Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “He’s an asshole, but he’s my asshole.”
Quarterback JR “Ace” Anderson has made a successful transfer to Southern U to quarterback for the Renegades after the showdown between him and his old coach at Western State. With his reputation preceding him, he has a long road ahead of him in trying to gain the trust of his new teammates. The only person who seems to believe in him is the one person who he needs to stay away from-his coach’s daughter.
Bryant Johnson, a student at Southern U, has one goal in her life-to make people happy. Using her southern charms and proper upbringing, Bryant has spent her last 3 years of school taking rough young men and molding them into the perfect boyfriend. Ace promises to be her greatest project to date though she wasn’t expecting his resistance or her attraction to him.
When the gal everyone loves falls for the guy everyone hates, the biggest battle of the year will be off the field.
Downed is the 3rd installment in Jen Frederick’s highly popular Gridiron series; a sports romance contemporary that follows a champion college football team as they navigate the stress of school, sports, and women. Though part of the series, it can easily be read as a standalone. Humor and mild growing pains create the perfect canvas on which to capture the growth and redemption of a man who must come to terms with his past and learn how to be the leader he’s destined to be.
Fans will remember Ace from the previous books. A two-time championship winning quarterback with a disreputable reputation, he hit the skids in book two-Jockblocked–when some of his antics come back to haunt him. He made some bad choices that led to his having to transfer to another school and the loss of his best friend. Rude, obnoxious, loud, and toting around a huge chip on his shoulder, this self-proclaimed arrogant jerk has been given a second chance but is unsure how to move forward.
“No girls, head down, trying to fit in with my new team as best as possible. It’s not working.”
Redemption stories can be a fun ride if the author not only shows readers that the object of redemption is worthy but makes the journey a believable experience. Frederick’s achieves this by slowly drawing out our hero’s demons and allowing us to see the real reasons behind some of his behavior. She doesn’t attempt to manipulate readers by creating a storyline that magically uses Ace’s past to excuse all of his bad behavior but rather uses some outside influences to show him that he has the ability to achieve all his goals if he just learns to trust himself and his team.
Enter Bryant Johnson.
Bryant is the poster girl for the proper southern belle. Blonde, beautiful, and bubbly, she looks like a pampered princess but marches through the world like a 5 star general. To her there are no problems that can’t be solved…you just have to find a way around it. The daughter of the Renegade’s coach, her time is split between her family, her sorority, and her projects. One of those projects is based on a tragedy from her past. She has spent years using every trick in her impressive arsenal to redeem bad boys into perfect boyfriends. And she has decided Ace will be her last and possibly greatest makeover ever.
“Each encounter with Ace drives home the universe’s message that I need to save him from himself…”
Ace and Bryant’s romance starts out incredibly odd and funny. Bryant essentially insinuates herself in his life, declaring he is her boyfriend, and he’s at loss on how it all happened. Of course, the team is all for it as Bryant is beloved by all and she is the goddess of baked goods. Yes, the team is all for pushing Ace into a relationship he doesn’t want for unlimited access to yummy baked treats.
“Don’t fuck this up for us,” a stern voice tells me. The warning comes from the left tackle, the guy who guards my blind side.
“Yeah,” Carter agrees, frowning deeply at me. “I’ll lay you the fuck down if you screw this up for the team.”
I admit I wasn’t completely on board with Bryant and her manipulations. There is a self-righteous smugness to her in the beginning that was off-putting. She essentially goes out with men who are jerks in order to make them better people. An admirable goal, however, she isn’t honest about her intentions. These men think they are dating her because she is interested in them-not because she wants to make them over then release them back into the wild.
“My program is a catch and release one, not catch and keep.”
Frederick’s keeps the storyline relatively lightweight as she works her magic around Ace and Bryant. Strong chemistry, witty banter, and a playful attitude in and out of the bedroom entertains readers as Ace keeps Bryant on her toes and refuses to be just another project to her.
“If I date you,” I mutter, breaking our mouths apart, “I have a rule, too.”
“What is it,” she asks breathlessly.
“You don’t hold back on me,” I say roughly. “You don’t lie there with your eyes closed while I fuck you like you’re doing me a favor by letting me drill your pussy.” I grasp her chin, tipping her head so she’s forced to look at me. “I either turn you on or I don’t. And if it’s the latter, then I’m not wasting my time here, Bryant.”
As we watch this couple date not date, both mature along with the relationship. Frederick doesn’t attempt to change either of them at their core but rather helps them smooth out some rough spots. Bryant grew on me somewhat and you see her heart is in the right place. She eventually learns that she can’t hold herself responsible for other people’s actions and how perfection won’t stop the bad things in life from happening. Ace matures in both thought and deed; learning how to be a functional part of a team and a relationship. Both of them become each other’s biggest cheerleaders which is something they need. Some bridges are repaired and some are crossed with no looking back. Though there are some minor external conflicts, they’re low key and easily resolved.
A charismatic and rambunctious cast of secondary characters helps to keep the story from becoming too internalized with their unsolicited advice, observations and attempts to help. The team’s rally moment where they finally accept Ace as one of their own was ridiculously funny while Bryan’s sisters killed me with their outrageous neediness. The Renegade’s coach (Bryant’s dad) is a pivotal character who provides Ace with the support he doesn’t get from his own parents. A variety of new faces are introduced while some old friends drop by for a visit to help expand the world while solidifying the bridge between the two settings.
“We’re gonna win back your girl, right?”
“Count me in, but only if there are ninja stars and zip lining involved.”
Downed is a fun sexy romance that will delight romance readers who enjoy watching the redemption of a seemingly unrepentant hero.