Julie Brannagh’s new “Love and Football” series, set in Seattle, is a refreshingly down-to-earth take on the sports star romance. Sure, the heroes of the first two books in the series, Blitzing Emily and Rushing Amy, are current or former NFL players, but they encounter fairly ordinary obstacles in their journeys to find love. In fact, the heroes find love early in both books, allowing Brannagh to focus on how a modern couple with careers and separate lives builds a solid, lasting relationship.
In Blitzing Emily, the first novel in the series, Emily Hamilton is a successful opera singer, fulfilled professionally but not personally after a devastating breakup with an ex who trashed her in the opera world. Struggling to rebuild her professional reputation, Emily has little time for romance. She is thrown together with Brandon McKenna, a superstar football player for the Seattle Sharks, when she falls and hits her head while delivering flowers as a favor to her florist sister at a Sharks practice. Brandon escorts a concussed Emily to the hospital, which leads to a While You Were Sleeping-stylemix up. Brandon stays the night with Emily when none of her family is available to watch over her and they wake to discover that the media believes they are engaged. Emily, meanwhile, has more booking requests than ever before and Brandon’s coach is overjoyed that he is finally settling down. And so, a deal is made—as long as it is beneficial to their careers, Emily and Brandon will remain engaged.
Since this isn’t a Regency romance, remaining engaged involves much more than simply appearing in public together on occasion and wearing a ring. Brandon and Emily essentially move in together, with charming results. They learn to take care of each other while they exchange zippy banter, but must learn to make the occasional professional sacrifice if their relationship has any hope of surviving.
Rushing Amy picks up with Emily’s younger sister, Amy, a former accountant who quit her steady job to become a florist. Although she faces the challenges of a small-business owner, Amy finds creative fulfillment in her new career and is content to work hard to get her shop off the ground. A series of disappointments in love has left Amy swearing off men, but she meets famed NFL commentator Matt Stephens (who according to author Brannagh was inspired by Howie Long) at her sister’s wedding and finds herself strangely compelled.
Matt, meanwhile, is drawn to Amy and can’t seem to help himself from meddling in her business. When Amy refuses to go on a date with Matt, he orders flowers for seemingly every woman he’s ever known, even the nuns who taught at his high school. Amy eventually gives in, but Matt is forced to learn to let her handle her business without him acting as her white knight at all times, while Amy must acknowledge that she occasionally needs help.
Brannagh excels at the regional details that make contemporary romance engaging, and her Seattle, accurately drawn, manages to feel like a big city and a charming small town all at once. These details, along with well-drawn, realistic characters and refreshingly contemporary conflicts, make the “Love and Football" series a must read for fans of contemporary romance.
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