The All-Star Antes Up
It’s the fantasy of many women to have a celebrity fall madly in love with them, but it also begs the question: In our TMZ culture can a normal relationship stand up against the risks of public exposure or pressure to make something real out of that fantasy? In The All-Star Antes Up, football superstar Luke Archer and concierge Miranda Tate have to beat the spread and put up a good defense in order to win the game of love.
Star quarterback Luke Archer has never been the type to get attached to a woman. Football has always been his first love and staying at the top of his game requires Luke to shut-out any distractions that come from outside the game. His rule of “No Strings – No Rings” has served him well in choosing girlfriends who are good for a short relationship in the off season but don’t stick around past training camp. On track to take his team – the New York Empire – all the way to the Super Bowl for the fifth time, Luke is forced to take time away from the field when his younger brother causes an embarrassing situation with the concierge service at his Manhattan apartment building. Hoping to keep the whole thing out of the press, Luke offers the concierge manager and his assistant Miranda Tate premium tickets to a home game but is shocked when Miranda respectfully declines the offer. Intrigued that Miranda isn’t using her leverage over him for her own gain Luke takes the initiative and sets up a VIP experience for her as a way of saying thanks.
Miranda isn’t a football fan, so to her Luke is just an attractive and wealthy tenant at her workplace and it would be uncomfortable to accept a gift from him just for doing her job. She only takes the VIP tickets so that her brother and young nephew can have the chance to see a live game and meet players from their favorite team. Miranda is impressed by Luke’s on field precision but it’s his charm off the field that gets her heart fluttering. After witnessing Luke get brutally sacked twice during the game, it’s no surprise to Miranda when he reaches out to ask her to recommend a discreet physician to diagnose without alerting the head coach. Miranda’s line between a professional and personal interest in Luke begins to blur when he next asks her to plan a cultural trip around Manhattan and serve as his tour guide for the day. During their day together Miranda sees more in Luke than just a celebrity athlete and she risks everything by joining him for some after-hours entertainment.
Benched for a week due to his injuries, Luke turns his pinpoint focus on Miranda and spending as much time as possible with her. At first he’s sure their relationship is just something to get him through his down time away from the team; however the more he gets to know Miranda the harder it becomes to classify their relationship as a fling. Luke enjoys Miranda’s company and how he feels about himself when she’s around. She makes him think about the future and what to do once his career in the NFL is over; thoughts that had been pushed to the back corners of his mind in order to retain that on-field dedication. With the press starting to get interested in their connection and Luke’s week of rest coming to an end, the pressure is on to decide if there is any kind of future between them. But what kind of relationship can they have when he returns to his starting position and can’t give her the time and attention she deserves?
The All-Star Antes Up could have just been a simple story of a billionaire football player sweeping a regular woman off her feet, but author Nancy Herkness plays with that premise to make the hero the one who gets caught up in the romance. Much of the story comes from Luke’s point of view and Ms. Herkness uses emotional cues like pride, lust and even fear to come at the relationship from a convincing male perspective. Luke has been almost too successful in creating his persona of the cool and calculating man on and off the field. His professional nickname is Iceman and he’s just as cold about the relationships he forms with women or even his own family. Meeting Miranda, sharing some of his life with her and listening to her perspective as an outsider to his gilded cage forces Luke to break that icy façade and feel the emotions he normally pushes aside. It’s a hard journey for him to accept that he’s shut out too much in order to succeed in his career but it’s never too late to change.
I love how genuine Miranda remains even while living the fantasy of having a rich, successful boyfriend who can move mountains to get what he desires. She tries to keep one foot in reality, weighing the sacrifices of being with a superstar against the benefits to a very public relationship. What works for her character is that no matter how impressed she is with Luke’s career she always wants the man underneath it all, embracing his insecurities and understanding his overwhelming drive to push himself. Their chemistry in the bedroom is intense; however Miranda never lets that be enough for her. She pushes just as hard to form a connection with Luke away from their mind-blowing sex.
The link between stories in the Wager of Hearts series is a bet made by three billionaires to find love that ignores their accomplishments and The All-Star Antes Up does a great job of revisiting that fateful night from Luke’s perspective. His book works as a stand-alone but I would recommend both current releases in the series as it’s quite entertaining to watch each man flounder a little when their money or prestige can’t buy the love that they want. With two wagers now satisfied I’m eager to see how bachelor number three will find his own true love.