Today I am so pleased to welcome Rachel Reid to Joyfully Jay. Rachel has come to share an exclusive excerpt from her latest release, Tough Guy. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Thanks so much for letting me share part of the third book in my Game Changers hockey romance series, Tough Guy! This scene is the first meeting of my two main characters, Ryan Price and Fabian Salah, in thirteen years. Fabian is working in the cosmetics department of a drug store in Toronto’s LGBTQ Village, and Ryan, a recent addition to Toronto’s NHL team, is picking up a refill of his anxiety medication prescription.
The automatic sliding doors opened, and Fabian glanced up. It was his job to warmly greet as many customers as he could when they entered the store, but he had a feeling this guy wasn’t here to buy cosmetics. He was an enormous man, with a full bushy beard and long red hair sticking out from under his gray toque. He looked like an autumnal Hagrid.
“Good evening,” Fabian said cheerfully. The man looked startled, and glanced around until his eyes landed on Fabian. “Can I help you fi—?”
“Ryan?” Fabian blurted the name out before he could stop himself. Even if it was Ryan Price, it’s not like he would recognize Fabian. Probably wouldn’t even remember him.
The man who was possibly Ryan Price stared at Fabian, his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide. “Yeah?” he said finally.
“Sorry,” Fabian said quickly. “You probably don’t recognize me at all. It’s—”
“Fabian,” Ryan said, barely above a whisper.
Fabian beamed. “You remember!”
Ryan nodded. “Fabian,” he said again.
Fabian walked out from behind the counter and stopped a couple of feet in front of Ryan. Ryan didn’t move at all.
Ryan. Fucking. Price.
“Look at you,” Fabian said. “You look…humongous.”
He was even taller than Fabian remembered. Obviously he probably had grown since he was seventeen, but so had Fabian. Sort of. Fabian still had to be a foot shorter than Ryan. And the beard—his whole look, really—gave Ryan a rugged biker/Viking vibe. When Fabian had last seen him, his red hair had been short and his face had been smooth.
Ryan’s face finally relaxed into a shy smile. “I almost didn’t recognize you,” he said quietly. It then occurred to Fabian that Ryan might be a little weirded out by his (flawless) eye liner and shadow. The thought alone, whether warranted or not, made Fabian stand a little straighter, daring Ryan to say anything about it.
But all Ryan said was, “You look good.”
Fabian relaxed his shoulders, since it seemed there wouldn’t be a fight, and said, “So what brings Ryan Price to Toronto?”
Ryan’s smile widened, and his eyes grew warmer. “Hockey. I play for the Guardians.”
Well, that’s embarrassing. “I probably should have known that,” Fabian said. “Sorry. I’m still not a hockey fan, I’m afraid.”
Ryan laughed. “S’okay.” For a moment, they just stood in awkward silence, and then he said, “You still play music?”
Fabian lit up. “Oh yes. This,” he gestured at the store around him, “is just my side hustle. Music is my main thing.”
“Like…your own songs? Songs you wrote?”
“That’s awesome! Do you play shows?”
“I do. I play here in the Village a lot. But all over town. Sometimes in other cities. I have a show at the Lighthouse next Saturday.”
Ryan frowned. “There’s a lighthouse here?”
Oh no. Ryan Price is still adorable. “No,” Fabian laughed. “It’s a bar, just in the neighborhood here.”
“Oh.” Ryan’s face turned pink. “Yeah, that makes more sense.”
“Yes. The show is a fundraiser for a shelter, and it’s a big venue. It should be good.”
“Oh. Cool.” Ryan looked at the floor. Then up at Fabian. Then behind him. “Uh, I have to pick up a prescription, so…”
“Right! Don’t let me stop you!”
“Yeah. So, um…it was nice seeing you again.”
“You too. And congratulations? For playing for the Guardians? I understand that is a very big deal.”
That earned Fabian another warm smile. “Thanks.” Then Ryan turned and headed for the back of the store.
Fabian hugged himself because suddenly he felt very exposed and weird. He hadn’t expected to ever see Ryan again, but suddenly he was transported right back to being seventeen with a confusing and ridiculous crush on the hockey player who had lived with his family for less than a year.
Fabian’s parents had housed members of the Halifax Breakers junior hockey team for years. Young Fabian had always resented it, and had actively avoided interacting with the obnoxious jocks who’d invaded his home every winter. To be fair, the hockey players hadn’t seemed at all interested in Fabian either.
Ryan had been different, and it had completely thrown Fabian off balance. Teenage Fabian had been all thorns, unable to hide his queerness, so he’d guarded himself by being a self-important grouch. Mostly, he’d just kept to himself, practiced his music, and dismissed anyone who’d tried to talk to him. A big dumb hockey player couldn’t hurt him if Fabian didn’t give a shit about him.
Which was why Ryan had been so fucking dangerous.
They have nothing in common—so why does Ryan feel most like himself whenever he’s with Fabian?
Pro hockey star Ryan Price may be an enforcer, but off the ice he struggles with anxiety. Recently traded to the Toronto Guardians, he’s determined to make a fresh start in the city’s dynamic LGBTQ Village. The last thing he expects to stumble upon in his new neighborhood is a blast from his past in the fabulous form of Fabian Salah.
Aspiring musician Fabian loathes hockey. But that doesn’t stop him from being attracted to a certain burly, ginger-bearded defenseman. He hasn’t forgotten the kiss they almost shared back in high school, and it’s clear the chemistry between them has only intensified.
Fabian is more than happy to be Ryan’s guide to the gay scene in Toronto. Between dance clubs and art exhibits—and the most amazing sex—Ryan’s starting to feel something he hasn’t experienced in a long time: joy. But playing the role of the heavy on the ice has taken its toll on his body and mind, and a future with Fabian may mean hanging up his skates for good.
Rachel Reid is the pen name of Rachelle Goguen. She chose it because it is much easier to say, spell and remember than Rachelle Goguen!
Rachel writes cute, romantic smut, mostly about hockey players.
Rachelle co-hosts a comic book podcast called Living Between Wednesdays.
Rachel/Rachelle lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. She has always lived there, and it’s looking like she probably always will. She has two boring degrees and two interesting kids.