Title: In The Red Zone
Series: The Kelly Brothers, # 6
Author: Crista McHugh
Publication Date: March 25th, 2015
Publisher: Crista McHugh
All-Star linebacker Frank Kelly is as well-known for his off-the-field hits as he is for his on-field ones. When a dance club brawl ends with him in handcuffs again, he’s rescued by a well-connected woman who can get the charges dropped in exchange for a small favor. If he’ll agree to play the part of a doting boyfriend for two months, she’ll keep him out of the slammer and help restore his reputation.
Kiana Dyer may be the daughter of a Hall of Fame football player, but the charity organization she set up in his honor isn’t getting the media attention she’d hoped for. A staged romance with Frank Kelly is just the ticket she needs to get it in the spotlight. As the lines between fake and real start to blur, she begins to wonder if bailing him out was the best call she’s ever made. Just when everything seems to be falling perfectly in place, scandal surrounds her charity, and she’s the one left scrambling to clear her name.
Amazon/Goodreads rating: 5/5
In Patti's Imagination rating: 9.6/10
This wasn't my first Kelly Brothers book (reviews coming soon for the others), but I'm sad that it's nearing the end of this series. Frank's role as the naughty, playboy brother had been noted in each of the other stories I've read, so I looked forward to seeing him from a different perspective. Adam's role as the father figure of the family came into play here, which improved the eldest Kelly brother a little more in my eyes - Lia seems to have loosened him more over time, and though he's still paternal with Frank, he's also brotherly. Because Frank is so far removed from his family, there wasn't as much interaction with the clan, which was a bit of a bummer. The little we got I loved, though.
The meat of the story is Frank's final plunge into assuming the role of true adult after he meets a woman who can turn his head outside the bedroom and hold his interest, even when she isn't interested in jumping his bones instantly. Walking away from his playboy reputation (which is well-deserved) is a huge step for Frank, and I loved how he eased into it, slow but sure.
As for Kiana, she's had a very rough life, including a horrific childhood and a somewhat-recent escape from an abusive relationship. Her attraction to Frank isn't enough to instantly sway her toward his bed (despite what she might want), because he's a big, strong man who pummels people for a living, and that scares her.
I thoroughly enjoyed their journey toward facing their own fears and finding love in an unexpected place. There was a moment when I saw the ending coming, but I'm happy to say that Crista tweaked it just enough that it didn't feel trite in execution. I'm looking forward to the Kelly Brothers books I've missed and to the final story in the series. I'm sure I'll be following Crista's writing for a long time to come.
“Fine.” The terse manner in which he said the word, though, showed he was anything but fine with ending the conversation that way, along with the way his car wove in and out of traffic as though the Downtown Connector was a NASCAR speedway. “Let’s talk about the fundraiser. I saw there was going to be a silent auction of some sports memorabilia.”
Finally, something she could talk to him about that didn’t make her horny or scared. “We have a few things of my dad’s.”
“I’ll gladly donate a couple of things, too, but I was wondering if you’re willing to open it up to sports other than football.”
“What do you mean?”
The car slowed back down to the flow of traffic, and his grip loosened on the steering wheel. “Well, football’s not the only sport where kids can get hurt.”
“We focus primarily on football, but we can supply gear to all youth sports programs.”
“Exactly, so why don’t I ask around and see if I can get some other local athletes involved in the fundraiser. Dougie, for example.”
Her heart stuttered for a few beats. “You mean you could get Doug Boutry to donate something to the auction?”
“Of course I can.” He gave her a charming grin. “You’ll find I can be pretty convincing. And it wouldn’t be limited to just Doug. I can ask my teammates to provide a few things, maybe even get the team’s owners to provide a couple of seats in the suite for a game. Just tell me what I need to do, and I’ll do it.”
She wiped her damp palms on her jeans as she considered his offer. “You’d be willing to do that for me?”
“Anything to stay on your good side.” He took the Midtown exit near her office. “I’m just surprised you didn’t think of it before.”
A dozen excuses sat poised on the tip of her tongue, but it was the most honest one that came out. “I have a hard time asking people for help.”
“And yet, you asked me,” he said softly.
“Yeah, but I had some leverage over you.”
“I would’ve done it even if you hadn’t bailed me out.”
She chuckled, and the last of the cold dread fled her soul, leaving behind an odd sensation she couldn’t quite pinpoint. There was a sincerity to Frank’s words that made her wonder how much of it was the truth. “For the record, I never bailed you out.”
“You got me out of the slammer, and that’s what counts.” His grin widened. “Can you imagine what someone as good looking as me would’ve had to endure if I’d stayed in there?”
His good-natured conceit lightened the mood, and she laughed wholeheartedly. Leave it to Frank to take her from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other in a matter of minutes. But it felt good, being with him. Even after she’d revealed her shortcomings, he’d managed to make her feel better. And he showed no evidence of losing interest in her, judging by the way his gaze kept flickering her way as he zoomed through the streets.
He drove into the parking garage of her building and parked next to her car. Before she could even grab the handle of her door, he was out of his seat and jogging around the car to open it for her. “Allow me, lovely lady.”
“Still trying to get on my good side?” she quipped while smothering a grin.
“You can say that.” He took her hand to help her out, but didn’t release it right away. His eyes darkened, and his face grew uncharacteristically serious. “Kiana, if I’m going too far, please tell me.”
Her breath hitched, allowing his scent to linger in her nose long enough for her to recognize the masculine notes of leather and cedar in his cologne. “Depends on what you’re planning to do.”
“Can we try that kiss again?” He held up his hands in surrender. “I promise not to lay a finger on you.”
That kiss had been nice. At least, until he touched the back of her neck. But maybe, just maybe, she could enjoy one more. She leaned into him and pressed her lips to his.
If the earlier kiss had been raw and unrestrained, this one was gentle and cautious. And frustratingly tame. Frank allowed her to control the tempo and the heat of the kiss, responding to the demands of her tongue, but obviously holding back. She opened one eye to see his hands shaking at his sides. A whimper rose from his throat, forming a silent plea that convinced her to tear down the wall he was trying to stay behind.
She grabbed his hands and placed them on her bottom.
A muffled gasp followed, and the chains that had been holding Frank at bay vanished. He grabbed her ass with vigor and pressed her against him while he deepened the kiss. A moan rose into the still night air, but she couldn’t tell if it was from him or her. All she knew was the rising desire building between them that made her want to forget everything but him.
She allowed herself this one moment of bliss, to fall into the arms of a man who knew how to kiss her in a way that made her toes curl. A man who caressed her generous curves like she was the most desirable woman on earth. A man who made her feel safe and secure in his arms even while he tempted her to engage in the most reckless behavior she’d embraced in over two years.
But she couldn’t be reckless anymore. She was a mother, and she didn’t want to make the same mistakes her mother had. The thought of her daughter tempered her lust long enough for her to end the kiss before it got out of hand.
“Damn, Kiana,” Frank said with shuddering breaths. “You have the most luscious ass I’ve ever held.”
Crista McHugh is an award-winning author of fantasy and romance who writes heroines who are smart, sexy and anything but ordinary. She currently lives in the Audi-filled suburbs of Seattle with her husband and two children, maintaining her alter ego of mild-mannered physician by day while she continues to pursue writing on nights and weekends.
She is an active member of the Romance Writers of America (including the Greater Seattle Chapter and the Seattle Eastside Chapters), and Romance Divas.
Just for laughs, here are some of the jobs she’s had in the past to pay the bills: barista, bartender, sommelier, stagehand, actress, morgue attendant, and autopsy assistant.
And she’s also a recovering LARPer. (She blames it on her crazy college days)
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