Night Games

Title: Night Games
Author: Lisa Marie Perry
Harlequin Kimani
Published: February 2014  

Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One: First sports-based romance I’ve read and enjoyed; fantastic, three-dimensional characters, even all the supporting cast. Also, the heroine wears something called “chocolate diamonds” which I had never even heard of before, but now I’m determined to own some, because I Googled them and those would be awesome on me.

Disclosure: I was given an advance copy of the ebook in return for a fair and honest review.

This is a Romeo-and-Juliet, families-that-hate-each-other romance. The heroine, Charlotte Blue, works for her parents, the new owners of Las Vegas Slayers; the hero, Nate Franco, is from the family that used to own the team. She’s got a lot to prove, as a female trainer and as the daughter of the owners (who cut her NO slack, but the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way). He’s wary about losing his job, convinced the new owners forced his father to sell up, and fiercely loyal to his brother (a former football player, now injured), who feels done out his legacy by the sale of the team.
Got that? Good.
At its core, this is a book about loyalty: both Charlotte and Nate are loyal to their families to a degree that’s interfered with their ability to be loyal to themselves and to their own desires. This is made particularly heart wrenching by the fact that the families, arguably, don’t deserve that level of devotion: Nate’s father has made his own problems (and sacrificed his elder son’s career), and Charlotte’s parents spend a lot more time worrying about how she affects the family “image” than they do about what the family image is doing to their daughters. The sexual attraction–and growing romance–between Nate and Charlotte is the catalyst for each of them to set aside a little of that family loyalty in favour of forging their own path.
I usually hate it when I can tell a book is setting itself up for sequels. Show me a romance with a heroine with sisters and I opt out more often than not. But in this case Charlotte’s sisters–Martha, who hasn’t quite grown up and is self-aware about how she never will while the family controls her, and Danica, who has already made the decision to try to be the “perfect daughter” even when it looks like that might mean throwing Charlotte under a bus–are compelling enough that I would actually read their stories.
But every line in this book packs a punch. One of the players, important only because Charlotte’s professional interest in encouraging him (and keeping him drug-free) gets completely misinterpreted and causes a rage-inducing criticism session from her parents, gets introduced this way:
Granite-black with a wide body and custom rims, TreShawn’s Chevy Suburban LTZ was designed for looks, strength and dominance. The vehicle was a complement to the image the man projected. So was the deep-bass, spirit-digging rap that vibrated throughout the SUV’s interior. Like his ride, the almost painfully loud music spoke for him–angry, distant, a ruthless warning to be careful not to get too close. (Chapter 7; location 1320)

Even the villainess of the book, Nate’s almost-stepmother, is sympathetic underneath the conniving and slinking. She’s been cut off by her family, and is painfully, apprehensively aware that her physical assets have a limited shelf life, and so she’ll do whatever she has to in order to survive and secure her engagement to Nate’s father. I ended up feeling sorry for her, and almost admiring her (hey, at least she goes down fighting), and nearly cried during her last scene. She should get her own sequel, actually. I already know who I want her to end up with.

The only characters I couldn’t warm to at ALL were Charlotte’s parents. Holy Hell, they were cold (though they never turned into cartoon villains; success-driven, image-obsessed parents are all too believable). The final confrontation between them and Nate was a glorious moment. Charlotte’s own showdown with them was even better.

It doesn’t some entirely out of the blue, either. Back in chapter twelve, there’s a scene where Charlotte is called on the carpet because a nearly-nude photo of her has been splashed all over the media. She isn’t happy about it, but the book doesn’t opt for the simple “a bad decision can ruin your life, especially now that the internet exists” message, either:

“I regret that a photo taken twelve years ago can start up a firestorm, but I’m also glad that I finally saw it. The woman in that photo is okay with herself. Fierce. Unafraid. I miss her.” (Chapter Twelve, location 2481)

It’s the first sign that she’s getting ready to draw a line under the imposed blind dates and pressure and advice about her Image and walk away into her own future–and it’s wonderful.

Active Ingredients:
Parental Pressure
Our Families Hate Each Other
Very Rich People
Sisters with their Own Issues (Impending Sequels)

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