Friday, August 11, 2017

[Review]: "Illegal Contact"

I am aware of the situation with Santino Hassell. While I will no longer be promoting or recommending Hassell’s books, I am leaving up my reviews and ratings for the books I’ve already read. My feelings and experiences with those books at the time are valid and were never connected to my view of the author anyway. Please disregard any mention of “own voice” or similar remarks that may be in these old reviews, as that is no longer true.
Danielle (TBQ)

romance novel covers, M/M romance, contemporary romance, sports romance, Royal Pick, Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell
Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell
Publisher: InterMix (August 15, 2017)
Series: Barons, 1
Genre: M/M Romance -- Contemporary, Sports
Alternating 1st POV

The rules of the game don’t apply off the field in this first Barons novel. 

New York Barons tight end Gavin Brawley is suspended from the team and on house arrest after a video of him brawling goes viral. Gavin already has a reputation as a jerk with a temper on and off the field—which doesn’t help him once he finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And while he’s been successful professionally, he’s never been lucky when it comes to love.

Noah Monroe is a recent college grad looking for a job—any job—to pay off his mounting student debt. Working as Gavin’s personal assistant/babysitter seems like easy money. But Noah isn’t prepared for the electrifying tension between him and the football player. He’s not sure if he’d rather argue with Gavin or tackle him to the floor. But both men know the score, and neither is sure what will happen once Gavin's timeout is over…

Where to Buy*:
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Other Reviews for Hassell:

Fast Connection (written with Megan Erickson)
First and First
Strong Signal (written with Megan Erickson) 

My Review:

I love a good “Wait, you don’t know who I am? But I’m Famous and EVERYONE wants to use me…. except you.” story. Pretty much all the ones I’ve read are M/F, so I was delighted to get this trope (theme? IDK) in a M/M. ESPECIALLY a M/M by one of my favorite authors. Double win!

Add to that we get a grumpy-asshole hero who is fully aware that he’s a grumpy-asshole hero but ugh, people, and I am a very happy reader. He may not be perfectly polished and nice, but he’s good and loyal to his friends and the people he cares about, so I say it evens out just fine.

Somehow, I knew that was why he was hiding his expression. Gavin wanted me to fight for his smiles, even if I was the one causing them to grace his perfect face.

Gavin is a pro football player. He’s also currently under house arrest because he punched a man. Which, yes, Gavin has some anger issues (thanks largely to growing up in the foster care system, with no one ever caring about him or keeping him beyond a few months), but there’s a story behind why he attacked the man, though of course it’s not a story he’s telling the media or the judge. Instead, he takes his punishment, even though he’s not at all happy about facing 6 months of house arrest and an entire season away from football, the one constant in his life, the one thing that keeps him sane, gives him purpose.

He’s told to hire a personal assistant, to keep track of all his schedules and run all his errands. He doesn’t want to, he hates having anyone do things for him. But then in walks Noah. And oh, the sparks start from the very beginning. Noah doesn’t know who Gavin is, doesn’t care about football (or sports) at all, and just needs a job so he can pay off his student loans and help his father out. Being a PA to a famous football player isn’t his first choice, but the pay is good and he can’t turn down such an offer. How bad could it be, working for Gavin for a few months?

I loved that Noah didn’t take any shit from Gavin, and always pushed back. That’s the way I like my romances when there’s an asshole-type hero involved: when they butt heads with their equally strong partner. Gavin may try at first to run Noah off, but Noah’s not going anywhere without a fight, and it made for some great tension.

There’s also a bit of forced proximity vibe going on, as Noah must spend so much time alone with Gavin, and later even moving in with him to make it easier to do his job and not be driving back and forth from the city. Yet another thing I love, and it adds to their budding relationship.

The warmth in my chest and butterflies in my gut made it plain as day that my miserable ass really fucking liked him. In the hand-holding kind of way, not just the ass-pounding way. Although I wanted to do that too. [Gavin]

For a while, Noah doesn’t know that Gavin is attracted to him though; no one knows that Gavin is bisexual. Added to that, Noah has had some previous bad experiences with falling into bed with a boss, and having it end horribly for him professionally, so even when he finds out that Gavin’s interested, he’s still hesitant to jump into anything – even though his body is definitely telling him to jump onto Gavin’s dick, if we’re being perfectly honest!

Kissing Noah might have been the most masochistic thing I'd ever done, but I didn't regret it. Not by a long shot.

Illegal Contact is a really, really slow burn – at least compared to most of Hassell’s previous books. I’m not complaining, mind you! But I was surprised to see that there’s no sex until about 60% in (and their first kiss wasn’t too long before that). However, the slow build up works for these two, as they did have things between them – the fact that Gavin is Noah’s employer, for one – and I can see how they couldn’t just jump into bed right away. It was worth the wait though, and when Hassell finally turns up the heat for these two, he brings his usual A+ dirty writing.

"You turn me on so badly," he panted, mouthing down my throat. "It's not fair."
I rooted for a coherent response in the depths of my lust-addled brain, but he sank his teeth into the tendons on the side of my neck, and I lost my mind.
"Oh fuck."
Noah sucked on the spot while I ground against his thigh, and he reached between us to fully shove down my shorts and underwear. He moaned and licked his way up again, sucking my tongue into his mouth while we ground against each other. By the time I had our positions reversed and him sitting on the edge of my desk with his thighs spread open, our restless frotting was driving me wild.

Of course, admitting their attraction to one another and jumping each other doesn’t magically make any of the other issues go away, so even after that, they still have to work through things before their HEA is attained.

"The same guy who strolled up to Joe's office and gave me the side eye the whole time? Who told me football was stupid and that I wasn't a god?" 
Noah bit the inside of his cheek but didn't succeed in hiding a smirk. "That was different."
I yanked him against me. "Yeah. It was different because back then I thought I could do without you. Now I know I can't."

I loved watching these two move from mild animosity to (slowly) friends, to finally lovers, and I think Hassell handled it very well, keeping the tension there and showing them bend a bit and learn about each other along the way.

The romance was good. The sex was great. The story was solid. On top of that, we also get introduced to some great characters – Simeon and Marcus, Gavin’s friends and teammates, as well as Jasmine, Noah’s friend. But the character that stole my attention from the moment he walked onto the page? Case.

Bookworm. Mechanic. NEED I SAY MORE?!

He originally asks Noah out, but of course things don’t work out and they end up as just friends. But now I need Case to get his own book ASAP! I don’t even know who he’d be paired up with and frankly I don’t care. My need for a bookworm mechanic is real and that’s all that matters.

I cannot wait for book 2 (out in January), which will tell Simeon’s story. I love the cover for it – can I get a “fuck yes!” for having a hero of color on the cover?! FOR A SPORTS ROMANCE?! You’re doing it right, Hassell, keep it up.

If you love a good Beauty and the Beast type story, with the world of pro football as the backdrop, Illegal Contact is just what you need!

4 1/2 STARS! 

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I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley.

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If you want to read more quotes that I highlighted, check out my Twitter!

Remember, since this is a Royal Pick, come back on August 31st for a chance to WIN an ecopy of your own!


Until Next Time,

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