Rookie Move, I picked up Hard Hitter (2017) by Sarina Bowen--the second book in the Brooklyn Bruisers series. By this time, I was back at home and ready to get back to my normal life. I also rarely read books by the same author all in a row, but I got sucked in and couldn't resist. This one focuses on the captain and enforcer of the hockey team, Patrick O'Doul, and Ari Bettini, the yoga teacher and team massage therapist. Both characters are facing some pretty dark struggles, but they match up pretty well and Bowen once again does not disappoint.
Patrick O'Doul had a pretty hard childhood (although I don't remember all the details at this point). Right now he's struggling as the enforcer of the team. It is his job to fight at almost every game. And he's both physically and emotionally exhausted. When an old friend and another team's enforcer gives him some uppers to help him with his energy and focus, he tries them. And when they help, he goes to a club and buys some more. Fortunately, he decides the extra energy and focus is not worth the risk of buying drugs on the street. However, he's still dealing with injuries and the stress from fighting that he doesn't want to do.
Ari Bettini is employed by the team to do morning yoga classes and as one of the team massage therapists. When O'Doul is sent to her for rehab, he can barely stand letting her touch him. He does not like to show any weakness. But Ari is busy with her own problems. She has just broken up with her boyfriend of years and kicked him out of her home. What once was a loving and exciting relationship had more recently turned darker with jealousy and controlling behavior. When her ex-boyfriend pushed her, causing her to fall and break her ankle, she knew it was over. But he wasn't leaving her alone, harassing her with texts, coming by her place, and insisting on coming inside.
O'Doul gets in the middle of one of these incidents when he accidentally picks up Ari's phone instead of his own after a massage. Naturally protective, he steps in and tries to help Ari out. The two begin to spend a lot more time together as their attraction leads to the inevitable.
Throughout the book, the Bruiser's are trying to win hockey games, news of O'Doul possibly buying drugs drastically complicates matters with Ari and the team, and things with Ari and her boyfriend get exceedingly more violent. There is a lot going on and it certainly held my attention.
However, there were a couple things that didn't completely work for me. First, I wasn't expecting for this book to have such a thriller-type ending. It worked all right, but I felt like I'd jumped into a different genre of romance. Second, as much as I was happy to see it, I did have a hard time believing that Patrick would jump from completely isolated and afraid of commitment to jumping into it wholeheartedly with Ari--especially considering that Ari was not doing much to encourage him. Finally, I've never seen the captain of a hockey team also be the enforcer. Captains tend to be one of the best players on the team and they are simply too valuable to the team to be used as a punching bag. So, one of the central problems of the story was one I could not get behind.
Even with these minor problems, I still enjoyed reading this one. I still have one Brooklyn Bruisers novel left to read: Pipe Dreams. There are only so many romance novels I can read in a row, and I didn't want to get burned out. So I went back to some other books on my to-read list, but I'm looking forward to getting the time to finish this series out.