Rating: 3.5 stars
CBR14 Bingo: Dough (the hero is a retired hockey player who bakes and cooks the most amazing food - there is some serious food porn in this book).
Lucian "Luc" Osmond was a star hockey player with brilliant career prospects, tons of friends and teammates, not to mention a beautiful fiancee. Then one especially hard tackle has the doctors proclaim that if he continues to play, he's likely to end up brain damaged or dead. So he has to give up the sport that has dominated his life since he was a teenager, the only thing he really considers himself any good at, and has withdrawn to stay on his grandmother's big California estate, Rosemont. Here he isolates himself completely from his past life, interacting only with his grandmother or her self-appointed stylist (a flamboyant young man who's basically like a brother to Luc).
Emma Maron was really enjoying her career, starring as a powerful warrior, sorceress, and princess on wildly popular fantasy show Dark Castle (think Game of Thrones). She considered many of the cast and crew her friends, and loved the opportunities the show gave her. Then, during the read-through of the show's fourth season finale, Emma (and the rest of the cast and crew) discover that Princess Anya will be killed off, beheaded by her enemies. Suddenly without a job, and completely unable to tell anyone in the industry until after the episode has aired, Emma is bereft. Not helping matters is going home to find her football player boyfriend boinking a waitress in their living room. Jobless and suddenly single, Emma desperately needs an escape and some rest and relaxation. Her grandmother's best friend just so happens to have a big, almost-empty estate in California which she enthusiastically invites Emma to come to visit, for as long as she wants. You see where this is going.
When Lucian goes to pick Emma up at the airport, she initially mistakes him for a fan asking for an autograph. So their first meeting is off to a brilliant start. Nevertheless, Emma can't get over how handsome her appointed driver is, and Lucian, like millions of fans worldwide, has fancied Emma's onscreen persona for years. While their first meeting is a bit awkward, he realises very quickly that she's a very kind, considerate, and down-to-earth woman, with no annoying diva tendencies. The role she played might have been appealing, but the real woman is far more attractive because she's real.
While Lucien still played hockey, he used to like cooking and baking as an occasional hobby to blow off steam and relax. Now that he's been holed up on his grandmother's estate for months, he's taken his culinary skills to another level and pours all of himself into cooking pretty much all the meals for everyone staying there. He starts putting special care into everything he makes for Emma, wanting to impress her with his cakes and pastries without her ever knowing that it's him, the man she considers the rather surly handyman onsite, who is also the estate's very talented chef. Due to another early misunderstanding, Emma thinks it's his grandmother who cooks, and she's amused enough to let her guest believe the lie.
Lucien's grandmother is a very kind and generous woman, but she clearly has ulterior motives for inviting the famous actress to convalesce in one of her guest houses. Along with her trusty assistant/stylist, she does whatever she can to throw Lucian and Emma together, matchmaking as best she can. However, while there is a lot of chemistry and attraction between Luc and Emma, they take ages to actually act on it, and even when they do, Lucian is very caught up in his self-pity, self-loathing, and belief that because he can no longer play hockey, and he is somehow less of a man, and certainly not someone anyone would ever want to be with long-term. Emma too is in a difficult place, having been cheated on and not knowing where her career is going to go now. Pretty much every time they make any progress in the relationship, they shortly after have to take two steps back because of something Luc does or feels about how hockey is the only thing he's ever been good at and his life might as well end now because he might die if he goes back on the ice.
The bit that really hammers home that Luc is a bit too caught up in his own drama and unwilling to ever consider any other alternative life path is when he and Emma go to a wedding, for one of her cast mates on Dark Castle. There's some sort of disaster involving the wedding cake, so Luc steps in and bakes a ton of delectable treats with very little preparation. The bride, a chef who is looking for a pastry chef straight up offers him a job working for her and he still refuses to even consider it. I guess it's a good thing for Emma's sake that he's really hot and the smexy times are great.
It's a romance, so we all know they're going to get to their HEA eventually. Thankfully, Emma eventually has enough of Luc's 'woe is me, I am hockey, without hockey, I am nothing' schtick and leaves him to come to his senses, but it takes him far too long to realise what a good thing he now has and what his life could be without risking his brain and/or life on the regular. Can you tell I really don't care about sports one jot? Give me a man who can cook and bake over an athlete any day.
Not even slightly one of Callihan's best romances, although it does have a lot of fun supporting characters and a lot of good banter. It was also a quick read and allowed me to cross yet another book off my ever-growing TBR list.
Judging a book by its cover: While I'm not a super fan of the cover, it's refreshing to see a romance published in the last few years that doesn't have the ever-present cartoony cover illustration. I actually really like just seeing glimpses of the characters in the letters of the title.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
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