Release Day Launch/Reviews: The End Game: Kate McCarthy

The End Game 
Kate McCarthy
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Expected September 8, 2015
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“Professional athletes are pillars of their respective communities. They are heroes in the eyes of boys and girls and are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that positively represents their community.”

The public loves a good scandal. Seeing someone fall from the pinnacle of success makes a great headline. No one knows that better than I do. What started out as a promising career in college football, spiraled into scandal and shame.

But being a hero is easier said then done. Especially when there are those who expected to see the great Brody Madden fail. I craved nothing except being the best—willing to do anything to prove them wrong. But I went too far, and I tried too hard, and it broke me.

“At the time of going to print, Jordan Elliott was unavailable for comment.”

I met Brody Madden in my senior year of college. An Australian native on an international scholarship, I was the female soccer sensation with stars in her eyes and no room for a hotshot wide receiver with a chip on his shoulder.

But a heart bursting with ambition and a driving fire to succeed isn’t made of stone. I became his strength, his obsession, and the greatest love of his life. Only I wasn’t there when he needed me most.

This is a story about love and a game that takes everything. Where the path to glory is paved with sacrifice. Where pressure makes you, or breaks you, and triumph is born in the ashes of failure. Where two people’s end game will change everything.

Read the Prologue now!

Shutting the door, I walk up the slight incline behind Brody. He sits down at the top of the crest and pats the grassy spot beside him.
“You didn’t mention this part when you explained our date.”
“I can’t give away all my secrets now, can I?”
The grass is a thick blanket on the ground and when I stretch out flat, the rich, earthy scent of soil sweeps over me. My eyes lift to the sky and that’s when I get it. It’s perfectly clear and millions of stars are scattered diamonds twinkling above us—bright and magical.
“Besides,” Brody adds as he lies down beside me and sweeps out his arm, encompassing all of it. “How do you explain that?”
He’s right. You can’t. “It’s beautiful.”
“Is this what the stars are like for you back home?”
“No. Back home it’s different.”
“Different how?”
Homesickness swamps me. As beautiful as Texas is, it’s not Australia. Somehow the stars are always brighter where you belong. “Because there’s no place like home.”
“You’re wrong.”
I turn my head and stare at Brody. He’s not looking at me. His head is tilted toward the sky, eyes riveted on the beauty above him. My gaze follows the line of his profile. From the curl of his hair to the perfect line of his nose, down to the mouth I want kissing me right this very instant.
“Home’s not a place where you live. It’s a feeling.” His hand nudges my own. An invitation. I twine my fingers with his and he squeezes them lightly. “Whether it’s where you are, like the football field, or who you’re with.” Brody turns his head, looking at me when he says that. It’s comforting because it unites us somehow, like it’s slowly becoming us against the world. “You can be anywhere, Jordan. Home will follow you if you follow your heart.”
My breath hitches from the beautiful simplicity of his words. Before I can talk myself out of it, I roll over and straddle him. My knees hug his hips, and he stares up at me from my seated position. My pulse pounds a heavy beat in the silence. Thump, thump, thump. It’s so loud in my ears I’m sure he can hear it.
“Show me,” I breathe. A gleam lights his dark eyes, and he sucks his lower lip inside his mouth. He knows what I’m asking, but I spell it out anyway. “Show me one of those wicked things.”
In a move that steals the air from my lungs, he takes both my hands and pulls me down against the broad width of his chest. I’m rolled over and underneath him before I can blink. The squirm in my hips is instinctive, the ache between my thighs relentless.
“Careful what you ask for,” Brody says roughly, every exquisite inch of his body pressing down on mine.
His lips curve. “Because when I give it to you, it won’t be enough.”
My fingers trail down the side of his face, grazing the firm jaw, cupping his cheek in my palm. Foreboding swamps me. I’m falling hard into uncharted territory, and all I see is a broken mess at the end. How is this going to end well for either of us?
“You’re an arrogant man, Brody Madden,” I whisper.
He brings his face to mine, so close I see the brilliant gold in his eyes, like flecks of light in the dark. “And you, Jordan Elliott, will be the woman who brings me to my knees,” he whispers against my lips.
“Show me,” I beg on a shaky breath.
Brody’s lashes lower and he presses a kiss to the corner of my mouth. I tilt my chin upwards, inviting more. Rather than take my lips like I ache for him to do, he shifts sideways and begins nipping at my jaw. His breath is a rasp when he reaches my earlobe, taking it between his teeth. A sharp pinch from his bite forces a whimper from my throat.
“More?” he asks, drawing back to look at me.
“Is that even a real question?”
Brody chuckles as I slide my hand up and around his nape, dragging his mouth down to mine. He groans and kisses me gently, once, and then twice.
“Brody,” I whisper, and he kisses me again, forcing my mouth open hard like he can’t hold himself in check anymore. My hair is loose and he fists chunks of it in both hands while his tongue rubs against mine, hot and aggressive. It’s almost too much, and when I jerk away I’m left gasping.
Brody doesn’t pause. He ducks his head to my neck, his tongue tasting its way down. He finds my pulse point and sucks. It’s fierce and my back arches involuntarily. His mouth shifts further down, moving on before he leaves a mark.
Sitting up, he takes the neckline of my dress in both hands. Five dainty buttons hold it together. A single wrench will rip the flimsy fabric in two. He pauses and looks at me, inhaling raggedly. “Jordan … I don’t want to ruin it.”
My brow furrows. I glance to the hands poised on my dress. They’re tense, veins straining under his skin. My head is lost in a fog when my gaze returns to his face. “Ruin my dress?”
Brody groans, a deep sound of regret and frustration. “Us.”
“You don’t want to ruin us?”
He draws his hands away from the neckline of my dress. “No.”
“How would you do that?”
“I don’t know. I just get this feeling I’m going to.” He shifts away, moving off me and rolling to his back. I turn my head. Brody’s gaze is back on the stars. I watch his throat work as he swallows, the pulse in his neck pounding visibly. “All I’ve ever wanted is to be the best. Whatever it takes. I’ll do anything. That’s how I’ll ruin us, Jordan. How can something so sweet survive a sentiment so dark?”
I roll to my side, holding my head in my hand. Cupping his face with the other, I nudge gently until he’s looking at me. “I won’t let you.”
Brody’s voice is urgent, his eyes fierce. “Promise me.”
I can’t shake the apprehension. It’s set in my bones and when I speak it feels like a lie. “I promise.”
Jordan Elliott is making a big move from Australia to Texas to play soccer her senior year in college. Her life is very busy with her own studies, soccer, and limited time with her new friends. But she has been asked to take on even more to help a student not lose his football privileges.

Brody Madden is not what he seems. To many, he is the handsome, popular, rich, football God who has it all. Few know of his internal struggles and demons.  His perfect facade hides a vulnerable, broken young man full of self loathing, anger and disappointment. All he really wants is acceptance from those that matter and to feel worthy. Football is all he thinks he can succeed in. But he is at risk of losing that as well. 

Jordan is sassy, fierce, ambitious and sweet. She has her own past issues that she tries to push out of her mind. She has so much on her plate, but does not want to let anyone down. Soccer has always been her life's dream and she is determined to succeed.

Trying to keep their arrangement private requires some skillful maneuvering and it has repercussions on both of their lives.  I loved their banter, push and pull, surprising connection, and protectiveness of one another. They never meant to get attached or to care. They didn't have room for each other in their lives. Neither could afford to give up the head space the other took up because they were only supposed to focus on their game, goals, and being the best. They both have their internal motivators that lead them to excel in their sport and they are under intense pressure to succeed. But in spending time together, a new sense of need, connection, and feelings of belonging begin to develop. But eventually something will have to be sacrificed because their futures do not have common denominators and it seems impossible that they could have it all.

Brody is always having to fight--his demons, his feelings of worthlessness, for acceptance, to win and succeed, and for Jordan. She believes in him and strives to help him gain confidence. But with issues piling up, sometimes the fight becomes too much. And Jordan also finds herself fighting-- For Brody, for happiness, for love, to reach her goals, and to make everyone proud.  He usually has the ability to ground her, bring her laughter and little room to breathe. But he also has the ability to distract her and cause her pain. They both have so much pressure on them from so many places, but much of it they also place on themselves. And their need to protect each other just adds more. 

And when life becomes more complicated and everything is at risk, do you let go or hold on tight? 

This is more than a typical NA sports story. It doesn't just scratch the surface and throw insta-love, lots of sex, and a quick HEA on top of a sports theme. This is an intricately woven and beautifully written story about raw pain, hope, healing, passion, and sacrifice. It is an epic journey of two people trying to achieve their dreams, but also trying to grab on to the person that believes in them enough to encourage them. But sometimes there are conflicts and challenges that seem impossible to overcome and some dreams supersede others. It is a battle for strength, acceptance, love, and happiness. It is about finding out what is most important in life to feel whole and about figuring out how to believe in yourself. 

I will admit that this book is long. And I have a low tolerance for long books these days. I was a beta reader for this and even warned the author of this ahead of time. I was fully prepared to get bored to tell her to take out unneeded scenes. But surprisingly I was not bored. I found myself totally engrossed. I hated to have to put it down and tend to real life needs. It was not full of long-winded descriptions or details I did not care about. Every word, every interaction, every feeling, every heartbreak, and every victory was valid and important. In the end, I felt it was all needed and I remained entranced and in breathless anticipation throughout this epic journey. And it was truly epic and poignant.

It had humor, heartbreak, sacrifice, hope, and redemption, and centered around a real, soul-deep, passionate love not only for each other but also for their sports. It had me going through so many emotions from laughing, crying, anger, sadness, frustration, and gripping my kindle due to tension. I loved these complex characters despite their flaws, failures, or unpopular decisions. I loved getting into both of their heads in dual points of view. I rooted for them all along and my heart broke with them during difficult times and celebrated the happy ones. I was broken so many times, then put back together, only to be hit with another blow. There were twists and surprises and so many ups and downs. And I felt it all right along with them.

I loved the side characters:  Jax, Leah, Hayden, Eddie, Carter, Paige, Nicky, Annabelle, and even their Professor.  They added layers of support, protection, and love for this couple and were not afraid to call them out as well.  I would love to see a book about his funny, sweet cousin, Jax, or her protective, sacrificing twin brother, Nicky. And of course there were a few antagonists that I truly hated that caused drama and dissension. 

I was not sure how Kate McCarthy was going to be able to follow up Fighting Redemption as it was our number one fave read of 2013, and Give Me Grace that was in our top faves of 2014. But she is an amazing author and has managed to write another moving, powerful story with characters that feel real and totally captured my heart. This is definitely one of my very top favorite reads of 2015. It is heart wrenching, passionate, dramatic, and inspirational. It had me completely captivated and emotionally invested throughout. I am left still thinking about these characters and their tumultuous journey and feeling the after effects of an emotional reading experience. These are the kinds of books that stick with me and inspire my love of reading. 

I was gifted a beta copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Jordan dreams of playing professional soccer. The chance to play for a top US college sends her out of her native Australia and on a course to play professionally, if she can finish her senior year strong and make the cut at the pro level.

Brody has NFL dreams and lives up the life of big man on campus as one of his school’s star players.

This is not a whirlwind romance that spans a few months from meeting to marriage. No. This is a story that spans a good part of the lives of the main characters. It is long. But it is written in such a way that there is always something going on; there is always movement to the storyline.

There is also a great message throughout the book. The characters struggle with self-confidence in a unique way. For someone who spends so much time being applauded, and seems to have it all, Brody has a hard time believing he deserves what he has, believing he can accomplish his goals, believing he can follow through. I ached reading the struggles he faced.

Jordan has an immense inner strength. Moving overseas and remaining focused on her studies and career goals, she didn’t expect how Brody would change her. But she knew what she wanted, even as she struggled with how to adjust her plans to include the man she had fallen in love with, or if she should continue on as planned after college. 

This story is far more than football and soccer, but I love how the sports push and pull the characters and exist as that initial bridge between them. But I also love the other traits that are exposed as commonalities and connections.

There were a few times the timeline and events threw me for a loop. The way it unfolds, key scenes are told in hindsight rather than as they happened and that shift made the resulting twists even more unexpected. 

This book kept me enthralled through it’s entirety. The range of emotions I felt as Jordan and Brody met, completed college and faced their future should not have surprised me as much as it did. Kate McCarthy never fails to entertain me with her stories and challenge me with her characters and this was no exception. But I was surprised to find that range within what looked like a regular sports novel.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Kate McCarthy

Kate McCarthy is an Australian, living in the pretty sunshine state of Queensland with her two kids and two dogs, Rufus and Pete.

She loves to bake sweet stuff and eat it too. With an exciting degree in business, she works as an accountant by day, and an author by night. In between family life, she is most often found in bed reading, or at the beach, still reading.

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