Phoebe Summerville scandalised her father's football team, and the media, by wearing an ivory jacket and thigh-high split skirt teamed with a gold bustier to his funeral. But then, she is a bimbo - blonde, easy on the eye, immaculately clad in designer clothing and high heels, flirty, superficial and accompanied everywhere by a fluffy poodle. When she learns he left the team for her, rather than Reed, her cousin and the son Bert always wanted, to manage, Phoebe is as shocked as the rest of the Chicago sporting community. Only she is privy to the letter her estranged, disapproving father left, expressing his hope that this would be one thing she wouldn't screw up.
Initially resistant, though she has gone out of her way to know nothing about the game Phoebe throws herself into managing the Chicago Stars, as much for the team as to prove her father wrong. Despite her best efforts tot he contrary, Dan Calebow, the Stars' head coach and former gridiron star, soon learns that Phoebe's ditziness is an act that covers a ferocious intellect, and her outrageous flirting disguises an almost virginal and deeply scarred sexual psyche.
It's been some time since I've read Phillips's work, after I managed to devour her every novel within the space of a few months. Her writing is strong, her plots involved and compelling, the hurdles between hero and heroine believable and usually not too far-fetched, and her characters are nuanced.
It Had To Be You is chronologically (though not by publication) the first in a series about football stars, and it doesn't disappoint. Phoebe is damaged by her father's distance, disapproval and disbelief when she was raped; she has found a way to cope with this herself, a coping strategy that is fascinating to read about, but which is incompatible with a relationship.
It takes the attention of Dan for her to be able to trust a man again. He is turn has become disenchanted with women, particularly teases, after the end of his marriage with a complex, game playing senator. One scene in particular is quite uncomfortable, and Dan's heroism is saved by him finding it as distasteful as the reader.
As Phillips helps her protagonists overcome their separate demons and find love she introduces a couple of interesting sub-plots, including Phoebe's prickly half-sister Molly; the evolution of a couple of football players and the team's much maligned general manager; an embittered father skewed not by grief at the death of his once-hero son but by the loss of his reflected glory; and a related revenge plot.
Reading this previously, and even remembering some of the elements and much of the plot, in no way diminished my experience. I suspect I'll be making my way through Phillips' oeuvre again in the coming months. - Alex