Don’t you even dare say that ballerinas aren’t athletes. As the Prima Ballerina of the Palais Garnier in 1870s Paris, Amelie works her butt off—and there are the requisite sports romance scenes of training and injury, as well as some really wonderful scenes of the chaos of backstage during a performance. The main story arc, however, centers on Amelie’s sudden ability to communicate with ghosts, and the healing from collective trauma that she and her ghostly companions work through. Benedict is mainly along for the ride and supports Amelie every step of the way.
Hey, it’s tennis! Emerson is out to win a Grand Slam, but there are so many distractions! She’s had a knee injury, she’s still grieving the death of her grandfather, her tennis all-star ex has cast her as the villain of their relationship, and photos of her wearing sexy lingerie are all over the internet. She does not need the man who dumped her seven years ago distracting her on top of everything. But then Rob becomes her staunch supporter. And he’s realized he was foolish for listening to his dad all those years ago. There’s a lot of personal growth in this book.
Sometimes people say they want a grumpy/grumpy book instead of a grumpy/sunshine book, and this probably fits the bill. Willa and Ryder are college juniors (and they act like it) who are managing a lot of baggage as they figure out how to adult. Willa’s only family is her mother, who is dying of cancer, which is more than enough for a college junior to manage, except that she’s also worried about making the grades to stay on the soccer team so she can have a shot at playing pro soccer. She’s absolutely terrible at managing stress and communicating, which makes her first interactions with Ryder extremely negative, but eventually they befriend each other, grump to grump, in that playful antagonism way that people do. Be warned: this story will probably make you cry.
It had to make an appearance on at least one sports romance list, right? The title is the name of the hero soccer superstar, but fear not: this is all about Sal Casillas as she enters a new soccer season with her childhood crush as a coach. Awkward. On top of that, Kulti broke Sal’s brother’s leg during a game and he’s just a surly jerk. At first. Then they become friends, which puts Sal’s position on the team in jeopardy. It’s a really slow burn but YOWZA, when everything comes to the point, it knocks me right down every time.
Mariana Zapata has written several sports romances, but for hard-working women athletes, I couldn’t miss Jasmine Santos. Competitive figure skating is the only thing she’s wanted since she first touched the ice at 9, but after her last partner dumped her she’s facing a forced retirement. Until her childhood nemesis and best friend’s older brother (and an Olympic medalist) offers her the position of his partner – but only for one year. If you liked The Cutting Edge and want more pairs skating slow burn romance energy, this is a solid pick.
Tina’s a retired wakeboarder turned personal trainer who feels like a bad adult after her divorce. How do you even find a plumber? Enter Joe, who inherited her dad’s plumbing business and coaches roller derby on the side. Tina has her old wakeboarding friends, but since she’s transitioned and divorced and is kind of in a funk, she really wants to make new friends in a welcoming space for women. Luckily, the wild world of roller derby is just the community Tina needed. If only she doesn’t jeopardize it all by fooling around with the coach in secret.
Cinnamon roll heroes are extremely popular, but so many cinnamon roll heroes are sweet and nice, but not the ooey gooey deliciousness of too good for this world that is the best cinnamon roll. They’re often also nice in a somewhat 2-dimensional way, without any of their own problems or baggage (or they’re AMAZING until the conflict arises, and they do something completely outrageous).
These cinnamon rolls, on the other hand, have feelings and react to situations like real people, but holy moly do they take care of things, are willing to communicate and engage with their feelings and be an amazing partner.
Thus, without further ado, we present you with this Saturday Smutty Six list of seriously exceptional cinnamon roll heroes:
If anyone puts together a cinnamon roll list WITHOUT Rafe on it, you should probably back away, because that person is not to be trusted. Rafe doesn’t have a ton of baggage, though he is working through whether being a professional caretaker for the rest of his life is really for him when he accepts a job taking care of Sloan’s twins. Let’s start with the obvious: every parent deserves a nanny as good as Rafe in their life. He cooks. He enjoys spending time with kids. He does laundry. But also, when he finds himself attracted to Sloan, he goes with open and honest communication. And keeps up the open and honest communication when her ex starts the drama. In short: Rafe is the best.
Yum, yummy, yum, Will is a chef from American Samoa and is just…healthy, sexy, vulnerable, gooey, goodness. Brett is in PR and is helping pull off the launch of his new restaurant, but she’s also dealing with nearly debilitating PTSD. Will provides a safe, healthy, nurturing connection she can count on. One thing I loved about this book is that Will deals with things men in the real world deal with–he’s self-conscious about gaining weight, and doesn’t always feel like he’s top-dog (even though he’s incredibly talented and well-respected in his field). And the way this is written shows how sexy it is for a man to be strong, vulnerable, and REAL.
The big problem in this book is that Daniel is deceiving Samiah, and he’s deceiving her because he’s an undercover agent for the Treasury department. Even though he really knows he shouldn’t, he can’t help but keep seeing Samiah, who’s going through her own drama. His empathy and support are lovely, and he takes time to listen to her and understand her. Totally a book boyfriend.
Jake takes care of things. Your porch is broken? Jake will fix it. You need some dinner? Here’s Jake, with a pizza (ham and pineapple, aka the best toppings). He helps deliver a baby in the middle of the town square. Note that this strong-and-silent hero has some serious emotional baggage that keeps him from toppling into white knight territory.
Red is always a caregiver because his mother is diabetic, so when he really gets to know Chloe after thinking she’s nothing more than a frosty rich girl since they met, he immediately demonstrates that he understands she only has so many spoons, and he’s more than willing to share some of his to make their time together better. He’s just a genuinely nice man, even if his life is still sorting itself out.