I don't like sports. I don't play sports, I don't watch sports, & I don't tend to lust after the guys who play them. Or I didn't, until I read Elle Kennedy's THE DEAL and realized that maybe athletes could be hot after all - not because they're athletes, but because of what makes them athletes. It's hard not to admire a man who is that passionate and dedicated about something.
Joe Rutherford is the right winger for a hockey team. And since I am not a hockey fan, I'm going out on a limb here and assuming that right winger is alluding to something other than his political leanings. He's passionate and dedicated, and the other men on his team look up to him. It's why their team manager has asked him to be the mentor-slash-roommate to a newly recruited player named CJ.
Cristina Caspary is a stage actress of Hungarian descent. She's kind, hard-working, and very much in love with what she does. She is involved with a charity called Grant A Wish, and has kept up with one of the kids she worked with named Lexi. Lexi might be having a relapse of Leukemia, and since she likes the Barracudas, Cristina decides to try and use the celebrity phone tree to shake out a Joe Rutherford for her favorite girl.
The chemistry the two have is immediate. Cristina admires Joe for being charitable and mature, especially when she pegged him as some big-talking hot-shot. Joe thinks Cristina is very pretty and, being a closeted fan of musical theater, really admires her talent on the stage. Their courtship is enjoyable to watch at first, as Cristina gradually picks up hockey terminology and starts to appreciate what he does more as she learns about how the game works, and Joe tries to think of how to seduce her in ways that make her mind explode and where to take her on fancy dates.
The problem actually comes because of their careers. Joe's is on the downswing. He's in his mid-thirties and his health is starting to adversely affect his hockey performance. He's getting less play time and when he gets injured on the ice, it takes him longer to recover. Cristina, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but up after receiving a job offer on a cable TV show that's comparable to Game of Thrones. Even more infuriating to Joe is the fact that she isn't using a body double, and one of the men she'll be doing love scenes with, her co-star, is actually an ex of hers who wants her back.
I thought Joe's jealousy was relatable for a while, even if I didn't like it. Too often, romances paint a picture perfect ideal of what love is like, so it was nice to see a couple actually struggle with realistic obstacles and unpleasant compromises. But then Joe says some pretty cruel stuff to Cristina. He repents immediately as soon as he realizes what he's said, and what it means, but that epilogue was pretty shady. It made me think that maybe he hadn't really learned a lesson at all, and was just resorting to even sneakier means to get Cristina to change her life for him.
UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT is a pretty good romance, though. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of THE DEAL, especially fans who liked the romance and the hockey aspects, but who would have liked to see slightly older protagonists. The sex scenes were very well done, and I liked the banter between Joe and the other hockey players. Hart, the gay one, was one of my favorites. I loved that the author didn't define him by his sexuality, or play into any stereotypes. I really hope the author writes an M/M story about him and how he met his partner, Jeremy (assuming she hasn't already).
Joe won't be making it onto my exclusive list of book boyfriends after all, but I have to say that this was a really fun read, and I couldn't put it down. Carina, you devilish fiend, you've done it again!
3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.
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