{Review} Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell

{Review} Illegal Contact by Santino HassellIllegal Contact by Santino Hassell
Also by this author: Sutphin Boulevard, Strong Signal, First and First, Fast Connection, Hard Wired, Mature Content, Oversight, Third Rail
Series: The Barons #1
Published by InterMix on August 15, 2017
Genres: Boss Employee Romance, Contemporary Romance, M/M Romance, Opposites Attract
Character(s): Football Players, Nerdy/Geeky
Pages: 251
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The rules of the game don’t apply off the field in this first Barons novel.

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…

Erin: I first read Santino Hassell’s Illegal Contact back in May. I thought then, “Damn, I think this might be my favorite Santino book yet.” I read it again a few weeks ago. Not because I needed to refresh and write my review, because even after three months, the characters and the story were as fresh in my mind as they were when I first finished, but because thinking about Noah and Gavin made me want to immerse myself in their story again. And again. And again. I’ve read almost everything Santino has published, whether it’s his free fiction or his published works, and I can tell you that I think Illegal Contact is his best work yet. Big words, sure, especially with such knock outs as his Five Boroughs series, or the Cyberlove series co-written with Megan Erickson, or even his In the Company of Shadows epic works he co-authored with Ais. Gavin Brawley and Noah Monroe are different from any character from any of his books and they completely ensconced themselves into my heart.

Gavin Brawley is a professional football player. He plays tight end for the New York Barons. He’s a beast on the field. Off it, he’s growly and really kind of a jerk. He’s got an attitude bigger than Texas. He’s under house arrest for his volatile temper that surfaces during an altercation at a bar. He’s mostly a loner except for his two best friends Simeon and Marcus. He’s in desperate need for an image makeover, one he stubbornly and VERY grudgingly agrees to. Enter one Noah Monroe, Gavin’s opposite in every way. He’s a nerd; he doesn’t know a thing about sports, football especially. In fact, when he walks into his interview, he has no idea who Gavin is, or that he’s the star of the hometown Barons. He’s snarky and outspoken and very gay. These two butt heads from the get go, which makes for some very entertaining interactions. Noah might be smaller than Gavin physically, but Noah’s bite is every bit as strong as Gavin’s bluster and snarls. The slow burn, UST starts almost from the get-go and boy is it ever smoldering. Only Gavin’s closest friends know he’s bisexual, and Noah sure does tick every one of Gavin’s buttons.

When I didn’t say anything, he started to back away. “But it’s not too late to cancel. If you don’t want this—”

I cut him off by obliterating his personal space and pressing my mouth against his. Just a touch, a taste of coffee and peppermint once his lips parted in surprise, and then I ended it. His eyes had opened wide, looking even bigger without his glasses, and he’d raised a hand to hover near my shoulder.

“What the hell was that?”

“Me being grateful.”

Noah touched his mouth. “You can’t just say thank you?”

“Like you said—actions speak louder than words.”

I licked my lips, attention still focused on his, and goddamn but I wanted to kiss him again. Longer this time. More tongue. My hand cupping his clean-shaven check and my thumb stroking his soft skin. Fingers sliding into his thick, dark hair. But I didn’t.

He was startled, frozen in front of me, and I was struck with the realization that I not only wanted to fuck my hot assistant. I liked him. Sex was the farthest thing from my mind. Right now I just wanted to kiss the hell out of him, and try to get him to like me back.

What I loved most about Illegal Contact, and what Santino does so well, is the character development of both Noah and Gavin. These are not one-dimensional characters. They have flaws, they’re complex, and they make mistakes. But they learn, they grow, and they change. Not who they inherently are, but as they learn more about each other, in turn they learn more about themselves.

“That’s not what I mean,” he snapped. “You said I’m the only thing besides football that makes you smile. Do you realize how that sounds?”

“I don’t give a damn about how it sounds. It’s true. And if they want to use my words to start some gay rumor, that’s their choice. I’m not gonna pretend you haven’t made a difference in my life.” I pointed at him. “How can it be a human-interest piece if I omit the person who made me want to act like a decent fucking human?”

There is a great supporting cast of characters: Marcus, Simeon, Noah’s best friend Jasmine, even Noah’s dad all rounded out the story so that it didn’t seem like Noah and Gavin lived in a bubble, totally removed from everything around them. With Gavin being an NFL superstar, it would be hard to do of course, but I really liked how Santino Hassell incorporated friends, family, fans, and the internet all into the story to make everything seem that much more authentic. Gavin’s language is rough and gritty and blunt like nothing else, but for a guy that grew up in foster homes and has spent the time since he was thirteen among football players and in locker rooms, it makes total sense. As does Noah’s snarky, biting comebacks when he and Gavin argue. Which they do. A lot. But it’s this authenticity that Hassell does better than just about anyone out there. He somehow, someway, makes guys that really don’t have many redeeming qualities likable and ones you can relate to. Sure, Gavin is a bit of a softy underneath all that snarl and Noah is kind of vulnerable underneath all that sarcasm, but that’s why we root, and root hard, for them to get their HEA.

Illegal Contact is sure to catapult Santino Hassell into mainstream romance, which he so deserves. This book is everything you want a romance to be. Sweet and sexy, romantic and swoony, and full of characters that you’ll remember for a long time to come. Congratulations Santino on a book that’s going to leave your fans wanting more of this excellent start to a new series!

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    Overall: 5

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