Elle Kennedy is one of my favorite authors for new adult college sports romances and The Dare is part of her Briar U spinoff of her Off Campus series. While other stories in the series have been quite fun and entertaining, this one left me somewhat disappointed, reasons for which I’ll outline below.
Taylor is a sorority college student working towards her early education degree. When one of her ‘mean girl’ sorority sisters ‘dares’ her to bring one of the hunky hockey players up to the bedroom level for some hookup fun, Taylor can’t refuse and enlists the help of the hockey player in question, Conor Edwards, for her task. Fortunately, Conor is a good-natured, friendly fellow who can see that Taylor is in a bind and doesn’t really want to sleep with him. He is happy to help her out and they spend the time upstairs talking and getting to know each other, thus preserving her reputation with the sorority house.
From then on, Conor can’t get Taylor out of his mind and a real friendship between them ensues. Their attraction is mutual but it’s a slow-burn romance with some passionate kissing and making out that eventually leads to them sleeping together. But Conor has some secrets from his past that start to worm their way into the present, threatening the relationship that he and Taylor are building. Though things between them may have started as a dare, can it see its way through to a real happy ending?
My misgivings about this story started at the very beginning. I’m not comfortable with hazing in any form and that’s really how the story starts, pushing Taylor into a sexually humiliating position for the amusement of her sorority sisters. It’s not her fault that in an earlier hazing episode she had ended up having to kiss one of the other leader’s boyfriends, a fact that is used to torment her on a regular basis. She was also forced to make out with another girl in the chapter who is equally embarrassed by the episode. The whole culture of sororities and frat houses is an American college idea that has never been presented to me as a reader in a positive light. I felt sorry and embarrassed for Taylor and the only bright spot was Conor being a decent guy, understanding her position and helping her get a ‘win’ by apparently going through with the dare and not letting on that all they did was talk.
The next issue I have is Taylor’s obsession with her weight. We’re told several times that she is uncomfortable with her body image, her (likely average) figure being larger than she would like, and about her calorie counting. She orders plain toast and an egg for brunch while her friends order large, delicious looking platters of food that she regrets she can’t have. Frankly, it comes across as fatphobic and even though Conor is quite happy with how Taylor looks and tells her so, she only seems to become comfortable with her body because of his feelings, and not because she actually has a change of heart about herself.
Conor’s past rears its ugly head when an old and now ex-friend tries to re-insert himself into his life. Conor did some bad things when he was younger, things he’s ashamed of and that he would like to forget. Some of it he still feels very guilty about because it has impacted his relationship with his stepfather, but instead of sharing things with Taylor, he tries to deal with it all on his own, as he believes he isn’t good enough for her. Both Taylor and Conor therefore have negative self-images that they must work to overcome, but in Conor’s case he doesn’t need Taylor’s approval to feel better about himself and he actually does the work to correct things.
Late in the story there is a surprising plot twist that abruptly resolves a bunch of the hard feelings in the sorority house to give everyone a happy ending. It comes about quickly, and while it’s a convenient way to tie up some loose plot threads, it happens so late in the story that it is a jarring finish.
With that said, there are some positive aspects to the story. The author has a good handle on hockey and how to write about it, so with Conor being on the college hockey team there are some well done on-ice scenes as well as the camaraderie with his fellow teammates. Those are probably my favorite parts. And the romance between Conor and Taylor is really sweet. They are both genuinely nice people (baggage and all) and the attraction between them is real and unforced. The progression of their relationship is realistic and I liked that they didn’t just jump into bed with each other from the get go. The female friendship that Taylor has with her best friend Sasha is enjoyable as are the relationships Taylor develops with Conor’s teammates girlfriends. Startling plot endings aside, they get a satisfying conclusion to their romance. This isn’t my favorite of the series and if you haven’t read any of the Briar U books yet, I’d recommend The Chase or The Risk, which both worked better for me.