Corbin Friel has wanted to be a doctor for as long as he can remember and some of that is due to his sister, Lala. She has a rare bone disease that causes brittle bones and has been in and out of hospitals most of her life. Now that she is an adult, her fascination with extreme sports brings Corbin places he’d rather not be and the arena featuring martial arts fighters is one of them. After yelling out a derogatory comment against one of the fighters at Lala’s request, Corbin finds himself face to face with the man when Lala wins a free pass to the backstage area to meet and greet the fighters. Lala strikes up an immediate connection with the one fighter who she recalls from their shared elementary school days, but Corbin is faced with the imposing Keon Lynch who proceeds to make no bones about the fact that he didn’t care for Corbin’s shouting. Putting the mortifying experience behind him and escaping Keon is not in the cards for Corbin as Lala insists on dragging him to more fight nights and more back stage meets as she begins dating one of the other fighters.
Corbin likes his world ordered, neat, and clean, and a blood sport like martial arts fighting is none of those. But still, there is something about Keon that’s more than meets the eye when it comes to his intelligence and depth. Much of what Corbin assumed about fighters is thrown out the window the more he spends time with Keon. The only problem now is an ex-boyfriend who doesn’t think he and Corbin are over and is determined to convince Corbin of the same.
Modern Gladiator by S.A. Stovall has all the elements for a enemies to lovers romance that morphs into something incredibly sweet and entertaining. Corbin is an interesting character—one that is a definite germaphobe, with a touch of OCD thrown in as well. He often finds himself unable to deal with the slightest thing being out of order and dirt—including swapped fluids after sex–is a no-no. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Corbin can come off as both a frustrating old biddy and an endearing nerd simultaneously. I could see some being turned off by him because he often sounded superior and condescending, but you find out that hides a wealth of insecurities. I grew to really like him and was entranced by the way in which he thought things through from how he could better help Keon prepare for his fights, to how he cared for his sister. I also really loved how the author made Keon so accepting of Corbin’s quirks and how he not only overlooked them, but found them funny and sweet.
There was a lot to like about this story: the slow burning romance between Keon and Corbin for one, and the ex-boyfriend, Justin, who turned out to be a real piece of work and dangerous to both Keon and Corbin for another. But it was Lala who stole every scene she was in with her infectious happiness and tireless determination to live her life fully despite the very real danger her disease meant for her. I loved how she had first Corbin and then these huge two fighting men in the palm of her hand and never exploited that power, but instead forged on happily dragging them all along in her lust for living.
The ex, Justin, was just smarmy enough to make my stomach turn and the situation with him near the end of the novel that nearly was the undoing of Keon and Corbin’s relationship, not to mention Keon’s dream for success, was intense and well written. I found myself shouting at Corbin more than once to not do it—to tell Keon everything and that, for me, is the sign that a book has gotten under my skin in a good way.
I think the only thing that I didn’t really enjoy about this book was that the ending seemed rather abrupt. I’m not sure if an epilogue would have helped, but the story seemed to climax and then it was done—leaving us with an implied happy ever after and a definite happy for now. To be honest, after Corbin confessed what was going on to Keon, the story felt really rushed with the author glossing over the two guys moving in together and pushing us forward right to the final fight that was so important for Keon to win. So much time had been spent prior to that crafting the story and drawing out the romance that it made me feel a bit cheated to not get a sense of closure about these guys and their futures. However, other than that, I really did enjoy this novel and found it to be humorous with a very satisfying slow burn romance.
Modern Gladiator brings together to men from different worlds who change each others’ perceptions while they both try to fight off attraction. With some underlying suspense and grab you by the throat moments in the ring, this is a story that comes out a winner for me.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.