Series: #1 Sempre
Genres: Young Adult Romance
Published by Pocket Star
Released on November 25, 2013
Ever once in a while, I come across a story that just defies description because of its scope and the emotions it produced in me. When I added this one, I was taken by the title and by the cover and finally by the blurb. I hadn’t heard anything one way or the other, but something told me this would be good stuff. Love it when my instinct proves right. Sempre was not an easy read, but it’s unforgettable. It was dark and challenging. It reminded me that the world is not a kind place and a person’s safe passage and well being is not guaranteed from one day to the next when the unforeseen horrors can strike. Yet for all its backdrop steeped in danger and darkness, this is a story of hope, redemption and love.
Haven is a second generation slave. Serving Master Michael and before him, Master Frankie on a remote ranch in the middle of the desert, is all she has known, but that changes when Dr. Vincent DeMarco buys her and brings her away to his home where she will live with him and his two teenage sons. Haven is forced to separate from her mother who remains a slave in the desert and Haven is confused and terrified by the change in her life. Dr. DeMarco tells her he only expects basic housekeeping and meals. He gives her clothing, her own room and a gentler routine, but she can sense the menace toward her in his eyes and expression. She is warned what will happen if she tries to escape and not long after she is there, he frightens her with more than words.
Carmine DeMarco has been a hot angry, volatile mess for years. The year before he was sent away for an act of violence against his former best friend, but now he’s back. He is in trouble constantly, he has a nasty temper and he can and does have any girl for the taking. He is also good looking, son of a wealthy doctor and popular at his school as the starting quarterback. When the girl comes to live with them, he finds it a shock that she avoids him and skitters around like he’s a monster. It intrigues him. His brother, Dom, who is a gentler and kinder person has better luck with her which frustrates Carmine into really making an effort to tone it down.
Slowly, Haven and Carmine reach out. Haven is scared that she is doing a bad thing to become familiar with her new master’s son, but being with Carmine is too special even if it is just simply sitting together in the family room. For the first time in his life, Carmine finds himself accepted with no judgment for who he is by someone who wants nothing from him. He is awed to be the one to make Haven feel happy and safe. Haven is honest about her past and he is appalled by what he learns. He is determined to have something with her even if there are many barriers to overcome. He is disgusted and wants answers for his dad’s actions.
Vincent’s actions and plans have him walking a tightrope of danger. He lives apart from The Family, or Mafia, but he is still sworn to loyalty and duty whenever the Don Salvatore calls for him. The secrets he is keeping and the girl in his home can get them all killed. The Russian mob is pushing into their territory and he is at the Don’s beck and call more than ever. He is determined that his boys have a normal life and are kept far away from The Family business. Sal has his eye on Carmine as his future successor. Vincent can see the changes in his son since the girl came. He likes the changes, but he warns Carmine away from anything of a close nature with the girl. The secrets swirling around her have the potential to tear open a painful past and destroy the future of his family.
This was a hefty book weighing in at over 500 pages. At first, I looked on this with reservation, but once I got started I forgot how long it was. Not once did I feel like the pace dragged nor was I bored. The action, romance and character development was really given time and scope to unfurl and that was a very good thing. It’s a story set against the Mafia and slave trafficking so it was never going to be sweet and pretty, but the author managed to keep the tone just right and not go down into utter darkness.
I loved the narrations of Haven, Carmine and Vincent in equal measure. Their voices are distinct as is their point of view. I thought this was skillfully done. I should also mention that there are several dips into the past to explain the present better. The story is allowed to unwrap layer by layer so that any assumptions I made as I started were blown out of the water at a later point. Most characters have some larceny in them if not outright villainy as many were associated with the Mafia. Haven was the one shining light of goodness in the beginning. This girl is my hero for passing through the fires and coming out the way she did. She might be a slave with a narrow sense of the world, but she is bright and beneath it all she has dignity and is not a doormat. There are a slew of well developed secondary characters behind the three main characters, but I won’t take the time to speak on them all. While I loved Haven and Carmine as individuals and together, my favorite characters were Vincent, Dom and Corrada Moretti. I’d like to elaborate on why, but that would cause some spoilerage.
The romance has a slight YA feel to it, but then not really- which is true of the whole book. Carmine goes to school and there are lots of scenes that have other kids and normal teen activities in them, but there is always the hidden stuff that have a more adult feel too plus it is an adult story when Vincent is doing the narrating. Because of who and what they are, Carmine, his brother and Haven are older beyond their years. Carmine comes across as an abrasive punk (though I still liked him b/c he had a tough row to hoe) and Haven naive about regular life stuff outside the home, but they don’t seem like teenagers to me. This is good because these two took their time, but eventually they were together as a couple in all ways. They were attracted almost immediately, but Carmine and Haven’s romance development took quite some time and they had several moments of conflict to work through too. I enjoyed the inclusion of several types of moments with them. My favorites were the firefly night, Haven reading while Carmine played guitar and I have to include the hilarious learning to drive scene (Carmine is a crappy teacher and we’ll leave it at that).
Because of the nature of this story which includes strong violence, strong language, moderate substance abuse and moderately detailed sex scenes, I’m going to recommend this for older teens and the teens at heart.
As to type of readers, those who enjoy dark, gritty action and spicy romance in their Contemporaries should give this one a try.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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