Saturday 26 December 2015

#CBR7 Book 149: "The Game Plan" by Kristen Callihan

Page count: 323 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Once again I want to thank the lovely Mrs. Julien, whose generous gift of an Amazon voucher made it possible for me to buy this book. 

NFL player Ethan "Dex" Dexter is known to his friends and team mates as "the Wise One". He's quiet, observant, focused on his career and not really concerned with dating, or really all that bothered about the fact that he's still a virgin at 24. The only woman he's interested in is the bubbly and vivacious Fiona Mackenzie, sister-in-law to his best friend, who's been very vocal in the past about how she doesn't do long distance relationships or has any interest in athletes. Yet when they both find themselves visiting Grey and Ivy at the same time, he can't help himself. Alone in a club one night, desperate for her to really see him, he dares her to touch his beard, and suddenly they can barely keep their hands, or lips, off each other.

Fiona grew up with a father who started as a professional athlete and then became a sports agent. He travelled a lot in his work and slept around a whole lot while doing it. Her parents' marriage broke up as a result. She's also known as the family flake, who can never really settle down for long with anything, always changing her mind or focus. Having recently secured what she believed would be her dream job in a design firm in New York, she wants to prove to both herself and her family that she can stick with something. She's struggling with a co-worker who keeps copying her designs and trying to steal her thunder, but with her sister just having had a baby, she's allowed herself a short vacation in San Francisco. She's none to pleased to see Dex, her brother-in-law's best friend, show up in the club she's at, "baby sitting", but is surprised how affected she is by his presence.

Dex is a veritable mountain of muscle, with long hair, a thick beard and tattoos all over his arms. He's nothing like the guys Fiona tends to go for, but with his quiet intensity focused entirely on her, she can't look away. When he dares her to touch his beard, she can't help but move in to kiss him and discovers that the silent giant she barely even noticed in the past is absolutely crazy about her. He lives in New Orleans, she lives in New York. She's just starting her promising design career, he's a top player in the NFL. A long distance relationship is their only option if they want more than a brief fling, and after just a few days together in San Francisco, it's obvious to both that that's not a satisfying option.

I've really liked the first two of Kristen Callihan's Game On books, a New Adult series starting when the characters were still in college. This book takes place a few years after the first two, with the characters older and a bit more settled, but still starting out in life. For the most part, I think Callihan's writing and plotting has improved with each book, but my absolute favourite is probably still The Friend Zone, which worked for me on every level. Seeing the couple from that be supporting characters struggling to get used to a new baby was fun and I loved their reactions to Dex' baby whispering techniques.

Dex, for all that he is nothing like the men I tend to find attractive in real life (I go more for the tall, pale and gangly - like Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston, or my husband). I don't really like tattoos or piercings, I think man buns are ridiculous and big, burly lugs just don't really appeal that much to me. He may still be my favourite Callihan hero so far, though. Though he's lusted after Fiona for years, he's never really let on and he's never once crossed into creepy stalker territory, keeping his interest firmly in the fantasy realm. Being a popular athlete, there's no lack of women who throw themselves his way, but Ethan, who remembers being chubby growing up and completely ignored by girl and later women until he became famous, isn't interested in just some shallow hook up. The one time he got drunk and gave into peer pressure, things didn't go well and he's decided that if he can't have Fiona, he doesn't want anyone. During their previous encounters, she hasn't really shown any interest in him, but when they meet again in San Francisco, after a brief moment where she has trouble placing him, the chemistry between them is palpable. Hence he dares to hope that maybe his feelings might become requited and he makes his move.

I liked that with Fiona being very outgoing, impulsive, loquacious and forward, while Ethan was normally the quiet, retiring, contemplative and restrained, they complimented each other nicely. Fi becomes calmer and more grounded around Ethan and he becomes more talkative and takes control in his interactions with her. He understands her fears and her misgivings and tries to give her the space and time to make her own decisions. Even when it's about to break his heart, he's not about to counteract her agency. Luckily, while Fiona is terrified to abandon her current job, she's not too proud to admit when she's wrong about her initial decision about long distance relationships. When she returns to New York, convinced that there can be no future for her and Dex, she's called him to tell him her change of heart before her plane even takes off.

Of course there needs to be some conflict, and the long distance isn't enough. One of the reasons Fiona doesn't want to be involved with an athlete is that she's not happy with media attention, and when Ethan's cell phone is stolen and photos of an intimate nature are leaked, their relationship hits a crisis point. My main problem with this story line is that I refuse to believe that any public person with naughty photos or videos on their phone doesn't at least have a simple code lock on it. It's even mentioned a couple of times early in the story that he needs to sort that out. From the hacking scandals in recent years, I suspect a determined person would still be able to access the memory eventually, but it wouldn't be right out there to the taking for any unscrupulous person.

The "virgin hunt" that's launched in the media to prove that Dex has lost his virginity and the subsequent leaking of the photos was not my favourite way to drive a wedge between a couple, but for the most part, this romance is in parts funny, sweet, very sexy and it was nice to see the previous couples in the series as supporting characters. I haven't been able to discover whether there are going to be more books in the series, or if this is the concluding volume. Either way, I am determined that I will read more of her Victorian paranormals next.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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