Title: Winner Takes All by Erin Kern
Champion Valley Series Book One
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
THE LOVE OF THE GAME
Money. Fame. Endorsements. Blake Carpenter had it all — before his professional football career spiraled out of control. Determined to rebuild his life, he takes on coaching the high school team in his Colorado hometown. Despite a few fumbles, Blake knows he can lead these boys to victory. As long as he can keep his eyes on the prize and off the team’s distractingly gorgeous physical therapist.
Annabelle Turner knows all about the scandal that cost Blake his NFL career, and she’ll be damned if she’s going to let his mistakes hurt her team. What she doesn’t count on is the intense attraction that turns every heated run-in they have into a wildly erotic competition. Point by point, play by play, kiss by kiss, they try to keep things professional for the good of the team. But when the score is this close-and the passion this fierce-it’s anybody’s game.
The first installment in Erin Kern’s Champion Valley series, Winner Takes All is a wonderful romance between two protagonists with plenty of emotional baggage.
Blake Carpenter retired from football under a scandal laden cloud then returned to his hometown in Colorado. Recently hired as the high school football coach, he is under intense pressure to get his losing team into this year’s playoffs. With his job on the line, Blake is not at all happy when physical therapist Annabelle Turner shows up at practice and begins giving him (in his mind) unwanted advice about his team. She is equally dedicated to the team but the players’ health is her first priority so she does not hesitate to voice her opinion about the teenagers in her care. Underlying their somewhat acrimonious conversations is a sizzling hot attraction Annabelle and Blake try to ignore, but with their paths crossing on a fairly regular basis, is it just a matter of time before their passion becomes too powerful to resist?
Annabelle is dedicated and loyal to the people she cares about and she a selfless caretaker who puts everyone else’s needs ahead of her own. In between working long hours at her thriving physical therapy practice, she spends a lot of her free time caring for her aging mom. With a failed marriage behind her, Annabelle has no interest in a casual relationship and she has plenty of walls in place to protect herself from heartache. She likes being in control of any given situation and she never has any problem whatsoever telling people what to do. Annabelle often sees what other people miss and she can be relentless as she tries to help those in need.
Blake is very careful about what he reveals about himself to the people around him. He has kept many of the details surrounding his retirement to himself and he is also struggling with issues related to his last knee surgery. With one shot at keeping his coaching job, Blake is a hard but fair taskmaster as he tries to whip the team into shape. Not everyone is willing to overlook his tarnished reputation so he is fighting an uphill battle trying to hang on to players. While the team has a lot of heart, not all of his students are naturals when it comes to football, so Blake is very protective of his most promising players. He is initially not receptive to Annabelle’s participation in practice but they eventually reach a compromise to work together for the good of the team.
Blake and Annabelle’s animosity on the field carries over into their personal interactions as well. Blake is a little uncomfortable with her astute observations and Annabelle sometimes pushes a little too hard when she wants to fix something. Once their professional relationship is less contentious, they form an uneasy friendship that is fraught with sexual tension. However, since Blake only indulges in casual flings, Annabelle has no trouble resisting his efforts to seduce her.
Once Annabelle finally convinces Blake to open up about his past, unwanted emotions are stirred up as they get to know each other. Problems arise as Blake tries to concentrate all his attention on getting the team to the playoffs and Annabelle feelings are hurt when she misconstrues one of Blake’s comments. The fate of the team and their relationship hangs in the balance as the football season winds down. Will Blake get the team to the playoffs? Will Blake and Annabelle open their hearts to the possibility of a future together?
Winner Takes All is a beautiful novel of healing, redemption and love. With a leisurely paced romance between two emotionally fragile characters, the story is sometimes a little slow paced, but the reader’s patience is well rewarded in the end. Erin Kern’s delightful Champion Valley series is off to a great start that will leave fans eager to read the next installment.