Fight to the Finish
I’ve been wondering for a while why boxing and MMA romances are a thing. Is it because the guys are ripped? Hyper-masculine? Have alpha bad-boy images, regardless of actual personality traits? For whatever reason, I figured I’d give it a shot. Fight to the Finish is the last of three books in the First to Fight series, mixing contemporary, sports and military romance. It’s a good mix of genres that I wasn’t expecting, and the end result is a sweet romance within a realistic story world.
Meet Kara, single mother to ten-year-old Zach, blogger and yoga instructor at the gym where Graham – JAG lawyer and boxer – and his teammates train. Graham has had a thing for Kara since the beginning, and everyone knows it, including Kara. But her concerns are completely focused around her son, who has major life-threatening allergies, and her jerk of an ex, who threatens her with custody battles and withholding child support and alimony on a regular basis. She’s really just trying to make ends meet between teaching yoga and writing her blog for other mothers living with children with severe allergies. She doesn’t have time for a relationship, has too many worries about how Graham will deal with Zach, and certainly can’t date anyone in the military when she can’t even go on a vacation without having to deal with hassle from her ex-asshole.
Kara is a brilliantly strong woman who handles her life with grace and an iron will. She is beyond determined, both for herself and for her son. She has worked hard to get where she is, between the yoga classes and teaching herself how to make food Zach can actually eat (no eggs, no nuts, no anything, really). I honestly have no idea how she did it other than because she couldn’t let herself fail. By halfway through the book, Kara had become one of my favorite contemporary heroines. She represents women who have to deal with these situations every day, from the mother struggling with their child’s health problems up to and including the blogger who started by reaching out to share ideas with the online world.
Graham is no slouch either, but we get so much less of him, and I had a hard time really figuring him out. He’s smart, obviously, and gorgeous. He is a romance hero, after all, and those seem to be the general requirements. He cares a lot about Zach, and goes out of his way to make sure he has things the boy can eat in his own pantry.
I have two favorite things about this book. First, thank you, Ms. Murphy, for not using Zach’s allergies as a way to bring the two together in an angsty, drama-building sort of way. They are treated as just part of the story, and not a plot device to get Kara and Graham bonding, say, over Zach’s hospital bed. Thank you for that. Second, I really loved the depiction of a working single mom, and the issues that come up around dating and inviting another person into an already-existing family. The way it is handled felt natural and realistic and was exactly what I wanted to read. Nothing came across as too perfect to be true.
Along with the issues with Kara and Graham, though, there’s the plotline regarding her ex, another where the gym is being vandalised, and there’s just a lot going on. And since the romance is the center of the story, it feels really gentle. Graham trains for a competition, and there’s a bit of boxing and mentions of the military, but it’s very much in the background. Graham is strong, but doesn’t really come across as your traditional alpha male. And I like him better for it.
I read Fight to the Finish as a stand-alone, and it’s definitely possible to read without having read the others in the series. The two couples from the other books are present, but are definitely supporting characters. There may be some parts of Graham and Kara’s romance in those books, but I liked where this starts – two people who are interested in each other but still have to work through to get what they want out of life. It’s romantic and realistic and perfectly normal in the best of ways.