The Final Score
Though the title of Jaci Burton’s new romance The Final Score might imply otherwise, it isn’t the final volume of her multi-sport contemporary romance Play by Play series. It is, however, a check-in of sorts for fans, with the couple getting their happy ever after being recent college graduates and relatives of previous reader favorites. I read some of the initial books in the series (Taking a Shot is a personal favorite; I bought the audiobook to go along with my digital copy because I enjoyed it so much) but hadn’t kept up with recent volumes (too many books, too little time!). I had high hopes for this one based on those earlier experiences but found it to be lacking the energy that drew me to the series in the first place. It’s an okay if somewhat bland read and new readers would be better off starting the series at the beginning.
Nathan Riley, adopted son of Mick Riley (hero of The Perfect Play), has finished his college degree and gotten the chance of a lifetime – to play football with his recently retired father’s team, the San Francisco Sabers. He feels the pressure of following in Mick’s footsteps and worries about letting down the team and his family, all of whom have high expectations of the rookie. One thing he’s always been able to count on is his best friend Mia Cassidy, whose brother Flynn Cassidy (hero of Rules of Contact) also plays for the Sabers.
Nathan and Mia met in college, and since they both came from professional sports families (and had relatives playing for the same team) they connected easily on a friendship level. There was that one time when they went a step further and slept together, but they were easily able to chalk it up to an excess of alcohol and slipped back into being friends with no obvious repercussions and fond memories on both sides. Mia has just started her own player management company in San Francisco and though she would love to sign Nathan on as a client, she doesn’t want anything to interfere with their friendship. She also can’t deny the attraction between them that has never really gone away. Nathan is keen on pursuing a friends-with-benefits relationship with Mia, but she is hesitant, though more for professional reasons than personal ones. The paparazzi can be relentless and she doesn’t want anything to hinder his upcoming season. Still, there’s no doubt that sex with Nathan is fun and exciting. Now that they are both embarking on full time careers, is it time to think seriously about taking their relationship to the next level?
The story starts with Nathan and Mia having coffee and reminiscing about their college days and their night spent together. It’s a bit of an abrupt beginning, like the feeling you have starting a television program ten minutes in and trying to figure out what’s happened. I think this is because you’re expected to know who these two are and where they fit in with other characters in the series. This discussion of college and their night together is a recurring theme and much is made of Mia’s hesitation to pursue more of what Nathan is clearly offering, which gets somewhat tiresome. Even after they do hook up again, she’s still hemming-and -hawing about what it means. While the sex scenes are on the steamy side (there’s no doubt the author can write those well), the chemistry between Nathan and Mia is lacking, making for no investment on my part as to whether they stay friends or become more.
There are two main family events that bring previous characters into the story. One is Nathan’s birthday party and the other is a wedding in Mia’s family. At both events, the couple sneaks off to have sex in another room. This made me cringe to be honest. I can’t imagine having sex with a ‘friend’ (not even a boyfriend at this point) in the middle of a family party.
Another point of contention is the idea that Mia, as a fresh college graduate, can run her own management company for professional athletes. Yes, she comes from a background with those kinds of contacts, but it would have been more believable to have her working for someone else while she learned the ropes rather than being in charge of a crew of people. Nathan’s role as a new addition to the Sabers, on the other hand, is credible given his college football career. The football scenes are well written and this is no surprise as the author has always done an excellent job with the sports portions of her stories.
Mia’s concerns about sleeping with Nathan again and the possible impact on his career are heightened by the presence of a rogue paparazzi photographer. This element of the story could have gone in several directions but the eventual culmination (without giving away any spoilers) is a disappointment.
For fans of the series, connecting with old characters and seeing how their lives have changed may be the best part of their reading experience with The Final Score. While Nathan and Mia are likable and resolve the minor conflicts that stand in their way to get their happy ending, the sizzling tension I associate with Jaci Burton’s stories is missing. Here’s hoping the next one in the series gets back that original spark.