winner takes all kicks off the champion valley series, which i suspect will follow the stories of blake carpenter, brandon west, and cameron shaw, who were the last champions of high school football that blanco valley ever produced. blake carpenter rose the highest, until his career in the nfl was sidelined by knee injuries and accusations of doping. after taking a year off to sulk he returns to football, not quite triumphantly, but it is still the game that he loves. and high school football is better than no football.
sparks fly when blake meets annabelle turner, a physical therapist and divorcée who ignores his hostility and makes a point of working with the kids on the team on stretching and conditioning. blake has good reason to be wary of therapists, since he was thrown under the bus by his team and the therapists there in an effort to do everything and anything it took to win and get him back on the playing field.
but annabelle is incapable of taking a step back from someone who needs her. she's already spread thin running her physical therapy practice and being the primary caregiver for her ailing mother, but she can't stop herself from helping the kids who need her expertise. and she can't keep away from their coach who is obviously still in pain and who she can't stop staring at.
eventually it's more than their eyes that they can't keep off each other. but blake is dealing with a lot of baggage. his knee injury is still plaguing him, and he's somehow ended up addicted to oxycontin. annabelle forces him to confront his issues. and she does this in the best possible way, she's never preachy or judgmental, she is compassionate and understanding, but she doesn't shy away from speaking hard truths. and as she helps him, she begins to realize that perhaps she's taken on too many responsibilities in her life and maybe by not trying to control everything, she can be a happier person.
the story unfolds over the course of the high school football season. even though this story is set in colorado and not texas, football is what blanco valley lives and breathes. the author gives some hints of where there may be some future stories with some of the secondary characters, and i'm interested to see who is next up in the series. something tells me it will be brandon and stella.
**winner takes all will publish on august 30, 2016. i received an advanced reader copy courtesy of netgalley/forever (grand central publishing) in exchange for my honest review.