Kiana's life didn't start out so well. The illegitimate daughter of a famous football player, she left with her mother, a woman who couldn't bring herself to make an honest buck and went through men like Kleenex. As if that wasn't enough, her mother was murdered in front of her, leaving Kiana to be claimed by her father and the wife he'd cheated on — a saint of a woman who treated Kiana as if she were her own. But even with a stable family life, the road hasn't been easy, and after leaving an abusive boyfriend, she's doing her best to lay low and raise her own daughter in a better home than she'd started out in.
Frank Kelly has a fiery temper to match his hair. A bit full of himself and more than a little successful at football, he's the ultimate bad boy with a heart of gold. He wouldn't mind misbehaving with Kiana, except her brother — his teammate — might kill him, and Kiana will barely give him the time of day. But when she needs a famous face and a big name to draw money to her charitable foundation, he might just get the chance with her he's been wanting. Except he didn't count on her being a single mother…
But... While I liked Frank well enough, I never completely warmed up to him. I'm not sure what it was about him that I didn't connect with, but something was definitely missing for me. However, some of the other characters were a little too far over-the-top. Kiana's ex was little more than a walking stereotype, and her brother wasn't much better. Since they both played important roles in the story, even if they weren't seen as much as one might think, this tempered the believability of the story a bit. Sure, it's fiction, but I like to feel like there's more to the characters than a few shallow layers.
The Verdict: The story starts out with Frank noticing Kiana, all hell breaking loose, and a glimpse at just how dangerous Kiana's ex really is. And as soon as we meet her daughter, it becomes clear just how much is at stake. It's easy to immediately respect Kiana for the extreme care she's taking to keep her daughter safe, and when it's explained that her foundation, the one that meant so much to the father she adored, is just shy of failing, it's hard not to feel for her.
Frank was a bit difficult to like at first, not because he was some kind of jerk, but simply because he didn't seem to have much substance. Kiana seemed to make him wake up and realize who he truly wanted to be and that there were more important things in life than simply having fun and being famous. I love that he was really thrown off by the fact that Kiana had a child — it was a very realistic touch that stood out among so many stories where the guy is all knight-in-shining-armor from day one.
What's most interesting, though, is how serious they both don't want things between them to be. Kiana resists the attraction, thinking that getting involved with a man when she has a daughter to take care of is the wrong move. She's really kind of leaning toward a nun's life in that regard. And Frank, even though he's more than willing to have a fling, has no intention of settling down, much less becoming a part of a child's life. But Kiana's resistance to his charms backfires on them both, forcing Frank to prove himself and show who he really is underneath all that bravado. And the time they spend together has Kiana looking at him through different eyes. By the time things take a scary-serious turn, even Frank can't deny what he feels for Kiana and her child.
In the Red Zone, while not my favorite in the series, is a nice departure from your typical romance novel fare, and it's a solid read that's typical of the books in this series. There was some crazy drama that wasn't taken too far, and the interracial factor was a nice change from the usual. Frank, always ready with a cocky statement, kept things entertaining when the subject matter itself could have been a downer, and it was easy believe that he and Kiana, even though opposites in so many ways, were simply made for each other.