Ylva Publishing, 2018
Defending US Open champion Genevieve “Vivi” Jones lives for tennis. Since she started playing as a teen, nearly twenty years ago, the game has been both her profession and her passion. Of course Vivi loves her parents and kid brother Jack, but she spends most of her time on the road, playing international matches, far from the outback saloon and hotel her family calls home. Her best friend is also her doubles partner. There’s little room in her hectic, disciplined life for anything outside the sport.
Gabriela Mendaro is equally devoted to her career as a tournament official. The constant travel lets her explore new places and escape from her cold, unsupportive family in Spain. Known for her unshakable composure and her diligent attention, Gabriela has worked her way up through the hierarchy of the International Tennis Foundation, to the level of silver badge umpire. She dreams of achieving the ultimate recognition of a gold badge.
When Vivi loses her shot at the US Open because Gabriela has called her out of bounds, she’s both disappointed and angry. Then an injury threatens to end her tennis career entirely. No matter how much pain she endures—despite the danger of permanent physical damage—how can she consider retirement? Tennis defines her; without it, she’s nothing.
In the midst of this emotional turmoil, a twist of fate brings Vivi and Gabriela together. Despite her resentment over the tournament loss, Vivi finds herself strongly attracted to Gabriela, and vice versa. Yielding to desire, they share one passionate night, then realize the risk they’re taking. The ITF code of conduct strictly prohibits any relationship between a player and an official which might be seen as tainting the official’s objectivity.
Of course, if Vivi were to retire, the two women would be free to explore whether the feelings that draw them together might be more than just lust. But Vivi’s reluctant to give up the game completely. Her doctor has agreed that she might be able to continue playing less physically demanding doubles matches. If she does, though, she may lose the chance to get closer to the lovely Spanish umpire.
If you asked me about my top ten interests—or even my top twenty five—sports wouldn’t make the list. The fact that this “sports romance” was written by one of my favorite authors was barely enough to overcome my reluctance to read it. I know very little about tennis. I don’t understand how it’s scored, for example. I worried that I’d be bored, or worse.
Nevertheless, I loved Code of Conduct. Though I couldn’t follow the details of Vivi’s matches, her emotions came through strong and clear. I felt her dedication to her game, the way it defines who she is, the near-terror she experiences in contemplating a life off of the court. Cheyenne Blue does an amazing job portraying the constrained and obsessed life of a serious athlete. She puts the reader inside Vivi’s head during the most intense moments of play, helping us to understand how will and focus can overcome physical limitations.
The author also provides a scathing depiction the culture surrounding professional tennis: the sometimes malicious interactions between the players, the alternating persistence and fickleness of the media, the way everyone wants a piece of the star players. It’s a bit sordid and depressing, though I suspect that the reality is even worse.
Meanwhile, I found the romance between Vivi and Gabriela believable and compelling. The primary conflict never feels contrived or overblown, as it does in some romance. The protagonists’ dedication to their respective careers is a serious obstacle to their happiness together, but their hesitation to commit is completely reasonable. After all, they do not know each other well. What if their love does not work out, after they’ve made irrevocable decisions? Vivi, in particular, has to face her own uncertain future in a way that’s painful to watch.
Finally, I enjoyed the sensual interludes in Code of Conduct. I first became aware of Cheyenne Blue as an author of richly described, emotionally intense erotica. The lesbian romance she has published over the past few years has plenty of erotic tension, but relatively little explicit sex. This novel doesn’t shy away from describing Vivi’s and Gabriela’s love making. I think this strengthens the book, making the women’s difficult choices much more plausible.
Overall, I thought Code of Conduct was Ms. Blue’s best novel since she started focusing on lesbian romance—a real winner. To risk an inappropriate metaphor, with this book Cheyenne Blue has hit a home run.