Everything's Better With You by R.L. Merrill

It's taken 15 years for Joe and Leslie to be in the same place long term, and this may be their last chance to have their attraction and friendship grow into something more. Coaching for the alma mater, dealing with their aging bodies, Leslie and Joe fall further for each other. If only it didn't seem like the clock was ticking and Joe would decide to stay.

From the blurb for Everything's Better With You:

Everything’s Better With You is a TED LASSO-inspired sports-themed funny romance featuring two guys who've pined for each other for 15 years while their careers soared and their bodies fell apart.

Retired quarterback and “nicest guy in the NFL” Leslie Payton met former college cheerleader-turned-reality-show darling Joe Judd fifteen years ago. They spent one magical night...talking. They’ve been pining for each other via text and phone calls ever since while their careers kept them geographically apart. When their alma mater recruits them to reinvigorate a flagging athletic program, Leslie is thrilled to finally have Joe close enough to see if their “what if” can become a reality. And the sooner the better before Leslie’s history of Traumatic Brain Injury catches up to him and he’s unable to be a true partner.

Joe has spent their years apart dancing on reality TV, Broadway, and concert tours, knowing full well the clock is ticking on his body’s ability to continue taking the abuse. Leslie wants forever to start now, and Joe doesn’t have that luxury, though Leslie makes him want things he’s never allowed himself to dream of with anyone else. But a lifetime of only feeling worthwhile for his performance ability makes him doubt whether he could ever be a good coach or enough of a partner for the best man he’s ever known.

As football and cheer coaches, they’re forced to be rivals in public, but behind closed doors, their chemistry is unstoppable. A wager triggers their competitive sides, but the secrets they keep come to light and present them with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Can they finally meet on the relationship 50-yard line and move forward as a team?

Recommended for readers 18 and up who love open and honest dialogue about sex, and challenges to toxic masculinity. Also included: mesh crop tops, gratuitous shirtless car wash scenes, phone sex therapy, and all the pining.

SNik's Review:

Standalone. Second chance/friends to lovers. Mature characters. Slow burn. Dual POV. 

Former NFL quarterback Leslie has been waiting 15 years for a chance with Joe, their careers have always pulled them in different directions. Now that Joe has been convinced to return to their alma mater to coach cheer and dance, Leslie hopes that Joe will finally decide to settle down with him. But even though Joe has made a big name for himself dancing and doing choreography, Joe has more goals for himself, if only his aging body will cooperate, and being in the middle of Iowa won’t help him get more jobs. 

Leslie was nicknamed the “Nicest Guy in the NFL”, and he really is as he slowly woos and pines for Joe, helps his family and mentors young football players. Both men are realistically fearful of their aging bodies and have health issues, and while Leslie is desperate for this last chance to be with Joe, Joe is still stubbornly trying to have everything without giving up anything. 

A really compelling and emotional story, I enjoyed every moment Leslie and Joe spent together, and the friendship and caring made me tear up at times with emotion. A lovely book.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Heather's Review:

For me it took a little while to settle in and enjoy the rhythm of this book, but I'm so glad I persevered because the characters were so real and so truthful, so patient and hopeful, focused and fearful and it was lovely to see the hard fought for HEA come to fruition.

This book is definitely more emotional than I expected it to be, that's not to say that it's without levity and fun, but the pining and the dialogue just sweep you up.  I appreciate the pace and the deliberate nature that this author used to tell the characters stories.

Rating: 4 Stars

Angel's Review:

I wasn't sure what to expect with this story, the description was intriguing but I was sure how they would work out... Well Joe and Leslie worked well together once they eventually were able to be together. 

I really appreciated how R.L. wrote about real issues that occur for people who play physical sports. Whether that's cheerleading, football, baseball, soccer, etc. I liked that this highlighted actual problems, that happen when people pushes their bodies to the limits. Les being so concerned that he would develop the condition his dad has that completely changed the man he knew, made me tear up. And with Joe saying his body was starting to rebel against him hurt my heart. I don't think I ever really considered how much of a physical tole doing those sports took on the athletes bodies. But I know now, and I enjoy that I learned something. 

This book was very much a slow burn, these characters took their time getting together. Which I did appreciate. I enjoyed the details of the cheerleading dynamics and the football dynamics as well. It was cool to get a sort of background view into sports I don't typically know much information about. 

I loved the case of side characters, they were such great characters and added not only humor, but also helped move the story along. I do wish that there wasn't that moment when Joe got mad and Les for Les not trusting him. While I an see it from both sides; Joe in the 15 years Les knew him, didn't give Les much for him to trust Joe. So I thought that scene was a bit.. unfair? But It worked out. The ending was so great, I loved how it incorporated not only their family but also the two sports they were both passionate about. 

Overall a really nice book!

Rating: 4 Stars

Everything's Better With You is available to buy in ebook and paperback formats.