I’ve made no bones in the past regarding my enjoyment of Diane Alberts’ Take a Chance series. The first two installments, Try Me and Love Me are heartfelt emotional rollercoasters that leave you a little teary and shaking when you finish the final page.
In Play Me, the sister of the heroine from Love Me is Kiersten Worth, who chose to take her nephew, Chris, when her other sister suddenly died. It was a lot of responsibility at a young age, but she was happy to do it and thought she was creating a family when her boyfriend Pete asked her to marry him. That idea went up in smoke after she caught him and his skank secretary together. That incident, combined with a distant father and always dissatisfied mother has her giving up on love and happily ever after. She has decided to be content with watching her now middle school aged son play basketball, particularly when his coach is her long term friend and major eye candy, Garrett Kelly.
Garrett is a middle school math teacher and coach who works alongside his best friend, Mike Worth, Kiersten’s brother. Mike has been warning Garrett away from Kiersten since his crush on her in high school but it’s getting harder now that they’ve begun hanging out, even though it’s platonic. He’s accepted nothing will ever happen between them in his head, but his heart is saying something totally different, particularly with the waning of his string of one-night stands. When Kiersten comes onto him over drinks in her empty house, he assumes that she wants to try a relationship with him, ignoring the fact that this is the day she was originally supposed to get married to Pete.
Kiersten is overjoyed that it was so easy to get Garrett to give her a hot tumble but she’s astonished when his pillow talk afterward indicates that he’s in this for something more than a friends with benefits night. It’s incredibly obvious how much she’s hurt a good friend, particularly when he lets her know that he can’t just hang out with her anymore and asks for some distance. Three months later, he’s annoyed to come home to his apartment only to find Kiersten in the kitchen making dinner. He tries to throw her out, telling her it hasn’t been long enough, but she brings his eviction to a screeching halt with the announcement that she’s three months pregnant – I wouldn’t be buying that condom brand again if I were her!
Garrett decides this is the opportunity he’s been waiting for. He wants a family and life with Kiersten and by insisting that he move in with her in order to be there for her, Chris and the baby, he has a chance to get just that. Lying to her that he’s over her and doesn’t want anything more is hard, but it’s the reassurance she needs to make it happen. It’s hard and awkward for them to be together but it’s all part of Garrett’s plan.
At 108 pages, this book in the series qualifies as a novella, and unlike the other two books which felt longer despite their length, this story felt rushed. Alberts employs three wonderful romance tropes – a relationship of convenience, the unplanned pregnancy, and best friends to lovers – but none of them work for me and that hurts because I love each one of them.
The problem was with Kiersten’s character – I completely understood how hurt she was from her fiancee’s betrayal but she was so inarticulate and cold that it was almost impossible to empathize with her decisions, even when I understood why she was making them. I honestly think that if she could have lost her temper at Garrett and showed some emotion toward him (something he could have seen as him making progress with her caring or cracking through her shell) that it would have made the astonishingly rapid progression from wariness to trust a little better. And was she actually pregnant? The real symptoms of pregnancy are a great way to establish intimacy, but there was no scene of feeling the first kick together, seeing the heart beat at the doctor’s office, Garrett desperately finding her a bathroom to pee in, or extreme horniness in the second trimester. Missed opportunities, since she seemed to have the easiest pregnancy the world ever saw.
Additional page time for small acts on Garrett’s part, actions which would have Kiersten expressing happiness and appreciation toward him, would have also bolstered his goals while showing her gently moving toward acceptance of the fact he wasn’t going anywhere. Why couldn’t he have heard her crying after another hurtful exchange so he could have gone in and comforted her, getting behind that wall of hers? Instead we got a rapid fire transition where she’s unable to tell Garrett how she feels, hurting him again, and she goes out and acts jealous but not enough for Garrett to realize what’s going on. Then we get a page-long speech from Kiersten about how she feels toward him, which he happily accepts. It’s a quick wrap up from that point with a satisfying epilogue and the set up of brother Mike as the next hero in the series.
Alberts’ writing is just as wonderful as always – it’s tight and conveys the internal struggle of her characters well. Entangled Publishing has managed yet another sexy cover which manages to showcase Garret’s
balls connection to basketball, I can only imagine that Diane Alberts loves where readers have to look to check her author name!
When it comes time for Mike’s story I’ll certainly try it, but I’ve got to say that this story did not match the previous stellar installments of the series.