Review: Off the Ice – Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn

Review: Off the Ice – Avon Gale & Piper VaughnOff the Ice
by Avon Gale, Piper Vaughn
Series: Hat Trick #1
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: March 25, 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 271
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Previously published; newly refreshed by the authors

He’s hot for teacher

NHL star Tristan Holt may be at the top of his game, but he’s already thinking one play ahead. Hitting the books in the off-season means he’ll have a business degree to fall back on when it’s time to hang up his hockey skates.

But his straightforward plan is complicated by his undeniable attraction to his sexy sociology professor, Sebastian Cruz.

Impressed by Tristan’s brain as well as his brawn, Sebastian can’t help lusting after the gorgeous jock. With tenure on the line, Sebastian won’t break the rules by becoming involved with one of his students—at least, not until the end of term. Once final grades are posted, though, their naughty mutual fantasies can become reality.

Tristan’s not sure he’s up for being the poster boy for openly gay hockey players, but Sebastian’s never been the type of man to keep his sexuality—or his relationships—in the closet. For Tristan, being with Sebastian might mean risking more than just his heart.

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4 stars icon contemporary icon hockey categories_m_m romance icon sports icon

I’m a hockey fan, so of course I jumped on the chance to review this reissued m/m hockey romance.  This is billed as a “hot for teacher” romance, but that’s not quite the whole story.

“As you know, it’s a subject near to my own academic interests, but it might be a little off from the scope of the course.”
Tristan nodded, leaning forward eagerly. “I thought about that, yeah. I really wanted to do this topic, though, so I was hoping maybe there was a way you could help me figure out how to, uh, apply the idea to the class.”
Oh, could I ever. Right over my desk. Sebastian dragged his thoughts out of the gutter and nodded. “Certainly.”

Tristan, at 23, is taking a summer sociology class (towards his international business major) and is almost immediately attracted to his professor, Sebastian.  While Sebastian’s perma-scowl and general curmudgeonly demeanor put off others, Tristan finds it strangely attractive. While they, eventually, acknowledge their attraction for each other, neither acts on it until the semester is complete and the grades are in. Tristan isn’t out at all, not to his family or his team, and he’s wary of being the poster boy first gay NHL player. Sebastian, on the other hand, is firmly out, and doesn’t want to go back in the closet in order to have a relationship with Tristan – he doesn’t want to be just his “friend.”  Is their relationship worth  Tristan outing himself, or will Sebastian’s ultimatum ruin their chance at happiness?

Tristan comes from a close, warm and loving farming family, and it definitely shows in his character.  He’s levelheaded, and doesn’t let his fame or his newfound money influence him.  While he knows he (hopefully) still has many years of playing left, he still decides to finish up his college degree so he has something to fall back on when his NHL career is over.  He’s also absolutely adorable!  One of my favorite bits was that when he first joined the team, he asked the captain for his autograph – because he’d been a humongous fan of his as a teen (and still had a crush on him).  I loved that it was actually Tristan who made the first move on Sebastian – he knows what he wants and he’s not afraid to go after it.  Sebastian is Tristan’s opposite in nearly every way.  He’s nearing his mid-30s (so there is a bit of an age gape there) and quite abrasive and bossy. He doesn’t recognize Tristan as a popular hockey play – he doesn’t even like sports, and views his first trip to one of Tristan’s hockey games as a sort of sociology excursion.

Sebastian makes a potentially very damaging mistake in regards to Tristan early on, but after Tristan calls him on it, he’s sufficiently contrite.  Tristan, for his part, accepts Sebastian’s apology and then just lets it go.  While things like this could be a stumbling point for me, in this case I found Sebastian’s apology heartfelt, and I thought it showed how well the two handled conflict between them. Despite, obviously, the depth of emotion involved when Sebastian finally draws the line with Tristan, there’s no over the top display of emotion or screaming match.  Instead, Tristan thinks about it for a week – missing Seb the whole time – and makes his decision.  While I’m a big fan of angsty books, I think the low angst approached was much more in character for both Sebastian and Tristan – neither of them are much for crazy drama.

They do have definite chemistry, though, and they both pretty much have insta-lust for each other from the first class together.  Sebastian and Tristan’s relationship has a light BDSM flavor to it, with a bit of a dom/sub relationship between Tristan and Sebastian (including spanking, slapping, and mild humiliation). They also get off on the whole student/teacher thing, and it becomes a fixture in their role-play after the semester is over.

What doesn’t work for me: Sebastian came off as ridiculously judgmental to me, especially for a sociology professor.  He tends to view things from a sort of sociologist in the field perspective, like his attitude towards attending one of Tristan’s games.  Another scene that stuck with me was when he visits Tristan’s apartment for the first time and is mentally critiquing the decor and the fact that Tristan has a large TV.  It was an aspect of his personality that I just really didn’t like.  I think this ties into the other piece I didn’t like.  I’m not a big fan of “coming out” books, and the added dimension of Sebastian “forcing” Tristan to come out didn’t sit well with me.  While I certainly understand Sebastian’s hesitance to be involved with someone who was closeted, Tristan had very good reasons for being anxious about what coming out would mean to his career and friendships, and it felt like Sebastian dismissed it.

Overall, while I enjoyed this book, this was more of a 3.5 star read to me.  If you enjoy hockey romances, though, it’s certainly a good read, especially if you’re looking for something low angst!

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