Down By Contact, the third book in Jami Daveport's series featuring the fictional American football team, the Seattle Lumberjacks.
Zach Murphy has spent all twelve years of his NFL career playing linebacker on a crappy team. Now a free agent, he knows his remaining time in the league is limited, and all he wants is a Super Bowl ring. So he signs in the off-season with the Seattle Lumberjacks, who have just won two Super Bowls in a row. Unfortunately for him, the transition to his new team has not been a smooth one. He keeps butting heads with the pretty-boy quarterback and embarrassing the front office at various high-brow charity functions. Zach's about half-a-step removed from the trailer park, and gets flustered by all the "rules" of social etiquette. When he ends up knocking over a tray of cocktails on the owner's uppity daughter, and inadvertently gropes the governor's wife, the team puts its collective foot down. Zach is going to charm school. To bad his private tutor is none other than the girl he can't seem to forget from high school.
Kelsey Carrington-Richmond has fallen far from the pedestal she used to be on. A former beauty queen, and Mean Girl, she married the high school quarterback with political ambitions, only to discover he was an emotionally abusive asshole. Now divorced, down to her last pennies, and essentially homeless, she heads to Seattle to find Zach. She was horrid to him in high school, and she wants to apologize. However she also is hoping that once he forgives and forgets, he'll help her get her "charm school for real men" idea off the ground. The problem being she was thinking of just using his contacts. She had no idea he would be her first student, and no idea whatsoever that he would be such a bear to work with.
The joy in this series is that Davenport has created a whole team, a whole culture, and populated it with interesting people. Zach was first introduced in the previous story, a foil to butt heads with the team's hotshot quarterback, Tyler. He's abrasive, uncouth, and a bit of a jerk. In this book, we get more of the story behind why Zach is Zach. His childhood, his career, the slights and traumas of his past that haunt him and he carries with him to this day. Zach has a chip on his shoulder, but it's a chip readers will understand. Living the life Zach has lived, it's a credit to his character that he's a professional athlete and not in prison - so you could understand how a guy like that wouldn't necessarily put a lot of importance on "social graces."
I loved that the author really made Kelsey a Mean Girl (although now reformed). It's not sugar-coated. I also loved that how Kelsey treats Zach in high school, and the final episode between them that haunts them both, is credibly serious. It's not some silly little thing where she invites him on a date, and instead ditches him for someone else. No, it's truly awful. It's easy to understand why Zach would still be so upset about the incident and why Kelsey feels like such a shit-heel even this many years after the fact.
As much as I loved these characters, I did have a couple of bugaboos. I inhaled this book in one sitting (seriously, could not put it down!), so some repetition did jump out at me, along with incidents of telling over showing. Also, Zach's younger brother plays in the NHL (hockey) and that's one I had a hard time with considering their upbringing. Getting a kid into hockey is expensive and time consuming (the equipment, the ice time, the constant shuttling to rinks etc.) - and Zach's parents? Yeah, that one strains. Also, there's a sports error - which hello, this is me. I can't let it go. There's an episode later in the book where Kelsey takes Zach's autographed Ken Griffey Jr. baseball bat to confront a villain. She muses it's OK since she's "never been a Yankee fan." Um, The Kid never played for the Yankees. Ever. The Mariners, the Reds and a cup of coffee with the White Sox. Maybe Kelsey should have mused, "Oh well, he never should have left Seattle...."
But the football stuff is all really good, and I love that the author gives us professional athletes, in locker rooms, that talk like guys. They drop the F bomb. They just do. I also adored the fact that Zach was a 34-year-old linebacker. Linebacker is not a "glamour" position like quarterback or wide receiver. Zach is also cognizant of the fact that he's 34-years-old and that if the Lumberjacks cut him loose? Who the hell wants a 34-year-old linebacker? (Just ask Brian Urlacher).
In the end I really enjoyed this story. As much as I liked the previous two books, this one might be my new favorite in the series, if only for the interesting people that the author chooses to throw together for a romance. If you enjoy sports romances and aren't reading this series? You really need to start.
Final Grade = B