Hook Shot, the last novel in the Hoops series, stars Kenan Ross and Lotus DuPree, secondary characters (and scene stealers) introduced in Long Shot. Kenan is a veteran basketball player traded to August West’s losing NBA franchise team to help them win a championship. Intensely private and keen to keep his name out of the gossip columns after a scandalous, public and messy divorce, Kenan becomes close friends with his rookie protégé, and through him, meets Lotus DuPree, cousin and best friend to August’s wife, Iris. Lotus is fierce, beautiful, and she isn’t looking for love - with Kenan, or any other man - and she’s spent the last two books dodging Kenan despite the spark of attraction between them. Hook Shot details their delicious slow burn love affair, and the relationship is sexy, sweet and lushly romantic. Everything about this story works... except for one last minute obstacle to the HEA.
Ever since they were introduced, Kenan has wanted Lotus DuPree. He’s never felt this way about any other woman, and he can’t quite understand why he’s so intensely drawn to her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to share his feelings, and actually seems to go out of her way to avoid him. When Hook Shot begins, he’s pondering how to finagle another meeting with her while settling into his summer rental in New York City. His ex-wife relocated there in order to film a reality TV series about basketball wives and took their daughter Simone with her. Since Kenan is determined to have a relationship with SImone and to continue the family therapy sessions meant to help Simone deal with the divorce, he moved too. But remaining civil with his ex is a struggle. After she cheated on him with a teammate and the tabloids used the destruction of his life to sell papers, he needs and wants to keep a low profile and protect his fragile daughter.
Lotus DuPree loves men and sex, but her relationships with both are complex. Sex is a physical connection, not an intimate one, and any man who thinks to control her had better think again. Loyal and devoted to her close-knit group of friends, coworkers and family, and passionate about her job as right hand woman to Jean Pierre Louis, founding designer for the ultra-fashionable JPL Maison fashion label, she thought she was happy. Except as Hook Shot begins, her life doesn’t seem to make sense. Sex leaves her unsatisfied and depressed, and memories of a repressed childhood sexual assault and its aftermath leave her reeling. Despite her efforts to push past it, she can’t stop the trauma from bleeding into the rest of her life, and hoping abstinence will keep her demons at bay, she swears off sex. So it’s a terrible thing when her boss announces a partnership with Bodee, an up-and-coming sportswear brand, and his intention to hire Kenan Ross as the spokesperson. Kenan, the man Lotus feels a frisson of attraction and excitement around; Kenan, the man Lotus is determined to avoid; Kenan, the man Lotus fears might break through her emotional walls and defenses; Kenan, the man Lotus wants more than any other.
Kenan agrees to become the spokesperson, and uses that opportunity to insinuate himself into Lotus’s life. She tries and fails to keep him at a distance, and after he perseveres past her initial - pitiful - defenses, they agree to be friends and have a few friendly, non-sexual ‘dates.’ Er, right. They make each other happy. They laugh and they lust (Oh, the lust! And the longing!), and they absolutely bring out the best in each other, despite the baggage they both bring to the relationship. Their courtship – ahem - friendship, is delicious and wonderful and sweet and naughty. They joke and smolder and furtively touch and... oh, reader, the unresolved sexual tension is off the charts. You just know they’ll be awesome together. And eventually, they are.
Kenan’s protective instincts for the people he loves is something to behold. He’s a gentle giant who loves hard, and he embraces all the different sides of Lotus, nurturing each and every one of them, knowing instinctively what she needs from a partner. Supporting her, loving her, wanting her, despite the pain she’s dealing with... OMG readers. If that cover doesn’t have you drooling over Kenan, then reading about him will. Protective and fierce, sweet and romantic, he puts his heart and soul into wooing Lotus and breaking down her defenses. Meanwhile, he’s fighting hard for his daughter - trying to rise above the acrimony and regret of his first marriage, to be the best dad he can be. All without compromising on his desire to have Lotus in his life.
Lotus - such a great name for a character who blooms as the novel unfolds - is powerful, beautiful, smart and sexy, and damaged. Her already fraught relationship with her mother was permanently severed after Lotus was sexually assaulted as a young girl, and the attack and the separation caused long lasting, deep emotional scars. Lotus recovered with love from her grandmother and Iris, becoming the confident, proud woman she is...but she’s never fully healed. Ms. Ryan perfectly captures Lotus’s struggle, and I was wholly invested in her battle to survive and thrive and flourish despite her painful past. Her story arc is powerful, and as usual, Ms. Ryan doesn’t shy away from challenging content or offer easy solutions or quick fixes. Lotus asks for help, seeks healing time and space, and fights hard to overcome her demons; it’s a harrowing journey. Kenan supports, but he doesn’t push; he’s there for her.
The love affair between Kenan and Lotus is everything you hope for in a great contemporary romance novel. The principal characters are terrific and complex, and their affection and tender regard for each other is brilliantly realized, although there are many obstacles to their HEA. Kenan’s ex-wife isn’t ready to let him go, or above emotionally manipulating their daughter and sabotaging his relationship with Lotus to win him back. Simone struggles with the divorce despite Kenan’s efforts to protect and insulate her, but keeps her misery hidden from her parents. And Lotus’s ex doesn’t like being dumped. These challenges offer a sharp contrast to the happiness of the budding romance, but Ms. Ryan deftly balances it all as the story progresses. There are some terrific cameos from nosy, well-meaning friends August and Iris, and a terrific running thread related to Kenan and Lotus’s mutual love of music. Very different music. Ms. Ryan has great taste in tunes. Just saying.
The previous books in this series, Long Shot and Block Shot were two of my favorite novels in 2018. Hook Shot is a sure thing for 2019. Our hero is an alpha/beta (I can’t decide!) swoony dreamboat; our heroine is a smart, sexy, fearless and accomplished bad ass. It’s more proof of Ms. Ryan’s talent, and was wholly satisfying for this sports romance junkie.
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