Release Day REVIEW : Everything’s Better With You – R.L. Merrill

Everything's Better With You Book Cover Everything's Better With You
R.L. Merrill
MM Romance, Sports Fiction, Sports Romance
Celie Bay Publications
May 31, 2023

Everything’s Better With You is a TED LASSO-inspired sports-themed funny romance featuring two guys who've pined for each other for 15 years while their careers soared and their bodies fell apart.

Retired quarterback and “nicest guy in the NFL” Leslie Payton met former college cheerleader-turned-reality-show darling Joe Judd fifteen years ago. They spent one magical night...talking. They’ve been pining for each other via text and phone calls ever since while their careers kept them geographically apart. When their alma mater recruits them to reinvigorate a flagging athletic program, Leslie is thrilled to finally have Joe close enough to see if their “what if” can become a reality. And the sooner the better before Leslie’s history of Traumatic Brain Injury catches up to him and he’s unable to be a true partner.

Joe has spent their years apart dancing on reality TV, Broadway, and concert tours, knowing full well the clock is ticking on his body’s ability to continue taking the abuse. Leslie wants forever to start now, and Joe doesn’t have that luxury, though Leslie makes him want things he’s never allowed himself to dream of with anyone else. But a lifetime of only feeling worthwhile for his performance ability makes him doubt whether he could ever be a good coach or enough of a partner for the best man he’s ever known.

As football and cheer coaches, they’re forced to be rivals in public, but behind closed doors, their chemistry is unstoppable. A wager triggers their competitive sides, but the secrets they keep come to light and present them with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Can they finally meet on the relationship 50-yard line and move forward as a team?

Recommended for readers 18 and up who love open and honest dialogue about sex, and challenges to toxic masculinity. Also included: mesh crop tops, gratuitous shirtless car wash scenes, phone sex therapy, and all the pining.

Reviewed by Linda Tonis

Member of the Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team

Fifteen years ago, Joe Judd left Ayre Valley, Iowa and never looked back. Joe pursued his dream of a dancing career, and he achieved huge success. He danced with JLo and Lady Gaga and is a regular on a TV dance competition show called Dance Machine. Nominated for an Emmy appearing on Broadway, his career was everything he dreamed of despite arthritis, disc problems and constant pain after a difficult performance.

Leslie Payton is a retired quarterback with three Superbowl rings and a reputation as one of the nicest men in football. It was fifteen years ago that he met Joe and for fifteen years he pined for him. They spoke, texted but Joe always found a reason for them not to meet face to face, fearing that a relationship would interfere with his career. Leslie retired fearing that one more concussion would leave him with permanent brain damage, and he did what so many refused to do, retire putting their health first.

After fifteen years Joe returned to Ayre Valley at the invitation of Leslie’s brother Barry. Barry is the new president of Greenvale College and wants to start new sports programs to hopefully bring more enrollment. His hope is to have Leslie coach the football team and Joe oversee the cheerleading program and possible dance program. Joe agrees to a one-year contract with a stipulation that he is still able to appear on Dance Machine when needed.

Leslie finally has Joe back and hopes he will want to stay on permanently. Joe has always thought about Leslie but is afraid to commit even though he is in constant pain after a performance. Joe arrives to discover that a tornado destroyed the cottage that he was supposed to occupy and damaged the football field and other damage that needs to be repaired.

Joe finds himself enjoying teaching the kids and wants to be with Leslie only Leslie is afraid to start something that will end with his heart broken. The two men must find a way to move forward but they each have past issues that keep standing in the way.

This was a beautiful story of two men who have loved each other for fifteen years, one who is ready for a long-term relationship and one who fears a relationship would stand in the way of his career. Joe must figure out that his dance career and his new career at the college can both be attainable, and Leslie must accept that Joe’s career doesn’t mean he will be left heartbroken and that they can have it all if they put their minds to it.

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