I’m a fan of sports romances and hockey themed ones in particular. I read and enjoyed Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn’s Off the Ice and while I missed the second in the Hat Trick series, Goalie Interference, I got back into the game with Trade Deadline. It’s a well told story of a man ready for his career to take a new turn, and a chance for him to reconnect with an old friend.
Daniel Bellamy has realized his lifelong hockey dream and just won the Stanley Cup but after fourteen years playing for the same team, and with retirement starting to loom larger on the horizon, he decides that playing for a struggling team in his home city of Miami, where his parents still live, is the right choice for him now. And moving back puts him in contact with his childhood best friend, Micah Kelly. Micah is an animal care specialist who works at the local aquarium and he hasn’t forgotten Daniel, or their burgeoning teenage relationship that ended when Daniel went away to play hockey. As adults, they can rekindle that friendship, but can it also lead to something more?
There are a couple of things that I really like about this story that make it definitely worth putting on your to-read list. Firstly, I think it’s interesting how Daniel has to come to grips with going from working with a team that has been very successful and where’s he’s highly regarded, to a team that has mixed feelings about his arrival. This is especially true because it’s Daniel’s choice to move, and also because his dreams of helping the team don’t pan out the way he thought they would. Now don’t get me wrong – he’s not egotistical and he doesn’t think that he’s going to ‘save the team’ or have dreams of bringing them to a Stanley Cup. He’s more interested in mentoring them and sharing his skills. But it turns out to be a rougher ride than he expected, and as the hockey year goes on, he has to think about what’s going to come next.
Secondly, I really appreciate the mature way he and his ex-wife Tabby deal with their divorce. They have two children, and they had an amicable split and have stayed friends. She moves to Miami so that Daniel can continue to see the kids, and the hockey spouse lifestyle has never been an issue for their relationship. Because Daniel’s parents live in Miami and she knows Daniel only has a few years of hockey playing left, she makes it clear to Daniel that regardless of his choices after this year, she’ll stay with the kids in Miami, knowing that he plans to eventually retire there anyway. Daniel’s relationship with his kids is strong, and it’s really nice to see a divorced couple that get along so well. She also knows that Daniel is bisexual, and encourages his relationship with Micah.
Thirdly, the romance is a sweet slow burn of friends moving on to lovers. Daniel’s last sexual partner was his wife, and he’s never had a relationship with a man before. Micah is a really nice, friendly person and his crush on Daniel never really abated (and he’s followed Daniel’s hockey career). Daniel is so happy to see his old friend at one of his early season games and I really enjoyed how they so easily pick up their friendship and eventually reveal their attraction to each other, leading to some sexy scenes that include nervous but eager first time sexual experiences. Micah is not some young twentysomething guy though. He has a career he loves and a home that he’s not going to leave, something Daniel has to consider as they grow closer. There’s no big misunderstanding or jealous ex or manufactured drama. There’s just two guys figuring out if, and then how, they can get their happy ending.
It wouldn’t be a hockey romance without hockey, so there are plenty of on-ice scenes, locker room tension, and friendships and conflict with teammates old and new. Micah’s job is one you don’t see often and there’s a good amount of time spent at the aquarium too. Trade Deadline is an enjoyable romance that doesn’t shy away from honest discussions and emotional highs and lows, and the happy ending the stronger for it.