Buddy Review: Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell

Illegal ContactBuy Links:  Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Today Jay and Michelle have a Buddy Review of the first installment of Santino Hassell’s The Barons series, Illegal Contact.

Jay’s Review

Rating: 4.75 stars

Gavin Brawley is the star tight end for the New York Barons pro football team. After a video of him involved in a car chase and a fight went viral, Gavin is forced to sit out the season and is under house arrest. Gavin has a bad reputation for being quick to anger and generally a grumpy jerk. Few people know that behind that surly exterior, Gavin has a softer side, especially for his few close friends and kids who grew up in tough environments like his own. But Gavin mostly hides behind his reputation and doesn’t do much to help improve his image.

When it becomes clear that there is no way Gavin can manage alone in his huge mansion outside of the city while on house arrest, he grudgingly agrees to hire a personal assistant who can run errands and help him keep his life on track. Noah Monroe knows nothing about football or Gavin’s notoriety, but he is desperate for a job after his last position turned into a disaster when an affair with his boss imploded.

Things are pretty bumpy at first for the guys. Gavin is prickly and Noah is intimidated by Gavin’s gruff demeanor, not to mention what he learns about Gavin’s reputation. But as the weeks go on, the guys begin to settle into a routine and a friendship grows between them. Even more, the guys both feel an incredible attraction to one another, one that they finally act on. But despite the fact that they can’t keep their hands off one another, these guys still face some major hurdles. Gavin isn’t sure how Noah feels, and worries his interest is only in the hot hookup. Noah is concerned that history is repeating itself as he once again gets into an ill-advised sexual relationship with his boss. And both the men know that with Gavin in the closet about his bisexuality, there is no chance of a future for them once Gavin’s house arrest ends. Gavin and Noah have fallen for one another, but there may be too many roadblocks for them to turn their relationship into something lasting.

I have been eagerly awaiting this book for months and am happy to say I found it as fabulous as I had hoped. I just adored these guys together. You all know I love my enemies to lovers stories and Hassell does a wonderful job here taking the animosity and tension between the men and turning it slowly into friendship and romance. Gavin is a grumpy bear of a guy and he is prickly and difficult, his demeanor made all the worse by being isolated in house arrest and kept away from his passion in football. So he is gruff and unpleasant and while Noah starts off a little timid, it isn’t long before he is taking no shit. I loved the way these guys push each other and seeing how they slowly become friends, really connecting and finding common ground that ultimately turns into love.

Gavin is such a fascinating and endearing character. On one hand, he is in ass who is used to people hating him and he has convinced himself that he is ok with it. Gavin grew up in foster care and never really had a sense of stability in his life, and football was that one constant. He is aggressive on and off the field, often angry, and easily inflamed. At the same time, there is softer side to him that most people never see because there are so few people who he has in his life. His best friends and teammates Simeon and Marcus know the real Gavin, and as the story goes on, Noah does as well. I appreciated that this story isn’t a magic fix and all of Gavin’s anger issues don’t suddenly go away. But we can see such great growth in him over the course of the book. For his part, I love that Noah is more than a sexy geek. Once he gets over his initial anxiety, he is a match for Gavin, pushing back when needed, calling him on his shit, and fiery in the bedroom. They are really great characters and Hassell gives them nice depth.

It seems strange to call a story with a character who is known as an “alpha asshole” sweet, but there is something really tender about this book that connected with me strongly. I love books where one character can see beyond the other’s rough exterior to the person inside and Hassell captures that nicely here. Gavin isn’t soft, but there is a vulnerability here that is really touching. I loved how Noah helps to bring out his softer side, but also gives Gavin the support and love and stability he has always wanted.

This story is very focused on Noah and Gavin without too much attention on outside characters or events, but it does provide a really interesting insight into the life of a professional athlete. Hassell does a nice job showing both the ups and the downs of being a world famous athlete. Gavin may finally have more money than he needs, but he doesn’t have an easy life with the constant public spotlight, the judging fans, and the toll his job takes on his body. I appreciated how while the story focuses on the two men, we do get a nice sense of context for the life Gavin lives.

So this story was a huge hit for me. I found it sweet and romantic and sexy with really engaging characters. The story leaves us with a nice ending for Gavin and Noah, but also perfectly set up for the next book in the series. I am really excited about this one and can’t wait for more.

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Michelle’s Review

Rating: 4.5 stars

This book is classic Santino Hassell and I say that after reading everything he has published. His strength is his characterizations and here he creates two main characters that stand out from the pages along with a small group of secondary characters that come across as real as well.

Gavin and Noah are opposites and if that appeals to you, it’s built in throughout the story. Gavin is a NFL football player under house arrest for six months. Sure, he lives in a mansion in the Hamptons, but it’s largely unfurnished and he admits that when he had money for the first time in his life, he just thought he was supposed to buy a big house. The house arrest is the result of him punching someone in a fit of rage and the media likes to run with the story of his rough past and his anger management issues. Gavin will be the first to tell you that he has anger issues, but there is also a side to the story, and a side to Gavin, that the media doesn’t know.

Noah is college educated and lost his social work job after an affair with his boss went bad. He dresses in button down shirts and Gavin likes to call him Clark after Clark Kent. The only thing they seem to have in common is that they both grew up poor. But while Gavin in now raking in a massive salary, Noah is drowning in college loans.

Noah has no interest in football and barely knows who Gavin is. He almost reluctantly takes the job as Gavin’s assistant, but the money is good and Noah needs the job. Noah can certainly see that Gavin is good looking, but his demeanor is prickly and grumpy and he can fly into fits of rage. And, Noah has no intention of getting involved with yet another boss.

The book is more about the effects that being famous has on Gavin’s life and how the media wants the rest of the world to see him whether it’s true or not. Hassell writes great dialogue between the men and the banter flows effortlessly. When Gavin is admitting to himself that he’s attracted to Noah, especially when Noah gets interested in football, Gavin admits that Noah using football terminology has him aroused and it makes for an entertaining read.

Gavin is used to saying and doing what he wants, but as the men become friends, Noah calls him out and they balance each other out well. Although, some of that banter was familiar and had the same style as other characters from Hassell’s other books, I could overlook it for the well-polished story and engaging characters.

The book is a slow burn for these guys, but the chemistry is dialed up right from the start. They both have reasons for not wanting to pursue each other, but ultimately, they can’t stay away from each other and the intimate scenes are raw and real and heated with, again, Hassell’s signature style.

Hassell also is known for ending his books in the moment and this ending follows that style as well. While it has worked for me in some of his other books, here I could have used a scene or two more at the end. Since this is the start of a series, we may see Gavin and Noah in future books and the secondary characters all have interesting stories to tell. I will definitely be looking forward to Simeon’s book next as a new Santino Hassell book is always something to look forward to. The book is ultimately about hope as Hassell dedicates the book, “For the scared, the closeted, and the hopeful.”

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  1. Thank you both for sharing your thoughts! This sounds like a book I’d enjoy.

  2. Yep, this is a good one. I really like Santino Hassell and this one didn’t disappoint.

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