It Had To Be You

By Susan Elizabeth Phillips, 1994, Contemporary
Avon, $5.50, ISBN #0-380-77683-9
First in SEP’s football series, also comprised of:
Heaven, Texas, Nobody’s Baby But Mine, Dream a Little Dream, and This Heart of Mine

Sensuality: Warm

Hands down, this is the best screwball comedy romance I’ve ever read. I’m not sure why I overlooked Susan Elizabeth Phillips for so long, but after I picked up this novel I had to glom everything she wrote immediately.

Phoebe Somerville is a blonde bombshell bimbo with a brain and heart that everyone overlooks. Her estranged father dies, leaving her the temporary ownership of a football team, the Chicago Stars. The only way Phoebe can retain this ownership is in the unlikely event that the Stars win the AFC championship. Phoebe, determined to prove to herself and to her dead father that she is not the total piece of fluff everyone thinks she is, agrees to the conditions of the will.

Dan Calebow, the Stars’ head coach, is understandably upset to have his team taken over by a bimbo. Overcoming a childhood of poverty and abuse, he has worked hard to become a champion football player and coach, and is not about to let his team go down the toilet because of Phoebe’s inept ownership decisions. When they meet, sparks fly, tempers flare, passions rage, and the reader is in for a rollicking good time.

Phillips has an uncanny ear for witty repartee and dialogue that could have come from a great Hepburn/Tracy movie. She is one of the few authors (Jennifer Crusie being the other notable name) that make me laugh out loud. Her sex scenes are bawdy and original (how many love scenes have you read that take place on the fifty yard line of the Midwest Sports Dome?). Her characters are comedic yet sympathetic. I never thought I would feel sorry for a blonde bombshell who has a pampered white poodle named Pooh, but Phillips manages to get at the lonely woman underneath the makeup who has endured a neglected childhood and constantly reinvents herself to keep people at a safe distance. Similarly, Dan is an alpha male, a little more dominant than I usually like my heroes, but we gradually see his softer side as well. Throw in a few well-drawn secondary characters, including a timid general manager who comes into his own and Phoebe’s estranged younger half-sister who shuns Phoebe’s attempts to reconcile, and you have a book bursting to the seams with vitality and personality.

By the time Phoebe and Dan admit they love each other you will be cheering, laughing and crying. You’ll learn something about football as well and live through a nail-biting championship game that decides Phoebe and Dan’s future together.

I’ve never read a bad Susan Elizabeth Phillips book, but in addition to this one, I especially recommend Hot Shot and Honey Moon. Scoop up her paperbacks quickly before she makes the leap to hardcovers, which I predict will happen soon.

— Susan Scribner

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