When Caleb Carter was a high school hockey player, he was having trouble with geometry and needed tutoring. His sister Pam’s best friend, Aaron Price, was able to help Caleb get a decent grade so he could continue to play on the school’s team. On the day Aaron and Pam graduated, Caleb gave Aaron a little trophy declaring him to be the “World’s Best Tutor.” The boys hugged, and Caleb even braved a brief kiss on Aaron’s cheek. This became the best day of Caleb’s young life.
Fast forward present day. Caleb is now a professional, playing hockey for the Rangers. He’s broken his foot (again) and is coming back to his small hometown to for rehab and recovery. His sister is now the principal at the elementary school and she asks him to come to the school’s carnival to sign autographs and merchandise for charity. Caleb gladly agrees, and as his booth is being set up, who does he encounter? None other than Aaron Price! Aaron had moved to LA, but returned home to teach third grade at the school. Caleb feels his attraction to Aaron renew, and Aaron likes Caleb too. Neither man has been lucky in love, but Caleb is ready to jump in. Aaron is gun shy because he was badly burned once…by an athlete no less…and is unsure if he can put himself out there again.
Can their budding relationship withstand Caleb’s schedule and celebrity, and can Aaron be comfortable with the effort that will have to be put in to make it work?
I liked The Hockey Player’s Heart. It was what I like to refer to as a comfort read. These types of stories tend to follow a formula…meet cute, date, sex, slight conflict, happily ever after. And you know what? I love a good, formulaic read every now and then. They make me smile, and I always feel good afterward.
I liked both Caleb and Aaron. They were both nice guys with no real internal issues. Yes, Aaron had a bad relationship when he was in LA, but he wasn’t wallowing in misery. Caleb hadn’t been in an sort of relationship for about a year. Lonely? Yes, but not suffering. As I read, I could actually see their first meeting at the school carnival. I was able to imagine the looks on their faces, the hug, the conversation. The authors put me right in that elementary school gym. I could actually feel the sparks in the air between them. It was sweet (and slightly sexy), and I enjoyed that.
The pacing of the story was on point. There was no rush to get Caleb and Aaron into bed. There was a slow burn, but it didn’t feel torturous. The men spent time together and with their friends. They had known each other for a long time, but they were able to take their time getting reacquainted. When they finally did make love, it was a natural step for them.
Now, The Hockey Player’s Heart was not without some angst. Aaron started to become unsure about his place in Caleb’s life. Caleb lives in New York, travels with the team, and is used to being with other athletes and crowds. Aaron feels living in a small town and being a teacher isn’t going to be enough for Caleb in the long run. Here is where I had some trouble with the story. Caleb was excited about the two of them being together. He wanted Aaron to come see him play, meet his friends and teammates. Aaron has one encounter with Caleb’s jerk of an agent, and he turns into what I consider to be a martyr. “He deserves somebody better.” “He doesn’t need to deal with my baggage.” “I don’t want to hold him back.” Despite Caleb’s protests, Aaron walks out on what, by all accounts, was a wonderful and loving relationship. I have a difficult time with this trope, even though it’s used quite often. However, for some reason, it bothered me even more in The Hockey Player’s Heart. I know some angst/conflict is necessary to move a story along, but here, it went on for (what I feel anyway) too long. After all the good and happy vibrations, everything kind of came to a stop for me. I was actually angry with Aaron. If I could have shaken him until his senses returned, I would have. I didn’t feel Caleb deserved to be treated that way. I was so glad when that part was over.
There were some background characters, but none of them made a real impact. Caleb’s agent was an ass, and his rudeness to Aaron is what really touched off their issues. He also hassled Caleb to come back to New York instead of staying in his small town. For example:
“As for the kids, I’m helping out a friend who coaches a local team. I’d think you’d love that kind of publicity.”
“Not when you’re supposed to be injured! If you’re going to do that kind of stuff, you should do it here so local TV can cover it, not in some small town no one cares about. You know what you do in the media is even more important with the upcoming contract negotiations.”
Yeah. Total Jerk. After him, we have Caleb’s older sister, Pam, a teammate, Dimitri, who is a…well, he’s a manwhore. I have the feeling he’ll be getting a book of his own soon. Lastly, there’s Caleb’s assistant, Grant, who is a super nice guy who loves his job and is an excellent help to Caleb.
The ending was tied up neatly, and there were no surprises. Once again, I considered this a comfort read, and with that comfort came the HEA I needed. I am definitely recommending The Hockey Player’s Heart. It was a great way to spend an evening.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.