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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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?
Heat Factor: This book is like 90% pining. The other 10% is political stuff and a few kisses.
Character Chemistry: “We had an immediate connection, but then you ghosted me, and now you’re engaged to someone else, but I still have feelings for you.”
Plot: After Yash survives an assassination attempt on the campaign trail, his family encourages him to learn some meditation techniques from India to help him get back in the saddle. Too bad nobody knows that he and India had one beautiful day of connection many years ago.
Overall: I’ll be honest, it took me a while to settle into this one. It doesn’t help that the characters don’t even start interacting until solidly a third into the book.