A freak accident during the Stanley Cup Playoffs put an end to Max Ashford’s hockey career. Despite everything, Max gets back into the game he loves—only this time, behind the bench as an assistant coach of the Spartanburg Spitfires, the worst team in the entire league. But nothing prepares him for the shock when he learns the new head coach is Misha Samarin, the man who caused Max’s accident.
After spending guilt-ridden years for his part in Max’s accident, Russian native Misha Samarin has no idea what to do when he’s confronted with Max’s presence. Max’s optimism plays havoc with Misha’s equilibrium—as does the fierce attraction that springs up between them.
Not only must they navigate Misha’s remorse and a past he’s spent a lifetime to forget, but also a sleazy GM determined to use their history as a marketing hook. But when an unwelcome visitor targets the team, Misha revisits his darkest days, which might cost him and Max the beginning they’ve worked so hard to build.
This book was so good! I love how humor, tough topics, amazing storytelling and character development out the wazoo all come together to form this great story. Plus Ms. Gale’s love of hockey and broad knowledge base comes shining through as you read. The scene where Max and Misha go to the bar after tryouts is so awkward and hysterical. My favorite line was “I hated Russian existentialist literature when I was in college, so I sure as fuck don’t want to deal with that shit at work” and I was dying laughing as I read it. I absolutely loved all of the one liners about different hockey, and the one baseball, teams. They crack me up. Even if I don’t agree about the Flyers. They rarely deserve it.
Max and Misha have a history and it was wonderful seeing how they take that and figure out how to make it work coaching together. That first scene is so intense and sets the tone and pace for the rest of the story. I love that Max is all “oh, I like dudes too? Ok cool” and keeps going. Granted he had some help with that revelation before. But he handles the topic of his bisexuality so well. The scene where Isaac talks about Max being more gay than he thinks was a little strange though. I kind of get what he was saying, but I also think it was a little out of place for Isaac to decide Max’s label for himself. I adored Max. He’s so bright and sunny that you could not help but be in a good mood while you read. He cared for Misha so quickly and easily it was almost as if it was destined to happen.
Misha broke my heart though. He has such a dark past I wanted to hug hum to make it better. Watching him come to terms with everything and accept himself was wonderful. I loved how he stood up for Isaac and made sure he pulled himself out of the hole he was digging himself in.
The journey the Spartanburg Spitfires go on was so great to watch. I enjoyed seeing the team come together and become a cohesive unit that had each other’s backs. I cannot wait to see what’s in store for the team in the next season in the next book!
Four and a half
Max stops by today to talk about a difficult topic. He discusses the hardest thing he’s had to overcome. He definitely has had some rough things to get over. But I have to say he’s come out the other side pretty well off all things considered. Read and enjoy!
Well, that’s probably my accident. Even though talking about this makes Misha all mopey, I really can’t lie and say that it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve had to overcome. I mean, here I was, a hockey player in the NHL, playing for the Habs and in the Stanley Cup playoffs! Not only that, but I’m playing for the Eastern Conference Championship against the Habs’ biggest rivals…the Boston Bruins. Habs/Bruins games were crazy, man. We hated each other on the ice, but once we were off of it, we always went for beers or whatever – except during the playoffs. There’s all this history between our two teams, and I suck at history but it’s impossible not to get caught up in it all when you’re playing for one of those teams.
So getting injured sucked for a lot of reasons, and not just for me – the guy that hit me, Misha Samarin, was a Bruin and ended up suspended and missing his team winning the Stanley Cup. Misha was my rival but he didn’t hit me on purpose – or, he did, but he was a defenseman, so all he really did was knock me off the puck like he was supposed to. I fell and cracked my head on his stick and had to be carried out on a stretcher. That memory isn’t one of my favorites, so luckily it’s still pretty fuzzy. I had a concussion, but the real problem was my peripheral vision and that’s why I’m not playing anymore. I’d only been in the league a couple of years, and so yeah, suddenly figuring out what to do with my life was a surprise. Because I knew that I’d have a shorter career than, say, my accountant brother…but I didn’t expect to have to think of a new so soon, you know?
The great thing is, though, I’ve realized that while I loved playing hockey and do wish I could have played longer, I love what I do. I love being a coach, and I love inspiring my players to reach for their dreams. It’s kind of cool that I got to really live the dream and now I get to help other players do that, too. The best of both worlds, really.
It was a lot harder to convince Misha that I didn’t hate him and he should stop treating me like I should, but hey. That’s another story.
“I’d never watched this, you know.”
“The YouTube video?” Misha had seen that too. It was filed with angry commenters yelling that he should be deported back to Russia.
Misha blinked. “You’ve seen the commercial, though. Yes?”
“Yeah, I wish I could say I haven’t seen that. But I meant, I didn’t watch this until a few months ago. They played that game on the NHL channel, so I watched it.”
It never occurred to Misha that Max wouldn’t have seen it, but then he remembered that Max was the hero, not the villain of the story. Misha watched the hit play out on the screen. What must that feel like, to watch the moment it all ended? When Max hit the ice, did he know that game was his last? Did Misha know it was his? How had he felt? He couldn’t remember.
The scene switched to the replay. Misha watched dispassionately, retreated into the blinding pain of his migraine, and told himself that it was all right to suffer, that he should, that he deserved it.
Max paused the video. “Look. See what I have there?”
Misha blinked. He had not expected questions. “I—what?”
“The puck, Misha. The puck. Your hit wasn’t late.”
Oh. “Yes. I know.”
Max stared at him. On the television screen, their younger selves were suspended at the moment everything changed.
Avon Gale was once the mayor on Foursquare of Jazzercise and Lollicup, which should tell you all you need to know about her as a person. She likes road trips, rock concerts, drinking Kentucky bourbon and yelling at hockey. She’s a displaced southerner living in a liberal midwestern college town, and when she’s not writing you can find her at the salon, making her clients look and feel fabulous. She never gets tired of people and their stories — either real or the ones she makes up in her head.
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