Desert Isle Keeper
Down by Contact
Do you like contemporary romance? Do you love novels with compelling (and endearing) principals, witty dialogue and steamy love scenes? Love a great opposites attract pairing? Then you should be reading Santino Hassell. If you haven’t picked up one of his novels, you’re missing out. Mr. Hassell regularly delivers the kind of contemporary romances I want to read. He’s not afraid to switch up genres, and Down by Contact, his newest sports romance, proves he understands exactly what sports romance fans (me!) love best about these novels: a little bit of the sport (more if it’s hockey), super fit and talented athletes, and compelling principals with terrific chemistry. Down by Contact has it all; it’s feel good sports romance at its best. Romantic, funny – and also smart – Down by Contact is a terrific follow-up to Illegal Contact, and much like that novel, gets more enjoyable each time I read it. Oh, and those covers? Yowsers.
Simeon Boudreaux is a star quarterback for the New York Barons. Handsome, funny, charming and a standout NFL player, Simeon has it all. Even the surprising revelation that he’s gay (after a leaked video of him with another man went viral), hasn’t adversely affected his popularity with fans. But when Down by Contact begins, he’s frustrated and annoyed – again – by rival player Adrián Bravo of the New Jersey Predators. Bravo seems to delight in tormenting Simeon with subtle homophobic digs over social media and in TV interviews. The two were once friends – Simeon played on the Predators practice squad before getting picked up the by Barons – but since his departure, the relationship has grown increasingly antagonistic. Simeon’s friends urge him to ignore Bravo’s taunts, but Simeon can’t. Something about Bravo gets to him – and he can’t get him off his mind.
The rising animosity between Bravo and Simeon comes to a head when the two teams meet in a pre-season game. When Adrián delivers a late hit on Simeon and Simeon taunts him while they’re pressed close together, a dirty fight ensues. The fight quickly escalates into an all-out brawl between the teams and fans in the stadium and Simeon winds up at the bottom of a Predator pile-up – injured – with Adrián fearfully protecting him from further damage from hateful teammates. Afterwards, the penalty for their fight is stiff. Both men receive six-game suspensions and have to undertake a period of community service. They’re paired up with a community center in Brooklyn to organize a summer football program. Simeon, who suspects Adrián’s homophobic comments mask a bi-curious attraction to him, sets out to prove Adrián isn’t quite as straight as he thinks he is, and Adrián, confused by his feelings about Simeon, predictably does his best to prove him wrong.
From the opening chapters of Down by Contact, the attraction between Simeon and Adrián is obvious and Mr. Hassell, to his credit, never tries to convince readers it’s anything else. Instead, via a rather clever plot device, he positions Simeon as Adrián’s irresistible siren and conscience. Simeon doesn’t allow his attraction to blind him to Adrián’s ignorance about his hurtful homophobia – or give him a pass when he missteps (frequently). Instead, he slowly – patiently – shows Adrián (and this reader) the effect of his hurtful behavior and seemingly insignificant microaggressions. As the novel unfolds, the truth is a painful reckoning for Adrián.
Meanwhile, as the romantic relationship between Adrián and Simeon heats up, the two find themselves developing a strong rapport with their players at the community center. Simeon provides a nurturing coaching presence, while Adrián provides planning and logistics. Their working partnership brings out the best in both men and what starts as a punishment for misbehavior on the field, transitions into a fulfilling and purposeful one off of it. The author frequently incorporates community service into his storylines, and in this case, the setting and assignment are a perfect complement to the evolving relationship between Simeon and Adrián. Everything about how and why they find themselves working at the community center feels authentic, and the setting reads almost like a secondary character as the story progresses.
Obviously, there’s nothing simple about two NFL players falling in love, and the secret romantic relationship between Simeon and Adrián complicates their lives. Simeon knows what Adrián will face by going public with their relationship – and he’s scared of what could happen to him once he returns to the toxic and homophobic Predator locker room. He tries to make it easy for Adrián to walk away, but Adrián – after he commits to Simeon – is all in. He presses Simeon to continue their relationship in secret even after their community service ends, and his love and desire prove irresistible (to us and Simeon). Although his sexual identity is mostly tied up in his feelings for Simeon, he doesn’t shy away from identifying as a bisexual. Despite the obvious appeal of Simeon (he’s the best), Adrián’s commitment to his lover, and dedication to becoming a better person with his help, stole my heart.
Down by Contact is a much better than average sports romance and I’ve already added it to my favorites shelf for 2018. Deliciously sexy and surprisingly sweet, I loved everything about it – especially the ending (which I won’t spoil) and I can’t wait for the next book in the series. Touchdown, Mr. Hassell.