REVIEW: Body Check by Deirdre Martin
Dear Ms. Martin:
I looked through the archives but I couldn’t find a review of this book at Dear Author which is such a shame because it is one of my favorite contemporary romances and one of my favorite sports romances. I recently re-read (and purchased a new digital copy to replace my paperback) this book after reading your upcoming return to the New York Blades, Icebreaker.
I remember that this book came out in 2003 about two or three months after Rachel Gibson’s See Jane Score, another book featuring a hockey virgin falling in love with a hockey player. Whenever I recommend this book to someone, I always say that one of the best things about the book is the very modern feel to the relationship. The story is set in New York. Ty and Janna read like two very urban individuals. Ty and Janna fall into bed, break up, get back together, break up again, and ultimately find a believable happy ever after together.
Janna is lured away from her position as a publicist for a popular soap opera to work in the publicity office of the New York Blades. The Blades have been bought by Kidco and want the publicity staff to start cleaning up the image of the team. Last year, after winning the Stanley Cup, pictures were leaked of some of the Blade players with the Cup at a strip club having the strippers perform certain deeds with the Cup.
Janna’s knowledge of hockey is small but she knows a lot about publicity. She creates a sign up sheet with a number of charity events in the area. She wants each player to sign up for one of them. Ty Gallagher, the captain, however, is quite resistant to cleaning up his image and sucking up to his corporate bosses. He brought them the Cup last year and he’ll bring it to them again this year and winning should be enough.
Janna quickly realizes that Ty is the team leader both on and off the court. If he signs up for charitable events, the rest of the team will follow. She pursues him relentlessly and it is her dogged pursuit, her unwillingness to back down in the face of his stern denial that makes him interested in her as a person because those are the very same traits Ty brings to the ice each time he plays.
Being persistent is Janna’s thing. As the middle sister whose older sister is an overachiever lawyer and whose young sister is a model, Janna’s determination and perseverance set her apart. She took the label and it defined her. Failure was not an option.
Janna slowly erodes the resistance of other players, setting up magazine shoots and getting a few of the younger men into charity events where they can squire around young hot models. Unfortunately, Ty is immovable but he cannot help admire Janna’s tenacity.
The two don’t fall into bed immediately. Instead they banter, fight, flirt, and ultimately have sex. Their interactions were always entertaining and believable. Ty weasels Janna’s address out of her boss to apologize for showing up at a party, inadvertently with her model sister on his arm.
"Glad you like it. Now tell me why you didn't call."
"I'll tell you when you put your glasses back on."
"I told you, I don't need my glasses except for reading."
"Bull, you're squinting at me like Mr. Magoo. How many fingers am I holding up?"
Janna angrily folded her arms across her chest. "Sorry, I'm not playing this game."
"How many fingers?"
"Fine," Janna huffed. She squinted harder and craned her neck forward. "Two."
"Wrong. Three. Put 'em back on, Janna. They're not as bad as you think."
"That's easy for you to say, you don't wear glasses."
"Yeah, I do. I wear contacts most of the time, just like you. Now put 'em back on."
Sighing, she donned her glasses, the world springing back into Technicolor.
"Better?" he asked.
"Yes," she was forced to admit. "Now tell me why you didn't call."
"Because I thought you might not talk to me." He paused. "That you'd even hang up on me."
Even in 2003, the immediate bedroom (or no bedroom) hookup was prevalent and this story stood out as something different. I could see the two of them strike sparks off each other when they fought over PR commitments. By the time the two did have sex, it made sense. I understood what attracted Ty to Janna, something different from the beautiful models (like her sister) that he usually slept with. I understood what attracted Janna to Ty, something different than the usual boneheaded athlete on the make.
Ty challenged Janna to think of herself in terms of achievement instead of effort. He was kind to her brother. When he exerted himself, he was lethally charming. Janna wasn’t impressed with Ty’s stature, nor his position. He irritated her as much as he attracted her. But in the end, the two could not keep their hands off each other. Their relationship is carried out in secret. Janna didn’t want her position to as publicist for the Blades to be threatened and Ty was well known for his meaningless liasons during the hockey season.
Ty (referred to as the warrior monk in later Blade books) was an athlete of the old school. No two athletic events in a row, meaning no sex before a game. During the hockey season, particularly the playoffs, Ty ate, breathed, dreamed, lived hockey. No women allowed. When his game begins to suffer, Ty believes that it is his ongoing relationship with Janna that is the cause. Further complicating the matter is that Janna’s roommate, Theresa, is assaulted by one of Ty’s roommates. Ty and Janna don’t see eye to eye on this issue and their differing opinions causes friction. There is one point in which Janna tells Ty off, making him sit through a diatribe about how he is a coward for not being able to handle two things at once. I really appreciated that. Rather than slink off and lick her wounds (although she does that too) she really gives it to him. And Ty doesn’t have an epiphany right there either because that wouldn’t be natural.
Everything about Ty and Janna’s relationship, the hockey, her PR, her interaction with her roommate, Ty’s devotion to his game, was very authentic. There was a scene in the book where Ty and Janna are at a bar post game after a very big win and Ty is uncharacteristically drinking a little heavier than normal. Janna catches Ty encouraging the waitress to pile on more carrots. It seemed ordinary yet so normal that Ty, a little tipsy, would be pranking his teammates in such a silly way. One area that I would have liked to have seen is more of Ty’s background. We knew a lot about Janna, her wealthy parents’ messy marriage, her younger brother’s struggle in the family, her difficulties with her own future. Ty is an enigma, of sorts. His whole life, backward and forward was hockey. Maybe this was intentional. Maybe he was birthed as a result of an unholy relationship between his absent father and a magical zamboni. It’s pretty vague.
I also loved the locker room scenes. Of course, I have no idea if these are believable. I’ve watched my share of NFL Total Access on the NFL channel but I doubt we are seeing anything but a very sanitized version of locker room activities but it was authentic enough. Plus, there is something engaging about being behind the wizard’s curtain, so to speak.
Ty didn't care if some of his guys had been out on the town the night before, or if others were looking forward to stretching out in the sweet bosom of their family with bagels and coffee while reading the Sunday Times. The choice of the day and the hour had been deliberate, another of his devices for testing team loyalty. And when Ty said eight, he didn't mean eightish. He meant eight.
There is one discordant part of the book and I don’t know whether I fully believe in the results of the team’s actions toward one of the players. I’ve debated it with myself and I’ll put down my indecision to the fact that I don’t know hockey well enough to believe that team discipline can have a lasting effect on someone’s life.
I enjoyed this book when I read it back when it was first released and it was still good when I took it out for a re-read recently. B+
As an aside, Troy Aikmen, after retirement, married a former publicist of the Dallas Cowboys. I’m not sure if that served as any inspiration for the story or not.