Sunday, January 18, 2009

It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips *****

This is one of my favorite audio book series - the Chicago Stars, a fictional NFL team. It isn't really about football at all, but the team provides a focal point for the characters in the series to meet. In the first book, the team owner Bert Somerville has died and left the team, temporarily, to his oldest daughter, Phoebe. Phoebe and Bert have been estranged since Phoebe ran away from home at 18, right after she was raped by a college jock. Bert didn't believe her, so she left and floated around Europe, settling down with an older artist, posing as his mistress for several years. She's now 33 - and has a younger half-sister, Molly.

Phoebe is nobody's bimbo but she's been blessed, or maybe cursed, with her bimbo mother's body - all of Bert's wives were Las Vegas showgirls, with lush, full curves and movie-star good looks. She knows nothing about football, which shouldn't matter, since Bert has always considered Phoebe his one failure, so he cut her out of his will. Except... ok, he changed the will just before he died, making Phoebe the temporary owner of the team. His wish is that she'll learn something about living right and give up her wild life posing nude for artists and befriending gay men. The team has to win the playoffs under her care for her to keep the team - if they don't (and no one expects them to), as long as she has shown up for work every day, she'll get a large trust fund and the team will go to her cousin Reed, the son Bert never had.

The head coach is Dan Calebow (forgive my spellings, after all, I've only listened to it, and don't have the book!). Dan is recently divorced from a ball-busting career politician, and is searching for a baby-making woman to be his bride. He's identified just the woman - sweet, shy Sharon, a kindergarten teacher. However, the chemistry between him and Phoebe is strong and undeniable - when he doesn't want to kill her, that is. She's left the team in the lurch, deciding not to jump to Bert's tune, but without her signature, nothing can happen - no contracts can be signed, leaving players without contracts, and the team without a place to play in the future.

Dan convinces Phoebe to go to the team's office and at least be the figurehead, and sign the contracts he has waiting - but he didn't figure in her high IQ and ability to learn fast. She thwarts him on several issues, goading him again and again into wanting to strangle her (or, conversely, boink her mad). She manages to hoodwink him more than once into doing things her way - and pretty soon, he's impressed with her business acumen. He's also fallen for the illusion that Phoebe has a lot of experience with men, an illusion she continues to let everyone believe, even though it is far from the truth.

I continue to get a lot of laughs and pleasure from hearing A+ narrator Anna Fields read this story. Phoebe and Dan fall hard for each other - and Dan figures out Sharon isn't the one for him after all, even if it is late enough in the story that Phoebe finds out about Sharon, with bad results. Phoebe accuses him of wanting Phoebe as his wife so he'll be co-owner of the team, throwing a major monkey wrench into the works. She decides there isn't any way she can be sure he loves her if they win, and goes into the final game with heartache. But there's another plot twist - or two - along the way that can change the outcome of the game. The end conflict is so gripping - with a second-by-second play-by-play as we watch the Stars come so close to winning the final playoff game... Even knowing how it will come out, I feel the tension!

The secondary characters are so much fun - Darnell Pruitt and his lady love Charmaine, Bobby Tom Denton (who gets his book next, in Heaven, Texas), and Molly (who gets her book later, when she's older, in This Heart of Mine). There are more team members in the next books, which are separated by several years in Chicago Stars time, but we continue to follow Dan and Phoebe in all the books, which is what I love about series!

It's a 5 star listen, in fact, even though I don't love all the stories, after doing several re-listens, I give the series a 5 star rating anyway! Oh and I'm adding Notable Pet for Poo, Phoebe's dog, who plays a big part in many scenes.

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