Review: Guarding His Heart – Synithia Williams

Review: Guarding His Heart – Synithia WilliamsGuarding His Heart
by Synithia Williams
Series: Scoring For Love #3
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication Date: July 1, 2018
Genres: Romance
Pages: 224
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Sizzling-hot basketball star Kevin Koucky plans to end his career with a bang by posing au naturel in a magazine feature. When photographer Jasmin Hook agrees to take the assignment, she never expects the risqué photo shoot to end with a sensual slam dunk. But the handsome athlete comes with children and an ex-wife—emotional baggage Jasmin can’t handle. Little does she know that Kevin always plays to win…

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4 stars icon contemporary icon m/f romance icon sports icon

I absolutely adore the cover (THAT SKIRT!) but I think it vastly under-represents how steamy this book is.  This is the third book in a series about Jacksonville Gators players, but the first I’ve read, and I thought it worked perfectly as a standalone.

“I’m a decent dude with an uncertain future, a body breaking down on me, four kids and two women whose hearts I’ve already broken. I’m not trying to drag anyone else into that.”

Kevin’s marriage to his high school sweetheart fizzled under the stress of being a famous basketball player, and he hasn’t had much luck in relationships since then – though he does have four much-loved children to show for it.  At 36, he’s staring down retirement, as his injuries have grown worse and almost caused his team to lose the last championship.  Everyone else seems to think he’s an inspiration, which is why he’s modeling naked for the cover shoot of an athletes-in-motion special issue.  Flirting with the photographer is more fun than he expected, and when he meets her again later that day, he’s hooked on the chemistry between them.  While Jasmine’s known for her celebrity photography, after this last shoot she’s taking time off to photograph cabins lived in by blacks during the Reconstruction, with a gallery showing and a book deal lined up.  The last thing she has time for is an affair with an avowed playboy, especially since she’s worried he’s just the type of guy she could lose her heart to.  She’s got her own relationship issues, as well as juvenile diabetes, which her last boyfriend resented.  Can they both let down their guards long enough to let love in?

“It looks scarier than it is,” she said to try to make him feel better. “I’ll do better tomorrow. It’s just that my brain and body don’t always sync up. I think I can push forever, and my body reminds me it’s not invincible.”
His face said he could relate. “That is a hard pill to swallow. Your body not doing what your brain still thinks it can do.”
“You have no idea.”
His sigh was full of defeat. “You’d be surprised.”

From their very first flirty interactions, Jasmine and Kevin had a ton of chemistry.  I loved their flirting, and I also adored how assertive Jasmine was in bed.  It’s so refreshing to find female characters who know themselves well enough to tell their partners what they want AND to have their partners listen and respect that.  Outside of bed, though, they both have trust issues.  Jasmine wants a real lasting relationship, and she doesn’t believe that Kevin can give that to her.  Kevin is tied up in knots over his decision to retire, but unwilling to share the truth about his health issues with Jasmine since he doesn’t want to burden their “fun” relationship with his angst.  His entire self-worth is tied up in basketball, and he can’t imagine anyone – from him agent, to his teammates, to Jasmine – wanting him if his career is over.  Watching both Jasmine and Kevin slowly open up to each other was delightful!

“Is your grandmother the only reason I got flowers?” she teased.[…]
“That, and when I saw them, I thought of you. Bright, colorful, happy.” He watched her from the door, one shoulder leaned against the jamb. Since that day she’d gotten sick and he’d helped her, he hadn’t crossed the threshold. She appreciated him respecting her space but really wished he’d cross into it and kiss her again.
She grabbed her clutch purse and strolled back over to him. “You should have led with that.”

I loved that Kevin had a great relationship with his kids and their moms (he has two children from his failed marriage and twins from a ex-girlfriend).  There are so many stereotypes around sports celebrities, especially black ones – that they’re deadbeat dads who don’t care about their kids or exes, dumb jocks who spend their millions as soon as they make them, that they forget their roots as soon as they hit the big time.  Following advice from older players, Kevin invested his money in businesses around his hometown of Silver Springs, a farming town that was founded by free blacks during the Reconstruction but had been foundering as nothing more than a place for tourists to drive by on the way to Myrtle Beach.  His family is such an important part of him, and I loved that Jasmine appreciated that as well.

Overall, this was both a deliciously sexy and utterly heartwarming book, and I will definitely be looking up more of Ms. Williams’ work!

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