I have really been enjoying Elle Kennedy’s Off Campus series about the guys of the fictional Briar University hockey team. The Score, the third entry in the series, is not as good as the first book (The Deal) but definitely better than the second (The Mistake). For sure, it’s another tally in the win column.
Briar University hockey player Dean Di Laurentis is the quintessential man-whore. He loves sex, has as much of it as possible in as many combinations as possible, and he openly admits that relationships are a big drag. For Dean, Allie Hayes is just another hot girl he simply hasn’t gotten around to bagging. It’s not a matter of if, just a matter of when, and to his delight, a spontaneous weekend overnighter with a temporarily-homeless Allie means the time is finally now.
Allie has just ended a long-term relationship. While moving on as quickly as possible might help mend her aching heart, Allie knows that she’s not the kind of girl who can do casual sex – she needs the relationship stuff that goes along with it. But in the interest of getting over the ex, she decides a one-night-stand with Dean Di Laurentis might not be such a bad idea. She certainly has no intention of anything more, even afterwards when Dean comes knocking on her door with his hot body and amazing looks and his sweet talk. She’s a bit surprised that this one-time Charlie would even consider a repeat performance, but Dean is adamant that there are a lot more fun times to be had between them.
Too, sex with Dean Di Laurentis is like a drug. Despite her mental reservations, Allie’s body keeps her coming back again and again, always sure that she can simply walk away any time she wants. She and Dean agree that they expect nothing from each other but good times. But soon Allie finds herself getting jealous when she suspects Dean may still be hooking up with other women. And Dean finds himself just as jealous when other guys show interest in Allie. What starts off as completely casual and non-committal morphs into sort of committal and then sort of more. But when a tragedy strikes and Dean begins to descend into a spiral of self-destruction, Allie has to decide whether it’s time to stand by her man or time to walk away.
Allie and Dean are both very likeable characters. Despite his man-ho tendencies and Richie-Rich background, Dean is not an entitled jerk. He’s a very loyal friend, and once he commits to Allie, he’s all-in. Perhaps that’s what so refreshing about The Score – it’s the rare New Adult book in which the hero actually does grow and change as a person not simply because he’s met the Perfect Girl with the Magic HooHa, but because he looks within himself and doesn’t like what he sees. There are real consequences when he makes mistakes, and it takes more than his charm to turn things around.
For her part, Allie is a very strong woman who knows herself. She hasn’t suffered more than the normal amount of angst in her past, and she has enough self-respect to want more from a relationship than heart-stopping sex. She’s fully capable of enjoying a physical relationship and can certainly keep up with Dean, but she expects more from him and won’t let him off the hook when he lets her down.
While very well written, I do have some nitpicks about this book. It contains a lot more sex and dirty-talk than my personal tastes can tolerate, so I found those scenes highly skimmable. Or I did when I wasn’t rolling my eyes because, holy cow, do people ever really have sex lives that are this off the charts?
Then there’s the fact that with this series Kennedy has really fallen into a defined pattern: commitment-phobic guy pursues uber-reluctant girl, girl puts up a lot of protest and bluster but then ultimately caves to his relentless charm. Plus there’s always lots of sex.
Her female characters are always artists – singer, radio producer, actress – who are always successful in their highly competitive fields. Why don’t any of these heroines find themselves serving chicken fingers at Appleby’s when they can’t get work after graduation? And don’t any of the girls at Briar study accounting or nursing or sociology?
These issues aside, Kennedy has mastered the art of writing realistic guys and realistic groups of guys interacting with each other. Or perhaps they aren’t realistic but rather the best depiction of the kind of guys I would have loved to hang out with back when I was in college. This series has become an auto-buy for me because I know each title will offer me a well-written, entertaining story with likeable characters, good dialogue and a good, solid read that I can happily recommend.