I have a strong affinity for sports romances and an even stronger one for hockey romances. It baffles me, then, that this is my first novel by Ms. Jordan. Wild Zone is the story of Tate and Olivia, a hockey player and a chef, who are determined to keep their sexual relationship devoid of feelings and fail miserably. There are also themes of honesty, family, and vulnerability woven throughout, against the backdrop of a looming trade deadline and a return flight to Paris that is fast approaching.
Tate appeared in a previous book in the series, Dirty Score, where he was the older brother to the heroine and the best friend to the hero. Other readers have said they hated him in that book as he was a real pill. I can completely see how he would be, but in this book he is far from it. Instead, he is a dude carrying around a lot of emotional baggage from a recent divorce while living in professional limbo. He is – comparatively – an aging player, and his contract is up. In order to make the best financial decision for his future, he and his agent are being firm with his team, which may result in a last-minute trade or a drop to free agency status. In the meantime, he’s just trying to keep his head down and play great hockey.
And then she walks into his life.
“She” is Olivia Essex, an ex-pat chef now living in Paris who has flown home to D.C. to visit with her mother and sister, who run the event planning company hired to organize an engagement party for one of Trent’s teammates (and stars of a previous book, I’d imagine). Olivia, however, is having a hard time even getting into the party as she’s fresh off the plane and not on the guest list. Tate spots her fighting with a very loyal doorman and heads over to see if she’s a legitimate guest or a puck bunny (ie, a hockey groupie). He assesses that she should be in the party, but not before his PoV lets us know he has also assessed her body.
At that point, the caterer for the party goes into labor and Olivia shifts from temporary guest to star of the show. There is immediate and mysterious tension between Olivia, her twin, and her mother and my radar lit up. We learn, slowly and painstakingly, that this is a family that has long stopped speaking openly and honestly to each other. The mother, in particular, is disconnected from reality in many ways, and Olivia’s reaction to that disconnect has been to flee proximity. She’s spent the last several years cooking her way around the world and has finally earned enough money and prestige to get a placement and a scholarship to Le Cordon Bleu. This trip home is to last only until school starts, when she will return to her far flung existence.
They both disrupt the patterns of each other’s life, force them to see their lives from new perspectives, and realize that honesty with yourself is essential if there’s to be any honesty with others. There’s a whole lot about family as well – the good, the bad, and the ugly of being connected by blood and heart to a group of people who drive you crazy. The fallout of past decisions is still present in the middle of relationships, but I do wish there had been fewer complications. The ones introduced are hefty and deserved a little more time to be unpacked and sorted through. Instead, reconciliation is a passing comment compared to the hours of build-up. While I loved the ending, we had spent so much time with the three women in conflict that I wanted more of them.
While Tate and Olivia are working out what’s going on in their hearts and their futures, by the way, they spend a lot of time having sex. Athletic, passionate, creative, and Kindle-meltingly hot sex. Since Olivia has spent most of her adult life outside the U.S., her attitudes and opinions about sex are much more casual. It’s Tate who is pushing for commitment, and Ms. Jordan lets us know repeatedly that he is not a one-night stand guy. The dynamic is a unique one for romances and I was pleasantly surprised to see it played with.
The holidays a time where I want engrossing books that I can escape into. Although – who am I kidding? – I generally want those all the time. For me, Wild Zone fit the bill perfectly. Any hockey romance fans will find a lot to like here, and so will fans of heroines with spine, sass, and baggage.