Author: Santino Hassell
Book: Illegal Contact
Series: The Barons, Book #1
Page/Word Count: 251 pages
Categories: Gay Romance, Sports Romance
Release Date: August 15, 2017
New York Barons tight end Gavin Brawley is suspended from the team and on house arrest after a video of him brawling goes viral. Gavin already has a reputation as a jerk with a temper on and off the field—which doesn’t help him once he finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And while he’s been successful professionally, he’s never been lucky when it comes to love.
Noah Monroe is a recent college grad looking for a job—any job—to pay off his mounting student debt. Working as Gavin’s personal assistant/babysitter seems like easy money. But Noah isn’t prepared for the electrifying tension between him and the football player. He’s not sure if he’d rather argue with Gavin or tackle him to the floor. But both men know the score, and neither is sure what will happen once Gavin’s timeout is over…
4✨s – When Noah and Gavin meet, they make serious assumptions about each other that lead to what one can only call an antagonistic relationship. This isn’t enemies to lovers, but two strong willed individuals who are more alike than they assume, need each other for different reasons and rub each other the wrong way. Sparks fly which makes for a great slow build romance filled with pitfalls and the most unlikely of sweet moments.
Gavin is a football player with anger issues. He’s in the closet about his bisexuality because he doesn’t want to ruin the career that saved him. He doesn’t like people and he doesn’t play the celebrity game. Everyone thinks he’s trouble and he’s okay with that. Under house arrest for trying to help his best friend, his manager is trying to find him a PA, but Gavin isn’t used to be waited on or catered to and wants no part of it. He’s come from nothing and the whole scenario makes him uncomfortable.
Enter Noah, a social do-gooder who doesn’t know squat about football, but knows all about the pitfalls of sleeping with the boss. He’s deep in debt, both his and his father’s, desperate for a job, and still can’t find a way to be polite during the interview that could turn everything around. There doesn’t seem any logical reason for him to get the job, so when Gavin calls him back, he jumps…well, okay, they’re still antagonistic, but they come to an agreement.
Noah’s determination to do his very best butts up against Gavin’s equal determination not to make it easy and every interaction is a battle of wills and words. The proximity gives Noah insight into the man everyone loves to hate and unlike the rest of the world, he starts to see that there’s more to Gavin than meets the eye. He’s fiercely protective of his pseudo-family from the team, he wants to give back in a way that means something without the accolades, he uses his anger as a shield so no one can see that beneath it is a man desperate to be loved, liked, and treated with respect.
Soon Noah is trying to find ways to make Gavin happy, something no one’s ever done for him before, and that takes the attraction that’s been simmering all along to a whole new level. To his own shock, Gavin starts to think of Noah as something more than a PA, something more than a hookup, and that makes this big, bad, grumpy, angry football player the mushy one in the building relationship. Honestly, swoon worthy mush without being cheesy.
Obviously, it can’t be that easy. There’s still the matter of Gavin not being out, his career and house arrest, and the reality check that nearly ended it all. Even as they were trying to handle it maturely, I cried for them both and hated Joe all the more. The ending was just about everything I wanted it to be, though I could have done without Joe pretending to be supportive of Gavin’s decision—it certainly didn’t redeem him in my opinion.
I loved Gavin and Noah together and think the author did an excellent job of portraying the issues professional athletes still face regarding their sexuality. For all that these organizations preach diversity, inclusion, and acceptance, the repercussions haven’t changed. From backlash from fans and the media, to questions about gays in the locker rooms, to worry about how fellow teammates and upper management will react…it’s another reminder that we’ve come so far and still have such a long way to go.
5✨s – Santino Hassell can be hit or miss for me sometimes but this was a major hit! Gavin and Noah were just terrific together. Gavin is on house arrest, made an example of, for a fight made public and for his history of angry confrontations and aggression on the field. With some urging from his friends and teammates, Simeon and Marcus, but reluctance from his manager, Joe, he hires Noah. Noah is a little nerdy, out and proud, with a bad habit of falling for his bosses. He’s happy to have a job where has safe from that, since Gavin is a big jerk and he’s straight anyway. Right?
It’s a long, slow burn for these two, filled with snark and sarcasm and building trust. They resist the pressure of sexual tension between them but when they finally let go, it’s hot-as-fire nerd porn! The alternating, first-person POV gave such depth to their characterization, especially all the unspoken history that made them relatable and empathetic figures. There’s not much football but the influence permeates the narrative. Gavin and Noah drew strongly on my emotions, I despised Joe, adored Jasmine, Noah’s friend, and I’m rooting for Simeon for the next book. It would be a great book to start with if you haven’t read Santino Hassell before and you’ll love it if you’re already an enthusiast.
About Santino Hassell:
Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.
Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.
Where to find Santino Hassell: