Playing It Close
My only experience with the sport of rugby before this book had been watching the excellent 2009 movie Invictus about the South African rugby team’s pursuit of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. It definitely left the impression that rugby players are exactly the kind of men that could star in a romance novel. This book combines the wonders of a Caribbean holiday with the fantasy of having a hunky star rugby player fall for the girl next door type.
Where do you go to escape when your world has completely exploded? For Countess (Tess) Chambers, that place is a remote lodge on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast. An eco-holiday is exactly the getaway she needs after a professional snafu has made her infamous and darn near unemployable. Wanting to shed her inhibitions along with her troubles, Tess decides to skinny dip in the warm waters of the ocean late one evening. And she almost gets up the courage to take the plunge but memories of cameras dogging her every step keep her from removing her t-shirt and bikini bottom to pull a Full Monty. She takes her dip conservatively clothed, t-shirt and bikini bottoms firmly in place.
She finds herself regretting that decision when she and her now see through tee find themselves trapped in a lift with none other than rugby legend Liam Callaghan. It is clear that Liam wants to be incognito for his holiday. He gives her a fake name and distracts her from personal questions with homemade granola while the two await rescue from the defunct elevator. Tess, a true fan, had always been impressed with Liam as a player but she becomes impressed with him as a man when he does the gentlemanly thing and turns his back as she changes into the dry clothes he lends her. Tess knows she is not the kind of bombshell Liam usually dates so once they are rescued she figures their brief encounter will quickly fade from his memory.
Liam expects that too and is surprised to find himself seeking out her company over the next few days – and nights. When he wakes up one morning to find that she has snuck off, leaving nothing but a polite note behind, he is surprised at his level of disappointment. Accepting that their holiday fling was never meant to last, he returns to London refreshed and ready to tackle the new season.
For Tess, cutting her holiday short to deal with issues from her employment fiasco was bittersweet. She was sorry to have had so little time with Liam but realistic enough to know the relationship had always come with a termination date. Besides, she felt guilty about having mislead him regarding who she was and having lied regarding knowing who he was. She tries to put him from her mind as she goes job shopping. But as luck would have it, the only job she is able to land finds her sitting across from him over a dinner/negotiation meeting. Will the lies they’ve told in the past keep them from experiencing true love in the present?
The dinner meeting between Tess and Liam gave me a few moments of concern. In many novels, this would have been the moment for the Big Mis. She would say something misleading to him, he would misunderstand something she did or said and for the next hundred pages the two would be kept apart by problems a two-minute conversation would solve. I was completely delighted when the author had Tess and Liam have that two minute conversation right there at the restaurant. It didn’t solve all the issues between them, nor did it result in them falling into each other’s arms ecstatically, but it cleared the air so that a real relationship could begin.
And that’s exactly what happened. A few more encounters lead Liam and Tess to realize that it wasn’t just the magic of the tropics that drew them together. They begin a relationship that includes pitfalls, sharing, typical relationship mistakes and sexy romps in and out of the bedroom. Both of them had moments of brilliance and compassion and human moments that highlighted their foibles. Most of the human moments were explained so that we understand why what happened happened. I really appreciated that the concentration of the story wasn’t on Liam’s superstardom but on how in the end, his relationships pretty much worked just like anyone else’s.
It helps that both characters are easy to like. Liam is a down to earth guy. He plays hard on the field but knows how to relax when he is off of it. He is devoted to his job and his team and puts in the hard work to prove that devotion. Tess is a bit more complex – she has some impulse control issues but she has a heart of gold and makes an excellent partner for Liam. I especially appreciated that at one point Liam thought about how many women he had dated who didn’t know a thing about rugby and compared that with how easy it was to talk to Tess, who knew his sport very well. That seemed very realistic to me. In a world where American and European football generally rule, a rugby player would probably have to date a few gals who weren’t perfectly conversant in the sport.
The book had its quirks – Tess could have some Bridget Jones moments and Liam could have some swollen head moments but for the most part this is an excellent story of modern love. I would recommend it to fans of the contemporary romance genre, especially if you like sports romances.