It is quite possible that I have found my newest obsession in Mariana Zapata’s distinctive brand of slow burn. After devouring two of this author’s novels back to back, I can positively say that I have loved every single thing about them—the strong heroines who fearlessly speak their mind, the unshakable heroes whose depth of emotion is so often evident yet remains hidden behind their natural reserve until the very end, the memorable secondary characters that often steal the show, the heart-warming humour lacing every single page—and I feel heady just contemplating which book of hers I want to read next. A superb storyteller, Ms Zapata takes her time to build the sexual and emotional tension between her characters, giving them time to learn about each other, making their feelings for one another evolve before our very eyes, and giving us a hundred little moments in between that make our hearts skip a beat. A picture-perfect romance in my eyes, this was a book I felt emotionally invested in from the get-go, and by the end of it, I was clasping it to my heart so hard, I almost cracked my eReader in the process.
I dedicated my life, my time and my body to the sport all because of the player I would grow to follow and support and love with all my little heart, my patron saint of soccer—Reiner Kulti.
Salome “Sal” Casillas was only seven years old the first time she saw Reiner Kulti score a goal on television, the image of the then nineteen-year-old German player beating the odds and achieving what no one believed he could do leaving an everlasting impression on her young mind, and inspiring her to strive to become just like him. Two decades later, at twenty-seven years of age, Sal has come far from that star-struck little girl, becoming one of Houston Pipers’ strongest forwards and most talented players. Modest, selfless, level-headed, and a real team player, Sal is every coach’s dream, but in a game where the stakes are high and cattiness among players is rampant, she is determined more than ever to work three times as hard as everyone else to prove her worth to herself and to her team. Sal’s life comes to a standstill, however, when Reiner Kulti, German soccer legend and now retired player, takes the team’s assistant coach position for the season, suddenly turning her greatest childhood fantasy into reality.
To my absolute horror, my inner thirteen-year-old, the one that had planned on marrying this guy and having soccer-playing super-babies with him, peeked in and reminded me she’d been around once.
Known for having been one of the most explosive and creative players in the sport, and now in his late thirties, Kulti might have retired from the sport two years before, but the media circus following his life has not slowed down, scrutinizing his every move and thus bringing attention to the women’s team he has accepted to coach. From the first day in his new job, however, Kulti appears not to want to be there, his disinterest and grumpiness becoming a permanent fixture on and off the field. Until a feisty young player decides to read him the riot act, and tell him exactly what she thinks of him.
“You are the most insolent person I have ever met in my life.”
What unexpectedly follows is an unlikely friendship between coach and player, an ever-growing bond between two people whose shared love for the game and unyielding determination to be the best they can be bring them closer each day, but even with so much in common, they are constantly reminded of all the differences between them, not the least of them being the thirteen-year gap between their ages.
I had a man I respected that respected me, and he didn’t care if the world knew we meant something to each other. Our friendship hadn’t been given to either one of us, we had worked at it.
We watch them grow closer each day, the small but remarkable acts of selflessness and affection between them warming our hearts and making us cling onto their every word to one another. With minimal physical contact between them throughout most of the story, the author manages to turn every moment between them into an utterly romantic display of emotion and palpable sexual chemistry. Their romantic attachment springs slowly from a genuine feeling of respect and friendship between them, and the more we witness it, the more we believe they love each other dearly.
“You are my gift, my second chance, and I will cherish you and your dream. I will protect both of you.”
But with the pressure to perform at her very best only increasing as the Pipers qualify for the finals, and with the media dissecting their every move together, Sal and her German “bratwurst” must decide what matters the most to them both, and what they are both willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it.
“I would do anything for you.”
A stunning love story, intoxicating start to finish, and truly inspiring in its vastness, I loved every single moment spent with these characters, and only wished our almost-600-page time together could have been even longer. But this is not ‘just’ a love story—it is also the tale of a young woman who never fails to demonstrate grace and class under pressure, who remains selfless, gracious and humble no matter what, and never stops believing in herself. Mariana Zapata has given us a heroine to admire until the very end, and a noble hero who cherishes every single thing about her. This is one of those books I already cannot wait to re-read, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to absolutely anyone.
“I’ve been waiting, and I will keep on waiting until the time is right… waiting a little longer for the love of my life, I can do.”