I got a little bit tricked by Jessica Lemmon’s Rumor Has It. That is, I didn’t realize it was part of the Real Love series because the title and cover didn’t match the first three books, two of which I’d read and quite enjoyed. (This is especially true of Arm Candy, which got DIK status for its fun banter and sexy romance). I hoped for more of this same with this one and while it’s an okay read, to my disappointment, the spark that first attracted me to the series is missing.
Catarina Everhart writes a relationship column for a newspaper and its online division. Looking for a way to pull in new readers, her managing editor suggests setting up a dating ‘he said/she said’ series for the summer. But not with Catarina’s actual boyfriend. No, she wants Catarina to pair up with ex-football player Barrett Fox. He’s on a reputation rehabilitation assignment with the paper after a stint as an on field football commentator ended in disgrace after he blew up at a female official over one of her calls, revealing a somewhat ugly misogynistic viewpoint. He’s a playboy, and the ‘bad boy of football’ reputation doesn’t particularly endear him to Catarina. Reluctantly, she agrees to do the assignment with Barrett as long as they are both clear that it’s a fake relationship for promo purposes only.
Barrett knows he can be an ass. Sometimes he acts out purely for the outrage it causes, part of maintaining his ‘bad boy’ reputation. Most people don’t care, and he’s still got celebrity status in the public eye. But he also knows it’s important to work on this story with Catarina to make up for that cringe-worthy reporting episode. His shallow exterior is a protective shield to keep people from finding out the things that put dents in his self-esteem, including a trailer-park upbringing with alcoholic parents, and his struggles with dyslexia. At first, his goal is to needle Catarina into admitting she’s attracted to him and then make sure their summer is one to remember. But when their rocky start turns into an actual friendship, will it also turn their fake dating relationship into something permanent?
In the first twenty five percent of this story, Barrett had done enough off-putting things (lighting a cigar in a non-smoking restaurant purely to be rude, borderline sexual harassment at work) that I wasn’t sure he’d be redeemable by the end. The idea seemed to be to make him sympathetic due to his dyslexia, a secret known to only a few. But it’s not enough to excuse some of that earlier behavior. The incident that lost him the field commentator job is one for which he privately made amends to the woman in question, so he’s not above making apologies when they are due. While he does become more likable as the story progresses – and he shows himself to be actually quite a caring guy – the incidents at the beginning leave a bit of a sour taste.
Catarina is a strong, career-driven woman. She begrudgingly admits that the idea of having her and Barrett write columns showing their views of the dates they go on is a good one and will likely drive up readership due to Barrett’s popularity. Despite her initial misgivings, there are flashes of Barrett’s true character (an actually likable man) that come through early enough for her to wonder how much of what she sees is an act. Then there are the times she can see he’s struggling with writing his parts of their articles, though he insists on doing them on his own and doesn’t want her help with the edits. Even after he confesses his dyslexia to her, he still wants to be responsible for his part of the writing. Throw in other glimpses of him being a caring sibling and uncle in dealings with his brother and young nephew and she can admit she’s softening towards him.
Though Catarina has a boyfriend at the start of the story, that relationship ends in the early pages of the novel leaving her free to explore more with Barrett. Naturally, the attraction simmering under the surface gets some traction when they spend so much time together, and the eventual love scenes, like all the ones this author writes, are steamy and fun. The sex is consensual and there is one point in the story, following an excessive drinking episode where to his credit, Barrett rebuffs her sexual advances as a gentleman should. Unfortunately though, I just didn’t find the chemistry between them as strong as I’m used to reading from this author.
It’s Barrett who falls first for the woman whom he doesn’t believe he deserves, though Catarina is quick to follow. The ‘black moment’ that has to be resolved comes late and is a bit overdone so they get some drama before their happy ending. If you can get past Barrett’s initial characterization and are already a fan of the series it’s worth the read. If you haven’t read the author before, I’d suggest starting at the beginning of the series instead.