This book is in my top 5 for the year. BethEllen lent it to me as soon as she finished it, I got 3 hours of sleep one night because I couldn’t put it down and my sick kids kept waking me up – so why not keep reading?, and I bought my own copy so I can reread at leisure.
Soccer is my sport of choice. I played for years and still love watching it. My husband still plays several times a week and rolls his eyes at me when I tell him I married him for his soccer thighs (there are other reasons too, but that one is definitely not at the bottom of the list). So, that’s where I’m coming from to this soccer story. But, it’s not just ANY soccer story – BOTH the hero and heroine are athletes. Hallelujah!
Reiner Kulti is a retired soccer player, a retired international superstar. He joins the Houston Pipers, a women’s soccer club (in the equivalent of the WMLS) as the assistant coach. Sal Casillas is a captain of that team and one of its stars. She has two issues with Kulti from the start (1) her brother also plays professional soccer and Kulti broke her brother’s leg years ago and (2) oh, just that he was the inspiration for her to play soccer (he was 19 and she was 7 when she first saw him play) and to keep trying to improve her game, and that she considered herself in Love with him for a decade.
This book is the epitome of ‘slow-burn’ and one of the best I have read. It has my less than favorite trope of hate-to-love, but because the relationship develops so slowly it feels really organic. Even when Kulti is being an uptight and withholding ass he still supports Sal and believes in her as an athlete. It is so refreshing to have the heroine be an athlete too and to know and care about the sport that the hero plays. I am beyond sick of the heroine in sports books who is like, “Oh, you play football/hockey/baseball? I didn’t know that because I have no idea how the game is even played. teehee!” Sal lives the game and Kulti supports her all the way, and that is one of the most romantic things I have ever read.
More great things about this book:
1. Female friendships/family relationships: Sal has honest to goodness friends on her team who talk about things other than relationships, and she has a really beautiful relationship with her father. The dad relationship was so lovely, since so many times in these books fathers are absentee or jerky. Nope! Sal gets to have multiple supportive men in her life!
2. Sal is not a girly-girl, and at no time does she get a makeover. She’s super sporty and that’s just who she is. She wears a dress and makeup once, and even then it’s not a huge deal and doesn’t change how Kulti feels about her.
3. I don’t usually like a big age difference in characters, or the boss/subordinate storyline, but both worked here. Kulti really was Sal’s childhood idol, and it’s interesting to watch her reconcile the idol with the real man. There’s a bit near the end that plays in to this that I didn’t like and made things weird, but I decided to ignore it. The boss/subordinate thing worked because of the slow-burn aspect. This was not a boss and employee jumping in to bed together. It was two people learning to love and appreciate each other and then finding a way to work around the employment issue.
What didn’t I love about this book? Eh, not much. There’s an incident from Sal’s past that leads to some other women being really petty and calling her a whore. That part I can even accept until Kulti tells her that he knows she didn’t do what they said because he knows women and can tell she’s not a whore. I believe this was supposed to be romantic. I found it a disgusting sentiment, and it was the one time I really disliked him in the whole book.
This was my second Zapata of the year, and this one was miles ahead of the other. And, from what I’ve heard from others, I’m not excited to try her other books. I’ll let someone else be the guinea pig and wait for their review. But Kulti I have been recommending to all my romance reading friends and I recommend it unequivocally. Thank you to Patty for singing its praises and bringing it to my attention.