A fun and sexy romance, but not quite a page-turner.
An advance reading copy of this book was generously provided by the author.
Playing Hard by Melanie Scott continues the New York Saints series, featuring a struggling baseball team. Whereas the first three books focused on the team’s new owners, Playing Hard features first baseman — Is that the right term? I know nothing about baseball. — Oliver Shields, who is sidelined by what is potentially a career-ending injury.
Oliver meets Amelia Graham at a team party, and although sparks fly, it turns out that she’s a close family friend of his biggest rival, Finn. Finn has been traded to the New York Saints and makes it clear he has his eyes set on Oliver’s job. Finn is aggressive, rude, and seems to have a problem with alcohol, and Amelia knows that pursuing any kind of relationship with Oliver is going to cause problems.
When a good deed lands Oliver in accident that puts him out of commission for the season, he’s not happy. Amelia is the shining light in his current situation, but her loyalties are torn between her family in all but blood, and her growing feelings for Oliver.
Playing Hard is a solid read, but it lacks the kind of conflict that plays with my emotions. Oliver and Amelia are lovely — their banter is fun, the bedroom scenes are sexy, and by the end there’s no doubt that they’re perfect for each other. If anything, Oliver sometimes comes across as almost too mature considering he’s facing what could be end of his career, but I love sports heroes who act like grown ups, so I’m glad Scott doesn’t use that as an excuse to make Oliver an angry, brooding hero.
‘Not sure I want to see them lose. Not entirely sure I want to see them win either. And trust me, I know that makes me a crappy team mate.’
‘I think it makes you human.’
Finn is a dickhead from start to finish, and his interactions with Amelia were the most interesting scenes for me. That Amanda considers him like a brother and plays down her own relationship for his benefit makes the scenes where he lashes out at her quite heartbreaking. Again, Scott chooses to portray Amanda and Oliver as adults and it’s refreshing that the book doesn’t devolve into soap opera.
‘Don’t push it, Maggie*. The kid needs to figure out how to do the decent thing himself. Or decide if he’s going to be an asshole his entire life.’
‘The kid is nearly twenty-six,’ she pointed out.
‘He’s still a kid though.’ And Amelia’s kid brother, kind of. If he was going to try to get to know her, then he was going to have to find a way to get along with Finn.
* Maggie is the heroine from book 1.
The problem is that there just isn’t enough contrast between the emotional highs and lows in the story. It’s like for most of the book I was all, Awwwww…, but I never really got to the point where I was like, OMG, I’m gonna DIE if I don’t find out what happens next!
And you know what? That’s okay, too. Sometimes a sexy but tender romance is just what a reader needs.
Content advisory: You’ll never play Words With Friends the same way again.
You can find an extract of the book here. Published by St Martin’s Press.