Clay Powers grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and learned early in life how to be scrappy. As an adult, he's bankrolled that ability into a lucrative career as an MMA fighter. Despite having won several championship bouts and being adored by the fans, Clay's life feels empty. He enjoys fighting but hates the spotlight. The only family he really has are his two best friends, whose father took him in as a foster kid years ago. When the need for human companionship becomes too strong, he'll sleep with a random woman, usually one who's following his fights, but they're never more than meaningless one night stands. It's not until the pretty new waitress at the local diner in his small hometown buys him a piece of pie on Thanksgiving that he realizes he's finally found someone who stirs his heart and makes him want to be her protector.
Melody Dylan moved to the little town of Garnet because it reminded her of her own hometown, someplace to where she can never return. After getting out of her abusive marriage, she's essentially on the run from her ex. She took a job as a waitress at the diner and works double shifts just to make ends meet. When she sees Clay there on Thanksgiving, she feels sorry for him and buys him some pie. Her act of kindness stirs a spark between them, but Melody is somewhat reluctant to get involved with another man. When she realizes Clay is nothing like her ex, she warms up to him quickly, but when she believes her ex may have found her, she can't allow Clay to know for fear that he might get caught in the crossfire. Instead she breaks it off to protect him, but everyone in town knows they're right for each other. Clay's best friends move heaven and earth to reunite them, but Melody's ex may have other, more sinister, ideas.
Other than figure skating and gymnastics, I'm not really much of a sports fan, so I'm also not a big reader of sports romances. I can probably count on one hand the number of sports-themed romances I've ever read. That's why it's rather odd that Defying the Odds is the second sports-themed romance I've picked up in as many months. In this one, the hero is an MMA fighter. Unlike many romance readers, I wasn't attracted to the story because of his profession, but instead because of the heroine's past history of abuse and the potential need for her to overcome her aversion to a man who makes a living with his fists. I know many women are turned on by the testosterone-laced spectacle of flying fists, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them. Yeah, I know, I'm a little strange that way, but watching two guys beat each other to a pulp for sport just isn't my idea of a good time. For that reason, this part of the story wasn't quite my cup of tea, but I still really liked everything else about it.
Melody is a woman who is running from her past. Her ex-husband severely abused her, and she barely got out of the marriage with her life. Her father is gone, and her mother, unfortunately, sided with her ex, unable to see the man for what he really was. Now Melody is starting over in a small town not unlike the one where she grew up. She's working double shifts as a waitress in the local diner to make ends meet, when Clay comes in for Thanksgiving dinner. She likes him and buys him a piece of pie, which starts the ball rolling for them toward a romantic HEA. I liked Melody, because her personality reminds me a lot of myself. She's on the curvy side and wears glasses, but of course, Clay thinks she's just perfect, even though she worries she's not attractive enough for someone like him. She's a sweet, kind, caring person, but life has handed her lemons and now she's trying to make lemonade. On the one hand, I liked that she was open and trusting of Clay pretty much from the start, but on the other hand, it seemed like after all she'd been through, she would have been more wary of men, especially ones who make a living the way he does. She pulls back a couple of times early on, but before you know it, they're enjoying a passionate clinch that leads to a whole lot more. I think perhaps the story could have been richer and deeper if Melody had had a little more internal conflict leading up to that moment, but at least the author explained that Clay and Melody's ex were worlds apart in personality.
As I mentioned, Clay is an MMA fighter. He's in the midst of training for an upcoming championship bout, when Melody buys him the Thanksgiving pie. He's incredibly touched by her kindness, especially after he learns how little money she has and how hard she's working to pay the bills. Clay had a rough life growing up, ending up in foster care at the age of eleven. He eventually was taken in by Wyatt and Jules's father, and the two of them are now his best friends and the only family he has left. I liked that Clay is kind of a shy guy. He likes fighting, but he hates all the publicity that goes along with it. Wyatt, who is a former fighter himself and a much more outgoing guy, usually goes with Clay to his fights to help deal with the press and the fans. Up to this point, Clay has pretty much only had one-night stands, sometimes with the women who follow the fights, but he doesn't really like it all that much and only does it when he feels a pressing need for the release. He'd like something deeper and more permanent, but doesn't think he'll ever find that until Mel comes along. I like how protective Clay is of Mel, and how he just wants to take care of her, even though she's trying to be independent. I also loved that even though he's a rough, tough alpha-male fighter that he has a softer, gentler side when he's with her. He's a tender lover, and when the intense passion takes hold, he's always concerned with knowing he didn't hurt her.
Defying the Odds is the first book in Kele Moon's Battered Hearts series. Jules and Wyatt play strong secondary roles and become the heroine and hero of the next two books respectively. Jules's book, Star Crossed, is book #2, where she gets paired with Romeo Wellings, Clay's arch-rival for the championship title. Wyatt mentions a girl named Tabitha, who it seems is the one that got away, and she returns to pair up with him in book #3, Crossing the Line. The author has also started a new spin-off series, Untamed Hearts, that follows some younger characters who are introduced later in the Battered Hearts series.
Other than feeling like the characterizations could have gone a little deeper, and the romance could have been built up a bit more before the first love scene, I enjoyed Defying the Odds. The love scenes are hot and steamy but don't skimp on the emotion, which is exactly the way I like them. The romance was sweet and heartfelt, which was also just right for me. Anyone who enjoys a tender romance between an alpha male with a heart of gold and a gentle heroine who brings out the best in him should really like this one.
Note: While nothing particularly kinky occurs within the love scenes, they are extremely hot and employ the use of frank language that is typically reserved for erotic romances.
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