Game Changer is a new release from Carina Press, an ebook imprint of Harlequin, and the debut novel from Rachel Reid. Scott is the captain of an NHL team. He’s off his game, but one morning he tries a fruit smoothie from the cute Kip, and that night he returns to top form. He credits the morning drink with his recovery, and makes the smoothie purchase part of his daily ritual. Kip enjoys the morning visit, and wonders if Scott might possibly be flirting with him.
The early tension is delicious. There’s the usual awkwardness and uncertainty about whether or not the other person is interested, compounded by uncertainty about the other person’s sexuality, especially as Scott keeps his a secret. Things progress relatively quickly into a sexual relationship, with lots of steamy and detailed sex scenes, balanced with lots of almost unbearably sweet moments and dialogue. To be fair, though neither is a virgin, and both are in their late twenties, neither has been in a relationship before.
The relationship is complicated by the different financial circumstances of the lovers. Kip lives with his parents and is paying off student loans, while Scott lives in the sort of fabulous New York penthouse that only exists in books and movies (such places may exist, but whether mere millionaires can afford them is questionable). Scott’s desire to keep everything secret is also a problem. There are no openly gay players in the NHL (in the story and in real life), so Scott is reluctant to come out, but much as Kip loves Scott, the role of secret lover, meeting only in Scott’s apartment, is not something that Kip sees as having long term potential. The complications, as well as Kips’ employment prospects and the hockey season, give structure to the plot, but everything resolved a little easier than I was expecting.
Hockey romances are apparently a thing, but I don’t have any interest in the game, and not much knowledge of it. I’ve been to one NHL game, with my office, and did not know what was going on most of the time. There were a couple of times in the story where I could have used a little more information about the game, such as the seemingly complex process for resolving a tied game, but too much of that might bore people who know the game.
Reid, and other writers who show gay characters breaking barricades, take a risk that their work might become dated by real events, but when that happens (as it hopefully will), the books will still be a useful and entertaining reminder of how things were (just as we still read historicals with women fleeing forced marriages). These stories may also encourage acceptance.
This was my first male/male romance, though there have been male/male elements in the threesomes I’ve read. With male couples, the power dynamic is potentially different. There are differences in the income, age, and appearance that make it tempting to see Kip in a “female” role, from both a relationship and a narrative structure perspective, but other elements of the story (including who is doing what in the bedroom) suggest this is a relationship of equals – always a good thing. Scott is a famous millionaire, but his closeted sexuality makes him a lonely and therefore sympathetic character.
As a general rule, I find sex first plots less satisfying and prefer sweeter stories, but for those that like them (and hockey), this is a well-written and steamy read. (At least I found it steamy. Another reviewer noted “not many explicit scenes.”) The urban setting is nicely integrated. There is character development, relationship obstacles, and good use of secondary characters, as well as heartwarming moments, so I’d consider this more steamy romance than erotica. The ebook includes the first chapter of the next in this series, and that chapter suggests the relationship there is less sweet than this one, but the romantic conflict is certainly intriguing.