Story Rating: 4.25 stars
Audio Rating: 4.25 stars

Narrator: Nick J. Russo
Length: 6 hours, 28 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Riley Thoreau is a veteran hockey player who took a bad hit on the ice at the beginning of the season. The serious concussion has left him unable to drive, be in bright spaces, or train for several weeks. He had already been questioning if he should retire, but Riley doesn’t want to have an injury just take him out of the game.

Connecting with his good friend and former teammate, Vinnie, Riley accepts his offer to come to small-town Elmwood, Vermont to recuperate. The locale is tight and connected, enabling Riley to walk nearly everywhere and stay in Vinnie’s husband Nolan’s vacant house. Plus, he can work on his training in Vinnie’s rink where the noise and light can be controlled. While trying to manage his crippling headaches, Riley notices a pattern: on days when he eats tuna salad at Nolan’s diner, his headaches are less painful–and even absent. So, now Riley, a notoriously superstitious player, wants the head chef, Jean-Claude, to provide tuna salad on the regular. JC has a counter offer: to teach Riley how to make his own tuna salad. Only this connection turns into much, much, more.

Riley has always thought himself straight, but he’s never been one to build relationships. It’s been years since he had a steady girlfriend, and even that was lackluster. Riley and JC have a nice camaraderie, and JC’s a single man who has time to spend with Riley, who is at loose ends. They develop a friendship, but Riley also begins to notice how attractive JC is, and how their banter could be seen as flirting. JC is no stranger to bi-curious men, but he’d sworn not to date them anymore. Is he really “dating” Riley, though, when they are really just fooling around when Riley’s feeling well enough?

Both characters are sweet guys, and I liked how Jean-Claude sounded like the burly French Canadian I’d imagined. Narrator Nick J. Russo does a good job of bringing the energy and excitement of this story out. It could have been slow, and the downside of Riley’s injury recovery could have affected the tenor. Instead, the pacing is upbeat, with the story centered on Riley and JC nearly exclusively. We surely have some side characters assisting, but the story is really about Riley coming to terms with the end of his career and his bisexual awakening–at the same time and within a short span of weeks. I liked how both huge changes were given equal weight, and there was no quick fix or easy answer. JC isn’t just sitting around waiting for a hockey hunk to fall for him. He’s a mature man, and he has dreams and plans of his own. That really came through in the narration, because his discussions with Nolan were treated with poise and gravitas.

As the second book in the Elmwood Stories series, I think it was entirely readable as a standalone, and I think I liked it better than the first book. There wasn’t a lot of backstory struggle to unpack and forgive, just two guys meeting in an inopportune moment that ended up being fortuitous. Though Riley is a hockey player, there isn’t much of that on the page, just the initial injury scene and some moments where Riley’s on the ice with Vinnie, Nolan, and even JC. There’s more talking about hockey than actual hockey, for those readers who do/do not want a lot of sports on the pages of their sports romances. I fall into the first camp, preferring a fair amount of sports, but I still enjoyed it a lot, and am curious for the next installment.