Tristan Holt is a defenseman for the Atlanta Venom, an NHL team. Tristan is practical enough to know that getting his college degree is a good idea even though he is a pro athlete, so he is also taking classes toward a business degree. There he meets hunky professor Sebastian Cruz whose scowl gets Tristan all hot and bothered.
Sebastian is a sociology professor and working toward tenure. He doesn’t think much of the sexy student in sweatpants who he assumes is an entitled jerk, especially when he catches the guy cheating. But when the situation gets straightened out and it turns out Tristan is innocent, Sebastian finds him even hotter. But Sebastian knows getting involved with a student is a very bad idea.
The attraction between the men continues to bloom fiercely throughout the summer session, and as soon as the class is over, Tristan makes his move. Sebastian tries to hold out, but he can not deny his feelings for Tristan, and soon the men begin dating. It is not all smooth sailing though, as Tristan is not out and the NHL has no openly gay players. Even as the connection deepens between the men, the fact that Tristan is in the closet is a stumbling block for the openly gay Sebastian. Now the men have to figure out if the love they share is enough to get through the conflict between them.
I really have enjoyed this author duo (both together and separately), so I was excited for their latest hockey-themed series and Off the Ice was definitely a great start. It is a fun sports romance with a touch of “hot for teacher” and a lot of sexiness.
I’ll admit things did start somewhat rocky for me. Sebastian sees Tristan in class and immediately assumes he is an entitled jerk based purely on his appearance (Sebastian doesn’t bother learning his students’ names, so he assumes that Tristan wrote the crappy paper that makes him look like a spoiled brat based solely on Tristan’s looks). He then accuses Tristan of cheating based only on the word of another student, again due to his own prejudices against Tristan. Sebastian doesn’t even bother getting proof of the cheating before accusing Tristan. So this was a rough beginning, mostly because Sebastian comes across as an ass to me. He is lecturing on sociology and prejudices and the way our experiences inform our judgments on people, etc and yet he does literally the same thing to Tristan, as well as to other students in the class. And yes, this turns into a learning moment for him as he realizes his mistakes, but by that time I had sort of a bad taste in my mouth about him, especially as he still is judgey about some other students. This whole set up felt somewhat contrived to get the guys together, as well as a little on the preachy end toward readers, but mostly it just left me not really loving Sebastian for being sort of a jerk. Particularly because this “learning moment” is resolved early in the book and never really addressed again in terms of Sebastian’s character growth.
Once I got past this early section, however, I really enjoyed this story. The chemistry between these guys is amazing and the book is all kinds of sexy. The guys play a bit on the naughty student/stern professor vibe in all kinds of fun ways, and there is a little bit of a dominant/submissive thing between them that works well in the bedroom. But I also loved that in addition to the sexy times, we also really see these guys connect on other levels as well. I loved watching them get to know one another and really settle in to this comfortable, loving relationship over the course of the story.
I also enjoyed the hockey elements and I think the book walks a good line between really feeling like a sports romance, but also not overwhelming the uninitiated hockey reader. Sebastian is totally new to the sport, so we are able to learn along with him. The authors are clearly fans of the game, so there is a lot of detail, but I didn’t feel like it took over the book. It was nice to see the camaraderie among the players and we get some nice hints of future books to come.
The main conflict here is about Tristan coming out and how that would affect his life as an athlete in the NHL given that there are no openly gay players. I think this was explored in some interesting ways, though I would have liked it addressed a little more in depth in terms of consequences. Ultimately, I did feel like the resolution is a bit too easy and honestly somewhat unrealistic, again given Tristan’s job. Mild spoiler: [spoiler] The idea that some folks could know he is gay, but that somehow this would stay a secret among his team seemed highly unrealistic too me. Not one person from this group would ever tell anyone? [/spoiler] So it did feel a little bit like fantasy, but mostly I think it works all right given that the tone of the book is not particularly angsty.
So Off the Ice was a really nice start to a new series. It is a lot of sexy, sportsy fun and I am really looking forward to more books to come!