I’m a big fan of sports romances, especially those written by authors who have proven in their writing that they are either fans of their sport of choice or have researched it enough to be credible. Kelly Jamieson is one such author for hockey romances. Her Aces Hockey series has been one I’ve consistently enjoyed for its combination of likable characters, sexy times, and believable scenes detailing all aspects of the game. In Slap Shot, the main character Max Hall believes he’s finally ready to continue his hockey career after a fifteen month hiatus dealing with the death of his wife from cancer. He’s also ready to resume an active sex life – but not a relationship. He certainly gets the sex part right, and there are lots of steamy scenes in this one, but it’s also a story about grief and memories and moving on.
Hockey. Sex. Those two things are all that Max has on his mind, now that he’s finally got a hold of the grief that slayed him for several months, the depression and put the long days after his wife’s death firmly in the past. In order to get into shape for team tryouts with the Chicago Aces after a year off the ice, he’s willing to take whatever his trainer dishes out. The time spent regaining his physical and mental doesn’t leave him anything to invest in a relationship, and when he meets Kendra Armstrong, bridesmaid at his teammate’s wedding, they definitely seem to be on the same page. She’s only in town for a few days and she lives in New York. It’s the perfect way to blow off a little steam.
Kendra has no expectations when it comes to Max, except having a fun time. As a sex toy designer building up a company with her best friend, she’s got her hands full too, and is not interested in a relationship either. Kendra’s background is in psychology, specifically human sexuality, and that combined with her new career means she isn’t shy about what she wants in the bedroom. The few days she and Max spend together are memorable for them both, but neither has any expectation of seeing each other again. Only… Kendra is Max’s teammate’s Duncan’s cousin, and shows up at a lake weekend that Max has been invited to as well. And this time, they are both willing to admit that they wouldn’t mind keeping up a friends with benefits arrangement. That works for a while, but when their emotions start to come into play, will Max be willing to risk his heart again?
I really like how this story unfolds. It’s told entirely from Max’s point of view and he doesn’t give much of his emotional state away at the start. Though I knew about his wife’s illness and passing from previous stories (this is the fifth book in the series), it is brought up fairly early but not dwelled upon at the beginning. This is deliberate, because Max is trying to move on. He wants a sex life without commitment and he’s very clear about that with Kendra. He has a picture of his wife on his desk, and as he starts to care about Kendra he finds himself comparing them in subtle ways. Sometimes this feels a little forced, like the author is trying to make it look like Kendra is more suited to Max than his wife was. Yet he continues to hold firm in his mind that he will not love another woman, which results in feelings of guilt when he finds himself thinking of Kendra outside of their sexual encounters. As the story progresses it becomes clear that he really hasn’t dealt with as much as he’d thought, until things come to a head and he’s forced to make some decisions that will either pull Kendra closer or push her away completely.
Because we don’t hear Kendra’s ‘voice’ until the epilogue, her feelings and emotions are only brought up as part of conversations she has with Max. She seems to be a levelheaded, competent and smart woman, fun to be with and also a good listener. She definitely comes across as very suited to Max, and compatible as a life partner. We also learn a little about her past from conversations Max has with Duncan, Kendra’s cousin, discovering she’s been in two failed relationships where she gave more of herself than she got in return. This should be a little warning sign for Max that Kendra might be more invested in their relationship than he is, but she is good at hiding her real feelings too.
What’s interesting about this story from a hockey perspective is that it’s all pre-season. The on ice scenes are training drills with some of the other players hoping to make the team. Off the ice there are a lot of gym and boot camp style workouts. Max’s diet is important too, and his food and drink choices are part and parcel of his training. Some readers may find this attention to detail a bit excessive but I like how it shows Max’s commitment to playing hockey professionally again. Of course, there are all the requisite team ‘bromance’ scenes, with his former teammates anxious to have Max on board again. Plus, with Max getting involved with Kendra they have much to tease him about. They know the hard times he went through, and they are equally happy to see him smiling again.
Whether you’ve been following this series from the beginning or it’s your first pass at the Aces Hockey series, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Slap Shot. What seems to be a cut and dried romance about second chances and moving on has some emotional depth as Max finally realizes his wife would not want him to use their relationship as a buffer from falling in love again. Plus, hockey fans will appreciate the hard work that goes on off the ice to get game ready. It’s an entertaining combination and well worth the read.
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