Body Check by Deirdre Martin
(Jove, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-13489-9
****
Hockey heroes seem to be the going thing lately. Rachel Gibson and Luanne Rice both have recent releases featuring one, and now into their worthy midst steps Deirdre Martin with Body Check, a real treat of a contemporary romance.

Janna MacNeil is new on the PR team for the New York Blades, reigning Stanley Cup champions. Her main job is damage control. The younger players have gotten into one too many scrapes, both with and without the cup, involving drunkenness, strip clubs, and basic jerk behavior. The team has recently been bought by Kidco Corporation, and they want the team’s image cleaned up - fast. Enter Janna, with years of PR experience on Hollywood soaps involving temperamental actors.

Her first job is to get the players to make public appearances at family-friendly events. Janna runs into a brick wall with Ty Gallagher, the enigmatic captain of the Blades. His team will literally lay down for the guy, and they follow his leadership to the utmost. Ty announces he won’t lift a finger for any public appearances because Kidco doesn’t give a damn about the team, just the bottom line. Janna reasons, pleads, begs him - to no avail. She’s seething, but privately admits that Ty Gallagher is one magnetically gorgeous guy. He’s ticked at the whole PR idea, but privately admits that Janna MacNeil is a smart, pretty spitfire who isn’t afraid to stand up to him, a refreshing change from the usual model types he dates.

Petite Janna knows she’s excellent at her work, but is insecure about her looks, being the middle sister between two tall, gorgeous siblings. Her parents’ unhappy marriage and the effect it’s having on her beloved twelve-year-old brother, Wills, wreak enough havoc in her life. She doesn’t need to fall for a hunky jock. However, as Ty continues to refuse and Janna continues to wear away at him, their relationship changes. Ty’s reluctant admiration of Janna turns to something deeper and more complex. Janna starts to see the man behind the image, the driven leader who will do anything to help his team win. Once these two become lovers, as they inevitably do, things get even more complicated. Janna fears for her job if they’re discovered, and Ty won’t let himself get emotionally involved when it could possibly affect his game.

Several secondary plots are used to good effect in getting Ty and Janna closer together. One involves her younger brother and his attempts to deal with his parents’ miserable marriage. Another involves a young Russian hockey player who won’t take “no” from a woman, involving Janna in several ways. But at the heart of the story is Ty and Janna, wanting to take the step that will bring them together for good and afraid to make the move, hiding instead behind their jobs.

New author Deirdre Martin injects just enough hockey into the story to give it realism without overshadowing the romance. Janna is a sassy, intelligent woman with a few insecurities, and the last person she expects to help her face them is a man like Ty Gallagher. Her likeable personality will have readers cheering for her from page one. As for Ty, he initially comes across as a bit too bull-headed. His refusal to help the team polish its image seems more based on his own personal prejudice than what’s really good for the team. Any savvy pro has to be concerned with putting fans in the seats, yet Ty seems unconcerned about the team’s declining reputation. His devotion to his teammates is carefully delineated, however, and this helps the reader, like Janna, to see beneath the surface.

The climax felt like a mis-step, as it hinges on an event that felt unrealistic. I won’t give it away, but suffice it to say that franchise stars of big pro teams start contract negotiations for the following year way before the end of the season, unlike what’s portrayed here. And they have agents who are on top of it. This contrivance, while allowing the plot to move forward, just didn’t work well. However, the rest of the book is a treat.

Rookie author Deirdre Martin aims for the net and scores with Body Check, a story that will delight lovers of sports heroes. She’s definitely going on my “to buy” list!

--Cathy Sova


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