by Rebecca Crowley
Series: Atlanta Skyline #3
Publication Date: March 20, 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
LOVE’S A CALCULATED RISK
Atlanta Skyline’s benched goalkeeper Brendan Young would have been happy to ride out the end of his contract after his gambling addiction was splashed all over the news media. Instead, his teammates’ injuries have unexpectedly put him back in the game. A new face in his weekly Gamblers Anonymous meeting provides another surprise spike — of pure attraction. Why is Erin Bailey, former world champion women’s soccer player, at this meeting? And why can’t he stop thinking about their red-hot one-night stand?
Six months ago, one reckless night in Vegas ended with Erin in Brendan’s bed. She’s sworn off dating athletes, especially those whose reputations could destroy her new career as the Championship Soccer League’s Director of Ethics and Advocacy. But the secret they share — and the crazy heat they generate — makes it impossible to keep her distance.
Both have choices to make about the future, but no matter how steeply the odds are stacked against them, walking away could be the riskiest move of all . . .
This is the third book in the Atlanta Skyline series, but the first I’m reading. While there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with the book, it unfortunately hit one of my knee-jerk hard no’s. Also, I’m not a particularly big soccer fan, nor have I read the earlier books in the series, so I’m going to lay part of the blame for my middling rating on that.
“Do these meetings help?”
“If I needed help, maybe, but I don’t. I only turn up because it was one of my manager’s conditions for staying on the team.”
“But don’t you think that—” She stopped herself, rephrased. “You had a lot of activity on that betting website. Huge sums of money in and out. All on soccer games.”
“Soccer games in Europe,” he corrected. “I never bet on my own league. Gambling never interfered with my career or my personal life, and I won far more than I lost. Everyone at these meetings talks about hitting their rock bottom and realizing things had to change, but that didn’t happen to me. I had a hobby—a hobby that certain people decided was in violation of some dubious moral code.”
Both main characters are either at the end of their soccer careers or have retired – Brendan, at 33, is in his last year as a keeper, and Erin has already moved on to a job with the Championship Soccer League. Prior to the beginning of the book, Brendan has been busted for gambling on the European soccer league, and the CSL passed down a harsh punishment, with the end result being that he’s looking at ending his last year of professional soccer as the third backup. Erin is the new head of a position that seems to encompass both ethics and outreach. Erin’s not so much interested in the ethics piece – she has her own gambling issues with slot machine phone apps – but more in furthering the image of women’s soccer.
It’s kind of an “ends-justify-the-means” thing going on, with a unrepentant gambler accepting the ethics position and investigating other players for gambling violations, just in the pursuit of getting more funding for women’s soccer. And, as someone who played women’s sports, I get it. There’s very few professional women’s sports that actually have any kind of public awareness, and it’s a bit of a chicken and the egg situation – without the ticket sales or sponsorships to fund better equipment, stadiums, etc it’s hard to draw in more butts in stadium seats or lucrative deals. Erin has things to prove, and rather than rooting her on I just found her kind of … annoying. She’s confident – at her job and in bed – but it’s mostly a carefully curated show. Her single-minded pursuit of her job was, at times, seriously unethical. Her boss has tied funding for her women’s soccer promotions to writing a big expose focused on ethics violations in the CSL, and wants it to focus on Brendan. Though she feels icky about the whole thing, rather than acting like an adult and trying to work things out with Brendan, she basically threatens to blackmail him unless he cooperates with her investigation. And while she admits to herself that she’d never actually end his career over what she thinks is entirely overblown nonsense, she’s perfectly content leading him to believe that she would. I had a hard time liking her after that particular action.
Brendan is given a deep backstory, full of working hard to get a full scholarship to play college soccer, his family status as the forgotten middle child, and an almost crippling anxiety disorder. His ability to analyze data and predict players’ actions may be helpful on the field, but it can also be overwhelming. He discovered, through a statistics class, that running numbers for gambling bets is the perfect self-medication for his brain that won’t shut off. Erin, on the other hand, isn’t really given that sort of explanation. She’s the pampered princess of a well-off family, whose parents fought to find a boys’ travel league for her to play on as a kid. Her main motivation seems to be that she’s a former women’s soccer player trying to gain recognition for her sport. I never really got a feeling for what started the whole slot machine gambling, other than that it provided a hit of adrenaline that being on the field used to or a time waster. With Brendan being such an incredibly sympathetic character, it put Erin’s faults more in the spotlight for me.
And of course, it’s love that heals all – they’re both so busy obsessing over the other person that their gambling addiction starts to take a back seat. While I’m a humongous fan of this trope, I prefer that love is the catalyst that makes the person themselves reevaluate their problems and take steps to fix them, with the support of the other partner. In this case, it’s more like Brendan and Erin are so absorbed in thinking about each other that they just don’t have time to think about gambling, and they don’t consciously realize it’s happening. I just didn’t find it very realistic, and I was worried that once they were out of the first-blush love they’d both fall back into the same old patterns.
Overall, my reservations about Erin led to me not enjoying the book as much as I’d’ve wished. I would think a reader who doesn’t have such a knee-jerk reaction to blackmail or who loves soccer would enjoy the book much more. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work well for me.