I should have loved Downed. Everything about it appeals: I like the author, love sports romances and I enjoyed the first two books in the Gridiron series. But unfortunately, Ms. Frederick fumbled the ball this time out. Her heroine, Bryant Johnson, is such an exaggerated version of the stereotypically sweet, “southern” (come on!) sorority girl, and the story relies so heavily on her, that Downed was a disappointment right from the start. I expected a feel-good redemption novel about JR “Ace” Anderson (whom we met, liked and then disliked in Jockblocked) – and it is. Sort of. But regrettably, Ace’s redemption is so directly linked to his romantic relationship with Bryant, a character I disliked so intensely, it was difficult for me to root for him or their HEA.
When we met Ace in the previous novel, Jockblocked, he was the quarterback at Western College, best friends with Lucy Washington, and was generally known as a ladies man and player. By the end of that book, Ace had managed to alienate almost everyone he knew, including Lucy. He also lost his position as starting quarterback after the coach discovered he was sleeping with his daughter. Ace’s teammates no longer trusted him, Lucy wasn’t speaking to him, and he was looking for a fresh start somewhere else. When Downed begins, Ace is the new quarterback of the Renegade football team at Southern University.
Chapter One unfolds in the PoV of Bryant Johnson as she and Ace are having sex. Unbeknownst to Ace (who from Bryant’s PoV, seems to know what he’s doing in bed), Bryant is distracted and has no intention of coming (despite Ace’s skills). Bryant, we discover, has a talent for dating jerks and turning them into great boyfriends any girl would want. She’s something of a ‘jerk whisperer’ and Ace is her newest jerk. Ruminating on how best to handle him, she has no intention of giving in to his attempts to please her in bed. After all, she never has sex with the guys she dates and has only ever slept with one other guy. Um. Okay. Did Ms. Frederick and her editor miss the GLARING problem with this confession? BRYANT JUST MET ACE IN A BAR. SHE’S HAVING SEX WITH HIM!
As they continue having sex (really, Ace is just fucking her and she’s conveniently thinking all the things the author needs us to know about her), we also discover Bryant is suffering from some sort of trauma related to her sister and… surprise! She’s the football coach’s daughter. When Ace realizes the girl he picked up isn’t really into sex with him, he withdraws and disposes of the condom, returns to the bed and turns on the TV instead. Yeah. Right. He tells her he’s willing to wait until Bryant’s in the mood, but they both fall asleep waiting for it to happen.
When Ace wakes up the next morning, his ‘date’ from the previous night is no longer in his room but he can hear her moving around in the kitchen. Though he dreads having to kick her out, Ace doesn’t do relationships or girlfriends and he wants her gone. But nothing goes according to plan. Bryant shuts him down before he can attempt to ask her to leave, tells him what time to meet her for brunch, and pushes him out the door. Things get even weirder when he enters the locker room before practice and his teammates start congratulating him on hooking up with her. Before he has a chance to ask anyone why, or how they know who Bryant is, he’s called into the coach’s office. He’s further shocked and horrified to discover Bryant is the coach’s daughter. But things get even odder when the coach tells him how happy he is to hear about their new relationship.
Following practice with his new team, none of whom want to have anything to do with him unless it’s to tell him how much they love Bryant and her baked treats (Sigh. Do guys do this? Ever?), Ace decides he might as well join her for brunch to let her know he isn’t interested in a relationship with her – or anyone else for that matter. When he meets her at the restaurant, she’s simultaneously rebuffing another student begging her to pick him as her boyfriend instead of Ace (oh, come on!), and charming the waitstaff. Ace is annoyed at the other guy, but determined to tell Bryant he doesn’t want to be her next project. As you can probably guess, she ignores that – though her intense physical attraction to him is making her nervous – and instead acts as if they’re dating. As breakfast progresses, Ace realizes he isn’t going to dissuade Bryant from dating him, but he’s willing to go along with it because he can’t wait to get her naked and fuck her again (why? She wasn’t into sex the first time!).
I wish I could tell you there’s more substance to this story than Bryant, ‘the jerk whisperer,’ transforming Ace from a selfish, egocentric teammate and overall bad guy into a loveable boyfriend and team player, but honestly, there isn’t. Later on we learn why Bryant started dating jerks and turning them into good boyfriends (it’s a flimsy rationale, at best), and some of the reasons Ace is the way he is (his dad is the real jerk), but it’s not enough to salvage this story. The premise, that a college-age girl can somehow make bad guys good, and that Ace – who comes across as a pretty good guy with a shitty dad – somehow needs Bryant to fix or heal him, never resonates or, frankly, makes any sense.
I liked Ace and the way he handled Bryant. I didn’t like Bryant (actually, I’m pretty sure I hated her), or the way she tried to manage Ace. He’s a college quarterback! Why can’t he play the field?! But I digress. Bryant is literally every terrible cliché you’ve ever heard about college girls in the south. While I can appreciate a sweet, southern girl (I am one!), Ms. Frederick has created a character so saccharine sweet, my teeth ached. From the prim way she talks (correcting Ace when he’s telling her he wants to fuck her – she prefers ‘make love’ (MY EYES. THE ROLLING!) – to her friendships with her sorority sisters (patronizing), to her knowledge of football team dynamics (because her dad’s the coach?), to her baking brilliance, and finally, to her overwhelming kindness to anyone in a service profession (couldn’t she just be a good tipper?) – everything about Bryant is just TOO much. God. I know there are good college-age girls out there, but Bryant is so terribly perfect, she’s just terrible.
Downed has all the ingredients I like in a sports romance and should have been a touchdown ;). Unfortunately, problematic characters, a flimsy plot premise, and wooden dialogue failed to put any points on the board (I’m here all day folks). Though I didn’t like this one, I’m still a Jen Frederick fan and – if you’ll excuse the mixed sports metaphors – I’ll be hoping her next story is a slam dunk .