Baseball star Will Vandergriff knows any number of women who would happily pretend to be his girlfriend. In a last-ditch effort to restore his good standing with his team’s higher-ups, he enlists the help of his neurotic, goody-goody neighbor. Schoolteacher Olivia Pratt might be a bit quirky and a bit of a loner, but she’s a lot more inviting than she knows. Will hopes that bringing her to his next game might revamp his reckless reputation and help get his career back on track. The only problem? The plan works a little too well. Not only do the higher-ups love Olivia, but Will plays his best game yet. Suddenly his losing streak is a thing of the past, and Olivia is his new good-luck charm. Will feels anything but lucky.
After years of keeping the world at bay, Olivia Pratt is pulling off the ultimate performance—not only reluctantly posing as Will’s girlfriend but also insisting that she’s oblivious to his major-league appeal. But she can only lie to herself for so long. Being by Will’s side feels good. Really good. Maybe it’s finally time to make a pitch for everything she really wants—and to find out just how exhilarating love can be.
“Okay, you have yourself a deal. But I have two requirements.”
My spine chills as the control I thought I had over the situation inches its way downward. This is my game. No one tells me how to play it. Not her. Not anyone.
Still, I force myself to ask, “Which are?”
“You can’t try to kiss me, not once.” She blows that stubborn strand of hair off her forehead again and looks at me like she wishes it would be so easy to remove me. “You might think you’re cute and all, but baseball players aren’t my thing. Especially not you.”
With those words, I’m looking at what used to be that skyrocketing ego lying in small chunks all around my feet. I consider stepping on them myself just to watch the way they flatten. It makes me think of pancakes, but suddenly I’m not at all hungry.
Why especially me?
With this thought at the forefront of my mind, I brace myself for her second requirement. Surely it can’t be as bad as the remark she just hit me with. Surely. Why don’t I know any other available women in Dallas? My thoughts shoot to Lexi from the bar, but she’s the reason I’m in this mess. So I’m left with Olivia. I lift a shoulder to indicate that I’m waiting for her to keep going. She mentioned two requirements after all. When she doesn’t catch the hint, I roll my eyes.
“Fine, no kissing you. That shouldn’t be too hard since you seem to have an aversion to my kind.” Do I sound hostile? I force an ease into my tone, reminding myself that I need her help. “So are you going to tell me your second condition, or do you just want me to start guessing? No making out? No trying on your clothes, especially not your underwear? No weird celebrity name combining into something like Willovia or Olivilla . . .?”
She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind, but then she does the oddest thing. She doesn’t laugh. She just looks at the ground and smiles to herself. And maybe it should bother me when she bites her lower lip and uses her shoe to push a pebble out of the way. And maybe I should call the whole thing off when she looks up at me with a gleam in her eye that clearly has nothing to do with the joke I just made.
But that gleam is so bright. Mesmerizing. And I’m no longer a big-time baseball player with a self-image that could fill a bedroom and an oversize walk-in closet. I’m now just a guy powerless to do anything but stare at her blue eyes and wish I were closer to them.
“No, I’m not going to tell you yet. I’ll tell you eventually,” she says. “But for now let’s just stick with the no kissing thing.”
And with those words, I’m left realizing that I may have laid out the plans for a new game, but Olivia just made the rules.
I confess I’m slightly conflicted over this novel. On the one hand, there are so many things to love about it: The characters are fantastic, the writing is dynamic, and not only does the story have just the right balance of heartfelt and entertaining, but the dry, sardonic tone to the humour is right up my alley. However there was also enough (mild) language and sexual innuendo to take a little of the shine off for me. *shrugs apologetically* I guess I’m just a little sensitive like that.
But let me start with the good; in particular, Will and Olivia, because they really made this story, and Amy Matayo got their voices spot on – hilariously so at times!
Olivia is a slightly neurotic (read, OCD), highly introverted schoolteacher who has a cat for a best friend. (That would be Perry, by the way. Or ‘the furball’ if you’re Will.) Her life philosophy is ‘fade into the background’ and she’s perfectly happy sitting at home with Perry and Netflix (and the occasional imaginary boyfriend!); until her obnoxious neighbour throws a party that disturbs her slumber…
Will, on the other hand, is a self-confessed jerk (which is better than being uptight like his neurotic neighbour), can get (and has gotten) any woman he wants, and has an ego big enough to fill a bedroom and an oversized walk-in closet. He thrives on attention, and has never had the need to invent an imaginary girlfriend. Well, until now. And at least his imaginary girlfriend is a real person, even if she’s made it clear he’s not her type…
Well, that’s what these characters would have you believe, anyway. But as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that Olivia is more self-assured than she realises (even if public speaking will never be her thing!) while Will shows himself to be far less self-assured than he pretends, a fact his super-ego tries to mask. And deep down, he’s not really a jerk either.
For all the emphasis on Will’s physical attraction to Olivia, it’s really her lack of artifice and her inner strength that get under his skin and draw him in; and that’s exactly what he needs. He also realises that no one has ever taken care of Olivia like she deserves. She has good reasons for wanting to fade into the background and for her dislike of baseball, and he wants to be the person to support her as she confronts this. Although I have to confess, I was also glad that Will’s philandering reputation came back to bite him on the butt!
Now. My reservations. I can understand a guy appreciating a woman. I know their thoughts tend to take certain directions quite readily, and I don’t mind when that is acknowledged in a tasteful way, but Will came across as a little too lascivious at times. I was glad that he drew a line with Olivia that he hadn’t drawn in the past, (although you’ll still want a fan on hand for their first kiss!) but there were a few too many references to her hot body, her butt, and the way she unknowingly sets his imagination running in one particular direction (the way she dresses, licking her fingers, etc). And I think he was probably only half joking when he suggested showering with her…
Sometimes it was the way Will expressed his appreciation that didn’t sit well with me – ‘Holy crap, this woman.’ ‘She’s so freaking hot.’ That kind of thing. It was just a bit uncouth for my liking.
Which brings me to the mild language: many instances of using ‘lord’ or ‘God’ as part of an exclamation, several instances of being p***ed off, and even the use of freaking as an adjective made me cringe. This isn’t marketed as Christian fiction, nor is there a spiritual element to the story, but having read some of this author’s other works, it did take me a little by surprise.
Those reservations aside, this was a well-written and fantastically fun romance – and I have to say, it had one of the sweetest hand-holding moments I’ve ever read.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Buy from US: Amazon
Release date: 27 September 2016
Publisher: Waterfall Press
Author’s website: http://amymatayo.com/