Fabulous hockey romance!
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: October 19, 2019
Pages: 258 pages
Source: Won through Goodreads Giveaway
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Six months before 29-year-old Vaughn Vassar was, against his will, traded to the Chicago Slayers NHL hockey team, he met a young woman named Allie in Vancouver. He was instantly and massively attracted to her, and he considered himself extremely fortunate when, at her instigation, they spent an extraordinary night together. He’d never experienced anything remotely as intense as he enjoyed with Allie, and he was crushed when he woke the next morning to discover that she had vanished, leaving behind only a short note that said, “I can’t do this. I’m sorry.” Yes, she had warned him from the start that she didn’t date hockey players, but he could have sworn that she’d felt the same deep connection between the two of them that he had, even beyond the mind-blowing sex. A day hasn’t gone by since then that he hasn’t thought about Allie and yearned for what might have been. Until, suddenly, there she is, right before his eyes, in a local dive bar in Chicago where the Slayers hang out, surrounded by his team members.
Natalie Baxter AKA Allie, the fake name she’d given Vaughn Vassar in Vancouver, has done everything possible to avoid him for the last two months since he was traded to the Slayers, the same team her brother, Greg, plays on as the team captain. Vaughn is the team’s second-line center, her brother’s most hated rival since their teens, and an indiscretion that has come back to bite her on the rear. Though she’s 27 years old with a solid career as a physical therapist, she might as well still be the green teenage girl who couldn’t stand to upset her godlike big brother. Her single night of illicit bliss with Vaughn is a deep, dark secret from Greg, and a mistake never to be repeated. Even if Greg didn’t loathe Vaughn and would inevitably assume bad intensions on the part of his worst enemy by hooking up with his little sister, Natalie made a vow to herself back in her teens which is the main thing holding her back from Vaughn. All of her childhood and teens, Greg and his hockey aspirations were the sun around which their entire family rotated, and Natalie’s needs always came last. As a result, she swore that she would never put herself in that position again by getting involved with another career-obsessed hockey player. NHL wives and girlfriends have to be eternally willing to pull up stakes and move at a moment’s notice, sacrificing any personal or professional aspirations to their man’s NHL dream. Natalie will not permit herself to get serious about any man until he proves that he is capable of putting her first over everything else in his life.
After Vaughn discovers his Allie is none other than the little sister of his hated rival, Greg F-ing Baxter, he realizes that having anything further to do with her is career suicide. He has no intention of remaining with the Slayers more than a single season. He is determined to earn a transfer to the Oregon NHL team where his BFF is located, but the only way the Oregon owners are going to offer him a contract is if he does nothing further to stir up trouble with Baxter, and through him, the Slayers team. He slugged Baxter in the jaw early in his tenure with the team after Baxter goaded him harder than any human could be expected to endure. No one blamed Golden Boy Baxter. And it’s been made clear to Vaughn that another such blowup with Baxter will not only bomb his chances for Oregon—whose coach and owners are watching his every move, both on the team and in the Chicago community, prior to offering him a contract—it could get him kicked off the Slayers and even booted out of professional hockey altogether. No woman is worth torpedoing his hard-earned career. Especially a woman who doesn’t even want to date a hockey player.
Unfortunately for Natalie and Vaughn, their survival instincts are no match for their overwhelming desire for each other. Vaughn can’t make himself stay away from Natalie, and her determination to never date a hockey player pales in comparison to the potency of the secret crush she’s had on Vaughn since her teens. A crush that made seducing him in Vancouver impossible to resist, and is making tumbling into his brawny arms all over again equally inevitable.
This is the second book I’ve read by MLK, the first being Book 1 of the Slayers Hockey series, Dirty Player, of which this novel is Book 2. I loved Dirty Player, and this book is every bit as terrific. Though Dirty Secret can stand on its own, it enriched my experience of it due to having first read Dirty Player, which tells the story of Greg Baxter’s courtship of sports reporter, Julia Wesley. In this book, those two are married and are significant subcharacters affecting the romance between Natalie and Vaughn.
I absolutely love Vaughn. He is one of my all-time favorite professional-athlete, romance heroes. (And, by the way, likewise for Greg Baxter in Dirty Player.) Beneath Vaughn’s “resting prick face” and tough persona lies a generous, kind heart. In particular, the scenes with him coaching very young, special needs kids in hockey are adorable. He and Natalie are a wonderful, equally matched couple. She is strong, honest, down-to-earth, and as a former star hockey player in college, she is almost as fanatical about hockey as he is.
There are multiple thrilling scenes of Vaughn playing hockey, with Natalie in the stands cheering him on, which are extremely well written. There is just enough hockey play and hockey lingo to be interesting to even non-fans of the sport such as myself, and it never inhibits the forward motion of the all-important main plot, the romance.
Though the sex between Vaughn and Natalie is definitely hot in this novel, it is never crude, and there is never sex for its own sake. Every sensual encounter between these two highly sympathetic protagonists is emotionally as well as physically passionate. Best of all, I was completely convinced that the lives of these two lovers would be forever blighted if they did not end up together, a crucial achievement for any successful romance.
All in all, this marvelous, HEA romance is a real keeper, and I am positive I will enjoy re-reading it many times in the future.
Note: I was a lucky recipient of this novel through the Goodreads Giveaway. My thanks to the author and to Goodreads for the gift of this wonderful romance novel.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5
Hockey Backdrop: 5