Skin in the Game by Jackie Barbosa

Why I read it: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

What it’s about:
(from Goodreads)  Angela Peterson was always the quiet, shy kid growing up in Harper Falls, crushing on the high school quarterback and honing her football strategy skills. Now grown up and coaching the high school team, she’s shocked when that same sexy quarterback returns to Harper Falls asks her back to his hotel room. And then tries to steal her job.

Injured NFL quarterback Cade Reynolds is in Harper Falls to take over as interim head coach, and he never thought the tall, blond bombshell he propositioned would offer up any resistance. Not to a repeat of the amazingly wild night they shared and certainly not to his coaching position.But the Harper Falls High Eagles are Angie’s team, and even the hometown hero won’t take that away from her, no matter how hot he is. As the two engage in a battle of wits and wills, this is one game neither is prepared to lose.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): I liked Angie very much in this book.  She is a strong woman in a non tradiational role, kicking ass and taking names. She is the math teacher so popular there’s a line to sign up for Calculus (this is unimaginable to me) and not just because she’s good looking – but because she’s such a good teacher.  She’s also the Head Assistant Coach of the high school football team and she designs all the plays for the team.  Her vision and imagination when it comes to the team’s playbook is one of the main reasons the team is headed to the championship.  She has the respect and affection of the players.  She loves her job and wants to keep doing it.

When Angie spots Cade Reynolds in the local coffee shop, her hormones go into overdrive. A geeky kid in high school, Angie has grown into something of a swan.  Angie isn’t all that keen for Cade to recognise her given her past experience:

…he might recall a clumsy, four-eyed freshman girl named Angie Peterson. When he did, he’d react like all the other men she’d known in high school did. Like Erik Larson, who remarked at their ten-year reunion—which Cade, blissfully, had missed due to training camp—that, wow, she wasn’t coyote-ugly anymore and he’d do her in a heartbeat.

For all that however, Angie is pretty comfortable in her skin and decides to take something for herself – namely, one night with the delectable Cade.

Imagine the surprise for both of them when Cade arrives at the high school to be acting Head Coach for the remaining 3 weeks of the actual coach’s sick leave.  Angie is disappointed because she was hoping to get the gig, Cade is constrained because Coach Lund has asked him to keep the reasons quiet.  Another assistant coach, Chuck Donnelly, is a sexist mysogynistic pig and harasses Angie every chance he gets – including but not limited to accusing her to sleeping with the Coach to get her position.  It doesn’t help that Donnelly catches them kissing in the car park.

I’m not a huge fan of big mis or keeping secrets so I was glad that Cade pretending to be a dick to Angie to preserve the secret mission for Coach Lund didn’t last long.

What I did like about this section was that when Cade used slightly nicer and slightly more welcomed (but nevertheless still harrassment) tactics with Angie than Donnelly she called him on it.

“You’re just as bad as Donnelly, you know. No, you’re worse. You’re a hypocrite, acting
offended on my behalf because he’s harassing me then doing the same thing yourself. The only difference between you and him is that I never made the mistake of sleeping with Donnelly.”

In the stunned silence that followed the words, she threw back the rest of her coffee and stood up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go get my shower. You can show yourself out.”

To his credit, Cade recognises he was wrong, apologises and changes his behaviour.

“Please, don’t go.” His voice was soft, contrite even. “You’re right. I’m an ass. I’ll stop. Just sit down and go through this with me.” He pointed to the playbook. “I promise, I’ll keep my hands and my more colorful thoughts to myself.” He raised three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

The issue with Donnelly and the difficulties it presented for Angie weren’t glossed over.  Donnelly didn’t have a magical epiphany and become a champion for women’s rights.  Angie quite rightly pointed out that to make a formal complaint might solve her immediate problem but it would still make her look weak to any other men she had to deal with in her profession.  In the end however, Angie didn’t win purely under her own steam, which was both realistic and sad.

I don’t know a lot about gridiron but I did find it hard to believe that in the competitive cut and thrust of even high school football anyone would seriously play to lose even for only part of the game.  I found it a little difficult to believe that a team could be so in control of a game as to keep it close to a set point in the second half as well.   But that could be a lack of knowledge on my part.

The latter part of the book is really more about how the relationship with Angie and Cade could work with Cade wanting to continue his NFL career and receiving a dream offer from out of state and Angie wanting to stay put.  I did like that both of their careers were presented as being just as important and that Cade (for the most part) didn’t expect Angie to uproot herself (well, he did but only for a very little while and he did get Angie’s point fairly quickly, so; points).

In the end, the romance felt a little rushed to me though – they hadn’t had very long to settle into a relationship and the HEA came after only a few weeks.  I would have liked it more if the timeline had been extended.

The couple did have chemistry (the sex scenes were hot) and I thought they were good together but I would have liked more time with them before the HEA.  I wasn’t completely satisfied with Cade’s final decision – I felt it wasn’t explained well enough given his previous concerns about it.  But to say more would be spoilerish so you’ll just have to put up with me being vague I’m afraid.

The book was, overall, a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to reading about Cade’s injured footballer friend Warren and Rachel, Angie’s sports therapist friend in the next book.

Grade: B-/B


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