Book Review

Review and Excerpts: Settle the Score / Hustle Play by Tara Frejas

Settle the Score

College senior Garnet Figueroa lives and breathes basketball. A reliable asset to her varsity team, she is equipped with the skills and smarts to get the De La Sierra Lady Hunters closer to this year’s championship title. But Garnet soon finds out that her good friend (and long-time crush), cheerdancer Charles Crisostomo, is being cheated on by his girl, and she lets her emotions get the best of her.

Will she be able to come up with a game plan to save herself from heartbreak before the buzzer signals Game Over?

Hustle Play

Running on pure adrenaline and working with game strategies is something a basketball player like Garnet Figueroa is trained for. On the court, she is unbeatable. Off the court… that’s a completely different story.

Because falling in love is trickier than a ball game, and Garnet finds herself fumbling over her feelings for Charles Crisostomo. The fact that her attention gets divided between him and rival school hard-court hottie Chris Barcelo doesn’t help.

Or does it?

***

Review

You can never go wrong with a Tara Frejas book. I love Garnet and Charles, and I love how Frejas explores the changes in their dynamics from Settle the Score to Hustle Play. Plus it’s a male cheerleader and a female basketball player! Set in the Philippines! If you live here too, you’d have an idea how intensely invested Filipinos are to both sports, especially on the collegiate level, and the switch from the usual gender assignments brings a new layer to this sports-oriented, friends-to-lovers romance. I really wish Frejas will write more stories from this universe 🙂

Read an Excerpt from Settle the Score

Freshman year.

I spent a stupid amount of time on the wrong side of campus and was already running late for orientation. As I brisk-walked to the Liberal Arts Building, someone in a green shirt sped past, bringing a quick gust of wind that effectively snatched my enrollment form from my fingers. I cursed when it flew up in the air, but the Flash suddenly turned around and helped me retrieve the piece of paper.

“Sorry ’bout that. Running late.” He handed me my enrollment form, and I took it. Only he didn’t let go just yet. He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at the sheet. I gave it a tug, and he let go.

“Sorry. I just realized we’re in the same block.”

“LA29?”

“Yeah.” He jerked his head forward. “Want to go together? I’m still unfamiliar with the campus.”

I tucked the form between the pages of a book I carried. “As am I.”

“So let’s go?”

I began walking again, checking my watch as I did. We were already five minutes late.

“I’m Charles, by the way,” he said when he caught up with me by the entrance of the Liberal Arts Building.

“Garnet.”

I noticed how our footsteps were in stride as we went up the stairs and how he was wearing classic and completely worn Chuck Taylors that were the same color as his shirt. “You must really like being a Sierran,” I commented.

“It’s a family thing.”

“Ah.”

“You?”

“Scholarship,” I answered curtly as we got up to the third floor. Only a few strides away, Charles went ahead and opened the door to 315, then stepped back to let me in.

Having studied in an all-girls school from elementary to high school, this was entirely new to me. I stared at him for a second, and he did the same, unsure what to do next.

He cleared his throat and then tilted his head toward the open door. “Ladies first?”

“Oh. Thanks—you. I mean, thank you.”

My little speech blunder left him grinning, making me drop my head in embarrassment as I entered the room. He sat beside me the entire day and even took the opportunity to remind me of my mistake when I lent him a pen.

“Thanks you.”

I frowned and tried to snatch the pen away, but he was too quick.

“What kind of college student doesn’t bring a pen to school?”

“The Crisostomo kind,” came his casual reply. He scribbled something in his notebook, and the smirk he had revealed a dimple on his left cheek. That annoyed me for some reason.

How I was utterly convinced Charles and I would never be friends is still beyond me.

*          *          *

As days turned to weeks and weeks unfolded into new semesters, I learned more about “the Crisostomo kind.” His was a family of achievers, generations of Sierrans who went into medicine, architecture, even politics. I was surprised he was part of that Crisostomo clan, because even as his outward appearance spelled “rich kid,” his demeanor did not.

Okay, so maybe I stereotyped him, and I apologized for that. To which he responded, “If you’re really sorry, buy me sisig.”

Charles and I easily became lunch buddies, study buddies, insert-menial-thing-here buddies. We didn’t have everything under the sun in common, but we found common ground in sports. I used to be part of my high school basketball varsity team, while he was into track.

It was in mid-freshman year when we both agreed to try out for sports teams. He was there when I tried out for the Lady Hunters, De La Sierra’s female basketball varsity team, and I, in turn, went to his track-and-field tryouts.

That was where we met Justine, who was also trying to get into the team. Colby joined us during an athlete assembly before the collegiate athletic season began.

Ours became an odd kind of clique, in that Charles always seemed to want to hang out with us instead of the boys. Naturally, he had a circle of guy friends—some from our block, others fellow athletes—but sometimes we couldn’t help but jokingly point out how he was ruining our girl time.

Colby bluntly voiced out her concern once: “Charlie, are you gay?”

His response was a loud, jovial laugh that irked me, only because it gave me warm, fluttery feelings in my stomach. And because it made me want to make him laugh all the damn time.

And I did, in various ways and increments. I found a weird sense of accomplishment in making him laugh even if it was so easy. At least, up until the time he injured himself so badly during a track meet and was told he’d never be able to run like he used to.

*          *          *

“Careful with that landing, Garns…,” Charles told me during basketball practice one time. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

This was sophomore year, four months after Charles had a bad tendon injury. Back then, my go-to move was the reverse lay-up. Being the smallest Lady Hunter had its disadvantages, but I was fast, and I trained hard to perfect moves that assured quick points in the paint when outside shooting wasn’t an option. Charles must have seen my tendency to land and pivot each time I did the move at high speed. Done wrong, it could be disastrous.

“Thanks for the tip, Coach,” I said, lifting my jersey from the neckline so I could wipe the sweat off my face with it. As I sat with him on the bleachers, he pressed a bottle of blue Gatorade against my cheek. Surprised at the feel of the cold bottle against my skin, I pulled my head back and registered the cheeky smile on his face. He seemed to be in a good mood.

“What time are you heading home?”

“Eight, maybe?”

“I’ll drive you,” he offered. He’d gotten a car from his parents last Christmas and would often offer us rides home after practice. But Justine and Colby lived in the other side of the metro, so they would often say no. Lucky for me, I resided in a district near Charles’ house, so I’d been able to bum free rides.

Something about his tone that night was different, however. It was as though he wanted time alone so we could talk about something important.

“Is something up?

His eyes widened. “You’re scary.”

“It’s your tone. Spill.”

He lifted a hand to the back of his head, the way he usually would when he attempted to come up with a lame excuse for something, like forgetting to study for an exam or being late to our weekly non-dates. I narrowed my eyes at him. “Charlie, just say it.”

“I met this girl.”

The Gatorade bottle almost slipped through my fingers.

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Read an Excerpt from Hustle Play

Shoot day, one week later.

As Kevin Chan, our photographer for the day, showed Chris Barcelo and me several photo pegs for the shoot, I started to panic. The poses looked so… intimate. Like a set of basketball-themed pre-nuptial photos.

My anxiety might have been palpable because Avenida’s star player gently pulled me to the side and gave me a quick pep talk. He said something about being comfortable with him and trusting him. Maybe something about listening to the photographer’s instructions too. I wasn’t so sure. The damn studio lights behind Chris made him glow like an otherworldly being, and it became difficult to focus on two things at a time.

A beat later, Chris’ fingers were wrapped firmly around my wrist as he tugged me toward the studio floor.

“Relax,” Kevin said. “This is a piece of cake.”

No shit, I cursed in my head. This might be a walk in the park for Chris, who has been doing this since he was a rookie—but me? Have they seen my action shots from news articles?

Kevin started us off with something relatively easy. “Play ball,” he said as his assistant tossed Chris a basketball. In the small space provided, Chris and I pretended to play against each other. I dribbled the ball and Chris tried to steal it, and vice versa. I took an imaginary shot and Chris tried to block it, and then we switched roles. Because it was something I was used to doing, it came to me naturally.

But when we began with the couple-y poses, I grew stiff. One of these required Chris to “hug” me from behind, attempting to steal the ball in my hands. It should look like we were playfully fighting over the ball, but I must’ve looked so awkward that Kevin couldn’t find a nice shot in all thirty or so clicks I’d heard. I worried he was getting exasperated even if he was still being so nice about it.

“Pretend I’m telling you a joke,” Chris said, his voice in my ear sending good shivers down my spine. We were still posing for the camera.

“What joke?”

Any joke. What do you find funny?”

Thoughts of Charles filled my head. One way or another, the two of us were able to find humor in anything and everything if we wanted to. Like his tight cheer outfits I teased him about or those unfortunate game photos of myself on Internet articles looking like I’d dozed off, snoring, while taking a midair jumper. Sometimes we laughed over the most trivial things, leaving Justine and Colby scratching their heads and wondering if we were still sane.

I let out a soft laugh.

“Yes, Ms. Figueroa? Mind sharing it with the class?” The amusement in Chris’ voice was unmistakable.

“I just remembered the silly things my friend and I laugh about all the time.”

“That’s great!” Kevin called out. Both Chris and I turned our heads toward him. “No, no. Carry on.” His hands motioned for us to keep going. “You’re looking more natural, you’re getting it!”

From that point on, everything felt easier. We talked and joked around as we shifted to more poses. I realized then that Chris was as goofy as he was charming. I couldn’t stop laughing with him until after we were done.

“Hey, how about that—we make a great team!” Chris mused aloud as we checked the photos on Kevin’s laptop. The photographer agreed and made a comment about how some of the shots were cover-photo material.

I smiled. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Chris held his hand up near my face, and I stared at it dumbly for a few seconds before raising my own hand for a weak high five. He laughed and egged me on. “Oh, come on, Figueroa, you can do better than that!” His hand was still raised, though I could tell he was steeling it for a harder slap.

I obliged. He shook his hand in the air loosely afterward, but he continued laughing. “Knew you had it in you. Ouch.”

Kevin thanked us for our time and shook our hands before letting us go. On the way back to the holding rooms, Chris asked if I wanted to have lunch with him.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, why not? You’re my magazine girlfriend now, and your magazine boyfriend wants a date.”

Good lord. Are those butterflies in my stomach?

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RELATED LINKS

Amazon – bit.ly/GarnetLovesCharles

Print-on-Demand – tarafrejas.com/orderform

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32312280-settle-the-score-hustle-play

Live Reading (from #AprilFeelsDay) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge24XFvjNic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

TARA FREJAS is a cloud-walker who needs caffeine to fuel her travels. When she’s not in work mode, she keeps herself busy by weaving her daydreams into stories.

While not exactly a huge basketball fanatic, she does love and support the national team, Gilas Pilipinas (Hi, Gabe Norwood! Hee~) and has a tendency to get rather emotional watching their games.

In a parallel universe where she doesn’t have asthma, Tara played for her high school and college basketball teams as a shooting guard. She wore jersey number 21, and ended her college career with triple-double averages. In short, beast mode ang ate niyo. Pak.

Her other print-on-demand titles include Paper Planes Back Home, The “Forget You” Brew, and Scandalized.

Get in touch with the author:

Website: tarafrejas.com

Email: author@tarafrejas.com

Facebook: facebook.com/authortarafrejas

Twitter: @tarafrejas

Instagram: @tarafrejas

Want more indie romance books in your life? Go to romanceclassbooks.com for more than a hundred titles by Filipino authors!

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