Riley is an aging hockey player, looking down the end of his career. When a severe concussion takes him out of the game, he’s anxious to heal quickly and get back out there, not wanting his end to come due to an injury like this. But Riley needs time to heal, so he takes Vinnie’s suggestion to recover in Elmwood, the small Vermont town where his former teammate and friend has built a life for himself. Riley really liked Elmwood when he visited, and he really likes the chef at the diner.
Years ago, Jean-Claude followed his boyfriend to the States. He and Nolan might not have worked out, but Jean-Claude’s found a home in Elmwood and loves working at Nolan’s family’s diner. Though he knows eventually there will have to be more, for now Jean-Claude is content. And when Riley not only keeps showing up at the diner, but then asks Jean-Claude for help by way of seemingly magic tuna salad, he’s happy to oblige. Jean-Claude might be grumpy and blunt, but he’s got a good heart. Even though he tells himself he can’t get a crush on another straight man.
But the more time Riley and Jean-Claude spend together, the more the sparks fly. Riley never really thought of himself as anything but straight, but there’s no denying the way he wants Jean-Claude. With a kiss, and a little more, the two embark on a relationship that they try to be realistic about. Riley comes to terms with his sexuality pretty easily, but there’s hockey and there’s a deadline to the end of his visit; the more he heals, the more likely he’ll be back on the ice with his team.
Neither man was expecting to find love, but it found them anyway. However, the obstacles in their way are big ones. But love won’t let them just walk away and, with a little work, they may find a way to hang on until next season, when they can finally be together.
This is the second book in Lane Hayes’ Elmwood Stories series, and though there’s extra background if you read the first story, it’s not necessary to enjoy this book, as it works well as a standalone. I adored this pair and watching them fall in love, communicate, and figure out how to have a life together. It’s a truly feel good story that hit the right notes for me.
The story is told in alternating first person, and it really works well. It really gives insight into both of the men’s thoughts and feelings, and drives the narrative well. Riley is a compelling character. He’s at the end of his career, never really a superstar but a solid player, who wants to end things on a good note and not an injury. His frustration at his slow healing is palpable and relatable, and so is his sexuality awakening. He’s never really been attracted to a man before, but Jean-Claude hits his buttons. I really liked the way Riley worked through that, accepted his bisexuality, and then embraced it. Riley, once he realized his true feelings, was all in and I loved to see it.
Jean-Claude is a bit grumpy, to be sure, but has a huge heart. He’s blunt and honest, but also funny and kind. I loved the way he bantered with the people he cared about the most. And his realizations about Riley were relatable as well. My heart broke for him a little as he put Riley first, but in the end, both their dreams come true. Their chemistry is off the charts, this book has a good amount of steam, and they just work well together.
This is a feel good read from start to finish. The pacing is spot on, the characters are lovely, their journey wonderful, and I just really enjoyed this book. It ends with a truly satisfying HEA and I can’t wait for more in the series. The next book is out soon, featuring yet another side character, and I’m looking forward to being back in Elmwood with this great cast of characters.