Playing to Win

Jaci Burton
September 2012, Contemporary Romance
Berkley Trade, $15.00, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 042524783X
Part of a series

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

The gangís all here in Burtonís latest Play-by-Play romance, which is packed with the signature athletes ó often self-described as dumb jocks ó and the strong, gorgeous women who put up with their hard bodies and wicked lovemaking. If youíve read a previous book, youíll find that couple in this one.

Bad boy wide receiver Cole Riley of the St. Louis Traders professional football team falls in lust with PR agent and image specialist Savannah Brooks from the minute he lays eyes on her, even before he knows sheís been hired to clean up his image. But when he learns the truth, he tries to persuade her that his reputation is bad because heís been maligned by the press and not because heís a hothead who doesnít take negative questioning well.

As they get to know one another, Cole proves himself to be a lonely guy whoís been traded around, even though heís a top-notch player, because heís never integrated himself into any of the teams for whom heís played. Fortunately, heís always had a very supportive extended family cheering him on.

Because she comes from an opposite background with virtually no family, Savannah is a self-made woman and is determined to earn every dime the team pays her. She studies Cole and then sits down to analyze his behavior and make recommendations to help him blend with his new hometown team and improve his public image.

All of this is well and good, not particularly revolutionary as a plot until Cole and Savannah start having sex which may not be unethical but is certainly unprofessional. Then the book becomes nearly unbelievable.

Fortunately, Burton is a whiz at writing snappy dialogue, which keeps the book moving and readers interested. As long as a reader doesnít think too heavily about the plot, the book is an easy, enjoyable way to pass a few hours. Having Mr. Torso on the cover also helps.

Analyzing the book makes its flaws stand out. Cole and Savannah are cases in point. Cole is never seen to be a bad boy at the beginning of the story. His reputation is hearsay only. In fact, everything he does and says around Savannah shows him to be the product of loving, caring parents who raised him to be polite and courteous whenever heís in public.

Savannah, for her part, while said to be a savvy businesswoman who practically raised herself, comes off like a breathless cheerleader in many of the scenes with Cole. While she gives him some good suggestions ó answer negative press questions in a positive light and integrate himself into the team by becoming friends with his teammates ó these arenít particularly exciting tips. But Burton dwells on them as if they are.

And then there are the three couples that starred in the preceding books. They inhabit the story like multiplying rabbits. All are related in some fashion, two of the men are Coleís cousins, so Burton is able to give readers of the other books updates on the past players and their wives. But mixing baseball and football might get a little confusing to readers who donít know about American professional sports.

While I enjoyed the book mainly because I enjoy Burtonís style of writing, this isnít the strongest of her books. Cole in the end realizes heís been coddled and is a cry-baby and must man up. Savannah goes from strong to gushing and realizes she must let her past be past. Even in the world of sports, these revelations are non-news.

-- Pat Henshaw

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