Sidelined

Sidelined

Mercy Celeste

Turns out that money and fame don’t = happiness. At least, not if you’re a gay pro football player from small town Alabama. Big surprise? Not really. But at least Celeste adds a few twists and turns to make this a more unusual gay romance.

Levi Brody, last seen peripherally in Celeste’s Six Ways from Sunday, is having a very bad year. Not only has his shoulder been ruptured on the field, but the operation to make it serviceable again didn’t work. Then the love of his life rejects him for an injured Marine. And if all that’s not enough, even after two Super Bowl wins, Levi’s cut from the team.

To regroup, Levi returns to the small town where he grew up and where he first played football. His brother Jude, now a big shot lawyer in town, signs him up as an assistant coach to Tracy Wright, once Levi’s nemesis on the high school playing field and now the football coach of a team made up of the amalgamated players from three rival high schools.

Tracy’s reluctant to take an injured prima dona pro as assistant coach even though he once fantasized over Levi as a teen. Tracy’s got enough problems with his rowdy players now that the three high schools have been consolidated.

So begins a story that in other hands would be an end run to happily ever after once the guys realize they’re on the same side. But Celeste throws in the complications of a high school girl’s family trying to cash in on Levi’s fame and fortune via a false rape charge, the media circus surrounding the charge and Levi’s firing, and one of the guy’s cross-dressing and penchant for the gay club scene.

While it may seem at first glance that Celeste has thrown the kitchen sink at this story, the bits and pieces mesh relatively well and the story makes for a sprightly read, much more interesting than its predecessor.

A few loose ends, such as Levi’s current relationships with his brother and father’s family, go unresolved, giving the book a slightly undernourished feel. Fortunately, the larger than life Levi makes up in many ways for the discrepancy. Even though he comes across as a loose bull, he’s a likeable Ferdinand-type bull which makes him more than just another closeted pro football player.

Tracy, too, is a complex personality. Even though he also is in the closet in order to protect his job as coach, his parents and sister are supportive – although they all know that his born-again brother would be mortified to learn his brother is gay. So when Tracy runs up against Levi, he knows that it won’t just be Levi who will suffer if their attraction is discovered.

Interestingly, Celeste doesn’t milk some of the appalling situations in their story, including the rape charge, Levi’s firing, or the town’s reaction when it learns that both men are gay. Her reportorial style keeps the reader’s attention on the attraction and interaction of the two men and not on the salacious details she’s relaying.

Considering that the next book in the series is Jude’s story, I can’t wait to read where these lumbering former football players end up in their ever after.