Guarded (Kensley Panthers #2) by Nicole Dykes

Guarded is a small town, light enemies to lovers NA romance by author Nicole Dykes. It's the second book in the Kensley Panthers series, but can totally stand alone. We had 7 reviewers read this one!

From the blurb:

Jameson Bates
I have a secret. We all have secrets. I’m nothing special.
It just so happens, however, that my sworn enemy also knows my secret.
He’s the absolute worst person to know this, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
What he does with this information is totally out of my hands and completely in his.
This is why I’ve never let anyone in. I don’t trust easily. I keep to myself.
I’m closed off. Angry.

Garrison Dixon
I shouldn’t have seen what I did.
I shouldn’t know what I do.
But how Bates can think I would ever say anything is beyond me.
Everyone thinks I’m just a big, dumb football player with nothing more to him.
The truth is I’ll never say a word about what I witnessed. I don’t care about it the way he thinks I do. I wouldn’t hurt him.
And I’d let him know that—all of it—if he wasn’t so damn . . .

Jacqueleen the Reading Queen's Review:

Who doesn't love a little enemies with lovers sprinkled into their romance? Guarded starts off with our MCs Jameson and Garrison quite at odds with one another. Jameson has never liked Garrison, even though they both play football on the same high school team. He thinks he's dumb and a big mouth. He doesn't take life seriously, when serious is the only way Jameson has ever been. When Garrison happens upon him in a rather compromising situation, well, let's just say this does not go over well. Jameson is terrified his teammate is going to open his big mouth and tell the world. However, weeks go by and no matter how hostile Jameson is towards Garrison, he never hears a peep about what happened. You see, Garrison has a secret of his own, and now that he knows Jameson's, he's ready to explore too - with Jameson being his target.

"In this moment, it's just a kiss. A deep, unfiltered, uninhibited kiss that I feel everywhere. My first kiss with a guy. The first kiss that ever felt right in ways I never let myself even think about."

I really enjoyed how this started off as just a hot hookup until Jameson started to get to know the real Garrison. He was nothing like he believed. Garrison puts on a great front, always smiling and laughing. In truth, he is a happy guy, but he's also hurting because he has been hiding his truth for so long it's begun to take its toll. On the other hand, Jameson is utterly terrified of anyone finding out he enjoys men. His father has made it very clear that his life is planned out. Take over the family farm, marry a woman, and produce the next heir to the farm. None of this is something Jameson wants, especially when it becomes clear how much he loves the boy he always thought he hated.

The major angst of the story comes from the fact that these MCs live in a small town that isn't exactly known for its openness towards the queer community. We also have the fact that both Garrison and Jameson have fathers who they are certain aren't going to take the news well. I felt like that part of the story was very realistic and done well. I also loved the friendship between Garrison and Oakley. It was such a dudebro relationship, but Oakley showed his true colors when he had his friends back all the way. I'm unbelievably ecstatic that the UST I thought I felt between him and a certain other side character is going to play out in book 3. I have a feeling he's not going to know what hit him and I can't wait!

Rating: 5 Stars

Sarah C's Review:

Guarded takes us back to Kensley and back to the Panthers. This time, we get to meet Garrison Dixon and Jameson Bates - two boys on the football team who honestly? They don't have a great relationship. Bates is closed off and guarded and basically dislikes everything about Dixon - and has since Dixon stole his glue stick in kindergarten. You laugh, but I grew up in a small town and those grudges are real. The book starts out with Dixon catching Bates and his best friend kissing at a party - his male best friend. Which leads to an all-out brawl in the locker room and a time jump to the next school year where Bates is still terrified that Dixon is going to say something about him and Travis.

Instead, Garrison Dixon proves him wrong. Not only does he prove him wrong, but he confides his own secret to him and they begin a no strings attached physical relationship. Because, you know, those always stay no strings attached and no one EVER ends up in knots over them. Oh, wait...

Nicole once again creates wonderful three-dimensional characters you can't help but root for. They are all fully realized, and they all felt incredibly real to me. Because I grew up in a small town and these characters felt like people I would've passed in the halls at school (just infinitely more attractive than kids in my school...) We also got Kingsley and Camden mentions throughout the book. The side characters were beyond amazing and I've already got a short list of stories I'm hoping that Nicole gifts us with. (To tell you I squealed when she had in the back who the next book is about is an understatement. Next book when?)

There were also some heartbreaking moments and moments that made me want to start crying. I got teared up several times. Nicole is great at doing that, at tugging at my heartstrings and making me drown in my own feelings.

All in all, this is an amazing book about finding yourself and about breaking free of the expectations put on you in high school. It's a great book about seeing someone for who they are in spite of what you've thought over the past years. It's dual POV and has a pretty decent heat level.

I loved it, in case you couldn't tell. 

Rating: 5 Stars

SNik's Review:

Second in series (Kensley Panthers), but can be read as a standalone. Dual POV. 

High schooler Jameson’s life is plotted out for him, playing sports and taking over his family’s farm is what is expected, but when he gets caught kissing his best friend, he lives in fear of being outed to his family and the small town he lives in. 

Sure Garrison saw two guys kissing, and even though he is known as the bigger than life loudmouth jock, he can keep a secret. Nobody knows that he is gay and that’s a secret he’s been keeping for years. 

The animosity between Jameson and Garrison due to fear is realistic and understandable but as Garrison pushes Jameson to trust him they embark on a frenemies with benefits arrangement that slowly grows into more. 

Honestly, this story stressed me out with their need for secrecy and worry that they would be discovered, but I enjoyed every single interaction between Garrison and Jameson from the arguments to the steamy times. They’ve known each other since childhood and the story happens over months, which allows for romantic feelings to develop after the initial lust. 

Garrison is admirable in his courage to live his life and commitment to Jameson no matter what, and once Jameson realizes he cannot be happy without Garrison, they get a sweet HEA.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Angel's Review:

I'm a big fan of Nicole's books. When there are opportunities to get an arc I'm all over it. I love her writing and her writing style. It's so realistic and personal. You can feel the emotions of the characters, and the side characters have a reason to be there in her stories. They aren't just there for no reason. They have their own personalities and quirks and aren't just an afterthought. 

Jameson is guarded and jaded. His dad is forcing him into a life he doesn't want and has no choice in. He'll have to stay in the closet, love on his family's farm and stay in his hometown for the rest of his life. 

Until loud, boisterous, and goofy Garrison enters his life. The way Garrison found out about Jameson being into guys could've gone better, but that was the catalyst that finally got these two men talking. Sure, there was fighting first, but then their relationship started to develop. 

I really enjoyed the slow burn of enemies to lovers. At first their relationship was more like enemies with benefits? But that was what their characters called for. My only critique (and this is a small one) is I wish there were more scenes of Jameson and Garrison getting to know each other better personally rather than intimately. Cause to me they certainly knew each other's bodies well. I just wanted to read more about them getting to know one another and maybe them as a couple. That's a really minor thing though, I still really liked this story despite that. 

I'm really looking forward to Travis's and Oakley's story. I can feel the tension there. 

Overall, another excellent book by a very talented author! 

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Bookish.jka's Review:

Guarded is book 2 in the Kensley Panthers series by Nicole Dykes. The series comprises linked MM standalones set around a high school football team in a small town. This is Jameson and Garrison's story.

I loved book 1 in the series, Keeper, which was a friends to lovers story and Guarded was a great read too, with an enemies to lovers lean (my fave). This is basically a low angst love story (but do note the author's warnings) with a HEA.

Definitely recommended if you love:

❣️enemies to lovers
❣️sports romance
❣️first times
❣️small town
❣️opposites attract
❣️cute but steamy

4.5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Nedra's Review:

I’ve always loved an intense enemies to lovers story and Nicole delivers with Garrison and Jameson! Their hostility and animosity dating back to childhood, but I got the feeling it was more one sided.  They’re both hiding secrets, mainly because of the ignorant town they reside, but also out of fear of being exposed. 

𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙨𝙩 𝙠𝙞𝙨𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧 𝙛𝙚𝙡𝙩 𝙧𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩 𝙞𝙣 𝙬𝙖𝙮𝙨 𝙄 𝙣𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧 𝙡𝙚𝙩 𝙢𝙮𝙨𝙚𝙡𝙛 𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙠 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩.

I absolutely loved the dynamics of their relationship, from hatred to annoyance to desire to love. The sneakiness of their hookups was exciting as well, leaving me on edge, waiting for someone to catch them. But the intensity of their feelings outweighed everything, ending with truly genuine joy and happiness. 

The angst was minimal but fierce with reactions from both MC’s fathers. I loved how Nicole handled the situation with sensitivity and compassion, showing others that we are free to love whomever we choose. 

Rating: 5 Stars

Heather's Review:

Guarded is a New Adult, high school, coming of age romance featuring an enemies to lovers plot - well... at least one of them believes they're enemies...

So cleverly written, you see the angst of high school seniors trying to live up to their potential on and off the football field and determine what they want from life after high school... Jameson is doggedly determined to break down the walls Garrison has erected since they were young and also the fear they feel when determining how to come out to their families... this book was a clear slow burn to steamy, building awareness of their sexual and emotional needs and a wonderful ride for the reader!  
If you read New Adult romance, then you need to add Guarded to your TBR immediately!  Guarded is book 2 of the Kensley Panthers series, but can easily be read standalone.

Rating: 5 Stars

Miki J's Review:

Wow, what an awesome book !!  I don’t mind enemies to lovers trope but this did have a bit more hostility than I’d normally go for but it didn’t stop me from devouring the book.  

Very well written storyline, characters and background details - along with feeling the hostility, you certainly feel the desperation but there are moments of lightness and connection which balances it all out.  And when they connect, oh boy, they really do connect !!!  

The story is more than that’s also about making decisions and standing on your own feet, with or without family.....very very good book indeed !!! 

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Guarded is available to buy as an ebook, paperback, or to read with Kindle Unlimited subscription.