Play Dirty isn’t really a romance novel – I’d call it a suspense novel with romantic elements. The suspense plot is very exciting and I found myself turning the pages faster and faster as the book progressed. However, the romantic element of the story definitely takes second place and at the end of the book I felt as though the romance between the hero and heroine was just beginning.
Griff Burkett was once the most popular man in the state of Texas. He was a star athlete in high school, an even bigger star at the University of Texas, and was drafted as quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. However, Griff’s fall was about as precipitous as a man can take. When the book begins, Griff is leaving prison after serving a term for racketeering. He also threw the game that cost the Cowboys a chance at the Super Bowl. Griff is an ex-con with no money, no job, and no good chance of getting one. Still, a man has to try. Griff applies for a job with a sportswriter he knows and gets turned down. When he goes to a bar for a quiet beer, some men beat him up. Worse, detective Stanley Rodarte is doing his best to pin a bookie’s unsolved murder on him. Right now, he has hit rock bottom.
Out of the blue, Griff gets a call from Foster Speakman, the CEO of SunSouth Airlines. Griff assumes it’s a job offer, and it is, but it’s a twisted one. Foster is a paraplegic. He and his wife Laura want a baby but they don’t want to go to a sperm bank. Griff and Foster have similar looks, coloring, and build and Foster wants Griff to father a child with Laura by having sex with her. He doesn’t want any word of this getting out and that rules out a doctor or nurse. At first Griff isn’t sure, but Laura says she is willing and Foster offers him millions. So Griff agrees.
Griff and Laura’s sessions of sex are mechanical at first, but gradually they both begin to feel a bit of warmth toward each other, but very soon Laura becomes pregnant. As soon as Foster finds out, he decides to eliminate the only person who knows about the paternity of the child – Griff. But when Foster confronts Griff, events go horribly wrong and Griff is on the run, searching for only person who can clear him. Chasing Griff is the detective on the case – Stanley Rodarte.
If you want your hero to be a hero, you will not like Griff Burkett. His background was a bad one with an alcoholic father and a mother who rejected him. When he was a teen he was taken in by his high school coach and his wife who loved him and did their best for him but Griff remained distant and self-absorbed. He never made friends with his team mates, never offered a kind word to them when they were in trouble, and seemingly never heard the saying “There is no I in TEAM”. Griff was cocky, gambled away a fortune and never cared for anyone but himself. He leaves prison with a bad attitude and it isn’t until fairly late in this book that he turns from a care-for-no-one into a man who begins to think of others.
This is where Brown’s latest falls flat. It’s Griff’s relationship with Laura that changes him – all I can ask is, why Laura? Why does she of all women cause Griff to change and become a man who cares? It’s not that Laura is a dull or uninteresting character – she is plenty interesting on her own, but not when she is with Griff. The book doesn’t give them time enough to click as a couple, and the end of the story, they are reaching out to each other and it’s implied that their love story is just beginning.
Despite the lack of chemistry between Griff and Laura, I did like Play Dirty. Griff and Laura were flawed, but ultimately sympathetic characters, Rodarte was a clever fiend, and, as I said, the storyline was fast and full of twists. If you want a more conventional romance, one of Sandra Brown’s older books might be more to your taste, but as for me – I enjoyed this one, flaws and all.