Formats available: ebook
Genre: sports romance
Series: Cold fury Hockey #3
Length: 294 pages
Date Released: June 9, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Rising star Zack Grantham has been stuck in a downward spiral of grief ever since the car accident that left him a single dad and put his career on hold. Back on the road with the Carolina Cold Fury and still crippled by emotional baggage, he’s in need of some serious help with his son. But while the nerdy new nanny wins his son’s heart, Zack isn’t sure he’s ready for a woman’s touch—even after getting a glimpse of the killer curves she’s hiding under those baggy clothes.
Kate Francis usually keeps men like Zack at a distance. Though his athlete’s body is honed to perfection, he refuses to move on with his life—and besides, he’s her boss. Still, the sparks between them are undeniable, tempting Kate to turn their professional relationship into a personal one. But before she makes a power play for Zack’s wounded heart, Kate will have to open him up again and show him that love is worth the fight.
Sawyer Bennett has a gift for making the reader sympathize with heroes who are being complete arseholes to their heroines, and for making us understand why those heroines stick around to redeem the guy who starts the story jerking them around.
This is a good thing, because it so shouldn’t work. But as Bennett has demonstrated in the two previous books in the Cold Fury Hockey series, Alex (reviewed here) and Garrett (here) she knows just how to make it work.
Zack isn’t the complete Grade A arsehole that Alex starts out his story as. No, Zack is only a prick to Kate. And even though it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from, there are a lot of points where you want to shake him for his idiocy, and knock some sense into Kate for putting up with it.
So how does this work out?
There’s a whole lot of guilt mixed-in with that grief. While Zack is lost without Gina, especially when it comes to little Ben, he is also kicking himself that he never gave Gina the one thing she really wanted – they never did get married. He knew she wanted to (and they had a child) but he felt something was missing – that she wasn’t the person he was supposed to spend the rest of his life with.
A part of me wonders what the hell he was going to do if he met that right person while he was still in the relationship, but that’s not what happened. However, that thought does not endear me to Zack.
In the depths of his still very real grief, Zack also has a dilemma. He’s recovered from the accident, and he plays pro hockey for a living. There are going to be a lot of days and nights on the road, and he no longer has Gina to take care of Ben. His sister picks out a nanny for Ben, and in a fog, Zack lets it happen.
That nanny is Kate. She’s a poor girl from a tiny North Carolina town, but she’s starting graduate school in the fall and needs the money. Her undergraduate degree is in child psychology, and she and Ben bond instantly.
Zack can’t stand seeing someone else in Gina’s place. He also can’t see how bubbly, nerdy Kate in her baggy clothes could possibly be the right person to take care of Ben, or to fit into their life. But she is.
Not just because Ben adores her, although he does. But she also falls in love with the little guy, and does a terrific job of caring for him.
It’s dad’s negativity and sometimes outright antagonism she can’t get past. Until Zack sees the very pretty woman hiding under the baggy clothes, and can’t make himself unsee the first woman he’s wanted since Gina died.
But Zack decides that he’s only in it for the fantastic sex. He tells Kate at the very beginning that he absolutely does not want a relationship outside the bedroom, and if she can’t deal with that, then she needs to tell him at the very beginning.
Kate is an incredibly blunt person. She lets him know that if she can’t handle it, she’ll tell him. And she means it.
The real problem isn’t that she can’t handle it, but that he can’t. As much as he keeps saying all he wants is sex, he keeps letting Kate further and deeper into his life and his heart. A heart he doesn’t think he has. And the more he breaks past his own boundaries, the more Kate hopes that there is something real between them.
Until he’s an arsehole one too many times in front of one too many people, and she tells him she’s had enough. Finally.
It takes Kate standing up for herself to bring home to Zack exactly how big a stupid idiot he’s been.
Escape Rating B-: A long time ago, someone told me that it is impossible to make love with someone and not feel at least a little love. Zack and Kate’s story is an illustration of that conundrum.
Kate has been hiding under those baggy clothes and thick glasses because she developed early, and got threatened by the guys who started noticing her when she was much too young to know how to handle it. So she wore armor and hid in plain sight behind her glasses and her bubbly sense of humor. Also behind her nerdiness – she’s a bookworm and happy to be one.
At first Zack just thinks she’s too goofy to be a good caregiver for Ben – and Zack has an understandable problem seeing another woman in Gina’s place.
He does start caring about her before he sees in her in pjs and discovers what she’s hiding underneath the baggy sweats, but he kind of gets obsessed at that point. She’s the first woman he’s wanted since the accident, and he can’t let her go, even though he knows their relationship is bad for her, and that he isn’t treating her well.
At first, Kate can’t believe that the hot hockey player is interested in her. By hiding under the baggy clothes, she’s mostly kept herself from having a love life. Having fantastic sex with a handsome lover is a welcome change for her. And she understands the limits from the get go, even as she questions how long she can manage to protect her heart.
Zack plays a “come here/go away” game with Kate that is very hurtful, and he knows it. While she puts up with his crap a lot longer than she probably should, her hope is also realistic. He does feel more than he’s admitting to himself, and his arseholishness is his way of navigating that river of Denial.
Someone still needs to clock him one. And Kate finally does. It just takes her awhile.
In many ways, Kate is the much more interesting part of this story. She starts out hiding herself, and ends the story by reclaiming the parts of herself that she hid. She is also very self-motivated, and does not wallow in grief when she tells Zack to take that hike. She’s hurt, but she never loses sight of her goals, and those goals are an education and a future brighter and bigger than her family circumstances would have normally led her to. She’s a winner whether Zack ever comes around or not.
But he does. I just wish Kate had made him grovel a little more.
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