There’s a lot of noise being made about Hockey Romance, a sub-sect of the romance community, and not the good kind of noise, because some people got carried away. There always has to be that group that ruins it for everyone, innit, and now look; we are all being tarred with the same dirt. Not all romance readers are ridiculous, heck our love for the fantasy can be out there but we are mostly well behaved. Despite what the think-pieces will have you believe, we are mostly all good I promise. Most readers know where real life begins and fantasy ends, and contrary to what the outsiders think, the romance community is quite a lovely one.

So I am here to tell you about a lovely hockey romance I read last year and had to re-read in light of all this mess and has caused no such problems but still gives us what we need from romance; a love story. I love sports romance; I especially love it when the macho dude doesn’t see his feelings coming and they smack him right in the face; to see him crumble and fall, is such a joy and one of my favourite moments in a love story. That moment when the hero has to feel his feeling, be in it and own it. LOVE IT.

Evan Zanders is the enforcer for the Chicago Raptors and one half of the duo with his best friend Maddison the captain and all-round good guy of the NHL. Zanders is the opposite of Maddison; He appears to be the bad boy/playboy who never sleeps with the same woman twice, has hook ups in every area code and simply does not give a fuck about it. Two things matter to him keeping up that reputation and getting a new contract from his club.

Stevie Shay is the air hostess for the private plane of the Chicago Raptors this season. This is not her first go at the rodeo and she is actually well versed in sports stars douchebaggery having dated one, she is well and truly done, despite her brother being one of the more nice sports guys. As luck would have it Stevie’s first run in with Zanders confirms what everybody says of him; he is an absolute arsehole. And solidifies her views on sports stars.

I have listened to this audio book at least fifty billion times, I love it so much, story wise, its simple as is every pleasure in life; girl meets boy, boy irritates girl for as long as he can (if they were on the playground he would pull her hair), girl doesn’t fall for boy’s bullshit whilst boy realises that he actually does like girl and wants to do things to her to get her out of his system. But she is well and truly in his system after that first try. Feelings with all their feels.

But there are more layers to this story than meets the eye, and these are the layers we are treated to in the course of the story; Zanders has his baggage his mother left when he was just sixteen and his father all but stopped being there for him, in order to be there for him. His sister was away at college at the time, so he did not have much, if any, support he so desperately needed in his formative years. This episode would lead his struggle with some mental health issues; bad anxiety for one, and has been in therapy for the 8 years. He uses his reputation to cover up his flaws, never letting anyone but his very best friends and his sister see the real side to him. Zanders is in fact sweet as they come, a man who would wear a princess gown trick or treating to celebrate a belated Halloween with his best friends’ daughter, started a charity with said best friend to help at risk youth struggling with their mental health, cries at the Disney movie, Coco.

Knowing Zanders as a character is like peeling an onion and the more, we know him the more we fall in love with him.

Stevie is cool and uses her coolness to mask her own insecurities; she is thicker than the average air hostess, has a mass of wild curly hair and her mother is an absolute bitch who has infested her daughter with insecurities that have plagued her most of her adult life. And she dated a douchebag of an almost sports star that made her feel absolutely less than. For the most part Stevie has her insecurities under control, knows how to keep her them at bay, but the thing about people who push our buttons is that they know where they are because they put them there.

We get to see Stevie and Zanders do this intense dance around each other a while with the sexual tension bouncing off the page; their stories and personal struggles provide fodder upon which these tensions play out. You get to see the two of them slowly realise what they mean to each other especially when they do not see it coming, and tried hard not to let it happen. In Stevie’s case, its against the rules, in Zanders’ case its against his public person.

It’s a love story and it will happen. How we get there is the joy ride. Sorry, I am full of puns today.

Liz Tomforde wrote this story for me, smashing together tropes I love, to serve up what is a delightful love story of where opposites attract in such a darling way. I love what she does with her characters, love that Stevie is a plus size woman who struggles sometimes with her body, as we all do, but she accepts herself wholly, bitch of a mother regardless. And she volunteers at an animal shelter when she is not flying with the team. I absolutely love that when it eventually comes times to stand up for herself, she gets there in the end, yes with the help of Zanders somewhat, because we all need our cheerleading squad sometimes, but she gets there.

Zanders’ character is one I found even more endearing; his cavalier attitude does nothing to hide the fact that he is none of the things the press paint him out to be, to the reader who Tomforde decides to make insiders, a move that moves the story swiftly along, and his many insecurities are on page. Tomforde does not strip these two characters of humanity and does not force it on them either, she gives us a good balance of who they are what the world sees and what they don’t, and you ultimately get the sense that yes these two will end up together there will be forces like, the press and Zanders awful agent, working to tear them apart, and there will be a grand gesture… I LOVE A GRAND GESTURE of the public kind even better, and it will be worth it in the end.

What Tomforde (I LOVE HER NAME) does also exceptionally well is develop the filler characters and sets us up for the next story in the series. I also especially love Maddison and Logan’s role in Zander’s story, bringing a lot of meat to the bone of who he is because we get to see him through the eyes of these characters as well.

See what I told you, an all star Hockey romance that is A-PLUS PLUS, PLUS, with the right kind of drama and tension, ON PAGE and then we go back to our lives.

A lovely book worthy of time on your shelf. If you can listen to the audio book as well make sure you do that because Mari and Winston James’ voices, are simply perfection.