Gloves off, hard-hitting, grittier side to MMA! Whew boy did this one take me for a ride! I was very taken with Caden in the first book and was amused by the late appearance of Sophie Morelle so I was eager to move into this sequel story that took off pretty much where the first book ended. It was so much more than I was expecting and went somewhere entirely different than the first book- literally since it went on a road trip to Vegas. Figuratively, it went a different direction too. Caden and Sophie’s story is so much different and that was a good thing.
The story opens with Sophie being recently let go from her job for accidentally clocking Caden Kelly in the head with a TV camera and ending the Favorite’s chances at an MMA crown. Sophie is no quitter so she is on the road now to catch up to the tour bus carrying Jerry and his MMA fighters to the championship in Vegas. She will do a documentary story on the fighters leading up to the big fight and make her network apologize for all the horrid stuff they said about her and her career as they take her back. She is determined to succeed even if it means using all her wiles to get an exclusive out of the despised Caden Kelly. His perfect body is plastered over every billboard in America sporting the underwear he endorses so why shouldn’t a fame-hound like that deny her even if he hates the sight of the person who gave him a concussion.
Caden still fights headaches from when Sophie hit him with the camera and he’s determined to take his training and this big fight seriously so he does more than groan when he encounters the trouble magnet, Sophie Morelle, chasing the tour and nosing about for a story. She has latched onto him and he has no intention of giving the foul-mouthed, brazen shock jock even a hint of his private life, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get up some fun along the way.
Through road mishaps, no holds barred cage events, busload of championship-hungry MMA fighters, danger-proned female reporter, bag of illegal steroids and drugs, illegal betting rings, a cagy fighter who is trying to live down his past, and an explosive attraction, the road trip to Vegas is anything, but dull.
As I noted earlier, the plot on this one picks up the general thread of the story about the MMA championship and the fighters involved while shifting to a new couple for the romantic interest. The story isn’t so much focused on the sport though it plays a part with the grittier side of the sport being the focus when it is like cage fighting, steroid use, illegal gambling rings, etc.
I’m getting an inkling now that there will be no easy romances in this series. Easy attraction and hot passion; yes, but not so much with the relationship. The relationship building takes work and time- very refreshing after reading so much instalove. And really, I should also state that the characters aren’t easy people either. They’re flawed and have their issues and much of the story is spent in a growth arc for Caden and Sophie separately and together.
I have to say that when I began this story, I really didn’t like Sophie. She was a brash, self-absorbed, judgmental, ‘I have the right to your private life because I am a reporter’ type that got my hackles up. Her grudge against Caden because he’s got endorsements, he’s got a pretty face, and he’s a womanizer just smacked of bitterness- and hypocrisy considering what she did to claw her way out of her poor town beginnings and up her way to success. I was close to setting the book aside, but then I was curious to see if there was a bend in her road and wanted to see where the story took her. I’m glad I did because the road trip and getting to know Caden was a real life experience for her. I love it when self-discovery takes place and results in change, but not so much change that the sassy woman that Caden fell for was completely absent.
That leads to Caden. Caden is another one who did what he had to do to survive and somehow came through with a heart and some conscience. He was unapologetic about his faults and he owns to them. He is determined to pull through to the other side where he can see the man he wants to be. I loved that because of his tough beginnings, he saw right through Sophie to who she was underneath all the layers she had piled on over the years. Caden was no pushover. He fell for Sophie and was a generous lover, but he called her on her crap too. When he opened up to her and gave himself through those video-tapings, I was so melty for him and I wanted to boot Sophie up the butt for snapping to conclusions about what he put on them and refusing to watch.
So in the end, I’m glad that I didn’t lay this one aside and stuck it out. The mystery with the drugs was a nice background plot thread. There were some good secondary characters including old Sal who cracked me up. Now I totally want Bracken and Anthony’s stories too.
I would recommend this for contemporary romance fans who enjoy romance set against the backdrop of the MMA world with the balance more on the characters and hot romance than the sport though there is some of that too. This could be read as a standalone since the main story starts and finishes in this one though the characters were introduced in the previous book and the backdrop time line started in the earlier book.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.