Outstanding, contemporary, enemies-to-lovers, sports romance
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: March 20, 2015
Pages: 549 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
At age 27, Sal Casillas has been playing soccer for 21 years, ever since she became the Number One Fan of the 19-year-old German, international soccer phenomenon, Reiner Kulti. His brilliant playing inspired her to be a professional soccer player like him, and in her teens she had a massive crush on him as well. Up until the day he injured her older brother in a soccer match and almost ended his career. On principle, out of loyalty to her brother, she has hated Kulti ever since.
Then, out of the blue, Kulti is hired as the assistant coach for her professional, women’s soccer team in Houston. He retired two years before, has been out of the limelight since then, and the silent, standoffish man with a stonelike face seems nothing at all like the passionate dynamo of the soccer field. What has happened to Kulti, and what in the world is he doing here?
I am a huge fan of sports romances between two elite athletes, and especially when they are stars in the same sport, as is the case in this book. The scenes in which Sal and Kulti are battling each other in cut-throat, pick-up soccer matches are especially fun, even to someone like me who knows zero about soccer and has never played the game or watched a match. Zapata puts in enough soccer details to make the sports scenes colorfully authentic, but not so much as to be overwhelming to us soccer newbies.
The slow evolution of the relationship between Sal and Kulti, from enemies, to wary acquaintances, to friends, is absolutely wonderful. Kulti and Sal are both fascinatingly complex characters. Kulti starts out somewhat obnoxious, but Sal is so consistently compassionate, outspoken and filled with integrity, it is completely believable to me that Kulti’s strong growth arc is inspired by becoming her friend.
I love the nicknames Sal and Kulti have for each other. Sal calls him, “Rey,” which is Spanish for, king,” and his German nickname for her is very cute as well. I won’t say what it is or what it means to avoid a small spoiler, because Sal doesn’t find out the meaning of his pet name for her until near the end of the book.
I absolutely adored Sal’s father. What a wonderful, loving man! The two of them are best friends, and reading about their relationship is as satisfying in its way as the main romance.
As is typical of this classic, Zapata, “slow-burn,” contemporary romance, there are only two, brief sex scenes in the whole book, toward the very end, and they are not at all coarse. They are tenderly passionate.
This particular novel has a very short epilogue after the HEA, but it is quite satisfying. In addition, we get glimpses of these two characters living out their HEA in another Zapata book, Wait for It. Sal is a cousin of Diana, the protagonist in that novel. There is also a brief cameo in this book of the protagonists of the Zapata novel, Under Locke.
I first read this novel several years ago in Kindle format, and I recently had the chance to experience it again as an audiobook. The narration of the audiobook version of this novel is done by talented voice actor, Callie Dalton, and I enjoyed it very much. I am positive I will read or listen to this terrific novel many more times in the future. It is definitely a romance keeper.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5
Audiobook Narration: 5