Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward’s newest story, Well Played, takes you on an emotional journey, weaving through forbidden, football, and single-parent romantic tropes. It follows Presley, a single mother, who was returned to her hometown in the south in the wake of her son’s father’s grandfather’s death. He has willed a bed and breakfast to her son. Since he is too young, she has been tasked with managing his stake in this inn. The issue lies with the other stake in this bed and breakfast: Levi, her ex-fiance’s successful professional football-playing brother. Unfortunately, Levi wants to sell his grandfather’s historic inn, given that he lives in Denver where he plays for the Broncos AND the inn needs quite a bit of work. Seeing its potential and wanting to restore a piece of her son’s familial history, Presley fights Levi, offering to make the changes herself and betting him that she can sell out the rooms. If she can, Levi has to stop his idea of selling. Levi pushes back at Presley every step of the way because he believes something about her that isn’t true. When he finds out that his brother, Tanner, is the cause of the split between them, he begins to see her in a different light. Additionally, Presley notices her attraction to Levi. However, given that Levi is her ex’s brother, she works hard to shut down her attraction. Until she can’t. As Levi and Presley do the forbidden romance dance, they start to fall deep in love. Unfortunately, Levi is only in Beaufort for the summer and the situation is messy. Is it possible for Levi and Presley to find a happy ending?
Being that this is a romance, the obvious answer to this is “yes.” Yet, getting to that point is an emotional journey with ups and downs along the way. Keeland and Ward have carefully crafted Levi and Presley with dimension and clear chemistry, although, for me, I’ve read stronger connections between their characters in other books. I was hoping for a bit more emotional gravitas for these two, but it never quite lit for me.
Did I appreciate their initial hate-to-love situation? Absolutely! The banter and connection between Presley and Levi are quite sweet with some serious steam on the side. These two are adventurous with their bedroom activities. The scenes with Levi and Alex, Presley’s son, will melt your heart because Alex is starved for male attention. It’s clear that moving to her small-town home is a great move for Presley and her son, and Levi, being there, adds more to their relationship.
The challenge for Presley and Levi to be together given the messiness of their connection to Tanner engages the reader through the length of the story even when it gets uncomfortable. Yet, Keeland and Ward are careful in presenting Tanner. If he had been a stalwart guy, then this story would be different. Given that Tanner lacks emotional maturity, it’s easy to accept Presley and Levi together. In fact, it just feels right.
Once again, Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward have written a story that, at first glance, might offer lightness and heart. As Well Played goes, the depth of the story unleashes the emotion commonplace to their romances. While there were moments when I struggled to feel the emotional connection between Levi and Presley, overall, this small-town forbidden romance was a perfect weekend read.
In love and romance,