For some reason, hockey romances are one of the few “sports romance” categories I can stand. Something about the typical attitudes and personalities of hockey players makes them more palatable than those of other sports players, and perhaps because it’s a sport I know just enough to be interested in but not enough to be thrown out of the story by inaccuracies. I know that both halves of this author pairing are enormous hockey fans, so I’d be surprised if significant inaccuracies (as opposed to minor ones due to storytelling) exist, and I already trust the characters they create to be intriguing, based on reading their previous works. This book is the first co-written by the pair, and I was not disappointed by the finished product.
I had a difficult time putting this book down, which means I lost about a day and a half to it, but have no regrets. This book is long, like 2 or 3 times longer than most romance novels, but the pacing is wonderful and none of the scenes ever feel like filler, even the hockey games. The energy swept me up, and I didn’t even mind all the in-game details that set up the “important” moments when other stories might have focused exclusively on the highlights. Zabo and Witt also focus just as much on the time between games that exist in the fast-paced life of hockey season. Characters shouldn’t exist in a vacuum, and I enjoyed the quiet moments on the plane with Elias and Nisha and the exuberant holiday scenes with Julien’s extended family.
Speaking of Julien, the private moments between him and Isaac through the course of their relationship development are as hot as the game scenes are cool. I adored how Zabo and Witt flipped the script by reversing the roles I expected filled by these men. Their spicier interactions are guided by an element of power exchange, but in a much more fluid way than stricter BDSM dynamics. Isaac’s initial research is both amusing and adorable, and I loved how self-aware Julien is of his needs. It was outside the bedroom when I just wanted someone to give Julien a hug and some antianxiety medication.
The central arc of this book is the romance that develops between Isaac and Julien; however, the trauma that Julien still experiences due to a past relationship is also a significant factor of that. Normally, I roll my eyes when pairings have avoidable communication issues. This couple does emphasize the importance of communication, but the things they keep hidden add to the tension of the storyline rather than feeling contrived for the sake of conflict.
Considering how difficult it is for “regular” people to discuss a previous toxic relationship, I understand how much pressure Julien was under to keep his past hidden when also under the weight of the masculinity inherent in being a professional sports player. The villain from his past is one of the worst I’ve seen in contemporary romance, and readers should be aware of moments in which Julien thinks about or reveals details of his experience. The dark moment that threatens the relationship (and almost Julien’s entire life) is brutal on both sides, but I wanted to cheer for the steps Isaac takes to fight for who he loves and how Julien decides to face his past to help others in his situation.
I already look forward to the next book, which will center on two important secondary characters featured in this series debut. I love books by Witt and Zabo individually, and fans of each author should not miss this powerhouse novel.
Disclaimer: I am friends with one of the authors, who did not ask me to review the book; I read it via Kindle Unlimited.