Isaac Rivera is in trouble…in his mind anyway. Although only a few weeks into his professional hockey career, Issac’s convinced he’s one play away from being shipped down to a farm team or fired altogether until one night, his teammate, hockey idol, and crush, Julien Landry, offers him some kind words and advice. Soon, not only has the hot defenseman invited Isaac into his inner circle of friends and helped steady him on the ice, he’s invited him into his bed as well. On the one hand, Isaac’s elated that his other dreams about Julien are coming true, but on the other, his inexperience fuels his anxiety and makes him question if he’ll truly be enough for someone so amazing and larger than life.
After a disastrous situation during his rookie year, Julien has spent the past eight years immersing himself in the now—this play, this game, this one-night stand. Recently though, he’s been longing for companionship, but the only person to catch his eye is the one person who should be off limits. After all, who knows better than he how unbalanced a relationship between a veteran player and a rookie who idolizes him can be? Yet, when they do cross the line, their chemistry and compatibility is off the charts and Julien can’t help but want more. While he tries to reassure himself, he can’t completely shut out the whispers that he’s a user just like his “ex” and that Isaac deserves better. Yet, no matter how seamlessly their lives blend or how perfect everything is, when the past Julien so assiduously avoids confronts him head-on, the cost of living only in the now may be his future with Isaac.
Rookie Mistake is a fun, sweet, steamy, and heartfelt story that gives a nice balance between the couple’s relationships and the sport they’ve dedicated their lives to. Despite Isaac and Julien being teammates who decide to keep the relationship a secret, there isn’t a lot of drama around the decision. The story is character focused and mostly follows the natural progression of their relationship, Dom/sub dynamics, and season. At a whopper 500+ words, I was impressed that it doesn’t feel that long; the pacing is good overall and aided by how natural the writing style and dialogue feel. I’m also always pretty stoked when a story is big on communication for its characters and derived oodles of warm feelings from this element as well. Neither man has relationship experience and also incorporating BDSM into their sex life means communication is vital to making it work as lovers and teammates. They second-guess themselves and worry about screwing up a lot, but they talk out the various hurdles or potential minefields (for the most part). They respect one another’s boundaries and give each other space for mistakes and sharing personal things in their own time. The fact that they don’t always get it right but keep trying makes their relationship development feel real and earned.
As someone who loves service Doms and enjoys newbie Dom stories, I really liked Isaac and the couple’s exploration of kink together. Isaac’s obsessive nature about getting things right creates some intense and alternately hot and loving scenes. Isaac tends to overthink and overanalyze; he wants to be an asset to his team and the best boyfriend for Julien, but has trouble escaping endless cycles of ‘what ifs’, recriminations, and anxiety. Julien being a veteran athlete and also inexperienced with dating gives Isaac someone who understands what’s he going through as a player and a partner. Taking the lead in the bedroom to give Julien what he needs also helps Isaac learn to trust himself and get out of his head.
Similarly, Isaac helps Julien get out of his own head as well. Julien is energetic and has a mind that is almost constantly in overdrive. At times, it makes him feel scattered and overwhelmed, and unfortunately, he’s internalized a lot of the negativity the press and his abuser have expressed about him. He knows he’s a good defenseman because he has stats and teammates that bolster his confidence in that area, but as his only “relationship” was with an emotionally abusive predator when he was a shy, inexperienced, and unprotected 19-year old, he doesn’t have as much validation for his inner self. While Isaac’s love doesn’t cure him, Isaac does ground him and give him peace. He also helps Julien see himself and all the love and support he has more clearly. The two really complement one another and help each other grow.
On top of Julien and Isaac just being so well-matched, adorable, and hot together, the secondary characters add another layer of enjoyment for me. In sports books where the focus is on the sport as well as the characters, the teammates and team dynamics are integral to the story, and I found myself rooting for the Pittsburgh Griffins. Those introduced are a solid group that give a nice found family vibe, especially Julien’s best friends, Nikolai and Elias. They were there for Julien during his worst years in the league and helped him grow as a player and gain his equilibrium and sense of self back in various ways. Additionally, Isaac’s best friend Darian is delightful and brightened up every scene they are in. I have no idea if they’ll get their own book, but I’m totally on board for any shenanigans they have in mind.
As mentioned, Rookie Mistake isn’t heavy on the angst, but the major conflict involves Julien’s unresolved issues from past mental abuse and sexual assault (which isn’t depicted on page, but is discussed). He can’t help but draw parallels between him sleeping with a rookie now and what happened to him when he was one and struggles with seeing how his loving and equal partnership with Isaac is different, especially as his abuser still plays mind games with him. Despite his mantra of ‘now’, it’s clear by the choices he makes that actively hurt him that Julien hasn’t allowed himself to move on and doesn’t think he deserves better. Although, I couldn’t quite invest in the how and why of his tipping point, I was affected by Julien’s trauma and comforted by the resolution of the storyline; I felt it highlighted the issue that queermisia, particularly in sports/ultra “hetero” spaces, leaves QUILTBAG youth even more vulnerable than they already are because they often have to turn to predators posing as mentors for “acceptance” and “care” and have few resources or actual support when they get hurt.
Ultimately, Rookie Mistake is a charming, sexy story about bonds of love, unshakeable friendship, and acceptance. It delivers well-balanced humor, banter, and seriousness; some lively hockey (and fights); awesome families; and the triumph of overcoming the monsters in your head and in your life.