This book takes place during the same year as The Year We Hid Away, and as you'll read you'll notice the occasional overlap here and there with regards to hockey action. I attempted to look up on Wikipedia what one calls this sort of thing, I'm guessing "parallel story" or "companion piece" is as close at it gets. Perhaps we need a new term, a sidequel?
Anyhoo: I do love a good "of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine" exes reuniting romance, and this one's a real kicker. Except in this case it's "he walks onto my hockey team." Yup, this is a steamy, romantic, amusing, angsty dudes-only romance. Just so you know.
Mike Graham and Johnny Rikker* were best friends since middle school. And then the hormones kicked in and they fell in love as teenagers. Unfortunately, they got ambushed by gay-bashers who beat the crap out of Rikker. Graham managed to run away in time and not get hurt, but both guys never got up the nerve to talk to each other again after that--which is something that Graham has been beating himself up about ever since. Graham has been able to stay in the closet all this time, and he's made attempts at heterosexuality--most recently with Bella, the team's manager, who I'll get back to later. But he drinks a lot more than he should, and he ain't happy.
* note: since jock types almost always call each other by their last names, I'll be doing the same here.
After the beating, Rikker's bigoted mom promptly had him shipped off to live with his grandma in Vermont, which turned out to be the best thing for him. Vermoont was much less bigot-y than Michigan, Rikker had a boyfriend named Skippy in high school that he's still friendGraham, on the other hand, has not had it easy. He's been able to stay in the closet all this time, and he's made attempts at heterosexuality--most recently with Bella, the team's manager.s with later, and things were good. Rikker still stayed in the closet since he was also a hockey jock, but he made the bad decision to attend a religious college that supposedly wasn't too bigot-y and couldn't kick him out for being gay. Unfortunately, a vengeful fuckbuddy outed Rikker to the coach and Rikker was immediately and illegally booted off the team. This led to Rikker being able to unusually be able to transfer to another college--the much more friendly Ivy school Harkness--and join their hockey team immediately since Bridger had to quit. How Rikker got away with a usually-not-doable move stands out to the team, and Rikker's already been publicly outed once again... so now he's the one "out" guy in college hockey. Rikker is unthrilled at being outed, and really unthrilled at being hounded by the media, and nervous about certain of his teammates being conspicuously wanky about his sexuality, but overall it isn't all that bad not to be hiding any more. Happily, most of the Harkness team is cool and froody, especially team captain Adam and the coach who will back him up to the hilt. Graham, on the other hand, is super fucking awkward around him at best.
I need to introduce our third main character on the scene, the aforementioned Bella. Bella does ah, kind of fit a few unpleasant stereotypes one could think of about a girl who is a friendly fuckbuddy to most of the hockey team, and is pretty much the mutual best friend of Graham and Rikker. (Though Rikker says he's not that kind of gay friend, and he wouldn' know a pinot blanc if it bit him in the ass.) She's also got more feelings for Graham than he does for her, but he's not really clued into that. However....she's incredibly endearing and clearly a favorite of pretty much everyone who knows her, and very, very likeable. (I hear the next book in the series will be about her, and I look forward to her finding someone.) And definitely on the side of both dudes, regardless. I also enjoyed the support of the aforementioned Skippy--who seems a bit twee but is definitely a forceful enough guy that you'd want on your side in a crisis--and his boyfriend and mom, and Rikker's cool grandma and Graham's cool mom.
Getting back into a friendshippy place--and later a romantic place--takes awhile for these dudes. Graham's got a whopping complex going on and he's freaked as hell at the idea of being out--and Rikker himself admits that the shit he goes through does not make coming out of the closet look appealing. They eventually reconnect and agree to keep things secret so that Graham doesn't flip--but that doesn't work so well when shit comes raining down on both of their heads and they need to be publicly more to each other than just teammates. Or in Graham's case, he gets a concussion and starts loudly flashing back to ugly past history. Adjustments need to be made, fears need to be gotten over, and everybody works on it. And it's all very sweet. And yup, the sex scenes live up to previously set standard of steam, but aren't so uh...Savage Love explicit on details that it takes you out of the moment. I really enjoyed the bros-in-love dynamic they had going on--they can be sweet, or just battling it out over another game of RealStix. I think Rikker was my favorite because he was more together/mellow, but then again, he's worked out his shit for the most part ahead of time.
Four and a half stars. I look forward to more books in the series like you wouldn't believe.