[ARC REVIEW] “A Rival’s Kiss” (Fulton U Rivals) By: Maya Hughes

The third book in the Fulton U Rivals series, “A Rival’s Kiss,” is here!

What is “A Rival’s Kiss” by Maya Hughes about?

Walking away would be the smartest decision, but no one’s ever accused me of being smart. Cold, determined, brutal, but never smart.

Willa’s mine from the moment I rescue her. I protect her from a brawling crowd and she stares up at me like I’m her prince charming. No one’s ever looked at me like that. No one has ever dared to come that close.

I didn’t know she was the little sister of one of my biggest rivals. Her brother and I have both drawn blood on the field, dislocated joints, broken bones, but I’ll never want to show her that side of me.

I long to be the man she believes I am, but there’s only one way I know how to win—how to survive—and that’s ensuring my enemies lose.

Once he finds out who his sister has been dating it’ll be all-out war, and I might lose the only woman who’s ever looked at me like I’m not built only for destruction.

Changing my ways won’t be easy, but I’m willing to risk it all for her.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Review:

This just might be my favorite book of Maya’s that I’ve read so far – which includes the entirety of the Fulton U series. It’s been just over two years since I started the Fulton U series, so I’m overdue for a re-read. I know saying Ezra just might be my favorite is a pretty bold claim to make, especially considering how much I disliked Johanssen in Berk’s book, “The Third Best Thing,” but bear with me. I’ve had this one added to my “to-read” shelf on Goodreads for almost a year, so needless to say, I’ve been pretty excited to read it.

Before I get into how much I love Ezra and Willa together, I first want to talk about how interconnected this book is with “The Third Best Thing.” Unlike the second book in the Fulton U Rivals series, “The Kiss List,” this one just glosses over the plot points and happenings of the first two books in the STFU series – “Kiss and Tell” and “The Kiss List,” – but is more intertwined with “The Third Best Thing.” The events are happening at the same time, so we get to see some scenes that we’re familiar with from Berk’s perspective in a new light through Ezra’s eyes, which fills in some of the gaps in conversations, fights, etc. Berk and Ezra have a lot more in common than either of them think.  Not to mention, Ezra and Willa’s relationship has been teased for years since TTBT came out, so it was exciting to get to read their love story. We also got to see more details from the first two books of the Fulton U Rivals series as well, such as learning that Willa was the mystery friend who put the food in the oven when the boys came back home from the away game.

Ever since we found out how Ezra and Willa first meet in “Kiss and Tell” when she falls down the bleachers, I’ve been so excited for Ezra’s story. He’s really quiet, even around his friends, which reminds me a lot of Keyton from Fulton U. (Keyton appears in the FU books, and finds his own love story across the “Falling” trilogy – “The Art of Falling for You,” “The Sin of Kissing You,” and “The Hate of Loving You.”) We do get to see a quick interaction between Willa and Keyton, too. Aside from Berk, other characters  from the FU series (including Reece, the love interest of the first FU book, “The Perfect First”) pop up throughout the story. One of the more prominent characters is Walsh Goodwin, Willa’s older brother, known to us previously in the FU series by his nickname, Brick. 

To say that Walsh and Ezra don’t get along is a major understatement – Walsh could be so mean to Ezra, even though he was (albeit selfishly) telling himself that he was acting in Willa’s best interest. With that being said, him and Willa had a sweet sibling relationship, despite all of the family issues they were both dealing and coping with in their own ways. Getting to see how a family tragedy from years prior had a ripple effect almost two decades later and impacted the two of them in different, opposite ways, was  interesting. 

The only real friend of Willa’s that we get to meet is her lifelong best friend, Maggie. Let the record show that I’m holding out hope for a best friend’s brother romance between her and Walsh, btw. Maggie ends up giving Ezra something to help him with his relationship with Willa (purposely vague, I know), which I don’t think Willa ever finds out about, which I thought was a little bit strange. With that being said, it was nice to see Maggie and Ezra getting along – I love when strong female friendships are depicted in books! One thing that gave me a bit of a pause was Willa’s favorite color; she explicitly says what it is at one point in the book, but her color is described by Ezra as being green, a different color. I know that doesn’t necessarily mean that the colors are mixed up, it was just something that I noticed.

Ezra and Willa are absolutely adorable together. Their personalities mesh so well, and I loved seeing how sweet and kind Ezra was to her, and although he’s closed off to everyone else, how differently he acts on and off the field. There was never a moment where Willa had an issue with his drive to win on the field, which I liked. It would’ve been an easy way to create conflict between the two of them, but instead their conflicts were more complicated than that, which I appreciated. Ezra’s backstory involving his mom is truly heartbreaking, and without giving anything away, let’s just say that I’m not a fan of his mom. I wish he would’ve told her about how hard of a time he’d had in foster care, and was still having now that he’d aged out, and all of the emotional trauma he’d been dealing with for the past 15 or so years. A scene between Ezra’s mom and Willa certainly would’ve been interesting. 

I just love the two of them together, plain and simple. Seeing the lengths they went to to show support to each other in their own ways was so heartwarming. Willa gives Ezra a few gifts throughout the book, including a snowglobe from her collection. The stress that I felt throughout the whole book waiting for one of the snowglobes to break…was very high. I’m happy to report that that never happened, so you don’t have to worry about it the way that I did!   

Overall, this was a great addition to the Fulton U/STFU universe, and I’m so happy to have gotten an early eARC to read! I highly recommend at least reading the Fulton U series through “The Third Best Thing” and then reading the first two books of the Fulton U Rivals/STFU series before this one, just so you understand the context that the books are set in. The good news for you is that you can binge them right now! As with all new adult books, I recommend this one for 17 or 18+ due to some of the sexual content, but y’all can be the judge of that. I think Griff’s story might be the next one – we don’t know too much about him or Hollis, so their books are sure to be interesting! This book is a must-read for fans of the Fulton U series, and for anyone who loves college football sports romances!

***

Read my reviews of the Fulton U universe!

“The Perfect First” (Fulton U #1)

“The Second We Met” (Fulton U #2)

“The Third Best Thing” (Fulton U #3)

“The Fourth Time Charm” (Fulton U #4)

“The Art of Falling for You” (Falling #1)

“The Sin of Kissing You” (Falling #2)

“The Hate of Loving You” (Falling #3)

“Kiss and Tell” (STFU aka Fulton U Rivals #1)

“The Kiss List” (STFU aka Fulton U Rivals #2)

Check out my playlists for the Fulton U universe!

“The Perfect First” (Fulton U #1) ♪

“The Second We Met” (Fulton U #2) 

“The Third Best Thing” (Fulton U #3) ♪

“The Fourth Time Charm” (Fulton U #4) ♪

“The Art of Falling for You” (Falling #1) ♪

“The Sin of Kissing You” (Falling #2) ♪

“The Hate of Loving You” (Falling #3) ♪

“Kiss and Tell” (STFU aka Fulton U Rivals #1) ♪

“The Kiss List” (STFU aka Fulton U Rivals #2) ♪

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