Saturday, August 13, 2011

Are You Playing Me or the Game? "The Game of Love" by Jeanette Murray

It isn't football season in America, but already we are hearing all kinds of rumblings of contract problems and such between owners and players. One would think that those player-millionaires could come to some agreement with those owner-billionaires, especially when so many people in the United States are struggling just to keep their cars and their houses. Yet those pro athletes have their unique problems and their lives after the NFL are often quite different than what they anticipated. Here is a story that involves a hero who has left the pro ranks to return home to coach his high school football team. Meeting and managing his attraction to the new tennis coach (our heroine) may still turn out to be his most challenging gridiron experience yet.

Chris St. James is ready for normal. After walking away from her pro tennis career and a toxic relationship with a star hockey player, she's starting a new life as a teacher and tennis coach in a small town. Now all she needs is an average guy to share it with.

Brett Wallace is no average guy. Forced to retire from the NFL after an injury—and suddenly single after being dumped by his status-conscious wife—he's returned to his hometown to coach the varsity football team. Wary of women interested only in his celebrity, Brett finds Chris's indifference to his former career refreshing.

The last thing Chris needs is to get involved with another pro athlete, but she can't deny the sparks that fly between them. So she agrees to a purely physical, no-strings-attached affair. But the rules of the game change when she falls for him…

There is no getting around the fact that Christ St. John had a really gi-normous chip on her shoulder that effectively kept her distanced from just about everyone at the school where she was the new tennis coach, except the girls she was coaching. There it seemed that she had an inspired connection with them which seems to have been born out of her own experience. She wanted them to have fun, a vital ingredient missing in her own experience growing up with parents who were set on her being a top ten in the world tennis pro. That she never made that ranking served to create a very hefty chasm between her and her parents, even as she was learning to live her own life and fight off the efforts of her parents to draw her back into pro sports and back into a relationship with a man who had used and abused her the entire time they were together.

Brett Wallace was a fine athlete and was esteemed, not only for his past NFL playing prowess but also for his good work with the local football team. That his team garnered most of the resources the school set aside for team sports was an irritant Chris St. John couldn't seem to get her head around, and it was on that initial battle field that she and Brett locked horns. He was prepared to move on but his attraction to her just seemed to grow and in spite of her bad experience with her ex and her determination to stay away from pro athletes, Chris recognized that her attraction to the handsome football coach was out of the ordinary for her and certainly unexpected.

I think this story highlights the unique "hang-ups" that pro athletes develop because of the extreme attitude of adoration our culture has heaped on them, the maddening frenzy of the sports media, the easy availability of sports "camp followers" who simply want the bragging rights for having had sex with a pro athlete, and the false set of values that living in the lap of luxury and celebrity can manufacture. Both Chris and Brett had their share of wounds that grew out of their involvement with professional sports. For Chris, she became the emotional punching bag and media arm candy for a self-absorbed tennis pro, sacrificing her self-esteem and her career to his ambitions. Brett met and married during his NFL playing days, but his wife's idea of enjoying the fruits of her husband's labors in the fast lane of city living just weren't going to materialize in his little home town. She had not qualms about bidding him adieu and moving on. Both Chris and Brett had to rebuild their lives alone while licking their wounds. This is often more difficult than many realize and to those who have not experienced this, may seem childish and unnecessary. But wounds are wounds, and while it is easy to say: "Get over it and over yourself," in Chris's case, there was more going on in the baggage from the past that she was carrying.

That all being said, I was just a little impatient at their inability to communicate honestly regarding their fears and hang-ups, especially when their relationship had reached the level it had by the time the crisis occurs. No one wants to put the cabosh on a good thing, but both had already had experiences that should have taught them that being honest and up front early on can more often than not prevent the kind of misunderstandings that stood to torpedo their relationship. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story and even though I get tired of adversarial exchanges between the main characters, Brett and Chris didn't drag out their discord to ridiculous lengths and I was very glad about that. I like people to get along, and when authors bring discord into their stories I can understand the reasons most of the time. Often it all just seems so childish. In this case, Chris was a truly damaged woman trying to recoup her sense of self so I gave her a good bit more slack in that department.

This is a very readable and enjoyable romance novel and another offering by Carina Press. I found it kept my interest and the narrative moved me steadily through the story. I have not previously read any other writing by this author, but after reading this novel am going to look for additional titles to read in the future. If you like a good love story with some professional sports thrown in, then you will like this novel. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

This novel will be released by Carina Press on 29 August 2011.

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