Desert Isle Keeper
Serena Bell’s Returning Home series, about military veterans and their adjustment to life at home again after deployment is a favorite of mine, and book 3, To Have and To Hold, made my best reads of 2016 list for its thoughtful and emotional look at how a brain injury could impact a relationship. Now she’s set her sights on the world of professional football with this first entry in her new Seattle Grizzlies series. Getting Inside is a tight paced, sexy and exciting forbidden affair/ workplace romance, about a female coach and one of the players on the team. Told in alternating first person present tense point of view (more often seen in new adult than contemporary romances), the story delves into the conflicts and emotional consequences of getting involved with someone you work with and is a great first entry into what promises to be a dynamic and entertaining sports romance series.
Iona Thomas loves football. First as a player, then working her way up to coaching, she’s thrilled to have accepted her first job with the Professional Football League (the PFL) as a linebacker coach for the Seattle Grizzlies. As an African American woman, she knows she has her work cut out for her to prove that she belongs in such a high powered position and that she will be judged more harshly than her male counterparts. She already has plans to turn around the Grizzlies current losing streak, starting with her star linebacker, Ty Masters. He’s been off his game recently and she doesn’t know why. But the tape doesn’t lie and it shows he’s been hesitating, resulting in losing plays. She’s got ideas to help him get back on track – if he’s willing to listen.
Ty is struggling with the recent death of his longtime ally, friend and coach Mack. Mack’s replacement was a disaster, never gelling with him and his guys, and he’s relieved that they’ve hired someone new. His first look at Iona when he encounters her in Coach Thrayne’s office (before realizing who she is) results in an immediate visceral reaction:
Followed immediately by:
Nope. Because if she’s anyone who has anything remotely to do with the team, she’s off limits. Especially media or personnel.
Finding out that Iona is his new coach puts her very definitely in a ‘no touching’ category – but the seeds are sown.
Iona has some self-esteem problems when it comes to her looks. She’s a very fit woman who plays pick up games of football when she can and her job keeps her physically active. Told by her father as a teenager that she’d never find a man interested in her if she kept playing football, she took those words to heart and assumes that they are still true. Some short-term relationships, mediocre sexual experiences and her ‘masculine’ job results in her believing that she’s undesirable as a partner. When she thinks she glimpses interest in Ty’s eyes, she convinces herself that she’s mistaken and it’s only as they spend time alone together and Ty makes the first move that she realizes his interest is real.
But it obviously comes with all sorts of problems. Though there are no official team rules preventing relationships between players and coaches (mainly because it’s never been an issue before), Iona is fully aware of what the public will think if they find out what’s happening between them. As a female, it will be assumed that she slept with someone to get the job, or that she’ll dally with more than one player, or that any off-field relationship will be detrimental for the players on the field. She and Ty have a bit of push and pull between them as they try to resist the attraction, resulting in lots of sexual tension. I appreciate that they didn’t just sleep together at the start of the story and damn the consequences, making their eventual lovemaking worth the wait. It results in some steamy scenes that make it clear it’s not going to be so easy to keep their feelings under wraps. Ty respects Iona and understands that should their relationship become public, it will cause her a lot more problems than it will him. He is willing to follow her lead and will stand by her no matter what happens.
Their burgeoning relationship notwithstanding, Iona is interested in getting to the heart of what makes Ty tick. She quickly realizes that his focus in football is playing for someone else, and not for himself. He had a rough childhood and is estranged from his brother for reasons that still affect him. He had always played for Mack, and when Mack died suddenly prior to the season starting, Ty didn’t have anyone to win for. It turned him into a more cautious player and Iona realizes this and knows that to get Ty back into winning games, he needs to learn to win for himself and no one else. She’s not afraid to push Ty, to challenge him, and make him face his fears on and off the field.
For someone who hasn’t written a sports romance before, Ms. Bell has done a very satisfactory job of making the reader believe they are witnessing a behind the scenes look at what makes a football team tick. The action on the field is credible and exciting, the seasonal games play out and the reader has a real vested interest in the team and its players. Knowing that Iona and Ty’s relationship could be outed at any time makes for some underlying suspense in the second half of the story. The pressure on Iona to succeed not just as a coach, but as a female in a typically male career adds to the tension and this is one of those stories that kept me up late reading to find out how it would all work out. Getting Inside is a sexy and entertaining sports romance.