Winner Takes All
Blake Carpenter was at the top of his game as a professional football player when trusting the wrong people led to it all crumbling around him. Now he’s moved back to his hometown to coach the high school football program and is none too happy about it. Annabelle Turner knows all about why Blake is back in town and has her own opinions about it. As the physical therapist for the team, however, she tries to be professional despite her misgivings. The problem is that assumptions and rumors are never whole truths and there’s more to Blake than she previously believed. Winner Takes It All is a story of a sizzling love/hate relationship with a happily ever after.
When Blake returns to his small Colorado hometown, he’s in full redemption mode. He has a life to rebuild and not a lot of time in which to do it. He takes the job of coaching his alma mater’s football team back to glory, but the pressure is intense. If he’s not successful and they don’t become state champions, he’ll be unemployed. The politics of small town football are in full play here – Blake has to balance his vision with the vision of the district athletic director and the hopes of the town.
What he definitely doesn’t need added to that already difficult balance is a physical therapist hired by the district who also happens to be gorgeous, professional, and unwilling to put up with his demands for her to leave his team alone. Boldly standing her ground, Annabelle provides the biggest challenge to his goals, mostly because he cannot stop thinking about her and hates that.
Blake is constantly in a lot of pain from a football injury that never really healed. He relies on prescription painkillers to numb that pain, but they do nothing to heal his sour attitude. While he is clearly an alpha hero, he flirts with the line between alpha and asshole a little too much for my liking. I can respect that his grumpiness comes from being in chronic pain, but it doesn’t make it any more pleasant to read.
Annabelle is the first person who sees through his tough-guy facade and tries to help. He, of course, brushes her off. Her initial reaction is to ignore him right back, but something about him keeps drawing her to him. Their dynamic is firmly love/hate; they’re an explosive couple mostly because Blake is such a volatile human and is set off by small things. Additional complications come from the opinions of the town; Blake’s disgrace was well documented and most folks in the town have strong opinions on it and are happy to share those with both of them. Blake’s past informs most of his interactions at the beginning of this book, and his shame and frustration are palpable.
This is a hero’s phoenix journey, a fall from grace followed by a rebuilding into a new creature, one who is stronger and yet more tender, more open to life and to love than it was before. The happy ending here is not just for Blake and Anabelle as a couple, but for his redemption arc. As he faces down demons, he discovers new purpose and a new future.
The trouble is, I really couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it.
I never connected with Blake, and never really cared about Annabelle. Everything about this book should have worked for me, but it just didn’t. I kept checking the bottom of my Kindle, each time hoping to have advanced further than I had. The pace dragged and frequently took me right out of the story as a result. Additionally, while this is a sports romance, and takes place almost exclusively around football, the sport doesn’t feel like anything but a plot point.
There are people who are going to like this book, I am sure of it. If someone is looking for a sweet romance with that enemies-to-lovers or love/hate dynamic and a whole heap of sexual tension, this may just scratch their itches. Additionally, there’s some interesting mother/daughter dynamics between Annabelle and her quirky mother that will surely entertain some readers. This is not a bad or offensive book by any means. It’s just one that didn’t work for me.