Neal has been the kicker for the L.A. Riptide for thirteen years and rarely, if ever, misses the goal. So why, why did he have to miss the 44-yard field goal that would have clinched the team’s second Super Bowl win? He knew his time with the Riptide was over, but Neal never expected for the news to come from his own boyfriend, Michael–who took just a little bit too much delight in delivering it. So now Neal is hiding, depressed, celibate, and wallowing; he has been for the last six months since that fatal mistake. Who cares if the replay shows the ball being tipped by the opposing defense? He still should have made it. When Neal’s niece moves into his garage apartment in order to be closer to the university, she decides to drag poor Neal to a preseason party with his old teammates. It’s there he meets the rookie kicker who’s trying out for his old position and the first flare of attraction hits him.
Jamie is in absolute awe. He is actually talking with his all-time idol, Neal Fisher, the guy he wants to emulate and lick all over. Ahem. Jamie is not just star-struck, he’s also intensely turned on by Neal and meeting him at the party is a once in a lifetime dream come true. But now Neal is going to coach him–sort of—and help him secure a place on his former team. If Jamie can get the kicker spot, that means he can remain in L.A. and stay near Neal, a man who he not only idolizes, but really, really likes…maybe even loves.
Beth Bolden’s football romance, Rough Contact, is two parts sport and many parts steam heat. The dynamic between Neal and Jamie is absolutely volcanic and watching the two of them reach beyond their age difference, the fact that Jamie is vying for Neal’s old job, and their instant lust for each other is quite fun. But there’s also a deeper context here with the story focusing on guilt, self-recrimination, and the resulting depression losing your career can bring, especially when that career has defined who you are for so long.
Neal struggles with moving on from a job ending mistake; that’s what happens when you are the kicker who missed three points, losing your team the Super Bowl. Even as he begins to resurface and give Jamie advice and reconnect with some of his friends from the old team, Neal still carries a sense of deep shame about his failure, making it so much important than it ever should be. it’s Jamie who helps him see that, along with Neal’s niece. But in the end, it’s also Jamie’s unquestioning love and faith in Neal that allows him to face his past and move forward into a brighter future.
Rough Contact may be a bit cliché in the way that it ends up resolving some pretty big problems and conflicts, but still it is a tenderhearted romance that allows a reader to enjoy a bit of escapism into a wonderful relationship that never really falters. Neal and Jamie hit a few bumps, for sure, but they move past them swiftly and maturely—a stark difference to many other romances I have read over time. Instead, the meat of this story deals with regaining your trust in yourself and rebuilding your confidence and, as such, it does a great job portraying both in Neal’s story.