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Illegal Contact

Santino Hassell

Illegal Contact marks Mr. Hassell’s first foray into sports romance, and it’s a truly engaging and compelling read.  In it, an intimidating, world famous athlete, benched for bad behavior off the field, more than meets his match when he hires a personal assistant who doesn’t care who he is or what he does when he goes to work.  In this sexy, smart and engaging sports romance, opposites attract (oh boy do they!) and a terrific new series gets underway.

Gavin Brawley has a problem with his temper.  On the field he channels the anger to his advantage; his ferocity and focus helped him break the NFL record for receiving yards and touchdowns scored by a tight end in the previous year.  But it’s his inability to control his temper off the field – the legacy of a tough childhood in the foster system – that’s landed him on the front pages of the newspapers.  Facing a six-month league suspension and house arrest after he was caught on video brawling (for reasons he’s never revealed), his agent, Joe, convinces him to hire a live-in personal assistant while Gavin serves out his sentence.  They’ve yet to find anyone he’s willing to hire, but after reviewing the available candidates a second time, they invite Noah Monroe to come in for an interview.

Noah heard about the position through a close friend who works with Gavin’s PR agent, though he knew little about the person he’d be working for before he applied for the job.  When he arrives, anxious and slightly disheveled, his nerdy attractiveness catches Gavin’s attention.  But it’s immediately clear Noah has no idea who Gavin is, what he does, or really anything about football.  His dismissive attitude towards professional athletes and football annoy Gavin (who simply sprawls on the couch watching the interview), but a brief show of temper – after Joe implies Noah’s sexuality is somehow a problem – intrigues Gavin.  When Joe steps out to take a call, Gavin challenges Noah on his privileged college boy attitude and ignorance about what it takes to be a professional athlete and the conversation quickly turns heated.  Noah leaves after his temper gets the better of him, and assumes it’s the last time he’ll see Gavin Brawley.

Gavin was wrong about Noah; he needed the PA job.  After losing his former position at an LGBT youth center, he’s living at home with his out-of-work father and barely able to afford their rent, household expenses and his student loan payments.  He didn’t mean to lose his temper in the interview, but when Gavin suggested he was some sort of privileged pretty boy who couldn’t understand what it takes to be a professional athlete and his agent insinuated his sexuality was a problem, he got mad and couldn’t help lashing out.  He’s lamenting his behavior and the end of the interview to the friend who recommended him when he gets a surprise call from Gavin asking him if he still wants the job.

Noah’s morning gets off to a terrible start when he realizes the train he needs to take doesn’t run until 8:00 am.  He’s going to be nearly an hour and a half late on his first day; Gavin isn’t responding to any of his text messages.  When he finally arrives, a sweaty Gavin answers the door in compression shorts that leave little to the imagination.  Momentarily distracted by his body, it takes Noah a beat before he follows Gavin into the house.  Gavin is annoyed (he told Noah commuting wouldn’t work) but Noah promises it won’t happen again.  As they walk through the enormous mostly unfurnished house, Gavin explains what he expects from his PA.  Much to his amusement, Noah smugly insists he can handle it all – shopping, running errands, managing his fan mail and social media presence, cooking, servicing his cars, any other jobs that come up – and that he’ll commute to and from the city every day.  Despite his doubts, Gavin agrees to a trial period.  This first day together is a precursor of what’s to come – Gavin doesn’t make things easy for Noah, but Noah finds a way to get the work done.

Eventually, even though Gavin and Noah secretly lust after each other, they also discover they genuinely like one another, and that most of their initial assumptions were wrong.  Their conversations are fraught with unresolved sexual tension, but also an appealing mix of affection, insults and humor.  I won’t spoil this ‘getting to know you’ phase of the relationship except to say it allows Mr. Hassell to really develop these characters together and apart, and to recognize why and how they fall so deeply in love.  It also demonstrates – again – that this author is a master of the slow burn and the relationship between Gavin and Noah never feels rushed, forced or artificial in any way.  The tension builds and builds – Gavin growing more and more frustrated by his feelings for his employee, Noah trying hard not to fall for his boss – until eventually all the heat between them combusts in a series of frustrating encounters wherein Noah pulls away, Gavin tries to give him space, and they eventually realize they both want the same thing.  Each other.

I loved the build-up and evolution of Gavin and Noah’s relationship, and Mr. Hassell limits them to lustful fantasies for nearly three quarters of the novel.  When they finally give into their feelings for each other and have sex… OMG.  It’s scorching hot.  After a few false starts, they form a new relationship, but the delay feels very authentic and organic.  Gavin, despite his rough and gruff exterior, has a heart of gold and a soft spot for those he loves.  He’s protective – sometimes to his own detriment – and kind, and when he falls for Noah, he doesn’t hold back.  Noah is smart, clever and similarly dedicated to the people he loves – especially Gavin.  It’s obvious to him how woefully misunderstood Gavin is to anyone who doesn’t know him well, and that beneath that tough persona is a gentle giant who’s never been loved for anything but his performance on the football field.  He didn’t want to fall in love with Gavin, but once he does, he becomes his strongest confidant, fiercest defender and most devoted partner.  They’re wonderful together.

Illegal Contact delves into some heavy issues as the relationship between Gavin and Noah unfolds – the short duration of a professional athlete’s career, the public and private repercussions of an athlete ‘coming out,’ workplace romances and more – but Mr. Hassell skilfully balances these weighty topics with his obvious affection for the sport of football – and this couple.  I did have some minor issues with the pacing and I didn’t love any of the fairly stereotypical secondary characters – super helpful friends and ruthless agents – which account for the fact I’ve given the book an A- rather than a straight A grade.  I’m adopting a wait-and-see policy on Simeon (featured in the next book), a close friend of Gavin’s, who played a pivotal role in the setup and conclusion of Illegal Contact.  I hope I like him more in his own story that I did here.

The happy for now ending leaves this story just shy of the endzone – but this one goes into the win column anyway.

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Book Details

Reviewer :      Em Wittmann


Grade :     A-


Sensuality :      Warm


Book Type :     


Review Tags :      | | |


9 Comments

  1. Edna September 1, 2017 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    Compared to the rest of his body of work, I thought this book wasn’t one of Hassell’s best. But when looking at m/m romance as a whole, it’s definitely in the A range. I had the same issues of stereotyping you had, especially when juxtaposed with how richly drawn most of the secondary characters in the Five Boroughs series were. But a minor detail in the grand scale of things. Hassell is a top author in the m/m genre IMO.

    I thought Simeon was the next story. Isn’t Marcus already paired up with Noah’s best friend? Maybe I’m misremembering.

    Awesome review!

    • Em Wittmann
      Em Wittmann September 1, 2017 at 4:57 pm - Reply

      Edna – good catch! I’ve read over this review about 5 bazillion times and I missed that! Should be fixed momentarily.

      I was feeling much the same as you when I read it the first time but I had about a 4 week window before I read it again and started writing and I fell in love with it. Maybe because I wasn’t so anxious waiting for them to get together? I don’t know….I enjoyed it so much & re-read some of the passages (ahem) several more times!

      • Edna September 2, 2017 at 12:43 am - Reply

        I’m always game for a reread. Thanks for the idea! I’m going through a reread-of-my-faves period right now, so I’ll add this to the list. With authors I love, I always find things I missed, since I devour their new books, and I can savor those passages that made my little heart go pitter patter.

  2. BJ Jansen
    BJ Jansen September 2, 2017 at 11:15 am - Reply

    Good review Em, although I think you were a bit generous with your grade, as you did mention about all the stereotyped secondary characters.

    I’m afraid I fell out of love with Santino’s work. I find It is very ‘samey’ (with the exception of his vampire one), and I has little depth to it. I think he is playing mainly to the ‘I like it gritty and explicit.’ crowd. Although he does write UST well.

    There is no doubt he can write, but I like a little bit of finesse and a plot that slowly reveals the layers of characters. I also like good strong secondary characters. I did like the Five Boroughs series because of the characterisation.

    Edna – I was interested in your comment… “But when looking at m/m romance as a whole, it’s definitely in the A range.” I wonder what you have read of m/m romance and what it is you expect from it, as I can think of many books, in the LGBTQ+ genre, which are superior to Santino Hassell’s back catalogue.

    • Edna September 4, 2017 at 2:35 pm - Reply

      “I wonder what you have read of m/m romance and what it is you expect from it, as I can think of many books, in the LGBTQ+ genre, which are superior to Santino Hassell’s back catalogue.”

      BJ: Hmm… All I can respond with is: what you offer in your reviews is an opinion. What I offer in my comments is the same–an opinion. What do I expect? Good writing first and foremost, good plot/fresh take on a common trope. Like everyone else I have things I gravitate towards and those that I stay away from (for the latter, shapeshifting and new adult, to name a couple).

      Anyway, I did not say in anywhere that Santino Hassell’s ENTIRE canon was better than a lot of the LGBTQ+ catalog, just that this book was in the A-range of the whole genre. I don’t think you can deny there’s a lot of crap out there. And there is room in the genre, I think, for a wide-range of A’s. And I did say A-range (which could go from A- to A+), but that’s splitting hairs now.

      I’m always open to trying new books. I’ve been through your AAQ reviews and read the books that sounded interesting to me. If there are other gems not in your AAR catalog that you believe might “round out my education,” so to speak, and you’d like to take the time to share some titles, I’m all ears.

      • BJ Jansen
        BJ Jansen September 6, 2017 at 12:59 pm - Reply

        Edna, I am sorry I came over a bit grumpy. I’m not too well at this time and I let it come out in my comments, I do apologise.

        I think quite happily I can recommend all the catalogue of Harper Fox, Alexis Hall, J.L. Merrow, Joanna Chambers and of course KJ Charles. I have a lovely book by Alex Beecroft I’ve just read called “Foxglove Copse” and my review should appear soon that is an A- from me.

        Again sorry for my bad mood which I should never have let show here. Happy reading.

  3. Em Wittmann
    Em Wittmann September 3, 2017 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    I’m an unrepentant Santino fan and I like his very specific blend of romance, angst and his couples very much.

    I particularly love his willingness to move into niche areas – in this case, sports romance – and assert his own twist on the traditional athlete/non-athlete match up. I really loved this couple.

    I didn’t award the book a straight A because of the secondary characters. However, they’re such a small part of the book, my troubles with them weren’t enough to downgrade the overall review grade. This is a book I can re-read and enjoy every single time & that’s why it gets a DIK from me.

    • BJ Jansen
      BJ Jansen September 6, 2017 at 1:00 pm - Reply

      Em as with my reply to Edna, I’m sorry I was grumpy in my comment on your review.

  4. nblibgirl September 10, 2017 at 2:07 am - Reply

    I read and enjoyed Illegal Contact. Hassell is a writer who deserves to be read. But Tigers & Devils (along with its sequel Tigerland) by Sean Kennedy and See Jane Score by Rachel Gibson are my gold standards for sports romances.

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