Desert Isle Keeper
A novel starring a national champion basketball coach – and she’s the heroine? Sign me up! Kate Snyder’s Wolcott University Women Warriors are back-to-back champs and her contract is up for renewal, but the athletic department has spent a fortune bringing Danny McMillan in to coach their cellar-dweller football team. For Kate, this not only represents the bias against women’s sports, but also threatens her ability to negotiate for the salary she’s worth. Danny, meanwhile, just wants to be back in D1 after a spectacular fall from grace – until he sees Kate, and realizes he might want her even more.
I loved Kate. This woman reads like the kind of talented, driven individual who racks up national championships as both player and coach and has an Olympic gold medal. Kate is determined. She spends a realistic amount of time in the gym for her level of fitness. She knows her worth and intends to negotiate for it. Keeping up with a woman this successful (and this tall) is beyond many men’s egos. Kate’s ex-husband wasn’t up for it – but Danny is.
Danny is a great partner for Kate. I love how he’s motivated by her success rather than feeling diminished or jealous. It felt authentically like the way one athlete would react to another who had genuinely brilliant achievements. Kate’s natural state is athletic gear, and I liked how Danny found her as attractive in sweats as she is in her banquet dress (plus, a hero who sends a heroine shoes is the best, especially when those shoes are neon sneakers). Towards the end of the book, as they handle contract issues, Danny grows into a new future for himself, realizing that despite grinding and grinding away at his career, it may not be what makes him happiest.
The author does a good job capturing the administrative setting of athletics, but since she chose to set Love Game in the offseason, I didn’t get to see as much of Kate the coach as I’d have liked. While we do see Danny coaching early on, that peters out by the end of the story, and the coach part of his identity is not as strong as it is for Kate. The scandal that forced him out of D1 is underdeveloped, and a subplot from that scandal as well as the question about Danny’s salary fizzle out (I don’t remember him ever telling Kate what he makes). My other critique is that just because the characters are coaches doesn’t mean they have to talk in sports metaphors quite so often. Using basketball and football terms during sex, for instance, felt forced.
In every other way, though, the sex scenes were great, and Danny and Kate have lots of chemistry. One thing I enjoyed was the characters riffing fluidly on dominance and submission without it having to be a fixed Major Lifestyle Thing, which would have felt unnatural given their professions and characterizations elsewhere. One day Kate thinks it would feel sexy to stand behind Danny in the shower and boss him into orgasm; another day, she enjoys it when he bends her over her desk. In heels, Kate is taller than Danny. He finds that hot without getting off on it in a dominatrix-y way. Two coaches are bossy personalities. This felt like a natural way for them to have a sex life that worked for both of them.
I’m always excited to read about a driven, high-achieving heroine and a man who’s not intimidated by her. I’m so delighted that I gave Love Game a try, and I look forward to trying the rest of the books in the Love Games series.