Heat Factor: It’s sexy (like the rest of the series), but unlike in Heated Rivalry, most of the sex is at home, so it’s heavy on their emotional connection this time, and less about the tittilation of sexual awakening and sneaking around
Character Chemistry: Shane likes to be *rewarded* (wink) for the discipline of never letting on that he’s in love with Ilya, while all Ilya wants is affection
Plot: Shane and Ilya have been secretly in a monogamous relationship for three years, and it was all going fine…until a confluence of components of Ilya’s life make it not so fine anymore
Overall: A relationship in trouble in which both parties really want to make it work, but are fearful that they won’t be able to
Our Smashdown can’t be limited to only 8 duels and a few other reviews! In order to showcase some more lovely sports romance, we need listicles!
This week Erin’s spotlighting some of the M/M sports romance that she’s read but hasn’t reviewed for the blog:
(I will note that because of the very small number of out queer players in professional sports, a lot of these narratives (in general) involve secret relationships, internalized homophobia, and coming out stories.)
At the time of publication, there were no out professional hockey players in the NHL, so Scott’s story is a what-if exploration of big feels. At first, Kip is happy just to be falling in love, and Scott can’t believe he’s so lucky as to have what he never thought he would, but before long the pressure of keeping the relationship a secret wears on the couple. The close narrative focus on Scott and Kip helps create the sense of isolation that the relationship has created for the protagonists. The lovely thing is, they never doubt their love for each other; this is a story that illustrates that love doesn’t magically make everything perfect, but it does provide support and safety when the world is scary and decisions are tough.
Game Changer but make it football. I kid! But it is a sports coming out story. Anson is carrying a lot of internalized homophobia and is living a lie, sleeping with women so no one suspects his secret. It’s extremely taxing on his emotional health. Weston’s extremely conservative parents sent him to conversion therapy camp as a teen, so even though he’s a successful out and proud senator now, he understands that Anson needs a friend and keeps reaching out to let Anson know he’s not alone, even after Anson shoots him down. Then their friendship becomes physical, and everything changes. Weston knows that love alone won’t make the secret relationship last, but he’s braced for heartbreak. Seeing what Weston is willing to do for him makes Anson realize not only what he’s willing to do in return for Weston, but for himself as well.
If you love a book where the LI uses a different name than everybody else, look no further! Miller’s been low-key in love with Talon since they were in college together. When they’re on the same team again years later, Talon seems to think everything is just fine, but revisiting their old group sexcapades proves it’s really not. Talon can’t figure what’s wrong, but when Miller is injured and facing the possible end of his career, Talon refuses to let go of their dream of winning the Super Bowl together just as much as he refuses to let go of the friend who’s burrowed so deep in his heart that he moved to Chicago instead of winning another ring with his old team. Their dynamic is just the sweetest.
Can I interest you in some angst? There’s a lot in this book, between Isaac’s history of sex work due to his economic and housing insecurity (possibly discussed more in Power Play than in this book, but still discussed) and Laurent’s history of abuse and his eating disorder. There’s a lot here that warrants content notes. BUT when Laurent is traded to Issac’s team as a punishment, he finally finds a safe harbor with a man who should be his rival. They’re both goalies who need to be the one in the net in order to succeed, and yet they are able to support each other in really lovely ways, even as the story is fraught with emotional tension. Also, these are professional hockey players, but they’re playing ECHL hockey, which is a feeder for AHL hockey (a.k.a. the “farm teams” for the NHL), so they’re getting paid almost nothing and playing hard in hopes of being selected for an AHL spot.
This story was teased in So Over You, so of course I immediately bought it and then Bad Decisions Book Clubbed it. And its sequel. If bedding-the-boss, secret-relationship: hockey edition interests you at all, I would recommend this book. Cade isn’t out – he doesn’t think his dad would take it well, and that’s scary, plus being the first out NHL player is not his dream – but he knows he really wants Dante, so he makes his play. Dante, who’s defending his dream job of being GM of a pro hockey team, really doesn’t want to risk anything by fooling around with a player. But Cade is just SO irresistible. Cade plays Dante really well to get what he wants – Dante’s a caregiver, and their age gap emphasizes that – but at the end of the day, they take care of each other, so the relationship is not one-sided.
If you’d like to read a short, sexy romance without a lot of angst, this is a very fun book. I really love that runners and basemen can, like, have a little chat while they’re waiting for the next play. Anyway Chris and Josh are rivals on different teams, and they totally flirt during games together until Josh gets super grumpy about losing the World Series and kinda sorta has a snit about Chris playing dirty. Chris, being much more sunshiney, brushes off Josh’s grumbling because he a) won the World Series and b) still knows they could be great together. And he proves it when they have a quickie in a room where, let’s be honest, anybody could walk in. *Fans self*
Bonus points: if you’ve read Unwritten Rules, you’ll note that Zach and Eugenio are playing the World Series against each other. So that’s fun.
Career-ending injuries are a source of angst, and Lucian’s reaction to his concussion is no exception. He takes time to hide out at his grandmother’s estate, throwing himself into intricate baking projects to come to terms with his new life. Luckily, Emma’s also running away from her own problems at his grandmother’s estate. Bonus points: Emma’s handling of the relationship when Lucian tries to return to the sport is unique, and I appreciated it.
After an injury sidelines soccer superstar Nico, he agrees to participate in a cooking competition—as long as he’s paired with chef Ashna, his high school sweetheart who unceremoniously dumped him. Ashna isn’t thrilled at this plan (understatement), but she’s desperate to save her restaurant, so what can she do? Of course, sparks fly, the shows’ fans start speculating, and Ashna and Rico are finally able to be honest about what really tore them apart all those years ago. Please note that despite the adorable illustrated cover, this book is extremely angsty. (Content warnings for anxiety, depression, suicide, and marital rape.)
Oh, Zaf. A book boyfriend if ever there was one. He’s a security guard at the university where Dani teaches, but he used to be a professional rugby player. He’s also channeled his rugby skills into a sports charity for kids. And he reads romance novels, lives with anxiety, and has an unrequited crush on Dani. Luckily, a viral video of Zaf carrying Dani out of their building after a fire evacuation goes sideways leads the two to start fake dating, and we all know what that means!
Isobel was raised to be a hockey superstar – she’s a silver medalist and college champion – but she only lasted through a portion of the first ever game of the National Women’s Hockey League before a head injury cut short her career. When her father dies and leaves his hockey franchise to Isobel and her sisters, she returns to the ice to coach the team’s star player through a recovery. Fun story: he was her first when they were teens – and it wasn’t satisfying for her. Now, though, he’s had plenty of practice, and he’s more than willing to practice with her.
If you’re looking for some old school romance vibes, there’s really nothing better than giant, growly rugby-star-turned-CEO Gabriel falling head over feet for quiet, shy Charlotte. Forceful Gabriel is accustomed to getting what he wants, but he has to work to win Charlotte’s trust and heart. Some content warnings for this one: Charlotte’s story includes being assaulted and nearly murdered some years prior, and that narrative is ultimately resolved during the course of this book. Also, I’m not sure that the way these two handled the sexual components of their relationship is optimal given Charlotte’s history, but it does work for them in this narrative, and the book is approaching 20 years old.
Eric is retiring, not retired, but this book is full of all the beats of saying goodbye. He was married for twenty years, but now that he’s divorced, he wants to finally date men, to acknowledge out loud that he’s bisexual. Kyle is significantly younger and with a pile of baggage that makes him relationship-averse, but Kyle can no more resist his attraction to the silver fox than Eric can walk away from the beautiful graduate student. If you’re looking for a romance focusing on a life in transition, this is that story. (Also: really hot. Hot hot hot.)
What’s your favorite romance featuring a retired athlete?
Character Chemistry: The bad boy is soft for the good boy
Plot: They met when they were 17 and were attracted to each other immediately, but ever since they were recruited to the NHL, their rivalry and antipathy has been played up so much that they can never really fall in love