Review: Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn – Off the Ice (Hat Trick #1)

Author: Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn
Reviewer: Natalie
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: MM Sports

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Summary: Tristan Holt is nothing if not pragmatic. Despite a flourishing career as a defenseman for the Atlanta Venom, Tristan knows he can’t play hockey forever. One day he’ll retire—if an injury doesn’t force him to hang up his skates first. His backup plan? Finishing his business degree. But he doesn’t count on a very inappropriate attraction to his standoffish sociology professor, Sebastian Cruz.

Sebastian is on the bottom rung of the Sociology Department at Georgia State. He has his sights set on tenure, and he can’t afford to be distracted, especially not by a sexy student with a body straight out of Sebastian’s dreams. No matter how much Tristan tempts him, that’s one line Sebastian won’t cross. At least not until summer classes end. After that, everything is fair game.

But Sebastian lives loud and proud, and Tristan is terrified of being the first out player in the NHL. Neither of them can afford to risk their hearts when they can’t imagine a happily ever after. The problem is, unlike hockey, when it comes to love, there are no rules.

Review: I’ve actually felt some overkill lately with hockey stories, but I was confident of quality writing from this author collaboration and I was right. They freshened up the closeted pro athlete trope and gave it a level of realism that’s not always present. Tristan is a smarter kind of athlete, working to finish his degree despite the sudden wealth and notoriety of playing in the NFL. Sebastian is a sociology professor, looking for tenure and he makes note of the big blond jock in his class, in the totally wrong way. Best scene of the book was Tristan’s smackdown when Sebastian forgets his own lessons. When they start dating after classes end, that dynamic turns around. Tristan likes a little kink, and Sebastian dominating him with a little verbal humiliation, spanks and slaps, is just what he needs to let go after the intensity of game competition. *fans self* It’s not a ton of sex though, and it’s pretty mild overall.
The story is balanced with a few game scenes and Sebastian learning the basics of hockey. I appreciated that, since no matter how many books I read, my knowledge is rudimentary at best and I’ll never watch it on TV. Characters for likely future books are highlighted, especially Ryu, the goalie and Tristan’s best friend. I did think Sebastian’s actions late in the book were out of line but the scene with his friend R.J. made that more balanced. I have to admit that I didn’t identify with Tristan and Sebastian as a couple very well. There was something lacking that I can’t really define, but I couldn’t care very much when their crisis occurred. The authors handled the whole matter quite well though. I will absolutely recommend this to the romantically inclined sports and hockey crowd. It’s a thoughtful romance plot, without overblown drama, but with a promising HFN.

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