I was definitely in the mood for a hockey romance and so it wasn’t hard to go with Kate Willoughby’s In the Zone series. I’ve read the first two books and liked her blend of sport, romance, and solid characters. This was the fourth book and I had skipped book three, but I did alright so it would definitely work as a standalone or out of order. Though that said, I will eventually go back for book three.
This story opens with another new year for the Barracudas. Joe ‘Fordy’ Rutherford knows he is a senior player and is staring retirement in the face. He loves playing and works his butt off to keep up with the younger guys and stay at the level of play needed for the pros. The coach recognizes other qualities in him that include teaching and mentoring so Joe is given the bright, emerging rookie star to look after for the season. Joe has a heart for charity work and doing what he can to give back so he doesn’t say no when he is approached about a ‘Grant a Wish’ sort of request regarding a child. And that brings a surprise chance at love into Joe’s life if he can sort through his feelings about her fame and acting.
Christine Caspary is a stage actress aspiring to make it big. She has talent and drive and just needs her chance. As she is working in the production of Annie, she continues to see a child she helped grant a wish for, but she wants to do more. Joe Rutherford a hockey player is the little girl’s favorite player so even though Christine knows little about sports and has her own notions about the sorts that play hockey, she approaches Joe to help make a wish come true. Christine gets the surprise of her life when Joe is so much more than she imagines. This big gruff looking man is intelligent, caring, sensitive, and gentle off the ice. She is falling for him, but when she gets a chance at her dreams will Joe’s issues and her own drive get in the way?
Alright, this was an enjoyable romance. Maybe because they come from two different worlds of the theater and the sports arena, the story felt like a modern fairy tale. I found it refreshing that the obstacles were in the here and now. Neither Joe nor Christine have dark pasts though Joe’s recent experience with a cheating girlfriend and teammate does affect how he approaches this new chance at romance.
The obstacles were an interesting one and I confess I have wondered about this when it comes to people with acting carriers having relationships. The crux of it is that Christine’s big break comes from starring on a cable show that has nudity, sex, and a love triangle and it’s already a hotly anticipated show so that everyone will see Christine nude and sexy. Joe struggles with this and even gets harassed about it from other people (not his teammates). Christine claims she understands, but still expects Joe to just accept it. She had the opportunity to use a body double for the nude scenes, but feels it is better for her career to do all her own work. I was on the fence about this. While I get what she is saying in her ‘you have to trust me or this won’t work’, I also get the fact that even if there aren’t feelings between her and her co-stars, she is still asking him to be okay with her stripping down and going at it (even clinically) with two other guys for an audience of millions. And she definitely can’t say that she would be fine with it if the reverse were true because she gets a little riled at the thought of puck bunnies even though girls fanning over hockey players with clothes on doesn’t go near what she’s asking him to accept. Interesting scenario.
Beyond making me ponder such a tough, unique romance conflict, there is also the side story of the rookie learning how to handle his star pro status and Joe’s part in helping him along the path. It added some depth and heart even while sharing another aspect of the hockey/sports world. I felt the story was an easy read. The writing is smooth and easy. It was fun getting the camaraderie between all the Barracuda players and catching up with the ones who have already gotten their stories.
The romance starts out slowly because they have to conduct it long distance with her traveling with the theater troupe and him traveling with his hockey team. Joe makes this grand gesture of chartering a plane to see her for one day between games. Christine also sends him a ticket to her play which Joe loved because he loves plays and especially ones Christine is in. Their date to the Sand Festival was a cute idea on Joe’s part. They are a good couple and I was happily engaged with their story. Joe is a ‘what you see is what you get’ guy. He has average looks and has to work hard, but he has such heart. Christine is sweet and also has to work hard to achieve her goals. They are so easy and relaxed together, but heat of attraction is pulsing under the surface. Christine won’t let that push them too fast- loved seeing that, too.
All in all, this fourth installment of the series was engaging and I loved the romance and the story of Joe and Christine. For those who enjoy spicy sports romance with a nice balance of both sport and romance, this book/series is a good bet.
I received this book from Net Galley to read in exchange for an honest review.