I have a strange relationship with hockey romances. I love the idea of them – I like contact sports, and alpha males, and contemporary romance – but I’ve struggled to find any that really ring my bell. Kelly Jamieson’s Win Big, with its abysmal dialogue, hot sex, and a hero with the strangest observational tendencies I’ve ever encountered, was – at least – a memorable stop on my quest.
Everly Wynn is the daughter of the owner of the California Condors. The product of a second marriage, she runs the family foundation and attempts to be “perfect”. Wyatt Bell is new to the town and the team, having moved out west to be close to a young woman and her son – neither of whom are ‘his’ in any legal or blood sense (tragic story). Everly awakes one morning to find herself hungover in Wyatt’s bed – they didn’t have sex, but there has been heavy petting. They have a small tiff, Wyatt pursues Everly for dozens of pages, and eventually talks her into a date. At which point the inciting incident that should have happened about sixty pages earlier happens. The date culminates in a trip to a sex store, where Wyatt tries on some sort of sex outfit (would that I could be more specific but all Ms. Jamieson offers is that it was “a black and red neoprene one-piece shorts thing with a cut-out over the abs”). He’s photographed “with his arm around” a store staff member who is a man, and soon word on the street is that he’s gay. Because he’s part of the Condors’ new inclusivity-promoting community program, they don’t want him to “pretend” to be gay and offend anyone, so FAKE RELATIONSHIP.
We’ll start with Everly. Both Everly and Wyatt live in long, long, shadows of the past. We only get both of their stories in the last third of the book, which is spoiler territory, but I’m compelled to say that Everly’s past involves statutory rape, so be warned. A huge drawback to bringing up her past so late is that for a lot of the early part of the story, she comes off as just a dreadful, stereotype of a California girl (self-described as “an anxious, neurotic perfectionist”) who has a habit of obsessing over food: I swear, if I had to read one more description of her salads. . . (“gem lettuce with beats, feta, sumac, and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette”). I honestly wanted part of the HEA to be that poor girl eating a burger with all the trimmings (including bacon!).
As for Wyatt. . . Everly mentally envisions him as some sort of sexy dominator, but I don’t know what alternate-reality book she was in, because that’s not the man I was reading about in this one. This is a man who notices things like how her boots have “a chunky heel”, knows his home has “a mudroom” and describes his bedroom lamps in detail – “a tiny spotlight with a flexible stand”. Now, I’m not going to make any sweeping proclamations that men can’t be observant, but what romance-novel alpha male, who plays a sport in which guys regularly LOSE THEIR TEETH is going to be so attuned to aesthetics that he knows what kind of heel is on his girlfriend’s shoe? I also didn’t like that he harped on Everly to “have fun” as if ‘fun’ means only going clubbing and drinking. According to Wyatt, an interest in yoga and knitting means “you might as well take up bingo”. And you might as well get up and go, sir.
The dialogue in this book is atrocious. Wyatt is Canadian and he describes his birthplace as follows: “It’s beautiful—lots of rivers and pine forests, and it’s right on the Bay of Fundy. You can see icebergs, and whales, and puffins.” I have friends from Canada – admittedly the more urban areas – but they’ve never waxed poetic about their country’s “icebergs”. Everly, for her part, is there for it. “I’ve gone whale watching here, of course,” she says, “but we don’t have ice.”
There’s also an entire storyline that remains unresolved about whether Everly’s father has Alzheimer’s and has defrauded his sons from his previous marriage. That involves an abundance of family members, absolutely none of whom have any distinguishing features – other than Everly’s nephew Théo, and by ‘distinguishing feature’ I mean the fact that he spells his name with an accent mark.
So why have I not given this book a D? Well. . . because it’s a matter of a different kind of D. This book is hot. And since Wyatt and Everly don’t have sex until the middle of the book, by the time they do, they have feelings that compete in size with Wyatt’s boner. The result is a lovely depiction of what it means when people who care about each other want to get a little animalistic. Also, I thought the consent in this book was Olympic-grade. Wyatt uses it as a turn-on tool as niftily as he might use any sex toy. For example:
“I want soft and slow,” I murmur, brushing my mouth over her panties again. Her abs tighten. “I want to make you come on my tongue. Then I want to pound into that sweet pussy and feel you squeeze me, and fuck you until you come again and scream.”
“Oh Jesus.” Her head falls back and her eyes close.
“That sound good?” I lick her hip bone.
“Good . . . yes . . . please.”
The sex, and the undeniable fact that the whole book is oddly gripping, are what pushed it a few notches up the grading scale, but still out of reach of a recommendation (the puffins killed any chance of a B-). Overall, Win Big isn’t completely winning, but it has assets on its team that occasionally make a great shot.