REVIEW – Shut Out by Liz Crowe

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The Beautiful Game keeps trying to drag me in. My friends and co-workers talk of it incessantly. Students past and present play it enthusiastically. Even my 5-year-old daughter wants to play (Did I mention she uses a wheelchair?  Adaptive soccer?  Isn’t that polo?). I digress…

Now Liz Crowe, one of my favorite authors, is three-books-deep into a series set in and around a professional soccer team. My resistance is being worn down…slowly.

For now, let me just say this. Despite my lukewarm feelings for soccer, this book had me at “Hello!”. It is far from lukewarm. It’s warm and delicious and luscious. Sometimes hot. Sometimes hotter. At its heart, its a love story that’s anything but ordinary.

A submissive once, a submissive forever?

A man on the run from the only life he’s ever known, Brody Vaughn is poised to accept the Black Jack Gentleman’s newly vacant goalkeeper’s position. It’s a desperate move, but one he must take to regain his emotional equilibrium. Reeling from his Mistress’s rejection and on the ragged edge of a total breakdown, he arrives in Detroit. Numb with thinly veiled grief, he walks into the club’s front office completely unaware that an encounter with true destiny awaits him.

Sophie Harrison has seen it all–as Domme, sub, and victim. Now that her complicated circumstances have landed her as legal counsel for the expansion Black Jacks team, she holds herself aloof in body and spirit. Nothing and no one gets past her fiercely guarded walls. Until the day she looks up to greet the new goalie standing in her doorway, his raw combination of vulnerability and strength making her breathless.

Two people, horribly scarred by the excesses of the BDSM lifestyle and hiding from their true selves, meet across a desk over a simple contract. All bets are off.

Sophie was introduced to Liz’s readers briefly in MUTUAL RELEASE, a standalone novel nestled in the epic STEWART REALTY series. She’s hardly a sympathetic character in MUTUAL RELEASE, but in typical Liz Crowe style, to know Sophie is to find room for her in your heart. Sophie is tough as nails on the outside and generally not a wealth of emotion inside. Her inner dialogue is fantastically developed. I had so much empathy for Sophie by the 4th chapter I felt like I was talking myself in circles trying to explain her to the other characters (as if they might hear me).

Sophie on her parents:

She’d come from a background of privilege. Had a fully functional and supportive family. Her parents had loved her, their Sophie, the beautiful, desired, only child of a pair of college professors mired somewhat in their own importance. Their one flaw, perhaps, over-involvement in her life from her conception. They were taken from her at once, in an auto accident, while she finished law school in Ann Arbor. She missed them, but in a purely decorative way.

She’d never been close to anyone, not her annoying parents, or her many friends in high school and college. No one had affected her, made an impact on her, as she worked toward her goal— her own law firm, her own money, and living the way she wanted.

Sophie’s had a rough run. A lost love. An abusive relationship she barely escaped. She’s rebuilding her life as the “legal lady” for Detroit’s Black Jack Gentlemen professional soccer team. The day Brody Vaughn, new goalie, comes to her office, she knows he’s not just some punk kid soccer player.

His physical presence, not that different than all the others who’d paraded through there in the last few days, compelled her in ways she refused to acknowledge. He stood nearly six-foot-eight, with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, long, strong legs….

He cleared his throat. And the traitorous flush crept up her neck to her face again. His angular features at that moment were set, and bored, perhaps a touch amused at her obvious discomfort. She narrowed her gaze. Why hadn’t she noticed it before? Her pulse fluttered as she put a hand to her throat. As if reading her mind, Brody Vaughn lifted his chin slightly, and she got a good look at the black chain imprinted at the base of his neck.

A dark, circular pattern of interlocking, heavy loops was imprinted on deeply tanned flesh. He smiled again, slow moving like his drawl, and touched it once, then turned, giving her a breathtaking rear view of the chain as he walked toward the office door. The man wore a collar, a permanent one, inked on his skin. But the vibes he threw her proclaimed one thing loud and clear— the person who’d bestowed the collar no longer had a say about him at all.

Brody is just delectable in his innocence and surface-level pain. A world-class soccer player, he’s lived through an abusive relationship that masqueraded as a BDSM one. Brody barely knows which way is up emotionally until his auspicious first encounter with Sophie. He struggles through any authentic relationship, having endured years of foster homes and a lack of unconditional love.

Could two people be more diametrically opposed? Yes, dear reader, opposites attract (with sparks) in SHUT OUT.

Crowe, per usual, hits just the right note with the BDSM undertones in SHUT OUT. No glorification of the lifestyle. No porn. No fantasy. Just delicious realism and an epilogue that had my toes curling for hours.

5 Stars

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