I was underwhelmed by Rachel Gibson’s debut novel, Simply Irresistible, but while I wasn’t paying attention, she developed into a fine contemporary romance novelist. Five years and an equal number of books later, See Jane Score gets my seal of approval thanks to its strong yet just-vulnerable-enough heroine and its delightful sports setting. You have to take a huge leap of faith to swallow the novel’s premise, but once you do, you’ll find yourself quickly hooked.
Features writer Jane Alcott is best known for her monthly “Single Girl in the City” column for the Seattle Times, but few people know that she earns most of her income by writing the X-rated “Life of Honey Pie” serial for Him magazine. Unlike the man-eater Honey Pie, who leaves her lovers in coma, she’s quiet and insecure about her looks, especially her small breasts. Plain Jane is given a once-in-a-lifetime journalistic opportunity when the Times sports reporter who covers the Seattle Chinooks hockey team goes out on temporary medical leave. She is asked to fill in, traveling with the team and filing reports on the games from a female point of view in order to attract more women to the hockey arena.
Although the Chinook’s owner has approved Jane’s assignment, the players have quite a different outlook. They don’t want a woman in their locker room or on their bus, and they’re determined to make life as difficult for Jane as possible. The most vocal opponent to Jane’s new job is Luc Martineau, the Chinooks goalie, a publicity-shy superstar with a past he’d rather not discuss.
Jane’s earnest efforts to learn about hockey and ask intelligent interview questions are rebuffed at first, but eventually she earns the respect of the Chinooks. Even Luc, who initially sees her as nothing more than an annoyance, starts to wonder why he can’t get her out of his head. While Jane is more than a little infatuated with Luc, she knows he’s bad news - because in the real world, “Ken chooses Barbie,” and besides, Luc favors women with big breasts, which Jane definitely does not possess. But with a little help from her inner Honey Pie, Jane just might be able to change Luc’s preferences.
If you can get past the flimsy premise that a large metropolitan newspaper would send an inexperienced lifestyle reporter to cover a major sports franchise, then you can sit back and enjoy the ride. Gibson definitely knows about hockey, and her inclusion of jargon and superstitions add authenticity to the game scenes. Unfortunately, the sport fades into the background towards the end of the novel, and readers looking for a rousing Stanley Cup climax will be disappointed.
Gibson is known for creating alpha heroes who are considered yummy by some women, but unimpressive and politically-incorrect by others, myself included. Luc isn’t overbearingly alpha, however. Sure, he’s a jock and intensely physical, but he has a human side that is shown by his efforts to serve as surrogate parent to his orphaned half-sister. While he’s on the crude side (“you make me want to suck a bruise on you just so I can kiss you better”), he’s rarely cruel. I could have lived without the horseshoe tattoo located on his body in a strategic location, but I guess I’m just old fashioned.
The author may have a knack for alpha heroes, but in my opinion the heroine makes this book work. Jane may be shy and quiet, but when push comes to shove she knows how to stand up for herself with guts and a lot of class. She doesn’t know much about hockey but does her best to learn, and she throws a mean game of darts. As Honey Pie, she’s unashamedly sexual and Gibson never makes her apologize for it. In fact she’s such a strong person that it’s hard to understand why she has such low self-esteem, especially about those infamous small breasts (which are referred to WAY too many times). She agonizes too much about how the fabulous Luc could never love someone like li’l old her. I wanted her to demand that he prove himself worthy.
Gibson’s writing style is confident, humorous and sexy. She finds a nice middle ground between screwball comedy and poignant melodrama that never veers too far in either direction. Despite the fact that tattoo-bearing alphas aren’t my cup of tea, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Gibson definitely scores with this one.