Kat Latham is a new author to Miss Bates. She read a glowing review of Latham’s novella in her London Legends series, “Unwrapping Her Perfect Match,” and was curious to try one of her books. (Some *day*, Miss B. will link to all these reviews she reads, but that day will not be today … some *day*, Miss B. will keep a record of reviews she reads … ) In any case, she dug into Latham’s fourth rugby-playing heroes novel, Taming The Legend. Miss Bates is strictly a hockey watcher, but thought the rough-and-tumble rugby-world would appeal and it did. Latham’s novel is much more than that: it’s about forgiveness and love, new-found hope and redressing of past wrongs. It’s about being friends and lovers and working together to achieve something worthy and good. It’s also really really funny!
Taming The Legend opens with London Legends star-player Ashley Trenton, 36, holding the World Cup. Ash’s victory is bittersweet: he and his team have reached the apex of rugby achievement, but this is his last game. Ash is retiring and like everyone who dedicates a life to a beloved career, he’s uncertain and scared he’ll not be able to find a purpose as all-consuming as his career. Ash puts it best when he says, “He’d married his career, and he’d never questioned that decision. So what did he do now his career was divorcing him?” The answer comes in the form of Camila Morales and a punch to Ash’s victorious jaw. One glance in the hotel lobby brought Ash back to the girl he loved and left in Barcelona eighteen years ago. Ash’s grin and sexual excitement at seeing her again last a blink … before Camila has him reeling back on his very fine bum.
Latham’s romance can be broken into three parts: the first, Ash and Camila “Mila” or “sweetness” to Ash, and their London reunion; the second, Ash and Camila in California where he travels to help her save her camp for troubled teens by coaching/coaxing reluctant teenagers into winning a rugby tournament; and, thirdly, the weakest in Miss Bates’ opinion, when certain implausible revelations come to light about the consequences of Ash and Camila’s teen romance. In the first delightful third of the novel, we learn why Camila has sought Ash and enjoy flashbacks to their adorable puppy love. Camila needs Ash to coach a rugby team into winning the rugby “sevens” tournament and, with the winnings, save her financially strapped camp. Neither has moved on from their teen love; hurt, loss, regret, and a good dose of resentment and lingering desire surface. The combination is heady and attractive and delighted Miss Bates’ reader-self.
Camila and Ash are sympathetic, likable characters and nothing is more indicative of this than Camila’s London-set revelations to Ash. What Miss Bates is about to divulge isn’t too much of a spoiler as it comes within the first three chapters and bears importance to further discussion. After their sweet love ended, Ash to go home to a rugby career tightly controlled by his ambitious father and Camila to her messed up family (she and her brother, Gabriel, the result of a quickie affair between a Mexican worker and her then-still-married mother; her beloved camp is her father’s legacy), at 16, pregnant. She wrote and wrote and wrote to Ash, but her letters were returned. Ash, on his part, had he known, would never have abandoned her. (He is right in suspecting the person who intercepted and returned Camila’s letters; their confrontation is fantastically handled).
Camila and Ash’s exchanges about the daughter she gave up for adoption tells the reader about who they are and how adroitly Latham draws them. While her romance conventions are tried-and-true and border on trite (Miss Bates means “secret baby”!), Latham does original and unusual things with them, likable things. Evidence Ash’s reaction to Camila’s handing him a picture of her holding, only momentarily before her adoptive parents took her, their daughter:
“Jesus. You must’ve been terrified.”
She wiped away fresh tears and finally saw him, concerned but calm, and disbelief rippled through her. “Why aren’t you angry? Or hurt? Or crying? Why are you just sitting there like this was something that happened to me alone? You have a child out there somewhere, Ash. You could’ve been a dad.”
… Seeing her so overwhelmed affected him far more than the news itself. Maybe it would sink in and he would be hit with how much he’d lost. But right now?
Right now weariness settled in his bones – weariness and concern for Camila as fat black tears continued to roll down her cheeks.
Please note Camila’s more-believable choice: to give a baby up for adoption instead of valiantly and against all odds raising one, usually by getting a job as a billionaire’s PA (Miss Bates is looking at you, HP). Camila was heart-broken, but she made the best choice for her child, a choice teen-age mothers may face. Note Ash’s reaction: does he go all he-man, “my baby,” or insist that she and child immediately move into his penthouse, where he’s already hired a nanny and purchased a designer wardrobe for Camila? Ash’s first thought isn’t secret-baby anger, it’s concern for Camila and guilt:
“You thought I’d abandoned you, and still asked them to name her after me?”
“Yeah.” Her voice broke. “I thought … I got to have nine months of connecting with her. Nine months of growing her and talking to her. I tried to transmit all the love I could to her and hoped she’d carry it with her throughout her life. I wanted her to have some sort of connection to you too, even if I hated you at the time. I thought it would be better for her.”
Now, now Ash’s eyes burned. He glanced away, staring at the stands on the opposite side of the pitch through blurry vision. Humility churned inside him. He felt sick at having just bragged to her all he’d achieved by putting his career first and relationships second.
Miss Bates loved Camila and Ash’s sheer decency, nay, goodness (Camila and Ash are good people, not implausibly perfect) and honesty. Camila hated him, but still gave their baby a part of him to carry with her. Ash: uber-athlete and alpha hero? Miss Bates loved the way Latham played with that trope: Ash is a weeper. He is not incensed, or domineering. He’s moved. When was the last time you read a hero who was moved? Miss Bates loved the flashback to teen Camila taking teen Ash to Like Water For Chocolate and Ash blubbering like a baby at the end of it, Camila comforting him. Really, some of these bits in the novel are marvelous.
Nothing beats, however, the second third of the novel when Ash agrees to help out Camila. The scene when he learns his rugby players are a group of sullen girls who don’t even know what a rugby ball looks like … priceless. And NOT because he’s surprised he’ll be coaching girls. Ash doesn’t disappoint EVER. Camila is as loving and honest and giving throughout. But they also never lose sight of their quandary: Camila knows that Ash’s heart is in England, with his parents, London’s excitement, a chance to work in professional rugby off the pitch, but still immersed in it. Camila would never abandon her beloved camp, or troubled teens; she was one herself and the camp saved her. Camila and Ash care about one another, but their love and desire grow. Look at what Ash says to Camila fairly early at Sunshine Lake Camp:
His whole body thrummed with need for her, but he didn’t want to push. The thought of having sex with a woman he had to cajole into it was about as erotic as the idea of sex with broccoli. When they arrived at his cabin, he stopped in front of his porch. “Mila, you can follow me inside if you want, but I won’t make promises I can’t keep … If you come in, it’ll be because you understand what this is and what it isn’t … Just in case you’re not planning to follow me, I’ll say goodnight now.”
She didn’t respond. Didn’t give him any indication which way she would go. He took the three steps up to his porch, unlocked his door, stepped inside and closed it … The door opened, and Ash released a pent-up breath. He hadn’t been sure whether she would go stomping off into the night with her pride incinerated or into this cabin with determination burning inside her. He’d hoped for the latter, not simply because he wanted her but because he’d torched her pride once and planned never to do it again.
She closed the door softly behind her and leaned back against it. “I’m not going to fall in love with you.”
“I’m not going to ask you to.”
Ouch, but again, honest, true, and, yes, sexy. Well, dear reader, they do fall in love, are already in love when they avow not to. Their journey there is wonderful.
What is NOT so wonderful is the last third of the novel, but it is a missbatesian quibble. It did drag on a tad. There are coincidences; there are creeking coincidences. But, you know what, folks, romance is often accused of these sentimental workings-out, coincidences, deus ex machina, etc. trotted out to ensure as halcyon an HEA as imaginable. But then, when Shakespeare does it, in Twelfth Night, for example, when children are restored, siblings thought dead reunited, we sniff snottily and say, “Well, Shakespeare, that’s an entirely different thing.” But let’s bash romance with being improbable, because the Bard (whom Miss Bates adores) could make statues come back to life (see Winter’s Tale for that doozy) … As for Latham’s Taming The Legend (not a great title, as Ash is tame and lovely and most unalpha-like; he’s short!), an ostensible alpha who doesn’t ever “alpha”, an HEA that doesn’t require a grovel, just some painful choices, and an epilogue (and Miss Bates isn’t a fan) that feels just right, HEA-intact. Miss Bates and Austen, her creator, loved Ms Latham’s Taming the Legend and deem it evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Kat Latham’s Taming The Legend is fourth in her London Legends series, after Knowing The Score, Playing It Safe, Tempting The Player, and the novella, “Unwrapping Her Perfect Match.” Taming The Legend, published by Carina Press, released on May 11. It’s available in e-format at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Carina Press for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.