Changing the Game

Changing the Game - Jaci Burton Jaci Burton set a daunting task for herself in casting tough as nails sports agent, Elizabeth Darnell as Gavin Riley's love interest in Changing the Game. If you read The Perfect Play, (Gavin's brother, Mick and Tara Lincoln's story) you will know Elizabeth was Mick's agent until she pulled a cruel and completely self serving stunt in an attempt to ruin his relationship with Tara. To add insult to injury, Elizabeth used Tara's teenage son Nathan in her manipulative ploy. Elizabeth therefore played an antagonistic role in The Perfect Play, vilifying her in reader's eyes, including mine.

In losing Mick Riley as a client, Elizabeth not only hurt her business, she lost a friend and alienated herself from the close knit Riley family who had embraced her as part of the clan. She deeply regrets hurting Mick, Tara and Nathan, has tried to make amends, but continues to suffer the repercussions of her meddling. However, Elizabeth is one tough cookie. Born and raised in small town Arkansas in a less than optimal family situation, she used her intelligence to escape, go to college and become a self made woman who has worked exceptionally hard to be one of the most sought after sports agents in the business. Elizabeth is one of a handful of women who have made it in a man's world. She is focused, considered a shark in the business-Elizabeth is a weapon in stiletto heels. She doesn't become sexually involved with clients, in fact her personal life takes a back seat to her career, she prides herself on being independent. She does have one Achilles heel-Gavin Riley, who is still her client despite the situation with his brother.

Gavin plays first base for the St. Louis Rivers and his life is baseball. He lives up to his playboy image and commitment to one woman is not in his game plan. Gavin loves his no strings attached lifestyle. And, he has LOVED playing baseball since he was a kid. I became totally enamored with this hero, he is alpha, but kind and polite. Gavin has a sensual aura, he is a man’s man who attracts women like bees to honey.

In the wake of the fiasco with Mick, Elizabeth has avoided Gavin for months. Her behavior is completely uncharacteristic because as his agent she has been in his life for the past 4 years negotiating lucrative contracts, and orchestrating endorsements and promotional publicity events to keep his career on the right track. So, Gavin decides it is time to clear the air and when he corners her after a sports banquet Elizabeth automatically assumes he, like Mick, is going to fire her. Gavin has always viewed Elizabeth a cold, calculating businesswoman. He has never seen her in a sexual way, oh he as noticed her because Elizabeth is a beautiful woman, but she does an excellent job managing his career, so their relationship has been purely professional.

On the other hand, Elizabeth has secretly been in love with Gavin for the entire time she has known him and when he takes her back to his Florida beach house for their ‘talk’, things heat up-fast and they become involved in an intense, no strings attached affair. And, let me tell you the erotic scenes in this one? SMOKIN. HOT. As in, air conditioner, fan and ice water needed. Gavin is a major studly! ;)

Ms. Burton peels away the layers of Elizabeth's armor and shows readers that beneath the tough heartless exterior, she is vulnerable and surprisingly has self esteem issues. There is major conflict in this love match. Mick carries a monumental grudge against Elizabeth and will not forgive her, he is none to happy that Gavin has become involved with his nemisis. Then there is Gavin and Elizabeth’s working relationship. She finds reconciling her roles as his agent and lover difficult. It’s a rocky road for these two and while the situations surrounding their break-ups tugged at my heartstrings, it made the fiery passionate scenes when they reunite all the more intense and special.

The Riley family play a key role in Changing the Game, especially Kathleen, the remarkable matriarch of the Riley clan. Jaci Burton has written a stellar character in Gavin, Mick and Jenna’s mother. Ms. Burton also explores the simmering sibling rivalry that has always existed between the boys, moreso for Gavin than Mick. When a family crisis occurs, this resentment comes boiling to the surface.

Ms. Burton also introduces ice hockey star center, drop dead gorgeous Ty Anderson who plays for the St. Lois Ice and becomes one of Elizabeth's clients. Ty is the hero of the next Play-by-Play novel Taking a Shot scheduled for release in March 2012, for me, March can’t come soon enough. The feisty, independent Jenna Riley is Ty’s love interest.

Elizabeth sat in the owner’s box with Ty, her new client. He wanted to see the game, she wanted to impress him, so she got him seats in the owner’s box since she and Clyde Ross, owner of the Rivers, were close.

She made it a point to be on friendly terms with all the team owners. Not too close, but close enough that negotiations would go her way and her clients would get a good deal. Owners trusted her because they knew she wasn’t out to screw them over. She didn’t give them drug or steroid-addled players or players who were interested only in becoming the next action movie star. She represented players who were serious about their sport. Which was why she’d spent several days in close meetings with Ty Anderson before she signed him on. She checked out his background and his playing history, wanted to make sure there were no skeletons in his closet, then she hit him with some tough questions and let him know she’d tolerate no bullshit. He had to be serious about playing hockey and staying in the sport. Money was great and all, but as she told all her clients, it wasn’t just about the money. They had to love their sport.

By the time she’d spent several days with Ty, she was convinced he lived, breathed, and ate hockey, which was just what she loved in a client. They’d signed the papers yesterday.

Changing the Game © Jaci Burton

Did Ms. Burton redeem Elizabeth in my eyes? Absolutely. There is considerable groveling involved but it is also thanks to the Riley family and their ability to forgive and love her for who she really is. Ms. Burton, was very clever though because she puts a key character in an antagonistic role, then redeems this character in what is a wonderful, special conclusion of this story.

There is so much I’d like to say about this book, because IMHO it is a smart multi-layered romance with humor, drama, and sensuality. I became completely invested in Changing the Game, loved the baseball scenes, the Riley family, and the insight into what it takes to be a sports agent. Most of all I loved the way Ms. Burton crafted a romance that brings together two extremely competitive, career driven people.

When I finished Changing the Game I wanted to read it and The Perfect Play all over again. If you decide to read Changing the Game, I hope you will enjoy it too.