Marko Rudenko and Luka Wagner are best friends, NHL teammates, and regular lovers. They have been keeping the physical side of things quiet, as while both men are out, the flurry of attention if that went public is more than either man wants. While the guys have mostly been having a super hot physical relationship, along with their very close friendship, both Marko and Luka have growing feelings for each other, however, neither is sure how the other feels. Further complicating it all is that Marko and Luka have a growing friendship with and an attraction toward Nolan Ouellet, and they don’t know what that means for their relationship with each other.
Nolan had a bright future in the NHL until an accident left him with an injury that ended his career before it really started. However, he still loves hockey and runs a rink with his best friend, Adrien. Thanks to Adrien’s NHL boyfriend, Nolan has had a chance to meet a lot of pro hockey players, including Luka and Marko. Nolan is super into the men, but isn’t quite sure how they feel. He can tell that there is something between the two of them, and he doesn’t want to get in the middle of it all. Plus, Nolan isn’t really sure how he might fit with the guys. He is aromantic and the idea of a romantic relationship totally turns him off. While Nolan has lots of sexual partners, things get complicated when men either don’t understand his lack of desire for romance, or think they can somehow change him. So even if Marko and Luka were interested, Nolan doesn’t have a lot of confidence that anything could really develop between them. And finally, Nolan has also been working as a cam boy, doing live sex shows online. While he isn’t ashamed of it, he also isn’t quite sure how to share that with Marko and Luka and how they will feel about it.
It takes a little time for Marko and Luka to open up to one another and share the strength of their feelings for each other. When they do, it brings both men a lot of joy and satisfaction, as they are so well matched, both emotionally and physically. But both men are also interested in exploring things with Nolan as well. Nolan is wary, even as the other two assure him that they accept him just as he is. Nolan has been burned before, and he is having trouble understanding how he may fit within this romantically involved pair. But Luka and Marko care about Nolan, and he them in return. With a little work on both ends, the trio may be able to make things work together.
Soft Hands is the second book in E.M. Lindsey’s Sin Bin: West Coast series. The books are in a shared world with the authors’ Sin Bin series, but you definitely do not need to read those to enjoy this one. However, we do meet Nolan, Luka, and Marko in Breakaway, the first book in this series, and I think reading that book first is helpful in setting the stage for these characters, though it is definitely not strictly necessary. That said, this book is very focused on the trio (with some appearances by Adrien and Ravi) and has very little in the larger world of hockey or the other players compared to the first book. So leading into future books in the series, having the first one as a foundation may be helpful.
Reading Breakaway really got me excited for this story, as we get the hints of something going on between Luka and Marko, as well as their potential connection with Nolan, though nothing has quite developed yet. So I was eager for their story and it definitely did not disappoint. This book sort of has two focuses in terms of the relationship development. The first is setting the foundation of bringing Marko and Luka together romantically, rather than just sexually. The men are super close friends, as well as sex partners. Both men want more, but neither is sure of the other’s feelings. Things are complicated as both men have trouble expressing themselves, and Marko has a lot of difficulty picking up on social cues. Lindsey notes in the front of the book that Marko has undiagnosed autism, and he can’t always read Luka, particularly as Luka isn’t always straightforward with his feelings. So the first portion of the story has a key focus on seeing this pair figure out how to open up about how they feel and we get some really lovely moments between them. They are super sexy together, and there is also just this sweet sense of the men finally finding their way to one another.
The second focus here is on bringing Nolan into the relationship. There is great chemistry among all three, and Nolan very much is into Marko and Luka, but he doesn’t want to get in the way, nor is he confident in how he can fit in given he is aromantic. For their part, the other pair are very into Nolan, but not sure how he feels about being with them. We don’t get many stories featuring aromantic characters, and while I am by no means well versed in this orientation, I think Lindsey handles it well and gives a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of Nolan. He has long accepted exactly who he is, but he also isn’t sure how (or if) that can fit with what he wants with Marko and Luka, or with what they might want from him. He cares about them, and he definitely wants them, but he knows he will never love them romantically, nor want a traditional romantic relationship with them. Nolan has been burned before and he is wary, but Marko and Luka are open and accepting of Nolan exactly as he is. Things tie up a little fast here for me, however. Nolan needs time to really think through his feelings and how to combine his needs with a relationship with Luka and Marko. But then it all comes together quickly in the end, without as much clarity as to how things will all work as I wanted. Given that the sort of “logistical” side of this three-way relationship is a hurdle for the men, I felt it needed a little more time on the back end to see how it all plays out.
The other subject the story explores a little more indirectly is Marko’s autism. Lindsey notes at the start of the book that Marko is intended to have autism, but not have been diagnosed. We see him struggle at times with social cues, particularly how to interpret Luka or Nolan’s interest in him when they are not direct. Although they are obviously totally different things, I think it raises some nice parallels with Nolan being aromantic, in that the story explores how these men are all accepting of one another just as they are. Nolan cares for and appreciates Marko for who he is, and that awareness helps him understand and accept that Luka and Marko want him just as he is as well.
Overall, I found this another nice installment in this series. The focus is definitely much more on the relationship end than the hockey side when compared to book one, so I do feel like we distanced ourselves a bit from the other side characters. But this book does drop enough connections with the lead for the third story that I think it should tie together well, and I am very much looking forward to what comes next.