As much as I generally like to read Harlequin novels, I haven’t read many from their Kimani line. The Brenda Jacksons I tried felt flat to me and the blurbs for other books never seemed to grab me. Additionally, I kept getting a Christian vibe off the line, and I’m pretty afraid of Christian themed books. For whatever reason, though, the excerpt for Stealing Kisses made me try Kimani again, and I’m glad it did.
Our heroine is Natalie Kenyon, a retired competitive ice skater currently working as a life coach for New York’s elite. Possessed of a Type A sort of personality, she’s ruthlessly organized and driven in her work, so the fact that she’s running a bit late for her meeting with pro basketball player Derek Lansing has her on edge. He’s been suspended for three games and his manager has hired her to help him get back on track. Resentful of his manager’s meddling, Derek quickly dismisses her and heads off the practice court. When Natalie yanks off her boots and pantyhose then steals the ball and challenges him on the court, he decides to hear her out and give her a chance.
I was really tickled by this scene and I’m glad it was in the excerpt, because it’s what sold me on the book. It’s not often that we get to see athletic women doing athletic things in romance, so when Natalie ran out in her bare feet to steal the ball and sink a basket, I was hooked. She could legitimately play basketball while also being a polished professional woman. Derek’s reaction also won me right over. He doesn’t laugh at her, or make some dismissive comment about women who think they can play, he plays basketball with her to see what she can do then compliments her ability. Hello you gorgeous man!
Natalie and Derek are both wonderful characters with a depth and richness to them. This is a whirlwind romance that deals heavily in insta-lust, but Evans puts in the work to show how they’re compatible in other ways as well. They’re that perfect mix of alike and different. Natalie and Derek share a driven, competitive, athletic nature, but they have opposite approaches to dealing with conflict – Natalie is methodical and eager to confront issues and solve them while Derek tends to ignore something and hope it goes away – which makes them each other’s complement. They understand and challenge each other at the same time, which is what I love to see in a romance.
The tone turns a bit darker as the book progresses and Natalie pushes Derek to reconcile with his estranged family. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not the biggest fan of “forgiveness” plots and this book kind of falls into the not so great category here. Derek broke with his father and brother ten years prior, when he chose to enter the NBA draft instead of attend college and said some nasty things to his janitor father. The reunion with his younger brother is swift, painless and completely lacking in awkwardness, which is fine, I guess. But the reconciliation with his father was pure melodrama. The initial angry rejection of Derek’s overtures is followed by a medical emergency that ends with his father waking up from a coma and bestowing forgiveness and wisdom on everyone. It didn’t treat difficult family dynamics with enough gravitas and respect to satisfy me.
If there’s an award for an ending that’s far too neat, this book is on the shortlist. Like I said, it’s a whirlwind romance. In the span of a week, Derek and Natalie meet, Derek reconciles with his family, Derek and Natalie fall in love, Derek retires from basketball at age 30 halfway through the season and proposes to Natalie. I liked the couple a lot, but the ending had me yanking on the reins and shouting “WHOA!” It was too much, too fast, and I don’t see how coaching college ball would leave Derek any more family time than playing would.
Final Assessment: A strong, emotional contemporary read with a well-matched couple. The ending squanders a bit of the verisimilitude with its heavy-handedness, though. B-