me by example how a man should act toward those he loved. I hoped when the time came, like him, I could be the type of man who put his people first.
"It's good to have you home, mi muchacho. Your mother's been putting the pressure on us all week getting everything ready for you. We've been talking up the truck in town too, people are excited for the Caribbean burritos."
"That's good, man, I need to sell a lot of them if I'm going to make rent!" I said, clapping his back as he moved to put his arm around Tía Maritza's shoulders.
"Tía, you're looking younger every year." She preened and gave me another kiss.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "American Dreamer"
Copyright © 2019 Adriana Herrera.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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