Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel


Bryson Milligan is proud of his son, who plays hockey on an AHL team. Bryson’s supported Jake his whole life, and he lives a very staid life because of it. But Bryson’s lonely, especially now that his son is out of the house, and as much as he loves his adopted hometown of Elmwood, there’s not much in the way of a dating scene. So one night with a handsome hockey star that no one will ever know about is fine, right?

Smitty Paluchek is in his final year playing in the AHL. He’s ready to retire, spend the summer helping at a hockey camp, and then step into the next phase of life. But one night with Bryson, after not having been with a man for a long time, awakens a part of Smitty he hasn’t given much thought to. Once his season is over, Smitty moves on. But he can’t stop thinking about Bryson, and when life throws him a curve, he decides to head to Elmwood where an old hockey friend has offered him a job coaching high school hockey.

Bryson is shocked when Smitty shows up in town and does his best to put distance between them. But Smitty won’t be deterred. He wants to be friends, at least, though the attraction is always simmering between them. When one night they give in, they suddenly are seeing each other all the time and really getting to know one another. But Smitty isn’t out, and Bryson won’t do anything he thinks might jeopardize his control or negatively affect his son.

However, there’s no denying that Bryson and Smitty are falling in love. But when Bryson is at a crossroads, things between them may fall apart. Fortunately, Smitty is ready to take the leap; all he needs to do is convince Bryson that they can have a happily ever after.

I’m very much enjoying the  Elmwood Stories small-town romance series. The books are all hockey themed, relatively low angst, and have good feels. Thin Ice is no exception, bringing readers the story of Bryson, whom we have met before, finally getting his HEA. This story has a bit more weight with some heavier topics than the other stories in the past. And, like those other stories, there is a bit of a time jump between the books.

From the moment we first met Bryson, I was looking forward to him getting a book. He’s a controlled and somewhat uptight real estate agent whose son plays hockey. But Hayes did a good job planting the seed that there is more to him than first meets the eye. My heart broke for him a little at his loneliness, but it’s clear he’s also really good at getting in his own way. Smitty is the perfect counterpoint to this, pushing without really crossing boundaries, and helping Bryson see there is a future other than the one he’s carefully constructed. Things between them are hot and heavy, but I really appreciated the quieter moments when they shared their truths with each other. The relationship built slowly throughout the book and was perfectly paced.

Smitty is a big personality who is at loose ends. Right from the start, I was enchanted by him and felt the weight of his past. I wanted nothing more for him to get his head out of his butt and see that the best thing for him would be to settle into a new life in Elmwood. Watching him on his journey was satisfying. And watching the chemistry between the two MCs evolve was lovely.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book, and the series as a whole, is that the “black moment” is really more gray. There’s something that threatens to break the pair up, or stand in their way, but it doesn’t last long and the MCs get a satisfying HEA. It happens again here, where Hayes clearly lays out Bryson’s reluctance and reasons why he pulls away. But at the same time, it isn’t long before the pair is back together and professing their love.

All in all, I’m really enjoying this series. It hits all the right notes for a smalltown warm and fuzzy feel, but also has some heavier topic handled with care that give the story some weight. Bryson and Smitty seem like opposites at first, but it’s clear how well they fit together. This book is an easy recommendation from me, and I’m really looking forward to the next one in the series.