Desert Isle Keeper
Anything But Minor
Anything but Minor is the first story in Kate Stewart’s Balls in Play series, a cheeky nod to the fact that it’s centered on minor league baseball players who are also *ahem* ‘players’ in another sense of the word. This is my first book by this author, and in her acknowledgments she says that it’s not her usual genre of writing. Well, I’m not sure what she was writing before, but I hope she’ll continue writing romantic comedy because her stories will definitely end up on my bookshelf.
Pilot Alice Boyd has recently traded in her wings for the classroom, starting a new job as a flight instructor in Charleston. She doesn’t know anyone in the city, but a chance flyer for the local minor league baseball team, the Swampgators, draws her to the ballpark. Her eye is caught by the pitcher, Rafe Hembrey. She knows a player when she sees one, and this obviously talented, very good looking sports star fits the bill. Making her first friend, an older woman named Dutch who has season tickets with an extra seat, Alice promises to join her for the season, content to watch Rafe from the stands. One of the sponsors of the team is a bar named Andy’s Brew House, and after the game ends, Alice makes her way there. It turns out the bar is owned by the catcher on the team, Andy, and it’s the local hangout for the players after their games. Meeting Rafe in person, Alice knows she needs to keep her guard up against falling for his obvious charms. Telling him she’s a lesbian only keeps him on the friend track for so long, until she’s caught in a lie and confesses all. Though they start out as friends, it’s not long before Alice gives in to Rafe’s slow and easy seduction, even knowing things could end in heartbreak. Rafe’s sure that this is his year to get called up to the Majors. He had no intention of starting anything serious, but Alice has a way about her that charms the pants off him. Suddenly his future path doesn’t seem so clear anymore. With all his bases loaded, will he get a home run with the career and the girl, or strike out?
The city of Charleston is now on my radar as the author does a great job in featuring its charms and southern style. According to the her biography she lives there currently and her love of the city shows in the descriptions and general ambiance of the setting, and of the local culinary specialties. The minor league team, the Swampgators, is fictional, but feels very realistic, and the baseball scenes are well written and show a great understanding of the sport. The atmosphere of game days, the fans, the scenes on the field and in the dugout are spread evenly throughout the story and provide an enjoyable background to Rafe and Alice’s developing romance.
Like any playboy romance hero Rafe has his hidden sweet and vulnerable side. While the general public knows him as a talented, somewhat cocky ladies’ man, he balances that out with how he spends his free time. Dutch, Alice’s seatmate, is Rafe’s biggest fan and he returns the favour by helping the elderly woman with her landscaping and yard work. He coaches a little league team. He’s best friends with Andy and knows and appreciates that Andy has stayed in the game for the sole purpose of helping Rafe make it to the big leagues. With Alice, Rafe starts out with his ball game persona front and center but it’s not long before he reveals more honest emotions. He’s a sexy, confident, and friendly man and it’s no wonder Alice can’t resist him for long. Their love scenes are steamy, but often a mix of awkward and funny too, as Alice isn’t as experienced as Rafe and tries to make up for that with her enthusiasm.
Alice is a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand she’s obviously very intelligent and competent, having trained as a pilot and recently taken on a teaching role. On the other hand she sometimes comes across as naïve. This is due to her inability to filter – whatever she thinks she just blurts out loud, no matter the audience. Plus she tends to be a bit clumsy and has a few nervous habits that take a bit to get used to. But the fact of the matter is, she makes the story. Her thoughts and feelings, whether expressed out loud or as part of an internal monologue are laugh out loud funny and mid-way through the story I realized that I hadn’t yet stopped smiling. She and Rafe have a snappy back and forth dialogue, whether in person or by text that is very funny and keeps you turning the pages to see what kind of antics Alice will get up to next. She is a true eighties fan and the music and movies of that time period are a constant in her life (which means they are a constant in the story too). As a cute nod to her addiction, each of the chapters in Alice’s point of view are titled after an 80s movie (with a little picture of a VHS tape), while those from Rafe’s point of view feature a baseball bat. And if a PoV changes mid chapter, an image of a VHS tape or bat are used to indicate the switch, making it easy to keep track.
By the time you get to the more serious stuff in the second half, the kind of scenes that actually make you get a little teary eyed, you’re fully hooked on the story. This isn’t an insta-love romance. Alice and Rafe start out as friends, work their way to lovers, and even then, you don’t know how things are going to work out for them with Alice loving her new life in Charleston and Rafe looking to find his place in the major leagues – meaning he’s going to have to move and leave her behind. Both Rafe and Alice have complicated emotions when it comes to their families, and they have to deal with some of these issues before they can commit to a future together. Anything but Minor is a funny, sexy and sweet baseball romance and I can already see a reread in my future.