The Cad and the Co-ed
I enjoyed the first two books in the Rugby series and frequently recommend them to fans looking for great sports romances. Entertaining, romantic and filled with great locker room banter and sports references, The Cad and the Co-ed is a delightful addition to this particular series. But … it isn’t quite as strong as the first two. Featuring a trifecta of my least favorite romantic tropes – the accidental pregnancy, the secret baby, unrequited love – followed hard on the heels by intense insta-lust/love, The Cad and the Co-ed is a tad too predictable and cavalier about very real relationship deal breakers. These criticisms don’t preclude me from liking the book or recommending it, but those things, and the fact that it’s just not all that memorable once you finish reading, kept me from awarding it a higher grade.
The story opens with a flashback to the one night stand Eilish Cassidy wishes she could forget. That night her long time crush, Bryan Leech, a player on the same rugby squad as her cousin Sean (featured in the previous book, The Player and the Pixie) finally noticed her. Head over heels for Bryan, and flattered by his obvious interest in her, she slept with him. The sex (her first time) was phenomenal and everything about the night was perfect (can you see my eyes rolling?!?!), but the next morning, lost in delusions of love and marriage, Eilish is slow to realize Bryan might not feel the same way. He’s hungover, rude, can’t seem to remember her name and she’s heartbroken when he all but asks her to leave. Unfortunately, however, it’s a night she’ll never be able to forget because her beloved five year old son, the spitting image of his father, is a constant reminder of her nineteen year old folly.
Five years later, Eilish accepts a job as a physical therapist for Sean’s rugby team. Reconciled to returning home and the family that rejected her when she decided to have a baby out of wedlock, she’s anxious about her future and concerned about spending time near Bryan. She isn’t worried about falling for him again – she’s more concerned about his finding out about their son. When she spots him at a team party days before her first official work day, she feels the same spark she felt five long years ago, but is determined to keep away from him. After he catches her looking his way, he approaches her but she impolitely rebuffs him.
Bryan can’t understand why the beautiful redhead at the party is so rude to him. Clean and sober after years of heavy drinking and partying, he wonders if maybe she’s someone he’s met before, and in the days that follow, finds himself thinking about her often. He’s dismayed to discover Eilish is Sean’s cousin but thrilled to learn she’ll be working on the team physio staff. Despite her obvious discomfort every time they meet, Bryan is attracted to Eilish and wants to get to know her better. He understands that she might not want to date a player on the team, but it seems like she doesn’t like him, and he wants to know why.
The chemistry between Bryan and Eilish is intense from the moment they reconnect, but when she realizes he still doesn’t remember her or their night together, it’s yet another reminder of how forgettable she must have been and she can’t shake off the resulting insecurity. Bryan works hard to earn Eilish’s trust and affection and makes it clear he wants to be part of her life, but Eilish persists in fighting her attraction to him – until she eventually realises that resistance is futile in the face of the new, improved version of him.
The Cad and the Co-ed never pretends Eilish and Bryan aren’t destined for each other, but the past looms large both before and after their eventual first date. Eilish finds motherhood fulfilling and Patrick is the light of her life, but Bryan’s boorish behavior after their one-night stand is never far from her thoughts – in spite of the intensity of the attraction between them and even after she’s agreed to try having a relationship with him. Her insecurities about their shared past and fears of losing her son continue to prevent her from opening up to a lasting partnership with Bryan, making it feel as though this couple is doomed to a recurring cycle of affection/hot sex/doubt/separation/repeat.
Eilish’s insecurities are understandable. Despite how significant their night together felt to her, Bryan couldn’t remember her the next morning, and when they meet again, he still doesn’t. But her fears that Bryan will take Patrick away from her? I didn’t get it and I’m still scratching my head wondering why the authors kept insisting this was a thing. Bryan loves Patrick the moment he meets him and makes it clear he wants a relationship with Eilish. Her fear allows the authors to throw in a big misunderstanding towards the tail end of the book and it, much like Eilish’s fears, distract from the love story.
After an inauspicious start to his relationship with Eilish, Bryan evolves into a likeable and loveable guy. He embraces his sobriety and all that he needs to do to maintain it, and though he’s sorry about his past, he accepts he can’t change it. He wasn’t ready for fatherhood or a lasting relationship when he first met Eilish, but he is now. He wants her. He wants to be a dad. He wants to be a great teammate. If anything, Bryan is a bit too good to be true, but this is a romance novel and he’s destined to be the love of Eilish’s life, so somehow, it works. But it’s frustrating to see how much he loves her and how quick she is to doubt and push him away. Fortunately, Bryan is persistent and persuasive. He eventually both shows and tells Eilish what she and Patrick mean to him, and she stops fighting the inevitable. He’s a delectable hunk, and I loved how willing he is to give and give in order to make Eilish understand what she means to him.
There are a few other things happening in this story that relate to characters in the previous books, but those storylines are more filler than anything so this one works as a standalone. The Cad and the Co-ed isn’t the best in this series, but it gets the job done. Charming, romantic and entertaining, it’s a nice addition to my sports romance shelf.