Title: Number One Pick
Author: Heidi Champa
Cover Artist: Trace Edward Zaber
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: Contemporary M/M, romantic comedy
Length: Novella/27K words
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A surprisingly funny story as a group of fantasy football enthusiasts push their most losing player to the top of the heap
Blake Kaplan has been playing fantasy football with his old college buddies for years. He’s never managed to win, mostly because he’s never wanted to subject himself to the bets and pranks the other guys endured for a chance at glory. But this year, Blake is willing to do whatever it takes to get the first pick in the draft, even if it means sacrificing his dignity a bit.
To his surprise, his wager involves the one thing he’s worse at than fantasy football—dating. If Blake can survive a few dates with the gorgeous Landon O’Keefe, the bartender at the league’s favorite watering hole, he’ll get his number one pick in the draft.
But will he lose his heart along the way?
Blake was considered a failure in his fantasy football league because he never won the championship, due mainly to his inability to score the number one pick each year. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to win, but he refused to play the silly games invented by his friend Vince, the self appointed commissioner, and other members of the league, all of whom made fun of his inability to achieve the highest honour or the number one pick which could put him over the top. He was also the remaining single member of the group, something Vince never failed to mention whenever he emailed everyone. As each of the guys either got married, had children, or moved away, the number of active participants in the league who attended the meetings dwindled to a trickle as the importance of fake football faded in the face of RL challenges.
Fantasy football was the one activity keeping these former college buddies together 13 years later, which made Vince even more determined to dream up ways to lure his friends back into attending the meetings which were an excuse for drinking, goofing around and bitch sessions about their spouses, at their favourite bar Coopers. This year promised to be just as embarrassing for Blake unless he gave in and played the game by acceding to Vince’s devious schemes to make him a winner and elevate him from his second-to-last place.
Blake had a well deserved reputation as somewhat of a slut as he didn’t date; he only had one night stands because he didn’t want any entanglements after being hurt a long time ago. This year Vince was determined to use Blake’s reputation of whoring around against him by coming up with his own version of a no-fail way to get him his heart’s desire, the number one pick. All Blake had to do was commit to dating someone 5 consecutive times, the locations and activities to be determined by members of the league. One ingredinet was missing – the man of Blake’s dreams who would agree to be his date. Blake didn’t have far to look as Landon O’Keefe, resident hot bartender at Coopers, volunteered to be his playmate, with one condition – no sex on the dates, which would test his usual modus operandi.
The locations for the dates were so funny that I couldn’t contain myself and laughed heartily as each place was revealed, to Blake’s horror, which demonstrated the deviousness of Vince and the other guys to make each date as boring as possible. But Landon made them more than bearable and quite soon Blake realized that Landon was growing on him as a permanent date. But he wasn’t prepared to put his heart on the line despite all indications that Landon was just as interested in a relationship. This is Blake’s reaction to the “no sex” restriction in a conversation with Julia, Vince’s wife:
“Blake, there’s nothing weird about spending time with someone you like. Damn, I know it’s been a while, but you do remember how to have fun with a guy, right?”
“Sort of. Hell, if I could sleep with him, I’d have this all sorted in no time.”
“How do you figure?”
“If you don’t click in bed, what’s the point? What if this is all a waste of time?”
“Does it feel like a waste?”
“Then my advice is to go with it. Have fun and see what happens.”
This book was really fun and helped me get over a couple of others I had read recently that didn’t exactly thrill me as examples of good writing. The author, Heidi Champa, had obviously researched her subject or was knowledgeable about fantasy leagues and how seriously the members felt about their teams even though they were all fake. I used to belong to a fantasy baseball league and I was fiercely competitive of my players and did whatever I could to achieve the best outcome, even resorting to bribes.
The characters were well drawn and most of them were really funny – not pratfall funny but sneaky funny which is the best kind and the funniest were Vince and his wife Julia, Blake’s nemesis (is there a plural for nemesis?) 😆 The writing was fresh and there was no OTT angst, so if you’re looking for lots of angst this is not the book for you. Blake was so vulnerable although he tried to project an image of someone who was only after satisfying his sexual urges and did not let on that dating made him panic. He came back time and again to his past hurt which coloured his life and made him miserable for over a decade. With Landon he had to face his biggest challenge, flying without a net. Landon was different from Blake because he knew what he wanted and went after it, no holds barred. He knew Blake’s issues and wasn’t afraid to tackle them. He was an interesting MC with lots of tats and piercings in places that Blake had never seen and I loved their intimate interactions. The best part of the book for me was that sex did not drive this story although its lack ramped up the intensity whenever they were together and made me enjoy frotting again, which is so hot.
This is a fun book and the characters were comfortable together as old friends usually are, taking pot shots at each other but not in a vicious way. Julia was a standout female character and it was clear why she and Vince were so happy together and also why she was best friends with Blake. I loved Vince’s emails; they were one of the highlights of the book – they have to be read to be believed. BTW you don’t have to know anything about fantasy leagues to enjoy this story.