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Sunday, November 24, 2013

ARC Review: Foolish Games by Tracy Solheim

Despite the fact that I prefer my football played with the appropriate appendage (FEET, people, FEET!), I have a penchant for sports romances (the drive! the stamina! the overblown egos!) and a guilty-pleasure love affair with the secret baby trope. Throw in a pensive, shirtless Jed Hill on the cover, and I’m powerless to resist. I’ll wait while you drool over peruse that cover.

I’ve been in a bit of a contemporary romance reading slump with two DNFs lately, so I was hoping to turn the tide with Tracy Solheim’s FOOLISH GAMES, book #2 in the Out of Bounds series of sexy sports romances. I’ll admit that I was a bit sceptical at the outset because hero Will Connelly seemed like a complete and utter asshat, but I’m glad I persevered despite my initial antipathy because FOOLISH GAMES delivers an engaging love story between two realistically flawed characters that are perfect for each other, tempered with the right amount of heat and sweetness to keep it from drowning in woe-is-me angst.

The story centres on Baltimore Blaze linebacker Will “William the Conqueror” Connelly and rising bridal gown designer Julianne Marchione, whose migraine-medication-and-fear-of-storms-fuelled one-night stand at Will’s best friend’s wedding—complete with a broken condom and a climax screaming another man’s name— results in an unplanned pregnancy. Julianne is all in favour of raising the baby alone and never bothering her famous NFL hookup again, but all that changes when baby Owen is born with a life-threatening disease that could be cured by a transfusion of Will’s blood. And so Will discovers that he has a newborn son he knew nothing about… and saying he’s furious with Julianne for having kept it a secret is putting it mildly. Having grown up in a small Southern town as the fatherless kid from the trailer park whose teenage mother drove a school bus and cleaned houses whilst trying to raise herself and her son, Will has major issues. About a child of his not having a father. About proving he’s amounted to something now that he’s rich and famous. About other people always thinking he’s not good enough. About keeping up appearances in the hometown he still feels looks down on and judges him. Using Julianne’s overwhelming shame and guilt for having kept her pregnancy from him and her willingness to do anything for her son, he strong-arms her into marrying him and spending the summer in his coastal North Carolina town to satisfy his burning need for legitimacy for his son and the semblance of a normal family dynamic. This is the part where I really disliked Will: it’s no secret that I like my heroes a little bit beta, and the way Will was all autocratic and domineering and had to have everything his way—because, egad, Julianne had the audacity to do what she thought was best for her son at the time and not tell him about the baby!—made him an absolute wanker in my opinion. Of course, given the scorching physical attraction between them, the “pretend” nature of their marriage is short-lived, and it’s sweet to see Will realise he’s being an ass and watch their relationship evolve from one of convenience and duty to one based on real love as they both sort out their issues. And, boy, can he grovel like a champ when he decides to stop being an idiot!

In the same way that I had mixed feelings about Will initially, I also had them about the delightfully enjoyable hot mess that is Julianne. Despite being a successful designer and business owner, she pretty much flies by the seat of her pants and has a flair for the dramatic—which drives Will crazy, in an I-want-to-both-throttle-you-and-kiss-you way. She’s got serious abandonment and guilt issues: she failed to save her mum from the watery car crash that took her life, her father banished her to boarding school, her older Senator brother has never seemingly cared much about her until Will is potentially involved in an investigation into his (former) college football coach’s alleged bounty scheme, and she hid her pregnancy from everyone until Owen’s issues manifested. That she feels she deserves Will’s initial disdain and wankerdom as ‘punishment’ for her behaviour drove me a little nuts, but it’s a perfectly realistic attitude and completely consistent with her character. Her devotion to and willingness to do anything for her son is both heartwarming and admirable, and watching her finally shed her cloak of self-blame and guilt and go after what she wants is incredibly rewarding. Her breezy, slightly flighty persona is the perfect foil to Will’s more regimented & controlled character, and the two of them are so darn adorable together—even when they’re spitting nails—that you can’t help but root for them and their HEA.

Ms. Solheim also introduces a great cadre of secondary characters—from Will’s mum and the team’s urbane GM (who star in a delightful secondary romance) to Julianne’s seemingly despicable but sort of redeemable older brother, to Will’s teammate and star of the next instalment, movie star-handsome tight end Brody Janik—that add depth and realism to the Out of Bounds universe. Coupled with tight writing and great humour to lighten the mood when so much of the focus is on two characters with long-standing issues and the rocky development of their relationship, FOOLISH GAMES makes for a great read for anyone who enjoys sexy alpha sports heroes and a healthy dose of misconceptions and jumping to conclusions with their romance. I haven’t read the first book in the series (this one completely stands alone), but I’m looking forward to more hot football action getting caught up on book #1 and reading Brody’s story next year! And more shirtless Jed Hill covers.

**ARC provided by Publisher**

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