WHEN YOU PLAY FOR LOVE, YOU PLAY FOR KEEPS<
Stella Davenport wasn’t made for small-town life. Sure, teaching ballet in Blanco Valley, Colorado, is great, but she longs for the chance to perform in a big city. Stella swore she’d never let anything get in the way of her dream-until sexy, broad-shouldered Brandon West walks back into her life. Stella is determined to resist him, even if arguing with Brandon is sexier than any foreplay.
For Brandon, it’s always been just him and his son, Matt. Knowing that love only leads to heartbreak, he isn’t looking to expand his family any time soon. Stella, with her long, gorgeous legs and infectious laugh, is a breath of fresh air he didn’t even know he’d been missing. But when she’s offered her dream job in Chicago, will he be willing to put his heart on the line?
Review: Kern is a new to me author and I don’t know how I’ve missed reading any of her books before now. Back in the Game is the second book in the Champion Valley series and I need to read Winner Takes All the first book and book 3, Changing the Rules when it’s released next March.
High School football is a major part of the story along with ballet and lost and second chances. Stella and Brandon have chemistry that they choose not to act on due to their pasts and their current circumstances of either one not looking for a relationship. But will that be enough to block their feelings? They seem to get each other like no one else does and help to alleviate the other’s concerns and fears but both are still running scared or are they? Watching Stella open up to Brandon since he always seems to be there when she needs him most is heartwarming especially given her panic attacks that are coming fast and furiously. Brandon has a teenage football playing son, Matt, whom he’s raised as a single parent since he was three when his mom walked out on them. Matt seems pretty level headed but also portrayed realistically as a typical teen. Stella’s relationship or lack thereof with her mom is a direct contract on Brandon and Matt’s.
There are family and friends, football, heart to heart talks, sadness, fear, panic attacks, anger, happiness, laughter, lots of kisses and some heated moments along with love. The Beehive Mafia were scary and are reminiscent to me of Eddie and Gladys from Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series and Lucille from Jill Shalvis’, Lucky Harbor series. Older woman that seem to take perverse pleasure in looking at young er men and more! There are many story lines going on throughout and they are woven seamlessly together. The characters didn’t have the depth to them that I was hoping form. There is some closure and a happily-ever-after in the offing but an epilogue would have been the icing on the cake. I hope the next book in the series picks up where Back to the Game leaves off since I for one can’t wait to see what the characters are up to next.
Favorite Quote: “I’m not trying to hide from you,” she hedged.
His soft chuckle brushed across her heated skin. “Sweetheart, we’re playing the most erotic game of hide-and-seek I’ve ever seen.”
Was it just her, or had their almost-kiss a few months ago not been this hot? This intense? She didn’t remember her panties almost going up in flames or her desire threatening to choke her.
“A kiss doesn’t equal a relationship,” Brandon told her.
Stella nuzzled her nose against his. “But we’re not kissing.”
“Keep telling yourself that, Stella.” Before she could respond, before she could even exhale the breath she’d been holding, his mouth was there. Fitting over hers, exerting a gentle pressure that had her fingers digging into the flesh on the back of his shoulder.
When her eyes dropped closed, her other senses took over and magnified the virile man who was so much bigger and harder than she was. His arm enclosed her waist, tugging her closer, inch by slow inch until she was flush against him. Chest to chest. Feet to feet. Leg inserting between hers so that his muscled thigh was nestled perfectly in between her softer flesh.
Best. Kiss. Ever.
Brandon West could use his mouth as a lethal weapon to bring women to their knees. Because if he hadn’t been holding her to him with such firmness, she would have sank the second his mouth touched hers. And then she didn’t have time to think about all the other things she wanted him to do to her, because his tongue smoothed over her lips in gentle, yet not-so-subtle invitation to open the hell up.
He didn’t have to ask her twice. Without thinking about where they were, or the cars and people hovering around outside, even her looming anxiety, Stella obliged and parted her lips. With a hesitation that was sweet, yet longing, his tongue slowly pursued hers, touching just the tip before retreating again.
Since it wasn’t enough, since the minimal contact had opened an emptiness she’d been living with for a long time, Stella did her own pursuing. Her tongue chased his, testing the warmth of his mouth. When he groaned against her and tightened his hand on the back of her head, the heat was kicked up a notch. The passion she’d once possessed but that had gone dormant from lack of use awakened with an explosive burst of fireworks. She returned his groan with one of her own when he tilted her head to change the angle of the kiss, allowing him to dive deeper.
And she let him, because Brandon West was an overpowering man who held her passion and trust in the palms of his hands. The question was, what would he do with it?
Their tongues continued to dance and weave around each other until someone opened the front door of her studio, and the outside sounds of cars and people intruded on their moment of intimacy.
“Oh!” the startled voice announced, ripping her and Brandon away from each other like two teenagers who’d been caught necking by the principal.
Her mother stood by the door, her eyes wide to match the smile on her face, as though to say, Score one for the team, honey.
Only Gloria Davenport.
She held her hands up and backed toward the door.
“Don’t mind me,” she told them. Then offered Stella two thumbs up. For Pete’s sake. “But good job, honey. Way to take my advice.”
And then she was gone, blowing back out the door as quickly as she had interrupted them, taking Stella’s dignity with her.
One of Brandon’s dark brows lifted, showing nothing of the passion he’d exhibited just a second ago. “Advice?” he repeated.
“Ah . . . ,” she began, not sure how to explain Gloria Davenport to someone who didn’t know her. “Just ignore her. She obviously hasn’t taken her medication today.”
The slight curl of his mouth widened. “You look like her.”
Please God, don’t say that. “Okay.”
His brown eyes narrowed, scrutinizing way too much. “Is this another thing you don’t want to talk about?”
Right on. She lifted a shoulder and pretended her heart wasn’t still pounding from their kiss. “I have no issues with my mom.” At least none that she was willing to share.
Brandon nodded. “You know, one of these days all those walls you’ve thrown up are going to come crashing down.”
As Stella watched Brandon saunter out of her studio as though he hadn’t just knocked her socks off with his mouth, all she could think of was how right he was.
Erin Kern lives in north Texas with her husband, two kids and their dog. She loves BBQ, Texas sunsets, antiquing and high school football games. The Champion Valley series was inspired by Erin’s love of Texas football, small towns and happy endings. When she’s not at the computer working on her next tale, she can be found spending time with her kids or curled up with a good book.