Hard Hitter by Sarina Bowen (Brooklyn Bruisers #2)
Published by: Berkley
Format: mobi ARC
Genre: Contemporary sports romance
Order at: Amazon
Reviewed by: Erin
What to Expect: Adults acting like adults, with complicated, competent lives. Mutual respect all over the place. And soooooo much hockey and yoga.
As team captain and enforcer, Patrick O’Doul puts the bruise in the Brooklyn Bruisers. But after years of hard hits, O’Doul is feeling the burn, both physically and mentally. He conceals his pain from his coach and trainers, but when his chronic hip injury becomes too obvious to ignore, they send him for sessions with the team’s massage therapist.
After breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, Ari Bettini is in need of peace of mind. For now, she’s decided to focus on her work: rehabilitating the Bruisers’ MVP. O’Doul is easy on the eyes, but his reaction to her touch is ice cold. Ari is determined to help O’Doul heal, but as the tension between them turns red hot, they both learn that a little TLC does the body good…
Hard Hitter is the story of O’Doul, the Brooklyn Bruisers’ Captain, and Ari, the team’s massage therapist. O’Doul is getting older. His back isn’t great, his legs aren’t great, and he’s trying to hang on with everything he’s got. The team sends him to Ari for rehab, not realizing that he’s touch-averse and it’s the last thing that would help him relax. He sees his injuries as a weakness and he hears the clock ticking down to the end of his career. He also doesn’t want the team’s massage therapist, Ari, to see how much a simple touch can unnerve him.
Ari is sweet. She just broke up with an awful guy, she’s into teaching yoga, and she loves her work with the Bruisers. Ari likes O’Doul, she’s attracted to him, but she wants to stay professional. Her ex is a petty criminal who bullied her for years, and Bowen does a nice job of showing how a smart woman of means can end up in a terrible relationship. As soon as he hit her, she ended it, but she is looking back now to realize that she lost eight years of her life to this creep, and she doesn’t want to jump into a new relationship right now. Especially not with a coworker.
Overall, I thought the “sleeping with a coworker” thing was handled well. I was nervous about that. They are in clear and constant communication about her professional boundaries, and he respects them. There is so much respect in this book. He respects her wishes not to get emotionally involved, even though he falls for her. He respects her limits in terms of how their massage sessions go and what can and cannot be brought to the table. He doesn’t tower over her terrible ex and defend her honor; he helps her go to the police and file a restraining order. At every turn, he supports her agency, and it’s terrific to see.
For her part, Ari respects how touch-averse he is, even though she’s initially hurt by his cold reaction to her. Once she realizes it’s an issue, she stops making it about her, and tries to work through solutions to help his physical injuries while respecting his psychological ones. Adults acting like adults!
As in the first book in this series, I really like how work/professionalism is handled in general. Everyone is ambitious and focused on their jobs; employment isn’t a plot device or an afterthought. Our employment intersects in almost all aspects of our lives, and she conveys that really well. O’Doul and Ari take their jobs seriously, the financial impact of their employment isn’t ignored, and they take pride in their work.
Ari and O’Doul are absolutely smoking hot together, and I love how Ari joyfully and wholeheartedly embraces her sexuality. She wants it and she goes for it. “Just sex” that turns into tripping and falling into feelings is one of my favorite tropes, and it’s done so well here. They’re both carrying a lot of complicated baggage, and have their own reasons for not rushing into a relationship. Bowen does characters very, very well and they do feel like fully-realized people.
But…oh man, Sarina Bowen. I devour her books. Devour them. Something about her books hits my id in the right way and I just suck them right down. However, she is at times problematic re: women, and she’s written an entire series set in Brooklyn with no POC. I feel that it just needs to be said up front that I acknowledge that her books can be problematic, and yet I love them. She’s better now about writing women, I can only hope that she improves in writing diverse characters as well. This book didn’t have any of the occasional misogyny that dogged some of her past books, and I’m cheering for that to continue. I can’t wait to read the next books in the series.
Speaking of next books…I am turning myself inside out in anticipation to read Nate’s story. The pining. The epic, epic pining! Augh!
What you might not like: As I said, this is a very, very white Brooklyn.
What you’ll love: Two complicated adults in lust and then in love, blazing hot sex scenes, and buckets of mutual respect. And as always, Bowen gets the hockey details down perfectly. It’s fast-paced and you won’t be able to put it down.
Erin is a full time contributor to Binge on Books. She is a voracious reader and reviewer who has been been reading romances since she stole them from under her neighbor’s mom’s bed while she was at work. You can read all her reviews here.
Connect with Erin on Twitter: @booksandjoe