Review: Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell (The Barons #1)


Note: This ARC was provided by Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“I’m gonna miss this, Noah.”
Some of the fire left his gaze, but then he squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his face into my neck. “Just fuck me one last time, Gavin.”
Last time.
My heart thudded. I could not comprehend those two words, even after gearing myself up for him walking out the door. But the finality of them broke me. This was it. It was really it. A jagged breath caught in my chest. Holy shit, I was going to crumble.

Question: Can Santino Hassell write sports romance? Answer: Yes, and he writes it pretty damn well as evidenced by The Barons series starter, Illegal Contact. I mean, I already know how gifted of an author the man is, having read a lot of his books already, and I also know that he isn't a one-fiction wonder, having written paranormal romance and contemporary romance already. I think Hassell has created his own kind of genre--snarky romance--because there's always a fair amount of snark in all his novels, or at least the ones I've read so far (i.e. the Cyberlove series, the Five Boroughs series, The Community series, Stygian, and his stories in two anthologies, Lead Me Into Darkness and Follow Me Into Darkness). But snark coming from a professional football player under house arrest and the same amount of snark emanating from a not so prim and proper personal assistant? It's double the Hassell magic.

On the field, New York Barons tight end Gavin Brawley is a force to be reckoned with. Off the field, however, Gavin doesn't exactly have the kind of reputation that would endear him to majority of the football-loving public. The only people who know him are those he's chosen to allow close enough, and he would do almost anything for them, including giving someone a beat down and then getting arrested for it. Now, Gavin hasn't just been put under house arrest; he's also been suspended by the Barons. This makes it nearly impossible for him to get around and run errands, which is why it's now necessary for him to get a personal assistant. The one he chooses, however, could prove to be more trouble than he's worth. He has no experience, has a low opinion of pro athletes, and answers back. Oh, and he's hotter than he's supposed to be and could well be the distraction that Gavin so needs.

Noah Monroe needs a job and he's desperate enough to apply for one that he's pretty sure he isn't totally qualified for. He didn't think he'd have a shot, especially not after the less than stellar interview he had with his potential new boss. So, color him surprised when he received a phone call from none other than the man he sorta-maybe-kinda insulted telling him that he's his new personal assistant. But making sure a grumpy pro football player stuck in his mansion has everything and anything he needs is easier said than done, especially when it seems as if Gavin is purposely making life far more difficult than it has to be. This isn't helping to change Noah's original assessment of Gavin being an overly spoiled, privileged, and entitled jock who's all brawn and very little brain. But then Noah gets glimpses of the real Gavin--the one with a heart--and it's this version that could lead to more trouble for him.

Moaning and groaning (both the whiny and dirty kinds) abound in Illegal Contact, and if you're as much of a slow burner as I am, this novel delivers. There isn't a lot of love lost between Gavin and Noah, who start things off on the wrong foot with assumptions made and not-so-nice things being said. But part of what makes this such an entertaining read is seeing how they both learn things about one another that make it impossible for them to not change their original opinions. Sure, the attraction exists from the beginning, but attraction alone doesn't suffice. It's when Gavin and Noah get to know each other that the contemplating takes place. Is this person worth investing in emotionally? And as a reader, that's a question I ask myself each and every time I read a new book. Were Gavin and Noah worth my time and emotional investment? Absolutely, and boy, did they repay me tenfold.

Neither Gavin nor Noah are ideal men of virtue; they've made their share of mistakes. Add to that Gavin being a bisexual football player in the closet and Noah having a history of sleeping with people in authority. Then you've got people on both sides who did their bit of interference, though it's the kind that's well-meant, and a jealous not-quite-an-ex who wants to cause trouble. I do love my books with a fair amount of complication thrown into the mix, but this story never felt overly complicated nor did it feel as if there was just way more going on then there should have been. The author gives his readers the romance and sex they've come to expect and demand in his books, but he's also offered up something novel to him and that this new romance sub-genre he's taken on. There are also two peripheral characters--Gavin's best friends--who I can't wait to discover more about in the new year.

Now, I'm not going to claim that this novel is perfect. Sorry, but perfect novels do NOT exist. If I had to nitpick, it would probably be that there wasn't that much in terms of the sports part of the sports romance equation. However, having said that, Gavin was on suspension AND under house arrest, so... If you've been Hassell-free all this time, snag yourselves a copy of Illegal Contact and fall in love with one of the best M/M sports romances to be released this year and discover a new author that could well become your latest go-to one. If you're like me and know what it's like to get Hasselled, make sure to read this series starter that I feel scores a touchdown. Okay, that's enough of me being all clever (I wish!) and cheesy (I know!). The five-plus-starred Illegal Contact is a must-read and I'm already counting down to the second Barons novel, Down by Contact, due out January 2018 (GAH!!!). ♥

Release Date: 15 August 2017

Date Read: 12 August 2017

Learn more about Santino Hassell.

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