The enemies-turned-lovers trope has always been a personal favourite of mine, the intoxicating combination of hostility and intense sexual tension between the characters being a heady cocktail I’ve never been able to resist, and Santino Hassell’s latest offering is a sexy supernova that leaves the reader bursting from all the feels. The tale of two rival football players suspended from the game they love and forced to ‘play nice’ while battling their feelings for one another, this book owned me cover to cover, and on more than one occasion, it left me utterly breathless. If you’ve never had the pleasure of losing yourself in Santino Hassell’s electrifying prose, fix that as soon as you can.
“Do you still wanna show me up?”
“I’ll always want to show you up, Boudreaux.”
“All right then, let’s see what makes you jumpy.”
I started to shift myself upward, but he put a palm against my chest and held me back.
“What happens when you lose?”
“You can have fun figuring that one out. I’m gonna leave it up to you.”
Adrián’s fingers pressed harder against my chest before falling away. There was a hint of apprehension in his pursed lips and loosely balled hands, but then he plastered on that rakish Bravo grin and lifted his chin.
“Do your worst,” he said, threading his fingers behind his head.
Most pro football rivalries have quite a long history behind them, but the very public feud between Simeon Boudreaux, the Barons quarterback, and Adrián Bravo, the star linebacker of the New Jersey Predators, has always felt a little too personal. So when a scuffle on the field lands them both in hot water and results in not only their joint suspension for half the season, but also a two-month stint at a Brooklyn community centre coaching a youth football league, Simeon and Adrián must put their differences aside and learn to behave sportsmanlike around one another.
Simeon: Whoa, are you like . . . smart or something?
Adrián: Fucker, you gots no clue how many intelligences are in my brain.
Simeon: lmfao I take it back already
But in the aftermath of numerous homophobic innuendos made by Adrián ever since Simeon made his sexuality public, Simeon is determined to teach his former teammate a lesson in taunting, using nothing but his Southern charm, wit and killer body to achieve his goal.
I wanted us to fuck so he could know how it felt to be a queer in a homophobic industry, and then regret everything he’d ever said while in his feelings about something that had happened years ago. I wanted him to understand.
What starts as a clash between two longtime rivals soon morphs into an unexpected friendship between two men who have more in common than they ever expected, and somewhere between their daily banter and sexually-charged teasing, they discover an irrepressible chemistry between them that gives new context to their every past interaction.
There was a hardness and a sweetness to Simeon that intoxicated me with every touch. It made me pant for him, salivate for him, and think of nothing but my aching need to feel his body completely bared against my own.
As we watch Adrián slowly come to terms with his attraction to Simeon and the blurred boundaries of his own sexuality, we also witness a beautiful love story unfold. We watch these men bare their souls before one another, embrace their growing feelings with honesty and determination, and their every moment together—be it tender or downright combustible—is utterly bewitching.
“Adrián,” he panted. “Pretty sure you were born to be a bomb-ass top.”
“Maybe just yours.”
He gave me another one of those wild-eyed looks, and I responded with a kiss. Sliding our tongues together and then sucking on his while our lower bodies moved together. It was perfect. He was perfect. We were perfect together.
But when the world suddenly decides to thrust their nascent romance into the harsh, judgemental light of public scrutiny, Simeon and Adrián must decide whether what they’ve found in each other is worth challenging the omnipresent stereotype of masculinity and homophobia in a sport that is still learning how to stop perpetuating both. Santino Hassell’s splendid prose and deft control of his protagonists create a compelling reading experience that I’ve come to expect from this extraordinary author. A must read!
“I need you to tell me I won’t ruin your career by being in your life. Because no matter how hard I try to be discreet, I know somehow . . . I’ll screw it up. ’Cause that’s me, boo. I’m a mess. A loveable mess, but still a goddamn mess.”