Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Jase Maxwell is a closeted gay pro football player for the Cincinnati Crusaders, and he’s dealing with a lot of career pressure. His dad and older brother both played the game, and his brother’s a star quarterback, while Jase is on the defense. Jase is generally antisocial, and pretty jealous of the praise his stingy father heaps on his brother and his own team’s quarterback, Gabe Kelly — at least until Gabe came out as gay. Jase knows his father will never accept him if he’s out, and the self-loathing is pretty high. Add to that the Crusaders’ management isn’t super keen on Jase, who’s been playing injured and not up to the caliber of intensity needed on the field, putting his contract in jeopardy.

Jase is at a gay nightclub to support his cousin’s band when he encounters a teammate, rookie Lucas Bentley. Lucas is everything Jase would like to be: out, popular with the team, a hometown hero, and so damn sexy. Naturally, Jase pours out his vitriol to keep Lucas from acting in any way friendly to him. Lucas calls Jase on his garbage, though, and follows Jase from the club to continue berating him–only for both of them to get jumped by a group of homophobes. Jase goes berserk, protecting himself and Lucas. A heavily edited tape of the brawl gets uploaded to social media, and the Crusaders are in a bind to sort out the situation. They like Lucas, and would have to cut him if they cut Jase. Resolution? Get both men involved in highly publicized volunteer efforts while they are suspended from playing for four weeks.

Lucas, who’s the caregiver and provider to his two younger siblings, is terrified that his contract is in question. His parents died in a fire some years back, and he’s stuck around Cincinnati to prevent his (now) teen sister and brother from being put into foster care; he’s not going to let anything jeopardize his career or custody situation. Not the GM’s gay son who’s been making indecent proposals for months, and certainly not a miserable wretch like Jase Maxwell. Well, at least until Lucas learns that the burly, snarling (sexy) beast of a lineman is actually a fellow gay man–who has the biggest crush on Lucas. They have all this community service to complete together and, the more time they interact, the more it’s clear that these guys have something real to explore.

Pump Fake is an opposites-attract, grumpy-sunshine, enemies (?) to lovers types of romance that all has to happen behind closed doors. Jase doesn’t want to come out, but he doesn’t want to do a lot of things, honestly. The pacing was a bit slower than I generally like, because Jase has a lot of things to think about and explain, due to him being such a grumpy prick to nearly everyone. He’s easy to dislike, and his redemption story felt exaggerated. Finally calling out his father’s BS is a big step toward Jase finding some sort of healing for his youthful emotional abuse and self-hatred, but it was a long time coming. By contrast, Lucas is a delight, and yet his poor treatment by so many is what stirs Jase into protective mode time and time again. I liked how Lucas was able to give Jase the soft landing he so needed, supporting Jase when it seemed no one else would.

This is a pretty typical sports romance, with the sports sidelined for a lot of the story. That said, there are some clutch moments, particularly in the second half when Lucas and Jase are reinstated. I liked the resolution, which took care of the shady folks who had a way different agenda than should be expected for a pro team.

In all, if you like sports romance, this book has characters with some hidden depths, who face challenges that aren’t just about coming out. It’s the second book in a series, but fine to read as a standalone.