The first book in Cathy Yardley's Fandom Hearts series, Level Up, now with a bonus epilogue and an exclusive sneak peek at the next book in the series, One True Pairing!
Geeky introvert Tessa Rodriguez will do whatever it takes to get promoted to video game engineer– including create a fandom-based video game in just three weeks. The only problem is, she can't do it alone. Now, she needs to strong-arm, cajole, and otherwise socialize with her video game coworkers, especially her roommate, Adam, who’s always been strictly business with her. The more they work together, though, the closer they get…
Adam London has always thought of his roomie Tessa as “one of the guys” until he agreed to help her with this crazy project. Now, he’s thinking of her all the time… and certainly as something more than just a roommate! But his last girlfriend broke up with him to follow her ambitions, and he knows that Tessa is obsessed with getting ahead in the video game world.
Going from friends to something more is one hell of a challenge. Can Tessa and Adam level up their relationship to love?
About the Author
Cathy Yardley is the author of the Fandom Hearts series, starting with Level Up, and needs to get out more. When not writing, she's usually lurking on social media, playing Fallout 4, or watching D-list movies and adding to her unnatural mental store of character-actor trivia. She's a fangirl of Supernatural, Doctor Who, Sherlock, LOTR, and too many others to name. She lives with her family in Seattle. They are considering performing an intervention for her addiction to pop culture.
Read an Excerpt
By Cathy Yardley
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Cathy Wilson
All rights reserved.
"Merry day-after-the-day-after-Christmas, Tess!"
Tess Rodriguez smirked, settling back more comfortably against the desk chair in her bedroom and adjusting her web cam. Her best friend, Aniya Choudry, waved at her from the computer monitor.
"I'm calling it post-Boxing Day, and back atcha, Ani," Tess said, lifting her Tardis-painted mug of tea in salute.
"More importantly, happy early birthday," Ani added, beaming.
"You know I don't really celebrate that holiday," Tess said, laughing. "Did you get the Christmas present I sent you?"
"The complete Arrow on DVD," Ani said, a smile brightening her face. "A shirtless Stephen Amell is just what I need to take my mind off of infectious diseases and keep me warm here in snowy Helsinki. You know me so well, my friend."
"Hey, I told you to study computer science and higher mathematics like me. You're the one that decided to save the world through molecular cell biology and two PhD's."
Ani grinned. "Did you get the present I sent you?"
"You mean the gift certificate for Match.com?" Tess rolled her eyes. "Do you even know me? You're lucky you sent the Oaxacan chocolate with it, or I might not have answered your call."
"I know you well enough to know you haven't been on a date since you broke up with what's his name. And that was, what, five years ago?"
"His name was Fender," Tess corrected. "And it was ..." She stopped, doing the mental math quickly.
Holy crap. It was four years ago.
"Less than five," she amended. "Besides, I've been busy."
"Doing the video game stuff, I know," Ani said. "But there's more to life than work."
Tess frowned, taking a slug of tea. "Not for me. Which brings us to our yearly tradition ..."
"Goal setting for the year? Really?" Now it was Ani's turn for an eye roll. "It's not even New Year's Eve!"
"Yeah, but I like to be prepared."
"Fine," Ani grumped. "What's your boring goal for the year?"
"My goal," Tess said, sobering, "is to finally make it as a game engineer."
"Aren't you that now?"
Tess sighed. "Right now, I'm just a glorified sound technician. What I want to do is be a game engineer–somebody who works on the architecture. Somebody who actually builds the code, not just somebody who adds sound effects."
"So what's stopping you?"
"Well, it's not my skills, that's for damned sure," Tess said, trying not to sound as bitter as she felt. "The engineering group is small, a total clique."
"Probably male dominated, too, am I right?" Ani asked, her voice tight. "Trust me. I've faced that."
"Definitely," Tessa said, feeling despondent. "There's a boys' club going on."
"Can you go to another company?"
"I may have to," Tess said, "but I hope not. It's the same all over, really. Besides, I really like it here."
"At your company? What's the name of it, again?"
"Mysterious Pickles Games," she said, then grinned when Ani's eyebrows went up. "Yeah. We mostly just call it MPG. Anyway, testosterone poisoning aside, it's pretty cool. I like the games we work on, and management isn't abusive or crazy, or full of bullshit."
"And you like where you live."
"I do. I love the town. Even if Snoqualmie might seem a little rural for some people, I just really dig the funky vibe and all the nature." Tess glanced around her room. The furnishing was sparse–she didn't have a lot of stuff, but she did love everything she had. "And I really, really love the house. It's not a big place, but the kitchen's perfect for baking, and my room is cozy, and we've got a great view of the mountains out the living room window. And I love all the arts and crafts details. Adam was really lucky to buy it when he did."
"Ah, yes. Adam." Ani clapped her hands. "How's it going there, hmmm?"
"He's been a good roomie," Tess said. "Does his chores from the chore wheel and always leaves the toilet seat down. I hear he's got a few sisters, so I think he's well trained."
"Really? That's it?" Ani sounded disappointed.
"What were you expecting?"
"I don't know. He's cute, you're in close proximity......" Ani sighed. "I haven't been laid in a year, Tessa. Give me something vicarious and juicy to work with."
"I think the only possible outcome from that is a restraining order from Tom Hiddleston," Tess said, then held up her hand. "Really. I'm fine. The last thing I need is a relationship."
"You know, you're not fine." Ani frowned. "Fender was just a...... a hobby. I know how burned you were by Lucas."
Tess's chest tightened and she forced out a laugh. "C'mon, Ani. That was high school. That was forever ago."
"That was also your freshman year of college," Ani said gently. "And that was a guy you told me you'd crushed on mercilessly for three years before you finally got together."
Tess sighed. "Your first love is usually the most powerful," she said. "Besides, that wasn't healthy. We were both sort of ... obsessive. And I was an idiot."
"You were eighteen."
"Same thing." Tess shook her head. "What I figured out was, relationships are problematic. Careers last. All I obsess about now is work and my fandoms."
Ani looked like she was going to say something, then huffed. "Apparently instead of that online dating certificate, I should've gotten you a gasoline-powered, industrial-strength vibrator."
Tess let out a peal of laughter. "Well, thanks for thinking of me, but I'm fine. The only thing that turns me on anymore is math."
"You are sick," Ani said, making Tess laugh harder. "Seriously. There is something wrong with you."
"So what's your goal?" Tess said, hoping to change the subject.
"To get laid by a hot guy."
Tess choked on her tea. "Wow. Set that bar high, girl."
"It's more difficult than you'd think," Ani complained.
"It'd have to be. You look like a frickin' supermodel."
Ani smiled demurely. "You're too kind. But here in Helsinki, I think they're more into Nordic goddesses, not skinny Indian scientists. Beyond that, I'm in the lab all the time."
"Ebola waits for no man," Tess agreed.
"So when I do get out, I'm usually hanging out with infectious disease scientists who ... well, sorry, they aren't attractive. Not even with beer goggles."
"You know that old joke, where they say a guy goes out hoping to get laid, and a girl goes out knowing she'll get laid?" Tess shook her head. "Not my experience."
"Mine either," Ani said. "What's wrong with us?"
"Other than the fact that algorithms turn me on, and you deal with mega viruses all day?" Tess laughed. "I have no idea."
"I've seriously considered just going up to a hot guy and saying point blank, this is my problem, this is the solution. Like a business transaction, without the money bit."
"God. That sounds great. I'm not looking for a long term anything, I just want to reduce my stress levels. I could totally go for a guy who would just pop my cork and be done with it."
Before Tessa could respond, there was a knock on her bedroom door, which then tentatively swung open. There, standing in the partially opened doorway, was Adam.
Because of course that's the part he'd come in on, she thought with horror.
He was wearing his gray WSU Cougar sweatshirt and a pair of jeans, his wavy chestnut hair tousled, his blue-gray eyes filled with humor. His hands were stuffed in his pockets nonchalantly.
"I didn't hear anything," he said, but the grin that followed said differently.
If the heat on her cheeks was any indication, she was probably blushing redder than his WSU logo. "I thought you were in the living room playing Skyrim or whatever with Fezza and Rodney."
"Let's just say after two days in a ski chalet with my family, I needed more decompression than I thought," he said.
"Reduce your stress levels?" Ani chimed in, adding, "Like our girl here?"
Briefly, Tess considered shutting off the monitor. Then flying to Helsinki to murder her best friend.
"Not that kind of party. None of them are that good looking," he answered, with a grin. "But it did turn into a party. Sort of. More of the guys from work are going to be coming by."
"Oh?" Tessa felt her stomach contract. She was a dedicated introvert and the thought of the house teeming with guys from work wasn't really appealing.
"You're welcome to join us," he said, although from the sounds of it, he clearly didn't expect her to. "There will be gaming, some new stuff Abraham's bringing over. Rumor has it there will be Quidditch pong. Whatever that is."
Tess smiled. "Thanks. I'll, um, think about it." "Just wanted to give you a heads up." He waved to Ani, then closed the door again.
Tess spun on Ani. "Like our girl here?" she asked. "Really? Really?"
Ani grinned wickedly. "If that guy was in the house with me," she said, "I'd ride him like a ten-speed."
Tessa shook her head. "You suck, Ani."
"I'm sure I would," Ani purred.
"Perv," Tess said, finally laughing. "Anyway, I'm not going after Adam."
"Fine," she relented. "But I'm serious, Tess. When you decide you want something, you go for it. I know how hard it was for you to pay for college, and get the degree, and get the job. I know you'll get your goal of being an engineer, if you want it badly enough. You are relentless."
"Thanks," Tess said, warming at her friend's support.
"But it won't be enough," Ani continued. "You need more people, more connection, even as an introvert. If you won't be that dedicated about getting into a relationship, at least broaden your circle. I worry about you." She smiled sadly. "Maybe you should put some of that focus on people, not just programming. For your own sake."
"I'll be okay, but thanks." Tess smiled.
"Promise me you'll go hang out at that party a bit."
Tessa's smile dropped. "Wait, what?"
"Seriously. Promise me you'll go down to that party. I will check up on you and hassle you mercilessly when I see you, and I'll know if you didn't. You suck at lying."
Tessa rolled her eyes. "Fine," she said. Ani had called her relentless, but Tessa knew better. Ani could out-relentless Genghis Khan.
"But don't go wearing that," Ani added.
Tessa looked down at her T-shirt–something she'd gotten from The Bloggess, with the statement: Feeling Stabby. "Why? What's wrong with this?"
"If I have to explain it, you won't understand," Ani said. "Wear something that puts the goods on display, okay?"
"I'm an A cup. I don't have goods."
"Just wear something that looks like you meant to wear it!" Ani groused. "And would it kill you to wear makeup?"
"I am not wearing makeup to play Quidditch pong."
Ani paused. "Good point. All right. Go forth, get your flirt on. And report back."
Tess rolled her eyes, but nodded anyway. "Love you."
"Love you, too," Ani said. "Talk next week?"
"You got it."
Tess clicked off Skype, and sighed.
She could hear the guys showing up ... laughing, shouting, smack-talking in the living room. She threw herself onto her bed. Fine She'd do it. She'd go out, be social.
For five minutes.
And she hadn't promised Ani she'd like it.
* * *
"This is it, Adam! We're down to the last shot!"
Adam grimaced, holding the yellow ping-pong ball with paper wings attached. "So, if they get the snitch through the last quaffle ..."
"That's a hoop," José Yao, one of his fellow coders, sneered at him. "The quaffle's the other ping pong ball."
"Heathen," Fezza said, rolling his eyes.
"If they get the snitch into our last cup, we're screwed," José continued. "Got it?"
"Got it." Adam was a little bleary-eyed at this point. He was a moderate to nonexistent drinker on most occasions, and on those occasions, his chosen poison was a pale ale. The stuff he'd been drinking tonight was fairly clear. No good can come of this, he thought, but gamely stepped up to the table.
He made his shot, and it veered a little, bounding off the hoop.
At that point, Rodney Charles, his friend and co-worker at MPG, shuffled up to the table and took the quaffle
"Obliviate!" he said, with no apparent sarcasm, and bounced the ball. It arced like a champ, gliding through the hoop before bouncing one more time ... and then landing deftly in the last cup.
Adam's team shouted. "Nooooooo!"
"That's it! Ravenclaw wins!" Rodney said, with a wide, goofy grin. "Come on, drink up!"
"What is it I'm drinking here, again?" Adam asked, leery.
"Expelliarmus shot," Fezza said.
"And it's called that why?"
"Watch." With that, Fezza lit all the shot glasses aflame ... and then grabbed a pinch of cinnamon from a nearby canister. "Expelliarmus!" he shouted, tossing it on the fire.
A poof of flame went up. The guys cheered. Adam, on the other hand, winced.
"Hey! Watch it with that!"
"I'm telling you, he's turned into such a baby since he bought this house," José said derisively.
"Now blow it out and drink," Fezza said, handing him his own little alcohol torch.
Adam sighed. Last time I throw a post-Boxing Day party, he thought, then did as instructed, the shot burning his throat almost as much as if he'd left it lit. "Seriously, though. Don't set the curtains on fire."
"Well, if you didn't expect a little damage, you shouldn't have invited all the guys over," Rodney said. "You'll notice that we always hang out at Fezza's condo, not mine, even though we're in the same building. I've seen what you animals have done to the couch. Not to mention the tables."
"And the fridge," Fezza grumbled.
"Well, I felt like celebrating a little," Adam said. More to the point, after hanging out with his parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews for the past five days, he felt like crawling out of his own skin. Nothing like drinking and gaming with the guys to distract himself.
"Ohhhhh, right," José said, nodding as he drank his own shot. "This is D-day, huh?"
"The day you got dumped by your ex," José continued. "Just last year, right?"
It was, he hated to admit. To the day. Instead, he shrugged.
"No wonder you want to get plastered," José said. "Jeez. You were a wreck."
Fezza came over and smacked José on the back of the head, causing José to yelp.
"What? He was!"
"It's not that," Adam said quickly. "I just wanted to blow off some steam. Spent a whole week with my family up in a ski chalet they rented, up in Cle Elum. That much family time got on my nerves."
"Thought you were cool with your family?" Fezza said.
"I am. I mean, generally," he said, settling down on the couch and watching as the guys set up the systems and turned the game on, their characters prowling around a dark forest, searching for enemies. "But they just kept hassling me this time around."
"About what? Not the job. Thought they were over you not going into medicine or business or whatever."
"They're fine with that. My brother actually said he wished he'd gotten into coding–said that his son and daughter alone would keep video games in business." That had made him smile. "Nah, they just think I need to be in a relationship."
The guys made raspberry noises. "What, and give up all this?" Fezza said, tongue in cheek.
Rodney winced. "I feel for you, mate. My mother is on my case, constantly."
"Yeah, yeah." Adam felt better–whether that was from the solidarity, or the Expelliarmus shot, he wasn't sure. "They actually said I was afraid to get back on the horse, can you believe it?"
"They said it like that?" José yelped. "Like, son, you're obviously afraid of getting laid?"
"Well, not those exact words," he admitted. "They said that I'm avoiding relationships, that I'm not even trying. Whatever, right?"
Instead of backing him up, they shrugged.
"Dude. You're hanging out here with us," Fezza said. "Even I know that's not going to get you a girl."
Adam frowned. "What, you guys are telling me I shouldn't be gaming? Seriously?"
"No. But it's pretty obvious you're still hung up on your ex."
Fezza's practical, no-nonsense way of saying it made it seem obvious. The fact that all the guys seemed to agree with him only made it worse. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Fezza didn't even look away from the screen, tapping the controller and maneuvering with ease. "I'm not saying you've got a shrine or anything, but you've still got her girly crap all over," he said. "And let's face it, it's not like you're out there looking for anyone."
"Sorry. I've been meaning to stop by Girlfriends R' Us and pick up a new one," Adam said caustically. "Which reminds me, why haven't you guys got girlfriends, if you're on my case?"
"Not for want of trying," Fezza said.
"I have plenty of dates," José bragged. Rodney threw a gummy bear at him.
"Yeah, but you can't keep any of them," Rodney shot back.
"I'm playing the numbers," José said, his tone insulted.
Adam sighed. "I am not hung up on Casey."
Oh, really? Then why are you here, with these guys, just to avoid remembering what happened on this same night last year?
Excerpted from Level Up by Cathy Yardley. Copyright © 2016 Cathy Wilson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 stars — I am in love with this book. Heck, I’m in love with this whole series, but I read them out of order so I’m only just now finally getting back to the first book in the series! I have a feeling I’m going to have a hard time elucidating what I loved about it, but I’mma give it a try!! First, let’s talk about the narrators, since I listened to this one on audiobook! I thought they were both solid, but that they both could have done better with their distinctive character voices. I felt like sometimes the different voices weren’t consistent, and so it was a bit harder to figure out who was talking. Now, I have a hard time faulting them, b/c there is a LARGE secondary cast in this book, so I can’t imagine how hard that would be. I also wasn’t enamoured with Ms. St. Clair’s Adam voice…it sounded…muppet-ish. I have no idea how to explain, so that’s what you get. But other than the distinct voices, these narrators were da bomb. The pacing was great, I could hear the different emotions, and they were both voices that were easy to listen to. Now to the book!! The level of fantastic nerdiness in these books is high. As a female programmer, I felt Tessa’s plight at an intrinsic level. I wasn’t her level of geeky, but I fully understand the challenges of being a female developer in a male-dominated industry. I felt like that aspect of the story was very well done, and while I can’t completely verify all of the coding references made, because I’m only a little g geek, not a big G Geek, from context it felt accurate. I also totally empathized with Tessa’s introverted nature. Seriously, there were so many aspects of her that are ME. Making friends, putting myself out there, joining in the antics at work…those were all things that I did not excel at, and that I had to work at. So Tessa’s WHOLE STORY resonated with me, and I loved it. I needed it. I LOVED seeing her make those efforts to put herself out there, and I cheered when she fit in with the bookstore girls! I loved all the talk of fandoms, and conventions, and all things that I’m not specifically into, but peripherally understand. I LOVED the strong female characters in this series, they make me so happy, and Tessa was no exception. Adam was total book boyfriend material for me. I could just…see my husband in him. He was snarky, yet sweet, had a hard time putting himself out there with girls, but was hella smart as a project lead. I adored him. It’s not that he didn’t have flaws, but I forgave his missteps along the way. And I liked the way he challenged Tessa. And Adam and Tessa had AWESOME chemistry. Oh boy, did I love their kisses, and every step along the way of their bumpy journey to more. I loved that you really felt their connection beyond the romance as well. I loved the way they both started to see each other as more, especially the way Adam started to notice Tessa…swoony!! I’ve mentioned the bookstore girls, but I also loved the group of guys at Mysterious Pickles. I could easily picture them all, and none of them were over the top or too sexist or anything…they all had flaws, but they were *good* guys. So yeah. This was a total hit for me. Not that I was surprised, I’ve loved all the books in this series! I love that the characters aren’t stunning models, but rather characters I can relate to and still swoon over. AWESOME.
I loved this book. It was a bit awkward in the beginning, but very authentically need. Which IS awkward. If you don't do fandoms, this book is not for you. Seeing mentions of shows and games I like/cosplay made me very giggly, just because it was so accurate. I haven't yet checked if this is an on going series, but if it is, you bet your butt I will buy ALL OF IT. Also. There wasn't ridiculously cut men that somehow have perfect faces, bodies, that for whatever reason can't catch a break. More of a reason why I loved this book so much. Please give it a chance, if you like nerdy stuff. You won't regret it. I sure didn't.