Listicle

Saturday Smutty Six: Football Season = Football Romance

Football season is upon us! (American football, that is.) Here are some fun reads featuring professional football players. 

If Erin actually knew anything about football, she’d include a football pun here. Because she doesn’t, have some books:

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan

This isn’t the first book in a (great) series, but it’s the first that involves a pro athlete. Ethan and Fiona have known each other since college, and they still float around each other because Ethan’s best friend married Fiona’s sister. Oh, also, Ethan is a virgin who has secretly been pining for Fiona since college. He wants forever, she wants to get the promotion at her job that is in a completely different state to his. There’s plenty of angst in this book, and the third act is a doozy (involving non-consensual release of nude photographs by a third party, be advised), but Callihan is really good at digging into those feelings and creating complex situations for characters who want to be together but don’t necessarily know how to navigate their own messy feelings to take care of their partner’s also messy feelings. 

His Convenient Husband by Robin Covington

Isaiah is a widower and single dad trying to get things right. When Isaiah takes his son to meet his idol, out and proud Russian danseur Victor, sparks fly, and they have a one-night stand, but it’s supposed to be nothing more. Then Victor’s request for asylum is denied, and his life will be in jeopardy if he goes back to Russia after his gay rights advocacy in the US, so Isaiah proposes a marriage of convenience to keep Victor in the US legally. If you can suspend your disbelief about the green card marriage, this is an engaging marriage of convenience story featuring two gay men with very different outlooks on how they want to live their lives but who are more and more drawn to each other the longer they’re married. 

The Blueprint by S.E. Harmon

Best friends to lovers bi-awakening, but make it football? After an awkward breakup, Kelly finally decides that it’s time for him to buckle down and get over the unrequited crush on his best friend so he can have a life. Blue is not a fan of his best friend avoiding him, and when he walks in on Kelly about to get some, he starts having some thoughts, which he acts on after a night of drunken jealousy. When Blue’s knee injury creates an excuse for him to recuperate at Kelly’s house, the two men really enjoy playing house (among other things *wink*), but Blue doesn’t want to change his life plan—marry a woman, kids, etc—and Kelly doesn’t need to be someone else’s problem. This is the first in a duology and ends with a secret-relationship HFN, but it’s playfully angsty with relatively low-stakes drama and lots of supportive friends.


Rookie Move by Riley Hart and Neve Wilder

Okay, so the premise for this one was what hooked me. Garrett realized he was bi when he met his brother’s best friend, Warner, as a teen. He’s had a crush forever but never acted on it, and Warner is basically part of the family. After his brother’s career ends with an injury, Garrett graduates and gets drafted not only to fill his brother’s shoes, but also onto the same team as Warner. Even better, they’re both bi, but only Garrett’s brother/Warner’s best friend knows, and he’s being a good human and not sharing. So if dancing around each other to we definitely shouldn’t be hooking up to secret relationship is your jam, this one’s for you.

Beauty and the Baller by Ilsa Madden-Mills

The title might make you think of a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but this book definitely has some Cinderella vibes, at least at the beginning. Ronan has a drunken one-night-stand with Nova on the anniversary of his finacee’s death and his career-ending injury. He calls her by his fiancee’s name, and she disappears into the night, and the way he feels about that night is what he needs to turn his life around. Nova meets him again when she moves home to take care of her younger sister after their mother’s death, but the football coach who can do no wrong in the small town’s eyes doesn’t even remember her. Antagonism leads to grudging respect leads to fake dating leads to real feelings. You know the drill. Bonus points for extremely entertaining small town worldbuilding. 

Can’t Catch Me by Alexandra Warren 

This book is a really fun read. Books often feature protagonists who banter, but often the banter doesn’t click with me—in this case, it was super fun to read and a fun component of the relationship dynamic between these estranged best friends who become lovers as adults when Briyana is forced to move home after a series of unfortunate events. Meanwhile, Lance is living the good life as the local football team’s hometown sweetheart. When their rekindled friendship becomes a no-holds-barred relationship, Lance starts thinking of happily ever afters, but Briyana is still holding on to her career dreams—that will take her right back out of state. Bonus points for sneaker enthusiasts. 

Listicle

Saturday Smutty Six: Retired Athletes

Our Smashdown can’t be limited to only 8 duels and a few other reviews! In order to showcase some more lovely sports romance, we need listicles! 

We’ve decided to limit our March Smashness books to active athletes, but there are plenty of romances dedicated to the stories of retired athletes as well. Here are six we’ve enjoyed:

Make It Sweet by Kristen Callihan 

Career-ending injuries are a source of angst, and Lucian’s reaction to his concussion is no exception. He takes time to hide out at his grandmother’s estate, throwing himself into intricate baking projects to come to terms with his new life. Luckily, Emma’s also running away from her own problems at his grandmother’s estate. Bonus points: Emma’s handling of the relationship when Lucian tries to return to the sport is unique, and I appreciated it.

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

After an injury sidelines soccer superstar Nico, he agrees to participate in a cooking competition—as long as he’s paired with chef Ashna, his high school sweetheart who unceremoniously dumped him. Ashna isn’t thrilled at this plan (understatement), but she’s desperate to save her restaurant, so what can she do? Of course, sparks fly, the shows’ fans start speculating, and Ashna and Rico are finally able to be honest about what really tore them apart all those years ago. Please note that despite the adorable illustrated cover, this book is extremely angsty. (Content warnings for anxiety, depression, suicide, and marital rape.)

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Oh, Zaf. A book boyfriend if ever there was one. He’s a security guard at the university where Dani teaches, but he used to be a professional rugby player. He’s also channeled his rugby skills into a sports charity for kids. And he reads romance novels, lives with anxiety, and has an unrequited crush on Dani. Luckily, a viral video of Zaf carrying Dani out of their building after a fire evacuation goes sideways leads the two to start fake dating, and we all know what that means!


So Over You by Kate Meader

Isobel was raised to be a hockey superstar – she’s a silver medalist and college champion – but she only lasted through a portion of the first ever game of the National Women’s Hockey League before a head injury cut short her career. When her father dies and leaves his hockey franchise to Isobel and her sisters, she returns to the ice to coach the team’s star player through a recovery. Fun story: he was her first when they were teens – and it wasn’t satisfying for her. Now, though, he’s had plenty of practice, and he’s more than willing to practice with her.

Rock Hard by Nalini Singh

If you’re looking for some old school romance vibes, there’s really nothing better than giant, growly rugby-star-turned-CEO Gabriel falling head over feet for quiet, shy Charlotte. Forceful Gabriel is accustomed to getting what he wants, but he has to work to win Charlotte’s trust and heart. Some content warnings for this one: Charlotte’s story includes being assaulted and nearly murdered some years prior, and that narrative is ultimately resolved during the course of this book. Also, I’m not sure that the way these two handled the sexual components of their relationship is optimal given Charlotte’s history, but it does work for them in this narrative, and the book is approaching 20 years old.

Common Goal by Rachel Reid

Eric is retiring, not retired, but this book is full of all the beats of saying goodbye. He was married for twenty years, but now that he’s divorced, he wants to finally date men, to acknowledge out loud that he’s bisexual. Kyle is significantly younger and with a pile of baggage that makes him relationship-averse, but Kyle can no more resist his attraction to the silver fox than Eric can walk away from the beautiful graduate student. If you’re looking for a romance focusing on a life in transition, this is that story. (Also: really hot. Hot hot hot.)


What’s your favorite romance featuring a retired athlete?