The Hot Shot
Kristen Callihan’s sexy, swoony and supremely entertaining Game On series tops my list of terrific sports romances. This fourth book, The Hot Shot fits neatly into the series, but it’s a bit different and the only one that I haven’t rated a DIK. For starters, the principal character, Finn, isn’t one of the original, beloved group of friends that launched the series and neither is his love interest, Chester Copper (she’s a she, and yes, you read that name right). We’ve also moved fully out of NA and squarely into adult contemporary territory, but fortunately, book three also took place after college, so the transition isn’t as jarring. But it does lend a bit of a different vibe to The Hot Shot, and though I enjoyed it, it felt more like the start of a new series than a continuation of the old one. It’s good, and I liked it quite a lot, but it falls just a bit short of its predecessors.
When professional photographer Chester – Chess – Copper agreed to do a charity calendar shoot featuring New Orleans NFL football players in the buff, it was just another job. When the players arrive, they’re surprised by her request to strip down, but only quarterback Finnegan Manus seems to struggle with the request. She can’t imagine why; his body, his face – everything about him is beautiful. When it’s his turn to pose, Chess can’t quite figure out why he’s so tense, but she makes an effort to set him at ease. Despite her nonchalant attitude about the shoot, she can’t help the frisson of awareness (and lust) she feels when she’s photographing him, and if his slightly erect penis is any indication, he’s feeling it too.
Uncomfortable with the entire ordeal, Finn is caught off guard by his attraction to the photographer, despite the negative vibes she’s projected from the moment he arrived at her loft. Her smoky voice is hypnotic and when it’s his turn to pose, he can’t seem to distract himself from lustful thoughts about her. There’s something about Chess – she isn’t traditionally beautiful and she clearly doesn’t like him – but when he leaves the shoot, he can’t stop thinking about her. Fortunately, later that same evening he spots her out on a date and when he notices her hiding a yawn, decides to crash it. She’s grumpily grateful and while his best friend and wingman (a fellow player – wink!) distracts her date, Finn convinces her to let him walk her home. Their back and forth is terrific with Chess gently teasing Finn about his reputation as a ladies man, only good for one night stands. Finn proudly defends his dating history (or lack thereof), and the conversation only becomes awkward after Chess blurts out that she’s not going to sleep with him. Cue the cringe. Chess isn’t interested in Finn (so she says) and Finn wants her to be his first girl-friend, emphasis on friend. Okay. After establishing those ‘facts’, Finn leaves her at her door. Oh you two.
From the start, Chess and Finn say they want different things – Finn, a friendship, and Chess a long term relationship – but not with Finn. These two give friendship a try, though it’s clear to everyone but them that they’re lying to themselves. Finn has fallen hard for his tough and sexy ‘friend’ Chess, and Chess is deeply in lust with her buddy Finn. The friendly relationship becomes a lot more complicated when Chess’s apartment building burns to the ground and she barely escapes. After learning about the fire, Finn races to the hospital and offers a devastated Chess a temporary home. Still just friends, these two dance around their attraction while falling harder and harder for each other, and trying harder and harder to deny it. Both have painful secrets they’re afraid to share (which have repercussions later in their relationship), but living together only pushes them closer. When Finn makes plans to visit his family in California for the holidays during a break in his football schedule, he asks Chess to come along. His mom is pressuring him to get married, and perhaps Chess can pretend to be his girlfriend to fend her off? Again, you two. Duh. This can’t end well… but it does! For us! Romance readers already know pretending to be in love is only difficult if you aren’t. And they are. Unfortunately, they still aren’t quite ready to admit it.
Anyway. Finn and Chess as friends-pretending-to-be lovers is just the little push they need to fall into bed together and when they do… Yowsers. It’s naughty and dirty and sexy and awesome. And fortunately, once the clothes come off, Finn and Chess can’t keep their hands off each other. This happy connection lasts even after they return to New Orleans, but those pesky secrets they’ve both been keeping come back to haunt them not long after their return trip. Chess and Finn are relationship novices, which works to their advantage early on, but when the going gets tough, they push each other away instead of holding each other closer.
I loved the chemistry between Finn and Chess, but I struggled through their platonic relationship in the first half of the book – it felt overly long and drawn out. A hallmark of the Game On series is the intense chemistry and passion between the principals, and Ms. Callihan usually doesn’t waste too many pages before sexy shenanigans take place. In The Hot Shot we wait and wait and wait some more. I did love when Chess and Finn finally got together, and because they’re both so likeable and charming together, the book keeps your attention, but the delay makes the second half feel rushed. I wanted to have some time enjoying Chess and Finn as a romantic couple, but it wasn’t enough. When they fall into bed together, the lead up to that first encounter is delicious and the sequence is sexy as hell. But you just know a crisis is around the corner because you’re nearing the end of the book. I hated that, though in the context of the story, the delay made sense. I only wish the book had been longer so as to allow us to spend more time with them in their all too temporary ‘happy for now’ phase.
Though both Chess and Finn are quick to realize they’re in love, they’re slow to admit it to one another, and when they finally realize there’s no reason for them to be apart, it’s almost too late – but this is a romance novel, so it isn’t. I loved their reconciliation, mostly because I love them and their chemistry. And once again, their conversation – heartfelt, funny, romantic and honest – is a highlight.
Ms. Callihan writes couples you can root for and this pair is no different. I don’t think you need to read the earlier Game On books to enjoy The Hot Shot, mostly because there are few links to the earlier books, and I think this story works just fine as a standalone or even as an introduction to the series. The Hot Shot is yet another great addition to Ms. Callihan’s catalog, one that new and existing fans will enjoy.